Friday, March 30, 2012

Sometimes even Republicans get it

Paul Douglas came to the Minneapolis / St. Paul TV market during some ratings war in the 1980s.  Because weather forecasting can be a serious life-and-death matter around here, the weather forecasts tend to be a LOT longer and more complex than they would be in, say, San Diego.  Back when it was still new and very expensive, several local TV stations bought their own Doppler radar systems and Douglas was brought in to give a new face to this fancy equipment.  He was young, very bright, educated, and empathetic.  He is also a superb weather man and soon he was a ratings sensation.  I'd read he was also something of a minor celebrity on the Jesus circuit but that didn't bother me because he got the weather right.

So now we see Douglas trying to convince his conservative Republican brethren that climate change is real.  Of course, you could see this day coming because at some point, the evidence out the window just crushes ideological objections.  I like to say that climate change is most noticeable the further you get from the oceans, the equator, and sea level.  Minnesota is in the middle of a huge continent and is halfway to the North Pole.  The evidence of climate change around here is so overwhelming, climate change deniers come in but two flavors—morons and drooling morons.  Douglas is neither of these!  The question is, can he convince his comrades over on the right?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The BRICS summit

The rest of the world seems to think their economic prospects will get better if they get the USA and its economic hegemony often called "The Washington Consensus" out of their lives.  Institutional analysis suggests that home-grown banksters will be as big a bunch of crooks and screw-ups as foreign ones, but you can hardly blame the rest of the world for wanting to try something else.

The people of the Iberian peninsula get angrier

The troubles of the heavily indebted Eurozone nations are not about to disappear on their own anytime soon.  The debts are multiplied in a computer somewhere while efforts to pay those mounting debts are fought with methods old and new.  One thing is absolutely certain—there is NO ways the real economy can keep pace with computers calculating new debts.  But now it has become Spain and Portugal's turn to try to pay off the banksters.

Why Iran isn't backing down

One of the very few signs of sanity these days is that you can find excellent, well-written articles dealing with why making war on Iran is a terrible idea.  Because war-mongering is so easy and coming up with intelligent alternatives so hard, we need as many of these as possible.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fukushima is still a BIG problem

This video is perhaps the most powerful I have ever seen.  It is an interview with an engineer who is trying to keep the reactors at Fukushima from collapsing into a large pile of disaster.  This is a highly educated man who trained to have a comfortable life managing one of Japan's most important power sources.  Just remember, there were SIX reactors at Fukushima.  His life is being shortened by nuclear exposure and he knows it.  And yet he still goes to work to solve highly complex problems—problems he did not cause—when moving to Australia would seem a better choice.

(And there are people who actually say there is no "instinct of workmanship" and that Producers, by their very nature, cannot be heroic.  Idiots!)

A note:  This embedded video is mostly in German because it was originally made by ZDF.  Maybe your browser plays the subtitles in the embed but if it does not, click on the YouTube logo in the lower right corner and it will open in YouTube.  Then look for the red CC button on the bottom.  Click that and you see the subtitles.  It is pretty solid video—it CAN be watched full-screen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Debating Peak Oil

Old men with heart conditions shouldn't go around arguing with people who have no intention of letting small things like facts change their minds.  But I got into a pointless debate over the weekend and it probably didn't do my heart any good.  I am sure it changed no minds.  The subject was Peak Oil.

In my mind, the questions surrounding Peak Oil are NOT very complicated.  When an oil well comes in, those first barrels are incredibly easy to extract.  In fact though they have become extremely rare, the wells that made people rich were called "gushers" because underground pressure pushed the crude up the drill-hole.  But soon things are under control and pumps are connected to the field pipes.  It has become a production well.  As the well gets older, the flow of oil to the pumps slow.  At some point, it isn't worth the costs and trouble to run the pump.  The well has gone "dry."  This is highly oversimplified because there are host of factors that determine how long the well produces and how much, but nothing changes the fact that even highly productive wells do not produce forever.  They have a life span that is finite.  And because wells are finite, oil fields are finite.

We have been drilling for oil since at least 1859—that's 153 years.  We have learned a very great deal about the lifespans of oil fields.  This knowledge was gained through known and tested methodologies.  When Hubbard predicted the peak output for USA in 1956, he was only off by months even though the prediction was for 1970.  This isn't like betting on sporting events—this is like predicting the dawn and can be done almost as accurately.

The problem with Peak Oil deniers is that they cannot differentiate in their minds between predictions on football and predictions on known scientific phenomenon.  They know that predictions can be wrong—just look at how often the "experts" on the Sunday morning football shows get it wrong, they will say.  And since they believe that predictions are mostly random guesses, they give priority to the beliefs in religious principles like: If oil runs short, the price will rise and there will be more incentive to extract hard-to-get oil.  The MARKET will prevent a Peak Oil economic meltdown—because unlike predictions, the MARKET is ALWAYS right.

But over here in the world of Producers, we make predictions all the time in matters of life and death and get it wrong so seldom, our failures make headline news—like if one of our bridges falls into the river because one of the predictions (that some girder is large enough) was wrong.  We are right about 99.99% of the time in our predictions.  What's better, every time we get one wrong, we upgrade our prediction mechanisms so they are more accurate the next time.

Peak Oil Theory is a HIGHLY refined Producer Class prediction mechanism.  The chance of it being wrong is TINY because it has already demonstrated countless times that it works.  So there's your problem debating a Peak Oil denier.  He doesn't even know there are whole classes of predictions that are VERY reliable.  He cannot be bothered with understanding WHY Peak Oil is one of those very reliable predictions—mostly because it is too complicated.  And since his lack of understanding for how the Producer Class makes predictions leads him towards confusion and frustration, he falls back on religious beliefs like the one about the "Free Market."  It comforts him—so is a worthy substitute for his lack of understanding.  Unfortunately, should you decide to debate this creature, facts don't work because they only confuse his belief structure—the same facts that would instantly convince a good Producer Class oil field pro.  You are probably lucky if the fact-hater doesn't try to get violent with you.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Gold Standard? (sigh)

I am at LEAST a third generation hater of the gold standard.  I had grandfathers who tried to making a living growing food in Kansas and Minnesota which put them both squarely in the middle of the organized fight against the gold bugs.  My mother's father worked actively for congressman Lindbergh—a man perhaps best known for his speeches and a book against the Money Trusts.  My father's father farmed in Kansas—home to perhaps the most intellectual wing of the People's Party and one of the prime stomping grounds for Nebraskan William Jennings Bryan of the famous "Cross of Gold" speech.

Farmers hated the gold standard for a wide assortment of reasons but one of the primary complaints was gold's inflexibility.  When farmers brought their crop to market in the fall, an inflexible currency would cause a shortage of money which would drive down prices.  For the farmer, this defeated all his hard work.  For the robber barons, this was gold's main feature.  So out here in the heartland, the abolition of the the gold standard was priority #1 for farmers and their political organizations, from 1873 when USA went back on a very harsh version of the gold standard, to at least 1933 when Roosevelt REALLY modified the gold standard by making it illegal for USA citizens to hold gold.  Nixon drove the final nail in the coffin in 1971 when he closed the international gold window.

