Friday, February 6, 2009


1. The Worst Food in America of 2009

Baskin Robbins Large Chocolate Oreo Shake
2,600 calories
135 g fat (59 g saturated fat, 2.5 g trans fats)
263 g sugars
1,700 mg sodium

We didn't think anything could be worse than Baskin Robbins' 2008 bombshell, the Heath Bar Shake. After all, it had more sugar (266 grams) than 20 bowls of Froot Loops, more calories (2,310) than 11 actual Heath Bars, and more ingredients (73) than you'll find in most chemist labs.

Rather than coming to their senses and removing it from the menu, they did themselves one worse and introduced this caloric catastrophe. It¹s soiled with more than a day's worth of calories and three days worth of saturated fat, and, worst of all, usually takes less than 10 minutes to sip through a straw.

Eat This Instead! (and ask for two spoons)
2-Scoop Hot fudge Sundae
Chocolate and Vanilla
530 calories
29 g fat (19 g saturated fat)
52 g sugars

The Key to Happiness That No One -- Not Even the Happiness Gurus -- Are Discussing

Health & wellness

By Frances Moore Lappe,

"What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome."

So wrote Friedrich Nietzsche in 1895.

I'm guessing that many of you would feel uncomfortable embracing this definition of happiness, especially coming from one of history's most famous curmudgeons. If so, maybe in part it's because too often we've nodded in agreement with Lord Acton's catchy caveat, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." And who would want to risk corruption?

But what if we were to dig to the root, Latin meaning of power, "to be able"? Suddenly, the word's hard edge dissolves; power simply means efficacy -- our capacity, as philosopher Erich Fromm put it, to "make a dent."

Over the last decade, the happiness quest has spawned best-selling books, college courses, retreats and even a "happiness conference." Most seem to offer similar advice: Once our basic physical needs are covered, more stuff does little to boost our happiness. Friendships, family, self-acceptance and meaning in our lives are the core determinants of our happiness.

I'm happy we're talking about happiness, but disturbed, too, because I've noticed that most happiness gurus fail to mention power. And why is that a big mistake? Because most human beings are not couch potatoes and whiners. We are doers and creators.

In fact, the human need to "make a dent" is so great that Fromm argued we should toss out René Descartes' "I think therefore I am" and replace it with "I am, because I effect."

Even much of what we call "materialism" is, I think, not about "things" at all. It is a distorted, ultimately unsatisfying attempt to feel powerful, with status through possessions forced to stand in for power. If true, then addressing powerlessness is a direct way both to foster happiness and to overcome planet-destroying materialism.

There's just one pathway to happiness in which this deep, human need for power is given pride of place: democracy. By this I mean democracy as a living practice that enables us to have a real say in every dimension of our public lives, from school to workplace and beyond.

Gaza desperately short of food after Israel destroys farmland

Officials warn of 'destruction of all means of life' after the three-week conflict leaves agriculture in the region in ruins

According to the World Food Programme, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and Palestinian officials, between 35% and 60% of the agriculture industry has been wrecked by the three-week Israeli attack, which followed two years of economic siege.

Christine van Nieuwenhuyse, the World Food Programme's country director, said: "We are hearing that 60% of the land in the north - where the farming was most intensive - may not be exploitable again. It looks to me like a disaster. It is not just farmland, but poultry as well.

"When we have given a food ration in Gaza, it was never a full ration but to complement the diet. Now it is going to be almost impossible for Gaza to produce the food it needs for the next six to eight months, assuming that the agriculture can be rehabilitated. We will give people a full ration."

The FAO estimates that 13,000 families who depend directly on herding, farming and fishing have suffered significant damage. "Before the blockade and the attack," said Ahmad Sourani, director of the Agricultural Development Association of Gaza, which runs programmes with charities such as Britain's Christian Aid, "Gaza produced half of its own food. Now that has declined by 25%. In addition, a quarter of the population depends on agriculture for income. What we have seen in large areas of farmland is the destruction of all means of life.

Cutting a rug

Executive Order -- Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 301 of title 3, United States Code, and sections 3301 and 7301 of title 5, United States Code, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Ethics Pledge. Every appointee in every executive agency appointed on or after January 20, 2009, shall sign, and upon signing shall be contractually committed to, the following pledge upon becoming an appointee:

"As a condition, and in consideration, of my employment in the United States Government in a position invested with the public trust, I commit myself to the following obligations, which I understand are binding on me and are enforceable under law:

"1. Lobbyist Gift Ban. I will not accept gifts from registered lobbyists or lobbying organizations for the duration of my service as an appointee.

"2. Revolving Door Ban All Appointees Entering Government. I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.

"3. Revolving Door Ban Lobbyists Entering Government. If I was a registered lobbyist within the 2 years before the date of my appointment, in addition to abiding by the limitations of paragraph 2, I will not for a period of 2 years after the date of my appointment:

(a) participate in any particular matter on which I lobbied within the 2 years before the date of my appointment;

(b) participate in the specific issue area in which that particular matter falls; or

(c) seek or accept employment with any executive agency that I lobbied within the 2 years before the date of my appointment.

"4. Revolving Door Ban Appointees Leaving Government. If, upon my departure from the Government, I am covered by the post employment restrictions on communicating with employees of my former executive agency set forth in section 207(c) of title 18, United States Code, I agree that I will abide by those restrictions for a period of 2 years following the end of my appointment.

"5. Revolving Door Ban Appointees Leaving Government to Lobby. In addition to abiding by the limitations of paragraph 4, I also agree, upon leaving Government service, not to lobby any covered executive branch official or non career Senior Executive Service appointee for the remainder of the Administration.

"6. Employment Qualification Commitment. I agree that any hiring or other employment decisions I make will be based on the candidate's qualifications, competence, and experience.

Converting the Taliban

by Tony Seton

Not long before we invaded Afghanistan, we gave their Taliban leaders $43 million for cultural development. This was around the time that these Islamic extremists dynamited the extraordinary Bamyan statues of Buddha that were carved out of sandstone cliffs in the Sixth Century.

This act of cultural terrorism was reminiscent of the sacking of the library in Alexandria, and similar desecrations over the centuries that have wiped out extraordinary creative works of man. I remember watching the film "The Music Man" around the time the statues were blown up and noting the enormous gulf between our culture and theirs. The Taliban were staunchly opposed to music, dancing, photography, and women doing anything but remaining hidden. The film celebrated all of it.

I reprise this because now the Taliban are on that warpath again. Though not in control in Kabul, they wield considerable and destructive power on the region, dominating areas of Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan. Enough power so that just a warning to bus drivers in the Peshawar area that playing music or movies would invite bombings has been enough to induce the removal of audio-visual equipment from their vehicles.

Of course, this is hardly a matter of great importance in a world gone mad, particularly in the most backward corner of the planet, but it does illuminate two critical issues which the new administration will have to face. One is that the United States won't be able to "win" in Afghanistan. Even if all the allies agreed to put in more troops, there would never be enough to achieve a military victory.

And that points to the second matter. The only way the Taliban can be defeated is culturally. Those people who would support them have to be persuaded to follow a different course.

YouTube's January Fair Use Massacre

This is what it's come to. Teenagers singing "Winter Wonderland" being censored off YouTube.

Fair use has always been at risk on YouTube, thanks to abusive DMCA takedown notices sent by copyright owners (sometimes carelessly, sometimes not). But in the past several weeks, two things have made things much worse for those who want to sing a song, post an a capella tribute, or set machinima to music.

First, it appears that more and more copyright owners are using YouTube's automated copyright filtering system (known as the Content ID system), which tests all videos looking for a "match" with "fingerprints" provided by copyright owners.

Second, thanks to a recent spat between YouTube and Warner Music Group, YouTube's Content ID tool is now being used to censor lots and lots of videos (previously, Warner just silently shared in the advertising revenue for the videos that included a "match" to its music).

EFF, along with many other public interest groups, have repeatedly expressed our concerns to both copyright owners and YouTube about the dangers of automated filtering systems like the Content ID system. These systems are still primitive and unable to distinguish a tranformative remix from copyright infringement. So unless they leave lots of breathing room for remixed content, these filters end up sideswiping lots of fair uses.

And that's exactly what has happened these past few weeks. And while today it's Warner Music, as more copyright owners start using the Content ID tool, it'll only get worse. Soon it may be off limits to remix anything with snippets of our shared mass media culture -- music, TV, movies, jingles, commercials. That would be a sad irony -- copyright being used to stifle an exciting new wellspring of creativity, rather than encourage it.

Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson, Economic Death Spiral at the Pentagon

Recently, reviewing lobbying disclosure reports, the Washington Times discovered "that 18 of the top 20 recipients of federal bailout money spent a combined $12.2 million lobbying the White House, the Treasury Department, Congress, and federal agencies during the last quarter of 2008." Citibank alone, according to the New York Times, fielded "an army of Washington lobbyists," plunking down $1.77 million in lobbying fees just in the fourth quarter of last year.

And it isn't only sinking financial institutions begging for federal dollars that have bolstered their Washington lobbying corps. So have the biggest U.S. armaments companies -- "drastically," according to reporter August Cole of the Wall Street Journal. In 2008, he found, Northrop Grumman almost doubled its lobbying budget to $20.6 million (from $10.9 million the previous year); Boeing upped its budget from $10.6 million to $16.6 million in the same period; and Lockheed-Martin, the company that received the most contracts from the Pentagon last year, hiked its lobbying efforts by a whopping 54% in 2008.

If you want to get a taste of what that means, then click here to view an ad for that company's potentially embattled boondoggle, the F-22, the most expensive jet fighter ever built. What you'll discover is not just that it will "protect" 300 million people -- that's you, if you live in the USA -- but that it will also employ 95,000 of us. In other words, the ad's threatening message implies, if the Obama administration cuts this program in bad times, it will throw another 95,000 Americans out on the street. Now that's effective lobbying for you, especially when you consider, as Chalmers Johnson does below, that for any imaginable war the U.S. might fight in the coming decades, the F-22 will be a thoroughly useless plane.

We don't usually think of the Pentagon as a jobs-and-careers scam operation, a kind of Mega-Madoff Ponzi scheme that goes BOOM!, though it is clearly designed for the well-being of defense contractors, military officers, and congressional representatives; nor do we usually consider the "defense" budget as a giant make-work jobs racket, as arms experts Bill Hartung and Christopher Preble recently suggested, but it's never too late.

Chalmers Johnson, author of the already-classic Blowback Trilogy, including most recently Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, makes vividly clear just how little the Pentagon is organized to consider the actual defense needs of the United States. In many ways, it remains a deadly organization of boys with toys that now poses a distinct economic danger to the rest of us. (Check out, as well, a TomDispatch audio interview with Johnson on the Pentagon's economic death spiral by clicking here). Tom

The Looming Crisis at the Pentagon

How Taxpayers Finance Fantasy Wars
By Chalmers Johnson

Like much of the rest of the world, Americans know that the U.S. automotive industry is in the grips of what may be a fatal decline. Unless it receives emergency financing and undergoes significant reform, it is undoubtedly headed for the graveyard in which many American industries are already buried, including those that made televisions and other consumer electronics, many types of scientific and medical equipment, machine tools, textiles, and much earth-moving equipment -- and that's to name only the most obvious candidates. They all lost their competitiveness to newly emerging economies that were able to outpace them in innovative design, price, quality, service, and fuel economy, among other things.

A similar, if far less well known, crisis exists when it comes to the military-industrial complex. That crisis has its roots in the corrupt and deceitful practices that have long characterized the high command of the Armed Forces, civilian executives of the armaments industries, and Congressional opportunists and criminals looking for pork-barrel projects, defense installations for their districts, or even bribes for votes.

Given our economic crisis, the estimated trillion dollars we spend each year on the military and its weaponry is simply unsustainable.

Army official: Suicides in January 'terrifying'

From Barbara Starr and Mike Mount
If reports of suicides are confirmed, more soldiers will have taken their lives in january than died in combat.WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One week after the U.S. Army announced record suicide rates among its soldiers last year, the service is worried about a spike in possible suicides in the new year.

If reports of suicides are confirmed, more soldiers will have taken their lives in January than died in combat.

The Army said 24 soldiers are believed to have committed suicide in January alone -- six times as many as killed themselves in January 2008, according to statistics released Thursday.

The Army said it already has confirmed seven suicides, with 17 additional cases pending that it believes investigators will confirm as suicides for January.

If those prove true, more soldiers will have killed themselves than died in combat last month. According to Pentagon statistics, there were 16 U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq in January.

"This is terrifying," an Army official said. "We do not know what is going on."

Col. Kathy Platoni, chief clinical psychologist for the Army Reserve and National Guard, said that the long, cold months of winter could be a major contributor to the January spike.

"There is more hopelessness and helplessness because everything is so dreary and cold," she said.

The wrong side of history

No-fly list: $100 million a year pissed away

From the journal Homeland Security Affairs, a chunky, stat-rich article entitled 'Just How Much Does That Cost, Anyway? An Analysis of the Financial Costs and Benefits of the "No-Fly" List.' Bottom line? We're probably paying $100 million/year for the no-fly list and so far, there's no evidence it's doing anything to fight terrorism.
As will be analyzed below, it is estimated that the costs of the no-fly list, since 2002, range from approximately $300 million (a conservative estimate) to $966 million (an estimate on the high end). Using those figures as low and high potentials, a reasonable estimate is that the U.S. government has spent over $500 million on the project since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Using annual data, this article suggests that the list costs taxpayers somewhere between $50 million and $161 million a year, with a reasonable compromise of those figures at approximately $100 million. Clearly the no-fly list is a program that is not without substantial cost. It represents, at least financially, a large part of the government's protection of air travel. 4 In order to begin to analyze whether or not the benefits are worth the costs, both must be identified and analyzed. It is that task to which the article will now turn...

One of the ramifications of the no-fly list over the last several years has been the number of flight diversions and delays due to list operations. A KLM flight from Amsterdam to Mexico, on April 10, 2005, is a representative example. The plane was en route from Amsterdam to Mexico and was due to cross over U.S. airspace. The U.S. government ordered the plane to return to the Netherlands before reaching the United States because it said two of its passengers were barred from entering U.S. territory. 45 The plane had been in the air for more than four hours before returning to Europe and caused 278 passengers delays of approximately twenty-four hours. The Washington Post reported, in July, 2005, that the two men removed from the flight were questioned but not arrested. In sum there have been seven total diversions, and presumably countless delays, due to no-fly list processing incidents that are not reported. The aim of this section is to assess the costs of these delays...

The problem with the first claim, that the no-fly system works, is that it is relatively easy to bypass the system with a little ingenuity. For instance, the no-fly list's core mechanism is a matching a name to photograph identification. 50 As noted above, the process is for a passenger's name to be cross-checked against the list and then verified as the name matching the individual by checking photo identification. This process assumes a number of key points. First, an assumption is made that the ticket was purchased using the passenger's real name. If a would-be terrorist knows that he or she is on the no-fly list, the next logical step would be to purchase the ticket under an assumed name that is not on the list. Second, the process also assumes that the photo ID is real and represents the true identity of the individual in question. It would be relatively easy, for instance, for someone to make a reservation under an assumed name and either manufacture an ID or use the real identification of the assumed individual. Third, this process is made easier by the increase in "print-at-home" boarding passes, which are easy to forge and allow would-be terrorists to put any name they like on the boarding pass. These three aspects of the no-fly list make it simple for an individual to purchase a ticket under someone else's name, use a real ID to enter the boarding terminal with a forged boarding pass, and then fly on the ticket that has someone else's name. 51 Some security experts have gone so far as to create a "fake boarding pass generator" on the Internet to illustrate how easy it is to forge a boarding pass. 52 Importantly, this is not just a theoretical exercise. A CBS affiliate in Kansas City, in an undercover investigation, was able to enter the TSA secure area by producing a fake ID. 53 The undercover individual was not stopped or asked any additional questions. Thus, if the no-fly list is stopping individuals who wish to commit terrorist attacks, those individuals have not employed all of the strategies that are at their disposal; this should raise questions as to whether or not the no-fly list achieves the benefits its administrators claim. The second claim made of the no-fly list is that it does stop terrorist events, or at least dangerous individuals, on a routine basis; we do not hear about them because the government keeps that information close to the vest (except when questioned, such as in the Schneier interview). Three questions arise from this claim. First, why would the government want to keep such information secret? Perhaps more importantly, why does the empirical record of other terrorist prevention activities suggest that the government's strategy is very often the opposite? It lets everyone know about potential activities before they are well formed. Finally, if what Hawley claims is true, are there many more potential terrorists in this country than is commonly believed (since they are being stopped several times a week) or is the no-fly list ineffective at stopping terrorists? Is it casting a much wider net and catching non-dangerous individuals as well?

Just How Much Does That Cost, Anyway? An Analysis of the Financial Costs and Benefits of the "No-Fly" List (via Schneier)

The South Vs. Obama

by Michael Lind

The votes against Obama's stimulus package came from a Southern confederacy of Republicans and conservative Democrats. Their message to America? Drop dead.

Confederate flagOn Wednesday, January 28, 2009, President Barack Obama's $819 billion stimulus plan passed the House of Representatives, despite the solid opposition of the Confederates.

By the Confederates I mean the Republican Party and their allies among Southern conservative Democrats. The battle in Washington is not between liberals and conservatives; it is between the Union and the South.

The Republican Party that voted unanimously against the stimulus bill is, in essence, the party of the former Confederacy. In the House of Representatives, there is not a single Republican representative from New England. In the U.S. Senate, there is not a single Republican from the Pacific Coast.

The battle in Washington is not between liberals and conservatives;
it is between the Union and the South.

The Republican congressional delegation is disproportionately Southern. Half of the four congressional leaders of the Republican Party are Southerners: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Virginia). (Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl is from Arizona and House Minority Leader John Boehner is a relic of the dying Midwestern wing of the GOP). The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Mike Duncan, is from Kentucky. Half of the candidates for the RNC chairmanship are Southerners: Duncan himself, Katon Dawson, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, and Chip Saltsman, former chairman of the Republican Party of Tennessee. (The other three are Michael Steele of Maryland, Ken Blackwell of Ohio and, Saul Anuzis of Michigan.) If you think most GOP spokesmen on TV seem to speak with a drawl, you're not imagining things.

National Idiot's Convention

Actually it's the moron's convention.

Send Your Comments to...

Please submit your comments on any of the items above - referencing them BY Title - to: