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  Monday   June 23   2008

george carlin 1937-2008

George Carlin, Comic Who Chafed at Society and Its Constraints, Dies at 71

George Carlin, whose astringent stand-up comedy made him an heir of Lenny Bruce, who gave voice to an indignant counterculture and assaulted the barricades of censorship on behalf of a generation of comics that followed him, died on Sunday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 71 and lived in Venice, Calif.

The cause was heart failure, said his publicist, Jeff Abraham. Mr. Carlin, who performed earlier this month at the Orleans hotel in Las Vegas, had a history of heart problems.

“By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth,” read a message on Mr. Carlin’s Web site, GeorgeCarlin.com, and he spent much of his life in a fervent effort to counteract the forces that would have it so. In his always irreverent, often furious social commentary, in his observations of the absurdities of everyday life and language, and in groundbreaking routines like the profane “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” he took aim at what he thought of as the palliating and obfuscating agents of American life — politicians, advertisements, religion, the media and conventional thinking of all stripes.

“If crime fighters fight crime and firefighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?” he asked in a 1980s routine, taking a jab at the Reagan administration’s defense of the Nicaraguan Contras.


The American Dream

  thanks to Information Clearing House

I'm going to miss him.

 10:35 PM - link


High Likelihood of a Market Crash

This past week, the Royal Bank of Scotland credit strategist Bob Janjuah warned of a full-fledged crash in global stock and credit markets. He anticipates a 300 point drop within the next three months. Janjuah as a lot of credibility because his warnings of credit troubles last year, came to fruition this year.

The whole setup reminds me a bit of Elaine Garzarelli in 1987. Garzarelli was a relatively unknown quant analyst and money manager at Shearson Lehman in 1987. In the weeks before October 19th, she made brief appear on FNN, the precursor to CNBC, saying there was a high likelihood that the market could crash. That sealed her place in history.

A lot of other warning signs indicate that the Bank of Scotland isn't that crazy in predicting the unpredictable.

First, the past month generated an Hindenburg Omen. The Omen is a measure of internal divergences in the market and is signaled on June 6th. While the Omen doesn't necessarily mean the market will crash, no crash has ever occurred without a signal in the prior 40 days. For instance, an Hindenburg Omen signal occurred on September 19th, 1987 about one month before the market collapsed.


  thanks to Politics in the Zeros

The Game is Over. There Won't be a Rebound
An Interview with Michael Hudson on the Economy

Mike Whitney: Many of the TV financial gurus --as well as Henry Paulson--keep assuring us that the worst is behind us, but I don't see it. Foreclosures are increasing, the dollar is falling, unemployment is rising, manufacturing is sluggish, food and fuel are soaring, and consumers are backed up on their credit cards, student loans and house payments. Where would you say we are in the present cycle? What will it take to rebound from the current slump? Will the stock market take a beating before all this is over? What do you think the greatest problem facing the economy is; inflation or deflation?

Michael Hudson: The idea that we’re even in a business “cycle” is whistling in the dark. If we’re in a cycle, then that implies there’s an automatic recovery in store. This happy free-market idea was developed at the National Bureau of Economic Research by opponents of government regulatory policy. But the economy doesn’t move by a sine curve. There is a slow buildup, and a sudden plunge, so the shape is ratchet-shaped. This is why 19th-century writers didn’t speak of economic cycles, but rather of periodic financial crises.

Today’s plunging real estate and stock market prices are not a self-correcting ebb and flow in which downturns set in motion automatic stabilizers that produce recovery. Each U.S. recovery since World War II has started out from a higher level of debt. The result is like driving a car with the brakes pressed more and more tightly. Alan Greenspan at the Federal Reserve flooded the banking system with enough credit to enable debts to be carried by borrowing against the rising price of homes and office buildings, corporate stocks and bonds. In effect, the interest charge was simply added onto the debt balance.

But today, the prospects are dim for paying off debts out of further price gains for homes and real estate. Speculators have pulled out of the market – and as late as 2006 they accounted for about a sixth of new purchases. Asset-price inflation fueled by the Federal Reserve – is giving way to debt deflation. The United States and other countries have reached a limit in which scheduled interest and amortization absorb the entire economic surplus of so many individuals, companies and government bodies that new construction, investment and employment are grinding to a halt. Families, real estate investors and companies are obliged to use their entire disposable income to pay their creditors or face bankruptcy. This leaves them without enough money to sustain the living standards of recent years.

This means that there won’t be a rebound, and it will take longer than 2009 to recover.


 10:04 PM - link

typecast #1

Writing on a typewriter is different! You have to think and pay attention to what you have written. Didn't always do that here. I mentioned the blog Strikethru but didn't follow up with the fact that she got me off my butt to get typing again. Thanks! I also notice that the more I type the worse it gets. I need to type more. Actually it went better than expected. Anyway, my intention is to typecast my blog entries on typewriting. Hopefully there will be more. And if you haven't figured it out, the underscored text in the typecast is linked.

 09:37 PM - link


by Jim "Happy Talk" Kunstler

The telling moment last week was Robert Hirsch's appearance on the CNBC morning "Squawkbox" financial show in which he proposed the probability of $500-a-barrel oil within "a three-to-five-year time-frame." Squawkhead Becky Quick was clearly nonplussed by the stolid Mr. Hirsch, author of a (then)-startling 2005 US Dept of Energy report (since referred to as the Hirsch Report and buried by the Secretary of Energy) that warned of dire effects on the American way of life as the Peak Oil predicament gained traction.

