Saturday, September 29, 2007
Hitler, Mussolini, Roosevelt
On May 7, 1933, just two months after the inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the New York Times reporter Anne O’Hare McCormick wrote that the atmosphere in Washington was “strangely reminiscent of Rome in the first weeks after the march of the Blackshirts, of Moscow at the beginning of the Five-Year Plan.…America today literally asks for orders.” The Roosevelt administration, she added, “envisages a federation of industry, labor and government after the fashion of the corporative State as it exists in Italy.”
That article isn’t quoted in Three New Deals, a fascinating study by the German cultural historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch. But it underscores his central argument: that there are surprising similarities between the programs of Roosevelt, Mussolini, and Hitler....
...The dream of a planned society infected both right and left. Ernst Jünger, an influential right-wing militarist in Germany, reported his reaction to the Soviet Union: “I told myself: granted, they have no constitution, but they do have a plan. This may be an excellent thing.” As early as 1912, FDR himself praised the Prussian-German model: “They passed beyond the liberty of the individual to do as he pleased with his own property and found it necessary to check this liberty for the benefit of the freedom of the whole people,” he said in an address to the People’s Forum of Troy, New York.
American Progressives studied at German universities, Schivelbusch writes, and “came to appreciate the Hegelian theory of a strong state and Prussian militarism as the most efficient way of organizing modern societies that could no longer be ruled by anarchic liberal principles.” The pragmatist philosopher William James’ influential 1910 essay “The Moral Equivalent of War” stressed the importance of order, discipline, and planning....
...Roosevelt himself called Mussolini “admirable” and professed that he was “deeply impressed by what he has accomplished.” The admiration was mutual. In a laudatory review of Roosevelt’s 1933 book Looking Forward, Mussolini wrote, “Reminiscent of Fascism is the principle that the state no longer leaves the economy to its own devices.…Without question, the mood accompanying this sea change resembles that of Fascism.” The chief Nazi newspaper, Volkischer Beobachter, repeatedly praised “Roosevelt’s adoption of National Socialist strains of thought in his economic and social policies” and “the development toward an authoritarian state” based on the “demand that collective good be put before individual self-interest.”
In Rome, Berlin, and D.C., there was an affinity for military metaphors and military structures. Fascists, National Socialists, and New Dealers had all been young during World War I, and they looked back with longing at the experiments in wartime planning. In his first inaugural address, Roosevelt summoned the nation: “If we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good. I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army.…I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis—broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.”...
...Scholars still study that propaganda. Earlier this year a Berlin museum mounted an exhibit titled “Art and Propaganda: The Clash of Nations—1930–45.” According to the critic David D’Arcy, it shows how the German, Italian, Soviet, and American governments “mandated and funded art when image-building served nation-building at its most extreme.…The four countries rallied their citizens with images of rebirth and regeneration.” One American poster of a sledgehammer bore the slogan “Work to Keep Free,” which D’Arcy found “chillingly close to ‘Arbeit Macht Frei,’ the sign that greeted prisoners at Auschwitz.” Similarly, a reissue of a classic New Deal documentary, The River (1938), prompted Washington Post critic Philip Kennicott to write that “watching it 70 years later on a new Naxos DVD feels a little creepy.…There are moments, especially involving tractors (the great fetish object of 20th-century propagandists), when you are certain that this film could have been produced in one of the political film mills of the totalitarian states of Europe.”...
Friday, September 28, 2007
America’s Police Brutality Pandemic
Bush’s "war on terror" quickly became Bush’s war on Iraqi civilians. So far over one million Iraqi civilians have lost their lives because of Bush’s invasion, and four million have been displaced. Iraq’s infrastructure is in ruins. Disease is rampart. Normal life has disappeared.
Self-righteous Americans justify these monstrous crimes as necessary to ensure their own safety from terrorist attack. Yet, Americans are in far greater danger from their own police forces than they are from foreign terrorists. Ironically, Bush’s "war on terror" has made Americans less safe at home by diminishing US civil liberty and turning an epidemic of US police brutality into a pandemic.
The only terrorist most Americans will ever encounter is a policeman with a badge, nightstick, mace and Taser. A Google search for "police brutality videos" turns up 2,210,000 entries. Some entries are foreign and some are probably duplications, but the number is so large that a person could do nothing but watch police brutality videos for the rest of his life. A search on "You Tube" alone turned up 2,280 police brutality videos. PrisonPlanet has a selection of the most outrageous recent cases....
How big a problem is lack of health insurance?
His one-third figures seem a bit high to me, but he is right that 47 million substantially overestimates the magnitude of the problem. A serious estimate would take out both illegal immigrants and those who are eligible for Medicaid but have not applied. Those eligible for Medicaid can always enroll once they need significant medical care.
In addition, I would exclude those who were offered employer-provided health insurance but declined coverage, and those that are healthy and making more than, say, $50,000 a year. These two groups are choosing to roll the dice. According to estimates I have seen, they make up more than a quarter of the uninsured.*
What is the right figure for the number of Americans who do not have access to health insurance? I don't know, but it is much less than 47 million. ...
Understanding Poverty in America
For most Americans, the word "poverty" suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. But only a small number of the 35 million persons classified as "poor" by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity. Most of America's "poor" live in material conditions that would be judged as comfortable or well-off just a few generations ago. Today, the expenditures per person of the lowest-income one-fifth (or quintile) of households equal those of the median American household in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation....
Lovelock urges ocean climate fix
Two of Britain's leading environmental thinkers say it is time to develop a quick technical fix for climate change.
Writing in the journal Nature, Science Museum head Chris Rapley and Gaia theorist James Lovelock suggest looking at boosting ocean take-up of CO2.
Their idea, already being investigated by a US firm, involves huge flotillas of vertical pipes in the tropical seas. ...
Global Warming Scientist Once Warned Of 'Ice Age'
A NASA scientist, who is now sounding the alarm over global warming's threat to the planet, once believed that pumping too many greenhouse gases into the air would have the opposite effect -- a modern day ice age.
James Hansen is currently among scientists who believe that carbon dioxide emissions are warming the planet's atmosphere -- posing a grave threat to the environment and humans' ability to adapt to it. Many others -- like public preachers Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio -- share the same view in what seems to be the "hot button" issue of the moment.
But 36-years ago, it appears, Hansen had a completely different warning -- in what may be the scientific equivalent of a grandiose political 'flip-flop.'
In a Washington Post story dated July 9, 1971, Hansen -- then a research associate at Columbia University -- warned of a modern day ice age, which would cause the planet's temperature to plummet as many as six degrees....
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
The President's Last Stand
...At a Justice Department meeting last month, a range of civil-liberties lawyers asked administration officials if the president would agree to be limited by even the hugely expanded powers in the new Protect America Act, which allows his administration to engage in warrantless spying on Americans' e-mails and phone calls. It became alarmingly clear that the answer was no: The president remains convinced that he has an inherent constitutional power to do whatever he (and he alone) considers necessary to protect the national security.
Bruce Fein, a conservative constitutional lawyer who served in the Reagan Justice Department, was at that meeting, and said during an August 15 Bill of Rights Defense Committee conference call:
"The president claims he doesn't have to obey any law under the Constitution's Article II powers," an article that begins with the words, "The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America."
At the Justice Department meeting, as reported in the August 18 New York Times, Justice Department officials repeatedly refused to give "an assurance that the administration considered itself bound by the restrictions imposed by Congress." ...
...But as George Will angrily writes in Newsweek's August 13 issue, the Military Commissions Act, building on the Bush administration's previous arrogation of dark powers, "treats all of America as a battlefield on which even American citizens can be declared 'enemy combatants,' seized and held indefinitely, as intelligence can be collected by any means the president orders"—something that Bush's July 2006 executive order on the CIA's torture techniques further asserts....
U.S. snipers accused of 'baiting' Iraqis
Army snipers hunting insurgents in Iraq were under orders to "bait" their targets with suspicious materials, such as detonation cords, and then kill whoever picked up the items, according to the defense attorney for a soldier accused of planting evidence on an Iraqi he killed. Gary Myers, an attorney for Sgt. Evan Vela, said his client had acted "pursuant to orders."...
..."Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy," Didier said in the statement. "Basically, we would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual as I saw this as a sign they would use the item against U.S. forces."
The Post said the program was devised by the Army's Asymmetric Warfare Group, which advises commanders on more effective methods in today's unconventional conflicts, including ways to combat roadside bombs.
Within months of the "baiting" program's introduction, three snipers in Didier's platoon were charged with murder for allegedly using those items and others to make shootings seem legitimate, according to the Post....
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Bush's stairway to paradise
Hoping that history will somehow vindicate him, the president has entered a phase of decadent perversity.
...In his interviews with Draper, he is constantly worried about weakness and passivity. "If you're weak internally? This job will run you all over town." He fears being controlled and talks about it relentlessly, feeling he's being watched. "And part of being a leader is: people watch you." He casts his anxiety as a matter of self-discipline. "I don't think I'd be sitting here if not for the discipline ... And they look at me -- they want to know whether I've got the resolution necessary to see this through. And I do. I believe -- I know we'll succeed." He is sensitive about asserting his supremacy over others, but especially his father. "He knows as an ex-president, he doesn't have nearly the amount of knowledge I've got on current things," he told Draper.
Bush is a classic insecure authoritarian who imposes humiliating tests of obedience on others in order to prove his superiority and their inferiority. In 1999, according to Draper, at a meeting of economic experts at the Texas governor's mansion, Bush interrupted Rove when he joined in the discussion, saying, "Karl, hang up my jacket." In front of other aides, Bush joked repeatedly that he would fire Rove. (Laura Bush's attitude toward Rove was pointedly disdainful. She nicknamed him "Pigpen," for wallowing in dirty politics. He was staff, not family -- certainly not people like them.)
Bush's deployed his fetish for punctuality as a punitive weapon. When Colin Powell was several minutes late to a Cabinet meeting, Bush ordered that the door to the Cabinet Room be locked. Aides have been fearful of raising problems with him. In his 2004 debates with Sen. John Kerry, no one felt comfortable or confident enough to discuss with Bush the importance of his personal demeanor. Doing poorly in his first debate, he turned his anger on his communications director, Dan Bartlett, for showing him a tape afterward. When his trusted old public relations handler, Karen Hughes, tried gently to tell him, "You looked mad," he shot back, "I wasn't mad! Tell them that!"
At a political strategy meeting in May 2004, when Matthew Dowd and Rove explained to him that he was not likely to win in a Reagan-like landslide, as Bush had imagined, he lashed out at Rove: "KARL!" Rove, according to Draper, was Bush's "favorite punching bag," and the president often threw futile and meaningless questions at him, and shouted, "You don't know what the hell you're talking about."
Those around him have learned how to manipulate him through the art of flattery. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld played Bush like a Stradivarius, exploiting his grandiosity. "Rumsfeld would later tell his lieutenants that if you wanted the president's support for an initiative, it was always best to frame it as a 'Big New Thing.'" Other aides played on Bush's self-conception as "the Decider." "To sell him on an idea," writes Draper, "aides were now learning, the best approach was to tell the president, This is going to be a really tough decision." But flattery always requires deference. Every morning, Josh Bolten, the chief of staff, greets Bush with the same words: "Thank you for the privilege of serving today." ...
..."History would acquit him, too. Bush was confident of that, and of something else as well," writes Draper. "Though it was not the sort of thing one could say publicly anymore, the president still believed that Saddam had possessed weapons of mass destruction. He repeated this conviction to Andy Card all the way up until Card's departure in April 2006, almost exactly three years after the Coalition had begun its fruitless search for WMDs."
Bush grasps at the straws of his own disinformation as he casts himself deeper into the abyss. The more profound and compounded his blunders, and the more he redoubles his certainty in ultimate victory, the greater his indifference to failure. He has entered a phase of decadent perversity, where he accelerates his errors to vindicate his folly. As the sands of time run down, he has decided that no matter what he does, history will finally judge him as heroic. ...
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Do Americans Owe Service to the Nation?
...Stengel is not merely urging people to do good deeds in an organized way, say, to join groups to teach poor kids to read or to clean up their communities. He is talking about service to the Nation.
But where do people get the idea that the Nation is something to be served? Despite Stengel’s invocation of the Founders, this is a profoundly un-American concept. It’s far more consistent with the European despotism of the first half of the twentieth century. You don’t have to look hard to find quotations by Mussolini (dare I mention Hitler?) about the duty of the individual to serve the Nation.
To call this idea un-American is no mere polemical device. It is a literal truth. Service to the Nation is a mystical notion. Its advocates reify the abstraction “nation” and call on us to sacrifice for it. This is not what most Americans thought at the time of the founding. In the classical liberal philosophy held by many people in the late eighteenth century (inspired by John Locke), “society,” “nation,” and “country” were concepts indicating people’s living together to enjoy life, liberty, and property in collective security. These were important conveniences that permitted individual persons to live fully as human beings. They were means, not ends in themselves. The Nation was not something to serve. An idea like that can get you killed in a far-off imperial war. ...
Run away the ray-gun is coming : We test US army's new secret weapon
...One thing is certain: not just the Silent Guardian, but weapons such as the Taser, the electric stun-gun, are being rolled out by Britain's police forces as the new way of controlling people by using pain.
And, as the Raytheon chaps all insist, you always have the option to get out of the way (just as you have the option to comply with the police officer's demands and not get Tasered).
But there is a problem: mission creep. This is the Americanism which describes what happens when, over time, powers or techniques are used to ends not stated or even imagined when they were devised.
With the Taser, the rules in place in Britain say it must be used only as an alternative to the gun. But what happens in ten or 20 years if a new government chooses to amend these rules?
It is so easy to see the Taser being used routinely to control dissent and pacify - as, indeed, already happens in the U.S.
And the Silent Guardian? Raytheon's Mac Jeffery says it is being looked at only by the "North American military and its allies" and is not being sold to countries with questionable human rights records.
An MoD spokesman said Britain is not planning to buy this weapon.
In fact, it is easy to see the raygun being used not as an alternative to lethal force (when I can see that it is quite justified), but as an extra weapon in the battle against dissent.
Because it is, in essence, a simple machine, it is easy to see similar devices being pressed into service in places with extremely dubious reputations.
There are more questions: in tests, volunteers have been asked to remove spectacles and contact lenses before being microwaved. Does this imply these rays are not as harmless as Raytheon insists?
What happens when someone with a weak heart is zapped?
And, perhaps most worryingly, what if deployment of Silent Guardian causes mass panic, leaving some people unable to flee in the melee? Will they just be stuck there roasting?
Raytheon insists the system is set up to limit exposure, but presumably these safeguards can be over-ridden.
Silent Guardian and the Taser are just the first in a new wave of "non-lethal" weaponry being developed, mostly in the U.S.
These include not only microwave ray-guns, but the terrifying Pulsed Energy Projectile weapon. This uses a powerful laser which, when it hits someone up to 11/2 miles away, produces a "plasma" - a bubble of superhot gas - on the skin.
A report in New Scientist claimed the focus of research was to heighten the pain caused by this semi-classified weapon.
And a document released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act talks of "optimal pulse parameters to evoke peak nociceptor activation" - i.e. cause the maximum agony possible, leaving no permanent damage.
Perhaps the most alarming prospect is that such machines would make efficient torture instruments.
They are quick, clean, cheap, easy to use and, most importantly, leave no marks. What would happen if they fell into the hands of unscrupulous nations where torture is not unknown?
The agony the Raytheon gun inflicts is probably equal to anything in a torture chamber - these waves are tuned to a frequency exactly designed to stimulate the pain nerves.
I couldn't hold my finger next to the device for more than a fraction of a second. I could make the pain stop, but what if my finger had been strapped to the machine?
Dr John Wood, a biologist at UCL and an expert in the way the brain perceives pain, is horrified by the new pain weapons.
"They are so obviously useful as torture instruments," he says.
"It is ethically dubious to say they are useful for crowd control when they will obviously be used by unscrupulous people for torture."
We use the word "medieval" as shorthand for brutality. The truth is that new technology makes racks look benign.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Stronach went to U.S. for cancer treatment: report
Liberal MP Belinda Stronach, who is battling breast cancer, travelled to California last June for an operation that was recommended as part of her treatment, says a report.
Stronach's spokesman, Greg MacEachern, told the Toronto Star that the MP for Newmarket-Aurora had a "later-stage" operation in the U.S. after a Toronto doctor referred her. ...
Federal ID plan raises privacy concerns
Americans may need passports to board domestic flights or to picnic in a national park next year if they live in one of the states defying the federal Real ID Act.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says there are no plans for a federal database of drivers' information.
The act, signed in 2005 as part of an emergency military spending and tsunami relief bill, aims to weave driver's licenses and state ID cards into a sort of national identification system by May 2008. The law sets baseline criteria for how driver's licenses will be issued and what information they must contain.
The Department of Homeland Security insists Real ID is an essential weapon in the war on terror, but privacy and civil liberties watchdogs are calling the initiative an overly intrusive measure that smacks of Big Brother.
More than half the nation's state legislatures have passed or proposed legislation denouncing the plan, and some have penned bills expressly forbidding compliance.
Several states have begun making arrangements for the new requirements -- four have passed legislation applauding the measure -- but even they may have trouble meeting the act's deadline.
The cards would be mandatory for all "federal purposes," which include boarding an airplane or walking into a federal building, nuclear facility or national park, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the National Conference of State Legislatures last week. Citizens in states that don't comply with the new rules will have to use passports for federal purposes.
"For terrorists, travel documents are like weapons," Chertoff said. "We do have a right and an obligation to see that those licenses reflect the identity of the person who's presenting it."...
September 2007 - More than 1,000,000 Iraqis murdered
In the week in which General Patraeus reports back to US Congress on the impact the recent ‘surge’ is having in Iraq, a new poll reveals that more than 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens have been murdered since the invasion took place in 2003.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Doctors refuse to fix builder's broken ankle unless he quits smoking
A man with a broken ankle is facing a lifetime of pain because a Health Service hospital has refused to treat him unless he gives up smoking.
John Nuttall, 57, needs surgery to set the ankle which he broke in three places two years ago because it did not mend naturally with a plaster cast.
Doctors at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro have refused to operate because they say his heavy smoking would reduce the chance of healing, and there is a risk of complications which could lead to amputation.
They have told him they will treat him only if he gives up smoking. But the former builder has been unable to break his habit and is now resigned to coping with the injury as he cannot afford private treatment.
He is in constant pain from the grating of the broken bones against each other and has been prescribed daily doses of morphine. ...
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Bush Appointee Campaigns for Evangelicals
SAN FRANCISCO, Sep 5 (IPS) - The head of the U.S. federal government agency that doles out benefits to disabled veterans is under fire for saying Bible study is "more important than doing [my] job."
Two organisations, Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), demanded an investigation Tuesday of Daniel Cooper, President George W. Bush's undersecretary for benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Their complaint stems from an appearance Cooper made in a fundraising video for the evangelical group Christian Embassy, which carries out missionary work among the Washington elite as part of the Campus Crusade for Christ.
In the video, Cooper says of his Bible study, "it's not really about carving out time, it really is a matter of saying what is important. And since that's more important than doing the job -- the job's going to be there, whether I'm there or not."
Veterans for Common Sense and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation believe Cooper violated the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits government officials from advocating a particular religion while on the job.
They also believe Cooper violated ethics rules that prohibit government officials from using their name, picture, or title for proselytising or fundraising.
"We're very concerned about this because hundreds of thousands of veterans are waiting for their benefits while Cooper himself says that promoting his religion is more important than helping the veterans," Veterans for Common Sense's Paul Sullivan told IPS.
Since Cooper was appointed the head of the Veterans Benefits Administration, the number of veterans waiting on their disability claims has increased dramatically, from 325,000 in 2002 to 600,000 today. ...
Saturday, September 08, 2007
"Is not the State an idol? Is it not like any graven image into which men have read supernatural powers and superhuman capacities? The State can feed us when we are hungry, heal us when we are ill; it can raise wages and lower prices, even at the same time; it can educate our children without cost; it can provide us against the contingencies of old age and amuse us when we are bored; it can give us electricity by passing laws and improve the game of baseball by regulation. What cannot the State do for us if only we have faith in it? And we have faith. No creed in the history of the world ever captured the hearts and minds of men as has the modern creed of Statism."
-- Frank Chodorov
Friday, September 07, 2007
Is There Anything Good About Men?
...When I say I am researching how culture exploits men, the first reaction is usually “How can you say culture exploits men, when men are in charge of everything?” This is a fair objection and needs to be taken seriously. It invokes the feminist critique of society. This critique started when some women systematically looked up at the top of society and saw men everywhere: most world rulers, presidents, prime ministers, most members of Congress and parliaments, most CEOs of major corporations, and so forth — these are mostly men.
Seeing all this, the feminists thought, wow, men dominate everything, so society is set up to favor men. It must be great to be a man.
The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too. Who’s in prison, all over the world, as criminals or political prisoners? The population on Death Row has never approached 51% female. Who’s homeless? Again, mostly men. Whom does society use for bad or dangerous jobs? US Department of Labor statistics report that 93% of the people killed on the job are men. Likewise, who gets killed in battle? Even in today’s American army, which has made much of integrating the sexes and putting women into combat, the risks aren’t equal. This year we passed the milestone of 3,000 deaths in Iraq, and of those, 2,938 were men, 62 were women.
There are more males than females with really low IQs. Indeed, the pattern with mental retardation is the same as with genius, namely that as you go from mild to medium to extreme, the preponderance of males gets bigger.
All those retarded boys are not the handiwork of patriarchy. Men are not conspiring together to make each other’s sons mentally retarded.
Almost certainly, it is something biological and genetic. And my guess is that the greater proportion of men at both extremes of the IQ distribution is part of the same pattern. Nature rolls the dice with men more than women. Men go to extremes more than women. It’s true not just with IQ but also with other things, even height: The male distribution of height is flatter, with more really tall and really short men.
Consider grade point average in college. Thanks to grade inflation, most students now get A’s and B’s, but a few range all the way down to F. With that kind of low ceiling, the high-achieving males cannot pull up the male average, but the loser males will pull it down. The result will be that women will get higher average grades than men — again despite no difference in average quality of work.
The opposite result comes with salaries. There is a minimum wage but no maximum. Hence the high-achieving men can pull the male average up while the low-achieving ones can’t pull it down. The result? Men will get higher average salaries than women, even if there is no average difference on any relevant input.
Today, sure enough, women get higher college grades but lower salaries than men. There is much discussion about what all this means and what should be done about it. But as you see, both facts could be just a statistical quirk stemming from male extremity.
Likewise, I mentioned the salary difference, but it may have less to do with ability than motivation. High salaries come from working super-long hours. Workaholics are mostly men. (There are some women, just not as many as men.) One study counted that over 80% of the people who work 50-hour weeks are men.
The first big, basic difference has to do with what I consider to be the most underappreciated fact about gender. Consider this question: What percent of our ancestors were women?
It’s not a trick question, and it’s not 50%. True, about half the people who ever lived were women, but that’s not the question. We’re asking about all the people who ever lived who have a descendant living today. Or, put another way, yes, every baby has both a mother and a father, but some of those parents had multiple children.
Recent research using DNA analysis answered this question about two years ago. Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men.
I think this difference is the single most underappreciated fact about gender. To get that kind of difference, you had to have something like, throughout the entire history of the human race, maybe 80% of women but only 40% of men reproduced.
For women throughout history (and prehistory), the odds of reproducing have been pretty good. Later in this talk we will ponder things like, why was it so rare for a hundred women to get together and build a ship and sail off to explore unknown regions, whereas men have fairly regularly done such things? But taking chances like that would be stupid, from the perspective of a biological organism seeking to reproduce. They might drown or be killed by savages or catch a disease. For women, the optimal thing to do is go along with the crowd, be nice, play it safe. The odds are good that men will come along and offer sex and you’ll be able to have babies. All that matters is choosing the best offer. We’re descended from women who played it safe.
For men, the outlook was radically different. If you go along with the crowd and play it safe, the odds are you won’t have children. Most men who ever lived did not have descendants who are alive today. Their lines were dead ends. Hence it was necessary to take chances, try new things, be creative, explore other possibilities. Sailing off into the unknown may be risky, and you might drown or be killed or whatever, but then again if you stay home you won’t reproduce anyway. We’re most descended from the type of men who made the risky voyage and managed to come back rich. In that case he would finally get a good chance to pass on his genes. We’re descended from men who took chances (and were lucky)....
Is carbon-offsetting just eco-enslavement?
In a feature about carbon offsetting in The Times (London), it was revealed that the leader of the UK Conservative Party, David Cameron, offsets his carbon emissions by effectively keeping brown people in a state of bondage. Whenever he takes a flight to some foreign destination, Cameron donates to a carbon-offsetting company that encourages people in the developing world to ditch modern methods of farming in favour of using their more eco-friendly manpower to plough the land. So Cameron can fly around the world with a guilt-free conscience on the basis that, thousands of miles away, Indian villagers, bent over double, are working by hand rather than using machines that emit carbon.
Welcome to the era of eco-enslavement.
The details of this carbon-offsetting scheme are disturbing. Cameron offsets his flights by donating to Climate Care. The latest wheeze of this carbon-offsetting company is to provide ‘treadle pumps’ to poor rural families in India so that they can get water on to their land without having to use polluting diesel power. Made from bamboo, plastic and steel, the treadle pumps work like ‘step machines in a gym’, according to some reports, where poor family members step on the pedals for hours in order to draw up groundwater which is used to irrigate farmland (1). These pumps were abolished in British prisons a century ago. It seems that what was considered an unacceptable form of punishment for British criminals in the past is looked upon as a positive eco-alternative to machinery for Indian peasants today. ...
...Climate Care celebrates the fact that it encourages the Indian poor to use their own bodies rather than machines to irrigate the land. Its website declares: ‘Sometimes the best source of renewable energy is the human body itself. With some lateral thinking, and some simple materials, energy solutions can often be found which replace fossil fuels with muscle-power.’ (2) To show that muscle power is preferable to machine power, the Climate Care website features a cartoon illustration of smiling naked villagers pedalling on a treadle pump next to a small house that has an energy-efficient light bulb and a stove made from ‘local materials at minimal cost’. Climate Care points out that even children can use treadle pumps: ‘One person - man, woman or even child - can operate the pump by manipulating his/her body weight on two treadles and by holding a bamboo or wooden frame for support.’ (3)
Feeling guilty about your two-week break in Barbados, when you flew thousands of miles and lived it up with cocktails on sunlit beaches? Well, offset that guilt by sponsoring eco-friendly child labour in the developing world! Let an eight-year-old peasant pedal away your eco-remorse...
...Carbon-offsetting also shines a light on the dangerously anti-development sentiment in environmentalism. As the British journalist Ross Clark has argued, the success of carbon-offsetting relies on the continuing failure of Third World communities to develop. Clark writes: ‘Carbon-offset schemes…only work if the recipients [in the Third World] continue to live in very basic conditions. Once they aspire to Western, fossil fuel-powered lifestyles, then the scheme is undone.’ Delegates to the G8 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland in 2005 offset the carbon cost of their flights by donating to a charity that replaced the tin roofs of huts in a shantytown in Cape Town with a more insulating material, thus reducing the level of heat that escapes and protecting the environment. It sounds good, but as Clark points out: ‘The carbon emitted by delegates’ flights will only continue to be offset for as long as the occupants of the huts carry on living in shantytown conditions.’ If they were to improve their lives, and replace their insulated shacks with ‘much more power-hungry bungalows’, then the carbon-offsetting scheme will have failed, says Clark. The shantytown-dwellers will have reneged on their side of the bargain, which is to remain poor and humble so that wealthy Western leaders can fly around the world in peace of mind....
Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction
On Sept. 18, 2002, CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush in the Oval Office on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, according to two former senior CIA officers. Bush dismissed as worthless this information from the Iraqi foreign minister, a member of Saddam's inner circle, although it turned out to be accurate in every detail. Tenet never brought it up again.
Nor was the intelligence included in the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, which stated categorically that Iraq possessed WMD. No one in Congress was aware of the secret intelligence that Saddam had no WMD as the House of Representatives and the Senate voted, a week after the submission of the NIE, on the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq. The information, moreover, was not circulated within the CIA among those agents involved in operations to prove whether Saddam had WMD.
On April 23, 2006, CBS's "60 Minutes" interviewed Tyler Drumheller, the former CIA chief of clandestine operations for Europe, who disclosed that the agency had received documentary intelligence from Naji Sabri, Saddam's foreign minister, that Saddam did not have WMD. "We continued to validate him the whole way through," said Drumheller. "The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming, and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy." ...
Thursday, September 06, 2007
The Government-Created Subprime Mortgage Meltdown
The thousands of mortgage defaults and foreclosures in the "subprime" housing market (i.e., mortgage holders with poor credit ratings) is the direct result of thirty years of government policy that has forced banks to make bad loans to un-creditworthy borrowers. The policy in question is the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which compels banks to make loans to low-income borrowers and in what the supporters of the Act call "communities of color" that they might not otherwise make based on purely economic criteria.
The original lobbyists for the CRA were the hardcore leftists who supported the Carter administration and were often rewarded for their support with government grants and programs like the CRA that they benefited from. These included various "neighborhood organizations," as they like to call themselves, such as "ACORN" (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). These organizations claim that over $1 trillion in CRA loans have been made, although no one seems to know the magnitude with much certainty. A U.S. Senate Banking Committee staffer told me about ten years ago that at least $100 billion in such loans had been made in the first twenty years of the Act.
So-called "community groups" like ACORN benefit themselves from the CRA through a process that sounds like legalized extortion. The CRA is enforced by four federal government bureaucracies: the Fed, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The law is set up so that any bank merger, branch expansion, or new branch creation can be postponed or prohibited by any of these four bureaucracies if a CRA "protest" is issued by a "community group." This can cost banks great sums of money, and the "community groups" understand this perfectly well. It is their leverage. They use this leverage to get the banks to give them millions of dollars as well as promising to make a certain amount of bad loans in their communities....
...Banks have been placed in a Catch 22 situation by the CRA: If they comply, they know they will have to suffer from more loan defaults. If they don’t comply, they face financial penalties and, worse yet, their business plans for mergers, branch expansions, etc. can be blocked by CRA protesters, which can cost a large corporation like Bank of America billions of dollars. Like most businesses, they have largely buckled under and have surrendered to their bureaucratic masters.
Consequently, banks in every community in America have been forced to hold a portfolio of bad loans, euphemistically referred to as "subprime" loans. ...
...The only way these borrowers could qualify for their mortgage loans (even ignoring their bad credit ratings) was to take out adjustable rate mortgages, some of which had astonishingly low first-year rates in the 3 percent range, and sometimes lower. This is what has largely fueled the subprime mortgage meltdown – the inability of thousands of subprime borrowers to afford their mortgages now that their rates have adjusted upward. ...
Investigate Thee, Not Me
...A few weeks ago, I blogged about a forthcoming papal encyclical in which, Vatican watchers claim, Pope Benedict XVI will condemn those shirking their financial responsibility to the state. The London Times reported that "the pontiff will denounce the use of ‘tax havens' and offshore bank accounts by wealthy individuals, since this reduces tax revenues for the benefit of society as a whole." Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, the Times said, was urging "church leaders to speak out on tax evasion, telling the Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana that a third of Italians heavily evaded taxes, which were needed to plug Italy's huge budget deficit."
But now the European Commission is investigating the Vatican for—you guessed it—a series of dubious tax breaks. AKI details some of the breaks the church receives in Italy, though the investigation encompasses Vatican properties in Spain too...
Living Wages for Thee...
...Such double standards aren't new to the living wage debate. The labor activist group ACORN is largely credited with jump-starting the national living wage movement. But ACORN itself has a notoriously shabby record when it comes to paying its own workers. In fact, not only did the group once sue the state of California to exempt itself from the very living wage it helped the state to pass, ACORN actually used free market critiques of the minimum wage in its brief (ACORN argued that if it had to pay existing workers more, it wouldn't be able to hire more workers)....
Minimum Wage: From the Horse’s Mouth
...But in 1995, ACORN actually went to court in California in an attempt to exempt ACORN from that state’s minimum wage and overtime laws. Why? Well, according to ACORN’s brief in an appeal of the ruling against them:
...the more that ACORN must pay each individual outreach worker–either because of minimum wage or overtime requirements–the fewer outreach workers it will be able to hire....
Pastor had sex with daughters
A fundamentalist church pastor had sex with two of his teenage daughters to educate them on how to be good wives, a South Australian court has heard.
The 54-year-old man, who cannot be named, was today sentenced in the SA District Court to eight and a half years jail after pleading guilty to seven counts each of incest and unlawful sexual intercourse.
The court heard that the man had sex with his daughters for nearly a decade from 1991 when they were aged 13 and 15 at the family property....