Friday, January 15, 2010

Chemistry On The Hoof

Salud, Salut, Gesund—As Long As You’re Healthy
by Mort Malkin
 
Chemistry On The Hoof
 
The reasons for not eating hamburgers in fast food establishments, or even greasy spoons, are many and varied. First, over 80% of US beef is treated with hormones while still on the hoof a short time before slaughter. Bovine growth hormone (BGH) makes for nice fat cows in quick order. To make doubly sure the animals wear enough weight, they are moved off the range and into feed lots to be beefed up for the slaughterhouse. In the feed lots, corn and soy mash is the soup de jour (and appetizer, entrée, and dessert). The grain and legume combination is high in protein and available in all-you-can-eat quantities to increase the weight of their steaks and chops. No more delicate grasses, Bossy.
 
A further advantage of the corn/soy-fed beef is that the animal feed is mostly genetically engineered. The Black Angus, of course have no First Amendment rights and rarely take to the streets to demonstrate against such artifice. There will be no mass protests in Chicago .
 
Another concern, beyond hormones and GE feed, is the beasts’ reaction to fright and fear and the resulting chemical changes in their bodies. The noise, the smells, the lines of animals being coerced toward the slaymaster all must evoke extreme anxiety, fear, panic and, soon enough, depression. We all know how rotten we feel when subjected to such stress as misplaced car keys or too many choices on someone’s automated answering tape. The brain contains over 30 different neurotransmitters: acetyl choline, serotonin, dopamine, nor epinephrine ... all in various states of balance. Their interactions determine our mood, our energy level, our blood pressure and heart rate, and whether we are ready for fight & flight or rest & repair.  The chemicals float around not only the brain but the rest of the body, too. The meat of stressed animals can’t be as nutritious, or tasty, as from a calm one.
 
A neighbor-friend, aware of these chemical changes, follows his own strict hunting guidelines. He is careful to be downwind of the deer, and he waits till he gets a clean shot at the animal’s head. No time for the deer to be taken by any negative thoughts and emotions. Hunters whose prime aim is a trophy don’t give the body chemistry of the deer a second thought. A buck’s antlers are not much changed by adrenergic chemistry. The only worry my hunting friend has is that the deer that will provide him with many meals over the winter may have been browsing on the lawns of neighbors who use herbicides to suppress the growth of dandelions and other weeds. Herbicides such as 2,4D (dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) are toxic to fish and frogs and irritant to humans. Back in the 60s and early 70s, an herbicide called Agent Orange was used on the broadleaf foliage of the Ho Chi Minh trail. It, too, was supposed to be only irritant to human eyes and skin. My hunter friend says the saving grace is that the fertilizer-weed killer is applied in the spring, and hunting season waits till the late fall and winter. Of course, the weed problem and the dietary habits of the deer are amenable to other, less toxic solutions. That will be worth an essay of its own.
 
The last matter the beefeaters and deerslayers might be apprehensive about is wasting disease – mad cow disease and mad deer syndrome. It is not an infection in the sense of bacteria or viruses causing encephalitis or meningitis. Rather, the condition involves rogue proteins called prions that form inventive abstract sculptural shapes in the gray matter. It may occur in cows, deer, elk, mink, and people. In humans it is called variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. An English friend tells of many cases of mad cow disease and several cases of vCJD in Great Britain in the 90s. Millions of cows had to be destroyed. In the US, only a few proven mad cows were found, but “downer” cattle are common. Mad elk and deer disease, moreover, became common in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Mad deer syndrome in Wisconsin erupted into political contention between the DNR and hunters. It was reported that thousands of deer in one county had to be destroyed. Official counsel in various other areas of the state reporting only sporadic cases advised hunters who were concerned about wasting disease to donate the deer they killed to food pantries. Shame in spades.
 
Various establishment agencies and organizations – the USDA, states issuing hunting licenses, and Big Beef – were scared to death of finding any cases of bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE). Though the testing technology quickly became simpler and the results more certain, they tested only a tiny sampling under their respective jurisdictions. Feed lots avoided testing “downer” cows even though the steer exhibited one of the cardinal signs of BSE. States that derived considerable revenues from selling hunting licenses tested deer and elk taken in areas where wasting disease had been identified but rarely in others. In contrast, Japan tested every single cow destined for human consumption in the Land Of The Rising Sun.
 
