“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Balanced Budget Stimulus

"The essential idea, again, would be to raise taxes and raise expenditures, simply for the duration necessary to push us out of our current bad equilibrium. For plenty of policymakers, the phrase “tax-and-spend” has become a four-letter word, but it might just offer the optimal solution to our present crisis."

There are two facts about our current economic situation that can no longer be denied: Our economy is in desperate need of government stimulus, and our political system won’t abide any increase in our national deficit.

Taken together, the two points seem to bode poorly for the United States. But we shouldn’t be too quick to assume a contradiction. Just because stimulus has traditionally been understood as a function of deficit-spending doesn’t mean that’s how it has to work.

We first have to come to grips with the fact that we need stimulus because we’re facing a problem of inadequate aggregate demand, a concept that we owe to the work of John Maynard Keynes. Keynes pointed out that a national economy can get stuck in a bad equilibrium—as it had in the Great Depression in 1930—where unemployed people really wish to supply their labor to some employer, but employers won’t hire them because they don’t think that the extra product they would make could be sold. Why not? Because of all the unemployed people trying unsuccessfully to supply their labor who can’t afford to buy anything. And why aren’t they working? Because no one will hire them.

That sounds circular, but that was exactly Keynes’ point. The whole depression situation is just an absurd circularity that we get stuck in from time to time, and can stay stuck in for a very long time. The core idea of Keynes’ theory is that there’s no fundamental reason to be in such a weak economy except the fact that we’re in it.

The problem is essentially one of communication: Somehow the unemployed have to communicate—not just in words but in the marketplace—their desire both to supply their labor and also to buy the excess of goods they would produce with the income from that labor. Part of Keynes’ idea, not always explained in the subsequent discussions of the theory, is that what has to be communicated is not any objective facts or information, but an intuition—a sense of confidence, a sense that the worst is over, a sense that the people’s animal spirits are back. If we think confidence is returning, then confidence will return.

The medium through which that communication largely needs to occur is collective action. We need to assert as a nation our will to get out of the bad equilibrium and get moving. And the way to do that is through government stimulus: We need to increase government expenditure for as long as it takes to break out of our rut. And there’s no use denying that those government expenditures will need to increase substantially in order to reduce the unemployment rate measurably.

That brings us to a critical fallacy that has crept into our thinking: We have become habituated to the idea that Keynesian fiscal stimulus has to take the form of deficit spending. After a credit downgrade by S&P, there’s a strong argument to make that the U.S. government is in no position to make a massive further increase in the national debt—but that's not an argument against stimulus as such. The fallacy is to think that stimulus necessarily needs to run up the national debt.

In reality, stimulus can easily take a balanced budget form: The government can simply raise taxes and raise expenditures by the same amount. The idea that balanced budget increases could save an economy stuck in a bad equilibrium goes back to the work of economists Walter Salant and Paul Samuelson in the 1940s, and it’s been taught in introductory economics courses ever since, though somehow it has been absent from public discussion of the current economic situation. Salant and Samuelson argued that in a very weak economy the balanced budget expenditure increases would translate into a one-for-one increase in national income.

In fact, the returns on a balanced budget stimulus are likely to be even greater than that. If the government raises taxes to hire the unemployed, then the unemployed who now get jobs will likely quickly spend all the money they earn on new consumption, since they have been strapped and now have jobs. The currently employed, who will see their taxes go up, will likely not cut their expenditures as much because they are habituated to their current level of consumption. And it is unlikely that a balanced budget stimulus would “crowd out” private expenditures on goods and services by pushing up interest rates. The Fed has already committed itself to keeping interest rates at zero until 2013.

The big problem with balanced budget stimulus is political, namely that there is a huge opposition to tax increases right now, primarily among Republicans. But their resistance might be softened if they were made aware that a balanced-budget stimulus would not lower average after-tax income: Every dollar of increased taxes could go toward giving someone extra income. (Though it's true that the people who would see their taxes increased the most are not likely to be the same people who would see their income increased.) Moreover, any public concerns about the high national debt should easily be allayed by the balanced budget stimulus, as it would probably lower the debt to GDP ratio by raising the denominator (GDP) without increasing the numerator (debt).

The balanced budget stimulus could also be designed in such a way as to avoid substantially increasing the size of the government. People often seem to think that government expenditures on stimulus means hiring people to sit at a desk at a government agency, or to clean up trash in the local national park. But that is not at all the way it has to be.

In enacting the stimulus, we could take as our model the National Science Foundation, through which the federal government sponsors scientific research. The government does not hire scientists directly through the NSF. Instead, it makes grants to individual scientists in universities and research facilities. The choice of who gets what grants are largely made by panels of non-government scientists who are called in to help the NSF evaluate the grant proposals. Those procedures could easily be extended beyond scientific research to other industrial areas.

Ultimately, if we did enact a balanced budget stimulus, we would still face the problem of how to find suitable projects to spend government money on. Designing and vetting projects takes time: A single construction project can demand years of planning and permitting. So the first step should be to immediately get going on the planning, even before we've gotten the resolve to do any additional stimulus.

