Friday, April 30, 2010

Taylor Caldwell, "Honoria" (Excerpt)

by Taylor Caldwell

“This is a true story about a nation which was once great. At the outset, we will call that nation "Honoria;" but you will readily guess her true name, as the story unfolds. Honoria had always been distinguished by a strong, sturdy, industrious middle class, composed of farmers, artisans, shopkeepers- virtuous and sane and devout. But the middle class presented a threat to an all-powerful government, determined to protect the rich and the strong- and the worthless, the mean, the haters-of-work, the whining cowards who wanted everything for nothing. So the government decided to get rid of the middle class.

But the greedy mobs could never be satisfied. They made endless demands on the Senators. They stood in government offices and howled. They howled for more. And they got it. But still the howl went up for more and more; and the Senators, now the creatures of the mobs, tried to provide everything the mobs demanded.

And the middle class, the backbone of the nation? They were reduced to despair. They dared not have children; they couldn't afford them. While the mob enjoyed their public housing, their free sports, their free meals, the middle class worked ceaselessly, trying to get ahead of their tax bills, trying to live, trying to keep their schools alive for their children. It was all no use. They began to dwindle away. They had to leave their houses. The mobs moved into their houses and turned them into slum dwellings. Crime became so commonplace that it was dangerous to be on the streets at night. Morality was dead.

The middle class, the hardworking, the self-reliant, slowly smothered from despair. Who cared? The mob had a full belly today and government promised to fill it again tomorrow. The middle class of Honoria stood in the way; it must be destroyed. Then, the elite could rule by oppression; and the craven, the despicable, the cowards, the worthless, could live on the bodies of the nobles and the heroic- through taxation.

The monstrous state, the top-heavy bureaucracy, was happy. The cynical laughed among themselves. Freedom? Why, the people didn't want freedom. They wanted free entertainment, free bread, free housing. A degenerate nation deserved no freedom, no consideration.

An old general, who had been victimized by the government, stood up and cried aloud to Honoria to remember her past, to return to honor, to decent government, to the principles of the Founding Fathers, to God. The people hooted: He was a reactionary. He was eliminated. He retired, with bitterness, and thought his anguished thoughts. A Senator dared to stand up in the Senate and cry a halt to foreign subversion of Honoria and to constant foreign aid and the draining away of the people's money. Other Senators shrieked him down and called him vile names. He, too, was liquidated. And the nation fell deeper and deeper into debt, became more luxurious and rotten.

Honoria joined a league of the world, with her enemies. They exploited her. She taxed her citizens more and more to send her wheat and meat to those nations.

In one of Honoria's stupid wars she allied herself with powerful barbarians who were full of hatred and envy, and the lust for power. Honoria sent "experts" to the barbarians to teach them the latest scientific discoveries.

Honoria had become a corrupt and monstrous nation. Foreign tyrants and domestic mobs called the tune, and the spineless rulers of Honoria danced. The very walls of government echoed to the ever-growing demands for more foreign aid, more security, more bread, more sports, more government, more restrictions on the proud and the self-respecting. And the middle class finally died.

And what of the barbarians? They looked on Honoria with contempt. They were fierce and dedicated men. They had allies in the government of Honoria. Who could oppose them, with their savage ferocity? The time had come for them to take over Honoria, and destroy civilization. And the barbarians moved in. Who had made the barbarians so strong? Honoria, of course. Honoria had given the barbarians access to the wealth of Honoria, at the expense of the betrayed and ruined citizens of Honoria. Honoria had sacrificed her people so that her alleged allies could make common cause against her with the barbarians.

What is the real name of Honoria? Ancient Rome. You know what happened to ancient Rome. The barbarians, in the fifth century, invaded Rome and destroyed her; and for hundreds of years, there was a long, black night of slavery and despair and rain. Rome had not only betrayed herself but all the civilized world with her. The barbarians ranged over that civilized world; and the cultures of thousands of years were destroyed, so that only fragments have come down to us, mere fragments of great and mighty literature, and law, and beauty.

Fortunately, one thing did survive: The Twelve Tables of Common Roman Law. Those Tables of Law formed the basis of English Common Law and, more indirectly, of the American Constitution. Had Rome retained her Constitution, she would perhaps have survived and her splendor would not have been extinguished. But she permitted the slow erosion of her Constitution, just as we are permitting the quicker erosion of our Constitution.

Everything which strikes at our Constitution brings us closer to death as a free nation, just as Rome died. Each time a new treaty of alliance is signed with foreign nations, we die a little more, as Rome died. Each time the Supreme Court or the President violates the Constitution, we come closer to slavery- as Rome came.

Nearly two thousand years stand between us and Rome. Never before the rise of Rome, and never since, did two nations so remarkably resemble each other, in history, in splendid rise in civilization, in magnificent communication between nations, in grandeur and wealth. In strange and amazing ways, we are the counterpart of ancient Rome. Her history, almost step by step, is our history.

Shall we continue along the path which led to the extinction of Rome? We have made her terrible mistakes; we have duplicated her crimes and stupidities, almost to the letter. WE are destroying our Constitution, the only safeguard we have in the face of domestic and foreign enemies, just as she destroyed hers. We are permitting government by men, now, instead of government by law- just as Rome finally did.

So long as Rome remained Rome- patriotic, proud, virtuous and healthy- she remained a strong and powerful nation. When she became internationalistic, underwrote the economies of other nations, permitted her rulers to become dictators, enmeshed herself with the problems of aliens and taxed her own people to support those aliens, she began to die.

When she became militaristic, and had her armies spread on foreign soil, the fabric of her life was weakened and strained, and the wild sword of the barbarian cut it easily.

It is a stern fact of history that no nation that rushed to the abyss ever turned back. Not ever, in the long history of the world. We are now on the edge of the abyss. Can we, for the first time in history, turn back? It is up to you."

The complete article, "Honoria" can be found here:

"A Look to the Heavens"

"A favorite target for astronomers, big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 7331 is one of the brighter galaxies not found in Charles Messier's famous 18th century catalog. About 50 million light-years distant in the northern constellation Pegasus and similar in size to our own Milky Way Galaxy, NGC 7331 is often imaged as the foreground of a visual grouping that includes an intriguing assortment of background galaxies some ten times farther away.
This striking image of the well-studied island universe and environs was produced using data from the Calar Alto Observatory in southern Spain. Perhaps the deepest view of the region yet, the image data were processed to reveal sharp details of all sizes in both bright and faint areas. A color balance was chosen so that white would be the result of averaging colors over the entire galaxy. The result shows off a wealth of remarkable features in NGC 7331 and its surroundings."

Health/Nutrition: "Not Aging Fast Enough? Drink a Soda!"

"Not Aging Fast Enough? Drink a Soda!"
by Tom Laskawy

"American as apple pie. But how bad for us is soda? Hoo boy. The American Beverage Association isn't going to like this news one bit. Food companies now add significant amounts of phosphates to soda and other processed foods. And now researchers have found evidence that phosphates may accelerate aging (via Science Daily): "High phosphate levels may also increase the prevalence and severity of age-related complications, such as chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular calcification, and can also induce severe muscle and skin atrophy."

"Humans need a healthy diet and keeping the balance of phosphate in the diet may be important for a healthy life and longevity," said M. Shawkat Razzaque, M.D., Ph.D., from the Department of Medicine, Infection and Immunity at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. "Avoid phosphate toxicity and enjoy a healthy life." "Soda is the caffeine delivery vehicle of choice for millions of people worldwide, but comes with phosphorous as a passenger" said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal. "This research suggests that our phosphorous balance influences the aging process, so don't tip it."

This has nothing to do with sweeteners, food coloring or any other previously established badness associated with soda and processed food - it's a "new and improved" risk. And what, pray tell, are these phosphates doing there in the first place? According to other scientists, food companies starting adding them at high levels only in the last 20 years: "...While a moderate level of phosphate plays an essential role in living organisms, the rapidly increasing use of phosphates as a food additive has resulted in significantly higher levels in average daily diets. Phosphates are added to many food products to increase water retention and improve food texture."

