Dec 312011
 

* BEST CHICAGO ART OF 2011: GALLERIES AND EXHIBITIONS THAT PUT THE CITY ON THE MAP (PHOTOS)

By Abraham Ritchie, HuffPo

h/t Jagoff Publishing @ http://thejagoff.com/

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Western Exhibitions’ “Heads on Poles” exhibit. Photo courtesy ArtSlant Chicago.

As 2011 winds to an end, we reached out to some of Chicago’s experts in style, music, art and more to share some of their favorite places, people and things of the year. Already this week, Pete Zimmerman of CHIRP Radio and The Steve Dahl Show rounded up his favorite Chicago bands, albums and songs of 2011. Thursday, Refinery 29’s Chicago Editor Shani Silver shared the local shops and designers she admired this year, while the crew at Chicago Theater Beat revealed their picks for the city’s best plays of the year.

Below, ArtSlant Chicago Editor Abraham Ritchie shares his picks for the top contemporary art exhibits, galleries and other highlights from the year in contemporary art.

2011 was a solid year for art in Chicago, with quality art appearing in all areas of the city consistently throughout the year. The galleries in the 119 North Peoria Street building, threewalls, Western Exhibitions and Golden Age, were consistently strong all year and deserve a special nod, as they will get below. Steps away from Peoria Street, 65GRAND had excellent exhibitions particularly in painting and, unexpectedly, the monochrome. Though we had to bid goodbye as some of our favorite galleries closed this year: Golden Age, Walsh Gallery and Noble and Superior Projects, the city’s continued artistic and intellectual vitality assures us new visions are already emerging. Promising galleries like Ebersmoore, Chicago Urban Art Society and Alderman Exhibitions have taken part in the annual migration to bigger and better spaces. Going into 2012, there are many reasons to be optimistic. […]

READ @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/29/best-chicago-art-of-2011-_n_1175382.html?ref=chica

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* THE MOST INTERESTING DOCUMENTARIES OF THE YEAR (VIDEOS)

Source: Mother Jones

Gerrymandering

Though gerrymandering is nearly as old as the Republic—its namesake was early 19th century Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry (pronounced “Gary,” if you please)—it’s never really been a hot-button issue for voters. Gerrymandering seeks to change that with an entertaining yet outraged look at the odd practice of letting politicians pick their voters. Just consider the case of Barack Obama, who got a major career boost when he helped redraw the boundaries of his mostly black Illinois state Senate district so it represented white liberals.

A bipartisan cast of talking heads, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Howard Dean, make the case for reform. But Gerrymandering walks the boundary between documentary and political ad: Just as I received a review DVD at work, I also received a copy at home—mailed to me and other Golden State voters by the backers of a redistricting reform proposition. —Dave Gilson

The Stinking Ship

One night in August 2006, a tanker chartered by Trafigura, a British oil trader, anchored off the Ivory Coast and illegally unloaded 500 tons of toxic waste into Abidjan’s landfills. The pungent, blistering sludge killed 16 and hospitalized more than 100,000. Director Bagassi Koura’s short documentary skillfully chronicles how Trafigura dodged environmental regulations to save a mere $300,000, only to spend millions trying to cover up its responsibility.

What makes The Stinking Ship so heartbreaking are the stories of the people still living with the effects of the “Ivorian Chernobyl,” which has yet to be fully cleaned up. A community leader laments, “When it rains or it’s windy, frankly we can’t live in the village. The stench reaches far beyond it. We are walking dead.” —Titania Kumeh

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Morgan Spurlock downed a month of McDonald’s for our fast-food sins in his notorious 2004 film Super Size Me. Now he’s aiming to show us how ad-soaked our lives have become by financing an entire doc about the ubiquity of product placement using—what else?—product placement. The title is no joke; Spurlock pitches POM the naming rights on camera. From then on, he is shown imbibing only the pomegranate beverage, while other drink brands are visibly blurred out. He flies exclusively on JetBlue, wears Merrell shoes (giving a pair to Ralph Nader), and drives Mini Coopers. His contracts obligate him to interview anti-commercialization advocate Susan Linn at a Sheetz gas station, and to stay at a Hyatt when he travels to São Paolo to cover the city’s outdoor ad ban.

While amusing as a meta-commercial packaged as an inquiry into artistic integrity, the film inevitably feels like a stunt. The slyest touch may be that amid the hawking and well-worn revelations about advertising, the biggest sell is for the amiable Spurlock as the genre’s reigning goofball tour guide. All that’s missing is the obligatory survey question: Are you more or less likely to purchase this brand in the future? —Robert Abele

[…]

COMPLETE LIST w/ VIDEOS @ http://motherjones.com/media/2011/12/best-documentary-films-of-year

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* THE BOOK OF JOBS

By Joseph E. Stiglitz, Vanity Fair

Forget monetary policy. Re-examining the cause of the Great Depression—the revolution in agriculture that threw millions out of work—the author argues that the U.S. is now facing and must manage a similar shift in the “real” economy, from industry to service, or risk a tragic replay of 80 years ago.

It has now been almost five years since the bursting of the housing bubble, and four years since the onset of the recession. There are 6.6 million fewer jobs in the United States than there were four years ago. Some 23 million Americans who would like to work full-time cannot get a job. Almost half of those who are unemployed have been unemployed long-term. Wages are falling—the real income of a typical American household is now below the level it was in 1997.

We knew the crisis was serious back in 2008. And we thought we knew who the “bad guys” were—the nation’s big banks, which through cynical lending and reckless gambling had brought the U.S. to the brink of ruin. The Bush and Obama administrations justified a bailout on the grounds that only if the banks were handed money without limit—and without conditions—could the economy recover. We did this not because we loved the banks but because (we were told) we couldn’t do without the lending that they made possible. Many, especially in the financial sector, argued that strong, resolute, and generous action to save not just the banks but the bankers, their shareholders, and their creditors would return the economy to where it had been before the crisis. In the meantime, a short-term stimulus, moderate in size, would suffice to tide the economy over until the banks could be restored to health.

The banks got their bailout. Some of the money went to bonuses. Little of it went to lending. And the economy didn’t really recover—output is barely greater than it was before the crisis, and the job situation is bleak. The diagnosis of our condition and the prescription that followed from it were incorrect. First, it was wrong to think that the bankers would mend their ways—that they would start to lend, if only they were treated nicely enough. We were told, in effect: “Don’t put conditions on the banks to require them to restructure the mortgages or to behave more honestly in their foreclosures. Don’t force them to use the money to lend. Such conditions will upset our delicate markets.” In the end, bank managers looked out for themselves and did what they are accustomed to doing.

Even when we fully repair the banking system, we’ll still be in deep trouble—because we were already in deep trouble. That seeming golden age of 2007 was far from a paradise. Yes, America had many things about which it could be proud. Companies in the information-technology field were at the leading edge of a revolution. But incomes for most working Americans still hadn’t returned to their levels prior to the previous recession. The American standard of living was sustained only by rising debt—debt so large that the U.S. savings rate had dropped to near zero. And “zero” doesn’t really tell the story. Because the rich have always been able to save a significant percentage of their income, putting them in the positive column, an average rate of close to zero means that everyone else must be in negative numbers. (Here’s the reality: in the years leading up to the recession, according to research done by my Columbia University colleague Bruce Greenwald, the bottom 80 percent of the American population had been spending around 110 percent of its income.) What made this level of indebtedness possible was the housing bubble, which Alan Greenspan and then Ben Bernanke, chairmen of the Federal Reserve Board, helped to engineer through low interest rates and nonregulation—not even using the regulatory tools they had. As we now know, this enabled banks to lend and households to borrow on the basis of assets whose value was determined in part by mass delusion. […]

READ @ http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/2012/01/stiglitz-depression-201201

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* INFILTRATING CONGRESS

By David Swanson, War Is A Crime

I cannot stress sufficiently that we will best move Congress toward peace and justice by keeping it at arm’s length and pressuring it without self-censorship, compromise, or entanglement with one or the other of its two branches: the Democratic or Republican. We are engaged in a long-term campaign to undo a plutocratic war state. Moving that campaign forward in the general culture is more important than which criminal enterprise has a majority of seats: the Democratic or Republican.

But it will be advantageous to us to have as many individuals with some nerve and a core of human decency occupying seats in Congress — perhaps as many as three or four of them if we are lucky. While only a mass movement will move the mass of corporate shills on Capitol Hill, it cannot hurt to have a few people there who are seriously on our side, people who understand where we are coming from without being taught, people who can communicate in front of a camera, people who are willing to step out alone and lead, and people capable of organizing others to join them.

Most elections pair up lesser and greater evils, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. But some handful of elections, especially primaries, include actually good candidates. I understand the presidential obsession. We’ve given presidents royal powers, so it matters that we show resistance to each would-be king by backing someone who would conceivably give those powers back, such as Rocky Anderson or Jill Stein. And I understand local action. But most localities don’t offer anything, and most general elections have already been decided by the gerrymanderers. If you must focus on elections, why not look to the few places that could make a real difference?

The best voice the peace movement has had in elected Washington in recent years has been Congressman Dennis Kucinich. He’s pushed the rest of the House of Misrepresentatives to places it had no desire to go. If we lose his voice in Washington, we will be taking a serious step backward. The point is not that we need elected officials to tell us what we want. The point is that only the very rarest of elected officials ever listen to what we want. Kucinich is one of them. The Ohio legislature has combined Kucinich’s district with Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s. These two Democratic incumbents will compete in one primary. That Kaptur is not the worst member of Congress we’ve ever seen, that she has in fact been remarkably good on occasion, does not alter the pressing need to keep a voice for peace in official Washington. […]

READ @ http://warisacrime.org/content/infiltrating-congress

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* TYRANNY IS A BIPARTISAN DISEASE

By Washington’s Blog

Extremists on Both the Right and the Left Like Tyranny

Lou Rockwell notes:

The most definitive study on fascism written in [the first half of the 20th century] was As We Go Marching by John T. Flynn. Flynn was a journalist and scholar of a liberal spirit who had written a number of best-selling books in the 1920s. He could probably be put in the progressive camp in the 1920s.

***

In reviewing the history of the rise of fascism, Flynn wrote:

One of the most baffling phenomena of fascism is the almost incredible collaboration between men of the extreme Right and the extreme Left in its creation.

***

If you think about it, right-wing statism is of a different color, cast, and tone from left-wing statism. Each is designed to appeal to a different set of voters with different interests and values.

These divisions, however, are not strict, and we’ve already seen how a left-wing socialist program can adapt itself and become a right-wing fascist program with very little substantive change other than its marketing program [or vice versa].

How Can Supposed “Right” and “Left” Wing People Both Be for Tyranny?

The short answer, of course, is that tyrannical interests may wear different masks, but it is just a dog-and-pony show meant to distract us into artificial “teams”.

George W. Bush cracked down on constitutional liberties such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and due process.

Obama has done the same … and has cracked down even harder.

Both Bush and Obama are waging brutal, unnecessary and insanely expensive wars throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Indeed, these wars were planned before either Bush or Obama. Both Democratic and Republican leaders are servants to the military-industrial complex, and they both accept the wholly-debunked myth that war is good for the economy (and see this).

Both Bush and Obama have both allowed crony capitalism to flourish. How can this be, when they are from such different sides of the aisle?

Because “fascism” (on the right), Soviet style “socialism” (on the left) and crony capitalism (a more modern, Western term) are all the exact same thing economically. They are all about an unholy alliance between a handful of corrupt, banana republic style government leaders and giant companies run amok.

Tyranny is a bipartisan disease. […]

READ @ http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/12/tyranny-is-a-bipartisan-disease.html

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* We Request to Inform You that You Inform Us We Killed Another Drone Target

By Marcy Wheeler, Emptywheel

I want to follow-up on Jim’s latest drone post–and go back to Greg Miller’s article on drones–to look at the the approval process. A lot of readers of Miller’s article noted this passage, revealing that JSOC continues to avoid the kind of (minimal) oversight that CIA gets.

There is no comparable requirement in Title 10, and the Senate Armed Services Committee can go days before learning the details of JSOC strikes.

But read the whole passage in context.

Within 24 hours of every CIA drone strike, a classified fax machine lights up in the secure spaces of the Senate Intelligence Committee, spitting out a report on the location, target and result.

The outdated procedure reflects the agency’s effort to comply with Title 50 requirements that Congress be provided with timely, written notification of covert action overseas. There is no comparable requirement in Title 10, and the Senate Armed Services Committee can go days before learning the details of JSOC strikes.

Neither panel is in position to compare the CIA and JSOC kill lists or even arrive at a comprehensive understanding of the rules by which each is assembled.

The senior administration official said the gap is inadvertent. “It’s certainly not something where the goal is to evade oversight,” the official said. A senior Senate aide involved in reviewing military drone strikes said that the blind spot reflects a failure by Congress to adapt but that “we will eventually catch up.”

The disclosure of these operations is generally limited to relevant committees in the House and Senate and sometimes only to their leaders. Those briefed must abide by restrictions that prevent them from discussing what they have learned with those who lack the requisite security clearances. The vast majority of lawmakers receives scant information about the administration’s drone program.

In addition to the long-standing problem of JSOC avoiding oversight (and, implicitly, that this notice apparently comes after the fact, when CIA sends a fax over, which is a little late for the Intelligence Committees to weigh in, IMO), Miller lays out the following:

  • No one–not the intelligence committees or even the Gang of Four–gets enough insight into the drone programs to understand how JSOC’s practices differ from CIA’s (this is consistent with what the Gang of Four said about Anwar al-Awlaki’s killing, given that they said they never saw the kill lists)
  • As is typical, the intelligence committee overseers can’t share information from briefings with their colleagues not read into the program (this is how the Bush Administration gutted intelligence committee oversight of the torture and illegal wiretap programs)

But don’t worry, a senior Administration official says, this time, this secrecy is not designed specifically to avoid oversight.

Apparently, this SAO’s interlocutors don’t agree, because the WSJ’s Adam Entous and Siobhan Gorman have a similar story out today, just three days after Miller’s, quoting “current and former administration, military and congressional officials” complaining about oversight gaps.

While few U.S. lawmakers question the effectiveness of the targeted killing campaigns, some top lawmakers complain about what they see as excessive White House secrecy about how targets are chosen and how the administration justified the killings, particularly of American citizens.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, has been publicly and privately pressing the Justice Department to let his committee review the secret memorandum prepared by Justice Department lawyers that endorsed the legality of killing U.S. citizens abroad.

Similar qualms have come from members of the House and Senate armed services committees, who have also sought more information in particular about the CIA’s drone program (they have some oversight over the drones run by the Defense Department).

We’ve seen this movie already. The refusal to release OLC opinions to DOJ’s oversight committee(s); the use of committee jurisdictional oddities to avoid oversight; the appeal to secrecy. All of this comes directly from the Bush script on hiding illegal programs from Congress.

And yet all of the people presumably bitching–folks like Pat Leahy, Carl Levin, John McCain, Buck McKeon, and Adam Smith presumably–just passed language leaving the Administration’s authority to use deadly force while pretending to try to detain American citizens with a drone intact.

Hey Congress! With Bush you were usually most successful forcing more transparency by refusing to pass legislation until you got that transparency. Maybe you should have tried that here?

In any case, Obama’s anonymous leakers poo poo the entire notion of functional Congressional oversight. […]

READ @ http://www.emptywheel.net/2011/12/30/we-request-to-inform-you-that-you-inform-us-we-killed-another-drone-target/

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* ENSHRINING THE LIES OF THE U.S. 1%

By Paul Rosenberg, Aljazeera

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The US has yet to come to terms with its biggest pack of lies of the last decade, the pack of lies on which the Iraq War was based, which left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, and the entire nation shattered. [GALLO/GETTY]

Last week, in an act of profound deception, the American “fact-checking” organisation, PolitiFact, chose a true statement as its “Lie of the Year”. The pseudo-lie?  “[House] Republicans voted to end Medicare”, as part of the GOP’s “Ryan Plan” last April. The reality? As the Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid wrote at the time, in a preview of the votethat Democrats would then cite to justify their claims:The plan would essentially end Medicare, which now pays most of the healthcare bills for 48 million elderly and disabled Americans, as a programme that directly pays those bills. Mr Ryan and other conservatives say this is necessary because of the programme’s soaring costs.

There is a potential lie-of-the-year in that paragraph. It’s just not the one that PolitiFact thinks it found.

The real lie is the claim that Ryan’s plan “is necessary because of the programme’s soaring costs”. In fact, the problem isn’t Medicare per se, it’s the entire cost structure of American medicine as a whole, which is roughly twice the per capita cost of healthcare spending in other advanced countries – even those that have 50 per cent more people aged 65+ than the US has.

The reason for that cost structure is non-competitive private oligopolies – insurance companies, drug companies, hospital chains, etc., – in sharp contrast to other countries with their government-run systems of various different kinds. There’s another name for these oligopolies -they are the cash cows of the one per cent. Paul Ryan is their man, and PolitiFact is part of their protection system.

Indeed, as Thomas Ferguson and Robert Johnson explained just over a year ago, in their paper “A World Upside Down? Deficit Fantasies in the Great Recession”, all of the US long-term federal debt is due to just three oligopoly sectors: the military-industrial complex (the backbone of empire, with bases all around the world and almost half the world’s military spending), the medical-industrial complex (with twice the per capita costs of other systems), and the financial sector (which has recently cost trillions of dollars in lost wealth and economic activity).

All three of these are enormous cash cows for the onr per cent, and equally enormous cost-centres for the 99 per cent. Without the costs imposed by lack of competition, regulation and accountability in these sectors, the US would have no long-term debt problem. We would be paying it down, rather than running it up. […]

READ @ http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/12/2011122994027989871.html

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* PAYBACK FOR PAID REVOLUTION? EGYPTIAN POLICE RAID U.S. NGOs

Source: RT 

h/t SnakeArbusto

Police in Cairo have today raided 17 civil society organizations as the country’s military rulers seek to find out exactly who has been funding the Egyptian revolution.

­As several of the pro-democracy and human rights groups were at the forefront of the revolution that swept through the country last January, Egyptian authorities have become increasingly interested in the foreign funding many of these groups receive.

At least three of the human rights groups targeted in Thursday’s operation, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Freedom House, and the International Republican Institute (IRI), are based in the US.

“Security forces who said they were from the public prosecutor are raiding our offices as we speak. They are grabbing all the papers and laptops as well,” said one person working at NDI, who gave her name as Rawda, told Reuters.

The Washington-based IRI, which has served as an election monitor in Egypt’s ongoing parliamentary elections, reacted harshly to the raids.

“IRI has been working with Egyptians since 2005; it is ironic that even during the Mubarak era IRI was not subjected to such aggressive action,” a statement by the group read, Al Arabiya reports.

­US reaction

The campaign has drawn immediate response from the United States. The State Department has characterized the raids as “inconsistent with the bilateral cooperation” that the two countries have had over years and urged Egyptian authorities to immediately halt their “harassment” of NGOs.

It has also made it clear that America could review its US $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt. The spokeswoman for the State Department, Victoria Nuland, has indicated that these payments may not be sanctioned by the Congress if Egyptian government does not reverse the situation.

“We do have a number of new reporting and transparency requirements on funding to Egypt that we have to make to Congress,” Nuland said. “The Egyptian government is well aware of that and it certainly needs to be aware of that in the context of how quickly this issue gets resolved.”

Meanwhile, 28 Egyptian rights groups came up with a joint statement on Friday accusing the country’s ruling military council of using “Hosni Mubarak-era repressive tools” in waging an “unprecedented campaign” against pro-democracy organizations, AP reports. The statement says the attacks herald a wider clampdown to target leaders of the uprising and are aimed at “liquidating” those behind the revolution.

READ and VIDEOS @ http://rt.com/news/egypt-police-raid-ngo-953/

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* WTO CONSISTENTLY RULES AGAINST THE PUBLIC INTEREST

By Karl Rusnak, Economy In Crisis

The World Trade Organization (WTO) was allegedly intended to benefit all of its members by increasing economic activity, but the reality has been quite different. The WTO has been a boon to multinational corporations, but has worked against the best interest of average citizens, particularly in the United States. According to Public Citizen, the WTO has ruled against the U.S. in 100 percent of the cases where a complaint was brought against a U.S. public interest law.

A major example of this occurred earlier this year when the WTO ruled against the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTC) of 2009, saying that it violated WTO rules. The law was intended to help combat teenage smoking by banning flavored cigarettes. There is considerable evidence that flavored cigarettes were targeted at younger potential smokers, which contributed to many young people developing lifelong addictions. It is no secret that cigarette smoking is a health hazard, and this measure was clearly intended as a public health measure, not a trade related measure.

Despite this fact, Indonesia filed a complaint with the WTO alleging that FSPTC represented an illegal barrier to trade. The complaint alleged that the ban on flavored cigarettes was “discriminatory and unnecessary.” Indonesia had  been the primary exporter of clove cigarettes to the United States before they were banned by this new law. Indonesia argued that because menthol cigarettes were still allowed under the law, the ban on other flavored cigarettes was discriminatory. This argument falls flat because the decision to continue to sell menthol and regular cigarettes was based on the fact that many older adults utilize these products, whereas the flavored cigarettes are almost exclusively used by young adults and new smokers. […]

READ @ http://economyincrisis.org/content/wto-consistently-rules-against-the-public-interest

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* IRAN, ANOTHER FALSE ENEMY?

By Stephen Merrill, Information Clearing House

Is Iran truly a country so bent on murdering innocent Americans it embraces its own nuclear annihilation, unlike any other nation now or previously, utter, complete defeat at war?

This is the claim made by the pro-warfare wing of the Republicrat Party, seven out of eight candidates seeking the Republican nomination for President. It is a given within this frightened circle that Iranians are willing to commit mass suicide as a people just to make a negative point about the freedoms enjoyed in the United States.

The warfare candidates in their many words on the subject betray little personal knowledge of Iranian history or proclivities. The main evidence cited in favor of a US military attack on Iran is the rants of the staged showman of the mullah empire, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even he has never stated that Iran is willing to die as a nation just to launch one nuclear attack of its own on Israel or the United States. With an impoverished economy, a strong protest movement, no known weapons of mass destruction and no direct capacity to deliver a nuclear missile even close to Tel Aviv, Iran seems an odd nation for the West to be so frightened of. […]

READ @ http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article30111.htm

Dec 302011
 

 

* THE WORMWOOD EXPRESS: AMERICAN WAR CRIME ROLLS ON

By Chris Floyd, OpEdNews

t requires no specialist knowledge, no insider connections, no secret sources to know and see the horrendous reality that the Americans and their accomplices have created in Iraq. The poison we have served to others — and poured into our own veins — will eat through the walls of the hallucination and stain the future deep with horror.

::::::::

I had much to say about the recent terror bombings in Baghdad, which were framed almost universally in the American media as the result of the withdrawal of the steadying, beneficent hand of the U.S. military. For example, the New York Times spoke of “a country reeling from political and sectarian turmoil that erupted after the departure of the American military.”

