Aletho News


US Dairy Industry Wants to Put Aspartame in Milk

By NICK MCCANN | Courthouse News Service | February 21, 2013

WASHINGTON – Dairy industry groups have asked the Food and Drug Administration to be able to put artificial sweeteners in milk, and not change the label, claiming that it is so consumers can “more easily identify its overall nutritional value”.

The Food and Drug Administration is asking for data related to those sweeteners.

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) filed a petition in 2009 requesting that the FDA amend its standard of identity for milk.

The petition asked the agency to allow the use of “any safe and suitable” sweetener for milk and asked to amend the standards of identity for 17 other milk and cream products.

Those products include sweetened condensed milk, whipping cream, yogurt and eggnog, which the groups say should be allowed to have “safe and suitable” sweeteners.

The groups request that the FDA “allow optional characterizing flavoring ingredients used in milk (e.g. chocolate flavoring added to milk) to be sweetened with any safe and suitable sweetener – including non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame.”

FDA regulations currently only allow milk products to contain “nutritive sweeteners” (those with calories) which the agency generally recognizes as safe.

The groups say the amendments “would promote more healthful eating practices and reduce childhood obesity by providing for lower-calorie flavored milk products.”

“They state that lower-calorie flavored milk would particularly benefit school children who, according to IDFA and NMPF, are more inclined to drink flavored milk than unflavored milk at school,” the FDA wrote in its notice.

The groups also say they would help with programs that aim to improve nutrition in school meals and argue that the proposed amendments would promote “honesty and fair dealing in the marketplace,” the FDA wrote.

The agency published a notice of the petition on Wednesday requesting comments, data, and information about the proposed amendment to the identity of milk products. The comments are due by May 21.  

Read Courthouse News’ Environmental Law Review.

February 26, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception | , , , , , , | Comments Off on US Dairy Industry Wants to Put Aspartame in Milk

LIBOR: Viewing the Biggest Financial Crime in History

By DARWIN BOND-GRAHAM | CounterPunch | February 26, 2013

It’s been five years since a few academics and journalists began to dig up evidence that something was wrong with the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate, or LIBOR (pronounced appropriately as “lie-bore.”) The data that curious researchers were compiling couldn’t be explained using the prevailing definition of what LIBOR supposedly was: a trustworthy interest rate that accurately gauged the market price of borrowed US dollars held overseas by the world’s biggest banks. Instead, their findings pointed toward something other than an idealized neoliberal market, influenced only by impersonal supply and demand forces. Many began to realize that the data could easily be explained if the banks were rigging the LIBOR rate in their favor. Strange discrepancies in LIBOR’s correlation to other rates, and to the economic fundamentals of the bank companies responsible for formulating the rate, showed something seriously amiss, but it made sense if the banks were cheating.

The motives of the banks have been clear from the beginning. A few banks that dominate the marketplace for derivatives stand to make billions if LIBOR moves in their favor on particular days when contractual payments between them and their customers come due. They therefore suppressed the rates in order to skim billions of dollars off derivatives and investments. Later these same banks suppressed LIBOR rates to create the illusion that their balance sheets were robust during the financial crisis. This also allowed them further rounds of money-siphoning from their unwitting derivatives customers.

Until recently LIBOR rates have been set by a panel of banks that are members of the British Bankers Association (BBA). The BBA is a private industry group established almost 100 years ago to lobby for the financial industry in one of its global hubs, London. The BBA really came into power in the mid-1980s with the creation of LIBOR. LIBOR was created to further integrate the giant global money market in US dollars held in overseas banks or holding companies, and therefore unregulated by the US Federal Reserve. Called “Eurodollars,” because they originally were dollar savings accumulated in European banks, especially banks in London, these funds quickly became a de facto global currency. LIBOR began as a way for the banks to standardize investment products for these vast pools of American dollars flowing through Europe, and later Japan, the Middle East, and Latin America. By the 1990s LIBOR had become such an important set of interest rates, and US dollars held overseas had becomes such an important source of credit for US consumers, that LIBOR became the key global interest rate around which many financial products were pegged. As LIBOR became more and more important to the globalization of finance, it accrued a sort of official, trusty gloss; nearly everyone assumed that LIBOR was a market rate reflecting competition. Instead, LIBOR has probably all along been a fudged rate, determined less by vast market forces and invisible hands, and more by the vulgar self-interest and power of the elite banks that set LIBOR rates.

Last year government investigations into this globe-spanning crime —rightly called the biggest financial scam in all of history— led to multi-billion dollar fines against Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and UBS, the 7th, 8th, and 20th largest banks in the world, respectively. Criminal investigations spearheaded by US, UK, Japanese, Canadian, Swiss, and Singaporean authorities are ongoing and aimed at other banks such as Citigroup, JP Morgan, Bank of America, and other “too big to fail” institutions. More details of the crime will be forthcoming as e-mails, internal documents, phone tapes, text messages, and other evidence, is made public, and as the banks are forced to pay significant fines, and sign plea agreements.

While this scandal might seem worlds away, concerning complex financial concepts and obscure money market instruments dealt by bankers out of skyscraper offices in the City of London, the importance of uncovering the complete truth about the LIBOR rigging conspiracy cannot be overstated for local communities across the United States, especially here in California.

Why? First, LIBOR has been used since the 1990s to determine cash flows on interest rate swaps that local governments have purchased from banks to insure themselves against wild swings in variable interest rates owed on billions of municipal debt. Messing with LIBOR messes with the payments due on these instruments.

Second, LIBOR has also been used as a main interest rate of reference for an array of investment products that yield a variable return, dipping and rising in concert with LIBOR. Local and state governments have used these investment products, called “municipal derivatives reinvestment products” to temporarily park public funds, while pension systems and government enterprises like utilities use them make investments. Governments and public agencies earn LIBOR rate returns on their dollars invested in numerous kinds of municipal derivatives, so if LIBOR is illegally fixed downward, they earn less income.

