Sunday, February 19, 2012

u.k. unemployment stuck at 17-year high as economy flatlines

Guardian | George Osborne is facing growing pressure to take action to tackle long-term unemployment in next month's budget, after official figures revealed that 860,000 people have now been out of work for more than a year.

The shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, accused Osborne of complacency as the latest snapshot of the labour market by the Office for National Statistics showed the unemployment rate stuck at a 17-year high of 8.4% in the three months to December and the number of women claiming unemployment benefits at the highest level since 1995.

The number of people out of work was up by 48,000 on the previous three months to 2.67 million, almost a third of whom have been unable to find work for more than a year.

Two-thirds of the increase in unemployment was accounted for by women, who continue to be hit hardest by the deterioration in the labour market. The number of women claiming unemployment benefits has hit 531,700 – driven partly by government reforms that have forced single mothers to return to the labour market. A record number of people were working part-time as they were unable to find full-time work.

"If we don't act we will pay a long-term price as a society because you can't just get rid of long-term unemployment quickly, we saw that in the 1980s. I fear we are making the same mistake again andI do think the government's got to drop the complacency and start to talk about what can be done," Balls told Radio 4.

The more timely claimant count measure of unemployment, which tracks the number of people receiving out-of-work benefits, rose by 6,900 in January, to 1.6 million.

flights by u.s. airlines hit 10 year low...,

Reuters | U.S. airlines in 2011 operated the fewest number of flights since the hijack attacks on New York and Washington depressed air travel and accelerated the industry's worst-ever financial downturn, government figures on Tuesday showed.

The Transportation Department said major airlines, their chief low-cost competitors and the biggest regional carriers, recorded 6.08 million departures last year. Takeoffs were not that low since 2002, when they totalled 5.27 million.

Reduced operations and good summer weather, especially in the East, helped airlines post a 79 percent on-time rating in 2011, unchanged from the previous two years.

The overall number of flights by U.S. airlines have steadily declined since 2008 when the recession dampened travel demand. Most recently, stubbornly high fuel prices have prompted airlines to further cut capacity to reduce costs and maintain higher fares.

The industry operating figures were released as President Barack Obama signed into law $63 billion legislation authorizing guaranteed funding of the Federal Aviation Administration FAA.L through 2015.

The FAA oversees U.S. air traffic operations at more than 400 airports.

The measure approved by Congress last week also includes funding for the next steps in transforming the air traffic network from a radar-based system to one relying on satellites.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

how billions of microdrones will be made...,

Harvard | A new technique inspired by elegant pop-up books and origami will soon allow clones of robotic insects to be mass-produced by the sheet.

Devised by engineers at Harvard, the ingenious layering and folding process enables the rapid fabrication of not just microrobots, but a broad range of electromechanical devices.

In prototypes, 18 layers of carbon fiber, Kapton (a plastic film), titanium, brass, ceramic, and adhesive sheets have been laminated together in a complex, laser-cut design. The structure incorporates flexible hinges that allow the three-dimensional product—just 2.4 millimeters tall—to assemble in one movement, like a pop-up book.

The entire product is approximately the size of a U.S. quarter, and dozens of these microrobots could be fabricated in parallel on a single sheet.

"This takes what is a craft, an artisanal process, and transforms it for automated mass production," says Pratheev Sreetharan (A.B. '06, S.M. '10), who co-developed the technique with J. Peter Whitney. Both are doctoral candidates at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Sreetharan, Whitney, and their colleagues in the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory at SEAS have been working for years to build bio-inspired, bee-sized robots that can fly and behave autonomously as a colony. Appropriate materials, hardware, control systems, and fabrication techniques did not exist prior to the RoboBees project, so each must be invented, developed, and integrated by a diverse team of researchers.

Less than a year ago, the group was using a painstaking and error-prone method to fold, align, and secure each of the minuscule parts and joints.

"You'd take a very fine tungsten wire and dip it in a little bit of superglue," explains Sreetharan. "Then, with that tiny ball of glue, you'd go in under a microscope like an arthroscopic surgeon and try to stick it in the right place."

"Until recently, the manual assembly process was the state of the art in this field," Sreetharan adds.

