a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Issue #122 (November 2, 2011)

East of Libby Flats, Snowy Range, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

The Laws of Physics - The Rules of Theater
by Joe Carducci

The Supreme Court will rule on the Obama-care mandate next spring. At that point the election will find its final shape. Given the rules of physics, I’d guess that who loses that decision wins the election. Meaning, if the conservative justices rule against the mandate President Obama becomes “safer” to re-elect as Bill Clinton was after losing on Hillary-care and triggering his party’s loss of Congress. If Justice Anthony Kennedy votes with the liberal justices and gives the go-ahead to the “health reform law” then the Republican party tips further into Tea Party sentiment and if Mitt Romney has sewn up the nomination a third party attempt by Ron Paul would have wind in its sail.

If I was writing this episode of Supreme Court drama I would have Obama-care crash-and-burn over its compromise for a crony-capitalism-writ-large rather than its preferred single payer system. I believe Shakespeare would write it that way as well. The Justices notice such weaknesses in argument and case construction. Our activist community takes doctors for granted (calls them “providers”) as they yielded to corporate interests of hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, etc., and together sold out this profession’s attempt to keep from being demoted to wage labor simply following federal guidelines while continuing to absorb all liabilities.

A single-payer system passed by Congress and signed by a President would face a challenge as well but might have a better chance. That might be cleanly repealed by Congress if it failed to “contain costs” or the other promises, whereas the justices (i.e., Kennedy) might feel that the current mal-formed creature might take ten years to evolve into that worst monstrosity of the Democrats thirties-style dreams. Justices aren‘t supposed to “feel“ things about these cases, but, again, this is what the liberals have been demanding and the rules of theater demand the Hero get what he desires, yielding the kind of Tragedy we the chorus can’t get enough of.

The teachers voted themselves out of their profession when they turned the N.E.A., formerly a professional association along the lines of the A.M.A., into a union. FDR and most Democrats had been opposed to the formation of public employee unions, but they got lazy too during the post-war boom, just like General Motors, Zenith, etc. One wonders if the profession of Law will follow Medicine and Education to the gallows, swallowed up by the great single-payer of Marxo-Sadean control-freak dreams? It might take that for the Justices to rule overwhelmingly that this state-corporatism ought to be ruled out of order at least in their profession’s court.

The size of the state has been growing. It took two years after the 2008 crash for government employment to dip ever so slightly downward, while private sector employment dropped immediately and much deeper. The public sector and its advocates may truly believe that we need even more civil servants and now more than ever. But what’s happened is that President Bush on his way out the door acted on behalf of these oligarchic interests and President Obama could only concur, whatever he may have liked to think he believed in. Below are recent New York Times articles about major Democratic Party figures like Robert Rubin and Jon Corzine who have been back and forth between Wall Street and Washington and, let’s say, have done a human centipede number on Obama to Bush. Obama might have written it off as Bush’s fiasco but then where did he disagree with too-big-to-fail? Once the left gave up on nationalizing the means of production all they can conceive of to do is the regulatory capture of capitalism. And this is best done after massive consolidations accompanied by a steepening of the path for the arrival of new competitors via regulatory and tax burdens. Too-big-to-fail is Washington’s preference. And the crony capitalists of the Republican party are pleased to serve this up to the occasional Democratic administration. There is continuity.

Last month there was a week of media concern that they’d been slighting coverage of Ron Paul, given that he’d been contending consistently in early polling yet had been reflexively discounted with nary an explanation. But the newsmedia were just doing a little housecleaning, throwing some meta-minutes his way to look better in post-election analyses where they get their report cards. The resultant Ron Paul reports didn’t actually succeed in intoning his position as the one true opt-out from this bipartisan public-private too-big-to-succeed shell game. The lords of the Democratic Party at the national level take embracing this mess as a test of their realism and seriousness -- their passage from the naivete of McGovernism, or pious futility. The Republican Party has been riven all along. It was the party’s tragedy to be trusted with the cold war because this led their “serious” statesmen into the Nixon- and Bush I-style obliviousness on domestic issues. Those were traded away by Nixon for cold war chess moves the Democrats were increasingly reluctant to allow. Bush II knew that era was over and he was trying that first year to recalibrate to more difficult and tedious domestic concerns but the 9/11 attacks relieved him of that, allowed another “outsider” come to tame and right-size the federal government to kick the can down the road.

The New York Times’ Deal Book ran an obituary for a living person this week. It’s titled, “In Corzine Comeback, Big Risks and Steep Fall.” Peter Lattman and Nelson Schwartz combined aren’t quite Shakespeare, never mind Carducci, but its worth reading:

“And Mr. Corzine, with a fortune estimated at half a billion dollars at its peak, did not confine his future ambitions to Wall Street. Even as he was seeking to revive his financial career, Mr. Corzine, a Democrat, had long styled himself as a financial executive moving seamlessly between Washington and Wall Street, in the mold of former Treasury secretaries like Robert E. Rubin or C. Douglas Dillon.” (New York Times)

Seamlessly…. Corzine’s unfortunately named brokerage, MF Global, filed for bankruptcy Monday since it failed to become too-big-to-fail. He apparently tried for six weeks to sell it off which would have been embarrassing enough but would have assuaged that somewhat with a $12.1 million “severance” according to Joe Nocera’s Times column, “Corzine Crashes Like It’s 2008” (see link below). I like the cruel reference to then New Jersey Governor Corzine’s actual automobile crash in his second year in office. He was being driven in the Governor’s SUV well above the speed limit when they came up on a pickup truck pulling into the passing lane. Corzine was not wearing a seatbelt, busy as he was doing the public’s or the private’s business on his phone. While he was taken to the hospital the pickup driver was at first arrested. A near Soviet-style painting of the actual public-private relationship. In the Soviet Union only politburo members possessed cars and for their drivers there were no traffic laws whatsoever. Imagine what wonders our politburo could accomplish if they just could clear us off the roads? But would they then meet their proper fate? I think so. Physics and Theater are God’s fascism.

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Nicholas Kristof in NYT, "Crony Capitalism Comes Home".

“I’m as passionate a believer in capitalism as anyone. My Krzysztofowicz cousins (who didn’t shorten the family name) lived in Poland, and their experience with Communism taught me that the way to raise living standards is capitalism. But, in recent years, some financiers have chosen to live in a government-backed featherbed. Their platform seems to be socialism for tycoons and capitalism for the rest of us. They’re not evil at all. But when the system allows you more than your fair share, it’s human to grab. That’s what explains featherbedding by both unions and tycoons, and both are impediments to a well-functioning market economy.”


Joe Nocera in NYT, "Corzine Crashes Like It’s 2008".

“When I read MF Global Finance’s second-quarter results, though, what popped out at me was its compensation expenses: 64 percent of revenues went to compensation. In any industry but Wall Street, that would be obscene. Indeed, in a talk he gave at Princeton last year, Corzine said that he’d been ‘arguing about compensation sins of Wall Street’ for decades. Not enough to actually do anything about it, though, once he was back in charge of a firm.”


Andrew Sorkin in NYT, "It’s Lonely Without Goldman Net".

“Robert Rubin, the former co-chairman of Goldman — and former Treasury secretary — joined Citigroup as a senior adviser and board member in 1999. A dazzling trader when he was at Goldman, he counseled Citigroup that the firm should take more risk. While he did not manage the firm’s trading or its day-to-day activities, the firm lost more than 70 percent of its value during his tenure, and ultimately the government had to bail out the company twice. It is clearly debatable whether he deserves blame, but the outcome is incontrovertible. What is clear is that Citigroup did not have the kind of risk management or culture that Mr. Rubin had grown accustomed to at Goldman.”


Carolyn Lerner in NYT, "A Law Misused for Political Ends".

“The law, the Hatch Act of 1939, was intended to keep improper politics out of the federal workplace. At its best, it prevents people in political power from abusing their positions. It prohibits coercion by a government supervisor — such as pressuring employees to volunteer for or contribute to a campaign — and shields the civil service and the federal workplace from politicking. But at its worst, the law prevents would-be candidates in state and local races from running because they are in some way, no matter how trivially, tied to a source of federal funds in their professional lives. Our caseload in these matters quintupled to 526 complaints in the 2010 fiscal year, from 98 in 2000. We advised individuals on this law 4,320 times in 2010.”


Elisabeth Rosenthal in NYT, "Reinventing Post Offices in a Digital World".

“With the United States Postal Service facing insolvency, and one of the postal workers’ unions hiring consultants on business restructuring, it is looking toward Europe for new operating models, even though American legislation currently precludes adapting some of those innovations. After selling off all but 24 of 29,000 post office buildings in the past 15 years, the German postal service is now housed mostly within other business ‘partners,’ including banks, convenience stores and even private homes. In rural areas, a shopkeeper or even a centrally located homeowner is given a sign and deputized as a part-time postmaster.”


NYT: "Tales From the Supercommittee".

“Last week, Democrats offered a $3.2 trillion compromise — proposing cuts to domestic spending and social-insurance programs that were so large as to be imprudent. Their proposal was instantly rejected by Republicans on the panel. Why? Because the Democrats included $1.3 trillion in new tax revenues, which is exactly $1.3 trillion more than Republicans are willing to accept. In contrast, Republicans say they are willing to cut $2.2 trillion from the deficit, but only about $40 billion of that would be from new revenues. None would be from new taxes.”


Eric Posner in New Republic on Kevin McMahon’s book, Nixon’s Court: His Challenge to Judicial Liberalism and Its Political Consequences.

“What strikes the reader hardest is how casually Nixon made his choices. Many of them were not seriously vetted before they were nominated, or their names were disclosed publicly and they were shot down. With perhaps the exception of Burger, Nixon knew little about the ideological positions of his nominees and did not seem to care as long as they came across as conservative to the public. As Nixon said to Mitchell, ‘Be sure to emphasize to all the southerners that Rehnquist is a reactionary bastard, which I hope to Christ he is.’ But Nixon concluded that the only political benefit from appointing Rehnquist was the impression that he was appointing a qualified person, and he did not think that this amounted to much. McMahon spends only a handful of pages on the four candidates whom the Senate confirmed, and, since he seems to have scoured the archives, one can only conclude that appointing a Supreme Court justice was of little interest to Nixon -- seen only as an opportunity to make a modest political gain, akin to a small-town mayor’s appointment of the local water board. Nixon was hardly alone. Virtually all presidents have treated Supreme Court nominations with a casualness that appalls the legions of Court-revering lawyers and makes a mockery of the worshipful attitude of the press. Americans know little about the Supreme Court, and generally respect its decisions, regardless of their political valence. So a president gains no credit for appointing a justice who advances the public interest and receives no blame for appointing a justice who subverts it.”


Steven Malanga in WSJ, "How Harrisburg Borrowed Itself Into Bankruptcy".

“Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, is drowning in debt. City officials have known for more than four years that they'd have to deal with the fiscal mess, but they punted. The state has engineered a bailout plan, but the city council rejected it. Instead it has asked creditors to forgo as much as $100 million of the debt. Essentially, the city council is engaged in a giant game of brinksmanship with the state and creditors, daring them to come up with something that's less onerous than the current state plan, which involves asset sales and renegotiating union contracts. ‘There's no way [state] legislators are going to sit up there and let the capital city of this state go under. They would be the laughingstock of the country,’ council member Gloria Martin-Roberts said earlier this year. Under seven-term Mayor Stephen Reed, who governed from 1982 to 2010, Harrisburg had a long love affair with borrowed money, using it to spur projects of dubious value.”


John Kass in CT, "What’s so crazy about unity between occupiers, tea partiers?".

“And both groups know that scoundrels are running their government, and that sleek corporatists and politicians in both parties have been in league against them, bailing out Wall Street and accepting Wall Street political cash while the little guy drowns. Someday, will both groups — occupiers and tea partiers — realize we have enough common ground to join together as libertarians and bend the nation to our collective will? ‘No,’ said my friend of the left, Jerry Vasilatos, 45, a freelance filmmaker who wants to tax the rich. ‘But nice try. We've got to hold the 1 percent with all the wealth and make them accountable.’ Mike Akyol, 18, a DePaul University student, hasn't been part of the Occupy Chicago protest. But as an economics major, he wanted to study it up close. Like me, he admired their passion, but not the lack of focus. ‘The tea party was about anger and so is this,’ Akyol said. ‘But is that anger sustainable without a clear focus?’ OK, some of the Occupy Chicago folks may be young, and like their Occupy Wall Street brothers and sisters in other cities, many of them mistakenly believe that America can tax its way back to economic vitality. And yes, a few of them may communicate by the use of hand puppets. But where else would you see protest signs like this? ‘Jerry Reinsdorf is a Welfare Queen!’”


John Kay in FT, "Europe’s elite is fighting reality and will lose".

“An elite in Brussels and some other capitals takes the view that whatever the problem, the answer is more Europe. Another reason is the pleasure European leaders take in holding international crisis meetings. Nicolas Sarkozy will not forgo any opportunity for public grandstanding, while the representatives of smaller European states exploit the crisis to acquire a profile they would not otherwise achieve or, in most cases, deserve. Financial markets are desperate to be bailed out, with the support of Tim Geithner, in his capacity as ambassador for US investment banks. The decisive action they all seek is not really a European solution at all. It is that the German government should write very large cheques -- or underwrite very large borrowings. Whenever you assert responsibility for issues you do not have authority to tackle, you risk a crisis of credibility that undermines the authority you do have.”


Francesco Guerrera in WSJ, "Debt Deal Has Dose of Irony".

“As the stock market and the euro celebrated a deal on Greek debt that maybe, just maybe, could put an end to two years of bumbling procrastination, a bitter irony emerged from the 15-page statement penned by bleary-eyed bureaucrats Thursday. After spending the aftermath of the financial crisis hogging the moral high ground and criticizing ‘Anglo-Saxon capitalism’ for its penchant for financial engineering and excessive leverage, European Union leaders employed some of the same devices for Greece. The plan was passed, but not without getting around some of the principles outlined after the 2008 debacle.”


Philip Stephens in FT, "Little England: Britain sleepwalks towards break-up".

“The implication is that the return to Scotland of full control over the economy, spending, taxation and borrowing would represent a moderate third way. It would be nothing of the sort. Devolution max would put Scotland on the threshold of independence. It would demand a rewriting of the constitutional settlement that would inevitably leave many Scots asking why not independence. The fact that such an arrangement is presented as a ‘sensible compromise’ speaks to Mr Salmond’s political genius in reframing the debate. For many in Mr Cameron’s party, however, it seems that severing ties with Brussels is more important than preserving them with Edinburgh.”


Landon Thomas & Jack Ewing in NYT, "Can Super Mario Save the Day for Europe?".

“‘The solvency of sovereign states has ceased to be a foregone conclusion,’ Mr. Draghi told bankers in Rome. It is too soon to tell whether he will adopt a more pragmatic, flexible approach at the central bank, which under Mr. Trichet came to be seen as rigid. It is the only major central bank that has not reduced interest rates to near zero. Those closest to Mr. Draghi say his economic views have been shaped by his challenges at the Italian finance ministry in the 1990s, when Italy was expelled from the eurozone’s predecessor, the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and, like Greece today, came close to bankruptcy. His record is not without controversy. In Italy and later, as a vice chairman for Goldman Sachs in Europe, Mr. Draghi was a proponent of nations and other institutions like pension funds using derivatives to more efficiently manage their liabilities. In some cases, many experts now contend, these transactions helped mask the finances of Greece and Italy before those nations were allowed into the euro.”


Alex Barker & Quentin Peel in FT, "Sarkozy-Cameron spat lays bare tensions over economic integration".

“Germany, with some difficulty, secured agreement this weekend to move forward with work on possible treaty amendments, such as making the rules for budget discipline enforceable by the European Court of Justice and introducing automatic sanctions for those who break the rules. But the calls for a fresh round of wrenching treaty negotiations dismayed some smaller states that need to put such agreements to public votes, while prompting Britain to say it will ‘exact a price’ in return for the changes. Mr Cameron wants ‘safe-guards’ so that those involved in the fast-track economic integration do not rig rules in their own favour and threaten the EU’s single market, which extends to all 27 member states. Of particular concern are some eurozone integration proposals circulating in Berlin, including closer tax harmonization and a common regulatory framework for financial markets in the eurozone.”


Wolfgang Munchau in FT, "What saves the eurozone will kill the wider union".

“The euro was introduced on the back of two lies, which the complacent policy crowd in Brussels rarely bothered to challenge. The first, now well known, is that monetary union could exist without political integration. The second derives from it: that the EU’s euro and non-euro countries could sustainably co-exist. This is the idea of the EU as a ‘club of clubs’. We all share the single market, but otherwise co-exist in a framework of flexible and variable geometry. The eurozone’s crisis-resolution is already unfolding a dynamic that is inconsistent with this.”


Guy Dinmore in FT, "Berlusconi faces ultimate sovereign downgrade".

“In private, Italian officials say EU leaders are allowing their personal disdain of Mr Berlusconi to cloud their jedgment over Italy -- and, in the case of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is facing re-election next year, disguising France’s own economic weaknesses. But they also realise that such views no longer cut any ice as markets increasingly lose faith in Italy’s ability to stop the Greek contagion from spreading. The extent of the concern was highlighted last week when Angela Merkel telephoned Giorgio Napolitano, Italy’s head of state. According to leaks, the German chancellor wanted to know if Mr Berlusconi was capable of implementing budget cuts and fulfilling reform pledges, and whether Italy had an alternative to take his place. Mr Berlusconi, who, according to diplomats, pretended to doze off during the weekend’s summit, has been given until the next meeting of Euro zone leaders on Wednesday to come up with a convincing plan.”


Beppe Severgnini in FT, "How Italy just survives having the class truant as leader".

“Under Mr Berlusconi since 2001, the budget deficit rose from 107 per cent to 120 per cent. His populist instincts would have made him spend even more had not the finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, said no. But Italy does not get by only with a little help from its friends abroad. It also benefits from its strength at home. There are 8,000 town halls in the country. Most of them do their job under tight scrutiny from citizens, who regularly meet their local authorities at the local caffe. Local elections work well, unlike messy national elections; mayors are confirmed or kicked out. If you go down one layer, things work even better. In hard times, Italian families start doing what they do best, taking care of everyone in a way that northern European or American families will not.”


David Enrich & Deborah Ball in WSJ, "European Drama Engulfs The World’s Oldest Bank".

“Banking crises are painful everywhere. In countries like Italy and Spain, where banks historically have served as bedrocks of local communities, the financial turbulence is exacting an especially severe toll. In Spain, local savings banks known as cajas traditionally have been controlled by local politicians or in some cases, the Catholic Church. They were free to use their institutions to bankroll pet projects. When Spain's real-estate market cratered, many cajas were ravaged by heavy losses. Less money is flowing to local social projects. The situation in Italy is more complex. For six decades starting in the Mussolini era, Italian banks operated in a role akin to government-owned utilities. They regularly recycled some profits into local charity. In the early 1990s, as Europe became increasingly economically integrated, Italy started to privatize its banks. Seeking to preserve their charitable roles, newly created foundations were endowed with majority stakes in the lenders. The banks churned out a steady stream of dividends that enabled the foundations' charitable giving. Over the next 15 years, most of the foundations diversified their investments so that their fortunes weren't completely entwined with those of their banks. Other banks merged, reducing the ownership stake of their respective foundations. On average, bank stocks now represent only about a third of the foundations' assets. The Monte dei Paschi Foundation is an exception. Nearly 90% of its assets are concentrated in the bank. It's the only large banking foundation that still controls its legacy bank.”