Through both of these forms of exposure, local governments have potentially been harmed by LIBOR-fixing perpetrated by the banks, often times the very same banks that have sold them swaps or municipal derivatives investment products.

California is fast emerging as a center of investigation and litigation into the LIBOR-fixing conspiracy. California is the largest single municipal debt market in the United States, and one of the largest in the world. Last year alone the state of California and its cities, counties, school districts, and other public entities issued $65.7 billion in total public debt. Because of California’s regressive tax structure and chronic budget crises, the state’s multitude of governments have been among the most aggressive in issuing variable rate debt hedged with interest rate swaps.

The Golden State’s local governments have also been the largest purchasers of municipal derivatives contracts from banks because streams of tax and fee revenues often don’t match up with the dates that payments to public employees and contractors come due. Collusive suppression of LIBOR rates by the 16-member panel who were trusted to provide accurate quotes could mean that California local governments have paid untold millions to their interest rate swap counterparties (the banks) that should otherwise have remained in budgets and used to fund school construction, bus lines, street paving, water and sewerage services, etc.

In the 1990s and 2000s local governments across California increasingly issued bonds with variable rates. Investment bank underwriters and municipal debt advisers from the private sector encouraged variable rate bond financing because it promised lower interest rates for California’s cash-strapped municipalities. To hedge against the risk that variable rates might explode, as they did in the 1980s, the banks sold interest rate swaps to local governments. The swaps effectively converted floating rate debt into a fixed rate. Under a typical swap contract the bank seller agrees to pay a floating rate designed to mimic the variable rate interest on the bond debt, and in return the local government agrees to pay a fixed rate. I’ve written elsewhere about how this deal blew up and created a financial injustice when variable interest rates plummeted during and after the Financial Crisis, but the LIBOR rigging conspiracy adds to these harms. The US government bailed out the banks and assisted them in taking “toxic” derivatives assets off their hands, but stood idly by while cities, counties, and public agencies suffered without aid during the Financial Crisis, allowing derivatives instruments on the public’s books to blow up and drain budgets. At this very moment the banks perpetrated an illegal scam to suck even more money from the public via further depression of LIBOR.

Barclays, RBS, UBS, and other banks worked together to suppress LIBOR below even the depths to which it sank after 2008. A number of lawsuits filed by various cities, counties, and public agencies in California asserts the banks did this to skim off an unknown, but very large, amount of money from their public victims, and also to bolster their own balance sheets during the crisis. By suppressing LIBOR the banks ensured that the net difference between the variable rates they owed, and the fixed rates the public was paying on swaps, was wider than it would otherwise have been. This net difference meant that the public owed the banks higher amounts when the interest rate swap payments came due (usually twice a year).

For San Francisco this could mean that millions have been stolen from the capital budget of its Airport. SFO currently has seven interest rate swaps it has purchased to convert variable rate bond debt into synthetic fixed rates. The airport’s counterparties on its swaps included JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch (owned by Bank of America), and Goldman Sachs. Each of these banks likely benefited from conspiratorial suppression of LIBOR, even if it was by just a few basis points (hundredths of a percent). JP Morgan Chase and Merrill’s parent Bank of America are both members of the panel that sets LIBOR, and are both believed to have played a role in the conspiracy.

San Francisco’s pension system may have also been raided by the banks through its speculative investments in swaps. According to the most recent audit of the San Francisco Retirement System’s portfolio, the city’s pension system holds two interest rate swaps on its books with a notional value of $15 million. In prior years, SFERs held other swaps. In 2010, the Retirement System’s audit showed three interest rate swaps with a total notional value of $41 million. Over the last two years these swaps drained $5.3 million from the pension system, and some of these losses might have been due to the downward manipulation of LIBOR. Also on the Retirement System’s books are other investments in bank loans, options, and other securities that might have been impacted by the LIBOR fraud.

San Francisco’s LIBOR damages are probably small in comparison to other local governments and public agencies. The East Bay Municipal Utility District has already filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging damages from bank rigging of LIBOR. The water district’s complaint, filed in January of 2013, alleges that LIBOR suppression drained potentially millions, again from interest rate swap agreements with some of the very banks that sit on the LIBOR-panel: Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, and Bank of America. East Bay MUD lists nine interest rate swaps potentially affected by LIBOR rigging in its lawsuit.

East Bay MUD’s swaps had a total notional amount of $481 million in 2012, according to the utility’s most recent financial report. Downward manipulation of LIBOR by just 10 to 50 basis points (1/10th to 1/2 of a percent) could have drained between $481,000 to $2,400,000 through East Bay MUD’s swap payments every six months. Over a few years, say the conspiracy’s 2007-2010 time-frame alleged in EBMUD’s lawsuit, this would add up to millions of dollars stolen by the banks.

The cities of Richmond, San Diego, and Riverside, and the County of San Mateo, are other California governments that have now filed lawsuits against the banks responsible for setting LIBOR. All of these lawsuits have been consolidated into a larger class action case currently being heard in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, before Judge Naomi Buchwald. There are now about two dozen LIBOR manipulation lawsuits that have been filed and consolidated in New York. The lead case is the City of Baltimore and the New Britain Firefighters’ and Police Benefit Fund lawsuit against the 16-bank LIBOR panel, filed in April of 2012.

More California cities, counties, and public agencies are expected to file their own lawsuits soon, however. CalPERS, which has numerous investments that fluctuate in value and yield with LIBOR, is also said to be investigating its own exposure to rate rigging.

