Archive for ‘Signs of the times’

November 13, 2013

Nothing Says I Love You Like an $83 Million 60 Carat Pink Diamond

The title here doesn’t reflect the content of the linked post, but I couldn’t rsist. The gem is gorgeous and worth a click. Story and pics at Business Insider.

November 13, 2012

Look! It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…It’s a Drone!

I know you don’t have time to watch a 27 minute video, but this one is worth a look. An age of robotics rushes toward us and the airborne advance guard are drones. Not just military drones, but commercial and private ones as well. Concerned about the death of privacy brought by the Internet? Just the beginning…

From the filmmakers at Journeyman Pictures:

“This is a powerful technology. No amount of hand-wringing is going to stop it”, says drone expert, Peter Singer. Whether it’s a floating TV station streaming live to the web, the prying lens of the paparazzi, the police chasing a criminal or a government agency spying, small domestic drones are experiencing an exponential growth. At the world’s largest drone convention in Las Vegas a salesman tells the crowd, “this can be used in law enforcement, disaster relief and industrial applications. It’s also very good at dusting floors. Every home owner should have one”. And as the technology advances at a frightening speed, anyone with a few hundred dollars can buy one over the counter. These hobby drones can fly for miles and provide sharp video feedback to the pilot. “I wouldn’t cheat on your wife!”, laughs columnist Charles Krauthammer. But jokes aside, there are real fears over the “political, legal and ethical issues that play out with this”, argues Singer. In 3 years time an order from the US congress will see tens of thousands of drones legally occupy an already crowded sky, raising numerous questions about basic safety, terrorism and civil liberty. As companies rush to cash in on this new billion dollar industry, experts warn, “we’re not ready for this”.

November 13, 2012

Corruption Watch: Big Pharma

When greed is culturally sanctioned and executives are free to cheat pretty much at will with the only downside being civil fines that are “written off” as a cost of doing business, we can have the remarkable corruption we see in Big Pharma.

From the NY Times back in July:

In the largest settlement involving a pharmaceutical company, the British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay $3 billion in fines for promoting its best-selling antidepressants for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data about a top diabetes drug, federal prosecutors announced Monday. The agreement also includes civil penalties for improper marketing of a half-dozen other drugs…

No individuals have been charged in any of the cases. Even so, the Justice Department contends the prosecutions are well worth the effort — reaping more than $15 in recoveries for every $1 it spends, by one estimate.

But critics argue that even large fines are not enough to deter drug companies from unlawful behavior. Only when prosecutors single out individual executives for punishment, they say, will practices begin to change.

I do believe the solution is in the paragraph above.

September 23, 2012

Zeit Guy Links – 9/23/12

“The Drugs Don’t Work”: How the Medical-Industrial Complex Systematically Suppresses Negative Studies  (Yves Smith)

We’ve written a lot about the scientism of mainstream economics, both here and in ECONNED, and how these trappings have let the discipline continue to have a special seat at the policy table despite ample evidence of its failure. As bad as this is, it pales in comparison to the overt corruption of science at work in the drug arena. Although this issue comes to light from time to time, often in the context of litigation, the lay public is largely ignorant of how systematic and pervasive the efforts are to undermine good research practice in order to foist more, expensive, and sometimes dangerous drugs onto patients.

Ben Goldacre, a British doctor and science writer, provides a short overview of one of the worst scams practiced by Big Pharma: that of suppressing negative research, in a new piece at the Guardian (hat tip John l). This is the overview:

Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques that are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer. When trials throw up results that companies don’t like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug’s true effects. Regulators see most of the trial data, but only from early on in a drug’s life, and even then they don’t give this data to doctors or patients, or even to other parts of government. This distorted evidence is then communicated and applied in a distorted fashion.

