Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Endgame In Afghanistan"

"Endgame in Afghanistan:
'It's taken a year to move 20km.'"
By Sean Smith, Michael Tait, Guy Grandjean and Alex Rees

"As the war in Afghanistan enters its final chapter, Sean Smith's brutal, uncompromising film from the Helmand frontline shows the horrific chaos of a stalemate that is taking its toll in blood. Warning: contains distressing scenes and strong language." Video is here:

Read Sean Smith's extraordinary diary of his time on the Afghanistan frontline here.

FREE Download: "The Poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson"

"The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are..."

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Ulysses"

FREE download, in PDF format, of the poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson is here

Hunter S. Thompson

"We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to fear- fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts, or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a terrorist sympathizer."
- Hunter S. Thompson

Peter Chamberlin, "Dangerous Conspiracy Theories"

"Dangerous Conspiracy Theories"
By Peter Chamberlin

"How could a bunch of “lone wolf” researchers be considered dangerous to the United States? The official explanation given is that we confuse those who hear or read what we have to say, undermining the national unity and trust in government which is necessary to wage war. That is as good an excuse as any to explain why the American people have not rallied around this war of terror. The national unity that politicians whine about was achieved only once in the beginning of this war, before the politicians and the corporations revealed the war for what it has always been–a war to control oil and gas.

The great danger posed by conspiracy theorists is that we will finally wake the people up to the fact that we have been deceived, in order trick us into allowing the armed forces of the United States to be used as a mercenary force, an army of conquest, to be used to rob the people of Asia of their God-given natural resources. The danger of the “conspiracy theorist” is that he will awaken the people from their trance-like slumber which binds them, trapped somewhere between the waking world and the dream state. In this state, most of us meekly “support the troops” as they mercilously clear the ground of resisters to the great conspiracy. The danger is that we will shock them and turn their thoughts toward this ugly reality of the waking world.

The “conspiracy theorist” is discredited because he or she dares to look for alternatives to the idiotic official excuses given for key events like the 911 and London subway bombings, or for historic, pivotal political assassinations. Researchers who dare to look beyond explanations which are obviously lies automatically become delegated to the lunatic fringe. With the Internet becoming the researchers’ primary source of information, it has became possible for national security organizations to control nearly all critical information, thus insuring that no one would find any hidden proof of the crimes of the past. This federal oversight meant that it became necessary for theorists to switch tactics and shift our focus from looking for evidence of government crimes in the past (which have had time to be covered-up), to rooting-out proof of ongoing crimes and criminal plans for the future. In today’s environment of massive social and political discontent, hard proof of either ongoing war crimes or of criminal conspiracies to commit future crimes, could very likely prove to be the spark that lights the “prairie fires” of a grass roots revolution. This is the real danger of uncontrolled research.

The sudden and widespread popular reactions to the Wikileaks story which contains proof of US and NATO war crimes, demonstrates the potential powderkeg to be tapped by the right torcher-bearer. Government leaders undoubtably understood the great potential danger risked by allowing the release of the Wiki documents, but, being the practitioners of Nazi mind-science that they are, they fully understood the potential rewards to be reaped by the correct handling of the leaks and Western reporting on them. Popular emphasis upon the Pakistani angle of Wiki revelations could help create a national consensus for attacking Taliban bases in Pakistan.

The Wikileaks were a document dump, intended to overwhelm researchers and to preoccupy them, studying the Empire’s past moves, in order to distract us from our new focus upon the present, looking towards the future. Look for the release of an even greater document dump from Wikileaks in the near future, as they dump their Iraq files onto the Internet. Another effect of the Wiki document dump is that it has flooded search engines with countless new variations on the search for “American war crimes,” or info on important key battles or screw-ups, making it even more impossible to find information on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or anything covered in the leaks. This will muddy the waters for us even more and make it even less likely in the future that we will stumble across important evidence of ongoing criminal activity.

The nature of our conspiracy research is searching to find preventative answers, evidence to reveal overlooked evidence which could possibly preempt ongoing conspiracy plans. My focus for several years now has been to find preventive evidence of America’s true intentions in Pakistan. I have chosen Pakistan because I figured it to be the primary focus of the whole ongoing criminal American conspiracy (which involves many foreign co-conspirators), the critical component to the entire pipeline scheme. No matter how far into Central Asia the evidence has gone, it always relates back to Pakistan, certainly as the port for the pipeline plans, but also, just as important, to the thirty-year old scheme to create an army of “Islamists,” created to serve the Empire builders’ plans. Without Pakistan, none of the current plans for Empire would have even been possible.

For this unshakeable loyalty, if nothing else, we owe Pakistan a great debt. But Pakistan has gone far beyond mere loyalty in serving American interests, risking everything to serve as America’s secret sword. Pakistan risked its very existence in this capacity, standing alone on the lofty Himalayan peaks, toe-to-toe against the intimidating Soviet Union. They exposed their entire population to thermonuclear blackmail or potential elimination, to serve as the American stand-in for the historic confrontation which brought the Communist empire to its knees. Pakistan has given and risked so much for us that our leaders have decided to sacrifice the Nation on the altar of self-aggrandisement. The greatest service we could do to them and to ourselves today would be to throw a monkey wrench into their plans for our Pakistani friends.

Sadly, the ongoing insidious criminal plans of the Empire extend far beyond Pakistan, reaching into every country on the earth, extending its tentacles like some great octopus, grasping to control every life within its reach. In the past, many researchers who got too close to the “Octopus” were eliminated, usually in an unconventional manner, usually in bizarre “suicides.” Now, our numbers have grown so great that it has altered the equation a bit, there are too many of us to kill today. The idea of using anti-Empire activists, such as myself, to help advance their plans and to agitate the public into a frenzy, has been a risky one. When the time comes to flip right-wing and left-wing activists towards the Empire’s preferred “consensus” there has always been a great inherent danger that the activists would not follow the trail of breadcrumbs leading us into new American police state.

That is the great weakness in the Empire’s plan–by continually operating in a Hegelian manner (always manipulating both left and right, to force a consensus), every argument put forth by politicians or behaviorists, seeking to confine us within a narrow political spectrum, reaches a flipping point, where both synthesis and antithesis change direction, heading towards, instead of away from each other. It is at this flipping, or tipping point, where the original argument fizzles-out, losing its steam and forward momentum, and the threat we represent becomes the greatest. The greatest danger in allowing us to access inconvenient or incriminating evidence from the Internet comes just at the point of flipping. This is why the Internet has not yet been pulled out from under us.

This is why the Wikileak leaks are like a two-edged sword, they could just as easily cut the legs out from under us as they could undercut the criminal war for resources. Instead of following the game plan and jumping on the national bandwagon of a “patriotic” war on Pakistan, we must find the strength to muster our own groundswell of support by exposing the criminal intentions which have underwritten this war from the beginning, bringing the American people together to oppose the planned expansion of the war.

We are a threat if we start to come together. The ideas that bind us all here in the alternative media are exactly the sort of thinking that must be eliminated. The path to either victory or defeat for the anti-Empire side, just as it is for the bad guys, lies in changing the thinking of the people. The bad guys are intent on erasing the polluting ideas of freedom, liberation and individualism from the human lexicon, replacing all of these cherished concepts with ideas of hopelessness, terror and submission. We must be just as committed to reinforcing visions of hope, fighting terror with truth and reason, building the fires of resistance within the beseiged minds of our countrymen and our fellow man.

The greatest danger to the Empire is that you will refuse to lie down and submit. If enough people begin to feel this way, then the tide will turn towards freedom’s shore."

A comment: Look at the girder directly behind the fireman in the graphic above. None of the firemen or responders made that angled cut. Do you understand what that is, and what it means? You should... - CP

BP Gulf Oil Disaster: "Cleanup Workers Are Having a Hard Time Finding Oil?"

"Cleanup Workers Are Having a Hard Time Finding Oil?"
by Washington's Blog

"Sounds good, right? Actually, if BP had let things run their course:

• Oil-skimming vessels could have sucked up most of the oil.
• Booms would have stopped most of the oil from hitting the shore.
•And oil-eating bacteria would have broken down most of the remaining oil.

Instead, BP has used millions of gallons of dispersants to hide the oil by breaking it up, so it sinks beneath the surface. That means that oil-skimming vessels can't find it or suck it up. As the Times-Picayune pointed out on July 16th: "The massive "A Whale" oil skimmer has effectively been beached after it proved inefficient in sucking up oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill. The oil is too dispersed to take advantage of the converted Taiwanese supertanker's enormous capacity, said Bob Grantham, a spokesman for shipowner TMT. He said BP's use of chemical dispersants prevented A Whale, billed as the world's largest skimmer, from collecting a "significant amount" of oil during a week of testing that ended Friday. "When dispersants are used in high volume virtually from the point that oil leaves the well, it presents real challenges for high-volume skimming," Grantham said in a written statement that did not include oil-collection figures from the test."

Similarly, the use of dispersants means that Booms can't stop it from hitting the shore. As marine biologist and oil spill expert Paul Horsman explains, using dispersants and oil booms are competing strategies. Specifically, breaking something down into tiny bits and dispersing it throughout a mile-plus deep and hundreds-miles wide region (the reason massive amounts of dispersants are being applied at the 5,000 foot-deep spill site as well as at the surface) makes it more difficult to cordon off and contain oil on the surface (the reason booms are being used).

And Corexit might be killing the oil-eating bacteria which would otherwise break down the oil. University of Georgia scientist Samantha Joye notes that scientists have no idea how the large quanties of dispersant will effect the Gulf's microbial communities. Moreover, as MSNBC notes, oil-eating bacteria are less active in deepwater, where much of the oil sinks after treatment with dispersants: "Some note that little is known about the deepwater ecosystem — or how the oil and dispersants will react under extremely high water pressure, very low temperatures, limited oxygen and virtually no light."

The conditions at the bottom of the Gulf also could affect the bacteria that help break down the oil near the surface, as they are less active in cold temperatures than in the warm surface waters, and they may be less abundant in the deep. “We know that the surface material has been degrading,” says Ralph J. Portier, professor of environmental studies at LSU. “But what about the microbial population at depth?” As Scientific American points out: "The last (and only) defense against the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is tiny—billions of hydrocarbon-chewing microbes, such as Alcanivorax borkumensis. In fact, the primary motive for using the more than 830,000 gallons of chemical dispersants on the oil slick both above and below the surface of the sea is to break the oil into smaller droplets that bacteria can more easily consume. If the oil is in very small droplets, microbial degradation is much quicker,” says microbial ecologist Kenneth Lee, director of the Center for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who has been measuring the oil droplets in the Gulf of Mexico to determine the effectiveness of the dispersant use. “The dispersants can also stimulate microbial growth. Bacteria will chew on the dispersants as well as the oil.”

But colder, deeper waters inhibit microbial growth. "Metabolism slows by about a factor of two or three for every 10 degrees Celsius you drop in temperature," notes biogeochemist David Valentine of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who just received funding from the National Science Foundation to characterize the microbial response to the ongoing oil spill. "The deeper stuff, that's going to happen very slowly because the temperature is so low." At the same time, the addition of ... dispersants deep beneath the surface is having uncertain effects; it may even end up killing the microbes it is meant to help thanks to the fact that Corexit 9527A contains the solvent 2-butoxyethanol, which is a known human carcinogen and toxic to animals and other life.

Mother Jones provides additional details: "David Valentine warns the stuff may be riskier than just its toxicity. Corexit may undermine the microbes that naturally eat oil. Some of the most potent oil-eaters—Alcanivorax borkumensis —are relatively rare organisms that have evolved to eat hydrocarbons from naturally occurring oil seeps. Valentine tells Eli Kintisch at Science Insider that after spills, Alcanivorax tend to be the dominant microbes found near the oil and that they secrete their own surfactant molecules to break up the oil before consuming the hydrocarbons. Other microbes don't make surfactants but devour oil already broken into small enough globs—including those broken down by Alcanivorax. What we don't know is how the surfactants in Corexit and its ilk might affect the ability of Alcanivorax and other surfactant-makers to eat oil. Could Corexit exclude Alcanivorax from binding to the oil? Could it affect the way microbes makes their own surfactants? Could Corexit render natural surfactants less effective?" The National Science Foundation has awarded Valentine a grant to study the problem.

So it's not a good thing that clean up workers can't find the oil. It means that the oil will lurk under the surface, in deeper waters where bacterial activity is slower, poisoning the sealife that lives beneath the surface, and washing back up during storms for years to come. Even Admiral Thad Allen, the government's point man for the crisis, said that breaking up the oil has complicated the cleanup. As AP reported on June 7th: "The hopeful report was offset by a warning that the farflung slick has broken up into hundreds and even thousands of patches of oil that may inflict damage that could persist for years."

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man for the crisis, said the breakup has complicated the cleanup. "Dealing with the oil spill on the surface is going to go on for a couple of months," he said at a briefing in Washington. But "long-term issues of restoring the environment and the habitats and stuff will be years." And Admiral Allen admitted in his press conference yesterday that oil could re-surface far into the future:

Question: There have been reports of very large undersea plumes of oil thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface. So when you say there’s the possibility of the shore being impacted for four to six weeks, how do you come up with that four to six week number? And are you taking into account these very large plumes of oil that are out there and very difficult to sort of gauge where they’re going?

Admiral Allen: What we’re going to continue to watch for is the oil we can’t see... But the ultimate impact of this spill… whether or not oil surfaces at a later date will be the subject of long-term surveillance... Impacts are going to go on for a long, long time.

As Congressman Markey said today, BP has made the Gulf “a toxic bowl” that will “haunt this region” for years, because “all of that oil is still under the surface."

The Daily "Near You?"

Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. Thanks for stopping by.

"A Classroom Without Walls"

"A Classroom Without Walls"
by Alexander Green

"Last November, my wife Karen and I toured the Mediterranean with a group of friends, landing one day at the Great Pyramids at Giza. It’s not those marvels of the ancient world that I remember most vividly, however, or the majesty of the Sphinx, or the sweep of the desert beyond. It’s the camel abduction. On the way to the pyramids, our guide told us to keep a wary eye on the local peddlers. “Having someone take a photo of you in front of the pyramids should cost a dollar,” he said. “A camel ride is about three dollars.” Minutes later, as I was gazing up at the imposing Pyramid of Khufu, an older gentleman invited me to take a jaunt on his camel, a mangy beast who was, unfortunately, standing just upwind. As I looked on with mild interest, he whistled for the animal to kneel down. The next thing I knew he was firmly escorting me onto the saddle and whistling for the camel to rise. Our group laughed and cheered as the camel driver led me off toward a rocky outcrop eighty or so yards away.

As soon as we were out of sight, however, the driver brought the camel to a halt and I was quickly surrounded by eight or ten Arab men shouting angrily at me in broken English to pay them each twenty dollars for the ride…now! I said no and told the camel driver to take me back. He turned away as if he couldn’t hear me. The group of men now pressed in tighter, feigning greater anger, as if I had somehow stiffed them all for the ride, which had so far lasted about 45 seconds. “Pay us now!” they shouted again, their hands stretched upwards.

We were at an impasse. I wasn’t about to pull out my wallet in front of this pack of hyenas. And I was too high up and boxed in to jump down. The men continued shouting and waving their arms. I shook my head and sat on my wallet like Jack Benny, wondering how this was going to play out. About then, a fellow tourist wandered by, recognized what was going on and barked at the men to back off. “He said he would pay you,” he insisted. “Let him go.” At this, the Arab men melted away and the camel driver turned and led me back. I’m sure this incident would have infuriated some, but I was more amused than rattled. I had never sensed any real danger. The men didn’t threaten violence or brandish any weapons. This was sheer intimidation, a tawdry little shakedown. And a reminder that Egypt is not Des Moines.

Back home, I discovered that friends and colleagues were only vaguely interested in the ruins of ancient Greece, the history of Jerusalem or the serene beauty of the Amalfi coast. “Tell us again about the camel abduction,” they said. Apparently, it was the highlight of the trip. Not all travel is a success. With expectations high, things can go awry, especially in a foreign land. But even the occasional bad incident makes a good story. (And, perversely, the worst trips make the best ones.) Most of my travel abroad, however, has not only been great fun but the best part of my education. This idea was once widely accepted.

