Category Archives: Other Issues

Posts on many other important geopolitical issues.

Students, cheerleaders, & lawyers all exploited as they scramble for the few opportunities in New America

Summary: One astonishing aspect of the structural changes reshaping America is how fiercely we work to avoid seeing them. Such as the transformation of employment. Breaking unions was the first and essential step. Now comes the larger changes: shifting jobs from full time with benefits and job security into temporary, insecure, part-time, no-benefits — at lower wages.

Here we see four snapshots of this structural change in the power relationships of employers and workers — as people become increasingly desperate for opportunities. We close our eyes to these changes, since seeing the 1% build a New America on the ruins of the old would upset the even tenor of our lives.

Buffalo Jills

Buffalo Jills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on 9 August 2012. Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

“To get the man’s soul and give nothing in return -– that is what really gladdens Satan’s heart.”
— C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942)

Contents

  1. Cheerleaders mistreated for profit
  2. Internships: opportunities for the affluent
  3. Entry level positions for lawyers
  4. For More Information

(1)  Cheerleaders mistreated for profit

Cheerleaders for professional sports teams pay much of their own expenses, work long hours, and earn a pittance — all in the service of fabulously profitable sports businesses.

The Cheerleaders Rise Up: NFL cheerleaders are putting down their pom-poms and demanding a better deal“, Amanda Hess, Slate, 23 April 2014 — Excerpt:

In 2014, the cheerleaders revolted.

This January, rookie NFL cheerleader Lacy T. kicked things off when she filed a class action lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders, alleging that the team fails to pay its Raiderettes minimum wage, withholds their pay until the end of the season, imposes illegal fines for minor infractions (like gaining 5 pounds), and forces cheerleaders to pay their own business expenses (everything from false eyelashes to monthly salon visits).

Within a month, Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Alexa Brenneman had filed a similar suit against her team, claiming that the Ben-Gals are paid just $2.85 an hour for their work on the sidelines.

And Tuesday, five former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders filed suit against their own team, alleging that the Buffalo Jills were required to perform unpaid work for the team for about 20 hours a week. Unpaid activities included: submitting to a weekly “jiggle test” (where cheer coaches “scrutinized the women’s stomach, arms, legs, hips, and butt while she does jumping jacks”); parading around casinos in bikinis “for the gratification of the predominantly male crowd”; and offering themselves up as prizes at a golf tournament, where they were required to sit on men’s laps on the golf carts, submerge themselves in a dunk tank, and perform backflips for tips (which they did not receive). The Buffalo Jills cheerleaders take home just $105 to $1,800 for an entire season on the job.

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A guide into the weird numbers that run our world, describing both financial bubbles & climate change

Summary: Two of our greatest challenges in the 21st century are climate change and management of economic crises. They’re similar in that their mathematics are unlike that of the normal life — the routine world of averages, variances, and bell-curve distributions. These phenomena take us deep into the mysteries of science. Before we can predict the future on the basis of the changes we’ve made to our physical and social environments, we must understand the range of changes in the past (extreme weather, financial bubbles, depressions)  — events which will reoccur, eventually, even if the world were to (somehow) remain unchanged. In a sense we must prepare for the past before we prepare for the new futures.

Rather than grapple with these complex matters, our political manipulators seek to paint simple pictures of the world. Oversimplified portraits drawn in fear and greed that make us easy to lead — which give us the illusion of knowledge, feeding our ignorance, blinding us to the wonders of our strange world.

Today we look at two articles describing math essential to understand both financial bubbles and weather. These allow us to understand something about our past so that we can prepare for the future: extreme events dominate history, and will largely frame the future. More about this tomorrow.

Chaoic System

A strange attractor plotting the behavior of a chaotic system. By Nicolas Despez, Wikimedia

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“History doesn’t always repeat itself. Sometimes it just screams, ‘Why don’t you listen to me?’ and lets fly with a big stick.”
— John W. Campbell Jr., Analog Science Fiction/Fact Magazine (1965)

“We don’t even plan for the past.”
— Steven Mosher, comment posted to “UK floods in context” at Climate Etc

(A)  Simple definitions of important concepts

(1)  Complex systems: systems with a large number of mutually interacting parts, often open to their environment, which self-organize their internal structure and their dynamics with novel and sometimes surprising macroscopic “emergent” properties. Climate and finance are complex systems.

