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Radiation: Nothing to see here?
Administration spokespeople continuously claim "no threat" from the radiation reaching the US from Japan, just as they did with oil hemorrhaging into the Gulf. Perhaps we should all whistle "Don't worry, be happy" in unison. A thorough review of the science, however, begs a second opinion.
That the radiation is being released 5,000 miles away isn't as comforting as it seems. The Japanese reactors hold about 1,000 times more radiation than the bombs dropped over Hiroshima.(1) Every day, the jet stream carries pollution from Asian smoke stacks and dust from the Gobi Desert to our West Coast, contributing 10 to 60 percent of the total pollution breathed by Californians, depending on the time of year. Mercury is probably the second most toxic substance known after plutonium. Half the mercury in the atmosphere over the entire US originates in China. It, too, is 5,000 miles away. A week after a nuclear weapons test in China, iodine 131 could be detected in the thyroid glands of deer in Colorado, although it could not be detected in the air or in nearby vegetation.(2)
The idea that a threshold exists or there is a safe level of radiation for human exposure began unraveling in the 1950s when research showed one pelvic x-ray in a pregnant woman could double the rate of childhood leukemia in an exposed baby.(3) Furthermore, the risk was ten times higher if it occurred in the first three months of pregnancy than near the end. This became the stepping-stone to the understanding that the timing of exposure was even more critical than the dose. The earlier in embryonic development it occurred, the greater the risk.
more from Brian Moench, MD at Truthout
What They're Covering Up at Fukushima
Hirose Takashi has written a whole shelf full of books, mostly on the nuclear power industry and the military-industrial complex. Probably his best known book is Nuclear Power Plants for Tokyo in which he took the logic of the nuke promoters to its logical conclusion: if you are so sure that they're safe, why not build them in the center of the city, instead of hundreds of miles away where you lose half the electricity in the wires?
He did the TV interview that is partly translated below somewhat against his present impulses. I talked to him on the telephone today (March 22 , 2011) and he told me that while it made sense to oppose nuclear power back then, now that the disaster has begun he would just as soon remain silent, but the lies they are telling on the radio and TV are so gross that he cannot remain silent.
I have translated only about the first third of the interview (you can see the whole thing in Japanese on you-tube), the part that pertains particularly to what is happening at the Fukushima plants. In the latter part he talked about how dangerous radiation is in general, and also about the continuing danger of earthquakes.
After reading his account, you will wonder, why do they keep on sprinkling water on the reactors, rather than accept the sarcophagus solution [ie., entombing the reactors in concrete. Editors.] I think there are a couple of answers. One, those reactors were expensive, and they just can't bear the idea of that huge a financial loss. But more importantly, accepting the sarcophagus solution means admitting that they were wrong, and that they couldn't fix the things. On the one hand that's too much guilt for a human being to bear. On the other, it means the defeat of the nuclear energy idea, an idea they hold to with almost religious devotion. And it means not just the loss of those six (or ten) reactors, it means shutting down all the others as well, a financial catastrophe. If they can only get them cooled down and running again they can say, See, nuclear power isn't so dangerous after all. Fukushima is a drama with the whole world watching, that can end in the defeat or (in their frail, I think groundless, hope) victory for the nuclear industry. Hirose's account can help us to understand what the drama is about.
Yo and Maeda Mari's interview of Takashi can be read at Counterpunch
Nuclear Apocalypse in Japan
As the sun set over quake-stricken Japan on Thursday 17 March 2011, we learned that four of six Fukushima nuclear reactor sites are irradiating the earth, that the fire is burning out of control at Reactor No. 4′s pool of spent nuclear fuel, that there are six spent fuel pools at risk all told, and that the sites are too hot to deal with. On March 16 Plumes of White Vapor began pouring
The U.S. nuke industry is blaming Japanese experts, distancing itself from the monster it created. Instead of sending nuclear or health experts to assistance the Japanese people in their time of desperate need, US President Barack Obama first sent teams of intelligence agents and FEMA trained military grunts with special security clearances. The Pentagon floated a naval strike force led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan off the coast of Japan: advertised as a ‘humanitarian’ operation, the strike force was repositioned after it was partially irradiated. Can we trust officials and the corporate news media to tell us what is happening in an honest, timely, transparent manner? Are there precedents to the nuclear crisis in Japan? What is the U.S. defense establishment really concerned with here?
