Read more here. (09/23/12)
Archive for the ‘Crisis’ Category
CommUnity of Minds — James Howard Kunstler writes: Meet the new third party in national politics: Reality.
Reality is the only party with an agenda consistent with what is actually happening in the world. Reality doesn’t need to drum up dollar donations from anyone. Reality doesn’t have to pander to any interest group or subscribe to any inane belief system. Reality doesn’t even need your vote. Reality will be the winner of the 2012 election no matter what the ballot returns appear to say about the bids of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to lead the executive branch of the government.
In the vicious vacuum that national party politics has become, the Republicans and Democrats are already dead. They choked to death on the toxic fumes of their own excreta. They are empty, hollow institutions animated only by the parasites that feed on and squirm over the residue of decomposing tissue within the dissolving membranes of their legitimacy. Think of the fabled Koch brothers as botfly larvae and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association PAC (SIFMA PAC) as a mass of writhing maggots.
These are desperate days in the republic. Between the two empty spectacles of the official party nominating conventions, a terrible nausea rises in the collective gorge of the swindled body politic. The putative contest of ideas is a dumbshow in a hall of mirrors. None of it avails to reduce, mitigate, or even acknowledge, the tensions that may tear this country apart, in particular the web of fraud that shrouds all the operations of money and banking – which is to say: the fate of everything the nation thinks it has invested in itself and its future. In the USA of 2012, anything goes and nothing matters. Reality has a different view of where this all ends and how it will work out.
Compare and contrast the platforms of the Republicans and Democrats with the Reality Party:
The two major parties both propose that the colossal machine of everyday life in America can not only run indefinitely, but continue expanding, and include ever more member people who trade ever more schwag. All that is required, they say, is twiddling the settings of the machine, to get it back to running smoothly as it did in the good old days before the mystifying crash of 2008. They disagree slightly on which dials to twiddle. Reality knows we have entered along-term compressive economic contraction; that there is no way we can persist in the current living arrangement; and that the necessary outcome to avoid immense human suffering can be described as the downscaling and re-localizing of everything we do.
The two major parties regard the rule of law as optional, especially in money matters. Neither party has any will to interfere with a broad array of financial rackets that range from the blatant manipulation of markets, interest rates, and currencies to computerized front-running thievery, traffic in booby-trapped derivatives and counterfeit shorts, pervasive accounting fraud, channel stuffing, irregularities in central bank bullion leasing, flagrant confiscation of private accounts, municipal bond-rigging flimflams, “private equity” looting operations, offshore banking dodges, and untold other scams, rip-offs, and cons that have crippled the basic functions of finance, namely: price discovery, currency as a reliable store of value, and the allocation of surplus wealth for productive purpose. Reality knows that the absence of the rule of law is suicidal. Reality is incapable of pretending that it doesn’t matter. Reality provides work-arounds for intractably dishonest political arrangements: civil war and revolution. Both are invoked out of extreme desperation and have unpredictable outcomes. Like Reality itself, they are what they are. (09/11/12)
The Automatic Earth — Ashvin Pandurangi writes: Looking around at those… around me – family, friends, acquaintances and random faces in the crowd of apathy – the level of complacency is so concentrated I can taste it, yet I can’t even describe how bad it tastes. I’m not really talking about the understanding people lack about the numerous predicaments we face as a species – that’s definitely there too… but what I’m talking about is even worse. It’s the assumption that we can just go about our day to day lives, doing our day to day work, having our day to day fun… and humanity will eventually heal itself, no matter how bad the injuries sustained.
This is a cultural phenomenon that has infested the Western world, and refuses to be eradicated. It is where many of us ultimately place our hope and stake our lives, sometimes without even realizing we are doing it. We previously discussed the entertainment enemas that have penetrated modern culture (and the lives of deluded teenagers) in Culturally Programmed Myths of Omnipotence. They have given us the vision that we can always become bigger, “better” and stronger as individuals and nations, evolving towards God-like glory, no matter what obstacles are in our way – all of the stories about superheroes, vampires, werewolves, wizards, robots and aliens – it’s all about the propaganda of pernicious power.