"In the 1990s, phosphorous-containing food additives contributed an estimated 470 mg per day to the average daily adult diet," he said. "However, phosphates are currently being added much more frequently to a large number of processed foods, including meats, cheeses, beverages, and bakery products. As a result, depending on individual food choices, phosphorous intake could be increased by as much as 1000 mg per day." "Increase water retention and improve food texture"?! That's worth shaving years off our lives for sure! We're all lab rats now."
Which brings us here:

"What Happens to Your Body Within an Hour of Drinking a Coke"
by Dr. Mercola

"Do you want to be healthy? Drinking soda is bad for your health in so many ways; science can’t even state all the consequences. Here’s what happens in your body when you assault it with a Coke:

• Within the first 10 minutes, 10 teaspoons of sugar hit your system. This is 100 percent of your recommended daily intake, and the only reason you don’t vomit as a result of the overwhelming sweetness is because phosphoric acid cuts the flavor.
• Within 20 minutes, your blood sugar spikes, and your liver responds to the resulting insulin burst by turning massive amounts of sugar into fat.
• Within 40 minutes, caffeine absorption is complete; your pupils dilate, your blood pressure rises, and your livers dumps more sugar into your bloodstream.
• Around 45 minutes, your body increases dopamine production, which stimulates the pleasure centers of your brain – a physically identical response to that of heroin, by the way.
• After 60 minutes, you’ll start to have a sugar crash."

Climatology: "Ice Age Theories Warming Up"

"Ice Age Theories Warming Up"
by Mark Lawson

"One of the more interesting results from recent research into climate is that for the past million years or so, the earth's climate has shown a distinct 100,000 cycle of long ice ages punctuated by a brief, warm intergalacials. We are in one of those brief warm periods, an interglacial period that is called the Holocene. This cycle can be seen in the temperature graph below taken from publicly available Vostok ice core data. The ice cores are very long sections of ice in which ancient climates can be worked out by careful analysis of atomic isotopes of layers of ice, where each wafer thin layer represents a year. Although there are other ways to determine past climatic conditions the Vostok cores (the site is in Antarctica but run by Russian scientists) are remarkable in being a connected track of temperatures of several hundred thousand years.
Temperatures over the most recent 420,000 years of earth’s history. Note that the graph time line is from left to right. All of recorded human history is in a couple of squiggles on the far right. Also note that the temperature scale is relative and the zero line is just a handy reference point. It has nothing to do with the freezing point of water.

As you can see climate changes by about 14 degrees C from the top of the interglacial to the bottom of the ice age, but even the 420,000 or so years covered by the Vostok cores is just a moment in earth's geological history. As noted, the 100,000 year cycle has been a feature of climate for about a million years. For two million years before that the cycle was the same except that it was 40,000 years long and temperatures were warmer. The whole three million years, in turn, is part of an ice age phase of the earth in which temperatures have generally been falling. There have also been hot house phases.

Scientists have no real idea why the earth has been cooling over the past three million years and, in particular, are puzzled over the shift from 40,000 to 100,000 cycles. But until recently they thought they had a mechanism for explaining the current ice age cycle. This to be found in the Milankovitch cycles which are known, slight changes in the earth's orbit and the angle of the earth's pole. The theory was first proposed by James Croll, a self-taught 19th century physicist and greatly extended by a Serbian civil engineer and geophysicist Milutin Milankovitch who died in 1958. The theory, which has fallen in and out of favour a couple of times since it was first proposed, supposes that the orbital variations changes the strength of the seasons. Summers may become hotter or colder, winters may become colder or milder. That very slight change then becomes amplified in some way, perhaps by melting ice exposing rock which absorbs more heat.

As is generally accepted once the warming is underway it warms the oceans, and warmer oceans hold less carbon dioxide so there is more in the atmosphere, and those increased concentrations should cause more warming. Global warmers say that the CO2 increases then drive the warming. One problem with that supposition is the long time lag between warming and increases in CO2 levels. This point has been explored through a series of scientific papers with the latest published in the journal Science last year by a team led by Lowell Scott of the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Southern California. Entitled Southern Hemisphere and Deep-Sea Warming Led Deglacial Atmospheric CO2 Rise and Tropic Warming, the paper puts the lag at 1,000 years.

Another glance at the graph indicates that temperatures in the previous two interglacials seem to spike to well above modern temperatures, but the ice core readings for the time show that CO2 levels were at about 300 parts per million or far less than present levels. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Report 2005, compiled by a group called the International Arctic Science Committee and used as a source for the 2007 IPCC report says that during the inter-glacial preceding this one, known as the Eemian, conditions were generally warmer than they are now. The 2007 IPCC report says that polar temperatures at the time were 3 to 5 degrees higher than now, but attributes the difference to Milankovitch cycles.

Conditions were also warmer just a few thousand years ago in what is usually called the mid-Holocene maximum, and again the IPCC blames this on orbital cycles reinforced by natural CO2 emissions. Perhaps. The orbital cycles theory has come under major attack of late with recent work suggesting that the Milankovitch cycles peak thousands of years after the effect they are supposed to cause. That work is all subject to argument but there are other puzzles.

As you can see from the graph the Holocene is already longer than the preceding three interglacial periods at least. Estimating from graphs that are better than mine, the Eemian lasted less than 10,000 years and the previous two interglacials lasted perhaps just 5,000 years. The Holocene, in contrast, has clocked up 10,000 years plus. Further, those 10,000 years have remained comparatively warm, in contrast to the previous interglacials in which temperatures spiked then fell away again very quickly. In all cases the final collapse into an ice age has been abrupt - perhaps just a few generations. The atmosphere-oceanic system just seems to trip over itself to fall 10 degrees and more, and with climate theory in its present state there is no way to predict when it will occur. Orbital cycles theory suggests the Holocene has another 14,000 or so, although the theory doesn't have much to say about how interglacials end. Then there is the comparative newcomer, solar magnetic theory, which is set to sweep orbital cycles off the board. For the evidence that the sun's magnetic field affects climate is overwhelming.

The sun has an 11 year cycle marked by sun spots that astronomers can observe on the face of the sun. They have been counting and tracking these spots for more than 300 years. At the height of the solar cycle there are lots of these sunspots and the sun is said to be very active, generating plenty of flares and solar storms which affect satellites, and its magnetic field is stronger. At the bottom of the cycle there are few or no spots, and distinctly less solar magnetic activity. The sun is quiet. But that cycle is just part of the changes in solar magnetism which scientists have now being able to track through thousands of years by measuring very fine changes in isotopes of carbon in living and fossilised trees. Just how solar magnetic activity affects climate is still a matter of argument but, scientists suppose, a stronger field helps shield the earth from solar radiation which is supposed to help in forming clouds. The stronger the solar magnetic field (which is different from the overall amount of energy the sun emits) the fewer clouds, and the warmer the earth. When the field weakens there are more clouds which cool the earth - or so the theory goes.

Dedicated global warmers hoping that the solar magnetic theory cannot possibly be right should look at recently opposite directed trends in climate forcing and the global mean surface temperature (Proceedings of the Royal Society A, July 13, 2007) by Mike Lockwood, a physicist at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory (and strongly in the global warming camp) and Claus Frolich, of the word radiation centre in Davos, Switzerland. Lockwood and Davos use the first two pages of their paper to acknowledge the mass of evidence for the influence of changes in the sun's magnetic field on climate, including the key work of Gerard Bond of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Colombia University and nine others which linked solar activity to changes in drift ice in the North Atlantic over thousands of years (Persistent Solar Influence on North Atlantic Climate During the Holocene, Science, December 7, 2001). After waving around a lot of graphs and numbers, however, the pair conclude that the link breaks down in 1985, with the implication being that the warming after that must be due to industrial gases.

That conclusion has been heavily challenged but we will not linger on that issue. The point is that solar magnetic fields affect climate. One other often cited piece of evidence is that of the depths of the little ice age (a cold period last centuries up to the 1850s) was associated with an absence of sun spots. The link may be deep indeed, as shown by an interesting although still speculative paper by Charles A. Perry, of the US Geological Survey, and Swiss scientist Kenneth J. Hsu - Geophysical, archaeological and historical evidence support a solar-output model for climate change (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 7, 2000; available online). The paper presents evidence of larger and longer cycles in the sun than just the 11 year basic sunspot cycle, and that the cycles fall into a noticeable pattern. The two scientists then extrapolate that work to suppose that there are 13 individual cycles, ranging from 11 years through to 90,000 years, or the length of an ice age.

Using the end of the last ice age as an anchor point, they combined all those cycles to give a pattern which follows the highlights of known climate history including the holocene maximum, medieval warm period and little ice age. No need to bother with orbital cycles at all. The warm periods are when one or more than one cycles are up, cold periods are when they are down. Far more importantly the analysis also forecasts a sharp fall in solar activity off a peak sometime after 2000, and that seems to have happened, albeit a few years later which is not bad considering the scale of the work. As has been widely reported the sun's 11 cycle stopped mysteriously in 2007 with no sunspots for long periods and then only two or three. The spots are not building up into a peak. (A last check as this was being written showed none at all.)

Perry and Hsu's work also indicates that the present intergalacial, which has proved so comfortable for humans, will last another 10,000 years with occasional bouts of colder climate which may happen from now thanks to the fall off in solar activity. Whatever affect industrial activity is supposed to have had on climate may well be swamped by natural cooling. Cannot possibly happen you say? We shall see."

Hunter S. Thompson

"We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and - in spite of True Romance magazines - we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely - at least, not all the time - but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don't see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness."
- Hunter S. Thompson,
“The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman”

Neuroscience: "Military Wants to Super-Charge Troop Smarts"

"Military Wants to Super-Charge Troop Smarts"
By Katie Drummond

“The Pentagon’s been trying to get ahead of the curve on neuroscience for years, toying with ideas like mind-reading whether people are lying and performance-degrading drugs for enemy combatants. Now, it’s launching a major effort to harness neuroscience in a way that might better prepare soldiers for the mental rigors of modern warfare. In a series of small business solicitations released last week, the Office of the Secretary of Defense outlined plans for a new “Cognitive Readiness Technology” program with the aim of “making our warfighters as cognitively strong as they are physically strong.”

Neuroscience is at the locus of the program. Before they can super-charge cognition, Pentagon scientists need to understand exactly how it works. So they’re launching “Neuromorphic Models of Human Social Cultural Behavior” (HSCB) to accurately model human cognition, including how we perceive, learn and retain information. HSCB models already exist, and are used by troops and decision-makers to predict the outcome of a choices during a mission. But the models “are only as good as the fidelity of the human behavior representations (HBR) that form them.” Right now, those representations are based entirely on empirical observation, which the military wants to swap out for a model that can tap into “the functions of the brain that give rise to actual human cognition.”

It’s not the first time the Pentagon has tried to map the human mind. Last year, research agency Darpa requested proposals for systems that would synchronize neural brain waves to optimize the mind’s storage capacity and memory recall. The agency has also tried to create synthetic versions of living brains, complete with “neuroscience-inspired architecture.” The military wants cognitive mapping to help assess troop readiness in a war-zone. Their small-business solicitations include a request for embeddable body sensors that could automatically determine mental preparedness, which can be influenced by factors like fatigue, cognitive overload or stress, based on physiological and neural data. The sensors would do more than just analyze the cognitive status of their wearer — they’d be combined with the data from other team members, to instantly identify just how performance-ready a given unit actually is.

No matter how cognitively capable troops become, they’ll still rely on computers to handle much of their workload. Humans, the solicitation notes, “are quick to arrive at initial decisions,” but computers can more quickly calculate pros and cons of different tactics. That’s why the military also wants neuroscience to “bridge the human-machine systems gap” and turn troops and computers into collaborative units. Their “neuro-cognitive control of human machine systems,” would tap into the neural signals that indicate desired actions, then transmit them to a computer to determine the optimal approach and carry it out.And a training program that emphasizes brawny brains over bodies reflects a trend across Pentagon departments: Just last month, the Army announced a redesign of their physical-fitness program to accommodate troops spending more time behind computer screens than they do on their feet."

For an comprehensive look at the technologies under current development visit this site:
The US Army Research Laboratory, Development and Engineering Command

The Daily "Near You?"

Valparaiso, Indiana, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

"What Was the Battle of Los Angeles?"

"What Was the Battle of Los Angeles?"
by Mike Conley

When America's 37th Coast Artillery Brigade Fired Off 1,430 Anti-Aircraft Shells At A UFO

"In February 1942, Americans, especially those living on the West Coast, were still reeling from the shock caused by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii just a couple of months before. That attack had left numerous battleships sunk or heavily damaged and almost 3,000 American military personnel and civilians dead. America was now at war and people were fearful that another attack could happen at any moment. That month, folks in the city of Los Angeles were nervously watching the skies and patrolling the Pacific coast. What happened next would become known as the Battle of Los Angeles and to this day, some suspect that the invader was not of this Earth.

During the night of Feb. 24, 1942 and the early morning hours of Feb. 25, a large unidentified flying object or objects were reported over Los Angeles. Air raid sirens were sounded throughout Los Angeles County at 2:25 a.m. on Feb. 25 and a total blackout was ordered. Thousands of air raid wardens were summoned to their positions, according to a Web site. At 3:16 a.m. on Feb. 25, the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade began firing anti-aircraft shells into the air at the strange object or objects in the sky. More than 1,400 shells would eventually be fired. Searchlights pierced through the darkness to find what was really overhead. Some people reported seeing a single massive craft in the sky while others spotted several flying in a formation.

One air raid warden later testified that the weird object was "just enormous. And it was practically right over my house. I had never seen anything like it in my life. It was just hovering there in the sky and hardly moving at all. It was a lovely pale orange and about the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. I could see it perfectly because it was very close. It was big!" Pilots of the 4th Interceptor Command were alerted about the large object or objects but for some reason their aircraft stayed on the ground. The artillery fire continued until 4:14 a.m. After the firing ceased, the weird flying object or objects were seen over Santa Monica and Long Beach. By sunrise, they were gone and the "all clear" was sounded by civil defense officials. The blackout order was lifted by 7:21 a.m.

Even though the bombardment lasted for just an hour, the incident left its impact on Los Angeles. Several buildings were accidentally damaged by friendly fire and three civilians were killed by the anti-aircraft fire. Three more people died of heart attacks attributed to the stress from the hour-long bombardment, according to a Web site. The incident also made headlines along the West Coast and across the nation. A reporter for The Los Angeles Herald Express wrote that several of the anti-aircraft shells struck one of the weird flying objects but even the intense shelling could not bring it down. Editor Peter Jenkins of The Los Angeles Examiner stated that he could clearly see the "V formation of about 25 silvery planes overhead moving slowly across the sky toward Long Beach."

An experienced Navy observer using powerful binoculars reported seeing nine planes in one searchlight. He too said they were silver. But were these objects really enemy airplanes? Were the Japanese attempting to attack Los Angeles? Or were they some kind of strange craft from another world? Over the years, investigators have put forward various explanations about what really happened. Some have speculated that the artillery was really firing at some misidentified weather balloons or blimps. But the problem with that explanation is those objects were moving much faster than any balloon or blimp. And it is very unlikely that such a fragile object could survive the intense bombardment from the artillery, like those weird craft reportedly did. In fact, no debris from these objects was ever found on the ground after the bombardment was over.

Like the Roswell incident that happened a few years later, the Battle of Los Angeles has become the subject of much speculation. The government never gave a satisfactory explanation for what happened on the early morning hours of Feb. 25, 1942. Some researchers believe that this was an early UFO sighting and perhaps Los Angeles faced the possibility of being attacked by aliens from outer space instead of the Japanese."

"Martial Law in Chicago?"

"Martial Law in Chicago?"
by Kristen Mack and Daarel Burnette II

"Two state representatives called on Gov. Pat Quinn Sunday to deploy the Illinois National Guard to safeguard Chicago's streets. Chicago Democrats John Fritchey and LaShawn Ford said they want Quinn, Mayor Richard Daley and Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis to allow guardsmen to patrol streets and help quell violence. Weis said he did not support the idea because the military and police operate under different rules. "Is this a drastic call to action? Of course it is," Fritchey said. "Is it warranted when we are losing residents to gun violence at such an alarming rate? Without question. We are not talking about rolling tanks down the street or having armed guards on each corner."

What he envisions, Fritchey said, is a "heightened presence on the streets," particularly on the roughly 9 percent of city blocks where most of the city's violent crimes occur. Weis previously identified those "hot spots" and said he plans to create a 100-person team made up of selected and volunteer police personnel to respond to crime there. If guardsmen were to assist police, they could comprise or contribute to that force, Fritchey said.

So far this year, 113 people have been killed across Chicago, the same number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined in the same period, Fritchey said. "As we speak, National Guard members are working side-by-side with our troops to fight a war halfway around the world," Fritchey said. "The unfortunate reality is that we have another war that is just as deadly taking place right in our backyard." While the National Guard has been deployed in other states to prevent violence related to specific events and protests, the Chicago legislators said they are unaware of guardsmen being deployed to assist with general urban unrest.

Weis countered that the only scenario in which the National Guard would be helpful is in the situation of a tornado, earthquake or flood. If the military were brought in to help with city violence, they wouldn't answer to police command - creating a "major disconnect" in mission and strategy. Alluding to the 1970 Kent State University incident where the National Guard was called in and protestors and students were shot, Weis said having guardsmen handle crime could be "disastrous." But he said if the Daley suggested it, he would consider the option. "I'm open to anything that reduces violence. But I have concerns when you mix law enforcement and the military," Weis said.

But Fritchey and Ford said prompt action is needed because summer is right around the corner and with the warm weather comes an increase in violence. Fritchey and Ford serve two different constituencies, representing the North Side and the West Side respectively. "One half of this city views this as a part of daily life," Fritchey said. "Another part of the city doesn't care because it doesn't affect them." Yet the lawmakers said they are coming together because gun violence should be a priority to all Chicagoans.

"No help is too much help" Ford said. "This is not just about the murders. It's about the crime. It's about people being stabbed, robbed and in the hospital on life support." Fritchey said he spoke to representatives from Quinn's office about deploying guardsmen and they "seemed open to the idea." The lawmakers had yet to speak to Weis or the mayor's office. "I don't anticipate the governor implementing it over the objection of the mayor," Fritchey said. "I hope this doesn't become a territorial issue. I hope this doesn't become an ego issue. This isn't about public relations or politics. This is about reclaiming our communities."

Despite the "Posse Comitatus" law which expressly makes this illegal to do.
And so it begins...

Howard Zinn

"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."
- Howard Zinn

"Ethan McCord: A Soldiers Story"

"Ethan McCord: A Soldiers Story"
By Bill Van Auken

"There is no flag large enough to cover the shame
of killing innocent people." - Howard Zinn

"Iraq war veteran Ethan McCord, who is seen running with an Iraqi child in his arms in the video posted by WikiLeaks of a July 2007 massacre of civilians in Baghdad, talked about the impact of this and similar experiences in Iraq. The video, which records the shocking deaths of at least 12 individuals, including two Iraqi journalists employed by Reuters, has been viewed more than 6 million times on the Internet.

McCord, together with another former member of the company, Josh Stieber, have addressed an open “Letter of Reconciliation” to the Iraqi people taking responsibility for their role in this incident and other acts of violence. Both soldiers deployed to Iraq in 2007 and left the Army last year. In the letter, McCord and Stieber said, “…we acknowledge our part in the deaths and injuries of your loved ones.” They insisted that “the acts depicted in this video are everyday occurrences of this war: this is the nature of how US-led wars are carried out in this region.”

The night before this interview, Ethan McCord had learned that the widow of one of the dozen men killed—the father of the two children he tried to rescue—had forgiven him and Stieber for their role in the incident. Ahlam Abdelhussein Tuman, 33, told the Times of London: “I can accept their apology, because they saved my children and if it were not for them, maybe my two little children would be dead.” Her husband, Saleh Mutashar Tuman, had arrived on the scene of the carnage caused by a US Apache helicopter firing into a crowd and attempted to aid the wounded. The helicopter opened fire again, killing him and at least one wounded man and wounding his two children, who were sitting in his van. The widow urged the two former soldiers to continue to speak out. “I would like the American people and the whole world to understand what happened here in Iraq. We lost our country and our lives were destroyed.”

Can you explain why you and Josh Stieber wrote the “Letter of Reconciliation” to the Iraqi people?
We originally wanted it to go to the family members of those involved that day in the WikiLeaks video.* Then in turn we wanted it to be more along the lines of to all Iraqi people as well. We wanted the Iraqi people to know that not everybody sees them as being dehumanized and that there are plenty of Americans and other people who care for them as human beings and wish for them to live long and happy lives and don’t agree with the war and the policies behind it. I just found out last night that the letter was shown to the family, the children and the mother as well. She has forgiven myself and Josh and is very happy to see the work that Josh and I are doing. There was a London Times reporter who went there to see what they felt about the letter. And there is one comment from the mother that she could forgive me because if it wasn’t for me her children might be dead.

That must make you feel pretty good.

Definitely, but it doesn’t stop there for me or for Josh. We are definitely going to continue speaking out on this and do everything we can to have our voices heard about the policies, the rules of engagement and the war. As well, we are hoping to set up a trust fund for the children, as we know that they’ve had a pretty rough life afterward due to the injuries and whatnot. Hopefully, it will get them some medical care.

Could you describe the events of that day and what your platoon was doing?

It was much like many of the days in Iraq. The neighborhood we were in was pretty volatile; at least it was on the rise, with IED emplacements and with our platoons being shot at with RPGs and sniper fire. We didn’t know who was attacking us. It was never actually really clear, at least in my eyes, who the supposed “enemy” was.

We were conducting what were called knock-and-searches, where we would knock on the doors of the homes and search for documents pertaining to militias or any weapons they weren’t supposed to have or any bomb-making materials. We didn’t really find anything at all. We were getting ready to wrap up at about one o’clock in the afternoon. We started to funnel into an alleyway and started to take small arms fire from rooftops from AK-47s. We didn’t know what was happening with the Apache helicopters. They were attached to us from another unit to watch over us for this mission, which was called “Ranger Dominance.” We could hear them open fire, but those of us who were on the ground, outside of the vehicles, had no idea what was taking place. We couldn’t hear the radio chatter and we were pretty caught up in our own situation. When that situation was neutralized, we were told to walk up onto the scene. I was one of about six soldiers who were dismounted to first arrive on the scene.

What did you see when you got there?

It was pretty much absolute carnage. I had never seen anybody shot by a 30-millimeter round before, and frankly don’t ever want to see that again. It almost seemed unreal, like something out of a bad B-horror movie. When these rounds hit you they kind of explode—people with their heads half-off, their insides hanging out of their bodies, limbs missing. I did see two RPGs on the scene as well as a few AK-47s. But then I heard the cries of a child. They weren’t necessarily cries of agony, but more like the cries of a small child who was scared out of her mind. So I ran up to the van where the cries were coming from. You can actually see in the scenes from the video where another soldier and I come up to the driver and the passenger sides of the van. The soldier I was with, as soon as he saw the children, turned around, started vomiting and ran. He didn’t want any part of that scene with the children anymore.

What I saw when I looked inside the van was a small girl, about three or four years old. She had a belly wound and glass in her hair and eyes. Next to her was a boy about seven or eight years old who had a wound to the right side of the head. He was laying half on the floorboard and half on the bench. I presumed he was dead; he wasn’t moving. Next to him was who I presumed was the father. He was hunched over sideways, almost in a protective way, trying to protect his children. And you could tell that he had taken a 30-millimeter round to the chest. I pretty much knew that he was deceased.

I grabbed the little girl and yelled for a medic. Me and the medic ran into the houses behind where the van crashed to check whether there were any other wounds. I was trying to take as much glass out of her eyes as I could. We dressed the wound and then the medic ran the girl to the Bradley. You can hear in the video where he says, “there’s nothing else I can do here; we need to evacuate the child.” I then went back outside and went to the van. I don’t know why. I thought both of them were dead, but something told me to go back. That’s when I saw the boy move with what appeared to be a labored breath. So I stated screaming, “The boy’s alive.” I grabbed him and cradled him in my arms and kept telling him, “Don’t die, don’t die.” He opened his eyes, looked up at me. I told him, “It’s OK, I have you.” His eyes rolled back into his head, and I kept telling him, “It’s OK, I’ve got you.” I ran up to the Bradley and placed him inside. My platoon leader was standing there at the time, and he yelled at me for doing what I did. He told me to “stop worrying about these motherf@#%ng kids and start worrying about pulling security.” So after that I went up and pulled security on a rooftop.

