Sunday, November 21, 2010

What's in Your Water? Nuclear Waste, Coal Slurries and Industrial Estrogen

What's in Your Water? Nuclear Waste, Coal Slurries and Industrial Estrogen

It won’t be long before the world has to confront its diminishing supply of clean water.

“We’ve had the same amount of water on our planet since the beginning of time, ” Susan Leal, co-author of Running Out of Water, told GritTV’s Laura Flanders. “We are on a collision course of a very finite supply and 7.6 billion people.”

What’s worse, private industries—and energy companies in particular—are using waterways as dumping grounds for hazardous substances. With the coal industry, it’s an old story; with the natural gas industry, it’s a practice that can be nipped in the bud.

In many cases, dumping pollutants into water is a government-sanctioned activity, although there are limits to how much contamination can be approved. But companies often overshoot their pollution allowances, and for some businesses, like a nuclear energy plant, even a little bit of contamination can be a problem.

Business as usual

Here’s one troubling scenario. At Grist, Sue Sturgis reports that “a river downstream of a privately-owned nuclear fuel processing plant in East Tennessee is contaminated with enriched uranium.” The concentrations are low, and the water affected is still potable. The issue, however, is that the plant was not supposed to be discharging any of this sort of uranium at all. One researcher explained that the study had “only scratched the surface of what’s out there and found widely dispersed enriched uranium in the environment.” In other words, the contamination could be more widespread than is now known.

Nuclear energy facilities must take particular care to keep the waste products of their work separate from the environment around them. But in some industries, like coal, polluting water supplies is routine practice.

The dirtiest energy

In West Virginia, more than 700 people are suing infamous coal company Massey Energy for defiling their tap water, Charles Corra reports at Change.org. In Mingo County, tap water comes out as “a smooth flow of black and orange liquid.” Country residents are arguing that the contamination is a result of water from coal slurries, a byproduct of mining that contains arsenic and other contaminants, leaking into the water table. Residents believe the slurries also cause health problems like learning disabilities and hormone imbalances, as Corra reports.

Newfangled notions

Even so-called “clean coal,” which would inject less carbon into the atmosphere, is worrisome when it comes to water. The carbon siphoned from clean coal doesn’t disappear; it’s sequestered under ground. For a new clean coal project in Linden, NJ, Change.org’s Austin Billings reports, that chamber would be 70 miles out to sea. As Billings writes:

The plant would be the first of its kind in the world, so it should come as no surprise that the proposal is a major cause for concern among New Jersey environmentalists, fishermen, and lawmakers. According to Dr. Heather Saffert of Clean Ocean America, “We don’t really have a good understanding of how the CO2 is going to react with other minerals… The PurGen project is based on one company’s models. What if they’re wrong?”

In this case, it wouldn’t only be human communities at risk (“Polluted Jersey Shore,” anyone?), but the ocean’s ecosystem.

Frack no!

Coal communities in West Virginia have been dealing with water pollution for decades. But a another source of energy extraction—hydrofracking for natural gas—has only just begun to threaten water supplies. Care2’s Jennifer Mueller points to a recent “60 Minutes” segment that explores the attendant issues: it’s a must-watch for anyone unfamiliar with what’s at stake.

Fortunately, some of the communities at risk have been working to head off the damage before it hits. In Pittsburgh this week, leaders banned hydrofracking within the city, according to Mari Margil and Ben Price in Yes! Magazine. They write:

As Councilman [Doug] Shields stated after the vote, “This ordinance recognizes and secures expanded civil rights for the people of Pittsburgh, and it prohibits activities which would violate those rights. It protects the authority of the people of Pittsburgh to pass this ordinance by undoing corporate privileges that place the rights of the people of Pittsburgh at the mercy of gas corporations.”

Environmentalists in other municipalities, in state government, and in Congress would do well to follow Pittsburgh’s lead.

Mutant fish

Of course, you can’t believe every tale of water contamination you hear. At RhRealityCheck, Kimberly Inez McGuire takes on the persistent myth that estrogen from birth control is making its way in large concentrations into the water supply and leading to mutations in fish.

This simply isn’t true. As McGuire explains, “The estrogen found in birth control pills, patches, and rings (known as EE2) is only one of thousands of synthetic estrogens that may be found in our water, and the contribution of EE2 to the total presence of estrogen in water is relatively small.” Where does the rest of the estrogen come from? Factory farms, industrial chemicals like BPA, and synthetic estrogen used in crop fertilizer. So, yes, the water is contaminated, but, no, your birth control is not to blame.

Greening the US

Stories like these, of environmental pollution by corporations, seem to come up again and again. They’re barely news anymore and so easy to ignore. But it’s more important than ever for environmentalists to fight back against these challenges and push for a green economy that minimizes pollution. The American Prospect’s Monica Potts recently sat down with The Media Consortium to explain the roadblocks to a green economy. If green-minded people want to stop hearing tales like the ones above, these are the obstacles they’ll need to overcome. Watch the video:


The Mysterious Laptop Documents: "Evidence" of Iran Nuclear Weapons Program May Be Fraudulent

The Mysterious Laptop Documents: "Evidence" of Iran Nuclear Weapons Program May Be Fraudulent

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Since 2007, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - with the support of the United States, Israel and European allies UK, France and Germany - has been demanding that Iran explain a set of purported internal documents portraying a covert Iranian military program of research and development of nuclear weapons. The "laptop documents," supposedly obtained from a stolen Iranian computer by an unknown source and given to US intelligence in 2004, include a series of drawings of a missile re-entry vehicle that appears to be an effort to accommodate a nuclear weapon, as well as reports on high explosives testing for what appeared to be a detonator for a nuclear weapon.

In one report after another, the IAEA has suggested that Iran has failed to cooperate with its inquiry into that alleged research, and that the agency, therefore, cannot verify that it has not diverted nuclear material to military purposes.

That issue remains central to US policy toward Iran. The Obama administration says there can be no diplomatic negotiations with Iran unless Iran satisfies the IAEA fully in regard to the allegations derived from the documents that it had covert nuclear weapons program.

That position is based on the premise that the intelligence documents that Iran has been asked to explain are genuine. The evidence now available, however, indicates that they are fabrications.

The drawings of the Iranian missile warhead that were said by the IAEA to show an intent to accommodate a nuclear weapon actually depict a missile design that Iran is now known to have already abandoned in favor of an improved model by the time the technical drawings were allegedly made. And one of the major components of the purported Iranian military research program allegedly included a project labeled with a number that turns out to have been assigned by Iran's civilian nuclear authority years before the covert program is said to have been initiated.

The former head of the agency's safeguards department, Olli Heinonen, who shaped its approach to the issue of the intelligence documents from 2005 and 2010, has offered no real explanation for these anomalies in recent interviews with Truthout.

These telltale indicators of fraud bring into question the central pillar of the case against Iran and raise more fundamental questions about the handling of the Iranian nuclear issue by the IAEA, the United States and its key European allies.

Drawings of the Wrong Missile Warhead

In mid-July 2005, in an effort to get the IAEA fully behind the Bush administration's effort to refer the Iranian nuclear dossier to the United Nations Security Council, Robert Joseph, US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, made a formal presentation on the purported Iranian nuclear weapons program documents to the agency's leading officials in Vienna. Joseph flashed excerpts from the documents on the screen, giving special attention to the series of technical drawings or "schematics" showing 18 different ways of fitting an unidentified payload into the re-entry vehicle or "warhead" of Iran's medium-range ballistic missile, the Shahab-3.

When IAEA analysts were allowed to study the documents, however, they discovered that those schematics were based on a re-entry vehicle that the analysts knew had already been abandoned by the Iranian military in favor of a new, improved design. The warhead shown in the schematics had the familiar "dunce cap" shape of the original North Korean No Dong missile, which Iran had acquired in the mid-1990s, as former IAEA Safeguards Department Chief Olli Heinonen confirmed to this writer in an interview on November 5. But when Iran had flight tested a new missile in mid-2004, it did not have that dunce cap warhead, but a new "triconic" or "baby bottle" shape, which was more aerodynamic than the one on the original Iranian missile.

The laptop documents had depicted the wrong re-entry vehicle being redesigned.

When I asked Heinonen, now a senior fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center, why Iran's purported secret nuclear weapons research program would redesign the warhead of a missile that the Iranian military had already decided to replace with an improved model, he suggested that the group that had done the schematics had no relationship with the Iranian missile program. "It looks from that information that this group was working with this individual," said Heinonen, referring to Dr. Mohsen Fakrizadeh, the man named in the documents as heading the research program. "It was not working with the missile program."

Heinonen's claim that the covert nuclear weapon program had no link to the regular missile program is not supported by the intelligence documents themselves. The IAEA describes what is purported to be a one-page letter from Fakrizadeh to the Shahid Hemat Industrial Group dated March 3, 2003, "seeking assistance with the prompt transfer of data" for the work on redesigning the re-entry vehicle.

Shahid Hemat, which is part of the Iranian military's Defense Industries Organization, was involved in testing the engine for the Shahab-3 and, in particular, in working on aerodynamic properties and control systems for Iranian missiles, all of which were reported in the US news media. "Project 11" was the code name given to the purported re-entry vehicle project.

Heinonen also suggested that the program's engineers could have been ordered to redesign the older Shahab-3 model before the decision was made by the missile program to switch to a newer model and that it couldn't change its work plan once it was decided.

However, according to Mike Elleman, lead author of the most authoritative study of the Iranian missile program thus far, published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) last May, Iran introduced the major innovations in the design of the medium-range missile, including a longer, lighter airframe and the new warhead shape, over a period of two to five years. Elleman, told me in an interview that the redesign of the re-entry vehicle must have begun in 2002 at the latest.

The schematics on the laptop documents' redesigned warhead were dated March-April 2003, according to the IAEA report of May 2008.

Heinonen's explanation assumes that the Iranian military ordered an engineer to organize a project to redesign the warhead on its intermediate-range ballistic missile to accommodate a nuclear payload, but kept the project in the dark about its plans to replace the Shahab-3 with a completely new and improved model.

That assumption appears wholly implausible, because the reason for the shift to the new missile, according to the IISS study, was that the Shahab-3, purchased from North Korea in the early to mid-1990s, had a range of only 800 to 1,000 km, depending on the weight of the payload. Thus, it was incapable of reaching Israel. The new missile, later named the Ghadr-1, could carry a payload of conventional high-explosives 1,500 to 1,600 kilometers, bringing Israel within the reach of an Iranian missile for the first time.

The missile warhead anomaly is a particularly telling sign of fraud, because someone intending to fabricate such technical drawings of a re-entry vehicle could not have known that Iran had abandoned the Shahab-3 in favor of the more advanced Ghadr-1 until after mid-August 2004. As the IISS study points out, the August 11, 2004, test launch was the first indication to the outside world that a new missile with a triconic warhead had been developed. Before that test, Elleman told me, "No information was available that they were modifying the warhead."

After that test, however, it would have been too late to redo the re-entry vehicle studies, which would have the biggest impact on news media coverage and political opinion.

Iranian statements about the Shahab-3 missile would have been misleading for anyone attempting to fabricate these schematics. The IISS study recalls that Iran had said in early 2001 that the Shahab-3 had entered "serial production" and declared in July 2003 that it was "operational." The IISS study observes, however, that the announcement came only after the US invasion of Iraq, when Iran felt an urgent need to claim an operational missile capability. The study says it is "very dubious" that the missile was ever produced in significant numbers.

Skepticism and Resistance at the IAEA

A second inconsistency between the laptop documents and the established facts emerged only in 2008. At a briefing for IAEA member states in February 2008, Heinonen displayed an organization chart of the purported research program, showing a "Project 5" with two sub-projects: "Project 5/13" for uranium conversion and "Project 5/15" for uranium ore processing. Kimia Maadan, a private Iranian firm, is shown to be running "Project 5."

One of the key documents in the collection, a one-page flow sheet for a uranium-conversion process, dated May 2003, with Kimia Maadan's name on it, is marked "Project 5/13."

Bush administration hardliners and the IAEA safeguard department had been convinced in the 2004-2005 period that Kimia Maadan was a front for the Iranian military. In a 2005 report, the IAEA questioned how that company, with such "limited experience in ore processing," could have established an ore processing plant at Gchine in such a short time from 2000 to mid-2001 on its own.

But in January 2008, Iran provided documents to the IAEA showing that Kimia Maadan had actually been created by the civilian Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) in 2000 solely to carry out a contract to design, build and put into operation an ore-processing facility. The documents also established that the firm's core staff consisted entirely of experts who had previously worked for AEOI's Ore Processing Center and that the conceptual design and other technical information had been provided to Kimia Maadan by AEOI.

But the most explosive new evidence provided by Iran showed that the code number of "Project 5/15" on ore processing, supposedly assigned by the Iranian military's secret nuclear weapon research program, had actually been assigned by the AEOI more than two years before the purported nuclear weapons program had been started. In the context of the documents on Kimia Maadan's relationship with AEOI, the IAEA report of February 2008 acknowledged, "A decision to construct a UOC [uranium ore concentration] plant at Gchine, known as 'project 5/15,' was made August 25, 1999."

An unpublished paper by the IAEA safeguards department, leaked to the media and the Washington, DC-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in 2009, identified early 2002 as the formal beginning of what it called the Iranian military's "warhead development program."

Asked about this contradiction, Heinonen told me he couldn't answer the question, because he did not recall the specific dates involved.

After the IAEA had acquired that new evidence of fraud in January 2008, an IAEA official familiar with the internal debate inside the agency told me that some IAEA officials had demanded that the agency distance itself publicly from the intelligence documents. But IAEA reports made no concession to those demands. Instead, beginning with the May 2008 report, the agency began to use language implying that the documents were considered reliable.

Behind the scenes, a conflict was about to boil over between Heinonen and then IAEA Director General Mohammed ElBaradei, who was skeptical about the authenticity of the laptop documents and refused to give them any official IAEA endorsement. In late 2008, Heinonen began pushing ElBaradei to approve publication of his department's favorable assessment of the intelligence documents, which concluded that Iran had done research and development on nuclear weapons components and speculated that it was continuing to do so.

But ElBaradei refused to do so and in August 2009, diplomats from the UK, France and Germany, who were supporting Heinonen's view of the documents, leaked to Reuters and The Associated Press that, for nearly a year, ElBaradei had been suppressing "credible" evidence of Iran's covert work on nuclear weapons.

ElBaradei responded to those political pressures to publish the safeguards department speculative study in an interview with The Hindu on October 1, 2009, in which he declared, "The IAEA is not making any judgment at all whether Iran even had weaponisation studies before because there is a major question of authenticity of the documents."

Evidence of Israel's Role

The origin of the laptop documents may never be proven conclusively, but the accumulated evidence points to Israel as the source. As early as 1995, the head of the Israel Defense Forces' military intelligence research and assessment division, Yaakov Amidror, tried unsuccessfully to persuade his American counterparts that Iran was planning to "go nuclear." By 2003-2004, Mossad's reporting on the Iranian nuclear program was viewed by high-ranking CIA officials as an effort to pressure the Bush administration into considering military action against Iran's nuclear sites, according to Israeli sources cited by a pro-Israeli news service.

In the summer of 2003, Israel's international intelligence agency, Mossad, had established an aggressive program aimed at exerting influence on the Iran nuclear issue by leaking alleged intelligence to governments and the news media, as Israeli officials acknowledged to journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins. According to the book, "The Nuclear Jihadist," as part of the program, Mossad sometimes passed on purported Iranian documents supposedly obtained by Israeli spies inside Iran.

German sources have suggested that the intelligence documents were conveyed to the US government, directly or indirectly, by a group that had been collaborating closely with Mossad. Soon after Secretary of State Colin Powell made the existence of the laptop documents public in November 2004, Karsten Voight, the coordinator of German-American cooperation in the German Foreign Ministry, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying that they had been transferred by an Iranian "dissident group." A second German source familiar with the case was even more explicit. "I can assure you," the source told me in 2007, "that the documents came from the Iranian resistance organization." That was a reference to the Mujahideen-E-Khalq (MEK), also known as the People's Mujahideen of Iran, the armed Iranian exile group designated as a terrorist organization by the US State Department.

The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), the political arm of the MEK, was generally credited by the news media with having revealed the existence of the Iranian nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak in an August 2002 press conference in Washington, DC. Later, however, IAEA, Israeli and Iranian dissident sources all said that the NCRI had gotten the intelligence on the sites from Mossad.

An IAEA official told Seymour Hersh that the Israelis were behind the revelation of the sites and two journalists from Der Spiegel reported the same thing. So did an adviser to an Iranian monarchist group, speaking to a writer for The New Yorker. That episode was not isolated, but was part of a broader pattern of Israeli cooperation with the MEK in providing intelligence intended to influence the CIA and the IAEA. Israeli authors Melman and Javadanfar, who claimed to have good sources in Mossad, wrote in their 2007 book that Israeli intelligence had "laundered" intelligence to the IAEA by providing it to Iranian opposition groups, especially the NCRI.

Israeli officials also went to extraordinary lengths to publicize the story of covert Iranian experiments on a key component of a nuclear weapon, which was one of messages the intelligence documents conveyed. As a result of satellite intelligence brought to the attention of the IAEA in 2004 by Undersecretary of State John Bolton, the IAEA requested two separate investigations at the main Iran military research center at Parchin. The investigations, in January 2005 and November 2005, were aimed at examining the charge that Iran was using facilities at Parchin to test high explosives used in the detonation of a nuclear weapon. In each investigation, the IAEA investigators were allowed complete freedom to search and take environmental samples at any five buildings in the complex and their surroundings. But they failed to find any evidence of any Iranian nuclear weapons-related experiments.

At that point, Israeli intelligence came up with a new story. Hersh reported that, earlier in 2006, Mossad had given the CIA an intelligence report - purportedly from one of its agents inside Iran - claiming that the Iranian military had been "testing trigger mechanisms" for a nuclear weapon. The experiment supposedly involved simulating a nuclear explosion without using any nuclear material, so that it could not be detected by the IAEA. But there were no specifics on which to base an IAEA investigation - no test site specified and no diagrams - and CIA officials told Hersh they could not learn anything more about the identity of the alleged Israeli agent.

The CIA evidently did not regard the Israeli claim as credible, because the intelligence community issued a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in late 2007, which said that Iran had ended all work on nuclear weapons in 2003 and had not restarted it. Israel expressed dismay at the US intelligence estimate, but Israeli officials admitted that the official position that Iran was still working actively on a nuclear weapon was based on an assumption rather than any hard evidence.

Israel encountered yet another problem in its effort to promote the covert Iranian nuclear weapon narrative. The IAEA analysts doubted that Iran would be able to develop a nuclear weapon small enough to fit into the missile it had tested in 2004 without foreign assistance, as David Albright, former IAEA contract officer and director of the Institute for Science and International Security, wrote in a letter to The New York Times in November 2005.

Sometime between February and May, however, yet another purported Iranian document conveniently materialized that addressed the problem of the US NIE and the "small bomb" issue noted by Albright. The document was a long, Farsi-language report purporting to be about the testing of a system to detonate high explosives in hemispherical arrangement. Based on the new document, the IAEA safeguard department concluded that the "implosion system" on which it assumed Iran was working "could be contained within a payload container believed to be small enough to fit into the re-entry body chamber of the Shahab-3 missile."

The document was given to the IAEA by a "Member State," which was not identified in the leaked excerpts from an unpublished IAEA report describing it. But Albright, who knows Heinonen well, told me in a September 2008 interview, that the state in question was "probably Israel."

The day before the Reuters and Associated Press stories attacking ElBaradei over his refusal to publish the report appeared in August 2009, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Israel "has been striving to pressure the IAEA through friendly nations and have it release the censored annex." The operation was being handled by the director general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission and the Foreign Ministry, according to the report. The Israeli objective, Haaretz reported, was to "prove that the Iranian effort to develop nuclear weapons is continuing, contrary to the claims that Tehran stopped its nuclear program in 2003."

Rethinking the Case Against Iran

Once the intelligence documents that have been used to indict Iran as plotting to build nuclear weapons are discounted as fabrications likely perpetrated by a self-interested party, there is no solid basis for the US policy of trying to coerce Iran into ending all uranium enrichment. And there is no reason for insisting that Iran must explain the allegations in those documents to the IAEA as a condition for any future US-Iran negotiations.

News coverage of the purported intelligence documents over the past few years has created yet another false narrative that distorts public discourse on the subject. Almost entirely ignored is the possibility that the real aim of Iran's nuclear program is to maintain a bargaining chip with the United States, and to have a breakout capability to serve as a deterrent to a US or Israeli attack on Iran.

The evidence that documents at the center of the case for a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program are fraudulent suggests the need for a strategic reset on Iran policy. It raises both the possibility and the need for serious exploration of a diplomatic solution for the full range of issues dividing the two countries, which is the only sensible strategy for ensuring that Iran stays a non-nuclear state.

Sticking it to the unemployed

Sticking it to the unemployed

Cutting off extended benefits for the unemployed not only hurts individuals who've been laid off but could dampen the economic recovery.

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Washington is poised to stop providing extended unemployment benefits despite the huge number of laid-off workers, the paucity of job openings, the high rate of underemployment in every sector of the economy and stubbornly slow economic growth. That's because Republicans in the Senate insist that, unlike the hefty tax cuts they covet for the wealthy, the comparatively slender subsidies for the unemployed must not be financed with borrowed money. This penuriousness is not just hypocritical, it's bad economics.

The current federal program, which offers up to 73 extra weeks of unemployment benefits to idled workers, is due to expire Nov. 30. If it does, about 2 million unemployed people will have their benefits cut off in December — 411,000 of them in California. Their prospects for finding work remain unusually dim; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are still five job hunters for every opening.

Unemployment insurance not only helps keep individuals afloat after they're laid off, it counteracts an economic downturn. As economists at the Congressional Budget Office and elsewhere have noted, providing unemployment benefits is a particularly effective economic stimulus because idled workers are likely to spend their benefits rather than save them. According to one study, that spending could support nearly half a million jobs.

The downturn in the economy has been so severe that even the extended benefits haven't bought enough time for many Americans to find work. Four million people are expected to have exhausted their extended benefits by April; with so many cash-starved consumers, spending could fall again next year and dampen the recovery.

Some critics assert that lengthening the benefits period prompts people to spend more time looking for work instead of quickly taking a job that pays less and requires less skill than their previous positions. That's not a persuasive argument when there are so few jobs to be had. Regardless, attacking any disincentives to work should be done by changing the way the unemployment insurance program is designed, not by just pulling the plug on benefits.

Congress should continue to provide extended benefits at least until the unemployment rate falls from its current level — 9.6% as of October — to 7.2% or less. For the past half a century, Congress has always extended unemployment benefits until the jobless rate has fallen at least that far.

Yes, the extended benefits are costly — another year's worth would cost about $65 billion. But Republicans have shown with their stance on the Bush-era tax cuts that they have no compunction about raising the deficit for the ostensible purpose of helping the economy. And when it comes to helping the economy, unemployment benefits deliver far more bang for the buck than holding down the top marginal tax rates.

As stock market soars: US House fails to extend jobless benefits

As stock market soars: US House fails to extend jobless benefits

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The US House of Representatives on Thursday failed to obtain the two-thirds vote required under a fast-track procedure to extend long-term jobless benefits for an additional three months. The federally funded benefits for people out of work for more than six months expire November 30. Thursday’s House vote makes it virtually certain that the benefits will not be extended by that time, cutting off cash assistance for an estimated two million workers by the end of the year.

The current “lame-duck” Congress, in session until the newly elected Congress with a Republican majority in the House and a reduced Democratic majority in the Senate takes office in January, retains large Democratic majorities in both chambers. But the Democrats have all but conceded they will not push through an extension of the benefits before the new Congress takes control.

House leaders said they would hold another vote on the jobless benefits before November 30, this time under normal rules which require only a majority to pass a bill. However, the Senate has not even scheduled a debate on the issue. Twice over the past year long-term benefits were cut off as a result of Republican filibusters in the Senate.

Even as the US Congress was refusing to provide aid to the long-term unemployed—a total of 6.2 million people in October, according to the Labor Department—Wall Street was staging another spectacle of unvarnished greed.

All of the major US indexes soared in response to General Motors’ $20 billion initial public stock offering and signs that the European Union and the International Monetary Fund are about to loan Ireland tens of billions of euros to insure the investments of major banks in the country’s failing banking system, in return for assurances that the Irish government will impose a new round of savage austerity measures on the working class.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 173 points, an increase of nearly 1.6 percent. GM priced its initial public offering at $33 and sold some 478 million shares on Wednesday. On Thursday, the first day GM shares were publicly traded since the company’s forced bankruptcy last year, the share price closed at $34.19, rising 3.6 percent.

Big banks and investors, including the United Auto Workers union, pocketed billions in the deal, the profits based almost entirely on the destruction of jobs and benefits and the halving of wages for newly hired workers dictated last year by the Obama administration’s Wall Street-run Auto Task Force.

President Obama had nothing to say about the failure to extend benefits to the jobless, but he took time out to make a White House statement lauding the GM stock bonanza. “Today, one of the toughest tales of the recession took another big step towards becoming a success story,” he declared.

The House vote on the jobless bill was 258 in favor and 154 against, with 21 Republicans joining 237 Democrats in support and 11 Democrats voting “no” along with 143 Republicans. Democratic leaders knew in advance that they would not secure the needed two-thirds vote, but went ahead with the ballot in order to place the onus for the impending cut-off of long-term benefits on the Republicans.

This cynical maneuver was part of an effort by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats to use the desperate plight of long-term jobless workers as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Republicans over an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. If long-term benefits are extended by the new Congress—a less than likely prospect—it will only be in return for Democratic support for extending tax cuts for individuals earning over $200,000 a year and families making more than $250,000.

The House vote and stock market rally coincided with new data indicating that the US economy continues to stagnate, eliminating any prospect of significant job gains. The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims rose last week by 2,000 to 439,000. Any figure above 400,000 points to an economy that is failing to generate jobs at a normal rate.

Fifteen states reported that jobless claims increased by more than 1,000, while only two reported a decline of more than 1,000.

The official US unemployment rate has been above 9 percent for 18 straight months, the longest such stretch since 1983. The refusal of the Obama administration to implement government hiring programs or any significant relief for the millions who are losing their homes to foreclosure and falling into poverty is compounding a widening social disaster.

A grim indicator of growing social distress is the report released Thursday by the Mortgage Bankers Association showing that foreclosures of homes financed by prime fixed-rate mortgages reached a record high in the third quarter of this year. The trade group said prime fixed rate and Federal Housing Administration loans, i.e., those taken out by credit-worthy homebuyers, as opposed to sub-prime borrowers, now account for more than half of foreclosures started in the third quarter, compared to 39 percent a year ago.

This means that the worsening foreclosure crisis is now being driven directly by high unemployment, which is slashing working class incomes and making it impossible for families to keep up their mortgage payments.

“The increase in these plain-vanilla type of loans to the highest numbers ever show us it really is being driven by the economic environment,” Michael Fratantoni, the Mortgage Bankers Association’s vice president of research and economics, told the press. “It’s not going to turn around until we get more significant job growth,” he added.

That there is little prospect for a jobs turnaround was underscored by a Commerce Department report Wednesday showing that new home construction fell 11.7 percent in October, the lowest level in 18 months. New construction of single-family homes was 8.2 percent lower than the same period a year ago.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York issued a similarly grim report Monday on manufacturing activity in the New York region. The Fed’s Empire State manufacturing survey fell to a reading of negative 11.1 for November, compared to a positive 15.7 in October. Economists had expected a positive 15 reading. Monday’s report was the first negative level since July 2009.

Mass layoffs continue to be announced on nearly a daily basis. Just over the past several days New York City announced the elimination of over 10,000 jobs, the pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG said it will cut 4,500 jobs worldwide by 2012, and the Swiss pharmaceutical group Roche said it will slash 4,800 jobs in 2011 and 2012, the bulk of the layoffs coming in the US.

After NATO Summit, U.S. To Intensify Military Drive Into Asia

Global Warfare: After NATO Summit, U.S. To Intensify Military Drive Into Asia

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Barack Obama, the latest rotating imperator of the first global empire, will arrive in Lisbon on November 19 to receive the plaudits of 27 North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies and secure their continued fealty on issues ranging from the war in Afghanistan to a continental interceptor missile system, the continued deployment of American tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, participation in the Pentagon’s cyber warfare plans and expanded military missions in the planet’s south and east.

Perfunctory discussions of minor details notwithstanding, strictly pro forma to maintain the myth of NATO being a “military alliance of democratic states in Europe and North America,” the banners and pennants of 26 European nations, Canada and dozens of other countries contributing troops for the Afghan mission will be lowered in the presence of the leader of the world imperium.

No fewer than 38 European nations have supplied NATO troops for the Afghanistan-Pakistan war as well as providing training grounds and transport centers to support the war effort. As envisioned for at least a century, through peaceful means or otherwise, Europe has been united, not so much by the European Union as under the NATO flag and on the killing fields of Afghanistan. It is now relegated to the role of pre-deployment training area and forward operating base for military campaigns downrange: The Middle East, Africa and Asia.

So uncritically and unquestioningly compliant has Europe been in the above regards that Obama and the governing elite in the imperial metropolis as a whole have already looked beyond the continent for additional military partners. With the exception of fellow members of the NATO Quint – Britain, Germany, France and Italy (Britain more and Italy less than the others) – Alliance partners are accorded the same status and assigned the same functions as American territories like Puerto Rico, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands: Geopolitically convenient locations for live-fire military training and for troop, warplane and warship deployments.

Two millennia ago the Pax Romana of Augustus brought roads and ports, aqueducts and irrigation, amphitheaters and libraries, and Greek writers from Aristotle to Aeschylus to occupied territories. Bellum Americanum burdens its vassals and tributaries with military bases, interceptor missile batteries, McDonald’s and Lady Gaga.

In Lisbon Obama will chastise his NATO and NATO partnership auxiliaries and foederati, as is the prerogative and wont of the global suzerain and as his predecessor George W. Bush has done recently, for being chary of expending more blood and treasure for the war in Afghanistan. However, he will also display the magnanimity befitting his preeminent stature by patting his European satraps on their bowed heads and intoning, “Well done, good and faithful servants. You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”

With the European continent placed securely under the multi-circled Achilles shield of NATO, U.S. nuclear weapons, an interceptor missile system and a cyber warfare command, Washington is moving to realms as yet not completely subjugated.

Africa has been assigned to the three-year-old U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and perhaps only five of the continent’s 54 nations – Eritrea, Libya, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Sudan and Zimbabwe – have avoided becoming ensnared in bilateral military ties with the Pentagon and concomitant U.S-led military exercises and deployments.

The U.S. has also expanded its military presence in the Middle East: Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Yemen.

Two years ago Washington reactivated its Fourth Fleet for the Caribbean Sea and Central and South America and last year’s coup in Honduras and this September’s attempted coup in Ecuador are proof that the U.S. will not allow developments in Latin America to pursue their natural course unimpeded.

The U.S. has intensified efforts to forge and expand military alliances and deployments in the Asia-Pacific region, but there is still a small handful of countries there not willing to accept a subordinate role in American geostrategic designs. They are, to varying degrees and in differing manners, Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and Myanmar. Attempts to replicate the “color revolution” model used in former Soviet republics in Myanmar and Iran since 2007 have failed, “regime change” plans for North Korea are of another nature, and neither China nor Russia appears immediately susceptible to equivalents of the so-called Rose, Orange, Tulip and Twitter revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova, respectively. The preferred technique being applied to Russia at the moment is cooption, though its success is not guaranteed as the U.S. and NATO military build-up around Russia’s borders continues unabated.

What’s left is the military expedient. In the first half of November the quadrivirate in charge of U.S. foreign policy – President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen – all toured the Asia-Pacific area. Collectively they visited ten nations there: India, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.

Clinton and Gates were in Malaysia at separate times and both joined Mullen on November 8 for the annual Australia-United States Ministerial (AUSMIN) meeting in Melbourne, where the U.S. military chief called the 21st century the “Pacific century.” [1]

In India Obama secured what William Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, estimated to be the sixth largest arms deal in U.S. history. [2]

In Australia, Gates and Mullen won a backroom arrangement to move U.S. military forces into several Australian bases.

While in New Zealand, Clinton in effect renewed the Australia, New Zealand, United States (ANZUS) Security Treaty as a full tripartite mutual defense pact after a 24-year hiatus in regard to her host country.

On November 13 Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan “thanked the United States…for supporting Tokyo in a series of recent disputes with Russia and China” [3], an allusion to a statement by Clinton on October 27 that the U.S. would honor its military assistance commitment to Tokyo over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute with China and her spokesman Philip Crowley’s affront to Russia five days afterward over the Kuril Islands, which he identified as Japanese territory. [4]

In a tete-a-tete ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Yokohama, the Japanese head of state “sought US President Barack Obama’s assurance on defence in the Asia-Pacific region,” as “Tokyo’s territorial disputes with China and Russia are becoming high priorities for Kan, who told Obama through a translator, ‘The US military presence is only becoming more important.’” [5]

Verbatim, Kan said:

“Japan and the United States, at this meeting of APEC, of pan-Pacific countries, we shall step up our cooperation. So we agreed on doing that. And in Japan’s relations with China and Russia, recently we’ve faced some problems, and the United States has supported Japan throughout, so I expressed my appreciation to him for that.

“For the peace and security of the countries in the region, the presence of the United States and the presence of the U.S. military I believe is becoming only increasingly important.” [6]

In return, Obama “voiced support for Japan to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and reaffirmed the U.S.-Japan security alliance.”

He also assured Kan that the U.S.-Japan alliance is “the cornerstone of American strategic engagement in the Asia Pacific” and “the commitment of the United States to the defense of Japan is unshakable.”

According to a U.S. armed forces publication, “While Obama’s support for the continuing security alliance is no surprise, it comes amid tension in Japan over China’s…claims on territory in the East China and South China seas.” [7]

In less than five months the Pentagon has made its military presence felt throughout the Asia-Pacific area:

The U.S. Marine Corps and Navy participated in Exercise Crocodile 10 in East Timor (Timor-Leste) from June 19-26, which included “weapons firing skills, amphibious assault serials, jungle training, flying operations, and a helicopter raid on an abandoned prison” and provided “an opportunity for multi-national forces to work together in the planning and conduct of a complex military exercise.” [8]

In October of 2009 2,500 U.S. and Australian troops engaged in maneuvers in the country, which marked the first U.S.-East Timor joint military exercise.

This July the U.S. led the multinational Angkor Sentinel 2010 command post and field exercises in Cambodia with American forces and troops from the host nation, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mongolia and the Philippines.

For 40 days in late June and throughout July the U.S. led the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2010 war games in the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii with 32 ships, five submarines, more than 170 planes and 20,000 troops from all four branches of the American armed forces and from Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Peru, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand.

From July 25-28 the U.S. conducted joint war games with South Korea, codenamed Invincible Spirit, in the Sea of Japan/East Sea with the involvement of 20 warships including the nuclear-powered supercarrier USS George Washington, 200 warplanes including F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, and 8,000 troops.

The next month U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Army Pacific presided over the Khaan Quest 2010 military exercise in Mongolia. In the same month American and British troops ran the Steppe Eagle 2010 NATO Partnership for Peace exercise in Kazakhstan.

USS George Washington and the USS John S. McCain destroyer led the first-ever joint U.S.-Vietnam military exercise, consisting of naval maneuvers in the South China Sea, in early August.

Less than a week later the U.S. and South Korea began this year’s Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercise in the latter country with 30,000 U.S. and 50,000 South Korean troops participating. [9]

In early September Washington and Seoul held an anti-submarine warfare exercise in the Yellow Sea.

At the end of the same month Indian troops joined U.S. marines and sailors in Exercise Habu Nag 2010, the fifth annual bilateral U.S.-India amphibious training exercise with that codename, in the East China Sea off the coast of Okinawa.

In October at least 3,000 U.S. troops participated in the nine-day Amphibious Landing Exercise 2011 in the Philippines. “The bilateral training exercise, conducted with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, is designed to improve interoperability, increase readiness and continue to build professional relationships between the two countries.” [10]

At the beginning of the same month U.S. warships and troops joined 6,000 Australian soldiers and counterparts from New Zealand for Exercise Hamel in northeast Australia, described in the local press as “massive war games.” [11]

Also in October, South Korea for the first time hosted a multinational military exercise with 14 members of the U.S.-created Proliferation Security Initiative, which included ships and military personnel from the U.S., Canada, France, Australia and Japan.

U.S. marines “conducted urban training exercises” in Singapore on November 6. A Marine Corps lieutenant present “gave a short class on identifying danger areas in a combat environment” and “talked about isolating them by sight, or suppressive fire, and the importance of gaining footholds in enemy territories.” [12]

On November 14 the U.S. and Indian armies completed the 14-day Yudh Abhyas 2010 military exercise in Alaska. Last year’s Yudh Abhyas featured the largest U.S.-India joint military maneuvers ever held.

100,000 American and another 50,000 NATO troops are fighting in the tenth year of their collective war in Afghanistan. The U.S. is escalating deadly drone missile strikes and NATO is increasing helicopter gunship raids in Pakistan.

The Pentagon has indeed marked this as its Asia-Pacific century.

Notes

1) U.S. Department of Defense, November 7, 2010
2) Business Insider, November 6, 2010
http://www.businessinsider.com/top-10-us-arms-deals-in-history-2010-11
....
Obama, Gates And Clinton In Asia: U.S. Expands Military Build-Up In The
East
Stop NATO, November 7, 2010
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/obama-gates-and-clinton-in-asia-u-s-expands-military-build-up-in-the-east
3) Russian Information Agency Novosti, November 13, 2010
4) U.S. Supports Japan, Confronts China And Russia Over Island Disputes
Stop NATO, November 4, 2010
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/u-s-supports-japan-confronts-china-and-russia-over-island-disputes
5) Deutsche Presse-Agentur, November 13, 2010
6) The White House, November 13, 2010
Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Kan of Japan in
Statements to the Press in Yokohama, Japan
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/11/13/remarks-president-obama-and-prime-minister-kan-japan-statements-press-yo
7) Stars and Stripes, November 14, 2010
8) Australian Government
Department of Defence
June 24, 2010
9) U.S.-China Crisis: Beyond Words To Confrontation
Stop NATO, August 17, 2010
http://rickrozoff.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/part-ii-u-s-china-crisis-beyond-words-toward-confrontation
10) U.S. Marine Corps, October 22, 2010
11) Australian Broadcasting Company, October 4, 2010
12) U.S. Marine Corps, November 9, 2010

Extend Jobless Benefits, Not Tax Cuts

Why the Lame Duck Congress Must Extend Jobless Benefits For Hard-hit Families But Not Tax Cuts For the Rich

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America’s long-term unemployed — an estimated 4 million or more — constitute the single newest and biggest social problem facing America.

Now their unemployment benefits are about to run out, and the lame-duck Congress may not have the votes to extend them. (You can forget about the next Congress.)

The long-term unemployed can’t get work because there are still five people needing work for every job opening. And the long-term jobless are often at the end of the job line: Either they don’t have the right skills or enough eduction, or have been out of work so long prospective employers are nervous about hiring them.

They’re also a big problem for the economy. Without enough money in their pockets, they and their families can’t pay their mortgages, which keeps fueling the mortgage crisis. Nor can they replace worn-out cars and clothing, or buy muchof anything else, which is a drag on the economy.

Republicans and many blue-dog Dems say we can’t afford another extension.

But these are many of the same people who say we should extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy for at least another two years.

Extending the Bush tax cuts for the top 1 percent would cost an estimated $120 billion over the next two years. That’s more than another unemployment benefit extension would cost.

The unemployed need the money. The rich don’t.

Moreover, the top 1 percent spends a small fraction of their income. That’s what it means to be rich — you already have most of what you want. So extending the Bush tax cut to them won’t stimulate the economy.

Yet people without jobs, and their families, are likely to spend every penny of unemployment benefits they receive. That will go back into the economy and save or create jobs.

A Labor Department report shows that for every $1 spent on unemployment insurance, $2 are spent in the economy. If you don’t believe the Labor Department, maybe you’ll believe Goldman Sachs analyst Alec Phillips, who estimates that if unemployment benefits are allowed to expire, the American economy would slow by a half a percent.

Republicans are still spouting nutty Social Darwinism. Cutting taxes on the rich is better than helping the unemployed, they say, because the rich will create jobs with their extra money while giving money to the unemployed reduces their desire to look for work.

Rubbish. The Bush tax cuts on the top never trickled down. Between 2002 and 2007 the median wage dropped, adjusted for inflation. And job growth was pathetic.

Jobless benefits don’t deter the unemployed from finding work. In most states, unemployment benefits are a fraction of former wages. And as long as unemployment remains sky-high, there are no jobs to be had anyway.

Besides, the economic downturn was hardly their fault. If anyone is to blame it’s the high-flyers on Wall Street who gambled away other people’s money, and the rich denizens of corporate executive suites who have sliced payrolls in order to show higher profits (and get more money from their stock options).

So why reward the people at the top with an extension of the Bush tax cut that will blow a hole in the budget deficit? And why fail to extend jobless benefits to hardworking Americans who got the boot?

Quick action is needed. Jobless benefits begin to lapse in just two weeks. Two million unemployed workers will be affected. If Congress fails to act, another 1.2 million will stop receiving benefits by the end of December. Most of the rest of those who now receive federal emergency extended benefits will gradually lose them.

Don’t extend the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy. Give unemployment benefits to people who need them.

It's Party Time on Wall Street, But Americans Face the Hangover

It's Party Time on Wall Street, But Americans Face the Hangover

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The Congressional Oversight Panel set up to police the reckless financial institutions aided by the federal bailout of 2008 has just released an alarming report on the foreclosure mess. It concludes that "companies servicing $6.4 trillion in American mortgages may have bypassed legally required steps to foreclose on a home," with the possible consequence that "the housing market could experience even greater disruptions than have already occurred, resulting in significant harm to major financial institutions."

The report is a reminder of how much pain is still coursing through the lifeblood of the American economy. The two great foundations of the American middle class -- jobs and home ownership -- have taken a beating not experienced since the Great Depression, with no end in immediate sight.

It is also a reminder of how little has changed on Wall Street. Three years ago, Wall Street blew up the economy, came to Washington, and begged for help. They got it, including essentially a license to print money for their own benefit. Now they are back in the black while the rest of America is drowning in red.

To be sure, bank chiefs are careful not to smile too broadly. Firms like Goldman Sachs are sitting on mountains of cash, holding back on the mega-bonuses -- for now. But things have not been so good in the nation's houses of finance since, well, ever. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Pay on Wall Street is on pace to break a record high for a second consecutive year." The era of financial restraint is over before it even began.

How could this happen? We're supposed to be the country of small businesses and start-ups and the independent, educated middle class. Instead, the folks gambling with other people's money are raking it in; the rest of us are stuck on the outside.

Listen to the Wall Street crowd and the answer is pretty simple: "We're smarter than you." Titans of finance are superstars propelled to the top by their skill at harnessing new technologies to conquer global markets. Back when he was chairman of Citigroup, rather than ex-chair of a financial ward of the state, Sandy Weill told the New York Times, "People can look at the last twenty-five years and say this is an incredibly unique period of time. We didn't rely on somebody else to build what we built."

Actually, that's sort of true: Weill didn't rely on "somebody else." He took matters into his own hands and led the lobbying charge to repeal the Glass-Steagal Act, the centerpiece of New Deal banking regulations -- regulations that, for over half a century, made the nation's repeated, devastating financial crashes merely an unpleasant memory. On his office wall, Weill put up a four-foot-plus wide plaque with his image on it and the words "Shatterer of Glass-Steagal."

The smartest investment that Wall Street made during the roaring '90s wasn't in exotic bonds or derivatives. It was in the Democratic Party, and the return was bipartisan fervor for the financial deregulation that brought our economy to its knees. But like any good trader, Wall Street knows how to diversify. And the political crash they're bringing on may be even more frightening than the economic one.

The GOP backed Wall Street during the darkest days of 2009 and 2010, when industry lobbyists valiantly battled the nefarious forces of reform that John Boehner derided to donors as "punk staffers." Democratic when Democrats seemed reliable, financial industry contributions swung to the other side of the aisle.

Loyalty has its rewards. The GOP's top officials are now promising they will do whatever they can to gut the already-compromised financial reforms of 2010. The incoming chair of the Financial Services Committee Spencer Bachus says he's concerned that regulation will mean less Wall Street employment. These are the same politicians who say we need more lay-offs of teachers, police, and first responders, more crumbling roads and bridges -- in short, less Main Street employment.

Even if the dire predictions of the oversight panel's report fail to materialize, the dislocations caused by the abusive and reckless behavior of Wall Street will be felt for many years to come. Let us hope the lost jobs, lost homes, and lost dreams do not mark a new normal, but an unfortunate bipartisan retreat from common sense.

Beyond ‘1984’: New Frontiers of Mass Surveillance

Beyond ‘1984’: New Frontiers of Mass Surveillance

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Does the notion of remote-controlled soldiers—the fully human kind—seem only a sci-fi vision or the product of someone’s paranoid imagination? Guess again: There’s a project in the works as the military and big business join forces to make privacy a thing of the past, according to Elliot D. Cohen, whose new book, “Mass Surveillance and State Control: The Total Information Awareness Project,” is excerpted below.

* * *

Elliot D. Cohen, “Mass Surveillance and State Control,” published 2010, Palgrave Macmillan, reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.

Surveillance cameras have finite ranges within which they can track a person. However, there are currently other technologies that can be used to track people in real time, which are not constrained by location.


Radio Frequency ID Technologies and Government Surveillance

One such technology is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) microchips, which can be smaller than a grain of sand. These devices have the capacity to store data, which can be read at a distance by an RFID reader. Like our cell phones, the emerging technology also has GPS capacity and can thus be used to locate and track a person or object carrying the device. …

Now RFID chips are also being implanted in human beings, not just human artifacts. In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of RFID chips for subcutaneous implantation in patients in hospitals, which could be used by medical staff to access computerized patient information such as the patient’ medical history. The maker of this chip, Verichip, has also lobbied the Department of Defense to embed RFID chips in soldiers to replace the standard “dog tags.” Other human applications include implanting them in children, and even in prisoners.

… In fact, the London justice department has begun to explore the idea of using a hypodermic needle to inject such devices into the back of the arms of certain inmates, such as sex offenders, then releasing them from prison, thereby freeing up space in overcrowded British prisons. The prisoners would be tracked by satellite and barred from entering certain “safe” zones such as schools, playgrounds, and former victims’ homes.

book cover

Mass Surveillance and State Control: The Total Information Awareness Project

By Elliot D. Cohen

Palgrave Macmillan, 258 pages

Buy the book


An Emerging Internet of Humans

One wave of research concerns the creation of “an internet of things” whereby RFID interfaces are constructed between cyberspace and physical objects, thereby permitting two-way exchanges between online software technologies and databases, on the one end, and objects in the material world, on the other end. Thereby, these objects can be identified, tracked, traced, monitored, and controlled.

The “internet of things” project began as a research project by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Auto-ID Labs to help the Department of Defense precisely track and control billions of dollars of military inventory; but there is already concern by prominent technology watchdog organizations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the government may also have designs on using such systems for purposes of monitoring and collecting information on peoples’ interests, habits, and activities through the things that they purchase.

