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Daily Archives: December 24, 2013

Marijuana legal in Uruguay as President Mujica signs law – World – CBC News

Marijuana legal in Uruguay as President Mujica signs law – World – CBC News.

Uruguay's President Jose Mujica signed a law legalizing marijuana on Monday night. Bureaucrats have until April 9 to write the fine print regulating every aspect of the marijuana market.Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica signed a law legalizing marijuana on Monday night. Bureaucrats have until April 9 to write the fine print regulating every aspect of the marijuana market. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)

Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica has quietly signed into law the government’s plan to create a regulated, legal market for marijuana, his spokesman says.

Presidential secretary Diego Canepa told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Mujica signed the legislation Monday night. That was the last formal step for the law to take effect.

Bureaucrats now have until April 9 to write the fine print for regulating every aspect of the marijuana market, from growing to selling in a network of pharmacies.

They hope to have the whole system in place by the middle of next year. But as of Tuesday, growing pot at home is legal in Uruguay, up to six plants per family and an annual harvest of 480 grams.

 

European countries reel from deadly storms – Europe – Al Jazeera English

European countries reel from deadly storms – Europe – Al Jazeera English.

Deadly hurricane-force winds and torrential rain have brought havoc to transport networks Britain and France.The death toll rose to at least six people on Tuesday, as winds of up to 145kph hit both sides of the Channel with heavy downpours causing flooding, traffic jams, and cancellations of rail, flight and ferry services.

Aidan McGivern, a meteorologist, told Al Jazeera people were preparing themselves for more bad weather.

Analysts expect the storms to hurt retailers eager to cash in on the traditional Christmas rush [EPA]

In Britain, the number of people killed in two days of storms rose to at least five after a man died trying to rescue his dog from fast-flowing waters in Devon, southwest England.

A teenager died in France on Monday after a wall collapsed on him.

Airports in southern England were disrupted, with some flights from Britain’s busiest airport, Heathrow, cancelled or delayed.

Britain’s second busiest airport, Gatwick, said one terminal had been hit by a major power outage on Tuesday and storm damage had temporarily cut all trains to the airport.

Several hundred passengers were stranded at the airport and airport police had to be called in to help deal with angry passengers.

British train operators cancelled hundreds of services on Tuesday morning, by which time the storm had abated, leaving hundreds of thousands of people scrambling to get on to later services in and out of London.

Thousands without power

Brittany and Normandy were among the regions worst hit in France, where 240,000 homes lost electricity, while in southern England, 150,000 homes were cut off from the power grid, the Energy Networks Association said.

Energy company Southern Electric said that some customers would be without power on Christmas Day.

McGivern told Al Jazeera another storm was expected to strike on Friday.

“That is expected to bring another spell of wet and windy weather,” he said.

IHS analyst Howard Archer said the weather was expected to hurt British retailers, eager to cash in on the traditional pre Christmas rush.

“Given retailers’ hopes that the last couple of days before Christmas would see a final strong surge in sales, the awful weather could not have come at a worse time,” Archer said.

 

» New armored tank for town police sparks fear, war of words Alex Jones’ Infowars: There’s a war on for your mind!

» New armored tank for town police sparks fear, war of words Alex Jones’ Infowars: There’s a war on for your mind!.

Joe Saunders
bizpacreview.com
December 23, 2013

A war of words has broken out over police force in California getting a new armored vehicle built more for a state of war than patrolling in the Golden State.

The Salinas Police Department recently issued a news release proudly announcing the arrival of the armored truck built to survive minefield explosions, which it got compliments of federal taxpayers as part of a program to convert military equipment to law-enforcement use.

califmwrap1222

Critics took to the police department’s Facebook page to ask exactly why a city of 150,000 on the northern California coast really needs a vehicle designed for battlefield use. It’s more likely to be used against its own citizens, they said..

“That vehicle is made for war. Do not use my safety to justify that vehicle,” one wrote. “The Salinas Police Department is just a bunch of cowards that want to use that vehicle as intimidation and to terrorize the citizens of this city.”

‘To stop gang members?” another wrote. “Hmmm gang members don’t riot in mass numbers. It’s right in front of our faces and we don’t see it. Why would the ARMY!!! give something like that for FREE!!! Let’s think for once people.”

Police Chief Kelly McMillin said he doesn’t understand the problem.

“I knew this was going to come up,” he said in an interview with the Salinas Californian. “It’s the militarization-of-the-police issue. People are like, ‘Why do you need this?’”

