Thursday, March 12, 2009

The looting of America’s coffers

David Leonhardt reports in The New York Times :

Sixteen years ago, two economists published a research paper with a delightfully simple title: “Looting.”

The economists were George Akerlof, who would later win a Nobel Prize, and Paul Romer, the renowned expert on economic growth. In the paper, they argued that several financial crises in the 1980s, like the Texas real estate bust, had been the result of private investors taking advantage of the government. The investors had borrowed huge amounts of money, made big profits when times were good and then left the government holding the bag for their eventual (and predictable) losses.

In a word, the investors looted. Someone trying to make an honest profit, Professors Akerlof and Romer said, would have operated in a completely different manner. The investors displayed a “total disregard for even the most basic principles of lending,” failing to verify standard information about their borrowers or, in some cases, even to ask for that information.

The investors “acted as if future losses were somebody else's problem,” the economists wrote. “They were right.”

On Tuesday morning in Washington, Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, gave a speech that read like a sad coda to the “Looting” paper. Because the government is unwilling to let big, interconnected financial firms fail — and because people at those firms knew it — they engaged in what Mr. Bernanke called “excessive risk-taking.” To prevent such problems in the future, he called for tougher regulation.

Now, it would have been nice if the Fed had shown some of this regulatory zeal before the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. But that day has passed. So people are rightly starting to think about building a new, less vulnerable financial system.

And “Looting” provides a really useful framework. The paper's message is that the promise of government bailouts isn't merely one aspect of the problem. It is the core problem.

Promised bailouts mean that anyone lending money to Wall Street — ranging from small-time savers like you and me to the Chinese government — doesn't have to worry about losing that money. The United States Treasury (which, in the end, is also you and me) will cover the losses. In fact, it has to cover the losses, to prevent a cascade of worldwide losses and panic that would make today's crisis look tame.

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Counseling the President on 'how to torture and get away with it'

Via George

From Newly Released Secret Memos Provide the Blueprint for Bush's Police State by Marjorie Cohn

Seven newly released memos from the Bush Justice Department reveal a concerted strategy to cloak the President with power to override the Constitution. The memos provide "legal" rationales for the President to suspend freedom of speech and press; order warrantless searches and seizures, including wiretaps of U.S. citizens; lock up U.S. citizens indefinitely in the United States without criminal charges; send suspected terrorists to other countries where they will likely be tortured; and unilaterally abrogate treaties. According to the reasoning in the memos, Congress has no role to check and balance the executive. That is the definition of a police state.

Who wrote these memos? All but one were crafted in whole or in part by the infamous John Yoo and Jay Bybee, authors of the so-called "torture memos" that redefined torture much more narrowly than the U.S. definition of torture, and counseled the President how to torture and get away with it. In one memo, Yoo said the Justice Department would not enforce U.S. laws against torture, assault, maiming and stalking, in the detention and interrogation of enemy combatants.

What does the federal maiming statute prohibit? It makes it a crime for someone "with the intent to torture, maim, or disfigure" to "cut, bite, or slit the nose, ear or lip, or cut out or disable the tongue, or put out or destroy an eye, or cut off or disable a limb or any member of another person." It further prohibits individuals from "throwing or pouring upon another person any scalding water, corrosive acid, or caustic substance" with like intent.

The two torture memos were later withdrawn after they became public because their legal reasoning was clearly defective. But they remained in effect long enough to authorize the torture and abuse of many prisoners in U.S. custody.

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Were the Ainu "Nomads of the Wind?"

From The Relationship Between The Basque And Ainu by Edo Nyland

...A number of stone circles have also been found, similar to those in Cornwall (England) and Senegal (North-West Africa). A few still have the slender upright stone in the center, also found in the British Isles and elsewhere in Atlantic Europe and N.W. Africa. Around 300 B.C., Mongolian type people moved in from Korea and aggressively forced the Ainu north onto the large island of Hokkaido where an estimated 17,000 of them are still living. Some 10 dialects have been recognized, such as those of Sakhalin, Hokkaido and the Kurils, but several are at the point of being lost for ever...

