Sunday, July 31, 2011

Republocrats Agree To Sodomize Americans, Fund Israel

...and I don't mean sodomy in the fun frolicky sense of the world. What I mean is that they've agree that the deficit will not be "fixed" by raising taxes on the wealthy - whose tax breaks (along with multiple unwinnable and expensive wars & a defence budget that is unspeakably high) caused the deficit to begin with - but rather by cutting social programs & punishing the income-challenged majority of the US population.

But don't worry, they may gut Medicare, Social Security, education and even spending on collapsing infrastructure; Americans may continue to lose their homes to foreclosure at record rates and joblessness may remain stuck at historically high levels - but Israel's annual booty of greater than $3 billion will remain untouched.
The $3.075 billion in aid granted to Israel would remain intact under the 2012 State and Foreign Operations Act, Chairman of the House of Representatives' Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hal Rogers said in a joint statement with Rep. Kay Granger, chairwoman of the foreign operations subcommittee of Appropriations.
At least we know where their priorities lie. (And, for the record, no I don't think it's because the zionists/Jews control America - it's because Israel is a central strategic plank in America's Middle East hegemony and the Middle East remains key in terms of oil and empire).

As for Obama: can we now agree that he's betrayed every hope that was placed on him, except that he would be America's first African-American president?

Obama, U.S. lawmakers strike deal to raise debt ceiling - The Globe and Mail

Ross Perot, the Tea Party: Why Are Third Party Politics In the US So Crazy?

As radical as they think that they are, the Tea Party follows a pattern of attempts to create a third party in the US political duopoly - which, let's face it, is a one party state with two factions. The constant pressure to put aside "partisan" politics in the interest of the country has meant a system has grown up of horse-trading, pork barrelling, and de-differentiation, which makes the parties increasingly difficult to tell apart. This is apparent in the present crisis where the debt ceiling bill of the Democrats and that of the Republicans only differs in that the Democrats want a longer term solution till after the presidential election (so that their candidate, Obama, won't have to face the debt issue) and the Republicans want a short term solution so that they can use the debt issue on the presidential campaign trail to hammer Obama. There is not a whit of principled difference between the two plans - they both even prescribe the setting up of a bi-partisan committee of twelve in the fall to explore what other cuts they can make. It is entirely about political positioning, precisely the kind of thing that has made Americans cynical about mainstream party politics. And that cynicism creates a pressure for a different kind of party, movement and politician, one based upon principles.

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the American ruling class was faced with an unprecedented challenge domestically and internationally. On the one hand, it was the only world power to emerge from the war strengthened, with no war damage to the homeland. It was a leviathan. But it now faced three potential dangers - the possibility of revolution in western Europe, devastated as it was by the war and radicalized by the fight against the Nazis. There was also the massive prestige of the Soviet Union as a result of its herculean battle against the Nazis. It had also finished the war with significant territorial expansion, including the absorption of large chunks of Eastern Europe, along with its factories, agricultural produce and technology. On the home front the Americans faced a renewed labour upsurge and a significant left wing, including the Communist Party USA, which at it's peak had about 75,000 members. The threefold response of the US was the Cold War against the Soviets, the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and for the home front, McCarthyism to smash the left while incorporating the non-communist union leadership.

That's a pretty gross oversimplification of a process that ultimately destroyed the base of the left inside the US working class and the likelihood - if not possibility - of any viable third party in US politics for several generations. The lack of an independent working class movement - independent of the Democratic Party, which is a corporate controlled party - meant that when the long post-war boom petered out in the 1970s, the unions were wholly unequipped to deal with the end of the period of cooperation and cooptation. Frankly, the idea of collaboration with the enlightened American bosses of the Democrats is so deeply engrained that the union leadership - and even many union activists - still cling to it in the face of all evidence. The result of the union movement's inability to respond aggressively to the extremely aggressive employer's offensive has seen that unions hollowed out till they have fallen from representing around 30 percent of the working class to about 12 percent today. Amongst industrial workers in the private sector that number falls below 10 percent.

The main effect of this has been to see the lives of American workers get harder, dirtier, and poorer with longer working hours and the Russian Roulette strategy of sustaining their living standards with debt. But the other effect is that there is no alternative counter-weight to the mainstream parties so that when the crises of capitalism inevitably appear, causing misery and heart ache, the first place people tend to look - barring significant and sustained struggles, which we haven't seen in quite some time - to the old standby ideologies.

Anyone who has never been to the United States - and people from the United States who have never gone elsewhere - can't know how profound is the patriotic imagery of every day life in America. All the metaphors and images that surround you are drawn from this well. Flags are everywhere. They have a "Pledge of Allegiance" to the Constitution. To walk in Washington is like walking in Rome to see America's monuments to itself and its greatness. They have carved the faces of several of their presidents into a mountain, Mount Rushmore. This is unique amongst, I believe, all advanced western countries.

The result is that third party attempts, like the Tea Party or Ross Perot's Reform Party before that, tend to believe that the problem is that the two main parties simply aren't American enough. They haven't stayed true to the original vision of America, it's ideals of rugged individualism, hard work, pioneer spirit, entrepreneurialism, Protestant work ethic, etc etc. There is a spartan harshness to it which, in the conservative Reagan years was exemplified well by the "tough love" movement of the time. Kid has a problem at school? Throw him out, make him get a job. Find pot in your kid's drawer? Turn her into the police. Almost inevitably, at the level of politics it resolves it down to: eliminate the debt, cut social spending, get rid of taxes, which is a punishment against those who actually generate wealth and, of course, harsher law and order policies.

In the end, these fake insurgencies are re-absorbed relatively easily once they have served their purpose, which is to provide a right-wing ginger group that gives cover to a more general shift to the right at the level of mainstream politics. Perot's obsession with the deficit made the idea mainstream after the profligate years of Reagan (profligate for the rich, that is) and Bush. We ended up with Bill Clinton who "ended welfare as we know it" and eliminated the deficit for a period. This time the Tea Party has ensured that the debate in the USA isn't about the terrible devastation of the Great Recession or the aftermath, which sees official unemployment at 9%, meaning real unemployment is probably close to double that. The difference this round, however, is that there's a very real chance that the austerity mania of the Tea Party that has been taken up by both parties, will lead to a significant downturn in the already weak economy - reported today to have only grown by 1.3%. It could also lead to a sharpening in class conflict, as it did in Wisconsin this spring. In fact, a fear of that kind of class conflict, and the possibility that it could spread or, heaven forbid, win, is behind the reluctance of Democrats to push too hard on austerity, at least in the early stages of the debate. Obama and Reid have now capitulated completely. But it is that class resistance - a real insurgency - that holds the hope for a different vision. Ultimately for any such class resistance to be successful, it will have to break from the Democrats and the politics of shoddy compromises. That's the road to a third party politics that can actually make a real difference.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Could US Debt Debate Fragment The Republicans?

Tea Party Republicans: ready to go all the way
Republican House Speaker John Boehner must be wondering at this moment what to do with his rather large embarrassment of riches - with the emphasis on embarrassment. The mid-terms swept Republicans into decisive control of Congress and shifted the terrain of official debate distinctly to the right, at least as far as economic questions were concerned. Driven by a right wing insurgency grouped around the Tea Party, questions of unemployment, poverty, foreclosures and stimulus spending were buried beneath a clamour of spartan enthusiasm to slash government spending and "live within our means" - even if that meant expanding the means of the rich so that they could continue to improve how they lived. As a counter-response to the huge swell of enthusiasm for the election of Barack Obama, this seemed to revive the Republicans from the recently near-dead.

But zombies and vampires and other undead things no longer exist according to the old principles that guided them when they were alive. Zombies eat brains. Vampires drink blood. Tea Party Republicans feed on the fantasy of a mythical past that they want to recreate. Of course the Republicans have, for a long time, been the right wing of the American ruling class. They have talked about debts and favoured attacks on social programs while cutting taxes for the rich. But the reality since Reagan has been big increases in the deficit and debt under Republican administrations, usually for defence spending and tax cuts for the rich. But the infection of right wing populism that they have toyed with since Reaganism, has come back to take control of the whole Republican body.

Thus we have the ironic situation where Boehner is emboldened to challenge Obama because of the influx of Republicans. He demands that Obama surrender to the Republican agenda (which Obama dutifully does) - and then Boehner is barely able to round up enough votes to carry his own plan in Congress. With the stakes about as high as they can get - with the first ever default in US history looming just a few days away and the danger of a sharp spike in interest rates and a nose dive for the already ailing economy - many Tea Party partisans were ready to do like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove and ride a nuclear missile to ground zero, cowboy hat in hand, whooping all the way down.

