September 8, 2012

Zeit Guy Links – 9/8/12

BMW Never-Too-Old Assembly Insures Against Lost Engineers Bloomberg

In 2007, the luxury automaker set up an experimental assembly line with older employees to see whether they could keep pace. The production line in Dingolfing, 50 miles northeast of BMW’s Munich base, features hoists to spare aging backs, adjustable-height work benches, and wooden floors instead of rubber to help hips swivel during repetitive tasks.

The verdict: Not only could they keep up, the older workers did a better job than younger staffers on another line at the same factory. Today, many of the changes are being implemented at plants across the company.

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NASA Explains how We Caused the Hottest Decade and are generally screwing ourselves over (Video) Juan Cole

NASA’s 5-minute video explains why the last decade has been the hottest ever (we did it) and what climate change means for our hot, thirsty future. It is entitled “Piecing together the Puzzle” and is narrated in a slow, calm voice. But it should be entitled “Run for the Hills!” and should have been narrated by Jennifer Granholm. Here’s the relevant NASA website.

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Drone Use Takes Off on the Home Front  WSJ

With little public attention, dozens of universities and law-enforcement agencies have been given approval by federal aviation regulators to use unmanned aircraft known as drones, according to documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests by an advocacy group.

The more than 50 institutions that received approvals to operate remotely piloted aircraft are more varied than many outsiders and privacy experts previously knew.

August 29, 2012

It’s Not Our Parents’ Plutocracy

Writing in the American Conservative, former longtime Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren characterizes the new rising plutocracy in “The Revolt of the Rich.” Very readable; a short primer on the transition from the previous era to this one where the rich have, as he puts it, seceded from America. Well worth a full read. Excerpt:

Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it. If one can afford private security, public safety is of no concern; if one owns a Gulfstream jet, crumbling bridges cause less apprehension—and viable public transportation doesn’t even show up on the radar screen. With private doctors on call and a chartered plane to get to the Mayo Clinic, why worry about Medicare?

Being in the country but not of it is what gives the contemporary American super-rich their quality of being abstracted and clueless. Perhaps that explains why Mitt Romney’s regular-guy anecdotes always seem a bit strained. I discussed this with a radio host who recounted a story about Robert Rubin, former secretary of the Treasury as well as an executive at Goldman Sachs and CitiGroup. Rubin was being chauffeured through Manhattan to reach some event whose attendees consisted of the Great and the Good such as himself. Along the way he encountered a traffic jam, and on arriving to his event—late—he complained to a city functionary with the power to look into it. “Where was the jam?” asked the functionary. Rubin, who had lived most of his life in Manhattan, a place of east-west numbered streets and north-south avenues, couldn’t tell him. The super-rich who determine our political arrangements apparently inhabit another, more refined dimension.

To some degree the rich have always secluded themselves from the gaze of the common herd; their habit for centuries has been to send their offspring to private schools. But now this habit is exacerbated by the plutocracy’s palpable animosity towards public education and public educators, as Michael Bloomberg has demonstrated. To the extent public education “reform” is popular among billionaires and their tax-exempt foundations, one suspects it is as a lever to divert the more than $500 billion dollars in annual federal, state, and local education funding into private hands—meaning themselves and their friends. What Halliburton did for U.S. Army logistics, school privatizers will do for public education. A century ago, at least we got some attractive public libraries out of Andrew Carnegie. Noblesse oblige like Carnegie’s is presently lacking among our seceding plutocracy.

In both world wars, even a Harvard man or a New York socialite might know the weight of an army pack. Now the military is for suckers from the laboring classes whose subprime mortgages you just sliced into CDOs and sold to gullible investors in order to buy your second Bentley or rustle up the cash to get Rod Stewart to perform at your birthday party. The sentiment among the super-rich towards the rest of America is often one of contempt rather than noblesse.

Full article here.

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.

August 7, 2012

Time Out for Beauty: “Ode to Joy” Flashmobbed

Yes it’s a flashmob commercial and for Banco Sabadell, a Spanish bank. No doubt they need all the good PR they can get. No matter, ’tis lovely and moving. From Open Culture:

Earlier this summer, the bank brought together 100 musicians and singers from the Orchestra Simfonica del Valles,Amics de l’Opera de Sabadell,Coral Belles Arts, and Cor Lieder Camera to perform the anthem of the European Union — Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from his Symphony No. 9. It all happens in the Plaça de Sant Roc in Sabadell, Spain, a little north of Barcelona.

via Open Culture

August 7, 2012

The Libor Scandal: Is There Any Trust is Left in Banks and Banksters?

As of this post the Libor scandal has fallen out of the news while investigations into the long time fixing of interest rates continue. One of the best takes I’ve seen on the larger implications of this “greed, greed, greed makes me do illegal things” affair is by Simon Johnson in The Baseline Scenario blog in a post entitled “Lie-More As A Business Model.” One of the major take-aways:

Martin Wolf, senior economics columnist at the FT [Financial Times] and formerly a member of the UK’s Independent Banking Commission, sees to the core issue:

“banks, as presently constituted and managed, cannot be trusted to perform any publicly important function, against the perceived interests of their staff. Today’s banks represent the incarnation of profit-seeking behaviour taken to its logical limits, in which the only question asked by senior staff is not what is their duty or their responsibility, but what can they get away with.”

This matters because, “Trust is not an optional extra in banking, it is, as the salience of the word “credit” to this industry implies, of the essence.”

Click here for the full post at The Baseline Scenario.

 

August 6, 2012

Plutocracy: A Glimpse at the Top and Bottom

The vast inequality of wealth in the US has been highlighted in various ways over the past few years, particularly by the Occupy movement. No news here. But the gap between six of the wealthiest of our plutocrats and 49,000,000 other Americans simply startles. The six are the offspring of Sam Walton who brought us wall to wall, err…border to border, Walmarts. Take it away Sylvia:

Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist at the Center on Wage and
Employment Dynamics at the University of California-Berkeley, compared
the Waltons’ cumulative net worth with that of the overall population,
as cited in the Survey of Consumer Finances. (She used the Waltons’
wealth from 2010, which was valued at $89.5 billion.)

Allegretto found that in 2007, the wealth held by the six Waltons was
equal to that of the bottom 30.5 percent of families in the U.S. In
2010, the Waltons’ share equaled the entire bottom 41.5 percent of
families.

That 41.5 percent represents nearly 49 million families, notes Josh Bivens
at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. While median family
wealth fell by 38.8 percent, Bivens wrote, the wealth of the Walton
family members rose from $73.3 billion in 2007 to $89.5 billion in 2010,
or about 22 percent growth.

Read the whole article at Politicfact.com.

July 30, 2012

Garfunkel and Oates: Save the Rich

To listen to the .1 or .01% carp about how they can’t get their due respect for being in those august percentages can provoke amusement, but laughter can come from a little ditty, “Save the Rich,” by the Los Angeles comedy-folk duo Garfunkel and Oates. Youth will have its say as well as its day. You can see more at www.garfunkelandoates.com. Enjoy.

 

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.

July 15, 2012

Cutting Through the Noise: Climate Change is Simple

The video below by David Roberts takes the mystery out of climate change. It may well dispell any indifference to it. What I find gripping about the video is not only the explanation (Yes, it is simple and straightforward.), but also the presenter’s mood which well conveys the urgency of the concern. The slides in the clip are available at Grist.orgFor David Robert’s bio, click here.

 

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.