Just another Reality-based bubble in the foam of the multiverse.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Spook Story

For your Halloween enjoyment, from Steven M. Gillon Resident historian of the History Channel:

...This month will mark the 46th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. A recently declassified oral history by Brigadier General Godfrey McHugh, President Kennedy's military aide on the Dallas trip, sheds new light on the critical hours after the shooting. McHugh makes startling claims about Lyndon Johnson's behavior in the wake of the assassination.

The interview with McHugh, originally conducted for the John F. Kennedy Library in 1978, remained closed for 31 years. It was finally declassified in the spring of 2009. I just happened to be working at the Kennedy Library on the day the interview was opened to the public and have used it for the first time in my new book, The Kennedy Assassination -- 24 Hours After.

After being informed at Parkland Hospital that Kennedy was dead, Johnson raced back to Air Force One, where he waited for Mrs. Kennedy and the body of the slain president, and made preparations to take the Oath of Office. Back at the hospital, the Kennedy group loaded the body into a coffin, forced their way past a local justice of the peace, and hurried back to Love Field for the long ride back to Washington.

It was standard practice for the plane to take off as soon as the commander-in-chief was onboard. Even after McHugh had ordered the pilot to take off, however, "nothing happened." According to the newly declassified transcript, Mrs. Kennedy was becoming desperate to leave. "Mrs. Kennedy was getting very warm, she had blood all over her hat, her coat...his brains were sticking on her hat. It was dreadful," McHugh said. She pleaded with him to get the plane off the ground. "Please, let's leave," she said. McHugh jumped up and used the phone near the rear compartment to call Captain James Swindal. "Let's leave," he said. Swindal responded: "I can't do it. I have orders to wait." Not wanting to make a scene in front of Mrs. Kennedy, McHugh rushed to the front of the plane. "Swindal, what on earth is going on?" The pilot told him that "the President wants to remain in this area."

McHugh, like most members of the Kennedy entourage, did not know that Johnson was onboard. They believed that the new president was on his own plane flying back to Washington. If LBJ was on the plane, McHugh wanted to see for himself. Since he had not seen Johnson in the aisle -- and at 6'4" Johnson would be tough to miss -- McHugh assumed that he must then be in the bedroom. When he checked there Johnson was nowhere to be seen. The only place on the plane he had not inspected was the bathroom in the presidential bedroom.

What McHugh claimed to have witnessed next was shocking. "I walked in the toilet, in the powder room, and there he was hiding, with the curtain closed," McHugh recalled. He claimed that LBJ was crying, "They're going to get us all. It's a plot. It's a plot. It's going to get us all.'" According to the General, Johnson "was hysterical, sitting down on the john there alone in this thing."

I soon discovered that McHugh had told a similar story when he spoke by phone with Mark Flanagan, an investigator with the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). Ironically, McHugh gave the interview to the HSCA a week before he sat down with the Kennedy Library in May 1978. "McHugh had encountered difficulty in locating Johnson but finally discovered him alone," Flanagan wrote in his summary to the Committee. Quoting McHugh, the investigator noted that the General found Johnson "hiding in the toilet in the bedroom compartment and muttering, 'Conspiracy, conspiracy, they're after all of us.'"

Author Christopher Anderson claimed that McHugh shared a similar, although slightly more dramatic, version of this story when he interviewed the General for his book Jackie after Jack, published in 1998.

If true, the story is explosive and reveals a completely different side of Johnson than the collected, calm presence he otherwise managed to convey throughout the hours and days following Kennedy's death...

Well, he could be calm. Once you sell your soul to the Devil, he holds off His demons until your time comes. But this was a great deal for old Nick. Just think of how many more souls He harvested in the years afterwards because Johnson followed Company orders ever after.

High Autumn

Seven islands to the high side of the bay,
'cross the bay
To the sunset through the blue light
of a fiery autumn haze

We went walking on the high side
of the bay on a chilly morn
And we saw how leaves had fallen on the beds
where trees were born

Any man in his right mind
could not fail to be made aware
Any woman with a gift of wisdom
would not seek her answers there

Seven islands to the high side of the bay
if you're lookin' west
To the sunset you can see it,
all in fiery autumn dress

Anytime would be the right time
to come up to your bed of boughs
Anybody with a wish to wander
could not fail but to be aroused

Living high in the city,
guess you think it's a pretty good way
You get to learn but when you get burned
you got nothing to say
You seem to think because you got chicken to go
you're in luck

Fortune will not find you
in your mansion or your truck
Brothers will desert you
when you're down and shit out of luck

Look around at the morning,
guess you're doing the best you can
Surely you know that when you go
nobody gives you a hand

Think of the air you're breathing in,
think of the time you waste
Think of the right and wrong
and consider the frown on your face

It's time you tried living on the high side of the bay,
you need a rest
Any woman or a man with a wish to fade away
could be so blessed

Fortune will not find you
in your mansion turned to gold
Brothers will desert you
when your nights turn long and cold

If you feel it you better believe it,
you're gonna see it, so you really know
It is rising like a feather,
dipping and dancing from below

There's a new wave that is breakin'
in the wake of a passing ship
Every nation's gonna be shaken,
put it together, don't let it slip

It's time you tried living on the high side of the bay,
you need a rest
Any man or a woman with a wish to fade away
could be so blessed

Seven islands to the high side of the bay,
'cross the bay
To the sunset through the blue light
of a fiery autumn haze
To the sunset through the blue light
of a fiery autumn haze

Gordon Lightfoot

Friday, October 30, 2009

Not getting through

What we have here is a failure to communicate:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- After three days of encounters with America-bashing Pakistanis -- who rejected her contention that the U.S. and Pakistan face a common enemy -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that "we're not getting through."

Prominent women and tribesmen from the North West Frontier Province delivered the same hostile message that she'd heard the two preceding days from students and journalists: Pakistanis aren't ready to endorse American friendship despite an eight-year-old anti-terrorism alliance between the countries and a multi-billion-dollar new U.S. aid package.

Clinton put her case directly to the public Friday in televised appearances in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, fielding angry questions about the alleged activities of U.S. contractor Blackwater in Pakistan, the tough conditions that came with a $1.5 billion-a-year American aid package and alleged U.S. favoritism toward Pakistan's archenemy, India.

One tribesman bluntly told her: "Your presence in the region is not good for peace."

"We are fighting a war that is imposed on us. It's not our war. It is your war," journalist Asma Shirazi told Clinton during the women's meeting. "You had one 9-11. We are having daily 9-11s in Pakistan..."

I think Madame Secretary needs to listen carefully to the words of the Rude One:

Okay, enough. We've tolerated this "war" in Afghanistan long enough. Both of the conflicts started by the Bush administration were the arrogant indulgences of a bloated, louche empire in decline. Like wealthy, young Victorian Brits who went off for a couple of years to Africa or India for an adventure among the brown people, this white colonial expedition is nothing more than a pathetic projection of putative power, and, like those Brits, some of whom made fortunes exploiting the lands and others who returned horribly scarred and dismembered, it's time to admit we're spread too thin and that if we haven't failed yet, failure, however long deferred, is merely the inevitable outcome of a mission that was doomed from day one.

Bush fucked it up from the start in making it a "war." He tossed a bunch of goals into a big muck pit instead of doing shit one thing at a time. What should have started as an international criminal pursuit of those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, followed by any military action, if necessary, began as "bomb the fuck out of 'em." Here's the thing: you bomb the fuck out of people who are used to having the fuck bombed out of them then your fucking bombs aren't really going to do much of anything.

But we indulged, on the left, on the right, no, not everyone, but most of us, because of a very human desire for revenge. What that "most" didn't recognize was how irrational it was. And when the invasion of Iraq happened, Afghanistan became that white noise in the background, and we had another, more comfortable target to use as evidence of the irrationality of the previous American regime.

Afghanistan long ago stopped being the "good war," if it ever was, in comparison to Iraq. It's barely a "war" at all. A war is an army fighting an army. The Taliban is a bunch of vaguely organized zealots who make the Vietcong look like the Redcoats. And the United States is merely in the middle of a long and violent internal conflict there, as former Foreign Service Officer Matthew Hoh said upon resigning over the "war." In other words, we are no longer there to pursue al-Qaeda, which is everywhere, including in the United States and Europe; we are invaders propping up a corrupt system we like over the corrupt one we don't. (Which is pretty much par for the course for American foreign policy.) Besides, Afghanistan isn't really a country. It's turf for competing drug gangs. It's time for some in the government and the public to stop thinking that it's like Japan or Germany. Fuck, at this point, Vietnam would be an improvement.

