Sunday, May 20, 2012

like man like dog...,

ScienceMag | Yawn next to your dog, and she may do the same. Though it seems simple, this contagious behavior is actually quite remarkable: Only a few animals do it, and only dogs cross the species barrier. Now a new study finds that dogs yawn even when they only hear the sound of us yawning, the strongest evidence yet that canines may be able to empathize with us.

Besides people and dogs, contagious yawning has been observed in gelada baboons, stump-tail macaques, and chimpanzees. Humans tend to yawn more with friends and acquaintances, suggesting that "catching" someone's yawn may be tied to feelings of empathy. Similarly, some studies have found that dogs tend to yawn more after watching familiar people yawning. But it is unclear whether the canine behavior is linked to empathy as it is in people. One clue might be if even the mere sound of a human yawn elicited yawning in dogs.

To that end, scientists at the University of Porto in Portugal recruited 29 dogs, all of whom had lived for at least 6 months with their owners. To reduce anxiety, the study was performed in familiar rooms in the dogs' homes and in the presence of a known person but with no visual contact with their owners.

The team, led by behavioral biologist Karine Silva, recorded yawning sounds of the dogs' owners and an unfamiliar woman as well as an artificial control sound consisting of a computer-reversed yawn. (To help induce natural yawning, volunteers listened to an audio loop of prerecorded yawns over headphones.) Each dog heard all of the sounds in two sessions, each carried out 7 days apart. During the sessions, the researchers measured the number of elicited yawns in dogs in response to sounds from known and unknown people.

As the team will report in the July issue of Animal Cognition, 12 out of 29 dogs yawned during the experiment. On average, canines yawned five times more often when they heard humans they knew yawning as opposed to control sounds. "These results suggest that dogs have the capacity to empathize with humans," says Silva.

That's not surprising, she says. People first began domesticating dogs at least 15,000 years ago, and since then we've bred them to perform increasingly complex tasks, from hunting to guiding the blind. This close relationship may have fostered cross-species empathy over the millennia.

"This study tells us something new about the mechanisms underlying contagious yawning in dogs," says Evan McLean, a Ph.D. student at Duke University's Canine Cognition Center in Durham, North Carolina, who was not part of the study. "As in humans, dogs can catch this behavior using their ears alone." Still, he notes, the experiments don't tell us much about the nature of empathy in dogs. "Do they think about our emotions and internal states the way we do as humans?"

Ádám Miklósi, an ethologist at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, agrees. "Using behaviors as indicators will only show some similarity in behavior," he says, "but it will never tell us whether canine empathy, whatever this is, matches human empathy." Previous work has shown, for example, that when dogs look guilty, they may not actually be feeling guilty. "Dogs can simulate very well different forms of social interest that could mislead people to think they are controlled by the same mental processes," says Miklósi, "but they may not always understand the complexity of human behavior."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

are people too busy and too poor to make demands?

aljazeera | The Occupy movement has been an extremely exciting development. Unprecedented, in fact. There's never been anything like it that I can think of. If the bonds and associations it has established can be sustained through a long, dark period ahead - because victory won't come quickly - it could prove a significant moment in American history.

The fact that the Occupy movement is unprecedented is quite appropriate. After all, it's an unprecedented era and has been so since the 1970s, which marked a major turning point in American history. For centuries, since the country began, it had been a developing society, and not always in very pretty ways. That's another story, but the general progress was toward wealth, industrialisation, development and hope. There was a pretty constant expectation that it was going to go on like this. That was true even in very dark times.

I'm just old enough to remember the Great Depression. After the first few years, by the mid-1930s - although the situation was objectively much harsher than it is today - nevertheless, the spirit was quite different. There was a sense that "we're gonna get out of it", even among unemployed people, including a lot of my relatives, a sense that "it will get better".

There was militant labour union organising going on, especially from the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations). It was getting to the point of sit-down strikes, which are frightening to the business world - you could see it in the business press at the time - because a sit-down strike is just a step before taking over the factory and running it yourself. The idea of worker takeovers is something which is, incidentally, very much on the agenda today, and we should keep it in mind. Also New Deal legislation was beginning to come in as a result of popular pressure. Despite the hard times, there was a sense that, somehow, "we're gonna get out of it".

It's quite different now. For many people in the United States, there's a pervasive sense of hopelessness, sometimes despair. I think it's quite new in American history. And it has an objective basis. Fist tap Arnach.

we have reached peak government...,

oftwominds | As the foundations that supported an expansive centralized State crumble, the entire centralized State is revealed as unsustainable: we have reached Peak Government.

In previous entries this week, I have detailed the profound unsustainability of government pensions and entitlements such as Medicare.
These are symptoms are a larger phenomenon: Peak Government, the realization that Central States cannot sustain their current budgets or future promises.

Most informed people are familiar with the concept of Peak Oil, but fewer are aware that we’re also entering the era of Peak Government. The central misconception of Peak Oil -- that it’s not about “running out of oil,” it’s about running out of cheap, easy-to-access oil -- can also be applied to Peak Government: It’s not about government disappearing, it’s about government shrinking.

Central government -- the Central State -- has been in the expansion mode for so long that the process of contracting government is completely alien to the nation, to those who work for the State, and to those who are dependent on the State. Thus we have little recent historical experience of Peak Government and few if any conceptual guideposts to help us understand this contraction.