(My colleague Martin Shubik, now an emeritus professor of economics at Yale, has proposed a sustainable solution to this latter problem—namely, a Federal Employment Reserve Authority, a permanent new government agency that would continually be in the business of creating a list of public works projects that are ready to go should there ever be a steep economic downturn. It would resemble a federal agency created in 1941, the Public Work Reserve, which was created to address the risk that the U.S. economy might fall into depression again after the economic stimulus of wartime spending was over.)

The essential idea, again, would be to raise taxes and raise expenditures, simply for the duration necessary to push us out of our current bad equilibrium. For plenty of policymakers, the phrase “tax-and-spend” has become a four-letter word, but it might just offer the optimal solution to our present crisis.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Treat the Bankers Like Crack Dealers


The Obama Administration continues to back our own domestic despots on Wall Street with the kind of zeal we used to use to support Middle Eastern dictators like Muammar Gaddhafi. What most Americans would truly appreciate is a “Wall Street Spring”, where one by one the executive suites of America’s money center banks are purged of their current C-level officers.

Robo-signing is a crime. Filing fraudulent loan documents in foreclosure proceedings is a crime. The settlements being proposed by Wall Street banks to make their mortgage loan problems go away should be problematic, because the crimes they committed were not accidental—they were premeditated. Attorney General Schneiderman is right to refuse to go along with this charade the banking industry and its regulators are trying put over on the American public once again. What makes all of this worse is that even as our money center bankers evince contrition and demand our forgiveness, their staffers are still performing the same illegal shortcuts that got them into this mess.

Some will say “but isn’t the American public complicit?” After all, it is true that they were willing to wink at Wall Street whenever it told them that 2+2=5, so long as it helped them to get what they wanted, even if they didn't have the money for it, or the cash flow to pay it off. It is true that they took every dollar we loaned them, interest rates be damned. But they took the money according to the rules of the game. It's the mortgage lenders who are breaking the law in their haste to get back money they probably shouldn't have loaned out in the first place. To add insult to injury, now that they've been caught red handed, they want full immunity from future claims as a part of any settlement. Immunity would be a corporate "get out of jail free" card for the industry, given that no one really knows how many loans were affected by these lender's illicit practices.

These overdressed weasels on Wall Street masquerading as men of substance should be walking the plank. Instead, they are about to buy their way out of documented loan fraud with another round of shareholder billions. When will the American public get it? When will the people who need to be outraged (this is your cue, Tea Party, but you are too god damned obsessed with your Negro President to care about the men in pinstripes who even now have their hands in your pockets) finally stand up, the way people have been standing up all spring in the Middle East, and run these criminals out of the country?

The obvious conclusion to be drawn from the move to kick the New York Attorney General off the foreclosure investigation committee would seem to be that our banking system is a house of cards. Which brings us to the sixty four thousand dollar question of the week—what do you do when if forcing our banking system to acknowledge the truth means certain financial ruin for much of the nation as we know it?

Monday, August 29, 2011

"American Interests" are not in the Interest of Americans.

Reagan fell in love with the Mujahideen (TALIBAN) in 1985. They were hosted in The White House. You could see them coming and going from Kennedy Airport. We armed them to the teeth and supplied them with every type of weapon. Haven't we had enough yet? No, we need to be there until 2024? We need to be in and out of Afghanistan for 40 years? 

Our Rulers and Masters, and their corporate financiers are a far worse threat to the interests of American Citizens than the Taliban. It is becoming increasingly clear that so called "American Interests" are not in the interest of Americans. Will we ever stop these bastards? And I am not talking about the Taliban.


The Daily Telegraph

US troops may stay in Afghanistan until 2024

America and Afghanistan are close to signing a strategic pact which would allow thousands of United States troops to remain in the country until at least 2024, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

The agreement would allow not only military trainers to stay to build up the Afghan army and police, but also American special forces soldiers and air power to remain. The prospect of such a deal has already been met with anger among Afghanistan’s neighbours including, publicly, Iran and, privately, Pakistan. It also risks being rejected by the Taliban and derailing any attempt to coax them to the negotiating table, according to one senior member of Hamid Karzai’s peace council. A withdrawal of American troops has already begun following an agreement to hand over security for the country to Kabul by the end of 2014. But Afghans wary of being abandoned are keen to lock America into a longer partnership after the deadline. Many analysts also believe the American military would like to retain a presence close to Pakistan, Iran and China.

Both Afghan and American officials said that they hoped to sign the pact before the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan in December. Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai agreed last week to escalate the negotiations and their national security advisers will meet in Washington in September.

Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Mr Karzai’s top security adviser, told The Daily Telegraph that “remarkable progress” had been made. US officials have said they would be disappointed if a deal could not be reached by December and that the majority of small print had been agreed.

Dr Spanta said a longer-term presence was crucial not only to build Afghan forces, but also to fight terrorism.

“If [the Americans] provide us weapons and equipment, they need facilities to bring that equipment,” he said. “If they train our police and soldiers, then those trainers will not be 10 or 20, they will be thousands.

“We know we will be confronted with international terrorists. 2014, is not the end of international terrorist networks and we have a common commitment to fight them. For this purpose also, the US needs facilities.”

Afghan forces would still need support from US fighter aircraft and helicopters, he predicted. In the past, Washington officials have estimated a total of 25,000 troops may be needed.