So a legitimate question could be asked, "Did the People's Party ultimately win a major victory?"  After all, if there is no gold standard, shouldn't the currency now be flexible enough to accommodate the needs of the real economy?  Well, in theory monetary policy should work like that now that money is information on a server somewhere.  And yes, electronic money is indeed more flexible.  But keep in mind the central demand of the agrarian monetary reformers was for democratic control on the creation of money—so even winning this minor detail would have hardly satisfied my grandfathers.

Unfortunately, since the primary function of money is to convey information, there is nothing that says electronic money cannot be just as onerous and regressive as the old gold standard.  If fact, as is argued below, that is exactly what is happening.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Neoliberalism and today's Sweden

This article confirms what I have long suspected—that the Sweden I discovered in 1970, 1972, and 1989 exists only in the history books these days. I saw the evidence for myself in 1995 that neoliberalism had come to dominate Sweden and especially the Social Democratic Party just as certainly as in USA and with the Democrats.  I just didn't want to believe it.  Bigotry must have been working, I confess, because even though the Nobel Committee was handing out their "Memorial" Prize in Economics to one neoliberal crackpot after another, I just assumed that "my" tribe was just too sane to be caught up in this madness.  I was clutching at straws when I saw that Sweden didn't join the Euro, or when they handled their banking crises in 1992 by nationalizing the bad actors.

Then last sumer when I was visited by a college professor from Finland, I was utterly shocked at how far to the right he had drifted politically.  He still maintained his Nordic political correctness, only now it was in service of the Leisure Classes.  For example, when I suggested that the banksters had committed so many serious crimes that the citizenry might well be thinking of greasing up the old guillotines, he informed me quite primly that such a crack would now be labeled "hate speech" in Finland.  And while Finland is not Sweden, the big difference is that the Finns are only truly happy when they are outperforming their old colonial masters.  So I am pretty sure that my friend was an A+ version of whatever is going on in Sweden.

Sweden is already paying a high price for her embrace of neoliberalism.  Youth unemployment is ridiculously high and in 2011, more Swedes emigrated than at any time since 1887.  Apparently, parroting right-wing economics will destroy (at least partially) the hard-won global reputation for having the most admirable and advanced political system in the world.

The cultural importance of religion

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
I Timothy 6:10

One of the great teachings of Christianity is that while it is good to organize a society so that folks prosper, that society WILL fail if the pursuit is money is substituted for the pursuit of production excellence.  Big difference!  HUGE!

Of the all the fallacies of the Marxist worldview, the greatest is that in his telling, religion is merely an opiate that folks should lose like any other harmful addiction.  This is very likely why he never understood the Industrial Revolution even though he liked to write about it.  Because the Industrial Revolution was PROFOUNDLY religious.

In England, the Protestant Reformation was an uneven affair.  The Church of England (CoE) was founded by a greedy, overweight, serial killer whose split with the mother church was driven by sexual needs and power politics.  When Henry VIII actually thought about religion, he damned the Protestants to hell—his screed against Luther got him the title "Defender of the Faith" which the British monarch uses until this day.  So "official" Protestantism had almost nothing to do with matters of faith.

On the other hand, Britain had plenty of Protestants who WERE motivated by matters of faith and conscience.  They were the "dissenting" Protestants and they included the Puritans, the Presbyterians, and perhaps most interestingly, the Quakers.  Because if you look at the history of industrialization, the Quakers are just everywhere.  In hindsight this was not surprising—they were banned from establishment CoE schools like Oxford and Cambridge but because of their thrift and hard work, had money to invest and bright young folks for whom to provide opportunities.  They loved precision and honored inventiveness.  Sounds like a recipe for precision manufacture to me.

An interesting example of the Quaker influence in USA can be seen in the life of Ben Franklin.  In Puritan Boston he was a furious young man with a very limited future.  In Quaker Philadelphia, he just explodes with bright ideas and is welcomed into the community as someone who had been given a mega-dose of inner light.  BTW, Max Weber who is often considered an authority on the Protestant Work Ethic, uses Franklin as an example of Calvinism—which most assuredly applied to his Boston childhood but certainly did not apply to the colony where he became a rich man.

Back to England.  While the Industrial Revolution flourished in the Midlands and Scotland, the CoE types surrounding the king conspired to appropriate the fruits of the new wealth-generation for themselves.  And through an assortment of methods, were quite successful.  What Marx called Capitalism was the humanism of Industrialization seized by Predators determined to suck every farthing out those "dirty" enterprises up north.  Marx's Capitalism was the outcome of the conflict between the cynics who believed Protestantism was just another way to get laid and those who actually believed a religious life should lead one to higher callings—like creating the means for universal prosperity.

Poor Marx!  By writing off religion as a subject worth examining, he missed the critically important nuances of the historical event that was easily the most interesting revolution in human history.  It's no damn wonder his followers would some day build Ladas.  Because if you confuse money and prosperity, it's pretty easy to confuse industrialization with Capitalism.  And if you confuse those, your desire to regulate or destroy Capitalism has the unfortunate side effect of crippling the output of the Producing Classes.  And Trabants, Wartburgs, and Moskovichs are examples that prove Ladas weren't even the worst.  (You cannot make this shit up.)

Anyway, here we have a real Quaker writing in the Washington Post trying to explain how the economic thinking of their sect differs from the "Capitalism" as described by Marx.

About those trade sanctions against Iran

It is not so very surprising that trade sanctions against a country that exports the world's most desirable commodity are extremely difficult to enforce.  In fact, because sanctions against Iran are almost certain to fail, it is likely that she will emerge far stronger for the experience.  Iran will develop a new customer base, new strategic alliances, and new suppliers.  And unless her enemies start bombing out of sheer frustration, she will probably look on these sanctions as an historic opportunity.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Speculators and oil prices

It's damn interesting the lengths someone or institution will go to to avoid saying, "Speculators will always take a bad situation and make it so much worse.  They are, after all, the Predator's Predators."

If gasoline was $5 a gallon and you knew that $2.50 was going to finance the necessary alternative infrastructure we are going to need as the easy-to-get oil runs out, bring it on.  But knowing that gasoline will probably hit $5 this summer (with the bulk of the increased prices going to the nastiest of speculators who will contribute less than NOTHING to the social order) is possibly the single greatest reason for laughing neoliberalism out of any discussions by sane adults dealing with real problems.

But hey, even the St. Louis Fed has come to the earth-shattering conclusion that speculators "exacerbate" the price swings in oil.

Saturday toons 24 MARCH 12

Friday, March 23, 2012

World Bank boasting on poverty reduction called a lie

The World Bank's claim that it has helped reduce poverty worldwide by one half is being called a lie by scholars and observers independent of the neo-liberal monolith.

I always thought the World Bank's program was a cruel joke. A few years ago, I read about the WB boasting that poverty had been significantly reduced because a few hundred million people had doubled their incomes. There were no longer living on just one dollar a day. They now had two dollars a day to survive on.

