Wednesday, May 20, 2015

TYRANNY IN REAL TIME

 
Visualize a sinking ship with captain and crew frantically bailing (well some of the crew) out water to keep the ship above the waves.  Now, instead of a great wooden vessel, imagine a credit-inflated rubber raft from which credit is leaking through numerous holes. Policy makers are desperately pumping more credit into the raft to stop it from going down.  The raft is the United States of America (aka the global economy). Humanity lives on top of it. There are no lifeboats. If the raft sinks, people are going to die.
THAT MY FRIENDS IS THE HARSH REALITY OF AMERICA AND ITS ECONOMIC POLITICS OF THE HERE AND NOW.  THE TWO PARTY SYSTEM STOPPED BEING REPRESENTATIVE OF THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTION YEARS AGO; WHEN "THEY" SNUFFED OUT THE AMERICAN DREAM WITH FIAT CURRENCY.
TRADE AGREEMENT MY ASS!
“You need to tell me what’s wrong with this trade agreement, not one that was passed 25 years ago,” a frustrated President Barack Obama recently complained about criticisms of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). He’s right. The public criticisms of the TPP have been vague. That’s by design—anyone who has read the text of the agreement could be jailed for disclosing its contents. I’ve actually read the TPP text provided to the government’s own advisors, and I’ve given the president an earful about how this trade deal will damage this nation. But I can’t share my criticisms with you.

CAN'T STOMACH THE FAKE INDIAN BUT 
I can tell you that Elizabeth Warren is right about her criticism of the trade deal. We should be very concerned about what's hidden in this trade deal—and particularly how the Obama administration is keeping information secret even from those of us who are supposed to provide advice.

BENEDICT ARNOLD'S … ALL 535!
So-called “cleared advisors” like me are prohibited from sharing publicly the criticisms we’ve lodged about specific proposals and approaches. The government has created a perfect Catch 22: The law prohibits us from talking about the specifics of what we’ve seen, allowing the president to criticize us for not being specific. Instead of simply admitting that he disagrees with me—and with many other cleared advisors—about the merits of the TPP, the president instead pretends that our specific, pointed criticisms don’t exist.

What I can tell you is that the administration is being unfair to those who are raising proper questions about the harms the TPP would do. To the administration, everyone who questions their approach is branded as a protectionist—or worse—dishonest. They broadly criticize organized labor, despite the fact that unions have been the primary force in America pushing for strong rules to promote opportunity and jobs. And they dismiss individuals like me who believe that, first and foremost, a trade agreement should promote the interests of domestic producers and their employees.

I’ve been deeply involved in trade policy for almost four decades. For 21 years, I worked for former Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt and handled all trade policy issues including “fast track,” the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization’s Uruguay Round, which is the largest trade agreement in history. I am also a consultant to various domestic producers and the United Steelworkers union, for whom I serve as a cleared advisor on two trade advisory committees. To top it off, I was a publicly acknowledged advisor to the Obama campaign in 2008.

LIQUID(ITY) CORK 
… TRADE DEAL WILL MERELY RE-ADJUST VALUE AND HELP STABILIZE THE SINKING RAFT … not going to sink on my watch!
Obama may no longer be listening to my advice, but Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren might as well be. Warren, of course, has been perhaps the deal’s most vocal critic, but even the more cautious Clinton has raised the right questions on what a good TPP would look like. Her spokesman, Nick Merrill, said: “She will be watching closely to see what is being done to crack down on currency manipulation, improve labor rights, protect the environment and health, promote transparency and open new opportunities for our small businesses to export overseas. As she warned in her book Hard Choices, we shouldn’t be giving special rights to corporations at the expense of workers and consumers.”

On this count, the current TPP doesn’t measure up. And nothing being considered by Congress right now would ensure that the TPP meets the goal of promoting domestic production and job creation.

The text of the TPP, like all trade deals, is a closely guarded secret. That fact makes a genuine public debate impossible and should make robust debate behind closed doors all the more essential. But the ability of TPP critics like me to point out the deal’s many failings is limited by the government’s surprising and unprecedented refusal to make revisions to the language in the TPP fully available to cleared advisors.

Bill Clinton didn’t operate like this. During the debate on NAFTA, as a cleared advisor for the Democratic leadership, I had a copy of the entire text in a safe next to my desk and regularly was briefed on the specifics of the negotiations, including counterproposals made by Mexico and Canada. During the TPP negotiations, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has never shared proposals being advanced by other TPP partners. Today’s consultations are, in many ways, much more restrictive than those under past administrations.

All advisors, and any liaisons, are required to have security clearances, which entail extensive paperwork and background investigations, before they are able to review text and participate in briefings. But, despite clearances, and a statutory duty to provide advice, advisors do not have access to all the materials that a reasonable person would need to do the job. The negotiators provide us with “proposals” but those are merely initial proposals to trading partners. We are not allowed to see counter-proposals from our trading partners. Often, advisors are provided with updates indicating that the final text will balance all appropriate stakeholder interests but we frequently receive few additional details beyond that flimsy assurance.

Those details have enormous repercussions. For instance, rules of origin specify how much of a product must originate within the TPP countries for the resulting product to be eligible for duty-free treatment. These are complex rules that decide where a company will manufacture its products and where is will purchase raw materials. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), 62.5 percent of a car needed to originate within NAFTA countries. In the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement, it was lowered to 50 percent. It further dropped to 35 percent in the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). In essence, under our agreement with Korea, 65 percent of a car from South Korea could be made from Chinese parts and still qualify for duty-free treatment when exported to the U.S.

That fact is politically toxic, and for that reason, we should expect the TPP agreement to have higher standards. But will it reach the 62.5 percent NAFTA requirement? Or will it be only a slight improvement over KORUS? Without access to the final text of the agreement, it’s impossible to say.

State-owned enterprises may, for the first time, be addressed in the TPP. But, once again, the details are not clear. Will exemptions be provided to countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, all of which could be heavily impacted by such a rule? What will be the test to determine what is or is not acceptable behavior? Will injury be required to occur over a substantial period of time, or will individual acts of non-commercial, damaging trade practices be actionable? Again, it’s impossible to say for sure.

Advisors are almost flying blind on these questions and others.

Only portions of the text have been provided, to be read under the watchful eye of a USTR official. Access, up until recently, was provided on secure web sites. But the government-run website does not contain the most-up-to-date information for cleared advisors. To get that information, we have to travel to certain government facilities and sign in to read the materials. Even then, the administration determines what we can and cannot review and, often, they provide carefully edited summaries rather than the actual underlying text, which is critical to really understanding the consequences of the agreement.








Friday, May 8, 2015

GOING, GOING, GONE

Americans Living Abroad Set Record for Giving Up Citizenship

More Americans living outside the U.S. gave up their citizenship in the first quarter of 2015 than ever before, according to data released Thursday by the IRS.

The 1,335 expatriations topped the previous record by 18 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Those Americans are driven to turn in their passports in part because of laws that have expanded bank reporting and tax compliance requirements for expatriates.

The increase in early 2015 follows an annual record in 2014, when 3,415 Americans gave up their citizenship.
An estimated 6 million U.S. citizens are living abroad, and the U.S. is the only country within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that taxes citizens wherever they reside.
In many cases, those choosing to give up their citizenship have limited connections to the U.S. and have lived outside of the country for most of their lives. Anyone born in the U.S. automatically receives citizenship, and people born abroad to U.S. parents are typically citizens as well.

For some the decision is easy, because they perceive little benefit from holding U.S. citizenship. For others, the choice is more complicated.

‘Highly Distressing’

“The cost of compliance with the complex tax treatment of non-resident U.S. citizens and the potential penalties I face for incorrect filings and for holding non-U.S. securities forces me to consider whether it would be more advantageous to give up my U.S. citizenship,” Stephanos Orestis, a U.S. citizen living in Oslo, wrote in a March 23 letter to the Senate Finance Committee. “The thought of doing so is highly distressing for me since I am a born and bred American with a love for my country.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson, who had a tax dispute with the IRS, said earlier this year that he would give up the U.S. citizenship he received because he was born in New York. His name isn’t on the IRS list. Eduardo Saverin, a Brazilian-born co-founder of Facebook Inc., gave up his U.S. citizenship in 2012.

U.S. citizens who live abroad can exclude as much as $100,800 in earned income and in many cases can receive tax credits for payments to foreign governments.

Tax Cheats

The U.S. has increased efforts to catch tax cheats after the Swiss bank UBS AG paid a $780 million penalty in 2009 and handed over data on about 4,700 accounts. That has led some banks to forgo doing business with people who have ties to the U.S.

One of the primary U.S. moves took effect last year as asset-disclosure rules under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act kicked in. The measure, known as Fatca, requires U.S. financial institutions to impose a 30 percent withholding tax on payments made to foreign banks that don’t agree to identify and provide information on U.S. account holders.
It allows the U.S. to scoop up data from more than 77,000 institutions and 80 governments about its citizens’ overseas financial activities.
The new laws, combined with past rules, can make tax filing difficult for U.S. citizens living overseas who are trying to start businesses or set up trusts, said Andrew Mitchel. He’s an international tax lawyer in Centerbrook, Connecticut, who has been tracking expatriations.

“These are complicated rules, and these are laypeople who don’t really understand the rules,” he said. “It can be tens of thousands of dollars to file tax returns.”


In establishing the 2010 law, Congress and President Barack Obama in effect threatened to cut off banks and other companies from easy access to the U.S. market if they didn’t pass along such information. It was projected to generate $8.7 billion over 10 years, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.