Dr Spanta added: “In the Afghan proposal we are talking about 10 years from 2014, but this is under discussion.” America would not be granted its own bases, and would be a guest on Afghan bases, he said. Pakistan and Iran were also deeply opposed to the deal.

Andrey Avetisyan, Russian ambassador to Kabul, said: “Afghanistan needs many other things apart from the permanent military presence of some countries. It needs economic help and it needs peace. Military bases are not a tool for peace.

“I don’t understand why such bases are needed. If the job is done, if terrorism is defeated and peace and stability is brought back, then why would you need bases?

“If the job is not done, then several thousand troops, even special forces, will not be able to do the job that 150,000 troops couldn’t do. It is not possible.”

A complete withdrawal of foreign troops has been a precondition for any Taliban negotiations with Mr Karzai’s government and the deal would wreck the currently distant prospect of a negotiated peace, Mr Avetisyan said.

Abdul Hakim Mujahid, deputy leader of the peace council set up by Mr Karzai to seek a settlement, said he suspected the Taliban had intensified their insurgency in response to the prospect of the pact. “They want to put pressure on the world community and Afghan government,” he said.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Federal Thugs Assault a Guitar Factory :: Just Another Example of Why Federal Agencies Need to be Dissolved

Agents of the Fish and Wildlife Service. 
Federal agents swooped in on Gibson Guitar Wednesday, raiding factories and offices in Memphis and Nashville, seizing several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars. The Feds are keeping mum, but in a statement yesterday Gibson's chairman and CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, defended his company's manufacturing policies, accusing the Justice Department of bullying the company. "The wood the government seized Wednesday is from a Forest Stewardship Council certified supplier," he said, suggesting the Feds are using the aggressive enforcement of overly broad laws to make the company cry uncle.

It isn't the first time that agents of the Fish and Wildlife Service have come knocking at the storied maker of such iconic instruments as the Les Paul electric guitar, the J-160E acoustic-electric John Lennon played, and essential jazz-boxes such as Charlie Christian's ES-150. In 2009 the Feds seized several guitars and pallets of wood from a Gibson factory, and both sides have been wrangling over the goods in a case with the delightful name "United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms."

The question in the first raid seemed to be whether Gibson had been buying illegally harvested hardwoods from protected forests, such as the Madagascar ebony that makes for such lovely fretboards. And if Gibson did knowingly import illegally harvested ebony from Madagascar, that wouldn't be a negligible offense. Peter Lowry, ebony and rosewood expert at the Missouri Botanical Garden, calls the Madagascar wood trade the "equivalent of Africa's blood diamonds." But with the new raid, the government seems to be questioning whether some wood sourced from India met every regulatory jot and tittle.

It isn't just Gibson that is sweating. Musicians who play vintage guitars and other instruments made of environmentally protected materials are worried the authorities may be coming for them next.

If you are the lucky owner of a 1920s Martin guitar, it may well be made, in part, of Brazilian rosewood. Cross an international border with an instrument made of that now-restricted wood, and you better have correct and complete documentation proving the age of the instrument. Otherwise, you could lose it to a zealous customs agent—not to mention face fines and prosecution.

John Thomas, a law professor at Quinnipiac University and a blues and ragtime guitarist, says "there's a lot of anxiety, and it's well justified." Once upon a time, he would have taken one of his vintage guitars on his travels. Now, "I don't go out of the country with a wooden guitar."

The tangled intersection of international laws is enforced through a thicket of paperwork. Recent revisions to 1900's Lacey Act require that anyone crossing the U.S. border declare every bit of flora or fauna being brought into the country. One is under "strict liability" to fill out the paperwork—and without any mistakes.

It's not enough to know that the body of your old guitar is made of spruce and maple: What's the bridge made of? If it's ebony, do you have the paperwork to show when and where that wood was harvested and when and where it was made into a bridge? Is the nut holding the strings at the guitar's headstock bone, or could it be ivory? "Even if you have no knowledge—despite Herculean efforts to obtain it—that some piece of your guitar, no matter how small, was obtained illegally, you lose your guitar forever," Prof. Thomas has written. "Oh, and you'll be fined $250 for that false (or missing) information in your Lacey Act Import Declaration."

Consider the recent experience of Pascal Vieillard, whose Atlanta-area company, A-440 Pianos, imported several antique Bösendorfers. Mr. Vieillard asked officials at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species how to fill out the correct paperwork—which simply encouraged them to alert U.S. Customs to give his shipment added scrutiny.

There was never any question that the instruments were old enough to have grandfathered ivory keys. But Mr. Vieillard didn't have his paperwork straight when two-dozen federal agents came calling.

Facing criminal charges that might have put him in prison for years, Mr. Vieillard pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of violating the Lacey Act, and was handed a $17,500 fine and three years probation.

Given the risks, why don't musicians just settle for the safety of carbon fiber? Some do—when concert pianist Jeffrey Sharkey moved to England two decades ago, he had Steinway replace the ivories on his piano with plastic.

Still, musicians cling to the old materials. Last year, Dick Boak, director of artist relations for C.F. Martin & Co., complained to Mother Nature News about the difficulty of getting elite guitarists to switch to instruments made from sustainable materials. "Surprisingly, musicians, who represent some of the most savvy, ecologically minded people around, are resistant to anything about changing the tone of their guitars," he said.