That means President Obama needs to smack down General Stanley McChrystal and his request for tens of thousands of new troops, which might have done something eight years ago. You don't get do-overs. You get to do and then be done. Frankly, it's disgusting to even entertain the idea that a surge would succeed in anything. As the recent bombing in Iraq demonstrated, if fuckin' people wanna fight, if fuckin' people have been fighting forever, they're gonna fight, no matter how long they have to wait to do it. We can keep building thicker walls with the bodies of our soldiers and their citizens, but those will be breached.

The right dithers over whether or not President Obama is dithering, forgetting that George W. Bush took four weeks to decide how to go after the people who attacked us in 2001, and the casualties mount in Afghanistan. Here in the United States, we keep talking about whether or not we can afford health care for all (or funds for education or job programs or infrastructure). Hearing people talk about raising the bet on the "war" is like listening to your bankrupt brother justify why he should pay his cable bill before he buys healthy meals for his kids...

Your Minute with Dennis

Is this the best we can do?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

it's like wearing a "kick me" sign at a Muay Thai meet

I'm sure once again nobody could have predicted this would happen:

WASHINGTON — The moment a novel strain of swine flu emerged in Mexico last spring, President Obama instructed his top advisers that his administration would not be caught flat-footed in the event of a deadly pandemic. Now, despite months of planning and preparation, a vaccine shortage is threatening to undermine public confidence in government, creating a very public test of Mr. Obama’s competence.

The shortage, caused by delays in the vaccine manufacturing process, has put the president in exactly the situation he sought to avoid — one in which questions are being raised about the government’s response.

Aware that the president would be judged on how well he handled his first major domestic emergency, the Obama administration left little to chance. It built a new Web site, Flu.gov — a sort of one-stop shopping for information about H1N1, the swine flu virus. It staged role-playing exercises for public health officials and members of the news media.

It commissioned public service announcements, featuring the fuzzy Sesame Street characters Elmo and Rosita singing in English and Spanish about “the right way to sneeze.” The president added a swine flu update to his regular intelligence briefing — he also receives an in-depth biweekly memorandum on the prevalence of the disease worldwide and in the United States — and appeared in the Rose Garden to urge Americans to wash their hands.

Early on, Mr. Obama told his aides he wanted them to “learn from past mistakes,” said John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s domestic security adviser, who has been coordinating the flu-preparedness effort.

Mr. Obama and his top aides studied earlier flu outbreaks, including one in 2004, when a vaccine shortage created a political problem for President George W. Bush, and another in 1976, when President Gerald R. Ford ordered a mass vaccination campaign for an epidemic that never materialized — and faced intense criticism for it...

Get a clue, people: when you effectively prepare for a disaster, it never materializes. That's the whole idea.

In this case, I am sure every reptilican and DINOcrat shill looking to embarrass the Administration or make a buck by driving up the price of the vaccine has drug their feet while contributing to the hysteria.

Then there's also the likely company psychopaths who figure a small outbreak wouldn't hurt business, either.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No Joke

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN— According to sources at the Pentagon, American quagmire-building efforts continued apace in Afghanistan this week, as the geographically rugged, politically unstable region remained ungovernable, death tolls continued to rise, and the grim military campaign persisted as hopelessly as ever.

In fact, many government officials now believe that the United States and its allies could be as little as six months away from their ultimate goal: the total quagmirification of Afghanistan.

"We've spent a lot of time and money fostering the turmoil and despair necessary to make this a sustaining quagmire, and we're not going to stop now," President Barack Obama said in a national address Monday night. "It won't be easy, but with enough tactical errors on the ground, shortsighted political strategies, and continued ignorance of our vast cultural differences, we could have a horrific, full-fledged quagmire by 2012."

Added Obama, "Together, we can make Afghanistan into a nightmarish hell-scape Americans will regret for generations to come..."

..."Some say the war in Afghanistan is already a quagmire, being as it's gone on for eight years and the situation on the ground continues to rapidly deteriorate," said Gen. Stanley McChrystal. "But I know we can do better. There are still dozens of tribal allies to alienate, troop morale could sink even lower, to the point of mutiny, and by continuing to fire a bunch of missiles from unmanned predator drones we have the opportunity to scare the living shit out of every last civilian in the region."

Continued McChrystal, "If we play our cards right, the word 'Afghanistan' could soon replace the word 'Iraq' as the agreed-upon successor to the word 'Vietnam' in the American political lexicon."

The loose network of warlords who rule the Afghan countryside were also optimistic about quagmire-building efforts.

"Our nation is already impossibly fragmented, but I believe the United States has the ability to make things even worse here," said a local tribal leader, who asked to speak anonymously due to his constantly shifting alliances with the two sides. "Afghanistan has a proud, ancient tradition of quagmires: Soviet Russia, the British Empire, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan. These are big shoes to fill, but if anyone can do it, these foolish Americans can."

With President Karzai's government maintaining ties to known drug traffickers, and 68,000 U.S. soldiers struggling to police a harsh, challenging landscape, all the conditions for a multigenerational quagmire seem to be in place.

For many analysts, the question now is: How will Obama ensure the U.S. entanglement in the region remains permanent? By deploying more troops, by withdrawing them and leaving behind an unspeakable disaster, by increasing sympathy for the Taliban in nuclear-armed Pakistan? There are so many options on the table that many feel a quagmire is virtually guaranteed.

"We have so much to thank the Americans for," said Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, a notorious warlord who will become vice president if Karzai wins a runoff election scheduled for Nov. 7. "Not only have they created a lawless environment that has allowed us to capture 90 percent of the opium market, but their heroin habits have made a few of us very rich."

"I love the Americans and I hope they stay for many years," he added. "Many, many, many, many years."

One is sure the Village will accomodate you, sir.

Be very, very afraid

The Moustache of Understanding apparently chums around with Barry O.

Good comments there, too:

"...Surprise surprise. The president golfing with a guy who believe that China's one party autocracy is superior to American democracy..."

"As the president suggested, he will shape his administration and it's policies by,with and through those whom he chooses to surround him. When you look at the list of those people it's truly frightening!"

"No one is afraid of intellectuals. We would like to see one. Please tell us where they are hiding."

Of course, the republitards immediately come out on the thread, bashing little Tommie and his pal Barry as liberal scum. Happily, some people on the thread are a little more reality-based:

"friedman was actually one of the biggest cheerleaders for "free trade" and the globalization policies of the reagan era on down... i find it a tad bizarre that he is being painted here as liberal, let alone a "communist"! his economic ideology has always been heavily to right, while his popularity stems from his ability to overwrite disastrous and destructive economic policy in humanitarian language. "the lexus and the olive tree", friedman's take on globalization, is one of the key books of the harvard business school, a bastion of far-right free-market fundamentalism whose alum include g.w. bush (among other assorted luminaries)."

Not that it does much good: the trolls immediately resume their talking points.

The Family Feudal, It is Said

War on Terra turf wars between the DIA and CIA and even within the CIA and the Oborg leak out in the pages of Pravda again:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raise significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House.

The ties to Mr. Karzai have created deep divisions within the Obama administration. The critics say the ties complicate America’s increasingly tense relationship with President Hamid Karzai, who has struggled to build sustained popularity among Afghans and has long been portrayed by the Taliban as an American puppet. The C.I.A.’s practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban.

More broadly, some American officials argue that the reliance on Ahmed Wali Karzai, the most powerful figure in a large area of southern Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgency is strongest, undermines the American push to develop an effective central government that can maintain law and order and eventually allow the United States to withdraw.

“If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves,” said Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan...

The relationship between Mr. Karzai and the C.I.A. is wide ranging, several American officials said. He helps the C.I.A. operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, that is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists. On at least one occasion, the strike force has been accused of mounting an unauthorized operation against an official of the Afghan government, the officials said.

Mr. Karzai is also paid for allowing the C.I.A. and American Special Operations troops to rent a large compound outside the city — the former home of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s founder. The same compound is also the base of the Kandahar Strike Force. “He’s our landlord,” a senior American official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Karzai also helps the C.I.A. communicate with and sometimes meet with Afghans loyal to the Taliban. Mr. Karzai’s role as a go-between between the Americans and the Taliban is now regarded as valuable by those who support working with Mr. Karzai, as the Obama administration is placing a greater focus on encouraging Taliban leaders to change sides.

A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment for this article.

