Monday, January 31, 2011

Faulty airline maintenance practices and the absence of planning

Here's one mechanic's view from the trenches:
I haven't been online much lately after taking a three month contract with United Airlines. It is likely to be extended, so that doesn't leave much time left for my passion of heterodox economics. It does give me a very close look at the present state of organized labor. What I have seen is a lot of bitterness among union members. People working there remember vividly what they have given up over the years in the name of saving their company- notably pensions, hourly wages, overtime and petty things like paid lunches. I saw industry practices of hiring two part time workers instead of one full time worker to avoid paying health insurance. Hourly wages at the company are currently at their 1993 nominal level, and instead of taking 5 years to reach the top of the scale, it takes ten years. Over 600 people applied for 40 open positions here in Chicago. So much for the myth unemployment is high because people don't want to work. New hires will work part time for $10.40/hour pre-tax dollars, not enough to support a guppy.
The airline is merging with Continental. So far very little has changed in terms of operating procedures, but that will change. The first to change is union representation. As departments merge each has to decide which union to adopt if any. Flight attendants are debating if the AFA (UA) or IAM (CO) will represent them. Rampers are choosing between IAM (UA) or Teamsters. Both pilot groups are represented by ALPA. Not sure about the mechanics. Workers are choosing somewhat based on personal preferences, i.e. the ability to work more extra hours vs get paid more for the times the airline can only use you for a few hours that day. Others are voting with their gut "I want a union that knows my struggle." There is a great deal of uncertainty which union will in the end represent them the strongest. Conversations between workers get heated. It reminds me of US political elections, where you're forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. Other than better job protection, the union offers little in terms of a living wage for 10 years. We all agree, in the absence of improved minimum wage laws we need an airline union monopoly between all air carriers. That way the airlines will have to compete over other things than who can cut their labor costs the most.

One way they are doing it now is by outsourcing mechanical work to less qualified, non-unionized firms in China and the US. The FAA is issuing citations and whistle blowers went on camera to warn of the potentially disastrous practices (see the video at the bottom). Sometimes, in the absence of rules and enforcers, markets race to the bottom in terms of quality. You see it with accounting firms who never blow the whistle on criminal firms that pay them. Ratings agencies who give out easy AAA ratings to the banks which pay them. The political authority is rarely proactive in these matters. In the case of airlines the wakeup call will cost lives.

How to listen to a State Department briefing

This video is funny!  You know, the funny that comes when someone tries to translate pure, committee-produced, focus-group-tested, establishment bullshit into standard english.  This is posted for demonstration purposes only--the goal of a loyal reader of this blog is to be able to translate BS on the fly yourself.

What is so sad is that poor Hillary probably believes the absurd bilge coming out of her mouth and walks off the stage believing she has given an 'A' performance in a delicate situation--just doing her part to save the world from the crazy people who don't get it because they didn't go to Yale.

Those who predict that 2011 will be just as revolutionary as 1848 just may be right.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Watching the revolution in Egypt

There has probably no uprising in history that has been better covered by the press than the current crises in Egypt.  Not the American press, of course, which has demonstrated its typically moronic presence.  But the coverage on Aljazeera English has been superb.  This is their story and they seem to know hundreds of the main actors.

Unfortunately, it seems the Egyptian government doesn't like Aljazeera as much as I.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

We, the confused

I truly enjoy the writing of Mark Ames--and have since he and Matt Taibbi were writing The Exile from Russia.  I have already linked to articles of his five different times on this blog.  But today, I use Mark's writing to illustrate much of what has gone wrong with left / progressive thinking.

Ames would like us to believe he has done some deep thinking on why anyone with less than $250k / year income would vote Republican because this would seem to be a perfect example of someone voting against their own economic interests.  And on the surface, this really is such a good question that the only answers seem to be some variation on madness.  Or are they?

If someone believes the Democratic Party is an organization that gave us the New Deal, the space race, and Keynesian economics, Mark's question makes some sense.  But the reality is that it requires someone in their 60s or older to remember that Democratic Party.  Anyone younger can only remember the Democrats as the party that gave us Jimmy Carter's deregulation madness and his dismantling of usury laws, Bill Clinton's NAFTA, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act and the repeal of Glass-Steagall which set the stage for the current crime wave on Wall Street, and Obama's staffing of his White House economic team with the most revolting anti-Producer stooges available.  In fact, the last Democratic Labor Secretary that had even the remotest concern for the welfare of Producers was probably Willard Wirtz of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

And then there is this little problem of "affirmative action."  The idea that today's workers should somehow pay for the sins of past discrimination is beyond odious but Democrats have supported this injustice for 40+ years now.

Let's see.  The white male worker has been sold down the economic river by a string of elected Democrats all the while being told by sanctimonious pricks that historical discrimination is his fault and he must pay.  The Republicans have been just as bad (or worse) economically but at least they don't lay on the guilt trip for historical injustices.  So poor white males vote Republican and this confuses an otherwise smart guy like Mark Ames who somehow thinks the Democrats are still trying to pass legislation like the Wagner Act and that Frances Perkins is still the Secretary of Labor.

Of course, it would be nice if Democrats became the party that represented the interests of the folks who run the real economy and believed in a STRICT meritocracy, but if Ames is as smart as the new Democrats get (and he may well be) this may be impossible.  So it may be time to stop hoping the Democrats will EVER be a party of economic progress again.

(sigh)  You see, I AM old enough to remember when Democrats actually stood for important economic principles.  I remember a country they created that was so prosperous and innovative, we could send members of our tribe to the freaking moon just to prove we could do it.  I remember when the hard-working Producers could support a family and have a life.  The Democratic Party COULD be such a party again but not while the party is controlled by the same people who enabled--and have NOT prosecuted--the most recent wave of crime on Wall Street.

Friday, January 28, 2011

This sort of talk produces revolutions

Not since Marie Antoinette advised the angry peasants to "eat cake," has a rich protoplasmic failure said things so sure to stir up a mob.  Here is Jamie Dimon in the heady air of Davos complaining that his corporate shills in the media are being too mean to folks like him--who really saved the day, actually, also.  Someone should inform the fool that MOST of us would prefer that criminals like him be found swinging from lamp posts.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Going solar 2011

Replacing fire is a whole lot harder than it looks.  My brother has been attempting to go solar with his house since he first built it in 1992.  Central Florida has a LOT of solar energy--in fact, providing shelter from the relentless sun is the hardest problem to be solved.  He designed many passive solar features into his house such as an innovative insulation package, wide overhanging eaves, and an optimized building orientation.  In fact, the only active solar feature of his 1992 house was a solar hot water heater that has been serving him well since it was first installed.

