Thursday, December 31, 2009

Girls Drawin Girls Blog

By day, women from the group Girls Drawin' Girls are animators and artists for shows such as South Park and The Simpsons. But by night, they draw sexy pin-up girls!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Settling for the Lesser of Two Evils is the Greater Evil

Posted by: Liberal Arts Dude

As a voter and citizen in a democracy I should be able to vote my conscience and beliefs in elections. At its core this involves voting for candidates which represent my beliefs.

Absent any palatable candidates, I would like to have some sort of mechanism to register my blanket disapproval such as a “None of the Above” option. Having such an option would put political parties and elected officials on notice that they aren’t up to snuff and the general public expects a lot more than what they are currently offering. These suggestions promote choice and competition in politics — that’s the American way right?

To my surprise, I get a lot of resistance from people whenever I broach such issues. People typically agree with me about how much our choices in elections in candidates and political parties are inadequate. But when the discussion veers towards answering the question of what we can do about it and I broach the third-party and independent option this is where I encounter resistance.

Some objections:
I will try to address these issues one by one.
Voting for third party and independent candidates will only result in siphoning votes away from the major party candidate you most agree with, resulting in a win for the major party candidate you most oppose. Therefore, your vote for an independent or a third party only increases the likelihood of the major party candidates whom you most disagree with winning and is wasting your vote.

This is the old “spoiler” argument which asserts that the way the current American political system is structured, that if you deviate from voting for major party candidates it will result in disaster. The example of Ralph Nader’s candidacy allegedly contributing to the Democratic loss in the 2000 elections giving us eight years of the Bush  Administration is always brought up whenever someone wants to make this point.

The most obvious counter to such an argument is if we continue voting for major party candidates even though we all agree they are doing a bad job nothing will change. The major parties have no incentive to take our wishes, ideas and perspectives into account because they will get our votes regardless of how much they screw up or how much they put their partisan and insider interests above the national interest. Following the advice above we as citizens are reduced to passive observers in politics whose sole job is to rubber stamp choice a or choice b and nothing more. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound very palatable or remotely democratic to me.

If a choice c or choice d exists which I feel better represents me and my perspective why shouldn’t I practice my freedom and right to choose? Does it result in siphoning votes off either choice a and b — so what? My vote doesn’t belong to either major party by default just because I hold certain beliefs. If the major party closest to my beliefs demonstrate time and time again that they are not willing or able to adequately represent my beliefs it is insanity to argue that my vote still belongs to them. That is putting party interest — THEIR party interest since I am not a member of either major party — over my own.
Will this result in the short term to electoral victories to major party candidates whom you most disagree with? Did it result in disasters like the Bush presidency?

Ralph Nader costing Gore the presidency is  a myth that deserves to be  challenged whenever it is invoked. Even if I had voted Democratic in the 2000 elections, Bush still would have likely won the elections. Because there were a heck of a lot more Democrats who either did not vote or who voted for Bush than the measly total of votes Ralph Nader got in the 2000 elections. If those Democrats only voted or had not crossed party lines to vote for Bush, Gore would have become President instead of Bush. If Bush won it had nothing to do with Nader being on the ballot and everything to do with Democrats’ failure to attract enough voters — Democratic  voters — to vote for their own party’s candidate. To blame independents and Ralph Nader for their loss is the height of dishonesty and arrogance. If Democrats can’t even get Democrats to vote Democratic what reason should independents have to vote their way?

America is supposed to be about choice, competition and the giving individuals the power to choose. Why can’t we practice those principles in politics? I favor giving the major parties good, solid competition. That’s the only way they will listen to the voters. Besides, if minor parties and independents can do a better job at the helm why shouldn’t they be given a chance to lead?

Politics is a game where you can’t always get what you want. Winning elections always involves some sort of compromise.

Is all politics reducible to the single goal of “winning elections?” I don’t disagree that winning elections is important. But more important in my mind, especially for independents and third party advocates, are goals such as movement-building, public education, political reform and establishing a foothold in the electoral arena. Absent viability to win elections on the short term, independents and third party advocates should set their sights towards the long term. And yes, that means participating in, voting in elections and losing. Perhaps repeatedly. But as political outsiders develop the infrastructure to compete with the majors victories will come eventually.

As a voter I would much rather throw my support towards these long-term strategic objectives for potential gains on the long-term instead of wasting my vote and compromising my beliefs for candidates and political parties who do not truly represent my interests just for the sake of winning one election for the short term. To me, voting for a candidate you don’t agree with or who has zero interest in representing you is the real wasted vote.

Having a None of the Above option is stupid. Voters should just choose between those who are on the ballot. If they disagree with the choices, they should be active in the stages of elections before the candidates are chosen such as party primaries, to make sure candidates of their choice will be represented on the ballot.

Following this advice effectively hogties independents and third party advocates to participating in politics only as members of either the Republican or Democratic parties. Primaries in most states nationwide are closed — meaning independents and unaffiliated voters can’t participate in them. Declaring myself a Republican  or a Democrat just so I can vote in their primaries doesn’t make sense to me — I am neither a Republican or a Democrat and declaring myself as such is an act of dishonesty and I believe, a big compromise of my beliefs as an independent.

There are efforts existing to make primaries open to independents and those I fully support. But I think putting the onus on independents to change the composition of major party candidates through the primary system is too cumbersome, roundabout and really isn’t a suggestion at all but merely a way of telling independents to abandon their beliefs and principles, play exclusively in the major party sandbox, and don’t deviate.
Moreover, just because you join and vote for a major party doesn’t necessarily mean you will have influence in it. Political parties are closed societies comprised of party professionals, politicians and their staff. Very rarely do  actual voters have an impact in anything that happens in the operations of the major parties or the behavior of the party insiders.

It would be much easier and more democratic to shift the power away from party insiders and into the hands of actual voters in elections. One of the ways this can be done by giving voters option to collectively say None of the Above to candidates and political parties on the ballot — it puts party insiders on notice about who the boss in a democracy should be — the general public of active voters.

If incumbents are doing a good job or candidates ran a good campaign, they will have the votes and have nothing to fear from the None of the Above option. But having this option in play gives voters the ability to send a powerful political message to the parties. If they are screwing up imagine the embarrassment if None of the Above gets more votes than them. Having that as a threat is a mechanism to keep political parties in line and gives the power in elections back into the hands of voters.

I hope that I addressed the three main points above adequately. My perspective is coming from the need to put authority and power back into the hands of voters and away from major party insiders. These suggestions are designed to give the ability to voters to put those who are in power on notice if they are doing a bad job. Ordinary people should have a strong voice and say in what goes on in politics and government. These suggestions are examples of ways these can be accomplished. But they require that the individual voter cease thinking of him or herself as a captive of either major party who cannot deviate from either one or else disaster will strike. That puts the power — too much power — voluntarily in the hands of the major parties and their insiders and away from voters and ordinary citizens. That doesn’t seem very democratic to me.

To me, voting and elections are supposed to be about democracy and putting decision-making power into the hands of The People. Democracy and democratic participation should be much more than a tired ritual and exercise of ratifying the pre-packaged decisions of party insiders — decisions largely out of the control and purveiw of ordinary citizens. To accept what passes for elections and democracy today as the only “realistic” and “pragmatic” option for voters and citizens and that they shouldn’t demand anything more is quite sad in my opinion.

There is a world of solutions out there to reform our political system ranging from campaign finance reform, voter registration, ballot access, voting methods, etc. and there are many activists and organizations working on these issues mostly under the radar of public consciousness. These groups are working on solutions designed to put democracy back into the hands of voters. I am an advocate of making these efforts more well-known and spreading the word that real, people-powered democracy is possible and politics need not be solely an exercise of holding our collective noses and settling for the lesser of two evils. That, to me, is what American democracy and being an engaged citizen is all about.

Psychedelic Wonderland, 2010 Calendar - by John Coulthart

So I had a bright idea at the end of September… Instead of rehashing old work for a CafePress calendar design, I thought I’d try something new. I hadn’t done any artwork for myself all year, everything I’d been working on was a commission of some sort. In addition to that, I’d spent a large portion of the year delving deeper into the psychedelic music of the late Sixties, especially the wealth of obscure British bands to be found on the seemingly endless series of compilations which have trickled out over the past two decades. Everyone is familiar with Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit but, as I’ve noted before, themes from, and allusions to, the Alice books run through British psychedelia to an even greater degree. The Beatles put Lewis Carroll in their pantheon of influences on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, and Wonderland’s atmosphere of Victorian surrealism chimed perfectly with a resurgence of interest in Victorian art and design.
So at the end of September, mulling over ideas, I picked up one of my Lewis Carroll volumes and looked at the chapter list: 12 chapters…12 months…I could do a psychedelic Alice in Wonderland! The only drawback was being weighed down by ongoing work which meant that anything I did would have to be created quickly and easily. I reckoned it was manageable if I put a few rules in place first: try and rough out a chapter a day; make copious use of clip art decoration and scanned engravings; keep things bold and florid without worrying too much about fidelity to minor story points. In theory I could do the whole thing in about two weeks if I kept on schedule. As it turns out the whole thing took me three weeks as I got increasingly involved with illustrating the story. You can see the results below and larger copies of the pictures here. Two years ago I was saying I probably wouldn’t ever illustrate Lewis Carroll. That was true at the time since I couldn’t find an approach to the stories that would sustain my interest and (possibly) bring something new to the books. Seeing Alice’s adventures through the psychotropic prism of the late Sixties showed me the way into Wonderland. What’s needed now is to do the same next year for Looking-Glass Land. Watch this space.
The CafePress calendar page for would-be purchasers is here. Some notes on the pictures follow below.

Down the Rabbit Hole.
A great secondhand find recently was a 1970s reprint of the entire Harrod’s catalogue for 1895, over 1000 pages of engraved pictures which was a big help in quickly establishing mundane details such as bottles, watches, etc. Alice changes size and shape from month to month; since I was working at speed I had to live with that. The figures are from Victorian ads or Punch magazine illustrations. In order to keep them consistent I tinted the girls in each picture the same colour.
The typeface used throughout is a design from 1879 called Kismet. Not only does it appear in the Harrod’s catalogue, I’ve also seen it used on the covers of psychedelic compilations which made it the perfect choice for these pictures.
The Pool of Tears.
Things are still pretty bold at this point. Yes, there should only be one mouse but the symmetry worked better.
A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale.
I kept to the schedule for the first two pictures but this was the point where it started to get difficult. Tracking down all those animals took longer than intended and this became the pattern for many of the subsequent pictures. Roughing them out was easy but I’d then spend ages looking for one precise detail. Sometimes it really is quicker to just draw something…
The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill.
The house is made from parts of a Victorian architect’s catalogue set against a rather splendid paisley background.
Advice from a Caterpillar.
The mushrooms are Fly Agarics, of course, and it’s been pointed out to me that their arrangement is rather phallic; that wasn’t my intention but never underestimate the power of the subconscious. The paisley background I wanted to look like a Persian carpet. The hookah—which I amended with an extra bowl—was another detail from the Harrod’s catalogue.
Pig and Pepper.
The Cheshire Cat is Steinlen’s famous Chat Noir while the Duchess is the painting of La vecchia grotesqua by Quentin Massys upon which Tenniel is supposed to have based his drawing. I gave her a pair of “granny glasses”. Finally, the fractal background is made from one of Louis Wain’s psychedelic cat faces.
A Mad Tea-Party.
This is my favourite of all the pictures. I’d no idea what I was going to do for it until I set to work and it came together very easily. The Hatter is bursting out of a Victorian hat-maker’s contraption.
The Queen’s Croquet-Ground.
This one isn’t psychedelic at all but the playing cards—which are florid enough to begin with—looked best without any additional ornament.
The Mock Turtle’s Story.
Lots of aquatic decoration for the Mock Turtle’s undersea tales.
The Lobster Quadrille.
I decided against dancing lobsters; too time-consuming and even Tenniel only had one looking in a mirror. The peculiar roller-skates (skates…a pun, geddit?) are a genuine Victorian invention; the nautilus-headed woman isn’t.
Who Stole the Tarts?
Rather a chaotic scene, as fits the chapter, but I would have done more with this had there been time. The background is an engraving of the House of Commons but you’d never guess unless I’d mentioned it.
Alice’s Evidence.
Sharp shadows imply a return from dreamland. I’ve used those Art Nouveau butterfly shapes before and couldn’t resist slipping them in here. In the book the flying cards at the end turn into dead leaves which seems wrong for the month of May when the story is set; butterflies seem more suitable. For those who don’t want a calendar I’ll be putting these pictures together as a poster design at some point. Not just now, I’m feeling all psyched-out.
This series of pictures is dedicated to Michael English, of the great psychedelic design team Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, who died while work was in progress.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Charles Robinson’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Humpty Dumpty variations
Michael English, 1941–2009
Alice in Wonderland by Jonathan Miller
The art of Charles Robinson, 1870–1937
The Illustrators of Alice

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An opportunity to donate to StoryCorps...

Click Here

StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit project whose mission is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening.

By recording the stories of our lives with the people we care about, we experience our history, hopes, and humanity. Since 2003, tens of thousands of everyday people have interviewed family and friends through StoryCorps. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to take home and share, and is archived for generations to come at the Library of Congress. Millions listen to our award-winning broadcasts on public radio and the Internet.

StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, creating a growing portrait of who we really are as Americans.
  • View our story: our first five years from modest start up to national movement.
  • Read our mission and principles.
  • Watch Dave Isay as he explains the StoryCorps experience while on the Listening Is an Act of Love book tour, on CNN’s American Morning and when chosen as the Person of the Week on ABC World News.

Listening is an act of love.

The heart of StoryCorps is the conversation between two people who are important to each other: a son asking his mother about her childhood, an immigrant telling his friend about coming to America, or a couple reminiscing on their 50th wedding anniversary. By helping people to connect, and to talk about the questions that matter, the StoryCorps experience is powerful and sometimes even life-changing. 

Our goal is to make that experience accessible to all, and find new ways to inspire people to record and preserve the stories of someone important to them. Everybody’s story matters and every life counts.

Just as powerful is the experience of listening. Whenever people listen to these stories, they hear the courage, the humor, the trials and triumphs of an incredible range of voices.
By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how truly great it is to be alive.

-Dave Isay, Founder, StoryCorps

Inspired? Find out how to record your story or how to bring StoryCorps to your community. You can also help keep StoryCorps accessible to all by making a financial contribution.
If you want to know more about the people behind StoryCorps, check out our staff biographies. Members of the media can visit our press room.

Random Seth Quote

The inner ego does the actual work that brings about the events you have decided upon. In very simple terms, if you want to pick up a book, and then do so, you experience that event consciously, though you are quite unaware of all the inner events that occurred to bring the motion about. The inner ego directs those activities. If you want to change your job, and hold that desire, a new job will come into your experience in precisely the same fashion, in that the inner events will be arranged by the inner ego. A body event involves the working of numerous muscles and joints and so forth. An event involving a job change concerns motion on the part of all of the inner egos involved. Obviously, then, a mass physical event implies an inner system of communications of proportions that would put your technological communications to shame.

The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The End of Money and the Future of Civilization, review by Tim Jenkin

The following is a review of Thomas Greco's The End of Money and the Future of Civilization (Chelsea Green Publishing).

Thomas Greco is the most radical writer on money today. The title of the book suggests that the future of civilization depends on abandoning money as we know it. What could be more radical and revolutionary than that? Yet Greco does not come across as some wild revolutionary wanting to turn the world upside down. His style is calm and systematic throughout. He talks us through the historical record and shows how the current financial system has shaped and governs our world. The argument of the book is that if we are to tackle the gigantic issues of our time, we have to understand how money works and adopt a new way of doing money. We do not have to re-invent it entirely, for it has evolved over the centuries and we are now entering a new era where modern technologies allow us to move away from the existing centralized, globalized, monopolized and privatized money system that is a tragic relic of history, and toward a truly modern, democratic money system that belongs to the commons.

Greco is brilliant at exposing the workings of our current money system and explaining how this can evolve into a new system. But all the time there is this feeling that he is holding back, that he is not following his own arguments to their logical conclusion. "Prognostication is a hazardous business -- something that is best avoided," he tells us. He does hint at where new monetary trends might take us but leaves most of it to our imaginations. So if you are hoping to find out what the future of civilization will look like, you will be disappointed. It is only in the epilogue that he touches on the prospects for civilization, and then in only two pages.

This review is neither a critique nor a summary of the book; it is about what it says between the lines and what would result if we were to follow the logic of Greco's arguments. In the same way as he wants to "liberate the exchange process," this is an attempt to liberate some of his ideas to ensure that their full potential is realized.

