Commerce/Politics

A great article on Richard Blum, one of a scary number of global corporate pirates being fostered by the last twenty or thirty years of cutthroat American ‘free-market’ capitalism. And, by the way, he’s a democrat…

“For all the fanfare that emerged in the Clinton era about how corporate globalization had rendered the nation-state a bit player in the larger drama of the new, “free trade”-dominated corporate economic order, the nation-state’s role in propping up the global capitalist system has never been more central. That role is being laid bare as never before with each multi-billion dollar subsidy the federal government passes onto the financial industry — an estimated $5 trillion in total taxpayer money since the bail-out program commenced in fall 2008 (an exact figure is hard to determine). What is known in academic-speak as “neo-liberalism” represents little more than the sophisticated apex of a governing system refined and perfected over the course of several decades (nay, centuries), which is principally designed to socialize the risks of rapacious capitalism while privatizing public goods to create unprecedented levels of profit for the super-wealthy.”

http://www.counterpunch.org/parrish02262010.html

Economics / Politics

“No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.” – Lily Tomlin

“Policymakers who are banking on stimulus programs are thinking in terms of an economy that no longer exists. Post-war U.S. recessions and recoveries followed Federal Reserve policy. When the economy heated up and inflation became a problem, the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates and reduce the growth of money and credit. Sales would fall. Inventories would build up. Companies would lay off workers.
“Inflation cooled, and unemployment became the problem. Then the Federal Reserve would reverse course. Interest rates would fall, and money and credit would expand. As the jobs were still there, the work force would be called back, and the process would continue.
“It is a different situation today. Layoffs result from the jobs being moved offshore and from corporations replacing their domestic work forces with foreigners brought in on H-1B, L-1 and other work visas. The U.S. labor force is being separated from the incomes associated with the goods and services that it consumes. With the rise of offshoring, layoffs are not only due to restrictive monetary policy and inventory buildup. They are also the result of the substitution of cheaper foreign labor for U.S. labor by American corporations. Americans cannot be called back to work to jobs that have been moved abroad. In the New Economy, layoffs can continue despite low interest rates and government stimulus programs…
“Another barrier to the success of stimulus programs is the high debt levels of Americans. The banks are being criticized for a failure to lend, but much of the problem is that there are no consumers to whom to lend. Most Americans already have more debt than they can handle…
“The problem now is that the U.S. budget deficits have suddenly grown immensely from wars, bankster bailouts, jobs stimulus programs, and lower tax revenues as a result of the serious recession. Budget deficits are now three times the size of the trade deficit. Thus, the surpluses of China, Japan, and OPEC are insufficient to take the newly issued U.S. government debt off the market.
“If the Treasury’s bonds can’t be sold to investors, pension funds, banks, and foreign governments, the Federal Reserve will have to purchase them by creating new money. When the rest of the world realizes the inflationary implications, the US dollar will lose its reserve currency role. When that happens Americans will experience a large economic shock as their living standards take another big hit.
“America is on its way to becoming a country of serfs ruled by oligarchs.”

http://www.counterpunch.org/roberts02162010.html

Just Another Baseball Team

“MasterCard® First Chance Pre-Sale provides fans the opportunity to purchase tickets at a premium for all Cubs home games starting February 15th at 10 am CT.”

In other words, the Chicago Cubs are scalping their own tickets even before they’re released to the general public. It’s not really ‘fans’ they’re providing the ‘opportunity’ to, is it? I believe you can substitute the word ‘fans’ with ‘rubes’ or ‘marks.’

http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/ticketing/index.jsp?c_id=chc

“Brokers typically buy up thousands of tickets on the day individual tickets go on sale and mark up the prices themselves. The Cubs know many of the tickets sold in the presale will go directly to brokers, who will mark them up even more. (Cubs marketing chief Wally) Hayward declined to discuss the scalping issue.”

http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/baseball/cubs/ct-spt-0216-cubs-tix–20100215,0,1938379.story

Movies

Sandra Bullock’s own ‘admission’ that there’s no way she’s winning an Oscar (reverse psychology, anyone?) is somewhat admirable. And I’ve resigned myself to the Oscar tradition of rewarding longtime ‘blue-collar’ actors for particular movies that really don’t deserve it. (Paul Newman didn’t deserve one until ‘Color Of Money’? Really?) What she does, she does pretty well, whether we think there’s real artistic substance there or not. Like Ewan MacGregor, she’ll never make a bad movie better, but she’ll make mediocre movies far more tolerable. Nonetheless, I’m inclined to call the Cotillard-like upset of Carey Mulligan for best actress this year. Take it to the bank, kids. ‘An Education’ isn’t a great movie – thanks to Nick Hornby’s usual concluding betrayal of the values he promotes throughout the first 90% of any of his works – but Carey Mulligan’s performance is worth your full admission price.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/oscars/7166789/Carey-Mulligan-she-is-not-a-new-Audrey-Hepburn.-She-is-herself.html

http://www.salon.com/entertainment/movies/stephanie_zacharek/2010/03/01/carey_mulligan/index.html

Politics

These days, it’s a little too easy to just dismiss the Tea Partiers as Christian-extremist, racist right wingers. (Easy, but not entirely untrue, in my estimation.) I appreciate people like the Daily Beast’s John Avlon, who can expose the near-nauseating excesses of the movement while ALSO clearly elucidating what’s important about the overall philosophies that guide it. He advises ignoring the Rock Stars like Palin and Limbaugh, and thoughtfully reading the undercurrents of the general movement.

“Rep. Michele Bachmann has said she wants the Tea Partiers to take over the GOP. Sarah Palin’s hopes are more modest—a “merger” of the two forces. There’s no question that conservatives are trying to surf the Tea Party wave into increased influence while also trying to purge RINOs from the GOP. But if you take a close look at what’s happening in key campaigns, a different story emerges. The greatest symbol of the Republican resurgence to date is the election of Scott Brown to succeed Ted Kennedy in the Senate. The full 2010 trifecta would include taking Obama and Biden’s Senate seats—and the once-implausible scenario now seems increasingly likely because of the centrist GOP nominees running. Illinois’ Mark Kirk and Delaware’s Mike Castle have been targeted as RINOs by grassroots conservative groups because they describe themselves as social moderates. Like Scott Brown, they are pro-choice. Like Brown, they are also fiscal conservatives and national security hawks. The secret behind the GOP’s improved electoral chances is in fielding centrist candidates who can win over independent voters.”

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-02-05/top-5-misconceptions-about-the-tea-party-movement/?cid=hp:originalslist2

“Most Tea Party protesters I have interviewed are engaged, if enraged, citizens. They are not fools; they have read their Founding Fathers. But their anger and alienation have been pumped up to a fever pitch by political operatives and partisan entertainers who get great ratings from cultivating conflict, tension, and resentment. There are different tribes and tributaries in this movement, from small business owners angry at the bailouts given to banks, to people suffering from mild cases of Obama Derangement Syndrome, to the full-fledged Hatriots—those people who believe that it’s patriotic to hate the president. Which voices carry the day will determine the success or failure of the convention. But as game day approaches, they all should remember a warning from Eric Hoffer, author of The True Believer: “What starts out here as a mass movement ends up as a racket, a cult, or a corporation.”

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-02-04/the-tea-partys-5-key-players/

Culture / Education

A frequent discussion topic among friends these days is the plethora of cooking schools that have emerged. The idea of being a chef, or restaurant owner, has become a very hip and creative aspiration. But the hard truth is that there’s no money there for the vast majority of food-industry workers, save at the very tiny, sparsely populated top. It’s indicative of a lot of ‘artistic’ industries – architecture being one, off the top of my head – where the top of the career pyramid is swimming in money, while those below slave away for sixty or seventy-hour weeks, with not much light at the end of the tunnel, all for the ‘love’ of it.
I was reminded of this concept on reading this glowing article by Jim Warren, a usually superb Chicago editor and reporter, on how marvelous the Flashpoint Academy Of Media Arts And Sciences is for young hipsters who aspire to careers in film and multimedia. I’m delighted that these careers are taken seriously as responsible and lucrative things to do with your life- there are so many training opportunities in recording, and filmmaking, and photography, and multimedia, and writing, and cooking, and performance, and fashion design, and interior design, or you-name-it – but I’m skeptical that there’s any real bedrock economic support for this work in the incorrigibly capitalist American culture. I fear all places like this are doing is creating a massive generation of cradle-to-grave minimum-wage slaves, saddled for a lifetime with college debt from an investment they’ll never see an honest return on. Is this just an expansion of ‘how things have always been anyway’, for any industry, or are we fostering an intrinsically unsustainable, thankless system at the expense of genuinely important artistic achievements? Do we give anyone with the front money their shot, or should standards be higher, or harder? (Robert Hughes argued for this for years. But who sets those standards?) Europeans have always been far more supportive of art and culture as a part of their socio-political systems – should we be pushing for more of that here, or is the free market, harsh mistress that it is, perfectly adequate to set the boundaries of success or failure? As a good friend in California described his theater career, “You can’t make a living, but you can make a killing.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/07/us/07cncwarren.html?hpw