Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What Now? (Originally Posted as Change What?)

OK, so we've gotten what we asked for and some of the hitters have already been through asking the hard kwestin, what now? I originally posted this in January of this year addressing what specific things would have to be at the top of the new president's agenda. Submitted once again for your consideration and commentary.

Right off the top, this post should not be mistaken as a criticism of Obama. It's not. I sincerely believe that we American people will absolutely elect the leadership that we deserve.

That said, let's be serious as in E.C. Hopkins class seriousness about the scope of what has to be addressed by all levels of leadership at the twilight of industrial civilization. This means not only the elected administrative manager of political governance, but the proprietor class which sets policy, funds, and directs administrative management embodied in the office of the president.

At the beginning of November I tried to enjoin this type of discussion with the post Goal State - How Do We Get There. (I also reposted this article in January) The current uncritical excitement surrounding Obama's win in the Iowa caucus brings me back to the article that inspired that post in early November. Hoping for a New Deal which paints the problem from the perspective that E.C. labored to get us all to consider. In my opinion, this article gives us a very concrete and constructive place to temper our political expectations for Obamian change agency.
Richard Heinberg's current Museletter consists of a thoughtful essay ("Big Melt Meets Big Empty") concerning the alternative realities of science (physical reality) and politics (political reality). Heinberg identifies the opposition between these two as the key cause of the seeming inability of political institutions in the US and elsewhere to constructively respond to the twin threats of climate change and resource depletion. He advocates working toward overcoming this opposition, to whatever degree that is possible. His key suggestion is that interested groups of citizens develop realistic assessments of the efficacy of various potential policy responses, and that they then use these assessments to create an advocacy program to push for the enactment of desired policies.

Looming in the background for Heinberg, however, are two critical and related specters, either of which would likely doom any constructive initiatives that might be developed: 1) resource wars; and 2) implacable opposition on the part of elites. It seems to me that a fruitful way of looking at these twin threats, is to see resource wars as, in a sense, the bitter consequence of elite opposition to ameliorative policies. That is to say, if, faced with energy scarcity, elites succeed in blocking serious consideration of "powerdown" approaches (like the oil depletion protocol), resource wars become the likely outcome - - the "default" option, as it were. Conversely, if ameliorative policy options are viable, resort to "last one standing" warfare can hopefully be avoided. If this is so, then the question of the potential for elite acceptance of some such policies seems to be the key factor in assessing the possibility of a hopeful outcome to energy transition.

Ultimately, power holders must be convinced that [energy transition] policies, if obnoxious to them now, will be far less destructive to their interests than a complete breakdown of society and biosphere - which is the very real alternative. For a historic example of a similar conversion of elites think of the 1930s New Deal: then the titans of industry had to sacrifice some of their financial power in order to keep from losing it all. Many wealthy individuals never forgave Franklin Roosevelt, whom they regarded as a "traitor to his class," but most of them reluctantly agreed that redistribution represented the lesser of evils.
The analysis offered is original, detailed, and very well worth your perusal. Here's the thing, we're not simply talking about temporary wealth redistribution as a stopgap in order to ensure continuity of the governance status quo. Instead, we're talking about what will be required to transition our entire way of life (or more accurately what remains of it) into an entirely new modus operandi. The plans that have been operationalized under the Bush administration for the transition suggest some rather draconian designs on the future of Americaness - frankly at this juncture - I haven't heard any serious counterproposals to those plans and their continuing unfolding.

Atlanta? Drought anybody? - Is there a single candidate who has shown the perspicacity or gumption to even mention the slow motion catastrophe unfolding in the southeastern U.S.? That's pretty much minimum baseline for a serious operator. That said, I don't see a single serious change agent operator on the presidential event horizon. What I see is a collection of opportunistic faces that will be applied to pre-existing plans and narratives much as lipstick might be applied to a pig or frosting to a turd.

What Now? - Systemüberwindung - II

Originally posted in January `08.

"Materialism is to ill-being what smoking is to lung cancer."

To follow James's analogy with smoking: it took roughly 50 years from the first serious evidence of its harm to health to the point last year when smoking in public places was banned in the whole of the United Kingdom. We are now at the beginning of the cycle and James has played a major part in popularising vital ideas; but ahead lies a long, slow slog against powerful vested interests to win the battle.

The Selfish Capitalist: The Origins of Affluenza
The single most important idea to which James needs to apply all his missionary zeal is that mental well-being is a public health issue. Happiness is not a matter of personal performance and effort ("I've achieved it" or "why have I failed?") but a product of a set of environmental - social, economic and cultural - circumstances. The highly unequal, competitive, materialistic and individualistic cultures of neo-liberal economies produce emotional distress; they cultivate the insecurities which drive hyper consumerism ... and thus they make us ill. In the most telling analogy of the book, James argues that materialism is to ill-being what smoking is to lung cancer.

Drawing extensively on the work of American psychologist Tim Kasser, James argues that our recent increased wealth has come at the cost of the emotional well-being of a large proportion of the population; rates of distress among women in the UK almost doubled between 1982 and 2000. This is true of New Zealand and Australia as well as the UK and the US, in striking contrast with more egalitarian and collectivist countries such as Denmark or Germany. He tracks how "selfish capitalism" generates insecurity and inflates comparisons; how a winner-takes-all competitiveness merely creates losers and a pandemic of low self esteem, with its compensatory pathologies around celebrity and status.

Remarkably, Erich Fromm, the Marxist psychoanalyst and Buddhist writer, foresaw much of this half a century ago and James quotes his prescient analysis of the "passive, empty, anxious, isolated person for whom life has no meaning" and who compensates through "compulsive consumption". There are interesting issues to draw out of Fromm's work about how our mass consumer societies, ironically, cripple personal agency despite their avowals of individual choice, but James doesn't dwell on this. In fact, agency remains a confused thread in his argument: exactly who is the selfish capitalist? And is there a hint of a conspiracy theory as to how selfish capitalism has "hijacked" the English-speaking world to establish a political economy which benefits only a wealthy elite? He refers to an "invisible hand" which suppresses those ideas which challenge selfish capitalism, lulling us all into a false consciousness, but one wishes he would come clean, name the culprits and provide an explanation of why and how they hoodwink us.
So now what? Any proposals for system overcoming? (and no, this is not a mean liminal jab at brother Obama's nicotine jones...,)

The Next President

NYTimes | This is one of those moments in history when it is worth pausing to reflect on the basic facts:

An American with the name Barack Hussein Obama, the son of a white woman and a black man he barely knew, raised by his grandparents far outside the stream of American power and wealth, has been elected the 44th president of the United States.

Showing extraordinary focus and quiet certainty, Mr. Obama swept away one political presumption after another to defeat first Hillary Clinton, who wanted to be president so badly that she lost her bearings, and then John McCain, who forsook his principles for a campaign built on anger and fear.