Peak Government is not a reflection of government services or the millions of individuals who work in government; it is a reflection of four key systemic forces that drove State expansion are now either declining or reversing.
The Four Key Drivers of State Expansion
The twin peaks of oil and government are causally linked: central government's great era of expansion has been fueled by abundant, cheap liquid fuels. As economies powered by abundant cheap energy expanded, so did tax revenues.

Demographics also aided Central States’ expansion: as the population of working-age citizens grew, so did the work force and the taxes paid by workers and enterprises.

The third support of Central State expansion was debt, and more broadly, financialization, which includes debt, leverage, and institutionalized incentives for speculation and misallocation of capital. Not only have Central States benefited from the higher tax revenues generated by speculative bubbles, they now depend on debt to finance their annual spending. In the U.S., roughly one-third of Federal expenditures are borrowed every year. In Japan -- which is further along on this timeline, relative to America -- tax revenues barely cover social security payments and interest on central government debt; all other spending is funded with borrowed money.

The fourth dynamic of Central State expansion is the State’s ontological imperative to expand. The State has only one mode of being, expansion. It has no concept of, or mechanisms for, contraction.

Friday, May 18, 2012

synthetic genetic evolution...,

TheScientist | Synthetic genetic polymers, broadly referred to as XNAs, can replicate and evolve just like their naturally occurring counterparts, DNA and RNA, according to a new study published today (April 19) in Science. The results of the research have implications not only for the fields of biotechnology and drug design, but also for research into the origins of life—on this planet and beyond.

“It’s a breakthrough,” said Gerald Joyce of The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, who was not involved in the study—“a beautiful paper in the realm of synthetic biology.”

“It shows that you don’t have to stick with the ribose and deoxyribose backbones of RNA and DNA in order to have transmittable, heritable, and evolvable information,” added Eric Kool of Stanford University, California, who also did not participate in the research.

Over the years, scientists have created a range of XNAs, in which the ribose or deoxyribose portions of RNA and DNA are replaced with alternative molecules. For example, threose is used to make TNA, and anhydrohexitol is used to make HNA. These polymers, which do not exist naturally, are generally studied with various biotechnological and therapeutic aims in mind. But some researchers, like Philipp Holliger of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, think XNAs might also provide insights into the origins of life. They might help to answer questions such as, “why is life based on DNA and RNA, and, if we ever find life beyond earth, is it likely to be based on the same molecule or could there be other possibilities?” Holliger said.

To get at some of these questions, Holliger and his colleagues had to first create enzymes that could replicate XNAs, a necessary first step to evolution. They did this both by randomly mutating and screening existing DNA polymerases for their ability to read XNA, and by an iterative process of selecting polymerase variants with capacities for XNA synthesis. In the end, they had several polymerases that could synthesize six different types of XNA.

To see whether XNAs could evolve, they generated random HNA sequences, then selected for those that could bind to two target molecules. After selection, the HNAs were amplified by the newly designed polymerases and again selected for their ability to bind the targets. Eight rounds of selection later, the HNA sequences were no longer random, as those with a particular target-binding motif became more abundant. Through selection and replication, the HNAs had evolved.

The finding in itself is not surprising, said Kool. “Chemists have been working for 20 years to find new backbones for DNA and the feeling always was that it would be interesting and quite possible that some of them might be replicated one day.” It was, nevertheless, impressive, he added. “The hard part was finding the enzymes that could do it. So the big leap ahead for this paper was finding those enzymes.”

what bugs are in your gut?

TheScientist | Humans from different cultures and geographic locations differ in the diversity of bacteria in their guts, but the metabolic functions that those microbial communities serve are similar, according to a report out in Nature today (May 9). The findings come from a large-scale sequencing project carried out on 531 samples of human excrement from Africa, South America, and the United States.

“It’s a humungous paper, with multiple key findings,” said food scientist David Mills of the University of California, Davis. “An impressive and complex piece of work,” agreed molecular biologist Jeremy Nicholson of Imperial College, London. Neither researcher participated in the study.

The scale and complexity stem from the research team’s aim of answering a multifaceted question—“What is the degree to which these microbial communities… vary within a person, as a function of postnatal development, physiological status, cultural tradition, and where a person lives,” said geneticist Jeffrey Gordon of the Washington University in St Louis, who led the study.

To this end, the researchers collected samples of feces from villagers in rural Malawi, Amerindians in Amazonian Venezuela, and metropolis-dwelling Americans. They then performed high-throughput sequencing on DNA taken from the samples to determine both the species and strains of microbes present and which microbial genes were most abundant.

The team found a common pattern for how the microbiomes of babies develop in the three countries. “It takes 6 to 9 months to get the first 6 or 700 bugs and then another couple of years to get the adult set,” explained Nicholson. “[Gordon] finds there is the same sort of developmental time span between countries,” he said, “but that the resulting microbiomes are nonetheless distinct between, let’s call it, a third-world population and a westernized population.”

One of the most striking differences was the degree of microbial diversity, with both the Amerindians and Malawians having far greater diversity than the Americans. “But, ironically, [Americans] might have more diversity in terms of the food eaten,” said Mills, which might have been expected to correlate with microbial diversity. Gordon suggested the Westerners’ lack of diversity could result from “our lifestyle, our degree of hygiene, [and] our use of antibiotics,” though further research is needed to test these possibilities.

