Saturday, July 14, 2012

Balancing on the Poor

Shame on the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee for slashing food and nutrition programs in its version of the 2012 Farm Bill.

According to The New York Times,  the House measure cuts $16.5 billion from the food stamp program,  part of $35 billion in overall cuts to the bill.The gap between the House and Senate versions is wide. The Senate cuts totaled $23 billion,  with close to a $4.5 billion reduction in the food stamp program.

That was bad enough. The House version amplifies the irresponsible Senate cuts,  creating the prospect of an ugly compromise once this measure is finally passed,  whether before or after the election.

We are living in terrible economic times for many. Food prices have increased and likely will increase further because of the drought. The numbers of people who have filed for and received  food stamps has been rising in the past decade. The program currently serves about 46 million Americans,  up from 19 million in 2002. President Obama’s budget proposal for 2013 approaches $4 trillion.

To put things in perspective,  the current $80-billion fiscal-year food stamp expenditure represents about .02 percent of the proposed new budget.

We have too often heard arguments that the poor and unemployed are lazy and need to take more responsibility for their lives. The U-3 unemployment rate is currently hovering above 8 percent,  while the U-6 is 15 percent. The actual unemployment rate is 22%--fully 1/5th of the country's workers do not have a job or are flipping burgers with masters degrees.

Meanwhile,  official poverty rates have soared to levels not seen in nearly 30 years.

Have people in this country really become that much lazier in the past decade? Or,  could it be that the country’s economy and job markets are no longer accessible to them? More importantly,  when will the workplace economy open up again for the millions of unemployed?
If current conditions — and yet another “jobless recovery” — continue,  the change may will be awhile in coming.

According to the Times,  Chicago-based Feeding America estimated that three million people would lose benefits if the House version stands. Even worse,  nearly 300, 000 children would be ineligible for the school lunch program.

Representative Frank D. Lucas,  Republican of Oklahoma and chair of the House Agriculture Committee,  called the House version “a balanced,  reform-minded,  fiscally responsible bill that underscores our commitment to production agriculture and rural America,  achieves real savings and improves program efficiency.”

Sir, the truth in these words is sure. This measure is balanced: on the backs of the poor.

In the rush for “reform,” fiscal responsibility, and efficiency, the program does save money. But here’s the unspoken truth: this Farm Bill would inflict real harm on real people who are blocked from full participation in American economic life.

A country is only as strong as its weakest link. Both the House and Senate versions attack that link. Shame is not a strong enough word for what is going on here. Let’s call it what it is: a cruel injustice to the poor that hurts us all.


Top Ten Reasons to Reject the House's Farm Bill
by Scott Faber
The budget-busting farm bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee late Wednesday night is quite simply the worst piece of farm and food legislation in decades. The bill will feed fewer people, help fewer farmers, do less to promote healthy diets and weaken environmental protections–and it will cost far more than Congressional bean counters say.

Here are the TOP TEN reasons to reject the bill:
  • Cuts Nutrition Assistance – Hard economic times mean that more Americans than ever before depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) to get an adequate diet, and nearly half of them are kids. The House bill proposes to cut $16 billion in SNAP funding that low-income Americans rely on. More than 2 million Americans will lose benefits under the farm bill devised by the committee’s leaders, Reps. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).
  • Gives Big Farmers a Big Raise – The Lucas-Peterson farm bill would give every big subsidized grower a raise in the form of higher price guarantees for their crops–at a time when large commercial farms have average household incomes of more than $200,000 a year and net farm income has nearly doubled in recent years. The largest 10 percent of subsidized growers collect roughly three-fourths of federal farm subsidies, so the Lucas-Peterson farm bill will give mega-farms even more tax dollars to drive out small family farmers.
  • Expands Crop Insurance by $9.5 billion – Right now, farm businesses can get unlimited insurance subsidies. As a result, 26 of them collected more than $1 million each in 2011 and more than 10,000 growers collected more than $100,000 each. Rather than place reasonable limits on crop insurance, the Lucas-Peterson proposal actually expands insurance subsidies – at a cost of more than $9 billion! Reasonable reforms such as payment limits, means testing and administrative reforms–which are applied to SNAP but not crop insurance–could save taxpayers more than $20 billion.
  • Cuts Conservation Programs by $6 billion – Like the farm bill passed by the Senate, the Lucas-Peterson bill cuts conservation programs that assist farmers in all parts of the country and benefit consumers in the form of cleaner air and water. High commodity prices and unlimited insurance subsidies are encouraging farmers to plow up millions of acres of wetlands and grasslands to grow crops, but the bill cuts more than $3 billion from programs designed to protect and restore wildlife habitat.
  • Lacks Protections for Prairies – Chairman Lucas turned back a bipartisan proposal by Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) to expand to all states a provision temporarily reducing crop insurance subsidies when prairie land is converted to grow row crops. This “sodsaver” proposal would help offset the damage done by rising crop insurance subsidies and cuts to critical conservation programs.
  • Includes Anti-Environmental Riders – Reps. Lucas and Peterson included two riders that would gut common-sense rules that protect water quality and wildlife from agricultural pesticides. That’s despite the fact that more than 1,000 lakes and streams are already too polluted by pesticides to meet clean water standards. What’s more, the bill guts environmental protections on logging by short-circuiting environmental review and public involvement in “critical areas.”
  • Has Few Incentives for Healthy Diets – More than a third of Americans are obese, and consumers have said that supporting healthy diets should be the top priority for this farm bill. But the House bill would cut SNAP by $16 billion (as much as 20 percent of SNAP purchases go to buy fruits and vegetables) and does not include as many incentives as the Senate bill to encourage more fruit and vegetable consumption by low-income consumers. What’s more, the bill omits proposals to expand access to fruits and vegetables and takes the “fresh” out of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program for school children.
  • Weakens Regulation of GMO Crops – Exempting GMO crops from environmental reviews and setting arbitrary deadlines on regulators will eviscerate already weak oversight over biotech crops by allowing the sale of foods that haven’t been approved or analyzed by USDA. Even industry groups such as the National Grain and Feed Association oppose this poorly designed provision.
  • Guts State Food and Farm Standards – Thomas Jefferson must be turning over in his grave. A last-minute amendment to prevent states from setting their own standards for farm and food production will do far more than block a California law that requires more humane treatment of egg-laying hens. This proposal will block any state from setting its own standards for how crops and livestock can be produced.
  • Repeals Organic Certification Program – The bill repeals a program that helps farmers certify that their crops meet organic standards–at a time when demand for organic food is soaring.

Bobcat Goldthwait Shanks Douchebag America

“It’s a family film for everyone”
-Bobcat Goldthwait
God Bless America finally arrived on DVD, and it’s packing.  I called this one as a “must-see” and it is.  Bobcat Goldthwait, who has returned to the limelight as an indie writer/director, has finally had enough of contemporary American culture.  And who could blame him?

In God Bless America, the protagonist Frank lives a hellish existence, bombarded by loud, rude neighbors, vapid parrot co-workers, and a chronic migraine.  He’s turned to TV to drown out some of the noise from next door.  In shock and amazement at what he sees nightly on his screen, Frank is set up as someone on the very edge, a live wire, a powder keg ready to go off.

When his neurologist informs Frank of a terminal brain tumor, and Frank’s own estranged daughter begins mimicking the garbage from television, Frank finally calls it a day.  With a gun in his mouth, he accidentally turns back on the TV, and is suddenly confronted with a choice.  A moral choice?

Anyone who’s seen the trailer knows what happens next.  Perhaps the trailer gave away too much of the film, but still it’s stuffed with funny and thought-provoking scenes.  A genuinely funny spree killing road picture is a rare thing indeed.  One with such political and social satire rarer still.

