Sunday, January 10, 2010

is anyone telling us the truth?

Creator's Syndicate | What are we to make of the failed Underwear Bomber plot, the Toothpaste, Shampoo, and Bottled Water Bomber plot, and the Shoe Bomber plot? These blundering and implausible plots to bring down an airliner seem far removed from al-Qaida's expertise in pulling off 9/11.

If we are to believe the U.S. government, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged al-Qaida "mastermind" behind 9/11, outwitted the CIA, the NSA, indeed all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies as well as those of all U.S. allies including Mossad, the National Security Council, NORAD, Air Traffic Control, Airport Security four times on one morning, and Dick Cheney, and with untrained and inexperienced pilots pulled off skilled piloting feats of crashing hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center towers, and the Pentagon, where a battery of state of the art air defenses somehow failed to function.

After such amazing success, al-Qaida would have attracted the best minds in the business, but, instead, it has been reduced to amateur stunts.

The Underwear Bomb plot is being played to the hilt on the TV media and especially on Fox "news." After reading recently that The Washington Post allowed a lobbyist to write a news story that preached the lobbyist's interest, I wondered if the manufacturers of full body scanners were behind the heavy coverage of the Underwear Bomber, if not behind the plot itself. In America, everything is for sale. Integrity is gone with the wind.

Recently I read a column by an author who has a "convenience theory" about the Underwear Bomber being a Nigerian allegedly trained by al-Qaida in Yemen. As the U.S. is involved in an undeclared war in Yemen, about which neither the American public nor Congress were informed or consulted, the Underwear Bomb plot provided a convenient excuse for Washington's new war, regardless of whether it was a real attack or a put-up job.

Once you start to ask yourself about whose agenda is served by events and their news spin, other things come to mind. For example, last July there was a news report that the government in Yemen had disbanded a terrorist cell, which was operating under the supervision of Israeli intelligence services. According to the news report, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told Saba news agency that a terrorist cell was arrested and that the case was referred to judicial authorities "for its links with the Israeli intelligence services."

Could the Underwear Bomber have been one of the Israeli terrorist recruits? Certainly Israel has an interest in keeping the US fully engaged militarily against all potential foes of Israel's territorial expansion.

The thought brought back memory of my Russian studies at Oxford University where I learned that the Tsar's secret police set off bombs so that they could blame those whom they wanted to arrest.

I next remembered that Francesco Cossiga, the president of Italy from 1985-1992, revealed the existence of Operation Gladio, a false flag operation under NATO auspices that carried out bombings across Europe in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The bombings were blamed on communists and were used to discredit communist parties in elections.

An Italian parliamentary investigation unearthed the fact that the attacks were overseen by the CIA.
Gladio agent Vincenzo Vinciguerra stated in sworn testimony that the attacks targeted innocent civilians, including women and children, in order "to force the public to turn to the state to ask for greater security."

What a coincidence. That is exactly what 9/11 succeeded in accomplishing in the U.S.

the first tea party senator?

NYTimes | Gov. Charlie Crist wants to fill the seat vacated in September by Mel Martinez, also a Republican. His Democratic opponent in the fall would likely be Representative Kendrick Meek. But first Crist must survive a civil war: a Republican primary fight against Marco Rubio, the 38-year-old former speaker of the Florida House who has become a cause célèbre of the national conservative movement and drew even with Crist last month in a Rasmussen poll (after trailing the governor by almost 30 percentage points over the summer). Crist has become a conservative scourge, for reasons he seems at a loss to understand and that in some ways have nothing to do with him.

It is not uncommon for a party out of power to undergo an identity crisis and an internal bloodletting, and it is Crist’s bad luck that his race in 2010 fits the frame of a philosophical debate that has been fulminating in the Republican Party for several months. The race, and the national debate, pits the governing pragmatists against the ideological purists. The purists say that a Republican revival depends on hewing to conservative ideas, resisting compromise and generally taking a dim view of government. Tea Party rallies are filled with such purists, whose populist icons — Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News’s Glenn Beck — tend to be unburdened by the pressures of governing through a recession.

Not long ago, Jim DeMint, a Republican senator from South Carolina, summed up the purity side this way: “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.” And when I asked Rubio recently which current senator he most admires, he said DeMint.

Crist represents the governing pragmatist who was once seen as a winner who could reclaim the political center for Republicans. He was a popular governor with crossover appeal among Democrats and independents. For a time, Arnold Schwarzenegger fit this mold in California. So did, to a degree, Mitt Romney, when he was the governor of Massachusetts, and Mike Huckabee in Arkansas, though each worked to present himself as ideologically pure in his presidential run.

Rubio, who has been dominating straw polls of conservative advocates across Florida while pulling even in real ones, is Hispanic, uses Twitter and listens to Snoop Dogg — not your grandmother’s Republican, in other words.

“There are people who believe the way to be more successful as Republicans is to be more like Democrats,” Rubio told me early last month, essentially distilling his case against Crist, whom he keeps describing backhandedly as “a really nice, pleasant guy.” “And the people who believe we need to be more like Democrats will vote for Charlie Crist.” There is also the more stylistic question of whether Crist’s conciliatory approach fits with the basic tenor of an impatient opposition party. He may not be angry enough to win a Republican primary this year.

invitation to disaster

NYTimes | Without substantial new federal help, state cuts that are now merely drastic will become draconian, and hundreds of thousands of additional jobs will be lost. The suffering is already widespread. Some states have laid off or furloughed employees. Tens of thousands of teachers have been let go as cuts have been made to public schools and critically important preschool programs. California has bludgeoned its public higher education system, one of the finest in the world.

Michigan has cut some of the benefits it provided to middle-class families struggling with the costs of health care for severely disabled children — benefits that helped pay for such things as incontinence supplies and transportation to special care centers. The Grand Rapids Press quoted a state official who acknowledged that the cuts were “tough” and were hurting families. But he added, “The state simply doesn’t have the money.”

The collapse of state tax revenues caused by the recession is the sharpest on record. Steep budget cuts have not been enough to offset the unprecedented plunge in tax collections that resulted from unemployment and other aspects of the downturn. The shortfalls swept the nation. As the Rockefeller Institute of Government reported, “Total tax revenue declined in all 44 states for which comparable early data are available.”

State governments are not without fault. Very few have been paragons of fiscal responsibility over the years. California is a well-known basket case. New York has a Legislature that is a laughingstock. But for the federal government to resist offering substantial additional help in the face of this growing crisis would be foolhardy. You can’t have a healthy national economy while dozens of states are hooked up to life support.

the machine stops


is planned obsolescence socially responsible?

The New Engineer | In the 1930s an enterprising engineer working for General Electric proposed increasing sales of flashlight lamps by increasing their efficiency and shortening their life. Instead of lasting through three batteries he suggested that each lamp last only as long as one battery. In 1934 speakers at the Society of Automotive Engineers meetings proposed limiting the life of automobiles. These examples and others are cited in Vance Packard's classic book The Waste Makers.

By the 1950s planned obsolescence had become routine and engineers worried over the ethics of deliberately designing products of inferior quality. The conflict between profits and engineering objectives were apparent. The fear of market saturation seemed to require such methods to ensure a prosperous economy, yet the consumer was being sold inferior products that could have been made more durable for little extra cost.

In an editorial in Design News toward the end of the fifties, E. S. Safford asked whether engineers should resist the philosophy of planned obsolescence if their management commissioned a 'short-term product' and argued that they should not: "Planned existence spans of product may well become one of the greatest economic boosts to the American economy since the origination of time payments." What was required, he argued was "a new look at old engineering ethics". Instead of trying to build the best, the lightest, the fastest and the cheapest, engineers should be able to apply their skills to building shoddy articles that would fall apart after a short amount of time, all in the interests of the market.

The editorial prompted a wide response. Several engineers wrote in to add their agreement. According to Packard, "the majority of engineers and executives reacting to the editorial, however, seemed angry and bewildered. They appeared to have little enthusiasm for the 'new ethics' they were being invited to explore." They objected because planned obsolescence gave engineering a bad name, because it cheated customers who were not informed of the death-date of the product, and because it directed creative engineering energies toward short-term market ends rather than more lofty and ambitious engineering goals.

Today when protecting the environment is such a priority goal, the question of product life and durability is again a critical question. Clearly the rate at which modern societies turn over equipment, automobiles, white goods and other items has a cost both in terms of resource use as well as waste and pollution. Yet our economic systems still seem to rely on the consumption that this constant turnover requires. Another respectful bow in the direction of my man Umbrarchist.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

consumer society is made to break

Adbusters | In 1932, Bernard London wrote, “Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence”, in which he blamed the Great Depression on consumers who use "their old cars, their old radios and their old clothing much longer than statisticians had expected”.

Ours is a consumer society that profits from disposability under the logic that the sooner things break the sooner they can be replaced. Production is artificially inflated through intentionally shoddy products while consumption is stimulated through commercial bombardment. Since the 1930s, manufacturers have been designing their products to be replaced frequently just as fashion designers keep us buying by making last year’s fashions look outdated. This is called planned obsolescence. I first heard about planned obsolescence from the excellent short film, The Story of Stuff.

“Planned obsolescence” may sound like a conspiracy theory but it was once openly discussed as a solution to the Great Depression. In fact, most scholars trace the origin of the term to Bernard London’s 1932 pamphlet, “Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence”, in which London blames the global economic Depression on consumers who disobey “the law of obsolescence” by “using their old cars, their old tires, their old radios and their old clothing much longer than statisticians had expected”. London’s sinister solution was to propose a government agency that would determine the lifespan of each manufactured object whether it is a building, a ship, a comb or a shoe. Those frugal consumers who insisted on using their products past the expiration date would be penalized. London explained his plan simply: “I propose that when a person continues to posses and use old clothing, automobiles and buildings, after they have passed their obsolescence date, as determined at the time they were created, he should be taxed for such continued use of what is legally ‘dead’.” While the regulatory specifics of London’s plan may not have been put into place the spirit of his proposal has been adopted by product designers whose objects are meant to break.

And so we grow old in a world surrounded by things whose disposability is prized above all else. Of course, the need to constantly replace the objects in our daily life has an added benefit as well: it keeps us locked into our overworked, over stimulated and under paid daily grind. We work to buy things that are built to die so that we must work to buy more things that will break. A vicious cycle with two exits: the consumer’s debt ridden grave or the freedom of the culture jammer who refuses to replace the junk that breaks – the junk we never needed anyways.

Only 15 copies of London's pamphet remain in libraries around the world. No copy is available online. Adbusters has tracked down Bernard London's pamphlet and for the first time ever we are making it available online. Respectful bow in the direction of my man Umbrarchist.

hubbert on the nature of growth

EnergyBulletin | Testimony to Hearing on the National Energy Conservation Policy Act of 1974, hearings before the Subcommittee on the Environment of the committee on Interior and Insular Affairs House of Representatives. June 6, 1974.

It is my understanding that the present hearings pertain primarily to the bill H.R. 11343, ``A bill to provide for the establishment of a comprehensive energy conservation program in order to regulate the national rate of growth of energy use, to establish a Council on Energy Policy, and for other purposes.'' In Sec. 7(a) of this bill it is stipulated that one of the duties of such a Council shall be ``to develop and transmit to the President and to the Congress ... a comprehensive report setting forth the proposed legislation it deems necessary to achieve a maximum rate of growth in energy consumption of 2 per centum per year'' [Italics added].

Instead of discussing the merits or demerits of this proposed legislation, I think that it may be more helpful if I discuss some of the aspects of growth in general in an effort to see the bearing which these relationships may have upon our evolving social system.

The earth and its biological inhabitants comprise an evolving system in which various of its components change in magnitude with time. To describe these changes we may use the term ``growth'' in a generic sense as being synonymous with change. Thus a given quantity may be said to exhibit positive growth if its magnitude increases with time, negative growth if it decreases with time, and zero growth if it remains constant.

Two terms applicable to an evolving system are of fundamental importance. These are steady (or stationary) state and transient state. A system is said to be in a steady state when its various components either do not change with time, or else vary cyclically with the repetitive cycles not changing with time. A system in a transient state is one whose various components are undergoing noncyclical changes in magnitude, either of increase or decrease.

In distinguishing these two states the time scale needs also to be taken into account. Actually, an ideal steady state on the earth is impossible. For example, a pendulum clock driven by a weight or a spring is an almost perfect example of a cyclical steady state, with one exception: the weight falls or the spring unwinds. This latter characteristic is a transient phenomenon. Similarly on the earth many quantities vary cyclically on a diurnal or annual scale and yet change very slowly over periods of thousands of years. However, even these quantities which approximate a steady state over intermediate periods of time become transient phenomena on a longer time scale. On a time scale of the solar system even the sun's radiation is a transient phenomenon due to the fact that the sun is slowly exhausting the supply of hydrogen upon which its radiation of energy depends.

Friday, January 08, 2010

bankruptcy or WW-III?

Forbes | "at all levels, federal, state, local and GSEs, the total public debt is now at 141% of GDP. That puts the United States in some elite company--only Japan, Lebanon and Zimbabwe are higher. That's only the start. Add household debt (highest in the world at 99% of GDP) and corporate debt (highest in the world at 317% of GDP, not even counting off-balance-sheet swaps and derivatives) and our total debt is 557% of GDP. Less than three years ago our total indebtedness crossed 500% of GDP for the first time."

Add the unfunded portion of entitlement programs and we're at 840% of GDP.