Intentional efforts to downplay or dismiss this catastrophe reveal the immaturity of western civilization and some of our most acute human pathologies, including our worship of technology and our psychopathology of denial. The widespread distortion and cover-ups to protect private profits, national and corporate interests, and to fool the people, are unacceptable. Here are some of the deeper whats and whys and hows — some technical issues and the kinds of questions people need to ask — about the nuclear apocalypse unfolding on planet earth. Prayers are not enough. It’s time to call for the resignation of President Barack Obama, to put politics aside, to take personal action to halt nuclear expansion and defend ourselves from our industrial juggernaut.
I know something about technology, and science: I have Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering — with honors — from one of America’s top Engineering schools. Before 1990 I worked in classified programs for General Electric — the maker of the nuclear reactors now irradiating Japan. I worked at GE Aerospace Electronics Laboratories: low-level classified government programs in communications, radars and missile guidance systems for Ronald Reagan’s infamous Star Wars (Strategic Defence Initiative) programs.
I hope that this observer, Keith Harmon Snow, is mistaken about the gravity of the situation. However, given the predictable appearance of many pro-nuclear experts in the mainstream media, I believe that some balancing is in order. Read Snow's full piece at Dissident Voice
Who’s Afraid of Elizabeth Warren?
The next big political battle in Washington -– whenever the budget debate is declared over –- is likely to feature the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and whether Elizabeth Warren will become its first official head.
Ms. Warren was put in charge of establishing the agency by President Obama, but the Treasury retains the powers of the bureau until a permanent director is nominated and confirmed by the Senate — at which point the agency will fall under the authority of the Federal Reserve Board, while operating with a high degree of independence. The president has not yet nominated Ms. Warren to the post nor indicated if he will.
There is much to commend the left vs. right scenario. The Republicans, after all, want to argue that regulation is excessive in general and regulation of financial products is somewhere between unnecessary and dangerous for economic growth in particular.
This theme came up at times during the Dodd-Frank legislative debate on financial regulation last year, but it was largely lost in the larger and more confused conversation.
Now Representative Spencer Bachus, Republican of Alabama, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has Ms. Warren firmly in his sights – with the mortgage settlement negotiations as the flashpoint.
In a recent letter to Secretary Geithner, Mr. Bachus said: “Reports about the role played by political appointees in the Treasury department — including those affiliated” with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “an agency that does not yet have any regulatory or enforcement authority — raise further questions.”
No matter that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau became involved only when the state attorneys general asked for advice. Mr. Bachus is taking the opportunity to follow up on what he said recently: “In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”
read that last quote again. That was uttered by the Democratic Senator who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. And some say that America is well on its way to recovery.
read the rest of Simon Johnson's piece in the NY Times
The topic of Soldier's freedom of speech is a major concern of Ranger's. The Army recently released a 37-page handbook covering online social networking platform communications for Army personnel.
Much of it is common sense, like not using the geo-tagging feature to betray troop location. It is a given that Soldiers should not release sensitive information, but what about the restriction that they may not speak negatively about Commanders or the chain of command? The muzzling of Soldier's opinions on their leadership still sticks in Ranger's craw.
"Soldiers are also cautioned to watch that what they say doesn’t violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice. While social media encourages soldiers to speak freely, soldiers may not speak negatively about commanders or release sensitive information" (Handbook to guide GIs on social media usage)."
Historically, U.S. soldiers have always enjoyed the right to criticize their commanders; this was a reflection of the egalitarian nature of U.S. society. If a unit elects their officers, then unit members obviously were free to comment on both the positive and negative attributes of those officers. Officers in today's Army are still elected by the men, albeit in a different manner.
Any leader that lacks the faith of those under him will end up under the bus; this is a negative election of officers. A popular example is that of Captain Sobel in Stephen Ambrose's The Band of Brothers. The unit, to include the Company's 1st Sergeant, did not accept Sobel as a combat leader and so cast a no-confidence vote which reverberated up to Regiment. When it bounced back down the chain the result was Sobel's transfer. The unit NCO's selected their next leader by cutting Sobel off at the knees.
