Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stratfor: European Terror Threat Overstated

Stratfor: European Terror Threat Overstated

Tactical analyst Ben West discusses the recent terror threat in Europe and explains why the plot is unlikely to lead to a Mumbai-style attack.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cheerful Reflections on Death and Dying


By Robert Anton Wilson [Yes, it’s Robert Anton Wilson week. ;) - c]
 
I don't understand why people fear death -- although of course I see good reasons to fear the process of dying. Dying often involves a great deal of prolonged pain, and in this country at least may drain your life savings into the bank accounts of the A.M.A.. Both prospects seem equally terrifying especially if you hoped to leave a decent estate to your children.

One can avoid these deplorable conditions, however, by moving to a civilized country with a national health plan and legal help to assist you in suicide if you have reached a condition where you can't do it yourself. I personally intend to move to Nederland in the event that a painful, expensive and prolonged death seems inescapable. The medical banditos have made enough money out of me already; I refuse to enrich them further on my way out.

But as for death, and what -- if anything --comes after death, I see no cause for apprehension whatsoever.

To consider the alternatives in order:

Most people through most of history have believed that after death comes rebirth (reincarnation). I think most people, planet wide, still believe that. It fails to terrify me. If I get reborn as a cockroach, I intend to hide in the vicinity of somebody's computer and write poems on the keyboard at night, like archy, the famous roach who left his verse in the typewriter of Don Marquis. If I get reborn as a human, I might meet my wife Arlen again and love her again and marry her again. That sounds great to me.

Other rebirths, as a tree, say, or a blue whale, also seem more entertaining (and educational) than frightening.

Unfortunately, I have no good reasons to believe in reincarnation, although I'd sort of like to. I include it only for the sake of completeness.

A sinister rumor, widely believed in the Occident, holds that after death we go to a place called Heaven. From all the descriptions I've read, it sounds dreadful to me. It seems to have a population made up entirely of some gang of Christians; the experts on Heaven disagree about which conglomeration of Christians will qualify, but they always seem to think that they personally belong to that elite group. An eternity with people that conceited seems intolerable to me, but fortunately I am not a Christian so I won't be consigned to such a boring place.

An even more nefarious report appears in the United States Marine Corps hymn:

If the Army and the Navy
ever looked on Heaven's scenes
they would find the streets were guarded
by the United States Marines

A place where every street is guarded by Marines sounds like a particularly vicious police state, especially if Christians run it, and I definitely don't want to go there, even for a visit. I wouldn't even wish it on my worst enemy, if I had any enemies. (Some people hate me for the books I write, but I refuse to hate them back, so they don't count as enemies.)

Fortunately, as noted, I don't qualify for Heaven, with all its harps and fanatic Christians and martial law by Marines. A worse idea, which has terrified millions, claims that some of us will go to a place called Hell, where we will suffer eternal torture. This does not scare me because, when I try to imagine a Mind behind this universe, I cannot conceive that Mind, usually called "God," as totally mad.

I mean, guys, compare that "God" with the worst monsters you can think of - - Adolph Hitler, Joe Stalin, that sort of guy. None of them ever inflicted more than finite pain on their victims. Even de Sade, in his sado-maso fantasy novels, never devised an unlimited torture. The idea that the Mind of Creation (if such exists) wants to torture some of its critters for endless infinities of infinities seems too absurd to take seriously.

Such a deranged Mind could not create a mud hut, much less the exquisitely mathematical universe around us.

If such a monster-God did exist, the sane attitude would consist of practicing the Buddhist virtue of compassion. He seems very sick in His head, so don't give way to hatred: try to understand and forgive him. Maybe He will recover his wits some day. (I wrote "He" instead of the fashionable "He or She" because only male Gods appear to have invented Hells. I can't think of a single Goddess who ever created a Hell for people who displeased Her.)

A fourth alternative after-death scenario involves merger with "God" or with "the Godhead" (the latter term seems more popular.) This idea, which seems Hindic in origin, currently enjoys vast popularity with New Agers. I see nothing terrifying here; in fact, I suspect I would enjoy it, based on my previous experiences in which this merging/melting seemed to take place on LSD. An infinite Acid Trip in which the whole universe seems like your body: who could fear that (except Republicans)?

The fifth and, as far as I know, the last thinkable alternative holds that after death comes total oblivion. This has either terrorized or angered many intelligent writers (e.g. Bertrand Russell and Jean Paul Sartre, who seem to have hated "life after death" for not existing, just as they remained permanently pissed off at "God" for not existing.) Sorry: it doesn't seem terrible to me at all. If I become totally oblivious, I won't know about it (by definition of oblivion.) How can you feel terrified of something you can't experience?

Besides oblivion means freedom from "all the ills the flesh is heir to," from bleeding piles to cancer, including even bad reviews of my books.

Living in New York or Los Angeles seems much worse than not living, in Oblivion.

Although I have a few opinions, or hunches, I have no dogma about what happens after death. But none of the above alternatives seem really unpleasant, except the ones that seem too absurd to take seriously.

As some Roman wrote:

Nothing to clutch in life.
Nothing to fear in death.

Birch

I.Shishkin: Brook in Birch Forest (1883)

~ ~ ~

Birch Essential Oil

So, what is so wonderful about birch? Well, one of the first things that comes to mind is that it’s been shown capable of stimulating the regrowth of bone, making it ideal to help the recovery of foot surgeries, hip replacements, and even poor teeth. And more!

The Long Haul

h/t: Jim Sinclair’s Mine Set

The UN predicts that by the year 2050 the globe will be home to more than 9 billion people. In a recent presentation to The World Congress of Soil Science, Julian Cribb, scientist and author of The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It, said global demand for food is going to more than double over the next half century.

Famed investor and author of the "Gloom Boom and Doom" report, Marc Faber says the best long-term investment today is farmland and a focus on stocks that may benefit from food and water shortages.

Source: Why is 'food security' sparking unrest? By Derrick McElheron, CNN

graphs h/t: Zero Hedge

YTD Corn

YTD Cotton

YTD Lean Hogs

Gold's New All-Time High

"It does seem really hard to get consumers to do the right thing. It is stupid that we use two tons of steel, glass, and plastic to haul our sorry selves to the shopping mall. It's stupid that we put water in plastic bottles in Fiji and ship it here." -- John Doerr

Friday, September 24, 2010

Eat The Weeds: American Nightshade - Part I

Eat The Weeds; The American Nightshade - Part I

Learn why one of the most consumed plants in the world is considered toxic in English speaking countries.

www.EatTheWeeds.com

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Unlikely Whistleblowers

"Any entity - no matter how many tentacles it has - has a soul." -- Guy Consolmagno, Senior Vatican Astronomer - [story]

Guessing Brother Guy doesn't get out much...

Men in Black II - Serleena - Tribute to Lara Flynn Boyle

~ ~ ~

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Have Been Compromised by Unidentified Aerial Objects

Via PR Newswire

Ex-military men say unknown intruders have monitored and even tampered with American nuclear missiles

Group to call on U.S. Government to reveal the facts

Witness testimony from more than 120 former or retired military personnel points to an ongoing and alarming intervention by unidentified aerial objects at nuclear weapons sites, as recently as 2003. In some cases, several nuclear missiles simultaneously and inexplicably malfunctioned while a disc-shaped object silently hovered nearby. Six former U.S. Air Force officers and one former enlisted man will break their silence about these events at the National Press Club and urge the government to publicly confirm their reality.

One of them, ICBM launch officer Captain Robert Salas, was on duty during one missile disruption incident at Malmstrom Air Force Base and was ordered to never discuss it. Another participant, retired Col. Charles Halt, observed a disc-shaped object directing beams of light down into the RAF Bentwaters airbase in England and heard on the radio that they landed in the nuclear weapons storage area. Both men will provide stunning details about these events, and reveal how the U.S. military responded.

Captain Salas notes, "The U.S. Air Force is lying about the national security implications of unidentified aerial objects at nuclear bases and we can prove it." Col. Halt adds, "I believe that the security services of both the United States and the United Kingdom have attempted—both then and now—to subvert the significance of what occurred at RAF Bentwaters by the use of well-practiced methods of disinformation."