… Further, since RFID chips have already begun to be embedded in human beings, the progressive development of such a project may come to embrace human beings along with physical objects. Thus, with the advance of an “internet of things,” human beings, like physical inventory, might be “tagged” with an RFID chip and systematically tracked, traced, monitored, and controlled. …

Are such possibilities speculative? Yes, but the potential of RFID technologies to become an incredibly oppressive kind of surveillance is not speculative. As was discussed in the preceding chapters, there is now a trend for government to override privacy for the sake of “winning the war on terror.” Viewed in this light, it would be presumptuous to think that such technology would not be so used—at least if government does not depart from its current tendency to abridge the right to privacy in the name of national security. …


The DARPA/IBM Global Brain Surveillance Initiative

Going beyond monitoring such aspects of human life as behavior, electronic messaging, and geographical location is the direct monitoring of people’s mental aspects, such as their thoughts, perceptions, and emotions. In December 2008, IBM and collaborators from several major universities were awarded US$4.9 million from DARPA to launch the first phase of its “Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) initiative.” Under this grant, IBM has launched its “cognitive computing initiative” to develop a (literal) “global brain.” …

The enormity of this project is glaring. Nonetheless, its intentions seem clear, and they include, among other things, the global monitoring of human beings’ most intimate and personal space: what is going on inside their minds; and then what is going on inside their organizations, their homes, and even their cars. …

… In 2004, DARPA funded a US$19 million program led by a Duke University neurobiologist, Miguel Nicolelis, in which a monkey was able to control a remote robotic arm hundreds of miles away, through a two-way wireless interaction between the monkey’s cerebral cortex and the robotic arm. DARPA’s military goals for this project included giving combat soldiers the power to remotely control military equipment and weapons at a distance through such brain machine interfaces (BMI). As was mentioned in Chapter 1, another goal of DARPA is to remotely control the soldiers themselves through the use of peripheral devices wirelessly interfacing with their brains, including remotely controlling natural emotions, such as fear, and feelings, such as that of fatigue, in combat situations. …

Here, there are profound implications for DARPA/IBM’s cognitive computing initiative to build a “global brain.” If sensors that monitor and control soldiers’ motor and sensory brain activities were “plugged into” a global brain through BMI interfaces, the possibility would emerge of remotely controlling and coordinating an entire army of soldiers by networking their individual brains. … The stored data and supercomputing capabilities could then … give an army a marked, logistical advantage over a nonnetworked opponent. Of course, this advantage would be purchased at the expense of turning human soldiers into military robots plugged into a literal network of remotely controlled fighting machines. There would be little left that would make them distinctively human. …

… But why limit BMI technology when it could also be used to improve parenting skills; exponentially expand individual intellects and knowledge bases; and eliminate or greatly reduce accidents on the highways, criminal activities, and, of course, “win the war on terror.” In other words, why not make BMI/global brain technologies mainstream? …

How Can We Expect Wall St. Thieves to Stop Stealing Unless We Throw Them in Prison?

Shock Doctrine Attack on Middle Class Intensifies

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Just as the Tax Policy Center releases its analysis showing how heavily tilted the tax changes in the Simpson-Bowles plan are:

     Income Quintile    Tax Shift
Lowest 47.0
Second 19.1
Middle 6.7
Fourth 0.5
Top -1.9
All 0.8

a second such plan is released, about which Dan Froomkin says:

This latest group hails from the Bipartisan Policy Center, and its signature proposal may end up being a whopping 6.5 percent national "Deficit Reduction Sales Tax" -- just the sort of thing that is devastating to people who live on a budget while not really mattering so much to the rich.

In its quest to control health care costs, the group also recommends significant increases in Medicare premiums in the short term. And after 2018, Medicare beneficiaries would either be forced to pay out of pocket for any and all cost increases more than one percent greater than the growth rate of the economy -- or they would be invited to leave the government program entirely and find private insurance instead. That would no longer be Medicare as we know it -- or as future retirees expect it.

Once again, it bears repeating that the current deficit really is all Bush's fault. Clinton left office with a surplus--and trillions of dollars of surplus as far as the eye could see. Bush destroyed all that in record time:

The breakdown of costs from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

The logical response, of course, would be to undo the damage by undoing the policies. First law of holes: stop digging. But that's not the "logic" of the Shock Doctrine, which says, "No, make things 10 times worse by following these simple percriptions we just happen to have lying around." And that's what this would do. In fact, it's a direct result of now-widespread "philosophy" of financial punishment that Paul Krugman has been writing about for months now--a philosophy that has no foundations at all in economic models that would explain how it is supposed to bring about economic recovery.

15 Dangerous Drugs Big Pharma Shoves Down Our Throats

15 Dangerous Drugs Big Pharma Shoves Down Our Throats

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In the pharmaceutical industry’s rush to get drugs to market, safety usually comes last. Long studies to truly assess a drug's risks just delay profits after all -- and if problems do emerge after medication hits the market, settlements are usually less than profits. Remember, Vioxx still made money.

The following drugs are so plagued with safety problems, it is a wonder they’re on the market at all.
It's a testament to Big Pharma's greed and our poor regulatory processes that they are.

-- Lipitor and Crestor

Why is Lipitor the bestselling drug in the world? Because every adult with high LDL or fear of high LDL is on it. (And also 2.8 million children, says Consumer Reports.) No one is going to say statins don't prevent heart attack in high-risk patients (though diet and exercise have worked in high-risk groups too). But doctors will say statins are so over-prescribed that more patients get their side effects -- weakness, dizziness, pain and arthritis -- than heart attack prevention. Worse, they think it's old age!

"My older patients literally do without food so that they can buy these medicines that make them sicker, feel bad, and do nothing to improve life," says an ophthalmologist web poster from Tennessee. "There is no scientific basis for treating older folks with $300+/month meds that have serious side-effects and largely unknown multiple drug interactions." What kinds of side effects? All statins can cause muscle breakdown (called rhabdomyolysis) but combining them with antibiotics, protease inhibitors drugs and anti-fungals increases your risks. In fact, Crestor is so highly linked to rhabdomyolysis it is double dissed: Public Citizen calls it a Do Not Use and the FDA's David Graham named it one of the five most dangerous drugs before Congress.

-- Yaz and Yasmin

It sounded too good to be true and it was. Birth control pills that also cleared up acne, treated severe PMS (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or PMDD) and avoided the water retention of traditional birth control pills.

But soon after Bayer launched Yaz in 2006 as going "beyond birth control," 18-year-olds were coming down with blood clots, gall bladder disease, heart attacks and even strokes. Fifteen-year-old Katie Ketner had her gallbladder removed. Susan Gallenos had a stroke and part of her skull removed. College student Michelle Pfleger, 18, collapsed and died of a pulmonary thromboemboli from taking Yaz, says her mother Joan Cummins.

While TV ads for Yaz in 2008 were so misleading that FDA ordered Bayer to run correction ads, Yaz sales are still brisk. In fact, financial analysts attribute the third quarter slump in the Yaz "franchise" of 28.1 percent to the appearance of a Yaz generic, not to the thousands of women who have been harmed.

Why is Yaz sometimes deadly? It includes a drug that was never before marketed in the U.S. -- drospirenone -- and apparently causes elevated potassium, heart problems, and a change in acid balance of the blood. Who knew? But not only is Bayer still marketing it, women do not receive "test subject" compensation for using it either.

-- Lyrica, Topomax and Lamictal

Why would Americans take an epilepsy seizure drug for pain? The same reason they'll take an antipsychotic for the blues and an antidepressant for knee pain: good consumer marketing. In August FDA ordered a warning for aseptic meningitis, or brain inflammation, on Lamictal -- but it is still the darling of military and civilian doctors for unapproved pain and migraine. Lamictal also has the distinction of looting $51 million from Medicaid last year despite a generic existing.

All seizure drugs increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors according to their mandated labels. An April article in JAMA found seizure drugs linked to 26 suicides, 801 attempted suicides, and 41 violent deaths in just five years.

All three drugs can make you lose your memory and your hair, say posters on the drug rating site askapatient.com. Topamax is referred to as "Stupamax" in the military -- though evidently not enough to ask, "Why am I taking this drug again?"

