Monday, December 12, 2011

bankers are the dictators of the west

Independent | Writing from the very region that produces more clichés per square foot than any other "story" – the Middle East – I should perhaps pause before I say I have never read so much garbage, so much utter drivel, as I have about the world financial crisis.

But I will not hold my fire. It seems to me that the reporting of the collapse of capitalism has reached a new low which even the Middle East cannot surpass for sheer unadulterated obedience to the very institutions and Harvard "experts" who have helped to bring about the whole criminal disaster.

Let's kick off with the "Arab Spring" – in itself a grotesque verbal distortion of the great Arab/Muslim awakening which is shaking the Middle East – and the trashy parallels with the social protests in Western capitals. We've been deluged with reports of how the poor or the disadvantaged in the West have "taken a leaf" out of the "Arab spring" book, how demonstrators in America, Canada, Britain, Spain and Greece have been "inspired" by the huge demonstrations that brought down the regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and – up to a point – Libya. But this is nonsense.

The real comparison, needless to say, has been dodged by Western reporters, so keen to extol the anti-dictator rebellions of the Arabs, so anxious to ignore protests against "democratic" Western governments, so desperate to disparage these demonstrations, to suggest that they are merely picking up on the latest fad in the Arab world. The truth is somewhat different. What drove the Arabs in their tens of thousands and then their millions on to the streets of Middle East capitals was a demand for dignity and a refusal to accept that the local family-ruled dictators actually owned their countries. The Mubaraks and the Ben Alis and the Gaddafis and the kings and emirs of the Gulf (and Jordan) and the Assads all believed that they had property rights to their entire nations. Egypt belonged to Mubarak Inc, Tunisia to Ben Ali Inc (and the Traboulsi family), Libya to Gaddafi Inc. And so on. The Arab martyrs against dictatorship died to prove that their countries belonged to their own people.

And that is the true parallel in the West. The protest movements are indeed against Big Business – a perfectly justified cause – and against "governments". What they have really divined, however, albeit a bit late in the day, is that they have for decades bought into a fraudulent democracy: they dutifully vote for political parties – which then hand their democratic mandate and people's power to the banks and the derivative traders and the rating agencies, all three backed up by the slovenly and dishonest coterie of "experts" from America's top universities and "think tanks", who maintain the fiction that this is a crisis of globalisation rather than a massive financial con trick foisted on the voters.

The banks and the rating agencies have become the dictators of the West. Like the Mubaraks and Ben Alis, the banks believed – and still believe – they are owners of their countries. The elections which give them power have – through the gutlessness and collusion of governments – become as false as the polls to which the Arabs were forced to troop decade after decade to anoint their own national property owners. Goldman Sachs and the Royal Bank of Scotland became the Mubaraks and Ben Alis of the US and the UK, each gobbling up the people's wealth in bogus rewards and bonuses for their vicious bosses on a scale infinitely more rapacious than their greedy Arab dictator-brothers could imagine.

Occupy Boston evicted without incident

Video - At exactly 5am, Officers arrived at Dewey Square and evicted the Occupy Boston encampment.

Patch | That’s why, for my money, the future of Occupy, whatever your personal take on it, was on display here in Reading this past week.

The group needs to fan out, state by state, city by city and organize meetings like the one Dec. 7, at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Woburn Street, where residents can get together and feel involved in this process. By focusing energy in smaller groups, on a national level, more can be gained than by larger rallies, which, let’s face it, can feel somewhat off-putting and inaccessible. It’s also important that the movement avoids politics as much as possible, or risk banishment to the world of the punchline, like the Tea Party.

As far as streamlining the message, that’s going to be the hard part. If it proves too hard, then we may have already seen the apex of the Occupy movement’s influence.

Here’s what needs to happen:

Some sort of codification of goals should occur, but it can’t be too lengthy and must be relatively focused. Back at the early stages of the Occupy movement, back in October, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, heir to the National Affairs Desk, the space famously occupied by the legendary Hunter S. Thompson, proposed a five-pronged platform that would encapsulate the most pressing issues relating to economic injustice quite nicely. Focusing on the following five points would make the Occupy message clear, focused and hard-hitting.

  • Shatter the monopolies. The “Too Big to Fail” financial institutions “pose a grave threat to national security,” writes Taibbi. They are “more dangerous and unaccountable than a thousand mafias combined.” There are roughly 20 such firms in America, and Taibbi advocates dismantling them. Repeal the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and mandate the separation of insurance companies, investment banks and commercial banks.
  • Pay us back. As Taibbi points out, a tax of 0.1 percent on all trades of stocks and bonds and a 0.01 percent tax on all derivative trades would generate enough revenue to pay us back for the bailouts, and still have a sizable chunk of change to fight the deficits the banks are so worried about. It would also deter things like High Frequency Trading, and force Wall Street to “go back to the job it's supposed to be doing, i.e., making sober investments in job-creating businesses and watching them grow.”
  • No public money for private lobbying. This one seems like a no-brainer. A company that gets a public bailout shouldn’t be allowed to use a taxpayer's money to lobby against him. “You can either suck on the public teat or influence the next presidential race, but you can't do both. Butt out for once and let the people choose the next president and Congress.”
  • Tax hedge-fund gamblers. An immediate repeal of the carried-interest tax break, which allows people like Stevie Cohen and John Paulson to pay just 15 percent tax on their multibillion dollar incomes, while ordinary American—like teachers and firefighters—pay twice that rate. “I defy any politician to stand up and defend that loophole during an election year,” writes Taibbi.
  • Change the way bankers get paid. “We need new laws preventing Wall Street executives from getting bonuses upfront for deals that might blow up in all of our faces later. It should be: You make a deal today, you get company stock you can redeem two or three years from now. That forces everyone to be invested in his own company's long-term health – no more Joe Cassanos pocketing multimillion-dollar bonuses for destroying the AIGs of the world.”

I’d love to hear anyone tell me why any of the above suggestions don’t make sense.

Occupy Reading goes in on corporate personhood

Patch | A group of concerned Reading citizens met Dec. 7 at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Woburn Street to discuss what the town can do to support the “Occupy Movement.”

Aimed primarily at addressing economic injustice, and taking appropriate action to that end—at the local, state or national levels—the group decided last night to move forward with plans to introduce a resolution (read a proposed sample here) at Town Meeting that would call on Congress to amend the Constitution to clearly state that only living persons—not corporations—have constitutional rights, and that money is not the same as free speech. (read a sample amendment here) The Reading “Occupy” Forum’s decision follows closely the news that the Los Angeles, Calif. City Council had unanimously voted to support the resolution, making LA the first U.S. City to call for an end to corporate constitutional rights.

The group also resolved to send a contingent from Reading to the “Occupy the Courts” protest, which is scheduled for Jan. 20 at the John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston.

Far from being a ragtag band of stoners—as occupiers are often portrayed—the group consisted of local professionals and several students, as well as members of the Reading Democratic Town Committee and

As the local media continues to wait with bated breath for the Boston Police to evict protesters from Dewey Square, 18-year-old Ben Hitchcock—an RMHS grad—expressed his view that meetings and discussion groups, such as the one on Dec. 7, represent the true face of the “Occupy” Movement.

“The movement isn’t camping, the movement is having these discussion,” said Hitchcock, a student at College of the Atlantic in Maine. “Great ideas, if not constantly talked about and planned, will fall apart.”

Also speaking at the meeting were RDTC members John Lippitt and Karen Richard—both also affiliated with—among others.

Hitchcock, who first became involved with “Occupy” at Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park on Sept. 17, when he and a few friends traveled to New York City, talked about the two main issues the group would like to see addressed: corporate personhood and removing the money from the political process.

“We’ve all worked a full day, we’re all tired, but this is something that’s important,” said Richard. “The 99 percent really want their rights back, and don’t want to be trampled on.”

