Archive for the 'Affluenza' Category

03
Sep
12

A Thought On Labor Day

It being Labor Day, let’s hear a quote about Labor so manifestly true and so radical that it sounds like it came from Occupy.

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. “

Sounds like this quote came from Marx or some other bearded madman. Which leftist leader is it? Which egghead socialist, which collectivist, which anti-American rabble rouser?  Scroll down for the answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the guy on the five dollar bill.

Abraham Lincoln preferred labor to capital

Abraham Lincoln

Happy Labor Day.

02
Jul
10

Unregulated Speculating In Food: A Great Way To Starve The World’s Poor

Popular financial illiteracy is more than a cover under which enormous crimes are committed against whole populations, then denied, forgotten and repeated.  Left unaddressed even as the world has become radically smaller, financial illiteracy has become a mass health risk.  To remain ignorant of the potential for unregulated market activity to lead to mass deaths and misery is a unique and growing risk shared by everyone who breathes air.

Or eats food.

Let’s roll back a small portion of that illiteracy and take a look at a recent deadly disaster caused by business-as-usual in the financial world.

The subject is food, and futures contracts in food.  What is a futures contract?

When a farmer plants a crop, he takes a risk.  Between the planting and the harvesting and sale, a lot can go wrong for him.  The world price for that crop could fall, leaving him with silos full of grain he can’t move.

So to get rid of that risk, he cuts a deal with a trader now to sell the crop in the future for a set price.  That’s all a futures contract is.  To food producers (farmers) and food consumers (food makers, such as, oh, Doritos who buy lots of the farmer’s corn and do the same thing with futures contracts) it settles the matter of a future price now – making buying and selling of crops far less of a gamble for both.

So far, so good. This is not a crime, this is not a problem. This is a market, not hurting anybody.  A libertarian or a conservative’s heart would swell with pride and each would busy themselves with accolades and attaboys before rolling over and going to sleep, to dream of an ideal world where markets operated everywhere.

The problem with market worshippers, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, is that they notice a rose smells better than a cabbage, and so conclude that it would also make better soup.

In the case of food futures markets, producers and consumers offloading risk to traders works well and hurts nobody as long as the traders involved are in the food business.  And that is how the trading of futures contracts in the US was done for over a century: by government regulations limiting involvement in trading of food futures contracts to those who serve the marketplace for food – as opposed to serving some abstracted global marketplace with no borders, no delineations and no responsibilities.  As opposed to turning the market for food into a casino.

But those regulations are exactly what were dismantled by the US Congress  – a body that had by the 1990s become so thoroughly captured by corporate interests and dependent upon industry lobbyist dollars for reelection that it never found a market it couldn’t deregulate as long as people looking to expand that market sent enough suitcases stuffed with cash to Capitol Hill.

The result of letting the market-worshippers have their way and abstracting/expanding/casino-izing the food futures market?  As Johann Hari writes, nothing less than mass starvations around the world.

By now, you probably think your opinion of Goldman Sachs and its swarm of Wall Street allies has rock-bottomed at raw loathing. You’re wrong. There’s more. It turns out that the most destructive of all their recent acts has barely been discussed at all. Here’s the rest. This is the story of how some of the richest people in the world – Goldman, Deutsche Bank, the traders at Merrill Lynch, and more – have caused the starvation of some of the poorest people in the world.

It starts with an apparent mystery. At the end of 2006, food prices across the world started to rise, suddenly and stratospherically. Within a year, the price of wheat had shot up by 80 per cent, maize by 90 per cent, rice by 320 per cent. In a global jolt of hunger, 200 million people – mostly children – couldn’t afford to get food any more, and sank into malnutrition or starvation. There were riots in more than 30 countries, and at least one government was violently overthrown. Then, in spring 2008, prices just as mysteriously fell back to their previous level. Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, calls it “a silent mass murder”, entirely due to “man-made actions.”

Read entire article here.  Note call for re-regulation of agricultural futures here. Resist the urge to apply what you find here to the noggins of the economic libertarians employed here.

12
Apr
10

MIT Grad’s Education Continues, Or Why A Good Night’s Sleep Costs $16,000

MIT grad Kieth Yost’s piece in today’s MIT newspaper The Tech is a must-read for anybody earning or trying to earn a strictly ethical living in the business of technology / business consulting. The remaining 99.98% of consultants may safely skip it.

