Monday, November 30, 2009

"Addicted to Nonsense"

"Addicted to Nonsense"
By Chris Hedges

"Will Tiger Woods finally talk to the police? Who will replace Oprah? (Not that Oprah can ever be replaced, of course.) And will Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the couple who crashed President Barack Obama’s first state dinner, command the hundreds of thousands of dollars they want for an exclusive television interview? Can Levi Johnston, father of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s grandson, get his wish to be a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars”?

The chatter that passes for news, the gossip that is peddled by the windbags on the airwaves, the noise that drowns out rational discourse, and the timidity and cowardice of what is left of the newspaper industry reflect our flight into collective insanity. We stand on the cusp of one of the most seismic and disturbing dislocations in human history, one that is radically reconfiguring our economy as it is the environment, and our obsessions revolve around the trivial and the absurd.

What really matters in our lives—the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the steady deterioration of the dollar, the mounting foreclosures, the climbing unemployment, the melting of the polar ice caps and the awful reality that once the billions in stimulus money run out next year we will be bereft and broke—doesn’t fit into the cheerful happy talk that we mainline into our brains. We are enraptured by the revels of a dying civilization. Once reality shatters the airy edifice, we will scream and yell like petulant children to be rescued, saved and restored to comfort and complacency. There will be no shortage of demagogues, including buffoons like Sarah Palin, who will oblige. We will either wake up to face our stark new limitations, to retreat from imperial projects and discover a new simplicity, as well as a new humility, or we will stumble blindly toward catastrophe and neofeudalism.

Celebrity worship has banished the real from public discourse. And the adulation of celebrity is pervasive. The frenzy around political messiahs, or the devotion of millions of viewers to Oprah, is all part of the yearning to see ourselves in those we worship. We seek to be like them. We seek to make them like us. If Jesus and “The Purpose Driven Life” won’t make us a celebrity, then Tony Robbins or positive psychologists or reality television will. We are waiting for our cue to walk onstage and be admired and envied, to become known and celebrated. Nothing else in life counts.

We yearn to stand before the camera, to be noticed and admired. We build pages on social networking sites devoted to presenting our image to the world. We seek to control how others think of us. We define our worth solely by our visibility. We live in a world where not to be seen, in some sense, is to not exist. We pay lifestyle advisers to help us look and feel like celebrities, to build around us the set for the movie of our own life. Martha Stewart constructed her financial empire, when she wasn’t engaged in insider trading, telling women how to create a set design for the perfect home. The realities within the home, the actual family relationships, are never addressed. Appearances make everything whole. Plastic surgeons, fitness gurus, diet doctors, therapists, life coaches, interior designers and fashion consultants all, in essence, promise to make us happy, to make us celebrities. And happiness comes, we are assured, with how we look, with the acquisition of wealth and power, or at least the appearance of it. Glossy magazines like Town & Country cater to the absurd pretensions of the very rich to be celebrities. They are photographed in expensive designer clothing inside the lavishly decorated set pieces that are their homes. The route to happiness is bound up in how skillfully we present ourselves to the world. We not only have to conform to the dictates of this manufactured vision, but we also have to project an unrelenting optimism and happiness. Hedonism and wealth are openly worshiped on Wall Street as well as on shows such as “The Hills,” “Gossip Girl,” “Sex and the City,” “My Super Sweet 16” and “The Real Housewives of (whatever bourgeois burg happens to be in vogue).”

The American oligarchy—1 percent of whom control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined—are the characters we most envy and watch on television. They live and play in multimillion-dollar mansions. They marry models or professional athletes. They are chauffeured in stretch limos. They rush from fashion shows to movie premieres to fabulous resorts. They have surgically enhanced, perfect bodies and are draped in designer clothes that cost more than some people make in a year. This glittering life is held before us like a beacon. This life, we are told, is the most desirable, the most gratifying. And this is the life we want. Greed is good, we believe, because one day through our acquisitions we will become the elite. So let the rest of the bastards suffer.

The working class, comprising tens of millions of struggling Americans, are locked out of television’s gated community. They are mocked, even as they are tantalized, by the lives of excess they watch on the screen in their living rooms. Almost none of us will ever attain these lives of wealth and power. Yet we are told that if we want it badly enough, if we believe sufficiently in ourselves, we too can have everything. We are left, when we cannot adopt these impossible lifestyles as our own, with feelings of inferiority and worthlessness. We have failed where others have succeeded.

We consume these countless lies daily. We believe the false promises that if we spend more money, if we buy this brand or that product, if we vote for this candidate, we will be respected, envied, powerful, loved and protected. The flamboyant lives of celebrities and the outrageous characters on television, movies, professional wrestling and sensational talk shows are peddled to us, promising to fill up the emptiness in our own lives. Celebrity culture encourages everyone to think of themselves as potential celebrities, as possessing unique if unacknowledged gifts. Faith in ourselves, in a world of make-believe, is more important than reality. Reality, in fact, is dismissed and shunned as an impediment to success, a form of negativity. The New Age mysticism and pop psychology of television personalities and evangelical pastors, along with the array of self-help best-sellers penned by motivational speakers, psychiatrists and business tycoons, peddle this fantasy. Reality is condemned in these popular belief systems as the work of Satan, as defeatist, as negativity or as inhibiting our inner essence and power. Those who question, those who doubt, those who are critical, those who are able to confront reality, along with those who grasp the hollowness and danger of celebrity culture, are condemned for their pessimism or intellectualism.

The illusionists who shape our culture, and who profit from our incredulity, hold up the gilded cult of Us. Popular expressions of religious belief, personal empowerment, corporatism, political participation and self-definition argue that all of us are special, entitled and unique. All of us, by tapping into our inner reserves of personal will and undiscovered talent, by visualizing what we want, can achieve, and deserve to achieve, happiness, fame and success. This relentless message cuts across ideological lines. This mantra has seeped into every aspect of our lives. We are all entitled to everything. And because of this self-absorption, and deep self-delusion, we have become a country of child-like adults who speak and think in the inane gibberish of popular culture.

Celebrities who come from humble backgrounds are held up as proof that anyone can be adored by the world. These celebrities, like saints, are examples that the impossible is always possible. Our fantasies of belonging, of fame, of success and of fulfillment are projected onto celebrities. These fantasies are stoked by the legions of those who amplify the culture of illusion, who persuade us that the shadows are real. The juxtaposition of the impossible illusions inspired by celebrity culture and our “insignificant” individual achievements, however, is leading to an explosive frustration, anger, insecurity and invalidation. It is fostering a self-perpetuating cycle that drives the frustrated, alienated individual with even greater desperation and hunger away from reality, back toward the empty promises of those who seduce us, who tell us what we want to hear. The worse things get, the more we beg for fantasy. We ingest these lies until our faith and our money run out. And when we fall into despair we medicate ourselves, as if the happiness we have failed to find in the hollow game is our deficiency. And, of course, we are told it is.

I spent two years traveling the country to write a book on the Christian right called “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.” I visited former manufacturing towns where for many the end of the world is no longer an abstraction. Many have lost hope. Fear and instability have plunged the working class into profound personal and economic despair, and, not surprisingly, into the arms of demagogues and charlatans of the radical Christian right who offer a belief in magic, miracles and the fiction of a utopian Christian nation. Unless we rapidly re-enfranchise these dispossessed workers, insert them back into the economy, unless we give them hope, these demagogues will rise up to take power. Time is running out. The poor can dine out only so long on illusions. Once they grasp that they have been betrayed, once they match the bleak reality of their future with the fantasies they are fed, once their homes are foreclosed and they realize that the jobs they lost are never coming back, they will react with a fury and vengeance that will snuff out the remains of our anemic democracy and usher in a new dark age."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Intel: Chips in brains will control computers by 2020"

"Intel: Chips in brains will control computers by 2020"
By Sharon Gaudin

"By the year 2020, you won't need a keyboard and mouse to control your computer, say Intel Corp. researchers. Instead, users will open documents and surf the Web using nothing more than their brain waves.

