Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Joseph W. Martin, Jr., "MOPE, Blythe and a Derivatives Dreams"

 "MOPE, Blythe and a Derivatives Dreams"
by Joseph W. Martin, Jr.

"Ok so let's get this straight, the dirtbags in Washington don't like the way the economic numbers are coming in so they revise the way the numbers are calculated (all the way back to 1929!) to make them stink less and so they can claim that the (non-existent) recovery is even better than the last batch of lies they told about it.

Have we reached the point that all this MOPE (management of perception economics, i.e "the new normal") has finally over estimated the stupidity and naïveté of the American public?  Sadly I think not, as there is a scarily large number of people who will believe whatever garbage the government puts out because the implications of questioning the validity of it are just too scary, or they want to believe it because "their guys" are in charge. Neither of these forms of intellectual laziness or the governments deliberate miscalculations will change the reality of the looming disaster.

So what evidence do I have that we're looking at another disastrous bubble bursting crash?  Well for anyone with the courage to shed the dangerous combination of politically partisan horse blinders and the heavily tinted rose colored glasses it will be as plain as the nose on your face.

The so-called powers that be have not learned a single thing from the last crash, not a single damn thing!

It is widely acknowledged that the 2007-2008 disaster was brought about by the collapse of that segment of the Derivatives market (thanks Blythe Masters of J.P. Morgan) known as CDOs, collateralized debt obligations, and more specifically the bundling of sub-prime mortgages into RMBSs (Retail Mortgage Backed Securities), that were sold to the public and institutions as "prime" investments. Well, they weren't so "prime" after all and that led to Lehman Brothers, AIG, and Morgan Stanley going into the toilet, (and onto the taxpayers back), ushering in the that other "new normal", the Too Big to Fail financial institution. So what then are these TBTF geniuses up to now that would evidence either they haven't learned anything from the recent past (or they are just to damn arrogant to care)?  Let's look at the evidence.

A recent study showed that home ownership is at an 18 year low and that residential rental rates are at an all time high. (Don't worry the FED says there is no inflation!) The so called "recovery" in housing construction is being driven by the building of more rental property. The so-called "reduction" in available homes for sale is being driven by foreclosed properties being either withdrawn from the market or being put into the rental market.

So now in order to respond to this "new normal" in the housing market banking and financial friends have decided to reduce their risk in holding all this previously foreclosed and newly constructed rental property by coming up with, you guessed it, a new Derivative instrument! I give you the Rent Backed Security! What could possibly go wrong?!?! Isn't terribly hard to figure out. Lot's of individuals and families either lost their jobs or got downsized to lower paying jobs, so they ended up in default on home loans they couldn't really afford in the first place.  So now with some income or cash freed up from those mortgage payments, and not being able to re-qualify for a downsized home and mortgage they have no choice but to rent.

Many of these families are of course either still unemployed or underemployed and are scavenging from what savings they have left to make ends meet. When that money runs out and they can't increase their income if they have any, they will be forced to either go onto public assistance of some sort or will move in with other family members or friends. They will default again, this time on their rental contracts.

Does it take a genius to figure out what will then happen to these Rent Backed Securities? Their value will fall to absolutely zero, any institutions or individuals stupid enough to have bought them will get wiped out and our friends (We are "richer than you are") like Blythe Masters and Jamie Dimon at J.P. Morgan will still own the real estate and will still get their multi-million dollar year end bonuses, and they will kick back a few hundred thousand in campaign contributions to the politicians that let them set this mess up in the first place. The banks themselves might face a few million or a billion dollars in fines for their manipulations but the criminals that set up and personally profit from the fraud will walk away scott free, or at the very worst will retreat to some non-extradition treaty county and set themselves up in new digs that would make The Great Gatsby blush.

Oh yeah and they will figure out a way to stick the taxpayer with the bill!"

“Old Man Rothschild Was Right…”

 “Old Man Rothschild Was Right…”
by Bill Bonner

“Give me control of a nation's money and I care not who makes its laws.”
– Mayer Amschel Rothschild

“When we left you yesterday we were lamenting how the American working classes have lost ground. Today, the typical working stiff has a lower real income than he had in 1950. Wait… Is that possible? Yes. As we showed yesterday, he has to work longer today to pay for a family car and a house than did six decades ago. In 1950, he could support a family. Today, he can barely support himself.

Almost everyone misunderstands why. They think deregulation allowed capitalists to take more money away from the proletariat. Or that “the rich” suddenly became greedier. We presume the rich are always equally greedy – just like the poor. And we note that the total volume of regulation actually increased during the period under review. Just look at the tax code… or SEC rules. There are far more rules now than there were in 1950.

The Real Reason the Middle Class Is Suffering: Actually, something else was happening… something subtler and more insidious. Here’s Bloomberg with more evidence: "The US homeownership rate, which soared to a record high 69.2% in 2004, is back where it was two decades ago, before the housing bubble inflated, busted and ripped more than 7 million Americans from their homes."

And more claptrap solutions: "With ownership at 65% and home values rising, housing industry and consumer groups are pressing lawmakers to make the American Dream more inclusive by ensuring new mortgage standards designed to prevent another crash are flexible enough that more families can benefit from the recovery. Regulators are close to proposing a softened version of a rule requiring banks to keep a stake in risky mortgages they securitize, according to five people familiar with the discussions."

How does that work? Easier credit? But not riskier credits? More laws? Good luck with that! The American Dream did not break down because the lawmakers and the credit industry were not clever enough. It broke down because they were too clever by half. President Obama is stumping the country now, promising to save the middle class. But he and the feds are the real reason the middle class is suffering. They created a monetary system that robbed society of real capital… and robbed workers of trillions of dollars of income.

What Matters Is Value: But let’s check in on yesterday’s market action… What? There’s not much to check on. These are summer markets. Markets in hammocks and deck chairs. Markets without action. Nothing worth reporting. Of course, short-term market action is usually insignificant anyway. Prices go up. Prices go down. It scarcely matters.

What matters is value, not price. Price is what you pay. Value is what you get. Price is what you see. Value is what you don’t see. It’s hard to detect. And especially hard to measure. It is like real character. Real grace. Real charm. Or real truth. It takes a lot of careful attention to catch even a glimpse of it. Most people don’t bother.

“Beauty is only skin deep,” said our mother, 93, yesterday. “Yes,” we replied. “But that’s the only part you can see. The rest doesn’t count.” Here, dear reader, we enter into deep, philosophical territory… and we take a quick detour to avoid it, lest we sink in over our heads. Let’s keep it superficial! But not too superficial.

Economists measure quantity. Alas, life is not all quantifiable. What really matters is quality. Right now, the Fed tries to control prices. But prices are only a part of the picture. When it comes to art, architecture, music, puppies and women it’s what strikes the senses that matters – what you see, hear and feel. But when it comes to your money, what you see is not exactly what you get. Price tells you something. But it doesn’t tell you all you need to know. Why? We’re so glad you asked…

Money= Control: When bullion money was invented government quickly saw the potential. Control the money and you can control people. You control their assets. Their cost of living. Their time. In ancient times controlling money meant you could buy people outright. You could buy war captives. Those who couldn’t pay their debts often sold their children into slavery too. Or they themselves were forced into debt servitude. In world’s oldest legal code, the Babylonian Hammurabi’s Code, set down some 4,000 years ago, it says that children of debtors can be kept in slavery for three years. In the fourth year they must be released.

Clever readers will be on the edges of their chairs… ready to leap with indignation. America’s youngsters, heirs to its $16.7 trillion national debt, will be kept in debt servitude far longer. Maybe even all their lives!

Bullion money was a new development. It made cheating harder to do. You didn’t have to take credit. You didn’t have to wonder if the family was honorable or solvent. You didn’t have to wait to see if you’d get something in return. Instead, you could take a little piece of gold or silver and be done with it. But the people who controlled the money could still diddle it. And the history of central banking is a history of diddling.

The Golden Constant: Here’s a little excerpt from our new book, as yet unpublished: "Bullion money restricted the total quantity of money to the amount of bullion available. It also restricted the amount of credit, since loans had to be settled in bullion. Since the quantity of bullion could not be readily increased, the buying power of bullion money tended to be stable over long periods of time. Prices in 1910 were little different from those in 1810. And as Roy Jastram demonstrated in The Golden Constant, you could buy about as much with an ounce of gold in 1560 as you could 300 years later.
Early on, governments took control of the new bullion money. They imprinted it with emperors’ faces. And then they tried to use it to cheat their own subjects. In England, there was a practice of trying to raise or lower the value of money by “crying up” or “crying down” the currency. More typically, government mints made the coins a little smaller… or replaced precious metals with base metals. Naturally, the value of the “debased” currency went down.
The gold aureus, for example, was minted during the reign of Julius Caesar with 8 grams of pure gold. Three centuries later, it was replaced by the 4.5-gram solidus. The denarius, Rome’s silver coin, shrank even faster. In Augustinian Rome it was a day’s wage for the typical laborer. For centuries, it had been fixed at a weight of 4.5 grams of silver. But by the end of the second century AD the silver content had been reduced to just 70% of its weight. By 350 AD there was almost no silver left in the silver denarius; it was worthless.
Sir Isaac Newton, warden of the Royal Mint, was determined to do better: “The use and end of the public stamp is only to be a guard and voucher of the quality of silver which men contract for; and the injury done to the public faith, in this point, is that which in clipping and false coining heightens the robbery into treason.”

Paper money was a later innovation. It worked well – as long as the paper was backed by gold at a fixed rate. But it offered more opportunities for cheating. As we will see, governments are still at it – led by the United States of America.

More to come…"

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"A Gathering of the Tribe"

  "A Gathering of the Tribe"
by Charles Eisenstein

"Once upon a time a great tribe of people lived in a world far away from ours. Whether far away in space, or in time, or even outside of time, we do not know. They lived in a state of enchantment and joy that few of us today dare to believe could exist, except in those exceptional peak experiences when we glimpse the true potential of life and mind.

One day the shaman of the tribe called a meeting. They gathered around him, and he spoke very solemnly. "My friends," he said, "there is a world that needs our help. It is called Earth, and its fate hangs in the balance. Its humans have reached a critical point in their collective birthing, and they will be stillborn without our help. Who would like to volunteer for a mission to this time and place, and render service to humanity?"

"Tell us more about his mission," they asked.

"I am glad you asked, because it is no small thing. I will put you into a deep, deep trance, so complete that you will forget who you are. You will live a human life, and in the beginning you will completely forget your origins. You will forget even our language and your own true name. You will be separated from the wonder and beauty of our world, and from the love that bathes us all. You will miss it deeply, yet you will not know what it is you are missing. You will only remember the love and beauty that we know to be normal as a longing in your heart. Your memory will take the form of an intuitive knowledge, as you plunge into the painfully marred earth, that a more beautiful world is possible.

As you grow up in that world, your knowledge will be under constant assault. You will be told in a million ways that a world of destruction, violence, drudgery, anxiety, and degradation is normal. You may go through a time when you are completely alone, with no allies to affirm your knowledge of a more beautiful world. You may plunge into a depth of despair that we, in our world of light, cannot imagine. But no matter what, a spark of knowledge will never leave you. A memory of your true origin will be encoded in your DNA. That spark will lie within you, inextinguishable, until one day it is awakened.

You see, even though you will feel, for a time, utterly alone, you will not be alone. I will send you assistance, help that you will experience as miraculous, experiences that you will describe as transcendent. For a few moments or hours or days, you will reawaken to the beauty and the joy that is meant to be. You will see it on earth, for even though the planet and its people are deeply wounded, there is beauty there still, projected from past and future onto the present as a promise of what is possible and a reminder of what is real.

You will also receive help from each other. As you begin to awaken to your mission you will meet others of our tribe. You will recognize them by your common purpose, values, and intuitions, and by the similarity of the paths you have walked. As the condition of the planet earth reaches crisis proportions, your paths will cross more and more. The time of loneliness, the time of thinking you might be crazy, will be over.

You will find the people of your tribe all over the earth, and become aware of them through the long-distance communication technologies used on that planet. But the real shift, the real quickening, will happen in face-to-face gatherings in special places on earth. When many of you gather together you will launch a new stage on your journey, a journey which, I assure you, will end where it began. Then, the mission that lay unconscious within you will flower into consciousness. Your intuitive rebellion against the world presented you as normal will become an explicit quest to create a more beautiful one.

In the time of loneliness, you will always be seeking to reassure yourself that you are not crazy. You will do that by telling people all about what is wrong with the world, and you will feel a sense of betrayal when they don't listen to you. You will be hungry for stories of wrongness, atrocity, and ecological destruction, all of which confirm the validity of your intuition that a more beautiful world exists. But after you have fully received the help I will send you, and the quickening of your gatherings, you will no longer need to do that. Because, you will Know. Your energy will thereafter turn toward actively creating that more beautiful world."

A tribeswoman asked the shaman, "How do you know this will work? Are you sure your shamanic powers are great enough to send us on such a journey?"

The shaman replied, "I know it will work because I have done it many times before. Many have already been sent to earth, to live human lives, and to lay the groundwork for the mission you will undertake now. I've been practicing! The only difference now is that many of you will venture there at once. What is new in the time you will live in, is that the Gatherings are beginning to happen."

A tribesman asked, "Is there a danger we will become lost in that world, and never wake up from the shamanic trance? Is there a danger that the despair, the cynicism, the pain of separation will be so great that it will extinguish the spark of hope, the spark of our true selves and origin, and that we will separated from our beloved ones forever?"

The shaman replied, "That is impossible. The more deeply you get lost, the more powerful the help I will send you. You might experience it at the time as a collapse of your personal world, the loss of everything important to you. Later you will recognize the gift within it. We will never abandon you."

Another man asked, "Is it possible that our mission will fail, and that this planet, earth, will perish?"

The shaman replied, "I will answer your question with a paradox. It is impossible that your mission will fail. Yet, its success hangs on your own actions. The fate of the world is in your hands. The key to this paradox lies within you, in the feeling you carry that each of your actions, even your personal, secret struggles within, has cosmic significance. You will know then, as you do now, that everything you do matters. God sees everything."

There were no more questions. The volunteers gathered in a circle, and the shaman went to each one. The last thing each was aware of was the shaman blowing smoke in his face. They entered a deep trance and dreamed themselves into the world where we find ourselves today."
"Who are these missionaries from the more beautiful world? You and I are surely among them. Where else could this longing come from, for this magical place to be found nowhere on earth, this beautiful time outside of time? It comes from our intuitive knowledge of our origin and destination. The longing, indomitable, will never settle for a world that is less. Against all reason, we look upon the horrors of our age, mounting over the millennia, and we say NO, it does not have to be this way! We know it, because we have been there. We carry in our souls the knowledge that a more beautiful world is possible. Reason says it is impossible; reason says that even to slow- much less reverse- the degradation of the planet is an impossible task: politically unfeasible, opposed by the Money Power and its oligarchies. It is true that those powers will fight to uphold the world we have known. Their allies lurk within even ourselves: despair, cynicism, and resignation to carving out a life that is "good enough" for me and mine.

But we of the tribe know better. In the darkest despair a spark of hope lies inextinguishable within us, ready to be fanned into flames at the slightest turn of good news. However compelling the cynicism, a jejune idealism lives within us, always ready to believe, always ready to look upon new possibilities with fresh eyes, surviving despite infinite disappointments. And however resigned we may have felt, our aggrandizement of me and mine is half-hearted, for part of our energy is looking elsewhere, outward toward our true mission.

