Saturday, February 28, 2009

stem cell research in iran

The Scientist | Thirty years after the toppling of the Shah in Iran, the nation is undergoing another revolution of sorts. Iran is investing heavily in stem cell research, and despite researchers working with limited access to laboratory equipment and resources, the country may emerge as a scientific force to be reckoned with in the stem cell field.

Even with their limited infrastructure, Iranian scientists have managed to isolate six human and eight mouse embryonic stem cell (ESC) lines over the past decade, and then successfully turn these cells into functional pancreatic, heart, splenic, and liver cells. "It's remarkable that they were able to do what they've done," Konrad Hochedlinger of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital told The Scientist. "They are clearly catching up."

Unlike many western countries, where religious wranglings have hindered the progress of ESC research, in Iran and other Islamic countries research involving embryos is relatively uncontroversial. Islamic law states that full human life begins only after the "ensoulment" of the fetus, which is defined in the Quran as 120 days after conception. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, even publicly endorsed human embryo research in 2002.

ESC research is "definitely an area where Iran could become a player, given the funding restrictions in the US," Ali Khademhosseini, a biomedical engineer at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology in Cambridge, Mass., who was born in Iran and studies the field in his native country, told The Scientist. Because Iran got into the game earlier than neighboring countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are also starting to embrace stem cell technologies, "the stem cell science in Iran is pretty much more advanced than in any other country in the Middle East, with the exception of Israel."

Iran was the 10th country in the world to successfully isolate human ESCs in 2003, and the fifth country to reprogram human skin cells to an embryonic-like state to create so-called induced pluripotent stem cells last year. Other landmark achievements include coaxing human ESCs to become mature, insulin-producing cells in 2004, cloning the country's first sheep in 2006, and conducting the world's first human ESC proteomics study in 2006.

Most of these studies took place at Iran's leading stem cell research center, the Royan Institute in Tehran. Named after the Farsi word for embryo, the Royan Institute was originally established in 1991 as an infertility clinic. In 1998 it was converted into a cell-based research center, and it now covers basic and applied research in six different fields: stem cells, embryology, genetics, epidemiology, gynecology and andrology. Other Iranian research institutes are also actively engaged in studying stem cells, including the 34 members of the Iranian Molecular Medicine Network and the Shaheed Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Tehran.

Friday, February 27, 2009

mystical epigenetic materialism...,

Think Gene | Epigenetics is the study of changes in the function of genes that don’t involve changes in the sequences of DNA. The DNA is inherited from our parents; it remains fixed throughout life and is identical in every part of the body. During gestation, however, the genes in our DNA are marked by a chemical coating called DNA methylation. These marks are somewhat sensitive to one’s environment, especially early in life.

The epigenetic marks punctuate the DNA and program it to express the right genes at the appropriate time and place.

A team of McGill University scientists has discovered important differences between the brains of suicide victims and so-called normal brains. Although the genetic sequence was identical in the suicide and non-suicide brains, there were differences in their epigenetic marking – a chemical coating influenced by environmental factors.

All of the 13 suicide victims in the study had experienced abuse as children.

“It’s possible the changes in epigenetic markers were caused by the exposure to childhood abuse, although in humans it’s difficult to establish causality between early childhood and epigenetic markers, in the way we have established this in animal subjects,” said Moshe Szyf, a professor in McGill’s Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

“The big remaining questions are whether scientists could detect similar changes in blood DNA – which could lead to diagnostic tests – and whether we could design interventions to erase these differences in epigenetic markings”

'infantilising' the human mind

Guardian | Facebook and Bebo risk 'infantilising' the human mind, changing children's brains, resulting in selfish and attention deficient young people. Social network sites risk infantilising the mid-21st century mind, leaving it characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity, according to a leading neuroscientist.

The startling warning from Lady Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln college, Oxford, and director of the Royal Institution, has led members of the government to admit their work on internet regulation has not extended to broader issues, such as the psychological impact on children.

Greenfield believes ministers have not yet looked at the broad cultural and psychological effect of on-screen friendships via Facebook, Bebo and Twitter.

She told the House of Lords that children's experiences on social networking sites "are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance. As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity".

Thursday, February 26, 2009

the event horizon of american insurgency

NYTimes | As resistance to foreclosure evictions grows among homeowners, community leaders and some law enforcement officials, a broad civil disobedience campaign is starting in New York and other cities to support families who refuse orders to vacate their homes.

The community organizing group Acorn unveiled the campaign with a spirited rally on Friday at a Brooklyn church and will roll it out in at least 22 other cities in the coming weeks. Through phone trees, Web pages and text-messaging networks, the effort will connect families facing eviction with volunteers who will stand at their side as officers arrive, even if it means risking arrest.
“You want to haul us out to jail? Fine. Let the world see how government has been ineffective,” Bertha Lewis, Acorn’s chief organizer, said in an interview. “Politicians have helped banks, but they haven’t helped families in the way that it’s needed, and these families are now saying, enough is enough.”

At the onset of the foreclosure crisis, the problem was regarded by some as one of a homeowner’s own making, the result of irresponsible decisions made by families who chose to live beyond their means. But as foreclosures spread across the country, devastating even solidly middle-class communities, the blame has slowly shifted to the financial companies that made questionable loans and have received billions of dollars in federal aid to stave off collapse.

fist tap to denmark vesey for this article.

Associated Press | Big banks, scrambling to prevent the government from forcing them to rewrite mortgages for struggling homeowners, are using their lobbying clout to press the Obama administration and Congress to scale back a key measure to rescue borrowers from foreclosures.

The legislation, expected to pass the House on Thursday, would let bankruptcy judges reduce the principal and interest rate on a home loan. That essentially would require mortgage companies to let debt-strapped homeowners reduce their monthly payments rather than lose their main residences.

