Saturday, December 31, 2011

Risk of Confrontation

Iran is hell-bent on accelerating and implementing their nuclear program (with a ray of discussed later), one that seems to have weapons capability at its core, notwithstanding their claims of only peaceful intentions. “But a controversial report challenges the Iranians’ claim. On Nov. 8, 2011, United Nations weapons inspectors released a trove of new evidence that they say makes a ‘credible’ case that ‘Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device’ and that the project may still be under way.” New York Times, December 5th. And if there is a hint as such a program revealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (U.N. sponsored), after the Iranian government has made the agency’s ability to find such weapons almost impossible, it is highly probable that the program is not too far from realizing its goal.

So what to do with a country that has disavowed the very existence of the Holocaust and threatened to push Israel into the sea, one that sees confrontation with the West, particularly the United States, as key to its regional credibility, particularly as this unpopular Shiite nation in a sea of Sunnis neighbors seeks support from its traditional local enemies. Send in a smart bomb flight of Israeli aircraft to target pinpointed nuclear development facilities? Do we really know where they all are? The United States will always be charged with complicity in such an attack, but is it worth the risk? Would Iran’s retaliation effectively push the price of oil to unacceptable heights?

Accelerate the sanctions that Iran – whose economy is at best faltering – claims have no impact on a country that tells the world it is awash in cash? Continue to squeeze Iran’s import of essential materials and commodities, including precious gasoline… odd for an oil-producing nation, but since it lacks refining capacity, Iran imports about 40% of that basic fuel? As the latest spate of U.S.-sponsored sanctions focus on cutting off Iran and its central bank from the global financial community, Iran is saber-rattling again, threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz (the red arrow on the above map) through which about two fifths of the world’s oil supply passes, should such efforts and additional import restrictions be further implemented. “‘If they impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz,’ according to Iran’s official news agency. Iran just began a 10-day naval exercise in the area.” New York Times, December 27th.

The European solution favors ramping up banning and restricting oil imports from Iran, but in an election year, taking an action that might result in staggering increases in the price at the pump doesn’t seem to be an option for candidate Obama: “The American effort [at constricting Iran’s access to global banking] is more subtle than simply cutting off Iran’s ability to export oil, a step that would immediately send the price of gasoline, heating fuel, and other petroleum products skyward. That would ‘mean that Iran would, in fact, have more money to fuel its nuclear ambitions, not less,’ Wendy R. Sherman, the newly installed under secretary of state for political affairs, warned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month.” NY Times. Since oil is a global commodity, any efforts that raise prices for any one country effectively raise the price for everybody everywhere.

Do the banking sanctions have any effect? In November, Iran’s “President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acknowledged that the current penalties were impeding Iran’s financial institutions, saying, ‘our banks cannot make international transactions anymore.’” Huffington Post, December 31st. Hmmmm…

We have asked the Saudis and the new Libyan governments if they would step up oil production to counter the Iranian threats, but even with their expected cooperation, the volatile oil markets are still likely to push prices upward. Even talk of such potential confrontation is enough to move the oil-price-needle significantly higher: “But the energy sanctions carry the risk of confrontation, as well as economic disruption, given the unpredictability of the Iranian response. Some administration officials believe that a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States — which Washington alleges received funding from the Quds Force, part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps — was in response to American and other international sanctions.

“Merely uttering the threat appeared to be part of an Iranian effort to demonstrate its ability to cause a spike in oil prices, thus slowing the United States economy, and to warn American trading partners that joining the new sanctions, which the Senate passed by a rare 100-0 vote, would come at a high cost.” NY Times. But what exactly does the world look like if Iran does have nuclear weapons capabilities? Exactly what would Iran do with nuclear warheads knowing it would probably be obliterated should it elect to use them? Will Israel find that it has no choice other than to attack? Will Iran’s hostile anti-Shiite regional neighbors feel pressure to secure such weapons for themselves against the Iranian threat? Do Americans really have the stomach for the impact that the retaliation for such sanctions/confrontations would have on their daily lives? Would it really kill our struggling “recovery”?

Want a tiny ray of hope? On the December 31st, Iran “proposed a new round of talks on its nuclear program with six world powers that have been trying for years to persuade Tehran to freeze aspects of its atomic work that could provide a possible pathway to weapons production… The country's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said he has formally called on the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany to return to negotiations.” Huffington Post. Happy New Year! I hope.

I’m Peter Dekom, and in a maze of complex political and economic interrelationships, each choice in dealing with nuclear Iran has a particularly difficult and unwanted side-effect.

Friday, December 30, 2011

When You’re a Jet…

Bidding on U.S. military technology is hardly about the money; it’s about the technology, and if you think that a government vendor bidding on a potential new weapons system is stuck with the dollar cap set out in the bid that may win the contract (where there even is such a dollar bid!!!), well… you would be wrong. The arguments against meeting their bids (again, if they even exist) given by such weapons designers/suppliers fall into any number of excuses… er… categories, but the three most common are (i) with experimental, cutting edge technology, there are always unexpected glitches and setbacks, (ii) these weapons are often profoundly complicated, relying on a synergy among myriad of parallel systems – from hardware to software – that must work perfectly together and are often supplied by different vendors, and (iii) there are always changes are redesigns requested by the military after they see the prototypes and initial design specs in operation.

So the general methodology, after the initial bids that were in the budget Congress voted on are set aside, the general path for advanced systems is a “cost plus” pay-as-you-go structure, hardly a structure that incentivizes budgetary sensitivity. Needless to say, this endless pursuit of complex, coordinated perfection is hideously expensive, even when new philosophies of “shared design and costs” – where different branches of the military adopt differing versions of the same basic technology and/or where our allies pick up some of these costs as well – are implemented. The overages over the initial estimates often skyrocket… not just 10-20%... but 100% or more. Our military cries out to replace aging existing aircraft and to remain competitive against Russian or Chinese advances, creating sneaky stealth planes that can penetrate enemy airspace and unleash pinpoint accurate smart bombs, eliminating strategic targets with little or no risk to the pilot. Or they can launch drones. Hmmmm.