I would like to advise caution against dividing the world into two types of people, those who are of the tribe and those who are not. How often have you felt like an alien in a world of people who don't get it and don't care? The irony is that nearly everyone feels that way, deep down. When we are young the feeling of mission and the sense of magnificent origins and a magnificent destination is strong. Any career or way of life lived in betrayal of that knowing is painful, and can only be maintained through an inner struggle that shuts down a part of our being. For a time, we can keep ourselves functioning through various kinds of addictions or trivial pleasures to consume the life force and dull the pain. In earlier times, we might have kept the sense of mission and destiny buried for a lifetime, and called that condition maturity. Times are changing now though, as millions of people are awakening to their mission all at the same time. The condition of the planet is waking us up. Another way to put it, is that we are becoming young again.

When you feel that sense of alienation, when you look upon that sea of faces mired so inextricably in the old world and fighting to maintain it, think back to a time when you too were, to all outside appearances, a full and willing participant in that world as well. The same spark of revolution you carried then, the same secret refusal, dwells in all people. How was it that you finally stopped fighting it? How was it that you came to realize that you were right all along, that the world offered to us is wrong, and that no life is worth living that does not in some way strive to create a better one? How was it that it became intolerable to devote your life energy toward the perpetuation of the old world? Most likely, it happened when the old world fell apart around your ears.

As the multiple crises of money, health, energy, ecology, and more converge upon us, the world is going to collapse for millions more. We must stand ready to welcome them into the tribe. We must stand ready to welcome them back home.

The time of loneliness, of walking the path alone, of thinking maybe the world is right and I am wrong for refusing to participate fully in it... that time is over. For years we walked around talking about how wrong everything is: the political system, the educational system, religious institutions, the military-industrial complex, the banking industry, the medical system- really, any system you study deeply enough. We needed to talk about it because we needed to assure ourselves that we were not, in fact, crazy. We needed as well to talk about alternatives, the way things should be. "We" should eliminate CFCs. "They" should stop cutting down the rain forests. "The government" should declare no fishing zones. This talk, too, was necessary, for it validated our vision of the world that could be: a peaceful and exuberant humanity living in co-creative partnership with a wild garden earth.

The time, though, for talking merely to assure ourselves that we are right is coming to an end. People everywhere are tired of it, tired of attending yet another lecture, organizing yet another discussion group online. We want more. A few weeks ago as I was preparing for a speaking trip to Oregon, the organizers told me, "These people don't need to be told what the problems are. They don't even need to be told what the solutions are. They already know that, and many of them are already in action. What they want is to take their activism to the next level."

To do that, to fully step into one's mission here on earth, one must experience an inner shift that cannot be merely willed upon oneself. It does not normally happen through the gathering or receiving of information, but through various kinds of experiences that reach deep into our unconscious minds. Whenever I am blessed with such an experience, I get the sense that some benevolent yet pitiless power- the shaman in the story- has reached across the void to quicken me, to reorganize my DNA, to rewire my nervous system. I come away changed.

One way it happens is through the "gathering of the tribe" I described in this story. I think many people who attended the recent Reality Sandwich retreat in Utah experienced something like this. Such gatherings are happening now all over the world. You go back, perhaps, to "real life" afterwards, but it no longer seems so real. Your perceptions and priorities change. New possibilities emerge. Instead of feeling stuck in your routines, life changes around you at a vertiginous pace. The unthinkable becomes commonsense and the impossible becomes easy. It may not happen right away, but once the internal shift has occurred, it is inevitable.

Here I am, a speaker and a writer, going on about how the time for mere talk has ended. Yet not all words are mere talk. A spirit can ride the vehicle of words, a spirit that is larger than, yet not separate from, their meaning. Sometimes I find that when I bow into service, that spirit inhabits the space in which I speak and affects all present. A sacredness infuses our conversations and the non-verbal experiences that are becoming part of my events. In the absence of that sacredness, I feel like a smart-ass, up there entertaining people and telling them information they could just as easily read online. Last Friday night I spoke on a panel in New York, one of three smart-asses, and I think many in the audience left disappointed (though maybe not as disappointed as I was in myself). We are looking for something more, and it is finding us.

The revolutionary spark of our true mission has been fanned into flames before, only to return again to an ember. You may remember an acid trip in 1975, a Grateful Dead concert in 1982, a kundalini awakening in 1999- an event that, in the midst of it, you knew was real, a privileged glimpse into a future that can actually manifest. Then later, as its reality faded into memory and the inertial routines of life consumed you, you perhaps dismissed it and all such experiences as an excursion from life, a mere "trip." But something in you knows it was real, realer than the routines of normalcy. Today, such experiences are accelerating in frequency even as "normal" falls apart. We are at the beginning of a new phase. Our gatherings are not a substitute for action; they are an initiation into a state of being from which the necessary kinds of actions arise. Soon you will say, with wonder and serenity, "I know what to do, and I trust myself to do it."

Musical Interlude: Brulé & Airo, "Thunder Across The Plains"

Brulé and Airo,  "Thunder Across The Plains"

"A Look to the Heavens"

“What's going on in the center of this spiral galaxy? Named the Sombrero Galaxy for its hat-like resemblance, M104 features a prominent dust lane and a bright halo of stars and globular clusters. Reasons for the Sombrero's hat-like appearance include an unusually large and extended central bulge of stars, and dark prominent dust lanes that appear in a disk that we see nearly edge-on. Billions of old stars cause the diffuse glow of the extended central bulge. Close inspection of the bulge in the above photograph shows many points of light that are actually globular clusters. 
 Click image for larger size.
M104's spectacular dust rings harbor many younger and brighter stars, and show intricate details astronomers don't yet fully understand. The very center of the Sombrero glows across the electromagnetic spectrum, and is thought to house a large black hole. Fifty million-year-old light from the Sombrero Galaxy can be seen with a small telescope towards the constellation of Virgo.”

Derrick Jensen, "Change"

by Derrick Jensen

"History is predicated on at least two things, the first physical, the second perceptual. As always, the physical and the perceptual are intertwined. So far as the former, history is marked by change. An individual’s history can be seen as a series of welcomings and leavetakings, a growth in physical stature and abilities followed by a tailing off, a gradual exchange of these abilities for memories, experiences, and wisdom.

Social histories are similarly marked by change. The deforestation of the Middle East to build the first cities. The first written laws of civilization, which had to do with the ownership of human and nonhuman slaves. The fabrication of bronze, then iron, the ores mined by slaves, the metals used to conquer. The first empires. Greece and its attempts to take over the world. Rome and its attempts. The conquest of Europe. The conquest of Africa. The conquest of the Americas. The conquest of Australia, India, much of Asia. The deforestation of the planet.

Just as with my own future history, I do not know what the future history of our society will be, nor of the land that lies beneath it. I do not know when the Grand Coulee Dam will come down, nor whether there will still be salmon to reinhabit the Upper Columbia. I do not know when the Colorado will again reach the sea, nor do I know whether civilization will collapse before grizzly bears go extinct, or prairie dogs, gorillas, tuna, great white sharks, sea turtles, chimpanzees, orangutans, spotted owls, California red-legged frogs, tiger salamanders, tigers, pandas, koalas, abalones, and so many others on the brink.

The point is that history is marked by change. No change, no history.

And some day history will come to an end. When the last bit of iron from the last skyscraper rusts into nothingness, when eventually the earth, and humans on the earth, presuming we still survive, find some sort of new dynamic equilibrium, there will no longer be any history. People will live once again in the cycles of the earth, the cycles of the sun and moon, the seasons. And longer cycles, too, of fish who slip into seas then return to rivers full of new life, of insects who sleep for years to awaken on hot summer afternoons, of martens who make massive migrations once every several human generations, of the rise and fall of populations of snowshoe hare and the lynx who eat them. And longer cycles still, the birth, growth, death, and decay of great trees, the swaying of rivers in their courses, the rise and fall of mountains. All these cycles, these circles great and small."


“There is a sacredness in tears.
They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.
They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.
They are messengers of overwhelming grief...
and unspeakable love.”

- Washington Irving

"Choose A Side..."

"We Americans have a saying: "It's more important what you stand for than who you stand with." I do not rely upon peer opinion to decide what is right and what is wrong. I make those decisions for myself, and even if I discover that every other human alive chose differently, that doesn't mean I was wrong.

There comes a time in every man's life when he has to choose sides. I have chosen my side. I am comfortable with my decision. I do not think everyone on my side is a saint, but I know that those on the other side are much, much worse.

Sometimes a man with too broad a perspective reveals himself as having no real perspective at all. A man who tries too hard to see every side may be a man who is trying to avoid choosing any side. A man who tries too hard to seek a deeper truth may be trying to hide from the truth he already knows. That is not a sign of intellectual sophistication and "great thinking". It is a demonstration of moral degeneracy and cowardice."
- Steven Den Beste

Soon, YOU may need to choose a side. Choose wisely...
- CP

Anthropology: “Monogamy May Sound Sweet, But Why It Evolved Isn't”

“Monogamy May Sound Sweet, But Why It Evolved Isn't”
by Seth Borenstein

WASHINGTON (AP) — “Only a few species of mammals are monogamous, and now dueling scientific teams think they've figured out why they got that way. But their answers aren't exactly romantic. The answers aren't even the same.

One team looked just at primates, the animal group that includes apes and monkeys. The researchers said the exclusive pairing of a male and a female evolved as a way to let fathers defend their young against being killed by other males. The other scientific team got a different answer after examining about 2,000 species of non-human mammals. They concluded that mammals became monogamous because females had spread out geographically, and so males had to stick close by to fend off the competition. So it's not about romance, said researcher Dieter Lukas of the University of Cambridge, lead author of the mammals study. "It's just really the best he can do."

The differing conclusions apparently arose because the two teams used different methods and sample sizes, the researchers said. But both teams discounted a long-standing explanation for monogamy, that it provides two parents rather than one for rearing offspring. That's just a side benefit, they said. "Romance obviously came after" monogamy, said Christopher "Kit" Opie, an anthropology researcher at the University College London, who was the lead author of the primate study

The studies are published online Monday in the journals "Science" and the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences". The mammal paper in "Science" excluded humans while the primate analysis in "PNAS" counted people both as monogamous and not, because that differs around the world. Researchers said they hesitated to apply their conclusions to humans, and they acknowledged that their results aren't exactly the stuff of Valentine's Day.

Less than 9 percent of mammal species pair up socially. Among primates, about 25 percent of the species are socially monogamous, Opie said. Some, like gibbons, are highly monogamous while others, like chimps, are on the other end of the spectrum, Opie said.

Opie drew on data about how 230 primate species behave, and he mapped out evolutionary family trees for them. Then, using more than 10,000 computer model runs and calculating the same mathematical probability system that famed prognosticator and statistician Nate Silver employs, Opie came up with a timeline for when certain traits developed, he said. His result: Before any of the social traits associated with monogamy appeared, Opie saw signs of high rates of outside males killing babies. In primates that developed monogamy, such pairing up appeared to develop only later, he said. Why? Because primates breast-feed their offspring for a long time, even for years, and competing males kill off infants if the dad doesn't stick around to fight them off.

But Tim Clutton-Brock, a zoology professor who wrote the all-mammal study in Science with Lukas, said their research saw absolutely no evidence of infanticide spiking before monogamy. Instead, Clutton-Brock and Lukas found that in nearly every case, solitary females came before social monogamy. Those females had spread out to monopolize food like fruit that was of better quality but harder to find. That made it harder for males to keep other males from inseminating the females, Lukas said. "Males cannot successfully defend more than one female," Lukas said. So they stick around and monogamy occurs.

Frans de Waal of Emory University, who wasn't part of either team, said he thought the Opie infanticide paper offered quantifiable support for that theory, but he wasn't sold completely. Another independent expert, Sue Carter of the University of Illinois at Chicago, looks at the biochemistry of monogamy in individual species, zeroing on two hormones. And those hormones "are associated with protection, defensive behavior," so they could fit with either conclusion, she said.

Both teams did agree that they wouldn't quite put humans in the monogamous category. Clutton-Brock said his study found species that are monogamous have fewer physical differences between the genders. They are about the same size, live about as long. That's not humans. Opie agreed, saying: "Strict monogamy, such as (with) the gibbons, is not what humans do."
And they wonder why... lol
- CP

The Daily "Near You?"

Tijeras, New Mexico, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

"I Just Said..."

 "I didn't say it would be easy. I just said it would be the truth."
- Morpheus

“The Logical (and Coming) End to the US Empire”

“The Logical (and Coming) End to the US Empire”
by Robert P. Abele

“There are numerous legal and ethical arguments that can and have been made in opposition to U.S. foreign policy of raw aggression. For an example of the illegalities of U.S. Empire, examine the Geneva Conventions, all four of which directly proscribe what they each call “outrages” to human dignity, “in particular humiliating and degrading treatment” (I, 1, 3). The “outrages” are named specifically as torture, mutilation, cruel treatment, taking hostages, murder, biological experimentation, and passing sentences on prisoners without benefit of “a regularly constituted court.”

Additionally, the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 both underscore the Geneva Conventions and expand the traditional ethical concerns to rights and duties of neutral states by banning the use of poison gases or arms, destroying or seizing enemy private property, attacking towns and cities that are undefended, pillaging, collective punishment, servility of enemy citizens, and bullets made to wreak havoc once inside the human body. Prescriptions to limit the conduct of war include the requirements to warn towns of impending attacks, to protect cultural, religious, and health institutions, and to insure public order and safety.

For an example of the ethical problems of empire, think about the completely unjustifiable attacks on civilians done by the U.S. in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and most prominently in Pakistan and Yemen, especially done by drones. Or consider U.S. use of torture, from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay. As everyone knows by now, ethical and humanitarian appeals have been completely and categorically rejected by U.S. leaders, not beginning with 9-11, certainly rejected with greater vigor since then.

But there is another, often overlooked, analysis of U.S. actions, that is the logical result of engaging in the actions of Empire, and that concerns the logical consequence of using massive amounts of resources to attempt to control the resources being used (the second use of the term “resources” here includes citizens; the people of a city or nation). As the economic, logistic, and humanitarian costs all rise in direct proportion to Empire’s actions, the sustaining of the Empire becomes impossible, on the basis of its own internal logic.

In whatever historical epoch you choose, if you take your compass and draw a circle around any given tribe, you can see the desired extent of their territorial claims for resource control. One thus can see that particular group’s 

1) resource consumption; and 
2) circle of desired resource control. But when two further historical developments are added, such as 
3) technologically-driven consumption (e.g. fossil-fuel guzzling appliances and cars, etc.); and 4) now necessary desires for global resources needed to feed that group’s consumption habits—then the situation expands sufficiently to become one of using extensive amounts of the very resources one is attempting to control (in the U.S. case, oil and money) for the sake of controlling the resources over which one needs to exert control! This circular logic cannot be maintained when it meets 
5) a scarcity of resources; and 
6) the natural-institutional-logical antinomy of using resources in massive amounts to control the resources you are using for control. In other words, the empire based on this pattern must end when it runs headlong into resource scarcity, and/or natural-logical contradictions involving its own internal (economic and resource) limitations. 

