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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday Night Eclectic Jazz-Brazilian Blast !

Paul Desmond
Dave Brubeck Quartet - Take Five
Antonio Carlos Jobim - Wave
Sarah Vaughan and Milton Nascimento - Bridges (Travessia)
Sonny Rollins - St. Thomas
Stan Getz - Desafinado
Ella Fitzgerald - Night and Day
Norah Jones - The Nearness of You
Pat Metheny - Last Train Home
Weather Report - Black Market
Weather Report - Teen Town
Weather Report - Birdland
Weather Report - A Remark You Made

Friday, November 19, 2010

Even more on today's ' Great Game ' : a Central Asia Special from DER SPIEGEL

...exploring Kyrgyzstan (1), Kazakhstan (2), Uzbekistan (3), Tajikistan (4), and Turkmenistan (5).

These countries, once the center of the "Great Game," a bitter struggle over natural resources and strategic bases between the British and Russian colonial powers, are seeing history repeat itself.

...Central Asia is one of the eternal hot spots in world history, a place where Darius I and Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane left their marks. The British and Russian colonial powers followed suit when they embarked on the "Great Game," a bitter struggle over natural resources and strategic bases.

The Great Game was adjourned at the beginning of the 20th century. But after 1920 an even more brutal dictator, Josef Stalin, put his stamp on the region when he redrew the borders of Central Asia. Stalin created five Soviet republics, carving up traditional trading zones, and settled areas in the process. His goal was to weaken and sow discord among the region's Muslim ethnic groups and thus make them less of a threat to Moscow.

The seeds of ethnic strife had been sown. They began to sprout when the vast Soviet realm was dissolved and its republics became independent nations, separated by unnatural borders. Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski once referred to Central Asia, a hotbed of conflict and, in Brzezinski's view, one of the most strategically important parts of the world, as the "Eurasian Balkans."

Today the major powers' interests in the region range from military bases for waging the war against the Taliban to oil and gas pipelines and drug prevention. One of the most important heroin smuggling routes passes through a part of Central Asia controlled by Islamists.

For these reasons, the world is now witnessing a new version of the Great Game, this time involving both the former players, Russia and Great Britain, and new players, the United States, China and Iran. None of the countries within their field of vision is stable, eccentric dictators are in control almost everywhere, corruption is rampant and many nations are at odds with their neighbors. After several coups and ethnic unrest, Kyrgyzstan is leaderless. Kazakhstan, rich in natural resources, feels pressured by China. Islamists in Tajikistan have renewed their fight against the regime, and in Uzbekistan, a major cotton exporter, the opposition is brutally persecuted.
Articles include :

-Kyrgyzstan Has Become an Ungovernable Country
-Nazarbayev Dictates a Bright Future for Kazakhstan
-Appeasing the Uzbek Dictator
-Hubs for Gas and Militaries
-An Islamist Uprising in Tajikistan

Leaked British Ministry of Defense Document Blasts Tory PM's Recent Review

James Kirkup, Political Correspondent of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH reports that, according to the leaked MoD ocument : 
[ Conservative British Prime Minister ] David Cameron's defence review [ The Strategic Defense and Security Review or 'SDSR' ] has demoralised the Armed Forces, strained relations with allies and ignored significant military advice
It [ the 'SDSR' ] was rushed and its handling "badly damaged the confidence and morale of our personnel," the paper says.
The document, seen by The Daily Telegraph, was prepared by a board of military officers and senior officials working for Dr Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, for a secret Whitehall assessment of the process.
SDSR: Lessons Identified, is dated November 3 and marked "Restricted". It describes a process carried out too quickly to take proper account of advice, to consult allies or to win the support of the Forces.
It also criticises the way Mr Cameron and his National Security Council (NSC), a panel of senior ministers, drove the review forward.
The disclosure of the report is the second major leak from the MoD over the defence review and may fuel tensions between the Prime Minister and Dr Fox, who is believed to have argued that the five-month timetable was too short.
Harrier on Carrier
Controversial decisions made in the review include leaving Britain without a functioning aircraft carrier for 10 years and abolishing both the Royal Navy's Harrier jump jets and the RAF's Nimrod spy planes.
It blames orders from NSC officials in the Cabinet Office. "At Cabinet Office direction, there was no pre-briefing of the chain of command and no pre-warning of units affected by the changes," it says.
The NSC was set up and chaired by Mr Cameron to oversee defence and security policies.
It has its own team of civil servants, who are blamed by some senior defence figures for pushing through some of the most controversial cuts.
In September, The Daily Telegraph disclosed a private letter from Dr Fox to Mr Cameron warning of “grave” consequences from “draconian” defence cuts.

The ' Great Game ' Continues. And now Iran's a player.

The struggle for dominance in Central Asia, dubbed 'The Great Game' pitted Russia against Great Britain during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The 21st century version has many new players, and Iran's one of them. As NATO nations contemplate withdrawal from Afghanistan, the L.A. TIMES reports, Iran is extending financial, military, and cultural tentacles into the country:
Diplomats being diplomats, neither the U.S. nor the Iranian side acknowledges any rivalry, or any wish to keep tabs on the other's activities. But in Herat, an hour's drive from the Iranian border, Tehran's growing bid for influence is on clear display.
As talk turns to an eventual winding down of the nearly decadelong U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, Iran is at the forefront of neighbors' jockeying for power, with an eye to a new era.
The recent acknowledgement by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that his office receives as much as $2 million in annual payments from Tehran prompted the State Department to declare that it was "skeptical of Iran's motives" in Afghanistan. But U.S. officials believe the bulging sacks of cash handed over to a top Karzai aide are only the tip of the iceberg.
Western diplomats and Afghan officials say far larger sums are routinely dispensed, directly and indirectly, to a range of Afghan groups and figures considered sympathetic to Tehran. In Herat, the name of both the city and the province surrounding it, the special relationship with Iran is hard to miss.
Iranian money builds roads and industrial parks; store-bought goods from soup to nuts are most likely to have Iranian provenance; and waves of Iranian cash buoy sparkling new mosques and opulent homes.
Meantime, in anticipation of air-strikes against its nuclear facilities, Iran stages extensive military exercises and publicizes a new missile defense system.  
Iran's military this week is showing off its defensive capabilities, including what it described as new air defenses, amid renewed talk of airstrikes on Iran's nuclear sites.
Iranian military authorities said they activated radar and signal detection installations along the mountainous nation's 4,200 miles of borders; put army, Revolutionary Guard and Basiji militia forces on alert; and launched a six-plane mock military raid by the fictional "orange forces" likely meant to mimic an Israeli or United States airstrike on its nuclear facilities.
Iranian officials this week said they tested new encrypted air-command-and-control communications equipment; a domestically built medium-range air defense system called Mersad; and new weapons, including what they described as Iranian-made shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
Tehran also claimed it was about to unveil a homemade version of a Russian air defense system, though military experts said the claim was inflated. Iran for years has been pressing Russia to sell its S-300 mobile long-range anti-aircraft rockets, but Moscow this year reneged, citing a United Nations Security Council resolution that barred sales of weapons to Iran.
Iranian officials said the war games were meant to improve air defense combat-readiness, sharpen coordination between the units via centralized command and control, assess military commanders' performance and identify tactical weaknesses, including potential breaches in electronic security.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Michael Steele on his way out as RNC Chair ?

