Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cool lady and once again Massachusetts baby!

Mme Duflo has, above all, developed and promoted the concept of "scientific" testing of anti-poverty programmes – what works and what doesn't but also, crucially, why things work and why they don't. She believes – and has proved – that the effectiveness of anti-poverty programmes can be explored by "random testing", in the same way pharmaceutical companies test drugs.

Esther Duflo does her research not so much in government archives and university libraries but villages in India, Ghana or Kenya. She is left wing but in a "whatever it takes" kind of way. She has spent most of the past 10 years in the US, where she is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Three years ago, she founded the Poverty Action Lab, to put her ideas into practice. The World Bank incorporated ideas developed by "random testing" in 87 of its programmes last year. "Some of what we prove may seem obvious but we have to overcome prejudices," she said. "Many aid organisations, for instance, believe people should not be given bribes to improve their own health."

"We have framed tests in different countries, which show that people will take, say, de-worming medicine in far greater numbers if you give them a tiny incentive, such as a kilo of beans."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Because sometimes women do fight back.

A Spanish mother has taken revenge on the man who raped her 13-year-old daughter at knifepoint by dousing him in petrol and setting him alight. He died of his injuries in hospital on Friday.

Antonio Cosme Velasco Soriano, 69, had been sent to jail for nine years in 1998, but was let out on a three-day pass and returned to his home town of Benejúzar, 30 miles south of Alicante, on the Costa Blanca.

While there, he passed his victim's mother in the street and allegedly taunted her about the attack. He is said to have called out "How's your daughter?", before heading into a crowded bar.

Shortly after, the woman walked into the bar, poured a bottle of petrol over Soriano and lit a match. She watched as the flames engulfed him, before walking out.

Love

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

um, yeah you think?

Former Fed Chairman Volker speaks to Canadians..states the obvious.


There is a certain interest in what's going on in the financial world. And I will disappoint you by saying I don't know all the answers. But I know something about the problem. Let me just sketch it out a little bit and suggest where we may be going. There is a lot of talk about how we get out of this, but I think it's worth remembering, or analyzing, how this all started.

This is not an ordinary recession. I have never, in my lifetime, seen a financial problem of this sort. It has the makings of something much more serious than an ordinary recession where you go down for a while and then you bounce up and it's partly a monetary - but a self-correcting - phenomenon. The ordinary recession does not bring into question the stability and the solidity of the whole financial system. Why is it that this is so much more profound a crisis? I'm not saying it's going to get anywhere as serious as the Great Depression, but that was not an ordinary business cycle either.

.....


When we finished with the ordinary ways of spending it - with the help of our new profession of financial engineering - we developed ways of making weaker and weaker mortgages. The biggest investment in the economy was residential housing. And we developed a technique of manufacturing class D mortgages but putting them in packages which the financial engineers said were class A.

So there was an enormous incentive to take advantage of this bit of arbitrage - cheap money, poor mortgages but saleable mortgages. A lot of people made money through this process. I won't go over all the details, but you had then a normal business cycle on top of it. It was a period of enthusiasm. Everybody was feeling exuberant. They wanted to invest and spend.



We need to understand this

I am necessarily consumed by financial/political news, so can easily understand why this economic crisis seems so opaque and overwhelming. The system is clearly collapsing, but why? What drove such a complete collapse? I am not going to pretend to have some witty answer to that question, but there is a component of the wall street incentive structure that should be understood by every citizen on this earth and then we should all get really really fucking pissed at what they did.

One of the arguments one hears in the compensation debate is that the bonus system used by Wall Street ....is there to “reward talent”. While I find this notion of “talent” debatable, I fully agree that incentives are the heart of capitalism and free markets – but certainly not that incentive scheme.

In fact, the incentive scheme commonly in place does the exact opposite of what an “incentive” system should be about: it encourages a certain class of risk-hiding and deferred blow-up. It is the reason banks have never made money in the history of banking, losing the equivalent of all their past profits periodically – while bankers strike it rich....

Take two bankers. The first is conservative. He produces one annual dollar of sound returns, with no risk of blow-up. The second looks no less conservative, but makes $2 by making complicated transactions that make a steady income, but are bound to blow up on occasion, losing everything made and more. So while the first banker might end up out of business, under competitive strains, the second is going to do a lot better for himself. Why? Because banking is not about true risks but perceived volatility of returns: you earn a stream of steady bonuses for seven or eight years, then when the losses take place, you are not asked to disburse anything. You might even start again, after blaming a “systemic crisis” or a “black swan” for your losses. As you do not disgorge previous compensation, the incentive is to engage in trades that explode rarely, after a period of steady gains.