Aspects of Yost’s absurd experiences with Boston Consulting Group in Dubai will be familiar to anybody who has faced a client more concerned with appearances and status quo than with fixing any of its problems. Unlike the vast majority of such kabuki, invisible to outsiders yet ubiquitous in big business, Yost’s story is told in full color, changing him and illuminating us. He even contrasts his experiences at BCG against his own stated, simplistic free-marketeer moral philosophy – and comes away the better person for his real life experience having shattered that glib nonsense.

Better, but poorer.  His forthrightness about his experiences came at a price: he passed up a payment of $16 grand in hush money from BCG upon his leaving the company.  Why?  To retain the right to tell us about his experiences. For doing the right thing: kudos, Kieth. Now spread the word.  You may as well – you paid for it.

I’m a free marketeer. I believe that voluntary exchange is not just a good method of incentivizing people to provide their labor and talents to society, but a robust moral system — goods and services represent tangible benefit to people, market prices represent the true value of goods in society, and wages represent the value that a worker provides to others. Absent negative externalities or monopoly effects, a man receives from the free market what he gives to it, his material worth is a running tally of the net benefit that he has provided to his fellow man. A high income is not only justified, but there is nobility to it.

My moral system is organized around a utilitarian principle of greatest good for the greatest number — that which adds value cannot be wrong. It did not bother me therefore when I was handed consulting reports that had been stolen from our competitors. If the information in those reports would help us improve our client, then who could say we were doing wrong? Like downloading MP3s, it was a victimless crime.

What I could not get my head around was having to force-fit analysis to a conclusion. In one case, the question I was tasked with solving had a clear and unambiguous answer: By my estimate, the client’s plan of action had a net present discounted value of negative one billion dollars. Even after accounting for some degree of error in my reckoning, I could still be sure that theirs was a losing proposition. But the client did not want analysis that contradicted their own, and my manager told me plainly that it was not our place to question what the client wanted.

In theory, it was their money to lose. If they wanted a consulting report that parroted back their pre-determined conclusion, who was I to complain? I did not have any right to dictate that their money be spent differently. And yet, to not speak out was wrong. To destroy a billion dollars is to destroy an almost unimaginable amount of human well-being. Spent carefully on anti-malarial bed nets and medicine, one billion dollars could save a million lives. This was a crime, and failing to try and stop it would be as bad as committing it myself. And if I could not prevent it, then what reason was I being paid such a high salary? How could I justify my income if not by prevailing in situations such as these?

Read entire piece here.

22
Jan
10

Justice John Roberts: What The Electoral Process Needs Is Billions From Chevron

Chances are  you already heard about what the Supreme Court did yesterday.  I offer a piece at Huffington Post about the natural consequences of corporate personhood, and I have to pat myself on the back for managing to work in a reference to prison toilet wine.

For context, below find the relevant clip from the fine documentary film The Corporation, examining the theory of corporate personhood.  If you haven’t seen the whole film, you’re missing  a great (if a bit overlong) exploration of the sociopathic behavior of the largest of these virtual persons.  (Clip swiped from Boppin’ Billy Meehan.)

19
Dec
09

David Simon Lays It Down

In which the creator of The Wire singlehandedly validates Vice Magazine’s existence while expertly demonstrating the nuanced reality of social criticism in the late capitalist period:

It’s one thing to recognize capitalism for the powerful economic tool it is and to acknowledge that, for better or for worse, we’re stuck with it and, hey, thank God we have it. There’s not a lot else that can produce mass wealth with the dexterity that capitalism can. But to mistake it for a social framework is an incredible intellectual corruption and it’s one that the West has accepted as a given since 1980—since Reagan. Human beings—in this country in particular—are worth less and less. When capitalism triumphs unequivocally, labor is diminished. It’s a zero-sum game. People paid a much higher tax rate when Eisenhower was president, a much higher tax rate for the benefit of society, and all of us had more of a sense that we were included….I guess what I’m saying is that the overall theme was: We’ve given ourselves over to the Olympian god that is capitalism and now we’re reaping the whirlwind. This is the America that unencumbered capitalism has built. It’s the America that we deserve because we let it happen. We don’t deserve anything better. The Wire was trying to take the scales from people’s eyes and say, “This is what you’ve built. Take a look at it.” It’s an accurate portrayal of the problems inherent in American cities.