(2)  Power law distribution: a specific family of statistical distribution appearing as a straight line in a log-log plot. Power laws often have no well-defined mean or variance. Many aspects of nature and society display power-law relationships.

(3)  Black Swan events: Rare, high-impact, and difficult-to-predict events that live in the tails of the probability distribution, beyond the average of history (as in science and finance). Such events are non-computable using standard scientific methods.

(4)  Dragon-kings:  events even beyond the fat tails of the probability distribution. Their extreme outcomes dominate historical results.

For explanations of these things we turn to two articles by Didier Sornette, Prof of Entrepreneurial Risks at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (Wikipedia bio).

(B)  The rare but ugly extreme results from complex systems

Probability Distributions in Complex Systems“, Encyclopedia of Complexity and Systems Science (2009) — Excerpt:

A central property of a complex system is the possible occurrence of coherent large-scale collective behaviors with a very rich structure, resulting from the repeated non-linear interactions among its constituents: the whole turns out to be much more than the sum of its parts. Most complex systems around us exhibit rare and sudden transitions, that occur over time intervals that are short compared to the characteristic time scales of their posterior evolution.

Such extreme events express more than anything else the underlying “forces” usually hidden by almost perfect balance and thus provide the potential for a better scientific understanding of complex systems.

These crises have fundamental societal impacts and range from large natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and tornadoes, landslides, avalanches, lightning strikes, catastrophic events of environmental degradation, to the failure of engineering structures, crashes in the stock market, social unrest leading to large-scale strikes and upheaval, economic draw-downs on national and global scales, regional power blackouts, traffic gridlock, diseases and epidemics, etc.

There is a growing recognition that progress in most of these disciplines, in many of the pressing issues for our future welfare as well as for the management of our everyday life, will need such a systemic complex system and multidisciplinary approach.

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Watch corporations strip-mine their future (and ours)

Summary: Al Qaeda (Bin Laden’s organization, if it still exists in meaningful form) is a threat to America. A greater threat are our CEO’s, some of whom who have discovered discovered a formula to vast personal wealth: leverage the company up (borrow), use those funds to buy back stock (boosting earnings per share), cut capital expenditures (capex) to boost short-term profits, pay most of the profits in dividends — all of which disguises massive payouts to senior managers (via salary, benefits, pensions, golden parachutes, grants of stock and stock options, etc). They’re strip-mining away America’s future. Slowly people begin to fit these pieces together. Today we help you to do so.

Executive Pay

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Contents

  1. An example of how it’s done
  2. Cutting capex: short-selling the future
  3. For More Information

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(1)  An example of how it’s done

List most stories about corporate finance, it’s complex. These articles clearly explain the game using IBM as an example (just one of many), but have to be read. The excepts are just teasers.

(a) Stockholders Got Plundered In IBM’s Hocus-Pocus Machine“, Wolf Richter, Testosterone Pit, 17 October 2013 — Opening:

I’m not picking on IBM. I’m almost sure they have some decent products. So they had a crummy quarter – the sixth quarter in a row of sales declines. And their hardware sales in China have collapsed since Snowden’s revelations about the NSA and its collaboration with American tech companies. But in one area, IBM excels: its hocus-pocus machine.

IBM isn’t alone in its excellence and isn’t even at the top of the heap in that respect. There are many corporations like IBM, mastodons that successfully pull a bag over investors’ heads, aided and abetted by Wall Street with its “analysts,” and by the Fed, to hide the stockholder plunder taking place behind a billowing smokescreen of verbiage.

(b) Big Blue: Stock Buyback Machine On Steroids“, David Stockman, at his website Contra Corner, 17 April 2014 — Opening:

The Fed’s financial repression policies destroy price discovery and honest capital markets. In the process these deformations turn financial markets into casinos and corporate executives into prevaricating gamblers. To be specific, most CEOs of the Fortune 500 are no longer running commercial businesses; they are in the stock-rigging game, harvesting a mother lode of stock option winnings as the go along.

Those munificently rising stock prices and options cash-outs owe much to the Fed’s campaign to suppress interest rates and fuel stock market based ”wealth effects”, but the CEOs are doing their part, too. They have become full-time financial engineers who use the Fed’s flood of liquidity, cheap debt and soaring stock prices to perform a giant strip-mining operation on their own companies. That is, through endless stock buybacks and M&A maneuvers they create the appearance of “growth” while actually liquidating the balance sheet equity and future asset base on which legitimate earnings growth depends.