Despite these differences between the gut microbiomes of the three cultures, there were also striking similarities, said Gordon. For example, “across all three populations, we see this age-dependent change in vitamin biosynthesis,” he said. In infants, gut bacteria tend to carry more copies of genes involved in folate biosynthesis, while the guts of older individuals harbor microbes carrying more genes for folate metabolism. Conversely, genes involved in vitamin B-12 synthesis became more prevalent in the gut microbiome with age.

“What’s really fascinating about those results,” said Mills, “is that it is reflecting what the host needs.”

academia suppresses creativity...,

TheScientist | Creativity enhances life. It enables the great thinkers, artists, and leaders of our world to continually push forward new concepts, new forms of expression and new ways to improve every facet of our existence. The creative impulse is of particular importance to scientific research. Without it, the same obstacles, ailments, and solutions would occur repeatedly because no one stepped back and reflected to gain a new perspective.

Unfortunately, in the academic world—where much of today’s scientific innovation takes place—researchers are encouraged to maintain the status quo and not “rock the boat.” This mentality is pervasive, affecting all aspects of scientific research from idea generation to funding to the training of the next generation of scientists.

Academic leadership
Many who succeed in advancing to leadership positions in academia have been cautious, making few enemies and stirring little controversy. But such a strategy fails to generate the insights that drive scientific fields of research forward. The history of science is filled with mavericks who refused to accept the prevailing theories and challenged the status quo. In the field of infectious diseases, those scientific mavericks included Louis Pasteur, whose germ theory was ridiculed; Joseph Lister, who promoted the concept of sterilization; and Ignaz Semmelweis, who determined the cause of puerperal fever and emphasized the importance of hand washing as a preventative measure. In recent years, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren challenged the dogma that peptic ulcer disease was the result of stress when they proposed and proved that this disease was actually caused primarily by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori.

In today’s environment, out-of-the-box thinking is ever more important, as change is now the rule. The internet combined with the availability of powerful personal computers and smart phones has greatly enhanced the worldwide sharing of ideas, and as a consequence, the rate of change is progressively accelerating. All institutions including our academic centers need to adapt and reevaluate policies concerning how progress and success are defined.

Effective responses to environmental challenges require adaptive leaders. These leaders can convince others to change their viewpoints, challenging prevailing scientific dogma as well as more logistical issues such as the methodologies used in the lab. This type of influence is critical to easing the sense of loss and anxiety that comes with change. Common responses to these emotions include procrastination, denial, and discontentment, which can perpetuate an environment that resists change—and progress. Ironically, the tenure system designed to allow academic professors to speak freely without risk of losing their position also allows them to resist change and discredit leaders who encourage it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

greece is now the cutting edge of the world

crikey | “Everything’s fine out the window … oh no, look, I can see society collapsing,” said Paul, a French-Greek journalist working in Athens. Out his window is Ermou, the wide shopping street that leads down to Syntagma Square. I’d phoned him to see what was going on, and to check the “Greece in turmoil” line that has become de rigeur in the official coverage of the crisis.

Paul didn’t need much of an invitation to take the piss out of that line. What has happened in the development of the Greek-European crisis — and the inter-connected coverage of it — has been extraordinary, but also indicative of the topsy-turvy world of capitalism, finance, and its relation to everyday life. It is a lesson worth following closely, because Greece is a harbinger of what will happen not merely in Europe, but across the world over the next decade as the vast global superbubble of neoliberalism slowly deflates.

Six months ago, Greece really was starting to fray — due to the determination of the two major parties, PASOK and New Democracy, to impose the austerity measures of the EU “memorandum” no matter how stupid or self-defeating — and the deep frustration of the public at the impasse between the political system and popular feeling.

But then, after six months of “technocratic” rule (really, EU satrapy), an election was held, and lo and behold, the hold of the major parties was broken, and new forces — Syriza, a leftist outfit, and Independent Greeks, a right-wing nationalist breakaway — managed to break through, gaining about 50 and 30 seats respectively. The vote may have scattered across several parties but the result was clear — 60% of votes went to parties that rejected the terms of the memorandum. At the same time, 80% of Greeks want to stay in the euro and the EU. They reject the old parties, but they also reject the notion that the only way to square away the debt is needless pain enacted for largely ceremonial purposes.

So, in other words, the people’s desires have entirely transformed the structure of Greek politics. Or, as it might otherwise be called, democracy. For surely, if democracy means anything, it means the capacity of a vote to up-end everything. In any real democracy, the party structure should collapse and recombine every 25-30 years or so. Large parties are, after all, coalitions of temporarily united values and interests. When the circumstances change, so should they.

That is what has happened in Greece. Rather than the shell-game of finance capitalism dictating the terms, people have made a fairly clear statement of what they want — the social-political has come to the centre of society, as it should. What the morons who constitute the ranks of financial journalism call “chaos” is really the exact opposite — it is politics, people expressing their will in a non-violent form, and then trying to negotiate an arrangement between differing manifestations of ideas and interests.

