Weekend Reading Recommendations

Some interesting articles you may have missed.

  1. Sunspots Are Fewest Since 1954, but Significance Is Unclear“, NY Times, 3 October 2008
  2. Agency’s ’04 Rule Let Banks Pile Up New Debt“, NY Times, 3 October 2008 — One of the major steps to the recent financial crisis was a SEC rule change.
  3. The House of Death: An interview with DEA whistleblower Sandy Gonzalez“, Reason, 30 September 2008

As always, these excerpts are only intended to convey the subject of the article.  I recommend reading them in full.


Sunspots Are Fewest Since 1954, but Significance Is Unclear“, NY Times, 3 October 2008 — Excerpt:

The Sun has been strangely unblemished this year. On more than 200 days so far this year, no sunspots were spotted. That makes the Sun blanker this year than in any year since 1954, when it was spotless for 241 days.

The Sun goes through a regular 11-year cycle, and it is now emerging from the quietest part of the cycle, or solar minimum. But even for this phase it has been unusually quiet, with little roiling of the magnetic fields that induce sunspots. … As of Thursday, the 276th day of the year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo., had counted 205 days without a sunspot.

In another sign of solar quiescence, scientists reported last month that the solar wind, a rush of charged particles continually spewed from the Sun at a million miles an hour, had diminished to its lowest level in 50 years.

Scientists are not sure why this minimum has been especially minimal, and the episode is even playing into the global warming debate. Some wonder if this could be the start of an extended period of solar indolence that would more than offset the warming effect of human-made carbon dioxide emissions. From the middle of the 17th century to the early 18th, a period known as the Maunder Minimum, sunspots were extremely rare, and the reduced activity coincided with lower temperatures in what is known as the Little Ice Age.

… Scientists expect that sunspot activity will pick up in the coming months, but exactly what will happen next is open to debate.

 “Agency’s ’04 Rule Let Banks Pile Up New Debt“, NY Times, 3 October 2008 — One of the major steps to the recent financial crisis was a SEC rule change.  This story was originally broken on September 18 by the now-defunct The Sun.  Excerpt:

Many events in Washington, on Wall Street and elsewhere around the country have led to what has been called the most serious financial crisis since the 1930s. But decisions made at a brief meeting on April 28, 2004, explain why the problems could spin out of control. The agency’s failure to follow through on those decisions also explains why Washington regulators did not see what was coming.

On that bright spring afternoon, the five members of the Securities and Exchange Commission met in a basement hearing room to consider an urgent plea by the big investment banks.

They wanted an exemption for their brokerage units from an old regulation that limited the amount of debt they could take on. The exemption would unshackle billions of dollars held in reserve as a cushion against losses on their investments. Those funds could then flow up to the parent company, enabling it to invest in the fast-growing but opaque world of mortgage-backed securities; credit derivatives, a form of insurance for bond holders; and other exotic instruments.

The House of Death: An interview with DEA whistleblower Sandy Gonzalez“, Reason, 30 September 2008 — Most Americans have little knowledge of how our police work; learning more will not make them feel better.  Excerpt:

Sandalio “Sandy” Gonzalez recently retired after a 32-year career in law enforcement, 27 as an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), at one point serving as its head of operations in South America.

Three years ago, Gonzalez’s career came to an abrupt end after he blew the whistle in a horrifying case now known as the “House of Death,” in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents stand accused of looking the other way while one of their drug informants participated in torturing and murdering at least a dozen people in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

… But instead of praising Gonzalez’s efforts to expose this egregious mishandling of a paid government informant, Tandy and other government officials reprimanded him for creating a record of ICE’s transgressions. Tandy and U.S. Attorney Sutton called Gonzalez “hysterical,” warning him not to talk to the media. They eventually forced him into an early retirement in 2005.


Please share your comments by posting below.  Please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and broadly relevant to these topic.  These weekend reading posts are more like open threads than the usual tightly focused discussions on this site.

Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling). 

For more information about these topics

These reference pages appear on the upper part of the right side menu bar.

  1. Financial crisis – what’s happening? how will this end?.
  2. For a broader perspective on the crisis:  End of the post-WWII geopolitical regime
  3. For more about the Sun, Solar Cycle 24, and climate change see Science, Nature, and Geopolitics.

2 thoughts on “Weekend Reading Recommendations”

  1. re: House of Death

    After the accounts in Dark Alliance and Cocaine Politics, including the books’ mentions of the DEA, the activity described in Reason is not surprising. While not necessarily related, I read an article which discussed the concern that Karzai’s brother is involved in poppy smuggling.