The two leads, Joel Murray and 17 year old Tara Lynn Barr, have a magical screen chemistry that makes this outrageous over the top massacre picture seem plausible and real.  Of course the dialogue gets a little preachy, with a 3 page monologue given to Frank, near the beginning.  But, then again, that’s the point Frank has come down from the mountain to make, that soundbite culture is shallow and meaningless, and that important topics need real communication and discussion.  The writing style grows organically from the subject matter.  That’s not to say the film is bogged down with excessive talk.  Sequences and montages are skillfully incorporated to break up the flow and to leave viewers guessing as to where these two loonies can possibly go next.

God Bless America felt like something that Mike Judge might have concocted (Idiocracy, Office Space).  It is aimed directly at pop culture, the mindless cheering for whatever simplistic gibberish ends up on a screen: the nihilism that is championed in the media, star worship, the mistreatment of others for entertainment, and the glaringly insane Tea Party propaganda.

An interesting real-world divergence happened along the way to production, as far as can be ascertained from the behind the scenes interviews.  It seems that Goldthwait’s interpretation of Roxy, the psycho teen spree killing partner, and Tara Lynn Barr’s understanding were a little bit different.  A little at odds, actually.  Goldthwait seemed to write her off as simply insane several times; that’s his position.  The actress, however, had more political motives for her killings which are in evidence in the story.  Barr was concerned with justifying the character’s actions, taking them from the “insane” to the sane and giving them legitimacy.  A particular scene, where a vicious right-wing TV propagandist is shot by Barr seems to make that point.  While many of the character’s actions could be considered clearly immoral, and/or the work of insane people, it is certainly not all. 

Goldthwait proclaimed that he was against all violence and is a vegetarian.  His explanation for writing the piece is simply as a message to the nation to be nice.  Or else?

The blackness of the satire is perhaps even darker than expected.  The film’s first minute includes a baby blasted with a shotgun.  The intent was apparently to screen out a part of the audience.  Goldthwait hoped they would simply walk out after his litmus test.

The film’s budget was not disclosed, but domestic gross was on the order of $120,000, clearly not a big hit.  From what was on screen, it could be quite a loss unless the DVD and rental market sees some exceptional activity.

I don’t think God Bless America will end up in too many Christmas stockings this year though. It’s such a shame that Americans are unable or uninterested in looking in the mirror, nor curious as to how others see them.  That is what’s reflected in the numbers, as it should have been a runaway hit.  Like other dark satires that have preceded it and failed commercially, the genre remains a highly-risky venture.  It’s truly a shame, as this is where the best of American cinema can be found today.  American film today is usually formula or nostalgia, and winds up saying not a lot.

In Judge’s Idiocracy, there’s a running gag about the cinema of the future.  FART, The Movie, is the biggest success of their time, multi Academy Award winner and pretty much the only movie shown at the multiplexes.  Are we there yet?

I’m now sold on Goldthwait, and will look forward to catching his previous indie projects, as well as whatever comes next.  He’s a funny guy, with the maturity to actually say what we’re not allowed to hear from our corporate programmers.  God Bless America is going on my best of the year list.  As Bobcat said: “If you don’t like my movie, then go suck it.”

'Security fears help enrich financial super-elite'

Published: 14 July, 2012

Reuters / Kevin Lamarque
(33.4Mb) embed video

Tightening security screws in the US serves the ultimate goal – to implant the atmosphere of fear in the American society. It serves to raise sales of security equipment, independent journalist Charlie McGrath told RT.

­The latest initiative of the US Department of Homeland Security is to develop laser-based security scanners capable of identifying any chemical substance in the human body. (this is way fucked up!--jef)

Independent journalist Charlie McGrath sees it as a further erosion of the basic human rights in favor of Military-Industrial Complex profits.

Officials insist the scanners will be used to detect explosives at airports and border crossings.

They say that if a person has nothing to hide he won’t mind subjecting to the procedure.
But some experts are prompting concern for civil liberties in America.

“There is no threat of terror, that is a canard,” states categorically the founder of Wide Awake News Charlie McGrath. He explained that as an American he has a 662,000:1 chance of winning an Olympic medal. While taking a bath he has a 685,000:1 chance of drowning in that bath. Walking outside he has a 2.3 million:1 chance of being struck dead by lightning. But the chance of being killed by a terrorist amounts to 3.2million:1 for an average person on our planet.

“What we see built out of 9/11, the Patriot Act… and every other peace of the so-called legislation protecting people is the enriching of the financial super-elite in the Security Industrial Complex,” states Charlie McGrath.

The journalist predicts that the American society will soon be under the eye of Big Brother, explaining that the declared security reasons behind governmental initiatives have no grounds whatsoever.

“All this talk of fearing Ahmadinejad coming out of every closet and from underneath of everybody’s bed is nothing but a fear tactic so that we can enrich a very few people on this planet,” McGrath proclaimed.

The reason why Americans should be concerned with the laser security scanners is that this “humiliation on steroids” is going to be paid for with the taxpayers’ money, reminds McGrath.
“Since introduction of the Patriot Act we’ve seen non-stop legislation eroding our liberties one after another,” McGrath claims. “It has come to point we’re just coming used to it. But we need to understand that with every passing piece of legislation, every piece of equipment installed every other day, we’re becoming more and more a Stasi-style police state,” he concluded.

McGrath assures that the equipment installed to be on the guard of security in airports and other public places will definitely make it into everyday life of Americans. He recalled military drones that were once made for the army and CIA operations overseas, but now are flying American skies to protect security at home.

Dangerous game: 'US almost daring Tehran to strike first'

With sanctions against Iran gradually showing their ineffectiveness, Washington is escalating the situation in the Persian Gulf, as if encouraging Tehran to attack first, a US politics professor told RT.

­Amid pressure mounting on Tehran, a major Indian company, United India Insurance Co., has agreed to provide insurance for tankers carrying oil from Iran. Insurances are vital for sea transportation. Without insurance, tankers are unable to deliver oil from one destination to another.

The decision of an Indian company means a serious blow to the effectiveness of the US sanctions against Iran in a bid to crank up the pressure over the country's nuclear activities. The sanctions target companies accused of breaching a European ban on buying oil from Tehran.

Simultaneously, to give their sanctions policies some military support, the US is sending fourth air carrier to the Persian Gulf region. It has also been announced that America deploys underwater drones to deal with sea mines Iran might plant in the Strait of Hormuz to block the vital route.

“The more warships the US moves [to the region], the more threatened Iran is going to feel and there is more chance of triggering some kind of mistake,” explains Patricia DeGennaro, professor of politics at New York University.

She says the act of sending more warships to the region is a dangerous game of “dare”.

“I don’t know what they are going to achieve by putting more warships in the region. This is a very bad move. Maybe they are trying to make Israel feel safer, but in fact again that is a very dangerous game that is almost daring somebody to strike first,” the professor believes.

‘Mrs. Clinton should better promote peace instead of war’
A naval clash in the Persian Gulf region is very real, DeGennaro told RT, because military communications do not often go as they are expected to.

“The Iranian military is organized a bit differently than the American military. They can get orders not normally understood… within a context of a country being threatened.”

“We should do more negotiations and more diplomacy,” the professor concluded. “I’d like to see Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton lead the State Department as Secretary of State instead of really promoting more war in the region.”

Western intelligence claims Iran might be just a year away from building a nuclear weapon, while Tehran denies allegations of developing nuclear power for military use. This confrontation need to be resolved given neither side wants to lose face, which means negotiations in the first place, believes Patricia DeGennaro.

“Let’s sit down and talk before we start pointing weapons at each other, which should really facilitate a really large scale conflict in the region.”

DOJ argues in court Texas Voter ID law could disenfranchise 1 in 10 voters

By Chris McGreal, The Guardian
Friday, July 13, 2012

The US department of justice has defended its ban of a Texas voter ID law by telling a federal court that the legislation is an attempt by the state’s largely white Republican party to resist the political impact of changing racial demographics.