Darwin Bond-Graham is a sociologist and author who lives and works in Oakland, CA. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

February 26, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics | , , , , | Comments Off on LIBOR: Viewing the Biggest Financial Crime in History

Boycotting Israel Galloway-style

By Stuart Littlewood | Dissident Voice | February 26th, 2013

A big fuss blew up last week when British MP George Galloway, invited to Oxford University to debate the motion “Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank”, walked out of the chamber when he heard that the student opposing the motion was an Israeli.

American readers may remember Galloway, who came over in 2005 and delivered a master-class in how to give a Senate Inquisition sub-committee a good spanking.

At Oxford, something Eylon Aslan-Levy said prompted Galloway to ask, “Are you an Israeli?”

“Yes,” came the reply.

“I don’t debate with Israelis. I have been misled, sorry,” said Galloway putting on his coat. “I don’t recognise Israel and I don’t debate with Israelis,” he added and left.

The following message then appeared on Galloway’s Facebook: “The reason is simple: no recognition, no normalisation. Just boycott, divestment and sanctions, until the apartheid state is defeated. I never debate with Israelis nor speak to their media. If they want to speak about Palestine – the address is the PLO.”

The PLO, of course, is recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Galloway’s point was that BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions), in his terms, means “no purchase of Israeli goods or services, no normal contacts with individuals or organisations in Israel who support the existence of the racist Apartheid creed of Zionism. That’s what I mean by boycott. That’s what I do. Israelis who are outside of and against the system of Zionism are comrades of mine…   My opponent at Oxford University did not meet this test.”

Aslan-Levy is reported to have told The Guardian that Israel’s withdrawal should not be immediate but “in the context of a negotiated peace treaty, which would recognise both Israeli and Palestinian states”. According to the Daily Mail he also said: ‘”To refuse to talk to someone just because of their nationality is pure racism, and totally unacceptable for a Member of Parliament.”

A lot of people have criticised Galloway for his behaviour in this matter. However, anyone arguing against an immediate end to the brutal and illegal 65 year-old occupation and offering silly excuses for prolonging the misery – like more lopsided ‘negotiations’ when international law and UN resolutions have already spoken – deserves to feel the cold blast of boycott, Galloway-style.

The attacks on Galloway seem to come mainly from people in the BDS movement itself who are supposedly on the same side.  Press reports mention cries of “racism”. But notice that Galloway said he doesn’t debate with Israelis, not Jews. Others may not wish to debate with North Koreans or Afghan tribesmen. Our own foreign secretary apparently has no intention of chatting with his Iranian opposite number while turning the sanctions screw on the Iranian people. Obama when he visits the Holy Land to pay homage to Netanyahu won’t drop in on Haniyeh in Gaza to discuss football.

And it is pretty rich for a national of a racist state to call anyone else a racist.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), which claims to set the guidelines for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, says it does not call for a boycott of individuals because she or he happens to be Israeli or because they express certain views, but adds: “Of course, any individual is free to decide who they do and do not engage with.”

OK, so why is Galloway getting flak?

February 26, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | 8 Comments

The Destruction of Conscience in the National Academy of Sciences

An Interview With Marshall Sahlins

By DAVID H. PRICE | CounterPunch | February 26, 2013

Last Friday, esteemed University of Chicago anthropologist Marshall Sahlins formally resigned from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the United States’ most prestigious scientific society.

Sahlins states that he resigned because of his “objections to the election of [Napoleon] Chagnon, and to the military research projects of the Academy.” Sahlins was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1991.  He issued the below statement explaining his resignation:

“By the evidence of his own writings as well as the testimony of others, including Amazonian peoples and professional scholars of the region, Chagnon has done serious harm to the indigenous communities among whom he did research.  At the same time, his “scientific” claims about human evolution and the genetic selection for male violence–as in the notorious study he published in 1988 in Science–have proven to be shallow and baseless, much to the discredit of the anthropological disciple. At best, his election to the NAS was a large moral and intellectual blunder on the part of members of the Academy. So much so that my own participation in the Academy has become an embarrassment.

Nor do I wish to be a party to the aid, comfort, and support the NAS is giving to social science research on improving the combat performance of the US military, given the toll that military has taken on the blood, treasure, and happiness of American people, and the suffering it has imposed on other peoples in the unnecessary wars of this century.  I believe that the NAS, if it involves itself at all in related research, should be studying how to promote peace, not how to make war.”

Napoleon Chagnon rose to fame after his fieldwork among the Yanomami (also known as Yanomamo) in the rainforests of northeastern South America’s Orinoco Basin in the 1960s and 70s.  He wrote a bestselling ethnography used in introductory anthropology classes around the world, describing the Yanomami as “the fierce people” because of the high levels of intra- and inter-group warfare observed during his fieldwork, warfare that he would describe as innate and as representing humankind in some sort of imagined natural state.

Chagnon, is currently basking in the limelight of a national book tour, pitching a memoir (Nobel Savages) in which he castes the bulk of American anthropologists as soft-skulled anti-science postmodern cretins embroiled in a war against science.

The truth is that outside of the distortion field of the New York Times and a few other media vortexesthere is no “science war” raging in anthropology.  Instead the widespread rejection of Chagnon’s work among many anthropologists has everything to do with the low quality of his research. On his blog, Anthropomics, anthropologist Jon Marks recently described Chagnon as an “incompetent anthropologist,” adding:

“Let me be clear about my use of the word “incompetent”. His methods for collecting, analyzing and interpreting his data are outside the range of acceptable anthropological practices.  Yes, he saw the Yanomamo doing nasty things. But when he concluded from his observations that the Yanomamo are innately and primordially “fierce”  he lost his anthropological credibility, because he had not demonstrated any such thing. He has a right to his views, as creationists and racists have a right to theirs, but the evidence does not support the conclusion, which makes it scientifically incompetent.”

The widely shared rejection of Chagnon’s interpretations among anthropologists comes from the shoddy quality of his work and the sociobiological nature of his analysis, not with an opposition to science.