But the Republican Party machine is more than just the populists who have drunk the kool aid. It is primarily made up of men (and a few women) who are integrated into the ruling class and its institutions. And while the American ruling class would like to see some austerity to foor the bill they ran up with the last decade of speculative mayhem, they are willing to compromise, as they have always done with the other wing of American capital, represented by the Democratic Party. And the modus operandi of the Democratic Party since the 1930s has been to maintain hegemony through a process of negotiation (as long as the rich generally win) and cooptation, thus maintaining an illusion of fairness and consensus.

But while the Tea Party may be backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, it seems clear that the base of the "movement" are middle class - small business owners and managers of various sorts - many of whom have probably been squeezed terribly by the crisis since 2008, the loss of investments, foreclosures, etc. They don't have the same ties or stakes in the system as the head honchos. Nor do they have the savvy to know what the real effects will be if the United States defaults. They are not driven by rational logic or even mainstream economics but rather by mystical visions of a better past that can be recaptured and a future probably involving the rapture of Jesus Christ and his heavenly host.

But while the Tea Party partisans may be driven by irrational faith, it also seems clear that if the Tea Party wing of the party continues to balk at supporting any bill that doesn't include much deeper, unsupportable cuts, the "moderate" wing of the Republicans will be forced to compromise with the Democrats and break with the rookies and their ultra conservative allies.

That raises the question of what will happen if the Republicans split.

Chances are that they'll paper over the differences and achieve some sort of concord in the wake of what many will see as a betrayal of principle. Boehner will probably lead his fellow veteran Republicans further to the right as a way to mend fences and keep the party together. But if the Tea Party newbies ultimately feel betrayed by the sight of Republican Congress members voting with the Democrats against them, we could see a splintering of the Republicans and a third party challenge emerge.

Certainly the Tea Party has the base and the mobilizing ability to have an impact, though I think that it's over-rated and their barnstorming success reflects the element of surprise as much as anything. They would also find it much more difficult to win seats if they were a standalone party outside of the many levers of influence that make up the Republican Party machine. And not all Republicans who were willing to vote for a Tea Party supported candidate on the Republican ticket will be willing to make the shift to a whole new party. I think that they would be in for a rude awakening. But in the meantime, we could be in for a very stormy season in American politics. With any luck, upheaval and instability at the top will encourage those at the bottom to fight for a different vision - one that appears in every poll that has been conducted on the issue - where jobs and services come before tax cuts to the fabulously wealthy.

G.O.P. Fervor Cuts 2 Ways for Boehner -

Friday, July 29, 2011

Global Warming Solved: Fire The Scientist

Remember how Obama said all that stuff about the importance of whistleblowers to keep government honest? Yeah, well, you might want to ask Bradley Manning the punchline to that particular joke. But it seems that the persecution of anybody who says anything inconvenient extends beyond the ambit of the US government to include the oil industry and the tinfoil hat brigade running around saying that climate change is a hoax.
A U.S. wildlife biologist whose observation in 2004 of presumably drowned polar bears in the Arctic helped to galvanize the global warming movement has been placed on administrative leave and is being investigated for scientific misconduct, possibly over the veracity of that article.
The article goes on to note that a complaint has been filed by an environmental advocacy group on behalf of Charles Monnett, the scientist.
The complaint seeks Mr. Monnett’s reinstatement along with a public apology from the agency and inspector general. It also seeks to have the investigation dropped or to have the charges specified and the matter carried out in accordance with policy. The complaint also says that investigators took Mr. Monnett’s computer hard drive, notebooks and other unspecified items from him, which have not been returned.
Well, in the interest of balanced reporting, I do also remember Obama saying that addressing climate change would be a priority for his administration. Eliminating the scientists who provide evidence of the effects of climate changes definitely qualifies as making climate change a priority. In a fucked up, American sort of way.

Scientist who warned of threat to polar bears is suspended - The Globe and Mail

Pits Of Hell Not Deep Enough For Murdoch's Crew

You could almost be forgiven for thinking that the scumbag hacks & corporate puppetmasters couldn't possibly sink any lower than what had already been revealed. I mean, Murdoch's crew of despicable skinbags hacked the phone of a murdered teenage girl, listened to her phone messages and then deleted some of them lest another "journalist" come by and do the same thing later. They guys hacked the phones of family of victims of 9/11. They hacked the phones of celebrities so that they could leak deeply personal information about their private lives and call it news. They paid the cops to illegally pass along private information. And, of course, they used their influence as a mega media corporation employing 53,000 people worldwide and with assets of over $50 billion with tentacles absolutely everywhere in order to threaten, cajole and harass politicians and anyone who disagreed with their right wing agenda. They run Fox News, which is the filthiest, lyingest, most racist and reprehensible media outlet in North America (not to put too fine a point on it). I mean - how could you possibly beat that?

Well, you would be wrong.

In the final issue of the News of the World, they ran an editorial by a woman named Sara Payne whose young daughter had been murdered some time ago. They had "championed" her case and supported the charity that she set up in the wake of the murder. Why, Rebekah Brooks, former editor in chief, recently forced to resign as CEO of News International (the British arm of News Corporation), even gave Ms. Payne her very own phone. In that editorial Ms. Payne described the support that she had received and how losing News of the World was like losing an old friend. And, yet, now it turns out, Ms. Payne's phone number was found in one of the notebooks belonging to Glen Mulcaire, the private detective paid handsome sums by News of the World to hack into the voice mail of NotW's targets.
The Labour MP Tom Watson, who has been an outspoken critic of News International, said of the Payne allegation: "This is a new low. The last edition of the News of the World made great play of the paper's relationship with the Payne family. Brooks talked about it at the committee inquiry. Now this. I have nothing but contempt for the people that did this."
It should be noted that Rebekah Brooks - editor in chief at the time of the greatest phone hacking - claims that she never knew anything about any of the phone hacking. Andy Coulson - also an editor at the News of the World at this time, and a former Tory spin doctor until he was forced to resign in January, also claimed that he knew nothing about any phone hacking or payments to the police. He's now been charged with perjury in relation to those claims and his continued close relationship with British PM David Cameron (who spent one Christmas with Ms. Brooks) has damaged him, possibly irreparably.

On Tuesday, July 26 the National Union of Journalists organized a meeting that drew 250 people in London against the Murdoch machine and for a truly free press.
Tony Burke, the assistant general secretary of the Unite union, said, “25 years ago Murdoch broke the trade unions at his newspapers. He used the extra profits he made from this to make a right wing media empire that extended its tentacles into the political class.”
As it turns out, it didn't just extend into the political class. They used that power to harass and spy on even the most powerless and devastated people in Britain and beyond in order to sell papers on the basis of the most grotesque tittle-tattle. There is growing talk that News International ought to be stripped of its licenses to operate media outlets in Britain. It will be sweet indeed if Murdoch's corruption, which made him rich and degraded journalism, brings down his empire during his lifetime.

News of the World targeted phone of Sarah Payne's mother | Media |

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Afghanistan In Disarray? Blame Iran Even If It's B.S.

I'm sure it's just a coincidence that at the end of a bad month for the client regime in Afghanistan and the NATO colonial project in general, that the US made the discovery that Iran was supporting al Qaeda and needed to announce it. I also believe other really stupid things like Ethical Oil and that Ezra Levant is a charming, decent human being.

I won't pretend that the Iranian regime isn't a disgusting, repressive semi-dictatorship that kills and imprisons dissidents. And I won't pretend that, like any capitalist state that seeks to project regional power, that it is above unprincipled maneuverings and manipulations. However, I have serious doubts that the Iranian regime is supporting al Qaeda to any great extent. First off, al Qaeda probably doesn't need it. They have gotten much more support in the past from Saudi Arabia and, to this day, from elements inside the Pakistani intelligence apparatus - the ISI. Osama bin Laden wasn't living in Pakistan for a decade without at least some of the authorities knowing about it - do you think it was just an oversight that the Americans didn't tell the Pakistanis before they staged the raid that killed him? It was precisely because the ISI and the military are increasingly unreliable allies.

What's more, al Qaeda despises the Shia sect of Islam, which is the dominant strand in Iran. To al Qaeda they are apostates and worse even than the Americans. Iran supports other Shia movements - like Hezbollah and the Shia dominated Syrian regime. In neighbouring Iraq, where Shia are also the majority, the al Qaeda grouping has staged numerous terror attacks on Shia pilgrims and worshippers, killing perhaps thousands. These guys are mortal enemies.