Momentum is gathering for Steele's replacement, reports Jonathan Martin in THE POLITICO.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s prospects for a second term dimmed Wednesday as Republicans went public with their concerns about the committee’s fundraising and two prominent governors indicated a preference for new leadership atop the party.

Collins and Steele
Asked in an interview at the Republican Governors Association meeting here [San Diego] whether there should be a new chairman of the party, Mississippi Gov. and outgoing RGA Chairman Haley Barbour flatly said: “Yes.”
Top Republicans said the scathing resignation letter written by RNC Political Director Gentry Collins Wednesday added a new air of urgency to efforts to find a replacement for Steele and deepened doubts about his tenure.

Is Obama really an ' American Narcissus ' ...?

as Jonathan V. Last asserts in THE POLITICO ?

An excerpt :

Why has Barack Obama failed so spectacularly? Is he too dogmatically liberal or too pragmatic? Is he a socialist, or an anticolonialist, or a philosopher-president? Or is it possible that Obama’s failures stem from something simpler: vanity. Politicians as a class are particularly susceptible to mirror-gazing. But Obama’s vanity is overwhelming. It defines him, his politics, and his presidency.

Canada's Single Payer Health System : A Model to Avoid ?

So says Stanley Goldfarb in his THE WEEKLY STANDARD piece, quoting liberally from Andre Picard's article in the Toronto Globe and Mail 

“[H]ealth care system is coming apart at the seams….On the ground, there is too often a glaring lack of execution: long waits, bed shortages, unequal access to medication. Those failures are compounded by the fact that the ever-rising medicare bill is squeezing out education and other social priorities.”
No, that’s not from an item in the New York Times; rather, that’s from a piece in the Toronto Globe and Mail on Nov 7, 2010 about Canada’s health care system. Its problems provide a glimpse of what a fee-for-service medical care produces in a single payer system: no demonizing of insurance companies, no teeth gnashing about the uninsured, and no end to the concern about how to pay for health care. The Globe and Mail goes on to point out that most European countries have done what Canada needs to do: “Adopt a model that pragmatically mixes public and private elements both in funding and delivery…”
There really is not a single Canadian system but rather a series of provincial systems each with its own approach to the issue. The series in the Globe and Mail is surprisingly, to borrow a phrase, fair and balanced. There are some abuses in the private system, where it is allowed, but there are major deficiencies in the public system because of growing demand for services. On the whole though, an 8 percent inflation rate in health care costs in Canada is unsustainable and having a single payer system is not enough to make the problem go away.

Paul Krugman, in a recent appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” boiled the choice for Medicare down to identifying what works and what does not. This is an economist’s view of health care and it is beyond superficial. As the Canadian system shows, central control leads to, for example, a one-year wait to have a colonoscopy in Quebec. It might make sense from an economist’s perspective, but the populace is not that happy about it and demanding better government care. (Krugman also conveniently avoids talking about what does not work with Medicare, relying instead to focus on the positive.)

So think again about a single payer plan. It is struggling in a nation with about 1/10 the U.S. population. Plan B is needed. Ideological arguments about how we need to eliminate insurance companies and do away with a competition-based system simply do not square with the results of the Canadian experience. Yes, the cost of care for the average Canadian on a per capita basis is much less than in the U.S., but the availability of services is also much less for all the “discretionary” services that Americans, and particularly seniors, have come to expect.

Commercial Real Estate Dive Not Longer So Slo-Mo

says Charles Hugh Smith, in a brilliant SEEKING ALPHA article I shamelessly excerpt below :

...beneath what appears to be a standard-issue retrenchment -- a glut of inventory to work through, lenders avoiding risk instead of embracing it, and so on -- structural changes in the US economy are changing the CRE [Commercial Real Estate] landscape for good -- and not in a positive direction.

1. A significant portion of CRE growth was the result of the snake eating its own tail: as the FIRE economy (finance, insurance, real estate) expanded in the credit-bubble environment of low interest rates, high leverage, plentiful liquidity and increased risk appetite, then the real estate, financing and construction industries' need for space exploded.

The go-go years also fed a boom in the business-travel hospitality sector, and homeowners flush with the "wealth effect" extracted some $5 trillion in home equity, fueling a prodigious increase in resorts and related high-end retail space.
The net result was a CRE industry which needed the rarified air of an ever-expanding credit bubble to sustain itself -- the very pinnacle of unsustainability. Now that the credit bubble excesses are gone, then the industry has no foreseeable foundation for future growth.

2. Out of necessity, the US consumer is retrenching for the long haul.
The consequences for the retail sector, and by extension, retail real estate, are dire. If this is not just a garden-variety retrenchment but a real sea change, then retail may be overbuilt for a generation -- or if online shopping continues to take market share -- permanently.
3. The built-in problem for all CRE is that as rents/occupancy/room rates decline, cash flow falls even faster.
Just because occupancy is down doesn't mean property taxes, mortgages or maintenance costs drop accordingly. Thus the upscale Four Seasons Hualalai Hotel (FS) on the Big Island of Hawaii saw its annual cash flow fall from $20.6 million in 2007 to $7.9 million in 2009 -- a massive 62% haircut that was almost double the 35% hit in occupancy rates.

With so many properties leveraged to the hilt, a decline in cash flow sets off a wicked positive feedback loop: plummeting cash flows trigger a wave of forfeitures, foreclosures and bankruptcies which add to a glut of distressed space will only further depress valuations and rents which lead to more foreclosures, and so on.
4. The unprecedented access to low-interest credit and leverage fueled a real estate expansion into increasingly marginal locales -- distant exurban "new towns" far from jobs and tourist "destinations" without proven drawing power. As consumer credit and spending recede (recall consumer spending is 2/3 of the entire US GDP) then large numbers of properties will be left high and dry with little prospect for salvation.
5. The wave of creative destruction unleashed by the Internet has yet to envelop commercial office space -- but it's already reached the front steps. Just as online retail has decimated retail sectors such as bookstores, the Web is busy revolutionizing white-collar work, the mainstay of office towers and business parks.

Real work can now be done offsite/remotely at a home office, café, or anywhere but a cubicle at headquarters, and the cost advantages of this flexibility will not be going away.
6. Global wage arbitrage, a.k.a. offshoring, continues eroding the need for domestic office space.
7. Corporate profits depend on slashing costs. With revenues stagnant and/or precariously dependent on foreign exchange arbitrage, the only way to reliably maintain profits is to slash and burn fixed costs -- like office leases, utility bills, etc. Now that head counts have been cut, then empty office space which cannot be sublet is the next target to be eliminated as old leases roll over.
These trends reinforce one another. Add them together and you get a downward arc fast gathering momentum.


Click to view edited transcript of yesterday's live SEEKING ALPHA discussion with panellists John Hoffman of PowerShares and Jerry Slusiewicz of Pacific Financial Planners is now available

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rainy Monday Night Videos - On Wednesday, for a Change

...Eighties style, both synth and new-romantics.

Spandau Ballet - True
Phil Collins - One More Night
Eurythmics - Love is a Stranger
Olivia Newton-John - Magic 
Alan Parsons - Don't Answer Me
Motels - Only the Lonely
The Cars - Drive
Billy Idol - Eyes Without a Face
Mr. Mister - Broken Wings

GREEN LANTERN Movie Trailer Available...