His triumph was decisive and sweeping, because he saw what is wrong with this country: the utter failure of government to protect its citizens. He offered a government that does not try to solve every problem but will do those things beyond the power of individual citizens: to regulate the economy fairly, keep the air clean and the food safe, ensure that the sick have access to health care, and educate children to compete in a globalized world.

Mr. Obama spoke candidly of the failure of Republican economic policies that promised to lift all Americans but left so many millions far behind. He committed himself to ending a bloody and pointless war. He promised to restore Americans’ civil liberties and their tattered reputation around the world.

Get t'Steppin!!!!

A brief musical interlude and well wish for all those who didn't get what they wanted last night.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Electoral Jumbotron

Change Gone Come....,

Christian Science Monitor | The notion of sacrifice – asking Americans to give something up for a greater good – appears to be coming back into political vogue after decades of being seen as a poison pill.

Both major-party presidential candidates are emphasizing the need for individuals to shoulder responsibility for changing the direction of the United States, though they do so in different ways.

Personal sacrifice and service to the nation are central themes of John McCain’s candidacy. His campaign motto sums it up: “Country First.”

On the stump, Barack Obama cites the merits of sacrifice, calling it central to patriotism and urging Americans to help change the country’s direction – whether by turning off the television so children can study or by supporting higher taxes for wealthy corporations and individuals.

Both candidates have also called for expanded national service programs and lamented the Bush administration’s failure to tap the outpouring of civic and patriotic sentiment after the 9/11 attacks.

Not since President John Kennedy urged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” has the rhetoric of sacrifice sat this well with the public. Concern that the US confronts a huge crisis in the form of a global financial meltdown, plus an untapped desire since 9/11 to help the nation more, makes the public more receptive to the idea that sacrifice can be noble instead of just inconvenient.

Monday, November 03, 2008

What will defeat do to the Republicans?

NYTimes | You might think, perhaps hope, that Republicans will engage in some soul-searching, that they’ll ask themselves whether and how they lost touch with the national mainstream. But my prediction is that this won’t happen any time soon.

Instead, the Republican rump, the party that’s left after the election, will be the party that attends Sarah Palin’s rallies, where crowds chant “Vote McCain, not Hussein!” It will be the party of Saxby Chambliss, the senator from Georgia, who, observing large-scale early voting by African-Americans, warns his supporters that “the other folks are voting.” It will be the party that harbors menacing fantasies about Barack Obama’s Marxist — or was that Islamic? — roots.

Why will the G.O.P. become more, not less, extreme? For one thing, projections suggest that this election will drive many of the remaining Republican moderates out of Congress, while leaving the hard right in place. [...] But the G.O.P.’s long transformation into the party of the unreasonable right, a haven for racists and reactionaries, seems likely to accelerate as a result of the impending defeat.

This will pose a dilemma for moderate conservatives. Many of them spent the Bush years in denial, closing their eyes to the administration’s dishonesty and contempt for the rule of law. Some of them have tried to maintain that denial through this year’s election season, even as the McCain-Palin campaign’s tactics have grown ever uglier. But one of these days they’re going to have to realize that the G.O.P. has become the party of intolerance.

Nationalizing Critical Technologies

Washington Post | In two recent speeches that have attracted little notice, Donald Kerr, principal deputy director of national intelligence, has called for a radical new relationship between government and the private sector to counter what he called the "malicious activity in cyberspace [that] is a growing threat to everyone."

One approach would have the government take equity stakes in companies developing technical products, in effect expanding the practice of In-Q-Tel, the CIA entity that invests in companies.

Another proposal is to provide the same protective capabilities applied to government Web sites, ending in .gov and .mil, to the private industry's sites, ending in .com, which Kerr said have close to 98 percent of the nation's most important information.

He also suggested that the government ask insurers whether they cover "a failure to protect intellectual capital." That way, Kerr said, the insurers, through their premiums, "provide an incentive for companies, in fact, to pay attention to protecting their intellectual property."

In the past, Kerr said, when the director of central intelligence or the FBI chief faced similar problems, they would meet privately with leaders of companies involved in new technologies, seeking cooperation and perhaps access to their products. "What's the modern equivalent of what used to be done?" Kerr asked.

"We have a responsibility . . . to help those companies that we take an equity stake in or those that are just out there in the U.S. economy, to protect the most valuable assets they have, their ideas and the people who create them," he said.

Peak Capitalism

Peak Capitalism: Our Opportunity to Choose Between Survival and Collapse (27-page PDF) Lionel Orford

Our World is beset by a Sustainability Emergency.
Maintaining Essential Services

Governments throughout the developed world will probably need to directly intervene to create a command economy to ensure that the economic collapse does not cause the breakdown of essential services. It is important to understand that this is a failure of our economic system rather than a failure of the actual means of production of our essential goods and services.

Many millions of people who have lost their incomes will need to be provided with food, water, housing, medical care, electricity and sewage treatment. It is proposed that this be achieved through government issued ration system that provides every person with their essential needs. Such rations would need to be non-transferable so that a no black market in rations is possible.

A system of fuel rationing will be required to ensure that the available fuel is dedicated to the production, processing and distribution of food and other essential services as the supply of oil dwindles. This will entail a progressive shutting down of as many non-essential commercial and private activities as required to reserve sufficient fuel for essential services.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The end of deflationary trade

From the AU Business Spectator;
The global shipping crash continues to get worse and this morning’s GDP data shows the US recession is already deeper than 2001 and probably 1990-91 as well.

Meanwhile the International Monetary Fund seems determined to make the whole thing worse by imposing the most ruinous strictures on supplicant nations.

Yesterday the Baltic Dry freight rate index fell below 1000 for the first time in six years and last night it fell another 40 points to 885. In June the index was 11,900, so it has fallen 93 per cent in a few months – a crash far worse than anything ever seen in the stockmarket.

The spot daily rental for a Capesize ship is now $6365, down from $234,000 per day over the space of a few weeks. Maybe that previous price was absurdly inflated, but at $6365 it is just $365 above the average daily cost of crews and fuel.

As a result the world’s ports are filling with empty ships because shipowners can’t afford to run them, as well as some full ships because the owners of the cargo won’t unload without a bank letter of credit, which banks are refusing to supply.

Shipping companies are starting to file for bankruptcy in increasing numbers as they breach loan covenants, and a shipping researcher, Andreas Vergottis of Tufton Oceanic has told Bloomberg that a fifth of the world’s dry bulk companies may soon have negative net worth because the market for second hand ships has collapsed and the value of their fleets is below outstanding debt.

Like property-based loan agreements, shipping companies’ debt covenants have loan to value ratios that are typically 70 per cent. As the value of their fleets decline, banks are making margin calls.
If you think it's bad for global shipping, (and I know, you weren't thinking about this topic at all, despite what I told you some weeks ago about grain shipments), just think about what a hellified effect the current financial crisis must be having on airlines and air-based cargo transport!!!!

