When the gods dance...

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

House Finance Chair Goes on Ski Vacation with Wall Street

by Justin Elliott
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In January, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, ascended to the powerful chairmanship of the House Financial Services Committee. Six weeks later, campaign finance filings and interviews show, Hensarling was joined by representatives of the banking industry for a ski vacation fundraiser at a posh Park City, Utah, resort.

The congressman’s political action committee held the fundraiser at the St. Regis Deer Valley, the “Ritz-Carlton of ski resortsknown for its “white-glove service” and for its restaurant by superstar chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

There’s no evidence the fundraiser broke any campaign finance rules. But a ski getaway with Hensarling, whose committee oversees both Wall Street and its regulators, is an invaluable opportunity for industry lobbyists.

Among those attending the weekend getaway was an official from the American Securitization Forum, a Wall Street industry group, a spokesman confirmed. It gave $2,500 in February to Hensarling’s political action committee, the Jobs, Economy, and Budget (JEB) Fund.

Len Wolfson, a lobbyist for the Mortgage Bankers Association, which gave the JEB Fund $5,000 that month, posted a picture on Instagram from the weekend of the fundraiser of the funicular at the St. Regis. (It was labeled, “Putting the #fun in #funicular. #stregis #deervalley #utah.”) Wolfson did not respond to requests for comment. (UPDATE 1 p.m. Wolfson has now set his account to private.)

This photo was posted to Instagram by Mortgage Bankers Association lobbyist Len Wolfson on Feb. 24.
This photo was posted to Instagram by Mortgage Bankers Association lobbyist Len Wolfson on Feb. 24.
Visa, which gave the JEB Fund $5,000, also sent an official. A Visa spokesman told ProPublica that in attendance were not just finance companies, but also big retailers and others.

Hensarling, a protégé of former Texas senator and famed deregulator Phil Gramm, has a mixed record regarding Wall Street. While he has been critical of “too big to fail” banks and voted against the 2008 bailout, Hensarling recently said he opposed downsizing big banks, according to Bloomberg. That stance matters now more than ever as a bipartisan duo in the Senate, David Vitter, R-La., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, introduced a bill last week seeking to constrain the too-big-to-fail institutions. While the bill is considered a longshot, it has provoked intense opposition from the industry.

Meanwhile, Hensarling recently barred the head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from appearing before the House Financial Services Committee, citing a legal cloud over recess appointments made by President Obama.

Whatever his stance on the industry, Hensarling has been more than happy to court Wall Street’s money.

Donors working in various financial industries are Hensarling’s biggest supporters, giving him over $1 million in the last election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The congressman’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Others donating to Hensarling’s JEB Fund around the time of the Utah ski weekend: Capital One; Credit Suisse; PricewaterhouseCoopers; MasterCard; UBS; US Bank; the National Association of Federal Credit Unions; Koch Industries, which is involved in sundry financial trading; the National Pawnbrokers Association; and payday lenders Cash America International and CheckSmart Financial. All either declined to comment or did not respond to requests.

A spokeswoman for one large bank that donated $5,000, Alabama-based Regions Financial, told ProPublica the company doesn’t discuss events employees attend for “a number of reasons, including security.”

Also donating $5,000 to Hensarling’s political committee around the time of the ski weekend was Steve Clark, a lobbyist for JP Morgan and the industry group the Financial Services Roundtable. (In 2011, a memo written by Clark and his partners for the American Bankers Association proposed an $850,000 public-relations strategy to undermine Occupy Wall Street. It leaked to MSNBC; the plan had apparently never been executed.)

Clark didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The ski weekend was a large, apparently family-friendly affair. A Utah entertainment booker told ProPublica she had hired two caricature artists for a Feb. 23 event at the St. Regis for a group of 100, including 20 children. Hensarling’s JEB Fund, paid the bill. The fund also reported spending about $1,000 on “gifts and mementos” at Deer Valley as well as charges at the upscale restaurant Talisker on Main.

Campaigns and political action committees of a few other GOP congressmen also show charges totaling more than $50,000 at the St. Regis around that time: House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas; House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan; and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon. None responded to requests for comment.

This is at least the second consecutive year that Hensarling has attended a fundraiser at Deer Valley. During the same February congressional recess last year, the National Republican Congressional Committee hosted a “Park City Ski Weekend” for Hensarling along with Sessions and Walden. Hensarling’s JEB Fund also reported about $60,000 paid to the St. Regis Deer Valley in the last election cycle. (The NRCC said it did not sponsor this year’s event.)

The Texan congressman has long had a taste for mixing skiing and politics. On the same February weekend in 2009, for example, Hensarling’s political action committee invited donors “to the second annual ‘JEB Fund Takes Jackson’” ski weekend for a minimum contribution of $2,500. The setting was the Snake River Lodge and Spa in Jackson, Wyoming, which boasted “wintertime activities fun for the entire family” including dog sledding tours and sleigh rides, according to the invitation.

Reporting contributed by Al Shaw.
For more on politics and lobbying, read Jesse Eisinger's take on the 'Animal Farm' of Washington's revolving door politics or Justin Elliott's last piece on Lockheed's lock on a key Senate job.


Robots Will Do Everything You Do Now Only Better—What Then?

SH 78_#3 BIG

The S&P 500 is at record highs, having finally regained all it lost in the 2008 financial crisis. It would be cause for celebration if it didn’t feel so out of touch with the “main street” reality of continued high unemployment. As a recent New York Times headline read, “recovery in the US is lifting profits, but not adding jobs.”

The NYT goes on to blame the divide between rising corporate profits, recovering stocks, and stubborn unemployment on big gains in productivity over the last few years. The article notes that the giant industrial conglomerate, United Technologies, “does not need as many workers as it once did to churn out higher sales and profits.”

While United Technologies (and other manufacturing firms) may not be adding jobs, it’s strange to blame today’s high rate of unemployment on the trend. Due in large part to automation, manufacturing jobs have been disappearing for over 30 years. During that period, unemployment has been as high as 10.8% and as low as 3.8%. A better headline might read, “recovery in the US is lifting profits, but not adding traditional jobs in manufacturing and that’s nothing new.”

Credit: MJ Perry, Carpe Diem, BEA, BLS
Credit: MJ Perry, Carpe Diem, BEA, BLS

It’s rarely noted, but even as manufacturing jobs have steadily decreased, total manufacturing output has steadily grown. Since World War II, manufacturing output in the US has risen over 700%.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Hiring by Algorithm

"When the e-mail came out of the blue last summer, offering a shot as a programmer at a San Francisco start-up, Jade Dominguez, 26, was living off credit card debt in a rental in South Pasadena, Calif., while he taught himself programming. He had been an average student in high school and hadn't bothered with college, but someone, somewhere out there in the cloud, thought that he might be brilliant, or at least a diamond in the rough. 'The traditional markers people use for hiring can be wrong, profoundly wrong,' says Vivienne Ming, the chief scientist at Gild since late last year. That someone was Luca Bonmassar. He had discovered Mr. Dominguez by using a technology that raises important questions about how people are recruited and hired, and whether great talent is being overlooked along the way."


Are we falling out of love with Facebook?

Mark Zuckerberg

Social network deserted by millions as analysts claim 'we're suffering from Facebook fatigue'

LAST UPDATED AT 10:30 ON Mon 29 Apr 2013
IS FACEBOOK the next MySpace? Analysts have questioned if Mark Zuckerberg's website will suffer the same fate as the shrinking social network after independent data revealed Facebook is losing millions of users per month in its biggest markets.