Did you face further repercussions for what you did that day?

After coming back to the FOB [forward operating base], nobody really talked about what had happened that day. Everybody went to their rooms; they were tired. Some of them went to make phone calls. And I was in my room because I had to clean the blood off of my IBA [body armor] and my uniform—the blood from these children. And I was having a flood of emotions and having a real hard time dealing with having seen children this way, as I’m sure most caring human beings would. So I went to see a staff sergeant who was in my chain of command and told him I needed to see mental health about what was going on in my head. He told me to “quit being a pussy” and to “suck it up and be a soldier.” He told me that if I wanted to go to mental health, there would be repercussions, one of them being labeled a “malingerer,” which is actually a crime in the US Army. For fear of that happening to me, I in turn went back to my room and tried to bottle up as much emotion as I could and pretty much just suck it up and drive on.

You had another nine months or more still to go in your tour then?

That’s right. It was a pretty long time with having to deal with the emotions, not only of that, but of many other days. What happened then was not an isolated incident. Stuff like that happens on a daily basis in Iraq.

Are there other incidents that took place in the following months of your tour that bear this out?
Yes. Our rules of engagement were changing on an almost daily basis. But we had a pretty gung-ho commander, who decided that because we were getting hit by IEDs a lot, there would be a new battalion SOP [standard operating procedure]. He goes, “If someone in your line gets hit with an IED, 360 rotational fire. You kill every motherf#@%er on the street.” Myself and Josh and a lot of other soldiers were just sitting there looking at each other like, “Are you kidding me? You want us to kill women and children on the street?” And you couldn’t just disobey orders to shoot, because they could just make your life hell in Iraq. So like with myself, I would shoot up into the roof of a building instead of down on the ground toward civilians. But I’ve seen it many times, where people are just walking down the street and an IED goes off and the troops open fire and kill them.

During this period were you conscious that you were suffering from post-traumatic stress? Yes I knew, because I would be angry at everyone and everything and at myself even more. I would watch movies and listen to music as much as possible just to escape reality. I didn’t really talk to many people. The other problem I had is that before the incident shown in the WikiLeaks video, I was the gung-ho soldier. I thought I was going over there to do the greater good. I thought my job over there was to protect the Iraqi people and that this was a job with honor and courage and duty. I was hit by an IED within two weeks of my being in Iraq. And I didn’t understand why people were throwing rocks at us, why I was being shot at and why we’re being blown up, when I have it in my head that I was here to help these people. But the first real serious doubt, where I could no longer justify to myself being in Iraq or serving in the Army, was on that day in July 2007.

How did you come to join the military?
I had always wanted to be in the military, even as a child. My grandfather and my uncles were military. Then September 11 happened, and I decided it was my duty as an American to join the military, so that’s what I did in 2002. I joined the Navy. In 2005, when the Army had what they called “Operation Blue to Green,” pulling sailors and airmen into the Army with bigger bonuses, I made a lateral transfer. I had pretty much had it in my head that I was going to make a career out of the military. But going to Iraq and dealing with the Army completely changed my outlook.

What was your reaction when you saw the WikiLeaks video?
Shock. I had dropped my children off at school one morning, came home and turned on MSNBC, and there I am running across the screen carrying a child. I knew immediately it was me. I know the scene. It is burned into my head. I relive it almost every day. It was just a shock that that it was up there, and it angered me. I was angry because it was in my face again. I had actually started to get a little bit better before the tape was released. I wasn’t thinking about it as often; it was getting a little bit easier to go to sleep. But then everything that I had buried and pushed away came bubbling back to the surface. And the nightmares began again, the anger, the feeling of being used. It all came back. It wasn’t a good feeling; it was like a huge slap in the face.

Do you think that the way you were told to forget about the kids and suck it up is indicative of the general culture in the military?
Yes, there is such a stigma placed on soldiers seeking mental health. It’s like you’re showing a huge sign of weakness for needing to speak about things or for seeking help even for getting to sleep. There’s fear of being chastised or being made fun of. So you end up self-medicating on alcohol. And as you probably know, alcohol is a depressant and just makes it worse. I was self-medicating when I came home, and I was hospitalized in a mental institute by the Army because of my problems with PTSD and self-medication. There were many times when I felt that I could no longer take what was going on in my head and the best thing for me to do would be to put a bullet in my head. But each time I thought about that, I would look at the pictures of my children and think back on that day and how the father of those children was taken away and how horrible it must be for them. And if I were to do that, I would be putting my children in the same position.

Do you think that the pressure to bury these problems is driven by a fear that if you are allowed to question your own experiences, it can call into question the nature of the war itself?
I was not able to talk about it, not able to get answers to like how I was feeling about this, why were we doing this, what are we doing here? It was just straight up, “You’re going to do this, and you’re going to shut up about it.” Soldiers aren’t mindless drones. They have feelings. They have emotions. You can’t just make them go out and do something without telling them, this is why we’re doing it. And the pressure just builds up.

You hear in the video the Apache helicopter crew saying some things that are pretty heart-wrenching and cold. I’m guilty of it too. We all are. It’s kind of a coping mechanism. You feel bad at the time for what you did and you take those emotions and push them down. That’s what the Army teaches you to do, just push them down. And in a sense it works. It helps you get through the hard times. But unfortunately, there’s no outlet for that anymore, once you get out of the Army. When you get back home, there’s no one to joke around with, nobody you can talk to about these instances. What happens to that soldier? He’s going to blow up. And when he blows up, more than likely it’s going to be on his family, his close friends or on himself. So I think that’s why soldiers end up killing themselves.

So a terrible price is being paid for this war in the US itself?
Yes, I feel that just as the Iraqis, the soldiers are victims of this war as well. Like we say in our letter to the Iraqis, the government is ignoring them and it is also ignoring us. Instead of people being upset at a few soldiers in a video who were doing what they were trained to do, I think people need to be more upset at the system that trained these soldiers. They are doing exactly what the Army wants them to do. Getting angry and calling these soldiers names and saying how callous and cold-hearted they are isn’t going to change the system.

What do you think drives this system? Why are they sent to do this?
As far as the hidden agenda behind the war, I couldn’t even begin to guess what that is. I do know that the system is being driven by some people with pretty low morals and values, and they attempt to instill those values in the soldiers. But the people who are driving the system don’t have to deal with the repercussions. It’s the American people who have to deal with them. They’re the ones who have to deal with all of these soldiers who come back from war, have no outlets and blow up. I still live with this every day. When I close my eyes I see what happened that day and many other days like a slide show in my head. The smells come back to me. The cries of the children come back to me. The people driving this big war machine, they don’t have to deal with this. They live in their $36 million mansions and sleep well at night.

Were you hopeful that with the 2008 election these kinds of things would be brought to a halt. Were you disappointed that they have continued and escalated?
I am not part of any party. Was I hopeful? Yes. Was I surprised that we are still there? No. I’m not surprised at all. There’s something else lying underneath there. It’s not Republican or Democrat; it’s money. There’s something else lying underneath it where Republicans and Democrats together want to keep us in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am hopeful that the video and our speaking out will help. There’s the old adage that war is hell, but I don’t think people really understand just what a hell war is. Until you see it first-hand, you don’t really know what’s going on. Like I said, this video shows you an every-day occurrence in Iraq, and I can only assume, in Afghanistan. So I hope people wake up and see the actual hells of war."

* "Collateral Murder"

"How It Really Is"

Hunter S. Thompson

"Like most others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top. At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles - a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other - that kept me going."
- Hunter S. Thompson, "The Rum Diary: A Novel"

"The Washington-Wall Street Kabuki Dance"

"The Washington-Wall Street Kabuki Dance"
By Sheldon Richman

"When I watch the public furor over the ruling party’s attempt to “toughen” regulations on the financial industry, I get the same feeling I often have in a theater: Good show but it’s not real. There’s something eerily ritualistic about the current occupant of the White House berating Wall Street for its irresponsibility and proposing new regulations, while his targets send a swarm of lobbyists to Washington to keep the regulatory overhaul from getting out of hand. (History says they’ll be on good terms with the regulators in any case.)