David Gardner in FT, "The three spectres at the Arab feast".

“Which of these ways of running a country eventually comes to be the norm greatly matters. The battle to shape the future of an Arab world in flux will be fierce -- and the Saudies will be in the thick of it. From behind the defensive wall of their puritanical Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam, they will deploy petrodollars to steer Arab Islamism in their direction. While to many this is not an appealing version of bread and circuses, the Saudi regime, built upon the twin pillars of absolute monarchy and Wahhabi sectarianism, tends to feel history as well as divine right is behind its cause.”


Raymond Ibrahim at Meforum.org, "Top Muslim Declares All Christians ‘Infidels’".

“To what extent was Egypt's Maspero massacre, wherein the military literally mowed down Christian Copts protesting the ongoing destruction of their churches, a product of anti-Christian sentiment? A video of Egypt's Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa (or Gom'a), which began circulating weeks before the massacre, helps elucidate. While holding that Muslims may coexist with Christians (who, as dhimmis, have rights), Gomaa categorized Christians as kuffar — ‘infidels’ — a word that connotes ‘enemies,’ ‘evil-doers,’ and every bad thing to Muslim ears. After quoting Quran 5:17, ‘Infidels are those who declare God is the Christ, [Jesus] son of Mary,’ he expounded by saying any association between a human and God (in Arabic, shirk) is the greatest sin: ‘Whoever thinks the Christ is God, or the Son of God, not symbolically — for we are all sons of God — but attributively, has rejected the faith which God requires for salvation,’ thereby becoming an infidel.”


Firuz Kazemzadeh in WSJ, "Iran’s Outcast Religion".

“Unlike Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, who have certain limited rights under the Islamic Constitution, Bahais were declared unprotected infidels immediately following the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Bahais have faced persecution in Iran since their religion was founded more than a century and a half ago, but it was never as systematic as in the last 30 years. Since the Islamic Revolution, more than 200 Bahai leaders have been put to death. The regime has outlawed Bahai institutions, confiscated their properties, desecrated their cemeteries, demolished their holy places. Bahais are subject to constant state-sanctioned pressure to recant their faith. To stamp out that faith, Iranian Supreme leader Ali Khamenei approved the so-called Golpaygani memorandum in 1991. Photo copies describing plans to slowly strangle Iran's Bahai community were made public by the United Nations in 1992. One measure was to deny Bahais entry to universities, thereby impoverishing them intellectually and economically.”


Simon Montefiore in NYT, "Dictators Get the Deaths They Deserve".

“Unlike monarchs, who pass power to their heirs at the moment of death to ensure the survival of the regime, tyrants must simply survive as long as possible. Hence inhumane struggles by indefatigable doctors to keep ailing dictators — Chairman Mao, Leonid I. Brezhnev, Marshal Tito, General Franco — alive. Only the ingenious North Koreans have solved this problem by declaring Kim Il-sung immortal, perpetual president. The courtiers of modern tyrants have sought to avoid the inconvenience of death by creating new hereditary monarchies. Outside the Arab world, the Kims of North Korea, Kadyrovs of Chechnya, Kabilas of Congo and Aliyevs of Azerbaijan all achieved this dictator’s dream. Few in the Arab world have done the same. Hafez al-Assad of Syria, who ruled from 1970, died in his bed in 2000, passing the presidency to his son Bashar. Colonel Qaddafi, Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Hussein all dreamed of it. But the spoiled heirs of such hereditary tyrannies usually lack the talent of their fathers.”


Roman Kabachiy at Opendemocracy.net, "Ukraine-Poland: history wars rage on".

“On 14 October, the unofficial Day of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), nationalists from Oleh Tyahnybok’s party came out once more on to the streets of Kyiv. Vyatrovich and Tyahnybok are united in their desire to achieve recognition for the UPA as a participant in WWII. For the moment, their battle has been without much success.

The chief problem besetting the procedure for raising the role of the UPA to nationwide Ukrainian status is not only the lack of national consensus (the UPA was mainly active in Western Ukraine: its veterans living there now have all the relevant privileges, though only within the region), but the international situation too. If Kyiv officially recognises the UPA – and Viktor Yushchenko made a feeble attempt to do just this at the end of his term in office in January 2010 – there will be protests from at least three capitals: Moscow, Tel Aviv and Warsaw.”


Michael Wines in NYT, "China Takes a Loss to Get Ahead in the Business of Fresh Water".