Examples of soldiers criticizing higher ups abound in history. LTC George Custer's officers actually wrote letters to newspapers criticizing his leadership. With such a history of free expression how have we come to restrict the speech of our soldiers? When did criticism become an illegal activity?
Since we are a nation of laws, what constitutional authority restricts military free speech? Military law is based upon the Constitution, and the basis of that document is that all citizens have the right of free speech. The strength of a democratic Army is that the men know how to think, improvise and act when officers are not present.
Unlike totalitarian armies, we are flexible and individualistic -- a positive feature -- yet now we are telling Soldiers to put a cork in it. We say that we train them to think but then punish them if they do so in written or oral expression.
Why was there only one Lieutenant Watada in opposition to an illegal war? Why did not one other officer refuse to participate in a war of aggression against two nations? If free speech is a guaranteed right of citizens, then it cannot be taken away; if it can be stripped, then it was not a right. If soldier's free speech can be curtailed, why not that of civilians? If the argument is to maintain order in the ranks, then why not the same argument for maintaining a disciplined civilian society?
more from Ranger Against War
The Greatest Rip-Off
The American Empire is failing. A number of its puppet rulers are being overthrown by popular protests, and the almighty dollar will not even buy one Swiss franc, one Canadian dollar, or one Australian dollar. Despite the sovereign debt problem that threatens EU members Greece, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal, it requires $1.38 dollars to buy one euro, a new currency that was issued at parity with the US dollar.
The US dollar's value is likely to fall further in terms of other currencies, because nothing is being done about the US budget and trade deficits. Obama's budget, if passed, doesn't reduce the deficit over the next ten years by enough to cover the projected deficit in the FY 2012 budget.
Indeed, the deficits are likely to be substantially larger than forecast. The military/security complex, about which President Eisenhower warned Americans a half century ago, is more powerful than ever and shows no inclination to halt the wars for US hegemony.
The cost of these wars is enormous. The US media, being good servants for the government, only reports the out-of-pocket or current cost of the wars, which is only about one-third of the real cost. The current cost leaves out the cost of life-long care for the wounded and maimed, the cost of life-long military pensions of those who fought in the wars, the replacement costs of the destroyed equipment, the opportunity cost of the resources wasted in war, and other costs. The true cost of America's illegal Iraq invasion, which was based entirely on lies, fabrications and deceptions, is at least $3,000 billion according to economist Joseph Stiglitz and budget expert Linda Bilmes.
The same for the Afghan war, which is ongoing. If the Afghan war lasts as long as the Pentagon says it needs to, the cost will be a multiple of the cost of the Iraq war.
There is not enough non-military discretionary spending in the budget to cover the cost of the wars even if every dollar is cut. As long as the $1,200 billion ($1.2 trillion) annual budget for the military/security complex is off limits, nothing can be done about the U.S. budget deficit except to renege on obligations to the elderly, confiscate private assets, or print enough money to inflate away all debts.
more from Paul Craig Roberts at Counterpunch
Western Cant on the Middle East
Consider a few facts:
The Obama administration had two years ago stopped all US funds to human rights defenders and civil society groups in Egypt, stipulating that all aid must go through the Mubarak regime
President Karimov of Uzbekistan killed more peaceful demonstrators in a single day in May 2005 than Colonel Gadaffi has done in the Libyan uprising so far. Yet Karimov in the last three months had a visit from Hillary Clinton, a new military supply agreement with the United States and new partnership agreement with NATO, an official visit to the EU in Brussels, and new tarriff preferences for slave picked Uzbek cotton entering the EU. Most people in Uzbekistan have not a clue the arab revolutions are happening, such is state control of meida and internet and blocking of airwaves
In 1991, when the allies embarked on the First Gulf War to retake Kuwait from Iraq, John Major and George Bush sr declared that, rather than simply put the absolute Kuwaiti monarchy back on its throne (which it had unheroically run away from), the price of western soldiers being asked to risk their lives was the democratisation of Kuwait. That was immediately forgotten after the war. Ordinary British, US and other taxpayers paid out billions to put one of the richest families in the world back in sole charge of massive oil reserves. The Kuwaiti royal family still has a total monopoly of executive power, with a talking shop parliament and very limited electorate.