By the numbers
  • Folding joints: 22
  • Assembly scaffold folding joints: 115
  • Total device folding joints: 137
  • Number of brass pads for "glue" points: 52
  • Total number of "glue" points: 24
  • Mass: 90 mg
  • By mass, one U.S. quarter = 63 Harvard Monolithic Bees

The same result can now be achieved—without human error—through locking mechanisms and dip soldering. The new process also enables the use of cured carbon fiber, which is rigid and easy to align, rather than uncured carbon fiber, which Sreetharan compares to "wet tissue paper."

"Our new techniques allow us to use any material including polymers, metals, ceramics, and composites," says principal investigator Rob Wood, an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at SEAS and a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.

"The ability to incorporate any type and number of material layers, along with integrated electronics, means that we can generate full systems in any three-dimensional shape," Wood says. "We've also demonstrated that we can create self-assembling devices by including pre-stressed materials."

who do you believe?

Libya was run by a long-governing, popular revolutionary leader -- Muammar Gaddafi -- who in the last decade of his rule, had begun to re-approach Western Powers, and was implementing a gradual (too gradual!) succession, transferring power to his well-educated and articulate elder son, Saif-al-Islam.

Gaddafi even organized meetings and summits with EU partners, in one of which -- an Arab League Summit in his home-town Sirte in September 2010 -- Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi even kissed Gaddafi's hand.

But all of that came too late. The Gaddafis made the worst mistake any sovereign country can make nowadays: they trusted the Western Powers. Huge lesson there!
Contrary to Bahrain, which houses US Naval forces; or Egypt, which is aligned to Israeli geopolitical interests; or Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and UAE, which are playing fields for Western oil companies, Gaddafi's Libya kept its oil revenues for the Libyan people. They ran a central bank totally independent of the US Fed, Goldman Sachs, European Central Bank, JP Morgan Chase, HSBC...

They even planned to introduce a gold currency -- the Gold Dinar with real intrinsic value -- to trade North African oil, which would have swept aside the US Dollar and Euro funny-money paper currencies that have been hugely eroded by the bail-out of the Mega-Bankers running the US, UK and EU, as the Chinese understand so well... In other words, Libya was a sovereign country.

open thread saturday...,

Friday, February 17, 2012

a middle-class white guy comes to grips with the terror of the situation...,

fat-head, low IQ, gender optics and politics...,

Kansas City | "We're not trying to enforce our beliefs on anybody," Thierfelder said. "However, our beliefs are very important to us. What we're asking is that we're not coerced into violating our beliefs."

There is no sign the controversy will end anytime soon.

Republicans on the presidential campaign trail have seized on the issue. A key backer of Republican former Sen. Rick Santorum caused a stir Thursday by suggesting a novel birth control method for women.

"Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives," Foster Friess, a Wyoming multimillionaire who is bankrolling a super political action committee for Santorum, told an astonished Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC. "The gals put it between their legs and it wasn't that costly."

The response — which Friess delivered with a smile — came as Mitchell asked him whether he agreed with Santorum's stance on social issues, including women in combat and contraceptives.

does neoclassical economics deploy psychotic reasoning to explain human behavior?

nakedcapitalism | In his book Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science, the historian of economic ideas, Philip Mirowski, ties this directly to the ‘paranoid style’, as portrayed by Vannoy Adams above:

The Nash solution concept was not a drama scripted by Luigi Pirandello or a novel by Robert Musil; it was much closer to a novella by Thomas Pynchon. Just as von Neumann’s minimax solution is best grasped as the psychology of the reluctant duelist, the Nash solution is best glossed as the rationality of the paranoid. Nash appropriated the notion of a strategy as an algorithmic program and pushed it to the nth degree.

