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Commentary :: Politics
An Illusionary USA
02 Jul 2014
more at www.freembtranslations.net, www.nextnewdeal.net, www.foreffectivegov.org, www.onthecommons.org, www.therealnews.com, www.worklessparty.org, www.alternativetrademandate.org and www.submedia.tv
Norman Birnbaum (born July 21, 1926) is an American sociologist. He is an emeritus professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, and a member of the editorial board of The Nation. He was educated in New York City's public schools, at Williams College, and has a doctorate in sociology from Harvard University. He has taught at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Oxford University, the University of Strasbourg, Amherst College, and served on the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research.

to read his "An Illusionary USA," click on

http://www.nachdenkseiten.de/upload/pdf/140701_eglische_fassung_norman_b
See also:
http://www.progressive-economics.ca
http://www.buzzflash.com
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The Myth of America's Golden Age by Joseph Stiglitz
02 Jul 2014
http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/the-myth-of-americas-golden-age-108013_full.html?print#.U7SnY1emU1I
Ooh Las Vegas - Field Notes From a Mirage
04 Jul 2014
Le-reve-1932.jpg
The scientists say
It will all wash away
But we don’t believe any more
Cause we’ve got our recruits
And our green mohair suits
So please show your I.D. at the door

– “Sin City,” Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman

The sidewalk is so hot the soles of shoes are melting, leaving faint footprint traces on the concrete. On this late June afternoon, the air temperature is 112 degrees in Las Vegas and considerably hotter down in the mirrored chasm of the Strip.

The merciless heat works its spell, luring the hordes into the cool labyrinths of the casinos, where even Ariadne could get lost amid the flashing neon, the hypnotic swells of electronica, the eerie moans of the losers at the tables.

Inside is right where they want you. That’s where your pockets get picked on high-tech slots (the funniest machine: KISS; the creepiest: the Joker, featuring video of Heath Ledger), Cirque du Soliel shows (at $155 a ticket) or extravagantly priced and barely digestible food prepared under the trademark of the omnipresent Mario Batali.

We came here for the American Library Association’s annual conference, where my wife Kimberly and her colleagues at Portland State University’s Millar Library are slated to receive a major award for innovation. After enduring the tedium of 1001 PowerPoint demonstrations on subjects like “Threshold Concepts” and the bibliographic perils of e-publishing, normally prim and sedate librarians are primed to cut loose for a week of licentious abandon in the desert. Las Vegas offers a celebration of the uniquely American version of the Id, a perpetually uncoiling knot of simulated desire with strobe lighting and a cheesy soundtrack.

What is a Threshold Concept, you inquire? Good question. I sat through a rather opaque and intellectually arid hour-and-a-half presentation by three leading practitioners of the theory and remained baffled, as did, I’d wager, many of the librarians in the hall. If you distill it down to essentials, a Threshold Concept seems very similar to what we used to call in philosophy seminars on the intractable (ahem) theories of Wittgenstein “getting a friggin’ clue.” But clarity is not the surest path to tenure.

The philosophy propelling this new trend in “knowledge management” is even more ominous than its mystifying nomenclature. In an age of Google, Edward Snowden and Wikipedia, some academic librarians feel that their tenuous position as gatekeepers of knowledge is under siege. The theory of Threshold Concepts seems to provide a last desperate shot for librarians to reassert their role as information power-brokers, herding naïve students and guileless library patrons toward “authoritative” and “credible” sources of news (such as the New York Times, naturally.) It’s the latest reactionary counter-attack on the man who swung a wrecking ball through the brittle pretensions of the profession’s old-guard: Michel Foucault. In The Order of Things, Foucault exposed the repressive political engines driving the classification and regulation of knowledge and the arbiters of “worthy” texts have been on the run ever since. (More on this at a later date.)

Many of the 12,000 or so librarians who converged here during a week of pitiless summer sun seem displaced, wandering aimlessly down De Chirico-like corridors, looking at Google maps on their smartphones. Perhaps they are scanning the dreamscape for a bookstore. They will search in vain. Here the only books are kept by sports bookies, those exacting archivists of accounts that must be paid.

Kimberly and I set up camp in the Riviera, a bum choice on my part. I wanted to stay in the old Vegas, the sand-blasted city of mobsters and show girls,KillingTrayvons1 Howard Hughes and the honorable Dr. Thompson. That Vegas is long gone and the Riviera is a decaying relic of its passing. The crumbling hotel is wedged between vast parking lots on the north end of the Strip, across Las Vegas Boulevard from the even more decrepit Circus Circus, which resembles a sinister abandoned set from a slasher film.

