Friday, December 26, 2014

Diatribes & Digressions: Looking At National Events of the Past 4 Days

Getting a bad case of flu is a bummer especially if you're an active blogger (at least one post produced per day) and have to watch the same insane antics go by on the 24/7 news cycle while you can barely sit up to sip hot tea-  far less comment on the nuttiness.  But thanks to the compassion of a dear friend, 'Monica' (originally from San Francisco and a strong liberal and follower of my blog) wifey and I have come through the worst - thanks to her delivery of home made chicken and minestrone soups - as well as a butternut squash dish.  Oh, she also delivered to us one of her home baked apple pies. All of her  much appreciated efforts have brought the two of us back to the cusp of health - if not yet the whole way.

But it's enough that  I can allow myself to comment  in a retrospective way - on the issues and stories I would have pounded in full blog posts had I been well enough to do it. So I call these kernels 'diatribes' mixed in with some digressions - where I offer further insights into the country's madness.
Let's see:

1) DOW Hits 18,000 !

The corporate media, given its total lack of priority perception,  obviously found this one of the biggest stories to run with. But it's just another major distraction - along with the Sony Corp. circus - which I will get to. (Including the idiocy of Americans who truly believe they are "fulfilling their civic duty"  by going to see 'The Interview'. No, you're fulfilling your own moron expectations - get over yourselves!)

Back to the DOW hitting 18,000.  In fact, any wealth added - say in added share prices for small investors in their 401ks is bogus unless this country gets its infrastructure in order and that means spending a minimum of $2 trillion to repair all the twitchy bridges, crumbling roads, aged water mains and vulnerable sewer systems - some over 100 years old. As I have written before,  if a country is mesmerized by this DOW figure and ever higher peaks, and ignores its actual residual wealth in resources and supporting infrastructure - especially when the existing system is crumbling - it can be finally deemed insane. The meaning of this term refers to being detached from reality to the extent that one's own self- interest is threatened in the long and short term.

Look at it this way: How dopey would a homeowner be who suddenly got a windfall of say $10,000,  but didn't do squat to repair his leaky indoor plumbing, rusted pipes? Think he's living in a fool's paradise? If so, you're right to downplay the 18,000 DOW.  You cannot, in the realm of reality, secure more wealth if your existing owned resources - property are corroding under your nose and you're not doing zip to repair or sustain it.

2) Oil Prices Boost Consumer Confidence and Spending!

Yes, to hear all the finance pundits yell it, consumers are on a track to a "de facto" equivalent tax cut of nearly $125m a year.  This as a result of oil prices having fallen from near $2.82 /gal a year ago to about $2.32 now.  The average savings per family are reckoned at from $90-100 a month, which left enough extra bucks to buy more presents for sure (may even a VOD purchase of 'The Interview')

But people need to get a grip and understand it's not all one way to non-stop money blessings.  As Financial Times columnist Gillian Tett has observed, we are actually approaching a serious cause for major worry if the oil prices continue to fall. When Tett was first asked about this on a 'CBS Morning show' interview a couple weeks ago she pointed to the fact that while "consumers are happy" it is the oil companies that have gone out on extended lending limbs to the banks. She added if the oil prices fall too much more "they will not be able to repay the loans to the banks".

Does that sound familiar? If so then you're correctly remembering the 2008 credit crisis when banks' assets nearly froze as a result of the incursion of unregulated derivatives known as credit default swaps - especially into higher grade bonds. It took a series of bailouts  to right the ship of finance and banking preventing another depression. Incredibly, we now may be facing a similar meltdown if prices actually fall much below where they're at now.

Let people enjoy their lower gas prices, but they need to understand it's not a one way benefit but a double-edged sword.

Digression:  Some small uptick in oil prices, at least in the U.S., may be possible if the fracker nuts are punished for their pollution and made to pay more. We already know the bastards are fouling the water supplies but they were given an out with what was called the Halliburton Loophole - this allowed frackers to be exempted from the portions of the Safe Drinking Water Act  and Clean Water Act. But the EPA has found a way, evidently, to get around this. To the point, the  EPA just hit XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil and the nation’s largest natural gas company, with a cool $2.3 million fine for Clean Water Act violations related to its fracking activities in West Virginia.