The group of witnesses and a leading researcher, who has brought them together for the first time, will discuss the national security implications of these and other alarmingly similar incidents and will urge the government to reveal all information about them. This is a public-awareness issue.

Declassified U.S. government documents, to be distributed at the event, now substantiate the reality of UFO activity at nuclear weapons sites extending back to 1948. The press conference will also address present-day concerns about the abuse of government secrecy as well as the ongoing threat of nuclear weapons.

WHO: Dwynne Arneson, USAF Lt. Col. Ret., communications center officer-in-charge

Bruce Fenstermacher, former USAF nuclear missile launch officer

Charles Halt, USAF Col. Ret., former deputy base commander

Robert Hastings, researcher and author

Robert Jamison, former USAF nuclear missile targeting officer

Patrick McDonough, former USAF nuclear missile site geodetic surveyor

Jerome Nelson, former USAF nuclear missile launch officer

Robert Salas, former USAF nuclear missile launch officer

WHAT: Noted researcher Robert Hastings, author of UFOs and Nukes: Extraordinary Encounters at Nuclear Weapons Sites, will moderate a distinguished panel of former U.S. Air Force officers involved in UFO incidents at nuclear missile sites near Malmstrom, F.E. Warren, and Walker AFBs, as well as the nuclear weapons depot at RAF Bentwaters.

WHEN: Monday, September 27, 2010, 12:30 p.m.

WHERE: Washington, D.C., National Press Club, Holeman Lounge

Event open to credentialed media and Congressional staff only

SOURCE: Former U.S. Air Force Officer Robert Salas, and Researcher Robert Hastings

[Expanded story now on FOX]

"This is only the tip of the iceberg, these stories," Captain Robert Salas told FoxNews.com.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Becoming What We Are

By Robert Anton Wilson

If you stroll through a large art museum, you will notice that Van Gogh does not paint the same world as Rembrandt, Picasso does not see things the way Goya did, Georgia O'Keefe doesn't much resemble Rivera, Salvador Dali looks like nobody but himself, and, in general, no world-class artist became a "classic" by doing what somebody else had already done or even what everybody else in his/her own era did.

And in science, the names of Einstein, Dirac, the Curies, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schroedinger, John Bell etc. live on because none of them took Newton as Holy Gospel: they all made unique and unpredictable innovations in basic theory.

And, in case you think this applies only to "arts and sciences," consider the most successful people in industry. Henry Ford did not get rich copying Fulton's steamboat; he made a car so cheap that anybody could afford one. Howard Hughes produced movies that nobody else would have dared to attempt, and then went on to revolutionize the airline industry. Buckminster Fuller did not copy the cubical form of previous architects, but invented the geodesic dome; at last count, over 3OO,OOO of his buildings existed, making him the most visibly successful architect in history. Steve Wozniak did not copy the computers of his day, but invented one that even an "bloody eejit" (like me) could use (and even enjoy!) Bill Gates created new kinds of software. Etc.

We all need constant reiteration of these truism because we live in a world where a multitude of very powerful forces have worked upon us, from birth through school to work, attempting to suppress our individuality, our creativity and, above all, our curiosity -- in short, to destroy everything that encourages us to think for ourselves.

Our parents wanted us to act like the other children in our neighborhood; they emphatically did not want a boy or girl who seemed "weird" or "different" or (Heaven forefend) "too damned clever by far."

Then we enter grade school, a fate worse than Death and Hell combined. Whether we land in a public school or a private religious school, we learn two basic lessons: 1) There exists one correct answer for every question; and 2) education consists of memorizing the one correct answer and regurgitating it on an "examination."

The same tactics continue through high school and, except in a few sciences, even to the university.

All through this "education" we find ourselves bombarded by organized religion. Most religions, in this part of the world, also teach us "one correct answer," which we should accept with blind faith; worse, they attempt to terrorize us with threats of post-mortem roasting, toasting and charbroiling if we ever dare to think at all, at all.

After 18-to-30+ years of all this, we enter the job market, and learn to become, or try to become, almost deaf, dumb and blind. We must always tell our "superiors" what they want to hear, what suits their prejudices and/or their wishful fantasies. If we notice something they don't want to know about, we learn to keep our mouths shut. If we don't- "One more word, Bumstead, and I'll fire you!"

As my mahatma guru J.R. "Bob" Dobbs says, "You know how dumb the average guy is? Well, mathematically, by definition, half of them are even dumber than that."

"Bob" may have the average confused with the median, but otherwise he hit a bull's eye. Half of the people you meet do indeed seem dumber than a box of rocks; but they did not start out that way. Parents, peers, schools, churches, advertisers and jobs made them that way. Every baby at birth has a relentlessly curious and experimental temperament. It takes the first third of our lives to destroy that curiosity and experimentalism; but in most cases, we become placid parts of a docile herd.

This human herd all started out as potential geniuses, before the tacit conspiracy of social conformity blighted their brains. All of them can redeem that lost freedom, if they work at it hard enough.

I've worked at it for 5O+ years now, and still find parts of me acting like a robot or a zombie on occasion. Learning "how to become what you are" (in Nietzsche's phrase) takes a lifetime, but it still seems the best game in town.

Creating Sign Posts for Indicators and Trapping

Creating Sign Posts for Indicators and Trapping

www.wildernessoutfittersarchery.com

You've Gotta Fight for Your Right to... Garden!

An Atlanta-area man is facing fines of up to $5000 for growing too many vegetables on his land.

By Becky Striepe, Eat Drink Better

Steve Miller (not Steve Miller of classic rock fame), has had an organic vegetable garden on his property for years. He grows food for himself and has even sold some of his bounty at local farmers markets.

He received his first citation from code enforcement back in January and has since incurred $5000 in fines. The tricky thing here is that after citations in January and February, Miller got his property rezoned to allow his garden. The county is still suing him for the fines related to the earlier charges.

Have you guys run across zoning laws that prevent large-scale gardens? I know many areas have laws restricting things like backyard chickens, but this is the first case I’ve heard involving edible plants.

Source: WSBTV

County Sues Farmer For excessive crops on his own land

It now makes sense why "Fight for Your Right to Party" has gone country!

Big & Rich - Fight For Your Right To Party

Imus releases part of "Fight For Your Right To Party" by Big & Rich, from the soon to be released Imus Ranch Record.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Blue Crabs and the Blue Flue

Oil Inside Gulf Crabs May Be Shed

Blue crab larvae, collected in the Gulf of Mexico near the BP oil spill, have been found to have oil droplets inside their shells. Scientists say the oil may leave the crabs when they grow and molt. However, they also admit that the extent of the environment damage may not be known for years, as the oil exposure may not end for a long time.

Copyright 2010 National Geographic; partially funded by NSF; field producing and videography by Fritz Faerber.

Related: Deepwater Horizon/BP Oil Spill: Federal Fisheries Closure and Other Information

Take The Red Pill

Automatons with business suits swinging black boxes,
Sequestering the blueprints of daily life
Contented, free of care, they rejoice in morning ritual
As they file like drone ant colonies to their office in the sky

I don't ask questions, don't promote demonstration,
Don't look for new consensus, don't stray from constitution
If I pierce the complexity I won't find salvation
Just the bald and overt truth
Of the evil and deception

There is an inner logic,
And we're taught to stay far from it
It is simple and elegant,
But it's cruel and antithetic
And there's no effort to reveal it

Graduated mentors stroll in marbled brick porticos
in sagacious dialog they despise their average ways
betraying pomp and discipline, they mold their institution
Where they practice exclusion on the masses every day

Decorated warriors drill harmless kids on pavement
Stimulating tyranny under red alert
Protecting the opulent and staging moral standard
They expect redemption of character and self-growth

Bad Religion - Inner Logic (1994)

Fight Club philosophy and theoratics

"There is a revolution happening in America and it is coming from all sectors and it is being brought to you by people from all walks of life. My generation has been subject to vicious propaganda and brainwashing since we were born and we are waking up to it. We are not happy about it and we are going to change this sick system. Did anyone else find it odd that the media decided to blow up a story about some nut that wanted to burn Korans? We are in a depression and THAT is a story they chose to headline? Very suspicious. Don’t fall for it. Take the red pill and let’s get on with it." -- Michael Krieger of Kam LP

Read the full story at Zero Hedge: If This Is What Deflation Looks Like…

Hugh

Hugh

Based upon an Apache legend.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Trouble with Civilization

Machu Picchu, "Old Mountain", is a pre-Columbian Inca site located 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, which is 80 kilometres (50 mi) northwest of Cuzco and through which the Urubamba River flows. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). Often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas", it is perhaps the most familiar icon of the Inca World. -- Wikipedia

The Trouble with Civilization

By Sierra Bellows, University of Virginia Magazine

Ancient cities reveal the vulnerabilities of modern societies

Phillip Trella studies bones from the ruins of the ancient cities of Upper Mesopotamia. After several millennia, the cities have been reduced to mounds, the detritus of human habitation piling up year after year so that the sites are elevated above the plains. A specialist in zooarchaeology, Trella can recognize a goat tibia with a glance. Turning a bone over in his hands, he can identify the species, age at death, sometimes sex, whether it was domesticated and how it may have been butchered and cooked.

