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And, yes, I DO take it personally: 02/21/2010 - 02/28/2010
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And, yes, I DO take it personally

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Chilean quake

i've been watching this story unfold since early this morning... i was stunned to hear that, according to one report, buildings shook as far away as the buenos aires microcentro (the core of the downtown area)... i also heard that some electricity and phones were out in mendoza, argentina... mendoza is just on the east side of the andes, several hundred kms from santiago with mt. aconcagua in between, so you can imagine how strong the quake was to pass through such a massif...

photos and text courtesy of yahoo news...


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Map locating the epicentre of the huge
8.8-magnitude earthquake which has
rocked Chile, killing at least 78 people,
toppling buildings and triggering a
tsunami warning around the Pacific
rim of fire, President Michelle Bachelet
announced.


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Vehicles that were driving along a highway
that collapsed during the earthquake near
Santiago are seen overturned on the asphalt
Saturday Feb. 27, 2010 after an 8.8-magnitude
earthquake struck central Chile early Saturday.
The quake hit 200 miles (325 kilometers)
southwest of the capital and the epicenter
was just 70 miles (115 kilometers) from
Concepcion, Chile's second-largest city.


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An image generated by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) West Coast
and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center shows the
projected tsunami travel times following a 8.8-magnitude
earthquake that rocked Chile early February 27, 2010.


what disturbs me the most is that almost all of the photos and news stories so far are from santiago and other cities several hundred kilometers from the epicenter... there has been very little yet from the city closest to the epicenter, concepcion... this is going to be evolving for days, particularly when considering that an 8.8 magnitude quake is on the order of 8-900 TIMES more powerful than the earthquake that recently hit haiti...

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Torture r us - waterboarding, hypothermia, heat injury, forced nakedness, forced sex acts, mock executions, descrating religious objects

there's something truly rotten at the core of my country when our elected representatives cannot bring themselves to condemn torture... absolutely disgusting...
As it debated legislation to reauthorize U.S. intelligence programs, the House Friday morning at the last minute stripped language from a wide-ranging amendment that would have prohibited U.S. intelligence operatives from engaging in cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The torture prohibition had been included Thursday in a package of amendments offered by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) that was debated on the House floor. The section of the amendment was titled, “Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment in Interrogations Prohibited.”

According to Politico, the language was drafted by liberal Washington Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott, and included in Reyes’ package of amendments at the insistence of Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) .

The torture language drew immediate criticism from key House Republicans and conservative opinion leaders off Capitol Hill. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking minority member of the Intelligence Committee, complained, “Republicans brought this to the attention of the American people, who were rightly outraged that Democrats would try to target those we ask to serve in harm’s way. … The annual intelligence bill should be about protecting and defending our nation, not targeting those we ask to do that deed and giving greater protections to terrorists.”

Before the House voted on the amendment, leaders decided that the provision should be removed, judging that its inclusion could put passage of the entire bill at risk. That required a hurriedly scheduled Rules Committee meeting Thursday evening to approve a rule that modified the Reyes amendment, to take out the torture provision. All of that delayed further action on the amendment, and the bill, until Friday.

When the House finally voted on the Reyes amendment Friday morning, it was on the modified version — sans the torture language, which would have specifically prohibited waterboarding, inducing hypothermia or heat injury, forcing a person to be naked or to perform a sex act, or conducting mock executions. The amendment also would have banned interrogators from forcing a prisoner to maintain stress positions or to desecrate a religious object.

reading things like this just make me want to cry...

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Want to know if our financial elites are truly evil...? Read this...

truly appalling in its cynicism and potential for economic destruction, all the while making our super-rich even richer...
Bets by some of the same banks that helped Greece shroud its mounting debts may actually now be pushing the nation closer to the brink of financial ruin.

Echoing the kind of trades that nearly toppled the American International Group, the increasingly popular insurance against the risk of a Greek default is making it harder for Athens to raise the money it needs to pay its bills, according to traders and money managers.

These contracts, known as credit-default swaps, effectively let banks and hedge funds wager on the financial equivalent of a four-alarm fire: a default by a company or, in the case of Greece, an entire country. If Greece reneges on its debts, traders who own these swaps stand to profit.

“It’s like buying fire insurance on your neighbor’s house — you create an incentive to burn down the house,” said Philip Gisdakis, head of credit strategy at UniCredit in Munich.