You could mark that up to hypocrisy—artsy do-gooders only too eager to tell others what kind of light bulbs they have to buy won't make sacrifices when it comes to their own passions. Then again, maybe it isn't hypocrisy to recognize that art makes claims significant enough to compete with environmentalists' agendas.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Another New Jersey Hurricane

He was probably guilty.

Meeting Life Challenges

Life is a constant challenge. They are a part of what we are. It is a given. We can wear them or carry them silently. Most challenges accepted take us to places that were never expected. I don't doubt for a moment the expressed joy and gratitude of this family for having accepted what was put to them. They are fortunate indeed.

Not immediately clear when First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia would leave the Vineyard.

Obama has not rested while in Martha's Vineyard, so engrossed has he been in organizing federal resources to cope with Hurricane Irene. Racked with fear and worry about the oncoming hurricane, unable to focus on his putting, stern faced Obama spoke to the nation through his teleprompters. Obama shared his profound thoughts: “indications point to this being a historic hurricane.” Following his riveting and vacuous announcement, Obama the imperious, had no time to answer a reporters question about how the hurricane would affect employment.

Watch this:

The First Big Ass, Michelle, was not quite finished her top-shelf vacation so that taxpayers now have to pay for the Obamas to fly back on seperate 747s. Tough luck for the security people and home owners in the area who cannot return to prepare for the hurricane.

"Thanks Suckas"

Too bad that shark is stuffed.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Post Racial President toTake Executive Action to Help His Black Folk

A Black Community Folk of the First Order

Obama faces uncomfortable questions from black community, lawmakers

By Peter Wallsten and Krissah Thompson, Published: August 25 Washington Post

From the start of his history-making tenure, the nation’s first black president took care never to be seen making policy or political decisions aimed solely or directly at black America. His position: He is the president of the whole country, focused on broad-based fixes to “lift all boats.”

The race-avoidance strategy served President Obama well, helping him attract support from many whites while also mobilizing African Americans energized by the powerful symbol of a black commander in chief.

But a soaring jobless rate among African Americans and a newfound comfort by black lawmakers to criticize Obama’s economic policies are prompting the White House to recalibrate — and to focus more directly on the struggles of black America.

The shift comes amid a growing concern among some Democrats that the stubborn economic conditions in minority communities might hamper efforts by Obama’s reelection campaign to generate the large black voter turnout it needs in key cities to make up for his declining support among white independents.

This week, the White House dispatched a top official to participate in a Congressional Black Caucus jobs forum in Miami that had been scheduled in part to pressure the White House.

The official, Don Graves, the executive director of the president’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, told black lawmakers that the president would consider taking executive action to enact at least parts of jobs-related measures they have introduced to no avail in the Republican-led House.

“You may not feel like the president is listening to you, but he hears you loud and clear,” Graves told the lawmakers before an audience of hundreds crammed into the pews of the Mount Hermon African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The new approach is subtle, but it is significant to African American lawmakers who have been pressing for the change since early spring. One proposal would extend aid to communities with long-standing poverty problems. Another would help the long-term unemployed.

Both ideas would help mostly minorities, said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. In steering clear of the overt race label, he added, “it’s not as in-your-face.”

“They are paying closer attention to what’s going on in the urban core of the major cities,” Cleaver said.

Several black lawmakers said they think the White House is considering additional targeted steps to boost urban communities as part of the jobs package the president plans to release shortly after Labor Day.

And the White House announced this week that Obama will pay a Labor Day visit to Detroit, a hard-hit city where a town hall meeting held by the black caucus drew headlines last week when Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) decried the black jobless rate as “unconscionable” and blasted the president for his recent Midwestern bus tour that focused on rural white communities.

The White House had also intended a major address for Sunday at the now-postponed dedication of the new memorial to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — at which the president could speak in personal terms about the continuing economic challenges black Americans face.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Michelle Obama, 'Disgusting' and 'a Vacation Junkie',

Expensive massages, top shelf vodka and five-star hotels: First Lady accused of spending $10m in public money on her vacations

Last updated at 8:28 PM on 24th August 2011
    The Obamas' summer break on Martha's Vineyard has already been branded a PR disaster after the couple arrived four hours apart on separate government jets.
But according to new reports, this is the least of their extravagances.
White House sources today claimed that the First Lady has spent $10million of U.S. taxpayers' money on vacations alone in the past year.

Expensive taste: Michelle Obama, pictured yesterday in West Tisbury, Massachusetts, has been accused of spending $10m of public money on vacations
Expensive taste: Michelle Obama, pictured yesterday in Massachusetts, has been accused of spending $10m of public money on vacations

Branding her 'disgusting' and 'a vacation junkie', they say the 47-year-old mother-of-two has been indulging in five-star hotels, where she splashes out on expensive massages and alcohol.
The 'top source' told the National Enquirer: 'It's disgusting. Michelle is taking advantage of her privileged position while the most hardworking Americans can barely afford a week or two off work.
'When it's all added up, she's spent more than $10million in taxpayers' money on her vacations.'