Obama called for it last week as part of his housing rescue plan. Democrats and consumer advocates regard it as crucial to slowing the rapid rate of foreclosures.

But the mortgage industry contends the measure will impose steep and unpredictable costs on its companies, which will be forced to pass them along to borrowers in the form of higher fees and interest rates. The industry spent millions last year on a successful lobbying effort to kill the bill, which almost all Republicans oppose. Opponents call it the "cram-down."

fist tap to rembom for this article.


NYTimes | One of the enduring mysteries of biology is that a variety of specialized cells collaborate in building a body, yet all have an identical genome. Somehow each of the 200 different kinds of cells in the human body — in the brain, liver, bone, heart and many other structures — must be reading off a different set of the hereditary instructions written into the DNA.

The system is something like a play in which all the actors have the same script but are assigned different parts and blocked from even seeing anyone else’s lines. The fertilized egg possesses the first copy of the script; as it divides repeatedly into the 10 trillion cells of the human body, the cells assign themselves to the different roles they will play throughout an individual’s lifetime.

How does this assignment process work? The answer, researchers are finding, is that a second layer of information is embedded in the special proteins that package the DNA of the genome. This second layer, known as the epigenome, controls access to the genes, allowing each cell type to activate its own special genes but blocking off most of the rest. A person has one genome but many epigenomes. And the epigenome is involved not just in defining what genes are accessible in each type of cell, but also in controlling when the accessible genes may be activated.

In the wake of the decoding of the human genome in 2003, understanding the epigenome has become a major frontier of research.

Since the settings on the epigenome control which genes are on or off, any derangement of its behavior is likely to have severe effects on the cell.

There is much evidence that changes in the epigenome contribute to cancer and other diseases. The epigenome alters with age — identical twins often look and behave a little differently as they grow older because of accumulated changes to their epigenomes. Understanding such changes could help address or retard some of the symptoms of aging. And the epigenome may hold the key to the dream of regenerative medicine, that of deriving safe and efficient replacement tissues from a patient’s own cells.

have you discovered then the beginning that you look for the end?

Epigenetics | One of the world’s smallest organisms may hold clues about how the cell nucleus evolved. Nanoarchaeum equitans is a species of tiny microbe, discovered in 2002 in a hydrothermal vent off the coast of Iceland. It grows in temperatures close to boiling ontop of another single-celled creature called Ignicoccus hospitalis, which provides it with essential nutrients.

Many such members of the Archaea domain live in extreme environments. However, they’ve also been found in less extreme contexts: soils, marshland and oceans. In fact, they may be one of the most abundant groups of organisms on the planet. Scientists believe they play an important role in both the carbon and nitrogen cycles, so understanding how they work is of considerable benefit.

One of the consequences of the DNA sequencing revolution involved a revision of the tree of life. It became clear that even though certain organisms look like each other, their DNA could be quite different. So Carl Woese proposed that life be organised into 3 domains (Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya) rather than the traditional 5-kingdom model.

The five kingdoms were generally grouped into Eukarya or Prokarya. Eukaryotes (animals, plants, protists and fungi) are defined by their possession of a cell nucleus. The cells of prokaryotes (principally bacteria) on the other hand, lack this nuclear membrane. Archaea seem to be a half-way house: superficially they look like bacteria, but their DNA is more similar to that of eukaryotes.

Despite having the smallest non-viral genome ever sequenced, N. equitans has proteins that are strikingly similar to the histone proteins within eukaryotic cells. Scientists at the University of Regensburg in Germany have been studying one such protein in this parasitic microbe. It is most similar to histone H3: one of the five kinds of histone protein involved in the structure of chromatin in eukaryotic cells.


Wikipedia | In biology, the term epigenetics refers to heritable changes in phenotype (appearance) or gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence (hence the name epi - "in addition to" - genetics). These changes may remain through cell divisions for the remainder of the cell's life and may also last for multiple generations. However, there is no change in the underlying DNA sequence of the organism; instead, non-genetic factors cause the organism's genes to behave (or "express themselves") differently. The best example of epigenetic changes in eukaryotic biology is the process of cellular differentiation. During morphogenesis, totipotent stem cells become the various pluripotent cell lines of the embryo which in turn become fully differentiated cells. In other words, a single fertilized egg cell - the zygote - changes into the many cell types including neurons, muscle cells, epithelium, blood vessels et cetera as it continues to divide. It does so by activating some genes while inhibiting others.

Although epigenetics in multicellular organisms is generally thought to be a mechanism involved in differentiation, with epigenetic patterns "reset" when organisms reproduce, there have been some observations of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance (e.g., the phenomenon of paramutation observed in maize). Although most of these multigenerational epigenetic traits are gradually lost over several generations, the possibility remains that multigenerational epigenetics could be another aspect to evolution and adaptation. These effects may require enhancements to the standard conceptual framework of the modern evolutionary synthesis.

Epigenetic features may play a role in short-term adaptation of species by allowing for reversible phenotype variability. The modification of epigenetic features associated with a region of DNA allows organisms, on a multigenerational time scale, to switch between phenotypes that express and repress that particular gene. Whereas the DNA sequence of the region is not mutated, this change is reversible. It has also been speculated that organisms may take advantage of differential mutation rates associated with epigenetic features to control the mutation rates of particular genes.