In his "Essay Concerning Human Understanding," John Locke argued that we absorb knowledge from our immediate environment. If you spend too much time in one place, you can “use up” its educational value. In order to grow, you must change locales. In Victorian England, for example, travel abroad was more than just a mark of privilege. A “change of scenery” was a mandatory part of an upper-class education. The Grand Tour was the capstone of scholarship. It was a rite of passage that marked a superior understanding of the world. Young aristocratic gentlemen (and later young ladies) set out from the white cliffs of Dover for the Continent with their personal tutors in tow to gain knowledge from the worlds of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, to understand the cultures and ideas that underpin Western Civilization.

Of course, the urge to travel – to open our minds and move beyond the familiar – is as old as mankind itself. It drove our ancestors out of Africa and around the globe. It motivated the ancient Romans to visit Verona’s amphitheater and Athens’ Acropolis. Philo of Byzantium was already listing his Seven Wonders of the Ancient World in the third century B.C. The spirit of adventure, the quest for understanding, and, of course, the dream of great riches pulled Marco Polo to the East and men like Columbus and de Soto to the West.

Travel broadens the mind, increases tolerance, and connects you with your fellow human beings. The more we understand others, the better we understand ourselves. There are good people and unusual sights everywhere you go. Venture widely enough and you’ll enjoy exotic foods, extraordinary architecture, and jaw-dropping landscapes. Exploring the world is like attending a classroom without walls. It enriches and changes you. The only requirements are patience, curiosity and a bit of money. (A traveler’s tip: Pack half the clothes you think you’ll need and twice the cash.) Travel abroad fills in the gaps in our knowledge, dispels our preconceptions and offers endless surprises. Those who forego the opportunity truly don’t know what they’re missing.

It’s sad to go through life thinking foreigners are just strangers who dress oddly, eat bizarre foods, speak in incomprehensible tongues and drive on the wrong side of the road. As Mark Twain observed, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” A voyage abroad teaches acceptance and humility. When you travel, you are the stranger. You are the foreigner.

Your kids and grandkids should discover this too, beginning with travel closer to home. Years ago, I became mildly nauseated by all the toys and games my son and daughter were receiving on their birthdays and at Christmas. A trip – even if it’s only to the local fair or the town next door – is a far better gift. For kids, every outing is an adventure. Why not spend your time and money collecting memories instead of more stuff? It doesn’t need to be some place exotic, especially when they’re young. Just make for the horizon and see what’s out there. Traveling without knowing where you are going, without having any particular destination in mind, is one of life’s great pleasures.

Of course, there are plenty of resources to get your mind working on places you’ve never considered. One of my favorites is "Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips," a lavish volume put together by National Geographic.

Another handy guide is the bestseller "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" by Patricia Schultz. It’s is a fine way to investigate destinations both on and off the beaten track. I’ve gotten in the habit of taking it with me on business trips to make sure I don’t miss the local sights and events. (If you’re on a tight budget – or unable to travel overseas – there’s even a version dedicated solely to the U.S. and Canada.)

In short, travel broadens our perspective and sharpens our view of the world. Rather than imagining how things may be, we see them as they truly are. Your mind becomes more tolerant, your heart more magnanimous, your opinions better informed. And once your perspective is enlarged, it never shrinks back to its original state. Some people make a pledge to visit all 50 states, or all seven continents, or fulfill some other checklist. And that’s fine. But your ultimate goal is not a place, but a new way of seeing things. Carpe Diem..."

"Human Nature"

Psychology: "American Soldiers Brainwashed with 'Positive Thinking'?"

"American Soldiers Brainwashed with 'Positive Thinking?'"
by Bruce E. Levine

"While U.S. military psychiatrists are prescribing increasing amounts of chill pills, America's psychologists are teaching soldiers how to think more positively about their tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and wherever else they are next ordered to kill the bad guys and win the hearts and minds of everyone else. The U.S. Army is planning to require that all 1.1 million of its soldiers take intensive training in positive psychology and emotional resiliency. Army Research Psychologist Capt. Paul Lester, who leads the assessment of the program, told the National Psychologist ("Army to Train its Own in Positive Psychology," July/August 2010), "As far as I can tell this is the largest, deliberate, psychological intervention in human history. . . . We don't know when the global war on terrorism is going to end so we're preparing to have to be engaged for a long period of time."

Lester said the program would develop "communication skills, cognitive reforming skills and help soldiers not to catastrophize -- don't think of the worse case scenario about every potential problem." The program also teaches soldiers to focus on "expressing appreciation" and "correcting negative views of ambiguous events."

In August 2009, the New York Times reported that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army's chief of staff, said the total cost of this program would be $117 million. The New York Times was alerted to the program by psychologist Martin Seligman, director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, who has been consulting with the Pentagon. Seligman's particular program at Penn is costing the U.S. Army $25 to $30 million, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which in its profile of Seligman (May 30, 2010) noted that he "confidently walked the line between grand and grandiose"; and it quoted him asserting, "We're after creating an indomitable Army."

Seligman initially thought that training the entire Army would be nearly an impossible chore because of the enormous number of teachers required. However, Gen. Casey informed him that the Army had 40,000 teachers. "You do?" Seligman said. "Yes," Casey retorted, they're called drill sergeants." Now 150 sergeants come to Penn each month to take a course in positive psychology. At one training session given at a hotel near Penn, according to the New York Times, 48 sergeants in full fatigues sat at desks, took notes, and role played. In one exercise, Sgt. First Class James Cole of Fort Riley, Kansas and his classmate transformed Sgt. Cole's negative thinking about an order late in the day to have Sgt. Cole's exhausted men do one last difficult assignment. "Why is he tasking us again for this job?" the classmate asked, pretending to be Sgt. Cole. "It's not fair." Sergeant Cole gave the "correct" positive-thinking response, "Maybe he's hitting us because he knows we're more reliable."

While positive psychology makes some sense for teenagers who are catastrophizing their first relationship breakup to the point of becoming suicidal, how much sense does it make to teach soldiers who are trying to stay alive in a war zone to put a positive spin on everything? Moreover, wouldn't soldiers like their officers to consider worst-case scenarios before ordering them into combat? And wouldn't soldiers like politicians to take seriously worst-case scenarios before embarking on a war? The healthy option to negative thinking is not positive thinking but critical thinking. Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Bright-sided and astute critic of the dark side of positive thinking and positive psychology, points out: "It's easy to see positive thinking as a uniquely American form of naïveté, but it is neither uniquely American nor endearingly naïve. In vastly different settings, positive thinking has been a tool of political repression worldwide. . . . In the Soviet Union, as in the Eastern European states and North Korea, the censors required upbeat art, books, and films, meaning upbeat heroes, plots about fulfilling production quotas, and endings promising a glorious revolutionary future. . . .The penalties for negative thinking were real. Not to be positive and optimistic was to be 'defeatist'. . . . Accusing someone of spreading defeatism condemned him to several years in Stalinist camps."

While the U.S. military has only recently become excited about positive psychology techniques, it has, for the last decade, increasingly used psychiatric drugs to keep soldiers going. One in six service members is now taking at least one psychiatric drug, according to the Navy Times ("Medicating the Military," March 17, 2010), with many soldiers taking "drug cocktail" combinations. Soldiers and military healthcare providers report that psychiatric drugs are "being prescribed, consumed, shared and traded in combat zones." While soldiers' increasing use of antidepressants is troubling enough (as the Food and Drug Administration now requires warnings on antidepressants about their increasing the risk of "suicidality" in children, teenagers, and young adults), what's as or even more worrisome is the increase of other psychiatric drugs. In the last decade, antipsychotic drug use in the U.S. military has increased more than 200 percent, and anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills have increased 170 percent. These kinds of drugs impair motor skills, reduce reaction times, and generally make one more sluggish - or what soldiers call "stupid," as the Navy Times notes.

While pushing drugs and teaching positive thinking earns mental health professionals money and brownie points with the elite, there is another path for mental health professionals working with U.S. soldiers. First, offer soldiers respect for their critical thinking, even if such critical thinking brings them to conclusions unwanted by their superiors. Second, if soldiers are anxious or angry because they believe that an ego-tripping commanding officer is going to get them killed, do NOT tell them to stop "catastrophizing"; instead take what they say seriously. And if soldiers are depressed because they have seen too much death, instead of directing them to "express appreciation," try offering genuine compassion. But don't stop with only compassion. Speak truth to power. Tell politicians who are maintaining America's wars and planning still others: Don't kid yourself into thinking positive psychology and chill pills are the answers, especially if soldiers and veterans discover that you deceived them about the necessity and the meaningfulness of their mission. Psychologists should loudly warn politicians, military brass, and the nation that if soldiers and veterans discover that they have been deceived about the meaningfulness and necessity of their mission, it is only human for them to become more prone to emotional turmoil, which can lead to destructive behaviors for themselves and others."