As Greece’s financial condition has worsened, undermining the euro, the role of Goldman Sachs and other major banks in masking the true extent of the country’s problems has drawn criticism from European leaders. But even before that issue became apparent, a little-known company backed by Goldman, JP Morgan Chase and about a dozen other banks had created an index that enabled market players to bet on whether Greece and other European nations would go bust.

Last September, the company, the Markit Group of London, introduced the iTraxx SovX Western Europe index, which is based on such swaps and let traders gamble on Greece shortly before the crisis. Such derivatives have assumed an outsize role in Europe’s debt crisis, as traders focus on their daily gyrations.

A result, some traders say, is a vicious circle. As banks and others rush into these swaps, the cost of insuring Greece’s debt rises. Alarmed by that bearish signal, bond investors then shun Greek bonds, making it harder for the country to borrow. That, in turn, adds to the anxiety — and the whole thing starts over again.

this is a perfect example of the moral and ethical bankruptcy of the current global financial system... there is simply nothing to check the inexorable slide into unfettered greed where money and profits trump all other considerations... as long as the super-rich elites are getting their daily fix of more and more and more money, nothing - absolutely NOTHING - else matters...

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I didn't think the U.S. could go any more over the top than it did with the U.S. Embassy in Iraq

i guess i was wrong... take a gander at this complete with moat...

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A model of the US Embassy in Battersea, complete with
moat 30m wide and rolling parkland

The United States has unveiled plans for its new $1 billion high-security embassy in London — the most expensive it has ever built.

[...]

A moat 30 metres (100ft) wide and rolling parkland will separate the building from the main road, protecting it from would-be bombers and removing the need for ... blast barriers... .

The State Department sought to play down the cost of security measures, noting the expense of London building work. But the price puts the London embassy above the US’s most fortified missions, including the Baghdad embassy, which cost $600 million (£390 million) but required a further $100 million of work on air conditioning, and the Islamabad embassy, still under construction, which has cost more than $850 million.

kinda makes me nostalgic for the mere $600M+ spent to construct the u.s. embassy in iraq...

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U.S. Embassy, Baghdad, Iraq

i wasn't aware of it, but there's also a new u.s. embassy under construction in islamabad, pakistan, at the hefty price tag of $850M... is it any wonder people in other countries hate us...?

(thanks to kevin at cryptogon...)

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License to steal

yes, i've been posting extensively on the rape and pillage of the economy and the rapidly-disappearing middle class being conducted by our super-rich elites... i'm not sure it's possible to give too much exposure to the outright coup that's been taking place for years but has escalated dramatically in the past few years...

robert scheer...

They do have a license to steal. There is no other way to read Tuesday’s report from the New York state comptroller that bonuses for Wall Street financiers rose 17 percent to $20.3 billion in 2009. Of course that is less than the $32.9 billion for bonus rewards back in 2007, when those hotshots could still pretend that they were running sound businesses.

The economy is anything but sound, but you would hardly know that from looking at the balance sheets of the big investment banks. The broker-dealer firms on Wall Street made a record profit, estimated at greater than $55 billion by the comptroller, and the only thing holding back even more grotesque bonuses was concern over criticism from a public that was hardly doing as well.

The enormous rewards last year come not from their having righted the ship of finance by lowering the rate of mortgage foreclosures for ordinary folks, one of four who are now “underwater” on their loans. Consumer confidence this month is the lowest in 27 years, and unemployment is expected to hover near 10 percent for the next two years. No, they get bonuses because the Federal Reserve, backed by the Treasury, bought the toxic mortgage securitization packages that Wall Street banks were left holding. They, and they alone, were made whole.

The way the scam worked is that the Treasury deposited taxpayer dollars with the Federal Reserve, which in turn purchased a whopping $1.25 trillion in toxic mortgages. That’s the figure after the Treasury on Tuesday committed to depositing $200 billion more with the Fed to increase spending on this program—one that was ostensibly designed to increase credit availability to small businesses and others but has hardly accomplished that goal. Credit is still very tight because the big financiers have used the low-cost cash they received from those charitable government programs to solidify their own positions through acquisitions and the like.

those of us privileged to live in the united states (and i say "privileged" because, despite the abominations taking place in my country, it's still a much better place to live overall than so many other places, places such as kosovo, for example, where i am currently sitting, writing this post) are understandably loath to face facts when they undermine the glorious image of our country that's been pounded into our heads from the time we learned to talk... but, it's a fact... we're being robbed, virtually at gunpoint, as mr. scheer rightly points out... however, we must also understand that it's not just us getting the shaft... these same people are perpetrating the same financial and economic devastation around the world... what's more, they serve as role models for such behavior... how, for instance, can i do effective work here in kosovo, a country awash in corruption and self-serving behavior from its leaders, when everyone can see what's happening in the very country that's preaching ethics and responsible behavior... it's maddening...