Deficit Reduction Plan's Big Gap

According to Roger Lownestein, it's Healthcare.  Some excerpts from his BLOOMBERG article:

Give credit for courage to Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, leaders of the White House bipartisan commission on the U.S. deficit. Their proposal gores some sacred cows on spending and taxes, and is a good first stab at repairing the budget.
Now accept that their plan falls short. The reason is that Simpson-Bowles tries to return the budget to where it was before the financial crisis. But due to deeper, longer running budget problems, there is no going back.
...any serious attack on the long-term deficit has to focus on the nondiscretionary part -- entitlement programs. The Simpson-Bowles plan does chip away at Social Security by gradually raising the retirement age to 69. But Social Security isn’t the major issue. From now until 2030, its share of GDP is expected to rise by only a percentage point.
Health-care programs are the biggie, because they are affected by both the number of seniors and the rising cost of care. In total, as a share of the economy, such spending is expected to double. Mother Jones’ website isn’t off base when it calls health care “our only real long-term spending problem.”
Simpson-Bowles lavishes attention on ways to cut defense spending and agriculture subsidies. But it is disquietingly vague on health care.    

ETF's and Taxes : A SEEKING ALPHA Live Discussion TODAY (Wed., 11/17) AT 4PM...

...with John Hoffman of PowerShares and Jerry Slusiewicz of Pacific Financial Planners. Details ? Glad you asked.
On Wednesday, November 17, at 4 p.m. ET, Seeking Alpha will host a live event to help investors better understand everything they need to know about ETFs and tax issues. Whether you are considering investing in ETFs for the first time or you are a seasoned ETF investor, this event will have something to teach you. Topics to be covered include:
    * Key tax differences between ETFs and Mutual Funds
    * What rates different types of ETF asset classes are taxed at. More specifically: Commodity ETFs, ETNs, and 'Trusts'; Different types of Fixed Income ETFs including MLP funds; Currency ETFs; and Leveraged/Inverse ETFs.
    * Taxable ETF events - how likely are they?
    * The wash-sale rule - how can one use ETFs to 'get around' it?
    * The effective use of tax loss harvesting to limit tax liabilities

Culture Vulture Update : The Emperor’s Private Paradise, at the Peabody Essex Museum

Detail of decorative screen
Yesterday, the CV and Mrs. CV headed to Salem and the Peabody Essex Museum, to take in 'The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City'.

Never before seen by the public, the contents of an Emperor’s private retreat deep within the Forbidden City will be revealed for the first time at the Peabody Essex Museum.

An 18th-century compound in a hidden quadrant of the immense imperial complex, the Qianlong Garden (also known as the Tranquility and Longevity Palace Garden), is part of a decade-long, multimillion-dollar conservation initiative undertaken by the World Monuments Fund in partnership with the Palace Museum, Beijing.

Ninety objects of ceremony and leisure — murals, paintings, wall coverings, furniture, architectural elements, jades and cloisonné — unveil the private realm of the Qianlong Emperor (r.1736-1796), one of history’s most influential figures. In his time, he was among the richest, most powerful men in the world. A connoisseur, scholar and devout Buddhist, he created a luxurious garden compound to serve throughout his retirement as a secluded place of contemplation, repose and entertainment.
There's no additional charge to view the exhibit, which closes at the Peabody Essex January 9, 2011, after which it will travel to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Click here for information on museum hours, admission, and directions.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Transformers, Beam Weapons and SKYNET-type Bots : Pure Sci-Fi or on the horizon ???

How far are we from robotic war-making vehicles, death-beams, and transforming  armored vehicles  ? Not that far. Don't believe me ? Read these summaries from JANE'S, respected provider of information on arms and security developments.

Just hope nobody's working on SKYNET...
Elbit expands UGV offering
Elbit Systems has developed a new small unmanned ground vehicle (SUGV) designed for reconnaissance and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) operations in urban environments. The new system is called maxi-VIPeR (versatile, intelligence, portable robot) and is the newest member of Elbit's VIPeR family. The 20 kg SUGV can be carried either on the back of a soldier or inside a specially designed suitcase from which it is deployed. It can carry a payload of 30 kg and is capable of operating in various terrains - including snow, sand and mud - within a range of several hundred metres of the operator
Rafael launches larger Protector USV
Rafael displayed an 11 m version of its Protector unmanned surface vessel (USV) at the Euronaval trade show in Paris in late October. The increased size of the new version offers a larger payload capacity, better seakeeping and the fitting of two engines and propulsors for increased manoeuvrability and redundancy.'
' Death-ray ' technology isn't far behind either...
USAF awards microwave weapon study contracts
The US Air Force (USAF) has awarded Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon contracts to devise a weapon that uses high-power microwave energy beams to destroy enemy electronic systems. At this stage, the specifics of the Non-Kinetic Counter Electronics Capability (NKCE) contract are hard to ascertain, as neither the USAF nor its industry partners are willing to divulge details of the programme, much of which, they say, is classified
Want transformers ? Soon we'll have 'em.
DARPA awards Transformer vehicle studies
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected AAI Corporation and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics as prime system integrators for its Transformer (TX) vehicle - in effect a next-generation 'flying jeep' - melding 4x4 road performance with a capability to reconfigure into a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) air vehicle. Additional contracts have been awarded to Carnegie Mellon University and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne for the development of critical enabling technologies, while Aurora Flight Sciences (partnered with ThinGap) and Metis Design Corp have received Small Business Innovation Research awards to demonstrate relevant technologies

Cocaine or Food ? Given the Choice, Researchers Say, Female Rats Go for the Snow

He'd go for the pizza. She'd go for the coke.
In SCIENCE NEWS, Laura Sanders reports...
Presented with a choice between cocaine and food, female rats choose the drug while male rats go for the grub, a new study finds. The result may help clarify differences in addiction between men and women, scientists reported November 14 at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting.
At the time of the choice, all of the rats were hungry, so they should have been motivated to choose the food. Male rats clearly preferred the food. But female rats chose the cocaine over the food about half of the time. “Females and males seem to be very different when it comes to the incentive value of cocaine,” Kerstetter said.
When the researchers more than doubled the dose of cocaine delivered with each lever push, male rats grew more likely to choose the cocaine. But females still edged them out for cocaine craving, choosing cocaine about 75 to 80 percent of the time compared with less than 50 percent of the time for the males.
Female rats that had their ovaries removed after puberty behaved more like males, choosing food more frequently. Sex hormones produced by the ovaries might be setting up or regulating the cocaine preference in the brains of females, the researchers propose.

GOP Food FIght Back on !

Why can't they just get along ?

Just when you thought that it might be over... Just when Mitch McConnell decides to cave on earmarks...

Murkowski Blasts Senator DeMint.

According to Manu Raju in THE POLITICO...
After ripping Sarah Palin, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski isn’t mincing words about another one of her high-profile GOP critics: South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.

“I think some of the Republicans in the Congress feel pretty strongly that he and his actions potentially cost us the majority by encouraging candidates that ended up not being electable,” Murkowski told POLITICO outside her Senate office. “And I think Delaware is a pretty good example of that, and I think there’re some folks that feel that DeMint’s actions didn’t necessarily help the Republican majority.”
Gentry Collins resigns from the Republcian National Committee, and on his way out the door, blasts the RNC Chairman.

According to Jonathan Martin, in THE POLTICO... 
Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins resigned from his post Tuesday morning with a stinging indictment of Chairman Michael Steele’s two-year tenure at the committee.

