Friday, January 2, 2009

United Corporations of America

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold


It's all coming to pieces, isn't it -- the world we live in, the continuity we thought we could count on, the climate, the economy, the fragile peace. The 20th century was called "the American Century," with some reason. I do not believe the 21st century will belong to anybody, and it may not last for 100 years of human witness. There are nuclear weapons in the Middle East and on the Indian subcontinent, and if one is used, more will follow and who can say when the devastation will end?

The weather is unhinged. It is no longer a question of global warming. It is a question of what in the hell is happening? I do not have to rehearse for you the details of this horrible American autumn, and a winter not yet half over. The tornadoes, the hurricanes, the floods, the blizzards, the wild fires, the heat waves, the water shortages, the power blackouts. The White House declares "a state of emergency" and the federal government sends money. How many states of emergency are we still in? How much more money is there?

The economy is going to get worse. We may have no idea how much worse. The greed and corruption at the economy's core reached a scale unimaginable at the time of the Great Depression. Even responsible banks are threatened, because they cannot borrow and are fearful of lending. The world seeks safe havens for wealth, but the dollar is weaker, the yen is also surrounded by Recession, and if we park our money in China, a risky notion, what will happen with their money, parked here?

Earlier this year, reviewing a bad movie named "Sex Drive," I wrote:

As they motor South, they pass through Amish country. Luckily it's the day of the annual Amish sex orgy, and Ian meets sexy Mary, who falls in love with him, flashes her boobs, etc. The director, Sean Anders, should be ashamed of himself. Lucky the Amish don't go to movies, or he'd be facing a big lawsuit. Better be nice to the Amish. In a year we'll be trading gold bars for their food, haha.


Haha, indeed. The Amish can grow their own food and heat their own homes and feed their own horses, and where does that leave us? Many of my readers right now are living in the middle of vast urban areas, 50 miles from farmland One partner has been laid off, the other fears the same. There are children and mortgage payments. What will they do on the level of survival? I've been reading a memoir by Larry Woiwode, who farms his own land in North Dakota and may not have foreseen disaster but seems prepared to deal with it.

How will my family fare? Yes, we've earned some nice money in our careers. But I have found that nothing cures wealth like illness. Few people in this country can afford to get seriously ill, and many cannot afford to take a single day off from their job--or jobs. Under Bush we doubled our national debt in only eight years. Now the experts say Obama will have no choice but to increase it even further, with "bailouts" of an increasingly leaky ship. That means spending money we do not have--printing it, in the final analysis. That leads to inflation. Inflation leads to legends of fortunes in pre-war Germany reduced to worthless paper, of people trading shopping bags full of banknotes for a loaf of bread. What does money mean when it is backed only by debt?

What if war in the Middle East cuts off oil, even if OPEC wants to sell it? What if the shipping lanes are blocked? What will happen then? Less developed countries may paradoxically be better off. The closer to the land and to subsistence a family lives, the better-equipped it is to survive. The unemployed family in the middle of a city will have savings, unemployment insurance, maybe government and private assistance of various kinds, and may be able to just get by, but how long will that last? Everybody can't move in with the relatives. Some people have to be the relatives.

The Top 8 LGBT Political Videos of 2008

This year, gay videos were viral.

From Keith Olbermann's speech on gay marriage, to the Prop. 8 musical, to Wanda Sykes's take on "That's so gay," 2008 was the year that gay news made good video.

Here are our picks for the American political LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender) videos that made the most impact this year.

Note to our international readers: much of this video may not be viewable to those outside the U.S. Our apologies! We try to limit our use of U.S.-only video, but sometimes we have to make exceptions. For more on this topic, read Sarah's explanation of why and when we use geo-blocked content.

1. Prop 8: The Musical!

This sly, star-studded response to the passage of California's Proposition 8 — starring Jack Black as Jesus — made the economic case for gay marriage in such a funny, subversive way, you can't help but sing along.

2. Keith Olbermann: Gay marriage is a question of love

Keith Olbermann stunned viewers with his six-minute rant on why the Prop 8 vote was wrong, saying, "Why does this matter to you? What is it to you? In a time of impermanence and fly-by-night relationships these people over here want the same chance at permanence and happiness that is your option."

3. The Victory Fund response to Sally Kern

When Oklahoma Rep. Sally Kern compared us to terrorists, the Victory Fund responded by playing her own words over the faces of gays and lesbians.

This is the face of terrorism, Sally Kern? Really?

4. Gay marriage: Ellen vs. McCain; Jon Stewart vs. Huckabee

The talk show hosts were on our side. Here's Ellen taking on McCain — and winning.

