Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Iran Moves Further To End Petrodollar

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Much has been spun in recent weeks to indicate that as a result of collapsing trade, Iran's economy is in shambles and that the financial embargo hoisted upon the country by the insolvent, pardon, developed world is working. We had a totally different perspective on things "A Very Different Take On The "Iran Barters Gold For Food" Story" in which we essentially said that Iran, with the complicity of major trading partners like China, India and Russia is preparing to phase out the petrodollar: a move which would be impossible if keybilateral trade partners would not agree to it. Gradually it appears this is increasingly the case following a just released Reuters report that "Iran will take payment from its trading partners in gold instead of dollars, the Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted the central bank governor as saying on Tuesday."

Via Reuters:

Iranian financial institutions have been hit by sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union in an effort to force Tehran to halt its nuclear programme.

Significant difficulties in making dollar payments to Iranian banks have forced Iran's trading partners to look for alternative ways to settle transactions, including direct barter deals.

"In its trade transactions with other countries, Iran does not limit itself to the U.S. dollar, and the country can pay using its own currency," central bank governor Mahmoud Bahmani was quoted as saying. "If a country should so choose, it can pay in gold and we would accept that without any reservation."

The sanctions include a phased ban on importing oil from Iran, which EU member states are to implement by July.

China and India, two of the largest consumers of Iranian oil, have said they will continue imports, but Japan and Korea have announced cuts to quotas following pressure from the United States. As a result the value of Iran's rial has plummeted, pushing the price of goods sharply higher across the country.

And from the souce:

Governor of the Central Bank of Iran Mahmoud Bahmani says the country can trade in currencies other than the American dollar in its foreign transactions.

“Iran does not just work with the dollar in trade transactions and every country can pay in its own currency,” said Mahmoud Bahmani on Tuesday.

Bahmani added that Tehran could receive gold in its transactions instead of currency transfers.

In case a country is willing to pay for the price of its imports from Iran in gold, there is no problem in this respect, he noted.

According to Bahmani, Iran imports commodities from China and India in exchange for the countries’ currencies. Tehran’s move is aimed at bypassing the upcoming freeze on CBI’s assets and the oil embargo, which the European Union's foreign ministers agreed to impose on the Islamic Republic.

Now this would be great news for Greece which as previously reported had at times relied for more than 50% of its crude imports on Iran. There is just one problem: very soon the country will no longer have said gold in its possession, as part of the preapproved Greek bailout of Europe, the country's constitution would be changed to reflect that even its gold now is part of the bailout conditions, and European banks have a lien on it. Especially if said gold is located in the basement of the NY Fed where it most likely resides.

As for other countries, such as China which we are confident has been quietly stockpiling gold in the last few years, and will make a surprise announcement any day now, as it did back in 2009... that's a different matter entirely.

20 Signs That Dust Bowl Conditions Will Soon Return To The Heartland Of America

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For decades, the heartland of America has been the breadbasket of the world. Unfortunately, those days will shortly come to an end. The central United States is rapidly drying up and dust bowl conditions will soon return. There are a couple of major reasons for this. Number one, the Ogallala Aquifer is being depleted at an astounding pace. The Ogallala Aquifer is one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the entire world, and water from it currently irrigates more than 15 million acres of crops. When that water is gone we will be in a world of hurt. Secondly, drought conditions have become the "new normal" in many areas of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and other states in the middle part of the country. Scientists tell us that the wet conditions that we enjoyed for several decades after World War II were actually the exception to the rule and that most of time time the interior west is incredibly dry. They also tell us that when dust bowl conditions return to the area, they might stay with us a lot longer than a decade like they did during the 1930s. Unfortunately, without water you cannot grow food, and with global food supplies as tight as they are right now we cannot afford to have a significant decrease in agricultural production. But it is not just the central United States that is experiencing the early stages of a major water crisis. Already many other areas around the nation are rapidly developing their own water problems. As supplies of fresh water get tighter and tighter, some really tough decisions are going to have to be made. Fresh water is absolutely essential to life, and it is going to become increasingly precious in the years ahead.

Most Americans have never even heard of the Ogallala Aquifer, but the truth is that it is one of the most important bodies of water on the globe. It covers well over 100,000 square miles and it sits underneath the states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and South Dakota.

Water drawn from the Ogallala Aquifer is used to water more than 15 million acres of crops. Without this source of water, the United States would not be the breadbasket of the world.

That is why what is happening right now is so alarming.

The following are 20 signs that dust bowl conditions will soon return to the heartland of America....

#1 The Ogallala Aquifer is being drained at a rate of approximately 800 gallons per minute.

#2 According to the U.S. Geological Survey, since 1940 "a volume equivalent to two-thirds of the water in Lake Erie" has been permanently lost from the Ogallala Aquifer.

#3 Decades ago, the Ogallala Aquifer had an average depth of approximately 240 feet, but today the average depth is just 80 feet. In some areas of Texas, the water is gone completely.

#4 Scientists are warning that nothing can be done to stop the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer. The ominous words of David Brauer of the Ogallala Research Service should alarm us all....

"Our goal now is to engineer a soft landing. That's all we can do."

#5 According to a recent National Geographic article, the average depletion rate of the Ogallala Aquifer is picking up speed....

Even more worrisome, the draining of the High Plains water account has picked up speed. The average annual depletion rate between 2000 and 2007 was more than twice that during the previous fifty years. The depletion is most severe in the southern portion of the aquifer, especially in Texas, where the water table beneath sizeable areas has dropped 100-150 feet; in smaller pockets, it has dropped more than 150 feet.

#6 According to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. interior west is now the driest that it has been in 500 years.

#7 It seems like the middle part of the United States experiences a major drought almost every single year now. Last year, "the drought of 2011" virtually brought Texas agriculture to a standstill. More than 80 percent of the state of Texas experienced "exceptional drought" conditions at some point, and it was estimated that about 30 percent of the wheat fields in Texas were lost. Agricultural losses from the drought were estimated to be $3 billion in the state of Texas alone.

#8 Wildfires have burned millions of acres of vegetation in the central part of the United States in recent years. For example, wildfires burned an astounding 3.6 million acres in the state of Texas alone during 2011. This helps set the stage for huge dust storms in the future.

#9 Texas is not the only state that has been experiencing extremely dry conditions. Oklahoma only got about 30 percent of the rainfall that it normally gets last summer.

#10 In some areas of the southwest United States we are already seeing huge dust storms come rolling through major cities. You can view video of a giant dust storm rolling through Phoenix, Arizona right here.

#11 Unfortunately, scientists tell us that it would be normal for dust bowl conditions to persist in parts of North America for decades. The following is from an article in the Vancouver Sun....

But University of Regina paleoclimatologist Jeannine-Marie St. Jacques says that decade-long drought is nowhere near as bad as it can get.

St. Jacques and her colleagues have been studying tree ring data and, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Vancouver over the weekend, she explained the reality of droughts.

"What we're seeing in the climate records is these megadroughts, and they don't last a decade—they last 20 years, 30 years, maybe 60 years, and they'll be semi-continental in expanse," she told the Regina Leader-Post by phone from Vancouver.

"So it's like what we saw in the Dirty Thirties, but imagine the Dirty Thirties going on for 30 years. That's what scares those of us who are in the community studying this data pool."

#12 Experts tell us that U.S. water bills are likely to soar in the coming years. It is being projected that repairing and expanding our decaying drinking water infrastructure will cost more than one trillion dollars over the next 25 years, and as a result our water bills will likely approximately triple over that time period.

#13 Right now, the United States uses approximately 148 trillion gallons of fresh water a year, and there is no way that is sustainable in the long run.

#14 According to a U.S. government report, 36 states are already facing water shortages or will be facing water shortages within the next few years.

#15 Lake Mead supplies about 85 percent of the water to Las Vegas, and since 1998 the level of water in Lake Mead has dropped by about 5.6 trillion gallons.

#16 A federal judge has ruled that the state of Georgia has very few legal rights to Lake Lanier, and since Lake Lanier is the main water source for the city of Atlanta that presents quite a problem.

#17 It has been estimated that the state of California only has a 20 year supply of fresh water left.

#18 It has been estimated that the state of New Mexico only has a 10 year supply of fresh water left.

#19 Approximately 40 percent of all rivers in the United States and approximately 46 percent of all lakes in the United States have become so polluted that they are are no longer fit for human use.

#20 Eight states in the Great Lakes region have signed a pact banning the export of water from the Great Lakes to outsiders - even to other U.S. states.

Unfortunately, it is not just the United States that is facing a shortage of fresh water in the near future. The reality is that most of the rest of the world is in far worse shape than we are. Just consider the following stats....

-According to the United Nations, the world is going to need at least 30 percent more fresh water by the year 2030.

-Global demand for fresh water tripled during the last century, and is now increasing faster than ever before.

-According to USAID, one-third of the people on earth will be facing severe or chronic water shortages by the year 2025.

-Of the 60 million people added to the cities of the world each year, the vast majority of them live in deeply impoverished areas that have no sanitation facilities whatsoever.

-It has been estimated that 75 percent of all surface water in India has been heavily contaminated by human or agricultural waste.

-Sadly, according to one UN study on sanitation, far more people in India have access to a cell phone than to a toilet.

-Every 8 seconds, somewhere in the world a child dies from drinking dirty water.

-Due to a lack of water, Saudi Arabia has given up on trying to grow wheat and will be 100 percent dependent on wheat imports by the year 2016.

-Each year in northern China, the water table drops by an average of about one meter due to severe drought and overpumping, and the size of the desert increases by an area equivalent to the state of Rhode Island.

-In China, 80 percent of the major rivers have become so horribly polluted that they do not support any aquatic life at all at this point.

-In sub-Saharan Africa, drought has become a way of life. Collectively, the women of South Africa walk the equivalent of the distance to the moon and back 16 times a day just to get water.

It has been said that "water is the new gold", and unfortunately we are getting close to a time when that may actually be true.

Without water, none of us could survive for long. Just try not using water for anything for 12 hours some time. It is a lot harder than you may think.

We can't grow our food in a pile of dust. Unfortunately, many areas of the heartland of America are slowly but surely heading in that direction.

History tells us that it is only a matter of time before dust bowl conditions return to the central United States. We have used irrigation and other technologies to delay the inevitable, but in the end it cannot be stopped.

Let us hope that the return of dust bowl conditions can be put off for as long as possible, but let us also prepare diligently for the worst.

Durable goods orders drop by most in 3 years

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U.S. businesses slashed spending on machinery and equipment in January after a tax break expired, pushing orders for long-lasting manufacturing goods down by the largest amount in three years.

Orders for durable goods fell 4 percent last month, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.

A big reason for the decline was demand for so-called core capital goods, which are viewed as a good measure of business investment plans, tumbled 4.5 percent. That's the biggest drop in a year.

Economists attributed much of the decline in January to the end of the tax credit. They noted that demand for core capital goods hit an all-time high in December as most companies raced to qualify for the tax credit. Many said the underlying trend remained strong and predicted further business investment in the coming months.

"We see no evidence of underlying slowing in the industrial economy so we look for a rebound in February and the re-emergence of the upward trend over the next couple of months," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at High Frequency Economics.

A durable good is a product expected to last at least three years. They include everything from appliances and cars to heavy machinery and planes. Orders tend to fluctuate sharply from one month to the next. But the overall trend in orders has increased since the recession ended nearly three years ago.

In January, overall orders totaled $206.1 billion. That's 38.6 above the low hit during the recession. Orders are still 16 percent below their peak hit in December 2007.

U.S. factories boosted output last month and December ended up being their best month of growth in five years. Strong auto sales and growing business investment in machinery and other equipment are keeping factories busy and helping the economy grow.

About 9 percent of the nation's jobs are in manufacturing. But last year, factories added 13 percent of new jobs. And in January, about one-fifth of the 243,000 net jobs the economy created were in manufacturing.

The economy grew at an annual rate of 2.8 percent in the final three months of last year. Economists are looking for roughly the same level growth in the current quarter. And a forecasting panel of the National Association for Business Economics said Monday that the economy should grow 2.3 percent this year.

Demand in many durable goods categories showed declines in January. Orders for commercial aircraft, a volatile category, fell 19 percent after two months of big gains. Orders for motor vehicles and parts edged up 0.9 percent. The overall transportation category posted a 6.1 percent decline while orders outside of transportation were down 3.2 percent.

Other areas showing weakness were primary metals such as steel, down 6.7 percent, and machinery, which fell 10.4 percent. Orders for computers and related products were down 10.1 percent.

The Department of Homeland Security Is Spying On Your Social Media Updates

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Tweeters beware.

The Department of Homeland Security is monitoring our social media activities to look for “Items Of Interest” (IOI) that could predict potential threats.

Animal uncovered a full list of terms the DHS looks for, and some of these words are pretty general.

Aside from names of government agencies, such as the DHS or the CIA, words like "dirty bomb," "scammers," "biological," and even "pork" made the cut.

If your tweets or Facebook status updates are deemed questionable, the Media Monitoring Capability team may hand over your personal information to the DHS, perhaps even by phone if the situation is that urgent.

However, the DHS notes that its got an internal privacy policy that will eliminate Personally Identifiable Information (PII) from its string of aggregated tweets and updates, so they won't entirely snoop on your private life – not unless you post a sentence full of dangerous keywords.

For example, a status like "Jake is shooting a video of himself destroying a plate of uncooked pork chops in China, that's some food extremism, his toilet is going to be a disaster afterward" might land you in some hot water.

So take a gander at the full list and you might want to watch the way you're expressing yourself on the web.

Mass Layoffs Expose Myth Of Us Economic Recovery

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The recent announcements of mass layoffs have upended claims that the United States is in the midst of an “economic recovery.” In fact, the US economy remains mired in mass unemployment, with falling real wages and growing poverty a fact of life for millions of people. Small and medium businesses, facing immense pressures to cut costs, are collapsing by the tens of thousands.

The worst of the recent job cuts was conducted by the government itself: the US Postal Service announced last week that it would wipe out 35,000 jobs by the end of September, part of a longer-term plan to eliminate 150,000 jobs.

One well-known corporate name after another has joined the procession of bankruptcies and layoffs, eliminating tens of thousands of jobs combined: Sears, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, Kodak, Fuller Brush Company (which filed bankruptcy last week), Archer Daniels Midland, IBM.

When last month’s jobs figures were announced, they were greeted by the government and media as a major improvement and a sign of economic recovery. The White House stated on its blog that the report “provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal.”

The reality is completely different. In 2011, the US economy created 1.5 million jobs, but the population grew by 2.2 million, and a roughly equivalent number of young people entered the work force. The employment-population ratio, meanwhile, remains at record lows after having dropped by about 5 percentage points between 2008 and 2010.

Mass unemployment remains at staggering levels. According to official figures, 12.8 million people are unemployed, of whom 5.5 million have been out of work for more than six months and 4 million have been unemployed for over a year. The number of “underemployed” people—combining the jobless with those working only part-time when they want and need full-time work—stands at 24 million.

The continued prevalence of mass unemployment has led to the growth of poverty unseen for decades. The number of US households living on $2 per day per person has more than doubled since 1996, from 636,000 to some 1.46 million today, according to a brief released by the National Poverty Center on Saturday. The study showed that about 4 million people in the United States are living on less than $60 per month.

Yet, under these conditions, both parties are intent on cutting assistance to the poor and unemployed still further. This month the Obama Administration and Republicans reached a deal to cut the maximum duration of unemployment benefits from 99 weeks to 73 week in the hardest-hit states, and from 79 weeks to 63 weeks in most states.

The bill also includes provisions requiring the unemployed to submit proof that they are looking for work, as well as allowing states to subject applicants to drug tests as part of the application process. Big-business politicians have defended these demeaning and punitive actions by claiming that the “recovery” means that only laziness or drug addiction can explain the failure of the unemployed to find jobs.

But even the small number of jobs that have been created since the crash—about a quarter of those lost—have been added on the basis of significantly reduced wages and benefits.

The Obama administration set the model for this whole process during the restructuring of the auto industry, where the administration demanded an expansion of super-exploited new hires making $14 per hour as a condition for bailing out the Big Three.

This points to the fundamental nature of the economic crisis, which has been utilized by the ruling class to lower wages and slash social spending throughout the economy, with the aim of boosting corporate profits and the incomes of the super-rich.

Nearly three years after the official end of the recession in June 2009, it is becoming increasingly clear that the crisis of 2008 was not merely another recession, but a transition to a “new normal” where high unemployment is a permanent fixture, real wages are perpetually falling, and third-world poverty a reality for millions of people.

This is because the present downturn is not merely the operation of the normal business cycle, but a general crisis of world capitalism. It reflects the breakdown of the postwar economic order and the historical decline of American capitalism in particular.

The ruling class has responded to the crisis with single-minded determination to destroy the incomes and living standards of working people.

The working class must respond to the crisis with equal determination. The Socialist Equality Party has entered the 2012 presidential election, running independent candidates, Jerry White and Phyllis Scherrer, on a program based on the political mobilization of the working class against corporate America. We call for a counteroffensive of working people to defend their social rights against the capitalists, on the basis of a socialist program.

The only way to guarantee the basic rights of all people is a drastic reorganization of society to meet social need, not the interests of billionaires. We call on all workers and young people to support the campaign of Jerry White and Phyllis Scherrer.

Corporate Margins and Profits are Increasing, But Workers' Wages Aren't

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As we’ve been noting, corporate profits have made it back to their pre-recession heights (even if corporate tax revenue hasn’t followed suit). In fact, in 2011, corporate profits hit their highest level since 1950. But as Bloomberg News noted today, this hasn’t translated into wage growth or more purchasing power for workers:

Companies are improving margins and generating profits as wage growth for the American worker lags behind the prices of goods and services…While benefiting the bottom line for businesses, the decline in inflation-adjusted wages bodes ill for the sustainability of economic growth as consumers may eventually be forced to cut back. [...]

Of the 394 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index that have reported since Jan. 9, earnings for the quarter ended Dec. 31 increased 5.1 percent on average and beat analyst estimates by 3.2 percent. Some 70 percent of the companies have posted better-than-projected results.

This pattern has become all too familiar during the slow economic recovery. In fact, real wages fell in 2011, despite record corporate profits. “There’s never been a postwar era in which unemployment has been this high for this long,” explained labor economist Gary Burtless. “Workers are in a very weak bargaining position.”

Between 2009 and 2011, 88 percent of national income growth went to corporate profits, while just 1 percent went to wages, a stat that is “historically unprecedented.”

USDA to Give Monsanto’s New GMO Crops Special ‘Speed Approval’

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If you thought Monsanto’s lack of testing on their current GMO crops was bad before, prepare to now be blown away by the latest statement by the USDA. Despite links to organ damage and mutated insects, the USDA says that it is changing the rules so that genetically modified seed companies like Monsanto will get ‘speedier regulatory reviews’. With the faster reviews, there will be even less time spent on evaluating the potential dangers. Why? Because Monsanto is losing sales with longer approval terms.

The changes are expected to take full effect in March when they’re published in the Federal Register. The USDA’s goal is to cut the approval time for GMO crops in half in order to speedily implement them into the global food supply. The current USDA process takes longer than they would like due to ‘public interest, legal challenges, and the challenges associated with the advent of national organic food standardssays USDA deputy administrator Michael Gregoire.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, problems like public interest (activist groups attempting to bring the dangers of GMO crops to light), legal challenges (farmers suing Monsanto over genetic contamination), and national food standards are all getting in the way of their prime goal — to helpMonsanto unleash their latest untested GMO creation. In fact, the concern is that Monsanto may be losing cash flow as nations like Brazil speed genetically modified seeds through laughable approval processes.

Steve Censky, chief executive officer of the American Soybean Association, states it quite plainly. This is a move to help Monsanto and other biotechnology giants squash competition and make profits. After all, who cares about public health?

It is a concern from a competition standpoint,” Censky said in a telephone interview.

The same statements are re-iterated by analyst Jeff Windau in an interview with Bloomberg:

“If you can reduce the approval time, you get sales that much faster,” said Windau

If you can reduce the approval time, as in the time it takes to determine if these food products are safe, then you can get sales much faster. Is the USDA working for the United States consumer, or is it working for Monsanto?

Low-Wage Facebook Contractor Leaks Secret Censorship List

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A secret list curated by social network giant Facebook was published online recently after an employee for one of the company’s third-world contractors, upset at his poor working conditions and meager wage, decided to fight back.

The document reveals exactly what Facebook’s censorship brigade looks for on the social network, which boasts over 850 million users spanning the globe.

Referred to internally as the “bible,” the list prioritizes deletion of materials pertaining to Holocaust denial, graphic nudity, depictions of any sexual fetish, racial slurs and bullying — all of which are unsurprising — but a few of the other entries are raising eyebrows.

Namely, female nipples or even the impressions of nipples under clothing are unacceptable to Facebook censors, whereas male nipples are fine. Images of breast feeding, too, are forbidden if they show an exposed nipple. “Crushed heads” and mutilated limbs are also fine, so long as the person posting such images does not express delight and no internal organs are visible. The list specifically says that on this point, no exceptions would be made for news media.

Also verboten: images of bodily fluids, including ear wax and pus; dead animals; advocacy of violence; advocacy of eating disorders; racial jokes where “the humor is not evident”; and “any photoshopped images of people, whether negative, positive or neutral”; “pixelated or black-barred content showing nudity or sexual activity”; “digital/cartoon nudity”; and images of drunk or sleeping people with “things drawn on their faces.”

All that aside, images depicting marijuana use are fine, unless an individual appears to be growing, buying or selling the drug. “Art nudity” is okay, and so are videos of schoolyard fights — unless the video was posted with the intent to humiliate another user.

The list’s disclosure by gossip blog Gawker marks the first time that the public has been given a glimpse at the inner-workings of the planet’s largest social network.

Facebook has long been criticized by free speech activists for barring images of breast feeding and deleting accounts created by Palestinian resistance groups, but since it is a private company, Facebook is allowed to obstruct virtually any content it wishes.

The list also shines a light on Facebook’s darker underbelly: how it uses third-world laborers to police first-world content.

Amine Derkaoui, the 21-year-old Moroccan who leaked the document, claimed he was hired by a firm Facebook uses to outsource content policing, only to be paid $1 an hour for his efforts.

“They are just exploiting the third world,” he told Gawker.

Facebook’s media relations department did not respond to a request for comment.

Facebook’s application for an initial public offering (IPO) on the U.S. stock markets was valued earlier this month at somewhere between $75 billion and $100 billion, making it the largest IPO request ever. Shares in the company are expected to go up for sale later this year. Facebook said it made over $3.71 billion in 2011, largely from advertising fees.

Top Social Media Websites Caught Censoring Controversial Content

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[Update: Another moderator has confirmed to me that davidreiss666 says that all of Washington's Blog submissions should be banned.]

Facebook pays low-wage foreign workers to delete certain content based upon a censorship list. For example, Facebook deletes accounts created by Palestinian resistance groups.

Digg was caught censoring stories which were controversial or too critical of the government. See this and this.

Now, even social media site Reddit – which helped launch the anti-Sopa Internet blackout and publicize GoDaddy’s slimy Sopa support – is doing the same thing.

As just one example, posts from this website are being censored by Reddit. Specifically, a friend of this site who has submitted stories to Reddit has received the following messages of rejection from a Reddit moderator named davidreiss666:

from davidreiss666 via /r/worldnews/

WashingtonBlog is not something we consider a good source for r/Worldnews.

from davidreiss666 via /r/worldnews/

Please submit that story from an alternate domain. Thank you.

And another moderator named Maxion:

from Maxion via /r/worldnews/

I am sorry but this submission is not appropriate for this subreddit.

There are certainly also more open-minded moderators at Reddit. But a couple of censors can squash discussion on entire topics.

Why Are They Censoring?

Why are they censoring?

Well, censorship is rampant in America … and social media has grown so big that it has become a target as well.

In addition, as I pointed out last year [for ease of reading, we'll skip indentation]:

Wired reported on Friday:

The Pentagon is looking to build a tool to sniff out social media propaganda campaigns and spit some counter-spin right back at it.

On Thursday, Defense Department extreme technology arm Darpa unveiled its Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program. It’s an attempt to get better at both detecting and conducting propaganda campaigns on social media. SMISC has two goals. First, the program needs to help the military better understand what’s going on in social media in real time — particularly in areas where troops are deployed. Second, Darpa wants SMISC to help the military play the social media propaganda game itself.

This is more than just checking the trending topics on Twitter. The Defense Department wants to deeply grok social media dynamics. So SMISC algorithms will be aimed at discovering and tracking the “formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes)” on social media, according to Darpa’s announcement.

***

SMISC needs to be able to seek out “persuasion campaign structures and influence operations” developing across the social sphere. SMISC is supposed to quickly flag rumors and emerging themes on social media, figure out who’s behind it and what. Moreover, Darpa wants SMISC to be able to actually figure out whether this is a random product of the hivemind or a propaganda operation by an adversary nation or group.

Of course, SMISC won’t be content to just to hang back and monitor social media trends in strategic locations. It’s about building a better spin machine for Uncle Sam, too. Once SMISC’s latches on to an influence operation being launched, it’s supposed to help out in “countermessaging.”

***

SMISC is yet another example of how the military is becoming very interested in what’s going on in the social media sphere.

Indeed, as I wrote in February:

I noted in 2009, in an article entitled “Does The Government Manipulate Social Media?”:

The U.S. government long ago announced its intention to “fight the net”.

As revealed by an official Pentagon report signed by Rumsfeld called “Information Operations Roadmap”:

The roadmap [contains an] acknowledgement that information put out as part of the military’s psychological operations, or Psyops, is finding its way onto the computer and television screens of ordinary Americans.

“Information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and Psyops, is increasingly consumed by our domestic audience,” it reads.

“Psyops messages will often be replayed by the news media for much larger audiences, including the American public,” it goes on.

***

“Strategy should be based on the premise that the Department [of Defense] will ‘fight the net’ as it would an enemy weapons system”.

Indeed, the Pentagon publicly announced years ago that it was considering using “black propaganda” – in other words, knowing lies.

CENTCOM announced in 2008 that a team of employees would be “[engaging] bloggers who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information.”

The Air Force is now also engaging bloggers. Indeed, an Air Force spokesman said:

“We obviously have many more concerns regarding cyberspace than a typical Social Media user,” Capt. Faggard says. “I am concerned with how insurgents or potential enemies can use Social Media to their advantage. It’s our role to provide a clear and accurate, completely truthful and transparent picture for any audience.”

In other words, the government is targeting “social media”, including popular user-ranked news sites.

In addition, when you look at what the Israeli lobby has done with Megaphone software to automatically vote stories questioning Israel down and to send pro-Israel letters to politicians and media (see this, this and this), you can start to see how the U.S. military – an even larger and better-funded organization – could substantially influence voting on social news sites with very little effort.

Moreover,the military has outsourced many projects to private contractors. For example, in Iraq, much of the fighting has been outsourced to Blackwater. And governmental intelligence functions have largely been outsourced to private companies.

It is therefore not impossible that the government is hiring cheap labor to downvote stories on the social media sites which question the government, and to post pro-government comments.

(other governments and large companies “astroturf” online as well. See this, this and this.)

I pointed out the same month:

Government propagandists, their hired private contractors and useful idiots are creating “downvote bots” or scripts to bury stories which question the government.

***

One free, simple scripting program to create automatic downvotes of certain topics or news posters is called “Greasemonkey”, which is commonly used on large social news sites such as Reddit.

For example, there are some 2,480 hits … for the google search site:reddit.com greasemonkey downvote. This is some 2,480 times that Reddit users are publicly admitting to using greasemonkey (see also this).

Propaganda agents obviously aren’t going to publicly brag about what they are doing, and you can bet that their use of downvote bots is much greater. Moreover, they probably have more sophisticated software than Greasemonkey.

Today, Raw Story reports that the Air Force ordered software to manage army of fake virtual people:

Internet users would be well advised to ask another question entirely: Are my “friends” even real people?

In the continuing saga of data security firm HBGary, a new caveat has come to light: not only did they plot to help destroy secrets outlet WikiLeaks and discredit progressive bloggers, they also crafted detailed proposals for software that manages online “personas,” allowing a single human to assume the identities of as many fake people as they’d like.

The revelation was among those contained in the company’s emails, which were dumped onto bittorrent networks after hackers with cyber protest group “Anonymous” broke into their systems.

In another document unearthed by “Anonymous,” one of HBGary’s employees also mentioned gaming geolocation services to make it appear as though selected fake persons were at actual events.

“There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas,” it said.

Government involvement

Eerie as that may be, more perplexing, however, is a federal contract from the 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, located south of Tampa, Florida, that solicits providers of “persona management software.”

While there are certainly legitimate applications for such software, such as managing multiple “official” social media accounts from a single input, the more nefarious potential is clear.

Unfortunately, the Air Force’s contract description doesn’t help dispel their suspicions either. As the text explains, the software would require licenses for 50 users with 10 personas each, for a total of 500. These personas would have to be “replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent.”

It continues, noting the need for secure virtual private networks that randomize the operator’s Internet protocol (IP) address, making it impossible to detect that it’s a single person orchestrating all these posts. Another entry calls for static IP address management for each persona, making it appear as though each fake person was consistently accessing from the same computer each time.

The contract also sought methods to anonymously establish virtual private servers with private hosting firms in specific geographic locations. This would allow that server’s “geosite” to be integrated with their social media profiles, effectively gaming geolocation services.

The Air Force added that the “place of performance” for the contract would be at MacDill Air Force Base, along with Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad. The contract was offered on June 22, 2010.

It was not clear exactly what the Air Force was doing with this software, or even if it had been procured.

Manufacturing consent

Though many questions remain about how the military would apply such technology, the reasonable fear should be perfectly clear. “Persona management software” can be used to manipulate public opinion on key information, such as news reports. An unlimited number of virtual “people” could be marshaled by only a few real individuals, empowering them to create the illusion of consensus.

***

That’s precisely what got DailyKos blogger Happy Rockefeller in a snit: the potential for military-run armies of fake people manipulating and, in some cases, even manufacturing the appearance of public opinion.

“I don’t know about you, but it matters to me what fellow progressives think,” the blogger wrote. “I consider all views. And if there appears to be a consensus that some reporter isn’t credible, for example, or some candidate for congress in another state can’t be trusted, I won’t base my entire judgment on it, but it carries some weight.

“That’s me. I believe there are many people though who will base their judgment on rumors and mob attacks. And for those people, a fake mob can be really effective.”

***

“Team Themis” [tasked by the Chamber of Commerce to come up with strategies for responding to progressive bloggers and others] also included a proposal to use malware hacks against progressive organizations, and the submission of fake documents in an effort to discredit established groups.

HBGary was also behind a plot by Bank of America to destroy WikiLeaks’ technology platform, other emails revealed. The company was humiliated by members of “Anonymous” after CEO Aaron Barr bragged that he’d “infiltrated” the group.

And see this, this, this, this.

***

Postscript: Gaming social media is only one propaganda technique employed by the government:

  • The New York Times discusses in a matter-of-fact way the use of mainstream writers by the CIA to spread messages
  • A 4-part BBC documentary called the “Century of the Self” shows that an American – Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays – created the modern field of manipulation of public perceptions, and the U.S. government has extensively used his techniques
  • The Independent discusses allegations of American propaganda
  • And one of the premier writers on journalism says the U.S. has used widespread propaganda

10 Reasons the GOP Wants to Ditch the Constitution

GO To Original

One of the great ironies of the Republican Party right wing -- which is to say the current crop of GOP presidential contenders -- is their alleged reverence to the Constitution and the "Founding Fathers." But, many of their more provocative public statements appear to jettison the Constitution. Furthermore, many of the individuals who created the US system of government were Deists and supporters of the Age of Reason (Enlightenment) - believers in the power of the human mind, not advocates of a rigid and mystical religious faith.

10 Reasons the GOP Wants to Ditch the Constitution

1. Individuals such as Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachmann believe that the New Testament should be the law of the land, and that God should guide a president in his or her decisions, not the Constitution.
2. The Establishment Clause of the Constitution specifically states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," while also preserving the right of individuals to worship their own faith. The Christian right believes that Evangelical and Catholic fundamentalism should be, in essence, merged with the government.
3. Candidates such as Newt Gingrich echo a long-term obsession of the right wing: that the court system is "activist" (as in liberal). Gingrich went so far as to say that he would ignore court rulings that he disagreed with, which would violate the three branches of government balance built into the Constitution.
4. The preamble to the Constitution cites to "promote the general Welfare" as one of the six reasons for establishing a nation of laws built upon the foundation of the Constitution. Is there a Republican candidate for office at any level who does not regularly bash the notion of "promot[ing] the general Welfare" of US citizens? The Constitution does not say that is was written to create a society where individuals engaged in mortal financial combat - and the less fortunate were left behind.
5. There are numerous proponents of repealing the 14th Amendment, which outlines who has a right to be an American citizen. One of particular objections of the 14th Amendment is that "anchor babies" - children of non-US citizens born in the US -- are entitled to US citizenship. Interestingly, the 14th Amendment was enacted largely to nullify the pre-Civil War Dred Scott decision which had denied citizenship to slaves, or even freed blacks who were descendants of slaves. Is there a whiff of racism in the right's objection to the 14th Amendment?
6. Then there are those who insist that the United States is a republic and not a democracy in terms of the right to vote. The most current evidence of this is the numerous voter restrictions that Republican legislatures have set up to obstruct minorities, seniors, and students from voting. Most interestingly, this desire to make America into a sort of "House of Lords" government is represented in a movement to nullify the 17th Amendment, which provides for the direct elections of US senators by the people.
7. Then there is the Fifth Amendment that guarantees, no person shall be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Under the Bush administration, these guarantees were usurped in a post 9-11 fear frenzy. They continue to be further violated even under the Obama administration, which just agreed to the possible suspension of habeas corpus for US citizens under certain circumstances.
8. Article VI of the Constitution forbids a religious test for serving in government. While the removal of this prohibition has not generally been an explicit demand of the right, it has been implicit in the assertions that President Obama as a closet Muslim and in other efforts to attack office holders who do not claim to be saved by Christ. President John F. Kennedy, running for president in 1960 and facing opposition because he was a Catholic, said: "[N]either do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test, even by indirection. For if they disagree with that safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it." Contrary to right winger Christian-firsters, there is no Constitutional requirement to take an oath of office with one's hand on a Bible.
9. The right wing generally supports police powers over the 4th Amendment guarantee that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue." Ask minorities in the US, Muslims, or almost any non-white citizens if they feel protected by the 4th Amendment. whose guarantees have been whittled away over the years by the courts.
10. The Constitution sets up a legal framework in which all citizens - regardless of race, religion, or national heritage - are guaranteed equal treatment under the law of the land. This is equality, in legal theory, at its most distilled essence (of course, it doesn't always apply in practice). This is deeply disturbing to right wingers who believe that the nation was founded as a white republic, with only whites being able to vote. The Constitution enshrines democracy (although it took subsequent amendments to enfranchise women and blacks), and the document and its amendments are a threat to the comfort and power of white privilege.

And that's just the beginning of why the right wing is anti-Constitutional...