Tuesday, November 30, 2010

wikileaks true value (smear and denial - part 2)

medialens | The UK and US media smears described in Part 1 should be kept in mind when considering the gravity and importance of the latest WikiLeaks. In addition to thousands of previously unreported civilian killings, the leaks revealed more than 1,300 claims of torture by Iraqi police and military between 2005 and 2009. More than 180,000 people were detained at some point between 2004 and 2009, or one in 50 Iraqi males.

But these are only the incidents the US military knew about, or chose to know about, or chose to report; and the documents are an unknown sample of all documentation held by the US government. There are, for example, no reports from the “shock and awe” year of 2003, and none from the tens of thousands of after-attack Pentagon bombing assessments. The leaks also report no civilian deaths in major US atrocities, including the offensive that devastated Fallujah in 2004.

The leaks corroborate previous allegations that US forces turned over prisoners to the Wolf Brigade, the feared 2nd battalion of the Iraqi interior ministry's commandos, infamous for their torture and extra judicial killings. This was not merely ‘turning a blind eye’ to torture, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter notes: “The implication was that the Shi'a commandos would be able to extract more information from the detainees than would be allowed by U.S. rules.”

US forces, then, were complicit in the torture. Indeed, under international law, as the occupying power, the coalition is accountable for all of these crimes.

US troops are actually commanded to not investigate the tortures by an order called Frago 242. Issued in June 2004, this instructs coalition troops not to investigate any abuse of detainees unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi forces on Iraqis, "only an initial report will be made... No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ".
The leaks reveal that the US military was also aware that the Iraqi government had murdered detainees.

Civilian Deaths - The “Standard Accepted Figure”
The leaks reveal, not just a staggering level of violence and criminality in occupied Iraq, but also the determination of the Iraqi government and US forces to hide civilian casualties.

This is hardly surprising and fits with evidence that the US and UK governments have worked hard to smear credible scientific analysis of the likely death toll. A recent study by Professor Brian Rappert of the University of Exeter reported of the UK government: “deliberations were geared in a particular direction – towards finding grounds for rejecting the [2004] Lancet study [estimating almost 100,000 Iraqi deaths from the war] without any evidence of countervailing efforts by government officials to produce or endorse alternative other studies or data”.

Nevertheless, with a near-uniform intellectual sleight of hand, journalists have managed to turn evidence that civilian casualties are likely much higher (as much as ten times higher) than most media have been reporting into evidence that casualties are perhaps 15 per cent higher. As one seasoned journalist told us privately, “WikiLeaks has been Guardianised” - their true significance has been disarmed, defanged and contained by the media.

wikileaks "attack" is now a "crime"

AP | Striking back, the Obama administration branded the WikiLeaks release of more than a quarter-million sensitive files an attack on the United States Monday and raised the prospect of criminal prosecutions in connection with the exposure. The Pentagon detailed new security safeguards, including restraints on small computer flash drives, to make it harder for any one person to copy and reveal so many secrets.

The young Army Pfc. suspected of stealing the diplomatic memos, many of them classified, and feeding them to WikiLeaks may have defeated Pentagon security systems using little more than a Lady Gaga CD and a portable computer memory stick.

The soldier, Bradley Manning has not been charged in the latest release of internal U.S. government documents. But officials said he is the prime suspect partly because of his own description of how he pulled off a staggering heist of classified and restricted material.

"No one suspected a thing," Manning told a confidant afterward, according to a log of his computer chat published by Wired.com. "I didn't even have to hide anything."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asserted Monday that WikiLeaks acted illegally in posting the material. She said the administration was taking "aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information."

Attorney General Eric Holder said the government was mounting a criminal investigation, and the Pentagon was tightening access to information, including restricting the use of computer storage devices such as CDs and flash drives.

"This is not saber-rattling," Holder said. Anyone found to have broken American law "will be held responsible."

Holder said the latest disclosure, involving classified and sensitive State Department documents, jeopardized the security of the nation, its diplomats, intelligence assets and relationships with foreign governments.

next target, bankster ganksters...,

Forbes | In a rare interview, Assange tells Forbes that the release of Pentagon and State Department documents are just the beginning. His next target: big business.

Early next year, Julian Assange says, a major American bank will suddenly find itself turned inside out. Tens of thousands of its internal documents will be exposed on Wikileaks.org with no polite requests for executives’ response or other forewarnings. The data dump will lay bare the finance firm’s secrets on the Web for every customer, every competitor, every regulator to examine and pass judgment on.

(For the full transcript of Forbes’ interview with Assange click here.)

When? Which bank? What documents? Cagey as always, Assange won’t say, so his claim is impossible to verify. But he has always followed through on his threats. Sitting for a rare interview in a London garden flat on a rainy November day, he compares what he is ready to unleash to the damning e-mails that poured out of the Enron trial: a comprehensive vivisection of corporate bad behavior. “You could call it the ecosystem of corruption,” he says, refusing to characterize the coming release in more detail. “But it’s also all the regular decision making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that’s not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they’re fulfilling their own self-interest.”

This is Assange: a moral ideologue, a champion of openness, a control freak. He pauses to think—a process that occasionally puts our conversation on hold for awkwardly long interludes. The slim 39-year-old Wiki­Leaks founder wears a navy suit over his 6-foot-2 frame, and his once shaggy white hair, recently dyed brown, has been cropped to a sandy patchwork of blonde and tan. He says he colors it when he’s “being tracked.”

“These big-package releases. There should be a cute name for them,” he says, then pauses again.

“Megaleaks?” I suggest, trying to move things along.

“Yes, that’s good—megaleaks.” His voice is a hoarse, Aussie-tinged baritone. As a teenage hacker in Melbourne its pitch helped him impersonate IT staff to trick companies’ employees into revealing their passwords over the phone, and today it’s deeper still after a recent bout of flu. “These megaleaks . . . they’re an important phenomenon. And they’re only going to increase.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

bon apetit!

america the material

truthdig | The book is divided into four sections: “Lament for America,” “Mind and Body,” “Progress True and False” and “Quo Vadis?” (Where are you going?). Each part examines the American identity from a historical, spiritual, technological and alternative future perspective, respectively. Taken together, they ask the imperative questions: How did we get to this point, and how do we get out? Or will we? (Here being a country caught in a societal malaise of promoting external accumulation over internal compassion.) Taken together, the sections inspect our inner and outer fabric as a nation.

