How bailing out the rich created the Depression

Crooks and Liars

The other day, Krugman wrote that we’re in the beginning of a new Long Depression.

Forgive me, but he’s wrong: this isn’t the beginning, it’s been going on for about two years now.

During a Depression there are periods where GDP grows. There are periods where jobs grow. It’s just that the periods of job growth don’t last.

There were opportunities to end the Depression before it really dug in its heels. The last one was at the beginning of Obama’s term. Kicking out of the Depression required two things.

The first was an adequate stimulus. This didn’t just mean a large enough stimulus, though the one offered was not large enough, it meant one properly constructed. Tax cuts for ordinary Americans are not stimulative, because folks like banks who have pricing power (you must have a credit card, loans, etc…) will simply take that money away by raising rates and fees. And it doesn’t mean short term shovel-projects, it means making commitments which will last for years so that businesses, when making plans know that hiring is worth it because those employees will be needed for more than a year or so.

Likewise the US has some serious problems with the structure of the American economy. The cornerstone of the stimulus had to be reducing US dependence on oil because as long as the US economy is so dependent on oil, full fledged growth is simply not possible. The days of $20/barrel oil aren’t coming back, and every time the price of oil gets too high, it puts great pressure on the US economy (and every other modern nation.)

more here

Leo Tolstoy: The Law of Love and the Law of Violence

to be of use

[The Last Station, the wonderful film about Leo Tolstoy’s relationships with his wife and followers, and his last days, is now available on Netflix.]

At the end of his wistful last book, The Law of Love and the Law of Violence, Leo Tolstoy wrote:

Put the good of your life in the progressive liberation of your mind, freedom from all the illusions of the flesh, and in the perfecting of your love for your fellow man — which is in essence the same thing. As soon as you begin to live like this, you will feel a joyous sensation full of liberty and happiness. You will be surprised to find that the same external conditions which caused you such anxiety, and which were far from what you wanted, will not prevent your experiencing the greatest possible happiness.

And if you are unhappy — I know that you are — reflect upon what is proposed to you here, which is not the product of my imagination merely, but of the thoughts and feelings of the best minds and hearts. It provides the only way to deliver you from your unhappiness and give you the greatest good you can get in this life.

That is what I have wanted to say to you, my brothers. Before I died.

10 Easy Steps for Becoming a Radical Homemaker

YES! Magazine

When Shannon Hayes made a list of easy steps for becoming a radical homemaker, she didn’t realize just how revolutionary they were.

When I first released Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, I was advised to make a list of “easy steps for becoming a radical homemaker” as part of my publicity outreach materials. My shoulders slumped at the very thought: Three years of research about the social, economic, and ecological significance of homemaking, and I had to reduce it to 10 easy tips? I didn’t see a to-do list as a viable route to a dramatic shift in thinking, beliefs, and behaviors. But since the objective of such a list was smoother discussion and communication of Radical Homemaking ideas with the public, I did it.

I came up with the simplest things I could imagine—like committing to hanging laundry out to dry, dedicating a portion of the lawn to a vegetable garden, making an effort to get to know neighbors to enable greater cooperation and reduce resource consumption. I would perfunctorily refer back to them when radio dialogues flagged, when interviews seemed to be getting off track, or to distract myself when an occasional wave of personal sarcasm (I do have them on occasion) threatened to jeopardize an otherwise polite discourse about the book. After about 40 media interviews, I was pretty good at rattling them off, and I began to see their power and significance beyond helping me to be polite.

Take hanging out the laundry as an example. At the outset, it is deceptively simple: It saves money and resources, and it’s easy. As I spoke about line-drying laundry more, however, the suggestion took on more meaning. Of course everyone would like to hang out the laundry. But many people don’t do it. They’re too busy.

Jim Houle: War going badly? Let’s just fire the General!

Redwood Valley

The abrupt dismissal of General Stanley McChrystal by President Obama confirms that the war in Afghanistan is going very badly indeed. The general would not have been fired for a few unguarded remarks to a 2nd tier magazine had the war been succeeding according to plan. It may well be that his only offense was to express in too blunt and undiplomatic a fashion the sentiments of broad sections of the US officer corps. Nevertheless, the COIN (counterinsurgency) strategy, that McChrystal himself designed and that his boss General Patraeus sold to Washington, is rapidly falling apart:

•The death toll for US and NATO troops rose to 85 so far in June, making this the worst month since the US invaded Afghanistan way back in October 2001.

•The US quartermasters who maintain the supply chain for war materiel hire various war lords to funnel these supplies from Pakistan ports and from Central Asian airports into our Afghani bases. A good portion of these transportation costs have now been exposed as flowing directly into the coffers of Taliban insurgents so as to convince them not to attack the trucks. Thus, the Pentagon is indirectly financing the insurgency to the tune of approximately $2 million a week.

•The failure of the US intervention in the southern town of Marjah this spring is now admitted (McChrystal calls it “a bleeding ulcer”). The Marjah campaign was intended to demonstrate how COIN would win local support (McChrystal jokingly called it ‘government in a box’). The major advance into Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city, has had to be postponed at least until next fall.

•Amongst the Afghan people, President Hamid Karzai is widely reviled as a corrupt American puppet while his brother continues to operate a major opium entrepot. Opium remains the country’s major cash crop (right next to US handouts and bribes).

Thom Hartmann: There are now Bankster Sharks in the Water…


In his New York Times column, economist Paul Krugman is ringing the warning bell and saying we are in the early stages of a “third depression.” “This third depression,” he writes, “will be primarily a failure of policy” as the world’s leading governments focus “about inflation when the real threat is deflation, preaching the need for belt-tightening when the real problem is inadequate spending.”

It’s truly bizarre to watch country after country across Europe fail to learn the lessons of the past and hang tight to the economic policies of Herbert Hoover and Milton Friedman when both have been tried – and failed – repeatedly in countries all over the world over the past 80 years. The only reasonable rationale for why these national leaders are willing to destroy their social safety nets, throw their working people into serfdom, and drain the resources of their tattered middle classes to reduce their national debts is that – unlike other times in the past – there are now sharks in the water.

Those sharks are the banksters, liberated in 1998 and 2000 by Phil and Wendy Gramm and Bill Clinton, Larry Summers, and Robert Rubin. Now that the banksters have been deregulated and can run trillion dollar gambling casinos, one of their easiest targets are the countries that have a lot of debt – just like the corporate raiders and so-called “private equity” companies look for companies with lots of debt to take down, disassemble, fire all the workers, and ship the jobs to China. Because these bankster sharks are now fully empowered in the waters of international finance, the traditional tool used

Book Review: Nothing’s too small to make a difference


[…] But perhaps the most heartwarming thing I found in this remarkable little book is a short sentence in an essay by co-editor Wanda Urbanska as she writes about the Simple Living television series she hosted.

A mantra which threaded overtly and subliminally throughout the show’s 39 episodes … “Nothing’s too small to make a difference.” Picking up a trash-bound paperclip, repurposing your mother’s 1960s skirt into kitchen curtains, installing a water-saving, dual-flush commode; each of these action steps qualified.

“Nothing’s too small to make a difference.” In the short days since I’ve read that phrase, it has given me enormous peace of mind.

In the Transition movement I often immerse myself in the huge problems, the sweeping issues. How do we transform an entire society? How do we Transition a city the size of Los Angeles? How do we bring along the poor and the extremely poor, not just the upper-middle-class white faces? What events or programs will best get the attention of those upper-middle-class faces, entrenched as they are with teeth gritted in the final throes of the Industrial Growth Complex rat race?

So often I forget to value what I do have. “Nothing’s too small to make a difference” has given me enormous relief this week. An hour spent weeding the community garden. A meal which includes vegetables from my own backyard. Watching my kids sit in the cage with our new chickens. There is great joy in these little moments.

The journey to the post-petroleum future is going to be made up of a bazillion of these “too small” events. It is the cumulative energy that creates the Transition movement. Yet there is joy in the details. No, it doesn’t make U.S. dollar sense to raise city chickens, but it makes enormous difference to my kids and to my own heart. No, it doesn’t change the world if my dinner includes only a few homegrown ingredients. But it’s a start. And at this point on the timeline, we need to remember to value each of those little “too small” steps. We need to make space in our lives to appreciate and honor the “starts.”