Beyond Voting

From the Bureau of Public Secrets;


Roughly speaking we can distinguish five degrees of “government”:

(1) Unrestricted freedom
(2) Direct democracy
(3) Delegate democracy
(4) Representative democracy
(5) Overt minority dictatorship

The present society oscillates between (4) and (5), i.e. between overt minority rule and covert minority rule camouflaged by a facade of token
democracy. A liberated society would eliminate (4) and (5) and would progressively reduce the need for (2) and (3). . . .

In representative democracy people abdicate their power to elected officials. The candidates’ stated policies are limited to a few vague generalities, and once they are elected there is little control over their actual decisions on hundreds of issues — apart from the feeble threat of changing one’s vote, a few years later, to some equally uncontrollable rival politician. Representatives are dependent on the wealthy for bribes and campaign contributions; they are subordinate to the owners of the mass media, who decide which issues get the publicity; and they are almost as ignorant and powerless as the general public regarding many important matters that are determined by unelected bureaucrats and independent secret agencies. Overt dictators may sometimes be overthrown, but the real rulers in “democratic” regimes, the tiny minority who own or control virtually everything, are never voted in and never voted out. Most people don’t even know who they are. . . .

In itself, voting is of no great significance one way or the other (those who make a big deal about refusing to vote are only revealing their own fetishism). The problem is that it tends to lull people into relying on others to act for them, distracting them from more significant possibilities. A few people who take some creative initiative (think of the first civil rights sit-ins) may ultimately have a far greater effect than if they had put their energy into campaigning for lesser-evil politicians. At best, legislators rarely do more than what they have been forced to do by popular movements. A conservative regime under pressure from independent radical movements often concedes more than a liberal regime that knows it can count on radical support. (The Vietnam war, for example, was not ended by electing antiwar politicians, but because there was so much pressure from so many different directions that the prowar president Nixon was forced to withdraw.) If people invariably rally to lesser evils, all the rulers have to do in any situation that threatens their power is to conjure up a threat of some greater evil.

Even in the rare case when a “radical” politician has a realistic chance of winning an election, all the tedious campaign efforts of thousands of people may go down the drain in one day because of some trivial scandal discovered in his (or her) personal life, or because he inadvertently says something intelligent. If he manages to avoid these pitfalls and it looks like he might win, he tends to evade controversial issues for fear of antagonizing swing voters. If he actually gets elected he is almost never in a position to implement the reforms he has promised, except perhaps after years of wheeling and dealing with his new colleagues; which gives him a good excuse to see his first priority as making whatever compromises are necessary to keep himself in office indefinitely. Hobnobbing with the rich and powerful, he develops new interests and new tastes, which he justifies by telling himself that he deserves a few perks after all his years of working for good causes. Worst of all, if he does eventually manage to get a few “progressive” measures passed, this exceptional and usually trivial success is held up as evidence of the value of relying on electoral politics, luring many more people into wasting their energy on similar campaigns to come.

As one of the May 1968 graffiti put it, “It’s painful to submit to our bosses; it’s even more stupid to choose them!”

Can We Save the World Economy?

George Soros, global financier and philanthropist, founder and chairman of the Open Society Institute and the Soros foundations network, and chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC.

Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics and international business at the Stern School of Business, New York University.

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Moderated by John Roberts of CNN.

An open and frank conversation on the breakdown of financial markets around the world and if we can save the global economy. Will the Wall Street bailout plan work? What steps need to be taken in Europe and Asia to stem the market’s downward spiral? Are we headed for a global recession? Three of the leading minds in global economics will discuss the options.

Facing Crude Reckoning, Russia Strikes Deal with China

A little quick dot-connecting.

From the Earth Times we read ANALYSIS: Russia faces crude reckoning over oil prices, and then in the UK Telegraph we find that Russia strikes lucrative oil deal with China;
Moscow - The splurge of oil profits feeding Russia's years of growth has turned sticky with falling production and energy prices. This double whammy is threatening to undercut the government's economic policy as the industry that is its main source of revenue takes a battering from the country's worst financial crisis in a decade.

Scooping huge oil windfalls into state coffers over the oil industry's boom years from 1999 to 2004 has been at the root of Russia's ideology under former President Vladimir Putin.

The surplus helped pay back a national debt as part of a therapy to recover from the humiliation an impoverished Russia suffered by the Soviet collapse and then move toward a resurgent foreign policy.

It went to a sovereign-wealth fund as insurance for storms like the one which buffeted financial markets last month. And it went to subsidize domestic energy prices and a planned array of social renewal programmes.

The policy was to maximize the state's share of industry profits through high taxation and intervention.

But the floor fell out from under Russian industry at a time when leaders like state energy giant Gazprom were on a major debt-financed buying spree. Stocks of Gazprom and highly-leveraged Rosneft led a market crash last month that sucked 70 per cent of the value out of Russian shares from their peaks in May. Slapped with million-dollar margin calls by foreign lenders, Lukoil, Gazprom, Rosneft and TNK-BP asked the government for help and were promised 9 billion dollars to roll over their debt.

Rosneft and state pipeline monopoly Transneft won a reprieve last week, obtaining a credit from China under a high-level deal signed with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Moscow to build a long- awaited pipeline link with Russia.

The deal became possible as the drop in energy prices leveled the playing field in a drawn-out pricing dispute between Moscow and Beijing.

The planned pipeline is to reroute Siberian oil and gas now destined for European markets, in the latest warning to Western leaders of realignment provoked by the current market turmoil that could upset the West's energy security.
Situations are evolving so rapidly now given the financial solvents at work bubbling throughout global political alignments, it's sometimes difficult to keep track of exactly what's going on. We DO however, know who has lots of money, who has lots of oil, and who has little of either....,

Stop Giving it Away!!!

Iran will cut its crude oil production by 199,000 barrels a day from November 1, the country's oil minister was quoted as saying Friday.

The minister, Gholam Hossein Nozari, said the production decrease is in line with an OPEC decision last week to cut production by 1.5 million barrels a day in response to a sharp fall in oil prices, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Nozari said that OPEC may hold another urgent meeting if crude prices don't rebound.

Benchmark crude prices slipped below $65 a barrel Friday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, extending declines after data showed the U.S. economy contracted in the latest quarter.

Iran is OPEC's second largest oil exporter and has traditionally opposed any crude output increases by OPEC, arguing that it would cause prices to fall.

Iran produces 4.2 million barrels of oil per day. The country's recoverable oil reserves are estimated at 137 billion barrels, or 12 percent of the world's overall reserves.

Venezuela wants OPEC oil output cut and price floor

CARACAS, Oct 30 (Reuters) - OPEC should cut oil output by 1 million barrels per day, possibly before its next scheduled meeting in December, and should set a minimum price target of $70 or $80, Venezuela's oil minister said on Thursday.

