Friday, March 11, 2016

Once Again I Solve Everthing

By Stephen P. Pizzo

Unaffordable Life-Saving Drugs:

How about creating an"eminent domain." doctrine for life-saving drugs?

It's an idea that's time has come, and for many of the very same reasons that eminent domain laws were passed to allow local and state governments to force the sale of a piece of property needed for important public purposes.

Over the past decade life-saving drugs have been priced out of the reach of many who desperately need them. The more life-threatening the disease, the higher the drug is priced – a sick twist on the old gag, “Your money or life?”

I could launch into a Sanders-like diatribe about the excesses of free markets and capitalism but, in this case, there's a simple solution, one that can satisfy all sides.

First let's understand an important, and little mentioned, fact about the R&D end of the pharmaceutical business. Drug companies like to complain that they have to spend millions do develop groundbreaking drugs. What they fail to mention is that, even before they get their hands on those formulas, US taxpayers have already dumped tens of millions into their development.

“A new report shows taxpayers often foot the bill to help develop new drugs, but it's private companies that reap the lion's share of profits. In one case, the federal government spent $484 million developing the cancer drug Taxol — derived from the bark of Pacific yew trees — and it was marketed under an agreement with Bristol-Myers Squibb starting in 1993. The medical community called it a promising new drug in the fight against ovarian and breast cancer.

Since then, Bristol-Myers Squibb has sold $9 billion worth of Taxol worldwide, according the the General Accounting Office report released today. The National Institutes of Health have received just $35 million in royalties from Bristol-Myers, however.

The Medicare program alone paid nearly $700 million over a five-year period, to buy a drug the government helped develop.” (Source)

So the government usually has a lot of skin in the game long before drug companies start to test and market a new drug, something they don't like to talk about. Some of that government funding even goes directly to pharmaceutical company-run laboratories.

Okay, so to the solution; pharmaceutical eminent domain:

Any life-saving drug that is put on the market at a price an independent medical panel deems largely beyond the reach of average patients, would be sent to an arbitration board that would set a fair market price for the purchase by the US Government of that drugs patent(s).

Pharmaceutical companies would be paid a fair price, a price high enough for the patent that it would continue to encourage drug companies development of new drugs.

This would create an entirely new calculation for drug companies. Rather than pricing new life-saving drugs a the highest possible price, they would have to calculate what they could earn selling the patent to the US Government against what they could earn over the years if they priced the drug below the level that would trigger an imminent domain action against that particular drug.

Drugs that become the property of the government through this imminent domain process would be administered and marketed by Medicare, priced on a sliding scale of a patient's ability to pay. (We are, after all, talking about life-saving drugs here.)

Without an pharmaceutica eminent domain  option hanging over drug companies, they will always go for the gold when pricing new, life-saving, drugs because, what do they have to lose? Nothing.

What do you have to lose? Your life.

Iraq and Afghanistan

Even though most US troops have been withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan, there are still many there and, if some folks in DC have their way, more will follow in the months and years ahead. This is a continuation of what seems to be a shockingly flat learning curve.

There really are not great arguments for remaining militarily engaged in any part of that terminally dysfunctional region. But, when confronted with the many good arguments against such ongoing engagements, proponents of engagement drag out their last weapon: the guilt-trip.

They say that, maybe it was our invasion of Iraq that unleashed this spiral of never-ending violence. And even if it wasn't, the fighting that followed our invasions killed and injured hundreds of thousands of civilians and destroyed what little public and private infrastructure they had. So we can't just pack up and leave now. We need to help them put their Humpty Dumpty back together again.

To which I say, hogwash.

True, citizens of both Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered terribly from the events kicked off by George W. and his sidekick, Dick. But we too have paid a price for it all, and will continue paying it for decades to come. Already the cost of those two wars have been estimated on th low end at at least $2 trillion and, when costs of veteran care and other ongoing costs, it could top $4 trillion – money that could have, and should have, gone to fill very real and growing public and humanitarian needs here at home.

On top of that, over 6,800 US service members and over 6,900 contractors have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And an unusually high percentage of young veterans have died since returning home, many as a result of drug overdoses, vehicle crashes, or suicide.

So, as the song goes, “You gotta know when to hold-em, and know when to fold-em.” And it high time to fold-em...both of them, Afghanistan and Iraq. And throw Syria into that mix as well, since there seems to be a growing itch to jump into that Middle East tarpit as well.

As long as the combatants and politicians in those troubled countries think they can sucker the US into sending money, arms and troops to play their sectarian games, they have no incentive whatsoever to seek other solutions. (I shudder to think how many Swiss bank accounts are brimming over with US aide money, but I would wager it would reach well into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Wanna bet?)