It is hard to fathom the level of moral blindness — not to mention the willful ignorance — required to write such a statement. To pretend to oneself, much less the rest of the world, that political and sectarian strife has only now “erupted” in Iraq, out of the blue, or more likely, due to the inherent savagery of those poor primitives we liberated — think what a pathetic, self-deluded wretch you would have to be to hold such an belief. Think what it must be like to lose so much of your humanity and to have your intellect so stunted and diminished. Yet this is the viewpoint of the overwhelming majority of the American political and media elite. No causal connection is made between the unprovoked invasion by U.S. forces and the “eruption” of violence and political chaos in the conquered, broken, blood-soaked land.

So yes, there is much to say about the continuing obscenity of the American war crime in Iraq, and its most recent manifestation in the eviscerated bodies on Baghdad’s streets. But I think in this instance, I should put my voice aside and let an actual Iraqi speak of the situation and its implications and causes. Sami Ramadani writes powerfully of the hell that has been unleashed in his hometown. From the Guardian:

“Baghdad, the city of my childhood, is again being terrorised by cowardly attacks aimed at spilling the blood of as many workers, students, shoppers and bystanders as possible. As I write, the facts are becoming clearer: the hundreds of murdered and injured men, women and children are Shia, Sunni, Christian, Arab, Kurd, Turkuman — a cross-section of the mosaic of peoples who have inhabited Mesopotamia for more than 1,000 years.

“So, who is killing the innocent in Baghdad today, and why?

“In the rush to provide an explanation for the nihilistic violence, the same old simplistic mantra is trotted out. Thursday’s co-ordinated, simultaneous attacks are invariably described by the media as sectarian. Few pause to ask why a ‘sectarian’ attack would be aimed at all sects and ethnicities equally. Only a handful raise the possibility that these attacks are not sectarian in motive, or a reflection of sectarian hatred on the streets, but are instead designed to create sectarian entrenchment and animosity, and ignite street conflict.

“Similarly, analysts are quick to conclude that both the power struggle within the political elite, and the explosions are the result of the withdrawal of US troops. They portray the US forces as the good Samaritan who prematurely left the scene. Too few examine the legacy of the occupiers’ poisonous presence at the heart of Iraqi society for nearly nine years, or ask why the US has built the biggest embassy in the world in Baghdad, staffed by 15,000 personnel and spies.

“Today’s bitter power struggle can be traced back to the measured 2003 decisions made by Paul Bremer. Bremer, a Bush “civilian” appointed to rule Iraq, continued the military occupation under a different guise. Faced with massive popular opposition and armed resistance to the US-led invasion, the US recognised in 2003 that the occupation of Iraq could not continue without a prominent Iraqi component, so Bremer formed the Iraqi governing council while retaining control of all levers of power.

“The mix of the 25-member council was carefully calibrated, with quotas to reflect Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic makeup. That sectarian formula was to be mirrored in all Bremer’s appointments. Far from preventing sectarianism, it introduced it to all the political and military institutions created by the occupation. …..

Such is the anger at the occupation that many Iraqis think the US was behind Thursday’s attack. This belief is dismissed as conspiratorial, but it is widely held. There is a reason for this. Apart from the horrific violence committed directly by the occupation forces and Pentagon-contracted mercenaries, the US also created Iraqi secret militia, and smuggled tens of thousands of weapons and tons of explosives into Iraq through private firms in Bosnia …. Indiscriminate killings and terrorist attacks were a permanent feature of the US-led occupation, and to many ordinary Iraqis, Thursday’s bloodshed is just more of the same.

“Similarly, ordinary Iraqis see their current rulers, who arrived with the occupation, as self-seeking, corrupt politicians who use religious and ethnic differences to perpetuate sectarianism as a means of creating power bases. …” […]

READ @ http://www.opednews.com/populum/printer_friendly.php?content=a&id=143438

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* ‘TRUST US’ LEGISLATION: WHEN PROTEST BECOMES AN ACT OF TERROR

By Wendy Kaminer, The Atlantic

The law concerning animal rights protest is too broad, protecting commercial interests and making terrorists out of  people who want to voice concerns. 

Distribute an animal cruelty video commercially and you’re protected from prosecution by the First Amendment. Distribute an animal cruelty video idealistically, to protest practices by laboratories, agribusiness, or the fur industry, and you risk prosecution as a terrorist under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). In other words, current law involving depictions of animal cruelty protects commercial speech and threatens political advocacy.

Blame Congress, not the Supreme Court, for this absurdity. Recently, in U.S. v Stevens , the Court struck down a federal law criminalizing the commercial sale or possession of videos depicting animal cruelty. Writing for an 8 – 1 majority, Chief Justice Roberts rightly rejected the government’s effort to carve out an animal cruelty exception to the First Amendment (akin to the exception for child pornography.) The Court has not reviewed the AETA, but it could and should eventually avail itself of an opportunity to strike it down as well.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), representing several animal rights activists, has filed a federal court challenge to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. “The AETA classifies certain protected speech and activity as a ‘terrorist’ crime,” CCR’s complaint in Blum v Holder explains. “It punishes individuals who alone, or with others, criticize or demonstrate against what the statute vaguely identifies as an ‘animal enterprise,’ if that otherwise permissible speech damages the property or profitability of the animal enterprise or even a person or entity connected with it … (The AETA) punishes otherwise lawful and innocuous speech or advocacy that causes a business that uses or sells animal products to lose profit, even where that lost profit comes from a decrease in sales in reaction to public advocacy.”

This characterization of the AETA is not hyperbole: While the statute was ostensibly intended to protect research and commercial entities and their employees from violent attacks, criminal harassment, and vandalism by animal rights extremists, its broad, vague prohibition of “interfering” with an animal enterprise and affecting the profits of any related person or entity means that exposing the abuses of factory farms or successfully boycotting fur sales could be labeled acts of terrorism. Conceivably, some targeted activists could eventually prevail with First Amendment defenses at trial or on post-conviction appeal, but some would not. But all would suffer the panic of being targeted by a terrorism prosecution, and some would likely plead guilty to lesser offenses, surrendering their free speech rights to avoid imprisonment. CCR alleges that its clients (one of whom was previously convicted under an earlier version of the AETA), have simply ceased protesting, resorting to self-censorship to escape prosecution.

Why did Congress include non-violent advocacy in an anti-terrorism statute? Ten years after 9/11, that is essentially a rhetorical question. Fear mongering and the authoritarianism it breeds don’t discriminate between actual and highly implausible or imaginary threats to security. Whatever dissenting or disruptive speech that authorities intensely dislike is increasingly liable to be condemned as terrorism. But the AETA also reflects a legislative trend simply not attributable to 9/11. To deter or punish particular acts — like violent attacks on animal researchers — Congress legislates in general terms, criminalizing speech or conduct barely related, if at all, to the evil it purportedly to seeks to control. Consider the Controlled Substances Act and its use by drug warriors against doctors who prescribe pain medication (and beware of any law enforcement crusade marketed as a “war.”)

This is the “trust us” theory of legislating. It demands that we trust prosecutors to act in good faith, with a sense of proportion and respect for our rights to speech, privacy, and due process. It expects us to ignore overwhelming evidence that prosecutors are not inherently trustworthy, that they routinely abuse their broad discretion and persecute ordinary, generally harmless citizens for unwittingly violating over-broad laws. […]

READ @ http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/trust-us-legislation-when-protest-becomes-an-act-of-terror/250580/

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* A CLUB OF LIARS, DEMAGOGUES, AND IGNORAMUSES

By Marc Pitzke, Spiegel Online International

The US Republican race is dominated by ignorance, lies and scandals. The current crop of candidates have shown such a basic lack of knowledge that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein. The Grand Old Party is ruining the entire country’s reputation.

Africa is a country. In Libya, the Taliban reigns. Muslims are terrorists; most immigrants are criminal; all Occupy protesters are dirty. And women who feel sexually harassed — well, they shouldn’t make such a big deal about it.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the US Republicans. Or rather, to the twisted world of what they call their presidential campaigns. For months now, they’ve been traipsing around the country with their traveling circus, from one debate to the next, one scandal to another, putting themselves forward for what’s still the most powerful job in the world.

As it turns out, there are no limits to how far they will stoop.

It’s true that on the road to the White House all sorts of things can happen, and usually do. No campaign can avoid its share of slip-ups, blunders and embarrassments. Yet this time around, it’s just not that funny anymore. In fact, it’s utterly horrifying.

It’s horrifying because these eight so-called, would-be candidates are eagerly ruining not only their own reputations and that of their party, the party of Lincoln lore. Worse: They’re ruining the reputation of the United States.

‘Freakshow’

They lie. They cheat. They exaggerate. They bluster. They say one idiotic, ignorant, outrageous thing after another. They’ve shown such stark lack of knowledge — political, economic, geographic, historical — that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein and even cause their fellow Republicans to cringe.

“When did the GOP lose touch with reality?” wonders Bush’s former speechwriter David Frum in New York Magazine. In the New York Times, Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s former chief-of-staff, called this campaign season a “reality show,” while Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan confidante Peggy Noonan even spoke of a “freakshow.”

That may be the most appropriate description.

Tough times demand tough and smart minds. But all these dopes have to offer are ramblings that insult the intelligence of all Americans — no matter if they are Democrats, Republicans or neither of the above. Yet just like any freakshow, this one would be unthinkable without a stage (in this case, the media, strangling itself with all its misunderstood “political correctness” and “objectivity”) and an audience (the party base, which this year seems to have suffered a political lobotomy).

Factually Challenged

And so the farce continues. The more mind-boggling its incarnations, the happier the US media are to cheer first one clown and then the next, elevating and then eliminating “frontrunners” in reliable news cycles of about 45 days.

Take Herman Cain, “businessman.” He sat out the first wave of sexual harassment claims against him by offering a peculiar argument: Most ladies he had encountered in his life, he said, had not complained.

In the most recent twist, a woman accused Cain of having carried on a 13-year affair with her. That, too, he tried to casually wave off, but now, under pressure, he says he wants to “reassess” his campaign.

If Cain indeed drops out, the campaign would lose its biggest caricature: He has been the most factually challenged of all these jesters.

As CEO of the “Godfather’s” pizza chain, Cain killed jobs — but now poses as the job-creator-in-chief. Meanwhile, he seems to lack basic economic know-how, let alone a rudimentary grasp of politics or geography. Libya confounds him. He does not believe that China is a nuclear power. And all other, slightly more complicated questions get a stock answer: “Nine-nine-nine!” Remember? That’s Cain’s tax reduction plan that would actually raise taxes for 84 percent of Americans.

Has any of that disrupted Cain’s popularity in the media or with his fan base? Far from it. Since Oct. 1, he has collected more than $9 million in campaign donations. Enough to plow through another onslaught of denouements.

No Shortage of Chutzpah

Then there’s Newt Gingrich, the current favorite. He’s a political dinosaur, dishonored and discredited. Or so we thought. Yet just because he studied history and speaks in more complex sentences than his rivals, the US media now reflexively hails him as a “Man of Ideas” (The Washington Post) — even though most of these ideas are lousy if not downright offensive, such as firing unionized school janitors, so poor children could do their jobs.

Pompous and blustering, Gingrich gets away with this humdinger as well as with selling himself as a Washington outsider — despite having made millions of dollars as a lobbyist in Washington. At least the man’s got chutzpah.

The hypocrisy doesn’t end here. Gingrich claims moral authority on issues such as the “sanctity of marriage,” yet he’s been divorced twice. He sprang the divorce on his first wife while she was sick with cancer. (His supporters’ excuse: It’s been 31 years, and she’s still alive.) He cheated on his second wife just as he was pressing ahead with Bill Clinton’s impeachment during the Monica Lewinsky affair, unaware of the irony. The woman he cheated with, by the way, was one of his House aides and 23 years his junior — and is now his perpetually smiling third wife.

Americans have a short memory. They forget, too, that Gingrich was driven out of Congress in disgrace, the first speaker of the house to be disciplined for ethical wrongdoing. Or that he consistently flirts with racism when he speaks of Barack Obama. Or that he enjoyed a $500,000 credit line at Tiffany’s just as his campaign was financially in the toilet and he ranted about the national debt. Chutzpah, indeed.

Yet the US media rewards him with a daily kowtow. And the Republicans reward him too, by having put him on top in the latest polls. Mr. Hypocrisy, the bearer of his party’s hope.

“I think he’s doing well just because he’s thinking,” former President Clinton told the conservative online magazine NewsMax. “People are hungry for ideas that make some sense.” Sense? Apparently it’s not just the Republicans who have lost their minds here.

The Eternal Runner-Up

And what about the other candidates? Rick Perry’s blunders are legendary. His “oops” moment in suburban Detroit. His frequently slurred speech, as if he was drunk. His TV commercials putting words in Obama’s mouth that he didn’t say (such as, “Americans are ‘lazy'”). His preposterous claim that as governor of Texas he created 1 million jobs, when the total was really just about 100,000. But what’s one digit? Elsewhere, Perry would have long ago been disqualified. But not here in the US.

Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann has fallen off the wagon, although she’s still tolerated as if she’s a serious contender. Ron Paul’s fan club gets the more excited, the more puzzling his comments get. Jon Huntsman, the only one who occasionally makes some sort of sense, has been relegated to the poll doldrums ever since he showed sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.

Which leaves Mitt Romney, the eternal flip-flopper and runner-up, who by now is almost guaranteed to clinch the nomination, even though no one in his party seems to like or want him. He stiffly delivers his talking points, which may or may not contradict his previous positions. After all, he’s been practicing this since 2008, when he failed to snag the nomination from John McCain. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

As an investor, Romney once raked in millions and, like Cain, killed jobs along the way. So now he says he’s the economy’s savior. To prove that, he has presented an economic plan that the usually quite conservative business magazine Forbes has labeled “dangerous,” asking incredulously, “About Mitt Romney, the Republicans can’t be serious.” Apparently they’re not, but he is, running TV spots against Obama already, teeming with falsehoods.

Good for Ratings

What a nice club that is. A club of liars, cheaters, adulterers, exaggerators, hypocrites and ignoramuses. “A starting point for a chronicle of American decline,” was how David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, described the current Republican race. […]

READ @ http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,druck-800850,00.html

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* HAS AMERICA’S STOLEN ELECTION PROCESS FINALLY HIT PRIME TIME?

By Bob Fittrakis and Harvey Wasserman, CommonDreams

It took two stolen US Presidential elections and the prospect of another one coming up in 2012.

For years the Democratic Party and even much of the left press has reacted with scorn for those who’ve reported on it.

But the imperial fraud that has utterly corrupted our electoral process seems finally to be dawning on a broadening core of the American electorate—if it can still be called that.

The shift is highlighted by three major developments:

1. The NAACP goes to the United Nations

In early December, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the largest civil rights organization in America, announced that it was petitioning the United Nations over the orchestrated GOP attack on black and Latino voters.

In its landmark report entitled Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America, the NAACP directly takes on the new Jim Crow tactics passed in fourteen states that are designed to keep minorities from voting in 2012.

The report analyzes 25 laws that target black, minority and poor voters “unfairly and unnecessarily restrict[ing] the right to vote.” It notes “…a coordinated assault on voting rights.”

[…]

2. The Justice Department awakens

On Friday, December 23, 2011, the U.S. Justice Department called South Carolina’s new voter ID law discriminatory. The finding was based in part on the fact that minorities were almost 20% more likely than whites to be without state-issued photo IDs required for voting. Unlike Ohio, South Carolina remains under the 1965 Voting Rights Act and requires federal pre-approval to any changes in voting laws that may harm minority voters.

The Republican governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley denounced the Justice Department decision as “outrageous” and vowed to do everything in her power to overturn the decision and uphold the integrity of state’s rights under the 10th Amendment.

The US Supreme Court has upheld the requirement of photo ID for voting. Undoubtedly the attempt by US Attorney General Eric Holder to challenge this will go to the most thoroughly corporate-dominated Court in recent memory. The depth of the commitment of the Obama Administration to the issue also remains in doubt.

3. The EAC finally finds that voting machines are programmed to be partisan

Another federal agency revealed another type of problem in Ohio. On December 22, 2011, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) issued a formal investigative report on Election Systems & Software (ED&D) DS200 Precinct County optical scanners. The EAC found “three substantial anomalies”:

• Intermittent screen freezes, system lock-ups and shutdowns that prevent the voting system from operating in the manner in which it was designed

• Failure to log all normal and abnormal voting system events

• Skewing of the ballot resulting in a negative effect on system accuracy

[…]

READ @ http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/30-2

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* SPAIN SET TO APPROVE NEW AUSTERITY PACKAGE

New conservative government looks to unveil belt-tightening programme amid massive unemployment and fears of recession.

Source: Aljazeera / Agencies

Spain’s new conservative government is set to unveil its first austerity measures as it tries to reassure markets of its plan to get a grip on public finances and kickstart an economy saddled with massive unemployment.

With much of the country on holiday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party was presiding over a cabinet meeting that will approve the first in what is expected to be a painful series of spending freezes or cuts.

Rajoy’s party won a sweeping victory over the Socialists in elections on November 20 and his government took power only last week.

All the ministers have been named, but many other senior positions have not yet been filled.

Like other troubled governments in Europe, Rajoy faces the delicate task of deficit reduction in a country whose economy is expected to sink back into recession.

The country’s jobless rate stands at 21.5 per cent, the highest rate of all 17 countries that use the euro.

Rajoy has repeatedly said he is determined to meet Spain’s commitment to cut its budget deficit to 4.4 per cent of GDP in 2012.

Last week, he said that if the outgoing government’s deficit forecast of six per cent for 2011 were correct, the new
government would have to achieve $22bn in deficit reductions in 2012. […]

READ @ http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2011/12/20111230112016464848.html

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* TORIES SAY THEY WANT TO LEAVE EU AND PREFER BORIS TO CAMERON

By Andrew Grice, The Independent

A majority of Conservative Party members want Britain to leave the European Union. A poll of 1,566 party members, carried out for The Independent by the ConservativeHome website, shows that David Cameron delighted the Tory grassroots by vetoing a new EU treaty at this month’s summit in Brussels.

But the survey also suggests that he may have created hopes of forging a more detached relationship with the EU that he may find difficult to fulfil – and that he will come under pressure from his party to continue to prove his Eurosceptic credentials. If he does, he would risk fuelling tensions with the Liberal Democrats and his fellow EU leaders. If he does not, he would upset many of his party’s activists.

Some 54 per cent of Tory members say their ideal vision of the relationship is for the UK to leave the EU and sign up to a free trade agreement. Although that view is shared by a minority of Tory MPs, the poll suggests the party’s grassroots is more in tune with the policy of Ukip, which wants Britain to pull out of the EU.

Meanwhile, 24 per cent of Tory members favour a more flexible relationship with the EU, with continued co-operation on key policy areas. Some 10 per cent say the UK should maintain its current relationship but ignore European laws which are not in the country’s interests, while 5 per cent believe Britain should leave the EU and not seek any agreements with it. […]

READ @ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tories-say-they-want-to-leave-eu-and-prefer-boris-to-cameron-6282185.html

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* THE DRAGON GOES SHOPPING IN SOUTH AMERICA

By Chris Arsenault, IPS / Aljazeera (Buenos Aires)

The small restaurants and shops selling plastic sandals, tacky umbrellas, kitchen wares and paper lanterns in Buenos Aires’s Chinatown do not give the impression of impending economic dominance.

Away from this small urban area, however, China has been not-so- quietly buying up agricultural products, companies and minerals around South America.

‘Across Latin America we are seeing that China is having an increasing importance in trade and investment,’ Ricardo Delgado, director of Analytica Consulting in Buenos Aires, told Al Jazeera.

‘Brazil and Argentina produce and export many raw materials: soy, sugar, meat and corn… China is a very important driver of demand for these commodities.’

Since 2005, China’s development bank and other institutions have spent an estimated 75 billion dollars on financial investments in South America, said Boston University professor Kevin Gallagher. This is, he points out, ‘more [investment] than the World Bank, U.S. Export Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank combined’.

Chinese private investment, often coming from large state-supported firms that set-up operations in the region or buy local companies, has been about 60 billion dollarrs, Gallagher said.

In the past five years, Bilateral trade between China and South America jumped more than 160 per cent, rising from 68 billion dollars in 2006 to 178 billion dollars in 2010. In Peru, Chinese mining giant Chinalco spent three billion dollars buying ‘copper mountain’ – an entire rock formation containing two billion tonnes of the precious metal. The firm expects a 2,000 percent profit on its investment.

The Chinese state lent Petrobras, Brazil’s national oil company, 10 billion dollars in 2009. And a plan from China’s Beidahuang food company to lease more than 300,000 hectares of land to grow genetically modified soya, corn and other crops in Argentina’s Patagonia region has locals furious about potential environmental damage.

As director of Mercampo, an agricultural consulting firm based in Rosario, Argentina, Gabriel Perez has seen the increase first hand. More trade delegations are coming from China, and tycoons from the world’s second largest economy are eager to invest in agriculture and commodities.

‘China has the strategic vision to ensure food security and energy in their country [as they worry] that long-term problems will be the supply of raw materials,’ Perez told Al Jazeera. ‘This is undoubtedly the primary reason for China’s investments in South America.’ […]

READ @ http://www.globalissues.org/news/2011/12/21/12283

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* CRACKDOWN IN CAIRO

By Sarah Carr, Foreign Policy

CAIRO – There was a flurry of good news last week in Egypt. Activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah was released on Christmas Day, Cairo’s Administrative Court issued a ruling banning “virginity tests,” and thousands of women took part in a spirited march in downtown Cairo to denounce the military’s brutal violence against women protesters during the breakup of a sit-in in front of the Cabinet building on Dec. 16 and 17.

That streak of good times was interrupted Thursday afternoon when public prosecution officials, assisted by armed Central Security Forces (CSF) soldiers — Cairo’s ubiquitous black-clad riot troops — raided the offices of six civil society groups.

They started just after noon, with the 12th- floor headquarters of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP), and continued on to five others, including three with ties to the U.S. government.

In early December, ACIJLP’s director Nasser Amin was standing for election to the People’s Assembly. Today, he watched as computers and files being were removed and his office sealed shut, his organization targeted as part of a sweeping campaign against NGOs accused of receiving foreign funding.

In the Hosni Mubarak years, civil society activity was heavily monitored and contained through two main mechanisms: arbitrary interference from the much much-feared State Security Investigations apparatus (now renamed National Security), and draconian legislation passed in 2002 that requires all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MOSS) and criminalizes the receipt of foreign funding without MOSS authorization.

Some NGOs registered as private businesses to avoid these restrictions, but the rules of the game have clearly changed. As Negad El-Borai, a rights lawyer, tweeted Thursday, “What never happened under the rule of Mubarak is happening after the revolution.”

The authorities’ harassment of civil society took a different form under Mubarak. While there were some incidents of government officials entering NGO premises, it was never on this scale. Thursday’s raid on the six NGOs follows the slow boil of a smear campaign that began in July, according to which NGOs are receiving foreign funding as part of a nefarious plot to destabilize Egypt. […]

READ @ http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/12/29/crackdown_in_cairo?print=yes&hidecomments=yes&page=full

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* 20 YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION

By Alain-Pierre Hovasse , The Atlantic

Twenty years ago, on December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union, declaring the office extinct and dissolving the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), a massive communist empire that had existed since 1922. The USSR had been in a long economic stagnation when Gorbachev came to power in 1985. In order to bring about change, he introduced several reforms, including perestroika (economic restructuring) and glasnost (openness). Glasnost opened the floodgates of protest and many republics made moves toward independence, threatening the continued existence of the USSR. In August of 1991, a group of Communist Party hardliners frustrated by the separatist movement attempted to stage a coup. They quickly failed due to a massive show of civil resistance — but the already-faltering government was destabilized even further by the attempt. By December of 1991, 16 Soviet republics had declared their independence, and Gorbachev handed over power to Russian president Boris Yeltsin, ending the USSR. Collected here are photos from those tumultuous months 20 years ago. Bonus: Memories of photojournalist Alain-Pierre Hovasse, first-hand witness to these events, are collected at the end of this entry. [43 photos] […]

READ and 43 PHOTOS @ http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/12/20-years-since-the-fall-of-the-soviet-union/100214/

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* REVOLUTION VERSUS REFORM

By Ted Rall, Urban Tulsa Weekly

Editors and readers expect pundits to weigh in on the brutal eviction of Occupy Wall Street from New York’s Zuccotti Park. People will ask: Does this mean the beginning of the end for the Occupy movement?

No.

Now that we’ve dispensed with that, let’s discuss a major rift within the movement: Reformists versus revolutionaries.

Revolutionaries want to overthrow the government. They want to get rid of existing economic, political and social relations and create new ones. Both the Republicans and the Democrats are enemies.

Reformists want radical changes too. For example, Occupiers want to eliminate the corrupting influence of corporate money on politics. Unlike revolutionaries, however, they are OK with the basic structure of the system: the Constitution, Congress, 50 states, capitalism, and so on. They are willing to work with establishment liberals (MoveOn.org, Amy Goodman, The Nation, Mother Jones, etc.) and the Democratic Party.

You can see the reform-vs.-revolution split whenever Occupiers discuss actions and demands.

Reformists say: Let’s move our accounts from banks to credit unions. Encourage Black Friday shoppers to buy from locally-owned businesses. Demand that Congress pass a constitutional amendment abolishing corporate personhood. Restore the Glass-Steagall Act.

Those tactics leave revolutionaries cold. They don’t want to nibble around the edges of a system they despise. If revolutionaries get their way, there won’t be a Congress. Members of the House and Senate will go to jail. No one will need to boycott banks or choose which merchants are least malevolent.

Capitalism won’t exist.

Revolution frightens the reformists. They worry about chaos, violence and dislocation. They’re right to be concerned. […]

READ @ http://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A44951&mid=5643355

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* STRATEGIC FRAMES OF THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT

By Joe Brewer, Truthout

[…] Conceptual Landscape for the Occupy Movement

With this view of frames in mind, let’s see what the Occupy Movement has created in the last few months.  Obvious to casual observers are the two slogans of the movement — We Are The 99% and Occupy Wall Street.  I’ll begin with them and then share some subtleties of the environment from which they sprang.

Language of the 99% draws a line in the sand.  It divides our social world into the haves and the have-nots.  The conceptual structure is simple enough — one container with the minimal number of elements juxtaposed against another with the maximal inequality relative to the total amount.  If there are 100 dollar bills, the most unequal distribution that leaves both parties with something in their hands is $99 for one and $1 for the other.  The emotional significance of this arises from the logic of extreme inequality implied by this juxtaposition.  If one group has almost everything, the other is left with nearly nothing.

This is the emotional logic that has encouraged the mainstream media to talk more about wealth inequality and social justice since Occupy began.  The 99% frame evokes a maximal inequality that resonates deeply with the lived experiences of working-class people in the US and around the world.  I’ll come back to the significance of this lived experience in a moment.

The power of the Occupy frame is two-fold: (1) It is a verb that represents action taken by one who has power to influence the world, and (2) it demarcates an abstract spatial location that is scalable.  The significance of the first feature should be clear — to feel one’s personal empowerment by taking action and claiming a space is deeply moving.  One who can stake a claim to space has power.  And that power gives them a sense of control over their destiny.  This is the underlying motivator for collective action that has captured the imaginations (and bodies!) of protestors around the world, from Tahrir Square to Zuccoti Park.

The second feature is what allowed OWS to go viral and spread across the globe.  The demarcation of abstract space, when overlaid on top of real-world physical locations, is a recipe for unconstrained growth.  More simply, it is the act of claiming a space that offers a feeling of empowerment.  While one physical location was claimed in a New York City Park, the concept of occupation could be generically applied to all physical spaces.  This is why protestors in other cities were inclined to claim the OWS brand and stake out their own turf.  And, just as the emotional experience of despair is conceptualized as an abstract space, the Occupy frame allows anyone and everyone to claim cultural turf by occupying democracy, love, citizenship, compassion, freedom, politics, and more.

The broad flexibility of the Occupy frame gives it a fractal nature.  It applies equally well from the small scale (Occupy Oakland) to the very large (Occupy Humanity).  In mathematical terms, the concept is “scale free” and nonlinear.  It can grow to fill any cultural container because its conceptual core is abstractable and pliable.

Taken together, these two frames offer a conduit for emotions to flow and actions to congeal.  They are the linguistic building blocks that convey a deep sense of injustice along with clear notions about what can be done about them — namely to reclaim public space and take back the political discourse on behalf of the citizenry.

[…]

Loss of Confidence in Authority

Public confidence in authoritative institutions — especially large banks, big companies, and national governments — has been dropping precipitously for years.  As a whole, we no longer believe in centralized power structures and are moving away from them in every area of public life.  This trend has decoupled the populace from political parties, dominant market ideologies, and the enchantments of extreme opulence that no longer seem graspable.  The symbolic meanings that rose with a sense of legitimacy for these cultural artifacts have been tarnished beyond repair by corrupt leaders and manipulative media voices.  As we stopped looking to these sources for leadership, a vacuum appeared that the Occupy Movement moved into and filled.

[…]

READ @ http://www.truth-out.org/strategic-frames-occupy-movement/1325172324

Dec 292011
 

 

* PHOTOS DON’T LIE: SEE THE DRAMATIC EXPANSION OF CANADIAN TAR SANDS

By Stephen Lacey, Grist

Cross-posted from Climate Progress.

Extraction of Alberta’s energy-intensive tar sands has expanded steadily in recent years, with about 232 square miles now exposed by mining operations. That expansion is expected to double over the next decade, which could mean the destruction of 740,000 acres of boreal forest and a 30-percent increase in carbon emissions from Canada’s oil and gas sector.

New satellite images show the dramatic expansion that has taken place from 2001 through 2011:

Pasted Graphic.tiff

Photos: Robert Simmon, NASA/Landsat/USGS

So what’s the actual impact on the ground? Here’s what happens when you turn a carbon sink like the Boreal Forest into a carbon-spewing pit of tar sands:

Pasted Graphic 1.tiff

Photos: Peter Essick, National Geographic

Stephen Lacey is a reporter with Climate Progress covering clean energy issues. He formerly worked as a producer/editor at RenewableEnergyWorld.com.

READ @ http://www.grist.org/oil/2011-12-28-satellite-photos-illustrate-dramatic-expansion-of-canadian-tar-s

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* CLOUDED TITLE: THE GROSS ILLEGALITY OF MERS

By Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture

“What’s happened is that, almost overnight, we’ve switched from democracy in real-property recording to oligarchy in real-property recording. There was no court case behind this, no statute from Congress or the state legislatures. It was accomplished in a private corporate decision. The banks just did it.”

— Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah, on the “wholesale transfer of mortgages to a privatized database” and why it’s no coincidence more Americans are being foreclosed upon than any time since the Great Depression.

The quote above is from an article in the January 2012 Harper’s. It’s ostensibly about the ongoing battle between Homeowners and Bankers (PDF is online at Scribd, Think Tank, but not for long).

The print edition is illustrated with the artwork of Amy Casey (Housing as a Recurring Dream (Nightmare), previously showcased here)

What makes the article so remarkable is it has one of the most powerful anti-MERS arguments I have ever read in the mainstream media. In addition to the quote above, there is this:

At the heart of the clouded-title problem is a Virginia-based company, recently much in the national news, called Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems. MERS was created in 1995 as a privately held venture of the major mortgage-finance operators, chief among them the government-sponsored mortgaging entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Its stated purpose was to manage a confidential electronic registry for the tracking of the sale of mortgage loans between lenders, which could now place loans under MERS’s name to avoid filing the paperwork normally required whenever mortgage assignments changed hands. No longer would the traffickers in mortgages have to document their transactions with county clerks, nor would they have to pay the many and varied courthouse fees for such transactions. Instead, MERS was listed in local recording offices as the “mortgagee of record,” the in-name-only owner, a so-called nominee for the lender, so that MERS would effectively “own” the loan where the public record was concerned, while the lenders traded it back and forth.

This centralized database facilitated the buying and selling of mortgage debt at great speed and greatly reduced cost. It was a key innovation in expediting the packaging of mortgage-backed securities. Soon after the registry launched, in 1999, the Wall Street ratings agencies pronounced the system sound. “The legal mechanism set up to put creditors on notice of a mortgage is valid,” as was “the ability to foreclose,” assured Moody’s. That same year, Lehman Brothers issued the first AAA-rated mortgage-backed security built out of MERS mortgages. By the end of 2002, MERS was registering itself as the owner of 21,000 loans every day. Five years later, at the peak of the housing bubble, MERS registered some two thirds of all home loans in the United States.

Without the efficiencies of MERS there probably would never have been a mortgage-finance bubble.

After the housing market collapsed, however, MERS found itself under attack in courts across the country. MERS had singlehandedly unraveled centuries of precedent in property titling and mortgage recordation, and judges in state appellate and federal bankruptcy courts in more than a dozen jurisdictions—the primary venues where real estate cases are decided— determined that the company did not have the right to foreclose on the mortgages it held.

In 2009, Kansas became one of the first states to have its supreme court rule against MERS. In Landmark National Bank v. Boyd A. Kesler, the court concluded that MERS failed to follow Kansas statute: the company had not publicly recorded the chain of title with the relevant registers of deeds in counties across the state. A mortgage contract, the justices wrote, consists of two documents: the deed of trust, which secures the house as collateral on a loan, and the promissory note, which indebts the borrower to the lender. The two documents were sometimes literally inseparable: under the rules of the paper recording system at county court-houses, they were tied together with a ribbon or seal to be undone only once the note had been paid off. “In the event that a mortgage loan somehow separates interests of the note and the deed of trust, with the deed of trust lying with some independent entity,” said the Kansas court, “the mortgage may become unenforceable.”

MERS purported to be the independent entity holding the deed of trust. The note of indebtedness, however, was sold within the MERS system, or “assigned” among various lenders. This was in keeping with MERS’s policy: it was not a bank, made no loans, had no money to lend, and did not collect loan payments. It had no interest in the loan, only in the deed of trust. The company—along with the lenders that had used it to assign ownership of notes—had thus entered into a vexing legal bind. “There is no evidence of record that establishes that MERS either held the promissory note or was given the authority [to] assign the note,” the Kansas court found, quoting a decision from a district court in California. Not only did MERS fail to legally assign the notes, the company presented “no evidence as to who owns the note.”

Similar cases were brought before courts in Idaho, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Utah, and other states. “It appears that every MERS mortgage,” a New York State Supreme Court judge recently told me, “is defective, a piece of crap.” The language in the judgments against MERS became increasingly denunciatory. MERS’s arguments for standing in foreclosure were described as “absurd,” forcing courts to move through “a syntactical fog into an impassable swamp.”
(emphasis added) […]

READ @ http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/12/clouded-title-the-gross-illegality-of-mers/

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* 99% CHOIR FORCLOSES ON BANK OF AMERICA

Source: youtube.com

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Tns3sljBvxU#at=53

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* SNAPSHOTS OF WASHINGTON’S ESSENCE

By Glenn Greenwald, Salon

[…] There is a new Washington Post article which contains three short passages that I really want to highlight because they so vividly capture the essence of so much. The article, by Greg Miller, is being promoted by the Post this way: “In 3 years, the Obama administration has built a vast drone/killing operation”; it describes the complete secrecy behind which this is all being carried out and notes: “no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.” Here is the first beautifully revealing passage:

Senior Democrats barely blink at the idea that a president from their party has assembled such a highly efficient machine for the targeted killing of suspected terrorists. It is a measure of the extent to which the drone campaign has become an awkward open secret in Washington that even those inclined to express misgivings can only allude to a program that, officially, they are not allowed to discuss.

In sum: the President can kill whomever he wants anywhere in the world (including U.S. citizens) without a shred of check or oversight, and has massively escalated these killings since taking office (at the time of Obama’s inauguration, the U.S. used drone attacks in only one country (Pakistan); under Obama, these attacks have occurred in at least six Muslim countries). Because it’s a Democrat (rather than big, bad George W. Bush) doing this, virtually no members of that Party utter a peep of objection (a few are willing to express only the most tepid, abstract “concerns” about the possibility of future abuse). And even though these systematic, covert killings are widely known and discussed in newspapers all over the world — particularly in the places where they continue to extinguish the lives of innocent people by the dozens, including children — Obama designates even the existence of the program a secret, which means our democratic representatives and all of official Washington are barred by the force of law from commenting on it or even acknowledging that a CIA drone program exists (a prohibition enforced by an administration that has prosecuted leaks it dislikes more harshly than any other prior administration). Then we have this:

Another reason for the lack of extensive debate is secrecy. The White House has refused to divulge details about the structure of the drone program or, with rare exceptions, who has been killed. White House and CIA officials declined to speak for attribution for this article.

Inside the White House, according to officials who would discuss the drone program only on the condition of anonymity, the drone is seen as a critical tool whose evolution was accelerating even before Obama was elected.

The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ not only prevents public debate by shrouding the entire program in secrecy — including who they’re killing and why, and even including their claimed legal basis for these killings (what Democratic lawyers decried during the Bush years as the tyranny of “secret law”) — but they then dispatch their own officials to defend what they’re doing solely under the cover of anonymity so there is no accountability. And, of course, the Post (in an otherwise good though imperfect article) dutifully allows them to do this. In other words: if you ask us about our systematic killing operation, we’ll refuse to answer or even acknowledge it exists and we will legally bar critics from talking about it in public; nobody in government can comment on any of this except us, which we’ll do only by issuing anonymous decrees declaring it Good and Right. Finally, we have this:

Key members of Obama’s national security team came into office more inclined to endorse drone strikes than were their counterparts under Bush, current and former officials said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former CIA director and current Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, and counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan seemed always ready to step on the accelerator . . . 

The only member of Obama’s team known to have formally raised objections to the expanding drone campaign is Dennis Blair, who served as director of national intelligence.

During a National Security Council meeting in November 2009, Blair sought to override the agenda and force a debate on the use of drones, according to two participants.

Blair has since articulated his concerns publicly, calling for a suspension of unilateral drone strikes in Pakistan, which he argues damage relations with that country and kill mainly mid-level militants. But he now speaks as a private citizen. His opinion contributed to his isolation from Obama’s inner circle, and he was fired last year.

Obama officials love secret, targeted killing far more even than Bush officials did. They’re “always ready to step on the accelerator” (and, of course, they went further than Bush by even targeting U.S. citizens far from any battlefield). Only Admiral Blair raised objections, and was fired for them, and is now reduced to explaining in Op-Eds that these killings at this point do relatively little to harm Al Qaeda but rather do the opposite: they increase the risk of Terrorism by fueling anti-American hatred, predictably left in the wake of the corpses of innocent men, woman and children throughout the Muslim world piled up by the Obama program.

Americans love to think that they are so very informed as a result of the robust, free press they enjoy, while those primitive, benighted Muslims are tragically manipulated and propagandized by their governments. Yet here we have an extraordinarily consequential “vast drone/killing operation,” and while those in the Muslim world are well aware of what it is and what it does and debate all of that openly and vigorously, Americans are largely kept in the dark about it. That’s because: (a) the U.S. Government shields it all in secrecy (hiding it from nobody except their own citizens); (b) the U.S. media generally avoid highlighting the innocent victims of American violence; and — most of all — (c) this is all now enshrined as bipartisan consensus, with the GOP consistently approving of any covert government aggression that kills foreigners, and Democrats remaining mute because it is their leader doing it. That’s why this Post article provides such a vivid snapshot of what Washington is and how it works. […]

READ @ http://www.salon.com/2011/12/28/snapshots_of_washingtons_essence/singleton/

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* DITHERING AT THE TOP TURNED EU CRISIS TO GLOBAL THREAT

By Charles Forelle and Marcus Walker, WSJ

At a closed-door meeting in Washington on April 14, Europe’s effort to contain its debt crisis began to unravel.

Inside the French ambassador’s 19-bedroom mansion, finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s largest economies heard Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then-head of the International Monetary Fund, deliver an ultimatum.

Greece, the country that triggered the euro-zone debt crisis, would need a much bigger bailout than planned, Mr. Strauss-Kahn said. Unless Europe coughed up extra cash, the IMF, which a year earlier had agreed to share the burden with European countries, wouldn’t release any more aid for Athens.

The warning prompted a split among the euro zone’s representatives over who should pay to save Greece from the biggest sovereign bankruptcy in history. European taxpayers alone? Or should the banks that had lent Greece too much during the global credit bubble also suffer?

The IMF didn’t mind how Europe proceeded, as long as there was clarity by summer. “We need a decision,” said Mr. Strauss-Kahn.

It was to be Europe’s fateful spring. A Wall Street Journal investigation, based on more than two dozen interviews with euro-zone policy makers, revealed how the currency union floundered in indecision—failing to address either the immediate concerns of investors or the fundamental weaknesses undermining the euro. The consequence was that a crisis in a few small economies turned into a threat to the survival of Europe’s common currency and a menace to the global economy. […]

READ @ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203518404577094843835831390.html

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* KABUKI FINANCIAL THEATRE – CONGRESS NET WORTH UP 15 PERCENT FROM 2004 TO 2010 WHILE THE AVERAGE AMERICAN SEES THEIR NET WORTH DECLINE BY 8 PERCENT IN THE SAME TIMEFRAME. WELCOME TO PLUTOCRAT USA

Source: mybudget360

We truly have the best government money can buy.  From 2004 to 2010 members of Congress increased their median net worth by 15 percent while the average American saw it fall by 8 percent.  Yet this fall in net worth does little justice to the rising cost of food, energy, healthcare, and college expenses that have eaten away any iota of progress families try to achieve in a prosperous nation.  The fact that Congress presided over a Wall Street pilfering of the middle class and income inequality never seen in the history of the United States, we are starting to get a full understanding of what it is to live in a full-fledged plutocracy.  The reason people are frustrated with government is that it no longer looks out for their own interests and is narrowly focused on promoting the aggregation of wealth into fewer and fewer hands. […]

READ and  CHARTS @ http://www.mybudget360.com/kabuki-financial-theatre-congress-net-worth-up-15-percent-from-2004-to-2010-median-net-worth-americans-down-8-percent/

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* REVEALED: US SPY OPERATION THAT MANIPULATES SOCIAL MEDIA

Military’s ‘sock puppet’ software creates fake online identities to spread pro-American propaganda

By Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain, Guardian UK

The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.

A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an “online persona management service” that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.

The project has been likened by web experts to China’s attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives.

The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as “sock puppets” – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.

The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries”. […]

READ @ http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/mar/17/us-spy-operation-social-networks

Dec 282011
 

 

* HOW BANKS CHEAT TAXPAYERS

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

A good friend of mine sent me a link to a small story last week, something that deserves a little attention, post-factum.

The Bloomberg piece is about J.P. Morgan Chase winning a bid to be the lead underwriter on a $400 million bond issue by the state of Massachusetts. Chase was up against Merrill for the bid and won the race with an offer of a 2.57% interest rate, beating Merrill’s bid of 2.79. The difference in the bid saved the state of Massachusetts $880,000.

Afterward, Massachusetts state treasurer Steven Grossman breezily played up the benefits of a competitive bid. “There’s always a certain amount of competition going on out there,” Grossman said in a telephone interview yesterday. “That’s good. We like competition.”

Well … so what, right? Two banks fight over the right to be the government’s underwriter, one submits a more competitive bid, the taxpayer saves money, and everyone wins. That’s the way it ought to be, correct?

Correct. Except in four out of five cases, it still doesn’t happen that way. From the same piece [emphasis mine]:

Nationwide, about 20 percent of debt issued by states and local governments is sold through competitive bids. Issuers post public notices asking banks to make proposals and award the debt to the bidder offering the lowest interest cost. The other 80 percent are done through negotiated underwriting, where municipalities select a bank to price and sell the bonds.

By “negotiated underwriting,” what Bloomberg means is, “local governments just hand the bid over to the bank that tosses enough combined hard and soft money at the right politicians.” […]

READ @ http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/how-banks-cheat-taxpayers-20111227

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* THE TIDE IS TURNING AGAINST SOPA … AND WE MIGHT ACTUALLY SUCCEED IN STOPPING IT

By Washington’s Blog

Is the Tide Turning on SOPA?

While a short week ago the Internet censorship bill – SOPA – looked certain to pass, the tide appears to be quickly turning.

Politico notes today:

The conservative and liberal blogospheres are unifying behind opposition to Congress’s Stop Online Piracy Act, with right-leaning bloggers arguing their very existence could be wiped out if the anti-piracy bill passes.

“If either the U.S. Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA) & the U.S. House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) become law, political blogs such as Red Mass Group [conservative] & Blue Mass Group [liberal] will cease to exist,” wrote a blogger at Red Mass Group.

***

“Some good news on the SOPA front: Its corporate base of supporters is starting to crumble,” David Dayden wrote at Firedoglake. “GoDaddy is not alone. Scores of law firms are requesting their names be removed from the Judiciary Committee’s official list of SOPA supporters.”

In the blogosphere, the trajectory of the bill seemed set — that it is destined for failure if the pressure of the online community is kept up.

“The dynamic is clear. Once SOPA — and its Senate counterpart, Protecting IP Act, or PIPA — became high-profile among the Internet community, the lazy endorsements from companies and various hangers-on became toxic. And now, those supporters are scrambling, hollowing out the actual support for the bill. Suddenly, a bill with ‘widespread’ corporate support doesn’t have much support at all,” Dayden said.

Conservatives took a slightly different tact, though with similar disdain for the anti-piracy measures.

Indeed, blogger Erick Erickson said that he would encourage a primary for any Republican who supports the bill.

“I love Marsha Blackburn. She is a delightful lady and a solidly conservative member of Congress. And I am pledging right now that I will do everything in my power to defeat her in her 2012 reelection bid” due to her co-sponsorship for SOPA, Erickson wrote at RedState. “Congress has proven it does not understand the Internet. Perhaps they will understand brute strength against them at the ballot box. If members of Congress do not pull their name from co-sponsorship of SOPA, the left and right should pledge to defeat each and every one of them.” […]

READ @ http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/12/the-tide-is-turning-against-sopa-and-we-might-actually-succeed-in-stopping-it.html

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* THE REAL REASON THE GOP PRIMARY IS A PATHETIC, INCOMPETENT CLOWN SHOW

By Glenn Greenwald, Salon

American presidential elections are increasingly indistinguishable from the reality TV competitions drowning the nation’s airwaves. Both are vapid, personality-driven and painfully protracted affairs, with the winners crowned by virtue of their ability to appear slightly more tolerable than the cast of annoying rejects whom the public eliminates one by one. When, earlier this year, America’s tawdriest (and one of its most-watched) reality TV show hosts, Donald Trump, inserted himself into the campaign circus as a threatened contestant, he fitted right in, immediately catapulting to the top of audience polls before announcing he would not join the show.The Republican presidential primaries – shortly to determine who will be the finalist to face off, and likely lose, against Barack Obama next November – has been a particularly base spectacle. That the contest has devolved into an embarrassing clown show has many causes, beginning with the fact that GOP voters loathe Mitt Romney, their belief-free, anointed-by-Wall-Street frontrunner who clearly has the best chance of defeating the president.In a desperate attempt to find someone less slithery and soulless (not to mention less Mormon), party members have lurched manically from one ludicrous candidate to the next, only to watch in horror as each wilted the moment they were subjected to scrutiny. Incessant pleas to the party’s ostensibly more respectable conservatives to enter the race have been repeatedly rebuffed. Now, only Romney remains viable. Republican voters are thus slowly resigning themselves to marching behind a vacant, supremely malleable technocrat whom they plainly detest. […]

READ @ http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/153587

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* THE BIG LIE

Wall Street has destroyed the wonder that was America.

By Michael Thomas, The Daily Beast

Imagine a vast field on which a terrible battle has recently been fought, the bare ground cratered by fusillade after fusillade of heavy artillery, trees reduced to blackened stumps, wisps of toxic gas hanging in the gray, and corpses everywhere.

A terrible scene, made worse by the sound of distant laughter, because somehow, on the heights commanding the dead zone, the officers’ club has made it through intact. From its balconies flutter bunting, and across the blasted landscape there comes a chorus of hearty male voices in counterpoint to the wheedling of cadres of wheel-greasers, the click of betting chips, the orotund declamations of a visiting congressional delegation: in sum, the celebratory hullabaloo of a class of people that has sent entire nations off to perish but whose only concern right now is whether the ’11 is ready to drink and who’ll see to tipping the servants. The notion that there might be someone or some force out there getting ready to slouch toward the buttonwood tree to exact retribution scarcely ruffles the celebrants’ joy.

Ah, Wall Street. As it was in the beginning, is now, and hopes to God it ever will be, world without end. Amen.

Or so it seems to me. It was in May 1961 that a series of circumstances took me from the hushed precincts of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I was working as a curatorial assistant in the European Paintings Department, to Lehman Brothers, to begin what for the next 30 years would be an involvement—I hesitate to call it “a career”—in investment banking. I would promote and execute deals, sit on boards, kiss ass, and lie through my teeth: the whole megillah. In consequence of which, I would wear Savile Row and carry a Hermès briefcase. I had Mme. Claude’s home number in Paris and I frequented the best clubs in a half-dozen cities. But I had a problem: I was unable to develop the anticommunitarian moral opacity that is the key to real success on Wall Street.

I had my doubts from the beginning. A few months after I started to work downtown, I ran into an old friend from college and before, a man later to become one of New York’s most esteemed writers and editors.

“So,” he asked, “how do you like what you’re doing now?”

“I like it quite a lot,” I said. And this was true: these were new frontiers for me, the pace was lively, the money was good enough ($6,500 a year), and there was so much to learn. But there was one aspect of Wall Street that I found morally confusing if not distasteful: “There’s one thing that bothers me, though. It’s this: on the one hand the New York Stock Exchange has sent its president, the estimable G. Keith Funston, out into the countryside, supported by an expensive, extensive advertising campaign, to exhort the proletariat to Own your share of America! As if buying 50 shares of IBM or GM in 1961 is as much of a civic duty as buying a $100 war bond in 1943.”

I then added, “But here’s the thing. At the same time as Funston’s out there doing his thing, if you ask any veteran Wall Street pro how the Street works, the first thing he’ll tell you is: The public is always wrong. Always.” I paused to let that sink in, then confessed, “I have to tell you, I have trouble squaring that circle.”

And that was back when Wall Street was basically honest, brought into line thanks in part to Ferdinand Pecora’s 1933 humiliation of the great bankers of the Jazz Age and even more so because of the communitarian exigencies forced on the nation by war. From Pearl Harbor to V-J Day, greed was definitely not good, and that proscriptive spirit lingered on right up to 1970, when everything started to change, and the traders began their long march through our great houses of finance, with the inevitable consequence that the Street’s moral bookkeeping grew more and more contorted, its corruptions more elaborate, its self-interest less and less governable. What someone has called the “Greed Wars” began. […]

READ @ http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/12/25/wall-street-has-destroyed-the-wonder-that-was-america.html

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* OCCUPY RIGGED ELECTIONS: A CALL FOR THE SECOND AMERICAN REVOLUTION IN 2012

By Victoria Collier and Ronnie Cummins, Truthout

[…] So, do elections matter anymore? Is representative democracy for the People even possible?

Wherever you are on the revolutionary road, whoever you are in your mind and soul, we ask you to please listen to the message we’re conveying today, and consider how it impacts your activism in the coming year.

American elections are not going away any time soon. They are rigged, and we must end the rigging – for the sake of our planet and its 7 billion people, entwined in complex technological and social systems that do require some form of representative government to function.

Our electoral process is rigged in the following ways:

The battle to topple the corporatocracy must strategically attack all of these points. But for the purpose of this call to action – Occupy Rigged Elections – we’re going to focus on the last, least understood bullet point: computerized election fraud.

In the end, how ballots are counted – the central control mechanism of democracy – could prove the easiest piece to reclaim; our first real step toward radically shifting power back toward the people.

Computerized Vote Rigging Is a Democratic Cancer

Undiagnosed, spreading through our nation’s bones, centralized election rigging has been undermining the health of our democracy for decades, eating away at it from within, leaving us exhausted and hopeless – though unsure of why we’re so sick.

But let’s get something clear up front: not every election is rigged, so don’t be confused by the few decent people who managed to get into office and stay there. First, ask yourself this question: Have they stopped the corporatist takeover? The answer is no.

Pay attention to the balance of power; watch it tipping ever further toward the corporatist/fascist side of the scale. Meanwhile, the spectacle of democracy maintains a pacified public. In other words, they will let some of “our” people in, or let some of our initiatives pass, while they keep winning more power, overall. Additionally – not all elections are easy to rig, and some have far higher stakes. But there is one constant in the equation:

Every election can be rigged. Undetectably.

If this is news to you, hang on to your hat. Once you understand how the machinery of the American voting system actually works, you’re going to feel a little stunned, as if you came home from a three month vacation to discover you left your keys hanging in the front door.

Over the past 40 years – since computers first came online for use in processing and reporting votes – our secretaries of state and election supervisors have literally sold our democratic system to a small criminal cadre of extreme right-wing and religious ideologues who lurk behind shady voting machine companies. The top three are Diebold (purchased by ES&S in 2009), ES&S, and Sequoia Pacific (purchased by Dominion). They manufactured the majority of voting machines and software that secretly count our ballots. […]

READ @ http://www.truth-out.org/occupy-rigged-elections-call-second-american-revolution-2012/1323891807

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* MONSANTO’S GMO CORN LINKED TO ORGAN FAILURE, STUDY REVEALS

By Katherine Goldstein/Gazelle Emami, HuffPo

In a study released by the International Journal of Biological Sciences, analyzing the effects of genetically modified foods on mammalian health, researchers found that agricultural giant Monsanto’s GM corn is linked to organ damage in rats.

According to the study, which was summarized by Rady Ananda at Food Freedom, “Three varieties of Monsanto’s GM corn – Mon 863, insecticide-producing Mon 810, and Roundup® herbicide-absorbing NK 603 – were approved for consumption by US, European and several other national food safety authorities.”

Monsanto gathered its own crude statistical data after conducting a 90-day study, even though chronic problems can rarely be found after 90 days, and concluded that the corn was safe for consumption. The stamp of approval may have been premature, however.

In the conclusion of the IJBS study, researchers wrote:

“Effects were mostly concentrated in kidney and liver function, the two major diet detoxification organs, but in detail differed with each GM type. In addition, some effects on heart, adrenal, spleen and blood cells were also frequently noted. As there normally exists sex differences in liver and kidney metabolism, the highly statistically significant disturbances in the function of these organs, seen between male and female rats, cannot be dismissed as biologically insignificant as has been proposed by others. We therefore conclude that our data strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of hepatorenal toxicity….These substances have never before been an integral part of the human or animal diet and therefore their health consequences for those who consume them, especially over long time periods are currently unknown.” […]

READ @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/12/monsantos-gmo-corn-linked_n_420365.html

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* LAWMAKERS PROPOSE RESALE RIGHT FOR US ARTWORK TO HARM YOUNG ARTIST & HELP ALREADY SUCCESSFUL ONES

By Mike Masnick, techdirt

Over the summer, we wrote about a ridiculous new lobbying effort, led by the author of the DMCA, Bruce Lehman, to create an artist resale right in the US. We’ve discussed similar plans found elsewhere, and there’s no way to describe them other than as a ridiculously bad idea. It’s basically an attempt to have artists get paid multiple times for the same piece of work, without anyone planning these things by talking to an economist about how badly that will backfire. Either way, it looks like the lobbying effort has succeeded so far, as Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Senator Herb Kohl, have introduced bills to create such a right across the US in both the House and the Senate.

Basically, the idea is that after an artist sells a work, if the work is later resold, the artist gets a piece of the proceeds. The economically clueless thinking behind this is that artists sell works off when they’re unknown and starving for little money… but then when they become famous, it seems only “fair” that the artist should get a cut of the multi-million dollar sale of their artwork. Except that ignores common sense and reality (is it any wonder that it was easy to find two politicians to support such a plan?). First of all, artist resale rights harm artists. That’s because it now makes it more expensive for anyone to invest in art, knowing that they get less on every resale, because some has to go back to the artist. Any time you make it more expensive for people to invest in young artists, you harm those artists.

More importantly, this only helps already super successful artists, because they’re the only ones who make money off of this. The Nadler and Kohl bills only apply to sales of artwork over $10,000. If an artist has works that are selling for that much they’re already super successful and can make a lot more money by simply making new art and selling it themselves. In other words, once you’ve reached the stage where your old art is selling for $10,000, you shouldn’t be relying on an artist resale right anyway. You should be making new art and selling it for a lot of money directly and cashing in. […]

READ @ http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20111227/02431517195/lawmakers-propose-resale-right-us-artwork-to-harm-young-artist-help-already-successful-ones.shtml

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* PHARMAGEDDON: AMERICA’S BITTER PILL

By RT

The United States has a passion for pills, being the world’s biggest users of psychotropic drugs, consuming 60 per cent of them. And pharmaceutical firms are keen to keep cashing in on the multibillion-dollar market, even if it costs people’s health.

America is regarded as a country with a prodigious appetite for consumption. Today, a widespread fondness for pharmaceuticals has turned the US into a nation of pill-poppers.

With over $14 billion in annual sales, antipsychotics remain the top-selling therapeutic class of prescription drugs in the US.

Dr. Harriet Fraad believes Big Pharma has manufactured a climate of insanity by manipulating and even creating illness for capital gain.

“One of the things that drives Big Pharma is to find a diagnosis that is very vague, so that everybody can fall into that,” she told RT. “Everybody is sad sometimes. There are good reasons. The point is to market pharmaceuticals. And the advertising strategy is to have vague diagnosis and then find wiggle room so that they apply to everyone.”

The US is the only Western country that allows direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. For example, an ad for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder warns that untreated patients will likely end up divorced. Another commercial promises to make you happier, but side-effects may include dry mouth, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, diarrhea, nausea and sleepiness.”

Critics also say Big Pharma uses its financial muscle to ply doctors with gifts, cash kick-backs and research funding in exchange for endorsing or prescribing the latest and most lucrative drugs.

Harriet Fraad says there is a whole network of doctors hustling these drugs. […]

READ and VIDEO @ https://rt.com/news/us-prescription-drugs-abuse-715/

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* CHINA INSOLVENCY WAVE BEGINS AS NATION’S BIGGEST PROVINCIAL BORROWERS “DEFER” LOAN PAYMENTS

By Tyler Durden, Zero Hedge

Remember, back in the day, when a bankruptcy was simply called a bankruptcy? Naturally, this was well before ISDA came on the scene and footnoted the living feces out of everything by claiming that a bankruptcy is never a bankruptcy, as long as the creditors agree to 99.999% losses at gunpoint, with electrodes strapped to their testicles, submerged in a tank full of rabid piranhas, it they just sign a piece of paper (preferably in their own blood) saying the vaseline-free gang abuse was consensual. Well, now we learn that as the global insolvency wave finally moves to China, a bankruptcy is now called something even less scary: “deferred loan payments” (and also explains why suddenly Japan is going to have to bail China out and buy its bonds, because somehow when China fails, it is the turn of the country that started the whole deflationary collapse to step to the plate). After all, who in their right mind would want to scare the public that the entire world is now broke. Certainly not SWIFT. And certainly not that paragon of 8%+ annual growth, where no matter how many layers of lipstick are applied, the piggyness of it all is shining through ever more acutely. Because here are the facts, from China Daily, and they speaks for themselves: “China’s biggest provincial borrowers are deferring payment on their loans just two months after the country’s regulator said some local government companies would be allowed to do so….Hunan Provincial Expressway Construction Group is delaying payment on 3.11 billion yuan in interest, documents governing the securities show this month. Guangdong Provincial Communications Group Co, the second-largest debtor, is following suit. So are two others among the biggest 11 debtors, for a total of 30.16 billion yuan, according to bond prospectuses from 55 local authorities that have raised money in capital markets since the beginning of November.” So not even two months in and companies are already becoming serial defaulters, pardon, “loan payment deferrers?” And China is supposed to bail out the world? Ironically, in a world in which can kicking is now an art form, China will show everyone just how it is done, by effectively upturning the capital structure and saying that paying interest is, well, optional. In the immortal words of the comrade from Georgia, “no coupon, no problem.”

Our advice: go long Teva, which recently acquired Cephalon, and its wonderful drug Provigil, which is basically legalized cocaine, speed, meth and heroin all in one perfectly legal pill, as the newsflow, up until now only picking up with the idiot headlines out of Europe at 3 am Eastern is about to become one constant 24/7 flashing red rumor/disinformation mill. Also, next time someone wants to make THE drug cocktail of choice for the headline reacting speed trading junkie, please name it appropriately. Jeffrey will suffice. […]

READ @ http://www.zerohedge.com/news/china-insolvency-wave-begins-nations-biggest-provincal-borrowers-defer-loan-payments

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* PUTIN’S CHILDREN

By Bill Keller, NYTimes

IN the waning days of the Soviet Union, I spent a lot of time in a cluster of apartment towers along the Moscow River, contemplating what seemed to me an essential question about the future of our cold-war adversary: Could Russia grow an authentic middle class? Not a privileged class, favored wards of the state, but independent achievers who would be the engine and the evidence of upward mobility.

The place on the river was called a youth living complex, the product of a classically harebrained Young Communist League scheme to ease a housing shortage. Young professionals at important state enterprises — in this case mainly scientists from a nuclear research institute and engineers from the plant that manufactured the Russian version of the space shuttle — were given months away from their jobs to labor as an overeducated communal construction crew. Each family put in hundreds of hours pouring concrete and installing drywall, and then moved into a precious new apartment. The theory was that, liberated from sharing their parents’ overcrowded flats, forged into a contented new community, they would devote themselves even more loyally to their high-priority jobs.

But this was 1991, a time of possibilities. Many of the families in my little microcosm moved into their new homes in the youth living complex “Atom” and promptly quit their state jobs to join the new private sector. I followed a sample of Atom families as they tried to figure out the novelty of a self-reliant life.

(Meanwhile one of their contemporaries, Vladimir Putin, was winding up his own formative experience in the ultimate bastion of the state, the K.G.B. Colonel Putin’s last assignment for the spy agency was conducting surveillance on students at Leningrad State University.)

My favorite Atom dweller was a brawny, idealistic engineer named Igor. While most new capitalists practiced some form of wheeling and dealing — importing jeans, computers, rock albums — Igor was one of the few who had set out to make it as a private manufacturer. His plan was brilliant. People were suddenly making money, but they regarded the new private banks with suspicion. Igor retooled an old factory to produce high-quality safes.

For Russia, it was a time of confused quest, a longing to be normalniye lyudi — normal people. Thousands, including a contingent from Atom, had poured into the streets to face down an attempted coup by hard-liners, and to celebrate their newfound power. But then what? Everything from the rules of the marketplace to the meaning of life had to be improvised on the still-festering ruins of a monstrous failed experiment. Rackets abounded. Mystics and healers and hypnotists attracted huge crowds. In their search for something to believe in, Atom residents invited a priest to give weekly instruction on their closed-circuit TV channel. One resident, seeking a more secular kind of fulfillment, hosted a free-love commune.

Flash forward a decade, halfway to the present. The new Russia was still a work in progress. That obscure K.G.B. colonel was a popular president. Putin provided prosperity enough, a paternalistic sense of order and a reassuring narrative of national pride. The price — unless you represented a real threat to the regime, in which case the price could be very high indeed — was bearable: an unspoken acceptance of the way things are, a small surrender of dignity. Shut up, get rich.

For many, the endearing confusion of the early ’90s had given way to disillusionment. Robin Hessman’s splendid documentary “My Perestroika,” released last year, follows five Moscow friends a little younger than my Atom focus group. The film captures the ambivalence of those who straddled the Soviet days and the new freedom. They live reasonably well, they are free to say what they think, but something, some larger purpose, is missing. “You know,” says Borya, a high school history teacher, who had been at the barricades in 1991, “the ideals that burned in a person’s heart in the early ’90s, they were profaned, and there was nothing left to fight for.”

At Atom, the closed-circuit priest was gone, and a shiny new Reebok health club had been installed, with tanning beds and rows of elliptical machines, a haven of self-improvement in a land where the actuarial charts had always belonged to vodka and tobacco. The Atom grade school had dropped many of its experimental programs (and its free-thinking principal) in favor of a cram-for-success curriculum. My microcosm had scattered. A few had left for Canada, or Israel, or the U.S. A former Young Communist League apparatchik, who had been so officious at meetings of the housing complex in its early days, had found his natural calling in the cynical world of arms dealing.

Igor the safe-maker and his wife, Tanya, had struggled to learn the business ropes in a country that had no business ropes. Their company expanded and prospered. They moved to a bigger apartment, bequeathing the Atom unit to a daughter and son-in-law. Igor drove a Mercedes S.U.V. But they were uneasy with the soul-sucking consumerism and the corruption around them. Their great consolation was that their two daughters had chosen cultural accomplishment over commercial ambition — Maria as a painter of religious icons, Katya as a classical pianist.

Flash forward another decade. When tens of thousands massed in Moscow this month to protest questionable parliamentary elections and Putin’s high-handed manner, the news reports characterized it as a revolt of the middle class. My first thought was to track down Igor, my model new middle-classnik. […]

READ @ http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/26/opinion/keller-putins-children.html?_r=3&ref=opinion&pagewanted=all

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* I AM SORRY FOR THE ROLE I PLAYED IN FALLUJAH

As a US marine who lost close friends in the siege of Fallujah in Iraq seven years ago, I understand that we were the aggressors

By Ross Caputi, Guardian UK

It has been seven years since the end of the second siege of Fallujah – the US assault that left the city in ruins, killed thousands of civilians, and displaced hundreds of thousands more; the assault that poisoned a generation, plaguing the people who live there with cancers and their children with birth defects.

It has been seven years and the lies that justified the assault still perpetuate false beliefs about what we did.

The US veterans who fought there still do not understand who they fought against, or what they were fighting for.

I know, because I am one of those American veterans. In the eyes of many of the people I “served” with, the people of Fallujah remain dehumanised and their resistance fighters are still believed to be terrorists. But unlike most of my counterparts, I understand that I was the aggressor, and that the resistance fighters in Fallujah were defending their city.

It is also the seventh anniversary of the deaths of two close friends of mine, Travis Desiato and Bradley Faircloth, who were killed in the siege. Their deaths were not heroic or glorious. Their deaths were tragic, but not unjust.

How can I begrudge the resistance in Fallujah for killing my friends, when I know that I would have done the same thing if I were in their place? How can I blame them when we were the aggressors?

It could have been me instead of Travis or Brad. I carried a radio on my back that dropped the bombs that killed civilians and reduced Fallujah to rubble. If I were a Fallujan, I would have killed anyone like me. I would have had no choice. The fate of my city and my family would have depended on it. I would have killed the foreign invaders.

Travis and Brad are both victims and perpetrators. They were killed and they killed others because of a political agenda in which they were just pawns. They were the iron fist of American empire, and an expendable loss in the eyes of their leaders.

I do not see any contradiction in feeling sympathy for the dead US Marines and soldiers and at the same time feeling sympathy for the Fallujans who fell to their guns. The contradiction lies in believing that we were liberators, when in fact we oppressed the freedoms and wishes of Fallujans. The contradiction lies in believing that we were heroes, when the definition of “hero” bares no relation to our actions in Fallujah.

What we did to Fallujah cannot be undone, and I see no point in attacking the people in my former unit. What I want to attack are the lies and false beliefs. I want to destroy the prejudices that prevented us from putting ourselves in the other’s shoes and asking ourselves what we would have done if a foreign army invaded our country and laid siege to our city. […]

READ @ http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/22/fallujah-us-marine-iraq

Dec 272011
 

 

* 2011: THE YEAR IN PICTURES

SundayReview, NYTimes

PHOTOS @ http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/12/25/sunday-review/2011-pictures-of-the-year.html?ref=sunday#/?slide=9

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* GROWING WEALTH WIDENS DISTANCE BETWEEN LAWMAKERS AND CONSTITUENTS

By Peter Whoriskey, The Washington Post

[…] Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled, according to the analysis of financial disclosures, from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars, excluding home ­equity.

Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the comparable median figure sliding from $20,600 to $20,500, according to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan.

The comparisons exclude home equity because it is not included in congressional reporting, and 1984 was chosen because it is the earliest year for which consistent wealth statistics are available.

The growing disparity between the representatives and the represented means that there is a greater distance between the economic experience of Americans and those of lawmakers. […]

READ @ http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/growing-wealth-widens-distance-between-lawmakers-and-constituents/2011/12/05/gIQAR7D6IP_print.html

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* BREAK UP THE BANKS

It makes no sense to keep bailing out bankers while demanding austerity for everyone else.

By Simon Johnson, Slate

Santa Claus came early this year for four former executives of Washington Mutual, which failed in 2008. The executives reached a settlement with the FDIC, which sued them for taking huge financial risks while “knowing that the real estate market was in a ‘bubble.’ ” The FDIC had sought to recover $900 million, but the executives have just settled for $64 million, almost all of which will be paid by their insurers; their out-of-pockets costs are estimated at just $400,000.

To be sure, the executives lost their jobs and now must drop claims for additional compensation. But, according to the FDIC, the four still earned more than $95 million from January 2005 through September 2008. This is what happens when financial executives are compensated for “return on equity” unadjusted for risk. The executives get the upside when things go well; when the downside risks materialize, they lose nothing (or close to it).

At the same time, their actions and similar actions by other bankers are directly responsible for both the run-up in housing prices and the damaging collapse that followed. That collapse has impacted nonbankers negatively in many ways, including the loss of more than 8 million jobs.

It is also leading to austerity: Taxes are increasing and government spending is falling at the local and state level around the country. A difficult fiscal conversation still lies ahead at the federal level, but cuts and contractions of various types seem likely.

Some people argue that Americans need to tighten their belts. That’s an interesting discussion, particularly at a time with unemployment is still above 8 percent (with recent declines largely the result of many jobless workers’ decision to stop looking). Precipitate austerity is hardly likely to help the economy find its way back to higher employment levels.

But what about government support for the big banks? Is this contracting in the light of our current fiscal pressures? Unfortunately, it is not. Much government support remains, implicitly through allowing banks to be “too big to fail” and explicitly through various kinds of backing provided by the Federal Reserve.

The rationale behind supporting big banks is that they are needed for the economy to recover. But this position looks increasingly doubtful when the banks are sitting on piles of cash while creditworthy consumers and businesses are reluctant to borrow.

The same situation exists in Europe today, where the reality is even starker. Banks are receiving ever-larger bailouts, while countries that borrowed are cutting social programs and face rising social tensions and political instability as a result. Countries like Greece, Italy, and arguably Portugal overborrowed and now their citizens face severe consequences. But the bankers face no consequences whatsoever for overlending. […]

READ @ http://www.slate.com/articles/business/project_syndicate/2011/12/bank_bailouts_why_are_we_helping_banks_and_demanding_austerity_for_everyone_else_.html

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* THE GREAT ECONOMIC DIVIDE MAKES EVERYONE POORER

By Mark Thoma, The Fiscal Times

The argument that the rich should pay a larger share of our tax bill than the poor does not rest upon fairness alone. As Robert Frank explains in his book The Darwin Economy, requiring the rich to pay a larger share allows us to have more goods and services than we would have with a more equal tax structure – we can make everyone better off – and this improves economic efficiency.

To see how this works, imagine four families sharing a large, jointly owned backyard area. The families would like to install a swing set, slide, etc. for their children to share. The set costs $1,200, and they need to figure out how to pay for it. One of the households is fairly well off and would be willing to pay up to $800 for the swing set. But the other three families struggle to make ends meet, and each is only willing to pay $250. These families really want the swing set – even more than the well-to-do family – but even $250 is a squeeze on their tight budgets.

If everyone is asked to contribute equally to the swing set, $300 each, it won’t get purchased since that is more than the poorer households are willing to pay. But there are arrangements that will work. Suppose, for example, that the wealthy family offers to put up half, $600, leaving the other three families to share the remaining $600, or $200 each. The wealthy family gets a swing set for $600 even though it would have been willing to pay up to $800 for it – economists say this family enjoys $200 in consumer surplus. The less wealthy families also receive $50 in consumer surplus since each household gets the playground equipment for only $200 even though it would have paid $250.

Thus, if we insist upon equal contributions from everyone, we forego the opportunity to make all of the families better off – to give each family goods and services for a price less than their full willingness to pay. In economic terms, allowing unequal contributions increases efficiency. […]

READ @ http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2011/12/20/The-Great-Economic-Divide-Makes-Everyone-Poorer.aspx#page1

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* ON ELECTION DAY 2008, ’09, ’10, ES&S OP-SCANS BLOCKED THE (DEMOCRATIC) VOTE IN CUYAHOGA COUNTRY OHIO! ( 2 ITEMS)

By Mark Crispen Miller, News from the Underground

The scanners are “defective,” finds the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC). One in ten would “miss some votes,” freeze up “inexplicably,” etc. Although ES&S “tried to fix the problems earlier this year… the upgrade actually created more problems.”

“Defective”? Not really. Those scanners have been performing as intended by ES&S—an outfit started up and managed by right-wing Republicans, whose goods are always pooping out, or screwing up, in Democratic areas, like Cuyahoga County. That their goods thus deliver for the party means there’s really nothing wrong with them per se.

What’s “defective,” rather, is the US voting system overall—and the vision of all those (the EAC included) who refuse to see what’s happening right before their eyes.

MCM

I.

U.S. government investigation finds Cuyahoga County’s election machines are flawed
Published: Thursday, December 22, 2011, 6:28 PM Updated: Friday, December 23, 2011, 1:29 AM
Laura Johnston, The Plain Dealer By Laura Johnston, The Plain Dealer
http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2011/12/us_government_investigation_fi.html

II.

10 percent of Cuyahoga County’s voting machines fail pre-election tests
Published: Wednesday, April 14, 2010, 4:00 AM Updated: Wednesday, April 14, 2010, 7:41 AM
Joan Mazzolini, The Plain Dealer By Joan Mazzolini, The Plain Dealer
http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2010/04/some_cuyahoga_countys_voting_m.html

[…]

READ @ http://markcrispinmiller.com/2011/12/on-election-day-2008-09-10-ess-op-scans-blocked-the-democratic-vote-in-cuyahoga-county-ohio-2-items/

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* ON THE MANNING ART. 32, COURT SECRECY AND NATIONAL SECURITY CASES

By bmaz, Emptywheel

I somehow stumbled into an article for The Nation by Rainey Reitman entitled Access Blocked to Bradley Manning’s Hearing. To make a long story short, in a Twitter exchange today with Ms. Reitman and Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake (who has done yeoman’s work covering the Manning hearing), I questioned some of the statements and inferences made in Ms. Reitman’s report. She challenged me to write on the subject, so here I am.

First, Ms. Reitman glibly offered to let me use her work as “foundation” to work off of. Quite frankly, not only was my point not originally to particularly go further; my point, in fact, was that her foundation was deeply and materially flawed.

Reitman starts off with this statement:

The WikiLeaks saga is centered on issues of government transparency and accountability, but the public is being strategically denied access to the Manning hearing, one of the most important court cases in our lifetime.

While the “WikiLeaks saga” is indeed centered on transparency and accountability for many of us, that simply is not the case in regard to the US Military prosecution of Pvt. Bradley Manning. The second you make that statement about the UCMJ criminal prosecution of Manning, you have stepped off the tracks of reality and credibility in court reportage and analysis. The scope of Manning’s Article 32 hearing was/is were the crimes detailed in the charging document committed and is there reason to believe Manning committed them. Additionally, in an Article 32 hearing, distinct from a civilian preliminary hearing, there is limited opportunity for personal mitigating information to be adduced in order to argue for the Investigating Officer to recommend non-judicial punishment as opposed to court martial trial. That is it. There is no concern or consideration of “transparency and accountability”, within the ambit suggested by Ms. Reitman, in the least.

Calling the Manning Article 32 hearing “one of the most important court cases in our lifetime” is far beyond hyperbole. First off, it is, for all the breathless hype, a relatively straight forward probable cause determination legally and, to the particular military court jurisdiction it is proceeding under, it is nothing more than that. The burden of proof is light, and the issues narrow and confined to that which is described above. The grand hopes, dreams and principles of the Manning and WikiLeaks acolytes simply do not fit into this equation no matter how much they may want them to. Frankly, it would be a great thing to get those issues aired in this country; but this military UCMJ proceeding is not, and will not be, the forum where that happens. […]

READ @ http://www.emptywheel.net/2011/12/24/on-the-manning-art-32-court-secrecy-and-nat-sec-cases/

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* HOW THE FED FUELED THE MILITARIZATION OF POLICE

By Justin Elliot, AlterNet

The militarization of America’s metropolitan police forces was on full display in recent months as police from Los Angeles to New York cracked down on Occupy protests, decked out in full SWAT gear and occasionally using strange pieces of military hardware.

Less well known is that police forces in small towns and far-flung cities have also been stocking up on heavy equipment in the years since Sept. 11, 2001.

In spite of strained city and state budgets in local years, the trend has continued thanks to generous federal grants. According to a new story by the Center for Investigative Reporting, $34 billion in federal grant money has financed the past decade’s shopping spree.

To learn more about the trend, I spoke with G.W. Schultz, who co-authored the story with Andrew Becker. (Also worth a look is the slide show accompanying the story.)

You start your piece with Fargo, N.D., where the police have a “$256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret,” kevlar helmets and assault rifles in their squad cars. What did they say when you asked why they need this kind of heavy equipment?

Their view is that they need to be as prepared as a city like New York. We’ve been studying the grant programs for a while. You see this in city after city. Everyone has got an explanation for why they need more and not less grant money. I grew up in Tulsa; there’s still a lot of sensitivity around the Oklahoma City bombing. So the attitude is, “Look, we could have a similar attack and we need to be ready for it.” Now I live in Austin. The attitude here is, we could have an incident like the one in which a guy smashed his plane into the IRS building a few years ago, or the one in which a guy started shooting people from a tower at the Uniersity of Texas a few decades ago. Every city has an answer like that. The approach to security spending is based on speculation about what could happen, however remote. That attitude enables you to buy everything without limit because you can never attain 100 percent security.

What is the federal grant program that is handing out all this money?

What we learned over time is that it’s not just one grant program, it’s grantprograms. There is a dizzying array of grants that local communities are eligible for from the Department of Homeland Security and sometimes the Justice Department. A few grants existed prior to 9/11. After DHS was created, Congress kept creating new programs to meet perceived needs around security. For example, “We need a bulletproof vehicle to send in our SWAT unit if a Mumbai-style attack occurs.” That led to a spree of spending on bulletproof vehicles. Each round of purchases is fueled by a what-if scenario. […]

READ @ http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/153567

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* HYPOCRITE ALERT: SOPA SUPPORTERS ENCOURAGED PEOPLE TO USE FILE-SHARING SOFTWARE FOR PIRATING COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL

By Washington’s Blog

For proof of the claim that SOPA supporters promoted file-sharing software, click on the Web Archive links here.

Whether or not you believe there was conspiratorial intent, it appears like the supporters of SOPA are hypocrites. […]

READ and VIDEO @ http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/12/big-supporters-of-sopa-encouraged-people-to-use-file-sharing-software-for-pirating-copyrighted-material.html

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* EUROPEAN ECONOMY IN DIRE STRAITS, AND THE U.S. TOO. HOW SO, WHY SO?

By Richard Clark, OpEdNews

Central banks create the easy money & lax regulatory environments where bubbles emerge & provide limitless liquidity so that their bankster pals don’t lose money on the inflated value of their assets. That’s what the recent $640 billion boondoggle was really about: propping up toxic bonds worth a mere fraction of their original value. Financial theater & the show must go on. The truth wd. bring down the entire house of cards.

::::::::

The bad news out of Europe continues unabated, including debt and ratings downgrades, sliding economic growth, and exploding red ink.   It is becoming apparent that many of the countries of Europe have borrowed so much money from the banks of the other countries in Europe, that almost none of it can or will ever be paid back — not with the ever falling economic growth in these countries, which will worsen as austerity measures are imposed.   In other words, even though the buyers of the bonds of these countries don’t yet realize it, the fact is that most of these bonds will never be fully redeemed.   In other words they are toxic junk;   the loans will never be repaid, at least not for anything like their nominal and originally stated value.

Most alarming of all is the enormous amount of money that the US and UK have borrowed from banks in various countries around the world.   (See the beautifully illustrative graphs at the link provided both here and below, courtesy of the BBC.   Scroll down to see them.)

Why is this extreme and growing US indebtedness particularly alarming?   Because buyers for US Treasury bonds are steadily disappearing, and those who own them, like the Chinese central bank, are trying to sell what they have.

So who is now the major buyer of US Treasury bonds?   Answer:   The U.S. Federal reserve, which simply creates the money out of thin air, with computer keystrokes, and uses this “funnymoney’ to buy our nation’s bonds.   But for how long can such an Alice-in-wonderland process continue?

Much of the hope in Europe rests upon carefully crafted bailouts which in turn rest, precariously, upon assumed rates of economic recovery and growth in order for loans to be repaid, and everything related . . to work out.   However, without those assumed and anticipated rates of growth, such plans will fall apart, and more rescue funds — or outright defaults — are in store for us.

[…]

Concluding Paragraphs in this section

Theodore Pelagidis, an economics professor at the University of Piraeus, put it this way:   “This is part of the death spiral of the recession as a result of austerity measures.   People realize that contagion has come to banks and they are very afraid of losing their deposits.   On average around 4bn-5bn euros in capital flees the banking system every month.”   It’s not just the super-rich behind the flight of funds.

It’s now “game over” for Greece.   The market is “predicting’ a nearly 100% chance of default on Greek bonds even as the bankers and Eurocrats squabble over the prospect of raising the haircut on Greek debt from 20% to 50% (i.e. reducing the value of Greek bonds by up to 50%).

The ECB is interfering heavily in the bond markets of various countries in their attempts to keep things going.   But they’ve apparently tossed in the towel on Greece, as evidenced by the Greek bond yields above.

However, when we note the ways in which the Spanish, Irish, and Italian debts have come down off their highs, can we make sense of why the ECB focused their efforts there?   Sure, that’s easy, and the BBC has put together an extraordinarily helpful interactive chart to make it all crystal clear.   That interactive chart can be found here.  (Scroll down.)

To begin with, what the chart is showing by the width of the arrows is how much money each country owes to the banks of other countries — the larger the width of the arrow, the greater the amount.

Of particular interest are the charts for the UK and the US, which make clear why these two countries could never be allowed to fail, for fear of the worldwide economic catastrophe it would cause.

The main point that these charts graphically and beautifully demonstrate is that every country owes hundreds of billions to banks in every other country.    And like the leeches they are, the banksters will continue to bleed us for as long as they can, collecting interest due them, until the entire system comes down.   And when our house-of-cards economy finally collapses (assuming we let that happen), they will snatch up its pieces at bargain prices, and build a new economy, leading to a world in which their wealth and power is even greater than before, while all the rest of us in the 99% will be every so much poorer and desperate.

[…]

READ @ http://www.opednews.com/populum/printer_friendly.php?content=a&id=143272

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* ARAB MONITORS VISIT SYRIA’S HOMS

Source: Aljazeera and agencies

Observers headed to the country’s deadliest city a day after at least 33 people were reported killed there.

Arab League monitors have arrived in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, Syrian television reports, a day after activists said dozens of people were killed in the city.

“The Arab League observers’ delegation has begun its meeting with Homs governor Ghassan Abdel Al,” Dunia television reported.

Witnesses said the army pulled back tanks from Bab Amr, a flashpoint neighbourhood in the city, ahead of the observers’ arrival on Tuesday. However, some activists said tanks had just been repositioned in other areas of the city.

“Activists say they are planning to hold sit-ins to coincide with the arrival of the observers,” Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Antakya on the Turkish border, said.

The 50 observers, who arrived in Syria on Monday, will be split into five teams of 10, according to Reuters news agency.

Teams are also due to visit Damascus, Hama and Idlib on Tuesday.

The teams will use government transport, according to their head, Sudanese General Mustafa al-Dabi. But delegates insist the mission will nevertheless be able to go wherever it chooses with no notice.

“Our Syrian brothers are co-operating very well and without any restrictions so far,” al-Dabi told the Reuters news agency.

“The element of surprise will be present,” Mohamed Salem al-Kaaby, a monitor from the United Arab Emirates, said.

“We will inform the Syrian side the areas we will visit on the same day so that there will be no room to direct monitors or change realities on the ground by either side.”

Peace protocol

The observers’ mission is part of a plan seeking to put an end to the government’s crackdown, which the United Nations estimates to have killed more than 5,000 people since March.

Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdissi said the “mission has freedom of movement in line with the protocol” Syria signed with the Arab League.

Under that deal, the observers are banned from sensitive military sites

The arrival of the observers and 10 Arab League officials came as activists reported the deaths of at least 45 people around the country on Monday, 33 of them in Homs.

An advance team of monitors arrived in Damascus on Thursday to lay the groundwork for the observer mission to oversee the implementation of the peace plan.

Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), said some of the observers were in Homs “but they are saying they cannot go where the authorities do not want them to go”.

Ghalioun also sought UN and Arab League intervention “to put an end to this tragedy”, and urged the UN Security Council to “adopt the Arab League’s plan and ensure that it is applied”.

“The plan to defuse the crisis is a good plan, but I do not believe the Arab League really has the means [to enforce it],” he told reporters in Paris.

“It is better if the UN Security Council takes this plan, adopts it and provides the means for its application.”

The Arab League plan endorsed by Syria on November 2 calls for the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government has been accused of intensifying its crackdown since signing the agreement.

Homs ‘slaughter’

Residents in Homs said on Monday that army tanks fired shells, machine guns and mortars into their neighbourhoods. Amateur video filmed by anti-government activists showed carnage in the city.

“What is happening is a slaughter,” Fadi, who lives near the Bab Amr neighbourhood, told the Reuters news agency. “They hit people with mortar fire.”

Bab Amr has been one of the hardest hit areas of Homs, a focal point of the Assad government’s crackdown on nine months of anti-government demonstrations.

Some parts of Homs have also seen fierce clashes between the Syrian army and the so-called Free Syrian Army which is made up of army defectors who say they decided to side with protesters.

There have been reports that deserters have been able to inflict casualties on the army.

“The violence is definitely two-sided,” said a resident who gave his name only as Mohammed. “I’ve been seeing ambulances filled with wounded soldiers passing by my window in the past days. They’re getting shot somehow.”

The opposition SNC said on Sunday that Homs was under siege and facing an “invasion” from about 4,000 troops deployed near the city.

READ and PHOTOS @ http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/12/2011122675532134954.html

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* FISCAL CRISIS TAKES TOLL ON HEALTH OF GREEKS

By Suzanne Daley, NYTimes

[…] Greece used to have an extensive public health care system that pretty much ensured that everybody was covered for everything. But in the last two years, the nation’s creditors have pushed hard for dramatic cost savings to cut back the deficit. These measures are taking a brutal toll on the system and on the country’s growing numbers of poor and unemployed who cannot afford the new fees and co-payments instituted at public hospitals as part of the far-reaching austerity drive.

At public hospitals, doctors report shortages of all kinds of supplies, from toilet paper to catheters to syringes. Computerized equipment has gone unrepaired and is no longer in use. Nurses are handling four times the patients they should, and wait times for operations — even cancer surgeries — have grown longer.

Access to drugs has also been affected, as some drug manufacturers, owed tens of millions of dollars, are no longer willing to supply Greek hospitals. At the same time pharmacists, afraid that the government might not reimburse them, are asking for cash payments, even from those with insurance.

Many experts say that Greece’s public health system was bloated and corrupt and in dire need of reform. But they say also that the cuts have been so deep and have come so fast, that they have hit like a tsunami.

In just two years, the government has cut spending on health care to $17 billion from $19.5 billion — a 13 percent decrease. And under its agreement with its creditors, Greece must find even more health care savings next year — as much as $915 million, government officials said.

At the same time, public health facilities have seen a 25 to 30 percent increase in patients because so many Greeks can no longer afford to visit private clinics. […],

READ @ http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/27/world/europe/greeks-reeling-from-health-care-cutbacks.html?_r=1&hp

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* MIGRANTS FROM EUROZONE STRUGGLERS FLOCK TO GERMANY

Source: Athens News (Reuters)

Greeks and Spaniards with little or no chance of finding work at home are flocking to Germany in search of jobs, data show.

Figures from Germany’s statistics office show immigration has surged in the wake of Europe’s debt crisis, as Germany’s powerful and so-far resilient economy attracts those from crisis-hit euro states.

The number of immigrants arriving from Greece soared 84 percent in the first half of 2011, while those coming from Spain rose 49 percent. In total 67,000 more foreigners moved to Germany than in the same period a year earlier.

“It’s striking to see the strong rise in immigration from European Union countries particularly hard-hit by the financial and debt crises,” the office said.

Germany pulled out of the 2008-9 financial crisis faster than its peers, growing by around 3 percent in 2011 as a domestic consumption boom and strong demand for German exports fuelled the economy.

Unemployment in Greece is running at 17.7 percent and expected to continue climbing through next year, while in Spain more than one in five are out of work. By contrast, Germany’s joblessness rate of 6.9 percent is its lowest in two decades.

“Every day I’m inundated with calls from Greece from people looking for work. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Angelos Doulgeris, who runs Greek restaurant Kos House in Berlin.

“Many of those are highly qualified people. I have been able to offer two people some casual work, but that is it – we are not getting any more customers.” […]

READ @ http://www.athensnews.gr/portal/9/51773

Dec 262011
 

 

* OBAMA YEAR THREE: CONTINUING HIS ROGUE AGENDA

By Stephen Lendman, OpEdNews

[…] After winning the most sweeping non-incumbent victory in over 50 years, he broke every major promise made, imposed austerity when stimulus is needed, escalated imperial wars, and hardened repression to curb popular anger.

James Petras calls him “the perfect incarnation of Melville’s Confidence Man. He catches your eye while he picks your pocket. He gives thanks as he packs you off to war.”

He spurns human need, rule of law principles, other democratic values, and right over wrong. Supporters expecting change in year four or a second term are delusional and misguided. In fact, his worst policies lie ahead.

Obamanomics: Waging War on American Workers

In April 2011, Obama announced $4 trillion in largely social spending budget cuts over the next 12 years. In December 2010, with Democrats controlling both Houses, he extended Bush’s super-rich tax cuts after saying he’d end them.

He also agreed to $38 billion in vital social services cuts after promising to preserve them. They include:

  • $3.5 billion from Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding;
  • $2.2 billion from nonprofit health insurance cooperatives;
  • $600 million from community healthcare centers;
  • $1 billion from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other disease prevention programs;
  • $1.6 billion from EPA’s clean/safe drinking water and other projects;
  • $950 million from community development grants;
  • $504 million from nutrition aid for poor Women, Infants, and Children (WIC);
  • $500 million from education programs;
  • $390 million from home heating subsidies to the poor, as well as $2.5 billion for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) announced in February;
  • $350 million from labor programs, including grants for community service jobs for seniors;
  • other social service cuts;
  • $786 million from FEMA first-responder funding;
  • $407 million from energy efficiency and renewable energy programs;
  • $260 million from National Institutes of Health (NIH) medical research;
  • $127 million from the National Park Service; and
  • billions less for public infrastructure and transportation spending, while increasing war appropriations by multiples more, including for conquering and controlling Libya.

Moreover, Obama agreed to more draconian FY 2012 cuts and corporate tax breaks as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling before reaching its mid-May limit. More as well over the next 12 years, including:

  • $4 trillion overall;
  • $770 billion from education, environmental, transportation, and other infrastructure cuts, as well as lower wages and benefits for federal workers when they need more, not less;
  • $480 billion from Medicare and Medicaid, besides another $1 trillion from Obamacare;
  • $360 billion from mandated domestic programs, including food stamps, home heating assistance, income for the poor and disabled, federal pension insurance, and farm subsidies; and
  • $400 billion from military-related spending from unneeded weapons, as well as healthcare and other benefits for active service members and veterans.

Priority Pentagon items remain untouched to assure annual budget increases, generous supplemental add-ons, and secret open-checkbook intelligence allocations for numerous nefarious purposes.

As a result, people needs are on the chopping block for elimination to satisfy the insatiable appetites of Wall Street, war profiteers, other corporate favorites, and America’s super-rich. Obama’s fully on board.

Eliminating Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Public Pensions

Political Washington hard-liners want them ended to transfer maximum public and private wealth to the recipients explained above.

Claims about Social Security and Medicare going broke are duplicitous. In fact, both programs are sound when responsibly administered. Nonetheless, they’re on the chopping block for elimination, beginning with benefit cuts, then privatizations to let corporate crooks profit at the expense of beneficiaries.

Obama tasked two deficit hawks for the job. They head his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (NCFRF) – former Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff. They’re part of an 18-member team of like-minded members.

They recommended sharp tax reductions for business and super-rich elites. They also want deep Medicare cuts, co-pay increases, Social Security’s retirement age raised, and lower cost-of-living increases among other draconian proposals harming ordinary people enormously.

They’re coming and much more under bipartisan agreement to slash trillions of dollars from domestic spending over the next decade.

By law, automatic $1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years will start in 2013. They’re to be equally divided between defense and domestic programs.

In fact, expect sustained military spending at the expense of gutting America’s social contract. Either way, lost purchasing power means less spending, fewer jobs, and greater public anger than today’s high levels.

In fact, deficit cutting is secondary. Key is protecting corporate handouts and Bush era tax cuts, as well as expanding them for business and upper-bracket earners.

Obama supports making ordinary Americans and seniors bear the burden so corporations and rich folks are spared. As usual, he talks tough, then caves, no matter the harm and injustice caused. […]

READ @ http://www.opednews.com/populum/printer_friendly.php?content=a&id=143291

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* GLOBAL REBELLIONS: THE COMING CHAOS?

By William I. Robinson, Aljazeera

 As the crisis of global capitalism spirals out of control, the powers that be in the global system appear to be adrift and unable to propose viable solutions. From the slaughter of dozens of young protesters by the army in Egypt to the brutal repression of the Occupy movement in the United States, and the water cannons brandished by the militarised police in Chile against students and workers, states and ruling classes are unable to hold back the tide of worldwide popular rebellion and must resort to ever more generalised repression.

Simply put, the immense structural inequalities of the global political economy can no longer be contained through consensual mechanisms of social control. The ruling classes have lost legitimacy; we are witnessing a breakdown of ruling-class hegemony on a world scale.

To understand what is happening in this second decade of the new century we need to see the big picture in historic and structural context. Global elites had hoped and expected that the “Great Depression” that began with the mortgage crisis and the collapse of the global financial system in 2008 would be a cyclical downturn that could be resolved through state-sponsored bailouts and stimulus packages. But it has become clear that this is a structural crisis. Cyclical crises are on-going episodes in the capitalist system, occurring and about once a decade and usually last 18 months to two years. There were world recessions in the early 1980s, the early 1990s, and the early 21st century.

Structural crises are deeper; their resolution requires a fundamental restructuring of the system. Earlier world structural crises of the 1890s, the 1930s and the 1970s were resolved through a reorganisation of the system that produced new models of capitalism. “Resolved” does not mean that the problems faced by a majority of humanity under capitalism were resolved but that the reorganisation of the capitalist system in each case overcame the constraints to a resumption of capital accumulation on a world scale. The crisis of the 1890s was resolved in the cores of world capitalism through the export of capital and a new round of imperialist expansion. The Great Depression of the 1930s was resolved through the turn to variants of social democracy in both the North and the South – welfare, populist, or developmentalist capitalism that involved redistribution, the creation of public sectors, and state regulation of the market. […]

READ @ http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/11/20111130121556567265.html

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* 2011 YEAR OF THE DUPE: ONE YEAR INTO THE ENGINEERED “ARAB SPRING,” ONE STEP CLOSER TO GLOBAL HEGEMONY — TIMELINE AND HISTORY

By Tony Cartalucci, Global Research

dupe n.

1. An easily deceived person.

2. A person who functions as the tool of another person or power.

               tr.v. duped, dup·ing, dupes To deceive (an unwary person).

December 24, 2011 – In January of 2011, we were told that “spontaneous,” “indigenous” uprising had begun sweeping North Africa and the Middle East in what was hailed as the “Arab Spring.” It would be almost four months before the corporate-media would admit that the US had been behind the uprisings and that they were anything but “spontaneous,” or “indigenous.” In an April 2011 article published by the New York Times titled, “U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings,” it was stated:

“A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the revolts and reforms sweeping the region, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Washington.”

The article would also add, regarding the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED):

“The Republican and Democratic institutes are loosely affiliated with the Republican and Democratic Parties. They were created by Congress and are financed through the National Endowment for Democracy, which was set up in 1983 to channel grants for promoting democracy in developing nations. The National Endowment receives about $100 million annually from Congress. Freedom House also gets the bulk of its money from the American government, mainly from the State Department. “

It is hardly a speculative theory then, that the uprisings were part of an immense geopolitical campaign conceived in the West and carried out through its proxies with the assistance of disingenuous foundations, organizations, and the stable of NGOs they maintain throughout the world. As we will see, preparations for the “Arab Spring” and the global campaign that is now encroaching on both Russia and China, as predicted in February 2011’s “The Middle East & then the World,” began not as unrest had already begun, but years before the first “fist” was raised, and within seminar rooms in D.C. and New York, US-funded training facilities in Serbia, and camps held in neighboring countries, not within the Arab World itself. […]

READ @ http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=28343

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* TOXIC TRASH PITS TAKE TOLL ON U.S. SOLDIERS

By Keith Goetzman, UTNE Reader

Did the United States poison tens of thousands of its own soldiers in Iraq with fumes from burning toxic trash? Before you consider it an outlandish suggestion, I suggest you read J. Malcolm Garcia’s moving account in the Oxford American of two American soldiers who made it back from their tours of duty having escaped insurgents’ shells, bullets, and improvised explosive devices—only to die slow, torturous deaths from the effects of garbage torched in open pits by the U.S. military.

Personal stories like those of Billy McKenna and Kevin Wilkins may only become more common in coming years, according to Garcia, since the U.S. military operated at least 23 burn pits in Iraq before combat operations ended this year, including a notoriously noxious one that often literally cast a pall over Balad Air Base.

“The burn pit at Balad consumed about 250 tons of waste a day,” he writes, “exposing 25,000 U.S. military personnel and thousands of contractors to toxic fumes.”

Garcia’s immersive narrative is a humanizing look into a slowly unfolding story that has been reported in bits and pieces for a few years, but hasn’t entirely sunken into the national consciousness, perhaps in part because it runs so counter to a reflexively patriotic, military-booster mindset: We wouldn’t have harmed our own soldiers, would we?

It just so turns out that we probably did. Writes Garcia:

The Veterans Administration states on its own webpage that chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metals, aluminum, unexploded ordnance, munitions, and petroleum products among other toxic waste are destroyed in burn pits. Possible side effects, the department notes, “may affect the skin, eyes, respiration, kidneys, liver, nervous system, cardiovascular system, reproductive system, peripheral nervous system, and gastrointestinal tract.”

The issue first came to public light in 2008 when the Military Times reported on the use of burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, spurring Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) to request a probe by the General Accounting Office.

The GAO looked into it and warned in 2010 that the burn pits violated laws designed to keep service members safe. Pressure mounted on legislators to take up the cause, and despite a general lack of public outrage, the campaign has finally had an effect: Both Missouri Republican Sen. Tom Akin and a bipartisan group of eight senators last month introduced identical bills that would create a registry for service members affected by health problems from burn pit exposure. […]

READ @ http://www.utne.com/Wild-Green/Toxic-Trash-Pits-Take-Toll-on-U.S.-Soldiers.aspx

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* SPRINGTIME FOR TOXICS

By Paul Krugman, NYTimes

[…] So, naturally, Republicans are furious. But before I get to the politics, let’s talk about what a good thing the E.P.A. just did.

As far as I can tell, even opponents of environmental regulation admit that mercury is nasty stuff. It’s a potent neurotoxicant: the expression “mad as a hatter” emerged in the 19th century because hat makers of the time treated fur with mercury compounds, and often suffered nerve and mental damage as a result.

Hat makers no longer use mercury (and who wears hats these days?), but a lot of mercury gets into the atmosphere from old coal-burning power plants that lack modern pollution controls. From there it gets into the water, where microbes turn it into methylmercury, which builds up in fish. And what happens then? The E.P.A. explains: “Methylmercury exposure is a particular concern for women of childbearing age, unborn babies and young children, because studies have linked high levels of methylmercury to damage to the developing nervous system, which can impair children’s ability to think and learn.”

That sort of sounds like something we should regulate, doesn’t it?

The new rules would also have the effect of reducing fine particle pollution, which is a known source of many health problems, from asthma to heart attacks. In fact, the benefits of reduced fine particle pollution account for most of the quantifiable gains from the new rules. The key word here is “quantifiable”: E.P.A.’s cost-benefit analysis only considers one benefit of mercury regulation, the reduced loss in future wages for children whose I.Q.’s are damaged by eating fish caught by freshwater anglers. There are without doubt many other benefits to cutting mercury emissions, but at this point the agency doesn’t know how to put a dollar figure on those benefits.

Even so, the payoff to the new rules is huge: up to $90 billion a year in benefits compared with around $10 billion a year of costs in the form of slightly higher electricity prices. This is, as David Roberts of Grist says, a very big deal.

And it’s a deal Republicans very much want to kill. […]

READ @ http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/26/opinion/krugman-springtime-for-toxics.html?_r=2&ref=opinion

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* CIA: NO BIG DEAL THAT WE TRAINED NYPD TO CONDUCT DOMESTIC SPYING

By Marcy Wheeler, Emptywheel

The CIA announced in September it was going to review a narrow aspect of the way CIA officers set up NYPD’s domestic spying agency in the wake of 9/11. As I pointed out then, the investigation was scoped to ignore key parts of the NYPD’s program.

The NYPD program is, by all appearances, a massive ethnic profiling operation that hasn’t been all that effectiveat finding potential terrorists. DOJ ought to be conducting this investigation as a potential civil rights violation.

But instead, CIA will conduct the investigation, meaning the chances the public will know the result are slimmer even than if DOJ conducted it.

[snip]

So is CIA particularly worried? Both James Clapper and the CIA flack appear to be narrowly parsing the potential problem: whether or not there are CIA officers on the streets of NY, whether they are investigating domestically as opposed to overseas (remember, the NYPD is sticking its nose into overseas investigations, too).

And, surprise surprise! CIA’s Inspector General just announced that it found no problem in its narrowly scoped investigation.

The agency’s inspector general concluded that no laws were broken and there was “no evidence that any part of the agency’s support to the NYPD constituted ‘domestic spying’,” CIA spokesman Preston Golson said.

[snip]

David Buckley, the CIA’s inspector general, completed his review in late October. It’s not clear if his report opens the door for other municipal police departments nationwide to work closely with the CIA in the war on terror.

Let the ineffective, wasteful domestic spying continue then, I guess! […]

READ @ http://www.emptywheel.net/2011/12/24/cia-no-big-deal-that-we-trained-nypd-to-conduct-domestic-spying/

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* TWO MINUTE VIDEO: O, DAMN YE WALL ST. GENTLEMEN

By Washington’s Blog

Art is in the brilliant video from ovaria; following are the independently verifiable facts that the “99%” are embezzled by the “1%” for over a trillion of our dollars every year.

How does the 1% do this?

They purchased corporate media to cover their assets, that’s how.

This article shows how the Federal Reserve System causes the opposite of their stated goals. This is, obviously, criminal fraud. Upon your basic economics education, I invite you to embrace the power of calling what the 1% does as CRIMES. When the 99% recognize the 1% as CRIMINALS and demand arrests and prosecutions, we’ve won.

My Open proposal for US Revolution: end unlawful wars, parasitic economics is my strongest work to explain and document these CRIMES.

My Occupy This: US History exposes the 1%’s crimes then and now is my strongest work to explain and document that criminal Wars of Aggression and looting have been central in US policies for over 150 years. History’s purpose is to recognize patterns of behavior in the present.

May 2012 be the best year yet for us all, and may that be ongoingly true each new year for all beings on this beautiful and so far dominated planet.

I admonish and invite the criminals among the 1% to reclaim their heart, their love, and stand with 100% of humanity, and 100% of themselves. […]

READ @ http://www.washingtonsblog.com/

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* OCCUPY CHICAGO CHRISTMAS CAROLS: JINGLE BELLS

source: youtube.com (h/t Jerry Boyle)

Special thanks to Lance Robbins (the awesome street drummer)

Emanuel, Emanuel
The Mayor sold us out!
16 million to his banker friends
That’s what he’s all abou-out!
Emanuel, Emanuel
The Mayor sold us out
Fines and fees and job layoffs
Cutting workers till they shou-out!

You’ll be a one term Mayor
Cause the people who you serve
Don’t think that you really care
About their jobs at all (no, no, no!)
We’ll occupy all day
and we’ll occupy all night
Until you change your way
We won’t give up our fight!

Emanuel, Emanuel
The Mayor sold us out!
16 million to his banker friends
That’s what he’s all abou-out!
Emanuel, Emanuel
The Mayor sold us out
Fines and fees and job layoffs
Cutting workers till they shou-out!

The Mayor’s only friends
Line his pockets full of cash
He’ll sell out city piece by piece
Till we’re left with only ash (cough, cough, cough)
We are here to say ENOUGH
That we just won’t take no more
When Rahm tries to take your job
Just tell him: there’s the door!

Occupy, Occupy
Occupy in your heart!
People fighting for their human rights
Can never be torn apa-art
Occupy, Occupy
Occupy in your heart
Join us against these budget cuts
And the Mayor will fall apart!

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PXXJufcojg

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* FELIZ NAVIDAD FROM TENT CITY 2011

source: youtube.com (h/t Jerry Boyle)

Be grateful for what you have, some people are doing time for a chance to be an American in the 21st Century. La lucha sigue hermanos y hermanas. Citizen Me: The Forgotten Class (2012) Documentary Film

www.facebook.com/citizenmethemovie
www.twitter.com/citizenmemovie

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4zjK_72uLs&sns=fb

Dec 252011
 

Enjoy…

Mapping during 600 year anniversary of the astronomical tower clock located in Old Town Square in center of Prague.

Mapping:
The Macula (www.themacula.com)

Coworking animators:
Michal Kotek
Lukáš Duběda

Sound:
data-live (www.data-live.cz)

Production:
Tomato Production (www.tomatoproduction.cz)

facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=138720539508263

Dec 242011
 

 

* A CHRISTMAS CLASSIC WITH AN OCCUPY TWIST: GOD BLESS US, EVERY 1 PERCENT

By Frank Lesser, Washington Post

Ebenezer Scrooge was alphabetizing unpaid mortgages on Christmas Eve when the ghost of his late business partner Jacob Marley appeared, moaning and rattling his chains. “Great, another protester,” Scrooge muttered, before shouting, “Cratchit!,” at which point his clerk burst through the door in riot gear and pepper-sprayed Marley in his ashen face.

“Sorry, Jacob,” Scrooge said as the ghost writhed upon the floor, “but I learned a few things after dealing with the urchins camping outside my office. Incidentally, you can’t stay on the floor — I need to keep it clear so it can be cleaned. Cratchit?”

Cratchit splashed a bucket of grayish water on the ghost, and Marley melted away into the floorboards.

“You owe me one, Bob,” Scrooge said to his impoverished clerk. “Even though it seemed like he was coming after me, he was really coming to raise your taxes.”

Marley’s ghost reappeared an hour later with an ice pack over his eyes. He locked the door this time, then turned his infernal aspect upon Scrooge and said in a grave voice, “Ebenezer Scrooge, tonight you will be visited by three ghosts.”

Scrooge frowned. “Three ghosts? What exactly are you protesting — my past, my present, or my future? Your message is confusing.”

Marley tried again. “I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance to escape my fate.”

“What’s so awful about your fate? You’re dead, so by my calculations you don’t even pay income tax, you freeloading corpse.”

“I pay sales tax on chain polish,” Marley said quietly, and he held up a few shiny links as evidence.

“Hah, yum-hug!” exclaimed Scrooge. Noticing Marley’s puzzled expression, he added, “I had my exclamations focus-grouped by a political consultant, and ‘Bah, humbug’ doesn’t test well with peddlers.”

Marley gritted his teeth. “Perhaps this will convince you.” He set up another cry, clanked his chains and unwrapped the bandage round his head. His lower jaw dropped down upon his chest.

Scrooge recoiled in horror. “I suppose now you’ll expect me to pay for your health care.”

Marley disappeared to rethink his strategy.

By the time the ghost returned it was nearly dawn. “Ebenezer, I beg you!” he cried. “Have you no shred of compassion to spare for the less fortunate, or have you hoarded away your mercy alongside your wealth? Can you not see that while the poor have gotten poorer, you and your fellow misers have gotten richer?”

“I’m going to stop you there,” Scrooge said, casually leafing through a money-lending chart. “We don’t call ourselves misers anymore. We prefer the term ‘joy-creators.’ And what you and your fellow ghosts are asking for is a radical redistribution of Christmas spirit.”

On Christmas morning, Marley was too discouraged to materialize. He hailed a carriage from the graveyard to Scrooge’s office.

“So, how were the other ghosts’ visits?” Marley asked after making cautious small talk about the weather. “Did they show you how a paltry sacrifice on your part would make an immeasurable difference in the lives of the less fortunate?”

In response, Scrooge held up a copy of that day’s newspaper with the headline, “Ghost of XXX-mas: Spirit Arrested for Peeping.”

“I called the cops when I caught the Ghost of Christmas Present outside my nephew’s house,” he said. “He was crouching in the bushes beneath his window, spying on the cheer inside.”

“He was trying to show you that the wealth of a man is not measured by his bond portfolio, but by his bond with his fellow man!”

“Yum-hug! I suppose next you’ll tell me friendship is golden, but I checked with commodities speculators and they assure me it’s tin, at best.”

Marley started heading for the door.

“Cheer up, Marley, it wasn’t all for naught. When the Ghost of Christmas Future wasn’t looking, I asked one of the mourners at my funeral who won the World Series, and come October I’m hoping to make a killing.”

Marley didn’t reappear till New Year’s Eve. When he did, he found Scrooge alone in his office writing a generous check.

“I’m glad our message of charity warmed some small cobwebbed corner of your heart,” Marley said.

“Charity?” Scrooge said. “I have to get this donation to Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform Foundation before the end of the year for the deduction to count.”

Marley slumped into an armchair and wept. Scrooge laid his hand on where Marley’s shoulder would have been. “I appreciate what you tried to do,” he said, “but times have changed. For instance, thanks to Tiny Tim’s sugary soft drink consumption, we now call him that only ironically. If you ghosts really wanted to influence someone’s opinion, you’d have bought your own newspaper like I did.”

He showed Marley that day’s paper, headlined, “Bedford Falls FAIL: George Bailey Gets Bailout From Socialist Townsfolk.” Marley continued his sobbing.

“Why don’t you get a job?” Scrooge challenged Marley. “It’ll take your mind off this whole income inequality thing, which if you ask me is just typical postmortem liberal guilt. Tell you what, I’ll hire you back at half your old salary. I’m going to be swamped next year collecting debts from all the paupers that those other ghosts showed me.”

Marley’s spirit’s spirit finally slackened. “I do miss the end-of-year bonuses,” he sighed. Scrooge handed him a W-4 form.

Frank Lesser is a writer for “The Colbert Report” and the author of “Sad Monsters: Growling on the Outside, Crying on the Inside.” […]

READ @ http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-christmas-classic-with-an-occupy-twist-god-bless-us-every-1-percent/2011/12/20/gIQAJ8RQCP_print.html

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* THE INTELLECTUAL COWARDICE OF BRADLEY MANNING’S CRITICS

By Glenn Greenwald, Salon

After imprisoning Private First Class Bradley Manning for eighteen months, the U.S. Army last week finally began the preliminary stage of his court-martial proceeding, and that initial process ended on Thursday. Manning faces over 30 charges; the most serious — “aiding the enemy” — carries a death sentence (though prosecutors are requesting “only” life in prison for the 24-year-old soldier). The technical purpose of this week’s hearing was to determine if there is sufficient evidence to warrant a full court-martial proceeding; the finding (that there is such evidence) is a virtual inevitability. Manning’s counsel, Lt. Col. David Coombs, spent the week challenging the Army’s evidence, suggesting that his client may have suffered “diminished capacity” by virtue of his gender struggles and emotional instability, and finally, forcefully arguing that the leaks were an act of political conscience and that the Army has severely “overcharged” Manning in an attempt to coerce incriminating statements against WikiLeaks (Kevin Gosztola and The Guardian were at the hearing and have recaps of what happened over the last week; my general view of Manning was set forth in an Op-Ed in The Guardian last week, and my specific view of the gender defense is here).

For the moment, I want to make one narrow point about Bradley Manning. I’ve made it before but it was really underscored for me by a debate I had on an Al Jazeera program Thursday night regarding Manning with Daniel Ellsberg and the neocon activist Cliff May, who vigorously defended the Obama administration’s treatment of Manning (the video of our segment is embedded below; it was preceded by a short interview of P.J. Crowley):

Ever since Manning was accused of being the source for the WikiLeaks disclosures, those condemning these leaks have sought to distinguish them from Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers. With virtual unanimity, Manning’s harshest critics have contended that while Ellsberg’s leak was justifiable and noble, Manning’s alleged leaks were not; that’s because, they claim, Ellsberg’s leak was narrowly focused and devoted to exposing specific government lies, while Manning’s was indiscriminate and a far more serious breach of secrecy. When President Obama declared Manning guilty, he made the same claim: “No it wasn’t the same thing. Ellsberg’s material wasn’t classified in the same way.”

One problem for those wishing to make this claim is that Ellsberg himself has been one of Manning’s most vocal defenders, repeatedly insisting that the two leaks are largely indistinguishable. But the bigger problem for this claim is how blatantly irrational it is. As Ellsberg clearly details in this Al Jazeera debate, he — Ellsberg — dumped 7,000 pages of Top Secret documents: the highest known level of classification; by contrast, not a single page of what Manning is alleged to have leaked was Top Secret, but rather all bore a much lower-level secrecy designation. In that sense, Obama was right: “Ellsberg’s material wasn’t classified in the same way” — the secrets Ellsberg leaked were classified as being far more sensitive. […]

READ @ http://www.salon.com/2011/12/24/the_intellectual_cowardice_of_bradley_mannings_critics/singleton/

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* TORTURED

By Kathryn Sikkink, UTNE Reader

Illustration: Zina Saunders @ www.zinasaunders.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I first began to learn about the human rights violations of the George W. Bush administration after 9/11: I still recall an email from an Argentine colleague asking me whether they were starting to “disappear” people in the United States. At the time, I thought she was referring to Middle Easterners residing in the United States who were being detained for long periods without charges in the period after 9/11. I wrote back to say that although this was indeed arbitrary detention without trial, these people were not disappeared. We now know that I was wrong.

By 2002 the CIA was indeed taking detainees to “black sites,” secret detention centers where they were tortured and interrogated. American officials were denying that they knew the whereabouts of these detainees, and they did not allow the International Red Cross to visit them. This fits the technical definition of disappearance. U.N. experts have clarified that international law completely prohibits such secret detention.

By the spring of 2004, after the photos of torture and degrading treatment of inmates in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq appeared, and the report of U.S. General Antonio Taguba, who investigated the abuses, was leaked to the press, I walked into the last human rights class of the semester at the University of Minnesota and said to my students: “I have been teaching this class for over 10 years, and I have to stand up and say something today that I have not said before. We have clear proof that the United States government has engaged in torture and cruel and unusual punishment of detainees.” […]

READ @ http://www.utne.com/print-article.aspx?id=2147492021

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* OBAMA AGAIN UNCONSTITUTIONALLY CLAIMS UNCONSTITUTIONAL POWERS IN A SIGNING STATEMENT

By David Swanson, War Is A Crime

As you know if you’ve been awake the past several years, Bush began the unconstitutional practice of rewriting laws with signing statements, there was a little scandal when people found out, candidate Obama promised not to do it, Obama did it, Obama declared it OK in an executive order, and now it’s all perfectly fine.

As you know if you give a damn about the future of this country, it isn’t really perfectly fine.  Here’s Obama’s latest.  This is from a signing statement on a spending bill, not the “Defense” Authorization Act which is yet to come (perhaps on Christmas just to rub it in):

“Section 113 of Division H requires the Secretary of Defense to notify the Appropriations Committees of both Houses of Congress 30 days in advance of “any proposed military exercise involving United States personnel” that is anticipated to involve expenditures of more than $100,000 on construction. Language in Division I, title I, under the headings International Organizations, Contributions for International Peacekeeping Activities, disallows the expenditure of funds “for any United Nations peacekeeping mission that will involve United States Armed Forces under the command or operational control of a foreign national,” unless my military advisers have advised that such an involvement is in the national interest, and unless I have made the same recommendation to the Congress. In approving this bill, I reiterate the understanding, which I have communicated to the Congress, that I will apply these provisions in a manner consistent with my constitutional authority as Commander in Chief.

“Certain provisions in Division I, including sections 7013, 7025, 7029, 7033, 7043, 7046, 7049, 7059, 7062, and 7071, restrict or require particular diplomatic communications, negotiations, or interactions with foreign governments or international organizations. Others, including sections 7031, 7037, and 7086, hinder my ability to receive diplomatic representatives of foreign governments. Finally, section 7041 requires the disclosure to the Congress of information regarding ongoing diplomatic negotiations. I have advised the Congress that I will not treat these provisions as limiting my constitutional authorities in the area of foreign relations.

“Moreover, several provisions in this bill, including section 627 of Division C and section 512 of Division D, could prevent me from fulfilling my constitutional responsibilities, by denying me the assistance of senior advisers and by obstructing my supervision of executive branch officials in the execution of their statutory responsibilities. I have informed the Congress that I will interpret these provisions consistent with my constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

“Additional provisions in this bill, including section 8013 of Division A and section 218 of Division F, purport to restrict the use of funds to advance certain legislative positions. I have advised the Congress that I will not construe these provisions as preventing me from fulfilling my constitutional responsibility to recommend to the Congress’s consideration such measures as I shall judge necessary and expedient.

“Numerous provisions of this bill purport to condition the authority of executive branch officials to spend or reallocate funds on the approval of congressional committees. These are constitutionally impermissible forms of congressional aggrandizement in the execution of the laws. Although my Administration will notify the relevant committees before taking the specified actions, and will accord the recommendations of such committees appropriate and serious consideration, our spending decisions shall not be treated as dependent on the approval of congressional committees. In particular, section 1302 of Division G conditions the authority of the Librarian of Congress to transfer funds between sections of the Library upon the approval of the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate. I have advised the Congress of my understanding that this provision does not apply to funds for the Copyright Office, which performs an executive function in administering the copyright laws.

“BARACK OBAMA”

I have bolded the Bush-speak lines that mean “Here are the parts of this law that I am signing into law rather than vetoing but fully intend not to comply with.”

I have both bolded and colored red a bit wherein our Constitutional scholar in chief dictates to the First Branch of our government how spending decisions will be made. […]

READ @ http://warisacrime.org/content/obama-again-unconstitutionally-claims-unconstitutional-war-powers-signing-statement

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* A THIRD-RATE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY FOR A FAILING SUPER-POWER: THE CIA’s GLOBAL DEMISE

By Wayne Madsen, Strategic Culture Foundation

Based on its recent string of failures, most notably those that have occurred under America’s top general-turned-spymaster David Petraeus, the CIA has become a third-tier intelligence agency that is trying to prop around the world up a failing, financially bankrupt, and over-extended super-power the United States.

The CIA, started in 1947 with veterans of the war-time Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and military personnel, who were soon supplemented by economists and international relations graduates of America’s top Ivy League universities, is now attempting to promote itself as a “made-for-television” futuristic high-tech spy and covert warfare agency, operating intelligence-gathering and armed drones from over 60 bases around the world. All that is missing from the CIA’s over-inflated view of itself are the X-Men and Jason Bourne.

The record of the CIA speaks otherwise. The agency has become a bloated and ineffectual spy agency that is heavy on inflating intelligence reports while being responsible for major intelligence failures.

Recent major failures of the CIA in its drone operations in the Middle East and Africa have some congressional sources wondering what is afoot with the CIA.  Under Petraeus’s watch the CIA has experienced its worst foul ups since those that occurred when it failed to foresee the Iranian embassy hostage situation and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Petraeus’s first major failure, Lebanon, involved Hezbollah’s exposure of the CIA’s agent network in the country. The CIA station chief, Daniel Patrick McFeely, has been outed as the CIA station chief at the U.S. embassy in the Awkar neighborhood of Beirut. Not only was Hezbollah able to out McFeely, who operates as “official cover” as part of the embassy staff, but they identified his predecessor, Louis Kahi.

By conducting surveillance of meetings at Pizza Huts and Starbucks in Lebanon between CIA case officers and agents, Hezbollah — and their Iranian allies — were able to construct the CIA’s network that included over 1000 top Lebanese politicians, academics, medical doctors, journalists, military personnel, and celebrities. Essentially, the CIA’s network in Lebanon has been largely rolled up. According to Al Manar television, the code names of the agents, names like Nick, Jim, Youssef, Liza and Jonah, were also exposed.

The U.S. corporate media has refrained from publishing the names of the CIA station chiefs or the cover names of their Lebanese agents. In more and more cases, the U.S. media has run from its duty to report all the facts about intelligence-related matters, succumbing to either appeals or threats from spy agencies that they should not write about intelligence-related matters because of some nebulous and non-provable “threat” to national security.

Almost simultaneous to the Lebanon roll up, Iran announced it discovered a network composed of at least 42 CIA agents operating within its territory, operatives that worked in nuclear and other scientific centers, the military, biotechnology, and various universities. Iran’s chief prosecutor has already indicted fifteen of the 42 for espionage on behalf of the CIA.

On November 26, a U.S. air strike killed 24 Pakistani military personnel on the Pakistani border with Afghanistan. The incident, which frayed already poor relations between the United States and Pakistan, resulted in the U.S. being expelled from the Shamsi airbase in Pakistan, one from which CIA drones were launched, with few successes and many failures, against “terror” targets in Pakistan’s volatile mountainous frontier region bordering Afghanistan.

The debacle that resulted in the loss of the Shamsi drone base was followed by the biggest intelligence failure to date, the downing by accident or hostile action, including through possible electronic warfare “spoofing,” of an RQ-170 Sentinel stealth-enabled drone over Iran. President Barack Obama was under pressure to launch a commando raid on Iran to retrieve the state-of-the art technology drone or bomb it and its security detail once it was discovered to be in Iranian hands. Obama chose to ask the Iranian to return the drone to the United States, something Tehran has refused to do, without, at the very least, an official apology.

Obama had on his hands a “Jimmy Carter moment” and his Republican opponents eagerly jumped on him for not sending in a commando team to retrieve the drone or order air strikes to destroy it. Obama left himself open to charges that he is a weak and ineffectual president because he allowed the RQ-170 to fall into the hands of not only the Iranians, but, as the rhetoric from his political enemies has alleged, the Russians and Chinese, as well. The right-wing claims that Russia or China, or both, will attempt to re-engineer the CIA’s expensive toy, what is known as the mysterious “Beast of Kandahar,” in order to leap frog the United States in stealth drone technology by years. […]

READ @ http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2011/12/21/a-third-rate-intelligence-agency-a-failing-power-cia-global-demise.html

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* HOW DID THIS WEEDKILLER END UP IN OUR WATER, AIR, RAIN AND FOOD?

By Sayer Ji, OpEdNews

Monsanto’s Herbicide May Be Contaminating The World’s Drinking Water

In a groundbreaking study published in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry last month, glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide “Roundup,” is flowing freely into the groundwater in areas where it is being applied. The researchers found that 41% of the 140 groundwater samples taken from Catalonia Spain, had levels beyond the limit of quantification — indicating that, despite manufacturer’s claims, it does not break down rapidly in the environment, and is accumulating there in concerning quantities.

Why Is Groundwater Contamination An Important Finding?

Groundwater is water located beneath the ground surface, that supplies aquifers, wells and springs.  If a chemical like glyphosate is mobile enough to get into the groundwater and is intrinsically resistant to being biodegraded (after all, it is being used to kill/degrade living things — not the other way around), significant environmental exposures to humans using the water are inevitable. After all, according to the USGS, 88,000 tons were used in the US in 2007 alone.

Keep in mind that glyphosate is considered by the EPA as a Class III toxic substance, fatal to an adult at 30 grams, and has been linked to over 20 adverse health effects in the peer-reviewed, biomedical literature.

This groundwater contamination study adds to another highly concerning finding from March, published in the journal of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, where researchers found the chemical in 60-100% of all air and rain samples tested, indicating that glyphosate pollution and exposure is now omnipresent in the US. When simply breathing makes you susceptible to glyphosate exposure, we know we are dealing with a problem of unprecedented scale.

Who Is Responsible For The Groundwater Contamination? 

Monsanto is a multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation, presently dominating the global genetically engineered seed market, with 90% market share in the US alone. It is also the world’s largest producer of the herbicide glyphosate, marketed as “Roundup,” among other brand names.  If you are eating corn and soy, or any of their ten thousand plus byproducts — and it does not have a USDA organic logo — you are getting the Monsanto “double whammy”: the health effects that follow the consumption of GM food (because we are — literally — what we eat), and ceaseless chemical exposure to glyphosate, as all Monsanto-engineered plants have been designed to be glyphosate-resistant, and therefore are saturated with it.

Is Monsanto’s Herbicide A New Agent Orange?

Roundup is not Monsanto’s first entry into the systemic herbicide market. Monsanto admits it manufactured the herbicide/defoliant Agent Orange from 1965 to 1969, which Vietnam estimated killed and maimed 400,000 people and resulted in the 500,000 children being born with birth defects.

The true devastation caused by Agent Orange was covered up for many years. We may find that Monsanto’s Roundup, and its primary active ingredient glyphosate, may be causing a similar degree of devastation to both environmental and human health under the lidless, though not very watchful eye (as far as business interests are concerned), of our regulatory agencies.

Indeed, glyphosate is a powerful endocrine disrupter. Exceedingly small amounts are capable of mimicking and/or disrupting hormonal pathways, cell receptor sites and signaling. Research culled from The National Library of Medicine links it to 17 adverse pharmacological actions, including carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, neurotoxicty, hepatoxicity, and nephrotoxicity.

But what is most disturbing, and which may make its comparison to Agent Orange all the more appropriate, is its potential teratrogenicity, i.e. ability to cause fetal malformations.

A 2003 study of pregnant, glyphosate/Roundup-exposed rats indicated the formulation exhibited significant tetragenicity. The researchers commented: “We may conclude that glyphosate-Roundup is toxic to the dams and induces developmental retardation of the fetal skeleton.”

A study published in 2004 revealed that glyphosate exhibits endocrine-disruptive and embryotoxic effects. Researchers found the chemical alters the expression of the enzyme aromatase in both fetal and placental cells and tissue — changes which indicate it may contribute to birth defects and abnormal fetal development.

Another study published in 2009 showed that glyphosate formulations induce cell death and necrosis in human umbilicial, embryonic and placental cells.

Now that glyphosate has been found in the majority of air and rain samples tested in the US, and is now likely contaminating our wells, springs and aquifers, exposure is not only likely, its inevitable — the difference being only a matter of degree. […]

READ @ http://www.opednews.com/populum/printer_friendly.php?content=a&id=143184

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* ANNOUNCEMENT OF “COLD SHUTDOWN” OF FUKUSHIMA REACTORS IS BASED ON A POLITICAL DECISION, NOT SCIENCE

By Washington’s Blog

If The Reactors Are “Cold”, It May Be Because Most of the Hot Radioactive Fuel Has Leaked Out

The Japanese Government and Tepco say that they have achieved a “cold shutdown” of Fukushima nuclear reactors. Specifically, they claim that the water inside the reactors is now below the boiling point.

In reality, no one knows what’s really going on inside the reactors.

A representative of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it doesn’t know what’s going on inside the reactors (video at link).

NHK reports:

  • At Reactor No. 1 they believe most of the molten fuel has fallen from the pressure vessel to the bottom of the containment vessel where there is no thermometer
  • The amount of water has not been measured accurately with a water gauge and has only been guessed at
  • Tepco has installed systems to test for new “criticalities” – i.e. new nuclear reactions – in Reactors No. 1 and 2, but hasn’t done so in No. 3 – so no one can even tell if there are ongoing reactions in No. 3

By way of background, the New York Times noted on November 30th:

“This is still an overly optimistic simulation,” said Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor of physics at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, who has been a vocal critic of Tepco’s lack of disclosure of details of the disaster. Tepco would very much like to say that the outermost containment is not completely compromised and that the meltdown stopped before the outer steel barrier, he said, “but even by their own simulation, it’s very borderline.”

“I have always argued that the containment is broken, and that there is the danger of a wider radiation leak,” Mr. Koide said. “In reality, it’s impossible to look inside the reactor, and most measurement instruments have been knocked out. So nobody really knows how bad it is.”

***

Tepco now assumes that “100 percent of the fuel at Unit 1 has slumped” into the outer primary containment vessel.

In addition, the simulation suggests that the fuel bored more than two feet into the concrete, Mr. Matsumoto said. […]

READ @ http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/12/announcement-of-cold-shutdown-of-fukushima-reactors-is-based-on-a-political-decision-rather-than-science.html

Dec 232011
 

 

* ONE YEAR AFTER FBI SUBPOENA, CIVIL LIBERTIES PROTECTIONS IN US FRIGHTENINGLY ERODED EVEN FURTHER

By maureen, Electronic Intifada

A year ago yesterday, I got the dreaded house call from the FBI. I was at home working when two agents rang my buzzer and asked to speak with me.

I had been expecting such a visit; on 24 September 2010 the FBI raided the homes of prominent anti-war and international solidarity organizers I have worked with over the years in Chicago, as well as the homes of activists in the Twin Cities and the office of the Anti War Committee there. In the weeks that followed, more Palestine solidarity organizers and Palestinian Americans in Chicago were delivered subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago as part of an investigation into violations of the laws banning material support for foreign terrorist organizations.

I declined to speak with the two agents who visited me; they then gave me a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury on 25 January 2011. I spent last Christmas and New Year convinced that I would soon be in federal prison for civil contempt of court. Even though it meant we risked being jailed, all 23 of us who have been subpoenaed as part of this grand jury fishing expedition have refused to testify. We have asserted that our first amendment rights guaranteed by the US Constitution, protecting free speech and freedom of association, are being trampled on.

A first amendment issue

The grand jury — essentially a secret court in which you’re not allowed to have a lawyer, and there is not even a judge presiding over the proceedings — has been long abused as a tool of inquisition into domestic political movements. Indeed, no specific crime has been identified related to our case.

The FBI’s operations manual for the September raids, discovered last April to have been accidentally left amongst a raided activist’s files, make it clear that they wanted to question activists about associational information — who activists know and work with in the US, Colombia and Palestine, and how activists organize and what they believe. They wanted people to name everyone they know who has ever traveled to the Middle East or South America.

It is also obvious the FBI put up the LA County Sheriff to raid the home of veteran Chicano liberation activist Carlos Montes last May; he faces trumped-up technical firearms violation charges and serious prison time. The FBI was on hand during the raid to question Montes about his political associations (an organizer of the 2008 Republican National Convention protests, he was named in the search warrant used to raid the Anti War Committee office) and took material from his home related to his long history of political organizing. They even took a kuffiyeh — the traditional checkered Palestinian scarf — only one example of many demonstrating how federal agents so arbitrarily confiscated property from activists’ homes.

And while the threat of indictments looms, I am not spending Christmas and new year’s in federal prison for civil contempt of court. This is, I believe, thanks to the vocal protest that countless people around the US and around the world have made in support of the 24 of us and in support of civil liberties. This is a huge victory. But at the same time, civil liberties and constitutional protections have further eroded even in the last year. More protest must be shown before the situation gets even worse. […]

READ @ http://electronicintifada.net/blog/maureen/one-year-after-fbi-subpoena-civil-liberties-protections-us-frighteningly-eroded-even

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* IT’S TIME TO FREE BRADLEY MANNING

By The Young Turks

http://current.com/shows/the-young-turks/videos/its-time-to-free-bradley-manning

Nineteen months after U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was first arrested, the first pre-trial hearings have finally begun. Manning faces 22 charges, including “aiding the enemy” and the unauthorized release of half a million reports and cables — even though, according to the American government, no one has been proved hurt by Wikileaks publishing the cables, and none were classified as top secret. “He did our soldiers a world of good,” Cenk says. “Time served is plenty enough time. Scooter Libby served no time and he betrayed a CIA agent. That caused real harm. Dick Cheney — no time. Karl Rove — no time. It’s time to free Bradley Manning.”

READ AND VIDEO @ http://mydd.com/users/theyoungturks/posts/its-time-to-free-bradley-manning

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* 99% PLAN NEW TAX WAR ON SUPER RICH IN 2012

By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch

[…] War rises from a black hole in the souls of our enraged youth

Listen to Kalle and White describing the energy driving OWS movement. It comes from deep within the collective soul of a new generation of young Americans who have been disenfranchised by clueless politicians who are trapped deep inside a corrupt two-party political system no longer capable of changing. And our youth are enraged. Listen:

“This primal cry for democracy sprang from young people who could no longer ignore the angst in their gut — the premonition that their future does not compute, that their entire lives will be lived in the apocalyptic shadow of climate-change tipping points, species die-offs, a deadening commercialized culture, a political system perverted by money, precarious employment, a struggle to pay off crippling student loans, and no chance of ever owning a home or living in comfort like their parents. Glimpsing this black hole of ecological, political, financial and spiritual crisis, the youth and the millions of Americans who joined them instinctively knew that unless they stood up and fought nonviolently for a different kind of future, they would have no future at all.”

Yes, America’s youth are the voice of the 99%, Americans inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions. American youth are fueling “the greatest social-justice movement to emerge in the United States since the civil rights era.”

But never lose sight of the real war here. Yes, there’s a war between the richest 1% of Americans who have seen their income grow 265% the past generation while the incomes of the other 99% have stagnated or fallen. Yes, the wealth gap is bigger now than it was in 1929 just before the market crashed.

Super Rich vs. America’s future

But to truly understand how this class war is predicting what lies ahead, know that class war is not just between the Super Rich and the 99%. It is more a generational war between America’s youth and a wealthy entrenched establishment. The young helped elect the president. Expected “change we can believe in.” Unfortunately it got worse, and they’re mad as hell.

Investors especially better watch out: This pent-up energy in America’s youth is building to a critical mass (as happened in Europe and the Arab world, and now in China and Russia), and it will explode across the economic and political landscape in 2012.

In the final analysis, however, you sense that in spite of their accelerating rage against the establishment, America’s youth, our next great generation, also had a sudden epiphany and learned a crucial lesson. Oh yes. Because their enemies didn’t just give them a great gift, but also inadvertently trained them in using a more aggressive special-ops, guerilla, quick-strike strategy. Listen and you’ll see what they learned in one night raid against them:

“Why can’t the American power elite engage with the nation’s young? Instead, they stayed aloof, ignored us and wished us away,” then “attacked us in Zuccotti Park in the dead of the night. Bloomberg’s raid was carried out with military precision. The surprise attack began at 1 a.m. with a media blackout. The encampment was surrounded by riot police, credentialed mainstream journalists who tried to enter were pushed back or arrested, and the airspace was closed to news helicopters. What happened next was a blur of tear gas; a bulldozer; confiscation or destruction of everything in the park, including 5,000 books; upward of 150 arrests; and the deployment of a Long Range Acoustic Device, the infamous ‘sound cannon’ best known for its military use in Iraq. … This kind of military mind-set and violent response to nonviolent protesters makes no sense. It did not work in the Middle East, and it’s not going to work in America either. This is the bottom line: You cannot attack your young and get away with it.”

Repeat that “bottom line: You cannot attack your young and get away with it” And yet, that’s exactly what Wall Street, America’s Super Rich, their lobbyists, and all their bought politicians are doing: “Attacking our young.” Attacking our next generation. Attacking America’s future.

Our leaders are ideologically blind to the need to invest and invest big in jobs before this accelerating rage reaches a critical mass and ignites, triggering another American Revolution and the Second Great Depression.

READ @ http://www.marketwatch.com/Story/story/print?guid=901AE114-2A5C-11E1-B371-002128040CF6

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* UNPRECEDENTED FRAUD, TOOTHLESS WATCHDOGS

By Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture 

“Why there hasn’t been more robust prosecution is a mystery.

-Raymond Brescia, visiting professor, Yale Law School

Reuters has an outrageous article detailing the absurdity of the lack of prosecution of financial crimes in modern America. It is a shocking to watch the United States, a nation that once followed the Rule of Law, slip into a banana republic.

“Four years after the banking system nearly collapsed from reckless mortgage lending, federal prosecutors have stayed on the sidelines, even as judges around the country are pointing fingers at possible wrongdoing.

The federal government, as has been widely noted, has pressed few criminal cases against major lenders or senior executives for the events that led to the meltdown of 2007. Finding hard evidence has proved difficult, the Justice Department has said.

The government also hasn’t brought any prosecutions for dubious foreclosure practices deployed since 2007 by big banks and other mortgage-servicing companies.

But this part of the financial system, a Reuters examination shows, is filled with potential leads.

Foreclosure-related case files in just one New York federal bankruptcy court, for example, hold at least a dozen mortgage documents known as promissory notes bearing evidence of recently forged signatures and illegal alterations, according to a judge’s rulings and records reviewed by Reuters. Similarly altered notes have appeared in courts around the country.

And it gets much worse.

• Despite laws against it, banks have foreclosed on active-duty U.S. soldiers who are legally eligible to have foreclosures halted. Attorneys representing service members estimate banks have foreclosed on up to 30,000 ACTIVE military personnel, mostly while they were in Iraq and Afghanistan.

• There has been — literally — “tens of thousands of fraudulent documents filed in tens of thousands of cases.” Sworn affidavits have been filed containing false information. This is easily prosecuted perjury.

• The size and scope of the fraud on the U.S. court system is unprecedented in U.S. history

• NY State court judge Arthur Schack, ruled in 2010 that pleadings by the Baum Law — who handle 40% of NY foreclosures — were “so incredible, outrageous, ludicrous and disingenuous that they should have been authorized by the late Rod Serling, creator of the famous science-fiction television series, The Twilight Zone.“  There has been no fraud prosecution to date.

• Banks have routinely filed falsified mortgage promissory notes — in some cases, six different documents have been filed, all claimed to be the original. At the least 5 must be forgeries — an easy felony to prosecute.

Read the entire article if you want to be outraged and send your blood pressure skyrocketing. […]

READ @ http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/12/unprecedented-fraud-toothless-watchdogs/

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* REP. JOHN YARMUTH: “MONEY IS SPEECH” WAS TRAGIC FOR THIS COUNTRY

By msnbc

[…] Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) has proposed a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United along with Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC).  His proposed amendment declares that spending on elections does not qualify as protected speech under the First Amendment.  It would also give Congress the authority to create a public financing system as the sole source of funding for federal elections and designates a national holiday for the purpose of voting.

“Corporate money equals influence, not free speech,” Rep. Yarmuth said on The Dylan Ratigan Show. “The last thing Congress needs is more corporate candidates who don’t answer to the American people. Until we get big money out of politics, we will never be able to responsibly address the major issues facing American families – and that starts by ensuring our elections and elected officials cannot be bought by the well-off and well-connected.”

[…]

Yarmuth said that this is at the heart of the Citizens United decision:

It doesn’t really matter whether corporations are considered people or not if you consider campaign expenditures as free speech. Because then it doesn’t matter who has access to that right. When you deal with just the corporate side of it, you’re still allowing people like the Koch brothers on the right, or even George Soros on the left, to spend millions and millions of dollars in an anonymous way to influence the system. So you need to get at the core of it and “say money spent on elections is not speech.” Therefore the Congress can regulate how much you can spend, if you can spend anything, and who can spend it. If you don’t get at that fundamental question, Congress really can’t regulate.

The second part of his amendment states that “Congress shall have the power to enact a mandatory public financing system to provide funds to qualified candidates in elections for Federal office, which shall be the sole source of funds raised or spent with respect to Federal elections.”

But why not just mandating that Congress must do this?  As Rep. Yarmuth explained, “we would have liked to have done it that way. most of the advice that we got that it would be — that you really can’t tell the Congress to enact a certain policy.”

Section three states “Congress shall set forth a legal public holiday for the purposes of voting in regularly scheduled general elections for Federal office.”  Rep. Yarmuth explained, “we need to have a national commitment to voting and to get out the vote, to make it easier for people to do it. The idea that people have to negotiate work and child care and all of these other logistical things to cast a vote for the most important thing they’ll do as a citizen is nonsense. ”

Rep. Yarmuth said that the Founding Fathers never could have anticipated the millions that would be spent in elections.  ”They wanted the right of the individual to go to the town square and say whatever he or she wanted to say. Everybody still has that right. This whole idea of money is speech is something that be fabricated by those who want to buy influence on the system. And people like my senator, Mitch McConnell, have been pounding this home for 25 years now, and he finally got it institutionalized in a Supreme Court decision. It was very, very tragic for the country,” said Rep. Yarmuth. […]

READ AND VIDEO @ http://www.dylanratigan.com/2011/12/21/rep-john-yarmuth-money-is-speech-was-tragic-for-this-country/

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* PRIVATIZING MONEY

By Alan Grayson, Daily Kos

Yesterday, the European Central Bank (ECB) announced that it will hand out $645,000,000,000 in three-year loans to European banks. Which the ECB printed out of thin air, like Monopoly money! The interest rate will be one percent per year.

The ECB will not be lending this money to the Government of Greece, even though that government is running a budget deficit of just under 10% of GDP – and the Greek GDP dropped by 5% this year.  The Government of Greece is now paying 37% per year on its ten-year bonds, when it can borrow anything at all.

The ECB will not be lending this money to the people of Spain, even though official unemployment in Spain is now at 23%.  Spain’s Economy Minister said recently that “Spain faces its deepest recession in half a century.”  Tough luck; their Christmas tree has nothing under it.

And when the European banks get this $645 billion, to whom will the banks be lending?  Anybody, or nobody.  No strings attached.  They can borrow from the ECB at 1%, lend it back to the German Government at 2%, lock in that profit, and take the next three years off.

I just have one question.

Why?

The world continues to face the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.  Unemployment throughout Europe is over ten percent.  Entire national governments are on the verge of going broke.  Why would anyone think that THE THING THAT WE HAVE TO DO RIGHT NOW is to hand out $645 billion in more funny money to the banks?  In Europe or anywhere else?

The ECB is a public institution.  How can it possibly justify yet another bailout for selfish private interests, while the public is sent straight to hell?

If a Martian were to land in Paris today, and just read the headlines of the newspapers today, he could reach only one conclusion.  That there has been a coup in Europe, the banks are now in charge, and they’re grabbing everything that they can get their hands on.

Mark my words:  at some point, people are just not going to take it anymore.

Courage,

Alan Grayson

READ @ http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/12/22/1048077/-Privatizing-Money?via=siderec

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* IN PORTUGAL, ALL-OUT PRIVATIZATION GETS UNDERWAY

 By Mario Querioz, Common Dreams

 

 

 

 

 

A demonstrator holds a banner reading “Do not steal the future” in front of the Finance Ministry during a protest against the government’s austerity measures in Lisbon December 15, 2011. Besides selling off the state’s remaining shares in EDP, a company that brings in major profits, the government must privatise the highly lucrative national airport authority – Aeroportos de Portugal (ANA) – and is to complete the sale of Transportes Aéreos Portugueses (TAP) – the national airline – by the end of 2012. (REUTERS/Rafael Marchante)

The most far-reaching programme of privatisation of state enterprises in the history of Portugal kicked off Thursday with the sale of almost all of the state’s shares in the Energias de Portugal (EDP) utility to China’s Three Gorges Corp.

The Chinese company paid 3.5 billion dollars for a 21 percent stake, beating out Germany’s E.ON and Brazil’s Eletrobras and Cemeg, and making it the largest shareholder. The state was left with less than four percent of the shares in the power company.

Three Gorges’ victory in the bidding for EDP will open Portugal’s doors to Chinese financial institutions, making more credit available in Portugal, as the giant Chinese corporation promised Lisbon.

The privatisation of public enterprises is one of the conditions Portugal agreed to under the 110 billion dollar bailout agreed in May.

The government of conservative Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho has thus begun to sell off state assets under the austerity programme agreed with the “troika” of international creditors: the EU, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

Besides the massive privatisation plan, the bailout package signed by the government of then socialist prime minister José Socrates and the right, which took power a month later, was conditional on austerity measures like a more flexible labour market making it cheaper and easier to fire workers, major spending cuts, a freeze on wages and pensions, tax hikes, cuts in unemployment benefits and income tax benefits and deductions, and an increase in the value-added tax.

Besides selling off the state’s remaining shares in EDP, a company that brings in major profits, the government must privatise the highly lucrative national airport authority – Aeroportos de Portugal (ANA) – and is to complete the sale of Transportes Aéreos Portugueses (TAP) – the national airline – by the end of 2012. […]

READ @ http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/12/23-0

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* “NUCLEAR CAN BE SAFE OR IT CAN BE CHEAP … BUT IT CAN’T BE BOTH”

By Washington’s Blog

Nuclear Power Is Unsafe Because the Operators are Pinching Pennies and Cutting Corners

Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen was said in a recent interview that nuclear power can be made safe, but not at a competitive price:

[Interviewer] With air transport, it’s incredibly safe. Could nuclear power ever reach that level of safety?

[Gundersen] I have a friend who says that nuclear can be safe or it can be cheap, but it can’t be both.

***

It boils down to money. If you want to make nuclear safe, it gets to the point where it’s so costly you don’t want to build the power plant anyway … especially now with plummeting renewable costs.

So can you make a nuclear reactor safe? Yes. Can it also at the same time compete with renewables, which are, of course, higher [priced] than natural gas? And the answer is no.

Wall Street is demanding federal loan guarantees for this and of course we already subsidized Price-Anderson insurance. So Wall Street won’t spend the money to build it, and won’t insure it.

Gundersen is right.

As I noted in April:

Apologists for the nuclear power industry pretend there are no better alternatives, so we just have to suck it up and suffer through the Japanese nuclear crisis.

But this is wholly illogical. The truth is that we can store spent fuel rods in dry cask storage, which is much safer than the spent fuel rod pools used in Fukushima and many American reactors.

As the Nation pointed out:

Short of closing plants, there is a fairly reliable solution to the problem of spent fuel rods. It is called “dry cask storage.”

***

But there is a problem with dry cask storage: it costs money….

We could build a new, safer generation of nuclear power plants which have inherently safer designs, such as low-temperature reactors and thorium reactors.

But the owners of the nuclear plants can make more money with the ridiculous designs and cost-cutting measures used at Fukushima and elsewhere.

As the Christian Science Monitor notes:

*** Russian nuclear accident specialist Iouli Andreev, who as director of the Soviet Spetsatom clean-up agency helped in the efforts 25 years ago to clean up Chernobyl … said the sequence of events at Japan’s Fukushima I suggested that the plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), may have put profit before safety. The fire that broke out Tuesday in reactor No. 4s fuel storage pond may have been caused by a desire to conserve space and money, he suggested.

“The Japanese were very greedy and they used every square inch of the space. But when you have a dense placing of spent fuel in the basin you have a high possibility of fire if the water is removed from the basin,” Andreev told Reuters….

And this is not limited to Tepco. 

***

The nuclear accident was largely caused because of Tepco’s penny-pinching, just as the Gulf oil spill was caused by the fact that BP cut every corner in the book ( see this, this, this, this, and this). […]

READ @ http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/12/nuclear-can-be-safe-or-it-can-be-cheap-but-it-cant-be-both.html

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* IRAN AND SYRIA IN IMPERIAL CROSSHAIRS

By Iftekhar A. Khan, Information Clearing House

[…] While the western powers are proceeding against Syria overtly, they’re moving against Iran covertly. Unfortunately, the 22-member Arab League is playing a leading role in the hostilities orchestrated by the West against the two Muslim states. When the Saudi King said Assad’s removal was in Saudi Arabia’s interest, the Arab League quickly revoked Syria’s membership and asked Assad to step down. How can the Arab League, consisting of repressive monarchies and dynastic emirates, pronounce one of its member countries in the region tyrannical? SNC and Free Syrian Army are set up under Turkey tutelage. Henceforth Turkey will likely play a dominant role of a proxy in the imperial plan of regime-change in Syria. Turkey has a bit of identity problem. It has always aspired to be recognised as a modern westernised state part of Europe but the Europeans have been reluctant to accept it.

Saudi Arabia not only wants an end to Assad’s rule in Syria, it equally detests President Ahmadinjad’s government in Iran. The imperial powers are successfully using the sectarian card by playing upon religious prejudices of one sect against the other. If Saudi Arabia didn’t consider Iran its archrival, why would it buy 60 billion dollars worth of US military hardware? To add to the suspicion between the two, a treacherous plot to kill Saudi Ambassador in the US was hatched in which an Iranian citizen, a used car dealer, was to hire Mexican hit men to assassinate the Saudi envoy in Washington. The plot was so incredulous that not even the American public, which is generally considered gullible, bought it.

However, it’s confounding why the Muslim rulers allow the West to use them against their own kin. Is there any precedent of Christian nations aggressing against each other at present? None. Why does Saudi Arabia want to isolate Iran and bring down President Ahmedinejad’s government, while undercurrents of public discontent run deep in the kingdom itself? If the CIA has so far failed to instigate an uprising in Iran, despite having poured in millions, why should Saudi Arabia abet in the same against a brother Muslim country is for the House of Saud to answer.

READ @ http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article30053.htm

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* ONE NATION UNDER THE DRONE: THE RISING NUMBER OF UAVs IN AMERICAN SKIES

By Jillian Rayfield, TPMMuckraker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A secret air show in Houston. An unmanned blimp in Utah. A sovereign citizen arrested in North Dakota.

Each of these is just one small part of the bigger story of the proliferation of unmanned aircraft use within the U.S., and each is likely to become smaller still if the FAA goes through with plans to loosen regulations governing domestic use of drones.

News reports about Predator attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan are common if not always complete, but what’s gotten much less attention is the increase in unarmed drones that are buzzing around within the U.S. itself. Primarily, unarmed Predator B drones are only used by government agents to patrol the borders for illegal immigrants, but there are a (very large) handful of other agencies and companies that use smaller, unarmed drones for a slew of other purposes. And that number is only expected to grow.

The FAA says that as of September 13, 2011, there were 285 active Certificates of Authorization (COA) for 85 different users, covering 82 different unmanned unarmed aircraft types.

Though the exact breakdown of the organizations who have authorization is unclear — and the FAA would not elaborate for “privacy” and “security” reasons — in January the Washington Post reported that as of December 1, 2010, 35% of the permissions were held by the Department of Defense, 11% by NASA, and 5% by the Department of Homeland Security. The FBI and law enforcement agencies also hold some, as do manufacturers and even academic institutions.

Between pressure from trade groups (like the drone manufacturers group the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International), proposed legislation from Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) to expand the number of drone testing sites in the U.S., and petitioning from states like Oklahoma for an approved 80-mile air corridor reserved exclusively for drone development and testing, there is great potential for drone use to expand within the U.S. in the next few years.

Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA, says that there are currently two types of authorizations — one for public operations, as in state and local governments, and one for private entities. In each case, the application process involves telling the FAA what type and where and when aircraft will be flown, so the agency can determine if it can ensure the safety of other aircraft. Dorr said that next month the FAA hopes to propose new, looser rules for use of small unarmed Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) because “that’s where the demand is.”

He told TPM that they’re hoping to publish the new regulations in January, which will be followed by a comment period for industry and other interested parties. That usually lasts 60 days, at which point the FAA will take the comments into consideration when drafting the final language of the rule.

So who would use these small drones?

Kevin Lauscher, a Grant Assistance Specialist for the Canada-based manufacturers of the Draganfly drones, couldn’t say how many they’ve sold in the U.S. so far. But he said that aside from law enforcement agencies, they’ve sold drones to companies in real estate, manufacturing, academic institutions and even resorts. He described how some construction companies use drones for safety reasons, in place of a person on top of a crane or scaffolding.

But, the FAA said in a press release in October, though “interest is growing in civil (non-government) uses” for drones, “one of the most promising potential uses for sUAS is in law enforcement.”

“The FAA is working with urban police departments in major metropolitan areas and national public safety organizations on test programs involving unmanned aircraft,” the release says, also noting that members of law enforcement agencies participated in the committee that is drafting the new sUAS rule.

So far, there is a handful of law enforcement agencies that already have authorization to use drones, like sheriff’s departments in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland and Lane County, Oregon and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Police in Arlington, Texas have a drone they acquired to help with security during the February, 2011 Superbowl. The Mayor of Ogden, Utah is working to get an “unmanned blimp” that would fly over the city and serve as “a deterrent to crime.”

But there are some cases that are particularly concerning for civil liberties advocates. In North Dakota, a family of “sovereign citizens” was arrested with the help of a Predator B drone, borrowed from border patrol agents by the local sheriff in an effort to avoid a standoff over missing cows. In the first reported case of a drone being used to aid in the arrest of a U.S. citizen, the drone was able to detect when the family was carrying weapons so officials could move in without fear of a firefight.

There’s also the Houston Police Department, which scrapped a plan to bring on a drone shortly after KPRC-TV filmed local officials participating in a secret air show for drones, about 70 miles outside of the city. The police chief mentioned in a press conference that the drones could be used for issuing traffic tickets, and the backlash was such that the Mayor put the kibosh on the program. But, according to KPRC-TV, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office near Houston still used $300,000 in federal grant money from the DHS to buy a ShadowHawk unmanned helicopter. […]

READ @ http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/12/one_nation_under_the_drone.php?ref=fpa

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* CZECHS BID FAREWELL TO VACLAV HAVEL

By Karel Janicek, Independent UK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Czechs and world leaders paid emotional tribute to Vaclav Havel today at a pomp-filled funeral ceremony, ending a week of public grief and nostalgia over the death of the dissident playwright who led the 1989 revolution that toppled four decades of communist rule.

Bells tolled from churches while a wailing siren brought the country to a standstill in a minute of silence for the nation’s first democratically-elected president after the nonviolent “Velvet Revolution.”

Havel’s wife Dagmar, family members, friends and leaders from dozens of countries gathered Friday at the towering, gothic St. Vitus Cathedral which overlooks Prague. Prime Minister David Cameron, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French President Nicolas Sarkozy and  were among some 1,000 mourners who bowed their heads in front of the coffin draped in the Czech colours.

In a message read at the funeral by the Vatican’s former diplomatic representative in Prague, Pope Benedict XVI praised Havel. “Remembering how courageously Mr Havel defended human rights at a time when these were systematically denied to the people of your country, and paying tribute to his visionary leadership in forging a new democratic polity after the fall of the previous regime, I give thanks to God for the freedom that the people of the Czech Republic now enjoy,” he said.

At the end of the ceremony, Havel’s coffin was to be carried through the cathedral’s Golden Gate to Prague’s Strasnice crematorium for a private family funeral. The urn with Havel’s ashes will be buried at his family’s plot at the city’s Vinohrady cemetery alongside his first wife, Olga, who died in 1996.

Havel, whose final term in office ended in 2003, died Sunday morning in his sleep at his weekend home in the country’s north. The 75-year-old former chain-smoker had a history of chronic respiratory problems dating back to his time in prison.

Since his death, Czechs have gathered spontaneously to lay flowers and light candles at key historic sites such as the monument to the 1989 Velvet Revolution in downtown Prague, and at Wenceslas Square, where Havel once spoke before hundreds of thousands of people to express outrage at the repressive communist regime.

Similar scenes of remembrance played out across the country — in a show of emotion not seen since the 1937 funeral of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, Czechoslovakia’s first president after the nation was founded in 1918.

“Europe owes Vaclav Havel a profound debt,” Cameron said before departing from London. “Havel led the Czech people out of tyranny … and he helped bring freedom and democracy to our entire continent.”

Czechs packed a nearby courtyard at Prague Castle and an adjacent square to watch the funeral ceremony on giant screens.

“He was our star, he gave us democracy,” said Iva Buckova, 51, who had travelled from the western city of Plzen. “He led us through revolution. We came to see him for the last time.”  […]

READ @ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/a/europe/czechs-bid-farewell-to-vaclav-havel-6280952.html

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* HAVEL’S MORAL AUTHORITY “IS A THING OF THE PAST”

By Renat Kuenzi, swissinfo.ch

Former Czech dissident and playwright Vaclav Havel, whose funeral takes place on Friday, was held in high regard around the world for his courage and moral strength.

Author Helena Kanyar-Becker, who came to Switzerland in 1969 after the repression of the Prague Spring, is among those who admired Havel. But she says his moral authority had begun to diminish during his years as president.

Havel, who played a key role in the democracy movement in communist Czechoslovakia, was elected president at the end of 1989, following the Velvet Revolution. After the breakup of Czechoslovakia, he served as president of the Czech Republic until 2003.

Havel died on December 18 at the age of 75.

swissinfo.ch: You met Vaclav Havel when you were a young student in Prague. What impression did he make on you?

Helena Kanyar-Becker: In the 1960s I regularly visited the Theatre on the Balustrade [in Prague], which was a mecca for us young students. I saw all Vaclav Havel’s plays there. Including “The Garden Party”, an absurd play about functionaries that had a huge impact. I don’t remember how many times I saw it.

swissinfo.ch: Describe the atmosphere at these productions.

H.K-B.: It was a very intimate atmosphere. Just getting hold of a ticket required creativity. The foyer was always full of young people smoking, and Havel stood on the stairs, also smoking, and waved to us. His wife Olga, a beautiful, slim woman, was in charge of the cloakroom. She also smoked constantly.

The theatre, which had about 250 seats was always packed, and there was a real understanding between the actors and the public. We laughed a lot.

“The Garden Party” wasn’t just absurd and full of humour, it was also philosophical. Hugo, the conforming ‘hero’, delivers the line: ‘Conformity is the healthy philosophy of the middle classes, without which there is no future.’ Havel was taking a swipe at people who conform. It was exactly what we wanted to hear and see.

swissinfo.ch: After the performances, did you go to a restaurant to discuss the pieces with Havel?

H.K-B.: No, there was a kind of divide between Havel and us. We only ever saw him smiling and smoking. We didn’t dare address him; we were too young. He was a kind of saint to us, who we really admired… […]

READ @ http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/culture/Havel_s_moral_authority_is_a_thing_of_the_past.html?cid=31817664