From these paranoid premises where all trust is eliminated and all action taken on the basis of perpetual fear, Nash then slips in an assumption that completes the circle and makes his vision of the economic agent truly in line by assuming telepathy on the part of the actor. From Modern Political Economics:

[Nash’s proof] only holds water if we can assume that [the economic agents] can potentially share common knowledge of the probability of no agreement [taking place when one agents threatens another]. But how can they, given that [each agent] has an incentive to overrepresent it [in order to strengthen their bargaining position]? As rationality alone cannot bring about such common knowledge, something closer to telepathy is necessary.[Author’s emphasis]

Or, Mirowski again:

In the grips of paranoia, the only way to elude the control of others is unwavering eternal vigilance and hyperactive simulation of the thought processes of the Other. Not only must one monitor the relative ‘dominance’ of one’s own strategies, but vigilance demands the complete and total reconstruction of the thought processes of the Other – without communication, without interaction, without cooperation – so that one could internally reproduce (or simulate) the very intentionality of the opponent as a precondition for choosing the best response. An equilibrium point is attained when the solitary thinker has convinced himself that the infinite regress of simulation, dissimulation, and countersimulation has reached a fixed point, a situation where his simulation of the response of the Other coincides with the other’s own understanding of his optimal choice. Everything must fit into a single interpretation, come hell or high water.[My emphasis]

Welcome to the concentration camp in which telepathy reigns and all privacy melts into ether!

We should, of course, take this as a powerful critique of the game theoretic foundations of modern neoclassical doctrine – foundations which were then built upon by Nobel prize winners Kenneth Arrow and GĂ©rard Debreu and many others. But we should also see this as something more.

Those who came before Nash recognised that the economy – inhabited as it is by people whose decisions are impossible to pin down – cannot be wholly reduced to some model or others. Keynes’ theories were the most eloquent expression of this, but even von Neumann who did develop game theoretic and general equilibrium models which he deployed for the purpose of economic explanation recognised the limits of this axiomatic way of portraying a capitalist economy. And yet, after the war, the neoclassicals pursued their closed, autistic models with gusto.

What we should see in this example is something about the very nature of trying to apply mathematical models to systems that are created and inhabited by humans. Modelling these systems is equivalent to trying to model those around us. And while many neoclassicals (we hope) would not try to write equations to explain their spouse’s or their child’s behaviours, they seem perfectly content to do so for everybody else – absurdity be damned!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

adhering to much higher standards than your enemies...,

medialens | On February 6, a cry of moral outrage arose from that collection of selfless humanitarians otherwise known as The Times newspaper. Responding to fighting in the Syrian city of Homs, which has included government shelling of civilian areas variously reported to have claimed scores or hundreds of lives, a Times leading article observed:

‘Pensioners, the sick, women, children - none was spared as the military took revenge on the centre of opposition to the Assad dictatorship.’ (Leading article, ‘Moral Blindness; Russia and China acted for self-serving motives in vetoing the Security Council's condemnation of the bloodshed in Syria,’ The Times, February 6, 2012)

The leader pulled no punches in describing ‘the carnage the regime's minders have tried to hide: corpses with their eyes gouged out, their skulls crushed, their faces burnt off.’

The editors fumed:

‘Russia's moral bankruptcy and China's self-serving blindness have been denounced from the Gulf to Morocco...’

As we saw in Part 1, and as also in this case, the denunciations are mostly offered by people drowning in hypocrisy. The Times concluded that, ‘no veto can, in the end, save [the Syrian government] from the fury of a nation so humiliatingly brutalised’.

Syrian government violence is real and horrific, but not a word in the article commented on the armed fighters in Syria that are reported to have killed many hundreds of Syrian troops and police. Unable to perceive the Western interests described by former Nato chief Wesley Clark (See Part 1), The Times was able to identify cynical self-interest elsewhere:

‘Russia is determined, above all, to protect its naval presence in Syria, thwart Western interests in the region and shield a regime that now owes it an existential debt.’

Compare The Times’ response to Israel’s far more destructive Operation Cast Lead offensive in the Gaza strip between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported:

‘The magnitude of the harm to the population was unprecedented: 1,385 Palestinians were killed, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were minors under age 18. More than 5,300 Palestinians were wounded, of them over 350 seriously so. Israel also caused enormous damage to residential dwellings, industrial buildings, agriculture and infrastructure for electricity, sanitation, water, and health, which was on the verge of collapse prior to the operation. According to UN figures, Israel destroyed more than 3,500 residential dwellings and 20,000 people were left homeless.’

Three Israeli civilians and six Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinian fire.

In a leader, The Times sternly rejected the subsequent Goldstone Report – a mission established by the UN to investigate war crimes during the crisis. Goldstone found that crimes had been committed by both sides. Understandably, the report focused heavily on the ‘disproportionate use of force’ by the Israelis in its ‘deliberate targeting’ of Palestinian civilians. Despite the casualty figures, The Times found this absurd because ‘there is no equivalence between the actions of Israel in self-defence and those of Hamas in seeking to destroy it’.