Tuesday, May 5, 2015

YUP … ISIS IS ON THE RUN … STRAIGHT TO MEXICO NEAR TEXAS

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth
A graphic illustration of Western wishful thinking about the decline of Islamic State (IS) is a well-publicised map issued by the Pentagon to prove that the self-declared caliphate has lost 25 per cent of its territory since its big advances last year.

Unfortunately for the Pentagon, sharp-eyed American journalists soon noticed something strange about its map identifying areas of IS strength. While it shows towns and villages where IS fighters have lost control around Baghdad, it simply omits western Syria where they have been advancing in and around Damascus.


CAIRO (AP) — The Islamic State group claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a weekend attack at a center near Dallas, Texas, that was exhibiting cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad - though it offered no evidence of a direct link to the attackers. 
The Pentagon displayed some embarrassment about its dodgy map, but it largely succeeded in its purpose of convincing people that IS is in retreat. Many news outlets across the world republished the map as evidence of the success of air strikes by the United States and its allies in support of the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria. The capture of Tikrit after a month-long siege is cited as a further sign that a re-energised Iraqi state is winning and one day in the not too distant future will be able to recapture Mosul in the north and Anbar province in the west.

How much of this comforting news is true? Recall that the loss or retention of territory is not a good measure of a force such as IS using quasi-guerrilla tactics. Good news from the point of view of Baghdad is that its forces finally retook the small city of Tikrit, though its recapture was primarily the work of 20,000 Shia militia and not the Iraqi army, which only had some 3,000 soldiers involved in the battle. It was not a fight to the finish and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said IS only committed a few hundred fighters to holding the city.

Friday, May 1, 2015

OH PLEASE SAY IT AIN'T SO!

Scientists Discover the Secret to Keeping Cells Young


Researchers say it may be possible to slow and even reverse aging by keeping DNA more stably packed together in our cells

In a breakthrough discovery, scientists report that they have found the key to keeping cells young. In a study published Thursday in Science, an international team, led by Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte at the Salk Institute, studied the gene responsible for an accelerated aging disease known as Werner syndrome, or adult progeria, in which patients show signs of osteoporosis, grey hair and heart disease in very early adulthood.

These patients are deficient in a gene responsible for copying DNA, repairing any mistakes in that replication process, and for keeping track of telomeres, the fragments of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that are like a genetic clock dictating the cell’s life span. Belmonte—together with scientists at the University Catolica San Antonio Murcia and the Institute of Biophysics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences—wanted to understand how the mutated gene triggered aging in cells. So they took embryonic stem cells, which can develop into all of the cells of the human body, and removed this gene. They then watched as the cells aged prematurely, and found that the reason they became older so quickly had to do with how their DNA was packaged.

MORE: The Cure for Aging

In order to function properly, DNA is tightly twisted and wound into chromosomes that resemble a rope in the nucleus of cells. Only when the cell is ready to divide does the DNA unwrap itself, and even then, only in small segments at a time. In patients with Werner syndrome, the chromosomes are slightly messier, more loosely stuffed into the nuclei, and that leads to instability that pushes the cell to age more quickly. Belmonte discovered that the Werner gene regulates this chromosome stability. When he allowed the embryonic stem cells that were missing this gene to grow into cells that go on to become bone, muscle and more, he saw that these cells aged more quickly.

“It’s clear that when you have alterations in [chromosome stability], the process of aging goes so quickly and so fast that it’s tempting to say, yes, this is the key process for driving aging,” says Belmonte.

Even more exciting, when he analyzed a population of stem cells taken from the dental pulp of both younger and older people, he found that the older individuals, aged 58 to 72 years, had fewer genetic markers for the chromosome instability while the younger people aged seven to 26 years showed higher levels of these indicators.

MORE: What Diet Helps People Live the Longest?

“What this study means is that this protein does not only work in a particular genetic disease, it works in all humans,” says Belmonte. “This mechanism is general for aging process.”

Before it can be considered as the Fountain of Youth, however, Belmonte says new and better techniques need to be developed that can more specifically and safely alter the Werner gene in people, not just a culture dish of human cells. He also stresses that there may be other processes contributing to aging, and it’s not clear yet how important chromosome stability is compared to those factors. But, he says. “having technologies like this will allow us to determine how important each of these parameters are for aging.” And if the findings hold up, they could be first step toward finding a way to help cells, and eventually people, live longer.

SCRATCH AND SNIFF … THE NOSE KNOWS … OR HOW TO DISPERSE A PC LIBERAL CROWD

America’s Police Will Fight the Next Riot With These Stink Bombs
 

As protestors and police officers clash on the streets of divided cities such as Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri, some police departments are stockpiling a highly controversial weapon to control civil unrest.