In the last month Facebook has lost 6m US visitors, a 4 per cent fall, according to analysis firm SocialBakers. In the UK, 1.4m fewer users checked in last month, a drop of 4.5 per cent, The Guardian notes.  Users in Canada, Spain, France, Germany and Japan are also logging off.
New media specialist Ian Maude of Enders Analysis explains the risk of Facebook turning into MySpace is "relatively small... but that is not to say it isn't there."

"The problem is that, in the US and UK, most people who want to sign up for Facebook have already done it. There is a boredom factor where people like to try something new," he says.

Professor Larry Neale, a social media expert at Queensland University of Technology Business School in Australia, believes users are suffering from "Facebook fatigue". "Maybe when they started on Facebook they were in university but now they're in the workforce and they don't have the time to spend on it any more, or they don't think it's the right way to be spending that time," he tells the International Business Times.

While Facebook's figures fall, alternative sites are thriving. Path, the mobile-based social network founded by former Facebook employee Dave Morin, which restricts users to 150 online friends, is gaining 1m users per week. Instagram, the photo sharing site recently acquired by Zuckerberg, is also gaining young users, the Guardian notes.

But not everyone is 'un-friending' Facebook. SocialBakers' figures show the site is growing quickly in South America, with monthly users in Brazil up 6 per cent in the last month to 70m. India has seen a four per cent rise in users to 64m.  Facebook has declined to comment on the data. · 

Read more: http://www.theweek.co.uk/business/52735/facebook-social-network-declining-users-zuckerberg#ixzz2RutVa1cu

Belief in God Can Improve Mental Health Outcomes

By Senior News Editor

Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on April 26, 2013 
Belief in God Improves Mental Health Outcomes

A new study suggests belief in God may significantly improve the outcome of those receiving short-term treatment for psychiatric illness.
Researchers followed patients receiving care from a hospital-based behavioral health program to investigate the relationship between patients’ level of belief in God, expectations for treatment and actual treatment outcomes.

In the study, published in the current issue of Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers comment that people with a moderate to high level of belief in a higher power do significantly better in short-term psychiatric treatment than those without.

“Belief was associated with not only improved psychological well-being, but decreases in depression and intention to self-harm,” says David H. Rosmarin, Ph.D., an instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

The study looked at 159 patients, recruited over a one-year period. Each participant was asked to gauge their belief in God as well as their expectations for treatment outcome and emotion regulation, each on a five-point scale.

Levels of depression, well-being, and self-harm were assessed at the beginning and end of their treatment program.

Of the patients sampled, more than 30 percent claimed no specific religious affiliation yet still saw the same benefits in treatment if their belief in a higher power was rated as moderately or very high.
Patients with “no” or only “slight” belief in God were twice as likely not to respond to treatment as patients with higher levels of belief.
Investigators believe the study demonstrates that a belief in God is associated with improved treatment outcomes in psychiatric care.
“More centrally, our results suggest that belief in the credibility of psychiatric treatment and increased expectations to gain from treatment might be mechanisms by which belief in God can impact treatment outcomes.”

Investigators hope that the study will lead to additional investigation on the clinical implication of spirtual life as more than 90 percent of the U.S. population hold religious beliefs.

Source: McLean Hospital

Preserving Classics, Wrinkles and All



TIME CAPSULE A 1931 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A faux cabriolet will be offered at a Bonhams auction featuring unrestored cars. More Photos »


Slide Show

Keeping It Real

AMONG the rows of gleaming classics at collector car exhibitions like the Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance, a few clusters of vehicles seem decidedly out of place. These cars are not white-glove spotless, and they lack the perfect paint, flawless upholstery and brilliant chrome seen on almost every other vehicle awaiting the judges’ inspection.

Entries in so-called preservation classes, these cars are shown with a patina that tells a story of decades of service, their faded finishes, worn seats, stone chips and rust specks verifying their biographies. Valued for their originality and historical significance, not for the quality of a restoration, they present the wizened, character-laden faces of survivors rather than the unlined Botoxed perfection of aging starlets with plastic surgeons on speed dial.

Unrestored cars may not be the headline-making winners of best-in-show awards, but preservation classes are increasingly a feature of concours events, and collectors are recognizing their special status by driving up their prices. “Barn find,” a catchall term for cars unearthed after decades of neglect, has become a buzzword on cable television and at auctions of vintage autos.

Indeed, a significant auction devoted to the promotion of preserved classics is set for Monday at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum here. The sale is being organized by Bonhams, the fine art and antiques auction company.

“Good original, unrestored cars are now highly sought after, with the values of preserved cars escalating every year,” Rupert Banner, director of Bonhams’s car department, said in a news release. “In the last two or three years, auction prices for preserved cars in their original condition have exceeded those for cars that have been restored.”

For the auction, Bonhams is collaborating with the museum’s founder, Dr. Frederick A. Simeone, whose collection specializes in racing sports cars, many of them left as they were the last time they competed. Dr. Simeone has been collecting cars most of his life — longer than he has practiced medicine, in fact.

As a neurosurgeon, Dr. Simeone lives by an intricate network of standards and procedures. But above them all is the guiding principle of his profession: first, do no harm. That mind-set comes through in his new book, “The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles” (Coachbuilt Press, $60), which goes on sale the day of the auction. The book details the ethics and aesthetics of car preservation, even proposing guidelines for collectors.

Some in the collecting community suggest that the shift toward preservation is a sign of maturing tastes. Others say it is simply a reaction to the overrestoration of show cars — evidenced by, for example, paint jobs that are much better than the original finish and body panels that fit more precisely than in any mass-produced vehicle. Such cars may wear leather where there was once fabric, chrome where there was only paint and paint where there was originally bare metal.

Because this hypercompetitive dazzle usually comes at a breathtaking price, a preservation trend might reduce the cost of admission to the car-collecting world, and that seems healthy.

In one chapter of Dr. Simeone’s book, Leigh and Leslie Keno of PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow” emphasize that a passion for collecting antique furniture and fine art is centuries old, and that careful preservation is nearly absolute for such objects. In contrast, car collecting is a relatively young pursuit in this country, mostly since World War II.

The Keno brothers provide startling examples of preservation prices. A William and Mary armchair from the 1700s with its original finish that has darkened over the years can go for more than $120,000, but one that has been stripped and refinished is worth a fraction of that. Another example is a rare banjo clock from the early 1800s by the famous clock maker Aaron Willard. In otherwise perfect shape, its gears were clogged with dust, so a well-intentioned repairman not only cleaned the movement, but also polished every part. The clock had sold for $28,000 after it was discovered, but when an auction house mistakenly assumed the old clock had new works, it went for only $7,000.

To maximize the resale value of an unrestored car, the Kenos recommend that owners keep the original parts (even if they’re damaged or worn out) as well as photographs, manuals and trophies.


Slide Show

Keeping It Real

One example of an untouched car bringing a premium over restored versions is a 1962 Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster that sold for $951,000 at a Gooding & Company auction in Arizona last year. The president of the auction house, David Gooding, said a fully restored SL would usually sell for 20 to 30 percent less. 

Over the last decade or two, serious car collectors have increasingly acknowledged that a car can be original only once. As a result, the patina of preserved cars — weathered paint, worn leather and pitted chrome — have led to incidents of false patination. As preserved cars become more valuable, some owners are having significant damage repaired, but treated to look original. Dr. Simeone maintains that such repairs are allowable, as long as the damage and its repair are photographed and documented, then disclosed whenever the car is displayed or changes hands.