His and her jets: The President and his wife, who are spending nine days on Martha's Vineyard, have come under fire for travelling on separate planes
His and her jets: The President and his wife, who are spending nine days on Martha's Vineyard, have come under fire for travelling on separate planes

The First Lady is believed to have taken 42 days of holiday in the past year, including a $375,000 break in Spain and a four-day ski trip to Vail, Colorado, where she spent $2,000 a night on a suite at the Sebastian hotel.
And the first family's nine-day stay in Martha's Vineyard is also proving costly, with rental of the Blue Heron Farm property alone costing an estimated $50,000 a week.
The source continued: 'Michelle also enjoys drinking expensive booze during her trips. She favours martinis with top-shelf vodka and has a taste for rich sparking wines.
'The vacations are totally Michelle's idea. She's like a junkie. She can't schedule enough getaways, and she lives from one to the next - all the while sticking it to hardworking Americans.'

The Obama administration was forced to pull a warning about racism in Spain - just as the First Lady arrived in the country for a summer holiday
Travelling in style: Mrs Obama during her $375,000 trip to Spain last year
A bevy of bodyguards surrounds the U.S. First Lady and eldest daughter as they take a stroll on the Costa del Sol  
High security: Bodyguards surround the First Lady and youngest daughter Sasha as they take a stroll on the Costa del Sol
While the President and his wife do pay for some of their personal expenses from their own pocket, the website says that the amount paid by the couple is 'dwarfed by the overall cost to the public'.
The magazine also reported that Mrs Obama, whose fashion choices are widely followed, had been going on 'wild shopping sprees', much to the distress of her husband, who, its sources reveal, is 'absolutely furious' at his wife's 'out-of-control spending'.
The President has already come under fire this week over his decision to take a family vacation while millions of Americans are out of work and countless more are financially strapped.
Chilled: The President enjoys an ice cream with his daughters as he relaxes on his Christmas holiday in Hawaii
Luxury break: The President and his family, pictured in December, splashed out more than $1.5million on a Christmas holiday in Hawaii
Tranquil: A Coast Guard patrol dingy rides up the canal near the house in Kailua where President Obama is staying
'Winter White House': The property in Kailua cost $38,000 to rent

But the situation sparked further anger after he and his wife elected to fly separately to the Massachusetts retreat - despite travelling on the same day.
Mr Obama left the White House aboard Marine One on his way to Andrews Air Force base to hitch a lift aboard Air Force One - along with First Dog Bo.
After landing at Cape Cod Coast Guard Air Station, he then took a final helicopter to his holiday destination to complete the remarkable 500-mile journey.
His wife and daughters, who arrived just four hours earlier, were also travelling from Washington, but took a specially designed military aircraft.
They would also have had their own motorcade from the airport to the vacation residence.


The exact cost is unclear as Mrs Obama and her 40 friends footed many personal expenses, such as hotels and meals themselves.
But the U.S. taxpayer would have paid for the First Lady's 68-strong security detail, personal staff, and use of presidential jet Air Force Two.
Per diems for the secret service team runs at around $281 each - nearly $98,000 for the length of the summer break.
Use of Air Force Two, the Air Force version of a 757, comes in at $149,900 for the round trip. This does not include time on the ground.
Mrs Obama's personal staff, of which there are an unknown amount and might cost considerably more per day, should also be taken into account.
According to the Hawaii Reporter, the bill for the $1.5m trip included:
  • $63,000 on an early flight bringing Mrs Obama and the children to Hawaii ahead of the President.
  • $1,000,000 on Mr Obama’s return trip from Washington on Air Force One.
  • $38,000 for the ‘Winter White House’ beach property rental.
  • $16,000 to rent nearby homes for Secret Service and Navy Seals.
  • $134,000 for 24 White House staff to stay at the Moana Hotel.
  • $251,000 in police overtime.
  • $10,000 for an ambulance to be on hand at all times 
Mrs Obama and her daughters stayed at the Sebastian hotel on Vail Mountain, where rooms cost more than $2,400 for multi-bedroom suites.
The family appear to have flown there on Air Force Two.
They were escorted to the resort by a motorcade of about a dozen vehicles, including 15 state and local law enforcement officers
The Blue Heron Farm estate, where the Obama family are currently staying, rents for about $50,000 a week.
According to U.S. News and World Report, the Coast Guard is required to keep ships floating near the property, the presidential helicopter and jet remain at the ready and security agents will be on 24-hour duty.


Read more:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is Nato Setting Up a New Market in Libya for the Chinese?