So, out now. All the way out. And then stay out. Everyone has paid a terrible price for this “bring democracy to the Middle East” folly. Time to call and end to it and let them figure out exactly what is they want, and are willing to live with.

Israel & Palestine

Here's another bit on never-ending trouble we need to clean our skirts of once and for all. If you're looking for either pure victims or pure heroes, look elsewhere, you won't find ANY here.

On one side we have a bunch of largely Europeans, packing 5000 year-old Biblical title reports that show they once owned the entire area from the sea to the borders of Jordan and Syria. And they are now here to reclaim it..all of it.

On the other side are the Palestinians... a group that, as it has been said, and proven many times, “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Time and again, when some kind of agreement appeared at hand, the Palestinians' leadership (a term I use loosely) sabotaged the deals.

Here again we see American interventions produce more, not less trouble. (“Hi, I'm from America, and I'm here to help.” Run!) And, like the wars we just discussed, our involvement with this never-ending pissing match has cost us dearly.

U.S. military aid to Israel was $2.775 billion in 2010, $3 billion in 2011, $3.07 billion in 2012 (and $3.15 billion per year from 2013-2018.) Washington also provides aid to Palestine totaling, on average, $875 million annually. (Imagine what that money could pay for here at home. And you will have to imagine that, since it didn't provide squat here at home.)

The Israel lobby wheels out a battery of arguments in favor of arming and funding Israel, including the assertion that a step back from such aid for Israel would signify a "retreat" into "isolationism." But would the United States, a global hegemon busily engaged in nearly every aspect world affairs, be "isolated" if it ceased giving lavish military aid to Israel? Was the United States "isolated" before 1967 when it expanded that aid in a major way? These questions answer themselves.

"If it weren't for US support for Israel, this conflict would have been resolved a long time ago," says Josh Ruebner.(national advocacy director for the US Campaign to End the Occupation and author of Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace) (Source)

Israel has become so accustomed to the US caving to their demands, it now lobbies our Congress directly, like a de facto US state, encouraging opposition forces in Congress to reject the policies of a sitting US President. Imagine that. Oh,wait, you don't have to imagine it, do you:

So, the solution agaun is clear: Walkaway. Stay away.

What would happen, you ask? Well, on the Palestinian side what would happen is they would realize that no one was going to come to their rescue the next time they dig their heels in and refuse to accept anything less than the entire loaf. And that they themselves will have to rein in their Hamas factions before those nuts get the entire Palestinian population embroiled in another bloody war with Israel...which would likely be the last one.

For Israel our total disengagement would also send a message: Game Over. So, you don't want to get out of the West Bank? Fine. It's yours. In which case Israel's ever thinning democratic veneer would be stripped away. Once stuck with all those Palestinians – who are outbreeding Israelis by a long shot -- then officially part of Israel, they would have to decide... do we let them vote? If they do let them vote, Palestinians will out-vote white Israelis and would like rally much support form Israeli Arabs as well. Don't let them vote and Israel would become a full-fledged apartheid regime....and good luck with that.

By announcing we're out of ideas and out of patience with both sides, both sides will be tossed hot potatoes they will have to juggle themselves. Then let self-interests shape their decisions, unencumbered by hopes some outside force will charge to their rescue.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Might A House Divided Be A Better House?

By Stephen P. Pizzo,

Those of us who paid attention in school may remember Lincoln's warning that “a house divided cannot stand.”

True then, but now? I'm beginning to think not, not now, not today.

While a lot has also remained the same since Lincoln's warning, today the consequences are even more serious.

Many, maybe most, in the deep south still chaff under the yoke of a Yankee-dominated central government seated in Washington, DC. And now those Yankees have heaped one final insult to their defeated secessional ambitions... exiling their beloved Confederate battle flag.

Slavery is gone, but racial tensions are as high as ever, not just in the deep south, but in every major city in the Union.

Christianity, once the dominate faith from coast to coast, north to south, is still strong, but rapidly losing its grip on that dominance, and they don't like it. Increasingly the term “persecution” laces their angst-filled protests. And here too, those “liberal Yankees” have heaped one final insult upon the faithful; letting men marry men, and women marry other women.

Science has made enormous strides over the past century and half, the fruits of such that make our lives better fed, better housed, healthier, more productive and less burdensome. Yet science has joined the “suspicious” central government as a major source of angst and distrust among millions; they suspect conspiracies are afoot, see scientists as concocters of lies and disinformation and demonic attackers of religious scripture. Even vaccines, which have saved countless billions of lives over the decades, are now under suspicion among many.