Scientists at Intel's research lab in Pittsburgh are working to find ways to read and harness human brain waves so they can be used to operate computers, television sets and cell phones. The brain waves would be harnessed with Intel-developed sensors implanted in people's brains.

The scientists say the plan is not a scene from a sci-fi movie -- Big Brother won't be planting chips in your brain against your will. Researchers expect that consumers will want the freedom they will gain by using the implant.

'I think human beings are remarkable adaptive,' said Andrew Chien, vice president of research and director of future technologies research at Intel Labs. "If you told people 20 years ago that they would be carrying computers all the time, they would have said, 'I don't want that. I don't need that.' Now you can't get them to stop [carrying devices]. There are a lot of things that have to be done first but I think [implanting chips into human brains] is well within the scope of possibility."

Intel research scientist Dean Pomerleau told Computerworld that users will soon tire of depending on a computer interface, and having to fish a device out of their pocket or bag to access it. He also predicted that users will tire of having to manipulate an interface with their fingers.

Instead, they'll simply manipulate their various devices with their brains.

"We're trying to prove you can do interesting things with brain waves," said Pomerleau. "Eventually people may be willing to be more committed ... to brain implants. Imagine being able to surf the Web with the power of your thoughts."

To get to that point Pomerleau and his research teammates from Intel, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, are currently working on decoding human brain activity.

Pomerleau said the team has used Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) machines to determine that blood flow changes in specific areas of the brain based on what word or image someone is thinking of. People tend to show the same brain patterns for similar thoughts, he added.

For instance, if two people think of the image of a bear or hear the word bear or even hear a bear growl, a neuroimage would show similar brain activity. Basically, there are standard patterns that show up in the brain for different words or images.

Pomerleau said researchers are close to gaining the ability to build brain sensing technology into a head set that could be used to manipulate a computer. The next step is development of a tiny, far less cumbersome sensor that could be implanted inside the brain.

Such brain research isn't limited to Intel and its university partners.

Almost two years ago, scientists in the U.S. and Japan announced that a monkey's brain was used to to control a humanoid robot. Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of neurobiology at Duke University and lead researcher on the project, said that researchers were hoping its work would help paralyzed people walk again.

And a month before that, a scientist at the University of Arizona reported that he had successfully built a robot that is guided by the brain and eyes of a moth. Charles Higgins, an associate professor at the university, predicted that in 10 to 15 years people will be using 'hybrid' computers running a combination of technology and living organic tissue.

Today, Intel's Pomerleau said various research facilities are developing technologies to sense activity from inside the skull.

"If we can get to the point where we can accurately detect specific words, you could mentally type," he added. "You could compose characters or words by thinking about letters flashing on the screen or typing whole words rather than their individual characters."

Pomerleau also noted that the more scientists figure out about the brain, it will help them design better microprocessors. He said, 'If we can see how the brain does it, then we could build smarter computers.'"

"Intel Wants Brain Implants in Customers' Heads by 2020"

"Intel Wants Brain Implants in Customers' Heads by 2020"
By Jeremy Hsu

"If the idea of turning consumers into true cyborgs sounds creepy, don't tell Intel researchers. Intel's Pittsburgh lab aims to develop brain implants that can control all sorts of gadgets directly via brain waves by 2020. The scientists anticipate that consumers will adapt quickly to the idea, and indeed crave the freedom of not requiring a keyboard, mouse, or remote control for surfing the Web or changing channels. They also predict that people will tire of multi-touch devices such as our precious iPhones, Android smart phones and even Microsoft's wacky Surface Table.

Turning brain waves into real-world tech action still requires some heavy decoding of brain activity. The Intel team has already made use of fMRI brain scans to match brain patterns with similar thoughts across many test subjects. Plenty of other researchers have also tinkered in this area. Toyota recently demoed a wheelchair controlled with brainwaves, and University of Utah researchers have created a wireless brain transmitter that allows monkeys to control robotic arms.

There are still more implications to creating a seamless brain interface, besides having more cyborgs running around. If scientists can translate brain waves into specific actions, there's no reason they could not create a virtual world with a full spectrum of activity tied to those brain waves. That's right - we're seeing Matrix creep."

Eric Hoffer

"Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there."

- Eric Hoffer

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Thanksgiving: A Time To Imagine"

"Thanksgiving: A Time To Imagine"
By Frank Joseph Smecker

"Imagine if aliens from a galaxy light-years from Earth, decide to seek out a New World. Imagine they discover Earth, it’s the New World, they assume. And they pursue a relentless campaign of occupation, colonizing the planet. One by one, these aliens systematically remove, with much violent force, the people of the planet, starting with the First World dominant culture, because, of course, they’ll want what that culture has: access to the land and resources which that culture controls. Imagine these aliens succeed with such a crusade, centuries later marking the genocide with an annual feast celebrating a deluded history that claims they were embraced with much alacrity and congeniality, that, while they were killing off human beings to clear the way for their own culture, human beings weren’t fighting back but teaching them how to make mashed potatoes and gravy and pies and roast turkey and things. “C’mon, Frank…” you’re probably saying, “this is a bit too much, don’t you think?”

I know, I know, so this scenario is a bit kooky. Such a concept is a little too bonkers for the sociological imagination. Okay. Fine. Let’s try it another way.

Imagine if white settlers from a continent 3,325 miles from the eastern shorelines of an already inhabited continent, decided to seek out a New World putatively, circa 1620 AD. Imagine they discover “America,” it’s the New World, they assume. And they pursue a relentless campaign of occupation, colonizing the continent. One by one, these settlers systematically remove, with much violent force, the people of the North American continent, starting with the indigenous nations of the east, because, of course, they’ll want what those cultures have: access to the land and "resources" which those cultures inhabit and employ sustainably. Imagine these settlers succeeded with such a crusade, centuries later marking the genocide with an annual feast celebrating a deluded history that claims they were embraced with much alacrity and congeniality, that, while they were killing off the native indigenous to clear the way for their own culture, natives weren’t fighting back but teaching them how to make mashed potatoes and gravy and pies and roast turkey and things.

There. Not so crazy now, is it?

“About three-quarters of all adult Indians suffer alcoholism and/or other forms of substance abuse. This is not a ‘genetic condition.’ It is a desperate, collective attempt to escape our horrible reality since ‘America's Triumph.’ It's no mystery why Indians don't observe Thanksgiving. The real question is why do you feast rather than fast on what should be a national day of mourning and atonement. Before digging into your turkey and dressing on Nov. 23, you might wish to glance in a mirror and see if you can come up with an answer.” -- Ward Churchill

“One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting.” -- Robert Jensen

"We suffer from a poverty level of 69 percent, which must be unimaginable to many people in this country, who would equate a situation such as this to one found only in Third World countries." -- Tribal Chairwoman Kathleen W. Kitcheya speaking about the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

“Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword, some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived that they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.” -- William Bradford, a settler, describing Captain John Mason's attack on a Pequot village.

This Thanksgiving, rather than thoughtlessly stuffing yourself with food and then sauntering over to the couch for some postprandial football, think about how you can play your part in stopping the dominant culture from removing more indigenous cultures from their landbases to extract raw materials for industry that is destroying the planet’s ecological and climatic infrastructure."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Ukraine flu turns into black lung epidemic, kills 12 in one day"

"Ukraine flu turns into black lung epidemic, kills 12 in one day"
By Andrew Moran

"Over the last month, only a handful of news outlets have reported on the recent health crisis occurring in Ukraine, which has now infected.4 million people with the mysterious influenza and now three viruses have mutated into a plague.

Earlier this month, Digital Journal reported that three quarters (480,000) of the Ukrainian population contracted the mysterious virus but recent reports suggest that 1.4 million have received the unknown influenza, according to The Business Insider.
Ukrainian scientists are concerned that the virus, which some believe to be the swine flu, may have mutated because doctors are finding their patients experiencing a burning sensation and blackened lungs, states National Terror Alert.

One doctor said, according to the Daily Express, “We have carried out post mortems on two victims and found their lungs are as black as charcoal. They look like they have been burned. It’s terrifying.”