And now Portugal one more time

This is sick.  The austerity ghouls, having worked their financial magic on Greece, will now turn their attention to Portugal (again).  Just remember, doing this dirty work is someone's full-time job at places like IMF.  And things won't get better until the austerity ghouls get new marching order they can believe in.  Hearts and minds, folks, hearts and minds.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Carbon fiber?

One of my life's highlights was attending a meeting of a group of guys who were teaching each other how to make glider parts out of carbon fiber.  The finished sailplane would have a 12 meter wingspan (39 ft.) and yet weigh less than 300 pounds (136 kg.)  They were passing around some of the smaller completed parts and they were absurdly light—it was as if gravity had been suspended.  Of course, the reason for the gathering was to exchange building tips because carbon fiber is insanely fussy to work with.  The key to superlight parts is to lay up the fabric with just enough epoxy to wet every fiber—but not one drop more.  Add in the regular problems of proper cure time and temperature, regulating the humidity, accurately mixing the epoxy, etc. and it became quite clear that fabricating the carbon-fiber parts for that 300# sailplane would be a LOT harder than it looked.  As I held an aileron hinge that weighed about as much as a postage stamp, I decided that I would wait a couple of generations before I flew in any airplane made of this exotic wonder-material.

Well, folks, it turns out that Airbus' new super-jumbo is having problems with its carbon-fiber parts.  Goodness knows it's hard enough to build such a plane out of aluminum—and all you have to do is call up the metal guys and they ship over material that has worked magnificently since the days of the DC-3.  So substituting carbon fiber turns time-tested engineering into a crap shoot.  Yes, we know quite a lot about fabricating parts of carbon fiber—but do we know enough to make jumbo-jets out of the stuff?  But the weight savings and the resulting fuel savings are just too large a temptation to pass up.  I mean, I REALLY want folks to solve these tricky fabrication problems because of the fuel savings but are we really ready to test our theories on transportation devices that will kill 400+ passengers at a crack if they fail?

(BTW, this isn't just an A380 question because Boeing's new 747-8 is also heavily into carbon—of course, if Boeing really has solved the fabrication problems, 747-8 will just destroy the A380 in the market.  Because 747-8 is also late and over budget, we don't hear any gloating from Boeing...yet.)

Renewable energy in Asia

Because there is so much manufacturing excellence in Asia, it is easy to assume that they could make sustainable energy work if only they would just choose to do it.  The fact that they have not demonstrates some interesting things.
  • Manufacturing excellence is great—but does it really trump fire?
  • Playing industrial catch-up is easier than leading the pack.
  • If Asia isn't setting the industrial pace—who is?  If the answer is Germany, perhaps that explains the growing interest in renewables.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The criminals gunning for World Bank presidency

Since the World Bank has become a known hangout for neoliberal swine, it should not surprise anyone that two of the more disgusting neoliberals are competing to become its next president.  Both are intellectual lightweights.  Both have track records that would shame a normal person into disappearing into the life of a recluse.  So not surprisingly, both have been part of the economics department at Harvard.  That institution collects mega-failures who are arrogant enough to be bullies.  It's a prime requirement to become a neoliberal, after all.

These are just two of the better-known applicants for the top job at the World Bank.  There are probably dozens more from within the institution itself who are just as reactionary.  The World Bank was formed with some pretty lofty intentions.  It would actually be helpful if it fulfilled some of the founders' vision for it.  But the World Bank lost the narrative sometime around the disastrous presidency of Robert Strange McNamera—another Harvard wünderkind—so maybe Summers or Sachs would be the "logical" choices.

Can the technologically illiterate govern?

Ever since the Industrial Revolution and the rise in power of the Producing Classes, there has been a growing awareness of the yawning gap between the worldviews of the Industrial and Leisure Classes.  To the technologically literate, the Leisure Classes usually sound like the ditz in Slap Shot who complains that her radio reception is poor in Charlestown (Johnstown) Pennsylvania because she is so far below sea level.

I must admit to having little patience with techno-cretins.  I try to be polite but there are just times when some little thing makes me wish I had my own nukes.  The best example comes from the days when VCRs became popular.  I would visit someone's home and there it was, flashing 12:00 at me.  For some reason, this drove me crazy because not only was it annoying, it meant the VCR's owners could not be bothered to learn how to make their machine record programs while they were out—which was the main reason to own one, after all.  They would rather have a flashing light in front of them than read the sixteen instructions needed to get their machine to function.  I actually told several people that I thought that anyone who wouldn't set their VCRs' clock was too lazy and ignorant to be allowed to vote.  (So now you know how I get the reputation for being a bit harsh.)

Anyway, it's nice to know Kovacs of Mozilla thinks that anyone who cannot communicate with the Internet is unfit to govern.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A bankster foregoing profits in food speculation?

This a VERY small step towards returning the banking community to the civilized world.  But we must celebrate even tiny steps because it might signal a turn.
DEUTSCHE BANK: We Will No Longer Create Certain Securities Until We're Sure They Don't Contribute To Food Poverty

When the economic rules changed

The economic history of the 1930s is probably the most interesting era of them all.  By vastly expanding the means of production, industrialization had destroyed the assumptions of traditional Alfred Marshall economics.  Conventional wisdom made the Great Depression inevitable.  The only question was—what would replace it?  In USSR, a sociopathic killer lurched between schemes for industrialization that could be excused by the (mostly preindustrial) teachings of Karl Marx.  In Italy and Germany the economic rules would be set by the industrialists themselves which proved remarkably successful.

It was the English-speaking world that had the most awkward adjustment to the death of the conventional "wisdom."  Part of this is due to a good thing—the English world was not as prepared to use naked police-state terror to change the economic debate as were the Communists and Nazis.  So the new economics had to win by debate.  And the debate had not been won as late as 1937.  It could be argued that civilized behavior cost the English-speaking world the economic output of a decade.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Screwing over the world's poor

Yes, I know that Dr. Yunus the founder of the Grameen Bank won the Noble Peace Prize in 2006.  I even mentioned his institution during my introduction of Elegant Technology to the 1993 meeting of the American Economic Association when I said, "During the campaign, Bill Clinton spoke glowingly about the microlending practices of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh."  I was quite appaled by this adding, "That we should need ideas from such a source says much."

So why was I so horrified by this praise for a third-world loan shark?  Simple.  The idea that a pitifully poor population could support a bunch of enterprises that had a 13+% nut to make was mathematically preposterous.  As any Producer can tell you, while getting your hands on the necessary capital to get a new product or service to market is a significant problem, it is not nearly the problem of finding paying customers for your new enterprise—especially if your potential customers are already extremely poor.  This was always the fatal flaw of "supply-side" economics.  Unlike the bizarre teachings of Jean-Baptiste Say, supply does NOT create its own demand.  Disproving this fallacy was central to the 1936 writings of John M. Keynes in his General Theory.

Microfinance would only work if usury suddenly became a LOT less harmful and Say was suddenly proven correct.  What could possibly go wrong?  Turns out, quite a lot.