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Feast of Fools: How American Democracy Became the Property of a Commercial Oligarchy  (Lewis Lapham)

All power corrupts but some must govern. — John le Carré

The ritual performance of the legend of democracy in the autumn of 2012 promises the conspicuous consumption of $5.8 billion, enough money, thank God, to prove that our flag is still there. Forbidden the use of words apt to depress a Q Score or disturb a Gallup poll, the candidates stand as product placements meant to be seen instead of heard, their quality to be inferred from the cost of their manufacture. The sponsors of the event, generous to a fault but careful to remain anonymous, dress it up with the bursting in air of star-spangled photo ops, abundant assortments of multiflavored sound bites, and the candidates so well-contrived that they can be played for jokes, presented as game-show contestants, or posed as noble knights-at-arms setting forth on vision quests, enduring the trials by klieg light, until on election night they come to judgment before the throne of cameras by whom and for whom they were produced.

Best of all, at least from the point of view of the commercial oligarchy paying for both the politicians and the press coverage, the issue is never about the why of who owes what to whom, only about the how much and when, or if, the check is in the mail. No loose talk about what is meant by the word democracy or in what ways it refers to the cherished hope of liberty embodied in the history of a courageous people

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C.E.O.’s and the Pay-’Em-or-Lose-’Em Myth  (NY Times)

CORPORATIONS are forever defending big executive paydays. If we don’t pay up, the argument goes, our sharpest minds will jump to our rivals.

Now, there are good reasons for rewarding top executives. The decisions they make are so crucial to their companies that the priority should be to hire competent people rather than scrimp on pay.

But a study released last week pretty much drives a stake through that old “pay ’em or lose ’em” line — what you might call the brain-drain defense. It also debunks the idea that companies must keep up with the Joneses by constantly comparing their executives’ compensation with that of similar companies.

This peer-group benchmark — how executive pay at one company stacks up against pay at another — is a big driver of ever-rising compensation. Boards say it helps them set pay based on what the market will bear.

Well, maybe not.

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Obama That I Used To Know – Gotye Parody

Occupy tents have folded, but the concerns that generated the encampments remain. Below is a video parody of Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used To Know.”  The parody nicely captures the disappointment many young people (and some older folks) feel about the President. So far, about 1,400,000 views.

August 8, 2012

Climate Change: Every Social Movement Needs an Enemy

As near as I can tell, the leading speaker in articulating the narrative of climate change is Bill McKibben of www.350.org. In a recent piece in Rolling Stone magazine he lays out a compelling numbers driven account of global warming and its cause. He then puts on his social activist hat:

…the paths we have tried to tackle global warming have so far produced only gradual, halting shifts. A rapid, transformative change would require building a movement, and movements require enemies. As John F. Kennedy put it, “The civil rights movement should thank God for Bull Connor. He’s helped it as much as Abraham Lincoln.” And enemies are what climate change has lacked.

But what all these climate numbers make painfully, usefully clear is that the planet does indeed have an enemy – one far more committed to action than governments or individuals. Given this hard math, we need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization.

From naming the enemy McKibben goes on to address what can be done. The how of it is his work at www.350.org. I find few articles I would call “must reads;” this is one.

July 19, 2012

Our Changing Nation: Immigrants Now More from Asia than Latin America

Not only does the influence of Asia  grow ever larger on the world scene, but here in the US as well. From the Pew Research Center:

Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and
fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more
satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the
direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans
do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success, according to a
comprehensive new nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center.

Click here for the full report.

June 28, 2012

Austerity: The Results So Far in Latvia and Greece

We start with a delightful cartoon video on the reslts of Latvia’s austerity program. While the poster child and the one “success” story that austerity’s proponents proclaim, the facts on the Latvian ground might beg to differ. After the video, the beginning of a post by Yves Smith on Naked Capitalism on life in Greece under the austerity programs imposed on it.

From “Austerity Kills: How the EuroCrisis is Being Used to Break the Social Contract.” Click here for the full post.

One aspect of the Eurocrisis that has not gotten the attention it deserves is the way it is destroying not just jobs, but the very underpinnings of society. People who took actions that were prudent at the time are increasingly at the mercy of forces beyond their control. And this isn’t a tsunami-type disaster but a man-made one whose severity is worsened by the callous attitudes of the European elites.

