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Undernews For August 11, 2008

Undernews For August 11, 2008

Washington's Most Unofficial Source
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Editor: Sam Smith

11 AUG 2008


Driving jobholders out of office is like the old discredited policy of driving prostitutes out of town.
Their places are immediately taken by others who are precisely like them. - Albert Jay Nock

Political language - and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists - is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. - George Orwell



Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research - Georgia does not act militarily without the assent of Washington. The Georgian head of State is a US proxy and Georgia is a de facto US protectorate. . . There is evidence that the attacks were carefully coordinated by the US military and NATO. . .

US-NATO military and intelligence planners invariably examine various "scenarios" of a proposed military operation-- i.e. in this case, a limited Georgian attack largely directed against civilian targets, with a view to inflicting civilian casualties.

The examination of scenarios is a routine practice. With limited military capabilities, a Georgian victory and occupation of Tskhinvali, was an impossibility from the outset. And this was known and understood to US-NATO military planners.

A humanitarian disaster rather than a military victory was an integral part of the scenario. The objective was to destroy the provincial capital, while also inflicting a significant loss of human life.

If the objective were to restore Georgian political control over the provincial government, the operation would have been undertaken in a very different fashion, with Special Forces occupying key public buildings, communications networks and provincial institutions, rather than waging an all out bombing raid on residential areas, hospitals, not to mention Tskhinvali's University.

Georgia was "encouraged" by NATO and the US. Both Washington and NATO headquarters in Brussels were acutely aware of what would happen in the case of a Russian counterattack. . .

In mid-July, Georgian and U.S. troops held a joint military exercise entitled "Immediate Response" involving respectively 1,200 US and 800 Georgian troops.

The announcement by the Georgian Ministry of Defense on July 12 stated that they US and Georgian troops were to "train for three weeks at the Vaziani military base" near the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. These exercises, which were completed barely a week before the August 7 attacks, were an obvious dress rehearsal of a military operation, which, in all likelihood, had been planned in close cooperation with the Pentagon.

The war on Southern Ossetia was not meant to be won, leading to the restoration of Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia. It was intended to destabilize the region while also triggering a US-NATO confrontation with Russia. . .

Let us be under no illusions. This is not a civil war. The attacks are an integral part of the broader Middle East Central Asian war, including US-NATO-Israeli war preparations in relation to Iran.

While NATO and US military advisers did not partake in the military operation per se, they were actively involved in the planning and logistics of the attacks. According to Israeli sources, the ground assault on August 7-8, using tanks and artillery was "aided by Israeli military advisers". Israel also supplied Georgia with Hermes-450 and Skylark unmanned aerial vehicles, which were used in the weeks leading up to the August 7 attacks. . .

Russian forces are now directly fighting a NATO-US trained Georgian army integrated by US and Israeli advisers. And Russian warplanes have attacked the military jet factory on the outskirts of Tbilisi, which produces the upgraded Su-25 fighter jet, with technical support from Israel.

When viewed in the broader context of the Middle East war, the crisis in Southern Ossetia could lead to escalation, including a direct confrontation between Russian and NATO forces. If this were to occur, we would be facing the most serious crisis in US-Russian relations since the Cuban Missile crisis in October 1962. . .

Barely a few months ago, in early May, the Russian Ministry of Defense accused Washington, "claiming that [US as well as NATO and Israeli] military assistance to Georgia is destabilizing the region. According to the Russian Defense Ministry:

"Georgia has received 206 tanks, of which 175 units were supplied by NATO states, 186 armored vehicles (126 - from NATO) , 79 guns (67 - from NATO) , 25 helicopters (12 - from NATO) , 70 mortars, ten surface-to-air missile systems, eight Israeli-made unmanned aircraft, and other weapons. In addition, NATO countries have supplied four combat aircraft to Georgia. The Russian Defense Ministry said there were plans to deliver to Georgia 145 armored vehicles, 262 guns and mortars, 14 combat aircraft including four Mirazh-2000 destroyers, 25 combat helicopters, 15 American Black Hawk aircraft, six surface-to-air missile systems and other arms." . . .

According to US military sources (spokesman for US European Command), the US has more than 100 "military trainers" in Georgia. A Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman "said there were no plans to redeploy the estimated 130 US troops and civilian contractors, who he said were stationed in the area around Tblisi". . .

Israel is a partner in the Baku-Tblisi- Ceyhan pipeline which brings oil and gas to the Eastern Mediterranean. More than 20 percent of Israeli oil is imported from Azerbaijan, of which a large share transits through the BTC pipeline. . .

While the official reports state that the BTC pipeline will "channel oil to Western markets", what is rarely acknowledged is that part of the oil from the Caspian sea would be directly channeled towards Israel, via Georgia. . .

A process of escalation and confrontation between Russia and America is unfolding, reminiscent of the Cold War era.

Are we dealing with an act of provocation, with a view to triggering a broader conflict? Supported by media propaganda, the Western military alliance is intent on using this incident to confront Russia, as evidenced by recent NATO statements.


Daily Mail, UK - After a day of heightening international tensions, Georgian leaders claimed that the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which transports oil from the Caspian Sea to Turkey, had been attacked. But it is thought the bombs missed their target. Their claims came after Russian jets struck deep into the territory of its tiny neighbour, killing civilians and ‘completely devastating’ the strategic Black Sea port of Poti, a staging post for oil and other energy supplies. . . Georgian economic development minister Ekaterina Sharashidzne said: ‘This clearly shows that Russia has targeted not just Georgian economic outlets but international economic outlets as well.’ The pipeline is 30 per cent owned by BP and supplies 1 per cent of the world’s oil needs, pumping up to a million barrels of crude per day to Turkey.

The Road - In Soviet times as today, the Caspian Sea and Baku were important as energy sources, again with the world's third largest oil reserves sitting offshore. Oil that was pumped to go on tankers was routed northwest from Baku to the Soviet city of Novorossiysk. Such things remained until the collapse of communism.

After Georgia declared its independence in 1991, it took over the oil revenue of a pipeline that emptied to its Black Sea port of Supsa. The output of that pipeline, however, is only 115,000 barrels per day, and in a world that demanded more and more, the demands for a bigger pipeline rose. That and, in the event of conflict with Russia, the Russian Navy could still blockade that port with relative ease.

Georgia had been in talks to be a country along the way of a new 1 million barrel per day pipeline that was to stretch from Baku to the Turkish port city of Ceyhan. That dream was realized in 2005 with the opening of the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan Pipeline. At any given point in time that single pipeline, the world's second longest, has 10 million barrels in it. Since the taps were first turned on in 2005, some 1.1 billion barrels of oil have flowed through that pipeline - and that's a whole lot of oil revenue that the Russians are missing out on. . .

It would appear that Georgia is making a play for serious Western involvement, as it is a nation that aspires to one day be a part of NATO as well as the European Union. Recent speeches given by the Georgian President show the Georgian and European Union flags in his background, so the symbolism is rather obvious. The South Ossetians, however, prefer to be allied with (and a part of) Russia, and so if energy concerns and money have nothing to do with this, it's still a good old classic proxy battle between the West and Russia, and may be explaining why the Georgians are hanging on as long as they have.

Nathan Hodge, Wired - Since early 2002, the U.S. government has given a healthy amount of military aid to Georgia. When I last visited South Ossetia, Georgian troops manned a checkpoint outside Tskhinvali -- decked out in surplus U.S. Army uniforms and new body armor.

The first U.S. aid came under the rubric of the Georgia Train and Equip Program (ostensibly to counter alleged Al Qaeda influence in the Pankisi Gorge); then, under the Sustainment and Stability Operations Program. Georgia returned the favor, committing thousands of troops to the multi-national coalition in Iraq. Last fall, the Georgians doubled their contingent, making them the third-largest contributor to the coalition. Not bad for a nation of 4.6 million people. . .

Leaving aside the question of Russian interference, the larger concern has been that Georgia might be tempted to use its newfound military prowess to resolve domestic conflicts by force. As Sergei Shamba, the foreign affairs minister of Abkhazia, told me in 2006: "The Georgians are euphoric because they have been equipped, trained, that they have gained military experience in Iraq. It feeds this revanchist mood… How can South Ossetia be demilitarized, when all of Georgia is bristling with weaponry, and it’s only an hour’s ride by tank from Tbilisi to Tskhinvali?"

One of the U.S. military trainers put it to me a bit more bluntly. "We’re giving them the knife," he said. "Will they use it?"

Ynet News, Israel - For past seven years, Israeli companies have been helping Georgian army to preparer for war against Russia through arms deals, training of infantry units and security advice. . . Israel began selling arms to Georgia about seven years ago following an initiative by Georgian citizens who immigrated to Israel and became businesspeople. "They contacted defense industry officials and arms dealers and told them that Georgia had relatively large budgets and could be interested in purchasing Israeli weapons," says a source involved in arms exports.

The military cooperation between the countries developed swiftly. The fact that Georgia's defense minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is a former Israeli who is fluent in Hebrew contributed to this cooperation. "His door was always open to the Israelis who came and offered his country arms systems made in Israel," the source said. "Compared to countries in Eastern Europe, the deals in this country were conducted fast, mainly due to the defense minister's personal involvement.". . .

Israelis' activity in Georgia and the deals they struck there were all authorized by the Defense Ministry. Israel viewed Georgia as a friendly state to which there is no reason not to sell arms systems similar to those Israel exports to other countries in the world. As the tension between Russia and Georgia grew, however, increasing voices were heard in Israel - particularly in the Foreign Ministry - calling on the Defense Ministry to be more selective in the approval of the deals with Georgia for fear that they would anger Russia.

"It was clear that too many unmistakable Israeli systems in the possession of the Georgian army would be like a red cloth in the face of a raging bull as far as Russia is concerned," explained a source in the defense establishment. . .

In May it was eventually decide to approve future deals with Georgia only for the sale of non-offensive weapon systems, such as intelligence, communications and computer systems, and not to approve deals for the sale of rifles, aircraft, sells, etc. . .

Dov Pikulin, one of the owners of the Authentico company specializing in trips and journeys to the area, says however that "the Israeli is the main investor in the Georgian economy. Everyone is there, directly or indirectly."

One of the Georgian parliament members did not settle Saturday for the call for American aid, urging Israel to help stop the Russian offensive as well: "We need help from the UN and from our friends, headed by the United States and Israel."


New Scientist - Aa new survey suggests that conservatives are happier than liberals - and offers one reason why. Liberals, claim New York University psychologists Jaime Napier and John Tost, have a tougher time rationalizing social and economic inequality than conservatives. The recent surge in home foreclosures, for instance, is due to poor economic choices on the part of borrowers, a conservative might think. Liberals, on the other hand, seethe at predatory lenders and lax government regulation of the mortgage industry.
The result: conservatives mix a martini and hit the country club, while liberals write angry letters and stage protests

Income, education, religion and other demographic variables couldn't explain the happiness gap. However, when the authors instead grouped people by their "rationalization of inequality," the differences between conservatives and liberals dissolved. Republican or Democrat, people not bothered by social or economic disparities tend to be happy. This trend held for non-Americans, as well. Right-wingers in the Czech Republic, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland were all happier than liberals, on average. And the poorer - and presumably more unequal - a country, the greater the happiness divide.


Richard A. Serrano and Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times - Outside her Bel-Air home, Nancy Reagan stood arm in arm with John McCain and offered a significant -- but less than exuberant -- endorsement. "Ronnie and I always waited until everything was decided, and then we endorsed," the Republican matriarch said in March. "Well, obviously this is the nominee of the party." They were the only words she would speak during the five-minute photo op.

In a written statement, she described McCain as "a good friend for over 30 years." But that friendship was strained in the late 1970s by McCain's decision to divorce his first wife, Carol, who was particularly close to the Reagans, and within weeks marry Cindy Hensley, the young heiress to a lucrative Arizona beer distributorship.

The Reagans rushed to help Carol, finding her a new home in Southern California with the family of Reagan aide Edwin Meese III and a series of political and White House jobs to ease her through that difficult time.

McCain, who is about to become the GOP nominee, has made several statements about how he divorced Carol and married Hensley that conflict with the public record.

In his 2002 memoir, "Worth the Fighting For," McCain wrote that he had separated from Carol before he began dating Hensley.

"I spent as much time with Cindy in Washington and Arizona as our jobs would allow," McCain wrote. "I was separated from Carol, but our divorce would not become final until February of 1980."

An examination of court documents tells a different story. McCain did not sue his wife for divorce until Feb. 19, 1980, and he wrote in his court petition that he and his wife had "cohabited" until Jan. 7 of that year -- or for the first nine months of his relationship with Hensley.

Although McCain suggested in his autobiography that months passed between his divorce and remarriage, the divorce was granted April 2, 1980, and he wed Hensley in a private ceremony five weeks later. McCain obtained an Arizona marriage license on March 6, 1980, while still legally married to his first wife.

Until McCain filed for divorce, the Reagans and their inner circle assumed he was happily married, and they were stunned to learn otherwise, according to several close aides. . .

In a recent interview, McCain said he did not want to revisit the breakup of his marriage. "I have a very good relationship with my first wife," he said. In his autobiography, he wrote: "My marriage's collapse was attributable to my own selfishness and immaturity. The blame was entirely mine."

Tucker Bounds, a McCain campaign spokesman, said: "Of course we will not comment on the breakup of the senator's first marriage, other than to note that the senator has always taken responsibility for it."

Carol McCain did not respond to a request for an interview.

About all she has ever said is this to McCain biographer Robert Timberg: "John was turning 40 and wanting to be 25 again."

After leaving the White House, Carol McCain worked in press relations in the Washington area, retiring about five years ago after working for the National Soft Drink Assn. She now lives in Virginia Beach, Va., and has not remarried. She has two sons from an earlier marriage: Andy, a vice president at Cindy McCain's beer distributorship, and Doug, a commercial airline pilot.


CNN - Sen. Hillary Clinton's one-time chief strategist wanted to attack Sen. Barack Obama for lacking "American roots" during the Democratic primary battle, according to a magazine article. A Mark Penn memo reportedly said the U.S. wouldn't vote for a candidate who was not "fundamentally American."

"All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light. Save it for 2050," Mark Penn, then Clinton's chief strategist, wrote in a March 2007 memo, according to an article to be published in the September edition of The Atlantic magazine.

"It also exposes a very strong weakness for him -- his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values," Penn wrote, according to the article by Joshua Green. . .

