Saturday, February 27, 2010

Important Krugman Article

The article posted below from the NYT is important because it dispels any illusions that the ultra-right is not still public enemy #1 and we need the maximum amount of unity to fight it. The Republican Party IS the ultra-right if Krugman's analysis of their tactics is correct (which I think it is). The tactic they are using is to knowingly lie to the American people in an effort to destroy any gains the working class is able to extract from the Democrats. This tactic is a fascist method and when it is deliberately employed by the number 2 party of monopoly capitalism a real threat to American democracy is in the works. Any increase in Republican political power spells disaster for the working class.

Afflicting the Afflicted
[reposted from the New York Times]

If we’re lucky, Thursday’s summit will turn out to have been the last act in the great health reform debate, the prologue to passage of an imperfect but nonetheless history-making bill. If so, the debate will have ended as it began: with Democrats offering moderate plans that draw heavily on past Republican ideas, and Republicans responding with slander and misdirection.

Nobody really expected anything different. But what was nonetheless revealing about the meeting was the fact that Republicans — who had weeks to prepare for this particular event, and have been campaigning against reform for a year — didn’t bother making a case that could withstand even minimal fact-checking.

It was obvious how things would go as soon as the first Republican speaker, Senator Lamar Alexander, delivered his remarks. He was presumably chosen because he’s folksy and likable and could make his party’s position sound reasonable. But right off the bat he delivered a whopper, asserting that under the Democratic plan, “for millions of Americans, premiums will go up.”

Wow. I guess you could say that he wasn’t technically lying, since the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Senate Democrats’ plan does say that average payments for insurance would go up. But it also makes it clear that this would happen only because people would buy more and better coverage. The “price of a given amount of insurance coverage” would fall, not rise — and the actual cost to many Americans would fall sharply thanks to federal aid.

His fib on premiums was quickly followed by a fib on process. Democrats, having already passed a health bill with 60 votes in the Senate, now plan to use a simple majority vote to modify some of the numbers, a process known as reconciliation. Mr. Alexander declared that reconciliation has “never been used for something like this.” Well, I don’t know what “like this” means, but reconciliation has, in fact, been used for previous health reforms — and was used to push through both of the Bush tax cuts at a budget cost of $1.8 trillion, twice the bill for health reform.

What really struck me about the meeting, however, was the inability of Republicans to explain how they propose dealing with the issue that, rightly, is at the emotional center of much health care debate: the plight of Americans who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions. In other advanced countries, everyone gets essential care whatever their medical history. But in America, a bout of cancer, an inherited genetic disorder, or even, in some states, having been a victim of domestic violence can make you uninsurable, and thus make adequate health care unaffordable.

One of the great virtues of the Democratic plan is that it would finally put an end to this unacceptable case of American exceptionalism. But what’s the Republican answer? Mr. Alexander was strangely inarticulate on the matter, saying only that “House Republicans have some ideas about how my friend in Tullahoma can continue to afford insurance for his wife who has had breast cancer.” He offered no clue about what those ideas might be.

In reality, House Republicans don’t have anything to offer to Americans with troubled medical histories. On the contrary, their big idea — allowing unrestricted competition across state lines — would lead to a race to the bottom. The states with the weakest regulations — for example, those that allow insurance companies to deny coverage to victims of domestic violence — would set the standards for the nation as a whole. The result would be to afflict the afflicted, to make the lives of Americans with pre-existing conditions even harder.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the House G.O.P. plan. That analysis is discreetly worded, with the budget office declaring somewhat obscurely that while the number of uninsured Americans wouldn’t change much, “the pool of people without health insurance would end up being less healthy, on average, than under current law.” But here’s the translation: While some people would gain insurance, the people losing insurance would be those who need it most. Under the Republican plan, the American health care system would become even more brutal than it is now.

So what did we learn from the summit? What I took away was the arrogance that the success of things like the death-panel smear has obviously engendered in Republican politicians. At this point they obviously believe that they can blandly make utterly misleading assertions, saying things that can be easily refuted, and pay no price. And they may well be right.

But Democrats can have the last laugh. All they have to do — and they have the power to do it — is finish the job, and enact health reform.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Thomas Riggins
(Engels and Philosophy V)

Engels discusses this topic in Chapter X, Part I of Anti-Dühring (Morality and Law. Equality). Engels discusses Dühring's method of analysis. Dühring thinks you break a subject down to its most simple components and then, using mathematical axioms, you can logically deduce what its true nature is. Engels calls this the A PRIORI method. In this method you logically deduce the nature of the object from its concept not from from the object itself. Then you reverse the process. You take your refurbished concept of the object and then judge the nature of the object by means of it instead of just studying the object itself. This is the garbage in, garbage out method.

In discussing "equality", Herr Dühring deduces the nature of society by logic "instead of from the real social relations of the people around him." He says the simplest form of society consists of just two people. Here you have two human wills and at this stage the two are ENTIRELY EQUAL to one another. From this Dühring says we can deduce "the development of the fundamental concepts of right." These two persons, by the way, are men.

Engels calls these two equal men "phantoms" because to be entirely equal they have to be free from any real life distinctions, including sexual distinctions and experiences, and thus become just abstract creations of Dühring's brain not real people at all.

Now what would justify one person becoming subordinate to another if they are entirely equal? Well if one of the two wills was, Engels explains, "afflicted with inadequate self-determination" then Dühring allows for its subordination. In other words the entirely equal wills are not entirely equal after all. Engels gives two more examples from Dühring in which "equality" will be replaced by inequality and subordination: they are "when two persons are 'morally unequal'" and when they are unequal mentally. Of course it is Herr Dühring and his followers who decide the moral and mental qualifications.

All this goes to show, Engels concludes, that Dühring has a shallow and botched outlook regarding the notion of equality. But this does not mean the idea of equality does not play "an important agitational role in the socialist movement of almost every country." The issue of Human Rights is the contemporary version of this debate. Following Engels, I will say that the "scientific content" of Human Rights will "determine its value for proletarian agitation."

The scientific content will be established by studying the history of the idea of Human Rights (AKA "equality.") It took thousands of years to get from the ideas about equality in the ancient world to those that the socialist movement holds, or should hold today. In the classical world of Greece and Rome inequality was as important as equality (slaves versus Roman citizenship for example).

Christianity recognized a form of equality-- all were equally subject to original sin. There was also, early on, the equality of the ELECT. But these were really bogus forms of equality as far as THIS world was concerned. Then, when the Germans overran the Roman Empire the ideals of human equality were set back for a thousand years due to the entrenchment of the FEUDAL ORDER.

Nevertheless, within that order a class was growing that would "become the standard- bearer of the modern demand for equality: the bourgeoisie." As a result of the maritime discoveries of the fifteenth century (da Gama, Columbus, etc.,) markets began to grow and the handicraft industries of the middle ages expanded into manufacturing concerns. This economic revolution took place within the political structure of feudalism. The bourgeoisie began to champion the notion of human rights and equality because human labor qua labor was seen as of equal value, a fact recognized in bourgeoisie political economy as the law of value "according to which," Engels writes, "the value of a commodity is measured by the socially necessary labour embodied in it." This connection was first brought to light by Marx in Das Kapital, Engels says.

The social contradiction between the new economic order of capitalism and the feudal political order brought about the great revolutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Engels explains that "where economic relations required freedom and equality of rights, the political system opposed them at every step." It is interesting to note that the bourgeoisie was able to wrest power from the feudalists and is to day's dominant ruling class. The same contradiction on a higher level, this time between the working classes and the bourgeoisie, has not been resolved. But only a revolutionary transfer of political power to the workers can overcome the economic problems, as well as the social questions of war and imperialism, that mark the present period of bourgeoisie decline.

