Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Monday, January 25, 2010
on January 25, 2010 7:13 AM
A lot of things started shaking loose last week, and not just in Haiti. The Scott Brown senate seat victory in Massachussetts shook loose a Democratic "super-majority" that only had to be constructed because the US Senate stupidly turned the filibuster into standard operating procedure where it once was a seldom-used procedural dodge employed strictly by villains seeking to paralyze the chamber. Thanks to the new system, the senate is now in a continual state of paralysis.
The election in Massachusetts prompted President Obama to understand that the voters were pi$$ed off -- among other things -- about the special privileges of banks and bankers, after a year of force-feeding them taxpayer money like Strasbourg geese. So he outlined a bank discipline offensive that sounded an awful lot like the return of the Glass-Steagall Act -- which several of his top advisors (Summers, Rubin...) had a direct hand in repealing a decade ago -- only without proposing to reinstate Glass Steagall. Go figure. Note: for all the bluster, Mr. Obama did not mention activating the moribund Department of Justice, where Attorney General Eric Holder has been in a coma all year. Somebody ought to inform the president that he has an entire criminal investigation division there, and that a little brisk leadership could gin them up into action as they were following the Savings and Loan scandals of the 1980s (when Republicans were in power, by the way).
Now, one big question is how come the president waited until after the Massachusetts election debacle to man up with the banks? Did it only just come to him that they were looting the nation -- with government assistance? Pretty obviously nobody will believe that Mr. Obama is sincere about reigning in fraud-ridden Wall Street until he issues pink slips to the Goldman Sachs alumni who have been running him like a radio-controlled monster truck: Summers, Geithner, Rubin, et al. There was a hint of that last week, when the president made his statement with "the big guy," Paul Volker, standing right behind him. Fed Chief Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Geithner have both claimed more than once that they are "not regulators." That must partly explain the absence of meaningful regulation all year. My guess is that Geithner is about to be tossed overboard like a feculent weiner, and that the president is praying for the senate to vote against Bernanke's reconfirmation this week.
The underlying reality is that the financial sector of the economy has got to shrink. It ballooned from about five percent of the US economy to about 22 percent over the last two decades -- mainly as a way to compensate for our declining real productive activity as we off-shored and outsourced and disassembled US industrial capacity. Capitalism only works when it operates in the service of productive activity. Trading mere paper certificates (or digital simulacra of them) in ever more "innovative" (i.e. abstract and incomprehensible) ways is not a substitute for making goods. These practices reached such a grotesque level of unreality that they eventually poisoned what remained of our economic prospects. Now that their operations have been revealed as perfidious, these institutions have to be sliced and diced and, in some cases, punished, perhaps with extinction. It will happen anyway. The only question is whether civilian leadership can guide the process within the rule of law. In the meantime, the derivatives rackets that made up so much of the fraud -- especially the trillions of dollars vested in credit default swaps contracts -- are ticking out there like bombs placed by madmen, and may bring down the entire global money system before an orderly downsizing of finance can occur.
The larger underlying reality is that the United States as an entire, integral organism, has got to contract, downscale, and reorganize. The mandates of energy resource reality demand it. We can't maintain our way of life at its current scale and we have to severely rearrange and rebuild the infrastructure of it if we expect to continue being civilized. We have to get the hell out of suburbia, shrink our hypertrophic metroplexes, re-activate our small towns and small cities, reorganize the way we grow our food, phase out the big box retail (and phase in the rehabilitated Main Streets), start making some of our own household goods, and hook up the far-flung reaches of this continental nation with a public transit system probably in the form of railroads. By the way, there are plenty of "jobs" in this process, only not the kind of work we've been used to... sitting in cubicles or assigning tanning booths.
No amount of wishing for techno rescue remedies, or techno-triumphal fantasies, will overcome this basic reality. This is change you have to believe in whether you like it or not. Most of America doesn't like it and doesn't want to think about it and is doing everything possible to prop up the old arrangements. Bailing out the banks is just a lame attempt to keep banking over sized. Bailing out the automobile companies was just a way to avoid the recognition that Happy Motoring will soon be over. Bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was just a way to avoid understanding that suburbia is finished. The "green economy" that so many people idly blather about -- imagining that it will just mean running WalMart by other means than oil -- is actually an economy of awesome stringency. It's nothing like they imagine. It's a world made by hand.
We should be turning our efforts and our remaining resources toward the task of becoming that differently-organized, finer-scaled society.The money that went into propping up the automobile companies could have been used to rebuild the entire railroad system between Boston and the Great Lakes, and the capital squandered on AIG and its offshoot claimants could have rebuilt everything else the rest of the way to Seattle. Is it really so hard to imagine what history requires of you?
Apparently so. That's why movements like Naziism start. If there ever was another nation beautifully primed for an explosion of deadly irrational politics, it's us. And it looks to me as if that's exactly what we're going to get -- especially now that the Supreme Court has made it possible for corporations to buy elections lock, stock, and barrel. I hope our constitutional law professor president turns his attention to proposing a legislative act that will sharply reign in the putative "personhood" prerogatives of corporations. They are relatively new entities in legal history, and their supposed "rights," duties, obligations, and limits have been regularly subject to re-definition over the past hundred years.