With all the reasons to eschew meat in our diets, must we conclude that the American way of life is under threat? The vegetarians are surely gloating just a little.
 

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia …

Gadfly
by Mort Malkin

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia …

A more complete list of Al Qaeda coffee houses is: Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Morocco, Germany New Jersey, and Florida. Afghanistan isn’t even number one or two. Marine General Jim Jones, the President’s National Security Advisor, admits there are fewer than 100 Al Qaeda loyalists left in Afghanistan. They are scattered and have no training camps there. The question comes to mind: So what are we doing there? A next-door corollary is why do we still have over 130,000 troops, and even more private contractors (mercenaries), in Iraq? Iraq, you may recall, never had and Al Qaeda jihadists before we invaded, and there are few there now. But, there were plenty of native Iraqi insurgents until we put them on the US payroll. In Afghanistan, we are approaching 100,000 official troops and plenty of CIA officers and BlackWater armed “advisors.” The people in the countryside know who’s who.

A more basic question is: what is Al Qaeda’s goal up to and how can we counter such evil intent? History, here, is instructive. Osama bin Laden is a member of the family that runs a richly successful enterprise, the Bin Laden Group in Saudi Arabia and beyond. It is a large family, all Saudi and all Sunni Muslims. Osama is more so. When the US convinced the royal family to allow a military base to be built on sacred Arabian soil and started to station American troops there, Osama got mad and decided on civil disobedience in the form of a truck bomb. So, in June 1996, he set off on his career as a jihadist.

It was not the first military base the US set up on foreign soil, but it began a great acceleration. Today there are perhaps 800 or 900 around the world outside of the US. The Pentagon is not quite sure of the exact number, but they are proud of the total achievement. OK, some of the bases are small and some countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Russia still haven’t allowed them. Remember, we have Guantanamo in Cuba. Cuba! Bin Laden has become more convinced that America is the Great Satan. Bin Laden sent out a broadcast in 2004. He spoke about dollars and relative costs. He said, “Every dollar of Al Qaeda defeated a million dollars, by the permission of Allah. … It is easy for us to provoke and bait this administration. We are continuing this policy of bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy, Allah willing.”

The latest US president to declare war on Al Qaeda is Barack Obama. He has tried to convince the Pakistanis and now the Yemenis to accept American help in pursuing Al Qaeda. Somehow, we feel we don’t have to convince Afghanistan. We project our own anti Al Qaeda emotions and expect these countries to jump with joy at the prospect of US military operations on their soil and over their air space. Why aren’t they afraid of Al Qaeda?

Let’s consider these nations one at a time. Pakistan is mainly concerned with India, a brother member of the nuclear club. The Pakistanis feel that the Taliban will keep India in India. The Taliban is drawn from the Pashtun tribes of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, a total population of about 50 million. The Taliban are Muslim fundamentalists, largely created by the Pakistan Military and Intelligence Services. The Pakistan Army won’t go into Pashtun areas in the northwest except briefly to show the flag. It’s the least they could do for the billions of dollars we give them in military aid. Al Qaeda is only a small part of the Pashtun, and Pakistan can’t be bothered with them except to holler “Osama Bin Laden” every year when the US Congress votes whether to send money to ally Pakistan. Geopolitics!

Yemen, at the southern border of Saudi Arabia, has its own insurgency, the Houthis. The few Al Qaeda training camps in the mountains are of no concern to the Yemeni government — the Houthis are Shia and Al Qaeda is Sunni. Al Qaeda you may remember was born in Saudi Arabia. To complicate matters further, a group of Socialist separatists in south Yemen have economic grievances and want to secede. So, now comes the US pressing Yemen to let in US troops and planes to go after (non-insurgent) Al Qaeda. Back in the White House, the staff is busy researching Byzantine politics, which seems all too relevant.