A five-day hearing in Washington over whether the Obama administration has the power to block Texas from requiring voters to produce photo identification wrapped up on Friday with justice department lawyers strongly challenging the motives behind the legislation.

Texas says it is intended to combat a rising tide of voter fraud by requiring people to show specified forms of identification, such as a driving or gun licence, at the ballot box.

The justice department said the law was racially motivated because it was constructed by the Republican-controlled Texas legislature to disadvantage the growing Latino and black communities in the state which heavily favour the Democratic party.

The outcome of the case, expected in August, is likely to have an impact in other states where the justice department is challenging similar laws, including South Carolina, Mississippi, and Florida.

The issue is expected to end up before the supreme court.

An administration lawyer, Matthew Colangelo, told the court on Friday that as many as one in ten voters in Texas could be disenfranchised under the law because of the difficulties poor people face in getting the necessary identification, such as having to travel long distances or pay for copies of birth certificates. He said that was the intent of the law.

“Four million new people moved into Texas between 2000 and 2010. Ninety percent of those were minorities. Texas acted to take away that voting strength on the brink of that minority exercising it,” he said. “It was enacted against the backdrop of a huge explosive growth in the Hispanic population.”

The administration also contends that the costs involved in obtaining identification amount to a poll tax forbidden by the constitution.

A member of the Texas legislature, Trey Martinez Fischer, told the court that the voter ID bill was rushed through without proper debate using measures such as declaring it emergency legislation.

“There was a determined effort to pass this bill in record time,” said Martinez, who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Another Democratic legislator, Wendy Davis, said her attempts to introduce amendments to the legislation that would help voters obtain identification, such as making it available at every county courthouse so that voters did not have to make roundtrip journeys of up to 250 miles to special offices, were blocked by Republicans.

“The voter ID bill, we all believed, was a racially motivated bill,” she said.

Henry Flores, dean of St Mary’s University graduate school in San Antonio, said in evidence that the voter ID law was only the latest of scores of pieces of legislation in response to significant demographic changes over the past 40 years.

“It seemed to me that [the ID law] had been turned into an anti-immigration bill,” he told the court. “Race was at the heart of the whole thing.”

A California Institute of Technology professor, J. Morgan Kousser, told the court that Texas Republicans had been trying to push through a voter ID law since 2005 and that politics in the state is “very racially polarised”, with the state’s Democratic party now dominated by Latinos.

“In 2011, the vast majority of Democratic legislators are minorities. So a bill that has partisan effects would have racial effects,” he said.

The Obama administration blocked the law using a central piece of civil rights legislation, the 1965 voting rights act, which requires 16 states with a history of racially discriminatory laws and practices to clear all or some changes in voting laws and constituency boundaries with the justice department.

Texas brought this week’s legal challenge in federal court on the grounds that the justice department has no authority to apply the voting rights act because the voter ID law was motivated solely by an attempt to prevent fraud.

The state said up to 50,000 dead people remain on the electoral roll. But the justice department said there is little evidence of significant illegal voting and that the state has only prosecuted one case in recent times.

John Hughes, acting for Texas, derided the administration’s claim that as many as 1.5 million people who are registered to vote may not be able to.

“If that were remotely true the courtroom would be filled with people [without photo ID to vote],” he said. “It’s hard to find people who don’t have photo ID. Certainly the defendants didn’t find anyone.”

The justice department called only one witness who claimed to be directly affected by the law.
Victoria Rodriguez, 18, told the court that while her birth certificate and student ID were enough to permit her to board a plane, they wouldn’t be sufficient voter identification under the new law. Lawyers for the state told the court Rodriguez could obtain the necessary ID using her birth certificate.

Texas constructed part of its case around social science studies that he said show voter ID laws have no effect on voting, he said.

“Common sense is people who want to vote already have ID or can get one,” he said. “The evidence is that it is easy to get one in Texas and that’s why it won’t have a turnout impact.”
Daron Shaw, a University of Texas professor of political science, said his research in states that already have voter ID laws suggests few people are kept from the polls by the requirement.

“I think the weight of the evidence is that it will not have an impact on turnout,” he said.

The justice department challenged Shaw’s objectivity on the issue, eliciting from him that he worked as a political strategist on both of President George W Bush’s presidential campaigns.
Shaw’s research also came under scrutiny from other witnesses who challenged the methodology of the study including that only 2% of those asked whether the law would affect them had responded.

As the case was heard, the political confrontation continued in Texas where the attorney general, Eric Holder, told a conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) that the justice department “will not allow political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious right”.

Holder said that about one in four African Americans lacks government-issued photo identification of the kind required to vote in several states while fewer than one in ten white people do.

He said he opposed the Texas law because many people would have to travel too far to obtain the IDs, or would struggle to meet the cost of the necessary documentation.

The US supreme court in 2008 upheld the right of states to require voters to produce identification, but that case, involving Indiana, did not touch on the voting rights act.

Since then, 15 other states have passed laws requiring voters to show photo identification, although some of them offer alternatives. Texas has the most restrictive law.

JPMorgan admits to losing $5.8 billion this year so far

RT - Published: 13 July, 2012,

There’s bad news out of Wall Street this week after JPMorgan Chase admits that a trading goof earlier this year has helped earn the country’s biggest bank $5.8 billion in losses — nearly triple the original estimate.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon tells reporters early Friday that the botched deal overseen by then-Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew is now believed to have cost the bank around $4.4 billion in the second quarter for 2012. Originally JPMorgan staffers saw the gaffe as costing them only around $2 billion, but between Friday morning’s revelation and the revisions made on its first quarter losses, the actual amount lost in 2012 for the bank stands to be around $5.8 billion, notwithstanding any further developments.

Speaking to the press early Friday, Dimon tells the media, “we don’t take it lightly,” but adds that he believes the snafu was not part of any larger screw-up.

"We're not making light of this error, but we do think it's an isolated event,” Dimon pleads.
Dimon has dismissed claims that the mix-up earlier this year will have long-lasting effects on the bank, but has also been open to admitting their faults. In a statement delivered in May, Dimon said, “We maintain our fortress balance sheet and capital strength to withstand setbacks like this, and we will learn from our mistakes and remain diligently focused on our clients, who count on us every day.”

Drew, the former CIO for the bank, resigned from that role in May after news of the gaffe made international headlines. Even after overseeing a deal that cost the company only an estimated $2 billion at the time, though, Drew’s departure from JPMorgan was accompanied by a payout expected to bring her $15 million personally by walking away.

“Despite our recent losses in the CIO, Ina’s vast contributions to our company should not be overshadowed by these events,” Dimon insisted after the resignation was made public.

In this Friday’s statement, Dimon adds, "We have put most of this problem behind us and we can now focus our full energy on what we do best.”

Marty Mosby, an analyst that follows JPMorgan for Guggenheim Securities, tells USA Today that the new developments about the trading loss doesn’t come as too big of a surprise on Wall Street. The real shocker, however, was that JPMorgan has revised is first-quarter earnings to account for a $459 million in additional losses that it is only admitting too now.

"The trading loss was right in line with what we expected," says Mosby. "And the actual report on earnings was much stronger than we expected. What we didn't expect was the restatement. It raises further uncertainty and could lead to reviews from the Securities and Exchange Commission" and other regulators.

The bank agrees that the latest development "raises questions about the integrity" of other trades made this year.

NSA whistleblower: They’re assembling information on every U.S. citizen

By Muriel Kane - RAW Story
Friday, July 13, 2012
NSA whistleblower William Binney was interviewed by internet journalist Geoff Shively at the HOPE Number 9 hackers conference in New York on Friday.

Binney, who resigned from the NSA in 2001 over its domestic surveillance program, had just delivered a keynote speech in which he revealed what Shively called “evidence which we have not seen until this point.”

“They’re pulling together all the data about virtually every U.S. citizen in the country … and assembling that information,” Binney explained. “So government is accumulating that kind of information about every individual person and it’s a very dangerous process.” He estimated that something like 1.6 billion logs have been processed since 2001.

Shively and livestreamer Tim Pool, who was filming the interview, concluded by noting that videos of Binney’s keynote address will be available shortly.

This video was uploaded to Youtube by Timcasts on July 13, 2012.

White House gives Homeland Security control of all communication systems

RT - Published: 13 July, 2012

The White House has finally responded to criticism over US President Barack Obama’s hushed signing last week of an Executive Order that allows the government to command privately-owned communication systems and acknowledges its implications.

When President Obama inked his name to the Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions Executive Order on July 6, he authorized the US Department of Homeland Security to take control of the country’s wired and wireless communications — including the Internet — in instances of emergency. The signing was accompanied with little to no acknowledgment outside of the White House, but initial reports on the order quickly caused the public to speak out over what some equated to creating an Oval Office kill switch for the Web. Now the Obama administration is addressing those complaints by calling the Executive Order a necessary implement for America’s national security.

“The [order] recognizes the creation of DHS and provides the Secretary the flexibility to organize the communications systems and functions that reside within the department as [Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano] believes will be most effective,” White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden tells the Washington Post. 

Hayden insists that “The [order] does not transfer authorities between or among departments,” but the order does indeed allow the DHS to establish and implement control over even the privately owned communication systems in the country, including Internet Service Providers such as Time Warner, Verizon and Comcast, if the administration agrees that it is warranted for security’s sake.

Immediately after last week’s signing, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said the order allowed the DHS "the authority to seize private facilities when necessary, effectively shutting down or limiting civilian communications." 

Following up with the Post this week, EPIC attorney Amie Stephanovich stands by that initial explanation, agreeing that the DHS can now “seize control of telecommunications facilities, including telephone, cellular and wireless networks, in order to prioritize government communications over private ones in an emergency.”

“The previous orders did not give DHS those authorities over private and commercial networks,” adds. Stepanovich. “That’s a new authority.”

According to the order, the DHS can take charge of “commercial, government, and privately owned communications resources” to satisfy what is described as “priority communication requirements.” With little insight from outside the White House, though, what constitutes such an emergency may very well be decided on by Washington, where the country’s elected leaders are still split on all things involving the Internet.

Even still, Stepanovich says that approaching Capitol Hill for comment before rushing through an Executive Order could have caused things to come out differently, but would have also arguably brought forth a firestorm such as the one that accompanied an attempt to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act. When Congress tried to pass SOPA this year — which included provisions that were argued to grossly regulate the Internet — protests nationwide played a massive part in killing the legislation.

“This should have been done by Congress, so there could have been proper debate about it,” Stepanovich tells the Post of last week’s signing. “This is not authority that should be granted by executive order.”

White House spokesperson Hayden adds to the Post, “Mobile phones, the Internet, and social media are all now integral to the communications landscape,” concreting still the allegations that this order could be used as a kill switch to any of the millions upon millions of handheld and desktop devices across the country.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

American Freefall

Misery Rising

Washington has been at war since October, 2001. This war took a back seat when Bush concocted another excuse to order the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a war that went on without significant success for 8 years and has left Iraq in chaos with dozens more killed and wounded every day, a new strong man in place of the illegally executed former strongman, and the likelihood of the ongoing violence becoming civil war.

Upon his election, President Obama foolishly sent more troops to Afghanistan and renewed the intensity of that war, now in its eleventh year, to no successful effect.

These two wars have been expensive. According to estimates by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, when all costs are counted, the Iraq invasion cost US taxpayers $3 trillion dollars. Ditto for the Afghan war. In other words, the two gratuitous wars doubled the US public debt. This is the reason there is no money for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, the environment, and the social safety net.

Americans got nothing out of the wars, but as the war debt will never be paid off, US citizens and their descendants will have to pay interest on $6,000 billion of war debt in perpetuity.

Not content with these wars, the Bush/Obama regime is conducting military operations in violation of international law in Pakistan, Yemen, and Africa, organized the overthrow by armed conflict of the government in Libya, is currently working to overthrow the Syrian government, and continues to marshall military forces against Iran.

Finding the Muslim adversaries insufficient for its energies and budget, Washington has encircled Russia with military bases and has begun the encirclement of China. Washington has announced that the bulk of its naval forces will be shifted to the Pacific over the next few years, and Washington is working to reestablish its naval base in the Philippines, construct a new one on a South Korean island, acquire a naval base in Viet Nam, and air and troop bases elsewhere in Asia.

In Thailand Washington is attempting to purchase with the usual bribes an air base used in the Vietnam war. There is opposition as the country does not wish to be drawn into Washington’ s orchestrated conflict with China. Downplaying the real reason for the airbase, Washington, according to Thai newspapers, told the Thai government that the base was needed for “humanitarian missions.” This didn’t fly, so Washington had NASA ask for the air base in order to conduct “weather experiments.” Whether this ruse is sufficient cover remains to be seen.

US Marines have been sent to Australia and elsewhere in Asia. To corral China and Russia (and Iran) is a massive undertaking for a country that is financially busted. With wars and bankster bailouts, Bush and Obama have doubled the US national debt while failing to address the disintegration of the US economy and rising hardships of US citizens.

The annual US budget deficit is adding to the accumulated debt at about $1.5 trillion per year with no prospect of declining. The financial system is broken and requires ongoing bailouts. The economy is busted and has been unable to create high-paying jobs, indeed any jobs. Despite years of population growth, payroll employment as of mid-2012 is the same as in 2005 and substantially below 2008. Yet, the government and financial presstitute media tell us that we have a recovery.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in 2011 was only 1 million more than in 2002. As it takes about 150,000 new jobs each month to stay even with population growth, that leaves a decade long job deficit of 15 million jobs.

The US unemployment and inflation rates are far higher than reported. In previous columns I have explained, based on statistician John Williams’ work (, the reasons that the government’s headline numbers are serious understatements.
 The headline (U3) unemployment rate of 8.2% counts no discouraged workers who have given up on finding a job. The government has a second unemployment rate (U6), seldom reported, which includes short-term discouraged workers. That rate is 15%. When the long-term discouraged workers are added in, the current US unemployment rate is 22%, a number closer to the unemployment rate of the Great Depression than to the unemployment rates of postwar recessions. (in fact, it's higher than all but 2 or 3 years during the Great Depression...

Changes in the way inflation is measured have destroyed the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as a measure of the cost of living. The new methodology is substitution based. If the price of an item in the index rises, a lower priced alternative takes its place. In addition, some price rises are labeled quality improvements whether they are or not and thus do not show up in the CPI. People still have to pay the higher price, but it is not counted as inflation.

Currently, the substitution-based rate of inflation is about 2%. However, when inflation is measured as the actual cost of living, the rate of inflation is 5%.

The Misery Index is the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates. The level of the current Misery Index depends on whether the new rigged measures are used, which understate the misery, or the former methodology that accurately measures it. Prior to the November 1980 election, the Misery Index hit 22%, which was one reason for Reagan’s victory over President Carter. Today if we use previous methodology, the Misery Index stands at 27%. But if we use the new rigged methodology, the Misery Index is 10%.

The understatement of inflation serves to boost Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is calculated in current dollars. To be able to determine whether GDP rose because of price rises or because of increases in real output, GDP is deflated by the CPI. The higher the inflation rate, the less the growth in real output and vice versa. When the substitution based methodology is used to measure inflation, the US economy experienced real growth in the 21st century except for the sharp dip during 2008-2010.

However, if the cost-of-living based methodology is used, except for a short period during 2004, the US economy has experienced no real growth since 2000. The lack of employment and real GDP growth go together with the decline in real household median income. The growth in consumer debt substituted for the lack of income growth and kept the economy going until consumers exhausted their ability to take on more debt. With the consumer dead in the water, the outlook for economic recovery is poor.

Politicians and the Federal Reserve are making the outlook even worse. At a time of high unemployment and debt-stressed households, politicians at local, state, and federal levels are cutting back on government provision of health care, pensions, food stamps, housing subsidies and every other element of the social safety net. These cutbacks, of course, further reduce aggregate demand and the ability of incomestressed Americans to survive.

The Federal Reserve has interest rates so low that retirees and others living on their savings can earn nothing on their money. The interest rates paid on bank CDs and government and corporate bonds are lower than the rate of inflation. To live on interest income, a person has to purchase Greek, Spanish, or Italian bonds and run the risk of capital loss. The Federal Reserve’s policy of negative interest rates forces retirees to spend down their capital in order to live. In other words, the Fed’s policy is destroying personal savings as people are forced to spend their capital in order to cover living expenses.

In June the Federal Reserve announced that it was going to continue its policy of driving nominal interest rates even lower, this time focusing on long-term Treasury bonds. The Fed said it would be purchasing $400 billion of the Treasury’s 30-year bonds. Driving interest rates down means driving bond prices up. With 5-year Treasury bonds paying only seven-tenths of one percent and 10-year Treasuries paying only 1.6%, below even the official rate of inflation, Americans desperate for yield move into 30-year bonds currently paying 2.7%. However, the the high bond prices mean that the risk of capital loss is very high.

The Fed’s debt monetization, or a drop in the exchange value of the dollar as other countries move away from its use to settle their balance of payments, could set off inflation that would take interest rates out of the Fed’s control. As interest rates rise, bond prices fall.

In other words, bonds are now the bubble that real estate, stocks, and derivatives were. When this bubble pops, Americans will take another big hit to their remaining wealth.

It makes no sense to invest in long-term bonds at negative interest rates when the federal government is piling up debt that the Federal Reserve is monetizing and when other countries are moving away from the flood of dollars. The potential for a rising rate of inflation is high from debt monetization and from a drop in the dollar’s exchange value. Yet, bond fund portfolio managers have to follow the herd into longer term maturities or see their performance relative to their peers drop to the bottom of the rankings.

Some individual investors and foreign central banks, anticipating the dollar’s loss of value, are accumulating gold and silver bullion. Realizing the danger to the dollar and its policy from the rapid rise in the price of bullion during 2011, the Federal Reserve has arranged offsetting action. When the demand for physical bullion drives up the price, short sales of bullion in the paper market are used to drive the price back down. Similarly, when investors begin to flee Treasuries, thus causing interest rates to rise, J.P. Morgan and other dependencies of the Federal Reserve sell interest-rate swaps, thus offsetting the effect on interest rates of the bond sales. (Keep in mind that interest rates rise when bond prices fall and vice versa.)

The point of all this information is to establish that except for the 1 percent, the incomes and wealth of Americans are being cut back across the board. From 2002 through 2011 the economy lost 3.5 million manufacturing jobs. These jobs were replaced with lowerpaying waitress and bartender jobs (1,189,000), ambulatory health care service jobs (1,512,000) and social assistance jobs (578,000).

These replacement jobs in domestic services mean that on a net basis US consumer income was moved out of the country. Potential aggregate demand in the US dropped by the differences in pay in the job categories. Clearly and unambiguously, jobs offshoring lowered US disposable income and US GDP and, thereby, employment.

Despite the lack of an economic base, Washington’s hegemonic aspirations continue unabated. Other countries are amused at Washington’s unawareness. Russia, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa are forming an agreement to abandon the US dollar as the currency for international settlement between themselves.

On July 4 the China Daily reported: “Japanese politicians and prominent academics from China and Japan urged Tokyo on Tuesday to abandon its outdated foreign policy of leaning on the West and accept China as a key partner as important as the United States. The Tokyo Consensus, a joint statement issued at the end of the Beijing-Tokyo Forum, also called on both countries to expand trade and promote a free-trade agreement for China, Japan and South Korea. “

This means that Japan is in play.

The Chinese government, more intelligent than Washington, is responding to Washington’s military threats by enticing away Washington’s two key Asian allies. As the Chinese economy is now as large as the US and on far firmer footing, and as Japan now has more trade with China than with the US, the enticement is appealing.

Moreover, China is next door, and Washington is distant and drowning in its hubris. Washington, which flicked its middle finger to international law and to its own law and Constitution with its arrogance and gratuitous and illegal wars and with its assertion of the right to murder its own citizens and those of its allies, such as Pakistan, has made the United States a pariah state.

Washington still controls its bought-and-paid-for NATO puppets, but these puppet states are overwhelmed with derivative debt problems brought to them by Wall Street and by sovereign debt problems, some of which were covered up by Wall Street’s Goldman Sachs.

Europe is on the ropes and has no money with which to subsidize Washington’s wars of hegemony.

Washington is becoming an isolated and despised element of the world community. Washington has purchased Europe, Canada, Australia, the former Soviet state of Georgia (and almost Ukraine), and Columbia, and continues its effort to purchase the entire world, but sentiment is turning against the rising Gestapo state that has shown itself to be lawless, ruthless, and indifferent, even hostile, to human life and human rights.

A government, whose military was unable with the help of the UK to occupy Iraq after eight years and was forced to end the conflict by putting the “insurgents” on the US military payroll and to pay them to stop killing American troops, and a government whose military has been unable to subdue a few thousand lightly armed Taliban after 11 years, is over the top when it organizes war against Iran, Russia, and China.

The only prospect Washington has of prevailing in such an undertaking is first use of nuclear weapons, of catching its demonized opponents off guard by nuking them out of the blue. In other words, by the elimination of life on earth.

Is this Washington’s program revealed by the neoconservative warmonger, Bill Kristol, who had no shame to ask publicly: “What’s the good of nuclear weapons if you can’t use them?

Payroll Survey Data - As Calculated But Not Published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Payroll Survey Data - As Calculated But Not Published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The following analysis sets out inconsistencies in the payroll employment data as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), versus the actual data as adjusted and recalculated each month by the BLS using its “concurrent” seasonal-adjustment process.  With this product, we make available the SGS calculations of the actual data produced internally by the BLS, using the published BLS data methodologies and programs.  

These numbers are provided in a format whereby data users may explore them not only at the aggregate nonfarm payroll level, but also at numerous industry levels.

No attempt is made here to address any issues in terms of possible seasonal-factor distortions, sampling problems or bias-factor and birth-death modeling issues. The data here, again, are unpublished BLS calculations, not an SGS-Alternate Payroll Employment Measure.

  • Unpublished Seasonally Adjusted Time Series for the Payroll Survey. The headline number is published by the BLS, but the public cannot see how seasonally adjusted jobs have been moved between past months.  Why is this important and how do we obtain the real picture?
  • Trend Extrapolations Showing Seasonal Residuals Available.  How a by-product of the seasonal adjustment process gives us insights into the next month’s Payroll Survey’s seasonal adjustments.
  • Data Sample AvailableWe make available a current sample of data as an Excel workbook.

Figure 1

1.     The Problem with the Published Payrolls Data
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) produces the much-watched Establishment Survey,1 popularly referred to as the “Payroll Survey.” Its headline, monthly change in total employment is much anticipated and analyzed by economists and investors.

Although the BLS also publishes revisions to the prior two months’ numbers, it is not widely understood that the concurrent seasonal adjustment (SA) process used each month revises every past month.2

As we understand it, the BLS does not publish these revisions because of the effort and confusion involved in publishing a fully revised history each month.3 Prior to the introduction of the current methodology in 2003, only the prior two months were revised and published.  Perhaps, the effort involved in re-working the established publication process was deemed not worthwhile when the new methodology was introduced.

The BLS also might argue that public should be concerned only by the trend of the most recent three months, and that the changes made to prior months are not significant.

But, there are reasons for wanting to see the real picture:
  1. The monthly change as recently as two months before the current release is incorrectly stated by the BLS.  For example, for the March 2012 release, the published monthly change for January is the difference between the new January number and the old December number. What we really want is the difference between the new January and the new December numbers (283,000 versus the reported 275,000).
  2. Part of the current month’s headline number contains a re-adjustment to the seasonal factors. One would like to see how much of this may have been re-allocated from past, un-reported months.  For example, a few months ago the published headline number may have benefitted from a certain seasonal adjustment.  Some of the benefit now may have been revised away and now shows up in today’s headline number. Without knowing this the public has an incorrect picture of the true pattern of growth, free of any possible “double-counting” of seasonal effects.
  3. If data users want to use the BLS time-series in any statistical model, they need to have an internally consistent series showing the latest view of what the seasonally adjusted numbers were in the past, not a series which is the co-mingling of data from separate monthly revisions.
As an example, the chart below shows the published and actual SA monthly changes for the total private payroll numbers.

Figure 2
Dark red shows the unpublished picture, the light blue the numbers published by the BLS. These red, “Actual” numbers are the product of the BLS’s X-12-ARIMA seasonal adjustment model.  They are produced each month by the BLS but not published.  We reproduce them each month using the same software, input data and configuration files used by the BLS, with the differential plotted and discussed in the regular, monthly SGS Newsletter commentary on the Payroll Survey.

The actual numbers provide a self-consistent time-series. The number for, say, October 2011 was produced as a result of the same seasonal adjustment process that created the number for March 2012, and indeed all of the red monthly numbers. This process made use of all known data up to and including the March 2012 release, and was the process that produced that March headline number. All of the seasonality has been spread self-consistently throughout the year.

The blue numbers however are a combination of the SA processes made at different times in the past.  For example, the published monthly change for November 2011 is derived from the job-levels for October and November 2011.  But the values used for those two levels were those created by two different seasonal adjustment data sets, the former was part of a pre-benchmark process carried out using data up to and including October, while the November number was produced when the January 2012 release was produced.  To some extent, apples are being compared with oranges.

One can see that there is a moving around of 20,000 job swings here and there, as the seasonal adjustment factors have changed.  Compare the October through December numbers in Fig. 2 above – the seasonal adjustment process has changed its mind markedly about the distribution of seasonal effects -  and, this is for the high-level aggregate total.  At a specific industry level, those swings could be much more extreme.

2. Trend Extrapolations
A by-product of the X-12-ARIMA process is a trend “forecast” for each industry series. These give future seasonal factors, and estimates for future job levels based on the extrapolation of the fitted seasonally adjusted trend. These industry series can be aggregated to give “forecasts” for higher level sectors and totals.

It must be emphasized that these forecasts are purely statistical extrapolations of the existing, seasonally adjusted “trend” which has been fitted to the data.  They cannot predict what underlying, non-trend changes may take place out in the real world. In effect they are saying that if the “trend” in each industry continues, this is what will be reported by the seasonal adjustment process next month.

These forecasts are useful, in that:
  1. They show the actual, calculated trend. This is not as simple as saying that next month will be the same as this month, or some simple average of past months.
  2. When an industry reports a number the next month that is markedly off-trend, data users can be alerted to the fact that something of significance may be happening in that industry.
  3. The X-12-ARIMA model cannot fully remove all seasonality. The forecast can alert users ahead of the next month’s report, as to what residual seasonal effects may contribute to the final headline number.  These are artifacts of the whole process, not real, but are nevertheless part of the reported headline number and, as such, of interest in predicting what might be published.
A rather egregious example of this last point occurred prior to the December 2011 payroll report.  Here is the picture as of the November 2011 release, having been run through our X-12-ARIMA process.

Figure 3
The trend extrapolation for total private sector jobs in December was a gain of 191,000 jobs.  In drilling down to where this was coming from, the first stop was one sub-sector which stood out.

Figure 4
A rather large forecast jump in December employment!

On further examination, we saw that the X-12-ARIMA model was having a problem with an underlying component series, “Couriers and Messengers” (not charted separately here).  This had highly seasonal spikes around December which were not being completely removed in the seasonal adjustment process.  The forecast was telling us that the model was likely to add a very large number of jobs in December purely as part of the SA process, regardless of what the underlying, not-seasonally adjusted numbers might come in at.

When the BLS December numbers did come out, this indeed was what happened:

Figure 5
Fifty thousand jobs reported added to the sector in December after seasonal adjustment, with total private payroll growth coming very close to the trend estimate at a 212,000 gain.

This odd-looking gain was commented on at the time in the BLS release,4 but was not noted as a seasonal adjustment problem, and raised some eyebrows after the event. The modeling of this series has since been improved by an adjustment to the X-12-ARIMA parameters made by the BLS as part of the 2012 Benchmark revision, and this jump has now disappeared from the currently published series.

The modeling of this series has been improved, but there are still some residual seasonalities in the system, witness the current forecast for total Private payrolls shown here going out for the next three months:

Figure 6
If there were no residual effects, one would expect the next three months to be at the same level. 
3.  Data Samples

We have packaged up a sample data-set as an Excel Workbook with menus and charts for browsing the data. 

The data-set covers:
  • Data from the March 2012 BLS Payroll Survey (published April 6th.)  (Please contact us to request next release data-set.)
  • Our cacluations of the unpublished, BLS seasonally-adjusted data series
  • Trend extrapolations
The sample data set contains:
  • Data back to January 2010
  • Next three months of trend extrapolations
  • 131 industry and aggregate series
  • 221kB Excel Workbook   Download 
    (Windows Excel 2007/2010 - Sorry, not Mac Excel compatible, due to our use of ActiveX controls.)
A full data-set is available to SGS Newsletter subscribers. It contains:
  • Data back to January 2006
  • Next 12 months of trend extrapolations
  • 201 industry and aggregate series (including some whose seasonally adjusted numbers are never published by the BLS)
  • 620kB Excel Workbook   Download   
    (Windows Excel 2007/2010 - Sorry, not Mac Excel compatible, due to our use of ActiveX controls.)

1.  Current Employment Statistics 
2.  “Because CES revises only two months of estimates each month, the fourth month back from the current first preliminary estimate is adjusted using a different set of seasonal factors than the third month back. For example, with the release of October first preliminary data, factors are revised for September and August, but not July."    Technical information: Revisions to CES data for late sample reports, annual benchmarking, and other factors

 3. "Revisions to data for previous months also may produce gains in accuracy, especially when the original data are themselves regularly revised on a monthly basis. Numerous revisions during the year, however, should be avoided, because they tend to confuse data users and substantially increase publication costs."   Employment and Earnings, January 2004, Tiller, Richard B. and Evans, Thomas D., "Revision of Seasonally adjusted Labor Force Series in 2004," , Page 2.  [Note: This quote is taken from a discussion of seasonal adjustment of the related Current Population Survey, but is equally applicable to the Payroll (Current Establishment) Survey.]

4. "Employment in transportation and warehousing rose sharply in December (+50,000). Almost all of the gain occurred in the couriers and messengers industry (+42,000); seasonal hiring was particularly strong in December." Bureau of Labor Statistics 5. Free Exchange, The Economist. January 6, 2012  3rd Paragraph


Federal Reserve predicts new economic crisis

RT - Published: 12 July, 2012

A recent meeting of the US Federal Reserve revealed that members of America’s central bank are not very optimistic about the future of the country’s economy.

Even though the Fed is at odds regarding what to do in terms of helping economic growth — and it still remains unclear whether or not a third round of quantitative easing (QE3) is to come — the official forecast from the bank suggests that the US may be sliding into a crisis.

Details from the Fed’s last meeting have been released to the public, and the minutes from that gathering reveal that the economists that oversee much of the inner-workings of the country’s fiscal policy remain concerned with the state of America.

Among the items discussed in the meeting show a lack of initiative on the part of the US Congress could bring further strain on America’s economy, specifically that a failure to avert tax hikes and planned massive spending cuts later this year could be catastrophic.

The Fed has also downgraded its economic forecast, citing that a stagnant job market continues to cause problems. The minutes also reveal that the Fed’s board believes that the unemployment epidemic that has plagued the Obama administration since the current president took office in 2009 shows no sign of shaping up — members forecast that statistics for the next few months will mirror the current unemployment level of 8.2 percent.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has been critical of US jobs statistics throughout his tenure with the bank. Even still, though, the Fed has shown little action in recent times when it comes to offering a helping hand.

"This unemployment situation we have, the jobs situation, is really a national crisis," Bernanke said all the way back in April 2011 while speaking in Ohio. The chairman told Congress around the same time that "The Committee will continue to closely monitor economic developments and is prepared to take further action as appropriate to promote a stronger economic recovery in the context of price stability.” One year later, though, the Fed seems still unsure about what to do.

Further steps “could be warranted,” several Fed members agree. How, when and what the bank will do remains a mystery, though, in an issue that is complicated, to say the least. Even if some members are for considering options that may include another round of quantitative easing, the Fed is mostly divided when it comes to a possible plan of action.

"These minutes show that there is still a very deep division within the Fed," DMJ Advisors’ chief economist, David Jones, tells the Associated Press about the bank’s latest report. As news of their last meeting has made it outside of Washington, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down on Wednesday for its fifth straight day of losses. The price of gold has also declined yet again, a matter which the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch suggests is a result of the release of the Fed’s meeting minutes.

Although minutes from the Fed’s last meeting are just being made public, that isn’t to say that it’s a late breaking issue. Records from the last sit-down among the Fed’s board members date to a June 19-20 meeting, with details about what — if any — discussions that have occurred in the three weeks since being a mystery. The Fed is not expected to hold another meeting until the end of this month, which will then be followed by a gathering on September 12-13.

“It seems as though the committee is moving away from quantitative easing as the central bank expects the economic activity to gradually gather pace over the coming months,” David Song, a currency analyst at DailyFX, adds to MarketWatch.“Although theFed kept the door open to expand monetary policy further, the recent rhetoric suggests that QE3 will be taken off the table as members of the board float the idea of looking at ‘new tools’ to strengthen the tepid recovery.”

The minutes also reveal that 15 members of the Federal Open Market Committee had a poor outlook about America’s economy as of their last meeting, up from April’s figure of just eight.

War in August? US sends fourth aircraft carrier and dozens of underwater drones towards Iran

RT  Published: 13 July, 2012

The US Navy has unexpectedly dispatched a fourth aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, along with a fleet of underwater drones in what is being considered just the latest move in a series of escalations leading towards a potential war with Iran.

The deployment of dozens of small, unmanned submarine-like watercraft was confirmed by the Los Angeles Times this week, which cites military officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

This particular type of craft, unmanned SeaFox submersible, are reported to be sent to the Gulf so that the US military can detect and destroy any mines that may be planted in the waterway by Iranian officials if they escalate efforts to block the Strait of Hormuz, a strategically important narrow stretch of water that exists as an immensely important conduit for any resources being moved in or out of the Middle East.

The Times says that the subs, at only 4 feet long and fewer than 100 pounds apiece, can move at speeds up to six knots at depths of 300 feet. The price-tag is reported to be $100,000 each, which includes an intricate waterproof television camera and a homing sonar system. The US rush-ordered a shipment in May in a deal with Germany under the direct of Marine Gen. James Mattis, the top US commander in the Middle East. It is reported that a fleet of SeaFox subs were deployed overseas several weeks back, but has only been confirmed now.

The United States has already sent three massive aircraft carriers to the waterways outside of Iran, including the USS Enterprise, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Abraham Lincoln, and will now add the USS John C Stennis to that fleet in August. Unlike these behemoth ships equipped with billions worth of weaponry and service personnel, America’s other new addition to the battlefront is invisible to those on land and can be controlled from anywhere in the world.

"In the Cold War, minesweeping warfare was a large part of what the Navy did, but we have lost a lot of our minesweeping capability," Christopher Harmer, a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, tells the Times. "The SeaFox is a relatively simple, off-the-shelf system that we can put off our minesweepers but also any surface ship."

Harmer adds to the paper that although Iran has the capabilities of coming through with its threats of closing the strait, the latest addition to the United States Navy would make sure a blockade wouldn’t last long.

"If they wanted to close the Strait of Hormuz, they could do it, but they would only be able to do it one time," he says.

The new fleet of SeaFox subs will accompany two massive aircraft carriers and a collection of F-22 fighter jets that America has already sent towards Iran. When the United States upped its presence in Persian Gulf earlier this year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters, “We want them to know that we are fully prepared to deal with any contingency and it’s better for them to try to deal with us through diplomacy.”

Beware of the Genetic Tomato Tamperers

by Jim Hightower
Some people are too smart for your own good.

Food geneticists, for example. These technicians have the smarts to tinker with the inner workings of Momma Nature's own good foods — but not the smarts to leave well enough alone.

In fairness, much of their scientific tinkering has been beneficial. But during the past half-century, too much of their work devolved from tinkering into outright tampering with our food. This is mostly the result of money flowing to both private and public research centers from big agribusiness corporations that want nature's design altered in ways that fatten their bottom lines. Never mind that the alterations created by these smart people are frequently not good for you and me.

Take the tomato, truly a natural wonder. Agribusiness profiteers, however, wanted it to do unnatural things, so — voila! — the genetic tamperers in the 1960s and '70s dutifully produced the Amazing Industrial Tomato. It's a techno-marvel made to endure long-distance shipping, be harvested while green and then artificially ripened to appear tomato-y red and last an ungodly amount of time without rotting.

But taste? Forget it. There's more flavor in the carton. This led to the "Upchuck Rebellion" — a grassroots movement of consumers, small farmers and local food artisans. In the last couple of decades, they've spurred phenomenal growth in farmers markets and stores that offer nature's own locally produced and heirloom varieties untouched by the smart ones.

But, look out, the tomato tamperers are back in the lab! They've discovered that a mutated gene they had bred into the corporate tomato switches off other genes that would cause the fruit to develop flavor. The answer, they say, is not less technology, but more. By artificially re-engineering the DNA structure of the plant, they can bypass that naughty mutated gene and switch on some of the flavor genes. But do we really want to eat genetically engineered tomatoes?

Still, you can expect them to push the latest alteration of nature's marvel.

I can just see the agribusiness ad: "Buy our industrial tomatoes — Now genetically flavored!" Better yet, buy the local tomatoes, which don't need a smart geneticist or an ad to deliver real flavor.

Unfortunately, it's not just tomatoes they're tampering with. For instance, if you are parent you may be worried about the plethora of highly questionable bio-engineered organisms that the profiteers have quietly been slipping into everything from snack foods to school lunches.

Well, perhaps your own children can put your mind at ease, for science teachers around the country have been assigning a book called "Look Closer at Biotechnology" to the kiddos in their classes. It's filled with colorful images, friendly cartoon faces, puzzles and more!

The very first page makes clear that the scientific wonder of genetically engineered foods pose no worries at all. "Hi, kids," it begins. "This is an activity book for young people like you about ... a really neat topic." Why is it so neat? Because, say the authors, "as you work through the puzzles in this book, you will learn more about biotechnology and all the wonderful ways it can help people live better lives in a healthier world. Have fun!"