Epigenetic changes have also been observed to occur in response to environmental exposure—for example, mice given some dietary supplements have epigenetic changes affecting expression of the agouti gene, which affects their fur color, weight, and propensity to develop cancer.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


When one realizes that one is asleep… at that moment one is already half-awake
- G.I. Gurdjieff

Chapter Seven from In Search of the Miraculous, P.D. Ouspensky

On one occasion while talking with G. I asked him whether he considered it possible to attain “cosmic consciousness,” not for a brief moment only but for a longer period. I understood the expression “cosmic consciousness” in the sense of a higher consciousness possible for man in the sense in which I had previously written about it in my book Tertium Organum. “I do not know what you call ‘cosmic consciousness,’ ” said G., “it is a vague and indefinite term; anyone can call anything he likes by it. In most cases what is called ‘cosmic consciousness’ is simply fantasy, associative daydreaming connected with intensified work of the emotional center. Sometimes it comes near to ecstasy but most often it is merely a subjective emotional experience on the level of dreams. But even apart from all this before we can speak of ‘cosmic consciousness’ we must define in general what consciousness is.

“How do you define consciousness?”

“Consciousness is considered to be indefinable,” I said, “and indeed, how can it be defined if it is an inner quality? With the ordinary means at our disposal it is impossible to prove the presence of consciousness in another man. We know it only in ourselves.”

“All this is rubbish,” said G., “the usual scientific sophistry. It is time you got rid of it. Only one thing is true in what you have said: that you can know consciousness only in yourself. Observe that I say you can know, for you can know it only when you have it. And when you have not got it, you can know that you have not got it, not at that very moment, but afterwards. I mean that when it comes again you can see that it has been absent a long time, and you can find or remember the moment when it disappeared and when it reappeared. You can also define the moments when you are nearer to consciousness and further away from consciousness. But by observing in yourself the appearance and the disappearance of consciousness you will inevitably see one fact which you neither see nor acknowledge now, and that is that moments of consciousness are very short and are separated by long intervals of completely unconscious, mechanical working of the machine. You will then see that you can think, feel, act speak, work, without being conscious of it. And if you learn to see in yourselves the moments of consciousness and the long periods of mechanicalness, you will as infallibly see in other people when they are conscious of what they are doing and when they are not.

“Your principal mistake consists in thinking that you always have consciousness, and in general, either that consciousness is always present or that it is never present. In reality consciousness is a property which is continually changing. Now it is present, now it is not present. And there are different degrees and different levels of consciousness. Both consciousness and the different degrees of consciousness must be understood in oneself by sensation, by taste. No definitions can help you in this case and no definitions are possible so long as you do not understand what you have to define. And science and philosophy cannot define consciousness because they want to define it where it does not exist. It is necessary to distinguish consciousness from the possibility of consciousness. We have only the possibility of consciousness and rare flashes of it. Therefore we cannot define what consciousness is.”

stick a fork in him....,

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

a singular moment...,

It's actually ten minutes of incomparable brilliance, but the singular moment is captured about six and a half minutes into the performance...,

only through understanding is development possible

Commentaries | Fully-developed man, fully-evolved man, is at the level of the intelligence of the Sun. From this level, teaching is sown on the earth. If the conditions of life are such that esoteric teaching, whether in religious form or otherwise, cannot exist on the earth, then Man is doomed to failure, and another experiment will have to be made.”

“Man has been given many things to ease his life, but he misuses them all. Look at to-day—all the world turning to making weapons as never before. Yet everything that can be done to make men evolve individually has been done and is done. But there can be no mass-evolution, no forced evolution, no evolution by command or by compulsion. For all evolution is a matter of the individual understanding—of a man seeing for himself. The right inner development of a man and his right crystallization depend upon understanding. And you know that from the esoteric point of view a man is his understanding: and a man’s understanding is what he is. But you cannot make a man understand. You cannot force him to understand why he should not act as he does, or compel him to understand that he should not speak as he does. There can be no violence, no collective coercion and above all no physical fear used—for fear does not develop the understanding. You cannot make a dog understand what you want him to do by fear. You can only teach him what he must not do by that method and he will never understand why. Our case is the same.

The Esoteric Circle of Humanity cannot force Man to understand. It cannot appear visibly in some supernatural or terrible way to Man—for then Man would be forced by the evidence of his senses and also forced by fear. He would be forced from outside. But that is not understanding, which depends on your seeing the meaning of something for yourself. And to see the meaning of something is internal and develops the internal side of a man, so that it becomes stronger than the outer, life-driven side. It is necessary to see the difference between seeing something with the senses and understanding something with the mind. A man’s evolution is inner. His possibilities, as a created being, lie in a development of the mind and emotions—of his knowledge and being. And these form his understanding. Only through understanding is development possible.”


Telegraph | Google Ocean: Has Atlantis been found off Africa? A "grid of streets" on the seabed at one of the proposed locations of the lost city of Atlantis has been spotted on Google Ocean. The perfect rectangle, which is around the size of Wales, was noticed on the search giant's underwater exploration tool.

The underwater image can be found at the co-ordinates 31 15'15.53N 24 15'30.53W

The network of criss-cross lines is 620 miles off the coast of north west Africa near the Canary Islands on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

The perfect rectangle – which is around the size of Wales – was noticed on the search giant's underwater exploration tool by an aeronautical engineer who claims it looks like an "aerial map" of a city.

Bernie Bamford, 38, of Chester who spotted the "city", compared it to the plan of Milton Keynes, the Buckinghamshire town built on a grid design. "It must be man made," he said.

Google Ocean, an extension of Google Earth, allows web users to virtually explore the ocean with thousands of images of underwater landscapes.

the lost darwin

The Darwin Project | The most popular Darwinian of his time, paleontologist Stephen J.Gould, repeatedly noted the relation of survival of the fittest Darwinism to the wars of the 20th century and the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. Indeed, a close look at the survival of the fittest/selfish genes syndrome reveals that among the ills of humanity this is the mindset of fascism wherever it rises. Foreshadowing global financial meltdown, American billionaire George Soros, management scientists, and economists decried the devastation of this mindset in industry.

I had an electronic copy of Descent that made possible a computerized word search. So into the FIND slot I entered the first phrase that came to mind: survival of the fittest.

Thereafter I found what nowhere in the world today, in celebrations staged by the well-educated and the wealthy on every continent, is even being mentioned.

Only twice in that whole book of 475 fine print pages did this universally prevailing tag for Darwin's theory of evolution appear. And once was to apologize for ever using the term!

What about the other prevailing tag for Darwin today: the idea of “selfish genes”? Or more broadly, that along with “survival of the fittest,” at the core the other prime driver for our species on this planet is selfishness—which sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists tell us even drives our naive illusion of a transcendent altruism.

Selfishness, Darwin tells us, is a “base principle,” which accounts for the “low morality of savages.”

What then might be the polar opposite for selfishness? Why not try the word “moral”?

Of moral sensitivity I found he wrote 92 times—versus 6 entries in the Index.

Of competition, he wrote 12 times; of cooperation—called mutuality or mutual aid in Darwin's time—27 times. To make a long story short, I went on to discover the enormous difference it makes if you approach Descent not with a mind shuttered by what is an old and by now considerably updated paradigm for biology, but expanded with the multidisciplinary perspective of modern evolutionary systems science.

Monday, February 23, 2009

the axis of upheaval

Foreign Policy | For more than a decade, I pondered the question of why the 20th century was characterized by so much brutal upheaval. I pored over primary and secondary literature. I wrote more than 800 pages on the subject. And ultimately I concluded, in The War of the World, that three factors made the location and timing of lethal organized violence more or less predictable in the last century. The first factor was ethnic disintegration: Violence was worst in areas of mounting ethnic tension. The second factor was economic volatility: The greater the magnitude of economic shocks, the more likely conflict was. And the third factor was empires in decline: When structures of imperial rule crumbled, battles for political power were most bloody.

In at least one of the world’s regions—the greater Middle East—two of these three factors have been present for some time: Ethnic conflict has been rife there for decades, and following the difficulties and disappointments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States already seems likely to begin winding down its quasi-imperial presence in the region. It likely still will.

Now the third variable, economic volatility, has returned with a vengeance. U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s “Great Moderation”—the supposed decline of economic volatility that he hailed in a 2004 lecture—has been obliterated by a financial chain reaction, beginning in the U.S. subprime mortgage market, spreading through the banking system, reaching into the “shadow” system of credit based on securitization, and now triggering collapses in asset prices and economic activity around the world.

When Bush’s speechwriters coined the phrase “axis of evil” (originally “axis of hatred”), they were drawing a parallel with the World War II alliance between Germany, Italy, and Japan, formalized in the Tripartite Pact of September 1940. The axis of upheaval, by contrast, is more reminiscent of the decade before the outbreak of World War II, when the Great Depression unleashed a wave of global political crises.

The Bush years have of course revealed the perils of drawing facile parallels between the challenges of the present day and the great catastrophes of the 20th century. Nevertheless, there is reason to fear that the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression could have comparable consequences for the international system.

the gene-centric view is just plain wrong...,

It's been a year since my attention focused momentarily on the theoretical repentance of the socio-biologist E.O. Wilson. At the time of that writing, Wilson had a new paper that jarringly and famously concluded;
When Rabbi Hillel was asked to explain the Torah in the time that he could stand on one foot, he famously replied “Do not do unto others that which is repugnant to you. Everything else is commentary.” Darwin’s original insight and the developments reviewed in this article enable us to offer the following one-foot summary of sociobiology’s new theoretical foundation: “Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.”
Not recognizing the importance of interactions leads to some unfortunate reasoning. The most obvious of these is Dawkins' idea that genes make phenotypes as "vehicles" to convey them to the next generation. What is truly unfortunate is that this metaphor tended to lead to the idea that genes are all that matters in evolution.

This metaphor to mechanism substitution error encouraged folks to make silly statements like all selection is genetic selection, and to ignore the importance of things like group selection.
In evolutionary biology, group selection refers to the idea that alleles can become fixed or spread in a population because of the benefits they bestow on groups, regardless of the alleles' effect on the fitness of individuals within that group.
Finally, it lead to a view of genetic determinism that is at a minimum unfortunate, and in the hands of the politically motivated and magical thinking - is pseudo-scientific, morally repugnant, and dangerous. There is a real intellectual hazard associated with Dawkins one gene one behavior view of the world.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

of mechanisms and metaphors...,

It's been a minute since I had a case of Dawkins on the brain. When last I did, it was with regard to his interesting and perhaps tragically overused neologism, the "meme". Some folks, myself included, have been so taken in by the seductive novelty of this Dawkinsian metaphor, that it has entered into and permeated our lexical fields as if it expressed something definite and real.
Dawkins defined the meme as a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation, but later definitions would vary. The lack of a consistent, rigorous, and precise understanding of what typically makes up one unit of cultural transmission remains a problem in debates about memetics.
A "meme" is a seductive metaphor in much the same way that "IQ" is a seductive metaphor. In each case, however, the lack of a consistent, rigorous, and precise understanding of what makes up a unit of "intelligence" or a "unit of cultural transmission "renders the enterprises grown up around these metaphors both pernicious and acutely unscientific. Careless folks have become persuaded on that fundamentalist level of belief that in each instance they're talking about properly defined mechanisms. It never occurs to most to carefully examine the nature of the "thing" in question. But I digress......,

The Selfish Gene is a book on evolution by Richard Dawkins, published in 1976. It builds upon the principal theory of George C. Williams's first book Adaptation and Natural Selection. Dawkins coined the term selfish gene as a way of expressing the gene-centred view of evolution, which holds that evolution is best viewed as acting on genes and that selection at the level of organisms or populations almost never overrides selection based on genes. An organism is expected to evolve to maximize its inclusive fitness—the number of copies of its genes passed on globally (rather than by a particular individual). As a result, populations will tend towards an evolutionarily stable strategy. The book also coins the term meme for a unit of human cultural evolution analogous to the gene, suggesting that such "selfish" replication may also model human culture, in a different sense. Memetics has become the subject of many studies since the publication of the book.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

meanwhile, back at the ranch...,

NYTimes | Obama administration officials face the same intractable problems that the Bush administration did in trying to prod Pakistan toward a different course. Pakistan still deploys the overwhelming majority of its troops along the Indian border, not the border with Afghanistan, and its intelligence agencies maintain shadowy links to the Taliban even as they take American funds to fight them.