While often portrayed as having little to no coherent message or demands, last night’s group was fairly focused. They expressed outrage at JP Morgan Chase’s $4.6 million donation to the NYPD—ostensibly to buy laptop computers—and many were shocked to learn that, since 2001, the U.S. has lost an average of 50,000 manufacturing jobs per month to nations like China, which often have draconian labor laws and offer a more palatable environment in which to do business.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

one nation under arms

Vanity Fair | The private papers of the late George F. Kennan, Cold War architect and diplomat extraordinaire, reveal his anguish over the way his famous 1947 warning about Soviet expansionism helped transform the America he loved into one he no longer recognized: a national-security state. A half-century after a similarly historic warning—President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s speech about the dangers of a powerful “military-industrial complex”—Todd S. Purdum shows how completely Kennan’s and Eisenhower’s worst fears have been realized, warping almost every aspect of society, deflecting attention from urgent problems, and splitting the country into two classes.

They rest in 330 acid-free archival boxes in climate-controlled storage at Princeton University. To pore over the collected papers of George F. Kennan in the cool fluorescent light is to witness the transformation of the United States from the comparatively simple sleeping giant it was before World War II into the complex national-security state it has become. Kennan, who died in 2005 at the age of 101, devoted the first part of his career to diplomacy at the highest levels, in Moscow and Washington, and then spent the remaining half-century as a scholar, historian, and unsparing critic of the American imperium he had helped to create.

If the Cold War has a set of founding documents akin to the Federalist Papers, these tattered notebooks and yellowing bits of onionskin are among them, including the urtext—in Box 251, Folder 7. It is an aging reprint of an article from the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs, the staid journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, tersely titled “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” by an author identified only as “X.” As the world soon learned, X was actually Kennan, who had just become the first policy-planning director of the State Department, and his article caused a sensation. Colleges and universities asked for copies to use in their courses; newspapers around the world sought permission to publish excerpts, as did The Reader’s Digest, with its mass popular circulation.

why is the pentagon beefing up one-time?

Business Insider | The U.S. military has some of the most advanced killing equipment in the world that allows it to invade almost wherever it likes at will.

We produce so much military equipment that inventories of military robots, M-16 assault rifles, helicopters, armored vehicles, and grenade launchers eventually start to pile up and it turns out a lot of these weapons are going straight to American police forces to be used against US citizens.

Benjamin Carlson at The Daily reports on a little known endeavor called the "1033 Program" that gave more than $500 million of military gear to U.S. police forces in 2011 alone.

1033 was passed by Congress in 1997 to help law-enforcement fight terrorism and drugs, but despite a 40-year low in violent crime, police are snapping up hardware like never before. While this year's staggering take topped the charts, next year's orders are up 400 percent over the same period.

This upswing coincides with an increasingly military-like style of law enforcement most recently seen in the Occupy Wall Street crackdowns.

Tim Lynch, director of the Cato Institute's project on criminal justice told The Daily, “The trend toward militarization was well under way before 9/11, but it’s the federal policy of making surplus military equipment available almost for free that has poured fuel on this fire.”

From The Daily:

Thanks to it, cops in Cobb County, Ga. — one of the wealthiest and most educated counties in the U.S. — now have an amphibious tank. The sheriff of Richland County, S.C., proudly acquired a machine-gun-equipped armored personnel carrier that he nicknamed “The Peacemaker.”

This comes on top of grants from the Department of Homeland Security that enable police departments to buy vehicles such as “BearCats” — 16,000-pound bulletproof trucks equipped with battering rams, gun ports, tear-gas dispensers and radiation detectors. To date, more than 500 of these tank-like vehicles have been sold by Lenco, its Massachusetts-based manufacturer, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel.

“It’s kind of had a corrupting influence on the culture of policing in America,” Lynch says. “The dynamic is that you have some officer go to the chief and say, people in the next county have [military hardware], if we don’t take it some other city will. Then they acquire the equipment, they create a paramilitary unit, and everything seems fine.

“But then one or two years pass. They say, look we’ve got this equipment, this training and we haven’t been using it. That’s where it starts to creep into routine policing."

corporate muscle?

Video - Webcam rant about National Guard Soldier Arrested For Not Wanting to Fire On American Citizens

Oathkeepers | Oath Keepers has learned that federal agents recently visited a Latter Day Saints (Mormon) Church food storage cannery in Tennessee, demanding customer lists, wanting to know the identity of Americans who are purchasing food storage from the Mormons.

This incident was confirmed, in person, by Oath Keepers Tennessee Chapter President, Rand Cardwell. Here is Rand’s report:
“A fellow veteran contacted me concerning a new and disturbing development. He had been utilizing a Mormon cannery near his home to purchase bulk food supplies. The man that manages the facility relayed to him that federal agents had visited the facility and demanded a list of individuals that had been purchasing bulk food. The manager informed the agents that the facility kept no such records and that all transactions were conducted on a cash-and-carry basis. The agents pressed for any record of personal checks, credit card transactions, etc., but the manager could provide no such record. The agents appeared to become very agitated and after several minutes of questioning finally left with no information. I contacted the manager and personally confirmed this information.

This event points to a new level of federal government encroachment on the basic freedoms of the American people. Likewise, it points to a confused policy within federal agencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in their “Are You Ready?” guide to “In Depth Citizen Preparedness” recommends that citizens store emergency supplies, including bulk food, in the event of a natural disaster or man-made event (the new politically correct term applied to a terrorist attack). The FEMA guidance is spot-on as it allows individuals and families to be self-sufficient during an emergency situation.

And here in Tennessee, we just learned that Nashville Metro Public Health and the Tennessee Department of Health are conducting “door-to-door assessment of disaster preparedness … using a tool designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to go door to door and check to see how disaster ready you are. .. in 30 neighborhoods in Davidson County [TN] that have been randomly selected to be the target of a door to door assessment.” I have confirmed that that is a state run effort.

So on the one hand, government agencies both state and federal are urging you to be prepared and even checking up on you to see how prepared you are, and on the other hand, we now have federal agencies that are attempting to gather information on individuals that are following FEMA suggestions. What is the reasoning behind gathering this information? Are American citizens now being “listed” by DHS if they are simply following FEMA guidance and purchasing bulk food and emergency supplies for their families? It appears as so.

This should be a red flag to all Americans. Not unlike the “trip wires” identified in the Oath Keepers list of orders that will not be obeyed, this incident should be considered as further evidence that our federal government is out of control. What business is it of the government if any of us purchase and store bulk food? Answer: It is none of their damn business! Maybe during the next Katrina-type event federal agents will storm your home to take your food stores along with your firearms. We can only theorize as to the motives of the government for this type of “list” being developed, but it goes against the very fabric of what a free people should allow by our government.” – Rand Cardwell.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

the imperium

Challenge to US Hegemony in the Western Hemisphere?

globalresearch | A summit of huge importance was held in Venezuela on December 2-3. Two hundred years after Latin America’s independence fighters first raised the battle cry for a united Latin America, 33 heads of states from across the region came together to form the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

For Latin America, the summit represented a further step away from its traditional role as the United States’ backyard and its emergence as a player in its own right in international politics.

The importance of this new institution in world politics cannot be overstated. The combined gross domestic product of the countries within CELAC make it the third-largest economic powerhouse in the world.

It is also home to the world’s largest oil reserves and the first and third largest global producers of food and energy, respectively.

CELAC also builds on existing inter-regional bodies and experiments.

These include the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), UNASUR’s Defense Council, the Bank of the South (which only awaits the approval of the Uruguayan parliament in order to bring to life a bank that will count on US$20 billion for development projects), and the establishment of trade mechanisms between some countries that replaces the US dollar with local and new regional currencies.