A Lute wins a ceremonial title

One of the realizations that comes to folks who make up a minority culture is that for all practical purposes, we are invisible.  And trust me, Lutes in USA are about as invisible as is possible to the human condition.  But we DO have a celebrity who recognizes our existence—one Garrison Keillor who spins tall yarns about the Norwegian Lutherans in his fictional Lake Wobegon on American Public Radio.  Not surprisingly, we Lutes love him.  He describes the petty cultural characteristics of our tribe so well, I think one of the Lutheran colleges in the area should bestow on him an honorary Ph.D. in cultural anthropology.  In his telling, we are honest, polite, slightly neurotic, diligent, and hard-working good neighbors, among other mostly endearing characteristics.  Pretty harmless, all in all.

And we Lutes are actually like that most of the time.  Considering we are descended from Vikings, the civilizing influence of the Lutheran Church has been quite remarkable.  But Lutes are have not always been a tribe that consumes weak coffee and Jello in the church basement while we argue over whether teenagers should have to memorize Luther's catechism.  This is an institution that has been a part of some extremely successful governments in the Nordic countries, has contributed incredible cultural gifts through composers like Bach, and has fielded great armies under commanders like Gustavus Adolphus.  The Lutheran Church, believe it or not, has been a source of great moral courage over the years.

The latest outburst of Lutheran relevance came during the last days of DDR when the Lutes organized the main opposition to the brutal tyranny of the Communist puppets.  The movement was centered in Leipzig—the city of J. S. Bach.

One of those incredibly brave Lutheran preachers from DDR has just become Germany's new president.  As the son of a Lutheran preacher, I want to take this moment to express my pride in one of my culture who was willing to struggle to make the world a better place.  Such expressions of pride are so VERY un-Lutheran but it's OK, we'll be invisible again soon enough.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The role of state technologies

One of my favorite professors had a term he used for technologies that were too expensive and complex to be produced without massive government involvement.  He called them "state technologies" and while he mostly used the term to describe nuclear power generation, it also applied to things like moon rockets and satellites.

Large airliners come under the heading of a state technology.  It is inconceivable that Boeing would have been able to build the 707 without the big order it had for the KC-135.  For that matter, it is impossible to imagine that Boeing would have had the expertise to build 707 if had not already built the B-52, the B-29, and the B-17—all projects paid for by the USA taxpayers.  So while Boeing is a private company with a listing on the NYSE, the very idea that air transport would even exist in USA without government orders, subsidies, and investments is absurd.

Even though air transport meets the classic definition of a state technology, we have had a ongoing battle between Boeing and Airbus over who has gotten an unfair advantage because of money funneled to them by governments.  In this case, both of them got money.  So we have the situation where some theological argument (that somehow makes sense to economists) provides the basis for expensive legal wrangling over who has committed the greater sin in pursuing the ability to build air transportation devices—devices whose mere existence proves that the builders are clearly "economic sinners".

Unfortunately, this legal fracas is not the only example where economists have failed in their task to describe the world and decided to prescribe how the world should work based on some (usually preindustrial) pet theories.  Were that it were so—because this sort counterproductive behavior is one of the main obstacles standing in the way of producing the technologies needed to address Peak Oil and Climate Change.

We can also be reasonably certain that the money spent by Boeing and Airbus to bring their cases in front of the World Trade Organization will not be spent making their airplanes safer, more fuel efficient, or more reliable.  But of course, if it were not for this sort of nonsense, how would the Predators extract their pound of flesh from a Producer Class activity like building airplanes?  (I mean besides the normal methods like rents and usury.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Time to hire the Producers

The trouble with most political activists is that they want their hectoring to become a paying job.  And if we have learned anything from the environmental movement in the last 30 years it is this: if any of these organizations ever become financially self-sustaining, the pressure is OFF to actually accomplish anything.  Except, of course, for getting their funders to renew their funding.

But utterly tame and irrelevant environmental bureaucracies explain only part of the problem of not accomplishing anything.  Some of the big problems like Peak Oil or Climate Change are not going to be solved by community organizing, or sit-down strikes, or heartfelt folk music, or another interpretive center or freaking conference.  And some variation of these things is what these organizations do.  This won't help much because the big problems can only be solved by the elite Producers—engineers, industrial designers, materials specialists and the high-end construction companies that can put complex and difficult plans into action.  About the only thing the hippies can do to help solve these life-threatening problems is to organize so that the Producer elites have the major money (like $2-3 trillion per year) they need to do their work well.  Oh, and get out of the way!

Right now, the Producer elites are drawing unemployment or working at Home Depot trying to keep body and soul together.  And the planet dies because we cannot seem to grab influence from the Powerpoint jockeys who think that the goal in life is to "raise awareness" in the hearts and minds of people (who usually cannot do a damn thing with their newfound awareness anyway.)

Last Friday, I heard about a perfect example of the insanity that comes of giving too much power to the pencil-necked geeks who believe that problems are solved because of their wise edicts.  Minnesota is worried about agricultural run-off in the Minnesota River watershed.  And it IS a problem—massive amounts of soil washes into the river which is slowly filling up the incredibly beautiful Lake Pepin, while the nitrogen fertilizer carries all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico where it creates this massive dead zone.  Unfortunately, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture thinks the solution is more and better police powers.  They want the authority to individually regulate each farmer.  And they want to buy a drone to monitor those recalcitrant peasants.  Meanwhile NONE of this high-priced regulation (a DRONE?!) buys better drainage systems or anything else that would solve the problems.

This sort of behavior is utterly crazy.  Take the money you would spend on drones and set up a fund that farmers can tap into as they figure out better ways to control their runoff.  When they have the new systems in place, they can send a picture of it along with a projection of how much runoff will be reduced.  That's it! Look, real solutions can only come from people who already live in rural areas.  Most of them do NOT need to be reminded how much they would rather not have their topsoil and expensive fertilizer washed away.  And they would change their methods in a heartbeat if someone could help with systems redesign and the capital expenses.

That's the problem with the Leisure Classes—the only motivational tactic they can even imagine is whipping people.  The idea of actually putting extra resources in the hands of those filthy Producers doesn't even show up on their radar.  Besides if the Leisure Classes cannot regulate, how can they possibly take credit for any improvement?

If there ever was a Leisure Class organization that existed to exist, it is our friends at  They initially organized to get the country to move past the Lewinski scandal.  When this problem had passed, they decided that their organizational skills should be worth something so they have been looking for a big issue ever since.  So now they have decided to sell their services to someone who wants to ensure the #OWS doesn't get out of line—The New Republic model.

Anyway, I simply cannot imagine Moveon organizing to get $2 trillion a year into the hands of the Producers so they can get on with the business of ensuring the planet's survival.

Saturday toons 17 MARCH 12

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fukashima one year later

Since a lot (maybe most) of the folks who are actually convinced that Climate Change is a serious problem also believe in nuclear power, I want to be careful about alienating potential allies.  On the other hand, I know plenty of people who believe nuclear power is beyond any consideration by good people—the worst possible combination of technological arrogance run amok, environmental carelessness, and a political system clearly not designed to make these sorts of planet-threatening decisions.  For them their political position is very easy to describe, "NO more nukes!"