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The Ukraine crisis gives us a peak behind the curtain into the workings of our government

Summary: Every geopolitical crisis provides us with information about our nation and our world. They provide peeks into the machinery hidden behind the government’s secrecy and journalists’ narratives. The Crimean crisis, a small area inside Russia’s sphere of influence, hyped by our hawks into a world-shaking incident, provides a rich lode for mining insights. Helping us, doing the heavy lifting, is one of our top defense analysts, Chuck Spinney. See the last section for links to other useful articles about this.

Military spending

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Ukraine: Manna From Heaven for the Green Line and Beyond Crowd

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney

From his website, The Blaster
26 March 214

Posted with his generous permission

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Most Americans know very little about the immediate origins of the crisis in the Ukraine and their government’s involvement in it. They know even less about its deeper roots, that reach back into Russian view of American duplicity in breaking its verbal promises not to expand NATO and the European Union eastward (useful summaries can be found here and here).

These promises were interpreted quite reasonably by the Russians as a quid pro quo for Mikhail Gorbachev’s agreement to

  1. the unification of Germany,
  2. the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and
  3. the withdrawal of Soviet forces from eastern Europe.

Gorbachev’s dream of a common European Home was always fanciful, but today, Ukraine proves it is in tatters.

If one is to believe the reportage in the mainstream media, the duly elected but decidedly corrupt government of the Ukraine was overthrown by a spontaneous revolt of the freedom-seeking Ukrainian people. But it is also clear from leaked recordings of phone conversations and the bloviations of U.S. “pro-defense” legislators that members of the U.S. government were at least tangentially involved, as were Ukrainian neo-fascists.

There is much more, however.

 

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What did we learn from our intervention in Libya?

Summary:  As the cries for war rise again in America, let’s reflect on the consequences from our last several interventions. We bomb foreign nations hoping to build better societies; repeated failure doesn’t discourage our hawks. Third in a series about lessons learned from our wars after 9-11.

Three years ago:

“Yesterday, in response to a call for action by the Libyan people and the Arab League, the U.N. Security Council passed a strong resolution that demands an end to the violence against citizens. It authorizes the use of force with an explicit commitment to pursue all necessary measures to stop the killing … We have made clear our support for a set of universal values, and our support for the political and economic change that the people of the region deserve.”

Speech by President Obama, 18 March 2011

Libya war cartoon

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Contents

  1. An important moment in time
  2. Assessing the results
  3. Lessons learned
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. For More Information

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(1)  An important moment in time

Before our intervention in Libya, I cautioned that it likely would have bad — perhaps horrific — results. A well-known expert in military and foreign affairs disagreed, advocating humanitarian military action. Here is his rebuttal to my analysis:

You just have not seen enough people bleed to death.

As I wrote before Obama’s speech, that’s an emotionally compelling response.  It claims the moral high ground, seeking to preserve life and end tyranny.  It claims authority through the speaker’s military experience, since we believe that Yoda was wrong and wars do make us great.  If said loudly and firmly to a crowd it evokes applause (to American audiences; probably not so much in Europe or Asia).

Now the echoes of our bombs have died away. Our special operations forces have mostly left. Now we can tally the results. Now begins the vital task of learning from our experience. My first conclusions is that America’s foreign policy will continue to be a series of failures so long as views such as this are heard without revulsion.

We don’t own the result in Libya. There is no “pottery barn rule” (believe nothing Thomas Friedman says). The people of Libya have agency, and have the final responsibility for their nation. But as a superpower we have great power. For both our future and the world’s we must learn from our experiences.

So what has followed our intervention in Libya, which we were told was almost certain to produce great results?

(a) Political Killings Still Plaguing Post-Qaddafi Libya“, New York Times, 11 March 2014 — Excerpt:

Libya has suffered widespread bloodletting in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution. Over 1,200 people have been killed nationwide in the last two years, victims of revenge, power clashes and spiraling crime.

Political divisions within the elected General National Congress, with groups backed by rival militias, have rendered the appointed government almost powerless. The power struggle kept Prime Minister Ali Zeidan under threat of dismissal for months before he was voted out of office on Tuesday, and left the country without an interior minister since August, when the last one resigned.