Under standard policy for covert operations, the C.I.A. strikes inside Pakistan have not been publicly acknowledged either by the Obama administration or the Bush administration. Using Predators and the more heavily armed Reaper drones, the C.I.A. has carried out more than 30 strikes since last September, according to American and Pakistani officials.

The attacks have killed a number of senior Qaeda figures, including Abu Jihad al-Masri and Usama al-Kini, who is believed to have helped plan the 1998 American Embassy bombings in East Africa and last year’s bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.

American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a number of operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas since early September, when a commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence.

The meetings hosted by the Obama administration next week will include senior officials from both Pakistan and Afghanistan; Mrs. Clinton is to hold a rare joint meeting on Thursday with foreign ministers from the two countries. Also, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, will meet with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lt. Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s military spy service, will accompany General Kayani.

china investing globally

NYTimes | China is taking advantage of the economic downturn to go on a major shopping spree, investing in energy and other natural resources that could give it an economic advantage it has never had before.

Some economic analysts say they believe that China’s investments pose a threat to competitors like the United States. In the last move, Beijing said on Friday that one of its big state-owned banks, the China Development Bank, would lend the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras $10 billion in exchange for a long-term commitment to send oil to China.

China signed similar deals this week with Russia and Venezuela, bringing Beijing’s total oil investments this month to $41 billion. They represent an important investment. Supplies of commodities like oil are likely to tighten again once global growth picks up, and China will have a toehold it lacked during the recent boom, when it grew phenomenally even with limited access to resources.

China is flush with cash — thanks to trillions of dollars from decades of selling goods to the West — at a time when credit markets are tight and collapsing commodity prices have left energy and natural resource companies desperate for cash. For many of these companies, China has gone from pariah to lender of first resort.

“This is heavy energy diplomacy,” Professor Andrews-Speed said. “If you need money, you go to where the money is, and today, China’s the place.”

President Hu Jintao of China traveled this week on his “Friendship and Cooperation Tour” in Africa, where China has huge interests in resources and mining. The vice president, Xi Jinping, visited South America, met with the leaders of Brazil and Venezuela and signed cooperation agreements on oil and minerals.

Venezuela borrowed $6 billion from China and agreed to increase its oil exports to China, bringing China’s total investment in the country to $12 billion. In Brazil, China signed a $10 billion “loan-for-oil” deal that guarantees the country up to 160,000 barrels a day at market prices.

And in Beijing this week, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao met his Russian counterpart after China agreed to lend Russia’s struggling oil giant Rosneft and Russia’s oil pipeline company, Transneft, $25 billion in exchange for 15 million tons of crude oil a year for 20 years.

clinton assures china on u.s. investments

Joplin Globe | With the export-heavy Chinese economy reeling from the U.S. downturn, Clinton sought in meetings with Premier Wen Jiabao and other top Chinese government leaders to reassure Beijing that its massive holdings of U.S. Treasury notes and other government debt would remain a good investment.

"I appreciate greatly the Chinese government's continuing confidence in United States treasuries. I think that's a well-grounded confidence," Clinton told reporters at a joint news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

"We have every reason to believe that the United States and China will recover, and together we will help lead the world recovery," she said. Yang said China wants its foreign exchange reserves - the world's largest at $1.95 trillion - invested safely, with good value and liquidity. He said future decisions on using them would be based on those principles, but added that China wanted to continue work with the U.S.

"I want to emphasize here that the facts speak louder than words. The fact is that China and the United States have conducted good cooperation, and we are ready to continue to talk with the U.S. side," Yang said.

Beijing is the last and perhaps most important stop on Clinton's weeklong visit to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China on which she wanted to focus on the economy and global warming.

Friday, February 20, 2009

calderon vows to press on...,

Washington Post | Mexican President Felipe Calderón on Thursday defended the deployment of the military in his fight against drug cartels, vowing that the army would continue to patrol cities until the country's weakened and often-corrupt police forces were retrained and able to do the job themselves.

In a speech commemorating the founding of the Mexican army, Calderón suggested that drug bosses had paid marchers who took to the streets this week to protest the army's presence in a dozen cities, where soldiers man roadblocks, search houses and make frequent arrests.

Calderón, who has sent more than 45,000 troops to fight the cartels, said the military would remain on patrol until the government had control of the most violent parts of the country and civil authorities were fully able "to confront this evil." Only then, he said, "will the army have completed its mission."

Turf battles involving the drug traffickers, who are fighting the army, police and one another in order to secure billion-dollar smuggling routes into the United States, took the lives of more than 6,000 people in Mexico last year. The pace of killing has continued in 2009, with more than 650 dead, most in the violent border cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana. In the past few days, a running gun battle between soldiers and gunmen through the streets of the northern city of Reynosa, captured live on television, left five people dead. In Ciudad Juarez, the assistant chief of the city police department was ambushed Tuesday and assassinated with three other officers.

millionaire patriot wants YOU armed and trained


From the Desk of Joseph Farah


Offers His Own Money to Provide You With Springfield Armory Pistol and 30-State Concealed Weapon Permit

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The next four years may prove to be a turning point for all freedom loving Americans.

With the new administration holding party majorities in the House and Senate, we are facing the worst political environment for the passage of unchecked gun control legislation and further erosion of our constitutional right to bear arms than we have previously seen in our lifetimes.