This respect for history and originality has given rise to the idea of reversible restoration. To repair major damage, new technology allows collectors to use soluble compounds for paint and body repair that can be removed in the future without harming the surrounding original paint.

The discovery of a barn find — an unmolested vehicle of value that comes to light when the detritus of an old shed or warehouse is pushed aside — generates great excitement in the collecting world. And in the view of many, so much the better if the car is covered with layers of crud; some owners are reluctant to clean their discoveries. But preservationists are very clear on this point: dirt is corrosive, so it should be removed as soon as possible. Like fine art, cars should be clean.

In his book, Dr. Simeone discusses the concept of material truth, that the historical relevance of a preserved object derives from its actual physical materials. If you stand before the larger-than-life statue of David in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, you know it was created by Michelangelo’s hands and it may make you feel different than if you were viewing a replica.

In the same spirit, a good replica of a Shelby Cobra may perform better than the original, but Carroll Shelby didn’t build it or bless it.

A program at Stanford University called Revs is analyzing the materials in classic cars and the effects of compounds ranging from sweat and skin oil to wax and acid rain. Founded by Miles Collier, a noted collector and preservationist, the multidiscipline Revs curriculum also explores the full spectrum of human interaction with the car. As expected, the Revs faculty has mechanical engineers, but it also includes archaeologists, lawyers, artists and human behaviorists. In one course, subjects are connected to sensors and monitored by cameras as they drive classic cars and futuristic new cars. In another, a classic car is literally restored during the semester using preservation techniques.

On average, automotive tastes are maturing, and without twisting anyone’s arm or wallet, unmolested cars are becoming more important in the collecting world, especially those in the one-of-a-handful category. A good example is the Simeone Museum’s Daytona Coupe — a sleeker, enclosed version of the legendary Shelby Cobra. It was built in the 1960s for the high-speed straights of Le Mans, to topple the Europeans’ domination of the 24-hour race (which it did). Only six Daytona Coupes were made, and years ago five of them were fully restored, erasing some of their unique history. The museum’s Daytona Coupe is the only one still wearing its original paint, so it also serves as an invaluable reference vehicle.

While none of the 60-plus cars in the museum are for sale, the Bonhams auction includes vehicles ranging from a 1924 Ford Model T 5-Window Coupe, with a presale estimated price of only $10,000 to $15,000, to a 1973 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 in the $340,000 to $380,000 range. Also offered is a 1932 Aston Martin 1 1/2-liter Le Mans 2-4 Seater. Designed to be driven to a race, win and drive home, the Aston was once owned by the British film director Basil Dean. Another original car, a 1931 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A two-door faux cabriolet, with coachwork by Lancefield, recently emerged from storage in Connecticut after 37 years.

Bonhams’s “Preserving the Automobile” auction will be Oct. 8 at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, 6825 Norwitch Drive, Philadelphia, simeonemuseum.org. Automobilia goes on sale at 10 a.m. and cars at 2 p.m. Admission is by $30 catalog,  which admits two people to the museum and the auction. Vehicle information atbonhams.com.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 14, 2012

An article last Sunday about the movement to preserve classic cars, rather than restore them, misstated the number of Shelby Daytona Coupes that were made. There were six, not five; only the one in the Simeone Automotive Museum remains unrestored.

A version of this article appeared in print on October 7, 2012, on page AU1 of the New York editionwith the headline: Preserving Classics, Wrinkles and All.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Slaves to Our Stuf

By Sabrina Artel

A Creative Vision to Break Away From Consumer Culture's Destructive Grip

Billy Talen, known as Reverend Billy, talks about his new book and says, "We need to be honest with ourselves about the danger we are all in with the natural world." 
Photo Credit: John Quilty
This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

Need a creative way to fight fears of our planetary demise? A new book by Billy Talen prophetically titled, The End of the World (OR Books), may be just the trick. Talen, also known as Reverend Billy, and his Church of Stop Shopping, exposes the socio-political structure of consumerism and the commoditization of the earth with songs, impassioned preaching and theater events. Talen has been arrested 70 times along with members of the Church for their acts of civil disobedience in banks and other places of corporate mediation. Their decade-long collaboration, under the direction of Savitri D, has brought them to communities throughout the U.S. and internationally where they have built a performance institution of communities of action with songs and uplifting protest spectacle on the streets and in concert halls. Talen and the Church’s inspiring and engaging performances ask us to take action on behalf of our home on our rapidly dying planet.

The End of the World is being promoted with the launch of the internationalRevolt of the Golden Toad tour, which began in San Francisco on April 22. The End of the World is a poetic cry of sermons to wake people up about the climate crisis, destruction of biodiversity, and catastrophic consumption orchestrated by global capitalism. 
Talen spoke with AlterNet about his new book and what motivates his creative actions.

Sabrina Artel: How did this book project come about?

Billy Talen: Because of my growing feeling that human beings are losing. We’re losing ground to the corporations and the big banks, and the earth movement is losing. The big bank system needs to multiply their products and keep us in a state of consumption. Consumerism needs to be defeated. 

As I started watching the sack of diapers next to [my daughter] Lena when she was born in the hospital at St. Vincent’s they were covered by Mickey Mouse faces. Here in NY we have high pressure tests confronting first-graders. The Church of Stop Shopping and I have been active in the movement to stop paying back student debt because it’s reached a trillion dollars so that young people can’t defend the earth; young people can’t be politicized because they are saddled with debt along with their marching orders to become consumers. Climate change kills people every day. It’s dangerous. Certainly it certainly kills people who don’t have the resources to defend themselves. It’s a conscious class war. 

SA: Why did you title your book, The End of the World?

BT: We decided to name the book The End of the World because we won’t survive unless we understand the level of danger we are in now. We’re not registering the emergency. We don’t have a planet crier. There’s no leader standing up for the earth. I think people know it in their souls but we don’t know what to do because we’ve been consumers for so long. The consumer position is passive. Consumers are not active. They are not political. We believe you have to be pessimistic enough to be optimistic. 

SA: How is your tour addressing the environmental crisis that we face? You write, “There is a direct relationship between each additional minute that we are separated and every pound of CO2 we put in the air.”

BT: With our campaign that begins in the Bay Area this week, we are taking an extinct animal and crashing into the hushed cathedrals of finance. We are trying to get at the genitals of the system. The consumer environment we’ve concocted culturally is one where we aren’t afraid even when "the town is on fire." What kind of culture do we live in? You don’t have a normal world when you’re being hit with advertising constantly. That mediation is dangerous and disconnects us from each other. Right now in the world there are 80 coal fired plants in either planning stages or under construction. 

SA: In your book you write about censorship and how addressing climate change is avoided and even focusing on the planet earth, our home is being strategically denied. You state, “This is an apocalypse of accumulating silence.” What are the consequences of this?

BT: The products surround us, instruct us, and order us. The product life that we are a part of, inside these gadgets, inside our cars, our homes, inside our lives, inside these choreographies; it has become so phenomenalized all day long that we don’t realize these products give us a story, they give us a version of events and it cannot include life on earth. The story that the products are programmed to repeat again and again until we think it is reality is the story of consumerism.

SA: How has becoming a parent and having a toddler impacted your work?

BT: Well, my earth radicalism has certainly intensified by some order of magnitude because of my daughter. I feel myself free of the consumerism of the arts. Thousands of tourists get off buses and jets to go to Broadway and Broadway has had hundreds and hundreds of plays that don’t mention the earth. We’re theater people, that’s the art form that [Savitri D and I] come from. The people in the Church of Stop Shopping are painters, dancers, a couple of lawyers, one banker, healers -- people from many art forms and walks of life. For the arts to continue not to express the crisis of the earth means the arts have become increasingly provincial and increasingly out of touch with the big story, the earth story.

SA: Why can’t this story of consumerism include the planet that we inhabit?

BT: The story of earth is the story of generosity, of evolving together in community, of being together as fellow creatures. It’s not about making products that you engineer to over-supply to be scarce to get the highest price. It’s an absurd way to distribute what we need to live. Finally, consumerism at the end of the day is not just absurd, it’s deadly.

SA: What is the story you want to share with the public with your book of sermons?

BT: One thing that we turn to again and again is the fundamentalism that we face, the devil as we call it that is the fundamentalism of consumer society. It constantly schools us by apparent democratic properties, the apparent freedom with instantaneous information, with high-speed electronics and media. Actually the computer era has its promise, things of course that are amazing about it but this earth emergency isn’t really reaching people the announcement of it by way of pixelation -- by way of the screen culture. 

I think that lots of people are beginning to understand that. There is a leveling of the emergency by computer technology. We actually have to break through to each other. We need the computer to plan in person meetings. I’m not a Luddite, but finally we have to wake up to the fact that an online petition never got us anywhere. Seeing life die on the computer isn’t enough. We have to reach each other in the flesh. Barbara Ehrenreich calls it “collective joy dancing in the streets.” We have to finally get up from our computers and go back to public space in our bodies. Going into JPMorgan Chase with extinct Golden Toads is finally an effort to meet each other again in the flesh, personally and intimately.

SA: What destruction have you seen and experienced that compelled you to write the book and resurrect extinct and dying animals?

BT: I think of preaching in Times Square last week. I preached a sermon called Golden Toad for Christ [laughing] — the golden toad is the new Christ. I was in the middle of a huge crowd there and up on the side of a skyscraper was a super diamond-vision movie of the Grand Tetons. I was standing on the sidewalk in my white polyester suit and Elvis hair and I was from the point of view of the camera, flying above, an eagle’s view as people were transported into the image of nature but not nature itself. 
It was again the pixelation of nature being delivered to us as a product. A product. That is the riddle we need to break out of. We have to find our way past that imagery and get to the natural world. We need to be honest with ourselves about the danger we are all in with the natural world. That’s going to be tough and we have to do it together. This a good place for me to preach because this is idolatry. This is not church. This is a deadly riddle of destruction. 

There is a quiet revolution taking place right now. It’s a hell of a challenge. Forestry scientists know that we are experiencing a worldwide die-off of trees. Forests store 40 percent of the CO2 on land. They are the great cleaners of the air because the greenhouse gases are held inside trees. The forests all over the world are dying and the scientists do not know how to tell people they are stuck with that big false beautiful movie of the forest. To reconstitute the forests and the sea we will have to make the big banks back down. They are decimating us by industrial agriculture, financing five massive hydroelectric dams like in Chile near the Pascua and Baker Rivers. That development that destroys the forests and the planet earth must be stopped. Hallelujah. Amen. 

SA: What is the earth radicalism you’re practicing as you confront extreme fossil fuel extraction and the acceleration of climate change?

BT: The Stop Shopping singing activists have been active in resisting mountaintop removal, the tar sands; we went to Tate Modern Museum in London and were taken there by the Tar Sands Coalition among other groups because the museum accepts money from British Petroleum. We’ve worked in many different areas — hydro dams with activists in Iceland, many of the different fracking fuel areas, fracking in upstate NY, we were in Albany a few weeks ago preaching; Kayford Mountain, WV; Washington, DC where we were arrested with the Earth Quakers from Swarthmore and George Lakey. 

We’ve taken on many of these issues but I think with the Extinction/Resurrection Campaign, we are admitting to ourselves as earth activists that we all have to be better radicals. It’s time to rise up like we have risen up in the past in this country. We’ve abolished slavery. I think of the social revolutionary movements, from the labor movement, the civil rights, the peace movement, the women’s, the gender rights movement, we have done extraordinary things. Right now we’re just wobbling, we’re consumerized and we’re having trouble rising to the movement that is demanded of us at this time. We’re having trouble getting out of our homes and being in the commons and making our demands. We need another way of life.

SA: What is the Extinction/Resurrection Campaign?

BT: The haunting of big banks by extinct animals. We’re adopting one of the oldest stories of human culture, the resurrection. Virtually all cultures have a resurrection story and we are coming back from beyond death as the extinct animals that have been killed by climate change and by over-consumption. The first species that has adopted us is the golden toad. The last individual was seen in 1989 in Central America in the tropical cloud forests. A brilliant bright-colored creature from the cloud forests in Central America killed by drought in its mountain home, in its habitat.

Later in the summer we’ll be adopted by the honey bee and then in the fall, we’re thinking about the Siberian tiger. 

SA: How are these animals choosing you?

BT: The Church of Stop Shopping is a group of about 80 to 90 singers and musicians, earth radicals and we make these decisions in our conversations and at rehearsals. We’ve come to this intuitive decision really to resurrect these dead animals because we don’t believe that they are gone. We think that they are in us and we think that people feel this mass extinction. We feel it. It’s true that it’s not getting any press. 
Scientists, of course are apoplectic about it, trying to figure out how to make it news. It’s like the end of the world. How do you make it news? How do you get past the $400 million blockbuster movie that depicts the end of the world? How do we get past the consumer item to address the people in the theater seats to say, you know what this is actually happening? This is going to confront you when you leave this theater, it’s in the street outside this theater, the weather, the air -- we’re in it. But people on some level do know because we are the earth, we are earth in this form of the human being. Our secular church has made an intuitive choice that the resurrection of these dead and dying animals is a part of how we will make our miracles.

SA: You did lots of environmental research for your book. What did you learn from the Dr. Tony Barnosky study from UC Berkeley?

BT: Barnosky’s conclusion is that the earth is a single living thing. He’s saying there is a grand ecosystem here, an earth system and it can experience a catastrophic collapse. His worldwide team of natural scientists from around the world concludes that this more general collapse is imminent. The fact is that we cannot survive without other life. 
The basic understanding of the Industrial revolution, of the Enlightenment and modern corporate accounting, where the earth is "off the books," that it’s an externality, is false. The belief is that we can exist alone. This is the operative belief of our nation’s systems, our religious systems and our military systems. Clearly the deadly evidence is that yes, we can keep ecosystems in pocket parks off of highways or a little museum of existing creatures of an otherwise extinct species standing there in a little zoo but that scenario is a prescription for death for all of us. Humans certainly. We can’t survive that. People have a sense of wanting life. The psychological construction of the average person is much different from that of a corporation. We want to live and we’re looking for a way to live.

Watch the "Golden Toad for Christ" with the Reverend Billy preaching on Times Square in NYC at JP Morgan Chase bank:

Sabrina Artel is the creator and host of Trailer Talk, a weekly radio show. To find out more about Trailer Talk's Frack Talk Marcellus Shale Water Project visi

How to Find Fulfilling Work

On the art-science of “allowing the various petals of our identity to fully unfold.”

