Monday Reads

Good Morning!

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is speaking out on America’s declining opinion of the Supreme Court.

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor suggests that declining public approval of the court dates back to the controversial Bush v. Gore decision, which decided the 2000 presidential race.

“That was one that was widely talked about at the time, as you know, and involved the public in a presidential election,” O’Connor said in an interview aired Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And that could be something that triggered public reexamination.”

She said she wasn’t sure if people thought the court had become too political.

“But I suppose that’s part of it, yes,” she said. “And of course, anytime you’re deciding a case involving a presidential election, it’s awfully close to politics.”

She cast the deciding vote in the case, but she demurred on taking responsibility.

“I don’t see how you can say anybody was the deciding vote,” she said. “They all counted.”

O’Connor said she has no regrets about her vote.

“No, I mean it was a tough deal; i[t] was a closely fought election; and it’s no fun to be part of a group of decision makers that has to decide which side the ball is going to fall on,” she  said.

I think if I were her that I’d feel a lot of remorse for that decision considering the decline that the Bush administration has brought to this country in every possible, thinkable positive category of national endeavor.

This should make people appreciate Social Security.  A lot of Americans with ” virtually no assets”. What would so many do without it and Medicare?

It is a central worry of many Americans: not having enough money to live comfortably in old age. Now an innovative paper co-authored by an MIT economist shows that a large portion of America’s older population has very little savings in bank accounts, stocks and bonds, and dies “with virtually no financial assets” to their names.

Indeed, about 46 percent of senior citizens in the United States have less than $10,000 in financial assets when they die. Most of these people rely almost totally on Social Security payments as their only formal means of support, according to the newly published study, co-authored by James Poterba of MIT, Steven Venti of Dartmouth College, and David A. Wise of Harvard University.

That means many seniors have almost no independent ability to withstand financial shocks, such as expensive medical treatments that may not be covered by Medicare or Medicaid, or other unexpected, costly events.

“There are substantial groups that have basically no financial cushion as they are reaching their latest years,” says Poterba, the Mitsui Professor of Economics at MIT.

Here’s a great article from AlterNet: “How Mitt Romney Got Rich Destroying American Jobs and Promoting Sweatshop Capitalism”.

Right now, a man whose predatory career has claimed the jobs of countless Americans is trying to wrap himself in the flag and call himself a “job creator” and “wealth creator.”

Does he mean miserable jobs in Chinese factories? Wealth for the 1 percent? Apparently that’s exactly what he means.

Republicans claim that Mitt Romney’s entrepreneurial activities at Bain Capital have been good for Americans. The truth is that Romney has spent his career offshoring and outsourcing American production processes — and associated jobs — to countries like China where human labor is valued in the market at a very low wage rate.

Mitt Romney’s tenure as Bain’s CEO has long linked him to offshoring and outsourcing. Even today, although he is no longer in that position, Romney still makes a nice profit on undertakings done long after he left the day-to-day management of the firm.

Those profits continue to pour in because of Bain’s practice of vulture capitalism.  This isn’t Schumpeter’s creative destruction.  It’s not even what good equity capital companies achieve.  It’s piracy pure and simple.

Here’s a great interview with Graham Nash. According to TD:  “Graham Nash Still Really Gives a S#!*”

Fish: So where are they then? Where are the songwriters who try to remind us that human beings are precious and fragile and deserving of a world that is environmentally sound, just as an example? Where are the poets to make beautiful the notion that we should not be victimized by the shitty foreign and domestic policies of our governments? Such subject matter seems much less apparent in contemporary popular music.

GN: It’s less apparent because it’s not being shown. It’s less apparent because the people who own the world’s media you can count on one hand. It’s less apparent because [corporations] don’t want protest songs on their radios and their TVs and in their movies. They don’t want to stir up the sheep. They want you to fucking lie there and buy another pair of sneakers and another Coca-Cola, shut the fuck up while we rob you blind. That’s what’s going on—“Bread and circuses, Part II.”

Fish: Which, I guess, brings us to the significance of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

GN: Right, it’s important for people to realize that they’re not alone and that they’re not crazy for thinking we’re fucked. [The movement] is about recognizing the division between the haves and the have-mores—it’s not even between the haves and have-nots. It’s between the haves and have-mores. That’s what’s going on here and people recognize that and they’re getting infuriated.

Fish: And it’s so obvious, this victimization of the 99 percent, that the whole thing came about as a mass realization, like you said. It didn’t require the emergence of a leader or a prophet to arrive on the scene and convince people of something they weren’t aware of.

GN: Exactly, there is no leader, which is a good thing. What happens with movements, historically, is there is usually a face, a leader, for the movement, and an enemy, if he’s smart, will attack that leader.

So, here’s something in my continuing legacy of sharing my fascination with really old graves with you. This is from the UK Telegraph: “Skeleton reveals violent life and death of medieval knight ,  620-year-old skeleton discovered under the floor of Stirling Castle has shed new light on the violent life of a medieval knight.”

Archaeologists believe that bones found in an ancient chapel on the site are those of an English knight named Robert Morley who died in a tournament there in 1388.

Radio carbon dating has confirmed that the skeleton is from that period, and detailed analysis suggests that he was in his mid-20s, was heavily muscled and had suffered several serious wounds in earlier contests.

The knight was laid to rest under the stone-flagged floor of a chapel near the castle’s royal apartments and his skeleton was excavated along with 11 others in 1997.

However, it was only recently re-examined following advances in laser scanning techniques that not only revealed the nature of the three wounds, but also showed that the knight had lost teeth, probably from another blow or from falling from his horse.

Gordon Ewart, of Kirkdale Archaeology, which carried out the excavation for Historic Scotland, said: “This is a remarkable and important set of discoveries.