But even though my brother's roof was built with the proper pitch and orientation for photovoltaic solar cells, it wasn't until August 2008 that he figured they would be cost effective.  So he installed 25 200-watt Sanyo PV cells that brought his energy costs to practically zero.  He liked the economics so much that in January 2011, he added 22 240-watt Solar World panels for a total installed capacity of 10,280 watts.  So now his electric meter runs backwards most days.

So PV cells are now cost effective and distributed generation like this requires little in the way of new infrastructure such as extra power lines.  The country really NEEDS to reduce its carbon footprint.  What's not to like?  It's time to rock and roll!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Obama and austerity

Well, we could all see this coming.  The austerity ghouls have struck everywhere so when their crazy ideas came to USA was only a matter of time.  Last night at the SOTU speech, Obama confirmed that he was on board the austerity train.  That this will lead to an economic calamity is as certain as a sunrise.

China on my mind (update)

When I last wrote about China a few days back, I got a response from a cousin who had been a missionary's kid.  He wrote that his sister had just reviewed a book on growing up in China and sent me a copy of the .pdf file.  My cousins had their own hair-raising tales of adventure as missionary kids when the ship they were on was sunk by a German destroyer in 1941, but this was FAR worse.

What a story!  It tells about an overwhelmed young doctor from Kansas trying to be of some minimal assistance in an area of the world just devastated by the various calamities surrounding China's war with Japan.  The biggest disaster was caused by the forces of the corrupt and incompetent Chiang Kai-Shek who had the "bright" idea that he could destroy the Japanese who were pursuing him if he would blow up the levees on the Yellow River.  The Japanese forces barely noticed this act of wanton stupidity but the poor peasants in the way were destroyed.  In fact, some sources list this as one of the greatest disasters of all time--a million killed in the flooding, 4 million made homeless, and a large and important swath of agricultural land made unfit for farming for years which lead to massive famine and starvation.

This disaster is rarely mentioned in USA--mostly because it was caused by our esteemed ally.  But you can be sure that it is mentioned when Chinese students learn history.  And it was incidents like these that color the relationships between China and the rest of the world to this day.  It behooves the rest of us to remember this is but one of many catastrophes suffered by the Chinese in the 20th century.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

USA economic competitiveness

You can bet good money that Obama will bring up "competitiveness" at the SOTU.  Then he will mouth some silly platitudes about having an elite education system and some soaring rhetoric about leading the way into the 21st century.  Of course, we cannot compete with folks who will work for $0.25 an hour.  The question is, can we compete for the high-end jobs?

Once upon a time not so very long ago, the answer to the "can we compete" question was, of course.  Not anymore.  When we let the financial vandals roam free through the real economy with their smash-and-grab get-rich-quick schemes starting during the Carter administration, we destroyed much of our industrial culture.  Since most of the serious damage was already done by 1990, there are people in their late 30s who have no memory of what the industrial culture can accomplish.  For that, we now must look at other countries.

Veblen taught in his Instinct of Workmanship that the main feature of industrial culture is the pride and satisfaction one gets from doing a good job.  Good industrial management is a system that allows people to do their best work by providing the best tools and working conditions.  Veblen would add that the ideal situation is where people occasionally are encouraged to indulge their Instinct of Idle Curiosity.

Veblen was much admired in Japan both during his life and in the post WW II period.  Therefore, I am not surprised that both of his elements of industrial culture are on display in Lexus' superb new toy, the LFA.  There is absolutely NO reason for this car to exist except to prove to the world that Toyota can set the bar of excellence so high, no one will ever clear it.  And you can have an LFA for only $375,000 (a tiny fraction of what these things will cost to produce.)  But if you are to have a thriving industrial culture, you absolutely must have projects like this.

Monday, January 24, 2011

One wonders what Obama will really say about jobs in SOTU

Considering how dire the situation really is.
Only 47% Of Working Age Americans Have Full Time Jobs
The Automatic Earth | Jan. 24, 2011, 6:22 AM 
By Ilargi on The Automatic Earth.
VK, roving reporter for The Automatic Earth, has been playing with the numbers from the January 7 employment report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It seems valuable to look at unemployment from this, a different, angle. Some of it may even surprise you.
The total non institutional civilian labor force (Americans 16 years and older who are not in a institution -criminal, mental, or other types of facilities- or an active military duty) is reported as 238.889 million. Of these, we see:
Employed: 139.206 million people (58.3% of labor force)
Unemployed: 14.485 million people (6.1% of labor force)
Obviously, that can't be the total picture, we're only at 64.4%. This is why:
Part time employed for economic reasons: 8.931 million people. This concerns people who want a full-time job but can't get one.
Part time employed for non-economic reasons: 18.184 million people. Non-economic reasons include school or training, retirement or Social Security limits on earnings, but also childcare problems and family or personal obligations.
But the by far largest category "missing" from both the Employed and Unemployed statistics is the "Not In Labor Force": 85.2 Million people.
The BLS definition states: "Not in the labor force (NILF). A person who did not work last week, was not temporarily absent from a job, did not actively look for work in the previous 4 weeks, or looked but was unavailable for work during the reference week; in other words, a person who was neither employed nor unemployed." (Clearly, this does include lot of unemployed people).
To summarize: 108.616 million people in America are either unemployed, underemployed or "Not in the labor force". This represents 45.5% of working age Americans.
If you count the "Part time employed for non-economic reasons", you get 126.8 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed, working part time or "Not in the labor force". That represents 53% of working age Americans.
So only 47% of working age Americans have full time jobs. While the official unemployment rate is 9.4%. Something's missing somewhere. more

Are economists part of the problem

It may seem like economists are always just getting it wrong like when almost all of them failed to foresee the current economic collapse that began in 2007-8.  And it may seem like the "prescriptions" for fixing things always seem to make things worse for everyone save the banksters and their interests.

Well, there are reasons for that.  Turns out many "name" economists have massive conflicts of interests.  Far from being disinterested scientists in search of the facts, they are being paid serious money to come up with policy prescriptions that favor their clients--usually at the expense of the rest of us.