Engels points out that with the decline of the Roman Empire and the development of independent states each claiming the same rights to nationhood as the others, and being, in the bourgeois world at least, on similar levels of development, the notion of equality gave way to to that of universal human rights. That "universal human rights" are basically bourgeois rights is illustrated by the fact that "the American constitution, the first to recognize the rights of man, in the same breath confirms the slavery of the coloured races existing in America: class privileges are proscribed, race privileges sanctioned."

The logical extension of the call for the abolition of class privileges by the bourgeoisie is the working class' call for the abolition of classes themselves. There are two aspects to the demand for equally made by the working people. The first is a protest against the poverty and oppression of the workers as compared to the wealth and power of the rich. This first aspect is spontaneous and "is simply an expression of the revolutionary instinct" of oppressed people. The second aspect is derived from the bourgeoisie's own ideals and demand for equality in face of the feudal order and is put forth "in order to stir up the workers against the capitalists with the aid of the capitalists' own assertions." In both cases, according to Engels, the real demand of the workers is not class equality but the ABOLITION OF CLASSES. Any demand beyond [i.e., other than] that, he says, "passes into absurdity."

What Engels has tried to show is that our modern notions of human rights and of human equality are not eternal verities good for every time and clime. Both the bourgeois and proletarian versions are historical products. So are the views of the Taliban, for example, on the treatment of women and the rights of non Islamic people or those of some South Africans on the number of wives a man can have. These views as well as those we call "modern", by which we mean 'Western" in their capitalist or working class incarnations developed as a result of "definite historical conditions that in turn themselves presuppose a long previous history."

Those values, therefore, WE take for granted are the product of a specific historical trajectory in which they functioned to bring about and stabilize the world capitalist system. Engels says, quoting Marx, if the modern notion of human rights "already possesses the fixity of a popular prejudice" this is due to the continuing influence of the Enlightenment on our times.
The task of socialists today is to agitate for truly effective universal human rights-- and these include the right to a living income, to health, to food, housing, education, and to live in a world at peace-- attainable once and for all through the abolition of classes.

AFL-CIO 5-point jobs program

From Good Jobs Now

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ending the War in Afghanistan: A Primer (review)

Ending the War in Afghanistan

[reposted from CounterCurrents]

Perhaps, there was once a time when most westerners could pretend that the US-led onslaught against the Afghan people was a good thing. Perhaps they convinced themselves that because the government of that country had allowed Osama Bin Laden to live in the mountains there that there was reason enough to attack his neighbors and destroy what remained of their nation. Perhaps, too, westerners (especially US citizens) believed that the true purpose of the US-led military mission in Afghanistan was to capture Bin Laden and destroy his terror network.

Yes, perhaps there was a time when the facade of justice and righteous revenge provided enough of a moral veneer to the US war in Afghanistan that even intelligent westerners could live with the death and destruction occurring in their name. However, that time is long past. The war has gone on for more than eight years without any sign of cessation. Indeed, since Barack Obama took up residence in the White House, the casualties in that war have spiked. There are at least 40,000 more US troops in the country since that date last January and another thirty or forty thousand more getting ready to go there. In addition, the number of mercenaries has similarly increased. The reasons provided for this escalation range from going after terrorists to creating a civil society. As I write, another offensive against Afghans is being prepared. It primary purpose is to install a governor appointed by the US-created government in Kabul. No matter what the reason, it is painfully clear that those of us expecting a truthful explanation for Washington's presence in Afghanistan will not receive it from those who continue to send troops and weaponry over there. Nor will they receive it from those in Congress that continue to fund this lethal endeavor.

Yet, the antiwar movement--which should know better--remains virtually silent. A day of bi coastal demonstrations is planned for March 20, 2010, but otherwise there is not even a whisper of protest. Students go to classes while their generational cohorts in uniform face the prospect of death and killing. Antiwar organizations send out the occasional email or call for action, but there is no action. Congressmen and women ignore the letters and faxes constituents send them asking that they refuse to vote for the next war-funding legislation. Furthermore, these legislators refuse to make the connection between the destruction of the US economy and the trillion dollars spent to kill Afghans and Iraqis the past eight years. The media rarely covers the war except to promote the glory of the men and women sent to do America's dirty work. There is no critical debate in the mainstream media. Opponents of Washington's imperial program--rarely acknowledged in the mainstream media at any time--are now completely ignored.

Into this dismal void steps a crucial and accessible text by David Wildman and Phyllis Bennis titled Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer. As up-to-date as a printed text could possibly be, this pocket-sized book is an unambiguous call to end the US-led war in Afghanistan. Written in a question and answer format, the authors cover the recent history of US involvement in that country from the late 1970s arming of the fundamentalist holy warriors in Washington's proxy war against the Soviet Union to the recent faux elections in Fall 2009. The geopolitical meaning of Afghanistan in Washington's strategy for empire is explained and so is the role of Unocal and pipelines. The writers challenge the myth that Washington's occupation and war have made life better for the majority of Afghanistan's female population. In fact, they challenge the assumption that this was ever even a goal of Washington when the war was begun.

The recent much-ballyhooed switch from a counterterrorism strategy to a counterinsurgency approach is discussed and dissected. The Pentagon's plans to provide humanitarian aid is described in all of its deception. The supposed division of budgeted funds into eighty per cent reconstruction and twenty per cent military is shown to be a fraud. The authors write that after all is said and done, the percentages look more like this: 90-95% military and 5-10% actually going to reconstruction. Even then much of the reconstruction is military in nature. The idea that an occupying army that continues to bomb villages, kick in the doors of people's homes, and arrest their sons and husbands will ever win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people is soundly rejected in these pages.

Furthermore, it is the authors' contention that there will never be real progress toward a genuine peace in Afghanistan until the US and other members of the International Security Armed Force (ISAF) withdraw their forces. Those interested in organizing to end this war (and the occupation of Iraq) should pay special attention to the final forty pages of Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer. These pages are where the shortcomings of the antiwar movement are discussed. Primary amongst these failings was the anti-Bush focus of the antiwar movement of 2002-2008. Another false move was the assumption by way too many of those who protested Bush's war that the Empire's policy would change under Barack Obama. Bennis and Wildman write that the dynamics between the antiwar forces and the current administration might be slightly different, which could increase the movement's ability to affect policy. Of course, we will never know this unless we create a movement that is as larger or larger than the aforementioned one. Perhaps the key phrase in this section is this: "the moment Congress perceives that the political cost of funding the war has risen above the (political) cost of ending the war, they will do what has become politically expedient--and cutting the war funding will become an urgent political necessity." To make this happen is a huge task, but it is the one we must undertake.

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs' essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch's collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bush vs Aristide: US Democracy At Work

Review of Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment
by Ben Terrall [reposted from Dissident Voice]

Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment
by Peter Hallward
Paperback: 488 pages
Publisher: Verso (April 7, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1844671062
ISBN-13: 978-1844671069

Of all the illegal and dishonest misadventures that the Bush Administration got away with, the least criticized of all might be the 2004 overthrow of Haiti’s democratically-elected government. Even human rights groups and left-leaning press that stood up against the Iraq war gave, and still give, Bush a pass on the horror he unleashed on Haiti by kidnapping President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Peter Hallward’s new book Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment is a welcome corrective to the false impressions and historical amnesia about Haiti afflicting most of the English-speaking world. Jonathan Kozol called it, “A brilliant politically sophisticated and morally infuriating work on a shameful piece of very recent history that the U.S. press has either distorted or ignored. The most important and devastating book I’ve read on American betrayal of democracy in one of the most tormented nations in the world.”

Hallward, a UK-based philosophy professor, was teaching a course in 2003 which involved daily reading of Le Monde and other French newspapers when he noted a systematic demonization of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas movement. He subsequently wrote one of the best long articles about the 2004 coup (“Option Zero in Haiti,” New Left Review 27, May-June 2004) shortly after it happened. Ever since, he seems to have been collecting information for a bill of indictment against the U.S., France and Canada, the coup’s principle backers, ever since. In the process he has also put together a damning critique of liberals and self-described radicals who either through intellectual laziness or lack of cross-class solidarity accepted Bush-approved PR on Haiti.

