Friday, May 29, 2009

saudis warn of huge price rise

The Guardian | Minister says crude could be back at record highs within two years

Saudi Arabia warned today that the world could be facing another oil shock, with prices back above the record highs of almost $150 a barrel within two to three years.

The comments from the Saudi oil minister at an energy summit in Rome were echoed by the IMF, both blaming lower prices and the global recession for hampering investment in new capacity.

Prices have fallen back from the peak they reached last year, largely because of the fall in demand in the downturn, and are hovering at about $60 a barrel.

"We are maintaining our long-term focus rather than being swayed by the volatility of short-term conditions," said the Saudi oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, ahead of an Opec meeting in Vienna on Thursday. "However, if others do not begin to invest similarly in new capacity expansion projects, we could see within two to three years another price spike similar to or worse than what we witnessed in 2008."

He said low prices and weak demand had discouraged investment in energy projects. Those problems had been compounded by high development costs, tight credit markets and energy policies that are focused on alternative fuel sources.

IMF first deputy managing director John Lipsky said: "With long time-to-build lags, significant setbacks to oil investment today could set the stage for future sharp price increases."

Oil prices reached $147 a barrel in July 2008, worsening the global downturn, before falling sharply to $32 as the recession took hold.

oil floats higher

WaPo | The price of crude oil once again seems to be defying the economic forces of gravity.

There's plenty of evidence to suggest prices should be falling. In industrialized countries, storage tanks are overflowing, with enough supplies to cover 62 days of use, about 10 days more than usual. Economic weakness continues to depress world demand, which is on track to fall for the second consecutive year. And oil-producing countries, while restraining output, are adding to production capacity. New Saudi Arabian wells coming on line this year will exceed the entire production capacity of Texas.

But instead of dropping, the price of crude oil rose to more than $65 a barrel yesterday, the highest in more than six months. And some analysts said it could rise even higher as the summer driving season arrives. Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said this week that a $75-a-barrel price was within reach.

major general taguba - photos show rapes

The Telegraph | At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube. Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.

Detail of the content emerged from Major General Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted an inquiry into the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

Allegations of rape and abuse were included in his 2004 report but the fact there were photographs was never revealed. He has now confirmed their existence in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

The graphic nature of some of the images may explain the US President’s attempts to block the release of an estimated 2,000 photographs from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan despite an earlier promise to allow them to be published.

Maj Gen Taguba, who retired in January 2007, said he supported the President’s decision, adding: “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.

“I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one and the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan.

“The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.”

Thursday, May 28, 2009

america's share of the climate crisis

Greenpeace | Some key findings of the “America’s Share of the Climate Crisis” report include:

* Historically, no nation has emitted more global warming pollution than the United States. From 1960-2005, the U.S. emitted 213,608 MtCO2, 26% of total global emissions. The next biggest polluter, China, emitted 88,643 MtCO2 over the same time frame, 10.7% of global emissions.

* The U.S. also exceeded almost every other nation in per capita emissions. Per capita, the U.S. emitted 720 tons of CO2 per person per year from 1960-2005. This is more than ten times China’s per capita emissions(68 tons of CO2) during the same period, and ninety times the per capita emissions of Kenya (7.7 tCO2). Even considered individually, the 50 U.S. states are among the nations that are the largest emitters of carbon dioxideon earth.

* Even considered individually, the 50 U.S. states are among the nation as that are the largest emitters of carbon dioxideon Earth.

* The average U.S. state emitted 4,449 MtCO2 from 1960-2005, which would rank 30th among the nations of the world. The combined historic emissions of just seven states-Texas, California, Illinois, New York, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Ohio-totalled 96,517 MtCO2, more than any other country in the world, including China (92,950).

* If Texas were its own country, it would rank sixth out of 184 countries in the world in total emissions, trailing just China, Russia, Germnay, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

* The overwhelming majority of global warming pollution in the U.S. comes from burning fossil fuels for energy. In 2007, CO2 emissions from combustion of coal, oil and natural gas accounted for 80% of total U.S. global warming pollution, with total CO2 emissions accounting for over 85% of U.S. global warming pollution. Power plants are the nation’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption, contributing 42% of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion and 34% of global warming emissions overall.

* The transportation sector is the next largest source of carbon dioxide, contributing 33% of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion and 26% of global warming emissions overall. The remaining 25% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from energy sources comes from the direct consumption of fossil fuels in the commercial, industrial, and residential sectors.

primate transgenic transmission

The Scientist | Japanese researchers have successfully generated the world's first transgenic primates capable of passing on a foreign gene to their offspring. The feat, reported in today's (May 28) issue of Nature, should pave the way for more sophisticated models of human disease, though the monkey models still have many hurdles to overcome.

"This is the first time that we actually can see a transgene integrated into every tissue including the germline [in a primate] and that the transgene has been passed on to the next generation," Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a developmental biologist at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) in Beaverton who wrote an accompanying commentary to the study, told The Scientist.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

japan rejoins global arms industry

Times Online | The huge engineering and technological might of Japan may be poised for a new lease of life as the country prepares to ditch a self-imposed ban on arms exports that was introduced in the mid-1970s.

The controversial decision, which is likely to encounter bitter opposition from the country's mainly pacifist middle classes, could deliver significant economic benefits to Japan and lead to a realignment in the global defence industry.

A ruling party MP said that the greatest significance would be the conversion of Japan's robotics industry from civilian to military use as the world's defence spending is directed to remote-control hardware, such as drone aircraft.

Lifting or toning-down the 33-year old embargo would unleash some of the world's most advanced heavy engineering companies into the international weapons market, one of the few areas of manufacturing where Japan's immense technical resources have, for purely political reasons, not produced a dominant global player.