He said it’s not what the department has, it’s what it does that’s the point.

“An allegation that we are militarizing has to be that we were patrolling the streets in platoons in greater numbers, that we were setting up checkpoints and searching people in and out of neighborhoods,” he told the interviewer.

The Salinas PD isn’t doing any of that, he said.

Maybe not. And maybe it never will under Kelly McMillin. But that’s not the point, and it’s hard to believe McMillin and the reporter from the Salinas Californian don’t know that.

This country only two months ago saw rangers for the National Park Service – National Park rangers, for God’s sake – turn into a bunch of storm troopers keeping World War II vets out of their own monument, and visitors from “recreating” at Yosemite.

And Chief McMillin doesn’t understand why citizens don’t trust the government with ever-greater weaponry in the hands of a “civilian” police force?

Just ask the commenters on the Salinas Californian article.

“It could be used to deliver a whole bunch of shut the hell up to the citizens of this fair town,” one wrote.

Another agreed.

“And Obama said we don’t need military weapons in hands of citizens”

H/T: The Daily Mail

charles hugh smith- Why Economics Will Never Be a Legitimate Science

charles hugh smith- Why Economics Will Never Be a Legitimate Science.

Why Economics Will Never Be a Legitimate Science 
(December 24, 2013)
“If we expect an economic theory to behave like a theory of physics, with non-trivial predictions about the future, we’re never going to get one.”

Back in August I explored Why Isn’t There a Demonstrably Correct Economic Theory?. Many commentators have noted the obvious, that economics is a pseudo-science rather than a real science: beneath the fancy quantification and math, economics is fundamentally the study of human behavior, and that complex mix of dynamics cannot be reduced to a tidy econometric model that spits out accurate predictions.One key element of science is that the results must be reproducible, that is, the same experiment/conditions should yield the same results time and again. I suspect that economic models are not applicable across all times and situations; a model might “work” in one era and in a very specific set of circumstances, but fail in another era or in a similar set of circumstances.

Since human behavior is based in culture as well as in naturally selected (genetically driven) behavior, then cultural milieus and values obviously play critical roles in shaping economic behaviors.

So presenting an economic model as “scientific” and quantifiable is in effect claiming that the bubbling stew of human culture can be reduced to quantifiable models that will yield predictions that are accurate in the real world. This is clearly false, as culture is not a static set of objects, it is a constantly shifting interplay of feedback loops.

This helps explain why human behavior is so unpredictable. Virtually no one successfully predicted World War I in 1909, and no one predicted the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1985.

Another reason all economic theories fail as scientifically verifiable models is that economics boils down to a very simple dynamic: those in power issue financial claims on resources as a “shortcut” way of gaining control of the resources without actually having to produce the resources or earn the wealth via labor and innovation.

I think this is the one fundamental dynamic of economics, and it does not lend itself to reductionist models.

Longtime correspondent Chuck D. recently explained why economics will never be predictive (i.e. a real science) like physics:

If we expect an economic theory to behave like a theory of physics, with non-trivial predictions about the future, we’re never going to get one. If, on the other hand, we accept economic theories which explain why we’ll never get the kind of economic theory we’d like to have, the kind that would support investment decisions and government policy formulation, we can formulate THAT kind of theory. (If you want a physicist to decide whether light is a stream of particles or a pattern of waves, you’re not going to get an answer.)Von Neumann and Morgenstern came pretty close when they applied mathematical game theory to economic behavior. In game theory terms, if there existed an economic theory which provided any kind of advantage to those who understood it, either it would be kept a secret (so as not to give up the advantage), or the “game” itself would adapt to invalidate the theory.

The reason for the failure of economics to produce “the theory we’d like to have” is not merely that people are complex, just as modern physics doesn’t say that “electrons are really hard to locate;” the problem is that any conceivable process for observing the electron disturbs its position and/or momentum, invalidating the observation. A theory of economics cannot be both useful and well-known. (Can we call this a statement of “meta-theory”?)

So, the competitive (game-like) nature of economics means that the usual incremental accumulation of knowledge that applies in natural science is impossible. To succeed in the market, I need to have better information and/or interpretation than at least one other trading opponent (oops, I almost said “trading partner”!) There are two ways for me to have better knowledge than you do: either I think hard about the data I gather (and keep the results to myself), or I promulgate disinformation and misinterpretation (see “talking my book”).

In other words, I don’t need to be smart if I can make you stupid. It’s just the opposite of science. It’s not even necessary for everyone to proliferate misinformation, as long as there’s enough of it around to create uncertainty about the truth. (You and I, for example, can see things quite clearly, and still not turn the tide of madness around us.)

Thank you, Chuck, for an insightful, thought-provoking commentary.

 

…and now for something completely different…

…supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony…

Israel launches fresh air strikes on Gaza – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Israel launches fresh air strikes on Gaza – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

The girl was killed and her family were wounded in an air strike on a refugee camp in Gaza [Reuters]
A three-year-old Palestinian girl was killed and at least six other people wounded in a series of Israeli air and tank strikes on the Gaza Strip, medical sources said.Medics named the girl as Hala Abu Sabikha from the central Gaza Strip, noting “three other members of her family were wounded” on Tuesday.

Emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said six people had been wounded in a series of strikes, which came in response to the shooting to death earlier of an Israeli repairing the security fence separating Gaza from Israel.

The Hamas interior ministry said Abu Sabikha and her family were injured in an air strike on a refugee camp in central Gaza.

It also said a person was moderately wounded in a tank shelling near the Karni crossing in northern Gaza and that there were two other air strikes on militant positions in northern Gaza, where no casualties were reported.

The Israeli army said aircraft, tanks and infantry “targeted terror sites in the Gaza Strip” in retaliation for the shooting of the Israeli.

“The sites targeted were a weapon-manufacturing facility and a terror infrastructure in the southern Gaza Strip, a terror site and another terror infrastructure in the central Gaza Strip and a concealed rocket launcher in the northern Gaza Strip,” an army statement said.

 

On This Day In History, Gas Prices Have Never Been Higher | Zero Hedge

On This Day In History, Gas Prices Have Never Been Higher | Zero Hedge.

It seems not a day goes by when the mainstream media (or your local friendly asset gatherer) proclaims the drop in gas prices from a Middle-East-turmoiling Summer as “great news” and very positive and an implicit tax cut… as they try to juice hopes and dreams of a better-than-expected holiday spending season. The sad truth – something unusual in this new normal – is that regular gas prices (at $3.258) have never been higher on Christmas Eve. It seems context does matter…

Yesterday, we inched out 2012’s $3.247 and moved to $3.258 per gallon…

This is the first time since March that gas prices have been at seasonally-comparable record highs.

 

Happy 100th Birthday, Federal Reserve — Now, Please Go Away | Institutional Investor

Happy 100th Birthday, Federal Reserve — Now, Please Go Away | Institutional Investor.

Submitted by Mark Spitznagel

Happy 100th Birthday, Federal Reserve – Now, Please Go Away

Nearly 100 years ago, on December 23, 1913, the Federal Reserve Act was signed into law, giving the U.S. exactly what it didn’t need: a central bank. Many people simply assume that modern nations must have a central bank, just as they must have international airports and high-speed Internet. Yet Americans had gone without one since the 1836 expiration of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, which Andrew Jackson famously refused to renew. Not to be a party pooper, but as this dubious anniversary is observed, we should ask ourselves, Has the Fed been friend or foe to growth and prosperity?

According to the standard historical narrative, America learned a painful lesson in the Panic of 1907, that a “lender of last resort” was necessary, lest the financial sector be in thrall to the mercies of private capitalists like J.P. Morgan. A central bank — the Federal Reserve — was supposed to provide an elastic currency that would expand and contract with the needs of trade and that could rescue solvent but illiquid firms by providing liquidity when other institutions couldn’t or wouldn’t. If that’s the case, then the Fed has obviously failed in its mission of preventing crippling financial panics. The early years of the Great Depression — commencing with a stock market crash that arrived 15 years after the Fed opened its doors — saw far more turmoil than anything in the pre-Fed days, with some 4,000 commercial banks failing in 1933 alone.

A typical defense acknowledges that the Fed botched its job during the Great Depression, but once the wise regulations of the New Deal were put into place, and academic economists realized just what had gone wrong during the 1930s, it was relatively smooth sailing from that point forward. It would be silly, these apologists argue, to question the advantage of central banking now that we have learned so many painful lessons from experience, which Fed officials take into account when making policy decisions.

What about the excruciating pain of the recent past, dubbed the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009? In the five years from 2008 to 2012, almost 500 banks failed. What would history need to look like for people to agree that the Fed has not done its job?

But wait! The Fed is necessary to the promotion of stable economic growth — or so the conventional wisdom says. The idea is that without a central bank, the economy would be plagued by wildly oscillating business cycles. The only hope is a countercyclical policy of raising interest rates to cool an overheating boom, and then slashing rates to turn up the flame during a bust.