01
Mar
09

Don’t Be A Koch Sucker: Santelli’s Tea Party Protests Anything But Spontaneous

Mad Tea Party

Pictured: A Tea Party slightly less fake than Santelli's

So what do you get when, after thirty years of looking the other way, someone finally comes calling on the most wealthy corporations in the US to pay their taxes?

One result is a lot of unimaginative, dishonest shills moving to protect and obscure these corporate deadbeats by engineering fake grassroots campaigns – and getting caught doing it.

On August 3rd 2008, the Internet domain name chicagoteaparty.com was registered by right-wing Chicago asshole Zack Christenson.  Christenson is producer of “Extension 720” on WGN Radio, also known as “The Milt Rosenberg Show”.  Zack and Milt’s work is pure WGN: colorless cluelessness for caucasians and Cubs fans. For reference, picture a fat white woman from Orland Park moaning into a call-in telephone about how she’s “worried” (it doesn’t matter what about) and you can safely skip tuning in to AM 720 in Chicago.  Far from being a hotbed of New Media literacy, WGN’s signal follows the suburban, Republican-voting  families who fled Chicago neighborhoods in the 1970s.  Its broadcasts range from eye-crossingly dull celebrity tut-tutting to reluctant and clumsy how-tos on ancient internet phenomena like eBay, email and eHarmony.   Ars Technica it ain’t.

So when Christenson registered the chicagoteaparty.com domain name in August (here’s the domain record proving the date), we can be pretty certain it wasn’t on his mind to launch an original website based on his own ideas.  For one thing, Zack has no ideas, as his puddle-deep personal blog clearly demonstrates.

The domain did become a focal point when, six months later, on February 19th 2009, CNBC floor reporter Rick Santelli characterized people behind on their mortgages as “losers” and raved on the air “we’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party [to protest the idea that tax money should be used to help mortgage payers facuing foreclosure in the economic crisis]”

Either Christenson’s domain registration is a coincidence, or he and Santelli are two marginal media figures in a far-flung group of right-wing shills for tax-cheating mega-businesses who were caught launching a fake-grassroots campaign to whip up anti-taxing anger and raise sympathy for multi-billionaires who now face the prospect of paying taxes like everybody else does.

It’s true that some people and businesses  in the top 2% of wealth in the US would rather pay to make people angry about taxation than just pay their taxes.  And it’s also true that those people get help from toads like Christenson and Rosenberg on a regular basis.  But who might be writing the checks this time around?

As it turns out, reporters Mark Ames and Yasha Levine did the research and connected the dots in the domain name  and Santelli campaign to the Koch family, owners of Koch Industries, the largest private corporation in the US. As such, it is a family desperately interested in stopping efforts to collect taxes due from its thirty-year run under the chummiest government business interests have enjoyed since the 1920s, and has funded fake-grassroots campaigns in the past through its funded organization Freedom Works.

What we discovered is that Santelli’s “rant” was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it was a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a “Chicago Tea Party” was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced. Namely, the Koch family, the multibilllionaire owners of the largest private corporation in America, and funders of scores of rightwing thinktanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine to FreedomWorks. The scion of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the notorious extremist-rightwing John Birch Society.

As you read this, Big Business is pouring tens of millions of dollars into their media machines in order to destroy just about every economic campaign promise Obama has made, as reported recently in the Wall Street Journal. At stake isn’t the little guy’s fight against big government, as Santelli and his bot-supporters claim, but rather the “upper 2 percent”’s war to protect their wealth from the Obama Adminstration’s economic plans. When this Santelli “grassroots” campaign is peeled open, what’s revealed is a glimpse of what is ahead and what is bound to be a hallmark of his presidency.

Let’s go back to February 19th: Rick Santelli, live on CNBC, standing in the middle of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, launches into an attack on the just-announced $300 billion slated to stem rate of home foreclosures: “The government is promoting bad behavior! Do we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages?! This is America! We’re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July, all you capitalists who want to come down to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.”

Almost immediately, the clip and the unlikely “Chicago tea party” quote buried in the middle of the segment, zoomed across a well-worn path to headline fame in the Republican echo chamber, including red-alert headlines on Drudge.