Chaos, by contrast, can be seen on the screen on every finance trader across the Western world, where stocks, shares, currencies move according to no rational basis, driven by the echo chamber of rumour. The idea that the business of everyday life should be governed by these processes rather than by the rational activity of production for use, indicates the nihilism at the heart of the market, its alliance with dead matter — numbers, money, power — rather than life.

The Greeks have rebelled against this. It looks like their rebellion will continue — with the failure of the latest attempts to form a coalition government the country is going back to the polls. Syriza, the left coalition that had taken 5% of the vote in the last election, and 17% in this, is now polling in the mid-twenties.

idiocy as wmd...,

linhdinh | Borges writes, “dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy.” As a preeminent mind, Borges rightly considers the mind to be a man’s greatest asset, for without mind, a man is nothing. The more oppressive a political system, then, the greater its assault on its subjects’ minds, for it’s not enough for any dictator, king or totalitarian system to oppress and exploit, but it must, and I mean must, make its people idiotic as well. Every wrongful bullet is preceded and accompanied, then followed up by a series of idiotic lies, but we’re so used to such a moronic diet by now, our trepanned intelligentsia don’t even squirm in their tenured chairs.

Sane men and women don’t consent to kill, rob and rape, much less be killed, robbed and raped, least of all to enrich their masters, and that’s why their minds must be molested as early and as much as possible. Hence our nonstop media brainwashing us from the cradle, literally, to the grave. Fixated by flickering boxes, even infants are now mind-conditioned to become scatterbrained idiots before they stagger into kindergarten, to begin a lifelong process of becoming docile and slogan-shouting Democrats and Republicans.

Yes, savages killed, but, like apes and monkeys, our ancestors, they mostly tried to intimidate and trash talk their way out of conflicts. There wasn’t a lot of murdering after the haka, frankly. They didn’t wipe out entire cities by defecating exploding metal from the sky, nor sit in a brightly lit and spic-and-span office stroking a joy stick to ejaculate missiles half a planet away. Drone hell fire for y’all, with sides of bank-sponsored debt slavery and austerity, plus an unlimited refill of American pop bullshit. Would you like a public suicide with that? No, sir, these savages need to take webcast courses from us sophisticates when it comes to genocide, or ecocide, or any other kind of cides you can think of. When it comes to pure, unadulterated savagery, these quaint brutes ain’t got shit on us plugged-in netizens chillaxin’ in that shiny upside down condo on da capital-punishment-for the-entire-world, y’all, hill.

You’d think that a government with absolute power would not bother with expensive parades and elaborately-staged rallies in stadia, as are routine in North Korea, but such is the importance of propaganda and mind-control. America has gone way beyond Kim Jong-Un and his Nuremberg-styled pageantry, however, because the Yankee Magical Show is relentlessly pumped into our minds via television and the internet, at home, in office or even as we’re walking down the street, so that we’re always swarmed by sexy sale pitches, soft and hard porn, asinine righteousness and imbecilic trivia. All day long, we can stuff ourselves with unlimited kitsch. Today’s urgent topic, “Sylvester Stalone Spotted in 16th Century Painting.” Yesterday’s, “Tom Cruise’s Daughter Gets Inked.” Imagine a triple-amputee Iraq vet or an unemployed mother, sitting in an about to be foreclosed home with unpaid bills scattered across her kitchen table, staring at such headlines. At 48, I’m old enough to remember when it wasn’t this overwhelmingly stupid, though the dumbing down of America will only accelerate as this cornered and bankrupt country becomes ever more vicious to its citizens and foreigners alike.

Not content to kill and loot, America must do it to pulsating music; cool, orgasmic dancing; raunchy reality shows and violence-filled Hollywood blockbusters, and these are also meant for its victims, no less. In a 1997 article published by the US Army War College, Ralph Peters gushes about a “personally intrusive” and “lethal” cultural assault as a key tactic in the American quest for global supremacy. As information master, the American Empire will destroy its “information victims.” What’s more, “our victims volunteer” because they are unable to resist the seductiveness of American culture.

Defining democracy as “that deft liberal form of imperialism,” Peters reveals how the word is conceived and used these days by every American leader, whether talking about Libya, Syria, Iran or America itself. Recognizing that the lumpens of his country are also victims of empire, Peters frankly acknowledges that “laid-off blue-collar worker in America and the Taliban militiaman in Afghanistan are brothers in suffering.”

Much has been made of the internet as enabling democracy and protest, but whatever utility it may have for the disenfranchised and/or rebellious, the Web is most useful to our rulers. As Dmitry Orlov points out in a recent blog, the internet is a powerful surveillance tool for the state and, what’s more, it also keeps the masses distracted and pacified. Echoing Queen Victoria’s remark, “Give my people plenty of beer, good and cheap beer, and you will have no revolution among them,” Orlov observes that virtual sex thwarts rebellion. In sum, while the internet may empower some people, as in allowing John Michael Greer, Paul Craig Roberts or Orlov to publish their unflinching commentaries, the same internet also drowns them out with an unprecedented flood of drivel. Defending the empire, Ralph Peters cheerfully agrees, “The internet is to the techno-capable disaffected what the United Nations is to marginal states: it offers the illusion of empowerment and community.”

Though our only hope is to be expelled from this sick matrix, many of us will cling even more fiercely to these illusions of knowledge, love, sex and community as we blunder forward. A breathing and tactile life will become even more alien, I’m afraid. Here and there, a band of unplugged weirdos, to be hunted down and exterminated, with their demise shown on TV as warning and entertainment. Inhabiting a common waste land, we can each lounge in our private electronic ghetto. Until the juice finally runs out, that is.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

detroit's "other"worldly decay...,

The Atlantic | Detroit is a city in flux. There are bright spots -- pockets of development, a vibrant art scene, sophisticated restaurants, and a growing number of community gardens -- but signs of life are overshadowed by miles and miles of blight. Last May, the state turned Detroit's public schools over to an emergency manager, a businessman named Roy Roberts with a long history in the auto industry and financial markets.

The city as a whole may soon find itself under the same kind of supervision. As I photographed a public school that's up for sale, I spoke to a developer who is trying to get a "green project" built. I asked him whether or not an emergency manager would be good for the city. He shrugged and said he could only hope the governor would put smart a smart person in charge.
Detroit's urban landscape is a mix of deserted schools and churches, factories, and houses. Its abandoned manufacturing plants have become otherworldly environments, the haunt of photographers shooting what has been called "ruin porn." Michigan Central, once the world's tallest train station, is fenced off as workers in hard hats scurry around. The Packard Automotive Plant, a graffiti artist's heaven, is set for demolition this summer. Plans for the redevelopment of these sites has yet to be revealed.

Things have been managed so badly for so long in Detroit that many find the idea of an emergency manager enticing. But the track records of emergency managers in Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, and Ecorse have been controversial. Organizations such as Michigan Forward warn Detroit's citizens' not to hand over their city, arguing that services will get worse and people in the "99 percent" will have to pay more for them. The benefits, according to these groups, will be reaped by major corporations, at the expense of the poor and middle class. And once an emergency manager is in place, they argue, the entire political process will be put on hold -- there will be no votes, no city council, no way for citizens to make their voices heard

Could Detroit become the first major city in America to have all of its public services privatized? Signs are pointing in that direction. The question for those living on the precipice in the Metro Detroit area is whether to stay and turn things around or leave before they get worse.

To view the rules concerning eligibility for emergency managers in Michigan and a current list of cities deemed eligible, see this page at

greece will run out of money in six weeks unless it bends over for the "bailout"

telegraph | Speaking exclusively to The Sunday Telegraph, Theodoros Pangalos said he was "very much afraid of what is going to happen" after Greek voters rejected the deal in elections last Sunday.

"The majority of the people voted for a very strange mental construction," he said. "We want to be in the EU and the euro, but we don't want to pay anything for the past."

The main beneficiary of the election, the hard-Left Syriza coalition, came a startling second on a promise to tear up the deal, which promises EU loans to keep massively-indebted Greece afloat, but demands crippling spending cuts in return. Germany, the principal lender, has said it will stop payments if Greece breaks its promises on spending.

Mr Pangalos warned: "There is a school of thought that says the Germans are bluffing. They need Greece and will never throw us out of the eurozone. But what will happen, which is almost certain, is they will not give us the money to pay our debts.

"We will be in wild bankruptcy, out-of-control bankruptcy. The state will not be able to pay salaries and pensions. This is not recognised by the citizens. We have got until June before we run out of money.

"We have been spending the future for half a century. What [the anti-bailout forces] are really asking from the EU is not just to pay our bills, but also to pay for the deficit which we are still creating.

"I'm sure the Germans don't want Greece to leave the euro. What I don't know is how much they're willing to pay. It depends on the German man on the street. Is he willing to pay his taxes to save Greece? I doubt it."

After each of the top three parties at the election failed to form a government, Greece's president, Karolos Papoulias, will on Sunday hold last-ditch talks to cobble together a national unity coalition. The alternative is a fresh election next month which polls show Syriza is likely to win.

Mr Pangalos compared Syriza's charismatic leader, Alexis Tsipras, to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

"Are the Germans going to pay for a guy that wants to imitate Chavez?" he said. "Except that Chavez has oil, and an army."

The deputy prime minister also warned that chaos could boost the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, which won an unprecedented seven per cent of the vote, and 21 seats, in Sunday's election.

"In the places where the police voted, the fascists got 25 per cent," he said. "They are a serious threat. They have used violence already – you don't know where it will stop.

"You know how it happened in Germany – it started with the Jews, then the Communists, then everybody – it could happen here. This is the country, after the Soviet Union and Germany itself, with the biggest percentage of [Second World War] casualties in its population."

discovering the "end" in "extend and pretend"

automaticearth | There was a rumor over the weekend that the Troika may be willing to relax the terms of the dreaded memorandum for the Greek government if it formed a "pro-European" coalition government and avoided new elections. This rumor is ridiculous on both fronts - 1) the Troika and Germany would NEVER make such a concession for fear that every single penny pledged to peripheral nations would become contingent on the outcome of national elections and, essentially, a gift with no conditions attached (something that would pit the German people against their crony, bankster-run government once and for all), and 2) the left-wing Syriza party in Greece would NEVER commit itself to the Euro while it continues to gain popularity each day before the new elections.

