Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Myth Of "Cellulosic" Ethanol As Biofuel

Just like "clean" coal ...

The Cellulosic Ethanol Delusion
Verenium and Aventine are Circling the Drain

By Robert Bryce

For years, ethanol boosters have promised Americans that “cellulosic” ethanol lurks just ahead, right past the nearest service station. Once it becomes viable, this magic elixir -- made from grass, wood chips, sawdust, or some other plant material -- will deliver us from the evil clutches of foreign oil and make the U.S. “energy independent” while enriching farmers and strengthening small towns across the country.

Consider this claim: “From our cellulose waste products on the farm such as straw, corn-stalks, corn cobs and all similar sorts of material we throw away, we can get, by present known methods, enough alcohol to run our automotive equipment in the United States.”

That sounds like something you’ve heard recently, right? Well, fasten your seatbelt because that claim was made way back in 1921. That’s when American inventor Thomas Midgley proclaimed the wonders of cellulosic ethanol to the Society of Automotive Engineers in Indianapolis. And while Midgley was excited about the prospect of cellulosic ethanol, he admitted that there was a significant hurdle to his concept: producing the fuel would cost about $2 per gallon. That’s about $20 per gallon in current money.

Alas, what’s old is new again.

I wrote about the myriad problems of cellulosic ethanol in my book, Gusher of Lies. But the hype over the fuel continues unabated. And it continues even though two of the most prominent cellulosic ethanol companies in the U.S., Aventine Renewable Energy Holdings and Verenium Corporation, are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. As noted last week by Robert Rapier on his R-Squared Energy blog, Verenium’s auditor, Ernst & Young, recently expressed concern about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern and Aventine was recently delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

On March 16, the accounting firm Ernst & Young said Verenium may be forced to “curtail or cease operations” if it cannot raise additional capital. And in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company’s management said “We continue to experience losses from operations, and we may not be able to fund our operations and continue as a going concern.” Last week, the company’s stock was trading at $0.36 per share. It has traded for as much as $4.13 over the past year.

Aventine’s stock isn’t doing much better. Earlier this month, the company announced that it may seek bankruptcy protection if it cannot raise additional cash. Last Friday, Aventine’s shares were selling for $0.09. Over the past year, those shares have sold for as much as $7.86.

The looming collapse of the cellulosic ethanol producers deserves more than passing notice for this reason: cellulosic ethanol – which has never been produced in commercial quantities -- has been relentlessly hyped over the past few years by a panoply of politicians and promoters.

The list of politicos includes Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, President Barack Obama, former vice president Al Gore, former Republican presidential nominee and U.S. Senator John McCain, former president Bill Clinton, former president George W. Bush and former CIA director James Woolsey.

There are plenty of others who deserve to take a bow for their role in promoting the delusion of cellulosic ethanol. Prominent among them: billionaire investor/technologist Vinod Khosla. In 2006, Khosla claimed that making motor fuel out of cellulose was “brain dead simple to do.” He went on, telling NBC’s Stone Phillips that cellulosic ethanol was “just around the corner” and that it would be a much bigger source of fuel than corn ethanol. Khosla also proclaimed that by making ethanol from plants “in less than five years, we can irreversibly start a path that can get us independent of petroleum.”

In 2007, Kholsa delivered a speech, “The Role of Venture Capital in Developing Cellulosic Ethanol,” during which he declared that cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels can be used to completely replace oil for transportation. More important, Khosla predicted that cellulosic ethanol would be cost competitive with corn ethanol production by 2009.

Two other promoters who have declared that cellulosic ethanol is just on the cusp of viability: Mars exploration advocate Robert Zubrin, and media darling Amory Lovins.

Of all the people on that list, Lovins has been the longest – and the most consistently wrong – cheerleader for cellulosic fuels. His boosterism began with his 1976 article in Foreign Affairs, a piece which arguably made his career in the energy field. In that article, called “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?” Lovins argued that American energy policy was all wrong. What America needed was “soft” energy resources to replace the “hard” ones (namely fossil fuels and nuclear power plants.) Lovins argued that the U.S. should be working to replace those sources with other, “greener” energy sources that were decentralized, small, and renewable. Regarding biofuels, he wrote that there are “exciting developments in the conversion of agricultural, forestry and urban wastes to methanol and other liquid and gaseous fuels now offer practical, economically interesting technologies sufficient to run an efficient U.S. transport sector.”

Lovins went on “Some bacterial and enzymatic routes under study look even more promising, but presently proved processes already offer sizable contributions without the inevitable climatic constraints of fossil-fuel combustion.” He even claims that given enough efficiency in automobiles, and a large enough bank of cellulosic ethanol distilleries, “the whole of the transport needs could be met by organic conversion.”

In other words, Lovins was making the exact same claim that Midgley made 45 years earlier: Given enough money – that’s always the catch isn’t it? – cellulosic ethanol would provide all of America’s transportation fuel needs.

The funny thing about Lovins is that between 1976 and 2004 -- despite the fact that the U.S. still did not have a single commercial producer of cellulosic ethanol -- he lost none of his skepticism. In his 2004 book Winning the Oil Endgame, Lovins again declared that advances in biotechnology will make cellulosic ethanol viable and that it “will strengthen rural America, boost net farm income by tens of billions of dollars a year, and create more than 750,000 new jobs.”

Lovins continued his unquestioning boosterism in 2006, when during testimony before the U.S. Senate, he claimed that “advanced biofuels (chiefly cellulosic ethanol)” could be produced for an average cost of just $18 per barrel.

Of course, Lovins isn’t the only one who keeps having visions of cellulosic grandeur. In his 2007 book, Winning Our Energy Independence, S. David Freeman, the former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, declared that to get away from our use of oil, “we must count on biofuels.” And a key part of Freeman’s biofuel recipe: cellulosic ethanol. Freeman claims that “there is huge potential to generate ethanol from the cellulose in organic wastes of agriculture and forestry.” He went on, saying that using some 368 million tons of “forest wastes” could provide about 18.4 billion gallons of ethanol per year, yielding “the equivalent of about 14 billion gallons gasoline [sic], or about 10 percent of current gasoline consumption.” Alas, Freeman fails to provide a single example of a company that has made a commercial success of cellulosic ethanol.

Cellulosic ethanol gained even more acolytes during the 2008 presidential campaign.

In May 2008, the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi touted the passage of the subsidy-packed $307 billion farm bill, declaring that it was an “investment in energy independence” because it providing “support for the transition to cellulosic ethanol.”

About the same time that Pelosi was touting the new farm bill, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry lobbying group in Washington, was claiming that corn ethanol was merely a starting point for other “advanced” biofuels. “The starch-based ethanol industry we have today, we’ll stick with it. It’s the foundation upon which we are building next-generation industries,” said Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the lobby group.

In August 2008, Obama unveiled his “new” energy plan which called for “advances in biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol.”

After Obama’s election, the hype continued, particularly among Democrats on Capitol Hill. In January 2009, Tom Harkin, the Iowa senator who’s been a key promoter of the corn ethanol scam, told PBS: “ethanol doesn't necessarily all have to come from corn. In the last farm bill, I put a lot of effort into supporting cellulose ethanol, and I think that's what you're going to see in the future…You're going to see a lot of marginal land that's not suitable for row crop production, because it's hilly, or it's not very productive for corn or soybeans, things like that, but it can be very productive for grasses, like miscanthus, or switchgrass, and you can use that to make the cellulose ethanol.”