And here's Jon Stewart taking on Mike Huckabee.

Note Jon's brilliant argument that religion is definitely a choice — and yet we still give rights to religious people.

Bonus: Ellen's strong, moving statement on what gay marriage means to her.

Escalation goes on, more Israeli air raids kill more civilians

Escalation goes on, more Israeli air raids kill more civilians

Gaza Strip, 30 Dec, 2008-MMN Israeli air force still launching the heaviest bombardments in Gaza ever. The fourth day of Israeli military operation started with heavy bombings took place west of Gaza City in addition to killing 2 children and around 10 in various places in Gaza to raise death toll to 390 while wounded people up to 1 thousand and 700 most of them civilians.

The Israeli announced decapitation strategy of targeting Hamas movement and avoiding civilians clearly unveiled. The F16s targeted a group of governmental building using tons of explosion resulting in killing at least 4 Palestinians. The bombings lasted for 30 minutes echoed across Gaza City causing great trauma and panic for civilians. Total damage stormed the buildings while partially destroyed some neighboring populated buildings.

Israeli warplanes, drones, artillery machines, and apache helicopters broadly took part in the nightly raids. Israeli air raids destroyed a sport club and a building inside the Islamic University of Gaza IUG. IUG was hit Monday night and 2 building were destroyed. One of the destroyed building was the laboratory funded by Islamic Development Bank estimated of millions of dollars.

The bombings continued for the whole night in separated areas in Gaza Strip. Many civic targets were bombs including mosques in Khanyonis City. Old man was killed in south of Gaza in Rafah City.

A run-Hamas police station was hit in El Burej refugee camp mid of Gaza and another one in Bait lahia. The naval forces participated in bombing Gaza destroying many buildings and premises on the coastal areas. Information office I linked to Popular Resistance Committees based in a residential building was hit and medical sources reported some that some people wounded in the raid.

Tuesday morning two female children aged 4 and 11 years killed in North of Gaza while they were on a donkey-driven carriage. The bombing of these children debunks the Israeli allegation of only targeting Hamas militants. They were bombed by High-tech F16 in daylight.

Sign the Appeal to Stop the Attack on Gaza!

Urgent Appeal for Israel to Immediately Cease Its Murderous Bombing, Siege and Threatened Invasion of Palestinian Gaza
Initiated by 2008 U.N. Human Rights Award winner Ramsey Clark

Urgent Appeal for Israel to Immediately Cease Its Murderous Bombing, Siege and Threatened Invasion of Palestinian Gaza!

To: President George W. Bush, President-Elect Barack Obama, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State Designate Hillary Clinton, Vice President Richard Cheney, Vice President-elect Joe Biden, Congressional leaders, U.N. Secretary General Ban, U.N. General Assembly President d'Escoto-Brockmann, members of the U.N. Security Council, U.N. member states, the President, Prime Minister, Cabinet and Opposition leader of Israel, and Major media representatives:

For 60 years, Israel has persecuted the Palestinian people with impunity in defiance of United Nations General Assembly and United Nations Security Council Resolutions, orders of the International Court of Justice, International Law and fundamental human rights.

Throughout the years, Israel has proclaimed itself the victim as it grew richer, more powerful and more violent, while Palestinians were abused, impoverished, divided and demeaned.

A consistent tactic of Israel through all the years has been to divide Palestinians against their most effective organizations. Through most of the recent years Israel has attacked Fatah. Now it is Hamas that Israel attacks. But there is only one Palestinian people and there can be only one Palestinian State. This has been the guiding principle of the PLO. Israel's policy has always been to destroy the possibility of a Palestinian State. Its criminal assault on Hamas is in truth Israel's continuing assault on the possibility of a Palestinian State: divide and conquer.

Now in the waning days of the disastrous Bush Administration, the government of Israel with its Prime Minister under criminal indictment, is testing whether world opinion will permit it to escalate its isolation and impoverishment of Palestine and selective and systematic assassination of Palestinian leadership in Gaza to a genocidal, indiscriminate assault and invasion of Palestinian Gaza, knowing full well its acts will inflame passions throughout the Middle East and Arab and Muslim worlds risking conflict of disastrous magnitude in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, even between India and Pakistan.

Beyond crushing Gaza's capacity to resist and imposing its final solution on Palestinians, Israel is seeking confrontation that will lead to war with the U.S., the European Union, and NATO fighting for Israel against Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan to impair their ability to prevent expansion of Israel's domination of the region while the "only one President at a time" the U.S. has, George W. Bush, will support Israel, finding all fault with Gaza.

In these dangerous and difficult days and hours the undersigned call upon the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, NATO members, and European countries independently, the governments of Asia, foremost China, India, Indonesia and Pakistan, the nations of Africa, and the Americas to demand an immediate ceasefire throughout Israel and Palestine and the assurance of peace. All borders to Gaza, Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, must be opened for humanitarian relief and a complete arms and trade embargo on Israel until it fully complies with all the requirements of permanent peace.

We call upon all the people, the ultimate power in every nation when organized and energized, to take to the streets where they live and demand that their governments do all in their power to cause Israel to stop its war of aggression against Palestine and for all parties to pursue peace and for Israel, the U.S. and other nations who have provided material support for Israel's aggression to be held accountable for the deaths, injuries and damage Israel has inflicted.

We call upon governments and humanitarian agencies to provide all needed emergency relief to Palestine - medical care, food, humanitarian supplies, shelter; and on all the media that truly seeks peace, justice and respect for the equal dignity of every child, woman and man on earth to headline the demand that Israel stop its aggression immediately. All parties must engage in continuous negotiation with all Palestinians until a one state solution is agreed or the state of Palestine as mandated not later than October 1948 in UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (1947) is created, fully implemented, and Palestine thrives.

(Your signature will be appended here based on the contact information you enter in the form above)

Initiated and signed by
Ramsey Clark, winner, 2008 U.N.Human Rights Award


Uncle Jay Explains the News

For Some Culprits In Financial Meltdown, Life Is Still Pretty Good

By Zachary Roth

This probably won't come as a surprise. But some of the major culprits in the financial crash -- former CEOs or top execs at banks whose billion-dollar losses helped precipitate the turmoil -- don't seem to be paying much of a price for their catastrophic mismanagement.

Dick Fuld, the former CEO of Lehman -- whose collapse in September directly ushered in the broader panic -- is already plotting a comeback. According to the Financial Times, he's thinking about starting a "small advisory boutique to help companies with strategic and financial issues." The venture would "harness [Fuld's] contacts in US companies," says the paper.

Meanwhile, two former Wall Street honchos appear to be living the high-life after seeing taxpayers step in to rescue their troubled firms.

The New York Post reports today that Peter Kraus, a former top executive with Merrill Lynch, just bought a $37 million Park Avenue apartment -- "featuring 11-foot-high ceilings, three fireplaces, three maid's rooms, a library, a gallery and a family room/gym." In September, Kraus got a $25 million golden parachute from Merrill when it was sold to Bank of America, even though he had only started work there that month. B of A received $25 billion in taxpayer money as part of the bailout.

The Scam That Outscams "The Scam"

Dan SolinThe Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme is generally regarded as the biggest financial scam of all time. I don't agree.

Hedge funds, and particularly "fund of funds," make Bernie's despicable conduct look like small potatoes.

The underlying premise of hedge funds -- outsized returns with no increase in risk--is fatally flawed. Numerous studies have demonstrated the vast majority of these funds do not beat the returns investors could obtain for themselves, by investing in a simple S&P 500 index fund.

It was only a matter of time before these funds started to implode. According to a web site that tracks hedge fund failures, 108 funds at 66 firms have gone of business since 2006. Many more are sure to follow.

While the pitch of hedge funds is a scam standing alone, the "fund of funds" embellished the con. These funds charged 1% or more for selecting and monitoring the performance of "the best" managers.

This scam relied on the gullibility of investors who believe "best managers" is not an oxymoron. The data clearly indicates that it is. If you own an actively managed fund, the odds of it beating its benchmark over 1 year is 1 in 3, over 5 years it's 1 in 5, over ten years it's 3 in 100 and over 25 years it's essentially zero!

How anyone can claim to be able to beat these odds and convince so many sophisticated investors they should pay them to do so, is the poster child for a combination of greed and cognitive dissonance.

Enter the track record of Bernie Madoff. Fifteen years with steady returns of 11%. This was something fund of funds could really sell -- and they did. Some funds reaped hundreds of millions of dollars of fees for simply forwarding billions of dollars of assets to Madoff. These investors felt privileged to gain access to him and were happy to pay the fund fee, secure in the knowledge that Madoff was being closely monitored.

You know what happened next.

Here's the real scam: How motivated were these "fund of funds" to carefully monitor Madoff's performance? Did they really want to kill the golden goose? Or is it likely they either knew his returns were too good to be true or engaged in "willful blindness" to his fraud?