Within hours of Santelli’s rant, a website called ChicagoTeaParty.com sprang to life. Essentially inactive until that day, it now featured a YouTube video of Santelli’s “tea party” rant and billed itself as the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain was registered in August, 2008 by Zack Christenson, a dweeby Twitter Republican and producer for a popular Chicago rightwing radio host Milt Rosenberg—a familiar name to Obama campaign people. Last August, Rosenberg, who looks like Martin Short’s Irving Cohen character, caused an outcry when he interviewed Stanley Kurtz, the conservative writer who first “exposed” a personal link between Obama and former Weather Undergound leader Bill Ayers. As a result of Rosenberg’s radio interview, the Ayers story was given a major push through the Republican media echo chamber, culminating in Sarah Palin’s accusation that Obama was “palling around with terrorists.” That Rosenberg’s producer owns the “chicagoteaparty.com” site is already weird—but what’s even stranger is that he first bought the domain last August, right around the time of Rosenburg’s launch of the “Obama is a terrorist” campaign. It’s as if they held this “Chicago tea party” campaign in reserve, like a sleeper-site. Which is exactly what it was.

And for posterity, here’s a paste of the domain reg record for chicagoteaparty.com:

Registrant:
Zachary Christenson
849 N. Franklin
Chicago, Illinois 60610
United States

Domain Name: CHICAGOTEAPARTY.COM
Created on: 03-Aug-08
Expires on: 03-Aug-09
Last Updated on: 03-Aug-08

Administrative Contact:
Christenson, Zachary  
849 N. Franklin
Chicago, Illinois 60610
United States
(248) 219-8215      Fax —

Technical Contact:
Christenson, Zachary  
849 N. Franklin
Chicago, Illinois 60610
United States
(248) 219-8215      Fax —

Domain servers in listed order:
NS47.DOMAINCONTROL.COM
NS48.DOMAINCONTROL.COM

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15
Feb
09

US Officers Caught Taking Millions In Iraq Bribes

Michael Yon - In His Arms (Strength and Compas...

Above: US soldier cradles either a) a child b) approx. $200K in shrinkwrapped Benjamins

The 35 prosecutions of Iraq contracting corruption has focused mainly on small-fry until now.  But nobody over the age of ten believes that 35 cases about covers it for a $125 billion reconstruction budget – and that’s just what was laid our for the first year of this shameful exercise in empire.  Which is why the newest investigations reported in the NYT  are pointing at high-ranking officers pocketing eye-popping sums:

As part of the inquiry, the authorities are taking a fresh look at information given to them by Dale C. Stoffel, an American arms dealer and contractor who was killed in Iraq in late 2004. Before he was shot on a road north of Baghdad, Mr. Stoffel drew a portrait worthy of a pulp crime novel: tens of thousands of dollars stuffed into pizza boxes and delivered surreptitiously to the American contracting offices in Baghdad, and payoffs made in paper sacks that were scattered in “dead drops” around the Green Zone, the nerve center of the United States government’s presence in Iraq, two senior federal officials said.

Former American officials describe payments to local contractors from huge sums of cash dumped onto tables and stuffed into sacks as if it were Halloween candy.

“You had no oversight, chaos and breathtaking sums of money,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who helped create the Wartime Contracting Commission, an oversight board. “And over all of that was the notion that failure was O.K. It doesn’t get any better for criminals than that set of circumstances.”

In one case of graft from that period, Maj. John L. Cockerham of the Army pleaded guilty to accepting nearly $10 million in bribes as a contracting officer for the Iraq war and other military efforts from 2004 to 2007, when he was arrested. Major Cockerham’s wife has also pleaded guilty, as have several other contracting officers.

In Major Cockerham’s private notebooks, Colonel Bell is identified as a possible recipient of an enormous bribe as recently as 2006, the two senior federal officials said. It is unclear whether the bribe was actually offered or paid.

When asked if Major Cockerham had ever offered him a bribe, Colonel Bell said in a telephone interview, “I think we’ll end the discussion,” but stayed on the line. Colonel Bell’s response was equally terse when asked if he thought that Colonel Hirtle had carried out his duties properly: “No discussion on that at this time.”

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