In a four-page letter to Steele and the RNC’s executive committee obtained by POLITICO, Collins lays out inside details, previously only whispered, about the disorganization that plagues the party. He asserts that the RNC’s financial shortcomings limited GOP gains this year and reveals that the committee is deeply in debt entering the 2012 presidential election cycle.
And, as if that weren't enough,  GOP members of the House are grappling over key committee charimanships, according to Darren Samuelson and Jake Sherman in THE POLITICO...
House Republicans avoided any serious bloodletting in their leadership races, but the campaigns for two powerful committee chairmanships are getting downright nasty.

In scenes reminiscent of the primary fights between established lawmakers and conservative challengers, candidates are running to the right in races for the Appropriations and Energy and Commerce gavels. Outside groups are taking sides, anonymous oppo dumps are being circulated on Capitol Hill attacking members’ voting records, and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are taking to the airwaves.

The stakes are enormous: The Appropriations Committee is ground zero for efforts to curb earmarks and federal spending, both goals of the tea party movement that helped sweep the GOP into power. The Energy and Commerce panel will be the hub for attempts to repeal the Democrats’ health care reform law and block the Obama administration’s planned climate change regulations.

Key conservative groups off the Hill are exerting pressure on House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner and other GOP leaders not to issue waivers to former committee chairmen Jerry Lewis of California and Joe Barton of Texas when the Steering Committee meets next month.

Monday, November 15, 2010

UPDATED : Hawthorne's THE BLITHEDALE ROMANCE : A not-lighter-than-air balloon

Henry James opines that Nathaniel Hawthorne's THE BLITHEDALE ROMANCE,  when viewed together with THE SCARLET LETTER and THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES-- is " the lightest, the brightest, and the liveliest of this company of unhumorous fictions. "  Hmm. That's not reallly saying much, is it  ?  

After finishing BR last night, I felt cheated and disappointed.

As with HOSG, Hawthorne runs out of gas well before the tale's end. He unsatisfactorily unravels the mystery surrounding the 'Veiled Lady',  gilt-toothed Professor Westervelt, and the wastrel Fauntleroy,  thus dissipating whatever energy or suspense he'd  built up to that point. Similarly, HOSG's denouement is rushed,  the narrative possibilities of the character Holgrave sadly truncated.

Well, 'nuff said. 

Even Henry James acknowledges " a certain want of substance and cohesion in the latter portions " of BR, yet  admits to being entranced by NH's  characterizations of Zenobia and Priscilla, and finds the novel " full of touches as deep as delicate."

I wish I could feel-- and say-- the same.

I also wonder whether NH's choice of a 1st person narrator--Miles Coverdale-- in BR, as opposed to the 3rd person of SR and HOSG, was wise.

UPDATE, JUNE 21, 2011.

Time to admit that Hawthorne's choice of 1st person narrative in BR was correct.

BTW, the Norton Critical Edition of BR edited by Seymour Gross and Rosalie Murphy (1978) provides an excellent, annotated edition of the novel  reviews from Hawthorne's contemporaries, and more recent scholarly articles.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Night OPERA BLAST !!!

Jose Carreras - Un Ballo in Maschera - "Ma se m'e forza"
Jose Carreras - La Forza del Destino - "La vita e inferno al infelice"
José Cura - La Traviata - " Lunge da lei " 
Angela Gheorghiu - La Wally - " Ebben? Ne andrò lontana "
Gianni Schicchi - "Firenze è come un albero fiorito"
Gianni Schicchi - "O mio babbino caro"
Jose Carreras - La Boheme - " Che Gelida Manina "
Renata Scotto - La Boheme - "Quando m' en vo'"
Jose Carreras - La Boheme - " O soave fanciulla"
Erika Miklosa and Bernadett Wiedemann - Lakmé - "Flower Duet"
Die Walküre -" Magic Fire Music "
Die Walküre - "Ride of the Valkyries"
Gotterdammerung - " Siegfried's Death and Funeral March "
Kurt Moll - Parsifal - "Good Friday Music "

Best Western Novelist ? The Envelope, Please...

While dropping names such as like Jorge Luis Borges and Harold Bloom from a great height, Allen Barra makes a convincing case that Larry McMurty is Number One, Exhibit A being McMurty's LONSEOME DOVE.

It's well worth reading Barra's intruging article in THE DAILY BEAST to see who his other candidates were, among other things.


Why does John Avlon,  in THE DAILY BEAST,  urge Speaker Pelosi to go ? Among other things...
If Pelosi stays on, it will satisfy her understandable desire to write a better final chapter of her political life—but it could end up hurting Barack Obama further by depriving him of the clear contrast he needs with the Republican’s control of congress. The image of Nancy Pelosi waiting in the wings will not inspire independent voters to think better of Democrats come 2012. She has become a symbol of the ideological arrogance and legislative over-reach that caused independents to vote for the checks and balances of divided government this fall. With a lame duck session ahead that is likely to be dominated by images of Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters’ ethics trials, Democrats desperately need to turn the page and put forward a new face to the nation. That’s why its time for Pelosi to go.
Unlike Avlon, Alex Slater thinks highly of Pelosi's tenure, yet comes within an angstrom of saying the same thing in his GUARDIAN piece. 

Politically, Pelosi's ongoing leadership would almost undoubtedly cause political headaches for Democrats, not just with voters, but in Congress. It's unlikely that she would be able to control House Democrats with the discipline she has displayed over the past four years. That means that Republicans would be able to pick off an increasing number of Democrats to support a conservative agenda or oppose progress. Already, I'm told that future House majority speaker, John Boehner, is making calls to the more conservative Democrats exploring ways to "work together" on issues like taxes (most likely, to preserve tax giveaways for the richest Americans – a policy the White House has all but capitulated on).
As with so many politicians, this might be a case of knowing when to quit. Pelosi has built an incredible legacy; as the first woman speaker of the House and as one of the most successful. It's possible she could build on that legacy by leading Democrats back out of the wilderness they find themselves in, but it's by no means assured. But as Democrats choose their next congressional leader, they should choose wisely – it may make all the difference at the ballot box in 2012.

HUFFINGTON POST Snuffs Lib Columnist's 'Can Olbermann !' Piece...

and Benjy Sarlin dishes the details, in THE DAILY BEAST

Partisan Punditry's Great for Cable TV $$$, Bad for Country, Says Ted Koppel

Great idea, K.O. You first.
Some excerpts from the former ABC newcaster's opinion piece in today's WASHINGTON POST :
We live now in a cable news universe that celebrates the opinions of Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly - individuals who hold up the twin pillars of political partisanship and who are encouraged to do so by their parent organizations because their brand of analysis and commentary is highly profitable.
The commercial success of both Fox News and MSNBC is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me. While I can appreciate the financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases, the trend is not good for the republic. It is, though, the natural outcome of a growing sense of national entitlement. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's oft-quoted observation that "everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts," seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts.


Even if House Republicans get their way and remove earmarks, would the Senate--and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell--go along ? And would the President veto an earmark-laden appropriations bill ? Phil Rucker in today's WASHINGTON POST gives us his view of what's happening at Earmark Central.  

Some excerpts :

GOP senators are planning an internal vote this week on a moratorium proposed by DeMint that would ban Republicans from passing earmarks - lawmakers' fiercely guarded practice of steering federal money to pet projects in their home states.