In actuality, the Fed’s modus operandi has been to trick capitalists into doing things that are not aligned with economic reality. For example, the Fed creates the illusion, through artificially low interest rates, that there are both higher savings and higher consumption, and thus all assets should be worth more (making their holders invest and spend more — can you say bubble?). The perpetuation of this trickery only delays the market’s eventual, and often precipitate, return to reality.

Many economists now recognize that the massive housing bubble of the early and mid-2000s was caused by the artificially low interest rate approach of Alan Greenspan’s Fed, enacted in response to the dot-com crash (itself the ostensible result of artificially low rates). At the time, this was viewed as textbook pro-growth monetary policy: The economy (allegedly) needed a shot in the arm to get consumers and businesses spending again, especially after the 9/11 attacks.

It appears those textbooks are wrong. Economists George Selgin, William Lastrapes, and Lawrence White analyzed the Fed’s record and found that even focusing on the post–World War II era, it is not clear that the Fed has provided more economic stability when compared with the pre-Fed regime, which was characterized by the national banking system. The authors concluded that “the need for a systematic exploration of alternatives to the established monetary system is as pressing today as it was a century ago.”

In other sectors, we don’t normally defer to a committee of a dozen experts to set prices. Yet this is what the Fed does with its Open Market Committee, which routinely sets a target for the federal funds rate as well as other objectives. If we all agree that central planning and price-fixing don’t work for computers and oil, why would we expect them to bring us stability in money and banking?op09

On this, the 100th birthday of the Fed, it’s time to ask ourselves: Wouldn’t we be better off without a central bank?

 

 

A Year Later, The Bundesbank Has Repatriated Only 37 Tons Of Gold (Of 700 Total) | Zero Hedge

A Year Later, The Bundesbank Has Repatriated Only 37 Tons Of Gold (Of 700 Total) | Zero Hedge.

The Colorado River flows through the town of Rifle in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo (taken 1972) by David Hiser,courtesy of U.S. National Archives, Flickr/Creative Commons.
The Colorado River flows through the town of Rifle in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo (taken 1972) by David Hiser, courtesy of U.S. National Archives, Flickr/Creative Commons.

This week, more evidence came in that hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) poses potentially serious risks to drinking water quality and human health.
A team of researchers from the University of Missouri found evidence of hormone-disrupting activity in water located near fracking sites – including samples taken from the Colorado River near a dense drilling region of western Colorado.
The Colorado River is a source of drinking water for more than 30 million people.
The peer-reviewed study was published this week in the journal Endocrinology.
Fracking is the controversial process of blasting water mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure so as to fracture rock and release the oil and gas it holds. It has made previously inaccessible fossil fuel reserves economical to tap, and drilling operations have spread rapidly across the country.
The University of Missouri team found that 11 chemicals commonly used in the fracking process are “endocrine disrupters” – compounds that can affect the human hormonal system and have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and infertility.
“More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function,” said Dr. Susan Nagel, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and women’s health at the University of Missouri School of Medicine and a co-author of the study, in a news release.
“With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure.”
The research team collected samples from ground water and surface water from sites in Garfield County, Colorado, where fracking fluids had accidentally spilled, as well as from the nearby Colorado River, into which local streams and groundwater drain. They also took samples from other areas of Garfield County where little drilling has taken place, as well as from a county in Missouri where there had been no drilling at all.
They found that the samples from the spill site had moderate-to-high levels of endocrine-disrupting activity, and the Colorado River samples had moderate levels.  The other two samples, taken from areas with little or no drilling activity, showed low levels of endocrine-disrupting activity.
The new findings add urgency to calls for moratoriums on fracking until the risks have been fully assessed and regulations and monitoring put in place to safeguard water supplies and public health.
Due to the so-called “Halliburton loophole,” the oil and gas industry is exempt from important requirements under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, and states have been slow to fill the regulatory gap.
Colorado, in particular, should exercise the utmost caution.
According to a report by Ceres, a Boston-based non-profit organization that educates investors about corporate environmental risks, 92 percent of Colorado’s shale gas and oil wells are located in “extremely high” water stress regions, defined as areas in which cities, industries and farms are already using 80 percent or more of available water.
Adding contamination risks to the high volume of water fracking wells require – typically 4-6 million gallons per well – argues strongly for a precautionary approach to future development and a pause in existing production until the full range of environmental health risks can be assessed.
But Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has said the state will sue any city that bans fracking within its borders.  Indeed, in July 2012, the state sued the front-range town of Longmont, which had issued such a ban.
A statement about the new findings of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in waters near fracking sites issued by Concerned Health Professionals of New York, and posted here, concludes with this warning:
“These results, which are based on validated cell cultures, demonstrate that public health concerns about fracking are well-founded and extend to our hormone systems. The stakes could not be higher. Exposure to EDCs has been variously linked to breast cancer, infertility, birth defects, and learning disabilities. Scientists have identified no safe threshold of exposure for EDCs, especially for pregnant women, infants, and children.”
And environmental health expert Sandra Steingraber writes in a letter posted at the same site:
“[I]t seems to me, the ethical response on the part of the environmental health community is to reissue a call that many have made already:  hit the pause button via a national moratorium on high volume, horizontal drilling and fracking and commence a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment with full public participation.”