Then, we must look to Afghanistan. The country is 80% rural, has no oil deposits, and grows a large opium poppy crop. Afghanistan is controlled by various tribes — Pashtun, Uzbek, Tajik … — some of them religious zealots, a few secular. There are militias, drug makers, drug traffickers, kidnapping gangs, opportunist criminals … and corruption everywhere. Except for Kabul where the national government has some influence, Afghanistan is a country of local governance. The tribesmen are pretty good with rifles and roadside bombs. Look at what they did to the Russians, 120,000 strong with the latest weapons. Before the Russians, history tells us, the British, Persians, and Alexander the Great all suffered the same fate. The Afghans with their rare horsemanship and use of simple weapons have defended their homeland well for millennia. Yet, the Pentagon and the White House say their primary goal is to train the Afghan Army. The Russians smile knowingly.

In the US, individuals on both sides of the political divide have seen the lunacy of occupying Afghanistan. Robert Pape of the University of Chicago who wrote the book “Bombing To Win” says that occupation of a foreign country increases suicide bombing and terrorism. His strategy has led to the bombing of suspected Taliban officials, and homes of villagers, wedding parties, and outdoor markets. Professor Pape doesn’t say whether bombing is conducive to friendship between our countries. The progressive journalist Chris Hedges says that “military occupation and violence is always counterproductive … and creates more insurgents than it kills.” We might add that the military prison at Bagram and its subsidiary “The Black Jail” makes for hard feelings from the families of the 700 prisoners held there.

The Obama administration seems to be doing its best to spend ourselves into bankruptcy in accordance with bin Laden’s wishes. It costs $1 million to maintain one soldier in Afghanistan each year. It costs $400 per gallon to send gasoline to that landlocked country. How much does it cost for private contractors who number more than the troops? Not even the Pentagon, State Department, and Treasury meeting in secret can know.

Just think — for a $100 billion a year we could fund peace academies next door to West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs to train diplomats, envoys, and state craft specialists. We could provide undergraduate scholarships for majors in international conflict resolution. On second thought, more education makes for more investigative reporters and more US dissidents here at home.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Detainees At Home and Abroad

Gadfly
by Mort Malkin

Detainees at Home and Abroad

Many folks here in the US have an image of a typical terrorist as brown skinned and of the Muslim persuasion. Don’t ask about denominations — Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Salafi … Terrorists often have beards and wear Arab headdress, too. Certainly, a man wearing a headdress and sporting a full beard, would arouse suspicion. Sikhs fit the profile and ipso facto are suspect, even though they are neither Arab nor Muslim. I recently met a Sikh who lives in the US and asked him if other Americans cast a wary eye upon him. He was born in the province of Punjab where Sikhs distribute free food to the hungry at gurdwaras. They feel a calling to work for the good of the community. No, they’re not communists.

The top beard in Al Qaeda, defamed be his name, is from the Wahhabi sect of Islam. Wahhabism is not even a denomination, but a fundamentalist sect. They are from Saudi Arabia and wish to rid their land of foreign infidels (the US military). Afghanistan, whose major natural resource is the opium poppy, is a thousand miles away from Saudi Arabia. So, what are we doing in Afghanistan? Yes, Al Qaeda used to rent space there, but that was years ago and since then they found it more comfortable in Pakistan instead of the cold caves of Tora Bora. They also liked the weather better in Yemen, Somalia, New Jersey, and Florida. Back in 2001, a dark year when the Bush-Cheney (B-C) administration took power and when three buildings of the WTC were brought down, members of Al Qaeda were traveling freely around the US taking flying lessons in Florida, Arizona, Oklahoma and Minnesota.

So, the US Army and Marines invaded Afghanistan and detained likely terrorists — Semite and South Asian Muslims. Rewards (bounties) were offered. Many Afghans took advantage of the stimulus program and turned in members of adversary tribes or personal rivals. The Americans, not fluent in Pashto or Dari, had to rely on the honesty of the informants. With terrorists in hand, we were obliged to use coercive techniques — waterboarding, walling, strong music, and canine visitations — to locate others. When roadside bombs are ticking we could not await a variance from the quaint Geneva Conventions. The International Red Cross, as fussy as ever, would be best kept in the dark.