I could go on.
Craig Murraw does, in fact, go on in his blog, and it's worth reading his entire post
A unionized public employee, a member of the Tea Party, and a CEO are sitting at a table. In the middle of the table there is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across, takes 11 cookies, looks at the Tea Partier, and says, "Look out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie."
via tiny revolution
Wall Street Trash
Bob, Frank and Freddie all bought identical houses in the same neighborhood in 2004. Each man paid $300,000 for his home.
Bob paid the whole $300,000 in cash. Frank put down 10% (or $30,000) and took out a $270,000 mortgage. Freddie paid $0-down on a 100% mortgage.
In 2005, home prices rose by 10% which means that Bob made 10% (or $30,000) on his original investment. Frank made 100% on the $30,000 he put down. Freddie made the biggest windfall of all--he made $30,000 in "pure profit".
Question: Which one these three men is most likely to be the banker?
If you guessed "Freddie", you're right. Banks don't like committing capital because it limits profitability. This is why the big banks have fought so ferociously for deregulation, so they're not constrained in the amount of money they can make (via credit creation) with little capital. Of course, when the banking system is propped atop tiny specks of capital, it becomes more wobbly and crisis prone. And, if asset prices suddenly nosedive--as they did when the subprimes exploded--the whole shebang can come crashing down.
The real root of the financial crisis was leverage. The banks were massively over-leveraged (some of them 40 to 1) just like our friend Freddie. This is no longer a matter of dispute. In testimony he gave to the Financial Crisis Investigation Commission (FCIC), Ben Bernanke admitted that 12 of the country's 13 largest banks were underwater.
"If you look at the firms that came under pressure in that period... only one... was not at serious risk of failure," Bernanke told the commission.
So, the banks borrowed too much and were gravely under-capitalized. So when asset prices fell, they were wiped out and the financial system crashed. It was not "the perfect storm" as Wall Street cheerleaders like to say. It was the inevitable outcome of risky behavior. There's nothing unusual about a bank run, especially when the banks are capital-depleted and acting like lunatics.
The housing market would not have collapsed if everyone had acted like Bob. (and paid in cash) In fact, things probably would have been fine if people merely put 10%-down, like Frank. The problem is Freddie. 0-down loans are inherently unsafe because they give the borrower an option to "walk away" if the market tumbles. If housing prices drop 15%, for example, the best business decision for Freddie is to leave the keys on the kitchen counter and find a cheap place to rent. In other words, 0-down creates an incentive to default. And, that's exactly what's happened.
When banks act like Freddie (over-leveraged), the situation is even more dangerous, because a run on the banks can crash the financial system and lead to a Depression. When subprime blew up, institutional investors tried to dump their mortgage-backed securities (MBS) at the same time. Trading stopped as everyone ran for the exits. The secondary market froze and the global financial system suffered a massive heart. Nearly three years later, and the patient is still in ICU on a drip-feed of zero-rates and QE2-nitro.
So, what did the banks learn from that near-death experience?
Nothing. In fact, they've rebuilt the same exact system that blew up less than 3 years ago. And, Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner and Barack Obama have helped them every step of the way.
more from Mike Whitney at counterpunch
Politicians Slash Budget of Watchdog Agencies ... Guaranteeing that Financial Fraud Won't Be Investigated or Prosecuted
As I noted last year, you can tell how interested Congress and the White House are in uncovering the truth by looking at how much money is actually budgeted for investigation:
The government spent $175 million investigating the Challenger space shuttle disaster.
It spent $152 million on the the Columbia disaster investigation.
It spent $30 million investigating the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
And how much has the government authorized for the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission? You know, the commission charged with getting to the bottom of what caused the financial crisis?
Just $8 million.
These figures don't account for inflation. For example, the Challenger investigation cost over $300 million in today's dollars.
You can tell alot about the questions which the government is truly interested in finding answers to by the amount of money it authorizes for the various investigations.
The lack of any real interest in uncovering - let alone prosecuting - financial fraud is again on display.
Specifically, as the Wall Street Journal reports today (via MarketWatch):
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has halted development of a technology program used to flag suspicious trading because of an $11 million cut in its technology budget, increasing rancor within the small agency about how it should spend its money.
Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators
The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in "psychological operations" to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.
The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as "information operations" at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.
"My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave," says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. "I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line."
The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.
The incident offers an indication of just how desperate the U.S. command in Afghanistan is to spin American civilian leaders into supporting an increasingly unpopular war. According to the Defense Department’s own definition, psy-ops – the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors – are supposed to be used exclusively on "hostile foreign groups." Federal law forbids the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans, and each defense authorization bill comes with a "propaganda rider" that also prohibits such manipulation. "Everyone in the psy-ops, intel, and IO community knows you’re not supposed to target Americans," says a veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It’s what you learn on day one."
more from Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone
A Culture of Corruption
When I ask a former federal prosecutor about the propriety of a sitting SEC director of enforcement talking out loud about helping corporate defendants "get answers" regarding the status of their criminal cases, he initially doesn't believe it. Then I send him a transcript of the comment. "I am very, very surprised by Khuzami's statement, which does seem to me to be contrary to past practice — and not a good thing," the former prosecutor says.
Earlier this month, when Sen. Chuck Grassley found out about Khuzami's comments, he sent the SEC a letter noting that the agency's own enforcement manual not only prohibits such "answer getting," it even bars the SEC from giving defendants the Justice Department's phone number. "Should counsel or the individual ask which criminal authorities they should contact," the manual reads, "staff should decline to answer, unless authorized by the relevant criminal authorities." Both the SEC and the Justice Department deny there is anything improper in their new policy of cooperation. "We collaborate with the SEC, but they do not consult with us when they resolve their cases," Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer assured Congress in January. "They do that independently."
Around the same time that Breuer was testifying, however, a story broke that prior to the pathetically small settlement of $75 million that the SEC had arranged with Citigroup, Khuzami had ordered his staff to pursue lighter charges against the megabank's executives. According to a letter that was sent to Sen. Grassley's office, Khuzami had a "secret conversation, without telling the staff, with a prominent defense lawyer who is a good friend" of his and "who was counsel for the company." The unsigned letter, which appears to have come from an SEC investigator on the case, prompted the inspector general to launch an investigation into the charge.
All of this paints a disturbing picture of a closed and corrupt system, a timeless circle of friends that virtually guarantees a collegial approach to the policing of high finance. Even before the corruption starts, the state is crippled by economic reality: Since law enforcement on Wall Street requires serious intellectual firepower, the banks seize a huge advantage from the start by hiring away the top talent. Budde, the former Lehman lawyer, says it's well known that all the best legal minds go to the big corporate law firms, while the "bottom 20 percent go to the SEC." Which makes it tough for the agency to track devious legal machinations, like the scheme to hide $263 million of Dick Fuld's compensation.
"It's such a mismatch, it's not even funny," Budde says.
much more from Matt Taibbi in The Rolling Stone
A Holding Company is a thing where you hand an accomplice the goods while a policeman searches you.
Will Rogers, 1935
Tsunami in Egypt
Until the very last moment, the Israeli leadership tried to keep Hosni Mubarak in power.
It was hopeless. Even the mighty United States was impotent when faced with this tsunami of popular outrage.
In the end it settled for second best: a pro-Western military dictatorship. But will this really be the outcome?
When confronted with a new situation, Obama’s first response is generally admirable.
Then, it seems, second thoughts set in. And third. And fourth. The end result is a 180 degree turn.
When the masses started to gather in Tahrir Square, he reacted exactly like most decent people in the US and, indeed, throughout the world. There was unbounded admiration for those brave young men and women who faced the dreaded Mukhabarat secret police, demanding democracy and human rights.
How could one not admire them? They were non-violent, their demands were reasonable, their actions were spontaneous, they obviously expressed the feelings of the vast majority of the people. Without any organization to speak of, without leadership, they said and did all the right things.
Such a sight is rare in history. No sansculottes screaming for blood, no cold-minded Bolsheviks lurking in the shadows, no Ayatollahs dictating their actions in the name of God.
So Obama loved it. He did not hide his feelings. He practically called on the dictator to give up and go away.
If Obama had stayed this course, the result would have been historic. From being the most hated power in the Arab world, the US would have electrified the Arab masses, the Muslim region, indeed much of the Third World. It could have been the beginning of a completely new era.
I believe that Obama sensed this. His first instincts are always right. In such a situation, a real leader – that rarest of all animals – stands out.
But then came the second thoughts. Small people started to work on him. Politicians, generals, “security experts”, diplomats, pundits, lobbyists, business leaders, all the “experienced” people – experienced in routine affairs – started to weigh in. And, of course, the hugely powerful Israel lobby.
“Are you crazy?” – they admonished him. To forsake a dictator who happens to be our son-of-a-bitch? To tell all our client dictators around the world that we shall forsake them in their hour of need?
How naïve can you get? Democracy in an Arab country? Don’t make us laugh! We know the Arabs! You show them democracy on a platter and they would not know it from baked beans! They always need a dictator to keep them in shape! Especially these Egyptians! Ask the British!
The whole thing is really a conspiracy of the Muslim Brotherhood. Look them up on Google! They are the only alternative. It’s either Mubarak or them. They are the Egyptian Taliban, worse, the Egyptian al-Qaeda. Help the well-meaning democrats to overthrow the regime, and before you know it you will have a second Iran, with an Egyptian Ahmadinejad on Israel’s Southern border, hooking up with Hezbollah and Hamas. The dominos will begin to fall, starting with Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Faced with all these experts, Obama caved in. Again.
More from Uri Avnery
Eight-year-old Juju from Saudi
WikiLeaks has created a new media landscape
WikiLeaks affects one of the key tensions in democracies: the government needs to be able to keep secrets, but citizens need to know what is being done in our name. These requirements are fundamental and incompatible; like the trade-offs between privacy and security, or liberty and equality, different countries in different eras find different ways to negotiate those competing needs.
In the case of state secrets v citizen oversight, however, there is one constant risk: since deciding what is a secret is itself a secret, there is always a risk that the government will simply hide an increasing amount of material of public concern. One response to this risk is the leaker, someone who believes that key elements of political life are being wrongly kept from public view, and who circulates that material on his or her own.
Because this tension between governments and leakers is so important, and because WikiLeaks so dramatically helps leakers, it isn't just a new entrant in the existing media landscape. Its arrival creates a new landscape.
This transformation is under-appreciated. The press often covers WikiLeaks as a series of unfortunate events, one crisis or scandal after another. And Julian Assange, of course, is catnip – brilliant, opinionated, a monocle and a Persian cat away from looking like a Bond villain. The press has covered him as dutifully as any movie star, while paying too little attention to what his invention means about the wider world.
To understand the system WikiLeaks is disrupting, it helps to focus on a key moment of its formation. In 1946, the English-speaking Allies – the UK, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – decided that the pooling of their intelligence efforts set up during the conflict was too useful to end, even though the war had. The result, the blandly named UKUSA Agreement, was in the main a way for those governments to share foreign intelligence with each other.
The pact, however, did have one important domestic effect. It was illegal for those governments to spy on their own citizens. It was not, however, illegal for them to spy on each other's citizens. The agreement provided means for sharing the resulting observations without violating domestic laws.
more from Clay Shirky in The Guardian (U.K.)
DMITRY ORLOV: PEAK OIL LESSONS FROM THE SOVIET UNION
I witnessed the Soviet collapse and then later on I couldn’t help but noticing that something very similar is happening to the United States. So as a matter of public service I’ve tried to warn people of what to expect but I would just like to point out that I’m not any sort of policy wonk or a wanna-be-politician or an activist. All of those things are sort of, very tangential to what I’m interested in which is basically to warn people and equip them for what’s coming up.
The way collapse unfolds is actually very interesting because a lot of it has to do with people’s faith in the status quo. As long as people think that there’s something in it for them, they will cooperate. As soon as they decide that there is nothing in it for them, they will cease to cooperate and the system starts to crumble, cave in on itself. So what we saw in the Soviet Union was a political dysfunction where basically the communist regime was so endemically corrupt and so out to steal as much as they could at the very end that they really didn’t even bother paying attention to whether they kept the system going, the system was basically on autopilot until it crashed. Something similar is happening here where we have people in all branches of government, both political parties, really trying to prop up the financial industry which has really become completely irrelevant to most people in the United States who don’t have savings and are not credit worthy. They’re basically trying to use up people’s savings and use up people’s retirement to prop up this set of institutions that only help the very rich people and these very rich people are only rich on paper, they are long paper. All of them. What they own is pieces of paper with letters and numbers on them, which will turn out to be worthless. So this is all just basically musical chairs and something very similar was happening in the Soviet Union and something like that is happening here.
The reason I started talking about this is because I was frankly very worried about the United States because I saw the United States as not nearly as well prepared for collapse as the Soviet Union. You see, the Russian people never had a great deal of faith in their government or in the system so they grew and gathered a lot of their own food, they relied on private, personal connections, there was a very large grey or black economy that provided most of what people needed. So when the system went away, people had something to hold onto, they had their personal relationships. Also the country was set up in a way that was much more stable with public transportation and with public housing. People were not stranded and people were not dispossessed and put out on the street and evicted. So all of those things allowed the Russians to survive collapse and all of those things are pretty much missing in this country. Most people in this country would pretty much just be out on the street starving unless they have an income, unless they have credit cards or a bank account. They’re just woefully unprepared.
much more from Orlov here
Mubarak Defies a Humiliated America, Emulating Netanyahu
It should be remembered that Egypt’s elite of multi-millionaires has benefited enormously from its set of corrupt bargains with the US and Israel and from the maintenance of a martial law regime that deflects labor demands and pesky human rights critiques. It is no wonder that to defend his billions and those of his cronies, Hosni Mubarak was perfectly willing to order thousands of his security thugs into the Tahrir Square to beat up and expel the demonstrators, leaving 7 dead and over 800 wounded, 200 of them just on Thursday morning.
It might seem surprising that Mubarak was so willing to defy the Obama administration’s clear hint that he sould quickly transition out of power. In fact, Mubarak’s slap in the face of President Obama will not be punished and it is nothing new. It shows again American toothlessness and weakness in the Middle East, and will encourage the enemies of the US to treat it with similar disdain.
much more from Juan Cole
Why Egypt is Burning (hint: not because of access to Twitter)
Cairo is burning. So is Egypt. Twitter is exploding. Everyone seems to have an opinion—many who do have never even been to Egypt but feel a strong sense of solidarity with the most remarkable revolution in a generation, perhaps. A revolution which importantly is not really caused by Twitter or by Facebook—as much as the self congratulatory social networking types in the West would like to believe.
Full disclosure: Sleepless but still sitting in relative comfort in my Manhattan apartment I am one of those relentless tweeters. However my obsession stems from a long love and association with Egypt and the presence of way too many friends who have jumped into the chaos not really knowing what consequences their actions might have for themselves or their friends and families.
I must also be clear. At this point, on this the longest Egyptian night in a generation, perhaps longer—most Western self professed Islam/Middle East and other assorted pundits have no clue about the harsh reality of Egyptian life. Many have probably never taken a walk down Mashriet Nasser, the largest slum in Cairo. This is why the do not realize that this “revolution” is not about social networking and its success. The majority of the 80 million people of Egypt live in abject poverty. They do not even have cell-phones let alone smartphones like the iPhone or the Droid. They go to kiosks to make calls. A pretty substantial number of them have NEVER used the internet and do not have email accounts: the complicated mechanisms of self-promotion and information gathering and sharing on social networks is not a part of their lives—they have never had the money or the resources to get access to this other world which often lives in the relatively more affluent neighborhoods like Zamalek or Garden City or Mohandaseen—all within some walking distance of where the dissent started in Tahrir Square.
The majority of the protesters in Cairo, in Suez, in Alexandria, in Luxor, in Mahla, in Manoura and all over this ancient land which is the very heart of what it means to be Arab—are not “twittering” or “facebooking” or “emailing” or even watching the landmark live coverage that Al-Jazeera is providing. They are out on the streets—and yes, without phone access—risking their lives and giving vent to three decades and perhaps more, of anger.
They are fighting for very basic human rights. They are fighting for affordable food. They are fighting for dignity. They are fighting for accountability. They are fighting to somehow improve the non-existent financial opportunities in their lives.
for from Parvez Sharma
Jeff Immelt’s GE: The Too Biggest To Fail
In my first post on how stupid it was for Obama to pick Jeff Immelt for his election season commission to appear focused on jobs, I looked mostly at how much GE has been outsourcing manufacturing and technology. Though I mentioned GE’s status as another TBTF finance company, I didn’t explain that in depth.
Mike Konczal has a post in which he corrects Joe Klein’s misperception that GE is not another big finance company, and in the process shows how GE was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the government’s bailout of shadow banking in 2008-09.
In it, he shows how GE received the second biggest FDIC debt guarantees of any of the big finance firms, after only Citi. He borrows the graphic at the left from a Raj Date paper that also explains how GE leveraged (heh!) its teeny FDIC insured deposits to get a big debt guarantee.
Only a small fraction of GE Capital’s funding (some $24 billion in the middle of 2008) came through FDIC-insured deposits. Despite that, the structure of the FDIC’s Debt Guaranty Program enabled GE Capital to issue well more than that (more than $50 billion) in unsecured debt that was, in effect, taxpayer-guaranteed. In essence, the program was structured in a way that almost uniquely favored a shadow bank like GE — one with a relatively small depository, but with immense unsecured debt that had been issued by the depository’s affiliates.
Konczal then goes on to cite another paper explaining why this happened: GE used the credit rating it won in its manufacturing business to make a lot of big finance games possible.
more at Fire Dog Lake
The Successful Drug Legalization Experiment in Portugal
In the end, there was no way to ignore the problem, and no way for politicians to spin it, either. Young people across Portugal were injecting themselves with heroin. HIV and Hepatitis C infection rates were soaring. And Casal Ventoso, a neighborhood in Lisbon, had become a dark symbol of this small nation’s immense drug problem. Junkies openly injected themselves in the street, dirty syringes piled up in the gutters, alleyways reeked of garbage and human waste, and no one seemed to care.
“Welcome to Lisbon’s drugs supermarket,” a police officer said to a visitor in 2001, surveying the daily depravity with a shrug. But João Goulão, Portugal’s drug czar, admits now that the police officer was probably understating it. “Casal Ventoso,” Goulão said recently, “was the biggest supermarket of drugs in Europe.”
Faced with both a public health crisis and a public relations disaster, Portugal’s elected officials took a bold step. They decided to decriminalize the possession of all illicit drugs — from marijuana to heroin — but continue to impose criminal sanctions on distribution and trafficking. The goal: easing the burden on the nation’s criminal justice system and improving the people’s overall health by treating addiction as an illness, not a crime.
As the sweeping reforms went into effect nine years ago, some in Portugal prepared themselves for the worst. They worried that the country would become a junkie nirvana, that many neighborhoods would soon resemble Casal Ventoso, and that tourists would come to Portugal for one reason only: to get high. “We promise sun, beaches, and any drug you like,” complained one fearful politician at the time.
But nearly a decade later, there’s evidence that Portugal’s great drug experiment not only didn’t blow up in its face; it may have actually worked. More addicts are in treatment. Drug use among youths has declined in recent years. Life in Casal
Ventoso, Lisbon’s troubled neighborhood, has improved. And new research, published in the British Journal of Criminology, documents just how much things have changed in Portugal. Coauthors Caitlin Elizabeth Hughes and Alex Stevens report a 63 percent increase in the number of Portuguese drug users in treatment and, shortly after the reforms took hold, a 499 percent increase in the
amount of drugs seized — indications, the authors argue, that police officers, freed up from focusing on small-time possession, have been able to target big-time traffickers while drug addicts, no longer in danger of going to prison, have been able to get the help they need.
more from Boston.com
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