Sunday, January 11, 2009

the view from the holding pen....,

Guardian | These last two weeks have left me deeply troubled. The images of innocent, wounded Palestinians being carried on stretchers to hospitals as they recited the Muslim testimony of faith called out to me. On my deathbed, I will recite the same Islamic declaration of faith. Like a billion Muslims across the world, I identified with the Palestinians.

I desperately tried to understand Israel's position, but couldn't. A ragtag Hamas army and its rockets did not warrant the wrath of F16 jets and Apache helicopters followed by an invasion, with mass killings in their wake. Like most Brits, I looked on aghast. I recalled Britain's involvement in creating Israel in 1948. We had a duty to help Arabs, to make right our historical wrongs. But how?

The constant lies from Israeli government and military spokespeople infuriated me, as did Hamas' warmongering and desire for perennial conflict. Just as Hamas smuggled in rockets over the last six months, Israel meticulously planned this murderous onslaught. While both extremes plan to kill and maim, mostly innocent Arabs and some Israelis lose their lives. How can this happen before our eyes? I got text messages from Muslims across Britain expressing anger, shock and, most important, a deep desire to act. We all wanted to do something, but what? We could not simply sit by and watch as the Israelis killed mercilessly and cleared the decks during the last days of the Bush presidency.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What you don't know about Gaza

IHT | This war on the people of Gaza isn't really about rockets. Nor is it about "restoring Israel's deterrence," as the Israeli press might have you believe.

Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: "The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people."
Nearly everything you've been led to believe about Gaza is wrong. Below are a few essential points that seem to be missing from the conversation, much of which has taken place in the press, about Israel's attack on the Gaza Strip.

THE GAZANS Most of the people living in Gaza are not there by choice. The majority of the 1.5 million people crammed into the roughly 140 square miles of the Gaza Strip belong to families that came from towns and villages outside Gaza like Ashkelon and Beersheba. They were driven to Gaza by the Israeli Army in 1948.

THE OCCUPATION The Gazans have lived under Israeli occupation since the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel is still widely considered to be an occupying power, even though it removed its troops and settlers from the strip in 2005.

Israel still controls access to the area, imports and exports, and the movement of people in and out. Israel has control over Gaza's air space and sea coast, and its forces enter the area at will.

As the occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention to see to the welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

THE BLOCKADE Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, with the support of the United States and the European Union, has grown increasingly stringent since Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006.

Fuel, electricity, imports, exports and the movement of people in and out of the Strip have been slowly choked off, leading to life-threatening problems of sanitation, health, water supply and transportation.

The blockade has subjected many to unemployment, penury and malnutrition. This amounts to the collective punishment - with the tacit support of the United States - of a civilian population for exercising its democratic rights.

THE CEASE-FIRE Lifting the blockade, along with a cessation of rocket fire, was one of the key terms of the June cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. This accord led to a reduction in rockets fired from Gaza from hundreds in May and June to a total of less than 20 in the subsequent four months (according to Israeli government figures).

The cease-fire broke down when Israeli forces launched major air and ground attacks in early November; six Hamas operatives were reported killed.

WAR CRIMES The targeting of civilians, whether by Hamas or by Israel, is potentially a war crime. Every human life is precious. But the numbers speak for themselves: Nearly 700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since the conflict broke out at the end of last year. In contrast, there have been around a dozen Israelis killed, many of them soldiers.

Negotiation is a much more effective way to deal with rockets and other forms of violence. This might have been able to happen had Israel fulfilled the terms of the June cease-fire and lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

on the highway to hell....,

Reuters | The U.S. is seeking to hire a merchant ship to deliver hundreds of tons of arms to Israel from Greece later this month, tender documents seen by Reuters show.

The U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC) said the ship was to carry 325 standard 20-foot containers of what is listed as "ammunition" on two separate journeys from the Greek port of Astakos to the Israeli port of Ashdod in mid-to-late January.

A "hazardous material" designation on the manifest mentions explosive substances and detonators, but no other details were given.

"Shipping 3,000-odd tons of ammunition in one go is a lot," one broker said, on condition of anonymity.

"This (kind of request) is pretty rare and we haven't seen much of it quoted in the market over the years," he added.

The U.S. Defense Department, contacted by Reuters on Friday in Washington, had no immediate comment.

The MSC transports amour and military supplies for the U.S. armed forces aboard its own fleet, but regularly hires merchant ships if logistics so require.

The request for the ship was made on December 31, with the first leg of the charter to arrive no later than January 25 and the second at the end of the month.

The tender for the vessel follows the hiring of a commercial ship to carry a much larger consignment of ordnance in December from the United States to Israel ahead of air strikes in the Gaza Strip.

A German shipping firm which won that tender confirmed the order when contacted by Reuters but declined to comment further.

endgame...,

Washington Post | This conflict is not merely about land and water and mutual recognition. It is about national identity. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians define themselves by the Holy Land -- all of it. Any territorial compromise would compel both sides to relinquish part of their identity.

In recent years, with the rise of Hamas and the increasing militance of some Jewish settlers, this precariously irrational conflict has also assumed a more religious character -- and thereby become even more difficult to solve. Islamic fundamentalists, as well as Jewish ones, have made control of the land part of their faith, and that faith is dearer to them than human life.

So I find myself among the new majority of Israelis who no longer believe in peace with the Palestinians. The positions are simply too far apart at this time.

I no longer believe in solving the conflict. What I do believe in is better conflict management -- including talks with Hamas, which is a taboo that must be broken. The need for U.S. engagement has led me, along with many other Israelis, to harbor high hopes for the administration of Barack Obama. The Bush administration was mainly concerned with keeping alive a diplomatic fiction called "The Peace Process." But there really was no such "process." Instead, the oppression of the Palestinians continued and intensified, even after Israel had evacuated several thousand settlers from Gaza in 2005. More settlements were put up in the West Bank.

The friendliest thing that President Obama can do for Israel in the long run would be to induce her to return to her original purpose: to be a Jewish and democratic country. Rather than design another fictitious "road map" for peace, the Obama administration may be more useful and successful by trying merely to manage the conflict, aiming at a more limited yet urgently needed goal: to make life more livable for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Collapse by the numbers....,

WSJ Online | The worsening U.S. economy hit the nation's work force hard in December, as the unemployment rate climbed to 7.2% and brought the total number of jobs lost last year to just over 2.5 million -- the most since 1945.

Of those, 1.9 million vanished in just the final four months of the year.

Job losses spared no region or sector, except for small increases in education and health-care services and government employment. The U.S. lost 524,000 jobs in December, the Labor Department said Friday. Financial markets sank on the news, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 143.28 points, or 1.64%, to close at 8,599.18 on Friday.
1) The average work week has dropped to 33.3 hr, a record low (since the end of WW2), 2) The dark number ( estimated actual unemployed number) rose to 13.5% from 12.8% last month.

