Sunday, October 3, 2010

Keeping an Eye on Everyone

A Hall of Shame of State Snooping, Prying, and Informing Aimed at Destroying the Fabric of Civil Society

Go To Original

The dried blood on the concrete floor is there for all to see, a stain forever marking the spot on a Memphis motel balcony where Martin Luther King, Jr. lay mortally wounded by a sniper’s bullet.

It is a stark and ghostly image speaking to the sharp pain of absence. King is gone. His aides are gone. Only the stain remains. What now?

That image is, of course, a photograph taken by Ernest C. Withers, Memphis born and bred, and known as the photographer of the civil rights movement. He was there at the Lorraine Motel, as he had been at so many other critical places, recording iconic images of those tumultuous years.

In addition to photographing moments large and small in the struggle for black civil rights in the South, Withers had another job. He was an informer for the FBI, passing along information on the doings of King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Ben Hooks, and other leaders of the movement. He reported on meetings he attended as a photographer, welcomed in by those he knew so intimately. He passed along photos of events and gatherings to his handler, Special Agent William H. Lawrence of the FBI’s Memphis office. He named names and sketched out plans.

In an exhaustive recent report, the Memphis Commercial Appeal detailed Withers’s undercover activities, provoking a pained and complex response from the many who knew him and were involved in the civil rights movement. His family simply refuses to believe that the paper’s report could be accurate. On the other hand, Andrew Young, with King during those last moments, accepts Withers’s career as an informant, saying it just doesn’t bother him. Civil rights leaders, including King, viewed Withers as crucial to the movement’s struggle to portray itself accurately in Jet, Ebony, and other black journals. In that Withers was successful -- and the rest, Young suggests, doesn’t matter. Besides, he told the Commercial Appeal, they had nothing to hide. “I don't think Dr. King would have minded him making a little money on the side.”

Activist and comedian Dick Gregory, hearing Young’s comments, turned on his old comrade. “We are talking about a guy hired by the FBI to destroy us and the fact that Andy could say that means there must be a deep hatred down inside of him,” he said. “If he feels that way about King only God knows what he feels about the rest of us.”

This is the way it is with informers, so useful to reckless law enforcement authorities and employed by the tens of thousands as the secret shock troops of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Surveillance has multiple uses, not the least of which is to sow mistrust, which in turn eats at the cohesion of families, social and political movements, and ultimately the fabric of community itself.

D’Army Bailey, a former Memphis judge and target of FBI surveillance in the 1960s, told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that the use of informers in everyday life ruptured fundamental civic bonds, fomenting deep suspicion and mistrust. “It's something you would expect in the most ruthless totalitarian regimes. Once that trust is shattered that doesn't go away.”

Earl Caldwell, a former New York Times reporter and now a professor of journalism at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications at Hampton University, pointed out that the black community in the South in the 1960s granted a special trust to black journalists. Indeed, some of those journalists took out an ad in black newspapers in February 1970 pledging not to spy or inform or betray that trust.

“If all that we've been told through these documents that have been released, if that’s true, then it puts a... very, very, very heavy, heavy mark not just on [Withers] and his work but on the trust that the black journalists made many years ago with the black community,” Caldwell said.

Keeping Tabs on Americans for Fun and Profit

That was then, this is now. The Withers story is, of course, ancient history, shocking to many, yes, even though it is well known that FBI and police informers permeated the movement in general and King's circle in particular, and illegal wiretaps and bugs snared even the most private conversations of civil rights leaders. But few who thought or wrote about the Withers news found it an especially relevant tale for our present moment. How wrong they were.

If, amid anti-communist hysterias and social upheaval decades ago, the U.S. government employed armies of informers and other forms of often illegal surveillance, government and law enforcement agencies today are actually casting a far broader surveillance net in the name of security in a relentless effort to watch and hear everything -- and to far less attention or concern than in the 1960s.

In fact, a controversy in Pennsylvania has just erupted over secret state surveillance of legitimate political groups engaged in meetings, protests, and debates involving subjects of public importance -- natural gas drilling, abortion, military policy, animal mistreatment, gay rights. Such controversies over domestic political spying have surfaced remarkably regularly since September 11, 2001 -- police and FBI informers in mosques, Defense Department surveillance of antiwar groups and even gay organizations, National Security Agency illegal wiretapping, and surveillance of groups planning protests for the political conventions of the major parties. Revelations of such activities have become almost white noise. All were covered in the media, but cumulatively it’s as though none of them ever happened.

The Pennsylvania surveillance case, which is just the latest of these glimpses into the secret surveillance world of our ever more powerful national security state, does not directly involve informers (as far as we know). It marks a different point on what FBI Director Robert Mueller has referred to as the “continuum” -- the whole environment of daily life, really, which in the post-9/11 world has been appropriated by law enforcement officials in the name of “terrorism prevention.”

“There is a continuum between those who would express dissent and those who would do a terrorist act,” Mueller said ominously in a 2002 speech. “Somewhere along that continuum we have to begin to investigate. If we do not, we are not doing our job. It is difficult for us to find a path between the two extremes.”

What does that mean? Just last week, FBI agents raided half a dozen homes of anti-war activists in Minneapolis and Chicago, carting away papers, computers, clothing, and other personal effects, all in the name of investigating “material support of terrorism.” The activists, their supporters, and their attorneys have a different view: they see the raids as designed to intimidate and disrupt legitimate political dissent -- points on “the continuum.” It is a virtual certainty that evidence of intrusive surveillance will surface as these cases mature.

In Pennsylvania the continuum has meant, most recently, that the state Office of Homeland Security contracted with a small outfit, the Institute of Terrorism Response and Research, run by a couple of ex-cops, one from York, Pennsylvania, the other raised in Philadelphia and a veteran of Israeli law enforcement. For the past year, the institute has been providing secret intelligence reports via the state Homeland Security Office to Pennsylvania police departments and private companies in order, the reports say, to “support public and private sector, critical infrastructure protection initiatives and strategies.”

Many of these reports focused on groups opposed to Marcellus Shale drilling, which you may not have known was a breeding ground for terrorism. In fact, you may not even know what it is. But particularly in Pennsylvania and New York, Marcellus Shale means big bucks. The shale is part of a 600-mile-long geological formation containing a huge reservoir of natural gas. Energy companies are seeking to exploit that formation in ways that have raised serious and widespread environmental concerns. Ed Rendell, governor of Pennsylvania, facing severe budget problems, wants to impose a tax on the eager drillers. With Marcellus Shale, there’s something for everybody -- except for environmentalists concerned about the impact of drilling on the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the Delaware River basin.

Opposition from various environmental groups, then, has threatened to spoil the party. What a surprise to find many of those groups mentioned in one “counterterrorism” report after another. For instance, a report on an “anti-gas” training session in Ithaca, New York, noted that the group conducting the training (part of a radical environmental network) was nonviolent, but should be considered dangerous anyway.

“Training provided by the Ruckus Group does not include violent tactics such as the use of IEDs [roadside bombs] or small arms,” a 2009 institute report assured its no-doubt-relieved readers. “The Ruckus Group does, however, provide expertise in planning and conducting demonstrations and campaigns that can close down a facility and embarrass a company.” To spell it out: this counterterrorist monitoring institute was providing public-relations alerts for private energy companies at tax-payer expense.

For nearly a decade, 9/11 has been used to justify this kind of “intelligence” provided to corporate and private interests. Such information may have nothing to do with terrorism, but it serves nicely to illustrate how the protection of private profit has trumped concern for real public security. What was missed as institute “analysts” pondered potential Ruckus Group embarrassments to energy companies?

Rendell, who claimed shock and embarrassment when the reports became public this month, has now cancelled the institute’s $103,000 state contract. He also insisted that he knew nothing about the contract, and reaffirmed the right of peaceful protest in the United States.

Not so fast. My colleague at the Philadelphia Inquirer Dan Rubin first reported the institute’s questionable focus on July 19th. At that time, the state director of homeland security, James Powers, defended the institute’s work, citing intelligence warnings about protests at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh last year. “Powers said that Institute analysts posed in chat rooms as sympathizers of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group, which opposed the summit, and learned where the group would be mobilizing,” Rubin wrote. ‘“We got the information to the Pittsburgh police,’ he said, ‘and they were able to cut them off at the pass.”’

How could Rendell not know about this? Among the many unanswered questions to date: Who received these reports and for what purpose? The state has declined so far to disclose a list of the recipients. But in an email that Powers inadvertently sent to an anti-drilling group, he all but admits that the intelligence operation, at least in part, served corporate drilling interests.

“We want to continue providing this [intelligence] support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies,” Powers wrote. (He resigned at the beginning of October amid on-going criticism over the institute's reports.)

The Institute of Terrorism Response and Research was not alone in monitoring the Pittsburgh G-20 summit, of course. The Pennsylvania State Police also kept tabs on those potential demonstrators, funneling information gathered into the state “fusion center,” its surveillance and intelligence data hub.

Fusion centers are largely products of the war on terror, a result of the massive waves of federal “security” counterterrorism funding that flowed nationwide in the wake of 9/11. More than 70 such centers now exist around the country, serving to gather “intelligence” from private and law-enforcement sources and state and federal agencies. This information is stored for future use as well as distributed to local police, state police, private corporations, and various public agencies.

In the case of the Pittsburgh G-20 summit surveillance, Pennsylvania’s fusion center passed its information on protests and protest groups along to other local and federal law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies, and the U.S. military. (An instance of this probably resulted in the arrest of Elliott Madison, a self-described anarchist who was supposedly distributing information to demonstrators via Twitter, an activity applauded by U.S. authorities when utilized by Iranian dissidents, but apparently frowned upon when employed stateside.)

The specter of bombs, vandalism, disruption, violence, and anarchy infused these reports and hundreds of arrests were made during largely peaceful protests. Civil rights suits have, not surprisingly, followed in the aftermath of the summit.

Names, Names, and More Names

Here is the continuum at work. A group is singled out by an intelligence report -- a Quaker “cell” opposed to the wars in the Middle East, for instance, or opponents of Marcellus Shale drilling, or those who disagree with G-20 policies. Once the group is identified, federal agencies and state and local police move to insert informers in it and/or aggressively investigate it. Such surveillance, whether done by informers or by agents picking through trash bags, generates names. Names go into databases and are networked nationwide. Databases grow.

Michael Perelman, one of the principals in the Institute of Terrorism Response and Research, defended his group’s work by arguing that even peaceful protests have security implications and that the institute did not track individuals. This is disingenuous. The institute and the state fusion center, officially known as the Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center, may work in parallel worlds, but their methods mirror each other. The state fusion center, run by the state police, provides access to law enforcement nationwide. Names of groups and members of groups are its stock in trade, the meat of all surveillance. In the same way, the state Homeland Security Office distributed the institute's reports to hundreds of agencies and private companies.

The tracking of legitimate political groups and people engaged in lawful political activity is, of course, a fundamental corruption of American democracy. Consider what happened in Oakland at the onset of the Iraq war. A peaceful protest at the Oakland port was met by police who opened fire on fleeing demonstrators and bystanders alike, shooting wooden bullets and tear gas canisters. In my book, Mohamed’s Ghosts, I report that police had been alerted to potential violence by the California Anti-Terrorism Training Center, a state fusion center tracking political groups -- exactly the same thing done by the Institute of Terrorism Response and Research. About 60 people were injured, including 11 longshoremen, and 25 protestors were arrested. This event was justified by the fusion center’s spokesman who claimed that a protest of a war waged against “international terrorism” is itself “a terrorist act.”

But the story didn’t end there. A month after the initial 2003 protest, demonstrators, led by Direct Action to Stop the War among other groups, held another Oakland protest to denounce the earlier police violence. Leaders of that protest, it turned out, were undercover Oakland police operatives who directed the protest’s planning. Deputy Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan shrugged it all off, saying it was important for his department “to gather the information and maybe even direct [protestors] to do something that we wanted them to do.”

The identification of dissident political groups, the gathering of names, the manipulation of actual acts -- these are the overt purposes of surveillance and informing. In reality, the goal of all this furtive, fervent activity is not to dismantle terrorist networks but to disrupt legitimate civic and political activity -- and especially, in the post-9/11 world, to identify and infiltrate U.S. Muslim and Middle Eastern congregations, civic groups, neighborhoods, and activist organizations.

Toward that end, the FBI has moved to beef up its ranks of informers. In its 2008 budget, the bureau sought more than $13 million simply to vet and track more than 15,000 working informants, and noted that new informants are signing up every day. Information provided by those informants and by other increasingly ubiquitous and sophisticated surveillance techniques is now funneled to fusion centers -- making it all just a mouse-click away from public and private agencies nationwide.

In the 1960s, when Ernest Withers was an informant, such computer-driven intelligence storage and distribution was only a gleam in J. Edgar Hoover’s eye. Nevertheless, in Memphis, where Withers did the bulk of his work, information he passed along helped dismantle the Invaders, a radical group that saw 34 members arrested. Withers also gave government handlers photographs of religious leaders, political activists, and labor organizers, shadow portraits for shadow profiles in the FBI’s burgeoning files. These were used by law enforcement authorities in efforts to control the 1968 sanitation workers' strike that brought Martin Luther King to Memphis.

Withers’s image of striking Memphis sanitation workers holding aloft an unbroken sea of signs reading “I Am A Man” remains as vivid today as it was half a century ago. That a photographer who documented the segregated South so powerfully labored as a police informer may seem an unnerving contradiction. But Ronald Reagan also served as an FBI informer. So did the ACLU’s famed First Amendment lawyer, Morris Ernst. Gerald Ford, a member of the Warren Commission, funneled information about the Kennedy assassination directly to J. Edgar Hoover as well.

Informers have multiple, often conflicting motives, and Withers, who died in 2007, is not around to explain or defend himself. The report on his activities during the civil rights movement, his betrayals of the movement’s most prominent leaders, and his hand in destroying local activist groups, however, is a powerful reminder of the long history of political surveillance in this country and the corruptions and animus it breeds. Whether it is the FBI’s use of informers within the civil rights movement or the state of Pennsylvania’s monitoring of legitimate dissent in the post-9/11 world, the ultimate victim of such activity is American civil society itself.

The tainting of character, the undermining of basic trust, the disruption of democratic politics -- these are the great achievements of state surveillance. Thanks to 9/11 and truckloads of homeland security money, the stain of those achievements is now flowing as swiftly and freely as streams of data on a vast fiber optic network.

Rampant Inflation In 2011? The Monetary Base Is Exploding, Commodity Prices Are Skyrocketing And The Fed Wants To Print Lots More Money

Rampant Inflation In 2011? The Monetary Base Is Exploding, Commodity Prices Are Skyrocketing And The Fed Wants To Print Lots More Money

Go To Original

Are you ready for rampant inflation? Well, unfortunately it looks like it might be headed our way. The U.S. monetary base has absolutely exploded over the last couple of years, and all that money is starting to filter through into the hands of consumers. Commodity prices are absolutely skyrocketing, and it is inevitable that those price increases will show up in our stores at some point soon. The U.S. dollar has already been slipping substantially, and now there is every indication that the Fed is hungry to start printing even more money. All of these things are going to cause a rise in inflation. Not that we aren't already seeing inflation in many sectors of the economy. Airline fares for the holiday season are up 20 to 30 percent above last year's rates. Double-digit increases in health insurance premiums are being reported from coast to coast. The price of food has been quietly sneaking up even at places like Wal-Mart. Meanwhile the U.S. government insists that the rate of inflation is close to zero. Anyone who actually believes the government inflation numbers is living in a fantasy world. The U.S. government has been openly manipulating official inflation numbers for several decades now. But we really haven't seen anything yet. As increasingly larger amounts of paper money are dumped into the economy, we are eventually going to see the worst inflation in American history. The only real question is how far down the road are we going to get before it happens.

Take a few moments and digest the chart below. It shows just how dramatically the U.S. monetary base has been expanded recently....

Photobucket

Up to this point this dramatic expansion of the U.S. monetary base has not caused that much inflation because U.S. government borrowing has soaked most of it up and U.S. banks have been hoarding cash and have been building up their reserves.

However, this situation will not last forever. Eventually all this cash will make its way through the food chain and into the hands of U.S. consumers.

But what is even more troubling is the dramatic spike in commodity prices that we have seen in 2010.

Wheat futures have surged 63 percent since the month of June. Wheat has recently been selling well above 7 dollars a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade.

But wheat is far from alone. In his recent column entitled "An Inflationary Cocktail In The Making", Richard Benson listed many of the other commodities that have seen extraordinary price increases over the past year....

*Agricultural Raw Materials: 24%

*Industrial Inputs Index: 25%

*Metals Price Index: 26%

*Coffee: 45%

*Barley: 32%

*Oranges: 35%

*Beef: 23%

*Pork: 68%

*Salmon: 30%

*Sugar: 24%

*Wool: 20%

*Cotton: 40%

*Palm Oil: 26%

*Hides: 25%

*Rubber: 62%

*Iron Ore: 103%

Now, as those price increases enter the chain of production do you think that there is any chance that they will not cause inflation?

Do you think there is any chance at all that producers and retailers will not pass those costs on to consumers?

It is time to face facts.

Those cost increases are going to filter all the way through the system and your paycheck is soon not going to stretch nearly as far.

Inflation is coming.

Many savvy investors understand what is going on right now. That is one reason why gold and silver are absolutely soaring at the moment.

The price of gold set another record high on Friday for the sixth straight day.

Silver has also experienced extraordinary gains recently, and the U.S. Mint has officially raised their wholesale pricing above spot on American Silver Eagles from $1.50 to $2.00.

Meanwhile, there are even more rumblings that the Fed wants to print lots more money. On Friday, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, William Dudley, stated that the high unemployment and the low inflation that the United States is experiencing right now are "wholly unacceptable"....

"Further action is likely to be warranted unless the economic outlook evolves in such a way that makes me more confident that we will see better outcomes for both employment and inflation before long."

During his remarks, Dudley even mentioned what the effect of another $500 billion increase in the Fed’s balance sheet would be.

Now keep in mind, this is not just another "Joe" who is making these remarks.

This is the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York - the most important of all the regional Fed banks.

In recent weeks it is almost as if you can hear Fed officials salivate as they consider the prospect of flooding the economy with even more money.

Up to this point, very little has worked to stimulate the dying U.S. economy. The Federal Reserve and the Obama administration are getting nervous as the American people become increasingly frustrated about the economic situation.

So will flooding the economy with even more money and causing even more inflation do the trick?

Well, no, but what inflated GDP figures will do is enable Obama and the Fed to say: "Look the economy is growing again!"

But if a flood of paper money causes the value of goods and services produced in the U.S. to go up by 5 percent but the real inflation rate is 10 percent, are we better off or are we worse off?

It doesn't take a genius to figure that one out.

So don't get fooled by "economic growth" numbers. Just because more money is changing hands doesn't mean that the U.S. economy is doing better.

In fact, many American families are going to be financially shredded by the coming inflation tsunami.

Just think about it.

How far will your paycheck go when a half gallon of milk is 10 dollars and a loaf of bread is 5 dollars?

Already, it is incredibly difficult for the average American family of four to get by on $50,000 a year.

So how much money will we need when rampant inflation starts kicking in?

And do you think that your employers will actually give you pay raises to keep up with all of this inflation?

Not in these economic conditions.

In fact, median household incomes are declining from coast to coast all over the United States.

Earlier this year, Ben Bernanke promised Congress that the Federal Reserve would not "print money" to help the U.S. Congress finance the exploding U.S. national debt.

Did any of you believe him at the time?

Did any of you actually believe that the Federal Reserve would act responsibly and would attempt to keep the money supply and inflation under control?

The reality is that the entire Federal Reserve system is predicated on perpetual inflation and a perpetually expanding national debt.

Whatever wealth you and your family have been able to scrape together is going to continue to be whittled away month after month after month by the hidden tax of inflation.

And unfortunately, as discussed above, inflation is about to get a whole lot worse.

Rampant Inflation In 2011? The Monetary Base Is Exploding, Commodity Prices Are Skyrocketing And The Fed Wants To Print Lots More Money

Rampant Inflation In 2011? The Monetary Base Is Exploding, Commodity Prices Are Skyrocketing And The Fed Wants To Print Lots More Money

Go To Original

Are you ready for rampant inflation? Well, unfortunately it looks like it might be headed our way. The U.S. monetary base has absolutely exploded over the last couple of years, and all that money is starting to filter through into the hands of consumers. Commodity prices are absolutely skyrocketing, and it is inevitable that those price increases will show up in our stores at some point soon. The U.S. dollar has already been slipping substantially, and now there is every indication that the Fed is hungry to start printing even more money. All of these things are going to cause a rise in inflation. Not that we aren't already seeing inflation in many sectors of the economy. Airline fares for the holiday season are up 20 to 30 percent above last year's rates. Double-digit increases in health insurance premiums are being reported from coast to coast. The price of food has been quietly sneaking up even at places like Wal-Mart. Meanwhile the U.S. government insists that the rate of inflation is close to zero. Anyone who actually believes the government inflation numbers is living in a fantasy world. The U.S. government has been openly manipulating official inflation numbers for several decades now. But we really haven't seen anything yet. As increasingly larger amounts of paper money are dumped into the economy, we are eventually going to see the worst inflation in American history. The only real question is how far down the road are we going to get before it happens.

Take a few moments and digest the chart below. It shows just how dramatically the U.S. monetary base has been expanded recently....

Photobucket

Up to this point this dramatic expansion of the U.S. monetary base has not caused that much inflation because U.S. government borrowing has soaked most of it up and U.S. banks have been hoarding cash and have been building up their reserves.

However, this situation will not last forever. Eventually all this cash will make its way through the food chain and into the hands of U.S. consumers.

But what is even more troubling is the dramatic spike in commodity prices that we have seen in 2010.

Wheat futures have surged 63 percent since the month of June. Wheat has recently been selling well above 7 dollars a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade.

But wheat is far from alone. In his recent column entitled "An Inflationary Cocktail In The Making", Richard Benson listed many of the other commodities that have seen extraordinary price increases over the past year....

*Agricultural Raw Materials: 24%

*Industrial Inputs Index: 25%

*Metals Price Index: 26%

*Coffee: 45%

*Barley: 32%

*Oranges: 35%

*Beef: 23%

*Pork: 68%

*Salmon: 30%

*Sugar: 24%

*Wool: 20%

*Cotton: 40%

*Palm Oil: 26%

*Hides: 25%

*Rubber: 62%

*Iron Ore: 103%

Now, as those price increases enter the chain of production do you think that there is any chance that they will not cause inflation?

Do you think there is any chance at all that producers and retailers will not pass those costs on to consumers?

It is time to face facts.

Those cost increases are going to filter all the way through the system and your paycheck is soon not going to stretch nearly as far.

Inflation is coming.

Many savvy investors understand what is going on right now. That is one reason why gold and silver are absolutely soaring at the moment.

The price of gold set another record high on Friday for the sixth straight day.

Silver has also experienced extraordinary gains recently, and the U.S. Mint has officially raised their wholesale pricing above spot on American Silver Eagles from $1.50 to $2.00.

Meanwhile, there are even more rumblings that the Fed wants to print lots more money. On Friday, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, William Dudley, stated that the high unemployment and the low inflation that the United States is experiencing right now are "wholly unacceptable"....

"Further action is likely to be warranted unless the economic outlook evolves in such a way that makes me more confident that we will see better outcomes for both employment and inflation before long."

During his remarks, Dudley even mentioned what the effect of another $500 billion increase in the Fed’s balance sheet would be.

Now keep in mind, this is not just another "Joe" who is making these remarks.

This is the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York - the most important of all the regional Fed banks.

In recent weeks it is almost as if you can hear Fed officials salivate as they consider the prospect of flooding the economy with even more money.

Up to this point, very little has worked to stimulate the dying U.S. economy. The Federal Reserve and the Obama administration are getting nervous as the American people become increasingly frustrated about the economic situation.

So will flooding the economy with even more money and causing even more inflation do the trick?

Well, no, but what inflated GDP figures will do is enable Obama and the Fed to say: "Look the economy is growing again!"

But if a flood of paper money causes the value of goods and services produced in the U.S. to go up by 5 percent but the real inflation rate is 10 percent, are we better off or are we worse off?

It doesn't take a genius to figure that one out.

So don't get fooled by "economic growth" numbers. Just because more money is changing hands doesn't mean that the U.S. economy is doing better.

In fact, many American families are going to be financially shredded by the coming inflation tsunami.

Just think about it.

How far will your paycheck go when a half gallon of milk is 10 dollars and a loaf of bread is 5 dollars?

Already, it is incredibly difficult for the average American family of four to get by on $50,000 a year.

So how much money will we need when rampant inflation starts kicking in?

And do you think that your employers will actually give you pay raises to keep up with all of this inflation?

Not in these economic conditions.

In fact, median household incomes are declining from coast to coast all over the United States.

Earlier this year, Ben Bernanke promised Congress that the Federal Reserve would not "print money" to help the U.S. Congress finance the exploding U.S. national debt.

Did any of you believe him at the time?

Did any of you actually believe that the Federal Reserve would act responsibly and would attempt to keep the money supply and inflation under control?

The reality is that the entire Federal Reserve system is predicated on perpetual inflation and a perpetually expanding national debt.

Whatever wealth you and your family have been able to scrape together is going to continue to be whittled away month after month after month by the hidden tax of inflation.

And unfortunately, as discussed above, inflation is about to get a whole lot worse.

As Western Civilization Lies Dying

As Western Civilization Lies Dying

Go To Original

The Western commercial system exists to extract more from consumers than it supplies in products and services. Its goal is profit and has never been to improve the human condition but to exploit it. When governments institutionalize this system, they place their nations on suicidal paths, because as Jefferson recognized, "Merchants have no country." It is not terrorism that threatens the security of the Western World, it is the Western World's commercial system.

A man suffering from severe chest pains collapses. His wife calls 911. An ambulance arrives, the EMTs treat the patient, place him in the ambulance's bed, and start off to the hospital. Along the way, the engine stalls. The ambulance's staff begins arguing about how to get the motor restarted. One says more gasoline is needed, another says there's water in the tank, a third says the fuel filter is clogged. While they argue, the patient lies dying.

This situation is analogous to what's happening in America and parts of Europe. While economists and politicians argue, their nations are in the throes of death. These people are looking for the devil in the details, but he is not there. It's the system itself that’s diabolical.

The Western commercial system is extractive. It exists to extract more from consumers than it supplies in products and services. Its goal is profit, and profit literally means to make more (pro-ficere). Its goal has never been to improve the human condition but to exploit it. It works like this:

Consider two water tanks, initially each partially full, one above the other. One gallon of water is dumped from the upper tank into the lower one for each two gallons extracted from the lower tank and pumped into the upper tank. Over time, the lower tank ends up empty and the upper tank ends up full. The circulation of water between the tanks ends.

Essentially, this scenario describes all commercial systems based on profit. It is why the top 20 percent of Americans has 93 percent of the nation's financial wealth and the bottom 80 percent has a mere seven percent. It is why the bottom 40 percent of all income earners in the United States now collectively own less than one percent of the nation’s wealth. It is why the nation's poverty rate is now14.3 percent, about 43.6 million people or one in seven. It is also why the Wall Street Journal has reported that 70 percent of people in North America live paycheck to paycheck. It is also why, despite numerous pledges over decades, no progress has been made in reducing world-wide poverty. The system is a thief.

The economy has collapsed not because of misfeasance, deregulation, or political bungling (although all may have been proximate causes), it has collapsed because the pockets of the vast majority of Americans have been picked. The housing bubble didn't burst because home prices had risen, it burst because the pockets of consumers had been picked so clean they could no longer service their mortgages.

What the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans don't realize is that some in this group will begin to target the others in order to keep the extractive process working. In fact, it's already happening. "The brute force of the recession earlier this year turned back the clock on Americans' personal wealth to 2004 and wiped out a staggering $1.3 trillion as home values shrank and investments withered." Little of this loss from investments was suffered by the lower 80 percent of Americans. There is, after all, no goodwill within greed, and the market can be and often is manipulated.

The "system" has impoverished the people, the circulation between the two tanks has been reduced to a trickle, and our economists have convinced the government that the only way to get things flowing again is to pour more water into the upper tank, hoping that the spillover will settle in the lower tank. Better to pray for rain!

This impoverishment has numerous mathematically certain implications; two major ones follow.

First, the system can't be fixed by tinkering with the details. At best, tinkering with the details can merely slow down the depletion of consumer wealth. As long as the system is based on profit, more must be taken than is given. The rate of depletion can be changed, but the depletion cannot be stopped. This conclusion is as mathematically certain as subtraction. Why the geniuses in the American economics community, all who whom taut economics for its use of mathematical models, cannot understand this is a conundrum. They can tinker as much as they like. Some tinkering will produce apparent benefits, some won't. But one thing is certain—the system, unless it is fundamentally and essentially changed—will break down over and over again just as it has at fairly regularly intervals in the past. As long as maintaining the system is more important that the welfare of people, the people have no escape. They are eventually impoverished—both when the system works and when it doesn't! Two thousand years of history has produced not a single counterexample to this conclusion. Prosperity never results from exploitation.

Another implication that few seem to recognize concerns the national debt.

We are told that the burden of paying off the debt will be borne by our progeny, our children, and their children. But unless the Western commercial system undergoes fundamental changes, the children and grand children of most Americans will never have to bear this burden. Why? Not even governments can pick empty pockets. So if the debt is to be paid by raising taxes, the children and grandchildren of that 20 percent of Americans who hold 93 percent of the nation's financial wealth will have to pay them. Most, if not all, of these people are also investors. Given the acrimonious debate about letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire, the chances of that ever happening are slim to none.

Will the debt then be paid by devaluing the dollar, by printing money? Many believe that the government will eventually take this alternative. Let's say it does. Then all the dollars held by anyone anywhere will be devalued equally, including the dollars held by that same 20 percent of Americans. Again the wealthy 20 percent of Americans, having the most, lose the most. The devalued dollars they collect on their investments are merely added to their other devalued dollars, and the more the dollar must be devalued to repay the debt, the more the wealthy lose.

And finally, will the government default? Most seem to believe this to be unlikely. Perhaps, but isn't it the best alternative? Investors will simply not be paid, but the rest of their money will retain its value unless other economic consequences reduce it. Even Morgan Stanley recognizes that "the sovereign debt crisis won't end till deeply indebted rich country governments give holders of their bonds a good soaking."

So relax, Americans, your children will never bear the burden of paying off the national debt. Just sit back and enjoy watching the wealthy squirm.

Some say that if the nation defaults, the government will be unable to borrow. But other governments have defaulted without losing their ability to borrow. Russia, Argentina, and Zimbabwe are but recent examples. Of course, there are severe economic consequences to defaulting, but there are severe consequences to each of these alternatives too. How much harder can life be for the 80 percent of Americans holding a mere seven percent of the nation's wealth? There are, after all, no degrees of broke; no broke, broker, and brokest.

Will investors refuse to lend? Doubtful. A wealthy person can do four things with money: give it away, spend it, stuff it under the mattress, or invest it. Those are the only alternatives, and it is unlikely that much of it can be spent or that many will have the inclination to give it away or save it. So the wealthy really lack a great deal of choice.

Finally, a hidden principle underlies this extractive system—It is okay for some to enrich themselves by making others poor. Even though this is exactly what thieves do, no one, to my knowledge, has ever pointed out that this principle is immoral. It appears to be accepted universally as economically acceptable. But consider these two similar principles: (1) It is okay for some to improve their health by making others unhealthy, and (2) It okay for some to avoid the consequences of their criminal acts by making others bear them. No one would consider the last of these right, yet all three are logically and materially identical.

Some may claim that without profit, no commercial system can function effectively. If true, the implications for humanity are horrific. It implies that mankind was made in Satin's image, that the Commandments, especially the tenth, are fraudulent, that all the philosophy and literature that defines Western Civilization are nugatory, that no essential distinction exists between so-called civilized and barbaric nations, that all governments are illegitimate, that words like justice and fairness are meaningless, that the law is lawless, that society disintegrates into nociety, and that nothing really matters. The economy is Bedlam, the Earth is the Universe's Insane Asylum, and the craziest are in charge. What kind of human mind would ever attempt to defend this abomination?

This Western commercial system exists merely to enrich vendors by exploiting consumers. When governments institutionalize this system, they place their nations on suicidal paths. Astute observers of history have long recognized what Thomas Jefferson made explicit—"Merchants have no country." Oh, yes! These merchants will object vehemently. Pay no attention. Just watch what they do.

They expect favorable treatment and services from governments but do everything possible to keep from paying for them in taxes and exhibit no concern whenever their native lands face bankruptcy. When their native lands face stress, as in times of war, the people are called upon to sacrifice while the merchants are allowed to profiteer. When John F. Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country," he was not speaking to corporate America. Does any reader of this piece really believe that the makers of Humvees, drones, and F16s would ever consider supplying them to our military at cost? Yet how great is the cost of the sacrifice parents are asked to make by sending their children off to fight hideous wars?

People, a merchant unwilling to sacrifice for his country has no country, he will support no country, defend no country, and if such people are given control of a nation, they will suck its blood dry and sell off the body parts to the highest bidder. Not even a recognizable corpse will remain. It is not terrorism that threatens the security of the Western World, it is the Western World's commercial system.

Wall Street Brings Class War to America?

Wall Street Brings Class War to America?

As thousands of demonstrators marched in European capitals on Wednesday to protest recent austerity measures, officials in Brussels proposed stiffening sanctions for governments that fail to cut their budget deficits and debt swiftly enough. ("Workers In Europe Protest Austerity Measures", New York Times, 9/30/2010)

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Oh, do the super-rich hate the sound of "class struggle." Dare to utter the words and they'll reach for their red-baiting paint guns and spray you silly with invective. It's un-American. It's socialistic. It's an insult to democracy and freedom.

But try as they might, they can't paint over the reality, which the new Fortune 400 listings make so clear: Wall Street billionaires have more money than they'll ever be able to use--at a time when more than 29 million of us don't have that most basic necessity, a full-time job. A hidden class war got us to this point. It's not hidden anymore.

Once upon a time there was a tangible connection between the plutocrats and the rest of us. Carnegie, Mellon and Rockefeller built sprawling enterprises that employed tens of thousands of workers (even if they did treat them brutally). But today's billionaire financiers, about 100 of whom are on the Fortune 400 list, have a tough time explaining how their money-making schemes produce any jobs at all. Very few of us have a clue about how they even make their money.

But we are clued in to the way our society is splitting apart. What's good for the Wall Street tycoons is not good for America. The wealthy may loathe hearing about "class struggle," but we're in the middle of one -- and it's a doozy.

Back in the 1800s (and onward), "class struggle" meant the economic conflict between the interests of working people and those who owned "the means of production." But that construct proved too rigid to describe a complex modern economy. Companies are often run by managers who aren't owners. Most middle managers and supervisors also are workers, not owners, though they may identify with upper management. In glamor industries like Hollywood and sports, some workers are far richer and more powerful than the managers and owners. And many workers are "owners" through stock purchases made individually and through their pension funds.

"Class struggle" also doesn't capture the symbiotic relationship between workers, managers and owners. Yes, we fight over everything from plant shutdowns to job safety and health care benefits. But we also have common interests - workers want to keep their jobs, and for that they are dependent upon "owners." Instead of class struggle, we often see workers lobbying alongside owners for policies that might keep their industry afloat. This worker-boss connection is often much stronger than any sense of broad class solidarity among workers across the country. Most of us define ourselves as middle class, not working class, and we don't see ourselves at war with the business owners.

Until now. The financial crisis is squaring up a new class struggle: The handful of financial elites versus the rest of us. Where's our common interest? What's good for them (a $10 trillion bailout) costs us jobs and public services, and deepens the public debt. Financial elites have effectively hijacked our economy and there will be hell to pay to get it back.

Beginning in the mid-1970s the twin policies of financial deregulation and tax cuts for the super-rich laid the groundwork for the rise of financial industry billionaires. We were told these policies would fuel an enormous investment boom that would cause all boats to rise. Not quite. Income certainly gushed to the top fraction of one percent. But then we entered the financial industry Twilight Zone: The super-rich accumulated so much money that they literally ran out of investments in normal industries that produced real goods and services. Wall Street, now a deregulated Wild West, rode to the rescue by creating all manner of new paper investment opportunities. Instead of buying a piece of a factory or company through stocks and bonds, you bought derivatives. Or you gave your money to hedge funds where you could "earn" outsized returns with little risk -- just what the super-rich craved. Unfortunately, the entire enterprise was built upon layer after layer of leverage. The result was an unstable upside-down pyramid of "structured finance" balancing on a very narrow base of real tangible assets.

All of this worked just fine until it didn't. You know the rest of the story. When housing prices stopped rising, these paper assets - the CDOs and all the rest - went up in smoke, incinerating the rest of the economy in the process. (Please see The Looting of America for an easy-to-read account.)

On their long way up, financial industry billionaires grabbed our economy by the cojones-- and they're not letting go. Here are a few of the indicators:

  1. Financial sector profits dramatically increased in the past several decades, peaking at over 40 percent of all corporate profits just before the economic collapse. Now the industry's profits are chugging back up again.
  2. After the inevitable crash, the financial sector and its investors had all the political clout they needed to ensure their swift rescue by the government. Instead of paying a hefty price for wrecking the economy with their bad bets as dictated by free market principles, they got bailed out at taxpayer expense.
  3. The 2010 financial reform bill did not break up financial institutions that were too big to fail or too interconnected to fail. It also didn't rebuild the Glass-Steagall Act's wall between investment banks and depository banks. The six largest banks are now bigger than ever.
  4. Congress rejected our calls for a windfall profits tax or financial transaction tax to help pay for the financial sector's catastrophic damage to our economy. Instead Wall Street elites are again reaping enormous profits, leaving 29 million unemployed and underemployed people in the dust.
  5. To pay for our rising public debt we're being told to tighten our belts so that they don't have to tighten theirs.

Economists assure us that the financial sector's role is to prudently move excess savings into investment. But that's not how Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, the largest private equity funds and the largest hedge funds are raking in their billions. Their real cash cow is their secretive daily practice of "proprietary trading" -- the equivalent of gambling in a rigged casino. This has nothing to do with investing in industries that might put our people to work. So our paltry economic growth is generating financial industry booty, not jobs.

Our billionaires might want us to think of them as great statesmen working to help our nation prosper and grow. But in reality, they're busily siphoning off our nation's wealth -- and blocking all efforts to regulate or tax their destructive behavior.

Wall Street's class warfare doesn't just target workers. While many top multinational corporate CEOs are in league with the big financiers, most of the medium and small business owners now struggling to find the capital to stay alive have few friends on Wall Street. Workers, supervisors and middle managers alike now live in fear that they'll lose their jobs -- and it's all because of the financial shenanigans on Wall Street. You don't have to be a Marxist to know that we bailed out the very people who wrecked our economy. You'll find precious few defenders of Wall Street anywhere in America.

This new class struggle will soon begin playing out on some new battlefields. The weight of the U.S.'s massive debt (created by the financial crisis and our failure to tax the super-rich the way we used to) will be put on our backs. The financial elites, along with their richly funded think tanks and compliant political hacks, will tell us to privatize Social Security, reduce its benefits and extend the retirement age. We'll be told we must cut funding for schools and health care services. We'll have to live with a crumbling infrastructure and a deteriorating environment -- because, well, the money just isn't there.

But if we call for raising taxes on the super-rich to prevent these dire developments, they'll bring out their paint guns and scream "socialism!" -- and threaten us with more economic catastrophe. Of course, they can fly their private jets over our collapsing infrastructure and send their kids to private schools. And they have no worries about jobs, health care or retirement, since they and their families have more money than they could spend in a hundred lifetimes. Talk about a class struggle!

The Wall Street billionaires utterly refuse to accept any blame for our economic woes. They simply can't believe that their billions came from fatal flaws in our system rather than from their own genius. They'll fight to the end to convince us and themselves that they are indeed God's gift to our economy. (Wouldn't you if you had a billion dollars?)

It's time to make them pay their fair share for the damage they've done. That will help finance the massive jobs programs we need to put our people back to work. Of course, the super-wealthy can afford to pay. Only their pride will suffer.

In truth most of us would prefer to duck this fight. We just want to find a job, or keep the one we have, be with our families and cope with what life throws at us while enjoying as much of it as we can. We don't want to go to war with the richest people in the world, even though we greatly outnumber them. But we can't avoid this battle--it's coming to our doorsteps. The Dow may hit 12,000 but unemployment will haunt us for a decade to come. We can't afford the brutal cuts to retiree benefits, healthcare or education that they're pushing on us.

It will take a lot of time and effort to figure out how to fight back and win. But don't despair. As the old union song suggests, the toughest question always is "Which side are you on?" In the new class struggle, that decision has already been made for us.

US Medicaid enrollment climbs to 48 million

US Medicaid enrollment climbs to 48 million

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More people enrolled in the Medicaid program last year than at any time since the program’s inception in the late 1960s. The spike comes as the recession has wiped out millions of jobs and more people have lost their employer-sponsored health care coverage.

A report released Thursday by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation shows that some 48 million people, or better than one in every seven people in the US, are now enrolled in the health care program for the poor. Nearly 12 million US households also received food stamps last year, under conditions where 44 million people now fall below the official poverty line, according to the US Census.

Some 3.69 million people were added to the Medicaid rolls in 2009, an 8.2 percent increase over 2008 figures. Children accounted for 2.2 million of these new enrollees, or about 60 percent of the total increase. Six million people have signed up for the program since the beginning of the recession in December 2007.

US states are also forecasting a 6 percent increase in Medicaid enrollment over the next year, which will place increased strain on state budgets already reeling under the weight of the weak economy. Under provisions of the new health care legislation voted into law earlier this year, beginning in 2014 an estimated 16 million new enrollees will be added to the Medicaid program, straining existing resources. Already the Medicaid reimbursement rate is so low that many doctors and hospitals refuse to accept Medicaid patients.

The Kaiser study notes that 48 of 50 states have taken action this year to limit and reduce Medicaid spending due to struggling budgets and the influx of enrollees. Some $100 billion in federal stimulus funds to offset state Medicaid spending will be exhausted by June 30, 2011, and many states are expected to slash spending when these funds are cut off.

Medicaid provides health care coverage for low-income families and many poor elderly in nursing homes. It is jointly administered by the federal government and the states, with about 60 percent of funding presently coming from Washington.

According to the study, by fiscal year 2012 state Medicaid spending is projected to increase dramatically, by as much as 25 percent or more, while state revenues are expected to remain below pre-recession levels.

Every US state saw an increase in Medicaid enrollment in 2009. The 10 states with the largest percentage increases―Nevada, Wisconsin, Maryland, Arizona, Alaska, Montana, Florida, Oregon, Colorado, Utah―represent virtually every region in the country.

Leading the nation was Nevada, which added more than 43,000 Medicaid enrollees in 2009, a 22.4 percent jump. The state has been pummeled by the housing crisis. Coming second was Wisconsin, devastated by the decline in manufacturing, which saw a 21.5 percent increase in its Medicaid rolls.

The rise in the number enrolled in the program will lead to new reductions in services, as the existing funding is spread over more and more people. States have already begun to implement cuts to offset the impact of the increase in enrollees. Nearly every state, 48 of 50, took action to limit spending this year on Medicaid, and most plan additional cuts next year.

Twenty states placed restrictions on benefits and 14 plan limits for next year. Arizona, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts and other states either eliminated adult dental services, or cut back on them. Some states imposed limits on benefits such as imaging services, medical supplies, therapies or personal care services.

In 39 states, payments to hospitals, doctors and other service providers were either cut or frozen, and most states plan on another round of cuts next year. Medicaid payment rates are already so low that it is often hard to find doctors who will accept the coverage. Despite this, 20 states lowered payments to doctors this year and 12 plan to reduce them next year.

In relation to long-term care, 18 states placed limits on services this year and 10 plan to do so next year.

With the release of the Kaiser foundation study also came news this week that many low-wage employers may stop providing health coverage to their workers, threatening to further swell Medicaid’s ranks.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that McDonald’s Corp. has told federal regulators that it could drop its health insurance plan for more than 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless a requirement of the new health care legislation is waived for them. The provision stipulates that by 2011 insurance plans must spend at least 80 to 85 percent of premium revenue on medical care.

At issue are so-called mini-med plans that offer cut-rate, limited benefits to some 1.4 million Americans employed at restaurants, retailers and other companies. These plans provide the barest of coverage, and can be “maxed out” by many minor health concerns, let alone a medical catastrophe.

McDonald’s, for example, offers three tiers of benefits to employees at 10,500 locations, collecting weekly sums from workers: $13.99 for a plan with maximum annual benefits of $2,000, $24.30 for $5,000 in benefits, or $32.30 for $10,000 in benefits. Home Depot, Disney Worldwide Services, CVS Caremark, Staples, Blockbuster and other large corporations offer similar plans.

In a memo to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, McDonald’s said, “it would be economically prohibitive for our carrier to continue offering” the coverage to its employees unless it were exempted from the requirement to spend 80 to 85 percent of premiums on benefits.

According to the Journal, HHS official Steven Larsen “said the department doesn’t want employers to drop coverage over the law” and have thus “given the carrier for McDonald’s and others the chance to seek exemption” from the bill’s requirement. If exempted, McDonald’s and other corporations could continue to offer the inferior, bare-bones insurance coverage with no restrictions on funding bloated executive salaries and other costs.

One in five plant species face extinction

One in five plant species face extinction

First ever comprehensive study of plants, from giant rainforests to common snowdrops, finds 22% of all species at risk

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One in five of the world's plant species – the basis of all life on earth – are at risk of extinction, according to a landmark study published today.

At first glance, the 20% figure looks far better than the previous official estimate of almost three-quarters, but the announcement is being greeted with deep concern.

The previous estimate that 70% of plants were either critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable was based on what scientists universally acknowledged were studies heavily biased towards species already thought to be under threat.

Today the first ever comprehensive assessment of plants, from giant tropical rainforests to the rarest of delicate orchids, concludes the real figure is at least 22%. It could well be higher because hundreds of species being discovered by scientists each year are likely to be in the "at risk" category.

"We think this is a conservative estimate," said Eimear Nic Lughadha, one of the scientists at Kew Gardens in west London responsible for the project.

The plant study is also considered critical to understanding the level of threat to all the natural world's biodiversity, said Craig Hilton-Taylor of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which runs the world's offical "red list" of threatened species. "Plants are the basis of life, and unless we know what's happening to plants it has many implications," said Hilton-Taylor.

The results will be presented to world leaders meeting at Nagoya in Japan in October to discuss the world's biodiversity crisis, along with new red lists for vertebrates and several groups of the planet's millions of invertebrate species.

"This is a base point," said Nic Lughadha. "What we do from now is going to lead to the future of plants. We need to challenge the idea that plants are there to be exploited by us, we need to move to a system where we're nurturing plants much more carefully [and] actively taking steps to conserve them."

Politicians and conservation experts will also be told that by far the biggest threat to plants is human – rather than natural – causes, especially intensive agriculture, livestock grazing, logging and infrastructure development.

Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, who will travel to Japan for the final talks, said the results were deeply troubling. She added: "Plant life is vital to our very existence, providing us with food, water, medicines, and the ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change."

Scientists randomly selected 7,000 species from across the major plant groups as a representative sample of the estimated 380,000-400,000 so far known to science. Of these, 3,000 were found to have too little information to begin making an proper assessment – a result that was expected and so built into the selection process.

The remaining 4,000 species were assessed and the level or risk based on a combination of the absolute number of plants estimated in the wild, the known decline, and the total area in which they are thought to live.

Of the 4,000, 63% were found to be of "least concern", 10% near threatened, 11% vulnerable, 7% endangered and 4% critically endangered. Another 5% were rated "data deficient".

The proportion of plant species deemed at-risk is similar to that of the IUCN's red list for mammals, worse than that for birds (less than 10% at-risk) and better than the number for amphibians (more than a quarter under threat).

Nearly two-thirds of threatened plant species are found in tropical rainforests, five times the proportion for the nearest other habitats – rocky areas, temperate forests and tropical dry forests. This is because of their huge density of biodiversity and the widespread risks of logging and clearance for other agriculture, said analysts.

Previously the red list for plants contained assessments for a greater number of plants – about 12,873 or 3% of known species – but was not considered representative because scientists had focused on at-risk species so that they could get attention and funding for conservation.

The assessment was done using experts and collections at the herbaria at Kew Gardens, the Natural History Museum in London and Missouri Botanical Garden in the US, plus specialist experts from the IUCN.

From pines to snowdrops to rosewood – six of the endangered plants

Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) – critically endangered

The wollemi pine was discovered in 1994 in Wollemi National Park, Australia, and there fewer than 50 mature individuals are known. Its long-term regeneration from seed is unknown but seems doubtful due to competition with other trees. Its small size and limited range means it is at risk from any chance event such as fire or the spread of disease.

Common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) – near threatened

The common snowdrop was once widely distributed in the east Carpathian mountains in central and eastern Europe. Although it is widely naturalised, including in the UK, during the past decade its native distribution has been considerably reduced, due mainly to habitat loss through the increase in residential developments and recreational land use.

Rosewood (Dalbergia andapensis) – critically endangered

D. andapensis is a species of rosewood, a highly valued timber sed in the production of fine furniture and musical instruments. It is estimated that 52,000 tonnes of rosewood and ebony were logged in north-east Madagascar in 2009, and this habitat is itself under threat from conversion to agriculture for a growing rural population.

Wood bitter-vetch (Vicia orobus) – least concern

Wood bitter-vetch is a rare species found through much of western Europe, including the British Isles, at woodland margins, field edges and rocky places, often on limestone. In Ireland it is considered to be threatened as a result of habitat loss, and is being protected by the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland.

Whited's milkvetch (Astragalus sinuatus) - Critically Endangered

Whited's milkvetch is restricted to a tiny area of the state of Washington, USA. Its dry hillside habitat is threatened by invasive, non-native species, by grazing and by agriculture. Seeds have been collected and banked by the Berry Botanic Garden Seed Bank for Rare and Endangered Plants of the Pacific Northwest and the Miller Seed Vault, University of Washington Botanic Gardens.

Encephalartos altensteinii – vulnerable

E. altensteinii is found in coastal regions of the eastern cape, South Africa, where the number of individuals has declined by more than 30% in the past 50 years. Large numbers have been removed from its native habitat, including 438 plants in one poaching incident in 1995, mainly by horticultural collectors for pot plants or medicinal use.

Monsanto's Tough Week: Now It's Birth Defects

Monsanto’s Tough Week: Now It’s Birth Defects

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Tough week for Monsanto (MON). Tuesday, word went around that the company’s “SmartStax” seeds were yielding less in Iowa’s corn harvest than expected. That prompted analysts, including Goldman Sachs, to cut their price targets on the stock.

Today, it’s the rumor that the company’s herbicide, “Roundup,” could be causing birth defects, based on a study released by researchers in Argentina, and published in the August issue of the academic journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.

The study itself focuses broadly on herbicides containing glyphosate, but F. William Engdahl over at Global Research lays out the explicit connection to Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide, writing:

Widespread reports of human malformations began to be reported in Argentina beginning 2002, two years after widespread aerial spraying of Roundup and planting of [Roundup Ready] Soybeans was begun. The test animals used by Carrascoís group share similar developmental mechanisms with humans. The authors concluded that the results ìraise concerns about the clinical findings from human offspring in populations exposed to Roundup in agricultural fields.î Carrasco added, ìThe toxicity classification of glyphosate is too low. In some cases this can be a powerful poison.î

Monsanto shares today ended down 9 cents at $47.91, which is actually pretty good considering the state of the broader market today.

There was at least one bright spot: Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready Yield” Soybeans, unlike SmartStax, are actually performing as expected, reports OTR Global of San Francisco, according to a piece by Bloomberg’s Jack Kaskey this afternoon. OTR found that farm managers in Illinois and Indiana were seeing crop yield improvements of 7% to 11%. OTR said that was an improvement from a year ago, when Roundup Ready soybeans underwhelmed.

Robert Gates: 'We're Not Ever Leaving' Afghanistan

Robert Gates: 'We're Not Ever Leaving' Afghanistan

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In a shocking indication of a split between the White House and the Pentagon over the war in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates believes that the U.S. military will never leave the war-torn country.

During a dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Afghan President Hamid Karzai in May, Gates reminded the group that he still feels guilty for his role in the first President Bush's decision to pull out of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, according to Bob Woodward's new book, "Obama's Wars." And to express his commitment to not letting down the country again, he emphasized:

"We're not leaving Afghanistan prematurely," Gates finally said. "In fact, we're not ever leaving at all."

Woodward notes that the group was shocked by the blunt comment: "At least one stunned participant put down his fork. Another wrote it down, verbatim, in his notes."

The definitive statement seems to clash with President Obama's assertion that he does not want to leave the war to his successor. Though he has emphasized that the U.S. will stay in Afghanistan "until the job is done," he wants almost all the US troops out before the end of his first term in January 2013, leaving in place a small contingency force.

Yet Obama's public commitment to eventually leaving Afghanistan seems partly based on political calculation, reports Woodward. When questioned by Republican Senator Lindsay Graham about the July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing troops, Obama tells him:

"Well, if you'd asked me that question, what I would say is, 'We're going to start leaving.' I have to say that. I can't let this be a war without end, and I can't lose the whole Democratic Party... And people at home don't want to hear we're going to be there for ten years."

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel privately refers to the war as "political flypaper" and the veteran of sharp-elbowed Chicago politics once got so frustrated with Karzai that he considered sending him "the equivalent of a dead fish with an imperial wrapping," writes Woodward. Emanuel's threat -- "Tell him we're going to put our own governors in if we have to" -- was ignored by the president during a meeting with military brass.

Gates, who is planning to leave his job before the 2012 presidential election, could be referring to that small contingency force with his comments. But his remarks do seem to highlight the differences between the military brass and the White House over Afghan strategy from the type of warfare to the size of the troop increase, as outlined in Woodward's book.

And it seems to further indicate the Pentagon's commitment to staying in Afghanistan. The commander of US troops in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, is quoted saying about the country:

"You have to recognize that I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives."

Robert Gates: 'We're Not Ever Leaving' Afghanistan

Robert Gates: 'We're Not Ever Leaving' Afghanistan

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In a shocking indication of a split between the White House and the Pentagon over the war in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates believes that the U.S. military will never leave the war-torn country.

During a dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Afghan President Hamid Karzai in May, Gates reminded the group that he still feels guilty for his role in the first President Bush's decision to pull out of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, according to Bob Woodward's new book, "Obama's Wars." And to express his commitment to not letting down the country again, he emphasized:

"We're not leaving Afghanistan prematurely," Gates finally said. "In fact, we're not ever leaving at all."

Woodward notes that the group was shocked by the blunt comment: "At least one stunned participant put down his fork. Another wrote it down, verbatim, in his notes."

The definitive statement seems to clash with President Obama's assertion that he does not want to leave the war to his successor. Though he has emphasized that the U.S. will stay in Afghanistan "until the job is done," he wants almost all the US troops out before the end of his first term in January 2013, leaving in place a small contingency force.

Yet Obama's public commitment to eventually leaving Afghanistan seems partly based on political calculation, reports Woodward. When questioned by Republican Senator Lindsay Graham about the July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing troops, Obama tells him:

"Well, if you'd asked me that question, what I would say is, 'We're going to start leaving.' I have to say that. I can't let this be a war without end, and I can't lose the whole Democratic Party... And people at home don't want to hear we're going to be there for ten years."

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel privately refers to the war as "political flypaper" and the veteran of sharp-elbowed Chicago politics once got so frustrated with Karzai that he considered sending him "the equivalent of a dead fish with an imperial wrapping," writes Woodward. Emanuel's threat -- "Tell him we're going to put our own governors in if we have to" -- was ignored by the president during a meeting with military brass.

Gates, who is planning to leave his job before the 2012 presidential election, could be referring to that small contingency force with his comments. But his remarks do seem to highlight the differences between the military brass and the White House over Afghan strategy from the type of warfare to the size of the troop increase, as outlined in Woodward's book.

And it seems to further indicate the Pentagon's commitment to staying in Afghanistan. The commander of US troops in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, is quoted saying about the country:

"You have to recognize that I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives."

Dwight Was Right

Dwight Was Right

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So...it turns out President Eisenhower wasn't making up all that stuff about the military-industrial complex.

That's what you'll conclude if you read Bob Woodward's new book, Obama's War. (You can read excerpts of it here, here and here.) You thought you voted for change when you cast a ballot for Barack Obama? Um, not when it comes to America occupying countries that don't begin with a "U" and an "S."

In fact, after you read Woodward's book, you'll split a gut every time you hear a politician or a government teacher talk about "civilian control over the military." The only people really making the decisions about America's wars are across the river from Washington in the Pentagon. They wear uniforms. They have lots of weapons they bought from the corporations they will work for when they retire.

For everyone who supported Obama in 2008, it's reassuring to find out he understands we have to get out of Afghanistan. But for everyone who's worried about Obama in 2010, it's scary to find out that what he thinks should be done may not actually matter. And that's because he's not willing to stand up to the people who actually run this country.

And here's the part I don't even want to write -- and none of you really want to consider:

It matters not whom we elect. The Pentagon and the military contractors call the shots. The title "Commander in Chief" is ceremonial, like "Employee of the Month" at your local Burger King.

Everything you need to know can be found in just two paragraphs from Obama's War. Here's the scene: Obama is meeting with his National Security Council staff on the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year. He's getting ready to give a big speech announcing his new strategy for Afghanistan. Except...the strategy isn't set yet. The military has presented him with just one option: escalation. But at the last minute, Obama tells everyone, hold up -- the door to a plan for withdrawal isn't closed.

The brass isn't having it:

"Mr. President," [Army Col. John Tien] said, "I don't see how you can defy your military chain here. We kind of are where we are. Because if you tell General McChrystal, 'I got your assessment, got your resource constructs, but I've chosen to do something else,' you're going to probably have to replace him. You can't tell him, 'Just do it my way, thanks for your hard work.' And then where does that stop?"

The colonel did not have to elaborate. His implication was that not only McChrystal but the entire military high command might go in an unprecedented toppling -- Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Gen. David H. Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command. Perhaps no president could weather that, especially a 48-year-old with four years in the U.S. Senate and 10 months as commander in chief.

And, well, the rest is history. Three days later Obama announced the escalation at West Point. And he became our newest war president.

But here's the question Woodward doesn't answer: Why, exactly, can't a president weather ending a war, even if he has to fire all his generals to do it? It's right there in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution: The President's in charge of the military. And so is Congress: the army can't just march over to the Treasury Department and steal the money for wars. Article I, Section 9 says Congress has to appropriate it.

In the real world, though, the Constitution's just a piece of paper. In the real world, a President who fired his top military in order to stop a war would be ruined before you could say "bloodless coup." The Washington Post (filled with ads from Boeing and Northrop Grumman) would scream about how he was the reincarnation of Neville Chamberlain. Fox and CNN (filled with "experts" who work for think tanks funded by Raytheon and General Dynamics) would say he was a girly-man who had to be impeached. And Congress (which experienced its own escalation in lobbying from defense contractors just as the Afghanistan escalation was being decided) might well do it. (By the way, if you want to listen to Lyndon Johnson talk in 1964 about how he might be impeached if he didn't follow the military-industrial complex's orders and escalate the war in Vietnam, just go here.)

So here's your assignment for tonight: Watch Eisenhower's famous farewell speech. And then start thinking about how we can tame this beast. The Soviet Union had its own military-industrial complex, which is one reason they got into Afghanistan...which is one reason there's no more Soviet Union. It happened to them.

Don't think it can happen to us?

US Soldier Suicides Called an Emergency of Crisis Proportions

Joint Chiefs chairman warns of rise in military suicides

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The nation’s top military officer said yesterday that he expects suicides by service members, already alarmingly high, and other family crises to increase in the coming months as large numbers of troops return to their bases after years of multiple deployments.

“I think we are going to see a significant increase in the challenges that we have in terms of our families,’’ Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

With the drawdown of US forces in Iraq accelerating, service members are finally beginning to receive a respite from frequent back-to-back tours of duty since 2003 — particularly for Army and Marine Corps units.

For bases such as Lewis-McChord, an Army and Air Force installation in Washington state, that means an influx of soldiers and aviators. “I was taken aback that at Fort Lewis by the end of October, 36,000 troops will be back,’’ Mullen said. “We have never had that many troops there, certainly not since 2003.’’

Yet that also means commanders must deal with a large number of troops with significant personal challenges who are back for the first extended period with their families.

Mullen remains particularly concerned about suicide rates, which have gone up in every branch of the military since 2004 and have hit record highs in the Army, which has borne the brunt of repeated deployments.

“The emergency issue right now is suicides,’’ Mullen said. “We had five suicides in the Army last weekend.’’

And there are a variety of other well-documented problems facing a ground force that has been stretched thin in recent years, including post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems that have not yet manifested themselves, he said.

“I think we are going to see a growth in that before we see a decline,’’ Mullen said.

Military officials have worked to increase the length of time between deployments, both to promote greater stability among families and to provide more training for threats beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That is now starting to happen as the US military commitment in Iraq winds down, even as troop levels have grown in Afghanistan.

The Fed Is Sucking Billions Out Of The Private Sector

The Fed Is Sucking Billions Out Of The Private Sector, And Some People Think It's A Good Thing

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An article yesterday bragged about what an efficient profit engine the Fed is (and therefore implied how much money WE make – that’s just not how a modern monetary system works, however). It went like this:

“The most profitable bank in the United States of America isn’t Jamie Dimon’s JP Morgan Chase or the rejuvenated Bank of America. In fact, it doesn’t have any ATMs, and it pays out almost all its earnings to you and your neighbors.

It’s the Federal Reserve, which is expected to post another year of record profits in 2010.”

They went on to blame the Fed for missing the crisis and reacting late (all correct) and then the article took a staggering turn for the worse:

Once the crisis hit, the Fed intervened in unprecedented and expensive ways that have weakened the dollar and punished savers with rock-bottom interest rates. Bernanke vastly increased the size of the Fed’s balance sheet, which now stands at $2.3 trillion vs. about $800 billion before the crisis began.

But as much as it may have contributed to our financial problems, the Fed may also be part of the solution — by helping to keep the deficit from growing even larger.

They go on to explain how the Fed is effectively an arm of the U.S. government in that all profits are turned over to the Treasury. But then they start describing the Federal Reserve as though it is some great engine of profits and symbol of thriving capitalism. The problem is, government exists to advance the prosperity of its citizenry – not to profit at its expense.

What occurred in 2009 when the Fed expanded their balance sheet was essentially one giant asset swap. The Fed bought private sector assets in exchange for reserves, alleviated the pressures in the credit markets and essentially helped to shore up the banking sector. This helped normalize the banking system of course, but did little to nothing for Main Street. Hence, why we’ve seen an incredible rebound in bank profits and little to no rebound in Main Street’s profits.

This policy might have made some sense in 2009, however, it makes little sense now. What the Fed is essentially doing is stealing income streams from the private sector. By the estimates of the Fed this could total $75B this year. So, the banks are getting what many call a “free lunch” via interest on reserves (which will amount of about $2.5B), but the truth is that the Fed is now debiting the private sector. There are no credit markets to fix now. There are no bank balance sheets to fix. You could easily argue that the Fed is acting to the detriment with these purchases now as their operations have little impact on reducing rates and have a marginal impact (if any) on Main Street.

The article wraps up by saying that this reduction in the deficit is good:

The U.S. government’s 2010 fiscal year closes on Thursday (fiscal years run from October to September). The books will close with the federal deficit at about $1.3 trillion. But without the Fed’s earnings, which could approach $75 billion, the deficit picture would be noticeably worse.

Of course, regular readers know this is nonsense. Public sector surplus is private sector deficit (net household financial income = current account surplus + government deficit + Δbusiness non-financial assets). The truth of the matter here is that the deficit reduction caused by the Fed is not good. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not in favor of the banks getting this money and the interest back. But if Treasury were wise (or understood how our monetary system worked) they’d do something more creative with these funds – call it the “Wall Street to Main Street Wealth Transfer Fund” or something like that. We’re taking $75B a year from the banks and putting it to good use by investing in Main Street!

Instead, we have (mostly) men in control who continue to misdiagnose our problems and therefore continue to apply the wrong solutions. At a time of low inflation an extra $75B isn’t exactly making or breaking the U.S. budget situation and with no solvency risk in the USA (we are a monopoly supplier of currency in a floating exchange rate system) the government doesn’t need that extra $75B. You wonder why the economy is such a mess? Look no further than the men in charge of Treasury and the Fed.