Moving To Europe, Site Updates, And Housecleaning

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renovating

Hello All,

I just wanted to say that there has been a lag in publishing new content due to my upcoming move out of the country. My preference is to publish at least 2 or 3 articles a week, but I underestimated how much time it takes to pack properly. I will try to publish another article before I leave next week, but I can’t guarantee it.

I am trying to add a link roll to my main menu bar, but unfortunately I am failing miserably because I don’t completely understand the widget and menu options. I will be getting professional help soon, so in the near future you should see an updated link roll in the menu.

The publishing of new content should be up to speed once I’m settled into my new home. My apologies for any content delays.

~M Semet

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Crushing Dissent And Extracting Obedience Through The Politics Of Insanity

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crazy person

Insanity is very badly understood in our society. We think we know it when we see it, despite the vague, wide ranging descriptions we haphazardly concocted to define the condition. According to Wikipedia, insanity is simply:

…a spectrum of behaviors characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity may manifest as violations of societal norms, including a person becoming a danger to themselves or others, though not all such acts are considered insanity. In modern usage, insanity is most commonly encountered as an informal unscientific term denoting mental instability, or in the narrow legal context of the insanity defense. In the medical profession the term is now avoided in favor of diagnoses of specific mental disorders; the presence of delusions or hallucinations is broadly referred to as psychosis. When discussing mental illness in general terms, “psychopathology” is considered a preferred descriptor.”

Some authorities would describe insanity as the inability (or refusal) to distinguish reality from fantasy. Unfortunately, this definition is also much too general–almost every member of the human race has been guilty of this sin at some point in our lives, which makes it a highly impractical metric for weeding out the truly mentally unstable among us. On a sadder note, people in troubled or difficult circumstances may choose to deny reality in a bid for self preservation, which can actually be a counter-intuitive act of sanity and survival. The psychology of Stockholm Syndrome bears this out, since captives that are convincingly empathic and sympathetic to their captors have a higher chance of survival than those who openly resist.

Another probable indicator of insanity is the danger a person represents to others, as well as to themselves. Again, this proves problematic because of the lack of specificity and context. Should we equate choosing to regularly eat Cheetos and Twinkies on the same level of self harm as cutting oneself? Is constant speeding on the highway simply a reckless act, or a symptom of insanity since it technically compromises the safety of everyone on the road? As a signal of mental disorder, the danger principle could prove to be a promising idea when discussed within the context of a harm continuum or hierarchy. Unfortunately, continuums of any kind can be quite difficult to define and standardize by nature, which once again leaves us with banal generalities that simultaneously condemn and exonerate all suspects in one blow.

Regardless of what insanity actually is, one thing is absolutely certain–those that are deemed insane or crazy by society are effectively dismissed and neutralized for all intensive purposes. Relegated to living out their days as contemporary cautionary tales, these unfortunates continue to exist, if only for the benefit of those in need of a gentle reminder on the costs of nonconformity and disobedience.

Of course, this isn’t to say that mental illness isn’t real or doesn’t exist. The real problems lie not in its existence and prevalence, but in the institutions we created to deal with it. How we define mental pathology, who we grant the authority with which to define it, and what we do with the people we judge as crazy and mentally unstable are more than just important indicators of who we are as a society–it’s also a good measure of how much more we have to go in terms of our collective goals and values.

Redefining Insanity To Enforce Conformity Of Mind And Action

In today’s more enlightened times, it’s hard to believe that as recently as 1973, homosexuality was an officially recognized mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Despite the fact that psychiatry is considered a field of medicine, it’s all too apparent that it owes more of its development to the prevailing political and cultural ideology than it does to actual science. The newest “mental illness” to be discovered (i.e., invented) in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is officially termed as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). According to the APA, your child may have ODD if he or she:

  • Often loses his or her temper
  • Is often touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • Is often angry and resentful
  • Often argues with adults or people in authority
  • Often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults’ requests or rules
  • Often deliberately annoys people
  • Often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
  • Is often spiteful or vindictive
  • Has shown spiteful or vindictive behavior at least twice in the past six months

Given the overwhelming generality of these “symptoms”, one would be hard pressed to find a child that didn’t suffer from the occasional “ODD” moment (a telling acronym, to be sure).

Jonathan Benson of Natural News conveniently cuts to the chase and spells out the obvious: the APA is willfully colluding with our increasingly totalitarian government by officially declaring nonconformity as a treatable mental disorder. In pathologizing normal every day behavior, the average citizen is now at risk of being labeled insane for the crime of behaving in any way that could be construed as strange or uncommon:

“…virtually any uncommon behavior can be declared to be oppositional or defiant simply because it bucks the status quo. Famous minds of the past like Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, for instance, whose unconventional ideas might have seemed crazy in their day, are the types of folks who today might be declared to have ODD or some other type of mental disease.”          Jonathan Benson, Natural News

Legitimizing Abuse: Recognizing The Contributions Of American Psychologists In “Improving” Modern CIA Torture Techniques

In a damning report released by dissenting health professionals and human rights activists, the American Psychological Association (A.P.A.) is exposed as having actively collaborated with the Bush Administration and the CIA in the creation, justification, and promotion of the now infamous torture program. In response to the explosive findings, Rhea Farberman, spokeswoman for the A.P.A., issued a denial to the New York Times, claiming that:

“[There] has never been any coordination between A.P.A. and the Bush administration on how A.P.A. responded to the controversies about the role of psychologists in the interrogations program.”

Unfortunately for Farberman, her dubious statement is directly contradicted by Dr. William Winkenwerder, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. In explaining the Pentagon’s preference for working with psychologists over psychiatrists, he recounts that:

“[The American Psychological Association] clearly supports the role of psychologists in a way our behavioral science consultants operate…The American Psychiatric Association, on the other hand, I think had a great deal of debate about that, and there were some who were less comfortable with that.”