...The name Amaterasu is made up with the vowel-interlocking Ogam formula, which was surprising to me because in the Ainu language itself there is not a hint of this agglutinating formula. I then searched for more Japanese names and words which were assembled with the vowel-interlocking Ogam formula and found many such as Kamikaze and Samurai. The surprise which came from this comparison was that those words which showed vowel-interlocking were usually associated with fighting and male domination. This appeared to be true all over the Pacific, including Peru and Mexico. Could this mean that there were two major migrations, the first one many millennia ago from Mesopotamia which brought the peaceful people of the Goddess to the Pacific and a much later one, missionary based, bringing aggressive male domination and the language-distorting vowel-consonant-vowel (VCV) formula to these same areas?

None of the Ainu words were exactly the same as in Basque, but many were extremely close such as ikoro and koro (money), kokor and gogor (to scold), tasum and eritasun (illness), iska and xiska (to steal). A surprise was the Ainu word nok (testicle) which is much like the Basque word noka (familiarity with women). In English slang the same word is used in "to knock up" meaning "to cause a woman to become pregnant." In Indonesian nok means "unmarried young woman," while dénok means "slender, elegant woman." In Dutch slang the word is slightly altered to neuk (sexual intercourse). There is little doubt that the word goes way back to the Neolithic or even Paleolithic. From the following comparisons it seems clear to me that Ainu and Basque are genetically related. In comparing Ainu with Dravidian, I did not find such a relationship, although Dravidian itself is obviously also related to Basque. Two separate branches of the same tree?...

...There are indications that the Ainu sailed regularly to Alaska to obtain reindeer hides from the Aleuts established there, which they needed for their sails, exactly the same as was done by the Basques, the Irish and Scots who went to Arctic Norway for their reindeer-leather sails (Mt. Komsa people). The Ainu must have been great long-distance sea-farers to keep up contact with their home-base which may have been in Mesopotamia. All over the Pacific this incredible sailing tradition waned fast when the social structure changed after the coming of European or Asiatic domination. Today the Ainu still sail the ocean but mostly on fishing trips. The complex navigational techniques, acquired over millennia had been the property of a few special families and were never popular wisdom. They are now lost. The astonishing amount of astronomical knowledge which the members of such navigator families had to memorize was taught them at a very young age and was built up during a lifetime on the ocean. To these highly skilled and proud people the Pacific was no hostile place, the ocean was their life and joy, and an indispensible part of their culture. Only in the Carolines the ancient spirit, some of the secret navigational techniques and much astronomical wisdom has been maintained to this day. All this is described in a wonderful book called: We, the Navigators by David Lewis.

The people who sailed the Pacific without the aid of instruments have recently been called the "Nomads of the Wind", a most appropriate title for these courageous and resourceful people. The Ainu appeared to have been the avant garde of the Pacific migration. The desertification of the Sahara had probably forced these tribes to flee for their lives. It was then that the name "Africa" was coined: af.-.ri-ika, afa-ari-ika: afa (happy) arinari eman (to escape) ikara (terror): Happy to have escaped the terror. Some of these displaced tribes sailed around Asia and started to populate the nearest Pacific islands, all of them speaking the same universal language and bringing along the same religion.

While looking in more detail at the names in the Pacific, I found that many of the Pacific islands had names which could be translated with the Basque dictionary such as: "Tahiti", from tahi-iti, tahiu (appearance) iti (ox): "Resembles an ox" the sharp pointed mountains indeed resemble ox horns. Or: "Rapa Nui" (Easter Island), arra-apa ' nui, erraldoi (giant) aparta (far, far away), nui (enormous, in Hawaiian): "Enormous giants, far, far away". Or: "Hawaii", ha'u-ahi: ha'u (this one) ahigarri (exhausting): This one is exhausting! It still is. Or: "Papua", apapua (living in poverty); stone age people don't own much, they don't pollute and they live as part of nature. One tantalizing hint comes from Peru where the patriarchal Incas established a complex civilization, complete with highly evolved Sumerian-type irrigation. The Incas were living gods and the Basque word for "God" is ainkoa!