“If one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment,” wrote Dostoevsky, “all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.” Indeed, the quest to avoid work and make a living of doing what you love is a constant conundrum of modern life. In How to Find Fulfilling Work (public library) — the latest installment in The School of Life’s wonderful series reclaiming the traditional self-help genre as intelligent, non-self-helpy, yet immensely helpful guides to modern living, which previously gave us Philippa Perry’s How to Stay Sane and Alain de Botton’s How to Think More About Sex — philosopher Roman Krznaric (remember him?) explores the roots of this contemporary quandary and guides us to its fruitful resolution:
The desire for fulfilling work — a job that provides a deep sense of purpose, and reflects our values, passions and personality — is a modern invention. … For centuries, most inhabitants of the Western world were too busy struggling to meet their subsistence needs to worry about whether they had an exciting career that used their talents and nurtured their wellbeing. But today, the spread of material prosperity has freed our minds to expect much more from the adventure of life.
We have entered a new age of fulfillment, in which the great dream is to trade up from money to meaning.
Krznaric goes on to outline two key afflictions of the modern workplace — “a plague of job dissatisfaction” and “uncertainty about how to choose the right career” — and frames the problem:
Never have so many people felt so unfulfilled in their career roles, and been so unsure what to do about it. Most surveys in the West reveal that at least half the workforce are unhappy in their jobs. One cross-European study showed that 60 per cent of workers would choose a different career if they could start again. In the United States, job satisfaction is at its lowest level — 45 per cent — since record-keeping began over two decades ago.
Of course, Krznaric points out, there’s plenty of cynicism and skepticism to go around, with people questioning whether it’s even possible to find a job in which we thrive and feel complete. He offers an antidote to the default thinking:
There are two broad ways of thinking about these questions. The first is the ‘grin and bear it’ approach. This is the view that we should get our expectations under control and recognize that work, for the vast majority of humanity — including ourselves — is mostly drudgery and always will be. Forget the heady dream of fulfillment and remember Mark Twain’s maxim. “Work is a necessary evil to be avoided.” … The history is captured in the word itself. The Latin labor means drudgery or toil, while the French travail derives from the tripalium, an ancient Roman instrument of torture made of three sticks. … The message of the ‘grin and bear it’ school of thought is that we need to accept the inevitable and put up with whatever job we can get, as long as it meets our financial needs and leaves us enough time to pursue our ‘real life’ outside office hours. The best way to protect ourselves from all the optimistic pundits pedaling fulfillment is to develop a hardy philosophy of acceptance, even resignation, and not set our hearts on finding a meaningful career.
I am more hopeful than this, and subscribe to a different approach, which is that it is possible to find work that is life-enhancing, that broadens our horizons and makes us feel more human.
This is a book for those who are looking for a job that is big enough for their spirit, something more than a ‘day job’ whose main function is to pay the bills.
'Never have so many people felt so unfulfilled in their career roles, and been so unsure what to do about it.'

As we turn the corner of the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique, Krznaric reminds us of the pivotal role the emancipation of women played in the conception of modern work culture:
If the expansion of public education was the main event in the story of career choice in the nineteenth century, in the twentieth it was the growing number of women who entered the paid workforce. In the US in 1950 around 30 per cent of women had jobs, but by the end of the century that figure had more than doubled, a pattern which was repeated throughout the West. This change partly resulted from the struggle for the vote and the legitimacy gained from doing factory work in two World Wars. Perhaps more significant was the impact of the pill. Within just fifteen years of its invention in 1955, over twenty million women were using oral contraceptives, with more than ten million using the coil. By gaining more control over their own bodies, women now had greater scope to pursue their chosen professions without the interruption of unwanted pregnancy and childbearing. However, this victory for women’s liberation has been accompanied by severe dilemmas for both women and men as they attempt to find a balance between the demands of family life and their career ambitions.
Another culprit Krznaric points to in the stymying of our ability to find a calling is the industrial model of education:
The way that education can lock us into careers, or at least substantially direct the route we travel, would not be so problematic if we were excellent judges of our future interests and characters. But we are not. When you were 16, or even in your early twenties, how much did you know about what kind of career would stimulate your mind and offer a meaningful vocation? Did you even know the range of jobs that were out there? Most of us lack the experience of life — and of ourselves — to make a wise decision at that age, even with the help of well-meaning career advisers.
Krznaric considers the five keys to making a career meaningful — earning money, achieving status, making a difference, following our passions, and using our talents — but goes on to demonstrate that they aren’t all created equal. In particular, he echoes 1970s Zen pioneer Alan Watts and modern science in arguing that money alone is a poor motivator:
Schopenhauer may have been right that the desire for money is widespread, but he was wrong on the issue of equating money with happiness. Overwhelming evidence has emerged in the last two decades that the pursuit of wealth is an unlikely path to achieving personal wellbeing — the ancient Greek ideal of eudaimonia or ‘the good life.’ The lack of any clear positive relationship between rising income and rising happiness has become one of the most powerful findings in the modern social sciences. Once our income reaches an amount that covers our basic needs, further increases add little, if anything, to our levels of life satisfaction.
The second false prophet of fulfillment, as Y-Combinator Paul Graham has poignantly cautioned and Debbie Millman has poetically articulated, is prestige. Krznaric admonishes:
We can easily find ourselves pursuing a career that society considers prestigious, but which we are not intrinsically devoted to ourselves — one that does not fulfill us on a day-to-day basis.
Krznaric pits respect, which he defines as “being appreciated for what we personally bring to a job, and being valued for our individual contribution,” as the positive counterpart to prestige and status, arguing that “in our quest for fulfilling work, we should seek a job that offers not just good status prospects, but good respect prospects.”
Rather than hoping to create a harmonious union between the pursuit of money and values, we might have better luck trying to combine values with talents. This idea comes courtesy of Aristotle, who is attributed with saying, ‘Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.’
Krznaric quotes the French writer François-René de Chateaubriand, who wrote over a century ago:
A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.
Leonardo's Vitruvian Man, arms stretched out wide, is the quintessential symbol of the Renaissance wide achiever.

And yet, Krznaric argues, a significant culprit in our vocational dissatisfaction is the fact that the Industrial Revolution ushered in a cult of specialization, leading us to believe that the best way to be successful is to become an expert in a narrow field. Like Buckminster Fuller, who famously admonished against specialization, Krznaric cautions that this cult robs us of an essential part of being human: the fluidity of character and our multiple selves:
Specialization may be all well very well if you happen to have skills particularly suited to these jobs, or if you are passionate a niche area of work, and of course there is also the benefit of feeling pride in being considered an expert. But there is equally the danger of becoming dissatisfied by the repetition inherent in many specialist professions. … Moreover, our culture of specialization conflicts with something most of us intuitively recognize, but which career advisers are only beginning to understand: we each have multiple selves. … We have complex, multi-faceted experiences, interests, values and talents, which might mean that we could also find fulfillment as a web designer, or a community police officer, or running an organic cafe.
This is a potentially liberating idea with radical implications. It raises the possibility that we might discover career fulfillment by escaping the confines of specialization and cultivating ourselves as wide achievers … allowing the various petals of our identity to fully unfold.
Krznaric advocates for finding purpose as an active aspiration rather than a passive gift:
“Without work, all life goes rotten, but when work is soulless, life stifles and dies,” wrote Albert Camus. Finding work with a soul has become one of the great aspirations of our age. … We have to realize that a vocation is not something we find, it’s something we grow — and grow into.
It is common to think of a vocation as a career that you somehow feel you were “meant to do.” I prefer a different definition, one closer to the historical origins of the concept: a vocation is a career that not only gives you fulfillment — meaning, flow, freedom — but that also has a definitive goal or a clear purpose to strive for attached to it, which drives your life and motivates you to get up in the morning.
And yet fulfilling work doesn’t come from the path of least resistance. He cites from Viktor Frankl’s famous treatise on the meaning of life:
What man actually needs is not some tension-less state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.
Marie Curie didn't find her vocation. She grew it.

For a perfect example, Krznaric points to reconstructionist Marie Curie:
Curie was absolutely committed to her career. She lived an almost monastic lifestyle in her early years in Paris, surviving on nothing but buttered bread and tea for weeks at a time, which left her anemic and regularly fainting from hunger. She shunned her growing fame, had no interest in material comforts, preferring to live in a virtually unfurnished home: status and money mattered little to her. When a relative offered to buy her a wedding dress, she insisted that “if you are going to be kind enough to give me one, please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards to go to the laboratory.” Before her death in 1934, aged 67, she summed up her philosophy of work: “Life is not easy for any of us,” she said. “But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”
But while Curie’s career embodies the essential elements of meaning — she employed her intellectual talents in the direction of her passion for science, which she pursued with “Aristotelean sense of purpose” — Krznaric debunks the eureka! myth of genius and points out that Curie’s rise to vocational fulfillment was incremental, as she allowed her mind to remain open rather than closed in on her specialization, recognizing the usefulness of useless knowledge:
Marie Curie never had [a] miraculous moment of insight, when she knew that she must dedicate her working life to researching the properties of radioactive materials. What really occurred was that this goal quietly crept up on her during years of sustained scientific research. … Her obsession grew in stages, without any Tannoy announcement from the heavens that issued her a calling. That’s the way it typically happens: although people occasionally have those explosive epiphanies, more commonly a vocation crystallizes slowly, almost without us realizing it.
So there is no great mystery behind it all. If we want a job that is also a vocation, we should not passively wait around for it to appear out of thin air. Instead we should take action and endeavor to grow it like Marie curie. How? Simply by devoting ourselves to work that gives us deep fulfillment through meaning, flow and freedom. … Over time, a tangible and inspiring goal may quietly germinate, grow larger, and eventually flower into life.
A quick yet disproportionately enriching read, How to Find Fulfilling Work is excellent in its entirety. Complement it with this timelessly wonderful 1949 guide to avoiding work.

Excerpted from How to Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric. Copyright © 2012 by The School of Life. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or printed without permission in writing from the publisher. Reprinted by arrangement with Picador.

Off the Grid

Photos of People Living Outside Mainstream Society in The USA

French photographer Eric Valli spent the last few years stay with some people who striving for harmony with nature, in the most pristine corners of United States. This series called “Off the Grid”, it’s about them who have left mainstream society in order to live closer to nature.

(via The Fox is Black)

Read more: http://www.rabbit38.com/?p=3935#ixzz2Rp2C2Rph

The Weapons Oligarchy

Federal Taxes Reward 8-Figure Pentagon Fraud Spree

With the Pentagon having secured its annual 47 percent of the April 15 federal tax haul ($1,335 billion out of a total of $2,890 billion) it’s a good time to consider the mountains of money being wasted on useless weapons or just plain stolen.

Without a public uproar, U.S. could spend more than $600 billion on nuclear weapons over the next 10 years, according to Alicia Godsberg of Peace Action and others.[1]

President Obama has famously mouthed support for “a world without nuclear weapons,” and “a world where these weapons will never again threaten our children,”[2] but his nuclear weapons budget says bombs, bombs and more bombs.

For 2014, the President plans a nuclear weapons spending increase over the current level of $7.227 billion. Where’s the money to come from? Taking a page from the Reagan/Thatcher play book, Obama plans to get it from the nuclear non-proliferation budget. According to a report by Jeffery Smith and Douglas Birch in Foreign Policy April 9, the president has proposed a $460 million cut from the nuclear non-proliferation program — so it can boost nuclear weapons building programs by exactly $500 million.[3]

Since 2011, Obama has been pushing a plan to spend $85 billion over 10 years to rebuild thousands of H-bombs — bombs that should be retired and abolished. The president has also proposed pouring $125 billion over 10 years into a new fleet of nuclear-armed submarines, new nuclear bombers and new land-based ICBMs.[4]
One plan is to return 200 B61 gravity H-bombs from five U.S. bases in Europe, where they are unwanted, and to replace their warheads and tail fins. Today, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Turkey and Belgium are debating whether they want the U.S. bombs ousted permanently, yet the Pentagon plans to return them to European fighter bases with new “life extension.” Europeans by the millions are demanding that the B61s be withdrawn forever.
The H-bomb program, known as the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), estimated last year that the B61 make-work plan would cost $7 billion and produce its first replacement bomb in 2019. The Pentagon countered that it would cost $10.4 billion and take until 2022. Daryl Kimball and Tom Collina reported April 11 in Arms Control Now that 400 new B61-12s are planned, at roughly $25 million-per bomb.[5] Boeing Corp. hopes to make hundreds of millions working on the 50-kiloton devices,[6] each one capable of a Hiroshima massacre times four.
Joe Cirincione, of the Council on Foreign Relations and president of the Ploughshares Fund, charged April 21 that “lavishing” billions on the B61 “is criminal.”[7]

According to Edward Aguilar of Project for Nuclear Awareness, cancelling construction of the new submarines, reducing the current number of such subs, and retiring rather than replacing nuclear warheads and a couple hundred ICBMs would save $270 billion.

Billions for unneeded, unusable weapons

As every combat or terror casualty since 1950 proves, our nuclear weapons cannot protect us. So what is this spending for?
One answer was revealed on March 14, 1992, when the Associated Press reported on a study — by Admiral Bruce DeMars — that made clear that the purpose of new submarines was “to protect the vast industrial facilities and skilled workers needed to build them, not because the submarines themselves were needed.”[8] Today’s plans are precisely the same. With its 5,000 ready and reserve nuclear weapons, the US can pulverize every major city on earth with over 200 each.

The NNSA calls Obama’s new warhead production “modernization” or “refurbishment” or “life extension.” This is just euphemism, deception, deceit and disinformation used to help rob the taxpayers, and it has no purpose but to pamper billionaire industrialists and string out some cancer-causing careers.

Because fear moves taxpayers to send half their federal taxes to the Pentagon and to a militarized space program and Energy Department, the deceptions extend to the manufacture of threats too. Thus, North Korea’s nuclear nothing somehow endangers the Pentagon colossus. On April 3, the New York Times said North Korea might have “6 to 8” nuclear weapons. Four days earlier it noted two salient facts on its page one: North Korea’s missiles cannot reach the U.S.; and there is no evidence that its bombs can be made small enough to fit on a missile. Even the Wall St. Journal admitted that Pyongyang “isn’t thought to be capable of following through.”[9]

With $1 billion being spent on new “missile interceptors” in Alaska “to foil North Korea,” cynical fear mongering has reached absurd heights. Experts have reported for decades that money spent on missile defense is wasted. Even the cold-blooded Margaret Thatcher said, “I am a chemist. I know it won’t work.”[10]

Mr. Cirincione said Pentagon contracts for useless weapons are “clearly aimed at buying senators’ votes.”[11] Two years ago, the Government Accountability Office found a staggering $70 billion in Pentagon spending that was nothing but waste.[12] In the realm high crimes, it takes a lot of bribery, larceny, robbery, kickbacks and embezzlement to steal that much money and then to protect so much theft from the law.

The weapons oligarchy appears to be a racketeering-influenced and corrupt organization. Luckily, the RICO Act provides for heavy criminal penalties for such death-dealing corruption.

