Sunday, June 26, 2016


I've been traveling to conferences over the past two weeks (and the next), and should be back on a regular blogging schedule at the beginning of July. Still, since the political tribalism we are now witnessing will be a key theme in my next book, it's important for me to comment on the British decision to leave the European Union (Brexit).

Let's start with this: The Brexit decision makes it clear the paranoid and xenophobic mentality that has gripped America's political right, and brought us Donald Trump, is not confined to the USA.

Britain just proved that concerns over stagnating wages, economic uncertainty, widening wealth gaps, and the simmering disgust over the inability (and unwillingness) of western governments to punish or tame the financial wildcats that brought us the 2008 market meltdown are real and - most importantly - can be exploited by the tinfoil hat crowd for political gain.

What we are witnessing is the revival of a political tribalism driven by paranoia and ignorance.

What's disappointing here is that some of the points made by the supporters of Brexit are legitimate. The argument that countries like Britain are giving up their democracy and sovereignty to big banks and big business is real, and should be taken seriously. In fact, one of Britain's biggest and most articulate supporters of Brexit, Nigel Farage, has a long history of going after European leaders for being lackeys of Goldman Sachs.

And he has a point.

As I've pointed out before, while Greece (for example) is in trouble there is also little doubt Greece has become something of a debtors colony because of fraud and deception. This has been made possible by collusion between what Nigel Farage calls "big business" and "big bureaucrats" from the EU.

The fact that the world's largest financial institutions not only caused the market crash of 2008 - and the subsequent recession we're still paying for - and then reaped tremendous profits in the process is both a slap in the face to democratic principles and morally appalling to most observers. These sentiments are what's being manipulated by the hate mongers and the political serpents on the right.

There's more, but I have a presentation to give in a few hours. I'll be following up on this story, hopefully this week.

But know this: As I've pointed out before, history is whispering in our ear, and Brexit can either be a canary in the mine - and a warning we all heed - or another tin foil hat for the soldiers of ignorance and xenophobia around the world ...

- Mark

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

MID-WEEK READING (June 22, 2016)

A young Lee Kuan Yew reading.

Compare these gun death rates: The U.S. is in a different world (NY Times).

Chinese students climb 2,500-foot bamboo ladder to get home from school (NBC News).

This is why Bakersfield can't have nice things (Bakersfield Californian).

Things are thriving in the "modern hooker economy" (Zero Hedge).

Here's why TESLA is a giant Ponzi scheme (Sure Money / Michael Lewitt).

During the next crisis, entire countries will go bust (Zero Hedge).

Foreigners selling U.S. equities at record pace (Ritholtz).

EU breaking up? Brexit's first 100 days promise chaos, fear, damage limitation (Bloomberg).

The European Union is the worst choice apart from the alternative (Truthout).

If you think American stocks are safe from Brexit ... think again (Money Morning / Shah Gilani).

The paradox of the Congo: How the world's wealthiest country became home to the world's poorest people (Think Progress).

This country is a powder keg and its leader's holding the match (Ozy).

12 fringe conspiracies embraced by a man who might be the next president (Think Progress).

Megyn Kelly blasts Donald Trump for remarks about Hispanic judge (NY Magazine).

Yes, Donald Trump told drought-stricken Californians there's no drought (Think Progress).

Trump's campaign now has less money than many congressional campaigns (Truthout).

How Donald Trump will shape future presidential primaries (Ozy).

Ex-Stanford swimmer gets six months in jail and probation for sexual assault (The Guardian).

Former football star Brian Banks, who served five years in prison for rape he didn't commit, disgusted by Brock Turner ruling (NY Daily News).

The Powerful Letter the Stanford Victim Read Aloud to Her Attacker (BuzzFeed News).

Congress approves plan to allow pension cuts (CNN Money).

"This is going to be a national crisis" - One of the largest U.S. pension funds set to cut retiree benefits (Zero Hedge).

The war on workers' compensation (Truthout).

Guess the country from the outline (Offbeat).

Koch front groups are defending ExxonMobils anti-science campaign (Greenpeace).

China spends more on infrastructure than the U.S. and Europe combined (Bloomberg).

Is this the prescription for America's drug problem (Ozy).

- Mark

Sunday, June 19, 2016


I'm not sure where inheriting $200 million or filing for bankruptcy 4 times - both of which Donald Trump has accomplished - is on our skill-luck continuum below. Still, I'm reasonably confident Donald Trump's "inheritance-bankruptcy filing" business skill-set would fall somewhere between the stock market analyst and the gambling junkie skill-luck continuum, at best.

Then again, inheriting a ton of money and getting away with stiffing your creditors might actually put you to the right of the evolutionary continuum.

Either way, it's clear that Donald Trump adds nothing to America's evolutionary or market gene pool. The same can be said for the political tribe that plans on voting for him.

- Mark

Thursday, June 16, 2016


I've discussed the issues associated with trusting your hard earned retirement money with "financial advisors" before. It's not always pretty (or honest). This "Retirement Plans" clip by Last Week Tonight host John Oliver is both spot on and hilarious ...

- Mark


Stephen Colbert goes after Donald Trump's post-Orlando lunacy with some creative commentary, and a nice diagram ...

On another (not entirely unpredictable) note, Donald Trump's unfavorable ratings are now at an all time high. Check out the numbers in this Washington Post piece.

- Mark 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Jonathan Kozol & Dolores Huerta after his May 11 talk at CSUB

The academic year here at CSU Bakersfield has come to an end and I find myself thinking of the events and programs that we sponsored. Of these, Jonathan Kozol's May 11th "21st Century Inequalities in American Education" presentation at the Walter W. Stiern Library stands out.

Drawing on his long history of pointing to the separate but (still) unequal educational conditions in America, Mr. Kozol took a look at California's southern San Joaquin Valley and found that many of the same characteristics that created the education gaps that exist in America's inner cities can also be found in Kern County, California.

Rather than discussing how Black America has been left behind in America's system of "educational apartheid" - a hallmark of his earlier works - Kozol highlighted the educational challenges that first-generation Mexicans and the rural poor find in Kern County, which lies at the most southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley.

It's interesting to note that before his May 11th talk Jonathan Kozol visited the communities of Lamont and Arvin, small rural Kern County towns where over 90 percent of the the population are either Latino, poor, or dependent on agriculture - the dominant industry in the region. The next day Kozol spoke about the educational obstacles for children in the area. Here he explained how the vast majority of region's children are locked out of preschool education opportunities. This reality is compounded as the children get older by challenges like poverty, undrinkable water (in Arvin), and fewer Advanced Placement (AP) classes when they get to high school.

It was during Kozol's discussion of these conditions that we begin to see how the educational divide, that starts as a large crack before Kindergarten, becomes a chasm by the time the children of these communities are preparing to enter college.

After listening to him speak at CSU Bakersfield it's easy to understand why Jonathan Kozol received the National Book Award for Death at an Early Age, the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Rachel and Her Children, and countless other awards for his books, which include Savage Inequalities. Simply put, Jonathan Kozol is one of the few scholars of America's system of education who can explain its intricacies while painting with a broad brush. His Bakersfield audience was left wanting more.

We're looking forward to inviting Jonathan Kozol to California State University Bakersfield for a longer stint in the future. And, yes, we're working on how we can do this over the summer.

- Mark

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Here are 4 reasons why we need common sense gun control, with some Ronald Reagan-inspired insights in numbers 2-4 ...

1. WE'RE NO LONGER BACKWOODS FRONTIERSMEN: From Rolling Stone magazine we get one of the best reasons why we need to stop paying attention to the NRA terrorists who claim the 2nd amendment applies to modern weapons in the modern world ...

... the Second Amendment was written by slaveholders before we had electricity, much less the kind of weaponry that would-be murderers can buy today. But sure, if you think it's that precious, we can compromise: If you love the Second Amendment that much, feel free to live in a powdered wig and shit in a chamberpot while trying to survive off what you can kill with an 18th century musket. In exchange, let those of us living in this century pass some laws so we can feel safe going to class, or the movies, or anywhere without worrying that some maladjusted man will try to get his revenge by raining death on random strangers.

To help buoy the point made here, let's take another look at this graphic example of how our world has changed ...


2. REAGAN SUPPORTED AN ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN?: Back in 1989 Ronald Reagan effectively called for a ban on assault weapons ...

3. REAGAN SUPPORTED GUN CONTROL TOO?: With the support of the NRA Governor Reagan repealed open carry laws in California when he signed the Mulford Act in 1967. To be sure, the law was aimed at the Black Panthers (you be the judge on that one), but the fact remains Ronald Reagan made it clear that gun control in America can happen. 

4. GOOD GUY WITH A GUN?: Then we have the reality behind the "good guy with a gun" argument ...

Let's also keep this in mind: Since 9/11 white right-wing terrorists have killed twice as many Americans as radical Islamists. Why aren't we talking about this?  

Some afternoon reading; below are three good discussion articles that cover guns in America ...
Washington Post: "What 'arms' looked like when the 2nd Amendment was written."

Rolling Stone: "4 pro-gun arguments we're sick of hearing." 

Snopes: "Harvard Flaw Review: No, a Harvard University Study did not prove that areas with higher rates of gun ownership have lower crime rates." 

- Mark 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Friday, June 10, 2016


I don't know if there are enough adjectives to explain the level of buffoonery Donald Trump brings to the presidential stage. If he ever acquires real power, any one who crosses him is not safe ... 


This talk given by Senator Elizabeth Warren helps explain what's wrong with Donald Trump (and the GOP), and why she would make a great VP pick ...

- Mark

Hat tip to Leonel and Tove for the links. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


It's primary night again. For those of you in the Kern County region, I will be on KGET 17 tonight (5 pm) discussing the primaries with the 17 News Team and Republican Cathy Abernathy. It should be fun, as usual.

I'll try and post a link of our discussion later in the evening.

Also, let's keep in mind that while the pundits and major networks have already called the Democratic nomination for Hillary, the fact of the matter is if Hillary and Bernie split the 694 delegates up for grabs today (again, leaving out the Superdelegates who don't vote until the national convention) Hillary Clinton still does not have enough delegates to sew up the nomination. 

In fact, Hillary can win 2/3 of the total delegate count today (458 delegates) and she will still not have enough from the long primary season to sew up the nomination (she has 1812, and needs 2,382 to win). Specifically, she will be more than a 100 delegates shy of the nomination.

The only way Hillary becomes the "presumptive nominee" after today is if the media simply gifts the Democratic Superdelegates to her, as some of the major networks have done already.

The problem with this gift - apart from the blatant bias - is that many "Hillary Delegates" have made it clear they might not support her if they are not convinced she can win in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, where she's in a tight race with Donald Trump (Sanders is far ahead of Trump in those 3 states).

What this means is that Hillary Clinton needs a convincing win today in California, plus knock out wins in the remaining states, to lock up the nomination. While this is a possibility, it is by no means a done deal. 

We'll be discussing this, and more, on tonight's program.

- Mark

Monday, June 6, 2016


In my classes, and in my book, I discuss financialization and wealth extraction. The key is understanding how legal contracts and legal obligations get bought and sold, with little reference to whether productive wealth is created, or if a service is actually provided. Nearly always the focus is on market players (in this case "debt buyers") unnecessarily sucking wealth from others, in the process creating a market culture more akin to vulture capitalism than anything else. 

From the Washington Post, we get this incredible John Oliver story that explains how the wealth extraction process happens, and how simple it is to stop it ...


John Oliver is known for demystifying complicated issues to get his “Last Week Tonight” audience riled up. He’s explained major problems with credit reports and the bizarrely undemocratic side of primaries and caucuses. In that way, last night’s episode devoted to debt buyers wasn’t all that different. He started out, in his entertainingly enraged way, by explaining how banks sell debt to other business for pennies on the dollar. Those companies have little knowledge of those owing money, but they can be terrifyingly predatory, taking advantage of consumers’ fear of legal action. Some of these debts are erroneous; some are “zombie debts” that have already been paid. And yet, debt collectors will persist, even employing dirty tactics to get cash.
But Oliver did more than educate last night. He explained to his viewers that he undertook the surprisingly easy task of starting a debt buying company, Central Asset Recovery Professional, Inc. — “or CARP, for the bottom-feeding fish,” he explained. No sooner had he set up a CARP web site, but another debt buyer was offering to sell Oliver nearly $15 million worth of medical debt for less than $60,000.
So CARP bought the debt of nearly 9,000 people — just so Oliver could forgive it. According to the host, this is the largest one-time giveaway ever on television, beating out Oprah Winfrey’s famous “you get a car! You get a car!” episode, which cost that show $8 million.
“Are you ready to make television history?” Oliver asked his excited studio audience.
“Tonight, at my signal, with the power vested in me as chairman of the board of CARP, they will commence the debt-forgiving process,” he explained. Then he walked over to a stage with a couple of massive spinning gold dollar signs and a big red button.
“F— you, Oprah!” Oliver shouted, then hit the button.

You can watch John Oliver's "Debt Buyers" program here ...

- Mark 


Have you ever wondered why printing so much money to bailout Wall Street after the 2008 market collapse is problem? In a few words, like any addict, it's made Wall Street and rest of the world dependent on the U.S. continuously pumping cheap money into the economy. When the supply begins to dry up things begin to unravel for everyone.

The story below should help you understand. It's not pretty ...


The essence of this story is built around easy money, pegged currency rates, and national panic over the threat of a forced devaluation. I know, I know, boring! Simply put, most Americans have no clue what any of this means, or why it matters. Recognizing this, what's presented below is an allegory of what's been happening in Saudi Arabia, and how U.S. easy money policies have helped put Saudi Arabia in a financial mess that's forced them to ban speculation on their currency, the Riyal.

Remember, what's presented below is a conceptual metaphor. There are a lot of loose ends, but the goal is not to over think the issue.

Imagine that we live in a world where negotiators from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia get together and eat every day. The U.S. brings meat and beer, while the Saudis bring couscous and falafel. This happens every day for decades, especially after 1973. Every day 100 people show up from the U.S. side and 100 people show up from the Saudi side. The 200 people eat together every day.

Some days 120 will show up from each side, some days even more. It doesn't matter because there's an agreement that each side will always bring enough to feed each other's group - and then some.

One day, however, the U.S. stops bringing enough food for 200 people. The U.S. now brings only enough meat and beer for 40. Since we're not bringing enough meat and beer to feed 200 people we feel guilty and only bring 40 people to our daily feast.

Initially, the Saudis don't care because they don't actually consume much of the meat or beer. They've been hoarding it so they can use it to trade with others, especially the Germans and Japanese who give them BMWs and stereos for their meat and beer. However, the Saudis are accustomed to producing enough couscous and falafel to feed the 100 people in their group, plus the 100 people the U.S. usually brought to the feast.

The Saudis can't really trade their couscous and falafel because other nations - but especially the Germans - don't much care for couscous or falafel. So the Saudis are now confronted with the situation where they have too much couscous and falafel on their hands. Their cup runneth over with couscous and falafel. They're going to have to cut back.

But if they cut back the couscous and falafel producers are going to be dissatisfied because they have less business. They're going to have to either reduce production and/or reduce prices in the hope that they sell more. The former will eventually lead to scarcity, while the latter will lead to less money for the producers.

Oh, and the Saudis can no longer plan on trading for or buying stereos or BMWs from the Germans and Japanese in the future.


What I've described above is what's happening to the Saudi currency, the riyal. What was once a straight conversion/trade of U.S. dollars and Riyals (represented by meat and beer being being equal to couscous and falafel) has been disrupted because the U.S. has stopped bringing as much to the table as they once did (represented by the price of petroleum collapsing). The Saudis, who built their entire economy around an expected transaction now have to cut back because they no longer receive what they used to get.

In the real world the Saudis are so accustomed to producing as many riyals as necessary to match the amount of U.S. dollars the U.S. brought to the table. They are now confronted with a dilemma caused by collapsed oil prices, and fewer dollars: Do they ignore fewer U.S. dollars coming in, and continue printing their currency at the rate they have in the past? Or do the Saudis reduce the amount of riyals they print, in the process maintaining the "par value" of their currency?

The first option invites speculators to bet on the eventual collapse or devaluation of the riyal, while the second invites economic slowdown.

In all cases, the Saudis are starting to panic, and have banned speculation on the riyal.

But wait, there's another problem. And it involves the U.S.

With fewer dollars the Saudis - and other OPEC producers - may find it more and more difficult to continue lending us money (through the purchase of U.S. Treasury Bonds). This would make it more difficult for us to continue spending like drunken sailors.

Here's yet another issue to consider. Because the U.S. continues to pump out dollars, under the aegis of Quantitative Easing (among others), we have been reducing the value of the dollar others are holding around the world. At some point the Saudis, and others, might begin to believe that voluntarily tethering their currency to an ever expanding, and devalued, U.S. dollar no longer brings benefits (think Charles de Gaulle's "exorbitant privilege").

If this happens, who's going to be in trouble then? Let me give you a hint: You and me.

The story described here is actually a bit more technical, and somewhat more complex. For those who like getting into issues built around currencies and forced devaluations, you can read about the Saudis decision to ban speculation on the Riyal in this Zero Hedge piece.

- Mark

Saturday, June 4, 2016


This past week in Bakersfield our summer began. It was our first week with regular 100°F days. It's really kicking in to gear today, with an expected 107-109°F (about 42° C). If you're not from the region, this is what it feels like when it begins ...

In case you don't recognize or remember the pictured references, they're from The Twilight Zone, episode #75, "The Midnight Sun."

- Mark

Friday, June 3, 2016


Muhammad Ali passed away today.

What we should all remember is that Muhammad Ali wasn't the greatest simply because of his boxing skills. What elevated Ali above his contemporaries was his concern, and the actions he took, over world events and issues tied to civil rights in America. He opposed the Vietnam War, was arrested for refusing to be drafted, and on June 20, 1967 was convicted in Houston of draft evasion. Ali was stripped of his boxing title and had his boxing license suspended. 

By sacrificing his title in the name of a larger cause, Ali was also breathing life into one of his most famous quotes:

What people often forget is that Ali did not fight again for nearly four years after his conviction - during his prime boxing years - losing millions in the process. For his refusal to be drafted Muhammad Ali was both condemned and exalted in America. Ali said at the time:
Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here..... If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn't have to draft me, I'd join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what? We've been in jail for 400 years.

- Mark

FYI, this is reworked from an earlier post on Ali.


I didn't know we had a day for this. One of my colleagues brought it to my attention this morning. Apparently, today is National Doughnut Day, which makes me think of Homer Simpson.

In the spirit of National Doughnut Day it's only appropriate we think of joining Homer Simpson, and find a place where they offer free doughnuts (Fortune's list here), or where it's raining doughnuts ...

<p>Ironic endings run rampant through the Halloween episodes, but this is one of the best. After fiddling with history, Homer bounces from world to world trying to find a timeline closest to his own. He finally hits “the jackpot,” only to find that the universe where the Simpsons are fabulously wealthy and Patty and Selma are dead has no donuts. He quickly escapes, not realizing that it literally rains donuts there.<br /><br /><i>(Credit: Fox)</i> </p>

I know, I know ... there are more important things going on around the world. It's just that I finally finished grading over 150 papers and exams late last night (a five day process), and I desperately needed this kind of distraction.

OK, now back to reality ...

- Mark

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


On this date in 1926 Marilyn Monroe (aka Norma Jean) was born. 

The untold story behind Saudi Arabia's 41-year U.S. debt secret (Bloomberg).

Dying GOP senator apologizes to Muslims for Donald Trump (The Daily Beast).

Michigan pastor who railed against same-sex marriage resigns after being caught seeking men on Grindr (Raw Story).

9 things many Americans just don't grasp (Alternet).

Is this the worst Congress ever (The Atlantic)?

The secret history of Super Delegates (In These Times).

Candidates who backed the Oregon militia overwhelmingly voted out (Rolling Stone).

House erupts in chaos after LGBT vote (Politico).

Forget Sykes-Picot. It's the Treaty of Sevres that explains the modern Middle East (Foreign Policy)

The secret pact that became a scapegoat for all of the Middle East's problems (Houston Chronicle).

Venezuela is falling apart (The Atlantic).

There has never been a country that should have been so rich but ended up this poor (Washington Post).

California outpacing U.S. on job growth, unemployment falls to 5.3% (LA Times).

California received $3.2 billion in taxes from those in the country illegally (KPBS).

Germany had so much renewable energy on Sunday that it had to pay people to use electricity (Quartz).

Portugal runs for four days straight on renewable energy alone (The Guardian).

This could explain one of the biggest mysteries of cheap oil (Huffington Post).

Pieper and Henderson: 10 reasons you can't be a Christian and vote for Donald Trump (Dallas Morning News).

These Ellis Island documents reveal a surprising truth about Donald Trump's immigrant mother (Fusion).

Donald Trump humiliates himself by getting the Constitution wrong on Meet the Press (Politics USA).

What's the 'most dangerous place on earth'? Donald Trump says it could be Oakland or Ferguson, Mo. He's wrong (Miami Herald).

White high school football players in Idaho charged with sexually assaulting black, disabled teammate with a coat hanger (Washington Post).

'Get off the stage!' crowd yells at commencement speaker after she uses Spanish, mentions Trump (Washington Post).

'That is unbelievable': Bernie Sanders shocked by [Arvin] California's water woes, compares crisis to Flint's (Alternet).

Court papers, attorney hint at widespread Bakersfield police corruption (Kern Golden Empire).

Second former BPD detective accepts plea (Bakersfield Californian).

15 things Americans would know if there were a 'liberal media' (Alternet).

Major study finds the U.S. is an oligarchy (Business Insider).

This cartoon explains how the rich got rich and the poor got poor (Vox).

Fracking's total environmental impact is staggering, report finds (Think Progress).

- Mark