Describing the offensive as merely an ‘incursion’ (the Syrian government’s attacks in Homs are a ‘massacre’ for The Times) the editors wrote of Israel:

‘It had no choice but to respond to [Palestinian] provocations.’ (Leading article, ‘The Gaza Trap; The Goldstone report is biased and Europeans on the UN Human Rights Council should reject it rather than abstaining,’ The Times, October 16, 2009)

Despite the obvious scale of the carnage, The Times claimed: ‘Israel adheres to standards higher than those of its enemies.’

working man's death

persia fitna cut off PIGS...

NYTimes | Besieged by international sanctions over the Iranian nuclear program including a planned oil embargo by Europe, Iran warned six European buyers on Wednesday that it might strike first by immediately cutting them off from Iranian oil.

Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency said the threat was conveyed to the ambassadors of Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Greece and Portugal in separate meetings at the Foreign Ministry in Tehran. Officials said in an earlier report by Press TV, Iran’s state-financed satellite broadcaster, that Iran had already cut supplies to the six countries was inaccurate — but not before word of the Press TV report sent a brief shudder through the global oil market, sending prices up slightly.

“Iran warns Europe it will find other customers for its oil,” the Islamic Republic News Agency said. “European people should know that if Iran changes destinations of the oil it gives to them, the responsibility will rest with the European governments themselves.”

Last month the European Union decided to impose an oil embargo on Iran as of July 1 as part of a coordinated campaign of Western sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran to halt its disputed uranium enrichment program, and the Europeans have been making arrangements since then to find other sources.

The European Union has been one of Iran’s biggest markets for oil, taking about 18 percent of total Iranian petroleum exports in 2011. Among the European Union members, the biggest buyers have been Italy, Spain and France.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

to everyone feeling screwed over by the economy

permaculture | To everyone feeling screwed over by the economy,

We are told that our problem is that there aren’t enough jobs. This message is everywhere. The media gauges our plight with regularly updated unemployment statistics. Politicians debate theatrically over who can create more work. People everywhere clamor for scarce positions at factories and corporations.

I’d like to point out the great irony of this situation — people hate their jobs. How many people do you know who love their job? The truth is, most of us who have ordinary jobs can barely tolerate them. All else being equal, we’d rather not do them.

Work ethic is something this society takes pride in. But, if we are honest, we will confess that we call ourselves ‘hard working’ primarily to rationalize the daily abuses, deprivations, and indignities of the workplace. Work ethic is the only ethic most of us satisfy at our jobs. I think we can agree that most of our jobs aren’t making the world a better place.

So here we are, bickering and begging to fill roles we hate.

We should remember, that ‘employed’ is just another word for ‘used’. Just as you might employ a hammer and nails, your employer employs, or uses, you. The term ‘used’ very aptly describes our relationship with our employers. Like prostitutes, we resign ourselves to fake relationships for an empty cash return. In a healthy relationship, our devotions are reciprocated in kind. But in a relationship of use and abuse, the best you can expect is a cash settlement.

It should not surprise us, then, that politicians and other powerful people will laud our enthusiasm for employment and champion that cause. To the elite, unemployment is a crises because it means that the population is insufficiently used. An unused population is unprofitable, and potentially unruly. So, when the wealthy come to our rescue, they do it with jobs. As the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation slogan goes, "We believe that all people deserve the chance to lead healthy productive lives." (emphasis mine)

Employment has become almost inseparable from other values like responsibility and human welfare. In our culture, promoting employment has become synonymous with supporting families, communities, and countries. At a time when we are so utterly reliant on employment and the economy for our survival, being anti-job is like being anti-life. Who but the laziest and most unrealistic sort of hippie would oppose jobs?

But let us not forget; people were not always so dependent on employment or the economy for survival. In fact, we’ve been hunter/gatherers for most of our existence. Money, the economy, and even farming are relatively recent contrivances. We made them up. And, until very recent history, jobs were merely part of a mixed strategy used by families to make a living. Hunting, gathering, gardening, crafting, gifting, cooperation, trade, and self-employment, are all perfectly viable ways to make a living. Our grandparents recognized that money wasn’t always the most effective way to meet a need. Living by paycheck alone was a thing for the urban wealthy.