The first eight chapters set the scene for the main theme of the book, which is that the prevailing money system has brought humanity to the brink of disaster in many different ways. It is the money system that defines how our economies work and has set them on an unsustainable growth-oriented trajectory. Today it is the "money power" that rules the world:

"I have argued that control of money and exchange mechanisms is the key structural element that determines the distribution of power, and that it must be the main focus if any degree of community empowerment and self-determination is to be achieved. A money monopoly, whether in private hands or government controlled, is inimical to freedom and equity."

In order to realize a new monetary paradigm, money-as-we-know-it needs to be "depoliticised." This can only be accomplished by the separation of money and the state. Under the current arrangement the banking cartel creates money as debt and charges interest on it while governments get to spend as much as they want without regard to tax revenues. Legal tender laws and banking regulations endow the banking cartel with the exclusive power to issue money (as debt), which we are forced to use (through legal tender laws). The collusion between political power and financial power is the root cause of the mega-crises facing humanity.

The Evolution of Money

In this chapter we are taken on a journey through history that explains how money evolved as a reaction to the inconveniences of barter. While this is extremely helpful in understanding how the current money system came about and how it can be transcended, Greco could have expressed his proposals more powerfully had he considered the broader concept of the evolution of exchange systems instead of money alone. Money is a sub-set of exchange, a period in the evolution of exchange systems where exchange was mediated by value representations, either in the form of tangible commodities or instruments of various degrees of abstraction. Exchange is not reducible to money and so when the history of money is abstracted from the history of exchange it appears to be linear, starting with commodity money, evolving through symbolic money, credit money and towards some kind of credit clearing system that Greco says is the highest stage of money.

If a history of the evolution of exchange systems had been provided instead, the process would have appeared less linear and more of a Hegelian dialectic, spiralling upwards to higher and higher forms. Certain forms appear to repeat themselves through history. Exchange did not start with barter or with any hard exchange medium that could be identified as money. Exchange is a property of life on earth and not something special or unique to humans. Nature itself provides all sorts of feedback mechanisms to regulate and control exchange but what is unique about human exchange is that humans developed their own systems to regulate and control it. Initially this would have been in the form of mental records of who did or gave what to whom. Various mnemonic devices were introduced to keep a more accurate record. The earliest civilizations learned how to record exchanges on clay tablets; the Incas kept the record by tying knots in pieces of string (quipus); in many places artefacts like notched bones and tally sticks were used. Numeracy and writing arose out of the need to keep records of exchanges (accounting). In a sense "keeping the record" in this way was an earlier form of the mutual credit clearing process that Greco proposes, where today computers replace the primitive mnemonic devices.

After the earlier information-based exchange systems came the era of money-based exchange systems, where exchange was organized by the mediation of "stuff" instead of information. This was inevitable when trading increased both in quantity and in distance. With primitive technologies it was no longer possible to keep the record accurately. Money did that simply by being an abstract and portable representation of the real values that were being exchanged. The problem with "stuff" money is that it can be appropriated. It has to be created, distributed and controlled, and these functions always fell into the hands of the powerful who used it to increase their power over the rest of society. This has come to its apotheosis with the current global money system, which is in the process of morphing into a single world currency. Today the money power is all-powerful, rendering national governments insignificant.

The evolution of exchange systems will not stop with credit clearing, as Greco suggests. It is possible to see another swing back to money-based exchange systems after a brief period of information-based exchange systems. When the energy crisis really begins to bite as we enter the steep downside of peak oil, there may not be enough energy to power the millions of computers that will be needed to run a global credit clearing network. A higher form of tangible money might have to be re-introduced, but hopefully next time we will have learnt that its creation, issuance and control must not fall into private hands and thereby become monopolized.

The Third Evolutionary Stage -- The Emergence of Credit Clearing

In this chapter we are introduced to the concept of credit clearing, comparing the credit clearing process of banks today with mutual credit clearing. In the first instance the economic players use bank-borrowed credit (money) to clear debts between themselves; in the latter mutual credit (self-issued IOUs) is used instead. Where bank credit is used the monetary output has to be greater than the monetary input because interest has to be paid on top of the principal amount borrowed. Since the difference between the output and the input was not created at loan time, the deficit can only come from further borrowing down the line. This means that the system has to continually expand, creating an unstable situation prone to crisis and collapse when output does not meet the requirements. Where mutual credit is used there is no need for interest, for there is no third party providing any service that the traders in the circle can't provide themselves. This keeps the system in equilibrium as the full proceeds of production go to the producers and are not siphoned off by a parasitic class who play no part in the production/distribution process. The removal of interest from the equation not only removes the parasites, it also removes the expansionary imperative.

In removing the need for any third party currency or credit instruments, direct credit clearing makes conventional money and banking obsolete. By freeing themselves from "the limitations by monopolized bank-credit and government money," traders will be creating a "new economy" in which conventional money plays no part. Greco is not talking about a complementary currency here, but an entirely new exchange system that excludes the financial industry as we know it, central banking, fractional-reserve banking, the political money nexus and everything else that flows from removing the concept of interest from the concept of money.

Credit clearing is a truly revolutionary idea which, if it were to be taken up in a big way, would shake the foundations of the prevailing economic, social and political order. Perhaps Greco does not follow through the full implications of his proposals out of fear of turning his book into a manual of revolutionary change!

Ignoring what the monetary elite might do if they felt that "their" money system was under threat, let us take a look at where the widespread implementation of credit clearing circles could take us.

If, as Greco suggests, a network of locally-based "circles" was implemented -- not one giant clearing mechanism to replace the existing one -- these circles would result in an economy consisting of a multitude of discrete, locally-based, mini economies without the huge concentrations of capital that characterize the present global economy. This would reduce the size of production units to a community scale and eliminate the opportunities for globalised mega-corporations. This is precisely what the world needs at this time, but it would also mean the deconstruction of the present globalized economy.

Not only that, by eliminating the political nexus and breaking the economy up into locally administered units, would there be any need for the kind of national governments that now reign the earth? Would it not make more sense for governments to scale down to the size of the economic units? Would these then still be called governments, or should they just be called local administrations responsible for providing public services in the areas where the clearing circles operate?

If 'governments' were to scale down surely politics too would be very different if the focus was local instead of national. There would be no place for nationwide political parties, for the concept of nation would become much more fuzzy. Taking this line of thinking to its ultimate conclusion, would nation states make sense any more? Currently nations map to the areas where their currencies operate, but if money systems were more granular then so too would 'nations'. When reduced to city-sized units or smaller, would these still be nation states, or would we be back to the city states of ancient Greece?

Solving the Money Problem and Credit Clearing

According to Greco the "money problem" can be defined as: Legal tender status for central bank-created currency; the monopolization of credit by the banking cartel; and the lack of an operational measure of value and unit of account that is independent of political currencies. Distilled to its essence it is the concentration of power by the financial elite through its monopolization of money. This has been achieved through a pact with government, which has given the money monopoly such power that today it is not inaccurate to say that governments are the junior partners in this alliance.

Reformers who believe that there is a political solution to this unhealthy arrangement fail to understand that governments are fully tied into and dependent on this system, and are not the primary decision makers about what happens and how it works. Even if governments did have the will and the power to wrest control of the issuance of credit from the banking cartel, the situation would not be a lot different. The historical record suggests that where governments have come out on top their monopolization of credit has led to militarization, wars, expansion and a weakening of democratic processes.

The money problem will not be solved by shifting the issuing power, even if governments are able to do it debt free. What is required is the ending of the money monopoly. This means the decentralization and democratization of the exchange process. Again this can only be achieved through traders establishing their own mutual credit clearing circles and independent private and community currencies.

By creating their own local currencies traders can liberate the exchange process and disperse the money power amongst themselves. It is in fact a lot more than just the exchange process that is liberated when a usury-free exchange system is adopted. Ruling classes have always used control over the exchange system as the basis of their power. Usury (interest) has always been one of the main instruments they have used. Attempts to undermine that basis would result in class warfare in the form of "currency wars." The ruling class would appeal to its allies in government to quash any attempts to "undermine the economy." Widespread adoption of mutual credit clearing would seriously weaken class rule and usher in a period of democracy where for the first time in history power really would belong to the people.

Mutual credit clearing circles fall under the category of information-based exchange systems and are not part of the money-based camp. Where the organizing principle is information and not exchange media, the terminology needs to be quite different. Because the distinction between these two types of exchange systems is seldom made, they are usually conflated and the terminologies merged. Using concepts from the "old" system to explain how the "new" one works can lead to confusion and conceals the potential of the latter.

Although Greco insists that "every piece of currency is a credit obligation -- an IOU of a particular issuer" and "money is nothing more than credit," in information-based exchange systems (such as the mutual credit clearing circles he proposes) the concepts of credit and issuance are outdated, relics of the dominant, money-based exchange system that we are so used to.

Credit, as commonly understood, is an agreement between trading parties and an obligation on the part of the recipient of the credit: I give you something now and you give me something else later (or you borrow from a bank and settle with me now and transfer that obligation to the bank). It is a normal exchange but with a time delay between delivery and settlement, and that time delay is usually represented by some kind of a credit instrument with an interest component. The interest is always explained as the "compensation" or the "penalty" imposed by the giver of the credit for having to wait for settlement.

In an information-based exchange system when there is a transfer of value from a seller to a buyer there is no agreement between the two and no direct obligation on the part of the buyer to the seller. Both the agreement and the obligation are social, and they apply to both sides. Buyers must agree to sell in order to "pay" for their purchases, and sellers must agree to purchase so that buyers can sell. Another way of putting it is that traders must agree to sell in order to buy and buy in order to sell. Everyone has an obligation to the community to keep their mean balance as close to zero as possible. Clearing is the process of ensuring that balances remain at or near to zero.

This could be called community credit but that is stretching the meaning of credit to something else. The community does not "issue" credit; all that happens is that the system records (as a balance debit) the quantity of value received by the buyer. The value received needs to be offset by the provision of goods and services of an equivalent value so that the debit can be cleared. There is no place for interest in this scheme because the community does not require compensation for the delay in settlement. Everyone delays settlement and so if everyone is penalised for doing so, then everyone should benefit from the penalties, but penalties and benefits would cancel each other out and so be pointless.

As there is no credit in an information-based exchange system and certainly no physical currency, the term "issue" has no meaning as well. When money is issued into circulation it implies that it has substance -- it has been "created" -- and that it circulates between trading parties (i.e. it passes from hand to hand). Information can neither be issued nor can it circulate. It is always retrospective -- a record of what has already happened. While the use of the terms "issue" and "circulate" can help us visualize what is happening because we are so used to them, they are best avoided as they add unnecessary complexity and prevent us seeing that information is a better organiser and regulator than "stuff."

Following on from removing the conventional concepts of credit and issuance, the concept of paying (pay, payments etc.) can also be removed from the list of concepts associated with information-based exchange systems, such as clearing circles. To "pay" is normally understood as giving something in return for something received. Most usually to "pay" for something means to give money in exchange for whatever was received.

When the exchange system does not have any tangible or symbolic representations of value (i.e. money) but only keeps records of the transfers of value, the concept of "payment" is rendered meaningless. Nothing "goes" from the buyer to the seller and so there is no "payment." The buyer needs to "pay" for what was received by delivering like value back to the community, but this is a different meaning for the word "pay" than it is commonly understood. The "payment" here is the settlement of a social obligation, not a direct transfer of value to the seller in recompense.

As buyers do not "pay" sellers in information-based exchange systems, the next question that arises is: who enters the transactions into the system (records them on the computer)? This might at first seem like a trivial matter and the intuitive answer is that the buyer should do it, as buyers have always "paid" sellers and by entering the transaction they are in effect "paying" or "settling" with their sellers.

It is the counter-intuitive, however, that is the most meaningful. Vendors would never tolerate a system where the buyers walk off with the goods, trusting that they will go home and enter the transactions into their PCs. It is not in the interest of buyers to enter transactions as that debits their accounts. Sellers would quickly get very frustrated if they had to chase their buyers after every sale.

Sellers entering transactions is about as revolutionary as mutual credit clearing itself, for it turns upside down the normal buyer/seller relationship, in particular the employer/employee relationship. It also streamlines business processes by removing the need for accountants and for the whole rigmarole of sending statements, waiting for cheques, chasing customers to pay, bad debts, cash flow problems, waiting in bank queues to deposit cheques etc.

The great power of the employing class of capitalism (and socialism) derives from the way that money-based exchange systems work. Businesses are in business to make money and the revenue from production accrues to the owners of the business. As buyers of labour, employers are greatly empowered by the fact that they control the supply of money in their businesses. This keeps their workers in thrall as they are in a weak position vis a vis their employers. Their wages and salaries are paid to them by their employers who are in a position to determine, withhold or terminate payments at any time.

Under a credit clearing scenario employees would not be "paid" by their employers. As the sellers of labour they would be in a position to credit themselves against their employers. This turns the normal employer/employee relationship on its head. Employees would be greatly strengthened in relation to their employers as the latter would no longer be in a position to unilaterally withhold or terminate their wages/salaries. The very concepts of wages and salaries, which are associated with the concepts of paying and remuneration, would also become meaningless.

How this would actually work in practice is difficult to say because it would depend on the agreements between employees and their employers. Perhaps it would lead to a situation where the concepts of employer and employee would change their meaning, as well as the concepts of employment and jobs. When "employees" are enabled to credit themselves and debit their "employers" they are no longer part of a "workforce" but independent service providers with livelihoods.

We can go on with this train of thought, but it becomes increasingly fuzzy as we are entering the realm of the imaginary here. There are no mutual credit clearing circles out there that we can monitor for trends, apart from numerous LETS groups and other similar exchange systems that are too small and insignificant to provide any meaningful clues.

The Next Big Thing in Business: A Complete Web-Based Trading Platform

"As we've shown, money today is not what it used to be, and tomorrow ... well, tomorrow we won't use money at all."

Although it has a long history, the money system of today was developed and adapted for the industrial age. It has always been able to generate practically unlimited amounts of credit, especially after it was delinked from limited precious metals. It has also been able to produce more credit than is necessary for normal trading in order to cover the interest requirement. This has forced economies based on this money system to be locked onto an endless growth path. Growth has been possible while there has been the energy to power the growth, but as we enter the downward slope of the peak oil bell-shape and growth becomes more difficult, so it will become increasingly difficult to service the interest requirement. Because interest is contingent on growth, you could say that the "production" of credit also has a bell shape and maps on top of the energy production bell shape. We have thus reached "peak credit'"and "peak interest." This is a dangerous contradiction for a money system that can only work on the upward slope of the energy production curve.

We are now supposed to be moving into the post-industrial world, the information age, but with a money system designed for the industrial age. Until the computer revolution and the advent of the Internet it simply was not possible to have a purely information-based exchange system. The complexity of keeping track of each and every trade on a global scale could only be achieved by using a money system where each trading entity kept track of its own supply of money and used banks to clear and settle accounts with other trading entities. While this worked, it was hugely inefficient and labour intensive. It needed interest to finance itself. A new money system based entirely on information can keep track of each and every transaction so efficiently that its running costs are negligible. All that would be required from users is a small service fee to keep the system running. A service fee does not require an underlying economy that is geared to keeping its money system working.

While much of what was done manually by banks is now performed by computers, money today still works in pretty much the same way as it has always done. It is issued into circulation as debt by third parties outside of the trading circuit and even where there is innovation in payment systems, such as PayPal, "it only allows the transfer of the same old bank-created debt-money".

Greco suggests that we can do better than all the existing forms of "electronic" money that are already out there. To become true alternative payment systems they would have to offer interest-free lines of credit to some or all of their account holders. Until this happens there is nothing stopping anyone from setting up a non-political trading platform that is essentially a credit clearing circle. To be successful it requires four basic components:

A marketplace
A social network
A means of payment
A measure of value or pricing unit

Many of these are already available on the Internet but what is required is that they are integrated to form a new "trading space" free of the negative aspects of conventional money and that will "enable the evolution of civilization toward greater peace, prosperity and sustainability."

We are not provided with any clues about how this can be achieved, but it is unlikely to be provided by any of the "big players" today or a new startup until one of them is prepared to provide the service without expecting any reward in conventional money. This will require a huge leap of faith because the provider will have to believe that its rewards will come from providing the service alone and not from extraneous sources.

The End of Money and the Future of Civilization is a powerful book that should be read not only by everyone in the complementary currency movement, but by all those concerned about what is happening on the economic, social, political and environmental fronts. It is almost impossible to understand what is happening in the world today without understanding how our lives are governed by the "politicized global debt-money regime." Greco reminds us that the slide to a despotic materialistic feudalism can only be averted if the processes of exchange and finance are recreated.

For more information on Thomas Greco and his work, click here. Visit Tim Jenkin's blog at Community Exchange Network.