We have been in Afghanistan for only eight years, but we must have been successful. Today, there are fewer than 100 low level Al Qaeda members left in Afghanistan. The Taliban, are just Afghans, not international terrorists.

Dealing with terrorists from Arabia in Afghanistan was good practice for constraining terrorists here at home. Pittsburgh was the first opportunity to test out strategies, techniques, and equipment. The G-20 nations were meeting to shuffle currency, cook the books, and conclude that world wide economic recovery had begun. Protesters were surely going to try to disrupt the meeting: environmentalists, pacifists, Iraq Veterans Against the War, The United Steel Workers, The Raging Grannies, Poets On The Loose, and opponents of free trade — terrorists and anarchists all. Extreme measures would be in order.

So, 4,000 police, assorted State Troopers, FBI Agents, DEA Officers, Secret Service Agents, and a couple of private security services, were assembled. A $19.5 million budget was allocated for the two day event — security officers would outnumber the demonstrators. A few battalions of police in full riot gear were arranged in phalanxes, a la Alexander the Great. They wore helmets with wrap-around Plexiglas face masks. Some wore body armor and carried wrist mounted weapons worthy of a Star Wars costume. Overhead, helicopters swooped. On the ground, armored personnel carriers, mounted police, motorcycle columns, and police dog units insured redundancy (confusion). When marchers with banners refused to disperse, officers (public servants?) fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and ear piercing sound cannons. Over 170 demonstrators were pre-emptively arrested — the worst of the worst — including medics, journalists, and passersby. They were held in detention until the financiers went home. Pittsburgh was an invaluable example of winning the hearts and minds of the people.

Let that be a lesson for demonstrators and insurgents alike. In the US there will be zero tolerance for dissidents. The Afghans better beware.

Great Expectations

Gadfly
by Mort Malkin

Great Expectations

The Climate Change Conference (COP 15) in Copenhagen was set up so the rich & developed nations of the North could pay lip service, and only a few dollars, to stop the drastic changes in the Earth’s weather, waters, and lands, changes that are already threatening all life on the planet. Well, maybe insects are not yet threatened.

First, President Obama went to Oslo, Norway to give a nice speech as he accepted the Nobel Peace Price. He spoke of the need for peace, but back home he ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Did he hope to receive accolades for creating 30,0000 more jobs?

Soon afterward he went to Copenhagen. There, he had to talk about climate change. He made a nice speech, calling for everyone to put aside their differences and come to agreement, but he forgot to say anything about the US signing the Kyoto Accords. Worse, according to a leaked “Danish text” the US has now graciously accepted a 17% reduction in CO2 emissions from (in very small print) 2005 levels. From 2005? All the European signatories to Kyoto had pledged 30% reductions below 1990 levels. US reductions of 17% below 2005 levels works out to about 4% below 1990. Barack The Devious.

The impending environmental disaster, unless we change our profligate fossil fuel ways, is only one of the major issues where Obama has not walked the talk. Let’s see where else he has failed our expectations.

During the campaign up to election day of 2008, the Obama campaign ran against special (corporate) interests and promised accountability on the part of all government agencies. After he took the oath of office he gave orders to prohibit waterboarding because it was torture. Even Attorney General Eric Holder said so loud & clear. We expected the inquisitors at Guantanamo, Bagram, and other “Black Sites” established in the last decade would be held to account — right up the chain of command. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the Department of Justice. AG Holder, in an end run around the Geneva Accords and the US Army Field Manual, noted that in the B-C Office of Legal Counsel, attorney John Yoo, wrote a memo defining torture as causing severe body harm and the pain of organ failure or impending death. It was legal cover for CIA interrogators to OK waterboarding and walling if the prisoner was merely bruised up or had nightmares that he was drowning. Holder said he wouldn’t prosecute such Agency people if they didn’t go beyond the memo definition of torture. After all, they were just following orders to “soften up” the detainees. As to John Yoo, Esq, he would not be prosecuted because the memo was just his opinion and he, himself, didn’t violate the quaint Geneva Conventions. Holder speaks of the Yoo memo as a “mistake,” not a crime.

Legal issues abound in the expectations of an Obama presidency. We were led to expect respect for the principles of law from a man who taught Constitutional law at the University of Chicago and whose oath of office included allegiance to the Constitution. But, he has spoken nary a word about Habeas corpus. Nor was there a mention of the First Amendment when the G20 money bags nations recently met in Pittsburgh where the police were unduly repressive, using pepper spray, rubber bullets, intense sound projectors, and preemptory arrest. Obama has been silent, too, in failing to stand up for the First Amendment by pardoning Lynne Stewart. The legendary attorney had been convicted of aiding terrorism for speaking to Reuters on behalf of her client the blind Egyptian cleric. Beyond the Constitution, Obama failed to support Hammurabi’s great law code from the First Dynasty of Babylon. You know, the one chiseled in stone in the second millennium BCE..

While we’re speaking of laws and the Law, the Gramm Leach Bliley act needs to be repealed and Glass Steagall reinstated to limit different financial functions to separate banks so no “bank holding company” becomes too big to fail. A couple more matters of law: Libraries and bookstores must be exempted from the Patriot Act. The First Amendment can’t be abrogated by a mere law passed by Congress two centuries later — it’s the First Amendment. Similarly, the patenting of the building blocks of life, itself, is disallowed by the very rules of the US Patent Office — you can’t patent something that is not novel and original. Mother Nature was there first, even before the Jurassic era. If companies such as Monsanto insist on playing Rube Goldberg with the genes of our foodstuff, at least let them be required to say so on the label.

Finally — after skipping past health care, cap & trade gaming, off shore account sneakery, and the conflation of national security and national embarrassment — we come to a national identity of military might to set the world right. Obama has never spoken of a Department of Peace to balance the Department of War (all right, Department of Defense) or a National Peace College to pair with the War College. The Peace College would offer degrees in statesmanship and diplomacy and teach courses in conflict resolution, conciliation, and kindness. Barack may say he never promised such rose gardens — maybe we should look to First Lady Michelle for institutions promoting peace. She might even convince her husband to recognize the International Court of Justice. He could become Barack The Just.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Conspiracy In The Halls Of Finance?

Gadfly
by Mort Malkin

Conspiracy In The Halls Of Finance?

The players in the alleged conspiracy are convinced that the intricacies of high finance are far too complicated for the common citizen to understand, and so they ask our full faith and credit. “Just trust us,” they say. The White House Chief Financial Advisor, Lawrence Summers and the Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner tell us the recession is ending. The stock market confirms the good news by flying above 10,000 on the Dow. Goldman Sachs reports a quarterly profit of $3.44 billion. The Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, repeats the mantra at the Brookings Institution. The recession is scheduled to end this year, he says, and the actions of The Fed will “maintain the confidence of the financial markets.” President Obama says, “Me, too.”

Yet, average people, both working and unemployed, know the economy is not recovering. Unemployment rates, kept artificially low by statistical trickery, are officially at 10%. The real rate — including those who have given up looking for work, others who have started their own small business, and many who survive on part time work without benefits — are twice the official rate, serious enough to convert a free marketeer into a Marxist. The true state of the economy was obvious even to the New York Times. The paper saw fit to print an article in the financial section just before Thanksgiving, entitled “What if a Recovery Is All in Your Head?”

The White House would have none of the pessimism as told by their own unemployment numbers and forecasts of bank failures. In a silver lining frame of mind, the various spokes-folks say that unemployment may still be at 10% but the runaway acceleration rate has stopped, a sure sign that recovery is just around the corner. Yessir and ma’m.

We don’t know who is calling the signals, or if it’s a grand conspiracy. When Hank Paulson was Secretary of the Treasury in the Bush-Cheney administration, he went to Congress and pleaded for $700 billion to save the banks. Brokerage houses, insurance companies, savings banks, and automobile financial divisions are all banks nowadays. He needed the funds immediately and with no strings attached. That way the banks with toxic assets would not have to account for the money he would give them. To this day they won’t say what they did with the billions. Nor would Treasury say how much was given to whom. It must be hard to keep track of so much money. When Paulson was caught making incessant phone calls to Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, some assumed the Secretary was holding the investment bank to account. But no, he said he said he was just keeping up with market developments. Not staying informed would have been irresponsible. Of course, he could have read the Wall Street Journal.