At periods in history, it’s been possible for some people to use currency to maintain an affluence disproportionate to the real value of their work. We may be nearing the close of such a period. Unfortunately, alternatives to employment are growing scarce.

externalities and the non-negotiable way of life...,

vtcommons | A double bind is where you’re given multiple options, but no matter what option you choose, you lose, and you can’t withdraw. Well, at this point, it should be pretty easy to recognize that every action involving the industrial economy is destructive (and we shouldn’t pretend that solar photovoltaics, for example, exempt us from this: they still require mining and transportation infrastructures at every point in the production processes; the same can be said for every other so-called green technology). So if we choose option one—if we avidly participate in the industrial economy—we may in the short term think we win because we may accumulate wealth, the marker of “success” in this culture. But we lose, because in doing so we give up our empathy, our animal humanity. And we really lose because industrial civilization is killing the planet, which means everyone loses. If we choose the “alternate” option of living more simply, thus causing less harm, but still not stopping the industrial economy from killing the planet, we may in the short term think we win because we get to feel pure, and we haven’t even had to give up all of our empathy (only enough of it to not stop the horrors), but once again we really lose because industrial civilization is still killing the planet, which means everyone still loses. And unless we’ve found a way to leave the planet—which would be an odious abrogation of responsibility anyway—we can’t leave. The third option, acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary, for a number of reasons, including, but not restricted to, the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed, and the fact that those in power will kill us if we seriously impede their ability to exploit the world. None of which alters the fact that it’s a better option than a dead planet: any option is a better option than a dead planet.

Making this bind even tighter is the fact that we’ve been systematically trained to identify more closely with industrial capitalism than with life itself, and to care more about industrial capitalism than about life itself. To convince yourself of this, simply contrast how much routine attention is paid to the height of the stock market versus that paid to the health of the natural world, and contrast the response by the government to the collapse of the economy versus that paid to the collapse of the natural world. Here’s a tangible example: a forty-year study of songbird populations recently revealed what we all know, which is that many are collapsing, as are so many populations of so many wild beings. Bobwhites, down more than 80 percent. Whippoorwills, down 70 percent. Boreal chickadees, 60 percent. Rufous hummingbirds, almost 60 percent. And the response in public by a mainstream environmentalist (Carol Browner, former head of the EPA, former head of Audubon, and current Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change) was to tell us this is not an emergency. I can guarantee that if the stock market or GNP declined 80 percent, we would constantly hear that this is an emergency. It’s a measure of the grotesque, irredeemable, and near-complete insanity of this culture that GNP is deemed more important than life, and more to the point, it’s a measure of how much most of us have been trained to identify more with the economy than with the real world.

So because we’ve been taught to identify more closely with the industrial economy than with life itself, the continued existence of the industrial economy must never be questioned, much less threatened. Further, since we must always be disallowed from realizing that the problem is the culture, not us (just as in any abusive situation all people must always be disallowed from realizing that the problems are caused by the abuser, not the victims), many of us make the very reasonable choice to “fight back” by decreasing our involvement in the industrial economy, by “living simply so that others may simply live.” So we eat less. We drive less. We don’t own a car. We take shorter showers. We live more and more simply. We feel more and more pure. The bottom line is that we are doing what we know we can control.

Living simply is a good thing to do. Sadly, it in no way stops this culture from killing the planet. In no way is it a sufficient response to this culture’s destructiveness. In no way is it a substitute for actively and effectively resisting actions and policies that harm our (and others’) habitat. That’s why I brought up activists living in Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa, and so on: in those circumstances we can easily see that personal simple living would have been insufficient to bring about social change. It can be much more difficult to see that when we don’t have the perspective history brings.

the right's stupidity spreads...,

Guardian | Self-deprecating, too liberal for their own good, today's progressives stand back and watch, hands over their mouths, as the social vivisectionists of the right slice up a living society to see if its component parts can survive in isolation. Tied up in knots of reticence and self-doubt, they will not shout stop. Doing so requires an act of interruption, of presumption, for which they no longer possess a vocabulary.