Rafael Ramirez said global demand for crude oil had slipped by 900,000 barrels per day because of global economic turmoil and warned sinking prices would cause oil investment to collapse worldwide.

"We estimate that at $70 per barrel the point arrives when projects now in visualization or in development begin to be abandoned in a massive way. This is not good for anybody," Ramirez said after opening an auction to develop three oil blocks in Venezuela's Orinoco heavy crude region.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries chopped production by 1.5 million bpd last week to stop oil's slide, after prices more than halved from a high of $147 hit in July. At around $65 a barrel oil is at its lowest level since mid 2007.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Was It Deliberate?

At Beyond Oil, K. Deffeyes speculates;
In a fascinating piece in the October 16, 2008 Denver Post, W. Jackson Davis points out that peak oil probably triggered the present crisis, but he says that economists were blindsided as if "a 'secret signal' sent out in 2007 slammed the economy with soaring energy and food costs, and the free-fall of housing prices." Could it have been an actual signal message?

* Was the signal actually sent?
* Who would have wanted to do it?
* How could it have been engineered?

The motivated parties would have to have been nations; this one is too big for Osama bin Laden. Here is a list of the usual suspects; I have no direct evidence that any of them were actually involved:

* Russia, the #2 oil producer in the world, reverting to its Cold War tendencies
* Nigeria, involved in violent controversy with the major international oil companies
* Venezuela, with the agenda of Hugo Chavez
* Any or all of the Arab oil exporters, because of the US automatic support of Israel

Let's entertain the hypothesis that representatives from several of these countries were having afternoon tea at an international meeting. One of them said that he had an economist in a windowless basement office who said that the US economy was a house of cards and that a five-percent additional drop in world oil supplies after 2005 would collapse the US economy. (All of them had read Hubbert's Peak and Beyond Oil.) The conversation turned to implementing the idea. A deliberate cut in production would be too obvious. However, the welfare of the US economy was based on imports, not on production. The trick would be to increase in-country oil consumption, leaving less to export. All of these countries had price controls on gasoline. Maintaining the price controls and letting some of that additional national income from high oil prices trickle down to the middle class would do the trick. ("Middle class" is defined as owning, or being able to acquire, a car. Import second-hand gas guzzlers from the USA.) Nothing would seem to change locally, but globally the sky would fall. Here are some regulated gasoline prices, converted to US dollars per US gallon:

• Russia $2.10 per gallon
• Saudi Arabia $0.91 per gallon
• Kuwait $0.78 per gallon
• Nigeria $0.38 per gallon
• Venezuela $0.12 per gallon

Those prices are from in 2005; sources at other times put Venezuelan gasoline at five cents per gallon. If some of the oil profits worked their way down to the local consumers, a huge amount of oil would disappear from the world market. Exports would go down, taking the US economy down with it. As it happened, the house mortgage card got the naming rights for the overall collapse, but it was the energy and food costs that pulled the mortgage card out of the house of cards. At least for Russia, it backfired. Their banking system is in turmoil. However, Russia would not be the first arsonist to get burned after setting the fire.

OPEC is caught in a replay of the late 1970s, with the market for oil and the price of oil collapsing. The OPEC response on October 24, 2008 was to cut back production to support the price. If my fantasy hypothesis is true, a production cutback only amplifies the problem. In the wake of the October 24 OPEC announcement, the price of oil went sharply down.

I close by repeating my initial warning. I have no direct evidence that one or more countries deliberately initiated the financial collapse. However, as so often happens, I cannot disprove the hypothesis.
Be sure to click on both links as each presents a interestingly flat gaze view of the current situation.

A Final, Frantic Looting of Public Wealth

Naomi Klein in the Guardian | The Bush gang's parting gift: a final, frantic looting of public wealth. The US bail-out amounts to a strings-free, public-funded windfall for big business. Welcome to no-risk capitalism.

In the final days of the election many Republicans seem to have given up the fight for power. But don't be fooled: that doesn't mean they are relaxing. If you want to see real Republican elbow grease, check out the energy going into chucking great chunks of the $700bn bail-out out the door. At a recent Senate banking committee hearing, the Republican Bob Corker was fixated on this task, and with a clear deadline in mind: inauguration. "How much of it do you think may be actually spent by January 20 or so?" Corker asked Neel Kashkari, the 35-year-old former banker in charge of the bail-out.

When European colonialists realised that they had no choice but to hand over power to the indigenous citizens, they would often turn their attention to stripping the local treasury of its gold and grabbing valuable livestock. If they were really nasty, like the Portuguese in Mozambique in the mid-1970s, they poured concrete down the elevator shafts.

Nothing so barbaric for the Bush gang. Rather than open plunder, it prefers bureaucratic instruments, such as "distressed asset" auctions and the "equity purchase program". But make no mistake: the goal is the same as it was for the defeated Portuguese - a final, frantic looting of the public wealth before they hand over the keys to the safe.

How else to make sense of the bizarre decisions that have governed the allocation of the bail-out money? When the Bush administration announced it would be injecting $250bn into US banks in exchange for equity, the plan was widely referred to as "partial nationalisation" - a radical measure required to get banks lending again. Henry Paulson, the treasury secretary, had seen the light, we were told, and was following the lead of Gordon Brown.

In fact, there has been no nationalisation, partial or otherwise. American taxpayers have gained no meaningful control over the banks, which is why the banks are free to spend the new money as they wish

Friday, October 31, 2008

Populism Arising....,

Chris Hedges at TruthDig| The old assumptions and paradigms about capitalism and free markets are dead. A new, virulent populism, still inchoate, is slowly and painfully rising to take their place. This populism will determine the future of the country. It is as likely to be right-wing as left-wing.

I watched these competing populisms flicker Thursday night at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., when I moderated a debate between independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader and Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin. The two candidates come from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Nader, in essence, is a democratic socialist in the mold of Eugene Debs or Norman Thomas. Baldwin, a founder and minister at the Crossroad Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., is an evangelical, right-wing populist.

Baldwin, like Nader, rails against corporatism and our involvement in foreign wars, wants to repeal NAFTA and denounces the curtailment of civil liberties. But Baldwin goes on to support the abolishment of whole departments of the federal government, such as the Department of Education. He calls for U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations and NATO, the elimination of the Food and Drug Administration, the outlawing of abortion and removing all restrictions on the purchasing of firearms. One of his catchier campaign slogans is: “To help keep your family safe and your country free, go buy a gun.” He wants to seal our borders, deny amnesty and social services to illegal immigrants and end birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. He calls for dismantling the Federal Reserve and the Internal Revenue Service, overturning the 16th Amendment and the personal income tax, and returning the American monetary system to hard assets: gold and silver.