In his research, Hallward used mostly public sources. He appears to have read everything written about Haiti in the past ten years, as well as much earlier work. Interviews with principles ranging from Aristide to several key coup players, and both pro- and anti-Aristide figures, buttress his scholarship. Hallward puts the country’s recent violence in the context of 200 years of “great power” hostility toward Haitian sovereignty, beginning with the 1804 revolution, the only successful slave revolt in world history.

Hallward excels at showing the means by which Haiti’s ultra-rich minority worked hand in glove with right-wingers in Washington and Paris to create a case for “regime change” that even Iraq war opponents could embrace. After the first U.S.-backed coup against Aristide in 1991, when public opinion in the U.S. was still largely sympathetic to Lavalas, Hallward notes, “Jesse Helms spoke for much of the US political establishment when on 20 October 1993 he denounced Aristide as a ‘psychopath and grave human rights abuser.’” But “neither Helms nor anyone else could pin a single political killing on the 1991 [Aristide] administration. In the run up to the second coup, incomparably more insistent versions of the same charge would resurface at every turn.”

As Hallward painstakingly shows, left of center and liberal NGOs were all too willing to accept Washington’s destabilization program for Haiti. The smears and propaganda were well-funded and carried out in concert with “Democracy Enhancement” and similar programs of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other U.S. government agencies. The project recalled what the U.S. did to Nicaragua in the 1980s, as documented by political scientist William Robinson in his excellent study A Faustian Bargain.

Hallward notes that when it comes to “the supervision of human rights in the most heavily exploited parts of the planet … most of the ‘neutral,’ affluent and well-connected supervisors live at an immeasurable distance from the world endured by the people they supervise, and at a still greater distance from the sort of militant, unabashedly political mobilization that can alone offer any meaningful protection for truly universal rights.” The helps explain the ease with which Human Rights Watch took anti-Aristide propaganda at face value, then dragged their feet interminably (as did Amnesty International) when Aristide’s government was ousted and the rightist bloodbath began in earnest.

Hallward carefully wades through the accusations of human rights violations leveled at Aristide’s government. After an exhaustive examination, he can find no evidence that holds up. In many cases, he finds that the supposed abuses themselves were greatly exaggerated, if not entirely fabricated.

Damming the Flood (lavalas means “flood” in Haitian Kreyol) is brilliantly written and extremely thorough in examining the players behind the 2004 assault on Haitian popular democracy and its horrific aftermath.

In the wake of the thousands killed and countless more tortured and raped, it is inevitable that many readers not versed in Haiti’s past would ask: Why? Hallward does a fine job of answering that question, addressing fundamental structural injustices enforced by U.S. foreign policy.

Aristide emerged as a priest in the tradition of liberation theology, which promotes a “preferential option for the poor.” In Hallward’s words: “All through the 1980s and early 90s [U.S. army intelligence officers] recognized that ‘the most serious threat to U.S. interests was not secular Marxist-Leninism or organized labor but liberation theology.’ Nowhere did the counter-insurgency measures that the US and its allies devised in order to deal with liberation theology in the 1980s and early 90s fall more heavily than they did on the Haiti of Lavalas and the ti legliz (“little church” movement). It’s no coincidence that the most notorious assassin hired to terrorize Lavalas from 1990 to 1994, Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, first began working for the CIA on a course designed to explain and contain the “extreme left-wing” implications of “The Theology of Liberation,” which Constant understood as an attempt ‘to convince the people that in the name of God everything is possible” and that, therefore, it was right for the people to kill soldiers and the rich.’”

Hallward continues, “Haiti is the only country in Latin America that had the temerity to choose a liberation theologian as its president — twice. If Aristide still remains the defining political figure in Haiti to this day it’s not because he represents a utopian alternative to the economic status quo, or because he embodies a demagogic charisma that threatens to stifle the development of democracy, or because his followers believe that he made no strategic mistakes. It’s because in the eyes of most people he is not a politician, precisely, but an organizer and an activist who remains dedicated to working within what he famously affirmed as ‘the parish of the poor.’ It was as such an activist that Aristide disbanded the army in 1995, and it was as such an organizer that he dedicated the rest of his political life to helping the popular mobilization deal with the new threats and the old antagonisms that soon emerged as a result.”

The priest turned president threatened to help Haiti’s poor enough to earn the eternal enmity of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and both Republicans and Democrats. His government was denied much-needed international funds (which in a more sane world would be reparations for past injustices, not loans or aid-with-strings-attached), and his poor followers demonized as chimeres, or “devils.” Instead of looking at the structural roots of the exploitation and ecological devastation to which the country has been subjected, foreign journalists took their sound bites from English or French speaking elites at odds with Lavalas’s commendable, and only moderately leftist, goal to raise the poor “from misery to poverty with dignity.”

The scant media coverage of Haiti that exists tends to continue centuries-old patterns of ignoring the perspectives of the poor majority. In Hallward’s words, what most English speakers get instead is repetition of “perhaps the most consistent theme of the profoundly racist first-world commentary on the island: that poor non-white people remain incapable of governing themselves.”

Though the UN “peacekeeping” mission, put in place in 2004 to legitimize the most recent coup, remains in Haiti, Hallward points to ongoing resistance from the poorest neighborhoods as evidence that the story is not over. While coup forces continue to dominate most ministries of the current government, the 2006 presidential election resulting in Haiti’s rulers conceding victory to Aristide’s former Prime Minster Rene Preval shows the unavoidability of some concessions to pressure from the poor majority.

For those who feel a debt to the people of Haiti for inspiring resistance to U.S. slavery, and for setting an example of the true potential of declarations of liberty espoused by the French Revolution, this book is an essential resource. Damming the Flood will inspire international activists to support the struggles of those Haitians who continue to stand up for their fundamental human rights. It should be widely read.

Ben Terrall is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, In These Times, Counterpunch, Lip Magazine, and other publications. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Ben, or visit Ben's website.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jurassic Space: Ancient Galaxies Come Together After Billions of Years

[Meanwhile on planet earth 5% of the rational life forms worry about midterm elections in one of over 113 political entities that have existed for only a few hundred years or so]
Web address:
Jurassic Space: Ancient Galaxies Come Together After Billions of Years

ScienceDaily (Feb. 20, 2010) — Imagine finding a living dinosaur in your backyard. Astronomers have found the astronomical equivalent of prehistoric life in our intergalactic backyard: a group of small, ancient galaxies that has waited 10 billion years to come together. These "late bloomers" are on their way to building a large elliptical galaxy.

Such encounters between dwarf galaxies are normally seen billions of light-years away and therefore occurred billions of years ago. But these galaxies, members of Hickson Compact Group 31, are relatively nearby, only 166 million light-years away.

New images of this foursome by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope offer a window into the universe's formative years when the buildup of large galaxies from smaller building blocks was common.

Astronomers have known for decades that these dwarf galaxies are gravitationally tugging on each other. Their classical spiral shapes have been stretched like taffy, pulling out long streamers of gas and dust. The brightest object in the Hubble image is actually two colliding galaxies. The entire system is aglow with a firestorm of star birth, triggered when hydrogen gas is compressed by the close encounters between the galaxies, and collapses to form stars.

The Hubble observations have added important clues to the story of this interacting group, allowing astronomers to determine when the encounter began and to predict a future merger.

"We found the oldest stars in a few ancient globular star clusters that date back to about 10 billion years ago. Therefore, we know the system has been around for a while," says astronomer Sarah Gallagher of The University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, leader of the Hubble study. "Most other dwarf galaxies like these interacted billions of years ago, but these galaxies are just coming together for the first time. This encounter has been going on for at most a few hundred million years, the blink of an eye in cosmic history. It is an extremely rare local example of what we think was a quite common event in the distant universe."