The expected move, which government insiders said may be announced by Taro Aso, the Prime Minister, before the summer, is likely to begin by relaxing the ban to allow Japanese companies to work on joint projects with American and European defence manufacturers, whose products could then be sold internationally.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

on american sustainability

Wakeup | Most Americans believe that we are “exceptional”—both as a society and as a species. We believe that America was “ordained” through divine providence to be the societal role model for the world. And we believe that through our superior intellect, we can harness and even conquer Nature in our continuous quest to improve the material living standards associated with our ever increasing population.

The truth is that our pioneering predecessors drifted, quite by accident, upon a veritable treasure trove of natural resources and natural habitats, which they wrested by force from the native inhabitants, and which we have persistently over exploited in order to create and perpetuate our American way of life. The truth is that through our “divine ordination” and “superior intellect”, we have been persistently and systematically eliminating the very resources upon which our way of life and our existence depend.

We now find ourselves in a “predicament”. We are irreparably overextended—living hopelessly beyond our means ecologically and economically—at a time when the supplies of many critical resources upon which we depend will soon be insufficient to enable our American way of life. We are about to discover that we are simply another unsustainable society subject to the inescapable consequence of our unsustainable resource utilization behavior—societal collapse.

gettin tight all over....,

Time | Germany is a deeply divided country in terms of income and wealth. "Poverty is on the rise," Ulrich Schneider, the head of Paritätische Gesamtverband, tells TIME. "Our poverty rates date from 2007, before the current economic crisis. Unemployment will rise this year so there's bound to be more poverty." In many towns in eastern Germany local factories have shut down and, since reunification, unemployment rates have climbed to 25% after an exodus of young people looking for work in the west — a far cry from those "blossoming landscapes" former Chancellor Helmut Kohl promised back in 1990. (Read "Kohl Wins His Way.")

Anyone who's living off less than 60% of the median household income is defined by the E.U. and the German government as living in poverty. In Germany, that's around $1,066 per month for a single person or $2,240 for a couple with one child. Some of the hardest hit by Germany's increasing poverty levels are children. It's estimated that there are more than 3 million German children living in poverty; in Berlin alone, up to 36% of all children are poor. "The gap between the rich and poor is wider than ever and more children have been plunged into poverty," says Bernd Siggelkow, a pastor who runs the Arche project in Berlin to help children in need. "People who claim state benefits are stigmatized by society and in the past children were simply forgotten by politicians."

Not surprisingly, the poverty atlas has reawakened the long-raging political debate over a national minimum wage. Germany doesn't have a general legal minimum wage and only six sectors of the economy have a statutory rate — in the construction industry, for example, the minimum pay rate is between $12.50 and $18 an hour. Union leaders and politicians have been calling for a national minimum wage of $10.50 an hour, but Chancellor Merkel and her conservative party colleagues have refused to back down, saying a minimum wage could be counterproductive as jobs that pay less than the required minimum would be cut and that could lead to higher unemployment. "More and more people are on low wages earning less than $7 an hour," says Michael Pausder, spokesman for the VDK, an association that promotes equality for people in need.

putin to the west; hands off ukraine!

Time | Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister and former president, is not renowned for his love of literature. But on Sunday he gave Russian journalists an unexpected reading tip: the diaries of Anton Denikin, a commander in the White Army that fought the Bolsheviks after the Revolution in 1917. (See TIME's photos of last year's war in Georgia)

"He has a discussion there about Big Russia and Little Russia — Ukraine," Russian newswires quoted Putin as saying after laying a wreath in Moscow at the grave of Denikin, who is now portrayed as a Russian patriot. "He says that no one should be allowed to interfere in relations between us; they have always been the business of Russia itself." (See TIME's person of the year: Vladimir Putin)

Putin's words are seen as the latest in an ongoing volley of pointed warnings to the West not to meddle in Ukraine, a country with such close historical and cultural ties to Russia that the Kremlin considers it firmly within its sphere of interests.

"The Russian leadership is very apprehensive about what it sees as Western moves designed to tear Ukraine away from Russia," says Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, an independent think tank in Moscow. "Their central foreign policy goal is to create a power center around Russia. Any move by the West towards the former Soviet republics is seen as damaging Russia's interests."

Monday, May 25, 2009

yet another bogus "terror" plot....,

The Nation | By the now, it's maddeningly familiar. A scary terrorist plot is announced. Then it's revealed that the suspects are a hapless bunch of ne'er-do-wells or run-of-the-mill thugs without the slightest connection to any terrorists at all, never mind to Al Qaeda. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle: the entire plot is revealed to have been cooked up by a scummy government agent-provocateur.

I've seen this movie before.

In this case, the alleged perps -- Onta Williams, James Cromitie, David Williams, and Laguerre Payen -- were losers, ex-cons, drug addicts. Al Qaeda they're not. Without the assistance of the agent who entrapped them, they would never have dreamed of committing political violence, nor would they have had the slightest idea about where to acquire plastic explosives or a Stinger missile. That didn't stop prosecutors from acting as if they'd captured Osama bin Laden himself. Noted the Los Angeles Times:
Prosecutors called it the latest in a string of homegrown terrorism plots hatched after Sept. 11.

"It's hard to envision a more chilling plot," Assistant U.S. Atty. Eric Snyder said in court Thursday. He described all four suspects as "eager to bring death to Jews."
Actually, it's hard to imagine a stupider, less competent, and less important plot. The four losers were ensnared by a creepy FBI agent who hung around the mosque in upstate New York until he found what he was looking for.

dissecting cheney's lies and distortions

HuffPo | As a senior interrogator in Iraq (and a former criminal investigator), there was a lesson I learned that served me well: there's more to be learned from what someone doesn't say than from what they do say. Let me dissect former Vice President Dick Cheney's speech on National Security using this model and my interrogation skills.

First, VP Cheney said, "This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately... it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do." He further stated, "It is much closer to the truth that terrorists hate this country precisely because of the values we profess and seek to live by, not by some alleged failure to do so." That is simply untrue. Anyone who served in Iraq, and veterans on both sides of the aisle have made this argument, knows that the foreign fighters did not come to Iraq en masse until after the revelations of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. I heard this from captured foreign fighters day in and day out when I was supervising interrogations in Iraq. What the former vice president didn't say is the fact that the dislike of our policies in the Middle East were not enough to make thousands of Muslim men pick up arms against us before these revelations. Torture and abuse became Al Qaida's number one recruiting tool and cost us American lives.