The EPA’s approach is a clever workaround of those restrictions which brings to the fore a new take on the phrase "end around". . As CleanTechnica’s Tina Casey explains, the pollution targeted by the EPA wasn’t caused by fracking itself, but instead by other, ordinary violations committed by XTO: the company, it charges, dumped sand, dirt, rocks and other dirty fill materials into streams and wetlands without a permit, in violation of the Clean Water Act.

In total, the company damaged 5,300 linear feet of streams and 3.38 acres of wetland — making the $2.3 million fine comparatively large, particularly when you consider the extra $3 million it agreed to pay in restoration costs.

If the EPA remains consistent in going after all such similar fracking pollution episodes, it means the cost of fracking will be increased beyond its currently artificially low limits. (Which take no account of the costs to the environment). By therefore holding the frackers accountable oil shale and gas prices in the U.S. shouldn't fall too low - adding to the global free fall.  But it means keeping on the case, especially when the GOP take over both houses of congress  next year and attempt to defund the agency.

3) Sony releasing its clunker 'The Interview' to theaters - and then online  Whoopee DO!

Face it, this was no freaking godsend to "free speech" or "patriotism"- but what I called a planned, dog whistle rounding up of dopes -because it's predicated on Sony's cynical  need to try to squeeze some scratch out of this god awful $44m clunker ($80 m with marketing costs).. It was either release this noisome dreck initially (yesterday) to about 300 greedy independent theaters (not showing their patriotism so much as their need to make more money at the big theater chains' expense) or let it sit on shelves while Sony veered further into the red. Money talked louder.

And let's not get carried away that this is some huge watershed event, for god's sakes! We're talking of barely 400 theaters if that- when finally counted-  compared to nearly 2,000 (with multiple screens)  for all the major chains (Regal, Cinemark, Carmike, AMC). So it carries the word "tokenism" to new heights.  Also, as The Denver Post feature story on the release noted yesterday, quoting Web-bush Securities analyst Michael Pachter:

"This isn't being done because Sony wants to do it regularly, but rather out of necessity prompted by the exhibitor boycott. The only guys showing it are the independents"

So it's basically a one -off and the pundits' blather that "Sony has found a new model for distribution" is bollocks. So the next time Seth Rogen scrapes the toilet bowl for outrage - say showing the Pope's  head blown  off by an atheist media loser - don't expect the same reaction. As for the online release - letting internet users see it "video on-demand", this is also a back against the wall gimmick - hoping enough American dopes, seized by the patriotic fervor of a dog whistle, will pay $5.99 to see bare shit that they wouldn't pay 25 cents to see if some very bad man hadn't bad mouthed it and allegedly threatened theaters.

Digression: Oh, and a bunch of hacker nuts, NOT North Koreans, exposed Sony's hidden secrets in emails then warned theaters against showing it. Note that most tech savvy experts say NK had nada to do with the hack, but point the finger at a former 10 yr. Sony employee some have referred to as "Lena" - who had the experience, tech skill  and access to servers over the time of her employment that would have enabled it.  See also:

The most ripe offal heard this morning from those who saw this flick yesterday is that "it went beyond entertainment, it was like we were being called to fulfill a higher civic duty".  Huh? Have you totally lost your fucking minds? It's a low grade inflammatory piece of crap that 99 percent of critics have panned. If no 'bad man' had said or done anything it's certainly nothing you'd have paid good money to see - any more than one of those 'Jackass' movies - which at least have the semi-redeeming feature that they can be regarded as low grade comedic fare.

The take from my German friends Reinhardt and Elli was perhaps most on the mark when they noted how yesterday's  Sony media circus and the American stampede to see the movie reminded them of Germans' reaction after Leni Reifenstahl's 'Triumph of the Will' was mocked and disparaged as "propaganda"  by Americans, ca. 1934. (Well, it was a propaganda piece, but this again shows the blindness of pseudo-patriotism) Then - like being beckoned via dog whistle- they all wanted to see it because the Amerikaner dissed it. They felt it their "patriotic duty" to the Fatherland and Der Fuhrer. Indeed, many sang 'Deutschland Uber Alles' before screenings the same way thousands of Americans were reported to have burst out with 'God Bless America' before showings of 'The Interview'.

It just takes the right stimulus to turn any national - German, American, Swiss...whomever....into frothing dog whistle bait. Pavlov's experiments with dogs was merely the first step in plumbing this phenomenon which should now be also investigated in humans.