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If you ever wanted to see a headline that tells you who's really running the country, here it is

kinda says it all, doesn't it?...
Wall Street shifting political contributions to Republicans

Commercial banks and high-flying investment firms have shifted their political contributions toward Republicans in recent months amid harsh rhetoric from Democrats about fat bank profits, generous bonuses and stingy lending policies on Wall Street.

The wealthy securities and investment industry, for example, went from giving 2 to 1 to Democrats at the start of 2009 to providing almost half of its donations to Republicans by the end of the year, according to new data compiled for The Washington Post by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Commercial banks and their employees also returned to their traditional tilt in favor of the GOP after a brief dalliance with Democrats, giving nearly twice as much to Republicans during the last three months of 2009, the data show. At the same time, total political donations by the major banks and investment houses alike dropped in the waning months of that year.

and there ya have it... the super-rich elites will pay whatever it takes to ensure they stay in power...

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Poor Argentina... If it isn't one thing, it's another...

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most of us can't even imagine 30% inflation, but let me give you a small example of what i've experienced in the six years i've been living part-time in buenos aires... when i started coming to argentina in 2004, i paid 5 pesos ($1.50) for a haircut and usually threw in a one peso tip (not something the argentines do, i can tell you)... when i got my hair cut last month, it was up to 20 pesos ($5.50) and i threw in a two peso tip...

for those who are struggling to get by - and there are plenty of them in argentina - i simply don't know how they can make it...

Argentine consumers expect inflation in next 12 months to reach 30%

Argentines with the lowest income expect consumer prices to rise 30% over the coming year, up from the 20% increase they forecast in January, the Buenos Aires-based University said in an e-mailed statement.

[...]

A January survey of 56 economists by Argentina’s central bank forecast inflation of 10.8% over the next 12 months. The gap between the central bank and Di Tella is the result of the “scarce credibility that the official reports have,” the university said in the statement.

Economists and politicians including Vice-President Julio Cobos have questioned the government’s inflation reports since January 2007, when then President Nestor Kirchner began changing personnel at the national statistics agency.

Javier Paz, who tracks inflation at Buenos Aires-based Ecolatina research company said prices rose 2.2% in January from December. The government said prices rose 1% over the same period.

i posted earlier on the torrential rains over the past week in buenos aires... so, imagine dealing with prices rising into the stratosphere and then experiencing this at a railroad crossing...

Tsunami en Palermo Soho
(link to video clip)

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Our destitute working class

chris hedges is a staunch defender of unions...

while i would be the last one to say that unions haven't had a hand in our economic collapse and aren't guilty of pursuing their own self-preservation without regard for the effectiveness or profitability of the organizations who employ their members, i also know that systematic union genocide leaves ordinary employees defenseless against what is increasingly clear are the insatiable predators that constitute our corporate state... i also have little doubt that those predators have waged and are waging a ceaseless campaign to rid their world of those pesky unions who might, just might, affect their precious bottom line...

Our destitute working class is beginning to grasp that Barack Obama and other elected officials in Washington, who speak in a cloying feel-your-pain language, are liars. They are not attempting to prevent wages from sinking, unemployment from mounting, foreclosures from ripping apart communities, banks from looting the U.S. Treasury or jobs from being exported. The gap between our stark reality and the happy illusions peddled by smarmy television news personalities and fatuous academic and financial experts, as well as oily bureaucrats and politicians, is becoming too wide to ignore. Those cast aside are reaching out to anyone, no matter how buffoonish or ignorant, who promises that the parasites and courtiers who serve the corporate state will disappear. Right-wing rage is being fused with right-wing populism. And once this takes hold, a protofascism will sweep across our blighted landscape fueled by a mounting personal and economic despair. Take a look at Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here.” It is a good window into what awaits us.

“One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out,” the philosopher Richard Rorty warns in his book “Achieving Our Country.” “Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words ‘nigger’ and ‘kike’ will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.”

Whoever rides to power on the back of this rage will swiftly broker a deal with corporations and corporate overlords. But by then it will be too late. Dissent will become a form of treason. The security state will be quickly cemented in place. The bankrupt liberal class, which abandoned the working class and the fight for basic civil liberties, will be reviled, discredited and impotent. America will develop its own peculiar form of Christian fascism.