Like the natural centrist I am, I tend to see plenty of merit on both sides of the nuclear debate.  And while it is pretty hard to argue with the evidence presented by a Fukushima or Chernobyl, there actually IS a pretty good case for nuclear power.
  1. No matter what anyone thinks about the decisions to build large nuclear power plants in the first place, we built a bunch of them.  The sites they occupy are never going to be recovered in any meaningful sense like farmland or housing.  So the solution is to continue to run them using the best methods available.  This intensive-maintenance includes upgrading / replacing the reactors.  We need base-load power generation and for all the problems of nuclear electrical power, it is still a better solution than:
  2. Coal—which is an absolute freaking disaster!  Not only does coal burning create mining problems like mountaintop removal and acid rain, under normal operating conditions, those plants actually spew more radioactive products into the atmosphere than the nukes.  And since coal is mostly carbon, burning it WILL produce carbon dioxide no matter what pollution controls are used.  When the problem is greenhouse gas buildup, there is no such thing as clean coal!
I must also admit that I have some personal nostalgia for the output of Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace program.  My childhood was largely spent in a tiny town in Minnesota occupied mainly by Mennonites.  These people were historical pacifists.  But Eisenhower had grown up a Mennonite in Kansas and became a 5-star general. (gasp)  The way my neighbors rationalized it, Ike may have succumbed to the sin of warfare—but it WAS a national emergency and Hitler obviously WAS a bad guy.  More importantly, Ike showed he retained SOME of his Mennonite upbringing by beating some of the swords into plowshares.  And Atoms for Peace was proof.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

When environmentalists won't grow up

The most obvious difference between a child's thinking and that of an aware adult is that the grown-up has developed effective mechanisms for evaluating and ordering risk.  If we actually lived in a society run by grown-ups, we would be doing something about the risks of the related mega-calamities posed by Peak Oil and Climate Change.  Or as the best-educated guy I have ever known said to me shortly before he died a year ago, "If we treated Climate Change with the seriousness it deserves, news about it would occupy all the space above the fold in every newspaper on earth for the rest of our lives."

This is a short speech by James Hansen—the guy whose Senate testimony in 1988 woke me up to the subject of the greenhouse effect.  He is the sort of guy that NASA relied on when they were racing to the moon—a genius farm-kid science graduate of a midwest land-grant university. Tom Wolff in his book on USA's space program called The Right Stuff was quoting Eric Hoffer when he claimed Apollo 11 was a "triumph of the squares."  I live around these people—Hoffer was absolutely right!  Hansen is from Iowa and was one of James Van Allen's (of the Van Allen Belt) fair-haired boys at Iowa City.  As Wolff so correctly pointed out, it was the intellectual horsepower from the institutions of the Big Ten, and others like them, that powered the space race—NOT the "name" schools like M.I.T. or Cal Tech which went largely missing in action.  That Hansen was one of Van Allen's prodigies means he truly is a rocket scientist's rocket scientist.

Here is this serious man with serious credentials talking about perhaps the most serious problem ever faced by the human race—a problem caused by us and which can only be solved by us.  And what is his reward?  He has been relentlessly vilified by the 9th-rate scientists who have sold whatever is left of their shriveled souls to whatever rich fools are willing to fund an organized attack on the hard sciences.

Lord, protect me from my friends; I can take care of my enemies myself. --Voltaire

We have this tiny amount of time to make this massive adjustment to how we live our lives.  Since the invention of fire, the human race has depended on fuels to do vital and necessary jobs.  And now we are supposed to put out all but the MOST critically essential fires or we destroy our habitat?  Well, yes!

And here's where the grownups must step in.  As we see in the following article, small steps away from the dependence on fire is being sabotaged by folks worrying about horned toads.  If we don't transition away from fire, the toads all die along with the rest of us.  Considering how stark is this reality, wouldn't it be better of we first saved the planet even IF it means that horned toads have to live with solar collectors in their neighborhood?  In fact, there is very little to suggest that PV cells would destroy the horned toads in the neighborhood.  Yet we let this trivial and specious possibility get in the way of making progress towards solving a real problem—and all the while, the clock is ticking.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Expensive gasoline changes everything

With 13,000 AIPAC attendees screaming for blood at their conference last week and the mental giants for the Republican Presidential nomination jockeying to outdo each other with war cries, it would be easy to assume that another costly and counterproductive war was already a done deal.  After all, there has been a predisposition towards war during my lifetime and USA has supported every Israeli outrage against her neighbors since 1956 when Eisenhower refused to support her attacks on Egypt over Suez.

While it is never a good idea to bet against a war being ginned up by the Republicans and the Zionist lobby, there are tiny rays of hope that this time it might be different.  Mostly that little hope is based on the idea that this time, too many big economic interest could get hurt.  What Weisenthal calls a "worst-case" below is probably a best-case projection for a real shooting war with Iran and there are probably cooler heads that understand this.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fancy criminals cost extra

When James Wilson came out with his "broken windows" theory in 1982, I had only recently completed an urban rehab project in what was considered the toughest neighborhood in St. Paul.  So I was living in a really nice townhouse in a neighborhood that quite frankly scared me.  I latched on to Wilson's theory because I found it reassuring.  My project was in a neighborhood where there was a lot of crime among all those vacant buildings.  There were plenty of examples of nice houses fallen into extreme disrepair within walking distance.  I had discovered, however, that even neighborhood so rough it had been essentially abandoned by the city, my restoration project was left utterly un-burgled or vandalized because there seemed to be respect for signs of new life.  I reasoned that if Wilson was right, I was safe so long as my building looked good.  And I was.

I also had a third-grade experience where a schoolmate and I shot out some glass with his new BB gun.  I distinctly remember the decision loop for how we decided what glass to attack.  We decided our choice would be fine because the glass was already slightly cracked.  So Wilson's theory aligned with my experience that little examples of deterioration lead to even bigger deterioration—even in the heart of a choir-boy like me.

Where Wilson and I parted company was his notion that his "broken windows" theory only applied to the housing projects, the poor, and I suppose, the minorities.  I knew he was wrong because it applied to me and I was such a builder, my ONLY experience of deliberately breaking glass was in the third grade!

So here is Bill Black to correct the record.  Go Bill!!

Monday, March 12, 2012

An optimistic look at the warmongering over Iran

Avnery is unusually sane for an Israeli.  He works his butt off trying to get the Zionist state to be more peaceful.  So these predictions may be 99% wishful thinking.  But considering the economic calamity a war with Iran would produce, we are all entitled to a little wishful thinking.

Hey, you do it! Will USA attack Iran?

This is the heart of the matter.  It is extremely unlikely that Israel can pull off a successful bombing mission against Iran.  So naturally, they want USA to do it for them.  The USA military seems to not want to get involved.  But that doesn't mean Israel won't try every trick in the book to get USA to do their dirty work.  Meanwhile, the military seems to be doing whatever it can to impress Israel they are tough without actually getting into a large-scale shooting war in the Persian Gulf.  The question will be—Will USA armed forces be tough enough to stand up to the crazy warmongers who are threatening Armageddon?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Loving the light

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.   John 3:19

I have been thinking some more about the movie version of Moneyball.  There is a scene that I found about as meaningful as any I have seen in a movie—at least for a very long time—and my mind keeps gnawing at it.  The GM Billy Bean and his stats-nerd sidekick are having a quiet moment to appreciate the fact their team has just broken the American-League record for consecutive wins.  Billy says (I am quoting from memory) I am not interested in breaking a record.  I want to win the last game of the season.  Because if we don't win it all, they'll just erase us—I know these guys.  You see, winning isn't enough for me—I want to change the game.