The death toll by the influenza strain is at 328 and on Wednesday 12 people died in a period of 24 hours. Ukraine fears that it may potentially spread to neighboring nations and create a full continental epidemic. Countries such as Russi and Poland have launched health checks on Ukrainians entering their country. The government is searching frantically to find $125 million to combat the disease.

President Viktor Yuschenko stated in a television interview, “People are dying. The epidemic is killing doctors. This is absolutely inconceivable in the 21st Century. Unlike similar epidemics in other countries, three causes of serious viral infections came together simultaneously in Ukraine – two seasonal flus and the Californian flu. “We have sent the analyses to Kiev. We don’t believe it’s H1N1 swine flu. Neither do we know what kind of pneumonia it is.”

As Russia Today notes, Vladimir Putin has ordered Russia’s Ministry of Health and Social Development to provide humanitarian aid in the form of $800,000 to buy medication. It further adds that 22 other countries have sent aid to the eastern European country.

There have been several theories floating around Ukraine and across the globe. One of them being that a low-level aircraft sprayed different regions of the country and Australia TO reports that there has been no scientific proof that the deaths or diseases have been related to H1N1 Influenza A.

Another theory is that pharmaceutical company, Baxter International, is plotting to spread a plague from Baxter’s Ukrainian laboratory. This possibility came from bio-scientist, Joseph Moshe, who worked within Mossad and has dual citizenship within the United States and Israel. He contacted a radio show warning people and later he was arrested by the LAPD/SWAT, FBI and the Secret Service. The trio pepper-sprayed the man and sent him to a California mental hospital.

Wayne Madsen, an investigative reporter told Russia Today, “It should be called a Jurassic Flu – the DNA of a woman who died in 1918 Spanish flu was recovered from her corpse. The DNA was used to recreate this virus and some of the individuals, especially of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, are now involved in a process to develop the vaccine for H1N1. I don’t think it takes a detective very much time to figure out what could be a ‘cause and effect’ relationship there.”"

Personal Comment: Asside of in Russia, why has this not been covered by the mainstream media? I thought doom and gloom increases viewership... Am I missing something here? What is going on?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mark Morford, "The Lethal Injection College Fund"

"The Lethal Injection College Fund"
Here's one billion dollars. Kill a few people, or help thousands?
By Mark Morford

"Here's a modestly clever idea that will never come to pass in a thousand years because it's absolutely not the way modern life or America work right now, but it's nevertheless all sorts of delightfully ironic fun to ponder anyway.

I'm reading a bit about how our fine, God-loving nation just executed John Allen Muhammad, aka the Washington D.C. sniper, injected his remorseless flesh with a megadose of sodium pentothal as dozens of people actually chose to sit behind a glass wall and watch him writhe and twitch and die sans any final statement or single sign of penitence or satisfying explanation as to his murderous actions.

If you like, you can read the story right now on this fair site, and then jump to the bottom where you will certainly find a reeking cesspool of some of the most nasty, disturbing anonymous comments from fine, God-fearing Americans, and then proceed calmly to feeling utterly soiled, disgusted and sad about the human race as a whole.

Here's a better idea: Skip that, and instead check out the recent study from the Death Penalty Information Center, which states that after all court costs, fees and various social machinations are factored in, the average death sentence costs each state that supports it about $30 million per inmate, running well into hundreds of millions in wasted taxpayer dollars every year.

I say 'wasted' because the study proves that, even from a simple economic perspective, the death penalty is ridiculous and culturally debilitating, and the various states in question could save hundreds of millions a year simply by locking the prisoner up for life.

To be honest, the first idea to occur to me wasn't even all that clever. I initially wondered what would happen if you took, say, 30 of the nastiest, most hateful, eye-for-an-eye death penalty supporters and anonymous commenters in America today, and made them the following offer:

I will hereby give each of you $1 million if you agree that we will not kill this insane, murderous criminal, and instead just let him rot in prison for the rest of his life without a chance of parole. A million bucks, all for you. Or, we kill him, waste the $30 million and you get nothing.

Do you know how many would accept? Of course you do. All of them. Which means, for most, support of the death penalty is no serious moral conviction at all; it's merely an ugly, black hunk of reactionary spittle, the bleak human vengeance synapse writ large, something reptilian and small and just about as far from our often hypocritical concepts of God and forgiveness, compassion and understanding, as you can possibly get.

Thankfully, this admittedly spiteful thought soon passed and quickly led to the wider idea I mentioned at the top of this column. Do you know what $30 million can buy these days? What your average cash-strapped urban playground could do with that kind of money, particularly during a recession?

Here's my simple and semi-obvious idea: what if Washington D.C. had taken the same $30 million, and instead of killing a single remorseless criminal, created upwards of 600 full-ride college scholarships for lower-income or minority students, at 50 grand each.

In other words, for every criminal a given state is seeking to execute -- like, for example, the Fort Hood killer, who they say might well be eligible for the death penalty -- we take the same tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and send hundreds of kids through college instead, kids who otherwise would never have been able to afford it and in fact might've ended up on the streets or in prison.

We'll call it the Lethal Injection College Fund. It shall, by its very existence, do nothing less than completely transform the ugly American revenge impulse into something celebratory and optimistic. We shall transmute a brutal crime into a glimmer of hope and possibility. From dark to light. From excrement, flowers. From our most violent nightmares, a hint of grace. What a thing.

In 2008, the United States executed about 30 males, all by lethal injection, unless they lived in South Carolina, in which case it was electrocution preceded by being forced to stare for two full weeks at a poster of Lindsay Graham. Horrible.

That's nearly $1 billion in taxpayer money wasted last year alone across the U.S. -- mostly in the South -- just to kill a few criminals, just to keep alive a vile and primitive idea that's proven to be not the slightest deterrent to violent crime, and only puts us on par with some of the world's most cruel and sadistic third-world nations. Theoretically, that's 18,000 kids we could've put through college. One dead criminal, or 18,000 educated kids. What a choice.

Did you note the fascinating kicker regarding the Lethal Injection College Fund? The amazing twist? Among those theoretical 18,000, it's a safe bet that, had it not been for the LICF, many would've eventually wound up in prison themselves, a few probably on death row. Translation: One violent criminal saves countless potential future criminals from the same fate. There's a karmic lesson in there somewhere.

Do not misunderstand. I am well aware of the utter absurdity of this idea, not to mention that you could take the same simplistic formula and apply it just about anywhere -- for example, say, flipping the insane cost of a single U.S. military fighter jet (also about $30 million, ironically) into how many homeless puppies could be saved if we used that money for shelters. I realize that the economy simply does not work this way.

Unless it does. Because of course, the death penalty has a special, particularly nasty tang. It is no weapon for peace. It is no advancement of the human experiment. It only serves to devolve, regress, keep us low and brutal and mean.

I would like to report that we are nearing the end of the reactionary bloodlust phase of the American experiment, that, with the Obama-inspired resurgence of positivism and the concomitant lessening of the bogus, pseudo-cowboy American fantasy, the dark energy that seems to welcome the death penalty is lessening, and it feels as if we are about to join the rest of the civilized world in rejecting this inhumane, animalistic practice.

But of course, I can't possibly say such a thing. We are nowhere near that point. Not when 65 percent of Americans still support the death penalty, bullets are sold out across the land, and millions absolutely refuse to evolve past paranoia and fear and vengeance, the ugliest of American cornerstones and the most clenched, spiritually bereft aspects of our national identity.

And now, John Allen Muhammad is dead, and no one anywhere feels the slightest bit better, not really, not if they're honest, not if they truly look their god in the eye and try to justify this dark, spirtually bereft human impulse. And, oh yes, 600 hypothetical kids will now never go to college.
Oh well. It was all just a silly fantasy anyway."

Ship Pollute Substantially More Than Cars

Staggering statistic: 16 of the world’s largest ships can produce as much lung-clogging sulphur pollution as all the world’s cars.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ecology: "Plants Have a Social Life, Too"

"Plants Have a Social Life, Too"
By Brandon Keim

"After decades of seeing plants as passive recipients of fate, scientists have found them capable of behaviors once thought unique to animals. Some plants even appear to be social, favoring family while pushing strangers from the neighborhood.

Research into plant sociality is still young, with many questions unanswered. But it may change how people conceive of the floral world, and provide new ways of raising productivity on Earth’s maxed-out farmlands.

'When I was in school, researchers assumed that some plants were better or worse than others at getting resources, but they were blind to the whole social situation,' said Susan Dudley, a McMaster University biologist. 'I went looking for it, and to my shock, found it. And we’ve found more of it since.'

In a paper published in the November American Journal of Botany, Dudley describes how Impatiens pallida, a common flowering plant, devotes less energy than usual to growing roots when surrounded by relatives. In the presence of genetically unrelated Impatiens, individuals grow their roots as fast as they can.

Acknowledging relatives in this way is an example of kin recognition. It’s common in the animal world, and is a precursor to kin selection, in which animals help their familial group, not just themselves. Dudley thinks plants have kin selection, too. It’s a controversial idea, but that it’s even being debated shows how far research into plant sociality has come.

When Dudley was in school in the 1980s, the very idea of plant sociality was practically taboo among scientists. It had burst into popular consciousness a decade earlier with the publication of The Secret Life of Plants, a New Age classic which also discussed orgones and dowsing. Later studies on 'talking trees' went unreplicated, and the idea fell into disrepute.

But even if full-blown sentience was a silly idea, research on plant communication gathered. Much of it described how plants defended themselves, producing toxins and concentrating resources on their immune systems when unrelated neighboring plants were eaten. That clearly involved some sort of chemical signaling. Further studies conclusively showed plants were able to recognize themselves. Whether plants might respond to their relatives became a legitimate and intriguing question.

The answer isn’t only of concern to people with imaginations stirred by thoughts of chatting flora. It could provide a whole new perspective on plant behavior and evolution. By providing insights that improve agricultural productivity, studies of kin recognition could literally bear fruit.

'We know that in the animal world, kin recognition and selection plays a very important role for family structure, altruistic behavior and those kinds of things,' said Hans de Kroon, a plant ecologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands. 'It’s so prominent in the animal literature. Once we start to discover that plants can recognize their kin, there’s a whole set of hypotheses we can apply to studying plants, that nobody ever thought to.'

The field’s landmark paper came from Dudley’s laboratory in 2007, when she showed how American searocket plants accelerated their root growth when placed in pots of strangers, but slowed it down when potted with siblings. Were they animals, they’d be described as sharing water and food.

In a Communicative and Integrative Biology paper published in October, University of Delaware biologists Harsh Bais and Meredith Biedrzycki tried to isolate the means of recognition by exposing Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings, each in its own pot, to root secretions from other Arabidopsis plants. The signal indeed proved to be in the roots — and just as Dudley had seen, growth patterns varied according to whether secretions came from genetically unrelated plants, or family.

Intriguingly, the plants in Dudley’s latest study were potted separately and unexposed to each others’ secretions, suggesting that their leaves emit chemical signals, as well as their roots. That’s supported by the research of University of California, Davis ecologist Richard Karban, who in a June Ecology Letters study showed that sagebrush boosts its immune system when exposed to the damaged cuttings of a related plant. It seems to hear warnings from its kin.

More studies are needed to show exactly what sort of benefits are provided by these signaling and response systems. De Kroon said kin recognition doesn’t necessarily mean kin selection: maybe the plants are communicating, but it doesn’t do them much good in practice.

One of Dudley’s students, Amanda File, is now studying whether some trees favor their own progeny, which might grow best near their parents. Dudley and graduate student Guillermo Murphy, a co-author of the American Journal of Botany paper, are looking for for kin selection in invasive plants.

'We’re testing the hypothesis that invasive plants evolve greater altruism within their populations, allowing them to be better invaders of their new habitats,' said Dudley.

For plants used in agriculture, Dudley recommends kin recognition studies to see whether certain arrangements of relatives and strangers would be especially productive. De Kroon is looking at multi-species mixes. Karban hopes to use communication insights to engineer natural defense systems against pests.

'Maybe we thought before that only humans could do certain things, or vertebrates, or animals,' said Karban. 'Plants are capable of much more sophisticated behavior than we assumed.'"

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Vandana Shiva, Seeding Deep Democracy"

In relation to the post on the corporate takeover of seeds, here is a very informative video.

"UN Food Expert Warns of Danger of Limiting Seed Varieties"

"UN food expert warns of danger of limiting seed varieties"
By Jocelyne Sambira

"The United Nations food expert on Wednesday warned the dominance of commercialized seed varieties over traditionally grown seeds many farmers in developing countries depend on poses a danger.

Olivier de Shutter believes that these two seed systems should co-exist because they have very different and useful functions.

The improved commercialized seeds can increase yields, and nutritional value and are more resistant to disease, while traditional seeds may work better in certain environments.

Adopting a commercial seed system exclusively, Oliver de Schutter says, may come as a mixed blessing.

'It may lead to less stable incomes because farmers are led to develop uniform crops and therefore they are less resilient against attacks of insects or disease. It may lead to farmer becoming dependent on seeds which they have to buy every year since these seeds are protected by intellectual property rights and this dependency must be seen in the light of a very significantly increased concentration in the input provider sector.'

The UN expert also fears farmers may become economically dependent on the few companies that produce the seeds, thus giving them a monopoly.

65 percent of the maize market, he adds, is controlled by only three companies.

Those with intellectual property rights will flood the markets with their subsidized seeds, and threaten the very existence of traditional farmers who do not have access to them."

R. D. Laing

"Our behavior is a function of our experience. We act according to the way we see things. If our experience is destroyed, our behavior will be destructive. If our experience is destroyed, we have lost our own selves."

- R. D. Laing

"Hell Comes Home"

"Hell Comes Home"
Killing is the ultimate traumatic experience
By Robert C. Koehler

"There’s no armor, it turns out, for conscience.

So our men and women are coming home from the killing fields wounded in their heads, used up, greeted only by the military’s own meat grinder of inadequate health care and intolerance for 'weakness.'

'Frankly, in my more than 25 years of clinical practice, I’ve never seen such immense emotional suffering and psychological brokenness.' This is what whistleblower psychiatrist Kernan Manion wrote recently to President Obama about his experience counseling Marines at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, as reported by Salon.

In September, Manion, having been told to 'cease and desist all further correspondence with the government,' was fired by the Navy for his urgent, outspoken communiqués about the mental-health minefield the military has on its hands. Two months later, of course, the issue of PTSD was blown into the national headlines by the massacre at Fort Hood. And a day after that, according to Salon, the body of a Marine was found at Camp Lejeune and a fellow Marine was arrested for the murder.

The wars we fight keep getting worse, or seem at any rate to back up on us with an ever-intensifying fury. Our war on terror is tightening the psychological vise on our collective insecurity, beginning with the soldiers who are fighting it. Salon, citing official figures, reported that 42 Marines committed suicide in 2008 and 146 attempted to do so.

Even more disturbing in terms of national security, 121 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, in all service branches, had been charged with murder as of 2008, according to a New York Times report. This statistic was cited in a recent Mother Jones article about Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s bill, the 'Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act,' which would ease mental-health restrictions on vets’ ability to buy guns.

This disturbing bill does not give psychologically wounded vets the help they need, but it certainly reflects the ignorance and arrogance of militarism, which perpetually organizes itself around an “enemy” somewhere out there stalking us. Those trapped in this mindset can imagine security only in relation to their power over this enemy, which leads them, and everyone else, into a vicious spiral of armed preparation, violence and counter-violence.

What we fail to notice in our rage and fear is that violence — not the violence we endure but the violence we perpetrate — dehumanizes us. Killing is the ultimate traumatic experience.

'In the military, you’re trained to shoot at a target, but sometimes the humanity of that target intrudes, and people come to question what they’ve done,' said Dr. Shira Maguen (putting it, I would say, mildly). Maguen is a staff psychologist at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and lead author of a recent study of the factors causing PTSD, conducted in conjunction with the University of California, San Francisco. The study, published in the October 2009 issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress, used data from 1,200 veterans of the Vietnam War. It found, much to the researchers’ surprise, that 'the negative psychological effects of killing' made all other factors pale in comparison.

Here’s how it looks before the humanity intrudes: 'One morning, a few months before leaving, I was manning a machine-gun security post. I saw a Humvee come through the gate towing a blue mini-pickup. As they approached closer, I saw that the truck was riddled with bullets and shrapnel — full of dead insurgents, decapitated corpses. I’ll never forget this. A very young PFC in the back of the truck lifted a decapitated head. ‘We really f---ed these guys up, didn’t we?’ Other soldiers were celebrating on top of the bodies. (The dead were) mostly teenage boys from the local community.'

These words of Iraq War vet Jeffrey Smith were just a small shard of the four days of horrific testimony about this war — about the racism and cultural ignorance of our occupation, about the inhumanity of military culture, about America’s official disregard for human life — given by vets at the Winter Soldier gathering a year and a half ago in Silver Spring, Md.

The authors of the PTSD study emphasized, according to a University of California news release, that their results had a harrowing relevance for the troops currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Previous research, they noted, indicates that “up to 65 percent of service members returning from the war in Iraq report killing an enemy combatant, and up to 28 percent report being responsible for the death of a noncombatant.”

I fear that the war on terror is just starting to come home, just starting to haunt us. What we’ve done to the Iraqis and Afghanis, we’ve also done to ourselves. Every vet with serious PTSD is trapped in his or her personal Abu Ghraib, and a few — getting no help from their own chain of command, except maybe redeployment — will try to shoot their way out.

Of far more worry to the militarized sector are those who decide to join Jeffrey Smith and the other Winter Solider truth-tellers. He concluded his testimony: 'I apologize to the Iraqi people for what we did.'"

"Life Happens"

Life happens, I'm once again going to be away briefly. I'm very pleased and thankful that my co-host, Teddy Grahams, will carry on in my absence. "See" you all soon.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Derrick Jensen, "Playing for Keeps"

"Playing for Keeps"
Would we listen to nature if our lives depended on it?
By Derrick Jensen

"PEOPLE WHO READ MY WORK often say, 'Okay, so it’s clear you don’t like this culture, but what do you want to replace it?' The answer is that I don’t want any one culture to replace this culture. I want ten thousand cultures to replace this culture, each one arising organically from its own place. That’s how humans inhabited the planet (or, more precisely, their landbases, since each group inhabited a place, and not the whole world, which is precisely the point), before this culture set about reducing all cultures to one.

I live on Tolowa (Indian) land. Prior to the arrival of the dominant culture, the Tolowa lived here for 12,500 years, if you believe the myths of science. If you believe the myths of the Tolowa, they lived here since the beginning of time. This story may sound familiar, but its significance has, thus far, been lost on the dominant culture, so it bears repeating: when the first settlers arrived here maybe 180 years ago, the place was a paradise. Salmon ran in runs so thick you couldn’t see the bottoms of rivers, so thick people were afraid to put their boats in for fear they would capsize, so thick they would keep people awake at night with the slapping of their tails against the water, so thick you could hear the runs for miles before you could see them. Whales were commonplace in the nearby ocean. Forests were thick with frogs, newts, salamanders, birds, elk, bears. And of course huge ancient redwood trees.

Now I count myself blessed when I see two salmon in what we today call Mill Creek. Another Tolowa staple, Pacific lampreys, are in bad shape. Just three years ago you could not hold a human conversation outside at night in the spring, and now I hear maybe five or six frogs at night. Salamanders, newts, songbirds, all are equivalently gone. The rivers are poisoned with pesticides and herbicides. All in less than two centuries.

Why? Or, perhaps more important, how?

Only the most arrogant and ignorant among us would say something that implies that all humans are destructive, and that the dominant (white) culture is the most destructive simply because somehow indigenous peoples around the world were too stupid to invent backhoes and chainsaws, too backward to dominate their human and nonhuman neighbors with the efficiency and viciousness of the dominant culture. They might even try to argue that the Tolowa weren’t actually living sustainably, even though they lived here for at least 12,500 years. But when 12,500 years of living in place won’t convince them, it becomes pretty clear that evidence is secondary, and that there are, rather, ideological reasons the person cannot accept that humans have ever lived sustainably. One of these ideological reasons is very clear: if you can convince yourself that humans are inherently destructive, then you allow yourself the most convenient of all excuses not to work to stop this culture from destroying the planet: it’s simply in our nature to destroy, and you can’t fight biology, so let’s not fuss about all these little extinctions, and could someone please pass the TV remote? It’s an odious position, but a lot of people take it.

If we want to stop this culture from killing the planet, we might instead try asking how so many indigenous cultures lived in place for so long without destroying their landbases.

There are many differences between indigenous and nonindigenous ways of being in the world, but I want to mention two here. The first is that the indigenous had and have serious long-term relationships with the plants and animals with whom they share their landscape. Ray Rafael, who has written extensively on the concept of wilderness, has said that Native Americans hunted, gathered, and fished 'using methods that would be sustainable over centuries and even millennia. They did not alter their environment beyond what could sustain them indefinitely. They did not farm, but they managed the environment. But it was different from the way that people try to manage it now, because they stayed in relationship with it.'

That last phrase is key. What would a society look like that was planning on being in that particular place five hundred years from now? What would an economics look like? If you knew for a fact that your descendants five hundred years from now would live on the same landbase you inhabit now, how would that affect your relationship to sources of water? How would that affect your relationship with topsoil? With forests? Would you produce waste products that are detrimental to the soil? Would you poison your water sources (or allow them to be poisoned)? Would you allow global warming to continue? If the very lives of your children and their children depended on your current actions—and of course they do—how would you act differently than you do?

The other difference I want to mention—and essentially every traditional indigenous person with whom I have ever spoken has said that it is the fundamental difference between western and indigenous peoples—is that even the most open Westerners view listening to the natural world as a metaphor, as opposed to something real. I asked American Indian writer Vine Deloria about this, and he said, 'I think the primary thing is that Indians experience and relate to a living universe, whereas Western people, especially science, reduce things to objects, whether they’re living or not. The implications of this are immense. If you see the world around you as made up of objects for you to manipulate and exploit, not only is it inevitable that you will destroy the world by attempting to control it, but perceiving the world as lifeless robs you of the richness, beauty, and wisdom of participating in the larger pattern of life.' That brings to mind a great line by a Canadian lumberman: 'When I look at trees I see dollar bills.' If when you look at trees, you see dollar bills, you’ll treat them one way. If when you look at trees, you see trees, you’ll treat them differently. If when you look at this particular tree you see this particular tree, you’ll treat it differently still. The same is true for salmon, and, of course, for women: if when I look at women I see objects, I’m going to treat them one way. If when I look at women I see women, I’ll treat them differently. And if when I look at this particular woman I see this particular woman, I’ll treat her differently still.

Here’s where people usually ask, 'Okay, so how do I listen to the natural world?' When people ask me this, I always begin by asking them if they have ever made love. If so, I ask whether the other person always had to say, 'put this here,' or 'do that now,' or did they sometimes read their lover’s body, listen to the unspoken language of the flesh? Having established that one can communicate without words, I then ask if they have ever had any nonhuman friends (a.k.a. pets). If so, how did the dog or cat let you know that her food dish was empty? I used to have a dog friend who would look at me, look at the food dish, look at me, look at the food dish, until finally the message would get across to me.

How do we hear the rest of the natural world? Unsurprisingly enough, the answer is: by listening. That’s not easy, given that we have been told for several thousand years that these others are silent. But the fact that we cannot easily hear them doesn’t mean they aren’t speaking, and does not mean they have nothing to say. I’ve had people respond to my suggestion that they listen to the natural world by going outside for five minutes and then returning to say they didn’t hear anything. But how can you expect to learn any new language (remember, most nonhumans don’t speak English) in such a short time? Learning to listen to our nonhuman neighbors takes effort, humility, and patience.

The Tolowa believed the nonhuman world had something to say, and that what the nonhuman world had to say was vital to their own survival. Given that they were living here sustainably for 12,500 years, and given that we manifestly are not, perhaps the least we could do is acknowledge that they were on to something, and maybe even explore just what that kind of relationship might look and feel like."

G. B. Stern

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute.”

- G. B. Stern

"You Don't Have to Go to College"

"Dear Kids, You Don’t Have to Go to College"
Author unknown

"Dear Tess and Tucker,

For most of your young lives, you’ve heard your mom and I occasionally talk about your futures by saying that someday you’ll travel off to college and get this thing called a degree that will show everyone that you are an expert in something and that will lead you to getting a good job that will make you happy and make you able to raise a family of your own someday. At least, that’s what your mom and I have in our heads when we talk about it. But, and I haven’t told your mom this yet, I’ve changed my mind. I want you to know that you don’t have to go to college if you don’t want to, and that there are other avenues to achieving that future that may be more instructive, more meaningful, and more relevant than getting a degree.

Let me put it to you this way (and I’ll explain this more as you get older.) I promise to support you for as long as I can in your quest to learn after high school, whatever that might look like. I’ll do everything I can to help you find what your passions are and pursue them in whatever ways you decide will allow you to learn as much as you can about them. I’ll help you put together your own plan to achieve expertise in that passion, and that plan may include many different activities and environments that look nothing like (and in all likelihood will cost much less than) a traditional college experience. Some of your plan may include classrooms, some may include training or certification programs. But some may also include learning through online video games, virtual communities, and informal networks that you will build around your interests, all moving you further along toward expertise. (Remind me at some point to tell you what a guy named George Siemens says about this.)

And throughout this process, I will support you in the creation of your learning portfolio, the artifact which when the time comes, you will share to prospective employers or collaborators to begin your life’s work. (In all likelihood, in fact, you will probably find these people as a part of this process.) Instead of the piece of paper on the wall that says you are an expert, you will have an array of products and experiences, reflections and conversations that show your expertise, show what you know, make it transparent. It will be comprised of a body of work and a network of learners that you will continually turn to over time, that will evolve as you evolve, and will capture your most important learning.

I know, I know. Even now you are thinking, “but Dad, wouldn’t just going to college be easier?” It might, yes. And depending on what you end up wanting to do, college might still be the best answer. But it might not. And I want to remind you that in my own experience, all of the 'learning' I did in all of the college classrooms I’ve spent time in does not come close to the learning that I’ve done on my own for the simple reason that now I am learning with people who are just as (if not more) passionate to 'know' as I am. And that is what I want for you, to connect to people and environments where your passions connect, and the expectation is that you learn together, not learn on your own. Where you are free to create your own curriculum, find your own teachers, and create your own assessments as they are relevant. Where you make decisions (and your teachers guide you in those decisions) as to what is relevant to know and what isn’t instead of someone deciding that for you. Where at the end of the day, you’ll look back and find that the vast majority of your effort has been time well spent, not time wasted.

In many ways, I envy you. I think about all of the time I spent 'learning' about things that had absolutely no relevance to my life’s work simply because I was required to do so. Knowledge that became old almost as soon as it was uttered from my professor’s mouth. I think about how much more I could have gotten from those hundreds and hundreds of hours (and dollars) that now feel frittered away because I had no real choice. I want to make sure you know you have a choice.

So, when the time comes, we’ll start talking about what roads you might want to pursue and how you might want to pursue them. Your mom and I have high expectations, and we’ll do everything we can to support the decisions you make. But ultimately, my hope is that you will learn this on your own, that you will seize the opportunities that this new world of learning and knowledge offers you, and that you will find it as exciting and provocative a place as I have.

Love always, Dad"

"How It Really Is"

"U.S. Debt, Where’s the Money Going to Come From?"

"U.S. Debt, Where’s the Money Going to Come From?"
by Graham Summers

"A lot of what passes for analysis of the US economy is far too complicated. The reality is that you only need to do basic arithmetic to see that the US is STILL in a recession if not depression. Let’s break it down.

The US consumer accounts for 70% of the US GDP. The US GDP (after the recession’s impact) is in the ballpark of $11 trillion. So the US consumer accounts for $7.7 trillion in dollar terms. This is THE driver of our economy. So let’s focus on the consumer’s balance sheet.

According to the Fed, total US household wealth currently stands around $53 trillion. Personally I think the Fed’s number is bogus since it lumps non-profits and households together. It also claims $20 trillion of this wealth comes from real estate including “All types of owner-occupied housing including farm houses and mobile homes, as well as second homes that are not rented, vacant homes for sale, and vacant land.”

I’m sorry, but a house is not “wealth.” It is a MASSIVE debt you owe until you own it outright. And given the housing prices are falling (the assets are depreciating) and home sales anemic, I DO NOT agree that you can identify your home as a status of wealth in this market. So let’s create our own measure of household wealth by focusing on liquid assets and deposits that can be sold relatively easily or transferred in a pinch.
So total liquid assets equals roughly $41 trillion. Total liabilities equals $14 trillion. This brings household net-worth to $27 trillion.

On the surface, the debt seems somewhat serviceable, except it isn’t without some kind of systemic implosion. Let’s say consumers wanted to pay off the $14 trillion in debt by cashing out deposits. Well, total deposits in the US only equals $7 trillion. Setting aside what would happen if there was a $7 trillion “run on the bank” (hint: KABOOM), even if consumers cashed out every last cent of savings they’d still owe $7 trillion in debt ($14 trillion -$7 trillion= $7 trillion).

Ok, so savings don’t take care of the mess… what about stocks? All told, consumers own (through pension funds, mutual funds, and private holdings) $30 trillion in equities. The pension funds are not easily accessible so we’ll take them out, leaving roughly $20 trillion in equities available to be sold. That’s definitely enough to cover the $14 trillion in debt consumers owe.

So let’s put that scenario into perspective. The total market capitalization of EVERY stock in the world COMBINED is $36 trillion. So IF consumers sold their equity holdings to pay off their debt, we’re talking about worldwide markets trading 40% lower than they are now.

Obviously, neither of the above scenarios will happen. After all, debt can be paid off gradually and doesn’t require immediate full payout. But given that consumers cannot print money out of thin air, and that incomes are falling off a cliff (as evinced by the 17% year over year drop in tax receipts and the fact that Uncle Sam currently accounts for 17% of all US incomes) the money needed to pay off the $14 trillion consumers currently owe will HAVE to come from somewhere at some point in the future.

This means that at some point stocks or deposits or some other asset will have to be sold to pay off debt or the debt will be defaulted on. Given that both US corporations AND the US government get most of their money from the consumer, this has DIRE implications for the US economy and corporate earnings going forward (not to mention how on earth we’ll roll over our trillions in Federal debt since foreign governments are increasingly loathe to lend us money).

At best we shall see anemic growth in the real economy and corporate income statements (the year over year 20-30% drop in sales is just the beginning). At worst this means a full-scale depression marked by continued deflation in most major asset classes as consumers sell what they OWN (stocks, homes, etc.) to pay back what they OWE.

This also indicates that bank stocks are in for a very rough decade going forward. The banks that do not engage in investment banking or trading (the non-Goldman Sachs) will suffer from a lack of consumer borrowing, continued defaults on consumer debt, and more. Our new era of frugality is the product of consumers owing too much money. And whether they try to pay it off quickly or bit by bit is irrelevant. Either way the economy, corporate profits, and banks will suffer going forward.

This is the medicine we all must take. The government is trying to fight it by shifting private debts onto the public balance sheet. But the consumer cannot fund those debts as well (none of my above math includes the federal debt). In a sense, the government is throwing in a spoonful of sugar in the form of continued spending on social programs to make the medicine more palatable. The only problem is that this is a bursting credit bubble… not Mary Poppins."

Karl Denninger, "Where Are The INDICTMENTS?"

"Where Are The INDICTMENTS?"
by Karl Denninger

"Jerry Brown is crowing about the most-recent "Auction Rate" security settlement: "Wells Fargo convinced thousands of investors to purchase auction-rate securities with promises of robust returns and liquidity, but when the market collapsed, investors were left out in the cold," Brown said. "Based on misleading advice, investors bought these risky securities. Now, retail investors and small businesses are finally getting their money back."

Uh huh. That's the good part. Now here's the bad part:

The lawsuit contended that Wells Fargo ignored clear industry and internal warnings about risk and previous auction failure. In March 2005, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the "Big 4" accounting firms, and the Financial Accounting Standards Board all determined that auction-rate securities should not be considered "cash equivalents."

Despite these warnings, Wells Fargo continued to aggressively sell and falsely market auction-rate securities as safe, liquid, cash-like investments until the nationwide auction markets froze in early 2008. In marketing and selling these investments, Wells Fargo failed to inform investors about how auction-rate securities or the auction process worked, as well as the risks and consequences of auction failure.

Fraud defined: "A false representation of a matter of fact—whether by words or by conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of what should have been disclosed—that deceives and is intended to deceive another so that the individual will act upon it to her or his legal injury."

Racketeering defined: "(n) Racketeering is defined as the process of forming or running an organization to operate or commit or otherwise execute ongoing criminal activities."

Perhaps the question we should be asking is why we keep seeing "settlements" instead of prosecutions."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Biotech Crops Cause Big Jump in Pesticide Use: Report"

"Biotech Crops Cause Big Jump in Pesticide Use: Report"
By Carey Gillam

"KANSAS CITY (Reuters) - The rapid adoption by U.S. farmers of genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton has promoted increased use of pesticides, an epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds and more chemical residues in foods, according to a report issued Tuesday by health and environmental protection groups.

The groups said research showed that herbicide use grew by 383 million pounds from 1996 to 2008, with 46 percent of the total increase occurring in 2007 and 2008.

The report was released by nonprofits The Organic Center (TOC), the Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Center for Food Safety (CFS).

The groups said that while herbicide use has climbed, insecticide use has dropped because of biotech crops. They said adoption of genetically engineered corn and cotton that carry traits resistant to insects has led to a reduction in insecticide use by 64 million pounds since 1996.

Still, that leaves a net overall increase on U.S. farm fields of 318 million pounds of pesticides, which includes insecticides and herbicides, over the first 13 years of commercial use.

The rise in herbicide use comes as U.S. farmers increasingly adopt corn, soy and cotton that have been engineered with traits that allow them to tolerate dousings of weed killer. The most popular of these are known as 'Roundup Ready' for their ability to sustain treatments with Roundup herbicide and are developed and marketed by world seed industry leader Monsanto Co.

Monsanto rolled out the first biotech crop, Roundup Ready soybeans, in 1996.

Monsanto officials declined to comment on the report. But the Biotechnology Industry Organization, of which Monsanto is a member, said the popularity of herbicide-resistant crops showed their value outweighs any associated detriments.

'Herbicide resistance crops are incredibly popular with farmers. They help them manage their weed problems in ways traditional crops don't,' said Mike Wach, BIO managing director of science and regulatory affairs.

'If a farmer feels a crop is causing them more trouble than it is worth they will stop using it,' Wach said. 'Farmers are continuing to adopt these crops because they provide benefits, not liabilities and problems.'

BIO officials pointed to a report issued earlier this year by PG Economics Ltd that said the volume of herbicides used in biotech soybean crops globally decreased by 161 million pounds, or 4.6 percent, from 1996 to 2007.

The report by the environmental groups states that a key problem resulting from the increase in herbicide use is the emergence of 'super weeds,' which are difficult to kill because they have become resistant to the herbicides.

'With glyphosate-resistant weeds now infesting millions of acres, farmers face rising costs coupled with sometimes major yield losses, and the environmental impact of weed management systems will surely rise,' said Charles Benbrook, chief scientist of The Organic Center.

The groups additionally criticized the agricultural biotechnology industry for claiming that higher costs for genetically engineered seeds are justified by multiple benefits to farmers, including decreased spending on pesticides.

The group said biotech corn seed prices in 2010 could be almost three times the cost of conventional seed, while new enhanced biotech soybean seed for 2010 could be 42 percent more than the original biotech version.

'This report confirms what we've been saying for years,' said Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety. 'The most common type of genetically engineered crops promotes increased use of pesticides, an epidemic of resistant weeds, and more chemical residues in our foods. This may be profitable for the biotech/pesticide companies, but it's bad news for farmers, human health and the environment.'"

Orison Swett Marden

"Just make up your mind at the very outset that your work is going to stand for quality… that you are going to stamp a superior quality upon everything that goes out of your hands, that whatever you do shall bear the hall-mark of excellence."
~ Orison Swett Marden

"Can We Save America?"

"Can We Save America?"
by George Washington
"How come the Wall Street robber barons who brought on the financial crisis are still calling the shots and pillaging the economy? Congress is bought and paid for, and the fox is guarding the chicken coop in the Executive Branch, with Summers and Geithner calling the shots. The American people are furious at the giant banksters who have picked their pockets so they can make huge bonuses. But - so far - the American people have for the most part kept their volcanic anger to themselves.

As MSNBC news correspondent Jonathan Capehart tells Dylan Ratigan, the main problem is that people aren't making enough noise. Capehart says that the people not only have to "burn up the phone lines to Congress", but also to hit the streets and protest in D.C. Even though most politicians are totally corrupt, if many millions of Americans poured into the streets of D.C., a critical mass would be reached, and the politicians would start changing things in a hurry.

As PhD ecnonomist Dean Baker points out: 'The elites hate to acknowledge it, but when large numbers of ordinary people are moved to action, it changes the narrow political world where the elites call the shots. Inside accounts reveal the extent to which Johnson and Nixon’s conduct of the Vietnam War was constrained by the huge anti-war movement. It was the civil rights movement, not compelling arguments, that convinced members of Congress to end legal racial discrimination. More recently, the townhall meetings, dominated by people opposed to health care reform, have been a serious roadblock for those pushing reform….' A big turnout ... can make a real difference.

Baker is right about Vietnam. Specifically - according to Daniel Ellsberg and many others - Richard Nixon actually planned on dropping a nuclear bomb on Vietnam. Nixon also said he didn't care what the American people thought. He said that - no matter what the public did or said - he was going to escalate the war in Vietnam. However, a well-known biographer says that Nixon backed off when hundreds of thousands of people turned out in Washington, D.C. to protest an escalation of the war.

Similarly, no matter how completely sold-out to the Wall Street giants D.C. politicians are, they would start paying attention to their real employers - the American people - if we make enough noise.

If 3 million Americans all peacefully surrounded the White House and Capitol Hill, holding signs saying "We're Not Leaving Until the Too Big to Fails which Caused the Economic Crisis are Reined In", things would change pretty fast. 3 million might sound like a lot of people. But many millions of people read popular alternative financial and economic news sites. You are probably one of millions of people who will read this essay (by the time it is published by some of the larger sites).

In other words, it's not even a question of convincing other people to go. We - those who read alternative financial websites - could do it ourselves. If millions of us don't go protest in D.C., it's because we are choosing not to sacrifice a tiny bit in order to change things. The bad guys are only winning because we - the American people - aren't making enough noise.

It is human nature to try to put things off until tomorrow. Tomorrow, when things are easier, we'll do it... It is easy to despair that it is already too late. Should we whine and give up hope? Well, about a month before the American Revolutionary War, Patrick Henry said: 'They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year?'

If not now, when? Like Patrick Henry asked, when will we be stronger? When will the robber barons be weaker? If we're going to save America through non-violent protests, now is the time."

Doug Page, "What Will It Take to Break Our Trance?"