So some folks who still remember what scientific research is supposed to be about made a suggestion at the American Economic Association conference in Denver that economists should reveal their major funders when publishing their "findings." Not surprisingly, this suggestion didn't get very far.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Implications of the Ibanez Case Ruling on Foreclosure Fraud: Financial Armageddon

Last week, Dan Crawford at AngryBear pointed to a January 7, 2011 analysis by Numerian at The Agonist of the "Ibanez" mortgage foreclosure case ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court of the State of Massachusetts, and the ruling's implications for the housing market. Truly scary. Forthwith, some choice excerpts:

Social Darwinism part xxxx

One of the uglier features of life in USA is the persistence of a pseudo-scientific mutation of Calvinism called Social Darwinism.  The Calvinist part teaches that the rich are rich because they are especially blessed by God.  The Darwinian gloss came in the late 19th century when a bunch of (mostly English) cranks came up the theory that the rich were genetically superior--that evolution had blessed them and had equipped them to rise to the top of the social heap.

One of the more famous proponents of Social Darwinism in USA was a professor at Yale by the name of William Graham Sumner.  When Thorstein Veblen was a Ph.D. candidate at Yale, he took a class of Sumner's and was appropriately horrified.  Veblen would spend the rest of his life shooting holes in Sumner's ugly teachings.

Veblen would argue that far from being the most evolved, the rich were the folks who retained the most primitive characteristics known to humanity such as a willingness to steal and disrupt the lives of others.  He would classify these creatures as members of the Leisure Class and he would describe them as the most dangerous and ridiculous.  If there WERE any examples of folks who were more highly evolved, they would be the inventors, engineers, and others who were creating the parts of the emerging industrial giant that was USA.

As if to prove Veblen's thesis, some British scientists have recently discovered that there are actually physical differences between Leisure Class brains and the more advanced variety.  The Tory brains have larger reptilian "fight-or-flight" centers.  These findings would go a LONG way towards explaining the appeal of a Sarah Palin who is about as reptilian as anyone in public life.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pecuniary Culture

Freddie DeBoer’s recent argument that “the blogosphere is a flagrantly anti-leftist space” initiated a useful discussion of the current political climate in the United States.

History teaches us, however, that the left, especially socialists and communists, are really not any better at creating and maintaining democratic governments for advanced industrial societies. Repression of human rights was a notorious feature of communist countries before the shattering events of 1989.

Fighting inflation

There is no word in economics that frightens me more than the word "inflation."  Because whenever the word is used to describe events, open class warfare against the Producers is certain to follow.

Inflation supposedly describes the loss of a currency's buying power.  It is usually described as a thief in the night that destroys the value of the money so carefully saved by the frugal and virtuous.  And so inflation has been accorded a special place in the pantheon of economic sins because it undermines the power of the creditor classes.  The cure for such inflation is the existence of "hard" money--money whose value does not change due to external economic circumstances.  Of all the hard money strategies, the most enduring revolves around a mystical belief in the store of value found in gold.

But oh the misery brought the world by the believers in the gold standard.  When USA went back on the gold standard following the Civil War in 1873, this act triggered a depression that decimated living standards of farmers and factory workers.  When Britain went back on the gold standard in 1923, the economic calamities that triggered eventually led to the Great Depression of 1929.  The "Crime of 1873" led to a political revolt in USA that saw the rise of the Greenback and People's parties.  The 1929 catastrophe saw a rise in the Fascist Parties in Europe.  The USA escaped fascism only because the first item of Roosevelt's agenda in 1933 was to get us off the gold standard.

Whenever prices rise, the gold standard zombies comes staggering forth and 2011 is certainly no different.  We now see gold prices top $1300 and right wing nuts like Ron Paul and Glenn Beck now push for a return to the gold standard at every possible opportunity.

Unfortunately for the gold bugs, rising prices can be caused by a host of complicated factors that have virtually nothing to do with monetary policy.  For example, the current economic problems are almost totally tied to rises in the price of energy.  And while the price rises in energy are exacerbated by the speculators, the basic problem is the "iron law of non-renewable resources" usually associated with the late Barry Commoner who postulated that "every barrel of oil burned makes the next barrel harder to find and more costly to extract."

Then there is the problem of food prices.  Not only is food production intimately linked to energy consumption, but there are the additional complications of rising populations, loss of prime farmland to non-agricultural uses, and now the bizarre weather patterns caused by climate change.  Those are the triggering factors but the real catastrophe happens when the speculators, who hope to profit from human misery, get in the act and make food so expensive it triggers riots.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Congress Passed Socialized Medicine and Mandated Health Insurance - In 1798

From of all places!

In July of 1798, Congress passed – and President John Adams signed - “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen.” The law authorized the creation of a government operated marine hospital service and mandated that privately employed sailors be required to purchase health care insurance.

Keep in mind that the 5th Congress did not really need to struggle over the intentions of the drafters of the Constitutions in creating this Act as many of its members were the drafters of the Constitution.

And when the Bill came to the desk of President John Adams for signature, I think it’s safe to assume that the man in that chair had a pretty good grasp on what the framers had in mind.

Read more.

Cattle Prices Stampeding

Courtesy of Barry Ritholtz at his The Big Picture. Go look at the chart - very scary. Ritholltz notes: "MacroMan points out that Live Cattle Futures have gone parabolic; Daniel Dicker blames speculative derivative traders and a lack of oversight as the cause."

Look at the chart here.

In related news, a commenter at Naked Capitalism noted that "Iron ore prices soar to record high‎ – Iron ore prices have hit an all-time high as supply disruptions in India, the world’s third-largest exporter of the steelmaking commodity" and "Pakistan’s cement sector is likely to feel the heat of the soaring international prices of coal, going forward. Global coal prices continue to climb, already 34% up since June 2010."

Yeah, well, thank God there's no inflation, or we'd really be screwed. (snark)

China on my mind

My godfather, after whom I was named Jonathan, was the son of a medical-doctor missionary who lived and practiced in China.  He had fond memories of his China childhood, spoke the language fluently, and had every intention of living there as an adult.  Then the Communists took power in 1949 and the very concept of Western religious influence--especially in medicine--became legally impossible.  Like many missionary kids, my godfather was never truly comfortable in USA so after getting his degree in education from Gustavus Adolphus college, set off for rural Nepal where he founded a school that exists to this day.

My siblings and I loved when my godfather came to visit for two reasons--he always brought along world-class pictures--shot with a Rolleiflex--of beautiful places like the Himalayan foothills which he loved to show to my photobug dad (we got to watch too) and he was an especially good narrator of stories from places so very far from our southwestern Minnesota home.  And since this was the era of the Cold War and the related fears of the Chinese Communist menace, we would encourage him to tell of his childhood in China.

Of course, some of my godfather's stories of China revolved around his disappointment of being banned from returning.  Some involved his concern for the fate of those people guilty of consorting with western missionaries.  But mostly he would talk about China as a sleeping giant.  In his view, China was a land of highly intelligent and hard-working people who had been misruled for centuries--and that was even before the colonialists came to rob, steal, and deal drugs.  "Someday," he would say earnestly, "China will be a great nation.  You watch!"

So I have been watching China for a long time.  I have watched the missionary kids like Henry Luce slander her.  I have heard the official horror over her nuclear programs, her support for the enemies of USA in Korea and Vietnam, and more recently her population-control policies, and even how she manages her currency.  But through it all, I have hoped for a better life for the Chinese people because if my godfather was right, and he usually was, there are probably no people who deserve a better fate than what history has dealt them than they.

So lately, I have watched in fascination as China has tried to achieve prosperity through a strategy of "screwdriver" industrialization.  I hope she knows what she is doing because this strategy carries a very high risk of ultimate failure.  Veblen used to write about the advantages of coming to industrialization second--citing USA and Germany as examples.  But what happens when you come to industrialization 12th, or whatever?  What happens when you suddenly need to consume huge amounts of carbon energy in an era of peak oil and climate change?  What happens if the already industrialized nations don't want to let you into their club? What happens when you discover you have exploited the industry of your children only to find that hot-money capitalism will be happy to go somewhere else?  What happens when you finally get rich enough to afford an upscale diet when the global population threatens to breach the 7 billion mark and farmland is finite?

But right now, China looks like a giant that has awakened.  She has gleaming new cities and railroads and infrastructure.  She runs a huge trade surplus.  She is the biggest creditor nation--and a lot of that debt is owed by American citizens.  It is hard to top Mike Lukovich's view of the new China.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Doctor's appointment went better than expected

The good news was that my blood pressure is lower than it has been in at least a decade.  In fact, it was so far below the magical 120/80 that I have been taken off one med.  Maybe this blogging is actually GOOD for me--because writing about a subject must certainly be better than fretting about it (or not).  Still could lose some pounds but I am pretty sure I am in better health than my father at the same age.

One other development emerged as I was fretting myself into a lather about the medical-industrial complex.  Just as I was giving up on reason-based change, I discover there are others out there that share the same frustrations.  For example, Paul Krugman has recently despaired at the amazing persistence of what he calls "zombie economics."  Nothing as trivial as the facts on the ground can deter economic zombies.  Now Krugman has discovered that even logic is no weapon against the terrible ideas that will not die.  Perhaps he should try garlic.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Taking a short break

Tomorrow, I have to see the doctor.  Essentially, this is a medical blackmail where they do some routine tests and then write some new prescriptions--followed by a bill that has absolutely no relation to the services rendered.

One of the biggest reasons for-profit medicine returns such dismal outcomes considering the costs involved is that there is absolutely NO way to tell whether or not my doctor is doing what she is doing because of my medical interests or because she wants a bigger house.  She has NO incentive to be cost effective and I have no way of trusting her.  Not a great basis for healing, huh?

Then there is the problem of the for-profit medical assumption that there is no effort so great that it should be questioned so long as it adds another few days or years to one's stay on this mortal coil.  Actually, this is an extremely interesting philosophical / theological question--a question that most doctors are utterly unqualified to discuss.  And that's even if you do believe that they are interested in your health and not just their ability to finance another sex partner's Porsche.

Maybe I am especially cynical because I have worked with surgeons.  From 1971-73 I was "sentenced" to work as a surgical orderly at the University of Minnesota hospital for the "crime" of opposing the Vietnam War.  I discovered that even world-class surgeons could be ignorant, narrow-minded, bigots with an outsized opinion of themselves.  If they even had an opinion on Vietnam, it was usually the most atrocious form of jingoism.  Listening to them hold forth over the scrub sinks or in the break rooms was literally frightening--they sounded more like Archie Bunker than anyone you would want close to you with a sharp object.  A conscientious objector orderly learned quickly to remain out of the way and quiet lest one of these pigs decided to abuse the help for "treason."

So I get a bit jumpy thinking about the ritual I must go through to get some simple prescriptions refilled.  I mean this is more than my disgust with the workings of the medical-industrial complex--this is about my mortality.  And some questions keep gnawing at me like Why am I doing what I do?  And if the rest of my time on earth is to be brief, am I doing something worth doing?

Which leads to the subject of this blog.  It is something I believe I should be doing because I have been blessed (or cursed, depending on how one views these things) with a really unusual level of awareness and I feel duty bound to share my discoveries.  So I have tried to do that.  But...  Writing about such serious subjects can be extremely depressing and there are times when I wonder if I am not shortening my life from all the stress.  And blogging like this IS a lot of work.

And then there is the matter of effectiveness.  Because there is no way I can directly change the outcomes of the matters I write about, the only way I can help change the economic direction of this country is by changing the terms of the conversation.  Well for the last 13 months, I have tried to argue the facts.  Which is a honest way to approach things but isn't very effective in a country where a mastery of the facts is not nearly so important as creating a mythological belief system or the ability to buy the argument.

So I am going to try some new things.  I know what they are and have started work on them but they need some concentrated attention.  So stay tuned and check back for further announcements.  And if the occasion warrants, I am still going to post.  I am just not going to feel guilty if I miss some days.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why rebuilding USA will be so difficult

One of the prime assumptions of the elegant technological solution is that we would use the rest of easily obtainable oil to power the conversion to a post-petroleum age.

So now we have frittered away so much time that we now have entered what is probably a post peak-oil scenario where any time there is the merest hint of a economic recovery, oil prices spike and choke off the recovery.  And then there is the problem that we took deindustrialization to such extremes, we are no longer capable of building a post-petroleum infrastructure.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The deregulators have learned NOTHING

There are three sure tip-offs that you are probably in a room with a complete fool:  The sound of mouth-breathing and drooling, the sound of knuckles dragging along the floor, and the assertion that economic deregulation will lead to greater prosperity for all.