Green noted that Clinton did not pursue the strategy Penn suggested during the contentious Democratic primary battle. . . In April, Penn was forced out of his position as chief strategist after revelations that he lobbied for a U.S.-Colombia trade deal on behalf of the Colombian government despite Clinton's opposition to the measure. Penn, however, never left the campaign entirely. Don't Miss

In the Atlantic article, which is based on internal Clinton campaign memos and e-mail messages, Green highlighted bitter fighting among Clinton's staff, writing that her advisers "couldn't execute strategy; they routinely attacked and undermined each other and Clinton never forced a resolution.". . .

The documents also suggest the Clinton staff remained divided throughout the campaign on whether she should run a positive campaign or attack Obama and her other rivals for the Democratic nomination as being untrustworthy and underqualified, Green wrote.

"Clinton's top advisers never agreed on the answer. Over the course of the campaign, they split into competing factions that drifted in and out of Clinton's favor but always seemed to work at cross purposes. And Clinton herself could never quite decide who was right," he wrote.



Jonathan Darman, Newsweek - I struck up a conversation with [Rielle Hunter] at the next [Edwards] event, as we waited outside. She told me her name and asked me what my astrological sign was, which I thought was a little unusual. I told her. She smiled, and began telling me her life story: how she was working as a documentary-film maker, living with a friend in South Orange, N.J., but how she'd previously had "many lives." She'd worked, she said, as an actress and as a spiritual adviser. She was fiercely devoted to astrology and New Age spirituality. She'd been a New York party girl, she'd been married and divorced, she'd been a seeker and a teacher and was a firm believer in the power of truth.

She told me that she had met Edwards at a bar, at the Regency Hotel in New York. She thought he was giving off a special "energy." I didn't pursue the topic, and when I filed my story, I made no mention of Rielle. . . Four months later, Rielle found her way to me. It was November 2006. I received an e-mail from her, complimenting me on some stories I'd written on the midterm elections. She wanted to give me a story. Could I come for lunch in New York?

We agreed to meet at Aqua Grill in SoHo on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. When I arrived at the restaurant, she was already seated. She greeted me warmly with surprising intimacy, rising for two kisses on the cheek. "So it's afternoon," I said with a smile. "What do you think, are we drinking wine?" She smiled back at me. "Bottle or glass?"

I would soon learn that there was no such thing as small talk with Rielle Hunter. She told me that she'd felt a connection to me when we'd first met, that she could tell I was a very old soul. This meant a lot to Rielle. Her speech was peppered with New Age jargon-human beings were dragged down by "blockages" to their actual potential; history was the story of souls entering and escaping our field of consciousness. A seminal book for her had been Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now." Her purpose on this Earth, she said, was to help raise awareness about all this, to help the unenlightened become better reflections of their true, repressed selves.


David Swanson, After Downing Street - Former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's new book "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder" is . . . an argument that state and local prosecutors have the necessary jurisdiction to try Bush for murder and for conspiracy to commit murder, at least once he's out of office.

Bush chose to send US troops into Iraq. He did not do so in self-defense or as a last resort or under an international mandate, but rather went out of his way to concoct false motives for war and to rush its launching. By sending troops into war, Bush was knowingly and needlessly but certainly condemning some of them to death. The Iraqis who killed those soldiers in predictable and legally justifiable defense of their country fall into the legal category of "third-party innocent agent." This does not mean they are innocent, but rather that their actions do nothing to lessen the guilt of George W. Bush as murderer of those soldiers. Bugliosi calls this the "vicarious liability rule of conspiracy." Bugliosi explains:

"In other words, if Bush personally killed an American soldier, he would be guilty of murder. Under the law, he cannot immunize himself from his criminal responsibility by causing a third party to do the killing. He's still responsible. George Bush cannot sit safely in his Oval Office in Washington, D.C., while young American soldiers fighting his war are being blown to pieces by roadside bombs in Iraq, and wash his hands of all culpability. It's not quite that easy. He could only do this if he did not take this nation into war under false pretenses. If he did, which the evidence overwhelmingly shows, he is criminally responsible for the thousands of American deaths in Iraq." In addition, Bugliosi argues, Bush could be found guilty of murder under the rule of "aiding and abetting," because he instigated the killing of American soldiers by ordering the invasion of Iraq.

Did Bush have "malice aforethought"? Yes, according to Bugliosi. We convict people of murder for driving 100 mph through a school zone and hitting a child, or for blowing up a building while unaware that someone is inside. These are cases where the murderer does not know he is committing murder but where he is reckless enough to take an unreasonable risk of doing so. In Bush's case, he absolutely knew that invading Iraq would involve US casualties, and yet he ordered the invasion, thereby acting with the intent that American soldiers be killed. Bugliosi strengthens this argument by pointing out that we often convict people of murder for accidental killings that occur in the act of committing other felonies:

"A robber, for instance, was convicted of first degree murder under the felony-murder rule where, as he was leaving the store in which he had robbed the owner, he told the owner not to say a word or he'd be harmed, and fired into the ceiling to scare the owner. The shot, after two or three ricochets, pierced the head of the owner, killing him. In fact, the felony-murder rule applies even where the defendant is not the killer! There have been cases where the proprietor of the store fired at a robber, missed him and hit and killed a customer. And the robber was convicted of first degree murder of the customer."

Bugliosi missed an opportunity here to further strengthen his case by noting that in the act of ordering the invasion of Iraq, Bush was committing a number of felonies. When Bush submitted his March 18, 2003, letter and report to the United States Congress providing reasons for attacking Iraq, he violated the federal anti-conspiracy statute, 18 U.S.C. - 371, which makes it a felony "to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose..."; and The False Statements Accountability Act of 1996, 18 U.S.C. - 1001, which makes it a felony to issue knowingly and willfully false statements to the United States Congress. Bush also committed a felony by misappropriating funds to secretly begin the invasion prior to this date.

Bugliosi notes that there is no statute of limitations for murder. Bush could be prosecuted by any future federal prosecutor who had the nerve to do so and could do so while keeping his or her job. But Bugliosi writes that a state attorney general or any district attorney in any city or county could bring a murder charge against Bush for any soldiers from that state or county who lost their lives in Iraq. And not just Bush, but Cheney, Rice, et alia. Bugliosi provides some truly talented proposals for questioning Bush in court and adds:

"I would be more than happy, if requested, to consult with any prosecutor who decides to prosecute Bush in preparation of additional cross-examination questions for him to face on the witness stand. I believe the cross-examination would be such that they'd have to carry the arrogant son of privilege off the stand on a stretcher."

I know the same offer to assist stands from former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega, author of "United States versus George W. Bush et al.". . .

International crimes

David Swanson, After Downing Street - Last week two judges encouraged me to look to courts to help us recover from the damage done by an outlaw executive and a spineless corrupt legislature. The first was Bush-appointed federal Judge John Bates who ruled that people must comply with congressional subpoenas even if they used to work for the president, and this because - you know - the law requires it. The second was Judge William Price in Iowa who was hearing the case of citizens arrested for trying to make a citizens' arrest of Karl Rove. When told what they had been trying to do, the judge said "Well, it's about time!"

Next month, on September 13th and 14th in Andover, Massachusetts, a major conference will be held to discuss the possibilities for prosecuting high-level American war criminals, including Bush and Cheney. The agenda and information on how to attend can be found at

A somewhat similar conference was held in Paris, France, in September 2005, organized by the Association for the Defence of International Humanitarian Law, France and the International Federation of Human Rights. The remarks of a long list of outstanding expert speakers have been updated, translated, and just published as "International Justice and Impunity: The Case of the United States," from Clarity Press.

It would be enlightening to many Americans to read this book, which documents the discussion of top proponents of human rights from around the world, including the United States -- a discussion focusing on the single biggest impediment to establishing the international rule of law, to eliminating war as an instrument of policy, and to defending human rights around the world, namely the fierce opposition of the U.S. government to all of the above.

Of course, the United States played a key role in creating the United Nations, in convening the tribunals in Nuremberg and Tokyo, in developing and promoting the ideas of human rights and international law. And, of course, the United States favors, to this day, the concept of international law as applied to the crimes of any nation other than the United States. But this two-tiered system in which the United States operates with a set of rules completely unlike those for everyone else is eroding support for the entire idea of law as something applicable to the actions of nations, rulers, and militaries.

As one example of the intense attack the Bush-Cheney White House has launched against international law, we can look at the case of Belgium, where the national government was developing the laws and practice needed to prosecute crimes against humanity whether or not related in any way to Belgium. But in May 2003 an attorney lodged a complaint on behalf of a number of Iraqi and Jordanian victims against U.S. General Tommy Franks and some members of his staff for war crimes in Iraq. The crimes included the bombing of civilian targets, the use of cluster bombs, and the targeting of the Palestine Hotel, which was known to house only journalists. The U.S. Congress quickly passed a law allowing the U.S. president to attack anyone (including Belgium) who would detain members of the U.S. military. The White House also told Belgium to drop the case and change the law that permitted it ever to be brought, or the headquarters of NATO would be moved to another country taking thousands of jobs with it. The law was changed and the case dropped before the US media ever mentioned it.



Europe Business Canada, August 7 - Operation Brimstone ended only one week ago. This was the joint US/UK/French naval war games in the Atlantic Ocean preparing for a naval blockade of Iran and the likely resulting war in the Persian Gulf area. The massive war games included a US Navy supercarrier battle group, an US Navy expeditionary carrier battle group, a Royal Navy carrier battle group, a French nuclear hunter-killer submarine plus a large number of US Navy cruisers, destroyers and frigates playing the "enemy force". . .

The build up of naval forces in the Gulf will be one of the largest multi-national naval armadas since the First and Second Gulf Wars. The intent is to create a US/EU naval blockade (which is an Act of War under international law) around Iran (with supporting air and land elements) to prevent the shipment of benzene and certain other refined oil products headed to Iranian ports. Iran has limited domestic oil refining capacity and imports 40% of its benzene. Cutting off benzene and other key products would cripple the Iranian economy. The neo-cons are counting on such a blockade launching a war with Iran.

The large and very advanced nature of the US Naval warships is not only directed at Iran. There is a great fear that Russia and China may oppose the naval and air/land blockade of Iran. If Russian and perhaps Chinese naval warships escort commercial tankers to Iran in violation of the blockade it could be the most dangerous at-sea confrontation since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The US and allied Navies, by front loading a Naval blockade force with very powerful guided missile warships and strike carriers is attempting to have a force so powerful that Russia and China will not be tempted to mess with. This is a most serious game of military brinkmanship with major nuclear armed powers that have profound objections to the neo-con grand strategy and to western control of all of the Middle East's oil supply.

The Russian Navy this spring sent a major battle fleet into the Mediterranean headed by the modern aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov and the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet, the Guided Missile Heavy Cruiser Moskva. This powerful fleet has at least 11 surface ships and unknown numbers of subs and can use the Russian naval facility at Syria's Tartous port for resupply. The Admiral Kuznetsov carries approximately 47 warplanes and 10 helicopters. . . .

A strategic diversion has been created for Russia. The Republic of Georgia, with US backing, is actively preparing for war on South Ossetia. The South Ossetia capital has been shelled and a large Georgian tank force has been heading towards the border. Russia has stated that it will not sit by and allow the Georgians to attack South Ossetia. The Russians are great chess players and this game may not turn out so well for the neo-cons.

Update 8 August 2008 - War has broken out between Georgia and South Ossetia. At least 10 Russian troops have been killed and 30 wounded and 2 Russian fighter jets downed. American Marines, a thousand of them, have recently been in Georgia training the Georgian military forces. Several European nations stopped Bush and others from allowing Georgia into NATO. Russia is moving a large military force with armor towards the area. This could get bad, and remember it is just a strategic diversion. . . but one that could have horrific effects

Kuwait has activated its "Emergency War Plan" as it and other Gulf nations prepare for the likelihood of a major regional war in the Middle East involving weapons of mass destruction.

The two-ton elephant in the living room of the neo-con strategy is the advanced biowar that Iran, and to a lessor extent Syria, has. This places the motherlands of the major neo-con nations (America, France, the United Kingdom), as well as Israel, in grave danger. When the Soviet Union fell the Iranians hired as many out-of-work former Soviet advanced biowar experts as possible. In the last 15 or so years they have helped to develop a truly world class ABW program utilizing recombination DNA genetic engineering technology to create a large number of man made killer viruses. This form of weapon system does not require high tech military delivery systems. The viruses are sub-microscopic and once seeded in a population use the population itself as vectors. Seeding can be done without notice in shopping malls, churches, and other public places. The only real defense to an advanced global strategic biowar attack is to lock down the population as rapidly as possible and let those infected die off.

Unless the public gets it act together and forces the neo-cons to stop the march to yet another war in the Middle East we are apt to see a truly horrific nightmare unfold in our countries.


Boston Globe - Pharmaceutical and biotechnology groups have launched a lobbying blitz to try to persuade [Governor Deval] Patrick to kill contentious legislation aimed at clamping down on drug companies that provide gifts and meals to physicians. The provision, included as part of a sweeping healthcare bill approved by House and Senate lawmakers in the final hours of the legislative session last week, requires the companies to report to the state Department of Public Health any payment or gift of more than $50 made to a healthcare professional. Those gifts would be publicly reported on the state's website

But several politically connected groups - including the Massachusetts High Technology Council, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce - are fighting against that provision in the legislation, saying it would have a "chilling effect" on the biotech companies that the state has been working so hard to bring to Massachusetts. . .

Six groups - including the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a national consortium of biotechnology companies that named Patrick its Governor of the Year in June - took out a full-page advertisement in yesterday's Globe saying the legislation would "demonize an industry and the thousands of professionals that comprise it."

In the ad, the organizations said the new legislation would undermine all the progress Massachusetts has made and have "a direct and immediate devastating impact on the lives of thousands of people across the Commonwealth" by curtailing clinical trials here. Their reasoning: Companies would invest in states that did not require them to file such reports.


Sam Smith

The Edwards affair helps to explain my reputation as a doubter; and it provides added support for one of my basic journalistic principles: the quickest way to get into trouble into say something nice about a politician. As one whom I had once admired, Marion Barry, put it to another reporter, "Sam's a cynical cat."

In fact, the overwhelming proportion of my journalistic misjudgments have been the product of excessive optimism. So obvious is this statistical bias that I never compliment a politician anymore without considering the risk involved, the letters I will receive and the ridicule I may endure.

One of the ways I try to protect myself is by not fudging the story. Thus, I have noted of another recipient of Smithian praise, "If I find Ralph Nader driving a Hummer, I'm going to report it."

Which is one reason why the Review was among a tiny number of journals that reported last December on the National Enquirer's claims about John Edwards, even though I believed - and still do - that Edwards was the best Democratic candidate who stood a chance. The other reason was that I figured since those readers who went to conventional supermarkets had at least read the headlines in the checkout line, those readers who preferred Whole Foods should be given equal status.

As for the actual adulterous act, there has been a rush among lazy liberals to defend Edwards by comparisons to Franklin Roosevelt, JFK and Bill Clinton. On the surface there are similarities. And then some. For example, I knew a guy who as a young man drove Kennedy during a key portion of the 1960 campaign and was specifically instructed to make sure that Kennedy remained in his assigned locations and didn't make a tryst-bound escape. On at least one occasion, he failed

But there are also striking differences. For example, a Huffington huffer writes:

"Some will claim, as they did with Bill Clinton, that it's not the affair but the lies that went along with it. Really? Did JFK come out and tell the American people - or his wife - 'by the way, while my wife was in the hospital I was having an affair with not one, but several women at the same time?' No, of course, he lied too. Every man that has ever cheated on his wife has lied (and so has every woman who has ever cheated). It is part and parcel of the affair."

What is not mentioned, of course, is that JFK did not lie under oath to a grand jury, deny a former sex partner a fair court hearing, and end up being legally punished not for casual sex but for being a legally contemptuous prevaricator.

Liberal denial notwithstanding, the Clinton story is different in a number of other ways:

- Although unreported, the Clinton sex escapades were so chronic they bordered on the pathological, as when - according to one of his police drivers - he had sex in car next to his daughter's school playground.

- The women - all of whom were later deserted, rejected or ridiculed by the women's movement - suffered more than the normal pangs of male sexual opportunism. They felt threatened, sometimes with good cause as with the skull found on the porch or a bullet laid on the front seat of their vehicle. One felt compelled to leave the country, another to another state.

- As I noted early in his presidency, Clinton's Don Juanish sexual behavior mirrored his political actions. He was no more to be trusted in one type of affair than in the other.

There is, on these grounds alone, a world of difference between Edwards, FDR and JFK on the one hand, and Clinton on the other.

There is another: his affair aside, Edwards was a clearly positive force in America. He was the first Democratic presidential candidate since the 1960s who had both a chance of winning and a program that would was in the best tradition of the most for the most. A liberal constituency absorbed with its own success (not to mention the socio-economic cleansing of our cities) wasn't interested.

I am sometimes criticized for being too priggish about politicians and how they should behave. Far from it. Two of the leading political scoundrels of modern time - Lyndon Johnson and Adam Clayton Powell - got more good legislation past in less time than anyone in American history. I was there to cover the story and I learned from the experience not to expect perfection but compensation. Here's how I explained in later in writing about DC mayor Marion Barry:

"When Barry ran for mayoral reelection the last time, I took the position that I was all in favor of redemption; I just didn't see why you had to do it the mayor's office. I broke up one talk show host by suggesting that Barry follow the example of a recently disgraced Irish bishop and go help the Indians of Guatemala.

"On another talk show, Barry said that the press was always blaming him for all the city's problems. I said that wasn't fair; I only blamed him for 26.7% of the city's problems. 'I'll buy that,' Marion replied. .

Yet I also knew that Barry - like other urban ethnic politicians - had far more to blame than himself. Whatever his faults, he knew he had been granted dispensation because - like a feudal lord - he provided significant favors in return. Barry had lived in Memphis and I often suspected he had learned his politics from Boss Trump. For he understood the quid pro quo of traditional urban corruption that had helped the Irish, Italians, Jews, and Poles break down the worst corruption of all - that of an elite unwilling to share its power with others. It was far from a perfect deal but in the interim before the 'reformers' seized office again on behalf of their developer and other business buddies, more people would get closer to power than they ever had or would again. It happened in Chicago, in Boston as well as in Washington under Barry.

"And now the reformers are back. The young gentrifiers who think the greatest two moments in the city's history are when Barry went to jail and when they arrived in town. And their politicians, who don't feel it necessary to even tithe to the people."

That's where we found ourselves earlier this year. Two candidates - Obama and Clinton - running overwhelming for themselves and another, Edwards, at least tithing to the people.

Most politicians, when they fall, seek some safe haven to enjoy the rest of their lives. A few, and I suspect that Edwards may be one, are spurred to seek redemption through their acts. In which case the act that brought them down can fade and we see the wonder of humans recovering their soul.

He is blessed by still being married to Elizabeth Edwards, the finest spirit to show up on the national campaign trail this year. I was also struck by something Edwards said, "In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic. If you want to beat me up - feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself. I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to help my family and others who need my help."

It brought to mind a TV show where I had questioned Barry about his failure to apologize to the people of Washington DC for the harm he had done them. He went into a little spiel about his redemption ending by saying he hoped I would someday think him redeemed as well.

Afterwards, in the green room, I explained that I wasn't talking about his redemption but about the harm he had done the rest of us in the city. Isn't one of the 12 steps, I asked, that you deal with the damage you have done to others? Barry nodded and said "So you think I should apologize to them?" I said I thought it would help. But he never really did.

Bill Clinton, of course, never apologizes to anyone for anything. But a corner of my heart still whispers that Edwards could be different and that we may not have seen the best of him yet.


Joseph Neff, Raleigh News & Observer - Blackwater obtained dozens of small business contracts worth more than $110 million . . . The Inspector General of the Small Business Administration said Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., obtained 39 contracts set aside for small businesses from 2005 through 2007. Of these, 32 contracts worth $2.1 million were set aside for companies with annual revenues of $6.5 million or less. Blackwater's revenues have exceeded $200 million each of those years, according to federal contracting data.

The Inspector General also found fault with the handling of aviation contracts worth $107 million that the Defense Department awarded Blackwater. The contract was set aside either for a company with less than $25.5 million in annual revenue, or a company with less than 1,500 employees. The report said the company may have improperly classified Blackwater guards in Iraq and Afghanistan as independent contractors rather than employees. The report also criticized the Small Business Administration for not examining Blackwater's contention that its security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are not employees, but independent contractors.


Andrew Walker, BBC - Nigerian Mohammed Bello Abubakar, 84, has advised other men not to follow his example and marry 86 women. The former teacher and Muslim preacher, who lives in Niger State with his wives and at least 170 children, says he is able to cope only with the help of God. "A man with 10 wives would collapse and die, but my own power is given by Allah. That is why I have been able to control 86 of them," he told the BBC. He says his wives have sought him out because of his reputation as a healer.

"I don't go looking for them, they come to me. I will consider the fact that God has asked me to do it and I will just marry them." But such claims have alienated the Islamic authorities in Nigeria, who have branded his family a cult. Most Muslim scholars agree that a man is allowed to have four wives, as long as he can treat them equally.

But Mr Bello Abubakar says there is no punishment stated in the Koran for having more than four wives. . .

Some of Mr Bello Abubakar's wives are younger than some of his children. Most of his wives are less than a quarter of his age - and many are younger than some of his own children.

The wives the BBC spoke to say they met Mr Bello Abubakar when they went to him to seek help for various illnesses, which they say he cured. "As soon as I met him the headache was gone," says Sharifat Bello Abubakar, who was 25 at the time and Mr Bello Abubakar 74. . .

Mr Bello Abubakar and his wives do not work and he has no visible means of supporting such a large family.
He refuses to say how he makes enough money to pay for the huge cost of feeding and clothing so many people. Every mealtime they cook three 12kg bags of rice which all adds up to $915 every day. . .

"It's all from God," he says.


Science Daily - An innovative study examined, for the first time, if noseless bicycle saddles would be an effective intervention for alleviating deleterious health effects, erectile dysfunction and groin numbness, caused by bicycling on the traditional saddle with a protruding nose extensi. n. . . Ninety bicycling police officers from 5 metropolitan regions in the U.Susing traditional saddles were evaluated prior to changing saddles and then again after 6 months of using the noseless bicycle saddle. The findings show that use of the noseless saddle resulted in a reduction in saddle contact pressure in the perineal region. There was a significant improvement in penile tactile sensation, and the number of men indicating they had not experienced genital numbness while cycling for the preceding 6 months rose from 27 percent to 82 percent using no-nose saddles. Use of the noseless saddle also resulted in significant increases in erectile function as assessed by the initial evaluation, but there were no significant changes noted in Rigiscan measures, a method used to record penile rigidity while the subject sleeps. With few exceptions, bicycle police officers were able to effectively use no-nose saddles in their police work and 97 percent of officers completing the study continued to use the no-nose saddle afterward.


Think Progress - Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed Brian Benczkowski to serve as his Chief of Staff. Benczkowski is one of the Justice Department's torture apologists. As deputy assistant attorney general, he wrote a letter declaring that if torture "is undertaken to prevent a threatened attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse," it doesn't violate the Geneva Conventions' ban on "outrages upon personal dignity," and is thus presumed to be legal. He wrote that for a torture act to violate the Geneva ban, conduct "must be so deplorable that the reasonable observer would recognize it as something that should be universally condemned." Announcing Benczkowski's appointment yesterday, Mukasey declared he "has been one of my closest advisers in the Department," and praised his "exceptional judgement."


Think Progress - It's already well-known that Amb. Joseph Wilson's July 6, 2003 op-ed in the New York Times deeply troubled the White House. The piece, "What I Didn't Find In Africa," concluded that "some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted [by the Bush administration] to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." The administration went to extraordinary lengths - including revealing the covert CIA identity of his wife, Valerie Plame - to smear Wilson. Last night on MSNBC, Pulitzer-Prize winning author Ron Suskind revealed to Keith Olbermann more steps the administration took after Wilson's op-ed. In 2003, the Bush administration tried to bury statements by head of Iraqi intelligence, Tahir Jalil Habbush, that Saddam Hussein had no WMD. According to former CIA agent Rob Maguire, the decision to then pay Habbush $5 million in hush money came after the run-in with Plame and Wilson: "And, you know, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame popped up that summer. As Maguire says, 'Everyone was terrified that Habbush would pop up on the screen.' That's his quote. At that moment, they dotted the 'I's' and crossed the 'T's' on his financial arrangement of his resettlement. And they agreed to pay him $5 million.


Jayne Lyn Stahl, Progressive Democrats of America - On the eve of President Bush's signing of the housing bill which will regulate, as well as bail out, mortgage behemoth Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and create a $300 billion program to expand the Federal Housing Administration's capacity to guarantee mortgages, comes word that Andrew McCain, son of presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, has resigned today from Silver State Bank's Board of Directors. The bank cites "personal reasons" for Mr. McCain's sudden departure

McCain was appointed to the Board of the Henderson, Nevada bank in February where he served on the Audit Committee. . .

"When the casinos treat you poorly, let Silver State treat you like a valued customer" is the bank's declared mission statement.

Arizona Republic, Jul 31 - Silver State, a public company struggling from the weak economy and problem loans, reported a $13.4 million loss in the first quarter, with non-current loans rising to 4.5 percent of total loans. That contrasted with $6.2 million of net income one year earlier. The company hasn't yet released financial results for the second quarter. A Silver State spokesman declined to comment on the resignation. McCain didn't return phone calls. . . Silver State Bancorp's subsidiary, Silver State Bank, also operates 13 branches in Nevada. McCain also resigned as a director of Silver State Bank. In May, Silver State Bancorp's executive vice president, Douglas French, also resigned.

Barbara's Daily Buzzflash Minute - The McCains are more like the Bushes than first imagined. In yet another bizarre development in the saga of CMKM Diamonds, better known as CMKX, one of the largest financial frauds in history, Andrew McCain, the son of presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain, resigned from the Board of Directors of Henderson, Nevada based Silver State Bank, the bank where hundreds of millions of dollars was deposited as it was stolen from CMKX shareholders.. . .


Independent, UK - Bill Clinton made a plea for a new emphasis on monogamy as a key element in the battle against Aids. The former US president, not noted for his ability to keep his own marriage vows, said it was very important to change people's attitudes to sex.

In an interview with the BBC recorded in Africa, Mr Clinton said that increasing support for monogamy was not just a problem for the continent worst hit by Aids but for the world. "To pretend we can ever get hold of this without dealing with that - the idea of unprotected sexual relations with unlimited numbers of partners - I think would be naive," he said.

- Of all the contenders in the quest to produce the ultimate fuel-efficient car, this could be the first one to let you say, "Fill it up with air." The compressed air car planned for the U.S. market would be a six-seater, a New York company says. . . a vehicle its backers say could achieve a fuel economy of 106 miles per gallon.

The technology has been the focus of MDI, a European company founded in 1991 by a French inventor and former race car engineer. New York-based Zero Pollution Motors is the first firm to obtain a license from MDI to produce the cars in the United States, pledging to deliver the first models in 2010 at a price tag of less than $18,000. The concept is similar to how a locomotive works, except that compressed air -- not steam -- moves the engine's pistons, said Shiva Vencat, vice president of MDI and CEO of Zero Pollution Motors.

The six-seater planned for the U.S. market would be able to reach speeds of more than 90 mph and have a range of more than 800 miles thanks to a dual energy engine, Vencat said. . .

"Above 35 mph, there is an external combustion system which is basically a heater that uses a little bit of gasoline or biofuel or ethanol or vegetable oil that will heat the air," Vencat said. . .

Vencat said an on-board compressor would refill the air tank while the car is running, or owners could refill it by plugging it into a power outlet for four hours. . .

It is possible to power a car with compressed air, but the mileage claim is "at the edge of possibility," said John Callister, director of the Harvey Kinzelberg Entrepreneurship in Engineering program at Cornell University's College of Engineering.


Think Progress - In Ron Suskinds new book, Suskind describes a disturbing case in Washington, D.C., where security officials detained and interrogated Usman Khosa, a Pakistani U.S. college graduate, because he was "fiddling" with his iPod near White House gates. Officials took Khosa to an interrogation room "beneath" the White House:

|||| He turns as a large uniformed man lunges at him. "The backpack!" the man yells, pushing Usman against the Italianate gates in front of Treasury and ripping off his backpack. Another officer on a bicycle arrives from somewhere and tears the backpack open, dumping its contents on the sidewalk. . .