It’s called Skunk, a type of “malodorant,” or in plainer language, a foul-smelling liquid. Technically nontoxic but incredibly disgusting, it has been described as a cross between “dead animal and human excrement.” Untreated, the smell lingers for weeks.
JUST FOLLOW YOUR NOSE
The Israeli Defense Forces developed Skunk in 2008 as a crowd-control weapon for use against Palestinians. Now Mistral, a company out of Bethesda, Maryland, says they are providing it to police departments in the United States, including the Ferguson PD.

Skunk is composed of a combination of baking soda and amino acids, Mistral program manager Stephen Rust said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Armament Systems Forum on April 20. “You can drink it, but you wouldn’t want to,” said Rust, a retired U.S. Army project manager.

The Israelis first used it in 2008 to disperse Palestinians protesting in the West Bank. A BBC video shows its first use in action, sprayed by a hose, a system that has come to be known as the “crap cannon.”

TOURISM
Mistral reps say Skunk, once deployed, can be “neutralized” with a special soap — and only with that soap. In another BBCvideo, an IDF spokesman describes how any attempt to wash it via regular means only exacerbates its effects. Six weeks after IDF forces used it against Palestinians at a security barrier, it still lingered in the air.

Mistral says the United States military has expressed an interest in Skunk, if not yet placed an order. “We’ve demoed it at Fort Bragg. Why? Because they asked about it,” said Rust.

(Related: Stop Arming the Police Like a Military)

DELIVERY

But the military has been experimenting and researching malodorants in various forms for years. A 2008 presentation from defense contractor General Dynamics describes a stink grenade that the company developed with the Army called the XM1063, which can be fired from a 155mm artillery gun. The development of malodorants remains an ongoing research project, according to documents related to Office of Naval Research’s fiscal year 2015 budget. Many malodorants currently in research have a toxic acetone base, according to Rust. Skunk, conversely, does not.

ATTRACTIVE GHETTO FRAGRANCE
In some ways, Skunk is less physically dangerous than tear gas or rubber bullets. It doesn’t sting, but rather triggers a flight response in the amygdala. That could make it usable in combat settings where other crowd-control agents like tear gas are forbidden by the Chemical Weapons Convention, or CWC. “If a particular malodorant is disseminated with a concentration that does not activate the trigeminal nerve, it may not require designation as an RCA [riot control agent] under the CWC,” Kelly Hughes, a spokesman for DOD Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program, told New Scientistin 2012.

But what seems like a viable alternative to bullets in a war zone becomes more disturbing in the hands of domestic police forces, particularly those who have soured relations with the communities they serve. “We’ve provided some Skunk for the law enforcement agencies in Ferguson. They did not use it yet but they do have it,” said Rust.

The Ferguson police department has become synonymous with police abuse, as detailed by the Justice Department report in the wake of last August’s shooting of Michael Brown. Representatives from the city of Ferguson did not respond to repeated calls for comment.

Today, Mistral sells Skunk in a variety of form factors. These include MK-20 canister rounds, which hold 20 ounces of the stuff and deploy out to 24 feet; MK-46 canisters with 60 ounces and a range of 40 feet; a “skid sprayer” that can shoot 50 gallons of Skunk, at 7 gallons a minute, out to 60 feet; and 40mm grenades that can be fired from modified shotguns.

EVEN STEVIE WONDER CAN FIND YOU
The grenade format is of particular interest to police departments, because it allows for targeted deployment. “I’m going to be able to drill [a specific target in a crowd] with a … round while I put him in the dirt. I can mark him with Skunk and he will be easy to locate when the crowd disperses,” Rust said.

What version might show up at the next protest in Ferguson? In all likelihood, the one with the longest range. “When we talked to the law enforcement guys out in Ferguson, and at customs and border protection, distance was an issue. They wanted to be able to provide that stink and really keep law enforcement out of rock-throwing range,” said Rust.

FAST ACTING 
… BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE
For police forces, there is obvious appeal for means for controlling a situation from a safe distance without causing permanent physical injury. “Large-scale riots are dispersed in minutes and not hours,” Rust said.
To those who have been hit with Skunk, the experience is akin to being doused with “shit.” in the words of one Palestinian protester, “it makes you feel inhuman.”

VOTING DEMOCRAT
There’s something particularly nightmarish about the use of a weapon like Skunk in the context of an American city like Ferguson. The spraying of feces agents on a crowd of U.S.citizens represents a tangible and absolute reinforcement of social division. There is no more complete way to dehumanize someone than to make that human repulsive to herself.
The poisoning of a place also serves as a ghastly method of desecration, destroying any will to reside, congregate, protest, or even document a location until the owner of the weapon elects to clean it away. It is not only a means of crowd control but also, potentially, a system for maintaining new apartheids.
If it smells like an act of war, it is.