By John Ballard
As soon as I learned the word listicle I couldn't wait to use it. I found it in use by
The Wikipedea definition is broad enough to allow me to celebrate Kat's return by a (wait for it...)
►America burning: Drought devastating 26 states is the largest natural disaster area in U.S. history
Headline says it all. The map is the reason for this link. The drought area is bigger and worse than I thought.
►Arrests reported as police close streets at downtown L.A. ArtWalk
This pisses me off just looking at the photos. The police no longer respond to violence. They anticipate it and invite it by how they dress, arm themselves and move in militia-type formations. They make the firehoses and dogs of the Sixties look primitive by comparison.
►Hidden Government Scanners Will Instantly Know Everything About You From 164 Feet Away
...the machine can sniff out a lot more than just explosives, chemicals and bioweapons. The company that invented it, Genia Photonics, says that its laser scanner technology is able to "penetrate clothing and many other organic materials and offers spectroscopic information, especially for materials that impact safety such as explosives and pharmacological substances."
The machine is a mobile, rack-mountable system. It fires a laser to provide molecular-level feedback at distances of up to 50 meters in just picoseconds. For all intents and purposes, that means instantly.
The small, inconspicuous machine is attached to a computer running a program that will show the information in real time, from trace amounts of cocaine on your dollar bills to gunpowder residue on your shoes. Forget trying to sneak a bottle of water past security—they will be able to tell what you had for breakfast in an instant while you're walking down the hallway.
►JP Morgan reports trading losses of $5.8bn from London 'tempest'
I heard this one on the radio this morning. The losses were almost twice as big as first reported. Hold your nose as you read. And when you're done, join me in wondering if even that is the whole truth.
►Tiny 2-Foot Missile Could Be ‘Months’ Away From Drone War
Video at the link with a well-hung drone.
I was attracted to this link cuz I just bought the current issue of Wired which has a cover story featuring drones. I've been wanting one of those quadcopter toys ever since I saw a video of one. This magazine is one of the hidden treasures of the news stand. I only wish it had bigger print.
Check out how Uber, a new kind of transportation-for-hire venture falling between cabs and limos represents a proliferation of businesses now enabled by the Internet.
Author and entrepreneur Lisa Gansky, in her 2010 book heralding the birth of this new type of business, put forward a metaphor to describe how it works: the “mesh.” It’s an apt image, because it captures the seamless way that producers and consumers blend together, with transactions happening wherever the resources are available: Everything can be rented or consumed everywhere. Besides Uber, the most impressive of this new generation of startups is undeniably Airbnb, which allows people to rent out their homes or rooms in them; despite a few high-profile snafus (one man had his apartment vandalized by an apparently meth-addled guest), the service has booked more than 5 million overnight stays in its four years of existence. And scores more of these sites are just getting started. There’s Getaround for renting out your car, Spinlister for your bike, Parking Panda for your parking space, ToolSpinner for your household tools. And those are in addition to the myriad sites that let you “rent” out your free time by matching your skills with demand: Cherry for car washers, Exec for personal assistants, Rover for dog sitters, and more. (Not to mention TaskRabbit, the catchall work-for-hire site I profiled in issue 19.08.) For resource sharers, all these services offer a way to earn money with minimal effort. For customers, they offer either low prices or, as with Uber, a level of convenience beyond what a more traditional business can offer.
►Son of liberal financier George Soros launches anti-super PAC super PAC
This is fighting fire with fire. I was wondering when and if this might happen.
Check out the interactive graphic which I am bookmarking in hopes they will keep it up to date as the campaign continues. Drag your mouse around to see lots of information.
►'Shadow REO': As Many as 90% of Foreclosed Properties Held Off the Market, Estimates Suggest
You think the housing bubble is about over? Not by a long shot. There is no way that anything as big as this was going to resolve in just a few years. We will be seeing and feeling this mess for years to come. Read this article closely and connect the real estate dots with the banking dots and the political dots. It's not a pretty picture.
...Realtors who want more bargain-priced homes to sell may not get their way anytime soon. Foreclosed properties are an extreme liability to lenders, holding the potential not just to dent their profits but to actually bankrupt them altogether.
That's because when a lender carries an REO [Real Estate Owned] on its books, it is allowed to value the home at the price that the foreclosed-on borrower originally paid for it. Once the lender sells the home, it must book a loss: the difference between the original purchase price and the current value. And since home values have fallen by nearly a third since the housing bust, that translates into huge losses for the bank.
"They've already taken a loss on the loan," Khater said, "but they're going to take a loss on the asset once they dispose of it." Adding insult to injury, REOs typically sell at a 33 percent discount.
Fears of a Domino Effect
Releasing REOs onto the market also chips away at home prices in general, depressing the value of the homes of other customers -- who could already be teetering on the brink of foreclosure -- and the additional REOs that lenders hold on their books.
"Each REO that comes through has a domino impact on properties that are very close to that property," Khater said.
In fact, if lenders turn their REO release valve to full blast, the deluge of foreclosures cascading onto the market could plunge the country into a recession, said Thomas Martin, president of consumer advocacy group Americas Watchdog.
"If they let the dam essentially break. It could be a catastrophic disaster for the U.S. economy," he said, predicting that some major banks would fail and home prices would nosedive by 20 percent.
That doomsday scenario has many industry professionals supporting lenders' tactics of holding onto most of their REOs. Otherwise, they would be "causing the floor to fall out from underneath the entire market," Faranda said. He added that banks don't have the manpower to push the paperwork required to put all their foreclosures on the market.
Indeed, lenders couldn't list all their REOs even if they wanted to. Fannie Mae, for one, reported in the first quarter of 2012 that it was unable to market 48 percent of its REO inventory because many of the homes were either still occupied, under repair or being rented.
And finally, here are a couple of longer reads that caught my eye. The first is a civil response by Dr. Christopher Ford to a brief article in the NY Times about yet another metamorphosis now underway in Chinese leadeership. The second is a tour de force by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone which is the most damning indictiment of banking -- both here and abroad -- yet to hit the popular press.
►A Confucian Constitution for China
►A State of Moral Confucian
►The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia
How America's biggest banks took part in a nationwide bid-rigging conspiracy - until they were caught on tape
The themes of these readings are not formally linked but they go to the core of most world events. When everything else is tossed away, the central question we all face, both individually and as responsible citizens, is What is good leadership and how do we best go about finding it? That question played in the background during the unfolding of the Arab Awakening. It lies at the center of our own tortured path to selecting the next US president. It lurks beneath nearly every headline from Iran's latest move to the Israeli response (and Washington's response to both) to the cautious opening of Myanmar and KSA's cautious experiment with Nineteenth Century gender roles allowing women to participate in the Olympic Games. (Shocking, but true.)
Dr. Ford employs a word I have not seen before, meritoligarchy, which returns surprising little as a search term. I think it may be an original neologism with him. I don't know, but that is not important. What is important is the notion that in some way there may be merit in oligarchy. At first glance this looks like an oxymoron. But when viewed through a Confucian lens it begins, like a lot of inscrutable Eastern notions viewed from half the world away, to make sense.
In fact, I relied on a variant of the idea during my career as a cafeteria manager. It lay at the heart of my management style and is best described by an exchange between a disciple and his master.
Disciple: Which is the better, that a leader be loved and respected by all the people in the community or feared and hated by everyone?
Master: The best leader is the one who is feared and hated by all the bad people in the community but loved and respected by all the good people in the community.
I remembered just enough pop literature about Eastern philosophy to be dangerous. This model helped me in many situations to find a moral center -- quickly, when it mattered -- and not get distracted from more pressing issues (like if that guy doesn't get that basket out of the fryer in the next 30 seconds he's gonna burn up sixty dollars worth of shrimp). This model makes an important part of good leadership the response of those being led. When you examine the model closely it is what results in combat units following orders, even in situations where they know that by doing so some of them will be killed and injured. Irrational behavior is not confined to leadership. It also applies to those who follow.
The Confucian tradition is steeped in meritoligarchic thinking, of course, and this paternalism survived into the 20th Century with the emphasis placed by Kuomintang (KMT, a.k.a. Nationalist) theorists upon the need for an extended “tutelary” phase of elite rule before the Chinese people would be ready for anything more like real democracy.
More broadly, however, meritoligarchy tends to pop up whenever a ruling elite faces pressure to give more political power to the masses. One can find variations on this theme, for instance, in 19th Century American and British debates over the expansion of the franchise, or in pro-slavery apologetics coming out of the 19th-Century American South, or in Rhodesian rhetoric employed after Ian Smith's “unilateral declaration of independence” in 1965. In a fascinating prequel to the Jiang/Bell proposal for a “tricameral” Chinese legislature, in fact, apartheid-era South African authorities themselves set up a tricameral parliament in 1984 in order to provide white rule with the appearance of greater legitimacy by giving “Coloured” and “Indian” citizens subservient roles in the apartheid political system while leaving black Africans to rot in their “own” separate political “homelands.” (As do Jiang and Bell with their Confucian constitutionalism, South Africa’s “separate development” racial ideologists of the apartheid era felt that their theory provided a “more comprehensive and culturally sensitive way of judging … political progress” than looking merely at conventional standards of democratic legitimacy.)
Dr. Ford does not allow navel-gazing to cloud his thinking. His position, expressed in civil but unmistakable language, is clear.
My concern, however, is how well the neo-Kong approach meshes with the Chinese Party-State’s ongoing efforts to develop and maintain a Sinicized meritoligarchic vision as a baldly antidemocratic political theory – that is, one designed forever to preclude giving the Chinese people the ability to exercise their inherent right to choose and change their rulers. It is not hard to why CCP authorities in Beijing – who exercise a “guiding” role (and veto power) over basic lines of research pursued in Chinese universities, and who have encouraged Confucian revival studies since the late 1980s – are happy to see the Neo-Kong discourse promoted, both at home and in the West, as an alternative vision to genuinely democratic governance. Neo-Kong politics are ripe for cynical and opportunistic appropriation by the CCP, and the process is already underway.
Hold those thoughts, now, as you plow through Taibbi's piece. And as you read, let the rhetoric of the presidential election echo in the background, from Obama's relentless but thus far futile effort to find a corrective to the economic inequities of wealth in America, to the relentless efforts on the part of his political opponents to thwart anything he endorses.
I printed out the Rolling Stone piece and am still wading through it. But I can tell where it is going. And the ugly part is two-fold. First, these slimy manipulative Uriah Heep figures from the world's biggest financial institutions will not only escape punishment but the system will not likely be changed to prevent the same scams from happening again. The form, time and architecture will change, but the underlying greed and corruption will remain the same.
And second -- and this is related to the twisted relationship that easily derives from Dr. Ford's piece before -- too many followers see no difference between meritocracy and meritoligarchy. And like well-disciplined troops following orders in combat, they too often charge bravely into situations that may later be remembered as either heroic or shameful. The same dynamic that drove the invasion of D-Day also animated those who followed orders from Auschwitz to My Lai.