Earmarks are lampooned so much as pork-barrel spending that they have become seen by some lawmakers as political liabilities, but efforts to end the practice thus far have failed. And DeMint's moratorium, even if it passes, will be a symbolic gesture at best. It would be a nonbinding Senate Republican Conference rule, meaning GOP senators could sidestep the rule to insert earmarks into budget appropriation bills.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other earmark defenders, who say that banning the practice would not actually decrease the budget, have been canvassing the caucus in recent days, lining up votes against DeMint's moratorium.

"The problem is, it doesn't save any money," McConnell said last week on CBS's "Face the Nation." "What we really need to do is to concentrate on reducing spending and reducing debt. And this debate doesn't save any money, which is why it is kind of exasperating to some of us who really want to cut spending."

Obama waded into the debate Saturday in his radio address, calling on Congress to "put some skin in the game" in reforming the budget. He stopped short of endorsing DeMint's proposal, but said he supports lawmakers who believe "we can't afford what are called earmarks."

The amount of money allocated in congressional earmarks has declined over the past three years, from $18.3 billion in fiscal 2008 to $15.9 billion in fiscal 2010, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

President Obama, Forego a Second Term, Urge Dem Pollsters...

... Pat Caddell, who also served as senior adviser to President Jimmy Carter, and Douglas Schoen, who served President Bill Clinton. Some excerpts :
This is a critical moment for the country. From the faltering economy to the burdensome deficit to our foreign policy struggles, America is suffering a widespread sense of crisis and anxiety about the future. Under these circumstances, Obama has the opportunity to seize the high ground and the imagination of the nation once again, and to galvanize the public for the hard decisions that must be made. The only way he can do so, though, is by putting national interests ahead of personal or political ones.
To that end, we believe Obama should announce immediately that he will not be a candidate for reelection in 2012.
If the president goes down the reelection road, we are guaranteed two years of political gridlock at a time when we can ill afford it. But by explicitly saying he will be a one-term president, Obama can deliver on his central campaign promise of 2008, draining the poison from our culture of polarization and ending the resentment and division that have eroded our national identity and common purpose.
Forgoing another term would not render Obama a lame duck. Paradoxically, it would grant him much greater leverage with Republicans and would make it harder for opponents such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) - who has flatly asserted that his highest priority is to make Obama a one-term president - to be uncooperative.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Return of the Gold Standard, Part Deux : Gold as Collateral

According to Brain Kelly, it's just a matter of time. In fact, it's already happened, because...

...ICE Europe has announced that it will begin accepting gold bullion as initial margin for crude oil and natural gas futures trading as of November 22, 2010.

The criticism of gold as investment category is that it has limited use – the best description we have heard is that gold is simply a rock that you pay someone else to dig out of the ground and then pay another person to watch it. True enough ... until now.

Prior to this announcement, acceptable collateral at the ICE was cash and government bonds. With this announcement ICE has effectively made gold equivalent to cash and government bonds. Not to be outdone, LCH Clearnet has said it has considered allowing gold as collateral, but has yet to put a date when this will take effect. In our view, it is only a matter of time before the CME, NYSE and NASDAQ follow.

Two of the essential elements of a bubble are credit and leverage. Many will recall the heady days when a stock portfolio could be used to obtain a home mortgage – the result was a housing bubble. In our view, this announcement by ICE marks the beginning of the remonetization of gold. The yellow metal can now be used to buy oil on margin, thus making gold a usable and credit worthy currency.

Friday Night Music Blast - Eclectic, Folk-Rock Schmalz

Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman
Neil Young - Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Neil Young - Cinnamon Girl
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young - Country Girl
Byrds - Have You Seen Her Face ?
Donovan - Lalena
Police - Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
Sting - Shape of My Heart
Sting - If I Ever Lose My Faith in You

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More on Earmarks, in plenty of time for Thanksgiving

Eric Lipton and Ron Nixon describe how ' Companies Find Ways to Bypass Ban on Earmarks ' in the July 4, 2010 NYT

The skinny : To defeat a congressional ban on earmarks to them,  for-profit companies incorporate as a B.S. non-profit twins !
Here's one example, from Ohio...

Your Fun Caption Here
Just one day after leaders of the House of Representatives announced a ban on earmarks to profit-making companies, Victoria Kurtz, the vice president for marketing of a small Ohio defense contracting firm, hit on a creative way around it.

To keep the taxpayer money flowing, Ms. Kurtz incorporated what she called the Great Lakes Research Center, a nonprofit organization that just happened to specialize in the same kind of work performed by her own company — and at the same address.

Now, the center — which intends to sell the Pentagon small hollow metal spheres for body armor that the Defense Department has so far declined to buy in large quantities and may never use — has $10.4 million in new earmark requests from Representative Marcy Kaptur, Democrat of Ohio.

The congresswoman, who has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Ms. Kurtz’s family and her business’s lobbyists, thought the quickly hatched nonprofit organization was a convenient solution.

“They met the requirements of the reform,” Ms. Kaptur said in an interview. “Yes, they did.”

Want to know what the 2010 Earmark Requests are, and where they'd go ? Check out WASHINGTONWATCH.COM !

Flaming Bag of Debt : More about Interest Rate Swaps than You May Want to Know

Michael McDonald explains how  ' Wall Street Collects $4 Billion From Taxpayers as Swaps Backfire '. 
The subprime mortgage crisis isn’t the only calamity Wall Street created that’s upending the finances of U.S. states and cities.
For more than a decade, banks and insurance companies convinced governments and nonprofits that financial engineering would lower interest rates on bonds sold for public projects such as roads, bridges and schools. That failed promise has cost more than $4 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, as hundreds of borrowers from the Bay Area Toll Authority in Oakland, California, to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, quietly paid Wall Street to end agreements since 2008.
Wall Street banks and insurers peddled financial derivatives known as interest-rate swaps to governments and nonprofits that bet they could lower the cost of borrowing. There were as much as $500 billion of the deals done in the $2.8 trillion municipal bond market before the credit crisis, according to a report by Randall Dodd, a senior researcher on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, published by the International Monetary Fund in June.
California’s water resources department this year spent $305 million unwinding interest-rate bets that backfired, handing over the money to banks led by New York-based Morgan Stanley. North Carolina paid $59.8 million in August, enough to cover the annual salaries of about 1,400 full-time state employees. Reading, Pennsylvania, which sought protection in the state’s fiscally distressed communities program, got caught on the wrong end of the deals, costing it $21 million, equal to more than a year’s worth of real-estate taxes.
“It was brilliant, and it all blew up on me,” said Brian Mayhew, chief financial officer of the Bay Area Toll Authority, the state agency that gave Ambac Financial Group Inc., the New York-based bond insurer that filed for bankruptcy this week, $105 million to end $1.1 billion of interest-rate agreements. The payments equal more than two months of revenue on seven bridges the authority oversees around San Francisco.
Borrowers from New York to California are now paying to get out of agreements. Altogether, they have made more than $4 billion of termination payments to firms including New York- based Citigroup Inc., New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America Corp. since the beginning of 2008, according to a review of hundreds of bond documents and credit-rating reports by Bloomberg News.
“Money that should be invested in students, classrooms and fixing infrastructure in Pennsylvania is instead lining the pockets of Wall Street,” Jack Wagner, the state’s auditor general, said in a statement in April after calling on lawmakers to ban swaps. “State and local governments must stop gambling with public money,” he said.
A brilliant, long, and disturbing article.  Noit bed-time reading, by any means

Oil Spill Felons Basically Brain Dead, says Commission

" Investigators see 'culture of complacency' behind gulf oil spill  : BP, Halliburton and Transocean need 'top to bottom' reform, leaders of a presidential commission contend ", reports the L.A. Times.
A stream of evidence shows that "a culture of complacency" rather than a "culture of safety" prevailed at BP, Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton as they worked on the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, according to the chairmen of the presidential commission investigating the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Let us service your deepwater rig !
The panel's investigators uncovered "a suite of bad decisions," many still inexplicable, involving tests that were poorly run, alarming results that were ignored, proper equipment that was sidelined and safety barriers that were removed prematurely at the high-pressure well, said William K. Reilly, who is co-chairman of the commission with former Democratic Sen. Bob Graham of Florida.