Among Chagnon’s most dogged critics was my dissertation chair, anthropologist Marvin Harris, himself an arch positivist and a staunch advocate of the scientific method, yet Harris rejected Chagnon and his sociobiological findings in fierce academic debates that lasted for decades, not because Harris was anti-science, but because Chagnon was a bad scientist (I should note that Harris and Sahlins also famously feuded over fundamental theoretical differences; yet both shared common ground objecting to the militarization of the discipline, and rejecting Chagnon’s sociobiological work).

I suppose if there really were battles within anthropology between imagined camps embracing and rejecting science, I would be about as firmly in the camp of science as anyone; but if such divisions actually existed, I would be no closer to accepting the validity and reliability (the hallmarks of good science) of Chagnon’s findings than those imagined to reject the foundations of science.

In 2000, there was of course a huge painful crisis within the American Anthropological Association following the publication of Patrick Tierney’s book Darkness in El Dorado, in which numerous accusations of exploitation (and worse) were leveled against Chagnon and other anthropologists working with the Yanomami (see Barbara Rose Johnston’s essay on the José Padilha’s film, Secrets of the Tribe). Without detailing all the twists and turns involved in establishing  the wreckage of Chagnon and the paucity of his claims, suffice it to say that the choice of offering one of the select seats in the National Academy of Sciences’ Section 51 to Dr. Chagnon is an affront to a broad range of anthropologists, be they self-identified as scientists or not.

Marshall Sahlins’ resignation is an heroic stand against the subversion of science to those claiming an innate nature of human violence, and a stand opposing the increasing militarization of science.  While Sahlins’ credentials as an activist opposing the militarization of knowledge are well established—he is widely recognized as the creator of the “teach-in,” organizing the February 1965 University of Michigan teach-in—it still must have been difficult for him to resign this prestigious position.

In late 1965 Sahlins traveled to Vietnam to learn firsthand about the war and the Americans fighting it, work that resulted in his seminal essay “The Destruction of Conscience in Vietnam.”   He became one of the clearest and most forceful anthropological voices speaking out against efforts (in the 1960s and 70s, and in again in post-9/11 America) to militarize anthropology.

In 2009 I was part of a conference at the University of Chicago critically examining renewed efforts by U.S. military and intelligence agencies to use anthropological data for counterinsurgency projects.  Sahlins’ paper at the conference argued that, “in Vietnam, the famous anti-insurgency strategy was search and destroy; here it is research and destroy.  One might think it good news that the military’s appropriation of anthropological theory is incoherent, simplistic and outmoded – not to mention tedious – even as its ethnographic protocols for learning the local society and culture amount to unworkable fantasies. ”

Yesterday, Sahlins sent me an email that had been circulated to NAS Section 51 (Anthropology) members, announcing two new “consensus projects” under sponsorship of the Army Research Institute.  The first project examined “The Context of Military Environments: Social and Organizational Factors,”  the second, “Measuring Human Capabilities: Performance Potential of Individuals and Collectives.”   Reading the announcement of these projects forwarded by Sahlins, it is apparent that the military wants the help of social scientists who can streamline military operations, using social science and social engineering to enable interchangeable units of people working on military projects to smoothly interface.  This seems to be increasingly becoming the role Americans see for anthropologists and other social scientists: that of military facilitator.

Below is the exchange, I had with Sahlins yesterday discussing his resignation, Chagnon’s election to the National Academy of Sciences, and the Academy’s links to military projects.

Price:  How has Chagnon so successfully turned numerous attacks on his ethically troubling research and scientifically questionable methods and findings into what is widely seen as an attack on science itself?

Sahlins: There has been no address of the issues on Chagnon’s part, notably of the criticism of his supposed empirical results, as in the 1988 Science article, and the numerous criticisms from Amazonian anthropologists of his shallow ethnography and villainously distorted portrayal of Yanomami.  These Cro-Chagnon scientists simply refuse to discuss the facts of the ethnographic case. Instead they issue ad hominem attacks–before it was against the Marxists, now it is the ‘fuzzy-headed humanists.’ Meanwhile they try to make it an ideological anti-science persecution–again ironically as a diversion from discussing the empirical findings. Meanwhile the serious harm, bodily and emotionally, inflicted on the Yanomami, plus the reckless instigation of war by his field methods, are completely ignored in the name of science. Research and destroy, as I called the method. A total moral copout.

Price: Most of the publicity surrounding your resignation from the National Academy of Sciences focuses either exclusively on Napoleon Chagnon’s election to the Association, or on the supposed “science wars” in anthropology, while little media attention has focused on your statements opposing the NAS’s increasing links to military projects. What were the reactions within NAS Section 51 to the October 2012 call to members of the Academy to conduct research aimed at improving the military’s mission effectiveness?

Sahlins: The National Association of Science would not itself do the war research. It would rather enlist recruits from its sections–as in the section 51 memos–and probably thus participate in the vetting of reports before publication. The National Research Council organizes the actual research, obviously in collaboration with the NAS. Here is another tentacle of the militarization of anthropology and other social sciences, of which the Human Terrain Systems is a familiar example. This one as insidious as it is perfidious.

Price: Was there any internal dialogue between members of NAS Section 51 when these calls for these new Army Research Institute funded projects were issued?

Sahlins: I was not privy to any correspondence, whether to the Section officers or between the fellows, if there was any–which I don’t know.

Price: What, if any reaction have you had from other NAS members?

Sahlins: Virtually none. One said I was always opposed to sociobiology

Price: To combine themes embedded in Chagnon’s claims of human nature, and the National Academy of Sciences supporting to social science for American military projects; can you comment on the role of science and scientific societies in a culture as centrally dominated by military culture as ours?

Sahlins: There is a paragraph or two in my pamphlet on The Western Illusion of Human Nature, of which I have no copy on hand, which cites Rumsfeld to the effect (paraphrasing Full Metal Jacket) that inside every Middle eastern Muslim there’s an American ready to come out, a self-interested freedom loving American, and we just have to force it out or force out the demons who are perpetrating other ideas [see page 42 of Sahlins; The Western Illusions of Human Nature].  Isn’t American global policy, especially neo-con policy, based on the confusion of capitalist greed and human nature? Just got to liberate them from their mistaken, externally imposed ideologies. For the alternative see the above mentioned pamphlet on the one true universal, kinship, and the little book I published last month: What Kinship Is–And Is Not.

Price: You mention a desire to shift funding streams from those offering military support, to those supporting peace. Do you have any insight on how we can work to achieve this shift?

Sahlins: I have not thought about it, probably because the idea that the National Academy of Sciences would so such a thing is essentially unthinkable today.

There is a rising international response supporting Sahlins’ stance. Marshall shared with me a message he received form Professor, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, of the National Museum, Rio de Janeiro, in which de Castro wrote,

“Chagnon’s writings on the Yanomami of Amazonia have contributed powerfully to reinforce the worst prejudices against this indigenous people, who certainly do not need the kind of stereotyping pseudo-scientific anthropology Chagnon has chosen to pursue at their cost. The Yanomami are anything but the nasty, callous sociobiological robots Chagnon makes them look – projecting, in all likelihood, his perception of his own society (or personality) onto the Yanomami. They are an indigenous people who have managed, against all odds, to survive in their traditional ways in an Amazonia increasingly threatened by social and environmental destruction. Their culture is original, robust and inventive; their society is infinitely less “violent” than Brazilian or American societies.

Virtually all anthropologists who have worked with the Yanomami, many of them with far larger field experience with this people than Chagnon, find his research methods objectionable (to put it mildly) and his ethnographic characterizations fantastic. Chagnon’s election to the NAS does not do honor to American science nor to anthropology as a discipline, and it also bodes ill to the Yanomami. As far as I am concerned, I deem Chagnon an enemy of Amazonian Indians. I can only thank Prof. Sahlins for his courageous and firm position in support of the Yanomami and of anthropological science.”

We are left to wonder what is to become of science, whether practiced with a capital (at times blind) “S” or a lower case inquisitive variety, when those questioning some of its practices, misapplications and outcomes are increasingly marginalized, while those whose findings align with our broader cultural values of warfare are embraced. The NAS’s rallying around such a divisive figure as Chagnon, demonizing his critics, claiming they are attacking not his practices and theories, but science itself damages the credibility of these scientists. It is unfortunate that the National Academy of Sciences has backed itself into this corner.

The dynamics of such divisiveness are not unique to this small segment of the scientific community. In his 1966 essay on, “The Destruction of Conscience in Vietnam,” Sahlins argued that to continue to wage the war, America had to destroy its own conscience—that facing those destroyed by our actions was too much for the nation to otherwise bear, writing: “Conscience must be destroyed: it has to end at the barrel of a gun, it cannot extend to the bullet.  So all peripheral rationales fade into the background.  It becomes a war of transcendent purpose, and in such a war all efforts on the side of Good are virtuous, and all deaths unfortunately necessary.  The end justifies the means.”

It is a tragic state of affairs when good people of conscience see the only acceptable act before them to be that of resignation; but sometimes the choice of disassociation is the strongest statement one can courageously make.

David Price a professor of anthropology at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington. He is the author of Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State published by CounterPunch Books.

February 26, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Destruction of Conscience in the National Academy of Sciences

Argo‘s Oscar Win: Hollywood’s “Coming Out”

By Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich | Dissident Voice | February 26th, 2013

Foreign policy observers have long known that Hollywood reflects and promotes U.S. policies (in turn, is determined by Israel and its supporters).   This fact was made public when Michelle Obama announced an Oscar win for Argoa highly propagandist, anti-Iran  film.  Amidst the glitter and excitement, Hollywood and White House reveal their pact and send out their message in time for the upcoming talks surrounding Iran’s nuclear program due to be held tomorrow –  February 26th.

Hollywood has a long history of promoting US policies.   In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson’s Committee on Public Information (CPI) enlisted the aid of America’s film industry to make training films and features supporting the ‘cause’.  George Creel, Chairman of the CPI believed that the movies had a role in “carrying the gospel of Americanism to every corner of the globe.”

The pact grew stronger during World War II, when, as historian Thomas Doherty writes, “[T]he liaison between Hollywood and Washington was a distinctly American and democratic arrangement, a mesh of public policy and private initiative, state need and business enterprise.” Hollywood’s contribution was to provide propaganda. After the war, Washington reciprocated by using subsidies, special provisions in the Marshall Plan, and general clout to pry open resistant European film markets.1

Hollywood has often borrowed its story ideas from the U.S. foreign policy agenda, at times reinforcing them. One of the film industry’s blockbuster film loans in the last two decades has been modern international terrorism. Hollywood rarely touched the topic of terrorism in the late 1960s and 1970s when the phenomenon was not high on the U.S. foreign policy agenda, in news headlines or in the American public consciousness. In the 1980s, in the footsteps of the Reagan administration’s policies, the commercial film industry brought ‘terrorist’ villains to the big screen (following the US Embassy takeover in Tehran – topic of Argo) making terrorism a blockbuster film product in the 1990s.

Today, whether Hollywood follows US policy or whether it sets it, is up for discussion.  But it is abundantly clear that Hollywood is dominated by Israelis and their supporters who previously concealed their identity. According to a 2012 Haaretz article:

From the 1930s until the mid-1950s, Hanukkah never appeared on screen. This was because the Jewish studio heads preferred to hide their ethnic and religious heritage in attempting to widen the appeal of their products [emphasis added]. Jews were thus typically portrayed as participants in an American civil religion, whose members may attend the synagogue of their choice, but are not otherwise marked by great differences of appearance, speech, custom, or behaviour from the vast majority of American.

