May 23, 2012

News You Can Use

Per the WSJ's Market Watch,

After adjusting for inflation, spending under Obama is falling at a 1.4% annual pace — the first decline in real spending since the early 1970s, when Richard Nixon was retreating from the quagmire in Vietnam.

In per capita terms, real spending will drop by nearly 5% from $11,450 per person in 2009 to $10,900 in 2013 (measured in 2009 dollars).

By the way, real government spending rose 12.3% a year in Hoover’s four years. Now there was a guy who knew how to attack a depression by spending government money!

UPDATE: Great article in the NYT by Bruce Bartlett, who held senior policy roles in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations:

Putting all the numbers in the C.B.O. report together, we see that continuation of tax and budget policies and economic conditions in place at the end of the Clinton administration would have led to a cumulative budget surplus of $5.6 trillion through 2011 – enough to pay off the $5.6 trillion national debt at the end of 2000.
Much more at the link.

May 14, 2012

Stealth Projection

Created by Frédéric Eyl. In the US, you'd probably be hauled off as a terrorist; but I'd love to see more done with this.

May 13, 2012

How JPMorgan Chase Has Proved We Need to Break Up Big Banks & Bring Back Glass-Steagall

From Robert Reich at Nation of Change:

The bets were “poorly executed” and “poorly monitored,” said [Jamie] Dimon [current CEO of JPMorgan Chase and former Dir. of the Board of the Federal Reserve], a result of “many errors, “sloppiness,” and “bad judgment.” But not to worry. “We will admit it, we will fix it and move on.” Move on? Word on the Street is that J.P. Morgan’s exposure is so large that it can’t dump these bad bets without affecting the market and losing even more money. And given its mammoth size and interlinked connections with every other financial institution, anything that shakes J.P. Morgan is likely to rock the rest of the Street.

Ever since the start of the banking crisis in 2008, Dimon has been arguing that more government regulation of Wall Street is unnecessary. Last year he vehemently and loudly opposed the so-called Volcker rule, itself a watered-down version of the old Glass-Steagall Act that used to separate commercial from investment banking before it was repealed in 1999, saying it would unnecessarily impinge on derivative trading (the lucrative practice of making bets on bets) and hedging (using some bets to offset the risks of other bets).

Dimon argued that the financial system could be trusted; that the near-meltdown of 2008 was a perfect storm that would never happen again. Since then, J.P. Morgan’s lobbyists and lawyers have done everything in their power to eviscerate the Volcker rule — creating exceptions, exemptions, and loopholes that effectively allow any big bank to go on doing most of the derivative trading it was doing before the near-meltdown. And now — only a few years after the banking crisis that forced American taxpayers to bail out the Street, caused home values to plunge by more than 30 percent and pushed millions of homeowners underwater, threatened or diminished the savings of millions more, and sent the entire American economy hurtling into the worst downturn since the Great Depression — J.P. Morgan Chase recapitulates the whole debacle with the same kind of errors, sloppiness, bad judgment, excessively risky trades poorly-executed and poorly-monitored, that caused the crisis in the first place.

In light of all this, Jamie Dimon’s promise that J.P. Morgan will “fix it and move on” is not reassuring. The losses here had been mounting for at least six weeks, according to Morgan. Where was the new transparency that’s supposed to allow regulators to catch these things before they get out of hand? . . . . Let’s hope Morgan’s losses don’t turn into another crisis of confidence and they don’t spread to the rest of the financial sector. But let’s also stop hoping Wall Street will mend itself. What just happened at J.P. Morgan – along with its leader’s cavalier dismissal followed by lame reassurance – reveals how fragile and opaque the banking system continues to be, why Glass-Steagall must be resurrected, and why the Dallas Fed’s recent recommendation that Wall Street’s giant banks be broken up should be heeded.
More at the link.

May 12, 2012

The Yes Lab Strikes Again, in Dallas

Re- the Trans-Pacific Partnership "trade" agreement:

From the Yes Lab's press release:

Dozens of rogue "delegates" disrupt Trans-Pacific Partnership gala with "award," "mic check," mass toilet paper replacement

* * * * *
Two dozen rogue "delegates" disrupted the corporate-sponsored welcome gala for the high-stakes Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations yesterday with a fake award ceremony and "mic check." Other activists, meanwhile, replaced hundreds of rolls of toilet paper (TP) throughout the conference venue with more informative versions, and projected a message on the venue's facade.

The first action began when a smartly-dressed man approached the podium immediately after the gala's keynote speech by Ron Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative and former mayor of Dallas. The man (local puppeteer David Goodwin) introduced himself as "Git Haversall," president of the "Texas Corporate Power Partnership," and announced he was giving Kirk and other U.S. trade negotiators the "2012 Corporate Power Tool Award," which "Haversall's" partner held aloft.

The crowd of negotiators and corporate representatives applauded, and "Haversall" continued: "I'd like to personally thank the negotiators for their relentless efforts. The TPP agreement is shaping up to be a fantastic way for us to maximize profits, regardless of what the public of this nation—or any other nation—thinks is right."

At that point, the host of the reception took the microphone back and announced that the evening's formal programming had concluded. But Mr. Haversall confidently re-took the microphone and warmly invited Kirk to accept the award.

Kirk moved towards the stage, but federal agents blocked his path to protect him from further embarrassment. At that point, a dozen well-dressed "delegates" (local activists, some from Occupy Dallas) broke into ecstatic dance and chanted "TPP! TPP! TPP!" for several minutes until Dallas police arrived.

Fifteen minutes later, another dozen interlopers from Occupy Dallas interrupted the reception with a spirited "mic-check." Outside, activists projected a message on the hotel, and throughout the night, delegates discovered that hundreds of rolls of custom toilet paper had been installed in the conference venue.

The activists disrupted the gala to protest the hijacking of trade negotiations by an extreme pro-corporate agenda. "The public and the media are locked out of these meetings," said Kristi Lara from Occupy Dallas, one of the infiltrators. "We can't let U.S. trade officials get away with secretly limiting Internet freedoms, restricting financial regulation, extending medicine patents, and giving corporations other a whole host of other powers allowing them to quash the rights of people and democracies, for example by offshoring jobs in ever new ways. Trade officials know the public won't stand for this, which is why they try to keep their work secret—and that's why we had to crash their party."

There is mounting criticism of the U.S. role in pushing the negotiations forward in secrecy, despite the public's overwhelming disagreement with TPP goals. ("Buy American" procurement preferences are supported by over 85% of Americans, but U.S. trade negotiators are preparing to accept a ban on such preferences. Two weeks ago, 69 members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama asking him not to accept that ban.)

Many are calling the Obama administration duplicitous: while the administration publicly hypes a plan to revitalize American manufacturing and create jobs in the U.S., U.S. trade officials push for new "investor rights" that would make it easier for American companies to lay off domestic workers and open plants overseas.

"The TPP has been branded as a trade 'negotiation' by its corporate proponents, but in reality it's a place for big business to get its way behind closed doors," said Pete Rokicki of Occupy Dallas. "This anti-democratic maneuver can be stopped if the public gets active—just look at the movement that killed the ill-advised SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) law a few months ago. That's why Obama's trade officials lock the public, the press and even members of Congress from the trade negotiation process."

"We're really happy to know that even in their most private moments, US trade reps are reminded that a vast majority of the public stands opposed to corporate-friendly, closed-door trade deals like the TPP," said Sean Dagohoy from the Yes Lab, who assisted in the actions.

Here's a summary of the provisions of the TPP; more at Public Citizen Global Trade Watch.

UPDATE: F.w.i.w., some people are starting to notice that maybe there's a problem with allowing 600 megacorps to write our treaties while everyone else including Congress is kept in the dark.

"Ain't That Peculiar" Oddisee Remix

May 11, 2012

What Space Exploration and P*rn Have in Common:

. . . always pushing the tech envelope.

(Thanks, Ben!) The comments on YouTube are worth a look.

May 9, 2012

Obama Has Endorsed Marriage Equality

More here; video here.

Perhaps the inadequacy of "separate but equal" in the form of civil unions has finally become inescapable for all but die-hard bigots.

TPP Negotiations in Dallas this Week

If you liked PIPA and SOPA, you'll probably love the TPP. But only the participating governments and a handful of multinational corporate insiders know for sure, since the negotiations have been conducted in secret – secret, that is, from the public, though not from the corporate insiders who are basically writing the treaty. Thirty-two legal academics from participating countries have written to protest the shut-out; see here. And Occupiers and others have planned a rally and other actions; see, e.g., here.

Meanwhile, here's an educated guess about what just a few of the proposed treaty's provisions probably include (from Public Knowledge):

  • Criminalizing Small Scale Copyright Infringement. Under the TPP, downloading music could be considered a crime. Your computer could be seized as a device that aids this offense and your kid could be sent to jail for downloading. Some of these rules are part of US law. The TPP makes them worse and also imposes similar rules on other countries that don’t have them.
  • Kicking People Off the Internet. The TPP would encourage your ISP and the content industry to agree to institute measures such as three strikes—which kicks you off your internet connection after three accusations of copyright infringement—and deep-packet-inspection—which is akin to the USPS opening your mail. While we can not be sure exactly what is in the TPP, these examples are derived from a copy of the TPP’s IP chapter that leaked in February last year, the provisions that were reported to be part of earlier drafts of ACTA, and previous free trade agreements that the US has signed.
  • Protecting Incidental Copies. The TPP would provide copyright owners power over “buffer copies.” These are the small copies that computers need to make in the process moving data around. With buffer copy protection the number of transactions for which you would need a license from the copyright owner would increase a great deal. One impact of this could be that the music you stream from services such as Pandora could get much more expensive when rights holders demand higher license fees to compensate them for the “additional” copies.
  • Locking out the Deaf and Blind. The TPP would prevent the blind from reading DRM protected ebooks and the deaf from inserting closed captioning onto DRM protected DVDs. In the US, the Copyright Office has made rules in the past that allows the blind to break this DRM. But the continuation of these rules is not a guarantee. And the other TPP countries could fail to make similar rules.
And it's believed there's much more, e.g., provisions that would bar developing countries from buying generic drugs, etc.

As Zachary, OWS-NY librarian put it, "[p]owerlessness is what happens when you sit behind your desk and do nothing. Powerlessness is signing an online petition, or commenting on an article, or forwarding an e-mail."

Occupy the Regulatory / Investigatory System

From the Washington Post:

Occupy Wall Street has moved. Its new address: 60 Wall Street.

There, inside a soaring public atrium, dreadlocked teens trade shoulder massages near the evening meditation circle. A young man holds up a sign: “You’re a Federal Reserve $lave.” The dinnertime crowd buzzes over free plates of rice and beans while listening to an improvised, profanity-laden operetta about the evils of agro-giant Monsanto. But amid the din, there’s a small group holding a quieter, and far wonkier, conversation.

* * * * *
After much discussion, the group agreed that the Volcker Rule’s earlier definition of clearing agencies, which banks use for exchanging futures contracts, was “clear and tough and good,” but decided that it was worth double-checking section 17(a) of questions that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission raised about it.

It may sound like technical gobbledygook to an outsider, and, indeed, a few newcomers to Occupy the SEC seem befuddled by the group’s headlong dive into the finer distinctions between proprietary trading and market-making. But the meeting is a glimpse into one of the most surprising iterations of the free-wheeling, anarchic movement: fighting the man through the tedious and Byzantine regulatory process.
More at the WaPo link above.

From truthout:
“How can we help? How can we help? How can we help?”

It’s not your average protest slogan, but it’s what the group chanted today as it marched from Zuccotti Park to 120 Broadway, which houses the office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The AG chairs President Obama’s task force to investigate the routine fraud and abuse that characterized Wall Street during the Bush-era inflation of the housing bubble and precipitated the 2008 financial crash and subsequent recession. According to a Schneiderman-penned Daily News Op-Ed, though, the task force has only been furnished with “[m]ore than 50 attorneys,” whereas the Enron investigation alone required over 100, and the Savings and Loan crisis took over 1,000. Wall Street occupiers today, under the banner The May Fourth Committee for Equal Justice Under the Law, offered to fill that void.

* * * * *
Alexis Goldstein, a former net developer and business analyst at three large Wall Street firms, echoed that sentiment. “In January,” she told the crown. “President Obama appointed a financial fraud task force co-chaired by five people to investigate mortgage fraud. He touted it proudly in the State of the Union. But since the task force was created, we’ve seen zero prosecutions brought against the banks who committed securities fraud, conducted robo-signing, and illegally foreclosed on homes. We’ve seen no one thrown in jail following the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

Austin Guest brought a calculator, a pocket protector and news clippings. “I’m good at investigating,” he told me. “Frankly, it doesn’t seem very difficult. People are on record committing fraud. I’m very capable of using Google and a printer.”
More at the truthout link above.

May 8, 2012


. . . the Switchblade Sisters:

May 3, 2012

Ellen AltFest at the New Museum

This image is not of a whole painting. I think like it better cropped.

At the New Museum thru 6/24.

May 1, 2012

Tim Poole Streaming from May Day Demos in NYC

. . . at At this moment, masses of police are confronting even greater masses of Occupiers at Veterans' Plaza, and police are announcing that the park closed at 10PM and that people "will not be arrested if [they] leave within the next 5 min."

* * * * *

Protesters left the plaza for the street and are now marching on the sidewalks, to the extent there's room, and in the street to the extent there isn't. Police just knocked a guy onto the ground who was trying to walk away from them and then struck him repeatedly with a steel baton, in front of 3,400 current viewers. Tim says three federal lawsuits were filed against the NYPD yesterday.

Numerous arrests are taking place. It seems the police drag someone they want to arrest into the street and get him on the ground, while insisting that other protesters stay on the sidewalks, which makes it more difficult to film the arrest.

Police raided various activists' homes last night; more on that at Gawker.

Bursts of vandalism were reported in some cities; however, despite all the arrests of peaceful protesters, the police apparently didn't manage to arrest any of the vandals. There were reports that the police actually seemed to be escorting the vandals, and many suspect they were infiltrators planted to try to discredit the protesters; see, e.g., this.

Some coverage and photos of the day's demonstrations at The Guardian and HuffPo.

* * * * *

Protesters are now heading to Zucotti.


By Jean-Michel Albert / Ashley Fure:

(Thanks, Julie!)