Is Iran supporting some elements of the insurgency in Afghanistan? Possibly, even probably. After all, America is in Afghanistan, in part, to encircle and contain Iran (as well as China). They would be a foolish state indeed if they didn't try to undermine the strategy of their enemy - just as America did to the Soviets thirty years ago. So what is the evidence offered? Some disputed conjectures about the conditions under which Iran holds al Qaeda "operatives" and bin Laden relatives who are in Iran.
Since 2001, Iran has appeared a somewhat reluctant host for senior al-Qaeda operatives who fled there after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, keeping them under tight restrictions. After an initial period of co-operation with the West, Iran now seems to be a more comfortable haven even if it remains on the edge of al-Qaeda’s orbit.
Western officials point to the release earlier this year of an Iranian diplomat who was held for 15 months after being kidnapped by gunmen in Pakistan.
In negotiations for the diplomat’s freedom, they say Iran promised better conditions for dozens of people close to Osama bin Laden who were being held under tight security. These included some of the terror chief’s children and the network’s most senior military strategist, Saif al-Adel.
Still, the life of the al-Qaeda-linked exiles in Iran continues to be very much a blind spot for Western intelligence agencies. Few firm details have emerged, such as how much Iran limits their movements and contacts.
In other words - there is no evidence of anything except that, from the sounds of it, some al Qaeda people live under house arrest with no contact to other militants. If there was any contact, the Americans would be trumpeting it from the roof tops. No, no, this is nothing more than hand-waving to demonstrate the problems in Afghanistan originate with EVIIILLL Iran, that America has it in hand, and to distract from the deteriorating situation in America's other war.

U.S. accuses Iran of ‘secret deal’ that gives money, recruits to al-Qaeda - The Globe and Mail

Ethical Oil? Tory Scum Polishes Turd

There really is no lie too big, no corporate filth too odious that there isn't some Tory bagman who isn't willing to try and sell it to us as a golden egg, when it is in fact toxic poison. Alykhan Velshi, a former aide to the seriously disgusting Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, made his name by - probably illegally - influencing the decision of Canada's Border Agency to deny entry to British MP George Galloway, claiming he is a supporter of terrorism. Of course, Galloway's crime is that he's a high profile supporter of the Palestinians and opponent of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Well, now Velshi, following on from his pal Ezra Levant - King Toad himself as far as lashing out his tongue to fellate all things vile and inhumane - is stumping on behalf of the oil sands. His claim is that oil sand oil is "ethical oil" - a term coined by the ever clever Levant. It's not like "conflict oil" that comes from Venezuela, for instance. Huh? Last time I checked, Venezuela had a democratically elected government and the only conflict was by those former oil executive who tried to bring down the democratically elected government.

Velshi goes on to try and claim that oil from the tar sands isn't as bad environmentally as everyone is trying to make out. But while he is trying to make dirty oil look clean his own move into lobbying looks more than a little dirty.

Asked whether he is getting corporate donations, he said, “I won’t take money from any foreign corporations, any governments.” Pressed about Canadian corporate donations, he said he wouldn’t refuse any.
Mr. Velshi says he’s not violating the federal law that forbids former aides from lobbying for five years after leaving government. He stresses that he’s not lobbying former Conservative colleagues about the oil sands. He hardly needs to – Environment Minister Peter Kent has already taken it upon himself to use “ethical oil” parlance.
Does anyone think that it's possible to distinguish between Ethical Tories and Unethical Tories. It seems to me that the former is one of those absurdisms like "military intelligence".

Ex-Tory message maven tailors his spin to oil sands - The Globe and Mail

"Saturated Fat Is Bad": The Lie That Never Dies

Go ahead & eat it: you know you want to
I came across this article in Health & Fitness section of today's Globe & Mail. A reader asks Leslie Beck, a dietician, whether eating a medium rare steak is bad for him, as his wife suggests. Now, I haven't looked into the purported negative effects of grilling or cooking meat viz the generation of carcinogens. However, the overall bad science based upon assertions not backed up by the evidence make me skeptical.

Whenever I read about articles about red meat in the mainstream media, they inevitably repeat the same mantra: meat contains saturated fat, saturated fat is bad for you, and meat causes colon cancer.

But this is based upon the most simplistic understanding of human metabolism, on the one hand, and a handful of inherited prejudices connected to social power and the denigration of working class people as fat, over-eaters, lazy, etc. Let's look at the claims made by Beck in her article:

1. "Some cuts of red meat can be high in saturated fat, the type of fat that to raises LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood."

2. "Many studies show that people who eat the most red meat – as well as processed meat (luncheon meat, bacon, hot dogs, sausages) – are at greater risk for colon cancer than those who eat little red meat."

Let's start with the first claim, that saturated fat raises "bad" cholesterol. First of all, calling LDL the "bad" cholesterol is actually a vast oversimplification of cholesterol and its role in the body. There is ample evidence that low LDL cholesterol in the brain is a prime contributor to Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias. As this 2009 study noted, the consumption of high carb and low fat diets can cause changes to blood chemistry that leads to low brain cholesterol, the impairment of neuronal function and ultimately a cascading effect that includes all the symptoms that we're familiar with - neurofibrillary tangles and the accumulation of plaque. Given that the brain - which makes up 2% of total body weight - contains 25% of the total cholesterol in our body, we shouldn't be surprised that reducing cholesterol would have a deleterious effect on brain function. It is, in fact, hypothesized that a rise in LDL cholesterol in the blood is possibly an attempted defensive response by the body attempting to overcome the depletion of LDL uptake in the brain.

" excess of dietary carbohydrates, particularly fructose, alongside a relative deficiency in dietary fats and cholesterol, may lead to the development of Alzheimer's disease. A first step in the pathophysiology of the disease is represented by advanced glycation end-products in crucial plasma proteins concerned with fat, cholesterol, and oxygen transport. This leads to cholesterol deficiency in neurons, which significantly impairs their ability to function. Over time, a cascade response leads to impaired glutamate signaling, increased oxidative damage, mitochondrial and lysosomal dysfunction, increased risk to microbial infection, and, ultimately, apoptosis."

But back to the main point, which was that saturated fat - in this case from meats - causes a rise in LDL cholesterol. Stephen Guyenet, a biochemist and neurologist, writing at Whole Health Source pulled together all of the studies that looked at the relationship between saturated fat and high cholesterol and examined their conclusions:

Of all the studies I came across, only the Western Electric study found a clear association between habitual saturated fat intake and blood cholesterol, and even that association was weak. The Bogalusa Heart study and the Japanese study provided inconsistent evidence for a weak association. The other studies I cited, including the bank workers' study, the Tecumseh study, the Evans county study, the Israel Ischemic Heart study, the Framingham study and the Health Professionals Follow-up study, found no association between the two factors.

As to the second claim, it's probably useful to point out that Beck is being dishonest from the start. The study she is referring to - and is trying to slide past us - groups together a whole food (i.e. unprocessed meat) with a processed food. But these are two different things. Processed meats contain all sorts of goodies - sugars, colorants, flavour enhancers, "liquid smoke", probably industrial oils (corn, canola, etc), and God knows what else. But a meta-analysis of observational studies on the relationship between eating meat and cancer found no correlation. Now, as Dr. Eades points out in his review, there are serious methodological problems with observational studies in general and meta-analyses in particular. It is problematic to prove true correlation even where a relationship is observed between two phenomenon because without isolating one factor from all others a la double-blind studies, etc the relationship could be coincidental. However, it is more effective in proving that there is no relationship between factors if there is no correlation in the data.

After sifting through all this data, what did the authors find? Absolutely nothing. No correlation between meat and/or fat intake and colorectal cancer.
"In this meta-analysis, no consistent evidence of a positive association between consumption of animal fat and colorectal cancer was observed. Specifically, we found no association between the highest animal fat intake category and colorectal cancer. Furthermore, none of the subgroup analysis (i.e., sex, anatomic tumor site, and study design) indicated positive patterns of associations."
And their conclusion:
"On the basis of the results of this quantitative assessment, the available epidemiologic evidence does not appear to support an independent association between animal fat intake or animal protein intake and colorectal cancer."

And while studies show no relationship between animal based diets and the risk of cancer, or even of diets high in saturated fat and cancer, there is definitely a relationship between high corn oil diets and cancer. So, why isn't Beck warning the reader to forego that cob of corn that he grilled alongside his steak?

I do agree with one thing she says about animal fat and fatty cuts of meat. Because we feed our meat animals primarily grain-based diets - and primarily corn based at that - we are loading them up with a food source that increases their omega 6 ratio. Industrially raised animals are also packed full of growth hormones and antibiotics. In general adipose tissues are where old chemicals go to die - or lie dormant until the fat is mobilized by the body, as any person whose ever had an LSD flashback can tell you. If you're eating industrially raised cows, pigs, etc. you probably want to go for leaner cuts. First off, industrial meats tend to be higher in fat because of their diet but that fat is also low quality fat, high in omega 6's and often perfused with nasty by-products of the industrial growth process. Because of the prevalence of corn throughout our diet - as aptly discussed in The Omnivore's Dilemma - we consume entirely too many omega 6's. As the study discussed above suggests, there is a strong relationship between omega 6 consumption and rates of cancer.