The "free expression" appeal is also full of humbug. Freedom of expression of what? Anything? No, because the right to freedom of speech or expression is always founded on the exercise of discretion and responsibility.  This grade Z waste of money lacked any redeeming characteristics for 'art' and certainly lacked responsibility by depicting the head blown up of a living leader in a CIA-sponsored assassination. That any imbecile could remotely claim "civic duty" in watching it, well, it points to the nature of imbecility rampant in the country right now which has exchanged a noble calling with a bastardized form of Id-gratification.

Also, if you are going to crow about "freedom of expression" you had better damned well be consistent and not be a cafeteria -style free expressionist!  That means if,  as in 1988 a film like 'The Last Temptation of Christ' is set for re-release to the big screen (which features scenes of sex between Mary Magdalen and Christ in a dream sequence),  you had better be ready to defend that free expression as enthusiastically as you now defend it for 'The Interview'. Else, you're a damned hypocrite and only allow "freedom of expression" when convenient or when it conforms with a narrow band of stimuli which you value as acceptable expression!   This is why I take most Americans' opinions quoted after the film yesterday as not worth a bag of hot gas.  Because I don't believe any of these assholes would have fought with the same verve for 'Last Temptation' - which saw furious protests to close down theaters back in '88 - and not by crazy tinhorn communists, but our own freedom lovin' people.

"We wanna give people the choice to see the flick, but only if it agrees with our perceptions of what ought to properly be shown!"

Sorry, doesn't work like that, Roscoe!

Digression: Anyway, Salon's Robert Kennelly put it best after the absurd Sony circus grabbed headlines again this past week - mostly while I was laid up in bed with this &^$%#*#**#=! Flu.:

"The United States is in real trouble when the story about the hacking into Sony Pictures computers and their decision to pull an inane comedy totally big foots the deeply troubling Senate Intelligence Committee’s study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.
Talk about using the holidays to flush bad news. Between the salacious internal Sony emails, the Obama administration’s watershed reset of U.S.-Cuban relations, and Christmas the average American will not get reporting on the  fine print in the Senate Committee report nor a full analysis of the ambiguous CIA response."

This is putting it mildly given that the Senate report chronicled years of "obfuscation, deceit and deception by a CIA that was hell-bent on covering its tracks" according to Kennelly. And now the CIA is saying it is “unknowable” if the torture techniques produced results.

But polls indicate a majority of Americans buy into this malarkey - I am sure the same bunch or uneducated demographic (one hopes!) that believe little Kim was behind the Sony hack and are now on a mission to 'show him'  by doing their "civic duty" - DLing  'The Interview'.  But all that the Sony farce did is take the outrage at CIA torture further off the table.

It hasn't absolved Americans from those crimes, any more than the Germans were absolved after allowing the Nazis to run their nation into the ground for 13 years- including the genocide of one third of Europe's Jews. The most basic lesson of history appears to be that which most forget: "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it"

What emerges from the Senate report is a CIA that post-9/11 quickly turned to outside contractors and used multiple “black sites” where they employed what they euphemistically called  “enhanced interrogation techniques.” These practices  included waterboarding, forced rectal feeding, extended sleep deprivation, keeping subjects in prolonged stress positions including standing on broken bones, closing detainees into coffin-like boxes,  staging of mock executions, as well as making threats to kill or rape detainee family members.

Dozens of individuals were wrongfully detained by the CIA and  two of the Agency’s informants were mistakenly tortured. One detainee died of hypothermia after 48 hours of sleep deprivation, getting doused with cold water and being  chained to a concrete floor.Certainly these are all activities that would be defined as illegal under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which the United States ratified in 1994. Under the terms of the Convention there are no “exceptional circumstances,” even  preventing a potential terrorist act. The ends never justifies the means, and if ever it was accepted it did, well we'd be one with the Nazis of 1943 who saw no problem with the 'Final Solution'.

Even being ill with the flu the past five days hasn't prevented me from seeing this country is as crazy as ever, and growing more so as too many of its clueless "consumers"  imbibe each added byte of PR and propaganda. Blindness rules, and most especially the most malignant form of all: the inability to see ourselves as others do - an unhinged agglomerate of over-sized babies running on their inner Id,  determined to get what they want by screaming "freedom of expression"- also invoked to see whatever the hell they want (oh, unless it upsets their temperaments) all in the name of "civic duty" and "patriotism". 

Maybe Samuel Johnson was correct when he wrote:  "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel"

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