See also:
Mystery shrouds the ancient Oshoro circle

The holographic transdimentional system you know as life

Via Marina's Masters:
Featuring Noted Experts - Fred Alan Wolf, Peter Russell, Professor Al-Khalili, York Dobyns, Robert Anton Wilson, Dean Radin, Richard Alan Miller, Michael Talbot, Gregg Braden, Professor David Deutsch, David Wilcock, Khemp Yurmed Tinly, Nassim Naramein, John Hagelin, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, David Bohm, Bill Hicks Consciousness, Mind, Brain, Reality, Atoms, Quantum, Parallel Universe, Light, Particles, Space, Time, Hologram, Entanglement, Superposition, Duality, Observer Effect, Energy, Words, Illusion, Ego, Perception, Infinate, Senses, Science, Information, Digital, Vibration, Imagination
+++ Truth revealed by +++

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh describes 'executive assassination ring'

Eric Black reports in the Minneapolis Post :

At a “Great Conversations” event at the University of Minnesota last night, legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh may have made a little more news than he intended by talking about new alleged instances of domestic spying by the CIA, and about an ongoing covert military operation that he called an “executive assassination ring.”

Hersh spoke with great confidence about these findings from his current reporting, which he hasn't written about yet.

In an email exchange afterward, Hersh said that his statements were “an honest response to a question” from the event's moderator, U of M Political Scientist Larry Jacobs and “not something I wanted to dwell about in public.”

Hersh didn't take back the statements, which he said arise from reporting he is doing for a book, but that it might be a year or two before he has what he needs on the topic to be “effective...that is, empirical, for even the most skeptical.”

The evening of great conversation, featuring Walter Mondale and Hersh, moderated by Jacobs and titled “America's Constitutional Crisis,” looked to be a mostly historical review of events that have tested our Constitution, by a journalist and a high government officials who had experience with many of the crises.

And it was mostly historical, and a great conversation, in which Hersh and Mondale talked about the patterns by which presidents seem to get intoxicated by executive power, frustrated by the limitations on that power from Congress and the public, drawn into improper covert actions that exceed their constitutional powers, in the belief that they can get results and will never be found out. Despite a few references to the Founding Fathers, the history was mostly recent, starting with the Viethnam War with much of it arising from the George W. Bush administration, which both men roundly denounced.

At the end of one answer by Hersh about how these things tend to happen, Jacobs asked: “And do they continue to happen to this day?”

Replied Hersh:

“Yuh. After 9/11, I haven't written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven't been called on it yet. That does happen.

"Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command -- JSOC it's called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. ...

"Congress has no oversight of it. It's an executive assassination ring essentially, and it's been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.

"Under President Bush's authority, they've been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That's been going on, in the name of all of us.

"It's complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It's a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you've heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized.

"In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.

"I've had people say to me -- five years ago, I had one say: 'What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don't get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?'

"But they're not gonna get before a committee.”

Hersh, the best-known investigative reporter of his generation, writes about these kinds of issues for The New Yorker. He has written often about JSOC, including, last July that:

“Under the Bush Administration's interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference.”

(“Finding” refers to a special document that a president must issue, although not make public, to authorize covert CIA actions.)

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Baby boomers' future going bust

Mike Shedlock reports in The Market Oracle :

Millions of baby boomers born into the dawn of the most spectacular economic expansion in history are being forced to re-imagine their retirement futures. Few news outlets have failed to seize upon the low-hanging pun: the boomers have gone bust.

Among the adjustments forced by the new circumstances, perhaps the cruelest twist for many boomers is the need to join younger generations in the roommate queue. The housing crash has forced record numbers of late-middle age homeowners to take in boarders or risk becoming boarders themselves. From California to Vermont, home-share organizations founded to assist the elderly are scrambling to meet the demands of newly bust boomers.