Thumbnail image by Neubie, courtesy of Creative Commons license.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Talking American History with Joseph Ellis


December 23rd, 2009

Let me quickly call your attention to an interview with Joseph Ellis, the Pulitzer Prize-winning and bestselling historian, who most recently published American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic. In this casual, wide-ranging conversation (listen below or here) with Russ Roberts, the host of EconTalk, Ellis talks through the founding years of the United States — the break with England, the Revolutionary War, the drafting of the constitution and the forging of the nation. A good conversation for history buffs, and an informative talk for those less familiar with America’s beginnings. You can generally find EconTalk (which typically focuses on economics) here: iTunes – RSS Feed – Web Site.

by Dan Colman

Friday, December 25, 2009

My first Christmas day without obligations....


It's taken about 15 years to be able to opt-out of traditional Christmas.  Here's how it looks from the other side of Christmas....I can see the ocean,

 I'm surrounded by trees, the one on the right side actually said "hello" to Pierce this morning....She explained that she and her "partner" are both from the GIANT cypress pine in front of our room...

 there are small birds, big crows, and a crazy red squirrel!

 Blue Bird...

Later today I'm going to go visit my favorite tree, High Heart and his family...Also going to go visit the gazeebo on the beach where we were married.

Went to my friend Kelli's house this are some photos...

Kelli has a bluebird friend too...a mama and her baby...They came to her window and they stare at the peanut jar inside...they take peanuts and fly away to hide em..
And, of course...the must-do-palm-tree-vacation-picture...

I think I'm starting to understand the spirit of Christmas again, yes.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


 We encourage Ralph Nader to run for the US Senate against Chris Dodd in Connecticut.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ralph's Holiday Reading List - 2009

This is the golden age of muckraking books and documentaries but some of them may have escaped your attention because reviews and promotions cannot keep up with the sheer volume of material.

Here are my recommendations for your Holiday and later reading time:

1. Achieving the Impossible by Lois Marie Gibbs; Published by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice ( is an inspiring collection of short stories about how ordinary people have risen to meet the challenges of toxic pollution confronting their families and communities. The author herself rose from the Love Canal controversy in Niagara Falls, New York to lead a grand national grass roots organization.

2. Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope In An Insecure Age by Stephen Hill (University of California Press, 2010.) His thesis is that Western Europe treats its people better in many ways than the United States does its people, and not just in social insurance and services. Read, wonder and galvanize!

3. Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in A Two-Party Tyranny by Theresa Amato (New Press, 2009.) My former campaign manager weighs in with an indictment of the two-party barriers to a competitive electoral system, candidate ballot access and voter choice. Partly personal memoir of her battles in 2000 and 2004, part history about the decades long ago when third parties could get on the ballot easier and make a difference and part a series of reforms that only an outraged public can make happen.

4. Priceless Money: Banking Time for Changing Times by Edgar S. Cahn is a revolutionary elevation of traditional assets in how time can become a currency—a means of exchange that is beyond price—that does not allow market price to define value. It is a limited edition booklet you’ll never forget, free. Send two first class stamps to TimeBanksUSA, 5500 39th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20015.

5. Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges (Nation Books, 2009) The Pulitzer Prize winning war correspondent turned prolific author and lecturer, Mr. Hedges goes to the core of a culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion. He “exposes the mechanisms used to divert us from confronting the economic, political and moral collapse around us.” In gripping, memorable concrete prose that resonates the moment we let ourselves think.

6. The Buyout of America: How Private Equity Will Cause the Next Great Credit Crisis by Josh Kosman (Portfolio Hardcover, 2009.) Think it is all about the brand names of a corrupt, reckless Wall Street? Try the entirely unregulated private equity firms that acquire and strip mine them under the guise of saving them, then leave behind debt time bombs and mass layoffs as the value of these leveraged buyouts is sucked out by the corporate bunccaneers. Kosman predicts a coming private equity-caused big bubble crisis.

7. Ordinary People Doing the Extraordinary: The Story of Ed and Joyce Koupal and the Initiative Process by Dwayne Hunn and Doris Ober. This husband-wife team “just ordinary people,” in their words, started out powerless and in over a decade, largely in the seventies, built Initiative power to qualify reforms on the California ballot for the popular vote. A story for the ages that strips away excuses steeped in a sense of powerlessness. This small but invigorating paperback can be obtained from The People’s Lobby ( for $15, including shipping. California St., Unit 201, San Francisco, CA 94109.

8. Getting Away With Torture: Secret Government, War Crimes, and the Rule of Law by Christopher H. Pyle (Potomac Books, 2009) A former captain in army intelligence and Congressional staffer, now teaching constitutional law at Mount Holyoke College, Mr. Pyle shatters our belief in the rule of law before the unconstitutional government of Bush and Cheney in waging war crimes and torture, while seeking Congressional amnesty to those responsible for implementing their rogue, secret regime. Veteran constitutional law specialist, Louis Fisher asserts these practices have “left American weaker politically, economically, morally, and legally.”

9. It Takes A Pillage by Nomi Prins (Wiley, 2009.) A former managing director of Goldman Sachs, who quit Wall Street, and now is dedicated to educating and mobilizing the American people so that they press for reforms to prevent myopic greed from bringing down our economy again and to hold the speculators and crooks accountable. She “gets inside how the banks looted the Treasury, stole the bailout, and continued with business as usual,” in the words of one reviewer.

10. Censored 2010: The Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008-09 edited by Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff with Project Censored (Seven Stories Press, 2009.) This book contains investigative pieces on important topics too often neglected by the mainstream news organizations. Read this book, it will make you angry and then it will energize you to take on a significant societal problem in the New Year.

A Party of Lemmings, By HELEN REDMOND

Beware the Progressive Democrat

It’s not
What you thought
When you first began it
You got
What you want
Now you can hardly stand it though,
By now you know
It’s not going to stop
It’s not going to stop
It’s not going to stop
‘Til you wise up

Aimee Mann, “Wise Up,” from the soundtrack to Magnolia

The nascent movement for single-payer in the United States has to learn the correct lessons from the health care debacle that has unfolded for the last year and is about to conclude. The number one lesson: DON’T TRUST THE DEMOCRATS – NOT A ONE. Especially the progressive Democrats.

Millions believed Barack Obama’s campaign pledge to create a humane, affordable and inclusive health care system and rein in the copious abuses of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. On the campaign trail, Obama proclaimed these corporations were greedy and more concerned about profits and patents than the needs of patients. Some thought because Obama was a former supporter of a single-payer system, he might just enact it when he won the Whitehouse. How wrong they were.

No one could have predicted how much influence and control over health care reform President Obama would give to the very corporate interests killing and bankrupting the American people, and who just a few months earlier, had fiercely attacked and called out by name. No one could have predicted the scale and scope of the sell out. It is truly astounding given the soaring rhetoric of before and the cruel and sleazy reality of now.

From day one there they were, warmly welcomed to the table for the public to see Karen Ignagni, President and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and Billy Tauzin, President and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA.) After the sham for the cameras was over, it was off to the much more important “let’s make a deal” meetings (secret, back door, closed, so not transparent) with the Capital Gang: Ted Kennedy, Max Baucus, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and even President Obama.

Their army of lobbyists set up base camp in Congress. A new report by Medill News Service, Tribune Newspapers and the Center for Responsive Politics found a “revolving door between Capitol Hill staffers and lobbying jobs for companies with a stake in health care legislation.” According to the analysis, “At least 166 former aids from nine congressional leadership offices and five committees involved in shaping health care overhaul legislation – along with at least 13 former lawmakers – registered to represent at least 338 health care clients since the beginning of last year. Their health care clients spent $635 million on lobbying over the last two years.”

The fish rots from the head down (fish have no spines, either.) Obama set the tone for capitulation and compromise and the rest of the Democrats, the tempo. With breathtaking speed they dismissed, deneutered, and dealt away anything and everything the killer corporations objected to.

It’s important to remember the insurance industry offered to end the outrageous practice of pre-existing condition and rescission in order to shape the legislation in their favor and to make up for a potential loss of profits. They were not concessions won even though the Democrats and the media always portray them that way.

This is the political environment the so-called progressive Democrats were operating in. It was patently and painfully obvious their party was working hand in glove with the point people responsible for the health care crisis and allowing them to ghost write the House and Senate bills. They never mounted a serious challenge to this profoundly undemocratic, behind-the-scenes maneuvering. It would have meant challenging President Obama.

The right wing, Blue Dog Democrats had no such qualms and exacted a number of concessions: severe restrictions on abortion, no public option or Medicare buy-in. It was both incredible and infuriating to watch the scum of the House and Senate rise to the top - Stupak, Lieberman and Nelson - and win their demands. To be sure, the public option and Medicare buy-in were weak, non-reforms that would have done nothing to make health care more affordable. They were only symbolic sops, but even that was too much for the free market misogynists.

And what of the amendments supported by members of the Progressive Democratic Caucus, the supporters of single-payer (SP): John Conyers, Anthony Weiner, Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders and Jan Schakowsky?
At every critical moment these politicians with vertebrae composed of Jello compromised, backed down and conceded. Their allegiance to the Democratic Party and to President Obama trumped everything. There was nothing they were not willing to compromise away, no constituency that couldn’t be thrown under the bus for the sake of passing a bill; most appallingly women and abortion rights. With the exception of Dennis Kucinich and Eric Massa, they all voted for the house bill that contained the Stupak Amendment. At a small protest in front of Jan Schakowsky’s home after the vote, she came out and told protesters she voted in favor of the Stupak Amendment because she knew it would be taken out of the Senate bill. She promised us it would be. As Schak strolled back into her opulent residence she protested, “I didn’t throw women under the bus.”

The progressive Democrats sold out on single-payer early on when they backed the public option. This created enormous confusion: How could they advocate for both single-payer and the public option when the two are diametrically opposed? It didn’t take long before they all shilled almost exclusively for the public option. Schakowsky spoke at numerous HCAN meetings and rallies, never at single-payer events. Weiner was regularly interviewed by the press and focused the discussion on the public option, not single-payer.

John Conyers, the lead sponsor of the single-payer bill H.R. 676, immediately endorsed the principles of Health Care for America Now (HCAN), an organization opposed to single-payer. When confronted by single-payer supporters at a Health Care Now! national conference, Conyers couldn’t explain the contradiction. Joel Segal, one of his staffers, became enraged and attempted to shut down the discussion. Soon after, Mr. Conyers became irrelevant to the movement for single-payer and a colossal embarrassment to it. It’s tragic, really. Conyers completely abandoned his magnificent legislation, H.R. 676: the only legislation that could transform health care from a commodity to an entitlement for all and solve the crisis. Instead of fighting for that legislation, he was holding briefings with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to discuss “Why the public option must be included to have true health reform.”

It was easy to champion single-payer when the Republicans were in power and health care reform wasn’t on the national agenda, but the minute it was, with the Democrats in control of Congress and the Whitehouse, Conyers collapsed like a house of cards. Every now and again he howled about something. In one article he declared, “I’m tired of saving Obama’s can” but it never occurred to the doddering old fool to stop.

The Weiner Amendment was sheer duplicity. Single-payer supporters worked overtime and got arrested holding Nancy Pelosi to her promise of a vote on the amendment. The vote was scheduled but the day before, Conyers and Kucinich called off support for the vote and Weiner withdrew the amendment. But that was okay with the always-waffling Weiner. He explained: “I have decided not to offer a single payer alternative to the health reform bill at this time. Given how fluid the negotiations are on the final push to get comprehensive health care reform that covers millions of Americans and contains costs through a public option, I became concerned that my amendment might undermine that important goal.” Now we know: The most important goal for Weiner was securing a political future in the Democratic Party.

Conyers and Kucinich tried to spin their skullduggery this way: “Many progressives in Congress, ourselves included, feel that calling for a vote tomorrow for single-payer would be tantamount to driving the movement over a cliff… We are now asking you to join us in suggesting to congressional leaders that this is not the right time to call the roll on a stand-alone single payer bill. That time will come.” Their assertions were preposterous and false - our movement wouldn’t go “over a cliff” if there was a vote, just the opposite. They claimed there wasn’t enough national support for SP, but that wasn’t true, either. Poll after poll show a majority support a government-run health care system, doctors do, too! Moreover, there would have been more grassroots activism and protest if Conyers and Kucinich had clearly, consistently and unapologetically led a political fight to get SP “on the table.” They did nothing to make H.R. 676 a central part of the health care debate and instead, spent their political capital working for the doomed public option. The time was never better to have a vote on single-payer - we had nothing to lose but the vote. For progressive Democrats there will never be a “right time” to have a vote on single-payer in the United States.

The Kucinich Amendment for state single-payer never even made it into the final House bill.

Single-payer amendments batting zero.

Next up to the plate was the Bernie Sanders single-payer amendment in the Senate. The Republicans forced the reading of the 700-page bill (no single-payer bill should be that long, H.R. 676 is only 27 pages!) and after 3 hours Sanders caved. He didn’t “have to,” so why did he? Because the doomsday clock was ticking for the vote on the atrocious Senate bill, reading his amendment was wasting their precious time and Sanders fellow Democrats were positively apoplectic. But it was a Stupak, Lieberman, Nelson moment and Bernie blew it. If he had any balls or principles, he would have forced those senators, those members of the “Millionaire’s Club” who have “Cadillac” health care, to listen to every single word in that amendment, for as long as it took.

Fuck the Senate bill!

If Sanders was a real socialist he would have committed political suicide and voted against the bill. But instead, a few days later in yet another unbelievable, eye-popping betrayal, he voted in favor of it! He was bought off with the promise of 10 billion for primary care and community clinics. In voting for the bill, Sanders rendered null and void his thirty-minute fiery, single-payer soliloquy in the Senate because it’s not what you say it’s what you do that counts.

Sanders admitted in a New York Times article he “doesn’t sleep well,” and knows, “The insurance companies and the drug companies will be laughing all the way to the bank the day after this is passed.” I hope he never gets another good night’s sleep and the truly progressive people of Vermont punish him by throwing his sorry ass out of office and into the dustbin of history.

Back to correct lessons learned. Number one: DON’T TRUST THE DEMOCRATS – NOT A ONE. Especially the progressive Democrats. When push comes to shove they will not stand and deliver, they will back the status quo. The stunning series of sellouts of single-payer must not be forgotten. Number two: We have to build an independent movement for health care that is so large, so powerful, so full of fury and so uncompromising that whatever party happens to be in power is forced to abolish the private for-profit insurance industry and enact single-payer. That is the only way it will happen - by the force of hundreds-of-thousands of people in the streets, sitting in at insurance companies and in the corridors of Congress. When we do that history will truly be made and health care will finally become a human right in the United States.

Until that day, we remain a nation of hostages to the health insurance corporations.

Helen Redmond is a medical social worker in Chicago. She can be reached at She blogs at

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Sound of Trees, by Robert Frost

I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.

This is a photo of my tree in Pacific Grove, CA. His name is High Heart.
I do have a fondness for the tree that was in the front yard of my house while I grew up in Redwood Shores, but all the pics are on paper for now...Even though all the homes in the area of my house had the same tree, they all grew differently. Maybe reflecting the home occupants? A lot of families took the tree out in favor os some sort of alternative landscape. Our tree stayed in almost the entire time we lived there. At some point my brother took it down and made a mound of planted flowers with small logs around it...he must have done that just before he died and my parents moved North.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Nader’s Utopia: The World According to Ralph, by Chris Hedges

By Chris Hedges

Ralph Nader’s new novel, “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us,” is a window into the world the consumer advocate and independent presidential candidate wishes he could create. It is a world where the corporate state is dismantled, citizens are restored to power and the inequities and injustices meted out to the poor and the working classes are reversed. Nader describes his book as a “practical utopia.”

“Basically this book was written out of frustration,” Nader tells me when we meet on a Saturday afternoon in Princeton, N.J. “Increasingly over the last 30 years the doors have shut on a lot of citizen groups in Washington, D.C. And every year, you put in your mental imagination, at least I did, ‘What did we need to have kept those doors open?’ Did we need more organizers? Did we need more media? Did we need more money? Did we need better strategies? Did we need ways to motivate millions of people who haven’t figured it out yet? And that’s why this book was so easy to write.”

The engines of reform in the bulky novel are 17 mega-billionaires or millionaires. It is an odd decision for a man who has spent his life making war on the power elite, but, as Nader notes, popular movements, along with labor and the press, are largely ineffectual or dead. The super-rich, he laments, “are probably all we have left.” His main characters include figures such as Warren Buffett, George Soros, Ted Turner, Yoko Ono and Phil Donahue. The names of the villains, also often real-life characters, are mangled. Grover Norquist, for example, becomes Brovar Dortwist. The evil Dortwist owns a Doberman named Get’Em.

The super-rich ignite a progressive revolution using their enormous wealth. They recruit and fund citizen movements to challenge corporate power and its political puppets in Washington. The rich bring to the citizen movement what in reality it desperately lacks—billions in funding. The money, some $15 billion, makes it possible to sustain grass-roots movements to topple the oil industry, the insurance industry, arms manufacturers, the corporate media and Wall Street.

The book is Nader’s quixotic answer to Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel “Atlas Shrugged,” a celebration of raw capitalism and one of Alan Greenspan’s favorite works. Rand’s book is more than 1,000 pages long, so Nader, coming in at just above 730 pages, has at least beaten his nemesis in economy of style. By the end of the book, everything Nader has fought to achieve for decades is accomplished. Popular democracy triumphs. There is an ascendancy of independent third parties. An independent press challenges the status quo. There is universal not-for-profit health care for all Americans. Vibrant labor unions defend the working class. Flourishing public schools educate the rich and poor alike, and pot is legal. There is something endearing and even touching about Nader’s faith in the good.

“It’s probably the most important book I’ve ever written,” he says. “There is a magnitude and critical mass to the money necessary to facilitate the political and civic energies of the people, to put a lot of them on the ground full time.”

“Do liberals and progressives think that by putting out great documentaries, great books, great exposés—and we’re in the golden age of muckraking—something is going to change with the two-party tyranny, oligarchic and corporate control of Washington?” he asks. “If they think they’re going to change anything, year after year, they are living a dystopia. And between a dystopia on the ground, one that’s at least 30 years old, and this proposal, I think this one has a higher probability.”

The trigger to the popular revolt occurs when Buffett is watching the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on television. The fictional Buffett reacts to the disarray and human suffering by taking truckloads of supplies to the embattled residents of New Orleans. An elderly woman encounters him delivering relief supplies, grabs his hands and tells him, “Only the super-rich can save us!” This call to arms haunts Buffett on his way back to his home in Omaha. He decides to convene a gathering of the wealthy, or at least wealthy people with a conscience, in Maui in January 2006 to retake America.

The fantasy of the rich going to the rescue of ordinary Americans is born out of Nader’s deep despair over the decline of our democratic mass movements. It will take angels—and this is what the super-rich become in the book—to descend from the heights to save the country from corporate neofeudalism.

“I think something’s happened—50 years of looking at screens,” Nader reflects. “The young generation is spending 50 hours a week at least in front of the Internet, television and video games. Two-to-5-year-olds, in a survey [published in October], … watched 32 hours of television and DVDs a week. Two-to-5-year-olds! We don’t tend to weigh the consequences. When you’re in virtual reality—it’s not like they’re watching a re-creation of the Federalist discussion—then something happens. They don’t know what a town meeting is like. They don’t know what the words civic engagement mean.”

“The other thing is the massive entrenchment of corporate power,” he says. “The corporations have weakened the labor movement. The two parties, under the influence of corporate power, are converging. These corporations game the electoral process. Money and politics is cleverly distributed. They have deregulated the regulatory state. They are beginning to block the courtroom door. All the countervailing forces, which were built up in the late 19th century and the early 20th century to curb corporate power, are powerless.”

In the book, set in 2006, the handful of wealthy renegades work in secret for the first six months. They form alternative sources of power such as a People’s Chamber of Commerce to organize tens of thousands of small businesses. They buy time to saturate the airwaves with populist messages and distract right-wing talk show hosts, who have names like Bush Bimbo and Pawn Vanity, with the kind of faux controversies that are the staple of trash-talk television and radio. The movement, for example, proposes changing the national anthem from “The Star-Spangled Banner” to “America the Beautiful.” The talk show hosts swallow the bait.

“The dialogue is rather good on that,” Nader says.

The movement also persuades hundreds of inner-city schoolteachers to instruct pupils, when they pledge allegiance to the flag, to end with the phrase “liberty and justice for some,” instead of “for all.”

“Pawn Vanity and Bush Bimbo, they went nuts on that one for weeks,” Nader laughs. “And there’s even a congressional hearing on that. I put a lot of my frustrated experiences in this book. All the things you couldn’t really do, because the money wasn’t there. Can you imagine the sense of freedom? I didn’t have to use one footnote either. See, there’s utopian fiction in all of us, all of us who have struggled to improve their community or nation or world. And when we haven’t won, we do consciously or subconsciously say ‘If we only had this,’ or ‘If we only had that.’ If we don’t continue to elevate our imaginations we cannot envision possibilities.”

No progressive vision of heaven would be complete without the destruction of Wal-Mart, which occupies many pages, as well as electoral reform.

“There’s a section of the book on how they [those in the new movement] organize the most redneck, right-wing district in southwest Oklahoma against the chairman of the House Rules Committee,” Nader says. “I put a lot of my frustration in that too. There’s a lot of conversation about how conservative people started gravitating towards this movement, and why, and on what issues. As I said, they didn’t write anybody off. It’s a way to show that when you go down the abstraction ladder, to the daily lives of people, the so-called labels of conservative and liberals are not indelible. A conservative worker in Wal-Mart who wants a living wage will not say ‘I want to be paid $7.50 an hour because it helps Wal-Mart’s bottom line.’ When Toyota recalls cars because the throttle is sticking to the floor mat, is your reaction to the recall different if you’re a liberal or a Republican? Are you going to say ‘I still want the freedom to go onto a highway’? The discussions on cable and radio are about abstract, ideological conflicts. They are empirically stark. I wanted to show what would happen if you brought it down to people’s daily lives to appeal to their value system and sense of fair play. If I wrote this as nonfiction nobody would believe me. You have to write it as fiction. It gives you that imaginative elbowroom.”

“I went to Princeton and Harvard Law School,” Nader says. “We never talked about the commonwealth that the people owned. One-third of America’s public lands, plus what is offshore, belongs to the people. We own them. But the oil, gas, uranium and the gold and silver industries control them. They take our resources for nothing or five bucks an acre. A Canadian gold company discovered $9 billion worth of our gold in Nevada in public lands over a decade ago. They got ownership of it for $30,000 under the 1872 Mining Act. The Department of the Interior had to sell them the projected acreage over the mine for five bucks an acre. We grow up corporate, even in the Ivy League universities. The public owns the airwaves, along with trillions of dollars of government research and development, along with the pension funds that the corporations control. The corporations don’t care who owns anything, as long as they control it. All this money that Wall Street played around with, they didn’t own most of it. It was other people’s money. It was pension funds, mutual funds, but they controlled it. So what they [the new movement] did in this book was they educated people. They got hundreds of people around TV station buildings, two, three hours before the early evening news, and they had signs saying ‘PAY RENT,’ because the television stations use our airwaves free and have since radio started. We’re the landlords. They are the tenants, but they decide who says what and who doesn’t on radio and TV, and they don’t pay rent to the Federal Communications Commission.”

“What would the framers of the Constitution say about the state of our country today?” Nader asks. “Well, they would say that the important parts of the Constitution are a dead letter. They are being ignored. Look at the equal protections clause between corporations as entities and real human beings. The declaration-of-war clause is dead. The one thing the framers never anticipated was that a branch of government—judicial, executive or legislative—would ever give up its power willingly to another branch. They didn’t anticipate Congress abdicating its power to the executive branch. And it’s getting worse and worse.”

“Appropriation power is supposed to start in the House,” Nader says. “Who’s kidding who? It starts in the Office of Management and Budget. So as a result they didn’t give us any revenue. No American can challenge this in a court of law, because they would not have any standing to sue. The case would be thrown out. And members of Congress don’t have standing to sue over this violation of the Constitution, of their own authority. The only one who may have standing to sue is the attorney general, and the attorney general is not going to sue the president. So that’s a very serious situation. We’re getting a de facto destruction of the separation of powers. Madison and others did not want anybody but Congress to deliberate and take our country to war. They were adamant about this. In The New York Times, after Obama’s [Dec. 1] speech, they had on the jump page a little paragraph that said President Obama will expand the war into Pakistan, if he can work with a weak and dysfunctional Pakistan government. Hello? Who gave him authority to do that? Is he going to the Air Force Academy in a year to talk about the war in Pakistan? We have accepted, as a people, that the president can go anywhere in the world, with any troops, at any time, under any pretext. Period.”

“There are a lot of good people in this country who may not agree on some things, but they agree a lot on things that the mass media never emphasizes,” Nader says. “But they’ve persuaded themselves they’re powerless. Why didn’t you show up? It doesn’t make any difference. I was busy. Busy, doing what? Well, I had to take the kids to soccer practice. Half of democracy’s showing up. There is demoralization. How do these super-rich people turn the motivation to action? How do they turn a demoralized, powerless population to action? You start with imagination. William Blake said his residence was his imagination. That’s what’s been squeezed out of us and out of our children. And children are the most imaginative human beings, but they have their imagination squeezed out of them with standardized testing and rote learning, etc., etc. We’ve got to make real-life discussions like this exciting so they happen again and again.”

Chris Hedges, whose column is published on Truthdig every Monday, has written nine books, the most recent being “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I don't usually participate in this sort of event, but she was really great in Girl Interrupted

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Theme for English B, by Langston Hughes

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you--
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me--we two--you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me--who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records--Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white--
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That's American.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me--
although you're older--and white--
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Revolt is long overdue, says Ralph Nader....

The left's anger over the public option and the anti-Obama revolt is long overdue, says Ralph Nader. Benjamin Sarlin talks to the self-professed "pioneer" of the current progressive rage.

Democrats are steaming over the White House’s capitulation to liberal nemesis Joe Lieberman’s demands to remove a public option and Medicare buy-in from the Senate’s heath-care bill. Progressive figures including Howard Dean and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas have gone so far as to suggest scrapping the bill entirely and starting over, sparking rebukes from White House officials like David Axelrod, who called such a move “insane” in a Morning Joe interview on MSNBC on Thursday. With polls already showing many Democrats planning on sitting out 2010 midterms, the conflict has drawn comparisons to Ralph Nader’s third-party run in 2000, which many Democrats blame for tipping the election to George W. Bush—and for leaving Lieberman to wreak havoc in the Senate.

This is all good news to Nader, a vocal critic of the bill who considers the health-care debate a turning point in the left’s relationship to Obama.

“This is what I meant a year ago when I said the next year will determine whether Barack Obama will be an Uncle Tom groveling before the demands of the corporations.”

The four-time presidential candidate said he was particularly encouraged Thursday morning, when he read Dean’s op-ed in The Washington Post.

“Good for Howard Dean,” Nader said, adding that his only criticism was the former Democratic National Committee chairman didn’t go after the bill hard enough.

• Dana Goldstein: Howard Dean Splits the Left Nader favors a single-payer health-care system, but said he objected in particular to the Senate bill for many of the same reasons expressed by Dean. He reserved his harshest criticism for the individual mandate, which commentators like Ezra Klein say is necessary in some form to keep premiums at acceptable rates but which Nader says forces Americans to buy substandard insurance.

“It doesn’t have a drug-reimportation provision, it doesn’t have a public option, it doesn’t have a Medicare buy-in, and in the House they lost a number of provisions,” he said. “Basically it’s a massive new subsidy to the health-insurance industry to deliver millions of customers, including those who will be forced to buy junk insurance policies.”

Proponents of the bill have noted that many Americans with preexisting conditions will no longer be barred from purchasing insurance, putting a stop to one of the most reviled practices under the current system. Nader said he believes the bill still doesn’t go far enough to protect Americans from discrimination, citing Dean’s argument in his op-ed that even though those with preexisting conditions might benefit, insurance companies could still charge older customers rates up to three times higher than younger ones.

Nader instead recommended that legislators and the White House scrap the bill entirely and embark on a nationwide tour to generate grassroots support for single-payer health care, which they would then attempt to pass through reconciliation, which requires only a bare majority in the Senate. Given the narrow margins for even the House bill, which requires only a majority to pass, the prospect seems politically unthinkable—but Nader insists that it could be done.

“You go all out, you use your evidence, you put your human-interest stories in the papers, the people who are suffering, who’ve been denied benefits, who were told they couldn’t get into the hospital without writing a huge check first, and you lead! You lead!” he said, his voice rising to a shout.

Nader, who has been viciously critical of Obama since before his inauguration, said he was encouraged to see many of the president’s campaign allies beginning to turn on his agenda.

“Is the title of your article ‘I told you so?’” he asked. “This is what I meant a year ago when I said the next year will determine whether Barack Obama will be an Uncle Tom groveling before the demands of the corporations that are running our country or he’ll be an Uncle Sam standing up for the American people.”

Nader cited a number of cases in which he was encouraged to see people he considered loyal Democrats stand up to their lawmakers on principle.

“Markos, he finally turns around—this guy is an indentured servant of the Democratic Party, and he’s finally breaking. [Arianna Huffington] is chirping up,” he said. “And they go a long way—they’ve given Obama the biggest elastic band in Democratic Party history and it’s reaching the point of snapping.”

He added that MSNBC’s Ed Schultz and Keith Olbermann were also “starting to break,” although he acknowledged that he still has trouble getting invited on their shows.

Nader, who is considering a third-party run in Connecticut against Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), said the health-care revolt has generated more interest in his campaign, but he has yet to make up his mind if he’ll run—or if he’ll seek the White House again in 2012. As for whether growing disillusionment with the two major parties might provide him with fuel for a comeback after being cast as a pariah in 2000, Nader suggested it might be a bridge too far.

“The person who told them the earliest is decisively ignored,” he said. “But that’s the burden of a pioneer. It’s always been in politics.”

Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Copenhagen Climate Summit: The Empire’s New Clothes

By Amy Goodman

Denmark is the home of renowned children’s author Hans Christian Andersen. Copenhagen is dotted with historical spots where Andersen lived and wrote. “The Little Mermaid” was one of his most famous tales, published in 1837, along with “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

As the United Nations’ climate summit, called “COP 15,” enters its final week, with more than 100 world leaders arriving amid growing protests, the notion that a binding agreement will come from this conference looks more and more like a fairy tale.

The reality is harsher. Negotiations have repeatedly broken down, with divisions between the global North, or industrialized countries, and the global South. Leading the North is the United States, the world’s greatest polluter, historically, and a leader in per capita carbon emissions. Among the Southern nations are several groupings, including the least-developed countries, or LDCs; African nations; and nations from AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States. These are places where millions live on the edge, directly impacted by climate change, dealing with the effects, from cyclones and droughts to erosion and floods. Tuvalu, near Fiji, and other island nations, for example, are concerned that rising sea levels will wipe their countries off the map.

New conceptions of the crisis are emerging at COP 15. People are speaking of climate justice, climate debt and climate refugees. Indian scientist and activist Vandana Shiva was among those who addressed a climate justice rally of 100,000 Saturday in Copenhagen. Afterward, I asked her to respond to U.S. climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing, who said the Obama administration is willing to pay its fair share, but added that donors “don’t have unlimited largesse to disburse.” Shiva responded, “I think it’s time for the U.S. to stop seeing itself as a donor and recognize itself as a polluter, a polluter who must pay. ... This is not about charity. This is about justice.”

Shiva went on: “A climate refugee is someone who has been uprooted from their home, from their livelihoods, because of climate instability. It could be people who’ve had to leave their agriculture because of extended drought. It could be communities in the Himalayas who are having to leave their villages, either because flash floods are washing out their villages or because streams are disappearing.”

Both inside and outside the summit there is a diverse cross section of nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, from indigenous-peoples delegations to environmental and youth groups. Their separate but connected efforts have been coalescing into a new movement, a movement for climate justice. Broad consensus exists among the NGOs and the global South that any agreement coming out of the U.N. process must be fair, ambitious and binding, or as they put it, “FAB.”

The Bella Center itself, where the summit is being held, is said by the U.N. to be at capacity. Thousands of people line up daily in the cold, vainly hoping to get in to the Bella of the Beast. Thousands more, from the NGOs, are having their access stripped, ostensibly to make room for visiting heads of state, their entourages and security.

Outside, Copenhagen is seeing an unprecedented police crackdown, with the largest and most expensive security operation in Denmark’s history. More than 1,200 people were detained over the weekend, and as this column goes to press, targeted arrests of protest organizers and police raids of public protest convergence spaces are being reported. Heavy-handed police tactics give another meaning to “COP 15.”

After South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke at a candlelight vigil for children, I asked whether he thought President Barack Obama was following through on climate change. He responded: “We hope he will, yes. He has given the world a great deal of hope. I have said he’s now a Nobel laureate—become what you are.”

Last week, as a polar bear ice statue melted downtown, revealing the dinosaur skeleton hidden within, a small ice replica of Copenhagen’s famous Little Mermaid statue sat outside the Bella Center, melting. She is now gone. Obama is making his second attempt to win a prize in Copenhagen, after the Chicago Olympics embarrassment. Unless he uses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new determination that carbon dioxide is a public health hazard and nails down a fair, ambitious and binding agreement, we may see Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” played out on the global stage.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 800 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

© 2009 Amy Goodman

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Social Scientists Build Case for 'Survival of the Kindest'

ScienceDaily (Dec. 9, 2009)

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are challenging long-held beliefs that human beings are wired to be selfish. In a wide range of studies, social scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive.

In contrast to "every man for himself" interpretations of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of "Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life," and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits.

They call it "survival of the kindest."

"Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others," said Keltner, co-director of UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. "Human beings have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacities to care for those in need and to cooperate. As Darwin long ago surmised, sympathy is our strongest instinct."

Empathy in our genes

Keltner's team is looking into how the human capacity to care and cooperate is wired into particular regions of the brain and nervous system. One recent study found compelling evidence that many of us are genetically predisposed to be empathetic.

The study, led by UC Berkeley graduate student Laura Saslow and Sarina Rodrigues of Oregon State University, found that people with a particular variation of the oxytocin gene receptor are more adept at reading the emotional state of others, and get less stressed out under tense circumstances.

Informally known as the "cuddle hormone," oxytocin is secreted into the bloodstream and the brain, where it promotes social interaction, nurturing and romantic love, among other functions.

"The tendency to be more empathetic may be influenced by a single gene," Rodrigues said.

The more you give, the more respect you get

While studies show that bonding and making social connections can make for a healthier, more meaningful life, the larger question some UC Berkeley researchers are asking is, "How do these traits ensure our survival and raise our status among our peers?"

One answer, according to UC Berkeley social psychologist and sociologist Robb Willer is that the more generous we are, the more respect and influence we wield. In one recent study, Willer and his team gave participants each a modest amount of cash and directed them to play games of varying complexity that would benefit the "public good." The results, published in the journal American Sociological Review, showed that participants who acted more generously received more gifts, respect and cooperation from their peers and wielded more influence over them.

"The findings suggest that anyone who acts only in his or her narrow self-interest will be shunned, disrespected, even hated," Willer said. "But those who behave generously with others are held in high esteem by their peers and thus rise in status."

"Given how much is to be gained through generosity, social scientists increasingly wonder less why people are ever generous and more why they are ever selfish," he added.

Cultivating the greater good

Such results validate the findings of such "positive psychology" pioneers as Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose research in the early 1990s shifted away from mental illness and dysfunction, delving instead into the mysteries of human resilience and optimism.

While much of the positive psychology being studied around the nation is focused on personal fulfillment and happiness, UC Berkeley researchers have narrowed their investigation into how it contributes to the greater societal good.

One outcome is the campus's Greater Good Science Center, a West Coast magnet for research on gratitude, compassion, altruism, awe and positive parenting, whose benefactors include the Metanexus Institute, Tom and Ruth Ann Hornaday and the Quality of Life Foundation.

Christine Carter, executive director of the Greater Good Science Center, is creator of the "Science for Raising Happy Kids" Web site, whose goal, among other things, is to assist in and promote the rearing of "emotionally literate" children. Carter translates rigorous research into practical parenting advice. She says many parents are turning away from materialistic or competitive activities, and rethinking what will bring their families true happiness and well-being.

"I've found that parents who start consciously cultivating gratitude and generosity in their children quickly see how much happier and more resilient their children become," said Carter, author of "Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents" which will be in bookstores in February 2010. "What is often surprising to parents is how much happier they themselves also become."

The sympathetic touch

As for college-goers, UC Berkeley psychologist Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton has found that cross-racial and cross-ethnic friendships can improve the social and academic experience on campuses. In one set of findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, he found that the cortisol levels of both white and Latino students dropped as they got to know each over a series of one-on-one get-togethers. Cortisol is a hormone triggered by stress and anxiety.

Meanwhile, in their investigation of the neurobiological roots of positive emotions, Keltner and his team are zeroing in on the aforementioned oxytocin as well as the vagus nerve, a uniquely mammalian system that connects to all the body's organs and regulates heart rate and breathing.

Both the vagus nerve and oxytocin play a role in communicating and calming. In one UC Berkeley study, for example, two people separated by a barrier took turns trying to communicate emotions to one another by touching one other through a hole in the barrier. For the most part, participants were able to successfully communicate sympathy, love and gratitude and even assuage major anxiety.

Researchers were able to see from activity in the threat response region of the brain that many of the female participants grew anxious as they waited to be touched. However, as soon as they felt a sympathetic touch, the vagus nerve was activated and oxytocin was released, calming them immediately.

"Sympathy is indeed wired into our brains and bodies; and it spreads from one person to another through touch," Keltner said.

The same goes for smaller mammals. UC Berkeley psychologist Darlene Francis and Michael Meaney, a professor of biological psychiatry and neurology at McGill University, found that rat pups whose mothers licked, groomed and generally nurtured them showed reduced levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, and had generally more robust immune systems.

Overall, these and other findings at UC Berkeley challenge the assumption that nice guys finish last, and instead support the hypothesis that humans, if adequately nurtured and supported, tend to err on the side of compassion.

"This new science of altruism and the physiological underpinnings of compassion is finally catching up with Darwin's observations nearly 130 years ago, that sympathy is our strongest instinct," Keltner said.

A Dream Lies Dead, by Dorothy Parker

A dream lies dead here. May you softly go
Before this place, and turn away your eyes,
Nor seek to know the look of that which dies
Importuning Life for life. Walk not in woe,
But, for a little, let your step be slow.
And, of your mercy, be not sweetly wise
With words of hope and Spring and tenderer skies.
A dream lies dead; and this all mourners know:

Whenever one drifted petal leaves the tree-
Though white of bloom as it had been before
And proudly waitful of fecundity-
One little loveliness can be no more;
And so must Beauty bow her imperfect head
Because a dream has joined the wistful dead!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Marijuana Legalization On CA’s 2010 Ballot


The folks at the The Tax & Regulate Cannabis 2010 here in Oaksterdam California have gathered the 650,000 signatures necessary to put the legalization of marijuana on the November 2010 ballot! This major victory means Californians will be the first in the nation to decide whether they believe marijuana should be legal…taxed and regulated for all adults over 21.

Richard Lee, the president of Oaksterdam University, owner of the famous Coffeeshop Blue Sky, and major financial supporter of the initiative told Stuff Stoners Like, “California voters believe that our laws criminalizing marijuana have failed! 56% of Californian’s support legalization and the time for reform is now.”

The Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 will regulate cannabis like alcohol allowing adults 21 and older in California to posses up to one ounce of cannabis. It will give local governments the ability to tax and regulate the sale of herb to adults 21 and older and it will generate billions of dollars in revenue!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Zinn on Moyers

"They're willing to let people think about mild reforms and little changes, and incremental changes, but they don't want people to think that we could actually transform this country into a peaceful country, that we no longer have to be a super military power. 

They don't want to think that way because it's profitable for certain interests in this country to carry on war, to have military bases in 100 countries, to have a $600 billion military budget. That makes a lot of money for certain people. But it leaves the rest of the country behind."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ode to the closeness of failure...

Closed Path

I thought that my voyage had come to its end
at the last limit of my power,---that the path before me was closed,
that provisions were exhausted
and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.

But I find that thy will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.

=Rabindranath Tagore=

Kenyon Cox, nude study

Saturday, December 12, 2009

End the U.S. Wars Rally: Ralph Nader: Dubya and Obama are “a Seamless Transition” on the War

From Dandelion Salad
by liamh2

December 13, 2009
On Sat., Dec. 12, 2009, Ralph Nader, a political gadfly par excellence, a distinguished and best selling author and a persistent Third Party presidential candidate, was one of the featured speakers at the emergency End-the-U.S.-Wars rally. See, for background: The spirited event was held in Lafayette Park, opposite the White House. For a short bio on Mr. Nader go to: This video contains excerpts from his remarks.

End the U.S. Wars Rally: Chris Hedges: We Live in a Time of Radical Evil!
End the U.S. Wars Rally: Cynthia McKinney: President Obama, Stop Bankrupting our Nation!
End the U.S. Wars Rally: Dennis Kucinich: These Wars Are Corrupting…our Nation!
“Just War” Is Just Words by Ralph Nader + Passage of H.R. 4173

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Just War" Is Just Words

by Ralph Nader

President Obama, the Afghan war escalator, received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, and proceeded to deliver his acceptance speech outlining the three criteria for a “just war” which he himself is violating.

The criteria are in this words: “If it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.”

After 9/11, warmonger George W. Bush could have used the international law doctrine of hot pursuit with a multilateral force of commandoes, linguists and bribers to pursue the backers of the attackers. Instead, he blew the country of Afghanistan apart and started occupying it, joined forces with a rump regime and launched a divide-and-rule tribal strategy that set the stage for a low-tiered civil war.

Eight years later, Obama is expanding the war within a graft-ridden government in Kabul, fraudulent elections, an Afghan army of northern tribesmen loathed by the southern and south-eastern tribes of 40 million Pashtuns, an impoverished economy whose largest crop by far is a narcotic, and a devastated population embittered by foreign occupiers and non-existent government services.

President Obama’s national security adviser, former Marine General James Jones, said two months ago: “The al-Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.”

Since Mr. Obama repeats George W. Bush’s reason for going into Afghanistan—to destroy al-Qaeda—why is he sending 30,000 soldiers plus an even greater number of corporate contractors there in the near future at a cost stated by the White House of one million dollars per solider per year? Is this “proportional force”?

Always small in number, al-Qaeda has moved over the border into Pakistan and anywhere its supporters can in the world—east Africa, north Africa, Indonesia. The gang is a migrant traveler.

Is Obama pouring soldiers into Afghanistan so that they and our inaccurate, civilian-destroying drones can start fighting across the border in Pakistan, as indicated by The New York Times? Beyond the violations of international law and absence of constitutional authorization involved, this could so roil Pakistanis as to make the U.S. experience next door look like a modest struggle.

Obama has emphasized weakening the Taliban as the other objective of our military buildup with its horrible consequence in casualties and other costs. Who are the Taliban? They include people with different causes, such as protecting their valleys, drug trafficking to live on, fighters against foreign occupiers or, being mostly Pashtuns, protecting their tribal turf against the northern Tajiks and Uzbecks.

How many Taliban fighters are there? The Pentagon estimates around 25,000. Their methods make them unpopular with the villagers. They have no air force, navy, artillery, tanks, missiles, no bases, no central command. They have rifles, grenade launchers, bombs and suiciders. Unlike al-Qaeda, they have only domestic ambitions counteracted by their adversarial tribesmen who make up most of the Afghan army.

Robert Baer, former CIA officer with experience in that part of Asia, asserted: “The people that want their country liberated from the West have nothing to do with al-Qaeda. They simply want us gone because we’re foreigners, and they’re rallying behind the Taliban because the Taliban are experienced, effective fighters.”

To say as Obama inferred in his Oslo speech that the greater plunge into Afghanistan is self-defense, with proportional force and sparing civilians from violence is a scale of self-delusion or political cowardliness that is dejecting his liberal base.

For as President Eisenhower stated so eloquently in his 1953 “cross of iron” speech, every dollar spent on munitions and saber-rattling takes away from building schools, clinics, roads and other necessities of the American people.

The Afghan War and the Iraq war-occupation—already directly costing a trillion dollars—are costing the American people every time Washington says there is not enough money for neonatal care, occupational disease prevention, cleaner drinking water systems, safer hospitals, prosecution of corporate criminals, cleaner air or upgrading and repairing key public facilities.

Even the hardiest and earliest supporters of his presidential campaign in 2008 are speaking out. Senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus, such as John Conyers (D-MI) and Maxine Waters (D-CA) have recently criticized the President for not doing enough to help African-Americans weather the hard times.

In a stinging ironic rebuke to the first African-American President, Rep. Waters declared “We can no longer afford for our public policy to be defined by the worldview of Wall Street.”

According to Congressman Conyers, an upset Barack Obama called to ask why the Michigan lawmaker was “demeaning” him. Conyers has been increasingly turned off by the President’s policies—among them health care reform, the war in Afghanistan, slippage on Guantanamo and the extension of the Patriot Act’s invasive provisions.

The 80-year old Congressman spent most weekends in 2007 and 2008 tirelessly on the campaign trail trying to get Obama elected.

White House aides are not troubled by the rumblings from the moderate Left. They said they have all of 2010 to bring them back into the fold by the November Congressional elections. Besides, where else are they going to go?

Well, they could stay home. Remember 1994 and the Gingrich takeover.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

L'Aube spirituelle, by Charles Baudelaire

L'Aube spirituelle

Quand chez les débauchés l'aube blanche et vermeille
Entre en société de l'Idéal rongeur,
Par l'opération d'un mystère vengeur
Dans la brute assoupie un ange se réveille.

Des Cieux Spirituels l'inaccessible azur,
Pour l'homme terrassé qui rêve encore et souffre,
S'ouvre et s'enfonce avec l'attirance du gouffre.
Ainsi, chère Déesse, Etre lucide et pur,

Sur les débris fumeux des stupides orgies
Ton souvenir plus clair, plus rose, plus charmant,
À mes yeux agrandis voltige incessamment.

Le soleil a noirci la flamme des bougies;
Ainsi, toujours vainqueur, ton fantôme est pareil,
Ame resplendissante, à l'immortel soleil!

— Charles Baudelaire

Spiritual Dawn

When debauchees are roused by the white, rosy dawn,
Escorted by the Ideal which gnaws at their hearts
Through the action of a mysterious, vengeful law,
In the somnolent brute an Angel awakens.

The inaccessible blue of Spiritual Heavens,
For the man thrown to earth who suffers and still dreams,
Opens and yawns with the lure of the abyss.
Thus, dear Goddess, Being, lucid and pure,

Over the smoking ruins of stupid orgies,
Your memory, clearer, more rosy, more charming,
Hovers incessantly before my widened eyes.

The sunlight has darkened the flame of the candles;
Thus, ever triumphant, resplendent soul!
Your phantom is like the immortal sun!

[this translation by — William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)]

[Art by Mia]

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

My "A" paper...and my first original post.... ;)

[It's good I received an A on this because in one of the other classes, the final looks impossible]

Effect of Thought on Matter
A Research Paper

In a world filled with opposing and contradictory views on so many subjects, there are two areas in which the sides are beginning to amalgamate, they are science and metaphysics. Each subject is vast on its own and neither will be fully explained in this paper. The mere attempt to accurately define the two subjects creates plenty of debate. The focus here is to bring together and explore the work of sources from the fields of science and who, via science, are attempting to show a direct correlation between thought and matter. Included in this focus are sources considered less scientific or even unscientific who have expressed thoughts and ideas that are being reevaluated and reinforced within the different branches of science, and which seem support the link between thought and belief on physical matter.

I will begin with a quote from Hindu Prince Gautama Siddhartha, also known as Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, who lived from 563-483 B.C., “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” This quote demonstrates a knowing, or a belief by Buddha that we can assess the state of our lives and make changes, or not, via adjustments to our thoughts.

In 1900, in his book titled As A Man Thinketh, James Allen wrote “The body is the servant of the mind. It obeys the operations of the mind, whether they be deliberately chosen or automatically expressed” (39). This is not a scientific book and yet it’s written in an authoritative or knowing way.

In the early 1960’s, a writer named Jane Roberts began writing a series of books that are collectively known as the Seth Material, (which also happens to be the title of one of the books). Seth is a spirit, or entity, who dictated these books via a method known as channeling (New Awareness Network, Inc.). A theme and a popular phrase from the Seth Material is that we “create our own reality”. Seth explains in many ways throughout the books that we literally create matter, which includes our bodies, and all that we see and experience in the physical world with our known senses. Here is just one quote from Seth’s assertions: “You are not a forsaken offshoot of physical matter, nor is your consciousness meant to vanish like a puff of smoke. Instead, you form the physical body that you know at a deeply unconscious level with great discrimination, miraculous clarity, and intimate unconscious knowledge of each minute cell that composes it. This is not meant symbolically” (Seth 8-9).

By what has been presented thus far in this paper, we can see that there is a sense in the non-scientific world that thoughts have a measurable impact our bodies and our ways of being.

Now let’s explore the scientific evidence of the effect of thought on matter. In the book, Bridging Science and Spirit, Norman Friedman takes on the task of knitting common elements of David Bohm’s physics with material given by Seth specifically regarding the creation of reality (229).

Dean Radin, Senior Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and Roger Nelson, director of the Global Consciousness Project (GCP), an international, multi-laboratory collaboration founded in 1997 to study collective consciousness, have done an analysis of mind-matter interaction experiments from 1959 to 2000 in which they conclude in part that, "...experiments conducted by 91 researchers over a span of 41 years indicates the presence of a small magnitude, but statistically highly significant and repeatable mind- matter interaction effect” (Radin, Nelson). One of Radin’s experiments conducted in 1991 exhibited that mental intention could manipulate the way dice will fall (Radin, Ferrari).

A more recent and well-known example, because of its inclusion in the movie What the Bleep Do We Know, of scientific experiments indicating that thoughts changed the formation of water crystals are the studies conducted by Dr. Masaru Emoto of Japan (Emoto).

Dr. Bruce Lipton, a molecular biologist, has made new and incredible discoveries that indicate, via experiments conducted at the cellular level, that when we change our perceptions we can become masters of our bodies by guiding and governing our own genes (Lipton).

This paper is merely a snippet of the available information to be culled and collected in the service of bridging science and metaphysics. However, it does lead one to conclude that there is definitely evidence to support that claim that thought does indeed effect matter.

Works Cited
Allen, James. As A Man Thinketh. Chicago: M.A. Donohue & Company, 1900. Print.
Emoto, Masaru. Healing With Water. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary
Medicine 10.1 (Feb. 2004): n. pag. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., Web. 5 Dec. 2009.
Friedman, Norman. Bridging Science and Spirit: Common Elements in David Bohm's Physics, The
Perennial Philosophy and Seth. Eugene: The Woodbridge Group, 1990. Print.
Lipton, Bruce. The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles.
Santa Rosa: Mountain of Love/Elite Books, 2005. Print.
New Awareness Network, Inc., “Who Is Seth?” N.p. 2005.
Web. 3 Dec. 2009.
Radin, Dean, and Diane Ferrari. “Effects of Consciousness on the Fall of Dice: A Meta-Analysis”.
Journal of Scientific Exploration 5.1 (1991): n. pag. Web. 3 Dec. 2009.
Radin, Dean, and Roger Nelson. Meta-analysis of mind-matter interaction experiments: 1959
to 2000. Boundary Institute, 4 Dec. 2000. Web. 3 Dec. 2009.
Seth, and Jane Roberts. Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul. Englewood Cliffs:
Prentice-Hall Inc., 1972. Print.

Sonnet XVII, by Pablo Neruda

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Liberals Are Useless, By Chris Hedges

Posted on Dec 7, 2009

By Chris Hedges

Liberals are a useless lot. They talk about peace and do nothing to challenge our permanent war economy. They claim to support the working class, and vote for candidates that glibly defend the North American Free Trade Agreement. They insist they believe in welfare, the right to organize, universal health care and a host of other socially progressive causes, and will not risk stepping out of the mainstream to fight for them. The only talent they seem to possess is the ability to write abject, cloying letters to Barack Obama—as if he reads them—asking the president to come back to his “true” self. This sterile moral posturing, which is not only useless but humiliating, has made America’s liberal class an object of public derision.

I am not disappointed in Obama. I don’t feel betrayed. I don’t wonder when he is going to be Obama. I did not vote for the man. I vote socialist, which in my case meant Ralph Nader, but could have meant Cynthia McKinney. How can an organization with the oxymoronic title Progressives for Obama even exist? Liberal groups like these make political satire obsolete. Obama was and is a brand. He is a product of the Chicago political machine. He has been skillfully packaged as the new face of the corporate state. I don’t dislike Obama—I would much rather listen to him than his smug and venal predecessor—though I expected nothing but a continuation of the corporate rape of the country. And that is what he has delivered.

“You have a tug of war with one side pulling,” Ralph Nader told me when we met Saturday afternoon. “The corporate interests pull on the Democratic Party the way they pull on the Republican Party. If you are a ‘least-worst’ voter you don’t want to disturb John Kerry on the war, so you call off the anti-war demonstrations in 2004. You don’t want to disturb Obama because McCain is worse. And every four years both parties get worse. There is no pull. That is the dilemma of The Nation and The Progressive and other similar publications. There is no breaking point. What is the breaking point? The criminal war of aggression in Iraq? The escalation of the war in Afghanistan? Forty-five thousand people dying a year because they can’t afford health insurance? The hollowing out of communities and sending the jobs to fascist and communist regimes overseas that know how to put the workers in their place? There is no breaking point. And when there is no breaking point you do not have a moral compass.”

I save my anger for our bankrupt liberal intelligentsia of which, sadly, I guess I am a member. Liberals are the defeated, self-absorbed Mouse Man in Dostoevsky’s “Notes From Underground.” They embrace cynicism, a cloak for their cowardice and impotence. They, like Dostoevsky’s depraved character, have come to believe that the “conscious inertia” of the underground surpasses all other forms of existence. They too use inaction and empty moral posturing, not to affect change but to engage in an orgy of self-adulation and self-pity. They too refuse to act or engage with anyone not cowering in the underground. This choice does not satisfy the Mouse Man, as it does not satisfy our liberal class, but neither has the strength to change. The gravest danger we face as a nation is not from the far right, although it may well inherit power, but from a bankrupt liberal class that has lost the will to fight and the moral courage to stand up for what it espouses.

Anyone who says he or she cares about the working class in this country should have walked out on the Democratic Party in 1994 with the passage of NAFTA. And it has only been downhill since. If welfare reform, the 1999 Financial Services Modernization Act, which gutted the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act—designed to prevent the kind of banking crisis we are now undergoing—and the craven decision by the Democratic Congress to continue to fund and expand our imperial wars were not enough to make you revolt, how about the refusal to restore habeas corpus, end torture in our offshore penal colonies, abolish George W. Bush’s secrecy laws or halt the warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of American citizens? The imperial projects and the corporate state have not altered under Obama. The state kills as ruthlessly and indiscriminately in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as it did under Bush. It steals from the U.S. treasury as rapaciously to enrich the corporate elite. It, too, bows before the conservative Israel lobby, refuses to enact serious environmental or health care reform, regulate Wall Street, end our relationship with private mercenary contractors or stop handing obscene sums of money, some $1 trillion a year, to the military and arms industry. At what point do we stop being a doormat? At what point do we fight back? We may lose if we step outside the mainstream, but at least we will salvage our self-esteem and integrity.

I learned to dislike liberals when I lived in Roxbury, the inner-city in Boston, as a seminary student at Harvard Divinity School. I commuted into Cambridge to hear professors and students talk about empowering people they never met. It was the time of the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Spending two weeks picking coffee in that country and then coming back and talking about it for the rest of the semester was the best way to “credentialize” yourself as a revolutionary. But few of these “revolutionaries” found the time to spend 20 minutes on the Green Line to see where human beings in their own city were being warehoused little better than animals. They liked the poor, but they did not like the smell of the poor. It was a lesson I never forgot.

I was also at the time a member of the Greater Boston YMCA boxing team. We fought on Saturday nights for $25 in arenas in working-class neighborhoods like Charlestown. My closest friends were construction workers and pot washers. They worked hard. They believed in unions. They wanted a better life, which few of them ever got. We used to run five miles after our nightly training, passing through the Mission Main and Mission Extension Housing Projects, and they would joke, “I hope we get mugged.” They knew precisely what to do with people who abused them. They may not have been liberal, they may not have finished high school, but they were far more grounded than most of those I studied with across the Charles River. They would have felt awkward, and would have been made to feel awkward, at the little gatherings of progressive and liberal intellectuals at Harvard, but you could trust and rely on them.

I went on to spend two decades as a war correspondent. The qualities inherent in good soldiers or Marines, like the qualities I found among those boxers, are qualities I admire—self-sacrifice, courage, the ability to make decisions under stress, the capacity to endure physical discomfort, and a fierce loyalty to those around you, even if it puts you in greater danger. If liberals had even a bit of their fortitude we could have avoided this mess. But they don’t. So here we are again, begging Obama to be Obama. He is Obama. Obama is not the problem. We are.

Chris Hedges, author of “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle,” will speak with other anti-war activists at Lafayette Park across the street from the White House at 11 a.m. Dec. 12 in a rally calling for the withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

YAY! Evo Morales Wins Second Term in Bolivia!

lunes, 07 de diciembre de 2009

Imagen activa06 de diciembre de 2009, 19:19La Paz, Dec 6 (Prensa Latina) With broader popular support, Evo Morales won relatively easy today''s elections and clinched a second term as Bolivia''s President.

  Morales, Bolivia's first ever indigenous President, was re-elected with between 61 percent and 62 percent of the vote as exit polls suggest, securing a convincing victory on Sunday's elections thus avoding a run-off with his conservative rivals.

His main opponent Manfred Reyes Villa, a former governor, stayed wel behind with about 23 percent, exit polls indicate while the official results are expected in the coming days.

His other challenger was Samuel Doria Medina, a wealthy businessman.

Foreign observers have praised the election for its transparency and fairness.

Jubilant supporters waving Bolivian flags jumped up and down in La Paz's central Murillo square an hour after polls closed chanting "Evo! Evo!".

The leader of the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) had promised to expand state control over the economy and redistribute profits from the gas industry if re-elected, among other pledges to boost the Gross Domestic Product and the social welfare.

Political analysts have suggested that the landslide victory will solidify Morales' dominance in Bolivian politics and weaken the split conservative opposition tied to the business elite.

On his final campaign rally, Morales told a cheering crowd: "There are two roads: continue with change or return to the past".

Earlier surveys had predicted He would also likely gain control of Congress in one of South America's most troubled and poorest countries.


Take a trip from home: Google to Provide Virtual Tours of 19 World Heritage Sites


December 5th, 2009


According to this UNESCO announcement, 19 historical sites will be included, and I’ve listed them below. The video above offers more details.

“Spain: Santiago de Compostela (Old Town); Old Town of Cáceres; Historic Walled Town of Cuenca; Old City of Salamanca; Old Town of Ávila with its Extra-Muros Churches; Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct; Historic City of Toledo France: Palace and Park of Versailles; Paris, Banks of the Seine Italy: Archaeological Areas of Pompei, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata; Historic Centre of Siena; Historic Centre of Urbino; Historic Centre of San Gimignano Netherlands: Mill Network at Kinderdijk-Elshout Czech Republic: Holy Trinity Column in Olomouc; Historic Centre of Český Krumlov; Historic Centre of Prague United Kingdom: Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew”

by Dan Colman

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Harsh, but true, if you're going to be pro-peace, you have to be smart enough to know that a D or ad R are not your best bet...

The War Enabling Politics of Norman Solomon and “P”DA

by John Walsh / December 5th, 2009

The response of the Liberal commentariat to Obama’s escalation of the AfPak war has been one of acquiescence or downright hypocrisy as documented by Justin Raimondo in It ranged from “Obama’s strategy will work,” to “We support Obama but not his policy” (Whatever that means.) to “Let us turn to Congress to stop the funding.” (This last is especially disturbing since turning to Congress was the argument that “progressive” Dems advanced in 2006 to elect a Democrat Congress, an effort which yielded nothing but a betrayal of the antiwar votes that poured in for the Dems.)

Norman Solomon was first of this crowd out of the gate with a pre-emptive strike on the eve of Obama’s West Point speech. In this effort Solomon excoriated politics that “enables” as practiced by some members of Congress.1 But such politics is not confined to Congress, and Norman does well to write about “enabling” politics, for he and his organization “Progressive” Democrats of America, “P”DA, are shining examples of it. Norman seems to have forgotten that Obama was his candidate and that of “P”DA, that Obama was not just the Democrat Party candidate but the candidate of the “left” wing of the Dems. Even as Obama was telling us in 2008 that he would escalate the war on Afghanistan, Norman was urging one and all to vote for him. Solomon likes to say that things would be worse if McCain were elected. But after Obama’s West Point performance, one wonders. Solomon likes to say that if Al Gore had been elected in 2000, there would have been no war in the Middle East. But after the performance of Obama, who is regarded as more progressive than Gore, one wonders. Of course Solomon cannot say that war would have ended if Kerry, whom he supported in 2004, were elected, since Kerry ran as a prowar candidate.

That record of endorsement makes Solomon and his ideological bedfellows enablers without peer. Let us recall that many of these enablers heaped abuse on a genuine antiwar candidate, Ralph Nader, refused to invite him to speak at anti-war rallies and made sure that his words did not appear in the “liberal” press like The Nation. These days the bumper stickers that proclaim “Don’t Blame Me; I voted for Ralph,” should be flying off the shelves.

In fact it goes beyond that. The enablers like Solomon and Medea Benjamin and Katrina vanden Heuvel owe the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan an apology, for their backing of Obama makes them complicit in the war and killing that will soon intensify. They worked to get Obama elected rather than to build a new political movement, which is necessary to end the depredations of US Empire and which will never be organized if anti-warriors keep following the Dems. In fact the enablers of war consistently frustrate the building of such a movement. It is time to recognize that the Democrat Party is one of the two parties of Empire, and one of its functions is to contain the antiwar movement at which it does splendidly, not least by permitting an impotent “progressive” wing to keep keep hope alive. (Solomon and his buddies should simply stop offering their opinions and go to work with the Red Cross in Afghanistan to relieve some of the suffering they helped to cause.)

Some of the Democrat liberals are saying that somehow they got Obama wrong — and they will not do that sort of thing again. There is only one problem with that. They will do it again.

They do it over and over and should not be trusted or followed ever again. They did it in 2004, endorsing the prowar John Kerry, in 2006 endorsing Democrats for Congress with the promise they would act to end the war and move to impeach Bush, and they did it in 2008 with their support of Obama who promised escalation of the war in AfPak. They will get fooled again. We should not allow ourselves to be fooled with them or by them.

1. In a lapse of its usual good judgment ran Norman’s article, but even Homer nods

John V. Walsh can be reached at Read other articles by John, or visit John's websit

Thank the President for Waking the Sleeping Giant

[Thanks to ellwort for sending this to me...]

by Jodie Evans

CODEPINK issued an alert on Thursday, December 3, about the President's West Point speech on Afghanistan and his failure to respond to the many voices calling for peace. We asked people to email the White House to voice their concerns.

The alert had been out for three minutes when the phone rang. My assistant Mark answered, then turned to me and said, "The White House is calling."

I picked up the phone, and discovered it was Jayne in the President's Office of Public Engagement. "How did you feel about the President's speech?" she asked thoughtfully.

I told her I was feeling horrible, that I disagreed with almost everything he said. I said he didn't have the courage to be in his own body as he delivered the words that would cause the deaths of so many and that if he was willing to couch his position in so many untruths then I couldn't believe anything he said - even about why we were there. Really, we are going to send 100,000 troops, over 100,000 contractors and 100 billion dollars to deal with 100 Al Qaeda in Afghanistan? It reminds me of an Afghan woman's tirade to me when I was there, "You want me to believe that the most powerful nation in the world is being held hostage by those skinny, lice covered, illiterate, dirty men in those craggy hills of this broken country?"

Jayne said, "I totally hear what you are saying." She indicated that the President has told them to stay open to all opinions and she understood I might feel that way. And then she came to the purpose of her call. "I want to keep our lines of communication open, but I can't do it if I can't work. I have an email from your list hitting my box every second and can't get any work done. Can you do something about that so our communication can be more productive? Can you send out another alert with a better address?"

I quickly looked at my computer to see how many emails had been sent out from our list and read the most recent:

You have failed the critical test of both a Commander-in-Chief, and of a man: In escalating our eight-year-long military effort to subdue or occupy Afghanistan you have demonstrated neither judgment and integrity nor courage. You have sentenced to death countless Afghans, Americans and others, on our side all duped over and over again by the cynical, high-powered sales pitch attached to our disastrous misadventures in the Middle East, a war which may well be fatal to the republic itself, all to save your political image. --Arthur Wagner

I was transfixed and couldn't help reading more and more of the heartfelt messages.

Obama. There's such a thing as being "too late," as MLK warned. Be now. Be courage. Be for us. Be not for corporate oil/gas/coal and defense machines. Be a father. Be for children, schools and universities. Be for parks and swimming pools. Be for jobs and living wages and food on the table. Be for roofs overhead and safe streets. Be for renewable energy and clean air. Be for fish and frogs, not poisoned by acid rain and pesticides. Be for children in dirt villages where U.S. tanks roam. Be for stopping cluster bombs. Be for returning Iraqi refugees to their homes. Be not for dominion. Be a peacemaker. --Sharon Rose

It was working! Impassioned CODEPINKers all over the globe were being heard inside the White House!

"There is nothing I can do," I told Jayne, "but maybe in your email program you could create a folder they all go to. I assume your system is that sophisticated." I kept reading the messages that continued to fly onto the web page.

We need this money at home. My husband has been unemployed for over a year and we'd have no health insurance except I have it through a job as a university professor, even though I'm retired and lost over a third of my retirement money in the last year. Still we are far better off than most of my fellow citizens. Take care of our own children, elderly, incapacitated, and the soldiers already wounded in these appalling wars--and don't get any other U.S. boys and girls hurt! --(Dr.) Sandra E. Drake

Jayne thanked me and says next time she will consult with us to make our communications work better.

Instead of sending 30,000 troops, how about sending 30,000 Peace Corps workers? That would employ some of our own, work on building up the Afghanistan infrastructure (helping create jobs, building schools and hospitals), and maybe the culture would move toward self-sufficiency and have less hatred of us. Fight hate and terrorism with love and constructive help! --Karen Snyder

I thanked her and said I hoped she would pass the passion of the CODEPINK members on to Obama.

Our war in the border regions is being fought by drone assassinations. A man at the control sits in front of a screen in Las Vegas, and fires when he has a certain shot. To a primitive mind (but not only to a primitive mind), this experiment on a country not our own has the trappings a video game played in hell. But the procedure was here embraced by the president in the antiseptic idiom of a practiced technocrat. He gave no sign of the effects of such killings by a foreign power out of reach in the sky. To assassinate one major operative, Baitullah Mehsud, as Jane Mayer showed in a recent article in the New Yorker, 16 strikes were necessary, over 14 months, killing a total of as many as 538 persons, of whom 200-300 were by-standers. The total number of Muslims killed by Americans in revenge for the attacks of September 11th now numbers more than a hundred thousand. Of those, few were members of Al Qaeda, and few harbored any intention, for good or ill, toward the United States before we crossed the ocean as an occupying power. --Brad Martin

There were more people protesting in the streets this week than we have seen in a long time: at least 80 communities rose up. I asked Jayne to thank the President for waking the sleeping giant and assured her that we will do all we can to make sure he does not get the money from Congress to escalate this senseless war.

Please do not send our children off to die. Would you ever do the same to yours? --Catron Booker

Jodie Evans, a co-founder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace, has been a community, social and political organizer for the last 30 years.

A Word to Husbands, by Ogden Nash

To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.

The Happy Couple - M Stuart

Friday, December 04, 2009

Obama’s speech on Afghanistan: A compendium of lies

[As soon as I flipped on the tube to see this speech I said "HE IS LYING! LOOK AT HIS LYING FACE"...and I don't even hate him like I hated the FuckTard Bush...but he was lying about so it was so obvious]

by Alex Lantier
3 December 2009

In his December 1 speech at West Point announcing the deployment of 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, President Barack Obama attempted to justify a major escalation of a deeply unpopular war on the basis of lies and distortions. That he had to resort to such falsifications reflects both the reactionary character of his policy and the fact that it is being imposed in violation of the popular will.

To justify the escalation, Obama recycled the Bush administration’s myths about the “war on terror.” He cynically presented the US as an altruistic power, forced into a global war for democracy by the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

As he sought to frame US imperialist policy within the template of the “war on terror,” however, his speech descended into utter incoherence.

Obama’s account of the US’ recent wars contradicted his own assertion that Washington was single-mindedly pursuing Al Qaeda. In 2001, he said, the US attacked Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda—though most of the September 11 hijackers were, in fact, from Saudi Arabia, the US’ major Arab ally in the Middle East.

The US invasion was legitimate, he argued, because Afghanistan was Al Qaeda’s base of operations and the Taliban regime harbored and protected the terrorist group.

Obama brushed over the failure of the US invasion to dismantle Al Qaeda by saying that “after escaping across the border into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002, Al Qaeda’s leadership established a safe haven there.”

Thus, from 2002 to 2009, the US pursued wars in Iraq and Afghanistan supposedly directed against Al Qaeda, while the latter was based in another country altogether—Pakistan, a long-standing US ally.

Obama even suggested that Al Qaeda enjoys the protection of sections of the Pakistani state, declaring, “[T]here have been those in Pakistan who have argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan is better off doing little, or seeking accommodation with those who use violence.”

This account raises an obvious and unexplained double standard. If the security of the American people required the US to invade Afghanistan and remove an Al Qaeda-friendly regime there, why shouldn’t the same apply to the government of Pakistan?

Instead, Obama hailed Pakistan as an ally in the struggle against “violent extremism” and called for a US-Pakistan partnership based on “mutual trust.”

This only demonstrates the fraudulent character of the official rationale for the war, which Obama and the rest of the US political establishment know to be a tissue of lies.

Then there is the question of the Afghan government in whose defense the US is supposedly waging war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. While initially praising the regime of President Hamid Karzai as a “legitimate government,” Obama went on to acknowledge that it suffers from “corruption, the drug trade, an underdeveloped economy, and insufficient security forces.”

In a display of utter cynicism, he claimed that Karzai’s recent reelection, universally recognized as the outcome of fraud and ballot-stuffing, had nevertheless produced a legitimate government. “Although it was marred by fraud,” Obama said, “that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and Constitution.”

Obama’s attempts to give noble-sounding reasons for deploying 30,000 more US troops were as sinister as they were self-contradictory. In Orwellian style, he told the Afghan people, who have already suffered US occupation for eight years, “We have no interest in occupying your country.”

He contrasted the US’ allegedly benevolent attitude towards Afghanistan with the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979-1989. In fact, the US has manipulated Afghan politics for 30 years.

Beginning in 1979, the US financed and backed Islamic fundamentalist resistance to the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul, with the aim of provoking a Soviet invasion. Thus the US was politically complicit in millions of Afghan deaths during the Soviet occupation and the civil war that followed. The Islamist forces Washington is fighting today in Afghanistan largely descend from groups it supported against the Soviets in the 1980s.

Amid wars that have cost over a million lives and have involved the widespread use of torture at US-run prisons, Obama insisted that US policy will “tend to the light of freedom, and justice, and opportunity, and respect for the dignity of all peoples.”

Obama boasted of having ended torture—an empty and false claim belied by reports of ongoing torture at US prisons in Afghanistan and elsewhere, as well as Obama’s continuation of rendition and his opposition to any investigation of government officials who ordered and oversaw the use of torture.

He reiterated his pledge to close Guantanamo, but was silent on his insistence that US torture prisons in Afghanistan, such as at the Bagram military base, remain open.

The central lie in Obama’s speech, however, was the claim that his escalation plans would allow US troops to return quickly from Afghanistan, starting in 2011.

In fact, as Obama indicated elsewhere in his speech, this escalation is one step in plans for even broader wars. “The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly,” he said, “and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Mentioning Somalia and Yemen as potential targets, he added, “our effort will involve disorderly regions and diffuse enemies.”

The inclusion of this passage made clear that Obama was basing his Afghan policy on a report issued last month by Anthony Cordesman of the influential Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Cordesman wrote: “The President must be frank about the fact that any form of victory in Afghanistan and Pakistan will be part of a much wider and longer struggle. He must make it clear that the ideological, demographic, governance, economic, and other pressures that divide the Islamic world mean the world will face threats in many other nations that will endure indefinitely into the future. He should mention the risks in Yemen and Somalia, make it clear that the Iraq war is not over, and warn that we will still face both a domestic threat and a combination of insurgency and terrorism that will continue to extend from Morocco to the Philippines, and from Central Asia deep into Africa, regardless of how well we do in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

He added: “…the present level of US, allied, Afghan and Pakistani casualties will almost certainly double and probably more than triple before something approaching victory is won.”

In short, the US will be fighting immensely costly wars over a considerable portion of the earth’s surface, in regions stretching thousands of miles in every direction.

Reduced to its essentials, the perspective of Obama and his advisors is a future of endless war to maintain the US’ position as the global hegemon. Beyond the questions of controlling oil revenues and trade routes in the Middle East and Central Asia, what is at stake is the US’ position as a world power. Like the British withdrawal from Suez in 1956-1957, a forced US withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a devastating blow to Washington’s prestige.

Obama’s Afghan policy arises from this dynamic of US imperialism: Since retreat at any point threatens catastrophe, he chooses ever-expanding escalation.

Harvard Law Record: The two party ballot suppresses third party change

51 years since Ralph Nader began critiquing ballot access for third parties, problems remain

By Theresa Amato

Published: Friday, December 4, 2009

In October 1958, Ralph Nader, then a recently-graduated, former editor of the Harvard Law Record, co-authored an article (reproduced below) decrying the monopolistic practices of the Democratic and Republican parties on state ballot laws and their ill effects on minor parties. In defense of political dissent and the engagement of new proposals, Nader noted the “many times in our history” minor parties had “deeply stirred opinion.” It was easier in the 19th century for regional or small start-up parties to get on the ballot and infuse elections with ideas such as the abolition of slavery, a woman’s right to vote, worker and farmer reforms—all of which we take for granted today, though the minor parties first advocating these rights did not win the presidency.

Five decades later, Mr. Nader, now an internationally-renowned consumer advocate, has announced his candidacy for the U.S. presidency three times, twice as an Independent and once on the Green Party ticket. His prescient words concerning the suppression of minor parties and dissenting agendas remain even more accurate today as they were fifty-one years ago.

I have an intimate knowledge of these ballot access burdens because I managed the Nader’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns and had to navigate through these laws and oversee or instigate nearly four dozen lawsuits to defend against or seek reform of their ill effects. Indeed, in 2004—motivated by the 537-vote difference between Al Gore, Jr. and George W. Bush in Florida in 2000—the Democrats and their allies launched two dozen complaints in 12 weeks against Nader’s candidacy, consuming the time, energy and resources of the 2004 campaign, which was, in addition to blocking ballot access, the expressed goal of these major party political bigots and their brethren. The litigious onslaught targeted Nader’s candidacy simply because he, like all eight minor party candidates on the ballot, received more than 537 votes: but he received the most and was positioned to appeal to voters again with a progressive agenda.

Today, as in 1958, ballot access for minor parties and Independents remains convoluted and discriminatory. Though certain state ballot access statutes are better, and a few Supreme Court decisions (Williams v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23 (1968), Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780 (1983)) have been generally favorable, on the whole, the process—and the cumulative burden it places on these federal candidates—may be best described as antagonistic. The jurisprudence of the Court remains hostile to minor party and Independent candidates, and this antipathy can be seen in at least a half dozen cases decided since Nader’s article, including Jenness v. Fortson, 403 U.S. 431 (1971), American Party of Tex. v. White, 415 U.S. 767 (1974), Munro v. Socialist Workers Party, 479 U.S. 189 (1986), Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428 (1992), and Arkansas Ed. Television Comm'n v. Forbes, 523 U.S. 666 (1998).

Justice Rehnquist, for example, writing for a 6-3 divided Court in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U.S. 351 (1997), spells out the Court’s bias for the “two-party system,” even though the word “party” is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. He wrote that “The Constitution permits the Minnesota Legislature to decide that political stability is best served through a healthy two-party system. And while an interest in securing the perceived benefits of a stable two-party system will not justify unreasonably exclusionary restrictions, States need not remove all the many hurdles third parties face in the American political arena today.” 520 U.S. 351, 366-67.

This license, in effect, to discriminate against third parties and Independents—as well as the Court’s general reluctance to require much substantiation of “state interests” when states proffer that rationale to defend discriminatory laws—have not made it easy to be an Independent or the candidate of a Green, Libertarian, Socialist or Constitution Party, not to mention all the others. Moreover, the Court has left unreviewed outright miscarriages of justice, as Nader knows from his half dozen unheard petitions to the Court springing from his 2004 campaign.

The burdens faced by minor party and Independent candidates are systemic. First, there are 51 different sets of Byzantine rules, written the by the partisan members of the legislatures of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. As the major parties are usually automatically on the ballot, the partisan legislators show little concern for leveling the ballot access playing field for challengers to their incumbency or parties.

Second, many of these ballot access laws are blatantly unconstitutional—as in they have already been held by the courts to be so, but the administrators of the elections cannot get their own state’s legislatures to bring the election codes into compliance with judicial rulings. (We found this to be the case in multiple states, including Alaska, Arkansas, California, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.)

Third, election officials in the thousands of state and local jurisdictions administering these state laws controlling federal elections often don’t know what their own ballot access laws contain or mean or are reluctant to tell candidates their meaning for fear of being sued.

Fourth, compliance with the laws may be overseen by partisan civil servants, commissions, or courts, and we encountered all of the above in the adjudication of our cases, including egregious examples of partisanship—such as the use of the denial of ballot access as a partisan fundraising promotion by the then-Secretary of State of Oregon.

Finally, the aggregate of these ballot access laws, either cumulatively by state, or even within a state, as alluded to by Justice O’Connor in her concurrence in Clingman v. Beaver, 544 U.S. 581 (2005), may be overwhelmingly burdensome.

Of course, ballot access is just one of the burdens faced by third party and Independent candidates. Others include the federal regulatory system, the lack of public financing, the often dismissive if not derisive media, the Democrat and Republican cartel otherwise known as the Commission on Presidential Debates, which acts as a debate and media gatekeeper to millions. Also, the hodgepodge of irregular and inconsistent laws can devalue the rights of a voter or candidate (from what counts as a vote to who is entitled to seek an audit) depending on the particular state jurisdiction in charge of administering the peculiar state laws applying to federal elections.

Ten years ago, The Appleseed Center for Electoral Reform and the Harvard Legislative Research Bureau published in the Harvard Journal on Legislation "A Model Act for the Democratization of Ballot Access", 36 Harv. J. on Legis. 451 (1999). A decade later, not a single state has, and the problems remain.

In my recent book, Grand Illusion, the Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny, I contend that a better response would be to federalize federal ballot access laws by creating one federal statute applicable to all federal elections. (State laws written to control the processes for candidates for Congress are often as bad, indeed worse than presidential ballot access laws, with some voters never having the chance to vote for Independent candidates for Congress because of their harsh state ballot access laws.)

Since 1985, a few members of Congress—John Conyers, D-MI (e.g. HR 2320, HR 1582), Ron Paul, R-TX (e.g. HR 3600), and Tim Penny, DFL-MN (e.g. HR 1755)—have attempted over nine sessions to introduce federal legislation to ease these burdens for either or both congressional and presidential candidates. Congress has shown that it can exercise control over federal elections where necessary by passing federal legislation to regulate a variety of aspects including registration (the “Motor Voter” Act), provisional ballots and state registration databases (the Help America Vote Act), and most recently absentee ballots for those abroad (the MOVE Act (Military and Overseas Voting Empowerment)).

The prospect of passing a federal law (which has been introduced in some incarnation and voted out of committee and received a floor vote at least once in the House in the last two decades) is dim, but greater than the nonexistent movement for passage of a state model ballot access law, which has seen no success in the last decade.
The question we should be asking is why we continue to permit this injustice when no other western country puts its third party and Independent candidates through the kind of hazing process ours does? The congressional incumbency rate (routinely in the 90th percentile) reflects the often uncontested or merely predictable-by-landslide-proportions state of our congressional elections.

These uncompetitive elections can be impregnable for many reasons, not the least of which are gerrymandered districts, a winner-take-all or first-past-the-post electoral system, and the lack of a choice-maximizing vote counting system, such as instant runoff or ranked choice voting.

The lack of candidate and programmatic choice are also to blame, and for that we can look at the still onerous ballot access laws Nader warned of in 1958 and the ignominious role those laws have played in narrowing voters’ options by dictating the flipside of those choices—candidates’ rights to run on a level playing field. Improved third party and Independent candidate rights— by invigorating and diversifying voter choices—will give citizens more meaningful elections.

Theresa Amato is a public interest lawyer and was national campaign manager and in-house counsel for Ralph Nader in 2000 and 2004. She, is a graduate of Harvard College and NYU Law, a former Wasserstein Fellow at HLS and an Institute of Politics Fellow at the Kennedy School. Her book, Grand Illusion: the Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny, based on her experiences with the Nader campaign, was published this year by The New Press.

Do Third Parties Have a Chance? Ballot Access and Minority Parties (1958)

The following is an excerpt from an article by Ralph Nader ’58 and Theodore Jacobs ’58, published in the Harvard Law Record on Oct. 9, 1958. Mr. Jacobs passed away on Aug. 7, 1998, of a neuromuscular degenerative ailment.

Most people will agree, as a general proposition, that our democratic faith is reflected in our treatment of minorities. But, as so often happens with national professions, it is in the translation of these declarations into actual practice [...]

In state after state there is a practical monopoly of the ballot by the Democratic and Republican parties. The perpetuation of this monopoly is insured by laws which subject the entry of new or minority party slates to the ballot to almost impossible burdens, and by judicial interpretation of these laws which ignore their prejudicial effect on small parties. [...]

What requirements must a small party or independent group meet in order to place its candidates on the ballot? There are 48 different answers to this question. Each state has its distinctive statutes, ranging from liberal to harsh, [...]

Without taking into account all the minor variations in the several states, three main aspects of the independent nominating petition may be treated: (1) The number of signatures required; (2) Apportionment of these signatures throughout the state; (3) Stipulations concerning authentication of signatures and restrictions on persons who sign petitions.

In its Model Election Law, the American Civil Liberties Union urged that minor parties be required to accumulate signatures equivalent to only one-tenth of one percent of the total vote cast [...] Compare this standard with the requirements of 2 percent in Missouri (36,000 votes), 3 percent in Massachusetts (71,643 votes), 5 percent in California (259,000 votes) and 7 percent in Ohio (259,000 votes).

What do cats do all day?

[Thanks to Kevin for this link]

Felines don't nap as much you’d think, but they love looking out windows...
Pets Cat Cams
Leo-Hector was one of 50 house cats outfitted with collar cameras that took a photo every 15 minutes. The results put a digital dent in some human theories about catnapping.