Cosmology: "Big Bang Abandoned in New Model of the Universe"

"Big Bang Abandoned in New Model of the Universe"
by Technology Review, MIT

"A new cosmology successfully explains the accelerating expansion of the universe without dark energy; but only if the universe has no beginning and no end. As one of the few astrophysical events that most people are familiar with, the Big Bang has a special place in our culture. And while there is scientific consensus that it is the best explanation for the origin of the Universe, the debate is far from closed. However, it's hard to find alternative models of the Universe without a beginning that are genuinely compelling. That could change now with the fascinating work of Wun-Yi Shu at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. Shu has developed an innovative new description of the Universe in which the roles of time space and mass are related in a new kind of relativity.

Shu's idea is that time and space are not independent entities but can be converted back and forth between each other. In his formulation of the geometry of spacetime, the speed of light is simply the conversion factor between the two. Similarly, mass and length are interchangeable in a relationship in which the conversion factor depends on both the gravitational constant G and the speed of light, neither of which need be constant. So as the Universe expands, mass and time are converted to length and space and vice versa as it contracts. This universe has no beginning or end, just alternating periods of expansion and contraction. In fact, Shu shows that singularities cannot exist in this cosmos.

It's easy to dismiss this idea as just another amusing and unrealistic model dreamed up by those whacky comsologists. That is until you look at the predictions it makes. During a period of expansion, an observer in this universe would see an odd kind of change in the red-shift of bright objects such as Type-I supernovas, as they accelerate away. It turns out, says Shu, that his data exactly matches the observations that astronomers have made on Earth. This kind of acceleration is an ordinary feature of Shu's universe.

That's in stark contrast to the various models of the Universe based on the Big Bang. Since the accelerating expansion of the Universe was discovered, cosmologists have been performing some rather worrying contortions with the laws of physics to make their models work. The most commonly discussed idea is that the universe is filled with a dark energy that is forcing the universe to expand at an increasing rate. For this model to work, dark energy must make up 75 per cent of the energy-mass of the Universe and be increasing at a fantastic rate.

But there is a serious price to pay for this idea: the law of conservation of energy. The embarrassing truth is that the world's cosmologists have conveniently swept under the carpet one the of fundamental laws of physics in an attempt to square this circle. That paints Shu's ideas in a slightly different perspective. There's no need to abandon conservation of energy to make his theory work. That's not to say Shu's theory is perfect. Far from it. One of the biggest problems he faces is explaining the existence and structure of the cosmic microwave background, something that many astrophysicists believe to be the the strongest evidence that the Big Bang really did happen. The CMB, they say, is the echo of the Big bang.

How it might arise in Shu's cosmology isn't yet clear but I imagine he's working on it. Even if he finds a way, there will need to be some uncomfortable rethinking before his ideas can gain traction. His approach may well explain the Type-I supernova observations without abandoning conservation of energy but it asks us to give up the notion of the Big Bang, the constancy of the speed of light and to accept a vast new set of potential phenomenon related to the interchangeable relationships between mass, space and time. Rightly or wrongly, that's a trade off that many will find hard. Let's hope Shu sticks to his guns, if only for the sake of good old-fashioned debate."

"How It Really Is"

H.L. Mencken

"It is inaccurate to say I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office."

"The theory behind representative government is that superior men—or at all events, men not inferior to the average in ability and integrity—are chosen to manage the public business, and that they carry on this work with reasonable intelligence and honesty. There is little support for that theory in the known facts..."
- H.L. Mencken

Sincere apologies to monkeys for equating them with a lower life form...

"The Ruling Elite Called"

"The Ruling Elite Called"
by JimQ

"Capitalism should not be condemned, since we haven’t had capitalism."
— Ron Paul

"I just got off the horn with the Ruling Elite. We had an emergency conference call and to tell you the truth, they ain’t happy. You little people are not responding the way you are supposed to. A significant portion of you are not getting more optimistic because they tell you to. Instead of just reading the headline on Bloomberg that durable goods orders skyrocketed in June, you actually read the details that said durable goods orders plunged. It is getting difficult for the ruling elite to keep the masses sedated and dumbed down. These damn bloggers, with their facts and critical thinking, are throwing a wrench into the gears. Obama and his crack team are working round the clock to lock down the internet, but it will take time. Not that they are totally dissatisfied. They’ve been able to renovate their penthouses and purchase new mansions in the Hamptons with the billions in bonuses you supplied through TARP. The $1.2 trillion supplied by your children and grandchildren to buy up toxic mortgages off their balances sheets was a godsend. They will never call you suckers, to your face.

Their spirits were buoyed by the 2,600 pages DONK (Dodd/Frank) financial reform bill. So many loopholes, so little time. Obama and his crack team of Obamanistas in the White House, supported by their mouthpieces in the mainstream media, have been able to easily manipulate the non-thinking masses into believing this bill would have stopped the last financial crash and will stop the next one. The Ministry of Truth has been working overtime utilizing Federal Reserve paid shill economists like Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi to perpetuate the myth that the actions taken in the last 18 months have averted a Depression, saved 8 million jobs, created a long-lasting recovery, wiped out Swine Flu, and earned Paul Krugman a nobel prize in fiction.

This is where we have a problem. The worshippers of Keynes, that rule the country, are pissed off at you. Don’t you realize that government spending of your money, borrowed from the Chinese, with the bill passed to your grandchildren, was supposed to reinvigorate your animal spirits. They handed you other people’s money to buy cars and homes and what do you do? You stop buying cars and homes as soon as they stop paying you to buy cars and homes. You ungrateful bastards. Bennie has been hugely successful at ruining the retirements of millions of grandmothers by paying them .20% on their money market accounts while forcing mortgage rates for 30 years down to 4.5%. And still you don’t buy houses. Timmy has instructed Fannie Mae to make home loans to anyone with a pulse who can make an X on a piece of paper. No money down, no proof of income, no assets. Just like the good old days. Still you don’t buy houses. What is wrong with you?

The criminal banking elite have more than bent over backwards to get this economy humming. They have patiently stood by while you haven’t made your mortgage payments for two years while still residing in the house. They’ve pretended to go along with the brilliant HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program) plan, masterminded by the rocket scientists in the White House. Just because virtually no one has been able to qualify for the plan and the redefault rate is 75%, doesn’t mean it hasn’t worked wonders for the economy. The awesome part of not making people pay their mortgages is that they were able to make payments on their credit cards. That allowed the mega elite banks to pretend that consumers are flush and relieve their loan loss reserves while not writing off the bad mortgages and reporting billions in profits for the 2nd Quarter. It is good to be the ruling elite.

The ruling elite are letting you slide on your mortgages and you have the gall to withdraw $20 billion from U.S. equity funds and not buy into this fake stock rally. Don’t you realize that when the stock market goes up, the economy follows? Everyone knows this. But, instead you sit on the sidelines and refuse to invest in the stock market. The super computers of the mega-banks are getting tired of trading with each other and single-handedly making the stock market appear safe. Just because the ruling elite have vaporized $10 trillion of your net worth in the last two years, you hold a grudge? Remember the mantra “Stocks For the Long Run” that the ruling elite burned into your brains through CNBC and the rest of the shillstream media? Why are you so suspicious of their advice. Ignore the fact that the S&P 500 today is at the exact level it reached on March 24, 1998. They meant the really really long run.

Here is the message from the ruling elite to you ignorant masses: Debt got us into this mess and it sure as hell is going to get us out. They have convinced the mainstream media that the reason the economy is sputtering is because the average Joe is not doing their part. This crazy concept of saving for a rainy day seems to be catching on. This is very dangerous. Savings could lead to investment and long-term stability. The ruling elite will have none of that foolishness. The mainstream media is telling you that this new found austerity will push us back into recession. The talking heads continue to pound away that you have reduced your spending too much, when anyone with a calculator and half a brain (Krugman doesn’t make the cut) can determine that the decrease in consumer debt outstanding is completely the result of write-offs by the mega elite banks. Consumers are living off their credit cards at this point.

