Sunday, November 21, 2010

german protesters overwhelm german police

Video - German protesters clash with German police to stop nuclear waste train.

Aletho | Like the Roman legions vanquished in the Teutoburger Wald in Lower Saxony in 9 AD, the 17,000 police officers that marched into the woods around the nuclear storage facility in Gorleben in northern Germany on Sunday morning looked invincible. Police personnel from France, Croatia and Poland had joined in the biggest security operation ever mounted against protestors against the a train carrying nuclear waste to a depot in an isolated part of Lower Saxony’s countryside. Helicopters, water canons and police vehicles, including an armoured surveillance truck, accompanied an endless column of anti-riot police mounted on horses and also marching down the railway tracks into the dense woods. Tens of thousands of anti riot police clattered along the tracks, their helmets and visors gleaming in the morning sun, and wearing body armour, leg guards and carrying batons.

But by Sunday night, those same police officers were begging the protestors for a respite.

Trapped in black, icy woods without supplies or reinforcements able to reach them because of blockades by a mobile fleet of farmer’s tractors, the exhausted and hungry police officers requested negotiations with the protestors. A water cannon truck was blocked by tractors, and yet the police still had to clear 5000 people lying on the railway track at Harlingen in pitch darkness. The largest ever police operation had descended into chaos and confusion in the autumn woods of Lower Saxony, defeated by the courage and determination of peaceful protestors who marched for miles through woods to find places to lie down on the tracks and to scoop out gravel to delay the progress of the “the train from hell.”

The police union head Reiner Wendt gave vent to the general frustration when he issued a press statement via the DPA news agency last night saying the police had reached exhaustion point and needed a break. Behind the scenes, a battle seemed to be raging between the police chiefs, tucked up in their warm headquarters urging more action, and the exhausted officers on the ground.

The police on the ground won out. The Castor train – called a “Chernobyl on wheels” because it has been carrying 133 tonnes of highly radioactive waste to an unsafe depot – was stopped in the middle of the countryside and Nato barbed wire was placed around it. Lit by floodlights and guarded by a handful of police, the most dangerous train on the planet was forced to a halt after a 63 hour journey across France and Germany.

The defeat of the legions at Teutoburg marked the end of the attempt by the Roman empire to conquer Germania magna. And the failure of the biggest ever police operation two thousand years later in the woods of Lower Saxony to tame women, elderly people and school children protesting the government’s nuclear policy, could well also go down as a turning point.

The Berlin government can no longer rely on the discredited mainstream media to control the way people see issues. Too many people recognise it to be a tool of propaganda. The government now needs to resort to brute force to bludgeon through decisions that enrich corporations and banks and impoverish everyone else. But the police forces at its disposal are simply not sufficient given the scale of the protests now gripping Germany. Only 1,500 police reinforcements could be mustered on Morning from the entire territory to deal with road blockades by thousands of protestors aiming to delay the transport of the nuclear waste on the final leg of its journey.

nytimes peak oil denialism...,

NYTimes | Three summers ago, the world’s supertankers were racing across the oceans as fast as they could to deliver oil to markets growing increasingly thirsty for energy. Americans were grumbling about paying as much as $4 a gallon for gasoline, as the price of crude oil leapt to $147 a barrel. Natural gas prices were vaulting too, sending home electricity bills soaring.

A book making the rounds at the time, “Twilight in the Desert,” by Matthew R. Simmons, seemed to sum up the conventional wisdom: the age of cheap, plentiful oil and gas was over. “Sooner or later, the worldwide use of oil must peak,” the book concluded, “because oil, like the other two fossil fuels, coal and natural gas, is nonrenewable.”

But no sooner did the demand-and-supply equation shift out of kilter than it swung back into something more palatable and familiar. Just as it seemed that the world was running on fumes, giant oil fields were discovered off the coasts of Brazil and Africa, and Canadian oil sands projects expanded so fast, they now provide North America with more oil than Saudi Arabia. In addition, the United States has increased domestic oil production for the first time in a generation.

Meanwhile, another wave of natural gas drilling has taken off in shale rock fields across the United States, and more shale gas drilling is just beginning in Europe and Asia. Add to that an increase in liquefied natural gas export terminals around the world that connected gas, which once had to be flared off, to the world market, and gas prices have plummeted.

Energy experts now predict decades of residential and commercial power at reasonable prices. Simply put, the world of energy has once again been turned upside down.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

the horrible truth starts to dawn on europe's leaders..,

Telegraph | Far from binding Europe together, monetary union is leading to acrimony and mutual recriminations. We had the first eruption earlier this year when Greece’s deputy premier accused the Germans of stealing Greek gold from the vaults of the central bank and killing 300,000 people during the Nazi occupation.