We’ve featured stories from time to time on how Greece is unraveling. Suicides have increased sharply. Garbage is not being picked up. Public transportation is largely a thing of the past. Even though Greece always had a large black market, more people are resorting to barter, which shrinks the tax base.

And in some ways worst of all, the health care system is on the verge of collapse. Critical medicines are not being imported and hospitals are short of basic supplies. Not only are people dying unnecessarily due to their inability to get drugs and operations, but worse, the breakdown of healthcare greatly increases the risk of a public health crisis. How many children are being vaccinated, for instance? What happens when curable but silent killers such as syphilis go untreated?

Click here for the full post.

June 27, 2012

Understanding Debt: As the Pendulum Swings

If Occupy is a movement and the movement has intellectuals, then David Graeber is primus inter pares. Below are two excerpts from a September 2011 interview which give nice overview of his thinking. With a mind-boggling $1,000,000,000,000 (trillion) dollars in student debt, countless home mortgages under water, and a government run for the benefit of the plutocracy, is it possible that his ideas, marginal though they may seem, will find an increasingly welcome reception over the next 5 to 10 years? Click here for the full article in The Brooklyn Rail.

[Interviewer]: There’s something about the quantitative aspect of debt, the way that it can impersonalize human relationships, that makes it such a powerful force in civilization.

David Graeber: Exactly: The turning of moral obligations into numbers and then using those numbers to justify things that could otherwise never be justified morally. And that’s the story of debt. That’s why I realized, when writing it, that this has been going on for a very long time. The IMF (International Monetary Fund) and what they did to countries in the Global South—which is, of course, exactly the same thing bankers are starting to do at home now—is just a modern version of this old story.

Graeber: One of the strange powers of the logic of debt, which pervaded first North Atlantic societies and then almost the rest of the world under the organizing principle of capitalism, is that people are under the pressure of the shame and humiliation that comes with being in debt. This causes a frenetic need to look and turn everything around them into a source of profit. And that’s what the industrious people are, the people who submit themselves to that logic.

Click here for the full article.

January 11, 2012

Annals of Banking Crime: Mafia now “Italy’s No.1 bank”

I tried to think up a comment on this, but, really, it speaks eloquently for itself.

ROME, Jan 10 (Reuters) – Organised crime has tightened its grip on the Italian economy during the economic crisis, making the Mafia the country’s biggest “bank” and squeezing the life out of thousands of small firms, according to a report on Tuesday.

Extortionate lending by criminal groups had become a “national emergency”, said the report by anti-crime group SOS Impresa.

Organised crime now generated annual turnover of about 140 billion euros ($178.89 billion) and profits of more than 100 billion euros, it added.

“With 65 billion euros in liquidity, the Mafia is Italy’s number one bank,” said a statement from the group, which was set up in Palermo a decade ago to oppose extortion rackets against small business.

Old style gangsters handing out cash in bars and pool halls had been replaced by apparently respectable bankers, lawyers or notaries, the report said.

“This is extortion with a clean face,” it added. “Through their professions, they know the mechanisms of the legal credit market and they often know the financial position of their victims perfectly.”

Click here for the full story.

May 8, 2011

Sign of the Times: The Rise of McJobs in the Plutocracy

For some time I’ve hewed to Cszlew Milosz’s characterization of America as “a moderately corrupt republic.” Now I would argue for a shorter tag, plutocracy. One of the consequences of governance by the rich (via their agents, Congress) is spelled out in “How the McEconomy Bombed the American Worker: The Hollowing Out of the Middle Class” by Andy Kroll in Tomdispatch.com. The attention grabbing opening paragraph:

Think of it as a parable for these grim economic times. On April 19th, McDonald’s launched its first-ever national hiring day, signing up 62,000 new workers at stores throughout the country. For some context, that’s more jobs created by one company in a single day than the net job creation of the entire U.S. economy in 2009. And if that boggles the mind, consider how many workers applied to local McDonald’s franchises that day and left empty-handed: 938,000 of them. With a 6.2% acceptance rate in its spring hiring blitz, McDonald’s was more selective than the Princeton, Stanford, or Yale University admission offices.

The article gives an account of rise of the McEconomy. Read it here.