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Joseph Farah
Joseph Farah
Editor and Chief Executive Officer

P.S., You have never seen me make such a personal endorsement, so take heed to the fact that I am telling you to take advantage of Dr. Piazza's offer to get five days of world class training at Front Sight, concealed weapon permits good in 30 states, and a FREE Springfield Armory XD Pistol

Thursday, February 19, 2009

mexican oil wealth until 2080

El Universal | The man in charge of finding oil and gas in Mexico, Carlos Morales Gil, said that companies Goyler & McNaughton, Netherland Sewell & Ryder Scott and a certified original volume of reserves in the palaeochannels of Chicontepec by 139 billion barrels of crude oil equivalent.

The director of Pemex Exploration and Production (PEP) said in an interview with El Universal volumes of hydrocarbons that are certified, "not a number that I've invented."He clarified that this amount of oil can only be drawn with the available technology, some 18 billion barrels in the next 30 years.

But what will happen to the remaining 118 billion barrels, "he questioned. "We are going to be there, because at the moment there is no technology that allows us to extract that resource," he replied. Probably, he added, over time there is a technologist who will provide the ability to "squeeze" the most Chicontepec.

Although the resources in the 29 certificates that make up the active fields require investments to be acquired and developed the category of economically exploitable reserves, only in terms of volume is equivalent to half the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia, 78% of the reserves Canada and equal to those of Iran, three countries with the largest volume of world oil reserves and 3.8 times higher than Cantarell.

menace spreads in guatemala

Reuters | Guatemala, scarred by years of civil war and rampant street gang crime, is suffering a new scourge as violent Mexican drug traffickers put down deep roots in the country.

A Mexican army crackdown has driven some cartels to seek a haven for their operations across the border in Guatemala, attracted by endemic corruption, weak policing and its position on the overland smuggling route north for Colombian cocaine.

That is a headache for President Alvaro Colom as the cartels employ the same violent tactics that have sown terror in Mexico.

"They are moving in because Guatemala is a paradise for drug traffickers. It's a poor country with a lot of corruption and the judicial system is very weak," Guatemalan Vice President Rafael Espada told Reuters in a recent interview.

Scores of Mexican traffickers are operating in Guatemala, including members of the Sinaloa cartel run by top fugitive Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman and the rival Gulf cartel's armed "Zetas" wing, officials say.

"It's the biggest challenge for Colom's government," said Guatemalan political analyst Manuel Villacorta.

Colom's security forces lack money, recruits, equipment, guns and intelligence to face the Mexicans, he said. "It's impossible for Guatemala, with the resources it has, to be able to address the problem."

As in Mexico, where about 6,000 people were murdered in the drugs war last year, the cartels buy off Guatemalan police and army officers as well as judges and politicians to protect their business, and pose a long-term threat to its democracy.

Guatemala's 1960-96 civil war left more than 200,000 dead, and street gangs that sprang up after the conflict have pushed the murder rate to among the highest in the Americas.

Colom was elected a year ago on a crime-fighting platform but 2008 was one of the most violent years on record with more than 6,000 murders out of a population of just 13 million.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

obama, gates at odds over cia whistleblower protections

Washington Post | During an election featuring Democratic allegations that U.S. intelligence was distorted to justify a misbegotten war, Barack Obama endorsed new protections for national security officers who blow the whistle on abusive, corrupt or illegal behavior, by offering them the right to sue for damages and challenge denials of their security clearances.

But by keeping a Republican-appointed secretary of defense strongly opposed to those changes, President Obama is finding the path to a new policy on federal whistleblowing much more complicated.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other top Bush appointees wrote an unusually tough letter to Congress last year asserting that the bill protecting whistleblowers would threaten national security, violate the Constitution and undermine the government's ability to safeguard legitimate secrets.

The legislation, passed this year by the House, is still being reviewed by the White House, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. "We understand this is an important issue, and we're committed to addressing it in a manner that is consistent with national security," said spokeswoman Wendy Morigi, declining to comment further.

The bill has evoked strong feelings on both sides because it would extend a series of rights held by most federal workers to dissident employees at the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FBI and other intelligence agencies. Unlike their counterparts elsewhere, they cannot now appeal adverse administrative decisions outside their agencies, either to a special civil service board or to a federal court. Along with others, they also cannot win compensatory damages for improper job decisions or sue to regain their clearances.

For those on the fence about Obamamandian moral grounding, THIS is the executive decision to watch.....,

phoenix arizona second only to mexico city

Phoenix, Arizona has become the kidnapping capital of America, with more incidents than any other city in the world outside of Mexico City and over 370 cases last year alone. But local authorities say Washington, DC is too obsessed with al Qaeda terrorists to care about what is happening in their own backyard right now.

“We’re in the eye of the storm,” Phoenix Police Chief Andy Anderson told ABC News of the violent crimes and ruthless tactics spurred by Mexico’s drug cartels that have expanded business across the border. “If it doesn’t stop here, if we’re not able to fix it here and get it turned around, it will go across the nation,” he said.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown warned that as the U.S. government focuses so intently on Islamic extremist groups, other types of terrorists — those involved with the same kidnappings, extortion and drug cartels that are sweeping Phoenix — are overlooked.

marchers block US border to protest army presence

Associated Press | Hundreds of people blocked bridges to the United States in three border cities Tuesday, demanding the army leave in another challenge for the Mexican government as it struggles to quell escalating drug violence.

The protests in Ciudad Juarez blocked traffic for about two hours across three bridges connecting the city to El Paso, Texas. Similar protests broke out on bridges in the border cities of Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa. Demonstrators blocked city hall and a main avenue in the northern industrial city of Monterrey and roads in the Gulf state of Veracruz.