These candidates, while marginal figures in the current election, express the two forms of populism that will soon find a wide political currency. The anger toward our elites will morph into rage. These new populisms may not be articulated by Nader and Baldwin, but they will be articulated by people like Nader and Baldwin.

Eleventh Hour Rorschachnoir......,

Comes now my friends Submariner and Bro. Makheru with broadly divergent views on life in the belly and on what a possible Obamamandian management cycle portends....,

You're wrong Makheru. Barack is tougher than all these fools. He is what JayZ would be if he were a politician. He is beating white boys at their own game.

Unfortunately, you and many others wouldn't be happy unless Barack said "fuck all y'all" and proclaimed his uncompromised support for Jeremiah Wright, reparations, and mass transfers of wealth. Your criticism is misguided in substance. What you wish to happen is, by definition, revolution. To work and succeed within the political system requires the maneuvers made by Obama.

You may call him soft or weak but I got much the same comments while growing up in Jamaica, Queens if I read a comic or novel on the bus. In the final reckoning I was a young resident in charge of the ER when I saw the fellow working in housekeeping.

Barack will be your next POTUS. He will make the same concessions and retreats as his predecessors(remember Reagan's response after Beirut or G.W. afetr Tbilisi?). He will commit similar treacherous acts at home and abroad.

If you think all our past presidents are waffles then fine. But if you would try to make Obama something uniquely compliant than you are verifiably wrong. JFK, his most similar counterpart in my estimation, reluctantly made LBJ, a man he and Bobby outright hated, his VP. JFK openly stated that if he followed his desire for detente with the USSR that the JCOS would lead a coup against him.

Another thing. White people aren't tough. They're just mean brutes. Tough isn't shooting mooses, chopping trees or chewing tobacco. It certainly isn't going out buying guns days before the election. Nor is it the pugnacity of your more sincere racists. That's a cover for anxiety. And Craig's favorite white boy led off with it.

White boys are just so weak and insecure. Never seen a tough one in my entire life.-- Doc Sub

Dr. Sub, I assume you must have lived a sheltered life. While moving around Dixie I’ve met a lot of white men who are as tough as nails. I’ve had confrontations with these people; I’ve worked side by side with them, sawing down trees and splitting wood, and I’ve rubbed elbows with them in their bars.

I’ve faced these people eye to eye and deep down inside, they respect strong Black men. They would never respect a waffling waffle like Barack Obama, who has no sense of loyalty to anything other than his political career.

[Brad, 42, and Margaret Marcus, 47, who were at a Fairfax County shooting range recently with their two children for weekly target practice, said they sped up the purchase of two semiautomatic rifles that had been banned during the Clinton administration because they feared they could become illegal again if Obama wins. The couple, who run an online retailing business from their Ashburn home, said they viewed Obama's remarks about protecting the Second Amendment as campaign trail "pandering."]

Personally, I’d rather deal with a redneck, raw-bone Dixie cracker any day, than those back-stabbing paternalistic white liberal elites who support Obama.


As Gas Prices Go Down, Driving Goes Up

NYTimes | Doug Guidry gave up drag racing and boating last summer when gasoline prices shot up. Billy Castaneda put off trips to Houston to see his grandchildren. Randal Shul stopped playing paintball with his buddies to save gas.

Now, with gasoline prices dropping, all three men are hitting the road again. “Gas going down means freedom, even when everyone is worried about the economy,” Mr. Castaneda said as he filled his 1995 Oldsmobile 88 to drive 125 miles to Houston the other day.

The sharp decline in gasoline use earlier this year — with volume down nearly 10 percent in some weeks — suggested to many people, including the automobile companies, that a permanent change in American habits might be at hand. But with gasoline prices falling drastically in recent weeks, some American drivers are returning to their old ways.

What is happening in this blue-collar bedroom community of refinery, food processing and casino workers reminds energy analysts of what happened the last time the oil price collapsed. The frugality of the 1970s, when oil was high, eventually gave way to an era when people drove longer distances, lived farther from work and traded in their cars for minivans and then sport utility vehicles.

“Driving habits die hard, and they can reincarnate quickly,” said Christopher R. Knittel, an economist at the University of California, Davis, who studies gasoline demand. In the late 1980s, he added: “As soon as gas prices fell, there was no real incentive to drive less anymore. If oil prices continue to fall and the economy recovers, I would expect consumers to return to wanting larger and less fuel-efficient cars.”

World will struggle to meet oil demand

Financial Times | Output from the world’s oilfields is declining faster than previously thought, the first authoritative public study of the biggest fields shows. Without extra investment to raise production, the natural annual rate of output decline is 9.1 per cent, the International Energy Agency says in its annual report, the World Energy Outlook, a draft of which has been obtained by the Financial Times.

The findings suggest the world will struggle to produce enough oil to make up for steep declines in existing fields, such as those in the North Sea, Russia and Alaska, and meet long-term de­mand. The effort will become even more acute as prices fall and investment decisions are delayed.

The IEA, the oil watchdog, forecasts that China, India and other developing countries’ demand will require investments of $360bn each year until 2030.

The agency says even with investment, the annual rate of output decline is 6.4 per cent.

The decline will not necessarily be felt in the next few years because demand is slowing down, but with the expected slowdown in investment the eventual effect will be magnified, oil executives say.

“The future rate of decline in output from producing oilfields as they mature is the single most important determinant of the amount of new capacity that will need to be built globally to meet demand,” the IEA says.

The watchdog warned that the world needed to make a “significant increase in future investments just to maintain the current level of production”.

The battle to replace mature oilfields’ output could even offset the decline in demand growth, which has given the industry – already struggling to find enough supply to meet needs, especially from China – a reprieve in the past few months.

The IEA predicted in its draft report, due to be published next month, that demand would be damped, “reflecting the impact of much higher oil prices and slightly slower economic growth”.

It expects oil consumption in 2030 to reach 106.4m barrels a day, down from last year’s forecast of 116.3m b/d. (This projection is hilarious to me given the fact that global oil production peaked at 85 m b/d in 2005 and has declined annually at a rate of 1.4% ever since)

The projections could yet be revised lower because the draft report was written a month ago, before the global financial crisis deepened after the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

All the increase in oil demand until 2030 comes from emerging countries, while consumption in developed countries declines.

As a result, the share of rich countries in global demand will drop from last year’s 59 per cent to less than half of the total in 2030.

This is the clearest indication yet that the focus of the industry on the demand – not just the supply – side is moving away from the US, Europe and Japan, towards emerging nations.

Russia to cut crude output 1-1.5% in 2009

MOSCOW, October 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will decrease its oil production by 1-1.5% next year, the vice president of LUKoil, Russia's independent oil producer, said Wednesday.

"Next year knowing in view of companies' plans, production will decline 1-1.5%," Leonid Fedun told a UBS conference in Moscow.

Fedun also said Russia could join the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

"Cooperation has started between Russia and OPEC. Maybe we are even talking about Russia joining OPEC. LUKoil and Rosneft heads are due to take part in the next OPEC session in December," he said.

Fedun said LUKoil believes capital investment by Russian companies needs to reach $100 billion annually for Russia to maintain its current levels of oil production.

The Russian Energy Ministry forecasts in 2008 oil production in Russia will drop 1 million tons, or 0.3-0.4% to 490 million tons against last year.

Earlier Fedun said that LUKoil planned to increase oil production by 1.5% with gas output rising by 3-4% in 2009.

However, Fedun said that the global financial crisis could force the company to cut investment in 2009 which would affect its drilling program and plans to modernize oil refineries.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Left Behind....,

Washington Post | "I know firsthand that this country didn't used to be like this," Collins said.

He grew up "poorer than dirt," he said, but poverty felt different back then. His family bought 35 quiet acres for less than $15,000, and Collins's father, Leon, started his own logging business. Leon invested in a few donkeys to haul the wood, and Collins and his three siblings helped work the land. It was simple, country living -- but it was their life, entirely self-sufficient. They canned the vegetables in the garden, drank milk from their cows and hunted deer on their land. Government and big corporations had little stake in their lives, and they liked it that way.

By the time Collins had finished high school, a big company called Herrman Lumber had pushed Leon out of business. Collins moved into town, became a mechanic, married, divorced and lost an 11-year-old son to cerebral palsy. He started drinking and using crystal meth but quit in 2001 and became a Baptist preacher. Determined to recreate his childhood, Collins returned to his dad's old farm and asked the new owner whether he would sell it. Sure, the owner agreed. For $450,000.

Collins took a job at Regal Beloit, a manufacturer of electronics and mechanics, where he works the night shift because it pays an extra 35 cents an hour. He bought a trailer for $15,000 -- about the same original price as the old farm -- and agreed to manage the mobile home park for a little extra cash.

The worst of it, Collins said, is that he is a man of great faith with little hope that his circumstances will improve. He says he has no hopes for retirement, no alternative career options and nothing but fear about the prospect of an Obama presidency.

"There was a time not long ago where somebody like Obama would have tried to become president, and they would have run him out on a rail," Collins said. "That's back when this country had backbone. Now, we say, 'Okay. He might be different than what we're used to, but maybe we can use a change.' But wait a minute now. What was wrong with the way things were?"

Irrational Exuberance | To most non-Americans, black is still code for being apart from the American establishment. Any visitor these days to Europe, to Africa or to the Muslim world is shocked by the depth of antipathy to the US. It is beyond ideology, a visceral, often racial aversion, unrelated to any personal attachment to individual Americans or their much-envied way of life. The ugly American is reborn.

Yet the same visitor is impressed by how often he is assured that an Obama presidency would "change everything". The reason is not that Obama is anti-war or pro-Palestinian or left or rightwing. It is that his origins render him the one thing he most vociferously denies, not an ordinary American.

To this world, Obama is a supposed representative of an oppressed class, however much his speech, manner and career bespeak the opposite. He is black and his name is confirmation enough. He symbolises the end of the Wasp ascendancy. The reason why his candidacy still discomforts many Americans is the reason the world craves it, that Obama is somehow unreal.

He is a meta-American. It is why there will be an awful unleashing of grief and fury if he is not elected. Yet Obama is real, not just a human being but a politician. In office he knows he must do more than make fine speeches and castigate the government of the day. He must grapple with the wreckage of a world economy whose collapse is in large part due to the mismanagement of American finance, from which as a senator he cannot altogether escape blame.
"Irrational exuberance" is a phrase used by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan in a speech given at the American Enterprise Institute during the stock market boom of the 1990s. The phrase was interpreted by financial pundits as a typical extraordinary economy.

"Obama, Inshallah" | Reports of the slogan "Obama, inshallah", or God willing, appearing in the Gaza Strip - and even some organised telephone campaigning for the Illinois Democrat - look like vivid but untypical examples of active mobilisation on his behalf.

"For the US to vote in an African-American progressive liberal would certainly mark a departure from the hyper and violent conservatism of the Bush-McCain camp," observed Al-Jazeera's Marwan Bishara.

"The rest of the world would certainly embrace a less fearful and more open post-9/11 America," according to the Egyptian intellectual Mona Makram Obeid. "Choosing Barack Obama, a symbol of hope, would do more to restore the image of the United States in the world than anything else."

Sensibly, some have hinted too at the danger of exaggerated expectations. "It is only natural for Arabs to lean towards supporting a black candidate with roots in Africa on the basis that he understands the concerns of the developing world and is aware that there are other nations who have a right to live," wrote Mohammad Salah in the pan-Arab paper al-Hayat. But beware, he said, of "rosy dreams that the solutions to Arab problems will come from the next US president if he is black and a Democrat".

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Plausible Deniability and Malign Neglect....,

RC straight spittin fire on this topic. Thank you brother for putting in the hair-raising work. Now in from - Virus Spreads in Abandoned California Pools, Jacuzzis ;
Neglected swimming pools and Jacuzzis in homes abandoned after mortgage delinquencies may be spurring an increase of West Nile virus near Los Angeles as mosquitoes move in, a study showed.

Cases of the potentially lethal mosquito-borne virus rose almost fourfold to 140 in the Bakersfield area of Kern County last year, coinciding with a 300 percent increase in home delinquencies in the county, according to the study in the November edition of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

``The recent widespread downturn in the housing market and increase in adjustable rate mortgages have combined to force a dramatic increase in home foreclosures and abandoned homes and produced urban landscapes dotted with an expanded number of new mosquito habitats,'' researchers led by William Reisen, a professor of entomology at University of California, Davis, wrote.

The study also found that 60 percent of mosquitoes captured at unmaintained pools in Kern County this year were of the Culex tarsalis variety, a type usually found in rural areas that is more effective at spreading West Nile virus than the Culex pipiens mosquito commonly found in urban areas. That may increase the risk of future epidemics, Reisen and his colleagues said.

Mosquito-borne West Nile virus has killed 25 people in the U.S. this year and sickened more than 1,100, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which publishes the journal. The virus can cause brain inflammation, high fever, headaches, coma and other symptoms, according to the organization.

A total of 140 laboratory-confirmed cases of West Nile were reported in Bakersfield last year, 276 percent more than in 2006, the study said. Bakersfield has the fourth-highest U.S. foreclosure rate, RealtyTrac said Oct. 23.

Locked Out

An aerial photograph of a Bakersfield neighborhood showed 17 percent of the 42 visible pools and Jacuzzis had turned green, as the chemicals used to keep them clean deteriorated, allowing algae to grow and mosquitoes to breed, the researchers said. Locked fences around pools also prevented mosquito controllers from accessing the affected areas, the report said.

