Monday, May 30, 2016

The war on the producer classes

My personal discovery that "liberals' were grossly intolerant of working people came as quite a shock.  One of the characteristics of a rural Corn Belt upbringing was knowing men who took great pride in being good with tools.  Even people who could afford to hire out such work (construction, machinery repair, etc.) usually had gone through a period when they had actually worked with their own hands.  My grandfather could fix almost anything and firmly believed that there was only one truly virtuous occupation—farming.  He made allowances for clergy so as to to include my father but I am pretty certain that exception was only made because my father had grown up on a working farm.  I can honestly say that I never heard anyone disparage productive work until I went off to the University where I discovered there were plenty of people who treated working people with utter contempt.

My favorite story came one bitterly cold winter night when I took a shortcut across a parking lot where I discovered two guys trying to jump-start a car.  They were doing it all wrong to the point where they were about to blow up a lead-acid battery.  I straightened out their jump and a few minutes later, the dead car had returned to life.  They seemed quite appreciative until one recognized me as one his students.  How could I possibly be a serious student if I was so damn working-class?  He literally stared at me.  I should have let those two wreck their cars and blow sulfuric acid all over their contemptuous mugs.

No long after, I discovered a neighbor in the dorm who was extolling the virtue of the SDS.  These geniuses taught the working people were no longer the vanguard of the revolution but that "youth" was now a class.  I thought he was crazy / joking but nooooo, I would so discover that the Democratic Party was about to abandon its labor roots.  45 years later, and my party still hasn't enacted a decent health-care system but we have beaten every social issue into advanced boredom.

But listening to the Yuppie Scum "liberals" who are trying to sell us a women with severe right-wing tendencies as a "progressive" has brought out that old anti-worker animus.  Kilpatrick does a good job below of describing the class warfare that has raged within the Democratic Party for over a generation.

Friday, May 27, 2016

More on diesel emissions cheating

When Volkswagen got caught using cheating software for their TDI line of diesels, I suspected that they were a LONG way from being alone.  Part of the reason stems from a lecture I got in 1973 from a transportation-technology instructor I had as part of my city planning sequence.  The professor was from the mechanical engineering department over at the Institute of Technology.  Keep in mind this was the University of Minnesota and not some car-state school like U Michigan or Perdue.  Even so, I am pretty sure he had his facts straight.  And the point he was making that day was it was going to be impossible to make diesel engines both clean and super energy-efficient.  He wrote "Nitrous Oxide" in big letters across the top of the chalk board to ensure we understood the important problem area.  He argued that regulators—especially at the California Air Resources Board—were about to enact regulations that were physically impossible to meet.

I did not want to believe him.  I wanted to believe that predicting something was impossible was not an especially valid tactic in any area dominated by professional inventors.  Proving skeptics wrong was pretty much the major thrust of the 20th century.  But now that I have passed my 66th birthday, I have discovered that there are indeed many things that ARE physically impossible, and that there are valid ways of knowing what they are.  And no, George Jetson's flying car that folded up into a briefcase light enough to be carried by an obvious wimp was never going to be built no matter how much development money was thrown at the project.

So I have come to agree with my old prof.  It looks like there really was no way to make a decent diesel engine that met those flight-of-fancy regulations that left him sputtering.  Below, we have a list of the strategies employed by various automakers in the pursuit of something that really WAS physically impossible.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

TTIP necessary to protect megabanks from prosecution

Oh, those lovely trade agreements.  Those of us who are veterans of the 1992-93 fight against NAFTA find it hard to believe that someone has designed a trade deal even more odious.  Someone has been working overtime because the TTIP makes NAFTA look like an act of charity.

The problem with these trade deals is that they operate from the assumption that anything that might possibly impede unfettered trade is by definition, evil.  And so social necessities like environmental laws, consumer protection, fair labor standards, etc. are all targeted as impediments to trade.  Worse, these local laws and regulations can be sued out existence if it can be proven that they materially harm the interests of those who would pollute, run sweatshops, and otherwise accelerate the race to the bottom.