Another important integration initiative is the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a nine-nation anti-imperialist bloc initially formed in 2004 by socialist governments of Cuba and Venezuela.

CELAC explicitly excludes the US and Canada.

However, Cuba, which has been excluded from the Organisation of American States (OAS) for daring to challenge the US empire and carry out a revolution, was not only included but selected to host the 2013 CELAC Summit. Chile had already been selected to host next year's.

Some are already arguing the consolidation of CELAC will represent the final nail in the coffin of the Organisation of American States (OAS), traditionally dominated by the powerful neighbors up north.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said on November 29: “We believe we need a profound change in the inter-American, basically Latin American, system because the US’s gravitational power [within the OAS] is clear.”

“We need another system ... where we discuss our problems in the region, not in Washington [the headquarters of the OAS], where institutions that are removed from our vision, traditions, values and needs are not imposed on us.”

The same day, Bolivian vice-president Alvaro Garcia Linera said the summit would represent “a meeting of the peoples, defending our destiny without tutelage, without patronage, so that together we can find a solution to our problems, without the presence of the US”.

Imperial weakening
The step comes at a time when US economic and political power is in decline and the European Union is on the verge of collapse.

“Latin America is a continent on the move faced with a world in crisis,” Garcia Linera said. “Latin America is the vanguard of the world in regard to ideas, in regard to transformations, in regard to proposals at the service of the people and humanity.”

Luis Bilbao, editor of the Latin America-wide magazine America XXI, said in a November 28 article that CELAC represents “an opportunity without precedent to position the region as the starting point in a new phase in the history of humanity”.

Latin America is in a unique position given the global context, marked by three key features: “It maintains a dynamic of regional convergence while all other [continents] are suffering from violent centrifugal forces; until now it has suffered less as a result of the recession in the imperialist centres; [and] within this heterogeneous convergent whole exists a vital nucleus that, faced with the collapse of capitalism … has raised the banner of 21st century socialism.”

The US had tried everything possible to stop CELAC. Former Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, a US puppet, made the most recent attempt.

A November 28 article said that during a trip to meet with Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, Uribe urged them to issue a “public statement” denouncing the growing relationship between Colombia and Venezuela.

Under Uribe, relations between Venezuela and Colombia nearly degenerated into war. Uribe also worked to undermine the progress of UNASUR from within.

Friday, December 09, 2011

war on iran has already begun...,

Video - You gotta love a Chinese newsbabe delivering the news in farsi.

Guardian | They don't give up. After a decade of blood-drenched failure in Afghanistan and Iraq, violent destabilisation of Pakistan and Yemen, the devastation of Lebanon and slaughter in Libya, you might hope the US and its friends had had their fill of invasion and intervention in the Muslim world.

It seems not. For months the evidence has been growing that a US-Israeli stealth war against Iran has already begun, backed by Britain and France. Covert support for armed opposition groups has spread into a campaign of assassinations of Iranian scientists, cyber warfare, attacks on military and missile installations, and the killing of an Iranian general, among others.

The attacks are not directly acknowledged, but accompanied by intelligence-steered nods and winks as the media are fed a stream of hostile tales – the most outlandish so far being an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US – and the western powers ratchet up pressure for yet more sanctions over Iran's nuclear programme.

The British government's decision to take the lead in imposing sanctions on all Iranian banks and pressing for an EU boycott of Iranian oil triggered the trashing of its embassy in Tehran by demonstrators last week and subsequent expulsion of Iranian diplomats from London.

It's a taste of how the conflict can quickly escalate, as was the downing of a US spyplane over Iranian territory at the weekend. What one Israeli official has called a "new kind of war" has the potential to become a much more old-fashioned one that would threaten us all.

Last month the Guardian was told by British defence ministry officials that if the US brought forward plans to attack Iran (as they believed it might), it would "seek, and receive, UK military help", including sea and air support and permission to use the ethnically cleansed British island colony of Diego Garcia.

Whether the officials' motive was to soften up public opinion for war or warn against it, this was an extraordinary admission: the Britain military establishment fully expects to take part in an unprovoked US attack on Iran – just as it did against Iraq eight years ago.

What was dismissed by the former foreign secretary Jack Straw as "unthinkable", and for David Cameron became an option not to be taken "off the table", now turns out to be as good as a done deal if the US decides to launch a war that no one can seriously doubt would have disastrous consequences. But there has been no debate in parliament and no mainstream political challenge to what Straw's successor, David Miliband, this week called the danger of "sleepwalking into a war with Iran". That's all the more shocking because the case against Iran is so spectacularly flimsy.

There is in fact no reliable evidence that Iran is engaged in a nuclear weapons programme. The latest International Atomic Energy Agency report once again failed to produce a smoking gun, despite the best efforts of its new director general, Yukiya Amano – described in a WikiLeaks cable as "solidly in the US court on every strategic decision".

As in the runup to the invasion of Iraq, the strongest allegations are based on "secret intelligence" from western governments. But even the US national intelligence director, James Clapper, has accepted that the evidence suggests Iran suspended any weapons programme in 2003 and has not reactivated it.

The whole campaign has an Alice in Wonderland quality about it. Iran, which says it doesn't want nuclear weapons, is surrounded by nuclear-weapon states: the US – which also has forces in neighbouring Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as military bases across the region – Israel, Russia, Pakistan and India.

Iran is of course an authoritarian state, though not as repressive as western allies such as Saudi Arabia. But it has invaded no one in 200 years. It was itself invaded by Iraq with western support in the 1980s, while the US and Israel have attacked 10 countries or territories between them in the past decade. Britain exploited, occupied and overthrew governments in Iran for over a century. So who threatens who exactly?

rq-170 sentinal's sensors and data quite the prize for russia/china...,

Video - Cooter breaks down the story even before the story broke down.

USAToday | Another intriguing question, said John Pike, executive director of Global, is what the drone's mission in Iran would have been. The same model drone was reportedly used to spy on Osama bin Laden's compound before the raid that killed him in May. Drones can provide round-the-clock surveillance that satellites cannot.

U.S. officials are concerned that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

"What can I learn from a drone?" Pike said. "The best day and time to bomb an office park if I was trying to kill people there. A drone is going to stake the place out."

The Air Force released few details and no photos of the RQ-170 Sentinel, one its most advanced unmanned spy planes. Iranian authorities on Thursday displayed what they claimed was the drone their forces brought down.

The drone is alleged to have crashed last week in Iran. The NATO military command in Afghanistan has acknowledged it lost control of an unarmed, unmanned spy plane near Iran. A senior Pentagon official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss intelligence matters, said the spy plane was on a mission for the CIA.

The plane's shape and coatings allow it to evade radar detection. Russia and China are testing their own stealth planes, so the technology is known to them. The prize on this lost drone, said Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution, is the advanced radar and other sensors it can carry.

The RQ-170 has carried the same radar that will be used in top U.S. fighter jets — the F-22 and the new F-35, Singer said. The Chinese are a generation behind in developing such capability, he said, and would be keenly interested in obtaining it.

"This is the jewel for them," he said. The drone may also have carried an advanced sensor for monitoring nuclear sites, Singer said. "Bottom line, it's never easy to reverse-engineer anything, let alone something like a radar, but having a working or even damaged system in hand to study up-close makes it a heck of a lot easier to both defend against it in the future or build your own derivative," he said.

iran shows video of captured cia stealth drone

Video - Iranian state teevee shows off captured CIA stealth drone.

NYTimes | Iran paraded what its military described as a captured C.I.A. stealth drone on national television on Thursday and lodged an official diplomatic protest, portraying the visual images as an intelligence and propaganda windfall in its conflict with the West over its nuclear program.

American officials viewing the video declined to confirm or deny that the aircraft shown was the one that they have said was lost several days ago by controllers in neighboring Afghanistan.

