Thursday, February 26, 2009

epigenetics

Wikipedia | In biology, the term epigenetics refers to heritable changes in phenotype (appearance) or gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence (hence the name epi - "in addition to" - genetics). These changes may remain through cell divisions for the remainder of the cell's life and may also last for multiple generations. However, there is no change in the underlying DNA sequence of the organism; instead, non-genetic factors cause the organism's genes to behave (or "express themselves") differently. The best example of epigenetic changes in eukaryotic biology is the process of cellular differentiation. During morphogenesis, totipotent stem cells become the various pluripotent cell lines of the embryo which in turn become fully differentiated cells. In other words, a single fertilized egg cell - the zygote - changes into the many cell types including neurons, muscle cells, epithelium, blood vessels et cetera as it continues to divide. It does so by activating some genes while inhibiting others.

Although epigenetics in multicellular organisms is generally thought to be a mechanism involved in differentiation, with epigenetic patterns "reset" when organisms reproduce, there have been some observations of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance (e.g., the phenomenon of paramutation observed in maize). Although most of these multigenerational epigenetic traits are gradually lost over several generations, the possibility remains that multigenerational epigenetics could be another aspect to evolution and adaptation. These effects may require enhancements to the standard conceptual framework of the modern evolutionary synthesis.

Epigenetic features may play a role in short-term adaptation of species by allowing for reversible phenotype variability. The modification of epigenetic features associated with a region of DNA allows organisms, on a multigenerational time scale, to switch between phenotypes that express and repress that particular gene. Whereas the DNA sequence of the region is not mutated, this change is reversible. It has also been speculated that organisms may take advantage of differential mutation rates associated with epigenetic features to control the mutation rates of particular genes.

Epigenetic changes have also been observed to occur in response to environmental exposure—for example, mice given some dietary supplements have epigenetic changes affecting expression of the agouti gene, which affects their fur color, weight, and propensity to develop cancer.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

self-remembering

When one realizes that one is asleep… at that moment one is already half-awake
- G.I. Gurdjieff

Chapter Seven from In Search of the Miraculous, P.D. Ouspensky

On one occasion while talking with G. I asked him whether he considered it possible to attain “cosmic consciousness,” not for a brief moment only but for a longer period. I understood the expression “cosmic consciousness” in the sense of a higher consciousness possible for man in the sense in which I had previously written about it in my book Tertium Organum. “I do not know what you call ‘cosmic consciousness,’ ” said G., “it is a vague and indefinite term; anyone can call anything he likes by it. In most cases what is called ‘cosmic consciousness’ is simply fantasy, associative daydreaming connected with intensified work of the emotional center. Sometimes it comes near to ecstasy but most often it is merely a subjective emotional experience on the level of dreams. But even apart from all this before we can speak of ‘cosmic consciousness’ we must define in general what consciousness is.

“How do you define consciousness?”

“Consciousness is considered to be indefinable,” I said, “and indeed, how can it be defined if it is an inner quality? With the ordinary means at our disposal it is impossible to prove the presence of consciousness in another man. We know it only in ourselves.”

“All this is rubbish,” said G., “the usual scientific sophistry. It is time you got rid of it. Only one thing is true in what you have said: that you can know consciousness only in yourself. Observe that I say you can know, for you can know it only when you have it. And when you have not got it, you can know that you have not got it, not at that very moment, but afterwards. I mean that when it comes again you can see that it has been absent a long time, and you can find or remember the moment when it disappeared and when it reappeared. You can also define the moments when you are nearer to consciousness and further away from consciousness. But by observing in yourself the appearance and the disappearance of consciousness you will inevitably see one fact which you neither see nor acknowledge now, and that is that moments of consciousness are very short and are separated by long intervals of completely unconscious, mechanical working of the machine. You will then see that you can think, feel, act speak, work, without being conscious of it. And if you learn to see in yourselves the moments of consciousness and the long periods of mechanicalness, you will as infallibly see in other people when they are conscious of what they are doing and when they are not.

“Your principal mistake consists in thinking that you always have consciousness, and in general, either that consciousness is always present or that it is never present. In reality consciousness is a property which is continually changing. Now it is present, now it is not present. And there are different degrees and different levels of consciousness. Both consciousness and the different degrees of consciousness must be understood in oneself by sensation, by taste. No definitions can help you in this case and no definitions are possible so long as you do not understand what you have to define. And science and philosophy cannot define consciousness because they want to define it where it does not exist. It is necessary to distinguish consciousness from the possibility of consciousness. We have only the possibility of consciousness and rare flashes of it. Therefore we cannot define what consciousness is.”

stick a fork in him....,

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

a singular moment...,



It's actually ten minutes of incomparable brilliance, but the singular moment is captured about six and a half minutes into the performance...,

only through understanding is development possible

Commentaries | Fully-developed man, fully-evolved man, is at the level of the intelligence of the Sun. From this level, teaching is sown on the earth. If the conditions of life are such that esoteric teaching, whether in religious form or otherwise, cannot exist on the earth, then Man is doomed to failure, and another experiment will have to be made.”

“Man has been given many things to ease his life, but he misuses them all. Look at to-day—all the world turning to making weapons as never before. Yet everything that can be done to make men evolve individually has been done and is done. But there can be no mass-evolution, no forced evolution, no evolution by command or by compulsion. For all evolution is a matter of the individual understanding—of a man seeing for himself. The right inner development of a man and his right crystallization depend upon understanding. And you know that from the esoteric point of view a man is his understanding: and a man’s understanding is what he is. But you cannot make a man understand. You cannot force him to understand why he should not act as he does, or compel him to understand that he should not speak as he does. There can be no violence, no collective coercion and above all no physical fear used—for fear does not develop the understanding. You cannot make a dog understand what you want him to do by fear. You can only teach him what he must not do by that method and he will never understand why. Our case is the same.

The Esoteric Circle of Humanity cannot force Man to understand. It cannot appear visibly in some supernatural or terrible way to Man—for then Man would be forced by the evidence of his senses and also forced by fear. He would be forced from outside. But that is not understanding, which depends on your seeing the meaning of something for yourself. And to see the meaning of something is internal and develops the internal side of a man, so that it becomes stronger than the outer, life-driven side. It is necessary to see the difference between seeing something with the senses and understanding something with the mind. A man’s evolution is inner. His possibilities, as a created being, lie in a development of the mind and emotions—of his knowledge and being. And these form his understanding. Only through understanding is development possible.”

atlantis?

Telegraph | Google Ocean: Has Atlantis been found off Africa? A "grid of streets" on the seabed at one of the proposed locations of the lost city of Atlantis has been spotted on Google Ocean. The perfect rectangle, which is around the size of Wales, was noticed on the search giant's underwater exploration tool.

The underwater image can be found at the co-ordinates 31 15'15.53N 24 15'30.53W

The network of criss-cross lines is 620 miles off the coast of north west Africa near the Canary Islands on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

The perfect rectangle – which is around the size of Wales – was noticed on the search giant's underwater exploration tool by an aeronautical engineer who claims it looks like an "aerial map" of a city.

Bernie Bamford, 38, of Chester who spotted the "city", compared it to the plan of Milton Keynes, the Buckinghamshire town built on a grid design. "It must be man made," he said.

Google Ocean, an extension of Google Earth, allows web users to virtually explore the ocean with thousands of images of underwater landscapes.

the lost darwin

The Darwin Project | The most popular Darwinian of his time, paleontologist Stephen J.Gould, repeatedly noted the relation of survival of the fittest Darwinism to the wars of the 20th century and the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. Indeed, a close look at the survival of the fittest/selfish genes syndrome reveals that among the ills of humanity this is the mindset of fascism wherever it rises. Foreshadowing global financial meltdown, American billionaire George Soros, management scientists, and economists decried the devastation of this mindset in industry.

I had an electronic copy of Descent that made possible a computerized word search. So into the FIND slot I entered the first phrase that came to mind: survival of the fittest.

Thereafter I found what nowhere in the world today, in celebrations staged by the well-educated and the wealthy on every continent, is even being mentioned.

Only twice in that whole book of 475 fine print pages did this universally prevailing tag for Darwin's theory of evolution appear. And once was to apologize for ever using the term!

What about the other prevailing tag for Darwin today: the idea of “selfish genes”? Or more broadly, that along with “survival of the fittest,” at the core the other prime driver for our species on this planet is selfishness—which sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists tell us even drives our naive illusion of a transcendent altruism.

Selfishness, Darwin tells us, is a “base principle,” which accounts for the “low morality of savages.”

What then might be the polar opposite for selfishness? Why not try the word “moral”?

Of moral sensitivity I found he wrote 92 times—versus 6 entries in the Index.

Of competition, he wrote 12 times; of cooperation—called mutuality or mutual aid in Darwin's time—27 times. To make a long story short, I went on to discover the enormous difference it makes if you approach Descent not with a mind shuttered by what is an old and by now considerably updated paradigm for biology, but expanded with the multidisciplinary perspective of modern evolutionary systems science.

Monday, February 23, 2009

the axis of upheaval


Foreign Policy | For more than a decade, I pondered the question of why the 20th century was characterized by so much brutal upheaval. I pored over primary and secondary literature. I wrote more than 800 pages on the subject. And ultimately I concluded, in The War of the World, that three factors made the location and timing of lethal organized violence more or less predictable in the last century. The first factor was ethnic disintegration: Violence was worst in areas of mounting ethnic tension. The second factor was economic volatility: The greater the magnitude of economic shocks, the more likely conflict was. And the third factor was empires in decline: When structures of imperial rule crumbled, battles for political power were most bloody.

In at least one of the world’s regions—the greater Middle East—two of these three factors have been present for some time: Ethnic conflict has been rife there for decades, and following the difficulties and disappointments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States already seems likely to begin winding down its quasi-imperial presence in the region. It likely still will.

Now the third variable, economic volatility, has returned with a vengeance. U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s “Great Moderation”—the supposed decline of economic volatility that he hailed in a 2004 lecture—has been obliterated by a financial chain reaction, beginning in the U.S. subprime mortgage market, spreading through the banking system, reaching into the “shadow” system of credit based on securitization, and now triggering collapses in asset prices and economic activity around the world.

When Bush’s speechwriters coined the phrase “axis of evil” (originally “axis of hatred”), they were drawing a parallel with the World War II alliance between Germany, Italy, and Japan, formalized in the Tripartite Pact of September 1940. The axis of upheaval, by contrast, is more reminiscent of the decade before the outbreak of World War II, when the Great Depression unleashed a wave of global political crises.

The Bush years have of course revealed the perils of drawing facile parallels between the challenges of the present day and the great catastrophes of the 20th century. Nevertheless, there is reason to fear that the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression could have comparable consequences for the international system.

the gene-centric view is just plain wrong...,

It's been a year since my attention focused momentarily on the theoretical repentance of the socio-biologist E.O. Wilson. At the time of that writing, Wilson had a new paper that jarringly and famously concluded;
When Rabbi Hillel was asked to explain the Torah in the time that he could stand on one foot, he famously replied “Do not do unto others that which is repugnant to you. Everything else is commentary.” Darwin’s original insight and the developments reviewed in this article enable us to offer the following one-foot summary of sociobiology’s new theoretical foundation: “Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.”
Not recognizing the importance of interactions leads to some unfortunate reasoning. The most obvious of these is Dawkins' idea that genes make phenotypes as "vehicles" to convey them to the next generation. What is truly unfortunate is that this metaphor tended to lead to the idea that genes are all that matters in evolution.

This metaphor to mechanism substitution error encouraged folks to make silly statements like all selection is genetic selection, and to ignore the importance of things like group selection.
In evolutionary biology, group selection refers to the idea that alleles can become fixed or spread in a population because of the benefits they bestow on groups, regardless of the alleles' effect on the fitness of individuals within that group.
Finally, it lead to a view of genetic determinism that is at a minimum unfortunate, and in the hands of the politically motivated and magical thinking - is pseudo-scientific, morally repugnant, and dangerous. There is a real intellectual hazard associated with Dawkins one gene one behavior view of the world.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

of mechanisms and metaphors...,

It's been a minute since I had a case of Dawkins on the brain. When last I did, it was with regard to his interesting and perhaps tragically overused neologism, the "meme". Some folks, myself included, have been so taken in by the seductive novelty of this Dawkinsian metaphor, that it has entered into and permeated our lexical fields as if it expressed something definite and real.
Dawkins defined the meme as a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation, but later definitions would vary. The lack of a consistent, rigorous, and precise understanding of what typically makes up one unit of cultural transmission remains a problem in debates about memetics.
A "meme" is a seductive metaphor in much the same way that "IQ" is a seductive metaphor. In each case, however, the lack of a consistent, rigorous, and precise understanding of what makes up a unit of "intelligence" or a "unit of cultural transmission "renders the enterprises grown up around these metaphors both pernicious and acutely unscientific. Careless folks have become persuaded on that fundamentalist level of belief that in each instance they're talking about properly defined mechanisms. It never occurs to most to carefully examine the nature of the "thing" in question. But I digress......,

The Selfish Gene is a book on evolution by Richard Dawkins, published in 1976. It builds upon the principal theory of George C. Williams's first book Adaptation and Natural Selection. Dawkins coined the term selfish gene as a way of expressing the gene-centred view of evolution, which holds that evolution is best viewed as acting on genes and that selection at the level of organisms or populations almost never overrides selection based on genes. An organism is expected to evolve to maximize its inclusive fitness—the number of copies of its genes passed on globally (rather than by a particular individual). As a result, populations will tend towards an evolutionarily stable strategy. The book also coins the term meme for a unit of human cultural evolution analogous to the gene, suggesting that such "selfish" replication may also model human culture, in a different sense. Memetics has become the subject of many studies since the publication of the book.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

meanwhile, back at the ranch...,

NYTimes | Obama administration officials face the same intractable problems that the Bush administration did in trying to prod Pakistan toward a different course. Pakistan still deploys the overwhelming majority of its troops along the Indian border, not the border with Afghanistan, and its intelligence agencies maintain shadowy links to the Taliban even as they take American funds to fight them.

Under standard policy for covert operations, the C.I.A. strikes inside Pakistan have not been publicly acknowledged either by the Obama administration or the Bush administration. Using Predators and the more heavily armed Reaper drones, the C.I.A. has carried out more than 30 strikes since last September, according to American and Pakistani officials.

The attacks have killed a number of senior Qaeda figures, including Abu Jihad al-Masri and Usama al-Kini, who is believed to have helped plan the 1998 American Embassy bombings in East Africa and last year’s bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.

American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a number of operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas since early September, when a commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence.

The meetings hosted by the Obama administration next week will include senior officials from both Pakistan and Afghanistan; Mrs. Clinton is to hold a rare joint meeting on Thursday with foreign ministers from the two countries. Also, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, will meet with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lt. Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s military spy service, will accompany General Kayani.

china investing globally

NYTimes | China is taking advantage of the economic downturn to go on a major shopping spree, investing in energy and other natural resources that could give it an economic advantage it has never had before.

Some economic analysts say they believe that China’s investments pose a threat to competitors like the United States. In the last move, Beijing said on Friday that one of its big state-owned banks, the China Development Bank, would lend the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras $10 billion in exchange for a long-term commitment to send oil to China.

China signed similar deals this week with Russia and Venezuela, bringing Beijing’s total oil investments this month to $41 billion. They represent an important investment. Supplies of commodities like oil are likely to tighten again once global growth picks up, and China will have a toehold it lacked during the recent boom, when it grew phenomenally even with limited access to resources.

China is flush with cash — thanks to trillions of dollars from decades of selling goods to the West — at a time when credit markets are tight and collapsing commodity prices have left energy and natural resource companies desperate for cash. For many of these companies, China has gone from pariah to lender of first resort.

“This is heavy energy diplomacy,” Professor Andrews-Speed said. “If you need money, you go to where the money is, and today, China’s the place.”

President Hu Jintao of China traveled this week on his “Friendship and Cooperation Tour” in Africa, where China has huge interests in resources and mining. The vice president, Xi Jinping, visited South America, met with the leaders of Brazil and Venezuela and signed cooperation agreements on oil and minerals.

Venezuela borrowed $6 billion from China and agreed to increase its oil exports to China, bringing China’s total investment in the country to $12 billion. In Brazil, China signed a $10 billion “loan-for-oil” deal that guarantees the country up to 160,000 barrels a day at market prices.

And in Beijing this week, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao met his Russian counterpart after China agreed to lend Russia’s struggling oil giant Rosneft and Russia’s oil pipeline company, Transneft, $25 billion in exchange for 15 million tons of crude oil a year for 20 years.

clinton assures china on u.s. investments

Joplin Globe | With the export-heavy Chinese economy reeling from the U.S. downturn, Clinton sought in meetings with Premier Wen Jiabao and other top Chinese government leaders to reassure Beijing that its massive holdings of U.S. Treasury notes and other government debt would remain a good investment.

"I appreciate greatly the Chinese government's continuing confidence in United States treasuries. I think that's a well-grounded confidence," Clinton told reporters at a joint news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

"We have every reason to believe that the United States and China will recover, and together we will help lead the world recovery," she said. Yang said China wants its foreign exchange reserves - the world's largest at $1.95 trillion - invested safely, with good value and liquidity. He said future decisions on using them would be based on those principles, but added that China wanted to continue work with the U.S.

"I want to emphasize here that the facts speak louder than words. The fact is that China and the United States have conducted good cooperation, and we are ready to continue to talk with the U.S. side," Yang said.

Beijing is the last and perhaps most important stop on Clinton's weeklong visit to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China on which she wanted to focus on the economy and global warming.

Friday, February 20, 2009

calderon vows to press on...,

Washington Post | Mexican President Felipe Calderón on Thursday defended the deployment of the military in his fight against drug cartels, vowing that the army would continue to patrol cities until the country's weakened and often-corrupt police forces were retrained and able to do the job themselves.

In a speech commemorating the founding of the Mexican army, Calderón suggested that drug bosses had paid marchers who took to the streets this week to protest the army's presence in a dozen cities, where soldiers man roadblocks, search houses and make frequent arrests.

Calderón, who has sent more than 45,000 troops to fight the cartels, said the military would remain on patrol until the government had control of the most violent parts of the country and civil authorities were fully able "to confront this evil." Only then, he said, "will the army have completed its mission."

Turf battles involving the drug traffickers, who are fighting the army, police and one another in order to secure billion-dollar smuggling routes into the United States, took the lives of more than 6,000 people in Mexico last year. The pace of killing has continued in 2009, with more than 650 dead, most in the violent border cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana. In the past few days, a running gun battle between soldiers and gunmen through the streets of the northern city of Reynosa, captured live on television, left five people dead. In Ciudad Juarez, the assistant chief of the city police department was ambushed Tuesday and assassinated with three other officers.

millionaire patriot wants YOU armed and trained

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

mexican oil wealth until 2080

El Universal | The man in charge of finding oil and gas in Mexico, Carlos Morales Gil, said that companies Goyler & McNaughton, Netherland Sewell & Ryder Scott and a certified original volume of reserves in the palaeochannels of Chicontepec by 139 billion barrels of crude oil equivalent.

The director of Pemex Exploration and Production (PEP) said in an interview with El Universal volumes of hydrocarbons that are certified, "not a number that I've invented."He clarified that this amount of oil can only be drawn with the available technology, some 18 billion barrels in the next 30 years.

But what will happen to the remaining 118 billion barrels, "he questioned. "We are going to be there, because at the moment there is no technology that allows us to extract that resource," he replied. Probably, he added, over time there is a technologist who will provide the ability to "squeeze" the most Chicontepec.

Although the resources in the 29 certificates that make up the active fields require investments to be acquired and developed the category of economically exploitable reserves, only in terms of volume is equivalent to half the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia, 78% of the reserves Canada and equal to those of Iran, three countries with the largest volume of world oil reserves and 3.8 times higher than Cantarell.

menace spreads in guatemala

Reuters | Guatemala, scarred by years of civil war and rampant street gang crime, is suffering a new scourge as violent Mexican drug traffickers put down deep roots in the country.

A Mexican army crackdown has driven some cartels to seek a haven for their operations across the border in Guatemala, attracted by endemic corruption, weak policing and its position on the overland smuggling route north for Colombian cocaine.

That is a headache for President Alvaro Colom as the cartels employ the same violent tactics that have sown terror in Mexico.

"They are moving in because Guatemala is a paradise for drug traffickers. It's a poor country with a lot of corruption and the judicial system is very weak," Guatemalan Vice President Rafael Espada told Reuters in a recent interview.

Scores of Mexican traffickers are operating in Guatemala, including members of the Sinaloa cartel run by top fugitive Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman and the rival Gulf cartel's armed "Zetas" wing, officials say.

"It's the biggest challenge for Colom's government," said Guatemalan political analyst Manuel Villacorta.

Colom's security forces lack money, recruits, equipment, guns and intelligence to face the Mexicans, he said. "It's impossible for Guatemala, with the resources it has, to be able to address the problem."

As in Mexico, where about 6,000 people were murdered in the drugs war last year, the cartels buy off Guatemalan police and army officers as well as judges and politicians to protect their business, and pose a long-term threat to its democracy.

Guatemala's 1960-96 civil war left more than 200,000 dead, and street gangs that sprang up after the conflict have pushed the murder rate to among the highest in the Americas.

Colom was elected a year ago on a crime-fighting platform but 2008 was one of the most violent years on record with more than 6,000 murders out of a population of just 13 million.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

obama, gates at odds over cia whistleblower protections

Washington Post | During an election featuring Democratic allegations that U.S. intelligence was distorted to justify a misbegotten war, Barack Obama endorsed new protections for national security officers who blow the whistle on abusive, corrupt or illegal behavior, by offering them the right to sue for damages and challenge denials of their security clearances.

But by keeping a Republican-appointed secretary of defense strongly opposed to those changes, President Obama is finding the path to a new policy on federal whistleblowing much more complicated.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other top Bush appointees wrote an unusually tough letter to Congress last year asserting that the bill protecting whistleblowers would threaten national security, violate the Constitution and undermine the government's ability to safeguard legitimate secrets.

The legislation, passed this year by the House, is still being reviewed by the White House, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. "We understand this is an important issue, and we're committed to addressing it in a manner that is consistent with national security," said spokeswoman Wendy Morigi, declining to comment further.
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The bill has evoked strong feelings on both sides because it would extend a series of rights held by most federal workers to dissident employees at the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FBI and other intelligence agencies. Unlike their counterparts elsewhere, they cannot now appeal adverse administrative decisions outside their agencies, either to a special civil service board or to a federal court. Along with others, they also cannot win compensatory damages for improper job decisions or sue to regain their clearances.

For those on the fence about Obamamandian moral grounding, THIS is the executive decision to watch.....,

phoenix arizona second only to mexico city



Phoenix, Arizona has become the kidnapping capital of America, with more incidents than any other city in the world outside of Mexico City and over 370 cases last year alone. But local authorities say Washington, DC is too obsessed with al Qaeda terrorists to care about what is happening in their own backyard right now.

“We’re in the eye of the storm,” Phoenix Police Chief Andy Anderson told ABC News of the violent crimes and ruthless tactics spurred by Mexico’s drug cartels that have expanded business across the border. “If it doesn’t stop here, if we’re not able to fix it here and get it turned around, it will go across the nation,” he said.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown warned that as the U.S. government focuses so intently on Islamic extremist groups, other types of terrorists — those involved with the same kidnappings, extortion and drug cartels that are sweeping Phoenix — are overlooked.

marchers block US border to protest army presence

Associated Press | Hundreds of people blocked bridges to the United States in three border cities Tuesday, demanding the army leave in another challenge for the Mexican government as it struggles to quell escalating drug violence.

The protests in Ciudad Juarez blocked traffic for about two hours across three bridges connecting the city to El Paso, Texas. Similar protests broke out on bridges in the border cities of Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa. Demonstrators blocked city hall and a main avenue in the northern industrial city of Monterrey and roads in the Gulf state of Veracruz.

It was the largest display of discontent against the army's role in an anti-drug crackdown since President Felipe Calderon began deploying soldiers across the country two years ago to fight cartels. About 45,000 soldiers are now spread out across Mexico.

Government and army officials claimed that drug cartels organized similar protests in Monterrey earlier this month to undermine the crackdown. Federal officials had no immediate comment on Tuesday's protests.

Human rights activists say there are legitimate complaints about abuses by soldiers, including cases in which patrols allegedly opened fire on civilians at military checkpoints. But they say it is unclear who has been behind the demonstrations.

Calderon's offensive was initially widely popular among Mexicans hopeful for an end to relentless shootings, kidnappings and killings. But drug violence has only surged since then, with drug gangs beheading rivals and attacking police nearly every day. More than 6,000 people were killed in drug violence last year.

Border towns have been transformed by the crackdown, with soldiers in ski masks regularly rumbling down the streets in large convoys.

mexico will cause the collapse of america...,

police battle wave of abductions

Arizona Republic | Phoenix police are aggressively trying to reduce the number of near-daily home invasions and kidnappings, which helped earn the city the title of "kidnap-for-ransom capital" of the U.S.

Generally characterized as drug-related violence driven by gangs ripping off competitors, many of the kidnapping cases assigned to the city's robbery detectives involved masked gunmen armed with high-powered assault rifles and bulletproof vests, emulating tactical strike-team maneuvers to force others to forfeit drugs or cash.

But other experts said the crimes are primarily the work of small-time dealers trying to take advantage of the large number of stash houses scattered throughout the Valley, which serve as part of a nationwide distribution center for drug organizations.

Incidents in which gangs of gunmen pose as police are common in Arizona, where the drug business is booming.

In 2005, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano declared a "crisis" after a crime wave and again after another round of violence prompted a surge of border patrol agents in 2007. Drug dealers have waged violent battles over smuggling routes and territory as long as narcotics have been around, said Doug Coleman, a federal drug-enforcement agent in Phoenix, who sees the spike in kidnappings-for-ransom as a new twist on an old tactic.

drought and 2009 global food production

Market Skeptics | Consider the graphic below depicting countries by USD value of their agricultural output, as of 2006.


Now, consider the same graphic with the countries experiencing droughts highlighted.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

palin's managerial skills

Houston Chronicle | Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's first two years in office have been called a time of milk and honey, when the resource-rich state was flush with wealth from record oil prices.

The second half of her term isn't looking so rosy as Palin faces her first major financial challenge as governor.

The rapid decline of oil prices has left the state in a looming budget crisis and a late-entrant in the national recession. And that could have political repercussions for the former Republican vice presidential hopeful, who has signaled an interest in a 2012 presidential run but must stay visible in the Lower 48 to be successful.

"Given these bad times, she's going to have a much more difficult time traveling outside Alaska," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "When times are good, people will let their governor roam. In bad times, citizens expect their governor to stay home and work on solving the problems."

Oil accounts for as much as 90 percent of state revenues. So the plunge of North Slope crude from an all-time high of $144.59 per barrel last July threatens to give the state an estimated budget shortfall of up to $1.5 billion in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Palin bills herself as a fiscal conservative, and has called for reducing state spending by $268 million in this budget year, but lawmakers and others say these aren't reductions at all and do nothing to curtail spending. For example, the bulk of that sum — $200 million — is unspent tax credits for companies investing in oil and gas development that are being returned to the treasury.

Palin also is seeking approval from lawmakers to tap budget reserves to fill the deficit. She also has implemented a state hiring freeze that exempts public safety employees, but other departments are lining up to ask for waivers.

It's a long way from Palin's early tenure — particularly last year when the state's treasury was bloated with surplus money from the skyrocketing oil prices.

Iran pins hopes on Russia

RIA Novosti | Iran expects to receive the backing of Russia, which holds the presidency of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in its bid for full membership of the organization, Iran's foreign minister said on Monday.

The SCO comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Russia took over the presidency of the organization last August. Iran and Pakistan have observer status within the organization.

"Iran has officially addressed SCO members and expects its observer status to be finally upgraded to full membership during Russia's chairmanship period," Manouchehr Mottaki said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

Widely seen as a counterweight to NATO's influence in Eurasia, the group primarily addresses security issues, but has recently moved to embrace economic and energy projects.

Iran and Pakistan, observers since 2005, have said they want to become permanent members of the organization, but their requests have yet to be officially considered.

Russia and China have expressed caution over admitting Iran, which is embroiled in a long-running dispute with the West and Israel over its nuclear program and alleged support for radical groups in Lebanon and other countries.

Both China and Russia have major commercial interests in Iran. China wants Iranian oil and gas, and to sell weapons and other goods to the country, while Moscow hopes to sell more weapons and nuclear energy technology to Tehran.

a 'fraud' bigger than madoff?

Independent | In what could turn out to be the greatest fraud in US history, American authorities have started to investigate the alleged role of senior military officers in the misuse of $125bn (£88bn) in a US -directed effort to reconstruct Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The exact sum missing may never be clear, but a report by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) suggests it may exceed $50bn, making it an even bigger theft than Bernard Madoff's notorious Ponzi scheme.

Despite the vast sums expended on rebuilding by the US since 2003, there have been no cranes visible on the Baghdad skyline except those at work building a new US embassy and others rusting beside a half-built giant mosque that Saddam was constructing when he was overthrown. One of the few visible signs of government work on Baghdad's infrastructure is a tireless attention to planting palm trees and flowers in the centre strip between main roads. Those are then dug up and replanted a few months later.

Iraqi leaders are convinced that the theft or waste of huge sums of US and Iraqi government money could have happened only if senior US officials were themselves involved in the corruption. In 2004-05, the entire Iraq military procurement budget of $1.3bn was siphoned off from the Iraqi Defence Ministry in return for 28-year-old Soviet helicopters too obsolete to fly and armoured cars easily penetrated by rifle bullets. Iraqi officials were blamed for the theft, but US military officials were largely in control of the Defence Ministry at the time and must have been either highly negligent or participants in the fraud.

The end of the Bush administration which launched the war may give fresh impetus to investigations into frauds in which tens of billions of dollars were spent on reconstruction with little being built that could be used. In the early days of the occupation, well-connected Republicans were awarded jobs in Iraq, regardless of experience. A 24-year-old from a Republican family was put in charge of the Baghdad stock exchange which had to close down because he allegedly forgot to renew the lease on its building.

an american foreign legion?

Middle East Online | A leaner, meaner, higher tech force -- that was what George W. Bush and his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld promised to transform the American military into. Instead, they came close to turning it into a foreign legion. Foreign as in being constantly deployed overseas on imperial errands; foreign as in being ever more reliant on private military contractors; foreign as in being increasingly segregated from the elites that profit most from its actions, yet serve the least in its ranks.

Now would be a good time for President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to begin to reclaim that military for its proper purpose: to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Now would be a good time to ask exactly why, and for whom, our troops are currently fighting and dying in the urban jungles of Iraq and the hostile hills of Afghanistan.

A few fortnights and forever ago, in the Bush years, our "expeditionary" military came remarkably close to resembling an updated version of the French Foreign Legion in the ways it was conceived and used by those in power -- and even, to some extent, in its makeup.

For the metropolitan French elite of an earlier era, the Foreign Legion -- best known to Americans from countless old action films -- was an assemblage of military adventurers and rootless romantics, volunteers willing to man an army fighting colonial wars in far-flung places. Those wars served the narrow interests of people who weren't particularly concerned about the fate of the legion itself.

the politics of economic disaster

Agence Global | Every day, I read another economist, journalist, or government official opining on how best to achieve economic recovery in this country or that. Needless to say, the remedies all contradict each other. But almost all of these pundits seem to me to live in fantasyland. They actually seem to believe their remedies will work in some relatively short period of time.

The fact is that the world is only at the beginning of a depression that will last for quite a while and will get far worse than it is now. The immediate issue for governments is not how to recover but how to survive the growing popular anger they are all, without exception, facing.

Let us start with the economic realities of the present. Just about everybody throughout the world -- governments, enterprises, individuals -- has been living above their income for the last 10-30 years, and doing it by borrowing. The world went giddy with inflated earnings and inflated consumption. Bubbles have to burst. This one has now burst (or actually several bubbles have burst). The impossibility of continuing on this path has sunk into consciousness, and suddenly everyone has gotten scared that they are running out of real money -- governments, enterprises, individuals.

When that fear takes over, people stop spending, or lending. And when spending and lending declines significantly, enterprises stop producing or slow down. They may close down entirely, or at least fire workers. This is a vicious cycle, since closing down or firing workers leads to lower real demand and causes further reluctance to spend or to lend. It's called depression, and deflation.

right america feeling wronged



worth seeing as the sentiments expressed in this documentary will unfortunately figure prominently in our lives over the next few years...,

Monday, February 16, 2009

EU Götterdämmerung



UK Telegraph | Failure to save East Europe will lead to worldwide meltdown. The unfolding debt drama in Russia, Ukraine, and the EU states of Eastern Europe has reached acute danger point. If mishandled by the world policy establishment, this debacle is big enough to shatter the fragile banking systems of Western Europe and set off round two of our financial Götterdämmerung.


Austria's finance minister Josef Pröll made frantic efforts last week to put together a €150bn rescue for the ex-Soviet bloc. Well he might. His banks have lent €230bn to the region, equal to 70pc of Austria's GDP.

"A failure rate of 10pc would lead to the collapse of the Austrian financial sector," reported Der Standard in Vienna. Unfortunately, that is about to happen.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) says bad debts will top 10pc and may reach 20pc. The Vienna press said Bank Austria and its Italian owner Unicredit face a "monetary Stalingrad" in the East.

Mr Pröll tried to drum up support for his rescue package from EU finance ministers in Brussels last week. The idea was scotched by Germany's Peer Steinbrück. Not our problem, he said. We'll see about that.

Stephen Jen, currency chief at Morgan Stanley, said Eastern Europe has borrowed $1.7 trillion abroad, much on short-term maturities. It must repay – or roll over – $400bn this year, equal to a third of the region's GDP. Good luck. The credit window has slammed shut.

Not even Russia can easily cover the $500bn dollar debts of its oligarchs while oil remains near $33 a barrel. The budget is based on Urals crude at $95. Russia has bled 36pc of its foreign reserves since August defending the ruble.

"This is the largest run on a currency in history," said Mr Jen.

In Poland, 60pc of mortgages are in Swiss francs. The zloty has just halved against the franc. Hungary, the Balkans, the Baltics, and Ukraine are all suffering variants of this story. As an act of collective folly – by lenders and borrowers – it matches America's sub-prime debacle. There is a crucial difference, however. European banks are on the hook for both. US banks are not.

Almost all East bloc debts are owed to West Europe, especially Austrian, Swedish, Greek, Italian, and Belgian banks. En plus, Europeans account for an astonishing 74pc of the entire $4.9 trillion portfolio of loans to emerging markets.

They are five times more exposed to this latest bust than American or Japanese banks, and they are 50pc more leveraged (IMF data).

Spain is up to its neck in Latin America, which has belatedly joined the slump (Mexico's car output fell 51pc in January, and Brazil lost 650,000 jobs in one month). Britain and Switzerland are up to their necks in Asia.

Whether it takes months, or just weeks, the world is going to discover that Europe's financial system is sunk, and that there is no EU Federal Reserve yet ready to act as a lender of last resort or to flood the markets with emergency stimulus.

it's a dirty job but someone had to do it

ChrisMartenson.com| Look, people at the supermarket checkout counter don't understand how serious the situation is. If we can't go on getting oil at the rate we have become accustomed to those shelves will be bare. The stuff's getting scarce now. The Chinese are after it; that's why they're supporting murderous regimes in Africa without asking any questions. Now you can't secure the stuff just by being nice and asking to buy some; you have to go after it strenuously and sometimes you have to throw a little weight around, or some other bastard will get it first. That's what geopolitics is about. It's dog eat dog and devil take the hindmost out there. Most wars in history have been about grabs for resources. That's what The Great game in central Asia has been about and is about now. We have to secure our oil fields and we have to get safe routes for those long pipelines to sea ports, through foreign countries, some of which don't like us much. We can't build them and we can't protect them unless we have military bases and unless we bribe or bully some of those regimes into doing what we want.

So can't you see that we had to take Iraq and Afghanistan. And what if Saddam had decided to stop trading oil in US dollars! GW and the team bit the bullet; they did what was necessary. And GW has been a great front man; he's taken the flak for a tough and dirty but crucial job. When everyone's criticising and you can't tell them what you are really doing its best if the mess looks like a mistake made by a buffoon.

Yes of course they were clumsy. In the past they have pulled off most of the coups and assassinations and invasions neatly and quietly - got rid of Noriega, Lumumba, the Sandinistas, put in the Shah, supported our kleptocrat Suharto in Indonesia for 30 years, eliminated deviance in Haiti and Grenada (especially important that, can't let the little ones get away with deviating - sets a bad example the rest might see they can follow) with not a grumble at home. Mind you they did stuff up a bit on Cuba and Venezuela.

So yes they did miscalculate in Iraq and Afghanistan but securing the empire is a difficult job, and it's a vital job. You cannot live in the way you have become accustomed, let alone have the 3% p. growth you insist on, unless we go on getting control of most of the dwindling resources an that means running those countries to our benefit not theirs. George and the Neo-cons have done it for you, in difficult circumstances. I think their critics should just be a bit more understanding and appreciative. If you want to go on living with your too-big houses and your plasmas and your jet-away vacations just quit the backchat and support your empire and those who secure it for you.

This letter to George Bush is an oldie but goodie written by Ted Trainer. Mr. Trainer's extensive writings on Farmer Brown and global livestock mismanagement can be found here.

hegemonic hustle...,

METimes | It remains to be seen how President Obama, the idealist liberal, views King Abdullah, the traditional monarch. The king has not left events to chance. Since the Gaza crisis, he has intensified his efforts to situate himself as the ultimate problem solver in the Middle East and the faithful defender of U.S. interests in the region. He and his government have consistently sent messages concerning peace with Israel, isolating Iran, and weakening Iran's supporters in the Arab world, i.e. Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other nationalistic organizations. On Feb. 3, Abdullah's government issued an implicit call for Arabs to be aware of Iran's policies disguised as defending Arab and Muslim interests. The government, too, in cooperation with Egypt, organized a conference on Feb. 3 for foreign ministers of U.S.-allied states to back the peace initiative with Israel.

Motivated by ensuring the survival of and maintaining security in the kingdom, Abdullah is counting on Washington's traditional support. This may explain why he appears to be in a race with time to demonstrate to President Obama that his kingdom is a trusted ally which is willing to utilize its unlimited wealth and resources to steer events in the region into a direction that serves Israel's concerns for security, while optimizing what he perceives as American interests in the region.

Abdullah understands that Obama seeks to differentiate his administration's foreign policy from that of his predecessor, and that Obama might not agree or see eye to eye with him. Nevertheless, Abdullah knows that, at this moment, he holds the key to two important factors: the free flow of oil and peace with Israel. He is betting that Obama ultimately reciprocates his friendly gestures.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

american bankster....,

Baseline Scenario | When you cut through the technical details and the marketing distractions, sorting out the US banking fiasco comes down to one, and only one, question. How tough are you willing to be on the people who control the country’s large banks?

One option is to be gentle with them and adopt only ideas that they pre-approve. This route involves complicated schemes to purchase, lend against, or otherwise “wash” toxic assets out of the banks using taxpayer subsidies. This will be expensive (for the taxpayer), messy politically, and - most likely - will not work, in the sense of restoring the banking system to something close to its normal mode of functioning; check with Hank Paulson for details.

Alternatively, you can be tough and take steps towards really assessing which banks are insolvent when you use market prices to value their assets. These banks can be taken over in a scaled-up FDIC-type procedure (no golden parachutes!), and controlling stakes in fully recapitalized banks can be sold off immediately to new private owners. The new private owners can handle, under proper anti-trust supervision, the break up the banks. This approach will be cheaper for the taxpayer (but nothing is free at this stage), easier to explain to the electorate and their representatives, and it will work - this is in fact the standard prescription because it always works. But it will not make powerful bankers happy.

So which way is the Obama Administration heading? We honestly don’t yet know; the signals are mixed.

Fist tap to rembom for the Simon Johnson interview and baseline scenario.

ireland ‘could default on debt’

Times Online | FEARS are mounting that Ireland could default on its soaring national debt pile, amid continuing worries about its troubled banking sector.

The cost of buying insurance against Irish government bonds rose to record highs on Friday, having almost tripled in a week. Debt-market investors now rank Ireland as the most troubled economy in Europe.

Simon Johnson, the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, called for this weekend’s meeting of G7 finance ministers to put Ireland’s troubles at the top of the agenda.

Johnson said: “Don’t, please, tell me more about the basic principles of financial reform unless and until you have addressed the Irish problem. And don’t tell me the Irish have to sort this out for themselves. Eventually, the world always comes to help; check your notes on Iceland.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

islamicate bomb

LATimes | Reporting from Washington — Little more than a year after U.S. spy agencies concluded that Iran had halted work on a nuclear weapon, the Obama administration has made it clear that it believes there is no question that Tehran is seeking the bomb.

In his news conference this week, President Obama went so far as to describe Iran's "development of a nuclear weapon" before correcting himself to refer to its "pursuit" of weapons capability.

Obama's nominee to serve as CIA director, Leon E. Panetta, left little doubt about his view last week when he testified on Capitol Hill. "From all the information I've seen," Panetta said, "I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability."

The language reflects the extent to which senior U.S. officials now discount a National Intelligence Estimate issued in November 2007 that was instrumental in derailing U.S. and European efforts to pressure Iran to shut down its nuclear program.

As the administration moves toward talks with Iran, Obama appears to be sending a signal that the United States will not be drawn into a debate over Iran's intent.

"When you're talking about negotiations in Iran, it is dangerous to appear weak or naive," said Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear weapons expert and president of the Ploughshares Fund, an anti-proliferation organization based in Washington.

Cirincione said the unequivocal language also worked to Obama's political advantage. "It guards against criticism from the right that the administration is underestimating Iran," he said.

Iran has long maintained that it aims to generate electricity, not build bombs, with nuclear power. But Western intelligence officials and nuclear experts increasingly view those claims as implausible.

U.S. officials said that although no new evidence had surfaced to undercut the findings of the 2007 estimate, there was growing consensus that it provided a misleading picture and that the country was poised to reach crucial bomb-making milestones this year.

afghan pitfalls

Dissident Voice | Under pressure, the Taliban could launch another attack inside India. After the attacks on Mumbai last November, India was threatening ‘surgical strikes’ against Pakistan, forcing Pakistan to divert its troops to the eastern front. Another Mumbai, followed by Indian surgical strikes against Pakistan, could produce consequences too horrendous to contemplate.

Are US objectives in Afghanistan so vital as to bring two nuclear powers to the brink of a war?

Iran was not much of a factor when British India and Soviet Union were fighting in Afghanistan. It is now. In Iraq, Iran favored the defeat of the Sunni insurgency once it had denied the United States a victory. In Afghanistan, Iran prefers to create a quagmire for the Americans, ensuring a long stalemate between them and the Taliban.

In light of the consequences that have flowed from the US presence in Afghanistan, who would advise an escalation? President Obama still has time to put on hold his plans to send more troops to Afghanistan. Instead, the best political minds around the world should be examining the least costly exit from a war that promises to become a quagmire, at best, and, at worst, a disaster, which no US objective in the region can justify.

Unless, dismantling the world’s only Islamicate country with the bomb is an objective worthy of such horrendous costs. (this is of course the sixty four thousand dollar question. I suspect that the dismantling and prevention of further "islamicate" nuclear capabilities/ambitions is among Farmer Brown's prime directives)