America, y ur peeps so dum?

SUBHEAD: America's cultural ignorance and the need for courage in the age of Lady Gaga. Image above: Ignorant and proud of it. The gang from MTV's "Jersey Shore". From (http://www.tvshowsondvd.com/news/Jersey-Shore-Season-1/13628). By Joe Bageant on 7 December 2010 in Joe Bageant.com - (http://www.joebageant.com/joe/2010/12/america-y-ur-peeps-b-so-dum.html#more)

If you hang out much with thinking people, conversation eventually turns to the serious political and cultural questions of our times. Such as: How can the Americans remain so consistently brain-fucked? Much of the world, including plenty of Americans, asks that question as they watch U.S. culture go down like a thrashing mastodon giving itself up to some Pleistocene tar pit.

One explanation might be the effect of 40 years of deep fried industrial chicken pulp, and 44 ounce Big Gulp soft drinks. Another might be pop culture, which is not culture at all of course, but marketing. Or we could blame it on digital autism: Ever watch commuter monkeys on the subway poking at digital devices, stroking the touch screen for hours on end? That wrinkled Neolithic brows above the squinting red eyes?

But a more reasonable explanation is that, (A) we don't even know we are doing it, and (B) we cling to institutions dedicated to making sure we never find out.

As William Edwards Deming famously demonstrated, no system can understand itself, and why it does what it does, including the American social system. Not knowing shit about why your society does what it makes for a pretty nasty case of existential unease. So we create institutions whose function is to pretend to know, which makes everyone feel better. Unfortunately, it also makes the savviest among us -- those elites who run the institutions -- very rich, or safe from the vicissitudes that buffet the rest of us.

Directly or indirectly, they understand that the real function of American social institutions is to justify, rationalize and hide the true purpose of cultural behavior from the lumpenproletariat, and to shape that behavior to the benefit of the institution's members. "Hey, they're a lump. Whaddya expect us to do?"

Doubting readers may consider America's health institutions, the insurance corporations, hospital chains, physicians' lobbies. Between them they have established a perfectly legal right to clip you and me for thousands of dollars at their own discretion. That we so rabidly defend their right to gouge us, given all the information available in the digital age, mystifies the world.

Two hundred years ago no one would have thought sheer volume of available facts in the digital information age would produce informed Americans. Founders of the republic, steeped in the Enlightenment as they were, and believers in an informed citizenry being vital to freedom and democracy, would be delirious with joy at the prospect. Imagine Jefferson and Franklin high on Google.

The fatal assumption was that Americans would choose to think and learn, instead of cherry picking the blogs and TV channels to reinforce their particular branded choice cultural ignorance, consumer, scientific or political, but especially political. Tom and Ben could never have guessed we would chase prepackaged spectacle, junk science, and titillating rumor such as death panels, Obama as a socialist Muslim and Biblical proof that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs around Eden. In a nation that equates democracy with everyman's right to an opinion, no matter how ridiculous, this was probably inevitable. After all, dumb people choose dumb stuff. That's why they are called dumb.

But throw in sixty years of television's mind puddling effects, and you end up with 24 million Americans watching Bristol Palin thrashing around on Dancing with the Stars, then watch her being interviewed with all seriousness on the networks as major news. The inescapable conclusion of half of heartland America is that her mama must certainly be presidential material, even if Bristol cannot dance. It ain't a pretty picture out there in Chattanooga and Keokuk.

The other half, the liberal half, concludes that Bristol's bad dancing is part of her spawn-of-the-Devil mama's plan to take over the country, and make millions in the process, not to mention make Tina Fey and Jon Stewart richer than they already are. That's a tall order for a squirrel brained woman who recently asked a black president to "refutiate" the NAACP (though I kinda like refutiate, myself). Cultural stupidity accounts for virtually every aspect of Sarah Palin, both as a person and a political icon. Which, come to think of it, may be a pretty good reason not to "misunderstimate" her. After all, we're still talking about her in both political camps. And the woman OWNS the Huffington Post, fer Christsake. Not to mention a franchise on cultural ignorance.

Cultural stupidity might not be so bad, were it not self-reproducing and viral, and prone to place stupid people in charge. All of us have, at some point, looked at a boss and asked ourselves how such a numb-nuts could end up in charge of the joint.

In my own field, the book biz, the top hucksters in sales and marketing, car salesman with degrees, are put in charge of publishing the national literature. Similarly, ex-Pentagon generals segue from killing brown babies in Iraq into university presidents and CEOs. Conversely, business leaders such as Donald Rumsfeld who fancy themselves as battlefield commanders and imagine their employees as troops to be "deployed," find themselves happily farting behind Pentagon desks. On the strength of having mistaken Sun Tzu's The Art of War as a business text, they get selected by equally delusional national leaders to make actual war on behalf of the rest of us.

But the most widespread damage is done at more mundane operational levels of the American empire, by clones of the over promoted asshole in the corner office where you work. At least one study demonstrated that random selection for corporate promotions offset the effect significantly. Research again confirms what is common knowledge around every workplace water cooler in the country.

Save my spot in the gulag, I'm off to Wal-Mart

Cultural ignorance of one sort or another is sustained and nurtured in all societies to some degree, because the majority gains material benefit from maintaining it. Americans, for example, reap huge on-the-ground benefits from cultural ignorance -- especially the middle class Babbitry -- from cultural ignorance generated by American hyper-capitalism in the form of junk affluence.

Purposeful ignorance allows us to enjoy cheaper commodities produced through slave labor, both foreign, and increasingly, domestic, and yet "thank god for his bounty" in the nation's churches without a trace of guilt or irony. It allows strong arm theft of weaker nations' resources and goods, to say nothing of the destructiveness of late stage capitalism -- using up exhausting every planetary resource that sustains human life.

The American defense, on those rare occasions when one is offered, runs roughly, "Well you commie bastard, I ain't ever seen a sweatshop and I got no Asian kids chained in the basement. So I've got what the guvment calls plausible deniability. Go fuck yerself!"

Uh, don't look now, but the banksters own your ass, your country has become a work gulag/police state and the most of the world hates you.

Such a thriving American intellectual climate enables capitalist elites to withhold and ration vital resources like health care simply by auctioning it off to the richest. Americans fail to grasp this because the most important fact (that a helluva lot of folks can't afford to bid, and therefore get to die early) never gets equal play with capitalist political propaganda, to wit, that if we give free medical attention to low income cleft palate babies, a wave of Leninism will seize the nation. That is cultural ignorance. We breathe the stuff every day of our lives.

But when Americans too poor to buy health care nevertheless vote to retain the corporate auction process, that is cultural stupidity.

(Let us now pause to clutch our hair in our fists and scream AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHH!)

Like the old song says, "Them that don't know don't know they don't know." I venture to say that even if they did, they would not know why. Primary truths elude us because of the junk affluence and propaganda. We get buried under a deluge of commodities that suggest we are all rich, or at least richer than most of the world. A mountain range of cheap shoes, cars, iPods, ridiculous amounts of available foodstuffs, and the entire spectacle of engorgement defines, and is enforced as, "quality of life" under materialistic commodities capitalism. The goods we have in our clutches trump the philosophical, or even the most practical considerations. "I may die early eating unidentified beef byproducts soaked in waste chemicals, but I'll die owning a 65-inch HDTV and a new five speed automatic Dodge Durango with a 5.7 L Hemi V8 under the hood!"

Even the threat of toasting planetary life is not enough to shake Americans loose from this disconnect. As Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Guy R. McPherson points out,

"79.6% of respondents to a Scientific American poll are unwilling to forgo even a single penny to forestall the risk of catastrophic climate change. Scientific American readers undoubtedly are better informed than the general populace. And yet they won't pay a thing to avoid extinction of our species. Kinda makes you warm and fuzzy all over, doesn't it?"

Let us pray the next generation is a tad sharper.

Taser the tots

The "American Lifestyle," increasingly suspect as it is these days, is heavily soldiered and policed in the name of keeping we self-defined lotus eaters safe and secure from a jealous outside world. Which according to cultural consensus is a world that is, at this very moment, stuffing its under drawers with explosives and buying plane tickets to Moline. Cultural ignorance dictates that the best way to stop foreign terrorists flying into the country is by humiliating American citizens flying out of the country. Go ahead, grope me, X-ray my dick and for god sake don't let anyone bring a large bottle of shampoo on board. In an obedient, authority worshipping police state, physical insult and surveillance are proof of safety.

It's profitable too, and not just for scanner manufacturers. The brouhaha over body scanners and crotch groping provide media with titillating fuel for ratings, thereby driving up TV advertising rates, which is passed on in the price of products we buy. So we pay to be insulted, have the hell scared out of us, and to unknowingly have our behavior shaped. Under American style capitalism, this mobius strip of cultural ignorance is called a win-win situation for everybody.

This also conveniently distracts us from the everyday human insult we practice on one another, as a result of state manufactured cultural misinformation -- fear. Ten years of orange alerts and post 9/11 fear mongering have led us to draw some paradoxical cultural conclusions.

Let us briefly careen off into one of these paradoxes. For instance, that we can taser our way to domestic security and tranquility. Yes, it's ugly business, but tasing the citizenry must be done. And besides, in these days of high unemployment, it's a paycheck for somebody -- usually, the guy who sat behind us in grade school happily eating chalk.

With taser packing police officers in thousands of schools, even grade schools (a weird enough cultural statement to begin with -- needless to say, the resulting deaths and injuries of school kids have personal injury lawyers shouting eureka and contemplating new recreational sail craft moored at Martha's Vineyard. Such are the rewards of righteous works through cult-ig.

In any case, the chance at a juicy lawsuit is accepted as a satisfactory offset to any screaming and writing in our school hallways. What are 50,000 volts and a little nerve damage, compared to a shot at paying off the credit cards, upgrading the family ride, and maybe remodeling the kitchen too?

But we gotta stick to the subject of cultural ignorance here, mainly because I wrote the title first and am determined to maintain some illusion of a theme here, or at least bullshit the reader into thinking that I have.

Soooo . . .

It can be safely said that cultural ignorance consists of the rational, sensible questions that never get asked. But it also includes the weird ones that are. For instance, one of the questions asked regarding tasering school kids is: What is the allowable weight range of a child to be tased? (Taser manufacturers say 60 pounds.) Somehow, by this geezer's prehistoric reasoning, that sounds like the wrong question, not to mention one that by its nature leads us away from the cultural truth.

The truth is that we live in a society which sanctions semi-electrocution of its own children on the grounds that it is not fatal, and therefore not true electrocution. It springs from the same streak of cultural cruelty that deems semi-drowning by water boarding not to be torture because it is seldom fatal.

This is not to be uncharitable to American communities willing to pony up tax money for school tasers. They've amply demonstrated their affectionate commitment to their children by bringing creationism and pizza-for-breakfast into the schools. But there remains the question, "What kind of community comes up with the idea of tasering its own children?"

The information racketeers

It is the job of our combined institutions to manage cultural information so as to deny the harmful aspects of the rackets they protect through legislation and promote through institutional research. That's why research shows that cell phone microwaves cause long term memory loss in rats, but do not harm people. Evidently, we are of different, more bullet proof mammalian material.

Our hyper capitalist system, through command of our research, media and political institutions, expands upon and disseminates only that information which generates money and transactions. It avoids, neglects or spins the hell out of information that does not. And if none of those work, the info is exiled to some corner of cyberspace such as Daily Kos, where it cannot change the status quo, yet can be ballyhooed as proof of our national freedom of expression. Here come the rotten eggs from the Internet liberals.

Cyberspace by nature feels very big from the inside, and its affinity groups, seeing themselves in aggregate and in mutual self reference, imagine their role bigger and more effective than it is. From within the highly directed, technologically administrated, marketed-to and propagandized rat cage called America, this is all but impossible to comprehend. Especially when corporate owned media tells us it is.

Take the world recent shaking WikiLeak's "revelations" of Washington's petty misery and drivel, which are scarcely revelations, just more extensive details about what we all already knew. Come on now, is it a revelation that Karzai and his entire government is a nest of fraudulent double-crossing thieves? Or that the US is duplicitous? Or that Angela Merkel is dull? The main revelation in the WikiLeaks affair was the U.S. government's response -- which was to bring US freedom of speech policy firmly in line with China's. Millions of us in cyber ghettoes saw it coming, but our alarm warnings were shouted inside a cyberspace vacuum bell jar.

Bear in mind that I am writing this from outside the US borders and media environment, where people watch the WikiLeaks story unfold more in amusement than anything else.

The WikiLeaks affair is surely seismic to those whose asses ride on the elite diplomatic intrigues. But in the big picture it will not change the way the top lizards in global politics, money and war have done business since the feudal age -- which is to say with arrogant disregard for the rest of us. Theirs is an ancient system of human dominance that only shifts names and methodologies over the centuries. Two years from now, little will have changed in the old, old story of the powerful few over the powerless many. In this overarching drama, Obama, Hillary and Julian Assange are passing players. Watching the sweaty, fetid machinations of our overlords with such passionate involvement only keeps us from seeing the big picture -- that they are the players and we are the pawns.

Still, I for one am in favor of giving Assange the Médaille militaire, the Noble Prize, 15 virgins in paradise and a billion in cash as a reward for his courage in doing damned well the only significant thing that can be done at this time -- momentarily fucking up government control of information. But "potentially stimulating a new age of U.S. government transparency," (BBC) it ain't."

Which brings us to back to the question of cultural ignorance. For ten points, why was Julian Assange forced to do what the world press was supposed to be doing in the first place?

Bulletin: PayPal has caved to government pressure to pull WikiLeak's PayPal account for contributions. However, the feds generously let PayPal keep its porn and prostitution clients.

The transparency scam

It is a form of cultural ignorance to believe that at some point or other, we were more in charge and that our government was somehow more transparent in the past. Societies declining into obsolescence understandably resist looking forward, and hang onto their past mythologies. Consequently, both liberals and conservatives in America feed on myths of political action which died in Vietnam. The results are ludicrous. Tea Partiers attempt to emulate the 1960s protest gatherings by staging rallies sponsored by the richest beneficiaries of the status quo. For the average TP participant, the goal, near as I can tell, is to "start a new American Revolution," by wearing foodstuffs, screaming, threatening, and voting for nitwits. Media pundits proclaim the Tea Party "a historic populist movement."

Neither populist, nor authentic movement, the Tea Party may yet prove historic, however, by seriously fucking things up more than they already are. Spun entirely from manufactured spectacle (and thus void of cohesive political philosophy or internal logic), the Tea Party lurches across the political landscape bellowing at the cameras and collecting the victims of cultural ignorance in sort of a medieval idiots crusade. But to the American public, seeing the Tea Party on television is proof enough of relevancy and significance. After all, stuff doesn't get on TV unless it's important.

Progressives also fancy a revolution, one in which they participate through the Internet petitions, and media events such as the risk free Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity, where no one risked even missing an episode of Tremaine. Seeing people like themselves on television was proof fighting the good fight. The Stewart rally was nonetheless culturally historic; we will never see a larger public display of post modern irony congratulating itself.

In the historical view, cultural ignorance is more than the absence of knowledge. It is also the result of long term cultural and political struggle. Since the industrial revolution, the struggle has been between capital and workers. Capital won in America and spread its successful tactics worldwide. Now we watch global capitalism wreck the world and attempt to stay ahead of that wreckage clutching its profits. A subservient world kneels before it, praying that planet destroying jobs will fall their way. Will unrestrained global capitalism, with all the power and momentum on its side and motivated purely by machinelike harvesting of profits, reduce the faceless masses in its path to slavery? Does a duck shit in a pond?

Meanwhile, here we are, American riders on the short bus, barreling into the Grand Canyon. With typical American gunpoint optimism, we've convinced ourselves we're in an airplane. A few smarter kids in the back whisper about hijacking and turning the bus around. But the security cop riding shotgun just strokes his taser and smiles. Not that yours truly has the ass to take on the security surveillance state. Hell no. I jumped out the window when the bus shot past Mexico.

What America needs is some balls

GOP honcho Mitch O'Connell says what America needs is for Republicans to finish beating the snot out of Obama, and strengthen the already rich by eliminating taxes for them and shifting the burden onto us. Obama says America needs to find bipartisan cooperation with the party of ruthlessness. Elton John says that America needs more compassion (Thanks, we never noticed).

What America really needs is a wall-to-wall people's insurrection, preferably based on force and fear of force, the only thing oligarchs understand. And even then the odds are not good. The oligarchs have all the legal power, police, jails and prisons, surveillance and firepower. Not to mention a docile populace.

Shy of open insurrection, a nationwide refusal to pay income taxes would certainly shake things up. But broader America is happy in the sense they know happiness as an undisturbed regimen of toil, stress and commodity consumption. Despite the way it looks in the news, most Americans remain untouched by foreclosure, bankruptcy and unemployment. So risking loss of their work-buy-sleep cycle in an insurrection looks to be sheer lunacy to them. Like cows, they are kept comfortable in the pure animal sense to be milked for profit. Animal comfort kills all thoughts of revolution. Hell, half of mankind would be thrilled with the average American's present material situation.

And besides, revolutionary history does not exist for Americans. The 20th Century's successful revolutions in Russia, Germany, Mexico, China, and Cuba are wired into our minds as history's evil failures, because all but one were Marxist. (The only successful non-Marxist revolution of the 20th Century was Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution).

So if we are talking change through revolt, we're necessarily talking about deconditioning because the thing we fear already has a life deep in our own consciousness. Deconditioning from cultural ignorance is at the heart of any insurrectionary politics.

Deconditioning also involves risk and suffering. But it is transformative, freeing the self from helplessness and fear. It unleashes the fifth freedom, the right to an autonomous consciousness. That makes deconditioning about as individual and personal act as is possible. Maybe the only genuine individual act.

Once unencumbered by self-induced and manufactured cultural ignorance, it becomes clear that politics worldwide is entirely about money, power and national mythology, with or without some degree of human rights. America still has all of the above to one degree or another. Yet for all practical purposes, such as advancing the freedom and the well being of its own people, the American republic has collapsed.

Of course, there is still money to be made by the already rich. So the million or so people who own the country and the government use their control to convince us that there is no collapse, just economic and political problems that need to be solved. Naturally, they are willing to do that for us. Consequently, the economy is discussed in political terms, because the government is the only body with the power to legislate, and therefore render the will of the owning class into law.

But politics and money are never going to fill what is essentially a public vacuum that is moral, philosophical and spiritual. (The latter was instantly recognized by fundamentalist Christians, disfigured by cultural ignorance, as they may be.) Not many ordinary Americans talk about this vacuum. The required spiritual and philosophical language has been successfully purged by newspeak, popular culture, a human regimentation process masquerading as a national educational system, and the ruthlessness of everyday competition, which leaves no time to contemplate anything.

Still, the void, the meaninglessness of ordinary work and the emptiness of daily life scares thinking citizens shitless, with its many unspeakables, spy cams, security state pronouncements, citizens being economically disappeared, and general back-of-the-mind unease. Capitalism's faceless machinery has colonized our very souls. If the political was not personal to begin with, it's personal now.

Some Americans believe we can collectively triumph over the monolith we presently fear and worship. Others believe the best we can do is to find the personal strength to endure and go forward on lonely inner plains of the self.

Doing either will take inner moral, spiritual and intellectual liberation. It all depends on where you choose to fight your battle. Or if you even choose to fight it. But one thing is certain. The only way out is in.

.

No Bail for Julian Assange

SUBHEAD: Sweden's "Sex by Surprise" is heart of case against WikiLeaks Julian Assange who is in London in jail without bail.  

By C. Vinograd & R. G. Satter on 7 December 2010 for the AP -  
(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/07/julian-assange-arrested-w_n_792956.html)

 
Image above: Julian Assange and accuser, Ann Ardin in mash-up graphic on web. From (http://javabutik.com/wikileaks-sex-scandal-case/).

A British judge sent Julian Assange to jail on Tuesday, denying bail to the WikiLeaks founder after Assange vowed to fight efforts to be extradited to Sweden in a sex-crimes investigation.

Despite Assange's legal troubles, a WikiLeaks spokesman insisted the flow of secret U.S. diplomatic cables would not be affected. He also downplayed efforts to constrict the group's finances after both Visa and MasterCard cut off key funding methods Tuesday.

"This will not change our operation," spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told The Associated Press.

As if to underline the point, WikiLeaks released a dozen new diplomatic cables, its first publication in more than 24 hours, including the details of a NATO defense plan for Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that prompted an indignant response from the Russian envoy to the alliance.
Assange turned himself in to Scotland Yard on Tuesday morning, and was sent to the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court in the early afternoon. He showed no reaction as Judge Howard Riddle denied him bail and sent him to jail until his next extradition hearing on Dec. 14.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visiting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, was pleased to hear that Assange had been arrested.

"That sounds like good news to me," he said Tuesday.

Riddle asked the 39-year-old Australian whether he understood that he could agree to be extradited to Sweden. Assange, dressed in a navy blue suit, cleared his throat and said: "I understand that and I do not consent."

The judge said he had grounds to believe that the former computer hacker – a self-described homeless refugee – might not show up to his next hearing if he were granted bail.

Arguments during the hour-long hearing detailed the sex accusations against Assange, all of which he has denied.

Swedish Sex by Surprise  
Video above: Saturday Night Live parody 'WikiLeaks TMZ". From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFAxIH_H4PI).  

By Dana Kennedy on 2 December 2010 for AOL News - 
  (http://www.aolnews.com/world/article/sex-by-surprise-at-heart-of-julian-assange-criminal-probe/19741444)

The international manhunt for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a sex-crime investigation in Sweden apparently stems from a condom malfunction. Assange's London attorney, Mark Stephens, told AOL News today that Swedish prosecutors told him that Assange is wanted not for allegations of rape, as previously reported, but for something called "sex by surprise," which he said involves a fine of 5,000 kronor or about $715.

Assange is the subject of an international manhunt, as a result of Interpol issuing a "red notice," a warrant indicating the person should be arrested with a view to extradition.

"We don't even know what 'sex by surprise' even means, and they haven't told us," Stephens said, just hours after Sweden's Supreme Court rejected Assange's bid to prevent an arrest order from being issued against him on allegations of sex crimes. "Whatever 'sex by surprise' is, it's only a offense in Sweden -- not in the U.K. or the U.S. or even Ibiza," Stephens said. "I feel as if I'm in a surreal Swedish movie being threatened by bizarre trolls. The prosecutor has not asked to see Julian, never asked to interview him, and he hasn't been charged with anything.

He's been told he's wanted for questioning, but he doesn't know the nature of the allegations against him." The strange tale of Assange's brief flings with two Swedish women during a three-day period in mid-August -- and decisions by three different prosecutors to first dismiss rape allegations made by the women and then re-open the case -- has more twists, turns and conspiracy theories than any of Stieg Larsson's best-sellers.

True, one of Assange's accusers sounds tailor-made for those who think Assange is being set up in Sweden by dark CIA-backed operatives who want him smeared or silenced for his document dumping with WikiLeaks. She's a 31-year-old blond academic and member of the Social Democratic Party who's known for her radical feminist views, once wrote a treatise on how to take revenge against men and was once thrown out of Cuba for subversive activities.

But others say Assange, who denies any wrongdoing and says the sex was consensual, may have just run afoul of Sweden's unusual rape laws, which are considered pro-feminist because of the consideration given issues of consent when it comes to sexual activity -- including even the issue of whether a condom was used.

In fact, the current prosecutor, Marianne Ny, who re-opened the case against Assange, has been active in the proposed reforms of Swedish rape laws that would, if passed, involve an investigation of whether an imbalance in power between two people could void one person's insistence that the sex was consensual. Swedish tabloids and the country's blogosphere have been rife since August with stories and speculation about Assange's accusers, the flip-flopping prosecutors and just what, if any, crime was committed by Assange during sex with the two women.

 "He's innocent, that I can tell you," Bjorn Hurtig, Assange's Stockholm-based lawyer, told AOL News today.

Hurtig later issued a statement saying the international arrest warrant for Assange is based on "exaggerated grounds." Assange arrived in Sweden on Aug. 11 to speak at a weekend seminar sponsored by the Social Democratic Party and arranged to stay at a Stockholm apartment belonging to the event organizer, a member of the branch of the party who would become one of Assange's two accusers.

According to a police report obtained by the Daily Mail in August, she and Assange had sex, and at some point the condom broke. While she was apparently not happy about the condom breaking, the two were seen the next day at the seminar, and nothing appeared amiss.

Another woman at the seminar, a 27-year-old art photographer, said in her police statement that she'd come to hear Assange's lecture because of her fascination with him and his work. She can be seen in video footage on the Internet sitting in the front row during Assange's lecture, wearing a pink sweater and snapping pictures of him.

According to the police report, the woman managed to get an invitation to go out for lunch with Assange and his entourage after the seminar. They spent time together before he went back to stay at the event organizer's apartment.

Two days later, on Aug. 16, they reconnected by phone and the woman invited him to her apartment, more than 40 miles outside Stockholm. She paid for the ticket since Assange apparently had no cash and doesn't like to use credit cards because they could be traced. She complained in her police statement that during the train ride to her hometown, "he paid more attention to his computer rather than me." She also said that by the time they arrived at her apartment, "the passion and excitement seemed to have disappeared." The woman and Assange also reportedly had sex.

According to the Daily Mail account, Assange did not use a condom at least one time during their sexual activity.

The New York Times today quoted accounts given by the women to police and friends as saying Assange "did not comply with her appeals to stop when (the condom) was no longer in use." According to the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet, the photographer contacted the other woman two days after her assignation with Assange, and the two apparently had a conversation in which it became clear they had both had sex with Assange. The photographer was worried about having had unprotected sex and decided she wanted to go to the police.

The other woman accompanied her to the police station on Aug. 20 just to support her but then told the investigating officer on duty that she, too, had had sex with Assange, Aftonbladet reported. Based on what was said to police, the on-call prosecutor, Marie Kjellstrand, decided to issue an arrest warrant on charges of rape and molestation, and the next day the story hit the Swedish paper Expressen and newspapers all over the world.

Kjellstrand's decision was overruled the following day by a higher-level prosecutor, Eva Finne, who withdrew the arrest warrant and said she did not see any evidence for rape allegations. Then, on Sept. 1, a third prosecutor, Ny, re-opened the rape investigation, implying that she had new information in the case.

On Nov. 18, Swedish judicial officials approved a prosecutorial request that Assange be detained for questioning for alleged sex crimes, and on Nov. 30 Interpol issued a "red notice" against Assange for alleged sex crimes in Sweden.

Despite what has happened, the woman who organized the event and had Assange stay at her apartment told Aftonbladet that she never intended that Assange be charged with rape. "It is quite wrong that we were afraid of him. He is not violent, and I do not feel threatened by him," she told the newspaper in an interview that did not identify her by name.

 "The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl lies with a man who had attitude problems with women." When the second accuser was reached on her mobile phone today by AOL News, she said simply, "I have nothing to say on the matter." Stephens, Assange's lawyer, said that even though British police know Assange's whereabouts -- reportedly in southeastern England -- they have not yet arrested him because of the inadequacy of the arrest warrants issued by Sweden. "The Swedes couldn't even produce another warrant today that was valid," Stephens told AOL News. "The police here sent it back."

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Got WikiLeaks? 12/4/10 .

Reports from Rapa Nui

SUBHEAD: Pacific churches launch aid effort in Rapa Nui conflict; considering island part of Polynesia.  

By Staff on 7 December 2010 for Radio New Zealand International -
(http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=57535)

 
Image above: Young man from Rapa Nui prepares for traditional banana race. From (http://www.allposters.com/-sp/Native-Preparing-to-Compete-in-Banana-Race-Tapati-Festival-Rapa-Nui-Easter-Island-Chile-Posters_i4065660_.htm?aid=95620932&DestType=7&Referrer=http%3A%2F%2Frapa-nui.purzuit.com).
 
The Pacific Conference of Churches has launched an aid effort for Rapa Nui people, injured during clashes with Chilean forces last week. The PCC’s General Secretary Fe’iloakitau Tevi says the group’s responding to calls for help from a representative of the indigenous people’s parliament on the island, also known as Easter Island.
 Dozens were injured when police used rubber bullets and tear gas after an early morning attempt to evict Rapa Nui from a building they’d been occupying during their ongoing ancestral land dispute with the Chilean government.

Mr Tevi says the PCC has contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross to help. “There is some concern about an uneasy tension on the island right now and they fear that things will get worse.

For us the issue of the people of Rapa Nui is a Pacific issue and we will always consider them as part of the region. We feel that we are in solidarity with them and we need to step in.” Mr Tevi says governments in the region should be pressing Chile over the weekend violence.

 
Video above: Confrontation between Chilean police and Rapa Nui residents. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPkr0LDgNvs)

Audio link: Listen to NPR radio report on Rapa Nui.
From (http://www.hawaiipublicradio.org/content/pacific-news-violence-rapa-nui-osedil-uriarte.

See also: 

The Jobs Picture

SUBHEAD: In the years ahead, don't rely on jobs with the government, or anyone with a work station equipped cubicle.  

By James Kunstler on 6 December 2010 in Kunstlsler.com -  
(http://kunstler.com/blog/2010/12/the-jobs-picture.html)

 
Image above: "Will work for food". From (http://lutheransurrealism.blogspot.com/2010/05/will-work-for-food.html).

The clarion cries of "recovery" cut painfully through the crisp pre-Christmas air while the now-perpetually unemployed huddle in their tents around the Sacramento delta, and the state AGs slug it out with the foreclosure goons, and not a few mortgage payment drop-outs enjoy luxury living in McMansions with no monthly carrying costs, and the minions of Goldman Sachs (with fellow squids) groom their beaks waiting for the massive chum slick of bonus checks to be dropped by helicopters in this the third holiday season since Wall Street committed suicide by an overdose of Ponzi.

It's pathetic to hear the wan cry of "recovery" issued by the high priests and tribunes of this land.

Do the president and his train of wizards really suppose that all the necessary pieces are in place to re-start the economic dynamics of, say, 2003?

A million busboys and lawn service lackeys lining up for half-million dollar liar loans at the Countrywide office? BCA, Citi, and all the other big banks pawning off bundles upon bundles of these worthless obligations to insurance companies, pension funds, foolish endowment fund managers and any other reckless entity desperate for yield?

A hyperbolic consumer economy pyramid resting on a base of empty promises to repay?
 
Sorry. There's no way the USA can ever "recover" to that lush breeding ground of swindling, fraud, and childish irresponsibility.

The hardships of today do not represent a dip in some regular cycle of financial push-me-pull-you. This is a systemic, structural change in the socio-economic ecology of human life.

Those who have been shuffling from one office to another with their dog-eared resumes, and clothing pressed under the mattress while sleeping, are bound to be disappointed. The very idea of a "job" may be obsolete, in the sense of bureaucratically organized endeavors complete with a "human resources" department that can just plug in human components like diodes in an engineered system.
Among the surprises I've suggested over the years is the idea that people used to spending long hours in cubicles staring at video screens may, at some point ahead, begin to spend their days in the fresh air, cultivating food crops. I'm sure this sounds outlandish.

But we begin to see the new dynamic of this world resolving in the nexus between a crisis of capital, climate change, and peak oil.

Food is getting scarce. Worldwide grain reserves stand at unprecedented lows. Droughts in Russia and Australia mean that basic foods will be in short supply on the margins - that is, the impoverished countries we used to call "third world" that depend on grain imports.

The American supermarket aisles still groan with every conceivable staple and delicacy, but note the prices of things. A buck and a half for four little onions. $1.18 for one apple. $4 for a jar of jam.

 Compare these numbers with the wages that have not gone up effectively since around 1970.
As I write this morning, oil is 11 cents short of $90 a barrel. That's well into the price range that destroys economic activity in the USA. Why is the price of oil creeping up relentlessly in a structurally impaired economy? My guess is the beginning of hoarding on the grand scale, as nations slowly wake to the reality of the world production peak, and scramble to max out their tank-farm capacity.

By the way, the price of oil could easily crash again - and, I believe the period just ahead will be marked by extreme volatility in oil prices - but if it goes back down to $20 a barrel we'll probably be in a situation where nobody has any money to buy it even at bargain basement prices.That was exactly the situation 70-odd years ago during the Great Depression: plenty of everything; but no money.
The crisis of capital still has many acts to play out. The current installment taking place in Europe is a game of musical chairs played by nations who cannot pay their debts or the regular bills.

The Euro was on its way sliding into oblivion a week or so ago when the European Central Bank and the IMF came up with a few billion to cover bond interest for deadbeat countries through the Christmas season - at the same time that Ben Bernanke's Fed offered up a $75-billion-a-month bid for US Treasury bonds (and god-knows-really what other sort of dodgy paper, based on the Fed's track record of hosing up every distressed instrument on the landscape, including the notes on cheap chain hotels).

The Euro bounced back, at least in relation to the US dollar. The same darn skit will have to be replayed in the first quarter of 2011 and my guess is that German voters will pull the IV-line of financial support out of its terminally ailing neighbors.

The net effect will be stupendous economic confusion and a lot of bad feeling. This is the year that Europe ceases to be a theme park and reverts to a continent of dangerous squabbles and beefs.
America has appeared to be a bystander to that spectacle - apart from all the European banks and insurance operations that Ben Bernanke dropped TARP money on, it was revealed last week - but the US financial situation is every bit as sketchy as Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, and we have no idea how we're going to cover our obligations after Christmas.
This idea of "recovery" promulgated by authority figures who ought to know better is the cruelest swindle of them all, and perhaps the final one.

If you want something like gainful employment in the years ahead, don't rely on the corporations, the government, or anyone with a work station equipped cubicle. Start reading up on gardening and harness repair. Learn how to fix a pair of shoes.

Volunteer for EMT duty if you're already out of a paycheck, and learn how to comfort people in medical distress. Jobs of the future will be hands-on and direct. I have no idea what medium of exchange you'll get paid with, but a chicken is a good start.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Out of the Comfy Zone 12/3/10 .

A new cultural narrative

SUBHEAD: Assuming we don’t succumb to nuclear Armageddon or a climate meltdown, a new and different world must arise.  

By Dan Hamburg on 3 December 2010 for Culture Change - 
(http://www.culturechange.org/cms/content/view/688/65)

Image above: Reconnecting with the Divine Mother. From (http://www.whitewolfjourneys.com/?p=1529).

The grave challenge of our time is not to reform the current system but to replace it. As our nation’s founders prescribed in the Declaration of Independence, when “any Form of Government becomes destructive” of the ends of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” it is not only our right, but our duty “to alter or to abolish it.”

Our problem is not lack of laws and regulations though these do appear to be inadequate to protect us. It is not lack of intelligent, caring people to govern us, though our leaders have to a large extent let us down. It is not even lack of a healthy environment, nor is it widening inequality and poverty. These are all symptoms that distract us from the real cause of our trouble.

As dissident physicist David Bohm explained (Thought as a System, 1994): “… the source of our problems is basically in thought.

Many people would think that such a statement is crazy, because thought is the one thing we have with which to solve our problems. Yet it looks as if the thing we use to solve our problems is the source of our problems. It’s like going to the doctor and having him make you ill.”

We’re stuck in a culture (i.e., a way of thinking), now roughly three centuries old, that has finally proven itself inadequate. All the way up through the years of my childhood in the Fifties and Sixties, this culture (i.e., western bourgeois) was not only acceptable, it was unassailable. Its core tenet has been the inevitability of progress and the “fact,” as Margaret Thatcher put it during her reign as British prime minister, that “There is no alternative (TINA).”

If she’s right, we’re f**ked. Because while globalized capitalism has brought unparalleled comfort and power for the few -- conquering the chronic limitations of space and time as never before -- the contradictions of TINA thinking have become too odious to ignore.

We humans are literally destroying our own habitat.

While a few feast, billions suffer malnourishment, illness and death from preventable disease and lack of basic necessities of life. (Have you ever attended one of those Hunger Banquets first conceived by the international anti-hunger organization OxFam? The top 15% are served a sumptuous meal. The middle 35% eat rice and beans. The leftover 50% help themselves to small portions of rice and water.)

This is the world we live in and these trends -- global environmental collapse and mass poverty -- are steadily worsening.

Contrary to a popular view, this state of affairs is neither “natural” nor unavoidable. The logic -- resulting from a misreading of Darwin but powerful nonetheless -- that we humans are creatures who “naturally compete” for scarce resources has finally revealed itself to be illogic, since its consequence is the demise of our entire species!

This is why many of the sharpest critics of the current order -- such as Chris Hedges, Vandana Shiva, Rebecca Solnit, and lately Michael Moore- - are urging us not toward reform but toward revolution. Not violent revolution of course (though the recent mass protests in the streets of London and Paris are certainly a positive step and would be welcome here in the U.S.). They are talking about a wholesale shift of paradigm, a new way of thinking (and thus, acting, of understanding ourselves and our place in the cosmos.

Again, this is not untilled ground. My favorite “outside of the box” thinker is Stanford professor emeritus Sylvia Wynter. Wynter reminds us that all cultures share certain key components -- a “foundational myth” or cultural narrative, a definition of what it means to be “a good man or woman of one’s kind,” and a significant ill that threatens the order (whether the “wobbling sun” that plagued the Aztec mind or the specter of poverty that threatens (homo economicus should he/she fail to meet the mark).

In his wonderful book The Trouble with Tom (2005), author Paul Collins describes Thomas Paine’s prediction of the decline of bourgeois culture long before it had reached its present impasse.

“Paine…decried the British government’s use of unbacked paper currency to finance foreign adventurism through ever-spiraling debts; these, in turn, required more wars to shore up domestic support and foreign resources. The national debt, Paine contended, would eventually become a national bankruptcy -- and the strength of its financial markets could prove the country’s greatest weakness.”

Paine knew that representative democracy rested on thin shoulders. Collins writes: “Paine was deeply unimpressed by the financial acumen of members of Parliament -- ‘they only understand fox-hunting,’ he snapped.” There were no “golf junkets” in those days but you get the idea!

Two centuries later, the proverbial excrement has hit the fan. The once-unchallengeable logic of a virtuous, self-correcting Market -- the functional equivalent of the Roman Church’s pre-Copernican dogma that the sun circumambulates the earth -- no longer holds the allegiance of the masses. Too many foreclosures and pink slips, too many brutal and unnecessary wars, and even too many Big Macs have taken the bloom off the rose.

Whether as minions of the misguided Tea Party movement or simply as members of the disenchanted majority, more and more Americans are being forced to concede that the interests of the über rich and themselves may be terminally out of sync.

The Citizens United decision took a wrecking ball to any possibility that democracy can temper the forces of concentrated capital. We live in the age of unbridled corporate control of politics, in which both traditional liberals and traditional conservatives have been sidelined.

Aside from a few pop dissenters like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and the furrowed brow pundits of MSNBC, the political discourse of today is being driven largely by the John Boehners, Dick Armeys, Sarah Palins and Glenn Becks.

As Einstein remarked observing the first atomic fission: everything has changed “except our mode of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

Assuming we don’t succumb to nuclear Armageddon or a climate meltdown, a new and different world must arise. In fact, it is already arising in communities small and large both here and around the world.

 A new narrative -- one that redefines what it means to be “a good man or woman of our kind” -- is emerging, a narrative that celebrates community over competitiveness, stewardship over exploitation. It will advance a holistic approach to living in harmony with the physical world so that we may have an opportunity to experience an intellectual and spiritual world. It offers the possibility of a better existence for all living things, and even non-living things, on our planet.

Bring it on!
.

Fearful China Hacks the Web

SUBHEAD: WikiLeaks diplomatic cables reveal US and Google knew Chinese government was involved in vast worldwide hacking efforts.  

By James Glanz & John Markoff on 4 December 2010 for NYT -
 (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/world/asia/05wikileaks-china.html)  
Image above: Chinese flag flies in front of Google's offices in that country. from (http://www.rferl.org/content/China_Says_Google_Hacking_Claims_Groundless/1965985.html).

As China ratcheted up the pressure on Google to censor its Internet searches last year, the American Embassy sent a secret cable to Washington detailing one reason top Chinese leaders had become so obsessed with the Internet search company: they were Googling themselves.

The May 18, 2009, cable, titled “Google China Paying Price for Resisting Censorship,” quoted a well-placed source as saying that Li Changchun, a member of China’s top ruling body, the Politburo Standing Committee, and the country’s senior propaganda official, was taken aback to discover that he could conduct Chinese-language searches on Google’s main international Web site.

When Mr. Li typed his name into the search engine at google.com, he found “results critical of him.”

That cable from American diplomats was one of many made public by WikiLeaks that portray China’s leadership as nearly obsessed with the threat posed by the Internet to their grip on power — and, the reverse, by the opportunities it offered them, through hacking, to obtain secrets stored in computers of its rivals, especially the United States.


 
Video above: This is what China really fears - Tiananmen Square protests. From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7ou2-Kv4UA).

Extensive hacking operations suspected of originating in China, including one leveled at Google, are a central theme in the cables. The operations began earlier and were aimed at a wider array of American government and military data than generally known, including on the computers of United States diplomats involved in climate change talks with China. One cable, dated early this year, quoted a Chinese person with family connections to the elite as saying that Mr. Li himself directed an attack on Google’s servers in the United States, though that claim has been called into question. In an interview with The New York Times, the person cited in the cable said that Mr. Li personally oversaw a campaign against Google’s operations in China but the person did not know who directed the hacking attack.

 The cables catalog the heavy pressure that was placed on Google to comply with local censorship laws, as well as Google’s willingness to comply — up to a point. That coercion began building years before the company finally decided to pull its search engine out of China last spring in the wake of the successful hacking attack on its home servers, which yielded Chinese dissidents’ e-mail accounts as well as Google’s proprietary source code. The demands on Google went well beyond removing material on subjects like the Dalai Lama or the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Chinese officials also put pressure on the United States government to censor the Google Earth satellite imaging service by lowering the resolution of images of Chinese government facilities, warning that Washington could be held responsible if terrorists used that information to attack government or military facilities, the cables show. An American diplomat replied that Google was a private company and that he would report the request to Washington but that he had no sense about how the government would act.

Yet despite the hints of paranoia that appear in some cables, there are also clear signs that Chinese leaders do not consider the Internet an unstoppable force for openness and democracy, as some Americans believe.

 In fact, this spring, around the time of the Google pullout, China’s State Council Information Office delivered a triumphant report to the leadership on its work to regulate traffic online, according to a crucial Chinese contact cited by the State Department in a cable in early 2010, when contacted directly by The Times.

The message delivered by the office, the person said, was that “in the past, a lot of officials worried that the Web could not be controlled.” “But through the Google incident and other increased controls and surveillance, like real-name registration, they reached a conclusion: the Web is fundamentally controllable,” the person said. That confidence may also reflect what the cables show are repeated and often successful hacking attacks from China on the United States government, private enterprises and Western allies that began by 2002, several years before such intrusions were widely reported in the United States.

At least one previously unreported attack in 2008, code-named Byzantine Candor by American investigators, yielded more than 50 megabytes of e-mails and a complete list of user names and passwords from an American government agency, a Nov. 3, 2008, cable revealed for the first time. Precisely how these hacking attacks are coordinated is not clear.

Many appear to rely on Chinese freelancers and an irregular army of “patriotic hackers” who operate with the support of civilian or military authorities, but not directly under their day-to-day control, the cables and interviews suggest. But the cables also appear to contain some suppositions by Chinese and Americans passed along by diplomats.

For example, the cable dated earlier this year referring to the hacking attack on Google said: “A well-placed contact claims that the Chinese government coordinated the recent intrusions of Google systems. According to our contact, the closely held operations were directed at the Politburo Standing Committee level.” The cable goes on to quote this person as saying that the hacking of Google “had been coordinated out of the State Council Information Office with the oversight” of Mr. Li and another Politburo member, Zhou Yongkang.”

Mr. Zhou is China’s top security official. But the person cited in the cable gave a divergent account. He detailed a campaign to press Google coordinated by the Propaganda Department’s director, Liu Yunshan. Mr. Li and Mr. Zhou issued approvals in several instances, he said, but he had no direct knowledge linking them to the hacking attack aimed at securing commercial secrets or dissidents’ e-mail accounts — considered the purview of security officials.

 Still, the cables provide a patchwork of detail about cyberattacks that American officials believe originated in China with either the assistance or knowledge of the Chinese military.

For example, in 2008 Chinese intruders based in Shanghai and linked to the People’s Liberation Army used a computer document labeled “salary increase — survey and forecast” as bait as part of the sophisticated intrusion scheme that yielded more than 50 megabytes of e-mails and a complete list of user names and passwords from a United States government agency that was not identified.

The cables indicate that the American government has been fighting a pitched battle with intruders who have been clearly identified as using Chinese-language keyboards and physically located in China. In most cases the intruders took great pains to conceal their identities, but occasionally they let their guard down.

In one case described in the documents, investigators tracked one of the intruders who was surfing the Web in Taiwan “for personal use.” In June 2009 during climate change talks between the United States and China, the secretary of state’s office sent a secret cable warning about e-mail “spear phishing” attacks directed at five State Department employees in the Division of Ocean Affairs of the Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change.

The messages, which purport to come from a National Journal columnist, had the subject line “China and Climate Change.” The e-mail contained a PDF file that was intended to install a malicious software program known as Poison Ivy, which was meant to give an intruder complete control of the victim’s computer. That attack failed.

The cables also reveal that a surveillance system dubbed Ghostnet that stole information from the computers used by the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and South Asian governments and was uncovered in 2009 was linked to a second broad series of break-ins into American government computers code-named Byzantine Hades.

Government investigators were able to make a “tenuous connection” between those break-ins and the People’s Liberation Army.

The documents also reveal that in 2008 German intelligence briefed American officials on similar attacks beginning in 2006 against the German government, including military, economic, science and technology, commercial, diplomatic, and research and development targets. The Germans described the attacks as preceding events like the German government’s meetings with the Chinese government.

 Even as such attacks were occurring, Google made a corporate decision in 2006, controversial even within the company, to establish a domestic Chinese version of its search engine, called google.cn. In doing so, it agreed to comply with China’s censorship laws. But despite that concession, Chinese officials were never comfortable with Google, the cables and interviews show.

The Chinese claimed that Google Earth, the company’s satellite mapping software, offered detailed “images of China’s military, nuclear, space, energy and other sensitive government agency installations” that would be an asset to terrorists.

A cable sent on Nov. 7, 2006, reported that Liu Jieyi, an assistant minister of foreign affairs, warned the American Embassy in Beijing that there would be “grave consequences” if terrorists exploited the imagery.

A year later, another cable pointed out that Google searches for politically delicate terms would sometimes be automatically redirected to Baidu, the Chinese company that was Google’s main competitor in China. Baidu is known for scrubbing its own search engine of results that might be unwelcome to government censors.

Google conducted numerous negotiations with officials in the State Council Information Office and other departments involved in censorship, propaganda and media licensing, the cables show. The May 18, 2009, cable that revealed pressure on the company by Mr. Li, the propaganda chief, said Google had taken some measures “to try and placate the government.” The cable also noted that Google had asked the American government to intervene with China on its behalf.

But Chinese officials became alarmed that Google still did less than its Chinese rivals to remove material Chinese officials considered offensive. Such material included information about Chinese dissidents and human rights issues, but also about central and provincial Chinese leaders and their children — considered an especially taboo topic, interviews with people quoted in the cables reveal.

Mr. Li, after apparently searching for information online on himself and his children, was reported to have stepped up pressure on Google. He also took steps to punish Google commercially, according to the May 18 cable.

The propaganda chief ordered three big state-owned Chinese telecommunications companies to stop doing business with Google. Mr. Li also demanded that Google executives remove any link between its sanitized Chinese Web site and its main international one, which he deemed “an illegal site,” the cable said.

Google ultimately stopped complying with repeated censorship requests. It stopped offering a censored version of its search engine in China earlier this year, citing both the hacking attacks and its unwillingness to continue obeying censorship orders. .

James Howard Kunstler profile

SUBHEAD: "We are unable to construct a coherent consensus about what is happening to us and what we ought to do about it." - JHK  

By Lindsay Curren on 1 December 2010 in Transition Voice - 
(http://transitionvoice.com/2010/12/interview-james-howard-kunstler)

 
Image above: "Gas" by Edward Hopper, 1941, Whitney Museum. Click to enlarge.
In the peak oil community, converts to the predicament tend to gravitate toward a figure who tells the story in a way that makes sense for them. Whether it’s the measured and scholarly caution of Richard Heinberg, the “I’ve been there” stories of a Dmitry Orlov, the hopeful glean of Rob Hopkins, or the addled sense of a lax government pointed out by Michael Ruppert, followers have their faves.

In that vein, I have to admit that I’m firmly a Kunstlerite.

I first really heard about peak oil as peak oil when I worked as a washingtonpost.com discussion moderator. I covered business and political discussions, and energy came up from time to time, especially after Bush took office.

Peak oil made sense to me right away. But it was when I read James Howard Kunstler‘s The Long Emergency that I had the equivalent of a conversion moment. Though I had already read Heinberg’s Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines, and got the straight ahead gist of things, there was something about Kunstler’s clear elucidation mixed with his uniquely vigorous prose that brought the story off the page and into my rapidly beating heart.

It was beating that way because he terrified me.

It was comforting then to get to the end of the book and discover an odd turn he took.

Telling the story of “My Long Emergency,” Kunstler proceeded to essentially wax philosophical about the whole crazy American matrix he was born into, its fantastic creations and flagrant excesses, and how he recognizes that he’s been a most fortunate individual to have lived in relative comfort and opportunity.

He confesses in that closing section that while he takes the energy situation seriously, he’s not become a ready survivalist and is overall rather content. Essentially he betrays his optimism as the capper to 300 pages spent dissecting a society, culture and economy in gross negligence and decline.

That small counterpoint to his exhaustive coverage and analysis of the oil situation and its implications for humanity provided both a window into the man and a direction for me to follow as I took my own steps forward into peak oil related activities.

And because he made me feel like I didn’t have to buy a shoulder-launched missile and stockpile freeze-dried peaches, I wanted to know what other wisdom he had to offer.

I watched The End of Suburbia, read Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century, devoured his Monday morning blog and cleared my Thursday nights to tune into kunstlercast.com, his weekly musing on the built environment. I checked his touring schedule to see if he’d be down in our neck of the woods, hoping to bring him to speak to our Transition group. Essentially I perused almost every inch of his website to learn more about him.
And what I learned was surprising. Shocking even.

Renaissance Man

In the End of Suburbia you get a pretty good feel for Kunstler’s take on things, and his tone. At first glance he’s impatient, urgent, acerbic, and makes clear if not in words then in his vibe that he’s not one to suffer fools gladly.

On his blog, which is nothing like reading his informed yet measured and accessible non-fiction works, there are no holds barred. Instead, every Monday he thrashes to pieces the pretenses and vanities of a society gone mad in most entertaining prose. It’s damn funny. If you didn’t know he was half joking in his phrasing you might think this guy is really agitated and extreme. But he writes that column like watching Jon Luc Godard’s Alphaville; dark comedy over an exposé of truth.

In short, I’m a fan, which I confess makes me kind of biased. But it doesn’t make me entirely uncritical of some of his work. I’ve asked him some challenging questions to clarify his meaning and even to rebuff his assumptions. Regardless, seeing his overall strengths amidst an initially bracing style has lent a certain sympathy to wanting to understand his nature. It makes me want to see the whole Kunstler if you will, and not just the cutting and impatient thrasher who’s judging the whole world, deeming it unfit for his aesthetic pleasure.


 Image above: "Lilac Tree off Franklin Square". Painting by James Howard Kunstler. From (http://www.kunstler.com/paintings%205.html)
 
I’d actually go so far as to call Jim Kunstler a modern day Renaissance man. He writes non-fiction, fiction and plays (I had the pleasure to produce his amazing play Big Slide with our local Transition group); offers a Simmelian analysis of the signs of our times in his musings on architecture and urban development; has tried his hand at small architecture projects; and he paints. Beautifully. If he seems like nothing but an edgy, curmudgeonly killjoy its because you haven’t yet seen his “Lilac Tree Off Franklin Square.” And that’s the gotcha from his website.

The jig is up, Kunstler. Clearly you have a heart of gold. Even his lamentations on a degraded world accompanied by his plaudits for its many beauties reveal not so much his need to express uncensored disgust as it does his need to protect and defend beauty, truth, and goodness against daily assaults of indignity.

Sometimes you have to dig around to get the full story.

And now, the numbers

In addition to the many other things he does (including releasing another novel this year), Kunstler has increasingly taken up the role of economic observer, bringing his particular brand of intellectual justice to the hoard of Wall Street white-collar criminals and the entire government and business apparatus that supports them—whether by collusion, apathy, or negligence. And its on that subject that he agreed to take some questions from Transition Voice.

If only I had been able to see him on one of his many appearances this year I would have really picked his brain. But I caught up with him in between his recent trips to Australia (yes, Kunstler has the world’s biggest carbon footprint and his personal garden can’t possibly offset it), via email to ask him what he thinks of the economic horror show plaguing our times. Does he agree with Jeff Rubin that high oil prices will bring on inflation? Or with Nicole Foss, that a crippling deflation and a dried up money supply is just around the corner?

“I agree with Nicole Foss. The oil predicament doesn’t help, but the frauds and swindles of ‘innovative’ finance – and the fantastic layers of criminal misbehavior within it – have been enough to demolish the banking system.”

But he also blames, “…the absence of the rule-of-law, the failure of regulators to regulate, enforcers to enforce, and now prosecutors to prosecute. As Nicole and her co-blogger at The Automatic Earth, ‘Ilargi,’ have often reminded us, this financial fiasco has morphed into a political crisis calling into question the very legitimacy of current governance.”

The players

A journalist himself before chucking corporate wage-slavery long ago to take up independent writing and small-town living, Kunstler picked his subjects based on what moved him. “When I was a full-time newspaper reporter I was what they used to call a ‘feature writer.’ I wrote non-hard-news stuff, and I generally followed my own nose on stories.

I took an interest for a while in investigating religious cults, which were plentiful in the 70s. They sucked in a lot of lost young people when the hippie era ran out of steam and I was fascinated by the power dynamics in these groups and how people surrendered their autonomy to charismatic self-appointed gurus — who were often sinister opportunists out for a buck.”

For Kunstler, marginal characters also held a special fascination. He wrote about, “… hired killers, con men, loan sharks, transvestites, traveling tent-show evangelists, various colorful crazy people,” preferring it to the dull stuff. “I hated beat reporting. I couldn’t sit through city council meetings and the usual routine venues for news-gathering. Luckily, there were other reporters who seemed to thrive on that, so I could go my own way.”

The playwright in Kunstler loves a good character, and memorable criminal hucksters and outcasts from society continue to show up throughout his work. His observations take in the business cabal unloading suburbia’s excesses onto a cartoon happy people, and he creates charming but ruthless con men like Billy Bones, the balladeer bandit in his latest novel, The Witch of Hebron. (In Witch, he also renders the young Jasper with startlingly sensitive insight, a tremendously hued portrayal of a child.)

But what inspires him to turn his mind to our failing economy? “I read The New York Times online. Even though it’s a piece of crap these days with vapid, pusillanimous writers-of-opinion like Krugman, Friedman, and Brooks, it’s still (unfortunately) the so-called newspaper of record.” But he also reads The Automatic Earth, Naked Capitalism, Zero Hedge, and Charles Hugh Smith.
And he has plenty of ideas of his own on Wall Street and finance.

“The role of finance up until a decade or so ago was to deploy capital, surplus wealth gained from productive activities, for new productive activities,” he explains. But then we off-shored and outsourced manufacturing. After that, Kunstler says Wall Street needed, “…to find ways to make money in the absence of productive activity.”


Image above: "Homage to Edward Hopper" (Fast Food at Exit 15 0f I-87) painting by James Kunstler. From (http://www.kunstler.com/paintings.html).

The devil’s workshop

Kunstler says Wall Street, “…turned to rackets based on getting something for nothing,” explaining that this, “…coincided with the computer revolution, which enabled financial folk to make their operations incomprehensibly complex and abstruse, destroying ‘transparency’ and the ability of markets to perform their chief function of ‘price discovery.’”

This had serious consequences, Kunstler explained. “Eventually, nobody knew the value of things being sold as investments, such as mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations made out of mortgage-backed securities.

Meanwhile, the mortgage mills like Countrywide, Ditech, and others connived with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac (the so-called GSEs), and the big banks to blow up the housing bubble by giving mortgage loans away to anyone with a pulse and then unload them onto the chumps at the end of the chain – pension funds, insurance companies, et cetera. That’s what pumped up house prices.”

After it blew up, Kunstler observes that, “…nobody could establish the value of all those securities backed by mortgages and the derivatives of these things, which were hopelessly recondite, including credit default swaps. Around 2008, all this mischief was joined by new rules issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) allowing the banks and other institutions to evade reporting the real value of the securities they had created – quite a bit of which resided in their own vaults (another loss of ‘transparency’).”

The result?

“All this malfeasance and hugger-mugger is the biggest and most hopeless financial mess in the history of the human race.”

Kunstler views the Federal Reserve as part of the problem, not the solution. The Fed has, “…only made things worse with its incessant interventions aimed at concealing the massive losses, propping up insolvent banks, and preventing all the swindles and rackets from unwinding,” he says.
He bemoans the impact the whole mess creates, calling it “rampant financial criminality” and arguing that, “it will bankrupt everything in its path, provoke a world-wide political crisis, and perhaps thrust us into something like a dark age.”

Strong words, but is he so far off?

Pitchforks

When Wall Street was bailed out, many Americans expressed outrage, but that outrage changed nothing. In fact banking scandals where the perpetrators are rewarded have become so commonplace that Americans seem able to do little more than grouse about them, helpless to effect change and too tired to express any truly unified movement for financial reform. We’re not seeing something like the French Revolution, after all.

But are there circumstances that might change this?

“Just because the public has not reacted so far doesn’t mean they’ll sit still indefinitely,” Kunstler says. “It wouldn’t necessarily take a crisis, either, to set them off. That’s the magic of tipping points and phase change. Sometimes nobody even notices the incendiary event. I’m kind of surprised the Hamptons have not been burned down so far, but I believe we’ll see very vivid expressions of public wrath sooner or later.”

It may be another bailout that would precipitate a populist blowback. Bank bailouts were a real touchstone issue for many voters, especially those who favored Tea Party candidates. Yet if the bailout money had been given to individuals, a share for every adult American say, the Right would have deemed it socialism. I wondered why, when business is bailed out, we don’t hear an equivalent analysis of the managed economy as enabling, care taking, nannyish?

In Kunstler’s view, it’s “because we are a politically puerile nation composed of people who understand little, routinely vote against their own real interests, and believe in things that are inconsistent with reality.”

Ouch. So what will break through to people to get them to deal with reality and address their own needs?

Kunstler doesn’t think for the present moment that it’s going to be oil. That’s been displaced, he says, by financial markets that “are coming apart at the seams…due to sequential national bankruptcies in Europe. This contagious political crisis underway looks like it will soon destroy the Euro, and it has shoved the oil predicament to the sidelines.”

The problems he lists haven’t been dealt with because, as Kunstler says, there’s been, “A failure of leadership plain and simple. Nobody has been held accountable for demolishing the banking system.”
Kunstler voted for Barack Obama but has since become deeply disillusioned. “I feel that his failure to uphold the federal statutes against systematic racketeering ought to be an impeachable offense. Of course those in the legislative branch who might bring such a proceeding are themselves bought and paid for by the very racketeers in question. I agree with those who say this is now a political crisis of the basic legitimacy of governance.”

“We’re not entitled to a happy ending,” he says.

Ploughshares

But that’s the big picture. Kunstler has some hope for localities, as he illustrated in both of his recent novels. And of Transition efforts he thinks the people are, “earnest and fairly realistic by and large. Most of them seem to understand the losses we face. They want to continue some semblance of civilized living in the face of all that. I wouldn’t discount them.

But he’s less patient with pie-in-the-sky visions that have no basis in resource reality. “I have a bigger beef with the bigtime professional enviro-greenies like Amory Lovins at the Rocky Mountain Institute, who promote techno-fantasies about running all the cars by other means – as if car dependency itself were not a problem.”

Car-dependency is a huge problem for Kunstler. When he’s not bemoaning the attitude behind “happy motoring” he’s railing against cars and roads as a dying paradigm. “Anyone who is interested in how I see things working out can read my ‘post-oil’ novels: World Made By Hand and The Witch of Hebron. I think we’ll lose a lot and gain a lot at the same time.”

But Kunstler doesn’t think that much advance talk on Peak Oil will move the needle in public perception. He thinks the general public wont pay attention until they’re “marooned in their driveways.”

He puts it bluntly. “We are unable to construct a coherent consensus about what is happening to us and what we ought to do about it. Life is tragic. Sometimes societies make terrible mistakes. Just because you collectively lose your sense of consequences doesn’t mean that you don’t have to live with consequences.”

Fortunately for him he can paint, tell a story, build things.

And he’s basically cheery.

We pass 750,000 hits

SUBHEAD: Since beginning our blogspot format for Island Breath we have had posted over 2000 articles and had 750,000 hits. Mahalo.  

By Juan Wilson on 5 December 2010 in Island Breath.org-
(http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2010/12/we-over-750000-hits.html)

 
Image above: Rolling over 750,000 site hits and over 2000 articles.


 Linda Pascatore and I have been publishing the Island Breath website since January 1st 2004.

Until mid 2006 we did not monitor traffic and do not know visitor counts. In the early days the most prolific contributors to the site were Ray Chuan, Ken Taylor and Judy Dalton. Even with their great support we were averaged about one article a day. Since then we have used StatCounter.com and have kept statistics.

From mid 2006 to the end of 2009 we averaged about 300 reader hits a day. That includes the high tide period lasting over a year when the SuperFerry issue raised average readership to over 600 a day. At he end of 2009 we reformatted the site using www.blogspot.com technology.

Since then, and the expansion of our editorial staff to include David Ward, Brad Parsons and Jonthan Jay we have greatly increased the number or articles we are posting. We are now averaging several articles posted a day. From January 1st 2009 we have posted over 2000 articles. Readership is up as well.

In the first year and a half of the new format we averaged less than 500 hits a day. In the last month that number has been about 900 a day and climbing. There is one caveat. We have a disproportionate number of new readers and therefore a lower percentage of repeat visitors. Looking at the path of new visitors to the site suggests that searches for graphic images is an important way for people to discover our site.

The overall pattern of statistics also suggests to me that we need more contributions from readers on issues specific to Kauai and the people who live here. Moreover, we probably scare some readers away with what is often called "doomster-porn". I admit we are a bit shrill with the disaster sirens around here. In our defense, I think there is a tsunami of change to get prepared for.

On the other hand, after a while the siren is just annoying to those that have already gotten the message. I hope in 2011, as others take of the cry for addressing collapse of the old system, we can move on to sharing more on solutions and celebrating their success.

Ultimately, I believe those solutions will drive this site out of business. If I can get a hand cranked mimeograph machine the future of Island Breath may be to circulate our poems and recipes. My thanks to the editorial staff and thank you visitors and especially you contributors. .

A New Era???

SUBHEAD: Decline is the new normal. The only remaining US growth industries are food-stamps and poverty.  

By Steve Ludlum on 4 December 2010 in Economic Undertow - 
(http://economic-undertow.blogspot.com/2010/12/new-era.html)

 
Image above: Seven-Eleven signals policy on Slurpee purchase payments. From (http://www.moonbattery.com/archives/2010/08/so-there-are-li.html).
"Buy some silver and put JP Morgan-Chase out of its misery." - Max Keiser
Seems JP is naked shorting silver and has large exposure. Buying metal is supposed to cause JP to cover its shorts and lose a couple hundred million dollars. OUCH! That has to hurt!
"For a nation that is a net debtor, deflation is tantamount to suicide. But other nations, most recently Germany in the past century, committed a form of national suicide in service to hubris, and an elite few, and a mistaken understanding of what constitutes a civil society and what it means to be human." - Jesse @ Cafe Americain
Not so fast, Jesse! Suicide might be painless but what are the alternatives? Forget the silver, buy a longer-dated Brent crude futures contract. Better yet, buy a hundred of them. Put crude futures into contango where they belong. Follow Mr. Bernanke and his drive to inflate crude prices up to $148 a barrel.

Watch what happens next! Better 'put in' some canned beans, 100lbs of rice, some gallons of bottled water, onions, some silver coins, some extra socks and toilet paper. A good, working firearm might not be a bad idea, either. It might take awhile for the 'authorities' to put the food distribution system back to some sort of working order. Doing so will be that much harder after cell phones and the Internet go out.

 Let's run the video tape back to summer of 2008. Much of the world's airline industry was at the edge of collapse during that period. So was the trucking industry in Europe due to extreme prices that made transport unprofitable.

The US trucking industry was on the knife edge, so was the international shipping industry. There were food shortages and riots. The US auto industry did indeed collapse, so did banks and most of shadow banking. In 2008, were were a lot richer, not so now! If deflation is suicide for a debtor what is inflation to an importer of 60% of its fuel supply?

Crash the dollar with 'devaluation' and the US becomes a non-industrial country in a heartbeat! The dollar is the only asset the US has to trade outside of 'Matrix' and 'Spiderman' movies. And $148 oil will destroy the waste-based USA-style economy completely.

Forget about $200 or $300 oil. We will never get there, world demand will collapse first. Our economy is running on intravenous infusions of Fed-administered adrenaline.

Our almighty business and finance institutions are ruins cobbled together with duct tape and coat-hanger wire. Finance's business plan is forbearance on its toxic assets and swindles perpetrated on its own customers. Social upheaval is another few percentage points of unemployment out of reach. As such, 2008 was just a trial run! Getting Brent futures above $100 dollars ought to do the trick.

The suicidal hedge funds and 'long only' speculators will do the rest, piling into crude just because the market is going up. The same thing is happening right now in gold. The economy is tolerant of insanely high gold prices. Not so with crude oil. Speculators would use the recent IEA World Energy Outlook and its 'Peak Oil' imprimatur to justify price increases.

The rise itself, the inevitable crash and the post-crash repegging of dollars to crude would drive a stake through the heart of finance both in the US and elsewhere. This is Bernanke's nightmare. It is also his unavoidable reality. You only have to kick in the door with $145 crude and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.

 Bernanke's reality: $146 isn't necessary, today's high prices are already doing the job, unraveling the "non- negotiable American Way of life" from the bottom up. It is beyond the grasp of the establishment and its thousands of economists to see what is taking place right under its collective nose!

The reason fuel prices are high is because all the easy crude has been wasted. There is nothing left but crude that is ever-more costly to produce and refine.

Deflation may be suicide but so is fuel price inflation. Deflation is a hunger strike. Inflation and run-away crude prices are a gun in the mouth. Bernanke is not stupid. His game isn't inflation, anyway, it is putting money in his friend's pockets by trading their worthless 'assets' for cash. If the big shots want cash there must be something to it. Talking down the dollar is PR for the 'little peeple'. US and Brent crude are now at yearly highs and with the latter + $91 a barrel. The price of crude right now is so high it's scary.

How can high prices be supported by a world economy that is on the ropes? In the US and in parts of the developed world there are two more-or-less separate economies occupying the same geographic space: a finance economy that exists to make money with money. This economy is in the grip of hyper-inflation, fueled by super-easy zero-interest-rate monetary policy, fiscal excess, foreign exchange manipulation and blown-out moral hazard.

The parallel economy is the physical or 'real' economy which is made up of the business of providing goods and services out of raw materials.

This economy is in severe deflation. The two-way economy picture is what most analysts' miss. Within the finance economy, almost all the markets are bull markets. They have to be, it is the only way the Bernanke Money Laundry can operate; worthless assets paid for with margin are swapped for cash.

Bear markets are undesirable because they suck all the liquidity out of markets forcing prices down. This defeats the purpose of the money laundry which aims to swap assets at some sort of par. Bernanke's deal is to retrieve what assets can be swapped for cash as long as the market participants are disciplined and don't panic.

While Bernanke's nonsense is taking place, high 'asset' prices for energy are rendering downstream business activities unprofitable for the 'real' economy.

This loss of profitability is one reason for the ascent of finance in the first place. It is also a reason for finance's increasing instability. The right foot of asset price inflation presses on the gas pedal of the finance economy while the left foot simultaneously pushes down on the brake pedal of the real economy. It is the inflation in finance that captures the attention of analysts who fail to note the deflation that is obvious in property, wages and other important sectors of the real economy. High asset prices don't push up wages but instead allocate customers out of markets and into tent cities.

With the customers go business profits. Ruin of the real economy leaves money speculation as the only pathway to yield. Success of the US economy as a whole going forward depends increasingly upon it winning a finance lottery: one that has America's once-marvelous physical economy lurching toward energy insolvency.

Because the Establishment does not recognize the two economies as separate entities it disregards the effects of asset price hyper-inflation until it is too late. Losses in the real economy effect finance as they must show up somewhere, either in unemployment or in reduced top-line revenue for companies. Finance incentives are perverse: business bottom-line profits are made by interest rate or stock speculations.

Companies hire money and fire work forces. These tactics create the illusion of productivity increases while real output remains flat or declines. Companies can -- and do -- book profits but without expanding customer bases the companies eventually shrivel and die. The alternative is for 'real' companies to take on the characteristics of finance companies.

Devoid of top-line business growth and profits, companies become hedge funds then zombies dependent upon cheap credit -- adrenaline -- directly or indirectly from central banks. Profits are earned by shuffling funds between accounts, evading taxes and hiding others' top- line profits overseas. Parts of the real economy have adapted to the steady increase in crude prices since 2004. Most if not all businesses dependent upon $20 oil have already failed.

The weight these failures and their laid-off employees has been lifted. Businesses requiring $30 oil are also long gone as are those dependent upon $40 and $50 oil. In the current real economy, businesses pick their spots.

The penalty for higher fuel prices still falls on employees, who tend to be replaced by automation, or whose jobs follow profits overseas or who are not replaced at all. High priced machines using higher priced fuels are still a bargain compared to humans which waste even more fuel than so far do the production machines that replace them.

Many of the machines' costs are shifted elsewhere by subsidies and tax benefits. The outcome in real terms is still decline as the absent workers and absent wages represent sales and profits that have vanished forever. Decline is the new normal. The only remaining growth industry in the US is food stamps and poverty.



This chart is from the estimable Bill McBride @ Calculated Risk indicates the decline in US automobile sales from the plateau that ended in 2008. Even as the media insists on auto sales 'recovery!' the market for US cars has shrunk by a third.

The same is true in most US real estate markets; certainly true in labor markets, also in wages, as has been the case for job openings for recent college graduates Wages for college-educated are declining as well.

Declining wages are a large component of deflation. Without high wages there is shrinking final demand to support higher prices. Value-sucking finance is becoming an expensive luxury that the real economy cannot afford to support much longer. Unfortunately, finance has obtained a privileged position within the establishment, it can create (an illusion of) wealth and political largess that the physical economy cannot provide.

Having compromised governments worldwide, it has become almost impossible for currently-constituted governments to properly remediate finance's excesses and failures. In this sense, suicide at some level is baked into Marie Antoinette's cake. .