There is a REASON why regulated capitalism ALWAYS outperforms the deregulated version--good rules allow the honest, innovative entrepreneur to thrive while a lack of rules and enforcement means that the most vicious of crooks will triumph.  Honest business people will always outperform crooks and cheats when it comes to building a real economy.  ALWAYS!

So now we have the evidence of this truth staring us in the face.  After 35 years of preaching the virtues of deregulation, the global economy is teetering on the brink of utter collapse.  But has that stopped the deregulators from sermonizing?  Are you kidding?  They are back in power in the USA House and virtually every economic commentator that gets to spew for a television audience sings from the same old deregulation songbook.

Lester Brown on the food crises

Brown is one of the few really serious environmentalists in USA.  He has been writing about the big problems for years.  And right on time, he has a new book on the origins of our current food problems.
The ‘food bubble’ is bursting, says Lester Brown, and biotech won’t save us 
BY Tom Philpott  12 JAN 2011 3:53 PM
For years -- even decades -- Earth Policy Institute president and Grist contributor Lester Brown has issued Cassandra-like warnings about the global food system. His argument goes something like this: Global grain demand keeps rising, pushed up by population growth and the switch to more meat-heavy diets; but grain production can only rise so much, constrained by limited water and other resources. So, a food crisis is inevitable. 
In recent years, two factors have added urgency to Brown's warnings: 1) climate change has given rise to increasingly volatile weather, making crop failures more likely; and 2) the perverse desire to turn grain into car fuel has put yet more pressure on global grain supplies. 
Brown's central metaphor -- which he's been using at least since the mid-‘90s -- will be familiar to readers who've lived through the previous decade's dot-com and real-estate meltdowns: the bubble. The world has entered a "food bubble," he argues; we've puffed up grain production by burning through unsustainable amounts of three finite resources: water, fossil fuels, and topsoil. At some point, he insists, the bubble has to burst. 
Well, for the second time in three years, the globe is lurching toward a full-on, proper food crisis, especially in places like Haiti that have de-emphasized domestic farming and turned instead to the global commodity market for food. In 2008, global food prices spiked to all-time highs, and hunger riots erupted from Haiti to Morocco. Now prices are spiking again, and have already surpassed the 2008 peak, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. 
As if on cue, Lester Brown has come out with another of his reports, this one titled (with that Brownian light touch), World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse. more

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The world food supply is breaking down

This fall, Minnesota farmers had probably the best year they have ever had.  While the weather was amazingly freaky in 2010 including the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in North America and a fall flood that raised the Minnesota River to record flood stages, these events were surrounding by plenty of early summer rain and a dry fall that made the harvest a snap.  By late summer, everything was so lush and green the soybeans looked like hedgerows and cornfields were impenetrably dense.

Ordinarily, such great harvests usually push down grain prices.  But not everyone was so lucky.  The crops in Russia were nearly wiped out.  There were a lot of crop failures in USA due to freaky weather.  The very existence of lucky Minnesota farmers is evidence that there are plenty of catastrophes elsewhere.  And the long-predicted breakdown in the global food supply seems to be happening as populations outstrip the ability of the systems to feed them.

Of course, a real disaster is being compounded by rising prices for oil--a critical component of our food systems.  And when the real economy staggers, the speculators cannot be far behind.  The toll is already staggering.  The Predators will turn this into an utter catastrophe.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It's about energy--it's always about energy

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how mainstream economists fail to appreciate the economic importance of energy.  Not only is energy essential to life as we know it by heating our homes and cooking our foods, but energy powers all those little mechanical slaves that make it possible for ordinary middle-class members of industrial societies to live like monarchs with human slaves just a few generations ago.  Raise the price of fuels and it's like all those mechanical slaves just struck for higher wages.

Here are two more examples of how energy impacts our lives.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Will the green dream falter on rare earth?

The primary reason electric cars are not cost competitive is that high-performance batteries are expensive to make.  AND they rely of obscure elements.  Now we discover that most of these elements are mined and refined in China.  It's not so much that these elements are only found in China but that the extraction process is so environmentally hazardous, only a country with minimal environmental laws will produce them on a commercial scale.

And like any rising industrial power, China has discovered the sheer magnitude of her raw material needs.  And suddenly she doesn't want to export so much of the raw materials she does produce.  China has learned to appreciate the concept of value-added.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Robert Bork's influence over antitrust law

Below is a superlative article that begins to develop an understanding of the national calamity that has resulted from the marriage of "neo-liberal" free market economics with conservative legal theory. Anti-trust is not an area I have any particular expertise in, but what I can bring to this discussion is a quick summary of some work I did back in the early 1990s that compared the dollar amount of mergers and acquisitions with the dollar amount of spending for 1) research and development, 2) capital equipment expenditures, and 3) basic physical infrastructure. The graphs I generated, using data from a number of sources including Mergers and Acquisitions magazine, were quite stunning. They showed clearly that mergers and acquisitions in the United States had far surpassed those three categories at various time points in the 1980s.

This is important because while spending for 1) research and development, 2) capital equipment expenditures, and 3) basic physical infrastructure generally increases the potential of the economy to create more wealth, spending on mergers and acquisitions is ONLY a rearrangement of the ownership of already created wealth. From the standpoint of political economy, mergers and acquisitions do absolutely nothing for the economic betterment of society, no matter how many headquarters staff are "downsized" through "increased synergies." So, it was quite maddening for me throughout the 1980s and 1990s to see the very worst of the corporate raiders, and the tidal wave of mergers and acquisitions they helped fuel, be praised as great businesspeople. Clearly, the entire national discussion of the issue has been hopelessly impoverished by the destruction of economic thinking wrought by "neo-liberal" free market economics. Join that with conservative legal theory, and you have a true national disaster.