The two-and-a-half-minute video clip of the remote-controlled surveillance aircraft was presented by Iran as the first visual evidence that it had had possession of the drone since Sunday, when Iran asserted that its military downed the aircraft 140 miles inside Iranian territory. American officials have said the drone was lost because of a malfunction.

The aircraft shown on Iranian television appeared to be in good condition, which would seem to be inconsistent with an uncontrolled landing, although a close inspection of the images appeared to show a fracture on part of the wing that had been taped.

The aircraft was displayed on a platform clearly constructed for propaganda purposes, with photographs of ayatollahs who led Iran’s revolution behind it and a desecrated version of the American flag. But the display did not show the undercarriage of the aircraft, which could have revealed possible damage.

At the Pentagon, senior officials would say only that the images from Iran were being analyzed by specialists both in the military and in other parts of the government, presumably intelligence agencies. A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.

American officials did not assert that the aircraft was a fake, and independent experts offered mixed assessments.

John Pike, director of, a consulting firm, said he would have expected far more damage if the aircraft had hit the ground in an uncontrolled crash. But Richard F. Healing, an aviation consultant, said many drones were “basically gliders,” with large wings relative to their weight. If it ran out of fuel, he said, a drone “might come down gently” and be damaged only lightly if it did not hit something.

Iran also said it had formally protested what it said was the drone’s violation of Iranian airspace. Because Iran and the United States have no direct diplomatic relations, Iran summoned the ambassador from Switzerland, which manages American interests in Iran.

American officials have identified the missing drone as an RQ-170 Sentinel, an unarmed bat-winged aircraft used by the C.I.A. It can linger undetected for hours at 50,000 feet, far higher than many aircraft, with cameras and other sensor equipment to monitor activity on the ground. An RQ-170 was used to gather intelligence for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.

The loss of an RQ-170 in Iran is a potentially significant intelligence blow for the United States, which has been stepping up efforts to monitor suspected nuclear sites in Iran.

The United Nations issued a report on Nov. 8 that said Iran might be actively working on a nuclear weapon and a missile delivery system. Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and has denounced the report as a fabricated pretext for new Western economic sanctions and possible military intervention.

Iran’s leaders point to the drone as evidence of hostile American intentions.

embarrassing calls to war come from the "editorial board"

WaPo | IRAN HAS BEEN showing signs of increasing nervousness about the possibility that its nuclear program will come under attack by Israel or the United States. From the West’s point of view, this alarm is good: The more Iran worries about a military attack, the more likely it is to scale back its nuclear activity. The only occasion in which Tehran froze its weaponization program came immediately after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when it feared it might be the next American target. That’s why the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, regularly repeats that “all options are on the table.”

What doesn’t make sense is a public spelling out of reasons against military action — like that delivered by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last Friday before a U.S.-Israeli conference in Washington. Mr. Panetta said that a strike would “at best” slow down Iran’s program for “maybe one, possibly two years”; that “some of those targets are very difficult to get at”; that a now-isolated regime would be able to “reestablish itself” in the region; that the United States would be the target of Iranian retaliation; and that the global economy would be damaged.

Some of Mr. Panetta’s assumptions are debatable: For example, would Arab states — many of which have been quietly hoping for a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran — really rally behind a regime they regard as a deadly enemy? And if bombing destroyed thousands of Iranian centrifuges, which are manufactured from materials Tehran cannot easily acquire, would it really be so simple to rebuild?

But even if every point were true, there is no reason for the defense secretary to spell out such views in public. No doubt President Obama and the Israeli defense ministry are well aware of the Pentagon’s views, but alarmed Iranian leaders could well conclude that they have no reason for concern after all.

The public disparaging of the force option is not the administration’s only waffling signal to Tehran. Though Mr. Obama boasted Thursday that his administration has orchestrated “the toughest sanctions that Iran has ever experienced,” he is resisting pressure from allies such as France and from Congress to sanction the Iranian central bank. Last week the Senate passed 100-0 an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would sanction foreign banks that conduct transactions with the Iranian central bank, with an option for a postponement if the White House determines that the effect on the oil market would be too severe. The administration opposed the measure and is trying to narrow its scope in a conference committee.

Officials say they worry about the damage such sanctions could cause to the economy or to relations with allies such as South Korea and Japan. Iran, they argue, could end up benefiting if oil prices spike. While these are not unreasonable concerns, the administration’s stance resembles Mr. Panetta’s message. In effect, it is signaling that it is determined to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon — unless it means taking military or diplomatic risks, or paying an economic price.

war increases prosocial punishments and rewards

RoyalSociety | Unlike most species, humans cooperate extensively with group members who are not closely related to them, a pattern sustained in part by punishing non-cooperators and rewarding cooperators. Because internally cooperative groups prevail over less cooperative rival groups, it is thought that violent intergroup conflict played a key role in the evolution of human cooperation. Consequently, it is plausible that propensities to punish and reward will be elevated during intergroup conflict. Using experiments conducted before, during and after the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah war, we show that, during wartime, people are more willing to pay costs to punish non-cooperative group members and reward cooperative group members. Rather than simply increasing within-group solidarity, violent intergroup conflict thus elicits behaviours that, writ large, enhance cooperation within the group, thereby making victory more likely.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

yawn contagion and empathy in homo sapiens

PLoSONE | The ability to share others' emotions, or empathy, is crucial for complex social interactions. Clinical, psychological, and neurobiological clues suggest a link between yawn contagion and empathy in humans (Homo sapiens). However, no behavioral evidence has been provided so far. We tested the effect of different variables (e.g., country of origin, sex, yawn characteristics) on yawn contagion by running mixed models applied to observational data collected over 1 year on adult (>16 years old) human subjects. Only social bonding predicted the occurrence, frequency, and latency of yawn contagion. As with other measures of empathy, the rate of contagion was greatest in response to kin, then friends, then acquaintances, and lastly strangers. Related individuals (r≥0.25) showed the greatest contagion, in terms of both occurrence of yawning and frequency of yawns. Strangers and acquaintances showed a longer delay in the yawn response (latency) compared to friends and kin. This outcome suggests that the neuronal activation magnitude related to yawn contagion can differ as a function of subject familiarity. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that yawn contagion is primarily driven by the emotional closeness between individuals and not by other variables, such as gender and nationality.

what phantom limbs and mirrors teach us about the brain...,

Video - VS Ramachandran on mirror neurons

BBCNews | In a lab in southern California scientists are curing the previously incurable with little more than a mirror, and changing our understanding of the brain in the process.

In mid-November the team at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) announced the results of a small pilot study which suggests that a simple mind trick involving mirrors can help ease the pain of osteoarthritis, a condition that affects one in 10 people.

That study is in its very early stages, but since the mid-1990s neuroscientist Vilyanur S Ramachandran, who heads the team, has been extolling the benefits of mirrors for all manner of diseases and syndromes, from stroke to the mind-boggling medical phenomenon of the phantom limb.

Ramachandran's 20-year association with the mirror, and phantom limbs, has driven him to the forefront of experimental neuroscience.

The phantom (or arthritic) hand is placed behind the mirror. When the patient looks into the mirror he feels the reflection of the real hand superimposed on the phantom. He then tries to move both hands.

Many patients report they feel the phantom mimicking the movement of the real hand.

When the real hand opens its fingers, it looks as though the phantom has opened, and pain is relieved. By doing this repeatedly some patients find the phantom disappears. Providing a visual substitute for the phantom limb effectively "amputates" it.

The syndrome occurs in at least 90% of amputees - in two-thirds of those it manifests as an insatiable itch in the missing limb, many feel extreme discomfort or even chronic pain.

In most cases, pain-killers and surgical treatment have no effect.

Ramachandran's first phantom limb patient - who he calls Victor - lost his arm crossing the Mexican border into the US. He had an itch in his missing hand.

When Ramachandran prodded him in the left cheek with a cotton bud, Victor claimed he felt it in his missing left thumb - when he touched his upper lip, Victor though he was prodding his index finger.

The neurons that detect sensation in the missing hand, at a loss for anything to do, had somehow started detecting sensation in the face.

In this case there was a simple and effective treatment for the itch - scratch the face. But to Ramachandran it also had theoretical implications. It appeared to demonstrate the plasticity of brain modules - their ability to adapt to each other and their environment.

This was a radical idea as the established notion at the time was that the brain is made up of independent modules, insulated from each other and hardwired to a specific function. The notion of plasticity was something only a small group of scientists were considering.

chimp brains may be hard-wired to evolve language

NewScientist | They can't talk, but chimps may have some of what it takes to evolve language. That is the suggestion of a study which found chimps link sounds and levels of brightness, something akin to synaesthesia in people. Such an association could help explain how our early ancestors took the first vital step from ape-like grunts to a proper vocabulary.

Synaesthetes make unusual connections between different senses – they might sense certain tastes when they hear music, or "see" numbers as colours. This is less unusual than you might think: "The synaesthetic experience is a continuum," explains Roi Cohen Kadosh of University College London. "Most people have it at an implicit level, and some people have a stronger connection."

Now, Vera Ludwig from the Charite University of Medicine in Berlin, Germany, and colleagues have shown for the first time that chimpanzees also make cross-sensory associations, suggesting they evolved early on.

The team repeatedly flashed either black or white squares for 200 milliseconds at a time on screens in front of six chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and 33 humans. The subjects had to indicate whether the square was black or white by touching a button of the right colour. A high or low-pitched sound was randomly played in the background during each test.

Chimps and humans were better at identifying white squares when they heard a high-pitched sound, and more likely to correctly identify dark squares when played a low-pitched sound. But performance was poor when the sounds were swapped: humans were slower to identify a white square paired with a low-pitched noise, or a black square with a high-pitched noise, and the chimps' responses became significantly less accurate.

synaesthesia: when two senses become one

Video - David Bowie Letter to Hermione

Guardian | Charlene Soraia was 11 when she realised she didn't experience the world in quite the same way as most people. She was about to start secondary school and, turning to one of her friends, said that she pictured their first year as a series of "yellow lines, with green bits". "My friend said: 'What are you talking about?' And I thought: 'OK, I won't ever say anything else like that then.'"

A year or so later, Soraia, who is now 22, told her father she saw colours when she heard music. He explained that he experienced music the same way and that it was a medical condition called synaesthesia, in which the brain conflates two or more senses, causing both to be experienced at the same time.

A recent study by the University of Edinburgh concluded that around 4% of the British population has synaesthesia; other estimates put the figure at between 2% and 5%. The condition takes many forms: some experience tastes when they read or hear words; some perceive numbers as shapes; others, such as Soraia, see colours when they hear music, or when they think of particular periods in their lives.

"Tuesdays are always yellowish," says Soraia, a singer-songwriter who has just released her debut album, Moonchild. "Mondays are white. And numbers have shapes. Say I'm doing the times table, and it's 10 times five – I think of these 10 blocks, with five sections in each."

Soraia is talking to me in a cafe near her south London home; we plan to listen to a few songs together, so she can describe the way she experiences each one. She begins by explaining that she sees a range of colours according to the timbre of a musician's voice, or style of playing. "My dad's got an amazing tone when he plays guitar," she says. "It's really calming; like a burnt-orangey colour. My own voice, and album, is a sort of Oxford blue, with purple bits, like a dark cloud."

A disco track is jangling from the cafe's radio: what colours does that evoke? "Oh, that's a sort of deep red." And her favourite songs? Soraia taps her iPhone and chooses I Have Been Alone, an obscure track by the late-60s psychedelic group the Common People. "This is bluey-mauve, with white bits, and the violin's purple." Next up is Memories by Soft Machine, "a mustardy-yellow, like sepia". French Navy by Camera Obscura is "pillar-box red at night-time".

But Soraia's absolute favourite is David Bowie's Letter to Hermione. "It's navy blue underneath," she says, "but Bowie's voice is red. It's always been red. I remember when I was eight, and my dad played a Bowie album in the car. It was the first time I'd heard him, and I just got it in a way I'd never got music before. It was so intense."

What causes a synaesthete such as Soraia to experience music in this way?. While knowledge about the condition has improved greatly since the 80s, when most people who described such symptoms were dismissed as fantasists, its causes remain mysterious. "It's easier to describe what synaesthesia is not than what it is," says Dr Mary Spiller, a synaesthesia researcher and psychology lecturer at the University of East London. "It's not a mental-health problem, and it's not psychological. We know that it's about the brain causing senses to be joined together, and that there's often a genetic component: parents may pass synaesthesia to their children, though it may not always be the same type."

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Occupy foreign affairs?

ipsnews | It's not the topic of George Packer's latest essay that's particularly surprising. Inequality, he writes, is undermining democracy. Progressives have been hammering home this message for years if not decades.

Nor is the choice of publication necessarily a shocker. Foreign Affairs is the flagship publication of the elite that runs U.S. foreign policy. But it is no longer the exclusively centre-right publication of the Cold War years and publishes the occasional progressive thinker.

No, it's the prominent placement of the Packer essay that merits attention. It's the lead article of the November/December issue. And it comes with the bold headline, "Is America Over?"
Iraq was one of those wars where people actually put on pounds. A few years ago, I was eating lunch with another reporter at an American-style greasy spoon in Baghdad's Green Zone. At a nearby table, a couple of American contractors were finishing off their burgers and fries. They were wearing the contractor's uniform: khakis, polo shirts, baseball caps, and Department of Defense identity badges in plastic pouches hanging from nylon lanyards around their necks. The man who had served their food might have been the only Iraqi they spoke with all day. The Green Zone was set up to make you feel that Iraq was a hallucination and you were actually in Normal, Illinois. This narcotizing effect seeped into the consciousness of every American who hunkered down and worked and partied behind its blast walls -- the soldier and the civilian, the diplomat and the journalist, the important and the obscure. Hardly anyone stayed longer than a year; almost everyone went home with a collection of exaggerated war stories, making an effort to forget that they were leaving behind shoddy, unfinished projects and a country spiraling downward into civil war. As the two contractors got up and ambled out of the restaurant, my friend looked at me and said, "We're just not that good anymore."

The Iraq war was a kind of stress test applied to the American body politic. And every major system and organ failed the test: the executive and legislative branches, the military, the intelligence world, the for-profits, the nonprofits, the media. It turned out that we were not in good shape at all -- without even realizing it. Americans just hadn't tried anything this hard in around half a century. It is easy, and completely justified, to blame certain individuals for the Iraq tragedy. But over the years, I've become more concerned with failures that went beyond individuals, and beyond Iraq -- concerned with the growing arteriosclerosis of American institutions. Iraq was not an exceptional case. It was a vivid symptom of a long-term trend, one that worsens year by year. The same ailments that led to the disastrous occupation were on full display in Washington this past summer, during the debt-ceiling debacle: ideological rigidity bordering on fanaticism, an indifference to facts, an inability to think beyond the short term, the dissolution of national interest into partisan advantage.
When Foreign Affairs puts inequality on its cover, the Occupy Wall Street movement has achieved a major victory that eclipses even the generally favourable coverage in liberal bastions such as The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker. It's also a sign that a profound anxiety gnaws at the foreign policy elite in this country. The question is: why does Foreign Affairs want its readers to take this issue so seriously?

US attack on Pakistan will turn region into inferno

Video - Gen. Hamid Gul on the consequences of the NATO attack on Pakistani troops.

downed drone belonged to cia

Video - RT 'US poker, Iran chess: Lies vs strategy'

WaPo | The unmanned surveillance plane lost by the United States in Iran was a stealth aircraft being used for secret missions by the CIA, U.S. officials said Monday.

The officials said Iran’s military appears to be in possession of one of the more sensitive surveillance platforms in the CIA’s fleet, an aircraft that was shaped and designed to evade enemy defenses.

The mission of the downed drone remains unclear. Iran, a longtime adversary of the United States, is believed by U.S. intelligence agencies to be pursuing the development of a nuclear weapon and is also accused of providing support to anti-coalition elements in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The RQ-170 has been used by the CIA for highly sensitive missions into other nations’ airspace, including months of surveillance of the compound in Pakistan in which Osama bin Laden was hiding before he was killed in a May raid by Special Operations forces.

A CIA spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the drone was being flown by the agency. A Pentagon spokesman, George Little, also declined to comment.

The disclosure that the drone apparently recovered by Iran was being flown by the CIA comes after previous signals from U.S. officials that had created the impression that the plane was being flown by the U.S. military on a more mundane mission over Afghanistan and had simply strayed into Iranian territory.

A statement issued by the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan on Sunday said that the downed drone “may be a U.S. unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week. The operators of the UAV lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status.”

La longue durée

morrisberman | La longue durée is an expression used by the Annales School of French historians to indicate an approach that gives priority to long-term historical structures over short-term events. The phrase was coined by Fernand Braudel in an article he published in 1958. Basically, the Annales historians held that the short-term time-scale is the domain of the chronicler and the journalist, whereas la longue durée concentrates on all-but-permanent or slowly evolving structures. Thus beneath the twists and turns of any economic system, wrote Braudel, which can seem like major changes to the people living through them, lie "old attitudes of thought and action, resistant frameworks dying hard, at times against all logic." An important derivative of the Annales research is the work of the World Systems Analysis school, including Immanuel Wallerstein and Christopher Chase-Dunn, which similarly focuses on long-term structures: capitalism, in particular.

The “arc” of capitalism, according to WSA, is about 600 years long, from 1500 to 2100. It is our particular (mis)fortune to be living through the beginning of the end, the disintegration of capitalism as a world system. It was mostly commercial capital in the sixteenth century, evolving into industrial capital in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and then moving on to financial capital—money created by money itself, and by speculation in currency—in the twentieth and twenty-first. In dialectical fashion, it will be the very success of the system that eventually does it in.

The last time a change of this magnitude occurred was during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, during which time the medieval world began to come apart and be replaced by the modern one. In the classic study of the period, The Waning of the Middle Ages, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga depicted the time as one of depression and cultural exhaustion—like our own age, not much fun to live through. One reason for this is that the world is literally perched over an abyss (brilliantly depicted at the end of Shakespeare’s The Tempest). What is on deck, so to speak, is largely unknown, and to have to hover over the unknown for a long time is, to put it colloquially, a bit of a drag. The same thing was true at the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire as well (on the ruins of which the feudal system slowly arose).

I was musing on all of this stuff last week when I happened to run across a remarkable essay by Naomi Klein, “Capitalism vs. the Climate” (The Nation, 28 November 2011). In what appears to be something of a radical shift for her, she chastises the Left for not understanding what the Right does correctly perceive: that the whole climate change debate is a serious threat to capitalism. The Left, she says, wants to soft-pedal the implications; it wants to say that environmental protection is compatible with economic growth, that it is not a threat to capital or labor. It wants to get everyone to buy a hybrid car, for example (which I have personally compared to diet cheesecake), or use more efficient light bulbs, or recycle, as if these things were adequate to the crisis at hand. But the Right is not fooled: it sees Green as a Trojan horse for Red, the attempt “to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism.” It believes—correctly—that the politics of global warming is inevitably an attack on the American Dream, on the whole capitalist structure. Thus Larry Bell, in Climate of Corruption, argues that environmental politics is essentially about “transforming the American way of life in the interests of global wealth distribution”; and British blogger James Delinpole notes that “Modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the left: redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, greater government intervention, [and] regulation.”

What Naomi is saying to the Left, in effect, is: Why fight it? These nervous nellies on the Right are—right! Those of us on the Left can’t keep talking about compatibility of limits-to-growth and unrestrained greed, or claiming that climate action is “just one issue on a laundry list of worthy causes vying for progressive attention,” or urging everyone to buy a Prius. Folks like Thomas Friedman or Al Gore, who “assure us that we can avert catastrophe by buying ‘green’ products and creating clever markets in pollution”—corporate green capitalism, in a word—are simply living in denial. “The real solutions to the climate crisis,” she writes, “are also our best hope of building a much more enlightened economic system—one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work, and radically reins in corporate power.”

In one of the essays in A Question of Values (“conspiracy vs. Conspiracy in American History”), I lay out some of the “unconscious programs” buried in the American psyche from our earliest days, programs that account for most of our so-called conscious behavior. These include the notion of an endless frontier—a world without limits—and the ideal of extreme individualism—you do not need, and should not need, anyone’s help to “make it” in the world. Combined, the two of these provide a formula for enormous capitalist power and inevitable capitalist collapse (hence, the dialectical dimension of it all). Of this, Naomi writes:

“The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally. The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits....These are profoundly challenging revelations for all of us raised on Enlightenment ideals of progress.” (This is exactly what I argued in The Reenchantment of the World; nice to see it all coming around again.) “Real climate solutions,” she continues, “are ones that steer [government] interventions to systematically disperse and devolve power and control to the community level, through community-controlled renewable energy, local organic agriculture or transit systems genuinely accountable to their users.” Hence, she concludes, the powers that be have reason to be afraid, and to deny the data on global warming, for what is really required at this point is the end of the free-market ideology. And, I would add, the end of the arc of capitalism referred to above. It’s going to be (is) a colossal fight, not only because the powers that be want to hang on to their power, but because the arc and all its ramifications have given their class Meaning with a capital M for 500+ years. This is what the OWS protesters need to tell the 1%: Your lives are a mistake. This is what “a new civilizational paradigm” finally means.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

disgust: the disease-avoidance emotion and its dysfunctions

Royal Society | This review analyses the accumulating evidence from psychological, psychophysiological, neurobiological and cognitive studies suggesting that the disease-avoidance emotion of disgust is a predominant emotion experienced in a number of psychopathologies. Current evidence suggests that disgust is significantly related to small animal phobias (particularly spider phobia), blood–injection–injury phobia and obsessive–compulsive disorder contamination fears, and these are all disorders that have primary disgust elicitors as a significant component of their psychopathology. Disgust propensity and sensitivity are also significantly associated with measures of a number of other psychopathologies, including eating disorders, sexual dysfunctions, hypochondriasis, height phobia, claustrophobia, separation anxiety, agoraphobia and symptoms of schizophrenia—even though many of these psychopathologies do not share the disease-avoidance functionality that characterizes disgust. There is accumulating evidence that disgust does represent an important vulnerability factor for many of these psychopathologies, but when disgust-relevant psychopathologies do meet the criteria required for clinical diagnosis, they are characterized by significant levels of both disgust and fear/anxiety. Finally, it has been argued that disgust may also facilitate anxiety and distress across a broad range of psychopathologies through its involvement in more complex human emotions such as shame and guilt, and through its effect as a negative affect emotion generating threat-interpretation biases.