Then there's the battles over our shared physical environment. Even as it decays before our very eyes, millions of otherwise sane American citizens deny it and, rather than rising to the occasion, cling furiously to the very activities that lay at the center of those declines.

Of course I could go on and on; resistance to gun regulation, even as rivers of blood flow in our streets, resistance to strong financial market regulations, even as the bills from numerous previous financial meltdowns accrue interest in our burgeoning national debt.

Yet there are major constituencies on both sides of every single one of these issues. Both sides believe, unshakably in most cases, that they are completely right and the other side, the “Libs” or “Right Wingers,” are completely wrong. And they're not about to change their minds, not about any of it, not now, not ever.

And, since that's the case, both sides will do whatever it takes to gum up the works so the other side cannot prevail.

Which brings us back to Lincoln's admonition, and an opportunity to evaluate it in terms of our own times. He was of course right, though his goal was to preserve a single union. But looking at that statement today leaves me to wonder. Today the nation is still divided, but it's the House where that division threatens most. Our House is, both figuratively and literally, divided, as is the US Senate. And, at the bottom of it all, the electorate. And it should now be becoming abundantly clear that this House cannot stand. In fact, it is already not standing, but failing, completely.

Which begs the question: If this house cannot stand, due to the host of intractable disagreements on policies, fiscal, social and military, might it not be wise to divide this house, this time peacefully, thoughtfully, purposefully.

What would be the advantages to such a separation? Without getting into the fine points of where the borders would be drawn, let's just assume it's, once done, there would be a Red State and Blue State assemblage. (Of course many voters would find themselves on the wrong side of a border and will, over time, either accept their minority voting status or move. Time will take care of that.)

First, both new entities would finally get federal governments that reflected their citizens world, social, fiscal views. That would, in turn, create legislatures that could function. Citizens would finally get to see their views translated into policies they can see and feel.

Second – and I consider this the most important – both liberals and conservatives would at last have an opportunity to field test their most precious beliefs. Reds could slash taxes on corporations, cut social programs to the bone, outlaw abortions, ban same-sex marriages, repeal all affirmative action laws, bar foreign immigrants, deport undocumented aliens in wholesale lots. Blues could increase taxes on corporations and the rich, use the extra tax revenues to boost their social safety nets, modernize their infrastructure, and outlaw greenhouse gas producing fuels.

I think I know which side would shine over the coming 50- to 100-years but, who knows. The issue is that nothing...and I mean nothing, is going to get done under the current state of dis-union. Conservatives and liberals are, quite simply, “wired” differently. There is no chance of reconciliation here. This marriage is over, all but for the divorce.

Since the end of the Civil War the notion of breaking up the Union has been the ultimate sacrilege. But now, today, look around. Think carefully. If we can no longer function as a single family, why not mutually agreeable separation, with visitation rights?

Why not allow both the Right and the Left a chance to find out, once and for all, which has the best workable solutions to our modern-day challenges? Surely neither has all the answers. Each will have some successes and some failures. Scientists would call this a “controlled experiment,” which is, of course, the only kind of experiment that yield results which can be trusted.

Or we can just keep doing what we've been doing. Which means we will keep getting what we've got; a central government that does not function, that cannot come to grips with the serious, even life-on-earth threatening events, facing the nation. A central government that fiddles while Rome burns.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris, huh. What now?

By Stephen P. Pizzo 

Will this week’s Paris attacks become just the latest in pop-up terrorist attacks where we mourn the dead and move on, until the next one?


But … and this is becoming a bigger and bigger “but” with each such event ... maybe not. Maybe this time someone will come up with an actual effective response.

After all, since these fundamentalist, nihilist groups thrive in their 10th-century throwback religious, cultural venues, they will not be going away. Instead they will continue their barbarian-like crusade(s) against those they decide are unworthy of liberty or life.

Sure developed societies have more economic vim and vigor, superior infrastructures and large modern military machines. These jihadists can pose no genuine strategic threat, right?

Actually, no. They can. And, in some ways they already have. And, if they continue pulling off stunts like 9/11, Madrid and London train/subway bombings, Mumbai attack, the downing of airliners and now Paris, they will succeed. They will not succeed in taking over developed nations, but rather ruining them, destroying everything that makes them worth fighting for: freedom of speech, freedom of travel, freedom of assembly and the machinery of “business-as-usual” that lubricates the very gears of of all that in free societies.

For example, if airliners keep falling out of the sky, filling TV screens at home with the latest horror, how many ordinary folk will still want to fly to Orlando for a week at Disney World? Will happy newlyweds eagerly climb aboard a plane in Newark to honeymoon in Hawaii? How many business travelers will put up with wasting hours of their valuable time standing in increasingly intrusive security checkpoints at every port or entry or exit?