Another reality check came in from the FDIC. While Treasury was dispensing TARP (troubled assets relief program) billions to the too-big-to-be-allowed-to-fail investment banks, 94 smaller banks were in the red and had to be taken over by FDIC. As of now, FDIC is almost broke. Sheila Bair, chair of the federal agency, admits that she has only $10.4 billion in reserves for the depositors of the entire nation, and she expects that with 416 banks on her problem list, failures will “continue at a pretty good clip next year.”

If the recession is still with us, we are left with the question of who caused it, who will bring us back to a stable economy, and how it will be done. Money thrown at the investment banks seems to be ending up in the bonuses of the executives of said banks. Should we blame the Wall Street fraternity — Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan et al? Or The Fed, starting with Alan Greenspan and continuing with Ben Bernanke in its money printing policies? Or the Secretaries of the Treasury from Robert Rubin under Clinton, to Henry Paulson under Bush & Cheney, and now Timothy Geithner under Obama with the advice and consent of Lawrence Summers? Or all of the above in an establishment conspiracy?

A hint of the answer to who runs the money works comes from the answer to “Who is the most arrogant and least sensitive to public opinion?” Even Alan Greenspan, at the height of his power as Chairman of The Fed, was enigmatic enough to be misinterpreted as honorable. Not so Lloyd Blankfein. First, he accepts $10 billion in TARP funds. Then after American International Group (AIG) gets $180 billion from TARP, Lloyd claims $12.9 billion of it for credit default swaps he held from the too-big-to-fail giant. Next, Goldman Sachs reports record quarterly profits and, without taking a breath, that it has set aside $16.7 billion in bonuses for its deserving executives. Blankfein’s premonition of public discontent (outrage?) leads to his offering of $500 million to 10,000 small businesses. Hooray for Lloyd in his penurious philanthropy. He actually believes he is worth all the money he is earning as CEO. He is, in his own words, “doing God’s work.”

More evidence for a conspiracy comes from the treatment of the big three automakers. First, Congress grills them, then reluctantly offers $25 billion if they submit plans for changing their ways. GM and Chrysler are given an initial installment of $9.4 billion and $4 billion. A couple of months later a second fix of $16.6 and $5 billion goes to the two carmakers, but the White House asks for the head of GM’s CEO Rick Wagoner. No such demand was made for Chrysler — it was owned by Cerberus Capital Management and could qualify as part of the finance industry.

In contrast to the treatment of the auto industry, the administration acted as obsequiants to the Money Trust of Wall Street. Lawrence Summers appeared on one of the Sunday morning news shows to say the government could not cancel Wall Street bonuses because a contract is a contract. Summers was nowhere to be heard when it came to rescinding some of the labor contracts with GM and Chrysler as part of their government-required restructuring.

The question is like a yo-yo: are the economic fun & games a conspiracy, or do Wall Street and the White House merely have an understanding that the Big Banks will set the rules? We’ll find out when and if financial reform becomes as urgent as health care reform. We the people may not understand credit default swaps, strangle options, and butterfly spreads, but we do know that buying stocks and bonds long term (more than six months) is investment. We know that trading options and derivatives several times a day is gambling. We will be watching if the Gramm Leach Bliley Act of 1999 is repealed and the Glass Steagall Act of 1933 is reinstated. Glass Steagall kept different banking functions — personal savings accounts, business accounts, and stock market investments — in separate institutions. Gramm Leach Bliley canceled such oppressive restrictions and opened the free-for-all doors to imaginative Wall Street. We’ll also be watching if derivatives are regulated and if a sales tax is extracted on every securitized derivative trade. The tax could be even less that the usual 6% sales on furniture, clothing, and other consumer goods. There is a market of somewhere between $44 and 75 billion in collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), credit default swaps, and other such creations. Their total notational value is $596 trillion, too big a number outside of astronomy. We will watch to see if derivatives are regulated at all, as they now are not. The same pertains to hedge funds and private equity funds. Could we hope that all derivatives of more than a couple of steps removed from original stocks and bonds will be forbidden?

Better than just watching, we’ll write, call, and email Senator Chris Dodd and Representative Barney Frank to shepherd these reforms through the Congress. They must ask Tim Geithner to explain all the complexity of the financial markets. Any absurdities that cannot be understood should be outlawed. We don’t need any more Bernie Madoffs. He went only a step beyond outrageous.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Global Heating Is Getting Serious

Salud, Salut, Gesund—As Long As You’re Healthy
By Mort Malkin

Global Heating Is Getting Serious

SSG has spoken of the Earth as the ultimate source of nutrients for our bodies, and we’d better take good care of the soil, earthworms and all. Today, we add another source of nutrients — the sea.

The sea provides food in the form of many kinds of fish and also a number of delicacies worth of shellfish such as lobsters, oysters, scallops, and sea urchins. We all knew that fish stocks were being depleted via overfishing with long nets (miles long) and sea bottom trawling. We must add to the rapacious fishing, the pollution of the sea from urban and farm runoff. Thereby, our rivers are filled with mercury and other heavy metals, fertilizer in the form of N, P, and K, toxic pesticides with ferocious names, and prescription drug flotsam & jetsam. There are many dead zones in the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Coast between Boston and Baltimore …

But, that’s old news. The new news is that the major greenhouse gas, CO2, is imperiling all sea life north to south and around the world. OK, it’s true that CO2 is not toxic like PCPs, PCDFs, and mercury, but the increased carbon dioxide in the air largely dissolves in sea water to form carbonic acid, HCO3. Acid sea water dissolves the shells of clams, oysters, and other shellfish as well as coral reefs where lots of fish hang out.  And then, we don’t know fully the effect of acid seas on plankton and other tiny creatures which are at the base of the ocean food chain. Plankton and other macro and microscopic beasties are breakfast, lunch. and dinner for very small fish, most shellfish, and even some huge sea creatures such as baleen whales. You know how it is out there in the salt water jungle — big fish eat little fish. The fiercest predator, human customers in sushi restaurants, will eat anything wrapped in raw fish. Then, when all the fish are gone, what will the penguins, pelicans, puffins and blue-footed boobies do?

Aside from gastronomy, artists, poets, and film makers will mourn the loss of the chambered nautilus and the giant clam of the South Pacific. Calendar collectors will no longer have sweet sea birds to illustrate January or July.

In the last few years most people became convinced that the atmosphere of the Earth has heated up dangerously, resulting in the shrinking of glaciers, the melting of the Arctic ice cap, and the breaking off of enormous chunks of ice shelves in Antarctica. The cause of the global heating, most of us now realize, is the rapid rise in greenhouse gases, notably CO2. The culprit is mankind — mostly coal fired power plants and transportation contrivances driven by gasoline & diesel engines. The carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere, over 387 ppm last we were told, creates a greenhouse effect and so prevents the escape of heat from the land and sea into outer space. The Earth heats up, permafrost melts, ice caps melt, glaciers melt, and environmentalists become mainstream.

For six of eight years, the previous administration didn’t believe the numbers reported by the climatologists and oceanographers or the photos showing open water over the North Pole during summer months and the polar bears marooned on an ice floe miles out in the open ocean. Finally, they admitted to global “warming” and climate “change” while others of us spoke of global heating and climate chaos. Anyway, they said, it wasn’t their fault. Besides, they were certain that technology would provide an easy fix — perhaps spraying  the upper atmosphere with aerosol particles to reflect sunlight away from the planet, perhaps developing white asphalt for the parking lots of shopping malls to reflect the summer sun.

The trouble with such parasolic and reflective schemes is: we will still be spewing CO2 into the atmosphere by the ton as we burn fossil fuels, and the CO2 will still  be taken up by the oceans, producing the equivalent of seltzer (club soda). The acid brine will soften the shells of clams, mussels, scallops, oysters, and the many, more exotic sea animals. We may be approaching a time when the pleasures of oysters on the half shell or a full lobster dinner will become a fond memory. Global heating is getting serious.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Plain Words And Smoke & Mirrors

Gadfly
Gadfly
by Mort Malkin

Plain Words And Smoke & Mirrors

Plain words can be slippery. Plain words can be allusive, illusive, inversive, perversive. A quick listen to the talk that emerges from the White House, the Congress, The Pentagon (even with Donald Rumsfeld gone), Wall Street, Exxon-Mobil … can teach our poets a thing or two about metaphor and symbolism.

The Gadfly Revelry & Resaerch team has blown the smoke alarm and made clear the real agenda of the forsoothsayers. Let’s start with “national security” — surely security is a worthy endeavor. National security transitioned smoothly to national security interest and almost as easily to national interest. Dick Cheney, early in 2001, convened his (secret) energy task force of oil companies and thereupon told us that our national security required the invasion of Iraq . He was really interested in the national interest of appropriating Iraqi oilfields on behalf of the Seven Sisters. He then tried to convince us to bomb Iran and achieve regime change so we could take over their/our oil. Cooler minds prevailed and in 2009 Cheney was an ex-oficio.

The Cong gang (coal, oil, nuclear, gas), without a champion in the Pentagon, turned to domestic energy sources. They inadvertently forgot to say that they’d have to a) drill for oil off the coast of resort cities in Florida, b) blast off the tops of mountains in Appalachia, and c) fracture the bedrock of the Earth to pool the gas located a mile deep in tiny crevices and bubbles. I suppose it’s hard for the energy companies to make a living off the sun or wind or tides.

National security brings us to overall issues of war and peace … or, defense and peace. The head honcho of the Pentagon used to be titled Secretary of War. In the 40s, WWII enjoyed broad public support — every family bought war bonds. But in recent wars, Vietnam to Iraq, not even “defense” bonds were proffered. We were reduced to waving flags and displaying bumper stickers announcing support for the troops. But, we were left to wonder whether we should also support all the military contractors of Blackwater, Triple Canopy, Titan, CACI, and Dyncorp. The number of such contractors operating in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds all the US military personnel in those war theatres. I recently discussed this question with a friend who is a British national. I asked abouit the Ghurkas and weren’t they mercenaries who fought for the British? Yet, history gives them favorable press. She replied that the Ghurkas weren’t mercenaries but defenders of the Empire. Blackwater contractors are mercenaries.

Another friend, a native born American, sailed right past the issue of mercenaries to the idea of wars of choice versus just wars. He said “War is just war.” He suggested that Isaiah’s counsel to beat swords into ploughshares would mandate establighing Peace Academies next door to West Point, Anapolis, and Colorado Springs.

The fog of war is relatively transparent when compared to the smoke & mirrors of Wall Street “investment” banks. Goldman Sachs, CitiGroup, Bank of America, and their co-illusionists brought us all manner of “derivatives” to create new wealth. Their collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and credit default swaps (CDSs) led to: strangle options, pin risk options, rolling turbos, and iron butterfly spreads, among the most inventive. How wondrous — new wealth without better mousetraps, electric cars, or personal jet travel vests.

Wall Street, as we know, is the bastion of Capitalism. Capitalism is not as highly regarded as free enterprise, and so a little word deviation was in order. Free enterprise was equated with freedom, and freedom with democracy. Ipso facto, democracy became confluent with capitalism. Marx and Lenin missed the boat back in the beginning of the 20th century. They should have known the west would not accept communism. They could have easily put that ism in the same basket as community, barn raisings, and co-ops. Community … communalism … communism. If only power didn’t corrupt so powerfully.

Communism has now disappeared from the planet except in North Korea where the Dear Leader sings its praises. Even Outer Mongolia is now a parliamentary democracy. Outer Mongolia, wedged between Russia and China and once a communist anchor of North Asia! The folks here in the US whose ideology requires the invocation of fear have had to replace communism with socialism. Etymologically, it is difficult to pull off. Our culture in language is positive about church socials, social networks, and Social Security. The poor far-right of the political spectrum — they don’t want to be called anti-social. They must feel awkward to be anti socialized medicine. They are, as well, out of step with the rest of the world that considers health care a right.

Words can be plain and clear once you get through the smoke and mirrors.