John LaForge works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin, and edits its Quarterly.


[1] “The Bloated Nuclear Weapons Budget,” New York Times, editorial, Oct. 11, 2011; & Alicia Godsberg, letter, New York Times, Sept. 30, 2011
[2] Joe Cirincione, interviewed on Rachel Maddow, MSNBC, April 21, 2013, <http://ploughshares.org/>
[3] R. Jeffrey Smith & Douglas Birch, “Obama Proposes Shifting Funds from Nuclear Nonproliferation to Nuclear Weapons,” Foreign Policy.com, April 9, 2013,
[4] “The Bloated Nuclear Weapons Budget,” New York Times, editorial, Oct. 30, 2011
[6] Hans M. Kristensen, “B61-12: Contract Signed for Improving Precision of Nuclear Bomb,” Federation of American Scientists, Nov. 28, 2012; http://blogs.fas.org/security/2012/11/b61-12contract/
[7] Julian Borger, “Obama accused of U-turn as guided weapons plan emerges,” The Guardian, April 21, 2013http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/21/obama-accused-nuclear-guided-weapons-plan
[8] Associated Press, “Navy seeks to preserve submarine shipyards: In doing so it would buy some vessels it may not need,” Milwaukee Journal, March 14, 1992
[9] Wall St. Journal, March 29, 2013, p. A12
[10] “Margaret Thatcher, ‘Iron Lady’ Who Set Britain on New Course, Dies at 87,” New York Times, April 9, 2013, p. A11
[11] Ibid, n. 7
[12] Christopher Drew, “Audit of Pentagon Spending Finds $70 Billion in Waste,” New York Times, March 30, 2011

Saying Privacy Is 'Off the Table,' NYC Police Commissioner Demands More Surveillance Cameras

Reason 24/7 


 From the Department of Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste comes word that New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly thinks that now is a great time to install even more surveillance cameras hither and yon around the Big Apple. After the Boston Marathon bombing, the Tsarnaev brothers were famously captured on security camera footage and thereby identified. That just may soften up Americans to the idea of the all-seeing glass eye. "I think the privacy issue has really been taken off the table," Kelly gloats.

From WNYC:
Could more cameras in New York City help prevent attacks like the one at the Boston Marathon? That's what Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says the NYPD is looking into.

The department already uses so-called smart cameras that hone in on unattended bags, and set off alarms.

Kelly dismisses critics who argue that increased cameras threaten privacy rights, giving governments the ability to monitor people in public spaces.

 “The people who complain about it, I would say, are a relatively small number of folks, because the genie is out of the bottle,” Kelly said. “People realize that everywhere you go now, your picture is taken.”

Surveillance cameras helped authorities find the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing — giving more fuel to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly’s argument that the more cameras exist, the better.

The NYPD is touting its use of the so-called smart cameras that have been used for nearly a decade in Lower Manhattan to identify potential threats such as unattended bags left for too long.
As Reason's own Brian Doherty has pointed out, surveillance advocates conveniently forget that it was private security cameras from which footage is shared with authorities only in emergencies, like the aftermath of the bombing, that did the honors in Boston. Cautions Doherty:
The public spaces of Boston were already filled with enough private cameras to close the net on the suspects. Ubiquitous public cameras—watched always by officials with power over us—raise obvious problems, as the American Civil Liberties Union has noted, of criminal abuse, institutional abuse, personal abuse on the part of officials, discrimination, and rampant voyeurism.
Of course, what Kelly wants is public cameras — specifically, an expanded network of police-controlled "smart" cameras watching the city and responding automatically to perceived dangers. With the public frightened and in no mood to consider that surveillance cameras pose their own dangers, he just might get his wish.

Austerity Brings Unemployment to New Highs in Spain and France - So Why Do Pols Keep Pushing It in the U.S.?

Despite the continuing austerity fail, Republicans and some Dems can't seem to get the message.
As if there were not already abundant proof of the failure of austerity in the eurozone, the BBC reports that both Spain and France have hit new unemployment milestones.

In Spain, unemployment has jumped from February's 26.3% to a first-quarter rate of 27.2% (implying an even higher figure for March). In March 2012, it was "only" 24.1% (see source in table below).

In France, there are now 3.2 million unemployed, more than at any time since the country began keeping records in 1996. Complete EU unemployment data for March should be released in early May.
For a fuller picture of the continuing deterioration of the situation in the European Union and the eurozone, the unemployment rates tell a stark story.

Date     Eurozone     Spain     Greece     Portugal     Ireland     UK     USA   EU-27
3/2012   10.8%         24.1%    21.7%     15.3%      14.5%    8.2%  8.2%   10.2%
2/2013   12.0%         26.3%    26.4%     17.5%      14.2%    7.7%  7.7%   10.9%

Note: Greece and UK figures are for January 2012 and December 2012, rather than March 2012 and February 2013

Sources: Eurostat, 2 May 2012, for March 2012; Eurostat, 2 April 2013, for February 2013; Bureau of Labor Statistics for U.S.

Moreover, it is important to note that despite drastic budget-slashing, in none of the EU countries did debt come under control, even for Ireland and the UK, which have managed some slight growth over the 11-month period. Using this handy BBC interactive tool, we can see that Spain's debt/GDP ratio increased from 69.3% in 2011 to 84.2% in 2012 (Wait, that's under 90%! What's happening?), Greece declined from 170.3% to 156.9%, Portugal increased from 108.3% to 123.6%, Ireland increased from 106.4% to 117.6%, and the U.K. increased from 85.5% to 90%. In fact, just six short years earlier, Ireland had a debt/GDP ratio of just 24.6%. The Celtic Tiger, favorite of conservatives everywhere, has truly crashed and burned.

Given the Spanish and French figures, look for bad news for EU unemployment next week. Despite the continuing austerity fail, Republicans and some Democrats continue to push for deficit cutting here, and will maintain a steady drumbeat. But, like Reinhart and Rogoff, they all deserve the Colbert treatment.

Thomas is Professor of Political Science, University of Missouri-St. Louis. Author of Competing for Capital: Europe and North America in a Global Era (Georgetown University Press, 2000) and Investment Incentives and the Global Competition for Capital (Palgrave, 2011).

The true meaning(lessness) of the Reinhart-Rogoff debacle

by Jerome Roos on April 29, 2013

Post image for The true meaning(lessness) of the Reinhart-Rogoff debacle

Sadly, economic policy is guided by neither facts nor ideas — it is guided by power. Ending austerity will require more than Excel spreadsheets alone.

It has not been a good couple of weeks for the conservative class warriors of the global austerity project. First, new data revealed that austerity measures in Portugal — long a neoliberal poster child for EU/IMF-imposed reforms — are failing to deliver; then the IMF got into a fight with the British government, complaining that UK austerity measures are hurting the economy; later a former IMF official warned that Europe’s austerity measures are untenable, while the head of the world’s biggest hedge fund attacked the EU and UK for their austerity drive, arguing that “you have to spend money”.

On the same day, the head of the European Commission declared that austerity had reached a political limit in Europe; a day later the Spanish government announced that it will ease its austerity push; a day after that, Italy’s freshly-designated center-left Prime Minister immediately called for an easing of austerity; right as new data showed that austerity-induced unemployment has now surpassed Great Depression-era levels in Southern Europe. And all the while, German Chancellor Angela Merkel — the undisputed standard-bearer of the European austerity movement — finds herself under increasing political pressure to just relax and stop hurting everyone else around her.