Beijing : China has urged Libya to protect its investments after a Libyan rebel said Chinese oil companies could suffer following the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi.
Wen Zhongliang, deputy head of the ministry of commerce's trade department, said the information manager at the rebel-run oil firm AGOCO, Abdeljalil Mayouf, had said Russian and Chinese firms could lose out on oil contracts for failing to back the rebellion against Gaddafi.
"China's investment in Libya, especially its oil investment, is one aspect of mutual economic cooperation between the two countries, and this cooperation is in the mutual interest of both the people of China and Libya," Wen was quoted as saying by the Shanghai Daily.
"We hope that after a return to stability in Libya, Libya will continue to protect the interests and rights of Chinese investors and we hope to continue investment and economic cooperation with Libya," he said.
China last year obtained three percent of its imported crude from Libya. About 150,000 barrels of oil per day - about one tenth of Libya's crude exports - were shipped to China in 2010.
Yin Gang, an expert on the Arab world at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said Abdeljalil Mayouf's warning may not represent the position of an emerging, post-Gaddafi government in Tripoli.
"This was one individual's opinion. I can say in four words - They would not dare. They would not dare change any contracts," said Yin.
"Libya is still in a state of chaos and hasn't formed a government. There are certainly different views among the rebels," he said.
The Libyan embassy in Beijing has reportedly switched to the red, black and green flag of the rebel group.

Is Fusion Power a Reality?

Fusion power: is it getting any closer?

For decades, scientists have been predicting that, one day, the same process that powers the sun will give us virtually unlimited cheap, clean electricity. Are they wrong?

A star is born. And, less than a second later, it dies. On a drab science park just outside the Oxfordshire village of Culham, some of the world's leading physicists stare at a monitor to review a video of their wondrous, yet fleeting, creation.

"Not too bad. That was quite a clean one," observes starmaker-in-chief Professor Steve Cowley. Just a few metres away from his control room, a "mini star" not much larger than a family car has just burned, momentarily bright, at temperatures approaching 23 million degrees centigrade inside a 70-tonne steel vessel.

Cowley sips his coffee. "OK, when do we go again?"

Last year, when asked to name the most pressing scientific challenge facing humanity, Professors Stephen Hawking and Brian Cox both gave the same answer: producing electricity from fusion energy. The prize, they said, is enormous: a near-limitless, pollution-free, cheap source of energy that would power human development for many centuries to come. Cox is so passionate about the urgent need for fusion power that he stated that it should be scientists such as Cowley who are revered in our culture – not footballers or pop stars – because they are "literally going to save the world". It is a "moral duty" to commercialise this technology as fast as possible, he said. Without it, our species will be in "very deep trouble indeed" by the end of this century.

If only it were that simple. Fusion energy – in essence, recreating and harnessing here on earth the process that powers the sun – has been the goal of physicists around the world for more than half a century. And yet it is perpetually described as "30 years away". No matter how much research is done and money is spent attempting to commercialise this "saviour" technology, it always appears to be stuck at least a generation away.

Cowley hears and feels these frustrations every day. As the director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, he has spent his working life trying to shorten this exasperating delay. Fusion energy is already a scientific challenge arguably more arduous than any other we face, but recent events have only piled on further pressure: international climate-change negotiations have stalled; targets to ramp up renewable energy production seem hopelessly unrealistic; and the Fukushima disaster has cast a large shadow over the future of fusion's nuclear cousin, fission energy, with both Germany and Italy stating that, owing to safety concerns, they now intend to turn their back on a source of energy which has been providing electricity since the 1950s.

But today Cowley seems upbeat, chipper even. After an 18-month shutdown to retile the interior of the largest of the centre's two "tokamaks" – ring doughnut-shaped chambers where the fusion reaction takes place – he is bullish about the progress being made by the 1,000 scientists and engineers based at Culham.

"By 2014-15, we will be setting new records here. We hope to reach break-even point in five years. That will be a huge psychological moment."

Cowley is referring to the moment of parity when the amount of energy they extract from a tokamak equals the amount of energy they put into it. At present, the best-ever "shot" – as the scientists refer to each fusion reaction attempt – came in 1997 when, for just two seconds, the JET (Joint European Torus) tokamak at Culham achieved 16MW of fusion power from an input of 25MW. For fusion to be commercially viable, however, it will need to provide a near-constant tenfold power gain.

So, what are the barriers preventing this great leap forward?

"We could produce net electricity right now, but the costs would be huge," says Cowley. "The barrier is finding a material than can withstand the neutron bombardment inside the tokamak. We could also just say damn to the cost of the electricity required to demonstrate this. But we don't want to do something that cannot be shown to be commercially viable. What's the point?"

At the heart of a star, fusion occurs when hydrogen atoms fuse together under extreme heat and pressure to create a denser helium atom releasing, in the process, colossal amounts of energy. But on Earth, scientists have to try and replicate a star's intense gravitational pressure with an artificial magnetic field that requires huge amounts of electricity to create – so much that the National Grid must tell Culham when it is OK for them to run a shot. (Namely, not in the middle of Coronation Street or a big football match.)

The fusion reaction occurs when the fuel (two types, or isotopes, of hydrogen known as deuterium and tritium) combines to form a super-hot plasma which produces, alongside the helium, neutrons which have a huge amount of kinetic energy. The goal of plasma physicists such as Cowell is to harness the release of these neutrons and use their abundant energy to drive conventional turbines to generate electricity. The JET tokamak has been shut down for the past 18 months while the interior has been stripped of its 4,500 carbon tiles and replaced with new tiles made from beryllium and tungsten. The hope is that these new tiles will be far more "neutron resilient", allowing for shots to be conducted for longer periods and at much higher temperatures.