The last fighter created for the new era was the F-22 Raptor, a weapon system caught in a time shift of historical proportions: “When concept development of that stealth fighter began in 1986, the Soviet Union was the enemy and the Air Force needed 750 of the planes for the air-to-air superiority mission. By 1991, when the first development contract was signed, the Soviet Union had collapsed . By 2006, the Air Force cut its needs to 381 F-22s and added air-to-ground attack and intelligence-gathering capabilities… In 2009, faced with several crashes and other problems, plus the oncoming F-35, [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates limited the purchase to 187 F-22s. Reasons given for ending the F-22 program were cost overruns and budget restraints.

“Ironically, the last F-22 came off the Lockheed assembly line [in mid-December] and is to be delivered to the Air Force [in 2012]. Considered a more capable air-to-air combat fighter than the F-35, F-22s have been sent to the Pacific, where their intelligence-gathering is considered useful. Air Force testimony on Capitol Hill in May put the cost of the last F-22s at $153.2 million per aircraft and noted that upgrades were still being made to the plane’s software.” Washington Post, December 23rd.

Ah yes, that F-35 Lightening II (pictured above), the F-22 replacement able to function as a carrier-based aircraft (in its “C” configuration for the Navy), a traditional stealth fighter for the Air Force (“A” configuration) and even a short take-off/landing aircraft for the Marines (“B” configuration). Some of the costs of this plane are being absorbed by our allies (like the U.K.), but it is still alarmingly expensive with $385 billion committed to date. We started off with an order for 3,000 of these expensive puppies, but the orders are tailing off, a little bit at a time. the Navy pulled back 400 of these esoteric planes, and it looks like there are even more reasons to expect further reductions.

The biggest issue it that the design is on-going, and with so many aspects of this plane yet to be finalized, folks are wondering why we are building aircraft now that will need to be retrofitted with these additions in the very near future? “A Government Accountability Office report from April said the forecast was for ‘about 10,000 more [engineering design] changes through January 2016.’ The GAO added, ‘We expect this number to go up given new forecasts for additional testing and extension of system development until 2018.’” The Post.

How do our Congressional experts see the program? “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took the Senate floor on Dec. 15 and described the F-35 fighter program as ‘a mess.’… What upset the senator was not just that the cost of each plane had risen nearly 100 percent from its original estimate of $69 million to $133 million today, or the fact that testing was only 20 percent complete while more than 90 planes had already been bought, or the fact that software — key to 80 percent of the stealth plane’s warfighting capability — wouldn’t be ready for another four years.

“McCain faulted the Pentagon for using what he called ‘a concurrent development strategy to procure a high-risk weapon system.’ Production of the first airplanes began as testing was in its infancy…. McCain said the Pentagon was attempting ‘generational leaps in capability’ but at the same time moving before the underlying design was stable. Developing needed technologies and being able to integrate them remain risky and manufacturing processes are still ‘immature,’ he said.” The Post.

Is there a solution to this excess, particularly since we appear to be moving over to a program of missile/smart bomb-carrying unmanned drones? “In his new book, ‘The Wounded Giant,’ Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon calls for cutting the overall purchase to 1,250, canceling the more costly Navy version, reducing the Marine Corps F-35Bs by 10 percent or more, and limiting the Air Force to 800 F-35As. The difference would be made up by buying more F-16s and recognizing the role of unmanned aircraft.” The Post. Can we really afford to continue this tradition of building soon-to-be obsolete weapon systems on a “cost plus” basis? And what exactly are we not spending that money on that may in fact be necessary to sustain a nation worthy of such incredible protection? And exactly how does the new proclivity to fight wars with unmanned aircraft fit into this paradigm?

Feeling a little squirmy about your tax dollars? How about the Navy’s own estimates of the cost of the next generation of aircraft carriers, the Gerald R. Ford class (CVN-78 in Navy parlance), the first of six such vessels on order: “In 2008, the Navy projected $3.3 billion in research and development costs and $10.5 billion for procurement of CVN-78. The Congressional Budget Office put the procurement figure at $11.2 billion, while the GAO a year earlier said the ‘shipbuilder’s initial cost estimate for construction was 22 percent higher than the Navy’s cost target . . . [and] the actual costs to build the ship will likely increase above the Navy’s target.’…

“The Navy budgeted CVN-78 ‘to the 40th percentile of possible cost outcomes,’ according to former representative Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), who should know because he was at one time a vice admiral whose last major post was as deputy chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Requirements and Programs. Sestak further explained that the 40 percent confidence level meant ‘there is a 60 percent probability that the final cost of the CVN-78 will exceed the service’s estimate,’ something he had written in an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in August.

“They have. The Navy’s projected cost for CVN-78 ‘grew by 10 percent between the president’s 2008 and 2012 budget requests’ and is now $12 billion — the amount CBO estimated two years ago. And cost growth is not over. A GAO report in March said that the 2010 shifting of the Ford-class program from a four-year to a five-year building cycle could increase costs ‘by 9 to 15 percent.’ But while increasing the cost of each ship, the Navy said the change ‘facilitates a reduced average yearly funding’ over a longer period of time… While a congressman, Sestak introduced legislation requiring disclosure of confidence levels for major defense acquisition programs. He included language that would require cost-estimation oversight if the confidence level was below 80 percent. It did not pass.” Washington Post, December 29th.

So much for controlling costs! And that’s just jets and jet carriers. Can we really afford to continue spending like this? Does it really matter that the United States hasn’t won a major war since WWII despite spending 47% of the world’s military expenditures?

I’m Peter Dekom, and as much as our military claims we “need” such weapon systems, they may eventually bankrupt and thus destroy the very nation they were designed to protect.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tyranny of the Majority

In my opinion, what best differentiates the American democratic model from many other purportedly democratic forms of government is the protection of the minority from the tyranny of the majority. This wondrous feature wasn’t really an important part at the inception of the United States of America, but the first ten amendments to the Constitution, known at the Bill of Rights, were ratified officially on December 15, 1791 and layered in those basic protections ranging from free speech and assembly to protections again slow progress to trial and warrantless searches and seizures, all arenas where majority votes could curtail unpopular minority efforts and causes.

But not all democratic forms of government offer this protection. Immediately after our departure from Iraq, for example, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki (pictured above right) and his majority Shiite-controlled government began disenfranchising the minority Sunnis and were (still are) trying to force the arrest of a Sunni vice-president (Tariq al-Hashemi, the most prominent Sunni in government) as a terrorist. Feeling helpless, the minority Sunni Iraqiya boycotted the Parliament, and on December 22nd, a wave of 16 bombings rocked Baghdad killing dozens and dozens of people. Most analysts attributed the violence to Sunni groups feeling helpless against the Iranian-supported Shiite majority. Fears of a return of all-out sectarian violence seemed to be well-founded.

But even in the Western world, the notion of majority-parties using their power to dominate if not destroy their opponents is alive and well. In Hungary, “the ruling [right of center] Fidesz Party has used its two-thirds majority to tighten its grip on the news media and the courts, redraw parliamentary districts in its favor and pack the constitutional court with supporters. On Jan. 1, a new ‘majoritarian’ Constitution written and ratified by Fidesz takes hold.

Democracy here is dying not with a single giant blow but with many small cuts, critics say, through the legal processes of Parliament that add up to a slow-motion coup. And in its drift toward authoritarian government, aided by popular disaffection with political gridlock and a public focused mainly on economic hardship, Hungary stands as a potentially troubling bellwether for other, struggling Eastern European countries with weak traditions of democratic government.

“To mounting criticism from the European Union and the United States, Fidesz is racing to use its supermajority in Parliament to pass a flurry of legislation before the new Constitution takes effect, a push that critics say will consolidate overwhelming power with [Prime Minister Viktor] Orban [pictured above left], a political veteran who got his start opposing Communist rule as it waned in the late 1980s.” New York Times, December 21st.

The subtext in all of this is a push-pull between an almost-knee-jerk pull to the right when bad times hit hard and the negative feelings in the Hungarian electorate as the Fidesz party has to implement the harsh austerity measures it agreed to in the recent reconfiguration of the Eurozone economies under Germany’s “leadership.” You can expect Fidesz to shoulder much of the blame when belt-tightening gets personal, and you can also expect other forms of disruption among the other former Eastern Bloc nations as they struggle with austerity and democracy. And it is my fear that the majority of Americans would, if allowed, impose their will on the minority, banning free speech and religion and allowing the indefinite detention (without trial) of US citizens charged in certain terrorist activities… ooops, we seem to have passed the latter. Let’s see whether our Bill of Rights in our Constitution is still valid.

I’m Peter Dekom, and I approve this message.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kim Jong was Ill

A stroke accelerated the inevitable death of a very sick Dear Leader, and whether the sobbing/ wailing in the streets is genuine (to many it is, because their only view of the world and their leader is totally controlled) or induced by self-inflicted pinching enhanced with onion juice doesn’t matter… Dear Leader is dearly departed. His cult status is no longer relevant anymore. But as a resident of the North, would you really want to be seen in public with no sign of emotion… or worse… the slightest hint of elation? Kin Jong-un, his son (pictured above), has succeeded to head of this grotesque Stalinesque communist regime, where millions of impoverished citizens have perished from starvation. We are informed that South Korea, the United States and China are coordinating strategies to keep this area from destabilizing… even as the North continues to test missiles to prove its continued bravado.

To get a really good idea what North Korea is really like, look at this nighttime satellite photo of the entire peninsula; the lights of a thriving nation at the bottom represent South Korea… the black hole above those light is North Korea. That should tell you exactly what kind of isolation surrounds the poor folks in the north.

Yet, the deification of the North Korean leadership is still difficult for us to understand: “For more than six decades, the Kim family, starting with Kim Il-sung, ruled the country as if it were one extended family. People called the Kims ‘father’ and ‘parent.’ Propaganda murals show North Korean soldiers clinging to the Kims as children do to their parents. Newlyweds pay homage at the nearest Kim Il-sung statue. As filial children take religious care of a parent’s tomb in traditional Korean culture, citizens sweep around the Kim monuments, some each morning.

“‘So they do really feel as if the head of the nation has been cut off,’ said Brian R. Myers, an expert on North Korean ideology at Dongseo University in South Korea. ‘Naturally, that makes people feel a certain shock or trauma regardless of whether they really felt a strong personal affection for Kim Jong-il.’ … Mr. Myers said a critical failure in the West’s understanding of North Korea was the tendency to underestimate the cult of personality and the importance of state loyalty there. In the North, he said, ‘nationalism and state loyalty are mutually reinforcing,’ so that even when people are displeased by their country’s direction, they identify strongly with the state.” New York Times, December 20th.

But we learned of Dear Leader’s death from the official government pronouncement, not from our embedded clandestine spies… probably because we probably don’t have any such spies. Intelligence is generally a function of access to someone with information with the ability to get that information out of the country. But there are virtually no telephones or Internet, and everyone knows everyone… a new face in any community would stick out like a sore thumb.

The ability to learn what goes on behind closed Northern doors is at best speculation. North Korea plays us like a violin, rattling its nuclear saber, engaging in nasty war games, shooting up South Korean vessels in international waters… and then backs down to extract concessions from the inevitable economic sanctions that we impose (sanctions which the leadership easily overcomes when it comes to personal consumption). They repeat the cycle, and the only real moderating influences are Russia (which never does anything good for the USA) and China, which shares an active trading border with the North even as it is often embarrassed by their actions.

Still, it is not entirely clear that Kim Jong-un remotely has the trust and support of the generals who currently seem to surround him as he makes his way in public as the anointed heir. Indeed, these generals were subject to heavy negotiating by Dear Leader to place the young man at the helm, a courtship that had the North testing nukes and parading violently in a show of force. Is the young heir in fact in charge? We really do not know, and given our limited intelligence within the Northern government, we are unlikely to find out until something to the contrary just happens.

I’m Peter Dekom, and the real black hole is our intelligence on this mega-dangerous nuclear power.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

France’s Big Christmas Turkey

Everybody admits that a whole lot of Armenians died in and around 1915 at the hands of the Ottoman Empire (today’s Turkey), but while Armenians call it genocide, Turkey still claims it was self-defense against an internal enemy during wartime (WWI): “The key issue in this controversy is not the extent of Armenian suffering; both sides agree that several hundred thousand Christians [Armenians suggest more like 1.5 million] perished during the deportation of the Armenians from Anatolia to the Syrian desert and elsewhere in 1915-16. With little notice, the Ottoman government forced men, women, and children from their homes. Many died of starvation or disease during a harrowing trek over mountains and through deserts. Others were murdered… Historians do not dispute these events although they may squabble over numbers and circumstances. Rather the key question in the debate concerns premeditation. Did the Young Turk regime organize the massacres that took place in 1916?...

“Most Turks say Armenians died during inter-communal fighting and during a wartime relocation necessitated by security concerns because the Armenians sympathized with and many fought on the side of the enemy.” Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2005. Whatever it was, it was horrible and inexcusable, but all Armenians and a large segment of the international community simply want Turkey to admit that it sanctioned and committed genocide, and as a point of contemporary Turkish pride – in the midst of growing anti-Western feelings in this mostly Muslim nation – Turkey is equally committed to denying that such a genocide ever took place.

Armenians everywhere – and they are a widely dispersed diaspora who have faced almost continuous persecution somewhere – have crusaded for decades for recognition of the horrors they suffered almost a century ago. Though the bill did not make it into law, even the US Congress entertained a resolution to this effect (calling the mass killings “genocide”) last March. Minutes after a Senate committee approved the resolution, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to the United States.

The same thing happened recently as Israel, with an obviously heightened sensitivity to genocide in general based on the Holocaust, allowed an open and televised debate over recognizing the Armenian genocide under its parliamentary education committee; Turkey promptly withdrew its ambassador: “At [the televised] hearing, some advocates of commemorating the massacre said their efforts had nothing to do with politics or with the Turkey of today. Rather, they said, the goal was to educate young Israelis about genocide and publicly assert the need to prevent such acts.

“But officials from the Foreign Ministry said relations with Turkey were fragile and that passing such a resolution could have bad strategic consequences… After Israel invaded Gaza three years ago to stop rocket fire by Palestinian militants, Turkey expressed anger. A year and a half ago, the Israeli navy stopped a Turkish-sponsored flotilla from going to Gaza, killing nine activists aboard. Turkey demanded an apology and compensation. When Israel refused, ties were downgraded.” New York Times, December 26th. What’s going on here, almost a century after these events occurred? And now this cause célèbre is raging through France?

Although only 3% of Turkey is actually in Europe – that thin sliver of land on the other side of the Bosporus (the rest is technically Asia) – Turkey had been up for membership in the European Union, although today, such a prospect may not be so attractive given the decline of EU fortunes of late and the offsetting economic growth in Turkey. The French have opposed the addition of Turkey to the EU, and President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has very strong support among French Armenians, has gone on record to support pending legislation in the French Parliament that would make it a crime to deny the Armenian “genocide.” Turkey is outraged.

Turkish lawmakers joined to denounce the bill and called on France to investigate its own atrocities in Algeria and Rwanda. [Turkey’s] Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the bill violated the spirit of the French Revolution and European principles like freedom of speech. [Turkish Prime Minister Recep] Erdogan said he had recalled Turkey’s ambassador and canceled the annually issued permission for French military planes to use Turkish airspace and French naval vessels to enter Turkish harbors. The move means that French military planes will need to apply for permission for each flight. Turkey also refused to cooperate with France in joint European Union projects or participate in a joint economic summit meeting scheduled to take place in Paris in January... ‘Approximately 15 percent of the population in Algeria have been subjected to a massacre by the French starting from 1945,’ Mr. Erdogan said, referring to French rule ending in 1962. ‘This is genocide.’…

Bernard Valero, the spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, said that France ‘deplored all the announcements’ made by Mr. Erdogan and regretted the recall of the Turkish ambassador from Paris, and he stressed the need for cooperation on several issues, including the unrest in Syria, the future of Afghanistan and Iran’s nuclear aspirations… ‘We need to handle this current period in a responsible, peaceful and level-headed way,’ Mr. Valero said. ‘We will push for dialogue, not threat.’” New York Times, December 23rd. Needless to say, these fighting words have rubbed massive salt in old, but still festering wounds.

I’m Peter Dekom, and understanding how deep history cuts for some people is a lesson for all Americans, even for those who truly fail to appreciate the impact on the past on our own present.

Monday, December 26, 2011

To the Vectors Belong the Spoils

When top policy-makers choose a direction based on some underlying “axiomatic” belief – a notion that a fundamental driving concept is the proper route in all circumstances – increasingly in times where complexity abounds, those vectors inevitably fall short. Example: don’t spend more than you make. Great concept, and we would never need loans, mortgages or incur any deficits. But economic growth would become a near-impossibility until sufficient hordes of cash could be salted away. That’s the way the planet moved in ancient times, and capital was amassed by conquest (read: looting the losers) and taxation (but then, you’d have to be a government). Think of a small manufacturer with a solid order for some wondrous product lacking the capital to fulfill the order, even knowing that the buyer is sitting at the other end waiting to pay for the load (including a fat profit).

Likewise, Americans have this belief that if we impose a democratic system on one of our many occupied countries (recently Iraq and Afghanistan), peace and prosperity will flourish. As our forces leave Iraq, the clearly Shiite-dominated government with increasingly close ties to Iran, is pushing the minority Sunnis (once in power under Saddam Hussein) around, letting them know in no uncertain terms who’s in charge. Angry Sunnis, some part of the militant Sunni Awakening movement, have responded in protest… with roadside bombs and blasts in public places. Our desire to have left a stable government to navigate the future is nothing but an impossible wish.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban and local warlords control the regions outside of the Kabul area, occasionally ceding temporary control to NATO forces until they leave. The “democracy” led by Hamid Karzai is about as trustworthy as a pickpocket in a crowded rail station, and cronyism and wanton corruption benefit just about everybody… except the people of Afghanistan. Our belief that a unifying democracy would bring peace and stability to a fractionalized tribal nation with harsh geographics was once again trashed by reality. Americans simply could not believe that a democratic experiment in both these theaters of war was doomed to failure based on historic animosities and selfish leaders. These were hardly lands with fertile soil where democracy could flower.

Now Europe and the United States have come to believe that austerity – getting deficits under control – is the essence of recovery and financial stability. Stimulus notions are now dead on arrival. What’s really happening now? First, that we will “recover” (by definition, “to return to a prior condition”) is an interesting assumption all by itself. Since in the history of the sustainability of political systems, there is always an inflection point that defines a significant and permanent change (from the fall of Rome in 476 AD to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989). My personal belief, reinforced by the destruction of going-forward investments in socioeconomic growth-drivers (infrastructure, education and research), is that what we are witnessing is not so much a path to recovery, but a mass adjustment to a new, highly polarized lowered-standard reality and a severe contraction of the “middle class,” a “re-set” if you will and a shift in growth values to new powers in Asia and Latin America.

This failure to appreciate the differences in our condition – the notion that one size fits all – is indeed at the heart of the disappointment. Germany, a thrifty and productive nation that has spent decades since WWII investing in itself (yep, infrastructure, education and research!) to the point where it remains Europe’s only major net exporting country of significance, believes that all of Europe needs to embrace its conservative economic style. Without much in the way of alternative financial resources, the rest of the European Union (minus Britain) has followed suit.

But Germany has already made its productivity investments and can sustain itself for the foreseeable future based on those efforts. Most of the rest of Europe has used its capital to upgrade their standard of living without the disciplined notion of investing for future returns. They’ve spent the money but lack the investments necessary to generate a viable economic future. Germany sees a Europe of little Germanys, sacrificing now to grow the future of Europe. Unfortunately, the net impact is sacrifice without investment… cutting back without building the foundation for future growth. And trust me, Greece, Italy and Spain will never work as little Germanys! The formula is based on smoke and mirrors disguised as economic policy.

In the United States, the word of the day is disillusionment. The Tea Party sees all of our problems as government-created and believes the solution is to pull government out of as much as possible. On the other side of the political spectrum is the belief that failed government regulation of Wall Street is at the heart of the problem: “The Occupy movement was inchoate, but it spoke to a widespread disillusion with capitalism – specifically financial capitalism. The public remains angry and frustrated at the cost of rescuing the banking system, a cost largely born by taxpayers rather than shareholders or bondholders. Bankers have done their cause scant good by continuing to award themselves generous remuneration packages …” Financial Times, December 12th.

In the end, growth comes from investment and hard work. In the modern world, these are both essential components. Asia and Latin America are ramping up their educational systems, elevating their infrastructure to the highest modern standards and funding research at unprecedented levels without wasting their national capital on building and sustaining mega-military forces and diving into expensive global conflicts at a moment’s notice. Who’s going to generate the better long-term results in the battle for economic prosperity? Seriously, them or us?

I’m Peter Dekom, and the baby is sailing through the air along with the bathwater!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Convicting with Junk Science

There have been a whole lot of criminal convictions in the United States based on what prosecutors and the courts have held to be “hard scientific evidence,” where the evidence was neither hard nor scientific. The original standard for the scientific systems in criminal trials – generally accepted and established principals of science – was established in 1923 in a District of Columbia circuit blood-pressure-measuring “lie detector” case, Frye vs. United States. This standard is still the prevailing standard in many states, even though in 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court replaced Frye with Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals in federal actions.

Applying the Federal Rules of Evidence (particularly section 702), Daubert repeated the rule stating: “If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise…” Specifically, the requirement of “knowledge” and that it would actually help the jury (or judge as a trier of fact when a jury trial is waived) come to a decision based on the relevant opinion. The court has to screen such testimony and physical evidence before it is presented, and that something is “generally accepted” is no longer the standard. The court went one step further in noting the ever-changing nature of scientific research and standards and that what was once taken for granted often later is rejected as unfounded. notes that once reading the bumps on a subject’s head was assumed to be an accurate way of assessing human traits and behavior: “Phrenology was defined as the science ‘devoted to the identification of basic brain functions and their manifestations in cranial features.’ While in modern times we may "think of it as harmless quackery practiced upon the gullible at country fairs,’ . . . in 1840, phrenology was a confident science, promising clear and certain knowledge concerning the mental attributes and behaviors of human beings. . . . There were conferences and symposia. There were professional associations. There were lengthy learned tomes and scholarly journals. The first issue of the American Phrenological Journal had just appeared in October of 1838.@ Phrenology's basic principles were established be the renowned Dr. Franz Joseph Gall. [See, Pierre Schlag, "Commentary--Law and Phrenology", 110 Harv.L.Rev. 877 (1997).]”

Calling something scientific under the mantle of court-approved evidence carries a lot of weight with a jury. Take this example cited in the December 24th New York Times: “Undigested bits of mushrooms and tomatoes from Christine Morton’s last meal — a celebratory birthday dinner she had with her husband — were still in her stomach when the medical examiner performed his autopsy in 1986… Those remnants, the prosecutor told the jury during Michael Morton’s trial, “scientifically proved” that Mr. Morton had beaten his wife to death… Twenty-five years later, DNA science revealed that someone else had actually killed Mrs. Morton and that her husband’s murder conviction and more than two decades in prison were a tragic mistake. His exoneration based on DNA evidence is the 45th in Texas…

‘What passes for science in courtrooms is not always, in fact, science,’ said Kathryn Kase, interim executive director of the Texas Defender Service, which represents death row inmates… In recent weeks, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed to review cases that indicate it may also see a need to address the types of evidence that meet scientific standards… In November, the state’s highest criminal court agreed to review the case of Megan Winfrey, who is serving a life sentence for murder. She was convicted largely on the testimony of a sheriff’s deputy who said his bloodhounds ‘alerted’ to her scent on the murder victim’s clothing. The court has previously ruled that dog-scent evidence, used to convict Ms. Winfrey’s father for the same murder, was insufficient without corroborating evidence. The court acquitted her father on appeal.

It’s pretty easy to sway a jury with “scientific evidence,” and thus when someone’s life or liberty is at stake, we owe them a vastly higher quality of evidence. After all, the ultimate standard in a criminal conviction is and must remain “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and questioning every bit of evidence at all times is an essential part of that process.

I’m Peter Dekom, and to give us confidence in our system of justice, we must always question its process on a never-ending basis.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Putin on the Rich

Russia is a mystery to many, often including the Russians themselves. Addicted to blaming the United States for as much as possible from decades of post-WWII Cold War mutual bashing, yet again, the Russian leadership is blaming America for the massive street protests alleging substantial election fraud as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s party claimed an overwhelming victory (but with lower margins than expected). Our Secretary of State castigated Putin and his President Dmitry Medvedev for what seemed to be easily documented (like cellphone videos of ballot administrators stuffing a ballot box with “votes”) and widespread fraud. Tens of thousands of Russians braved their “closely watched state” and protested.

To the amazement of almost everyone, Russian state television carried images of the protests without censorship: “Sweeping views of the tens of thousands of people who had crowded into a central Moscow square for a sprawling anti-Kremlin protest cut away to close-ups of groups of average citizens chanting, ‘New elections! New elections!’… ‘Tens of thousands of people came out to register their disagreement with the results of recent parliamentary elections, which they said were rigged in favor of United Russia,’ the ruling party, Aleksei Pivovarov, one of the evening news hosts on government-controlled NTV, announced at the top of the broadcast Saturday.” New York Times, December 10th.

The anti-Putin bandwagon appears only to be accelerating, as a second massive protest on December 24th pulled even more people into the streets: “The first such demonstration, two weeks ago [and noted above], was unprecedented for Mr. Putin’s rule, and there were reasons [the Christmas Eve] turnout could have been lower — among them, winter holidays and the onset of bitter cold… Instead, people poured all afternoon into a canyon created by vast government buildings, and the police put the crowd at 30,000, more than they reported on Dec. 10. Organizers said it was closer to 120,000. Hours later, as the protesters dispersed, they chanted, slowly: ‘We will come again! We will come again!’”

The anti-Kremlin protests were so significant that the government itself ordered an investigation of the fraud allegations, although no one really believes that the examination will actually produce a factual account: “Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered an inquiry into claims of electoral fraud after tens of thousands joined a protest in Moscow on Saturday… ‘People have the right to express their views which is what they did yesterday,’ Medvedev wrote on his Facebook page. ‘I don't agree with the slogans or the declaration that rang out at the meetings. Nevertheless, instructions have been given by me to check all information from polling stations regarding compliance with the legislation on elections.’ … However the attempt to pacify the protests appeared to have backfired, when thousands of Facebook users took to the page to attack the president.’” Huffington Post, December 11th.

But for those who believe that strongman Putin is only picking on the masses, and that the power elite of that country are closely aligned with the incumbent, think again. Putin has long been associated with controlling the spigot of wealth – who gets what… and more importantly who gets to keep what. Rumors abound that those who have wealth but elect to ignore Putin’s dictates on who gets to share that wealth (purportedly including Putin himself) wind up in prison or wiped out by economic pressures from the government.

“Nikolai Maksimov, one of the richest men in Russia, was sitting in a grimy jail cell in the Ural Mountains… Through the murk, Mr. Maksimov saw his cellmate — a man, he says, who appeared ill with tuberculosis, a scourge in Russian prisons. ‘I had the feeling that I was put in this cell on purpose,’ Mr. Maksimov, now free on bail, recalled recently. Mr. Maksimov, who was arrested in February on suspicion of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars, is hardly the only Russian tycoon who has run into trouble. Among the six men who have topped the Forbes rich list here in the last decade, one, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, is in prison, and another, Boris A. Berezovsky, is in exile. They, like Mr. Maksimov, maintain their innocence.” NY Times, December 10th.

Russia is wildly rich with a solidly educated population and lots of natural resources, including vast oil and gas reserves and some of the most significant holdings of precious metals and rare earths on the planet. Most of the wealth controlled by individuals came from an “allocation” of government-controlled wealth that was privatized when the Soviet government fell. To get “allocated,” you had to be an insider, pretty high up in the former Soviet hierarchy.

But today, “Russia’s rich [are] growing agitated, too. Evidence is mounting that conditions are deteriorating for the maintenance and investment of their vast wealth — and while this development may gladden populists, it may become an economic threat… Post-Soviet privatizations shifted state-owned factories into the hands of a coterie of well-connected businessmen — the oligarchs. Partly as a result, Russia has 101 billionaires, behind only China, with 115, and the United States, with 412, according to Forbes... Only now, capital flight, a problem in the 1990s, has re-emerged. Money is flowing out of Russia faster than it is flowing in. The net outflow is expected to reach $70 billion by year-end, and the figures suggest that the bulk of that will be from large investors.” NY Times.

Are we witnessing the unthinkable? Putin’s fall from power? Probably not, and Putin enjoys a popularity with the electorate that exceeds the popularity accorded to Obama and the Congress, the latter hitting one of the lowest ebbs for American leadership since such polls were created. But perhaps that country will slip back to a more moderate leadership, and Putin’s seemingly unlimited power may in fact be curtailed… somewhat. But like thinking the military is letting go of power in Egypt, believing that Putin will fall entirely is simply a profoundly unlikely (but possible) scenario.

I’m Peter Dekom, and watching the power of privately- originated massive networked communications impact virtual dictatorships is fascinating.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Down to Earth Discoveries

Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high… and 600 light years from earth… sits a (maybe) bright blue-green planet where the average ambient temperature is a lovely 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius). While its radius is 2.4 times bigger than that of earth (hope you appreciate the gravity of that statement), Kepler-22b (what a romantic name, a veritable destination-beckoning resort title), falls into what scientists call the “habitable zone,” a rare find in our quest for another planet that might mirror earth.

NASA’s website notes: “NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed its first planet in the ‘habitable zone,’ the region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Kepler also has discovered more than 1,000 new planet candidates, nearly doubling its previously known count. Ten of these candidates are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of their host star. Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets.

“The newly confirmed planet, Kepler-22b, is the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun... Scientists don't yet know if Kepler-22b has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition, but its discovery is a step closer to finding Earth-like planets.