I’m reminded of the late great Walter Karp’s book "Indispensable Enemies." These apparent adversaries need each other. This may sound outrageous. In what sense could it be said that the advocates of new financial regulation and the big financiers are on the same side? In this sense: Neither side would wish the other to disappear. Each is integral to the existing political economy (call it what you will), and neither would want it to change in any significant way. They are “indispensable ‘enemies.’”

Roderick Long has it right when he says, “We might compare the alliance between government and big business to the alliance between church and state in the Middle Ages. Of course it’s in the interest of both parties to maintain the alliance — but all the same, each side would like to be the dominant partner, so it’s no surprise that the history of such alliances will often look like a history of conflict and antipathy, as each side struggles to get the upper hand. But this struggle must be read against a common background framework of cooperation to maintain the system of control.”

We have a system that’s a mix of government and “private” control. (It’s not truly private because the control entails force-backed guarantees, barriers to entry, and the like.) But it’s an unstable mix. Sometimes those who want more formal government control get the upper hand, while at other times those who want more “private” control elect their people to office. So the mix can change. What doesn’t change is that some mix of the two will exist, as opposed to an unalloyed political economy based on freedom and free exchange. The battles are at the margin.

As Long writes elsewhere, the people who run the system con the public by portraying the marginal disputes as fundamental struggles. What’s really an internecine argument over where to move the line is represented as a monumental battle between Unfettered Capitalism and Enlightened Progressivism, or some such pair of misleading terms. Long writes, “Corporate liberalism functions via a façade of opposition between a purportedly progressive statocracy and a purportedly pro-market plutocracy. The con operates by co-opting potential opponents of the establishment; those who recognise that something’s amiss with the statocratic wing are lured into supporting the plutocratic wing, and vice versa. Whenever the voters grow weary of the plutocracy, they’re offered the alleged alternative of an FDR or JFK; whenever they grow weary of the statocracy, they’re offered the alleged alternative of a Reagan or Thatcher. Perhaps the balance of power shifts slightly toward one side or the other; but the system remains essentially unchanged.”

This is why the alleged radical Barack Obama can be elected president and we still find economic policy in the hands of establishment “corporate liberals” Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Paul Volcker, Christina Romer, Ben Bernanke, and Robert Rubin. You could see it coming, though: Obama got more Goldman Sachs-connected money than John McCain in 2008.

There’s been some controversy lately over whether it is appropriate to call the Obama administration a “regime.” It’s appropriate in my view so long as you’re also willing to talk about the Bush and Reagan regimes. But what we really should be talking about is “the permanent regime,” the underlying system that endures despite changes in White House occupants. If you have doubts about any of this, imagine some top Wall Street operator calling for elimination of the Federal Reserve System and the banking cartel it administers. Imagine him endorsing repeal of all federal and state banking regulations and their replacement with free banking and market-based money. Imagine him testifying on behalf of an end to all implicit guarantees, bailout promises, and the “too big to fail” doctrine. If you can’t imagine it you have begun to grasp the nature of the actual political economy in which we live.

The latest financial crisis cannot have had roots in the free market because no free market has existed in finance, banking, or housing for a very long time. Its roots rather are in the government-business management of money and banking, and the political agenda imposed on a willing mortgage industry (among other things). So prevention of another crisis can hardly be found in new regulation by unaccountable bureaucrats who will necessarily lack the knowledge required to modulate risk systemwide without stifling innovation and progress. Wall Street acted according to the incentives generated by the corporatist political system. That’s why it’s so absurd for Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, and Andrew Cuomo (among others) to stand in judgment of Wall Street. They were principals in creating the incentives that made recklessness appear rational and even compatible with the political agenda being pursued. Yet they continue to occupy perches of power.

Wall Street’s blame lies not in behaving according to the incentives created by Washington – what should we have expected? — but in actively supporting a cartelized financial system that feathers its nest at the people’s expense while sheltering it from the disciplining gales of free and open competition. A coherent, sophisticated, and liberty-oriented populist response would consist of a repudiation of Washington and Wall Street."
Sheldon Richman is editor of The Freeman magazine, where this piece also appears, a senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation, and author of Tethered Citizens. Visit his blog "Free Association". Send him email:

"The Shock Doctrine of Disaster Capitalism"

"The Shock Doctrine of Disaster Capitalism"
by Paul B. Farrell

"Hot tip for all you “mad money” aficionados: Invest in “Disaster Capitalism.” This new investment sector is the core of the emerging “new economy” that generates profits by feeding off other peoples’ misery: Wars, terror attacks, natural catastrophes, poverty, trade sanctions, market crashes and all kinds of economic, financial and political disasters. Wall Street is a “master of disasters. ” We first covered it in 2007 before the subprime credit melttown. In late 2008 we saw how accurately this amoral strategy fits Wall Street.

First we watched in awe as our Treasury Secretary and Fed Chairman threw away $787 billion in taxpayer money to bailout an arrogant, corrupt and bankrupt Wall Street. Then, within a year, in a dramatic turn-of-events as the economy sank deep into 17% underemployment, and after creating an estimated $23.7 trillion in new taxpayer debt, Wall Street quickly returned to business-as-ususal, paying record $25 billion averaging $500,000 bonuses while screwing the public at every possible turn, such as inflating credit card fees and manipulating the Fed to keep Wall Street’s own interest rates near zero. Bottom line: Once again Wall Street demonstrates they’ve not only lost touch with reality, they’ve lost their “moral compass” and are adrift in the dark world of “disaster capitalism.”

In Wall Street’s Orwellian world, everything must be seen with new eyes: “Disasters” are “IPOs,” opportunities to buy into a new “company.” Corporations like Lockheed-Martin are the real “emerging nations” of the world, not some dinky countries like Greece or Iceland. Wall Street banks generate huge profits, grow earnings. And seen through the new rose-colored glasses of “Disaster Capitalism” they are hot new investment opportunities. To more fully grasp this new economy, you must read what may be the most important book on economics in the 21th century, Naomi Klein’s "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism," whose roots trace back the ideas of three 20th century giants:

1. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned us against the self-perpetuating and ever-expanding economic power of our “military-industrial complex.”
2. Nobel Economist Milton Friedman,who said economic change never occurs without a crisis shocking the system; whether the crisis is natural, induced, or merely perceived, as with enflaming public fears of war and terror threats.
3. Economist Joseph Schumpeter, whose saw “creative destruction” as a healthy process by which new technologies and new products made old ones obsolete.

“Disaster Capitalism” is financing a new world economic order says Klein, not just in “the divide between Baghdad’s Green and Red zones” but in other disaster zones, from post-tsunami Sri Lanka to post-Katrina New Orleans.” Disasters come in many ways: Weapons destroying power plants and hospitals, nature weakening bridges, hurricanes wiping out towns, ideological conflicts turning Africa’s farmlands into deserts, global banking systems favoring investors over public works, shopping malls over schools, sewage treatment and power plants, and so on.

Yes, this is a hot-button political issue. But for the moment, let’s put aside partisan politics, which many will find disturbing for the future of America. Let’s look at this strictly as investors and briefly consider what is may also be a guide for aggressive investors searching for investment opportunities in Disaster Capitalism. In a brilliant Harper’s excerpt from "The Shock Doctrine," Klein makes clear how this new economy is the wave of the future for certain investors: “Today, global instability does not just benefit a small group of arms dealers; it generates huge profits for the high-tech-homeland-security sector, for heavy construction, for private health-care companies, for the oil and gas sectors – and, of course, for defense contractors.” This new market is enormous: “Reconstruction is now such a big business that investors greet each new disaster with the excitement of hot new stock offering:$30 billion for Iraq reconstruction, $13 billion for tsunami reconstruction, $110 billion for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.” Get it? Disasters are “IPOs!” Followed by on-going revenues for “projects” like the Blackwater security contracts and constructing the world’s largest embassy in the isolated Baghdad Green Zone. Think positive: The “Disaster Capitalism” played a major role in bringing America’s economy out of the 2000-2002 bear-recession: “The scale of the revenues at stake was certainly enough to fuel an economic boom. Lockheed Martin, whose former vice president chaired the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which loudly agitated for the invasion, received $25 billion in U.S. government contracts in 2005 alone.”

Putting that in perspective, Klein quotes Congressman Henry Waxman: "That sum exceeded that gross domestic product of 102 countries, including Iceland, Jordan and Costa Rica [and] was also larger than the combined budgets” of the Departments of Interior and Commerce, the SBA and the entire legislature. “Lockheed itself deserved to be characterized as an emerging market. Companies like Lockheed (whose stock price tripled between 2001 and 2005) are a large part of the reason why the U.S. stock market was saved” after 9/11, helping the recovery more than the housing boom!

Plus energy: “The oil and gas industry is so intimately entwined with the economy of disaster – both as a root cause behind many disasters and as a beneficiary from them – that it deserves to treated as an honorary adjunct of the disaster-capitalism complex.” Citing the “outrageous fortunes of the oil sector – a $40 billion profit in 2006 for ExxonMobil (XOM) alone … Like the fortunes of corporations linked to defense, heavy construction and homeland security, those of the oil sector improve with every war, terrorist attack, and Category 5 hurricane.”

How to invest in the new “Disaster Capitalism”: It’s easy to invest in the “Disaster Capitalism” and the new economy. See the Spade Defense Index (DXS) of defense, homeland security and aerospace stocks. Klein says it “went up 76 percent between 2001 and 2006, while the S&P 500 dropped 5 percent.” You can trade the Spade Index as a PowerShare ETF (PPA). In addition, the Fidelity Select Defense & Aerospace Fund (FSDAX) offers another opportunity. According to Morningstar data, there are similar stocks in both, including: General Dynamics (GD), Ratheon (RTN), Rockwell Collins (COL), Boeing (BA), Harris (HRS), Northrop Grumman (NOC), and United Technologies (UTX).

”The Shock Doctrine” is one of the best economic book of the 21st century because it reveals in one place the confluence of cultural forces coming together and (1) restructuring a world economy as growing populations fight over depleting natural resources, and (2) as America drifts away from representative democracy to a government controlled by multiple, competing, well-financed and shadowy special interests. Here’s an overview of trends from the book as well as related ones:

One. Free market competes with government. In the past, when major catastrophes resulted in economic disruptions and human losses governments responded with “New Deals” and “Marshall Plans,” says Klein. Today, “Disaster Capitalism” companies see government agencies (like FEMA) and non-profits (Red Cross) as “competition” taking away new business. Military drafts would lower the need for mercenaries, even wars for high profits after a disaster, while engaging in lobbying to undercut the “competition.”

Two. Privatization of government for the investor class. These new forces are screaming to privatize our economy and government: After the Minneapolis bridge collapse Klein saw many calls for more private toll roads and bridges across America. Same with calls to privatize New York’s subways after rain closed them temporarily. Ditto with airports and their security. And in New Orleans, reconstruction moneys rebuilt private schools in upscale areas and neglected infrastructure in poor areas.

Three. War generates profits, peace hurts free markets. ”Disaster Capitalism” firms need wars to generate profits. And by sidestepping the draft, Iraq became a privatized war employing over 185,000 (20,000 more than the military), including truck drivers, PX clerks and mercenary soldiers. Blackwater was near bankruptcy before the war. Through secret no-bid contracts the US has paid for training centers which they now own. Peace does not generate disaster profits.

Four. Plutocratic government favoring wealthy over masses: “The vast infrastructure of the disaster industry, built up with taxpayer money, is all privately controlled” through special interests favoring the wealth classes during reconstruction. In New Orleans Klein saw the “so-called FEMA-villes: desolate out-of-the-way trailer camps for low-income evacuees [with guards that] treated survivors like criminals;” while the wealthy gated-communities quickly received water and power generators, private school and hospital services.

Five. Shadow banking system. Private equity firms and hedge funds are making our Federal Reserve Bank less and less relevant. Today a private banking system is emerging nationally and globally that operates in relative outside the established system and beyond the oversight of securities and banking regulators and the legislature, out in parallel universe beyond the comprehension of the vast majority of American taxpayers and Main Street investors.

So folks: Is “Disaster Capitalism” merely a hot short-term investment opportunity for you? Or is it a national “crisis,” a warning bell, a “shocking” call to rise above euphemisms like “creative destruction,” get into action and rein in the new “Wall Street/Washington Conspiracy” that’s pushing America every closer to the edge and over into a disastrous, self-destruct future? You probably already know the answer."

"War on terror?" "Democracy ?" No, folks, that's the sugar coated nonsense they use to gain your support. It's all about the MONEY. That's why we have over 800 military bases around the world, are fighting 2 illegal wars, and our sons and daughters are getting killed and wounded... Money. - CP

"Living Abroad: The Illegal Emigrant Phenomenon"

"Living Abroad: The Illegal Emigrant Phenomenon"
by Bill Bonner

"What’s going on in Arizona? The state legislature has passed a law that allows the police to stop anyone on the street and ask him for his papers. If his papers are not in order, the fellow is in trouble. The idea is to discourage illegal immigrants. Here at The Daily Reckoning our views on immigration are about as unpopular as our views on everything else. We listen to CNN en Espagnol in the morning. From what we can tell, immigrants from across the border are doing the country a big service. And illegal immigrants are the best kind. They work cheap. They stay out of trouble. They use few public services. And they don’t vote. What’s more, they know how to dance.

If we were all illegal immigrants, the country would have a much healthier economy. Labor rates would fall to levels where we could compete with other exporters. Social costs – food stamps, unemployment compensation, social security, medicare/aid – would drop. And non-voters couldn’t demand more bread and circuses from the legislature (currently, 47% of voters pay no taxes…)

Meanwhile, our old friend Jim Davidson thinks he’s spotted a new trend. For the first time ever, he says, immigration – legal or illegal – is not a problem: “Note that according to the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that agitates for tighter border controls, the number of illegal immigrants living in the United States declined to 11 million in 2008 from 12.5 million in 2007. For the first time since the depths of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, more persons appear to have left the US than moved in.” This is typical of a nation in decline, says Jim. It’s what happened to Great Britain after it lost its empire.

And now, there’s a new phenomenon: the illegal EMIGRANT. First this news item from The New York Times: "WASHINGTON – Amid mounting frustration over taxation and banking problems, small but growing numbers of overseas Americans are taking the weighty step of renouncing their citizenship. The Federal Register, the government publication that records such decisions, shows that 502 expatriates gave up their US citizenship or permanent residency status in the last quarter of 2009. That is a tiny portion of the 5.2 million Americans estimated by the State Department to be living abroad."

Still, 502 was the largest quarterly figure in years, more than twice the total for all of 2008, and it looms larger, given how agonizing the decision can be. There were 235 renunciations in 2008 and 743 last year. Waiting periods to meet with consular officers to formalize renunciations have grown. It is not easy to renounce your citizenship. If you are wealthy, the costs can be very high, as the feds try to punish you for leaving. Davidson comments: "Just as there are “illegal immigrants” to the United States, so there are also now growing numbers of “illegal emigrants” from the United States. While statistics are necessarily sketchy, evidence suggests that there has been a dramatic upsurge in the number of US persons living abroad. According to the Association of Americans Resident Overseas, (AARO) apart from the military and other US government employees, 5.26 million US citizens reside abroad, a 67 percent increase since 2008. “Among the benefits the study cites of a life abroad are statistics that show expats earn more, pay less tax, have a better work/life balance, have an improved quality of life, enjoy broader cultural opportunities, and enjoy better job prospects.”

In the opinion of the US State Department the AARO estimate is 25% too low. The State Department suggests that about 1.34 million Americans have become “illegal emigrants,” which is to say that they have gone abroad and “fallen off the radar.” As one report stated, “If an American living abroad stops paying their taxes, stops visiting the US, stops using embassy or consulate services they will not be OFFICIALLY counted anymore.”