Obama, entranced with power and prestige, is more interested in courting the elite than saving the disenfranchised. The president, when asked to name a business executive he admires, cited Frederick Smith of FedEx, although Smith is a union-busting Republican. Smith, who was a member of Yale’s secret Skull & Bones Society along with George W. Bush, served as John McCain’s finance chair. I guess Obama is hoping for some cash. And Smith has a lot of it. He founded FedEx in 1971, and the company had more than $35 billion in revenue in the fiscal year that ended in May. Smith is rich and powerful, but there is no ethical system, religious or secular, that would hold him up as a man worthy of emulation. Those who make vast profits at the expense of workers and the common good are not moral. They are not worthy of adulation. They build fortunes and little monuments to themselves off the pain and suffering of [other] people... . Jesus called them “vipers.”


there's plenty more to the article, much of it, i'm afraid, i'm in complete agreement with, not because i think it's a good forecast, but because i see a lot of it playing out in front of my very eyes...

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More crazy weather - two feet of snow in Reno...!

i've seen some heavy snows in reno but nothing like what hit them yesterday... it was evidently one for the books, shattering snowfall records that have stood since 1918...

the photo below was taken by my son off the back deck of his house where, due to the intensity of the snow coming down, it's almost impossible to see houses on the next street... i pitched in with a fair amount of shoveling when i was there before the holidays and i'm sorry i wasn't there this time to help out... i did do quite a bit of shoveling at my friend's place in suburban d.c. week before last so i guess i haven't escaped entirely unscathed...


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about 8 yesterday morning here in pristina, it started snowing so hard i thought it would be up to my waist in no time but it only lasted for less than 20 minutes...

i've got to figure something is happening with global climate change given the frequency and intensity of weather events seemingly happening everywhere...

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Who benefits from the "recovery"...? Hint: It ain't "We, the people"... 2.7M will lose unemployment in April...

in typical u.s. news media fashion, this nyt article, while it at least does call some attention to the sufferings being endured in this latest rape and pillage of the middle class, neglects to focus on the super-rich elites who are still raking it in...
Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs

Even as the American economy shows tentative signs of a rebound, the human toll of the recession continues to mount, with millions of Americans remaining out of work, out of savings and nearing the end of their unemployment benefits.

Economists fear that the nascent recovery will leave more people behind than in past recessions, failing to create jobs in sufficient numbers to absorb the record-setting ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Call them the new poor: people long accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life who are now relying on public assistance for the first time in their lives — potentially for years to come.

Yet the social safety net is already showing severe strains. Roughly 2.7 million jobless people will lose their unemployment check before the end of April unless Congress approves the Obama administration’s proposal to extend the payments, according to the Labor Department.

maybe i was too hasty... here's what the article actually does say about who is reaping the benefits of the recovery...
Large companies are increasingly owned by institutional investors who crave swift profits, a feat often achieved by cutting payroll. The declining influence of unions has made it easier for employers to shift work to part-time and temporary employees. Factory work and even white-collar jobs have moved in recent years to low-cost countries in Asia and Latin America. Automation has helped manufacturing cut 5.6 million jobs since 2000 — the sort of jobs that once provided lower-skilled workers with middle-class paychecks.

“American business is about maximizing shareholder value,” said Allen Sinai, chief global economist at the research firm Decision Economics. “You basically don’t want workers. You hire less, and you try to find capital equipment to replace them.”

ay, and therein lies the rub... that lovely euphemism, "maximizing shareholder value," is really code for keeping the rivers of cash flowing to the already obscenely wealthy and to hell with anybody else... what i wonder is what are the rich going to do when there's nobody left to buy their shit...?

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Two major storms deluge Buenos Aires

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A lake forms at the intersection of Niceto Vega and Uriarte
Barrio Palermo, Cuidad de Buenos Aires


the weather everywhere seems to keep getting crazier... this past friday afternoon, for the second time in four days, buenos aires got nailed by torrential downpours and the last one caused disruption in subway and commuter train service... water was pouring down the stairs of the entrance to the lacroze subway station on the "d" line and shorted out the third rail of electrical service on several commuter lines... i can only imagine the chaos and even though i love big storms, i'm kind of glad i wasn't there...

see this article (in spanish) in the la nacion newspaper for more...

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