Over lunch at the staff canteen, Francesco Romanelli, the Italian director of the European Fusion Development Agreement, the European agency that funds JET, explains why the new tiles are so crucial: "We now understand how a plasma works. We have demonstrated with JET that we can contain the reactants; we reach temperatures 20 times hotter than the sun's core and we produce an intense magnetic field, 1,000 times that of Earth's normal magnetic field. But the main problem we face is plasma turbulence. To compensate for this loss, we have to add more heat and energy. So we are always looking for materials that can withstand these extraordinary conditions inside the tokamak."

Last year, bulldozers began clearing land 60km north-east of Marseille in southern France. By 2019, it is hoped that the world's largest and most advanced experimental tokamak will be switched on. The €15bn International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is being funded by an unprecedented international coalition, including the EU, the US, China, India, South Korea and Russia. Everything learned at Culham will be fed into improving the design and performance of ITER which, it is hoped, will demonstrate the commercial viability of fusion by producing a tenfold power gain of 500MW during shots lasting up to an hour.

But ITER's projected costs are already rocketing, and politicians across Europe have expressed concern, demanding that budgets be capped. Fusion energy also has its environmental detractors. When the ITER project was announced in 2005, Greenpeace said it "deplored" the project, arguing that the money could be better spent building offshore wind turbines. "Advocates of fusion research predict that the first commercial fusion electricity might be delivered in 50-80 years from now," said Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace International's nuclear campaigner. "But most likely, it will lead to a dead end, as the technical barriers to be overcome are enormous." Meanwhile, there is criticism from some plasma physicists that the design of ITER is wrong and alternative designs might produce better results for much less money.

Romanelli rejects this analysis. We simply must make this investment, he says: "The prize on offer is too tantalising to ignore. Fusion doesn't produce greenhouse gases, it is intrinsically safe and it leaves no burden on future generations. The primary reaction does not produce nuclear material, only helium. There's a limited problem in that you produce neutrons, but this only makes the reactor chamber itself radioactive. Within 100 years, you could recycle the chamber so there's no need for geological-timescale storage as there is with the waste from fission energy. And the fuel is virtually unlimited. All you need is lithium and hydrogen. Sea water alone could fuel current human consumption levels for 30 million years."

Another major positive promised by fusion, says Romanelli, is that reactors would be so safe that they could be located amid urban centres where the power is most needed. "A tsunami, earthquake or bomb could hit a fusion reactor and the problems caused would only ever be structural. With fission, you have to release the energy if there's a problem, whereas fusion shuts down instantly if disrupted."

If fusion offers such glorious bounty, it prompts the question – given, say, our concerns over climate change and the global political instability caused by the pursuit of oil – why the world isn't concentrating much harder on delivering it as fast as possible. Yes, €15bn is a lot of money to be spending building ITER. But, by comparison, the global cosmetics and perfume industry is worth some $170bn a year. And, in 2010, the US's military budget was $663bn. If the motivation was there, the global community could find the money to fund 10 rival fusion projects to fast-track the process of finding the optimum design. So, why haven't we seen a Manhattan Project-style push for fusion such as we did during the second world war when it was deemed by the allied forces that they must beat the Nazis in the race to build the first atomic bomb?

"People – and particularly politicians – still remember fission's early claims that it would produce electricity that was 'too cheap to meter'," says Cowley. For most people, fusion is the realm of science fiction and it is hard to convince them that it should be a strategic priority, he says. "We scientists have to be honest, too: we thought it would be easy to crack fusion. But there's no other comparable challenge. There is no model for this technology. The first flying devices looked like birds because those early inventors looked to nature for solutions. But we don't have a model in nature to look to. The sun is not a good model for fusion here on earth. We're having to start from the very beginning."

Cowley says a Manhattan Project for fusion would, of course, greatly speed up its delivery. "ITER will cost around €15bn, but that is not expensive when you consider the prize. At present, all we can hope for is, if oil prices are still high in 2015 and we pull off a big shot demonstrating parity of power, this gets us the international attention – and therefore the funding – we need to really push on. JET was first funded and built during the 1970s due to the oil crisis. That is not a coincidence: there has always been a direct correlation between investment in fusion and the price of oil. Interestingly, though, China is now putting a lot of money into fusion."

This raises another big question: who will stand to benefit financially from its commercialisation? "The global energy market is worth $5-6 trillion a year: somebody will make a lot of money out of this," says Cowley, who predicts that once ITER provides a demonstration model for a fusion reactor all the major countries involved will then attempt to build their own version. "We handed our advantage away with fission. We really don't want to make the same mistake again." One area where the UK already has an edge, says Cowley, is making the very specialised steels required for next-generation tokomaks.

It's hard not to look at the potential of fusion and scream: "We need this right now!" But Cowley says we still face a 30-year wait for the magic day when we flick a switch and electricity generated from fusion flows from the socket. "After ITER, we will then have to build a demonstration plant. We hope to have that built by 2040. This is why there needs to be, in my mind, a 10-fold increase in fission power by 2050. We still need fission because it is a bridging technology until fusion becomes commercial. By 2100, fusion could be producing 20-25% of all our energy." (Romanelli's outlook is a little more optimistic: he believes fusion will be providing 50% of the world's energy by 2100.)