Usman is trundled from the SUV, escorted through the West Gate, and onto the manicured grounds. No one speaks as the agents walk him behind the gate's security station, down a stairwell, along an underground passage, and into a room - cement-walled box with a table, two chairs, a hanging light with a bare bulb, and a mounted video camera. Even after all the astonishing turns of the past hour, Usman can't quite believe there's actually an interrogation room beneath the White House, dark and dank and horrific. ||||

"Usman Khosa is a Pakistani national in his early twenties, a graduate of Connecticut College now working for the International Monetary Fund," Suskind notes.


Olympia News Tribune, OR
- It's not a crime merely to refuse to identify yourself to a police officer. That's what Olympia attorney Legrand Jones is arguing after his arrest during anti-war demonstrations at the Port of Tacoma. Jones, 38, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of trespassing and obstructing a police officer in Tacoma Municipal Court. His attorney, William Ferrell, asked Court Commissioner Dennis Ball to toss out the case against Jones, who's accused of coming onto port property, approaching a fence and then refusing to give officers his ID. Ferrell said in court that the fence had "No trespassing" signs posted on it, but that the area in front of the fence wasn't marked. "Typically, when you see a ‘No trespassing' sign on a fence, it applies to the area beyond the fence, not some indeterminate area (before) the fence," Ferrell argued. "With regard to the obstruction, I would call the court's attention to the fact we don't have a ‘stop and identify' statute in the state of Washington. . . If police feel they have probable cause to arrest an individual, they can take him into custody and identify him through the normal procedures.". . .

In an interview, Jones said he and two others approached the fence the evening of July 30 to see if they could see the Stryker vehicles that were being unloaded after returning from Iraq. . . "I don't have to show my papers on demand; I don't live in that kind of world," Jones said. . .

Ferrell, Jones' attorney, said he too was asked for identification while conducting an investigation on behalf of his client. On Sunday, he went to see the site of the arrest, which was near the intersection of East 11th Street and Port of Tacoma Road, and was stopped by port security officers and asked for identification. Legally, he didn't have to comply, but did so in the interest of expediency, he said. "My sense was that they would have arrested me if I had not," Ferrell said.

He said the officers told him there had been had been "complaints of people taking photographs." Taking photographs in a public place is not illegal, Ferrell noted.


David Brooks recently captured the placelessness of Obama, not just in his upbringing but in his mind.

David Brooks, NY Times - There is a sense that because of his unique background and temperament, Obama lives apart. He put one foot in the institutions he rose through on his journey but never fully engaged. As a result, voters have trouble placing him in his context, understanding the roots and values in which he is ineluctably embedded.

Last week Jodi Kantor of The Times described Obama's 12 years at the University of Chicago Law School. "The young law professor stood apart in too many ways to count," Kantor wrote.

He was a popular and charismatic professor, but he rarely took part in faculty conversations or discussions about the future of the institution. He had a supple grasp of legal ideas, but he never committed those ideas to paper by publishing a piece of scholarship.

He was in the law school, but not of it. . .

His college years were spent on both coasts. He was a community organizer for three years but left before he could be truly effective. He became a state legislator, but he was in the Legislature, not of it. He had some accomplishments, but as Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker wrote, he was famously bored by the institution and used it as a stepping stone to higher things.

He was in Trinity United Church of Christ, but not of it, not sharing the liberation theology that energized Jeremiah Wright Jr. He is in the United States Senate, but not of it. He has not had the time nor the inclination to throw himself into Senate mores, or really get to know more than a handful of his colleagues. His Democratic supporters there speak of him fondly, but vaguely.

And so it goes. He is a liberal, but not fully liberal. He has sometimes opposed the Chicago political establishment, but is also part of it. He spoke at a rally against the Iraq war, while distancing himself from many antiwar activists. . .

But, as the media group FAIR points out, something similar could be said of McCain

FAIR - The Times columnist's declaration that voters don't trust Barack Obama because he's a "sojourner" could have just as easily been written about John McCain - born in the Panama Canal Zone, McCain attended 20 schools growing up, he was a rebel at the Naval Academy, he's frequently depicted as not really fitting into the Senate, he attended Baptist church for 15 years as an Episcopalian. . .


St Louis Post Dispatch - Missouri state Rep. Scott Muschany, R-Frontenac, was indicted in connection with a reported sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl on May 17, the day after this year's Legislative session ended. The alleged victim is the daughter of a state employee. The girl's mother and Muschany -- who is married and has two children -- were romantically involved, the woman said. . .

The father of the girl filed a motion for temporary child custody in Cole County Circuit Court. In the filing he argued that the mother's "believed paramour was believed/alleged to have had inappropriate sexual contact with one of the minor children." The document also alleges that the mother "did admit that the incident did take place, including her witnessing same."


Bernd Debusmann, Reuters - America's alcohol prohibition lasted 13 years, filled the country's prisons, inspired contempt for the law among millions, bred corruption and produced Al Capone. What it did not do was keep Americans from drinking.

America's marijuana prohibition drew into its 72nd year this month. It has created a huge underground industry catering to users, helped the U.S. prison population balloon into the world's largest, and diverted the resources of American law enforcement. What it has not done is keep Americans from using marijuana.

On the contrary. Since 1937, the year marijuana was outlawed, its use in the United States has gone up by 4,000 percent, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington-based lobby group which advocates regulating the drug similar to alcohol. A recent World Health Organization study of marijuana use in 17 countries placed Americans at the top of the list.


Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone - Remember the total, hideous, inexcusable absence of oversight that has been the great hallmark of George Bush's America for almost eight years now? Well, now we're getting to see that same regulatory malfeasance applied to yet another cornerstone of our political system. The Federal Election Commission - the body that supposedly enforces campaign-finance laws in this country - has been out of business for more than six months. That's because Congress was dragging its feet over confirmation hearings for new FEC commissioners, leaving the agency without a quorum. The commission just started work again for the first time on July 10th under its new chairman, Donald McGahn, a classic Republican Party yahoo whose chief qualifications include representing Tom DeLay, the corrupt ex-speaker of the House, in matters of campaign finance.

Apart from the obvious absurdity of not having a functioning election-policing mechanism in an election year in the world's richest democracy, the late start by the FEC makes it almost impossible for the agency to do its job. The commission has a long-standing reluctance to take action in the last months before a vote, a policy designed to help prevent federal regulators from influencing election outcomes. Normally, the FEC tries to root out infractions and loopholes - fining campaigns for incomplete reporting, or for taking shortcuts around spending limits - in the early months of a campaign season. But that ship sailed way too long ago to take the stink off the 2008 race.

"The time for setting the ground rules was earlier," says Craig Holman, a lobbyist with the watchdog group Public Citizen. "There isn't time to do much now."

That's especially true given the magnitude of what we're dealing with here: the biggest pile of political contributions in the history of free elections, nearly a billion dollars given to presidential candidates in this season alone. Because the FEC has been dead in the water for so long, it's likely that we'll still be in the dark about a large chunk of this record manure pile of campaign contributions when we go to vote in November.

But that doesn't mean that a little sifting through campaign records doesn't tell us quite a lot about who's backing whom in these races. The truth is that the campaigns of both Barack Obama and John McCain are being inundated with cash from more or less exactly the same gorgons of the corporate scene. From Wall Street to the Big Oil powerhouses to the military-industrial complex, America's fat-cat business leaders know that the Animal House-style party of the last eight years that made almost all of them rich with bonuses, government contracts and bubble profits is about to come to an end, and someone is going to have to pay to clean up the mess. They want that someone to be you, not them, and they've spared no expense to make sure both presidential candidates will be there to bail them out next year.

They're succeeding. Both would-be presidents have already sold us out. They've taken the money and run - completing the cyclical transformation of the American political narrative from one of monopolistic Republican iniquity to an even more depressing tale about the overweening power of corporate money and the essentially fictitious nature of our two-party system.

In layman's terms, we've gone from being screwed to being fucked. Who knows - maybe Barack Obama will surprise us if he wins the election. But if you look at the money, it doesn't look good.


Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, E360 - In the last several centuries we've increasingly been using our relatively newly acquired power, especially our culturally evolved technologies, to deplete the natural capital of Earth - in particular its deep, rich agricultural soils, its groundwater stored during ice ages, and its biodiversity - as if there were no tomorrow.

The point, all too often ignored, is that this trend is being driven in large part by a combination of population growth and increasing per capita consumption, and it cannot be long continued without risking a collapse of our now-global civilization. Too many people - and especially too many politicians and business executives - are under the delusion that such a disastrous end to the modern human enterprise can be avoided by technological fixes that will allow the population and the economy to grow forever. But if we fail to bring population growth and over-consumption under control - the number of people on Earth is expected to grow from 6.5 billion today to 9 billion by the second half of the 21st century - then we will inhabit a planet where life becomes increasingly untenable because of two looming crises: global heating, and the degradation of the natural systems on which we all depend. . .

Two billion people, all else being equal, put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than one billion people. Two billion rich people disrupt the climate more than two billion poor people. Three hundred million Americans consume more petroleum than 1.3 billion Chinese. And driving an SUV is using a far more environmentally malign transportation technology than riding mass transit.

The technological dimensions of our predicament - such as the need for alternatives to fossil fuel energy - are frequently discussed if too little acted upon. Judging from media reports and the statements of politicians, environmental problems, to the degree they are recognized, can be solved by minor changes in technologies and recycling. Switching to ultra-light, fuel-efficient cars will obviously give some short-term advantage, but as population and consumption grow, they will pour still more carbon dioxide (and vaporized rubber) into the atmosphere and require more natural areas to be buried under concrete. More recycling will help, but many of our society's potentially most dangerous effluents (such as hormone-mimicking chemicals) cannot practically be recycled. There is no technological change we can make that will permit growth in either human numbers or material affluence to continue to expand. In the face of this, the neglect of the intertwined issues of population and consumption is stunning.

Many past human societies have collapsed under the weight of overpopulation and environmental neglect, but today the civilization in peril is global. The population factor in what appears to be a looming catastrophe is even greater than most people suppose. Each person added today to the population on average causes more damage to humanity's critical life-support systems than did the previous addition - everything else being equal. The reason is simple: Homo sapiens became the dominant animal by being smart. Farmers didn't settle first on poor soils where water was scarce, but rather in rich river valleys. That's where most cities developed, where rich soils are now being paved over for roads and suburbs, and where water supplies are being polluted or overexploited.

As a result, to support additional people it is necessary to move to ever poorer lands, drill wells deeper, or tap increasingly remote sources to obtain water - and then spend more energy to transport that water ever greater distances to farm fields, homes, and factories. Our distant ancestors could pick up nearly pure copper on Earth's surface when they started to use metals; now people must use vast amounts of energy to mine and smelt gigantic amounts of copper ore of ever poorer quality, some in concentrations of less than one percent. The same can be said for other important metals. And petroleum can no longer be found easily on or near the surface, but must be gleaned from wells drilled a mile or more deep, often in inaccessible localities, such as under continental shelves beneath the sea. All of the paving, drilling, fertilizer manufacturing, pumping, smelting, and transporting needed to provide for the consumption of burgeoning numbers of people produces greenhouse gases and thus tightens the connection between population and climate disruption.

So why is the topic of overpopulation so generally ignored? There are some obvious reasons. Attempts by governments to limit their nation's population growth are anathema to those on the right who believe the only role for governments in the bedroom is to force women to take unwanted babies to term. Those on the left fear, with some legitimacy, that population control could turn racist or discriminatory in other ways - for example, attempting to reduce the numbers of minorities or the poor. Many fear the specter of more of "them" compared to "us," and all of us fear loss of liberty and economic decline (since population growth is often claimed necessary for economic health). And there are religious leaders who still try to promote over-reproduction by their flocks, though in much of the world their efforts are largely futile (Catholic countries in Europe tend to be low-birthrate leaders, for example).

But much of the responsibility must go to ignorance, which leads mainstream media, even newspapers like The New York Times, to maintain a pro-natalist stance. For example, the Times had an article on June 29 about a "baby bust" in industrialized countries in which the United States (still growing) was noted as a "sparkling exception." Beyond the media, great foundations have turned their "population programs" away from encouraging low fertility rates and toward topics like "changing sexual mores" - avoiding discussion of the contribution demographics is making to a possible collapse of civilization.

Some leading economists are starting to tackle the issue of over-consumption, but the problems and its cures are tough to analyze."

Consumption is still viewed as an unalloyed good by many economists, along with business leaders and politicians, who tend to see jacking up consumption as a cure-all for economic ills. Too much unemployment? Encourage people to buy an SUV or a new refrigerator. Perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell, but third-rate economists can't think of anything else. Some leading economists are starting to tackle the issue of overconsumption, but the problem and its cures are tough to analyze. Scientists have yet to develop consumption condoms or morning-after-shopping-spree pills.

And, of course, there are the vexing problems of consumption of people in poor countries. On one hand, a billion or more people have problems of under-consumption. Unless their basic needs are met, they are unlikely to be able to make important contributions to attaining sustainability. On the other hand, there is also the issue of the "new consumers" in developing economies such as China and India, where the wealth of a sizable minority is permitting them to acquire the consumption habits (e.g., eating a lot of meat and driving automobiles) of the rich nations. Consumption regulation is a lot more complex than population regulation, and it is much more difficult to find humane and equitable solutions to the problem.

The dominant animal is wasting its brilliance and its wonderful achievements; civilization's fate is being determined by decision makers who determinedly look the other way in favor of immediate comfort and profit. Thousands of scientists recently participated in a Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that outlined our current environmental dilemma, but the report's dire message made very little impact. Absent attention to that message, the fates of Easter Island, the Classic Maya civilization, and Nineveh - all of which collapsed following environmental degradation - await us all. . .


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Lyndon Hood: This ->

It's been brought to my attention that Labour's new campaign slogan is "Let's do this". A collective call to action. A mission. I myself was halfway out of the couch before I realised I wasn't sure what it was I was supposed to do. More>>


Scoop Hivemind Report: What New Zealanders Think About Affordable Housing

Ordinary citizens have had very few venues where they can debate and discuss as to what they believe has led to the crisis in affordable housing and how we might begin to address this. The HiveMind on affordable housing was about redressing the balance. More>>


New Hivemind Exploration: Opening The Election - Freshwater Quality

This is an opportunity for you as one of the 4 million guardians of our common water resources to help us find mutually agreeable solutions to the critical task of collectively managing these resources for health and sustainability. More>>