Tag Archives: science

Mad Props

A huge portion of Manhattan is still without power or water, especially affecting the elderly. Water contamination becomes a concern. Public transportation remains crippled. There’s a potentially crippling gas shortage. But it gets worse—

  • Superfund sites were inundated and released massive amounts of toxic material;

  • Toxic fracking water may have been released from holding ponds into streams in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Here are some places to help. There’s the American Red Cross. Other local organizations that are great are being powered by recovers.org sites. There’s Staten Island Recovers and Red Hook Recovers. CAAV is doing amazing work in Chinatown. Jews for Racial and Economic Justice has a page listing partner organizations, including CAAV, that need help. Occupy Wall Street has a great Occupy Sandy page set up listing drop-off sites around the city and needs for food and supplies. They also have a page with updates from volunteers around the area, including stories of official neglect and local aid. The NYC Parks Department has a volunteer form as well. DNAinfo has a list of places giving out food in evacuation zones.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-11-03: Mad Props by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Robert Wells
In America – The Charlie Daniels Band
Soul Sacrifice – Santana
Politician – Cream
Hey Mr. President – The Electric Prunes
Plastic People – Frank Zappa & The Mothers
Guitar Solo 5 – Neil Young
Political Science – Randy Newman
Sail Away – Randy Newman
Stars and stripes forever march – Sousa Band
Pigs (Three Different Ones) – Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade
Ezy Ryder+Star Spangled Banner – Jimi Hendrix
America the Beautiful – Ray Charles
Evolution (And Flashback) – Gil Scott Heron
Modern Man Blues – 10cc
Past Zero Time – Dark Matter
Conspiracy of Truth – Anti-Pop Consortium
Politics As Usual – Jay-Z
Black Republican – Nas
Voice Of Reason – Skalpel w/Yarah Bravo
My Country, ’tis of Thee (America) – The Enclave
Yankee Doodle – Luis Oliveira & his Orchestra w/Walt Disney & Donald Duck
Battle hymn of the Republic – Thomas Chalmers

So (without politicizing this disaster too much), where have all the climate skeptics gone? Sandy’s devastation  has provoked renewed attention to the connections between climate change and extreme weather, but so far, Republican politicians have been keeping a low profile on the topic. We need action on climate change. A strong, well-funded federal government. Some are calling this a reaffirmation of progressive principles.

 

Can Sandy Help Jolt America Out of Climate Change Denial?

For decades, scientists have been warning that global warming would bring a catastrophic increase in extreme weather. 

Romney was for federal aid to states before he was against it. Mitt Romney doesn’t want to eliminate FEMA anymore.

Free-market boosters claim relief is best left to the “invisible hand.” But seeing the government in action has been inspiring, actually working and serving the people for once, which is more than can be said for FEMA under the last Republican administration.

Distracting from the global warming issue, there are already a plethora of  Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories about Hurricane Sandy:

Hell, apparently, government can even create new jobs. Not enough, mind you, and we need more progressive action in this arena. But listening to the right-wing establishment, you’d never think our species ever evolved up from the primordial muck that they like to live in.

Romney is warning that if he isn’t elected, we’ll dip further into recession. His “closing argument” sounds like the cheesy extortion lines from a gangster movie. Via TPM:

Underneath the fluff, (his) argument boils down to this: Give me the Presidency or your economy gets it. By cutting taxes even more for guys like me, you all will do a little better too. But that approach failed for ten years, so the argument makes no economic sense. But if you believe in economic faith-healing.

“You know that if the President is re-elected,” Romney said, “he will still be unable to work with the people in Congress.”  “The debt ceiling will come up again, and shutdown and default will be threatened, chilling the economy.”

“Nice little economy ya got here. I’d hate to see something … happen to it.” Additionally, Romney said that Obama “promised to be a post-partisan president, but he became the most partisan” and that his bitter relations with the House GOP could threaten the economy. As his chief example, he pointed to a crisis created entirely by his own party’s choice — Republican lawmakers’ ongoing threat to reject a debt ceiling increase. Yeah, because that’s how memories and history work.

But they’re plenty delusional, and think that Romney is winning by a landslide. If Obama wins, the GOP’s fury will intensify, and the party will only get more extreme. Wall St. favors Romney due to anger over Obama ‘fat cats’ remark’, and will only funnel more money into the dangerous hate-mongering.

And nonpartisan economists agree (five out of six, at least) that Obama is the lesser of two ignoramuses. And that “Romney’s plan is based on magic”.

Five out of six top economists say Romney is a worse bet on financial crisis-avoidance. But Obama has big challenges to address if re-elected.

Price-fixing, money-laundering and monster trading losses illustrate continuing abuse and risky behavior in the banking industry. Too-big-to-fail banks are bigger and more dangerous than ever. Politicians are embracing government austerity policies. The housing market remains troubled and recovery efforts have often protected banks at the expense of strapped homeowners. Student debt is growing, now exceeding credit card debt. unchecked flow of money into the political system. Chronic job insecurity. Republicans covering up studies that falsify their trickle-down theories. Pushing for austerity even though it has been disastrous in Europe.

The thing is, it hasn’t worked. In Greece, Europe’s austerity poster child, austerity has shrunk the economy and increased the national debt.

Greece’s draft budget for 2013 has forecast a deeper recession and worse debt problems than previously thought. The economy is expected to shrink by 4.5% next year, and government debts to rise to 189% of economic output. Austerity is literally killing Greece.

Austerity only increased inequality in Portugal. Austerity has been disastrous for Ireland, Spain braced for further austerity measures even as hungry Spaniards foraged in trash bins for food. ButSpain’s economy contracted for a fifth quarter, because of austerity-driven inflation.

All across the EU, austerity has driven joblessness to a record high of11.6 per cent.

Yet the austerians demand even more.

Americans should pay attention to the saga of austerity in the EU, because conservatives here at home are committed to the same agenda that’s failed in Europe. And they’re blowing a smoke-screen of phony budget hysteria, fueling the deficit-crisis industry.

I mean, there are plenty of progressive reasons not to vote for Barack Obama. Via Salon:

There are many good arguments against Obama, even if the Republicans cannot seem to muster any. The economic and social equity case. The president is complicit in creating an increasingly unequal — and unjust — society. The civil liberties/antiwar case. Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, went further by claiming the power not merely to detain citizens without judicial review but to assassinate them. He has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers and dissidents, dusting off Wilson’s Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute more then double the number of whistleblowers than all prior presidents combined. And he has draped his actions with at least as much secrecy, if not more so, than any president in US history.

And via Alternet:

  1. Neither candidate is interested in stopping the use of the death penalty for federal or state crimes.
  2. Neither candidate is interested in eliminating or reducing the 5,113 US nuclear warheads.
  3. Neither candidate is campaigning to close Guantanamo prison.
  4. Neither candidate has called for arresting and prosecuting high ranking people on Wall Street for the subprime mortgage catastrophe.
  5. Neither candidate is interested in holding anyone in the Bush administration accountable for the torture committed by US personnel against prisoners in Guantanamo or in Iraq or Afghanistan.
  6. Neither candidate is interested in stopping the use of drones to assassinate people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia.
  7. Neither candidate is against warrantless surveillance, indefinite detention, or racial profiling in fighting “terrorism.’
  8. Neither candidate is interested in fighting for a living wage.
  9. Neither candidate will declare they refuse to bomb Iran.
  10. Neither candidate is refusing to take huge campaign contributions from people and organizations.
  11. Neither candidate proposes any significant specific steps to reverse global warming.
  12. Neither candidate is talking about the over 2 million people in jails and prisons in the US.
  13. Neither candidate proposes to create public jobs so everyone who wants to work can.

Both have run overwhelmingly negative campaigns, Pew has found. Both are dispatching lawyers to monitor polling places out of distrust for the other. Yes, there are going to be plenty of election trackers, even international monitors, though some states are threatening to arrest them for interfering with their shenanigans and proven fraud.

And there are oh-so-many dirty tricks that may be used on election day.

