Saturday, October 29, 2011

Magic mushroom’s positive effects lasting over a year, say researchers

Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine claim to have determined the proper dose levels needed to create positive changes in attitudes, mood, life satisfaction, and behavior that persist for more than a year with the psychoactive substance in so-called “magic mushrooms.”

The findings are the latest in a series of experiments done at Johns Hopkins to investigate psilocybin, a psychedelic substance contained in certain mushrooms. The findings were published online this week in the peer-reviewed journal Psychopharmacology.

“In cultures before ours, the spiritual guide or healer had to discern how much of what type of mushroom to use for what purposes, because the strength of psychoactive mushrooms varies from species to species and even from specimen to specimen,” said Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study’s lead scientist.

“In our laboratory, weʼre working with the pure chemical psilocybin, which we can measure out precisely,” he added. “We wanted to take a methodical look at how its effects change with dosage. We seem to have found levels of the substance and particular conditions for its use that give a high probability of a profound and beneficial experience, a low enough probability of psychological struggle, and very little risk of any actual harm.”

SIMILAR: First therapeutic study of LSD in 35 years finishes treatment of last subject

The researchers said 94 percent of the study’s 18 participants rated their experiences with psilocybin as among the top five most or as the top most spiritually significant experience of his or her life at a 14-month follow-up. Eighty-four percent also reported positive changes in their behaviors, changes like improved relationships with family and others, increased physical and psychological self-care, and increased devotion to spiritual practice, which were corroborated by family members and others.

“I feel that I relate better in my marriage,” one participant reported. “There is more empathy – a greater understanding of people and understanding their difficulties and less judgment.”
The participants, ages 29 to 62, were screened to include only those who were deemed psychologically and physically healthy. Each participant received five closely-monitored, eight-hour psilocybin sessions a month apart. Each session had a different dose of psilocybin, with one session using a placebo, and was “blind,” meaning neither the participants, the monitors, nor the scientists knew how much psilocybin – if any – had been given during any session.

At higher doses of psilocybin, nearly a third of the participants experienced great fear or had delusions, but with gentle guidance from researchers, those reactions did not outlast the psilocybin session or harm the participants. Those who received lower doses of the psychedelic before the higher doses were the most likely to have long-lasting positive changes in attitudes and behavior.

Potential psychotherapeutic value of ‘magic mushrooms’
“The Hopkins psilocybin studies clearly demonstrate that this route to the mystical is not to be walked alone,” Jerome Jaffe, M.D., who served as the first White House “Drug Czar,” commented. “But they have also demonstrated significant and lasting benefits.”

“That raises two questions: Could psilocybin-occasioned experiences prove therapeutically useful, for example in dealing with the psychological distress experienced by some terminal patients? And should properly-informed citizens, not in distress, be allowed to receive psilocybin for its possible spiritual benefits, as we now allow them to pursue other possibly risky activities such as cosmetic surgery and mountain-climbing?”

A similar study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in January found psilocybin can safely improve the moods of patients with advanced-stage cancer and anxiety.

The study was headed by Dr. Charles S. Grob, a professor of psychiatry at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and found a significant improvement of mood and a reduction in symptoms of anxiety up to six months after receiving psilocybin-assisted therapy.

“We are working with a patient population that often does not respond well to conventional treatments,” said Grob. “Following their treatments with psilocybin, the patients and their families reported benefit from the use of this hallucinogen in reducing their anxiety. This study shows psilocybin can be administered safely, and that further investigation of hallucinogens should be pursued to determine their potential benefits.”

Although some may be concerned that a relatively unstudied and illegal substance such as psilocybin could pose health risks, a study published in the Psychopharmacology in 2004 found there is “no cause for concern that [psilocybin] is hazardous with respect to somatic health” in healthy adults.

The only physiological side-effects the study found was a brief increase in blood pressure and a small increase in levels of thyroid-stimulating-hormone (TSH), prolactin, cortisol, and adrenocorticotropic hormone. None of these side-effects were considered dangerous to healthy adults.

“Typically, the experiences after [medium and high doses of psilocybin] were rated positive, with retrospective statements ranging from ‘pleasurable’ to ‘ineffably beautiful,’ ” according to the study. One volunteer had a fearful experience after being given a high dose of psilocybin, but his anxiety was resolved without the need for pharmacological intervention.

“We know that psilocybin is remarkably non-toxic to the bodyʼs organ systems,” Matthew Johnson, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins and lead author of an earlier Hopkins paper on hallucinogen safety remarked. “But there are indirect risks: if someone experiences high anxiety, fear, or paranoia during a psilocybin session, itʼs not hard to imagine them behaving in ways harmful to themselves or others.”

“These risks appear to be minimized when volunteers develop a trusting relationship with a skilled monitor, who remains present with them for the duration of the substanceʼs primary effects, and who is available afterwards for consultation.”

Obama Is Attacking the Perfectly Legal Medical Marijuana Industry

With storefront dispensaries popping up across the country, the Obama Administration is fighting the burgeoning industry. 
By Ted Cox, AlterNet
Posted on October 27, 2011

At the moment 16 states and Washington DC have legalized medical cannabis, providing safe access to patients, creating thousands of jobs and pumping millions of dollars in tax revenue into struggling state and local economies. Some of those state and local governments are working with their medical cannabis providers to adopt common-sense regulations and to cut down the potential for abuse -- with varying degrees of success.

But under the federal Controlled Substance Act, cannabis is a Schedule I substance -- right along with heroin, ecstasy and LSD -- and still illegal. The feds are concerned that medical cannabis is making its way onto the black market, that dispensaries are generating obscene profits and that cannabis providers are targeting children in ads.

Deputy U.S. Attorney General David Ogden issued a memorandum in October 2009 saying the Justice Department was unlikely to go after cannabis patients, but that "prosecution of commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority of the department." But recent months have seen a strong push-back by the federal government. With storefront dispensaries popping up across the country, and medical cannabis expected to grow to a $1.7 billion industry, here are four ways the federal government is fighting the burgeoning industry.
1) Land seizure
The big announcement that has everyone hunkered down is that U.S. attorneys in California have threatened to seize land that is rented or leased to dispensaries.

Four U.S. attorneys have already sent letters threatening to seize land leased to cannabis clubs. Letters have so far gone out to landlords in Orange County, San Francisco, San Diego and Marin, giving them 45 days to kick out any medical marijuana operations. The feds seem to be targeting larger clubs and those operating within 1,000 feet of schools.

"Marijuana stores operating in proximity to schools, parks and other areas where children are present send the wrong message to those in our society who are the most impressionable," said Melinda Haag, attorney general for the Northern District of California. "In addition, the huge profits generated by these stores, and the value of their inventory, present a danger that the stores will become a magnet for crime, which jeopardizes the safety of nearby children."

The crackdown was the result of local officials asking the feds to step in after pot clubs fought back against attempts to shut them down. Eviction notices were sent to eight Lake Forest dispensaries and feds froze $130,000 in assets of the landlord who leased to them.
The tactic has had a chilling effect on the industry, even in jurisdictions where no eviction notices have been reported. In San Jose, some dispensaries have seen up to half of their business drop in the two weeks since the announcement.

2) Ads
Just days after feds announced the crackdown on California landowners, Laura Duffy, one of the four California U.S. attorneys, said she would next go after radio stations and newspapers that run ads for cannabis dispensaries "as part of the enforcement efforts in Southern California." Federal law prohibits advertising illegal substances.

"I'm not just seeing print advertising," Duffy is quoted as saying in California Watch. "I'm actually hearing radio and seeing TV advertising. It's gone mainstream. Not only is it inappropriate – one has to wonder what kind of message we're sending to our children – it's against the law."

Newspaper ad revenue has crashed with the tanking economy, forcing papers to lay off reporters. Cannabis ads have proved a lifeline for struggling newspapers, especially alternative newsweeklies. But even some mainstream dailies like the Sacramento Bee have started running cannabis ads.