“There is a sense of awe that people feel about ancient people that lived in complex societies,” says Trella. “I think we can more easily relate to people living in early cities with buildings and monuments, with government and class hierarchies, than we can to hunter-gatherers. I think the reason for this is that we believe in a socio-evolutionary narrative that suggests that we share certain commonalities with other ‘civilized’ societies.”

One feature that is common to most civilizations is that they go through cycles of growth and disintegration. Why do they fall apart? History documents the rise and fall of vast empires—Rome, Greece, the Maya, Persia and, yes, Mesopotamia. While examining the evidence left by ancient cities, Trella and other archaeologists develop theories about the nature of complex societies that inform our present civilization—the largest and most complex in history.

Agricultural practices, societal hierarchies, use and abuse of resources—all come under their scrutiny.

“As a group, you’ll find that anthropologists are very wary of the things being done now that cause environmental degradation,” says Patricia Wattenmaker, an associate professor of anthropology at U.Va. whose research focuses on the archaeology of complex societies, particularly those in the ancient Near East. “That is because we’ve seen how local environmental degradation affected societies of the past. To see environmental degradation on a global level is upsetting, because for us, unlike the ancient people who left their cities to become nomads, there is nowhere else to go.”

The search for knowledge has drawn both Trella and Wattenmaker to Upper Mesopotamia, which spans modern Iraq and part of Syria and Turkey. Here, in the Fertile Crescent, humans first domesticated animals and cultivated crops like wheat and barley. Five and a half thousand years ago, city-states in the region left behind the earliest evidence of writing and elaborate burial rites for kings. Trella draws on 14 years of experience, which includes sites in Turkey and Syria, where he studies the Early Bronze Age, between 2500 and 2000 B.C. He uses bones, both animal and human, to trace changes in population density and food sources that reveal a compelling narrative of early civilization—and how we view progress.

The study of early civilizations brings archaeologists to the Near East, where the ruins of several-thousand-year-old city-states show evidence of the first agriculture, irrigation, animal domestication, writing and organized religion. Modern states—Turkey, Syria and Iraq—now exist in territory that was once Assyria, Babylonia and Sumer.

“From the vantage point of the modern industrialized world, history appears to many to be a slow progression from less complex social organization to more complex—hunter-gatherer to chiefdom to city-state to empire,” Trella says. “This notion of progress that leads inexorably to us—Western civilization—has big value implications, the most significant being that things are getting better. And that complex societies are better.”

But the cities didn’t simply get bigger and better. The archeological record reveals that different eras showed vastly different populations in the cities as they went through boom-bust cycles. Cities grew for several hundred years, then dwindled as populations dispersed into the countryside—and later grew again.

What fueled the growth cycles? Trella points to intensified food production and increased specialization among citizens. When not everyone had to work to produce food, city residents could become warriors, priests, traders and kings. They erected stone buildings; they irrigated fields. They invented writing.

But where is the tipping point that caused cities to decline and populations to disperse?

“There was a time,” Trella says, “when archeologists were looking for disasters to explain it, something spectacular like Pompeii being buried in ash by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. But I would argue that it is comparatively rare for a decline to be due to external causes like a natural disaster.”

Instead, some of the same factors that allowed cities to grow may have ultimately caused them to disintegrate. Trella’s studies in Upper Mesopotamia indicate that farming was intensified to provide more food to support growing populations. With limited transportation, cities depended on the fertility of nearby land. When populations were small, fields were left fallow biannually and used as grazing land for animals that fertilized the soil with their dung. Population growth changed this practice and potentially motivated the use of city wastes to fertilize fields. Analysis conducted on animal bones indicates that after several centuries of habitation, city dwellers no longer pastured their livestock in fallow fields, but instead moved them farther into the countryside, where their dung no longer benefited crops. All of these factors likely decreased agricultural sustainability.

Food and farming practices play no less a role today in the prosperity of nations. Trella points out that food production has been revolutionized in the past 65 years, mostly due to the application of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides that have resulted in increased yields.

“Is it socially sustainable, environmentally or economically stable? There is a growing body of data to suggest that it’s not,” he says. Increased yields have helped to support the population explosion from approximately 3 billion to 7 billion people between 1960 and 2010. Identifying a tipping point between helpful and hurtful strategies is difficult, because perspectives differ.

“If industrialized agriculture gives way to a more environmentally sound model, this may very well drive prices up, and for the poorest people that will be seen negatively,” Trella says.

Wattenmaker draws comparisons between contemporary and ancient Mayan food production. As agricultural yields were declining during the Mayan Classic period, attempts were made to address the crisis through technology, and the Mayans developed a new agro-engineering system. Ultimately, these efforts were unsuccessful. “Today, many believe that scientific innovations will protect us from widespread, long-term food and fuel shortages,” says Wattenmaker. “It’s important to realize that ancient societies also relied in part on scientific advances to see them through crises. Ancient societies, like many modern ones, believed they were exceptional and that their unique characteristics would protect them from environmental hardships.”

New research that Wattenmaker is doing in Upper Mesopotamia will test the theory that at the same time that agricultural practices were changing, society was becoming more socially stratified. A more complex hierarchy developed, and economic inequality increased. The high demand for craft goods and food surpluses among both elites and nonelites likely led to further intensification of the food production system.

“Stratified societies have classic vulnerabilities,” says Trella. “The elites at the top may be increasingly removed from what is happening ‘on the ground,’ yet, the goals of the elites may supersede all else.”

Trouble can arise when the orders of the elite—a modern parallel can be government regulation—have unintended consequences. For example, “In Upper Mesopotamia, if elites gained more control over food production, their efforts to increase wealth generation may have resulted in disrupted production,” Trella says. Both Trella and Wattenmaker say that more research is required to determine exactly how the social organization of ancient cities influenced food production.

“Some archaeological findings do reveal that ecological crises were preceded by increased social stratification, although a causal relationship is more difficult to demonstrate,” says Wattenmaker. “The disintegration of the Old Kingdom state in ancient Egypt involved both overexploitation of state workers and a series of poor harvests, among other factors.”

Were the citizens of ancient cities victims of too much of a good thing? “They tried to maximize their resources in the short term at the expense of their long-term survival,” says Trella. “The overextension of practices that were at one time helpful became destructive.”

Wattenmaker’s research at the site of Kazane, in Turkey, suggests that societies set themselves up for environmental disasters due to factors such as unchecked rivalries between polities, steadily escalating maintenance costs—for road systems, public buildings and military installations, for example—and, she says, “ideologies that emphasized economic expansion—in short the kinds of issues that may cloud our judgment on ecological issues today.”

In his classes at the University of Virginia, Trella examines the collapses of ancient states, steering students’ attention to buried cities and “lost towns” in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica. He delves into the value of civilization; questioning whether living in large-scale complex societies is always good for the individuals who live in them.

“Part of the problem is that we don’t define what ‘good’ is. We assume that societies like our own are somehow ‘better’ or more ‘civilized.’ We need to be specific about what variables we’re actually measuring,” Trella says. For example, if the goal is generating wealth, then highly stratified, complex societies can accomplish more. But “other variables might yield very different insights.”

Health is one variable that is a good indicator of quality of life. Human bones reveal that many of the people living in cities during their heydays had impoverished diets, suffered from more disease and infant mortality, and lived shorter lives than their nomadic counterparts. “Though certainly the so-called collapse of a city-state could be surrounded by a great deal of suffering,” says Trella, “if overall health is the standard, then the people who lived during the centuries afterward might have had a better quality of life than city dwellers ever did. Complexity itself can impose harsh demands on people.”

With so many variables, how do we distinguish between real threats to society and problems that seem frightening but might not have long-term consequences?

“Catastrophes like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina affect a great number of people emotionally and economically and are writ large in our memories,” Trella says. “But the real vulnerabilities, or those that most often precipitate disintegration, are things that are taken for granted, such as the incredible degree of interdependence necessitated and produced by the global economy.”

The oil embargoes of the early 1970s, for example, or the economic downturn of 2008 reveal our vulnerabilities, he says. “If one component of the overall system changes or ceases to function, the consequences can be quite large.”

Wattenmaker acknowledges that being part of a large civilization has an upside. “Certainly, I enjoy a lot of comforts and advantages because I live in a specific set of circumstances in a complex society. Medicine, universities and computers all benefit me,” she says. “But as an anthropologist I also try to step outside of my own culture and understand why I may value the benefits of civilization while overlooking or downplaying some of the costs. The archaeological record reminds us that the legacy of ancient state societies includes not only palaces and writing, but also institutionalized poverty and unsustainable farming practices.”

Cataloging evidence from old bones of the long-ago costs of supporting a civilization, Trella doesn’t have a prescription for the future. “Every situation is unique. Every moment in history has its own challenges.

“But I do believe that our ideas about the goals of our society are powerful. We allocate our resources according to our ideas,” he says. “I can only hope that when people dig up the archeological artifacts left over from our society they won’t think, ‘They were their own undoing.’” -- ###

"There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish... it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter." -- Marcus Aurelius, Gladiator

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hyperinflation Special Report (Update 2010)

A Great Collapse. The U.S. economic and systemic solvency crises of the last two years are just precursors to a Great Collapse: a hyperinflationary great depression. Such will reflect a complete collapse in the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar, a collapse in the normal stream of U.S. commercial and economic activity, a collapse in the U.S. financial system as we know it, and a likely realignment of the U.S. political environment. The current U.S. financial markets, financial system and economy remain highly unstable and vulnerable to unexpected shocks. The Federal Reserve is dedicated to preventing deflation, to debasing the U.S. dollar. The results of those efforts are being seen in tentative selling pressures against the U.S. currency and in the rallying price of gold.

Hyperinflation Nears. Before the systemic solvency crisis began to unfold in 2007, the U.S. government already had condemned the U.S. dollar to a hyperinflationary grave by taking on debt and obligations that never could be covered through raising taxes and/or by severely slashing government spending that had become politically untouchable. The U.S. economy also already had entered a severe structural downturn, which helped to trigger the systemic solvency crisis.

The intensifying economic and solvency crises, and the responses to both by the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve in the last two years, have exacerbated the government’s solvency issues and moved forward my timing estimation for the hyperinflation to the next five years, from the 2010 to 2018 timing range estimated in the prior report. The U.S. government and Federal Reserve already have committed the system to this course through the easy politics of a bottomless pocketbook, the servicing of big-moneyed special interests, gross mismanagement, and a deliberate and ongoing effort to debase the U.S. currency. Accordingly, risks are particularly high of the hyperinflation crisis breaking within the next year.

Numerous foreign governments have offered unusually blunt criticism of U.S. fiscal and Federal Reserve policies in the last year. Both private and official demand for U.S. Treasuries increasingly is unenthusiastic. Looming with uncertain timing is a panicked dollar dumping and dumping of dollar-denominated paper assets. Such is the most likely event to trigger the onset of hyperinflation in the year ahead.

The U.S. has no way of avoiding a financial Armageddon. Bankrupt sovereign states most commonly use the currency printing press as a solution to not having enough money to cover obligations. The alternative would be for the U.S. to renege on its existing debt and obligations, a solution for modern sovereign states rarely seen outside of governments overthrown in revolution, and a solution with no happier ending than simply printing the needed money. With the creation of massive amounts of new fiat dollars (not backed by gold or silver) will come the eventual destruction of the value of the U.S. dollar and related dollar-denominated paper assets.

What lies ahead will be extremely difficult, painful and unhappy times for many in the United States. The functioning and adaptation of the U.S. economy and financial markets to a hyperinflation likely would be particularly disruptive. Trouble could range from turmoil in the food distribution chain to electronic cash and credit systems unable to handle rapidly changing circumstances. The situation quickly would devolve from a deepening depression, to an intensifying hyperinflationary great depression.

While the economic difficulties would have global impact, the initial hyperinflation should be largely a U.S. problem, albeit with major implications for the global currency system. For those living in the United States, long-range strategies should look to assure safety and survival, which from a financial standpoint means preserving wealth and assets. Also directly impacted, of course, are those holding or dependent upon U.S. dollars or dollar-denominated assets, and those living in "dollarized" countries.

The balance of this special report is broken into the following sections:

* Defining the Components of a Hyperinflationary Great Depression
* Two Examples of Hyperinflation
* Current Economic and Inflation Conditions in the United States
* Historical U.S. Inflation: Why Hyperinflation Instead of Deflation
* U.S. Government Cannot Cover Existing Obligations
* Hyperinflationary Great Depression
* Closing Comments

Other Issues. A hyperinflationary great depression would be extremely disruptive to the lives, businesses and economic welfare of most individuals. Such severe economic pain could lead to extreme political change and/or civil unrest. What has been discussed here remains well shy of a comprehensive overview of all possible issues, but rather at least has raised some questions and touched upon some likely consequences. No one can figure out better than you the peculiarities of this circumstance and how you, your family and/or your business might be affected. Using common sense remains the best advice I can give.

Read the full report from Shadow Government Statistics online or PDF.

Related: From Riches to Rags: Inflation & Poverty in Zimbabwe

Stephen Hawking: The Grand Design Of The Universe

Stephen Hawking: The Grand Design Of The Universe

Stephen Hawking is a British theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose scientific career spans over forty years. His books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity and he is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and in 2009 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.

Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for thirty years, taking up the post in 1979 and retiring on 1 October 2009. He is also a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and a Distinguished Research Chair at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. He is known for his contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes. He has also achieved success with works of popular science in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general; these include the runaway best seller A Brief History of Time, which stayed on the British Sunday Times bestsellers list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.

Stephen Hawking's key scientific works to date have included providing, with Roger Penrose, theorems regarding gravitational singularities in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes should emit radiation, which is today known as Hawking radiation (or sometimes as Bekenstein--Hawking radiation).

Hawking has a neuro-muscular dystrophy that is related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition that has progressed over the years and has left him almost completely paralysed.

Stephen Hawking has repeatedly used the word "God" (in metaphorical meanings) to illustrate points made in his books and public speeches. His ex-wife, Jane said during their divorce proceedings that he was an atheist. Hawking has stated that he is "not religious in the normal sense" and he believes that "the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws." Hawking compared religion and science in 2010, saying: "There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works."

On September 2010, The Telegraph reported, "Stephen Hawking has declared that his latest work shows there was no creator of the universe" and that the new m-theory "accounts for the birth of the universe...and replaces the need for religious accounts in Hawking's mind." Hawking wrote in his new book The Grand Design that "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Galactic Ghost

This is the first X-ray ghost ever seen after the demise of radio-bright jets.

The X-ray glow from HDF 130 is evidence for a powerful outburst from its central [billion-supernova-powered, supermassive] black hole in the form of jets of energetic particles traveling at almost the speed of light. When the eruption was ongoing, it produced prodigious amounts of radio and X-radiation, but after several million years, the radio signal faded from view as the electrons radiated away their energy.

However, less energetic electrons can still produce X-rays by interacting with the pervasive sea of photons remaining from the Big Bang - the cosmic background radiation. Collisions between these electrons and the background photons can impart enough energy to the photons to boost them into the X-ray energy band. This process produces an extended X-ray source [a galactic ghost] that lasts for another 30 million years or so. -- The Daily Galaxy

Apollo 440 - The Machine in the Ghost

Apollo 440 - The Machine in the Ghost

Friday, September 10, 2010

Gauging the Threat of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack

Gauging the Threat of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack

By Scott Stewart and Nate Hughes, republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Over the past decade there has been an ongoing debate over the threat posed by electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to modern civilization. This debate has been the most heated perhaps in the United States, where the commission appointed by Congress to assess the threat to the United States warned of the dangers posed by EMP in reports released in 2004 and 2008. The commission also called for a national commitment to address the EMP threat by hardening the national infrastructure.

There is little doubt that efforts by the United States to harden infrastructure against EMP — and its ability to manage critical infrastructure manually in the event of an EMP attack — have been eroded in recent decades as the Cold War ended and the threat of nuclear conflict with Russia lessened. This is also true of the U.S. military, which has spent little time contemplating such scenarios in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union. The cost of remedying the situation, especially retrofitting older systems rather than simply regulating that new systems be better hardened, is immense. And as with any issue involving massive amounts of money, the debate over guarding against EMP has become quite politicized in recent years.

We have long avoided writing on this topic for precisely that reason. However, as the debate over the EMP threat has continued, a great deal of discussion about the threat has appeared in the media. Many STRATFOR readers have asked for our take on the threat, and we thought it might be helpful to dispassionately discuss the tactical elements involved in such an attack and the various actors that could conduct one. The following is our assessment of the likelihood of an EMP attack against the United States.

Defining Electromagnetic Pulse

EMP can be generated from natural sources such as lightning or solar storms interacting with the earth’s atmosphere, ionosphere and magnetic field. It can also be artificially created using a nuclear weapon or a variety of non-nuclear devices. It has long been proven that EMP can disable electronics. Its ability to do so has been demonstrated by solar storms, lightning strikes and atmospheric nuclear explosions before the ban on such tests. The effect has also been recreated by EMP simulators designed to reproduce the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear device and study how the phenomenon impacts various kinds of electrical and electronic devices such as power grids, telecommunications and computer systems, both civilian and military.

The effects of an EMP — both tactical and strategic — have the potential to be quite significant, but they are also quite uncertain. Such widespread effects can be created during a high-altitude nuclear detonation (generally above 30 kilometers, or about 18 miles). This widespread EMP effect is referred to as high-altitude EMP or HEMP. Test data from actual high-altitude nuclear explosions is extremely limited. Only the United States and the Soviet Union conducted atmospheric nuclear tests above 20 kilometers and, combined, they carried out fewer than 20 actual tests.

As late as 1962 — a year before the Partial Test Ban Treaty went into effect, prohibiting its signatories from conducting aboveground test detonations and ending atmospheric tests — scientists were surprised by the HEMP effect. During a July 1962 atmospheric nuclear test called “Starfish Prime,” which took place 400 kilometers above Johnston Island in the Pacific, electrical and electronic systems were damaged in Hawaii, some 1,400 kilometers away. The Starfish Prime test was not designed to study HEMP, and the effect on Hawaii, which was so far from ground zero, startled U.S. scientists.

High-altitude nuclear testing effectively ended before the parameters and effects of HEMP were well understood. The limited body of knowledge that was gained from these tests remains a highly classified matter in both the United States and Russia. Consequently, it is difficult to speak intelligently about EMP or publicly debate the precise nature of its effects in the open-source arena.

The importance of the EMP threat should not be understated. There is no doubt that the impact of a HEMP attack would be significant. But any actor plotting such an attack would be dealing with immense uncertainties — not only about the ideal altitude at which to detonate the device based on its design and yield in order to maximize its effect but also about the nature of those effects and just how devastating they could be.

Non-nuclear devices that create an EMP-like effect, such as high-power microwave (HPM) devices, have been developed by several countries, including the United States. The most capable of these devices are thought to have significant tactical utility and more powerful variants may be able to achieve effects more than a kilometer away. But at the present time, such weapons do not appear to be able to create an EMP effect large enough to affect a city, much less an entire country. Because of this, we will confine our discussion of the EMP threat to HEMP caused by a nuclear detonation, which also happens to be the most prevalent scenario appearing in the media.

Attack Scenarios

In order to have the best chance of causing the type of immediate and certain EMP damage to the United States on a continent-wide scale, as discussed in many media reports, a nuclear weapon (probably in the megaton range) would need to be detonated well above 30 kilometers somewhere over the American Midwest. Modern commercial aircraft cruise at a third of this altitude. Only the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China possess both the mature warhead design and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability to conduct such an attack from their own territory, and these same countries have possessed that capability for decades. (Shorter range missiles can achieve this altitude, but the center of the United States is still 1,000 kilometers from the Eastern Seaboard and more than 3,000 kilometers from the Western Seaboard — so just any old Scud missile won’t do.)

The HEMP threat is nothing new. It has existed since the early 1960s, when nuclear weapons were first mated with ballistic missiles, and grew to be an important component of nuclear strategy. Despite the necessarily limited understanding of its effects, both the United States and Soviet Union almost certainly included the use of weapons to create HEMPs in both defensive and especially offensive scenarios, and both post-Soviet Russia and China are still thought to include HEMP in some attack scenarios against the United States.

However, there are significant deterrents to the use of nuclear weapons in a HEMP attack against the United States, and nuclear weapons have not been used in an attack anywhere since 1945. Despite some theorizing that a HEMP attack might be somehow less destructive and therefore less likely to provoke a devastating retaliatory response, such an attack against the United States would inherently and necessarily represent a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland and the idea that the United States would not respond in kind is absurd. The United States continues to maintain the most credible and survivable nuclear deterrent in the world, and any actor contemplating a HEMP attack would have to assume not that they might experience some limited reprisal but that the U.S. reprisal would be full, swift and devastating.

Countries that build nuclear weapons do so at great expense. This is not a minor point. Even today, a successful nuclear weapons program is the product of years — if not a decade or more — and the focused investment of a broad spectrum of national resources. Nuclear weapons also are developed as a deterrent to attack, not with the intention of immediately using them offensively. Once a design has achieved an initial capability, the focus shifts to establishing a survivable deterrent that can withstand first a conventional and then a nuclear first strike so that the nuclear arsenal can serve its primary purpose as a deterrent to attack. The coherency, skill and focus this requires are difficult to overstate and come at immense cost — including opportunity cost — to the developing country. The idea that Washington will interpret the use of a nuclear weapon to create a HEMP as somehow less hostile than the use of a nuclear weapon to physically destroy an American city is not something a country is likely to gamble on.

In other words, for the countries capable of carrying out a HEMP attack, the principles of nuclear deterrence and the threat of a full-scale retaliatory strike continue to hold and govern, just as they did during the most tension-filled days of the Cold War.

Rogue Actors

One scenario that has been widely put forth is that the EMP threat emanates not from a global or regional power like Russia or China but from a rogue state or a transnational terrorist group that does not possess ICBMs but will use subterfuge to accomplish its mission without leaving any fingerprints. In this scenario, the rogue state or terrorist group loads a nuclear warhead and missile launcher aboard a cargo ship or tanker and then launches the missile from just off the coast in order to get the warhead into position over the target for a HEMP strike. This scenario would involve either a short-range ballistic missile to achieve a localized metropolitan strike or a longer-range (but not intercontinental) ballistic missile to reach the necessary position over the Eastern or Western seaboard or the Midwest to achieve a key coastline or continental strike.

When we consider this scenario, we must first acknowledge that it faces the same obstacles as any other nuclear weapon employed in a terrorist attack. It is unlikely that a terrorist group like al Qaeda or Hezbollah can develop its own nuclear weapons program. It is also highly unlikely that a nation that has devoted significant effort and treasure to develop a nuclear weapon would entrust such a weapon to an outside organization. Any use of a nuclear weapon would be vigorously investigated and the nation that produced the weapon would be identified and would pay a heavy price for such an attack (there has been a large investment in the last decade in nuclear forensics). Lastly, as noted above, a nuclear weapon is seen as a deterrent by countries such as North Korea or Iran, which seek such weapons to protect themselves from invasion, not to use them offensively. While a group like al Qaeda would likely use a nuclear device if it could obtain one, we doubt that other groups such as Hezbollah would. Hezbollah has a known base of operations in Lebanon that could be hit in a counterstrike and would therefore be less willing to risk an attack that could be traced back to it.

Also, such a scenario would require not a crude nuclear device but a sophisticated nuclear warhead capable of being mated with a ballistic missile. There are considerable technical barriers that separate a crude nuclear device from a sophisticated nuclear warhead. The engineering expertise required to construct such a warhead is far greater than that required to construct a crude device. A warhead must be far more compact than a primitive device. It must also have a trigger mechanism and electronics and physics packages capable of withstanding the force of an ICBM launch, the journey into the cold vacuum of space and the heat and force of re-entering the atmosphere — and still function as designed. Designing a functional warhead takes considerable advances in several fields of science, including physics, electronics, engineering, metallurgy and explosives technology, and overseeing it all must be a high-end quality assurance capability. Because of this, it is our estimation that it would be far simpler for a terrorist group looking to conduct a nuclear attack to do so using a crude device than it would be using a sophisticated warhead — although we assess the risk of any non-state actor obtaining a nuclear capability of any kind, crude or sophisticated, as extraordinarily unlikely.

But even if a terrorist organization were somehow able to obtain a functional warhead and compatible fissile core, the challenges of mating the warhead to a missile it was not designed for and then getting it to launch and detonate properly would be far more daunting than it would appear at first glance. Additionally, the process of fueling a liquid-fueled ballistic missile at sea and then launching it from a ship using an improvised launcher would also be very challenging. (North Korea, Iran and Pakistan all rely heavily on Scud technology, which uses volatile, corrosive and toxic fuels.)

Such a scenario is challenging enough, even before the uncertainty of achieving the desired HEMP effect is taken into account. This is just the kind of complexity and uncertainty that well-trained terrorist operatives seek to avoid in an operation. Besides, a ground-level nuclear detonation in a city such as New York or Washington would be more likely to cause the type of terror, death and physical destruction that is sought in a terrorist attack than could be achieved by generally non-lethal EMP.

Make no mistake: EMP is real. Modern civilization depends heavily on electronics and the electrical grid for a wide range of vital functions, and this is truer in the United States than in most other countries. Because of this, a HEMP attack or a substantial geomagnetic storm could have a dramatic impact on modern life in the affected area. However, as we’ve discussed, the EMP threat has been around for more than half a century and there are a number of technical and practical variables that make a HEMP attack using a nuclear warhead highly unlikely.

When considering the EMP threat, it is important to recognize that it exists amid a myriad other threats, including related threats such as nuclear warfare and targeted, small-scale HPM attacks. They also include threats posed by conventional warfare and conventional weapons such as man-portable air-defense systems, terrorism, cyberwarfare attacks against critical infrastructure, chemical and biological attacks — even natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and tsunamis.

The world is a dangerous place, full of potential threats. Some things are more likely to occur than others, and there is only a limited amount of funding to monitor, harden against, and try to prevent, prepare for and manage them all. When one attempts to defend against everything, the practical result is that one defends against nothing. Clear-sighted, well-grounded and rational prioritization of threats is essential to the effective defense of the homeland.

Hardening national infrastructure against EMP and HPM is undoubtedly important, and there are very real weaknesses and critical vulnerabilities in America’s critical infrastructure — not to mention civil society. But each dollar spent on these efforts must be balanced against a dollar not spent on, for example, port security, which we believe is a far more likely and far more consequential vector for nuclear attack by a rogue state or non-state actor.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Earth Dodges Another Bullet

Just as sunspot 1105 was turning away from Earth on Sept. 8th, the active region erupted, producing a C3-class solar flare (peak @ 2330 UT) and a fantastic prominence. This snapshot is from the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

The eruption also hurled a bright coronal mass ejection (CME) into space: SOHO movie. The expanding cloud is heading into a part of the solar system not currently occupied by any planet--it's going to miss everything, including Earth. If such a CME did hit Earth's magnetic field, it would probably trigger strong geomagnetic storms. Maybe next time... -- Space Weather

Can A Family Of Four Survive On A Middle Class Income In America Today?

Can A Family Of Four Survive On A Middle Class Income In America Today?

By Michael The Patriot Blogger

When I was growing up, $50,000 sounded like a gigantic mountain of money to me. And it was actually a very significant amount of money in those days. But in 2010 it just does not go that far. Today, the median household income in the United States for a year is approximately $50,000. About half of all American households make more than that, and about half of all American households make less than that. So if your family brings in $50,000 this year that would put you about right in the middle. So can a family of four survive on $50,000 in America today? The answer might surprise you. Twenty years ago a middle class American family of four would have been doing quite well on $50,000 per year. But things have changed.

You see, despite government efforts to manipulate the official inflation numbers, the price of everything just keeps going up. The price of food slowly but surely keeps moving up each year. The price of gas is far higher than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Taxes just keep going up. Utility bills just keep going up. Each year middle class American families have found themselves increasingly squeezed as their expenses have risen much more rapidly than their incomes.

So just how far will $50,000 go for a middle class American family of four today? Well, $50,000 breaks down to about $4,000 a month.

So how far will $4,000 a month stretch for a family of four in today's economy?....

First of all, the family of four needs some place to live. Even though house prices have come down a bit recently, they are still quite expensive compared to a decade ago. Let's assume that our family of four has found a great deal and is only spending $1000 a month on rent or on a mortgage payment. In many of the larger U.S. cities this is a completely unrealistic number, but let's go with it for now.

Next, our family of four has to pay for power and water for their home. This amount can vary dramatically depending on the climate, but let's assume that the average utility bill is somewhere around $300 a month.

Our family is also going to need phone and Internet service. Cell phone bills for a family of four can balloon to ridiculous proportions, but let's assume that our family of four is extremely budget conscious and has found a package where they can get basic phone service, Internet and cable for $100 a month. Most middle class American families spend far more than that.

Both parents are also going to need cars to get to work. Let's assume that both cars were purchased used, so the car payments will only total about $400 a month. If the vehicles were purchased new this number could potentially be much higher.

If our family has two cars that means that they will also be paying for automobile insurance. Let's assume that they both have exemplary driving records and so they are only spending about $100 a month on car insurance.

Our hypothetical family of four is also going to need health insurance. In the past, families could choose to go without health insurance (at least for a while), but now thanks to Barack Obama all American families will essentially be forced to purchase health insurance.

Health insurance premiums are absolutely skyrocketing, but let's assume that our family has somehow been able to find an amazing deal where they only pay $500 a month for health insurance.

Our hypothetical family is also going to have to eat. Let's assume that our family clips coupons and cuts corners any way that it can and only spends about $50 for each member of the family on food and toiletries each week. That works out to a total of $800 a month for the entire family.

Lastly, the parents are also going to need to buy gas to get to and from work each week. Let's assume that they don't live too far from work and only need to fill up both cars about once per week. That would give them a gasoline bill of about $50 a week or $200 a month.

Of course if either of them lived a good distance from work or if a lot of extra driving was required for other reasons this expense could be far, far higher.

So far our family has spent $3400 out of a total of $4000 for the month. Not bad, eh?

Wrong.

We haven't taken federal, state and local taxes out of the paycheck yet. Depending on where our family lives, this will be at least $1000 a month.

So now we are $400 in the hole.

But to this point we have assumed that our family does not have any credit card debt or student loan debt at all. If they do, those payments will have to be made as well.

In addition, the budget above includes no money for clothing, no money for dining out, no money for additional entertainment, no money for medications, no money for pets, no money for hobbies, no money for life insurance, no money for vacations, no money for car repairs and maintenance, no money for child care, no money for birthday or holiday gifts and no money for retirement.

On top of all that, if our family of four has a catastrophic health expense that their health insurance won't pay for (and health insurance companies try to weasel out of as many claims as they can), then our family of four is not just broke - they are totally bankrupt.

Are you starting to get the picture?

It is getting really, really hard out there for middle class American families these days.

And unfortunately, many American families now have at least one parent that is not working. In some areas of the nation it just seems like there are virtually no jobs available. For example, at 14.3% [officially deflated number], the state of Nevada now has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Michigan (which had been number one) is not very far behind.

But even those Americans who are able to find work are finding themselves increasingly squeezed. For many Americans, a new job means much lower pay. Millions of highly educated people who once worked in professional positions now find themselves working in retail positions or in the food service industry. Many are hoping that the economy will "turn around" soon and that they will be able to go back to higher paying jobs, but the truth is that the U.S. economy is simply not producing enough good jobs for everyone any longer.

So where did all the good jobs go? Well, millions of them have been shipped off to China, India and dozens of other nations around the globe. Today the United States spends approximately $3.90 on Chinese goods for every $1 that China spends on goods from the United States. A Chinese factory worker makes about a tenth of what an American factory worker makes. And China continues to keep their currency artificially low so that jobs will continue to flow into China and so that we will continue to run a massive trade imbalance with them.

In a previous article, "Winners And Losers", I went into much greater detail about how globalism is destroying middle class jobs. We are rapidly moving toward an America where there will be a small group of "haves" and a very large group of "have nots".

The middle class in America is going to continue to shrink and shrink and shrink in the years ahead. Not only are both parents going to have to work to pay the bills, but both parents in many families will be forced to take two or three jobs each just to make it each month.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Authority

Constantino Brumidi, Fresco, c. 1875. Enthroned Authority, robed in red, holds a sword and wears her attribute, a wreath of the three-pointed hastate leaf.

Why The Fourth Branch Of The US Government Needs To Be Abolished, And Why "Authority" Should Never Be Trusted

From Bill Buckler's The Privateer report, Number 661, h/t: Zero Hedge

NEVER RELY ON “AUTHORITIES”

On the evening of November 23, 1942, Adolf Hitler was deep in “consultation” with the chief of staff of the Luftwaffe (the German air force) on the possibility of supplying the surrounded German 6th army in Stalingrad by air. On hearing of this consultation, Reichsmarschall Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe, promptly contacted Hitler and assured him that the air force could maintain the 6th army for as long as necessary.

All of Goering’s officers on the spot near Stalingrad knew that this was absolutely impossible. So did Goering’s chief of staff. So did Goering. And so did Hitler. Goering had already been proven wrong a little over a year earlier when he insisted that his Luftwaffe could clear the way for an
invasion of Britain. That was not even considered. What WAS considered was that no matter how fanciful or how contradictory to the FACTS on the ground, a method had been found to prolong the illusion that the war could still be won. And besides, how would any of them know that it could not and would not work if they didn’t try it?

They did try it. It didn’t work. The fate of the 6th army in Stalingrad is history. So is the fate of the Nazi regime.

The March Of Folly:

The American historian Barbara Tuchman published a book with that title in 1984. She lists four kinds of what she calls “misgovernment”. There is misgovernment by tyranny or oppression, by excessive ambition, by incompetence or decadence or both, and finally by folly or perversity. The author concentrates on government policies afflicted by folly or perversity, a rich field of enquiry stretching back to the dawn of history. Mrs. Tuchman makes the point that folly is “independent of era or locality, is timeless and universal ...and is unrelated to type of regime. Monarchy, oligarchy or democracy produce it equally.”

She has one further principle for the study of government folly. “...The policy in question should be that of a group, not an individual ruler, and should persist beyond any one political lifetime.” That brings us into the realm of political economy, more precisely the dogged clinging to the central role of government in the economy, and particularly in the financial system upon which the economy rests. That policy has been clung to for far more than a political lifetime. It has been clung to at the highest levels of government for almost a century.

The Fed’s March Of Folly:

This road has been taken ever since the Fed was created in 1913. Specifically, the “final frontier” was entered with the FOMC’s decision on August 10. It’s all downhill from there.

Politics and Economics:

The present global monetary system (on life support as it is) remains the one that was hammered out in Bretton Woods in 1944 with the US Dollar as the world’s SOLE reserve currency. As long as this remains the case, the follies of the US government will remain the most important in the world and the follies of their central bank - the Federal Reserve - will remain paramount. By Barbara Tuchman’s criteria, a folly worth examining must “persist beyond any one political lifetime”. In June this year, Senator Robert Byrd, the longest serving politician in US history, passed away at the age of 92. Senator Byrd entered the Congress in 1953. Bretton Woods was in 1944. The Fed was created in 1913.

The other point which needs to be made concerns what could be called the dynastic nature of the Fed. Mr. Bernanke is the fourteenth Chairman since the creation of the Fed almost 97 years ago. That’s not many - over the same period there have been seventeen US Presidents. Here we get down to the divide between the political and the economic aspect of political governance.

The Politics Of It All:

There was a time when a president and his party could be and were voted out of office because the people preferred the policies offered by the opposition. That ended in the 1930s, when the “criteria” became which party could almost literally “buy” the majority of votes by directing the redistribution of funds where it would do them the most good. That became entrenched by the late 1960s. Since then, the “platforms” of the major contending parties have been all but indistinguishable. Most US elections have been decided either on the “lesser of two evils” principle or on disgust with the incumbents.

Both sides of US politics have been equally assiduous in their major task as they see it. That task is to safeguard and increase (as far as they are able) the involvement of government in as many aspects of the lives of the people as possible. That is why the euphemism for modern politicians, especially those in the US Congress, is “lawmakers”. It is only VERY recently that politicians from either party have given serious consideration to the problem of paying for it all or whether they CAN pay for it all. For most of the past century, they have not concerned themselves with that. That is what the Federal Reserve is for.

The Economics Of It All:

In essence, the Fed (like any central bank) is the “fourth arm of government”. The executive branch makes policy. The legislative branch translates it into legislation. The judicial branch is supposed to ensure that legislation is permissible under the Constitution - the law which GOVERNMENT must obey. Originally, the system was set up to ensure a division of power between the branches. A “government bank” or “central bank” was not deemed necessary because the powers of government were thought to be limited by the Constitution to the extent where “financing” these operations would not be necessary. They weren’t (except for the post Revolutionary and Civil War periods) for well over a century. But by the turn of the twentieth century, the US government, like so many governments before them, decided that their reach should extend beyond the borders of the nation they governed. This promised to be expensive.

The Fed was initially set up under the pretense that an institution was necessary to provide an “elastic currency” to meet the needs of business. An elastic currency was deemed necessary alright. But it wasn’t to meet the needs of business, it was to meet the needs of government. And that is what the Fed has been doing ever since. As the powers of government expanded and as the COST of government soared, the Fed was always there, the banker of last resort, the branch of government which would “pay” for whatever government chose to do. The government needs the Fed as a guaranteed buyer of its debt.

It is obvious to anyone who takes the time to EXAMINE the situation that the Fed is the fourth and specifically, the economic/financial branch of the US government. It should be equally obvious that this marriage of convenience has been progressively impoverishing the American people. Apparently, it isn’t.

When A Folly Comes Out Of The Closet:

For many decades, the “co-operation” between the US government with their Treasury requirements and the Fed has been taken for granted. Whole systems of “economics” (notably the one popularised by J.M. Keynes in the mid 1930s) have grown up around the practices of “financing” the ever increasing “needs” of government. The terms “inflation” and “deflation” have been moved from defining movements in the amount of money being created to movements in the prices influenced by this manipulation. A vast pile of books has been written and post-graduate university courses designed around the alleged difference between debt incurred by government and debt incurred by the dwindling “private sector”.

Through it all, the quality of the money has declined in lock step with the increase in the amount of money (of all descriptions) in circulation. There have been two defining moments in the entire process. The first came in 1933-34 when Americans were prohibited by law from owning Gold. The second came in 1971 when the final constraints on government fiscal discipline were removed as the final promise to redeem the US Dollar in Gold was jettisoned. On August 15, 1971, the folly came out of the closet. That lasted a decade, during which funded government debt rose by 150 percent. Then came a quarter century of “serial” debt bubbles which lasted until 2007. Over that period, government debt grew by 1000 percent. With the onset of the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) in 2007 and the near death financial experience of 2008, the closet door opened again. And this time, in stark contrast to the end of the 1970s, it CANNOT be closed.