Greece is now under an EU protectorate, or the “Memorandum” as they call it. This has prompted pin-prick terrorist attacks against anybody associated with EU rule. Ireland and Portugal are further behind on this road to serfdom, but they are already facing policy dictates from Brussels, but will soon be under formal protectorates as well in any case. Spain has more or less been forced to cut public wages by 5pc to comply with EU demands made in May. All are having to knuckle down to Europe’s agenda of austerity, without the offsetting relief of devaluation and looser monetary policy.

As this continues into next year, with unemployment stuck at depression levels or even creeping higher, it starts to matter who has political “ownership” over these policies. Is there full democratic consent, or is this suffering being imposed by foreign over-lords with an ideological aim? It does not take much imagination to see what this is going to do to concord in Europe.

My own view is that the EU became illegitimate when it refused to accept the rejection of the European Constitution by French and Dutch voters in 2005. There can be no justification for reviving the text as the Lisbon Treaty and ramming it through by parliamentary procedure without referenda, in what amounted to an authoritarian Putsch. (Yes, the national parliaments were themselves elected – so don’t write indignant comments pointing this out – but what was their motive for denying their own peoples a vote in this specific instance? Elected leaders can violate democracy as well. There was a corporal from Austria … but let’s not get into that).

Ireland was the one country forced to hold a vote by its constitutional court. When this lonely electorate also voted no, the EU again disregarded the result and intimidated Ireland into voting a second time to get it “right”.

This is the behaviour of a proto-Fascist organization, so if Ireland now – by historic irony, and in condign retribution – sets off the chain-reaction that destroys the eurozone and the European Union, it will be hard to resist the temptation of opening a bottle of Connemara whisky and enjoying the moment. But resist one must. The cataclysm will not be pretty.

My one thought for all those old friends still working for the EU institutions is what will happen to their euro pensions if Mr Van Rompuy is right?

the debtor of the western world

NYTimes | This year there were no fireworks. Throughout most of the past decade, for weeks before and after Halloween, the night skies over Ireland were filled with the crack and crash of bursting rockets and fountains of multicolored flame. Since fireworks are illegal here they had to be bought in Northern Ireland and smuggled across the border — quite a turnabout from the days when the I.R.A. smuggled tons of explosives the other direction, during the Thirty Years’ War it waged on the Protestants and the British Army garrison in the North from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Throughout the 2000s there was a lot of cross-border shopping, almost all of it one-way, since usually in those years the euro was strong and the British pound weak. Newly rich middle-class couples from the Republic, riding the broad back of the Celtic Tiger, would travel north on Saturday mornings, have a leisurely lunch at one of Belfast’s fine new restaurants, spend the afternoon in the supermarkets and return at evening happy as Visigoths with their booty — liquor, cigarettes, electrical goods, designer-label clothes and, as the autumn set in, boxes and boxes of fireworks. Those were the sparkling years.

Now, with the Tiger dead and buried under a mound of ever-increasing debt, a silence is falling over the land. This year, the eve of All Saints passed in a deathly hush, save for a few damp squibs. There seemed little left to celebrate, with nothing to be seen in the skies save, in the murky distance but approaching ever nearer, the Four Horsemen of our particular Apocalypse: the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, Brussels and the Iron Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The shopping trips of yesteryear are gone with the snows; indeed, many of the S.U.V.’s that carried the merry marauders northward have been sold off at a loss, or repossessed.

The wildest urban legends are readily believed. There is said to be a two-month backlog at the abattoirs, as families abandon the expensive pets, including Thoroughbred racehorses, that they bought in the fat years and now can no longer afford to feed. One hears stories of the return of bartering: a yacht swapped for a mobile phone, a Harley-Davidson exchanged for a bicycle. There are moments of giddiness and breathless panic when it feels as it must have in the last days of the Weimar Republic.

At first, when the poor beast began to sicken, we Tiger cubs set up a great roaring and ranting. Who is to blame for our sudden travails? we demanded — somebody must be to blame. The bankers? Them, certainly. The politicians? Well, the politicians are always to blame, so nothing new there. The markets, those shadowy entities that seem to operate by whim? Ourselves, perhaps? — now, there was a sobering possibility.

peak oil - why the pentagon is pessimistic

LeMonde | “Twilight in the desert” is a book summing up the arguments of a Texan oil banker who suggests that Saudi Arabia is overestimating its future oil production capacity. I’ve learned through the American Department of Defense that this book is the source of two recent Pentagon reports envisaging a severe lack of oil starting in 2012 and continuing until 2015 at least.

[Matthew Simmons, who wrote “Twilight in the desert, published in 2005, died in august at the age of 67. His analysis remain a major piece of the peak oil debate.]