The world has not seen such debt levels in modern history. This debt is not serviceable. Imagine that total debt is 557% of GDP, without considering entitlements. The interest on the debt will consume all the tax revenues of the country in the not-too-distant future. Then there will be no way out but to create more debt in order to finance the old debt.

target yemen

RussiaToday | What's at stake? At most, Yemen has four billion proved barrels of oil reserves and modest amounts of natural gas, hardly a reason for war. More important is its strategic location near the Horn of Africa on Saudi Arabia's southern border, the Red Sea, its Bab el- Mandeb strait (a key chokepoint separating Yemen from Eritrea through which three million barrels of oil pass daily), and the Gulf of Aden connection to the Indian Ocean.

Washington is playing Iran against Saudi Arabia so as to weaken both the pro-Moscow Ahmadinejad government in Iran, and also those Saudi forces that are fed up with their status as a US protectorate. The US is openly now sponsoring a regroupment of Al Qaeda in Yemen, including by sending fighters direct from Guantanamo. The new CIA-promoted synthetic entity is Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsule (AQAP), a gaggle of US patsies, dupes, and fanatics which is claiming credit for the (Abdulmutallab) incident."

Washington's usual tactics are at work:

-- create a false flag incident;

-- heighten fear through the complicit media;

-- ride to the rescue with popular support;

-- keep oil prices high;

-- boost market opportunities for security equipment manufacturers;

-- weaken civil liberties through new police state measures;

-- erode Iranian and Russian influence; and

-- gain greater control over the region's southern portion, the entire Middle East and all of Eurasia.

Coming next may be another enlisted or unwitting stooge to take down an airliner, blame it on Iran, Yemeni rebels, or Al Qaeda and provide an excuse for greater intervention, mass slaughter and destruction in another country, then on to the next one as part of an offensive to expand regional war and destabilization toward the ultimate goal of global "full spectrum dominance.

At Washington's behest, the Saudis began bombing and using tanks against Yemen in early November. So far, hundreds have been killed or wounded and thousands displaced. In addition, a rebel group called the Young Believers claims US jets launched multiple attacks in Yemen's northwest Sa'ada Province. Britain's Daily Telegraph also reports that US Special Forces (meaning death squads like in Afghanistan) are training Yemen's army, and likely operating covertly on their own.

oil and politics south of the border

SeekingAlpha | This graph tracks Mexico's national deficit in billions of Mexican pesos. The figures are released monthly; the above graph shows the cumulative trailing 12-month total deficit.

It's not hard to see that since early 2008 Mexico's deficit has grown to unsustainable levels. There are two major reasons for this escalation: a severe contraction in the Mexican economy and plummeting oil revenues.

As to the first point, Mexico's economy declined at an annualized rate of more than 10 percent in the second quarter and at a rate of more than 6 percent in the quarter ended September 30. Analysts estimate that Mexico's economy shrank 7 percent in 2009.

And the nation's recovery doesn't look robust: Analysts expect the Mexican economy to grow 2.95 percent in 2010 and just 3.25 percent in 2011. The health of Mexico's economy depends heavily on what transpires in the US; unlike Brazil, China and India, there is little chance of the Mexican economy decoupling from the fortunes of its northern neighbor.

The second problem is just as insidious and has been building for some time. Mexico's crude production topped out at 3.4 million barrels per day in 2004, declined to 3 million barrels per day in 2007 and 2.8 million barrels per day in 2008.

According to PEMEX's estimates, production will total just 2.5 million barrels per day in 2010, and exports will be in the neighborhood of 1.1 million barrels per day--down over 40 percent from 2004.

This forecast has major implications for Mexico's fiscal health. State-owned PEMEX is the sole producer of crude oil and natural gas in Mexico; the company’s oil-related export revenues account for roughly 40 percent of Mexico's budget.

it's our desires that are in charge....,

big oil at sea

WSJ | Beyond the Gulf of Mexico, companies have announced big finds off the coasts of Brazil and Ghana, leading some experts to suggest the existence of a massive oil reservoir stretching across the Atlantic from Africa to South America. Production from deepwater projects -- those in water at least 1,000 feet deep -- grew by 67%, or by about 2.3 million barrels a day, between 2005 and 2008, according to PFC Energy, a Washington consulting firm.

The discoveries come as many of the giant oil fields of the past century are beginning to dry up, and as some experts are warning that global oil production could soon reach a peak and begin to decline. The new deepwater fields represent a huge and largely untapped source of oil, which could help ease fears that the world won't be able to meet demand for energy, which is expected to grow rapidly in coming years.

For oil companies, the discoveries mean something more: After a decade of retreat, large Western energy companies are taking back the lead in the quest to find oil. "A lot of people can get the very easy oil," says George Kirkland, Chevron's vice chairman. "There's just not a lot of it left."

There are challengers to Big Oil's deepwater dominance. Brazil recently has moved to give a larger share of its offshore oil to its state-run oil company, Petrobras. A handful of smaller companies, such as Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Tullow Oil PLC, have had success offshore, particularly in Ghana, where giants like BP and Exxon Mobil Corp. are now playing catch-up.

The enormous investments of time and money required for such projects have made many experts skeptical that they can ease the long-term pressure on global oil supplies. The scale of the projects means that few smaller companies have the resources to take them on. Devon Energy Corp., an independent producer based in Oklahoma City, recently announced plans to abandon its deepwater-exploration business to focus on less-expensive onshore projects, which is says will produce a better return.

"This is technology capable of going to the moon," says Robin West, chairman of consulting firm PFC Energy, involving "extraordinary uncertainty, immense levels of information processing, staggering amounts of capital." Comments

Thursday, January 07, 2010

king of the north?

The Trumpet | Over the next few days, Russia will change the world. It has completed a new oil pipeline and port complex that sets Russia up to become a more powerful oil exporter than Saudi Arabia. The ramifications for Europe and Asia are profound: The shape of the global economy—and the global balance of power—will be altered forever.

December 28 was a big day of ceremony in Russia. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pushed a button that transformed global oil dynamics—especially for Asia and Europe. The button released thousands of barrels of Siberian crude into a waiting Russian supertanker and heralded the opening of Russia’s first modern Pacific-based oil export facilities.

The multibillion-dollar, state-of-the-art oil terminal was a “great New Year present for Russia,” Putin said during the inauguration. The strategic terminal, located in the city of Kozmino on the coast of the Sea of Japan, is one of the “biggest projects in contemporary Russia” he said, not only in “modern Russia,” but “the former Soviet Union too.”

Putin has every right to be enthusiastic about his new port. Kozmino will unlock a two-way gate through which Russia’s vast Siberian oilfields will gush into Asia’s energy-hungry economies—and Chinese, Korean and Japanese currency will flow into Russia.

If just the seven ships currently waiting to berth are all filled during January, the port of Kozmino will instantly become Russia’s third-most important oil outlet.

According to Reuters, the first oil transport loads on January 15. In a symbolic move highlighting Russia’s warming relationship with China, Hong Kong will receive the first shipment.

After that, Kozmino’s importance will exponentially grow over the next year. Currently, all Siberian oil shipments into Kozmino are delivered by train—but that will soon change. Phase one of the East Siberian-Pacific Ocean Pipeline (espo) was also completed during December. Phase two will soon connect the Siberian fields directly to the new port. When phase two is finished in 2014, total exports could jump from the current rate of 250,000 barrels per day to over 1 million. Kozmino will transform into one of the largest oil centers in the world—capable of handling 14 percent of total Russian oil exports. It will be one of the most strategic geopolitical assets in Russia’s arsenal.

project anubis

Wired | The Air Force Research Laboratory set out in 2008 to build the ultimate assassination robot: a tiny, armed drone for U.S. special forces to employ in terminating “high-value targets.” The military won’t say exactly what happened to this Project Anubis, named after a jackal-headed god of the dead in Egyptian mythology. But military budget documents note that Air Force engineers were successful in “develop[ing] a Micro-Air Vehicle (MAV) with innovative seeker/tracking sensor algorithms that can engage maneuvering high-value targets.”

We have seen in recent years increased strikes by larger Predator and Reaper drones using Hellfire missiles against terrorist-leadership targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But these have three significant drawbacks.

First, you can never be quite sure of what you hit. In 2002’s notorious “Tall Man incident,” CIA operatives unleashed a Hellfire at an individual near Zhawar Kili in Afghanistan’s Paktia province. His unusual height convinced the drone controllers that the man was Bin Laden (who stands 6 feet, 5 inches). In fact, he was merely an innocent (if overgrown) Afghan peasant.

A second problem is that the Hellfire isn’t exactly the right weapon for the mission. Originally designed as an anti-tank missile, it’s not especially agile, nor is it designed to cope with a target that might swerve or dodge at the last second (like cars and motorbikes).

And thirdly, such strikes tend to affect a number of others, as well as the intended target. It raises the risk of killing or injuring innocent bystanders.

This was the rationale for Project Anubis. Special Forces already make extensive use of the Wasp drone made by AeroVironment. This is the smallest drone in service, weighing less than a pound. It has an endurance of around 45 minutes, and line-of-sight control extends to 3 miles.

It might seem limited compared to larger craft, but the Wasp excels at close-in reconnaissance. Its quiet electric motor means it can get near to targets without their ever being aware of its presence.
Fist tap Nana.

twilight of the american newspaper

Harpers | Newspapers have become deadweight commodities linked to other media commodities in chains that are coupled or uncoupled by accountants and lawyers and executive vice presidents and boards of directors in offices thousands of miles from where the man bit the dog and drew ink. The San Francisco Chronicle is owned by the Hearst Corporation, once the Chronicle’s archrival. The Hearst Corporation has its headquarters in New York City. According to Hearst, the Chronicle has been losing a million dollars a week. In San Francisco there have been buyouts and firings of truck drivers, printers, reporters, artists, editors, critics. With a certain élan, the San Francisco Chronicle has taken to publishing letters from readers who remark the diminishing pleasure or usefulness of the San Francisco Chronicle.

When a newspaper dies in America, it is not simply that a commercial enterprise has failed; a sense of place has failed. If the San Francisco Chronicle is near death—and why else would the editors celebrate its 144th anniversary? and why else would the editors devote a week to feature articles on fog?—it is because San Francisco’s sense of itself as a city is perishing.

Most newspapers that are dying today were born in the nineteenth century. The Seattle Post–Intelligencer died 2009, born 1863. The Rocky Mountain News died 2009, born 1859. The Ann Arbor News died 2009, born 1835. It was the pride and the function of the American newspaper in the nineteenth century to declare the forming congregation of buildings and services a city—a place busy enough or populated enough to have news. Frontier American journalism preserved a vestige of the low-church impulse toward universal literacy whereby the new country imagined it could read and write itself into existence. We were the Gutenberg Nation.

Nineteenth-century newspapers draped bunting about their mastheads and brandished an inflated diction and a Gothic type to name themselves the Herald, the Eagle, the Tribune, the Mercury, the Globe, the Sun. With the passage of time, the name of the city was commonly attached to the name of the newspaper, not only to distinguish the Alexandria Gazette from the New York Gazette but because the paper described the city and the city described the paper.

pensioners burning books for warmth

MetroUK | Volunteers have reported that ‘a large number’ of elderly customers are snapping up hardbacks as cheap fuel for their fires and stoves.

Temperatures this week are forecast to plummet as low as -13ºC in the Scottish Highlands, with the mercury falling to -6ºC in London, -5ºC in Birmingham and -7ºC in Manchester as one of the coldest winters in years continues to bite.

Workers at one charity shop in Swansea, in south Wales, described how the most vulnerable shoppers were seeking out thick books such as encyclopaedias for a few pence because they were cheaper than coal.

One assistant said: ‘Book burning seems terribly wrong but we have to get rid of unsold stock for pennies and some of the pensioners say the books make ideal slow-burning fuel for fires and stoves.

A lot of them buy up large hardback volumes so they can stick them in the fire to last all night.’

A 500g book can sell for as little as 5p, while a 20kg bag of coal costs £5.

Since January 2008, gas bills have risen 40 per cent and electricity prices 20 per cent, although people over 60 are entitled to a winter fuel allowance of between £125 and £400.

Jonathan Stearn, energy expert for Consumer Focus, said: ‘If pensioners are taking such desperate measures to heat their homes it is shocking. With low wholesale prices and increasing profit margins, there is clearly room for energy companies to make price cuts immediately.’

Ruth Davison, of the National Housing Federation, said: ‘The spiralling cost of energy means heating homes has become a luxury rather than a necessity for many people – particularly the elderly, low paid and unemployed.’

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

america now faces its own "weimar moment."

MarketOracle | The failure of right wing policy and leadership over the past eight years, especially in matters economic, is comparable to Germany's right-wing failure in World War I. It is catastrophic, undeniable, and complete.

Consider: According to the World Economic Forum, forty percent of the entire world's wealth has been destroyed in the recent financial collapse. In the U.S. alone, between housing and the stock market, more than $18 trillion in wealth has already been destroyed.

The private mega-banks that anchor the financial systems of the western world are bankrupt. This makes it all but impossible to jump-start the western world's economies which are heavily dependent on bank-system credit to operate.

More than 10,000 homes go into foreclosure every day. More than 20,000 people lose their job every day. And the collapse is accelerating, developing its own self-reinforcing dynamic. Job losses breed foreclosures, reducing demand, leading to more job losses and further degradation of the financial system. None of the stopgaps designed to stanch the bleeding have yet worked. There is no bottom in sight.

Meanwhile, debt has risen to astronomical levels. Reagan and Bush I quadrupled the national debt in only twelve years. Bush II doubled it again in only eight. It is now ten times higher than it was in 1980 when Reagan was elected. Total public and private debt exceeds 300% of GDP, half again higher than it was in 1929.

The government's unfunded liabilities, promises it has made to the American people but for which no payment source can be identified, now exceed $60 trillion, a literally inconceivable sum that can never, will never, be paid. Federal Reserve economist Lawrence Kotlikoff has suggested that the U.S. government is "actuarially bankrupt."

The full measure of the nation's plight is revealed in Hillary Clinton's first trip as Secretary of State. It was to China, to beg them to fund Obama's new fiscal deficits. Without loans from China, the U.S. economy cannot be revived. The significance of this cannot be overstated: the U.S. no longer exercises sovereignty over its own economic affairs. That sovereignty now resides in the hands of China, the U.S.'s greatest long-term rival.

Thanks to Republican policies of massive debt and shipping jobs abroad, the U.S. has technically become a colony of China. It exports raw materials and imports finished goods, together with the capital to make up the difference. Should the Chinese decide not to lend the trillions of dollars the U.S. is begging for, the U.S. economy will implode, plummeting onto itself in a World Trade Center-like collapse that will leave dust clouds circling the planet for decades.

Notwithstanding the destruction inflicted on the economy by Republican policies, the most devastating breakdown is in the intellectual foundation on which right wing economic ideology itself is premised. Free market doctrine, the secular religion of right-wing America, is in utter, irretrievable shambles.

feeding insurgency

BBCNews | "The malnutrition problem in Afghanistan, and especially Parwan province, is very bad. That's because of the years of fighting, the damage to our infrastructure and rising unemployment.

"It's all helped to make things worse," he said.

Deep discontent
The statistics bear him out: officially, unemployment is about 40%, though it is probably far higher than that; of those who do have a job in Parwan, 45% earn less than $1 a day; chronic malnutrition for children under five across Afghanistan is 54%.

And perhaps most surprising of all, on a UN scale of human development indicators, Afghanistan has slipped from 117th in the world, to 181st - second from the bottom - since the Taliban were ousted.

Professor Sayed Massood, an economist from Kabul University, believes that backsliding is responsible for much of the deep discontent with the government, and growing support for the insurgency.
Vegetables for sale at a market
Even farm workers are suffering from malnutrition

He blames the crisis of public confidence on the policy of pouring billions of dollars in development aid into regions where the insurgency is strongest.

"Instead of the benefits [of aid] going to friends, they are going to enemies. We needed to spend money in the places where the people believe in democracy and work for the government.

"But instead only the enemies are getting rich," he said.

"We need to set examples of peaceful provinces that are also prosperous, but that's just not happening."

Prof Massood argues that the international community has adopted an aid policy that has been entirely counter-productive.

"They have politicised aid; they have tried to use their money to bring about political change in the frontline provinces - they have tried to bribe their enemies.

"But they don't understand that it works the other way around. If you improve the economics of the people, the politics will follow. If you don't, you will lose them."

That might explain why the insurgency appears to be spreading to parts of the country that until now have been relatively peaceful.

pakistan's acute energy crisis

TheNews | The country may plunge into the worst imaginable energy crisis as virtually all refineries are teetering on the verge of financial default and may close down operations by Jan 15.

All the oil refineries of the country, currently working on a negative gross revenue margin, and with their borrowing limits already exhausted, are likely to shut down within the next two weeks following their expected default to retire the existing L/Cs to import crude oil. The shutdown would mean no oil supplies for thermal power generation plants and the picture turns outright dark.

This harrowing scenario of the looming crisis was given to The News by a senior functionary of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The functionary said that after generating over Rs 85 billion from banks by marketing TFCs (Terms Finance Certificates), the circular debt has again started to haunt all the players involved in the energy sector.

“Some players in the energy sector, including Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) and refineries have termed the Pakistan Electric Power Company (Pepco) responsible for the monster of circular debt, which has surfaced again, saying this is the most disorganised company which failed to pay the dues of PSO which have amounted to Rs69.7 billion,” the source said, adding: “The refineries have also informed the government that they will not be able to get fresh loans to continue functioning, as their borrowing limits have already been exhausted.”

The functionary further said that the refineries faced with losses had not being paid Rs 60.1 billion by the government owned entity Pakistan State Oil and that the refineries have warned the government that in the event of the non-payment of their dues their operations will be closed down “because of the liquidity crisis and, moreover, their equity too would be wiped out.”

The ministry functionary told The News that officials of the Ministry of Finance have held three to four meetings with representatives of the refineries and PSO and hopefully their outstanding issues would be resolved within a week.

According to latest available figures, the Pakistan State Oil (PSO) needs to pay Rs 25.5 billion to the Pak-Arab Refinery Company (PARCO), Attock Refinery Limited (ARL), Rs 11.2 billion; Pakistan Refinery Limited (PRL), Rs 11.2 billion; National Refinery Limited (NRL) and Bosicar, Rs 4.1 billion. Currently all the refineries are only working at 50 per cent capacity.

Meanwhile, the PSO, itself suffering at the hands of others, has reportedly conveyed to Pepco, Hub Power Company (Hubco) and Kot Addu Power Company (Kapco) that their orders for fuel will not be entrained if they did not clear the huge dues of PSO which now amount to approximately Rs69.7 billion.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

gwot about scaring people, not protecting them

Guardian | So there was no ticking time bomb. No urgent need ever arose to torture anybody who was withholding crucial details, so that civilisation as we know it could be saved in the nick of time. No wires had to be tapped, special prisons erected or international accords violated. No innocent people had to be grabbed off the street in their home country, transported across the globe and waterboarded. Drones, daisy-cutters, invasions, occupations were, it has transpired, not necessary.

Indeed, when it actually came down to it, to forestall a near-calamitous terrorist atrocity in the US the authorities didn't even have to go in search of information or informants. The alleged terrorist's father came to the US embassy in Nigeria of his own free will and warned them that his son, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had disappeared and could be in the company of Yemeni terrorists.

Meanwhile the National Security Agency had heard that al-Qaida in Yemen was planning to use an unnamed Nigerian in an attack on the US. If that were not enough, then came Abdulmutallab himself, a 23-year-old Nigerian bound for Detroit who bought his ticket in cash, checked in no bags and left no contact information. For seven years the American state manipulated the public with its multicoloured terror alerts. But when all the warning lights were flashing red, it did nothing.

To brand this near miss a "systemic failure", as Barack Obama has done, is both true and inadequate. It reduces the moral vacuity, political malevolence and enduring strategic recklessness that has been the enduring response to the 9/11 attacks to a question of managerial competence.

"Terror is first of all the terror of the next attack," explains Arjun Appadurai in Fear of Small Numbers. During the Bush years that terror was routinely leveraged for the purposes of social control, military mobilisation and electoral advantage. Meanwhile, the administrative processes that might prevent the next attack were tragically lacking. In short, Bush's anti-terror strategy was not about protecting people but about scaring them.

To galvanise the nation for war abroad and sedate it for repression at home, the previous administration constructed a terror threat that was ubiquitous in character, apocalyptic in scale and imminent in nature. Only then could they counterpose human rights against security as though they were not only contradictory but mutually exclusive.

Al-Qaida was only too happy to oblige. In such a state of perpetual crisis both terrorists and reactionaries thrive. Terrorists successfully create a climate of fear; governments successfully exploit that fear to extend their own powers.

detonated double-agent details...,

AP | The suicide bomber who killed eight people inside a CIA base in Afghanistan was a Jordanian-born terrorist working as a double agent who had been invited to the base because he claimed to have information targeting Osama bin Laden's second-in-command, a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a foreign government official confirmed Monday.

The bombing killed seven CIA employees - four officers and three contracted security guards - and a Jordanian intelligence officer, Ali bin Zaid, according to a second former U.S. intelligence official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the incident.

The former senior intelligence official and the foreign official said the bomber was Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a 36-year old doctor from Zarqa, Jordan, who had been recruited by Jordanian intelligence. Zarqa is the hometown of slain al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. NBC News first reported the bomber's identity.

He was arrested more than a year ago by Jordanian intelligence and was thought to have been persuaded to support U.S. and Jordanian efforts against al-Qaida, according to the NBC report. He was invited to Camp Chapman, a tightly secured CIA forward base in Khost province on the fractious Afghan-Pakistan frontier, because he was offering urgent information to track down Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's right-hand man.

The CIA declined to comment on the report.

obama's serial catastrophes in afghanistan

JuanCole | on Thursday, all hell broke loose when a high-level Pashtun asset who had been informing to the CIA on the location of important al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives detonated a vest bomb at FOB Chapman in Khost province, a CIA forward base. The attacker killed 7 field officers and one Jordanian intelligence operative detailed to the base. Those experienced field officers were on the front lines in the fight against al-Qaeda and their loss is a big blow to counter-terrorism. It is true that they had been drawn in to a campaign of assassination, but it is the president who gave them that task--unwisely, in my view.

The use of a double agent not only to misinform but actually to kill the most experienced counter-terrorism officers in the region showed the sophistication of tactical thinking in the Afghan insurgency.

The CIA's dependence on a double agent who finally openly betrayed them raises troubling questions about US strategy and tactics in the region. Such informants essentially direct CIA drone missile strikes.

You could imagine Siraj Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani Network in Khost and over the border in Pakistan's North Waziristan, inserting such a double agent into FOB Chapman and then using the CIA. For instance, what if a middling member of the Haqqani network launched a challenge to Siraj's leadership and that of his ailing father, Jalaluddin (an old-time ally of Reagan who was warmly greeted in the White House in the 1980s)? Wouldn't it be easy enough just to have the double agent tell the CIA that the challenger is a really bad guy in cahoots with al-Qaeda? Boom. Drone strike kills Taliban leaders in North Waziristan. In this way, Siraj could have used the US to eliminate rivals and become more and more powerful. And how many double agents have given up a few Arab jihadis who had fallen out with the Haqqanis, but then deliberately followed this up with bad intel on some innocent village, making the name of the US mud among the Pashtuns?

The drone strikes shouldn't be run by the CIA, and probably shouldn't be run at all. It could well be that savvy old-time Mujahidin trained in CIA tradecraft in the 1980s are having our young wet behind the ears field officers for lunch.

In short, is the bombing at FOB Chapman the tip of an iceberg of misinformation, on which the Titanic of Obama's AfPak policy could well founder?

Fist tap my man Rembom for continuing laser-like focus.

Monday, January 04, 2010

the god gene

NYTimes | How is a church like a can opener? Among the pleasures of using evolutionary logic to think about matters nonbiological, one is getting to ask questions like that. The evolutionary take on a cultural fact like religion or warfare can cut through the fog of judgment and show how a social institution solves some mechanical problem of human co-existence. What function did intergroup violence serve? What are gods good for?

Nicholas Wade’s book “The Faith Instinct” is at its best when putting us through such exercises and sidelining the by-now tiresome debates about religion as a force for good or evil. According to Wade, a New York Times science writer, religions are machines for manufacturing social solidarity. They bind us into groups. Long ago, codes requiring altruistic behavior, and the gods who enforced them, helped human society expand from families to bands of people who were not necessarily related. We didn’t become religious creatures because we became social; we became social creatures because we became religious. Or, to put it in Darwinian terms, being willing to live and die for their coreligionists gave our ancestors an advantage in the struggle for resources.

Wade holds that natural selection can operate on groups, not just on individuals, a contentious position among evolutionary thinkers. He does not see religion as what Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin called a spandrel — a happy side effect of evolution (or, if you’re a dyspeptic atheist, an unhappy one). He does not agree with the cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer that religion is a byproduct of our overactive brains and their need to attribute meaning and intention to a random world. He doesn’t perceive religious ideas as memes — that is to say, the objects of a strictly cultural or mental process of evolution. He thinks we have a God gene.

So how did this God gene flourish? Wade’s counterintuitive answer repurposes an old social-scientific analysis of religion as a saga of biological survival. Rituals take time; sacrifices take money or its equivalent. Individuals willing to lavish time and money on a particular group signal their commitment to it, and a high level of commitment makes each coreligionist less loath to ignore short-term self-interest and to act for the benefit of the whole. What are gods for? They’re the enforcers. Supernatural beings scare away cheaters and freeloaders and cow everyone into loyal, unselfish, dutiful and, when appropriate, warlike behavior.

burj dubai opens today

WaPo | The government hopes the unveiling of the 160-plus-story structure, Burj Dubai, will pierce the cloud that has lingered over Dubai since mid-December, when it received a second $10 billon bailout loan from Abu Dhabi, after unpaid bills prompted some creditors to abandon Dubai.

Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, after navigating the worst crisis in his four years as ruler of Dubai, will lead a day of celebrations for the unveiling of the residential, hotel and office building that on a clear day has views across the Persian Gulf to Iran.

About 90 percent of units have been sold in Burj Dubai, which will welcome the first occupants of the Giorgio Armani residences in February and will open the world's first Armani Hotel in March.

Prices in the skyscraper -- which formed the apex of the Dubai property market when the one-to-three-bedroom residences were launched in 2007 -- have held up amid the 50 percent crash across the rest of the city, including the surrounding developments of Downtown Burj Dubai.

For Dubai's defenders, Burj Dubai, developed by the partially government-owned Emaar Properties, is an engineering marvel representing the pinnacle of Dubai's evolution from fishing village to metropolis; for critics, it is a stark reminder of the commercial hub's excesses.

Roy Cherry, an analyst with Shuaa Capital in Dubai, says the truth lies somewhere in between. "It is a fantastic building and a great achievement for Emaar, but Dubai's dreams and challenges remain greater than any one building."

Sunday, January 03, 2010

seeking a cure for optimism

NYTimes | Recently, a number of writers and researchers have questioned the notion that looking on the bright side — often through conscious effort — makes much of a difference. One of the most prominent skeptics is Barbara Ehrenreich, whose best-selling book “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America,” published in the fall, maintains that thinking positively does little good in the long run, and can, in fact, do harm.