If 32hr is regarded as part time employment, we are now very close to being a nation of predominantly part time workers (therefore without benefits).

So our staggering trade deficits (asset losses) should be improving as we buy less? No, in fact it worsened last month as we exported even less. We lost about 750 billion USD in hard assets to the rest of the world, again, this past year from the trade imbalance alone.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Vatican compares Gaza to Nazi camp

Independent | The pope's minister for peace and justice was accused yesterday of speaking like a Holocaust denier after comparing Gaza to a "big concentration camp".

Cardinal Renato Martino, a veteran Vatican diplomat with years of experience as the Pope's delegate to the United Nations, told an interviewer for L'Avvenire, the daily paper of the Italian bishops, that "nobody" in the Israel-Hamas dispute "sees the interests of the other, but only their own". He continued: "But the consequences of egoism are hatred for the other, poverty and injustice. The ones who pay are always the defenceless populations. Look at the conditions in Gaza: more and more it resembles a big concentration camp."

He added that "both sides" were to blame for the dispute and must be separated like feuding brothers. "The world cannot just look on, doing nothing," said Cardinal Martino. His comments were later echoed by Pope Benedict XVI, who said "the military option is not a solution and violence from whichever side must be firmly condemned".

But Israel and its supporters reacted angrily to the cardinal's implied comparison of Gaza to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. "We are astounded to hear from a spiritual dignitary words that are so far removed from truth and dignity," said Yigal Palmor, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, went further, saying such comments "are only used against Israel by terrorist organisations and Holocaust deniers".

The row cast doubt on the Pope's tentative plan to visit the Holy Land in May.

Obama camp 'prepared to talk to Hamas'

Guardian | The Guardian has spoken to three ­people with knowledge of the discussions in the Obama camp. There is no talk of Obama approving direct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas early on, but he is being urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches, and there is growing recognition in Washington that the policy of ostracising Hamas is counter-productive. A tested course would be to start ­contacts through Hamas and the US intelligence services, similar to the secret process through which the US engaged with the PLO in the 1970s. Israel did not become aware of the contacts until much later.

A UN resolution was agreed last night at the UN, calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire between Hamas and Israeli forces in Gaza. The resolution was passed, though the US, represented by secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, abstained.

Richard Haass, a diplomat under both Bush presidents who was named by a number of news organisations this week as Obama's choice for Middle East envoy, supports low-level contacts with Hamas provided there is a ceasefire in place and a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation emerges.

Another potential contender for a ­foreign policy role in the Obama administration suggested that the president-elect would not be bound by the Bush doctrine of isolating Hamas.

"This is going to be an administration that is committed to negotiating with ­critical parties on critical issues," the source said.

you can fool some people some of the time....,

HuffPo | By New Year's Day, Israel's cheering squad had turned the opinion pages of major American newspapers into their own personal romper room. Of all the editorial contributions published by the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times since the Israel's war on Gaza began, to my knowledge only one offered a skeptical view of the assault. But that editorial, by Israeli novelist David Grossman, contained not a single word about the Palestinian casualties of IDF attacks. Even while calling for a cease fire, Grossman promised, "We can always start shooting again."

Israeli public relations agents fanned out to broadcast studios from the US to Europe, fulfilling an aggressive strategy conceived after the country's catastrophic 2006 attack on Lebanon. An analysis by Israel's foreign ministry of eight hours of coverage across international broadcast media concluded that Israeli representatives received a whopping 58 minutes of airtime compared to only 19 minutes for Palestinians. "Quite a few outlets are very favorable to Israel, namely by showing [its] suffering. I am sure it is a result of the new co-ordination," said Major Avital Leibovich, an IDF spokesperson who has become a fixture on cable news in the past weeks.

But while Israel's PR machine cranked its Mighty Wurlitzer to full blast, drowning out all opposing voices with its droning sound, a surprisingly substantial portion of the American public decided to dance to its own tune. According to a December 31 Rasmussen poll (so far the only measure of US opinion on the Gaza assault), while Americans remained overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, they were split almost evenly on the question of whether Israel should attack Gaza -- 44% in favor of the assault and 41% against it. The internals are even more remarkable.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Oil, Gas, and Palestinian Peace

OilandGasInvesting | In the late 1990s, the Palestinian government was able to secure an agreement with British Gas that allowed them to begin drilling for natural gas and oil in the Mediterranean Sea. After years of drilling and exploration, Palestine was rewarded with an oil reserve 22 miles off of the coast of the Gaza Strip. The entire country was excited by this natural mineral that would hopefully provide them with the economic freedom and financial stability they desired. Unfortunately, the financial success did not come directly on the heels of their discovery.

International instability and internal political strife has made it extremely difficult for Palestinian officials to utilize their newfound resource. In 2005 Israel delivered a major blow to the Palestinians fledgling oil industry by choosing to import natural gas from Egypt. By doing this, Israel completely bypassed its neighbor in favor of making a political statement.

This deal completely destroyed Palestine’s early plans to establish a flourishing gas industry in Gaza that would create many much needed jobs and earn the Palestinian government millions in taxes. The millions the government planned to receive were based on the Gaza Marine field containing 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Many experts and Triple Diamond Energy Corp. believe that this reserve would be able to amply cover all of Palestine’s energy needs with much left over to be used for trade.

Substantially more and very interesting detail about Palestinian energy resources here.

Countries affected by Russia-Ukraine gas dispute

(Reuters) - Ukraine's state energy company Naftogaz said on Wednesday that all Russian gas supplies to Europe via Ukrainian territory had halted at 0544 GMT (12:44 a.m. EST) in a pricing dispute.

Following are summaries of the gas supply situation in European countries affected by the action.

AUSTRIA

Gas flows stopped on January 7. Russia supplies 51 percent of Austria's gas.

Oil and gas group OMV was drawing on reserves, domestic production and other imports to guarantee supply.

The company has about 1.75 billion cubic meters of gas in storage, enough to supply Austrian household demand for three months during the winter.

GERMANY

E.ON Ruhrgas said gas shipments to Europe via Ukraine had been massively reduced since early on Tuesday and expects gas transit into Germany via Czech Waidhaus border point to stop entirely during the day.

Germany receives more than 40 percent of its gas from Russia. Energy firms warned of gas shortages if the dispute lasted much longer and sub-zero temperatures endured.

ITALY

Russian gas imports via the TAG pipeline were substantially interrupted from 1 a.m. on Wednesday.

Russia supplies around 31 percent of Italy's gas imports, or about 60 million cubic metres a day.

Italy has enough gas reserves to last several weeks, according to Industry Minister Claudio Scajola.

