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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Professor Chu goes to Washington

Financial Times
May 28 2009

None of Barack Obama’s officials marks the break with George W. Bush’s disdain for science better than Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winning physicist. Mr Chu’s appointment as US energy secretary gave many people – including, no doubt, Mr Chu himself – hope for serious US leadership on energy and climate change.

His interview with the FT this week, however, is sobering.

The ramp-down of ambitions has been faster than the steps forward. Mr Chu has secured government funding for carbon capture and storage research, but has accepted that the US will continue for now to build coal-fired power plants without CCS.

More disappointingly, the energy secretary seems resigned to the view that policies that would substantially raise US petrol prices are not politically feasible.

Some in Washington still deny that climate change is a problem.

More numerous are those who think they can will the end – lower carbon emissions – without willing the means: making emissions more expensive. Congress gives the absurd impression that it would be happiest if it could pass a cap-and-trade regime that did not raise the price on energy. President Obama – with his congressional majorities and high popularity ratings – must find the courage to say that increasing the price is precisely the point.

It is true that, in the current recession, an overall increase in the tax burden could delay recovery. But the US also faces a fiscal crisis, and a price on carbon is one obvious way to meet the imminent imperative of reducing the deficit.

Moreover, both in the short run and once public finances improve, a tax (or cap-and-trade regime) can be made revenue-neutral or replace inefficient taxes. Some Republicans support a carbon tax if offset by reductions in income, payroll or corporation taxes. Alternatively, it could be paid out as an equal cash “dividend” to all Americans, as Nasa’s James Hansen proposes.

With no consensus on what to do with the revenues, a higher price on carbon – although desirable in its own right – remains hostage to America’s traditional suspicion of wasteful public spending. The administration shows too little willingness to build such a consensus. Cap-and-trade, in effect a tax, has cloaked the necessary distributive choices in complexity, allowing unacceptable giveaways to industry by not auctioning all permits.

Mr Obama and Mr Chu must redouble their efforts to build support for the price mechanism, whether through cap-and-trade or an outright tax.

Failure will open the door to a far worse alternative: command and control.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

George W. Bush "Kept Us Safe"?

By Jeffrey Feldman
Huffington Post
May 21, 2009

Lately, the only thing worse than Dick Cheney's boldfaced lie that the Bush administration policies "kept us safe" is the gaggle of mainstream journalists mindlessly repeating it.

My question for journalists working for CNN, MSNBC, FOX, ABC, CBS, NPR and the like is very simple: Exactly what kind of delusional definition of "kept us safe" is swirling around your cobweb covered newsrooms? That definition must be some kind of crazy, because it accommodates not only the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history and the tragic death of thousands in New Orleans, but dozens of other yikes-we-are-so-not-safe moments, all which happened during George W. Bush's Presidency.

For example:

During George W. Bush's Presidency, thousands of soldiers died in Iraq--a war we now know without question to have been waged as part of an ideological program, not out of necessity. Those thousands of soldiers each had parents, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, children, and hometowns dragged through the cruel stop-gap policies imposed on service men and women by George W. Bush.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers were injured, only to return to the squalid conditions and cruel indifference of a veterans' care medical system that fell through the cracks of America's for-profit healthcare racket. The tragedy of our injured soldiers came to light during George W. Bush's Presidency.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, the number of Americans living in abject fear for lack of health insurance reached the tens of millions. As a result of this crisis of fear, a private medical relief agency initially set up to fly doctors to remote jungles in South America began flying relief into poor American communities. This happened during George W. Bush's Presidency.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, the NSA spied on the private citizens, thanks to the willing participation of major American telecom companies, a major violation of the most fundamental Constitutional rights Americans thought protected them from KGB-style domestic surveillance.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, the citizens of nearly all American foreign allies began to view the United States as a hostile threat to world peace, safety, and security as a result of (1) the preemptive invasion policies of Dick Cheney and (2) the torture-of-prisoners policies of Dick Cheney.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, job security for working communities dropped, underemployment reached historic highs, and earned wages for worker output stagnated.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, Bernard Madoff was arrested for running the largest financial Ponzi scheme in history, defrauding private citizens, retirement funds, and not-for-profit organizations out of billions of dollars.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, the United States impeded global cooperation to lower carbon emissions levels, thereby heightening a general fear over the destructive potential of global warming.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, the United States economy tipped into the deepest economic crisis since the 1920s, hastening experts to describe the housing and financial market meltdown as a potential global economic 'depression.'

During George W. Bush's Presidency, pet food produced in China was discovered as the cause of deaths for American dogs and cats contaminated by toxic melamine, resulting in a nationwide panic.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, ecoli contamination killed multiple people who had ate spinach, tomatoes, and peppers.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, elderly Americans panicked over shortages of flu vaccines.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, the Republican Party ran political commercials claiming that voting for Democratic Party candidates would lead directly to the death and destruction of small town America by terrorists with nuclear bombs.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, fear and hatred of homosexuality reached a fever pitch in American politics.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, the Republican Party ran election campaigns designed to scare Jewish voters into thinking that the election of Democrats would result in another Holocaust.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, civilian planes were hijacked and flown into two of the tallest buildings in the world--the event was broadcast on live television--and when the President was told these events were happening by one of his closest aides, he sat there stone faced and did nothing, while his vice President--Dick Cheney--vanished into an "undisclosed location."

During George W. Bush's Presidency, the country was swept up in fear that terrorists were attacking ordinary citizens by sending the anthrax virus in the form of white powder through the United States Postal system.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, invasive strip searches coupled with racial profiling were introduced to the act of getting onto an airplane.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, a man who looked mentally ill was able to get past airport security, get on a plane, and then light a fuse connected to explosives in his shoes.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, a color-coded system was created to tell Americans via broadcast television that the threat of a terrorist attack was high at all times.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, the Republican Party launched a national campaign to convince the public that the Democratic nominee for president was a covert adherent to radical Islam with covert ties to domestic and foreign terrorists.

During George W. Bush's Presidency--a time lauded and celebrated by the National Rifle Association, who claimed to have "their man in the Oval office"--the largest gun massacre on a university campus occurred at Virginia Tech, resulting in the violent deaths of 5 faculty members and 27 students.

During George W. Bush's Presidency, the CIA at the bequest of Dick Cheney tortured prisoners using techniques in direct violation of U.S. and international law, dramatically increasing the likelihood that captured U.S. prisoners in the future will also be subject to torture.

And that is just to name a few, but you get the point.

So, remind me again: How did George W. Bush's policies keep us safe? Call me crazy, but I just do not see it.

To understand what it means for a President to keep us safe, my advice is to ignore Dick Cheney altogether and listen directly to former President Franklin Roosevelt.

In 1941 FDR gave a speech about "Four Freedoms" which spoke directly to the issue of security for Americans and the rest of the world:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want--which, translated into universal terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants--everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear--which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

-- Franklin D. Roosevelt, excerpted from the State of the Union Address to the Congress, January 6, 1941

To be fair, George W. Bush did some good work relative to Roosevelt's list of "Four Freedoms," in particular his dedication of a considerable funds to help fight AIDS in African nations. And yet, in his domestic and foreign policies--most of them designed and pushed by Dick Cheney--George W. Bush shrouded American life in a politics of fear. He did not make us more safe. Using the media and the military, George W. Bush made us more afraid, more anxious, and more concerned for our future.

Even worse: he sought to profit politically from the fear he created.

If there is ever ranking of Presidents who made us feel the most safe, I will bet you a gas mask and a roll of duct tape that George W. Bush ends up in last place.

So the next time Dick Cheney repeats his big, fat, stinking lie that George W. Bush "kept us safe," I hope journalists have the wherewithal and the basic decency to laugh out loud.

The rest of us are already laughing.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Horror and stresses of Iraq duty led US sergeant to kill comrades

Soldier's killing spree left five dead – adding to the grim total of murders by US veterans as the military is accused of failing its battle-scarred personnel

by Chris McGreal
The Guardian
May 16, 2009

Everyone – the father, the son, the army – agrees that three tours of Iraq drove ­Sergeant John Russell to the edge.

But what pushed him over, into shooting dead five of his comrades in an army that was his life for 16 years, is a matter of bitter dispute.

The military has suggested that ­Russell's work cannibalising and rebuilding robots used to set off roadside bombs brought him into regular contact with gruesome casualties, and that took a toll that exploded at Camp Liberty in ­Baghdad this week.

The army says it recognised signs of trauma in the 44-year-old sergeant, who was just a few weeks from leaving Iraq, and dispatched him for psychological assessment at a military stress centre in Baghdad. Russell got into a fight there, grabbed a gun and shot two doctors and three other soldiers dead.

That version of events has some of the familiar ring of accounts of traumatised soldiers driven to violence by violence. Ever since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, soldiers have been returning to the US and killing.

Veterans from the two wars have committed at least 120 murders beginning with a spate of killings of wives at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 2002 and continuing with five murders at a military base in Colorado last year.

Alongside the killings has come a surge in domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction. Meanwhile suicides run at twice the rate of people outside the military. But back at his home in Sherman, Texas, Russell's family say it was not the combat but the army that drove the sergeant in an engineering unit over the edge. His father, Wilburn, 73, said the military was Russell's life and that amid the stresses of combat he had fallen out with his officers.

"I doubt very seriously if the truth is going to come out because of the circumstances. You see he faxed his wife the 6th of this month saying that he'd been threatened by a couple of officers, and it was the worst two days of his life," he said.

On Monday, Russell's commanding officer ordered the sergeant to turn in his gun and receive psychological ­counselling. Wilburn Russell says the order to give up his weapon would have been deeply humiliating for his son and that after his long service to the army, just when the sergeant needed it most, he was under the impression it was going to dump him.

"I believe the officers decided they wanted him out. At the stress centre they sit you down and tell you you're not the kind of person they want in the service. You're not worthy of being here. How dare you get those stripes. You're too stupid to be in the army. That kind of thing. Well, they broke him," he said.

"If the army turns against him, he doesn't have a life as far as he is concerned. He's ruined. He's done for. He's going to lose his house and probably his wife. He's going to lose everything."

There were other stresses in John Russell's life. He was paying $1,500 (£1,000) for the house his parents and son live in, and had fallen into debt. There were questions around the state of his marriage with his wife back in Germany. The US commander in Baghdad responded to the deadliest act of soldier-on-soldier killings in the war by ordering a comprehensive review of mental health services in Iraq.

But the challenge will be to understand Russell, and how the stresses of long tours in Iraq, the personal problems, the growing difficulties with his superiors fed into each other.

Veterans' groups say the army has been there before and that while the military is more attuned to the effects of combat and the stresses of serving in a war zone, it still falls far short of dealing with the problem.

A US army study of the mental health and morale of soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq last year found that nearly one in five suffered from acute stress, depression or anxiety.

Soldiers, like Russell, on their third or fourth deployment were at significantly higher risk than those who spent less time in combat zones. Perhaps most shockingly, one in 10 soldiers had traumatic brain injury and only half were treated at the time it was sustained.

Another report, by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), said less than half of those suffering from psychological and neurological injuries were receiving sufficient treatment.

"Multiple tours and inadequate time at home between deployments are increasing combat stress," it said.

The army took little notice of the impact of 21st-century wars on its soldiers until a spate of murders in mid-2002 at the base in North Carolina by members of special forces recently returned from Afghanistan.A month after returning from combat, Master Sergeant William Wright strangled his wife, buried her in a shallow grave and reported her missing.

Sergeant Rigoberto Nieves had been back for just two days when he shot his wife and himself. Sergeant Cedric Griffin stabbed his estranged wife at least 50 times before setting the house on fire.

Altogether four soldiers killed their wives. Two then killed themselves. In a fifth case a woman killed her husband, a special forces major.

Support groups for wives at Fort Bragg also reported a surge in domestic violence. The army study said that suicide rates among those recently returned from combat had risen sharply.

Private Joseph Dwyer caught attention across the US as an army medic photographed rescuing a wounded child during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The picture made front pages across the country and buttressed the popular US view of the invasion as a liberation and a good war.

Dwyer returned home a national hero.

But the attention soon faded; he left the army and sank into addiction to alcohol and solvents between periodic bouts of treatment for post-traumatic stress. His wife left him, taking their young daughter.

The police found the 31-year-old former soldier's body after he died from an overdose of pills alone in a flat.

The military's instinct had been to cover up the scale of suicides.

Dr Ira Katz, head of mental health services for the Veterans Administration, denied there was a suicide epidemic when he told a congressional committee there had been 790 suicide attempts in all of 2007.

But then an email, written in February 2008 from Katz to a colleague, came to light. "Shh! Our suicide prevention co-ordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?" Katz wrote.

IAVA says it is particularly concerned about discharged soldiers "who can lose their bearings outside the camaraderie and structure of the military".

Late last year the military launched an advertising campaign to try to persuade traumatised veterans to come forward using a young army sniper, Bryan Adams, who was shot in the hand and leg during a battle in Iraq.

After he returned, Adams sank into depression, drinking more, alienating friends, smashing up the furniture.

"Each day I felt myself getting more and more out of control, I would push the limits of what was legal and appropriate behaviour just for fun. I behaved as if no laws applied to me," he has written. That continued until his mother, a nurse, recognised her son's problems for what they were.

Adams got himself into college with the help of a grant and is now one of the faces of IAVA when it launched an advertising campaign on the one word slogan – Alone – to encourage veterans to share their experiences.

The army says it greatly increased awareness about combat stress in recent years. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defence for health affairs, earlier this year said that there was also a lessening of the stigma associated with some psychological diagnoses.

"Guys are telling us they would still much rather be diagnosed with traumatic brain injury than post-traumatic stress disorder," he said. "But we're getting at some of that stigma. We've reduced it a bit."

The military also launched a suicide watch programme earlier this year.

But veterans groups say that the military continues to fail service personnel, with less than one in four of those who show signs of being at risk from post-traumatic stress disorder, based on screening questions, referred for evaluation and treatment.

No one disputes that many of those in danger continue to slip through the net.

Recently there has been an escalation in crimes committed by soldiers based at Fort Carson, Colorado, where nine soldiers have been responsible for killings after returning from Iraq. Five of the killings have taken place in the last year alone.


Friday, May 08, 2009

Annual Elite Conclave, 58th Bilderberg Meeting to be held in Greece, May 14-17

Canada Free Press
May 5, 2009

The 2009 Bilderberg Group Conference will be held at the five-star Nafsika Astir Palace Hotel in Vouliagmeni, Greece, May 14-17, according to author Daniel Estulin. Insiders have told Estulin that rooms have been booked and flight plans made. He has also confirmed the location and dates with sources in Greece. Estulin is the world's foremost investigative authority on this annual secretive and exclusive assembly, having investigated and infiltrated their meetings for over ten years. His books and reporting have helped to bring the powerful group out of the shadows, even directly affecting the very conduct and timing of the meetings &hellip and encapsulating them in an even deeper shroud of secrecy.

The Bilderberg Group started meeting in 1954, with funding from the CIA, to gather together the top Western bankers, politicians, media barons, corporate CEO‘s and European royalty in annual gatherings for frank discussions on important issues of the day.

Promoting the first edition of his best-selling book, Daniel came to the United States in the fall of 2007 and told audiences about the upcoming housing mess and resulting financial turmoil, with many homeowners owing far more than their properties were worth. On a similar tour in the spring of 2008, he announced that we were just a few months from financial calamity. These predictions were based upon his understanding of the international maneuvers of the Bilderberg Group.

Though the people responded, the press was largely a no-show. The same press then “failed” to report the year’s largest gathering of elites: the royalty, bankers, CEOs, media big-wigs and high government officials at the 57th annual Bilderberg meeting in June 2008. Daniel’s coverage of that meeting provides additional material for the new North American Union edition of The True Story of the Bilderberg Group, which has sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide in 48 languages.

According to Estulin's sources, here are a few of the talking points and concerns for this year’s meeting:

  • The future of the US dollar and US economy: The plan is for the Bilderberg Group players, through their allies in Washington and Wall Street to continue to deceive millions of savers and investors who believe the hype about the supposed up-turn in the economy. They are about to be set up for massive losses and searing financial pain in the months ahead. The bank “stress tests” now being conducted by Washington are little more than a shameless hoax: Based on the irrational assumption that the economy won’t get as bad as it already is!

  • US unemployment: Solutions and assumptions (Stated as such in the pre-meeting booklet sent out to attendees.) Bilderberg is quietly assuming that US unemployment numbers will hover around 14% by the end of this year, far higher than the official numbers released by the US government.

  • Depression or a prolonged stagnation? (Stated as such in the pre-meeting booklet sent out to attendees.) Bilderberg is looking at two options: Either a prolonged, agonizing depression that dooms the world to decades of stagnation, decline, and poverty ... or an intense-but-shorter depression that paves the way for a new sustainable economic world order, with less sovereignty but more efficiency.

  • There will be a final push for the enactment of Lisbon Treaty, pending on Irish voting YES on the treaty in Sept or October. One of their concerns is addressing and neutralizing the anti-Lisbon treaty movement called "Libertas" led by Declan Ganley. One of the Bilderberger planned moves is to use a whispering campaign in the US media suggested that Ganley is being funded by arms dealers in the US linked to the US military.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Paying the Price for Cheap Meat

Modern factory farms have created a 'perfect storm' environment for powerful viruses

by Johann Hari
The Independent/UK
May 1, 2009

A swelling number of scientists believe swine flu has not happened by accident. No: they argue that this global pandemic - and all the deaths we are about to see - is the direct result of our demand for cheap meat. So is the way we produce our food really making us sick as a pig?

At first glance, this seems wrong. All through history, viruses have mutated, and sometimes they have taken nasty forms that scythe through the human population. This is an inescapable reality we just have to live with, like earthquakes and tsunamis. But the scientific evidence increasingly suggests that we have unwittingly invented an artificial way to accelerate the evolution of these deadly viruses - and pump them out across the world. They are called factory farms. They manufacture low-cost flesh, with a side-dish of viruses to go.

To understand how this might happen, you have to compare two farms. My grandparents had a pig farm in the Swiss mountains, with around 20 swine at any one time. What happened there if, in the bowels of one of their pigs, a virus mutated and took on a deadlier form? At every stage, the virus would meet stiff resistance from the pigs' immune systems. They were living in fresh air, on the diet they evolved with, and without stress - so they had a robust ability to fight back.

If the virus did take hold, it would travel only as far as the sick hog could walk. So if the virus would then have around 20 other pigs to spread and mutate in - before it would hit the end of its own evolutionary path, and die off. If it was a really lucky, plucky virus, it might make it to market - where it would come up against more healthy pigs living in small herds. It had little opportunity to fan out across a large population of pigs or evolve a strain that could be transmitted to humans.

Now compare this to what happens when a virus evolves in a modern factory farm. In most swine farms today, 6,000 pigs are crammed snout-to-snout in tiny cages where they can barely move, and are fed for life on an artificial pulp, while living on top of cess-pools of their own stale faeces.

Instead of having just 20 pigs to experiment and evolve in, the virus now has a pool of thousands, constantly infecting and reinfecting each other. The virus can combine and recombine again and again. The ammonium from the waste they live above burns the pigs' respiratory tracts, making it easier yet for viruses to enter them. Better still, the pigs' immune systems are in free-fall. They are stressed, depressed, and permanently in panic, making them far easier to infect. There is no fresh air or sunlight to bolster their natural powers of resistance. They live in air thick with viral loads, and they are exposed every time they breathe in.

As Dr Michael Greger, director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States, explains: "Put all this together, and you have a perfect storm environment for these super-strains. If you wanted to create global pandemics, you'd build as many of these factory farms as possible. That's why the development of swine flu isn't a surprise to those in the public health community. In 2003, the American Public Health Association - the oldest and largest in world - called for a moratorium of factory farming because they saw something like this would happen. It may take something as serious as a pandemic to make us realise the real cost of factory farming."

Many of the detailed studies of factory farms that have been emerging in the past few years reinforce this argument. Dr Ellen Silbergeld is Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. She tells me that her detailed, on-the-ground studies led her to conclude that there is "very much" a link from factory farms to the new, more powerful forms of flu we are experiencing. "Instead of a virus only having one spin of the roulette wheel, it has thousands and thousands of spins, for no extra cost. It drives the evolution of new diseases."

Until yesterday, we could only speculate about the origins of the current H1N1 virus killing human beings - but now we know more. The Centre for Computational Biology at Columbia University has studied the virus and now believes that it is not a new emergence of a triple human-swine-bird flu virus. It is a slight variant on a virus we have seen before. We can see its family tree - and its daddy was a virus that evolved in the artificial breeding ground of a vast factory farm in North Carolina.

Did this strain evolve, too, in the same circumstances? Already, the evidence is suggestive, although far from conclusive. We know that the city where this swine flu first emerged - Perote, Mexico - contains a massive industrial pig farm, and houses 950,000 pigs. Dr Silbergeld adds: "Factory farms are not biosecure at all. People are going in and out all the time. If you stand a few miles down-wind from a factory farm, you can pick up the pathogens easily. And manure from these farms isn't always disposed of."

It's no coincidence that we have seen a sudden surge of new viruses in the past decade at precisely the moment when factory farming has intensified so dramatically. For example, between 1994 and 2001, the number of American pigs that live and die in vast industrial farms in the US spiked from 10 per cent to 72 per cent. Swine flu had been stable since 1918 - and then suddenly, in this period, went super-charged.

How much harm will we do to ourselves in the name of cheap meat? We know that bird flu developed in the world's vast poultry farms. And we know that pumping animal feed full of antibiotics in factory farms has given us a new strain of MRSA. It's a simple, horrible process.

The only way to keep animals alive in such conditions is to pump their feed full of antibiotics. But this has triggered an arms race with bacteria, which start evolving to beat the antibiotics - and emerge as in the end as pumped-up, super-charged viruses invulnerable to our medical weapons. This system gave birth to a new kind of MRSA that now makes up 20 per cent of all human infections with the virus. Sir Liam Donaldson, the British government's Chief Medical Officer, warns: "Every inappropriate use in animals or agriculture [of antibiotics] is potentially a death warrant for a future patient."

Of course, agribusinesses is desperate to deny all this is happening: their bottom line depends on keeping this model on its shaky trotters. But once you factor in the cost of all these diseases and pandemics, cheap meat suddenly looks like an illusion.

We always knew that factory farms were a scar on humanity's conscience - but now we fear they are a scar on our health. If we carry on like this, bird flu and swine flu will be just the beginning of a century of viral outbreaks. As we witness a global pandemic washing across the world, we need to shut down these virus factories - before they shut down even more human lives.

© 2009 The Independent

Johann Hari is a columnist for the London Independent. He has reported from Iraq, Israel/Palestine, the Congo, the Central African Republic, Venezuela, Peru and the US, and his journalism has appeared in publications all over the world.