So far, alt weeklies in the San Diego area that run cannabis ads for years have not received any warnings from the U.S. attorney office. Other California U.S. attorneys didn't say whether they would follow Duffy's lead.

3) Bank services
Cannabis dispensary owners say they're having trouble obtaining bank and credit card services and federal authorities in Northern California have ordered banks to spy on transactions of cannabis club accounts.

When it came to finding a bank, Denver-area Alpine Herbal Wellness owner Sue Harank told news service Thomson Reuters, "It was a nightmare."

Big banks like Bank of America were initially eager to provide services for cannabis dispensaries, but a warning from the DEA said banks could be open to legal liability for those services.

Under pressure from the DEA, banks are shutting down any accounts associated with medical cannabis dispensaries, making difficult for dispensaries to pay employees and payroll taxes, or to provide credit card processing equipment for transactions.

Earlier this year, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported that federal banking regulators would require banks on the Northern California coast to monitor accounts for medical cannabis because the area had been designated a "high-risk area" for money laundering, especially from those in the medical marijuana business.

4) IRS
In October, the IRS told Oakland, Calif.-based dispensary Harborside Health Center it owed $2.5 million in back taxes for 2007 and 2008 -- $2 million more than the dispensary had paid. The tax bill could shut down Harborside.

Because federal law prohibits cannabis dispensaries, the IRS said Harborside couldn't take standard deductions for payroll, workers' comp, rent and other business expenses. Federal tax code 280-E keeps "drug trafficking organizations" from deducting those expenses.

The IRS will also audit Harborside's 2009 and 2010 tax returns. At least a dozen California dispensaries are also being audited, according to a California attorney representing them.

A similar decision was handed to Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Fairfax in March, with owner Lynette Shaw saying they now owed "millions and millions."

"This is not an effort to tax us. We're happy to pay our taxes," Harborside executive director Steve DeAngelo told the San Francisco Chronicle. "This is an effort to shut us down."

400% Rise in Anti-Depressant Pill Use: Americans Are Disempowered

By Bruce E. Levine, AlterNet
Posted on October 26, 2011
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that antidepressant use in the United States has increased nearly 400 percent in the last two decades, making antidepressants the most frequently used class of medications by Americans ages 18-44. Among Americans 12 years and older, 11 percent were taking antidepressants by 2005-2008 (the most recently reported study period), and 23 percent of women ages 40–59 years were taking them.

Why has U.S. antidepressant use skyrocketed? Are the symptoms of what is commonly called depressionhelplessness, hopelessness, and immobilizationalways evidence of a medical condition? Or is it time to repoliticize a great deal of our despair, and reconsider the old-fashioned antidepressant of political activism?

Common Explanations for Soaring Antidepressant Use
Nowhere in the CDC report is there any explanation for the 400 percent increase of antidepressant use from 1988 to 2008, however, there are several common explanations offered by mental health professionals and journalists.  

Money is a large factor. It has become more lucrative for psychiatrists and other physicians to prescribe medication than to provide talk therapy. This was detailed in the New York Times March 2011 investigative report Talk Doesn’t Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy which reported, “A 2005 government survey found that just 11 percent of psychiatrists provided talk therapy to all patients.” Actually, most antidepressant prescriptions are written by physicians other than psychiatrists and, according to the recent CDC report, among Americans taking one antidepressant, less than one-third of them  have seen a mental health professional in the past year.  

Antidepressant use has also skyrocketed because of the increased practice of prescribing antidepressants for many conditions other than severe depression, and prescribing them for longer periods of time. Among the 2005-2008 antidepressant user group (no data offered on earlier study periods), only 33.9 percent had severe symptoms of depression; 28.4 percent of antidepressant users had moderate symptoms; and 19.2 percent had mild symptoms; while 7.6 percent had no depression symptoms. And, according to the CDC report, more than 60 percent of Americans who are taking antidepressants have taken them for 2 years or longer, with 14 percent having taken them for 10 years or more. 

According to antidepressant manufacturers, the increase in antidepressant use has been caused by their creation of more effective antidepressants, including the so-called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft which came on the market in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, by the late 1990s, psychiatry textbooks had already rejected the idea of increased effectiveness of SSRIs (for example, Robert Julien’s A Primer of Drug Action (1998) states, “The newer antidepressants [SSRIs] are not necessarily more effective than the older TCAs [tricyclics] ).”  

Rather than SSRIs’ greater effectiveness, it was their greater publicity that stimulated public acceptance. One publicity coup commenced in 1997 when U.S. government agencies changed the rules for broadcast advertising, no longer requiring full information about side effects (which had previously made it problematic for drug companies to run a thirty-second spot). TV advertising dramatically increased patient requests for antidepressants from their physicians. A study reported in 2005 by the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Influence of Patients’ Requests for Direct-to-Consumer Advertised Antidepressants,” concluded, “Patients’ requests have a profound effect on physician prescribing.” 

A Neglected Explanation: The Depoliticizing of Despair
A largely neglected explanation for the huge growth of antidepressant use is that Americans have increasingly been socialized to equate all states of demoralization and immobilizing despair with a medical condition, and to seek medical treatment rather than political remedies. 

Depression is highly associated with a variety of overwhelming pains, including physical pain, relationship pain (such as a dissatisfying marriage and social isolation), trauma—and financial pains.  

Financial pains include unemployment, poverty, and debt. In 2007 the U.S. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration reported depression in 12.7 percent of unemployed people compared to 7 percent of employed people. And the Urban Institute in 1996 reported that Americans on public assistance have at least three times higher rate of depression than those not on public assistance. A person who has suffered mental illness is three times more likely to be in debt than someone who is not in debt, according to Richard Wakerall, director of the U.K. mental health organization Mind in Plymouth. 

Recently, I had a chance encounter at Cincinnati’s Findlay Market with five young adults who reported large student-loan debt and who appeared mildly depressed about it. I happened to be in a charged-up mood, having just participated in an Occupy Cincy march, and I told them that the entire U.S. $1 trillion student-loan debt could be forgiven if the U.S. government paid it off rather than funding the damn military-industrial complex, which costs us over $1 trillion a year if you include everything. They started to smile and look more energized, and three of them seemed interested in the Occupy Cincy movement. If America’s millions of depressed student-loan debtors could politicize their despair and take it to the mall in Washington D.C., we could dwarf the crowds in Tahrir Square. 

Can Activism Be an Antidepressant?
Almost as soon as I entered Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C. on October 6, I experienced a wave of pleasant feelings and energy. My wife, Bon, and I showed up about 10am on the first day of “October 2011” (“Occupy Freedom Plaza”) in Washington D.C. after driving there from Cincinnati. In sharp contrast to the blank and depressed faces that I had just seen on the D.C. Metro and on the D.C. streets, we were now surrounded by a thousand or so people who were smiling, laughing, engaged in political discussions, and eagerly awaiting the day’s events. I chatted with two of the organizers, David Swanson and Margaret Flowers, and found their hope and energy a supreme antidote to cynicism. The opposite of depression is vitality, and so by just stepping into Freedom Plaza, I had received a strong antidepressant.  

Then came the day’s major march. Depression is much about feeling hopeless, alienated, isolated, and powerless, and this march was an antidote to all those feelings. For a couple of hours, we felt some real power. We marched on the streets— not the sidewalks—and traffic was blocked by police, who for those moments in time actually were the People’s servants. We marched past the White House and the Treasury, paused at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to “drop off some job resumes” and for some short speeches, then up and over to K Street, with many cars honking approval and some non-marchers on the sidewalks raising their fists and shouting encouragement. Then back to the Plaza, and a couple of hours later a General Assembly. 

The General Assembly was attended by about 500 people who experienced, some for the first time, a non-hierarchical, anti-authoritarian, respectful democracy where the issues of the day were discussed. No one was rude  and all seemed jovially patient. We hadn’t planned to stay more than that day, but leaving the Plaza late that evening, we had an urge to return. 

The next morning, I found my pace quicken as I headed from the Metro station back to Freedom Plaza, as I was excited to return to this piece of “federal property” that had begun to feel like a “People’s Oasis.” We had succeeded, at least for the time being, in taking back a small piece of the United States and restoring it to some kind of sanity and humanity. A section of the Plaza was filled with sleeping bags, backpacks and cardboard shelters, and our food, media, and first-aid tents still stood.  

We decided to prolong our visit and stay for the afternoon march to the Martin Luther King Memorial. At this march, there were the chants that are common to all Occupy marches: “We are the 99 percent.” “The banks got bailed out, we got sold out.” “Hey, hey, ho, ho, corporate greed has got to go.” “Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.” On this march, we paused at the International Trade Center (in the Ronald Reagan Building), where there were about 75 demonstrators protesting the tar sands pipeline. As some of our marchers had earlier participated in their protest, the pipeline protesters returned the favor by joining our march. We shouted our appreciation and our morale kicked up another notch. 

Leaving Freedom Plaza at the end of my short stint there, I thought that even a little dose of democracy, especially when it has not been experienced, is the best damn antidepressant that many people will ever experience. And even if the cynics are right and the movement dies from cold weather or gets large enough for the corporatocracy to bring out their tanks and crush it, something still will have been won. Everybody who participated will remember that their demoralization and despair was “cured,” at least for a time, not by a pill or any other consumer product but by their own political actions. 

Why Does the Obama Administration Escalate Confrontation With Iran?

The Obama administration announced two weeks ago that a bumbling Iranian-American used car salesman had conspired with a U.S. government agent posing as a representative of Mexican drug cartels, to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. This brought highly skeptical reactions from experts here  across the political spectrum.

But even if some of this tale turns out to be true, the handling of such accusations is inherently political. For example, the U.S.  government’s 9/11 commission investigated the links between the attackers and the Saudi ruling family, but refused to make public the results of that investigation. The reason is obvious: there is dirt there and Washington doesn’t want to create friction with a key ally. And keep in mind that this is about complicity with an attack on American soil that killed 3000 people.

By contrast, the Obama administration seized upon the rather dubious speculation that “the highest levels of the Iranian government” were involved in this alleged plot.  President Obama announced that “all options are on the table,” which is well-known code for possible military action. This is extremist and dangerous rhetoric.

University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, a leading Mideast scholar,offered that Obama may be “wagging the dog” – looking for a military confrontation to help his re-election in the face of a stagnant economy and high unemployment. This is certainly possible. Recall that George W. Bush used the build-up to the Iraq war to secure both houses of Congress in the 2002 election. He didn’t even have to go to war. The run-up to war worked perfectly to achieve his main goal: all of the issues that most voters cared about and were threatening to cost Republicans one or both chambers of Congress – the jobless recovery, Social Security, corporate scandals – disappeared from the news during the election season between August and November. President Obama’s advisers certainly understand these things.

Of course the latest saber-rattling could also just be part of a long-term preparation for war with Iran, just as President Clinton spent years preparing the ground for the Iraq war launched by Bush. Once this is done,war is difficult to stop; and once these wars are launched, they are even more difficult to end, as 10 years of useless, bloody war in Afghanistan show.

That is why international initiatives to roll back the march toward war, like the nuclear fuel-swap proposal brought forth by Brazil and Turkey in May 2010, are so important.  The Iranian government has recently offered to stop enriching uranium if the United States would provide uranium for Iran’s medical research reactor – which it needs for hundreds of thousands of cancer patients. This uranium would not be usable for weapons. The proposal was endorsed by leaders of the American Federation of Scientists.

Brazil is one of the few countries with the international stature, independence, neutrality and respect to help defuse this confrontation. We can only hope that it will make further attempts to save the world from another horrible war.

Living in a Delusional World

I have come to the conclusion that Big Brother’s subjects in George Orwell’s 1984 are better informed than Americans.

Americans have no idea why they have been at war in the Middle East, Asia and Africa for a decade.  They don’t realize that their liberties have been supplanted by a Gestapo Police State.  Few understand that hard economic times are here to stay.

On October 27, 2011, the US government announced some routine economic statistics, and the president of the European Council announced a new approach to the Greek sovereign debt crisis.  The result of these funny numbers and mere words sent the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to its largest monthly rally since 1974, erasing its 2011 yearly loss. The euro rose, putting the European currency again 40% above its initial parity with the US dollar when the euro was introduced.

On National Public Radio a half-wit analyst declared, emphatically, that the latest US government statistics proved that the recovery was in place and that there was no danger whatsoever of a double-dip recession. And half-brain economists predicted a better tomorrow.

Europe is happy because the European private banks, the creditors of the European governments, have agreed to eat 50% of Greece’s sovereign debt and to be recapitalized by public money handed to them by the European Financial Stability Facility rescue fund.  The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, thinks that Greece’s debt is the only sovereign debt to be written down and that the debt of Italy, Spain, and Portugal will somehow be bailed out through other means, including a Chinese contribution to the EFSF rescue fund.

Obviously, if all EU sovereign debt has to be cut by 50% as well, the rescue fund would not be up to the job.
For our corrupt financial markets, any news that can be spun as good news can send stocks up. But what are the facts?

For facts one has to turn to serious people, not to the presstitute media. Among those who give us real facts is John Williams of  In his October 27 report, Williams exposes the happy second quarter 2011 economic growth figure of 2.5% as nonsense. Every other economic indicator contradicts the spin.

For example, personal consumption is reported to have increased 1.7%, but this surge in consumption took place despite a 1.7% collapse in consumer disposable income!  In other words, if there was an increase in personal consumption, it come from drawing down savings or from incurring higher consumer debt.

A country’s consumers cannot forever draw down savings or go deeper into debt. For an economy to recover, there must be growth in consumer income.  That growth is nowhere to be seen in the US.  A large percentage of the goods and services sold to Americans by American corporations are now produced abroad by foreign labor. Thus, Americans no longer receive incomes from the production of the goods and services that they consume. The American consumer market is on its way out.

The Dow Jones rose 339.51 points on the phony good news, but consumer sentiment is in the basement. John Williams reports that “consumer confidence hit the lowest levels ever recorded in 2008 and 2009” and that consumer confidence has now “fallen back to that 2008 level.”  But the stock market boomed.  Somehow a population 23% unemployed with debt up to its eyeballs is going to spark an economic recovery.

Recovery can only happen in the delusional world created for us by the concentrated media. No longer permitted to utter one world of truth, the presstitutes proclaim non-existent recoveries and weapons of mass destruction and demonize Washington’s chosen opponents.

The sovereign debt crisis in Europe has distracted Americans from the much worst crisis in their country. After two decades of exporting US manufacturing and middle class jobs, and after a decade of consumer debt growth that has resulted in millions of foreclosed homeowners and massive credit card and student loan debt that cannot be paid, consumers have no income growth or borrowing capacity with which to fuel an economy based on consumer demand.

European banks, already ruined by purchases of Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s AAA ratings of junk derivatives, now find themselves threatened by sovereign debt. Greece’s debt crisis, caused with Goldman Sachs’ help in hiding the true debt of the country as was done for Enron, has brought to light that Portugal, Ireland, Italy, and Spain, in addition to Greece, have more debt than the governments can service.

In the EU, unlike the US and UK which have their own central banks that can create new money to bail out the over-indebted governments, the EU central bank is prohibited by treaty from printing money in order to purchase bonds from member states that cannot be redeemed.

Regardless of the treaty prohibition, the EU central bank has been lending Greece the money to pay its bond holders. The imposed austerity that is part of the deal created political instability in Greece.

Now that European Council President Herman Van Rompuy has announced a 50% write-off by private banks of Greek sovereign debt, can the same treatment be denied Portugal, Italy, and Spain?

The European Central Bank is following the lead of the Federal Reserve and creating new money to bail out debt.  The cost will be paid in inflation and flight from the euro and the dollar. As an indication of the future, despite the positive spin on the news and the rise in US stocks, on October 27 the Japanese yen rose to a new high against the US dollar.

The “War on Drugs” is Really a War on You

by on Oct 28, 2011

Hardly a week goes by without me seeing another think piece on the question: “Are we winning the war on drugs?”

That depends on who “we” is. The War on Drugs has certainly served some very powerful interests in our society. Between the Drug War and the War on Terror, we’ve militarized police culture with SWAT teams, turned the Fourth through Sixth Amendments into toilet paper, and created the biggest prison-industrial complex in the world. From the standpoint of those who push the Drug War the hardest, these are all — as Martha Stewart would say — good things.

The Drug War has handed over the entire country to organized crime gangs fighting over control of the drug trade. And one of the biggest gangs involved in this turf war is the one in police uniforms. Big city (and increasingly, small city) law enforcement is a wretched empire of entrapment, warrants sworn out on false pretenses, perjured testimony by jailhouse snitches, coerced plea bargains, and civil forfeiture robbery.

Internationally, by far the biggest drug cartel of all is the CIA. It’s used the global drug trade, from the Golden Triangle to the Northern Alliance territory in Afghanistan, to fund black ops that wouldn’t even pass the smell test of the U.S. Congress — and that’s saying a lot.

Just consider the real story behind Afghanistan. One of the reason the Taliban was so unpopular, and the population was so eager to throw off their rule, was that they really did hate drugs — they virtually stamped out the poppy cultivation that had been a main source of income for dirt-poor Afghans. Meanwhile, the opium trade flourished in Northern Alliance territory (a lot like the good ol’ boy sheriff here in Arkansas who turns a blind eye to the farmer with a mortgage who cultivates a little wacky weed to make ends meet). And now that the Northern Alliance has become the Afghan national government — that’s right, you got it — Afghanistan is once again the center of world opium production. If you believe Our Troops are really trying to stamp it out, you probably still look under your pillow for a dime from the Tooth Fairy.

So the Drug War is every bit a success in furthering the interests of America’s real government: The unholy alliance of the intelligence community, the drug cartels, the big banks that launder drug cartel money, and the domestic police state apparatus.

My guess is that the most hard-core drug warrior politicians, sincere or not, whether they’re aware of it or not, get most of their campaign funds from laundered drug cartel money — just as bootleggers used to be the biggest campaign contributors to teetotaling Baptist preachers running for office.

I would guess, further, that any major party presidential candidate who offered a credible promise to end the War on Drugs would find himself buried deeper than Jimmy Hoffa, with more fingerprints on the operation than a million Warren Commissions sitting for a million years could make sense of.

So in the War on Drugs, the important thing to keep in mind is that the public isn’t the customer — it’s the product. On second thought, maybe you better forget it and go back to watching “Dancing with the Stars.”

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

by Jesse Mathewson | October 25th, 2011

Among the many repeated quotes from the time before this nation was a nation is the Patrick Henry quote, over time it has become an often misused quote for many. In our present day and age there is a looming potential for violent action, for myself I ask for peace.
            …Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death! – Patrick Henry on March 23, 1775

He gave this speech after combat had already been joined, though the first “military” action that occurred was later that year in Lexington and Concord there had already been several instances of bloodletting in which the British regulars had attacked groups of British citizens who were tired of taxation, rules from leadership that had no idea what they faced and above all were tired of paying to promote the imperialistic gains and movements of the then largest Empire on earth, Great Britain. The Boston Massacre had occurred almost 5 years prior to this “shot heard round the world” on March, 5 1770. There had been many other minor events of individuals and groups being accosted, families being evicted from their homes and more.  Was conflict a desirable outcome, did it have lasting results, and more importantly did this revolution result in long term freedom and liberty? No, is the resounding answer to all of the above. For it was a short ten years after the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia and less than eight years after  the infamous Treaty of Paris in 1783 that congress ratified the “CONstitution”, and in a masterful stroke assured that their future generations would live on in the United States as chattel slaves as Chris Dates recently wrote here.

There are hundreds of thousands of not millions of Americans who are currently looking around wondering what has gone wrong. The numbers of unemployed and wrongfully imprisoned increase in leaps and bounds daily, the powder keg has been lit, but is bloodshed what is needed or wanted?

I argue that we are men* with far more available options than mere violent letting of blood. 

Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth noted that the major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns. (Why Civil Resistance Works, the Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict 2008) additionally others such as Gene Sharp have written similar works lauding the use of nonviolence as it applies to the success of the movement both during and after the revolution.

In my research I have discovered that of the violent revolutions waged over the past 300 years the large majority of “wins” has resulted in the eventual or immediate replacement of the prior “state” with yet a larger more complex, better organized version. A version 2.0 in geek terminology, it is those nonviolent revolutions that have succeeded in often times replacing the entire approach with something that has been actively better.

The question is why, is it that humans are tiring of conflict and with the advances we have made in our abilities both technologically and mentally we no longer have the desire for large amounts of conflict or is it that as Theo Zagtech at Occupy your Brain recently stated, “Humans continue to rebel against their governments, the scope of each getting smaller and smaller. As the scope gets smaller, the power gets smaller, and thus the people become stronger. Inch by inch we, as a species, are becoming more confident in our ability to achieve happiness and success without the protection of a ruler.”

Accomplishing a nonviolent revolution of the type many of us desire which is the complete removal of the state and its accompanying embellishments which result in millions of deaths, imprisonments and chattel slaves annually, will take time. It will also take the thoughtful presentation of facts, ideas and options as compared to what we have now. We must show others that a free society is a functioning one; we must show others that our business models work, that roads and “protection” is possible without the hand of the “state” guiding it.

 In a recent article on Occupy your Brain I wrote, “Do not attack others personal beliefs regardless of the reasoning we may have in doing so. Learn to support your arguments with more than media speculation or the idle chatter of others surrounding you. If you must protest then do so after first understanding the issue you are protesting. Be ready when the cameras get to you, so that instead of a stuttering vacant eyed fool you come across as a truly enigmatic, knowledgeable individual who possesses the knowledge and desire to change the world.” Above all this is the easiest way to launch a “nonviolent revolution” of the type necessary to ensure our future generations have a world to live in where they retain personal liberty.

 I would also add that we should work to assist our neighbors in all things that they may have need, reintroduce the idea of neighbors helping neighbors and simply being neighborly. Show others that the state is unnecessary by whenever possible building our own roads, engaging our own private fire departments, and working together in “civil” neighborhood watches to dissuade criminal activity.

Do not engage the “state” if at all possible in any way unless by so avoiding the state you cause a threat to yourself or your family from the state, in which case I leave that to each individual. Frequent farmers markets, swap meets and any other venues where you can operate in a fashion that reduces the amount of theft the state takes from you for transactions of which it has no moral right to avail itself of. Above all be prepared, as the “militias” pre-Revolutionary war were, train with your neighbors in “fire drills” that allow for the largest best response to potential criminal activity or natural disasters and more. I leave the specifics up to yourselves though a quick study of several (a short list will follow) “preparedness” books will allow you to better assess your needs.

I leave you all with the following thought, we can live in peace with our neighbors, regardless of religion (which is private), race (which is a non-issue for many) or any other commonly presented “issue” capitalized on by the state for the sole purpose of separating us and ensuring our docile nature of subservience. Strike the root, occupy your brain, liberty is a thought away.

Free your mind and you will free your body.
 *I am falling back on the classic term “men” and in fact mean all humans within the “borders” of the United States.

Starving the Monkeys, A highly recommend book of the mind and body for the liberty minded individual. See his blog here

Principles of Personal Defense, as a practitioner of the “art of the gun” I train in the steps of the greats, Jeff Cooper and more. Sadly Jeff Cooper is no longer with us though his methods live on.

How to survive the end of the world as we know it, though I am personally not a fan of Rawles’ incessant religionist approaches I am must grudgingly admit that he is a well written individual. See his blog here

Rogue Nation Eternal Militias Handbook 2, this is a great anonymous book specifically designed to guide people through the quagmire of potential “law enforcement” intervention as well as preparation.

IRA Green Book, directs your attention to the less palatable side of the nonviolent (or violent) activists life and interaction with state enforcers.

The War on "Supersized Alcopops"

Prohibitionists succeeded in removing the caffeine from Four Loco. Now they're targeting the alcohol.
Roughly a year ago, it looked like it might be last call for Four Loko, the notorious fruit-flavored malt liquor that was allegedly as lethal as a Mexican drug cartel. While even the strongest incarnation of the beverage contained only 12 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), or about as much as your average white zinfandel, Four Loko also contained caffeine, guarana, and taurine, and these ingredients had made the brand both a college party staple and a convenient target for critics who charged its manufacturer, the Chicago-based Phusion Products, with irresponsibly pandering to young consumers who had already turned the non-alcoholic energy drink market into a multi-billion-dollar business. On November 17, 2010, the Federal Drug administration (FDA) sent a warning letter to the company that essentially advised Phusion Projects to remove Four Loko from the marketplace or else face potential product seizures, injunctions, and prosecutions.

While Phusion had announced a day earlier that it was planning to remove the caffeine, guarana, and taurine from its products, the threat of imminent FDA action produced a substantial chilling effect in convenience-store coolers everywhere. In the wake of the FDA’s letter, Phusion’s three co-founders would later recount at the 2011 Industry Beer Summit, the company lost more than 30,000 distribution points as retailers balked at selling the product. In addition, Phusion was stuck with as much as $30 million worth of unsalable inventory, which according to Phusion vice president of communications, Chris Short, it eventually “destroyed and recycled into ethanol.”

Ironically, the FDA warning letter produced a similar quandary for Four Loko’s foes as it did for Four Loko’s creators—how to proceed when caffeine was no longer part of the mix? While Phusion Products was busy reformulating its product line, Alcohol Justice, a non-profit advocacy organization formerly known as the Marin Institute, reformulated its argument against Four Loko, Anheuser-Busch’s Tilt, and similar products. “They took the caffeine out of their drinks, but now they are fueling youth binge drinking with giant single-serving cans of alcopops,” exclaimed Alcohol Justice’s Executive Director Bruce Lee Livingston in a January 2011 press release. Eliminating caffeine from flavored malt beverages was a start, the organization suggested, but it also proposed that the container sizes of these products be limited to 12 ounces at most, and that their alcohol content not exceed 6 percent by volume.

As it turns out, both Four Loko and Four Loko’s critics have been surprisingly successful in the post-caffeine era. While Phusion faced some temporary setbacks in the wake of the FDA letter, it quickly brought caffeine-free versions of its products to market and experienced strong sales. According to Phusion’s Chris Short, 106,000 retail outlets currently buy Phusion’s products, and there are roughly 600,000 distribution points in those 106,000 accounts. “We’ve been able to regain most of those distribution points we lost [after the FDA ruling],” he says.

Having lost the cash cow that created a 2,966 percent sales revenue increase in 2009 and a 306 percent sales revenue increase in 2010, Phusion also made efforts to diversify its product line and penetrate new markets. In the caffeinated 
Loko era, its primary retail channels were convenience stores and liquor stores. In March, in an effort to obtain more placement in grocery stores, drug stores, and mass merchandisers, it introduced a new bottled version of Four Loko. The bottles are 11.2 ounces in size, they contain 8 percent alcohol by volume, and they’re sold as six-packs or twelve-packs. In September, it launched Poco Loko, a 16-ounce can version that contains 8 percent alcohol by volume. According to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm, total U.S. sales for Four Loko in convenience stores, supermarkets, drug stores, and mass market retailers excluding Wal-Mart for the 52-week period ending October 2, 2011 were $152 million, a 17 percent increase from the previous year. (SymphonyIRI does not include liquor store sales in this total.)

Earlier this month, Phusion announced that it had achieved the ultimate badge of mainstream approval—Wal-Mart will begin selling 12-packs of the bottled version of  Four Loko this fall. No doubt wary of Four Loko’s growing respectability, Alcohol Justice has ratcheted up its campaign against the brand. In an August 2011 report it published, From Alcoholic Energy Drinks to Supersized Alcopops, it suggests that “supersized alcopops” like Four Loko “may be just as dangerous  as their caffeinated predecessors because of the combination of high alcohol with sweet flavors.” In a press release publicizing this study, Bruce Lee Livingston went even further, claiming that the new “supersized alcopops” are an “arguably more dangerous product” than the alcoholic energy drinks they replaced.

Or to put it another way: By removing the caffeine that had ostensibly made Four Loko and other products like it the most dangerous elixirs ever to poison convenience-store coolers, Phusion and other manufacturers have somehow made their products even more dangerous!

While the logic of that argument may elude all but professional prohibitionists, it apparently had an impact at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In November 2010, when the FDA issued its warning letter to Phusion Products, the FTC issued one as well. In it, the FTC addressed Four Loko’s caffeine content and the fact that the FDA had warned Phusion that caffeine, as used in its product, was “an unsafe food additive” that might “present unusual risks to health and safety.” Selling a product that the FDA had deemed “unsafe,” the FTC advised, might also “constitute an unfair or deceptive act or practice in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45.”

While this warning letter noted that Four Loko was sold in 23.5-ounce cans and contained 11 to 13 percent alcohol by volume, it offered no indication that the FTC had specific concerns about these characteristics. On October 3rd, however, the FTC filed a new complaint against Four Loko. (Reason’s Jacob Sullum covers it here.) Essentially, its complaint echoes the argument that Alcohol Justice has been promoting over the last year. A 23.5-ounce, 12 percent alcohol by volume can of Four Loko has as much alcohol as 4.7 cans of regular beer, and yet the oversized cans are marketed as single-serving products meant to be consumed by one person on a single occasion. (The FTC assumes that “regular beer” comes in a 12 oz. can or bottle and contains 5 percent alcohol by volume).  And because in the FTC’s estimation a person cannot safely drink 4.7 servings of alcohol in a two-hour period, it believes that marketing 23.5-ounce cans of Four Loko as a single-serving product is deceptive.

While the chain of reasoning the FTC uses to reach this conclusion is dubious on many counts—why the two-hour cut-off period for starters?—Phusion has already agreed to change its packaging. “Even though we reached an agreement, we don’t share the FTC’s perspective and we disagree with their allegations,” Phusion’s Chris Short told me via email. “Our labeling has always clearly conveyed exactly what’s in the can…However, we take legal compliance very seriously and we share the FTC’s interest in making sure consumers get all the information and tools they need to make smart, informed decisions.”

Thus, while Four Loko’s cans already feature six different statements in 10 locations about the product’s alcohol content and the fact that an ID is required for purchase, it will add yet another message to the mix. “This can has as much alcohol as 4 1/2 regular (12 oz. 5 percent alc/vol) beers,” future cans will read. In addition, Phusion is developing a new reusable cap closure technology that will allow consumers to ration a single can across multiple drinking sessions. Short says the new caps will be the first for any alcoholic beverage worldwide and will be available in stores by Spring 2012.

While Alcohol Justice’s advocacy efforts appear to have inspired the FTC’s complaint against Phusion, the group is less than pleased with the agreement the two parties have reached. In a letter it sent to the FTC, the organization points out that the new disclaimer about a single can of Four Loko containing as much alcohol as four regular beers may actually backfire and “serve as a marketing device” rather than a warning. It also claims that “it’s absurd to even imagine how a [resealable] cap will deter youth from drinking an entire container at once.” And ultimately it concludes that “the high alcohol content in the large single-serving container is itself deceptive.” In other words, the only real way to make Four Loko and similar products fit for commerce is to pursue the course Alcohol Justice has already laid out it in its model legislation: Limit container sizes and alcohol content.

But what if it got its wish? (In its letter to the FTC, Alcohol Justice says that “several states are considering regulation, including legislation based on our model bill, to require that alcoholic products sold in single serve containers be limited to 12 oz. containers with 6% ABV.”) Earlier this year, when Phusion introduced its Poco Loko line, which features 16-ounce cans with 8 percent ABV, here’s what Alcohol Justice had to say: “Phusion’s new line—the cheeky-sounding Poco Loko—could very well convince youth that they can drink more cans of it without risk to their safety or health. However, at 16 ounces and 8% alcohol by volume, one can is the equivalent of more than 2 beers. The high alcohol level plus the sickly-sweet flavors that mask the alcohol taste is a dangerous combination, packaged in cans perfectly sized for shotgunning and drinking games.”

If Poko Loko’s downsized cans and alcohol content are dangerous because they might convince “youth” that they can drink more cans of it without risk 
to their safety or health, wouldn’t an even smaller, weaker version of the product be that much more seductive and dangerous? Continue down the path of excessive regulation, and eventually no four-year-old in America will be safe from Four Loko.

Begging, Pleading for the Abolishment of Gross Domestic Product

"Rightful liberty is unobstructed action, according to our will, within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others." ~ Thomas Jefferson

(I don't agree with everything this article says, but I think it's interesting and worth consideration.--jef)


Oct 27th, 2011 | By |
Nobel Laureate Robert Mundell long ago observed that the only closed economy is the world economy.  As such, U.S. production (think the globalized manufacture of Apple’s iPad, or Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner) is a function of it ties to economic activity occurring around the world. GDP presumes a countries economy in isolation as well as uniformity between economies.

Worse, what often drives GDP up is far from something that would be considered economically stimulative. Indeed, government measures of inflation are notoriously slow to pick up on the horrors of dollar devaluation. Yet when devaluation leads to higher prices, GDP increases.

Government spending — which has no resources that it hasn’t first extracted from the private sector — also boosts GDP, and then if imports to the U.S. decline (a flashing negative economic signal if there ever was one), this actually registers as growth in the calculation of this most worthless of measures of our economic health.

It’s time to abolish GDP because its existence as the accepted measure of economic activity means that we cannot achieve the necessary reforms that would really allow our economy to grow. With so much of our economy directed towards work of little to no economic value, but which ultimately factors into the GDP calculation, we’re restrained from doing what we need to do to truly advance ourselves.

First up is regulation. As even President Obama acknowledges, regulation frequently serves as a barrier to productivity. We’ll see if he’s ever willing to back up his rhetoric with action (signing the REINs Act would be a big step), but for now regulations serve as a massive hurdle to businesses seeking profits for their shareholders by virtue of giving their customers what they want, along with things they didn’t know they want, but now can’t live without – think Google, Facebook and just about anything Apple produces.

Of course if there occurs a massive regulatory overhaul based on the correct kind of analysis which will show regulations merely inhibit profitable activity at best, and frequently miss corrupt actions at worst (Madoff), many in the U.S. whose livelihood is dependent on either regulating what they cannot, or helping businesses deal with regulators, will find themselves out of work. Their unemployment will in the near-term show up in reduced GDP, but the end result will be undeniably positive.

Looking at the estate tax alone, it discourages the very saving that authors our economic advancement, but its existence is a windfall for the myriad estate planners and attorneys in possession of the skills necessary to help those with estates to avoid the tax. Abolishing the death tax would be a major boon for economic growth for it releasing those reliant on it into worthwhile professions, but for a time their adjustment would detract from GDP “growth.”

Considering the floating dollar itself, the utter chaos caused by the latter has created whole industries meant to soften the blow of a dollar without definition. The currency market alone is a $3 trillion per day exchange as myriad great minds are forced into facilitator roles as traders of needless uncertainty, as opposed to producers. We’d have to invent hedge funds if they didn’t exist, but their growing footprint can to a high degree be laid at the door of President Nixon’s fateful 1971 decision to sever the dollar’s link to gold.

Banks and investment banks on their own have growing compliance staffs in place to deal with all of the rules foisted on them. Abolishing what won’t work in the form of Dodd-Frank, not to mention the stabilization of the dollar such that it becomes the proverbial foot would release countless agile minds from facilitator roles, some who will cure cancer, some who will create the next Microsoft, and some who will render the hell that is commercial air travel to the dustbin of history through making private travel as common as cellphones.

But to achieve the above, there would have to be a “recession” that would drive down GDP early on, but boost it in staggering ways long-term. In a nation brimming with talent, too many of our best and brightest are serving as facilitators to the detriment of real economic growth.

Lastly, a powerful reduction in government spending would surely bring down GDP substantially. Governments can only create jobs and economic activity to the extent that they take from the private sector, so major spending cuts at first would bring great pain to sectors of the economy in and out of government, but wholly reliant on government largesse.

All of the above is true, but then it’s also true that government spending is almost tautologically about capital destruction, as opposed to wealth creation. If this is doubted, ask yourself if any company in the private sector could ever remain in business if it had lost money for decades, with decades more of losses ahead?

But assuming serious downsizing of the government, workers and the capital destroyed to keep them employed would quickly find other, market-driven uses in the private sector. Government spending presently looms large when it comes to boosting GDP, true austerity would as a result reduce nominal GDP substantially up front such that dim economists would scream “recession”, but the long-term and economy-soaring result of such a move would be profoundly good for us all.

The problem now is that so worshipful and fearful of GDP are economists and politicians that reducing regulations in a credible way, stabilizing the dollar and slashing the burden that is government is a distant object to many. It is at least partially because GDP remains the benchmark for our economic health. Let’s abolish it so that we can start growing again.

Thirty Years of Unleashed Greed

It is class warfare. But it was begun not by the tear-gassed, rain-soaked protesters asserting their constitutionally guaranteed right of peaceful assembly but rather the financial overlords who control all of the major levers of power in what passes for our democracy. It is they who subverted the American ideal of a nation of stakeholders in control of their economic and political destiny.

Between 1979 and 2007, as the Congressional Budget Office reported this week, the average real income of the top 1 percent grew by an astounding 275 percent. And that is after payment of the taxes that the superrich and their Republican apologists find so onerous.

Those three decades of rampant upper-crust greed unleashed by the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s will be well marked by future historians recording the death of the American dream. In that decisive historical period the middle class began to evaporate and the nation’s income gap increased to alarming proportions. “As a result of that uneven growth,” the CBO explained, “the distribution of after-tax household income in the United States was substantially more unequal in 2007 than in 1979: The share of income accruing to higher-income households increased, whereas the share accruing to other households declined. ... The share of after-tax household income for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income more than doubled. ...”

That was before the 2008 meltdown that ushered in the massive increase in unemployment and housing foreclosures that further eroded the standard of living of the vast majority of Americans while the superrich rewarded themselves with immense bonuses. To stress the role of the financial industry in this march to greater income inequality as the Occupy Wall Street movement has done is not a matter of ideology or rhetoric, but, as the CBO report details, a matter of discernible fact.

The CBO noted that in comparing top earners, “The [income] share of financial professionals almost doubled from 1979 to 2005” and that “employees in the financial and legal professions made up a larger share of the highest earners than people in those other groups.”

No wonder, since it was the bankers and the lawyers serving them who managed to end the sensible government regulations that contained their greed. The undermining of those regulations began during the Reagan presidency, and so it is not surprising that, as the CBO reports, “the compensation differential between the financial sector and the rest of the economy appears inexplicably large from 1990 onward.” Citing a major study on the subject, the CBO added, “The authors believe that deregulation and corporate finance activities linked to initial public offerings and credit risks are the primary causes of the higher compensation differential.”

So much for the claim that excessive government regulation has discouraged business activity. The CBO report also denies the charge that taxes on the wealthy have placed an undue burden on the economy, documenting that federal revenue sources have become more regressive and that the tax burden on the wealthy has declined since 1979.

In the face of the evidence that class inequality had been rising sharply in the United States even before the banking-induced recession, it would seem that the Occupy Wall Street protests are a quite measured and even timid response to the crisis.

Actually, the rallying cry of that movement was originally enunciated not by the protesters in the streets, but by one of the nation’s most respected economists. Last April, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz wrote an article in Vanity Fair titled “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%” that should be required reading for those well-paid pundits who question the logic and motives of the Wall Street protesters. “Americans have been watching protests [abroad] against repressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few,” Stiglitz wrote. “Yet, in our democracy, 1% of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.”

Maybe justice will prevail despite the suffering that the 1 percent has inflicted on the foreclosed and the jobless. But to date those who have seized 40 percent of the nation’s wealth still control the big guns in this war of classes.

New Inequality Data Likely to Boost "Occupy" Movement

A major study on income equality by a non-partisan government agency is likely to boost the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, whose standing with the general public appears on the rise, according to a new poll.

The study, released here Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), found that the average after-tax real income of the top one percent of the nation's households grew by 275 percent between 1979 and 2007 - about seven times greater than the increase in income by the remaining 99 percent over the same period.

And the income of the poorest 20 percent of the nation's earners grew by a mere 18 percent during that period, according to the report, which had been requested by the senior Democratic and Republican members on the Senator Finance Committee several years ago. That was less than one percent per year.

The report – the latest in a series of private or non-profit studies that confirm a sharp rise in income and wealth inequality over the past generation – came as a new New York Times/CBS News poll showed stronger-than-expected popular support for the "Occupy" movement, which has spread to dozens of cities across the country.

The movement, which was launched in Wall Street's Zucotti Park Sep. 17, has sought to draw public attention to the growing concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority of people compared to the increasingly difficult plight of the middle class, the poor, and the unemployed. The movement has also protested what it regards as the excessive influence of Wall Street banks and big corporations on government policies.

A 43-percent plurality of the 1,650 respondents queried by the poll said they agreed with the views expressed by the movement, compared to 27 percent who said they disagreed. Thirty percent –the same percentage who said they had heard little or nothing about the movement - said they had no opinion.

The poll found stark partisan differences on the question: 54 percent of Democrats said they agreed with the movement's views, while only 13 percent disagreed. Among Republicans, however, the numbers were virtually reversed: 19 percent agreed, while 57 percent disagreed.

Among self-identified independents - the 30 to 40 percent of the electorate who will likely decide next November's presidential election - 48 percent agreed with the movement's views, while only 20 percent disagreed.

Moreover, a strong plurality of 46 percent of all respondents agreed with the proposition that the "views of the people involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement generally reflect the views of most Americans." Thirty-four percent said they disagreed, while the rest said they had no opinion.

Those percentages marked a sharp boost in the movement's popular support and visibility from just two weeks ago when the mainstream U.S. media began to cover it. A Gallup poll conducted in mid-October found that only 22 percent said they "approved" of the movement's goals, while 15 percent said they disapproved, and 63 percent said they didn't know enough to judge.

They also suggest that the Occupy movement enjoys substantially greater popularity and acceptance than the so-called "Tea Party", a mainly right-wing, populist movement that played a key role in the Republican victories in the 2010 mid-term elections and has since driven demands for big cuts in government spending.

According to recent polls, only about 25 percent of respondents say they support the "Tea Party" and its policies.

"In just one month, the protesters have shifted the national dialogue from a relentless focus on the (government) deficit to a discussion of the real issues facing Main Street: the lack of jobs - and especially jobs with decent benefits - spiraling inequality, cash- strapped American families' debt-loads, and the pernicious influence of money in politics that led us to this point," wrote Joshua Holland, the editor of the progressive, California-based website Alternet, Wednesday.

The poll, which found historically low levels of public confidence in Congress and the federal government, also found strong support for a more equal distribution of "money and wealth" in the country. Two- thirds of respondents said the distribution should be "more even", while only 26 percent said that the current distribution of money and wealth was "fair".

And in an ominous sign for the Republican Party, nearly 70 percent of respondents said they think the policies of Republicans in Congress favour the "rich" over the middle class and the poor.

Since taking control of the House of Representatives in 2010, Republican lawmakers have effectively blocked all efforts to increase taxes on the corporations and wealthiest individuals, initiatives supported by about two-thirds of the public, according to the poll.

The CBO findings should bolster popular support for such efforts. While the after-tax income of the poorest 20 percent of U.S. households grew by an average of less than one percent per year, the next 60 percent – the broad middle class – did not fare much better. The average growth in its after-tax income over the 28 years came to only about 1.4 percent annually.

As a result, the wealthiest 20 percent of the population received substantially more of the total after-tax household income in 2007 – 53 percent – than all of the rest. In 1979, the same wealthiest 20 percent received 43 percent, according to the CBO.

In a second report released here Wednesday, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a think tank closely associated with the U.S. labour movement, found an even greater disparity in income between the very rich and the rest of the country.

According to its calculations, the incomes of the top 0.1 percent of households grew 390 percent between 1979 and 2007, while incomes of the bottom 90 percent grew by only five percent during the same period.

"The sense that most of us have been ignored by those in charge of economic policy is totally justified," said EPI economist and co- author of the report, Josh Bivens. "And I think it is what is driving the energy of the Occupy Wall Street campaign."

Some conservative analysts noted that the CBO report only covered the period through 2007 and did not take account of the impact of the 2008 "financial crisis".

Citing data from the pro-business Tax Foundation, Michael Tanner of the libertarian Cato Institute argued that the wealthiest were particularly hard hit by the fallout.

"(T)here has been a 39 percent decline in the number of American millionaires since 2007," he wrote on the right-wing National Review website Wednesday. "Among the so-called super rich, the decline has been even sharper. The number of Americans earning more than 10 million (dollars) per year has fallen by 55 percent. Perhaps someone should tell the folks in Zuccotti Park: Inequality is actually declining."

The Military Spending Fairy

Faced with the prospect of cuts to the Defense Department's budget, the defense industry is pushing the story of the military spending fairy on members of Congress. They are telling them that these cuts will lead to the loss of more than 1 million jobs over the next decade.

Believers in the military spending fairy say things like "the government can't create jobs," but also think that military spending creates jobs. Under the military spending fairy story, if the government spends $1 billion dollars paying people to do research or to build items related to the civilian economy it is just a drag on the private economy; however if the same spending goes to military related purposes, then it creates jobs.

It's not clear exactly how the military fairy blesses projects to make them helpful to the economy rather than harmful. For example, the highways were built in the 50s ostensibly in part for defense purposes. They made it easier to move troops and military equipment around the country in the event of an attack. Government subsidized student loans were also originally dubbed as defense loans since they were ostensibly intended in part to produce more graduates in science and engineering who could help us compete with the Soviet Union in defense related technologies.

Using this same logic, perhaps President Obama could get the military spending fairy to bless some of his stimulus spending so that it will be economically useful. He could again call student loans "defense loans." He could also have the research into clean energy technologies be viewed as providing alternative sources for energy for the military in the event we are cut off from oil imports in a war. (It makes as much sense as the highway story.) Then the military spending fairy can bless the stimulus as creating jobs.

For people who don't believe in the military spending fairy, the story is simple. During a downturn where there are lots of unemployed workers, any government spending will create jobs, regardless of whether or not it is on the military. In fact, military spending is likely to create fewer jobs than spending in most other areas (e.g. education, health care, conservation) because it is more capital intensive.

When the economy is near full employment, military spending is a drag on the economy. It pulls resources away from private sector uses, lowering investment and increasing the trade deficit. This leads to job losses, which are likely to be felt most severely in manufacturing and construction.

In short, for those who do not believe in the military spending fairy, military spending will cost jobs in either the short-term of long-term. If the spending doesn't make sense in terms of advancing national security, then it doesn't make sense period: end of story.

Liberals Get 'Déjà Vu' and Complain Dems Have Bungled in Debt Talks

Déjà vu

by Mike Lillis 
Liberals on and off Capitol Hill agonized Thursday that supercommittee Democrats had bungled early negotiations over a budget deal and put their party in a position to be bested again by Republicans.

By proposing significant cuts to Medicare and Medicaid as an early offering, liberals said the panel Democrats weakened their party’s negotiating position as Republicans, who have ceded no ground on their central anti-tax message, sat back and watched.

"My fear is that this is déjà vu all over again,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), one of the dozens of liberals who thought the White House cornered itself in the summer debt-ceiling talks by floating similar entitlement cuts to the GOP in negotiations led by Vice President Biden.

“This is essentially what happened in the Biden talks,” Welch said. “The Democrats were putting concrete proposals on the table [including entitlement cuts] and the Republicans never came forward with concrete revenues to match it.

“The Democratic side was negotiating against itself,” Welch added. “As a strategy, that won’t work.”

While some Democrats said their deficit package is evidence that they’re the more serious negotiators, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) shrugged it off and remarked it was “time for everybody to get serious” about the talks.

In a memo highlighting the Republicans’ blanket opposition to new tax hikes, Boehner’s office said the Democrats’ plan is “not a serious proposal.”

“Republicans have been willing to discuss new revenues, but this offer is rooted in unacceptable tax increases, which would have a negative impact on the economy and jobs,” the memo reads.

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee ( PCCC), a liberal activist group, echoed Welch’s message Thursday, saying the Democrats’ early offer to cut Medicare and Medicaid is “just incompetent negotiation strategy.”

“If Democrats on the [supercommittee] are proposing cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or other middle-class benefits, that is fundamentally out of step with what the 99 percent of Americans are crying out for right now,” Green said in an email. “The middle class has sacrificed enough — it’s time for Wall Street and the wealthy to finally pay their fair share, and voters need Democratic politicians to get that.”

A former House Democratic staffer sounded a similar note, saying the Democrats could use a lesson in how to squeeze more of their priorities out of the ongoing bipartisan talks.
“Though the [Democrats] won’t likely bite on Medicare offsets (i.e., bene[fit] cuts) w/out revenue, the cuts are now, nevertheless, out there,” the staffer, who is now a health policy analyst, said in an email. “Someone really should give these guys a primer on negotiating skills!?!”

The liberals are furious with the sweeping $3 trillion deficit-reduction proposal presented Tuesday by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to Republicans on the deficit panel. The plan includes hundreds of billions of dollars in entitlement cuts and more than $1 trillion in new tax hikes — a package along the lines of the “grand bargain” negotiated over the summer by President Obama and Boehner that eventually died in favor of a more modest deal focused on spending cuts.

The proposal offered by Baucus — which was endorsed by a majority of the six Democrats on the deficit panel — features roughly $400 billion in Medicare reductions, including significant cuts to senior benefits. A number of liberal Democrats hammered the proposal this week, warning that benefit cuts under Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are a nonstarter.

“I don’t want to hear Democrats suggesting that we have those types of cuts in Medicare,” Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told The Hill on Wednesday. “I hope that’s not true.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, declined to join those critics on Thursday.
“It’s no use asking me about specific things until we see the whole package,” Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

The California Democrat reiterated her party’s insistence on a “balanced” deficit-reduction plan, suggesting that she and her caucus won’t support a package that fails to spread the pain of austerity across a class spectrum.

“It’s not fair to say to a senior, ‘You’re going to pay more for Social Security, and we’re not going to touch a hair on the head of the wealthiest people in our country,’ ” Pelosi said.
Democrats also hammered a Republican counteroffer that would cut the deficit by $2.2 trillion over 10 years and generate up to $640 billion in new revenue.

Consistent with the Republicans’ vows not to impose new taxes, the revenues originate from increased user fees and tax-revenue increases the GOP says will accompany an overhaul of the tax code.

Democrats said it focused too heavily on middle-class benefit cuts without balancing them out with tax hikes on the wealthy.

“As reported, Republicans’ stubborn refusal to come forth on real revenues as part of a deficit reduction package threatens any real progress in the Select Committee,” Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement.

“Their unwillingness to ask anything of the very wealthiest even as they propose devastating cuts to Medicare and Social Security is totally unacceptable.”

Yet liberal activists argue that the Democrats’ proposal is little better.

“This plan protects the status quo for the 1 percent while the 99 percent are expected to sacrifice vital healthcare they need to survive,” said Jim Dean, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s brother and the chairman of Democracy for America, a political action committee with 1 million members.

“Democracy for America will oppose any Democrat who votes for a plan that cuts Medicare or Medicaid.”

Congress has declared war on the internet

Many internet users in the United States have watched with horror as countries like France and Britain have proposed or instituted so-called “three strikes” laws, which cut off internet access to those accused of repeated acts of copyright infringement. Now the U.S. has its own version of this kind of law, and it is arguably much worse: the Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced in the House this week, would give governments and private corporations unprecedented powers to remove websites from the internet on the flimsiest of grounds, and would force internet service providers to play the role of copyright police.

To recap a bit of history, the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA is the House version of a previous bill proposed by the Senate, which was known as the PROTECT-IP Act (a name that was an abbreviation for “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property”). That in turn was a rewritten version of a previous proposed bill that was introduced in the Senate last year. Not wanting to be outdone by their Senate colleagues when it comes to really long acronyms, the House version is also known as the E-PARASITE Act, which is short for “Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation.”

Copyright holders win, free speech and an open Internet lose
What it really is, however, is a disaster for the internet. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes in a post on the proposed legislation, the law would not only require ISPs to remove websites from the global network at the request of the government or the courts (by blocking any requests to the central domain-name system that directs internet traffic), but would also be forced to monitor their users’ behavior in order to police acts of copyright infringement. Providers who do not comply with these requests and requirements would be subject to sanctions. And in many cases, legal hearings would not be required. As Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said of the PROTECT-IP Act:
At the expense of legitimate commerce, PIPA’s prescription takes an overreaching approach to policing the Internet when a more balanced and targeted approach would be more effective. The collateral damage of this approach is speech, innovation and the very integrity of the Internet.
In effect, the new law would route around many of the protections in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, including the “safe harbor” provisions (a number of law professors have said that they believe the proposed legislation would be unconstitutional because it is a restraint on freedom of speech). The idea that ISPs and internet users can avoid penalties if they remove content once they have been notified that it is infringing, for example, wouldn’t apply under the new legislation — and anyone who provides tools that allow users to access blacklisted sites would also be subject to penalties.

In addition to using what some are calling the “internet death penalty” of removing infringing websites from the DNS system so they can’t be found, the proposed bill would also allow copyright holders to push for websites and services to be removed from search engine results and to have their supply of advertising cut off — and would require that payment companies like PayPal and ad networks comply with these orders. If you liked what PayPal and others did when they shut off donations to WikiLeaks, you’re going to love the new Stop Online Piracy Act.

Creating a firewall around the internet, just like China
According to Techdirt, which has been a vocal critic of the bill and its predecessors, the new legislation would create a “Great Firewall of America,” similar to the firewall that the Chinese government uses to keep its citizens from accessing certain websites and servers that it deems to be illegal. Techdirt’s Mike Masnick notes that the new bill actually expands the range of websites that could be targeted by the bill: the previous version referred to sites that were “dedicated to infringing activities” with no other obvious purpose, but the new law would allow the government to target any site that has “only limited purpose or use” other than infringement (by the government’s definition).

The bottom line is that if it passes and becomes law, the new act would give the government and copyright holders a giant stick — if not an automatic weapon — with which to pursue websites and services they believe are infringing on their content. With little or no requirement for a court hearing, they could remove websites from the internet and shut down their ability to be found by search engines or to process payments from users. DMCA takedown notices would effectively be replaced by this nuclear option, and innocent websites would have to fight to prove that they deserved to be restored to the internet — a reversal of the traditional American judicial approach of being assumed innocent until proven guilty — at which point any business they had would be destroyed.

That might make for the kind of internet that media and entertainment conglomerates would prefer, but it would clearly be a much diminished version of the internet we take for granted. Opponents of the bill have set up a website to try and convince voters to reject the legislation and tell their congressman not to support it.