"What Will It Take to Break Our Trance?"
by Doug Page

"We are rapidly returning to the uncivilized Law of the Jungle. We will soon live in a world where brute force rules. It is not only the disabled, widows, children and orphans who are vulnerable to the cruelties of this jungle. We all are. We have been brainwashed with incessant slogans like "Get the government off your back," and "Keep more of your own money... oppose all tax increases." Our dominant, false ideology tells us that every function of government must be privatized, so that governmental functions can be performed with business-like efficiency. (We are not told that the real reason for privatizing is to give capitalists yet another opportunity for making short term profit.) The very concept that we humans might work and cooperate together to protect ourselves from Jungle dangers and to meet our common needs is shunned as "socialism," as if that were something evil. The capitalists have brainwashed themselves, and they have brainwashed us. They along with the rest of us hope and assume that the common good will somehow automatically take care of itself, if they think about the common good at all. Each capitalist must be concerned only with his own private profit and cannot be concerned with the common good lest some competitor captures his profit making opportunity. We are a nation of millions of brainwashed individualists, living, working, and acting under false perceptions of reality as if we were all "Manchurian Candidates." We have forgotten that government is the only effective institution that we have to protect us from the brute force of the Law of the Jungle. If we do not very quickly awaken from our trance, and act together in a cooperative human community, millions of us will perish.

Ironically, most wealthy capitalists will themselves be destroyed in this looming Jungle.

Capitalists need government almost as badly as we do, but they will not admit it. As Adam Smith taught long ago, capitalism and capitalists can survive only with a rule of law controlling private property rights and business promises, a government to enforce those laws, and a certain level of morality. He cannot be concerned with the common good lest some competitor captures his profit. Capitalist ideology thus prohibits capitalists from protecting their own common good. As we see from the daily news, no capitalist will speak out in support of regulation of Wall Street. Capitalists say that they will discipline themselves, but they have not, can not and do not.

We ordinary citizens and voters cling to an illusory idealistic assumption that we retain the right to govern ourselves, and that if we only work hard enough in the political process, we can change things through the ballot box. We cling to this false deadly assumption despite the vast accumulation of evidence that our political process is totally dominated and controlled by approximately 5000 very wealthy individuals acting through their ownership of their corporations and their mainstream advertising agencies, TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines. Thus in these desperate times, our government has given Trillions of our tax dollars to the big banks of the wealthy without any conditions, while our government has given little or nothing to create jobs for us. This money controlled government can afford to give Trillions to the wealthy, but this government cannot afford to provide VA hospitals and medical care for everybody. We citizens and voters are kept quiet and non-rebellious because of our own brainwashed state, fueled by our addiction to consumer goods, electronic gadgets, computers and TV.

Part of the trance and delusion is maintained by liberals. My definition of a "liberal" is one who vaguely wants a civilizing government and to make things right, but only if it does not deprive him of his standard of living. Thus a liberal will protest wealth inequality, the corruption of our elected leaders by money, imperialism, wars abroad, torture, rendition, and civilian collateral damage, but a liberal will not rebel, stop work, strike, picket, vigil or boycott. A liberal knows at some level that his material well being depends ultimately on these very evils that he protests against, specifically including torture. A liberal, like a conservative capitalist, cannot face the fact that he himself is in a dangerous suicidal trance. So he does not challenge the trance either.

Even under the best of circumstances, we have limited time and interest in governing ourselves. Our civic impulse is in very short supply. We see this in the low voter turnout and in the superficial slogans that lead many voters make up their minds. We see it also in political parties, local governments, charities, clubs and unions where aggressive individuals rise to power, and the ordinary person does not bother to attend meetings or to vote.

The blunt truth is that we are now ruthlessly governed by these few wealthy individuals who have accumulated their vast fortunes. One might almost say that we are "ungoverned," but of course we are taxed to benefit these rulers, and to pay for their losses on their risky financial investments. The government is operated and controlled by and for these few wealthy individuals. For all practical purposes, it is if we are ruled by a selfish greedy king who rules us and taxes us for his own pleasure and his own benefit. This "king" has his royalist earls, dukes, nobles and toadies in the form of Presidents, Senators, elected officials, journalists, college professors and economists who fawn around him. These toadies tell the "king" what he wants to hear (however insane and stupid) hoping for his favor and crumbs from his table. President Obama himself is such a toady to the "king." Obama's economic advisors, former Harvard President Larry Summers and University of California Professor Christina Romer are perfect examples of such fawning advisors to the "king." They study and report only what the "king" wants to hear.

The truth is that our capitalism and our self governing democracy are beyond repair or reform. Both are terminal, and dysfunctional. Our material well being is rapidly falling, and it will fall much further. Our trance prevents us from dealing with the death throes of capitalism, with the few wealthy individuals who control democracy with their wealth, with diminishing reserves of oil and gas, and with deadly global warming. This is not to say that we will find it easy to make changes even if we become aware of our trance. We will have to attend meetings and vote. We will have to accept a lower standard of living because of the depletion of oil and live like Cubans. Other civilizations in the past have fallen into dark ages because those in power did not recognize the falsity of their political-economic-cultural ideas, and did not take corrective action in time. Millions of us are destined to starve and those who do survive will be serfs allowed to grow a little food on the estates of the very rich. This is inevitable, unless we awaken and face the truth very soon."

Doug Page is a retired lawyer for unions, a former Democratic politician, and a life long observer of government, unions and business. He can be reached at:

Dean Baker, "Making Wall Street Pay"

"Making Wall Street Pay"
by Dean Baker

"Wall Street's irresponsible bankers caused this economic crisis. It's only fair that they pay to clean up their mess. The deficit hawk crew, famous for missing the $8tn housing bubble that wrecked the economy, is now on the warpath, pressing the case for a big, new, national sales tax. They claim that the United States badly needs additional revenue to address projected budget shortfalls.

While we may need additional revenue at some point, it makes far more sense to impose a financial transactions tax, which would primarily hit the Wall Street banks that gave us this disaster, than to tax the consumption of ordinary working families. We can raise large amounts of money by taxing the speculation of the Wall Street high-flyers while barely affecting the sort of financial dealings that most of us do in our daily lives.

The logic of a financial transactions tax is simple. It would impose a modest fee on trades of stocks, futures, credit default swaps and other financial instruments. For example, the UK puts a 0.25% tax on the sale or purchase of shares of stock. This has very little impact on people who buy stock with the intent of holding it for a long period of time.

For example, if someone buys $10,000 of stock, they will pay $25 in tax at the time of purchase. If they sell the stock 10 years later for $20,000, they will have to pay $50 in tax. The total tax would be equivalent to an increase of 0.8 percentage points in the capital gains tax.

By contrast, if someone is interested in buying stock at 1.00pm to sell at 2.00pm, this tax is likely to take a bit [of a] hit out of their expected profits. The same applies people who are speculating in futures, credit default swaps and other financial instruments.

We can raise more than $140bn a year taxing financial transactions, an amount equal to 1% of GDP. Before we look to impose a national sales tax, or value-added tax, as the deficit hawk crew would like, we should insist that we first put in place a set of financial transactions taxes.

A national sales tax will primarily hit the consumption of ordinary workers. People will pay for it in all of their everyday purchases. Food, clothing, medicine - everything will cost a bit more as a result of a sales tax. Poor and middle-class people will end up paying a larger share of their income in this tax. This is both because they spend a larger share of their income than the wealthy and also because they spend a larger share in the United States. While the wealthy may have the opportunity to travel extensively in Europe or in countries not affected by the national sales tax, few low- or middle-income people will have this option.

Since the financial sector is the source of the country's current economic and budget problems it also makes sense to have this sector bear the brunt of any new taxes that may be needed. The economic collapse caused by Wall Street's irrational exuberance has led to a huge increase in the country debt burden. It seems only fair that Wall Street bear the brunt of the clean-up costs. A financial transactions tax is the way to make sure that this happens.

In short, we have to tell the deficit hawk crew, many of whom earned their fortune on Wall Street, to slow down. The country does face serious budget problems, even if they may not be as bad as this crew claims. However, if we need taxes to address a budget shortfall, then Wall Street is the place to start. After we have put in place a tax on Wall Street speculation, if we still need additional money, we can talk about a tax that will primarily affect the middle class."