Archive for April, 2009

Confessions of a Terrorist

Posted in Welcome to The Machine on April 29, 2009 by CjH

By Terry J. Allen, In These Times

Dear Senator Patrick Leahy:

I write from my sleeper cell outside Hardwick, Vt., through a constituent I persuaded to give you this letter.

I cannot speak my happiness on reading that you propose immunity for torturers and war criminals who confess, saying they “won’t be prosecuted unless they commit perjury.”

Your plan will bring great shouts of joy from the Absolved: the high officials who authorized torture, the lowly who carried it out, and the medical personnel who facilitated it.

I, too, have confessions pertaining to acts some partisans might label “crimes against humanity.” I assure you that my misdeeds also had high motives in service to God, nation, and the protection of my people’s way of life. Our sons are being killed, our blood is being shed, our holy places are being attacked.

Perhaps they are not as tall as your towers, but they are mighty to us. And we do only what God instructed—protect our lands from invasion and our women from immodesty and corrupting Western influences, like education.

Before, I took pride in my power and righteousness. Now I am more wishing to avoid prison or drone attack. So I praise you for championing hearings based on the South African Truth and Reconciliation model, and giving it teeth by warning that if “people at a higher level did something illegal, refused to testify, they don’t get immunity.”

I do NOT refuse, knowing you will grant me absolution if I clean my breast of my just but perhaps overzealous deeds. You said immunity should be done “very, very carefully, only after consultation with the Department of Justice.” Without a Truth Commission, you note, getting to the bottom of things might take 20 years, “and we’d probably end up with all the small fries.”

That’s me! Small fry terrorist. Unlike the torture masters and lawyers, my crimes are little potatoes. I have yet to destroy many lives and, as Donald Rumsfeld said, “stuff happens.”

A lawyer and a lawmaker, you once said that “nobody’s above the law in this country” and laws apply to all equally. Adding the concept of immunity for confession is a glorious improvement, like your own Catholic Church bestows. (By the way, my cousin at AIG is also ready to confess for immunity.)

Despite knowing that U.S. officials sanctioned and carried out torture, for which international law requires prosecution, you have the courageous pragmatism to call for words, not punishment.

Thus, your hearings will combine those great tenets of democracy: catharsis and entertainment. All Americans will benefit watching perpetrators squirm—even while knowing there will be no consequence beyond book deals and Fox News slots.

How gracious the commission will be if Abu Ghraib interrogators go free, despite an autopsy on Manadel al-Jamadi that ruled his death a homicide from “blunt force injuries” and “compromised respiration.” Your president is willing to let bygones be bygones for the actual torturers, since they, like me, were only following orders—although he sagely avoided that phrase.

I will accept the same immunity your plan may grant to those who waterboarded one prisoner 183 times in a month; to psychologist James Mitchell, who laid the intellectual justification for torture, reportedly telling a CIA official that terrorists “would confess for only one reason: sheer terror” (while U.S. officials will confess freely for immunity!); and to officials who approved or advocated torture—George J. Tenet, John McLaughlin, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney (who once rudely advised you do an impossible act upon your esteemed person), George Bush, John Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, and Republican and Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi, Peter Goss, Bob Graham, and Richard Shelby.

Sadly, I cannot legitimize my crimes with great documents from a legal team like Jay Bybee (now a federal judge), John Yoo (now teaching college) William Haynes (now working for Chevron), Alberto Gonzales, David Addington and Douglas Feith. But I have ways to recruit loyal servants who will insist my acts were pure and legal.

Agreeing with your president that we should look forward rather than back, I look forward to retiring from terrorism, raising goats, writing my memoirs, meeting Oprah and (please permit me a small joke) becoming a federal judge.

In closing, dear senator, I join throngs who will sing praises for your efforts to bring closure and expose facts. For eight years, America ceded liberty to security. Now it has the opportunity to further truth by sacrificing justice and the rule of law. What a wonderful precedent for well-meaning criminals like me.

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12 Tips for the Sustainability Shift

Posted in Health, Food, Energy and Ecology on April 29, 2009 by CjH

By Matthew Stein, Huffington Post

These days, most people sense that our world is off balance and that we are sliding steadily towards some dark abyss. It can be hard to keep a cheerful positive outlook when you consider just these three signs of trouble:

1. Recent record high oil prices may be just the beginning of never-ending price escalations as increasing demand for oil (China and India are growing at about 10% per year) collides with global oil production that has been pretty much flat for the past three years, and shows all the warning signs of impending decline (Peak Oil).

2. Even the best-case projections from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) indicate that escalating natural disasters exacerbated by global climate changes may be enough to bankrupt many nations over the course of the next few decades.

3. Roughly 90 percent of the large commercial fish (swordfish, marlin, tuna, shark, etc.) have disappeared from the oceans over the last fifty years and it is projected that current trends will result in the collapse of all commercial seafood species in the oceans by the year 2048.

I hate to break it to you, but simple steps, like changing your light bulbs and driving a hybrid car, though they are good steps in the right direction, will not be enough to save our world from collapse. If we consider “Plan A” to be business as usual, which is currently consuming, depleting, and poisoning the natural systems that maintain life on Earth, then we might call a sustainable alternative “Plan B”. It has been estimated that a viable Plan B could be implemented by diverting just 1/6th of the world’s current military expenditures to supporting and implementing the sweeping changes needed to shift our world’s course from collapse to sustainability. Are we that stupid, short sighted, or selfish that we can’t devote this much to saving our planet?

There is no single “right way” to implement Plan B, but the following list (an excerpt from Edition II of When Technology Fails) would go a long way towards insuring that we and our children will have a world worth living in:

1. Change the tax structure. Plan B will only succeed if we shift the tax structure to provide significant support for those materials, processes, industries and investments that contribute towards building a sustainable economy, while penalizing those industries and structures that stick to the “old way” of doing things, continuing to consume our dwindling resources and ecosystems in non-sustainable ways. Funds gained from fees and penalties can be used to pay for rebates and tax incentives that promote the rapid industrial retooling and changeover to energy and resource conserving processes, machines, automobiles, and so on. During World War II, in a matter of just 6 months, the entire US production of consumer automobiles was shut down and converted to production in support of the war effort. If we could do that, We Can Do This!

2. Rebuild our cities. Over one half the human population now lives in cities, and they consume more than one half of our energy and materials. By restructuring our cities for mass transportation, moving away from their current focus centered on the individual automobile, and retrofitting our buildings for energy efficiency and integrated distributed renewable energy power generation (our buildings could generate most or all the power they need using current technologies), we could reduce our cities’ fossil fuel consumption by a factor of 10:1 within the next decade or two.

3. Rebuild our railways, waterways, and mass transit systems: A world running short on oil must focus on efficiency rather than simple convenience. If we don’t act now, while our economy is still working reasonably well, how will most of us get around, or ship our goods, if gas goes to $10 or $20 dollars a gallon and we have not developed better alternatives to diesel trucks for long distance hauling and private gasoline powered automobiles for local transportation?

4. Rebuild our homes, office buildings and factories. Today’s showpiece energy efficient buildings often consume one-tenth the energy of the average building, and some buildings are net energy producers that actually generate more power than they consume. The current crash in the building market could be turned around with zero-interest loans and tax incentives to retrofit buildings for energy efficiency, providing badly needed jobs while cutting green house gas emissions and reducing oil imports and trade deficits. From a resource, energy, and materials point of view, it is far “greener” to retrofit existing buildings than to tear them down and start over.

5. Rebuild our industries. There must be domestic and international financial incentives to revitalize economies while saving energy and materials through junking old inefficient processes and machines and replacing them with state-of-the-art technologies. The Western world has benefited greatly from the use of natural resources gleaned from underdeveloped countries. It is time we repay this debt by sharing renewable and sustainable technologies with the developing world, doing our part to ensure that we leave behind a world that can feed and sustain our children. All of our efforts will be to no avail, if we take care of our own country while doing little to help replace the inefficient processes and industries of rapidly industrializing giants like India and China.

6. Fund and support renewable energy development. Focus on the rapid development of renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, geothermal, and biofuels. Particular emphasis on wind power, which is already cost competitive with coal. When you level the playing field by eliminating subsidies, wind energy is already more cost effective than coal, nuclear, or oil for the generation of electricity. Develop biofuels from multiple sources (preferably other than corn, which produces just a little more energy than it takes to grow and process), including cellulosics and algae, to provide oil alternatives both in the transportation industries and as material feedstocks for industrial processes such as plastics.

7. Eliminate population growth. Reduce global population growth to the point where the population of our planet levels off, followed by a decline in world population. On a planet where the estimated long-term carrying capacity is on the order of 1 to 2 billion people, if we can’t control our own population growth, nature will do it for us. Most people would agree that it is much more humane to provide family planning education and birth control materials for all people on Earth than for the population to find its natural level through starvation, plagues, and wars.

8. Share the wealth. Develop binding multinational regulations and governing bodies to ensure that the world’s oceans and forests are harvested sustainably. Develop some form of resource equity-sharing program to reward third-world countries for conserving their resources, such as rainforests, topsoil, and sensitive ecosystems. We must revamp our economic systems which currently reward businesses that are causing great ecological harm, by allowing them to reap higher profits due to the fact that they are not charged for the harmful resource depletion and environmental degradation resulting from their business practices. Simply exporting our polluting heavy industries to the third world, where they are not as well controlled or monitored as in the west, makes the global sustainability problem even worse.

9. Reach out to developing countries. The developing countries of the world all want what the Western countries already have. They must not be left out of the equation. We have the potential to rapidly develop and deploy technologies to shift our economy from a carbon-intensive energy base to one based on renewables. By sharing this technology with the developing world, we can help to significantly improve their average standard of living while at the same time allowing them to leapfrog older coal and oil-based technologies, much as how the cell phone created the opportunity for most of the developing world to bypass line-based phone systems. If we miss this opportunity, our chances of avoiding catastrophic global climate changes, or economic and ecological collapse, are practically zero.

10. Replace coal-burning power plants. If we are to stand a chance for capping greenhouse gas emissions, current coal-burning power plant technology must be replaced. If a successful carbon dioxide sequestering technology proves feasible, we could continue to burn coal, but only when the new technology is in place.

11. Global relocalization: buy local. Economies are bound to relocalize as energy and transportation costs rise, making it once again both environmentally and economically beneficial to live, work, produce, grow, and buy locally. Buying local helps keep our dollars circulating locally in what is known as the “local multiplier effect.” When we buy foreign oil, produce, or material goods, these dollars often leave our country for good.

12. Make all decisions based on sustainability. All business decisions should be made while giving serious consideration as to whether that particular decision contributes toward sustainability or takes us farther from the goal of creating a sustainable world.

March 24, 1976: President Ford Orders Swine-Flu Shots for All

Posted in Health, Food, Energy and Ecology on April 27, 2009 by CjH

Something to keep in mind amidst all the hubbub. Not to say that it’s bullshit, people are dying after all. But always ask yourself: cui bono? Glaxo, Roche, Pfizer, Gilead… and the rest.

Source: Wired

Ford was acting on the advice of medical experts, who believed they were dealing with a virus potentially as deadly as the one that caused the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic.

The virus surfaced in February at Fort Dix, New Jersey, where 19-year-old Pvt. David Lewis told his drill instructor that he felt tired and weak, although not sick enough to skip a training hike. Lewis was dead with 24 hours.

The autopsy revealed that Lewis had been killed by “swine flu,” an influenza virus originating in pigs. By then several other soldiers had been hospitalized with symptoms. Government doctors became alarmed when they discovered that at least 500 soldiers on the base were infected without becoming ill.

It recalled 1918, when infected soldiers returning from the trenches of World War I triggered a contagion that spread quickly around the world, killing at least 20 million people. Fearing another plague, the nation’s health officials urged Ford to authorize a mass inoculation program aimed at reaching every man, woman and child. He did, to the tune of $135 million ($500 million in today’s money).

Mass vaccinations started in October, but within weeks reports started coming in of people developing Guillain-Barré syndrome, a paralyzing nerve disease, right after taking the shot. Within two months, 500 people were affected, and more than 30 died. Amid a rising uproar and growing public reluctance to risk the shot, federal officials abruptly canceled the program Dec. 16.

In the end, 40 million Americans were inoculated, and there was no epidemic. A later, more technically advanced examination of the virus revealed that it was nowhere near as deadly as the 1918 influenza virus. The only recorded fatality from swine flu itself was the unfortunate Pvt. Lewis.

History’s verdict of the program is mixed. Critics assail Ford, accusing him of grandstanding during an election year — it did him no good, because he lost anyway — while kowtowing to the pharmaceutical companies. Supporters laud the ability of the nation’s health bureaucracy to mobilize so effectively.

Hipsterdom Invades the White House

Posted in The Sickness on April 26, 2009 by CjH

It’s official. The dark cloud of Hipsterdom has penetrated new terrain: the White House. Obama has been showered with praise in recent days. It started with Madison Avenue rewarding Obama the much-coveted reward of “Marketer of the Year” for 2008. Polls and media outlets are lauding the first 100 days of the administration, confirming Americans’ satisfaction with the President.

That is, with the President Obama that suavely graces the airwaves, smoothly works the talk-show circuit, and still finds time for the most American of priorities: professional sports. Don’t confuse this being with the actual President Obama, the guy who has been lining the pockets of Wall Street, dropping bombs on civilians in the Middle East, or maneuvering his way out of a legitimate single-payer national health program.

But polls aren’t measuring Americans’ satisfaction with the real President, the policy maker. They’re measuring popular satisfaction with the methodically manufactured media persona-version of the American President, a strange amalgalm of popular sentiments and hip character traits. A vacuous mockery of a genuine human being, glossed over with contemporary strokes of cool.

Poltico reported that “Barack Hussein Obama is the nation’s first hip president…See the body language, the expressions, the clothes. He’s got attitude, rhythm, a sense of humor, contemporary tastes.  Whether dealing with the Wall Street mess, shifting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan or fumbling to fill his Cabinet, Obama leans heavily on personal panache to push political policies…Pure and simple, it’s hip.”

The Presidency has long been tainted with old, traditional, WASP-like vibes…anathema to the hippest of Hipsters.  But Obama is so cool, so smooth, so on it…that he has managed to perform the most Presidential of duties-dropping bombs, cozying up to Wall Street, performing at press conferences-without tranishing his Hip credentials in the least bit.

Thus, “Obama’s hipness reinforces that he’s different, yet he’s comfortingly familiar to Americans who want to revere their presidents as pedestal material while demanding that they be approachable as the guy next door.”

Of course, it’s not all Obama. Michelle doesn’t hurt, scoring the first family major points with America’s elite of Hip. “He is green, open, athletic, tech-savvy, healthy. And his hip image certainly isn’t hurt by his wife, who is so obviously cool — setting trends (Sleeveless! Tending her own garden!), confidently mingling with superstars, gracing magazine covers coast to coast.”

I wasn’t around for Kennedy. And while he undoubtedly mastered the arts of Hollywoodized Washigton power games, and Clinton further refining them with the sax or MTV and Arsenio Hall appearance, Obama is taking it to new heights.

The Politico again…”It’s so hip that school kids in Albany, N.Y., coined a term for it: ‘Baracking’ And it doesn’t stop there. Those in the know at Albany High greet each other by saying: “What’s up, my Obama?” and they respond to a sneeze with “Barack you.” Misbehavior is peer-corrected with the admonition, “Barack’s in the White House,” which translates, “Show some respect.”

“The implication was that if you were not on board, you were not hip — you were square. And who wants to be so uncool as to be on the wrong side of the hip president…”

If the American Empire can permanently convince the people (specifically, the youth) that Obama’s commodified facade is “cool” or “hip”, despite the glaring and discomfiting reality that very little has changed,  then a fresh new language of “hope and change” to ensure social cohesion has been born (or maybe just reborn),  and nothing less than a new electoral/PR/advertising paradigm has emerged out of Obamamania.

Hypocrites at the Helm

Posted in Political Economy on April 26, 2009 by CjH

The United States and Europe are launching diplomatic and PR assaults on China for protecting their steel industry from contraction and market volatility. The fact that Western reps can make such claims with a straight face is impressive. After Brussels charged China with systematic market distortion via state subsidies, started taxing Chinese imorts, and threatening further action in the WTO, rhetoric of “trade wars” began popping up in headlines and news reports. On April 8, American steel interests filed a suit in Washington against Beijing for allegedly dumping upwards of $3 billion of steel onto the American market last year. The steel industry in China employs some 2.5 million workers; obviously, Beijing finds it to be undesirable to allow the global crisis to severely shock its domestic industry-steel or anyother sector- which would inevitably lead to job loss and popular discontent (to put it lightly). Clearly, China has reached global power status, allowing it to dismiss the dubious claims of free-market purity in the West. The American economy is the most protected in the world; Wall St. and Detroit are on non-stop life support at the public trough, not to mention the standard public subsidies and state support for agribusiness, high-tech and the matrix of war-related sectors. There’s not much more to the American economy, except the drug cartels and private prisons. Private prisons are a promising sector, but Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline both posted considerable 1Q losses, 18% and 13% respectively. They hope to make up in the second half of 2009 by undermining the recent rise in generic drug options not yet under thier private control. Not to be condused, the firms are still highly liquid and raked in BILLIONS in 1Q profits.  And while increased steel production anywhere in the world is at this point undesirable for ecological reasons, it’s good to see the facade of Western free-market piety begin to be exposed for what it is…a laughable absurdity. The Washington Consensus has long been discredited, so states don’t have to subject themselves to the “rules” of the global economy. Once this becomes obvious, then countries can start talking about opting out of the global economy (like in areas of South America), rather than sumbitting to a cycle of dependence and instability. Of course, China is a long way from this, and current institutions have no plans for building regional, self-sufficient Chinese economies.  But in the short terms, jobs saved are jobs saved.

Lessons in Corporate Villainy

Posted in Private Plunder on April 25, 2009 by CjH

The Biotech Revolution…The Next Bubble Economy

Posted in Health, Food, Energy and Ecology, Private Plunder on April 25, 2009 by CjH