01.27.14

Wow. Wonderful coin. Very rich.

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Fiat money fear and loathers at 1:19 pm by George Smith

NYT:

One of the most prominent players in the Bitcoin universe, Charles Shrem, was arrested by federal prosecutors on Sunday and accused of helping grease the wheels for drug transactions on the now defunct online bazaar Silk Road.

Mr. Shrem was the founder and chief executive of a popular website, Bitinstant, where Bitcoins could be bought using dollars. The criminal charges unsealed on Monday by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan claim that Mr. Shrem used his company to convert money anonymously for people interested in buying narcotics on the Silk Road site, and also personally bought drugs on the site. He was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport …

[And the famously wealthy Bitcoin speculators, the Winkle-Nuisances]

Bitinstant stopped operating last summer, but the site was viewed as a pioneer in the industry, and Mr. Shrem had recently said that he planned to restart it. The company won early backing from Winkelvoss Capital, which is run by the Winkelvoss [sic, since corrected] brothers, who were early players in Facebook.

In a statement, Winkelvoss [sic] Capital said, “We were passive investors in BitInstant and will do everything we can to help law enforcement officials. We fully support any and all governmental efforts to ensure that money laundering requirements are enforced, and look forward to clearer regulation being implemented on the purchase and sale of Bitcoins.”

In the past few weeks, various reports have indicated that 90 percent of all Bitcoins are held by hoarders.

The current and ridiculous price of one BitCoin in Pasadena: between 970 and 1040 dollars.

Like corporate stock that rises in value when employees are fired en masse, BitCoin speculators rush to push up the value when bad stuff happens.

It is the perfect money for our time, a gift for wealthy tech sociopaths.

01.26.14

WhiteManistan Blues Band: Poor man’s stereo rig

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Rock 'n' Roll at 9:12 pm by George Smith

Made-in-China telecaster, used Atomic Reactor amplifier missing parts (but still takes a guitar line level into the effects return), 10-year old Adrenalinn III for time-based effects and stereo out, 26-28 year old Scholz R&D Rockman Sustainor, 15-year old Bag End 12″ on loan, 30-year old Hiwatt Custom 50 bought when I was at Lehigh.

Guitar to Sustainor for clean, edge distortion (not its highest gain setting by any means), then out to Adrenalinn III for stereo effects — one of the most important, a 12 millisecond delay in stereo for a doubled-in-a-small room very hard echo. (Trust me, that’s rock and roll.)

Then it goes to the Atomic as the main feed and the HiWatt (which pushes the Bag End 12″) for the stereo image.

It’s important to have a cheap EQ in the effects send and return of the Scholz Sustainor. This was my choice, bought years ago.

Some think the Scholz Sustainor, now a very old piece of gear, as only something that furnishes a typecast period piece Boston sound, totally inferior to modern digital modeling equipment. Not so. I use both with no prejudice.

An equalizer the Sustainor’s effects loop de-Bostonizes the sound, if desired.

My settings push up the bass below 400Hz. (The result, with the single coils in a telecaster-type guitar, a mid-scoop that retains body without making the treble ear-shattering. The goal is tight — but not always, heh, rock and roll tone with full bass and solid sound from rhythm to heavy lead. The classic Scholz equipment equalization, which is very good but idiosyncratic to the Boston sound, creates a huge bulge between 500 and 700 or so Hz, the very middle of the electric guitar’s sonic power. It’s perfect for many classic rock lead applications and rhythm sounds that make good pads while getting out of the way of the singing. But it’s not perfectly ideal for waxing quickly between rock and roll — the Beatles, the Stones, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Creedence Clearwater Revival — and arena rock, the Eagles “Hotel California.”)

The Sustainor internal EQ section carves a lot of everything below 400 out for the sake of sitting perfectly in a full range studio mix. As a side undocumented trick, an EQ, even a very cheap one, can put this all back in the Scholz effects return and can be used to push the “clean” settings of the Sustainor into mild overdrive.

So what can this rig do? It’s a jerry-bilt set up, unplanned, done from expedience.

The WhiteManistan Blues Band goes from jangle electric folk and some country to raging boogie and hard rock in 50 minutes of tunes. And it’s a two-man band, the kind of group I was in the early-70’s when I cut my teeth on combo rock. The White Stripes and Black Keys did not, by any means, invent the two-man band.

When you are in a two man band you have the freedom of choices others don’t have and also challenges they don’t.

For example: You can play really loud live (half of what we do). And annihilate the need for a bass player.

Or you can mix it like a lot of pop music. And annihilate the need for a bass player.

Or you can try to do it all, with a span from folk to loud hard rock in a full stereo panoply (the other half of what we do) compensated to combine the best of a raw sound with the dynamic range of a stereo mix.

It’s not easy. Everyone has to roll their own. It comes with experience, an ear, or ears, and what works for you.

Stay cheap.


Note to prospective made-in-China “Fender” telecaster owners: Pick-ups and electronics are stock and not substandard. At really loud volume the single coils are not micro-phonic (a common criticism by know-nothings, prone to atonal squealing caused by vibration of pickup winding) or inferior to domestically-made pickups at all. (Keyword: Squier.)


Pardon the errors: An earlier version of the post screwed up the frequencies by orders of magnitude. Since corrected.

Rich Man’s Burden: Progressive pogroms

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 2:22 pm by George Smith


This is a tune and video that only gets more excellent and fitting in our modern country. And, of course, you should spread it around and hit up the count, helping it toward 1k of big views on YouTube.

From the Wall Street Journal letters page, Tom Perkins, famous tech venture capitalist, sings out his pity the billionaire blues in a most peculiar manner:

Regarding your editorial “Censors on Campus” (Jan. 18): Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these “techno geeks” can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a “snob” despite the millions she has spent on our city’s homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?

Tom Perkins

San Francisco

For discussion and adding linkage: Pity the billionaire screeds comparing the poor fighting back against inequality to Hitler-ite fascism.

Tom Perkins’ 130 million dollar yacht, the Maltese Falcon, registered to another country and long kept out of frequent American port visits due to “tax implications,” according to the video.

And here it is, escorted by much smaller yachts, dashing under the Golden Gate bridge.

01.25.14

Redefining hacker culture as corporate stooge-ism

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Cyberterrorism at 1:51 pm by George Smith

PBS rebroadcast a cyberwar bit from October recently. Google News displayed it prominently for a couple days. And that makes it worth commenting on again in its completely tone-deaf qualities, a brief piece trying to sell the ideas that hacker culture is still new, that hacker misuse of technology can be turned into offensive cyberwar for our exceptional nation, and — last — that there’s something about this corporate stooge-ism that’s cool.

Originally commented on here:

In five minutes PBS delivers every cliche written in the last quarter century about the genius and talent of young hackers and how they’ll change the world.

We must allow offensive corporate computer security so good guy young hackers can hack attack the bad guys back. This is the prescription of the a NSA man, Stewart Baker, doing public outreach for his old agency …

But back to the main thing at PBS, excerpted (it’s posted with a new air date but it’s actually a re-treaded paste-up from October):

RICK KARR: Stuart Baker is former general counsel of the NSA who’s now a computer security consultant.

STEWART BAKER: They can steal your designs. They can steal your– knowhow. They can steal your customer list and your internal analysis of what the biggest problems are in your product. This is pretty scary.

RICK KARR: The bad guys are mostly working from China and former Soviet states. They’re well-trained. Some of them are protected by — or even working for — their governments, so they don’t care about getting caught. And they might be able to do even more that steal information from businesses. Security experts worry that they could cripple the banking system … or shut down parts of the electric grid. Baker says … American businesses need a new mindset if they’re going to defend themselves.

STEWART BAKER: I’m a big believer that– the best defense is an offense. And– if we’re going to have an offense– we’ve got to have people who are really talented drawn to that field.

Definitions of role and context are important: Stewart Baker is a lawyer/mouthpiece for the NSA. And it has been part of his job to push the extremely unpopular idea that computer crime law needs to be rewritten to allow corporate America to go vigilante and strike back of those it thinks have attacked it in cyberspace.

This toxic concept is roped into a hackneyed discussion of hacker/computer security training at Carnegie-Mellon’s CyLab:

RICK KARR: People like these college undergraduates, who just might be able to save America’s corporations and governments from the bad-guy hackers: They’re students at Carnegie Mellon University, one of the nation’s top computer science schools … and they’re learning to fight off the bad guys … by thinking the same way they do. They’re learning to be the good guy hackers.

DAVID BRUMLEY: You have to understand and be able to anticipate how attackers are going to come at you. ‘Cause if you’re only doing defense, if you don’t look at offense at all, you’re always reacting and you’re always one step behind.

RICK KARR: Computer security professor David Brumley says … it’s tough stuff to teach … because the brand-new, cutting-edge cyberattack of today will be available to anyone with a web browser by next week.

DAVID BRUMLEY: For example, my courses in computer security? We don’t have textbooks. Everything’s so new. We have to go out and look at websites, we have to go look at– the latest things from conferences, and really teach from that. Every year it’s a significant update.

Karr: Carnegie Mellon’s students are so good at exploiting those vulnerabilities … that the NSA enlisted them to create a game that teaches hacking skills to high-school-aged students — and paid for the job. Cylab, the university’s cybersecurity institute, is home to the to-ranked competitive hacking team in the world: the Plaid Parliament of Pwning — “pwn” is hacker-speak for “own”, as in the hacker takes a computer over and owns it. For third straight year, the team won top honors at international contests that pit teams of hackers against one another … and utterly demolished the competition at a prestigious contest in Las Vegas.

DAVID BRUMLEY: It’s a little bit like a little, mini-cyber-war that’s going on. And you get points by how well you find exploits in your adversaries and how well you can defend against their attacks. They’re– secure from the normal internet and they’re set up specifically for this purpose.

RICK KARR: How stiff is the competition here? I mean, who’s on your heels …

MALE STUDENT #3: Man, so, you know, who’s not? There’s all sorts of government contractors who have, you know, teams that we compete with. And, you know, they do this professionally.

RICK KARR: “Hacker” is a label the students embrace. The word has a long history in computer science circles — where it was originally meant as praise. The students say … it still can be.

MALE STUDENT #2: We don’t think of it as bad. We think of it as– getting a deeper understanding for how something works in order to make it do something that maybe it wasn’t intended to do but it’s capable of doing.

ANDREW CONTE: It’s often the people who as young high school students they started goofin’ around with– electronics or computers, and they started figuring out, you know, how to do simple attacks, how to get inside of– machines.

RICK KARR: Andrew Conte is an investigative reporter at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review who’s written dozens of articles about hackers and cybersecurity.

ANDREW CONTE : And at some point they make the decision. You know, “Am I going to be– a good hacker or a bad hacker? And there’s not that much difference between them in terms of– their abilities. Huge difference in terms of their motivations.

RICK KARR: That raises the question of how wise it is to teach these abilities to students barely out of their teens … with unknown motivations. Cylab graduate student Peter Chapman says not to worry.

The talk about young hackers, their aptitude for technology and natural inquisitiveness is now well over twenty years old, as old as the fact that new computer vulnerabilities are created with every update.

What’s so utterly clueless about the philosophy, and I think it’s easily identifiable by readers, is the recruitment of “hackers” into corporate stooge-ism for saving American business and military/intelligence/government interests.

Edward Snowden was just such a corporate stooge, a contract worker for Booz Allen Hamilton, at the National Security Agency. Until he took matters into his own hands.

Another open secret here is the veiled mention of the DefCon/BlackHat meetings, “a prestigious contest in Las Vegas.”

DefCON/BlackHat, particularly the latter, is a recruiting ground for the NSA and its arms manufacturer/computer security operation contractors. Another way of looking at is to call it a debutantes ball
, a Rose Queen contest, for advancement into corporate stooge work in the national security megaplex.

And we know how that’s turned out. US taxpayers have lavishly funded the biggest makers of untrustworthy networks in the world.

The paradox remains Edward Snowden. He is the only person, outside of Bradley Manning, who decided, at great personal cost, that something needed doing to change the conversation.

A well-paying job in the US economy of fear buys a lot of corporate stooge-ism and loyalty.

But it’s not going over well anymore outside the hermetically-sealed world of national security.

Hacker culture (or its way of thinking) never meant corporate stooge-ism. The NSA and mainstream media has regularly taken this old subject and tried to refashion it into the idea that using computer hackers as corporate lackeys and fulfillment servants for defense contractors is great stuff for the country.

There’s nothing special about people who solve Rubik’s Cube puzzles in 90 seconds except its use as a brag.

Well, yes, solve that Rubik for the rubes so as to distract from a larger unpleasantness: The NSA’s data suction contributed nothing on the discovery of terrorist attacks, few or many, depending on your point of view.

Note again:

RICK KARR: Cybersecurity consultant Stewart Baker says … sometimes it makes sense for a company that’s been the target of bad-guy hackers to engage in a little digital breaking and entering of its own — to hack back, in other words. He thinks it could be an important weapon in the cybersecurity arsenal. But it isn’t always so clear-cut ethically. Or legally, because in can violate federal computer security laws.

STEWART BAKER: I have been making a very public– argument that we should allow this and we should read the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to permit it.


STEWART BAKER: I’m a big believer that– the best defense is an offense. And– if we’re going to have an offense– we’ve got to have people who are really talented drawn to that field.

RICK KARR: People like these college undergraduates, who just might be able to save America’s corporations and governments from the bad-guy hackers: They’re students at Carnegie Mellon University, one of the nation’s top computer science schools …

The story line is now the opposite and black is not white. American people, and a lot of others worldwide, need saving from our corporations, the national security business and its corporate stooge-ism disguised as the preservation of freedoms.


MORE LATER…

01.22.14

Reviewed: Inequality for All

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 12:54 pm by George Smith

I just saw “Inequality for All,” Robert Reich’s documentary on the same. A crowdsource contributed copy, of course, obtained by a friend. Can’t afford to see these things in the Pasadena art house. The self-same fruit of inequality for all, y’know.

Do you know what a year at UC Berkeley costs, where much of “Inequality for All,” was shot, in front of Reich’s class on poverty and wealth?

$50,000 plus change if you’re out of state.

Not that much less if in.

Reich didn’t include this bit of data in his illustrative graphics and if you think it’s a cheap shot, it’s not.

It shows you what happened with one of the points Reich does make, the one showing how higher education slipped away from the middle class. The kids in Reich’s class are largely not from the people maimed and ruined by the relentless climb of inequality in this country although many may eventually become so. They’re the children of the 1 percent and their immediate servants a couple steps down, those who I like to say have “not yet been obsoleted” by our fine system.

However, when our now-our-eyes-are-wide-open explainers are talking about my social layer they conveniently neglect to mention plenty of us don’t need their acumen and eloquence to describe the situation to others. We’re quite capable of it ourselves.

It’s just that we don’t have the six and seven figure union cards.

“Inequality for All” is a fair to good documentary. I suspect it did not get the audience hoped for, released as it did just before the Republican Party shut down the US government.

Reich is a genial fellow and he uses the quality to good effect in explaining matters subject he knows very well. The country has had a forty to fifty year slump, a slump for everyone except the 1 percent who saw their riches get higher and higher and higher.

I’ve lived through it. So have this blog’s readers. There weren’t any good times.

The Clinton administration, where Reich served most famously, was no exception to the rule. It was the Clinton administration, with Congress and now regrettably too familiar financial wizards like Larry Summers and Robert Rubin, that undid banking regulation.

And this is one of the more interesting parts of “Inequality for All.”

Reich turns pensive and a little glum, admitting he knew what was happening but even as Secretary of Labor couldn’t get much done about it. The Clinton administration stopped listening. The campaign platform of “Putting People First,” was only a slogan. Graphs of inequality really begin to soar shortly after 1993. Did you see any of the good times?

In the Lehigh Valley, we all missed it. Manufacturing and middle class jobs continued to vanish after Ronald Reagan during the Clinton years. And Allentown turned into a slum. If you click that link you’ll find no evidence of any kind of populism during the Clinton administration.

Now everyone who isn’t in the top layer knows much of the story.

The wealthy had tax law rewritten to serve themselves at everyone else’s expense. Corporate America turned to straight tax evasion — now called profit shifting. The country de-industrialized for cheap labor overseas. Middle class pay was compressed. Workers were not allowed any share of their gains in productivity, all of it was taken for the top.

It generated what Reich calls “the vicious cycle.” Diminished pay equals less buying power. Less buying power equals less demand. Less demand idles industry and brings on more lay-offs. Lay-offs cause more decreases in spending power. And on and on…

The Rand-ian phrase “job creators,” the great American myth that only wealth makes the conditions for profitable work is trashed, as it has now been thousands of times in the last couple years. The country had the opportunity to choose the wealthy tycoon for president and passed. But nothing changes, the plutocrats and a rogue party have imposed paralysis.

Reich is gentle with the Republican Party, perhaps because he hoped for a wider audience.

Jeff Immelt of General Electric is briefly mentioned, along with President’s Obama’s ineffective corporate advisory committee on job creation. You will remember it was to laugh. The best Immelt, the head of the giant corporate tax evader, could come up with was encouraging more tourism and increasing low wage subsistence employment in the hospitality industries.

That was three years ago. Such advice. Wow. Very rich. Wonderful jobs.

For music, “Inequality for All” chooses Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five,” from the old movie of the same name. It’s to illustrate how even with women working in the family, jobs don’t pay enough any more.

Could you even watch that movie today? I doubt it.

I have better music for “Inequality for All,” as you know. “GE & Jeff (Taxavoidination)” for corporate titans like Immelt who cluelessly wondered on 60 Minutes why more Americans weren’t standing up to cheer his company.

And “Rich Man’s Burden,” a song for pitying billionaires, blessing their talent for taxing everyone below and creating so many opportunities to work and apply for food stamp programs.

Along with the National Anthem, these were part of my “documentary,” Tales from the Great Depression.


Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, business section:

“As business and political leaders gather in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the improving world economy, new evidence emerged about how much the rich have become richer — and how much further behind the poor are falling.

“The 85 richest people on earth now have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the global population, according to a report released Monday by the British humanitarian group, Oxfam International…

“Oxfam said the United States has led a worldwide growth in wealth concentration.

“The percentage of income held by the richest 1 percent in the US grew nearly 150 percent from 1980 through 2012. That small elite has received 95 percent of wealth created since 2009, after the financial crisis, which the bottom 90 percent of Americans have become poorer, Oxfam said.”

01.20.14

The Plutocrat Sociopaths who go off the range

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 1:42 pm by George Smith

The plutocrat sociopath is a common sight. Every now and then one of them pretends to go off the range, appearing on the opinion pages of the New York Times, or in some allegedly important documentary, anywhere high profile, to tell us all he or she has seen the corruption of their ways. Over the weekend it was someone named Sam Polk, in the pages of the old gray lady, to inform us the 1 percent are “wealth addicts,” raising inequality and ruining us all, and he knows this because he was one.

It set off the predictable “me-too” coverage. Over at Pine View Farm, Frank scoffs at the idea:

There’s another, much more descriptive term for “wealth addicts”: Pigs.

There’s another simple explanation to bookend it. Sam Polk, now that he’s fabulously wealthy, like a few others before him, is still of the Wall Street swine, just differently.

The idea, in landing on the pages of the nation’s marquee newspaper, is to get great publicity for something, further invitations and opportunities for the perspicacity of your thinking and doing, a book contract.

In 2012 it was Greg Smith, collaborating with the Times to tell us “Why [He Was] Leaving Goldman Sachs.”

And no sooner was the ink dry, Smith had a book contract with a $1.5 million dollar advance.

Two years later, the book — unsurprisingly — flopped. One reaction, from the New York Daily News:

That book — the unimaginatively titled “Why I Left Goldman Sachs” — is being published today, and it will deprive both Smith’s champions and detractors of the sort of outrage that now reigns supreme in America. In 265 pages, he delivers a less effective critique of the financial system than he had in 1,280 words …

Smith’s book is primarily remarkable for how unremarkable it is, a coming-of-age story by an investment banker with a Stanford degree who wore Brooks Brothers, drank beer and, once, found himself in a hot tub with a topless woman … His insight into the workings of the financial industry does not extend much beyond, “Sometimes Wall Street can be a little like high school.” Then again, so can much of adult life.

But Greg Smith did get his second pile.

Sam Polk’s NYT column is entitled “For the Love of Money,” and if that’s not a gift-wrapped invitation to the publishing industry I don’t know what is.

Polk:

IN my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million — and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough. I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted …

[A few paragraphs about great personal greed, power drinking and being a wrestler at Columbia that come off more like brags than soul-searching, skipped.]

I had recently finished Taylor Branch’s three-volume series on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, and the image of the Freedom Riders stepping out of their bus into an infuriated mob had seared itself into my mind. I’d told myself that if I’d been alive in the ‘60s, I would have been on that bus.

But I was lying to myself. There were plenty of injustices out there — rampant poverty, swelling prison populations, a sexual-assault epidemic, an obesity crisis. Not only was I not helping to fix any problems in the world, but I was profiting from them …

If nausea was provoked in reading the white millionaire’s invocation of MLK 24 hours before MLK Day in a piece on said white millionaire’s naked avarice and the 1 percent, don’t worry. This shows only that you’re still a decent and sane human being.

You can contrast Polk’s piece in the New York Times Sunday Opinion, where he’s propped up by all the editorial assistance money can buy, and an opinion piece that ran in the much more low-rent Orange Country Register a week earlier.

There he’s left more to his own skills and this is what he came up with:

Our nation is stress eating. The obesity crisis is a sign of widespread desperation.

Raging inequality is causing the majority of us to eat too much and also in a very shitty way. And that’s why the poor have this problem.

Sam Polk is thin and fit looking.

Having made his pile there is probably not much reason to stress eat cartons and cartons of junk food.

Polk’s OC Register piece, like his opinion for the New York Times, is well beyond intelligence-insulting.

Many people have written quite convincingly on the reasons obesity is frequently associated with poverty in America.

For example, a dry citation from authority:

Are poverty and obesity associated? Poverty rates and obesity were reviewed across 3,139 counties in the U.S. (2,6). In contrast to international trends, people in America who live in the most poverty-dense counties are those most prone to obesity (Fig. 1A). Counties with poverty rates of >35% have obesity rates 145%
greater than wealthy counties …

How is poverty linked to obesity? It has been suggested that individuals who live in impoverished regions have poor access to fresh food. Poverty-dense areas are oftentimes called “food deserts,” implying diminished access to fresh food (7). However, 43% of households with incomes below the poverty line ($21,756) are food insecure (uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, sufficient food) (7). Accordingly, 14% of U.S. counties have more than 1 in 5 individuals use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The county-wide utility of the program, as expected, correlates with county-wide poverty rates (r = 0.81) (7). Thus, in many poverty-dense regions, people are in hunger and unable to access affordable healthy food, even when funds avail. The double-edged sword of hunger and poor availability of healthy food is, however, unlikely to be the only reason as to why obesity tracks with poverty.

You should be more than sick of Sam Polk now.

The other high profile multi-millionaire in the I’ve-seen-the-horror Plutocrat’s Club is Nick Hanauer.

I recently watched Robert Reich’s Inequality for All documentary and Hanauer is all through it, the wealthy and wise-sounding man (venture capitalist, author, activist, philanthropist, true patriot and civic leader, according to his bio) delivering the same clarion call: Inequality is wrecking the country, the wealthy need to be taxed more, the people need to be paid more.

The documentary’s Hanauer bits are taken from his home. In the back of the shot, an acoustic guitar is tastefully set.

All I could think of when I saw these was to turn to my friend and tell him it would be nice to see the butt of the guitar shoved in Hanauer’s teeth mid-sentence.

Here are framing questions for this post: How many people maimed by the American economy have been given the marquee treatment by the big newsmedia for the sheer audaciousness of their thinking about our trying times? How many have benefited in the wallet from a big spread in the New York Times?

Rhetorical, obviously. In the Culture of Lickspittle there’s no benefit in that kind of thing.

01.16.14

Obamacare, finally (continued)

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, WhiteManistan at 3:30 pm by George Smith

Yesterday I went off to get a flu shot. It gave me the opportunity to see of my Medi-Cal health insurance was active, part of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion in California.

It was.

However, it did not cover the flu shot. Why? I went to the Ralphs supermarket to get the cheapest price at their pharmacy and was informed by their pharmacist that Medi-Cal requires recipients to be referred to a doctor’s office for the immunization.

I paid for it in cash. It was easier and relatively inexpensive. But I was still happy to be informed that I had the health insurance benefit.

This is a very big deal.

Why?

Because Obamacare and Covered California, the state run on-line exchange made it relatively easy.

It was not without glitch. From the start, Covered California was swamped by volume. This made it impossible to get someone on the phone if you had a question. And if you tried to get someone in on-line chat, also recommended by the site, that also proved problematical. Sheer numbers of people applying did it.

But I was able to enter all my information on the website and after analysis, Covered California determined I was eligible for Medi-Cal.

And behind the scenes wheels began to turn.

My materials were handed off to a state social services division in southern California, as well as one in Sacramento. At the beginning of January, I received my benefit card.

On Monday, I received notification that my policy had been active since January 1. It also informed that the card would follow.

As I have found, the order was reversed, the mail twisted up. But upon talking with another person, the experience was similar.

Although the enrollment and issuing of documents were not perfectly coordinated, it was accomplished, anyway. And it has convinced me there are people trying very had to make Obamacare in California work and work well.

It made me think again about the sheer malice of the Republican Party, a tribe that is attacking its own in red states, denying them health care millions of others will get across the border, all for mad hatred of the president, his national health care initiative and the poor.

You want to know the faces of evil? Just look at the GOP. Wishing ill of others and working to guarantee it are what they are.


For an example, take my old Pennsyltucky home. Pennsylvania voted for Obama over Romney, yet due to gerrymandered districts and it’s Tea Party governor, Tom Corbett, the state has been held hostage by the Republican Party.

The Allentown Morning Call newspaper published a recent article on Corbett’s plan to give health insurance to the poor. What it boils down to is trying to get around the Medicaid expansion of Obamacare by making their own program, one that involves turning health insurance for the bottom into a workfare program.

The Call:

Audience members at hearing are lukewarm to plan, which would establish possibly illegal work requirements on some Medicaid recipients

For the seventh and final time, Bev Mackereth took to a stage to tell a largely skeptical audience why her boss’ plan to reform and expand Medicaid to more poor Pennsylvanians was a better option than the one available to states under the federal Affordable Care Act …

The federal government has rejected other states’ requests to institute work requirements for Medicaid recipients.

The Corbett administration does not appear willing to alter its stance on requiring some Medicaid recipients to work at least 20 hours a week or show proof they are looking through work by logging on to a state website multiple times a year …

Requiring Medicaid recipients to send 72 job applications in six months appears onerous and unrealistic, said Richard S. Edley, president and CEO of Rehabilitation & Community Providers Association, a Harrisburg umbrella roup of mental health and addiction counselors.

Mackereth’s department has heard mixed reviews about the work requirement, she told the audience. But she said if children can get up and head to class each morning, adults should be able to go to work each morning, too.

Note the standard GOP insinuation that “the poor” have shitty values and habits. Work is just like school. You just have to get up in the morning and go to it and not be a gold-bricking moocher.

01.15.14

The Plutocrat’s Stratocaster (literally)

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Fiat money fear and loathers at 9:06 am by George Smith

Fifty seconds in.

Here is the listing.

Currently, you could buy it with 122 bitcoins.


Bitcoin flack, they all look and sound the same, a special breed from high-button tech WhiteManistan.

Wow. Very rich. Wonderful coin.

01.14.14

The Plutocrat’s Stratocaster

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Made in China, Rock 'n' Roll at 5:16 pm by George Smith

<em srcset=Now for plutocrats and their not-yet-obsolete shoe-shiners.” width=”365″ height=”210″ />

Now for plutocrats and their not-yet-obsolete shoe-shiners.

From the middle class to the upper class in a little over half a century. The de-evolution of the domestically-made electric guitar from a working class instrument to a snob buy primarily for the plutocrats, their immediate servant class and rock stars mirrors much in the calamity that is American inequality. Fender Musical Instruments didn’t cause it but the state of the company and its legendary products does show the systemic problem caused by the Great Recession and the crushing of the middle class.

The buying power of the American middle class took a big hit in 2007 and has never really recovered. Electric guitars and amplifiers are not an essential good. While American companies like Fender now employ the same manufacturing model as the iPhone — design in the United States and outsourcing of production to China or any other comparable low wage or slave labor country — guitars are not smartphones. They are not nearly as essential to young people, not even remotely as “must have.”

Leo Fender’s company was dependent on a healthy middle class as well as a lower class that could aspire to greater things in an economy where the majority could have employment at decent pay. That economy no longer exists.

Like everyone else, Fender followed the track of corporate American manufacturing. And it would be a little unfair, but only a little, to whack it for not realizing where that story could wind up.

Today Fender’s Mexico plant in Ensenada employs around 1,000. It’s Corona plant, here in southern California, approximately 600, according to various reports. Of these, fifty are employed in its Custom Shop, making ridiculously-priced snob pieces for famous musicians and the wealthy.

China now makes 70 percent of the world’s electric guitars, an American innovation. And Fender, like Apple, uses the model of employing an outside contractor in Asia to supervise and implement manufacturing of its low cost Squier line of relatively inexpensive lesser parts and cheap-manufacturing copies. It’s a business in which the guitar-making has disappeared into a warren of low cost Chinese or Indonesian industrial plants, manufacturing operations that house cheap production of multiple brands of electric guitars all under one roof, for whatever is needed.

However, even these instruments are not cheap enough anymore for the working class. And when your business was built upon the buying power of a healthy middle class, that means you have a long term, perhaps permanent, problem.

In 2012, Fender Musical Instruments attempted to go public. It then withdrew the plans for its IPO when the tea leaves were read and it was determined the capitalist market deemed the company over-valued under much of the same ratonale discussed on this blog.

“Though Fender remains the largest guitar-maker in the world and an iconic brand name, the market for guitars hasn’t been great,” reads a piece from Fortune. “The recent recession forced many people to reconsider purchasing luxury items such as electric guitars.”

Unintentional hilarity is provided by the assessment of a financial instruments man as at a wealth investment firm (pay attention because this guy’s going to show up again):

Jeffrey Bronchick, the chief investment officer at investment advisory firm Cove Street Capital, says the stock was overvalued. “It is a much more difficult business than what it was being sold as,” says Bronchick (who also plays guitar, on a Fender). “It was highly levered, there was a big question mark on growth and it was priced too high, which makes for a fairly toxic combination.”

The 1-percenters weren’t the market for the electric guitar in the United States and the west. Now, one can certainly make a product to sell to them, but they’re not enough to sustain the traditional business that one, historically, enjoyed.

Another way of putting it is to state that Fender, domestically anyway, has changed from the equivalent of making Ford Mustangs, a “sports car” just about anyone could hope to own in the Seventies, to Teslas, cars that are only for the top end. With the exception that there have really been no design changes worth noting in 60 years.

In 2009, Michael Hiltzik, a Los Angeles Times reporter did a puff piece on his tour of the Fender Corona plant.

Excerpted, it tells the story:

So it’s no accident that Fender’s $1,590 American Standard Stratocaster, the heart of the catalog, is made in Corona. And that’s not to speak of the models produced by Fender’s eight master builders, elite craftsmen who can spend anywhere from several days to several months building a guitar in the Custom Shop …

John Cruz showed me the replica he fashioned from Swedish guitar-virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen’s 1971 Stratocaster. It’s a heroic reproduction, down to the original’s cigarette burns and tooth marks, not to mention its strip of tape with the words “Play Loud” and electronics that achieve what Cruz called a “1-to-1 match” sonically.

Fender then turned out 100 replicas, sold for a list price of $12,500, to Malmsteen devotees — plainly a group that puts the “fan” into “fanatic” …

Many guitar experts believe Fender is today experiencing its golden age, but that doesn’t mean the firm is immune from economic woes. It cut back to one shift from two about a year ago, when the recession made $1,000-plus guitars look like dispensable luxuries. Executives say dealers have finally begun to report hazy indications of resurgent demand.

But it never really did turn around and in 2012 Fender could not go public.

It is not Apple, or Facebook, or SnapChat. And while I still think stratocaster and telecaster electric guitars are cool, the choices in “cool” things to have are now consumer electronics of the smaller, globally-networked kind.

Fender, as everyone else in the same business, could also do with average Americans having more money. But that’s not coming back soon. Instead, the current trend is much more worrying for American labor and its compensation.

A more recent story in the Sacramento Bee, another enthusiastic report on a factory tour, gets to another central point: Old guys who can still spend part of their pile, reliving their glory days.

Here:

“Being here today is like a dream come true,” said Francisco Felix, 60, of Philadelphia. “It took me 50 years to get here. I’m serious. I’m originally from Puerto Rico, and I’ve been in places where guitars are made. But it was like, wow, wouldn’t it be great to go to Fender guitars someday?”

“It’s a pilgrimage,” Fahey added. When his questioner looked at him quizzically, he elaborated: “Why am I here? Fender is huge. It’s the guitar maker. I’ve got a lot of people back home upset with me that I’m here and they’re not. It’s about coming home, seeing where the electric guitar pretty much started.”

Except it’s not. And Leo Fender, unfortunately, is long dead.

The American economic tragedy is also Fender’s. It’s everybody’s.


Any post about Fender Musical Instruments should include something about Guitar Center. These days, they share some corporate DNA.

From the New York Times, in 2012:

But this heart of rock isn’t beating quite the way it once did. Like many other American manufacturers, Fender is struggling to hold on to what it’s got in a tight economy. Sales and profits are down this year. A Strat, after all, is what economists call a consumer discretionary item — a nonessential.

More than macroeconomics, however, is at work here. Fender, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., is also being buffeted by powerful forces on Wall Street.

A private investment firm, Weston Presidio, controls nearly half of the company and has been looking for an exit. It pushed to take Fender public in March, to howls in the guitar-o-sphere that Fender was selling out. But, to Fender’s embarrassment, investors balked …


[The dilemma posed by making guitars for the plutocrat once again turns up like a bad penny in the guise of the familiar financial analyst. The rich man who has money to buy your firm’s guitars is of the class that kicked you to the curb on the IPO, ain’t it a bitch? And they don’t give a shit about inequality and what it means to companies like Fender and Guitar Center.]

“What possible niche is left unexploited by Fender?” asks Jeffrey Bronchick, founder of Cove Street Capital, an investment advisory firm in El Segundo, Calif., and the owner of some 40 guitars, including four Fenders.


Another big player on the American music scene, Guitar Center, has already had financial strains. Like Fender, Guitar Center, the world’s largest chain of instrument retailers, is also involved with private equity. It’s controlled by Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s old firm.

Analysts say Guitar Center is crucial to Fender, accounting for roughly a sixth of Fender’s sales — and the ties between the two run deep. Fender’s chief executive, Larry Thomas, used to be the chief of Guitar Center. He sold the company to Bain at the top of the market in 2007 for $2.1 billion, including debt.

Guitar Center has been losing money since.

I shop at Guitar Center. I bought picks and strings there just before Christmas, woo-woo! I like the employees and the company gets a rum deal from many, as a big box store, for perhaps not being the more personal artisan business they would like.

Those objections are rubbish, something from libertarian annoyances, people who believes all the crap they read in a Tom Friedman column about how everyone and everything average is now over, obsolete, suitable only for the trash heap unless it can be remade as globe-spanning suppliers of custom services and goods made only for the most discerning and worthy of customers.

The Great Recession hurt Guitar Center’s business. More importantly, like Fender, the great hollowing out of the middle class has meant bad things for both. Neither company can furnish an answer alone. It’s beyond their power. They are at the mercy of the American economic system.

Corporate America, the banks and Wall Street are doing fine. But can you run big businesses that depend on mass demand and the ability to pay from a middle class that’s being whittled away more and more every year?

Can you keep your traditional business in a world where the only buyers are investment advisors who have forty guitars squirreled away in their posh digs? That’s not a particularly attractive sole customer base for mass market music equipment. (Go ahead, click that link.)

Americans have to have jobs and those jobs have to pay more. A lot more, not part-time limping-along work, not minimum wage work, not jobs in which everyone qualifies for Medicaid health insurance, food stamps or the earned income tax credit.

Guitar Center didn’t make that world but they’re certainly part of it. A lot of their employees could use more spending money.

No one expects most musicians to make much. But not being greatly alarmed by the national way of making penury more universal because corporate America believes labor costs have always nowhere to go but down is a long-term still slowly unfolding disaster for many companies just like Fender and Guitar Center.


Here is a nuanced story on Guitar Center’s economic situation.

Here is a site devoted to employees who tried to unionize some Guitar Center stores.

Excerpt:

“We work at Guitar Center stores throughout New York City, and we love music and our jobs. But since Bain Capital bought the company, our commissions have been cut, and many of us barely make more than minimum wage or receive paid sick days or vacations.”


“But the Great Recession played havoc with the business model.” — USA Today, in a piece on Guitar Center, the day after Christmas.

01.13.14

JunkCoin world

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Fiat money fear and loathers at 4:42 pm by George Smith

Alternative digital currencies are a true nuisance fad, exercises by the libertarian nerd have-class with disposable income, all now for the furtherance of exploiting the greed and manias of their colleagues for Bitcoin-style instant wealth.

All of them characterized by growth in value based on nothing but the ideology of algorithm-amplified grasping. You have two flavors of them: Predatory devices in slow or fast-moving fraud, or jokes.

From Forbes:

The creators of at least 70 different altcoins took Bitcoin’s source code and tweaked it. They created BBQCoin and Coinye — much to Kanye West’s disapproval — and Dogecoin — based on a meme — and Stalwartbucks — as a journalistic exercise from Business Insider. The Washington Post’s Timothy Lee has a nice explainer on why people are creating these. Some are serious; some are not. But that’s the thing that makes people so skeptical about digital currencies: they’re pretty easy to create out of thin air …

The author goes on to state if you invested 100 dollars in LiteCoin last year, now it is worth $30,000. You then get the interview with its inventor, another ex-Google pest, Charlie Lee, and it has not made him rich … he says.

LiteCoin mining rigs are allegedly, let’s repeat — allegedly, supposed to not be as easy to turn into a hardware escalation battle as BitCoin mining rigs. Reviewing these pictures — it’s just more of the same — except on a slower time track.

More shifty “money” for tech-obsessed assholes with all the same deeply-ingrained character flaws as Bitcoin speculators/fans, now seventy currencies in libertarian JunkCoin world! Seventy. Can we soon expect an even hundred?

Satoshi Ponzimoto — best name, ever.

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