Sunday, March 11, 2012

people aren't smart enough for democracy

yahoo | The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens (the majority of them, at least) can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea, when they see it. But a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies.

The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people's ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments.

As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, "very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is," Dunning told Life's Little Mysteries.

He and colleague Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now of New York University, have demonstrated again and again that people are self-delusional when it comes to their own intellectual skills. Whether the researchers are testing people's ability to rate the funniness of jokes, the correctness of grammar, or even their own performance in a game of chess, the duo has found that people always assess their own performance as "above average" — even people who, when tested, actually perform at the very bottom of the pile.

We're just as undiscerning about the skills of others as about ourselves. "To the extent that you are incompetent, you are a worse judge of incompetence in other people," Dunning said. In one study, the researchers asked students to grade quizzes that tested for grammar skill. "We found that students who had done worse on the test itself gave more inaccurate grades to other students." Essentially, they didn't recognize the correct answer even when they saw it.

The reason for this disconnect is simple: "If you have gaps in your knowledge in a given area, then you’re not in a position to assess your own gaps or the gaps of others," Dunning said. Strangely though, in these experiments, people tend to readily and accurately agree on who the worst performers are, while failing to recognize the best performers.

incompetent people are too ignorant to know it

lifeslittlemysteries | A growing body of psychology research shows that incompetence deprives people of the ability to recognize their own incompetence. To put it bluntly, dumb people are too dumb to know it. Similarly, unfunny people don't have a good enough sense of humor to tell.

This disconnect may be responsible for many of society's problems.

With more than a decade's worth of research, David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, has demonstrated that humans find it "intrinsically difficult to get a sense of what we don't know." Whether an individual lacks competence in logical reasoning, emotional intelligence, humor or even chess abilities, the person still tends to rate his or her skills in that area as being above average.

Dunning and his colleague, Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now at New York University, "have done a number of studies where we will give people a test of some area of knowledge like logical reasoning, knowledge about STDs and how to avoid them, emotional intelligence, etcetera. Then we determine their scores, and basically just ask them how well they think they've done," Dunning said. "We ask, 'what percentile will your performance fall in?'"

The results are uniform across all the knowledge domains: People who actually did well on the test tend to feel more confident about their performance than people who didn't do well, but only slightly. Almost everyone thinks they did better than average. "For people at the bottom who are really doing badly — those in the bottom 10th or 15th percentile — they think their work falls in the 60th or 55th percentile, so, above average," Dunning told Life's Little Mysteries. The same pattern emerges in tests of people's ability to rate the funniness of jokes, the correctness of grammar, or even their own performance in a game of chess. "People at the bottom still think they're outperforming other people."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

the host can't dislodge its parasite...,

CNN | short of civilization-ending revolution, solving the debt crisis might actually mean saving the 1%.

They have the power and the money, they own our government, and they won't go down without taking everyone and everything else with them. Instead of backing them even further into the corner of fear and defensiveness, we need to help them find a way out. And that means helping them understand how they got there.

The debt crisis is not entirely President Bush's or President Obama's fault. It's not even Congress' fault. It actually resulted from a short-term "fix" to the economy made about 700 years ago.

See, for pretty much the entire first millennium -- what we call the Middle Ages -- the 00.01%, the feudal lords, enjoyed total control over the land and its people. The 99.99% worked the land and served the lords, who created no value at all. But by around 1100, the Crusades moved a whole lot of people and stuff around Europe. Peasants were exposed to sugar, cotton and all sorts of new weaving and milling technologies for the first time. Former peasant farmers started to get smarter and more productive. They established market days and traded what they grew and made with one another. They invented local currencies to store and exchange value instead of bartering.

Local currency then worked very differently from the money we use today. Someone would simply bring grain they harvested to the grain store, and come out with a foil receipt. The receipt could be broken into smaller pieces, which served as money. Since some grain was lost to spoilage, the currency's value went down over time. This meant it had to be spent instead of saved. So the money circulated very rapidly.

People got wealthy, invested in upkeep on their windmills, paid one another good wages, and got taller. Little towns got so rich that they built cathedrals. That's how a peer-to-peer economy works.

Watch: "Pawning" for rich people

But the aristocrats weren't participating in any of this wealth. Without a dependent peasant class, they had no way to survive. They didn't know how to do anything themselves. They needed a way to make money simply by having money. So they came up with some ways to force new kinds of dependence.

Their first trick was to outlaw local currency. If people wanted to trade among themselves, they would have to borrow money from the central treasury, with interest. Wars were fought, blood was spilled, but they got their way. We have all but forgotten that the money we use today is a monopoly currency that costs us more than it's worth.

The second great idea was the chartered monopoly: the corporation. It gave just one firm -- one friend of the king -- the authority to do business in a certain industry. The British East India Trading Company, for example, had all rights to cotton in America. A farmer wasn't permitted to sell his cotton to neighbors, or to make it into anything. He had to sell it at fixed prices to the company, which shipped it to England and let some other chartered corporation make mittens and hats, which were then shipped back to America for sale.

That's why we fought the Revolution.

The problem with this scheme is that it works by stifling innovation and competition. The wealthy stay wealthy by extracting value instead of creating it. The more value they extract, the more laws they write protecting the rights and privileges of the extractors. As companies like General Electric realized, it was better to sell off productive assets and become more like a bank. The system was created for people who have money to make money. The value creators are the chumps.

Friday, March 09, 2012

everything is a remix...,

Everything is a Remix Part 1 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 3 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 4 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Fist tap Dale.

the gene patent debate...,

TheScientist | The debate over the patenting of technologies related to diagnostic and personalized medicine continues to swell with no resolution in sight. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. last December, but has not yet issued a decision. Just last month, the US Patent and Trademark Office held public hearings to gather information for the “study on genetic testing” that it will use to prepare a report for Congress on this issue. And, the Supreme Court is deciding whether to review the Federal Circuit decision in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. (the BRCAI/gene patenting case), although current speculation is that the Court may defer any action on this case until it issues its decision in Prometheus. While each of these proceedings raises different legal issues, they all relate to the ability to obtain or enforce patent rights on genes, tests, and methods used in personalized medicine.

Personalized medicine is the new frontier of healthcare. It offers the promise of treatments that are tailored to a patient’s individual situation, including the patient’s genetic makeup, the specific variation of the disease the patient suffers from, and the patient’s specific response to a given course of treatment. With personalized medicine, a patient can be given the most effective treatment, improving prognosis and saving considerable time and money on ineffective treatments. As noted on the US Food and Drug Administration’s Pharmacogentics webpage, “[p]harmacogenomics can play an important role in identifying responders and non-responders to medications, avoiding adverse events, and optimizing drug dose.”

The question being debated is whether these advances are most likely to flourish within the patent system or outside of it. Do patents promote investment in personalized medicine or stifle innovation by suppressing competition? Do patients benefit from patented therapies, or do they suffer without treatments because they are too expensive? The Founding Fathers established the patent system in the US Constitution as an incentive to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” but should a different paradigm apply to medical inventions?

self-cloning coral

TheScientist | Coral embryos drifting in rough ocean waves are essentially naked, with no protective membrane to keep them from breaking apart in the turbulence. The individual cells fragmented from the embryo are able to develop into new coral embryos and into adulthood in the lab, smaller in size but viable, according to research published today in Science.

“It’s a good paper, establishing a new way that corals can increase their numbers asexually,” said coral reef biologist Peter Glynn from the University of Miami, who did not take part in the research. “If they can demonstrate this in nature, it would be really unique and exciting.”