``Surveillance continues to monitor the extent of the problem in Kern County and throughout California and its affect on the ongoing West Nile virus epidemic,'' the authors wrote.
Gawd, looking through some of this material reminds me of just how much I hated doing an in-depth study of parasitology. But in my occasionally humble opinion, there's no better way to understand game theory, warfare, and the power of genetic omni-determinism than to explore the furthest reaches of this queasy-making realm of organic experience....,

Aedes Aegypti plus Ebola Equals?

My man RC poses the $64,000 kwestin and simultaneously solves that pandemic preparedness equation as the NYTimes publishes a bold understatement - Bio Lab in Galveston Raises Concerns;
Much of the University of Texas medical school on this island suffered flood damage during Hurricane Ike, except for one gleaming new building, a national biological defense laboratory that will soon house some of the most deadly diseases in the world.

How a laboratory where scientists plan to study viruses like Ebola and Marburg ended up on a barrier island where hurricanes regularly wreak havoc puzzles some environmentalists and community leaders.

“It’s crazy, in my mind,” said Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer in Houston. “I just find an amazing willingness among the people on the Texas coast to accept risks that a lot of people in the country would not accept.”

Officials at the laboratory and at the National Institutes of Health, which along with the university is helping to pay for the $174 million building, say it can withstand any storm the Atlantic hurls at it.

Built atop concrete pylons driven 120 feet into the ground, the seven-floor laboratory was designed to stand up to 140-mile-an-hour winds. Its backup generators and high-security laboratories are 30 feet above sea level.

“The entire island can wash away and this is still going to be here,” Dr. James W. LeDuc, the deputy director of the laboratory, said. “With Hurricane Ike, we had no damage. The only evidence the hurricane occurred was water that was blown under one of the doors and a puddle in the lobby.”
The project enjoyed the strong support of three influential Texas Republicans: President Bush, a former Texas governor; Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison; and the former House majority leader, Tom DeLay, whose district includes part of Galveston County. Officials at the National Institutes of Health, however, say the decision to put the lab here was based purely on the merits. It is to open Nov. 11.

'Flying syringe' mosquitos, other ideas get Gates funding
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded 100,000 dollars each on Wednesday to scientists in 22 countries including funding for a Japanese proposal to turn mosquitos into "flying syringes" delivering vaccines. The charitable foundation created by the founder of software giant Microsoft said in a statement that the grants were designed to "explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve global health."

How these gibbering numbskulls came to dominate Washington

George Monbiot in the Guardian on how the degradation of intelligence and learning in American politics results from a series of interlocking tragedies.
How did politics in the US come to be dominated by people who make a virtue out of ignorance? Was it charity that has permitted mankind's closest living relative to spend two terms as president? How did Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle and other such gibbering numbskulls get to where they are? How could Republican rallies in 2008 be drowned out by screaming ignoramuses insisting that Barack Obama was a Muslim and a terrorist?

Like most people on my side of the Atlantic, I have for many years been mystified by American politics. The US has the world's best universities and attracts the world's finest minds. It dominates discoveries in science and medicine. Its wealth and power depend on the application of knowledge. Yet, uniquely among the developed nations (with the possible exception of Australia), learning is a grave political disadvantage.

One theme is both familiar and clear: religion - in particular fundamentalist religion - makes you stupid. The US is the only rich country in which Christian fundamentalism is vast and growing.

But there were other, more powerful, reasons for the intellectual isolation of the fundamentalists. The US is peculiar in devolving the control of education to local authorities. Teaching in the southern states was dominated by the views of an ignorant aristocracy of planters, and a great educational gulf opened up. "In the south", Jacoby writes, "what can only be described as an intellectual blockade was imposed in order to keep out any ideas that might threaten the social order."

The Southern Baptist Convention, now the biggest denomination in the US, was to slavery and segregation what the Dutch Reformed Church was to apartheid in South Africa. It has done more than any other force to keep the south stupid. In the 1960s it tried to stave off desegregation by establishing a system of private Christian schools and universities. A student can now progress from kindergarten to a higher degree without any exposure to secular teaching. Southern Baptist beliefs pass intact through the public school system as well. A survey by researchers at the University of Texas in 1998 found that one in four of the state's state school biology teachers believed humans and dinosaurs lived on earth at the same time.
Monbiot carpet bombs the recent history of national governance-by-moron in the U.S. From old 666's "there you go again" line to James Earl Carter, all the way up through the current talk-radio culture war in which any possessing a GED would be classified as a "liberal elite".

Don't Hate the Playa.....,

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Iran as Political Reality

The distinction between the apocalyptic rhetoric Israeli leaders use publicly in relation to Iran, and the more pragmatic view they hold among themselves on how to deal with Tehran and its nuclear program, has long been clear to anyone paying very close attention. In short, it’s clear that many of Israel’s key leaders don’t believe Iran is a suicidal ideologically-crazed regime that would risk destroying itself in order to destroy Israel, and therefore that even a nuclear-armed Iran would not be an “existential threat” to Israel, although clearly it would present a major strategic challenge by fundamentally reordering the balance of military force in the region. And of late, some of them have begun a gingerly but very clear retreat from the idea that Israel will have to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities if no one else does — President Shimon Peres has said as much, publicly, and outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has echoed that position. I asked Rootless Cosmopolitan’s favorite Iran expert, Dr. Trita Parsi, to weigh in on the basis of his extensive research and interviews with many of the key decision-makers on the Israeli and Iranian sides. Trita’s book Treacherous Alliance — The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the U.S. is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the Israeli-Iranian relationship, and why there’s plenty of room for pragmatic coexistence.

On the eve of his departure from political life, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Olmert delivered a stinging parting shot – putting under question not only the wisdom of holding on to Palestinian land, but also the feasibility of an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“We have to make a decision, one that goes against all our instincts, against our collective memory,” he told the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth. Recognizing that no other Israeli leader ever had uttered these words publicly, Olmert went on to declare that “Israel must withdraw from almost all, if not all” of the West Bank to achieve peace.

On Iran, Olmert argued that Israel had lost its “sense of proportion” when stating that it would deal with Iran militarily. “What we can do with the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Lebanese, we cannot do with the Iranians,” Olmert said, in stark contradiction to his own earlier warnings on Iran as well as the rhetoric of many of his hawkish cabinet members. “Let’s be more modest, and act within the bounds of our realistic capabilities,” he cautioned.

Israel Gets Real on Iran by Dr. Trita Parsi in The Atlantic Free Press.

Iran as Political Theater

While we must never rely on anyone else to do for us what we must do for ourselves in national security, there are multiple threats today that we cannot resolve without the cooperation of others. In fact, when it comes to preventing the worst weapons from falling into the worst hands or defeating apocalyptic terror groups or coping with global health challenges or stopping global warming or avoiding an international depression, we cannot do everything on our own. We need others internationally to accept our objectives and be prepared to join their means to ours.