Their blunt assessments Tuesday came a day after the panel's chief counsel said he had found no evidence that BP and other workers "made a conscious decision" to cut corners on safety to save money.

"They didn't rule out cost, just said they weren't prepared to attribute mercenary motives to men who cannot speak for themselves because they are not alive," Reilly said of the panel's investigators and the 11 workers who were killed when the drilling rig exploded and sank on April 20. "But the story they told is ghastly: one bad call after another."   

Welcome to Institutional Zombie Land, where no one takes any responsibility for anything.

Good grief.  How long can the U. S.-- or this world-- survive while the Walking Dead make brain-dead decisions that affect us all  ?  

Alarming Numbers : One in Ten U.S. Children Diagnosed with ADHD

According to Pat Wechsler of USATODAY,
" The number of U.S. children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder rose by about 1 million, reflecting more premature births and increased awareness among parents and doctors, researchers said."
About 1 in 10 school-aged children was diagnosed with the illness at some time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today, citing a survey conducted in 2007 and 2008. That translates to as many as 5.4 million kids, a 23 percent increase from the 2003 level.

Who's Making out in the Zombie Economy ? Federal Workers !

According to Dennis Cauchon,  in USA TODAY, 'More federal workers' pay tops $150,000'

The number of federal workers earning $150,000 or more a year has soared tenfold in the past five years and doubled since President Obama took office, a USA TODAY analysis finds.

The fast-growing pay of federal employees has captured the attention of fiscally conservative Republicans who won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in last week's elections. Already, some lawmakers are planning to use the lame-duck session that starts Monday to challenge the president's plan to give a 1.4% across-the-board pay raise to 2.1 million federal workers.

Federal workers earning $150,000 or more make up 3.9% of the workforce, up from 0.4% in 2005.

Since 2000, federal pay and benefits have increased 3% annually above inflation compared with 0.8% for private workers, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Members of Congress earn $174,000, up from $141,300 in 2000, an increase below the rate of inflation.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


...and check out Disney's Third (and supposedly) final trailer for 'Tron:Legacy', which...
starts out playing up the missing father/orphaned boy angle, a sure sign this trailer is now trying to reach the female side of the demographic. It also gives more story, of a creation gone awry, and builds to several fights and showdowns (that actually look like they take place all across the movie but climax nicely for this trailer), all set to the great pulsating Daft Punk score.
Or you could go to the official Disney/Tron Website.

Undecided Mid-Term House Races, Sen. McConnell and Earmarks, and two views of Rep. Boehner, House Speaker-to-be

There are ' 8 House races yet to be decided ', report THE POLITICO's Alex Isenstadt and Kasie Hunt.
Republicans gained at least 59 House seats in last week’s election, but they are positioned to win more. While Democratic incumbents hold slim leads in two of the still-contested races, they trail in six others, with tens of thousands of ballots still to be counted.

In THE POLITICO, Manu Raju and John Bresnahan explain Senator Mitch McConnell's apparent opposition to fellow GOP'er DeMInt's attempt to ban earmarks :
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is maneuvering behind the scenes to defeat a conservative plan aimed at restricting earmarks, setting up a high-stakes showdown that pits the GOP leader and his “Old Bull” allies against Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and a new breed of conservative senators.
In a series of one-on-one conversations with incoming and sitting senators, McConnell is encouraging his colleagues to keep an open mind and not to automatically side with DeMint, whose plan calls on Senate Republicans to unilaterally give up earmarks in the 112th Congress, according to several people familiar with the talks.
While McConnell is not demanding that rank-and-file Republican senators vote against the earmark ban, he’s laying out his concerns that eliminating earmarks would effectively cede Congress’ spending authority to the White House while not making a real dent in the $1 trillion-plus budget deficit. And McConnell is signaling his concern about the awkward politics of the situation: even if the DeMint moratorium passes, Republican senators could push for earmarks, given that the plan is nonbinding and non-enforceable.
Senate Democrats could still push for their own earmarks as well, potentially putting Republicans in the position of having to vote against popular appropriations bills in order to remain ideologically consistent on the issue.

Happy Together ?
Who is the real John Boehner, soon to be Speaker of the House  ? He's not Newt Gingrich, or Tom DeLay, says Fred Barnes in THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
Boehner sounds disarmingly deferential toward the president. “While our new majority will serve as your voice in the people’s House,” he told supporters on Election Night, “we must remember it’s the president who sets the agenda for our government.” That wasn’t the Gingrich approach.
But the White House still regards Boehner as potential prey. He’s not as smart as the president and his aides, or so they think. Which means they probably can’t resist going after him again. They’re likely to be disappointed. Boehner has learned from the mistakes of his predecessors.
What exactly has he learned? The overriding lesson from the Gingrich era is that you can’t govern from Capitol Hill. It’s self-destructive even to try. Another danger to be avoided is allowing oneself, as Republican leader, to become the center of attention in Washington. Gingrich did. Boehner won’t.
He understands it’s “not about him,” I’m told by a Boehner ally. He’s not a visionary like Gingrich, but that’s not required of a speaker. Political skill and the ability to get your agenda enacted is. A small ego helps, the smaller, the better.
When DeLay was de facto leader of House Republicans—Denny Hastert was speaker—he was seduced by the entrenched culture of spending in Congress. He promoted earmarks to aid Republicans in securing their House seats...  Boehner opposes them.
In POLITICS DAILY, Patricia Wagner and Alex Wagner ask, and partially answer the question, 'Can Boehner and Obama Make a Deal?'

Boehner is known on Capitol Hill to be a pragmatic, decisive leader in the House, missing the ideology and rancor that seemed to define Newt Gingrich in the 1990s. He also has a history of working with Democrats when the issue matters to him, teaming up with no less a liberal lion than the late Sen. Ted Kennedy when he wanted to get an education bill passed.
If Obama and Boehner need a model of leaders working across the aisle to deliver legislation, history has several examples, with the classic involving Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill.
George C. Edwards, professor of political science at Texas A&M University, says that, "The two men disagreed, but O'Neill and Reagan met at the White House, had a drink, told Irish stories," and eventually worked together to enact landmark measures, including Social Security reform. Edwards credits their cooperation to the fact the two men socialized together and that, fundamentally, O'Neill and Reagan were both "pols -- and could cut a deal."

Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, also points to Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had a productive relationship with Democratic Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson. "The two Democrats were more powerful in their own parties than the president was in his own," says Hess, "Rayburn and Johnson could deliver the votes -- and the three met constantly."

Personalities aside, most presidential historians agree that the broader national political landscape usually determines the nature of the relationship between the speaker and the president. Edwards points to the less polarized dynamic between the parties in the O'Neill-Reagan era: "They thought the other side was wrong, but not evil. Now the other side is perceived as being evil, that it wants to undermine the country." That, says Edwards, makes it much harder to find a middle ground.