“There is but one wrinkle in the $4 billion plant: The desalted water costs twice as much to produce as it sells for. Nevertheless, the owner of the complex, a government-run conglomerate called S.D.I.C., is moving to quadruple the plant’s desalinating capacity, making it China’s largest. ‘Someone has to lose money,’ Guo Qigang, the plant’s general manager, said in a recent interview. ‘We’re a state-owned corporation, and it’s our social responsibility.’ In some places, this would be economic lunacy. In China, it is economic strategy. As it did with solar panels and wind turbines, the government has set its mind on becoming a force in yet another budding environment-related industry: supplying the world with fresh water.”


NYT: "China Reins in Liberalization of Culture".

“‘Whether spooked by popular uprisings worldwide, a coming leadership transition at home or their own citizens’ increasingly provocative tastes, Communist leaders are proposing new limits on media and Internet freedoms that include some of the most restrictive measures in years. The most striking instance occurred Tuesday, when the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television ordered 34 major satellite television stations to limit themselves to no more than two 90-minute entertainment shows each per week, and collectively 10 nationwide. They are also being ordered to broadcast two hours of state-approved news every evening and to disregard audience ratings in their programming decisions. The ministry said the measures, to go into effect on Jan. 1, were aimed at rooting out ‘excessive entertainment and vulgar tendencies.’”


Harsh Pant at YaleGlobal, "Wary of China, Its Southern Neighbors Court India".

“India’s role becomes critical in such an evolving balance of power. As Singapore’s elder-statesman Lee Kuan Yew has argued, he would like India to be ‘part of the Southeast Asia balance of forces’ and ‘a counterweight [to China] in the Indian Ocean.’
…Both Vietnam and Burma have hit a rough patch in their ties with China. China has sparred with regional states including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, asserting its ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over the South China Sea. Some like the Philippines and Vietnam have pushed back. Philippines President Benigno Aquino Jr. told his nation: ‘We do not wish to increase tensions with anyone, but we must let the world know that we are ready to protect what is ours.’ Ever mindful of not provoking China, Vietnam has sent its top party leader to China and the president to India, but has made it clear that it wants the US and India to counterbalance Chinese power. In September, when Beijing told New Delhi that its permission was needed for India’s state-owned oil and gas firm to explore energy on two Vietnamese blocks in the South China Sea, Vietnam quickly cited the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea to claim that blocks 127 and 128 were in Vietnamese territorial waters. New Delhi supported Hanoi’s claims and has made it clear that its state-owned firm would continue to explore in the South China Sea. This rare display of spine has helped India strengthen its profile in the region and its relationship with Vietnam in particular.”


Kathrin Hille in FT, "Belligerent language masks limited capability".

“What has particularly unsettled other countries in the region and eroded the credibility of Beijing’s assurances is the, at times, belligerent language from military commentators, growing nationalism among the population and a lack of transparency on the part of the PLA beyond its general statements of peaceful intentions. This month, an opinion piece in the Global Times, a tabloid owned by People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist party, called for war against Vietnam and the Philippines. An analyst, writing under the pseudonym Long Tao, said in the piece that China should launch military strikes against the ‘two noisiest troublemakers’ in the region and transform the South China Sea into a ‘sea of fire’.”


MercoPress: "Brazil will look into its harsh political past but the military are safe".

“‘The committee will investigate forced disappearance of people and human rights abuses allegedly committed over a 42 year period but without revoking the 1979 Amnesty law which was confirmed by the Brazilian Supreme Court a year ago. The purpose of the bill is ‘to guarantee the peoples’ right to memory and historic truth, and promoting national reconciliation’. The committee of seven members named by the Executive will have two years to analyze the cases to be presented. However the relatives of disappeared have criticized the bill because it ‘won’t come up with new conclusions’ and because it supports the Amnesty law which protects the alleged military culprits of crimes against humanity.”


MercoPress: "The Argentine economy is ‘a time-bomb ticking’ warns economist".

“‘I have been asked to explain what is happening in Argentina but it’s not easy because we have record sales of cars, record votes and record of capital flight, so really instead of me an economist, maybe you should have contracted a psychologist’ said Melconian to an audience of business leaders and analysts in Montevideo. ‘Argentina is sailing along an anaesthetic path of commodities’ high prices which overshadows reality’, said Melconian arguing that the growing value of Argentine exports in recent years can only be explained because of higher prices since agriculture production is Argentina is stagnant and productivity has ‘not improved’. Without the need of significant investments or improved production methods, Argentine farmers can ‘sit and drink mate’ because the trade surplus is safe, said the economist who estimated Argentina will end 2011 with a positive balance of ten billion dollars.”


Gerard Helferich in WSJ on Scott Wallace’s book, The Unconquered.

“For the native peoples of the Amazon, the beginning of the end arrived one day early in 1500, when Spanish explorer Vicente Yáñez Pinzón eased his small ship into the mouth of the great river. The waterway was so incomprehensibly grand that Pinzón sailed 200 miles upstream before realizing he had left the ocean. Forty-one years later, conquistadors Gonzalo Pizarro and Francisco de Orellana dared the rainforest in search of El Dorado, the fabled land of gold, only to encounter starvation and violence at the hands of the indigenous tribes. Then, beginning in the 18th century, European scientists such as Charles Marie de La Condamine and Alexander von Humboldt ventured into the Amazon, taking only measurements and specimens. All these outsiders kept to the principal rivers, and most of Amazonia remained a vast unknown. But that began to change in the late 1800s, when the demand for rubber lured outsiders deeper into the forest, where they terrorized and enslaved the native peoples (and prompted a British diplomat to coin the expression ‘crime against humanity’). Early in the next century came explorers such as Teddy Roosevelt and Percy Fawcett, bent on discovering and mapping, and anthropologists such as Claude Lévi-Strauss and Napoleon Chagnon, keen to contact and study far-flung tribes. From the start, the most dangerous baggage carried by these invaders wasn't guns or metal axes but microbes. With no resistance to European diseases, the Indian populations plummeted, and the survivors abandoned their traditional lands and fled farther into the rainforest.”


Jeffrey Gettleman in NYT, "Kenyan Motives in Somalia Predate Recent Abductions".

“For several years, the American-backed Kenyan military has been secretly arming and training clan-based militias inside Somalia to safeguard Kenya’s borders and economic interests, especially a huge port to be built just 60 miles south of Somalia. But now many diplomats, analysts and Kenyans fear that the country, by essentially invading southern Somalia, has bitten off far more than it can chew, opening itself up to terrorist reprisals and impeding the stressed relief efforts to save hundreds of thousands of starving Somalis. Somalia has been a thorn in Kenya’s side ever since Kenya became independent in 1963, and the two countries have followed wildly different paths. Somalia has become synonymous with famine, war and anarchy, while Kenya has become one of America’s closest African allies, a bastion of stability and a favorite of tourists worldwide. Kenyan officials said it was becoming impossible to coexist with a failed state next door.”


Jeffrey Gettleman in NYT, "An Exceptional Change, And via the Ballot Box, Too".

“In a way, Mr. Scott was an apt person to make this point and spotlight Zambia’s unusual degree of stability and harmony. Mr. Scott is Zambia’s vice president and he is white. He now calls himself ‘the highest pure honky’ official anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa and he seems to be right. While black-white relations tend to be touchy in some of the other countries — in Zimbabwe, whites have been pushed off farms, and in South Africa black leaders are fighting for their right to sing ‘Shoot the Boer,’ which literally means white settlers — Mr. Scott ascended to Zambia’s second most powerful position without a ripple. ‘We don’t just like Guy Scott,’ said Paul Bunda, a student-cum-taxi-driver in Lusaka, the capital, with a huge smile on his face. ‘We love him.’ Unlike so much of the continent, Zambia has been spared chronic famines, civil wars and poisonous ethnic or racial politics. It is highly uncommon for an incumbent African president to lose a hotly contested election and then simply retire quietly by the pool. But that is exactly what Rupiah Banda just did.”


Kevin Boyle in NYTBR on Tony Horwitz’s book, Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War.

“Horwitz moves nimbly through Brown’s deepening involvement in the movement in the 1830s and ’40s, setting his devotion alongside the growing national conflict over slavery’s place in a country ostensibly dedicated to equality. Abolitionism was then dominated by pacifists like Garrison, who insisted that the evil could be destroyed by moral suasion. Brown didn’t agree. In 1837 he gathered together his wife and three teenage boys — the eldest of 20 children he would father — and asked who among them ‘were willing to make common cause with him in doing all in our power to break the jaws of the wicked and pluck the spoil out of his teeth.’ From then on, one of his sons said, ‘there was a Brown family conspiracy to break the power of slavery.’ They got their first chance in 1856, when Brown and his boys joined the antislavery forces trying to prevent Kansas from entering the Union as a slave state. Brown’s vigorous defense of the free-state town of Osawatomie made him famous in the North, infamous in the South. But Horwitz lingers on a different action. On the night of May 24, 1856, Brown and four of his sons raided a tiny proslavery settlement on the banks of Pottawatomie Creek, not far from the Missouri border. There they killed and butchered five men, all of them violently opposed to abolitionism though not themselves slaveholders, slicing off their arms and splitting open their skulls with the broadswords Brown had brought with him for the occasion. ‘God is my judge,’ he told another son upon their return. ‘We were justified under the circumstances.’”


Ron Rosenbaum in NYTBR on "The Journals of Spalding Gray".

“Looking backward, he spoke for a generation of people who had learned to doubt everything conventional but couldn’t find sure satisfaction in the unconventional, even as they (and Gray) turned to Eastern spirituality as an alternative to Western tradition. And looking forward, he helped inspire (for better and worse) a generation of memoirists, most of whom lacked his self-deprecatory humor and, instead of finding the large in the small, found their smallness in the melodramatic, self-congratulatory accounts of their tribulations.”


Jeanine Basinger in WSJ on James Curtis’ book, Spencer Tracy: A Biography.

“Throughout most of his life, on and off, Tracy was an alcoholic who disappeared on lengthy binges, sometimes trashing hotel rooms. Mr. Curtis doesn't shirk ugly facts. Describing a double date that Tracy and Loretta Young had with Josie and John Wayne, Mr. Curtis admits that Tracy was ‘well blasted before dinner’ and had to be carried to his hotel suite by the Duke. He tells of a week in 1945 when Tracy ‘ran amok’ in New York and MGM's police chief had to bring ‘a few elite members of his constabulary’ to town and arrange for Tracy (‘fighting mad and struggling wildly’) to be admitted to Doctors Hospital. Tracy's drinking has usually been explained as stemming from guilt over his son's deafness. (A friend said, ‘It was very hard for him to talk about John.’) Mr. Curtis paints a more complex portrait, and the truth is that no one today can really know what made Tracy so angry, so guilty, so unhappy -- and so drunk -- for so much of his life. Mr. Curtis sketches Tracy's human flaws with clarity and tact. He doesn't try to explain what he can't explain. He describes.”


Elisabeth Kasson in LAT Magazine, "When Country Was King".

“The music was also media supported. Southern California radio stations KFOX, KXLA, KMTR, KFWB, KGER and KRLA all featured country. Personalities like Squeakin’ Deacon, Tennessee Ernie Ford and the tireless local country-music promoter and publisher Cliffie Stone ruled the airwaves. By 1949, some radio shows had television counterparts, like Hollywood Barn Dance and Hometown Jamboree. An acquaintance gave me Marilyn Tuttle’s name and told me she had some great photographs from the era. When I arrived at her cheerful yellow ranch house in the San Fernando Valley, I quickly assessed that he didn’t know the half of it. Tuttle was a featured singer on Foreman Phillips Presents and, more important, Town Hall Party. A spry, quick-witted 85, with a delicious sense of humor, she is also the widow of one Wesley Tuttle, celebrated country singer and guitarist, radio personality, reluctant actor and minister. Marilyn and Wesley had a recording deal at Capitol and a social circle that was a veritable who’s who of the musicians, performers and businessmen that made up the core of Southern California country.”


Brian Walsby’s Minutemen T-shirt.


Archie Patterson’s radio show on KUSF in exile.

“The first show aired on Oct 28 and featured UK Psychedelic Rock & Acid Folk 1968-1970. The programs focus will be highly eclectic with music played ranging the spectrum of sound and styles. I began Eurock as an FM radio program in California in 1971. Now after 40 years I have come full circle to begin again a new musical adventure. Tune in, Listen & Enjoy every Friday night!”


Mondo Memphis book event with authors Tav Falco & Erik Morse

• Wed. Nov. 16, 6:30pm
The powerHouse Arena 37 Main Street, Brooklyn

“‘Mondo Memphis’ is a dual, 450-page encyclopedic history and psychogeography of the city of Memphis, written by legendary performer Tav Falco and cultural critic Erik Morse. ‘Mondo Memphis’ is both an original history of the gothic South and an intertext of the urban legends, rural fables and literary clichés that have made the Bluff City simultaneously a metropolis of dreams and a necropolis of terrors.”


Slam #58, “30 Jahre Damaged”

Wir zelebrieren 30 Jahre „Damaged“, das Meisterwerk der Hardcorepunk Legende BLACK FLAG, lassen deshalb den Wüterich und Literaten HENRY ROLLINS vom Cover schreien und präsentieren euch auf acht Seiten exklusive Einblicke in die Welt der Band sowie exklusive Bilder vom visionären Fotografen Glen E. Friedman.


Mugger’s Vice.com interview.

VICE: So how did the Nig-Heist get going?

Steve Corbin: Black Flag kept going on these big long tours, and there were always these really crummy punk bands opening for them. So I told them, ‘Man, I can do better than that. But we can sort of make a parody of it.’ So they let me do what I wanted to do, and I just started to get crazy with things.

And what’s with the name?

I had this black friend, Eugene, who would always hit me up for cigarettes. He’d come up and say ‘Nig heist!’ when he’d take one of my cigarettes.

So that was Eugene’s move?

That was his move.”


Obituary of the Week

"William Niskanen" (1933 - 2011)

“The distinguished economist, who served the Cato Institute as its longtime chairman, was famous for his integrity, collegiality, and far-ranging scholarly interests, and in particular for his pathbreaking work in the field of ‘public choice’ economics. His departure from Ford Motor’s chief economist post after declining to back the company’s push for auto import quotas came to symbolize an honesty and adherence to principle that set a sorely needed example in Washington.”


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Steve Beeho, Tony Rettman, Jan Roehlk.

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