Airlines, which almost always operate on the thinnest of margins, will not be able to raise fares to make up for the dramatic plunge in revenues. And once all checked in luggage will have to be searched, all ot it, not just the 5% that are searched now, you and your luggage may never meet again, at least not at your intended destination.

It would not be more than a decade of this and the only remaining airline would be nationalized just to enable developed nations could cling to an ever-shaky claim of normality, that “the terrorists aren't winning.”

Planes will not be the only form of public transport affected. Buses, trains, urban subway systems, each offer terrorists the most bountiful of killing grounds. Imagine a New York City where working folk are too terrified to go to work because, to get there, they have to literally risk their lives underground locked in a metal tube every day. How many will take that risk just for a paycheck?

And so-call public venues will become increasingly un-public venues as attacks on large crowds chill such gatherings. The “public square” Americans are so found of celebrating... well forget about that too after more public squares run red with public blood. Rock concerts, campaign gatherings, protest marches; each suddenly takes on the potential of becoming fatal, causing even the most hardened activist to rethink their activism; “Yeah, I know I have said I am willing to die for this cause, but I'm sure as hell not willing to die for that, whatever the hell 'that' is.” And so once vibrant democracies become less and less vibrant.

No business venture is more fraught with risk than the restaurant. Even in the best of cases, restaurants come and go like buses at a bus stop. Once terrorists shoot up or bomb enough restaurants, those who do dare dining will be seated at tables far from windows or doors, to make them less attractive targets. And al fresco dining? Forget about it. Who wants to eat an meal while feeling like a sitting duck in a carnival shooting booth? (“Please pre-pay for your meal in case you have to flee before finishing.”)

Little by little, unchecked, terrorist attacks on all things modern, Western, democratic and financial, will force one developed society after another to become less and less open, less and less efficient, less and less risk-oriented, less and less fearless, less and less free.

So, if what you ever wondered if terrorism could ever pose a genuine strategic threat to modern societies, there it is. It is not a process in which modern cultures reach down raise backward cultures out of darkness, but one in which backward cultures reach out and pull modern cultures , down into their familiar darkness, their sectarian and social dysfunction, down into their hell.

I began by asking if the latest Paris attacks would spark a fresh response, or just more of the same. Well, I don't know. I tend to doubt this particular attack will result in any spectacular changes. It may take more before every nation affected understands they are the fogs in a classic “boiling-a-frog” process, as I described above.

But when the change in tactics by those being attacked does come, what on earth could it be? After all, we've tried bombing the crap out of them already. We tried ground invasions and occupations. We tried lavishing billions in cash on terrorist breeding ground regions. We tried buying off their politicians and generals. Not only has none of that worked, but it's only made matters worse.

So what's left to try? It's good to remember that every time developed nations have tried to sort out secular issues and redrawn borders “for them,” it only made matters worse for the generations that followed. Short of killing every man, woman and child in the entire region, what can/should be done?

I don't know. After attacks like the most recent one in Paris, my Sicilian genes vote loudly for the killing the whole lot of them and being done with it. Of course, once I calm down, I understand that is not a choice on anyone's to-do list. (Okay, maybe Dick Cheney.)

I do think though that, if not a nailed down solution, we can at least come up with a list of things that need to happen, one way or another:

  • Stop trying to accommodate the mass exodus flooding Europe with refugees from these troubled lands. Not because I think they pose a danger to Europe, but because letting them all leave Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan etc, is bleeding those nations, not of their terrorists, but of the very educated professional and small business classes they will need to rebuild. If allowed to continue the only people left in these countries will those who only know war, those filled with free-floating hatred of... whatever. So stop it. Yes, it will cruel to force these masses to continue living in those war zones. But they represent the future of those countries. Without them, there is no future. The other reason to make them stay is they may well prove a more effective counter-force to the ISIS types. Forced to stay they will also be forced to take stands, to fight, to organized, to resist, from within. It is, after all, their countries, their people, their wars.
  • Most European countries now have large Muslim communities. These communities tend to be separate from their host countries. This is natural and expected. Immigrants like to hang with folks that speak their native tongue, have the same customs etc. And being a non-white immigrant in a predominantly white country brings with a long list of hurdles, some expected and many unjust. Nevertheless, these Muslim communities still share a responsibility to the country housing them. If they expect to stay and work and send their kinds of public schools in the hope they will have better lives they have had, then they need to start policing their own communities, They need to aggressively finger individuals or groups within their communities that not only threaten their host country's citizens, but threaten their own dreams for a better life. If they refuse to do so then they can't complain when rightwing politicians point them out as part of the problem, and start passing laws they won't like very much.
  • France, England, Germany and Brussels all have long lists of their own Muslim citizens who have gone to the Middle East to join ISIS or al Qaeda, and worry about what will happen when they return home. Which begs the question; why do they have to be allowed to return home in the first place? If they have evidence that a citizen trying to return to Europe has been working at any level with terrorist groups, then refuse them reentry. Revoke their citizenship and let them figure out how best to get back into the good graces of the civilized world. Meanwhile them not returning home means the already overstretched security services will have one less suspect to keep an eye on. Finally, now stranded in the very “caliph” hell scape they left home to fight for, their online whining will serve a warning to anyone else thinking of taking a similar leap into that abyss.
  • It's long past time to reel in our so-called “allies” the Saudis. Their insistence on continuing to fund its radical and violent Whabbai version of Islam has been, and continues to be, a part of the problem. Any any Saudi “prince” caught funding terrorist activities or groups, needs to be blacklisted from any and all travel or financial dealings with the rest of the world. Bang. Just like that. No more coddling that pack of spoiled wastrels.