“In the last few months we've experienced explosive growth in interest by homeowners age 50-plus to find rooms and roommates,” says Jacqueline Grossmann, Chicago coordinator for the National Shared Housing Resource Center. “The trend now is getting younger and younger. People in their 50s and 60s are losing their nest eggs and increasingly willing to give up their privacy in exchange for rents of $500, $600 a month.”

Boomers are maximizing room occupancy for the same reason that their kids in their 20s and 30s are still competing for the best group rentals on Craigslist: they're broke.

The extent to which boomer wealth was based on home values is highlighted by a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, entitled "The Wealth of the Baby Boom Cohorts After the Collapse of the Housing Bubble."

The report details how the collapse has left the majority of those around retirement-age almost completely reliant on entitlements. The net worth of median households in the 45 to 54 age bracket has dropped by more than 45 percent since 2004, to just over $80,000. Households headed by those aged 55 to 64, meanwhile, have lost 38 percent of net wealth.

The result is that many baby boomers will only have entitlements to rely on in their retirement.”

Make that entitlements, roommates, and each other.

As more and more boomers scale down their retirement plans and consider alternative living arrangements, it's worth asking: Is shared housing such a bad thing for aging boomers? Does a return to the Communal idea, borne of economic necessity, also have emotional, social, and environmental benefits? Why wait for the retirement home or hospice to live with other people? With the nation full of worthless, ridiculously large, and mostly empty houses, why not fill them with the newly penurious and like-minded boomers in need of housing?

Terry S., a 62-year-old self-employed divorced psychologist in Pittsburgh, is one boomer considering the cooperative housing route. Until the crisis hit last year, Terry planned to spend her retirement between Europe and New York City, living off her IRA and savings. But the crash saw her wealth plummet by 60 percent. “My friends and I feel betrayed because we are now in the same or worse position than those who never saved their money, but may have a pension,” she says. The crisis forced her to rethink retirement, and she now plans to buy a house with her friends. She explains the logic:

Some of my friends and I shared a communal house in the 70s. We first came up with this idea [of doing it again] when we were talking about the possibility of having to live in assisted living or nursing homes, and we decided it would be far better to all live together in a big house with friends we knew and loved and hire a nurse and a cook. One of my friends owns a construction firm and he says he can put an elevator in any home for less than $100,000. We have looked at several homes. One was a beautiful house that backed onto a huge city park and had a pool decks all around and could easily be converted into four private residences. It was $600,000, which would only be $150,000 per unit. Much less than the $4,000 a month to have half of a dingy room in a nursing home that smells like urine.

If the deepening economic crisis does lead the boomers back to Countercultural values, a generation will have come full circle. Whether they end up living in a group house, a shared apartment, or a full-on hippie-style commune, studies show that they will live longer and more fulfilling later lives. “The results here are truly amazing,” says Kirby Dunn, pointing to studies that gauge the effects of shared housing. “Across all programs and age-brackets, people say they feel safer, are less lonely, happier, and sleep better. They also call their family less often for help.”

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The diachronic Greek history of Macedonia is at the core of the current FYROM name dispute

'Tymphaios' writes in American Chronicle :

A cult of identification of the modern inhabitants of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has grown since 1992, with the aim of portraying FYROM as an inheritor and indeed the single inheritor of all things Macedonian. This culture, aided by laws that forbid scientific research in FYROM on the origins of its inhabitants, strives to take away from Greece and especially from the Greek administrative district of Macedonia almost anything that forms part of its Macedonian heritage.

It is uncomfortable to me as a Greek to have to defend Hellenism, especially to a man as blinded with hatred as Risto Stefov. One hopes that by arguing something reasonably, the discourse will benefit everybody. The recent polemics of Risto Stefov (beginning with American Chronicle, 4 Jan 2009 might especially create the false impression to the unknowing public that Greeks have made connections to the ancients using some racial purity argument. Or even that foreigners made such racial links to the ancients on the Greeks´ behalf. Even that this happened unpredictably when no one considered the Greeks to be Greeks. He quotes much from his friend Gandeto, a man he describes as an eminent historian, but who swears a lot. He includes gossip from an Albanian friend of his as evidence about the existence of an allegedly unreported, concealed minority of 3,5 million Albanians in Greece, a country with a population of 11 million. Stefov carefully omits the vast majority of evidence which does not confirm his allegations. Often he does not give references to his sources but pulls accusations out of his hat as if it were an established fact and well known – perhaps it is well known to some of his friends.

The links of the Greeks with diachronic Greek history, language and culture are simply due to a historic continuity, a continuity of language and customs that has survived if altered down to our own time. Greeks are Greeks in the same sense that Italians regard themselves as Italian and the Spanish as Spanish. The language is sufficient without the need to justify their Italianness or Spanisheness by some genetic test, some new discovery or by historical revisionism. For that kind of practice, Mr Stefov ought to look closer at home. While the question of getting a certificate of genetic identity had never occurred to the ancients, the recent Skopjian claims of genetic purity and genetic links to the ancient Macedonians are well beyond the pail. Examples are (a) a highly vaulted in FYROM but otherwise widely discredited study of the HLA gene carried out by FYROM scientists which allegedly proves that the FYROMians are Macedonians while the Greeks and Japanese are Ethiopians, and (b) a recent video made by FYROM state TV where God appears saying among else: "Listen to me, children of the sun and flowers! I, God, created the Macedonoids from which the white race sprung, inhabiting the lands far to the Japan Sea. The other races are Mongoloids and Negroids. All other peoples are of a mixed race". (

If one looks carefully, the video also shows the Greek adminsitrative provinces of Macedonia and Thrace while the praying voice laments, claiming that many "Macedonians" (presumably FYROMian Slavs) have died for them.

Risto Stefov conveniently skips most of the Greek history of Macedonia to make some racial arguments about the modern Greeks. As that leaves the majority of the relevant facts aside, let us rather take the ancients first. We are primarily concerned about the identity of the Macedonians and they were ancient. It should be made clear from the outset that the ancient Macedonians had Greek names, their cities had Greek names and that they had temples and altars dedicated to the gods of the Greek pantheon as the other Greeks. The cult of the Olympian gods in Greece was a religion centered on Mount Olympus in Macedonia. The Macedonian coins had the names of their kings written in Greek. The currency was the drachma as in the rest of Greece as far back as records exist (5th C BC). They had theatres where it is known that plays written only in Greek were played and they spread the Greek language and culture to the lands in Asia conquered by Alexander. All inscriptions found in Macedonia before Roman times only had Greek writing on them – more than 5000 in number. Where hints of the spoken language and grammar survive, as in a katadesmos (magic curse) from Pella, it was in a form of Doric Greek.

"Macedonia, of course, is a part of Greece".

Strabo, VII, Frg. 9 (Loeb, H.L. Jones).

Macedonians participated in the Olympic Games, which at the time were open only to Greeks. Not only are the names of several Macedonian Olympic champions known, but dedications to Macedonian Olympic victors were erected in Olympia itself and were described by Pausanias. The Macedonians had athletic competitions of their own, such as the Olympics of Dion, taking place at the start of the Macedonian month of Dios (month of Zeus), which also marked the start of the Macedonian new year. The city of Dion (Dium), where the games took place, was located at the foothills of Mount Olympus and was suitably dedicated to Zeus. Dion had an important temple dedicated to Zeus, just as Athens was dedicated to Athena and the Parthenon was her best known temple in ancient Greece.

[ ... ]

It does not require a genetic test for a special gene for one to prove they are Greek, as seems to be the current mind frame in FYROM. Greece is not a genetic marker but a culture and an idea, the idea Alexander spread to Asia, that the Byzantines brought to Europe, the idea of freedom of expression, of free education and free enquiry. That is Greece. It does not matter if one is Albanian or American, but apparently it is to Skopjians an unacceptable idea. Risto Stefov, in his recent exposition of his racist views in the American Chronicle, attempts to surprise the world (but surprises only himself) with a view that Athens and the Peloponnesus were inhabited by large numbers of Albanians during Ottoman times. Nevertheless these Christian Albanians rose together with the Greeks elsewhere for the freedom of Greece. That the Greek language survived in those difficult times in folksong, in the language of the Orthodox liturgy, in the Greek schools under special privileges permitted in Istanbul (such as the Great School of the Genos – Megale tou Genous Schole), and in regions enjoying special autonomy in Mani, Zagori, in later periods indeed also in Macedonia, and in parts of Asia and Europe, where Greeks also lived, worked and studied, that is to Stefov of no consequence. It can be ignored through the exercise of free will.

Moreover, if some of those who fought for the freedom of Greece were speaking Albanian, that to Stefov means that the Macedonians were not Greeks. So Greece perhaps is not a country today or perhaps it became free out of Turkish courtesy and those who died for its freedom were not meaning to fight for Greece after all…

Indeed, people of Albanian and Slavic descent fought among the Greeks for the freedom of Greece from the Ottoman yoke. The issue is not race, as it appears to the Skopjian mind that seeks a national purity in undiscovered "Macedonian" genes. Racial considerations were not what has determined Greek identity through time but the allegiance to the idea of freedom, of political freedom, of free enquiry and of social equality and the use of the Greek language as a medium for social and political life. In fact, a key element of the Hellenic liberation of historic Macedonia and its union with Greece was the loyalty shown by those Orthodox Macedonians who spoke a language they called po nashi ("our own"). It was a unique combination of Greek and Slavic that existed only in oral form and which continues to be spoken in villages in western Macedonia (in Greece) today. Macedonians who spoke either 'po nashi', Greek or both were critical to the liberation of the Florina and Kastoria districts in western Macedonia (in Greece). Alarmed at the infiltration of agents provocateur sponsored by the Bulgarian Kingdom and by a lack of support from a Hellenic Kingdom devastated by the disastrous war of 1897, individual po nashi-speaking Macedonians took it upon themselves to resist both the Bulgarian efforts of Risto Stefov´s ancestors to assimilate them and also resisted the oppression of the Ottoman Empire. Their efforts are today honored with memorials and museums all over western Macedonia.

Once liberated, Macedonia became an administrative district of the Kingdom of Greece in 1912. That the affiliation of the Macedonians was a Greek one is obvious from the fact that other areas of the Ottoman empire that fell to the other Balkan nations were named Blagoevgrad district (in Bulgaria), South Serbia and Kosovo in Serbia and variously for the other Balkan nations – but no other region was named Macedonia until Tito had an afterthought in 1945. However, an ethnicity cannot jump from one people to another – indeed their erstwhile mortal enemies – as a pretext for the annexation of their land. Neither can ethnicity possibly be moved from one people to another as an act of self-determination. To be a Macedonian is to be Greek.

"I shall not indulge in a lecture on the ancient identity of the Macedonians and on Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great, but the Greeks were historically correct in the campaign that they launched in the early days of the dispute…"

"Nor shall I engage in a lecture on the falsification of the history of Slavo-Macedonia since 1944, although that, too, has much hard factual content. I simply remind the House that Tito´s renaming of Vardar Banovina as the Republic of Macedonia in 1944 was a political statement."

Mr. Edward O´Hara of the British Parliament

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Beat movement redux or what would Jack do?

Gloria Bailen reports in The Boston Globe :

In 1946, Herbert Huncke told Jack Kerouac that being "beat" is the condition of being beaten down, or poor. But apparently, Huncke, a street hustler and drug addict, was also the eternal optimist: "To be down and out is to increase one's ability to see oneself clearly."

Could today's doomsday economics, cultural bankruptcy, and "why they hate us" value system signal an end to this reality-show era and the beginning of a newfangled "beat movement?" Sort of a Zen, hipster version of "Change You Can Believe In"?

Who today isn't questioning and redefining how to live our lives? We all want change, need change, but how much are we truly willing to change our mind-set and recalibrate our priorities? I realize, I'm one of the lucky ones. I don't personally know anyone duped in a Ponzi scheme, I still own my home (at least this month), and (as of today) still have a job, but fear is in the air, and I find myself reevaluating what's really important. Sometimes I wonder, WWJD? Well, what would Jack do?

During an interview for a documentary about Keraouc's novel "Big Sur," writer Aram Saroyan told me Kerouac was ". . . just like a little kid exploring in nature, and who else dared to do that because you had to have the big study and the big literary career and everything, and he just - he just wasn't buying it."

He wasn't buying it alright. In fact, he flat-out rejected anything that reeked of the conformity of the post-war, consumer society of the Eisenhower years. He never owned a car, he bought his lumberjack shirts and dungarees at the Salvation Army, and he considered Jello a major food group. Perhaps Kerouac was a bit extreme at times (and a preponderance of alcohol could have made "doing without" a tad easier), but aren't we on to something here?

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The ice cream gurus screaming for justice

From Hurriyet :

ISTANBUL - Ben & Jerry's 'Flavor Fathers' are in Istanbul seeking inspiration for new ice cream concotions. Speaking of their love for Baklava and spices, they travel the world in search of the perfect combination, as well as the most ethical way of producing it

The ice cream gurus screaming for justice It is just as important to make products with "great value in terms of justice" as it is to turn a profit, said representatives of Ben and Jerry's ice cream company on Monday, in Istanbul on a search for new varieties of the dessert.

Peter Lind and Arnold Carbone are the flavor directors of Ben and Jerry's, the famous north American ice cream company, and have been working together for over 20 years. They travel the world and ask local customers for inspiration, inventing over a hundred tastes each year, only to have a final handful translated into mass production.

Flavor gurus

The "flavor gurus" are on the first part of their world tour organized around the "do the world a flavor" competition in which participants from 25 countries are tasked with creating a new flavor for the popular company.

With famously irreverent names such as "peace of cake" and "yes Pecan!", a reference to Obama, aspiring flavor creators were also asked to name their concoctions. "A little known secret of success is too make sure your product name begins with 'Ch,'", Lind joked, referring to the flavors 'Cherry Garcia' and 'Chunky Monkey' two popular varieties created by consumers via competitions such as this one. Participants were presented with a long table of ingredients, vanilla and chocolate ice cream and told to create a taste, as well as an accompanying name and packaging design.

Recipes can be posted on line as well as on Facebook, and anyone can submit an idea. Users of the social networking site can vote on the most creative combination (without actually trying them).

The winner in each country will be flown to the Dominican Republic for a week to experience a cocoa cooperative on which some of Ben and Jerry's chocolate is made.

Fair trade is an essential part of Ben and Jerry's philosophy, whose mission statement has centered itself in equal parts on product quality, economic competitiveness and social awareness, since its inception in a renovated gas-station in small town Vermont in 1977.

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Pioneering midwife touts 'orgasmic birth'

Despite living on a commune in rural Tennessee, Ina May Gaskin has had the kind of career success most people only dream about.

A midwife who never formally studied nursing, Gaskin has helped to bring home birth and lay midwifery back from the brink of extinction in the U.S. An obstetrical maneuver she learned from the indigenous Mayans of Guatemala has made it into scientific journals and medical textbooks, and her insistence on the rights of a birthing mother empowered a generation of women to demand changes from doctors and hospitals.

[ ... ]

Gaskin largely blames the nation's rising maternal death rate on the increase in Caesarean section births and the drugs sometimes used to induce labor.

The National Center for Health Statistics reported last month that the maternal death rate for 2005 has risen to about 15 women per 100,000 live births, more than double the 1998 rate of 7.

At least part of that increase is due to better reporting, but researchers say Caesareans also may be a factor.

Promoting natural birth
Gaskin passionately believes natural childbirth is the answer. The number of women giving birth with a midwife has doubled over the last decade and accounts for about 8 percent of births today — the vast majority in hospitals. Still, she says it's a challenge to promote natural birth to a generation that favors comfort and convenience.

Promoting home births is an even tougher sell. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has continuously warned against home births as too risky.

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See also: Orgasmic Birth: The Natural Reality Behind The Hype

Ethiopia: Authority urges paradigm shift in agriculture law on genetically modified organisms proposed

From Binyam Tamene for All :

Addis Ababa — Amid the price of chemical fertilizer showing little sign of decreasing, Federal Environmental Protection Authority urged on Tuesday for a paradigm shift to ecological agriculture.

Dr. Teweldeberhan Gebregziabhere, Director General of FEPA said during a national conference on Ecological Agriculture for Sustainable Food Security in Ethiopia said that the country must diversify its source of fertilizers.

While expressing his support to using chemical fertilizers to attain food security in the country, the Director said the country has as much as much as possible stick to ecological agriculture, adding the country's high capacity to produce compost could support the shift.

FEPA also proposed a new draft law for the use and application of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country.

The proposed law entitled the Bio-safety Draft Law, which will focuses on GMOs, will be instrumental especially at this time when use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture remains controversial, the Director said.

Dr. Tewolde said the law was currently under consideration by the Prime Mister's Office, before heading to the parliament which is expected to approve it.

"If genetically modified remained unregulated in the country, they could suffer the general set up of our society as well as the environment," Dr.Tewolde said.

The Director was speaking at a national conference on Ecological Agriculture for Sustainable Food Security in Ethiopia.

According to the Director, the draft law prepared to regulate and monitor GMO products produced inside the country, as well as those that are imported in to the country.

But since there is no any legal instrument to control, the country categorically prohibits GMOs, according to Dr Teweldeberhan.

Advocating for the regulation of GMOs, Eco Yeshmachoch Mahiber, a local Consumers association, expressed concerns over the impacts of genetically modified food saying it is hazardous to the natural environment, and sees the generation and use of GMOs as "intolerable." "The generation and use of GMO as intolerable meddling with biological processes that have naturally evolved over long periods of time," said Director of the Association, during the conference.

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Violating human dignity is root of all conflict, says Vatican official

Carol Glatz report for the Catholic News Service :

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Not respecting human dignity lies at the root of all conflict, including the renewed violence in the Gaza Strip, said a top Vatican official and longtime diplomat.

Religious tensions play a minor role in fueling world conflicts; rather, countless economic and social injustices are what foment violence, said Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

"For decades, human dignity has been trampled in the Gaza Strip; hatred and homicidal fundamentalism find fodder" in social and economic injustice, he said in an interview published in the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Jan. 1.

He said the use of arms in the Middle East must stop because "dialogue is the only possible way to bring peace" in the Holy Land.

The "fresh, ferocious outbreak of violence" and renewed military action in Gaza will not break the cycle of attacks and reprisals in the Holy Land, he said.

"The current excessive imbalance between military spending and development aid -- (which) exists everywhere, including the Gaza Strip -- shows a deep distrust in the power of dialogue, a deep distrust in the human being," said the cardinal. Only dialogue can end the world's conflicts, he added.

But talks must include rectifying long-standing injustices, he said.

The international community, diplomats and local governments must remember that "the source of every conflict, not to mention the degradation of the environment and the social and economic injustices" that trigger the many crises plaguing communities today, is "contempt for, neglect of, or only partial agreement with the principle of respect for human dignity," he said.

In the article that appeared in the Vatican newspaper's first issue of 2009, Cardinal Martino assessed a variety of world events and issues that attracted the attention of the Vatican in 2008.

He said the scandal of hunger in the world continues to be of concern.

Famine and lack of nutrition are to be blamed on the poor distribution of plentiful foodstuffs, not overpopulation, he said.

The responsibility for the food crisis "is in the hands of unscrupulous people who focus only on profit and certainly not on the well-being of all people," said Cardinal Martino.

A more just system of distribution and not the manufacturing of genetically modified foods is the key to addressing the problem, he said.

"If one wants to pursue GMOs (genetically modified organisms) one can freely do so, but without hiding that it's a way to make more profits," he said.

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