Ocean scientists Andrew Negri and Andrew Heyward from the Australian Institute of Marine Science have been handling young corals for years, and “have always needed to handle the embryonic stage with great care because they fall apart so easily,” wrote Negri in an email to The Scientist. But in the habitats they occupy, such as the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, winds have reached 11 knots (12.6 miles per hour) in more than half of the past decade of coral spawning events. If coral embryos are so delicate in a lab setting, how could they survive the rocky seas?

Negri and Heyward simulated the experience of turbulence generated by small white caps in the lab by pouring embryos floating in seawater from a height of 30 centimeters. Nearly half of the embryos fragmented—but they didn’t stop developing. Individual cells or broken clumps reorganized and continued to develop into embryos, albeit smaller ones, and then “develop[ed] normally into larvae and [went] on to attach to surfaces and metamorphose into small polyp clones,” said Negri.

Iliana Baums, who studies coral population genetics and evolution at Pennsylvania State University and was not involved in the research, regularly collects coral larvae from the field, and in her samples she “sees those little larvae and I’ve always wondered if those actually survive,” she said. “It’s quite astonishing that these coral embryos can keep developing.”

Coral reefs are under threat from ocean warming, pollution, and acidification, and the findings could help researchers better understand how to preserve them. The ability to generate clones in rough waters would to mean that “the corals could increase their fecundity,” said Flynn. “Instead of spawning a million eggs, if they break up they could be spawning 2 million or 4 million.”

However, the strategy also has its drawbacks. Corals are hermaphroditic, producing both eggs and sperm, but they cannot sexually reproduce with a genetic match. If these clones are all settling near each other, they will not necessarily be able to successfully mate. “You can find thickets of corals growing and think, ‘Oh, I have 100 colonies,’ but it turns out that they’re all genetically identical,” said Baums. “It’s a real problem for these corals.”

Thursday, March 08, 2012

let's pretend student loans are about education...,

oftwominds | We have a "let's pretend" economy: let's pretend the unemployment rate actually reflects the number of people with full-time jobs and the number of people seeking jobs, let's pretend the Federal government borrowing 10% of the GDP every year is sustainable without any consequences, let's pretend the stock market actually reflects the economy rather than Federal Reserve monetary intervention, and so on.

We also have a "let's pretend" education/student-loan game running: let's pretend college is "worth" the investment, and let's pretend student loans are about education. There are three dirty little secrets buried under the education/student-loan complex's high-gloss sheen:

1. Student loans have little to do with education and everything to do with creating a new profit center for subprime-type lenders guaranteed by the Savior State.

2. A college diploma's value in the real world of getting a job and earning a good salary in a post-financialization economy has been grossly oversold.

3. Many people are taking out student loans just to live; the loans are essentially a form of "State funding" a.k.a. welfare that must be paid back.

We've got a lot of charts that reflect reality rather than hype, so let's get started.Despite all the bleating rationalizations issued by the Education Complex, higher education costs have outstripped the rest of the economy's cost structure. Funny how nobody ever asks if there is any real competitive pressure in the Education Complex; there isn't, and why should there be when students can borrow $30,000 a year?

baby-boomer pensions and medicaid killing state higher ed...,

NYTimes | As I’m sure you know, college tuitions have been skyrocketing for decades — with growth outpacing the Consumer Price Index, gasoline and even that great bugaboo of out-of-control costs, health care.

Here’s a chart showing price changes in these categories. The lines represent the price in a given year, as a percent of the price in 1985. For example, if a line reaches 200, that means prices in that year were 200 percent of those in 1985, or twice as high.

College tuition and fees today are 559 percent of their cost in 1985. In other words, they have nearly sextupled (while consumer prices have roughly doubled).

There’s a lot of debate about why college costs have risen so much. Many people assume that schools are spending too much money on frivolous things like climbing walls and Jacuzzis. That’s true for a handful of elite schools, but not for a vast majority.

Some of the rising cost has to do with other services schools have been adding over the last few decades, like mental health counselors and emergency alert systems. And certainly there are other inefficiencies that have crept into the system as higher education has become more things to more people.

But at least at public colleges and universities — which enroll three out of every four American college students — the main cause of tuition growth has been huge state funding cuts.

Every recession, states face a budget squeeze as their tax revenue falls and demand for their services rises. They have to cut something, and higher education is often a prime target.

Why? Struggling states have to prioritize other mandatory spending, like Medicaid. Higher education usually falls under the “discretionary spending” part of the budget — and in fact is often one of the biggest programs, if not the biggest, in the discretionary category.

State legislators also know colleges have other sources of funds to turn to.

“If you’re a state legislator, you look at all your state’s programs and you say, ‘Well, we can’t make prisoners pay, but we can make college students pay,’” said Ronald Ehrenberg, the director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute and a trustee of the State University of New York System.

College students do end up paying more. But in the past, after the economy recovered, most states did not fully restore the funds that were cut. As cuts accumulated in each business cycle, so did tuition increases.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

exploding costs are socialized to the poor, the future, and other species

steadystate | The US and Western Europe are in a recession threatening to become a depression as bad as that of the 1930s. Therefore we look to Keynesian policies as the cure, namely stimulate consumption and investment—that is, stimulate growth of the economy. It seemed to work in the past, so why not now? Should not ecological economics and steady-state ideas give way to Keynesian growth economics in view of the present crisis?

Certainly not! Why? Because we no longer live in the empty world of the 1930s — we live in a full world [1]. Furthermore, in the 1930s the goal was full employment and growth was the means to it. Nowadays growth itself has become the goal and the means to it are off-shoring of jobs, automation, mergers, union busting, importing cheap labor, and other employment-cutting policies. The former goal of full employment has been sacrificed to the modern ideology of “growth in share holder value.”

Growth has filled the world with us and our products. I was born in 1938, and in my lifetime world population has tripled. That is unprecedented. But even more unprecedented is the growth in populations of artifacts — “our stuff” — cars, houses, livestock, refrigerators, TVs, cell phones, ships, airplanes, etc. These populations of things have vastly more than tripled. The matter-energy embodied in these living and nonliving populations was extracted from the ecosystem. The matter-energy required to maintain and replace these stocks also comes from the ecosystem. The populations or stocks of all these things have in common that they are what physicists call “dissipative structures” — i.e., their natural tendency, thanks to the entropy law, is to fall apart, to die, to dissipate. The dissipated matter-energy returns to the ecosystem as waste, to be reabsorbed by natural cycles or accumulated as pollution. All these dissipative structures exist in the midst of an entropic throughput of matter-energy that both depletes and pollutes the finite ecosphere of which the economy is a wholly contained subsystem. When the subsystem outgrows the regenerative capacity of the parent system then further growth becomes biophysically impossible.

But long before growth becomes impossible it becomes uneconomic — it begins to cost more than it is worth at the margin. We refer to growth in the economy as “economic growth,” — even after such growth has become uneconomic [2] in the more basic sense of increasing illth faster than wealth [3]. That is where we are now, but we are unable to recognize it.

the world narrative is closer to the truth

fredoneverything | As I listen to American fury against uncoöperative Afghans, to Congress furiously denouncing Pakistan for anemic aid in conducting the current wars, I sometimes wonder whether the US is playing with a full deck. The anger arises I suspect becaause the US and the rest of the world work from very different premises. They believe in, as we say, distinct narratives.