What do cats do when their owners are away? There was one way to find out — "cat cams."

Fifty house cats were given collar cameras that took a photo every 15 minutes. The results put a digital dent in some human theories about catnapping.

Based on the photos, about 22 percent of the cats' time was spent looking out of windows, 12 percent was used to interact with other family pets and 8 percent was spent climbing on chairs or kitty condos. Just 6 percent of their hours were spent sleeping.

"What surprised me was how active the cats were. I believed my three cats were sleeping during the day," said Jill Villarreal, an animal behavior scientist who collected the data for Nestle Purina PetCare's Friskies brand of cat food.

The 777 photos studied by Villarreal showed the cats looking at a television, computer, DVDs or other media 6 percent of the time and hiding under tables 6 percent of the time.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Nader on Afghanistan...

Misusing professional cadets at West Point as a political prop, President Barack Obama delivered his speech on the Afghanistan war forcefully but with fearful undertones. He chose to escalate this undeclared war with at least 30,000 more soldiers plus an even larger number of corporate contractors.

He chose the path the military-industrial complex wanted. The “military” planners, whatever their earlier doubts about the quagmire, once in, want to prevail. The “industrial” barons because their sales and profits rise with larger military budgets.

A majority of Americans are opposed or skeptical about getting deeper into a bloody, costly fight in the mountains of central Asia while facing recession, unemployment, foreclosures, debt and deficits at home. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), after hearing Mr. Obama’s speech said, “Why is it that war is a priority but the basic needs of people in this country are not?”

Let’s say needs like waking up to do something about 60,000 fatalities a year in our country related to workplace diseases and trauma. Or 250 fatalities a day due to hospital induced infections, or 100,000 fatalities a year due to hospital malpractice, or 45,000 fatalities a year due to the absence of health insurance to pay for treatment, or, or, or, even before we get into the economic poverty and deprivation. Any Obama national speeches on these casualties?

Back to the West Point teleprompter speech. If this is the product of a robust internal Administration debate, the result was the same cookie-cutter, Vietnam approach of throwing more soldiers at a poorly analyzed situation. In September, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen told an American Legion Convention, “I’ve seen the public opinion polls saying that a majority of Americans don’t support the effort at all. I say, good. Let’s have the debate, let’s have that discussion.”

Where? Not in Congress. There were only rubberstamps and grumbles; certainly nothing like the Fulbright Senate hearings on the Vietnam War.

Where else? Not in the influential commercial media. Forget jingoistic television and radio other than the satire of Jon Stewart plus an occasional non-commercial Bill Moyers show or rare public radio commentary. Not in the op-ed pages of The New York Times and the Washington Post.

A FAIR study published in the organization’s monthly newsletter EXTRA reports that of all opinion columns in The New York Times and the Washington Post over the first 10 months of 2009, thirty-six out of forty-three columns on the Afghanistan War in the Times supported the war while sixty-one of the sixty-seven Post columns supported a continued war.

So what would a rigorous public and internal administration debate have highlighted? First, the more occupation forces there are, the more they fuel the insurgency against the occupation, especially since so many more civilians than fighters lose their lives. Witness the wedding parties, villagers, and innocent bystanders blown up by the U.S. military’s superior weaponry.

Second, there was a remarkable absence in Obama’s speech about the tribal conflicts and the diversity of motivations of those he lumped under the name of “Taliban.” Some are protecting their valleys, others are in the drug trade, others want to drive out the occupiers, others are struggling for supremacy between the Pashtuns on one side and the Tajiks and Uzbeks on the other (roughly the south against the north). The latter has been the substance of a continuing civil war for many years.

Third, how can Obama’s plan begin to work, requiring a stable, functioning Afghan government—which now is largely a collection of illicit businesses milking the graft, which grows larger in proportion to what the American taxpayers have to spend there—and the disorganized, untrained Afghan army—mainly composed of Tajiks and Uzbeks loathed by the Pashtuns.

Fourth, destroying or capturing al Qaeda attackers in Afghanistan ignores Obama’s own intelligence estimates. Many observers believe al Qaeda has gone to Pakistan or elsewhere. The New York Times reports that “quietly, Mr. Obama has authorized an expansion of the war in Pakistan as well—if only he can get a weak, divided, suspicious Pakistani government to agree to the terms.”

Hello! Congress did not authorize a war in Pakistan, so does Obama, like Bush, just decree what the Constitution requires to be authorized by the legislative branch? Can we expect another speech at the Air Force Academy on the Pakistan war?

Fifth, as is known, al Qaeda is a transnational movement. Highly mobile, when it is squeezed. As Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, the former CIA officer operating in Pakistan, said: “There is no direct impact on stopping terrorists around the world because we are or are not in Afghanistan.” He argues that safe havens can be moved to different countries, as has indeed happened since 9/11.

Sixth, the audacity of hope in Obama’s speech was illustrated by his unconvincing date of mid-2011 for beginning the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan. The tendered exit strategy, tied to unspecified conditions, was a bone he tossed to his shaky liberal base.

The White House recently said it costs $1 million a year to keep each single soldier in Afghanistan. Take one fifth of that sum and connect with the tribal chiefs to build public facilities in transportation, agriculture, schools, clinics, public health, and safe drinking water.

Thus strengthened, these tribal leaders know how to establish order. This is partly what Ashraf Ghani, the former respected Afghan finance minister and former American anthropology professor, called concrete “justice” as the way to undermine insurgency.

Withdraw the occupation, which now is pouring gasoline on the fire. Bring back the saved four-fifths of that million dollars per soldier to America and provide these and other soldiers with tuition for their education and training.

The principal authority in Afghanistan is tribal. Provide the assistance, based on stage-by-stage performance, and the tribal leaders obtain a stake in stability. Blown apart by so many foreign invaders—British, Soviet, American—and internally riven, the people in the countryside look to tribal security as the best hope for a nation that has not known unity for decades.

Lifting the fog of war allows other wiser policies urged by experienced people to be considered for peace and security.

Rather than expanding a boomeranging war, this alternative has some probability of modest success unlike the sure, mounting loss of American and Afghani lives and resources.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

California spends millions of dollars trying to wipe out a plant that's already sanctioned

alifornia Officials Target Big Marijuana Growers
December 1, 2009
Second of a two-part report
Retired Humboldt Sheriff Steve Cobine hiked into rugged terrain to destroy illegal marijuana grows.
Enlarge Mandalit del Barco/NPRMembers of the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) task force, like Steve Cobine, will often hike into rugged terrain to destroy illegal marijuana grows. Illegal grows are often guarded by scarecrows, mannequins, rat traps and, at times, the crop's gardeners — though officers rarely catch anyone in the act.

Mandalit del Barco/NPR

Members of the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) task force, like Steve Cobine, will often hike into rugged terrain to destroy illegal marijuana grows. Illegal grows are often guarded by scarecrows, mannequins, rat traps and, at times, the crop's gardeners — though officers rarely catch anyone in the act.
December 1, 2009

These days, medical marijuana clinics are popping up like weeds in California. Los Angeles alone has nearly 1,000 places where, with a doctor's note, you can legally buy pot.
But the illegal side of marijuana is also thriving. Authorities say it's partly because all those pot clinics have boosted the demand. That means the state spends millions of dollars trying to wipe out a plant that's already sanctioned.
The Eyes Are Watching
For decades, a task force of lawmen has been parachuting into some of the most rugged sections of California. For a week at a time, they search for and destroy as much pot as they can find. They call it the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, or CAMP.
On a recent day, NPR joined CAMP in a helicopter to hunt for cannabis in Humboldt County in Northern California.
It takes a trained eye to see the plants, because they're hidden in the trees. Circling over a dense stand of redwood trees, we spot some. Then we head for the landing zone.
Retired Humboldt County Sheriff's Lt. Steve Cobine says cultivating cannabis is now a big business in state forests and private timberlands.
"It has a distinctive color — emerald green," says Cobine. "You can't miss it."
We hike to one of the places we spotted from the air, clearing a path along the way with machetes. Every few feet, there's a marijuana plant. There are rat traps set, and poison to keep away any rodents from eating the plants. And there are long drip lines — irrigation lines that water these plants.
Cobine says pot growers will camp out at illegal sites like this for months to secretly cultivate and harvest marijuana. Sometimes they try to scare people away with mannequins, or scarecrows wearing clothing.
"It wakes you up," says Cobine. "You never think you're alone. At least I know I don't."
Eyes could be watching at all times, he says. The growers run off and hide in the brush — though they can't get far.
But Cobine says CAMP rarely catches anyone in the act. The growers are often armed, and have been known to shoot at anyone who comes near.
"We're always finding guns," he says. "We found three last week in a garden. One was a Beretta 9mm, one was a government .45 automatic pistol."
The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, or CAMP, uses helicopters to spot marijuana grown illegally
Enlarge Mandalit del Barco/NPRCAMP uses helicopters to spot marijuana grown illegally on public land. The plant's emerald green color stands out from the forest, though it can still be difficult to see.

Mandalit del Barco/NPR

CAMP uses helicopters to spot marijuana grown illegally on public land. The plant's emerald green color stands out from the forest, though it can still be difficult to see.

'All Races, Creeds, Colors'
Many of these illegal marijuana fields are the work of major drug cartels, says Jack Nelsen, a special agent with California's Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement.
"It's all races, creeds, colors," he says. "Everyone's growing. We've got it all going on."
Nelsen says Asian drug trafficking organizations grow marijuana in national forests, and Hispanic operations grow mostly on private lands. Others grow marijuana in illegal indoor greenhouses.
"We used to call them guerrilla grows, the white boy grows," Nelsen says. "Those are generally smaller, very high-quality large plants — not thousands of plants like the Hispanic drug operations."
According to Nelsen, the so-called Hispanic drug cartels have upward of 100,000 plants at any given grow.
"Hispanic grows sometimes look like cornfields," he says. "But the Asian drug trafficking organizations tend to plant on very, very steep areas."
Nelsen says the marijuana business exploded after California voters passed Proposition 215. The state now allows people to use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation, known as a 215 card.
"Everyone's got a medical recommendation in Humboldt County," he says, half joking. "It's the Humboldt County insurance policy. You can carry 3 pounds in your car with a recommendation. They think."
The local and state legalities are quite confusing, Nelsen says.
"Because of the loopholes and, especially in this county, how liberal the view is on how many plants you can have and how much marijuana you can have in your house, we've become an area many out-of-staters flock to. I call it the green rush."
Seized marijuana plants are hauled out of the desolate areas and buried 10 feet below the ground.
Enlarge Mandalit del Barco/NPRSeized marijuana plants are hauled out of desolate areas and buried 10 feet below the ground in undisclosed locations. In 2009, CAMP found and destroyed more than 4 million plants from around California, but that is likely only a dent in the crop of illegally grown marijuana plants.

Mandalit del Barco/NPR
Seized marijuana plants are hauled out of desolate areas and buried 10 feet below the ground in undisclosed locations. In 2009, CAMP found and destroyed more than 4 million plants from around California, but that is likely only a dent in the crop of illegally grown marijuana plants.
Limited Police Resources
Local police say they don't have time or resources to arrest every small-time marijuana grower in Humboldt. District Attorney Paul Gallegos says he'd rather go after the bigger growers.
"Our priority is business people," he says from his office in Eureka, Calif. "If you're growing for yourself, really, that's against the law. But why am I interested in that? I still have to enforce the laws, but you're low priority for me."
Humboldt County Sheriff Gary Philp says it's difficult to track down the larger growers, the cartels.
"What are we gonna do if we arrest two or three people that are out there tending a garden that really aren't the kingpins of it?" he asks. "They're just stuck there. They don't know whose garden it really is."
Despite Humboldt being one of the biggest marijuana suppliers in the country, Philp says he can only afford to assign one full-time deputy in charge of drug enforcement.
"With the limited resources, we're doing the best we can," Philp says. "But a county such as ours, we're 3,500 square miles — some very remote, rugged areas — and we're not under any misconception that we're just out there getting all that stuff. ... I mean, we're making a dent, but yeah, it's difficult."
'Part Of Me Wants Marijuana Legalized'
As authorities try to crack down on illegal marijuana growers, the demand for pot continues, especially since medical marijuana is now legal in California. But buying and selling is still illegal, even at the pot dispensaries.
And the federally funded eradication continues.
This year, CAMP hauled in 4.5 million plants from around California. But Cobine admits that's a tiny percentage of what's really out there.
"We're just keeping a lid on it so it doesn't go crazy," Cobine says.
Instead of burning the confiscated plants like they used to do, Sheriff's Sgt. Wayne Hanson says they bury them in undisclosed locations.
"Basically, [a] marijuana plant's 90 percent water," he says. "So we dig a hole 10 feet down, throw a bunch of soil on it, and it's basically destroyed then, just by the compression of the earth."
As they haul off a truckload of confiscated plants, Hanson makes a somewhat surprising admission.
"Part of me wants marijuana legalized," he says, "'cause it would take away the wealth and the greed and the violence."
But he says it would have to be legalized in all of the U.S., not just California. "Cause if it gets legalized in California, you'd have all the riffraff coming to California to make money to sell to the other 49 states," he says.
Napa Valley Of Pot
Back in town, some envision the day when Humboldt County becomes the center for weed connoisseurs, a sort of Napa Valley of pot.
College student Lydia Katz says he looks at the yearly CAMP eradication and thinks, "What a waste."
"When I see people that are just chopping it down and destroying marijuana, I cry deep down inside," Katz says outside a pot dispensary in Humboldt County. "I wish they understood exactly how much of a benefit this plant could bring to them, to their loved ones and to the rest of the world. Legalization would fix our economy in a second."
Katz and others say it's high time to decriminalize, regulate and tax marijuana. By some estimates, it's already the biggest cash crop in California.

Also see: Marijuana Sales Boost Northern California County

30,000 more troops to Afghanistan - War is for MORONS!

Obama: "We Did Not Ask for This Fight"
Bush: "We Did Not Seek This Conflict"

Obama: "New Attacks are Being Plotted as I Speak"
Bush: "At This Moment ... Terrorists are Planning New Attacks"

Obama: "Our Cause is Just, Our Resolve Unwavering"
Bush: "Our Cause is Just, Our Coalition [is] Determined"

Obama: "This Is No Idle Danger, No Hypothetical Threat"
Bush: "The Enemies of Freedom Are Not Idle"

Obama: "We Have No Interest in Occupying Your Country"
Bush: "I Wouldn't Be Happy if I Were Occupied Either"

U.S. troop killed in Afghanistan brings
death toll to 300 so far this year

CodePink | SDS | United for Peace & Justice | World Can't Wait
*** World Can't Wait Live Blogging from West Point ***

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Dwight Clark returns to 49ers' front office

By Daniel Brown

Posted: 12/01/2009 07:34:33 PM PSTUpdated: 12/01/2009 10:30:01 PM PST

Dwight Clark is back where he began.

The 49ers announced Tuesday that the man who came down with "The Catch" will serve as the team's business-operations consultant.

Clark will focus on special projects relating to corporate hospitality, community investment, premium seating and the new stadium sales effort, according to the 49ers.

"I am extremely excited and grateful to the 49ers organization for giving me the opportunity to once again be a part of the 49ers family," Clark said in a prepared statement released by the team. "The franchise is most definitely pointed in the right direction. I look forward to every contribution I can make on the business side."

Clark played for the 49ers from 1979-87, twice making the Pro Bowl. His 6,750 receiving yards rank third in team history.

Of course, his most famous grab was a 6-yard scoring pass from Joe Montana to beat the Dallas Cowboys 28-27 in the NFC title game after the 1981 season.

Clark was the 49ers' general manager in 1998 and served in the same role for the Cleveland Browns from 1998-2002.

Andy Dolich, the team's operating officer said in a prepared statement: "The impact he has already made in regards to the history of the 49ers has been remarkable and we are confident he will bring the same effect to our business operations as well."

Fullback Brit Miller was activated to the 49ers' active roster as the team placed safety Curtis Taylor on the season-ending injured-reserve list.

Miller spent training camp with the 49ers and had a nice preseason before being among the final cuts. The 49ers had claimed him off waivers from the Carolina Panthers in July.

Taylor, a seventh-round pick in April, sustained a hip strain against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday and was carted off the field.

To fill Miller's spot on the practice squad, the 49ers signed Rodney White, a 5-foot-9, 181-pound receiver who played for the San Jose SaberCats from 2005-08. He was on the Kansas City Chiefs' practice squad until being released Sept. 16.

# Patrick Willis is the top vote-getter among NFC linebackers, according to a Pro Bowl update released by the NFL today.

Willis has 182,196 votes. Saints quarterback Drew Brees leads all NFC players with 848,624 votes.

Voting continues at and on web-enabled mobile photes through Dec. 21.

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