-- Humira, Prolia and TNF Blockers

If you think pharma is producing a lot of expensive, dangerous injectables lately, you're right. Yesterday's blockbuster pills have been supplanted with vaccines and biologics that are more lucrative and safer...from generic competition, that is. The problem is, not only are biologics like Humira and Prolia creepy and dangerous -- they're made from genetically engineered hamster cells and suppress the actual immune system -- the diseases they treat are "sold" to healthy people.

Recently, thousands of college students in Chicago found inserts in their campus newspapers hawking Humira for Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. ("Hate psoriasis? Love clearer skin," says an ad on the Humira Web site featuring a pretty woman.) And earlier this year Prolia was approved by the FDA for postmenopausal osteoporosis with a high risk of fracture. Do healthy people really want to suppress their body's tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and invite tuberculosis, serious, possibly lethal infections, melanoma, lymphoma and "unusual cancers in children and teenagers" as the Humira label warns? Nor is it clear these drugs work. The Humira label warns against developing "new or worsening" psoriasis -- a condition it is supposed to treat.

-- Chantix

How unsafe is the antismoking drug Chantix? After 397 FDA cases of possible psychosis, 227 domestic reports of suicidal acts, thoughts or behaviors and 28 suicides, the government banned pilots and air traffic controllers and interstate truck and bus drivers from taking Chantix in 2008. Four months later, some military pharmacies banned the drug, which reduces both cravings and smoking pleasure. In addition to Chantix' neuropsychiatric effects (immortalized by New Bohemians musician Carter Albrecht, who was shot to death in 2007 in Texas by a neighbor after acting aggressively), Chantix is linked to angioedema, serious skin reactions, visual impairment, accidental injury, dizziness, muscle spasms, seizures and loss of consciousness. In defending an increasingly indefensible drug, Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation said last year, "Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States and we know these products are effective aids in helping people quit." True enough -- but if you smoke cigarettes you can still drive an interstate truck.

-- Ambien

Sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata and Rozerem only decrease get-to-sleep time by 18 minutes according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

But Ambien has additional cachet compared to its soporific brethren: it is the drug Tiger Woods reportedly used when cavorting with his consorts; and former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy was taking it when he crashed his Ford Mustang while driving to Capitol Hill in the middle of the night to "vote" in 2006.

In fact Ambien's legendary somnambulism side effects -- people walk, drive, make phone calls and even have sex while sleeping -- has increased traffic accidents say law enforcement officials, with some drivers not even recognizing arresting police. Thanks to bad Ambien press, Sanofi-Aventis has had to run ads telling the public to get in bed and stay there if you are going to take Ambien. (Or you'll break out in handcuffs, as the joke goes.) Ambien has also increased the national weight problem as dieters wake up amid mountains of pizza, Krispy Kreme and Häagen-Dazs cartons consumed by their evil twins.

-- Tamoxifen

Is it a coincidence that Tamoxifen maker AstraZenaca founded Breast Cancer Awareness Month and makes carcinogenic agrochemicals that cause breast cancer? Both the original safety studies of Tamoxifen, which causes cancer, birth defects and is a chemical cousin of organochlorine pesticides, and its original marketing were riddled with scientific error. In fact, FDA objected to AstraZeneca's marketing claim of breast cancer prevention and the casting of endometrial cancer as an "uncommon" event 10 years ago.

Yet today pharma-linked doctors still tell women to take Tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer even though an American Journal of Medicine study found the average life expectancy increase is nine days (and Public Citizen says for every case of breast cancer Tamoxifen prevents there is a life-threatening case of blood clots, stroke or endometrial cancer). A Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation study shows an example of Tamoxifen's downside: 57.2 percent of women on continuous Tamoxifen developed atrophy of the lining of the uterus, 35.7 coexisting hyperphasia and 8.1 percent uterine polyps. We won't even talk about eye and memory problems -- or the Tamoxifen cousin, Evista, that pharma is also pushing which has a "death from stroke" warning on its label.

-- Boniva

Why is the bisphosphonate bone drug Boniva available in a convenient, once-monthly formulation? Could patients balk at the fact that after you take it you have to avoid lying down for at least 60 minutes to "help decrease the risk of problems in the esophagus and stomach," wait at least 60 minutes before eating or drinking anything except water, never take it with mineral water, sparkling water, coffee, tea, milk, juice or other oral medicine, including calcium, antacids, or vitamins, and of course, "do not chew or suck"? Nor should you take Boniva, say the warnings, "if you have difficult or painful swallowing, chest pain or continuing or severe heartburn, have low blood calcium or severe kidney disease or if severe bone, joint and/or muscle pain."

Bone drugs like Boniva, Fosamax and Actonel are a good example of FDA approving once-unapprovable drugs by transferring risk onto the public's shoulders with "we warned you" labels. The warnings are supposed to make people make their own safety decisions. Except that people just think FDA wouldn't have approved it if it weren't safe.

-- Prempro and Premarin

You'd think Pfizer's hormone drugs Prempro and the related Premarin and Provera would be history in light of their perks: 26 percent increase in breast cancer, 41 percent increase in strokes, 29 percent increase in heart attacks, 22 percent increase in cardiovascular disease, double the rates of blood clots and links to deafness, urinary incontinence, cataracts, gout, joint degeneration, asthma, lupus, scleroderma, dementia, Alzheimer's disease and lung, ovarian, breast, endometrial, gall bladder and melanoma cancers -- pant pant. But you'd be wrong. Even as we speak, Pfizer-linked researchers are testing the cognitive and cardiovascular "benefits" of hormone therapy, in some cases with our tax dollars, at major universities. Even though the cancer rate in the U.S. and Canada fell when women quit hormone therapy in 2002 (as did the U.S. heart attack rate in women), pharma is rolling out HT "Light" for women who suffer from the "ism" of incredibly short memory.

Facts Don't Seem to Matter When You Have Government by Plutocracy ‎

Facts Don't Seem to Matter When You Have Government by Plutocracy

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Thirty years after Ronald Reagan assumed office, we're still having a national debate on trickle down versus trickle up. This is odd if you look at the history and the facts because the whole Reagan-Bush concept of making the wealthy wealthier has led to an imploded economy.

Now, two million Americans are poised to lose their federal unemployment checks, which will expire the end of this month. The Republicans appear ready to block any extension before the conclusion of the short lame-duck session. Ominously, it would likely take divine intervention to pass legislation that would provide a federal financial safety net to those without jobs (the long-term unemployed - the "99ers" - have been cut off for some time) in the Republican House of 2011.

But beyond the historical lesson that increased production and more jobs don't result from the rich getting more money to invest in stocks and lavish lifestyles, there are some simple facts that show extending unemployment payments is good for the economy.

The Wall Street Journal even gets this point:

Every dollar spent on unemployment insurance has the effect of $2 spent in the economy, according to a report the Labor Department will release this week.

The report, commissioned by the Bush administration and conducted by research firm IMPAQ International and the Urban Institute think tank, showed an average of 1.6 million jobs were preserved each quarter because of unemployment insurance and 1.8 million job losses were averted in the depths of the current recession.

"When you give a dollar to the unemployed they're the most likely to spend it," said Betsey Stevenson, the Labor Department's chief economist.

Now, compare that to the relative insignificance in job and productivity growth that would result from extending tax cuts for the rich. As Steven Pearlstein of The Washington Post notes: "But look more closely at the argument and it turns out to be 'largely bogus,' according to Eric Toder, a former Treasury and IRS official who now works at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Very few of those businesses earn more than $250,000 in profit, and those that do tend to be very successful hedge funds and law firms that are flush with cash and unlikely to be dissuaded from hiring extra employees or make new investments because of a 4 percentage-point change in the marginal tax. Because most hiring and investment can be done with pre-tax dollars, Toder said, the tax rate is largely irrelevant to those decisions."

Yet, the Republicans - and conservative Democrats like Ben Nelson - insist that an extension of unemployment benefits requires a deficit offset, but continued high tax breaks for the wealthy don't, even though they are far more costly to the Treasury.

Facts don't seem to matter when you have - as Bill Moyers recently noted on Truthout - government by plutocracy.