According to the thesis developed in “Twilight in the Desert”, the official numbers published by Saudi Aramco, the national Saudi oil company, highly overestimate the true level of reserves that the largest world oil power is capable of extracting from its soil. As a consequence, according to Matthew Simmons, the Saudi oil production will no longer increase, and could even be on the point of a drastic reduction.

The advisory staff of the American armed services seems to consider the fears of Mr. Simmons as well-founded and credible, and based on this, the staff has produced a prognosis of a “severe energy crisis” that is potentially inevitable.

Two biannual reports, having appeared in 2008 and in 2010, describe the “environment” of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff [translator: “inter-armed service forces” in the original] (the JOE reports stand for Joint Operating Environment). They occupy an important place, in this reporter’s opinion, among the recent analyses recognizing the eventuality (or stating the threat) of a fall in the world oil production between now and the middle of this decade.

[The simple fact that the reports JOE2008 and JOE2010 come from the advisory staff of the joint chiefs of staff confers on them a certain importance. The U.S. armed forces have always overseen (very) closely the provisioning of this great power of the “free world” with Saudi black gold : since 1944 and the past alliance between President Roosevelt and King Ibn Saoud several days after Yalta, continuing to 1973 and the Yom Kippur war, when the U.S. Navy developed attack plans to get a hold of the Ghawar mega-field the no less vital terminal of Ras Tanura, and when at the same time Saudi Arabia agreed to secretly break its own oil embargo in order to provision the American sixth fleet, which was threatened with its gasoline tank going dry, and… continuing on to today.]

The 2008 and 2010 JOE reports describe in identical terms a diagnosis that figures to this day to be among the most pessimistic on the question of an eventual structural oil shock between now and 2015 [I was the first journalist to point this out, in April 2010 ]

strip to protest tsa

Video - Germans strip to protest TSA.

does the tsa ever catch terrorists?

Salon | If they do, for some reason they won't admit it. Writing in Slate on Thursday, political reporter David Weigel identified a "full-blown revolt against the TSA." On Saturday, would-be passenger John Tyner refused an airport security pat-down with the now-famous phrase "if you touch my junk I'm going to have you arrested"; Texas congressman Ron Paul introduced the American Traveler Dignity Act to establish "that airport security screeners are not immune from any US law"; and several groups have designated Wednesday, Nov. 24 (the day before Thanksgiving), National Opt-Out Day against invasive body scanners. According to the TSA's Web site, new security measures like full-body scanners are just part of its mission "to prevent any terrorist or criminal activity"—but have TSA screeners ever actually prevented a terrorist attack?

It's hard to say. The TSA was unable to provide any comprehensive data covering all nine years of its existence on short notice, but it does publicize incidents on a weekly basis: From Nov. 8 to Nov. 14, for example, agents found six "artfully concealed prohibited items" and 11 firearms at checkpoints, and they arrested six passengers after investigations of suspicious behavior or fraudulent travel documents. (Those figures are close to the weekly average.) It's not clear, however, whether any of these incidents represent attempted acts of terrorism or whether they were honest accidents. (Whoops, forgot I had that meat cleaver on me! Or, I had no idea flares weren't allowed!)

Citing national-security concerns, the TSA will not point to any specific cases in which a screener stopped a would-be terrorist at a checkpoint. Nonaffiliated security experts, such as Bruce Schneier (who coined the term "security theater"), argue that that's because this has never happened. It's true the TSA doesn't make a habit of keeping success stories a secret. In April 2008, the TSA touted the arrest of U.S. Army veteran Kevin Brown at Orlando International Airport as a victory for its behavioral detection program. Brown was arrested after trying to check luggage containing pipe-bomb-making materials. Airline officials insisted passengers were never in danger, since Brown didn't intend to assemble the bomb on the plane. Moreover, he did not have ties to organized terrorism, and it's not apparent what he wanted to do with the hazardous materials after arriving at his destination. Brown fits into the category of troublemakers that Schneier says the TSA does catch: random nut jobs. (Not professional terrorists with thought-out plans.)

Friday, November 19, 2010


the seven creepiest things about tsa scanners

Video - TSA unveils new genital visualizer systems.

Alternet | The invasive scanners can see your tampons, give you cancer and make your grandmother cry -- and they're not cheap. Why do we keep using them? The recent, furious backlash against the TSA's degrading body scanners has drawn attention to the myriad ways the so-called "porno scanners" can violate one's privacy, civil rights and basic sense of dignity.

With National Opt-Out Day approaching the day before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel days of the year, here are several of the absolute creepiest things about scanners that everyone should keep in mind when flying at the holidays, or any other time of the year.

1. The scanner operators can see everything, including your pads and tampons. It's creepy enough that the scanners take naked pictures of passengers, but now recently-appointed TSA head John S. Pistole has told the New York Times that they can also detect sanitary napkins, and that such a finding could lead to passengers being pulled aside for extra security measures. Screeners "are expected to exercise some discretion," he said, but discretion about what? Can we expect an extra invasive pat-down of our crotches on heavy flow days?

