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Political Hacks

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The aftermath of the 2016 presidential election brought a flood of outrage concerning Russia’s hacking into the email accounts of Democratic Party leaders and officials at the Democratic National Committee. However, it was only after Hillary Clinton lost the election when the level of righteous indignation reached a fever pitch. The period between the outset of the Democratic Convention (when the hacked emails were made public) and Election Day brought some heat for those few DNC officials who were caught plotting against Bernie Sanders to secure the nomination of Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, the plot to steal the nomination for Hillary involved a broader cast of characters.

From the outset of the 2016 primary season, the corporate media – particularly CNN – made a point of suppressing any publicity about the Bernie Sanders campaign. Sanders supporters took their protests to social media, using #BernieBlackout and #OccupyCNN to expose the conspiracy of silence. Once the nomination of Hillary became a fait accompli, a victory celebration took place on CNN’s New Day program, for Friday, June 10, 2016. Throughout that morning, Chris Cuomo and the other tools on the program made no secret of their disdain for Bernie Sanders. The spirit seemed to go beyond mere celebration to a feeling of accomplishment, as though they had helped place Hillary on what appeared to be a clear path to the presidency. Surprisingly, Donna Brazile was not on hand for the festivities.

Did Russian Hackers Help Steal the Nomination for Hillary?

Concern about Russia’s hacking of DNC emails to expose the ugly truth about Hillary Clinton’s priorities has focused on the idea that Vladimir Putin was determined to see Donald Trump defeat Hillary. The more important question should have been whether Putin made sure that the defeatable Hillary, rather than Bernie Sanders, was Trump’s opponent. Polls conducted during the primary season indicated that Sanders could have beaten Trump, while Hillary was a vulnerable candidate who faced a serious risk of losing the election. This could have explained why the hacked emails were not released until a few days before the Democratic Convention began. The Russians did not want their efforts to deliver the Democratic nomination to a candidate who could have beaten Putin’s choice for the American presidency.

Although President Obama and others have emphasized that the Russians could not have hacked the actual voting machines, there was another vulnerability which the hackers could have exploited to deliver the nomination for Hillary. After Clinton secured her party’s nomination, some Sanders supporters formed an investigative unit: ElectionJustice.net (originally: ElectionJusticeUSA.org). The group’s final report, Democracy Lost documented how registration tampering removed the names of registered Democratic voters from the voting rolls in those states which required voters to specify their party affiliation in order to vote in primary elections.

Election Justice verified reports of voter registration tampering in more than 20 states. A hacker could have hacked the Sanders campaign database for the names of contributors residing in states requiring party preference designation as part of the voter registration process. The hackers would then invade each state’s voter registration database to change the party affiliations of those voters, making them ineligible to vote on primary day. The investigation by Election Justice revealed that a significant number of would-be Sanders supporters were unable to vote in their state primaries because their registrations had been changed. Did those voters contribute to the Sanders campaign or were they on a Sanders campaign mailing list? A proper investigation into the Russian hacking should cover this area because a similar event could take place in a future election.

Many Republicans have criticized the inquiries into Russia’s hacking of the DNC as an attempt at de-legitimizing the election of Donald Trump. Don’t count on the Democrats to support a broader investigation into voter registration tampering because it could reveal that it was conducted by DNC operatives or Russian hackers. In either case, the illegitimacy of the Clinton nomination could be exposed and the people at CNN might not be too happy about that.



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Another Look at Helicopter Money

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helicopter-money

As President Obama wraps-up his second term, people are looking back to reassess his handling of the Great Recession. During his first year in office, our Disappointer-In-Chief introduced his own version of “trickle-down economics” by way of a bank bailout scheme called the Public-Private Investment Program (PPIP or “pee-pip”).

Despite his July 15, 2008, campaign promise that if he were elected, there would be “no more trickle-down economics”, the President and the Federal Reserve embarked on a course of bailing out the banks, rather than distressed businesses or the taxpayers themselves.

As this writer pointed out on Sept. 21, 2009, Australian economist Steve Keen published a report from his website explaining how the “money multiplier” myth, fed to Obama by the very people who facilitated the financial crisis, would be of no use in the effort to strengthen the economy.

On Aug. 26, 2016, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at the annual rate of just 1.1% during the second quarter of 2016. This graph illustrates the faltering rate of annual GDP expansion since the end of 2014, after the conclusion of the Fed’s quantitative easing program.

Concerns that the United States could be doomed to a Japan-like addiction to monetary stimulus gimmicks have amped-up enthusiasm for the Fed to become more aggressive about raising interest rates. Meanwhile, many economists contend that tightening monetary policy before the economy reaches a robust state could plunge the nation back into recession.

In April 2016, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke advocated the use of “helicopter money” as a last-resort strategy to jump-start a stalled economy. This provoked a response from economist Steve Keen emphasizing that Bernanke and other mainstream economists have shared a flawed belief that the public’s expectations for a healthy rate of inflation could cause such inflation to occur. In other words: “Inflationary expectations cause inflation.”

Steve Keen consistently emphasizes the need to understand how excessive private debt causes severe economic contraction and financial crises. Specifically, when the level of private debt exceeds GDP by 150% and that level continues to grow – disaster awaits.

So what can be done to keep the debt-to-GDP ratio in check? In this video, Steve Keen and Edward Harrison of the Credit Writedowns website explain how Ben Bernanke’s helicopter could be sent on a debt reduction mission.



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Last Respects for Edgar Mitchell

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Edgar Mitchell.jpg

On Feb. 4, 2016, the sixth man to walk on the Moon, Edgar Mitchell died at age 85. He left the planet for the last time on the eve of the 45th anniversary of his arrival on the moon. It must have taken great courage to embark on that journey, as Apollo 14 was NASA’s first attempt at a moon mission since the ill-fated Apollo 13. Mitchell was accompanied on Apollo 14 by Stuart Roosa, pilot of the command module, Kitty Hawk, and Alan Shepard, who accompanied Mitchell on the lunar module, Antares (LM-8). Alan Shepard was America’s first astronaut. His Freedom 7 capsule soared into space atop a Mercury-Redstone rocket and returned without making an orbit. The mission was Project Mercury’s first baby step into space.

Apollo 14 was Alan Shepard’s only space flight after his Freedom 7 trip because an inner-ear disease left him grounded until it was surgically treated. Shepard died in 1988 at age 74. Shepard’s landing of the Antares on the lunar surface was heralded as the most accurate moon landing in the Apollo program.

Few people remember that the Apollo 14 crew had its own “white knuckle” experience: The crew experienced great difficulty attempting to establish a “hard dock” between the Antares and the Kitty Hawk before heading to the Moon. It took six attempts and nearly two hours before docking was established. Although no technical difficulties could be found to explain the problem, fears lingered that the Antares wound be unable to dock with the Kitty Hawk for the return trip, leaving Shepard and Mitchell stranded in space.

True believers in a religion known as, Scientism were quick to ridicule Edgar Mitchell, upon learning that the astronaut conducted “private” (unauthorized by NASA) ESP experiments with friends on earth during the Apollo 14 mission. Most of those critics held no scientific credentials beyond navel-gazing, while Mitchell held a PhD in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT since 1964. Worse yet, those critics soiled themselves when Mitchell discussed the forbidden truth about extraterrestrial space visitors during an April 19, 1996, interview on Dateline NBC. Mitchell’s subsequent participation in efforts to convince the United States government to release suppressed evidence concerning alien spacecraft became a subject of ongoing ridicule.

Although many news reports announcing Mitchell’s death noted his interest in the subject of UFOs, the flow of snark was attenuated in light of the somber circumstances. Since that day in February, there has been little – if any – ridicule about Mitchell’s interest in UFOs because the entire subject has actually gained a modicum of respect. In fact, many of the memorial articles about Edgar Mitchell spoke admirably of the astronaut’s quest to expose this truth.

On Feb. 6, 2016, Forbes published a great piece by Jim Clash, discussing Edgar Mitchell’s advocacy for disclosure of evidence concerning extraterrestrial visitations. This article is a “must read”. When asked for his opinion on why the government would keep this secret, Mitchell responded by mentioning a quote discussed in my last posting. Mitchell explained that the cover-up has gone beyond efforts by the government. The list of culprits includes a “cabal of money and military organizations” motivated by greed.

Billy Cox writes the De Void blog for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. De Void should be on the radar for anyone with an interest in the subject of UFOs. In his Feb. 9, 2016, posting, Billy Cox discussed Mitchell’s efforts to get government personnel released from their security oaths to an extent allowing them to discuss their knowledge about the UFO subject. Dr. Mitchell again speculated about the likely culprits behind the cover-up of extraterrestrial visitations.

Regardless of the government’s secrecy efforts on the subject of extraterrestrial contact, it will obviously be up to the space aliens themselves to inform earthlings of the truth. The government would not be able to stop them from doing so. Perhaps Dr. Mitchell is now in a better place to advocate for UFO disclosure from the only entities with authority to do anything about it.



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Remembering Ike

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Ike

A persistent feature of the 2016 Presidential election campaign has been Donald Trump’s steady stream of promises to “make America great again”.  The constant repetition of that mantra has motivated me to look back to the time when America was great – and to take another look at how our President was motivating everyone in this country to make such significant strides.

Although television has provided us with constant reminders of President Kennedy’s great oratory skills, that medium has offered us little of what his predecessor, President Dwight Eisenhower offered by way of motivational elocution.  After all, the years of the Eisenhower Presidency (1953 – 1961) marked the era when America’s middle class strengthened to the level where young families were buying newly-constructed, air-conditioned homes – as well as shiny, new cars – on a grand scale.

In honor of Ike’s birthday (October 14, 1890) it seems only fitting that we should look back at some of his most noteworthy statements:

Ike gave a speech before the National Association of Newspaper Editors on April 16, 1953.  Joseph Stalin had just died on March 5 of that year, and there was heightened pressure for increased military spending, as a result of the burgeoning arms race with Russia.  The never-ending debate on whether government expenditures should favor “guns or butter” became the key subject of this speech:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.

The ever-expanding rift between the Republican Party’s so-called “Freedom Caucus” and the mainstream Republicans has prompted many GOP commentators to quote the wisdom of President Eisenhower, when discussing this subject:

Extremes to the right and to the left of any political dispute are always wrong.

Many of the obnoxious political bloviators, who pollute the airwaves with their toxic commentary, would be wise to take heed of this sage advice from Ike:

Never question another man’s motive. His wisdom, yes, but not his motives.

President Eisenhower offered us another bit of important advice to keep in mind during an election year:

Never let yourself be persuaded that any one Great Man, any one leader, is necessary to the salvation of America. When America consists of one leader and 158 million followers, it will no longer be America.

When you ask most people to recall a quote made by President Eisenhower, the usual response is a reference to his warning about the unrestrained power of the military-industrial complex.  Those remarks were included in Ike’s farewell address, which he presented on television, when he left office on January 17, 1961 – three days before his term expired.  I suggest watching the entire speech.  It lasts only fifteen minutes and it has remained every bit as relevant today as it was in 1961.



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Bumsen Sie die Erbsenzähler!

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The perspective on the Greek crisis, fed to most Americans by way of the megabank-controlled, mainstream news media, has been based on criticism of a “leftist” or “socialist” Greek government.  The magic words, leftist and socialist are intended to portray the Greeks as the bad guys in the picture, whereas those characterized as the “good guys” – die Erbsenzähler (led by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble) are portrayed as patiently leading the petulant Greeks toward the path of financial responsibility.

schaeuble-dijsselbloem

Nothing could be further from the truth.  For starters, Alexis Tsipras of the Syriza party was not elected Prime Minister of Greece until January 26, 2015.  His predecessor, Antonis Samaras was a member of the New Democracy party.

Many bloggers and financial writers have been criticizing the European Central Bank’s handling of the Greek financial crisis since 2010.  Edward Harrison has written extensively on the subject at his Credit Writedowns blog.  On June 29, Mr. Harrison provided a history on the crisis:

First, let’s remember that back in 2010, most of the creditors to Greece were in the private sector, many of them banks in other Eurozone countries. At that time, the fragility of the European and global economy, and of the European banking system was much greater than it is now. And this caused Europe to panic. What’s more is the EU was able to corral the IMF into joining the EU in bailing Greece out, even though doing so broke its own rules and disregarded the analysis of its own economists. This was the original mistake and the whole chain of events since then has been a futile attempt to justify that original decision.

*   *   *

The most obvious answer is the weak banks. The now deceased former German Central Bank Head Karl Otto Pöhl said at the time that it was all about rescuing weak German and French banks – and rich Greeks too. This is most definitely true. For example, back in 2012, the FT’s James Mackintosh quoted JPMorgan which reckons only 15 billion euros of 410 billion in ‘bailout’ funds actually went to the Greek economy. The rest went to creditors of the Greek government.

The ongoing intransigence of the troubled nation’s troika of creditors (European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union) has drawn harsh criticism from a wide assortment of astute individuals.  From here in the States, Mike Shedlock (a/k/a “Mish”) has been a frequent – yet well-reasoned and balanced – critic of the Eurogroup’s stance.  Here is what Mish had to say on July 10:

German chancellor Angela Merkel has stated many times recently that Greeks got generous terms on its alleged bailout.

Merkel is either a blatant liar or dumb as a rock. I believe the former. It is the bailed out banks in Germany and France that got generous terms.

To save French and German banks of €60 billion or so in losses on Greek bonds they never should have purchased in the first place, eurozone taxpayers are now on the hook for at least €326 billion.

Draghi’s famous “whatever it takes” speech should have been suffixed with “to save the banks”.

Greek and eurozone taxpayers got the shaft and remain at risk.

On July 12, Mish shared his reaction to “THE Final Offer Before Grexit”, as presented by the Eurogroup:

The wording of this document makes it clear Germany wants to push Greece out of the eurozone.

Please review the final sentence of the proposal. Here it is again: “In case no agreement could be reached, Greece should be offered swift negotiations on a time-out from the euro area, with possible debt restructuring.”

If Greece turns down the offer, it gets “swift” negotiations on a “temporary time out“, including the possibility of restructuring.

In contrast Greece has no chance of restructuring if it accepts all of the above demands.

Tsipras would be a fool to accept this proposal.

As I have said all along, Greece’s best chance is to default, not pay back a cent, and initiate the reforms it needs to grow over the long haul.

Greece does not need the euro. No country does.

Economist Steve Keen did a wonderful job debunking all of the falsehoods, which have been relied upon to justify the imposition of an absurd austerity regimen on Greece.  Dr. Keen also pointed out why the troika – rather than the Greek government – would be at fault in the event of a Grexit.  Here is his July 6 BBC interview.

The Eurocrats are pressing their luck too far.  If this stupidity persists, we should expect some awful consequences.



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Crazy Time Returns

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It’s time once again for the politicians and other attention-seekers from the lunatic fringe to return to the spotlight.  Politicians who Wingnutintend on running for the Presidency in 2016 are already preparing to launch their primary campaigns.  Because 2014 is a “midterm” year, the only voters who can be expected to vote in November will be the political zealots.  Despite the fact that Congressional terms last only two years, the cretins in Congress are confident that the only people who will bother to vote in their gerrymandered districts will be the dependable hard core.

Unfortunately, we cannot assume that Americans will wise-up and respond to the recent plea from Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher, by going to their local polling places to address the problem.

Meanwhile, those intent on becoming the Republican Party’s 2016 Presidential nominee are busy currying favor with the two men who dictate the party’s agenda:  Roger Ailes and Rush Limbaugh.  As a result, there is no such thing as too extreme in crafting a campaign message to voters.  With the midterms’ bringing increased attention to the lunatic fringe voters, politicians who are posturing themselves as Presidential candidates are busy preaching to the crazy choir.  This effort usually involves making personal appearances with the most polarizing, controversial individuals who haunt the airwaves with outrageous statements.  The logical consequence of this practice brought the Republicans their “Ted Nugent Moment” this past week.

In their desperation to find a “rock star” who could serve as a dependable spokesperson for Republican political candidates, somebody came up with the idea of appointing Ted Nugent to that role.  Nugent has “jammed” with fellow quasi-musician, Mike Huckabee and he has taken the stage with countless politicians from the far-right.

During the past week, a good deal of attention was focused on some choice remarks made by Nugent during a January 18 interview with guns.com.  During the course of the interview, Nugent infamously said:

I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame enough Americans to be ever-vigilant not to let a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel like the Acorn community organizer – gangster Barack Hussein Obama – to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America.

Given the fact that Nugent himself bears a rather close physical resemblance to our simian ancestors, there was more than a little irony here.

After a number of news outlets seized upon Nugent’s remarks, those Republicans who know that support from the lunatic fringe is no guaranteed ticket to the White House were quick to put some distance between themselves and Nugent.

Nevertheless, as I pointed out on October 16, because Roger Ailes has made it the mission of Fox News to promote the wingnuts of the GOP, is the party becoming marginalized?  Will we soon hear from Nugent apologists who believe that there are elections to be won by speaking out in favor of some patriot who was forced to apologize for speaking his mind?

On the other hand, will the Republican Party’s “Ted Nugent Moment” be the first in a series of such events which motivate would-be Republican Presidential candidates to distance themselves from extermists?

Meanwhile, the Democrats appear resigned to accepting Hillary Clinton as their 2016 Presidential nominee.  We can assume that Hillary’s sycophants in the news media will attempt to portray anyone who dares to oppose her as some sort of “extremist”.  The cult of people I referred to in 2008 as the Hillarologists – those who believe that Hillary Clinton offers them the only hope of  seeing a woman in the White House during their lifetimes – will be ready for a fight.

Will another women rise up to challenge Hillary for the Democratic nomination?  I hope so.



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Don’t Fear the Taper

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You can’t avoid reading about it.  The stock market is sinking  . . .  Treasury bond yields are spiking   .  .  .  The TAPER is coming!

The panic began in the wake of Jon Hilsenrath’s May 10 Wall Street Journal  report (after the markets closed on that Friday afternoon) concerning a new strategy by the Federal Reserve to “wind down” its quantitative easing program.  The disclosure was carefully timed to give investors an opportunity to process the information and get used to the idea before the next opening bell of the stock market.

By the time the stock market reopened on Monday, May 13 – the first trading day after Jon Hilsenrath’s article – there was a surprising report on April Retail Sales from the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau.  The report disclosed that retail sales had unexpectedly increased by 0.1 percent in April, despite economists’ expectations of a 0.3 percent decline.  As a result, the Taper report had no significant impact on stock prices – at least on that day.

The Wall Street Journal report carried plenty of weight because of Jon Hilsenrath’s role as de facto “press secretary” for Ben Bernanke, as I discussed in my last posting.  Since the WSJ article’s publication, there has been a steady stream of commentary about the threats posed by the Taper.  Nevertheless, the word “taper” was never used in Hilsenrath’s article.  In fact, the article included an explanation by Philly FedHead (and FOMC member) Charles Plosser, that the Fed has “a dial that can move either way”.  The dial could be set to a particular level with either an increase or a decrease.

Regardless of whatever the Fed may have planned, the flow of commentary has focused on the notion that the Fed is about to taper back on its bond buying.  The current incarnation of quantitative easing (QE 4) involves the Fed’s purchase of $45 billion in bonds and $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities every month.  We are supposed to believe that the Fed will gradually ease back on the bond purchases – whether it might begin with a reduction to $40 billion or $35 billion in monthly purchases  . . .  the Fed will gradually taper the amount down to zero.

Despite what you may have read or heard about the taper, it’s not going to work that way.  Beyond that, taper is not really an appropriate way to describe the Fed’s plan.  In other words:

Don’t fear the taper.

Josh Brown interviewed Jon Hilsenrath for CNBC on May 22.  Here is what Josh Brown had to say about the interview:

There was one thing Jon Hilsenrath did say in my interview with him on TV last night that I think is very important and clears up a big misconception. He explained that Bernanke himself will not be using the term “taper” that everyone else is bandying about. The reason why is that the Fed does not want to create the impression that one policy move will necessarily be attached to three or four others. In other words, suppose the Fed were to drop its rate of monthly asset purchases from $85 billion to some less number in one of the next meetings. This could be a one-off action with nothing else behind it, designed to temper the market’s expectations and gauge the effects.

I’d remind you that what Bernanke, as a self-styled “student of the Depression” fears the most, is a premature tightening a la FDR in 1937-1938, just as the nation was finally on the mend. If you think that this central bank, which has just spent the last six years patiently reflating the economy, is about to yank the rug out from under it at the last moment, then you haven’t been paying attention.

The wave of panic which followed Jon Hilsenrath’s May 10 article about the Fed’s plans for its quantitative easing program has yet to be calmed by Hilsenrath’s clarification about how the Fed’s new strategy is likely to proceed.  As Napoleon once said:

“Men are Moved by two levers only: fear and self interest.”


 

Seeing Through Obama

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Obama is back giving Centrism a bad name.  His budget proposal has drawn criticism because it incorporates a mechanism for reducing Social Security Cost-of-Living benefits called the “chained CPI”, which ties those adjustments to the inflation rate.  Obama’s inclusion of the chained CPI has drawn harsh criticism from Progressives as well as the Liberal base of the Democratic Party.  Although the President and his sycophants characterize this proposal as an example of “Centrist” politics, it is actually an example of the economic neoliberalism which the Disappointer-in-Chief has advanced since taking office in 2009.

Despite its liberal slant, the FiredogLake blog has been critical of Obama since the beginning of his first term.  A recent article by Jon Walker at FDL presents an unvarnished look at Obama’s motives for including the chained CPI in his budget:

Obama didn’t put chained-CPI in for Republicans, regardless what he may claim.  While Republicans like to talk a big game on entitlements they have shown no real interest in cutting benefits for current retirees, who are the most important part of their base.

The comments to Walker’s piece give us a look at how a good number of liberals are finally seeing through the man who was advertised as an agent of Hope and Change.  I was particularly impressed by the following comment from a reader identified as “coloradoblue”:

War criminal
Mass murderer
Crimes against humanity
Crimes against the American people
Crimes against the constitution he swore to uphold
Failure to investigate, prosecute and punish the war criminals of the last administration
Failure to investigate, prosecute and punish the crimes of wall street
Destroyer of the legacy of FDR and LBJ and the dem party
Liar
Failure

Hell of legacy you’ve got there Barry. Hell of a legacy.

Oh, Snap!

Lest I repeat the entire batch of comments, I’ll include just one more. Reading through them provides one with the opportunity to understand the extent of disappointment in Obama, as expressed by those who voted for him.  This comment was from an individual using the name, “BearCountry”:

o was never really the “capitulator in chief.”  He has worked to destroy the safety net since he became pres.  When I voted for him in ’08 I knew he was not going to be a savior for the nation, but I didn’t realize how bad he would be.  He is worse than w because he knows full well what he is doing.  Those that defend him or blame the repugs are simply deluding themselves.

Progressive Democrats chose Obama over Hillary Clinton because they wanted to avoid electing a President who would advance the same neoliberalism we saw from Bill Clinton, the man who signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 into law.  Bill Clinton’s enactment of that legislation completely deregulated derivatives trading, eventually giving rise to such “financial weapons of mass destruction” as naked credit default swaps, which brought us the 2008 financial crisis.

When Hillary begins her run for the 2016 Democratic Nomination, it will be interesting to see whether any of her opponents exploit the photo of Bubba and Blankfein in Boca.  On February 19 of 2012, The Business Insider published this photo of Bill Clinton having lunch with Goldman Sachs CEO, Lloyd Blankfein at the Boca Raton Resort and Country Club.  Obama’s function as a tool of the Wall Street megabanks will provide an ongoing reminder to anyone entertaining the thought of supporting Hillary, as to what they could expect from another Clinton administration.

Meanwhile Barry O. Tool is gonna’ have some ’splianin’ to do about his chained CPI proposal.  His angry former supporters will want some answers.


 

Davos X Factors

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On January 23-27 the World Economic Forum held its tres chic annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.  Admission was by invitation only.  Nick Paumgarten of The New Yorker offered the following explanation of how different segments of society view the annual Davos event:

People like to project onto Davos their fears and fantasies about the way the world works. Right-wingers see insidious, delusional liberalism, in its stakeholder ethos and its pretense of world improvement.  They picture a bunch of Keynesians, Continentals, and self-dealing do-gooders participating in some kind of off-the-books top-down command-control charade.  Left-wingers conjure a plutocratic cabal, a Star Chamber of master puppeteers, the one per cent – or .01 per cent, really – deciding the world’s fate behind a curtain of heavy security and utopian doublespeak.  The uninvited, the refuseniks, and even many of the participants see a colossal discharge of hot air, a peacock strut.  They all deploy, with a sneer, the term Davos Man, coined by the late political scientist Samuel Huntington, who decried a post-national wealthy globe-trotting élite.  Davos Man can be either a capitalist oppressor or a Commie conspirator.  Either way, he is a windbag, a pedant, and a hypocrite. Businesspeople who have never been to Davos find many ways to be dismissive of it: “I can’t do business there.”  “It’s too political.”  “It’s not what it used to be.”  The translation may be that that person has not been invited.

The World Economic Forum’s website explained the role of its official communities:

A key part of the Forum’s activities is the creation of distinctive communities of Member and Partner companies as well as leaders from civil society for more informal opportunities for interaction.

I would assume that at this year’s meeting, one of the most popular topics must have been risk management – including risk aversion.  Ever since the financial crisis, the world has been on the verge of economic chaos.  The possibility that Silvio Berlusconi could return to power in Italy has heightened concerns that the European sovereign debt crisis could reverse course from its current recovery trajectory and head into oblivion.

One of the World Economic Forum’s communities is the Risk Response Network.  The RRN “was launched to provide private and public sector leaders with an independent, impartial platform to map, monitor and mitigate global risks.”  It is comprised of individual representatives of leading global corporations, research institutions, media outlets, governments and NGOs.  The Risk Response Network released a 78-page report for this year’s annual meeting entitled, Global Risks 2013 — Eighth Edition.  The report’s topics included:  Testing Economic and Environmental Resilience, Digital Wildfires in a Hyperconnected World, The Dangers of Hubris on Human Health and Building National Resilience to Global Risks.

I found Section 5 of Global Risks 2013 to be particularly interesting.  It begins on page 55 of the report and is entitled, “X Factors”.  The report described this section in the following terms:

In this section, developed in collaboration with Nature, a leading science journal, the Risk Response Network asks readers to look beyond our high-risk concerns of the moment to consider a set of five X factors and reflect on what countries or companies should be doing to anticipate them.

*   *   *

X factors are serious issues, grounded in the latest scientific findings, but somewhat remote from what are generally seen as more immediate concerns such as failed states, extreme weather events, famine, macroeconomic instability or armed conflict. They capture broad and vaguely understood issues that could be hatching grounds for potential future risks (or opportunities).

The five X Factors discussed in the report were these:

Runaway climate change:  Is it possible that we have already passed a point of no return and that Earth’s atmosphere is tipping rapidly into an inhospitable state?

Significant cognitive enhancement:  Ethical dilemmas akin to doping in sports could start to extend into daily working life; an arms race in the neural “enhancement” of combat troops could also ensue.

Rogue deployment of geoengineering:  Technology is now being developed to manipulate the climate; a state or private individual could use it unilaterally.

Costs of living longer:  Medical advances are prolonging life, but long-term palliative care is expensive.  Covering the costs associated with old age could be a struggle.

Discovery of alien life:  Proof of life’s existence elsewhere in the universe could have profound psychological implications for human belief systems.

My favorite was the last X Factor:  Discovery of alien life.  Although the report focused on the notion that astronomers involved in the study of exoplanets could find spectral information revealing chemical signs of life, the last paragraph of the section provided some insights on the fear which has been keeping this subject under wraps for years:

Through basic education and awareness campaigns the general public can achieve a higher science and space literacy and cognitive resilience that would prepare them and prevent undesired social consequences of such a profound discovery and paradigm shift concerning mankind’s position in the universe.

So The Powers That Be are worried about “undesired social consequences” and “paradigm shift”.  Why is that not a surprise?

Those in search of “the right stuff” on this subject might be interested in what the late astronaut, Gordon Cooper had to say about it.

A good “basic education and awareness campaign” should begin with that video clip.


 

Obstruction of Justice

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Two years ago, I was inspired to write a piece entitled, “Justice Denied” after seeing hedge fund manager, David Einhorn interviewed by Charlie Rose.  I also discussed an essay Jesse Eisenger wrote for the DealBook blog at The New York Times entitled, “The Feds Stage a Sideshow While the Big Tent Sits Empty”.  The piece reinforced my suspicion that the “insider trading” investigation which received so much publicity in December of 2010 was simply a diversionary tactic to direct public attention away from the crimes which caused the financial crisis.

Since that time, a good deal of commentary has been written, lamenting the fact that no criminal charges have been brought against the miscreants who caused the financial crisis.  Unfortunately, Attorney General Eric Hold-Harmless has taken no action against those responsible, while the time for bringing those charges within the applicable Statutes of Limitations was allowed to tick away.

With the expiration of the relevant Statutes of Limitations, the next question becomes:  Does the failure to prosecute those cases rise to the level of obstruction of justice?  Although President Obama has repeatedly insisted that “no crimes were committed” which could have caused the financial crisis, we are now learning that such was not the case.

Jesse Eisenger recently wrote another piece for the Deal Book blog at the New York Times entitled, “Financial Crisis Lawsuit Suggests Bad Behavior at Morgan Stanley” which appeared on January 23.  In that essay, Eisenger discussed how the discovery process in civil lawsuits against the Wall Street Banks involved in the creation of the collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) based on subprime mortgages, revealed that those CDOs were known to be toxic at the time they were marketed.

The Naked Capitalism website has provided and excellent roadmap to the skulduggery involving the role CDOs played in causing the financial crisis.

Matt Taibbi has written another magnum opus on the financial crisis, this time focusing on sleazy conduct which took place after the meltdown.  In his article for Rolling Stone entitled, “Secrets and Lies of the Bailout”, we were reminded how the bank bailouts not only unjustly enriched the culprits who caused the problem – but they also provided the opportunity for those too-big-to-fail institutions to become even bigger while facilitating the cover-up of how the original mess occurred:

The public has been lied to so shamelessly and so often in the course of the past four years that the failure to tell the truth to the general populace has become a kind of baked-in, official feature of the financial rescue.  Money wasn’t the only thing the government gave Wall Street – it also conferred the right to hide the truth from the rest of us.  And it was all done in the name of helping regular people and creating jobs.  “It is,” says former bailout Inspector General Neil Barofsky, “the ultimate bait-and-switch.”

Despite so many efforts to hide the truth from “the little people”, the truth is slowly leaking out as a result of the dogged investigation by journalists and bloggers.  As discovery proceeds in the civil lawsuits against the megabanks, revealing the extent of criminal activity which brought about the most catastrophic economic disaster since the Great Depression, people will begin to ask:  “How did they get away with this?”  Perhaps the best way to answer that question would be to bring criminal charges against those who allowed the perpetrators to get away with it.