It was the largest display of discontent against the army's role in an anti-drug crackdown since President Felipe Calderon began deploying soldiers across the country two years ago to fight cartels. About 45,000 soldiers are now spread out across Mexico.

Government and army officials claimed that drug cartels organized similar protests in Monterrey earlier this month to undermine the crackdown. Federal officials had no immediate comment on Tuesday's protests.

Human rights activists say there are legitimate complaints about abuses by soldiers, including cases in which patrols allegedly opened fire on civilians at military checkpoints. But they say it is unclear who has been behind the demonstrations.

Calderon's offensive was initially widely popular among Mexicans hopeful for an end to relentless shootings, kidnappings and killings. But drug violence has only surged since then, with drug gangs beheading rivals and attacking police nearly every day. More than 6,000 people were killed in drug violence last year.

Border towns have been transformed by the crackdown, with soldiers in ski masks regularly rumbling down the streets in large convoys.

mexico will cause the collapse of america...,

police battle wave of abductions

Arizona Republic | Phoenix police are aggressively trying to reduce the number of near-daily home invasions and kidnappings, which helped earn the city the title of "kidnap-for-ransom capital" of the U.S.

Generally characterized as drug-related violence driven by gangs ripping off competitors, many of the kidnapping cases assigned to the city's robbery detectives involved masked gunmen armed with high-powered assault rifles and bulletproof vests, emulating tactical strike-team maneuvers to force others to forfeit drugs or cash.

But other experts said the crimes are primarily the work of small-time dealers trying to take advantage of the large number of stash houses scattered throughout the Valley, which serve as part of a nationwide distribution center for drug organizations.

Incidents in which gangs of gunmen pose as police are common in Arizona, where the drug business is booming.

In 2005, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano declared a "crisis" after a crime wave and again after another round of violence prompted a surge of border patrol agents in 2007. Drug dealers have waged violent battles over smuggling routes and territory as long as narcotics have been around, said Doug Coleman, a federal drug-enforcement agent in Phoenix, who sees the spike in kidnappings-for-ransom as a new twist on an old tactic.

drought and 2009 global food production

Market Skeptics | Consider the graphic below depicting countries by USD value of their agricultural output, as of 2006.

Now, consider the same graphic with the countries experiencing droughts highlighted.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

palin's managerial skills

Houston Chronicle | Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's first two years in office have been called a time of milk and honey, when the resource-rich state was flush with wealth from record oil prices.

The second half of her term isn't looking so rosy as Palin faces her first major financial challenge as governor.

The rapid decline of oil prices has left the state in a looming budget crisis and a late-entrant in the national recession. And that could have political repercussions for the former Republican vice presidential hopeful, who has signaled an interest in a 2012 presidential run but must stay visible in the Lower 48 to be successful.

"Given these bad times, she's going to have a much more difficult time traveling outside Alaska," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "When times are good, people will let their governor roam. In bad times, citizens expect their governor to stay home and work on solving the problems."

Oil accounts for as much as 90 percent of state revenues. So the plunge of North Slope crude from an all-time high of $144.59 per barrel last July threatens to give the state an estimated budget shortfall of up to $1.5 billion in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Palin bills herself as a fiscal conservative, and has called for reducing state spending by $268 million in this budget year, but lawmakers and others say these aren't reductions at all and do nothing to curtail spending. For example, the bulk of that sum — $200 million — is unspent tax credits for companies investing in oil and gas development that are being returned to the treasury.

Palin also is seeking approval from lawmakers to tap budget reserves to fill the deficit. She also has implemented a state hiring freeze that exempts public safety employees, but other departments are lining up to ask for waivers.

It's a long way from Palin's early tenure — particularly last year when the state's treasury was bloated with surplus money from the skyrocketing oil prices.

Iran pins hopes on Russia

RIA Novosti | Iran expects to receive the backing of Russia, which holds the presidency of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in its bid for full membership of the organization, Iran's foreign minister said on Monday.

The SCO comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Russia took over the presidency of the organization last August. Iran and Pakistan have observer status within the organization.

"Iran has officially addressed SCO members and expects its observer status to be finally upgraded to full membership during Russia's chairmanship period," Manouchehr Mottaki said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

Widely seen as a counterweight to NATO's influence in Eurasia, the group primarily addresses security issues, but has recently moved to embrace economic and energy projects.

Iran and Pakistan, observers since 2005, have said they want to become permanent members of the organization, but their requests have yet to be officially considered.

Russia and China have expressed caution over admitting Iran, which is embroiled in a long-running dispute with the West and Israel over its nuclear program and alleged support for radical groups in Lebanon and other countries.

Both China and Russia have major commercial interests in Iran. China wants Iranian oil and gas, and to sell weapons and other goods to the country, while Moscow hopes to sell more weapons and nuclear energy technology to Tehran.

a 'fraud' bigger than madoff?

Independent | In what could turn out to be the greatest fraud in US history, American authorities have started to investigate the alleged role of senior military officers in the misuse of $125bn (£88bn) in a US -directed effort to reconstruct Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The exact sum missing may never be clear, but a report by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) suggests it may exceed $50bn, making it an even bigger theft than Bernard Madoff's notorious Ponzi scheme.

Despite the vast sums expended on rebuilding by the US since 2003, there have been no cranes visible on the Baghdad skyline except those at work building a new US embassy and others rusting beside a half-built giant mosque that Saddam was constructing when he was overthrown. One of the few visible signs of government work on Baghdad's infrastructure is a tireless attention to planting palm trees and flowers in the centre strip between main roads. Those are then dug up and replanted a few months later.

Iraqi leaders are convinced that the theft or waste of huge sums of US and Iraqi government money could have happened only if senior US officials were themselves involved in the corruption. In 2004-05, the entire Iraq military procurement budget of $1.3bn was siphoned off from the Iraqi Defence Ministry in return for 28-year-old Soviet helicopters too obsolete to fly and armoured cars easily penetrated by rifle bullets. Iraqi officials were blamed for the theft, but US military officials were largely in control of the Defence Ministry at the time and must have been either highly negligent or participants in the fraud.