Despite the hype, cellulosic ethanol is no closer to commercial viability than it was when Midgley first began talking about it back in 1921. Turning switchgrass, straw or corn cobs into sizable volumes of motor fuel is remarkably inefficient. It is devilishly difficult to break down cellulose into materials that can be fermented into alcohol. And even if that process were somehow made easier, its environmental effects have also been called into question. A September 2008 study on alternative automotive fuels done by Jan Kreider, a professor emeritus of engineering at the University of Colorado, and Peter S. Curtiss, a Boulder-based engineer, found that the production of cellulosic ethanol required about 42 times as much water and emitted about 50 percent more carbon dioxide than standard gasoline. Furthermore, Kreider and Curtiss found that, as with corn ethanol, the amount of energy that could be gained by producing cellulosic ethanol was negligible.

In a recent interview, Kreider told me that the key problem with turning cellulose into fuel is “that it’s such a dilute energy form. Coal and gasoline, dirty as they may be, are concentrated forms of energy. Hauling around biomass makes no sense.”

Indeed, the volumes of biomass needed to make any kind of dent in America’s overall energy needs are mind boggling. Let’s assume that the U.S. wants to replace 10 percent of its oil use with cellulosic ethanol. That’s a useful percentage as it’s approximately equal to the percentage of U.S. oil consumption that originates in the Persian Gulf. Let’s further assume that the U.S. decides that switchgrass is the most viable option for producing cellulosic ethanol.

Given those assumptions, here’s the math: The U.S. consumes about 21 million barrels of oil per day, or about 320 billion gallons of oil per year. New ethanol companies like Coskata and Syntec are claiming that they can produce about 100 gallons of ethanol per ton of biomass, which is also about the same yield that can be garnered by using grain as a feedstock.

At 100 gallons per ton, producing 32 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol would require the annual harvest and transport of 320 million tons of biomass. Assuming an average semi-trailer holds 15 tons of biomass, that volume of biomass would fill 21.44 million semi-trailer loads. If each trailer is a standard 48 feet long, the column of trailers (not including any trucks attached to them) holding that amount of switchgrass would stretch almost 195,000 miles. That’s long enough to encircle the earth nearly eight times. Put another way, those trailers would stretch about 80 percent of the distance from the earth to the moon.

(Keep reading ...)

Afghanistan: Another War Lost?

With the usual fanfare, the Obama administration has proclaimed a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. On the surface, it does not amount to much. But if a story by Bill Gertz in the March 26 Washington Times is correct, there is more to it than meets the eye. Gertz reported:

"The Obama administration has conducted a vigorous internal debate over its new strategy for Afghanistan….

"According to two U.S. government sources close to the issue, senior policymakers were divided over how comprehensive to make the strategy….

"On the one side were Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg, who argued in closed-door meetings for a minimal strategy of stabilizing Afghanistan….

"The goal of these advocates was to limit civilian and other nonmilitary efforts in Afghanistan and focus on a main military objective of denying safe haven to the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists.

"The other side of the debate was led by Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy for the region, who along with U.S. Central Command leader Gen. David H. Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton fought for a major nation-building effort.

"The Holbrooke-Petraeus-Clinton faction, according to the sources, prevailed. The result is expected to be a major, long-term military and civilian program to reinvent Afghanistan from one of the most backward, least developed nations to a relatively prosperous democratic state."

I have not seen similar stories in other papers, so it is possible Gertz is not correct. But if he is, the Obama administration has just made the Afghan war its own, and lost it.

Ironically, the reported decision duplicates the Bush administration’s error in Iraq, another lost war (the next phase in Iraq’s Sunni-Shi’ite civil war is now ramping up). The error, one that no tactical or operational successes can overcome, is setting unattainable strategic objectives.

Keep Reading ...

Punditman says ...

Since the end of the so-called "surge" in Iraq, the bubbleheads who inhabit TV news land have been either hinting at, or directly referring to, Iraq as a "success story." A country where, hmm, let's see...on a fairly typical day, yesterday, 15 Iraqis were killed and 19 were wounded in political/criminal violence; a country where occupation by US troops continues; where 40 American soldiers have died so far this year; a country where increased sectarian violence looms, where...(okay, so there's a few minor problems left, but let's move on where the White House wants us to go, okay? - mainstream media minder).

I suppose if our kindergarten quality media can call the Iraq War a success, then the definition of "success" in Afghanistan can be equally misappropriated. Look for it as this new strategy unfolds ...

Canada's End To Energy Policy Independence?

Just what yours truly has been thinking back there ...

Petro-Canada Suncor merger: The end of the national energy policy?
By Fred Wilson

With the swallowing of Petro-Canada by Suncor, "Canada's oil company" and the national energy policy that created it may disappear into history. Or not.

The merger of the two Canadian oil giants, by the CEOs, will create a massive, integrated oil and gas company. It will be the fifth largest oil and gas company in North America with assets of $43 billion and create Canada's largest upstream producer and second largest refiner of gasoline and oil products.

The financial analysts have predictably hailed the merger as good and better, and I have read enough obituaries to Petro-Canada to believe that Canada's national energy policy is truly dead. Rick George and Ron Brenneman, the CEOs who in the finest corporate traditions reportedly put the deal together on a golf course, have also said that they want the deal to be consummated with the repeal of the so-called Petro-Canada Act.

Hold on a moment. If our political opposition has any spine, the Petro-Canada Public Participation Act will apply fully to this proposed merger -- and when it does, the whole matter of a Canadian energy policy will be forced back into the spotlight. Or not.

Sadly, since the announcement of the proposed end of Petro-Canada on March 22, all of my search engine strength could not find a single comment by a Canadian Member of Parliament. I am still trying to reconcile this strange gap between my appreciation of Petro-Canada and a national energy policy and the apparent real politic. Perhaps we have spent so much effort on characterizing oil as a dirty business that no one really cares who owns it anymore. Perhaps not even the NDP has the courage anymore to advocate public ownership, even when 16 of the largest 20 global oil companies are state owned, and together control over 80 per cent of oil reserves.

Do not let it be said that there is nothing left of Canada's national energy policy. Almost all of Canada's non-conventional oil production, from the offshore to the tar sands, has been driven by Petro-Canada. Without Petro-Canada, there would have been no meaningful Canadian ownership in oil and gas.

Moreover, we continue to have a federal law that limits ownership by any individual or group to 20 per cent, and prohibits transfer of majority ownership to any person or group, or to non-residents.

At a time when there appears to be almost nothing protecting the Canadian economy from global hedge funds and rogue investors, this is no small thing. In fact, even this merger, which is structured as a combination of shares and no cash purchases, may not meet the terms of the Act because Suncor shareholders end up owning 60 per cent of the merged company.

Why should we care who owns the oil patch? First, because we live in a cold climate and owners who are not Canadian will never understand or protect Canadian energy security.

We also must care about ownership because just as Petro-Canada led the investment in the tar sands and offshore three decades ago, we need a national energy company to lead today in transitioning the energy economy. Precisely because the tar sands is a dirty business that now has $200 billion of investments generating about one third of Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions, a national energy policy must direct profits and investment towards sustainability and a new energy economy.

Because of these imperatives, I can see the upside of a Petro-Canada Suncor merger. Suncor is already the number two producer in the tar sands, and Petro-Canada has a 12 per cent stake in Syncrude, the largest producer. Petro-Canada also has a smaller operation at Mackay River and a major new project, Fort Hills, in the development stage.

Suncor, for its part, wants to double its tar sands output with its Voyageur project -- and unlike the other major tar sands players, Syncrude (dominated by Imperial/Exxon) and Conoco Phillips, it has made a commitment to upgrading and refining oil and not merely exporting bitumen. Downstream, whereas Petro-Canada abandoned Ontario, Suncor has an Ontario refinery in Sarnia.

Refining is important because it is the primary value added product from petroleum and it is where you and I usually meet big oil. The combined company would be Canada's second largest refiner with about 20 per cent of capacity and arguably the country's most important brand recognition. Oil companies have charts aplenty justifying gas prices that can double in one month, and we with short memories have by now forgotten $1.50 per litre gasoline prices just last summer. There are a number of reasons for the hosing we take at the pump, but they will all be worse if Exxon takes over.

These are good reasons to maintain the public regulation of Petro-Canada and to make sure that the law applies to the whole company if the merger proceeds. Or not, Messrs. George and Brenneman insist. In fact, a provision in their merger agreement is that the combined company would be committed to the repeal of the Petro-Canada Public Participation Act. Any government with a barrel of self-respect would have this provision removed from the agreement before giving its approval.

(Keep reading ...)

Are We To Let The Thieving Oligarchs Rule Over Us ...

... as it is happening in other places?

Questions, questions, questions, questions ... and even more questions.

Comparing the U.S. to Russia and Argentina
By Glenn Greenwald

Desmond Lachman -- the former chief strategist for emerging markets at Salomon Smith Barney and a long-time official with the IMF (no raving socialist he) -- argues today that the most apt comparison for the U.S. now is not Japan's "lost decade," but rather, "that the United States is coming to resemble Argentina, Russia and other so-called emerging markets, both in what led us to the crisis, and in how we're trying to fix it." He begins by recounting an IMF trip to Yeltsin-era Russia:

I still recall the shock I felt at a meeting in Russia's dingy Ministry of Finance, where I finally realized how a handful of young oligarchs were bringing Russia's economy to ruin in the pursuit of their own selfish interests, despite the supposed brilliance of Anatoly Chubais, Russia's economic czar at the time.

He then describes the numerous similarities between the U.S. today and those corrupt, collapsing nations he studied in the past:

The parallels between U.S. policymaking and what we see in emerging markets are clearest in how we've mishandled the banking crisis. We delude ourselves that our banks face liquidity problems, rather than deeper solvency problems, and we try to fix it all on the cheap just like any run-of-the-mill emerging market economy would try to do. And after years of lecturing Asian and Latin American leaders about the importance of consistency and transparency in sorting out financial crises, we fail on both counts: . . . .

In visits to Asian capitals during the region's financial crisis in the late 1990s, I often heard Asian reformers such as Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew or Japan's Eisuke Sakakibara complain about how the incestuous relationship between governments and large Asian corporate conglomerates stymied real economic change. How fortunate, I thought then, that the United States was not similarly plagued by crony capitalism! However, watching Goldman Sachs's seeming lock on high-level U.S. Treasury jobs as well as the way that Republicans and Democrats alike tiptoed around reforming Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae -- among the largest campaign contributors to Congress -- made me wonder if the differences between the United States and the Asian economies were only a matter of degree. . . .

In the twilight of my career, when I am hopefully wiser than before, I have come to regret how the IMF and the U.S. Treasury all too often lectured leaders in emerging markets on how to "get their house in order" -- without the slightest thought that the United States might fare no better when facing a major economic crisis. . . . If we insist on improvising and not facing our real problems, we might soon lose our status as a country to be emulated and join the ranks of those nations we have patronized for so long.

Does anyone really doubt any more that the predominant characteristic of our political culture is "the incestuous relationship between governments and large [] corporate conglomerates"? Yet another former Goldman Sachs official and long-time derivatives advocate who played a major role in the repeal of key banking regulations, Gary Gesner, is now poised to become Obama's chief of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, the body charged with regulating commodities and financial futures. The sleazy, central role Goldman Sachs has played in the events of the last six months -- from their current CEO's still-unexplained presence with Paulson (its former Chairman) and Geithner (protegé of its other former Chairman, Robert Rubin) as the AIG bailout was designed to the massive government windfalls that firm has received (including from that very AIG bailout) -- is merely illustrative of how our Government has long functioned and continues to.

Yves Smith last night noted the rather extraordinary (though unsurprising) development that the very institutions that played such a critical role in the crisis -- Citibank and Bank of America -- are now using TARP funds they received not to extend more loans (the ostensible purpose of the bailout), but rather, to buy up more and more of the very distressed assets that Geithner insists they need to be relieved of, because they now know that, under Geithner's plan, they will be able to sell them at a substantial profit courtesy of public funds (i.e, the Government will buy those crippled assets at well above their current market price). As Smith puts it: "So not only are they seeking to extract far more than was intended even with the already generous subsidies embodied in this program, but this activity is also speculating with taxpayer money. . . .Welcome to yet more looting."

Despite the limitless gorging on public funds by the very oligarchs (government owners) who caused the financial crisis in the first place, the predominant sentiment from our establishment media now is that Obama needs to force ordinary Americans to "sacrifice more." Back in 2006, Jonathan Schwarz wrote this very prescient post predicting that the U.S. would soon adopt the type of so-called "structural adjustments" which, through the IMF, we repeatedly forced upon other heavily indebted, defaulting nations: whereby we would demand that they pursue solutions that further enriched their economic elites while massively cutting the social spending that provided the barest of safety nets to their ordinary citizens. As Schwarz put it yesterday in citing highly revealing comments by Tim Geithner at a CFR conference this week:

There's been a common phenomenon in the third world over the past three decades or so. A country's financial sector, in collaboration with the larger financial world, would create some type of gigantic economic fuck up. The IMF would then (in collaboration with the local financial elites) step in and provide loans in return for what was called "structural adjustment." Structural adjustment involved getting rid of any kind of social spending that made life bearable for everyone else.

In other words, the country's financial elites would use the catastrophes they'd created themselves in order to do what they'd always wanted to but couldn't get away with in normal times. They took the profit, and then imposed all the costs on everyone else.

Isn't that exactly what is now happening here? When I first heard Chuck Todd questioning Obama at Tuesday's Press Conference about why Obama wasn't demanding "sacrifice" from ordinary Americans -- as though the massive loss of jobs, homes, retirement security and financial opportunities isn't sufficient "sacrifice" -- I mistakenly attributed Todd's question to the standard vapid ignorance and insularity of our media stars. I assumed that Todd was just mimicking a question he heard about 9/11 and decided to repeat it seven years later without realizing what a complete nonsequitur it is when applied to the financial crisis.

But there was actually a more pernicious aspect to his question. He was basically demanding of Obama: shouldn't you be telling those dirty masses that they can't have health care and education improvements and that they're also going to have to give up their Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits (while Citibank and BoA use taxpayer money to buy up distressed assets that they will then sell at a huge profit, also to the taxpayer under the Geithner plan)? Among our coddled elites, anger at the oligarchs who pillaged and who continue to pillage is misplaced, irresponsible and dangerous populist rage that must be stigmatized and suppressed. Instead, what is needed -- as Digby and DougJ noted weeks ago would be the prevailing message from our media class -- is a further reduction in the standard of living for average Americans in the name of "fiscal responsibility" to ensure that the subsidies to our oligarchical class -- the ones who enriched themselves for the last decade (and who own our media outlets) -- can continue (and that is, more or less, what Lachman advocates today as the necessary solution).

The key dynamic underlying all of this -- the linchpin that allows it all to happen and, historically, the primary hallmark of a deeply broken nation -- is the total elimination of the rule of law for the ruling class, with a simultaneous intensification of the law as a weapon against the citizenry. Does anyone expect there to be any widespread prosecutions for those most responsible for the looting, systematic fraud and grand-scale theft of the last decade? Identically, as more and more evidence emerges of the vast war crimes of the prior administration, the failure to enforce the law and our legal obligations against our nation's most powerful becomes even more transparent.

(Keep reading ...)

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Rule Of Law And Us ... Or Not?

Following up on these previous posts here, there, here and there, yours truly humbly offers you good folks yet additional food for thought on the matter:

Britain responds to the "rule of law" nuisance
By Glenn Greenwald

One of the problems for the U.S. Government in releasing Guantanamo detainees has been that, upon release, they are free to talk to the world about the treatment to which they were subjected. When the Bush administration agreed to release Australian David Hicks after almost 6 years in captivity, they did so only on the condition that he first sign a documenting stating that he was not abused and that he also agree -- as The Australian put it -- to an "extraordinary 12-month gag order that prevent[ed] Hicks from speaking publicly about the actions to which he has pleaded guilty or the circumstances surrounding his capture, interrogation and detention," a gag order which "also silence[d] family members and any third party."

Last month, in response to increasing pressure in Britain over reports of British resident Binyam Mohamed's deterioration in Guantanamo, the Obama administration released him back to Britain. Ever since, he has been detailing the often brutal torture to which he was subjected over several years, torture in which British intelligence officials appear to have been, at the very least, complicit. As a result, despite the efforts of both the British Government and the Obama administration to keep concealed what was done to Mohamed, the facts about his treatment have emerged and a major political controversy has been ignited.

That's because torture is illegal in Britain, as it is in the United States. But unlike the United States: Britain hasn't completely abandoned the idea that even political officials must be accountable when they commit crimes; their political discourse isn't dominated and infected by the subservient government-defending likes of David Ignatius, Ruth Marcus, David Broder and Stuart Taylor demanding that government officials be free to commit even serious war crimes with total impunity; and they don't have "opposition leaders" who are so afraid of their own shadows and/or so supportive of torture that they remain mute in the face of such allegations. To the contrary, demands for criminal investigations into these episodes of torture (including demands for war crimes investigations from conservatives) span the political spectrum in Britain:

The Conservative leader, David Cameron, called for a "targeted and clear review . . . to get to the bottom of whether Britain was knowingly or unknowingly complicit in torture".

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, said: "It is not enough for Gordon Brown to say the government does not endorse torture. There remain serious questions concerning how far senior political figures were implicated in these alleged practices."

Because of those facts, the British Government has now been forced to commence a criminal investigation into whether British government agents colluded in Mohamed's torture:

The attorney general, Lady Scotland, announced the unprecedented move in light of damning evidence that Britain's security and intelligence agencies colluded with the CIA in Mohamed's inhuman treatment and secret rendition.

She said the police inquiry would look into "possible criminal wrongdoing" in what the high court described as Mohamed's unlawful questioning.

As The Guardian reported, the British Government was, in essence, forced into the criminal investigation once government lawyers "referred evidence of possible criminal conduct by MI5 officers to home secretary Jacqui Smith, and she passed it on to the attorney general." In a country that lives under what is called the "rule of law," credible evidence of serious criminality makes such an investigation, as The Guardian put it, "inevitable." British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has clearly tried desperately to avoid any such investigation, yet as The Washington Post reported this morning, even he was forced to say in response: "I have always made clear that when serious allegations are made they have got to be investigated."

Wouldn't it be nice if our government leaders could make a similar, extremely uncontroversial statement -- credible allegations of lawbreaking by our highest political leaders must be investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted? In a country with a minimally healthy political culture, that ought to be about as uncontroversial as it gets. Instead, what we have are political leaders and media stars virtually across the board spouting lawless Orwellian phrases about being "more interested in looking forward than in looking backwards" and not wanting to "criminalize public service." These apologist manuevers continue despite the fact that, as even conservative Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum recently acknowledged in light of newly disclosed detailed ICRC Reports, "that crimes were committed is no longer in doubt."

Even in the U.S., each new disclosure of just how pervasive and brutal was our Government's criminality prompts new calls for investigations from previously government-defending precincts, and -- thanks largely to the ACLU and other groups -- some of the most potent new disclosures are imminent. As a result, it's becoming increasingly difficult for David Ignatius and friends to dismiss advocates of investigations as "liberal score-settlers" when people like Bush 41 U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Reagan FBI Director William Sessions, Gen. Antonio Taguba, and Anne Applebaum are now demanding investigations into these crimes of torture.

As more detainees are released and are thus able to speak publicly about what was done to them, and as more documents are leaked and are formally disclosed, the extent of our Government's depraved criminality will be increasingly difficult to ignore, no matter how eager our current Government might be to do so. Indeed, even investigations in places like Britian -- which centrally involve receipt of CIA telegrams detailing Mohamed's torture -- are highly likely to lead to the disclosure of even more graphic and incriminating evidence proving that American leaders committed war crimes. The profoundly incriminating evidence is piling up, and will continue to, on its own.

Still, just look at what is happening in Britain to see how far off course we are from even a pretense to living under the rule of law. The British have hardly been paragons of human rights and transparency. They've worked as closely with the Bush administration in most of these abuses as any other country in the world (with the possible exceptions of Egypt and Morocco). And their government has been almost as desperate as ours to keep secret what was done.

Nonetheless, despite allegations of criminality far less extensive than those that have been made against the U.S., their political system is compelling serious investigations into these crimes. That's because for countries that aren't completely corrupted to their core, political leaders aren't free to commit serious crimes and then simply be shielded from investigation and accountability. Credible allegations of high-level criminality -- and only the hardest-core Bush followers deny that we have that -- compel criminal investigations.

(Keep reading ...)

The Death Of A "Democratic" Internet?

Brave New World, here we come ... and then some:

by Evgeny Morozov

This year's report on 'enemies of the Internet' prepared by Reporters Without Borders, the international press advocacy group, paints a very gloomy picture for theeedom of expression on the Web. It finds that many governments have stepped up their attacks on the Internet, harassing bloggers and making it harder to express dissenting opinions online.

These are very disturbing trends. But identifying 'Internet enemies' only on the basis of censorship and intimidation, as Reporters Without Borders has done, obfuscates the fact that these are only two components of a more comprehensive and multi-pronged approach that authoritarian governments have developed to diffuse the subversive potential of online communications.

Many of these governments have honed their Internet strategies beyond censorship and are employing more subtle (and harder to detect) ways of controlling dissent, often by planting their own messages on the Web and presenting them as independent opinion.

Their actions are often informed by the art of online "astroturfing," a technique also popular with modern corporations and PR firms. While companies use it to engineer buzz around products and events, governments are using it to create the appearance of broad popular support for their ideology.

Their ultimate ambition may be to transform the Internet into a "spinternet," the vast and mostly anonymous areas of cyberspace under indirect government jurisdiction. The spinternet strategy could be more effective than censorship -- while there are a plenty of ways to access blocked Web sites, we do not yet have the means to distinguish spin from independent comment.

In China, the spinternet is being built by the "50 cent party," a loose online squad of tech-savvy operators loyal to the government who are paid to troll the Internet, find dissenting views and leave anonymous comments to steer all discussions in more "harmonious" directions. The "50 cents" in the name stands for their meager pay rates.

Plenty of local technology companies are also eager to help the government with various data-mining programs that identify dissenting views early and dispatch '50 cent party' operators to steer the discussion away from an antigovernment direction.

In Iran, the Revolutionary Guards recently announced their ambition to build their own spinternet by launching 10,000 blogs for the Basij, a paramilitary force under the Guards. This comes at a time when the Internet has become a major force in exposing corruption in the highest ranks of the Iranian leadership.

The Russian government may have found an even more ingenious way of suppressing the Internet's democratizing potential: cost. Many Internet users in Russia are still billed on the basis of the frequency and duration of their browsing sessions, and the state-owned All-Russia State Television and Radio Company has floated the idea of building a "social Internet," where users would pay nothing for state-approved Web sites.

Such an approach is already being tested in Belarus, where Internet users can browse the government's favored mouthpiece, "Belarus Today," for free -- that is, without paying their ISPs for Internet traffic, as they must for the country's few independent media outlets.

The rise of the spinternet suggests that the threats that the Internet poses to authoritarian regimes are far from unambiguous; some of these governments have turned quite adept at exploiting it for their own purposes.

(Keep reading ...)

Here Is Exactly Why I Left The LPC

Because of a required blind alliegance which forbids any and all criticism - whether justified or not.

1AnxiousLiberal got ousted of Liblogs and LiberalsOnline for honestly questioning Iggy and his apparent/alleged/potential underhanded fundraising practices.

And he turned out to be right at that (like pretty much every other progressive who has opined on the matter).

The LPC just keeps on losing any semblance of being a democratic party.

This is a party driven more by who is the leader than by genuine political vision.

And I for one will never rejoin such a pathetic farce, such a sham, as long as it remains so.

So hang in there, 1AnxiousLiberal - I do indeed feel your pain for I have known it for quite a long time.

What matters are principles, honesty and integrity (and yes, these are not mutually exclusive with compromise).

These values you seem to have aplenty - however, the LPC has been sorely lacking of these for years now.

My hat's off to you, 1AnxiousLiberal.

Blatant Injustice Continued ...

Because, in the eye of the fear- and intellectual sloth-driven primitive mind, all Muslims (and/or non-whites) are evul terrorists ...

Obstruction of Justice
by Chris Hedges

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema is scheduled to issue a ruling in the Eastern District of Virginia at the end of April in a case that will send a signal to the Muslim world and beyond whether the American judicial system has regained its independence after eight years of flagrant manipulation and intimidation by the Bush administration. Brinkema will decide whether the Palestinian activist Dr. Sami Amin Al-Arian, held for over six years in prison and under house arrest in Virginia since Sept 2, is guilty or innocent of two counts of criminal contempt.

Brinkema's ruling will have ramifications that will extend far beyond Virginia and the United States. The trial of Al-Arian is a cause célèbre in the Muslim world. A documentary film was made about the case in Europe. He has become the poster child for judicial abuse and persecution of Muslims in the United States by the Bush administration. The facts surrounding the trial and imprisonment of the former university professor have severely tarnished the integrity of the American judicial system and made the government's vaunted campaign against terrorism look capricious, inept and overtly racist.

Government lawyers made wild assertions that showed a profound ignorance of the Middle East and exposed a gross stereotyping of the Muslim world. It called on the FBI case agent, for example, who testified as an expert witness that Islamic terrorists were routinely smuggled over the border from Iran into Syria, apparently unaware that Syria is separated from Iran by a large land mass called Iraq. The transcripts of the case against Al-Arian-which read like a bad Gilbert and Sullivan opera-are stupefying in their idiocy. The government wiretaps picked up nothing of substance; taxpayer dollars were used to record and transcribe 21,000 hours of banal chatter, including members of the Al-Arian household ordering pizza delivery. During the trial the government called 80 witnesses and subjected the jury to inane phone transcriptions and recordings, made over a 10-year period, which the jury curtly dismissed as "gossip." It would be comical if the consequences were not so dire for the defendant.

A jury, on Dec. 6, 2005, acquitted Dr. Al-Arian on eight of the counts in the superseding indictment after a six-month trial in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. On the 94 charges made against the four defendants, there were no convictions. Of the 17 charges against Al-Arian-including "conspiracy to murder and maim persons abroad"-the jury acquitted him of eight and was hung on the rest. The jurors, who voted 10 to 2 to acquit on the remaining charges, could not reach a unanimous decision calling for his full acquittal. Two others in the case, Ghassan Ballut and Sameeh Hammoudeh, were acquitted of all charges.

The trial result was a public relations disaster for the Bush White House and especially then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who had personally announced the indictment and reportedly spent more than $50 million on the case. The government prosecutors threatened to retry Al-Arian. The Palestinian professor accepted a plea bargain that would spare him a second trial, agreeing that he had helped people associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad with immigration matters. It was a very minor charge given the high profile of the case. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida and the counterterrorism section of the Justice Department agreed to recommend to the judge the minimum sentence of 46 months. But U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr., who made a series of comments during the trial that seemed to condemn all Muslims, sentenced Al-Arian to the maximum 57 months. In referring to Al-Arian's contention, for example, that he had only raised money for Palestinian Islamic Jihad's charity for widows and orphans, the judge told the professor that "your only connection to orphans and widows is that you create them."

(Keep reading ...)

On Our Pretense Of Being Civilized

What I've been saying all along ...

Pretending to be Civilized in an Epidemic of Institutional Sadism
by Pierre Tristam

From the you-can't-be-serious department: Savana Redding was a 13-year-old honors student at a small Arizona middle school. In math class one morning the principal ordered her to pack up and follow him to his office. The principal interrogated her about a planner Savana had lent a friend, and a few ibuprofin pills sitting on the principal's desk, which were found in the planner. Savana knew nothing about the pills.

The principal then ordered her to the nurse's office for a strip search. Over ibuprofin pills. Not that it would make a difference if she were carrying crack. She was 13. She was being ordered to strip. Her parents were never notified. Savana did not consent to the search but complied in humiliating details. She was forced, literally, to shake her bra and her underwear, exposing herself in front of the nurse and an assistant. Nothing was found. I don't know what's more perverse: The principal's zero-tolerance stupidity over ibuprofin pills, the degrading search, or the fact that nine U.S. Supreme Court justices will hear this case next month to decide what limits, if any, there should be on school authority.

But this isn't authority. It's criminal abuse -- of authority, of the child, of human dignity. How do we come to this? Stupid question, considering the accumulating record of a society where ideals of justice and humaneness mix with the basest controls in the name of discipline and order. They're close relatives, those school officials who order a 13 year old strip searched, to those who have children Tasered, or to police officers who now use that instrument of torture as a routine means of subjugation, or to prison guards who do the same with restraining chairs. When the barbaric becomes routine, it's called protocol. What should be denounced and forbidden is accepted and debated.

The distance has vanished from there to a government so willing to torture, and a public so willing to implicitly accept that dissolution of principles, if it's willing to debate it. "Why can't we send them to be tortured?" George W. Bush had wondered about terrorism suspects in the early days of his war, according to a new book by Patrick Tyler, The New York Times' chief diplomatic correspondent. "Stick something up their ass!" Bush got his wish in the by-now familiar litany of terrorist behavior in the name of fighting terrorism -- torture and rendition, secret prisons, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the systematic policy of brutality approved from the top that muscled up the wars' enforcers.

That's all revolting enough. But it's all been offshore, an outsourcing of depravity over there so we wouldn't have to be depraved over here -- the unspoken parallel to Bush's dismal rationale of "fighting terrorists over there so we wouldn't have to fight them over here." That's assuming that depravity can be so neatly segregated so the rest of us can go about our civilized pretensions untroubled. But those excesses weren't exceptions. They were variations on everyday norms at home that made them possible.

Abu Ghraib was bad. Our domestic prison system is worse, from the unspoken torture of the solitary confinement of thousands (as The New Yorker's Atul Gawande argues in the current issue) to the stunning yet apathy inducing fact that 7.3 million Americans are in prison, on parole or under probation. It's a $47 billion-a-year industry, the opposite of "corrections," that exceeds China's entire military budget. Can that many Americans be so disproportionately more lawless than any other people on earth? On its face, the answer is no. Americans aren't. Their criminal justice system is -- the same system, unique in the world, that imprisons 13 year olds for life, carries out executions by conveyor belt (an average of 60 a year since 2000) and turns petty marijuana inhalers into felons swelling prison cells and budget deficits.

There is no off-shoring of these betrayals of civilized behavior, no way to segregate them from what we are as a culture and what we've made possible, abroad or in our own justice system and Taser-charged streets, and even our zero-tolerant schools, as Savana and many like her find out every day.

(Keep reading ...)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Blog Off Week-End (Again)

That's right, folks - it's that kind of a week-end once more.

See ya'll back Monday - and have a great one yourselves.



(Addendum - it is going to be that kind of a week as well. Therefore, expect blogging to be light on my part ... I apologize for the inconvenience)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Late Friday Night Ode To ... Justice, Laws And Rights

May justice, the rule of law and our constitutional/human rights find their way back among our most cherished and resolutely held ideals.

Perhaps some day soon we will remind ourselves of the simple truth that holding on to noble principles is worth nothing unless we steadfastly hold them closer to our hearts and minds whenever we are tempted to ignore them - regardless of the reasons, the justifications or the opportunities, to dismiss them.

For verily, said ideals and principles constitute the essence of our salvation as civilized human beings.

Hence, tonight's Ode is dedicated to our rights, justice and laws - who have been MIA for years now - with a double-play of Evanescence.

First, we have Bring Me To Life:

Then we have My Immortal:

So keep on rockin' folks ...

(and a big shout out to Adam (who's been getting onto the Friday music blogging scene), Pogge and Impolitic (as always) and, especially, to 900ftJesus - who's been having a bad week. Hang in there, girl!)


The Iraq Big Con

Following up on this earlier post - it would seem that this is yet again a case of empire oblige, indeed ...

The Big Con on Iraq
Despite Obama's Promises, Combat Forces will Remain in Iraq

By Gareth Porter

Despite President Barack Obama’s statement at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina Feb. 27 that he had "chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months," a number of Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), which have been the basic U.S. Army combat unit in Iraq for six years, will remain in Iraq after that date under a new non-combat label.

A spokesman for Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates, Lt. Col. Patrick S. Ryder, told IPS Tuesday that "several advisory and assistance brigades" would be part of a U.S. command in Iraq that will be "re-designated" as a "transition force headquarters" after August 2010.

But the "advisory and assistance brigades" to remain in Iraq after that date will in fact be the same as BCTs, except for the addition of a few dozen officers who would carry out the advice and assistance missions, according to military officials involved in the planning process.

Gates has hinted that the withdrawal of combat brigades will be accomplished through an administrative sleight of hand rather than by actually withdrawing all the combat brigade teams. Appearing on Meet the Press Mar. 1, Gates said the "transition force" would have "a very different kind of mission", and that the units remaining in Iraq "will be characterised differently".

"They will be called advisory and assistance brigades," said Gates. "They won't be called combat brigades."

Obama’s decision to go along with the military proposal for a "transition force" of 35,000 to 50,000 troops thus represents a complete abandonment of his own original policy of combat troop withdrawal and an acceptance of what the military wanted all along - the continued presence of several combat brigades in Iraq well beyond mid-2010.

National Security Council officials declined to comment on the question of whether combat brigades were actually going to be left in Iraq beyond August 2020 under the policy announced by Obama Feb. 27.

The term that has been used internally within the Army to designate the units that will form a large part of the "transition force" is not "Advisory and Assistance Brigades" but "Brigades Enhanced for Stability Operations" (BESO).

Lt. Col. Gary Tallman, a spokesman for the Joint Staff, confirmed Monday that BESO will be the Army unit deployed to Iraq for the purpose of the transition force. Tallman said the decision-making process now underway involving CENTCOM and the Army is to determine "the exact composition of the BESO".

But the U.S. Army has already been developing the outlines of the BESO for the past few months. The only change to the existing BCT structure that is being planned is the addition of advisory and assistance skills rather than any reduction in its combat power. The BCT is organised around two or three battalions of motorized infantry but also includes all the support elements, including its own artillery support, needed to sustain the full spectrum of military operations.

Those are permanent features of all variants of the BCT, which will not be altered in the new version to be deployed under a "transition force", according to specialists on the BCT.

They say the only issue on which the Army is still engaged in discussions with field commanders is what standard augmentation a BCT will need for its new mission.

Maj. Larry Burns of the Army Combined Arms Centre at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, told IPS that Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey directed the Combined Arms Centre, which specialises in Army mission and doctrine, to work on giving the BCTs the capability to carry out a training and advisory assistance mission.

The essence of the BESO variant of the BCTs, according to Burns, is that the Military Transition Teams working directly with Iraqi military units will no longer operate independently but will be integrated into the BCTs.

That development would continue a trend already begun in Iraq in which the BCTs have gradually acquired operational control over the previously independent Military Transition Teams, according to Maj. Robert Thornton of the Joint Centre for International and Security Force Assistance at Fort Leavenworth.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, has issued Planning Guidance calling for further refinement of the BESO. After further work on the additional personnel requirements, Casey was briefed on the proposed enhancement of the BCT for the second time in a month at a conference of four-star generals on Feb. 18, according to Burns.

Other names for the new variant that were used in recent months but eventually dropped made it explicitly clear that it is simply a slightly augmented BCT. Those names, according to Burns, included "Brigade Combat Team-Security Force Assistance" and "Brigade Combat Team for Stability Operations".

The plan to deploy several augmented BCTs represents the culmination of the strategy of "relabeling" or "remissioning" of BCTs in Iraq that was developed by U.S. military leaders in the wake of the surge of candidate Barack Obama to near-certain victory in the presidential election last year.

Late last year, Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM chief, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, were unhappy with Obama’s pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat brigades within 16 months. But military planners quickly hit on the relabeling scheme as a way of avoiding the complete withdrawal of BCTs in an Obama administration.

The New York Times revealed Dec. 4 that Pentagon planners were talking about "relabeling" of U.S. combat units as "training and support" units in a Dec. 4 story, but provided no details. Pentagon planners were projecting that as many as 70,000 U.S. troops would be maintained in Iraq "for a substantial time even beyond 2011".

That report suggested that the strategy envisioned keeping the bulk of the existing BCTs in Iraq as under a new label indicating an advisory and support mission.

(Keep reading ...)

Once Again: Paragons Of Savage, Uncivilized Barbarism

Here are Glenn Beck (again) and Mark Steyn in all their (ugly) glory:

Global-relations and military-tactics expert Glenn Beck and his equally qualified guest, famous-for-being-famous Canadian Mark Steyn, held forth yesterday on how America can solve the military situation in Afghanistan and the Middle East generally:

Beck: Here's the thing, Mark, I really think that if we're gonna fight a war -- and that's why I say, 'Kill them faster than they can kill you' -- if we're going to fight a war, why aren't we giving our military absolutely everything they need, go into Afghanistan, and just kick their butt. And then come home. So that way, everybody in the rest of the world goes, 'Oh jeez, I don't want to screw with them, because they're really serious.'

Real-world answer: Maybe because "just kicking their butt" in a tactical-landscape nightmare like Afghanistan is easier said than accomplished, unless you're talking about just dropping a nuke on them -- which of course has global complications all its own. Otherwise, just going into Afghanistan and "kicking butt" and then leaving won't solve the problem, because Al Qaeda is based as much these days in Pakistan as it is in Afghanistan.

But as usual, Glenn Beck likes to keep things simple. Real simple.

And so does Steyn, who seems to have gathered his talking points at Richard Nixon's knee:

Steyn: Because they know, and our enemies know, that when the United States goes into battle, it fights with one hand tied behind its back. So in your ass-kicking terms, we're not using the full force of the foot. We're using the little toe.

And our enemies realize that. They see the way we go into paroxysms of guilt over Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and all the rest.

Beck: Well, I mean, Abu Ghraib was ... I mean, dontcha think?

Steyn: Yeah, it was a guy -- what, whatever it was, the banana and the Victoria's Secret panties. Big deal! That's nothing compared to what goes on in the --

Beck: Wait a minute, wait a minute. I'll never get that Victoria's Secret panties thing out of my head now.


Then again, this is the same cretin who penned this similar line:

The merest glimpse of a U.S. servicewoman leading an Abu Ghraib inmate around with girlie knickers on his head was enough to prompt calls for Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation, and for Ted Kennedy to charge that Saddam’s torture chambers were now open “under new management.”

Which reminds me of this (paraphrased from original text):
There you have it. From first denying any torture, we've come to redefining torture as not torture, to trivializing it and, now, to make it a subject of asinine jokes.

There is no going deeper into the pit of savagery and perversion here, folks. This is the very bottom, the lowest of the lowest, level of inhumanity.

No civilization allowed here - when the debate is about the efficiency, validity and righteousness of torture, or when we are making jokes about torture in order to trivialize it, instead of acknowledging the unquestionable truth of the inherent immoral nature of torture, then you know you have lost any semblance of human rationality and grace.
Bis repetita: dying conservative intellect, indeed - and then some.

In the meantime - what of the rest of us?

(Addendum: looks like Chet beat me to this one already ...)

Bailouts = A Bigger Crisis?

Following up on today's earlier, related post - a very interesting question to ask regarding the continuing blackmail con game ...

Is the Bail Out Breeding a Bigger Crisis?
A Future of Inflation, High Interest Rates and a Hollow Dollar?

By Paul Craig Roberts

At his March 24 press conference President Obama demonstrated that he is capable of understanding issues as presented to him by his advisers and able to pass on the explanations to the press. The question is whether Obama’s advisers understand the issues.

Obama’s advisers are focused on rescuing banks and the insurance company, AIG. They perceive the problems as solvency and paralyzing uncertainly or fear. Financial institutions, unsure of their own and other institutions solvency, hoard cash and refuse to lend. Credit is needed to get the economy moving, and the Federal Reserve and Treasury are doing their best to inject liquidity and to remove troubled assets from the banks’ books.

This perception of the problem and the “remedies” being applied, might be causing a greater problem for which there is no solution. Obama’s approach, and that of the previous administration, requires massive monetization of debt by the Federal Reserve and massive new debt issues by the Treasury.

The unaddressed question remains: Is the US dollar’s status as world reserve currency threatened by the debt monetization and multi-year, multi-trillion dollar issuance of new Treasuries?

The United States has become an import-dependent country. The US is dependent on imports for energy, manufactured goods including clothes and shoes, and advanced technology products. If the US dollar loses its reserve currency status, the US will not be able to pay for its imports. The ensuing crisis would dwarf the current one.

Obama’s advisers believe that the US can monetize debt and issue new debt endlessly, because America’s capital markets are the deepest and most liquid. The dollar is strong, Obama said at his press conference.

But already cracks and strains are appearing. The day after Obama’s press conference, an auction of UK bonds, known as gilts, failed when bids fell short of the supply offered and interest rates rose. This is a bad sign for Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s plan to market an unprecedented amount of new debt during the current fiscal year.

It is also a bad sign for Obama’s similar plan. In the US, interest rates on US Treasuries have risen in anticipation of unprecedented new Treasury issues despite the Federal Reserve’s recent announcement that it intends to purchase $300 billion of existing Treasuries held by the banking system.

Normally, Fed purchases raise bond prices, thereby lowering interest rates. However, the inflation and interest rate implications of the unprecedented supply of new Treasuries necessary to finance the multi-year, multi-trillion dollar budget deficits are beginning to be recognized in bond and currency markets. Everyone knows that the Federal Reserve will monetize the new debt issues rather than allow a Treasury auction to fail. Recently, America’s largest creditor, China, expressed concern that the value of its massive holdings of US dollar investments is in danger of being inflated away.

The Fed cannot monetize new Treasury issues without the word getting out. If and when this happens, the US dollar’s exchange value is likely to drop while interest rates and inflation rise.

To avoid a crisis of this magnitude, the US needs to focus on saving the dollar as reserve currency. As I previously emphasized, this requires reducing US budget and trade deficits.

Despite the near-term budget costs of ending the occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, terminating these pointless military adventures would produce immediate large out-year budget savings. Closing many foreign military bases and cutting a gratuitously large military budget would produce more out-year savings. The Obama administration’s belief that it can continue with Bush’s wars of aggression while it engages in a massive economic bailout indicates a lack of seriousness about America’s predicament.

Rome eventually understood that its imperial frontiers exceeded its resources and pulled back. This realization has yet to dawn on Washington.

More budget savings could come from a different approach to the financial crisis. The entire question of bailing out private financial institutions needs rethinking. The probability is that the bailouts are not over. The commercial real estate defaults are yet to present themselves.

Would it be cheaper for government to buy the shares of the banks and AIG at the current low prices than to pour trillions of taxpayers’ dollars into them in an effort to drive up private share prices with public money? The Bush/Paulson bailout plan of approximately $800 billion has been followed a few months later by the Obama/Geithner stimulus-bailout plan of another approximately $800 billion. Together it adds to $1.6 trillion in new Treasury debt, much of which might have to be monetized.

Could this huge debt issue be avoided if the government took over the banks and netted out the losses between the constituent parts? A staid socialized financial sector run by civil servants is preferable to the gambling casino of greed-driven, innovative, unregulated capitalism operated by banksters who have caused crisis throughout the world.

Perhaps the Federal Reserve should be socialized as well. The notion of an independent, privately-owned Federal Reserve system was never more than a ruse to get a national bank into place. Once the central bank is part of the state-owned banking system, the government can create money without having to accumulate a public debt that saddles taxpayers and future budgets with hundreds of billions of dollars in annual interest payments.

Free market ideologues will say the government would inflate. However, the government has been inflating for generations and is now set on a course for hyperinflation. Monetization of troubled financial instruments by the Federal Reserve is just beginning. In addition, there are the multi-trillion dollar budget deficits which probably cannot be financed other than by monetization of new debt issues.

The US money supply as measured by cash in circulation and demand deposits (checking accounts) is currently about $1.4 trillion. If this year’s budget deficit is monetized, the money supply doubles. If next year’s budget deficit is monetized, the money supply would have tripled in two years. Inflation would explode. The combination of high unemployment and high inflation would be devastating.

In contrast, protecting depositors is not inflationary. It merely prevents monetary contraction.

If the Obama administration can think about socializing health care as a single-payer system, it should be able to think about socializing the banking system. Currently, Medicare is paid for by taxpayers, Medicare beneficiaries, healthy retirees, and doctors. Beneficiaries have to pay substantial premiums for supplemental coverage whether ill or healthy, and doctors are paid a pittance from the schedule of fixed prices. The insurers are the ones who make money, not the medical service providers. The single-payer system would shrink costs by the amount of the health insurance industry’s profits and the enormous paperwork and enforcement compliance costs.

The trade deficit is even more difficult to address. The American economy lost much of its manufacturing leg to offshoring. It has now lost its real estate and financial sector legs. Real incomes for the average family have not increased. The consumer-demand-driven economy became dependent on the accumulation of consumer debt, which has reached its limit.

When the production of goods and services for the domestic market is moved offshore, Americans lose income and the economy loses GDP. When the goods and services produced offshore return to be sold to Americans, they constitute imports that widen the trade deficit.

The US finances its trade deficit by turning over to foreigners ownership of existing US assets and their future income streams, which, of course, increases the flow of income away from Americans.

The claim that low prices in Wal-Mart compensate for all these costs is ridiculous. Nevertheless, the Obama administration, corporation executives, and the economics profession remain committed to offshoring.

The claim, expressed by Obama at his press conference, that retraining programs are the solution to manufacturing and IT unemployment caused by offshoring is also ridiculous. For a decade the only source of American job growth has been domestic services that cannot be offshored, such as hospital orderlies, barbers, waitresses and bartenders. Retraining is simply a government subsidy to educational institutions, a subsidy that insures their continued support for offshoring.

The enormous trade deficit that has been created by the pursuit of short-term corporate profits can only be closed in two ways. One is to stop the offshoring and to bring home the offshored production. Possibly, this could be done by replacing the corporate income tax with a tax based on whether value added to a company’s output occurs domestically or abroad.

The other way the trade deficit can be closed is by the inability of Americans to pay for imports. If debt monetization wrecks the dollar and drives up import prices, Americans will have to learn to live with less imported energy and manufactured goods. American annual consumption would shrink by the amount of the trade deficit.

(Keep reading ...)

... And One More For The Annals Of Religious Stupidity And Absurdity

I touched upon this back there, but here's yet another instance of religious values- and fear-driven utter prosecutorial stupidity and absurdity:
NJ girl, 14, arrested after posting nude pics

A 14-year-old New Jersey girl has been accused of child pornography after posting nearly 30 explicit nude pictures of herself on MySpace.com — charges that could force her to register as a sex offender if convicted.

The case comes as prosecutors nationwide pursue child pornography cases resulting from kids sending nude photos to one another over cell phones and e-mail. Legal experts, though, could not recall another case of a child porn charge resulting from a teen's posting to a social networking site.

MySpace would not comment on the New Jersey investigation, but the company has a team that reviews its network for inappropriate images. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tipped off a state task force, which alerted the Passaic County Sheriff's Office.

The office investigated and discovered the Clifton resident had posted the "very explicit" photos of herself, sheriff's spokesman Bill Maer said Thursday.

"We consider this case a wake-up call to parents," Maer said. The girl posted the photos because "she wanted her boyfriend to see them," he said.

Investigators are looking at individuals who "knowingly" committed a crime, he said, declining to comment further because the case is still being investigated.

The teen, whose name has not been released because of her age, was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography and distribution of child pornography. She was released to her mother's custody.

If convicted of the distribution charge, she would be forced to register with the state as a sex offender under Megan's Law, said state Attorney General Anne Milgram. She also could face up to 17 years in jail, though such a stiff sentence is unlikely.

Some observers — including the New Jersey mother behind the creation of Megan's Law — are criticizing the trend of prosecuting teens who send racy text messages or post illicit photos of themselves.

Maureen Kanka — whose daughter, Megan, became the law's namesake after she was raped and killed at age 7 in 1994 by a twice-convicted sex offender — blasted authorities for charging the 14-year-old girl.

The teen needs help, not legal trouble, she said.

"This shouldn't fall under Megan's Law in any way, shape or form. She should have an intervention and counseling, because the only person she exploited was herself."

Called "sexting" when it's done by cell phone, teenagers' habit of sending sexually suggestive photos of themselves and others to one another is a nationwide problem that has confounded parents, school administrators and law enforcers.

Prosecutors in states including Pennsylvania, Connecticut, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin have tried stop it by charging teens who send and receive the pictures.

In northeastern Pennsylvania, a prosecutor recently threatened to file child porn charges against three teenage girls who authorities say took racy cell-phone pictures that ended up on classmates' cell phones.

The MySpace case may be a first, though.

"I'm not sure I've seen a prosecution like this coming out of a social networking site," said Seth Kreimer, a constitutional law professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Milgram, the attorney general, could not recall another such case in New Jersey. She cautioned parents to get on those sites and monitor what their kids are talking about and posting.

"Unfortunately, youth don't have the same judgment as adults," she said, "and often, adults don't have the same technical savvy as the youth."
... and adults can be downright as stupid as a lump of coal.

What's next? Ogling, giggly parents taking a funny picture of their baby in the nude for the family photo album and thereafter arrested for producing and possessing child pornography?

Whatever happened to prosecutorial judgement and discernment?

Unless, of course, this is in truth all about attempting to stifle/repress/interdict teen-age sex (as usual).

My bet's on the latter.

Aah, those parochial, stupid and absurd puritanical, religious values.

Meanwile, on related news (h/t) ... (sigh).

Are we having fun, yet?

Someday ... perhaps ...

Harper: Blindly Siding With War Criminals ..

... is nothing new to him. So, it was rather easy for him to reaffirm his intractable, blind support of yet another country being investigated for war crimes.

Strangely enough, he failed to support this other war criminal.

Could there be something selective hypocritical at work here - you know, like, Harper being a genuine douchebag and coward who is compelled into pleasing his American and Israel masters?

Or is this yet another instance of this weird, sickening, twisted and insane devotion that evangelical christians (like Harper) have for Israel and holy wars in the Middle East?

Just wondering, is all ...

Another Ray Of Light Through The Darkness

The reprehensible behavior of pretending that we have not been complicit (directly or indirectly) in the torture of others, or seeking to keep the lid on this ugly reality while pretending it never happened, has just been dealt another blow.

There may be hope yet for the honesty and sincerity of our ideals after all ... but we still have a long way to go.