In Section I, the second essay, “Conspiracy vs. Conspiracy in American History,” Berman dissects America’s profound sense of self-importance, a central theme of the entire collection. He discusses how the “post-election euphoria in the United States over Barack Obama was nothing more than a bubble, an illusion, because the lion’s share of the $750 million he collected in campaign contributions” came from Wall Street. Thus, the fact that Obama proceeded to promise to rein in Wall Street’s excesses lay in stark and rather public contrast to his own connections with the banks.

This political sleight of hand is part of a larger problem for which Berman lists four descriptive conspiracies (or fallacies): First, that we are a chosen people (so we get to do whatever we want); second, that America itself is a kind of religion; third, that we must endlessly expand, whether it be geographically or financially; and, lastly, that our national character is composed of extreme individuals going back to our colonization. This he considers to be the main reason why “American history can be seen as the story of a nation consistently choosing individual solutions over collective ones.”

In Section II, Berman subtly balances the more dour aspects of the first section with a chattier discourse, relying on a combination of outside sources and his own entertaining life experiences. The section covers the message in certain modern Greek tragedies, like the movie “Damage,” and the very mortal question we all ask ourselves at different points in our lives: If I had to do it all over again, would I do it differently? And if so, would I wind up in the same place anyway? In his essay “Be Here Now,” Berman examines the need to be present in one’s life, because of the rapidity with which it flashes by. As Zen as this sentiment is, coming at the heels of his historical analysis, it centers our own focus, not selfishly, but with self-awareness. For in the end, as Berman writes, “there is no forcing things to make sense: either they do or they don’t, and there is no guarantee that they will.” It’s the thought about them that counts. Or doesn’t.

Section III spans the socially bankrupt practices resulting from endless technological advances, through the disastrous global competition for food and water. If we measure progress by consumption, how can it ever stop until there’s nothing left? According to Berman it can’t, which underscores a phenomenon he dubs “catastrophism.” As he puts it, “it is a fair guess that we shall start doing things differently only when there is no other choice; and even then, we shall undoubtedly cast our efforts in the form of a shiny new and improved hula hoop, the belief system that will finally be the true one, after all of those false starts; the one we should have been following all along.”

In Section IV, Berman brings us full circle in our assessment of national identity, taking us to Asia, a target of Ben Bernanke’s snotty finger-wagging this month. Berman notes the irony that “when Mao Zedong called the United States the paper tiger in the 1950s, everybody laughed.” As we know now, this pronouncement wasn’t so far off base. Our Washington finance chiefs, notably Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Fed Chairman Bernanke, want to keep pumping, printing and devaluing our money to create the illusion of national economic well-being while demanding that China keep its currency strong. And thus America’s national ego carries on, as Berman illustrates.

a veritable carbuncle of magical thinking...,

Bubblegeneration | It's the oft-unspoken thought on many lips: America's in decline. The glory days are over, the train's left the station. So: is this a great decline? Unfortunately--probably. And I'd suggest that when you take a hard, serious look into the economy--when you voyage past it's superficial, largely irrelevant position in terms of budgets, "gross product", or "unemployment"--that great decline is deeper and darker than pundits, beancounters, and politicians think, want to admit, or even suspect.

The great crisis is a story of structural decline: a decline that's hardwired into the patterns amongst this great machine's many parts. They've settled, over the last three decades and more, into fundamentally bad, toxic equilibria--where speculation precedes investment, model precedes reality, management and financial jargon is a substitute for real insight, cheap talk substitutes for hard work, and indulgence has replaced inspiration.

America's great decline is the emergent product of a set of toxic equilibria. The sum is greater than the whole of the parts: this decline is a complex, nonlinear combination of interdependent, linked components settling into an unforeseen level of breakdown. You might say it's the dynamic equilibrium of a complex system, akin to an attractor, where the economy's stuck in a corner of performance space that limits long-run value creation to dwindle ever further.

Hence, I'd suggest a simple, but perhaps radical, conclusion: it's learning to invest in companies, ideas, and insights that break all the bad equilibria above that will separate tomorrow's outperforming [countries, companies, and investors] from those stuck in the gears of a great decline.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

this is going to take more than 12 stitches...,


Video - Gassy newsx teaser trailer about the Wikileak occurring as you read this.

Guardian | US embassy cables leak sparks global diplomacy crisis

• More than 250,000 dispatches reveal US foreign strategies
• Diplomats ordered to spy on allies as well as enemies
• Hillary Clinton leads frantic 'damage limitation'

The United States was catapulted into a worldwide diplomatic crisis today, with the leaking to the Guardian and other international media of more than 250,000 classified cables from its embassies, many sent as recently as February this year.

At the start of a series of daily extracts from the US embassy cables - many of which are designated "secret" – the Guardian can disclose that Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran and that US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN's leadership.

These two revelations alone would be likely to reverberate around the world. But the secret dispatches which were obtained by WikiLeaks, the whistlebowers' website, also reveal Washington's evaluation of many other highly sensitive international issues.

These include a major shift in relations between China and North Korea, Pakistan's growing instability and details of clandestine US efforts to combat al-Qaida in Yemen.

Among scores of other disclosures that are likely to cause uproar, the cables detail:

• Grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme

• Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime.

• Devastating criticism of the UK's military operations in Afghanistan.

• Claims of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the British royal family.

Consciousness--Sir Roger Penrose Invites You to Publish in the Journal of Cosmology

Is consciousness an epiphenomenal happenstance of this particular universe? Or does the very concept of a universe depend upon its presence? Does consciousness merely perceive reality, or does reality depend upon it? Did consciousness simply emerge as an effect of evolution? Or was it, in some sense, always "out there" in the world?

Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to announce that Sir Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford, and Dr. Stuart Hameroff of the University of Arizona, will be serving as Executive Editors of the April 2011 edition of the online, open access, Journal of Cosmology, the theme of which is "Consciousness in the Universe."

Dr. Penrose shared the "Wolf Prize" in physics with Stephen Hawking, and is renowned world-wide for his work in general relativity, quantum mechanics, geometry and consciousness. He is the author of many important papers and books including The Emperors New Mind, Shadows of the Mind, The Road to Reality, and his latest Cycles of Time, which proposes serial universes.

Dr Stuart Hameroff, of the University of Arizona, is an anesthesiologist, consciousness researcher and organizer of the conference series Toward a Science of Consciousness.

Drs. Penrose and Hameroff invite you to submit a scientific article, up to 3,000 words in length, in this special issue. Articles will be peer reviewed and must be received by March 1, 2011.