The American narrative holds that the United States is a light to the world, the freest, richest, most productive country the world has ever seen, the greatest military power, the most prolific producer of technlogy and of Nobel laureates. America is a force for freedom and democacry, a champion of human rights, a land of universal opportunity with liberty and justice for all. The Unites States is what all countries could be if they accepted our values. History supports this view. In a raw ccontinent, American energy and free enterprise carved a paradise from a wilderness.

This narrative, the belief that America is special among nations, favored by God, pervades the culture. Those old enough will remember that Superman fought for “truth, justice, and the American way.”

Underlying all of this is a profoundly moral view of America's place in the world. The United States does not fight, like the French, for glory or like the English, for empire, or like the Russians, to steal watches from the wounded. America fights against Evil, whether in the form of communism, terror, Islam, socialism, or the growing threat of enslavement by Chinese communism. These evils are real, Americans believe, immediate, and threaten us with tyranny.

The narrative of the US military springs from the national narrative. American soldiers are brave, wholesome young men selflessly sacrificing to overthrow brutal dictarors, to defeat terror, and to give the oppressed peoples the benefits of democracy. This actually happened in Japan, Germany, and Iraq, asserts the narrative. Sure, a bad apple among GIs may occasionally commit an atrocity, but these are isolated incidents and blown out of proportion by a leftist press.

Quite different is what might be called the World Narrative, held around the globe with differeing intensities and emphases. It holds the US to be an endlessly aggressive military power that is out of control, hypocritically speaking of democracy and freedom while supporting dictators and overthrowing elected governments. America is arrogant, crassly mateiralistic, crime-ridden, vulgar, racially unjust, the world's only avowed practicioner of torture, economically explotative, imperialistic and intolerant of other cultures.

The military form of the World Narrative holds that America savagely attacks weaker nations in pursuit of oil and empire, that it uses overwhelming technological superiority to butcher peasants armed with rifles, that atrocites are routine, that it employs Stalinist nocturnal raids to terrorize populations, that killing of children is common.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Guatemala's Perez Molina Wants to Legalize all Drugs

theragblog | Supporters of legalization talk about the effects of allowing market forces to come into play. If currently illegal drugs were legalized in Latin America, they could be shipped north via normal means. The shippers wouldn’t need expensive private airplanes and submarines when DHL will take it as far as Nuevo Laredo. They also wouldn’t need a private army to protect it all along the way. Legitimate business people would become involved and the cartels would be forced to compete and move their money into other areas as the price for their product dropped and their profit margins shrunk.

As the Rand Corporation predicted relative to the possible legalization of marijuana in California in 2010, the price of the drugs on the street would collapse. Only illegality makes the product expensive. Removing much of the money from the industry is the heaviest blow that can be dealt to the drug lords.

As the history of the prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. might suggest, more and more Latin American leaders are thinking that the only way to reduce the violence that plagues their countries is drug legalization. This puts them on a collision course with the U.S. government, regardless of which party is in power.

If Perez Molina and other Latin American leaders do indeed take money from the cartels, Perez Molina’s recent moves would indicate that at least some cartel owners are willing to sacrifice their current mega-profits for peace and legitimacy. It was recently reported that Zetas were living in campers so that their mobility would impede their arrest. They might prefer a house instead.

In this context, the idea of dumping the whole problem in Washington’s lap has considerable appeal to Latin American leaders located between the sources in the south and the big consumer up north. They could free resources to repress violence instead of bothering about the drugs.

Much of the rationale for the violence disappears and much of the money is taken out of the market when these products are no longer illegal. And the inherent anti-Americanism of legalization might be an issue that unites Latin American leaders across the political spectrum. Indeed, the more conservative leaders are taking the lead on this, although ex-coca grower Evo Morales is doubtless on board.

Now Perez Molina has thrown the fat on the fire in a highly public manner. If he puts it at the top of the agenda of the next meeting of regional leaders in March, expect a major freakout in Washington. The U.S. news media, almost totally fixated on the machinations of a pack of Republican losers and the corrupt U.S. presidential race, has so far ignored these loud knocking sounds on our southern door.

It is not unlikely that the U.S. will soon find itself without allies in the war on drugs and thus be compelled to adopt a wholly new approach.

corporations already have free speech, can they now get away with murder?

Slate | In 1796, pirates who committed heinous crimes against individuals could be held liable under the Alien Tort Statute, which permits civil suits by foreigners in federal courts for violations of “the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” The law was passed by the first Congress in 1789. In 2002, 12 Nigerian nationals sued Royal Dutch Shell under the ATS, alleging that the oil company had colluded with the Nigerian military from 1992 to 1995 to suppress a grass-roots protest movement against oil exploration in the Niger delta. Specifically, members of the Ogoni people contend that Royal Dutch Shell aided and abetted the Nigerian government in torturing, executing, and arbitrarily detaining Ogoni activists. Esther Kiobel, the named plaintiff, is the widow of a victim.

The question for the court is whether Shell is immune from this suit because it is a corporation, not a person. Or—as Justice Stephen Breyer puts it this morning at oral argument—what would happen if the Pirates were a corporation. A corporation called, say, “Pirates Inc.”


The ATS was almost never invoked between the 18th century and the 1980s, at which time human rights organizations dusted it off and deployed it to bring justice to victims of human rights atrocities abroad. In the only Supreme Court pronouncement on the scope of the right to sue under the ATS, the court in 2004 found that ATS could be used to redress violations of a small number of well-established customary international norms. The court was not clear about whether the well-established customary norms would determine who was liable, or merely the actions for which they could be sued. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals determined in 2010 that there is no customary international norm of corporate liability and decided in favor of Shell. Three other courts of appeals have found that there is corporate liability under the ATS, not just for pirates but for corporations as well.

In brief, the looming question for the court today is whether, after Citizens United, corporations enjoy not only free speech rights but also the right to say “I’m immune from suit.”

Paul Hoffman represents the 12 Nigerian plaintiffs and opens by pointing out that in Shell’s view of the case, “even if these corporations had jointly operated torture centers with the military dictatorship in Nigeria to detain, torture, and kill all opponents of Shell's operations in Ogoni, the victims would have no claim.”

expansion of authoritarian anti-protest law

TechDirt | Don't you just love Congress, where almost no bills actually are what they say on the tin? There's some buzz building online about the "Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011" (or HR 347), which has been positioned as a simple updating of trespassing laws concerning federal grounds. However, as some are pointing out, hidden in there is quite the Easter egg that effectively outlaws protests near people who are "authorized" to be protected by the Secret Service (mainly the President and Vice President, but it could include a lot more as well). Only three Representatives voted against it, including Rep. Justin Amash who explained his concerns via Facebook:
Current law makes it illegal to enter or remain in an area where certain government officials (more particularly, those with Secret Service protection) will be visiting temporarily if and only if the person knows it's illegal to enter the restricted area but does so anyway. The bill expands current law to make it a crime to enter or remain in an area where an official is visiting even if the person does not know it's illegal to be in that area and has no reason to suspect it's illegal.

Some government officials may need extraordinary protection to ensure their safety. But criminalizing legitimate First Amendment activity -- even if that activity is annoying to those government officials -- violates our rights. I voted "no." It passed 388-3.
The specifics of the law pretty clearly seem to make it a crime to do a standard form of protest, such as anything that "impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions" or just if someone "engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds...." As Amash notes, there can be times when it makes sense to protect certain individuals, but "disorderly or disruptive" conduct is a pretty broad brush... and it's one very frequently abused by law enforcement officials.