Everywhere the astronomers looked in this group they found batches of infant star clusters and regions brimming with star birth. The entire system is rich in hydrogen gas, the stuff of which stars are made. Gallagher and her team used Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys to resolve the youngest and brightest of those clusters, which allowed them to calculate the clusters' ages, trace the star-formation history, and determine that the galaxies are undergoing the final stages of galaxy assembly.

The analysis was bolstered by infrared data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and ultraviolet observations from the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) and NASA's Swift satellite. Those data helped the astronomers measure the total amount of star formation in the system. "Hubble has the sharpness to resolve individual star clusters, which allowed us to age-date the clusters," Gallagher adds.

Hubble reveals that the brightest clusters, hefty groups each holding at least 100,000 stars, are less than 10 million years old. The stars are feeding off of plenty of gas. A measurement of the gas content shows that very little has been used up -- further proof that the "galactic fireworks" seen in the images are a recent event. The group has about five times as much hydrogen gas as our Milky Way Galaxy.

"This is a clear example of a group of galaxies on their way toward a merger because there is so much gas that is going to mix everything up," Gallagher says. "The galaxies are relatively small, comparable in size to the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. Their velocities, measured from previous studies, show that they are moving very slowly relative to each other, just 134,000 miles an hour (60 kilometers a second). So it's hard to imagine how this system wouldn't wind up as a single elliptical galaxy in another billion years."

Adds team member Pat Durrell of Youngstown State University: "The four small galaxies are extremely close together, within 75,000 light-years of each other -- we could fit them all within our Milky Way."

Why did the galaxies wait so long to interact? Perhaps, says Gallagher, because the system resides in a lower-density region of the universe, the equivalent of a rural village. Getting together took billions of years longer than it did for galaxies in denser areas.

Hickson Compact Group 31 is one of 100 compact galaxy groups catalogued by Canadian astronomer Paul Hickson.

Gallagher's results appear in the February issue of The Astronomical Journal.

Her science team consists of Pat Durrell (Youngstown State University), Debra Elmegreen (Vassar College), Rupali Chandar (University of Toledo), Jayanne English (University of Manitoba), Jane Charlton, Caryl Gronwal, and Jason Young (Penn State), Panayiotis Tzanavaris (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center), Kelsey Johnson (University of Virginia), Claudia Mendes de Oliveira (University of Sao Paulo), Brad Whitmore (STScI), Ann Hornschemeier (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center), Aparna Maybhate (STScI), and Ann Zabludoff (University of Arizona).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Another gift of capitalism to the poor

Web address:
Low-Income Urban Mothers Have High Rate of Postpartum Depression

ScienceDaily (Feb. 20, 2010) — More than half of low-income urban mothers met the criteria for a diagnosis of depression at some point between two weeks and 14 months after giving birth, according to a study led by University of Rochester Medical Center researchers and published online by the journal Pediatrics.

This is the first study to describe the prevalence of depression among low-income urban mothers, who were attending well-child care visits, through the use of a diagnostic interview. It also is the first study of this population group to test the accuracy of three depression screening tools routinely used by physicians.

The screening tools have high accuracy in identifying depression, the researchers concluded, but cutoff scores may need to be altered to identify depression more accurately among low-income urban mothers.

The study involved 198 mothers who were 18 years of age or older and whose children were no older than 14 months. The mothers attended well-child visits at the outpatient pediatric clinic at Golisano Children's Hospital at the Medical Center.

The researchers found that 56 percent of the mothers, after a diagnostic interview, met the criteria for a diagnosis of a major or minor depressive disorder.

"This is an unexpected, very high proportion to meet diagnostic criteria for depression," said Linda H. Chaudron, M.D., associate professor of Psychology, Pediatrics and of Obstetrics and Gynecology. "This may be a group at high risk for depression. The message of this study is that pediatricians and other clinicians who work with low-income urban mothers have multiple screening tools that are easy to use and accurate. These tools can help clinicians identify mothers with depression so they can be referred for help."

Many women experience the so-called "baby blues." When the feelings persist or worsen it may be clinical depression. The symptoms include insomnia, persistent sadness, lack of interest in nearly all activity, anxiety, change in appetite, persistent feelings of guilt, and thoughts of harming oneself or the baby. Postpartum depression affects up to 14 percent of new mothers in the United States, with higher rates among poor and minority women.

The researchers evaluated three screening tools, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, the Beck Depression Inventory II and the Postpartum Depression Screening Scale, using the diagnostic interviews for validation.

The three screening tools have been evaluated in many populations, but one of the reasons the study was done was to test the tools with a group for whom there is not much data -- low-income women, especially African-American women, Chaudron said. The researchers also evaluated the validity of the screening tools at various times during the postpartum year.

"The screening tools are valid when used anytime during the postpartum year," Chaudron said.

Use of traditional cutoff scores may not be as accurate as previously thought. Clinicians should be aware that scores two or three points below traditional cutoff scores may indicate a need for further evaluation, the researchers concluded.

The study was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Friday, February 19, 2010


HOODWINKED by John Perkins
Reviewed by Robert Baer
[reposted from John]

“I wasn’t twenty pages into Hoodwinked when I realized Perkins nailed it. What got us into the mess we’re in today, the worst recession since the Great Depression, is the same grotesque capitalism cum corruption we shoved down the throat of the Third World since the end of World War II. (Yes, the Third World’s elites were cheerfully corrupted.)
We, and the rest of the West, learned the trick of selling unneeded infrastructure, services, over-sophisticated weapons–stuff that could never benefit anyone other than the people who lined their pockets. And yes, Perkins is right, the international economists and press were handmaidens to the thievery.
It was all fairly routine until 9/11, when the real gorging started. Tell the people their roof is on fire and they’ll give you whatever you ask for. Between 2001 and 2009 the Department of Defense budget increased 74 percent, and that is not to mention the hundreds of billions of dollars in related contracts. Nigeria on the Potomac.
Perkins is quick to state he doesn’t believe in a grand conspiracy theory. Few of the people who call the shots have ever met each other. They don’t have a playbook other than a couple of fraudulent economists like Milton Friedman and the others who worship at the altar of deregulation. No, what they have in common is an obsession with the winner takes all.
Perkins’s message isn’t going to be popular. We’re a country invested in a system in which five percent of the world’s population consumes 25 percent of the world’s resources. It’s a system we’re trying to sell to the world, only we don’t mention that we’ll need five planets to sustain it.
Perkins isn’t the pessimist I am. He says we can save the world if we green it–and, of course, start telling the truth to each other. Otherwise we end up a banana republic like the ones we know so well how to despoil.” –Robert Baer

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Not everybody is on same page

Not everybody is on same page
by: Sam Webb
From: The People's World

Let me begin with the obvious: the left (organized and unorganized) has seldom been of one mind. Differences over aims, strategy, tactics, programmatic demands, forms of struggle, etc. have been commonplace.

This moment is no different. In fact, I would argue that two distinct and competing trends have taken shape in the course of the first year of the Obama presidency.

One trend stakes out a left position on every issue, resists compromise, believes that the Democratic Party has no democratic/reform potential, pays little attention to right-wing extremism in its strategic and tactical thinking, and reduces President Obama to nothing but a puppet of Wall Street.

This trend turns criticism of the Obama administration into a measure of one's militancy. The sharper the tone the more legitimate one's left credentials. The main, if not the only, thing holding up far-reaching political and economic reforms, in the eyes of this trend, is the president. Somehow, in this rendition of the political moment, the interaction and struggle between (and within) competing political coalitions/blocs composed of various class and social groupings has no or minimal bearing on the process of change since the 2008 elections. In short, the class struggle in all its complexity is both simplified and invisible.

This same trend "damns with faint praise" the new currents, thinking and initiatives in labor and people's organizations, while it narrowly defines political independence as only electoral formations outside the two-party system. It acts as if militant minorities and moral outrage can reshape the political landscape alone, forgetting that popular majorities in the end make history.

Read the whole article here...