Perhaps it is in the same spirit of liberal constipation that, with the exception of Charlie Brooker, we have been too polite to mention the Canadian study published last month in the journal Psychological Science, which revealed that people with conservative beliefs are likely to be of low intelligence. Paradoxically it was the Daily Mail that brought it to the attention of British readers last week. It feels crude, illiberal to point out that the other side is, on average, more stupid than our own. But this, the study suggests, is not unfounded generalisation but empirical fact.

It is by no means the first such paper. There is plenty of research showing that low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality in adulthood. Open-mindedness, flexibility, trust in other people: all these require certain cognitive abilities. Understanding and accepting others – particularly "different" others – requires an enhanced capacity for abstract thinking.

But, drawing on a sample size of several thousand, correcting for both education and socioeconomic status, the new study looks embarrassingly robust. Importantly, it shows that prejudice tends not to arise directly from low intelligence but from the conservative ideologies to which people of low intelligence are drawn. Conservative ideology is the "critical pathway" from low intelligence to racism. Those with low cognitive abilities are attracted to "rightwing ideologies that promote coherence and order" and "emphasise the maintenance of the status quo". Even for someone not yet renowned for liberal reticence, this feels hard to write.

This is not to suggest that all conservatives are stupid. There are some very clever people in government, advising politicians, running thinktanks and writing for newspapers, who have acquired power and influence by promoting rightwing ideologies.

But what we now see among their parties – however intelligent their guiding spirits may be – is the abandonment of any pretence of high-minded conservatism. On both sides of the Atlantic, conservative strategists have discovered that there is no pool so shallow that several million people won't drown in it. Whether they are promoting the idea that Barack Obama was not born in the US, that man-made climate change is an eco-fascist-communist-anarchist conspiracy, or that the deficit results from the greed of the poor, they now appeal to the basest, stupidest impulses, and find that it does them no harm in the polls.

Don't take my word for it. Listen to what two former Republican ideologues, David Frum and Mike Lofgren, have been saying. Frum warns that "conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics". The result is a "shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology" which has "ominous real-world consequences for American society".

last week baltic dry index, this week energy consumption...,

oftwominds | A number of readers kindly forwarded additional data sources to me as followup on last week's entry describing sharply lower deliveries of gasoline.(Why Is Gasoline Consumption Tanking? February 10, 2012)

The basic thesis here is that petroleum consumption is a key proxy of economic activity. In periods of economic expansion, energy consumption rises. In periods of contraction, consumption levels off or declines.

This common sense correlation calls into question the Status Quo's insistence that the U.S. economy has decoupled from the global ecoomy and is still growing. This growth will create more jobs, the story goes, and expand corporate profits which will power the stock market ever higher.

Courtesy of correspondents Bob C. and Mark W., here are links and charts of petroleum consumption, imports/exports, and electricity consumption. Let's start with a chart of total petroleum products, which includes all products derived from petroleum (distillates, fuels, etc.) provided by Bob C. The chart shows the U.S. consumed about 21 million barrels a day (MBD) at the recent peak of economic activity 2005-07; from that peak, "product supplied" has fallen to 18 MBD. The current decline is very steep and has not bottomed.

This recent drop mirrors the decline registered in 2009 as the wheels fell off the global debt-based bubble. Those arguing that the U.S. economy is growing smartly and sustainably have to explain why petroleum consumption looks like 2009 when the economy tipped into a sharp contraction.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

rioters burn buildings as greek parliament imposes debt slavery

Businessweek | Rioters set fire to buildings and battled police in downtown Athens as the Greek Parliament prepared to vote on Prime Minister Lucas Papademos’s austerity package to avert the nation’s collapse.

Ten fires were burning in central Athens including buildings housing a Starbucks Corp. cafe, a bank and a movie theater, a fire department spokesman said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with official policy. The blazes were near a bank that was set on fire in May 2010, killing three bank employees, during a general strike against Greece’s first bailout package.

“Today at midnight, before markets open, the Greek Parliament must send a message,” Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told lawmakers in Athens today as the final debate on the accord to secure a 130 billion-euro ($171 billion) second aid package got under way. “We must show that Greeks, when they are called on to choose between the bad and the worst, choose the bad to avoid the worst.”

Demonstrators, rallying against austerity measures including job cuts, tore up marble in front of parliament that they hurled with fire-bombs at police guarding the chamber. Officers in riot gear responded with tear-gas and flash grenades. More than 50 officers were injured in the violence, police spokesman Takis Papapetropoulos said by telephone. The Greek Health Ministry said in an e-mailed statement that 54 people had been taken to hospital. Police said 25 rioters had been detained.

‘Athens in Flames’

“We are seeing Athens go up in flames again,” Mayor George Kaminis, said in an interview on ANT1 television. “This must stop. What they are trying to do to Athens is what they are trying to do to the entire country.”

Papademos appealed to Greeks last night to support budget cuts needed to win the aid while leaders of the two biggest parties urged their lawmakers in parliament to pass the austerity bill today or risk financial meltdown.

The vote is tantamount to a vote on whether Greece wants to remain in the euro and is part of a fight to save the country, Venizelos told parliament.

‘Leave the Country’

“The message to the Greek government is they should leave the country, right now,” one protester, Dimitris Fokos, 49, unemployed, said. “They don’t represent the people anymore.”

the john brown moment

kunstler | Over on this side of the Atlantic, America's experiment in pervasive control fraud took a new turn with the pretended "settlement" of massive, widespread, robo-signing allegations that will allow a bunch of "the usual suspect" TBTF banks off the hook from future liability and criminal prosecution resulting from hundreds of billions of dollars worth of swindles. The TBTF banks will have to pay, when all the "principal reduction credits" and other dodgy subtractions are made, a couple of billion altogether, which is obviously little more than a cost of doing business for such supernaturally fabulous returns. And then that is supposed to be the end of the whole disgusting episode.

Last to cave in on this legally squooshy agreement between fifty states was New York's own Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, newly enlisted in the elite national corps of cads, bounders, and sell-outs. This was the week that the same Schneiderman agreed to lead President Obama's so called Mortgage Fraud Task Force, which, any child of eight can see, is a smokescreen to conceal the fact that the US Department of Justice has failed to initiate any action whatsoever in the vast and gruesome pageant of fraud that has transformed the rule of law into a rule of larceny.

Do you think the late Whitney Houston was a lost soul? Then look for the soul of your country - if you can find it in the wilderness of self-denial, self-double-dealing, and suicidal self-perfidy that it has blundered into with eyes wide shut. No lie is now too big for the United States to swallow. If Europeans ignite and blow up when kicked down the road, here is what will happen to America: it will blunder down its own road until it reaches the next John Brown moment. John Brown put his proverbially famous body in the middle of that road some ways back. He mounted an insurrection at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, in an attempt to fast-track the abolition of slavery. Brown was hanged in 1859, but less than two years later the Civil War commenced, the greatest convulsion in our history. So far.

Slavery was yesteryear's abomination in America as pervasive control fraud is today's. Somewhere out in America right now is the new American John Brown, a righteous fanatic whose act is waiting to alter the course of history. The next John Brown will also precipitate what was a long time coming. Reality is busy in the background, even while we blog and dither, setting things up.

profit driven prison industrial complex: the economics of incarceration in the u.s.

globalresearch | For anyone paying attention, there is no shortage of issues that fundamentally challenge the underpinning moral infrastructure of American society and the values it claims to uphold. Under the conceptual illusion of liberty, few things are more sobering than the amount of Americans who will spend the rest of their lives in an isolated correctional facility – ostensibly, being corrected. The United States of America has long held the highest incarceration rate in the world, far surpassing any other nation. For every 100,000 Americans, 743 citizens sit behind bars. Presently, the prison population in America consists of more than six million people, a number exceeding the amount of prisoners held in the gulags of the former Soviet Union at any point in its history.

While miserable statistics illustrate some measure of the ongoing ethical calamity occurring in the detainment centers inside the land of the free, only a partial picture of the broader situation is painted. While the country faces an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, business is booming in other fields – namely, the private prison industry. Like any other business, these institutions are run for the purpose of turning a profit. State and federal prisons are contracted out to private companies who are paid a fixed amount to house each prisoner per day. Their profits result from spending the minimum amount of state or federal funds on each inmate, only to pocket the remaining capital. For the corrections conglomerates of America, prosperity depends on housing the maximum numbers of inmates for the longest potential time - as inexpensively as possible.

By allowing a profit-driven capitalist-enterprise model to operate over institutions that should rightfully be focused on rehabilitation, America has enthusiastically embraced a prison industrial complex. Under the promise of maintaining correctional facilities at a lower cost due to market competition, state and federal governments contract privately run companies to manage and staff prisons, even allowing the groups to design and construct facilities. The private prison industry is primarily led by two morally deficient entities, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation). These companies amassed a combined revenue of over $2.9 billion in 2010, not without situating themselves in the center of political influence.

occupy movement regroups, prepares for its next phase

NYTimes | The ragtag Occupy Wall Street encampments that sprang up in scores of cities last fall, thrusting “We are the 99 percent” into the vernacular, have largely been dismantled, with a new wave of crackdowns and evictions in the past week. Since the violent clashes last month in Oakland, Calif., headlines about Occupy have dwindled, too.

Far from dissipating, groups around the country say they are preparing for a new phase of larger marches and strikes this spring that they hope will rebuild momentum and cast an even brighter glare on inequality and corporate greed. But this transition is filled with potential pitfalls and uncertainties: without the visible camps or clear goals, can Occupy become a lasting force for change? Will disruptive protests do more to galvanize or alienate the public?

Though still loosely organized, the movement is putting down roots in many cities. Activists in Chicago and Des Moines have rented offices, a significant change for groups accustomed to holding open-air assemblies or huddling in tents in bad weather.

On any night in New York City, which remains a hub of the movement, a dozen working groups on issues like “food justice” and “arts and culture” meet in a Wall Street atrium, and “general assemblies” have formed in 14 neighborhoods. Around the country, small demonstrations — often focused on banks and ending foreclosure evictions — take place almost daily.

If the movement has not produced public leaders, some visible faces have emerged.

“I’m finally going to make it to the dentist next week,” said Dorli Rainey, a Seattle activist. “I’ve had to cancel so many times. It’s overwhelming.”

Ms. Rainey, who is 85 and was pepper-sprayed by the police in November, has been fully booked for months. On a recent Thursday, she joined 10 people in Olympia, Wash., who were supporting a State Senate resolution to remove American soldiers from Afghanistan. She led a rally near Pike Place Market against steam incinerators, which the protesters complain release pollution in the downtown area. In March, she plans to join Occupy leaders in Washington for events that are still being planned.

“People have different goals,” Ms. Rainey said. “Mine is, we’ve got to build a movement that will replace the type of government we have now.”

Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It

NYTimes | Ki Gulbranson owns a logo apparel shop, deals in jewelry on the side and referees youth soccer games. He makes about $39,000 a year and wants you to know that he does not need any help from the federal government.

“I don't demand that the government does this for me. I don't feel like I need the government,” said KI GULBRANSON, who counts on an earned-income tax credit and has signed up his children for free meals at school.

He says that too many Americans lean on taxpayers rather than living within their means. He supports politicians who promise to cut government spending. In 2010, he printed T-shirts for the Tea Party campaign of a neighbor, Chip Cravaack, who ousted this region’s long-serving Democratic congressman.

Yet this year, as in each of the past three years, Mr. Gulbranson, 57, is counting on a payment of several thousand dollars from the federal government, a subsidy for working families called the earned-income tax credit. He has signed up his three school-age children to eat free breakfast and lunch at federal expense. And Medicare paid for his mother, 88, to have hip surgery twice.

There is little poverty here in Chisago County, northeast of Minneapolis, where cheap housing for commuters is gradually replacing farmland. But Mr. Gulbranson and many other residents who describe themselves as self-sufficient members of the American middle class and as opponents of government largess are drawing more deeply on that government with each passing year.

Dozens of benefits programs provided an average of $6,583 for each man, woman and child in the county in 2009, a 69 percent increase from 2000 after adjusting for inflation. In Chisago, and across the nation, the government now provides almost $1 in benefits for every $4 in other income.

Older people get most of the benefits, primarily through Social Security and Medicare, but aid for the rest of the population has increased about as quickly through programs for the disabled, the unemployed, veterans and children.

The government safety net was created to keep Americans from abject poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last year.