    More embarrassing for Mr Karzai are persistent allegations that his Kandaharbased brother Ahmed Wali Karzai – who helped finance his recent election campaign – is involved in the trade: “Karzai victory plants seeds of hope in fight to kick Afghan opium habit“, Guardian 1 January 2005 — “April’s harvest will show whether campaign to stop farmers growing poppies has curbed world’s biggest heroin supplier”

    Makes one wonder if drug trafficking in Iraq has gone up under U.S. occupation.

    Iraq Emerging as a Transit Country for Drugs, INCB President Says“, UN Information Service, 12 May 2005 — Excerpt:

    “Iraq is emerging as a transit point for drugs originating in Afghanistan and entering Jordan en route to final destinations in Asia and Europe, Professor Hamid Ghodse, President of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), said today at a press briefing in Vienna, where the INCB is currently meeting in its 83rd session.”

  2. Drug violence kills at least 49 in Tijuana this week: Link.
    Mexican violence forcing families to emigrate: Link.
    Fearful Mexicans pay for chip implants so they can be tracked by satellite if they’re kidnapped for ransom: Link.</A.
    Mexican officials are seeking asylum from drug violence in the United States:
    Drug war tally: 1,000 slain so far this year in city just two miles south of El Paso, Texas: Link.
    Mexican drug gangs step up police murder war: Link.
    Drug cartels threaten to take over Mexico: Link.

    Clearly Mexico is in the process of collapsing into a failed state. Since it shares a large border with the United States, you’d think this would be of some concern to most Americans. However, it is not possible to conduct a serious discussion in public about securing the Mexican border and propping up the failing state of Mexico. Anyone who tries gets labeled “racist” or “anti-business” and gets shut out of the national discourse.

    It’s remarkable that at this crux in history, when so many major transformations have begun inside America and throughout the world, the American people persist in 10 different unustainable policies which cannot be seriously discussed as part of the national discourse. We can talk about lipstick and pit bulls…but not about securing our border with a failing state that’s in the process of disintegrating into another Columbia or El Salvador.

    In fact, none of these 10 unsustainable American policies can even be publicly mentioned in our current national discouse:

    [1] Reducing the U.S. military-industrial complex can never be seriously discussed. It is simply not open for discussion.

    [2] Ending the War on Drugs and legalizing drugs can never be seriously discussed. Anyone who attempts to do so gets instantly labeled as a “moonbat,” “a crazy person,” “not serious,” etc.

    [3] Securing the Mexican border can never be seriously discussed. Anyone who tries gets smeared as a “racist” who “doesn’t understand the problems of American businesses near the Mexican border.”

    [4] Transforming America’s oil-and-personal-car-based transportation infrastructure to a more sustainable system cannot be seriously discussed. Anyone who tries is condemned as “anti-growth” and “a body-pierced hippy freak.”

    [5] Ending the culture war in America cannot be seriously discussed. Anyone who talks about is gets dismissed as “utopian” and “naive.”

    [6] Checking the uncontrolled growth of corporate power in the U.S. and throughout the world cannot be seriously discussed. Anyone who tries is ridiculed as a “commie” and “a socialist subversive.”

    [7] Stopping the outsourcing of high-skill high-paying jobs overseas cannot be seriously discussed. Anyone who tries is labelled “an anti-business kook” who “hates capitalism.”

    [8] Ending crazy patent and copyright laws and eliminating the ever-increasing draconian schemes for IP enforcement cannot be serious discussed. Anyone who tries is smeared as “an open source communist.”

    [9] Stopping the uncontrolled growth of the surveillance society cannot be seriously discussed. Anyone who tries gets attacked as “siding with the terrorists.”

    [10] Restoring the Bill of Rights and shutting down the ever-increasing erosion of civil rgihts of American citizens cannot be seriously discussed. Anyone who does so is lambasted as a person who “coddles criminals” and “loves terrorists and hates law enforcement.”

    All of these policies are unsustainable. Either we stop them, or they will end when the social fabric of American society starts to disintegrate under their impact. Yet none of these unsustainable policies can even be discussed in public in America without setting off a firestorm of ridicule and abuse. It’s truly remarkable, as though we were all standing in the middle of a house that’s burning down…yet if any of us tries to open our mouth to point out “The house is burning down,” we’re immediately showered with ridicule and invective and bullied into silence.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Adding to Mexico’s woes is the collapsing oil output of their great Cantarell field. The government has taken away so much of the national oil company’s cash, they have been unable to invest and develop other fields. Rising oil prices have more than compensated, but prices will likely be flat or even fall during a global recession. An fall in the government’s income will hurt.

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