Reviews, speculation, theory, or research findings related to the following
themes are invited:

1) Evolution and origin of consciousness
2) Consciousness and quantum measurement
3) Brain, biology and consciousness
4) Altered states, dreams and near-death experiences
5) Free will, causality, determinism, and time-symmetric physics
6) The role of quantum information, entanglement, and non-locality
7) The 'anthropic principle' in speculative and fundamental physics
8) Consciousness and reality in Eastern and Western philosophy
9) Consciousness in sexual reproduction as an evolutionary drive
10) Non-human consciousness

All articles will be peer reviewed and must be written for a broad range of
scientists who are not experts in your field. Please see the Journal of
Cosmology for manuscript specifications.

All processing and publication fees are waved for this special edition.

All articles will be published online within days of acceptance, and also bound in a hardback book edition, edited by Dr. Penrose and Dr. Hameroff, and published by Cosmology Science Publishers.

The Journal of Cosmology is also proud to sponsor the conference:

Toward A Science of Consciousness
Brain, Mind and Reality
Aula Magna Hall
Stockholm, Sweden, May 2-8, 2011

"Consciousness in the Universe" will be a featured conference theme, including a Keynote talk by Sir Roger Penrose, along with plenary and concurrent sessions on the topic.

In addition to a paper for the Journal of Cosmology special edition, you are also invited to attend and submit an abstract related to Consciousness in the Universe for the Stockholm conference. Abstracts must be submitted by December 31, 2010.

JOC is free, online, open access, and averages over 500,000 Hits a month. The
October edition featured 50 articles written by over 120 top scientists and 4
astronauts (two who walked on the Moon). Dozens of news articles have appeared about articles in JOC, including in the Los Angeles Times, Wired, Discovery News, MSNBC, Associated Press, ABC TV, etc.

JOC is abstracted by NASA Astrophysical Data Systema, Google Scholar, Open J-Gate, Polymer Library, ProQuest, ResearchGATE, adsabs.Harvard...

This is an excellent opportunity to present your work to a large community of scientists in a new and exciting field, and publish in the prestigious Penrose-Hameroff edition "Consciousness in the Universe". As an invited paper, there are no processing or publication charges.

Coauthors are welcome and you may share this invitation with your colleagues.

Sincerely,
Rudy Schild, Ph.D.
Center for Astrophysics, Harvard-Smithsonian
Editor-in-Chief
Journal of Cosmology

capital as power

Bichlar and Nitzan Archives | Conventional theories of capitalism are mired in a deep crisis: after centuries of debate, they are still unable to tell us what capital is. Liberals and Marxists both think of capital as an 'economic' entity that they count in universal units of ‘utils’ or 'abstract labour', respectively. But these units are totally fictitious. Nobody has ever been able to observe or measure them, and for a good reason: they don’t exist. Since liberalism and Marxism depend on these non-existing units, their theories hang in suspension. They cannot explain the process that matters most – the accumulation of capital.

This book offers a radical alternative. According to the authors, capital is not a narrow economic entity, but a symbolic quantification of power. It has little to do with utility or abstract labour, and it extends far beyond machines and production lines. Capital, the authors claim, represents the organized power of dominant capital groups to reshape – or creorder – their society.

Written in simple language, accessible to lay readers and experts alike, the book develops a novel political economy. It takes the reader through the history, assumptions and limitations of mainstream economics and its associated theories of politics. It examines the evolution of Marxist thinking on accumulation and the state. And it articulates an innovative theory of 'capital as power' and a new history of the 'capitalist mode of power'.

In our book contract with Routledge, we gave up our royalties in return for the publisher pricing the paperback at less than $40 and for allowing us to post a free PDF copy 18 months after the original publication date (May 22, 2009). In line with this agreement, the complete book is now freely available in PDF format (subject to the Creative Commons License)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

true patriotism exemplified, suppressed, and forgotten...,


Video - Martin Luther King A Time to Break Silence.

By 1967, Martin Luther King had become the country's most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his "Beyond Vietnam" speech delivered at New York's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 -- a year to the day before he was murdered -- King called the United States "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."

Time magazine called the speech "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi," and the Washington Post declared that King had "diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.

Martin Luther King - Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam.

palin's dangerous race game


Video - James David Manning calls out Sarah Palin's fundamental-ism.

TheRoot | In her new book, the former Alaska governor questions the patriotism of African Americans who point out the country's imperfections. Her most unflinching comments, center on race -- specifically, the racial dynamics surrounding the Obama presidency and the increasing suspicion by many progressives that Palin, the Tea Partiers and the entire anti-Obama establishment are motivated by racism.

Palin clearly thinks not. In fact, on Planet Palin, racism essentially does not exist but is merely a misanthropic by-product of African Americans' refusal to shut up, toughen up and truly become American patriots. This question of patriotism versus racism has been tackled by both white and black leaders since before the Civil War.

Back then, Frederick Douglass rightfully asked, "What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?" during his legendary Independence Day speech of 1852. More than 150 years later, Douglass' desire to rectify the triumphs of American history with the tragedies of African-American history still resonate for many descendants of his enslaved brethren.

Yet in the prose of Palin, any race-based frustration expressed by African Americans is proof positive of dubious patriotism and questionable allegiance. Racism is a ploy, a canard, a smoke screen by "opponents of this new American awakening" to impede intellectual debate and castigate conservatives as "evil … [and] just bad people."

The real "bad people," however, are Palin's anti-patriots, such as First Lady Michelle Obama, whose now infamous 2008 quote, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country," is resurrected yet again in America by Heart. This is Palin's "Gotcha!" moment, confirmation that the Obamas "think America -- at least America as it currently exists -- is a fundamentally unjust and unequal country."

I suspect that this thought may have crossed the minds of both Obamas -- much as it has millions of Americans of every color, every day. Indeed, at a time when increasing poverty on Main Street contrasts with stratospheric salaries on Wall Street, how could it not? And why not?

Demanding justice by refuting the status quo has been a hallmark of American politics ever since those original Tea Partiers were polluting Boston Harbor. Acknowledging fundamental injustices and inequalities has been the first step in every American civil rights movement -- from ending slavery and enshrining women's suffrage to establishing worker-protection laws, as well as current efforts to repeal "Don't ask, don't tell."

But back to those black people. Mindful of the minefield she's conspicuously crossing, Palin is clever enough to trade "liberal" for "African American" in much of America by Heart. But her message is abundantly clear, and it's an offensive one -- in every sense of the word. Fist tap Chauncey de Vega.

who produces/promotes palin - and why?