No place has been harder hit than the country’s second-largest city, Benghazi, the birthplace of the Libyan uprising. More than 100 prominent figures, senior security officials, judges and political activists have been assassinated in two years, and the wave of killings is decimating local leadership and paralyzing the government and security forces.

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America’s hawks sing a song of national decline

Summary: The calls for war ring again from American pundits and geopolitical experts. No cause is too small, hopeless, or irrelevant to us — threatening war is always the right response, says a loud and influential number of Americans, to maintain our credibility and reputation. They sign a siren song of national decline. No nation, however great, can so dissipate it resources (both physical and political). And eventually they will get the disastrous war they seek.

Nuclear Kraken

Release the Kraken!     (Art by lchappell)

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This is a follow-up to About the Ukraine-Russia conflict. First, know what we don’t know.

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A flood of books published this year help us commemorate the centennial of WWI and remember its lessons. A common theme is the stupidity of Europe’s peoples — and their leaders — in 1914, so carelessly sliding into a calamitous war for so little reason.

To see how this happens, read your newspaper. America’s papers overflow with cries for America to threaten (or use) economic and military force in response to Russia’s increasingly assertive actions in its “near abroad” (their version of the Monroe Doctrine zone) — their aggressive moves into other nations (like ours into Afghanistan and Iraq).

These people’s screeds seldom balance risk with the potential gains, or measure the danger of escalation. They seldom assert that US national interests are at stake (that’s seen in the frequency of their calls for belligerence : in Iran, in Yemen, in Sudan, in Libya, in Syria, in Ukraine).

Rather they would deploy US power in pursuit of chimeras like prestige and credibility. In fact no nation can gain such things by routinely threatening force over issues in which it has no substantial interest — except through Nixon’s “Madman Theory” (based on a sentence of advice by Machiavelli), which would bring its own shattering blowback if believed (e.g., forfeiting Western leadership).

These people are the unwitting agents of national decline for America, in two ways. Even when unable to influence policy, they push leaders to greater belligerence in order to avoid “looking weak” (a bad thing in the eyes of foolish people) and losing domestic political support. And occasionally they will get their way, leading America into a new cycle of pointless conflict — diverting our limited resources from pressing domestic needs.

If left unopposed — and they are largely unopposed on the public stage (another parallel with 1914) — they might eventually get the war they seek. I doubt that will turn our well for America (It didn’t work well for Athens).

A quick look at a few of the hawkish squawks

Formally recognize Ukraine, prepare NATO troops“, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Nathan Gardels, op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor, 3 March 2014 — Brzezinski was Carter’s National Security Advisor. Money paragraph; very coy:

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About the Ukraine-Russia conflict. First, know what we don’t know.

Summary:  It’s another world crisis. As usual quite obvious things remain invisible to US geopolitical experts and even diligent readers of the US news media. Here is an attempt to fill in the blanks around the conflict in the Ukraine (putting it in a larger context), with links to useful sources of information about specifics of the conflict. Part one; see part two.

Grand Strategy

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“You just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”

— Secretary of State John Kerry displays awesome hypocrisy on Face the Nation, 2 March 2014

It’s sad to watch the belligerent, often ignorant, US hawks again go hysterical. Before enlisting yourself or your children, please read these useful things to know about the conflict in the Ukraine:

  1. Our weak response to this (strong rhetoric, weak actions) results from an incoherent grand strategy.
  2. History suggests that we (American public) don’t know what’s going on. Key facts are hidden from us, or lost amidst the propaganda barrages of both sides.
  3. Russia is acting according to historical norms. They violate the post-WW2 laws established by the United Nations Charter, …
  4. just as we have done so many times — and even more frequently since 9-11. Our betrayal since 9-11 of the post-WW2 order we built gives us little credibility in conflicts like Ukraine.

The last point deserves more attention. It’s the “clean hands” doctrine, which provides a useful lens through which to see this conflict:

A person coming to court with a lawsuit or petition for a court order must be free from unfair conduct (have “clean hands” or not have done anything wrong) in regard to the subject matter of the claim. His/her activities not involved in the legal action can be abominable because they are considered irrelevant. (from The Legal Dictionary)

First, there have been ample rumors of covert US involvement in the Ukraine — another chapter in the long list of US programs to destabilize or replace governments hostile to US political or corporate interests. Needless to say, these give us “dirty hands” when complaining about Russia’s violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

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