This is no longer the case.

In sharp contrast to its past, Hollywood “celebrated” Israel’s 60th “birthday” [occupation] with a Gala called “From Vision to Reality”. Israeli TV blog wrote of the Gala:  ‘Don’t Worry Israel, Hollywood is behind you’. Actor Jon Voight said: “World playing a dangerous game by going against Israel”.

Israeli businessman and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, was a longtime weapons dealer and Israeli intelligence agent who purchased equipment for Israel’s nuclear program (the book, Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon Arnon Milchan, written by Meir Doron and Joseph Gelman, recounts Milchan’s life story, his friendships with Israeli prime ministers, U.S. presidents and Hollywood stars).

It is important to understand Hollywood not only in the context of a multi-billion dollar industry, but the propaganda aspect of it and as one of  the most powerful and universal methods of spreading ideas through visual propaganda. “Propaganda is defined as a certain type of messaging that serves a particular purpose of spreading or implanting a particular culture, philosophy, point of view or even a particular slogan”. With this capability, Hollywood owns the world of ideas on a scale too large and too dangerous to ignore – see this excellent example by Gilad Atzmon – Hollywood and the Past.

Atzmon writes:

History is commonly regarded as an attempt to produce a structured account of the past. It proclaims to tell us what really happened, but in most cases it fails to do that. Instead it is set to conceal our shame, to hide those various elements, events, incidents and occurrences in our past which we cannot cope with. History, therefore, can be regarded as a system of concealment. Accordingly, the role of the true historian is similar to that of the psychoanalyst: both aim to unveil the repressed. For the psychoanalyst, it is the unconscious mind. For the historian, it is our collective shame.

As Hollywood and the White House eagerly embrace “Argo” and its propagandist message, they shamelessly and deliberately conceal a crucial aspect of this “historical” event.  The glitter buries the all too important fact that the Iranian students who took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, proceeded to reveal Israel’s dark secret to the world.  Documents classified as “SECRET” revealed LAKAM’s activities. Initiated in 1960, LAKAM was an Israeli network assigned to economic espionage in the U.S. assigned to “the collection of scientific intelligence in the U.S. for Israel’s defense industry.2

As it stands, the purpose of the movie and its backers was to push the extraordinary revelations to the background while sending a visual message to the unsuspecting audience – to lay the blame of the potential (and likely) failure of the upcoming negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program on the Iranians — the gun-wielding, bearded Iranians of Argo who deserve America’s collective punishment and the crippling, deathly sanctions.

  1. Martha Bayles, Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2005
  2. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Israel: Foreign Intelligence and Security Services, Washington, D.C., March 1979, p. 9 (typescript). The report classified SECRET, was released to the world by Iranian students who occupied the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.  Cited by Duncan L. Clarke, “Israel’s Economic Espionage in the United States” (1998).

Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich is a Public Diplomacy Scholar, independent researcher, and blogger with a focus on U.S. foreign policy and the role of lobby groups.

February 26, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reporting on Romer’s Charter Cities: How the Media Sanitize Honduras’s Brutal Regime

By Keane Bhatt | NACLA | February 19, 2013

On the evening of Saturday, September 22, human rights lawyer Antonio Trejo stepped outside a wedding ceremony to take a phone call. Standing in the church parking lot of a suburb of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, he was shot six times by unknown assailants. Despite his requests, he had been granted no police protection in the face of death threats; Trejo had believed he would be targeted by wealthy landowners over his outspoken advocacy on behalf of small farmers seeking to reclaim seized territories.1 In his death, Trejo joined dozens of fallen peasant leaders whom he had defended, as well as murdered opposition candidates, LGBT activists, journalists, and indigenous residents. All were victims of the violence and impunity that has reigned in Honduras since the 2009 coup d’état against its democratically elected and left-leaning president, Manuel Zelaya.

Earlier that day, Trejo had appeared on television, denouncing the powerful interests behind the government’s push for ciudades modelos—swaths of land to be ceded to international investors and developed into autonomous cities, replete with their own police forces, taxes, labor codes, trade rules, and legal systems. He had helped prepare motions declaring the proposal unconstitutional.

This concept of “charter cities” has been promoted for a couple of years by Paul Romer, a University of Chicago–trained economist teaching at New York University. He described his brainchild in a co-authored op-ed as “an effort to build on the success of existing special zones based around the export-processing maquila industry.” A “new city on an undeveloped site, free of vested interests” could bypass the “inefficient rules” that hinder “peace, growth and development” worldwide, he argued. With new and stable institutions, the charter city could become an “attractive place for would-be residents and investors.”2

The international press swooned over Romer’s revolutionary idea: Foreign Policy magazine named him one of its Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2010 for “developing the world’s quickest shortcut to economic development”;3 that same year, The Atlantic dedicated a 5,400-word paean to Romer and his “urban oases of technocratic sanity,” which held the promise that “struggling nations could attract investment and jobs; private capital would flood in and foreign aid would not be needed.”

But the applicability of Romer’s radical vision in Honduras always depended on the enthusiasm of the authoritarian, post-coup government of Porfirio Lobo. Lobo owes his presidency to the sham elections of 2009, which took place under the U.S.-backed de facto military government that overthrew Zelaya and were marred by violent repression and media censorship. With the exceptions of the U.S.-financed International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute, international observers boycotted the electoral charade that foisted Lobo into power.

Romer’s lofty theories also remained utterly detached from the brutal nature of the collaborating government. “Setting up the rule of law” from scratch in a new city, he contended, would be an antidote to “weak governance” (weak in no small part due to Lobo’s appointment of coup perpetrators to high-level government positions).4 In a co-authored paper, Romer also mischaracterized his allies, the “elected leaders in Honduras,” as earnest in their intent to end a “cycle of insecurity and instability that stokes fear and erodes trust.”5 (Romer offered no comment when Lobo designated Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, accused of past ties to death squads, as the national chief of police.)6

Even on its own terms, Romer’s development theory is disconnected from reality. He has repeatedly invoked Hong Kong as the sunny inspiration for the remaking of Honduras: “In a sense, Britain inadvertently, through its actions in Hong Kong, did more to reduce world poverty than all the aid programs that we’ve undertaken in the last century,” he claimed.7 Romer neglected to add that the city developed as a hub for the largest narcotrafficking operation in world history, through which Britain inflicted untold misery on the Chinese mainland. Britain dealt a humiliating military defeat to China (which had attempted to prohibit illegal British opium from entering its borders), took over Hong Kong, and forced China to abandon its tariff controls in 1842. Given that Hong Kong was one of the spoils of a drug war, and that its inhabitants were permitted democratic elections only 152 years after its incorporation into an empire, Romer’s dream for Honduras could just as easily be considered a nightmare.

Romer’s focus on good rule making is similarly fanciful; his effort to change the rules that engender poverty conspicuously excludes the international legal privileges that allow undemocratic leaders to sell a country’s resources and borrow in its name (he wrote positively of a trade agreement that Lobo struck with Canada this summer).8 Romer also approved of the legal architecture that “gives the United States administrative control in perpetuity over a piece of sovereign Cuban territory, Guantanamo Bay,” through a 1901 treaty that he failed to mention was ratified by a militarily occupied Cuba. Whether Romer knows it or not, his endorsement of power politics is clear: Investor-owned cities would be safe from future efforts by governments to repossess sovereign territory, because “Cuba respects the treaty with the United States, even as they complain bitterly about it.”9

Romer rebutted criticisms that his idea smacks of neocolonialism: “There are some things that it shares with the previous colonial enterprises,” he admitted, “but there’s this fundamental difference: at every stage, there’s an absolute commitment to freedom of choice on the part of the societies and the individuals that are involved.”10 Which choices are available to individuals living under a coercive, illegitimate government is a question left unanswered, and the adulating press could not be bothered to probe further.

After all, it would be impolite to reveal Romer’s close cooperation with a government whose security forces—many of whom are personally vetted, armed, and trained by the United States—killed unarmed students Rafael Vargas, 22, and Carlos Pineda, 24, as well as pregnant indigenous Miskitu women Juana Jackson Ambrosia and Candelaria Trapp Nelson, among others.11 Indeed, the Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras observed that more than 10,000 official complaints have been filed against Honduras’s military and police since the coup. Such unsavory details might have chastened The Atlantic’s ebullient portrait of the “elegant, bespectacled, geekishly curious” professor, and would have tarnished President Obama, who praised Lobo for his “strong commitment to democracy” while providing his brutal security apparatus with $50 million in aid last year.12

In their coverage of Romer’s charter cities, the media have almost entirely excised the innumerable human rights violations occurring under the undemocratic Honduran regime. The New York Times is a case in point. About a week after Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and even the U.S. State Department were compelled to release statements of condemnation over Antonio Trejo’s assassination, Times reporter Elisabeth Malkin fawned over Romer’s idea while ignoring the killing of one of its most prominent critics. (Romer himself offered no public statement in the wake of Trejo’s death-squad-style killing.) Charter cities promised to “simply sweep aside the corruption, the self-interested elites, and the distorted economic rules that stifle growth in many poor countries,” asserted the imperturbable Malkin. She added with uncommon journalistic authority, “Nobody disputes that impoverished, violent Honduras needs some kind of shock therapy.”13

This is not the first instance in which the Times has glossed over inconvenient facts to laud shock therapy, a doctrine of massive privatization and investor-friendly deregulation developed at the University of Chicago.14 Many years after Chile’s coup government pushed through a rash of measures designed by economist Milton Friedman and his acolytes, the Chicago Boys, the Times reported that “Chile has built the most successful economy in Latin America, and one of the vital underpinnings of that growth was the open economic environment created by the former military dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet.”15 Leaving aside Pinochet’s torture and murder of tens of thousands of dissidents, Chile’s per capita gross domestic product was practically unchanged 13 years after the coup; Pinochet’s “free-market” experiment also ended with re-nationalizations in banking and copper extraction, the institution of capital controls, and continuous state support for Chile’s exports.16

Following in this dubious tradition of portraying a reactionary societal experiment as a formula for prosperity, the Times’ first piece on Honduran charter cities appeared in its Sunday magazine in May 2012. Author Adam Davidson, co-creator and host of National Public Radio’s Planet Money program, considered charter cities a “ridiculously big idea” for fixing an “economic system that kept nearly two-thirds of [Honduras’s] people in grim poverty.” Davidson related the story of Octavio Sánchez, Lobo’s chief of staff, who met with Romer to develop a “secure place to do business—somewhere that money is safe from corrupt political cronyism or the occasional coup.”17 Davidson, however, scrupulously avoided Sánchez’s own role as an apologist for the 2009 military overthrow of Zelaya. Days after Zelaya’s ouster, Sánchez advised Christian Science Monitor readers not to “believe the coup myth,” and in an Orwellian flourish, the Harvard Law graduate declared that “the arrest of President Zelaya represents the triumph of the rule of law.”18

In November, Planet Money provided an obsequious follow-up on Romer and Sánchez’s collaboration, scrubbing any mention of the 2009 coup and Lobo’s emergence from it, and portraying Sánchez as an idealistic dreamer. “Instead of fighting to do two, three or four reforms during the life of a government,” Sánchez asked, “why don’t you just do all of those reforms at once in a really small space? And that’s why this idea was appealing. It’s really the possibility of turning everything around.”19

Planet Money’s co-hosts unwittingly conveyed the fundamental obstacle to shock therapy: “Paul Romer has this killer idea and no real country to try it in; Octavio has the same idea, but no way to sell it to his people.” They acknowledged that even with “a government that’s ready to go,” the “people in Honduras” viewed Romer’s plan as “basically Yankee imperialism.” The episode concluded by explaining the apparent collapse of the charter cities initiative, resulting partly from the post-coup government’s lack of transparency (Romer was “stunned”), as well as a Honduran Supreme Court ruling in October that found charter cities unconstitutional. Romer remains unfazed, the hosts said. He has a promising lead in North Africa—another opportunity to answer “one of the oldest problems in economics: how to make poor countries less poor.”

Regardless of what Romer and his media sycophants think of the charter city’s (questionable) efficacy, their deafening silence on its antidemocratic implications and Honduras’s human rights abuses is unconscionable. In this insulated world, Honduran victims of economic hardship and state terror, and their own proposals to solve poverty, remain invisible. Pinochet, the original administrator of shock therapy, distilled the insouciance of today’s intellectual and media culture when, in 1979, he remarked, “I trust the people all right; but they’re not yet ready.”20

Keane Bhatt is a regular contributor to the MALA section of NACLA Report and the creator of the Manufacturing Contempt blog on the NACLA Website.

1. Alberto Arce, “Slain Honduran lawyer Complained of Death Threats,” Associated Press, September 25, 2012.

2. Paul Romer and Octavio Sánchez, “Urban Prosperity in the RED,” The Globe and Mail: April 25, 2012.

3. “The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers,” Foreign Policy, November 26, 2012. Sebastian Mallaby, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty,” The Atlantic, July/August 2012.

4. Romer and Sánchez, “Urban Prosperity.” Dana Frank, “Honduras: Which Side Is the US On?,” The Nation, May 22, 2012.

5. Brandon Fuller and Paul Romer, “Success and the City: How Charter Cities Could Transform the Developing World,” Macdonald-Laurier Institute, April 2012.

6. Katherine Corcoran and Martha Mendoza, “New Honduras Top Cop Once Investigated in Killings,” Associated Press, June 1, 2012.

7. Sebastian Mallaby, “Politically Incorrect Guide.”

8. Romer and Sánchez, “Urban Prosperity.”

9. Can “Charter Cities” Change the World? A Q&A With Paul Romer,”, September 29, 2009.

10. Jacob Goldstein and Chana Joffe-Walt, “Episode 415: Can a Poor Country Start Over?” NPR’s Planet Money, November 9, 2012.

11. Javier C. Hernandez, “An Academic Turns Grief Into a Crime-Fighting Tool,” The New York Times, February 24, 2012; Annie Bird and Alexander Main, “Collateral Damage of a Drug War,” Center for Economic and Policy Research and Rights Action, August 2012.

12. U.S. Office of the Press Secretary, “Remarks by President Obama and President Lobo of Honduras Before Bilateral Meeting,”, October 5, 2011; Dana Frank, “Honduras.”

13. Elisabeth Malkin, “Plan for Charter City to Fight Honduras Poverty Loses Its Initiator,” The New York Times, September 30, 2012

14. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Metropolitan Books, 2007).

15. Nathaniel C. Nash, “Terrorism Jolts a Prospering Chile,” The New York Times, April 9, 1991.

16. Paul Krugman, “Fantasies of the Chicago Boys,” The Conscience of a Liberal (blog), The New York Times, March 3, 2010.

17. Adam Davidson, “Who Wants to Buy Honduras?,” The New York Times Magazine, May 8, 2012.

18. Octavio Sánchez, “A ‘Coup’ in Honduras? Nonsense,” The Christian Science Monitor, July 2, 2009.

19. Goldstein and Joffe-Walt, “Can a Poor Country.”

20. John B. Oakes, “Pinochet in No Rush”, The New York Times, May 3, 1979.

February 26, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , | Comments Off on Reporting on Romer’s Charter Cities: How the Media Sanitize Honduras’s Brutal Regime

Al-Aqsa Brigades Fire Rocket on Occupied Territories in Response to Killing of Prisoner

Al-Manar | February 26, 2013

A rocket fired from the Gaza strip landed early Tuesday near Ashkelon in the south of the Palestinian occupied territories, as al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Fatah Movement, claimed responsibility for the rocket launch.

“The rocket fell early in the morning near Ashkelon and did some damage to a road, without hurting anyone,” an Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

In a statement, al-Aqsa Brigades, Groups of Martyr Luai Kane’, claimed responsibility on Tuesday for firing a Grad rocket on Ashkelon city.
The statement said that the rocket was “in response for assassinating the prisoner Arafat Jaradat” who was martyred on Sunday after being tortured in an Israeli prison.

“The Freedom won’t be achieved but through sacrifice… We have to resist our enemy in all available means,” al-Aqsa Martyrs added in the statement.

Jaradat’s martyrdom sparked protests across Palestine, with thousands of Palestinians thronging the West Bank village of Sair on Monday for the funeral of Jaradat, a 30-year-old father of two and member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Both the Palestinians and the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, have called for an independent inquiry into Jaradat’s death.

Tuesday’s rocket fire was the first such event since the end of an Israeli offensive against Gaza late November.

The two sides finally agreed to a truce on November 21 following the eight-day Israeli attack which cost the lives of dozens of Palestinian civilians. 177 Palestinians were martyred and six Zionists were killed, according to figures issued by the two sides.

February 26, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , | Comments Off on Al-Aqsa Brigades Fire Rocket on Occupied Territories in Response to Killing of Prisoner