There's a large body of evidence implicating excess omega-6 fat in a number of cancer models. Reducing omega-6 to below 4% of calories has a dramatic effect on cancer incidence and progression*. In fact, there have even been several experiments showing that butter and other animal fats promote cancer growth to a lesser degree than margarine and omega-6-rich seed oils.

All of this brings us back to the fact that you should probably ignore dieticians and doctors who repeat verbatim the unvalidated prejudices of the dominant nutrition model. Ultimately, the attack on food and meat consumption is part of the same internalization of an austerity mindset that blames working class people for the economic crisis ("they bought too much stuff that they can't pay for!") and for the health crisis that is sweeping North America.

Child Obesity: Abuse Or Moral Panic

A number of articles were sent my way today about the phenomenon in the USA and Scotland - and probably in Canada - of charging parents with child abuse if they "allow" their children to become obese. I've discussed in previous posts here, here and here some of the social and nutritional roots of obesity in North America. But it's worth revisiting some of those points in the context of a discussion of child abuse.

The first thing to keep in mind is that child abuse, like other forms of abuse, is primarily defined in terms that apply to working class people. That is, forms of interpersonal violence that are generally outgrowths of the pressures of poverty, unstable and unhappy job situations, lack of access to extra-curricular resources like sports, community centres, childcare, etc. Of course it's bound up with the oppression of children, just like sexual assault and spousal abuse is tied up with the oppression of women. The people who suffer the most are always the least powerful in any relationship.

But the social response to child abuse or festering problems like obesity are reduced almost exclusively to one of moral panic. Kids are using the internet and are losing the ability to think or focus. Teen sex is the source of teen pregnancy (of course it is in a direct sort of way but not in an inevitable way). Obesity is the fault of neglectful parents who feed their kids badly.

I'm reminded of a news magazine special that I saw in university about a teenager who lived in a small town who made a suicide pact with his friend and then shot himself in the face with a shotgun. The one boy survived, though he was terribly deformed and damaged, forced to take pain killers for the rest of his life, eat through a tube, etc. He and his parents tried to sue a heavy metal band for playing violent devil music that tempted him.

Now, the filmmakers were clearly liberals and rightly made the point that it is absurd to suggest that listening to Iron Maiden would cause a teenager to commit suicide. But what they did instead was to put the focus on the parents. They were poor and the father had had a gambling problem. There was some suggestion of drinking and that their fundamentalist Christianity was hypocritical. It struck me at the time that they had wholly missed the point. This kid - who attempted suicide another time and succeeded - was a white trash trailer kid with no future, living in semi-rural America. The poverty and violence that went hand in hand with his family was his own future. He tried suicide when he was a heavy metal fan and he tried suicide when he was a born again Christian. Neither metal nor Christianity were the problem, nor his parents - it was the system.

Of course I don't mean to suggest that we have no personal responsibility. Rather, the parameters of our choices are seriously constrained and we are faced with the double burden of lacking the resources to be good parents and then suffering guilt - and imprisonment or the loss of custody - when we react in understandably human ways with anger, frustration, or exhaustion-induced neglect.

The same thing applies with obesity, except that there is the added burden that our whole notion of what constitutes nutrition is upside down and makes the problem worse. We are told that a healthy diet is one that is packed with whole grains, low fat and a moderate amount of protein. That - relatively recent - idea of a "healthy diet" is not disconnected from the fact that grains are the cheapest form of high energy density food that we have. And its prioritization as the go-to energy source, along with the demonization of meats and saturated fat, is in my mind a side effect of the end of the post-war boom in the 1970s and a shift towards austerity. We have literally made a virtue of a necessity.

Working class incomes stagnated and then declined, particularly in the USA, where a sustained war on union organization drove union density from about 1/3 of the workforce to less than 12% today - much lower in the private sector. In some regions of the US (and Alberta) unions are effectively non-existent. As living standards have fallen people look to cheaper food sources. Falling living standards are also expressed in longer working hours - American workers work over a month longer now than they did in the 1970s. This makes it more difficult to have a home cooked meal as workers turn to fast foods. As I've discussed recently, fast foods are not only loaded with carb heavy grains - rice, corn, wheat - they are also stuffed with flavour enhancers (generally various forms of sugar) and fillers like wood aka cellulose.

As I was walking down the street the other day I saw a sign for a sale on basmati rice at my local Bangladeshi dry goods store - 40lbs of rice for $30. At less than $1 per pound, that looks awfully attractive to someone on a tight budget compared to $4 or more per pound for pork chops and up to $11 per pound for New York striploin steaks. Ah, but don't worry, those high priced foods are bad for you, all those saturated fats and stuff. And too much protein, that's bad for your kidneys. The cheap shit, that's what you want to be eating. By that logic, food must be the only product under capitalism that gets better when it's cheaper.

The trouble with rice, corn and wheat is that they work too well. Your body absorbs and breaks down the carbs in these grains very quickly. The starches in them become sugar and enter the bloodstream for processing. But anything more than a very small amount of sugar - about 1 teaspoon in your total blood volume - is poison. As any diabetic can tell you, it will kill you if it isn't eliminated very quickly. Your body deals with it by producing a spike in insulin to distribute the sugar where it's needed in the body. But unless you're burning calories very quickly doing some very heavy cardio right after you eat, your muscles simply can't use up that much sugar. And so that cheap rice or that loaf of bread is shuttled to the other disposal facility in the body - your adipose tissue. It becomes fat.

This is different from if you consume protein or fat in excess of what your body needs. Protein is processed by your kidneys and you urinate it out. Or it is processed by your liver - using the metabolization of fat as the fuel source to power this process, and the protein is turned into the small amount of sugar that your body needs, primarily for your brain. The by-product of fat metabolism, on the other hand, is ketones which most of your tissue quite happily takes up in place of sugar. Heart muscle, for instance, works more efficiently using ketones for fuel. Even much of the brain is happy to use ketones. There is one type of cell that can't use ketones and which absolutely needs sugar to survive - cancer cells - but that's another story.

The overall point here is that sugar in both is simple and complex forms leads to obesity. There are other problems with grains as well - phyto toxins that cause auto-immune responses, leaky gut, etc. But for the purpose of our argument, the main issue here is the rise in childhood obesity and poor diet, the root of which is that a good diet is out of reach financially for most working people. It is literally four times more expensive to eat a diet that relies primarily on animal protein and fat as an energy source than one that relies upon grains and other carbs.

And it's worth repeating as well that obesity has little or nothing to do with activity level. Exercise does not make you thin. Our bodies are complex and sophisticated machines, nothing in them happens in a direct and linear way. What's more our bodies have evolved to be homeostatic - to maintain a steady state. Our temperature is always the same - unless we're ill. If the environment - severe heat or cold - causes our internal body temperature to move even a few degrees we can suffer brain damage, organ shutdown and death. Our body morphology is no different. If we "overeat" our body knows how to eliminate most excess as waste. It knows not to store too much fat. It wants to maintain a stable body weight and fat percentage. We have to work hard to overcome our bodies natural homeostatic mechanisms, which is why obesity leads to so many problems from inflammation to diabetes to arteriosclerosis.

Obviously physical activity is a good thing - it builds muscle strength, improves respiratory efficiency, increases flexibility, etc. But it has little or nothing to do with weight. It does however work the other way - obesity leads to less activity. Exercise becomes difficult and painful for those suffering from obesity.

What is the solution? The first solution is that the working class needs a big fat raise so that we can afford high quality meats, poultry and fish. Secondly, we need to revise our ideas about nutrition and revamp our system of food production in order to meet the real nutritional needs of the population. Ultimately that means redesigning cities and suburbs (like, get rid of them) to permit the integration of food production and high density residential living - which will also encourage walking, biking, and make public transit efficient and affordable. And it means opposing all attempts to blame working class parents for the obesity suffered by them and their children. It would be a good step, however, to outlaw the poison that is sold as food in the supermarkets - from twinkies to soda pop (5 teaspoons of sugar per can!). Processed food has exploded as a response to long term austerity and it should be abolished along with it.

Observations: Should Morbid Childhood Obesity Be Considered Child Abuse?

Wendy Mesley on CBC: Is Childhood Obesity Abuse

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Debt crisis: Boehner's Boner

The US debt crisis has escalated after Republicans were forced to rewrite their proposal to lift the debt ceiling, because they miscalculated how much the original plan would cut spending.
In an embarrassing development for John Boehner, the Republican Congress speaker, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) ruled on Tuesday night that his bill would have only cut spending by $850bn (£517bn)over the next decade, not the $1.2tn he had aimed for. Republicans are now racing to rewrite the legislation, and have pushed back a congressional vote on the plan from Wednesday to Thursday at the earliest.

Am I laughing? You bet I am. This guy was on TV gassing on about how great his plan was and how the president was being an ass for not accepting his plan, etc. etc. Now it turns out he can't even count and his plan was a load of horse shit. Resign in ignominy perhaps? Unlikely. But he will have to eat some serious crow. However, that won't stop the Tea Party from continuing to blather on about saving America (from what, math skills?)

Debt crisis: Republicans scramble to rewrite plan following figures bungle | Business |

Taliban Makes Itself Popular By Killing NATO-Backed Crooks

I'm sure there will be paeans of praise for the now late mayor of Kandahar, particularly in the North American median. The Globe & Mail, for instance, suggests that Mayor Ghulam Haidar Hamidi was a reformer who was trying to root out corruption. However, it seems that local Afghans didn't feel the same, and saw him as someone who was aiding the bulldozing of local homes built without permission of the corrupt, gangster ridden authorities. As the article in the Guardian notes:

At the time of his assassination Hamidi's office was surrounded by around 100 protesters, furious at the municipality's destruction of houses built illegally on government land in recent days in the Loy Wala area of Kandahar.
One protester, Hajji Lal Mohammad, said the mayor had sparked outrage in the community where the houses were destroyed, apparently killing two children.
"They destroyed 200 houses and two children were killed," he said. "When I saw the bulldozers I also wanted to kill the mayor."

Hamidi was mooted as a possible replacement for President Karzai's half-brother - a notorious gangster and drug dealer himself - and this will add to the sense of a power vacuum in the volatile south. The Taliban may be authoritarian and deeply conservative but they are playing it smarter and smarter as this unwinnable war continues into its second decade. They have targeted the corrupt figures backed by the American puppet regime who are widely unpopular amongst the local, poverty-ridden population. This has helped them to grow in strength and numbers, while the Karzai regime has grown more despised even as his extended family grows wealthy from the NATO war economy. They seem to have also wised up to employing military tactics that reduce civilian casualties while making the biggest impact on local power brokers.

The death of Hamidi will raise further concerns about whether military gains by the US military in the Kandahar region, particularly in districts adjoining the city, will be undermined by the remorseless killing of top public figures.
The death comes weeks after the killing in their homes of two powerful politicians in the south: Ahmed Wali Karzai and Jan Mohammad Khan, an ally of the Karzai family and a key figure in neighbouring Uruzgan province. In April, Kandahar's police chief was killed by a suicide bomber who entered police headquarters.
A recent UN report said "targeted killings" had increased in the first half of 2011 from an already high level. Assassination attempts had caused 43 injuries and 190 deaths – a 5% increase on the same period in 2010.
"Every death piles on top of the other and leads to a sense of demoralisation, that nobody is safe," said Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

This latest assassination will only deepen the sense that America and NATO are heading on an accelerated path towards defeat. Therein lies the only hope for Afghanistan.

Are The Ford Brothers Cartoon Characters?

One day it's Rob Ford lying about labour costs on the radio, then his brother is lying about the number of libraries vs Tim Hortons in his ward. This week it's Doug Ford talking about shutting down libraries "in a heartbeat" and his pugnacious sibling is yakking on his cellphone while driving and flipping the bird to a woman and her daughter. I can only assume that I've woken up in a cartoon by the guy who did King of the Hill.

Back during the election I said that in my opinion the business class in Toronto wanted Smitherman to be mayor. Not because his policies were that much different than the Gruesome Twosome but because he would be smoother about it. Smitherman is from the elite, he wears stylish suits and drinks good wine. He knows how to negotiate so that the business class gets what it wants while the rest of us accept it. Or at least that's the theory. I mean, even Stephen Harper knows that most of the time he needs to come across as smooth, polite and sophisticated even if his personal preference is to be a troglodyte.

Not so the Fordies. What's up with those bad boys? They're alienating potential centrist allies and Ford even champions votes on council when it's him against absolutely everyone else, including his bootlickers. For the business class - and the Globe & Mail is often a good gauge of the attitudes of that class - this behaviour is potentially dangerous and destabilizing to their project. Oh, they'll go along with it if Ford can manage to drive through his wild-eyed, economy-destroying austerity package. The bourgeoisie are nothing if not opportunistic and their commitment to good manners (and democracy and human rights and...) is entirely contingent upon whether it is convenient for the maintenance of profit levels. But right now there is a lot of head shaking going on in the business press over these two buffoons. Frankly that's good news for us. Right wing hawks who divide their own class and create instability amongst their supporters are easier to battle than an enemy with sophistication and an ability to unite his side in a project to attack our living standards. Hopefully tomorrow morning's Executive Committee session at City Hall will see lots of opponents of the cuts come out. After all, Rob invited us. It's clear that the more pressure we put on Rob & Doug, the more erratic and explosive will become their behaviour and that will cost them support and weaken their project. Throw in a few protests and strikes and their administration will fall into disarray. And that woud definitely be a good thing.

Ford admits to phone use while driving, but flipped finger a ‘misunderstanding’ - The Globe and Mail

US Debt War Will Lead To Recession

Hate to say it folks but there's about a snowball's chance in hell that the world won't have returned to recession by the end of this year. There are many factors involved that make this likely - the necessary slowing of China's growth, the defaults and austerity packages rolling around the south of Europe and the UK, the lack of any life in the North American economy. But it's also certain that the US debt situation has cemented that inevitability.

The irony of the hullaballoo between Obama and the Democrats on one side and those zany Republicans on the other is that it has focused the attention of everyone in the USA - not to mention the planet - on the fact that America is choking on debt. Being America, which recoils from government spending, other than enormous and wasteful military budgets, like Dracula recoils from garlic, the obsession is with government debt, rather than total debt. But that is another story. It is unlikely that anyone in the USA, by the end of this Gong Show, will think that the US economic or political system is stable.

The fear of instability is a self-feeding depressant when it comes to consumer spending and investment, especially when the vast majority of the population already feel that their incomes and investments in things like houses are unstable. Of course, the Republican demand that the Debt Ceiling Cage Match do a quick lap before returning early next year for a second round will only exacerbate the instability effect. But, then, from the point of view of the reality-challenged Tea Party, it will be an excellent opportunity to have an issue that they love - government taxation and expenditure – with which to beat Obama as he heads for re-election.

But instability fears aside, there are less ephemeral reasons to expect that the economy is going to take the off ramp to Downersville no matter what the ultimate solution to the debt ceiling crisis is.

First is the possibility that the split in America's two corporate parties is so profound that neither is willing to blink prior to the default date. They may both be so certain that the other party will be blamed for the fiasco - and so confident that the default will just be a minor bump - that they take the chance. So, let's take a look at what a default will mean.

At the most obvious level, no one will want to buy American bonds. Or, rather, they will want to be paid a premium interest rate before they will buy bonds to make up for the obviously heightened risk that the US won't make a payment. But, as economist Paul Krugman points out, this is already taking place in the context of what's called a liquidity trap. Basically, even with interest rates that approach zero, people would still rather not borrow or spend money, which they feel has more value and stability than debt. In other words liquidity is trapped because people hang on to it. If people are already not willing to borrow money when it is practically free, they are certainly not going to do so if interest rates rise significantly to make up for instability. And that's the trillion dollar question - would an increase in interest rates on short term government debt feed through to private interest rates. Again, according to Krugman:

What gets tricky here is the question of whether private borrowing costs rise in tandem. For corporate bonds, maybe not. But the GSEs (public enterprises - like the recently nationalized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - sw) pay rates that are tied to the cost of government borrowing, and they are the main sources of housing finance, so mortgage rates would probably rise.

The upshot of it all is that an increase in interest rates at present will definitely choke off the borrowing necessary to give the US economy any lift at all. It will mean an increase in foreclosures, already at record highs, and bankruptcies as debt servicing costs rise.

And that is only the most obvious effect. What is the great unknown is what the effect will be upon global stocks and the world financial system. After all, the US dollar is widely held as the international currency reserve and trillions of dollars in US debt are held by banks, countries and corporations around the world. The dollar will likely drop as Treasury Bills can only be sold at high interest rates and there is a "flight to stability" - we already have seen this with the appreciation in the value of the Canadian dollar or, rather, the depreciation of the US dollar. Will the global financial system lock up, as it did in 2008, as no bank can trust any nation, bank or corporation not to be over-exposed to devalued US debt, which must be written off against assets?

Of course, there will be a very immediate and obvious effect for a large section of the US population if a default happens - their cheques won't come. Social Security cheques won't get mailed, nor Medicare or other programs. People who do business with the federal government won't get paid and so, likely, their employees won't get paid either. With government spending there is something called a "multiplier effect" - basically, every one dollar that the government spends on things like infrastructure or services, is multiplied by the impact it has on the broader economy; the dollar pays a wage that is spent on consumer goods that helps to hire more workers, etc. Default will be like the multiplier effect running in reverse.


But even if Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum do manage to agree a compromise, which still seems most likely, there will be seriously negative economic effects. We saw with the Greek economy last year that when they implemented austerity measures as a condition for the first bailout, the result was to send the country into a recession that led to higher unemployment and lower tax revenues - which led to the need for a second tranche of bailout money this year (leading to strikes, riots, etc). That's because, according even to the IMF, every one percent cut in the deficit leads to a half a percentage decline in growth rates over two years. At present the US deficit - the annual revenue shortfall - is running at about $1.2 trillion with an accumulated debt of over $14 trillion. Both the Democrats and Republicans are agreed on plans to cut government spending by close to $3 trillion over ten years. It's not at all clear how they come to that number and for certain it is being boosted for public effect but using simplistic math it works out to something like $300 billion per year. That's 30 percent of the budget deficit, which can't be right or it's completely insane. But, for certain, what both Republicans and Democrats are talking about is austerity and austerity in the midst of an already weak economy will push its head back under water in what Krugman has called "the great mistake of 1937" when President Roosevelt and Congress decided to rein in spending, sending the US into a deep spiral that only ended with the massive arms build-up - and thus public spending - of the Second World War.

It's all so unnecessary. First off, the public debt is nothing compare to the private sector debt in the US economy. The US government - other than by idiocy - is nowhere near foreclosure, bankruptcy or risk-generated high interest rates. It is probably the most solvent part of the US economic system. Secondly, much more, if not all of they money could be generated by restoring tax rates on the wealthiest Americans that have been cut in the last thirty years. According to Tea Partiers - and agreed in practice by Obama and the Democrats. The "alternative plan" by Harry Reid, Democratic Senate Majority Leader, contains no tax increases on the wealthy. His plan is backed by Obama. But here's the thing - tax cuts have less negative effect on the economy than do cuts to "entitlements" and public services. The reason is simple: the rich have a surplus of income, which they put in the bank. Workers have little more than enough to get by and so spend their money buying goods and services rather than saving it. The utter failure of tax cuts, which were the mantra of the Bush years, ought to be obvious from the fact that the US economy is in the tank and debt levels have never been higher. Well, debt levels have never been higher for some. As Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel winning economist wrote in an article in Vanity Fair in May:

The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top....

That is the real reason why the Democrats and Republicans can contemplate the pain of the cutbacks versus either stimulus spending to help the economy or tax increases on the top one percent to reduce the deficit. Because they are closer to the top one percent than they are to the bottom 99. As Stiglitz goes on to say:

Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent.

So, don't lose any sleep for the politicians who are bickering over which of them gets to drive the high speed train into the depths of hell. They aren't losing sleep. After all, it's us who will be on the train. They'll be watching it on Fox News and CNN and congratulating themselves on what a great job they've done.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mayor Ford: User Fees For Everyone...But Him

You probably don't need me to tell you that Rob Ford is a hyprocrite and a liar in addition to being a mean-spirited prick. All that is apparent every time he opens his mouth. Nonetheless, it is useful to see the many ways in which he brings himself into disrepute, hopefully amongst the deluded suburbanites who thought that he was their "get tough" man who really cared about ordinary people.

The fact that he was a millionaire ought to have provided a hint. But not everyone reads the news that closely. However, some of the little treats that have emerged about Rob Ford's over the top - apparently - election expenses have been an interesting angle on this. What the article below reveals is that while Rob Ford and his Gollum-esque brother flounce about peddling user fees on everything from basic services for seniors and poor parents, Rob Ford doesn't seem to feel that user fees apply to him.

During the election, Ford racked up an impressive $13, 362.26 in sign infraction fines during the election campaign. However, even though he applied to appeal the fines past the deadline, those fines were nonetheless waived. All of the other candidates who were fined ponied up. This fine ought to also count against Ford's election expenses and, of course, was not. For a guy who's concerned about over-spending at City Hall, he's not much for keeping his own books in order. But then, as I wrote the other day, this is the guy who hired KPMG to audit the city's books - a company that can't seem to stay out of court for its inability to... audit its client's books.

Oh, Mayor Ford's office had no comment about the fines or the write-off.

City officials waived fines related to Ford’s election campaign - The Globe and Mail

Norway: Terrible Side-Effect of Islamophobia

The horror, tragedy and seeming madness of the killing spree in Norway are almost impossible to imagine. There is a temptation to focus on the mourning and solidarity with people in Norway and to resist analysis as something cold and foreign to the human dimension of the tragedy. But, of course, Anders Breivik has ensured that any discussion of the events are infused with politics, since that was his motive. But, even more so, the wide reach of mainstream media analysis has also put politics front and centre. And, perhaps more than anything, now is the time to understand why this happened as a prelude to ensuring it never happens anywhere else.

In many ways, the initial response of the media and its associated punditry was proof enough of the origins of the ultimately demented and violent ideology that motivated Breivik. With no evidence other than an M.O. that looked nothing like other types of Islamist terrorism, the media was abuzz with claims that it was likely to be Islamists who were behind the dual attack. Even now that it has become clear that Breivik is a fascist and virulent Islamophobe, the attempt to associate his acts somehow with al Qaeda or "jihadism" continue to permeate significant sections of the coverage. This, of course, was no different than what happened after the Oklahoma bombing when every TV news blowhard and politician was pointing the finger at Muslims, leading to attacks in the streets. When it was discovered that, in fact, it was a white Christian man, there were no threats of pogroms, no Christians fired from their jobs, no deportations or no-fly lists, no commentaries and blog posts about the need for Christians to disassociate themselves from terrorism. He was just a "lone nut."

In the case of Anders Breivik it has been more difficult to call him a lone nut. His wide-ranging political associations with the far right in Europe, from the English Defence League and Stop The Islamification of Europe to the medieval militarism of the "Knights Templar" and various anti-Muslim and fascist blog sites, make it clear that he was part of a community of co-thinkers. Thankfully this has led to a public call to face up to the fact that the growth in anti-immigrant parties and movements in Europe demands a response.

But the trouble is, the far right has gotten encouragement and received support from mainstream political parties. Parties from the social democratic left to the ultra-conservative right have contributed to the sense of a "clash of cultures" and a "crusade" against "backward and violent Islam" with the War on Terror that has specifically targeted Muslim countries and Muslim leaders. Certainly the Taliban and Saddam Hussein had little to recommend them - but they had little to do with 9/11. Saddam Hussein was leader of a secular party - the Ba'athist Party - and had never even flirted with Islamism. The Taliban nominally ruled over Afghanistan, which was a base for al Qaeda but only a few years earlier al Qaeda was a CIA asset in the war against the Soviets. And the Americans didn't seem so troubled by the fact that al Qaeda had a training camp in Afghanistan that it prevented politicians and oil executives from entering negotiations with the Taliban for a pipeline across the south of the country. Besides, there were more and better organized Islamists in Pakistan - hell, they basically ran the country through the ISI, which worked closely with the USA during and after the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding the lack of any internal logic related to Islam, the Muslim world had the misfortune of being concentrated in areas of special strategic interest to the American empire. And not being sufficiently subordinate and useful to that empire, they became the target of attack. The use of Islamophobia to provide an ideological underpinning was an extension of the defeat in Iran, where a secular, American backed dictator - the Shah - was overthrown in 1979 by a coalition that was led by Islamists. If the political leadership had been Zoroastrian, then America would have demonized them, because by definition, anybody who fights America the Good is therefore evil. The fact that America the demonization of Islam was an utterly convenient and hypocritical tool of the American government was made clear by the fact that as they were ramping up the anti-Muslim rhetoric in the wake of the "hostage crisis" in Iran, they were starting to ramp up support, including military aid, to Islamist guerillas in Afghanistan.

The Soviets are now long gone and the Islamists no longer serve much purpose to the Americans, except in a couple of important outputs - notably Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. They are now the enemy and the full force of American propaganda has been levelled against them. By now we're all familiar with this particular narrative - Muslims are backward medievalists, they hate and oppress women, they are violent as represented by the concept of jihad, etc. Of course, none of these qualities has ever bothered America or Europe when it served their purposes - Contra guerillas in Nicaragua raped and tortured women; the motivation for numerous American backed death squads in Latin America was grounded in a particular reading of Christianity that was backwards and obviously cruelly violent. But the imprimatur of the US State Dept, along with the active support of most European capitals and a stereotype promoted through the news, analysis, TV and film entertainment, etc. made sure that this view of Islam was widely disseminated and accepted.

In politics there is always a connection between one action and the next, a continuous chain of causality that usually contains its own profound ironies. Islamophobia and a muscular imperialism throughout the Muslim world is no different. The support for repressive, kleptocratic dictators - both secular and sectarian - and the wars of against non-compliant nations like Iraq and Afghanistan, have driven large numbers of Muslims to Europe's and North America's shores to escape the impact of our policies. But with the demonization and stereotypes already in place - as well as an abiding anger against western imperialism by a significant minority in the region, which a vanishingly tiny minority turned into a justification for terrorism - the stage was set for an attack on immigration and multiculturalism, which couldn't avoid being seen as too permissive of "backward" cultural practices of the sort ascribed to Muslims.

In the first instance, the source of this backlash against immigrants was from mainstream politicians and news media, who whipped up campaigns against Muslims. In some parts of Europe - notably France and Belgium - this has included outright bans on head scarves and the like in order to "protect" vulnerable Muslim women from the prey of repressive Muslim men. Of course, white women aren't protected from becoming prey to predatory plastic surgeons who impose unhealthy and invasive breast augmentation at a rate of close on 300,000 per year in the USA, not to mention the social coercion that makes women feel un-womanly if they don't wear short skirts, diet, wear torture implements known as high heel shoes, and spend thousands of dollars to paint their faces. This has never been about protecting women but about "bringing home" the wars that we are fighting abroad and in using already widely accepted characterizations to redirect the public anger experienced by millions whose lives are getting worse under neo-liberalism and a capitalist economy in crisis, onto easy and vulnerable scapegoats.

Maine Tea Party: condemned by their own words

This backdrop is important to understand because it is simply not true that the arrival of immigrants a priori leads to a right wing immigrant backlash - but that is now the dominant discourse being peddled. The article in the New York Times linked to at the bottom of this post makes precisely this matter-of-fact, common sense claim:

Immigration from Muslim countries to Scandinavia and the rest of Europe has set off a deep political debate across the continent and strengthened a number of right-wing anti-immigrant parties.
Canada, at 5.6 migrants per 1,000 population has had much higher rates of immigration than Norway at 1.7 migrants per 1,000 population. This is not to say that there's no racism in Canada or no Islamophobia - there most certainly is. But immigration is central to our economic growth and is accepted as such by every major political party and major media outlet. There has been no sustained campaign against multiculturalism in most of Canada - though Quebec experienced some controversy about "reasonable accommodation" and Harper tried to make an issue out of full face veils at election booths. Not surprisingly, Canada has no significant far-right presence and there are no fascist parties of which I'm aware.

But in Europe - and America, which has combined Islamophobia with hysteria around illegal Latino immigration - the sustained and aggressive mainstream campaign leads some to draw the full logical and horrifying conclusions: that the nation must be protected from an "invasion" by dangerous outsiders and a war on "indigenous" values. In Norway, it had dramatically tragic results. However, the rot is deep and widespread - much deeper than Breivik. Just take a look at the front page of the Maine Tea Party website, which celebrates Breivik as "Man of the Year, 2011". The Tea Party has taken over a significant portion of the Republican Party. And it is only one component that included the Minutemen Project, vigilantes who "patrol" America's borders - whose politics are reflected in anti-immigrant laws in places like Arizona. The truly horrifying lesson from this is that unless the mainstream bigotry of Islamophobia is challenged, this will not be the last such tragedy. Western imperialism created Islamism, in large measure, by destroying all alternative avenues for political expression in the Middle East and the Muslim world. It has no created fascist violence at home by demonizing all Muslims as Islamists and Islamism as a particularly notorious ideology - ignoring the wide spectrum of beliefs and policies that guide various Islamist parties. As British socialist blogger Richard Seymour wrote in an excellent dissection of this whole phenomenon on his blog:

The Islamophobia that has been energetically disseminated by the belligerents of the 'war on terror', the view seriously entertained by many that Europe's Muslim minority constitutes a threat meriting legal supervision and restriction at the very least, has provided the intellectual and moral basis for the mass murder of Norwegian children. No one who is not prepared to countenance this can have anything morally serious or even creditable to say about this slaughter. And anyone who starts from the idea of blaming Islam is placing themselves in a contemptible affinity with the perpetrator.

Killings in Norway Spotlight Anti-Muslim Thought in U.S. -

Saturday, July 23, 2011

KPMG - Helping Tax Dodgers & Corporate Fraudsters Everywhere

The Ford Bros Circus of Stupid decided that the best way to figure out which services we ought to toss on the bonfire was to hire auditing firm KPMG. Well, that's not quite true. Doug Ford has said that they want to "outsource (privatize) everything that's not nailed down." But perhaps he thought it best to find a fig leaf of objectivity for his mission of slash and burn. KPMG is that fig leaf.

But if it's a fig leaf, it's a pretty flimsy one. KPMG has a long history of corrupt and incompetent business/auditing practices. Back in 2005, KPMG admitted selling illegal tax shelters in the USA that allowed corporations and rich bastards to avoid taxes, and thereby helping to make the kinds of cuts they are now recommending necessary. According to this summary:
KPMG admitted to setting up fake tax shelters for it's wealthiest clients, which helped them evade paying $2.5 Billion in tax dollars throughout the 1990's. If that wasn't enough, KMPG was accused with the obstruction of justice as investigators tried to piece together the facts of the accounting scandal.
Nine people from KPMG ended up being charged for tax evasion and obstruction of justice, eight of them were former partners in the firm.

KPMG was also accused - and remember they were hired for their skills and reputation as an auditing firm - of covering up a bribery operation at engineering corporation, Siemens. Somehow, the auditing firm didn't notice a slush fund worth nearly €2 billion.
Debevoise, the firm of independent US lawyers appointed by the Siemens supervisory board to investigate bribes paid by the company, reported back last week. According to the German publication Sueddeutsche Zeitung, they have uncovered €1.2bn of bribes paid by the Siemens telecommunications business between 1995 and 2006 and a further €300m of illicit payments made by its power generation arm.
Now Debevoise is set to look into the role of KPMG, according to sources close to Siemens. The supervisory board wants to know why the apparent bribes were not noticed by KPMG given their scale over many years.
Back across the pond in the USA, the mortgage company known as Fannie Mae launched a suit in 2006 for $2 billion against KPMG because of $6.3 billion in accounting errors that led to Fannie Mae firing KPMG back in 2004.

In 2005 KPMG had to pay out $22.5 million to the Securities & Exchange Commission for helping Xerox cooks the books to the tune of closing a $3 billion earnings gap - i.e. fraud.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Check here for more examples of KPMG's incompetence and corruption as an auditing firm, which has dutifully served its corporate masters to hide money, hide losses, hide bribery and just plain smooth things out for the rich and powerful. And we're supposed to take their recommendations seriously?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mayor Ford Says: Come To City Hall Thursday, July 28, 9:30AM

Well, well, well, normally an invite from Rob Ford would end up in my garbage quicker than a brochure to take out a subscription to the National Post. But sometimes when opportunity knocks, you just have to listen. And this, I think, is one of those moments.

Ford and his Gollum-esque brother - "More libraries than donuts, precious. More libraries than donuts..." - have been all over the talk radio circuit, letting the right wing dj's fellate their plans to gut the city of any sort of public services, parks, libraries, etc. and offering up a heaping helping of Ford bullshit pie, their particular specialty. First it was Robbie-boy blow-harding a big vat of ignoramus that 80% of the city budget consisted of labour costs. Then his idiot brother was making up horse pucks that there were more libraries in his ward than Tim Hortons (actually, it was more like 13 libraries to something like 36 Tim Hortons). These guys produce so much manure when they speak that they could save the city on fertilizer costs.

But I'm hoping that this little tidbit really blows up in his face - the Ford Bros Circus has mostly been let off the hook by the media, when really they should be exposed as corrupt, inveterate liars and bullies. Next Thursday, starting at 9:30 am, City Council's Executive Committee, chock-a-block with the Ford Bros flying monkey brigade of right wing lackeys will be deciding how to screw us over by implementing the austerity measures recommended by KPMG, the corporate rip-off artist's best friend. Ford has enthusiastically invited us all to attend.

“I encourage people to come to the executive committee next Thursday,” he said during an interview on CP24. “Everyone has five minutes to talk to me personally at our executive committee. I invite the whole city. I don’t care if we have to sit there for three days. I don’t want to have people ... they have five minutes to tell me what business do you think we should be in. And it’s next Thursday at 9:30 at city hall. Come and let me know what you think – the average taxpayer out there – what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong. I want to hear from the people and I encourage them to come."
I think that Rob Ford ought to get exactly what he asks for. Hope to see you there - pass it on!