What Cowley is admitting, though, is that as long as fusion research remains underfunded (a term he doesn't utter, but the implication is there) then it will never save humanity from climate change, oil wars and the poverty and underdevelopment caused by ever-higher energy costs. As if to prove his point, he admits that on occasion he has even turned to eBay to buy spare parts for the smaller UK-owned tokamak at Colham which is known as Mast (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak).

But such things do not deter him from pushing forward as best he can, he stresses. He is first and foremost a plasma physicist.

"Saving the planet is a nice thing to do," he laughs. "Doing something that no one else has ever done is attractive, too. But, ultimately, this is fascinating. I work at the best fusion laboratory in the world, where we conduct day-to-day physics with an incredibly high level of intellectual activity. Every night on the train home I prefer to do a calculation rather than a sudoku. I try to work out things such as how a 200-million-degree-celsius plasma behaves in a magnetic field. Such things are critically important for the future of our world, but they're bloody good fun, too."

Joey Vento, Philly Cheesesteak King dead at 71

Joey Vento dead at 71

Philadelphia Daily News
and Philadelphia Inquirer

South Philly legend Joey Vento, who opened Geno's Steaks at 9th and Passyunk in 1966, died today of a massive heart attack. Vento was 71.

"We're a little tragic here right now," Vento's nephew Joseph Perno, manager at Geno's, said tonight. "We're doing fine. So far, so good."

Vento was a controversial figure, perhaps known best for signs at his steak shop requiring customers to order in English that prompted a lawsuit in 2006. Geno's Steaks also had a longstanding feud with Pat's King of Steaks, which claims to have invented the cheesesteak in 1933.

Perno, 50, said Vento had come to work this morning. When Perno came in for his night shift, he found out that Vento had suffered a fatal heart attack. "He was here every morning," Perno said. "He was here this morning. He was dedicated to his business and his family."

A longtime friend of the sandwich king, Domenic Chiavaroli, 65, of South Philadelphia, said at Geno's tonight: "I've been coming here since 1967. Joe was a good guy. He always tried to help everybody."

Chiavaroli said Vento was at the shop this morning, as he was every morning before it opened. Chiavaroli talked with Vento about a recent renovation inside the shop.

Vento went home later in the day to Shamong, Burlington County, where Chiavaroli said he had phoned in a bread order around 6 p.m. Vento then told his wife he wasn't feeling well, and went to lie down in his bedroom. His wife found him an hour later. "He wasn't feeling too good . . . an hour or so later his wife found him," Chiavaroli said family members told him.
"They are slanging them steaks all day long. you need to come try one" 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What Real People Know

What real people know – and have known for quite a long time – is that the great tacit agreement which once held civic life together has been deliberately blown apart. There was a time within living memory when all reasonable grown-ups were considered to be on the same side. Parents, teachers, police, judges, politicians – decent citizens of every station and calling – formed an unspoken confederacy to uphold standards of behaviour within their own communities. But their shared values and expectations about human conduct were systematically undermined by a post-Sixties political ideology that preached wholesale disrespect for authority, and legitimised anti-social activity in the name of protest.

What real people saw on their television screens this fateful summer seemed to them to be the final vindication of their instinctive judgment: they may have been shocked but, on some level at least, they were not surprised that it had come to this. What else were these terrible events but the definitive disproof of a doctrine that had subverted adult authority in all its official and unofficial forms?
That doctrine goes back a long way. In fact, the politics of the Sixties were just a late incarnation of an 18th-century philosophy. We have Jean-Jacques Rousseau to thank for the basic principle that men are born good and will only behave badly if they are corrupted by authority and repressive institutions: that we need only liberate them from those false limitations and their natural moral instincts will come to the fore.

The capacity for self-control, and the willingness to suppress one’s innate selfishness or cruelty, is something that adults must consciously instil in children and reinforce in other adults by their attitudes to them. The indispensable tools of social stigma and moral judgment that communities used to have at their disposal for this purpose have been stripped away, and the result – the fearless defiance of helpless authority – is what we saw in its terrifying logical conclusion on the streets. That is what real people know: that they were right all along.

Edited version of Janet Daley's
UK riots: The end of the liberals’ great moral delusionRead in full here

Phildelphia Just Had an Earthquake!!!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why Do We Need Gargantuan Sized Banks?

Ever since I can remember the major money center banks have gotten into trouble loaning money globally to foreign countries, governments and mega corporations, falling on their ass and then getting bailed out. Through the 1970's commercial banks were limited to banking in their own states and skirted the intent by making stupid foreign loans, eventually getting a haircut or giving one to the US taxpayer. Illinois went further and prohibited branch banking within the state. Savings and Loans took money from local depositors and made local real estate loans.

When Congress allowed the S&L's to pretend they were commercial banks, Wall Street raided them as a source for junk bonds, another banking debacle, another bailout. Now we learn this morning that Wall Street Aristocracy Got $1.2 Trillion From Fed

We do not need government support for anything to do with Wall Street, no more than we need government support for Las Vegas casinos. Let them do what they want and if they fail, tough shit. All real estate mortgages should be done on a local level. Banking should be a state function and should be de-federalized. When a bank reaches a certain size it should be cut-off from all government support and guarantees. Place the risk where it belongs, to the dumb bastards that run them and their investors.