Friday, December 31, 2010

"The Flower Duet (Lakmé)" - Léo Delibes.

Audio - "The Flower Duet (Lakmé)" - Léo Delibes.

gurdjieff's mission

Video - Gurdjieff's Mission.

Video - Gurdjieff Chants Hymns and Dances.

in search of the miraculous

Video - In Search of the Miraculous Part 1.

Video - In Search of the Miraculous Part 2.

Video - In Search of the Miraculous Part 3.

Video - In Search of the Miraculous Part 4.

Video - In Search of the Miraculous Part 5.

A film directed by Zivko Nicolic, script adaptation by Milan Peters based on the 1949 book by P.D.Ouspensky. Sidney:Fairway Films in association with Znak Productions Belgrade, 1998, 42 min. black & white. Thoughtfully telescopes Ouspensky's book and glimpses of the teaching he received from Gurdjieff, interspersed with archival footage of the Russia Revolution.

glimpses of a fragment

Video - As above so below..a fusion of impressions celebrating great natures design from the sub atomic to the Galactic.

2011 will bring more decriminalization of elite financial fraud

HuffPo | The role of the criminal justice system with regard to financial fraud by elite bankers in 2011 is likely to reprise its role last decade -- de facto decriminalization. The Galleon investigation of insider trading at hedge funds will take much of the FBI's and the Department of Justice's (DOJ) focus.

The state attorneys general investigations of foreclosure fraud do focus on the major players such as the Bank of America (BoA), but they are unlikely to lead to criminal liability for any senior bank officials. It is most likely that they will lead to financial settlements that include new funding for loan modifications.

The FBI and the DOJ remain unlikely to prosecute the elite bank officers that ran the enormous "accounting control frauds" that drove the financial crisis. While over 1000 elites were convicted of felonies arising from the savings and loan (S&L) debacle, there are no convictions of controlling officers of the large nonprime lenders. The only indictment of controlling officers of a far smaller nonprime lender arose not from an investigation of the nonprime loans but rather from the lender's alleged efforts to defraud the federal government's TARP bailout program.

What has gone so catastrophically wrong with DOJ, and why has it continued so long? The fundamental flaw is that DOJ's senior leadership cannot conceive of elite bankers as criminals.

As the Huffington Post Investigative Fund's David Heath reports:
Benjamin Wagner, a U.S. Attorney who is actively prosecuting mortgage fraud cases in Sacramento, Calif., points out that banks lose money when a loan turns out to be fraudulent. An investor in loans who documents fraud can force a bank to buy the loan back. But convincing a jury that executives intended to make fraudulent loans, and thus should be held criminally responsible, may be too difficult of a hurdle for prosecutors. 'It doesn't make any sense to me that they would be deliberately defrauding themselves,' Wagner said."
Mr. Wagner is confused by his own pronouns: "It doesn't make any sense to me that they would be deliberately defrauding themselves." This direct quotation needs to be read in conjunction with the author's description of his position: "banks lose money" when loans "turn out to be fraudulent." Wagner was responding to a question about control fraud -- frauds led by the person controlling the seemingly legitimate entity who uses it as a "weapon." The relevant "they" is the person looting the bank -- the CEO. The word "themselves" refers not to the CEO, but rather to the bank. The CEO is not looting the CEO; he is looting the bank's creditors and shareholders. Two titles capture this well known fraud dynamic. The Nobel laureate in economics, George Akerlof, and Paul Romer co-authored >Looting: the Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit in 1993 and I wrote The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One (2005). The CEO becomes wealthy by looting the bank. He uses accounting as his ammunition because, to quote Akerlof & Romer, it is "a sure thing." The firm fails (or in the modern era, is bailed out), but the CEO walks away wealthy.

Here is the four-part recipe for maximizing fraudulent accounting income in the short-term:

1. Grow extremely rapidly
2. By making bad loans at high yields
3. While employing extreme leverage, and
4. Providing only minimal loss reserves

A bank that follows this recipe is mathematically guaranteed to report record income in the near term. The first two ingredients in the recipe are linked. A bank in a reasonably competitive, mature market such as home mortgage lending cannot decide to grow extremely rapidly by making good loans. A bank can, however, guarantee its ability to grow rapidly -- and charge a premium yield -- if it lends to the tens of millions of people who cannot afford to own a home. Equally importantly, if many lenders follow the same recipe they will cause a financial bubble to hyper-inflate. Financial bubbles extend the lives of accounting control frauds by making it simple to refinance loans to those who cannot afford to purchase the asset. The longer that delinquencies and defaults can be delayed the more the CEO can loot the bank.

Note that the same recipe that maximizes short-term fictional income in the near term maximizes real losses in the longer term. Mr. Wagner is unable to understand that accounting control fraud represents the ultimate "agency" problem -- the unfaithful agent (the CEO) enriches himself at the expense of the principals he is supposed to serve and the firm's creditors. Agency problems are well known to white-collar criminologists, economists, lawyers that practice corporate, securities, or criminal law, and financial regulators. Yes, accounting control fraud causes the bank to suffer huge losses. The loans don't "turn out to be fraudulent" -- they are fraudulent when made. The recognition of the losses is delayed when an epidemic of accounting control fraud hyper-inflates a bubble, but the bubble will increase the ultimate losses. Sacramento, California is one of the epicenters of the mortgage fraud that drove the financial crisis, so Mr. Wagner's lack of understanding of fraud mechanisms is particularly harmful.

what, me care?

Scientific American | Humans are unlikely to win the animal kingdom’s prize for fastest, strongest or largest, but we are world champions at understanding one another. This interpersonal prowess is fueled, at least in part, by empathy: our tendency to care about and share other people’s emotional experiences. Empathy is a cornerstone of human behavior and has long been considered innate. A forthcoming study, however, challenges this assumption by demonstrating that empathy levels have been declining over the past 30 years.

The research, led by Sara H. Konrath of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and published online in August in Personality and Social Psychology Review, found that college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the past 10 years. To make matters worse, during this same period students’ self-reported narcissism has reached new heights, according to research by Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University.

An individual’s empathy can be assessed in many ways, but one of the most popular is simply asking people what they think of themselves. The Interpersonal Reactivity Index, a well-known questionnaire, taps empathy by asking whether responders agree to statements such as “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me” and “I try to look at everybody’s side of a disagreement before I make a decision.” People vary a great deal in how empathic they consider themselves. Moreover, research confirms that the people who say they are empathic actually demonstrate empathy in discernible ways, ranging from mimicking others’ postures to helping people in need (for example, offering to take notes for a sick fellow student).

Since the creation of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index in 1979, tens of thousands of students have filled out this questionnaire while participating in studies examining everything from neural responses to others’ pain to levels of social conservatism. Konrath and her colleagues took advantage of this wealth of data by collating self-reported empathy scores of nearly 14,000 students. She then used a technique known as cross-temporal meta-analysis to measure whether scores have changed over the years. The results were startling: almost 75 percent of students today rate themselves as less empathic than the average student 30 years ago. Fist tap Dale.

america in decline: why germans think we're insane

Alternet | The European Union has a larger economy and more people than America does. Though it spends less -- right around 9 percent of GNP on medical, whereas we in the U.S. spend close to between 15 to 16 percent of GNP on medical -- the EU pretty much insures 100 percent of its population.

The U.S. has 59 million people medically uninsured; 132 million without dental insurance; 60 million without paid sick leave; 40 million on food stamps. Everybody in the European Union has cradle-to-grave access to universal medical and a dental plan by law. The law also requires paid sick leave; paid annual leave; paid maternity leave. When you realize all of that, it becomes easy to understand why many Europeans think America has gone insane.

Der Spiegel has run an interesting feature called "A Superpower in Decline," which attempts to explain to a German audience such odd phenomena as the rise of the Tea Party, without the hedging or attempts at "balance" found in mainstream U.S. media. On the Tea Parties:

Full of Hatred: "The Tea Party, that group of white, older voters who claim that they want their country back, is angry. Fox News host Glenn Beck, a recovering alcoholic who likens Obama to Adolf Hitler, is angry. Beck doesn't quite know what he wants to be -- maybe a politician, maybe president, maybe a preacher -- and he doesn't know what he wants to do, either, or least he hasn't come up with any specific ideas or plans. But he is full of hatred."

The piece continues with the sobering assessment that America’s actual unemployment rate isn’t really 10 percent, but close to 20 percent when we factor in the number of people who have stopped looking for work.

Some social scientists think that making sure large-scale crime or fascism never takes root in Europe again requires a taxpayer investment in a strong social safety net. Can we learn from Europe? Isn't it better to invest in a social safety net than in a large criminal justice system? (In America over 2 million people are incarcerated.)

Jobless Benefits That Never Run Out
Unlike here, in Germany jobless benefits never run out. Not only that -- as part of their social safety net, all job seekers continue to be medically insured, as are their families.

veterans confront grim employment landscape

WaPo | During the seven months that he was stationed in Iraq, Joe Janssen served as an assaultman, a job that involved manning the turret gun in a Humvee and using shoulder-fired rockets and other explosives to support his fellow Marines.

Those skills were invaluable in war. But they are of little use now that he is back home in Hauppauge, N.Y., a Long Island hamlet. He has applied for job after job since leaving active duty well over a year ago, but his efforts have proved futile.

The Marine reservist used his veterans benefits to finish his bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Now he is scouring for a job in law enforcement while he waits for his name to rise to the top of the New York state police hiring list - which is unlikely to be anytime soon, given the state's severe budget problems.

"I have a passion to be a cop," said Janssen, 23, a fitness buff who dabbles in mixed martial arts. "But no one is hiring."

Janssen's experience is common among the 2 million veterans of the long-running wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As they return home to the worst labor market in generations, the veterans who are publicly venerated for their patriotism and service are also having a harder time than most finding work, federal data show.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

the imminent collapse of industrial society - redux

Video - Fossil fuels have powered human growth and ingenuity for centuries.

CounterCurrents | The collapse of modern industrial society has 14 parts, each with a somewhat causal relationship to the next. (1) Fossil fuels, (2) metals, and (3) electricity are a tightly-knit group, and no industrial civilization can have one without the others. The decline in fossil-fuel production is the most critical aspect of the collapse, and most of the following text will be devoted to that topic. As those three disappear, (4) food and (5) fresh water become scarce; grain and wild fish supplies per capita have been declining for years, water tables are falling everywhere, rivers are not reaching the sea. Matters of infrastructure then follow: (6) transportation and (7) communication - no paved roads, no telephones, no computers. After that, the social structure begins to fail: (8) government, (9) education, and (10) the large-scale division of labor that makes complex technology possible.

After these 10 parts, however, there are four others that form a separate layer, in some respects more psychological or sociological. We might call these “the four Cs.” The first three are (11) crime, (12) cults, and (13) craziness - the breakdown of traditional law; the ascendance of dogmas based on superstition, ignorance, cruelty, and intolerance; the overall tendency toward anti-intellectualism; and the inability to distinguish mental health from mental illness. There is also a final and more general part that is (14) chaos, resulting in the pervasive sense that “nothing works any more.”

These are cascading dominoes; all parts of the collapse have more to do with causality than with chronology, although there is no great distinction to be made between the two. If we look at matters from a more purely chronological viewpoint, however, we can say that there is a clear division into two time periods, two phases. The first phase will be merely economic hardship, and the second will be entropy. In the first phase the major issues will be inflation, unemployment, and the stock market. The second phase will be characterized by the disappearance of money, law, and government. In more pragmatic terms, we can say that the second phase will begin when money is no longer accepted as a means of exchange. (We last took note of Peter Goodchild at the very end of 2007 writing about Dunbar's Number)

kutcher keepin it real...,

Video - Ashton Kutcher Killers trailer.

TorontoSun | Ashton Kutcher is getting toned and tough - so he can fend for himself and look after his family following an Armageddon-type crisis.

The movie star and producer, who is married to health nut Demi Moore, fears a major U.S. energy meltdown is nigh and he's trying to get superfit so he can deal with the chaos that will follow a blackout or worse.

Kutcher discovered combat training Krav Maga last year as he prepared to tone up for his role in Killers and now he's obsessed with running, Bikram yoga and Muay Thai fighting with the French national champion - and he insists he's committed to his extreme workouts, so he can dominate in desperate times.

The 32 year old tells Men's Fitness magazine, "It will not take much for people to hit the panic button. The amount of convenience that people rely on based on electricity alone. You start taking out electricity and satellites, and people are going to lose their noodle.

"And people are going to go, 'That land's not yours, prove that it's yours,' and the only thing you have to prove it's yours is on an electronic file... People's alarm systems at their homes will no longer work, Neither will our heating, our garbage disposals, hot-water heaters that run on gas but depend on electricity.

"What happens when all our modern conveniences fail? I'm going to be ready to take myself and my family to a safe place where they don't have to worry... All of my physical fitness regimen is completely tailored around the end... I stay fit for no other reason than to save the people I care about."

And he admits he tasted what life could be like after a major national or international calamity when he, Moore and her kids were left without power for 14 hours at their mountain cabin last Christmas.

He adds, "I got my guns out. We made a fire. We went to the grocery store... People were rolling in and out, clearing out all the shelves... It was like a preview."

american cities that are running out of people

24/7WallSt. | The population of the United States has increased steadily by roughly 2.5 million people every year since World War II. Throughout prosperity and hard times, Americans continue to have families. Many of the country’s regions have expanded to accommodate this population increase. Some cities have grown faster than others as the result of being at the center of some important new technology or job market. Others have lost residents because of failing industries and migration. Nevertheless, some of these cities have continued to grow slowly, or at least remain relatively stagnant, buoyed by the rising tide of the national population.

There are some cities, however, which have experienced such severe hardship and decline that their populations have actually decreased significantly. New Orleans has lost more than a quarter of its population in the past ten years as the result of Hurricane Katrina. The rest of the cities that have lost major parts of their population have seen their flagship industries which include coal, steel, oil, and auto-related manufacturing fall off or completely collapse. America moved away from its status as an industrial superpower in the second half of the 20th century as the services sector rose to replace it. Millions of US manufacturing jobs have moved overseas. Cities such as Rochester, Cleveland and Buffalo declined in population because they were trade hubs, and new modes of transportation removed their geographical dominance. Cities like Flint, Michigan have economies based on a single major industry. In Flint’s case, that industry is auto manufacturing. When that industry began to decline, Flint was unable to diversify to prevent a population exodus.

All of the cities on this list experienced at least one of these devastating problems which have caused tens of thousands, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of its residents to leave the region for other jobs and other homes. While it has been the primary focus of these cities to create new sources of employment for their residents, it may be years before people return, if they do at all.

Unfortunately, the populations of most of the cities on this list continue to decline and the situation could get worse for years. This loss of residents has caused severe drops in the social services that many of these cities can provide. Property and other taxes have fallen so much that the support that residents of other cities take for granted is at risk in the municipalities on this list. There is no longer any guarantee that they can maintain police and fire departments at reasonable levels. Some of these cities cannot continue to manage large neighborhoods which have become almost deserted as residents have left unoccupied homes behind. Home vacancy rates tell a great deal about how much a city’s population has dropped.

24/7 obtained its population data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Division. Housing Vacancy came from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. This is a list of the seven American cities that have lost the most people in the past decade.

systemic collapse

Video - Preparing and survival in the city.

Countercurrents | Systemic collapse, societal collapse, the coming dark age, the great transformation, the coming crash, the post-industrial age, the long emergency, socioeconomic collapse, the die-off, the tribulation, the coming anarchy, perhaps even resource wars (to the extent that this is not an oxymoron, since wars themselves require resources) ― there are many names, and they do not all correspond to exactly the same thing, but there is a widespread belief that something immense and ominous is happening. Unlike those of the Aquarian Age, the heralds of this new era often have impressive academic credentials: they include scientists, engineers, and historians. The serious beginnings of the concept can be found in Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Population, Resources, Environment (1970); Donella H. Meadows et al., The Limits to Growth (1972); and William R. Catton, Jr., Overshoot (1980). What all the overlapping theories have in common can be seen in the titles of those three books.

Oil depletion is the most critical aspect in the systemic collapse of modern civilization, but altogether this collapse has about 10 principal parts, each with a vaguely causal relationship to the next. Oil, metals, and electricity are a tightly-knit group, as we shall see, and no industrial civilization can have one without the others. As those 3 disappear, food and fresh water become scarce (fish and grain supplies per capita have been declining for years, water tables are falling everywhere, rivers are not reaching the sea). These 5 can largely be considered as resource depletion, and the converse of resource depletion is environmental destruction. Disruption of ecosystems in turn leads to epidemics. Matters of infrastructure then follow: transportation and communication. Social structure is next to fail: without roads and telephones, there can be no government, no education, no large-scale division of labor. After the above 10 aspects of systemic collapse, there is another layer, in some respects more psychological or sociological, that we might call “the 4 Cs.” The first 3 are crime (war and crime will be indistinguishable, as Robert D. Kaplan explains), cults, and craziness — the breakdown of traditional law, the tendency toward anti-intellectualism, the inability to distinguish mental health from mental illness. After that there is a more general one that is simple chaos, which results in the pervasive sense that “nothing works any more.”

Systemic collapse, in turn, has one overwhelming cause: world overpopulation. All of the flash-in-the-pan ideas that are presented as solutions to the modern dilemma — solar power, ethanol, hybrid cars, desalination, permaculture — have value only as desperate attempts to solve an underlying problem that has never been addressed in a more direct manner. American foreign aid, however, has always included only trivial amounts for family planning; the most powerful country in the world has done very little to solve the biggest problem in the world.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2011 - a brave new dystopia?

TruthDig | The political philosopher Sheldon Wolin uses the term “inverted totalitarianism” in his book “Democracy Incorporated” to describe our political system. It is a term that would make sense to Huxley. In inverted totalitarianism, the sophisticated technologies of corporate control, intimidation and mass manipulation, which far surpass those employed by previous totalitarian states, are effectively masked by the glitter, noise and abundance of a consumer society. Political participation and civil liberties are gradually surrendered. The corporation state, hiding behind the smokescreen of the public relations industry, the entertainment industry and the tawdry materialism of a consumer society, devours us from the inside out. It owes no allegiance to us or the nation. It feasts upon our carcass.

The corporate state does not find its expression in a demagogue or charismatic leader. It is defined by the anonymity and facelessness of the corporation. Corporations, who hire attractive spokespeople like Barack Obama, control the uses of science, technology, education and mass communication. They control the messages in movies and television. And, as in “Brave New World,” they use these tools of communication to bolster tyranny. Our systems of mass communication, as Wolin writes, “block out, eliminate whatever might introduce qualification, ambiguity, or dialogue, anything that might weaken or complicate the holistic force of their creation, to its total impression.”

The result is a monochromatic system of information. Celebrity courtiers, masquerading as journalists, experts and specialists, identify our problems and patiently explain the parameters. All those who argue outside the imposed parameters are dismissed as irrelevant cranks, extremists or members of a radical left. Prescient social critics, from Ralph Nader to Noam Chomsky, are banished. Acceptable opinions have a range of A to B. The culture, under the tutelage of these corporate courtiers, becomes, as Huxley noted, a world of cheerful conformity, as well as an endless and finally fatal optimism. We busy ourselves buying products that promise to change our lives, make us more beautiful, confident or successful as we are steadily stripped of rights, money and influence. All messages we receive through these systems of communication, whether on the nightly news or talk shows like “Oprah,” promise a brighter, happier tomorrow. And this, as Wolin points out, is “the same ideology that invites corporate executives to exaggerate profits and conceal losses, but always with a sunny face.” We have been entranced, as Wolin writes, by “continuous technological advances” that “encourage elaborate fantasies of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, actions measured in nanoseconds: a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility, whose denizens are prone to fantasies because the vast majority have imagination but little scientific knowledge.”

Our manufacturing base has been dismantled. Speculators and swindlers have looted the U.S. Treasury and stolen billions from small shareholders who had set aside money for retirement or college. Civil liberties, including habeas corpus and protection from warrantless wiretapping, have been taken away. Basic services, including public education and health care, have been handed over to the corporations to exploit for profit. The few who raise voices of dissent, who refuse to engage in the corporate happy talk, are derided by the corporate establishment as freaks.

The façade is crumbling. And as more and more people realize that they have been used and robbed, we will move swiftly from Huxley’s “Brave New World” to Orwell’s “1984.” The public, at some point, will have to face some very unpleasant truths. The good-paying jobs are not coming back. The largest deficits in human history mean that we are trapped in a debt peonage system that will be used by the corporate state to eradicate the last vestiges of social protection for citizens, including Social Security. The state has devolved from a capitalist democracy to neo-feudalism. And when these truths become apparent, anger will replace the corporate-imposed cheerful conformity. The bleakness of our post-industrial pockets, where some 40 million Americans live in a state of poverty and tens of millions in a category called “near poverty,” coupled with the lack of credit to save families from foreclosures, bank repossessions and bankruptcy from medical bills, means that inverted totalitarianism will no longer work.

the moment of convulsion?

Video - Pt.2 of the VLOG Bros. recap of the French Revolution.

Kunstler | A little ways off the curb on the Boulevard Henry IV here in Paris, you can see the memory of the Bastille outlined by a course of masonry in the pavement, in particular one of the bulbous towers of the old fortress-prison. It marks one of those threshold moments in history when things got out-of-hand - in the late afternoon of July 14, 1789 - and by the time a mob had detached the head of Warden Bernard-René de Launey from his shoulders and paraded it around on a pike, everyone in the city knew that they had crossed into the politically unknown frontier of Revolution.

Seeing this residue of history put me in mind of a riddle that one of my college professors presented to us one day years ago: why did Achilles drag Hector around the city of Troy three times? We came up with dozens of reasons ranging from conjectures out of the text of The Iliad to lame bits of Hippie numerology, but nobody could furnish the answer that the prof was looking for, which was eventually revealed: Because he [Achilles] was just that pissed off.

This was the idea that dogged me in the winter twilight of Paris late on Christmas Day as I pondered the fate of my own country back across the cold cold sea. A lot of Americans are beaten down and discouraged these days. They've lost not only jobs, incomes, and houses, but also a sense of purpose, and perhaps faith in the essential fairness of the American venture - as the propane runs out, and families try to subsist on Froot Loops, and the re-po squad turns up to haul away the Ford F-150 Raptor. Meanwhile, in their last remaining refuge from harsh reality, TV, they glimpse the likes of Jamie Dimon, Chloe Kardashian, and Jay-Z emerging from limousines looking hopelessly bored with wealth beyond imagination.

When will the folks out there move from shame and despondency to being really pissed off about the disposition of things?

Isn't that a question, though?

the working poor

EconomicCollapse | As the middle class in America continues to be slowly wiped out, the number of working poor continues to increase. Today, nearly one out of every three families in the United States is considered to be "low income". Millions of American families are finding that they can barely make it from month to month even with both parents working as hard as they possibly can. Blue collar American workers from coast to coast are having their wages decreased at a time when it seems like the cost of virtually every monthly bill is going up. Unfortunately, there is every indication that things are only going to get worse and that average American families are going to be financially squeezed even more in the months and years to come.

The Working Poor Families Project has just released their policy brief for the winter of 2010-11. What they have discovered is that the number of working poor in the United States is higher than they have ever seen it before and it continues to increase at a staggering pace. The following are some of the key findings for 2009 that were pulled right out of their report....

* There were more than 10 million low-income working families in the United States, an increase of nearly a quarter million from the previous year.

* Forty-five million people, including 22 million children, lived in low-income working families, an increase of 1.7 million people from 2008.

* Forty-three percent of working families with at least one minority parent were low income, nearly twice the proportion of white working families (22 percent).

* Income inequality continued to grow with the richest 20 percent of working families taking home 47 percent of all income and earning 10 times that of low-income working families.

* More than half of the U.S. labor force (55 percent) has “suffered a spell of unemployment, a cut in pay, a reduction in hours or have become involuntary part-time workers” since the recession began in December 2007.

Unfortunately, things are not going to be getting any better for the working poor. In the new "one world economy" that our politicians keep insisting is so good for us, millions upon millions of American workers now find that they have to compete for work with laborers on the other side of the globe that are willing to work for slave labor wages. This is causing millions of jobs to leave the United States and it is forcing wages down.

Millions of Americans now find that they are making substantially less than they used to. If that has happened to you, perhaps you can take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Or perhaps it is not that comforting. In any event, American workers are not just competing with each other anymore. Now there is the constant threat that all the jobs could just be sent overseas.

As wages are forced down, a record number of working Americans are finding themselves forced to turn to food stamps and to other government anti-poverty programs. Millions of Americans have been forced to take part-time jobs in order to supplement their incomes. Millions of others have been forced to take part-time jobs because that is all they can find.

number of uninsured americans soars to over 50 million..,

HuffPo | Less than a year ago, Francis Campos-Dunn was still working at a county hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area, helping patients navigate the often-maddening bureaucracy required to draw on their health insurance. These days, she has a new set of problems to navigate: how to manage her own care without any insurance of her own, having slipped into an unfortunate but fast-growing slice of the population--Americans who have lost their jobs and now lack health coverage.

Back when she was still working, Campos-Dunn, 42, earned $4,000 a month, enough to make her co-payments for regular medical care. These days, she depends on $300 a month contributions from her 16-year-old son--money he earns at a part-time job--just to pay to the rent. When a recent seizure left her with two broken teeth, she skipped the required treatment and opted to have the teeth pulled instead, because she lacked the funds--a choice that would have previously seemed unthinkable.

As the Great Recession has sown unemployment and downgraded work even for those people who have held on to their jobs, the number of Americans lacking healthcare has swelled beyond 50 million, according to a sobering new report from the Kaiser Foundation.

Among the report's most troubling findings: The number of Americans without any health care coverage grew by more than four million in 2009. That left almost one-fifth of non-elderly people uninsured. Among those between 19 and 29 years old, nearly one-third lacked coverage.

The study underscores the degree to which the recession has accelerated the loss of basic elements once viewed as inextricable pieces of a middle class life. The number of Americans lacking medical coverage now exceeds the population of Spain.

Nearly all Americans over 65 are insured by Medicare, the government-run health care plan, but those beneath that age are increasingly vulnerable to losing health care once provided by their employers or finding themselves unable to afford private coverage, according to the report, "The Uninsured: A Primer."

As those lacking health insurance grow in number, so do those missing out on necessary medical attention. About one-in-four uninsured adults have forgone care in the past year because of costs, compared to only 4 percent of those who have private coverage, according to the report.

Those lacking health coverage are vulnerable to what has become a commonplace financial calamity: confronting a medical emergency, and having to pay for care entirely out of pocket. This year, 27% of uninsured adults used up most or all of their savings paying medical bills, according to the study. Half of these uninsured households had total assets of $600 or less.

u.s. changes how it measures long-term unemployment

USAToday | So many Americans have been jobless for so long that the government is changing how it records long-term unemployment.

Citing what it calls "an unprecedented rise" in long-term unemployment, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), beginning Saturday, will raise from two years to five years the upper limit on how long someone can be listed as having been jobless.

The move could help economists better measure the severity of the nation's prolonged economic downturn.

The change is a sign that bureau officials "are afraid that a cap of two years may be 'understating the true average duration' — but they won't know by how much until they raise the upper limit," says Linda Barrington, an economist who directs the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Likening recessionary unemployment spikes in recent decades to a storm at sea, she says, "The waves are getting higher, and we want to understand the intricacies of how they're made up."

The change involves the form used for the bureau's Current Population Survey, based on interviews with thousands of the unemployed. Currently, no matter how much longer than two years someone has been out of work, the form allows interviewers to check off only "99 weeks or over." Starting next month, jobless stints of "260 weeks and over" can be selected on the response form.

"The BLS doesn't make such changes lightly," Barrington says. Stacey Standish, a bureau assistant press officer, says the two-year limit has been used for 33 years.

A two-year limit hampers economists' ability to compare this recession's effect on the job market with another severe one in the early 1980s, Barrington says.

Although "this feels like something we've not experienced" since the Great Depression, she says, economists need more information to be sure.

The change will not affect how the unemployed are counted or the unemployment rate is computed nor how long those eligible for unemployment benefits receive them. Analysts call the move a sign of the times.

"We realize more and more people are unemployed longer than 99 weeks, so we need to break it down further," Standish says.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

it couldn't have happened to a better audit firm...,

RollingStone | The short version of what happened goes something like this. Lehman Brothers, like all the other big banks on Wall Street in those years, was nearing insolvency and desperate for cash. In advance of its quarterly reports in 2007, the firm executed a series of something called Repo 105 transactions in an attempt to make their balance sheet look healthier than it was.

These Repo 105 transactions are just loans that Ernst and Young and Lehman Brothers conspired to book as revenue from sales. If I go to you and I ask you to lend me a hundred bucks to pay for Knicks tickets, that’s a loan, and you and I and the SEC and every investor on Wall Street all know I’m in debt to you, that I owe you a hundred bucks.

Here’s how Lehman Brothers paid for their Knicks tickets: a week before the game, they went to you and offered to you “sell” you their worthless puke-stained lava lamp for a hundred bucks, with the understanding that two days after the Knicks game, it would come back and “buy” the lamp back for the same $100 (plus a small commission for your trouble). And when Lehman pocketed that $100 from the initial transaction, they decided to call that not borrowing but a true sale, i.e. they booked that hundred bucks as revenue from an honest sale of a worthless piece-of-shit lava lamp.

In 2007 and 2008 Lehman would do this before the end of every quarter. They would "sell" billions of dollars of assets, typically bonds, to various companies, and use that money to pay down debt before the quarter’s end, so that they didn’t look so flat-ass broke to investors. Then, a week or so after the end of the quarter, they would go out and borrow more money, and then "buy" the assets back. The reasons they did this were myriad, but in most cases the assets they were "selling" were depressed in value at the time and could not have been sold at anything like face value had they really gone out on the market and tried. So instead of really "selling" these items on their balance sheet, they worked together with other companies to jury-rig these “repurchase” agreements that looked like sales but were actually loans.

Lehman was doing massive amounts of these deals every quarter. In the second quarter of 2008, they lightened up their balance sheets with $50 billion worth of Repo agreements. This technique, apparently known as "window dressing," isn’t that much different conceptually from the Enron-style book-doctoring that used "independent" special purpose vehicles to hide liabilities. In this case Lehman didn’t use shell companies but instead scattered its dent in the financial atmosphere by booking loans as sales. Ernst and Young, which made over $100 million in fees between 2001 and 2008 working with Lehman, aided the process by signing off on Lehman’s crazy accounting. In the report by bankruptcy examiner Anton Valukas that came out last March, he describes how Ernst and Young threw up a brilliant "We’re not corrupt, we’re just incredibly stupid" defense when confronted with the question of the $50 billion in Repo 105s in the second quarter of 2008.

who is buying stocks and keeping the market bubble inflated?

Video - Charles Biderman on Maria Bartiromo truthing in the wee hours.

ZeroHedge | Due to time constraints, what I didn’t get to address on CNBC today is what will happen after the Fed is either successful or not successful with QE2. The Fed is rigging the market by digitally creating money that is used to buy financial institutions assets — currently Treasuries, last year all kinds of toxic waste. What will happen when the Fed stops buying assets?

What the Fed is hoping is that QE2 actually works and the economy starts growing at 3+%. If that happens, unlikely as it is, then the Fed will end its QE activities. But for the stock market, if the only source of buying power, the Fed, withdraws its support, the market is likely to plunge to well below fair value. At that point perhaps some new source of money , i.e., China, et al will be able to buy US assets on the cheap.

The Fed is legally mandated to manage the economy, not the stock market. If the Fed’s QE is successful and the trickle down impact of higher equities creates a sustainable recovery, the Fed will gladly sacrifice the stock market to its legal mandate to manage the economy.

A more likely outcome is that while stocks will be higher by the end of QE2, economic growth will not be sustainable without government aid. That would then require additional QE. Stock prices could then keep rising for a while. At some unknowable now moment in time, unless the economy starts to grow again, no amount of QE can work forever in keeping the current stock market bubble from bursting.

michigan town pleading for bankruptcy

NYTimes | Leaders of this city met for more than seven hours on a Saturday not long ago, searching for something to cut from a budget that has already been cut, over and over.

This time they slashed money for boarding up abandoned houses — aside from circumstances like vagrants or obvious rats, said William J. Cooper, the city manager. They shrank money for trimming trees and cutting grass on hundreds of lots that have been left to the city. And Mr. Cooper is hoping that predictions of a ferocious snow season prove false; once state road money runs out, the city has set nothing aside to plow streets.

“We can make it until March 1 — maybe,” Mr. Cooper said of Hamtramck’s ability to pay its bills. Beyond that? The political leaders of this old working-class city almost surrounded by Detroit are pleading with the state to let them declare bankruptcy, a desperate move the state is not even willing to admit as an option under the current circumstances.

“The state is concerned that if they say yes to one, if that door is opened, they’ll have 30 more cities right behind us,” Mr. Cooper said, as flurries fell outside his City Hall window. “But anything else is just a stop gap. We’re going to continue to pursue bankruptcy until the door is shut, locked, barricaded, bolted.”

Bankruptcy, increasingly common among corporations and individuals, remains rare for municipalities. Local leaders who want to win elections find it unappealing and often have other choices for solving financial woes. Besides, states have a say in whether a municipality may pursue bankruptcy at all, and they have every reason to avoid such an outcome, not least of all for fear of a creating a ripple effect that could cripple the municipal bond market and drive up the cost of borrowing.

Yet with anemic property tax revenues and forecasts of more dire financial times ahead, some experts and elected leaders fear that more localities may have to at least consider bankruptcy.

“There could be many cities in this position next year,” said Summer Hallwood Minnick, director of state affairs for the Michigan Municipal League, who added that in this state, cities had already struggled with billions less than expected in state revenue sharing. “All our communities have done is cut, cut, cut. They’re down to four-day workweeks and the elimination of parks, senior centers, all of that. So if there’s anything else that happens, they will be over the edge.”

This month, the authorities in Rhode Island said the City of Central Falls could face bankruptcy if immediate, drastic changes — perhaps the city’s annexation into a neighboring municipality — failed. Some leaders in Harrisburg, Pa., which owes millions in debt payments tied to an incinerator project, say bankruptcy may eventually be the only choice.

Prichard, Ala., which stopped paying monthly checks to retired city workers when its pension fund ran out last year, is appealing a bankruptcy judge’s ruling that it did not qualify for Chapter 9 under Alabama law.

Monday, December 27, 2010

lady t - r.i.p.

the fully-informed jury association

LATimes | Last year in Illinois, which has no medical marijuana law, Vietnam veteran Loren Swift, who says he uses marijuana to relieve pain and post-traumatic stress, was charged in LaSalle County after police found 25 pounds of marijuana and 50 pounds of marijuana plants in his home. He was acquitted after only two hours of jury deliberations.

"Some of the jurors got up and they started hugging the guy," said Peter Siena, the deputy prosecutor who tried the case.

"It's becoming an increasing problem. People just don't seem to care about marijuana cases anymore," said Brian Towne, the LaSalle County prosecuting attorney.

The issue is ripe in Montana, which is home to the headquarters of the Fully Informed Jury Assn., a national group that encourages jurors to nullify laws they believe are unjust.

Jury nullification never became an issue in the Missoula drug case; there was never a jury. While Deschamps was wrestling with what to do during a recess, the defendant, Touray Cornell, agreed to accept a conviction on a felony count of distribution of his one-sixteenth of an ounce of dangerous drugs. He was sentenced to 20 years, with 19 years suspended to run concurrently with the sentence on another conviction for conspiring to stage a set-up robbery at a casino.

The prosecutor, Andrew Paul, declined to discuss the case, except to say that Cornell's neighbors had been "complaining about his brazen drug dealing."

"The jury of course knew none of that stuff," Deschamps said. "What they knew was some guy here was charged with criminal sale of a very small amount of marijuana. Were they going to hang him for that?"

The judge, a former prosecutor, said he voted for Montana's medical marijuana initiative in 2004, which has become highly controversial in part because its beneficiaries have become so numerous: More than 12,000 residents hold cards entitling them to use the drug for sometimes doubtful medicinal purposes.

"My personal view, I think for the most part we should legalize marijuana and be done with it. Because I think it's created way more havoc and trouble than it's worth," Deschamps said. "But when you get some guy [like Cornell] that just comes and rubs it in your face.…"

the looming crisis in the states

NYTimes | For most of this year, the state of Illinois has lacked the money to pay its bills. Some of its employees have been evicted from their offices for nonpayment of rent, social service groups have laid off hundreds of workers while waiting for checks, pharmacies have closed for lack of Medicaid payments. Faced with $4.5 billion in overdue payments, Illinois has proposed a precarious plan to sell its delinquent bills to Wall Street investors in exchange for cash, calculating that the interest it must pay the investors will be less than the late fees it owes.

It is no way to run the nation’s fifth largest state, and it is not even clear that investors will agree, but these kinds of shaky deals are likely to become increasingly common as the states try to cope with the greatest fiscal drought since the Great Depression. Starved for revenue and accustomed to decades of overspending, many states have been overwhelmed. They are facing shortfalls of $140 billion next year. Even before the downturn, states jeopardized their futures by accumulating trillions in debt that they swept into some far-off future.

But that future is not so distant, and the crushing debt has made recovery far more difficult to achieve. As The Times reported, Illinois, California and several other states are at increasing risk of being the first states to default since the 1930s. The city of Prichard, Ala., has stopped sending out its pension checks, breaking state law and shocking its employees.

A state or city unable to make its bond payments would send harmful ripples through the financial system that could cause damage even to healthier governments. But if states act quickly to deal with their revenue losses and address their debt — and receive sufficient aid from Washington — there is still time to avoid a crisis.

The most immediate cause of the states’ problems is the decline in tax revenue caused by the downturn, just as the demand for services has increased.

Over the last two years, combined sales, personal and corporate taxes have fallen by more than 10 percent. Although revenue is likely to tick up slightly in 2011, federal stimulus money — which has been keeping many states afloat — is largely scheduled to expire. Renewing a portion of that aid would be one of the most effective ways to assist the economy.

the plight of the highschool homeless

WaPo | During the first days Landis Brewer spent homeless, he maintained a facade of suburban comfort at South County High School, where the all-district running back with the easy smile was the image of teenage aplomb.

But when he left campus, that veneer disappeared. Brewer, 18, slept at a bus stop in Reston and kept his belongings in a garbage bag hidden behind a bush. After his grades started slipping and a teacher caught him dozing off in class, the ugly story tumbled out.

Homelessness had come as a swift, unforgiving series of blows. First, his parents, whose marriage had imploded, disappeared. A few days later, Brewer came home from school to an eviction notice posted on the front door.

Suddenly, he was one of a growing number of teens without parents, guardians or reliable shelter in one of America's richest communities. Fairfax, one of only two counties in the nation with median household incomes above $100,000, counts nearly 2,000 homeless students in its school division - about 200 of whom are, like Brewer, "unaccompanied." The latter figure is twice what the comparable figure was two years ago, a surge reflected nationally as the faltering economy has undermined many families.

The rise has coincided with newly aggressive initiatives by school districts, including Fairfax, that increasingly are getting involved in ensuring their students are not only taught and fed but also housed.

Friday, December 24, 2010

fannie and freddie foreclosure FAIL!!!

WaPo | As the housing market came crashing down in 2008, the giant mortgage company Fannie Mae took an unprecedented step to help tackle the rising tide of foreclosures. It named an exclusive group of law firms that would help rapidly carry out the unsavory task of filing legal paperwork to remove homeowners from their homes.

Today, problems with documents handled by firms on Fannie's list - and a similar one created by its smaller rival Freddie Mac - are at the heart of federal and state probes over faulty foreclosure practices that now threaten to further undermine the housing market.

Fannie and Freddie, the largest mortgage companies, shaped the practices being challenged in courtrooms around the country. They picked law firms that could foreclose fast and paid them based on how many foreclosures they could process. Speed was essential because delays cost the companies money - and, after they were taken over by the government two years ago, meant losses for taxpayers, too.

Not only did the companies urge swift foreclosures, but in at least one case Fannie executives also greenlighted working with a firm that they knew firsthand had engaged in legally questionable practices, according to documents and interviews with lawyers and industry officials.

That firm was the Law Offices of David J. Stern in Florida, which built a hundred-million-dollar-plus business foreclosing on the tens of thousands of borrowers who lost their homes in the housing crash.

In 2000, the Fannie executive responsible for overseeing outside law firms in Florida was questioned about Stern's firm in connection with a class-action lawsuit alleging it had charged borrowers bogus fees based on fraudulent paperwork.

In a deposition, Susan Reid, an associate general counsel who oversaw Stern's firm for Fannie until two months ago, was asked by a lawyer representing borrowers why her company hired law firms such as Stern's to handle foreclosures.

"We felt that timelines and the time it took to foreclose on a piece of property . . . could be improved," she responded. She explained that with "every month" that passed, "we're losing money."

Did Fannie, she was then asked, have any safeguards to ensure that law firms, rushing to foreclosure, followed the law? "I don't know of any policies and procedures," she answered.

To the contrary: Fannie and Freddie over the years have prodded law firms and mortgage servicers that collect payments to move even faster.

When law firms or servicers have taken too long to foreclose, Fannie and Freddie have threatened to charge them a penalty fee, according to industry sources and documents. And every few months, the two mortgage companies have sent servicers report cards ranking them on how rapidly they completed foreclosures compared with their peers.

Sharga Says Decline in Home Foreclosures Won't Continue
Uploaded by Bloomberg. - Up-to-the minute news videos.

WaPo | Since the meltdown in the housing market began more than three years ago, Maryland and the District have changed their foreclosure laws to give borrowers greater protection. Virginia has moved in the opposite direction.

Last year, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a law making it easier for lenders to defend themselves when accused of giving homeowners too little warning of impending foreclosures.

The process moves so quickly in Virginia - one of the fastest states in the nation - that homeowners can receive less than two weeks' notice that their house is about to be sold on the courthouse steps.

That confronts homeowners with an almost impossible deadline. To get a court to stop the sale in that narrow window, they must gather evidence, file a lawsuit and potentially post a bond with the court that could total thousands of dollars. Instead of trying to find a lawyer and prepare a suit, many borrowers run out the clock trying to deal with their lender.

At a time when lenders have been cutting corners and using phony documents to seize huge numbers of houses, the hurdles can be insurmountable, according to lawyers, consumer advocates and borrowers who have tried to save their homes.

"There's no question that people are losing their homes when they should not be," said James W. "Jay" Speer, executive director of the Virginia Poverty Law Center, which is part of a legal-aid network.

In many states, homeowners facing foreclosure automatically get a day in court, a chance to tell a judge why they should keep their homes. The judicial process provides at least a modest check on error and abuse.

But in Virginia and 28 other states, as well as the District, according to the RealtyTrac foreclosure information service, borrowers have no such luck. They face "nonjudicial" foreclosure processes, meaning lenders can foreclose without going through the courts.

garden state foreclosure freeze?

NYTimes | Six lenders that together have filed nearly 30,000 foreclosure actions in New Jersey this year face the possible suspension of such operations next month. The possible suspension came under a court order announced on Monday by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, Stuart J. Rabner.

The action follows a report submitted to the Supreme Court that, citing depositions and court filings in other states, paints a picture of systemic abuses in the filing of foreclosures that include so-called robo-signing, in which employees signed hundreds of documents without checking them for accuracy.

The lenders were ordered to appear on Jan. 19 to demonstrate why the state should not suspend their foreclosure actions. They are Ally Financial, formerly GMAC; BAC Home Loan Servicing, a subsidiary of Bank of America; Chase Home Finance, part of JPMorgan Chase; OneWest; Wells Fargo Financial New Jersey; and CitiResidential Living, a subsidiary of Citibank.

“It’s important that the judiciary ensures judges are not rubber-stamping documents that may not be reliable,” Judge Rabner said on a conference call.

Wells Fargo plans to fight the move, a spokesman said. Representatives for the other banks either declined to comment or could not be reached.

no foreclosure representation in cali

NYTimes | In California, where foreclosures are more abundant than in any other state, homeowners trying to win a loan modification have always had a tough time.

Now they face yet another obstacle: hiring a lawyer.

Sharon Bell, a retiree who lives in Laguna Niguel, southeast of Los Angeles, needs a modification to keep her home. She says she is scared of her bank and its plentiful resources, so much so that she cannot even open its certified letters inquiring where her mortgage payments may be. Yet the half-dozen lawyers she has called have refused to represent her.

“They said they couldn’t help,” said Ms. Bell, 63. “But I’ve got to find help, because I’m dying every day.”

Lawyers throughout California say they have no choice but to reject clients like Ms. Bell because of a new state law that sharply restricts how they can be paid. Under the measure, passed overwhelmingly by the State Legislature and backed by the state bar association, lawyers who work on loan modifications cannot receive any money until the work is complete. The bar association says that under the law, clients cannot put retainers in trust accounts.

The law, which has few parallels in other states, was devised to eliminate swindles in which modification firms made promises about what their lawyers could do, charged hefty fees and then disappeared. But foreclosure specialists say there has been an unintended consequence: the honest lawyers can no longer afford to assist Ms. Bell and all the others who feel helpless before lenders that they see as elusive, unyielding and skilled at losing paperwork.

The revelations three months ago that large banks were sloppy and negligent in preparing foreclosure documents underscore just how important it is for distressed homeowners to have representation, lawyers and consumer advocates say. Homeowners whose cases were handled improperly have little way of knowing it. Even if they found out, they would be hard-pressed to challenge a lender without a lawyer.

“Consumers just don’t know what is going on,” said Walter Hackett, a former banker who is now a lawyer for a nonprofit service in Riverside. “They get a piece of paper saying they are going to lose their homes and they freak out.”

prichard is the future

NYTimes | This struggling small city on the outskirts of Mobile was warned for years that if it did nothing, its pension fund would run out of money by 2009. Right on schedule, its fund ran dry.

Then Prichard did something that pension experts say they have never seen before: it stopped sending monthly pension checks to its 150 retired workers, breaking a state law requiring it to pay its promised retirement benefits in full.

Since then, Nettie Banks, 68, a retired Prichard police and fire dispatcher, has filed for bankruptcy. Alfred Arnold, a 66-year-old retired fire captain, has gone back to work as a shopping mall security guard to try to keep his house. Eddie Ragland, 59, a retired police captain, accepted help from colleagues, bake sales and collection jars after he was shot by a robber, leaving him badly wounded and unable to get to his new job as a police officer at the regional airport.

Far worse was the retired fire marshal who died in June. Like many of the others, he was too young to collect Social Security. “When they found him, he had no electricity and no running water in his house,” said David Anders, 58, a retired district fire chief. “He was a proud enough man that he wouldn’t accept help.”

The situation in Prichard is extremely unusual — the city has sought bankruptcy protection twice — but it proves that the unthinkable can, in fact, sometimes happen. And it stands as a warning to cities like Philadelphia and states like Illinois, whose pension funds are under great strain: if nothing changes, the money eventually does run out, and when that happens, misery and turmoil follow.

It is not just the pensioners who suffer when a pension fund runs dry. If a city tried to follow the law and pay its pensioners with money from its annual operating budget, it would probably have to adopt large tax increases, or make huge service cuts, to come up with the money.

Current city workers could find themselves paying into a pension plan that will not be there for their own retirements. In Prichard, some older workers have delayed retiring, since they cannot afford to give up their paychecks if no pension checks will follow. Fist tap Nana.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

a society far and above anything else on earth....,

Video - Celebration of conservative American values People as Property.

WaPo | "Dixie," that emotionally freighted and much-debated anthem of the old Confederacy, starts soft when it's done right, barely above a whisper. But each sotto voce syllable of the opening verse, each feather-light scrape of the fiddle strings, could be heard without straining when the ladies in the hoop skirts and the men in the frock coats rose in reverence to celebrate the 150th anniversary of South Carolina's secession.
"We are very proud of who we are," said Chip Limehouse, a South Carolina legislator who rented a historically accurate suit and vest for the formal ball celebrating the anniversary. "This is in our DNA."

Great-great-great-granddad fought the Yankees, lost his plantation, was bathed in glory, the men and women at the ball like to say. They're proud of their ancestors, they declare, and that's why they paid $100 apiece to take part in an event touted as a "joyous night of music, dancing, food and drink."

John B. Hines, a wealthy Texas oilman and cattle rancher, helped, too. He sent a $5,000 sponsorship for the affair because he loves the Old South: "They created a society far and above anything else on Earth." As for the NAACP demonstrators outside, Hines said, their arguments are "nonsense. The NAACP's just hard up for a reason to bitch at people."
Outside Charleston's bulky concrete municipal auditorium, on an unseasonably chilly Southern night, some of the men and women in a crowd of about 100 were thinking about their own ancestors: slaves who picked the cotton for the forebears and allies of the men and women inside. "Disgusting," the Rev. Joseph A. Darby, vice president of the local NAACP chapter, said of the event inside.

On the street, they lifted protest signs; inside, they lifted drinks with names like "Rebel Yell." The stubborn inside-outside faceoff that throttled this jewel of a Southern city on Monday night hints at dramas to come, an unending series of Civil War anniversaries stretching from secession and the firing on Fort Sumter to the laying down of arms at Appomattox. For the next 41/2 years - the span of the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history - Americans black and white will have ample opportunities to wrestle with delicate, almost-impossible-to-resolve questions of legacy and history, of what to commemorate and what to condemn.

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union, but the commemoration will be followed by similar events in other states - parades and balls and speeches and plaques. The anniversaries will press current politicians to tiptoe through minefields of nuance. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley called the Secession Ball "unfortunate" and "the opposite of unifying," but several big-name lawmakers not only attended, but donned costumes to do so.