Mayor Ford invites residents to tell him what to keep, cut - The Globe and Mail

BMI & Other Lies

Went out last night for a drink with a friend of mine and we ended up in a conversation with a professor from the University of Western Ontario who teaches in the Women's Studies Dept and specializes in Medical Sociology or the sociology of medicine, I'm not sure which. Anyway, the conversation turned to the "obesity epidemic" that is much in the news and about which there was a recent study. Two things that came out of that conversation were interesting to me.

The first point of interest to me was the desire on the part of the professor - not to deny per se - but to minimize or question the whole idea of an obesity epidemic. She pointed out, rightly, that BMI is mostly a load of bull hockey as this article by a mathematician points out:

The BMI was formulated, by a mathematician, not a medical physician, to provide a simple, easy-to-apply mathematical formula to give a broad, society-level measure of weight issues. It has absolutely no scientific or medical basis. It is based purely on a crude statistical analysis. It measures a general society trend, it does not predict. Since the majority of people today (and in Quetelet's time) lead fairly sedentary lives, and are not particularly active, the formula tacitly assumes low muscle mass and high relative fat content. It applies moderately well when applied to such people because it was formulated by focusing on them! Duh!

But this is not science - it's not even good statistics - and as a result it should not be accepted medical practice, to be regularly flouted as some magical mumbo jumbo and used as a basis for giving advice to patients. (For heavens sake, even seven times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong's own Livestrong website provides a BMI calculator, despite the fact that the boss himself, when he first became a world champion cyclist - before chemotherapy for cancer took 20lbs off him - found himself classified as "overweight" by the wretched formula.)

The absurdity of the BMI's arbitrariness, assumptions about activity levels and the idea of what constitutes a "good weight" are proven by the fact that the above blog author, a slender physically active man, is classified as overweight. The problem, as he notes, is that bone and muscle weigh more than fat and so, chances are, athletes and weight lifters will have higher BMI numbers (BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in metres).

The professor was also concerned about our society's obsession with thinness and youth as a measure of attractiveness. And I agree here also. To see rail thing models on the runway or barely pubescent girls without hips advertising bikinis - and these days to see young men with not an ounce of body fat on their bodies (and probably a little dehydrated to make muscles look more defined) - is more than a little disturbing. But, at the same time, I think it's one-sided to just look at the lies/inaccuracies of BMI and of the "ideal" body type.

BMI may be heavily flawed but its rise over the past two decades nonetheless does demonstrate that average weights in relation to heights are rising. Since there hasn't been a concomitant increase in physical activity - though there has been a substantial growth in gym memberships - it's not unreasonable to assume that the increase has not been in bone density and muscle mass. In fact, a recent report on the rise in obesity in the USA did factor in physical activity as a component part of measuring overweight and obesity.

I'm certain that it is still a wildly subjective measure as to where one draws the line for overweight and obesity. The Center for Disease Control in the USA, for instance, uses a BMI measure that doesn't correspond to its waist measure (40 inches indicates overweight in men, 35 inches in women). And, in terms of measuring mortality, a recent study quoted by the same blog author above, puts a healthy weight as significantly above the CDC's BMI cutoff:

a study of 33,000 American adults, published recently in the American Journal of Public Health (Vol 96, No.1, January 2006, 173-178), showed that male life expectancy is greatest for BMIs of about 26 - overweight under the CDC's rule, and equivalent to 24 lb extra for the typical man. For women, the study found an optimum BMI of about 23.5, about 7 lbs heavier than the CDC's standard.

But, again, it is certainly the case that weights are rising and physical activity isn't, suggesting a trend that is apparent if one just looks around them - people, particularly over 30, are not lean, mean machines. Once we get out of the youth phase of our lives, most of us start to pack on weight so that by the time we're in our forties we have guts and butts.

What is shocking in the recently released study is just how much weights have risen in the past 20 years. Again, the study I linked to above at the Trust for America's Health gives some shocking numbers.

Twenty years ago, no state had an obesity rate above 15 percent. Today, more than two out of three states, 38 total, have obesity rates over 25 percent, and just one has a rate lower than 20 percent. Since 1995, when data was available for every state, obesity rates have doubled in seven states and increased by at least 90 percent in 10 others. Obesity rates have grown fastest in Oklahoma, Alabama, and Tennessee, and slowest in Washington, D.C., Colorado, and Connecticut...

...Since 1995, diabetes rates have doubled in eight states. Then, only four states had diabetes rates above 6 percent. Now, 43 states have diabetes rates over 7 percent, and 32 have rates above 8 percent. Twenty years ago, 37 states had hypertension rates over 20 percent. Now, every state is over 20 percent, with nine over 30 percent.

Racial and ethnic minority adults, and those with less education or who make less money, continue to have the highest overall obesity rates:

Adult obesity rates for Blacks topped 40 percent in 15 states, 35 percent in 35 states, and 30 percent in 42 states and D.C.
Rates of adult obesity among Latinos were above 35 percent in four states (Mississippi, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Texas) and at least 30 percent in 23 states.
Meanwhile, rates of adult obesity for Whites topped 30 percent in just four states (Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia) and no state had a rate higher than 32.1 percent.
Nearly 33 percent of adults who did not graduate high school are obese, compared with 21.5 percent of those who graduated from college or technical college.
More than 33 percent of adults who earn less than $15,000 per year were obese, compared with 24.6 percent of those who earn at least $50,000 per year.

To my mind, the actual obesity rates are of less interest than the overall trend towards poorer health and its association with class oppression, and its intersection with race and ethnicity (basically, a higher proportion of black and Latino Americans are poor and working class). This is connected with the fact that more and more food is of low nutritional quality and low energy quality, being carb heavy and protein and good fat depleted. Of course, like the cheap clothes we buy from H & M that resemble the quality fashion apparel purchased by the wealthy, our crap food is disguised as tasty gourmet treats. And it is shovelled onto our plates in abundance, making us feel like we live in the land of milk and honey when in fact, we are a culture and an economy in a slow decline - at least as far as working class living standards are concerned.

And that is the ironic flip side of the anorexic model and the zero percentage fat man model with the surreal abs. The more we poison ourselves with fat and diabetes inducing food - increasingly the only food we can afford - the more we long to be thin. They are two sides of the same coin, and another expression of our envy of the wealthy. Shows from the 80s & 90s like "Lifestyle of the Rich & Famous" and reality shows like "The O.C.", which aired till 2007 perform a similar function. Most of us can never be rich, thin, "beautiful" so instead we worship an idealized and distorted image of those things. In the case of thinness, it is twisted to the point of anorexia.

NEXT: Lie #2: Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rupert Murdoch, Friend Of Israel

Well this article is an interesting addition to the swirl of debate and exposé that's happening around Rupert Murdoch. The attached article is from J-Wire and is written by Isi Leibler. As all this scandal and humiliation was unfolding, I hadn't considered the impact that it might have upon Israel. Luckily, the zionists never neglect to defend a friend, no matter how much of a dirtbag, dictator, liar, racist or generally unpleasant person that they are. As Mr. Leibler notes:

"... while his enemies continue baying for his blood, most Israelis will be hoping that despite the criminal nature of the News of the World scandal, Rupert Murdoch and his senior management will be exonerated of direct malfeasance and his media holdings will remain substantially intact."

To be fair, Mr. Leibler does say several times that the phone hacking was "unconscionable" and "a disgrace to journalism" but the main thrust of the article is that Murdoch is a victim of the liberal media - which has also abandoned Israel - and the far left in the media. Apparently, Murdoch saved the British nation from the clutches of the far left - I assume by smashing the unions in the press back in the 1980s and creating the conditions of hyper-competitiveness that was a key dynamic driving the turn to the use of phone hacking.

Leibler continues, defending Murdoch from accusations of bias: "most of the Murdoch outlets maintain a fair and evenhanded approach [to Israel]". Fox News? The New York Daily Post? The Sun? Bias? Heavens, no? Leibler focuses his argument on the fact that while the Murdoch empire may have been guilty of some transgressions, the great man was in the forefront of defending western civilization (i.e. Israel) from an assault by "hostile Muslims and other extremists." As an aside, does a Muslim become an extremist by virtue of being hostile to something or is it rooted in the very nature of being Muslim? My guess is the latter and the only good Muslim for Mr. Leibler is one that acquiesces to the Israeli colonialist project and to the US backed dictatorships in the Middle East.

I have to say that I'm grateful that Mr. Leibler brought in the Israel angle and defends Rupert Murdoch from the point of view of the Zionist project. It has given me one more reason to cheer the public dismemberment of his empire and the corruption woven through its every fiber. If it means that Israel's lies have one less mouthpiece in the west and their hold over the narrative of the roots of the conflict in that region are weakened, the world will be a tiny bit of a better place.
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