Shutting The Door On An Empty Room:

In the era of “stagflation” (the 1970s), there was actually an extensive debate about the nature of the money which was fuelling an obviously dysfunctional system. The main reason for this was that the concept of “risk” was still one which was current in investment markets. The steady increase of interest rates, which accelerated as the 1970s were coming to a close, was a contributing factor. So was the cost of living - which was accelerating along with interest rates. So was the “price” of Gold, which now had a “price” since it was no longer “fixed” to the US Dollar. As the 1970s ended, the price of Gold in US Dollars accelerated along with US interest rates. This was not and is not supposed to happen. High interest rates are said to be “bad” for Gold. They certainly weren’t in the last three years of the 1970s.

The door was slammed shut by Chairman Volcker in late 1979 when he took his hands off the Fed’s interest rate controlling mechanisms. US rates skyrocketed, “stagflation” turned into (deep) “recession”, Gold soared and then slumped. And, finally, the world was lured back into the paper US Dollar.

The US government had jettisoned the concept of “risk” as far as their borrowing “requirements” were concerned in the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash. They did so just as the ensuing depression elevated risk aversion in the private US economy to a level it had never seen before and has not (yet) seen since. It took 50 years, the abandonment of Gold and an attempt to combine a welfare state with a war for the fear of “risk” to resurface - in the 1970s. It took interest rates which reflected that fear of risk in the MARKET to get it to subside. It did, in the early 1980s. Then came the era of serial credit “bubbles”.

Blowing The Door Off Its Hinges:

The Global Financial Crisis (GFC), and particularly the “authorities’” reaction to it, has done more than just open the door again to the money machinations which are built into the foundation of modern government. It has laid that entire mechanism bare for anyone to see. But look at what has happened during most of the three decades since the beginning of the “Reagan Bull” in 1982. Twenty-five years of recurrent market booms anaesthetised an entire generation. In the process, the obvious truths that savings must precede investment and that wealth is not a function of the creation of money were buried beneath an avalanche of transfer payments and “bull” (in BOTH senses of the word) markets.

It is hard to awaken from such a long period under the influence of “authorities”. These things take time.

The Mechanism Itself:

To illustrate how pervasive the mechanism is and how it has long since been taken for granted, only one fact is necessary. Since 1931, there have been a grand total of SIX financial years when the funded debt of the US Treasury did not increase. These were fiscal 1947, 1948, 1951, 1956, 1957 and 1960. The US federal government has not run a budget surplus for 50 years. Under the original theory concocted by the “authorities” and elevated to economic holy writ by Mr. Keynes, governments can compensate for any slowdown in the economy by spending more than they tax. Then, when the magic bullet of government “stimulus” has done its work, they can pull in their horns and diminish their debt. Governments “can” do that, but the US government hasn’t actually done it for 50 years. The Clinton “surpluses” of the late 1990s are a myth, of course, concocted by applying the “surplus” generated by social security funds to the government’s bottom line. There are no social security “funds”, the entire pile is composed of non-marketable Treasury IOUs which can only be serviced and/or repaid by the productive capacity of this and future generations.

For many years, we here at The Privateer (and many others) have been explaining the mechanism by which the production of real wealth has progressively been taken over by the production of “purchasing power”. The onset of the GFC exposed these mechanisms to public scrutiny to an extent not seen since the 1970s, or before that, the 1930s. The GFC itself, especially in nations (such as the US) where its impact has been most sorely felt, has greatly increased two things so far. One is the ever growing unease and indignation of the public. The other is the lengths to which the “authorities” will go to keep the REAL reasons for the present malaise away from pubic view and, above all, from public understanding.

Now What?:

The first answer to that question was given on August 10 when the FOMC announced that the Fed would NOT be shrinking its balance sheet as it has promised to do ever since it massively expanded it almost two years ago. On top of that, the FOMC let it be known that the Fed would resuscitate its quantitative easing (QE) program of directly monetising Treasury debt.

On August 27, Ben Bernanke expanded on the Fed’s future plans at his Fed symposium speech at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Mr. Bernanke began by startling his listeners, telling them that the Fed would do “all that it can” to rekindle confidence in the “mechanism” (financial system). His listeners, both inside and outside the conference room, had long since assumed that there is nothing that the Fed can’t do. The Fed’s “omnipotence” is a foundation stone in the entire edifice of trust in the “authorities”. Nothing would rock this more than a revelation that there ARE things the Fed can’t do.

To stave this off, Mr. Bernanke listed three things that the Fed can still do. It can buy “more” long-term securities. It can reduce the interest rate it charges on excess reserves to get the banks to lend them instead of storing them with the Fed. And finally, it can “modify the Committee’s (the FOMCs) communication”. Let’s take the first two. When the FOMC announced that the Fed WAS going to buy more long-term securities on August 10, they admitted that the first foray into QE hadn’t worked. When Mr. Bernanke talked about reducing rates charged on Fed reserves, he neglected to mention that existing rates have been at 0.25 percent ever since the Lehman scare of 2008.

The third future task for the Fed , “modifying communication”, is one known by “authorities” in all ages and times. Today, when they speak about doing it themselves they call it “public relations” or, less politely, “spin”. When they speak about other authorities doing it, they call it “propaganda”, or more impolitely “disinformation” or still more impolitely “lies”.

The Fed’s real message was delivered on September 1 by departing White House chief economist Christina Romer. She said that the US needed to find the “political will” for more economic stimulus.

The Only “Solution” Left?:

For months now, Nobel prize winning economists, eminent educators, individuals in charge of $US TRILLIONS of investment “capital”, and political “authorities” of all sizes, shapes and descriptions have been unanimous in one message. The “system” can be fixed easily. We have discovered that we didn’t print enough money. No problem. Just print more, preferably MUCH more!

Here’s how Christina Romer put it during her speech to the National Press Club: “The only sure-fire ways for policymakers to substantially increase aggregate demand in the short run are for the government to spend more and tax less. ...I desperately hope that policymakers on both sides of the aisle will find a way to finish the job of economic recovery”.

Ms Romer, one of the chief architects of President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package, has resigned her position as the chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, effective on September 3. Once an “authority”, always an “authority” - she is returning to “academe” by returning to her old job as an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. While she was there, she was engaged in research on fiscal and monetary policy from the 1930s to the present. Mr. Bernanke would approve.

The Political Will:

Yahoo in the US described the speech as a plea that the US find the “political will” for further stimulus. This is in itself very revealing indeed, especially given Ms Romer’s contention that the only way to “fix” the problem is for the US to “spend more and tax less”. Politically, this has been the only solution resorted to in the US for at least half a century. What is never mentioned by all those who so glibly push this solution to the problem is the reason why the US has been able to get away with it for so long.

To do so would risk moving the debate to the area where the “authorities” dare not go. That is the area of the nature of the global financial system and, even more fundamentally, the nature of the “money” which underpins it. When a government spends more and taxes less, they go ever more heavily into debt. For a “normal” government, this process can only continue until the obvious risk factor shows up in the interest rates they have to pay on their borrowings. At that point, they have no choice but to pull in their horns.

The US government is different because the US Dollar is the world’s reserve. Because it is the world’s reserve, it has a global demand as the underpinning for financial systems everywhere. Yes, it is true that non US central banks are holding increasing amounts of other currencies in their reserves. But the basic system as hammered out at Bretton Woods in 1944 has NOT been altered. The US Dollar remains the world’s only official reserve currency. That means that the US is the only country that can buy goods with debt paper created by their Treasury and payable in “money” created by their central bank.

You have likely read this before - in The Privateer and in many other places. No matter how many times it is repeated, this remains the most important FACT which is never discussed by “authorities”. The issue is not the political will of the US government to go on spending beyond its means, it is the political will of the rest of the world to go on accepting the unworkable global system indefinitely. They will not do it.

A Vested Interest In AUTHORITY:

From time immemorial, the “authorities” in charge of political and economic policy in a nation have clung to “remedies” that would not work - even though they KNEW they would not work. We started this essay with one example. There are countless more. Once you understand this, you will know that “authority” is NEVER to be trusted, no matter how many adhere to it or how long it seems to have “worked”. The only viable alternative to more authority is LESS authority, and therefore more freedom.

Today, no “authority” in the world wants to discuss that. Least of all the ones in the USA.