We even see this mentality taking root in academia and scientific research through the field of “transhumanism” (very well portrayed in the documentary, TechnoCalyps). As you can probably guess from the name, transhumanism tells us that we are on the way to becoming something more, something other, than human beings. Forget random mutation and natural selection, the transhumanist says – we can circumvent all of the slow evolutionary nonsense that we only theorized about a century ago. Now we can transform ourselves into a new species over the course of a few decades with the help of modern technology and “intelligent designers”. Just a little bit ironic, don’t you think? …
Most importantly, though, I am here to make clear that no one is immune from the mentality that “everything is alright” or “everything can be alright”, including me. I have my own personal beliefs about how humanity can be preserved and even perfected, and I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with that. What’s wrong is when I forget to remind myself where those beliefs come from and where they are truly leading me. Do they simply make me feel good and comfortable and “enlightened”? Am I simply willing to swallow the red pill because someone slick tells me it will “open my eyes”?
Or is there something more fundamentally true about why I have deep concerns and why I have ultimate hope. What sacrifices are really required of myself and others to reach our maximum human potentials? I believe these are questions we must repeatedly ask ourselves, because the moment we become too comfortable and too uncritical of our beliefs, or the beliefs of others around us, is the moment that we become apathetic and willing to go wherever the world takes us. It is only when we confront the umcomfortable truths of our situation in this world that we will be able to become the best we can possibly be. (09/11/12)
Future Positive — Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”
Science now affects every aspect of life and is an increasingly important topic in national policymaking. ScienceDebate.org invited thousands of scientists, engineers and concerned citizens to submit what they felt were the the most important science questions facing the nation that the candidates for president should be debating on the campaign trail.
ScienceDebate then worked with a number of the leading US science and engineering organizations to refine the questions and arrive at a universal consensus on what the most important science policy questions facing the United States are in 2012. Here is their answer:
1. Innovation and the Economy. Science and technology have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII, when the federal government first prioritized peacetime science mobilization. But several recent reports question America’s continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation?
2. Climate Change. The Earth’s climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change—and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?
3. Research and the Future. Federally funded research has helped to produce America’s major postwar economies and to ensure our national security, but today the UK, Singapore, China, and Korea are making competitive investments in research. Given that the next Congress will face spending constraints, what priority would you give to investment in research in your upcoming budgets?
4. Pandemics and Biosecurity. Recent experiments show how Avian flu may become transmissible among mammals. In an era of constant and rapid international travel, what steps should the United States take to protect our population from emerging diseases, global pandemics and/or deliberate biological attacks?
5. Education. Increasingly, the global economy is driven by science, technology, engineering and math, but a recent comparison of 15-year-olds in 65 countries found that average science scores among U.S. students ranked 23rd, while average U.S. math scores ranked 31st. In your view, why have American students fallen behind over the last three decades, and what role should the federal government play to better prepare students of all ages for the science and technology-driven global economy? (07/23/12)
CommUnity of Minds — Ellen Brown writes: At one time, calling the large multinational banks a “cartel” branded you as a conspiracy theorist. Today the banking giants are being called that and worse, not just in the major media but in court documents intended to prove the allegations as facts. Charges include racketeering (organized crime under the U.S. Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act or RICO), antitrust violations, wire fraud, bid-rigging, and price-fixing. Damning charges have already been proven, and major damages and penalties assessed. Conspiracy theory has become established fact.
In an article in the July 3rd Guardian titled “Private Banks Have Failed – We Need a Public Solution”, Seumas Milne writes of the LIBOR rate-rigging scandal admitted to by Barclays Bank:
It’s already clear that the rate rigging, which depends on collusion, goes far beyond Barclays, and indeed the City of London. This is one of multiple scams that have become endemic in a disastrously deregulated system with inbuilt incentives for cartels to manipulate the core price of finance.
. . . It could of course have happened only in a private-dominated financial sector, and makes a nonsense of the bankrupt free-market ideology that still holds sway in public life.
. . . A crucial part of the explanation is the unmuzzled political and economic power of the City. . . . Finance has usurped democracy. …
If the last quarter century of U.S. banking history proves anything, it is that our private banking system turns malignant and feeds off the public when it is deregulated. It also shows that a parasitic private banking system will NOT be tamed by regulation, as the banks’ control over the money power always allows them to circumvent the rules. We the People must transparently own and run the nation’s central and regional banks for the good of the nation, or the system will be abused and run for private power and profit as it so clearly is today, bringing our nation to crisis again and again while enriching the few. (07/23/12)
Yes! Magazine — Ellen Brown writes: Among the many ideas posed by different groups of protesters on Wall Street and around the nation is student debt forgiveness—a debt “jubilee.” Occupy Philly has a “Student Loan Jubilee Working Group,” and other groups are studying the issue.
Commentators say debt forgiveness is impossible. Who would foot the bill? But there is one deep pocket that could pull it off—the Federal Reserve. In its first quantitative easing program (QE1), the Fed removed $1.3 trillion in toxic assets from the books of Wall Street banks. For QE4, it could remove $1 trillion in toxic debt from the backs of millions of students.
The economy would be the better for it, as was shown by the G.I. Bill, which provided virtually free higher education for returning veterans, along with low-interest loans for housing and business. The G.I. Bill had a sevenfold return, making it one of the best investments Congress ever made.
There are arguments against a complete student debt write-off, including that it would reward private universities that are already charging too much, and it would unfairly exclude other forms of debt from relief. But the point here is that it could be done, and it would represent a significant stimulus to the economy.
Toxic Student Debt: The Next “Black Swan”?
The Occupy Wall Street movement is heavily populated with students—many without jobs—groaning under the impossible load of student debts that have been excluded from the usual consumer protections. A whole generation of young people has been seduced into debt peonage by the promise of better jobs if they invest in higher education, only to find that the jobs are not there when they graduate. If the students default on their loans, lenders can now jack up interest rates and fees, garnish wages, and destroy credit ratings; and the debts can no longer be discharged in bankruptcy.
Total U.S. student debt has risen to $1 trillion—more than U.S. credit card debt. Defaults are also rising; and with a very tight job market, the situation is expected to get worse. The threat of massive student loan defaults requiring another taxpayer bailout has been called a systemic risk as serious as the bank failures that brought the U.S. economy to the brink of collapse in 2008. To prevent a repeat of that disaster, we need to defuse the student debt time bomb before it blows. But how? (11/03/11)
The Economist — IT IS not often that biologists have a chance to watch natural selection in action. The best-known cases—the evolution of resistance to antibiotics in bacteria and to pesticides in insects—are responses to deliberate changes people have made in the environment of the creatures concerned. But mankind has caused lots of accidental changes as well, and these also offer opportunities to study evolution.
Recently, two groups of researchers, one at New York University (NYU) and the other at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, have taken advantage of one of these changes to look at how fish evolve in response to environmental stress. The stress in question is pollution by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These chemicals—widely used in the middle decades of the 20th century to manufacture electrical insulation, coolants, sealants and plasticisers—often ended up dumped in lakes, rivers and coastal waters. Eventually, such dumping was banned (in America, this happened in 1977). But PCBs are persistent chemicals, and their effects are felt even today. In particular, they disrupt the immune systems of animals such as fish, cause hormonal imbalances and promote tumours.
As is the way of evolution, however, some fish species have developed resistance to PCB poisoning. Isaac Wirgin, at NYU, and Mark Hahn, at Woods Hole, have been studying PCB-resistant fish, to see how they do it. After that, the two researchers will be able to look at how these populations evolve yet again as the environment is cleaned up.
The species of interest to Dr Wirgin is the Atlantic tomcod of the Hudson river in upstate New York. Part of the Hudson was polluted with PCBs by two General Electric plants. Dr Hahn is looking at a different animal, the killifish (pictured), in New Bedford harbour, Massachusetts, which was polluted by other producers. Both Hudson tomcod and New Bedford killifish are able to tolerate levels of PCB far higher than those that would kill such fish in cleaner waters. The question is, why?
PCBs do their damage by binding to a protein called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, or AHR, thus stopping it working properly. AHR is a transcription factor, meaning that it controls the process by which messenger molecules are copied from genes. These messenger molecules go on to act as the blueprints for protein production, so preventing a transcription factor from working can cause all sorts of problems. Both Hudson tomcod and New Bedford killifish, however, have unusual AHR molecules. And it is this that seems to explain their immunity.
A protein is a chain of chemical units called amino acids. In tomcods, AHR is composed of 1,104 such units. Except that in Hudson tomcod it frequently isn’t. These fish generally have 1,102 amino acids in their AHRs. The two missing links in the chain (a phenylalanine and a leucine, for aficionados) are encoded in the gene for ordinary tomcod AHR by six genetic “letters” that are missing from the DNA found in PCB-resistant Hudson tomcod. The shortened version of AHR does not bind nearly so easily to PCBs. It still, however, seems to work as a transcription factor. The result is fish that are more or less immune to PCB poisoning. (11/03/11)
The New Yorker — John Cassidy writes: On Monday night, the nation’s Prime Minister, George Papandreou, shocked his colleagues, his countrymen, and the rest of the world by announcing he would hold a referendum on a new bailout package, which other European countries agreed upon last week as part of a broader effort to contain the continent’s debt crisis. Today, markets everywhere are plunging, which is hardly surprising.
Just when it seemed like there was going to be a respite from the debt crisis, albeit perhaps a temporary one, Papandreou has thrown the whole thing into question again. If the Greeks were to vote down the European rescue package, which involves yet another round of austerity measures, they would be opting for a sovereign debt default, and, in all probability, Greece’s exit from the euro zone. Even if the Greeks approve the package, the markets face two months of chronic uncertainty before a vote not expected until January.
With a parliamentary majority of just three votes for his Socialist Party government, Papandreou appears to have seen a referendum as a clever political gambit. While most Greeks oppose the tax increases and budget cuts that have come with successive European bailouts, they still strongly support membership of the European Union. In offering voters a referendum, Papandreou is effectively asking his countrymen to choose which option they like least: more austerity or an exit from the euro zone.
As of today, though, it looks like the Prime Minister was being too clever by half. From every side came angry denunciations of his action. The Irish foreign minister accused him of lobbing a “grenade” into the European rescue efforts, adding, “Legitimately there is going to be a lot of annoyance about it.” In Germany, politicians called for preparations to eject Greece from the E.U.
Greeks, too, are outraged. Six of Papandreou’s party colleagues called on him to resign. One quit the PASOK party. “They must be crazy,” a senior executive at one of Greece’s biggest companies told Reuters. “(T)his is no way to run a country.” With a parliamentary vote of confidence in his government scheduled for Friday, it is quite conceivable that by the end of the week Papandreou will be out office.
And yet, for all that, he has a point about Greece needing to make a definitive decision about what course it wants to follow. For months now, his political opponents have criticized him for accepting the onerous terms of the European bailouts, which include job cuts, tax increases, and privatization programs. But Greeks also seem reluctant to embrace the alternative path, which involves defaulting on its debts, leaving the euro zone, at least temporarily, and trying to make its way alone. Outside the euro zone, Greece could relaunch its old currency, the drachma, which would trade at a much lower rate than the euro, meaning its exports would be cheaper abroad. The country’s banking system would probably collapse—it’s pretty much a basket case already—inflation would rise, and there would be a period of chaos. But, relieved of its debts, the economy would eventually start growing again. At least that’s what happened to Argentina, which, back in 2002, defaulted on its debts and abandoned a one-to-one peg between the peso and the dollar. (11/03/11)
BBC Environment — Officers in the UK military warned that the price of goods such as fuel is likely to rise as conflict provoked by climate change increases. A statement from the meeting adds that humanitarian disasters will put more and more strain on military resources. It asks governments to adopt ambitious targets for curbing greenhouse gases.
The annual UN climate conference opens in about six weeks’ time, and the doctors, academics and military experts represented at the meeting (held in the British Medical Association’s (BMA) headquarters) argue that developed and developing countries alike need to raise their game. Scientific studies suggest that the most severe climate impacts will fall on the relatively poor countries of the tropics.
UK military experts pointed out that much of the world’s trade moves through such regions, with North America, Western Europe and China among the societies heavily dependent on oil and other imports.
Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, climate and energy security envoy for the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), said that conflict in such areas could make it more difficult and expensive to obtain goods on which countries such as Britain rely. “If there are risks to the trade routes and other areas, then it’s food, it’s energy,” he told BBC News. “The price of energy will go up – for us, it’s [the price of] petrol at the pumps – and goods made in southeast Asia, a lot of which we import.”
A number of recent studies have suggested that climate impacts will make conflict more likely, by increasing competition for scarce but essential resources such as water and food. The International Institute for Strategic Studies, for example, recently warned that climate change “will increase the risks of resource shortages, mass migration and civil conflict”, while the MoD’s view is that it will shift “the tipping point at which conflict occurs”.
Alejandro Litovsky, founder of the Earth Security Initiative, said that even without the increasing effect of conflict, prices of essential goods were bound to rise. “From the year 2000 onwards, we have been seeing commodity prices climb, and this is not likely to stop,” he said. “It is primarily driven by resource scarcity, and the trends suggest that depletion of these natural resources is unlikely to be reversed in the near future without drastic interventions.” He also said that degradation of natural resources such as forests and freshwater was removing much of the resilience that societies formerly enjoyed.
Last week, multinational coffee house Starbucks warned that climate change threatened the world’s coffee supplies in 20-30 years’ time. (10/25/11)