“Previous research hinted at the existence of near-Earth-size planets in habitable zones, but clear confirmation proved elusive. Two other small planets orbiting stars smaller and cooler than our sun recently were confirmed on the very edges of the habitable zone, with orbits more closely resembling those of Venus and Mars.

“‘This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth's twin,’ said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ‘Kepler's results continue to demonstrate the importance of NASA's science missions, which aim to answer some of the biggest questions about our place in the universe.’” I wonder if they have intelligent life there, looking at decaying images from earth’s early television years (technically, they won’t get there for another 550 years!), and realizing earth really isn’t ready for a “hook up.”

The Kepler folks also found two other planets, about the size of earth, in a five planet solar system not unlike our own sun: “The two planets are believed to be too close to their sun and thus too hot to be habitable with temperatures ranging from 800 to 1,400 degrees. Scientists speculate that one of the planets called Kepler 20F might have had liquid water at one time in its history and could have been habitable. The Kepler science team says this is the first time humanity has been able to detect planets of Earth size in the universe.”, December 20th. Hey, some like it hot!

I’m Peter Dekom, and maybe someone “up there” can figure out how to fix stuff “down here”?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Is the U.S. “Relationship” with Pakistan Over?

Despite the rantings of historically and culturally illiterate members Congress that an ungrateful Pakistan – with a military that has received billions from the U.S. over the years – should be deprived of that “aid” because of its duplicitous failure to support our “war on terror” (as they still describe our efforts), that central Asia nation remains an essential ingredient in regional politics. With over one hundred nuclear warheads (locally known as the “Islamic bomb”) and a track record of sharing the underlying technology with others (Pakistan’s father of nuclear weapons research, A.Q. Khan, and his infamous providing nuclear secrets to both Iran and North Korea… and almost Libya), Pakistan can tip the balance of power in the Middle East with one shipment of warheads to a Muslim foe near Israel. Pakistan is also our major supply route in and out of neighboring Afghanistan. This central Asian Islamic nation is the result of the blood-soaked 1947 partition of post-British India into mostly Hindu India in the south, and mostly Muslim Pakistan in the north.

Pakistanis are pretty strongly anti-American these days. They view the relationship that Washington wants as not based on mutual respect, but instead crassly transactional: “we pay you, and you do what we want.” They see drone attacks across Pakistani territory, albeit in the terrorist sanctuary in the Western Tribal District, their own forces cut to ribbons by NATO air strikes gone awry (24 Pakistani soldiers died this way over Thanksgiving) and clandestine Navy Seal operations which resulted in the killing of bin Laden as violating their border. We see necessity. They see arrogance in ignoring their territorial integrity and betrayal by Washington. But the Pakistanis seem to be in constant communication with (if not in direct support of) powerful anti-American militants, including the dreaded Haqqani network that has mounted attacks on U.S. forces across the Pakistani border into Afghanistan.

There’s another very public matter screaming before the Pakistani press, and the huge undercurrent of a military that actually runs the country and an elected government that pretends it does: “Pushed by the army, a Pakistani Supreme Court hearing [that began on December 19th to] investigate whether [President Asif Ali] Zardari’s government was behind an unsigned memorandum that surfaced in October, purportedly asking the Obama administration’s help to curb the military’s influence and avert a possible coup in the wake of the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May… Soon after the memo became public, the army demanded that the government investigate allegations that the memo was orchestrated by Husain Haqqani, then Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States and a close aide to Mr. Zardari — a charge Mr. Haqqani denied as he was recalled from his post. Opposition lawmakers quickly joined the chorus calling for action, and message records appearing to implicate the ambassador were leaked to the news media.” New York Times, December 18th.

It seems that there was truth to that memo, as military leaders were just chastised by the civilian leadership: “Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani warned [December 22nd] of a conspiracy to oust the government, signaling that tension between his civilian administration and the country’s powerful army might be close to a breaking point.” Washington Post, December 22nd. Gilani asked the big question: who issued the visa that allowed bin Laden to live in Pakistan undisturbed for six years? Trust me, the army is charge, whether they mount a coup… or not.

Oh, did I mention that they don’t exactly have warm fuzzy feelings for Afghanistan either, whether out of tribal animosity or the fact that Afghanistan was the only country to vote against Pakistan’s admission to the United Nations. And they see the unresolved issue of India’s continuous hold on mostly Muslim Kashmir and the rather large gathering of Indian forces at their border as a constant provocation by India, still considered their greatest enemy. India, which has fought Pakistan (successfully) on several occasions, clearly does not want another conflict but also seriously does not trust Pakistan, which it believes has fomented more than one bloody terrorist attack within India.

The Pakistani military still has a chokehold on most serious policy decisions which appear to be within the ambit of elected politicians. With strong recruiting from impoverished neighborhoods where Muslim extremism grows like weeds, the military is anything but ambiguous these days in its pro-radical roots, even as local Taliban mount attacks against targets within Pakistan itself. The government is wildly corrupt – a regional plague – with a general feeling among the people that the dirty leadership they elected keeps the majority of their purloined wealth “somewhere else,” and that such elected leaders have less at stake within Pakistan’s borders.

It is a nation constantly on the edge of unraveling. And right now, the military, the people and the Pakistani government are brimming with anger over American “incursions” into Pakistan, even to the extent of stopping the flow of American supplies into Afghanistan. “As America settles onto the long path toward withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan has considerable power to determine whether the end of our longest war is seen as a plausible success or a calamitous failure. [Hard to picture U.S. success there under any view, in my opinion.]

“There are, of course, other reasons that Pakistan deserves our attention. It has a fast-growing population approaching 190 million, and it hosts a loose conglomerate of terrorist franchises that offer young Pakistanis employment and purpose unavailable in the suffering feudal economy. It has 100-plus nuclear weapons (Americans who monitor the program don’t know the exact number or the exact location) and a tense, heavily armed border with nuclear India. And its president, Asif Ali Zardari, oversees a ruinous kleptocracy that is spiraling deeper into economic crisis.” Ben Keller writing for the New York Times, December 18th. Pakistanis increasingly view America’s military presence in the Muslim world as part of a greater war on Islam itself. The footage generated from American missteps has provided essential recruiting tools for further radicalization.

“If you survey informed Americans, you will hear Pakistanis described as duplicitous, paranoid, self-pitying and generally infuriating. In turn, Pakistanis describe us as fickle, arrogant, shortsighted and chronically unreliable… Neither country’s caricature of the other is entirely wrong, and it makes for a relationship that is less in need of diplomacy than couples therapy, which customarily starts by trying to see things from the other point of view. While the Pakistanis have hardly been innocent, they have a point when they say America has not been the easiest of partners.” NY Times. ‘You have the United States tying future assistance to conditions like the secretary of state certifying that Islamabad is cooperating fully on counter-terrorism measures,’ said the Pakistani minister… ‘We have lost about 40,000 people in our decade-old war on terror which we began when the U.S. attacked Afghanistan. The Americans still want us to prove that we are genuine in our efforts. What could be bigger nonsense than this?’ asked the Pakistani minister.”, December 22nd.

President Obama sent his condolences to Pakistan over the Thanksgiving incident noted above but not his apologies; there is an election in the United States where American “apologies” have become an issue. Pakistan responded that it is not remotely interested in the NATO investigation over how such a travesty occurred. Our report of why this happened isn’t exactly going to patch things over: “A report about the Nov. 25 incident found that ‘inadequate coordination by U.S. and Pakistani military officers,’ and erroneous map information provided by NATO to Pakistani authorities, were to blame for the battlefield blunder, which has added enormous strain to the already fraught relationship between Washington and Islamabad.” Washington Post, December 22nd. The border shipments to supply NATO forces were briefly halted, and Pakistan is considering another anti-American policy: “Pakistan is considering plans to slap millions of dollars in new charges [taxes] on future supplies taken through the country’s land route for U.S.-backed Western troops in Afghanistan.”

We’ve come to a place where no viable Pakistani politician could ever remain in office by building appeasement bridges to the United States, even to preserve military aid. And yet if nothing more than a “transactional” bribe, we do need to keep Pakistan’s nukes under relative control. The road to rebuilding even a viable détente between our nations will long and tattered and may require that our military is long gone from Afghanistan even to have a chance. And please don’t forget, it is Pakistan and not Afghanistan that has those nuclear weapons.

I’m Peter Dekom, and our failure to understand the complexity of regional politics combined with down and dirty American arrogance have not served us well in Central Asia.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Never Fund a Bank without Strings

Among the provisions in the 1933 federal statute – the Glass-Steagall Act – that created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was a provision preventing the same holding company from controlling both a commercial bank and an investment bank. The notion was to keep banks from being torn between their trading interests and the normal lending/savings business inherent in commercial banking. Since commercial banks can borrow money from the Federal Reserve at a vastly reduced rate (well under a percentage point today), that their trading division might borrow money and use it for their own account (investing and speculating for themselves) troubled regulators in that Depression era… so they created what they perceived to be a necessary separation.

Unfortunately, in the free-wheeling days of deregulation, via the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act of 1999 (signed by then President Bill Clinton), Congress felt that this separation of traditional banking from trading was no longer necessary; that separation provision was repealed, and mega-financial institutions embraced both speculation and investment banking, on the one hand, and old world commercial banking, on the other, within the same house. The results were the acceleration of sprawling financial institutions where the big bucks were made in creating financial instruments and trading them, but where cheap money was always available to those entities that also embraced commercial banking. More than a few of these “too big to fail” institutions fell, and the entire American financial system lurched towards a collective bankruptcy, “rescued” by a massive federal bailout that restored the companies, but did nothing to get these conflicted companies to put the interests of their customers and society in front of their addiction to greed-driven speculation.

Europe had followed suit, as their banks absorbed or created trading/investment banks based on the American model, and of course, they faced many of the same problems, such that the European Union is now actively considering imposing a requirement that commercial banking would no long be allowed to have a trading arm, even though the proposed legislation, if passed, would allow these financial institutions at least seven years to divest.

Between all of the sovereign debt (like that of Greece, Italy or even the United States), the uncertainty of asset values and the ability of those US banks with trading arms to use the money they get from the Federal Reserve for their own purposes, there is very little credit available for small and medium businesses – where most of the new job growth is coming from – and certainly a whole lot less for those seeking traditional mortgages (especially outside of the federally insured lending programs). In short, we rescued these big financial institutions and continue to allow them to borrow money from the Federal Reserve at well under one percent interest without the slightest requirement that they open up credit to those sectors of the US economy that need it most or that can fuel growth most efficiently. Perhaps it’s time to “un-repeal” that controversial provision of Glass-Steagall.

Writing for the January 2012 Vanity Fair, economist Joseph Stiglitz writes: “If we expect to maintain any semblance of ‘normality,’ we must fix the financial system. As noted, the implosion of the financial sector may not have been the underlying cause of our current crisis—but it has made it worse, and it’s an obstacle to long-term recovery… What’s needed is to get banks out of the dangerous business of speculating and back into the boring business of lending. But we have not fixed the financial system. Rather, we have poured money into the banks, without restrictions, without conditions, and without a vision of the kind of banking system we want and need. We have, in a phrase, confused ends with means. A banking system is supposed to serve society, not the other way around.” For people who truly believe that deregulation is the cure, they are obviously those who have simply failed to understand – or perhaps even look at – the massive failure that the repeal of sensible legislation had on our economy.

I’ll end this blog with this little snippet from the December 20th, LBNelert: “Many tout the U.S. as the Roman empire of the modern world. But as it turns out, that comparison may not be all good. Income inequality in America is at levels even higher than those in ancient Rome, according to a recent study from two historians, Walter Schiedel and Steven Friesen, cited by Per Square Mile. After analyzing papyri ledgers, biblical passages and other previous scholarly estimates, the researchers found that the top one percent of earners in Ancient Rome controlled 16 percent of the society’s wealth. By comparison, the top one percent of American earners control 40 percent of the country’s wealth, according to Vanity Fair.” Not particularly good news for a country where the miscreant bankers are making more money than ever, the US middle class is eroding at an alarming rate, and according to the US Census, 1 out of 2 Americans is living at a “low income” level… or less.

I’m Peter Dekom, and simply repeating the obvious mistakes of the past is hardly the path out of this economic debacle.