Herbert Hoover resents the implication

The Top 'Non-Troversies' Of 2008

Morning Edition, December 31, 2008 · They seemed so important at the time, didn't they? The issues over which much ink was spilled, many talking heads blathered, and, in some cases, congressional committees were convened. But as we prepare to turn the calendar page, what seemed monumental then has all the significance of a Dennis Kucinich stump speech in retrospect.

So before they completely fade from memory, let's take a look back at some of the top "non-troversies" of 2008:

He Kexin won the gold in the women's uneven bars on Aug. 18.• Was that Chinese Olympic gymnast 14, or was she 16? And did anybody really think the same country that puts lead paint on our children's toys was going to come clean about this? America needed to let this gold medal loss go and just relive the Olympic magic with another Michael Phelps commercial.

A 'New Yorker' cover from July satirizes Barack and Michelle Obama.• In chattering-class politics, The New Yorker ran a cover caricature of Barack and Michelle Obama as dangerous radicals — an attempt at satire that displayed the wit and charm of an Ivy League sorority pledge at an all-you-can-drink cosmopolitan bar. Some readers said the drawing was offensive; some said it was too clever for its own good. And 99 percent of America said: "What's The New Yorker?"



Why Israel Won't Allow Journalists into Gaza

by Siun , Firedoglake
"The boat while still in international waters has been rammed by Israeli patrol boats, our vessel has been damaged ..."

Overnight, the Jerusalem Post carried a story, "Navy Sends Activist Boat Back to Cyprus," which said:

The navy has turned back a boat trying to carry pro-Palestinian protesters to the Gaza Strip, officials said Tuesday

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the boat ignored an Israeli radio order to turn back early Tuesday. He said the boat tried to outmaneuver the navy ship and crashed into it, lightly damaging both vessels. The navy then escorted the boat to the territorial waters of Cyprus.

In a report from  AFP, Israeli authorities said is was all just a mistake:

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP that the naval vessel tried to contact the aid boat by radio for identification and to inform it that it could not enter Gaza.

"After the boat did not answer the radio, it sharply veered, and the two vessels collided, causing only light damage," Palmor said.

The Israeli spokesman accused the pro-Palestinian activists of "seeking provocation more than ever."

But this time, a reporter, Karl Penhaul from CNN, was actually on the boat -- and gave the report you see above as the events were happening:

... the boat, while still in international waters has been rammed by Israeli patrol boats, our vessel has been damaged ... there's been some damage to a roof section and to glass windows around the steering area and the captain says that the vessel is taking on a small amount of water, that at this stage is not life-threatening, but the ship was very severely rammed by one of those Israeli patrol boats, those patrol boats have been following the vessel for the half-hour prior to the ramming incident ... they rammed the vessel without warning but after the ramming there was a radio message saying the Israeli patrol boat was accusing the Dignity of being involved in terrorist activities.

No wonder Israel is continuing its refusal to allow foreign journalists into Gaza.'t_allow_journalists_into_gaza/

Please go now!

Bush Avoids the Spotlight on Vacation, Despite International Conflict

by Kirit Radia from Crawford, Texas:

Even an emerging crisis in the Middle East, one he pledged to resolve just 13 months ago, has not drawn President George W. Bush from his final vacation before leaving office. Despite his personal pledge at Annapolis last year to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians before 2009, this weekend Bush sent his spokesmen to comment in his stead.

The spokesman's statement, while blaming Hamas for the outbreak of violence, did not signal that the United States is prepared to step in to resolve the conflict, suggesting that this president is content to leave the matter for his successor.

Since departing Washington for Crawford on Friday, President Bush has made no attempt to be seen in public. In fact, he has yet to leave his ranch.

California Sues U.S. Over Environmental Rule Changes

By Joel Rosenblatt

Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) -- California Attorney General Jerry Brown sued the Bush administration over claims it implemented new regulations dropping required scientific reviews of federal agency policies that may hurt endangered and threatened species.

Brown sued yesterday in federal court in San Francisco claiming the new regulations, proposed by the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of Commerce and approved Dec. 16, conflict with provisions of the Endangered Species Act, according to an e-mailed statement Brown sent today.

The rules allow federal agencies to pursue or permit mining and logging on federal land without review or comment of scientists on what effects the activities may have on endangered or threatened species and their habitats, Brown said in the statement. The regulations also drop a requirement that proposed federal projects measure greenhouse gas emissions, Brown said.

"The Bush administration is seeking to gut the Endangered Species Act on its way out the door," Brown said. The regulations "circumvent a time-tested statute that for 35 years has required scientific review of proposed federal agency decisions that affect wildlife."

Tina Kreisher, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, said the agency doesn't comment on pending lawsuits.

Fighting the terrorists