Last year or the year before, such extend & pretend tactics may have actually worked. The Eurozone was still officially out of recession, the people were relatively docile and unaware of how bad their economic situation could get and everyone still had a modicum of faith in the conventional wisdom that bailouts and austerity measures, drawn out over time, could work. Back then, the "fringe" anti-establishment political parties in Europe still had a steep hill to climb before they could credibly threaten those holding the reigns of power. Now, not so much. The tide of popular resistance seems to have turned much too fast for even the most powerful among us.

These elections in Europe are no joke. The Eurocrats will bring everything they can muster to co-opt the platforms of those who have emerged with support and/or maneuver around the snowballing anti-austerity momentum, but it should be painfully clear by now that some things are simply outside of their control. The party leaders of Syriza continue to defy any and all attempts to be seduced into a "Unity Government", knowing full well that, as soon as they accept, the entire party will be rendered irrelevant. Maria Petrakis, Natalie Weeks and Marcus Bensasson report for Bloomberg:

european voters have rejected austerity, so, what now?

Time | So voters in France and Greece sent an inescapable signal to the euro zone: No more austerity. In doing so, they showed that the average guy on the street understands economics better than the people in power. Rather than reducing debt and returning the European economy to health, the all-austerity approach to solving the debt crisis was sending the weaker economies of Europe into a death spiral of recession, unemployment, and ultimately, continued strain on national finances.

But there’s a problem. Whatever the verdict of the ballot box, Europe can’t avoid austerity. Its indebted governments can’t simply return to spending and borrowing as they had in the past. Financial markets just wouldn’t stand for it. So the question going forward is not what replaces austerity, but what new mix of policies along with austerity are needed to restore prospects for growth, fix national finances and quell the debt crisis.

There are no easy answers. Austerity, by its very nature, is growth-killing. The trick is finding a combination of policies, both at the national and Europe-wide levels, that can balance out that effect. There is no agreement on how that can be achieved. What we are about to see in Europe is a continent-wide debate on what the next steps might be to both end the debt crisis and restore the euro zone to economic health. The outcome of that debate is highly uncertain.

(MORE: Ballot Box Breakdown: How Europe’s Elections Will Heat Up the Debt Crisis)

There is a case to be made that the problem with austerity is not the austerity itself, but the pace at which it is being imposed. Rather than a mad rush to meet euro-zone deficit limits, more flexibility is needed to allow governments to adjust over a longer period of time and benefit from economic recovery. Here how Christina D. Romer, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, explained it in a recent essay in The New York Times:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

them what's got, shall get, them what's not, shall lose...,

thenational | One of the world's biggest oil producers and consumers has launched a renewable energy programme that may make Riyadh a new global hub for clean power.

In 2010, Saudi Arabia made a huge splash on the international stage when Ali Al Naimi, the oil minister, announced that "Saudi Arabia aspires to export as much solar energy in the future as it exports oil now".

Observers were not impressed. They claimed it was simply not realistic. To achieve this, Saudi Arabia would need to produce and export as much as half the world's total annual installed capacity of solar energy. It could never happen. Or could it?

Less than two years later, the kingdom has hit back at its critics by launching the most ambitious solar programme the world has ever seen.

Under the stewardship of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (Ka-care), it has unveiled a detailed programme that will see it generate 41 gigawatts of solar energy over the next 20 years.

Assuming that the policy-makers in Riyadh are able to stick to their timetable, by 2032 about a quarter of the country's electricity will be produced using solar energy.

Ka-care has also set bold plans to build wind, geothermal, waste-to-energy and nuclear energy plants. This huge undertaking, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, is set to make Riyadh a global hub for clean energy investments. It would be a huge leap forward for Saudi Arabia, given that today it is among the world's top five biggest polluters on a per capita basis.

The immediate benefit of this new policy is oil savings. Saudi Arabia currently burns almost 1 million barrels of hydrocarbons each day for domestic power generation. This includes some 600,000 barrels per day of its coveted crude oil. Alarmingly, this flow is expected to rise by about 10 per cent annually.

Oil supplied to power plants domestically at the subsidised price of US$4 per barrel is oil that could otherwise have been sold on international markets at a much higher price. The Saudi Electricity and Co-Generation Regulatory Agency estimates the country loses at least Dh50 billion ($13.61bn) annually by selling oil domestically compared to what it would fetch internationally.

With its renewable energy policy now in place, the kingdom will be able to start satisfying its unparalleled thirst for power through solar-generated rather than oil-generated electricity.

Concentrated solar power plants will be installed to meet winter demand while photovoltaic power plants will be erected to crunch peak-time usage during the summer months. Each megawatt of solar power installed will be able to meet the annual electricity needs of some 50 single-family homes.

Another major benefit is job creation. Today, some 60 per cent of Saudi nationals are under 25. These youths will be looking for jobs soon. By building a world-class clean energy sector, the kingdom will ensure a steady supply of new jobs.

According to the European Photovoltaic Technology Platform, every megawatt of solar power installed creates about 50 jobs in research, manufacturing, installation, and distribution activities.

In other words, by rolling out 41 gigawatts, the kingdom will help to create, both directly and indirectly, some 2 million new jobs.

japan will experience power shortages this summer

bloomberg | Kansai Electric Power Co. (9503) and two other Japanese utilities may have power shortages this summer without supplies from nuclear reactors, a government panel said.

Kansai Electric, the utility most dependent on nuclear power, may face the biggest shortage of 14.9 percent, the independent committee said in a draft report published May 12. Kyushu Electric Power Co. and Hokkaido Electric Power Co. may have shortages of 2.2 percent and 1.9 percent, the report said.

Japan is reviewing its electricity outlook as it heads toward a nuclear-free summer while debating the first restart of atomic reactors idled for regular safety checks since the Fukushima disaster in March last year. Based on the conclusion of the panel, the government will decide on power-saving measures, which may include rolling blackouts.

Kansai Electric’s service area may face a more severe power shortage than the deficit forecast in Tokyo Electric’s region last year, according to the report. In addition to the Kansai region, power supply and demand are expected to be tight in Hokkaido, Shikoku and Kyushu.

Utilities should have at least 3 percent surplus capacity to deal with potential demand spikes or accidents at power plants, the report said. Tokyo Electric Power Co. and four other utilities were estimated to meet the target, it said.

Power Saving

As part of measures to get through the summer, the government should set power-saving targets across the country, and utilities with excess capacity should supply electricity to others, the report said.

The government may ask western prefectures supplied by Chubu Electric Power Co., Hokuriku Electric Power Co. (9505), Chugoku Electric Power Co. and Shikoku Electric Power Co. to reduce power consumption by 5 percent, the Yomiuri newspaper reported May 12. Saved electricity may be supplied to the Kansai region, it said. Kansai accounts for about a fifth of Japan’s economy.

Users there may be asked to cut electricity consumption by as much as 20 percent, while those in Kyushu and Hokkaido may be requested to reduce 12 percent and as much as 8 percent, the Yomiuri said, without saying how it got the information.

All of Japan’s 50 reactors are now offline for maintenance or safety checks and none have been approved for restarts due to local opposition following the disaster. Utilities increased use of gas and oil-fired power plants to make up for the loss.

italian "anarchists" kneecap nuclear executive...,

Guardian | An anarchist group claimed responsibility on Friday for kneecapping an Italian nuclear engineering executive and warned it would strike another seven times at the firm's parent company, Finmeccanica.

In a four-page letter sent to an Italian newspaper, the group, calling itself the Olga Nucleus of the Informal Anarchist Federation-International Revolutionary Front, said two of its members had shot Roberto Adinolfi, the CEO of Ansaldo Nucleare, in Genoa on Monday.

The firm is owned by Italian state-controlled defence and aerospace group Finmeccanica, which operates 16 sites and employs 10,000 people in the UK.

The letter, which was deemed credible by investigators, said the cell named itself after Olga Ikonomidou, one of eight Greek anarchists it listed as currently jailed in Greece. Seven further attacks would be carried out, one for each of them, the letter stated.

After the shooting Finmeccanica's CFO, Alessandro Pansa, said the firm would not be intimidated. On Friday a spokesman declined to comment on the letter.

The letter takes aim at Adinolfi, calling him a "sorcerer of the atomic industry" and criticising him for claiming in an interview that none of the deaths during the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011 were due to nuclear incidents.

"Adinolfi knows well that it is only a matter of time before a European Fukushima kills on our continent," the letter stated.

"Science in centuries past promised us a golden age, but it is pushing us towards self destruction and slavery," the group wrote, adding: "With our action we give back to you a small part of the suffering that you scientists are bringing to the world."

Adinolfi, who was discharged from hospital under police guard on Friday after he was wounded in the shooting, said "Thank God I am OK".

Monday, May 14, 2012

there is not enough money on planet earth...,

automaticearth | No matter how you look at it, as The Automatic Earth and others have pointed out ad infinitum, in the end the US economy rests on two pillars: Jobs and Housing. They are where both all the good and bad in economic terms begin and end. Ben Bernanke and his Fed policies are majestically failing on both counts.

That is the reality that is shaping America's reality today. Anything else is just a sideshow. Discard all the hubris on recovery, on falling unemployment; all that is but a mirage the political/industrial/financial/media conglomerate wishes you to see and believe in, so you won't pay attention to what truly goes on. Which is that Fed and Treasury policies were never designed to support or revive the economy you depend on for your income and your well-being in general. They were and are designed to take your wealth away from you.

What is at issue? Easy as pie: banks were bailed out with many trillions of dollars in taxpayer funds (which they won’t pay back, they’ll just come back for more) without any scrutiny to speak of.

Bernanke and Geithner at best (yeah, right!) just "hoped" they would lend again, but they never made it a condition of the bailouts. What we find now is what I have repeatedly been saying for years now: The banks are far too deep in debt, even after the bailouts, to revive lending even to "healthy buyers". The entire bailout circus has been a scam, since the money was handed out to banks without looking at how much debt they really have on their books.

It's all been one big massive wealth transfer, perpetrated under the guise of fixing the financial system and the economy in general. Neither was the real purpose behind the bailouts: they were and are nothing but a clever way to steal from the poor and fork over the loot to the rich. And they ain't done yet. That, you can put your money on. That is a safe bet.

You need to wake up to this. You really do. You need to cut your dependence on the financial/political system to the maximum extent that you can. If you don't, it will steamroller over you. The system is so deep in debt that it will come looking for every last penny it can find in your pockets. Many of you will be caught by surprise, and stuck with tens of thousands of dollars, and often many times, in debt. That will turn you into a potential slave. Or a prisoner, if you will. Terminology is not an urgent priority on the chaingang.