Secondly, the former vice president, in saying that waterboarding is not torture, never mentions the fact that it was the United States and its Allies, during the Tokyo Trials, that helped convict a Japanese soldier for war crimes for waterboarding one of Jimmie Doolittle's Raiders. Have our morals and values changed in fifty years? He also did not mention that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both prohibited their troops from torturing prisoners of war. Washington specifically used the term "injure" -- no mention of severe mental or physical pain.

Thirdly, the former vice president never mentioned the Senate testimony of Ali Soufan, the FBI interrogator who successfully interrogated Abu Zubaydah and learned the identity of Jose Padilla, the dirty bomber, and the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) was the mastermind behind 9/11. We'll never know what more we could have discovered from Abu Zubaydah had not CIA contractors taken over the interrogations and used waterboarding and other harsh techniques.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

not gonna happen...,

NYTimes | The notion that a self-aware computing system would emerge spontaneously from the interconnections of billions of computers and computer networks goes back in science fiction at least as far as Arthur C. Clarke’s “Dial F for Frankenstein.” A prescient short story that appeared in 1961, it foretold an ever-more-interconnected telephone network that spontaneously acts like a newborn baby and leads to global chaos as it takes over financial, transportation and military systems.

Today, artificial intelligence, once the preserve of science fiction writers and eccentric computer prodigies, is back in fashion and getting serious attention from NASA and from Silicon Valley companies like Google as well as a new round of start-ups that are designing everything from next-generation search engines to machines that listen or that are capable of walking around in the world. A.I.’s new respectability is turning the spotlight back on the question of where the technology might be heading and, more ominously, perhaps, whether computer intelligence will surpass our own, and how quickly.

The concept of ultrasmart computers — machines with “greater than human intelligence” — was dubbed “The Singularity” in a 1993 paper by the computer scientist and science fiction writer Vernor Vinge. He argued that the acceleration of technological progress had led to “the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth.” This thesis has long struck a chord here in Silicon Valley.

hiding murka's monster of the id...,

NYTimes | Five years later, America is again caught up in a debate about the release of photographs that show our soldiers using Bush administration “interrogation techniques” at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

Barack Obama, whose first act as president was to re-criminalize torture, initially favored making the pictures public. Then Mr. Obama changed his mind. His critics (civil libertarians, human rights advocates and press commentators) are saying that this makes him no different from his predecessor.

They are mistaken. Just as it was a public service to release the Abu Ghraib photographs five years ago, Mr. Obama is right today to say we don’t need more of them.

The president claims that a new round of images of prisoner abuse flashing around the globe would enflame America’s enemies and endanger our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. There’s no doubt about it: the policies that the photographs depict have already done terrible damage to America’s cause.

But there’s another critical consideration. Releasing additional photographs would not be telling us anything that we don’t already know. We don’t need to see a picture to know that American interrogators used waterboarding — a crime our military has prosecuted as torture for more than a century — when we can see former Vice President Dick Cheney taking credit for having people waterboarded.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

olduvai theory: toward re-equalizing the world standard of living

Warsocialism | This study is based on: (1) historic population and energy data from 1965 to 2008 and (2) backup studies by several scientists. The Olduvai Theory is explained by disaggregating the World into the U.S., the OECD nations, and the non-OECD nations standards of living (SL). The U.S. SL peaked in 1973 (Figure 1). The World SL rapidly increased from 2000 to 2007 (Figure 2). This increase was caused by just a few non-OECD nations (Figure 3). The OECD SL peaked in 2005 (Figure 4). The Olduvai Theory shows each SL curve trending toward the same average SL value that the World had in 1930 (Figure 5).

why the monster is running his mouth

Salon | Hersh: Children sodomized at Abu Ghraib, on tape - After Donald Rumsfeld testified on the Hill about Abu Ghraib in May, there was talk of more photos and video in the Pentagon's custody more horrific than anything made public so far. "If these are released to the public, obviously it's going to make matters worse," Rumsfeld said. Since then, the Washington Post has disclosed some new details and images of abuse at the prison. But if Seymour Hersh is right, it all gets much worse.

Hersh gave a speech last week to the ACLU making the charge that children were sodomized in front of women in the prison, and the Pentagon has tape of it. The speech was first reported in a New York Sun story last week, which was in turn posted on Jim Romenesko's media blog, and now and other blogs are linking to the video. We transcribed the critical section here (it starts at about 1:31:00 into the ACLU video.) At the start of the transcript here, you can see how Hersh was struggling over what he should say:

"Debating about it, ummm ... Some of the worst things that happened you don't know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib ... The women were passing messages out saying 'Please come and kill me, because of what's happened' and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It's going to come out."

"It's impossible to say to yourself how did we get there? Who are we? Who are these people that sent us there?

ScoopNZ | That was then, however, and this is now. Dick Cheney is breathing a little easier today, and why shouldn't he? President Obama appears to have pretty much let Cheney, along with all the other enables of torture, off the hook.

"President Obama is seeking to block the release of photographs depicting American military personnel abusing captives in Iraq and Afghanistan, an administration official said Wednesday," reports The New York Times. "The president's decision marks a sharp reversal from a decision made last month by the Pentagon, which reached a deal with the American Civil Liberties Union to release photographs showing incidents at Abu Ghraib and a half-dozen other prisons. 'Last week, the president met with his legal team and told them that he did not feel comfortable with the release of the D.O.D. photos because he believes their release would endanger our troops,' said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'And because he believes that the national security implications of such a release have not been fully presented to the court.'"

To me, this means two things.

The pictures are really, really, really bad, just as Sy Hersh said they would be.

There will be no punishment, no justice, for acts of barbarous torture undertaken at the specific behest of men like Dick Cheney. The Obama administration has chosen the easier path, chosen to ignore the manifest harm done to this nation and the world by refusing to seek that necessary justice.

The caged bird sang to stay out of a cage. Now he's free as a bird, and ours is a badly damaged and disgraced country because of it.

oil and the military monster

Culture Change | America's energy consumption patterns are deeply insecure, and in a new report by Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), Powering America's Defense, authored by several military officials, perspectives from the vested interests of the military are revealed. The paradigm remains the rigidly the same, that the military is 'necessity', and access to the world's resources will remain their priority and so-called 'right', largely for their benefit.

Consider the mentality of consumers of the large vehicles produced by the automobile companies in the last few decades -- basically ego-satisfying toys. Huge pickup trucks with no load in the back, façades of 'power' and 'status', and big family cars for big families who in their superiority-complex personalities have forgotten to consider the fate of their brothers and sisters around the world struggling to simply survive.

Steve LeVine, from BusinessWeek, points out the wastefulness in the military's actions:

In a long report, these former officers detail how long, vulnerable fuel supply lines have hobbled troops in Iraq and Afghanistan; how each soldier in Afghanistan is weighed down by 26 pounds of batteries; and how just 10% of the fuel used in Iraq goes for actual fighting vehicles — the rest just gets the fuel to the battlefield and protects it.

It appears that the U.S. military is following the rest of the world's lead on many of these issues, and seem to have had its head in the sand of their desertified paradigm.

LeVine also reveals the enormous subsidy to oil prices, arriving at a truer cost than the nominal price:

Reliance on oil, however, is the report's focus. It estimates that refueling military jets in flight raises the cost of each gallon of fuel to $42; on the ground the cost ranges from $15 a gallon to as much as hundreds of dollars a gallon depending on how much security and logistics are required to get the fuel to where it needs to be.
In Iraq, just 10% of fuel used for ground forces went to heavy vehicles such as tanks and amphibious vehicles delivering lethal force; the other 90% was consumed by Humvees and other vehicles delivering and protecting the fuel and forces. "This is the antithesis of efficiency," the report says.

Bryan Bender, writing for the Boston Globe, summarizes:

In World War II, the United States consumed about a gallon of fuel per soldier per day, according to the report. In the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, about 4 gallons of fuel per soldier was consumed per day. In 2006, the US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan burned about 16 gallons of fuel per soldier on average per day, almost twice as much as the year before.

Friday, May 22, 2009


NPR | Ninety percent of Americans say they pray — for their health, or their love life or their final exams. But does prayer do any good?

For decades, scientists have tried to test the power of prayer and positive thinking, with mixed results. Now some scientists are fording new — and controversial — territory.

tumors spur depression

The Scientist | Tumors can cause classic symptoms of depression in rats, according to a new study published online in PNAS this week.

"What's really cool about this paper is that it shows without a doubt that there are depressive-like behaviors induced in these rats before these rats become [sick]," said Keith Kelley, an immunophysiologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who was not involved in the research.

Researchers have long known that individuals suffering from chronic illness are at a greater risk of depression, but whether it was a direct cause of the illness or a psychological reaction to being sick was unclear. "By using this animal model of cancer we were able to isolate just the physiological effects of the tumors from the psychological effects that you get in human studies," said Leah Pyter, a behavioral neuroscientist at the University of Chicago, who led the study. "The tumors themselves are sufficient to induce depression."

Pyter and her colleagues induced mammary tumors in rats using a chemical carcinogen known as N-nitroso-N-methylurea (NMU). In a forced swimming test, the rats with chemically induced tumors spent more time floating instead of swimming compared with healthy controls, a classic sign of depression. And while healthy rats prefer weak sugar water to tap water, the rats with tumors showed no such preference.

The rats exhibited these depressive-like behaviors well before they showed any overt signs of illness from the tumors themselves. They showed no difference in eating habits or social behavior, and they did not lose weight, like rats with an induced acute infection often do.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

venezuela's sway dims as oil riches dip

NYTimes | President Hugo Chávez’s push to extend his sway in Latin America is waning amid low oil prices and disorder in Venezuela’s own energy industry.

In recent years, Mr. Chávez has used his nation’s oil wealth to drive his socialist-inspired agenda at home and draw other countries in the region into his sphere of influence, helping to consolidate a leftward political shift in parts of Latin America.

But more than a dozen big projects intended to broaden his nation’s reach are in limbo — including a gas pipeline across the continent and at least eight refineries, from Jamaica to Uruguay — as Venezuela grapples with falling revenues and other troubles in its national oil company.

Venezuela is also cutting back sharply on other types of financial support for its neighbors, a cornerstone of its regional influence. One recent study by the Center of Economic Investigations, a financial consulting firm here, found that Venezuela had announced plans to spend only about $6 billion abroad this year, down from $79 billion in 2008.

That includes proposed spending on everything from military purchases to aid, and points to a major weakening of Mr. Chávez’s oil diplomacy. Gone, for instance, are multibillion-dollar outlays to buy Argentine bonds, replaced by modest loans like $9 million for growing rice in Haiti.

the machinery of hopelessness

Adbusters | Nothing terrifies leaders, especially American leaders, as much as grassroots democracy. Whenever a genuinely democratic movement begins to emerge, particularly one based on principles of civil disobedience and direct action, the reaction is the same: the government makes immediate concessions (fine, you can have voting rights) and then starts revving up military tensions abroad. The movement is then forced to transform itself into an anti-war movement, which is often far less democratically organized. The civil rights movement was followed by Vietnam, the anti-nuclear movement by proxy wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua and the global justice movement by the War on Terror. We can now see the latter "war" for what it was: a declining power’s doomed effort to make its peculiar combination of bureaucratic war machines and speculative financial capitalism into a permanent global condition.