Perhaps more reality-challenged was the uber-idiot Larry Kudlow on CNBC's night-time money show, who kept repeating the mantra "drill, drill drill" when presented with signs that something other than "oil speculators" was driving up the price and creating global scarcity. These idiots always return to the shibboleth that "there's plenty of oil out there." What they don't get is that even while the world is enjoying the all time peak of production (somewhere around 85-million barrels-a-day), that same world is demanding at least 86-million barrels -- so even though there's more oil than ever, there's not enough. And the gap is only bound to get bigger.

The difference between what's available and what's demanded is being felt by poor countries and poor people in richer countries. Third world nations lacking their own oil are simply dropping out of the bidding, and the lower classes in the US are having to choose between buying gasoline and velveeta. The floods in the corn belt will surely aggravate the problem here in the USA. Lunch breaks may soon be a thing of the past for WalMart Associates. Maybe they'll just play video games on their cell phones in the parking lot to allay their hunger.


Primer: Peak Oil

The record run-up in oil prices over recent years is igniting fierce debate over the "peak oil" theory — that once the maximum rate of global crude production is reached, it begins a terminal, and possibly steep, decline.

It has become a high profile debate — Boone Pickens weighed in on it before Congress — that depends not just on whether one tends to see the barrel half empty or half full — it’s often a question of getting a good look at the barrel.

That’s certainly a debate swirling around OPEC countries — which produce about a third of the world's oil — which are widely believed to overstate their reserves. Just how much, no one knows.

The reason: cartel members' reserves are the basis for calculating quotas; the lower the reserves, the less oil they can sell. (Non-OPEC, oil-producing countries are more transparent on the subject because their respective international oil companies have to report estimated reserves to investors.)

So far, there is no definitive indication that production is headed southward, much less that any decline is permanent. Saudi Arabia, for instance, recently demonstrated its heft by bringing on excess capacity.

To be sure there are warning signs. Global production fell last year (by 0.2 percent), while consumption continued to grow (by 1.1 percent), and peak oil proponents (which includes an international association) say this squeeze will really bite by 2010.

Skeptics insist oil remains a cyclical business, where the question is always how much oil at a certain price. By this reckoning, today's high prices will eventually lead to more supply — through more exploration, enhanced recovery and development of "unconventional" oil.

Geological variables are just part of the supply equation. Human factors — politics, taxes, investment levels, and that 80 percent of the world’s oil is state-controlled — can be equally important.

It's no wonder, then, that passions can run high in the peak oil debate, sometimes to a pitch that makes it a challenge to bring rival camps to share a stage. That's where a cyber soapbox comes in handy. Here we present two opposing views from long-sparring rivals.


Saudi Arabia - opening the tap?

One wonders, sometimes, why folk would want to get into political office these days, given the pervasive problems starting to arise from the end of cheap and easy to produce oil and natural gas. The rising costs of providing fuel for everything from school buses to emergency responders eats away at one end of a budget. The demands for wage increases to help employees cope with rising fuel and food prices nibbles away both at another part of the budget, but also at public and labor relations. And then there is the cost to repair and maintain the existing infrastructure, let alone make provision for future alternate choices for power and transportation. Sectors of the population, such as truckers, are becoming less shy in complaining about their problems, as unemployment bites into their numbers.

Fortunately there are legislators and candidates for office that do understand both the problems and the complexity in finding answers where options are not immediately responsive or popular. For the rest it often becomes easier to try and unify a constituency by invoking an enemy –someone who can, by their actions, be blamed for constituents’ problems. Sadly the world’s history has been filled with stories of such scapegoats, as an easy way of switching attention. Today it is possible that as oil prices rise, both OPEC and Saudi Arabia may become the villain in articles and political slogans. Given the possible outcomes of such positioning, it is perhaps not surprising that, as another American election swings into the beginning of the end game, that oil suppliers, perhaps sensing this, are indicating the chance of a greater flexibility in supply.

Categorizing the response of Saudi Arabia and OPEC to market pressures is not an easy undertaking, and has been the subject of considerable debate here and elsewhere. To begin there are the different grades of crude that are available. And while the initial impression of the latest Saudi offer is that this will be sweet, light crude (i.e. easy to refine) that has been the historic quality Saudi product, this is not necessarily the case. Bear in mind that the Kingdom also produces a heavier crude, that is frequently sour (i.e. having a high sulfur content) and this has not been easy to market .


 09:09 PM - link

family update

Last Wednesday Zoe and I attended an awards ceremony for our grandson Mike. He is leaving the second grade and this was his last day of school.

His mom, Katie, said he was going to get some kind of award but she didn't know what. It turns out that there is a state-wide athletic test and Mike scored the highest in the school. He was in the 96th percentile in Washington State. Mike went to the South Whidbey Primary School, which is Kindergarden, 1st, and 2nd grades. His mom, as well as aunt and uncle, also went to this school. Next year he will be in the Intermediate School for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades.

After the awards ceremony we took him out to lunch at his favorite restaurant: Mike's Place. He had his favorite: grilled cheese sandwich. We are proud of him. More pictures here.

Thursday we went down to Tacoma to visit Zoe's mom, Gerry. It was her 84th birthday. Kim made a birthday cake for us to take down. The caregivers on her ward taped a piece of paper on her that said "It's Gerry's Birthday!" They also bought a card and had it in her room. The people there really do care for her. That morning Zoe received a call from and old friend of Gerry's. Poppy had been Gerry's best friend since High School. We called Poppy up from the hospital so she could talk to Gerry. It's hard to tell, with Gerry's Alzheimer's, just how much she understood but I think that she was beginning to realize who it was. Gerry's nose looked great. (She fell and broke it about a month ago.) Gerry was in a good mood and a good time was had by all.

 08:44 PM - link