You know all those stories we've had about people being arrested for filming police? Quite often those people are charged with disorderly conduct -- which often seems to boil down to "that person did something law enforcement doesn't like." To then take that and say that anything that constitutes disorderly conduct on the grounds of a building where someone who is protected by the Secret Service is a crime, it appears to be wide open to abuse, and a pretty clear restriction on the free speech rights of anyone wishing to engage in normal and healthy protest of our political process.

On top of that, the punishment can be pretty severe. You can get up to a year in jail for being found guilty of these things, and that jumps up to 10 years if you are carrying a "deadly or dangerous weapon."

As Amash notes, there are legitimate safety concerns to be aware of, and there are issues with doing something that significantly impedes government regulations. But it's really not difficult to see how this bill could very, very easily be stretched to be used against those doing standard protesting against significant political figures.

Monday, March 05, 2012


NYTimes | To say that the ideas in “Heist,” which locates the source of our current troubles in a famous 1971 memorandum, belongs to the paranoid conspiracy school of history is not to suggest that its point of view isn’t fairly persuasive. Conspiracies exist.

The seeds of the financial crisis, the film maintains, were sown by Lewis F. Powell Jr., a Virginia lawyer and representative of the tobacco industry who later became an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. In a confidential memo to the United States Chamber of Commerce, “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System,” he urged American corporations to take a much stronger role in influencing politics and law.

The memorandum helped spur the formation of advocacy research organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute and paved the way for lobbyists to descend on Washington. In 1978, while on the Supreme Court, Powell successfully argued for the right of corporations to make political contributions.

The movement to deregulate government control of corporations and to disempower organized labor accelerated after the 1980 presidential election. An early public battle in 1981 pitted Ronald Reagan against striking air traffic controllers. The film says that the number of American workers in unions has dwindled to 1 out of 14, from 1 in 3 in the 1950s.

The filmmakers swiftly tick off legislation that they regard as concerted class warfare waged by corporations in collusion with corporate-controlled news media against the middle and working class: Starting in 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which encouraged the outsourcing of cheap labor; the 1999 repeal of parts of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had separated commercial and investment banking; and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which deregulated over-the-counter derivatives, allowed financial institutions to run wild. Both major political parties, they argue, promoted deregulation fever.

“Heist” feels rushed. Many of its points could use elaboration. Its final section is a to-do list delivered in the tone of a high school civics teacher: restore fair taxation; make Wall Street play by the rules; build communities; develop efficient and sustainable energy through “a green New Deal”; and restore the labor movement.

It all sounds peachy. The only way for these things to happen is through a widespread grass-roots awakening. (To point the way, the film offers scattered hopeful examples of constructive, do-it-yourself activism.) The Occupy Wall Street movement may be a sign of that. Or not.

modern myths that destroy humanity

automaticearth | “All things are subject to interpretation; whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

I'd like to take this opportunity to comment on an oldie but a goodie from the Indian environmentalist, Vandan Shiva. In her brief article for Odewire, "Two myths that keep the world poor", Shiva tears apart the logic of Harvard economist and neoliberal (-feudal), economic "shock therapy" advocate Jeffrey Sachs with all the force one would expect from the God of destruction. It was in response to a book written by Sachs called The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities of Our Time, which featured all the nonsensical arguments that “liberal progressives” like to spout off in magazines and on television these days.

They proffer the same kind of fundamental myth that Nietzsche identified crawling through the bowels of modern religions such as Christianity – if one toils hard enough on Earth, and accepts one’s designated roles in society, he/she will be rewarded in Heaven. If that is God’s [Blankfein’s] given truth, then there is no need to radically alter the system or fight for justice/equality, right? Shiva first explains why global poverty is not a function of people being "left behind", as if they had been ten minutes late to the train station, but rather of people being held up for nearly all their wealth/resources at gunpoint.

Two myths that keep the world poor

But, there is a problem with Sachs’ how-to-end poverty prescriptions. He simply doesn’t understand where poverty comes from. He seems to view it as the original sin. “A few generations ago, almost everybody was poor,” he writes, then adding: “The Industrial Revolution led to new riches, but much of the world was left far behind.”

This is a totally false history of poverty. The poor are not those who have been “left behind”; they are the ones who have been robbed. The wealth accumulated by Europe and North America are largely based on riches taken from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Without the destruction of India’s rich textile industry, without the takeover of the spice trade, without the genocide of the native American tribes, without African slavery, the Industrial Revolution would not have resulted in new riches for Europe or North America. It was this violent takeover of Third World resources and markets that created wealth in the North and poverty in the South.
Shiva introduces the inconvenient history that people like Sachs continue to ignore to this very day, as they demonize the millions of new people slipping into poverty every week and accuse them of not being productive, creative, innovative, responsible or hard-working enough. And perhaps there are elements of truth to it, but it is far from the whole story. That is exactly the dynamic we now see occurring between the EU politicians/bureaucrats, their media spin machines and the peripheral populations.

The Greeks are lazy, unproductive welfare queens, and they must be taught by Germany and their other Western neighbors how to start growing their economy again through a complete gutting of public safety nets, pensions and wage protections. This mentality is at the root of every policy being recommended and pursued by the EU, ECB and IMF. It is the reason why they not only have zero chance of working, but will inevitably make the situation worse for most people involved.

It is not a mentality that is just confined to the elite circles of academics and policymakers, though. Just tell the next person you meet that “economic growth” is not necessarily a solution to our systemic crises (assuming they are even aware of those), and is actually the problem in many ways, and see what kind of reaction you get. Shiva goes on to explain how this deeply-rooted mentality is based on two fundamental myths relating to "growth".
First, the destruction of nature and of people’s ability to look after themselves are blamed not on industrial growth and economic colonialism, but on poor people themselves. Poverty, it is stated, causes environmental destruction.

The disease is then offered as a cure: further economic growth is supposed to solve the very problems of poverty and ecological decline that it gave rise to in the first place. This is the message at the heart of Sachs’ analysis.

The second myth is an assumption that if you consume what you produce, you do not really produce, at least not economically speaking. If I grow my own food, and do not sell it, then it doesn’t contribute to GDP, and therefore does not contribute towards “growth”.

People are perceived as “poor” if they eat food they have grown rather than commercially distributed junk foods sold by global agri-business. They are seen as poor if they live in self-built housing made from ecologically well-adapted materials like bamboo and mud rather than in cinder block or cement houses. They are seen as poor if they wear garments manufactured from handmade natural fibres rather than synthetics.

Yet sustenance living, which the wealthy West perceives as poverty, does not necessarily mean a low quality of life. On the contrary, by their very nature economies based on sustenance ensure a high quality of life—when measured in terms of access to good food and water, opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, robust social and cultural identity, and a sense of meaning in people’s lives. Because these poor don’t share in the perceived benefits of economic growth, however, they are portrayed as those “left behind”.
Indeed, the disease is continuously being offered as the cure right now. On the surface and in the spin rooms, they call it more "growth", more credit availability, more "innovation", etc., but, make no mistake, it is really more wealth extraction, more monopolization/centralization of industry and resources, more unproductive debt burdens, more environmental destruction, more slavery and more genocide. Only those with narrow, goal-seeked or malicious perspectives will fail to see how all of those things are extremely inter-connected.

extreme poverty in the u.s. has more than doubled since 1996

thecomingdepression | A policy brief recently issued by the National Poverty Center (NPC) reveals that the number of households in the US living on less than $2 a day per person has increased by 130 percent since 1996, from 636,000 to some 1.46 million today.

This means that some 4 million people in “the richest country on earth” (according to US capitalism’s apologists) are surviving on less than $60 a month each, i.e., essentially on no income whatsoever.

The policy brief, authored by H. Luke Shaefer, University of Michigan, School of Social Work, and Kathryn Edin, Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, studies the results of the fifteen years since the 1996 “welfare reform” signed into law by President Bill Clinton, which fatally slashed the social safety net.

“This reform,” the authors comment, “has been followed by a dramatic decline in cash assistance caseloads, from an average of 12.3 million recipients per month in 1996 to 4.4 million in June 2011; only 1.1 million of these beneficiaries are adults.

“Thus, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, while millions of American parents continue to experience long spells of unemployment, they have little access to means-tested income support programs. Has this produced a new group of American poor: households with children living on virtually no income?”

The answer is yes.

In studying the most deprived in the US, the policy brief, whether pointedly or not, explains that the researchers developed “a definition based on one of the World Bank’s main indicators of global poverty, meant to measure poverty in developing nations.” They adopt the World Bank’s standard for determining the poorest of the global poor, subsistence on $2 a day or less.

The study draws data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) collected by the US Census Bureau from sample households every four months. The most recent data comes from the beginning of 2011.

In passing, the study notes that participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, has increased from an average of 25.5 million recipients per month in 1996 to 45.2 million in June 2011, a 77 percent increase in a decade and a half.

Children have been especially hard hit. The brief estimates that “about 2.8 million children lived in extreme poverty at the beginning of 2011.… This was roughly 16 percent of all children in poverty.” The number of households with children in extreme poverty has risen sharply since November 2008. The study dismisses the notion that the American safety net “is strong, or even adequate, when one in five poor households with children are living without meaningful cash income.”

As to the demographics of families living in destitution, the NPC researchers found that 37 percent of the households in extreme poverty in 2011 were headed by a married couple and 51 percent by a single female.

Some 48 percent of these households were headed by white non-Hispanics, 25 percent by African Americans and 22 percent by Hispanics in 2011. The report comments, “Thus, extreme poverty is not limited to households headed by single mothers or disadvantaged minorities, though the percentage growth in extreme poverty over our study period was greatest among these groups.”

what's america's real crime rate?

economist | IF YOU start feeling good about America, run don't walk to Adam Gopnik's damning New Yorker feature on the land of the free's penchant for imprisonment:
For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.
Absolute quantities can be misleading, but the trend in the incarceration rate is equally unsettling. As Mr Gopnik reports, " 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that." Read Mr Gopnik's essay and see if you don't agree that "The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life."

But what if locking away all these people has made America notably safer for those of us on the sunny side of the razor-wire? Mr Gopnik, drawing on the work of Franklin Zimring, a law professor at Berkeley, tries to debunk the idea that mass imprisonment accounts for more than a small part of the remarkable decline in America's crime rate over the past several decades. While I'm sympathetic to Mr Gopnik's argument that a combination of improved policing tactics and ineffable changes in the culture account for the greater part of the decline in America's crime rate, I'm even more impressed with Christopher Glazek's argument, set forth in a fascinating n+1 essay, that once we've accounted for all the undocumented crime terrorising the denizens of Lockuptown, the crime rate is not really so low. Mr Glazek writes;
Statistics are notoriously slippery, but the figures that suggest that violence has been disappearing in the United States contain a blind spot so large that to cite them uncritically, as the major papers do, is to collude in an epic con. Uncounted in the official tallies are the hundreds of thousands of crimes that take place in the country’s prison system, a vast and growing residential network whose forsaken tenants increasingly bear the brunt of America’s propensity for anger and violence.

Crime has not fallen in the United States—it’s been shifted. Just as Wall Street connived with regulators to transfer financial risk from spendthrift banks to careless home buyers, so have federal, state, and local legislatures succeeded in rerouting criminal risk away from urban centers and concentrating it in a proliferating web of hyperhells. The statistics touting the country’s crime-reduction miracle, when juxtaposed with those documenting the quantity of rape and assault that takes place each year within the correctional system, are exposed as not merely a lie, or even a damn lie—but as the single most shameful lie in American life.
Unfortunately, there is little hard data on the Lockuptown crime rate.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

pet spending...,

life end...,

Guardian | A controversial system of mobile euthanasia units that will travel around the country to respond to the wishes of sick people who wish to end their lives has been launched in the Netherlands.

The scheme, which started on Thursday , will send teams of specially trained doctors and nurses to the homes of people whose own doctors have refused to carry out patients' requests to end their lives.

The launch of the so-called Levenseinde, or "Life End", house-call units – whose services are being offered to Dutch citizens free of charge – coincides with the opening of a clinic of the same name in The Hague, which will take patients with incurable illnesses as well as others who do not want to die at home.

The scheme is an initiative by the Dutch Association for a Voluntary End to Life (NVVE), a 130,000-member euthanasia organisation that is the biggest of its kind in the world.

"From Thursday, the Life End clinic will have mobile teams where people who believe they are eligible for euthanasia can register," Walburg de Jong, a NVVE spokesman, said.

"If they do comply, the teams will be able to carry out the euthanasia at patients' homes should their regular doctors be unable or refuse to help them," he added.

The Netherlands was the first country to legalise euthanasia in 2002 and its legislation on the right to die is considered to be the most liberal in the world.

But doctors cannot be forced to comply with the wishes of patients who request the right to die and many do refuse, which was what prompted NVVE to develop a system to fill the gap.

Sick people or their relatives can submit their applications via telephone or email and if the patient's request fulfils a number of strict criteria, the team is then dispatched.

Legal guidelines state that the person must be incurably sick, be suffering unbearable pain and have expressed the wish to die voluntarily, clearly and on several occasions.

According to De Jong, the team will make contact with the doctor who has refused to help the patient to die and ask what his or her reasons were.

More often than not, he said, the motivations are religious or ethical, adding that sometimes doctors were simply not well enough informed about the law.

depression: an evolutionary byproduct of the immune system

ScienceDaily | Depression is common enough -- afflicting one in ten adults in the United States -- that it seems the possibility of depression must be "hard-wired" into our brains. This has led biologists to propose several theories to account for how depression, or behaviors linked to it, can somehow offer an evolutionary advantage.

Some previous proposals for the role of depression in evolution have focused on how it affects behavior in a social context. A pair of psychiatrists addresses this puzzle in a different way, tying together depression and resistance to infection. They propose that genetic variations that promote depression arose during evolution because they helped our ancestors fight infection.

An outline of their proposal appears online in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The co-authors are Andrew Miller, MD, William P. Timmie professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory and director of psychiatric oncology at Winship Cancer Institute, and Charles Raison, MD, previously at Emory and now at the University of Arizona.

For several years, researchers have seen links between depression and inflammation, or over-activation of the immune system. People with depression tend to have higher levels of inflammation, even if they're not fighting an infection.

"Most of the genetic variations that have been linked to depression turn out to affect the function of the immune system," Miller says. "This led us to rethink why depression seems to stay embedded in the genome."

"The basic idea is that depression and the genes that promote it were very adaptive for helping people -- especially young children -- not die of infection in the ancestral environment, even if those same behaviors are not helpful in our relationships with other people," Raison says.

Infection was the major cause of death in humans' early history, so surviving infection was a key determinant in whether someone was able to pass on his or her genes. The authors propose that evolution and genetics have bound together depressive symptoms and physiological responses that were selected on the basis of reducing mortality from infection. Fever, fatigue/inactivity, social avoidance and anorexia can all be seen as adaptive behaviors in light of the need to contain infection, they write.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

the earth is full...,

PaulGilding | The first part of the talk made my stomach cramp. It’s the stuff I’m telling people: impending collapse, resource wars, as the lights go out, literally.

There one slight error at the start of the talk: The “eminent scientists of the Global Footprint Network” did NOT calculate that we would “need 1.5 earths to sustain this economy”.

The GFN calculate that we use living, renewable resources to the equivalent of 1.5 earths. Then they calculated that our westernized countries use between 5 and 9 times more renewables than nature can regenerate. The US-Americans would have to reduce consumption of renewables ninefold! Citing the overall planetary mean value of 1.5 is utterly misleading.

Moreover, non-renewables such as minerals, fossil fuels, fossil water, pollution, soil erosion, etc. are not included in the GFN account.

The human society’s overshoot of the earth’s carrying capacity is far bigger than 1.5 times. It may be as big as 400 times. Humanity might only be sustainable with a world population of 500 million, at a standard of living (environmental resource use) similar to the times before the steam engine, i.e. before 1712, before modernity began.

The last part of the talk is very questionable.

Arguably we cannot save the world by technology. We do not have sufficient resources, neither the technology, nor sufficient time for an orderly transition.

The earth cannot provide for nine billion people, living well within the limits of the earths’ carrying capacity, subconsciously assuming we continue enjoying modernity’s lifestyles.

When we stop growing the economy, i.e. when we stop building ever more gadgets and roads and buildings, we will face massive bancruptcies and huge unemployment.

How can we employ billions in the primary sector (agriculture) again?
How can we achieve relocalisation, demechanisation, slowing down and the restructturing that is mandatory because of the end of the oil age?

Paul Gilding end his talk with: “We’ve built a powerful foundation of science, knowledge and technology — more than enough to build a society where nine billion people can lead decent, meaningful and satisfying lives. The Earth can support that if we choose the right path.”

That sounds very positive. But what is “meaningful, satisfying, decent”? At what level of resource use, on an earth that has been depleted of most renewable and non-renewable stuff?

It might be on a level that is less than the stone age.

Such talks follow the old selling principle of religions: first scare people, then promise salvation.

Well, in this way change is not going to happen. But it sells books.

the asymptotes of power

bnarchives | My presentation today is a follow-up to a talk I delivered last year at the 2010 inaugural conference of the Forum on Capital as Power. Both presentations are part of my joint research with Shimshon Bichler on the current crisis. Last year, my purpose was to characterize this crisis. I argued that it was a ‘systemic crisis’, and that capitalists were gripped by ‘systemic fear’. This year, my goal is to explore why.

Begin with systemic fear. This fear, we argue, concerns the very existence of capitalism. It causes capitalists to shift their attention from the day-to-day movements of capitalism to its very foundations. It makes them worry not about the short-term ups and downs of growth, employment and profit, but about ‘losing their grip’. It forces on them the realization that their system is not eternal, and that it may not survive – at least not in its current form.

Last year, many in the audience found these claims strange, if not preposterous. Capitalism was obviously in trouble, they conceded. But the crisis, though deep, was by no means systemic. It threatened neither the existence of capitalism nor the confidence of capitalists in their power to rule it. To argue that capitalists were losing their grip was frivolous.

That was twelve months ago.

Nowadays, the notions of systemic fear and systemic crisis are no longer farfetched. In fact, they seem to have become commonplace. Public figures – from dominant capitalists and corporate executives, to Nobel laureates and finance ministers, to journalists and TV hosts – know to warn us that the ‘system is at risk’, and that if we fail to do something about it, we may face the ‘end of the world as we know it’.

There is, of course, much disagreement on why the system is at risk. The explanations span the full ideological spectrum – from the far right, to the liberal, to the Keynesian, to the far left. Some blame the crisis on too much government and over-regulation, while others say we don’t have enough of those things. There are those who speak of speculation and bubbles, while others point to faltering fundamentals. Some blame the excessive increase in debt, while others quote credit shortages and a seized-up financial system. There are those who single out weaknesses in particular sectors or countries, while others emphasize the role of global mismatches and imbalances. Some analysts see the root cause in insufficient demand, whereas others feel that demand is excessive. While for some the curse of our time is greedy capitalists, for others it is the entitlements of the underlying population. The list goes on.

But the disagreement is mostly on the surface. Stripped of their technical details and political inclinations, all existing explanations share two common foundations: (1) they all adhere to the two dualities of political economy: the duality of ‘politics vs. economics’ and the duality within economics of ‘real vs. nominal’; and (2) they all look backward, not forward.

As a consequence of these common foundations, all existing explanations, regardless of their orientation, seem to agree on the following three points:

1. The essence of the current crisis is ‘economic’: politics certainly plays a role (good or bad, depending on the particular ideological viewpoint), but the root cause lies in the economy.

2. The crisis is amplified by a mismatch between the ‘real’ and ‘nominal’ aspects of the economy: the real processes of production and consumption point in the negative direction, and these negative developments are further aggravated by the undue inflation and deflation of nominal financial bubbles whose unsynchronized expansion and contraction make a bad situation worse.

3. The crisis is rooted in our past sins. For a long time now, we have allowed things to deteriorate: we’ve let the ‘real economy’ weaken, the ‘bubbles of finance’ inflate and the ‘distortions of politics’ pile up; in doing so, we have committed the cardinal sin of undermining the growth of the economy and the accumulation of capital; and since, according to the priests of economics, sinners must pay for their evil deeds, there is no way for us to escape the punishment we justly deserve – the systemic crisis.

poverty and families in the victorian era

HiddenLives | The nineteenth century saw a huge growth in the population of Great Britain.

The reason for this increase is not altogether clear. Various ideas have been put forward; larger families; more children surviving infancy; people living longer; immigration, especially large numbers of immigrants coming from Ireland fleeing the potato famine and the unemployment situation in their own country.

By the end of the century there were three times more people living in Great Britain than at the beginning.

Growth of the cities
Although the population of the country as a whole was rising at an unprecedented rate, that of the towns and cities was increasing by leaps and bounds. This was due to the effects of the industrial revolution; people were flocking into the towns and cities in search of employment. For some it was also the call of the unknown, adventure and a better way of life.
The search for employment

Therefore all these factors – population explosion, immigration both foreign and domestic – added up and resulted in a scramble for any job available.

Large numbers of both skilled and unskilled people were looking for work, so wages were low, barely above subsistence level. If work dried up, or was seasonal, men were laid off, and because they had hardly enough to live on when they were in work, they had no savings to fall back on.

Child labour
Children were expected to help towards the family budget. They often worked long hours in dangerous jobs and in difficult situations for a very little wage.

For example, there were the climbing boys employed by the chimney sweeps; the little children who could scramble under machinery to retrieve cotton bobbins; boys and girls working down the coal mines, crawling through tunnels too narrow and low to take an adult. Some children worked as errand boys, crossing sweepers, shoe blacks, and they sold matches, flowers and other cheap goods.

The housing shortage
Low wages and the scramble for jobs meant that people needed to live near to where work was available. Time taken walking to and from work would extend an already long day beyond endurance.

Consequently available housing became scarce and therefore expensive, resulting in extremely overcrowded conditions.

Slum housing
All these problems were magnified in London where the population grew at a record rate. Large houses were turned into flats and tenements and the landlords who owned them, were not concerned about the upkeep or the condition of these dwellings.

In his book The Victorian underworld, Kellow Chesney gives a graphic description of the conditions in which many were living:

‘Hideous slums, some of them acres wide, some no more than crannies of obscure misery, make up a substantial part of the, metropolis … In big, once handsome houses, thirty or more people of all ages may inhabit a single room.

Many people could not afford the rents that were being charged and so they rented out space in their room to one or two lodgers who paid between twopence and fourpence a day.

Great wealth and extreme poverty lived side by side because the tenements, slums, rookeries were only a stones throw from the large elegant houses of the rich.

The name ‘rookeries’ was given to these dwellings because of the way people lived without separate living accommodation for each family. The analogy being that whereas other birds appear to live in separate families, rooks do not. Neither did the very poor in the tenements of London.

Friday, March 02, 2012

piercing the propaganda: a pure play for primate primacy?

MediaLens | What would it take for journalists to seriously challenge government propaganda? A war with over one million dead, four million refugees, a country’s infrastructure shattered, and the increased threat of retail ‘terror’ in response to the West’s wholesale ‘terror’? How horrifying do even very recent experiences have to be, how great the war crimes, before media professionals begin to exhibit scepticism towards Western governments’ hyping of yet another ‘threat’. Why is warmongering the default mode for the corporate media?

On Channel 4 News, the famed ‘pinko-liberal’ news presenter Jon ‘Six Pilgers’ Snow intoned ominously:

‘It is still not a nuclear weapon, but an upgrading of Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium ostensibly for its nuclear power plant.’ (C4 News headlines, February 15, 2012)

‘Still’ not a nuclear weapon - not yet? - but the primary focus is absolutely on an alleged military threat that does not actually exist. Foreign correspondent Jonathan Miller added:

‘This development does not bring Iran any closer to building a bomb… But if Tehran is trying to convince the world that its purpose is peaceful, no-one’s buying it...' (C4 News, ‘Iran reveals its latest step in nuclear arms’, February 15, 2012)

That is not quite true, as we will see below. Miller added:

'This may look like the set of a 70s Bond movie, but this is the Natanz reactor…’

The reference is telling - much media reporting does seem to be inspired by a Bond movie vision of the world. Token balance was provided:

‘There’s no evidence that Iran is intending to construct a nuclear weapon.’

This put Snow’s opening comment in perspective. A more accurate version would have been: ‘It is still not evidence that Iran has plans to build a nuclear weapon.’

Instead, the required propaganda pitch was clear. Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was defiantly sticking ‘two fingers up to the UN and a hostile world’. As ever, it is 'us' (the 'world') versus 'them'. Miller continued:

‘The 74 million people of the Islamic republic are paying a high price for their leader’s defiance.’

As in Iraq, the Bad Guys, not the West, are responsible for any suffering caused. No question that Israel, the US and its allies bear any responsibility for the tension, or the lethal effects of sanctions.

why bombing iran means invading iran...,

TheAtlantic | Mitt Romney is tired of hearing President Obama threaten Iran in only vague terms. Enough of this "all options are on the table" stuff. Obama, Romney says, should declare that "we are considering military options" and "they're not just on the table--they are in our hand."

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Romney will get some support next week when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Washington: Netanyahu will ask Obama to say publicly that "the United States is preparing for a military operation in the event that Iran crosses certain 'red lines'."

Before signing on to this mission, could we get some clarity on what exactly this "military operation" will ultimately entail?

There are two main schools of thought about how air strikes on Iran would work out. Most Americans seem to envision something cleanly surgical--a few days of bombing runs and then we get that "mission accomplished" banner out of the closet. A smaller number of Americans--notably including a lot of national security experts--realize that Iran would probably retaliate, possibly in ways that drew America into a sustained and even far-flung conflict.

What too few people emphasize, it seems to me, is that these two scenarios don't exhaust the possibilities. Even if air strikes don't draw us into an instant conflagration, they could drag us into a long-term conflict with Iran that winds up with American boots on the ground. In fact, when you think about the military and political logic of the situation, the invasion and occupation of Iran is the most likely long-term outcome of bombing regardless of what happens in the short term.

iran will meet threat with threat

NYTimes | American officials who have assessed the likely Iranian responses to any attack by Israel on its nuclear program believe that Iran would retaliate by launching missiles on Israel and terrorist-style attacks on United States civilian and military personnel overseas.

While a missile retaliation against Israel would be virtually certain, according to these assessments, Iran would also be likely to try to calibrate its response against American targets so as not to give the United States a rationale for taking military action that could permanently cripple Tehran’s nuclear program. “The Iranians have been pretty good masters of escalation control,” said Gen. James E. Cartwright, now retired, who as the top officer at Strategic Command and as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff participated in war games involving both deterrence and retaliation on potential adversaries like Iran.

The Iranian targets, General Cartwright and other American analysts believe, would include petroleum infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, and American troops in Afghanistan, where Iran has been accused of shipping explosives to local insurgent forces.

Both American and Israeli officials who discussed current thinking on the potential ramifications of an Israeli attack believe that the last thing Iran would want is a full-scale war on its territory. Their analysis, however, also includes the broad caveat that it is impossible to know the internal thinking of the senior leadership in Tehran, and is informed by the awareness that even the most detailed war games cannot predict how nations and their leaders will react in the heat of conflict. Yet such assessments are not just intellectual exercises. Any conclusions on how the Iranians will react to an attack will help determine whether the Israelis launch a strike — and what the American position will be if they do.

While evidence suggests that Iran continues to make progress toward a nuclear weapons program, American intelligence officials believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb. But the possibility that Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike has become a focus of American policy makers and is expected to be a primary topic when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel meets with President Obama at the White House on Monday.

In November, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, said any Iranian retaliation for an Israeli attack would be “bearable,” and his government’s estimate that Iran is engaging in a bluff has been a key element in the heightened expectations that Israel is considering a strike. But Iran’s highly compartmentalized security services, analysts caution, may operate in semi-rogue fashion, following goals that seem irrational to planners in Washington. American experts, for example, are still puzzled by a suspected Iranian plot last year to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

“Once military strikes and counterstrikes begin, you are on the tiger’s back,” said Ray Takeyh, a former Obama administration national security official who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations. “And when on the tiger’s back, you cannot always pick the place to dismount.”

israel's last chance to strike iran

NYTimes | ON June 7, 1981, I was one of eight Israeli fighter pilots who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. As we sat in the briefing room listening to the army chief of staff, Rafael Eitan, before starting our planes’ engines, I recalled a conversation a week earlier when he’d asked us to voice any concerns about our mission.

We told him about the risks we foresaw: running out of fuel, Iraqi retaliation, how a strike could harm our relationship with America, and the limited impact a successful mission might have — perhaps delaying Iraq’s nuclear quest by only a few years. Listening to today’s debates about Iran, we hear the same arguments and face the same difficulties, even though we understand it is not 1981.

Shortly after we destroyed Osirak, the Israeli defense attaché in Washington was called into the Pentagon. He was expecting a rebuke. Instead, he was faced with a single question: How did you do it? The United States military had assumed that the F-16 aircraft they had provided to Israel had neither the range nor the ordnance to attack Iraq successfully. The mistake then, as now, was to underestimate Israel’s military ingenuity.

We had simply maximized fuel efficiency and used experienced pilots, trained specifically for this mission. We ejected our external fuel tanks en route to Iraq and then attacked the reactor with pinpoint accuracy from so close and such a low altitude that our unguided bombs were as accurate and effective as precision-guided munitions.

Today, Israel sees the prospect of a nuclear Iran that calls for our annihilation as an existential threat. An Israeli strike against Iran would be a last resort, if all else failed to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. That moment of decision will occur when Iran is on the verge of shielding its nuclear facilities from a successful attack — what Israel’s leaders have called the “zone of immunity.”

Some experts oppose an attack because they claim that even a successful strike would, at best, delay Iran’s nuclear program for only a short time. But their analysis is faulty. Today, almost any industrialized country can produce a nuclear weapon in four to five years — hence any successful strike would achieve a delay of only a few years.

What matters more is the campaign after the attack. When we were briefed before the Osirak raid, we were told that a successful mission would delay the Iraqi nuclear program for only three to five years. But history told a different story.

After the Osirak attack and the destruction of the Syrian reactor in 2007, the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs were never fully resumed. This could be the outcome in Iran, too, if military action is followed by tough sanctions, stricter international inspections and an embargo on the sale of nuclear components to Tehran. Iran, like Iraq and Syria before it, will have to recognize that the precedent for military action has been set, and can be repeated.

Others claim that an attack on the Iranian nuclear program would destabilize the region. But a nuclear Iran could lead to far worse: a regional nuclear arms race without a red phone to defuse an escalating crisis, Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf, more confident Iranian surrogates like Hezbollah and the threat of nuclear materials’ being transferred to terrorist organizations.

Ensuring that Iran does not go nuclear is the best guarantee for long-term regional stability. A nonnuclear Iran would be infinitely easier to contain than an Iran with nuclear weapons.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

there's no tomorrow...,

Fist tap Dale.

inner steppe

Inner Steppe from Alex Schulz on Vimeo.

Behance | A stop-motion animation based on the work of Hermann Hesse and Carl Gustav Jung. The motion picture soundtrack was composed and performed in addition to the film.

The animation is about a main character, that chooses an isolated, lonely way of life just like Hesse's Harry Haller in 'Steppenwolf'. At the same time the protagonist is impersonating the lonesome outlaw you can find in classic and modern westerns and C. G. Jungs Ego Consciousness, being the central, rational part of the human mind. He embarks on a surreal odyssey through his inner landscape and meets embodiments of his mind, representing different personal and collective characteristics and behaviours. The Persona of his psyche, representing the social mask and assimilation to everyday life, invades his privacy. This part of his soul is knocked out by the Shadow of his psyche later on, which impersonates repressed needs, pleasures and a humorous living. The Shadow is pushing the main character to the final, deepest point of his mind: the Anima. She represents the bridge between the Ego Consciousness and the Collective Unconsciousness and is leading the protagonist to the destination of his trip. She is exposing him an alternate way of life and the importance of harmony and the unity of his inner world.

cure to greece debt crisis: war with turkey

JohnGalt |As the strain in relations expands between Israel and Turkey, the Israeli government has sought out closer relations with Greece and by default, the Greek government in Cyprus. The story from the Jerusalem Post on February 7, 2012, Israel to ask for military facility in Cyprus (click title to read the article in full), has further antagonized the Turkish government as word has spread throughout Turkish Cyprus and the nation of Turkey that Israel my ask to deploy as many as 5,000 troops to protect the pipelines and energy infrastructure being developed in the Eastern Mediterranean and on the island itself. A commentary from the Hürriyet Daily News on February 24th, “We May Shoot Turkey“, expresses the concerns from the government in Ankara and within the Turkish Cypriot population quite clearly:

For the protection of the “gas plant,” Israel will need to deploy up to 5,000 armed personnel. Thus, the area to be allocated to Israel for the gas plant will be large enough to construct the plant and a town for the Israeli workers to be employed at the plant as well as the around 5,000 armed personnel deployed on the island. If there are only a few settlements with a population of more than 10,000 or so on the island, it might be said that the new Israeli base will indeed be a new high-security base city.

Israelis, as a result of the fashionable “kick me and I will kick you” antagonist play between Turkey’s Islamist government and the rather standoffish nationalist administration in Tel Aviv, appear willing to go to bed even with the devil if that would hurt Turkey. But not all Greek Cypriots would be carried away with aloof romanticism. A participant in the meeting asked the million dollar question: If Turkey is sincere that it would protect its and Turkish Cypriot interests at any cost, and some sort of hostile attack was directed at the gas plant, what would happen?

The answer was reportedly abrupt: We shall then retaliate with bombardment.

But, bombardment of what? Turkey? The answer was even colder: We shall teach the Turks they ought to have limits. The facility will be Israeli territory, we shall not leave any hostility unanswered.

NATO is in no position politically or militarily to deal with a renewal of the decades old conflict between Greece and Turkey and the involvement of Israel should that arise. However the German government as well as the bankers of the European Central Bank desire to see their losses mitigated and erased with an expanding Greek economy and hydrocarbons flowing from Greece would prove far more palatable than a dependency on the Russians. When one considers the Russian defense contracts and pipelines that have been in development with the nation of Turkey over the past five years, the realization that a conflict with Greece, Turkey, and Israel would have far greater implications than the historic regional flare ups and could easily spread into a direct NATO-Russian confrontation where member nations may have to declare war on one of their own members.

This cure to the Greek debt crisis and economic issues would resolve many of the issues the nation faces but at what cost? The Europeans are split over this issue and as usual dependent on a bureaucratic analysis while the nations of Greece and Israel accelerated the development of the natural gas fields already discovered while further exploration continues. In the interim, Turkey is developing closer ties to Russia and Iran and drifting further from the NATO sphere in no small part thanks to the incompetent diplomatic efforts of the Obama administration. The table is being set for a solution to the Greek financial crisis but a large regional conflict will only spawn further complications for world economies as a consequence.

stratfor say political and oil reasons behind attack on iran...,

ibtimes | WikiLeaks has started publishing more than five million emails hacked by Anonymous from the servers of Stratfor, a US intelligence gathering company.

An email sent by Chris Farnham, senior officer for Stratfor, to an internal unnamed source inside the company titled "Israel/Iran Barak Hails Munitions Blast in Iran" provides details about who would benefit from an Israeli attack on Iran, and say such a plan would be motivated by economic factors.

According to the email, sent on November 13, 2011, supporters of an Israeli-led attack are Russia, India and Saudi Arabia, while the EU and China stand against such plans, mainly for economic reasons.

"Not many people know that Russia is one of Israel's largest military partners and India is Israel's largest client. If a direct conflict between Iran and Israel erupts, Russia and Saudi Arabia will gain the advantages on oil increasing prices. On the other hand, China and Europe are expected to lose from an oil crisis as a result of a conflict," the email says

Farnham said that an attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities would last only 48 hours and be so devastating it would lead to regime change.

"Based on Israeli plans, the attack on Iran will last only 48 hours but will be so destructive that Iran will be unable to retaliate or recover and the government will fall. It is hard to believe that Hamas or Hezbollah will try to get involved in this conflict," Farham wrote.

The Stratfor analyst then reveals that despite claims propagated in the media, an attack on Iran is unlikely since Israeli commandos have already targeted major parts of Iran's nuclear programme.

"In the open media many are pushing and expecting Israel to launch a massive attack on Iran. Even if the Israelis have the capabilities and are ready to attack by air, sea and land, there is no need to attack the nuclear programme at this point after the commandos destroyed a significant part of it."

Farnham said an attack would be motivated by economic factors rather than Iran's nuclear programme.

"If a massive attack on Iran happens soon, then the attack will have political and oil reasons and not nuclear. It is also very hard to believe that the Israelis will initiate an attack unless they act as a contractor for other nations or if Iran or its proxies attack first," the email concludes.