 

Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals Linked to Fracking Found in Colorado River – News Watch

Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals Linked to Fracking Found in Colorado River – News Watch.

The Colorado River flows through the town of Rifle in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo (taken 1972) by David Hiser,courtesy of U.S. National Archives, Flickr/Creative Commons.
The Colorado River flows through the town of Rifle in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo (taken 1972) by David Hiser, courtesy of U.S. National Archives, Flickr/Creative Commons.

This week, more evidence came in that hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) poses potentially serious risks to drinking water quality and human health.
A team of researchers from the University of Missouri found evidence of hormone-disrupting activity in water located near fracking sites – including samples taken from the Colorado River near a dense drilling region of western Colorado.
The Colorado River is a source of drinking water for more than 30 million people.
The peer-reviewed study was published this week in the journal Endocrinology.
Fracking is the controversial process of blasting water mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure so as to fracture rock and release the oil and gas it holds. It has made previously inaccessible fossil fuel reserves economical to tap, and drilling operations have spread rapidly across the country.
The University of Missouri team found that 11 chemicals commonly used in the fracking process are “endocrine disrupters” – compounds that can affect the human hormonal system and have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and infertility.
“More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function,” said Dr. Susan Nagel, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and women’s health at the University of Missouri School of Medicine and a co-author of the study, in a news release.
“With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure.”
The research team collected samples from ground water and surface water from sites in Garfield County, Colorado, where fracking fluids had accidentally spilled, as well as from the nearby Colorado River, into which local streams and groundwater drain. They also took samples from other areas of Garfield County where little drilling has taken place, as well as from a county in Missouri where there had been no drilling at all.
They found that the samples from the spill site had moderate-to-high levels of endocrine-disrupting activity, and the Colorado River samples had moderate levels.  The other two samples, taken from areas with little or no drilling activity, showed low levels of endocrine-disrupting activity.
The new findings add urgency to calls for moratoriums on fracking until the risks have been fully assessed and regulations and monitoring put in place to safeguard water supplies and public health.
Due to the so-called “Halliburton loophole,” the oil and gas industry is exempt from important requirements under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, and states have been slow to fill the regulatory gap.
Colorado, in particular, should exercise the utmost caution.
According to a report by Ceres, a Boston-based non-profit organization that educates investors about corporate environmental risks, 92 percent of Colorado’s shale gas and oil wells are located in “extremely high” water stress regions, defined as areas in which cities, industries and farms are already using 80 percent or more of available water.
Adding contamination risks to the high volume of water fracking wells require – typically 4-6 million gallons per well – argues strongly for a precautionary approach to future development and a pause in existing production until the full range of environmental health risks can be assessed.
But Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has said the state will sue any city that bans fracking within its borders.  Indeed, in July 2012, the state sued the front-range town of Longmont, which had issued such a ban.
A statement about the new findings of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in waters near fracking sites issued by Concerned Health Professionals of New York, and posted here, concludes with this warning:
“These results, which are based on validated cell cultures, demonstrate that public health concerns about fracking are well-founded and extend to our hormone systems. The stakes could not be higher. Exposure to EDCs has been variously linked to breast cancer, infertility, birth defects, and learning disabilities. Scientists have identified no safe threshold of exposure for EDCs, especially for pregnant women, infants, and children.”
And environmental health expert Sandra Steingraber writes in a letter posted at the same site:
“[I]t seems to me, the ethical response on the part of the environmental health community is to reissue a call that many have made already:  hit the pause button via a national moratorium on high volume, horizontal drilling and fracking and commence a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment with full public participation.”

 

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