Here you can see that this mismatch between the bonus payment frequency (typically, one year) and the time to blow up (about five to 20 years) is the cause of the accumulation of positions that hide risk by betting massively against small odds....

If capitalism is about incentives, it should be about true incentives, those resistant to blow-ups. And there should be disincentives to remove the asymmetry of the free option. Entrepreneurs are rewarded for their gains; they are also penalised for their losses. Now, by comparison, consider that Robert Rubin, the former US Treasury secretary, earned close to $115m (€90m, £80m) from Citigroup for taking risks that we are paying for. So far no attempt has been made to claw it back from him – only UBS, the Swiss bank, has managed to reclaim some past bonuses from its former executives....

[W[hen it comes to banks and other “too big to fail” entities, the problem is severe: we taxpayers in our respective countries are funding these global monsters and are coughing up money for mistakes made by bankers who retain their bonuses and are hijacking us because, as we are discovering (a little late), banking is a utility and we need them to clean up their mess....

Friday, February 13, 2009

I might become French, They seem to get it

Communism is dead, most pundits--the mainstream, stupid ones anyway--have been telling us since the USSR shut down in 1991. As it turns out, the libertarians were wrong. Half-right, anyway: Human nature may be inherently individualistic, as free market capitalists claim, but it's also inherently social. When economies boom, most people are sufficiently satisfied to leave well enough alone. Who cares if my boss gets paid 100 times more than I do? I'm doing OK. As resources become scarce, however, we huddle together for protection. The sight of a small rich elite hoarding all the goodies violates our primal sense of fairness.

"In Soviet times," a man in present-day Tajikistan told me, "we lived worse than we do today. But we were all the same. Now we live a bit better, but we have to watch rich assholes pass us in their Benzes." Which would he choose? No hesitation: "Soviet times."

In America, a French cliché goes, people are afraid of the government. In France, the government is afraid of the people. With good reason, too: the French have overthrown their governments dozens of times since the Revolution of 1789. The French are hard wired with class consciousness. Strikes, demonstrations and general hell-raising are festive occasions. Only when things spin totally out of control--as when Muslim youths rioted in the suburbs of Paris and other cities--are conservatives like Sarkozy able to make headway.

Riots over police brutality by disenfranchised minorities make the French nervous. But contempt for American-style "harsh capitalism," where citizens pay $800 a month for healthcare and write nary a letter to their local newspaper to complain, is 100 percent mainstream. The French don't think they should have to suffer just because some greedy bankers went on a looting spree.

Even Sarkozy is getting the message. "We don't want a European May '68 in the middle of Christmas," he warned his ministers in December. He shelved proposals to loosen regulation of business. Arnaud Lagardère, CEO of the Lagardère Group, told the financial daily Les Echos: "We're seeing, in renewed form, the most debatable aspects of Anglo-Saxon capitalism called into question."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Democracy Now! | Bill Moyers asks: "Why will Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! never show up on 'Meet The Press?'" (watch video)

Democracy Now! | Bill Moyers asks: "Why will Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! never show up on 'Meet The Press?'" (watch video): "JAY ROSEN: You know what’s really striking to me about this, is Lawrence Wilkerson, who worked for Colin Powell, when he retired from the government, he said that the people in power: Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld especially, were, in his view, radicals. That the radicals were the people actually running the government.

And this idea that the people in power were kind of outside the sphere of normal government, never made its way into the establishment press at all. The idea that Wilkerson could have been right, that the real radicals were running the federal government, never really penetrated their narrative at all.

BILL MOYERS: How do you explain the fact that so many in the press, pundits and others as well, were saying Obama has to be bipartisan?

JAY ROSEN: I think that the ideology of the press is not so much liberal or conservative. They think themselves the keepers of realism, of savviness. I think the real religion of the American press is savviness. And in their view, it isn’t savvy to say you’re going to mobilize the anger and frustration of the American people and bring that power to Washington to change it."

Grow your own food!

California
California is facing its worst drought in recorded history . The drought is predicted to be the most severe in modern times, worse than those in 1977 and 1991. Thousands of acres of row crops already have been fallowed, with more to follow. The snowpack in the Northern Sierra, home to some of the state's most important reservoirs, proved to be just 49 percent of average. Water agencies throughout the state are scrambling to adopt conservation mandates.

Texas
The Texan drought is reaching historic proportion . Dry conditions near Austin and San Antonio have been exceeded only once before—the drought of 1917-18. 88 percent of Texas is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, and 18 percent of the state is in either extreme or exceptional drought conditions. The drought areas have been expanding almost every month. Conditions in Texas are so bad cattle are keeling over in parched pastures and dying. Lack of rainfall has left pastures barren, and cattle producers have resorted to feeding animals hay. Irreversible damage has been done to winter wheat crops in Texas. Both short and long-term forecasts don't call for much rain at all, which means the Texas drought is set to get worse.

Augusta Region (Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina)
The Augusta region has been suffering from a worsening two year drought. Augusta's rainfall deficit is already approaching 2 inches so far in 2009, with January being the driest since 1989.

Florida
Florida has been hard hit by winter drought, damaging crops, and half of state is in some level of a drought.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Evil Fucktards Defined-read the whole post

And they have done and are doing a bucket load of things to keep farmers and everyone else from having any access at all to buying, collecting, and saving of NORMAL seeds.
  1. They've bought up the seed companies across the midwest.
  1. They've written Monsanto seed laws and gotten legislators to put them through, that make cleaning, collecting and storing of seeds so onerous in terms of fees and paperwork and testing and tracking every variety and being subject to fines, that having normal seed becomes almost impossible (an NAIS approach to wiping out normal seeds). Does your state have such a seed law? Before they existed, farmers just collected the seeds and put them in sacks in the shed and used them the next year, sharing whatever they wished with friends and neighbors, selling some if they wanted. That's been killed.

In Illinois which has such a seed law, Madigan, the Speaker of the House, his staff is Monsanto lobbyists.

  1. Monsanto is pushing anti-democracy laws (Vilsack's brainchild, actually) that remove community' control over their own counties so farmers and citizens can't block the planting of GMO crops even if they can contaminate other crops. So if you don't want a GM-crop that grows industrial chemicals or drugs or a rice growing with human DNA in it, in your area and mixing with your crops, tough luck.

Check the map of just where the Monsanto/Vilsack laws are and see if your state is still a democracy or is Monsanto's. A farmer in Illinois told me he heard that Bush had pushed through some regulation that made this true in every state. People need to check on that.

  1. For sure there are Monsanto regulations buried in the FDA right now that make a farmer's seed cleaning equipment illegal (another way to leave nothing but GM-seeds) because it's now considered a "source of seed contamination." Farmer can still seed clean but the equipment now has to be certified and a farmer said it would require a million to a million and half dollar building and equipment ... for EACH line of seed. Seed storage facilities are also listed (another million?) and harvesting and transport equipment. And manure. Something that can contaminate seed. Notice that chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not mentioned.

Fantastic news people, friggin fantastic

Chinese earthquake may have been man-made, say scientists - Telegraph: "The 511ft-high Zipingpu dam holds 315 million tonnes of water and lies just 550 yards from the fault line, and three miles from the epicentre, of the Sichuan earthquake.

Now scientists in China and the United States believe the weight of water, and the effect of it penetrating into the rock, could have affected the pressure on the fault line underneath, possibly unleashing a chain of ruptures that led to the quake.

Fan Xiao, the chief engineer of the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau in Chengdu, said it was 'very likely' that the construction and filling of the reservoir in 2004 had led to the disaster"

Monday, February 02, 2009

USA: Safety of Tasers questioned as death toll hits 334-mark | Amnesty International

USA: Safety of Tasers questioned as death toll hits 334-mark | Amnesty International: "The call came as the organization released one of the most detailed reports to date on the safety of the stun gun. The report “USA: Less than lethal?” is being published as the number of people who died after being struck by Tasers in the USA reached 334 between 2001 and August 2008.

“Tasers are not the ‘non-lethal’ weapons they are portrayed to be,” said Angela Wright, US researcher at Amnesty International and author of the report. “They can kill and should only be used as a last resort.”

“The problem with Tasers is that they are inherently open to abuse, as they are easy to carry and easy to use and can inflict severe pain at the push of a button, without leaving substantial marks,” said Angela Wright."

I love Massachusetts

Daily Kos: Tired of Being Lectured by the Rich About Need for Austerity:
"Example 2: I was in line at the grocery store last week when I had to pull out my food stamps to pay for my tiny amount of groceries (here in Mass., they give us what looks like a debit card).

One of the wealthy, trophy-wife yentas who lives around here (I've seen her in the store with her 2x older husband) in line behind me rolled her eyes, made that sigh of disgust the tut-tutters always do, and then audibly whispered this gem to one of her pampered spawn: 'Damn leech.'

So, in my best, most diplomatic tone, I cleared my throat and said, 'We can't all give blowjobs to secure our futures, sweetie. Some of us actually work for it.'

'Fuck you,' she said.

To which I gave my standard response (people in Mass. say F U a lot!), 'No, thanks.'

Two people behind her in line gave me the thumbs up, while the grocery clerk grinned and finished ringing my stuff.

Apparently, we are not alone!"