One other point I would like to make. As I read the following article, it pained me that the author came so close to what is a fundamental issue for our time. The author mentions the problems of the dangerous FEC v Citizens United decision, and the domination of American society by corporations. But, we need to go further, to begin recapturing the philosophical basis of our democratic republic. The U.S. Constitution guarantees to the states a republican form of government. Do we know what this means? I do not think it is possible to have a republican form of government when formally organized economic interests enjoy overwhelming domination of the political process. The Citizens United decision is all the more outrageous because the conservative majority quoted James Madison's famous Federalist Paper No. 10 - on the problem of political faction - while turning it on its head. Madison explicitly warned that it was economic interests that most often give rise to the most pernicious political factions, yet here we have the conservatives of the Supreme Court opening the door to legalized mugging of the political process by economic interests, so long as they are formally organized as corporations.

Robert Bork's influence over antitrust law
by brooklynbadboy
When President Reagan nominated Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987, a political war began. Judge Bork had been a circuit judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which could be considered the second most powerful court in the nation. Although he was 60 years

old, his influence over ultra-conservative jurisprudence became well known at the time of his nomination. He is one of the founding fathers, so to speak, of originalism. Democrats feared that his confirmation would shift the court so far to the right that it would be decades before balance could be restored. That political war was fought mainly over Judge Bork's stance on Roe vs. Wade, a war which President Reagan lost. Fierce opposition from Democrats like Ted Kennedy and some Republicans like Arlen Specter, led to Bork being rejected by the Senate 58 to 42. Anthony Kennedy was confirmed unanimously in his wake. Judge Bork resigned his seat on the DC Circuit the following year, leaving his colleague on the court Antonin Scalia to carry the battle flag for another time. But Judge Bork's influence didn't fade. He is still held in high esteem by conservative legal scholars over such matters as federalism, original intent, and other matters. But his influence over another body of law is deep, pervasive and is playing out across the nation in ways that will probably be felt for generations.

After serving as Solicitor-General for Presidents Nixon and Ford from 1973 to 1977, Bork wrote a book that has had a lasting influence on the American economy. The Antitrust Paradox is Robert Bork's magnum opus. Along with Judge Robert Posner's seminal book Antitrust Law(1976), the influence that Bork's book has had on modern competition law in the conservative era is difficult to overstate. Both men are associated with the so-called Chicago School of neoliberal economics with its heavy emphasis on deregulated markets and the rational choice theory. Conservative legal minds like George Priest at Yale have praised his influence:

Virtually all would agree that the Supreme Court, in its change of direction of antitrust law beginning in the late 1970s, drew principally from Judge Bork's book both for guidance and support of its new consumer welfare basis for antitrust doctrine.

Read more.

The failure of imagination and the need for a Progressive agenda

When Bill Clinton was first made president, he promised to revamp the economy along the lines of Roosevelt's first 100 days.  Of course, nothing of the kind happened.  Since this is USA where historical illiteracy is considered normal and acceptable, I just assumed that Clinton's first 100 days were so insignificant by comparison because he didn't actually understand FDR's accomplishments.

That explained the Big Dog to some extent, but I wasn't much satisfied that historical illiteracy explained it all. Far from it. There is also the problem that the institutions in USA have grown so large and ponderous since the 1930s, any change at all is at least an order of magnitude more difficult.  This not only applies to redesigning social programs, it applies to hardware like military aircraft.  For example, the P-51 Mustang fighter, WW II's most successful fighter plane, went from drawing board to flying in only 117 days.  Now it takes decades to design a new fighter plane.

When Obama was elected on a slogan of "hope and change" during the greatest economic catastrophe since the 1930s, one would have assumed that a new economic agenda was forthcoming--you know--change.  But even though Obama is a known historical illiterate and the institutions in USA are even MORE ossified than when Clinton was elected, these factors still don't explain much.  Because the BIG element missing from today's debates are the ideas and pressure groups that led to FDR's reforms.

I mean, think about it for a minute.  We are facing problems that require that we must literally rebuild and redesign our whole infrastructure to operate on something other than petroleum.  We have a VERY short time to accomplish this monumental task.  And yet, we are letting idiots tell us that their "economics" require we do nothing while millions are out of work.

This is happening because the left--the people who are supposed to show up with the big plans and the big frontal lobes to create those big plans--spent the last 35 years ignoring economics so they could concentrate on such slacktivist projects as wearing "meaningful" rubber bands on one's wrist, organizing marches with giant puppets, or walking long distances to fight cancer.  Why tackle serious projects when there really are "50 easy ways to save the planet?"

When FDR took office, there were dozens of well-thought-out projects ready to roll created by serious people who had done serious thinking.  Now the big political voices are simply ridiculous.  Watch Glenn Beck for about 3 minutes and you too will be muttering about how the Enlightenment was wasted on him.  But forget the crazy right wing--they have always been Glenn Beck insane.  They are humanity's reptilians, after all.  The problem is that the folks who should know better are almost as irrelevant.

So nothing will change until we Progressives stop being irrelevant.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The top marginal income tax rate should be about 65%...

by Mike Kimel

Cross posted at the Presimetrics blog.

To maximize real economic growth in the United States, the top marginal income tax rate should be about 65%, give or take about ten percent. Preposterous, right? Well, it turns out that’s what the data tells us, or would, if we had the ears to listen.
Read more.

Some thoughts on the Daley and Sperling appointments

So, Obama has once again tapped some hard-core neo-liberal corporatist types for his closest advisers. Midwest chairman of JPMorgan Chase and brother of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, William Daley, is to become the new Chief of Staff. Gene Sperling is to step into the abominable Larry Summers' position as head of the National Economic Council. (I should also note, even if I think Volcker remains a financial predator, Paul Volcker Gives Up, Resigning as Obama Advisor.)

I strongly agree with the analysis of Mike Konczal at Rortybomb: The New Financial Elite, Rubinites and the Democratic Party
It’s also very likely that the Rubinites and Wall Streeters in the administration are the ones pushing for deficit reduction coming out of the worst downtown since the Great Depression and also are the ones who are likely emphasizing a “structural” nature of unemployment, particularly generated by believed uncertainty of budget deficits – Rubin himself has pushed in these direction recently. These two claims are disastrous for the Democrats, and the worry from many on the outside, myself included, is that these are the voices most strongly heard on economic policy. A larger problem than whether or not Rubin himself is associated with any Democratic insider is that the mentality of the new financial elite could take over policy and ideological thinking within the party that is supposed to represent the interests of working people.
To highlight the problem, Konczal points to Chrystia Freeland’s Atlantic Monthly article The Rise of the New Global Elite.