Aha! The mating cry of a troublemaker.  One of the most enjoyable parts of reading history books is that the overwhelming majority of the people who actually make history are the folks who wanted to "change the game."  Without the game-changers, we are still living in caves and dying of broken ankles.  But even before I started reading history books for fun, I had been given some pretty serious indoctrination on the importance of game-changers by my religious upbringing.  The way I learned it, Christianity was about replacing the law with the gospel and the upheaval brought about by Luther's troublemaking was so profound, it required over 300 years before Europe began to adjust to the implications.  I was literally taught as a child that I had been put on this earth to follow the examples of the great troublemakers that had informed our culture—the people who put the protest in Protestant.

So I have spent my intellectual life operating under the assumption that the only life worth living is one where you seek to find an idea worth promoting and then doing your best to promote it.  I have also held onto a pretty naive idea that because the facts will always win in the end, all you have to do to succeed is dig harder for better facts.  And once you have these excellent facts, the job then becomes figuring out the best way to package these fact so the folks can easily understand them.  The evidence that I actually believed this comes in an assortment of forms.  For example, I have tried to illustrate the class theory of the midwest Progressives using a succession of software programs starting with MacPaint and then progressing through Illustrator, Strata Studio Pro, and finally Cinema 4DXL.  Along the way, I tried to animate it in Adobe After Effects.  That's my theory of change—good ideas born of good information, clearly illustrated and enthusiastically explained.  It's a good theory that occasionally even works in practice.

Unfortunately, progress isn't necessarily permanent. So the question becomes—will the forces of reaction always "just erase" progress like Beane suggests in Moneyball?  These days, it IS easy to believe that the forces of darkness will triumph—they HAVE been on an extended winning streak.

An interesting example from sport would be the tale of Herb Brooks—the coach who won the "Miracle on Ice" at the 1980 Olympics.  This guy wanted to change the game so much, he is best compared to the legendary Anatoly Tarasov—the guy who re-invented hockey in USSR in the devastation following The Great Patriotic War.  This is not a stretch—Tarasov himself considered Brooks his American counterpart.  So how far under the radar was Brooks flying?  Here in Minnesota where hockey is played even at the high school level, with only one exception named John Gilbert, the sports writers and broadcasters completely missed the hockey revolution Brooks was inventing at the University—right under their noses.  He wins 3 NCAA championships in six seasons and they were utterly incurious as to how it happened.  The hockey "experts" at ABC's Olympic coverage had no idea what he was trying—"color" commentator Ken Dryden, considered one of the sport's "intellectuals" by virtue of some mediocre books he has written, was criticizing the play of the USA team at the very moment the winning goal was being scored against the USSR.

So was the coach who figured out how to triumph in what ESPN proclaimed the greatest sporting moment of the 20th century "erased"?  The evidence seems to suggest that he was in spite of the fact that several movies and books have been made about that victory.  The University of Minnesota has never hired another coach like Brooks in the 32 years since he proved his superior methods.  He was never given a reasonable shot at coaching in the NHL (which hated him).  These days, there is a bronze statue of him outside the arena where the Minnesota Wild plays their home games.  The gesture is especially empty because the Wild have never come close to playing Herbie Hockey since they came into existence.  America's Tarasov, his theories of how the game should be played, and his very real accomplishments have been sanitized out of existence and only the cartoonish Brooks remains.

So yes, the movie version Beane was right.  Guys in sports DO get "erased" even when we cast bronze statues of them.  But in some ways, Beane got it wrong, too.  There is no team in baseball that doesn't use metrics to evaluate their players anymore—and baseball is a sport where folks are still debating the designated hitter rule so we are discussing an institution that is highly resistant to change.  In fact, Beane knocked down a wall and a hoard of geeks who understand statistical analysis came flooding through into every front office in team sports.

But how does this work on the big subjects like our understanding of how the economy works?  For over three decades, I have been bemoaning the rollback of the economic understanding that informed my youth.  And the sustained assault on Progressive economics has taken its toll—in many ways such as our international trade situation, we are FAR behind where the country stood in even the 1880s.

And so I wonder—is darkness the default position and the flicker of light that was the Populist-Progressive-New Deal description of how to organize an economy was an historical aberration?  I know I am often astonished at how easy it has been to roll back a century of progress.  And like the kid who thinks he is so quick he can turn out the lights and get under the covers before the room gets dark, I have been unwilling to believe that darkness returns at the speed of light.

Darkness has many friends.  Its biggest advantage is that darkness is the starting point of us all.  Just because a human discovered that lightning was electricity in the 18th century doesn't mean that someone born in 2012 won't have to learn that lesson for himself.  We are all born profoundly ignorant and absent curiosity and real effort, the overwhelming majority of us stay that way.  These folks love darkness rather than light because reading a book or actually learning a subject in school is too much like work.  It's just easier to watch sitcoms on television.  It's just more fun to turn on the music and blast your eardrums into the next county.  We all giggle about how much less informed W. was than his father but in truth, going from informed to ignorant in one generation is the natural state of affairs.

It is easy for we members of the Producing Classes to dismiss darkness as the default human condition of those degenerate Leisure Classes.  And we do have considerable evidence to show that we produce and traffic in whatever light is out there.  The reconstruction of the Frauenkirche in Dresden should forever put to rest the crazy idea that there are lost arts—because whatever Producers have ever done, we can still do.  And we can easily and certainly trace our progress.  Imagine Edison or Tesla seeing an iPad for the first time.  I am sure they would understand how it works and marvel at the build excellence. But they would have to think long and hard about what they contributed to its existence because there has been a LOT of progress in electrical engineering since their day.  Even better, the Producers can make extremely rapid progress.  It required less than 35 years for aerospace to go from Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic to John Glenn orbiting the earth.  But Producers would do well not to get too arrogant about their light.  As we discovered here in Minnesota when a bridge fell into the Mississippi River, we can slip back into the darkness too.

While we moan about how easily darkness can triumph and point to the current era as a particularly unenlightened one, it is really quite absurd for the Producers to complain.  Yes our journalism is superficial at best, our schools are overpriced institutions that cause more damage than good, our public intellectuals are ethical illiterates who actually claimed that unleashing a war of naked terror on Iraq was justified as a "suck on this" moment of imperial swagger—and still kept their jobs, that banking has sunk to the level of a predatory drag on the economy, that our politics pukes forth such obvious cretins as Gnoot, Michele, and Ricky, etc. etc.