When I was with Obama in Berlin and more than 200,000 people turned out in the heart of Europe to wave American flags, this was an extraordinary development. It reminded us that an American leader who is admired can lead not only our country but also make it easier for others to follow our lead. And, when I look at the Middle East -- where we face our greatest threats today -- we need others to follow our lead in stopping Iran from going nuclear and discrediting radical Islamists.
Ambassador Dennis Ross, Mark Aronchick, and Rabbi Neil Cooper of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El, when Ross spoke to over 1000 community members and endorsed Senator Barack Obama. (Photo: Bonnie Squires)

Today, we are in trouble in the Middle East. Everywhere we look -- whether in the Gulf, Iraq, Lebanon or Gaza and the West Bank -- we see Iran challenging American interests and allies. Iran uses coercion and intimidation -- using groups like Hezbollah and Hamas -- to weaken existing regimes and to employ terror. It is Iran that arms these groups and threatens Israel on a daily basis.

Dennis Ross Why I support Barack Obama in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.


UK Guardian | With polls showing Barack Obama pulling ahead of John McCain in the US presidential race, the Republican party's hard-right evangelical allies are starting to panic. As the political elites in the movement freak out, they're sowing the seeds of grassroots anxiety that God will punish America for electing Obama.

Theodicy lies at the heart of the evangelical right's political strategy: Christians must perpetually engage in spiritual warfare with Satan, and take dominion over governmental and legal institutions. God will be pleased then; but if these Christian soldiers fail to vanquish Satan, God won't be happy at all. Chaos ensues: socialism, Bible burning, abortions in public schools, boy scouts forced into homosexuality!

Religious-right honchos are girding the troops for political apocalypse. Townhall magazine, owned by Salem Communications, one of the largest Christian broadcasters in the country, ran a September feature, "Obamageddon: Could We Survive a Barack Presidency?" This month evangelical publishing giant Stephen Strang, whose magazine Charisma endorsed McCain, predicted that "life as we know it will end if Obama is elected." Last week, the political arm of James Dobson's Focus on the Family sent out a "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America", a 16-page (pdf) parade of horribles, and talk radio show host Janet Porter imagined that Christians will be imprisoned with Obama in the Oval Office.

Six-Legged Soldiers

Excerpt from Six-Legged Soldiers at the Scientist; Insects have been converted into weapons of war and tools of terror for millennia. A new book asks: Are we ready for the next wave?

Dusk descends on a sweltering New Orleans. A naked man lies moaning in an apartment a few blocks from Canal Street. His jaundiced body is mottled with bruises where vessels have hemorrhaged. The pillow and bedside are caked with blood that he has vomited. The man's breathing is labored as he drowns in his own fluids.

The window of the room is shut tightly, letting in no breath of air - and letting out none of the thousands of mosquitoes that cover the walls and the man's body. Aedes aegypti is not the most common species along the Gulf Coast, but anyone with a course in medical entomology could build a simple trap and conscript a bloodthirsty army.

Across the hall, another man cracks his door and peers out. Seeing nobody in the hallway, he emerges wearing beekeepers' garb. After slipping into the sickroom, he watches as a convulsion wracks the martyr's body. The insects rise in a ravenous cloud, droning their annoyance at having their meal disturbed.

Taking advantage of the moment, the garbed man crosses the room and opens the window... ...Sensing the air currents, a cloud of mosquitoes pours through the window, carrying a payload of yellow fever. The city's tropical heat, stagnant waters, crumbling infrastructure, decrepit health care system, and haggard people - nearly a quarter million resolute souls after Katrina - will provide an ideal setting for an epidemic. The man pulls a cell phone from his pocket and reads the coded text messages from his associates in Houston and Miami. He smiles, brushes a mosquito from the key pad, and dials the news desk at CNN.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gun Sales Thriving In Uncertain Times

Washington Post | Americans have cut back on buying cars, furniture and clothes in a tough economy, but there's one consumer item that's still enjoying healthy sales: guns. Purchases of firearms and ammunition have risen 8 to 10 percent this year, according to state and federal data. Several variables drive sales, but many dealers, buyers and experts attribute the increase in part to concerns about the economy and fears that if Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois wins the presidency, he will join with fellow Democrats in Congress to enact new gun controls. Obama has said that he believes in an individual right to bear arms but that he also supports "common-sense safety measures."

"Even though [Obama] has a lot going for him, he's not very pro-gun," said Paul Pluff, a spokesman for Massachusetts-based Smith & Wesson, which has reported higher sales. Gun enthusiasts are "going to go out and get [firearms] while they still can."

Gun purchases have also been climbing because of the worsening economy, which fuels fears of crime and civil disorder, industry sources and specialists said.

"Generally, we know that hard economic times always result in firearm sales," said James M. Purtilo of Silver Spring, who publishes the Tripwire Newsletter.

Gary Kleck, a researcher at Florida State University's College of Criminology and Criminal Justice whose work was cited in the District's recent Supreme Court gun-control case, said that although there are no scientific studies linking gun sales and economic conditions, people often buy firearms during periods of uncertainty. People often buy weapons because of concerns about personal safety or government actions to limit access to firearms, causing spikes in sales, Kleck said.

Wealth gap creating a social time bomb

UK Guardian | Growing inequality in US cities could lead to widespread social unrest and increased mortality, says a new United Nations report on the urban environment.

In a survey of 120 major cities, New York was found to be the ninth most unequal in the world and Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington, and Miami had similar inequality levels to those of Nairobi, Kenya Abidjan and Ivory Coast. Many were above an internationally recognised acceptable "alert" line used to warn governments.

"High levels of inequality can lead to negative social, economic and political consequences that have a destabilising effect on societies," said the report. "[They] create social and political fractures that can develop into social unrest and insecurity."

According to the annual State of the World's cities report from UN-Habitat, race is one of the most important factors determining levels of inequality in the US and Canada.

"In western New York state nearly 40% of the black, Hispanic and mixed-race households earned less than $15,000 compared with 15% of white households. The life expectancy of African-Americans in the US is about the same as that of people living in China and some states of India, despite the fact that the US is far richer than the other two countries," it said.

Disparities of wealth were measured on the "Gini co-efficient", an internationally recognised measure usually only applied to the wealth of countries. The higher the level, the more wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer people.

"It is clear that social tension comes from inequality. The trickle down theory [that wealth starts with the rich] has not delivered. Inequality is not good for anybody," said Anna Tibaijuka, head of UN-Habitat, in London yesterday.

The report found that India was becoming more unequal as a direct result of economic liberalisation and globalisation, and that the most unequal cities were in South Africa and Namibia and Latin America. "The cumulative effect of unequal distribution [of wealth] has been a deep and lasting division between rich and poor. Trade liberalisation did not bring about the expected benefits."