Andrew Sullivan |
Palin disconcerts us because she seems to have no mask at all, no change of gear. She’s utterly forthcoming, even regarding her family, which is normally a sacred preserve of privacy. Perhaps it’s frightening to meet such people for those of us who value propriety and discretion first of all. So we don’t like her because we are afraid of that level of openness. It just terrifies us. Could we endure a president who is mask-less?
But the truth is: she is all mask. I've been watching her "reality" series on TLC. It is as close to Palin's reality as most reality shows are to theirs'. Except on reality shows, the producers create the fiction by editing to concoct story lines, engineer conflicts and drama, select villains and heroines, sluts and virgins, braggards and ugly ducklings. On "Sarah Palin's Alaska", it is the subject of the "reality show" who has the final say over the editing: Sarah Palin herself. If she wanted reality, she would have allowed someone else to follow her around in her actual life, and edit the footage as he or she wished. But she didn't. She created a biography and an image in the very modern way: rigging a reality show about herself (just as she rigs interviews by restricting them to her own propaganda network, Fox.)

On the most recent episode, Palin did what any tourist can do in Alaska. She went on a halibut fishing boat; she went clamming; she went clay-shooting. The strained, fake personality segments - the "competition" with Todd racing in a canoe, the need for Bristol to get in touch with nature after all the publicity she has been seeking - were so obviously contrived it was painful to watch. But the imagery was indelible: this is a woman who can (just about) shoot a gun (even though her daughter has clearly never touched the thing); this is a woman who can bash fish over the head to stun and kill them; this is a woman prepared not just for a photo-op with fish-processors, but to join in for a few minutes and give the impression that this is how she actually lives. This is a woman who can see a giant clam dug out of the sands, and whose spontaneous response is "Delicious!"

If you think all this fakery is "forthcoming" or "open" or "real", then you probably thought Going Rogue was a work of auto-biography, rather than propaganda and fantasy. All we're seeing is a brilliantly conceived creation of an "authentic American" from the frontier, somehow more connected with the country than the alien president, eager to kill, poised for violence, wrapped in an always well-coiffed hair-do and relentlessly chirpy.

As with many delusional people, Palin demands, by sheer force of will, that we buy her story and her reality. If we do, we'll buy anything.

Friday, November 26, 2010

the tipping point has arrived

ZeroHedge | I believe we have finally breached the tipping point in the socio-political landscape of the United States of America. There will be no going back from here. Everyone on all levels of society including the elites must make a choice. Will you stand for real reform and an end of the feudalistic rule of the oligarchs and their paid-off puppets that line the streets of Washington D.C., or will you keep your mouth shut and play the old and dying game in the context of a completely different cultural environment?

While many will disagree with what I am about to say, I believe the oligarchs and the Federal Reserve have already lost.

This will not be clear to the vast majority at this time because the powerful institutions that dominate and rob us will continue to fight for survival but the wind is already blowing in a different direction and cannot be reversed. The smart elites are starting to see this and are hedging their bets. The dumb or stubborn ones may want to start looking at countries with non-extradition treaties or start blowing the whistle on someone above them and fast. The window of opportunity to make the choice is closely quickly. “I was just following orders” will not cut it when the dollar collapses and Disneyland shuts down. There have not been any major arrests and people have seemingly gotten away with all their frauds and crimes. This too will change and 2011 will represent a change in trend in this regard. We have entered the terminal phase of this ponzi scheme economy and those responsible for its creation and its continued support at the expense of the vast majority of the populace will see their foul deeds rise to the surface.

Earlier this year I wrote two piece that I think are worth re-reading and I have attached links to them. The first was “A Time to Speak Out” and the second was the “The Elites Have Lost the Right to Rule”. When I wrote these articles many of the themes addressed were completely out of the mainstream, yet in an amazingly brief period of time many of the frustrations I voiced are now popping up everywhere I look. It’s strange and rewarding to see the topics I and countless others have been discussing on the “fringe” break into the light of day. Now that these concepts are out there is no stopping the avalanche that is about to hit the oligarchs smack in the face. As Gandhi said “An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.”

This brings me to discuss what I think is one of the most important letters from an elite I have seen in 2010. I am referring to Bill Gross’ most recent piece. Now when I say he is an “elite” I am not saying he is part of some vast conspiracy to turn us further into serfs. What I mean is he is one of the most fabulously wealthy people in America. He also happens to have made his fortune in the financial services industry and runs the country’s largest bond fund. This is a person that has every reason and incentive to play nice with the other elites and their corrupt institutions at the top of which lies the Federal Reserve banking cartel. What he did in his latest letter was far from “playing ball.” Here are some of the notable quotes and the entire letter can be found here.

run turkey run

PIMCO | Now, however, with growth in doubt, it seems that the Fed has taken Charles Ponzi one step further. Instead of simply paying for maturing debt with receipts from financial sector creditors – banks, insurance companies, surplus reserve nations and investment managers, to name the most significant – the Fed has joined the party itself. Rather than orchestrating the game from on high, it has jumped into the pond with the other swimmers. One and one-half trillion in checks were written in 2009, and trillions more lie ahead. The Fed, in effect, is telling the markets not to worry about our fiscal deficits, it will be the buyer of first and perhaps last resort. There is no need – as with Charles Ponzi – to find an increasing amount of future gullibles, they will just write the check themselves. I ask you: Has there ever been a Ponzi scheme so brazen? There has not. This one is so unique that it requires a new name. I call it a Sammy scheme, in honor of Uncle Sam and the politicians (as well as its citizens) who have brought us to this critical moment in time. It is not a Bernanke scheme, because this is his only alternative and he shares no responsibility for its origin. It is a Sammy scheme – you and I, and the politicians that we elect every two years – deserve all the blame.

Still, as I’ve indicated, a Sammy scheme is temporarily, but not ultimately, a bondholder’s friend. It raises bond prices to create the illusion of high annual returns, but ultimately it reaches a dead-end where those prices can no longer go up. Having arrived at its destination, the market then offers near 0% returns and a picking of the creditor’s pocket via inflation and negative real interest rates. A similar fate, by the way, awaits stockholders, although their ability to adjust somewhat to rising inflation prevents such a startling conclusion. Last month I outlined the case for low asset returns in almost all categories, in part due to the end of the 30-year bull market in interest rates, a trend accentuated by QEII in which 2- and 3-year Treasury yields approach the 0% bound. Anyone for 1.10% 5-year Treasuries? Well, the Fed will buy them, but then what, and how will PIMCO tell the 500 billion investor dollars in the Total Return strategy and our equally valued 750 billion dollars of other assets that the Thanksgiving Day axe has finally arrived?

We will tell them this. Certain Turkeys receive a Thanksgiving pardon or they just run faster than others! We intend PIMCO to be one of the chosen gobblers. We haven’t been around for 35+ years and not figured out a way to avoid the November axe. We are a survivor and our clients are not going to be Turkeys on a platter. You may not be strutting around the barnyard as briskly as you used to – those near 10% annualized yields in stocks and bonds are a thing of the past – but you’re gonna be around next year, and then the next, and the next. Interest rates may be rock bottom, but there are other ways – what we call “safe spread” ways –to beat the axe without taking a lot of risk: developing/emerging market debt with higher yields and non-dollar denominations is one way; high quality global corporate bonds are another. Even U.S. Agency mortgages yielding 200 basis points more than those 1% Treasuries, qualify as “safe spreads.” While our “safe spread” terminology offers no guarantees, it is designed to let you sleep at night with less interest rate volatility. The Fed wants to buy, so come on, Ben Bernanke, show us your best and perhaps last moves on Wednesday next. You are doing what you have to do, and it may or may not work. But either way it will likely signify the end of a great 30-year bull market in bonds and the necessity for bond managers and, yes, equity managers to adjust to a new environment.

If a country gets the politicians it deserves, then the same can be said of an investor – you’re gonna get what you deserve. Vote No to Republican and Democratic turkeys on Tuesday and Yes to PIMCO on Wednesday. We hope to be your global investment authority for a new era of “SAFE spread” with lower interest rate duration and price risk, and still reasonably high potential returns. For us, and hopefully you, Turkey Day may have to be postponed indefinitely.

sharing power over public resources - participatory budgeting

Shareable | With city governments now declaring bankruptcy and cutting vital services, local officials may be wise to take the lead from Brazil and get their constituents directly involved in tough budgetary decisions. Politicians can be pressured to fund bank bailouts over health care by their campaign contributors, but their constituents won’t.

Long before the global finance crisis, residents of Porto Alegre, Brazil were having trouble getting essential services from their government. The city was bankrupt and residents were lacking proper sewage, clean water, and other necessary infrastructure due to rampant corruption. In order to more equitably and efficiently distribute scarce public funds, Porto Alegre became the first town to formally adopt a process called participatory budgeting. This process allows its residents to directly decide how public funds will be spent though open deliberation in budget assemblies and voting. Since 1989, when the program started, city-wide participation in budgetary decision-making increased from 1,000 to over 50,000, while doubling the town’s access to many essential services.

Now over 1200 local governments across the world use participatory budgeting, including most municipalities in Brazil, several other Latin American countries, Europe, and a smattering of towns in Canada, Africa, and Asia. Peru, the U.K. and the Dominican Republic have national participatory budgeting laws that apply to all their local governments, and the UN acknowledges participatory budgeting as a core component of good democratic governance.

Yet this process remained largely unheard of in the U.S. until last year when it sprouted up in an unlikely place, Chicago’s 49th Ward, a community which speaks over 80 different languages within two square miles. Last year, residents of the ward, invited by their city representative Joe Moore, made proposals and voted on its $1.3 million discretionary budget for capital infrastructure. At a series of neighborhood assemblies, residents brainstormed project ideas and selected representatives who would transform those ideas into concrete proposals. Representatives split into six thematic issue committees to spend four months meeting with experts, conducting research, and developing budget proposals before the big vote. As Moore wrote in a letter to his constituents, it "exceeded even my wildest dreams. It was more than an election. It was a community celebration and an affirmation that people will participate in the civic affairs of their community if given real power to make real decisions." Now some candidates in Chicago’s other wards are running on a participatory budgeting platform.

Participatory budgeting as a model usually allows residents to propose, discuss, and vote on public spending projects. It is frequently initiated to address resource inequalities, as well as corruption in the budget allocation process and lack of transparency and accountability. It can also have the potent side effect of creating a more engaged and empowered citizenry through a taste of direct democracy. Fist tap Dale.

community forrestry in mexico

NYTimes | As an unforgiving midday sun bore down on the pine-forested mountains here, a half-dozen men perched across a steep hillside wrestled back mounds of weeds to uncover wisps of knee-high seedlings.

Freeing the tiny pines that were planted last year is only one step of many the town takes to nurture the trees until they grow tall, ready for harvesting in half a century. But the people of Ixtlán take the long view.

“We’re the owners of this land and we have tried to conserve this forest for our children, for our descendants,” Alejandro Vargas said, leaning on his machete as he took a break. “Because we have lived from this for many years.”

Three decades ago the Zapotec Indians here in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico fought for and won the right to communally manage the forest. Before that, state-owned companies had exploited it as they pleased under federal government concessions.

They slowly built their own lumber business and, at the same time, began studying how to protect the forest. Now, the town’s enterprises employ 300 people who harvest timber, produce wooden furniture and care for the woodlands, and Ixtlán has grown to become the gold standard of community forest ownership and management, international forestry experts say.

Mexico’s community forest enterprises now range from the mahogany forests of the Yucatán Peninsula to the pine-oak forests of the western Sierra Madre. About 60 businesses, including Ixtlán, are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council in Germany, which evaluates sustainable forestry practices. Between 60 and 80 percent of Mexico’s remaining forests are under community control, according to Sergio Madrid of the Mexican Civic Council for Sustainable Forestry.

“It’s astounding what’s going on in Mexico,” said David Barton Bray, an expert on community forestry at Florida International University who has studied Ixtlán.

The Mexican government plans to showcase its success in community forestry at the global climate talks in Cancún next week. Despite fractious negotiations over reducing carbon emissions, talks on paying developing countries to protect their forests have moved further ahead than most other issues.

In developing countries, where the rule of law is weak and enforcement spotty, simply declaring a forest off-limits does little to prevent illegal logging or clearing land for agriculture or development. “Unless local communities are committed to conserving and protecting forests it’s not going to happen,” said David Kaimowitz, a former director of the Center for International Forestry Research, or Cifor, who is now at the Ford Foundation. “Government can’t do it for them.”

A recent Cifor study reported that more than a quarter of the forests in developing countries are now being managed by local communities. The trend is worldwide — from China to Brazil.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

how terahertz waves tear apart dna - redux

Technology Review | The evidence that terahertz radiation damages biological systems is mixed. "Some studies reported significant genetic damage while others, although similar, showed none," say Boian Alexandrov at the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a few buddies. Now these guys think they know why.

Alexandrov and co have created a model to investigate how THz fields interact with double-stranded DNA and what they've found is remarkable. They say that although the forces generated are tiny, resonant effects allow THz waves to unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication. That's a jaw dropping conclusion.

And it also explains why the evidence has been so hard to garner. Ordinary resonant effects are not powerful enough to do do this kind of damage but nonlinear resonances can. These nonlinear instabilities are much less likely to form which explains why the character of THz genotoxic
effects are probabilistic rather than deterministic, say the team.

This should set the cat among the pigeons. Of course, terahertz waves are a natural part of environment, just like visible and infrared light. But a new generation of cameras are set to appear that not only record terahertz waves but also bombard us with them. And if our exposure is set to increase, the question that urgently needs answering is what level of terahertz exposure is safe. (Original Post date 11/01/09)


unified quest 2011


Video - Army Unified Quest 2011 training exercises.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

high society exhibition


Video - Wellcome Collection exhibition High Society.

Wellcome Collection | From ancient Egyptian poppy tinctures to Victorian cocaine eye drops, Native American peyote rites to the salons of the French Romantics, mind-altering drugs have a rich history. 'High Society' will explore the paths by which these drugs were first discovered - from apothecaries' workshops to state-of-the-art laboratories - and how they came to be simultaneously fetishised and demonised in today's culture.

With the illicit drug trade estimated by the UN at $320 billion (£200bn) a year and new drugs constantly appearing on the streets and the internet, it can seem as if we are in the grip of an unprecedented level of addiction. Yet the use of psychoactive drugs is nothing new, and indeed our most familiar ones - alcohol, coffee and tobacco - have all been illegal in the past.

high society a history of mind-altering drugs


Video - High Society a History of Mind-Altering Drugs.

ThamesandHudson | High Society explores the spectrum of mind-altering substances across the globe and throughout history. Beautifully illustrated with rarely seen material, this striking, lyrical and rigorously researched book puts its controversial subject into the widest possible context.

Every society is a high society. Every day, people drink coffee on European terraces and kava in Pacific villages, sniff cocaine in American suburbs and petrol in Aborigine slums, chew betel nut in Indonesian markets and coca leaf on Andean mountainsides, swallow ecstasy tablets in the clubs of Amsterdam and opium pills in the deserts of Rajasthan, and smoke ya'aba in Thai nightclubs, hashish in Himalayan temples and tobacco in every nation on earth.

Acclaimed cultural historian Mike Jay paints vivid portraits of the roles that drugs playas medicines, religious sacraments, status symbols and coveted trade goods. He traces the understanding of intoxicants from the botanicals of the classical world through the mind-bending self-experiments of early scientists to the present 'war on drugs', and reveals how the international trade in substances such as tobacco, tea and opium shaped the modern world.

before the big bang?


Video - Sir Roger Penrose original Newton Institute lecture on the Weyl Curvature hypothesis first of nine.

There is now a great deal of evidence confirming the existence of a very hot and dense early stage of the universe. Much of this data comes from a detailed study of the cosmic microwave background (CMB)—radiation from the early universe that was most recently measured by NASA's WMAP satellite. But the information presents new puzzles for scientists. One of the most blatant examples is an apparent paradox related to the second law of thermodynamics. Although some have argued that the hypothesis of inflationary cosmology solves some of the puzzles, profound issues remain. In this talk, Professor Penrose will describe a very different proposal, one that suggests a succession of universes prior to our own.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

the true size of africa

Fist tap Dale.

africa's lion reawakens

Nasdaq | With a new constitution, bold economic targets and an ambitious social development strategy, Kenya is determined to become the new star of Africa. All the signs so far suggest it may yet achieve its goal.

On a recent fact-finding mission to Kuala Lumpur, members of a Kenyan government delegation were surprised when their Malaysian hosts, after greeting them warmly, thanked them for their help in making Malaysia's capital city such a success. "They explained that, several decades earlier, Malaysia sent a similar delegation to Nairobi to find out how to create a modern capital city," says one of the members of Kenyan team. "They told us Kenya's capital was the model for Kuala Lumpur," he adds.

Decades later, and with the tables unequivocally turned, Kenya is taking a very careful look at how Malaysia and the other Asian tigers built their tremendously successful economies from the ground up. With the lessons it is learning, Kenya aims not just to replicate their success but to exceed it.

To anyone who hasn't visited Kenya recently, the country's claims and ambitions may sound like wild hubris. Even the most optimistic reputable estimate of GDP per head puts the figure at only $1,000 a year. Unemployment is rife, particularly in rural areas. The country's economy has a track record that is patchy, to say the least, and it's in a corner of East Africa that's more often associated with famine, war and piracy than with rapid and stable economic growth and social progress. But spend a little time in the bustling, vibrant capital or in the lush landscape of the fabled Rift Valley and suddenly the Kenyan leaders' vision of their country as one of the world's rising economic stars-Africa's lion to Asia's tigers-doesn't seem so far-fetched after all.

Conceived more than a decade ago, that vision is now becoming a reality. In late August, Kenya's president Mwai Kibaki signed the country's new constitution into law. As he did so, creating what many are calling the "second republic," Kibaki said: "This new constitution is an embodiment of our best hopes, aspirations, ideals and values for a peaceful and more prosperous nation." His words capture the spirit of the new Kenya, a country that is driving hard to become the de facto gateway to East Africa, the principal trade hub between Africa and Asia, and the region's economic and political powerhouse.

The country has an ambitious infrastructure construction program, a determination to upgrade its power generation grid and transform the country into a green energy leader, and a new constitutional structure that will help Kenya establish a fairer and more transparent political system and a more balanced economy. Through its "Vision 2030" program, Kenya has committed to promoting economic growth, creating "a middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens."

As well as promoting domestic growth, Kenya is looking for international partners to help it achieve its ambitious plans to grow its financial services, manufacturing and outsourcing industries. In its effort to modernize and grow its economy Kenya is also blazing a trail that other similar emerging markets will want to follow.

Mugo Kibati, director general of Vision 2030, says the organization's mission boils down to achieving one simple goal: "We want every kid growing up to be assured of a job," he says. "We have an overarching vision to transform Kenya into a globally competitive, prosperous nation with a high quality of life for all by the year 2030." If the goal is clear cut, the process of achieving it is anything but simple and will involve a transformation not just of the constitutional structure of the country but of its culture.

why you should be scared of china's food price inflation


Yahoo Finance | If you listen to the Fed, inflation is non-existent, especially when you strip out "volatile" items like food. That's fine and good, as long as you don't have to eat...