The good news—and the bad news—for America is that the nation’s own super-elite is rapidly adjusting to this more global perspective. The U.S.-based CEO of one of the world’s largest hedge funds told me that his firm’s investment committee often discusses the question of who wins and who loses in today’s economy. In a recent internal debate, he said, one of his senior colleagues had argued that the hollowing-out of the American middle class didn’t really matter. “His point was that if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade,” the CEO recalled.

I heard a similar sentiment from the Taiwanese-born, 30-something CFO of a U.S. Internet company. A gentle, unpretentious man who went from public school to Harvard, he’s nonetheless not terribly sympathetic to the complaints of the American middle class. “We demand a higher paycheck than the rest of the world,” he told me. “So if you’re going to demand 10 times the paycheck, you need to deliver 10 times the value. It sounds harsh, but maybe people in the middle class need to decide to take a pay cut.”…

When I asked one of Wall Street’s most successful investment-bank CEOs if he felt guilty for his firm’s role in creating the financial crisis, he told me with evident sincerity that he did not. The real culprit, he explained, was his feckless cousin, who owned three cars and a home he could not afford. One of America’s top hedge-fund managers made a near-identical case to me—though this time the offenders were his in-laws and their subprime mortgage. And a private-equity baron who divides his time between New York and Palm Beach pinned blame for the collapse on a favorite golf caddy in Arizona, who had bought three condos as investment properties at the height of the bubble.

Somewhere in the recesses of my memory, I hear the staccato boom of The Who screaming Won't Get Fooled Again, and I have a deep, deep desire to drink the entire bottle of Irish Cream Liquor I am trying desperately to numb myself with.

WikiLeaks update 07.JAN.11

About now, somebody in the State Department is probably lobbying for a total WikiLeaks dump.  Some Norwegian site claims to have the whole collection anyway so a complete dump is not a matter of if but when.  At least with a total dump, there is the possibility that the populace would be overwhelmed and then quickly bored.  As it is now, the releases are coming just fast enough for the curious citizen to absorb.  It is the delegitimization of the USA empire by a thousand cuts.

But of course, that will never happen because there are butts to be covered, and goodness knows there are probably some seriously embarrassing cables yet to come.  So the State Department will pretend the horse really isn't out of the barn. Good luck with that.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

German realism on the economy

Yes, I know Spiegel is supposed to be this conservative right-wing rag, and by German standards, they may well be.  In USA terms, however, this puts Spiegel about ten clicks to the left of someone like Obama.  But their intellectual standards are VERY high and when they chose to investigate a topic, they will usually write something worth remembering.  This is especially true of their economic reporting.  While Spiegel can parrot the neoliberal bullshit with best of them, they cannot utterly repress that insatiable German lust for facts.

And they are especially dogged in their pursuit of facts in USA, and have now produced an amazing portrait of the mostly unreported economic catastrophes that have engulfed millions of Americans.  It's online but it is only in German (someone has discovered that USA is VERY touchy about having some else point out our flaws--imagine that).  Fear not, the Google plug-in for translations works very well (better than most college German majors in USA could manage).  First the German link, and then the translation.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Illustrating a class theory

One of the occupational hazards of creating a class theory is that it brings the self-appointed experts on Marx out of the woodwork who are happy to explain how wrong you are for not agreeing with the "master" of class analysis.  Since I was never trying to be Marx and have long thought his class analysis hopelessly primitive, these folks usually don't bother me much and we can usually have a polite exchange of ideas.  On the other hand, since a Producer-Predator class analysis pretty much puts Marx in the role of just another Predator philosopher, doctrinaire Marxists usually wind up angry with me.

I've been tinkering with this class theory since the late 1980s when I decided to incorporate class analysis into an early manuscript of what would become Elegant Technology.  This early version was illustrated with a primitive draw program that came with the early Macintoshes called MacPaint.  This was barely an improvement over the sort of sketch one would scrawl on the back of a cocktail napkin, but it was sufficiently clear so that the first publisher of my book included it.  He thought it significant that I had divided the social order vertically along occupational lines rather than horizontally along income lines.  (The original book only contained the first five illustrations--3.1-3.5 in the page linked above.)

As illustration software improved and I got to learn some of it, so did my desire to refine my class theory.  By 1996, I had learned Adobe Illustrator and had been shown how you could fool it into creating a 3d-looking illustration.  I had been asked to present a paper at a Veblen conference on his business-industry dichotomy so decided the update both my thinking on class and the illustrations.

By the early 21st century, I had discovered real 3d illustration programs and in 2006, I cobbled together a movie to demonstrate my class theory.  It's on YouTube and it gets a few hits a week.  Occasionally, there is a major spike in viewership when someone assigns it to their students but mostly it remains deservedly obscure.
Recently, I got my hands on a SERIOUS and very intimidating 3d program which combined with my new infatuation with high-def video has caused me to revisit my class theory.  The other day as I was struggling with the problems of positioning textures and animating cameras, I said to myself, "Well, there is one thing for sure--Marx never had to learn how to use keyframes or tracking spotlights to illustrate HIS class theory."

So here is my latest attempt to describe how the social order should look in a modern well-ordered society.  It is obviously a work in progress.  Because the software is so sophisticated, I am tempted to do all sorts of wonderful things to make the Producer-Predator description even clearer.  In the meantime, this looks like something one might see in the lobby of a think tank devoted to promoting the ideas of Elegant Technology--make the Producer cone 20' high with an interactive set of lights that would locate various occupations within it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Producers vs Predators in pictures

If there ever was an example of a Producer Class city, it must certainly be Detroit.  It was for many years, the global center of that most difficult of all items of human manufacture--the mass-produced automobile.  And so, it became VERY prosperous. And so it became the target of the whole range of Predators.

The big damage to Detroit was done by the usual suspects--speculators and other banksters who conspired to suck the wealth out of the city and the industry that built it.  But petty Predators played a role too.  Natives of the area claim that nothing was the same after the riots in the 1960s.  Sounds about right--Producers have a very low tolerance for people who just wreck things because they have no other ways for expressing their rage.  The Producers of Detroit looked at the fires and just walked away from the creativity and ingenuity it required to build the city in the first place.