  • Voter Caging – Voter caging is the process of sending mail to the addresses of registered voters with the intent of challenging their votes if the mail goes undelivered and the voter still shows up at the polls. It still happens, but the most famous instance occurred in 1981, when Republicans sent thousands of letters to black and Latino voters in New Jersey, hoping to block as many as possible of these likely Democratic voters from voting. As a result of that stunt, the Republican National Committee entered into a consent decree with the Democratic National Committee agreeing not to engage in voter caging unless a court says it’s ok. They leave it to third-party conservative groups now.
  • Felon Disenfranchisement – newly elected Republican governors in Florida, Virginia and Iowa moved quickly to reinstate voting restrictions on the formerly incarcerated after taking office in 2010.
  • Messing with Early Voting timing: In Florida, Republican officials passed a law that seems aimed at cutting off black-church early voter mobilization efforts. In Ohio, Republican officials tried to make early voting polls close earlier in areas that vote Democratic, and stay open later in areas that tend to vote Republican.
  • Fraudulent Vote by phone: Residents in Florida, Virginia and Indiana have received phone calls erroneously telling them they don’t need to show up at the polls on Election Day because they can vote by phone.
  • Phony letters: Voters in at least 28 counties in Florida have received bogus official-looking letters saying they may be ineligible to vote.
  • Poll challengers: In most states, political parties can send a representative to polling station to challenge the eligibility of voters they think don’t have a right to vote. This can cross the bounds into voter intimidation.
  • Threatening billboardsan anonymous grouphas paid Clear Channel (owned in part by Mitt Romney’s former company Bain Capital) to put up billboards proclaiming that “Voter Fraud Is a Felony.”  And a Tea Party-affiliated group, True the Vote, is promising to send observers into polling places in Democratic areas, leading Democrats to cry voter intimidation.
  • Thousands of mail-in ballot applications may have been unfairly rejected. A new study shows that once sent in, mail-in ballots have a higher rate of being unfairly tossed out than any other form of voting.

Voter ID Laws, Voter Purges, Menacing Poll Watchers, Making voter registration more difficult (Targeting registration groups), Reprehensible Robocalls, Dropping fliers with erroneous or deceptive information about voting, Last-minute purges, Employer pressure, falsely claiming that you can’t vote if you have unpaid traffic tickets or owe child support. Other times, voters have been warned ominously that police will be stationed at the polls.

Partisan election officials to put polling places in obscure places so as to make it harder for voters in a certain precinct to vote. Scams and threats all over the country:

All in the name of preventing voter fraud, a claim that itself is a fraud perpetuated by former Bush administration lackeys. And if that’s not enough, some of the voting machines themselves have been linked to Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital:

Voting machine provider Hart Intercivic will be counting the votes in various counties in the crucial swing states of Ohio and Colorado and elsewhere throughout the country come November 6—even though it has extensive corporate ties to the Mitt Romney camp, and even though a study commissioned by the state of Ohio has labeled its voting system a “failure” when it comes to protecting the integrity of election.

A key investor in Hart was HIG Capital, seven of whose directors were former employees of Bain & Co., a consulting company of which Mitt Romney was once CEO. (Romney left the company in 1984 to co-found a spin-off company, Bain Capital.)  HIG Capital announced its investment in Hart on July 6, 2011, just one month after Romney formally announced the launch of his presidential campaign.

Nor were those the only ties between Hart and the Romney camp. Four of the HIG directors, Tony Tamer, John Bolduc, Douglas Berman, and Brian D. Schwartz, are Romney bundlers along with former Bain and H.I.G. manager Brian Shortsleeve, and,  according to Opensecrets.org , a website run by the Center for Responsive politics,  HIG Capital  has contributed $338,000 to the Romney campaign this year. Moreover, according to  a report  in The Nation , HIG Capital is tied to the Romney family via Solamere, a private equity firm that has invested in HIG and is run by Tagg Romney, the candidate’s son.

So vote third party. Write-in Jesus. Don’t worry that the corporations are collecting your personal information pertaining to your vote. Just VOTE. Vote early if you can. Register on election day, if you can.

But please, just vote.

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Advertisements

Ayn Rand vs. the Natural Evolution of Human Altruism

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

The natural history of mankind’s development seems to differ greatly with the psychopathic philosophy of Ayn Rand, a ‘virtue of selfishness’ in which her heroes, such as John Galt, strive for their individual supremacy and autonomy over a collective view of public good. The fact that anthropological evidence refutes her premises would hardly have deterred Rand, who referred to the “primordial savages” of the world, “unable to conceive of individual rights.” As if the rights of individuals are mutually exclusive from such goals as sharing, or showing compassion, working in tandem or exercising a collective group intelligence (with a social awareness) to meet goals.

Indeed, Ayn Rand framed her moral arguments as if the individualists were the persecuted minority, using drastic examples like Stalinist Russia to make her invective criticisms of much more centrist or moderate positions, while ignoring the rich history of robber barons, feudal states and serfdoms. Unfortunately for her, it is not only history, philosophy, culture and economics that have shown her to be wrong, but science as well.

 writes in Slate:

Christopher Boehm has been studying the interplay between the desires of an individual and that of the larger group for more than 40 years. Currently the director of the Jane Goodall Research Center and professor of anthropology and biological sciences at the University of Southern California, he has conducted fieldwork with both human and nonhuman primates and has published more than 60 scholarly articles and books on the problem of altruism. In his newest book, Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame, Boehm synthesizes this research to address the question of why, out of all the social primates, are humans so altruistic?

“There are two ways of trying to create a good life,” Boehm states. “One is by punishing evil, and the other is by actively promoting virtue.” Boehm’s theory of social selection does both. The term altruism can be defined as extra-familial generosity (as opposed to nepotism among relatives). Boehm thinks the evolution of human altruism can be understood by studying the moral rules of hunter-gatherer societies. He and a research assistant have recently gone through thousands of pages of anthropological field reports on the 150 hunter-gatherer societies around the world that he calls “Late-Pleistocene Appropriate” (LPA), or those societies that continue to live as our ancestors once did. By coding the reports for categories of social behavior such as aid to nonrelatives, group shaming, or the execution of social deviants, Boehm is able to determine how common those behaviors are.

What he has found is in direct opposition to Ayn Rand’s selfish ideal. For example, in 100 percent of LPA societies—ranging from the Andaman Islanders of the Indian Ocean archipelago to the Inuit of Northern Alaska—generosity or altruism is always favored toward relatives and nonrelatives alike, with sharing and cooperation being the most cited moral values. Of course, this does not mean that everyone in these societies always follow these values. In 100 percent of LPA societies there was at least one incidence of theft or murder, 80 percent had a case in which someone refused to share, and in 30 percent of societies someone tried to cheat the group (as in the case of Cephu).

What makes these violations of moral rules so instructive is how societies choose to deal with them. Ultimately, it all comes down to gossip. More than tool-making, art, or even language, gossip is a human universal that is a defining feature of our species (though this could change if we ever learn to translate the complex communication system in whales or dolphins). Gossip is intimately connected with the moral rules of a given society, and individuals gain or lose prestige in their group depending on how well they follow these rules. This formation of group opinion is something to be feared, particularly in small rural communities where ostracism or expulsion could mean death. “Public opinion, facilitated by gossiping, always guides the band’s decision process,” Boehm writes, “and fear of gossip all by itself serves as a preemptive social deterrent because most people are so sensitive about their reputations.” A good reputation enhances the prestige of those individuals who engage in altruistic behavior, while marginalizing those with a bad reputation. Since prestige is intimately involved with how desirable a person is to the opposite sex, gossip serves as a positive selection pressure for enhancing traits associated with altruism. That is, being good can get you laid, and this will perpetuate your altruistic genes (or, at least, those genes that allow you to resist cheating other members of your group).

Sometimes gossip is not enough to reduce or eliminate antisocial behavior. In Boehm’s analysis of LPA societies, public opinion and spatial distancing were the most common responses to misbehavior (100 percent of the societies coded). But other tactics included permanent expulsion (40 percent), group shaming (60 percent), group-sponsored execution (70 percent), or nonlethal physical punishment (90 percent). In the case of expulsion or execution, the result over time would be that traits promoting antisocial behavior would be reduced in the populations. In other words, the effect of social selection would be that altruists would have higher overall fitness and out-reproduce free riders. The biological basis for morality in our species could therefore result from these positive and negative pressures carried out generation after generation among our Pleistocene ancestors. Who is John Galt? He refused to participate in society and no one has seen him since.

And it seems that altruistic humankind are not the only primates offended by cheating; earlier this month we saw how Capuchin monkeys respond to unequal pay. So while I’m not advocating public executions or exile, perhaps we should utilize more gossip, bad publicity and group shaming against the ruling elite classes who for far too long have existed in a bubble of their ‘virtuous selfishness.’

Ancient Peoples

If you watch any of these “historical documentaries” about visitors from outer space interfering with our ancient progenitors, you’d see the proponents of these theories claim that there is no way that massive sculptures and architecture could have been done without extraterrestrial help. Those mainstream historians and archaeologists just don’t understand when they claim that the evidence of UFOs and aliens in old artwork or texts is something more reasonable, when they posit some Earthly, mundane explanations.

Our ancestors, the ancient alien experts claim, weren’t stupid. And the official story makes them seem dumb, by not giving them the full credit they deserve for recognizing obvious aliens when they saw them, and then sitting back as said aliens (or gods, or whatever) did all the work that our stupid, useless ancestors could never have figured out on their own.

But they weren’t stupid. They were able to make complex astronomical calculations, invent forms of art, agriculture, writing, and design marvels such as the pyramids. Some of them would have been smarter than others, of course. Some of the people of that age probably believed some really weird things; perhaps they believed that their ancestors were visited by even more ancient aliens, whom they gave all the credit for all previous human efforts, without any evidence.

I’m just saying that their knowledge and sophistication was limited by the understanding of their time. People would have made dumb logical fallacies back then, like arguments from antiquity or arguments from ignorance.

Hm. Come to think of it. If we had aliens helping us out throughout history, we’d probably be a lot further along, and wouldn’t fall in such intellectual gaps.

Under the Influence

The world is going out of it’s damn mind. We’ll let the music explore each fucked up mindset, as we fall under the influence of politics, madness, intoxicants, and (as always) lack of sleep.

A mind is a wonderful to waste.

PLAYLIST
Hall Of The Mountain King – Self Diagnosis
Blinded By The Light – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
Morning Meditation – Ali Akbar Khan
I’m So Tired – The Beatles
Sunday Morning Coming Down – Johnny Cash
Lost in the Ozone – Commander Cody
Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) – Kenny Rogers & The First Edition
The Transmigration of Hop Heads – Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O.
Reclaim Your Mind – Cosmic Gnostic and the Astral Travelers
Becoming Insane – Infected Mushroom
Anxiety – Astor Piazzolla and the Kronos Quartet
Where Is My Mind – The Pixies
Think I Lost My Headache – Queens of the Stone Age
I Almost Lost My Mind – Zalman Yanovsky
Stoned Guitar – Human Instinct
Stairway To Heaven – London Philharmonic Orchestra
7 Days Drunk – The Adventures Of Robert Savage
Slow Down – Ozzy Osbourne
Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
Drinking – They Might Be Giants
I’d Rather Have a Bottle in Front of Me (Than a Frontal Lobotomy) – Randy Hanzlick
They’re Coming To Take Me Away! – Napoleon XIV

Mitt Romney this week showed what a great world leader he would be by insulting our greatest allies, inflaming tensions in the Middle East and desecrating holy ground. His travels, however, were not in vain. He was able to pander to a religious population (Jews, but really the evangelical Christians at home) with his meritocratic clout and raise money from the LIBOR-scammer elites by promising even more deregulation!

“I’d like to get rid of Dodd Frank” ~Mitt Money Romney

Romney hailed the Israel’s health care system for holding down costs and broadening coverage more effectively than the U.S., though Israel contains costs by adopting a very centralized, government-run health care system that conservatives in this country equate with European-style socialism.

One of his top advisors also caused a stir by seeming to say that Romney would back an Israeli strike against Iran, but they seemed to realize that tough talk does not equal foreign policy credibility. His real gaffe was in implying that the downtrodden Palestinian people have chosen to be there, or that their “culture” proves that they deserve to be under the boot-heels of the Israelis.

Mitt Romney boldly declared that Israel’s economic superiority over the Palestinians was due to its culture… which seemed to imply that he believes that Palestinians are just sort of naturally inclined to live under military occupation. (This didn’t seem to bug that many Israelis, even though it does suggest that he believes they are … innately good with money, let’s say.)

Romney believes, in other words, that Palestinians just don’t value freedom enough to get it for themselves. The territory is under a decades-long military occupation and residents face restrictions on movement and trade.

“During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it,” Romney wrote in the National Review. “In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy. But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?

He directly compared the per capita GDP of Israel and the Palestinian territories and attributed Israel’s comparative strength to “culture” and the “hand of providence.” He implied that the Palestinian territories are socialist, which isn’t true, and a quick look at wikipedia shows that their economy was growing by leaps and bounds between the 60’s and 80’s, and has been slowing with the West Bank occupation and oppression, Israeli “security measures” and rising unemployment (surely a ‘choice’ as it is here in America).

“I have just returned from a trip abroad. I visited three lands — Israel, Poland, and Great Britain — which are defined by their respective struggles for freedom. I met with some of the greatest heroes of those struggles.”

“I realize that there will be some in the Fourth Estate, or whichever estate, who are far more interested in finding something to write about that is unrelated to the economy, to geopolitics, to the threat of war, to the reality of conflict in Afghanistan today, to a nuclearization of Iran,” Romney said.

But the radicalization of right-wing America is only going to hurt Romney, and others, in the long run. Gingrich was successful in ousting many moderates in the 90’s, but many old and new are leaving in disgust, or sticking around just to badmouth the extremism rife in their own party.

“For a long time, words like ‘compromise’ have been like dirty words. I always believed that the art of being a legislator is finding common ground.” ~Republican Ohio Rep. Steve LaTourette 

But speaking of compromise, it takes many Democrats as well as Republicans to push through the Bush tax rate on those making more than $200,000 annually.

  • Jason Altmire (Pennsylvania)
  • John Barrow (Georgia)
  • Dan Boren (Oklahoma)
  • Ben Chandler (Kentucky)
  • Jim Cooper (Tennessee)
  • Jim Costa (California)
  • Henry Cuellar (Texas)
  • Joe Donnelly (Indiana)
  • Larry Kissell (North Carolina)
  • Jim Matheson (Utah)
  • Mike McIntyre (North Carolina)
  • Jerry McNerney (California)
  • Bill Owens (New York)
  • Collin Peterson (Minnesota)
  • Mike Ross (Arkansas)
  • Kurt Schrader (Oregon)
  • Heath Shuler (North Carolina)
  • Mike Thompson (California)
  • Tim Walz (Minnesota)

When it comes to taxes, we may see an unfair tax code get even worse. This is far more important issue than whether Mitt Romney paid his taxes, or other secrets from his returns. His tax plan would be a boon for the wealthy, but a tax hike for 95% of Americans, according to a new nonpartisan study by the Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution.

And though the Romney team have called the group a bunch of liberals (they hailed them in the past as “objective, third-party analysis” when the findings benefitted them), he couldn’t dispel any of their specific claims. Even more damning for himself is the revenue neutrality, or Romney’s own non-commitment to specifying the tax loopholes or breaks he’d close, probably because he wouldn’t close any (he has suggested that he would only look to breaks that benefit the wealthy).

“Even if tax expenditures are eliminated in a way designed to make the resulting tax system as progressive as possible, there would still be a shift in the tax burden of roughly $86 billion from those making over $200,000 to those making less than that amount,” the report reads.

“Americans making over $1 million would see an increase in after-tax income of 4.1 percent (an $87,000 tax cut), those making between $500,000 and $1 million would see an increase of 3.2 percent (a $17,000 tax cut), and those making between $200,000 and $500,000 would see an increase of 0.8 percent (a $1,800 tax cut).”

As for the other 95% of Americans? Not so much. The average tax increase needed to pay for the elite’s gains would be $500 per household.

Obama was quick to jump on this opportunity (the opportunistic bastard):

“He’s not asking you to contribute more to pay down the deficit, he’s not asking you to pay more to invest in our children’s education or rebuild our roads or put more folks back to work,” Obama said. “He’s asking you to pay more so that people like him can get a big tax cut.”

Romney claimed that the report is “biased” as it fails to take into account the explosion of economic growth that would theoretically occur in the future under a potential Romney’s administration.

Apparently anticipating this criticism, the Tax Policy Center decided to humor them by including an alternate (reality) analysis in its study in which it assumed that Romney turns out to be correct and his tax proposals produce unexpected floods of new revenue. However, even that generous concession didn’t change its analysis.

“Although reasonable models would show that these tax changes would have little effect on growth, we show that even with implausibly large growth effects, revenue neutrality would still require large reductions in tax expenditures and would likely result in a net tax increase for lower- and middle-income households and tax cuts for high-income households,” the study concluded.

In other words: How will he PAY for these cuts!? Perhaps Romney would be a good little engine of the economy and make up the difference out of his own offshore accounts.

As the richest of the rich, or .001%, or fewer than 10 million people, have used secret tax shelters around the world to hide anywhere from $21-32 trillion, or more, since they shutter around various accounts and are nigh-untrackable (according to the Tax Justice Network). An amount equal to the US and Japanese economies.

At a low 3%, this is anywhere between $190-250 billion in tax revenue —which is about twice the amount OECD countries spend on development assistance. That’s just income taxes. Capital gains taxes, inheritance taxes, and other taxes would bring in even more.

In order to save a few bucks on taxes, they essentially put themselves in the same category as copyright trolls and drug lords. They hide funds in the Cayman Islands, Singapore, Switzerland, as well as “virtual” havens, “nominal, hyper-portable, multi-jurisdictional, often quite temporary locations of networks of legal and quasi-legal entities and arrangements” facilitated by too-big-to-fail Goldman Sachs, UBS, and Credit Suisse (the top three), with Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JP Morgan Chase all in the top ten of “key enablers of the global tax injustice system.”

The lost tax revenue from offshore tax shelters, they note, “is large enough to make a significant difference to all of our conventional measures of inequality. Since most of the missing financial wealth belongs to a tiny elite, the impact is staggering.”

Many Americans are already misinformed about our level of inequality—but this report confirms that even supposed experts were wildly underestimating the problem. The developing world, for example, has $4 trillion in debt, but their own elites have stores $10 trillion offshore. “That means this is really a tax justice problem, not simply a ‘debt’ problem.” Those debts fall on the shoulders of the everyday working people of those countries, those who can’t take advantage of sophisticated tax shelters.

Of course, this is merely yet another lie spun by the conservative media:

  1. Higher taxes on the rich will hurt small businesses and discourage job creators

A recent Treasury analysis found that only  2.5% of small businesses  would face higher taxes from the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

Over 90% of the assets owned by millionaires are held in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), the stock market, real estate, and personal business accounts Angel investing (capital provided by affluent individuals for business start-ups) accounted for less than 1% of the investable assets  of high net worth individuals in North America in 2011.  The Mendelsohn Affluent Survey  agreed that the very rich spend less than two percent of their money on new business startups.

Even the Wall Street Journal noted that the extra wealth created by the Bush tax cuts led to the “worst track record for jobs in recorded history.”

2. Individual initiative is all you need for success.

If anything, it’s harder than ever today to ascend through the ranks on one’s own. As summarized in the  Pew research report  “Pursuing the American Dream,” only 4% of those starting out in the bottom quintile make it to the top quintile as adults

3. A booming stock market is good for all of us

But as the market rises, most Americans are getting a smaller slice of the pie. But the richest 10% of Americans  own over 80%  of the stock market. Thanks in good part to a meager 15% capital gains tax, the  richest 400 taxpayers DOUBLED their income and nearly HALVED their tax rates in just seven years (2001-2007). And the stock market scamming grows faster than our GDP.

The truth has a nasty habit of coming to the surface, as the Koch brothers-funded climate scientist Richard Muller discovered:

“Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

“Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases. Our record is long enough that we could search for the fingerprint of solar variability, based on the historical record of sunspots. That fingerprint is absent.”

“The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect — extra warming from trapped heat radiation. These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism, but they raise the bar: to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as carbon dioxide does.”

But good old-fashioned fear-mongering always seems to work. The FBI cast anarchists and activists as terrorists and criminals, even as they violate their constitutional due process by targeting them based on politics *ahem* “criminal evidence” such as black clothing, anarchist literature, and placard signs, flags and… flag-making materials. Essentially, a fishing expedition.

“It’s related to political opposition, it’s related to political dissent,” says Dennison Williams. “They’re trying to create a wedge within people who are resistors… They’re specifically pursuing anarchists.”

Political supporters calling themselves the “Committee Against Political Repression” have already set up a website to post information about the case and take donations to the legal fund: NoPoliticalRepression.wordpress.com with a “solidarity statement” from numerous activist groups condemning the “series of coordinated raids.”

Likewise, we should FEAR the cybercrime which costs us $1 trillion a year, according to Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and oversees U.S. Cyber Command, which is causing “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.” He must not have read the other articles that we have.

But the source of his numbers remains a mystery. The trillion-dollar estimate was first published in a news release that McAfee issued to announce the report; the number does not appear in the report itself.

McAfee’s trillion-dollar estimate is questioned even by the three independent researchers from Purdue University whom McAfee credits with analyzing the raw data from which the estimate was derived. “I was really kind of appalled when the number came out in news reports, the trillion dollars, because that was just way, way large,” said Eugene Spafford, a computer science professor at Purdue.

Of the 17 other researchers and contributors, Ross Anderson, a security engineering professor at University of Cambridge, said that he did not know about the $1 trillion estimate before it was announced. “I would have objected at the time had I known about it,” he said. “The intellectual quality of this ($1 trillion number) is below abysmal.”

When asked about the reporting, politicians simply repeat the number as if it were gospel. Then again, lawmakers don’t know shit. They don’t even know what the fuck all those drones are doing up there. The NYPD is going to start tracking and surveilling people all over the city with help from Microsoft as part of their “domestic awareness system”. The FBI will be ramping up their Next Generation Identification (NGI) Facial Recognition Program in 2014, containing at least 12 million “searchable frontal photos.”

“Facial recognition takes the risks inherent in other biometrics to a new level . . . [it] allows for covert, remote, and mass capture and identification of images, and the photos that may end up in a database include not just a person’s face but also what she is wearing, what she might be carrying, and who she is associated with.” ~EFF testimony at the Senate Subcommittee hearing on facial recognition

All this authoritarian technology is frightening enough, but even if we manage to stave off the worst implications of a technological takeover, we still face existential threats to our identity, autonomy, anonymity and individuality as we enmesh and embed with out digital devices.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-08-04: Under the Influence by The Stranger onMixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Illegal Speculation

The illicit affairs of an elusive elite continue, and nightly we struggle and strive to survive against them. What will it be that saves us? Elections? Economic reasonableness? A renewed Fourth Estate? Scientific rationality? The burgeoning religion of technology? Revolution in the streets? Or perhaps simply… ROCK.

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Robert Wells
When the Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin
Shadows Of – Gong
Muffin Man – Frank Zappa & the The Mothers with Captain Beefheart
Long Distance Runaround – Yes
Crystal Ball – Styx
Third Stone From The Sun – Dick Dale
Jimi And Eddie (Purple Haze/Green Acres) – Pinkard & Bowden
Manic Depression – Jeff Beck & Seal
Children Of The Night – Hysear Don Walker
Song Of The Black Lizard – Pink Martini
Where The Blues Begins – Buddy Guy with Carlos Santana
Oh Well – Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
Rawalpindi Blues – Carla Bley
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper (Bonus Track) – Blue Öyster Cult
Levon – Elton John
Backs Turned Looking Down The Path – Warren Zevon
Fanfare for the Common Man – Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Lucky Man – Emerson, Lake & Palmer
(Jack Kerouac) On The Road – Tom Waits & Primus
Hand Of Doom – Black Sabbath
Barbary – Sir Richard Bishop
A Day In The Life – Sting

Jamie Dimon, CEO and and one of the plutocrats in charge of the country, in his presidential cufflinks, was orally pleasured by Congress this weak.

Financial analysts Jim Willie and Rob Kirby contends that the only organization large enough to act as counter-party to some of these trades is the U.S. Treasury itself.  He suspects the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund, a covert entity without oversight and accountable to no one. Kirby also notes that if publicly-traded companies (including JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) are deemed to be integral to U.S. national security (meaning protecting the integrity of the dollar), they can legally be excused from reporting their true financial condition.  They are allowed to keep two sets of books.

Interest rate swaps are now over 80 percent of the massive derivatives market, and JPMorgan holds about $57.5 trillion of them.  Without the protective JPMorgan swaps, interest rates on U.S. debt could follow those of Greece and climb to 30%.  CEO Dimon could, then, indeed be “the guy in charge”: he could be controlling the lever propping up the whole U.S. financial system.

Besides the recent $3 billion in JPMorgan losses, which look more like illegal speculation than legal hedging, there is JPM’s use of its conflicting positions as clearing house and creditor of MF Global to siphon off funds that should have gone into customer accounts, and its responsibility in dooming Lehman Brothers by withholding $7 billion in cash and collateral.  There is also the fact that Dimon sat on the board of the New York Federal Reserve when it lent $55 billion to JPMorgan in 2008 to buy Bear Stearns for pennies on the dollar.  Dimon then owned nearly three million shares of JPM stock and options, in clear violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 208, which makes that sort of conflict of interest a felony.

Evidence abounds that the JPM losses are not just $3 billion but $30 billion or more, that JPM may actually be bankrupt, of systematic computer-generated selling of JPMorgan stock immediately prior to and on the dates of the granted compensation and collusion to manipulate the stock to accommodate the grant of options is called “spring-loading”, a violation of SEC Rule 10 b-5 and tax laws, with criminal and civil penalties.

But of course, Mr. Dimon wouldn’t be the only Wall Street felon steering our country towards disaster with their Mafioso Pyramid schemes, the private creation of money at interest.

The only real guarantor in all this is the government itself, first with FDIC insurance and then with government bailouts of too-big-to-fail banks.  If we the people are funding the banks, we should own them; and our national currency should be issued, not through banks at interest, but through our own sovereign government. the U.S. still has the legal power to issue its own dollars or borrow them interest-free from its own central bank.  The government could buy back its bonds and refinance them at 0% interest through the Federal Reserve—which now buys them on the open market at interest like everyone else—or it could simply rip them up.

WE are the people. WE are America and therefore the government. OUR economy is supposed to serve us; the consumers, the workers, the unemployed…

Markets are not provided by nature. They are constructed – by laws, rules, and institutions. All of these have moral bases of one sort or another. Hence, all markets are moral, according to someone’s sense of morality. The only question is, Whose morality? In contemporary America, it is conservative versus progressive morality that governs forms of economic policy.

Senator Mitch McConnell’s speech Friday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington offers an inside look at how the  Republican goal of getting rid of Obama is inextricably linked to the Republican Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision equating corporations with people under the First Amendment, and to the Republican’s current determination to keep Americans in the dark about which corporations contribute what.

In the upside-down world of regressive Republicanism, McConnell thinks proposed legislation requiring companies to disclose their campaign spending would stifle their free speech, calling it a “political weapon,” used by the Democrats, “to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation.”

Five members of the Supreme Court think the legal fictions on paper (corporations) are people. Mitt Romney and the minority leader of the Senate – the highest-ranking Republican official in America – takes this logic to its absurd conclusion: If corporations are people, they must be capable of feeling harassed and intimidated if their shareholders or consumers don’t approve of their political expenditures.

Clearly, McConnell doesn’t want corporations to be forced to disclose their political contributions because he and other Republicans worry that some shareholders and consumers would react badly if they knew about their secret slush funds for the Republican Party, funneled through front groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads.

via TPM

A new report by Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee concludes that the GOP plan to enact large income tax cuts that disproportionately benefit top earners will be difficult to pay for by closing myriad tax loopholes — and that the loopholes that would likely have to be closed disproportionately benefit the middle class. The net result, according to Democrats, is that the Republican party’s tax plan would increase the tax burden for middle-income earners while lowering it for the wealthiest Americans. But the report makes several key assumptions many of which, Republicans claim, distort the GOP’s policy agenda.

The House GOP budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), would make major changes to the tax code. It would reduce the top tax rate to 25 percent and fold all the lower brackets into a single, second bracket at 10 percent. It would index the Alternative Minimum Tax to inflation and eliminate new taxes in the health care law. Together, according to Democrats and the Tax Policy Center, these changes would increase deficits by $4.5 trillion over 10 years.

Republicans claim they’ll cover that cost by eliminating unspecified loopholes in the tax code. But what the Democrats’ report shows is that if Republicans want to lock in other key GOP policy goals, like maintaining low capital gains tax rates, or eliminating capital gains taxes altogether, they’ll likely have to close loopholes that disproportionately benefit the middle class.

The net result, according to Democrats, is that middle-income tax payers will actually end up paying more in taxes than they do now, under the GOP plan.

But at least liberals are finally calling Republicans out on their shenanigans. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD)  publicly accusing Republicans of intentionally undermining the economy in order to defeat President Obama.

“There’s no intention on behalf of the Republicans in the House of Representatives to try to help the president move this country forward,” Hoyer told a small group of reporters in his Capitol office on Thursday morning. “I quote Jesse Jackson, who I thought said it best, there are a lot people in Washington who want to drown the captain and are prepared to sink the ship in order to do so.”

Hoyer joins Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others who say the House GOP’s refusal to adopt even bipartisan measures like funding for transportation projects, and the renewed brinksmanship over the debt limit suggest that Republicans are engaged in deliberate economic sabotage.

Even as more and more Americans choose alternative news sources to find out what is really happening in their country, harassing those providing first hand reports muzzles the free flow of information and poses a threat to democracy. Abby Martin explores the subject for RT.

Via the New Statesman, on the Davis Dozen, who face ten year prison sentences for peacefully protesting the bank that paid for control over their school:

Sometime in July, eleven students and one professor at the University of California Davis will stand trial, accused of the “willful” and “malicious” act of protesting peacefully in front of a bank branch situated on their University campus.

There has been in recent months a great deal of online coverage of the brutality of public order policing at Davis. The treatment of the Davis Dozen, however, promises more longstanding injury. If found guilty, each faces charges of up to eleven years in prison and $1 million in fines.

As the collapse of the US banking sector caused the State of California to withdraw its funding for its public Universities, those same Universities turned to the banking sector for financial support. On 3 November 2009, just two weeks before riot police would end a student occupation at UC Berkeley by firing rubber bullets and tear gas at the students and faculty gathered outside, the University of California Davis announced on its website a new deal with US Bank, the high street banking division of U.S Bancor, the fifth largest commercial bank in the United States.

According to the terms of that deal, US Bank would provide UC Davis with a campus branch and a variable revenue stream, to be determined by the University’s success in urging its own students to sign up for US Bank accounts. In return UC Davis would print US Bank logos on all student ID cards, which from 2010 would be convertible into ATM cards attached to US Bank accounts…

Meanwhile, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is set to criticize Canada for the controversial law passed by the province of Quebec to clamp down on student tuition protests.

“Moves to restrict freedom of assembly continue to alarm me, as is the case in the province of Quebec in Canada in the context of students’ protests,” the commissioner is to say.

Quebec’s Bill 78 restricted the rules for organizing mass gatherings in the province as well as racked up fines for violations during mass events. It was issued in response to months-long student protest demonstrations, with anger over a hike in tuition fees in the province.

Frank La Rue, the UN’s special rapporteur for the protection of free expression, and Maina Kiai, the organization’s special rapporteur for freedom of peaceful assembly, will focus on how the United States government has failed to act on requests made by the two experts during the last year to address growing concerns over how law enforcement has acted towards the Occupy movement.

In one letter sent from the envoys to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the rapporteurs urge the Obama administration to “explain the behavior of police departments that violently disbanded some Occupy protests last fall.” Elsewhere they say that they’ve been concerned that excessive force waged on protesters “could have been related to [the protesters’] dissenting views, criticisms of economic policies, and their legitimate work in the defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Despite sending that letter to Secretary Clinton more than six months ago, neither rapporteurs has not been offered a response yet, reports Huffington Post. A spokesperson for the State Department tells HuffPo that “the US will be replying,” but declined offering any other details.

“The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is the lead agency for violations of human rights or civil rights in the United States,” wrote the spokesperson, sending the UN experts to them for an answer, half a year after they asked for assistance. With hundreds of arrests being chalked up to the Occupy movement and countless accounts of police brutality reported already, however, it is sending a clear message to some that the White House isn’t all that concerned over how local law enforcement agencies are interacting with protesters.

“Lack of an answer does not make the US look good in the international community,” American Civil Liberties Union Director Jamil Dakwar tells Huffington Post.“The US should at a very minimum respond to a letter like this, and if they believe that law enforcement agencies operated under legal, constitutional authority and there were no problems, then they should explain that and present that” before the Human Rights Council.

Another UN investigator has called on Washington to provide justification for the increasingly widespread use of military drones to carry out targeted killings. He says drone attacks, which take innocent civilian lives, may be violating international law.

In a rare public comment on drone strikes, President Obama told an online town hall in January that the drones had not caused “a huge number of civilian casualties.”

A group of Taliban insurgents reportedly entered a house in a village in Logar Province, south of Kabul, where a wedding ceremony either was or would be in progress.  American and Afghan forces surrounded the house, where 18 members of a single extended family had gathered for the celebration.  When firing broke out (or a grenade was thrown) and both U.S. and Afghan troops were reportedly wounded, they did indeed call in a jet, which dropped a 500-pound bomb, obliterating the residence and everyone inside, including up to nine children.

This was neither an unheard of mistake, nor an aberration in America’s Afghan War.  In late December 2001, according to reports, a B-52 and two B-1B bombers, using precision-guided weapons, wiped out 110 out of 112 wedding revelers in a small Afghan village.  Over the decade-plus that followed, American air power, piloted and drone, has been wiping out Afghans (Pakistanis and, until relatively recently, Iraqis) in a similar fashion — usually in or near their homes, sometimes in striking numbers, always on the assumption that there are bad guys among them.

For more than a decade, incident after incident, any one of which, in the U.S., would have shaken Americans to their core, led to “investigations” that went nowhere, punishments to no one, rare apologies, and on occasion, the offering of modest “solatium” payments to grieving survivors and relatives.  For such events, of course, 24/7 coverage, like future memorials, was out of the question.

By now, Afghans (and Pakistanis in tribal areas across the border) surely know the rules of the road of the American war: there is no sanctity in public or private rites.  While funerals havebeen hit repeatedly and at least one baby-naming ceremony was taken out as well, weddings have been the rites of choice for obliteration for reasons the U.S. Air Force has, as far as we know, never taken a moment to consider, no less explain.  This website counted five weddingsblown away (one in Iraq and four in Afghanistan) by mid-2008, and another from that year not reported until 2009.

You might almost think that our wars on the Eurasian continent had been launched as an assault on “family values.”

This is resulting in disintegrating relations with Pakistan (thanks, in part, to its unwillingness to offer an apology for cross-border U.S. air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November); perhaps because the list of recent U.S. blunders and disasters in Afghanistan has grown long and painful — the urinating on bodies of dead enemies, the killing of civilians “for sport,” the burning of Korans, the slaughter of 16 innocent villagers by one American soldier, the rise of green-on-blue violence

But the administration’s own claims been inconsistent.

Propublica collected claims by the administration about deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan and compared each one not to local reports but rather to other administration claims, analysis shows that the administration’s own figures quoted over the years raise questions about their credibility

There have been 307 American drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, according to a New America Foundationcount. Just 44 occurred during the Bush administration. President Obama has greatly expanded the use of drones to attack suspected members of Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, and other groups in Pakistan’s remote northwest region.

Obama officials generally do not comment by name on the drone strikes in Pakistan, but they frequently talk about it to reporters (including us) on condition of anonymity. Often those anonymously sourced comments have come in response to outside tallies of civilian deaths from drone attacks, which are generally much higher than the administration’s own figures.

* April 26, 2010 The Washington Post quotes an “internal CIA accounting” saying that “just over 20 civilians” have been killed by drones in Pakistan since January 2009.

* September 10, 2010 Newsweek quotes a government estimate that “about 30” civilians were killed since the beginning of 2008.

* April 22, 2011 McClatchy reports that U.S. officials claim “about 30” civilians died in the year between August 2009 and August 2010.

* Aug. 11, 2011 The New York Times reports that CIA officers claim zero civilians were killed since May 2010

* Aug. 12, 2011 CNN quoted a U.S. official saying there were 50 civilians killed over the years in drone strikes in Pakistan.

According to this set of claims more civilians died in just 44 strikes under Bush than did in 222 strikes under Obama.

* May 29, 2012 The New York Times reports that, according to a senior Obama administration official, the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under president Obama is in the “single digits.”

A count by Bill Roggio, editor of the website the Long War Journal, which bases its estimates on news reports, puts the number of civilian killed in Pakistan at 138. The New America Foundation estimates that, based on press reports, between 293 and 471 civilians have been killed in the attacks. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which draws on a wider array of sources including researchers and lawyers in Pakistan, puts the number of civilians killed at between 482 and 832. The authors of the various estimates all emphasize that their counts are imperfect.

The attacks are executed remotely in often inaccessible regions. And there’s the question of who U.S. officials are counting as civilians. A story last month in the New York Times reported that President Obama adopted a policy that “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.”

But we might not ever get to know what our government is doing in our name, unless brave whistleblowers, hackers, or leakers expose war crimes. Government censorship is on the rise — and not just in the countries you would expect, according to Google.

The search giant said that between July and December 2011, it received more than 1,000 requests from governments around the globe to remove content or turn over information about its users. It complied with over half those cases, which are detailed in its twice a year Global Transparency Report released on Sunday.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different,” Dorothy Chou, a Google senior policy analyst, wrote in a blog post. “When we started releasing this data, in 2010, we noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not.”

In the last half of 2011, Google said it received 467 court orders for the removal of more than 7,000 items. It complied with an average of 65 percent of those orders. It also received more than 561 informal requests to remove more than 4,979 items. It complied with 47 percent of those cases. These numbers do not reflect censorship in countries like Iran and China, which routinely censor content from Google without notifying the company.

Google said it was alarmed by the number of government requests to censor political speech, particularly from Western democracies like the United States, Spain and Poland. Google said it received a request from Canada’s passport-issuing agency to take down a YouTube video of one of its citizens urinating on his passport and flushing it down a toilet. (It did not.)

The company received more requests for user data from United States authorities than it did from any other country. The number of user removal requests from American authorities jumped 70 percent from the first to the second half of last year. Google received 6,321 requests to turn over information about users from American authorities, though that figure also includes requests from United States government on behalf of other governments with which it has diplomatic agreements. Its compliance rate in those cases — 93 percent — was higher than its compliance rate for any other country.

It said it did not comply in one case where a local law enforcement agency asked it to remove YouTube videos it said showed police brutality.

Airports in Canada are being wired with cameras and microphones to eavesdrop on travelers’ conversations, while the United Kingdom is proposing a mega-archive of citizens’ internet activity, phone calls, mail, and messaging.

Here in the U.S., the House Judiciary Committee committee on Tuesday reauthorized broad electronic eavesdropping powers that largely legalized the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. They voted 23-11 to reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act. The legislation, expiring at year’s end, authorizes the government to electronically eavesdrop on Americans’ phone calls and emails without a probable-cause warrant so long as one of the parties to the communication is outside the United States. The communications may be intercepted “to acquire foreign intelligence information.”

The surveillance experts at the National Security Agency won’t tell two civil libertarian United States Senators (Ron Wyden and Mark Udall) how many Americans have had their communications picked up by the agency as part of its sweeping new counterterrorism powers. The reason: it would violate your privacy to say so.

The query bounced around the intelligence bureaucracy until it reached Charles McCullough, the Inspector General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the nominal head of the 16 U.S. spy agencies. In a letter acquired by WIRED’s Danger Room, McCullough told the senators that the NSA inspector general “and NSA leadership agreed that an IG review of the sort suggested would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons,” McCullough wrote.

“All that Senator Udall and I are asking for is a ballpark estimate of how many Americans have been monitored under this law, and it is disappointing that the Inspectors General cannot provide it,” Wyden told Danger Room on Monday. “If no one will even estimate how many Americans have had their communications collected under this law then it is all the more important that Congress act to close the ‘back door searches’ loophole, to keep the government from searching for Americans’ phone calls and emails without a warrant.”

But even the UN, who has otherwise seemed like the heroes this week, will convene in Dubai for a summit to remake the Internet, and not necessarily for the better, with some nations offering up new proposals that could give the U.N. the ability to intervene in cybersecurity issues, Internet taxation and content filtering.

Online freedom advocates are calling such proposals “troubling,” at best, arguing that the Internet would not benefit from increased intervention from the U.N. agency in charge of the summit, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

“These proposals show that many ITU member states want to use international agreements to regulate the Internet by crowding out bottom-up institutions, imposing charges for international communication, and controlling the content that consumers can access online,” wrote Eli Dourado, a research fellow at theGeorge Mason University Mercatus Center, in a blog post on Technology Liberation Front on Friday.

The U.N. summit, called the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12), is being held to update a treaty the countries agreed to back in 1988, before the mass adoption of the commercial Internet, cable television and wireless networking.

And recent polling data suggests that gradual acceptance of the facts may not be the trend when it comes to the theory of evolution. In the 30 years since Gallup started asking people whether they believe humans evolved, evolved under the guidance of God, or were created fully formed by God, the percentage of people adhering to the creationist view has actually gone up slightly over time, and now stands at 46 percent of the population. This is just the tip of the iceberg of a growing problem of public rejection of science.

At the same time, there’s been a steady rise in people who believe that humanity evolved without any supernatural guidance, and now stands at 15 percent. What this seeming conflict suggests is that the issue is getting more polarized, as people feel they either have to pick Team Evolution or Team Creationism.

As Chris Mooney argues in his book The Republican Brain, political identity generally trumps sober-minded assessment of the facts when it comes to convincing people of an argument or idea. The theory of evolution isn’t being rejected on its merits by the people who don’t buy it. It really can’t be by someone who is honestly assessing the evidence.

According to a study published in American Sociological Review, since 1974, conservative trust in science has been in a free-fall, declining 25 percent. In 1974, conservatives were the most pro-science group, higher than liberals and moderates. Now they’re the least pro-science group of all, with liberals showing the most trust in science.

In the short period between 2010 and 2012, the percentage of conservatives who accept global warming declined from half of conservatives to only 30 percent of them. That doesn’t reflect any kind of major shift in the evidence or the arguments around global warming–the scientific consensus that warming is happening and human-made has only solidified in the past couple of decades–so much as the strengthened perception that conservatism and believing in global warming are mutually exclusive.

But global warming doesn’t have to be anti-capitalist! Evolution doesn’t have to be atheistic!

Participants who were told about climate action’s effects on interpersonal warmth or societal development were more likely to report pro-environmental intentions than those told about the health risks of climate inaction.

As PZ Myers argued, the poor public education in science means that a shrinking portion of the American public is going into careers in science. Americans from working class backgrounds who go into these careers are far more likely to use their education and career contacts to return to their communities and improve the economic and health conditions back home. But with these declining numbers of American scientists, that possibility is being shut down.

Polls and surveys, like this one from Pew or this one from the Center for American Progress, have helped paint a picture of the Millennials, Americans born between 1982 and 2000. They’re the most ethnically diverse generation in American history: just under 60% are white, a record low. They’re also one of the most politically progressive generations in decades: they voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by a 2-to-1 margin and opposed the Iraq war by 77% to 21%. They’re disinclined to prolong the culture wars: for the most part, they’re comfortable with gay marriage, immigration, racial and gender equality. They tend to marry later in life, to be highly educated,politically engaged and technologically savvy, and to place a high value on leisure and civic engagement. And most important of all for this post: they’re the least religious generation of Americans ever.

Millennials are also less likely to report that they pray daily, to regularly attend religious services, or to describe their religious commitment as “strong”. Just 40% of them say religion is “very important” in their lives, and only 27% believe the Bible is the literal word of a god, both record lows. And as Jerry Coyne points out, while most older generations’ belief in God has stayed steady throughout the course of their lives, the Millennials are apparently getting less religious as they get older, something that’s unprecedented in American history. As The Week says, “Only 67 percent of Americans under 30 say they ‘never doubt the existence of God.’ That’s down from 76 percent in 2009 and 83 percent in 2007 — a 15 percentage point drop in just five years.”

There are nearly 78 million Millennials, as opposed to just 76 million Boomers. By 2020, the Millennials will represent almost 40% of all American voters.

Will the globalizing (if not necessarily democratizing) spirituality of the internet bring about world peace? A “bottom-up” democracy inspired by a piracy culture that hates pop culture? A technological renaissance where the User is seen as the all-important voter, the reproductive organs of technology, and the progressive, critical-thinking SPAM filter for future generations?

There are some mighty imposing obstacles to overcome, and it’s not my place to speculate.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-06-23: Illegal Speculation by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Expertise

“Everyone is ignorant, just in different subjects” – Will Rogers

I sometimes commiserate with other workers in the service sector of our corporate reality, that allegedly brilliant lawyers, stockbrokers, even policy-makers cannot seem to find a book or order a sandwich intelligently to save their lives. I am not implying that this invalidates their other skills, just illustrating how none of us are as smart as we think we are.

This phenomenon can be illustrated by the way people interact with my room. One friend of mine, amidst party-goers and video-game players, managed to effortlessly peruse my vinyl collection (even pointing out a miscategorization) and select three musical gems in succession. Others would not have been adept at operating a record player, no matter how new. Different people react differently and with varying levels of interest, curiosity, and affinity to my eclectic bookshelf. Even more counter-cultural types will be drawn to the sticker wall, perhaps recognizing a street art hero or adding to it themselves.

I noticed that a recent visitor, compatriot and video-game enthusiast who stayed on my couch was immediately familiar with the whirring sound an XBox makes while the controller is left in to charge. He unplugged it before drifting off to sleep, but others would’ve (and have) been confused, not knowing the sound’s origin, how to stop it, or been mistaken as to its utility. Compare this to the complex usage of remote controls on my system, which is nearly impossible for anyone to master.

At this point, my girlfriend knows nearly everything about my room, its contents and workings. I’m really not all that complicated.

Even the video games themselves offer a microcosm of the diverse talents, skill sets and interests available to the general population. Many require Halo or some other FPS to really excel and be entertained. My girlfriend and many others only seem truly fulfilled by Action/Adventure RPGs, such as Skyrim, Fable, or Fallout. Almost everyone has some patience for a good puzzle game, like Braid, but with their own level of competency. Throw in a classic copy of MarioKart, however, and you really start to see some sparks fly. A rare few seem able to dominate any gametype. And most people who visit, ‘hang out’ or party have no interest or skill in video games at all.

The possible extrapolations of which really have me thinking. It’s not that Jamie Dimon is an idiot, I’m sure he’s very skilled and competent at dominating and cheating the system. He just has no patience and knowledge of how ridiculous he looks lying in front of Congress. It’s not that Mitt Romney misspeaks when he alienates the “lower classes” using Ivy League, Ayn Rand 1% rhetoric. He just doesn’t understand, he isn’t experienced, and can’t comprehend what America means to most Americans.

This does not excuse them, of course, from pretending to know what’s best for everyone, while really only serving their own self-interests.

Whether they are attempting to preach economists (while refuting the top economic analysts), make claims about science (while contradicting leading scientists), or speak for the American people (in spite of the protests of their constituents and customers), the authoritarian types can’t seem to stop “being experts” on everything! It’s really quite remarkable, what with all the information that’s out there, that any one person could make such a claim, and assume they are 100% correct.

If I came over to your house and started rearranging your kitchen utensils based on my own knowledge of culinary efficiency, I would be in no proper context at all. I am neither a chef, nor am I as intimately familiar with your organizational comfort level and and ease-of-use as you are.

Whenever the rich, the pundits, the legislators, the lawyers, the demagogues, the elites, and the corporate mouthpieces try to appeal to authority, make sure you ask, on whose authority, anyway? More often than not, they’re speaking out of their ass, scientifically speaking.

Machinations


The world trembles as it is eaten by the different engines of war machines, political machines, corporate machines and… y’know… actual machines.

With an appropriately science-fiction-themed playlist culled from the halls of io9, we explore our fantastical present and technologically-foreboding future, as we try to build better laws of robotics against their hungry machinations.

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Erasure
Tunnel Of Light – Ayreon
The Battle of Evermore – Led Zeppelin
Movements Of A Visionary – Tangerine Dream
The Fish [Shindleria Praematurus] – Yes
The Supernatural Anaesthetist – Genesis
Surfing with the Alien – Joe Satriani
Engines of Difference – Man… or Astro-man?
Rusty Metal – Aphex Twin
Into The Void – Black Sabbath
Veteran of the Psychic Wars – Blue Öyster Cult
When The Machines Rock – Tubeway Army
celestial annihilation – unkle
The Sprawl – Sonic Youth
Sirius – Alan Parsons Project
Supernova – Mike Oldfield
Supernova at the end of the Universe – The Orb
La Via Della Droga – Goblin
Cats on Mars (DMX Krew Remix) – Gabriela Robin
Strict Machine – Goldfrapp
Elektrobank – The Chemical Brothers
3000 – Dr. Octagon
Positive Contact – Deltron
Mira et Ten – Alain Goraguer
Space is the Place – Sun Ra

The judicial decision to closed-circuit broadcast the arraignment of the self-proclaimed mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks and four other Guantanamo Bay prisoners is a strange step in favor of transparency. Strange during an era where Bradley Manning, the brave United States Army private and whistleblower who leaked evidence of war crimes, is tried without cameras with an inordinate amount of the kangaroo military court drama playing out behind the scenes. Still, the machines of war and the military-industrial complex are finding some minor ways of being progressive, that is, not backsliding into an authoritarian state.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to announce that questionable interrogation techniques used by the CIA have not resulted in any noteworthy victories in the war on terror.

Committee investigators believe the collected evidence does not substantiate claims by some Bush supporters that the harsh interrogations led to counter-terrorism coups, people close to the inquiry told Reuters. The investigators went through millions of pages presented to the Committee by the CIA. The documents recorded daily operations, including how and when controversial techniques were performed.

Republicans withdrew from the commission, presumably so that they wouldn’t be put into a position where they look foolish in their continued support of obvious falsities, or otherwise claim to find the committee itself invalid in order to support obvious falsities.

I mean, one side supports torture and the other doesn’t! If you believe anything at all from what movies have taught you, you know who the bad guys are.

The former CIA officer who ordered the destruction of videotaped interrogations which showed the torture of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri in a secret CIA prison in Thailand in 2002, says he did so because he worried about the global repercussions if the footage leaked out and wanted to get “rid of some ugly visuals.”Jose Rodriguez, who oversaw the CIA’s once-secret interrogation and detention program writes critically of President Obama’s counterterrorism policies and complains openly about the president’s public criticism of Bush’s torture policies.

“I cannot tell you how disgusted my former colleagues and I felt to hear ourselves labeled ‘torturers’ by the president of the United States,” Rodriguez writes in his book, which the Associated Press previewed in a new report.

However, the post-Wikileaks, post-“don’t-ask-don’t-tell” military is changing.

In a big reversal, the Army has issued a stern new set of guidelines to doctors tasked with diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among returning soldiers. Stop spending so much time trying to spot patients who are faking symptoms, formerly identified as “malingerers”, the new guidelines instruct. Chances are, they’re actually ailing. Astutely, the report actually follows the science, and declares that poor test results ‘does not equate to malingering.’”

This is an era of increased scrutiny by groups like the ACLU claiming that the FBI “has improperly targeted American Muslims and Americans of Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian descent, and their religious, community, cultural, and student organizations, and that it has violated the Privacy Act by recording and disseminating as intelligence, information about these innocent Americans’ First Amendment-protected speech and activities.” And increased sensitivity since Danger Room’s investigation of anti-Islam material in the FBI’s counterterrorism training last September:

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Tuesday ordered the entire U.S. military to scour its training material to ensure it doesn’t contain anti-Islamic content, Danger Room has learned. The order came after the Pentagon suspended a course for senior officers that was found to contain derogatory material about Islam.

The extraordinary order by General Martin Dempsey, the highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. armed forces, was prompted by content in a course titled “Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicalism” that was presented as an elective at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia. The course instructed captains, commanders, lieutenant colonels and colonels from across all four armed services that “Islam had already declared war on the West,” said Lt. Gen. George Flynn, Dempsey’s deputy for training and education.

It was inflammatory,” Flynn told Danger Room on Tuesday. “That is not how we view this problem or the challenges we have in the world today.”

But the ‘industrial’ component of the ‘military-industrial complex’, like its other corporate counterparts, seems defiant of reform. This week, the three military contractors that do the most business with the Pentagon announced their quarterly war profits for 2012. Their war profits continue to grow while they push Washington, D.C. to protect their budgets at the expense of the rest of us.

Here’s the breakdown so far for this year:

I don’t want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster.” –President Franklin D. Roosevelt, May 22, 1940.

Worse than traitors in arms are the men who pretend loyalty to the flag, feast and fatten on the misfortunes of the Nation while patriotic blood is crimsoning the plains of the South and their countrymen mouldering the dust.”  –President Abraham Lincoln.

Additionally, we here in the states are trying to defend ourselves from a virulent, vitriolic culture war that the 1% began waging years ago under the radar. Confessed conspirators, crooks and liars like Rupert Murdoch try to sell us lines of horseshit, dividing us up to make us easer to conquer. But there is a turning back from hate and division.

Against Violent Extremism (AVE) is an online platform (sure to be dubbed a “Facebook for terrorists”) where former extremists (known as “formers”) and survivors of attacks can share their experiences, with the view to help other individuals leave or avoid falling into violent extremist groups. If they can rehabilitate their hateful mindsets and enter a social support structure with victims on the far other side, what does that say for liberals and conservatives in America (which hopefully we can agree are not as divided yet).

But Big Religion is pushing for (and getting) wasteful government spending, with taxpayer-funded crisis pregnancy centers using religion to oppose abortion, and many of them only hire Christians. In 2010, Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center was awarded a $34,000 “capacity building” grant as part of President Obama’s stimulus bill. Last year, the nonprofit National Fatherhood Initiative, with “support from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Family Assistance,” awarded the center $25,000 for capacity building.

It’s easy to understand why so many default to the right in their culture war. The constant barrage by conservative mainstream media, the desire to be on the winning side… and the brain itself.

A recent study by Scot Eidelman, a psychologist at the University of Arkansas, and colleagues published online in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that one of those energy-saving shortcuts our brains utilize may have us defaulting to more conservative ideology when we don’t have the resources to think through a situation.

Another big study shows that religious belief (intuitive thinking) and analytical thinking are two different operating processes in the brain, with one effectively overriding the other.

Will Gervais asked 93 university students to rate their own belief in God and other supernatural agents such as angels. Then, several weeks later, they underwent “priming” for analytical thinking – they were asked to unscramble sentences that included words such as “ponder” and “rational”, read text written in hard-to-read fonts, or even just look at a picture of Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker.

Controls were given less analytically charged tasks: looking at Myron’s Discobolus, or The Discus Thrower, unscrambling sentences containing words such as “shoes”, or read text written in easy-to-read fonts. Norenzayan and Gervais then asked the students to again rate their supernatural beliefs. The students who had been exposed to analytical priming consistently downgraded their belief in the supernatural, regardless of their previous degree of belief. This was also true of 148 adults tested online.

The simplest way to explain these effects, the team conclude, is that intuitive thinking leads to belief and analytical thinking suppresses or overrides this process. That gives analytical thinking a causal role in disbelief.

And a look at the conservative comments in online forums and youtube display a severe lack of critical thinking. They actually criticize liberals for supporting teachers? They also argue that the government is “giving too much to the little people and making the middle men pay for it!” But where do you think the middle is sliding? Up? We’re all going to be the little people before too long when GOP austerity is implemented (like the European heathens they emulate). Radically conservative moves that, until recently, President Obama has been all-too-willing to support.

Now President Obama will have to win back the young voters, minorities and independents he’s alienated by capitulating to the radical far right.

Up for grabs is the white working class, which constitutes a key segment of the electorate, especially in the important Midwestern states that are likely to decide what now looks like a close race. Romney’s anti-union rhetoric and what pollster Stanley Greenberg calls the “collapsing Republican brand” – may open the white working-class door slightly to Obama.

American workers’ pragmatic progressivism shows through in other polls: three-fourths of white workers want government to reduce inequality, and 55 percent are concerned that not everyone gets an equal chance in life, for example.

While the Obama campaign has attacked the Republican “war on women,” it has not targeted as explicitly the GOP “war on workers.”

The promise of economic fairness and solidarity that could win over many white workers holds broad voter appeal. It also offers the potential of healing some of the divisions of the working class that are among the main barriers to a more progressive politics in America.

And though the musicians, actors, artists and other types are struggling (employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show just how badly the press and media have missed the story), the regime is still trying to sell us on the idea of elitist Hollywood types who are fabulous successful. Wall Street and the Auto Industry got taxpayer bailouts, but they are still victims in the eyes of our lawmakers, while low-income workers, and that includes the creatives, are seeing jobs in their fields fall.

Jobs in graphic design, photographic services, architectural services all peaked before the market crash and and fell, 19.8 percent over four years for graphic design, 25.6 percent over seven years for photography and a brutal 29.8 percent, for architecture, over just three years. “Theater, dance and other performing arts companies” – this includes everything from Celine Dion’s Vegas shows to groups that put on Pinter plays – down 21.9 percent over five years.

But it’s easier to dehumanize and demonize them if they are the ‘other’. Those filthy liberals, those West Coast elites. Those red states, those backwater reactionaries.

Watching events play out during the protest on April 24 at the San Francisco Wells Fargo helps elucidate. The big bank, and the police outside, took the unprecedented step of locking more than 100 of its shareholders out of its annual meeting – a meeting they had every legal right to attend. The shareholders’ demands were simple: they called for a moratorium on foreclosures, principle reduction for homeowners who are deep under water and the end of the bank’s predatory lending. They also called on the bank to divest its 7 percent stake in the GEO Group – one of the nation’s largest private prison corporations.

Organizers said that some shareholders – not affiliated with the protests – continued to be let in, a move organizers said was illegal.

But one woman who got in reported that the room was largely empty, and another said that many of those in attendance were Wells Fargo employees. The woman also said that as soon as one of the community shareholders attempted to speak, they were immediately threatened with arrest and removed from the building.

And as survivors of the Oakland raids noted, to see who was looking for a riot, look at who dressed up all prepared for a riot. Now Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan has announced a series of reforms in his department’s crowd-management policies in the wake of criticism of how it has responded to Occupy Oakland protests that began last October.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has showed her contempt for the people, both in action and in word. And in San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee is launching an ad campaign to discourage contributions to panhandlanders, essentially treating them as inhuman eyesores with a message of “Don’t Feed the Homeless.”  Instead of tackling out-of-control rent prices and supporting drug rehabilitation, Edwin Lee would rather continue to feed the overweight rich.

So just look at what happens to people in the U.S. if they challenge government actions in any meaningful way — if they engage in any meaningful dissent. Warrantless surveillance, harassment, arrest, strip searching… it seems that every day now more of our civil liberties are being stripped from us.

A Manhattan judge ruled that writer, Occupy Wall Street participant and prankster Malcolm Harris will not be able to block a subpoena on his Twitter account, including “any and all user information including email addresses” tied to it because, according to the judge, our tweets are not ours at all, and that Harris has no legal standing of right to privacy.

“Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications.”

–William Binney

“Th[e National Security Agency’s] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. [If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A.] could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.“ –Frank Church

We are being pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed and numbered by the machines.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-04-28: Machinations by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net