2. Naked passenger images are easily saved -- and spread on the Internet. Body scanner images are supposed to be deleted immediately. But as tech-blog Gizmodo proved earlier this week, it is all too easy for the machines to save images of naked passengers, genitalia and all, and for blogs to get a hold of them and spread them on the Web.

3. They could give you cancer. Scientists have warned that there are serious health risks associated with X-ray body scanners. In April, a group of scientists from the University of California, San Francisco sent a letter to the White House about scanner safety concerns, while Dr. Michael Love, who runs an X-ray lab at the Johns Hopkins University school of medicine, has said that "statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays."

4. If you refuse to go through one, you could be publicly groped. Should you decide to take the National Opt-Out Day pledge and refuse to go through a body scanner on November 24, be prepared to receive an "enhanced pat down" of your entire body, including genitals, likely conducted in full view of other passengers. A pilots union has likened the process to "sexual molestation," while rape victims have been emotionally triggered and old ladies brought to tears by the pat downs.

5. You could wind up with a hefty fine for refusing to be scanned. The TSA has opened an investigation targeting John Tyner, a software engineer who refused to be scanned and was subjected to an "enhanced pat down." When Tyner told the TSA agent not to "touch [his] junk" -- and caught the exchange on camera -- he was kept from getting on his flight and now faces prosecution and an $11,000 fine. (Sign a petition to encourage the investigation of the TSA, not Tyner, here.)

6. They're fueling homophobia in brand new ways. The anti-gay wingnut group Americans for Truth About Homosexuality has called for the TSA to use "common-sense, healthy 'discrimination'" by banning "self-acknowledged homosexuals" from being security agents "so as to avoid [passengers] being put in sexually compromising situations." Apparently if a straight person feels you up publicly, that's just fine, but a gay person doing so is "sexually compromising."

7. They're an obscene waste of money. The House actually voted down the use of body scanners, but the TSA ignored the will of Congress and bought the machines anyway, wasting $25 million in stimulus funds.

tsa says "shut your pie holes!!!"

The Doctor | If you haven't been keeping up with current events, not too long ago the US Transportation Security Agency (anon.) set in motion a plan in which full body scanners would be deployed in select airports around the country. The idea behind them is that security teams could tell if someone had something concealed beneath their clothing, and as a side effect shows the traveler naked for all intents and purposes, and what's more they archive the images for an undisclosed period of time. For a while various groups and a few US senators were pushing back against this plan but they've started deploying the scanners anyway. There are still health concerns about the x-ray backscatter scanners that are yet unresolved. The Food and Drug Administration is trying its best to reassure people.

There is also the little matter of both types of full body scanners not being able to detect the objects they were put in place to catch, namely, bomb components. In fact, a couple of experts have come right out and said that they're a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere. Hell, even Max Headroom's evil sister Ann Coulter has spoken out against them. Taking all of these things into consideration it's little wonder that people were opting to be searched by hand in the fashion that my wife was a couple of weeks ago at BWI when she kept setting the metal detector off. Sure it took a little longer and was marginally less humiliating than a random stranger at the airport looking at you naked but it satisfied the security regs, right?

It seems that, due to the fact that travelers are speaking up and refusing to be imaged by devices of questionable accuracy, utility, safety, and ethics the TSA has decided to push back by humiliating people who dare to refuse. The first person to report what happened was a pilot who works for ExpressJet Airlines who found out the hard way. Sometimes refusal to go through a scanner gets written up as an "incident" to go on a permanant record of some kind (what is this, middle school?) Chances are it means being detained for a while, usually until a security detail shows up to inqure why someone had the temerity to say anything. Your limbs will be squeezed to check for anything that might be fastened to them, as will your torso (I wonder what they'd make of an insulin pump?) and neck. Your buttcrack will be spread to see if you've got anything hidden in there. Your legs will be checked in like fashion and your genitals will be fondled to see if you have anything hidden on or near them.

At least you have the option of having it done in a back room; personally, I'd prefer having it done in front of everyone to show the crowd exactly what things have come to. Plus, it might be good to have a few dozen witnesses in case the TSA tries to play a harmless joke on you. However, if you refuse you might roll a botch and wind up in handcuffs without a ticket and get thrown out by a flying wedge of real police officers.

The answer seems cut and dried, doesn't it? Just shut up, swallow your civil rights, and go through the scanner, right? Unless the powers that be decide that the all-but-naked scan wasn't good enough and you have to go under the gloves anyway. Or you might be randomly selected to get felt up. It needs to be said that not everyone is going to take kindly to this, such as survivors of rape and possibly survivors of physical abuse. A number of professional associations for pilots are protesting the measures in a half-hearted fashion, flight attendents are getting upset, and unions are beginning to cry foul. The ACLU is collecting stories from travelers who have undergone this humiliating treatment for no good reason. Or maybe sometimes there is a reason.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

see what happens you touch somebody else's junk?!?!?

AP | A malicious computer attack that appears to target Iran's nuclear plants can be modified to wreak havoc on industrial control systems around the world, affecting the production of everything from chemicals to baby formula, government officials and cyberexperts warned Wednesday.

Experts told senators that attackers can use information made public about the so-called Stuxnet virus to develop variations targeting other industries, and that the worm's consequences go "beyond any threat we have seen."

The code has attacked industrial sites in Iran and several other countries, and infected several employees' laptops at the Bushehr nuclear plans. Iran has said it believes Stuxnet is part of a Western plot to sabotage its nuclear program, but experts see few signs of major damage at Iranian facilities.

Specific industrial control systems using Windows software are vulnerable to the code. These are used in many critical sectors, from automobile assembly to mixing products such as chemicals and baby formula, Sean McGurk, acting director of Homeland Security's national cybersecurity operations center, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"This code can automatically enter a system, steal the formula for the product you are manufacturing, alter the ingredients being mixed in your product and indicate to the operator and your antivirus software that everything is functioning as expected," McGurk testified at a cybersecurity hearing.

a keen grasp of ponerology

Video - nice little montage on political ponerology.

Countercurrents | We stand on the cusp of one of the bleakest periods in human history when the bright lights of a civilization blink out and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity. The elites have successfully convinced us that we no longer have the capacity to understand the revealed truths presented before us or to fight back against the chaos caused by economic and environmental catastrophe. As long as the mass of bewildered and frightened people, fed images that permit them to perpetually hallucinate, exist in this state of barbarism, they may periodically strike out with a blind fury against increased state repression, widespread poverty and food shortages. But they will lack the ability and self-confidence to challenge in big and small ways the structures of control. The fantasy of widespread popular revolts and mass movements breaking the hegemony of the corporate state is just that – a fantasy.

My analysis comes close to the analysis of many anarchists. But there is a crucial difference. The anarchists do not understand the nature of violence. They grasp the extent of the rot in our cultural and political institutions, they know they must sever the tentacles of consumerism, but they naïvely believe that it can be countered with physical forms of resistance and acts of violence. There are debates within the anarchist movement – such as those on the destruction of property – but once you start using plastic explosives, innocent people get killed. And when anarchic violence begins to disrupt the mechanisms of governance, the power elite will use these acts, however minor, as an excuse to employ disproportionate and ruthless amounts of force against real and suspected agitators, only fueling the rage of the dispossessed.

I am not a pacifist. I know there are times, and even concede that this may eventually be one of them, when human beings are forced to respond to mounting repression with violence. I was in Sarajevo during the war in Bosnia. We knew precisely what the Serbian forces ringing the city would do to us if they broke through the defenses and trench system around the besieged city. We had the examples of the Drina Valley or the city of Vukovar, where about a third of the Muslim inhabitants had been killed and the rest herded into refugee or displacement camps. There are times when the only choice left is to pick up a weapon to defend your family, neighborhood and city. But those who proved most adept at defending Sarajevo invariably came from the criminal class. When they were not shooting at Serbian soldiers they were looting the apartments of ethnic Serbs in Sarajevo and often executing them, as well as terrorizing their fellow Muslims. When you ingest the poison of violence, even in a just cause, it corrupts, deforms and perverts you. Violence is a drug, indeed it is the most potent narcotic known to humankind. Those most addicted to violence are those who have access to weapons and a penchant for force. And these killers rise to the surface of any armed movement and contaminate it with the intoxicating and seductive power that comes with the ability to destroy. I have seen it in war after war. When you go down that road you end up pitting your monsters against their monsters. And the sensitive, the humane and the gentle, those who have a propensity to nurture and protect life, are marginalized and often killed. The romantic vision of war and violence is as prevalent among anarchists and the hard left as it is in the mainstream culture. Those who resist with force will not defeat the corporate state or sustain the cultural values that must be sustained if we are to have a future worth living. From my many years as a war correspondent in El Salvador, Guatemala, Gaza and Bosnia, I have seen that armed resistance movements are always mutations of the violence that spawned them. I am not naïve enough to think I could have avoided these armed movements had I been a landless Salvadoran or Guatemalan peasant, a Palestinian in Gaza or a Muslim in Sarajevo, but this violent response to repression is and always will be tragic. It must be avoided, although not at the expense of our own survival.

Democracy, a system ideally designed to challenge the status quo, has been corrupted and tamed to slavishly serve the status quo. We have undergone, as John Ralston Saul writes, a coup d’état in slow motion. And the coup is over. They won. We lost. The abject failure of activists to push corporate, industrialized states toward serious environmental reform, to thwart imperial adventurism or to build a humane policy toward the masses of the world’s poor stems from an inability to recognize the new realities of power. The paradigm of power has irrevocably altered and so must the paradigm of resistance alter.

Too many resistance movements continue to buy into the facade of electoral politics, parliaments, constitutions, bills of rights, lobbying and the appearance of a rational economy. The levers of power have become so contaminated that the needs and voices of citizens have become irrelevant. The election of Barack Obama was yet another triumph of propaganda over substance and a skillful manipulation and betrayal of the public by the mass media. We mistook style and ethnicity – an advertising tactic pioneered by the United Colors of Benetton and Calvin Klein – for progressive politics and genuine change. We confused how we were made to feel with knowledge. But the goal, as with all brands, was to make passive consumers mistake a brand for an experience. Obama, now a global celebrity, is a brand. He had almost no experience besides two years in the senate, lacked any moral core and was sold as all things to all people. The Obama campaign was named Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008 and edged out runners-up Apple and Take it from the professionals. Brand Obama is a marketer’s dream. President Obama does one thing and Brand Obama gets you to believe another. This is the essence of successful advertising. You buy or do what the advertisers want because of how they can make you feel.

a hedge fund republic?

NYTimes | Earlier this month, I offended a number of readers with a column suggesting that if you want to see rapacious income inequality, you no longer need to visit a banana republic. You can just look around.

My point was that the wealthiest plutocrats now actually control a greater share of the pie in the United States than in historically unstable countries like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana. But readers protested that this was glib and unfair, and after reviewing the evidence I regretfully confess that they have a point.

That’s right: I may have wronged the banana republics.

You see, some Latin Americans were indignant at what they saw as an invidious and hurtful comparison. The truth is that Latin America has matured and become more equal in recent decades, even as the distribution in the United States has become steadily more unequal.

The best data series I could find is for Argentina. In the 1940s, the top 1 percent there controlled more than 20 percent of incomes. That was roughly double the share at that time in the United States.

Since then, we’ve reversed places. The share controlled by the top 1 percent in Argentina has fallen to a bit more than 15 percent. Meanwhile, inequality in the United States has soared to levels comparable to those in Argentina six decades ago — with 1 percent controlling 24 percent of American income in 2007.

At a time of such stunning inequality, should Congress put priority on spending $700 billion on extending the Bush tax cuts to those with incomes above $250,000 a year? Or should it extend unemployment benefits for Americans who otherwise will lose them beginning next month?

One way to examine that decision is to put aside all ethical considerations and simply look at where tax dollars will do more to stimulate the economy. There the conclusion is clear: You get much more bang for the buck putting money in the hands of unemployed people because they will promptly spend it.

HR 3808 got stuffed yesterday in the lame duck | Looks like it might be time to get to know your representatives that voted to override the presidents veto…

House Vote #573 (Nov 17, 2010)

On Passage of the Bill, the Objections of the President `: H R 3808 To require any Federal or State court to recognize any notarization made by a notary public licensed by a State other than the State where the court is located when such notarization occurs in or affects interstate commerce.

Number: House Vote #573 in 2010 [primary source:]
Date: Nov 17, 2010 5:24PM
Result: Failed
Related Bill: H.R. 3808: Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act of 2010

Totals Democrats Republicans Independents All Votes Needed to Win

Yea: 185 (43%)

16 168 0
Nay: 235 (54%)
230 5 0
Present: 0 (0%)
0 0 0
Not Voting: 13 (3%)
8 5 0
Required: 2/3 of 420 votes (=280 votes)

(Vacancies in Congress will affect vote totals.)

Please note that there is a slight glitch in this voting record. GovTrack could not identify all of the voters from the original source data. Some voters are listed as ‘Unknown Person’, and the Party Breakdown table may be inaccurate.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

anonymity is just one manifestation...,

Video - Game Theory explained part 2.

GlobalResearch | Because my OED is inaccessible at the moment, I cannot specify exactly when the word 'philanthropy,' which etymologically means "love of mankind," came to be applied to the donating of money to build self aggrandizing enterprises. But alas, it has! People seem to have a way of twisting meanings in ways that make the malevolent appear benevolent. And so, enterprises of all kinds have been funded by such 'philanthropy.'

For instance, Carnegie Mellon University was founded by Andrew Carnegie, Andrew W. and Richard B. Mellon; Cornell University was founded by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White; Purdue University was founded by John Purdue; Rice University was founded by William Marsh Rice; Stanford University was founded by Leland Stanford and his wife. There are hundreds more.

There are museums, too (The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, The Amon Carter Museum of American Art, The Kimbell Art Museum, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art and many more), concert halls (Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, The Eastman Theatre, Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center to name just a few), Opera Houses (The Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall, The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, The Peabody Opera House, The Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, The BAM Howard Gilman Opera House), innumerable charitable foundations and buildings built for public use such a libraries.

Although it is difficult to deny some merit to most of these enterprises, it is also difficult to even imagine that when Christ said, "love thy neighbor as thyself," he was advocating the kind of love philanthropy has come to express. But belittling philanthropy is not the intent of this piece. These examples are intended solely to lay the basis for an exposition of some contrasts and to draw some revealing conclusions from them.

First of all, the kind of giving described above is not the only kind of giving that has become prevalent. During last week's midterm electioneering, unspecified amounts of money were donated anonymously to Political Action Committees in an attempt to influence the electoral process. What distinguishes this group of donors from those above is the anonymity. The benefactors, in the first group, like the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, have no qualms about putting their names on their projects. (I suspect that more often than not, they insist upon it.) But not the donors in the second group.

Why? I suspect a principle lies behind the difference: People do not hide that in which they take pride! The benefactors in the first group are proud of their giving, they want it made known to all, they want to be remembered for it. So why wouldn't the "benefactors" in the second group be equally proud of their beneficence? Are they merely cowards who lack the courage of their convictions? Or are they ashamed of what they are doing? Are they hiding their shame behind their anonymity? In either case, they cannot be judged kindly.

Anonymity, however, is just one manifestation of a deeper and growing tendency in American society—the trend toward more and more secrecy, and no one, to my knowledge, has revealed the ultimate, disastrous consequences of this tendency.

bacterial communities trump game theory

Video - Game Theory explained.

ScienceDaily | When it comes to gambling, many people rely on game theory, a branch of applied mathematics that attempts to measure the choices of others to inform their own decisions. It's used in economics, politics, medicine -- and, of course, Las Vegas. But recent findings from a Tel Aviv University researcher suggest that we may put ourselves on the winning side if we look to bacteria instead.

According to Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob of Tel Aviv University's School of Physics and Astronomy, current game theory can't account for bacteria's natural decision-making abilities -- it's just too simplistic. Understanding bacteria's reactions to stressful and hazardous conditions may improve decision-making processes in any human arena from everyday life to political elections.

In a recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), Prof. Ben-Jacob and his fellow researchers outline how decisions made by communities of bacteria trump game theory. "When human beings make a decision," he says, "they think they're being rational. We now understand that they're influenced by superfluous 'noise,' such as their cognitive state and the influence of others." Bacteria, he explains, are both simpler and more sophisticated -- they can more effectively control this superfluous noise and make group decisions that contribute to the well-being of the entire bacterial colony.

Looking out for the whole
Bacteria live in complex colonies that can be 100 times as numerous as the population of Earth. Under stressful circumstances, bacteria have demonstrated a capacity to assess the noisy and stressful environment around them, filter out what's relevant and what's not, and make decisions that ensure the survival of the colony as a whole.

For example, one bacterial response to starvation or poisoning is that a fraction of the cells "sporulate," enclosing their DNA in a capsule or spore as the mother cell dies. This, says Prof. Ben-Jacob, ensures the survival of the colony -- when the threat is removed, the spores can germinate and the colony grows again.

During this process, the bacteria "choose" whether or not to enter a state called "competence," in which bacteria change their membranes to more easily absorb substances from their neighboring, dying cells. As a result, they recover more quickly when the stress is gone. According to Prof. Ben-Jacob, it's a difficult choice -- in fact, a gamble. The decision to go into a state of competence only pays off if most of the cells decide to sporulate.

Indeed, observations show that only about 10% of cells decide to go into competence. So why don't all bacteria attempt to save themselves? Bacteria don't hide their intentions from their peers in the colony, he explains -- they don't lie or prevaricate, but communicate their intentions by sending chemical messages among themselves. Individual bacteria weigh their decisions carefully, taking into account the stress they are facing, the situation of their peers, the statistics of how many cells are sporulating and how many are choosing competence.

communities thrive on residents affection

Knight Soul of the Community 2010 - National from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

LiveScience | If you sometimes stop and wonder why you donate to your local school’s annual fundraiser, help plant trees on your town’s main drag or offer free hot cocoa at every street fair, the answer is because you're either very generous or you know what's good for your local economy.

New research suggests when people “love” the culture of their towns, economic prosperity follows. In a three-year Gallup survey of 26 U.S. cities, researchers learned the communities with highest levels of resident attachment — a person's passion for where he or she lives — also had the highest rates of GDP growth over time.

The findings "point to a new perspective that we encourage leaders to consider," said Paula Ellis of the Knight Foundation, which funded the poll. "It is especially valuable as we aim to strengthen our communities during this tough economic time.”

The "Knight Soul of the Community" survey explored the connection between local economic growth and residents’ emotional bond to a place. Results clearly show a significant, positive link between resident attachment and local GDP growth, conclude researchers and Ellis, the foundation's vice president for strategic initiatives.

Three qualities surfaced as the leading drivers for attachment to a home city: its social offerings, openness and beauty. Those qualities were cited by survey respondents more often than other possible influences and demographic characteristics such as people’s perceptions of their local economy, leadership and safety. Fist tap Nana.

copycat floridian can't hold a candle to missourian

Video - Russia Today covering the year old trucks and AK-47 promotion in Butler MO.

Video - Fox covers Florida trucks and AK's copycat.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

who will stand up to the superrich?

NYTimes | “How can hedge-fund managers who are pulling down billions sometimes pay a lower tax rate than do their secretaries?” ask the political scientists Jacob S. Hacker (of Yale) and Paul Pierson (University of California, Berkeley) in their deservedly lauded new book, “Winner-Take-All Politics.” If you want to cry real tears about the American dream — as opposed to the self-canonizing tears of John Boehner — read this book and weep. The authors’ answer to that question and others amounts to a devastating indictment of both parties.

Their ample empirical evidence, some of which I’m citing here, proves that America’s ever-widening income inequality was not an inevitable by-product of the modern megacorporation, or of globalization, or of the advent of the new tech-driven economy, or of a growing education gap. (Yes, the very rich often have fancy degrees, but so do those in many income levels below them.) Inequality is instead the result of specific policies, including tax policies, championed by Washington Democrats and Republicans alike as they conducted a bidding war for high-rolling donors in election after election.

The book deflates much of the conventional wisdom. Hacker and Pierson date the dawn of the collusion between the political system and the superrich not to the Reagan revolution, but to the preceding Carter presidency and its Democratic Congress. They also write that contrary to the popular perception, America’s superhigh earners are not mostly “superstars and celebrities in the arts, entertainment and sports” or the stars of law, medicine and real estate. They are instead corporate executives and managers — increasingly (and less surprisingly) financial company executives and managers, including those who escaped with outrageous fortunes as their companies imploded during the housing bubble.

The G.O.P.’s arguments for extending the Bush tax cuts to this crowd, usually wrapped in laughably hypocritical whining about “class warfare,” are easily batted down. The most constant refrain is that small-business owners who file in this bracket would be hit so hard they could no longer hire new employees. But the Tax Policy Center found in 2008, when checking out similar campaign claims by “Joe the Plumber,” that only 2 percent of all Americans reporting small-business income, regardless of tax bracket, would see tax increases if Obama fulfilled his pledge to let the Bush tax cuts lapse for the top earners. The economist Dean Baker calculated that the yearly tax increase at the lower end of that bracket, for those with earnings between $200,000 and $500,000, would amount to $700 — which “isn’t enough to hire anyone.”

Those in the higher reaches aren’t investing in creating new jobs even now, when the full Bush tax cuts remain in effect, so why would extending them change that equation?

regulators focusing in on foreclosure crisis

Video - politicians and regulators taking a closer look at foreclosure crisis.

WaPo | A congressional oversight panel is set to warn on Tuesday that a widespread problem of flawed and fraudulent foreclosure paperwork could upend the housing market and undermine the nation's financial stability, just as the issue is coming under greater scrutiny this week in Washington.

The report, issued by the Congressional Oversight Panel, which monitors the government's bailout program, marks the first time a federal watchdog has weighed in on the nationwide foreclosure mess.

The panel echoed concerns raised by consumer advocates and financial analysts, who have said that although the consequences of the foreclosure debacle remain unclear, the problems could throw into doubt the ownership not only of foreclosed properties but also the millions of ordinary mortgages that were pooled and traded by investors around the world.

The report is scheduled to be released in the morning, just before the Senate Banking Committee holds a hearing on the matter and as lawmakers are considering several legislative responses.

The spotlight on the foreclosure process has anxious financial executives mobilizing on Capitol Hill. A financial lobbyist said senior executives have been meeting with lawmakers and their staffers, and industry groups are planning letter campaigns aimed at preventing any aggressive new legislation.

"Everyone's very nervous about what's going to happen this week," said another industry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because his firm has a stake in the outcome. "We have all hands on deck."

It's unclear what new measure could pass in a politically divided Congress, but some ideas under consideration could broadly reshape the mortgage industry.

Some lawmakers want to resurrect legislation that would give bankruptcy judges the power to order lenders to reduce the principal that homeowners owe. Others are pushing for some big banks to spin off their mortgage-servicing arms to avoid conflicts of interest. There's also discussion of the federal government replacing the industry's current system for tracking mortgages with one that would be subject to federal regulation.

"The risk is small that a bill gets through," the financial lobbyist said. But, he added: "We are taking it very seriously."