“At first we had thought the arrow wound had been fatal but it now seems he had survived it and may have had his chest bound up.”

Mr Ewart said that Morley was by far the most likely candidate. His skeleton also shows the effects of riding on the ankles and muscle injuries caused by lifting heavy loads.

Talk about your short brutal lives.

So, did you know that scientists have connected a part of the brain to one’s ability to grasp irony? This is from The Atlantic.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, scientists seem to have located a part of the brain centrally involved in grasping irony.

The IronyBrain2.JPGFrench research team that made the latest contribution to this effort presents its findings in the current issue of the journal NeuroImage. Referring to a part of the brain known as the “ToM network,” the researchers write, “We demonstrate that the ToM network becomes active while a participant is understanding verbal irony.”

This isn’t just one of those “shot in the dark” MRI studies, where you see what brain regions happen to light up when people engage in a particular mental activity. The ToM network has been the focus of previous work on irony apprehension, and enough is known about it to give us some ideas about the particular role it could play in that apprehension.

Here’s how the experiment worked. The researchers prepared short written stories, and each story came in two versions. Both versions contained a sentence that could be read either literally or ironically, with the correct reading depending on how the context had been set earlier in the story. In one story, for example, one opera singer says to another, “Tonight we gave a superb performance,” and whether the sentence is ironic or literal depends on whether the performance had been described earlier in the story as a failure or as a success. The researchers had correctly predicted that the ToM network would show more activity when the sentence, read in context, was ironic than when it was literal.

ToM stands for “theory of mind,” which in turn refers to the fact that we naturally attribute beliefs and intentions and emotions to people we interact with. That is, we develop a “theory”–though not necessarily a theory we’re consciously aware of–about what’s going on in their minds. (An inability to do this is thought to play a role in autism.) And this “theory” in turn shapes our interpretation of things people say. The “ToM network” is a brain region–or, really, a network of different brain regions–that seems to play an important role in the construction of these theories.

It makes sense that parts of the brain involved in theorizing about other people’s minds would be involved in grasping irony. After all, detecting irony means departing sharply from the literal meaning of a sentence, something it’s hard to do without having a “theory” about the intent behind the sentence.

I’m sure we’ll begin to hear the horrible news about the murder of Sikhs in Wisconsin today as well as other things.  Hopefully, this little bit of interesting stuff will get your day started out okay!  What’s on you reading and blogging list today?


Billionaire Who Cleaned Up on Subprime Mortgage Foreclosures Hosts Secret Romney Fund Raiser

I just came across this in The Daily Beast and had to share.

Mitt Romney held a high-dollar fundraiser Thursday night at the home of John Paulson, the controversial hedge-fund billionaire who made a fortune shorting the housing market and subprime mortgages in 2007.

New York grocery billionaire John Catsimatidis told The Daily Beast the fundraiser, at Paulson’s posh townhouse at 9 East 86th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, was a “big-dollar event” for wealthy donors like himself “fighting for the soul of America.” The Romney campaign did not return requests for information about the fundraiser—which was not listed on the candidate’s public schedule. Paulson’s publicist, Armel Leslie, also did not return calls seeking comment.

A neighbor who witnessed the event from across the street described it to The Daily Beast as a large crowd of “older white people, mostly men,” who started showing up around 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Around 8 p.m., sirens started blaring as more and more people started to show. There was security at the door as well as a police car on the street.

Then things became quiet until the sirens started up at 9:30 p.m. An SUV tried to block 86th Street, but New York drivers characteristically went around it. Then, as the security stood in the street, Romney emerged from the townhouse, “looking tall and neat.” He took off his suit jacket and climbed into the SUV.

The Daily Beast says this is a departure for Romney, since Paulson is one of the people who caused the economic crisis and who made obscene profits from it–Paulson made 3.7 billion on foreclosures. But I googled and found that Paulson also hosted a ritzy fundraiser for Romney at his (Paulson’s) Southhampton home last summer.

Interestingly, Paulson and fellow hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer (another big Romney donor) also made big bucks from the auto industry bailout, according to a February article by Greg Palast.

Gov. Romney…asserted that the Obama Administration’s support for General Motors was a, “payoff for the auto workers union.” However, union workers in GM’s former auto parts division, Delphi, the unit taken over by Romney’s funders, did not fare so well. The speculators eliminated every single union job from the parts factories once manned by 25,200 UAW members.

The two hedge fund operators turned a breathtaking three-thousand percent profit on a relatively negligible investment by using hardball tactics against the US Treasury and their own employees.

Under the control of the speculators, Delphi, which had 45 plants in the US and Canada, is now reduced to just four factories with only 1,500 hourly workers, none of them UAW members, despite the union agreeing to cut contract wages by two thirds.

It wasn’t supposed to be quite so bad. The Obama Administration and GM had arranged for a private equity investor to provide half a billion dollars in new capital for Delphi, but that would have cut the pay-out to Singer and Paulson. The speculators blocked the Obama-GM plan, taking the entire government bail-out hostage. Even the Wall Street Journal’s Dealmaker column was outraged, accusing Paul Singer of treating the auto company, “like a third world country.”

Romney and Paulson both graduated from Harvard Business School and each went to work for The Boston Consulting Group soon after. I don’t know if they were at Harvard and BCG at the same time, but it seems possible. Wikipedia has a list of famous people who came out of BCG, including Jeffrey Immelt and Benjamin Netanyahu. These are truly Romney’s people.

As I’ve written a number of times, Barack Obama was Wall Street’s candidate in 2008, but Mitt Romney IS Wall Street. Just reading about these guys scares the sh%t out of me!