The military industrial complex continues to do the heavy lifting for this economy. If they weren’t blowing up bridges, power plants and orphanages in foreign countries and then rebuilding them at ten times the expected cost, how would they possibly spend $895 billion per year. It ain’t easy to waste that kind of money annually. Whenever some crazy dude like Ron Paul questions the need to spend as much as the rest of the world combined on the military, some potential terrorists are captured in the nick of time and the threat level is raised to Orange (thanks Tom Ridge). The “professional” journalists on the major networks then do their part in this farce by spreading fear among the general population. Rinse and repeat.

So, we now find ourselves at the edge of the abyss again. The ruling elite have a great plan. It involves more debt, more stimulus, more printing, more accounting fraud, more pain for the masses, and of course more bonuses for Wall Street. If you, the little people, will just follow this 10 step plan, the ruling elite will be just fine:

• Stocks are undervalued according to the same “experts” who told you they were undervalued in October 2007. Take out a loan and buy mega-banks stocks, commercial real estate developers, and bankrupt car companies.
• General Motors, in a brilliant strategic coup, has bought “subprime” auto loan company Americredit. What else does a government/union owned car company need? The fact that GMAC has lost $10 billion of taxpayer funds in the last year shouldn’t worry you about your investment in GM. If you can’t sell cars to people with no income, no job and no prospects for repaying the seven year 0% loan, who can you sell a car to. When the government pays Goldman Sachs millions to convince you to buy the stock of GM in its Fall IPO, ask no questions and just buy buy buy.
• Ignore the fact that Citicorp, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo would be declared insolvent if the FASB had not caved into threats from the Federal Reserve and Treasury. Just buy their stocks. Trust Wall Street.
• Enough austerity already. You haven’t bought a new HDTV in six months. It’s like you’ve been living in a 3rd world country. If you have any equity left in your house, borrow against it and buy something big and glitzy. Make sure you show it off to your shallowest neighbors. They will go out and buy something bigger and glitzier on credit. Before you know it we have a recovery. Keynesianism 101.
• Stop frequenting financial blogs like Naked Capitalism, Credit Writedowns, Dollar Collapse, Market Oracle, 321Gold, Jesse’s Cafe Americain, Of Two Minds, Zero Hedge, Mike Shedlock, or Barry Ritholtz. These sites will just shower you with facts, analysis and truth. Watch CNBC, Fox, MSNBC and the other corporate media to get the ruling elite approved view of the world.
• If you are currently renting or living in your mother’s basement, have no job, no savings and no prospects, Fannie Mae wants to put you in your very own house. Mortgage payments are optional. The 50% of Americans that pay taxes will gladly fund your new abode.
• If you are approaching the 99th week of unemployment, have no fear. The ruling elite will use the MSM to run hundreds of sob stories about only two years on the dole being immoral and cruel. The White House will present a study from “impartial” economists that proves that extending unemployment benefits to 156 weeks will create or save 3 million jobs.
• The stress of this recession has been too much. You need to whip out that credit card and book a trip to Disney World or Dollywood. Worry about funding that 401k sometime in the future.
• Unquestioningly accept the fact that Iran is an imminent threat to your safety and liberty. Support the obliteration of this evil nation based upon information provided by the CIA (WMD slamdunk) and the Israelis.
• Lastly, call your Congressman and tell them to extend the tax cuts for the rich. As you have probably concluded, the ruling elite are rich. They don’t like paying taxes. That is why they employ thousand of tax lawyers. Since the expiration of the Bush tax cuts will hurt the ruling elite the most, a full court press of disinformation is in order.

The ruling elite expect you to comply without question. Have they ever led you astray before?"

The Mogambo Guru, "US Economic Outlook: Indebted to Death"

"US Economic Outlook: Indebted to Death"
By The Mogambo Guru

"John Stepek at, talking about the “European bank stress tests” that were “a whitewash, of course” said that it kind of reminded him of “one of Gordon Brown’s budgets.” My immediate reaction, of course, and speaking as a true American, is to ask, “Huh? Gordon who?” as a clever way of reminding these British guys that real Americans, like me, don’t know about anything, or care about anything, that is not about America and/or Americans and how it affects us, as Americans, but mostly me, personally, as an American.

And this goes Freaking Mogambo Double (FMD) for some dirtbag, lying piece of worthless has-been British ex-prime minister named Gordon Brown, which rhymes with “clown,” which could explain how he is infamous for having sold all of Britain’s sovereign gold at the exact low price for gold, which makes you laugh at him – hahahaha! – even though the record-low price is more probably explained by the fact that he sold all of the gold, glutting the market and driving the price down.

Usually, I would just dismissively say, with a condescending sniff, “Bah! More euro-trash acting badly!” and let it go at that. I soon realized that if I had, then it would certainly have been my loss, as his next sentence is pure gold as regards the economic state of the world. He wrote, to my delight, “You know the sort of thing – a glossy sheen of half-truths and not-quite-outright-lies disguising the true horror of the underlying economic situation.” Bravo! Wonderful! He goes on, although almost anti-climactically, “A roll-call of good news to distract the attention, while all the bad stuff and caveats are buried in the small print or left to the imagination.”

Such a perfectly and precisely-correct pearl of prose is completely wasted on the aforementioned “euro-trash” of course, even though he is being more-than-kind to not even mention that we corrupt Americans have again surpassed our British friends, in that we also include bald-faced lies and “hedonic adjustments” to the data in our “official reports”! Hahaha! Of course, he did not mention the fact that there is no good news, anywhere, and there never will be, because there is No Freaking Way Out (NFWO) of the economic mess caused by the creation of too much money for too long (in this case the foul Federal Reserve doing exactly that), except through massive bankruptcy and losses, and misery and suffering, and then some more misery and suffering until the government gets us into a distracting, devastating war, whereupon everything gets worse.

So maybe I was particularly attuned to references to “a glossy sheen of half-truths and not-quite-outright-lies disguising the true horror of the underlying economic situation” because of an article by Laurence Kotlikoff, referred to only as a “professor of economics at Boston University,” by The Financial Times, who writes, “during the past half-century, the US has sold tens of trillions of unofficial IOUs, leaving it with liabilities to pay Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits that total 40 times official debt.”

I could feel my heart literally shudder at the thought of how much money we are talking about at “40 times official debt” but although nobody “does the math,” it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to intuit that multiplying 40 times $13.3 trillion is a lot of money to owe, especially when the entire GDP of the Whole Freaking Country (WFC) for an entire year is little more than $14 trillion! If that!

Yikes! My hands visibly shake to realize that we’re on the hook to pay 40 times what we make as an entire nation, but people can’t get a loan on a house costing 6 times income, although we are already paying, collectively, 50% of GDP in federal, state and local taxes, which is not to mention all the layers and layers of government and agencies that are spending more than half of all the spending done in the Whole Freaking Country (WFC)! Yikes!

Yikes, indeed! Look at my hands shake! Listen to my heart going thumpa-thumpa-thumpa in fear! Wow!

Mr. Kotlikoff makes no mention of my shaking hands or veins pulsating ominously in my forehead, perhaps because it is obvious that these infirmities are the least of my many, many problems, one of which is that I am Completely Freaked Out (CFO) because, as he says coincidentally, “The US is one foot away from a deep and permanent economic grave.” Anyway, maybe the realization that “We’re freaking doomed!” is why he concludes his piece with the gloomy last sentence “It is far past time to do meaningful long-term fiscal planning, level with the public, and implement radical reforms that permanently put America’s fiscal house in order.” Now, that is scary! “Far past time!” Just like I have been screaming all this time!

In fact, if I was writing the piece, I would have at least concluded with a hopeful, uplifting sentence like “So, buy gold, silver and oil with a frantic abandon in preparation for a final, ruinous cataclysm and almost certainly a huge, deadly war, which is the lesson one learns from what has happened all the other times in history when moronic governments borrowed too much money and/or when the greedy banks created too much money, and especially what happened in all the other times of history when the money was made of mere paper and other easy-to-produce yet completely worthless numeraires like computer bits and bytes, which can’t even be seen, for crying out loud!”

As a literary note, I would have closed the article with, “Whee! This investing stuff is easy!” but I was advised that The Financial Times is a little too classy a place to parade my embarrassingly childish glee at the happy, happy fact."

Richard Daughty (The Mogambo Guru) is general partner and COO for Smith Consultant Group, serving the financial and medical communities, and the writer/publisher of the Mogambo Guru economic newsletter, an avocational exercise to better heap disrespect on those who desperately deserve it. The Mogambo Guru is quoted frequently in Barron's, The Daily Reckoning , and other fine publications.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Afghan Occupation: "Deaf, Dumb, and Blind"

"Deaf, Dumb, and Blind"
by Paul Craig Roberts

"The White House is screaming like a stuck pig. WikiLeaks’ release of the Afghan War Documents "puts the lives of our soldiers and our coalition partners at risk." What nonsense. Obama’s war puts the lives of American soldiers at risk, and the craven puppet state behavior of "our partners" in serving as US mercenaries is what puts their troops at risk.

Keep in mind that it was someone in the US military that leaked the documents to WikiLeaks. This means that there is a spark of rebellion within the Empire itself. And rightly so. The leaked documents show that the US has committed numerous war crimes and that the US government and military have lied through their teeth in order to cover up the failure of their policies. These are the revelations that Washington wants to keep secret.

If Obama cared about the lives of our soldiers, he would not have sent them to a war, the purpose of which he cannot identify. Earlier in his regime, Obama admitted that he did not know what the mission was in Afghanistan. He vowed to find out what the mission was and to tell us, but he never did. After being read the riot act by the military/security complex, which recycles war profits into political campaign contributions, Obama simply declared the war to be "necessary." No one has ever explained why the war is necessary.

The government cannot explain why the war is necessary, because it is not necessary to the American people. Any necessary reason for the war has to do with the enrichment of narrow private interests and with undeclared agendas. If the agendas were declared and the private interests being served identified, even the American sheeple might revolt.

The Obama regime has made war the business of America. Escalation in Afghanistan has gone hand in hand with drone attacks on Pakistan and the use of proxy forces to conduct wars in Pakistan and North Africa. Currently, the US is conducting provocative naval exercises off the coasts of China and North Korea and instigating war between Colombia and Venezuela in South America. Former CIA director Michael Hayden declared on July 25 that an attack on Iran seems unavoidable.

With the print and TV media captive, why doesn’t Washington simply tell us that the country is at war without going to the trouble of war? That way the munitions industry can lay off its workers and put the military appropriations directly into profits. We could avoid the war crimes and wasted lives of our soldiers.

The US economy and the well-being of Americans are being sacrificed to the regime’s wars. The states are broke and laying off teachers. Even "rich" California, formerly touted as "the seventh largest economy in the world," is reduced to issuing scrip and cutting its state workers’ pay to the minimum wage.

Supplemental war appropriations have become routine affairs, but the budget deficit is invoked to block any aid to Americans — but not to Israel. On July 25 the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported that the US and Israel had signed a multi-billion dollar deal for Boeing to provide Israel with a missile system.

Americans can get no help out of Washington, but the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, declared that Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security is "not negotiable." Washington’s commitment to California and to the security of the rest of us is negotiable. War spending has run up the budget deficit, and the deficit precludes any help for Americans.

With the US bankrupting itself in wars, America’s largest creditor, China, has taken issue with America’s credit rating. The head of China’s largest credit rating agency declared: "The US is insolvent and faces bankruptcy as a pure debtor nation." On July 12, Niall Ferguson, an historian of empire, warned that the American empire could collapse suddenly from weakness brought on by its massive debts and that such a collapse could be closer than we think. Deaf, dumb, and blind, Washington policymakers prattle on about "thirty more years of war."

"A Look to the Heavens"

"What are those strange rock structures? They are towers and walls of sedimentary rock that are particularly plentiful in Bryce Canyon in Utah, USA. The rock columns may rise higher than 50 meters and are called hoodoos. On the far left is Thor's Hammer, perhaps the most famous hoodoo. The tall rock columns were carved, most typically, when a unusually dense cap of rock provided a layer of protection to rock underneath from rain-based erosion.
In the above panoramic picture taken earlier this month and compressed horizontally, the foreground rocks were momentarily illuminated by a roving spotlight. Visible in the background are a few water clouds a few kilometers away hovering over the nearby Earth. Visible well beyond that are thousands of individually discernible stars averaging a few hundred light years away in the nearby Milky Way Galaxy. Far in the distance lie billions of stars that are thousands of light years away and compose the faintly glowing arch that is the visible central band of the flat disk of our Milky Way. Over many years, wind and rain will eventually cause the tops of the hoodoos to topple, whereafter the underlying column will likely completely erode away."

Chet Raymo, "Lessons"

by Chet Raymo

"There is a four-line poem by Yeats, called "Gratitude to the Unknown Instructors":

What they undertook to do
They brought to pass;
All things hang like a drop of dew
Upon a blade of grass.

Like so many of the short poems of Yeats, it is hard to know what the poet had in mind, who exactly were the unknown instructors, and if unknown how could they instruct. But as I opened my volume of The Poems this morning, at random, as in the old days people opened the Bible and pointed a finger at a random passage seeking advice or instruction, this is the poem that presented itself. Unsuperstitious person that I am, it seemed somehow apropos, since outside the window, in a thick Irish mist, every blade of grass has its hanging drop.

Those pendant drops, the bejeweled porches of the spider webs, the rose petals cupping their glistening dew - all of that seems terribly important here, now, in the silent mist. There is not much good to say about getting old, but certainly one advantage of the gathering years is the falling away of ego and ambition, the felt need to be always busy, the exhausting practice of accumulation. Who were the instructors who tried to teach me the practice of simplicity when I was young - the poets and the saints, the buddhas who were content to sit beneath the bo tree while the rest of us scurried here and there? I scurried, and I'm not sorry I did, but I must have tucked their lessons into the back of my mind, a cache of wisdom to be opened at my leisure.

Whatever it was they sought to teach has come to pass. All things hang like a drop of dew upon a blade of grass."

FREE Download: Rumi, "Words of Paradise- Selected Poems of Rumi"

"What in your life is calling you,
When all the noise is silenced,
The meetings adjourned...
The lists laid aside,
And the Wild Iris blooms
By itself in the dark forest...
What still pulls on your soul?"

- Rumi (1207 - 1273)

"Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi was a 13th century Afghan poet and philosopher who heavily influenced both eastern and western poetry. His poetry is divided into categories: the quatrains and odes of the "Divan," the six books the "Masnavi," the discourses, the letters and the "Six Sermons." Rumi's major poetic work is "Matnawiye Ma'nawi," a six-volume poem, considered by many literary critics to be one of the greatest works of mystical poetry ever written. Rumi's prose works included "Fihi Ma Fihi," "Majalese Sab'a" and "Maktubat." His prose work largely contains sermons and lectures given by Rumi to his disciples and family members. Following Rumi's death, his followers founded the Mevlevi Order, also known as the "Whirling Dervishes."

FREE download, "Words of Paradise- Selected Poems of Rumi" are here:


Derrick Jensen

"Surely by now there can be few here who still believe the purpose of government is to protect us from the destructive activities of corporations. At last most of us must understand that the opposite is true: that the primary purpose of government is to protect those who run the economy from the outrage of injured citizens."
- Derrick Jensen

The Environment: Clive Thompson, "Nothing Grows Forever"

"Nothing Grows Forever"
by Clive Thompson

"Peter Victor is an economist who has been asking a heretical question: Can the Earth support endless growth? Traditionally, economists have argued that the answer is "yes." In the 1960s when Victor was earning his various degrees, a steady rise in gross domestic product (GDP)—the combined value of our paid work and the things we produce—was seen as crucial for raising living standards and keeping the masses out of poverty. We grow or we languish: This assumption has become so central to our economic identity that it underpins almost every financial move our leaders make. It is to economics what the Second Law of Thermodynamics is to physics.

But Victor—now a professor at York University in Toronto—felt something tugging him in the opposite direction. Ecologists were beginning to learn that Earth does have limits. Pump enough pollution into a lake and you can ruin it forever; chop down enough forest and it might never grow back. By the early '00s, the frailties of the planet were becoming even more evident—and unsettling—as greenhouse gases accumulated and chunks of Greenland's glaciers began breaking off into the sea. "We've had 125,000 generations of humans, but it's only been the last eight that have had growth," Victor told me. "So what's considered normal? I think we live in very abnormal times. And the signs are showing up everywhere that the burden we're placing on the natural environment can't be borne."