Fun? With genetically engineered food? That's not fun, it's serious business — and look who's behind this book of fairy tales: the Council for Biotechnology Information.

Exactly what and who is CBI? It's a PR and political front for the biotech industry, financed by such multibillion-dollar giants as Monsanto the devil, Bayer, DuPont and Dow. It's also now funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into the industry's deceitful political campaign to kill a California "Right to Know" ballot initiative that finally would require food giants to label all products containing genetically engineered organisms.

This raises an obvious question for those of us who prefer food from nature, not from engineering labs: What are we to do about corporate powers that are so avaricious and arrogant that they're willing to tamper with our food supply, our kids' minds and our basic consumer rights? Defeat them, that's what!

Here are three good sources for information and action:, and

The New Company Store: The Final Step in the Corporate Takeover of America

by John Atcheson
Well, here we are, slouching toward another national garage sale in which corporations bid on and buy candidates the way futures traders bid on commodities – or as our founders used to call it: an election.

As we go to the polls, it might be wise to remember the song Sixteen Tons.  Here’s a few lines to refresh your memory:
Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt; and
St. Peter don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t come.  I owe my soul to the Company Store.
The original version of the song was written by an ex-coal miner named George Davis and recorded on his album, When Kentucky Had No Union Men. 

It is a song about the truck system, and debt bondage.  Under this economic model, workers lived in houses owned by the company, shopped in stores owned by the company, and got paid in scrip minted by the company.  And no matter how hard they worked, they remained indebted to the company.

The truck system survived in the US until the early 20th Century.  This kind of abuse existed because government allowed it to.  Then as now, wealth was highly concentrated and government was in the pocket of the plutocrats.

It came to an end with the passage of The National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933.

Since then, the US government and labor moved together to level the playing field for workers.  The result was a steady increase in prosperity shared by all Americans.

That is, until about thirty years ago, when Reagan launched what has been a sustained assault on government.

Thanks to thirty years of Republican policies and Democratic complicity, we’re in the process of reopening the company store, only as with all things 21st Century, it’s a national chain.

Today, we shop with credit cards owned by “the company,” live in houses financed by “the company” – often owing more than the value of the home – and get our news and information from sources controlled by "the company."  In short, the company store is back in business.

While Republicans and Tea partiers are all aflutter over government debt, Americans owe some $11.4 trillion in consumer debt.  Talk about indentured. Seventy five per cent of us are held hostage to debt.

This spring student loan debt passed $1 trillion, and the average student now owes $25,000 upon graduating, And Congress passed a law making it almost impossible for students to escape this debt through bankruptcy. Right now, it’s far easier for a corporation to default on hundreds of millions of dollars in retirement and health benefits than it is for a student to escape a few thousand in student loan debt.

Congratulations, Grad, and welcome to the company store.  Oh, but you corporations and fat cats? No worries. It’s business as usual – your McMansion is protected; you can still screw your employees with impunity.

So how did this happen?  How did we once again become enslaved to a system which does not represent our interests; a system which benefits the 1% at our expense?

Well, not surprisingly, corporations and plutocrats used the tools of marketing to conduct a silent takeover of the country, imposing a tyranny far more severe than the imaginary government tyranny Tea-Partiers rail against.

They systematically “branded” the forces that were capable of constraining them while rebranding the very things that worked to enslave so many of us in times past.

Using repetition, metaphors and other figures of speech that form the basis of advertising, corporations and their conservative cronies – the real modern day Madmen – made people believe up was down and right was left.   And because they were unopposed by the corporate owned media and the Democratic Party, they succeeded.

Government was branded as the problem, not the solution.

The private sector got branded as the solution, not the problem.

The same private sector that set up the company stores in the 18th and 19th Centuries until the government and unions put a stop to it.

“Liberal” became an epithet – something politicians ran screaming from, and something the people identified as evil, ineffective, elitist … even though, on an issue-by-issue basis, most Americans hold progressive views.

Socialism is now equivalent to Satan worship, and anything but wild, unconstrained capitalism has been branded as socialism – or gasp – even communism.  Thus, regulations preventing the Company Store, or the rape of the Earth are seen as infringements on our freedom even though they apply mostly to corporate abuse.  Plutocrats must get together at their secret meetings and howl with laughter at the rubes who screw themselves because they’re worried about their freedom, which  -- thanks to the evisceration of government -- is now essentially the freedom to be exploited.

Exhibit A?  “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.” Or take this gem:  “Don’t steal from Medicare to Support Socialized Medicine.”

The result of this massive con?  Income mobility in the United States has all but stalled, especially in States with Republican governors. Income disparity, on the other hand has exploded and the top 10% of Americans now control 75% of the wealth.  The United States now ranks behind such luminary examples of shared prosperity as Cameroon and Iraq, according to the CIA.

So now, as corporations impose an economic tyranny not seen since the 19th and early 20th Century, many Americans are chasing ghosts ginned up by the corporations and their conservative political madmen.

Welcome to the New Company Store, now opening at a location near you.

Why Do the Poor Cheer for the Rich?

Evidence that things are far, far worse than we ever dreamed can be seen in John Q. Public’s resentment of labor unions.  Twenty-five years ago people who argued with me (and I had these arguments every day) about the contributions of organized labor used to maintain that unions were “bad” because they were either (1) too anti-democratic and dictatorial, or (2) too “corrupt” (i.e., mobbed up or otherwise “crooked”)

But that was the extent of it.  No one suggested that unions weren’t beneficial, or that they weren’t devoted to the interests of working people or, considering the stark alternatives, that they weren’t, in fact, “necessary.”  Rather, their gripes were confined to the procedural, to the way unions were governed.  Or to be more accurate, to the way they perceived unions to be governed (because, in truth, people often confused “corruption” with simple laziness and inefficiency).

But that’s all changed.  While you still hear the occasional grumbling directed toward “corrupt union bosses,” what people complain about today it that labor unions are “elitist.”  It’s true.  Shocking as that may seem, America’s working people actually use the E-word when referring to other working people—to people who, by virtue of a union contract, have managed to stay above water, who’ve managed to retain decent wages and benefits, and haven’t fallen victim to the biggest money grab since the Gilded Age.

At first I thought this attitude was simply a manifestation of petty jealousy or schadenfreude.  But the more I hear, the more I’m convinced the public honestly believes that working people who feel they’re entitled to decent wages and benefits see themselves as being somehow “above the rest of us,” and should, therefore, be knocked down a peg or two.  Instead of a union contract serving as a model for the rest of us—something to raise our standard of living—they see it as an insult, a humiliation.

When I try to explain that without unions maintaining decent wages and benefits, we’re all subject to the inevitable downward pull of market forces, which, given our surplus of labor, means that many of us will not only remain stagnated but will slide inexorably toward the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour (which, incidentally, the Republicans find too generous and wish to abolish), people bristle.

They bristle when they hear this.  For one thing, they seem to trust unconditionally the restorative powers of the so-called Free Market.  They honestly believe the rich won’t be motivated to exploit the rest of us, because, without explaining the specifics, such a thing would be “counterproductive.”  For another, when you use the innocuous phrase “surplus of labor,” some people will scream, “that’s what Karl Marx said!!”

Not to sound defeatist, but maybe the one-percent has already won this thing.  With the poor now cheering for the rich, the plutocrats’ wildest and most ambitious fantasies have been realized.  Not only have the rich succeeded in convincing workers to root against labor unions—the one and only institution dedicated to their welfare—they’ve convinced them to fight for the interests of the wealthy rather than the interests of their own tribe.

Holy Mother of Jesus, this makes no sense.  And it’s not simply politics.  It transcends political ideology and voter booth privacy.  Rooting for the rich is crazy.  It’s not only illogical and impractical, it’s unnatural.  Indeed, it’s tantamount to the chicken population of the United States naming Colonel Sanders its “Man of the Year.”