So where do Ben B.S. Bernanke's deliberate "failures" show up? Have a look, I'll try and paint you a picture.

europe's voters say NO to economic reality

whiskeyandgunpowder | “Europe fights back against austerity” was how The Daily Telegraph headlined its weekend election coverage. “Anti-austerity movements are gathering pace across Europe following political earthquakes in France and Greece. A total of 12 European governments have now been dismissed in three years.”

As the European welfare state is officially in its death-throes none of us should be surprised if political strife gets cranked up to eleven. I firmly expect that we will see much more of this in the future. While I can understand the anger of the electorate and sympathize with the sense of desperation and foreboding, I cannot, however, consider the electoral choices of the weekend particularly enlightened. They do not reflect a coherent, let alone intelligent strategy as the Daily Telegraph headline seems to imply.

If those who ‘won’ the election deliver on their promises, economic disintegration will only accelerate. What is being offered in terms of ‘solutions’ is a dangerous assortment of economic poisons, more suitable to describe the European disease than provide a recipe for stronger growth.

Recovery through early retirement and infrastructure spending? – C’mon. Nobody can take that seriously.

But it seems that just because this heap of economic stupidity can neatly be swept under the wide tent of ‘anti-austerity’, the commentariat seems somehow willing to believe in the wisdom of the crowds and look for some deeper insights here.

I guess the reason for this is that the economic ideologies that are now being strenuously interpreted into the election results rhyme with the economic prejudices of most commentators. They, too, believe that state bankruptcy is best to be ignored or not to be taken too seriously so that we can spend our way out of this mess.

For a long time media pundits have treated us to the perceived wisdom that economic growth can only come from the actions of the government. Only devaluation through euro-exit, inflation through more money printing and more government deficit-spending, preferably by the still credit-worthy Germans and then fiscally-transferred to the maxed-out Greeks, can revive the economy because only this can lift aggregate demand, which is the magic cure-all of economic problems.

What is lost on these commentators is that the European mess is nothing but the inevitable result of government-stipulated aggregate demand. Easy money funded the Spanish and Irish real estate booms and bankrupted their banks and by extension their governments. Easy money allowed Greece’s political class to go on a borrowing binge that has now bankrupted the country and lured large parts of the population into zero-productivity, soon-to-be-eliminated public sector jobs.

Do you still want the state to ‘stimulate’ the economy? Be careful what you wish for.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

it will take another 40 years to decommission fukushima

Guardian | In December, Japan's prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, declared that "a cold shutdown" had been achieved and that the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was now over. "Today, we have reached a great milestone", Noda told the Japanese people in a televised address. "The reactors are stable, which should resolve one big cause of concern for us all."

But Mr Noda's optimistic assessment appears to have been premature. Nuclear engineer and former power company executive Arnie Gunderson compared the prime minister's statement to President George Bush declaring "mission accomplished" on the deck of the USS Lincoln in 2003. Gunderson calls the situation at Fukushima "a long battle, far from over."

Even Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which owns the Fukushima facility, says that it will take another 40 years to fully decommission the reactors there, a project which poses unprecedented engineering challenges. But the company's own tests disclose a more immediate danger. Rising radiation levels within one of the reactors, the highest recorded so far, and evidence of a leak in the critical cooling system demonstrate that the situation is still far from stable.

Tepco revealed at the end of March that protective water levels in the containment vessel of Reactor No 2, were far shallower than they had expected, which might mean that the uranium fuel rods there are no longer completely submerged, and are heating up. The Japan Times reported on 29 March that radiation inside the vessel has reached 73 sieverts per hour – high enough to administer a lethal dose to a human in a matter of minutes, even to disable the robotic devices which are sent regularly into the reactor to monitor what is happening there.

Conditions elsewhere in the plant are more difficult to assess. Reactors 1 and 3, both of which melted down after the earthquake and tsunami last year, are currently sealed and impossible to enter, even by robots. So we don't know what is going on inside those crippled structures.

But nuclear experts say that their biggest concern involves Reactor 4, which sustained severe structural damage during the earthquake and subsequent hydrogen explosions which collapsed its roof. This is where hundreds of tons of spent fuel sits perched 100 feet above the ground in a cooling pool exposed to the open sky.

A report released in February by the Independent Investigation Commission on the nuclear accident called this pool "the weakest link" at Fukushima. Robert Alvarez, former senior policy adviser at the US department of energy said: "If an earthquake or other event were to cause this pool to drain it could result in a catastrophic radiological fire involving nearly 10 times the amount of Cs-137 released by the Chernobyl accident."

How likely is this? While the structure of Reactor 4 is stable for the moment, the Dai-ichi plant lies miles from a big earthquake fault – as large as the one that caused last year's quake, but much closer to Fukushima. According to a study published in February (pdf) in the European Geosciences Union's journal Solid Earth, that fault is now overdue for a quake.

japanese bleeding from the eyes...,

fukushimadiary | My eye started bleeding all of a sudden yesterday. It was my first time to get on an ambulance. They say the blood vessel of eyelid was cut. thought I was going to lose my eye sight. so scary. The reason is not known.(Tokyo)

Bleeding from eyes. didn’t do anything, why ?! (From Ishinomaki city Miyagi = Disaster area.)