No surprise, then, that the Financial Times is now forced to conclude that “the Eurozone anti-austerity camp is on the rise”, while its lead economics commentator Martin Wolf laments that “tens of millions are now suffering unnecessarily” as a result of failed austerity measures. It’s what the Left has been saying for years – not just since the start of the European debt crisis three years ago, but ever since the Great Depression; through the “lost decade” of the 1980s debt crisis in Latin America, the IMF-imposed tragedies in East-Asia in the late 1990s, the austerity-induced financial meltdown and record default in Argentina in late 2001, and virtually every single crisis that occurred in between.

But it was in the midst of all of this that a major bombshell hit the academic debate on austerity: the Great Reinhart-Rogoff Excel Spreadsheet Debacle. In case you didn’t hear about this yet: just a week-and-a-half ago, a 28-year-old graduate student at the University of Maryland published a paper with two of his supervisors that basically destroyed the last-remaining academic “credibility” of the global austerity movement. In their myth-busting publication, Herndon, Ash and Pollin (HAP) show that a widely cited 2010 paper by Harvard economists Reinhart and Rogoff — which claimed that a debt load above 90% of GDP significantly slows down growth — was in fact based on faulty data, skewered weighting and a sloppy Excel spreadsheet error. Fixing these “mistakes”, HAP showed how the seemingly strong correlation between high indebtedness and slow growth virtually evaporates.

Why is this relevant, you may wonder? Well, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has rightly pointed out, the Reinhart-Rogoff paper “was surely the most influential economic analysis of recent years.” It was cited by key law- and policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic, including US House Budget Committee Chairman and former Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan; EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn; and the President of the Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, who is known as one of Germany’s leading austerity hawks. The Reinhart-Rogoff paper was, in short, the number one piece of “factual evidence” for the already shaky neoliberal proposition that “a high debt load is necessarily bad” and “austerity necessarily good”.

Of course we already knew that this was nonsense. The idea of an “expansionary fiscal contraction” is an academic fairy tale at best and an Orwellian justification for an unabashed market fundamentalist class project at worst. When an economy is in free fall and private investors rush for the exit, the worst thing a government could possibly do is to slam on the brakes and retract the only remaining source of investment in the economy. Ever since Keynes’ contributions after the Great Depression, this is as much as a self-evidence. But the real question we should be asking is not whether austerity makes sense for the official purposes declared by its adherents, but whether it makes sense for the adherents themselves. In other words, we shouldn’t be asking whether austerity contributes to growth (we’ve known for decades that it doesn’t); what we should really be asking is whether austerity contributes to the interests of those who promote it.

When we ask this question, a different world suddenly emerges. Now austerity is no longer just a “dangerous idea” destroying the lives of millions; and it no longer follows that austerity can simply be replaced with a more “sensible” idea (like monetary and fiscal stimulus) through the rigorous provision of factual evidence by leading experts possessing PhDs and other fancy titles. Rather, austerity becomes a profoundly ideological class project. It is one thing to note that “austerity has failed” in its stated objective of raising growth and solving the debt problem; it is quite another to observe that it has actually succeeded quite spectacularly in its real objective of serving the narrow interests of the top 1% at the expense of almost everyone else. In this respect, it is safe to say that austerity was never supposed to raise growth in the first place: it was meant to discipline labor all along, making the average population pay for a devastating financial crisis that was caused by the rampant speculation of a tiny financial oligarchy.

Let me take a step back here and describe — at the risk of great over-simplification — three different theories that dominate the debate in political economy. The first theory, held by many orthodox economists and rational choice theorists in political science, would argue that facts and evidence play a crucial role in shaping policy. Simply put, rational and self-interested government actors always represent some clearly-defined national interest, and changing analyses of the facts can help them to re-assess this national interest and redirect policy accordingly. This is the so-called “technocratic” position taken by Reinhart and Rogoff in a pathetic attempt to defend themselves in the New York Times, complaining that “our critics have politicized the issue”, as if their own position in the austerity debate is somehow a completely objective and “non-political” assessment of the true national interest of heavily indebted countries.

A second theory, adhered to mostly by Keynesian economists and constructivist scholars in sociology and political science, argues that not facts but ideas – defined as socially constructed understandings of what social reality is and should be like — guide policy. Most Keynesians and constructivists accept the “fact” that different policymakers may hold different ideas on how to solve a particular problem. These scholars, inspired by Max Weber’s thesis that ideas are the “switchmen” of history, therefore focus on the role of ideas in constituting social reality and bringing about important changes in economic policy. This constructivist view, recently expressed in an important new book on austerity by Mark Blyth, reflects Keynes’ dictum that:
The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.
The third theory, arising out of Marx’s critique of political economy and critical theory more generally, argues that ideas are nice and dandy, but ultimately rather inconsequential if you do not have the power to implement them. For these scholars, ideas can have quite an important influence on political outcomes when “the field is open”, so to speak; but in times of either hegemonic consolidation or outright political repression, even manifestly false ideas can reign supreme as long as they are backed up by the right combination of political institutions, socio-economic structures, ideological preconceptions, and — ultimately — military might. These different forms of power help to strengthen prevailing orthodoxies while disciplining any potential dissent. In this view, then, facts and ideas are ultimately secondary to the broader pattern of class struggle in which they are wielded as weapons.

Which of these three theories is the most credible — and which of them best describes the politics of austerity? The answer should be self-evident by now. Thirty years of austerity measures, from Mexico in 1982 to Greece in 2013, should be more than enough evidence that dangerously misguided ideas — as long as they are backed up with sufficient political and economic power — can long survive their thorough discrediting in the face of obvious facts. After a “lost decade” of IMF-imposed austerity, the Mexican economy in 1989 was still 11% smaller than it was at the start of the Latin American debt crisis in 1982; after the IMF paid a visit to East-Asia during its financial crisis of 1997-’98, it took Thailand and Indonesia seven and eight years, respectively, to regain their average income levels of 1996; and today, three years after the EU and IMF first “bailed out” Greece and imposed their tragic austerity measures, the Greek economy is a shocking 20 percent smaller than it was at the start of the crisis.

We knew all these things. Yet our politicians continued to impose the same disastrous austerity measures — over, and over, and over again. In a public debate at the European University Institute last year, I scolded German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble for knowing all of this: he knows Greece is collapsing; he knows austerity is making it worse; he knows that even the IMF now formally admits this; he knows the bottomless pit is not Greece but the banks; he knows there is no way Greece will ever recover under the German austerity diktat; yet Schäuble and the global elite continue to impose the same austerity measures — over, and over, and over again. If facts or ideas truly mattered in policymaking, you would think we would have come up with some better ideas by now. But the sad truth, as always, is that the facts matter only if you have the power to impose your version of them onto the others.

Does this mean the Reinhart-Rogoff debacle and the ongoing discrediting of the austerity agenda is entirely meaningless? No, it doesn’t. Facts and ideas matter — but only insofar as they can be wielded as weapons in an ongoing class struggle. Now that the “facts” uncovered by Reinhart and Rogoff and the “dangerous ideas” promoted by the global austerity movement have been so thoroughly discredited, let us wield our weapons wisely — by recognizing the “fact” that we cannot rely on facts and ideas alone to change the world. As the Greek anti-austerity protesters who faced a bloody police crackdown on Syntagma Square in June 2011 know only all too well, after ideologically disarming the neoliberal hegemony that underpins today’s austerity drive, we will still have to confront the material power that backs it up. And that, unfortunately, will require a lot more than Excel spreadsheets alone.