In essence, endless growth puts us on the horns of a seemingly intractable dilemma. Without it, we spiral into poverty. With it, we deplete the planet. Either way, we lose. Unless, of course, there's a third way. Could we have a healthy economy that doesn't grow? Could we stave off ecological collapse by reining in the world economy? Could we do it without starving?

Victor wanted to find out. First, he created a computer model replicating the modern Canadian economy. Then he tweaked it so that crucial elements—including consumption, productivity, and population—gradually stopped growing after 2010. To stave off unemployment, he shortened the workweek to roughly four days, creating more jobs. He also set up higher taxes on the rich and more public services for the poor, and imposed a carbon tax to fill government coffers and discourage the use of fossil fuels. The upshot? It took a couple of decades, but unemployment eventually fell to 4 percent, most people's standards of living actually rose, and greenhouse gas emissions decreased to well below Kyoto levels. The economy reached a "steady state." And if the model is accurate, then something like it, say some ecologically minded economists, may be the only way for humanity to survive in the long term.

Victor's economic theory is radical, but he is not alone. Over the past few decades, a handful of scholars have been laying the intellectual groundwork for "no growth" economics, and several recent books have proposed design principles for a healthy, nongrowing global economy. Even some of the world's major governments, spooked by the twin specters of global warming and the recent financial crisis, have begun exploring this seemingly subversive idea: In 2008, French president Nicolas Sarkozy asked Nobel economics laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz to draft new ways to measure prosperity without relying on GDP as the main indicator. But what would a no-growth society look like? Would we like it? And could we build one?

The idea is actually quite old. Even Adam Smith, the great-great-grandfather of capitalism, acknowledged that it might be possible for an economy to max out its natural resources and stop growing. In the 19th century, economist-philosopher John Stuart Mill argued that growth was necessary only up to the point where everyone enjoyed a reasonable standard of living. Beyond that, he said, you could achieve a "stationary state" that would move past the "trampling, crushing, elbowing, and treading on each other's heels" that he saw in unfettered capitalist growth. In 1930, John Maynard Keynes likewise predicted a period in the future—possibly as soon as his grandchildren's time—when the economy wouldn't need to grow further to meet our basic needs. Man's "economic problem" would be solved, and people would "prefer to devote our further energies to non-economic purposes." Things like art, child rearing, and leisure.

Yet no-growth theory never took off. Politicians came to see growth as a hedge against deficit spending and high unemployment—that political third rail—and economists figured that extended periods of growth were needed to lift people out of poverty. So Western governments fine-tuned their policies—imposing lower taxes on capital gains than on labor, for example—to promote growth by rewarding investment. The obsession with growth was also a practical matter, since it seemed like the most reliable way to gauge the prosperity of a country. The methods used to measure things like happiness, for instance, aren't objective enough to satisfy most economists. Instead, they looked to GDP as the primary benchmark for whether things are getting better or worse.

Classical economists didn't spend much time worrying about whether the environment could support infinite growth. During the formative years of industrial-age economics, after all, resources did seem limitless. (Early California residents recalled salmon so bountiful that you could practically cross streams on the backs of the fish.) Plus, there was the problem of pricing: Economics doesn't account for things it can't price, and nobody could easily put a number on the cost of, say, polluting the Great Lakes, or driving a species to extinction by clearcutting its forest habitat.

It didn't help that the few early economic thinkers who did worry about exhausting the planet turned out to be a couple of centuries premature. Beginning around 1800, Thomas Robert Malthus famously predicted that population was growing faster than the earth could support. But his predictions of widespread global famine never came to pass, because technological improvements in agriculture made land far more productive than Malthus ever dreamed. He also failed to predict that rising prosperity would put the brakes on birth rates. By the 20th century, growth had become not only an item of faith in economics, but a deeply held political belief. When Franklin Roosevelt supported grappling with Great Depression unemployment by decreasing the workweek to 30 hours, the largest corporations fought back fiercely. America, they argued, would be saved only by the new "gospel of consumption." The administration would need to pursue flat-out growth, loosening labor laws and so forth, so that the industrialists could revive the nation. Roosevelt backed down.

The next major challenge to the pro-growth orthodoxy didn't emerge until the early 1960s and publication of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring." The first major book to examine the effects of pollution, it became a best-seller, awakening the mainstream to the idea that relentless economic activity might wreck the natural world. Alarmed by this notion, the Club of Rome—an international group of industrialists, scholars, diplomats, and professionals—asked a team of MIT scientists led by systems-management expert Dennis Meadows to determine what would happen if human society continued to grow at its current pace. The scientists built a computer model that looked at the main components of world growth—including population increases and breakthroughs that make workers more productive. Crucially, they also calculated—as best they could—the effects of pollution and the extent of the planet's natural resources, and put those in the model, too. Then they hit "enter."

The results were bleak. If society didn't change tack, the scientists determined, global prosperity would rise until some time during this century, as growth made the good life cheaper and more widely available. But then the cycle would start to shift disastrously into reverse. Resources would become so scarce that they would skyrocket in price, driving the cost of almost everything upward. Global living standards would collapse. Meadows and his team published their conclusions in a book titled "The Limits to Growth," and it quickly became a global best-seller, with 12 million copies sold. Soon, governments and NGOs were organizing nervous conferences wondering if growth would kill us all.

Traditional economists went berserk. In the months following the book's publication, they counterattacked: One labeled Limits "alarmist." Another called it "less than pseudoscience and little more than polemical fiction." An influential essay in Foreign Affairs derided it as "The Computer That Printed Out Wolf." A big problem, according to the critics, was that the model didn't include a pricing mechanism that mimicked Adam Smith's invisible hand; if basic resources ever became seriously scarce, they insisted, companies would simply switch materials—or make themselves more efficient, using fewer materials to deliver the same prosperity payload. As economies mature, the economists noted, technology "decouples" economic prosperity from physical stuff: Jobs become more about providing services, which use fewer raw materials. This, they argued, was precisely what kept America's GDP growing during the 1980s and 1990s, even as our industrial base eroded.

The Limits dispute wasn't merely scholarly squabbling; it was an ideological battle, too. Economists had based entire disciplines and careers on the primacy of growth—not to mention that, in the Cold War era, suggestions that capitalism was seeding its own ecological collapse seemed sulfurously Marxist. Some critics distorted the book's message —saying the authors had predicted that oil would run out by 1992. (The book had made the more nuanced point that we only had enough known reserves to last that long, given how fast we were using it.) A more valid criticism lay in the fact that the team's model—like many economic models—was simplistic, and based on some pretty big assumptions. (In a 2008 blog post, Paul Krugman derided the approach as "garbage-in-garbage-out.") The counterattacks worked. No-growth economics returned to the fringes.

The idea didn't die, though. Herman Daly, who served for six years as a senior economist at the World Bank beginning in the late '80s, was among the researchers inspired by "Silent Spring." He remembers the Carter administration having "some openness" to no-growth thinking. "But then come the Reagan years, and oh man, forget it," he recalls. Only a few key thinkers—Daly being the most prominent—continued to beaver away at no-growth theory, coming to new and powerful conclusions.

Daly thought the idea of a "decoupled" economy—one that continued to grow while using relatively fewer raw materials—was a chimera. From his vantage point, it seemed obvious that when nations virtualized, shifting to service economies, they didn't stop gobbling natural resources or even, really, curb their appetites. They merely outsourced the problem to Asia, Africa, and South America or found cheap new sources at home. As Daly points out, the Internet economy, supposedly a great leap into the dematerialization of consumption, depends on energy and computer components. And making those components requires exotic metals, some of which are now in such short supply that they're fueling blood-diamond-style conflicts. The growth of greenhouse gas emissions likewise demonstrates that the free market alone cannot deal with planet-threatening pollution. Indeed, the low price of coal-fired electricity encourages companies to keep spewing excessive amounts of carbon dioxide rather than pursue cleaner energy sources. "This whole idea that we could have a constantly growing economy that doesn't use natural resources is just crazy, and the last couple of decades have basically proven it," Daly says.

Daly's major contribution to the field is the concept of "uneconomic" growth—growth that actually drives living standards downward. He believes that America has already reached the point Mill and Keynes foresaw, where average living standards have grown as high as necessary to vouchsafe a generally prosperous population. He points out that the happiness of Americans, as reported by social scientists, rose steadily after World War II as GDP grew. But by the late '50s, that connection broke down: Although our median family incomes have nearly doubled since 1957, the proportion of people who say they are "very happy" has barely budged. Daly thinks we simply hit the point of diminishing returns. Our growth turned uneconomic: GDP now keeps growing mainly because we are producing gewgaws and services that don't significantly add to our happiness. Or worse: It grows because we are spending money to solve problems that growth itself created.

One of the big problems with using GDP as a yardstick for national well-being is that GDP rises when really bad things happen, too. If a company leaks PCBs into a reservoir and local cancer rates spike, the result is a flurry of economic stimuli: Doctors treat the cancers, crews clean the reservoir, lawyers busy themselves suing and defending the polluter. It's still growth—uneconomic growth. By the aughts, Daly had authored four books exploring these ideas and trying to figure out how a nongrowing economy might function.

He is no longer so isolated. As concern over climate change has migrated from the science community to the mainstream, the number of economists willing to question growth has slowly but surely increased. Recent books on the subject include Peter Victor's 2008 Managing Without Growth, and last December's Prosperity Without Growth (pdf) by Tim Jackson, economics commissioner for the UK's Sustainable Development Commission. (In 2004, the MIT team published a new edition of The Limits to Growth, complete with updated versions of their model.) Though each camp differs in the details, they broadly agree on a set of economic principles—a road map, as it were, to a world that doesn't grow, but doesn't collapse either.

Some of their conclusions are surprisingly pleasant. For example, to move away from growth, we'll all have to work a lot less. That's because no-growth economists agree with mainstream economists on one big point: Technological advances make workers more productive every year. In the mainstream view, these labor efficiencies make goods cheaper, which leaves consumers with more disposable income—which they invest or spend on more stuff, leading to more hiring to fulfill demand. By contrast, the no-growthers would do things differently; they would use those efficiencies to shorten the workweek, so that most people would stay employed and bring home a reasonable salary. If new technology continued to drive productivity gains, citizens in a nongrowing economy would actually work less and less over time as they divvied up the shrinking workload.

Handled correctly, this could bring about an explosion of free time that could utterly transform the way we live, no-growth economists say. It could lead to a renaissance in the arts and sciences, as well as a reconnection with the natural world. Parents with lighter workloads could home-school their children if they liked, or look after sick relatives—dramatically reshaping the landscape of education and elder care. (Some steady-state thinkers argue that these typically unpaid forms of domestic labor ought to be included in GDP calculations and even subsidized by the government, since they contribute so heavily to national well-being.)

Viewed this way, a nongrowing economy could have broad political appeal, ushering in the sort of togetherness and family values that social conservatives celebrate. Liberals might appreciate the concept of work sharing, which could help narrow the income gap between rich and poor. Indeed, some countries have already edged towards this vision. In 1982, labor unions in the Netherlands agreed to limit demands for higher pay in exchange for policies encouraging people to work less. Within a decade, the proportion of Dutch citizens working part-time soared from 19 percent to 27 percent, the average workweek fell from 30 to 27 hours, and unemployment had plummeted from 10 percent to 5 percent. (They called it "the Dutch miracle.") Work sharing also has a pedigree in times of crisis: In Austria and Germany, the Kurzarbeit laws let employers avoid layoffs by scaling back people's hours and pay—10 percent less money, say, for 10 percent less work. The government then steps in and covers the salary difference.

The types of work available (and your take-home pay) would change significantly in a no-growth scenario. To prevent global warming and resource depletion, no-growthers favor heavily taxing carbon and other pollutants. At the same time, they want the government to invest in clean energy as part of a "Green New Deal" that also encourages private-sector investment to move people into labor-intensive jobs—entertainer, preventive health worker, artisan manufacturer, organic farmer, nurse—that consume relatively few raw materials.

So working less is the fun (or at least the more doable) part. The hard part is that we would be consuming less—probably far less. What does that mean, exactly? Daly has suggested that Americans would need to scale back our energy consumption to 1960s levels (assuming we stick to a predominantly fossil-fueled economy). Victor, for his part, points out that 1983 was the last year that "the world economy was just at the level of the capacity of the planet to support it." Since then, of course, world population has exploded and global resources have dwindled even further.

Beyond these big-picture parameters, none of the experts has really crunched the numbers to envision what daily life might be like in a no-growth world—though they agree that it's something people had better start thinking about. For starters, they say, Western consumption rates would need to shrink disproportionately so that citizens of countries like India and El Salvador could enjoy a lifestyle upgrade. Why? The no-growthers argue that a world with fewer yawning inequities between the rich and poor would be more stable; but quite apart from that, their models require stabilizing world population, and raising the economic lot of the poor is a proven way to do that. Given the shift in wealth needed to accomplish this, Americans would need to turn back the clock to well before 1983; in fact, we'd be pretty lucky even to find ourselves where we were in 1960—when the median family made $35,994 in today's dollars (versus $61,932 in 2008).

Hardly the plenitude we're accustomed to. Still, technological advances mean that your dollar buys a lot more than it did back then. For a couple of bucks, you can score a pocket calculator that does things it once took a million-dollar university machine to accomplish. "We're better at making things now," Victor says, so our living standards would be considerably higher than this figure suggests. In a no-growth economy, as Daly points out, we would still consume new stuff—just at a much slower pace. People might need to develop a renewed appreciation for durable goods that require lots of labor to make but ultimately use fewer resources than their throwaway counterparts. We would also have to evolve away from "positional" consumption—feeling good because you possess something the Joneses don't.

So maybe hipsters won't be buying the latest iPhone every 12 months . Or perhaps we'll seek more fulfillment through activities with a lighter footprint—sports, music, hiking. The vexing reality is that the no-growth thinkers simply don't know how things would shake out. We don't have any realistic examples to learn from, after all. In the past, the only no-growth societies were agrarian or consisted of hunter-gatherers. But when you take the thought experiment a few steps further, no-growth theory raises a host of questions about psychology and motivation. How do you prevent people from producing and buying needless stuff? Would innovation cease if entrepreneurs didn't think they would sell a million widgets? Could individual companies still grow—and if not, who would want to invest in them?

In any case, the pathway to America voluntarily reducing its consumption levels seems obscure at best. Right-wing radio hosts fulminate against the government merely for placing restrictions on incandescent lightbulbs; one can imagine their reaction to scaling back consumption to the Kennedy era. Not to mention that governments would have to pass new tax laws, seriously tackle income inequality, and return banking to its traditional role of raising and lending capital (as opposed to gambling on imponderable derivatives and credit default swaps). There are other aspects of no-growth theory—like the population-stabilizing businesss—that could chill partisans of any stripe. To halt population growth, you need to reduce global fertility rates to an average of about two children per couple. But if boosting poor people's means doesn't defuse the population bomb, what then? Population control by mandate is essentially totalitarianism.

So, not exactly a walk in the park. But for all the troubling questions it raises, there's one thing you can say about steady-state thinking: It is almost cosmically ambitious. Given how numb and static the world's economic arguments have become, no-growth theory is a rare beast: a vision of social change that is genuinely radical, almost jaw-droppingly so. Even talking about such ideas, Victor admits in his book, "could make a politician unelectable." The no-growthers regard their job not as promoting specific policies, but widening the field of debate. "I want to make it possible just to start to think about growth and its role in economic thought," Victor told me.

Is the world ready, or even interested, in such unorthodox ideas? The new crop of books hasn't provoked the sort of backlash that Limits once did. Jackson suspects that climate change may have made us more receptive. As he's traveled around giving talks on his book, some politicians and businessmen have grudgingly admitted that hyping growth has created real problems—even if they can't quite endorse the solutions. "The response often is that my logic is faultless," Jackson told me, "but the policy recommendations are bonkers." He also suspects no-growth theory is still so marginal that it hasn't attracted much attention—no best-sellers this time—but should it gain political momentum, the attacks will come.

Daly, who's been arguing his case for four decades, has begun to think that only the Earth itself will compel people to act. In a few decades, if basic resources become scarce, prices spike, and climate change is causing global conflict, no-growth thinking could arrive whether we like it or not. "It'll be forced on us," he says. In the end, when it comes to determining the shape of our economy, the planet may possess the most powerful invisible hand of all."