Constitutional Challenge to ObamaCare's Mandated Coverage ' Could Prevail '...

...asserts Ilya Somin, Associate Professor at George Mason University School of Law, and Richmond Times-Dispatch Columnist :
When 21 states and several private groups initiated lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Obama health care law earlier this year, critics denounced the suits as frivolous political grandstanding. But it is increasingly clear that the plaintiffs have a serious case with a real chance of victory.
The suits focus primarily on challenges to the new law's "individual mandate," which requires most American citizens to purchase a government-approved health insurance plan by 2014 or pay a fine. One of the cases was filed by 20 state governments and the National Federation of Independent Business in a federal court in Florida. Another was initiated by the Commonwealth of Virginia in a federal court in this state, and a third by the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan.
The judges considering the Florida and Virginia cases have both issued rulings rejecting the federal government's motions to dismiss the suits and indicating that the mandate can't be upheld based on current Supreme Court precedent. By contrast, Michigan district Judge George Caram Steeh wrote a decision concluding that the mandate is constitutional. But even he agreed that the case raises an "issue of first impression."

Read Sean Wilentz's article about President Obama and 'Movement Politics ' in THE NEW REPUBLIC

 'Live By the Movement, Die By the Movement : Obama’s doomed theory of politics ' is well worth the read. Some excerpts :
Clearly, the hopes and dreams that propelled Obama to the White House are in disarray. The social movement politics that some of his most fervent followers ascribed to him—the idea of electing a “post-partisan” president as the leader not of a nation or even of a political party but of a personalized social movement—has failed.
The dream of the Obama presidency based on a movement model of politics was devised by Marshall Ganz, a veteran union organizer and lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School, hired as an Obama campaign official and charged with training Obama volunteers—and articulated by Ganz’s ally, Peter Dreier, also an Obama adviser, a member of Progressives for Obama, and a politics professor at Occidental College... Ganz’s projection of the Obama presidency gained its prestige from the hallowed memories of the civil rights and farmworker union movements, imbued with high moral as well as political purposes. He posed it against the threadbare, craven horse-trading and maneuvering of parties and all previous presidential politics, which Ganz believes were “practiced to maintain, rather than change, the status quo.” The Obama experiment, a movement that arose from the grassroots apart from the Democratic Party, would usher in a purer moral and more effective leadership to the White House. Obama would not merely alter government policy but also transform the very sum and substance of the political system.
Two years after touting the movement model of politics, its advocates now have found a culprit for its failure—not the Republican Party, not the filibuster, and certainly not their own notion of “post-partisan” Nirvana, but the once worshipped Barack Obama. Immediately after the midterm elections, Ganz leaped forward to charge that in office the president had lost his organizer’s fire and neglected to deliver the wonderful speeches that would frame the political discourse for the movement. Instead, Obama lamely sought reform, in Ganz’s words, “inside a system structured to resist change,” ignoring and even scorning liberal and leftist advocacy groups. He demobilized the networks generated by that Ganz and Dreier claimed had helped win the Democratic nomination and then the White House. He became “transactional” instead of “transformational.” Now, to salvage his presidency, Ganz contends, Obama must contritely “acknowledge responsibility for his mistakes” and become the community organizer president that the movement advocates want him to be, speaking boldly “for the anxious and marginalized” and leading “in the task of putting Americans to work rebuilding our future.”
But is the social movement model adequate to democratic governing, especially as the basis of a presidency? What Ganz does not consider is that his own theory and practice of the Obama 2008 mobilization, explicitly based on values, emotions, and feelings, disdaining any particular policies or political goals, may have been a dead end once Obama took office—and that it even helped foster an inevitable disillusionment.
Fundamental to the social movement model is a conception of American political history in which movements, and not presidents, are the true instigators for change. Presidents are merely reactive. They are not the main protagonists.

Monday, November 8, 2010

MONEY MONEY MONEY : Three articles on the USD, the Banks, and a Proposed New Gold Standard

' Is the U.S. Dollar Doomed? ' asks Brian Dolan, provocatively, surveying last week's currency movements and looking ahead to events that will shape FOREX this week  
We hesitate to conclude that QE2 in and of itself will lead to further USD weakness. More important will be the evolution of incoming US data, and to the extent it improves, the USD has the potential to stabilize. The better than expected Oct. jobs report, while far from cause for exuberance, does hold out the prospect for further improvement in consumer confidence, and with it US consumption.
We go into next week cautiously optimistic for a USD recovery overall.

What are banks doing with all the $$$ they're borrowing from the Fed at no cost ?Are they lending to businesses and individuals ? Hell no ! According to Bloomberg,  THEY'RE BUYING TREASURIES , AND THAT (SUPPOSEDLY ) FROSTS BERNANKE ! !

Rather than providing money to businesses and consumers, U.S. commercial banks are increasingly using the cash available at interest rates set by the Federal Reserve that are next to zero and lending it back to the government. Since June, the biggest banks bought about $127 billion of Treasuries, compared with $47 billion in the first half, according to the central bank. Commercial and industrial loans outstanding have fallen by about $68.5 billion this year, central bank data show
While the Fed and Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last week they will pump $600 billion more into the financial system through so-called quantitative easing to aid the economy and boost the flow of credit, a growing number of bond investors and strategists say the allure of government debt may only get stronger. New global banking rules will force lenders to hold a greater percentage of capital if they want to invest in riskier securities or make new loans.

2010 Elections and American Exceptionalism : U.S. A BIG DEAL OR NO BIG DEAL ?

Excerpted below are articles on this subject that have appeared in the aftermath of the 2010 Election.  My own views--which are more in tune with Andrew Ferguson's than Micahel Kinsey's or Peter Beinart's-- follow.

Michael Kinsley - ' U.S. is not greatest country ever '
The important message of this election is not from the voters but to the voters. Maybe it can be heard above the din. It is: You’re not so special.

The notion that America and Americans are special, among all the peoples of the earth, is sometimes called “American exceptionalism.” Because of our long history of democracy and freedom, or because we have a special mission to spread these values (or at least to remain a shining example of them), or because of our wealth, or because of our military strength, our nuclear arsenal, our wide-open spaces, our pragmatism, our idealism, or just because, the rules don’t apply to us. There are man-made rules like, “You can’t start a war without the permission of the United Nations Security Council.” We’ve gotten away with quite a bit of bending or breaking of that kind of rule. This may have given us the impression that we could ignore the other kind of rules —the ones that are imposed by reality and therefore are self-enforcing. These are rules such as, “You can’t have good ice cream without fat” or “You can’t borrow increasing amounts of money indefinitely and never pay it back, because people will eventually stop lending it to you.” No country is special enough to escape these rules.

Obama was asked during the 2008 presidential campaign whether he believed in American exceptionalism. He said, “I believe in American exceptionalism just as I suspect the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Newt Gingrich’s gloss: “In other words, everything we cherish about America, our president thinks is not so very special, not so very different from any other country. ... No longer, in the left’s view, are we the Americans of the frontier, the sturdy, independent farmers.” But the question isn’t whether Americans can or should cherish our country, its culture and its values. Gingrich is saying that only Americans can do so. His message to the world is, “Hey, buddy, we’ll do the cherishing around here.” And the country he cherishes isn’t 2010 America — it’s some fantasyland populated by frontiersmen and “sturdy, independent farmers.” Scarborough is right about him, too. Why do we pay any attention?