But, of course, everybody has to eat; that's why policymakers around the world were alarmed by China's recent CPI report, which showed food prices rose 10.1% in October. A separate report showed a basket of produce rose a shocking 62% on a year-over-year basis in the first 10 days of November.

Set aside for a moment questions about the accuracy of the data -- or whether inflation in China is the result of Ben Bernanke's QE2 or China's own easy money policies, and consider:

* -- An estimated 200 million migrant workers have moved from rural areas to Chinese cities in recent decades, with another 400 million predicted to follow suit in the next 20 years, according to The Independent.
* -- China had an urban population of 620 million by the end of 2009, which was 46.6 percent of the nation's total population, China Daily reports. Urban residents are expected to comprise about 52 percent of the Chinese population by 2015, and 65 percent by 2030.

That's a lot of mouths to feed and a big reason why Adrian Day of Adrian Day Asset Management is "extremely scared" about the potential for food price spikes to lead to rioting -- and even wars in the coming years.

Food is just one of myriad commodities China needs to secure in vast quantities in order to maintain its blistering growth, not to mention the legitimacy of the government. It's also the most basic, which is why Day is so concerned, as discussed in detail in the accompanying video.

Unlike some experts - notably Niall Ferguson - Day does not believe the U.S. and China are inevitably on a collision course. But it's worth noting another report that came out last week: The government's annual assessment of China's military capabilities, where there's evidence of another kind of highly disturbing "inflation."

is it possible for africa to become the world's food basket?


Video - Africa 2010- The Redesign Of Africa's Role in the New Global Economy

NEPAD | "Without food, the medicines and drugs in hospitals and clinics become ineffective or even dangerous to the sick; without food, children cannot learn well in schools; without food, the labour force cannot be productive; without food, you cannot maintain the police service and national defence forces and without food, we cannot maintain peace keeping forces anywhere in the world", said H.E Prof. Bingu Wa Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi and Chairperson of the African Union, at the official opening session of the Conference African Ministers of Agriculture (CAMA), today 28 October 2010, in Lilongwe, Malawi.

The President indicated that agriculture accounts for about 70 percent of Africa's labour force, and contributes to over 25 percent of its Gross Domestic Product.

According to President Mutharika, the important component of the African Food Basket is the determination of the staples grown in different African countries and the creation of reliable data banks through the use of information and communication technologies. "Within each region and between various regions, we should encourage local farmers and investors from other African countries to grow any stable crops for export to countries where these are needed", he advised.

Under the theme "Delivering on Africa's Agriculture Development Agenda" the Conference was hosted by the Government of Malawi and organised by the Africa Union Commission (AUC) and the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NEPAD Agency).

The 14th Ordinary Summit of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union declared that 'within a period of five years, Africa must be able to feed itself'. It is in this regard that Prof. Mutarika said, "the African Union decided to place highest priority on agriculture and food security as the basis for economic transformation and change within the short period of time".

china shifts from u.s. treasuries to hard assets

Barrons | THIS YEAR, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, China has been investing more overseas in assets like iron, oil and copper than it puts into U.S. government bonds.

China in this year's first half spent $31 billion on hard assets, compared with $23 billion on Treasuries and other U.S. government bonds. Experts say China's investments in each of these asset classes will total about $55 billion for the full year. But even a tie marks a major turnaround from China's previous practices. For many years, the mainland spent next to nothing on hard assets abroad, while its purchases of U.S. government debt ranged as high as $100 billion a year.

Why does China now have such a voracious appetite for hard assets? The most frequently cited reason is its need to feed its rapidly expanding industrial base. True enough. But it's also important to see China's reduction in Treasury purchases and its sharp increase in hard-asset deals as part of its currency strategy. It's widely accepted that the Chinese currency, the yuan, is undervalued against the dollar, perhaps by as much as 40%. Based on moves made in the past few years, it seems likely that Chinese officials will let the yuan, which is pegged to the dollar, rise by 2% to 3% against the greenback each year.

In the face of such a weak dollar, it doesn't make much sense to keep investing heavily in Treasuries or any other dollar-based asset. The annual interest payments can easily be outweighed by the loss in the dollar's value. There are serious concerns in Beijing, too, about the creditworthiness of U.S. debt. The smarter bet is to invest in assets that are likely to hold their value, or even increase in value, as the dollar continues its slide.

Iron ore in Sierra Leone. Mines in South Africa. Coal and gas in Australia. Oil in Brazil and Venezuela. Even Canada's timber industry is reviving as a result of demand from China. Just last week, China jacked up estimates for how much uranium it will need for nuclear power plants (see story, "Uranium's Unhealthy Glow.")

The recent move by the Federal Reserve to start buying $600 billion of government bonds, known as QE2, will only hasten China's rush for hard assets. Because it amounts to printing money, "QE2 makes the dollar even less attractive," notes Jim Lennon, head of commodities at Macquarie Bank in London. "It's certainly a policy orientation of China to diversify, and they are buying commodities as a strategic investment, and opportunistically."

africa's infrastructure deficit creates economic opportunity

Mmegi | The Development Bank of Southern Africa executive coordinator Lesetsa Matshekga said that the continent's biggest infrastructure deficit existed within the power generation sector. He noted that around 22, 000 MW of crossborder transmission lines would be needed within the next couple of years. While sub-Saharan Africa was home to 800-million people, it generated the same quantum of power as Spain.

Physical infrastructure remains Africa's most significant constraint as far as economic development goes, however, the backlog also represents big investment and business opportunities head of research and information at South Africa's Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), Jorge Maia, said. Speaking at the Gordon Institute of Business Science Business of Africa conference in Johannesburg, Maia said that some $93-billion a year was needed to build infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

With the region expected to show economic growth of 5,5% a year over the next five years, the development of infrastructure creates a wealth of opportunity.

"As the region and Africa keeps on growing, this infrastructure gap will just become more evident," said Maia.
There are several limiting factors that come into play in the development of infrastructure on the continent, the most significant of which is a large funding gap.

However, AngloGold Ashanti CEO Mark Cutifani said at the conference that private companies could, to a large extent, assist in bridging some of these funding gaps.

"If African governments and private enterprises are able to work together, and form public-private partnerships, this can fill the gap to some extent."