LOTS of darkness out there.  But it isn't enough darkness to snuff out the light.  And that's because we Producers perfected history's most perfect light source—the Internet.  No matter who you are and how deep the darkness that surrounds you, you can switch on a connection to the Big Mind and instantly access as much light as you can possibly absorb.  The Internet is so large that even IF 99.999% is pure crap, there is still more light available from the remaining .001% than is needed to combat the darkness.  Unfortunately, just as the Enlightenment is wasted on most people—so is the potential of the Internet.  I would warn the children of darkness, however, there are those of us who have learned how to tap into the Big Brain and we absolutely love it.  Unfortunately, darkness lovers, this happiness will make us even less likely to suffer fools gladly.

If you love the light, it has never been easier to find than right now.  So even in a world where there are folks who actually can convince themselves that Rick Santorum is presidential material, there is still plenty of light.  Now if folks chose darkness over light, it really IS because their deeds are evil.

Saturday toons 10 MARCH 12

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hydrogen-fueled cars?

Gasoline is such a wonderful fuel because it packs so much energy in a small space.  Replacing this energy source with batteries is not only hideously expensive, even a car with modest performance must sacrifice useful space in the truck or cabin for the battery pack.  And that's just cars.  The energy requirements for large trucks and tractors almost precludes electrical power.  And there will be no battery-powered airliners

So folks talk about hydrogen as a gasoline replacement.  If liquefied, it packs a lot of energy in a small space.  And it's reasonably easy to obtain—run an electrical current through sea water and you have hydrogen.  So in theory, it is a candidate. However, the engineering challenges are awesome.  Hydrogen is the smallest molecule so just the problems of containing the gas are expensive.  A valve good enough to regulate oxygen could leak hydrogen like crazy.  Try to imagine a connection good enough to transfer liquid hydrogen from a storage tank to your car.  Now try to imagine the crowd down at your local self-serve hooking up that connection.  And this is only one of the basic concerns in practically using hydrogen—there's a long list.

BMW has an operating prototype that
has been converted to run on hydrogen
Once you figure out how to supply your car with hydrogen, you must decide how you turn that energy into power to your wheels.  If course, because gaseous hydrogen explodes readily, one could run an internal combustion engine with only simple modifications.  Because this would consume so much hydrogen, most automakers are designing systems that employ fuel cells.  Lots of engineering remains before your aunt Millie parks one of those in her garage.

But that doesn't stop dreaming of what a hydrogen-powered car could be.  Here is an "advertisement" for an Lexus LFA running on the stuff.  Trust me on this, this car does not exist—it is a product of CGI.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Frustrations of the can-do generation

This article was a nice find.  It's always wonderful to find a kindred spirit.  Note that Mr. Freeman is 86—this makes him about 24 years older than I.  The reason I find this interesting is that when I wrote Elegant Technology, I figured it would require 50 years to transition from a fire-based economy to a solar / renewable one.  Freeman thinks we could do it in 25.  Yes, well his generation got things done quicker and I have spent my whole life wondering about the nuances for why this is so.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What's gone wrong in the oil market? The Ghost of Enron Past

The Obama administration, going into the election, of course needs to push the line that the economy is recovering. Demand for oil products, especially gasoline, is still down significantly from previous years (scroll to the bottom), though it began to tick upwards a few months ago. Yet, we see prices have risen, pushing over $4.00 a gallon in major cities, California, and other places.

Why isn't the law of supply and demand working? Less demand, means prices should be falling, right?

Well, what the public can't see is the hidden demand by speculators and inflation hedgers. Apparently, no one knows exactly how much oil right now is being held by these predators. This has become known among oil market watchers as "dark inventory."

Chris Cook, former director of the International Petroleum Exchange (IPE), explains what's going on in a recent post on Naked Capitalism: The Ghost of Enron Past Explains Oil Market Manipulation. Cook's explanation is highly technical, but fortunately Philip Pilkington steps up to translate:
What follows is a complicated piece by Chris Cook, former director of the International Petroleum Exchange (IPE). While there is no way to improve upon Chris’ own nuance and knowledge of the oil industry, as an outsider I had to study the argument rather hard to make sense of it – reflecting my limited knowledge of the industry rather than anything else. So, I provide a short summary of Chris’ overarching argument for the interested layperson.

Basically what has occurred in the oil markets in the past few years is that oil has begun to be traded as an inflation hedge. Investors trade dollars for oil to ensure that, in the event that the value of the dollar is eroded by inflation, they possess something that holds its value. It’s a bit like the strategy of the gold bug. Fearing inflation they give away their dollars that they think to be declining in value for something ‘tangible’ that they believe will hold its value or appreciate.

Let me interject here that this search for "something that holds its value" is classic rentier / predator behavior. While trillions of dollars of potential projects around the world - projects that will move us out of the age of petroleum - are begging for funding, the powers that be are most interested in preserving their total control of the world economy. "Investors" have no interest in actually investing in what society desperately needs, because "investors"are not quite sure yet how the future non-oil economy will shake out. As soon as it becomes clear to them how they control that future economy, their "investment" dollars will be forthcoming. Back to Pilkington:

On top of this Chris tells us how Big Oil and Big Finance have locked arms in this regard. Each has something the other wants: Big Finance has access to dollar loans that can be used to ensure that, should oil decline in value, Big Oil has ample amounts of dollar liquidity lying around. Meanwhile, Big Oil has plenty of barrels of crude lying around that can be exchanged for dollars, thus allowing Big Finance to hedge against any inflation that may take place.

Such an institutional arrangement has given rise to a highly opaque and unstable market that few can see into. Indeed, no one really knows just how much oil is being ‘held’ as an inflation hedge by Big Finance. These stockpiles have even gained themselves an ominous name within the industry (recently christened by Izabella Kaminska over at FT Alphaville who has been doing some of the best work on this): Dark Inventory.

Read more.

An environmental minister that makes sense

Germany is attempting the nearly impossible.  She believes that she can shut down nuclear power and replace it with renewables.  I'll bet I am not the only one who wants them to pull this off.  I admire them for their sheer audacity to even attempt this conversion because it is a highly complex problem.  And since we here in USA have seemingly lost our desire and ability to deal with problems so complex, I am reduced to the role of cheerleader to those who are willing to try.

I am including excerpts from an interview in Der Spiegel of German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen.  If you read the whole thing, you will note that there are tough questions being asked.  I like that because it means that folks are actually trying to get at the facts necessary to make informed public policy choices.  Sometimes the interviewers wander off-topic such as when Röttgen is asked whether it is appropriate for a poor welfare recipient to pay more for renewable energy.  Röttgen reminds the interviewers that he doesn't make social policy.  But mostly the interview highlights the very real problems encountered whenever you must change fuels.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On moving the G-8 Summit to Camp David

This is too precious for words.  I should like to point out to the neoliberal swine that now dominate the economics profession that when I was learning the subject, we did NOT have to cower behind massive security arrangements when we got together.  That's because the lives of millions got significantly better when governments listened to our explanations for how the economy should be run.

More on climate change

Insurance is one of those businesses that grew out of the communitarian impulse.  The fact that modern insurance companies are down and dirty with credit default swaps and other fraudulent or near-fraudulent schemes is more of function of the zeitgeist than an institutional preference or necessity.  Perhaps the most interesting manifestation of insurance's communitarian roots is that they have been astonishingly good at focusing societies on the reality of climate change.