Joseph Stiglitz on our economic freefall

Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy by Joseph Stiglitz
by Larry Elliott
[reposted from The Guardian]

No one can say they weren't warned. A decade ago, newly sacked from his job as chief economist at the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz laid bare how the free-market ideologues at the US Treasury and the International Monetary Fund had botched the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. It was a full-on attack from a Washington insider and it hurt, especially when Stiglitz said many of those responsible for forcing countries such as Thailand and Indonesia into deeper, longer recessions were "third-rate graduates from first-rate universities".

He concluded his essay in the New Republic by warning the IMF and the US Treasury that unless they began a dialogue with their critics "things will continue to go very, very wrong".

Now they have. The Asian crisis of 1997-98 was merely the warm-up act for the events of the past two and a half years. Problems that first surfaced on the periphery of the global economy gradually worked their way to its core – the United States. The warnings of Stiglitz and a handful of other dissident voices were ignored, as a naïve belief in the self-correcting nature of markets allowed the conditions to develop for the biggest financial and economic shock since the great depression in the 1930s.

In the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that Freefall reeks of "I told you so". Stiglitz has waited a long time for his views to be vindicated and was not going to spurn the opportunity to settle some scores. Some of the targets are obvious enough – corporate welfare for Wall Street, George Bush's tax breaks for the rich, the failed nostrums from the Chicago school of free-market economists. But he also finds time for some personal revenge.

Larry Summers, formerly Bill Clinton's treasury secretary and now chief economic adviser to Barack Obama, is a particular hate figure. Stiglitz says Summers was too accommodating to the demands of Wall Street in the 90s and is making the same mistake now. It was Summers, incensed by the constant criticism of the Washington consensus, who orchestrated Stiglitz's departure from the World Bank.

There is more, though, to Freefall than sheer gloating – however justified. Stiglitz's argument is simple; the period of unchallenged American economic hegemony lasted a mere 19 years, from the demolition of the Berlin wall in the autumn of 1989 to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Swift action by governments – forced to abandon a hands-off approach to economic management by the scale of the crisis – has prevented a great recession from turning into a second great depression. Lessons need to be learned from this near-death experience; if they are not, if the warnings go unheeded as they did a decade ago, the future will be punctuated by systemic crises.

The chances of that happening are quite high. Already, there is a whiff of business as usual as a receding sense of danger blunts the appetite for radical reform. Obama soft-pedalled on reform of Wall Street until goaded into action this month by the loss of the Senate seat in Massachusetts; in Britain the imminent election will be dominated not by which party has the right policies to cut the City down to size but which can be trusted to cut the budget deficit. Revisionist versions of the crisis, suggesting the problem was too much government rather than too little, are doing the rounds.

In that respect, Freefall is the wrong title for this book. It was clearly commissioned and conceived about a year ago, when the charts showed industrial production and trade collapsing at the same pace as they had in the early 30s. But conditions have improved since the panic of late 2008 and early 2009; by pursuing policies that were diametrically opposite to those foisted on struggling Asian countries by the IMF and the US Treasury in the late 90s, growth has returned far more quickly than expected. China is booming, while Europe, Japan and the United States all started growing again by the third quarter of 2009.

Having dished it out, Stiglitz can expect to cop it from his opponents if, as looks entirely possible, 2010 is a year of recovery. But his underlying analysis is correct. The global economy was – and remains – seriously unbalanced between debtor and creditor nations. Corporate welfare has reached fresh heights with the billions of dollars ladled out to commercial banks, investment banks and America's biggest insurance company, AIG. America, as the book rightly notes, has lived off one bubble after another for years.

Stiglitz wants this to be a moment of "reckoning and reflection" – a re­assessment of the sort of economy in which financiers enriched themselves by selling over-priced and risky products to some of the most vulnerable citizens in America. Materialism has outweighed moral commitment, the needs of the environment have been ignored, and there has been a catastrophic break down in trust.

He concludes the book by asking: "Will we seize the opportunity to restore our sense of balance between the market and the state, between individualism and the community, between man and nature, between means and ends?" Faced with a similar set of circumstances in the 30s, the New Deal generation of Roosevelt proved ready to meet the challenge. Stiglitz clearly doubts whether Obama is made of the same stern stuff.

Larry Elliott is co-author, with Dan Atkinson, of The Gods That Failed: How the Financial Elite Have Gambled Away Our Futures (Vintage).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The European Way?

Posted by: Liberal Arts Dude | [reposted from Liberal Arts Dude]
Book Review of Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age

Steven Hill, political author and Director of the Political Reform Program at the think tank New America Foundation has written a fascinating book that deserves to be read widely in the United States. Europe’s Promise is a comparison of American and European economies, societal institutions, approaches to foreign and domestic public policy, democratic practices, and economic and political structures where the author dispels misconceptions about the European economy, society and culture commonly held by Americans.
Overtaxed Europeans, inefficient and bureaucratic welfare states, a scloretic economy, high unemployment and inefficient political practices are myths that are quickly erased as Hill describes the development of the modern-day European Union countries from the post World War II period up to 2008. Hill paints a portrait of the European Union as ultra-modern, high technology savvy, and collectively, an economic powerhouse that seems to have implemented a system which distributes the rewards of a productive, capitalist economy more broadly and equitably throughout society. The result, according to Hill, are societies which are more stable, physically healthy, highly educated, has highest levels of quality of life for the vast majority of their populations, and whose people are buffered and insulated from the worst effects of the global economic downturn of the past three years.

This book is a addressed to American public policy makers, politicians, pundits, and those who have power to craft public opinion and policy to take a long hard look at American institutions, economic practices and structures, approaches to politics, policy-making, etc. – pretty much how running a country of 300 million people is currently conducted and ask – are we doing the best job that we can do and getting the results we intended?
Hill issues a challenge that if things were done a bit differently – patterned along European lines – the US could solve many of its problems such as providing healthcare to the population, addressing rising inequality, create a more equitable society where socioeconomic inequality is not so widespread, create a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable energy future, create more opportunities for and encouraging democratic practices in politics, rein in the worst aspects of capitalism which caused the economic collapse of 2007-2008, etc.
Getting to the Nitty Gritty: How Europe Does It
A book review is too short to do justice to the wide span of topics in Hill’s book so I will concentrate on the part which fascinated me the most. To illustrate Hill’s main point I will focus on the European approach to the economy.
Hill argues that Europe’s powerful, productive economic engine is able to spread its rewards more equitably and broadly because European countries have developed and institutionalized a unique set of practices and institutions that are designed to foster such results. Hill describes two practices in particular, as the Europeans’ secret weapons: codetermination and flexicurity.
Codetermination refers to the practice originating in post World War II Germany of having supervisory boards or work councils in companies that include elected employee representatives sitting side by side as equal decision-makers with stockholder representatives in supervising management. The practice has created a healthy degree of cooperation and communication between workers and management. These practices allow workers to gain significant input into their working conditions, have veto power over key decisions such as the introduction of new technology, holidays, schedules, mergers, layoffs, treatment of individual employees and dismissals.
Flexicurity permits relatively easy hiring and firing of workers in exchange for job training and retraining, apprenticeships for new workers, and generous financial and workfare supports for those who lose their jobs. The goal is to have a dynamic economy where companies can shed workers in a downturn but those workers are provided the support to maintain themselves, quickly retrain and get into new employment.
Hill argues Europe has found it necessary to depart significantly from the U.S. model and has done this by injecting two essential values into its economies: (1) a degree of economic democracy that has no counterpart in the US from the boardrooms to the shop floor; and (2) comprehensive worker training, skill development, and job placement provided by the state as a standard and universal practice. More than just injecting values, European governments have put significant commitment in resources, political capital and created institutions to support these initiatives. Most interestingly, Hill also argues that there is broad agreement and consensus in European societies regarding these practices and institutions – Left, Right, Center and other political parties agree that they are necessary, needed and are an integral aspect of the European way of doing things. There is no debate on whether these things should exist. They are just taken as a given.
I can anticipate the hysterical objections to this book already laced with closed-mindedness and arrogance: America, love it or leave it! If you don’t like the way things are done in the US, then you should get out! Creeping statism and socialism!
If you are someone who has an open mind and is seeing that the American way of doing things is not working and hasn’t worked for a long time, who sees the US as facing tremendous problems and our leaders and institutions ineffective in a partisan gridlock, and are looking for examples of other countries which may be dealing more effectively with the same types of problems, then you should read Europe’s Promise. Personally, I liked the book very much. I thought it was an engaging read and gave me a lot of new information and a perspective that I did not have before and I rarely see in US mainstream (and alternative) media.
Is there something critical I can say about the book? Perhaps I’d like to have seen included a serious and formidable counter-analysis from a critic that directly opposes Hill’s perspectives and Hill responding to that criticism. Hill presents information and short passages throughout the book which addresses the shortcomings and problems in Europe, especially in the areas of race-relations, immigration, catastrophic failures that occurred in the healthcare system (but which haven’t occurred since), etc. But these counter-arguments do not develop into a unifying and overarching critique of the European way of doing things. These passages merely serve as a backdrop for Hill to acknowledge and address that there are problems in Europe.
But that is a minor quibble. I enjoyed reading Hill’s book and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the question of: “In America, you are so rich – why don’t you have these things for your people?” The Liberal Arts Dude gives Europe’s Promise four out of five stars!

Friday, February 12, 2010

"We don't need to escalate; war is not the answer"

This video is from the Feb. 11, 2010 White House celebration of music from the civil rights movement era. In it Natalie Cole sings Marvin Gaye's anti-racist, anti-war song "What's Going On" just a few feet away from President Obama.

On the whole, the event was a powerful sign of the tremendous struggle and change and hope that our country has been through. For example:

Audio: Racism in the Obama Era, an interview with Jarvis Tyner

Subscribe to this podcast in iTunes

Political Affairs Podcast #115 - Racism in the Obama Era, an interview with Jarvis Tyner

On this episode we talk with Jarvis Tyner about racism in the Obama era and about the importance of Black History Month. Tyner is the executive vice chair of the Communist Party USA.

Download the mp3 version of episode #115 here

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Thomas Riggins

Engels discusses this topic in chapter IX of Anti-Dühring (Morality and Law. Eternal Truths). He begins as usual by calling Dühring's statements on this topic BALDERDASH: and well he might since the good Herr begins by saying, "He who can think only by means of language has never yet learnt what is meant by ABSTRACT and PURE thought. "Indeed! Thinking without language? This prompts Engels to say then the "animals are the most abstract and purest thinkers." This quip is reminiscent of Hegel's response to the theologian Schleiermacher who said the essence of Christianity was unquestioning faith in your Lord. Hegel said then "the dog makes the best Christian."

Dühring is not a relativist on the subject of laws and morals. There is only one true moral law, not only for humans but creatures form outer space as well. He says, morals "must occur in concordant fashion among all extra-human beings whose active reason has to deal with the conscious ordering of life impulses in the form of instincts." By "extra-human beings" he means those living "on other celestial bodies." "Rational beings" would be (following Kant) a better term I think.

Dühring is quite insistent about this sort of thing, writing, "GENUINE TRUTHS ARE ABSOLUTELY IMMUTABLE ... so that it is altogether stupid to think that the correctness of knowledge is something that can be affected by time and changes in reality." What he is claiming is that human knowledge can attain, as Engels says, "sovereign validity and an unconditional claim to truth."

Well, is that true? "Is human thought sovereign?" Engels asks us to consider the following (it is very instructive for those who accuse Marxists of being DOGMATIC): "... in all probability we are just at the beginning of human history [not at the End of History as some pundits declared tr], and the generations which will put US right are likely to be far more numerous than those whose knowledge we --- often enough with a considerable degree of contempt --- have the opportunity to correct." This is to ward off Herr Dühring and his absolutely immutable balderdash. With some exceptions Engels has held up fairly well I think (with some refurbishing along the way.)

As for human knowledge being sovereign, Engels says it is "in its disposition, its vocation, its possibilities and its historical ultimate goal; it is not sovereign and it is limited in its individual realization and in reality at any particular moment." As for "eternal truths," Herr Dühring's conception is too idealistic and not of much use in the actual practice of science. Reason would arrive at the point where the intellectual world would be completely at a stand still if we had only Dühring's immutable truths to work with. But this does not mean that there are NO eternal truths at all.

Well there are some such as 2+2=4, water is H2O, Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Simple mathematical, chemical, historical truths, etc., but certainly no BIG eternal truths such as Dühring has in mind-- laws of history or of politics.

Especially when we are dealing with social phenomena are we not going to find eternal laws. This type of knowledge is always limited and relative and, as Engels points out , these kinds of law "exist only in a particular epoch and among particular peoples and are by their very nature transitory." And as for the dogmatism of Marxists-- Engels wants to stress that NO "individual whatsoever is in a position to deliver the final and ultimate truth." One can imagine what he would have thought of the Cult of Personality.

Outside of trivial truths we cannot have much faith that absolutely immutable truth is going to be available to us in the physical and social sciences with respect to truth and error, but what about morality and the knowledge of good and evil? Well, throughout history and all over the world we find different moralities and moral outlooks and some "are in direct contradiction to each other."

In the West we have two versions of Christian feudal morality, Catholic and Protestant, and many subdivisions of these as well. No morality is "true" in the sense of ultimate reality. Different classes have different values. There is a bourgeois morality and a working class morality. Engels thinks the morality of the future is, for us, truer than that which represents the past. The working class represents the future of humanity, for Engels, and so as far as "truth" is concerned it is working class morality that is "true" for us. It has been over a hundred and thirty years since Engels wrote Anti-Dühring and we have seen two large scale experiments in working class control-- the Chinese and Soviet experiments. It would be interesting to compare the morality taught in these two dispensations with Western bourgeois notions of morality. The following reference is a place to start [The Role of Morality in Communist Production by GeorgLukács1919 ]

Engels says the three classes of modern society are the feudal aristocracy, the the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. I think by now only the last two have any relevance in the major parts of the world. These two have different moral ideals, although many strata of the proletariat have been contaminated by bourgeois values. But the fact of these two different moral outlooks shows "that men, consciously or unconsciously, derive their ethical ideas in the last resort from the practical relations on which their class position is based--- from the economic relations in which they carry on production and exchange."

If there are areas of agreement between differing moralities, Engels says, this is because they have shared a common historical development and thus overlapping is to be expected. Engels rejects any attempt to impose eternal truths of morality since they are the products of historical conditioning. He also thinks there has been progress in moral ideas as in other fields (science, medicine, industry, etc.) and this is due to the class struggle, the struggle of people to free themselves from exploitation and poverty, which has led to moral reforms. But a truly human morality that rests on foundations independent of class struggle "becomes possible only at a stage of society which has not only overcome class antagonisms but has even forgotten them in practical life."

Next we will look at notions of "equality."
[Engels & Philosophy IV: A-D 6]

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Afghanistan: Is it all about terrorism?

Afghanistan: Is it all about terrorism?
by: Sam Webb
February 8 2010

Read the whole article at People's World

No region of the world has more strategic value to powerful U.S. transnational corporations and the military industrial complex than the arc of countries stretching from the Middle East to Central and South Asia. If wars are going to be fought in the 21st century, the probability of them occurring in this region is high.

And the reasons are simple. If you are thinking terrorist actions (which are as much an effect as a cause of the instability in this part of the globe) are the explanation, you just failed the quiz. If on the other hand, your answer is oil and China, you aced it. Together they give this far-flung territory its strategic importance.

Control of the region's vast oil supply assures a steady flow of this critical but finite natural resource (without which the world economy would grind to a halt), stratospheric profits for the U.S. corporate energy complex, and enormous strategic leverage over foes (and friends) alike.

As for China, this vast country is the main strategic competitor to U.S. capitalism in the 21st century. If U.S. economic and political power is in decline (and I think it is), China's power is on the rise, thus making necessary - in the eyes of the corporate-energy-military crowd - an array of U.S. allied or client states bordering and hemming in China, whose energy needs not unimportantly are vast.

Read the rest of the article here...

Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy: A Preview

CIA moonlights in corporate world [reposted from Politico]

This article is adapted from the author's forthcoming book, 'Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy: The Secret World of Corporate Espionage.'

By: Eamon Javers

In the midst of two wars and the fight against Al Qaeda, the CIA is offering operatives a chance to peddle their expertise to private companies on the side — a policy that gives financial firms and hedge funds access to the nation’s top-level intelligence talent, POLITICO has learned.

In one case, these active-duty officers moonlighted at a hedge-fund consulting firm that wanted to tap their expertise in “deception detection,” the highly specialized art of telling when executives may be lying based on clues in a conversation.

The never-before-revealed policy comes to light as the CIA and other intelligence agencies are once again under fire for failing to “connect the dots,” this time in the Christmas Day bombing plot on Northwest Flight 253.

But sources familiar with the CIA’s moonlighting policy defend it as a vital tool to prevent brain-drain at Langley, which has seen an exodus of highly trained, badly needed intelligence officers to the private sector, where they can easily double or even triple their government salaries. The policy gives agents a chance to earn more while still staying on the government payroll.

A government official familiar with the policy insists it doesn’t impede the CIA’s work on critical national security investigations. This official said CIA officers who want to participate in it must first submit a detailed explanation of the type of work involved and get permission from higher-ups within the agency.

“If any officer requests permission for outside employment, those requests are reviewed not just for legality, but for propriety,” CIA spokesman George Little told POLITICO.

There is much about the policy that is unclear, including how many officers have availed themselves of it, how long it has been in place and what types of outside employment have been allowed. The CIA declined to provide additional details.

Generally, federal employees across the vast government work force are allowed to moonlight in the private sector, but under tight guidelines, that can vary from agency to agency, according to the federal Office of Government Ethics.

“In general, for most nonpolitical employees, they may engage in outside employment, but there are some restrictions,” said Elaine Newton, an attorney at the Office of Government Ethics. She explained that agencies throughout the federal government set their own policies on outside employment, and that they all typically require that the employment not represent a conflict of interest with the employee’s federal job and that the employee have written approval before taking on the work.

But the close ties between active-duty and retired CIA officers at one consulting company show the degree to which CIA-style intelligence gathering techniques have been employed by hedge funds and financial institutions in the global economy.

The firm is called Business Intelligence Advisors, and it is based in Boston. BIA was founded and is staffed by a number of retired CIA officers, and it specializes in the arcane field of “deception detection.” BIA’s clients have included Goldman Sachs and the enormous hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors, according to spokesmen for both firms.

BIA has employed active-duty CIA officers in the past, although BIA president Cheryl Cook said that has “not been the case with BIA for some time.”

But the ties between BIA and the intelligence world run deep. The name itself was chosen as a play off CIA. And the presence of so many former CIA personnel on the payroll at BIA causes confusion as to whether the intelligence firm is actually an extension of the agency itself. As a result, BIA places a disclaimer in some of its corporate materials to clarify that it is not, in fact, controlled by Langley.

BIA’s clients can put the company on a retainer for as much as $400,000 to $800,000 a year. And in return, they receive access to a variety of services, from deception detection to other programs that feature the CIA intelligence techniques.

In one presentation in 2006, BIA personnel promised to teach managers at a leading hedge fund some of the CIA’s own foolproof techniques.

The presenters that day at SAC Capital Advisors in Stamford, Conn., included two women with backgrounds in intelligence. One spent 20 years with the CIA, specializing in polygraph, interviewing, and deception detection. The other had more than 25 years of interrogation experience.

In their intensity, they reminded one person in the room of Clarice Starling, the no-nonsense FBI agent played by Jodie Foster in the movie “The Silence of the Lambs”: “You could tell they knew exactly what they were doing.”

The tactics that BIA officials such as these teach hedge fund clients are based in a program it calls “Tactical Behavior Assessment.”.

Unlike polygraph machines, the TBA technique allows examiners to work without hooking up their subject to a series of wires. The subject never knows he’s being scrutinized.

Polygraph machines work by measuring a person’s physical responses, such as heart rate, that indicate stress. Analysts using the machine need to sit with their subject for a long time. They have to establish a person’s physiological baseline, so they begin with a “control” conversation about neutral topics, before they can begin grilling the subject. Conducting an interview and doing a thorough analysis of polygraph results can take hours.

TBA focuses on the verbal and nonverbal cues that people convey when they aren’t telling the truth. Psychologists familiar with the method say it works because human beings just aren’t hard-wired to lie well. Holding two opposing ideas in your brain at the same time — as you have to do in order to tell a lie — causes a phenomenon they term “cognitive dissonance,” which creates actual physical discomfort. And when people are uncomfortable, they squirm. They fidget ever so slightly, they pick lint off their clothes, they shift their bodily positions.

Agents look for the physical indicators of lying. They watch for a person shifting anchor points. If the person is leaning forward on one elbow, does he switch to the other one? Interrogators watch for grooming gestures such as adjusting clothes, hair or eyeglasses. They look to see if the person picks at his fingernails or scratches himself. They watch for the person to clean his surroundings — does he straighten the paper clips on the table or line up the pens? If he does, he could be lying.

To obtain verbal clues, agents listen for several kinds of statements. They’ll listen for qualifying answers, phrases that begin with words like “honestly,” “frankly” or “basically.” The agents will be listening for detour phrases like “as I said before ...” They’ll want to hear if the person invokes religion — “I swear to God” — or attacks the questioner: “How dare you ask me something like that?”

Other red flags: Complaints —“How long is this going to take?” Selective memory —“To the best of my knowledge.” Overly courteous responses —“Yes, sir.”

BIA doesn’t just offer training, though. For a fee, its officers do the analysis themselves.

Often, BIA deploys its CIA-trained operatives to analyze quarterly corporate-earnings calls. Those conference calls are an important Wall Street ritual that serves as a direct line from the corporate boardroom to the trading floor.

Companies use the calls to put the best spin on the events of the quarter and give investors a sense of the way ahead. Analysts for top-of-the-line investment houses use them to ask probing questions of senior management.

And BIA uses them to figure out if the company may not be disclosing the truth — all with the help of the CIA-trained analysts.

In one particular instance in August 2005, Hong Liang Lu, the chairman and CEO of a company called UTStarcom, walked through the numbers with a telephone audience of Wall Street investment bankers. With his slicked-back hair, rimless glasses and wide smile, Lu projected an image of intelligence and competence.

And as he began the call, Lu couldn’t know that it also was being patched into a room thousands of miles away where interrogators trained in CIA-style techniques would analyze each inflection in Lu’s voice. The analysts were human lie detectors, working for BIA. They were trying to find out whether Lu was telling the whole truth about UTStarcom’s financial health.

When they came to their conclusion, they’d report it to BIA’s client, an enormous hedge fund. The secret intelligence they produced would help the hedge fund decide whether to buy or sell UTStarcom stock. If the intelligence analysts did their jobs, the hedge fund would be far ahead of the rest of the market.

The information they gleaned from this phone call could be worth millions of dollars.

The company Hong Liang Lu ran sells broadband, wireless and hand-held Internet equipment and technology around the world. It had generated more than $700 million in revenue that quarter, and although it was still losing money, that performance was good enough to bring it close to profitability. The company thought the results were positive, and the CEO seemed optimistic.

Investment analysts from Bank of America, Smith Barney, Deutsche Bank and other Wall Street powerhouses were the official participants in UTStarcom’s call. The analysts prepared their best questions to help them figure out the answer to one big question: Would UTStarcom emerge as a hot stock in the third quarter?

After some opening remarks, Lu threw open the session to questions from the Wall Streeters. One of them, Mike Ounjian, a keen-eyed analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston, asked about potential problems he’d spotted with how the company’s income was being counted in the books, a process known as revenue recognition.

There seemed to be a backlog in the recording, and Ounjian wanted to know why. If the problems were serious, they could affect the company’s financial results in the next quarter and might cause the stock price to dip.

“Are there any issues related to recognizing revenues on these?” Ounjian asked.

The voice of Michael Sophie, then the company’s interim chief financial officer, came over the phone line: “Yes, with the backlog, the vast majority of the wireless backlog is clearly PAS [an acronym for one of the company’s products, Personal Access System]. I think you saw the announcement at the end of June where we announced on the PAS infrastructure orders in China. And again, it’s just the timing of deployment and achieving final acceptance, we’ve also got some CDMA [an acronym for a type of mobile phone standard] to a lesser extent in the backlog. ... But Q3 is clearly a little more handset-oriented than we would typically run.”

After analyzing the call, BIA’s employees supplied a 27-page confidential report to their client, and they singled out Sophie’s response to the question about revenue recognition for particular attention. They noted that Sophie qualified his response and referred back to another announcement from the end of June.

BIA called that kind of conversational reference a “detour statement,” and its analysts were convinced that Sophie was trying to minimize the delays. “Mr. Sophie avoids commenting on any issues related to revenue recognition, and his overall behavior indicates that revenue recognition problems cannot be ruled out.”

Overall, BIA’s team rated the second-quarter conference call as a “medium high level of concern”— the same rating they’d given UTStarcom’s call the quarter before. This time, though, the BIA team found more problems, which they listed in a box on the first page of their report: “Lacks Confidence,” “Underlying Concern,” “Avoids Providing Information.”

In their conclusion, the BIA team said they’d found that the executives were worried about the timing of the company’s profitability date and the issue of revenue recognition. The report says: “Management’s behavior indicates that they will post poor third-quarter results, and it is also highly unlikely they will achieve profitability in the fourth quarter.”

It might not seem like much, one take on whether the company will do well in the next six months. But to hedge-fund investors — who are looking for ways to make money off of falling stocks by selling short — that is valuable information indeed.

BIA’s client had no way of telling whether the deception analysis report was accurate or not. It was the client’s job to take the report, combine it with other information known about UTStarcom and make a bet for or against the company. And there’s no evidence that UTStarcom officials weren’t being truthful during the call.

With the benefit of hindsight, though, it’s possible to go back and check the record to find out what did happen to UTStarcom stock in the weeks after the call.

It turns out that any investor who shorted UTStarcom at the time BIA submitted its report would have been in a position to reap substantial gains.

Over the next month or so after the call of Aug. 2, UTStarcom’s stock price lost about $1 per share, a nice win for any short seller. But on Oct. 6, 2005, the company released its third-quarter results, shocking Nasdaq traders with numbers that were below the guidance executives had offered during the conference call. In October, UTStarcom said it expected total revenues of between $620 million and $640 million, compared with its previous target of $660 million to $680 million. The next morning, investors frantically sold their shares: more than 23 million transactions took place on Oct. 7, 2005.

A day after the third-quarter results were released, the stock was down roughly an additional $2, closing at $5.64. It had been at $8.54 when the BIA team listened in on the conference call in August and flagged the potential problems with revenue recognition.

And what reason did UTStarcom give for its poor third-quarter performance? It disclosed difficulties with revenue recognition.

Monday, February 8, 2010

How does this relate to class struggle?

Web address:
Brain Dopamine Receptor Density Correlates With Social Status

ScienceDaily (Feb. 7, 2010) — People have typically viewed the benefits that accrue with social status primarily from the perspective of external rewards. A new paper in the February 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier suggests that there are internal rewards as well.

Dr. Martinez and colleagues found that increased social status and increased social support correlated with the density of dopamine D2/D3 receptors in the striatum, a region of the brain that plays a central role in reward and motivation, where dopamine plays a critical role in both of these behavioral processes.

The researchers looked at social status and social support in normal healthy volunteers who were scanned using positron emission tomography (PET), a technology that allowed them to image dopamine type 2 receptors in the brain.

This data suggests that people who achieve greater social status are more likely to be able to experience life as rewarding and stimulating because they have more targets for dopamine to act upon within the striatum.

Dr. Martinez explains their findings: "We showed that low levels of dopamine receptors were associated with low social status and that high levels of dopamine receptors were associated with higher social status. The same type of association was seen with the volunteer's reports of social support they experience from their friends, family, or significant other."

Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry commented, "These data shed interesting light into the drive to achieve social status, a basic social process. It would make sense that people who had higher levels of D2 receptors, i.e., were more highly motivated and engaged by social situations, would be high achievers and would have higher levels of social support."

These data also may have implications for understanding the vulnerability to alcohol and substance abuse, as the work of Dr. Nora Volkow, the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and colleagues suggests that low levels of D2/D3 receptors may contribute to the risk for alcoholism among individuals who have family members who abuse alcohol. The current data suggest that vulnerable individuals with low D2/D3 receptors may be vulnerable to lower social status and social supports, and these social factors have previously been suggested as contributors to the risk for alcohol and substance use.

These findings are particularly exciting because they put human neurobiology into a social context, and we humans are fundamentally social creatures. It is in these social contexts that the biological effects on behavior obtain their real meaning.


Reposted from Rudd Sound Bites
Where food policy meets real life.
Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

Food Rules in Review

by Meghan O'Connell

I really enjoyed Michael Pollan’s latest book, “Food Rules: An Eater's Manual.” In it, he answers three basic questions, in three short chapters: Chapter 1 - What should I eat? Eat Food; Chapter 2 - What kind of food should I eat? Mostly Plants; and Chapter 3 - How should I eat? Not too much.

Each chapter contains “food rules,” which Pollan explains are his personal policies, used to avoid the Western diet and its health consequences. He includes food knowledge that has been passed down through generations in families and later confirmed by science. The wisdom he shares comes from his attention to history and various cultural eating practices, rather than discoveries in food labs. Some rules he created himself, and some were shared with him by readers of his blog and interviews with people from all walks of life.

Not only are these rules simple and memorable, many are also quite funny. I am betting this book will make for some great water cooler conversation. Here is a small sample of eating tips you will learn from reading the book:

“Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.”

“Eat only foods that will eventually rot.”

“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”

“Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.”

At least a few of the 64 Food Rules Pollan outlines in the book are bound to stick with you. A few of the more memorable ones may actually change the way you eat. Mr. Pollan was asked for some straightforward advice about eating, rather than a complicated nutrition lecture. He has delivered!

Who Dat? Dat’s the Super Bowl Champs!

Who Dat? Dat’s the Super Bowl Champs!
From The Nation blog
by Dave Zirin

The New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl 44. I can't believe I'm even typing the words. Five years ago this was the team considered most likely to be moved to Los Angeles. Four and a half years ago, after the levies broke, the concern was not whether there would be a Saints, but whether there would even be a New Orleans. Remember that after Hurricane Katrina, the Speaker of the House, Republican Rep. Dennis Hastert said, "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed." But now Hastert is on the political scrap heap and New Orleans is the home of the Super Bowl champs. I'm not sure whether it feels like a dream or positively preordained. If nothing else, it's an emotional release from all the idiocy that surrounded the big game. From the military cheerleading, to Tim and Pam Tebow's vapid Focus on the Family ad, to the Who's halftime act which clearly violated the Geneva accords: none of it matters now. We'll go back to building resistance to Obama's wars. Tim Tebow will go back to being the next Eric Crouch. And the Who will go back to Madame Tussaud's. For right now, it just doesn't matter because the New Orleans Saints won the damn Super Bowl.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Paul Robeson sings!

Motherless Child

Song of Freedom

Congo Lullaby

The River Steals My Folks Home

Jacob's Ladder

Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen