Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Save the planet – a message from another world

Patrick Barkham reports for the Guardian:

Jacinto Zarabata sits in a suburban back garden in north London and unselfconsciously uses a stick to probe the inside of a gourd, which is shaped like a rather phallic mushroom with a bright yellow cap. The first member of the Kogi people of Colombia ever to visit Britain is wearing traditional rough cotton clothes and has a cloth bag slung over each shoulder as he chews toasted coca leaves.

It would be easy to view Jacinto as a noble savage; an exotic being from a pristine indigenous culture still living in impenetrable pockets of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest coastal mountain range in the world. But this small, self-assured spokesman for the Kogi soon subverts that stereotype. As he answers my first question in fluent Spanish, he delves into one bag, extracts a camera and takes a photograph of me.

Jacinto has made the journey to Britain because the Kogi have embarked on an unusual and ambitious mission. They are making a movie about their way of life – but not for themselves, as part of some kind of do-gooding community workshop; it is for us, and it carries an uncompromising message. One of very few indigenous American people to resist the ravages of Spanish conquistadors, Christian missionaries and, now, eco-tourists, militias, drug lords and heavy industry, the Kogi have observed frightening changes to their homeland in recent decades. The glaciers are melting, storms have increased in ferocity, there are landslides and floods, followed by droughts and deforestation. The Kogi, who live by a complex set of spiritual beliefs, are the "elder brother" and guardians of this, the heart of the earth, and they believe we in the west ("little brother") are destroying the planet. They have come to warn us, before it is too late.

Jacinto, who is a spokesperson for the Mamos, the Kogi spiritual leaders who have a unique wisdom forged by an entire childhood spent living in the dark, arrived in London the previous night. He is staying with Alan Ereira, who made a BBC documentary, The Heart of the World, about their life 20 years ago. What are Jacinto's first impressions of our society?

"The first thing that is noticeable to me is that this is still the world," he says. "What's visible is construction, what you have made. This is not something we, the Kogi, are used to seeing. You give precedence to the use of a thing rather than its source. That's the intellectual error. Ultimately, it's all nature." From Jacinto's viewpoint, when we glance at a car we might assess its cost and the status conferred on its driver. We don't recognise it as a clever piece of engineering of resources that once lay inside the earth.

~ more... ~


ALUNA - The Movie


The Kogi proclaim their intention to take us into the world of Aluna in a new film.

Lawsuit Against Liquor Makers Illuminates Drug-War Charade

Occasionally, the U.S. justice system opens a window into the true nature of the drug-war pretense, despite the political rhetoric employed to conceal the hypocrisy.

That is the case with respect to a pending lawsuit that pits the government of Colombia, and its various departments (or states) against two of the world's largest liquor producers, England-based Diageo Plc and France-based Pernod Ricard SA — both of which have major U.S. operations and produce well-known brands such as Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Captain Morgan Chivas Regal and Martell.

In the litigation, a civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act case filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, the government of Colombia accuses the giant liquor companies and their co-conspirators, including distributors based in Aruba (a Caribbean island nation just northeast of Colombia), of having “engaged in and facilitated organized crime by laundering the proceeds of narcotics trafficking,” among other acts, according to the court pleadings.

In what can only be described as a real head-scratcher, the government of Colombia is continuing to wage this legal battle against the liquor makers even while it presses for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States that, by the terms of the proposed pact (now awaiting approval from the U.S. Congress), would actually make it easier for liquor makers and distributors to expand their business activities in Colombia.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which is part of the Executive Office of the President, provides the following description of the proposed FTA, dubbed the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement:

    Under Law 788, Colombia assesses a consumption tax on beverage alcohol based on a system of specific rates per degree (percentage point) of alcohol strength. This tax regime discriminates against imported distilled spirits through arbitrary breakpoints that have the effect of applying a lower tax rate per degree of alcohol to domestically produced spirits. Under the CTPA [U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement], Colombia committed to eliminate this discriminatory element of the excise tax for imports of distilled spirits within four years of entry into force of the agreement. Additionally, under the national treatment principle of the CTPA, Colombia committed to eliminate discriminatory practices that have restricted the ability of U.S. distilled spirits companies to conduct business in Colombia. [Emphasis added.]

Simple economics seems to dictate that if sales of foreign liquor products increase in Colombia under the trade pact as proposed, so too would the opportunity to launder money via the sales of those products.

~ more... ~

A Convenient Truth: Urban Solutions from Curitiba, Brazil



Cities should be a solution not a problem for human beings. The city of Curitiba has demonstrated for the past 40 years how to transform problems into cost-effective solutions that can be applied in most cities around the world.

A Convenient Truth: Urban Solutions from Curitiba, Brazil is an informative, inspirational documentary aimed at sharing ideas to provoke environment-friendly and cost-effective changes in cities worldwide. The documentary focuses on innovations in transportation, recycling, social benefits including affordable housing, seasonal parks, and the processes that transformed Curitiba into one of the most livable cities in the world.

The film includes interviews from world renowned Curitiba's mayors Jaime Lerner and Cassio Tanigushi, as well as other brilliant minds who made Curitiba a world class model.

On the Passage of a few People through a Rather Brief Moment in Time: The Situationist International 1956-1972

On the Passage of a few People through a Rather Brief Moment in Time: The Situationist International 1956-1972 from zwischenzug on Vimeo.



A video documentary combining exhibition footage of the Situationist International exhibitions with film footage of the 1968 Paris student uprising, and graffiti and slogans based on the ideas of Guy Debord (one of the foremost spokesmen of the Situationist International movement). Also includes commentary by leading art critics Greil Marcus, Thomas Levine, and artists Malcolm Mac Laren and Jamie Reid. Branka Bogdanov, Director and producer. NTSC-VHS 22 min. 1989

After Thirteen Months in an Iranian Prison, Sarah Shourd Has ‘No Animosity’ Toward Ahmadinejad

Sarah Shourd, the American hiker held in Iran for thirteen months on spying charges who was sent back to the U.S. last week, had a face-to-face meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad in New York yesterday. Of their chat, she said in a statement:

I would like to thank President Ahmadinejad for giving me and my mother the opportunity to meet with him today. It was a very gracious gesture and a good meeting. While I was in prison, I pleaded for the chance to speak with President Ahmadinejad in order to clear up any misunderstanding that led to our detention. Our story was completely unexpected and tragic. We did nothing wrong. We meant no harm to the Iranian people. I just think it's a huge misunderstanding - more to do with the problems between the countries than us as individuals. I have no animosity towards [Ahmadinejad ] or the government. I want it to be resolved. I want it to be finished.

Shourd added that, of course, she wants her fellow hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, still held in Iran, sent back to the U.S. as well. Partly, that's because Bauer proposed to her while they were stuck in an Iranian prison together and thought they'd never see home again. And she still wants to marry him. Love!

~ New York Magazine ~

Musical Innerlube: Flash And The Pan - Jetsetters Ball

Scientists, Secrets and Wall Street's Lost $4 Trillion

From Pam Martens' report in Counterpunch:

Taking the human relationship, and human brain, out of investing for others and turning it over to computer formulas has produced stark results: a lost decade of retirement savings for most Americans; a multi-trillion dollar collapse of the financial system; a taxpayer bailout of the most incompetent and negligent firms in finance; the greatest wealth transfer to the top 1 percent in the history of the country -- which has contributed to  43.6 million people in America, including one in every five children, living below the poverty level.

And despite all this, Wall Street's top cop, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), continues to treat Wall Street as an overly rambunctious adolescent that needs merely a little slap on the wrist from time to time.

Consider the recent example of how Citigroup was punished by the SEC for willfully “scripting” announcements to investors to hide $39 billion of its exposure to subprime debt.   According to the SEC's order of July 29, 2010, only Gary Crittenden, CFO during the period of the order, and Arthur Tildesley, head of Investor Relations at the time, were singled out and given fines of $100,000 and $80,000 respectively.  They were not barred from Wall Street; their collaborators in the debt deception, who were known to the SEC via emails obtained from the firm, were not named in the SEC order or fined.  The following is from the SEC order:

In late September and early October 2007, Crittenden, the chief financial officer (“CFO”) of Citigroup Inc. (“Citigroup”) and Tildesley, the head of Citigroup's Investor Relations (“IR”) department, both helped draft and then approved, and Crittenden subsequently made, misstatements about the exposure to sub-prime mortgages of Citigroup's investment bank. Citigroup then included a transcript of the misstatements in a Form 8-K that it filed with the Commission on October 1, 2007. The misstatements were made at a time of heightened investor and analyst interest in public company exposure to sub-prime mortgages and related to disclosures that the Citigroup investment bank had reduced its sub-prime exposure from $24 billion at the end of 2006 to slightly less than $13 billion. In fact, however, in addition to the approximately $13 billion in disclosed sub-prime exposure, the investment bank's sub-prime exposure included more than $39 billion of “super senior” tranches of sub-prime collateralized debt obligations and related instruments called “liquidity puts” and thus exceeded $50 billion. Citigroup did not acknowledge that the investment bank's sub-prime exposure exceeded $50 billion until November 4, 2007, when the company announced that the investment bank then had approximately $55 billion of sub-prime exposure.

There are systemic ramifications to secrets like the above which, still today, proliferate across Wall Street.  The SEC has assigned a former rocket physicist, Gregg Berman, to lead the investigation into the Flash Crash of May 6, 2010.  On that day the market lost a staggering 998 points intraday, sold off some blue chip stocks at 20 to 40 per cent below their opening price, knocked some S&P 500 stocks to a penny, then turned on a dime and shot upward in a bizarre financial bungee jump, with the Dow closing down 348 points.  It apparently hasn't occurred to the SEC that the American people do not want their life savings in a venue that requires a rocket scientist to explain how it works. (A CNBC/Associated Press poll conducted between August 26 and September 8 of this year found that 86 percent of survey respondents view the stock market as unfair to small investors.  Half the respondents say they have little or no confidence in the ability of regulators to make the market fair for all investors.)

[ ... ]

One of the most outspoken critics of the risk modeling technique known as  VaR is Dr. Nassim Taleb,  who holds impressive academic credentials himself: a Wharton M.B.A., a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in Management Science from the University of Paris.  Dr. Taleb testified as follows on September 10, 2009 before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the Committee on Science and Technology.  (Despite this testimony, fourteen days later, the SEC hired Dr. Berman.)

“Thirteen years ago, I warned that 'VaR encourages misdirected people to take risks with shareholders,' and ultimately taxpayers' money.' I have since been begging for the suspension of these measurements of tail risks [fat tail or extreme events]. But this came a bit late. For the banking system has lost so far, according to the International Monetary Fund, in excess of 4 trillion dollars directly as a result of faulty risk management… My first encounter with the VaR was as a derivatives trader in the early 1990s when it was first introduced. I saw its underestimation of the risks of a portfolio by a factor of 100 --you set up your book to lose no more than $100,000 and you take a $10,000,000 hit.  Worse, there was no way to get a handle on how much its underestimation could be.  Using VaR after the crash of 1987 proved strangely gullible.  But the fact that its use was not suspended after the many subsequent major events, such as the Long-Term Capital Management blowup in 1998, requires some explanation. [Long Term Capital Management was a hedge fund blown up by a group of Ph.D.s using massive leverage.] Furthermore, regulators started promoting VaR (Basel 2) just as evidence was mounting against it.

~ more... ~

Iran crosses into Iraq to hit bombing suspects

Iranian forces crossed into neighboring Iraq and killed 30 fighters from a group it says was involved in last week's bombing of a military parade, state TV reported Sunday.

Gen. Abdolrasoul Mahmoudabadi of the elite Revolutionary Guards said the "terrorists" were killed on Saturday in a clash "beyond the border" and that his forces were still in pursuit of two men who escaped the ambush.

While Iran has said in the past it would target armed groups on Iraqi soil this is a rare case of it actually admitting to an attack.

Iraqi officials have complained in the past about Iranian artillery shelling its northern mountainous region where armed Kurdish opposition groups have taken refuge.

An explosion during a military parade in the town of Mahabad, in Iran's northwestern Kurdish region, killed 12 women and children on Wednesday.

Iran has already blamed the attack on Kurdish separatists who have fought Iranian forces in the area for years, but most Kurdish groups condemned the attack and no one has so far claimed responsibility for it.

Iran has also blamed Israel, the U.S. and supporters of Iraq's previous regime for supporting the Kurdish groups.

~ more... ~

Opium trade rife in early R.I. history

Rhode Island merchants played a major role in the American slave trade, financing some 1,000 trips to Africa.

But Providence businessmen and slavers, including John Brown, also made money from another unsavory practice after the Revolution: the opium trade.

Although opium was used as both medicine and a drug elsewhere, it was illegal in China, where merchants from Philadelphia, New York and New England made money selling the banned drug.

Relying on their skills as coastal privateers, slave traders and even patriots, Americans “became masters of opium smuggling along the China coast,” said history professor Sucheta Mazumdar at Brown University on Monday.

The Duke University professor spoke as part of a yearlong symposium called “Asia-Pacific in the Making of the Americas: Toward a Global History.”

According to Mazumdar and other scholars, American merchants played a significant role in developing new sources of opium and expanding the market from the late 1700s to 1850.

Although Americans traded in other Chinese goods, including tea, silk and porcelain, “what made opium profitable was the fact that it was a smuggled item,” said Mazumdar in a speech titled “Slaves, Textiles and Opium: The Other Half of the Triangular Trade.”

Back in America, the profits from the trade generated money for mansions, banks, railroads and textile mills, she said.

~ more... ~

Nepal fast becoming major opium producer

Nepal could soon earn the unenviable distinction of being a major opium-producing country of the world if the current trend of opium cultivation in the central Tarai continues, government officials acknowledge.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recently sent a team of experts to inspect the central Tarai where the law and order situation has allowed opium cultivation to flourish.


UNODC´s inspection took place at a time when Nepal´s giant neighbors - India and China - have started to emerge as major global players in terms of opium production and consumption.

Both countries produce opium legally for medicinal use. India is the leading country in legal opium cultivation and the biggest exporter to the US, but it is also witnessing increasing illegal production.

Opium cultivation in Nepal is spreading in the southern plains that either border or are close to parts of India - Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan- where both legal and illegal opium cultivation exists.

Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Hemanta Malla, who specialized in narcotics during his 13-year stint at the Narcotic Control and Law Enforcement Unit (NCLEU), said illegal opium cultivation has spilled over from India into Nepal due to the poor state of law and order here.

~ more... ~

Take me to your UN leader (Space ambassador to greet Alien Visitors)



The United Nations could appoint an astrophysicist to co-ordinate the response to any possible alien contact.


Israel Navy to use force if Jewish aid boat heading for Gaza refuses to comply

An Israel Defense Forces official confirmed Monday that the military intends to refuse to let the boat dock in Gaza, not only in a bid to maintain the naval blockade but out of concern for the safety of the Israeli citizens onboard once in the territory.

Military officials said the boat was carrying a negligible load of supplies, and describes the action as a "provocation" that disrupts the navy's operation.

An army source said that when the vessel reaches the area where the naval blockade begins, the military will offer to transfer its supplies to the Port of Ashdod and order the crew to turn around. Should they refuse, the source said, the Shayetet 13 naval commando unit will seize control of the boat and transport it to Ashdod, where crew members will be detained for trying to violate the blockade.

~ more... ~

The former guerrilla set to be the world's most powerful woman

The world's most powerful woman will start coming into her own next weekend. Stocky and forceful at 63, this former leader of the resistance to a Western-backed military dictatorship (which tortured her) is preparing to take her place as President of Brazil.

As head of state, president Dilma Rousseff would outrank Angela Merkel, Germany's Chancellor, and Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State: her enormous country of 200 million people is revelling in its new oil wealth. Brazil's growth rate, rivalling China's, is one that Europe and Washington can only envy.

Her widely predicted victory in next Sunday's presidential poll will be greeted with delight by millions. It marks the final demolition of the "national security state", an arrangement that conservative governments in the US and Europe once regarded as their best artifice for limiting democracy and reform. It maintained a rotten status quo that kept a vast majority in poverty in Latin America while favouring their rich friends.

Ms Rousseff, the daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant to Brazil and his schoolteacher wife, has benefited from being, in effect, the prime minister of the immensely popular President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former union leader. But, with a record of determination and success (which includes appearing to have conquered lymphatic cancer), this wife, mother and grandmother will be her own woman. The polls say she has built up an unassailable lead – of more than 50 per cent compared with less than 30 per cent – over her nearest rival, an uninspiring man of the centre called Jose Serra. Few doubt that she will be installed in the Alvorada presidential palace in Brasilia in January.

Like President Jose Mujica of Uruguay, Brazil's neighbour, Ms Rousseff is unashamed of a past as an urban guerrilla which included battling the generals and spending time in jail as a political prisoner.

~ more... ~

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