"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

Covert US Military Strategy on Iran

In Uncategorized on May 29, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Oldspeak: Apparently there is a another reason for the continued U.S. presence in Af/Pak. “The Americans said Iran was going its own way and they said their problem at the present is Iran… not Al-Qaeda and not the Taliban, but the main problem is Iran…. they (the U.S.) would cooperate with us and will give me (captured Iranian Jundallah leader Abdolmalek Rigi) military equipment, arms and machine guns. They also promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan next to Iran”

From Robert Parry @ Consortium News:

Hawks in the United States and Israel appear set on “regime change” in Iran, pursuing a game plan similar to the run-up to war in Iraq, ratcheting up tensions while frustrating opportunities for a peaceful settlement.

In the latest example, the New York Times on Tuesday published a leaked account of an order signed by U.S. Central Command chief, Gen. David Petraeus, expanding “clandestine military activity in an effort to disrupt militant groups to counter threats in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries in the region.”

In most of those countries, the secret U.S. military operations would be intended to help U.S. allies combat anti-government militants. However, in Iran, the goal would be to make contact with opposition forces, according to the Times article by Mark Mazzetti.

“Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate,” the article said.

The leaking of Petraeus’s order — which was signed almost eight months ago on Sept. 30, 2009 — follows a May 17 tripartite agreement among Iran, Brazil and Turkey that called for Iran exporting 2,640 pounds of low-enriched uranium (LEU) – about half its supply – to Turkey in exchange for higher-enriched uranium that could only be used for peaceful purposes.

Though the new accord paralleled a tentative agreement that the Obama administration brokered last fall with Iran, hawks inside the U.S. government and the American news media quickly went to work ripping the deal apart.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva were portrayed as ambitious neophytes striving for a spot in the international limelight, with their oversized egos making them easy marks for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Even before the agreement was announced, the Washington Post’s neoconservative editors had framed the story as a case of two out-of-their-league regional leaders getting sucked into “yet another effort to ‘engage’ the extremist clique of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

After the deal’s announcement, the Post rushed out an analysis with the headline, “Iran creates illusion of progress in nuclear negotiations.” Its main points were that the 2,640 pounds now accounted for a smaller percentage of Iran’s low-enriched uranium than last fall; that Iran would retain enough LEU so it could theoretically be refined to a purity needed to build one bomb; and that Iran was not abandoning its proclaimed right to enrich uranium for what it says are peaceful purposes.

Quickly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration hawks began belittling and undermining the accord, too.

The following day, Clinton claimed that Russia and China had signed onto “a strong draft” for new sanctions against Iran. “This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide,” she declared.

Even a week later, the mockery of the two Brazilian and Turkish leaders continued. On Tuesday, the New York Times ran a headline, “Iran Deal Seen as Spot on Brazilian Leader’s Legacy,” giving Lula da Silva’s critics pretty much a free shot to hit him over his supposed stumble.

“The most charitable interpretation is that we were naïve,” said Amaury de Souza, a political analyst in Rio de Janeiro. But “in a game like this, being labeled naïve just shows you have a third-rate diplomacy.”

An Obama Letter?

Yet, while the U.S. news media engaged in Brazil-Turkey bashing, little or no attention was paid to a Reuters report from Brasilia that said President Barack Obama had sent a letter to President da Silva encouraging Brazil to move forward on the uranium swap.

“From our point of view, a decision by Iran to send 1,200 kilograms [2,640 pounds] of low-enriched uranium abroad, would generate confidence and reduce regional tensions by cutting Iran’s stockpile,” Obama said, according to excerpts from the letter translated into Portuguese and seen by Reuters.

Brazilian officials claimed that Obama’s letter was just of one of the signs that dovish officials in Washington and other Western countries had quietly encouraged Brazil to help revive last October’s fuel swap deal.

“We were encouraged directly or indirectly … to implement the October proposal without any leeway and that’s what we did,” said Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.

In other words, Obama may not be enthusiastic about forcing a showdown with Iran, but the policy now appears to be driven by the American hawks and the Israeli government. They behave as if they’re spoiling for a fight with another Muslim country that is considered a threat to Israel, despite the fact that Israel has a huge nuclear arsenal of its own, with some 200 to 400 warheads and posssessing missiles and planes to deliver them.

Iran also has been the object of open discussions inside Israel and within neoconservative circles in the United States about the desirability of a preemptive military strike aimed at destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities and encouraging an uprising that would oust the current government.

Fueling Fears

The leaking of Petraeus’s order for special operations within Iran will surely fuel the fears of the Iranian Islamic government, which took power in 1979 after ousting the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran, who had been installed by a CIA-organized coup in 1953. Even earlier, Great Britain, Russia and other world powers had intervened in Iranian affairs.

So, one casualty from the Petraeus-order leak could be the Iran-Brazil-Turkey accord. However, Iran still pressed forward with the agreement on Monday, formally notifying the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Still, the New York Times ’ account on Tuesday could convince Iran that its only protection is the construction of an atomic bomb, which in turn could exacerbate tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Regarding the secret U.S. military actions, the Times reported that Petraeus’s seven-page order “appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country’s nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive.

“The Obama administration insists that for the moment, it is committed to penalizing Iran for its nuclear activities only with diplomatic and economic sanctions. Nevertheless, the Pentagon has to draw up detailed war plans to be prepared in advance, in the event that President Obama ever authorizes a strike.”

The Times quoted one Pentagon official with knowledge of Petraeus’s directive as saying: “The Defense Department can’t be caught flat-footed.”

Petraeus’s just-disclosed directive was issued on Sept. 30, 2009, a date that closely coincides with Iran’s original uranium-swap agreement, which had been under negotiation for weeks but was announced on Oct. 1.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad initially supported the swap accord and agreed to a follow-up meeting on Oct. 19 in Vienna.

However, the deal came under criticism from Iran’s opposition groups, including the “Green Movement” led by defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has had ties to the American neocons and to Israelsince the Iran-Contra days of the 1980s when he was the prime minister who collaborated on those secret arms deals.

Last October, Mousavi’s U.S.-favored political opposition deemed the swap agreement an affront to Iran’s sovereignty. But Ahmadinejad’s opponents also stood to lose politically if tensions between Iran and other nations declined.

Also, as former CIA analyst Ray McGovern has noted, the prospects of the follow-up session were damaged on Oct. 18 when a car bombing and an ambush in Iran left several Iranian Revolutionary Guards commanders dead along with other officers and civilians.

A terrorist group called Jundullah took credit for the attacks, which followed years of killing Revolutionary Guards and Iranian policemen and an attempted ambush of President Ahmadinejad’s motorcade in 2005.

Tehran has long maintained that Jundullah is supported by the United States, Great Britain and Israel. Now, the newly disclosed fact that this bloody attack followed Petraeus’s secret order by only 18 days is likely to heighten Iranian suspicions even more.

A Captured Leader

Iranian authorities captured Jundallah leader Abdolmalek Rigi in February and publicized his claims that the United States had promised his group military help in its insurgency against Iran’s Islamic Republic.

Rigi described contacts in March 2009, claiming that U.S. representatives “said they would cooperate with us and will give me military equipment, arms and machine guns. They also promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan next to Iran.”

Rigi asserted that the U.S. representatives said a direct U.S. attack on Iran would be too costly and that the CIA instead favored supporting militant groups that could destabilize Iran.

“The Americans said Iran was going its own way and they said our problem at the present is Iran… not al-Qaeda and not the Taliban, but the main problem is Iran,” Rigi said, according to Iran’s Press TV.

“One of the CIA officers said that it was too difficult for us [the United States] to attack Iran militarily, but we plan to give aid and support to all anti-Iran groups that have the capability to wage war and create difficulty for the Iranian (Islamic) system,” Rigi said.

Rigi added that the Americans said they were willing to provide support “at an extensive level.” However, in the Press TV’s account, Rigi did not describe any specific past U.S. support for his organization.

In a July 7, 2008, article for The New Yorker, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh quoted Robert Baer, a former CIA clandestine officer who worked in South Asia and the Middle East for nearly two decades, as saying that Jundallah was one of the militant groups in Iran benefiting from U.S. support.

Hersh also reported that President George W. Bush signed an intelligence finding in late 2007 that allocated up to $400 million for covert operations intended to destabilize Iran’s government, in part, by supporting militant organizations.

Hersh identified another militant group with “long-standing ties” to the CIA and the U.S. Special Operations communities as the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK, which has been put on the State Department’s list of terrorist groups.

But Jundallah has been spared that designation, a possible indication that the U.S. government views it as a valuable asset in the face-off against Iran, or in the parlance of the “war on terror,” as one of the “good guys.”

Gen. Mizra Aslam, Pakistan’s former Army chief, also has charged that the U.S. has been supporting Jundallah with training and other assistance. But the U.S. government denies that it has aided Rigi or his group.

Whatever the truth about the alleged U.S. backing for Jundallah, its Oct. 18, 2009, attack on the Revolutionary Guards does appear to have disrupted Iran’s readiness to move forward on the uranium swap deal. Iran sent a lower-level Iranian technical delegation to Vienna for the Oct. 19 meeting while Iran’s leading nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili stayed away.

Ahmadinejad’s government also began expressing doubts about American and Western trustworthiness. The Iranians proposed some alternative ideas regarding where the uranium might be swapped, but Obama – stung by harsh criticism over his diplomatic outreach to Iran – began retreating from his peace plans, talking tougher against Iran and suggesting no further concessions.

Yet, according to the letter released in Brazil, it appears Obama continued to harbor hopes that the swap could be salvaged.

Despite that, the hawks have been insistent on the need to escalate the confrontation with Iran by imposing ever harsher sanctions and closing off options for peace talks. The neocons are raising their decibel level for “regime change,” much as they did before the invasion of Iraq.

The new leak regarding covert U.S. military operations inside Iran has sprayed even more cold water on hopes for a diplomatic solution.


Chevron Has 5 Activists Arrested and Bars Entry to Global Victims of Its Practices at Annual Shareholders’ Meeting

In Uncategorized on May 29, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Oldspeak: “Chevron has had five protesters arrested at its annual shareholders meeting in Houston and refused to allow another two dozen people from Chevron-affected countries around the world, like Nigeria, Ecuador and Burma. Those denied entry held legal shareholder proxies. The True Cost of Chevron Network says it organized the protest to call attention to Chevron’s human rights and environmental record. We speak to Antonia Juhasz, director of the Chevron Program at Global Exchange, who spent the night in jail after her arrest; and Emem Okon, an activist from Nigeria and the founder and executive director of Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center in the Niger Delta.”

From Democracy Now:

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Chevron. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, to the practices of another oil giant, the Chevron company. On Wednesday, Chevron had five protesters arrested in Houston at its annual shareholders’ meeting and refused to allow another two dozen people from Chevron-affected countries around the world, like Nigeria, Ecuador and Burma. Those denied entry held legal shareholder proxies.

The True Cost of Chevron Network says it organized the protest to call attention to the company’s human rights and environmental record. The five who were arrested are activists from groups like Amazon Watch and the Houston-based environmental group TEJAS. They were all released on Thursday.

AMY GOODMAN: Among those arrested was author Antonia Juhasz, director of the Chevron Program at Global Exchange. She was detained after questioning Chevron’s CEO John Watson during an open comment period for proxy holders. Antonia Juhasz joins us from Houston, as does Emem Okon, an activist from Nigeria and the founder and executive director of Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center in the Niger Delta.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Antonia, let’s begin with you. What happened? What did you ask Chevron’s President, CEO? And how did you end up in jail?

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Chevron truly exposed its great fear at having the true cost of its operations being revealed to its shareholders and the media. It revealed its great fear at the communities who are actually impacted by Chevron being able to tell the truth about its operations. And I think most importantly, it revealed in Houston how it treats those who come to tell the truth about its operations, engage with the company, with a brutal response, a response that stifles the ability of free speech. And that was a very small taste of what’s experienced much more dramatically at Chevron’s hands all around the world.

I actually went in as a shareholder. I spoke during the shareholder response time. And as I was saying to the gathered shareholders that Chevron had denied—after showing a video of its impacts in communities during the shareholder meeting, it refused to then let those actual representatives from those communities, who had literally traveled from Burma, from Australia, from Alaska, from Nigeria, from Ecuador, all over the world, into the meeting. As I was saying, “These are the people who are here to tell you about your corporation and its operations,” I was aggressively grabbed by the police, by private security. I was dragged very forcibly—I still have a handprint on my arm from the law enforcement—dragged, prone on my back, out the back, thrown by four police officers it took to get me, lift me into and move me into the van, and arrested. And I was charged with criminal trespass and disrupting a meeting, and I was incarcerated for twenty-four—a twenty-four-hour period.

And all that time, there were—the few representatives who have gotten—got in, from Angola and Kazakhstan and representing the Philippines, were—we took over the meeting and said essentially that Chevron is lying, it is afraid, it is afraid to expose the true cost of operations—of its operations. But I think most importantly, what we demonstrated was that Chevron is afraid of the organizing against it, that when the communities from the location where it operates not only tell the truth about what it does, but link and form a community and a network, that we send an enormous amount of fear and shock through this company, because, believe me, this has never happened in a Chevron meeting before. They have never felt the need to have such aggressive, physical, abusive tactics to arrest activists in the front from Richmond, California, from Houston, Texas, from around the world, and to drag me physically from inside the meeting.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Antonia, according to one report that I read, the company chairman had to actually adjourn the meeting at a certain point, because he wasn’t able to get control of it?

ANTONIA JUHASZ: This was new CEO John Watson’s very first meeting as the CEO of the company, and he absolutely lost control of the meeting. He chose to bring in an enormous, as I said, quantity of security that filled the meeting. And actually, it seemed like they were starting to outnumber the actual attendees. And he chose to have that very aggressive and physical response to me simply highlighting that people like Emem Okon from Nigeria and people from all over the world were being denied access. We then—the shareholders were actually trying to listen to me. We were also chanting. And at one point, the CEO, John Watson, simply threw up his hands and said, “You know, I don’t know what to do. I guess the meeting’s adjourned.” And that was the end of the meeting, as we continued to voice our opposition and statements of Chevron’s lies and the true cost of its operations, and essentially broke up and ended the meeting in that way.

AMY GOODMAN: Emem Okon, you came from Nigeria for the Chevron shareholders’ meeting.

EMEM OKON: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: From the Niger Delta. Why?

EMEM OKON: Yeah, I came from all the way from the Niger Delta region of Nigeria to be at the Chevron shareholders’ meeting. I came to represent the voices of the community women in the Niger Delta region that are suffering the direct impact of Chevron oil and gas activities in the Niger Delta. And what I witnessed on Wednesday during the shareholders’ meeting is a demonstration of the lack of respect of human rights by Chevron. Chevron has a beautiful human rights policy, where they guarantee a two-way communication between the community people and Chevron. But on Wednesday, they outrightly did not respect even their own human rights policy. What happened is a confirmation and a demonstration of the abuse of human rights in the Niger Delta region by Chevron. It’s the demonstration by the use of brutal force by Chevron to suppress the indigenous people of the Niger Delta region. It’s a direct demonstration of the fact that Chevron does not listen to the voices of the people, to the complaints of the people, to the plight and conditions of the people of the Niger Delta communities.

I came to tell Chevron that they have oppressed in the Niger Delta region with impunity for the past fifty years, poisoning our waters, devastating our environment, killing the fish we eat, burning poison gas through gas flares in the Niger Delta that has caused cancer, asthma, corroding our roofs. And they have not done anything to alleviate the sufferings of the people as a result of their—as the result of their activities. And what they did on Wednesday was a demonstration of the fact that they are not ready to change their mode of oppression in the Niger Delta region, and they are not ready to recognize and respect the human rights of the people, and they are not ready to change the inhumane way they treat the communities in which they oppress.

I am surprised at the attention that the BP oil spill has attracted in the United States, and I expect that the condition in the Niger Delta should attract the same coverage and that the international community should impress it on Chevron and every other oil community to stop their inhuman activity and abuse of human rights in the Niger Delta region.

AMY GOODMAN: Did the meeting take place—I know Chevron has taken over the Enron building in Houston. Is that where the meeting took place? And where do you go from here?

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, very appropriate. And actually, in Houston, it’s still referred to as the old Enron building. Chevron simply moved in after Enron exploded—or went kaput, excuse me, and hired on many former Chevron energy traders, as a matter of fact, and continued on with its own business. What happened was that we had, you know, this amazing network of community members. Obviously, as Emem says, there’s a BP-size disaster every single day in these Chevron-affected communities, and whether that is taking place in Burma or Alaska, Colombia—one of the most amazing things was that as we walked into the meeting, there was a photograph of a basket from the Wayuu community of Colombia that was hanging in Chevron’s headquarters. Well, a representative of the Wayuu community of Colombia, Debra, was left outside, denied her proxy access in to actually address that community, but they hung the basket.

So where we go next is that we actually take this victory of really taking over the meeting, I think, dominating what the shareholders—

AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: —had to hear, dominating what the press had to hear, and carrying the energy and power of this network—we are denied access into the meeting, but we carried our message outside. We continued to organize and strategize over these next two days of how you really work together as communities across a broad spectrum of oil’s influence to not only demand a change within that company, but to carry that energy to demand much greater restrictions, regulations, reining in and ultimately retiring of the entire oil industry and by the power and advocacy, most importantly, of those communities and their advocates at the front lines of oil’s [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia, we have to leave it there. I want to thank you for being with us. Antonia Juhasz, director of Global Exchange’s Chevron Program. And Emem Okon, founder and executive director of Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center in the Niger Delta.

Money Makes You Less Likely to Savor Small Pleasures

In Uncategorized on May 28, 2010 at 11:29 am

When it comes to happiness, money gives with one hand — providing access to pleasurable experiences — but takes away with the other, by undercutting the ability to relish the small delights of daily living. (SteveLuker / istockphoto)

Oldspeak: “Money can’t buy it; baaaby… Sex can’t buy it; Baaaaby… Drugs can’t buy it; Baaaby…You can’t buy it…Baaayby.”  -Annie Lennox.  Again, money can’t buy happiness. New research finds having money, or just thinking about it, impedes our capacity to savor the joys of everyday life.

From Tom Jacobs @ Miller McCune:

The notion that money can’t buy happiness has, in recent years, been backed up by a lot of psychological research. But this confirmation of time-honored wisdom begs the question: Why the hell not? The wealthy have access to an array of pleasure-producing goods and experiences, so why are they no happier than the rest of us?

A team of psychologists has come up with a plausible answer, one that validates yet another piece of folk wisdom. Affluent individuals, and less-wealthy people with money on their minds, are less likely to slow down and savor the Snickers.

Writing in the journal Psychological Science, a research team led by Jordi Quoidbach of the University of Liege and Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia report money “impairs people’s ability to savor everyday positive emotions and experiences.” They conclude this negative effect can “undercut other emotional benefits provided by money.”

In other words, that rich guy undoubtedly gets a kick out of driving his Porsche to the beach. But once he meets you there, you’re more likely to get a genuine thrill out of the gorgeous sunset.

Quoidbach and his colleagues reached this conclusion after conducting two studies. In the first, 351 adult employees of the University of Liege (ranging from custodial staff to senior administrators) completed a survey in which they described their wealth, happiness and the way they react to positive experiences. At the outset of the experiment, half were exposed to a photograph of a large stack of currency.

“We found that participants’ wealth significantly predicted lower ability to savor positive emotions,” the researchers report. So, too, did the pictorial reminder of the concept of wealth: Those who were exposed to the image of money scored lower on the savoring questions than those who did not.

The second experiment featured 40 volunteers, who ostensibly participated in a taste-testing study featuring varieties of chocolate. All began by filling out a survey; in the process of doing so, half were exposed to a photograph of money.

As they consumed pieces of chocolate, the test subjects were surreptitiously observed by two researchers who used stopwatches to measure the time they spent savoring each treat. The researchers also evaluated how much joy the participants showed on their faces as they tasted the chocolate.

After controlling for gender (to no one’s surprise, the men ate more quickly) and overall attitudes toward chocolate, the researchers found those who had been exposed to the photo of cash “spent significantly less time eating the chocolate, and displayed significantly less enjoyment.”

“Taken together, our findings provide evidence for the provocative and intuitively appealing — yet previously untested — notion that having access to the best things in life may actually undermine one’s ability to reap enjoyment from life’s small pleasures,” the researchers write. Even a tantalizing hint of access to expensive pleasures — provided to study participants in the form of pictures of money — “may be sufficient to impair everyday savoring,” they note.

The scholars’ conclusion: When it comes to happiness, money gives with one hand — providing access to pleasurable experiences — but “takes away with the other, by undercutting the ability to relish the small delights of daily living.”

Which confirms the intuitive wisdom of the beggar Porgy, who sings in the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess:

I’ve got plenty of nothing
And nothing is plenty for me.
I got my girl
Got my song
Got heaven the whole day long.

TANNING MACHINES CAUSE CANCER, STUDY FINDS

In Uncategorized on May 28, 2010 at 11:17 am

Oldspeak: File this one under the medical science of “duh,” but people who use indoor tanning beds are 74 percent likelier to develop melanoma, a new study has found. According to one researcher, “Our data would suggest that there is no safe tanning device.” Someone alert the cast of “Jersey Shore.”

From Salynn Boyles @ WebMD Health News:

Regular use of tanning beds triples or even quadruples the risk of developing melanoma, the most deadly form ofskin cancer, new research finds.

The study is the largest of its kind to examine whether indoor tanning causes skin cancer, and it comes as federal regulators are considering new rules designed to limit the use of commercial tanning by teens.

Compared to people who had never used a tanning bed, indoor tanners had a 74% increased risk for melanoma.

People who spent more than 50 hours tanning indoors had a threefold increase in risk, compared to people who never used a tanning bed, after adjusting for known risk factors for the deadly skin cancer.

The risk was four times higher among frequent users of high-pressure tanning beds, which emit mostly UVA radiation.

Researcher DeAnn Lazovich, PhD, of the University of Minnesota says the study was designed to address the limitations of past research, which have allowed the tanning industry to continue to deny that indoor tanning causes skin cancer.

“Our data would suggest that there is no safe tanning device,” she tells WebMD.

Melanoma, Indoor Tanning Increasing

The American Cancer Society predicted that in 2009, nearly 70,000 Americans would be diagnosed with melanoma and more than 8,500 people would die of the disease.

Melanoma is one of the fastest-growing cancers among whites, increasing by about 2% a year between 1997 and 2006.

During this time, the popularity of indoor tanning exploded, especially among women under age 30. Only a few tanning salons existed in the United States in the early 1980s. Today, by one industry estimate, more than 30 million Americans use commercial tanning beds each year.

Allan Halpern, MD, who is chief of dermatology at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, says the new study suggests a clear link between the increased popularity of indoor tanning and the rise in melanoma.

“One of the challenges in these studies has been that people who use tanning beds also tend to tan in the sun,” he tells WebMD. “That has allowed the industry to claim that indoor tanning isn’t to blame.”

Also, most previous studies did not distinguish between high-speed machines, which emit some UVB rays, and high-pressure machines, which emit almost exclusively UVA rays.

The latest study included nearly 1,200 melanoma patients and a similar number of age- and gender-matched people in a control group. Using questionnaires and telephone interviews, the researchers determined that 63% of the melanoma patients in the study had used a commercial tanning device at least once, compared to 51% of the people without cancer.

Among the other major findings:

  • Melanoma risk increased with exposure, measured by total hours of indoor tanning, the number of individual sessions, or years of exposure.
  • The increase in risk was seen for both high-speed and high-pressure machines, suggesting that no type of tanning device could be considered safe.
  • Burns from indoor tanning were commonly reported.
  • The strongest association was seen for melanomas originating on the trunk, which, in women at least, is an area of the body generally exposed to UV rays only during tanning.

The research showed no specific increase in melanoma risk associated with tanning bed use at a young age, but a clear association was seen for increased exposure over time.

The study appears in the June issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

“Overall exposure was the important thing,” Lazovich says. “Melanoma is the second most common cancer among young women. Young women are particularly vulnerable because they are the most likely to use these devices.”

Tanning Industry Responds

In response to the study, a tanning industry spokesman said the findings are misleading because the researchers did not distinguish between people with major risk factors for melanoma and the general population.

Those risk factors include having very fair skin, having many moles, and having freckles or red hair.

Melanoma patients in the study were five times as likely as non-patients to have very fair skin and nearly 14 times more likely to have many moles.

John Overstreet of the Indoor Tanning Association tells WebMD that the group’s own scientific analysis of the findings suggests that when high-risk groups are removed, indoor tanning may actually lower melanoma risk.

Overstreet also said indoor tanning may protect against cancer by increasing vitamin D, which is produced in the body in response to UV exposure.

Vitamin D researcher Michael Holick, MD, tells WebMD that although indoor tanning may boost vitamin D levels, he does not recommend it.

“I have never advocated tanning,” he says. “What I have said is that people who want to do it using tanning beds to increase their vitamin D in the winter should do it responsibly. That means protecting your face and staying in for 50% of the time recommended for tanning.”

Feds May Soon Restrict Indoor Tanning

Last year, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) weighed in, concluding that indoor tanning does cause melanoma.

In March, an FDA panel met to consider regulatory changes that could restrict access to tanning salons.

Although an outright ban is unlikely, many believe the group will require minors to have their parents’ permission if they want to use commercial tanning devices.

The Greeks Get It

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2010 at 11:29 am

AP / Petros Giannakouris Numerous riots have gripped Athens during the last year or so of unrest.

Oldspeak: “We are being consumed from the inside out. Our economy is as rotten as the economy in Greece. We too borrow billions a day to stay afloat. We too have staggering deficits, which can never be repaid. Heed the dire rhetoric of European leaders…And there has to be a point when even the American public—which still believes the fairy tale that personal will power and positive thinking will lead to success—will realize it has been had.”  WORD. One day,  the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth will fall away. What an eventful day that’ll be.

From Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it.

The former right-wing government of Greece lied about the size of the country’s budget deficit. It was not 3.7 percent of gross domestic product but 13.6 percent. And it now looks like the economies of Spain, Ireland, Italy and Portugal are as bad as Greece’s, which is why the euro has lost 20 percent of its value in the last few months. The few hundred billion in bailouts for other faltering European states, like our own bailouts, have only forestalled disaster. This is why the U.S. stock exchange is in free fall and gold is rocketing upward. American banks do not have heavy exposure in Greece, but Greece, as most economists concede, is only the start. Wall Street is deeply invested in other European states, and when the unraveling begins the foundations of our own economy will rumble and crack as loudly as the collapse in Athens. The corporate overlords will demand that we too impose draconian controls and cuts or see credit evaporate. They have the money and the power to hurt us. There will be more unemployment, more personal and commercial bankruptcies, more foreclosures and more human misery. And the corporate state, despite this suffering, will continue to plunge us deeper into debt to make war. It will use fear to keep us passive. We are being consumed from the inside out. Our economy is as rotten as the economy in Greece. We too borrow billions a day to stay afloat. We too have staggering deficits, which can never be repaid. Heed the dire rhetoric of European leaders.

“The euro is in danger,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel
told lawmakers last week as she called on them to approve Germany’s portion of the bailout plan. “If we do not avert this danger, then the consequences for Europe are incalculable, and then the consequences beyond Europe are incalculable.”

Beyond Europe means us. The right-wing government of Kostas Karamanlis, which preceded the current government of George Papandreou, did what the Republicans did under George W. Bush. They looted taxpayer funds to enrich their corporate masters and bankrupt the country. They stole hundreds of millions of dollars from individual retirement and pension accounts slowly built up over years by citizens who had been honest and industrious. They used mass propaganda to make the population afraid of terrorists and surrender civil liberties, including habeas corpus. And while Bush and Karamanlis, along with the corporate criminal class they abetted, live in unparalleled luxury, ordinary working men and women are told they must endure even more pain and suffering to make amends. It is feudal rape. And there has to be a point when even the American public—which still believes the fairy tale that personal will power and positive thinking will lead to success—will realize it has been had.

We have seen these austerity measures before. Latin Americans, like the Russians, were forced by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to gut social services, end subsidies on basic goods and food, and decimate the income levels of the middle class—the foundation of democracy—in the name of fiscal responsibility. Small entrepreneurs, especially farmers, were wiped out. State industries were sold off by corrupt government officials to capitalists for a fraction of their value. Utilities and state services were privatized.

What is happening in Greece, what will happen in Spain and Portugal, what is starting to happen here in states such as California, is the work of a global, white-collar criminal class. No government, including our own, will defy them. It is up to us. Barack Obama is simply the latest face that masks the corporate state. His administration serves corporate interests, not ours. Obama, like Goldman Sachs or Citibank, does not want the public to see how the Federal Reserve Bank acts as a private account and ATM machine for Wall Street at our expense. He, too, has helped orchestrate the largest transference of wealth upward in American history. He serves our imperial wars, refuses to restore civil liberties, and has not tamed our crippling deficits. His administration gutted regulatory agencies that permitted BP to turn the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic swamp. The refusal of Obama to intervene in a meaningful way to save the gulf’s ecosystem and curtail the abuses of the natural gas and oil corporations is not an accident. He knows where power lies. BP and its employees handed more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

We are facing the collapse of the world’s financial system. It is the end of globalization. And in these final moments the rich are trying to get all they can while there is still time. The fusion of corporatism, militarism and internal and external intelligence agencies—much of their work done by private contractors—has given these corporations terrifying mechanisms of control. Think of it, as the Greeks do, as a species of foreign occupation. Think of the Greek riots as a struggle for liberation.

Dwight Macdonald laid out the consequences of a culture such as ours, where the waging of war was “the normal mode of existence.” The concept of perpetual war, which eluded the theorists behind the 19th and early 20th century reform and social movements, including Karl Marx, has left social reformers unable to deal with this effective mechanism of mass control. The old reformists had limited their focus to internal class struggle and, as Macdonald noted, never worked out “an adequate theory of the political significance of war.” Until that gap is filled, Macdonald warned, “modern socialism will continue to have a somewhat academic flavor.”

Macdonald detailed in his 1946 essay “The Root Is Man” the marriage between capitalism and permanent war. He despaired of an effective resistance until the permanent war economy, and the mentality that went with it, was defeated. Macdonald, who was an anarchist, saw that the Marxists and the liberal class in Western democracies had both mistakenly placed their faith for human progress in the goodness of the state. This faith, he noted, was a huge error. The state, whether in the capitalist United States or the communist Soviet Union, eventually devoured its children. And it did this by using the organs of mass propaganda to keep its populations afraid and in a state of endless war. It did this by insisting that human beings be sacrificed before the sacred idol of the market or the utopian worker’s paradise. The war state provides a constant stream of enemies, whether the German Hun, the Bolshevik, the Nazi, the Soviet agent or the Islamic terrorist. Fear and war, Macdonald understood, was the mechanism that let oligarchs pillage in the name of national security.

“Modern totalitarianism can integrate the masses so completely into the political structure, through terror and propaganda, that they become the architects of their own enslavement,” he wrote. “This does not make the slavery less, but on the contrary more— a paradox there is no space to unravel here. Bureaucratic collectivism, not capitalism, is the most dangerous future enemy of socialism.”

Macdonald argued that democratic states had to dismantle the permanent war economy and the propaganda that came with it. They had to act and govern according to the non-historical and more esoteric values of truth, justice, equality and empathy. Our liberal class, from the church and the university to the press and the Democratic Party, by paying homage to the practical dictates required by hollow statecraft and legislation, has lost its moral voice. Liberals serve false gods. The belief in progress through war, science, technology and consumption has been used to justify the trampling of these non-historical values. And the blind acceptance of the dictates of globalization, the tragic and false belief that globalization is a form of inevitable progress, is perhaps the quintessential illustration of Macdonald’s point. The choice is not between the needs of the market and human beings. There should be no choice. And until we break free from serving the fiction of human progress, whether that comes in the form of corporate capitalism or any other utopian vision, we will continue to emasculate ourselves and perpetuate needless human misery. As the crowds of strikers in Athens understand, it is not the banks that are important but the people who raise children, build communities and sustain life. And when a government forgets whom it serves and why it exists, it must be replaced.

“The Progressive makes History the center of his ideology,” Macdonald wrote in “The Root Is Man.” “The Radical puts Man there. The Progressive’s attitude is optimistic both about human nature (which he thinks is good, hence all that is needed is to change institutions so as to give this goodness a chance to work) and about the possibility of understanding history through scientific method. The Radical is, if not exactly pessimistic, at least more sensitive to the dual nature; he is skeptical about the ability of science to explain things beyond a certain point; he is aware of the tragic element in man’s fate not only today but in any collective terms (the interests of Society or the Working Class); the Radical stresses the individual conscience and sensibility. The Progressive starts off from what is actually happening; the Radical starts off from what he wants to happen. The former must have the feeling that History is ‘on his side.’ The latter goes along the road pointed out by his own individual conscience; if History is going his way, too, he is pleased; but he is quite stubborn about following ‘what ought to be’ rather than ‘what is.’ ”

US Money Supply Plunges At 1930s Pace As Obama Eyes Fresh Stimulus

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2010 at 8:48 am

Oldspeak: “The M3 money supply in the United States is contracting at an accelerating rate that now matches the average decline seen from 1929 to 1933, despite near zero interest rates and the biggest fiscal blitz in history. Despite warnings from the IMF are that the gross public debt of the US will reach 97% of GDP next year and 110% by 2015.”

From Ambrose Evans-Pritchard @ UK Telegraph:

The M3 figures – which include broad range of bank accounts and are tracked by British and European monetarists for warning signals about the direction of the US economy a year or so in advance – began shrinking last summer. The pace has since quickened.

“It’s frightening,” said Professor Tim Congdon from International Monetary Research. “The plunge in M3 has no precedent since the Great Depression. The dominant reason for this is that regulators across the world are pressing banks to raise capital asset ratios and to shrink their risk assets. This is why the US is not recovering properly,” he said.

The US authorities have an entirely different explanation for the failure of stimulus measures to gain full traction. They are opting instead for yet further doses of Keynesian spending, despite warnings from the IMF that the gross public debt of the US will reach 97pc of GDP next year and 110pc by 2015.

Larry Summers, President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser, has asked Congress to “grit its teeth” and approve a fresh fiscal boost of $200bn to keep growth on track. “We are nearly 8m jobs short of normal employment. For millions of Americans the economic emergency grinds on,” he said.

David Rosenberg from Gluskin Sheff said the White House appears to have reversed course just weeks after Mr Obama vowed to rein in a budget deficit of $1.5 trillion (9.4pc of GDP) this year and set up a commission to target cuts. “You truly cannot make this stuff up. The US governnment is freaked out about the prospect of a double-dip,” he said.

The White House request is a tacit admission that the economy is already losing thrust and may stall later this year as stimulus from the original $800bn package starts to fade.

Recent data have been mixed. Durable goods orders jumped 2.9pc in April but house prices have been falling for several months and mortgage applications have dropped to a 13-year low. The ECRI leading index of US economic activity has been sliding continuously since its peak in October, suffering the steepest one-week drop ever recorded in mid-May.

Mr Summers acknowledged in a speech this week that the eurozone crisis had shone a spotlight on the dangers of spiralling public debt. He said deficit spending delays the day of reckoning and leaves the US at the mercy of foreign creditors. Ultimately, “failure begets failure” in fiscal policy as the logic of compound interest does its worst.

However, Mr Summers said it would be “pennywise and pound foolish” to skimp just as the kindling wood of recovery starts to catch fire. He said fiscal policy comes into its own at at time when the economy “faces a liquidity trap” and the Fed is constrained by zero interest rates.

Mr Congdon said the Obama policy risks repeating the strategic errors of Japan, which pushed debt to dangerously high levels with one fiscal boost after another during its Lost Decade, instead of resorting to full-blown “Friedmanite” monetary stimulus.

“Fiscal policy does not work. The US has just tried the biggest fiscal experiment in history and it has failed. What matters is the quantity of money and in extremis that can be increased easily by quantititave easing. If the Fed doesn’t act, a double-dip recession is a virtual certainty,” he said.

Mr Congdon said the dominant voices in US policy-making – Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz, as well as Mr Summers and Fed chair Ben Bernanke - are all Keynesians of different stripes who “despise traditional monetary theory and have a religious aversion to any mention of the quantity of money”. The great opus by Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz – The Monetary History of the United States – has been left to gather dust.

Mr Bernanke no longer pays attention to the M3 data. The bank stopped publishing the data five years ago, deeming it too erratic to be of much use.

This may have been a serious error since double-digit growth of M3 during the US housing bubble gave clear warnings that the boom was out of control. The sudden slowdown in M3 in early to mid-2008 – just as the Fed talked of raising rates – gave a second warning that the economy was about to go into a nosedive.

Mr Bernanke built his academic reputation on the study of the credit mechanism. This model offers a radically different theory for how the financial system works. While so-called “creditism” has become the new orthodoxy in US central banking, it has not yet been tested over time and may yet prove to be a misadventure.

Paul Ashworth at Capital Economics said the decline in M3 is worrying and points to a growing risk of deflation. “Core inflation is already the lowest since 1966, so we don’t have much margin for error here. Deflation becomes a threat if it goes on long enough to become entrenched,” he said.

However, Mr Ashworth warned against a mechanical interpretation of money supply figures. “You could argue that M3 has been going down because people have been taking their money out of accounts to buy stocks, property and other assets,” he said.

Events may soon tell us whether this is benign or malign. It is certainly remarkable.

** While the Fed does not publish M3, it still publishes the underlying components. The indicator is reconstructed accurately for clients by Dr John Williams. See it here.

“Sex and the City 2′s” Stunning Muslim Clichés

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2010 at 7:48 am

Oldspeak: “It’s hard to overstate the offensiveness of the fabulous four’s exquisitely tone-deaf trip to Abu Dhabi” Ahh the luxury of knownothingness….

From WAJAHAT ALI @ Salon:

I’m a heterosexual, Muslim dude who until recently thought pleated khakis and loafers were “hip” and mistook Bergdorf Goodman for an expensive Swiss chocolate. So it is not surprising that 40 minutes into “Sex and the City 2,” a 150-minute cotton candy fantasy accessorized with materialism and fashion porn, I was comatose with boredom.

But I was defibrillated by the film’s detour into Abu Dhabi (really Morocco and studio sets) and what can only be described as an Orientalist’s wet dream. After discovering they will visit the Middle East, the ladies whip out hall-of-fame Ali Baba clichés: References to “magic carpet” (a double entendre, naturally), Scheherazade and Jasmine from “Aladdin” come in rapid succession. Upon hearing a stewardess give routine flight instructions in Arabic, Samantha behaves like a wild-eyed child hearing a foreign language for the first time. “I wonder what she’s saying. It sounds so exotic!”

Michael Patrick King’s exquisitely tone-deaf movie is cinematic Viagra for Western cultural imperialists who still ignorantly and inaccurately paint the entire Middle East (and Iran) as a Shangri La in desperate need of liberation from ignorant, backward natives. Historian Bernard Lewis, the 93-year-old Hall of Fame Orientalist and author of such nuanced gems as “The Arabs in History” and “Islam and the West,” would probably die of priapism if he saw this movie. It’s like the cinematic progeny of “Not Without My Daughter” and “Arabian Nights” with a makeover by Valentino. Forget the oppressed women of Abu Dhabi. Let’s buy more bling for the burqa!

Our four female cultural avatars, like imperialistic Barbies, milk Abu Dhabi for leisure and hedonism without making any discernible, concrete efforts to learn about her people and their daily lives. An exception is Miranda, whose IQ drops about 100 points as she dilutes the vast complexities of a diverse culture into sound bites like this: “‘Hanh Gee’ means ‘yes’ in Arabic!”

Only it doesn’t — it’s Hindi and Punjabi, which is spoken by South Asians.

She also incorrectly tells the audience that all women in the Middle East have to cover themselves. And, yes, nearly every single Middle Eastern female character in “SATC 2’s” imaginative rendition of “Abu Dhabi,” is veiled, silent or subdued by aggressive men.

Like curious visitors staring at an exotic animal in the zoo with equal doses of horror and fascination, the four “girls” observe a niqabi female eating French fries by carefully lifting her veil for each consumed fry. After witnessing this “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” event, Samantha declares, “It’s like they don’t want [women] to have a voice.”

If our cultural ambassadors truly cared about saving Muslim women, they surely would try to help them during the film’s interminable two and half hour running time, no? Sadly, instead, these incredibly shallow mock-feminists can’t even bother to have one decent conversation with a Muslim woman, because they’re too immersed in picnics on the desert and singing Arab disco karaoke renditions of “I Am Woman.” In fact, Abu Dhabi is just peachy when it’s a fantasy land where they ride around in limos and get comped an extravagantly vulgar $22,000 hotel suite. However, only when that materialism is taken away do they worry, in only the most superficial way, about sexual hypocrisy and women’s oppression.

Meanwhile, the perpetually self-absorbed Carrie finds enlightenment in the simple, wise words of her Indian manservant Gaurav, who functions as the movie’s life-changing, magical minority. And Samantha, our “Western” avatar of freedom and liberation, offers a juxtaposition to the silent, oppressed Muslim women by making immature puns like “Lawrence of my Labia” and performing fellatio on a sheesha pipe in public.

The movie uses only two broad colors to paint the Middle East: One depicting an opulent Eden for our blissfully ignorant protagonists to selfishly use as a temporary escape, and the other showing an oppressive dungeon populated by intolerant men that cannot comprehend cleavage or bare shoulders.

Consider the film’s painful climax, in which Samantha, now wearing shorts and a low-cut top, spills dozens of condoms from her purse in the middle of a crowded market. Right before the condom explosion, the Islamic call to prayer, the Adhan, is conveniently heard for no discernible reason. The angry, hairy men, overwhelmed by anger and shock, decide to abandon their daily activities and busy life to encircle Samantha and condemn her as a harlot and slut, but not before Samantha proudly holds the condoms up high and dry humps the air telling the men she uses them to have sex. Because they cannot tolerate a sassy, back-talking, condom-using female baring her legs, they decide en masse to spontaneously chase all four women. Appearing like an oasis in the desert, two mysterious women in a burqa silently nod to the four girls, who subsequently follow the women into a secret room revealing the existence of a secret book club attended by a dozen niqabi women, who disrobe to reveal their hidden designer clothes, fashionable shoes and makeup.

OK, a bubble gum approach to reality is to be expected from “SATC2.” And one could imagine a scenario in which the frothy light comedy could be used to erase mutual misunderstandings. After all, Muslim women around the world, who religiously watched the show, would love a strong, empowered Muslim female “SATC” character who could enlighten Western audiences about the complex, and at times oppressive, reality of Middle Eastern women while simultaneously rocking Ferragamos. Instead, the film exists in a wacky cultural vacuum blissfully unaware of its own arrogance and prejudices.

Apparently, we’re meant to believe Muslim women in the Middle East are equally self-absorbed, vain and materialistic. After completely dissing the Middle East, its people, its religion and its culture, it’s “Sex and the City” that truly insults the Muslim women, by silencing them entirely.

Five Lobbyists for Each Member of Congress on Financial Reforms

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2010 at 11:18 am

Oldspeak: ” More Than 850 Banks, Hedge Funds, Corporations, and Others Deploy 3,000-Plus Lobbyists on Capitol Hill”. Gov’t for the people, by the people. Hmmm. Seems to me our “Corporate Citizens” are a wee bit over-represented.’

From M.B. Pell and Joe Eaton @ The Center for Public Integrity:

Businesses, trade groups and other interests hired more than five lobbyists for each member of Congress to influence financial regulatory reform legislation pending before the Senate, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis.

More than 850 banks, hedge funds, companies, associations, and other organizations hired 3,000-plus lobbyists to work on the reform bills, according to the Center’s examination of lobbying disclosure data for all of 2009 and the first quarter of 2010. However, public outrage over Wall Street’s role in the 2007-09 financial meltdown blunted industry attempts to win loopholes in the measure now before the U.S. Senate.

Most of the big players in American business lobbying were active as regulatory reform proposals worked their way through Congress. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce deployed 85 lobbyists, including 49 hired from outside lobbying firms. Among financial services groups, the Securities Industry and Financial Market Association employed 54 lobbyists, including 37 from outside firms. The American Bankers Associationdeployed 53 lobbyists, the Business Roundtable 42, and the Mortgage Bankers Association 29, according to Center data.

In the financial services industry, some 175 companies and groups—ranging from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to CME Group Inc. to the Private Equity Council—hired lobbyists to try to weaken or eliminate reform proposals aimed at banks and the capital markets. A distant second was the energy and utilities sector, with 91 companies and organizations, followed by manufacturing with 66 firms.

The companies and groups that lobbied on financial reform spent a total of $1.3 billion in 2009 and the first quarter of 2010 on their overall lobbying efforts, the data showed. The exact dollar amount they devoted to financial regulation reform remains unclear because lobbyists are not required to itemize how much money in a given contract is spent on a specific issue. But if only 10 percent of that spending was targeted at financial regulation bills, lobbyists would have received $133 million.

In this debate, however, public perception of big U.S. banks as free-wheeling gamblers relying on taxpayer-funded safety nets overwhelmed Wall Street’s lobbying, some experts said. Anger over bailouts, lavish bonus payments to top executives, and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud lawsuit against Goldman galvanized public opinion against Wall Street.

“Political backlash overwhelmed lobbying,” said Arthur Wilmarth Jr., a banking law expert at George Washington University.

“When you see the tsunami of money flowing into Capitol Hill from these big financial players and their customers, it’s hard to imagine that the broader public interest will be taken into account,” Wilmarth said. “Earlier this year, there was a sense that we’ve gotten past the worst of it, so let’s not overreact. Now the fact that all of these (European) governments have taken on all this debt, I think people now realize the crisis isn’t over yet and don’t really want the financial industry going back to taking risks.”

Banks and the financial industry spared little expense in lobbying. Citigroup Inc. deployed 38 lobbyists, Moody’s Corp. 13, and Bank of America 11, all dedicated to the financial reform legislation, according to disclosure documents.

Even with Tea Party protests against Wall Street excesses and Democrats’ push to toughen government oversight for big banks, the financial industry managed to score some victories.

Peter Garuccio a spokesman for the American Bankers Association, said the industry’s accomplishments, at least up to now, include preserving Federal Reserve oversight of state member banks and eliminating a proposal for a $50 billion fund to help pay for dismantling large banks considered too big to fail.

“Some of the concerns we’ve raised have been addressed, others have not, and others have been partially addressed,” Garuccio said. “It’s still an on going process.”

No lawmaker wants to support a provision that could be responsible for the next financial crisis, said Bill Himpler, executive vice president of the American Financial Services Association. The challenge for lobbyists representing banking and finance organizations, which generally support some form of reform, Himpler said, is to demonstrate how various popular provisions do more harm than good for consumers and the financial industry. “I think we’ve got our work cut out for us,” he said.

Reform advocates have their own victories to point to in the legislation’s current form. They include the creation of a federal consumer financial protection bureau, fee limits on debit card transactions, and a one-time audit of the Federal Reserve’s role in the financial bailout. The Senate voted on Thursday to end debate on the bill, clearing the way for final passage.
What happens as the House and Senate reconcile separate versions of reform legislation remains to be seen, but Amaya Tune, spokeswoman for the AFL CIO, which supports reform measures, feels confident that consumers, not Wall Street, will come out on top.

“I think the chances of this staying a strong bill and not getting watered down are pretty good,” Tune said. “That being said, we’ll cross our fingers.”

FBI Details Surge In Death Threats Against Lawmakers

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2010 at 8:52 am

Threats against lawmakers, such as those received by Rep. Heath Shuler (left), Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Rep. Paul Ryan, are up 300 percent this year, according to the Senate sergeant at arms.

From Erika Lovely @ Politico:

I voted for you,” the caller said in a voice mail to Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler’s district office. “If you vote for that stimulus package, I’m gonna kill you. Simple as that.”

The FBI says the caller was a 70-year-old resident of Shuler’s North Carolina district with a history of mental illness and a cache of guns. In the weeks before calling Shuler’s office, the FBI says, the caller beat and choked his wife. She told the FBI that she’d tried to clear her home of guns — and that she went to bed at night with a can of mace tucked under her pillow.

When agents showed up at the man’s door, they asked him why he’d threatened to kill Shuler.

“I was trying to work the political scene,” he said.

The threat against Shuler is one of several detailed in 2009 FBI documents provided to POLITICO pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) were threatened with assassination. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas) were threatened with bodily harm. Someone told Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) that her throat would be cut. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) was told someone would physically “f—- her up” if she held a town hall meeting in her district, according to the FBI files.

There may have been more threats — the FBI won’t release information on investigations that are still open — and there will likely be more this year; Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer says threats against members of Congress were up 300 percent in the first few months of 2010.

FBI agents arrested the North Carolina man who threatened Shuler, and prosecutors charged him with threatening to kill a federal official — a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Court records show that the case was dropped after he was found incompetent to stand trial.

Shuler says he was shaken — and that he has taken precautions to protect himself and his family. Family members have altered their daily routines to be more security conscious, and Shuler said that he and his wife have obtained concealed-weapons permits.

“You get a threat like that, and you start to rethink your priorities,” Shuler said.

Though each threat case is different, the FBI documents reveal some common characteristics. The suspects are mostly men who own guns, and several had been treated for mental illness. Most of the suspects had just undergone some kind of major life stress, such as illness or the loss of a job.

In February 2009, a man left voice mail messages for Stabenow in several of her Michigan offices.

“We’re gonna [expletive] get you,” he said in one message. “We’re gonna get you with a lot of [expletive] bolt action. Like we did RFK; like we did MLK. We know who you are. We’ll get you.”

FBI agents tracked the calls to a 54-year-old Texas man who lived alone — and who at one time had owned a 20-gun arsenal of handguns, shotguns and rifles. According to the documents, he told officers that he was “really, really drunk” when he made the calls. He said he was just “venting” — taking out his frustrations after hearing a discussion of the Fairness Doctrine and becoming concerned that the government would attempt to abolish the radio shows of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

In testimony submitted to Congress, Capitol Police officials have said that the threats against lawmakers have caused them to dramatically increase their security efforts. Police who work on protective details say demands on their time have skyrocketed, and the department has requested a 54 percent increase — of $2.7 million — to fund travel for its dignitary protection officers in fiscal year 2011.

In fiscal year 2009, dignitary protection was provided at 139 congressional events, a nearly 100 percent increase over 2008. Capitol Police also moved to provide “a more robust role” to town hall meetings, including working with hundreds of law enforcement agencies.

Capitol Police made 3,626 mountain bike patrols around House and Senate office buildings, up from 3,500 from fiscal year 2008. They responded to 142 suspicious packages in 2009, compared with only 34 in 2008, and conducted 1,808 bomb sweeps, compared with 970 the year before.

The Hazardous Materials Response Team investigated an average of 38 suspicious package calls per quarter last year, compared with 32 per quarter in 2008. The team conducted 967 sweeps per quarter to ensure the security of areas where congressional meetings and sessions were being held — up from 142 each quarter in 2008. The department also dealt with 13 disturbances or demonstrations, five more than during the previous year.

“When an incident like the one in Times Square happens, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” said Gainer, who recently attended a nationwide sergeant at arms meeting at which state officials were urged to put plans in place to accommodate congressional town hall meetings this summer.

“We have about 12 open cases at any given time, but most of those are relatively low threat, meaning there’s no specificity to them,” Gainer said. “But if there’s a serious threat, we’re going to have a pretty stern response.”

Law enforcement responded immediately when Ryan was threatened back home in Wisconsin. The lawmaker was out walking with his daughter when a black sport utility vehicle pulled up alongside them. “You’ve got a bull’s-eye on your head,” the driver allegedly told Ryan. “You’re gonna die, motherf—er.”

Local police records show that the driver believed Ryan had “blood on his hands” for supporting the war in Iraq. He told police that he was on disability for arthritis and that he felt “frustrated” that he could no longer support his family, the documents show.

“Congressman Ryan told me that although they receive threats quite often, this one was more specific and directed,” a Janesville police detective wrote in his report.

The man was arrested for disorderly conduct, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office decided not to prosecute him after a search of his home revealed no weapons, according to FBI documents.

Last September, the documents show that a veteran in a counseling session said he wanted to “kill everyone who does not help me” — and that he included in the list Cornyn, Rodriguez and first lady Michelle Obama. When police checked on the man, they found that he was frustrated that those individuals hadn’t helped him with a retirement claim process through the Office of Policy and Management.

According to the documents, he admitted to police that he was taking “too many medications to list” for mental health problems that included depression, anxiety and a sleep disorder. He was out of work and on disability. The man’s wife had hidden his collection of shotguns and handguns and wouldn’t let him drive the family car, fearing he would pay a visit to Rodriguez, according to FBI files.

“Veteran verbalized not knowing what he would do other than something that would get him locked up,” the responding detective wrote. “That he would get a gun and shoot everyone involved.”

With the exception of Shuler, the lawmakers identified in the FBI reports declined to discuss the threats. Their offices said they wanted to move beyond the incidents and stay focused on their work.

“We’re not going to be frightened. We’re just going to go on with our lives and keep doing our jobs. We don’t want to be defined by this,” a Lofgren staffer said. “They don’t control this. We do.”

But the threats clearly have an effect — if not on how members do their jobs, at least on how they live their lives.

“The first time you get a death threat, it’s really, really alarming, not to mention they know where you live and can find your family,” Shuler said. “It is very difficult when you serve in public office.”

Outsourcing an American Education To India

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2010 at 8:32 am

This may look like an American Ivy League college campus, but it's actually St. Stephen's College in Dehli. India is trying to pass The Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, that would allow Western universities to open satellite campuses in the country. (St. Stephen's College)

Oldspeak: What America does best; export it’s brands…Coca-Cola, Hershey’s, McDonalds, Basketball, Nike, Hip-Hop,  and “Ivy League Education”. :-|

From Sameer Pandya @ Miller McCune:

India is considering allowing Western universities to plant satellite campuses directly in the subcontinent’s fertile soil.

There is a bill currently making its way through the Indian parliament — The Foreign Educational Institutions Bill — that would open up for universities in the West, particularly in the U.S., a massive English-speaking market. Massive is the key word. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of Indian students reaching college age who are interested in an education that would allow them to better participate in a globalizing economy.

At first glance, the passage of the bill, which is being pushed ahead by Human Resources Minister Kapil Sibal and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, benefits Western universities by providing them with a growth opportunity and allowing access to a well-educated student population interested in an education whose brand is recognized across the world.

It equally benefits India’s higher education system and the students who go through it. While India currently has two university systems — the Indian Institutes of Technology and The Indian Institutes of Management — that rival the American Ivy Leagues, the systems are simply not big enough to manage the demand from within the country. There are not enough top-class universities for the many thousands of students who qualify to attend them.

In the past and currently, India has allowed partnerships between Western and Indian universities. Brown University, for example, has a long-standingrelationship with St. Stephen’s College in Delhi that allows Brown students to spend a semester in India. And in a recent expansion of the relationship, select St. Stephen’s students will be able to study at Brown.

But this bill is something bigger. It would allow Western universities, within certain parameters, to set up entire satellite campuses in India.

So what’s the problem? Why has it taken this long for the bill to gather the steam it has? Why is there discussion about the bill if it seems to benefit everyone involved? Things, of course, are never that simple.

In an opinion piece published in the Indian Express earlier this month, David Finegold, the dean of the School of Management at Rutgers University, lays out 10 reasons why top universities will not flock to India. Among them are the global financial crisis, the shortage of faculty talent and local competition from significantly cheaper Indian universities.

Among Feingold’s reasons, his discussion of Indian bureaucracy deserves quoting.

“Although the government is striving hard in the bill to open up the Indian higher education market to the best foreign universities, a number of factors may discourage them from investing in India: the requirement to post an $11 million bond to establish a university; the steps that will be required to get planning permission for a new campus; the uncertainty about the new body that will govern all higher education and many other forms of regulation in this sector; and the stipulation that they cannot transfer any surplus generated out of India. All of these concerns are compounded by the risk that a change in government could potentially affect their ability to operate in India.”

The possible bureaucratic roadblocks in India are in marked contrast to NYU’s newly opened campus in Abu Dhabi, which was paid for entirely by the Abu Dhabi government.

The reasons why the bill may be placing so many restrictions may have something to do with the history of Western involvement in education in India.

When the British were setting up their education system in India in the mid-19th century, there was debate on whether to have the instruction take place in English or in the Indian vernaculars. The historian and essayist T.B. Macaulay was appointed the president of the Committee on Public Instruction; in his famous “Minute on Indian Education,” Macaulay argued that the medium of education needed to be in English because the Indian students demand it and it allows them to participate in the growing world economic system. That argument, made well over 150 years ago, sounds pretty familiar.

Macaulay went on to write: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.”

I don’t think the Indian members of parliament who are considering the bill are quoting Macaulay to themselves, but they are certainly affected by his ghost.

Will the establishment of American universities mean the creation of students who look Indian, but are Western in taste and opinion? I don’t think so. In our early 21st century moment, parsing out what are Western and non-Western tastes and opinions has become quite difficult.

But it does mean that the Indian government and the Western universities that wish to set up shop in India will have to enter into a careful dance that benefits them both without either feeling that one is encroaching upon the other too closely.

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