"Expatriates Worldwide"

"In 2010, more than 200 million people will be living abroad. While the number of worldwide expatriates increases, it is hard to quantify the exact size of the worldwide expatriate market. Depending on the exact definition of expatriates the following groups of international migrants can be counted as part of the expatriate market:

• Professional working abroad, often on limited length assignments (some people restrict the term expatriates to this group).
• Lifestyle migrants that move abroad in search of a better way of life. This includes the increasing number of pensioners that move to hotter countries, because of the climate and lower cost of living.
• International students studying abroad.
• Economic migrants, people that move abroad for economic reasons as they can earn significantly more money and/or have an improved standard of living."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Democracy Central"

"This is a community for THINKING PEOPLE! If you care about the world, your country, your community, your family, and mankind then this is where you belong. We are interested in big ideas, change, and the small events of our lives that make every one of us the truly special people that we are. There is hope and we can be the change that hope requires; each of us in our own way can be a positive agent for change by the example that we set and the manner in which we share.

The purpose of Democracy Central is to develop a social network where people can share beliefs, life experiences, knowledge and information in a fun, respectful, and civil manner. Democracy Central is a community of individuals who believe in moving forward while respectful of our shared history: Its about finding new ways of looking and thinking about the things that make up the totality of our existence. Its not just about politics but rather its about how we view the world and our place in it.

As a social network feel free to develop your personal profile page as you see fit; start a forum discussion, start a group, share photos and videos. Visit our 'Be Social' page and share news articles with your fellow members, or other items of interest. Join in our chat room, or recommend a product or service to your fellow members."

This is a brand new forum for the exchange and sharing of news and ideas about subjects affecting
us all. Please stop by and check it out. I've joined, you should, too. Let your voice be heard!
- CP

James Howard Kunstler, "A Still Moment"

"A Still Moment"
By James Howard Kunstler

"George W. Bush was onto something in the fall of 2008 when he remarked apropos of the Lehman collapse: "...this sucker could go down." It's my serene conviction, by the way, that this sucker actually is going down, right now, even as I clatter away at the keys - perhaps in slow motion, so that not many other bystanders have noticed yet, and the few who have noticed are mostly too crosseyed with nausea to speak.

It's perhaps useful to define even what we mean when we say "this sucker." Everybody knows what a sucker is, of course - say, a Midwestern public employees' union pension fund snookered into buying a fat slice of equity tranche in a Goldman Sachs-engineered CDO. But "this sucker" is something else: a rather large cargo of commercial relations, entailed obligations, hopes, expectations, habits of daily life - indeed millions of whole lives - loaded onto the rather creaky vessel we call modern civilization. "This sucker" was such an apt term coming from someone whose understanding of civilization was like unto that of a boy who found a PlayStation under the Christmas tree.

It's also perhaps useful to define what we mean by "going down." To my mind it means an awful lot of money disappears and nobody can pay for anything and an awful of things that have kept going on promises to pay and to get paid will stop keeping going. I don't think that the idea of money disappears - that is, paper certificates representing claims on future work - but there will be a lot less of it to go around. Eventually the idea of money could go, too, at least in its current form as Federal Reserve notes. But mostly for some years it will just be a lot of people, companies, and governments who are broke. "Going down" will mean a society with no money and an infrastructure for daily life that requires gobs of money to run, and a populace too dazed, confused, and inflamed to do anything useful in the way of organizing new infrastructures for daily life for their new circumstances. In retrospect, the Great Depression of the 1930s will look like "The Philadelphia Story" compared to what we wake up to ten years from now.

President Obama's speech at Cooper Union last week was a remarkable performance. It managed to appear forceful and serious without containing any really serious or forceful proposals to discipline a banking system that is running a hostage-and-ransom racket on civilization. If this is finally what the Obama Experience is all about than his detractors have been right all along: he is a tool. Finance reform aside, there are still plenty of laws left on the statute books that could be applied to the frauds and rackets that ran absolutely amok on Wall Street the past few years. I would still like to know why buying CDS "insurance" against your own issue of bonds deliberately engineered to default is NOT a form of insider trading, to put it as simply as possible.

The SEC action against Goldman Sachs is likely to open a Pandora's box of troubles for that company, and perhaps all of the Too Big To Fail banks. But even so, I believe this sucker is going down before 99.9 percent of it is sorted out. Anyway, there was a lot about the SEC action that seemed curious, to put it mildly, from the timing of it, to the brevity of the document, to the strange fact that it emerged at all from an agency whose principal activity the past few years has been the viewing of internet porn, and which has otherwise behaved so indifferently in the face of numberless offenses to common decency, not to mention the public interest, that it might as well have been staffed by a thousand head of Holstein cows rather than licensed attorneys and graduates of accredited colleges.

This sucker is going down because the train of bankruptcies underway has a remorseless self-reinforcing power to provoke more and more bankruptcies at every stop along the line as every promise to pay is welshed on. The mortgages will not be paid and securities will not pay their investors and the banks will choke on the bad paper promises in their vaults and the pension funds will not pay their beneficiaries and the states and counties and municipalities will go broke and not pay their employees and creditors, and the federal government will not be able to "print" new money in sufficient quantities fast enough to compensate for all the money not being paid up-and-down the line... and one morning we will wake up and discover that all those promises to pay were sham promises based on no productive activity whatsoever... and that will be a sad day. Perhaps the Dow Jones Industrial Average will hit 35,000 on that day.

Nothing can stop this chain of bankruptcy. It's already baked in the cake. There is probably some wish on the part of those in charge, like Mr. Obama, to try everything possible to postpone it. And there is likewise surely a huge effort underway in the banking sector right now to cream off as much cash as possible so that when this sucker does go down they will bethink themselves better positioned to survive the consequences.

Personally, I believe that the damage was mostly done during the tenure of poor dim George W. Bush, and his predecessor Bill Clinton. I suspect that Mr. Obama learned at the height of 2008 election campaign - during those days of the Lehman collapse and the TARP - just how completely the government - and the people of the USA - were in fact hostage to the banking system, and that it has been his unfortunate role to pretend that there is some other fate to bargain for besides this sucker going down. It is probably why he continues to smoke so much. He must be lighting one Marlboro off the tip of another, one after another, in whatever inner sanctum he repairs to when the midnight chimes toll around the White House. It's sad to think of this graceful, still rather young man going down in history as the chump-of-the-century, a reincarnation of Herbert Hoover on steroids, with sugar on top.

Animosities brewing as they are among the various white elements of the country, I just hope this sucker doesn't resolve into an ugly bout of attempted ethnic cleansing. Certainly Obama's racial make-up has inspired a revival of the Ku Klux spirit around the Nascar ovals. I'm sincerely worried that the misdeeds of people name Blankfein, Rubin, and Madoff could provoke a red-white-and-blue pogrom.

The big mystery for the moment is how come a few good men of stature in important places have not stepped forward to say the right thing or do the right deed. How come no US congressperson challenged the knavish behavior of Republicans who condone malicious idiocy that they know to be false like the so-called "birther" activity. How come no putative "progressive" has called the Democrats on their disingenuous failure to call illegal immigrants what they are. How come no state attorney general has filed charges against TBTF bank misconduct even if the US attorney general lies in state over at the US DOJ. How come no political figure of any stripe has called for the resignation of Summers, Rubin, Gensler and other Goldman Sachs "sleepers" infesting high levels of government. How come Dylan Ratigan is the only visible figure in any major newsroom willing to identify the precise nature of the meta-swindle.

When this sucker goes down, our primary task will be reorganizing American life on a much more local and de-complexified basis. It's a very big assignment and especially daunting against a possible background of political disorder. The losses will be epic and the changes severe, but it doesn't have to mean the end of recognizably American culture. There will be very little money around, and it may end up being a certificate backed by gold issued by a bank other than the Federal Reserve. Or maybe we'll just be swapping stuff for the makings of dinner.

So many forces are roiling around 'out there' now that it's hard to believe that the authorities in government and banking can keep the illusion of normality going a whole lot longer. The possible litigation against Goldman Sachs-style frauds by a thousand aggrieved victims is enough to paralyze the system. Meanwhile, trillions in credit default swaps are ticking away like dirty bombs. Greece is going down, with Portugal, Spain, Ireland, and the UK standing by to go next. Nobody can pay their bills. Before long, the old folks won't get their checks. Then the poor folks. Lately, I wonder if there will even be an election six months from now."