The end of the Bush administration which launched the war may give fresh impetus to investigations into frauds in which tens of billions of dollars were spent on reconstruction with little being built that could be used. In the early days of the occupation, well-connected Republicans were awarded jobs in Iraq, regardless of experience. A 24-year-old from a Republican family was put in charge of the Baghdad stock exchange which had to close down because he allegedly forgot to renew the lease on its building.

an american foreign legion?

Middle East Online | A leaner, meaner, higher tech force -- that was what George W. Bush and his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld promised to transform the American military into. Instead, they came close to turning it into a foreign legion. Foreign as in being constantly deployed overseas on imperial errands; foreign as in being ever more reliant on private military contractors; foreign as in being increasingly segregated from the elites that profit most from its actions, yet serve the least in its ranks.

Now would be a good time for President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to begin to reclaim that military for its proper purpose: to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Now would be a good time to ask exactly why, and for whom, our troops are currently fighting and dying in the urban jungles of Iraq and the hostile hills of Afghanistan.

A few fortnights and forever ago, in the Bush years, our "expeditionary" military came remarkably close to resembling an updated version of the French Foreign Legion in the ways it was conceived and used by those in power -- and even, to some extent, in its makeup.

For the metropolitan French elite of an earlier era, the Foreign Legion -- best known to Americans from countless old action films -- was an assemblage of military adventurers and rootless romantics, volunteers willing to man an army fighting colonial wars in far-flung places. Those wars served the narrow interests of people who weren't particularly concerned about the fate of the legion itself.

the politics of economic disaster

Agence Global | Every day, I read another economist, journalist, or government official opining on how best to achieve economic recovery in this country or that. Needless to say, the remedies all contradict each other. But almost all of these pundits seem to me to live in fantasyland. They actually seem to believe their remedies will work in some relatively short period of time.

The fact is that the world is only at the beginning of a depression that will last for quite a while and will get far worse than it is now. The immediate issue for governments is not how to recover but how to survive the growing popular anger they are all, without exception, facing.

Let us start with the economic realities of the present. Just about everybody throughout the world -- governments, enterprises, individuals -- has been living above their income for the last 10-30 years, and doing it by borrowing. The world went giddy with inflated earnings and inflated consumption. Bubbles have to burst. This one has now burst (or actually several bubbles have burst). The impossibility of continuing on this path has sunk into consciousness, and suddenly everyone has gotten scared that they are running out of real money -- governments, enterprises, individuals.

When that fear takes over, people stop spending, or lending. And when spending and lending declines significantly, enterprises stop producing or slow down. They may close down entirely, or at least fire workers. This is a vicious cycle, since closing down or firing workers leads to lower real demand and causes further reluctance to spend or to lend. It's called depression, and deflation.

right america feeling wronged

worth seeing as the sentiments expressed in this documentary will unfortunately figure prominently in our lives over the next few years...,

Monday, February 16, 2009

EU Götterdämmerung

UK Telegraph | Failure to save East Europe will lead to worldwide meltdown. The unfolding debt drama in Russia, Ukraine, and the EU states of Eastern Europe has reached acute danger point. If mishandled by the world policy establishment, this debacle is big enough to shatter the fragile banking systems of Western Europe and set off round two of our financial Götterdämmerung.

Austria's finance minister Josef Pröll made frantic efforts last week to put together a €150bn rescue for the ex-Soviet bloc. Well he might. His banks have lent €230bn to the region, equal to 70pc of Austria's GDP.

"A failure rate of 10pc would lead to the collapse of the Austrian financial sector," reported Der Standard in Vienna. Unfortunately, that is about to happen.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) says bad debts will top 10pc and may reach 20pc. The Vienna press said Bank Austria and its Italian owner Unicredit face a "monetary Stalingrad" in the East.

Mr Pröll tried to drum up support for his rescue package from EU finance ministers in Brussels last week. The idea was scotched by Germany's Peer Steinbrück. Not our problem, he said. We'll see about that.

Stephen Jen, currency chief at Morgan Stanley, said Eastern Europe has borrowed $1.7 trillion abroad, much on short-term maturities. It must repay – or roll over – $400bn this year, equal to a third of the region's GDP. Good luck. The credit window has slammed shut.

Not even Russia can easily cover the $500bn dollar debts of its oligarchs while oil remains near $33 a barrel. The budget is based on Urals crude at $95. Russia has bled 36pc of its foreign reserves since August defending the ruble.

"This is the largest run on a currency in history," said Mr Jen.

In Poland, 60pc of mortgages are in Swiss francs. The zloty has just halved against the franc. Hungary, the Balkans, the Baltics, and Ukraine are all suffering variants of this story. As an act of collective folly – by lenders and borrowers – it matches America's sub-prime debacle. There is a crucial difference, however. European banks are on the hook for both. US banks are not.

Almost all East bloc debts are owed to West Europe, especially Austrian, Swedish, Greek, Italian, and Belgian banks. En plus, Europeans account for an astonishing 74pc of the entire $4.9 trillion portfolio of loans to emerging markets.

They are five times more exposed to this latest bust than American or Japanese banks, and they are 50pc more leveraged (IMF data).

Spain is up to its neck in Latin America, which has belatedly joined the slump (Mexico's car output fell 51pc in January, and Brazil lost 650,000 jobs in one month). Britain and Switzerland are up to their necks in Asia.

Whether it takes months, or just weeks, the world is going to discover that Europe's financial system is sunk, and that there is no EU Federal Reserve yet ready to act as a lender of last resort or to flood the markets with emergency stimulus.