Italy has no reasons for concern regarding its energy supplies over the next few weeks in the wake of the gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine, the chief executive of oil and gas company Eni, Paolo Scaroni, said on Tuesday.

Scaroni said that since the first gas crisis between Russia and Ukraine at the start of 2006, Eni had put in place a policy of diversifying gas supplies and boosting gas storage.

FRANCE

Russian shipments dropped by more than 70 percent on January 6. French Energy group GDF Suez guaranteed supplies.

France imports 15 percent of its gas supply from Russia. It does not rely on gas in the same way as Germany or Italy because 80 percent of its electricity is produced by nuclear energy.

Remaining effected countries listed at Reuter's link above.

Idle ports signal two 'bleak' years ahead...,

Calgary Herald | Port traffic is slowing around the world -- everywhere from North America to Asia -- as a recession erodes consumer demand and the credit crisis chokes off loans to export-dependent companies. International trade is set to fall by more than two per cent next year, the most since the World Bank began measuring it in 1971. Idle ports are showing how quickly a collapse in trade can spread, undermining growth in each country it reaches.

September and October are typically Long Beach's busiest months as U.S. retailers take deliveries for holiday sales. This year, September imports fell 15.8 per cent from a year earlier, October's dropped 9.5 per cent, and November's slid 13.6 per cent.

"Everybody expects 2009 to be a bleak year," said Jim McKenna, chief executive officer of the Pacific Maritime Association, a San Francisco-based group representing dock employers at U.S. West Coast ports. "Now, it looks like 2010 is going to be just as bleak."

Slowing trade is both a cause and an effect of the first simultaneous contraction in the world's largest economies since the Second World War. Throughout this decade, trade grew by an average 12 per cent a year, reaching $13.6 trillion in 2007 and propelling growth in nations including Germany, China and Chile. Now the evaporation of financing and collapse in demand threaten an activity that accounts for a quarter of the $54-trillion global economy.

"We are having this dramatic reversal," said Michael Finger, a trade economist in Geneva since the early 1970s. "I'm a long time in this business, but this is unique."

Scripting Asian Civil War?

Washington Post | Indian authorities and international experts have expressed the suspicion that the good intentions of Pakistan's civilian leaders are not necessarily shared by its military and intelligence establishments, which were forged in a decades-long rivalry with India and have sponsored armed Islamist groups in Indian Kashmir and in Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet conflict there.

But Qureshi and Pakistan's intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, said Wednesday that the country's security forces are subservient to civilian authority and committed to supporting democratic rule. "It is completely clear to the army chief and I that this government must succeed," Pasha said of Zardari's administration. "I report regularly to the president and take orders from him."

Pasha also ruled out the possibility of going to war with India, telling the online edition of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel that Pakistan is "distancing itself" from such conflict and that "we know full well that terror is our enemy, not India." He acknowledged, however, that although he had been willing to travel to India after the Mumbai attacks, some senior officials were "simply not ready" to make such a gesture to Pakistan's longtime adversary.

Indian Outsourcing Giant Admits Fraud

Washington Post | The leader of one of India's largest technology outsourcing companies, Satyam Computer Services, on Wednesday admitted cooking its books and committing other grave financial wrongdoing to inflate profits over several years. The revelation shook India's stock market and sent shockwaves across the country's booming software industry, while television commentators quickly dubbed Satyam "India's Enron."

Satyam's auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, said Wednesday that it was examining Raju's statement but declined to comment further. Satyam had 631 clients at the end of June, and U.S.-based companies make up an estimated 60 percent of its revenue.

Financial observers expressed fears that other Indian technology companies might be hiding accounting skeletons similar to those of Satyam, casting doubt on the celebrated outsourcing industry and oversight of its companies. Observers worried that the scandal could erode the confidence of overseas clients.

The National Association of Software and Service Companies in New Delhi issued a statement calling Satyam "a stand-alone case of failure of corporate governance" that is not a "reflection on the industry or corporate India."

Scripting European Civil War?

Washington Post | Is this really the way to resolve what has been a byzantine bilateral argument over prices and transit fees? Of course not -- but that's not Mr. Putin's objective. The real aim is to advance Russia's aggressive strategy of using its energy exports to divide Europe and undermine those states it still considers its rightful subjects, beginning with Ukraine. Listen to Mr. Putin's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin: "It's clear that if Europe wants to have guaranteed natural gas supplies, as well as oil in its pipelines, then it cannot fully rely on its wonderful ally, Mr. Yushchenko." Viktor Yushchenko was democratically elected Ukraine's president in 2004 after a Moscow-backed vote-rigging operation backfired. Like Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, the Ukrainian leader strongly favors the entry of his country into NATO. Mr. Putin responded to Mr. Saakashvili with an invasion last August; now he has launched an offensive against Mr. Yushchenko.

Some in Europe will no doubt buy Mr. Rogozin's argument, just as they blame Mr. Saakashvili for the Russian troops still entrenched on Georgian territory. Like its Georgian counterpart, Ukraine's government has many weaknesses, which Mr. Putin has ruthlessly exploited. But the real message of this cold week is the same that European governments have repeatedly received -- and largely ignored -- in recent years. Mr. Putin's regime plainly intends to use Europe's dependence on Russian energy to advance an imperialist and anti-Western geopolitical agenda. The only rational response is a dramatic acceleration of the European Union's search for alternative sources of energy -- and greater support for those countries that Russia seeks to subjugate.

Russian and Ukrainian Politics

Washington Post | With its economy in deep trouble, Ukraine has little to lose by using its control of European fuel shipments to resist Russia's demand for a price increase. By contrast, Russia is suffering huge losses in immediate gas revenue and enormous damage to its reputation as an energy partner seeking European investment. Yet political considerations seem to have prevented the Kremlin from surrendering.

The Kremlin's relations with Ukraine have been strained since the 2004 street demonstrations known as the Orange Revolution, which resulted in a pro-Western government in the former Soviet republic that is seeking membership in NATO and the European Union. Ties worsened last year after Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko vocally backed Georgia in its August war with Russia.

Putin later accused Ukraine of secretly supplying arms to Georgia before and soon after the fighting broke out. Some analysts say he is trying to using the fuel cutoff to damage Ukraine's reputation in the West and sink its NATO bid while undermining Yushchenko. Russian officials have singled out Yushchenko for criticism in the standoff, saying he refused to authorize Ukrainian negotiators to sign a deal on New Year's Eve.

"Russia is trying to browbeat us," said Ivan Lozowy, president of the Kiev-based Institute of Statehood and Democracy. "Polls show that Russians are more concerned about the loss of superpower status than poverty or economic issues. And for Russia to reestablish itself as a great power, Ukraine is critical."