It requires a lot of coordinated political action to get most such laws and regulations in place.  Watching them be eliminated naturally upsets those whose efforts these trade deals negate.  Not surprisingly, these trade deals face enormous political opposition.  That's not a problem for those who would profit from them.  For them, democracy is merely a messy detail.  The only hope is that the opposition to the mega-Predators who want these new NAFTA-on-steroids deals is substantially larger and vastly more organized than in 1993.  It also helps to have the NAFTA disaster to point to.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The environmental costs of militarism

The last time I made the mistake of attending a conference / seminar on the subject of climate change, we were treated to a keynote address by a long-time and very successful local weatherman / entrepreneur who after a couple of decades of climate change denial, had embarked on a new career explaining why he finally had become convinced that the science predicting a climate catastrophe was correct.  The guy's commercial success over the years was hardly an accident—he is witty and charming.  So charming, in fact, it was easy to overlook the fact that he has also been associated with some of the more crackpot versions of Christianity, is a lifetime Republican who still looks at the Reagan presidency as one of the high-water marks of USA history, and carries himself with the kind of swagger associated with those who have made a large pile of money in life.  But these attributes were essential to his new persona.  He was saying, "Look at me!  Even someone who had the prime characteristics of a climate change denier has now seen the light.  So believe the light!"

Tales of such a major conversion are central to the teachings of Christianity.  In fact, the majority of the New Testament revolves around the story of how Saul, who once actively participated in the persecution and murder of early Christians had seen the light and become Paul, the missionary who spread the new faith throughout the Roman Empire, had written the most popular lessons of the new doctrine, and in the end, had become a martyr of the cause.  Our newly enlightened weatherman was even named Paul in case any of us were to miss the lesson for the day.

As someone who was exposed to regular readings from the letters of Saint Paul throughout childhood, I understood and could appreciate what our keynote speaker was up to.  Even so, I started to wince when he began to quote Reagan or assured us that there was nothing about the practices of "free enterprise" that would lead to climate change denial.  But then he began to discuss how the US Navy, whose most important installations are at sea level and hence especially vulnerable to changes in those sea levels, were among those who took the science of climate change most seriously of all.  At one point he said, "When it comes to climate change, the Navy really gets it."  Because I know the enormous contributions made by the USA military to the carbon loading of the atmosphere, I almost threw up in my mouth.  No Paul, the Navy does NOT "get it."

Because he is a public figure, our weatherman Paul is now targeted by the climate change denying trolls.  This persecution probably assures him that he also "gets it."  Well, Paul, you don't get it but thanks for trying.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Michael Lewis: The Book That Will Save Banking From Itself

During my visit with Jon last month, we both agreed that Michael Lewis is one of the best USA writers living. A partial list of some of Lewis's books:

Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage of Wall Street (1989)
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (2003)
The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game (2006)
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2010)

The Big Short was the basis of the movie Jon reviewed here a couple months ago; I reviewed the book back in June 2011.

Since the article below was written by Lewis, I overcame some grave misgivings, and decided to post it here. It is a rather detailed review of a recent book by the former governor of the Bank of England (2003-2013) Mervyn King. The book is entitled The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking, and the Future of the Global Economy, and it presents King's argument that nothing has fundamentally altered the financial system's stupidity, greed, and appetite for high-payoff risks, followed by King's detailed proposal for what governments and financial regulators should do before the next crisis inevitably hits. Normally, I do not believe that highly technocratic financial discussions conduce to furthering an enlightened public discourse. Frankly, such discussions are usually a steaming pile of bovine manure. But now that it appears our sole choice for USA President is Trumpillary, it seems very likely that the best we can hope for in terms of forcing the banksters to behave civilly is exactly the sort of proposal King is putting forward.

I also am usually reluctant to hold anything British in a favorable light. But, some of the most startlingly truthful pronouncements by financial officials during and after the Crash of 2007-2009 were from King, and from Adair Turner, who became chairman of the UK Financial Services Authority in September, 2008, five days after Lehman Brothers collapsed.

In my opinion, King's proposal to have central banks determine beforehand how much capital they would lend against big banks' riskier assets in a crisis is fundamentally flawed on three counts. First - which Lewis discusses briefly - is that the big banks have achieved "regulatory capture." It is very likely that in a severe enough crisis, what a central bank had previously said would be the upper limit it would lend to a troubled bank in a crisis, will simply be ignored. Or, some other part of government will be prevailed upon to give the bankers the money they say they need to prevent the collapse of Western civilization.

Second, King's proposal accepts as valid the current business model of Wall Street and the City of London. He is not proposing to outright prohibit the riskiest behavior of the big banks. Rather, he explicitly argues that with the role of a central bank in a crisis firmly fixed beforehand, "the market" can be relied on to do the right thing, and leaving free the "incentives to innovate." This is, therefore, no repudiation of the reigning neo-liberal economic paradigm of the past half century.

Third is an extension of the second: I do not believe that we can build a sustainable economic future for humankind if we continue to treat present financial elites as legitimate. The past half century of financial legerdemain and shenanigans have, in a financial echo of Grehsam's Law, turned most of the financial system into a vast criminal enterprise. I agree with Ian Welsh, who a few days ago wrote Seven Rules for Running a Real Left-Wing Government:
The banking sector creates money. Money determines what people can and cannot do. This is the control mechanism for the economy in any state which runs on markets. You must control it. If you control it, you can use it to strangle your domestic enemies. If you do not, your enemies will use it to strangle you.
Welsh goes on to provide a stark example of how Obama, had he been a real leftist, could have used the crimes of the banksters to seize their money under RICO. 

Far better to simply tax all financial market transactions. You don't even have to ban the most odious transactions outright. A simple tax of less than one full percent would be enough to render much of the speculative trading in financial markets unprofitable.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ellen Brown on Trump's monetary musings

It is really hard to know what part of Donald Trump's message he means or even understands.  I was a designated driver the night Obama won the election of 2008 and watched as deliriously happy and very drunken supporters celebrate what they thought was a new day.  He had talked for months about hope and by god, they were projecting all their hopes on him.  I am pretty sure that Trump's supporters are making the same mistake.  After all, he promises to bring about a brighter day but has already selected a Goldman Sachs man as an economic advisor.

That said, his latest dustup with the lords of high finance over monetary theory has been very interesting.  Not surprisingly, they are aghast at his willingness to point out that the ghouls of austerity do NOT have a monopoly on good economic ideas.  In fact, they have been a global disaster and Trump has much enjoyed talking about this.  So along comes our hero Ellen Brown to inform us how Trump's monetary ideas have much in common with folks like Lincoln and Franklin—two guys who actually appear on the currency itself.  Whether Trump actually understands this little piece of history is an open question.  And to be perfectly honest, it doesn't matter a whole lot that he understands who may have had similar thoughts about money in the past because once someone understands that money is merely a convenience, the idea that money is scarce becomes ridiculous.  And such a thought does not go away no matter who is shouting that the idea is crazy.

It is ideas like these that make the Republican establishment panic at the thought that Trump is their presumptive nominee.  We can be pretty sure they are not worried that he is a walking insult to political correctness—in fact, they probably approve of that.  But if Trump is willing to expose the big lies that banksters use to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us, then he MUST be stopped.  We will see.  After all, real estate dvelopers are essentially the only people who understand that their interests and the interests of the banksters do not align and have the expertise and clout to do something about it.  So even though Trump seems to have a short attention span, this might not be an idea that goes away so easily.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

CO2 passes 400 ppm

Not surprisingly, the global CO2 atmospheric concentration continues to rise.  It's getting into scary territory.  400 ppm hasn't been observed for a very long time.  What will happen next is still an open question but none of the guesses are encouraging.

Monday, May 9, 2016

They do not give a shit

On April 8, 2016, I composed a post about the possible final demise of the British Steel industry inspired by a suggestion from reader Mike.  In the ensuing comments, Mike made a further suggestion that is part of today's post.  There are many reasons why this article is so pointedly accurate—not least of which is the tale of how neoliberal thinking makes it virtually impossible for a country like UK to properly value its last remaining steel mill.

Foremost, the title says it all—"they do not give shit."  The "they" are the Leisure Class moneychangers who hold steelmaking in utter disregard.  It is something the "proles" do and no matter how technologically advanced the process may be, it is something as worthy of disposal as a used Tampax.  They do not care because in order to care, they would have to understand what they are throwing away.  And in order to understand, they would have to do the hard work of actually studying the struggles necessary to turn steel from this extremely rare material that was usually fashioned into swords into a mass-produced commodity that could criss-cross a continent with railroad tracks and create the frames for skyscrapers.

When I attempt to explain the physical origins of climate change, I am often met with a similar form of intellectual laziness.  Most people have zero interest in understanding, for example, the role fossil fuels play in feeding a hungry planet.  And even if they do listen to the figures for the fuels consumed, their usual response is to suggest that folks just stop doing things that way.  The idea that they should even be bothered with the tale of how all the decisions to embed fossil fuels in the food system came to be made, is utterly abhorrent.  So naturally, they gravitate towards simplistic solutions like carbon taxes—make fuel more expensive and folks will just figure out a way to get along with less fuel.  Don't bother us with the details—just do it.  So nothing gets done about climate change because those who rule our lives do NOT give a shit about how the community's necessary work is organized.

We will start making progress on the problems of climate change when our Leisure Class overlords start to actually give a shit about important matters—and not before.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

American producer class hero Peter Cooper

I have just spent an entire (and entirely delightful) week visiting Jon at his home. I wanted to learn how to create and post a video to Youtube, and Jon gracefully obliged me by sharing as much as he could of what he has learned in the past two decades of shooting and editing video. I once had a college professor who told me he spends one hour preparing for each minute he actually lectures.

Making video is much more time intensive. In three solid days of collaboration, Jon and I produced and posted a four minute video on American producer class hero Peter Cooper, builder of the first American steam locomotive, inventor of Jell-O, and founder of Cooper Union. There are plenty of other producer class heroes we could have chosen, but what sets Cooper apart is that he had also elaborated a full, producer class version of American School economics, and, as a result, was nominated by the new Greenback Party as its candidate for US President in 1876. Creating a video on Cooper therefore allowed us to present the policies of the Greenbackers--and there is precious little accurate information on the Greenback Party available, either in print, or on the internet. If there was anything we could change in the video, it would be the last sentence, which would become: "And, all these Greenbacker policies formed the basis for progressive economic policies over the next century, including seeding the ideas for Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal."

The full transcript is below the video. You will note there are a few, small cuts we made from the full transcript in order to meet our target of four minutes.

We were delighted to find a YouTube video of Eastman Kodak's film of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's 1927  "Fair of the Iron Horse... History of Transportation." This film includes footage of actual operation of nineteenth-century locomotives, including a complete reproduction of Cooper's 1830 locomotive Tom Thumb. We included only the few seconds showing the Tom Thumb; if you want to watch the entire 1927 file, here is the link

We were also delighted to find and use in the video scans of the actual Civil War greenbacks, the fiat paper money issued by the U.S. Treasury.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Carl Icahn says start spending

Predator Class / greenmailer extraordinaire Carl Icahn seems to think the country / world needs a huge dose of fiscal stimulus.  Well, he's right.  And there is no shortage of jobs needing doing.

So does anyone think this will happen—even if a really rich guy thinks it's a really good idea?

In the Age of Austerity?  Are you kidding.