There's no reason to believe that the court's current ideas are definitive. In fact, they are completely crazy -- given the fact that the fundamental character of corporations is sociopathic, insofar as their only express allegiance is to their shareholders, meaning they are devoid of any sense of the public interest, meaning they are unfit to participate in electoral politics.
Finally, I note the sad untimely death last week of the great Kate McGarrigle, 63, who with her sister Anna produced some of the finest music of a generation that was transcendentally saturated by music. They were folkies at the height of the rock and roll era, but their beautiful harmonies and lyrics rose above the din.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Krewe of Barkus back Feb. 14 in McKinney
By Merry Caroline Canter, McKinney Main Street
It’s going to be hearts and hounds this Valentine’s Day in Historic Downtown McKinney at the Art Institute of McKinney’s annual Krewe of Barkus Mardi Gras Dog Parade.This year we will be celebrating Barkus Romance and paying tribute to both real and fictional Valentines from TV, Movies and in the News. All area hounds and their handlers are encouraged to come dressed in their “Valentine’s Best.”
Costume prizes will be awarded in the following categories: Best Movie Valentine – Best Television Valentine, Best Political Valentine, Best Fairy Tale Valentine and Best Valentine in the News.
The event will run from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Feb. 14.
Patterned after the legendary Mystic Krewe of Barkus in New Orleans, the festival will feature a parade, festivities and shopping galore!
Humans and their dog escorts are invited to participate in the parade; however participants must be pre-registered and pre-paid. Children may also enter decorated wagons and bicycles as floats. All participants should check in at Mitchell Park (corner of Church Street and Louisiana Street) at 12:30 p.m. The parade will begin promptly at 2 p.m.
Registration: Participation in the costume contest is $5 per dog. To register contact AIM at 972-529-6872 or e-mail email@example.com. Please include dog’s name, owner’s name, address, phone and e-mail address.
For more event information call 972-547-2661 or visit www.downtownmckinney.com.
Thanks for reading the McKinney Courier-Gazette, your hometown newspaper.
Disasters Far and Near
on January 18, 2010 6:41 AM
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The Haitian capital has largely been destroyed in the most powerful earthquake to hit the country in more than 200 years. Journalists from The Associated Press describe severe and widespread casualties after a tour of streets where blood and bodies can be seen.
The damage is staggering even in a country accustomed to tragedy and disaster. AP reporters say the National Palace is a crumbled ruin and tens of thousands of people are homeless.
Many gravely injured people sit in the street, pleading for doctors many hours after the quake. In public squares thousands of people are singing hymns and holding hands.
The 7.0-magnitude quake struck at 4:53 p.m. Tuesday, leaving large numbers of people unaccounted for.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Six Months To Live?
on January 11, 2010 7:04 AM
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
... AN ARCTIC AIRMASS TO BRING FRIGID TEMPERATURES TO NORTH TEXAS THURSDAY THROUGH SATURDAY...
AN ARCTIC COLD FRONT WILL ARRIVE INTO NORTH TEXAS WEDNESDAY NIGHT AND BRING AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF FREEZING TEMPERATURES TO THE REGION. TEMPERATURES WILL DROP BELOW FREEZING AFTER MIDNIGHT THURSDAY AND SHOULD BRIEFLY RISE ABOVE FREEZING SATURDAY AFTERNOON FOR MOST LOCATIONS ACROSS NORTH TEXAS. GUSTY NORTH WINDS 20 TO 30 MPH WILL ACCOMPANY THE ARCTIC FRONT... WHICH WILL RESULT IN FRIGID WIND CHILLS INTO THE TEENS AND SINGLE DIGITS BY THURSDAY MORNING ACROSS MOST OF NORTH TEXAS. WIND CHILLS MAY DROP BELOW ZERO FOR AREAS NORTH OF INTERSTATE 20 FRIDAY MORNING.
IN ADDITION TO THE ARCTIC AIR... A CHANCE OF LIGHT RAIN WILL BE POSSIBLE WEDNESDAY EVENING... BEFORE CHANGING OVER TO PATCHY LIGHT FREEZING RAIN OR DRIZZLE BEFORE DAYBREAK THURSDAY MORNING... AS THE ATMOSPHERE SLOWLY DRIES OUT. AREAS NORTH OF A MERIDIAN TO HILLSBORO TO ATHENS LINE WILL BE THE MOST LIKELY LOCATIONS TO SEE FROZEN PRECIPITATION. NO SIGNIFICANT ACCUMULATION OF ICE IS EXPECTED AT THIS TIME. HOWEVER... SOME PATCHY LIGHT ICING IS POSSIBLE BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAYBREAK THURSDAY MORNING... MAINLY ON ELEVATED BRIDGES AND OVERPASSES THAT REMAIN WET AS THE ARCTIC AIR MOVES IN. THIS COULD RESULT IN SOME SLICK SPOTS FOR THE THURSDAY MORNING COMMUTE.RESIDENTS ARE ENCOURAGED TO MAKE PREPARATIONS NOW.