“Happiness is great, joy is great, but positive thinking reduces the spontaneity of human interactions,” Ms. Ehrenreich said. “If everyone has that fixed social smile all the time, how do you know when anyone really likes you?”

A study published in the November-December issue of Australasian Science found that people in a negative mood are more critical of, and pay more attention to, their surroundings than happier people, who are more likely to believe anything they are told.

“Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world,” Joseph P. Forgas, a professor of social psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia, wrote in the study.

brookings war scorecard

NYTimes | In 2009, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan dominated American military and foreign policy. Which themes emerged over the last year?

23 or 53 killed in that drone strike?

WaPo | Frustrated American officials say Yemen never made fighting al-Qaeda a top priority, which has stalled large-scale U.S. support.

These problems, which ultimately helped enable al-Qaeda militants here to plot an attack on a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day, have forced the United States to open a new front in its anti-terrorism efforts. It is part of a largely invisible war, stretching from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa, waged from the skies and from high-tech intelligence centers, with unmanned aircraft, CIA operatives and vivid satellite images serving as the weapons of choice.

It is a war that challenges the Obama administration in ways that echo the conflicts in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These issues were on display in a U.S.-backed airstrike in southern Yemen on Dec. 17. The government said it struck an al-Qaeda training camp, killing at least 23 militants. But tribal leaders and residents say mostly civilians were killed. The strike has generated an outpouring of anger and anti-American sentiment across the south and in parliament.

"I saw parts of bodies, mostly women and children," said Mukhbil Mohammed Ali, a tribal leader. "America says it supports Yemen to eradicate terrorists. But America is only supporting Yemen to kill the innocent."

scenes from yemen

NYTimes | Even before the Cole attack, Yemen was linked to terrorist acts. Most of the people who executed the 1998 East African embassy bombings either traveled through Yemen or used fraudulent Yemeni passports. Almost two years after the Cole, Qaeda terrorists based in Yemen struck the Limburg, a French oil tanker, off the coast of Yemen. Qaeda terrorists in Yemen also helped facilitate the attacks of 9/11. Fahd al-Quso, a Yemeni Qaeda member who confessed to me his role in the U.S.S. Cole bombing, also admitted to ferrying money to a Qaeda operative known as Khallad who was part of an important 9/11 planning meeting in Malaysia.

As recently as this past August, an assassination attempt against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister of interior in charge of security, was plotted in Yemen. The explosive mixture that the suicide bomber used in that attack was the same one that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to ignite on the passenger jet over Detroit — and in each case the terrorist hid the mixture in his underwear.

Yemen is a very appealing base for Al Qaeda for various reasons. From its position at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the country has convenient access to Al Qaeda’s main theaters of battle, including Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Its borders are unsecured, and tribal groups sympathetic to Al Qaeda control many regions, so terrorists can move freely into, out of and around the country. And guns and explosives are readily available from Yemen’s thriving arms market.

The country’s tribal nature also makes it a relatively easy place for Al Qaeda to operate. Yemen has a weak government and powerful regional tribes, which in many ways operate as mini-governments free of central control. In addition, the government is struggling to contain both a secessionist movement in the south and a rebellion in the north. Rampant poverty and illiteracy make it easy for Al Qaeda to buy local support and manipulate Yemenis into believing its propaganda.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

brave new slavery

Empire Burlesque | I wrote a piece here a few days ago on a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, in which the justices agreed with the passionate plea of the Obama Administration to uphold -- and establish as legal precedent -- some of the most egregious of the Bush Administration's authoritarian perversions. This was the gist of the ruling:
The Supreme Court acquiesced to the president's fervent request and, in a one-line ruling, let stand a lower court decision that declared torture an ordinary, expected consequence of military detention, while introducing a shocking new precedent for all future courts to follow: anyone who is arbitrarily declared a "suspected enemy combatant" by the president or his designated minions is no longer a "person." They will simply cease to exist as a legal entity. They will have no inherent rights, no human rights, no legal standing whatsoever -- save whatever modicum of process the government arbitrarily deigns to grant them from time to time, with its ever-shifting tribunals and show trials.
One of the attorneys involved in the case rightly likened the ruling to the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision, in which the Court declared that any person of African descent brought to the United States as a slave -- or their descendants, even if they had been freed -- could never be citizens of the United States and were not protected by the Constitution. They were non-persons under the law; sub-humans.

I noted the grim irony that this principle of non-personhood had now been reintroduced into the law of the land by our first African-American president. (But this is only to be expected, given the law of opposites that so often governs American politics: only a lifelong Red-baiter like Nixon could make an opening to Communist China; only a supposed liberal like Bill Clinton could gut the federal welfare system. And only an African-American president could reintroduce the principle of slavery and get away with it. No doubt it will be a woman president who finally re-imposes a total ban on abortion.)

new year's resolution - become more radical

Guardian | Let me mention the recent signs of this "bonfire of falsities": 1. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have left a bitter taste of political and moral decadence. The continuous shifting of the ground for war (from self-defence against terrorists to the threat of WMD to humanitarianism, regime change and, with Obama, just war) has revealed a hegemonic power intent on war at all costs but uninterested in its legality or legitimacy despite the cosmopolitan rhetoric. Military might and technological brilliance, the signs of brutal sovereignty, have fully returned but are proving impotent against low technology and strong ideology.

2. The promise that market-led growth based on unregulated foreign investment and fiscal austerity would inexorably lead the global South to western economic standards has come to be seen as the greatest deception of our times. The gap between the North and the South, and between rich and poor, has never been greater. More than a billion people live on less than $1 a day. According to a 2006 UN report, average life in sub-Saharan Africa is less than half that in Northern Europe. Instead of equalising, globalised capitalism has led to the "bottom billion". The beginning of the end of neoliberal idolatry can be timed accurately: 15 September 2008 and the demise of Lehman Brothers. Greedy banks, conniving governments and economic "science", the witch medicine of our age, are still in mourning but reality has caught up with their convenient fantasies.

3. The former socialist countries moved fast from command economies to klepto-capitalism and from state oppression to market decadence without passing through a humane social and political order. The western panacea has been found inappropriate for many people at the heart of Europe.

4. Until recently, the western consensus was that torture takes place in exotic and evil places. This consensus has now dissolved. Torture returned to western camps and prisons, to Guatánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and has been extensively outsourced. It has become a respectable topic for "practical ethics" and jurisprudence conferences, where the "ticking bomb" hypothetical offers legitimacy and reveals the ugly underbelly of this new world order.

5. Old Europe, the willing minor partner in the cosmopolitan plans, has become seriously ill. Liberalism and social democracy, the proud social models it created, have atrophied as they converged towards the economics and politics of neoliberalism. The European Union has been emptied of political imagination and institutional will, as the sad shenanigans over the referendums and the Lisbon treaty attest. The current travails of Greece, Spain and Ireland are further evidence. The downgrading of Greece's credit rating by three unaccountable private companies which follow neoliberal orthodoxy is leading to externally imposed austerity, serious deterioration of living conditions and social unrest. These were the companies giving Lehman Brothers a top rating just before its collapse.

The response of governments to the end of neoliberal hegemony is still timid and uncertain. But people around the world have started reacting, as strikes in France, Greece and India, the Latin American popular movements and the reaction of youth to ecological catastrophe indicate. The great monotheistic religions have taught us that the messiah and the angel of history do not send a party invitation before arriving. Their lesson is invaluable. The return of history means that we can believe again in radical change even if we do not know when or how it will happen. The 21st century brings the age of western empires and cosmopolitanisms to closure.

The left is the main hope against an endgame of xenophobic, securitised, apocalyptic barbarism. But this is not the New Labour or German SPD nominal "left" nor that of departed "communism". New forms of socialism, new types of political subjectivity and solidarity are emerging in Latin America, in the ecological movement and in the ghettoes of our great cities. What the decade taught me was to expect radical change and to try to imagine a renewed socialism in which freedom cannot flourish without equality and equality does not exist without freedom. The new decade's resolution: one should become more radical as one grows older alongside the 21st century.

smile, you've got breast cancer

Guardian | The effect of all this positive thinking is to transform breast cancer into a rite of passage – not an injustice or a tragedy to rail against but a normal marker in the life cycle, like menopause or grandmotherhood. Everything in mainstream breast cancer culture serves, no doubt inadvertently, to tame and normalise the disease. Indeed, you can defy the inevitable disfigurements and come out, on the survivor side, actually prettier, sexier, more feminine. In the lore of the disease – shared with me by oncology nurses as well as by survivors – chemotherapy smoothes and tightens the skin and helps you lose weight, and when your hair comes back it will be fuller, softer, easier to control, and perhaps a surprising new colour. These may be myths, but for those willing to get with the prevailing programme, opportunities for self-improvement abound. Breast cancer is a chance for creative self-transformation – a makeover opportunity, in fact.

Exhortations to think positively – to see the glass half full, even when it lies shattered on the floor – are not restricted to the pink ribbon culture. A few years after my treatment, I ventured out into another realm of personal calamity – the world of laid-off white-collar workers. At the networking groups, boot camps and motivational sessions available to the unemployed, I found unanimous advice to abjure anger and "negativity" in favour of an upbeat, even grateful approach to one's immediate crisis. People who had been laid off from their jobs and were spiralling down toward poverty were told to see their condition as an "opportunity" to be embraced. Here, too, the promised outcome was a kind of "cure": by being positive, a person might not only feel better during his or her job search, but actually bring it to a faster, happier conclusion.

In fact, there is no kind of problem or obstacle for which positive thinking or a positive attitude has not been proposed as a cure. Having trouble finding a mate? Nothing is more attractive to potential suitors than a positive attitude, or more repellent than a negative one. Need money? Wealth is one of the principal goals of positive thinking. There are hundreds of self-help books expounding on how positive thinking can "attract" money – a method supposedly so reliable that you are encouraged to begin spending it now. Practical problems such as low wages and unemployment are mentioned only as potential "excuses". The real obstacle lies in your mind.

Breast cancer, I can now report, did not make me prettier or stronger, more feminine or spiritual. What it gave me, if you want to call this a "gift", was a very personal, agonising encounter with an ideological force in American culture that I had not been aware of before – one that encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune and blame only ourselves for our fate.

Friday, January 01, 2010

chemocommunication between bacteria and higher vertebrate animals

Springerlink | For the last few years, convincing evidence has been obtained in favor of that hormones and other signal molecules of the higher vertebrates are able to control fundamental processes in bacterial cells. Moreover, in bacteria, there are revealed and characterized the chemosignal systems able with high selectivity to recognize and transform the signals from vertebrates as well as the effector systems responsible for the final response of the bacterial cell to these signals. In turn, some bacterial signal molecules can affect functional activity of signal systems in cells of the higher vertebrates and control the signaling cascades responsible for apoptosis and other vital processes.

Thus, between prokaryotes and the higher vertebrates—the living organisms that are on diametrically opposite poles of evolutionary development—there are tight chemocommunicational connections, and in many aspects they are beyond the “guest–host” relations.

Analysis of the signal molecules and their triggered signaling cascades underlying such connections is the topic of the present review.

the drone wars - empire's struck back

WaPo | The CIA base attacked by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan this week was at the heart of a covert program overseeing strikes by the agency's remote-controlled aircraft along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, officials familiar with the installation said Thursday.

The assailant, wearing an explosives belt under his clothes, apparently was allowed to enter the small base after offering to become an informant, according to two former agency officials briefed on the attack. The CIA declined to comment on the circumstances behind the incident, and it was unclear whether the bomber chose the base because of its role in supporting CIA airstrikes against top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the region.

The blast early Wednesday evening in the eastern province of Khost killed seven CIA officers and contractors, including the base chief, and seriously wounded six others in what intelligence officials described as a devastating blow to one of the agency's key intelligence hubs for counterterrorism operations. It was the deadliest single day for the agency since eight CIA officers were killed in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

The CIA continued drone strikes Thursday. A security official in Pakistan confirmed that two militants were killed late in the day in what was described as a missile attack by a Predator drone in Pakistan's autonomous North Waziristan region, across the border from Khost.

live by the drone, die by the...,

NYTimes | The C.I.A. has always had a paramilitary branch known as the Special Activities Division, which secretly engaged in the kinds of operations more routinely carried out by Special Operations troops. But the branch was a small — and seldom used — part of its operations.

That changed after Sept. 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush gave the agency expanded authority to capture or kill Qaeda operatives around the world. Since then, Washington has relied much more on the Special Activities Division because battling suspected terrorists does not involve fighting other armies. Rather, it involves secretly moving in and out of countries like Pakistan and Somalia where the American military is not legally allowed to operate.

The fact that the agency is in effect running a war in Pakistan is the culmination of one of the most significant shifts in the C.I.A.’s history. But the agency has at times struggled with this new role. It established a network of secret overseas jails where terrorist suspects were subjected to brutal interrogation techniques, and it set up an assassination program that at one point was outsourced to employees of a private security company, then known as Blackwater USA.

Some longtime agency officers bristled at what they saw as the militarization of the C.I.A., worrying that it was straying too far from its historical missions of espionage and intelligence analysis.

When he took office in January, President Obama scaled back the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism mission, but only to a point. He ordered that C.I.A. prisons be shut and that C.I.A officers no longer play a role in interrogating suspects accused of terrorist acts.

At the same time, the administration has accelerated the C.I.A.’s drone campaign, using Predator and Reaper aircraft to launch missiles and rockets against militants in Pakistan.

In early 2009, the White House approved a C.I.A. plan to expand the drone operations in Pakistan into Baluchistan, where top leaders of Afghanistan’s Taliban militia are thought to be hiding. The agency has also recently begun sending more operatives into Pakistan to, among other things, gather target intelligence for the drone program.