Behind the Riviera looms a stout white warehouse. On the side of the building in large red block lettering is writ: Indoor Skydiving. Think about it. Just another tantalizing episode of the Vegas alt reality show. Of course, most of the indoor skydiving in this city is done on the floors of the casinos.

The traffic on the Strip is dominated by a dizzying circuit of cabs and trucks hauling advertisements for shows by unknown magicians, and fading stars like Celine Dion, Olivia Newton-John and Rod Stewart, who seems intent on completing his 30-year-long arc of descent by becoming the town’s new Engelbert Humperdinck. But the most frequent mobile ads were for “Direct to You” prostitutes, “girls who really want to meet you.” These emaciated blondes all sport immaculately redesigned breasts and exquisitely polished nails on delicate feet that apparently leave behind quite heavy carbon footprints.

Nevada is fast becoming a Tea Party sanctuary, but Vegas remains a solidly union town of culinary, hotel and casino workers. But even this is beginning to change. You can see the future on the gaming floors of the Bellagio and the Venetian, where more and more operations are becoming automated. The real surprise for me was the number of virtual black jack tables, where dealer avatars with distracting cleavage run the games on widescreen monitors. The human players, perhaps conditioned into a kind of catatonia by years of video gaming, sit silently at the tables, clinging to a desperate faith in the fairness of the casino’s poker algorithms.

On the plane from Portland, I sat next to an engineer who has been working for the last decade at Lake Mead. The reservoir is shriveling, drying up before our eyes. The water level drops each year, leaving a baleful white stain on the walls of Black Canyon. His company’s job is to paint the freshly exposed bone-white walls of the canyon back to their accustomed color, so as not to frighten the tourists.

Of course, it’s not the tourists who should be petrified by the dwindling of Lake Mead, but the moguls of the Strip. They are the retailers of illusion. The biggest Mirage in town isn’t the shimmering gilt-colored casino, with its topless poolside bar ($40 entry fee) and ghastly aquarium, but the illusion of water. Slotted on the desiccated basin floor of the Mojave, Las Vegas is moistened by less than four inches of rain a year. That’s the old average. The future looks even drier. Yet there is water everywhere on the strip: the vast pools of Caesar’s Palace, the waterfalls at the Wynn, the gondola-festooned lagoons of the Venetian, the dancing fountain at the Bellagio. The biggest illusion, the one that must be maintained at all costs, is that in Vegas there are no limits.

Over the course of the last 30 years, Vegas has been transformed from Sin City to a family theme park to an unapologetic advertisement for boundless gluttony. You can thank Steve Wynn for this grotesque metamorphosis, the man who punched his elbow through Picasso’s “Le Rêve” while showing off his most celebrated possession to friends. Wynn later unloaded the re-stitched painting of a masturbating woman for $154 million on his noxious pal Stephen A. Cohen, the billionaire hedge funder whose SAC firm is perennially under investigation for insider trading.

Wynn made his mark running bingo parlors in Maryland. In the early 1970s, he came to Vegas and made a speculative land deal with Howard Hughes, which netted him a few million and controlling interest in the Golden Sands, where he lured Frank Sinatra and his entourage. The game changer occurred in 1989 when Wynne opened the first mega-resort casino on the new Strip, the Mirage, a 3,000 room Polynesian-themed gilded palace of sin with an erupting volcano. The construction of the Mirage was financed by another master of illusion, junk bond king Michael Milken. Treasure Island and the Bellagio, at the time the most expensive hotel ever built, soon followed.

In 2005, when Wynn opened his towering 650-foot tall luxury resort hotel and casino on the north side of the Strip he said he had wanted to call it Le Rêve. In the end, he opted for something a little less exotic: the Wynn. The décor of the Wynn (and it’s twin curving bronze tower the Encore) is a wispy simulacrum of oriental opulence, designed to excite the sensibilities of Saudi princes on the prowl, Russian oligarchs with millions to burn in a weekend, and the Kardashian brood. In elegant harmony with this theme, the resort boasts two iridescent sculptures (Popeye and Tulips) by the master of tasteless triviality: Jeff Koons. It struck me that basement of the Wynn is the perfect tomb for Koons’ moronic confections.

In the end, Wynn lent the name of the Picasso painting to a popular permanent show at his resort. Le Rêve (curiously translated as ‘A’ Dream) is a kind of aquatic Tempest, featuring bald men making dare-devil dives in Speedos, frisky Flappers splashing in platinum blond wigs, and synchronized swimmers flashing red stilettos. In other words, yes, a wet dream.

But the dream is coming to an end. A reckoning is coming. The water is running out. Today 90 percent of the city’s water is sucked from Lake Mead and Lake Mead is drying up. The latest forecasts predict the once vast reservoir may be completely tapped out by 2021. Count ‘em: That’s seven years. After that, all bets are off. No water tunnels or emergency pipelines can possibly compensate for the shortage. Vegas’s days are numbered. Deal with it, baby.

Sitting at a bar inside the Luxor’s dark pyramid, watching a feisty Algerian team push the haughty German squad to the brink of elimination in the World Cup, I struck up a conversation with a Mexican-American man who works down in the canyon. His company performs a macabre service. They fish out the bodies of the jumpers, Vegas’s losers, the victims of the gaming tables, the aging strippers and hookers, the dead-enders, those who have maxed out, those who have reached their last threshold and take a leap off the new Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, sky diving into the Colorado River, 840 feet below.

“We snag four or five bodies a month,” he tells me, as he tosses back his third Jack and Coke of the afternoon. “Vegas is still a hard town. Eventually your luck is going to run dry. Know what I mean?”

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/07/04/field-notes-from-a-mirage/
Re: An Illusionary USA - No Reason for Dollar to be Reserve Currency
08 Jul 2014
money.jpg
The more the US antagonizes the world with spying or huge fines on foreign banks, the quicker the process of abandoning the dollar as a reserve currency will be unraveled, Peter Schiff, the president of investment house Euro Pacific Capital, told RT.

RT:This is just the latest in a series of scandals linked to America's spying on Germany. Why does Berlin not react more strongly?

Peter Schiff: I do not know. America is doing a lot to p*** off its friends - not only spying on them. Believe me, many Americans do not like it any more than the Germans. But we are also fining major European banks in Switzerland, in France and in the UK for violating US law. The Germans maybe should be even more concerned with what happened to their gold than about the spying.

RT: Why are European countries so economically dependent on the States?

PS: They are not. I think it is the other way around - the US is very dependent on the rest of the world. It is just incumbent on the rest of the world to figure that out. But the US dollar is still functioning as a reserve currency, so the dollar is a part of larger transactions but there is no reason for the dollar to be at the center of these transactions because the dollar shouldn’t be a reserve currency. Maybe at one time when we were the world’s largest exporter, as far as biggest trade surpluses, we had high savings rates, and the dollar was backed by gold. [At] one time maybe the dollar deserved to be a reserve currency, but certainly those conditions have changed dramatically. The US does not share any of the characteristics it had when the dollar became a reserve currency. It is just a matter of time before it no longer functions as a reserve currency. And the more we antagonize the rest of the world with spying or with these huge fines on foreign banks, the quicker this process is going to be unraveled.

RT: If Germany did decide to do something about America's spying activities, what could it actually achieve?

PS: I do not know, but certainly what emboldens the US to act in this way is this feeling of invincibility or superiority, and it is going to be very humbling when the truth comes out, when America is going to be forced to face what has happened to this country. We have been living beyond our means, we have been living based on our fantasy, not based on reality and the world is certainly helping to preserve that fantasy by accumulating US dollars, by continuing to loan us more money. If the world was not loaning us so much money, we wouldn’t be able to afford to spy on anybody, even on American citizens. Speaking as an American citizen, that would be an improvement.

RT: Germany is a friend of the US, so should it even be worried about being spied on?

PS: Look, Americans are afraid that they are being spied on, too. Nobody wants people spying on them. The government claims that this is all to keep us safe, this is all to protect us from terrorists, but I do not trust government and if the Germans do not trust our government, then I don’t trust them either. You always have an abuse of power, so you want to limit government power, and I think what the US government is doing with respect to the American citizens is not only immoral but unconstitutional. And again, welcome to the club. If the Germans were upset about “our government spying on us,” they probably have a right to be. But at least if they are spying on the Germans, maybe they can make an argument that might be more related to potential terrorist threats than spying on Americans.

http://rt.com/op-edge/171144-dollar-reserve-currency-usa/
​Germany's failed attempts to get its gold back from the US 'opens question of its sovereignty'
08 Jul 2014
Click on image for a larger version

gold.jpg
There is neither real criticism from German politicians, nor any visible efforts to return German gold held in the US, so it seems that US controls Germany, economic analyst Michael Mross told RT.

In one of its recent reports Bloomberg claimed that Germany decided not to repatriate its gold reserves from the US, instead the Bundesbank issued an official statement that underscores it’s "trust" in its American partners. According to Bloomberg, Germany gave up after repatriating just 5 tons of gold, though earlier it was told that it would get all the German gold back by 2020.

RT: What's really behind Germany's efforts to get its gold reserves back?

Michael Mross: These German efforts to get back gold reserves are not really there. They are talking about it but it is only a simple and ridiculous theatre in my opinion. I cannot see any effort to do it. What we have is lack to re-transport or take back, 300 tons before 2020, but also this is ridiculous – last year they took back only 37 tons. At the end of the day, it is to make the public calm, but it is not really an effort to take back the gold.

RT: Shifting so much gold in the time-frame they've given themselves sounds like a logistical nightmare. How are they going to manage it?

MM: 300 tons by 2020 is really nothing, and as a matter of fact only 37 tons have been transported so far back from the US. In my opinion, the gold will stay there as propaganda like actions are underway to tell the German public that the German gold in New York is safe. But of course the contrary is true.

RT: Do you buy any of the conspiracy theories that the gold is missing?

MM: This is not a conspiracy theory. If it is there you can take it back. Why don’t they give it back to us? In my opinion, it seems that they like to control us, even blackmail us. If you have gold, you tell me what to do. It opens many questions when it comes to the real sovereignty of Germany. Also it comes to all the scandals which we had, for example, these NSA surveillance things in Germany. We do not hear real actual critique from German politicians, and also when it comes to the German gold at the moment everything is calm and everything will stay where it is. But I have a solution. They can keep it, they can keep our gold. It’s worth about 100 billion dollars at the moment or even euro, and so they can send us the money, then we can buy back the gold on the market during 1-2 years. But even this does not happen. In my opinion they keep the gold because we are condemned to be calm and must not have any questions and any demands in order to take it back.

RT: Here's a recent quote from Merkel's party's spokesperson: "The Americans are taking good care of our gold. Objectively, there’s absolutely no reason for mistrust." This has led some to speculate that Germany's had a change of heart and wants its gold to stay put. What do you make of that?

MM: This was a report from Bloomberg and it was a wrong report. It did not reflect the truth. It is very interesting that Bloomberg is publishing such a thing. Bloomberg got this thing deliberately wrong to con the German public. There are many quotations of people, for example, we have here in Germany the action [initiative] “Take our gold back home”, and at Bloomberg he was quoted as “Ok, we are calm, we don’t want it back”. This was absolutely not true. And these politicians which were quoted in this report, they have absolutely no competence about our gold. When it comes to German gold only the Bundesbank has something to say, but they were not mentioned in this article.


http://rt.com/op-edge/170948-germany-gold-us-sovereignty/
France lashes out against US dollar, calls for ‘rebalancing’ of world currencies
08 Jul 2014
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( photo - Michel Sapin, the French finance minister )

The French government wants to break the monopoly the dollar has on international transactions after the country’s largest bank, BNP Paribas, was slapped with a record $9 billion fine and a 1-year dollar trading ban. Michel Sapin, the French finance minister, called for a “rebalancing” of the currencies used for global payments, saying the BNP Paribas case should “make us realize the necessity of using a variety of currencies” the Financial Times reports.

“We [Europeans] are selling to ourselves in dollars, for instance when we sell planes. Is that necessary? I don’t think so. I think a rebalancing is possible and necessary, not just regarding the euro, but also for the big currencies of the emerging countries, which account for more and more of global trade,” the finance minister told the FT at a conference over the weekend. France wants to bring the euro to greater prominence in international trade. Sapin said he would raise the idea on Monday when he meets in Brussels with eurozone finance ministers.

BNP was punished for helping counties like Iran, Sudan, and Cuba process $30 billion in transactions which are illegal under US law, since they violate US sanctions. Starting on January 1, 2015, the bank will not be able to carry out dollar-based transactions for one year. The French government has called the fine and 1-year ban unreasonable and unfair, as it blocks the country’s largest bank from handling dollars, which is the dominant currency in global trade. Nearly 90 percent of all deals in the $5 trillion a day foreign exchange market includes the US dollar.

Heavy-handed sanctions from the US and Europe have forced countries to also look towards other currency options. Russia, for example, is actively working to de-dollarize, and is starting to use the Chinese yuan and other Asian currencies in trading. Dollars dominate most oil and gas pricing, another cycle France hopes to break.

Christophe de Margerie, the CEO of Total, France’s largest company, says other currencies can be used in oil purchases, even if the benchmark is left in dollars. “The price of a barrel of oil is quoted in dollars,” de Margerie said. “A refinery can take that price and using the euro-dollar exchange rate on any given day, agree to make the payment in euro.”

The US and OPEC countries have traded oil exclusively in US dollars since 1971.


http://rt.com/business/170864-france-balance-dollar-bnp/