That's a start, not a solution, but a start. We have to be ready to try different things, things that have, for diplomatic reasons and political correctness have been off the table. Because if we just decide the Paris attacks and others are just part of our “new normal,” we will not care much for the world it creates, and not in some distant dystopian future, but quickly, in our own lifetimes.

And, if it is allowed to get that bad, citizens in affected developed – devolving – societies, will get very angry. And that in turn will force politicians in those countries to an all-out military response, ala World War II. Millions will die, citizens in cities like Damascus will get a taste of what it was like to have lived in Dresden in 1945. And then what?

Well, once that dust settles we'd find ourselves back in 1918, when Britain, France and Germany decided to divide up the Middle East to suit themselves, drawing borders where they liked, ignoring tribal lands, sectarian divides or the needs or wants of the indigenous populations. And all they accomplished was to set the stage for today's chaos.

So, short of “killing every man, woman and child” in that region, we need to figure this out, and soon. More of the same just ain't gonna cut it.

Monday, September 21, 2015

News For Real: Why The One-Percenters Keep Winning

News For Real: Why The One-Percenters Keep Winning

Why The One-Percenters Keep Winning

By Stephen P. Pizzo,

Those of us who have been life-long liberal/progressives have long complained about the influence of money and vested interests in politics. It’s our meme, what the dogmas of “trickle-down economics” and tax cuts are to the conservative camp. (Never mind that decades of data show's neither actually works...)

But conservatives have something that does work, and its worked for centuries. It's what makes the Koch brothers and their ilk such successful bulwarks against much needed change. This tool, or weapon, if you will, is well described by Francis Fukuyama in his book, The Origins of Political Order.

“Any institution or system of institutions benefits certain groups in a society, often at the expense of others, even if on the whole the political system provides public goods like domestic peace and property rights. Those groups favoted by the state may feel more secure in their person and property, them may collect rents as result of their favored access to power, or them may receive recognition and social status. Those elite groups have a stake in existing institutional arrangements and will defend the status quo as long as they remain cohesive. Even when society as a whole would benefit from institutional change, such as raising taxes in order to pay for defense against an external threat, well-organized groups will be able to veto change because for them the net gain is negative.”

It is probably a good time now to point out that Fukuyama wrote these lines in the chapter of his book entitled “Political Decay.” He calls this stage of a political evolution, “stable dysfunctional equilibrium, since none of the players will individually gain from changing the underlying” status quo they have no intention of allowing change to happen, no matter how dysfunctional that renders governance:

“...the fact that societies are so enormously conservative with regard to (preserving existing) institutions means that when the original conditions leading to the creation or adoption of an institution change, the institution fails to adjust quickly to meet the new circumstances. The disjunction in rates of change between institution and the external environment then accounts for political decay...”

This, he writes, is a naturally occurring accretion of power into the hands of fewer and fewer within a state. And the more powerful the few become, the easier it is for them to defeat demands for change from the many below them:

“This kind of collective “action-failure" is well understood by economists....entrenched interest groups tend to accumulate in any society over time, which aggregate into rent-seeking coalitions in order to defend their narrow privileges. They are much better organized than the broad masses, whose interests often fail to be represented in the political system.”

The results of this disproportionate sway over the political apparatus can be seen today in the dysfunction in Washington. Though “dysfunction” is actually a misnomer. It would be better called “mandated dysfunction.” What we are seeing is not a failure to act, but a mandate not to act. That mandate being enforced by the handful at the very top of the domestic fiscal mountain. They have no need for change, since everything is working just fine for them. In fact, the only thing that threatens “their thing,” as the Mafia called their rackets, is change. Change is enemy. So it is to be stopped dead in its tracks wherever it tries to emerge.