why disgust matters

Royal Society | The new synthesis about disgust is that it is a system that evolved to motivate infectious disease avoidance. There are vital practical and intellectual reasons why we need to understand disgust better. Practically, disgust can be harnessed to combat the behavioural causes of infectious and chronic disease such as diarrhoeal disease, pandemic flu and smoking. Disgust is also a source of much human suffering; it plays an underappreciated role in anxieties and phobias such as obsessive compulsive disorder, social phobia and post-traumatic stress syndromes; it is a hidden cost of many occupations such as caring for the sick and dealing with wastes, and self-directed disgust afflicts the lives of many, such as the obese and fistula patients. Disgust is used and abused in society, being both a force for social cohesion and a cause of prejudice and stigmatization of out-groups. This paper argues that a better understanding of disgust, using the new synthesis, offers practical lessons that can enhance human flourishing. Disgust also provides a model system for the study of emotion, one of the most important issues facing the brain and behavioural sciences today.

disease avoidance as a functional basis for stigmatization

Royal Society | Stigmatization is characterized by chronic social and physical avoidance of a person(s) by other people. Infectious disease may produce an apparently similar form of isolation—disease avoidance—but on symptom remission this often abates. We propose that many forms of stigmatization reflect the activation of this disease-avoidance system, which is prone to respond to visible signs and labels that connote disease, irrespective of their accuracy. A model of this system is presented, which includes an emotional component, whereby visible disease cues directly activate disgust and contamination, motivating avoidance, and a cognitive component, whereby disease labels bring to mind disease cues, indirectly activating disgust and contamination. The unique predictions of this model are then examined, notably that people who are stigmatized evoke disgust and are contaminating. That animals too show avoidance of diseased conspecifics, and that disease-related stigma targets are avoided in most cultures, also supports this evolutionary account. The more general implications of this approach are then examined, notably how it can be used to good (e.g. improving hygiene) or bad (e.g. racial vilification) ends, by yoking particular labels with cues that connote disease and disgust. This broadening of the model allows for stigmatization of groups with little apparent connection to disease.

parasite stress promotes homicide and child maltreatment

Royal Society | Researchers using the parasite-stress theory of human values have discovered many cross-cultural behavioural patterns that inform a range of scholarly disciplines. Here, we apply the theory to major categories of interpersonal violence, and the empirical findings are supportive. We hypothesize that the collectivism evoked by high parasite stress is a cause of adult-on-adult interpersonal violence. Across the US states, parasite stress and collectivism each positively predicts rates of men's and women's slaying of a romantic partner, as well as the rate of male-honour homicide and of the motivationally similar felony-related homicide. Of these four types of homicide, wealth inequality has an independent effect only on rates of male-honour and felony-related homicide. Parasite stress and collectivism also positively predict cross-national homicide rates. Child maltreatment by caretakers is caused, in part, by divestment in offspring of low phenotypic quality, and high parasite stress produces more such offspring than low parasite stress. Rates of each of two categories of the child maltreatment—lethal and non-lethal—across the US states are predicted positively by parasite stress, with wealth inequality and collectivism having limited effects. Parasite stress may be the strongest predictor of interpersonal violence to date.

infection link to mental illness...,

LATimes | Brody Kennedy was a typical sixth-grader who loved to hang out with friends in Castaic and play video games. A strep-throat infection in October caused him to miss a couple of days of school, but he was eager to rejoin his classmates, recalls his mother, Tracy.

Then, a week after Brody became ill, he awoke one morning to find his world was no longer safe. Paranoid about germs and obsessed with cleanliness, he refused to touch things and showered several times a day. His fear prevented him from attending school, and he insisted on wearing nothing but a sheet or demanding that his mother microwave his clothes or heat them in the dryer before dressing.

So began a horrific battle with a sudden-onset mental illness that was diagnosed as pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with streptococcus, or PANDAS. The puzzling name describes children who have obsessive-compulsive disorder that occurs suddenly — and often dramatically — within days or weeks of a simple infection, such as strep throat.

"He washed his hands over and over and was using hand-sanitizer nonstop," said Tracy Kennedy, who has home-schooled her 11-year-old son since early November. "He had never been like this before. Ever. He just woke up with it."

The bizarre illness, first recognized in the mid-1990s, has been cloaked in controversy. Now, however, studies are reinforcing the belief that some psychiatric illnesses can be triggered by ordinary infections and the body's immune response. While the theory remains unproved, the research raises the possibility that some cases of mental illness might be cured by treating the immune system dysfunction.

"Some people get sick with whatever infection, and they recover and they're fine," says M. Karen Newell Rogers, an immunologist at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Temple, Texas, who studies such illnesses. "Other people get sick and recover, but they are not the same."

PANDAS is thought to be caused by antibodies generated as a result of an infection, usually strep. Normally, an infection causes the body to generate antibodies that fight the infection and promote healing. But in PANDAS, the antibody response is thought to go awry, attacking brain cells and resulting in OCD symptoms.

A greater understanding of the link between strep and OCD has opened the door to the study of other psychiatric or neurological illnesses that may be linked to improper immune response, including cases of autism, schizophrenia and anorexia.

Monday, December 05, 2011

u.n. envoy: u.s. isn't protecting Occupy protesters rights...,

Video - LAPD clearing out Occupy LA encampment.

HuffPo | The United Nations envoy for freedom of expression is drafting an official communication to the U.S. government demanding to know why federal officials are not protecting the rights of Occupy demonstrators whose protests are being disbanded -- sometimes violently -- by local authorities.

Frank La Rue, who serves as the U.N. "special rapporteur" for the protection of free expression, told HuffPost in an interview that the crackdowns against Occupy protesters appear to be violating their human and constitutional rights.

"I believe in city ordinances and I believe in maintaining urban order," he said Thursday. "But on the other hand I also believe that the state -- in this case the federal state -- has an obligation to protect and promote human rights."

"If I were going to pit a city ordinance against human rights, I would always take human rights," he continued.

La Rue, a longtime Guatemalan human rights activist who has held his U.N. post for three years, said it's clear to him that the protesters have a right to occupy public spaces "as long as that doesn't severely affect the rights of others."

In moments of crisis, governments often default to a forceful response instead of a dialogue, he said -- but that's a mistake.

"Citizens have the right to dissent with the authorities, and there's no need to use public force to silence that dissension," he said.

"One of the principles is proportionality," La Rue said. "The use of police force is legitimate to maintain public order -- but there has to be a danger of real harm, a clear and present danger. And second, there has to be a proportionality of the force employed to prevent a real danger."

And history suggests that harsh tactics against social movements don't work anyway, he said. In Occupy's case, he said, "disbanding them by force won't change that attitude of indignation."

Occupy encampments across the country have been forcibly removed by police in full riot gear, and some protesters have been badly injured as a result of aggressive police tactics.

New York police staged a night raid on the original Occupy Wall Street encampment in mid-November, evicting sleeping demonstrators and confiscating vast amounts of property.

The Oakland Police Department fired tear gas, smoke grenades and bean-bag rounds at demonstrators there in late October, seriously injuring one Iraq War veteran at the Occupy site.

Earlier this week, Philadelphia and Los Angeles police stormed the encampments in their cities in the middle of the night, evicting and arresting hundreds of protesters.

Protesters at University of California, Davis were pepper sprayed by a campus police officer in November while participating in a sit-in, and in September an officer in New York pepper sprayed protesters who were legally standing on the sidewalk.

"We're seeing widespread violations of fundamental First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-chair of a National Lawyers Guild committee, which has sent hundreds of volunteers to provide legal representation to Occupations across the nation.

"The demonstrations are treated as if they're presumptively criminal," she said. "Instead of looking at free speech activity as an honored and cherished right that should be supported and facilitated, the reaction of local authorities and police is very frequently to look at it as a crime scene."

moving Occupation indoors for the winter

Video - homeowners at risk of foreclosure seek help from the Occupy movement.