“No intelligence organization worth the name would ever entertain these kind of allegations,” said Paul Gimigliano, the spokesman.

...“There’s no proof of Ahmed Wali Karzai’s involvement in drug trafficking, certainly nothing that would stand up in court,” said one American official familiar with the intelligence. “And you can’t ignore what the Afghan government has done for American counterterrorism efforts...”

Yes, heroin is more prevalent and cheaper to buy here than anytime since the VietNam war, helping quench any rebelliousness among the young street demographic that simply doesn't protest anymore, too strung out to even think about changing the world.

You might say that traps of heroin and prostitution do for kids what the credit crisis does for the grown-up hos of either gender.

More on the spook wars:

...the relationship with Mr. Karzai is setting off anger and frustration among American military officers and other officials in the Obama administration. They say that Mr. Karzai’s suspected role in the drug trade, as well as what they describe as the mafialike way that he lords over southern Afghanistan, makes him a malevolent force.

These military and political officials say the evidence, though largely circumstantial, suggests strongly that Mr. Karzai has enriched himself by helping the illegal trade in poppy and opium to flourish. The assessment of these military and senior officials in the Obama administration dovetails with that of senior officials in the Bush administration.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars in drug money are flowing through the southern region, and nothing happens in southern Afghanistan without the regional leadership knowing about it,” a senior American military officer in Kabul said. Like most of the officials in this article, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the information.

“If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck,” the American officer said of Mr. Karzai. “Our assumption is that he’s benefiting from the drug trade.”

American officials say that Afghanistan’s opium trade, the largest in the world, directly threatens the stability of the Afghan state, by providing a large percentage of the money the Taliban needs for its operations, and also by corrupting Afghan public officials to help the trade flourish.

The Obama administration has repeatedly vowed to crack down on the drug lords who are believed to permeate the highest levels of President Karzai’s administration. They have pressed him to move his brother out of southern Afghanistan, but he has so far refused to do so.

Other Western officials pointed to evidence that Ahmed Wali Karzai orchestrated the manufacture of hundreds of thousands of phony ballots for his brother’s re-election effort in August. He is also believed to have been responsible for setting up dozens of so-called ghost polling stations — existing only on paper — that were used to manufacture tens of thousands of phony ballots.

“The only way to clean up Chicago is to get rid of Capone,” General Flynn said.

In the interview in which he denied a role in the drug trade or taking money from the C.I.A., Ahmed Wali Karzai said he received regular payments from his brother, the president, for “expenses,” but said he did not know where the money came from. He has, among other things, introduced Americans to insurgents considering changing sides. And he has given the Americans intelligence, he said. But he said he was not compensated for that assistance.

“I don’t know anyone under the name of the C.I.A.,” Mr. Karzai said. “I have never received any money from any organization. I help, definitely. I help other Americans wherever I can. This is my duty as an Afghan.”

Mr. Karzai acknowledged that the C.I.A. and Special Operations troops stayed at Mullah Omar’s old compound. And he acknowledged that the Kandahar Strike Force was based there. But he said he had no involvement with them.

A former C.I.A. officer with experience in Afghanistan said the agency relied heavily on Ahmed Wali Karzai, and often based covert operatives at compounds he owned. Any connections Mr. Karzai might have had to the drug trade mattered little to C.I.A. officers focused on counterterrorism missions, the officer said.

“Virtually every significant Afghan figure has had brushes with the drug trade,” he said. “If you are looking for Mother Teresa, she doesn’t live in Afghanistan.”

The debate over Ahmed Wali Karzai, which began when President Obama took office in January, intensified in June, when the C.I.A.’s local paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, shot and killed Kandahar’s provincial police chief, Matiullah Qati, in a still-unexplained shootout at the office of a local prosecutor.

The circumstances surrounding Mr. Qati’s death remain shrouded in mystery. It is unclear, for instance, if any agency operatives were present — but officials say the firefight broke out when Mr. Qati tried to block the strike force from freeing the brother of a task force member who was being held in custody.

“Matiullah was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Mr. Karzai said in the interview.

Counternarcotics officials have repeatedly expressed frustration over the unwillingness of senior policy makers in Washington to take action against Mr. Karzai — or even begin a serious investigation of the allegations against him. In fact, they say that while other Afghans accused of drug involvement are investigated and singled out for raids or even rendition to the United States, Mr. Karzai has seemed immune from similar scrutiny.

For years, first the Bush administration and then the Obama administration have said that the Taliban benefits from the drug trade, and the United States military has recently expanded its target list to include drug traffickers with ties to the insurgency. The military has generated a list of 50 top drug traffickers tied to the Taliban who can now be killed or captured.

Senior Afghan investigators say they know plenty about Mr. Karzai’s involvement in the drug business. In an interview in Kabul this year, a top former Afghan Interior Ministry official familiar with Afghan counternarcotics operations said that a major source of Mr. Karzai’s influence over the drug trade was his control over key bridges crossing the Helmand River on the route between the opium growing regions of Helmand Province and Kandahar.

The former Interior Ministry official said that Mr. Karzai was able to charge huge fees to drug traffickers to allow their drug-laden trucks to cross the bridges.

But the former officials said it was impossible for Afghan counternarcotics officials to investigate Mr. Karzai. “This government has become a factory for the production of Talibs because of corruption and injustice,” the former official said.

Some American counternarcotics officials have said they believe that Mr. Karzai has expanded his influence over the drug trade, thanks in part to American efforts to single out other drug lords.

In debriefing notes from Drug Enforcement Administration interviews in 2006 of Afghan informants obtained by The New York Times, one key informant said that Ahmed Wali Karzai had benefited from the American operation that lured Hajji Bashir Noorzai, a major Afghan drug lord during the time that the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, to New York in 2005. Mr. Noorzai was convicted on drug and conspiracy charges in New York in 2008, and was sentenced to life in prison this year.

Habibullah Jan, a local military commander and later a member of Parliament from Kandahar, told the D.E.A. in 2006 that Mr. Karzai had teamed with Haji Juma Khan to take over a portion of the Noorzai drug business after Mr. Noorzai’s arrest.

The goal is to keep you strung out, be it in a bloody faraway battlefield, or walking the city streets, or paying for your home.

How else can the plutocracy produce a nation of serfs in a post-industrial world?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Asking the right questions

The question isn't Can Biotech Food Cure World Hunger?

The question is can biotech and globalism sustainably grow enough food to feed the people trapped on this blue-green gem of a world?

Agricultural biotechnology has become monopolized by a companies that basically want to end the utilization of openly pollinated foods everywhere. Big agribusiness cares for the bottom line, not the survival of billions. If entire ecosystems are destroyed by pesticide use, if the food produced has engineered toxins with little nutrient value, or if no one can afford to plant it or buy in the third world but the Right sort of people, that's fine with them.

Go read the comments in the New York Pravda link above. Many people realize the real problem. Shill as they might, the problem is exposed- until the comments are buried or deleted anyway.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Quickly Buried

This got buried rather quickly in the online edition of Pravda- I had no sooner found it then it was gone from the main science pages:

WASHINGTON — The federal Energy Department will make good on a pledge for a bolder technology strategy on Monday, awarding research grants for ideas like bacteria that will make gasoline, enzymes that will capture carbon dioxide to counter global warming and batteries so cheap that they will allow the use of solar power all night long...

A new agency within the department will nurture these and other radical proposals, most of which will probably fail but a few of which could have “a transformative impact,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in an interview on Friday. The money will go for projects at all stages of development, including some that exist simply as a smart idea, Dr. Chu said.

The department will announce 37 grants totaling $151 million, mostly going to small businesses and educational institutions but also to a few corporations. Some of the ideas may be supported until they are picked up by venture capitalists or major companies, he said.

The new effort, directed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or Arpa-e, is modeled on a Defense Department program known as Darpa that helped commercialize microchips and the Internet and helped develop body armor and other high-tech products. Darpa is known for quick decisions and long-shot bets, an approach seldom associated with the Energy Department...

Dr. Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics, was a co-author of a 2006 paper for the National Academy of Sciences that called for the creation of the Arpa-e program.

In the initial round, the grants average $4 million. One is going to researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus who are working on developing an organism that uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into sugars and another that converts the sugars to gasoline and diesel. The two can live in a “co-culture” in a thin latex film, according to Lawrence P. Wackett, a professor of biochemistry, although much research remains to be done to make the organisms work as a system.

“A venture capital group might say it’s a little early for them,” Dr. Wackett said...

Well that's one radical idea alrighty. They had best not try to get that funded in the no-nonsense private sector. The Company boys would laugh it right out the door. Absolutely if anyone funded by the oil companies sat on the board.

If anyone from Cheneyburton was around, that proposal would quickly be marked "Classified" and the computers of the researchers would be seized.

Especially if someone bothered to point out every green plant already converts carbon dioxide and water into sugars using sunlight.

It's called photosynthesis.

In fact, this kind of thing keeps coming out- and just as quickly disappearing on the intertubes. For example, this link from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations seems to be getting continuously reset (denial of service bots?) but appears in cache:

...6.3.1 Liquid fuels from microalgal biomass

It is well known that microalgae can assimilate CO2 gas as a carbon source for growth. However, if the resulting cell mass is not suitably treated, CO2 will be evolved and diluted into the environment by decomposition, thus preventing CO2 fixation from contributing to a reduction in atmospheric CO2.

Petroleum is widely believed to have its origins in kerogen, which is easily converted to an oily substance under conditions of high pressure and temperature (15-17). Kerogen is formed from algae, biodegraded organic compounds, plankton, bacteria, plant material, etc., by biochemical and/or chemical reactions such as diagenesis and catagenesis. Several studies have been conducted to simulate petroleum formation by pyrolysis, some of which used the marine alga Fucus sp. as the base material. Recently, activated sludge and fungi were converted to oily substances at relatively low temperatures as compared with those used in previous experimental simulations. On the basis of these findings, it is assumed that algae grown in CO2-enriched air can be converted to oily substances, and that such an approach can contribute to solving two major problems: air pollution resulting from CO2 evolution, and future crises due to a shortage of energy sources. Use of thermochemical liquefaction of organisms in the production of alternative fuels, would reduce CO2 evolution into the atmosphere since such fuels would indeed be produced from CO2.

Apart from the experimental simulation discussed above, other work has also been conducted with the objective of producing fuel from microalgae. Feinberg (18) reported that diesel fuel and gasoline were produced through the transesterification and catalytic cracking of lipids accumulated in algal cells. However, the raw material utilized in their work was restricted to microalgae of high lipid content. A process for the production of fuel oil from microalgae by pyrolysis has been proposed. The pyrolysis usually requires a drying procedure in which large amounts of energy are required to vaporize water. An alternative technique involving the direct thermochemical liquefaction of biomass of high moisture content, such as wood and sewage sludge, has been proposed and applied to the production of fuel oils from microalgae.

This liquefaction is carried out in an aqueous solution of either alkali or NaCl at a temperature of about 300 C and pressure of 10 MPa in the absence of reducing gases such as hydrogen and/or carbon monoxide. Since drying is not required, energy consumption for water vaporization is avoided. Microalgal cell precipitates derived from centrifugation, which are of a high moisture content, are thus good raw materials for liquefaction...

...15. Ishiwatari, R. et al., Nature, 264, 347-349 (1976).

16. Espitalie, J. et al., Amer. Ass. Petrol. Geolog. Bull., 64, 59-66 (1980).

17. Takeda, N. and Asakawa, T., Appl. Geochem., 3, 441-453 (1988).

18. Feinberg, D.A., In "Energy from Biomass and Wastes IX", 1225-1244 (1985) Elsevier, London.


Just a quick scan of the reference list will tell you none of this information is exactly news. Nor does it surprise anyone with a rudimentary education in biochemistry. So ARPA-E and Dr. Chu, the best of luck to you in funding such research. You're going to find getting the results out and applied will get your industrial reviewers saying it's "a little early ".

These types of findings aren't on the schedule to be implemented for another 50 years or so when the masses of humanity are well harnessed by the Right sort of people in a post-industrial world.

Old Times There are Best Forgotten

The New York Pravda notices a certain reticience in the Obama White House regarding Dicksieland:

The Obama administration has clung for so long to the Bush administration’s expansive claims of national security and executive power that it is in danger of turning President George W. Bush’s cover-up of abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism into President Barack Obama’s cover-up...

We share concerns about inflaming anti-American feelings and jeopardizing soldiers, but the best way to truly avoid that is to demonstrate that this nation has turned the page on Mr. Bush’s shameful policies. Withholding the painful truth shows the opposite.

Like the insistence on overly broad claims of secrecy, it also avoids an important step toward accountability, which is the only way to ensure that the abuses of the Bush years are never repeated. We urge Mr. Gates to use his discretion under the new law to release the photos, sparing Americans more cover-up.

The Editors speak like said abuses were the sole product of Bu$hCo and most likely the heavily scapegoated Cheneyburton branch of the Company. Not that Cheneyburton wasn't guilty of all- and far more- than they were accused of.

But abuses never repeated?

Seriously: the depredations of Bu$h and Cheney are nothing new in Amerikan policy. One suspects things are being carried out nowadays that are just as bad as any wet dream Big Time ever had. The difference is where the covert line is drawn. In Dicksieland the wingnuts relished the screams of the tormented. In the land of Hope and Faith the orcs do the dirtywork only in the dead of night where the children can't see.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Enquiring minds want to know:

So good I had to post it again:

Amerika the Gullible

All the best propaganda has a grain of truth:

Americans seem to like the idea of broadening health insurance coverage, but they may not want to be forced to buy it. With health care costs high and rising, such government mandates would make many people worse off.

The proposals now before Congress would require just about everyone to buy health insurance or to get it through their employers — which would generally result in lower wages. In other words, millions of people would be compelled to spend lots of money on something they previously did not want, at least not at prevailing prices...

Reform advocates start with anecdotes about the underprivileged who are uninsured, then turn around and propose something that would hurt at least some members of that group...

Did you catch the hook in that text? Reform advocates. Which reform advocates? Certainly not the ones who advocate breaking up the big banks with heavy regulation of banksters, government run infrastructure, energy, and environmental jobs programs for everyone who wants to work, or that advocate dismantling the endless war machine.

The country has a choice in policies, none of which are designed to really help us, all of which are designed to enrich different interest groups. Each interest group does its best to appeal to the needs and fears of the population. As a result the people as a whole simply are dazed and confused.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More goodies from Alan Grayson

via Greenwald:

A matter of national security

Greenwald has some things to say about the Village consensus there's endless money for endless war but not a public health insurance option.

How's this for a clear and present danger to national security?

New study finds 45,000 deaths annually linked to lack of health coverage

Nearly 45,000 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance, according to a new study published online today by the American Journal of Public Health. That figure is about two and a half times higher than an estimate from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2002.

The study, conducted at Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance, found that uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher risk of death than their privately insured counterparts, up from a 25 percent excess death rate found in 1993...

At least he has the right enemies

Alan Grayson:

...Chris Matthews asked Grayson what he thinks of Cheney's attacks on President Obama for "dithering" on Afghanistan.

"Well, my response is -- and by the way, I have trouble listening to what he says sometimes, because of the blood that drips from his teeth while he's talking," said Grayson. "But my response is this: He's just angry because the president doesn't shoot old men in the face. But by the way, when he was done speaking, did he just then turn into a bat and fly away?"

Even Matthews, no Cheney fan himself, was shocked: "Oh God -- we gotta keep a level here. Let me ask you this: Don't you have any Republican friends?"

Grayson laughed, and said that some of his best friends are Republicans.

No, of course he didn't. He was bats before he ever started talking.

Because War is Peace

...and ignorance is strength- theirs:

In remarks that will fuel the row around excessive pay, Lord Griffiths, vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs International and a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, said banks should not be ashamed of rewarding their staff.

Speaking to an audience at St Paul’s Cathedral in London about morality in the marketplace last night, Griffiths said the British public should “tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity for all” [...]

[tip o'teh tinfoil to David and Avedon]

Friday, October 23, 2009

That'll Show Him

Pot calls the kettle black

...and it looks like Paul Krugman has taken up the white man's burden, so to speak...

Senior monetary officials usually talk in code. So when Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, spoke recently about Asia, international imbalances and the financial crisis, he didn’t specifically criticize China’s outrageous currency policy.

But he didn’t have to: everyone got the subtext. China’s bad behavior is posing a growing threat to the rest of the world economy. The only question now is what the world — and, in particular, the United States — will do about it.

Some background: The value of China’s currency, unlike, say, the value of the British pound, isn’t determined by supply and demand. Instead, Chinese authorities enforced that target by buying or selling their currency in the foreign exchange market — a policy made possible by restrictions on the ability of private investors to move their money either into or out of the country.

...Many economists, myself included, believe that China’s asset-buying spree helped inflate the housing bubble, setting the stage for the global financial crisis. But China’s insistence on keeping the yuan/dollar rate fixed, even when the dollar declines, may be doing even more harm now.

No doubt the central planners of Team Xinhua are doing their best to survive the current economic tsunami. No doubt their policies haven't always helped. But let's be clear.

The housing bubble was caused by speculators who figured that housing values could never go down because people would do anything to keep from losing their homes.

The housing bubble popped because some people figured out how to make money from its bursting. The damage that it caused, and the number of people hurt by its burst did not- and do not- in the slightest figure into their calculations. They are the same people who stand to make money if the Treasury's bail-outs are more focused on helping them blow another bubble.

It's always fun to blame the Chinese. After all economic wars are only slightly less profitable than shooting wars.

Dust Devils on Mars

So it is said...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What is this "despite" they speak of?

Opium production rate has soared to 6,900 tons in Afghanistan in the past 10 years despite the presence of 100,000 foreign troops in the country for nearly eight years.

A report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said on Wednesday that Afghanistan produces 92 percent of the world's opium that has devastating global consequences.

The UN report also noted that Afghanistan's illegal opium production is worth 65 billion dollars.

The heroin and opium market feeds 15 million addicts, with Europe, Russia and Iran consuming half the supply, UNODC reported...


Try because. And look where half the opium is being consumed.

The heroin industry is just a nice pad to the Company's black budget. The lion share of the dope is aimed at exactly who the Company wants to aim it at.

Free Range Lions in Kansas

We're not just talking about J.P. Morgan-Chase opening offices in Wichita, either.

But the Fed won't be happy until the velociraptors run the derivatives markets again.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results

Bob Herbert continues to ask the obvious questions:

We need to make some fundamental changes in the way we do things in this country. The gamblers and con artists of the financial sector, the very same clowns who did so much to bring the economy down in the first place, are howling self-righteously over the prospect of regulations aimed at curbing the worst aspects of their excessively risky behavior and preventing them from causing yet another economic meltdown.

We should be going even further. We’ve institutionalized the idea that there are firms that are too big to fail and, therefore, “we, the people” are obliged to see that they don’t — even if that means bankrupting the national treasury and undermining the living standards of ordinary people. What sense does that make?

If some company is too big to fail, then it’s too big to exist. Break it up.

Why should the general public have to constantly worry that a misstep by the high-wire artists at Goldman Sachs (to take the most obvious example) would put the entire economy in peril? These financial acrobats get the extraordinary benefits of their outlandish risk-taking — multimillion-dollar paychecks, homes the size of castles — but the public has to be there to absorb the worst of the pain when they take a terrible fall.

Enough! Goldman Sachs is thriving while the combined rates of unemployment and underemployment are creeping toward a mind-boggling 20 percent. Two-thirds of all the income gains from the years 2002 to 2007 — two-thirds! — went to the top 1 percent of Americans.

We cannot continue transferring the nation’s wealth to those at the apex of the economic pyramid — which is what we have been doing for the past three decades or so — while hoping that someday, maybe, the benefits of that transfer will trickle down in the form of steady employment and improved living standards for the many millions of families struggling to make it from day to day.

That money is never going to trickle down. It’s a fairy tale. We’re crazy to continue believing it.

I don't think very many of us do, except those who are paid.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Good Times for the Vampire Squid

Even the birds aren't safe.

Too bad Oliver Stone, Hitchcock, and Lovecraft never could have collaborated on a version of "Wall Street"... all we get is Michael Moore. Who can tell a pretty horrifying story after all.

Frank Rich addresses that feeling of disbelief many of the Hopeful are doing their best to suppress these days:

...Goldman is back to business as usual: making money by high-risk gambling, with all the advantages that the best connections, cheap loans from the Fed and high-speed trading algorithms can bring. As the Reuters columnist Rolfe Winkler wrote last week, “Main Street still owns much of the risk while Wall Street gets all of the profit.”

The idea of investing in the real economy — the one that might create jobs for Americans — remains outrĂ© in this culture. Credit to small businesses remains tight. The holy capitalist grail is still the speculative buying and selling of companies and the concoction of ever more esoteric financial “instruments.” The tragic tale of Simmons Bedding recently told in The Times is a role model. This successful 133-year-old manufacturing enterprise was flipped seven times in two decades by private equity firms. Investors made more than $750 million in profits even as the pile-up of debt pushed Simmons into bankruptcy, costing a quarter of its loyal workers their jobs so far.

Most leaders in America are against this kind of ethos in principle. Last month the president of Harvard, Drew Gilpin Faust, contributed a stirring essay to The Times regretting that educational institutions did not make stronger efforts to assert the fundamental values of pure intellectual inquiry while “the world indulged in a bubble of false prosperity and excessive materialism.” She rued the rise of business as the most popular undergraduate major, an implicit reference to the go-go atmosphere during the reign of her predecessor, Lawrence Summers, now President Obama’s chief economic adviser.

What went unsaid, of course, is that some of Harvard’s most prominent alumni of the pre-Faust era — Summers, Blankfein, Robert Rubin et al. — were major players during the last two bubbles. As coincidence would have it, the same edition of The Times that published Faust’s essay also included an article about how Harvard was scrounging for bucks by licensing a line of overpriced preppy clothing under the brand Harvard Yard. This sop to excessive materialism will be a scant recompense for the $11 billion Harvard’s endowment managers lost in their own bad gamble on interest-rate swaps.

Obama has also passed through Harvard. (Disclosure: so did I.) He too has consistently said all the right things about the “money culture” of “quick kills and bloated bonuses,” of “reckless behavior and unchecked excess.” But the air of entitlement that continues to waft from his administration sends another message.

In particular, the tone-deaf Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, never ceases to amaze. His daily calendars reveal that most of his contacts with the financial sector in the first seven months of 2009 were limited to the trinity of Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JPMorgan. And last week Bloomberg News reported that his inner circle of “counselors” — key advisers who, conveniently enough, do not require Senate confirmation — are largely drawn from the same club. It’s hard to see how any public official can challenge a culture that he is marinating in, night and day.

Those Obama fans who are disappointed keep looking for explanations. Is he too impressed by the elite he met in Cambridge, too eager to split the difference between left and right, too willing to compromise? As he pursues legislation, why does he keep deferring to others — whether to his party’s Congressional leaders or the Congressional Budget Office or to this month’s acting president, Olympia Snowe? Why doesn’t he ever draw a line in the sand? “We know Obama has good values,” Jeff Madrick said to me last week, “but we don’t know if he has convictions.”

What we also know is that if Teddy Roosevelt palled around with John D. Rockefeller as today’s political class does with Wall Street’s titans and lobbyists, the tentacles of the original octopus would still be coiled tightly around America’s neck...

The fully burdened cost

Business is booming for somebody:

The Pentagon pays an average of $400 to put a gallon of fuel into a combat vehicle or aircraft in Afghanistan...

...The Pentagon comptroller’s office provided the fuel statistic to the committee staff when it was asked for a breakdown of why every 1,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan costs $1 billion. The Obama administration uses this estimate in calculating the cost of sending more troops to Afghanistan...

...The top U.S. general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, reportedly has requested that about 40,000 additional troops be sent...

...Afghanistan — with its lack of infrastructure, challenging geography and increased roadside bomb attacks — is a logistical nightmare for the U.S. military, according to congressional sources, and it is expensive to transport fuel and other supplies.

A landlocked country, Afghanistan has no seaports and a shortage of airports and navigable roads. The nearest port is in Karachi, Pakistan, where fuel for U.S. troops is shipped.

From there, commercial trucks transport the fuel through Pakistan and Afghanistan, sometimes changing carriers. Fuel is then transferred to storage locations in Afghanistan for movement within the country. Military transport is used to distribute fuel to forward operating bases. For many remote locations, this means fuel supplies must be provided by air...

...And moving fuel by convoy or even airlift is expensive, according to the Army news release from July 16, which quoted Geiss. In some places, Geiss said, analysts have estimated the fully burdened cost of fuel might even be as high as $1,000 per gallon.

Energy consumed by a combat vehicle may not even be for actual mobility of the vehicle, Geiss said, but instead to run the systems onboard the vehicle, including the communications equipment and the cooling systems to protect the electronics onboard.

Some 8o percent of U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan are due to improvised explosive devices, many of which are placed in the path of supply convoys — making it even more imperative to use aircraft for transportation.

According to a Government Accountability Office report published earlier this year, 44 trucks and 220,000 gallons of fuel were lost due to attacks or other events while delivering fuel to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan in June 2008 alone...

...The Marines in Afghanistan, for example, reportedly run through some 800,000 gallons of fuel a day...

Meanwhile, the strategerists in the Village and the Pentagram are Pravda pontificating about How to Win the War. Retired generals are penning opinion pieces for their Masters cogitating on the best way to bring one home for the Gipper. You note of course that $100 million a day for gasoline comes nowhere into their strategery.

Neither does the glaringly obvious flaw that all our logistics have to come through Pakistan, which, incidently we are going to soon be fighting for too. As if we aren't already.

Neither do dozens of different warring tribal groups speaking dozens of different languages, none of which any of our troops speak, all of which are willing to put their differences aside to shoot the Amerikans in the back.

Neither does the biggest opium growing region on earth with the most rampant criminal organization on earth involved in keeping that way- which has infiltrated the ranks of the private contractors we bring along- and the need to buy gasoline for said corrupt contractors, too.

I find this editorial piece the most interesting today, although doubtless not for the reasons the writer wrote it:

...Particularly notable, there appears to be uncertain White House support for the ambitions of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, who has asked for 40,000 to 60,000 more troops and passionately argued that the military objective be the expansive one of “shielding” the Afghan people “from all threats.”

The emerging picture is of a commander in chief trying to chart a middle way through one of the most complex challenges of his young presidency. If so, instructive lessons can be found in the contrasting ways two of his predecessors, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, navigated a perilous way ahead in Vietnam.

Kennedy’s Vietnam strategy was informed by a pair of harrowing foreign policy crises in 1961 that sobered him to his responsibilities as commander in chief. The botched Bay of Pigs invasion was a humiliation that Kennedy believed would have driven him from office if he had been a British prime minister. He vowed never again to be “overawed by professional military advice.”

That same year, Kennedy was shocked by the half-baked recommendation of his generals to use tactical nuclear weapons against the Communist Pathet Lao movement in Laos, a proposal he decisively dismissed.

In this context, Kennedy was deeply skeptical when his most senior advisers argued in the fall of 1961 that only substantial numbers of American forces could prevent the government of South Vietnam from collapsing. Kennedy nonetheless rejected the deployment of combat troops. But he also rejected the notion of abandoning Saigon. Instead, he chose to chart a middle course.

Kennedy favored a strategy of arming and reinforcing the South Vietnamese Army, and of teaching them new counterinsurgency tactics. He increased the number of military advisers assigned to Saigon but maintained a ceiling of about 16,000 men.

By October 1963, operations were deemed sufficiently successful for the White House to announce the withdrawal of 1,000 advisers and its expectation that the advisory mission would be concluded by the end of 1965. At the time of Kennedy’s assassination the following month, the Pentagon had recorded only 108 American military personnel killed...

This piece goes on to reinforce the Petraeus Caesar-McChrystalline idea of using all these troops for counterinsurgency and not just for the sheer combat muscle that LBJ based his escalation on.

Doubtless the cost of educating each and every one of these troops in the dozens of languages and cultural differences they'll encounter trying to run a successful counterinsurgency among the Afghans doesn't phase our Caesars and Centurions. It bothers them so little, in fact, neither they nor their Village propagandists think about it. Success and Victory are such post-modern concepts.

Nor do the consequences of what happens to Leaders who actually work out a way to end their silly little wars or what happens to potential Leaders who might lead us out of them.

Just ask Jack Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, or Martin Luther King. But be prepared to wait awhile if you expect them to answer you with words.

Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts

As usual, with a tip o'teh tinfoil to Lambert.

Also via Lambert, BadTux captures the essence of the problem:

... The speculation is that the changeover from having a manager who was an actual technology person, to having a manager who has no technology background (Steve Ballmer, who came up through the business office, not through engineering), meant that Microsoft's upper management lost the ability to actually evaluate the technology proposals and projects and manage their development, and the result is a series of products which are increasingly late, bloated, slow, and buggy, if they manage to ship at all.

This is, this is true of most big companies today in the United States. They're run by salesmen, cronies of the oligarchs who control half the wealth of the US, and salesmen are not by nature reflective souls and are chosen for loyalty, not for intelligence. They arrogantly believe it is not necessary to understand technical details of what they're selling in order to make proper judgements about its content and scope, all they have to do is sell, sell, sell and it all works out in the end. The problem is that since they don't understand the technology and worse yet have no desire to understand the technology, they're ill equipped to make critical decisions about product direction and feasibility. They fall prey to yes men, fads, and scams, and pour company resources into directions that are not productive. Furthermore, if it's not a product they can sell they aren't interested in it. Pure R&D is not something that they can sell, so they don't spend any money on it. This produces better quarterly profits for a while, but eventually their product line gets stale because it's just bigger/faster/smaller variants on the same old same old, not anything new and fundamentally different (see: Cisco Systems). And that's the state of the economy in the US today -- not competitive because it's been starved of core R&D. What innovation is being done is being done by foreigners, or by leftover relics of the 80's, and even that is just rehashing of old concepts that we had in the late 70's/early 80's. We basically have created nothing (zero) new in the past thirty years -- all we've done is implement things that we had already designed thirty years ago, but needed time to make smaller/faster/cheaper before it was practical to build them...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's Okay for You, but Not In My Back Yard

Ah, the hypocrisy of The New York Pravda editors:

New York State’s environmental regulators have proposed rules to govern drilling in the Marcellus Shale — a subterranean layer of rock curving northward from West Virginia through Ohio and Pennsylvania to New York’s southern tier. The shale contains enormous deposits of natural gas that could add to the region’s energy supplies and lift New York’s upstate economy. If done carefully — and in carefully selected places — drilling should cause minimal environmental harm.

But regulators must amend the rules to bar drilling in the New York City watershed
(of course, if it's your watershed it's just a cost of Progress) : a million acres of forests and farmlands whose streams supply the reservoirs that send drinking water to eight million people. Accidental leaks could threaten public health and require a filtration system the city can ill afford.

Natural gas is vital to the nation’s energy needs and can be an important bridge between dirty coal and renewable alternatives. The process of extracting it, however, is not risk-free. Known as hydraulic fracturing, it involves shooting a mix of water, sand and chemicals — many of them highly toxic — into the ground at very high pressure to break down the rock formations and free the gas.

The technique is used in 90 percent of the oil and gas operations in the United States. And while most drilling occurs without incident, “fracking” has been implicated in hundreds of cases of impaired or polluted drinking water supplies in states from Alabama to Wyoming...

Where, doubtless, the harm is minimal, but you know, the Free Market demands it.

You just have to strip off the mountaintops and topsoil and use all the clean water to blast it out of the ground. But it's cheap! Who sez there's a fossil fuel crisis? Not the Free Market!

After all, it's not like they have something to hide

Of course not, they're the Government.

Friday Night Massacre

You just can not make things like this up:

-- A Goldman Sachs executive has been named the first chief operating officer of the Securities and Exchange Commission's enforcement division.

The market watchdog agency said Friday that Adam Storch, vice president in Goldman Sachs' Business Intelligence Group, is assuming the new position of managing executive of the SEC division...

I'm sure a lot of good will come of that especially for Goldman-Sachs and the whole Skull-and-Bones crew.

As you might expect, Greenwald had some choice things to say about this.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Earning It

You know, kind of like Kissinger, Arafat, and Gore did:

...President Barack Obama's administration is understood to have told the British government that it could announce, as early as next week, the substantial increase to its 65,000 troops already serving there.

The decision from Mr Obama comes after he considered a request from General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, to send tens of thousands of extra American troops to the country...

I am always impressed at how the average Brit on the street knows what the Amerikan guvmint's going to do a week before we do. Or before the main$tream, anyway.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ghost in the Veal Pen Machine


...Just this weekend, a "top gay Democrat close to Obama" was granted anonymity by Politico to dismiss administration critics on gay issues as "naive." Just six weeks ago, an equally cowardly "senior White House adviser" hiding behind anonymity told told The Washington Post that the only people who cared about the public option in health care were "the left of the left" -- those same fringe, irrational extremists. In June, an anonymous "friend of John Brennan's" told Jane Mayer in The New Yorker that the people who prevented Brennan's nomination as CIA Director (because of his support for some of the most radical Bush Terrorism policies) were nothing more than "a few Cheeto-eating people in the basement working in their underwear who write blogs." Last year, "Democrats on the Hill" anonymously dismissed opposition to telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping as nothing more than a fringe issue being exploited by Chris Dodd for his presidential campaign, and then anonymously warned Dodd to abandon his left-wing obstructionism if he wanted to resume good standing in the Democratic caucus. Can anyone miss the pattern?

Every standard form of Washington behavior is on display here: reporters like Harwood with absolutely no standards who grant anonymity to pass along playground insults. Obama officials -- part of the Most Transparent Administration Ever -- who seem incapable of speaking about anything without cowardly hiding behind anonymity, even for on-the-record briefings. Snide, Fox-News-mimicking dismissals from the Democratic establishment of any discontent or criticism of the President as coming from the fringe, Far Left. And particular disdain for any instruments -- blogs, marches and protests -- which the White House cannot control, which exist independent of the tightly coordinated, Rahm-dominated "veal pen" messaging system to which so many leading progressive organizations have meekly submitted themselves in order to ensure their own continued access, funding and future career options within the Democratic establishment.

The only thing remarkable about the comments Harwood passed on is that anyone would be surprised by them. In that regard, the furor over Obama's complete inaction on gay issues vividly illustrates the same elements that shape political controversies in virtually every other area -- from war to civil liberties to health care and beyond:

* Pretty words and inspiring pageantry from the President, accompanied by endless inaction or contradictory policies;

* Hordes of people who believe in their heart of hearts that the administration is led by such a nice, just and likable man that it couldn't possibly be guilty of anything worse than a little benign political calculation (just as the evangelical, Texas-swaggering Bush did for Red State loyalists, the urbane, charming and highly intelligent Obama possesses all the cultural markers of a good and decent person for Blue State loyalists, and thus simply can't be capable of anything malicious or destructive -- there's a reason Bill Maher tried to remind liberals: "He's your president, not your boyfriend");

* Organizations (exemplified by the truly dreadful HRC) that suck funding out of progressives and serve as liberal validators of administration conduct whose overaching devotion is to the Democratic Party and the administration rather than the causes they claim to promote (fortunately, civil liberties groups are the exception, as they have remained steadfast, unapologetic, independent and principled in harshly criticizing Obama); and,

* Deeply personalized scorn directed at those who try to hold Democrats and the Obama administration accountable -- since they're the ones who control the levers of government with huge majorities -- rather than devote all their energies to the cheap and easy partisan task of ridiculing and blaming a marginalized, impotent conservative movement which is a small minority and currently wields no power in Washington.

I have no idea who the person is who said this to Harwood or how influential or obscure s/he might be, but whoever it is, that person is anything but unusual or aberrational. Quite the opposite.

It's often forgotten or obscured, but the central political fact now is that the Democratic Party controls everything in Washington -- from the branches of government to favors doled out to lobbyists to the policies that Congress and the President enact. Wars that are fought and bills that are or are not passed and policies that are maintained are, by definition, Democratic actions. The dreaded Right can't dictate or stop anything...

Good thing it doesn't have to- the DINOcrats are doing a good enough job on their own.

Even Michael Moore can't blame Barry O. for being bought by the banksters... it's all Timmeh's and Bennie's fault.

Sure it is.

Jobs Program Monopoly for the Jobless Recovery

Exactly who is playing the n-dimensional chess here?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Aided by a bleak job market, the U.S. military met all of its recruitment goals in the past year for the first time since it became an all-volunteer force in 1973, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

Military services have been stretched thin by conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, giving added weight to recruitment efforts as President Barack Obama considers sending another 40,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan next year.

The United States already has 67,000 troops in Afghanistan and about 119,000 in Iraq.

Pentagon officials said recruitment gains were fueled by the deepest U.S. recession since the Great Depression and an unemployment rate nearing 10 percent.

"For the first time since the advent of the all-volunteer force, all of the military components, active and reserve, met their number as well as their quality goals," said Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Al Franken had better avoid small airplanes

Just sayin'.

Thank you, Senator Franken, and okanogen for the link.

Nice Sunny Weather

The twin STEREO spacecraft (called "Behind" and "Ahead" denoting their relative positions in space), now almost 120 degrees apart, captured this large and dramatic prominence eruption over about a 30-hour period between Sept. 26-27, 2009. Prominences, called filaments when they are viewed against the surface of the Sun, are clouds of cooler gas suspended above the Sun's surface by magnetic forces. This erupting prominence was large enough that both spacecraft were able to observe it for hours on end, one of the first times that has occurred. From the Behind perspective (on left) the long filament, darker than the Sun's surface, can be seen rising up and then breaking away, spreading out above most of the Sun's surface. As seen from the Ahead spacecraft (right), the filament is seen in profile and is therefore called a prominence. The very large cloud lifts up, breaks away, and heads out into space. This is one of the most spectacular eruptive prominences either SOHO or STEREO have observed.

We should note that scientists were interested to observe that the side (Ahead) view confirms that the prominence heads from high solar latitudes to near the solar equator, which is what we expect from the usual shape of the extended solar magnetic field at solar minimum. However, it has taken years longer than usual for the field to relax in this cycle.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

They Write Books

Of course, the reviews aren't front page Pravda news- but the data are out there, anyway.

But who ever said people are reality-based?

Paul M. Barrett:

The delightful motif that enlivens Peter S. Goodman’s otherwise sobering new book on economic delusion suggests that we’ve been living in Neverland. The fairy dust of easy money — heedless borrowing by homeowners and investment bankers alike — has lost its magic, and now we have returned to harsh reality.

Goodman, a national economics correspondent for The New York Times, doesn’t go so far as to match literary characters with real-life figures, but clearly the former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan would be his Peter Pan: the fantastical flying boy who wouldn’t grow up to confront the adult world, where his theory of pristine, self-correcting markets simply doesn’t work the way he wishes it would. If Greenspan is Peter, then his band of Lost Boys who live with him in Neverland would include the current Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, and the chief White House economic adviser, Lawrence Summers. Unless our Lost Boys imitate their literary counterparts and return to the gravity-bound world, we could face further rounds of economic disaster.

Goodman, a fair-minded reporter and a clear writer, demonstrates how both Bernanke and Summers, along with most other major economists and Wall Street plutocrats of the past two decades, became entranced by the Greenspan-­Chicago School notion that financial institutions can be trusted to police one another in the absence of rigorous government oversight. Summers opposed the regulation of credit derivatives during his years in the Clinton administration, helping to open the door to the reckless trading and lending that brought Wall Street to its knees. Bernanke failed to appreciate until way too late that the subprime housing bubble would not necessarily deflate on its own.

Greenspan, in one of history’s most galling now-you-tell-us moments, confessed last October that his magical thinking had turned out to be false. Thankfully, he’s gone from the public stage. Bernanke and Summers remain in positions of tremendous influence, and they have failed, so far, to articulate specifically just how wrong Greenspan was, and how they intend to reshape the worlds of banking and financial regulation. The Obama administration’s initiative to stiffen the spine of the Securities and Exchange Commission and curb derivatives speculation is apparently losing momentum. Goodman’s book reminds us that this situation contains the seeds of future fiascoes.

Drawing on his experience covering the technology industry as well as broader economic trends, Goodman performs a tremendous service by showing how the context of market manias changes but the essential content remains the same. The tech boom of the late 1990s gained dangerous momentum when financial seers reassured investors that traditional rules — companies ought to make profits derived from real demand for their goods and services — no longer applied. Crash! More recently the fallacy was that home prices would rise forever, defying the conventional relationship between supply and demand. That’s why banks gave anyone a mortgage, and Wall Street bought those mortgages and turned them into an endless stream of bonds. But when real estate inevitably collapsed, the mortgages went sour, the bonds turned noxious, and, well, here we are.

Some economic indicators are pointing in hopeful directions these days. But we could still see a painful reversal, especially when all those booby-trapped mortgages punish borrowers with interest-rate jumps over the next year. To date, lenders have deftly resisted pressure from Washington to revise the bulk of shaky home loans, heightening the risk of a worsened foreclosure crisis that could drag the larger economy back into recession before we ever reach a solid recovery. Wall Street, for its part, defiantly insists that derivatives trading should remain beyond the reach of the financial police. We desperately need the Lost Boys to wake up and deal with the truth.

The only thing I might quibble with is the nature of the "Lost Boys" we're dealing with. These aren't simply misguided children who refuse to grow up. Oh no- they are quite wealthy as a result of their delusions. There is a whole political order- or rather, disorder- the Chicago School's delusions have been used to support.

There is a "Lost Boys" analogy that works for the Faithful of Chicago School economics, though...

An Accomplishment

You do have to admit Barry O. managed to keep the White House away from people who regard Armageddon as a foreign policy initiative.

They Rule

But they don't always lead. For your consideration, a long time Reptilican operative, who knows it's not socialism when They do it:

...people inside and outside the bank say they were stunned when Richard D. Parsons, Citigroup’s chairman, enlisted the services last spring of Richard F. Hohlt, a longtime Washington insider with a history of aggressive advocacy for the banking industry.

Critics say that as a top lobbyist for the savings and loan industry in the 1980s, Mr. Hohlt blocked regulation of these institutions and played a pivotal role helping to prolong dubious industry practices that cost taxpayers $150 billion to clean up.

After that crisis passed, he faded from the public eye but continued advising clients, cementing his contacts in the news media and even surfacing as one among a handful of Washington insiders involved in the public outing of Valerie Wilson as a C.I.A. agent.

Five former regulators who encountered Mr. Hohlt during the savings and loan fiasco expressed dismay and surprise that he had been hired by the chairman of a bank that has received tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer assistance, and voiced concerns about what exactly he had been hired to do.

“Mr. Hohlt has a track record as a behind-the-scenes, Republican influence peddler who caused severe damage to U.S. citizens by helping to delay and weaken the crackdown on the S.& L. control frauds,” says William K. Black, a former regulator and a top investigator for the definitive Congressional report on the S.& L. crisis.

“It is singularly obscene that any recipient of taxpayer assistance through the TARP program during the current financial crisis would hire one of the most infamous lobbyists in the world to represent them,” says Mr. Black, who now is a professor of law at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

IN the 1980s, Mr. Hohlt’s tactics as a lobbyist for the United States League of Savings Institutions — which he acknowledges included reneging on a promise to support legislation to recapitalize the industry — so enraged regulators that two government officials say they banned him from their offices...

...Mr. Hohlt says that he has never been investigated by any government agency and that his record, lobbying activities and political dealings are transparent.

Mr. Parsons says he hired Mr. Hohlt simply as a political adviser who provides information and counsel, and doesn’t focus on particular legislation. “He is an old Washington hand,” Mr. Parsons said in a interview on Friday. “I hired him to keep me in touch with what’s going on in Washington and what the mood and tenor of the town is.”

Mr. Hohlt’s role is to solve problems and help Mr. Parsons communicate more effectively, but not to lobby on Citigroup’s behalf. “I don’t bring him to meetings,” he said. “He is a useful source of information.”

A spokesman said that Citigroup was paying Mr. Hohlt’s fees, and that because he hadn’t been retained as a lobbyist, his assignment did not need to be publicly disclosed.

The savings and loan industry hasn’t been Mr. Hohlt’s only controversial client. He was the longtime lobbyist for Washington Mutual, arranging Capitol Hill meetings for the chief executive, Kerry K. Killinger, and advising the bank on regulatory matters that related to the Federal Home Loan Bank, according to Mr. Hohlt and a former associate. Washington Mutual collapsed in 2008, becoming the biggest bank failure in history. Mr. Hohlt said he wasn’t aware of the bank’s many problems...

You gotta love that Sargent Schultz defense.

...two people briefed on Mr. Hohlt’s engagement with Citigroup, who requested anonymity because speaking publicly about the situation would jeopardize their jobs, say Mr. Hohlt was also hired to advise Mr. Parsons on ways to blunt the demands of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, one of the bank’s primary regulators. The F.D.I.C. agreed to insure some $300 billion of Citigroup’s troubled assets in a loss-sharing arrangement last year and has been at loggerheads with the bank’s management over stewardship of the sprawling enterprise.

Mr. Hohlt said that it was a “fabrication” that he was hired to jockey with the F.D.I.C. “I’ve never contacted anybody at the F.D.I.C.,” he said.

A spokesman for the F.D.I.C. declined to comment on Mr. Hohlt’s hiring because the agency does not discuss specific institutions. “Generally speaking, we expect banks to adhere to high ethical and reputational standards,” said Andrew Gray, an agency spokesman...

They only hire the best lawyers to keep up that appearance, too.

...a former aide to Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican, Mr. Hohlt parlayed his connections and experience into a lucrative lobbying business. He is also a founding member of an informal Washington salon, known as the Off-the-Record Club, where prominent Republicans, including Vin Weber and Karl Rove, gather for dinner to trade strategy. Mr. Hohlt is also a well-known background source for Washington journalists.

He surfaced in 2007 during the perjury trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr., an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Hohlt had a cameo role in the leak that identified Valerie Wilson as a Central Intelligence Agency operative. The journalist who broke the story, Robert Novak, testified during the trial that he had given the column to Mr. Hohlt, a longtime source, before it was published. Mr. Hohlt said he gave the column to Mr. Rove, who was the White House’s political director at the time.

For the 2008 election, Mr. Hohlt gave about $108,700 in campaign contributions, nearly all to Republicans. During the 2004 re-election campaign of President George W. Bush, Mr. Hohlt was among the “Super Rangers” who raised more than $200,000.

Mr. Hohlt began working for Mr. Parsons at a time when Citigroup was increasingly reliant on the public’s largess to remain viable.

The bank received two injections totaling $45 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program last year. It has also raised $45 billion in debt using the backing of the F.D.I.C. and, through its subsidiaries, had an additional $28 billion in commercial paper and interbank deposits backed by the F.D.I.C. While other banks have weaned themselves from the program, Citi has continued to issue debt under it.

But the government is also on the hook for future losses at Citi. Late last year, regulators struck a loss-sharing deal with the bank covering a pool of assets that totaled $267 billion in the most recent financial statement. Under the terms of the arrangement, Citi will swallow the first $29.5 billion in losses on this pool; 90 percent of any additional losses will be borne by the government and the other 10 percent by Citi.

During the last decade, Mr. Hohlt and his firm also have done work for JPMorgan Chase and Sallie Mae, the student loan financing company. Mr. Hohlt was appointed to Sallie Mae’s board by George H. W. Bush in 1991.

Beginning in 2007, Fannie Mae hired Mr. Hohlt’s firm, even though as a savings and loan lobbyist two decades earlier, he had opposed the agency. “We fought against Fannie Mae,” Mr. Hohlt recalled. “I made sure we got an amendment in a bill that prohibited them from having a PAC,” or political action committee.

Hohlt & Associates has been paid more than $7 million in lobbying fees in the last decade, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. From 2000 to 2006, it made $400,000 to $700,000 in lobbying fees each year. In 2007 and 2008, the business took off, exceeding $1 million annually. In 2008, the year the credit crisis began in earnest, more than half of the firm’s increased business came from financial services firms. His clients also include Altria, the cigarette maker formerly known as Philip Morris; Bristol-Myers Squibb; Chevron; and the Nuclear Energy Institute...

...For decades, savings and loan associations were sleepy institutions that operated under tight restrictions on the loans they made and the interest rates they paid to depositors. But in 1982, with interest rates rocketing, the industry persuaded Congress to relax these restrictions. The Garn-St. Germain legislation (also named for Fernand J. St. Germain, Democrat of Rhode Island) freed savings and loans to make more-risky loans and eliminated the caps on interest rates that they could pay on deposits.

Almost immediately, S.& L.’s were bought by high-rolling entrepreneurs who saw the opportunities in taking deposits that were insured by the government and lending them out to real estate developers.

Once this mania was under way, lobbyists for the industry worked hard to keep regulators at bay, former officials recall. “The U.S. League was very active in trying to water down the capital requirements for S.& L.’s,” recalled Kenneth McLean, former staff director to William Proxmire, the late Wisconsin Democrat who headed the Senate Banking Committee in 1987 and 1988.

Two former officials, a banking regulator and an under secretary of the Treasury, said they banned Mr. Hohlt from their offices. “He wasn’t my style,” said Richard T. Pratt, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board president in the early 1980s. “He was very aggressive I thought, kind of the caricature of a lobbyist.”

... “The fact is, when it came to thrift matters in Congress, the U.S. League and many of its affiliates were the de facto government,” said Edwin J. Gray, former head of the Federal Home Loan Bank, testifying before Congress in 1989. “What the league wanted, it got. What it did not want from Congress, it had killed.”

In an interview last week, Mr. Gray laughed when he heard that Mr. Hohlt continued as a paid advocate for financial institutions. “He’s a creature of Washington special interests and has been since I have known him, so I’m not surprised,” he said. “Memories are short when money is involved.”

I'm sure the banksters pay a lot to keep them that way.