And why not?  After all, they are merely acting on the numbers they are generating in the course of doing business.  This is why the insurance guys are MUCH better at describing the problems produced by a changing climate (which is usually just an accounting of their costs) than they are at suggesting solutions (which is most cases is just more Leisure Class horseshit.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

The idiots really want to destroy Persia

Considering how utterly critical oil is to the economy of USA, one would think that we would have the most excellent relationships with those countries that supply us with our fuels.  Instead of messing with those countries, we would be BFFs.  And once upon a time, this was sort of true.  For example, our relationship with the Saudis has been excellent over the years and was amazingly warm in the beginning.  When oil was first discovered in the Saudi desert, FDR was president and he negotiated an exclusive concession with the House of Saud.  It was astonishingly easy to do because USA had one thing going for it that would prove critical—we were NOT the British Empire.  Turns out USA isn't the only country that hated British colonialists and sought to remove their presence by force of arms—we were just the first.

And if the folks I know in the oil business are to be believed (and they usually are) the oil people at Aramco got along amazingly well with their Saudi hosts.  These were can-do kinds of guys who knew how to drill wells, lay pipe, and make refineries work.  They were tough, swaggering folk who wore cowboy boots, big belt buckles, and drove pick-ups.  They also consumed alcohol in designated areas and kept their hands off the local women.  I've been told that until the early 1970s, the oil guys from Houston and Tulsa were not only admired, but actually loved by the Saudis who worked with them (go figure).  Even now when Aramco is the wholly owned property of the Saudis, they still assume that the USA professionals are the ones to call when the problems are especially difficult.

Two things have destroyed this cozy relationship over the years: 1) the joint British - USA destruction in 1953 of the Mosaddegh government in Iran which pretty much blurred any distinction between the two countries, and 2) the unwavering UK / USA support for Zionism.  The Zionists in USA love to point out that Israel is our only real friend in the middle east these days.  What they neglect to mention is that before Israel (and Mosaddegh) we had nothing but friends in the region—friends who drove Chevy pickups because we did.

So anyway, we now are supposed to hate Iran (again) because their Prime Minister has hurt some fee-fees—largely because his worldview doesn't conform to USA's ideas of political correctness ("Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!" Gomer Pyle, USMC).  Instead of turning Iran into our best friend (which was once pretty easy to do) there is talk of actually bombing a country that supplies the world with its most important industrial lifeblood.  Just mentioning this insanity aloud has driven oil prices through the roof.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mitt Romney—Predator Class

Being a quintessential Producer Class business, automaking has been a target of the Predators since day one.  So when the GM and Chrysler got into trouble during the economic meltdown of 2008, the vultures smelled blood.  For example, John Paulson stole more money during the months that followed than a 1000 "bailed-out" line workers could make during their entire working lives.  Naturally, the "investors" are trying to get Bain Raider Mitt Romney elected so their rackets will be blessed from above.

No good deed goes unpunished

For a long time now, I have maintained that the primary, perhaps only, engine of progress was honesty.  Until a problem is accurately defined, it cannot be solved and the ONLY way to accurately define a problem is to banish any possibility of dishonesty.  I even go so far as to posit that the biggest difference between the Producers and Predators is that Producers must be honest to succeed while Predators usually lie to achieve their goals.  Of course, embracing honesty means that Producers have made massive progress in history while the Predators are damn lucky if today's practitioners show ANY improvement over thousands of years.

But even though societies tend to honor the truth-tellers in theory, the lot of the honest person is often miserable in practice.  Today, we are exposed to just one more example.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mitt Romney is an Excellent Example of Conservative Stupidity on Economic History

On February 14, 2012, an op-ed by Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney appeared in Michigan newspapers, arguing that the bailout of the U.S. automotive industry was President Obama and "crony capitalism run amock." Romney's op-ed was almost immediately taken apart, point by point, for the pack of lies it was, by Justin Hyde, a Detroit newspaper reporter who covered the bailout and the legal fights over it. Hyde posted his riposte on the auto section of Yahoo, where it received gratifyingly large amounts of attention.

I'm not going to cover the ground Hyde so ably covered. I want to focus on one sentence in Rmoney's op-ed, and show how it is typical conservative, Republican stupidity and/or dissembling about the actual economic history of our country..

Romney writes, regarding the founders of the U.S. auto industry: "These giants never envisioned a role for government in their business, but relied on the hard work and commitment of private individuals."

Now, this statement is obviously meant as an affirmation of the conservatives' cherished anti-statist myths about heroic and individualistic entrepreneurs of capitalism rising to become captains of industry. But like so much of Republican and conservative dogma, it contains just a little kernel of truth, encased in layers and layers of willful ignorance and twisted half-truths. It's not entirely an outright lie, but it is definitely misleading as to how the USA economy actually was built.

The simple fact is that the auto industry has ALWAYS been entirely dependent on a role by federal, state, and local governments - for building a road and interstate system that the industry's products could be used on safely and conveniently. There was even a major political movement in the 1910s and 1920s called the Good Roads Movement that sought increased government funding of and involvement in building roads and highways.

The Good Roads Movement actually began in the 1880s, before the appearance of the automobile, when bicyclists organized a national association to demand state and county governments begin paving country and town roads to the same standards as some European countries were (oh, those blasted French!). But it was the rapid rise in automobile ownership and use after 1907-9 that propelled the Good Roads Movement to success. From 1900 to 1907, inclusive, a total of 154,000 motor vehicles were produced in USA. In 1908, another 63,500 were produced; then 123,000 in 1909; 181,000 in 1910; 199,000 in 1911; and 356,000 in 1912. Production continued to climb, to 895,000 in 1915, and 1.525 million in 1916.

Americans loved automobiles. There was only one big problem:

Selling Germany's hidden champions

This news item is especially interesting because there ARE some Germans who have some understanding of what it requires to build a company that makes a critical piece of the industrial infrastructure (see the bold-face below).  Unfortunately, in this case the company in question was "owned" by a doddering old fool who cannot remember what it took to make "his" company worth so much and so he sold it to the Chinese.

Take it from an citizen of USA, this sale was a monumental mistake on the part of the Germans.  One would hope that the Germans would know better—but unfortunately, this is not true here.  One can hardly fault the Chinese—they are simply trying to advance out of their current stage of screwdriver industrialization and if the Germans want to sell their trophies, why wouldn't they buy them?

What was really said at Bretton Woods?

What happened at Bretton Woods has been the source of much dispute over the years.  The offspring of this conference include the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank—two organizations that now have a well-earned reputation as the source for cruel and reactionary economic policies.  So the question has been over the years, "Were these nasty little organizations what the founders had in mind?"

My take has always been that Keynes and his allies showed up with some seriously good ideas that were hijacked by the banksters for their own plundering purposes.  Keynes was so distressed by what was happening to his ideas, his weak heart gave out and he died—leaving the field to the knuckle-draggers.

So now they have discovered a faithful transcript of the proceedings.  I wonder how close my version of the events will be compared to what actually happened.