Less is More and the Simplicity movement remind us that the inner goal is “knowing who you are, being clear about your values, understanding what brings true well-being.” In this context, each of the erstwhile “too small” steps has value. Each brings us that much closer to the mark …

of living the way we dream of living;
of living a life of deeper integrity;

Todd Walton: Solar School

Anderson Valley

Mendocino has a spanking new elementary/junior high school on Little Lake Road about a mile inland from the village, and I am happy to report that her shiny blue metal rooftops are being covered with photovoltaic cells to produce electricity. I was recently at the school shooting hoops on one of the three new outdoor basketball courts, fresh nets affixed to glossy orange rims, and as I huffed and puffed in humbling pursuit of my largely uncooperative basketball, valiant technicians were hard at work affixing the solar cells.

It was a sunny day, and in the absence of students or anyone else making use of the new school, I thrilled to imagine the school’s electric meters whirling in reverse as great currents of electricity flowed from the rooftops into the greater power grid. Such imagining made me happy in the face of the murderous gusher continuing to gush in the Gulf of Mexico. I am aware that solar power is not the ultimate answer to the woes of the world. I have read myriad articles by smart people explaining how electric cars are every bit as bad for the earth as gasoline powered cars. I have read even more articles by these same and other smart people explaining how renewable energy will never replace oil and that we are destined, rather soon, for a new Dark Age of lawlessness and mass starvation. But whenever I stopped to catch my breath from chasing my runaway basketball and saw those fellows affixing solar panels to the shiny blue roof, I felt twinges of hope.

When I was a young man I decided to try to make my living as a musician and a writer. I worked as a landscaper, a gardener, a janitor, a ditch digger, a farmhand, a day care worker, and at several other low-paying jobs. With whatever energy I had left at the end of each day, I practiced music and writing. And for ten years, every person I knew, including my best friends and many smart people, told me with absolute certainty, “You will never succeed as a writer or as a musician. Give it up.” And when I did succeed, these same absolutely certain people said, “I always knew you’d make it.”

Indeed, I have subsequently observed again and again that smart people are often very good at talking themselves and other people out of doing things by stating with absolute certainty that the thing in question cannot be achieved, and they know the thing cannot be achieved because they have the data to prove it. “Oh, so you put in a gray water system to water your garden and conserve water. Big deal. That won’t help. Corporations waste millions of gallons of water every minute. Your little gray water system won’t make a bit of difference.

Michael Laybourn: The Real Facts About Social Security


This letter from FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 hit the internet a couple of years ago and I answered it. Maybe we need to do it again…

The letter starts:
Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, introduced the Social Security (FICA) Program.  He  promised:
1.) That participation in the Program would be completely voluntary,
2.) That the participants would only have to pay 1% of the first $1,400 of their annual incomes into the program,
3.) That the money the participants elected to put into the Program would be deductible from their income for tax purposes each year,
4.) That the money the participants put into the independent “Trust Fund” rather than into the general operating fund, and therefore, would only be used to fund the Social Security Retirement Program, and no other government program, and,
5.) That the annuity payments to the retirees would never be taxed as income.

ML A: Wrong. Originally, President Roosevelt called for “social insurance.” He envisioned a plan through which workers would contribute and provide for their own future economic security. He specifically disdained the idea of reliance upon welfare. The original SSA embraced the idea of Social Security being an insurance program under which a group of individuals were insured against identifiable risks: disability and old age. Workers paid for their own insurance.

The original 1935 statute paid retirement benefits only to the primary worker. Many types of people were excluded, mainly farm workers, the self-employed, and anyone employed by an employer of fewer than ten people. These limitations, intended to exclude those from whom it would be difficult to monitor compliance, covered approximately half of the civilian labor force in the United States.

This had to change of course: In 1939, the 1937 Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax was amended in three important ways:
1. The widowed, nonworking spouse of a someone  entitled to an old-age benefit also became entitled to an old-age benefit.
2. Survivors (widows and orphans) became eligible for a benefit. This feature was very popular among the millions of elderly Americans hard hit

Bruce Patterson: The Anyhow Saloon

Anderson Valley

Old Henry never thought he’d ever get snake bit enough to have to endure forty-two days hunkered down inside his backwoods cabin under a near-on relentless barrage of rain, hail, sleet and snow. There was wet snow dropping from the sky like bullets; snow falling in downward spirals like mortally wounded bi-planes; snow howling sideways and, now and again, fat snowflakes gently floating through the redwoods to silent landings all shoulder-to-shoulder and butt-to-belly. Then the next morning them poor snowflakes would get themselves bushwhacked by a good old-fashioned, shutter-banging, tree-slapping, gully-washing rainstorm.

No Siree. If old Henry had’ve wanted to winter up in Alaska, he’d’ve moved to Alaska by golly. He hadn’t set down stakes in the redwoods just to have to sit and stare out his foggy window at them shivering half to death.

The other day a Great Blue Heron landed in Henry’s yard and got his big webbed feet stuck in the mud. Henry watched out his window as the poor fellah furiously flapped his wings trying to unstick himself, and then strained to lift up one foot and then the other. Having no luck either way, the heron finally got to just standing there perfectly still as if, reconciled to maybe having to stay put till spring, he decided he may as well get some hunting in.

Not willing to leave the poor fellah to his fate, and after deciding he couldn’t very well lasso him and yank him loose without hurting him, much less dig him out by hand without getting his eyes plucked out for his trouble, Henry chose to go outside to try’n scare the fellah free, herons being bashful of people and all. So Henry showed himself and, seeing this towering, ungainly biped waddling his way with its skinny wings flapping and him honking like a goose, the heron shriveled his webbed feet, gave his wings one powerful downward whoosh, jerked up his knees into his chest, got airborne and raced away on the wind like he’d wasted enough time already.

Now there was a break in the noon clouds, a spot of blue, and Henry got to scratching the bottoms of his itchy feet. If the trail was too slippery to saddle up his clumsy young gelding, Henry could damn sure walk down the mountain his own self. In need of human company, a stiff drink and a jug of moonshine to go, Henry gathered himself up

Lucy Neely: The European Grapevine Moth in Mendocino County


The story of the European Grapevine Moth (EGVM) in Mendocino County demonstrates the risks inherent in globalized agriculture and in monocropping Mendocino County in grapes. Conversely, it shows the advantages of a local, diversified food system’s greater resistance to pests, disease, and market fluctuation. It provides a challenging exercise in reconciling the reality of grapes with the idealism of a local food system.

When I first heard about the EGVM in April, my gut reaction was, “That’s what we get for monocropping the county,” and I didn’t think much more about it. But I became interested in the EGVM when I heard that work at the County Department of Agriculture had been consumed by the moth, while I heard nothing of grapes being consumed by the moth.

To understand this phenomenon, I talked to Tony Linegar, Agriculture Commissioner of Mendocino County.

“I’ve been eating, breathing, sleeping the EGVM,” Tony declares. “We’re all working extra hours.” So this moth must be bad! Really harming the crops? Well, not exactly. 1,400 traps were set in Mendocino County to survey the moth’s presence. The traps yielded 35 moths, all of them in the Ukiah Valley. By comparison, Napa County’s traps turned up 100,000 moths.

Why does this moth merit so much attention if it isn’t destroying crops? “If you don’t treat for it, it could take your whole crop,” Linegar says. And since grapes are the biggest (legal) economy in Mendocino County, if that whole crop was taken, we could be belly up. So the Department of Agriculture has taken the necessary steps to control the moth and save Mendocino’s economy. These steps include spraying grapes with pesticides, mating disruption, and quarantine. All this is “extra work and extra costs” for everyone.

EGVM has the potential to wreak havoc on grape crops in Mendocino County, but it’s easy to kill with the proper attention. For now, the moth is a big hassle and a little ominous, and it doesn’t look like the hassle or the threat are going away, since nearby Napa will be infected for the foreseeable future.

So what lessons can be gleaned from the EGVM in Mendocino County? First, there’s monocropping. When I asked Tony if the monocropping of Mendocino County in grapes makes him nervous, referring to the vulnerability it creates to pests and disease, he paused and replied “a little bit,”

A BBQ Master Delivers: Tips for Preparing Chicken

From the Award-Winning DVD, BBQ Secrets: The Master Guide to Extraordinary Barbecue Cookin’, world champion cook Mike Davis demonstrates some tips for preparing chicken for the cooker. For many of us, the notion that cooking barbecue requires much experience and know-how to do a good job—it doesn’t!

But, for those who want to cook barbecue that is consistently extraordinary, there is an art, a science, and an incredible body of knowledge to acquire in order to become a true master. Mike “Sarge” Davis, head cook of the Whole Hog Café, in Little Rock, Arkansas is one of those true masters of barbecue.

Ukiah Transition: The Hard Realities of Community Building


[…] If you want to trade and learn from the self-reliant, resilient community of people around you then I suggest that you:

1. Be open and listen with humility. Do not come with your own ideas of how things should be. If you don’t like it here, go back where you came from.

2. Avoid condescending someone’s way of life either indirectly, subtly or directly. Live and Let Live. If it is necessary to dress down like the locals or drive a crappier car, so be it. Today’s symbols of success will not insure tomorrow’s success. That greasy redneck next door neighbor may be your lifeline in the future – think about that.

3. Bring some useful skills or resources to earn your seat at the table. I’m sorry I don’t need the services of a retired pilates instructor, an interior decorator or a golf event organizer. A pilates instructor needs to learn how to build a fence. An interior decorator needs to learn how to refinish hardwood floors. A golf event organizer needs to learn how to get stuff that busy people don’t have time to find.

4. Avoid calling attention to people who don’t want it or threatening their way of life in ANY way. More often than not self reliant people are that way because they just want to live without any attention. Bear in mind…. The last holdouts of the oil rich paradigm will be the government. I’m not advocating lawlessness here. I am saying that the laws which restrain people from being self-reliant are threats. The government will continue to legislate and enforce regulations that are impossible to follow in post-peak oil world. They will do their jobs with gusto because jobs in the private sector are becoming ever increasingly scarce. And the most dangerous aspect of all, these folks will do their job for your own good.

5. Be willing to work hard and get dirty. Nothing makes a better impression on these people than being willing to work and sweat. Even if you don’t know which end of the shovel to use, there is still plenty of little tasks that can be made lighter. And, I guarantee you that EVERYONE you meet will show you how to use a shovel!

My martial arts instructor reminds us frequently that our character is our first line of defense and greatest source of strength. Courtesy, humility, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit – these character traits are embodied in all of these suggestions.

To conclude, here are the hard realities of community building:

The Bullshit Lies of Alan Simpson about Social Security


[…] Let me elucidate some of the ways that Simpson is wrong about Social Security:

SIMPSON: It’ll go broke in the year 2037.

FACT: The Social Security program faces a modest long-term financing shortfall of tax revenue and interest on Trust Fund assets. The Social Security Trustees estimated in 2009 that the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program will continue to add tax revenue to their Trust Funds up to 2016. The Trust Funds will continue to grow because of interest earned through 2023, at which time total assets will be $4.3 trillion. Subsequently, Social Security will gradually draw down all reserves before the end of 2037, if Congress takes no action whatsoever, it will have sufficient resources to pay about three-quarters of scheduled benefits. Hardly “going broke.”

SIMPSON: All of them have to do with stabilizing the system, which we are told is insolvent, it’s paying out more then it’s taking in.

FACT: Social Security is currently running a surplus. In 2009, an estimated 94 percent of Social Security tax revenues were spent to meet current expenditures (benefits and administrative costs). The surplus tax revenues, along with interest credited to the Trust Fund, contribute to a growing Trust Fund balance.

SIMPSON: It’s 2.5 trillion bucks in IOUs which have been used to build the interstate highway system and all of the things people have enjoyed since it has been setup.

FACT: The interstate highway system was built in the 1950’s when Social Security’s income and outgo were equal. The build up of the trust fund began after 1983 when Congress consciously chose that route as part of the 1983 amendments.

SIMPSON: When I was your age there were 16 people paying into the system and 1 taking out and today there are 3 people paying into the system and 1 taking out.

FACT: This is the same misleading information that Bush used to sell his privatization plan. The 16 to 1 ratio is a figure plucked from 1950, the year that social security expanded to cover millions of farm and other workers. All pension programs that require a period of employment for eligibility show similar ratios at the start or when expanded because all newly covered workers are paying in, but none of them have yet qualified for benefits. By 1955, the ratio was 8 to 1 and by 1973 the ratio was where it is today…

More here.

Doc Searls: The Bottom Line Isn’t Everything

Linux Journal

Is there something new that [computer] open source development methods and values can bring to the economy? How about something old?

I think the answer may come from the developing world, where pre-industrial methods and values persist and offer some helpful models and lessons for a networked world that’s less post-industrial than industrial in a new and less impersonal way.

This began to become apparent to me a few years ago I had a Socratic exchange with a Nigerian pastor named Sayo, whom I was lucky to find sitting next to me on a long airplane trip. We were both on speaking junkets. He was coming from an event related to his latest work: translating the Bible to Yoruba, one of the eight languages he spoke. I was on my way to give a talk about The Cluetrain Manifesto, a book I co-authored.

My main contribution to Cluetrain was a chapter called “Markets are conversations. Sayo asked me what we meant by that. After hearing my answer, he acknowledged that our observations were astute, but also incomplete. Something more was going on in markets than just transactions and conversations, he said. What was it?

I said I didn’t know. Here is the dialogue that followed, as close to verbatim as I can recall it…

“Pretend this is a garment”, Sayo said, picking up one of those blue airplane pillows. “Let’s say you see it for sale in a public market in my country, and you are interested in buying it. What is your first question to the seller?”

“What does it cost?” I said.

“Yes”, he answered. “You would ask that. Let’s say he says, ‘Fifty dollars’. What happens next?”

“If I want the garment, I bargain with him until we reach an agreeable price.”

“Good. Now let’s say you know something about textiles. And the two of you get into a long conversation where both of you learn much from each other. You learn about the origin of the garment, the yarn used, the dyes, the name of the artist, and so on. He learns about how fabric is made in your country, how distribution works, and so on. In the course of this you get to know each other. What happens to the price?”

Book Review: ‘Medium Raw,’ Anthony Bourdain


[…] His new book, “Medium Raw,” is subtitled “A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook,” and much of it reads more like a poison-pen letter than a love note. Sandra Lee is the “hellspawn of Betty Crocker and Charles Manson.” The movie “No Reservations” makes him want to “vomit blood.” Rocco DiSpirito’s TV series is a “reality-show-driven abomination.” Even the saintly Alice Waters is dissed for her “crude and obvious blend of self-aggrandizement and genuine good intentions.”

Elsewhere, Gael Greene, Alain Ducasse, Wolfgang Puck and many more come in for varying degrees of evisceration. This, of course, is all great fun, even if some of it’s the shooting-fish-in-a-barrel variety. But just in case you’re wondering whether Bourdain can take it as well as he can dish it out, he turns his verbal knife skills on himself. “A loud, egotistical, one-note -hole who’s been cruising on the reputation of one obnoxious, over-testosteroned book for way too long,” “the angry, cynical, snarky guy who says mean things on ‘Top Chef,’ ” “the very picture of the jaded, overprivileged ‘foodie.’ ” Well, he makes some good points….

But for my money the standout chapter in the book is “My Aim Is True,” which describes the work and life of Justo Thomas, who cuts and portions at least 700 pounds of fish every day at Le Bernardin, the New York seafood restaurant. The man is a brilliant craftsman and a force of nature, and when he goes on vacation, three people have to be employed to do his work.

Bourdain observes and describes Thomas in wonderfully fine detail. We “see” the way he employs different methods for different fish, how he uses his knives, the way he removes skin and bones, how he’s able to cut absolutely identically sized pieces. Then we learn about his background in the Dominican Republic, and the role he still plays in his family there. And finally, in a masterful flourish, Bourdain takes Thomas to eat at Le Bernardin.

It’s generally unthinkable for kitchen staff to eat in their own restaurant, but for Thomas, people make exceptions. By the end of the piece I felt I knew Thomas better than I know most of my own friends. You have to hand it to Bourdain; this is really good writing, not just really good food writing.

Bourdain says he spent 28 years as a professional cook and chef. By my reckoning he’s spent 15 years as a professional writer. Will it surprise you that he doesn’t think much of writers? He says, “hanging out with more than one of them at a time is about as much fun as being thrown in a cage full of hungry but toothless civet cats.” Just once in a while, even Mr. B. overcooks his similes.

Full review here.

Guess what? Frozen Yogurt is not a Health Food.


[…] Here’s what’s in it:

Pure Crystalline Fructose, Dextrose, Maltodextrin, Non-fat Milk, Yogurt Powder, Micro-encapsulated Probiotic (Lactobacillus Sporogenes)

Did you catch all that? The first three ingredients are all sugars, followed by processed cow’s milk. Maltodextrin, in particular, has a glycemic index so high that it’s practically poison to diabetics. It’s often derived from genetically-modified corn, by the way.

As you can see from the ingredients list, frozen yogurt is basically just ice cream with some yogurt powder thrown in. It’s ice cream with probiotics.

That doesn’t make it healthy food. It’s still junk food, but with probiotic powder…

… [P]eople almost never examine what they eat. They chew and swallow blindly, giving less thought to what they put inside their bodies than the clothes they wear outside their bodies.

Actually, they choose their foods from the perspective of entertainment. What taste and texture will be entertaining right now? What will give my taste buds pleasure in this instant, regardless of the lifelong effects of this substance on my body?

What sugars, fats or chemical taste enhancers can I place on my tongue in this instant that will provide some level of sensory experience to my brain and remind me that I’m still alive?

That’s the real essence of it, you see. People are sleepwalking through our world half dead, and what they really seek is just stimulation to remind them that they aren’t dead yet. Almost any stimulation will do: The loud blaring of speakers at a rock concert, the sexual foreplay with a new partner, the rush of an abused prescription drug, the thrill of a horror movie, the sensory engrossment of a violent video game, the stimulant kick of a Coca-Cola… it hardly matters as long as something is being felt through the numbness of emotional trauma that typifies human experience in our modern world.

The numbed-up, dumbed-down metrosexual seeker of experience is actually a biological stimulation machine with a tiny unit of consciousness tacked on top that’s seeking a heavy hit of just about anything to remind himself that he still exists. “I feel, therefore I am,” to bastardize Descartes’ famous utterance.

America: Speak Back and Derail the Drive to Cut Social Security and Medicare


Next weekend will feature another milestone in the drive to cut Social Security and Medicare. The organization America Speaks will be hosting a series of 20 meetings in cities across the country. They will ask the people at these meetings, a cross section of the nation, to come up with proposals for dealing with the country’s projected long-term budget deficit.

The way the problem is outlined for these meetings virtually guarantees that most of the participants will opt for big cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The results of this song and dance exercise will then be presented to President Obama’s fiscal responsibility commission on June 30th, which will use it as further ammunition for plans by its co-chairs to gut these programs.

The rigged deck approach should come as no surprise. America Speaks is largely funded by Peter G. Peterson, the investment banker billionaire who has been on a decades long crusade to gut these programs. In recent years Peterson has redoubled his efforts, committing more than a billion dollars to a wide variety of groups in addition to America Speaks. To advance his agenda Peterson has even set up a fake news service, the “Fiscal Times.” To fill the staff, Peterson’s son hired a number of reputable reporters who were displaced by the collapse of the newspaper industry.

The “Federal Budget 101,” the guidebook for the discussion, follows a predictably shoddy path. The book discusses the budget in almost complete isolation from any larger discussion of the economy. There is virtually no discussion of the ways in which the budget fosters growth, for example by funding education, research and infrastructure; nor the way in which the pattern of growth affects the budget.

For example, the booklet never discusses the extent to which the economic mismanagement that allowed the unchecked growth of an $8 trillion housing bubble contributed to the debt that is its central concern. The downturn caused by the resulting economic collapse will eventually add more than $3 trillion to the country’s debt according to the Congressional Budget Office’s projections.

The booklet also neglects to point out the extent to which the long-term budget disaster story is driven by our broken health care system. If per person health care costs in the United States were the same as in any other wealthy country, we would be looking at enormous budget surpluses in the long-term, not deficits

More here.

Manifesto: I am not a brand


[Enough with the brand bullshit already. -DS]

[…] Just to be clear on this thing I am not, maybe I should define my understanding of personal branding. A personal brand is a little package you make of yourself so you can put yourself on the shelf in the marketplace and people will know what to expect or look for when they come to buy you. For example, Coke is a brand. When you see Coke, you expect a dark brown effervescent sweet drink that is always going to taste like . . . Coke. McDonalds is going to sell you inexpensive, fast food. The Ritz or the Four Seasons is going to sell you a luxury experience. BP will now be known as the brand that destroys the costal ecosystem of the southeastern United States.

And yes, authors sometimes have these “brands.” Nicholas Sparks is going to sell you a Roman . . . love story, excuse me . . . where someone dies of cancer/similar disease at the end. V.C. Andrews will sell you something awesomely insane and creepy. Dan Brown will sell you a series of puzzles, facts, and clues leading to the unveiling of a huge secret. Tom Clancy will sell you something with a submarine or some kind of large weapon in it. You get the idea. I don’t know if any of the above actively works on his or her “brand” . . . (well, V.C. Andrews won’t, since she died in 1986 having written only eight books -— her official ghostwriter has written over sixty more in her name since that time, which is pretty impressive work).

I am not saying that it is a bad or dishonest thing to try to sell your work. It is not. What I am saying is that I am tired of the rush to commodify everything, to turn everything into products, including people. I don’t want a brand, because a brand limits me. A brand says I will churn out the same thing over and over. Which I won’t, because I am weird…

I think the divide is pretty basic. I think there are people out there who see the Internet as a way of employing the same old techniques of SHILL, SHILL, SHILL. A hundred years ago, they would have rolled up to you in a wagon, shouting about their tonic. Fifty years ago, they would have rolled their vacuum cleaners up to your door.

The other side, the side I am on, is the one that sees an organic Internet full of people. Sure, when I have a book come out, I will often say, “Please, could you buy a copy? I need to buy food and Post-it notes and hamsters.” But in reality, I wouldn’t suggest it if I didn’t think you would like it. I have a lot of fun writing my books, and hey, if you can buy one, great! I think it’s just as great if you take it out of the library. I write because I actually like doing it, and through some miracle of science, I get paid, so wayhay!…

MY POINT IS . . . it’s early days yet on the Internet, and lines are being drawn. We can, if we group together, fight off the weenuses and hosebags who want to turn the Internet into a giant commercial. Hence, the manifesto. It goes something like this:

Adbusters: Ignored and Forgotten


Professional ethics in the War on Terror

Though their actions invoke less dramatic imagery than the interrogators and prison guards who tortured and humiliated Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, equally guilty are the legions of professionals who facilitated the abuse.

Although the principal maxim of medical ethics is “First do no harm,” psychologists and doctors working for the military and CIA actively assisted in the torture of human beings. Psychologists helped fine-tune techniques such as sleep deprivation, stress positions and waterboarding, and doctors often monitored harsh interrogations, intervening when necessary to keep struggling prisoners alive and alert so the questioning could continue.

How could medical professionals demonstrate such little empathy in the presence of human suffering?

“People are capable of incredible cruelty. It’s increased in circumstances where there aren’t clear rules and boundaries,” says psychoanalyst Dr. Stephen Soldz. “We dehumanized the enemy after 9/11. We did it as a culture and the military did it spectacularly well. Like many others, military doctors felt a duty to serve their country.”

In 2007 Dr. Soldz urged the American Psychological Association to ban psychologists from participating in the interrogation of terror suspects.

“Professional ethics are always weak,” he says. “We have wonderful statements by professional associations about what the ethics are, but many people don’t internalize them.”

Justice Department memos revealed that doctors with the CIA’s Office of Medical Services declared that depriving prisoners of sleep for upwards of 180 hours was not classified as torture, nor was hosing down detainees with freezing cold water for up to two-thirds of the time it takes hypothermia to set in.

“They signed up to be part of the CIA’s covert operations, so presumably their commitment to medical ethics was long gone,” Dr. Soldz explains…

More here.

See also Glenn Greenwald: “the Obama administration is knowingly imprisoning a completely innocent human being who has been kept in a cage in an island prison, thousands of miles from his home, for the last 8 years, since he’s 18 years old, despite having done absolutely nothing wrong.” here

Michael Laybourn: PG&E & Prop 16, Not Quite The Last Word…


On election night I went to bed furious. PG&E and their arrogant, reckless campaign to change the California Constitution was ahead in votes. That 50 million dollars worth of lies must have done it, I thought, and locked in a no competition monopoly.

But when I woke up and checked the voting, the vote had reversed with NO on 16 ahead. Talk about a personal mental turnaround. But it was close, too close. 1,869,805 voted for it for a 47.7% yes vote and 52.3% voted against it, most of them, it turned out, PG&E customers.

At stake was, I believe, California’s renewable energy future. The collapse of PG&E’s attempt to buy a monopoly in California gives Californians time to consider local power. Supervisors and City councils can now take some time to educate local residents about the value of community-controlled energy. Citizens can write letters comparing the ways to purchase energy.

Looking back, it was unlimited political spending up against a small group who had no way of raising that kind of money and up against cities that manage or want to manage their own utilities, but can’t, by law, spend money on the necessary advertising to fight PG&E’s attempt to change our constitution.

The bully says we can spend them into oblivion. This doesn’t happen with community controlled energy. But it is a description of PG&E in California. PG&E wanted to stop municipal purchasing before its customers acquired a taste for lower electric rates, because most of these utilities have lower rates.

“Peter Darbee, PG&E CEO, who earned $10.6 million dollars last year, told company shareholders that the goal of Proposition 16 is to defeat local power choice “once and for all,” instead of having to continually fend off the specter of customer defection.

“Darbee speculated that California voters would be receptive to Proposition 16 if the initiative’s campaign exploited the current anti-government anger over the economy and state budget deficit.” – Dan Aiello, California Progress Report. California media was inundated with radio, TV ads and flyers telling Californians to save themselves from government. And almost 2 million people believed those slick Yes on Prop 16 fliers & TV ads telling us the initiative was a voter safeguard against local governments wanting to spend unlimited amounts to get into the energy business.

Herman Daly: Without choice there can be no responsibility


Presuppositions of Policy

As you graduate I want to remind you of something you already know. Since you have not only chosen to study public policy, but have persevered to graduate with a Master’s degree, you must already have rejected the perennial and pernicious philosophical doctrines of determinism and nihilism. That is what I want to remind you of.

Determinists believe that there is only one possible future, rigidly determined either by atoms in motion, selfish genes, dialectical materialism, toilet training, or the puppet strings of a predestining deity. If there is only one possible future state of the world then there are no options, nothing to choose from, and therefore no need for policy — or schools of public policy or Master’s degrees in public policy. You should head straight to the unemployment office! You are necessarily non-determinists who must believe that there are at least a few possible alternative future states of the world, and that purposive policy can be causative in choosing among them.

Of course there are also many merely conceivable or imaginary futures that really can be ruled out as impossible – such as, for example, growing the economy forever on a finite planet that is subject to the laws of thermodynamics and ecological interdependence. Our commitment to the fantasy of unlimited growth as the foundation of all national policy should top the list of things to be reconsidered. But that is a story for another time. My point for today is that after eliminating all impossible futures we are still left with more than one possible future.

To choose from the remaining menu of possible futures we need a criterion of value by which to distinguish better from worse states of the world. Nihilists, or extreme relativists, deny the existence of any such criterion. For them it is all a matter of subjective individual preferences, suitably weighted by ability to pay, as modified by gender, race, and class interests. The nihilists say that there is no such thing as the common good or objective value, and that therefore we cannot distinguish better from worse future states. So even though real alternatives may exist, policy still would make no sense without an objective criterion of value, and some vision of the common good.

Without choice there can be no responsibility, so the determinists and nihilists are often undeservedly comfortable in their irresponsible irrelevance. “Never knowing where they are going, they can never go astray.” As future policy makers I am sure that you will have to confront some complacent determinists and nihilists, perhaps disguised as political pollsters, apocalyptic televangelists, cost-benefit analysts, bio-ethicists, evolutionary neuropsychologists, or growth economists. One way or another they will insist that there is no alternative, and even if there were, it would not matter.

Rosalind Peterson: Caltrans Widening of U.S. 101 in Richardson Park Threatens California Redwoods

Redwood Valley

Article here.

The idea is to straighten the road out and widen the shoulders in an effort to accommodate the largest big rig trucks, which currently do not use the roadway. Many business leaders and politicians in Eureka have expressed support for the project on grounds that it would help commerce.

We can all take action against this proposal and call the following elected officials:

Congressman Mike Thompson (1-866) 220-0044 (Toll Free Washington Office) The Redwood Trees are in his district.

Senators Barbara Boxer & Dianne Feinstein (1-866) 220-0044 (Toll Free Washington, D.C. Office)

And we can contact the office of the Governor of California:
(916) 445-2841 And let him know that his legacy should not be the destruction of the Redwood in
Richardson State Park, etc.

We also need to contact our elected State Representatives in Sacramento-Local Offices don’t always deliver Messages to Sacramento Offices:

California Assemblyman Wes Chesbro (916) 391-2001

Senator Pat Wiggins (916) 445-3373

Also CALTRANS deserves some telephone calls as well from those that oppose this action:
(707) 445-6600 Eureka Office
District CALTRANS Director: (707) 445-6445

Our Mendocino County Supervisors should also speak out as Richardson State Park is a Tourist Attraction and we should support keeping this area as a tourist attraction not a fast road track for speeding and polluting trucks. Many enjoy the highway and don’t drive at 65 MPH preferring to enjoy the beauty of this area. Please contact your local Supervisor and ask for a resolution to protect Richardson State Park Redwood Trees.<!–

HWY 101 Widening Jeopardizes Richardson State Park Redwood Trees

A coalition of environmental groups and individuals filed a lawsuit this week in San Francisco challenging a plan by the California Department of Transportation to widen a highway through an ancient redwood grove.

Why Are You So In Love With Green Smoothies?


If you do just ONE thing to improve your family’s health, make it green smoothies! Believe it or not, kids WILL drink it, and you will be surprised that you enjoy them and even learn to crave them. Don’t let the name put you off—I make them look more purple than green, with a magic ingredient called frozen mixed berries!

You can read Victoria Boutenko’s book, Green For Life, for comprehensive overview of why this is so important. I had three people in a one-week period recommend the book to me, and I’ve learned from past experience to sit up and listen when things happen to me in threes! (Actually, I’m getting smarter and now follow through when I hear something TWICE.) Her research of people drinking green smoothies yielded 100 percent positive reviews, with the top three health benefits being better digestion/elimination, more energy, and weight loss!

I’ve written a book review as a summary and motivation for you to start making them. And included in my recipes is my a master template for green smoothies that you can adapt to various greens and fruit for variety. It’s easy, it takes 10 minutes of my day, and it’s the highest and best use of my kitchen time!

Who eats a big plate of plain, raw, kale, collards, spinach and celery? Mustard greens, arugula, turnip greens, dandelion greens, beet greens, and chard don’t end up in too many salads. Just the time to chew it would be half an hour (oh, and the chopping)! They’re a regular feature in my green smoothies every day. My kids drink a pint every day, and you can make it ahead and stick it in the frig. And, in a smoothie, you don’t have to drizzle them with fattening, chemical-laden salad dressings to get them down.

You won’t believe how much green food it has in it: chlorophyll and a powerhouse of enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. Unlike a juicer (which makes such a mess and throws away much of the plant), green smoothie is packed with insoluble plant fiber capable of carrying many times its own weight in toxins out of the body. Drinking a quart a day addresses what I believe is the #1 deficit in the American diet: lack of leafy greens. (And I am NOT talking about iceberg lettuce, an essentially nutrition-free food.) A close second deficit is lack of overall plant fiber in the diet, but eating green smoothies addresses that, too.

More here.
See also Just try ‘em – Organic Green Smoothies

Some First Steps


[…] So how do we start down this necessary path? First, let’s start with a few things we cannot do — some doors that are now closed to us due to our decades of profligate resource destruction.

Firstly, anything requiring significant amounts of energy is out of the question. The era of cheap, abundant fossil energy is behind us — forever. Despite repeated warnings from our best scientists, we failed to make the transition to renewables in time. Now it’s too late. Every year from now on will afford us less and less energy — possibly significantly less in the coming years.

Secondly, anything requiring significant amounts of money in the form of credit is out of the question. In a future of a continually-declining resource base, there is simply no such thing as economic growth, and thus no credit. Basically, we play with what material resources we have at this point — which is a lot less than we used to.

But enough with the negatives — let’s start with some concrete positive steps that we can accomplish. I can think of three that deserve our immediate attention:

1. I see no more crucial place to start than with food and our country’s food-security. We will change both the way we grow food and the food we eat. We will create more small local farms, more small farmers, more ecologically-sane fertilization methods, more seed saving and exchanging, more farmers markets and CSAs. We will grow food on our city’s rooftops, windowsills, and front stoops. We will grow food in our suburban lawns, parking lots, and golf courses. We will become self-sufficient in food-production with a smarter kind of agriculture that does not waste soil, pollute water, and poison our children. This, my fellow Americans, is true “homeland security.”

2. Next up is transportation. We will need to move ourselves and our products around largely without the aid of fossil fuels, as these will become only more expensive and unavailable in the years ahead. Is transportation with minimal fossil fuels even possible? Of course it is! We did it for centuries before the Industrial Age, and we need only to reclaim those technologies. Bicycles with trailers, hand-carts, and electric scooters will be made available as much as possible. Mules, oxen, and draft horses will be bred as rapidly as possible for distribution to our farms, towns, and cities. These will not allow us the mobility of former years, but that is the price we pay for thoughtlessly squandering our fossil fuels.

3. If we are to be a less-mobile, more-localized people, we will need to start producing most of the necessities of everyday life in the places where we live.


The Soul Desires Expression at Work

Anam Cara (Soul Friend) 1998

For many people, the workplace is unsatisfactory and permits neither growth nor creativity. More often than not, it is an anonymous place where function and image have control since work demands such labor and effort, it has always made the worker vulnerable. Even in the ancient Celtic tradition, negativity could be harnessed to make nature work against the worker…

In the modern workplace, a negative atmosphere can be very destructive. When we speak of an individual, we speak of his presence. Presence is the way a person’s individuality comes toward you. Presence is the soul texture of the person. When we speak of this presence in relation to a group of people, we refer to it as atmosphere or ethos. The ethos of a workplace is a very subtle group presence. It is difficult to describe or analyze an ethos; yet you immediately sense its power and effect. Where the ethos is positive, wonderful things can happen. It is a joy to come to work because the atmosphere comes out to meet you and it is caring, kind, and creative. If the ethos of the workplace is negative and destructive, then when people wake up in the morning, their first thought of going to work literally makes them ill. It is lonely that so many people have to spend so much of their short time in the world in a negative and destructive work ethos. The workplace can be quite hostile; it is often an environment of power. You are working for people who have power over you. They have the power to sack you, criticize and bully you, or compromise your dignity. This is not a welcoming atmosphere. People have power over us because we give our power away to them…

Frequently people in power are not as strong as they might wish to appear. Many people who desperately hunger for power are weak. They seek power positions to compensate for their own fragility and vulnerability. A weak person in power can never be generous with power because they see questions or alternative possibilities as threatening their own supremacy and dominance. If you are going to be creatively confrontational with such a person, you need to approach that person very gently in a nondirect manner. This is the only way that the word of your truth can reach such a frightened, powerful person.

The workplace as a place of power can also be a place of control. Control is destructive because it reduces your own independence and autonomy. You are placed back in an infantile role where you are dealing with an authority figure. Because of our untransfigured relationship to our parents, we sometimes turn authority figures into giants. There is a crucial distinction here between power and authority. When you are awake to the integrity of your inner power, then you are your own authority. The word authority signifies your authorship of your ideas and actions. The world functions through power structures.

Mark Scaramella: Queen Kendall — Round 4

The Jaundiced Eye –

[Shameful… -DS]

The Mendocino County Grand Jury gets extra credit for persistence, if not effectiveness.

For the fourth year in a row, the Grand Jury has concluded that Fourth District Supervisor Kendall Smith is a thief, and this time they seem to be saying that she should be removed from office.

I hesitate to bore readers with yet another recitation of the particulars of Ms. Smith’s petty criminality because it’s been hashed out in all its excruciating glory in several previous Grand Jury reports and in several stories the Anderson Valley Advertiser.

Basically, the Grand Jury determined that Ms. Smith claimed travel reimbursement to and from Fort Bragg when she hadn’t traveled, but stayed at friend’s house in Ukiah. There was more, but the Grand Jury, in an overabundance of caution, gave Ms. Smith the benefit of the doubt and only asked her to pay back the most completely documented and clear amount. (There were other amounts that were less obvious due to the County Auditor’s and the Supervisors’ self-serving “interpretations” of the travel reimbursement policy that the Supes themselves wrote for themselves.)

So even after trimming back the amount to the bare minimum that Smith clearly owed, Smith first said she’d repay it, then reneged on that promised and refused. One of her more outrageous reimbursement claims was for “pet care” of her pet while she was at “work” in Ukiah.

The Supes get $68,000 per year plus perks which bring it up to the range of $90-$110k depending on the Supervisor District. One of those perks is a monthly travel stipend which reimburses the Supervisors for commuting to work. The amount of the stipend is tied to the distance the individual Supervisors travel to Ukiah. (One is forced to wonder what will happen when Dan Hamburg or Wendy Roberts is elected Supervisor in January. Hamburg lives very near Ukiah, much closer than Colfax; Roberts lives on the Coast, much farther than Colfax. Will the reimbursement “policy” be revised based on who is Supervisor? Don’t ask.)

When the Grand Jury first looked at the Supervisors’ travel reimbursements back in 2007, they concluded that “some Supervisors have a casual and loosely defined understanding of what is considered to be ‘official County business,’ resulting in substantive travel policy abuse.”

Those Supervisors were John Pinches, David Colfax and Kendall Smith. To his credit, Supervisor Pinches didn’t quibble over what the Grand Jury said were overpayments to him and he quickly paid it back.

But Supervisors Colfax and Smith, instead of paying back the rather small amount given their generous public salaries, angrily denounced the Grand Jury.

More here.

Farming’s future (right here in Ukiah)


New breed of agri-curious entrepreneurs emphasizes ‘growing food responsibly’

As Mendocino County residents dash off to work during the morning rush hour, Paula Manolo and her boyfriend, Adam Gaska, are hard at work at an entirely different kind of office: A 4-acre plot on land near Ukiah.

The biodynamic farm, situated on Heart Arrow Ranch (which is owned by Golden Vineyards), is among the fields the couple leases and tends as part of their business, Mendocino Organics.

By September, the duo will be farming a total of 50 acres as their primary occupation.

Manolo, 28, and Gaska, 31, are not alone. At a time when farm revenues are declining along with the national economy, a number of young and “agri-curious” Sonoma and Mendocino county residents are turning to farming as a viable profession.

This influx of fresh blood comes just in time. The average age of Sonoma County farmers has risen steadily for the past 30 years, peaking at 56 in 2009. The new generation also has introduced a new way of thinking to the profession. Most have turned to farming to help improve the way food is grown and to make communities more self-sustaining.

“For us farming is about much more than production and consumption,” says Manolo. “It’s about growing food responsibly, using the Earth sustainably and giving back whenever possible. It truly is a way of life.”

Many members of this new breed refer to themselves as “Greenhorns,” an eco-conscious play on a compound word that has come to mean “novice.”

The group has spawned quite an organic community. A number of participants met up this spring at a lively mixer at the Baker Creek Seed Bank in Petaluma, while others frequently “meet” on online forums and message boards to share best practices and chat about challenges associated with the farming life.

There’s even a documentary film about this nationwide phenomenon titled, simply, “Greenhorns.”

Among all of the local Greenhorns, Manolo and Gaska are perhaps the most adventuresome. They are growing sweet corn, beans, winter squash and melons, and they raise sheep and chickens for meat, and cows for milk.

Their average day begins around 5:30 or 6 a.m., when the pair gets up to water plants in their greenhouse, feed animals and move chickens to a new part of the pasture. Later, they might tend to some of their 100sheep, or look after the nine cows that hang together on leased land in the Potter Valley. They also might head out to inspect some of the irrigated pasture land they run.

More here.

More “Whacking The Old Folks” – Social Security On The Line


[…] This is really important. They increased the Social Security tax on working people, gave the money out as tax cuts for the wealthy, created deficits on purpose to defund government, created a huge debt mess, and now the next stage of this plan is to gut social programs.

This is what the Deficit Commission is about. Tax cuts for the rich and military spending caused the borrowing and raising taxes on the rich can stop it.  But the plan was to force a perception of a debt emergency to stampede people into accepting a dismantling of government that works for We, the People, and provides for us, empowers us and protects us.    This is the confrontation of  plutocracy vs democracy.  We can’t let them get away with it.

What can you do?  Visit Social Security Works, get on their mailing list or follow them on Twitter.

Get mad.

And get informed.

From FIREDOGLAKE (video)

Each time the Catfood Commission holds its secret meetings, Alex Lawson of Social Security Works has been outside with his camera, shooting video of the closed front door as FDL runs a live stream on our front page. The Washington Post wrote it up recently.  As committee members go in and out of the room Alex asks them questions when he can and yesterday he had an exchange with Alan Simpson that was…well, extraordinary.

Simpson is apparently a graduate of the Bobby Etheridge school of charm. Alex Lawson was incredibly respectful and polite as the crankly Simpson berated, interrupted and cussed him. Simpson has been a long-time supporter of rolling back the New Deal, and when asked about cuts he would recommend to the President and Congress on CNBC, Simpson said  “We are going to stick to the big three,” meaning Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  His sentiments haven’t changed.

CJR’s Trudy Lieberman recently ran down Simpson’s history of delicate statements on the subject of Social Security.   He is equally decorous on camera with Alex, who clearly knows a great deal more about the subject than he does.  Simpson starts from the premise that the Treasury will default on the bonds issued to the Social Security trust fund, because all the best people apparently know that it’s better to default on America’s senior citizens and plunge them into poverty than it is to default on, say, the Chinese.

Despite Simpson’s assertions, raising the retirement age to 70 IS a benefit cut.  It would put an estimated 1.5 million  senior citizens into poverty.

5 Free and Open-Source Software Alternatives for Small Businesses


[…] Many business owners and managers don’t realize is that they can get all the software they need to run a business — quite literally all of it in most cases — 100% free of charge. That includes operating systems, word processing programs, accounting software, email servers, graphic design programs and more.

If you put in some time to do some research, you might find perfectly free software alternatives that work just as well as Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop (Adobe Photoshop), QuickBooks, and other better-known programs.

Best of all, since FOSS is free to download and try, there’s no risk in testing it out. Take a look at some of these programs and see if a few of them would fit your business needs…

GIMP is a free Photoshop substitute that will satisfy all but the most demanding professional graphic designers. If you need to make simple web graphics, retouch a few product photos, or create flyers or other marketing materials, this program should work nicely for you. It’s robust, and if you’ve used Photoshop or Photoshop-like clone programs, the interface and commands will be familiar to you. The images you create can be saved in an array of common formats, including PSD Photoshop files, in case you need to send your files to a Photoshop user.

All in all, GIMP might be the single greatest money-saver on this list. It’s completely free, whereas a single Photoshop license — which you’ll need to pay for again each time Adobe releases a new version of the software — can cost hundreds of dollars per user…

For years, there’s been the commonly held idea that Linux OSes are command-line intensive, difficult to use, easy to crash and generally for nerds only. Much of this “fear, uncertainty and doubt” has come from corporate entities that benefit most from these drastic misperceptions. While you might want to reach out for a little help when installing your Linux OS for the first time, you’ll be shocked at how simple and user-friendly a Linux distro (that’s short for “distribution,” the Linux term for version) can be. The interfaces are elegant and intuitive, much more so than even Windows or Mac for many users…

1. OpenOffice open-source alternative to Microsoft Office.

2. GNUCash …alternative for Microsoft Money and Quicken

3. GIMP …alternative for Photoshop

4. Zimbra …alternative for Microsoft Exchange email

5. Linux …alternative for Windows and MacOS

More details here.

Getting Shit Done

Daily Dish

What are the odds that Obama’s huge success yesterday in getting BP to pledge a cool $20 billion to recompense the “small people” in the Gulf will get the same attention as his allegedly dismal speech on Tuesday night? If you take Memeorandum as an indicator, it really is no contest. The speech is still being dissected by language experts, but the $20 billion that is the front page news in the NYT today? Barely anywhere on the blogs.

This is just a glimpse into the distortion inherent in our current political and media culture. It’s way easier to comment on a speech – his hands were moving too much! – than to note the truly substantive victory, apparently personally nailed down by Obama, in the White House yesterday. If leftwing populism in America were anything like as potent as right-wing populism – Matt Bai has a superb analysis of this in the NYT today – there would be cheering in the streets. But there’s nada, but more leftist utopianism and outrage on MSNBC. And since there’s no end to this spill without relief wells, this is about as much as Obama can do, short of monitoring clean-up efforts, or rather ongoing management of the ecological nightmare of an unstopped and unstoppable wound in the ocean floor.

I sure understand why people feel powerless and angry about the vast forces that control our lives and over which we seem to have only fitful control – big government and big business. But it seems to me vital to keep our heads and remain focused on what substantively can be done to address real problems, and judge Obama on those terms. When you do, you realize that the left’s “disgruntleist” faction needs to take a chill pill.

Take Iran. Everyone – part from still-delusional neocons – accepts that this is a hugely difficult issue. To read the neocon right, you’d think all our problems would be solved by the president declaring the regime “evil” and launching military strikes all over the country. Sound familiar? In the real world, most of us understand that the military option is madness, that the machinery of repression is strong enough for the  coup regime to survive – but only just. Since Obama was elected, the legitimacy of the Tehran regime has been shredded – and I’d argue that removing America from the equation helped Iran’s opposition, rather than stymying it. Most of us knew, moreover, that Russia and China would oppose any and all sanctions.

But in fact, after a painstaking process in which Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have been successfully cornered in world opinion as the transgressors, sanctions, with Russia’s and China’s support, have passed the UN Security Council. More focused sanctions are in force against the financial interests of the Revolutionary Guards, and will soon come from the US Congress and European capitals. The price of Ahmadi’s paranoia will be high, which may explain his recent fulminations.

Todd Walton: The Presence of Absence

Anderson Valley

(This essay originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2010)

Thursday in the village of Mendocino is the day the AVA (Anderson Valley Advertiser) arrives in our post office boxes and at the liquor store (should we need extra copies.) Now and then the AVA is delayed for a day and arrives on Friday. But this week, the AVA did not come at all. I inquired of my heroes at the post office, but they had not seen hide nor hair of the goodly rag. And though I knew the liquor store is supplied via the mails, too, I nevertheless went thither in the vain hope that a batch had been brought by pony express or valiant pickup from the inland empire to our coastal enclave.

The liquor store in our hamlet is a living foreign movie. No matter how many times I go in there, I have the feeling something important is missing. There is an empty feeling about the place, as if the proprietors are just moving in or just moving out. The lighting is strange and forlorn and bathes everything in a pale yellow light. My friendly greetings invariably fall into a bottomless chasm of ennui, and in thirty tries I have never once elicited a smile from the fellow at the cash register. Perhaps he is hardened by years of dealing with drunks. I don’t know. I don’t buy anything there except the AVA, and maybe this bugs him. In any case, they didn’t have any AVAs and I was apparently not the first person to inquire.

Certainly one of the great appeals of the AVA to me is that I often have something published therein. Discovering that I am once again in the goodly rag never fails to impart a momentary thrill, a sense of well-being, a revivifying and inspiring validation that I did not waste however many hours I spent writing whatever I wrote. I never know in advance if my pieces will run. The editors are not in the habit of telling me, possibly because they don’t know themselves until the very last minute before they put the paper to bed, and perhaps not even then.

No, the only way to find out if I’m in the AVA is to look through her pages. Now and then I will land an essay on the front page (mazel tov!) but more often than not my pieces are tucked away in the cozy confines of the middle. In truth, I don’t care where they land, just so they do. Land.

Those weeks when I do not appear (assuming I’ve submitted something before the deadline) I invariably experience a brief emotional downturn. I want to make it clear (to myself if no one else) that this downturn has much less to do with my absence from the pages of the AVA than it does with the absence of my books from the bookstores of America, the lack of reviews of my books in The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, and the towering indifference of the great big world to the creations of little old me.

Fannie and Freddie and What Not


[…] As longtime readers will know, my forecast for a real estate prices is for a decline of 90% on average, albeit with considerable local variation. For those who think this is not possible, you might want to look at what you can buy a house for right now in Detroit. It is considerably less than the price of a second-hand car, and in a market where the price of second-hand cars is depressed. In places where there is no work for miles around, and no access to mortgages in dying neighborhoods, the pool of buyers will be limited to those who can afford to buy a property in cash and would choose to spend what will be extremely scarce cash on that particular purchase. The price support that will convey will be minimal, to say the least.

As unemployment takes a moonshot in the coming years, purchasing power will be far more limited than most can imagine. The liquidity crunch we are moving into will cause the same kind of economic seizure as we saw in the depression, when a lack of money alone made it exceptionally difficult to connect buyers and sellers, or producers and potential consumers. Money is the lubricant in the engine of the economy in the same way that oil is the lubricant in the engine of your car. Running an engine with too little lubricant will cause it to grind to a halt.

The ‘assistance’ currently being provided in the form of down payments is only going to make the situation worse in the long run. Bailouts are never for the little guy. Offering inducements to further indebtedness is merely a trap. It will do nothing but increase the pool of future debt slaves. This is not a benefit for the people it is ostensibly aimed at. Instead it is a cynical move intended to keep our game of extend-and-pretend going a little longer. Rising unemployment will cruelly expose the fragility of buying power and the ability to service debt in the relatively near future. Defaults are likely to be shockingly high, and with them losses to Fannie and Freddie.

As John Stuart Mill observed, “Panics do not destroy capital, they merely reveal the extent to which it has already been destroyed by betrayal into hopelessly unproductive works.” The construction of much of suburbia has been a giant exercise in the creation of negative added value. It is this decades-long commitment of resources to living arrangements with fatal structural dependencies that has been destructive of value, and there is a limit to how long we can stave off the day when that will be generally recognized. That is all we are doing in supporting Fannie and Freddie.

Now that it appears the credit markets have turned again, the real economy will inevitably follow. The long rally facilitated a suspension of disbelief that was kind to policy makers while it lasted. The resumption of the downtrend will conversely strip away their credibility, making everything they do fail conspicuously and ignominiously.

Call the Politburo, we’re in trouble


Entering the Soviet Era in America

Mark it on your calendar.  It seems we’ve finally entered the Soviet era in America.

You remember the Soviet Union, now almost 20 years in its grave.  But who gives it a second thought today?  Even in its glory years that “evil empire” was sometimes referred to as “the second superpower.”  In 1991, after seven decades, it suddenly disintegrated and disappeared, leaving the United States — the “sole superpower,” even the “hyperpower,” on planet Earth — surprised but triumphant.

The USSR had been heading for the exits for quite a while, not that official Washington had a clue.  At the moment it happened, Soviet “experts” like Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (then director of the CIA) still expected the Cold War to go on and on.  In Washington, eyes were trained on the might of the Soviet military, which the Soviet leadership had never stopped feeding, even as its sclerotic bureaucracy was rotting, its economy (which had ceased to grow in the late 1970s) was tanking, budget deficits were soaring, indebtedness to other countries was growing, and social welfare payments were eating into what funds remained.  Not even a vigorous, reformist leader like Mikhail Gorbachev could staunch the rot, especially when, in the late 1980s, the price of Russian oil fell drastically.

Looking back, the most distinctive feature of the last years of the Soviet Union may have been the way it continued to pour money into its military — and its military adventure in Afghanistan — when it was already going bankrupt and the society it had built was beginning to collapse around it.  In the end, its aging leaders made a devastating miscalculation.  They mistook military power for power on this planet.  Armed to the teeth and possessing a nuclear force capable of destroying the Earth many times over, the Soviets nonetheless remained the vastly poorer, weaker, and (except when it came to the arms race) far less technologically innovative of the two superpowers.

In December 1979, perhaps taking the bait of the Carter administration whose national security advisor was eager to see the Soviets bloodied by a “Vietnam” of their own, the Red Army invaded Afghanistan to support a weak communist government in Kabul.  When resistance in the countryside, led by Islamic fundamentalist guerrillas and backed by the other superpower, only grew, the Soviets sent in more troops, launched major offensives, called in air power, and fought on brutally and futilely for a decade until, in 1989, long after they had been whipped, they withdrew in defeat.

Gorbachev had dubbed Afghanistan “the bleeding wound,” and when the wounded Red Army finally limped home, it was to a country that would soon cease to exist.  For the Soviet Union, Afghanistan had literally proven “the graveyard of empires.”  If, at the end, its military remained standing, the empire didn’t…  More here.

Worst Case Scenario on Gulf Spill?

Causabon’s Book

Reader Stephen B. pointed me to this comment at The Oil Drum by someone who argues that there’s more going on under the Gulf that we think. For those who think it is strange that I be highlighting a comment in a thread, I should note that TOD attracts many, many petroleum geologists and other professionals, and while sometimes the comments are the same “pulled it out of my ass” as on every other website, often, the technical knowledge on offer is pretty astounding. This one passes my smell test, which is usually pretty good – that doesn’t mean I claim commenter Doug R is right – it means I think his information is interesting enough to be worth exposing to a wider audience for clarification or correction.

The whole thing is worth a read, including the many cites and sources (again, why I take it at least a little seriously), but here’s one of several major points made, building on a Wall Street Journal article (link at source):

There are some inconsistencies with this article.
There are no “Disks” or “Subsea safety structure” 1,000 feet below the sea floor, all that is there is well bore. There is nothing that can allow the mud or oil to “escape” into the rock formation outside the well bore except the well, because it is the only thing there.

All the actions and few tid bits of information all lead to one inescapable conclusion. The well pipes below the sea floor are broken and leaking. Now you have some real data of how BP’s actions are evidence of that, as well as some murky statement from “BP officials” confirming the same.

I took some time to go into a bit of detail concerning the failure of Top Kill because this was a significant event. To those of us outside the real inside loop, yet still fairly knowledgeable, it was a major confirmation of what many feared. That the system below the sea floor has serious failures of varying magnitude in the complicated chain, and it is breaking down and it will continue to.

What does this mean?

It means they will never cap the gusher after the wellhead. They cannot…the more they try and restrict the oil gushing out the bop?…the more it will transfer to the leaks below. Just like a leaky garden hose with a nozzle on it. When you open up the nozzle?…it doesn’t leak so bad, you close the nozzle?…it leaks real bad, same dynamics… More here.

Seth Godin: Goodbye to the office


Factories used to be arranged in a straight line. That’s because there was one steam engine, and it turned a shaft. All the machines were set up along the shaft, with a belt giving each of them power. The office needed to be right next to this building, so management could monitor what was going on.

150 years later, why go to work in an office/plant/factory?

1. That’s where the machines are.

2. That’s where the items I need to work on are.

3. The boss needs to keep tabs on my productivity.

4. There are important meetings to go to.

5. It’s a source of energy.

6. The people I collaborate with all day are there.

7. I need someplace to go.


1. If you have a laptop, you probably have the machine already, in your house.

2. If you do work with a keyboard and a mouse, the items you need to work on are on your laptop, not in the office.

3. The boss can easily keep tabs on productivity digitally.

4. How many meetings are important? If you didn’t go, what would happen?

5. You can get energy from people other than those in the same company.

6. Of the 100 people in your office, how many do you collaborate with daily?

7. So go someplace. But it doesn’t have to be to your office.

If we were starting this whole office thing today, it’s inconceivable we’d pay the rent/time/commuting cost to get what we get. I think in ten years the TV show ‘the Office’ will be seen as a quaint antique.

When you need to have a meeting, have a meeting. When you need to collaborate, collaborate. The rest of the time, do the work, wherever you like.

The gain in speed, productivity and happiness is massive. What’s missing is #7… someplace to go. Once someone figures that part out, the office is dead.