Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Excerpts from 21 Not-So-Random Articles, and a Video

Further information at: Not-so-Random Information: Introduction and Table of Contents
1) How the Government Targeted Occupy - “Freedom of conscience is one of the most fundamental human freedoms. This freedom is not merely about one’s ability to choose to believe or not believe in a particular religion or philosophy. In a democracy, freedom of conscience is about the ability to be critical of government and corporations, and to be free from the chilling fear that doing so will subject you to government surveillance.

“Freedom of conscience cannot be fully realized in isolation. It requires the ability to share one’s thoughts, to speak out about injustice and to join with others in peaceable assemblies to petition for redress of grievances. Americans should be able to exercise these most sacred rights in a free society without fear of being monitored by the government.”

2) Washington gets explicit: its 'war on terror' is permanent - “The military historian Andrew Bacevich has spent years warning that US policy planners have adopted an explicit doctrine of ‘endless war’. Obama officials, despite repeatedly boasting that they have delivered permanently crippling blows to al-Qaida, are now, as clearly as the English language permits, openly declaring this to be so.

“It is hard to resist the conclusion that this war has no purpose other than its own eternal perpetuation. This war is not a means to any end but rather is the end in itself. Not only is it the end itself, but it is also its own fuel: it is precisely this endless war - justified in the name of stopping the threat of terrorism - that is the single greatest cause of that threat.”

3) Ex-Bush Official Willing to Testify Bush, Cheney Knew Gitmo Prisoners Innocent - “Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell during George W. Bush's first term in office, said Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld knew the ‘vast majority’ of prisoners captured in the so-called War on Terror were innocent and the administration refused to set them free once those facts were established because of the political repercussions that would have ensued.

“‘By late August 2002, I found that of the initial 742 detainees that had arrived at Guantánamo, the majority of them had never seen a US soldier in the process of their initial detention and their captivity had not been subjected to any meaningful review,’ Wilkerson's declaration says. ‘Secretary Powell was also trying to bring pressure to bear regarding a number of specific detentions because children as young as 12 and 13 and elderly as old as 92 or 93 had been shipped to Guantánamo. By that time, I also understood that the deliberate choice to send detainees to Guantánamo was an attempt to place them outside the jurisdiction of the US legal system.’…

“‘Their view was that innocent people languishing in Guantánamo for years was justified by the broader war on terror and the capture of the small number of terrorists who were responsible for the September 11 attacks, or other acts of terrorism,’ Wilkerson added. ‘Moreover, their detention was deemed acceptable if it led to a more complete and satisfactory intelligence picture with regard to Iraq, thus justifying the Administration’s plans for war with that country.’”

4) Holder: We’ve Droned 4 Americans, 3 by Accident. Oops. - “In an extraordinary admission, Attorney General Eric Holder has told Congress that U.S. drone strikes since 2009 have killed four Americans — three of whom were ‘not specifically targeted.’

“For all the effort that the Obama administration has gone to in asserting that its drones only kill the people that the administration intends to kill, Holder wrote in a letter today to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that Samir Khan, 16-year-old Abdulrahman Awlaki and Jude Kenan Mohammad were ‘not specifically targeted by the United States.’ The fourth American to die in a drone strike since 2009 was Abdulrahman’s father Anwar Awlaki, a radical propagandist whom the U.S. killed in Yemen in 2011....

“Americans are a tiny fraction of the people killed by U.S. drone strikes. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently estimated that 4700 people have died from drone-launched missiles. An unknown percentage of those casualties are people whose identities are not known to the government but who are presumed to be terrorists based on their patterns of travel and other behavior.”

5) David Simon, creator of The Wire, says new US drug laws help only 'white, middle-class kids' - “David Simon surged into the American mainstream with a bleak vision of the devastation wrought by drugs on his home town of Baltimore – The Wire, hailed by many as the greatest television drama of all time. But what keeps him there is his apocalyptic and unrelenting heresy over the failed ‘war on drugs’, the multibillion-dollar worldwide crusade launched by President Richard Nixon in 1971.

“When Simon brought that heresy to London last week – to take part in a debate hosted by the Observer – he was inevitably asked about what reformers celebrate as recent ‘successes’ – votes in Colorado and Washington to legalise marijuana.

“‘I'm against it,’ Simon told his stunned audience at the Royal Institution on Thursday night. ‘The last thing I want to do is rationalise the easiest, the most benign end of this. The whole concept needs to be changed, the debate reframed. I want the thing to fall as one complete edifice. If they manage to let a few white middle-class people off the hook, that's very dangerous. If they can find a way for white kids in middle-class suburbia to get high without them going to jail,’ he continued, ‘and getting them to think that what they do is a million miles away from black kids taking crack, that is what politicians would do.’

“If marijuana were exempted from the war on drugs, he insisted, ‘it'd be another 10 or 40 years of assigning people of colour to this dystopia.’…

“The war is about the disposal of what Simon called, in his most unforgiving but cogent term, ‘excess Americans’: once a labour force, but no longer of use to capitalism. He went so far as to call the war on drugs ‘a holocaust in slow motion’.

“America had fought ‘proxy wars’ across the world for decades, and the war on drugs in Latin America was among them. On the carnage in neighbouring Mexico, he said: ‘If 40,000 Mexicans are dead, we don't give a damn as long as it stays that side of the border – turn northern Mexico into an abattoir, so long as it doesn't get to Tucson. If we can fight to the last Mexican, for a suburban American to send their kid safely to junior high school, we will.’”

6) The most embarrassing graph in American drug policy - “When it comes to drugs, it’s all about prices. The ability to raise prices is– at least is perceived to be–a critical function of drug control policy. Higher prices discourage young people from using. Higher prices encourage adult users to consume less, to quit sooner, or to seek treatment. (Though higher prices can bring short-term problems, too, as drug users turn to crime to finance their increasingly unaffordable habit.)

“An enormous law enforcement effort seeks to raise prices at every point in the supply chain from farmers to end-users: Eradicating coca crops in source countries, hindering access to chemicals required for drug production, interdicting smuggling routes internationally and within our borders, street-level police actions against local dealers.

“That’s why this may be the most embarrassing graph in the history of drug control policy.”

7) 'The Sumatran rainforest will mostly disappear within 20 years' - “In only a few years, logging and agribusiness have cut Indonesia's vast rainforest by half. The government has renewed a moratorium on deforestation but it may already be too late for the endangered animals – and for the people whose lives lie in ruin…

“The end is in sight for the great forests of Sumatra and Borneo and the animals and people who depend on them. Thirty years ago the world's third- and sixth-largest islands were full of tigers, elephants, rhinos, orangutan and exotic birds and plants but in a frenzy of development they have been trashed in a single generation by global agribusiness and pulp and paper industries.

“Their plantations supply Britain and the world with toilet paper, biofuels and vegetable oil to make everyday foods such as margarine, cream cheese and chocolate, but distraught scientists and environmental groups this week warn that one of the 21st century's greatest ecological disasters is rapidly unfolding.”

8) First major hemp crop in 60 years is planted in southeast Colorado - “Springfield farmer Ryan Loflin on Monday planted the nation's first industrial hemp crop in almost 60 years. Loflin's plans to grow hemp already have been chronicled, and Monday's planting attracted the attention of more media in southeastern Colorado and a documentary film crew. Hemp is genetically related to marijuana but contains little or no THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana. Hemp has dozens of uses in food, cosmetics, clothing and industrial materials.

“It’s cultivation in small test plots became legal last year under a Colorado law. The passage of Amendment 64 in November allowed commercial growing, even though hemp, like marijuana, is illegal under federal law. Loflin is planting 60 acres on acreage previously used to grow alfalfa. He and business partner Chris Thompson also are installing a seed press to produce hemp oil. Collaborators in the documentary include the Colorado-based advocacy group Hemp Cleans and hemp-products company Hemp Inc.

“‘This is monumental for our industry,’ said Bruce Perlowin, chief executive of Hemp Inc. ‘It will unlock a clean industrial revolution that will be good for the economy, good for jobs and good for the environment.’”

9) Drop in U.S. underground water levels has accelerated -USGS : “Water levels in U.S. aquifers, the vast underground storage areas tapped for agriculture, energy and human consumption, between 2000 and 2008 dropped at a rate that was almost three times as great as any time during the 20th century…

“The big rise in water use started in 1950, at the time of an economic boom and the spread of U.S. suburbs. However, the steep increase in water use and the drop in groundwater levels that followed World War 2 were eclipsed by the changes during the first years of the 21st century, the study showed.

“As consumers, farms and industry used more water starting in 2000, aquifers were also affected by climate changes, with less rain and snow filtering underground to replenish what was being pumped out, Konikow said in a telephone interview from Reston, Virginia….

“The USGS study looked at 40 different aquifers from 1900 through 2008 and found that the historical average of groundwater depletion - the amount the underground reservoirs lost each year - was 7.5 million acre-feet (9.2 cubic kilometers). From 2000 to 2008, the average was 20.2 million acre-feet (25 cubic kilometers) a year. (An acre-foot is the volume of water needed to cover an acre to the depth of one foot.)”

10) Wells Dry, Fertile Plains Turn to Dust : “The land, known as Section 35, sits atop the High Plains Aquifer, a waterlogged jumble of sand, clay and gravel that begins beneath Wyoming and South Dakota and stretches clear to the Texas Panhandle. The aquifer’s northern reaches still hold enough water in many places to last hundreds of years. But as one heads south, it is increasingly tapped out, drained by ever more intensive farming and, lately, by drought.

“Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers.

“And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.

“This is in many ways a slow-motion crisis — decades in the making, imminent for some, years or decades away for others, hitting one farm but leaving an adjacent one untouched. But across the rolling plains and tarmac-flat farmland near the Kansas-Colorado border, the effects of depletion are evident everywhere. Highway bridges span arid stream beds. Most of the creeks and rivers that once veined the land have dried up as 60 years of pumping have pulled groundwater levels down by scores and even hundreds of feet.”

11) Canada Sells Out Science : “Over the past few years, the Canadian government has been lurching into antiscience territory. For example, they’ve been muzzling scientists, essentially censoring them from talking about their research. Scientists have fought back against this, though from what I hear with limited success.

“But a new development makes the situation appear to be far worse. In a stunning announcement, the National Research Council—the Canadian scientific research and development agency—has now said that they will only perform research that has ‘social or economic gain’….

“John MacDougal, President of the NRC, literally said, ‘Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value’*. Gary Goodyear, the Canadian Minister of State for Science and Technology, also stated ‘There is [sic] only two reasons why we do science and technology. First is to create knowledge ... second is to use that knowledge for social and economic benefit. Unfortunately, all too often the knowledge gained is opportunity lost.’…

“This is monumentally backwards thinking. That is not the reason we do science. Economic benefits are results of doing research, but should not be the reason we do it. Basic scientific research is a vast endeavor, and some of it will pay off economically, and some won’t. In almost every case, you cannot know in advance which will do which.

“In the 19th century, for example, James Clerk Maxwell was just interested in understanding electricity and magnetism. He didn’t do it for monetary benefit, to support a business, or to maximize a profit. Yet his research led to the foundation of our entire economy today. Computers, the Internet, communication, satellites, everything you plug in or that uses a battery, stem from the work he did simply because of his own curiosity. This is the sort of research that the NRC is now moving away from†. The kind of work Maxwell did then is very difficult to do without support these days, and we need governments to provide that help.”

12) Noam Chomsky on Democracy and Education in the 21st Century and Beyond : “So a lot of public education was, in fact, concerned with trying to teach independent people to become workers in an industrial system. And there was more to it than that. Actually, Ralph Waldo Emerson commented on it. He said something like this: he hears a lot of political leaders saying that we have to have mass public education. And the reason is that millions of people are getting the vote, and we have to educate them to keep them from our throats. In other words, we have to train them in obedience and servility, so they're not going to think through the way the world works and come after our throats….

“The economy was sharply modified and went through a liberal period, with radical inequality, stagnation, financial institutions, all that stuff. Student debt started to skyrocket, which is quite important. But that's a technique of indoctrination in itself. It's never been studied. Important things usually never get studied; it's just putting together the bits of information about it. One can at least be suspicious that skyrocketing student debt is a device of indoctrination. It's very hard to imagine that there's any economic reason for it.”

13) Nonmetro Areas as a Whole Experience First Period of Population Loss : “The number of people living in nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) counties now stands at 46.2 million--15 percent of U.S. residents spread across 72 percent of the land area of the U.S.* Population growth rates in nonmetro areas have been lower than those in metro areas since the mid-1990s, and the gap widened considerably in recent years. While nonmetro areas in some parts of the country have experienced population loss for decades, nonmetro counties as a whole gained population every year for which county population estimates are available--until recently. Between April 2010 and July 2012, nonmetro counties declined in total population by 44,000 people, a -0.09-percent drop according to the most recent release of annual county population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. County population change includes two major components: natural change (births minus deaths, also available separately) and net migration (inmigrants minus outmigrants). Nonmetro population loss during 2010-12 reflects natural increase of 135,000 offset by net outmigration of -179,000.”

14) Behind the Rise in House Prices, Wall Street Buyers : “The last time the housing market was this hot in Phoenix and Las Vegas, the buyers pushing up prices were mostly small time. Nowadays, they are big time — Wall Street big.

“Large investment firms have spent billions of dollars over the last year buying homes in some of the nation’s most depressed markets. The influx has been so great, and the resulting price gains so big, that ordinary buyers are feeling squeezed out. Some are already wondering if prices will slump anew if the big money stops flowing….

“Blackstone, which helped define a period of Wall Street hyperwealth, has bought some 26,000 homes in nine states. Colony Capital, a Los Angeles-based investment firm, is spending $250 million each month and already owns 10,000 properties. With little fanfare, these and other financial companies have become significant landlords on Main Street. Most of the firms are renting out the homes, with the possibility of unloading them at a profit when prices rise far enough.”

15) The Real Numbers: Half of America in Poverty -- and It's Creeping Upward : “The Census Bureau has reported that 15% of Americans live in poverty. A shocking figure. But it's actually much worse. Inequality is spreading like a shadowy disease through our country, infecting more and more households, and leaving a shrinking number of financially secure families to maintain the charade of prosperity….

“Since the recession, the disparities have continued to grow. An OECD report states that ‘inequality has increased by more over the past three years to the end of 2010 than in the previous twelve,’ with the U.S. experiencing one of the widest gaps among OECD countries. The 30-year decline in wages has worsened since the recession, as low-wage jobs have replaced formerly secure middle-income positions….

“Even the Census Bureau recognizes that its own figures under-represent the number of people in poverty. Its Supplemental Poverty Measure increases, by 50%, the number of Americans who earn between one-half and two times the poverty threshold….

“The median debt level rose to $75,600 in 2009, while the median family net worth, according to the Federal Reserve, dropped from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010…. Inequality is at its ugliest for the hungriest people. While food support was being targeted for cuts, just 20 rich Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire 2012 SNAP (food assistance) budget, which serves 47 million people.

“And as Congress continues to cut life-sustaining programs, its members should note that their 400 friends on the Forbes list made more from their stock market gains last year than the total amount of the food, housing, and education budgets combined.”

16) Central Banks May Finally Be Losing Control : “Why are stocks, bonds, and commodities all selling off at the same time? Ever since the release of the April employment report on May 3 – which came in better than the market expected, as evidenced by the big sell-off in U.S. Treasuries that ensued – all anyone has been talking about is the dreaded ‘taper.’

“Because the Federal Reserve is by far the biggest player in the Treasury market, the concern is that when it makes the eventual decision to taper back the pace of the bond purchases it makes under its open-ended quantitative easing program, markets could destabilize as a result.

“And thanks to the Fed's introduction of the historic Evans rule in December, which ties the timetable for reversing monetary stimulus directly to numerical thresholds for unemployment and inflation, the Treasury market has become increasingly more sensitive to economic data releases in 2013. When labor market releases like the employment report bear a positive surprise, bonds tend to get crushed….

“‘In our mind, the single most important accomplishment of the Fed over the past four years is having engineered a dramatic decline in the volatility of long-term interest rates,’ says BofA Merrill Lynch Head of Global Rates & Currencies Research David Woo. Now, that's all changing. Are central bankers finally starting to lose control of their most powerful policy instrument, the long-term interest rate?”

17) Spend or be financially doomed: Idolizing the gods of consumption and stoking the fires of debt based speculation. Has the Fed crossed the line of no return?: “The Federal Reserve has created the perfect environment where savers are chastised and debt based spending is glorified. Our economic engine is powered by the fires of consumption. This has been true for many decades. What is different about our current space in time is the punishment savers are taking. Many banks through savings or even CDs offer rates that are hovering around the zero percent mark. Add in inflation of about three percent and you are actually losing money. The system is designed to punish any sort of conservative saving. The stock market continues to move up but it clear that most Americans simply do not have the funds to participate in this party. The current financial environment is really a perfect brew of punishing savers and encouraging debt based consumption. Will the elixir work this time around?”

18) The Vicious New Bank Shakedown That Could Seriously Ruin Your Life : “Here’s the skinny: After widespread outrage over the big banks’ last crime wave against the American consumer – the ‘robo-signing’ scam in which homeowners were hustled out of their houses by banks that sent fraudulent paperwork through the courts, they are at it again. This time, banksters are accused of helping debt collectors pursue faulty judgments against credit card customers by various dirty tricks that include – surprise! – robo-signing….

“Another nasty trick Chase is accused of deploying is what’s known, appropriately, as ‘sewer service.’ This means that Chase failed to properly serve notice of debt collection lawsuits against consumers (it dumped the notices ‘in the sewer’), but then lied and said it did. This means, you, as a consumer, have no idea that a lawsuit has been launched against you. So here’s what happens: you get a default judgment that automatically favors the debt collector. The credit card company can then garnish your wages or freeze your bank account to get the money it says you owe. And you might not even owe it! Banks are sometimes chasing down consumers who have already paid their debts. Other times they are jacking up the size of the debts by adding bogus fees and interest costs….

“Last summer, a civil court judge in Brooklyn who presides over as many as 100 credit card cases a day told the New York Times that a whopping 90 percent of the credit card lawsuits that came across his desk were flawed and could not prove that a person owed the debt. Here’s the kicker: The errors in credit card suits often go undetected because the borrowers usually don’t show up in court to defend themselves (how can they, if they don’t know the suit has been filed?). As a result, an estimated 95 percent of lawsuits result in default judgments in favor of lenders.”

19) State-Wrecked: The Corruption of Capitalism in America: “Since the S.&P. 500 first reached its current level, in March 2000, the mad money printers at the Federal Reserve have expanded their balance sheet sixfold (to $3.2 trillion from $500 billion). Yet during that stretch, economic output has grown by an average of 1.7 percent a year (the slowest since the Civil War); real business investment has crawled forward at only 0.8 percent per year; and the payroll job count has crept up at a negligible 0.1 percent annually. Real median family income growth has dropped 8 percent, and the number of full-time middle class jobs, 6 percent. The real net worth of the “bottom” 90 percent has dropped by one-fourth. The number of food stamp and disability aid recipients has more than doubled, to 59 million, about one in five Americans.

“So the Main Street economy is failing while Washington is piling a soaring debt burden on our descendants, unable to rein in either the warfare state or the welfare state or raise the taxes needed to pay the nation’s bills. By default, the Fed has resorted to a radical, uncharted spree of money printing. But the flood of liquidity, instead of spurring banks to lend and corporations to spend, has stayed trapped in the canyons of Wall Street, where it is inflating yet another unsustainable bubble.”

20) We Are Now One Year Away From Global Riots, Complex Systems Theorists : “What’s the number one reason we riot? The plausible, justifiable motivations of trampled-upon humanfolk to fight back are many—poverty, oppression, disenfranchisement, etc—but the big one is more primal than any of the above. It’s hunger, plain and simple. If there’s a single factor that reliably sparks social unrest, it’s food becoming too scarce or too expensive. So argues a group of complex systems theorists in Cambridge, and it makes sense.

“In a 2011 paper, researchers at the Complex Systems Institute unveiled a model that accurately explained why the waves of unrest that swept the world in 2008 and 2011 crashed when they did. The number one determinant was soaring food prices. Their model identified a precise threshold for global food prices that, if breached, would lead to worldwide unrest….

“CSI doesn’t claim that any breach of 210 immediately leads to riots, obviously; just that the probability that riots will erupt grows much greater. For billions of people around the world, food comprises up to 80% of routine expenses (for rich-world people like you and I, it’s like 15%). When prices jump, people can’t afford anything else; or even food itself. And if you can’t eat—or worse, your family can’t eat—you fight…. Even before the extreme weather scrambled food prices this year, their 2011 report predicted that the next great breach would occur in August 2013, and that the risk of more worldwide rioting would follow.”

21) Brazilian Protests: Could It Happen Here? : “‘Bread and circuses’ were the means by which ancient Rome's elite diverted the attention of ordinary citizens from the corruption and folly that eventually destroyed the Republic. Throughout history, self-proclaimed democratic leaders have pursued variations on this theme to placate, rather than empower, the people. The protests that have rocked Brazil these past two weeks suggest that treating the people like children has its limits.

“Like so many Western left-of-center governments, the Workers Party of Brazil came to power via a Faustian bargain with the country's upper class. The party gave up its demand for radical change and big business agreed to tolerate some greater equality as long as the rich kept their economic privileges. The deal was cemented in place by accelerated economic growth. As a result, over the last ten years the average Brazilian, including the poor, enjoyed higher living standards, i.e., more Bread.

“But the risk to elites of such bargains is the danger that ordinary people will start taking democracy seriously and demand more than the meager share allotted to them by the governing class. Therefore, to take their minds off continuing injustice, incompetence and corruption: the need for Circuses.

“In Roman times, people were entertained with chariot racing, gladiators fighting to the death, and Christians being thrown to lions. In modern Brazil, the public passion is soccer. So the government poured $14 billion into preparations for the 2014 World Cup. It is also financing more sports arenas for hosting the 2016 Olympics, and still more for an extravagant celebration for the pope's visit this summer. Spending on these public spectacles has a double political payoff; it channels profits to business supporters and it pumps up national pride in the country's apparent emergence as a world power. At the same time, other public needs -- schools, hospitals, public transportation -- were neglected. Until now, it worked.”

Live poll on Brazilian protests goes wrong

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