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Russia Cuts Gas, and Europe Shivers

NYTimes | Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly, halted nearly all its natural gas exports to Europe on Tuesday, sharply escalating its pricing dispute with neighboring Ukraine. The cutoff led to immediate shortages from France to Turkey and underscored Moscow’s increasingly confrontational posture toward the West. Across Europe, countries reported precipitous drops in gas pressure in their pipelines at the peak of the winter heating season in a bitterly cold January.

The cutoff appears to have multiple aims.

Ukraine has angered Russia by seeking membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as has Georgia, a country Russia fought a brief war against last summer.

Mr. Putin is also under heavy pressure domestically. Oil and gas exports provide about 60 percent of the Russian budget; oil prices, meanwhile, have fallen by about two-thirds since their peak last summer.

The effects are rippling through the economy. The ruble is being devalued, Russian companies are facing bankruptcy and the government’s huge budget surplus will turn into a deficit next year if prices do not rebound, analysts say.

At the same time, Russia’s relations with the West slumped to post-cold-war lows after Russia sent troops into Georgia in August.

Even as Russia will need foreign investment to offset dwindling energy export revenues, options are dwindling for attracting investors to a country that even in the best of times had a poor track record of property rights.

“The Russian elite mind-set right now is a residue of petro-confidence slamming into the financial crisis,” said Cliff Kupchan, a director at the Eurasia Group, a global risk-consulting firm based in New York. “So in my view, they’re confused about whether to seek help from the international financial system to solve their problems that way or continue a bare-knuckled approach to the world.”

Gazprom is seeking to raise the price Ukraine pays for gas to $450 per 1,000 cubic meters, from $179.50 last year.

The ghettos of Warsaw and Gaza

NOW | When Germany conquered Europe, the Nazis first rounded up Eastern European Jews into ghettos before sending them to extermination camps, the most notorious of which was in Warsaw, where 440,000 people were piled up in a narrow surface area surrounded by walls. These Jews started dying in large numbers, as they were deprived of food, medication and heating, in addition to a ban on leaving the ghetto and arbitrary assassinations. Approximately 100,000 are estimated to have died of deprivation, brutality and sickness in the ghetto, not to mention deportations toward the death camp of Treblinka. Such was the situation that, in early 1943, the ghetto numbered 71,000 occupants only, with many being forced to leave to concentration camps on a daily basis.

A group of young Jews decided to resist and formed the Jewish Military Union, which was initially composed of boys and girls aged 13 to 22. These volunteers fought deportation and took control of the ghetto. Against all odds and expectation, they resisted to the Nazi offensive from January 18 to May 16, 1943 and were ultimately eliminated, but not without extracting a heavy price from their oppressors.

The situation in Gaza is strangely similar to the Warsaw ghetto uprising, albeit on a different scale and intensity. As was the case with Hitler, who wanted an Aryan Germany and Europe without Jews, the Zionists seek a Jewish Palestine without Palestinians. After implementing a terror policy that drove the majority of Palestinians to flee, they expropriated their properties much like the Nazis did in the 1930s. And as was the case with the Nurnberg Laws, Israel subjected the Palestinians to a policy of ethnic cleansing using threats, terror, economic strangulation, expropriation of properties, humiliation and violence, thus pushing Palestinians to raise the banner of the Intifada.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A 50-Year Farm Bill

NYTimes | For 50 or 60 years, we have let ourselves believe that as long as we have money we will have food. That is a mistake. If we continue our offenses against the land and the labor by which we are fed, the food supply will decline, and we will have a problem far more complex than the failure of our paper economy. The government will bring forth no food by providing hundreds of billons of dollars to the agribusiness corporations.

Agriculture has too often involved an insupportable abuse and waste of soil, ever since the first farmers took away the soil-saving cover and roots of perennial plants. Civilizations have destroyed themselves by destroying their farmland. This irremediable loss, never enough noticed, has been made worse by the huge monocultures and continuous soil-exposure of the agriculture we now practice.

To the problem of soil loss, the industrialization of agriculture has added pollution by toxic chemicals, now universally present in our farmlands and streams. Some of this toxicity is associated with the widely acclaimed method of minimum tillage. We should not poison our soils to save them.

Industrial agricultural has made our food supply entirely dependent on fossil fuels and, by substituting technological “solutions” for human work and care, has virtually destroyed the cultures of husbandry (imperfect as they may have been) once indigenous to family farms and farming neighborhoods.

Clearly, our present ways of agriculture are not sustainable, and so our food supply is not sustainable. We must restore ecological health to our agricultural landscapes, as well as economic and cultural stability to our rural communities.

guaging, assuaging, and co-opting political will..,

Gilad Atzmon | Seemingly, in Israeli politics Arab blood is translated into votes. It would obviously be very reasonable to charge Livni, Barak and the current armed forces chief of staff, Gabriel Ashkenazi, with first-degree murder, crimes against humanity and obvious breaches of the Geneva Conventions. But it would be far more meaningful to take into account that Israel is a "democracy". Livni, Barak and Ashkenazi are giving the Israeli people that which they want: it is called Arab blood and it must come in vast quantities. This repetitive murderous practice, conducted by Israeli politicians, reflects on the Israeli people as a whole rather than just a few politicians and generals. We are dealing here with a barbarian society that is politically driven by bloodthirstiness and lethal inclinations. There should be no mistake: there is no room for these people among civilized nations.

Why the Israeli people are so remote from any notion of humanism is a big question. The generous and naïve humanists among us may argue that the Shoah, or Holocaust, left a big scar in the Israeli soul. This may explain why Israelis are obsessively cultivating that very memory with the support of their Diaspora brothers and sisters. The Israelis say "never again" and what they mean is that Auschwitz should never reoccur. This somehow allows them to punish the Palestinian for the crimes committed by the Nazis.

However, the realists among us do not buy this argument anymore. They are now beginning to acknowledge that it is more than possible that the Israelis are so incredibly brutal just because this is how they are. It goes far beyond rationality or pseudo-analytical assumptions. They say: "this is what the Israelis are and there is not much we can do about it anymore". The realists among us have come to admit that killing is how the Israelis interpret the meaning of being Jewish. Gravely, many of us are coming to admit that there is no alternative humanist secular Jewish value system to replace the murderous Hebraic one. The Jewish state is there to prove that Jewish national autonomy is an inhuman concept.

I grew up in post-1967 Israel. I was raised in the wake of the Israeli mythical victory. We were trained to worship the "Israeli who shoots from the hip", the platoon commando who shoots his Uzi automatic rifle in the direction of the Arabs and manages to win against four armies in just six days.

It may have taken me two decades too long to understand that the Israeli who "shoots from the hip" was actually the master of indiscriminate killing. Barak was one of those 1967 heroes, he was a master indiscriminate killer. Apparently, the Israeli cabinet has just approved his plan for the biggest raid on Gaza since 1967. Livni is more or less my age and, as we know from the news, she has internalized the message. She is now accumulating the necessary credentials as an indiscriminate murderer. Both Barak and Livni are taking Israel and Palestine into an election campaign of slaughter. Arab and Palestinian blood is the fuel of Israeli politics.

I may just suggest to Livni and Barak that it may not help them in the polls. Netanyahu is a genuine, authentic hawk. He doesn't have to pretend to be a murderer, and as much as I despise him, he has yet to take Israel into a war. He probably understands better than them what the power of deterrence is all about.
Admittedly, I was wrong all day long about the outcome of the last Usonian presidential election. But one wonders about the collective state of Israel's electorate with the naked appeal to irrational urges unfolding now in Gaza in the runup to their electoral selection of the next candidate for national operations management executive?

Obama's Bay of Pigs

PDA | Obama’s key advisors have designed a diplomatic course that will relegate the neoconservatives to the dustbin of history. Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft believe that Obama must resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict promptly in order to project a viable foreign policy. Obama’s designated National Security Advisor, Jim Jones proposed a NATO peacekeeping force to occupy the West Bank – a policy that would preclude any further assaults like Operation Cast Lead. Current UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown criticized the Israeli settlements on the West Bank as a blockade to peace. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair who is now the Middle Eastern Envoy for the European Union told a reporter that a secret deal has been struck between the Arabs and Israelis. The new American pro-peace, pro-Israel lobby, J Street criticized the growing violence of the Israeli settlers. Now, J Street is now calling for the immediate cessation of Operation Cast Lead and the launch of peace negotiations.

Against the backdrop of a new American administration preparing to assume power and make changes, Lame Duck President George W. Bush authorized the Israeli assault on Gaza by pledging US support for the attack. It should never be forgotten that Bush is a dedicated Christian Zionist who broke into tears when he was fawningly eulogized in the Knesset during his last visit to Israel in May.

Like the portrait of Dorian Gray that morphed into increasingly hideous configurations while its subject descended into deeper levels of vice, immorality and personal corruption, Bush’s broken presidency is morphing into a crescendo of violence and pathos in a childish fit of pique designed to destroy Obama’s presidency before it begins – in effect foisting a catastrophe upon the incoming president before he has a chance to take the oath of office.

This macabre scenario vividly recalls the Bay of Pigs, the ill-conceived assault on Castro’s Cuba planned in secret by Allen Dulles, the Director of Central Intelligence, and then-Vice President Richard Nixon in the summer of 1960. JFK permitted the tragedy to unfold, and he took the blame for the fiasco that was the most searing foreign policy scandal of his short term in office.

Today, Obama is facing the same gambit on the chessboard as JFK – a disastrous last gasp of neoconservatism threatens to scuttle his presidency before it begins. This is the first major test of Obama predicted by Biden. Failure to respond appropriately to this challenge will plunge the Middle East into a maelstrom that could very well consume Obama’s presidency in a Cold War over energy with American prestige on the decline.

In ancient Persia, the Parthians produced one of the most devastating cavalry techniques in ancient warfare. While retreating from the battlefield, Parthian archers would turn in their saddles to fire a volley of arrows at their pursuers. While Bush is being democratically forced from power, he is firing a volley of military crises at Obama, and his fingerprints are all over the current crop of corpses in Gaza.

Obama is not JFK, and Gaza is not Cuba. With American prestige on the decline and the global economic meltdown, Obama is facing a distinctly different but equally challenging nightmare as JFK did in 1961 in the midst of recession and the macabre machinations of the Cold War.

Monday, January 05, 2009

deep state managerial perspective....,

Washington Post | Gates's views on the terrorism threat offer the most interesting bridge between President Bush and President-elect Barack Obama.

In October 2004, for example, Bush said that "we are fighting these terrorists with our military in Afghanistan and Iraq and beyond so we do not have to face them in the streets of our own cities." Although Gates does foresee that there could be "similar challenges in a variety of locales," he writes in Foreign Affairs that the proper response is building the security forces of partner governments to prevent "controversial direct military intervention." The United States "is unlikely to repeat another Iraq or Afghanistan -- that is, forced regime change followed by nation building under fire -- anytime soon," he writes.

In the Charlie Rose interview, Gates emphasized that the Cold War focused Americans on an existential threat to the homeland but said he does not think that violent Islamic extremists pose "the kind of threat to the existence of the United States that the Soviet Union did, or of the same kind of threat to freedom around the world."

Terrorism, Gates told Rose, is an "ideological conflict" in which the irreconcilables will have to be killed but there are many more potential enemies who could be persuaded not to join them.

a silk purse that only a neocon could love...,

NYTimes | But Israel — assuming it succeeds — is doing the United States a favor by taking on Hamas now.

The huge challenge for the Obama administration is going to be Iran. If Israel had yielded to Hamas and refrained from using force to stop terror attacks, it would have been a victory for Iran. If Israel were now to withdraw under pressure without accomplishing the objectives of severely weakening Hamas and preventing the reconstitution of a terror-exporting state in Gaza, it would be a triumph for Iran. In either case, the Iranian regime would be emboldened, and less susceptible to the pressure from the Obama administration to stop its nuclear program.

But a defeat of Hamas in Gaza — following on the heels of our success in Iraq — would be a real setback for Iran. It would make it easier to assemble regional and international coalitions to pressure Iran. It might positively affect the Iranian elections in June. It might make the Iranian regime more amenable to dealing.

With respect to Iran, Obama may well face — as the Israeli government did with Hamas — a moment when the use of force seems to be the only responsible option. But Israel’s willingness to fight makes it more possible that the United States may not have to.
William Kristol is one of a handful of commentators so awful and discredited that he makes Tom Friedman look like a sage by comparison. That these pontificating pustules continue to enjoy bully pulpits is testimony to the extent to which elite management of day-to-day narrative operations is on the ropes. What do you have to do, bite somebody and get caught before your pundit credentials get revoked nowadays?

hearts and minds...,

Independent | Back in 1980, the Soviet Union threw every Western journalist out of Afghanistan. Those of us who had been reporting the Russian invasion and its brutal aftermath could not re-enter the country – except with the mujahedin guerrillas. I received a letter from Charles Douglas-Hume, who was editor of the The Times – for which I then worked – making an important observation. "Now that we have no regular coverage from Afghanistan," he noted on 26 March that year, "I would be grateful if you could make sure that we do not miss any opportunity for reporting on reliable accounts of what is going on in that country. We must not let events in Afghanistan vanish from the paper simply because we have no correspondent there."

That the Israelis should use an old Soviet tactic to blind the world's vision of war may not be surprising. But the result is that Palestinian voices – as opposed to those of Western reporters – are now dominating the airwaves. The men and women who are under air and artillery attack by the Israelis are now telling their own story on television and radio and in the papers as they have never been able to tell it before, without the artificial "balance", which so much television journalism imposes on live reporting. Perhaps this will become a new form of coverage – letting the participants tell their own story. The flip side, of course, is that there is no Westerner in Gaza to cross-question Hamas's devious account of events: another victory for the Palestinian militia, handed to them on a plate by the Israelis.

But there is also a darker side. Israel's version of events has been given so much credence by the dying Bush administration that the ban on journalists entering Gaza may simply be of little importance to the Israeli army. By the time we investigate, whatever they are trying to hide will have been overtaken by another crisis in which they can claim to be in the "front line" in the "war on terror".

rain of fire...,

Times Online | Israel is believed to be using controversial white phosphorus shells to screen its assault on the heavily populated Gaza Strip yesterday. The weapon, used by British and US forces in Iraq, can cause horrific burns but is not illegal if used as a smokescreen.

As the Israeli army stormed to the edges of Gaza City and the Palestinian death toll topped 500, the tell-tale shells could be seen spreading tentacles of thick white smoke to cover the troops’ advance. “These explosions are fantastic looking, and produce a great deal of smoke that blinds the enemy so that our forces can move in,” said one Israeli security expert. Burning blobs of phosphorus would cause severe injuries to anyone caught beneath them and force would-be snipers or operators of remote-controlled booby traps to take cover. Israel admitted using white phosphorus during its 2006 war with Lebanon.

The use of the weapon in the Gaza Strip, one of the world’s mostly densely population areas, is likely to ignite yet more controversy over Israel’s offensive, in which more than 2,300 Palestinians have been wounded.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

when agricultural science goes really wrong....,

NYTimes | With the F.B.I. preparing to close the case, The New York Times has taken the deepest look so far at the investigation, speaking to dozens of Dr. Ivins’s colleagues and friends, reading hundreds of his e-mail messages, interviewing former bureau investigators and anthrax experts, reviewing court records, and obtaining, for the first time, police reports on his suicide in July, including a lengthy recorded interview with his wife.

That examination found that unless new evidence were to surface, the enormous public investment in the case would appear to have yielded nothing more persuasive than a strong hunch, based on a pattern of damning circumstances, that Dr. Ivins was the perpetrator.

Focused for years on the wrong man, the bureau missed ample clues that Dr. Ivins deserved a closer look. Only after a change of leadership nearly five years after the attacks did the bureau more fully look into Dr. Ivins’s activities. That delay, and his death, may have put a more definitive outcome out of reach.

Brad Garrett, a respected F.B.I. veteran who helped early in the case before his retirement, said logic and evidence point to Dr. Ivins as the most likely perpetrator.

“Does that absolutely prove he did it? No,” Mr. Garrett said. With no confession and no trial, he said, “you’re going to be left not getting over the top of the mountain.”
We've endeavored to look at this story just a little bit hereabouts. This is the NYTimes swan song narrative account. It's a very lengthy story, well worth reading. Not because it clarifies or closes the subject which it addresses, but because it exemplifies the mystifying interstitial space between and accounting of the sundry institutions, apparatuses and operatives of the state and of the Deep State.

gas war crisis talks...,

Independent | The gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine was causing widespread collateral damage in Europe yesterday, as supplies were disrupted to at least seven countries. With accusations still flying back and forth between Moscow and Kiev, a concerned European Union is to hold crisis talks in Brussels tomorrow.

Bulgaria is the latest country to suffer a fall in gas supplies, joining Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Hungary and Poland, which also reported drops. The chief executive of Bulgargaz, Dimitar Gogov, said: "The pipeline pressure has dropped and we are getting smaller deliveries as of Saturday morning."

Russia supplies more than 90 per cent of the Balkan country's annual gas needs. The EU, which gets a fifth of its gas from pipelines that cross Ukraine, has enough gas stockpiled to manage without Russian supplies for several days, but could face difficulties should problems go on for weeks.

"with us, or against us" rides again....,

Guardian | Why Israel went to war in Gaza. 'Are you a target if you voted for Hamas?' Last night Israel sent its ground forces across the border into Gaza as it escalated its brutal assault on Hamas. As a large-scale invasion of the Palestinian territory appears to be getting under way, Chris McGreal reports from Jerusalem on Israel's hidden strategy to persuade the world of the justice of its cause in its battle with a bitter ideological foe

Hand in hand went a strategy to remove the issue of occupation from discussion. Gaza was freed in 2005 when the Jewish settlers and army were pulled out, the Israelis said. It could have flourished as the basis of a Palestinian state, but its inhabitants chose conflict.

Israel portrayed Hamas as part of an axis of Islamist fundamentalist evil with Iran and Hezbollah. Its actions, the Israelis said, are nothing to do with continued occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza or the Israeli military's continued killing of large numbers of Palestinians since the pullout. "Israel is part of the free world and fights extremism and terrorism. Hamas is not," the foreign minister and Kadima party leader, Tzipi Livni, said on arriving in France as part of the diplomatic offensive last week.

Earlier in the week Livni deployed the "with us or against us" rhetoric of George W Bush's war on terror. "These are the days when every individual in the region and in the world has to choose a side. And the sides have changed. No longer is it Israel on one side and the Arab world on the other," she said. "Israel chose its side the day it was established; the Jewish people chose its side during its thousands of years of existence; and the prayer for peace is the voice sounded in the synagogues."

It was a message pumped home with receptive Arab governments, such as Egypt and Jordan, which view Hamas with hostility. "Large parts of the Muslim and Arab world realise that Hamas represents a greater danger to them even than it does to Israel. Its extremism, its fundamentalism, is a great danger to them as well," said Gillerman. "We've seen the effect of that in numerous responses, in the public statements made by [Egypt's] President Mubarak and even by [Palestinian president] Mahmoud Abbas and other Arabs. This is totally unprecedented."

tribal violence continues to escalate...,

Guardian | Israel last night dramatically escalated its war with Hamas, sending troops and tanks pouring over Gaza's borders in a move designed to reoccupy parts of the northern Gaza Strip. Amid reports of fierce clashes inside Gaza, columns of military vehicles and what the army said was "a sizeable number of troops" moved across the border at several points, backed by an intense air and artillery bombardment.

The move followed the failure of a week-long air force offensive, which has claimed more than 460 Palestinian lives, to halt the Hamas rockets. More than 30 hit Israel yesterday, wounding three people. Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, said his country was a peace-loving nation but Hamas had given it no choice and brought the assault on the Palestinian people. "Now is the time to do what needs to be done," he said. "It won't be easy. It won't be short. I don't want to delude anyone." The government in Jerusalem ordered the call-up of tens of thousands of reservists, suggesting the operation will be expanded further. The army said it expected to be in Gaza "for many long days".

France last night was swift to condemn the invasion, which it described as a dangerous military escalation that "complicated efforts by the international community to end the fighting, bring immediate aid to civilians and reach a permanent ceasefire". In London the foreign secretary David Miliband said the intensification of the Israeli assault would cause "alarm and dismay" and renewed calls for a swift cessation of violence. The UN Security Council also scheduled an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis, as the EU troika prepared to visit the region tomorrow.

villa in the jungle

Independent | And while its disproportionate response does provoke calls for restraint from many international bodies, the Israeli establishment continues to paint itself as the passive underdog under threat. Ehud Barak has described Israel as "a villa in the middle of a jungle"– a place of civilisation surrounded by savage hordes.

I've met many Israelis who see themselves as just that, convinced that the rest of the world does not understand their plight and that the only important issue is to stop the Hamas rockets. This week's OCHA report may state that Israel's blockade means that food, medical supplies, fresh water and fuel are so severely limited that Gaza is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster, but Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, denies any such problem. She promotes a widely held view that the suffering of the people in Gaza is their own fault for tolerating Hamas leadership.

Is this intransigence so surprising? We have had 60 years during which the modern state of Israel has never been taken to task for ignoring international criticism. It has ignored, with impunity, countless UN resolutions on the right of return of Palestinian refugees, on ending its occupation of the West Bank and encouraging its civilians to settle in the Occupied Territories, among others.

And why are they not brought to task? The simple fact is that Israel has the most powerful psychological influence to count on – the world's collective guilt over the Holocaust. This means that although the world may sporadically slap Israel's wrists, no one dare go too far, perhaps out of fear of being accused of anti-Semitism or in any way attacking a people who have historically suffered so much. The tragedy is, though, that it is now another people, the Palestinians, who are suffering because of the world's hesitation to offend Israel.

Pro-Israeli sentiment is reinforced by many in the international arena who, privately perhaps, approve Barak's "villa in the jungle" metaphor. To some, Israel represents a foothold of Western values on the edge of the Arab world, which, with the rise of fundamentalist Islam, is perceived as a growing threat. And there is, to me, the very frightening growth of fundamentalist Christian belief – especially in the United States – that, given that the existence of the Israeli state is part of God's plan, it is above criticism.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Are All Americans Guilty?

Counterpunch | The extent of Americans’ ignorance is breathtaking. Israel has the Palestinians jammed into tightly controlled ghettos known as Gaza and the West Bank. With Egypt’s help, Israel controls the inflows of food, medicines, water, and energy into Gaza. Palestinians in Gaza are not permitted to enter Israel or Egypt. Last week a humanitarian ship bringing food and medicine was rammed by Israeli gunboats and turned away.

In the West Bank Palestinians are walled off from their fields, jobs, medical care, education, water, and from one another by endless checkpoints, roads for “Jews only,” walls, barbed wire, and machine gun towers. Palestinians are being evicted from their towns house by house, block by block.

Israel’s slow theft of Palestine is illegal under international law but protected by US “diplomacy.”

The Palestinians are no more of a threat to Israel than Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto were a threat to the Nazi state. Yet, everywhere in America--Congress, the executive branch, the print and TV media, the universities, evangelical Christian institutions--there is the belief that Israel is on the verge of annihilation by Palestinian terrorists. This ignorance, so carefully cultivated by the Israel Lobby, turns genocidal aggression into self-defense.

It fools Americans, but it doesn’t fool Israelis. The Israelis have always known that “self-defense” is a cloak for a Zionist policy of territorial expansion. The policy is controversial within Israel. Many Israelis object, just as many Americans object to President Bush’s illegal wars and violations of US civil liberties. Many Israelis give voice to their moral conscience, but they are overwhelmed by vested interests.

Karl Marx declared morality to be merely a mask for vested interests. The writings of Marx and Engels are scornful of good will and moral ideals as effective forces in history. The Israeli state epitomizes Marx’s doctrine that power alone is the effective force.

Many American conservatives share the Israeli state’s belief in the efficacy of power. Conservatives who turned against Bush’s wars did so because the US was not brutal enough. They turned away from Bush’s long inconclusive wars in the way that fans desert a losing team.

Zbig Schools Scarborough

Just skip to the end of this clip, where host Joe Scarborough whines that "you cannot blame what's going on in Israel on the Bush administration." This prompted Zbig to reply, "You know, you have such a stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on that it's almost embarrassing to listen to you."

Friday, January 02, 2009

Eulogizing the GOP...,

NYTimes | Forty years ago the G.O.P. decided, in effect, to make itself the party of racial backlash. And everything that has happened in recent years, from the choice of Mr. Bush as the party’s champion, to the Bush administration’s pervasive incompetence, to the party’s shrinking base, is a consequence of that decision.

If the Bush administration became a byword for policy bungles, for government by the unqualified, well, it was just following the advice of leading conservative think tanks: after the 2000 election the Heritage Foundation specifically urged the new team to “make appointments based on loyalty first and expertise second.”

Contempt for expertise, in turn, rested on contempt for government in general. “Government is not the solution to our problem,” declared Ronald Reagan. “Government is the problem.” So why worry about governing well?

Where did this hostility to government come from? In 1981 Lee Atwater, the famed Republican political consultant, explained the evolution of the G.O.P.’s “Southern strategy,” which originally focused on opposition to the Voting Rights Act but eventually took a more coded form: “You’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites.” In other words, government is the problem because it takes your money and gives it to Those People.

Oh, and the racial element isn’t all that abstract, even now: Chip Saltsman, currently a candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, sent committee members a CD including a song titled “Barack the Magic Negro” — and according to some reports, the controversy over his action has actually helped his chances.

So the reign of George W. Bush, the first true Southern Republican president since Reconstruction, was the culmination of a long process. And despite the claims of some on the right that Mr. Bush betrayed conservatism, the truth is that he faithfully carried out both his party’s divisive tactics — long before Sarah Palin, Mr. Bush declared that he visited his ranch to “stay in touch with real Americans” — and its governing philosophy.

That’s why the soon-to-be-gone administration’s failure is bigger than Mr. Bush himself: it represents the end of the line for a political strategy that dominated the scene for more than a generation.
In which Krugman spells out what 96% of the Black electorate has known for nearly my entire lifetime. So no, not dominating the scene for merely more than a generation, dominating American political life for the past 40 years, saturating the mainstream with an entire lexicon of charged logic, language, and values, and bringing the country finally to the precipice of financial, economic, cultural, and military failure. Had McPalin been permitted operational management authority, it would indeed have spelled the deathknell and certainly signalled time to emigrate out of this hopelessly broken situation. As things stand, the base will still likely have to be dealt with. This morning, for example, the stand-in on the Glenn Beck program proposed both a tax rebellion and a million man march on Washington for and by "Real Americans". Some types of backwardness are simply intractable.

livestock management tension in the TEP?