We are clearly on the verge of another mass resurgence of the popular imagination. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Most of the elements are already there. The problem is that our perceptions have been twisted into knots by decades of relentless propaganda and we are no longer able to see them. Consider the term "communism." Rarely has a term come to be so utterly reviled. The standard line, which we accept more or less unthinkingly, is that communism means state control of the economy. History has shown us that this impossible utopian dream simply "doesn’t work." Thus capitalism, however unpleasant, is the only remaining option.
If two people are fixing a pipe and one says "hand me the wrench," the other doesn’t say "and what do I get for it?"
In fact, communism really just means any situation where people act according to this principle: from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. This is, in fact, the way pretty much everyone acts if they are working together. If, for example, two people are fixing a pipe and one says "hand me the wrench," the other doesn’t say "and what do I get for it?" This is true even if they happen to be employed by Bechtel or Citigroup. They apply the principles of communism because they’re the only ones that really work. This is also the reason entire cities and countries revert to some form of rough-and-ready communism in the wake of natural disasters or economic collapse – markets and hierarchical chains of command become luxuries they can’t afford. The more creativity is required and the more people have to improvise at a given task, the more egalitarian the resulting form of communism is likely to be. That’s why even Republican computer engineers trying to develop new software ideas tend to form small democratic collectives. It’s only when work becomes standardized and boring (think production lines) that becomes possible to impose more authoritarian, even fascistic forms of communism. But the fact is that even private companies are internally organized according to communist principles.

Communism is already here. The question is how to further democratize it. Capitalism, in turn, is just one possible way of managing communism. It has become increasingly clear that it’s a rather disastrous one. Clearly we need to be thinking about a better alternative, preferably one that does not systematically set us all at each others’ throats.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

time to rethink genetics

Physorg | For years, genes have been considered the one and only way biological traits could be passed down through generations of organisms. Not anymore. For years, genes have been considered the one and only way biological traits could be passed down through generations of organisms. Not anymore.

Increasingly, biologists are finding that non-genetic variation acquired during the life of an organism can sometimes be passed on to offspring -- a phenomenon known as epigenetic inheritance. An article forthcoming in the July issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology lists over 100 well-documented cases of epigenetic inheritance between generations of organisms, and suggests that non-DNA inheritance happens much more often than scientists previously thought.

Biologists have suspected for years that some kind of epigenetic inheritance occurs at the cellular level. The different kinds of cells in our bodies provide an example. Skin cells and brain cells have different forms and functions, despite having exactly the same DNA. There must be mechanisms—other than DNA—that make sure skin cells stay skin cells when they divide.

Only recently, however, have researchers begun to find molecular evidence of non-DNA inheritance between organisms as well as between cells. The main question now is: How often does it happen?

"The analysis of these data shows that epigenetic inheritance is ubiquitous …," write Eva Jablonka and Gal Raz, both of Tel-Aviv University in Israel. Their article outlines inherited epigenetic variation in bacteria, protists, fungi, plants, and animals.

These findings "represent the tip of a very large iceberg," the authors say.

For example, Jablonka and Raz cite a study finding that when fruit flies are exposed to certain chemicals, at least 13 generations of their descendants are born with bristly outgrowths on their eyes. Another study found that exposing a pregnant rat to a chemical that alters reproductive hormones leads to generations of sick offspring. Yet another study shows higher rates of heart disease and diabetes in the children and grandchildren of people who were malnourished in adolescence.

In these cases, as well as the rest of the cases Jablonka and Raz cite, the source of the variation in subsequent generations was not DNA. Rather, the new traits were carried on through epigenetic means.

More information: Eva Jablonka and Gal Raz, "Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance: Prevalence, Mechanisms, and Implications for the Study of Heredity and Evolution," The Quarterly Review of Biology, June 2009.

one final bubble - then war

LewRockwell | The biggest financial bubble in history is being inflated in plain sight. This is the Mother of All Bubbles, and when it explodes, it will signal the end to the boom/bust cycle that has characterized economic activity throughout the developed world. Either unwilling or unable to call the bubble by its proper name, the media, Washington, and Wall Street describe the stupendous government expenditures on rescue packages, stimulus plans, buyouts, and takeovers as emergency measures needed to salvage the severely damaged economy.

All of this terminology is econo-jargon. It's like calling torture "enhanced interrogation techniques." Washington is inflating the biggest bubble ever: the Bailout Bubble. This is much bigger than the Dot-com and Real Estate bubbles which hit speculators, investors, and financiers the hardest. However destructive the effects of these busts on employment, savings and productivity, the Free Market Capitalist framework was left intact. But when the Bailout Bubble explodes, the system goes with it.

The economic framework of the United States has been restructured. Federal interventionist policies have given the government equity stakes, executive powers and management control of what was once private enterprise. To finance these buyouts, rescue and stimulus packages – instead of letting failed businesses fail and bankrupt banks and bandit brokerages go bankrupt – trillions of dollars are being injected into the stricken economy.

Phantom dollars, printed out of thin air, backed by nothing ... and producing next to nothing ... defines the Bailout Bubble. Just as with the other bubbles, so too will this one burst. But unlike Dot-com and Real Estate, when the Bailout Bubble pops, neither the President nor the Federal Reserve will have the fiscal fixes or monetary policies available to inflate another. With no more massive economic bubbles left to blow up, they'll set their sights on bigger targets. Given the pattern of governments to parlay egregious failures into mega-failures, the classic trend they follow, when all else fails, is to take their nation to war. Since the Bailout Bubble is neither called nor recognized as a bubble, its sudden and spectacular explosion will create chaos. A panicked public will readily accept any Washington/Wall Street/Main Stream Media alibi that shifts the blame for the catastrophe away from the policy makers and onto some scapegoat.

At this time we are not forecasting a war. However, the trends in play are ominous. While we cannot pinpoint precisely when the Bailout Bubble will burst, we are certain it will. When it does, it should be understood that a major war could follow.

society of sloth - (technocracy?)

Warsocialism | THE ONE-AND-ONLY HUMANE SOLUTION: Mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon; a global system of coercion – laws, police, punishments and rewards. In principle, the global commons can only be managed at the global level by people who understand the physical systems involved: scientists. Global coercion can be seen in the worldwide reactions to ozone depletion and global warming. Besides laws and paychecks, coercion can take many forms:
“It is not necessary to construct a theory of intentional cultural control. In truth, the strength of the control process rests in its apparent absence. The desired systemic result is achieved ordinarily by a loose though effective institutional process. It utilizes the education of journalists and other media professionals, built-in penalties and rewards for doing what is expected, norms presented as objective rules, and the occasional but telling direct intrusion from above. The main lever is the internalization of values.”
Step one would be to establish a global government of some sort with the authority to protect the global commons – our life-support system – as well as protecting universal human rights. This government would also oversee the “clean” manufacturing of “repairable” and “reusable” energy-efficient appliances and transportation systems. It would also insure the sustainable production of staples like wheat, rice, oats, and fish.

Does this new global government sound repressive or restrictive? Not at all! A great deal of freedom is possible – in fact, far more than we have now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

toxic textbooks helped cause the economic meltdown

The current economic meltdown is not the result of natural causes or human conspiracy, but because society at all levels became infected with false beliefs regarding the nature of economic reality. And the primary sources of this infection are the “neoclassical” or “mainstream” textbooks long used in introductory economics courses in universities throughout the world.

A new movement (its manifesto is at the bottom of this message) is being launched to encourage universities and schools to use economics textbooks that engage honestly with the real world.

Recently several prominent economists, including Hodgson and Keen, have publicly called for worldwide student protest to help bring about serious change in academic economics, especially in teaching. Although the circumstances for this have never been so favourable, the problem is how to get protest started up to the point where it becomes self-sustaining and nationally and internationally contagious.

To this end a website has been set up and, more importantly, also a Facebook group named Toxic Textbooks. The Facebook group is intended to provide the means by which students and others can organize themselves and spread the word.

Three or four minutes, literally, of help from each of you will give this movement a big kick start. I imagine that most of you, like myself until a few days ago, have had no experience with Facebook. But the thinking is: if it worked for Obama, it might also work for us.

Most of you are teachers of economics rather than students, and, true, this Facebook group is more likely to be run on the contributions of the many students who we hope will join it. But seeding it and legitimising protest by students is a very important role.

Joining Facebook and then the group is dead easy. Click Now all you need to give them is your name, email address and date of birth, which if you request, as I did, they promise not to reveal. Skip the optional rest (no photo required), click and you are signed up – two minutes.

Now to join Toxic Textbooks, click on "View and edit your profile". At the very bottom of the screen there should be a toolbar labelled "Applications". Click on the first icon to the right, a pair of heads, and this takes you to Groups. In the "Search for Groups" box at the top of the page type in Toxic Textbooks and click. A Toxic Textbooks rectangle should appear with a "Join Group" box on right. Click it, and then click "join" again and that's it.

foundations of war with china

NYTimes | Historical injustice aside, the Chinese also insisted that they should not be held responsible for the greenhouse gases they emit when producing goods for foreign consumers. But they refused to accept the logical implication of this view — that the burden should fall on those foreign consumers instead, that shoppers who buy Chinese products should pay a “carbon tariff” that reflects the emissions associated with those goods’ production. That, said the Chinese, would violate the principles of free trade.

Sorry, but the climate-change consequences of Chinese production have to be taken into account somewhere. And anyway, the problem with China is not so much what it produces as how it produces it. Remember, China now emits more carbon dioxide than the United States, even though its G.D.P. is only about half as large (and the United States, in turn, is an emissions hog compared with Europe or Japan).

The good news is that the very inefficiency of China’s energy use offers huge scope for improvement. Given the right policies, China could continue to grow rapidly without increasing its carbon emissions. But first it has to realize that policy changes are necessary.

There are hints, in statements emanating from China, that the country’s policy makers are starting to realize that their current position is unsustainable. But I suspect that they don’t realize how quickly the whole game is about to change.

As the United States and other advanced countries finally move to confront climate change, they will also be morally empowered to confront those nations that refuse to act. Sooner than most people think, countries that refuse to limit their greenhouse gas emissions will face sanctions, probably in the form of taxes on their exports. They will complain bitterly that this is protectionism, but so what? Globalization doesn’t do much good if the globe itself becomes unlivable.

It’s time to save the planet. And like it or not, China will have to do its part.

economic manhattan project

Monday, May 18, 2009

crisis opinions of the elite

In a speech delivered at Columbia Business School, Jeffrey D. Sachs discusses outcomes of the recent G-20 economic summit and what can be done to calm the effects of the global financial crisis on the world's poorest. Sachs is the Director of the Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University.

01. Examining the Economic Crisis 02 min 44 sec

02. Poverty, Scarcity, and Other Global Crises 03 min 54 sec

03. The Interrelation of Global Crises 02 min 25 sec

04. Crisis 1: The Economic Crisis 02 min 27 sec

05. Causes of the Crisis 03 min 47 sec

06. Failings of Greenspan's Monetary Policy 04 min 51 sec

07. Lead-Up to the Current Economic Collapse 02 min 42 sec

08. The Collapse and Its Aftermath 03 min 35 sec

09. The Loss of Bank Capital 02 min 53 sec

10. Problems with the Current Stimulus Package 01 min 56 sec

11. Crisis 2: Corruption, Deregulation, and Poverty 02 min 25 sec

12. How Wall Street Controls Washington 03 min 22 sec

13. Growing Gap Between Rich and Poor in America 02 min 15 sec

14. American Greed and Global Poverty 03 min 43 sec

15. Crisis 3: Global Warming 05 min 22 sec

16. Failings of the G20 04 min 36 sec

17. The Lack of True Reform 03 min 14 sec

Full Program 56 min 19 sec

Sunday, May 17, 2009

who rules america?

Creators Syndicate | What do you suppose it is like to be elected president of the United States only to find that your power is restricted to the service of powerful interest groups?

A president who does a good job for the ruling interest groups is paid off with remunerative corporate directorships, outrageous speaking fees and a lucrative book contract. If he is young when he assumes office, like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, it means a long life of luxurious leisure.

Fighting the special interests doesn't pay and doesn't succeed. On April 30, the primacy of special over public interests was demonstrated yet again. The Democrats' bill to prevent 1.7 million mortgage foreclosures — and, thus, preserve $300 billion in home equity by permitting homeowners to renegotiate their mortgages — was defeated in the Senate, despite the 60-vote majority of the Democrats. The banksters were able to defeat the bill 51 to 45.

These are the same financial gangsters whose unbridled greed and utter irresponsibility have wiped out half of Americans' retirement savings, sent the economy into a deep hole and threatened the U.S. dollar's reserve currency role. It is difficult to imagine an interest group with a more damaged reputation. Yet, a majority of "the people's representatives" voted as the discredited banksters instructed.

Hundreds of billions of public dollars have gone to bail out the banksters, but when some Democrats tried to get the Senate to do a mite for homeowners, the U.S. Senate stuck with the banks. The Senate's motto is: "Hundreds of billions for the banksters, not a dime for homeowners."

If Obama was naive about well-intentioned change before the vote, he no longer has this political handicap.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

little brown shirts

NYTimes | The Explorers program, a coeducational affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America that began 60 years ago, is training thousands of young people in skills used to confront terrorism, illegal immigration and escalating border violence — an intense ratcheting up of one of the group’s longtime missions to prepare youths for more traditional jobs as police officers and firefighters.

“This is about being a true-blooded American guy and girl,” said A. J. Lowenthal, a sheriff’s deputy here in Imperial County, whose life clock, he says, is set around the Explorers events he helps run. “It fits right in with the honor and bravery of the Boy Scouts.”

The training, which leaders say is not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting, can involve chasing down illegal border crossers as well as more dangerous situations that include facing down terrorists and taking out “active shooters,” like those who bring gunfire and death to college campuses. In a simulation here of a raid on a marijuana field, several Explorers were instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout.

“Put him on his face and put a knee in his back,” a Border Patrol agent explained. “I guarantee that he’ll shut up.”

One participant, Felix Arce, 16, said he liked “the discipline of the program,” which was something he said his life was lacking. “I want to be a lawyer, and this teaches you about how crimes are committed,” he said.

Cathy Noriego, also 16, said she was attracted by the guns. The group uses compressed-air guns — known as airsoft guns, which fire tiny plastic pellets — in the training exercises, and sometimes they shoot real guns on a closed range.

“I like shooting them,” Cathy said. “I like the sound they make. It gets me excited.”

end "drug" war now

HuffPo | Sen. Jim Webb has introduced legislation, with co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, to create a blue-ribbon commission to examine criminal justice and drug policies and how they have led to our nation's jam-packed jails -- now filled with tens of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders.

"With so many of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world," Webb wrote in a recent Parade cover story, "there are only two possibilities: Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something different--and vastly counterproductive. Obviously, the answer is the latter."

I understand that drugs continue to be a political hot potato, fueled by what the Latin American presidents described as "prejudices and fears that sometimes bear little relation to reality." And I can easily picture some on the president's team advising him to keep the issue on the backburner lest it turn into his "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

But the cost of the drug war -- both human and financial -- is far too high to allow politics to dictate the administration's actions. Indeed, with all the budget cutting going on, how can anyone justify spending tens of billions of dollars a year on an unwinnable war against our own people?

Change won't be easy. The prison-industrial complex has a deeply vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Which is why we need to keep the pressure on the president and his team to follow through on their drug policy promises.

As with the regulation of Wall Street, real reform of our nation's drugs policies won't happen without someone in the administration making it a top priority.

cuba's undersea oil

WaPo | Deep in the Gulf of Mexico, an end to the 1962 U.S. trade embargo against Cuba may be lying untapped, buried under layers of rock, seawater and bitter relations.

Oil, up to 20 billion barrels of it, sits off Cuba's northwest coast in territorial waters, according to the Cuban government -- enough to turn the island into the Qatar of the Caribbean. At a minimum, estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey place Cuba's potential deep-water reserves at 4.6 billion barrels of oil and 9.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, stores that would rank the island among the region's top producers.

Drilling operations by foreign companies in Cuban waters are still in the exploratory stage, and significant obstacles -- technological and political -- stand between a U.S.-Cuba rapprochement eased by oil. But as the Obama administration gestures toward improved relations with the Castro government, the national security, energy and economic benefits of Cuban crude may make it a powerful incentive for change.

Limited commercial ties between U.S. businesses and the island's communist government have been quietly expanding this decade as Cuban purchases of U.S. goods -- mostly food -- have increased from $7 million in 2001 to $718 million in 2008, according to census data.

Thawing relations could eventually open up U.S. investment in mining, agriculture, tourism and other sectors of Cuba's tattered economy. But the prospect of major offshore reserves that would be off-limits to U.S. companies and consumers has some Cuba experts arguing that 21st-century energy needs should prevail over 20th-century Cold War politics.

Friday, May 15, 2009

will designer brains divide humanity

NewScientist | Today, our minds are even more fluid and open to enhancement due to what Merlin Donald of Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, calls "superplasticity", the ability of each mind to plug into the minds and experiences of countless others through culture or technology. "I'm not saying it's a 'group mind', as each mind is sealed," he says. "But cognition can be distributed, embedded in a huge cultural system, and technology has produced a huge multiplier effect." In other words, humans already have minds evolving beyond anything seen before in history.

The next stage of brainpower enhancement could be technological - through genetic engineering or brain prostheses. Because the gene variants pivotal to intellectual brilliance have yet to be discovered, boosting brainpower by altering genes may still be some way off, or even impossible. Prostheses are much closer, especially as the technology for wiring brains into computers is already being tested (see "Dawn of the cyborgs"). Indeed, futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil believes the time when humans merge with machines will arrive as early as 2045 (New Scientist, 9 May, p 26).

It won't be long before "clip-on" computer aids become available for everybody, says Andy Clark, a pro-enhancement philosopher at the University of Edinburgh in the UK. These could be anything from memory aids to the ability to "search" for information stored in your brain. "We'll get a flowering of brain augmentations, some seeping through from the disabled community," he says. "I see them becoming fashion items, a bit like choosing clothing." Clark says that even today, devices such as head-up displays on spectacles or simply being adept at using computer programs like Photoshop come close to being physical extensions of people's minds.

Malafouris also believes such augmentation is the next logical stage in human development. "If we accept that tool use was part of the reason we came to develop language, then why should we perceive neuro-engineering as a threat rather than as the new stone industry of the 21st century?"

Not everyone thinks this is a good idea, however. Dieter Birnbacher, a philosopher at the University of Düsseldorf in Germany, says there are risks in technological self-improvement that could jeopardise human dignity. One potential problem arises from altering what we consider to be "normal": the dangers are similar to the social pressure to conform to idealised forms of beauty, physique or sporting ability that we see today.

People without enhancement could come to see themselves as failures, have lower self-esteem or even be discriminated against by those whose brains have been enhanced, Birnbacher says. He stops short of saying that enhancement could "split" the human race, pointing out that society already tolerates huge inequity in access to existing enhancement tools such as books and education.

The perception that some people are giving themselves an unfair advantage over everyone else by "enhancing" their brains would be socially divisive, says John Dupré at the University of Exeter, UK. "Anyone can read to their kids or play them music, but put a piece of software in their heads, and that's seen as unfair," he says. As Dupré sees it, the possibility of two completely different human species eventually developing is "a legitimate worry".

moscow warns of future energy wars

War games show that the capacity to wage war effectively will be constrained by resource depletion. Because of this fact, some state will seek the "advantage" of carrying out sooner and pre-emptively what's inevitably beyond that signpost up ahead.

Al Jazeera | Russia has warned that military conflicts over energy resources could erupt along its borders in the near future, as the race to secure oil and gas reserves gains momentum.

A Kremlin policy paper, which maps out Russia's main challenges to national security for the next decade, said "problems that involve the use of military force cannot be excluded" in competition for resources.

The National Security Strategy's release coincides with a deadline for countries around the world to submit sea bed ownership claims to a United Nations commission, including for the resource-rich Arctic.

The paper, signed off by Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president, says international relations in the next 10 years will be shaped by battles over energy reserves.

"The attention of international politics in the long-term perspective will be concentrated on the acquisition of energy resources," it said. "Amid competitive struggle for resources, attempts to use military force to solve emerging problems can't be excluded.

"The existing balance of forces near the borders of the Russian Federation and its allies can be violated," it added.

The document said regions including the Middle East, the Barents Sea, the Arctic, the Caspian Sea and Central Asia could all be at the centre of competing claims for resources.

Russia, the world's biggest natural gas producer, has already accused the United States, with which it shares a small sea border, of coveting its mineral wealth.

But Moscow is also finding its control over natural gas exports under threat, as the European Union seeks alternative supply routes that would bypass Russia and the Ukraine.

The country is also embroiled in a territorial dispute with Norway over claims to the Arctic sea bed, where around 25 per cent of the world's untapped reserves are believed to lie underneath the ice.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

ambassador to cuba?

jesus of suburbia

BurningPlatform | Beneath the finely groomed blissful suburban façade of America lurk desperation, denial, hypocrisy, and anger. The kids of suburbia today have an entirely different reality than the suburbs I grew up in during the 1970’s. The Ozzie & Harriet idealized version of suburbia from the 1950’s has degenerated to the Green Day nightmare vision of today. The suburbs have mansion-like homes with spotless interiors, entertainment centers, three car garages, manicured lawns, and no soul. The children of suburbia have been brought up on soda pop and Ritalin. They come home to empty mansions, as both parents must work to pay for the glorious abode. Our homes have gotten bigger and better, while our lives have gotten smaller and less satisfying. One third of all children in the United States are growing up in a single parent household. Many kids feel angry and disconnected from their families, friends and home. Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce. The kids feel rage and hopelessness at their existence in a suburban nightmare. There are 2 million children who take Ritalin every day. Is this because they truly have ADHD, or it is the painless way out for overstressed suburban parents?

My parents both grew up in South Philly. My Dad had a good secure job with Atlantic Richfield and they took the leap to the 1st ring of suburbs outside of Philadelphia in 1955. They bought a 1,120 sq ft row home in Collingdale for $10,000. It had 3 small bedrooms and one small bathroom. They raised three kids (and three dogs) in this home and my Mother still lives there today. I shared (not happily) a 100 sq ft room with my brother and when I was six, the boogeyman who lived under the bed. We had a double bed, two bureaus, a nightstand, a bookshelf and a desk for studying in this room. When I walk in the room today, I wonder how we possibly shared this small space. Prisoners at Guantanamo have more space. In the summer, with no air conditioner upstairs, I’m sure it got as hot as a Guantanamo prison cell. The walls were so thin between row homes I knew what the people next door were thinking. People never moved. We were a neighborhood where everyone knew everyone. You could depend on your neighbors. There were cookouts, holiday parties, and you could ask your neighbor for a cup of sugar. If your son (me) fell through the basement stairs and cracked his head open on the concrete floor, a neighbor would drive him to the hospital. The fathers went to work. Mothers worked at home, because they could. Mothers were there when the kids arrived home from school. No one was divorced in our neighborhood. All the kids went to the same school. No one was diagnosed with ADHD. I cut our lawn with a manual push mower. Times have surely changed. Bigger hasn’t translated into better over the decades.