This conceit that we’re the greatest country ever may be self-immolating. If people believe it’s true, they won’t do what’s necessary to make it true. The Brits, who suffer no such delusion (and who, in fact, cherish the national myth of being people who smile through adversity), have just accepted cuts in government spending that no American politician — even a tea bagger — would dream of proposing. Maybe these cuts are a mistake or badly timed, but when the British voted for “change,” they really got it.

Peter Beinart - ' Lunatic Notion of American Exceptionalism '

Republican megastar Marco Rubio announced that “America is the single greatest nation in all of human history. A place without equal in the history of all mankind” because “almost every other place in the world…what you were going to be when you grow up was determined for you.” Almost every other place in the world? From China to India to Brazil, hundreds of millions of people are rising economically in ways their parents could scarcely have imagined, in part because their governments are investing in infrastructure in the way the United States did in the late nineteenth century. The American dream of upward mobility is alive and well, just not in America. And rather than looking at what those other countries are doing right, the Republicans have taken refuge in an anti-government ideology premised on the lunatic notion that America is the only truly free and successful country in the world. That ideology won last night, and Keynesianism lost. Have a good day!

Andrew Ferguson - 'What’s So Great About America'

Marco Rubio will have to write a new speech sooner or later, but he shouldn’t hurry up on our account. We still enjoy the one he’s been giving all year. He delivered it again to a national television audience on Election Night, after walloping not one but two formidable opponents in his campaign for a vacant Florida Senate seat. Along with his gift for wooing voters, the speech has made Rubio, according to a chorus of news accounts, a “rising star”—even, said one Vanity Fair writer who should know, a “matinee idol.” Republicans might want to ponder why. 
The theme of the speech, and the source of its power, is American exceptionalism. “It’s sometimes easy to forget how special America really is,” Rubio says. “But I was raised by exiles .  .  . by people who clearly understand how different America is from the rest of the world.”

For many sophisticated Democrats the belief is not merely childish but dangerous. It distracts us from the urgent matters at hand. “This conceit that we’re the greatest country ever may be self-immolating,” Kinsley wrote. “If people believe it’s true, they won’t do what’s necessary to make it true.”

This strikes us—and will strike most Americans, we’ll wager—as the precise opposite of the truth. Americans through time have already done “what’s necessary to make” the country unique in all the world; that’s why Glenn Beck and all those Tea Partiers prattle endlessly on about the Founders. Thanks to the ingenuity, persistence, and sacrifice of earlier generations, our obligation now is to conserve the arrangements that make us exceptional, reaffirm them, and prepare to pass them on, with an abiding faith in personal liberty. And this much should be obvious: If Americans don’t believe “we’re the greatest country ever,” we won’t be for much longer.
* * *

And now, a word from this blogger..

Apparenlty Otto Von Bismarck never said, " there is a special providence for drunkards, fools, and the United States of America" .  However, one would hope that in respect to the U.S., this is true, and that we would neither depend nor trade on it, but earn it.

The indisputable fact is that this country has served as a beacon of freedom, personal liberty, and opportunity, as a refuge from oppression, and as a defender from tyrannies since its founding. That does not mean that we, as Americans, are faultless and infallible, or entirely immune from political, social, and cultural problems that afflict others. And it does not mean that we are guaranteed a bright future because of a once glorious past.

To reclaim that glory will require honest introspection, earnest application, work, and sacrifices that are by no means beyond those who populate Main Street.  I would not say we are only as good as our leaders--poltical, financial, legal, take your pick--or that we have the govenment and institutions we deserve. Nor would I say we are entirely without responsibility or blame.

We may be guilty of wishful thinking, which at times has induced us to undertake ill-conceived adventures abroad, amongst which  isolationists surely considered our entering World War II,  or exerting ourselves to contain the enormities of Stalinist autocracy. At times we've collectively had a short attention span, and yes, lapses in memory too ( Otherwise, would we have rebuilt a shattered Germany and Japan after WWII ? To be sure, this was in our self-interest, but at least it was enlightened self-interest.) Clearly, we are capable of being misled, in every meaning of that word. In this we, as a nation, are hardly unique. Moreover, today's pretext may have been 'Weapons of Mass Destruction'. But only yesterday, it was the 'Gulf of Tonkin Incident'.

Are we exceptional now ? That remains to be seen. We must rebuild our factories, schools, roads, bridges, and put people back to work doing meaningful, constructive jobs with liveable wages. We must stop alienating our manufacturing, scientific, and engineering patrimony. The middle class, and the children of the middle-class, cannot be sustained indefinitely on service jobs, serving up an infinite variety of burgers, or Mutual Funds for that matter. We must revive atrophied or decayed institutions in which, obviously, we misplaced our trust,  and which declined or failed properly to safeguard the well-being of the vast majority against the interests of an apparently insatiable kleptocracy. We need common sense legislation and regulations, clear and easily enforceable--in other words, "Volcker rules" --that individuals or entities will find risky or at least uneconomic to evade.      
As to how exceptional the United States of America has been--That will become most clear when other nations assume world leadership, and we witness with what wisdom, humanity, generosity they exercise it.  

If and when that happens, we may well  hope that for the U.S., the saying misattributed to Bismarck holds true.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tonight's Music Blast - OH ! THE COLORS !!! ( MON DIEU ! LES COULEURS !!! )

Prince - Little Red Corvette
Procol Harum - A Whiter Shade Of Pale
The Hollies - Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress
Bobby Vinton - Blue Velvet
Love - My Little Red Book (With Lyrics)
The Rolling Stones - Paint It Black
UB40 - Red Red Wine (2002 Digital Remaster)
Donovan - Mellow Yellow
Eric Andersen - Violets of Dawn
Beatles - Strawberry Fields Forever
Elton John - Elderberry Wine
Fats domino - Blueberry Hill
Nena - 99 Red Balloons
Billy Joel - Shades of Grey
Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi (live)
Bruce Springsteen - Pink Cadillac
Hermans Hermits - Mrs. Brown You've got a Lovely Daughter 1965
The Lemon Pipers - Green Tambourine
Sting - Fields Of Gold
John Legend with Andre 3000 - Green Light
Dido - White Flag
David Bowie - Golden Years
Elton John - Blue Eyes
Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit
The Rolling Stones - You Got The Silver - Live 2006 - Keith Singing 
Jimi Hendrix - Purple Haze
Michael Jackson - Black Or White
Django Reinhardt NYC Festival 2004 - Sweet Georgia Brown
Ruby Tuesday. Rolling Stones
Elvis Presley - Blue Suede Shoes
Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels - Devil with a Blue Dress
The Band- Long Black Veil
Prince - Raspberry Beret
The Moody Blues - Nights In White Satin´67
Chris DeBurgh - Lady In Red
The Rolling Stones- Blue Turns to Grey (1965)
Neil Young - Heart Of Gold
Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs - Little Red Riding Hood
Cream - White Room
Led Zeppelin - Black Dog Lyrics
Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (TOTP 1973)
Van Morrison - Brown Eyed Girl lyrics
Sting - Desert Rose
The Tremeloes - Silence Is Golden
Billy Idol - White Wedding
The Beatles - Maxwell's Silver Hammer
Rolling Stones - Brown Sugar
Elvis Presley - Blue Christmas
Bing Crosby - White Christmas