Monday, January 04, 2010
The Futility Economy
by James Howard Kunstler
on January 4, 2010 6:09 AM
It's the first business day of the new year and oil is trading above $80 a barrel, which means the price has re-entered the danger zone where it can crush industrial economies. This is a central element of the predicament we find ourselves in. The US economy is essentially a Happy Motoring economy. During the whole nervous period since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, American gasoline consumption hardly went down at all, though so many other activities collapsed, from house-building to trucking. Yesterday, The Seattle Times published a story with the idiotic headline: Oil Touches $80 on US Economy, Demand Optimism. Apparently, they think high oil prices are "a good sign."
How much can a nation not get it? Would $100 oil ignite a new orgy of "consumer" spending and another round of investment in commercial real estate? Welcome to the Futility Economy. This is the economy where Nature and its material companion, Reality, punish us for our stupidity and fecklessness. This is the economy that will tear the United States apart, after it bankrupts us at every level, and mercilessly drives the population down by one-third through starvation, homelessness, violence, disease, and sheer political cruelty.
Whatever you thought our economy was the past thirty years -- whatever model of it you have in your head -- that is definitely not what we are going back to. Like one of Dickens's Yuletide ghosts, Reality is leading us by the hand into new circumstances. We resist like crazy. We throw our hands over our eyes. We don't want to look. We want to return to the comfort of our dreary routines -- living in places that aren't worth caring about, weaving endlessly in freeway traffic, drawing a paycheck at the air-conditioned cubicle, inhaling Buffalo wings by the platterful, with periodic side-trips to the state-chartered casino where there's always a chance of scoring a lifetime's income on one lucky bet. And at the end of the day, you can retire with a simulated prostitute on your laptop screen! And not even have to fork over a dime -- except perhaps for the Internet connection fee.
Reality is taking us out of that familiar, if sordid, realm, whether we like it or not. Our destination is an everyday economy where you rarely travel far from the place you live, where you have to make provision for you own health, your own old age, your own income, your own diet, your own security, and your own education. If you're really fortunate, some or all of these necessities can be obtained in conjunction with your neighbors in the place where you live -- but don't expect an increasingly mythical federal government to supply any of it. Expect a new and different way of organizing households based on extended families and kinship groups. Be prepared for agriculture to return to the foreground of everyday life, where farming is back at the center of the economy. Think about how you will cultivate your best role in a social network so the things you do will be truly valued by the other people who know you. Learn how to make your own music and write your own scripts. Try to study history. Resist cults. Keep your mind clear and your senses sharp.
Even if you have a dim sense that this is where we're headed, most of you probably want to stay where you are. The investments we've made in the current mode of existence are so monumental that we can't imagine letting go of them. This will be the theme of American life for the next couple of years as we struggle mightily to escape the confining armor of the Futility Economy and move closer to ways of life that have more of a future. Right now, all the power and authority in our culture has dedicated itself to remaining inside that old armor.
The Master Wish around the country, including among people who ought to know better, is that we can "solve" our economic problem by finding some other way to run all the cars. Even hardcore environmentalists yammer incessantly about hybrid and "plug-in" cars as the "solution" to our blues. One of Barack Obama's first acts as president was to "save" the giant car companies. This is exactly the kind of signature behavior of a Futility Economy. It's based on the idea that we have to continue driving cars all the time and for everything, at all costs.
The religion of the Futility Economy is Techno-Triumphalism, which is the belief that an endless sequence of magic tricks performed by shaman scientists can defeat the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which rules the universe -- which true scientists ought to know cannot be defeated. Their colleagues, the shaman economists believe in parallel magic tricks, such as the idea that increased borrowing can "solve" a problem of runaway over-indebtedness. These are the actions that currently engage the people in charge of things in our society.
Given this current state of things, and the current course we're on, my guess is that when the falsity of these ideas and actions are exposed, they will become evident not gradually but very rapidly and shockingly. The people in charge of things will lose their vested legitimacy in a flash, and the institutions they command will become irrelevant overnight. The process would be traumatic for all of us as routines we counted on for a thousand particulars of everyday life vanish or collapse. A Great Indignation will rise across the land over the perceived swindles involved. A lot of effort will go into avenging the swindles instead of rebuilding an economy out of the ashes of futility.
Personally, I would like to see a different outcome. I'd like to see a new birth of intelligence, perhaps in the same way that President Lincoln invoked "a new birth of freedom" after an earlier convulsion in our history. The question is: do we have the resources of national character left to make that happen?
Saturday, January 02, 2010
Mr Giersch and I went on another road trip today...this time to Paris, TX...an interesting little town with loads of urban decay and a huge cemetary that may well house more folks than there are currently living in Paris...but it was a nice trip, and found numerous places to shoot in the future...the more we travel around out in East Texas the more we find to shoot! And its always nice to come across the friendly people that live in East Texas...
More to come about Paris tomorrow...