This argument against U.S. Empire is not based on ethical or legal grounds (although those remain the best arguments in favor of voluntarily ending empire and regaining our citizenship [civil rights] and humanness)—since those arguments have been put asunder by the U.S. administrators of empire. Rather, the institutional-logical analysis argues that an empire such as the U.S. has constructed exhausts itself by being unable to expand fast enough to control everything it seeks in order to continue its dominance. When the issue of blowback is added—i.e. that other nations and peoples are unlikely to cooperate willingly in having their resources, humanity, and very lives removed from them—the end result, Empire’s fall, could be hastened, and is certainly assured. We can now predict not only how it will happen, but also its imminent coming. Here’s how.

First, the heaviest resource consumers of fossil fuels, in order, are the U.S. military, U.S. citizens, China, and India. The Department of Defense per capita energy consumption is 10 times more than per capita energy consumption in China, or 30 times more than that of Africa. Oil accounts for more than three-fourths of DoD’s total energy consumption. The Post Carbon Institute estimates that abroad alone, the U.S. military consumes about 150,000 barrels per day. In 2006, for example, the Air Force consumed 2.6 billion gallons of jet-fuel, which is the same amount of fuel U.S. airplanes consumed during all of WWII (between December 1941 and August 1945) (from The Resilience Group of the Post Carbon Institute,

Second, concerning the global dimension of resource control, one needs only to understand the preferred method that U.S. Empire acolytes use to justify their actions abroad: the “state of emergency” that was declared after 9/11 has continued unabated since then, due to the “ongoing threat” of “terrorism” (see Jeremy Scahill, "Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield," for the latest detailed instances of this process.). The domestic equivalent to his “war” has been well underway since 9-11. (For detail on the domestic front, see also Trevor Aaronson, "Terror Factory", regarding FBI domestic use of the “ongoing threat of terrorism” to deny basic civil rights to citizens).

This allows U.S. government administrators to maintain a “state of exception” to the rule of law. Georgio Agamben, in his book "States of Exception", defines this phrase as extraordinary governmental actions resulting from distinctively political crises. As such, the actions of such administrators are in-between normal political operations and legal ones. This “no man’s land” of government policy is not only difficult to define, but brings in its wake a “suspension of the entire existing juridical order.” Thus, states of exception are those in which a government in fact suspends the rule of law for itself, while attempting to maintain some semblance of legal order, for the purpose of consolidating its power and control (see Georgio Agamben, "States of Exception", Chapter Two).

Regarding the scarcity of resources issue, none other than the World Bank produced a detailed study of demand and supply projections for the immediate future. The study projects that, on the basis of current consumption and immediately precedent rises in it, the demand for food will rise by 50% by 2030, for meat by 85%, for oil by 20 million barrels a day, and for water by 32%, all by the same year. This is met by alarming statistics and predictions from the supply side. In their report, they state that global food growth rates fell by 1.1% over the past decade, and are continuing to fall, while global food consumption outstripped production in seven of the eight years between 2000 and 2008. Further, the Food and Agricultural Organization and the UN Environment Program estimate that 16% of the arable land used now is degraded. 

Intensifying competition between different land uses is likely to emerge in future, including food crops, livestock, etc., and the world’s expanding cities. Current rates of water extraction from rivers, groundwater and other sources are already unsustainable in many parts of the world. Over one billion people live in water basins in which the physical scarcity of water is absolute; by 2025, the figure is projected to rise two billion, with up to two thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed conditions (mainly in non-OECD countries). On oil, the International Energy Agency has warned consistently that there is a significant risk of a new “supply crunch” as the global economy “recovers.” Additionally, the IEA’s chief economist argues that peak production could take place by 2020 (from the “World Development Report 2011, Background Paper: Resource Scarcity, Climate Change and the Risk of Violent Conflict,”

The conclusion from all of these points is nearly obvious: if resources are even relatively scarce, and the habits of and desires for consumption continue to rise among nations, and especially among the citizens of Empire (as has been documented in part above), and if control over those resources is the goal of Empire, but if the Empire consumes more resources than it can logistically or economically control due to natural limitations of those resources themselves, and/or to the consumption of more resources than is either available to it or that it needs to survive, then the power of the Empire will naturally, logically, end in a sharp decline, and soon. (For applicable details on this, see Richard Heinberg, “The Brief, Tragic Reign of Consumerism—and the Birth of a Happy Alternative,”

With all indicators predicting that the contradictions of Empire’s resource consumption, circle of desired resource control, scarcity of resources, and contradiction in resource use and control, are all about to collide in a few years, not decades, it is time to start planning for a post-Empire future. To that end, any psychologist reading this analysis will recognize themes of “realistic conflict theory,” which is a theory which explains how intergroup hostility can arise as a result of conflicting goals and competition over limited resources The key point in bringing this psychological theory into the discussion is that in this theory, it is concluded that friction between groups can be reduced only in the presence of superordinate goals that promote united, cooperative action (see Wikipedia on “Realistic Conflict Theory” for a good overview, summarized here: Note the agreement of the ethical, legal, and psychological analyses of Empire’s oppression: the most effective resolution to oppression, (empire) dominance, and conflict is united, cooperative action, not the attempt to control or destroy people and nations who stand in the way of our control.

We have seen that progressives have had available to them a standard two-pronged argument against empire- American or any other. Progressives have for good reason appealed consistently to the ethical and the legal arguments available to help stem the desires for world and resource domination. This essays suggests that these two solid arguments should now be combined with an institutional-logical analysis to demonstrate not only the intrinsic, natural limits to empire, but to show reasons how and why empire must and will ultimately disintegrate due to the hubris of ignoring natural limitations of unbridled consumption coupled with attempts at singular control over others’ resources and peoples.”

Satire: “Scalia Offers to Help Pope Judge Gays”

“Scalia Offers to Help Pope Judge Gays”
by Andy Borowitz

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Responding to Pope Francis’s suggestion that the Pope is not capable of judging gays, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia contacted the Vatican today to say that he would be “more than happy” to help the Pontiff do so. “If he’s having trouble judging homosexuals, well, then I’m his man,” Scalia told reporters after making his offer. “I have over a quarter century of professional experience.”

Justice Scalia said that he was sympathetic to Pope Francis’s difficulty in judging gays, but added, “Once he spends a few weeks watching the master at work, I’m sure he’ll get the hang of it.” “I wasn’t great at judging homosexuals my first year in the job, either,” he said. “But now I can do it without thinking.” Justice Scalia said that once Pope Francis feels confident about his ability to judge gays, he would help the Pontiff learn how to judge minorities and women.”

"How It Really Is"

The Economy: "Bank Stealing Increases"

"Bank Stealing Increases"
 by Karl Denninger

"Note the "headline" here...
    "Bank Revenues Surge on Trading Over What Fed Will Do"

    "Diverging monetary policies are creating ideal conditions for banks to make money from trading currencies as Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN) to Goldman Sachs (GS) Group Inc. say rising volatility is boosting earnings. “If there’s higher volatility, there’s higher volume and higher opportunities for us to generate revenue,” Bernie Sinniah, the London-based global head of corporate foreign-exchange sales at Citigroup Inc. (C), the second-biggest currency trader, said in a phone interview."

How does a bank "generate revenue" from such activities? Remember that trading is inherently a negative-sum game. That is, due to the fees and costs not only does someone lose for everyone who gains the total amount left between the two participants in the trade is less than the sum of what the two started with as the exchanges and other intermediaries all siphon off a piece of the action for themselves. At its core all this activity is non-productive; it is effectively stealing from the productive part of the economy.

Oh sure, it's legal stealing, but make no mistake- every dollar of this "revenue" is a dollar that used to belong to someone else and now it doesn't.  In addition the fees and costs are siphoned off and those are also removed from the original owner. There is no "there" there.  And there is no net economic activity that accrues as a consequence of this activity either.  At best it's a push (the banksters have some funds and spend them, but the other person does not and thus does not spend them.)

There's no "benefit" here folks. Quite to the contrary.”

"How America’s Working Stiffs Got Stiffed"

"How America’s Working Stiffs Got Stiffed"
by Bill Bonner

"Amazing how much difference a few years make. We first visited China in the 1980s. It was an appalling dump. Few cars. Few roads. Almost no decent restaurants or hotels. Now in Beijing you see large black luxury automobiles everywhere… and modern highways crisscrossing in front of huge hotels and apartment buildings. The Chinese have made real progress! And what about Americans? But let’s check in on Wall Street before we continue our tale. Uh-huh… nothing much going on there. Monday was another lazy, hazy summer day. Neither stocks nor gold did anything worth talking about. So… back to China…

Thank You, Deng Xiaoping! Nobody had any money in China in the 1980s. In contrast, today you lose control of your car in downtown Beijing and you are bound to run over at least a couple of millionaires. “We are very much aware of our extraordinary good fortune,” said a Chinese man in his 50s. “We grew up with nothing. Now we are able to dine in fine restaurants, live in fine houses and travel to other parts of the world. I thank Chairman Deng Xiaoping for having the wisdom to point us in the right direction… and the Party leadership for having the good judgment to keep us on the right road.”

The Party leadership is not infallible. Neither in China nor in the US. In both countries, the feds – looking out for themselves – make policy decisions that are disastrous for others. We were in China for only a few days. We have no idea what calamity the central planners will cause there. But we can take a fair guess of what they will do to America. Broadly, China’s feds build too many factories, malls and apartments. America’s feds encouraged the opposite error – borrowing and spending too much for consumption purposes.

China’s real wages doubled in the last 10 years… after doubling in the previous 10 years. That is why the Chinese feel so much better off. They ARE much better off. “Yes, we know there may be a slowdown… or even a financial crisis… coming. But we have gone ahead so far so fast we can put up with a little backsliding,” said our friend cheerfully.

Losing Ground: Americans are not likely to be so cheerful about it. But they’ve lost ground, not gained it. And now, down at the bottom of the pay ladder, US workers are fed up. From Bloomberg: "Thousands of fast-food workers from restaurants such as McDonald’s Corp. and Wendy’s Co. walked off the job beginning today to protest for higher pay.
American fast-food and retail workers have been striking this year for higher wages, and the protest starting today seeks wages of $15 an hour, 66% higher than the $9.02 that US fast-food cooks earn, on average. In April, employees from McDonald’s and Yum! Brands Inc., which owns the KFC and Taco Bell chains, joined workers from Macy’s Inc. and L Brands Inc.’s Victoria’s Secret chain in walking off the job in Chicago and New York for higher pay. The leisure and hospitality industry, which includes restaurants, is adding jobs faster than any other sector in the US. In June, the sector added 75,000 jobs, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fast-food cooks make $9.02 an hour, or about $18,760 a year, on average, according to 2012 data from the Washington-based agency."

Let’s see… According to the official numbers, $1 when we were born (right after World War II) was worth about $10 today. But the official numbers are fishy. An average house in 1950 sold for less than $10,000. Today (after a big sell-off following the subprime mortgage debacle of 2008) the typical house sells for about $150,000. On that basis, keeping up with your No. 1 cost – housing – would require 15 times as much money as it did in 1950.

Do people earn 15 times more now? After the war, a typical family had a single wage earner with a salary of about $250 a month – or $3,000 a year. The minimum wage was 75 cents an hour – or about $120 a month. On an average wage, a man was able to support a family and buy a new car every three or four years. A new Oldsmobile Rocket 88 cost about $1,500 – or about half of a year’s wages.

Today, a median wage earner gets $30,000 a year –10 times as much in nominal terms. But now, despite the feds’ phony numbers, he has much less buying power. Without even staring to calculate the effects of higher taxes, health care and education expenses, we can see he has to devote at least a whole year’s wages to buying a new family car – twice as much as in 1950. As for the house, that’s five years of wages – also twice as much as it was in the 1950s.

Bamboozled by Credit: As you can see, the real wages of the typical working man in the US have gone down for the last 60 years. In terms of his time, his most important purchases are more expensive today than they were in 1950.

How did American workers survive with lower real wages and higher living costs? First, they began to work longer hours. Wives went to work. Husbands worked a second job. Now Americans work more hours than any other group. Second, and most importantly from our point of view, they began to borrow. Aided, induced and bamboozled by the feds’ EZ credit policies… they went deep into debt to keep up with their own standards of living.

More to come…"

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Daily "Near You?"

Sacramento, California, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

Musical Interlude: Liquid Mind, “Night Light”

Liquid Mind, “Night Light”

"How It Really Is"

Chet Raymo, “Speaking of Water…”

  “Speaking of Water…”
by Chet Raymo

“How many water molecules- H2O- are there in the world's oceans? This is the kind of time-wasting calculation I love doing, but I will leave it as an exercise for one of you.

Look up the mass of a proton in grams. A water molecule has essentially the mass of 18 protons (hydrogen=1, oxygen=8 protons + 8 neutrons; remember, this is an order of magnitude calculation). A cubic centimeter of water has (by definition) a mass of one gram. Divide for the number of water molecules in a cubic centimeter of water.

How many cubic centimeters in the oceans? Look up the radius of the Earth (in centimeters). The area of a sphere is 4πr2, and about three-quarters of the Earth's surface is ocean. The average depth is about 4 kilometers, or 4x105 centimeters. You're home free. Make it easy. Use powers of ten and round off generously.

And what did you get? A very big number indeed. A number so big it is essentially meaningless. Its meaning is its meaninglessness. Its meaning is the almost incomprehensible gulf between the world of our senses and the world of atoms. Between what we are and what we are made of.

Why even do such a calculation? Only to show that the human brain can frolic in the world of atoms and molecules with a pencil on the back of an envelope. Go for it. Have fun.”

“My Life in Circles: Why Metadata is Incredibly Intimate”

“My Life in Circles: 
Why Metadata is Incredibly Intimate”
By Matthew Harwood

“One of the most disingenuous arguments in the aftermath of the NSA spying revelations is that the American people shouldn't be concerned about the government hoovering up its sensitive information because it's only metadata- or a fancy way of saying data about the data. "This is just metadata," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein assured the American people, referring to the NSA's bulk collection of Americans call records. "There is no content involved." President Obama and his national security officials have made similar assurances.

Feel better? You shouldn't and here's why.

A tool developed by MIT Media Lab proves how intrusive the collection and analysis of metadata is over time, especially for those who are overly reliant on email as their main method of communication. Dubbed "Immersion," the tool analyzes the metadata- From, To, Cc and Timestamp fields- from a volunteer's Gmail account and visualizes it.

In the interest of proving how absolutely invasive and telling a person's e-mail metadata is, I've allowed Immersion to analyze almost 9 years of my Gmail history. The results are incredibly cool- when done voluntarily- and absolutely frightening- when you consider government does this analysis without consent or judicial oversight. While the data visualizations below have been anonymized- which Immersion allows users to do- I'll briefly describe how incredibly powerful and revealing such data crunching is when laid out in all its transparent glory. What you see here is a full analysis of my personal and professional networks over 8.8 years of using Gmail.

Over the last nine years, I've worked at a political magazine; went overseas for graduate study; worked at a security trade magazine; written numerous freelance pieces of journalism on terrorism, whistleblowing, domestic extremism, homeland security, and the civil liberties implications they all raise. I also dated frequently before meeting my wife and have established many friendships, and lost some along the way, over the last 9 years.

When visualized and analyzed over time, my data reveals my family members--who are all tightly grouped and linked together--and those people who I am, or was, closest to in each phase of my private and professional life. All of my various work colleagues are networked together as well as my many circles of friends, tethered together around high school, grad school, different work places, and even where I've lived. It's easy to tell which woman became my wife, when we met, and how our relationship grew stronger over time. By using Immersion's time scroll, I can go back in time, find my wife, and watch as her speck balloons into the biggest orb in my interconnected sea of circles.

The data visualization also shows potential discord over time, such as friends who have either become acquaintances or even possibly enemies. (If someone were to target individuals to gather dirt on me, my guess is they would start with people who had a history of communication with me and then suddenly trailed off or fell off a cliff, visually speaking. Immersion allows you to see this by simply clicking on a particular contact's circle, which reveals your "interaction volume.") And more worrisome for a journalist, it's easy to determine who my sources were for particular stories. This is why mathematician and former Sun Microsystems engineer Susan Landau told the New Yorker's Jane Mayer that metadata is "much more intrusive than content."

The data visualizations the tool spits out are even creepier since we know government metadata collection didn't stop at Americans' call records. When the Guardian recently published a 2009 report from the National Security Agency's inspector general, the public learned that the government collected their online records as well. (The latter program, known as MARINA, was terminated in 2011, although there's no way to know whether Internet metadata collection continues under another guise.)

When listening to the likes of President Obama and Sen. Feinstein talk about metadata, the impression you get is that government collection and analysis of metadata isn't an unconscionable intrusion into our most private spaces. A quick analysis of my own Gmail metadata proves what an extraordinary lie this line of argumentation is.

Metadata, no matter what the detractors say, collected over time is an intimate repository of our lives- whom we love, whom we're friends with, where we work, where we worship (or don't), and whom we associate with politically. The right to privacy means our metadata shouldn't be collected and analyzed without reasonable suspicion that we've done something wrong.”

“The American Surveillance State Is Here. Can It Be Evaded?”

 “The American Surveillance State Is Here.
 Can It Be Evaded?”
By John W. Whitehead

“If, as it seems, we are in the process of becoming a totalitarian society in which the state apparatus is all-powerful, the ethics most important for the survival of the true, free, human individual would be: cheat, lie, evade, fake it, be elsewhere, forge documents, build improved electronic gadgets in your garage that’ll outwit the gadgets used by the authorities.” – Philip K. Dick, author of Minority Report

On any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears. A byproduct of this new age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. As I point out in my new book, “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State”, this doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere.

The revelations by Edward Snowden only scrape the surface in revealing the lengths to which government agencies and their corporate allies will go to conduct mass surveillance on all communications and transactions within the United States.

Erected in secret, without any public input, these surveillance programs amount to an electronic concentration camp which houses every single person in the United States today. Indeed, government whistleblower Russ Tice, who exposed the NSA’s warrantless surveillance of American phone calls as far back as 2005, insists that despite Obama administration claims that the NSA is simply collecting metadata, the NSA is in fact retrieving “the contents of emails, text messages, Skype communications, and phone calls, as well as financial information, health records, legal documents, and travel documents.”

These communications are being stored in the NSA’s Utah Data Center, a massive $2 billion facility that will be handling yottabytes of data (equivalent to one septillion bytes—imagine a one followed by 24 zeroes) on American communications. This Utah facility is opening amidst a backlash against NSA surveillance. Most recently, the Obama administration and the NSA went into overdrive to quash an amendment sponsored by Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would have cut off funds to the NSA if it collects surveillance data on American citizens who are not under criminal investigation. It was a bold move, especially when one considers that the NSA operates off a budget of approximately $10 billion. After all, when the government no longer listens to the citizenry—when it no longer abides by the Constitution, which is our rule of law—and when it views the citizenry as a source of funding and little else, we have no choice but to speak to the government in a language it understands—money.

Unfortunately, lobbyists and the Washington elite succeeded in defeating the amendment 217-205. Not surprisingly, many of those who voted down the bill were also recipients of campaign funds from the lucrative security/surveillance sector.

In the face of such powerful lobbyists working in tandem with our so-called representatives, any hope of holding onto even a shred of privacy is rapidly dwindling. Indeed, the life of the average American is an open book for government agents. As Senator Ron Wyden, a longtime critic of the American surveillance state, points out, government agencies operate based upon a secret interpretation of the Patriot Act which allows them to extract massive amounts of data from third party agencies, enabling them to collect information on “bulk medical, financial, credit card and gun-ownership records or lists of ‘readers of books and magazines deemed subversive.’”

Cell phones are equally vulnerable, serving as a “combination phone bug, listening device, location tracker and hidden camera.” Indeed, it’s incredibly easy to activate a cell phone’s GPS and microphone capabilities remotely. For example, the FBI uses the “roving bug” technique, which allows agents to remotely activate the microphone on a cellphone and use it as a listening device. A federal judge actually ruled in 2006 that this was a constitutional technique when it was used to listen to two alleged mobsters, despite the fact that no phone call was taking place at the time.

With private corporations also taking advantage of this technology, the outlook is decidedly grim. In an attempt to mimic the tracking capabilities of online retailers, brick-and-mortar stores now utilize WIFI-enabled devices to track the movements of their customers by tracking their phones as they move throughout the store. The data gathered by these devices include “‘capture rate’ (how successful window displays are at pulling people into the store); number of customers inside the store; customer visit duration and frequency; customer location within the store; people who walk by the store without coming in; and the amount of foot traffic around the store.”

Combined with facial recognition technology, our cell phones have become a tell-all about our personal lives. For example, one Russian marking company, Synqera, “uses facial recognition technology to tailor marketing messages to customers according to their gender, age, and mood.” As one company representative noted, “if you are an angry man of 30, and it is Friday evening, [the Synqera software] may offer you a bottle of whiskey.”

Americans cannot even drive their cars without being enmeshed in this web of surveillance. As confirmed by an ACLU report entitled, “You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used to Record Americans’ Movements,” the latest developments in license plate readers enable law enforcement and private agencies to track the whereabouts of vehicles, and their occupants, all across the country.

License plate readers work by recognizing a passing license plate, photographing it, and running the information against a pre-determined database that lets police know if they’ve got a “hit,” a person of interest, though not necessarily a suspected criminal. There are reportedly tens of thousands of these license plate readers now affixed to police cars and underpasses in operation throughout the country. The data collected from these devices is also being shared between police agencies, as well as with fusion centers and private companies.

Indeed, while all drivers’ data is being collected, only a fraction of the data collected constitutes a “hit.” An even smaller fraction of those “hits” actually result in an arrest. Overall, the hit rate for criminal activity gleaned from the license pictures is usually between .01% and .3%, meaning that over 99% of the people being unnecessarily surveilled are entirely innocent.

The implications for privacy are dire. All of the data points collected by license plate readers can be traced and mapped so that a picture of a vehicle’s past movements can be re-constructed. Furthermore, the photographs produced by license plate readers “sometimes include a substantial part of a vehicle, its occupants, and its immediate vicinity.”

In addition to tracking tens of thousands of innocent people, the data collected by license plate readers is often kept far beyond any reasonable period of time. Data retention policies vary widely, from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which deletes non-hits immediately, versus some localities which hold on to data for weeks, months, or years. Some localities hold on to the information indefinitely.

To cap it off, private companies are also getting into the data collection game, as data collected on innocent drivers is being shared between both government agencies and corporations. One such business, Final Notice, offers the information they gather to police agencies and intends to start selling the information to other groups soon, including bail bondsmen, private investigators, and insurers.

Another company, MVTrac, claims to have data on “a large majority” of vehicles in the US, and the Digital Recognition Network (DRN) claims to have a network of affiliates of more than 550. These affiliates feed over 50 million plate reads into a national database containing “over 700 million data points on where American drivers have been.”

This is the United States of America today, where liberty and privacy are the currency for any and all essential services. Short of living in a cave, cut off from all communications and commerce, anyone living in the concentration camp that is America today must cede his privacy and liberty to a government agency, a corporation, or both, in order to access information via the internet, communicate with friends and family, shop for food and clothing, or travel to work.

We have just about reached the point of no return. “If we do not seize this unique moment in our constitutional history to reform our surveillance laws and practices, we are all going to live to regret it,” warned Senator Wyden. “The combination of increasingly advanced technology with a breakdown in the checks and balances that limit government action could lead us to a surveillance state that cannot be reversed.”

“Have Credit-Based Money, Will Fail”

“Have Credit-Based Money, Will Fail”
by Bill Bonner

“Over the last 10,000 years, humans have tried two different kinds of “money.” They began with exchanges based on credit — “You give me a chicken… I’ll pay you back later, maybe by helping you build a new wigwam.” Then, when society became too large and extensive, they switched to gold and silver. The advantage of this was obvious: You didn’t have to remember who owed what to whom. You could settle up right away. “You give me a chicken. I give you a little piece of silver. Done deal.”

Periodically, governments were tempted to go back to credit systems. Essentially, they issued pieces of paper — IOUs — and declared them “money.” Usually, these hybrid systems began with some collateral backing up the paper. Issuers typically had gold in their vaults and agreed to exchange the paper for metal at a fixed rate. Holders of the paper money were told that it was “good as gold.”

In some cases, people believed the IOUs were better than gold. When John Law began modern central banking in France, he backed his paper money with shares in a profit-seeking business — the Mississippi Co. You could take his scrip and imagine that it would grow in value along with the profits of the company. Trouble was the Mississippi Co. never made any profit. It was a failure… and a fraud. Great prospectus. Few real investments. When people realized, they wanted to get rid of their paper money as soon as possible. In 1720, the system collapsed, and John Law fled France.

Later in the 18th century, the French tried again. This time, the revolutionary government backed its new paper money with revenues from the church properties they had seized. This didn’t last very long, either. The system blew up in 1796. Napoleon Bonaparte, on the scene at the time, declared, “While I live, I will never resort to irredeemable paper money.” Richard Milhous Nixon didn’t seem to get the memo. In 1971, he changed the world monetary system. Thenceforth, it would be based on irredeemable paper money. We are now in year 42 of this new experiment with modern, credit-based money.

All right so far? Well, yes… as long as you don’t look too carefully.

When you have a system based on credit, rather than bullion, deals are never completely done. Instead, everything depends on the good faith and good judgment of counterparties — including everybody’s No. 1 counterparty: the U.S. government. Its bills, notes and bonds are the foundation of the money system. But they are nothing more than promises — debt instruments issued by the world’s biggest debtor.

A credit system cannot last in the modern world. Because as the volume of credit rises, the creditworthiness of the issuers declines. The more they owe, the less able they are to pay. As time goes by, the web of credit spins out in all directions, entangling not just the present, but the future too. It stretches out over the entire society… one person owes another… who owes a third… whose debt has been pledged to a fourth… who now depends on it to pay a fifth… all calibrated in the IOUs of sketchy value from a sixth. Have you got that?

Total debt in the U.S. now measures more than twice what it was — in proportion to GDP — in 1971. And GDP itself has been goosed up by credit. Every time someone borrows money to spend… the spending shows up in GDP. It looks great… on paper. There’s only so much gold. But there is no reasonable limit on how much of this new credit-based money you can create. As it increases, it gives people more spending power. GDP goes up. Employment goes up. Prices — especially asset prices — go up.

Naturally, everybody loves a credit system… until the credits go bad. Then they wish they had a little more of the other kind of money. Wise governments, if there are any, take no chances. They may feed the paper money to the people. But they hold onto gold for themselves. Throughout history, the most powerful governments were those with the most gold. “Remember the golden rule,” they used to say. “He who has the gold makes the rules.” When push comes to shove, governments need gold, not more IOUs with their presidents’ pictures on them. Which brings us to the point of today’s Daily Reckoning.

Britain famously and foolishly sold much of its gold at the very worst time, at the end of the 1990s, when gold was trading at a 20-year low.

But how about the U.S.? Does it have any gold left? That is the question recently posed by Eric Sprott: “Central banks from the rest of the world (i.e., non-Western central banks) have been increasing their holdings of gold at a very rapid pace, going from 6,300 tonnes in Q1 2009 to more than 8,200 tonnes at the end of Q1 2013. At the same time, physical inventories have declined rapidly since the beginning of 2013 (or have been raided, as we argued in the May 2013 Markets at a Glance), and physical demand from large- and small-scale buyers remains solid. As we have shown in previous articles, the past decade has seen a large discrepancy between the available gold supply and sales. The conclusion we have reached is that this gold has been supplied by central banks, which have replaced their holdings of physical gold with claims on gold (paper gold).”

Analyzing the gold sales figures over the last 12 years, Sprott noticed that there was far more gold sold than mined. Where did it come from? Some of it is easily accounted for in jewelry and private holdings. But generally, the private sector is a buyer and an accumulator of gold, not a seller. And the quantities released to the market have been so great Sprott believes they could have come only from central banks. But if they have sold such massive quantities over the last 10 years, how much do they have left? Maybe not much.

Which wouldn’t be surprising. Western central banks are committed to their credit money system. They intend to stick with it. And they know that unraveling this unruly skein of credit would be extremely painful. Selling gold into the bull market of the last 12 years probably seemed like a very smart move. We’ll see how smart it was later, when the credit-based money system blows up. Dear readers are advised to hold onto their gold. It’s the kind of money that works.”

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"The Champ"

"The Champ"
by CoyotePrime

Ding, ding, ding... you hear the bell for the start of the fight, hear the crowd, noisy, excited to see this rematch between you and Life.  You’re here, and still the Champ, right? Fought this guy many times before, always beat him, too, though you took many a beating yourself in the process, each fight a little tougher, taking a little more out of you each time. You meet in the center of the ring... damn, has this guy grown somehow? He looks bigger, more muscled, and has a real confident look in his eye. So what? You’re the Champ, still standing, right? Let’s get it on!

Ding, ding, ding... you meet him in the center of the ring, toe to toe, jabbing, bobbing and weaving, feeling each other out. He seems faster that you remember, while your own punches are a hair slower, not quite able to connect solidly, while his land solidly, crisply, heavily. He lands a tremendous body shot to your side, knocking the air right out of you, and you clinch him desperately, sucking in as much air as you can while he hammers away at you, your forearms blocking most, but not all, of those heavy, heavy punches.

Ding, ding, ding... the bell ends the round and you sit on your stool, hearing the trainers tell you how to fight this guy, “Don’t clinch with him, he’s too strong, he’ll break you up”, “Dance, man, side to side, bob and weave, don’t give him anything to hit”, “Jab and dance away, jab, jab, jab”, words you’ve heard so many times before. You think of previous bouts with this guy, the loss of a job when you had a family to support, the bitter divorce, the deaths of loved ones... every time he came wanting to knock your head off, but your will power, training and instincts always kept you standing at the end, still the Champ, right? But this time, something’s not right, something's different somehow...

Yeah, time’s gone by, not so young or strong as you once were, not as fast, don’t recover as fast, but haven’t been taken out yet, right? And everybody knows the rules, the only way he wins is to knock you out, you just gotta hang on, take his best shots and give him all you got until that bell rings for the end of the fight, and if you’re still there, still standing, you win. Still the Champ, right? Round after round after round...

Ding, ding, ding... last round, you’re feeling so tired, legs almost gone, no snap to the punches, but he looks fresh, strong, and bores in with a mean intent, landing hammer blows, knocking you back towards the corner where he wants you, you try dancing sideways, he cuts off the ring, no escape that way, and keeps coming in. A thunderous right cross lands smack on your chin, everything turns black for a second, legs about to go as the instincts kick in and you throw your body back out of the way, sucking in as much air as you can, shaking your head to clear the blurriness, but you’re in the corner now, where he wants you, and here he comes with a vengeance, fast, strong, wanting the knockout, but you’re still standing, still the Champ, right? Right?

Ding, ding, ding...