Besides the obvious and growing disparity in distribution of wealth, this condition risks more than human suffering. With climate change beginning to wreak havoc around the globe, the elite see any shift to alternative solutions as direct threats to their long-established and still profitable enterprises. So the very existence of our species may depend on figuring out ways to unsaddle these overlords of the status quo:

“The ability of societies to innovate institutionally thus depends on whether they can neutralized existing political stakeholders holding vetos over reform.

Opportunity does eventually emerge to do just that when this process of power-accretion moves from the “dysfunctional equilibrium,” to unstable dysfunctional equilibrium. But then the choices get a bit unsettling for most progressives.

“The stability of dysfunctional equilibria suggest why violence has played such an important role in institutional innovation and reform. Violence is classically seen as the problem that politics seeks to solve, but sometimes violence is the only way to displace entrenched stakeholders who are blocking change. The fear of violent death is a stronger emotion than the desire for material gain and is capable of motivating more far-reaching changes in behavior.”

And therein lays the rub. Liberals and Progressives tend to eschew violence as way to solve social problems. And we are proud of that, and rightfully so. Violence is one of those “shove all the chips on the table” moves. One can never be certain it will turn out to their advantage. It may go the other way, making the oligarchs even more powerful, more oppressive. So instead, we try reason. 

Which leaves us with a dilemma:

“It is not clear that democratic societies can always solve this type of problem peacefully...This means that the burden of institutional innovation and reform will fall on other, nonviolent mechanisms... or that those societies will continue to experience political decay.”

And that, my friends, is why the One-percent continue to win;-when push comes to shove, we don't shove back hard enough.  

Monday, August 24, 2015

Wall Street's Borg Collective

By Stephen Pizzo, News For Real

08/24/2015 -- The world’s stock markets are in a tailspin. Another tailspin. Market crashes, which used to be a once-every-generation affair, now seem to visit us about once every seven or eight years.


Are the world's workers becoming less and less productive? No, just the opposite, they're working harder, for longer and for less money every year.

Are companies less profitable? Nope. Just the opposite there too, for the most part.

So what's up doc?

Blame it on the very technology you're using to read this now. The Internet, and related networking technologies, have changed how money in these markets flow.

In the past investors were like herds of roaming bison, in search for the next green pasture. They were widely dispersed. Separate herds went off in their own directions, following their own instincts, in search for their next buffet. Some did better than others. And, by the time word got out that some other herd had found a bonanza, by the time the others got there the bounty had been pretty much consumed.

Which is why those herds of investors back in the day were considerably less reactionary and more stable than we see today.

Today what we have is a hyper-connected, worldwide investing “blob” that moves as a single herd, able to move en-mass, almost instantly, to exploit a new real, or imagined, opportunity. They are the investment world's version of Star Trek's “Borg Collective.”

So one quarter everyone wants to be in bonds, the next the herd gets a whiff of smoke (a Fed move up on rates,) and the entire herd stampedes, running mindlessly in all directions until it comes to a collective agreement on what they believe the next big opportunity might be. Then they all head to it.

In the short run such behavior creates it's own affirmation. After all, when everyone whats to buy the same thing, at the same time, the price of that thing shoots up. And so the herd is happy and, as long as it stays happy, the price keeps going up.

But, as they say on Wall Street, “trees don't grow to the sky,” so, sooner or later the greater-fool theory breaks down as fewer and fewer buyers are willing to buy at increasingly ridiculous valuations. And then it crashes.

In the past crash in one market segment, while unpleasant, was rarely catastrophic to overall market as there were “other herds” grazing happily there. But no more. Now all the money heads where the Borg Collective has decided to in its collective “wisdom.” And why not? Even those who know what's likely to eventually happen, they also know that, when this mega-herd moves, prices move up. So why not pocket some sure money while it lasts?

Of course that's the trick in this new markets normal; how long to stay with the herd. When to hold-em, and when to fold-em. In the end way too few fold-em while there's still money to made. So most of the collective herd panic all at once when the obvious becomes, well, obvious.

That's it. That's why the market dove a thousand points at its opening this morning. Of course it will go back up again. The collective herd, while in panic mode now, is already on a search for the next market(s) they can pump for all they're worth.

And remember; resistance is futile. Those markets will be assimilated, exploited, gutted.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Memo To My Progressive Friends

The past few weeks I've been sitting here at my computer watching many of my closest friends wrestling with their own convictions. I know these friends well, so I know what their real convictions are, and I share them. They are progressives, old progressives, veterans from half a century of the most important social struggles of the age; Vietnam, civil rights, voting rights, women's liberation, the environment. They are among the best amongst us.

Yet they seem to have found themselves stuck with a Hobson’s Choice, and it’s caused them to kind of lose their progressive GPS signal a bit. 

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not condemning them, just observing. I do understand the conundrum that's causing the static. They have a terribly flawed candidate for President, Hillary Clinton, currently in the lead for her party’s nomination -- if only because no other party big shot has challenged her. Against her is arrayed a small herd of Republican candidates that no satirist (or doomsayers) could have dredged from the darkest corners of their fevered minds.

These good friends, rightfully, fear that if their lead candidate does not prevail, all manner of awful things will descend upon us; Supreme Court, environmental disasters, a gutting of our national regulatory apparatus, rollbacks in civil rights and voting rights, restrictions on women's health choices, war, etc.

And yes, a GOP victory in 2016 would, to one extent or another, likely result in much, if not all, the above.

So I understand, and do not condemn my old progressive buddies for their steadfast support of Hillary Clinton. They're scared. And, with 2016, probably the most unsettled and dangerous election I can remember since the Nixon days, I'm scared too. And, if you're not, you're not paying enough attention.

Still I have to say that, acting on fear has been something I've tried to avoid my entire life. Fear is the parking brake of life. You either release it, or you're not going anywhere. And I'd like them to release it now. Because, while they feel that supporting Hillary is the best way to insure that none of the GOP wing-nuts never get within spitting distance of the Oval Office they, in the process, are jettisoning their most core values and beliefs. And doing so erodes the power of those values at a time we need the pursued even more vigorously.

So I ask them, and you, just do this for a moment: change shoes. Make Hillary the leading GOP candidate (not too much of stretch.) Now go through what we've learned about her and her values and her governing principles. Remember the “scandals,” real or contrived. Remember how her husband governed. 

First, we know she, like her husband, believes rules that prevent her from getting what she wants, are for not rules, but obstacles to over come. So she walks the razors’ edge of right and wrong. And, as always happens to those who think they are above it all, she often slips off that edge ending up on the wrong side.

Emails? Yeah, that's the most recent example, but there are plenty of others, large and small, that go all the way back to her disastrous and hubris-driven belief that she and she alone could repair America's broken healthcare system, in secret, behind closed doors, with the help and financial support of many of the same big medical and pharma players who caused, and profited from, the mess to begin with. That failure set healthcare reform back by two decades.

To see Hillary as a progressive is also a stretch. Her best friends (and contributors) a from the far-upper crust of America's financial world like Goldman Sachs. Her husband signed the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which contributed to the massive financial collapse in 2008. And just last week Hillary, when asked about that, supported that repeal, claiming it had nothing to do with the troubles that followed.

She supported, and continues to support, NAFTA, which was no favor to working Americans, to put it mildly. Now she supports the pending TransPacific Partnership trade deal as well. Some protector of the working class. And the Tar Sands pipeline from Canada? She won’t say, but we know, don’t we.

Once “dead broke,” she is now richer than Imelda Marcos was when she was in the clover... the similarity between the two also nags at me, though everyone tells me I'm crazy. Maybe.

Don't worry, I'm not going to drag you through the Clinton Chronicles of Horribles and Incidentals, from Whitewater forward. You remember, I'm sure. When I think of the Clinton's the image that always flashes in my head is of Pigpen, the Shultz charger who, in every frame in the cartoon, trails a cloud of dust and dirt along with him. That's Hillary.

Then she never takes personal responsibility for any of it. It’s aways one kind of "conspiracy" against her or another. There is something in that too that unsettles me about her. I once knew a woman who later proved to be a borderline psychopath. (Oh boy, now I've done it – crossed the line into truly nutty territory, right?) Well, I'm not saying Hillary is a psychopath. All I am saying is that one of the key traits this other woman displayed was that nothing that went wrong in her life was ever her fault. She always had a excuse, and explanation, no matter how much it strained credulity, she never took personal responsibility. (She eventually was sent to prison for embezzlement.)

So, there you are. My friends want me to stop harping on Hillary’s glaring progressive shortcomings. They say that I, and others like me, are “undermining” her. (Though her own behaviors seem to be doing that without much help from us.) But that if I and progressives like me don’t knock it off we are going to end up putting another Republican in the White House.