So the Predators won.  Their job is SO much easier.  As the saying goes "Any jackass can kick down a barn but it take a carpenter to build one."  In this series of pictures, we see the ruins of a once-proud city.  We also get some idea of just how amazing Detroit's Producer Classes once were.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cap and Trade--the new indulgences

As someone who was raised a Lutheran, I find the whole idea of approaching the carbon emissions debate with the concept of cap and trade almost unbearably funny AND offensive.  Let me explain.

Cap and trade is an idea that comes mostly from the mind of a former University of Chicago economist by the name of Ronald H. Coase whose 1960 paper titled "The Problem of Social Cost" eventually would win him the 1991 Riksbank (Nobel) Prize in economics.  In a nutshell, cap and trade is an idea that replaces strict regulation of emissions with a flexible scheme that would set an overall total for carbon output but would allow the "wisdom of the markets" to set the strategy for achieving those goals.

For example, say you were a power company with a dozen coal-fired generators spewing out thousands of tons of carbon dioxide every year.  Congress passes a law that says folks like you must reduce your carbon pollution by 20%.  Under cap and trade you would have options for meeting such a goal.  You could shut down 20% of your generating capacity which is not really possible because you have customers for the electricity you generate.  You could replace some of your coal-fired plants with some method that doesn't spew so much carbon into the air.  But that is difficult and expensive--however, it would get you carbon credits for your virtuous behavior which you could then sell to those companies who do not upgrade their generating capacity.  Or you could do nothing to your plants but you would buy carbon credits from someone who has upgraded.  So under cap and trade, the cap is the setting of carbon limits while the trade is the "free-market" method of meeting those limits.

So cap and trade is a method whereby a market mechanism would be created to reward virtuous behavior while punishing the polluting sinners.  Sounds like a good idea--especially to the folks who would set up the market in emissions trades.  The free-marketeers could use this scheme to illustrate that they too can address serious problems without the intervention of the nanny state while the new industries that create the technologies for carbon reduction would be funded by the old industries that refuse to adapt.  I mean, what's not to like?

Well, there's this little problem that triggered the Protestant Reformation--the idea that rich people should be able to keep on sinning so long as they bought indulgences.  In the case of cap and trade, these new indulgences would allow the polluters the right to keep on sinning so long as they could find someone else to be their whipping boy.

Sounds like the perfect scheme for kicking the problem down the road while it enriches those who have created the markets in carbon trading.  Somewhere the ghost of Martin Luther is cackling "I told you indulgences are evil!"

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What's next for 2011?

Whenever I make predictions, I usually err on the side of assuming more of my fellow citizens than they probably deserve.  Occasionally I am like the builder who assumes a project will go as well in real life as it appears in his mind while planning and visualizing the project.  I have gotten better at planning for setbacks as I have grown older, but I still get tripped up by folks who cannot perform as advertised.

Goodness knows there are major causes for alarm.  The financial community has delayed a few disasters in the past two years--but they have only been delayed.  Anyone who can still do eighth grade arithmetic knows enough to prove the assumptions of our big financial actors are disastrously flawed.  These banks will fail again and will need bailouts again (assuming they can arrange them).  Predicting this is like predicting dawn.  Voodoo economics has failed but everyone still wants to play with the rattles.

Then there is the catastrophe of climate change.  2010 should have ended any debates about the existence of the changes given the extremes of the weather events, and high school chemistry should be able to explain why our trillions of carbons fires are the cause of this calamity, but the carbon industries are very rich and have funded pseudo-intellectuals to convince us that what we can see out our windows is not happening.  An astonishing number of people believe this expensive propaganda.

And then there is the utter lack of progress on the energy front.  This one I actually understand.  We have $TRILLIONS invested in a carbon-fueled infrastructure and NONE of the substitutes looks very promising.  So we close our eyes as tightly as we can to the need for substantial change and hope the folks who find and refine our fuels know where to look and won't charge us too much for their services.

So because we won't address our basic problems, we stagger from disaster to calamity.  There are millions without jobs or any hope of getting one.  Our food supply is staggering under the twin assaults of bad weather and expensive energy.  Much of our housing stock is too expensive to live in and our cities are designed for cheap fuels that we will never see again. Etc.!

Worst of all, our ability to change course has been decimated.  We cannot act effectively because our organs of mass communications have been taken over by liars, fools, and those who believe their highest goal in life is to push a toothpaste with a higher profit margin.  Our schools have become sub-moronic organizations whose function has been reduced to selling our children into debt peonage.  So lacking a path to a rational solution to the big problems, folks turn to various forms of superstition from religion to New Age crystal-stroking.  Because deep down, everyone agrees our problems are FAR beyond the abilities of a badly educated and hopelessly corrupt political class.

While I clearly believe the situation is dire, I believe it is NOT hopeless.  The solution to the big problems will only come from the power of the Producers.  It is the only place from which solutions have EVER come.  The core values of the Producers (instinct of workmanship, parental desire to create a better life for offspring, and the instincts of idle curiosity) will solve the problems IF Producers are empowered.

In the meantime, we may see a lot of chaos and even something that resembles a revolution.  Of course, unless a revolution puts the Producer Classes and their values into power, they have only succeeded in wasting time, wrecking things, and spilling some innocent blood.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Russia takes out a bankster

One of the great diplomatic rows of the dying 2010 was over the conviction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky for an assortment of charges related to the theft of Yukos Oil.  The idea that he could be anything BUT guilty strains credulity but wouldn't you know it, those bastions of western "democratic" legal traditions like England and USA act as if he is some sort of human rights hero being persecuted by a malevolent government.  I have even seen him compared to Solzhenitsyn (you cannot make this shit up.)

But why should it surprise anyone that the "liberal" Guardian of London (or the New York Times or the Washington Post) regularly runs puff pieces bemoaning the plight of poor, put-upon Mikhail?  The reason is because, unlike most of us living below an income of $100,000 (which means most of us), the folks who work at those publications actually BELIEVE that Khodorkovsky is an innocent man because they BELIEVE there are ways to legally seize such a fortune.

Now it is true that those other equally guilty Russian oligarchs, who stole their fortunes during the corruption of the Yeltsin years and are now living in London and New York, are spreading around enough PR money to influence the big papers and the State Department.  But this much more than cheap intellectual corruption, this is about shared values.  Don't think so?  Then explain why there have been virtually no indictments in USA and England, let alone convictions, of the the mega-thieves whose corruptions crashed the global economy in 2008.

Tell me the Predator Classes don't stick together.