Cutifani emphasised that infrastructure cooperation and an enabling environment created by governments across the continent were imperative for the future development of Africa.

"The time has come to develop infrastructure beyond colonial borders in Africa, from east to west and from north to south."

Maia agreed, but added that Africa also had to rethink the pricing of its existing infrastructure and services. He pointed out that Africa was the most expensive continent to transport goods.

"This is something that can easily be readjusted."

Monday, November 22, 2010

corporate mercenaries in arizona and south carolina

Targetfreedom | APS is a private investigations and security contractor functioning in only two states, as of yet – South Carolina and Arizona. Its staff is drawn from former law enforcement and military personnel and its services http://www.apsops.com/services.html range from property and nightclub security to community patrol. The latter, which is stated clearly on the APS website, is particularly concerning due to the fact that, while there may be a place for private security firms, “community patrol” is a local police duty. Interestingly enough, APS patrol cars are similar to Horry County and Myrtle Beach city police cars and have been seen in the area before. Whether or not these vehicles were patrolling is unknown. However, a presence has clearly been established.

Nevertheless, without the benefit of local advertising, one might have been lulled into thinking that the new cars patrolling their neighborhoods with “Advanced Protection Services” painted on the side were merely the result of the creation of another specialized task force designed to harass the citizenry and waste taxpayer money. Unfortunately, while this would be bad enough, it appears that South Carolina has now been invaded by a miniature version of Blackwater Xe. This is a clear indication of the rise of the trend in private security firms engaging in work that was once done by local police who are allegedly accountable to the people.

Last year, it was discovered that a private security company, American Police Force, had entered the small town of Hardin, Montana and had assumed the duties of patrolling the town and enforcing laws. APF had originally been contracted to provide security at a detention center near Hardin. However, not long after, residents were answering to them as if they were real law enforcement personnel. APF “officers” were soon driving around in police patrol vehicles, harassing citizens, and acting as if they were truly the authority in Hardin. Only after the independent media, such as Alex Jones’ Infowars, exposed APF did the mercenaries leave Hardin.

Private security forces, DynCorp specifically, were also used in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans. The use of private security forces in war theatres such as Iraq and Afghanistan is bad enough, but their use against the American people is unconscionable. Unfortunately, this is a trend that is continuing to grow by leaps and bounds every year. While one can argue that there is a place for private security companies, there is no argument to be made for their assuming duties designated to local police forces. It is important for everyone to remember that private security forces, whether contracted out by the government, businesses, or acting alone, have no jurisdiction. They are not police officers and should not be treated as such.

It’s not likely that many local police officers appreciate private security being brought in to do the jobs designated to them — especially when these contractors make many times more money than public officers for doing the same (if not less) amount of work. Thus, it is important for everyone — average citizens and police officers alike — to speak up and stop private security forces from invading our communities. For those communities that have already been invaded, it’s time to make your voices heard and drive them out.

the coming tea party civil war

MotherJones | In the months leading up to the midterm congressional elections, the tea party movement managed to tamp down on its internal divisions in pursuit of a shared goal of defeating Democrats. But with the elections over, the movement's fault lines are starting to show, and tensions between the tea party's social conservative and libertarian wings are poised to explode into an all-out civil war.

"It's easier for them to be united around the political agenda of defeating Democrats than it is going to be agreeing on a legislative agenda," observes Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way.

The most recent example of an emerging schism: Some tea party activists have linked arms with the gay conservative group GOProud to demand that the new GOP congressional leadership stick to the tea party's core fiscal issues and not those of evangelical Christians. They sent a letter to House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell imploring them "to resist the urge to run down any social issue rabbit holes in order to appease the special interests." They write:
Already, there are Washington insiders and special interest groups that hope to co-opt the Tea Party's message and use it to push their own agenda—particularly as it relates to social issues. We are disappointed but not surprised by this development. We recognize the importance of values but believe strongly that those values should be taught by families and our houses of worship and not legislated from Washington, D.C.

abortion common ground - a pro-life agenda

Slate | A few weeks ago, pro-life and pro-choice thinkers met at Princeton's University Center for Human Values for an open-minded discussion of their differences and possible areas of collaboration. There was plenty of disagreement, and in the weeks since, there's been lots of sniping back and forth about whether the conference was slanted, what was agreed to, and the perfidy of the other side. But the conference did illuminate several steps each side could take to advance a common agenda. Today I'll examine the lessons for pro-lifers. Tomorrow I'll examine the lessons for pro-choicers.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

laissez faire les bankster gangsters


Video - Matt Taibbi discusses his new book 'Griftopia' with Danny Schecter in the First Tuesdays Series at McNally Jackson NYC on Nov 3 2010.

Alternet | Deterrence -- it's the vaunted idea behind "tough on crime" sentences for violent offenses. Lock the door, throw away the key, and the theory says that heinous acts will be prevented.

However, things haven't worked out that way because the toughest "tough on crime" policies are most focused on crimes of passion, derangement and destitution -- crimes that are often not calculated and therefore not deterrable. This is probably one of the reasons why the murder rate has been higher in death penalty states than in non-death penalty states, leading most criminologists to conclude that capital punishment does not hinder conventional homicide.

But what about crimes of economic homicide? These are the opposite of crimes of passion. When, say, a speculator securitizes bad mortgages and peddles them to pension funds as safe investments, that fraud involves exactly the kind of calculation that might be deterred via the prospect of harsh punishment.

"What if a bank CEO was given life without parole?" I asked Taibbi. "What if instead of country club jail, one of these guys was shown experiencing prison like a regular convict? That would have to stop some of the worst stuff, right?"

"Right, and go a step further," Taibbi countered. "How about putting a few of them in the electric chair? Are you telling me Goldman Sachs execs aren't then going to change?"

We both busted out laughing -- and hard. Not at the truth behind the theorizing, but at the idea that any of it would actually happen today. In 2005, Washington couldn't even pass a post-Enron proposal to hold CEOs legally liable for their companies' corporate tax fraud. So the notion that the same money-dominated capital will now subject CEOs to anything remotely "tough on crime" is, well, far-fetched.

And yet, the hypothetical is compelling, isn't it? That's because it highlights how our society misapplies deterrence -- and how it might apply the concept more successfully.

The necessity of such a criminal justice shift should be obvious. With financial fraud now so sophisticated and pervasive, we clearly need zero-tolerance solutions to change Wall Street's culture. Indeed, without true shock-and-awe deterrence, most regulatory reform will likely be an ineffectual thumb in the economic dike -- just as the thieves desire.