But I too am faced with a conundrum. To support Hillary Clinton I would have to jettison the very core values that formed and continue to form my life and politics:

- I abhor a liar. 
- I don’t like people who cheat. 
- I hate people who talk one way, and live another. 
- I do not trust “triangulating” opportunists. 
- I am dislike and distrust those who insult my intelligence by feeding me a line of self-serving bull instead of the truth. 
- I am not buying the claim that a candidate worth millions of dollars and who runs with Wall Street’s top dogs, knows or cares a damn thing about ordinary, working Americans.

And I am not going to let fear change any of that. Which means I can't, and won't, vote for Hillary Clinton if she ends up the nominee. I will just skip that box on the ballot. There are some things that are simply more important than a single election.

Because, if it's the current corrupt system you want to change, you don’t get there by voting for it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Help Me Out Here

By Stephen Pizzo

Like the rest of you, I just have to sit and watch and listen to the news from the Middle East and wonder who's right and who's wrong. Clearly from the state of affairs over there, most everyone has been wrong – at least those of us in the West who keep thinking we can “fix” that ever-so broken region.

Anyway, as we now see Iraq falling apart (for the umpteenth time in recent memory) we are hearing the hawks on the right complaining that “Obama's strategies have lost the Middle East.” And, they suggest, it's time to put more US “boots on the ground.” That term is starting to ring familiar, like ones from earlier failed imperialistic conflicts. Remember “light at the end of the tunnel?”

I have tried to see both sides of this argument. But for the life of me I can't see what US strategic interests need protecting in those arguments. In fact, the more I learn, the less and less I believe there are any. And, as such, my solution of choice has become “benign neglect.”

Here's my thinking – and if you disagree, I'd love to hear why and what you would do instead. But for now, here's my take:

I keep hearing from the right that we need to force some kind of “political solution,” there. Trouble is this is not a political problem, it's a tribal/religious problem. It's not Democrats fighting with Republicans, it's Sunnis fighting Shia and visa versa, and the Kurds fighting both. The three groups don't want to get along, any more than the Bloods and the Crips want to sit in a circle and sing camp songs of love and acceptance. They want to kill one another, hopefully in wholesale lots.

How do we craft a “political solution” to that? You don't. You can't. We tried... several times now. It's simply not going to happen. Ever.

That leaves only two logical responses, and each lives at the extreme ends of the list of possible solutions. The first, leave them alone. Let them fight all they want. Stay out of it. Let them live with the full implications of their deepest desires for as long as it takes for them to either get it out of their systems -- or for them to finish off one of the sides. Since only the Kurds are worth an ounce of Western concern or support, make sure they have enough firepower to defend the areas they've carved out for themselves already, but otherwise, stay out of it.

The other way is the “all in” option. And when I say all in, I mean ALL in. NATO, the whole group... 500,000 to a million troops from all NATO countries plus Arab “allies” like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Flood Iraq with multi-national forces, partition the country into three areas (already really happened) and help the Sunnies and Shia and Kurds set up their own independent countries... no more Iraq. Gone. If they want to form some kind of regional coalition years later when everyone has calmed the hell down, fine. But for now, get into the region you prefer, mind your own business (now that you have your own businesses) and “deal” with those who don’t comply.

When it's a raging fire, you throw everything you have at it, you don't plink around the edges. Those who want to “fix” the mess in Iraq need to understand that... understand that it takes an all out, no-holds-barred response, not just some boots on the ground and some careful surgical airstrikes. It means lots and lots and lots of people, most of them civilians, will die.

Personally I vote for Option 1: Stay out of it... all of it.

Because, no matter which option we choose, Iraqi civilians will die in the tens of thousands. They are doing that right now. They've done that, to varying degrees, for 1500 years. And they are highly likely to continue doing just that for many decades to come. That's not pessimism, it's realism. It's history. Recent history too.

The difference, (and it's a damn big one,) is that with Option 1 we are not accomplices in mass murder.

Europeans went through this kind religion-fueled internal warfare hundreds of years ago. When Catholics and Protestants got tired of killing one another, it ended... if only recently in N.Ireland. That's how you end these kind of Hatfield/McCoy religious feuds – you let them burn themselves out. If others keep jumping in a putting just enough water on the flames to knock them down, then leave, it all just starts up again.

And that's where we are in Iraq. A forced partition would be a repeat of what created this mess in the beginning; the British and French drawing borders in that region that suited them, while ignoring the long smoldering fires of religious hatred and tribalism.

So I rest my case for benign neglect. Step away. Watchful waiting. Let the waring parties wear themselves out. Let the region reorder itself in ways that make sense to them, not us. If Iran wants to own the Shia area of Iraq, they are welcome to it. It would serve them right.

That's it. What do you think? I'm open to a better idea... tho I seriously doubt there is one.