DemocracyNow | A loose-knit coalition of activists known as "Occupy Homes" is working to stave off pending evictions by occupying homes at risk of foreclosure when tenants enlist its support. The movement has recently enjoyed a number of successes. We speak with Monique White, a Minneapolis resident who is facing foreclosure and recently requested the help of Occupy Minneapolis. Now two dozen of its members are occupying her home in order to stave off eviction. We are also joined by Nick Espinosa, an organizer with Occupy Minneapolis, and Max Rameau, a key organizer with Take Back the Land, who for the past five years has worked on direct actions that reclaim and occupy homes at risk of foreclosure. "The banks are actually occupying our homes," Rameau says. "This sets up for an incredible movement, where we have a one-two punch. On the one hand, we’re occupying them on their turf, and on the other, we’re liberating our own turf so that human beings can have access to housing, rather than them sitting vacant so that corporations can benefit from them sometime in the future." Fist tap Dale.

banker culpability for foreclosure crisis...,

NYTimes | If you want to understand why the Occupy movement has found such traction, it helps to listen to a former banker like James Theckston. He fully acknowledges that he and other bankers are mostly responsible for the country’s housing mess.

As a regional vice president for Chase Home Finance in southern Florida, Theckston shoveled money at home borrowers. In 2007, his team wrote $2 billion in mortgages, he says. Sometimes those were “no documentation” mortgages.

“On the application, you don’t put down a job; you don’t show income; you don’t show assets,” he said. “But you still got a nod.”

“If you had some old bag lady walking down the street and she had a decent credit score, she got a loan,” he added.

Theckston says that borrowers made harebrained decisions and exaggerated their resources but that bankers were far more culpable — and that all this was driven by pressure from the top.

“You’ve got somebody making $20,000 buying a $500,000 home, thinking that she’d flip it,” he said. “That was crazy, but the banks put programs together to make those kinds of loans.”

Especially when mortgages were securitized and sold off to investors, he said, senior bankers turned a blind eye to shortcuts.

“The bigwigs of the corporations knew this, but they figured we’re going to make billions out of it, so who cares? The government is going to bail us out. And the problem loans will be out of here, maybe even overseas.”

One memory particularly troubles Theckston. He says that some account executives earned a commission seven times higher from subprime loans, rather than prime mortgages. So they looked for less savvy borrowers — those with less education, without previous mortgage experience, or without fluent English — and nudged them toward subprime loans.

These less savvy borrowers were disproportionately blacks and Latinos, he said, and they ended up paying a higher rate so that they were more likely to lose their homes. Senior executives seemed aware of this racial mismatch, he recalled, and frantically tried to cover it up.

Theckston, who has a shelf full of awards that he won from Chase, such as “sales manager of the year,” showed me his 2006 performance review. It indicates that 60 percent of his evaluation depended on him increasing high-risk loans.

In late 2008, when the mortgage market collapsed, Theckston and most of his colleagues were laid off. He says he bears no animus toward Chase, but he does think it is profoundly unfair that troubled banks have been rescued while troubled homeowners have been evicted. Fist tap Big Don.

why Occupation alone comprises an overwhelming DDOS...,

NYTimes | One area where the United States indisputably leads the world is incarceration.

The United States has 2.3 million people behind bars, almost one in every 100 Americans. The U.S. prison population has more than doubled over the past 15 years, and one in nine black children has a parent in jail.

Proportionally, the United States has four times as many prisoners as Israel, six times as many as Canada or China, eight times as many as Germany and 13 times as many as Japan.

With just a little more than 4 percent of the world’s population, the United States accounts for a quarter of the planet’s prisoners and has more inmates than the leading 35 European countries combined. Almost all the other nations with high per capita prison rates are in the developing world.

There’s also a national election in the United States soon. This issue isn’t on the agenda. It’s almost never come up with Republican presidential candidates; one of the few exceptions was at a debate in September when the audience cheered the notion of executions in Texas.

Barack Obama, the first black president, rarely mentions this question or how it disproportionately affects minorities. More than 60 percent of the United States’ prisoners are black or Hispanic, though these groups comprise less than 30 percent of the population.

“We’ve had a race to incarcerate that has been driven by politics, racially coded, get-tough appeals,” said Michelle Alexander, a law professor at Ohio State University who wrote “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

The escalating cost of the criminal-justice system is an important factor in the fiscal challenges around the United States. Nowhere is that more evident than in California, which is struggling to obey a court order requiring it to reduce its overcrowded prisons by 40,000 inmates.

Today, there are 140,000 convicts in California’s state prisons, who cost about $50,000 each per year. The state pays more on prisons than it does on higher education.

Yet the prisons are so crowded — as many as 54 inmates have to share one toilet — that Conrad Murray, the doctor convicted in the death of the pop star Michael Jackson, may be able to avoid most prison time. Fist tap Nana.

too simple and too smart for domestic "authority" to fathom...,

Video - comedian Lee Camp's prescient answer to the strategic and tactical dilemma facing domestic "authority"..,

Sunday, December 04, 2011

fortunate is he who stands at the beginning ; he will know the end and not taste death

Video - Iran shoots down and recovers U.S. drone over eastern border.

NationalJournal | Two incidents that occurred on Sunday—Iran’s claim of a shoot-down of a U.S. drone, and an explosion outside the British embassy in Bahrain—may have been unrelated. But they appear to add to growing evidence that an escalating covert war by the West is under way against Iran, and that Tehran is retaliating with greater intensity than ever.

Asked whether the United States, in cooperation with Israel, was now engaged in a covert war against Iran’s nuclear program that may include the Stuxnet virus, the blowing-up of facilities and the assassination or kidnapping of scientists, one recently retired U.S. official privy to up-to-date intelligence would not deny it.

“It’s safe to say the Israelis are very active,” the official said, adding about U.S. efforts: “Everything that [GOP presidential candidate] Mitt Romney said we should be doing—tough sanctions, covert action and pressuring the international community -- are all of the things we are actually doing.” Though the activities are classified, a senior Obama administration official also would not deny that such a program was under way. He indicated that the U.S. was not involved in every action, referring to recent alleged explosions at Isfahan and elsewhere. But, he added: “I wouldn’t assume that everything we do is coordinated."

Former undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, who oversaw America’s Iran engagement during the Bush administration, asked Sunday about reports that the U.S. program began under George W. Bush, said he could not comment on intelligence matters.

In September, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, accused Great Britain, Israel and the U.S. of conducting attacks on him and other Iranian scientists."Six years ago the intelligence service of the UK began collecting information and data regarding my past, my family, the number of children," Abbasi-Davani told a news conference at the annual conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. Abbasi-Davani, who was said to have been wounded in 2010 car bomb explosion, said the attacks were carried out by Israel with the "support of the intelligence services of the United States and England."

Last week, Iranian protesters stormed the British embassy in Tehran. Dominick Chilcott, Britain's ambassador to Iran, later said the attack occurred "with the acquiescence and the support of the state." Then, on Sunday, Bahrain's interior ministry announced that an explosion occurred inside a minibus parked near the British Embassy. There were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries.

U.S. officials alleged in October that agents acting for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which has increasingly exerted control over the Tehran regime, were involved in a plot to kill that Saudi ambassador to Washington in a restaurant. Iran denied the allegations. Then, on Sunday, in what have been another escalation, Iran’s news agency reported that Iranian armed forces shot down an unmanned U.S. spy plane that illegally crossed the country's eastern border.

Responding to the Iranian report, NATO command in Afghanistan released a terse statement Sunday: "The UAV to which the Iranians are referring may be a US unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week. The operators of the UAV lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status."

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council in Washington, said the tit-for-tat incidents “add up to a very worrisome picture,” in part because “the Iranians are absorbing all of these assassinations without seeing the pace of their nuclear program slow down to the extent it would be acceptable to the West.” But if Iranian retaliations grow serious enough, he said, they could provide “the pretext for a much larger war” in which the Israelis, and possibly the Americans, launch a full attack on Iran.