NYTimes | In the face of mounting economic troubles, Russia cut off deliveries of natural gas to Ukraine on Thursday after Ukraine rejected the Kremlin’s demands for a sharp increase in gas prices.

A similar reduction in supplies to Ukraine in 2006 caused a drop in pressure throughout Europe’s integrated natural gas pipeline system and led to shortages in countries as far away as Italy and France.

But with a recessionary drop in demand, ample supplies and assurances from both countries that gas would flow westward without interruption, there were few signs of the near hysteria in Europe that accompanied the 2006 cutoff.

The authorities in Poland and Italy issued soothing statements on Thursday, noting the existence of high reserves and the distant likelihood of an immediate effect on gas supplies.

Even Ukraine, which says it has enough gas in reserve to last through the winter, took Russia’s action in stride, underscoring how the political potency of the Kremlin’s energy card has plunged along with the price of oil and gas. Its normally fractious political leadership rallied together in the face of the supply cutoff, united in their demand that the Kremlin pay more for the right to transship gas through Ukraine.

Gazprom, the Russian natural gas monopoly, likened its actions to a utility cutting off service to a deadbeat customer. “The message is very simple,” Ilya Y. Kochevrin, the executive director of Gazprom’s export arm, Gazexport, said in a telephone interview. “If you receive a product, you have to pay for it. If you don’t pay, you don’t receive it.”

But energy experts said that the Kremlin’s decision to employ the gambit again in a pricing dispute with Ukraine was an indication as well of Russia’s deepening economic woes.
As tensions such as these mount, it is essential to understand the reality of the world. When you look at a map of the world, you are not looking at countries, but farms.

You are allowed certain liberties - limited property ownership, movement rights, freedom of association and occupation - not because your government approves of these rights in principle - since it constantly violates them - but rather because "free range livestock" is so much cheaper to own and so more productive.

It is important to understand the reality of ideologies. State capitalism, socialism, communism, fascism, democracy - these are all livestock management approaches. Some work well for long periods - state capitalism - and some work very badly - communism. They all fail eventually, because it is immoral and irrational to treat human beings as livestock.

Bolton: Gaza raids precursor to Iran war

PressTV | Former top US diplomat John Bolton says Israeli strikes on Gaza have ignited a multi-front war which could lead to a US attack on Iran.

Bolton, a former US ambassador to the UN, accused Iran of supplying arms and equipment to Hamas and making efforts to develop a nuclear bomb.

"I don't think there's anything at this point standing between Iran and nuclear weapons other than the possibility of the use of military force possibly by the United States, possibly by Israel," Bolton told FoxNews.

"So while our focus obviously is on Gaza right now, this could turn out to be a much larger conflict," said the hawkish US official, adding, "We're looking at potentially a multi-front war."

Party to Murder

Truthdig | Can anyone who is following the Israeli air attacks on Gaza—the buildings blown to rubble, the children killed on their way to school, the long rows of mutilated corpses, the wailing mothers and wives, the crowds of terrified Palestinians not knowing where to flee, the hospitals so overburdened and out of supplies they cannot treat the wounded, and our studied, callous indifference to this widespread human suffering—wonder why we are hated?

Our self-righteous celebration of ourselves and our supposed virtue is as false as that of Israel. We have become monsters, militarized bullies, heartless and savage. We are a party to human slaughter, a flagrant war crime, and do nothing. We forget that the innocents who suffer and die in Gaza are a reflection of ourselves, of how we might have been should fate and time and geography have made the circumstances of our birth different. We forget that we are all absurd and vulnerable creatures. We all have the capacity to fear and hate and love. “Expose thyself to what wretches feel,” King Lear said, entering the mud and straw hovel of Poor Tom, “and show the heavens more just.”

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Religion and Visual Attention

PLoS | Abstract: Despite the abundance of evidence that human perception is penetrated by beliefs and expectations, scientific research so far has entirely neglected the possible impact of religious background on attention. Here we show that Dutch Calvinists and atheists, brought up in the same country and culture and controlled for race, intelligence, sex, and age, differ with respect to the way they attend to and process the global and local features of complex visual stimuli: Calvinists attend less to global aspects of perceived events, which fits with the idea that people's attentional processing style reflects possible biases rewarded by their religious belief system.So what can we surmise here? Controlled for the factors that would provoke intense excitement in Big Don, investigators have identified qualitative differences in the quality and quantity of human consciousness.
Sciam Digest - Religion might literally influence how you view the world. Scientists in the Netherlands compared Dutch Calvinists with Dutch atheists, looking for any effects potentially imposed on thinking by the neo-Calvinist concept of sphere sovereignty, which emphasizes that each sector of society has its own responsibilities and authorities. The researchers hypothesize that Calvinists might therefore not be as good as atheists at seeing the big picture. Participants were shown images of large rectangles or squares that each consisted of smaller rectangles or squares. In some tests, volunteers had to quickly identify the shapes of the smaller parts; in others, the larger wholes. The Calvinists scored slightly but significantly lower than atheists did in correctly identifying whole images. The investigators plan to study other religions for similar influences.
There's no point in examining other "religions" in search of similar influences. The religion is not in fact influencing the outcomes, the fact that certain individuals are drawn to specific formations, and that they share certain underlying baseline proclivities is what is really in question here. The researchers have finally hit upon my other controversial theory about the organization of the human world. What they've stumbled upon here in Calvinist garb is an underlying human neurotype.

It's the Dopamine

Time | Dopamine is responsible for making us feel satisfied after a filling meal, happy when our favorite football team wins, or really happy when we use stimulating drugs like amphetamines or cocaine, which can artificially squeeze more dopamine out of the nerve cells in our brain. It's also responsible for the high we feel when we do something daring, like skiing down a double black diamond slope or skydiving out of a plane. In the risk taker's brain, researchers report in the Journal of Neuroscience, there appear to be fewer dopamine-inhibiting receptors — meaning that daredevils' brains are more saturated with the chemical, predisposing them to keep taking risks and chasing the next high: driving too fast, drinking too much, overspending or even taking drugs.

"This is one of those situations where the data came out essentially perfectly," he says. "The results were exactly as we predicted they would be, based on the animal data." That is, like the rats, humans who were more spontaneous and eager to take risks had fewer dopamine-regulating receptors than those who were more cautious.

The findings support Zald's theory that people who take risks get an unusually big hit of dopamine each time they have a novel experience, because their brains are not able to inhibit the neurotransmitter adequately. That blast makes them feel good, so they keep returning for the rush from similarly risky or new behaviors, just like the addict seeking the next high.

"This finding is really interesting," says Dr. Bruce Cohen, director of the Frazier Research Institute at McLean Hospital in Boston and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "It's a piece of the puzzle to understanding why we like novelty, and why we get addicted to substances ... Dopamine is an important piece of reward."