Retired Air Force psychologist James Mitchell actually participated in the torture program he developed, admitting that he waterboarded a few al Qaeda suspects–most notably Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Mitchell’s co-developer of the torture program, former business partner and retired Air Force psychologist Bruce Jessen, has remained tight lipped for the moment citing a nondisclosure agreement. However, Thruthout managed to obtain Jessen’s handwritten notes in 2011, which revealed the real motives behind the torture policy:

“…the handwritten notes obtained exclusively by Truthout drafted two decades ago by Dr. John Bruce Jessen, the psychologist who was under contract to the CIA and credited as being one of the architects of the government’s top-secret torture program, tell a dramatically different story about the reasons detainees were brutalized and it was not just about obtaining intelligence.

Rather, as Jessen’s notes explain, torture was used to “exploit” detainees, that is, to break them down physically and mentally, in order to get them to “collaborate” with government authorities.”   Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye, Truthout

Furthermore, Jessen’s notes explicitly outlines the sadistic goals the torture program was supposed to accomplish:

“From the moment you are detained (if some kind of exploitation is your Detainer’s goal) everything your Detainer does will be contrived to bring about these factors: CONTROL, DEPENDENCY, COMPLIANCE AND COOPERATION. Your detainer will work to take away your sense of control. This will be done mostly by removing external control (i.e., sleep, food, communication, personal routines etc. )…Your detainer wants you to feel ‘EVERYTHING’ is dependent on him, from the smallest detail, (food, sleep, human interaction), to your release or your very life … Your detainer wants you to comply with everything he wishes. He will attempt to make everything from personal comfort to your release unavoidably connected to compliance in your mind. [The detainee must] see that [the detainer] has ‘total’ control of you because you are completely dependent on him, and thus you must comply with his wishes. Therefore, it is absolutely inevitable that you must cooperate with him in some way (propaganda, special favors, confession, etc.).”

Have The Arbiters Of Sanity Lost Their Collective Minds?

Regrettably, all indications point to the affirmative. Rampant corruption has taken its toll on whatever legitimacy the field of psychiatry and psychology hope to claim, despite the efforts of an ethical few. Pathologizing the distrust and defiance of authority won’t restore lost trust and legitimacy, though it should succeed in achieving a fearful kind of compliance. As Americans continue to endure more financial and emotional demoralization, it becomes that much more difficult to resist and question authority, no matter how irrational or dangerous the edict. Only in our slow march to totalitarianism shall the truth finally become apparent to all: that the danger in collective madness lies not with the masses, but with the official gatekeepers of sanity who conspire with our government to exterminate the spirit of dissent.

A Pessimistic Asessment Of Hillary Clinton’s Potential Presidency

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hillary clinton

As a feminist, I truly believe that women are just like men in the most important ways–for better or for worse. Of course, I’m not saying men and women are the same–but then again, not all women are the same, just as much as not all men are the same. The reality is that we are nothing more than just an aggregate mass of individuals with overlapping similarities and superficial differences. Despite this fact, identity politics often trumps substance, to the detriment of American democracy (at least what little is left of it these days).

While I’d like to see a female American president, I’m certainly not desperate for one. Not just any woman will do, after all. This is why I will never vote for Hillary Clinton. She’s a terrible candidate for many legitimate reasons, and I think it’s a shame that she’s the only female presidential candidate the Democrats have on offer. I suppose I could get excited behind an Elizabeth Warren candidacy, but she’s yet to finish her first Senate term.

But the real question is: would a Hillary Clinton presidency be a good thing for America?

As Bloodthirsty As Any Chicken Hawk

Hillary Clinton certainly won’t let her gender get in the way of her warmongering. Who needs peace when you can act tough and send other people’s children to die in ill advised foreign adventures? Peace and diplomacy is clearly not her priority, as evidenced by her support for:

  • the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia
  • the invasion of Iraq
  • the violent ouster of Libya’s Moammar Kadhafi
  • the attempted destabilization of Syria
  • the “containment” of Russia by financing and arming Ukraine

Journalist Glenn Greenwald said it best, describing Hillary Clinton as:

“…banal, corrupted, drained of vibrancy and passion. I mean, she’s been around forever, the Clinton circle. She’s a fucking hawk and like a neocon, practically. She’s surrounded by all these sleazy money types who are just corrupting everything everywhere. But she’s going to be the first female president, and women in America are going to be completely invested in her candidacy. Opposition to her is going to be depicted as misogynistic, like opposition to Obama has been depicted as racist. It’s going to be this completely symbolic messaging that’s going to overshadow the fact that she’ll do nothing but continue everything in pursuit of her own power. They’ll probably have a gay person after Hillary who’s just going to do the same thing.”

On foreign policy, Clinton is actually to the right of Barack Obama. As arrogant and reckless as the Obama Administration may be in the international arena, a Clinton administration would probably be a whole lot worse. In light of her hard line against Russia and her sophomoric efforts at “diplomacy” (by comparing Putin to Hitler, no less), nuclear war could very well become a dreadful inevitability. Potential mushroom clouds are sure to figure prominently in the geopolitical weather forecast should a Clinton presidency come to pass.

Nothing To Offer The Average Woman, Much Less The Average Man

Hazy promises of a better tomorrow worked for the Obama campaign, but will they work for Clinton? It’s hard to say right now, but if Hillary’s team are as capable as Obama’s was, then the lack of a real platform shouldn’t be a problem. In her recent visit to Iowa, she carefully declared:

“We need to build the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday. We need to strengthen families and communities, because that’s where it all starts. We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment. And we need to protect our country from the threats that we see, and the ones that are on the horizon.”

Despite the nice slogans, no meaningful policy details or plans on how to achieve the aforementioned goals were revealed. The Iowa visit was simply ground zero for the launch of Hillary 2.0, the Democratic Party’s “humble, populist candidate” for 2016. Clinton has yet to explain what “the economy of tomorrow” means, and has mentioned no specific plan for strengthening families and communities. Though she’s willing to support the overturning of Citizens United by constitutional amendment, it is logistically a quixotic endeavor, given the difficulty of passing any legislation in today’s obstructionist Congress. And I’m quite curious as to how she will explain how more wars and arming more proxy armies will result in better national security.

The lack of choices in our electoral system is sickening, to say the least. I don’t really know what more to say, except that I won’t be voting in 2016 out of disgust–and I know I’m not alone. I understand my civic duty, and I believe in exercising my right to vote. I know that my forbears suffered greatly just so I can take for granted what they fought so damn hard to win. But then again, wasn’t exercising freedom of choice the whole point of fighting for the right to vote in the first place? If all the available candidates are the same, then what choice is there to exercise? Did our forbears really suffer just so we can make the same pre-approved choice as everybody else? Unfortunately for our decaying democracy, the act of voting has been unceremoniously reduced to maintaining our sentimental illusion of what we wish our country to be.

Atheists: We’re Not All Baby Eaters

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atheist baby eater

What do you think of when you hear that someone is an atheist? According to ABC News, Alternet, and the New York Times, the impression is usually far from favorable. But what’s behind our negative image? Why do my fellow Americans think so poorly of me and my secular ilk? Amanda Marcotte of Alternet surmises that:

…the real reason atheists are so hated has little to do with jealousy for all their free time, but largely because most Americans are better acquainted with myths than with the realities of atheists’ lives. Unfortunately, atheists often have these myths tossed in their faces, usually by believers who would rather talk about what they heard atheists are like rather than uncomfortable subjects such as the lack of proof for any gods.

In my personal experience, I can say that my atheism is more of an issue when I’m visiting in a conservative city or neighborhood. In Los Angeles where I live (though I won’t be an Angeleno for much longer), it’s a bloodless descriptive term, much like one would observe my height or hair color. However, most of California as well as most of the country, is not like Los Angeles. Most Americans are still religious, and most of them would disapprove of their children marrying an out of the closet atheist.

My atheism is more of a descriptive term for a portion of my personal ideology rather than my core identity. Atheists as a group are quite diverse–we come in a wide variety of genders, ideologies, ages, ethnicities, and class backgrounds. While I can’t speak for anyone else on how they came by their atheism, I can at least speak for myself. I will address the following misconceptions about atheists by explaining how it may or may not pertain to me:

1) Atheists have no morals

This one really pisses me off. There’s no other way to say it–just because I don’t believe in God doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in kindness, compassion, and fairness. I don’t need God to tell me that I shouldn’t rape or kill you–they’re common sense morals, and if you need an unseen (and unprovable) authority to tell you what’s right then you’re the one with the moral problem. Are there immoral or amoral atheists? Undoubtedly. But let’s not forget the multitudes of immoral and amoral members of God’s flock either. It’s perfectly possible to be a moral and ethical person without adhering to any kind of religion.

2) Atheists are mainly annoying and insufferable white guys

There are so many things wrong with that myth I’m not even sure where to start. First, I’d like to say that anyone can be annoying and insufferable regardless of race, gender, and ideology. Second, annoying and insufferable white guys come in all political and religious flavors. I’m not a white guy, though I do have white guy ancestors on both sides of the family. Still, I don’t think it’s fair to blame my assorted character defects on the dead white guys in my family tree, as convenient as that may be. And for the record, they weren’t atheist either.

3) Atheists are pushy, rude, and arrogant about their beliefs

I know many atheists and religious people who are guilty of this. However, I would say that religious people are far worse on this end, because they have more political power in this country. That said, I certainly have been rude and pushy on occasion. I’m very rude and unforgiving during in rush hour traffic. I can be really pushy and overbearing when I’m trying to cancel a cable contract on the phone with a customer service agent. I’ve been told about my arrogant behavior regarding my refusal to eat salads made with iceberg lettuce (that’s not real salad, I don’t care what anybody says). I refuse to patronize supermarket bakeries because of my unshakeable conviction that their cakes and pastries totally suck. Pushy, rude, and arrogant? Guilty as charged.

4) Atheists are a bunch of empty hedonists

My religious cousins would definitely say this about me. I disagree, of course. How can I prove that I’m not just another thrill seeking hedonist? It’s true that I have tried hallucinogenic mushrooms in the past and enjoyed it. I do drink 1 or 2 shots of tequila as medicine when my throat is sore. I smoke a cigarette or 2 when I overeat on occasion. I used to habitually vaporize marijuana until my asthma started acting up. I went through an “assortment” 😉 of relationships before I settled down and got married. Nowadays, I go to bed at 11 pm and have added more leafy greens to my diet in an attempt to avoid wrinkles. Though I lead a staid existence now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with hedonism per se–as long as it’s not the kind of pleasure that is only obtained at the expense of others.

5) Atheists are mad at God

Again I speak only for myself. I started out being angry with God, back when I believed in his existence. I grew up Catholic, and the anger was a gateway to my divorce from religion. That said, I want to clarify that I am not angry at God now–because I can’t be angry at something that doesn’t exist. I was only mad when I thought he was there, because how could he let injustice happen if he had the power to do something about it? I’m still angry about unfairness and injustice of course, but this has nothing to do with God and everything to do with giving a shit about our fellow humans.

6) Atheists hate Christmas

Jesus H. Christ, this one really grates at me. I LOVE Christmas! It’s true that I don’t celebrate it in the Christian way–to me, it’s not about the birth of Jesus and the 3 wise men, but a winter holiday where you get to celebrate togetherness, community, beautiful decorations, and fantabulous food. Allow Cracked.com’s David Wong to explain the real reason we should all love Christmas:

It’s hard to understand why Christmas came to be a big deal even for people who have never stepped foot inside a church without understanding the context. And the context — which does predate Christianity by thousands of years — is that December kicks off winter in the Northern hemisphere. And for most of human history, winter meant a bunch of us were going to freaking die.

“We’re so detached from that idea today, when the cold means nothing more than mild annoyance and sometimes slippery roads, that it’s hard to grasp how recent this was, and that this was the way of things for virtually all of human history. Every year, you headed into winter with just enough stored food and fuel to get by. The old and the sick knew they might not make it through, and an especially harsh winter could mean no one would feel the sun’s warmth ever again. Every year, you watched all of the plants turn brown and shrivel into husks, followed by an unrelenting darkness and cold that threatened to swallow you and everything you love.

“And looking back at that, we see an awesome little portrait of exactly how much humans kick ass. Every year, you see, winter arrived with a short day followed by the longest night of the year (aka the winter solstice), and since before recorded history, humans have been celebrating that day with a feast, or festival, or outright debauchery. On that longest night before the frozen mini-apocalypse, in all times and places you would find light and song and dancing and food. Cattle would be slaughtered (to avoid having to feed all of them through the winter), families would travel to be together, and wine would flow. Precious supplies were dedicated to making decorations and gifts — frivolous things, good for nothing other than making each other happy.

“These celebrations went by many names over the millennia, and everyone did it their own way. But deep down, I think the message was always the same: “We made it through another year, some of us won’t see spring, let’s spend a few days reminding each other of what’s good about humanity.

7) Atheists will eat babies

This is actually true. I love roast suckling pig and roasted lamb chops. The vegetarian atheists I know love to snack on baby carrots. Personally, I find baby corn to be delicious in stir fry vegetable dishes. I love chicken eggs, which are not technical babies. It does however, qualify as eating an abortion. I have never eaten a baby chicken or a baby cow, but I did try duck fetus once, much to my regret. To my knowledge, I do not know of any atheist who has actually dined on a human baby.

I have a hard time understanding the mistrust towards atheists. We’re really just like everybody else when it comes to the most important things. If you’re a believer and you’ve never met a real life atheist, I suggest that you keep an open mind and listen to one when you get the chance. Most of us don’t want to convince or convert you to our way of thinking. We just want you to see that we are a legitimate part of society just as much as you are–no more, no less.

Going Old School: Rediscovering Phage Therapy In The Age Of Antibiotic Resistance

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bacteriophage

Though I’m no spring chicken, I’m still too young to have experienced the Golden Age of the Antibiotic Era. In those halcyon days, antibiotics were heralded as the “magic bullet” that enabled man to decisively conquer disease; the ultimate symbol of civilization successfully resisting Mother Nature to the betterment of society. Back then, the antibiotic pill was the all powerful, multipurpose solution for whatever microbial illness ailed you. It was easy, convenient, and cost-effective–the perfect medicine for a capitalist society.

A lot of things have undoubtedly changed since then, for better or for worse. The hyperbolic optimism of yesteryear has been replaced with fears of devastating disease outbreaks due to the biological blowback of unintended consequences. Drug resistant bacteria is now officially acknowledged as a serious threat to public health–last month, the Obama Administration announced an ambitious plan to combat the growing problem, which according to the CDC has caused at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths every year in the U.S. alone.

Ignoring The Lessons Of Evolution For Convenience And Profit  

There are many factors that have contributed to this looming public health disaster. According to Forbes, Big Agriculture has unwittingly turbocharged bacterial evolution with its indiscriminate use of herbicides and antibiotics on livestock:

“Herbicides are fairly ubiquitous in the environment. Glyphosate (Roundup) has been found in the milk and meat of cows, and in human urine. According to German researchers, “Glyphosate residues cannot be removed by washing and they are not broken down by cooking. Glyphosate residues can remain stable in foods for a year or more, even if the foods are frozen, dried or processed.” Thus, there is great chance for interaction of herbicides with antibiotics. Interestingly, Roundup alone had once been considered as an antibiotic, but resistance was found to develop rapidly⁠ 

In addition, “Antibiotic use has been soaring, with 80% of antibiotics being used in livestock production. In 2010, an estimated 63,151 tons of antibiotics were consumed by livestock; this is projected to increase by 67% by 2030.”  Judy Stone, Forbes

However, the medical and pharmaceutical industry are far from blameless. While personal anecdote should never replace hard research, I can attest from personal experience that doctors will often prescribe antibiotics for a cold. Colds are caused by viruses, so drugs that are designed to kill bacteria are obviously useless. Yet this sort of institutional stupidity continues to persist, despite the danger it poses to the population at large:

“A new study out in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy found that for some conditions rates of prescription are flying in the face of national best practices, with more antibiotics prescribed for coughs and colds now than before there were any recommendations to reduce antibiotic resistance. In the study, researchers led by Jeremy Hawker of Public Health England looked at data from 537 UK general practice surgeries from 1995 to 2011.

“They found that in 1995, 47 percent of cough and cold episodes were prescribed antibiotics. This went down to 36 percent by 1999 but then raced up to 51 percent in 2011. That’s half of all patients with coughs and colds receiving antibiotics, even though the recommendations tell GPs one of the things they can do is “no prescribing of antibiotics for simple coughs and colds.”  Victoria Turk, Motherboard

Meanwhile, the development of new antibiotic drugs have been put on the backburner due to its lack of profitability. According to the International Business Times:

“One reason the number of new antibiotics is so limited is that pharmaceutical companies have little financial incentive to invest in them. Drugs that treat chronic diseases are far more profitable than antibiotics, which are taken for a limited time.”

As Dr. Peg Riley, a leading microbial researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, wryly observed: “[The government] stopped funding antibiotic development, and pharmaceutical companies stopped funding it because they thought they had the battle won…How can you argue to your investors to invest $1 billion in a drug that you hopefully won’t have to use very often?

The Promise Of Phage Therapy: Infecting The Bacteria That’s Infecting You

Treating a bacterial infection with a virus may seem like a novel idea now, but this old school treatment actually predates the development of the modern antibiotic. Bacteriophages are ubiquitous in the natural environment, and can be found everywhere–in the oceans, in the soil, in our homes, and inside our bodies. We regularly ingest them without any adverse effects. And the best part: it’s the kind of medicine that can evolve in lockstep with the disease it’s targeted to treat.

phage vs antibiotics

Phage therapy is readily available in Russia and Georgia, though here in the West it has yet to leave the testing phase. Ironically, phage therapy was first discovered and developed by two Western scientists: English bacteriologist Frederick Twort and French Canadian microbiologist Felix D’Herelle. Unfortunately, phage therapy initially proved to be inconsistent due to time constraints; determining the exact cause of the infection and selecting the corresponding phage can be quite time consuming, and sick patients looking for relief may not be in any position to wait. In this case, the specific nature of phage therapy was a major disadvantage for people who needed a quick diagnosis and cure.

The discovery of penicillin in 1941 effectively buried phage therapy in the West, due to its convenient broad spectrum nature. It could kill a wide variety of pathogenic bacteria, which was a major time saver–doctors didn’t have to spend too much time diagnosing, because antibiotics could take care of it regardless of what it actually was. Efficiency eventually lulled the scientific and medical establishment into complacency; it was only a matter of time before the costs of microbial collateral damage would catch up with us.

While the potential for phage therapy looks bright, there are some disadvantages that can inhibit its development, as documented by Wikipedia:

  • The high bacterial strain specificity of phage therapy may make it necessary for clinics to make different cocktails for treatment of the same infection or disease because the bacterial components of such diseases may differ from region to region or even person to person.
  • In addition, due to the specificity of individual phages, for a high chance of success, a mixture of phages is often applied. This means that ‘banks’ containing many different phages must be kept and regularly updated with new phages.
  • Further, bacteria can evolve different receptors either before or during treatment; this can prevent the phages from completely eradicating the bacteria.
  • The need for banks of phages makes regulatory testing for safety harder and more expensive. Such a process would make it difficult for large-scale production of phage therapy. Additionally, patent issues (specifically on living organisms) may complicate distribution for pharmaceutical companies wishing to have exclusive rights over their “invention”, making it unlikely that a for-profit corporation will invest capital in the widespread application of this technology.
  • To work, the virus has to reach the site of the bacteria, and viruses do not necessarily reach the same places that antibiotics can reach.
  • Funding for phage therapy research and clinical trials is generally insufficient and difficult to obtain, since it is a lengthy and complex process to patent bacteriophage products. Scientists comment that ‘the biggest hurdle is regulatory’, whereas an official view is that individual phages would need proof individually because it would be too complicated to do as a combination, with many variables. Due to the specificity of phages, phage therapy would be most effective with a cocktail injection, which is generally rejected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Researchers and observers predict that for phage therapy to be successful the FDA must change its regulatory stance on combination drug cocktails. Public awareness and education about phage therapy are generally limited to scientific or independent research rather than mainstream media.

Despite the considerable obstacles, it’s clear that there’s no more time to waste when it comes to solving this public health issue. Rapidly evolving pathogens have already outsmarted our best drugs, so this requires the best out of the box thinking our society has to offer. With enough political will and economic investment, phage therapy could very well become the future of medicine, as long as we’re willing to rediscover what we once overlooked.

Give With One Hand, Take With The Other: Calculating The True Cost Of Charity

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give to charityI can count the number of times on one hand that I have ever given to a charity. While I have donated to charity out of necessity (I gave excess clothes and shoes before a big move), I don’t believe in it as a principle and I actually think it does far more harm to society than good. This isn’t a high minded defense of miserliness–in fact, I would argue that the existence of charities perversely encourages institutionalized penny pinching and stinginess towards the most vulnerable members of our society.

Charitable giving in its current form promotes a dysfunctional and hypocritical kind of generosity. The idea that the vulnerable must depend on the benevolence of others for survival is an obscene and sadistic societal value, which I believe is contributing to our regression into feudalism. Further amplifying my disgust is how our tax code subsidizes all this “charitable giving”, which has cost the US Treasury $182 billion between 2010 and 2014 (and this doesn’t even include donations to educational and health care institutions)–which is plenty of money that could have gone to fund anti-poverty government programs that are currently facing the axe in Congress.

How To Look Generous Without Actually Being Generous: How Tax Deductions Subsidize The Priorities And Lifestyles Of The Wealthy

The charitable tax deduction is just another way to extract public subsidies in the name of private generosity. Political economist Robert Reich sums it up, noting that “…a tax deduction (in economic terms) is the same as government spending. It has to be made up by other taxpayers.”

Higher education is one of the favorite causes of the upper class, which is unfortunately out of reach for the vast majority of tax paying Americans. However, this does not stop the average taxpayer from footing at least 33% of the donation bill:

“Because of the charitable tax deduction, the amount of government subsidy to these institutions in the form of tax deductions is about one out of every three dollars contributed…A few years back, Meg Whitman, now CEO of Hewlett-Packard, contributed $30 million to Princeton. In return she received a tax break estimated to be around $10 million. In effect, Princeton received $20 million from Whitman and $10 million from the U.S. Treasury – that is, from you and me and other taxpayers who made up the difference. Add in these endowments’ exemptions from taxes on capital gains and on income they earn, and the total government expenditures is even larger. Divide by the relatively small number of students attending these institutions, and the amount of subsidy per student is huge.”                    Robert Reich, Alternet

Fine art is also a popular charitable cause among the wealthy, which provides plenty of juicy tax shelter opportunities that are ripe for the taking. Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics empire and avid art collector, has practically perfected the art of charitable donation as tax loophole. David Kocieniewski of the New York Times reports:

“By donating his art to his private foundation, Mr. Lauder has qualified for deductions worth tens of millions of dollars in federal income taxes over the years, savings that help defray the hundreds of millions he has spent creating one of New York City’s cultural gems.

“The charitable deductions generated by Mr. Lauder — whose donations have aided causes as varied as hospitals and efforts to rebuild Jewish identity in Eastern Europe — are just one facet of a sophisticated tax strategy used to preserve a fortune that Forbes magazine says makes him the world’s 362nd wealthiest person.”

Felix Salmon of Reuters breaks it down further, explaining how “donating” to your own foundation can count as “charitable giving”: 

“It seems that Lauder has not actually donated his $135 million portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer to the gallery; if and when he does, however, he’ll be able to deduct the full amount from his taxes at the top marginal rate of 35%, and thereby reduce his tax bill by more than $47 million. (If he can persuade the IRS that the painting has risen in value since he bought it, the deduction would be worth more still.)

“Put another way, the government will spend $47 million so that Ronald Lauder can transfer a painting from his own ownership to that of a museum he controls. The painting doesn’t even need to be moved into the museum: it’s there already, and has been there since the day the museum opened. As far as the public and the art world are concerned, nothing will have changed — but as far as Lauder is concerned, he has a “reduce your tax bill by $47 million any time you need to” card just sitting in his back pocket.”

What Counts As A Tax Exempt Nonprofit Institution?

It’s quite simple, writes Joanne Fritz, About.com’s resident nonprofit expert:

“The term, nonprofit, is used rather loosely to describe groups that come together to achieve a mission that involves serving the public good, rather than to make a profit…As a result, these group(s), because it works for the “common good,” would be exempt from the state and federal taxes a for-profit corporation would have to pay, making it, to some extent, publicly subsidized.”

Given the rather vague definition, it’s easy to see how it can apply to almost any organization looking to evade taxes. This is not an exaggeration–the NFL, NCAA, NBA, NHL, Harvard, and the Miss America Pageant all qualify as tax exempt nonprofits despite millions or billions in revenue or endowments.

While all charities are technically nonprofits, not all nonprofits are technically charities. The NFL, NBA, and NHL justify their tax exempt status by claiming to be a trade association, much like the American Medical Association or the Chamber of Commerce. Despite the clever legalese over the exact nature of organizational classification, this much is undeniable: tax exempt status is just another form of charity, and it’s costing American taxpayers untold billions in lost revenue and higher taxes.

Financing Religion On The Tax Payer’s Dime

Religious groups are completely tax exempt, and do not need IRS approval to legitimize their status. The following is a complete accounting of religion’s unique privileges, which may be vomit inducing to the secularists among us.

  • Churches don’t pay tax on donations, while donors can (and do) claim said donations on their taxes
  • Religious institutions are exempt from property taxes, which are used to finance vital public services that benefit the entire community (including the churches in the area) like police protection and firefighting.
  • No applicable investment taxes paid on profitable investments.
  • No applicable state sales tax on any purchased goods and services.
  • Ministers, priests, and rabbis have a parsonage exemption, which means they are allowed to deduct the cost of their housing (mortgage, rent, furnishings, maintenance, etc.) from their taxable income, unlike the rest of us chumps.

According to a study commissioned by the Council for Secular Humanism, taxpayers provide at least $71 billion in annual subsidies to support religious organizations. The Washington Post estimates the real cost to be around $83.5 billion. So much for the separation of church and state.

Starving Public Institutions And Programs That Overwhelmingly Benefit The Poor And Middle Class

Meanwhile, the American War on the Unrich continues unabated as government social programs and public education get their turn at the chopping block. Last year, President Obama signed an $8.7 billion cut (over 10 years) in the food stamp program into law, which will affect up to 850,000 needy households. However, it seems that these cuts just don’t go far enough for the cold of heart–the budget submitted by the Republican Congress includes $1.1 trillion in unspecified spending cuts, which are sure to negatively impact programs such as the earned income tax credit, food stamps, Pell Grants, and veterans disability benefits.

Meanwhile, public higher education institutions are feeling the strain from shrinking budgets due to falling tax revenues:

“They get almost all their funding from state governments. But these subsidies have been shrinking. State and local financing for public higher education came to about $76 billion last year, nearly 10 percent less than a decade before. Since more students attend public universities now than 10 years ago, that decline represents a 30 percent drop per student. That means the average annual government subsidy per student at a public university comes to less than $4,000, about one-tenth the per student government subsidy at the elite privates…”              Robert Reich, Alternet

Our assumptions about the true nature of charity have cost our society dearly, not just in dollars and cents, but also in terms of social and economic justice. Financing our private virtue on the taxpayer’s dime is not just disingenuous and hypocritical–it’s legitimized theft and misappropriation of public funds. If we truly care about preserving the meaning of virtue, then we need to be willing to actually earn it. Financing a cheap version of it on the backs of others may be cost effective (and extremely lucrative) to the individual donor in the short run, but eventually it’s the rest of society that has to pay the bill. The interest on our charity financing scheme are being compounded as the Piper makes his way to our doors. Whether we can eventually pay for the true cost for our ill gotten virtue shall remain to be seen.

Exceptional Hypocrisy: The Defining Principle Of America’s Foreign Policy

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exceptional america

In the Bizarro universe inhabited by the western mainstream media, elite opinion makers and professional mouthpieces have completely abandoned fact-based journalism in favor of outright gaslighting and propaganda dissemination in its questionable coverage of American foreign policy. Russia has decisively displaced ISIS as America’s Public Enemy #1 for the moment, as evidenced by the avalanche of sensationalist articles accusing Putin of nuclear warmongering. Fanciful speculation is routinely passed off as serious political analysis, serving to distract the discourse with frivolous insinuations of Putin’s alleged personality defects. Dissenting opinions are ruthlessly excluded from the official story, making it easy for the casual news consumer to mistake cynical groupthink for objective reality.

Scripting Russia’s Villainous Character Development In Real Time

According to the official narrative, the Americans are the reluctant enforcers of human rights as Putin recklessly pushes for nuclear war. In this latest revision, France and Germany reprise their roles as the spineless and unprincipled allies who refuse to defend Ukrainian democracy because of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

To make the case that Russia is lurching towards diplomatic belligerence, much hay has been made regarding the revision of Russia’s military doctrine:

“Although the revised Russian military doctrine in December 2014 is not new in its allowance of tactical nuclear weapons in the case of a conventional attack that “threatens the very existence” of the Russian state, given the strengthening of Russia’s narrative regarding its own perceived encirclement by NATO, such threats are potentially open to more dangerous interpretation.”    Sarah Lain, IB Times

Feckless allegations and paranoid speculations about Putin’s motives are published as unassailable fact in prestigious media outlets, casting Russia as the mustachio-twirling nuclear villain of our fevered imaginations:

“Others want nuclear weapons not to freeze the status quo, but to change it. Russia has started to wield nuclear threats as an offensive weapon in its strategy of intimidation. Its military exercises routinely stage dummy nuclear attacks on such capitals as Warsaw and Stockholm. Mr Putin’s speeches contain veiled nuclear threats. Dmitry Kiselev, one of the Kremlin’s mouthpieces, has declared with relish that Russian nuclear forces could turn America into “radioactive ash”.        The Economist

“No one wants to acknowledge the truth: We won’t sell even defensive weapons to Ukraine because Russia is a nuclear power, and because Russia keeps reminding us of that fact. Last month, the Russian government declared it had put nuclear-capable missiles near the city of Kaliningrad, in striking range of Warsaw, Stockholm, and possibly Berlin. To underline the point, they also put a few more missiles in Crimea. During the last NATO summit, Russia suddenly decided to get out its nuclear weapons and “practice” loading them. During its 2009 military exercises, Russia also “practiced” a nuclear strike on Warsaw. Of course these are bluffs and threats, designed to make everyone nervous. But because there is a sliver of a chance that Putin is crazy enough to kill millions of people, they work.”                   Anne Applebaum, Slate

Pot Calling Kettle As America’s Standard Operating Procedure

Buried under all the Russia and Putin hysteria lies the raging institutional hypocrisy that masquerades as American exceptionalism. Though it’s undeniable (and completely understandable) that Russia would be willing to use nuclear weapons in the defense of her borders and sovereignty, it is the United States that has “officially” reserved the prerogative of a nuclear first strike. As former Assistant Treasury Secretary Dr. Paul Craig Roberts explains:

“I pointed out years ago that the Bush regime had changed U.S. war doctrine such that the role of nuclear weapons was no longer retaliatory to be used in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States.  It was elevated to a first strike position.  It is now our war doctrine that we can initiate a nuclear war on somebody we don’t like, or who we think might not agree with us, or who we think might be prepared to go to war against us.  This doctrine applies to countries that do not have nuclear weapons.”

Unfortunately for the vast majority who rely on the mainstream media for their information, this reality is relentlessly obfuscated with provocative rhetoric and disingenuous projection:

“It’s a curious reversal of roles: In the 1980s, the Soviet leadership was terrified that a cowboy in the White House—someone who was so nutty he made jokes about signing “legislation that will outlaw Russia forever”—might just flip a switch and send a missile. Nowadays, it’s we who fear the madmen in foreign capitals, while our own large nuclear arsenal goes unmentioned and unacknowledged by a Western political class that is frankly embarrassed that it still exists.”     Anne Applebaum, Slate

Given the real motives and documented objectives of American foreign policy, it is exceedingly clear that Russia’s true crime is her all-too-real ability to defend herself in the world stage. How can American leaders accuse Russia of shameless nuclear intimidation when they openly advocate for the exclusive right of preemptive nuclear war–even against nations without nuclear weapons?

The Ugly American Syndrome, AKA American Exceptionalism

The idea of American exceptionalism is the foundation of our identities as Americans, regardless of our political orientation. As explained by CNN’s David Lake:

“Exceptionalism is a flashpoint in American politics today not because the claim is contested, but because conservatives and liberals hold differing views of what makes the United States exceptional. These differences are at the core of our current fights over foreign policy.”

The Neocon regime currently in power favors a particularly aggressive interpretation that asserts America’s status as the “indispensable nation”. This assumes the inherent superiority of Americans over all other peoples, and affirms the primacy of American interests and values over the rest of the world’s.

In contrast, the progressive version of exceptionalism emphasizes the humanitarian aspect of American values, as described by Harvey J. Kaye:

“You know, there’s a democratic spirit inside almost all Americans. The democratic idea of American exceptionalism insisted that We the People can govern — that we don’t need kings and aristocrats — that we can govern ourselves. And that we can govern ourselves not only politically, but also that we can govern ourselves economically and culturally.”

In a nutshell, liberals and conservatives overwhelmingly agree that America is the bestest, most unique, and original country in the world–they just disagree on the details that make America so gosh darn better than everybody else. Implicit in the conservative-liberal consensus is the universally insulting presumption that goodness, democracy, freedom, and self determination are values that are somehow unique and natural only to Americans.

Adherence to this dangerous political religion is undoubtedly the root cause behind America’s deplorable track record of double standards and duplicitous double dealing with vassal states around the world. Because the United States considers itself as the special, exceptional, and indispensable nation, it alone reserves the right to defy international laws that all others must obey.

Unfortunately for the evangelists of American exceptionalism, the pretense of invincibility is crumbling as the tide turns towards an increasingly divergent multipolar reality. Russia’s spirited resistance is just the latest straw to drop on the brittle back of America’s empire–and should the Obama administration persist in overplaying their hand, it could very well prove to be the last.

Watering California With Our Collective Tears

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devastating drought

Like any typical Californian, I take relatively warm winters and bright sunny days as my birthright. I also don’t give a second thought to the fact that I actually live in a natural desert that imports water from Colorado. According to Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA, California has only one year of water left, which means that environmental collapse is inevitable if we don’t haul ass and come up with real (and possibly painful) solutions.

Given the gravity of the situation, what is being done to conserve our water supply? Are we really willing to make hard lifestyle changes so we can save ourselves and ensure the posterity of future generations? Do we really think that our water problem will just solve itself without any sacrifice on our end? Will the fates smile on us against all odds and send a few monsoons our way to end the drought?

For better or for worse, choosing who gets to tighten their belts the most has always been a political affair. California legislators are targeting individual and business consumption with new regulations, despite the fact that 80% of the state’s water is consumed by Big Agriculture. To clarify, there is nothing wrong with enacting common sense measures against wasting water–but how effective can they be when the biggest water guzzlers are spared from sacrifice and compliance? How much water are we really saving with restrictions on lawn watering and swimming pool construction, when almond farmers continue to use publicly subsidized water for growing almonds (80% of the total crop) mainly for export?

Plants Over People

To be clear, I am not anti-plant. They are living things that share this planet with us, and our prosperity would not be possible without their existence. But is it ever a good idea for our water distribution policy to prioritize crops over humans? What kind of world do we live in when we are reduced to competing with our food for water? According to the Daily Beast:

“Agriculture is the heart of California’s worsening water crisis, and the stakes extend far beyond the state’s borders. Not only is California the world’s eighth largest economy, it is an agricultural superpower. It produces roughly half of all the fruits, nuts, and vegetables consumed in the United States—and more than 90 percent of the almonds, tomatoes, strawberries, broccoli and other specialty crops—while exporting vast amounts to China and other overseas customers.

“But agriculture consumes a staggering 80 percent of California’s developed water, even as it accounts for only 2 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. Most crops and livestock are produced in the Central Valley, which is, geologically speaking, a desert. The soil is very fertile but crops there can thrive only if massive amounts of irrigation water are applied.”

Scientific consensus has concluded that California’s mega-drought is caused by climate change, which is being exacerbated by our profit-driven food production industry. The institutionalized insanity is succinctly spelled out by Truthdig’s Sonali Kolhatkar:

“That desert is irrigated with enough precious water to artificially sustain the growing of one-third of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, a $40 billion industry…Think about it. A third of all produce in the United States is grown in a desert in a state that has almost no water left. That produce is trucked from the West Coast all over the country in fossil-fuel-consuming vehicles, thereby contributing to the very mechanism of climate change that is likely to be driving California’s historic drought.”

50 Shades Of Wrong: The Oil And Gas Industry’s Contribution To The Water Crisis

Apparently, ruining our air and ozone layer is old hat for today’s fossil fuel industry. The oil industry already wastes 2 million gallons of water a day just for oil and gas extraction. Unfortunately for us, that’s a minor transgression compared to the injection of fracking waste water into public aquifers meant for drinking and irrigation. According to NBC Bay Area,

“State officials allowed oil and gas companies to pump nearly three billion gallons of waste water into underground aquifers that could have been used for drinking water or irrigation…Those aquifers are supposed to be off-limits to that kind of activity, protected by the EPA.”

Desperate Times Call For Half-Ass Measures

California Governor Jerry Brown is set to sign a bill allocating $1 billion for water crisis related spending, which includes necessary infrastructure construction, unspecified aid to the hardest hit communities, and penalties for illegal diversion of water. Meanwhile the state government has been slow to explore alternative hi-tech solutions, neglecting the potential of cheap desalination methods and inexpensive nanotech filters for water purification, which aim to expand the supply of drinkable water. Instead, the focus is on securing ever-dwindling groundwater sources–from funding the Delta Water Tunnel boondoggle, to farmers selling their water rights for better profits, institutional tunnel vision continues to be a major obstacle in the face of a deepening crisis.

Like the Roman emperor Nero, our state leaders prefer to fiddle while California burns from this self-inflicted ecological disaster. What are we going to do once the last aquifer in our parched corner of paradise is exhausted? By then, our well of tears will have run dry–and there won’t be anything left but the dust of what we once were.

Postscript, April 3, 2015: On April 2, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown issued an emergency order requiring a mandatory 25% reduction of water usage for individuals and non-agricultural businesses. Unsurprisingly, Big Agriculture and the oil industry remain exempt from compliance, despite the fact that these 2 industries account for over 80% of California’s freshwater usage. Do state officials actually think that this will be enough to stave off the coming environmental disaster?

Californians will have a lot of hard choices to make in the very near future. As for me, I no longer have a dog in this fight. My time here in the Golden State is almost up, though I will always remain a Californian at heart no matter where I live in the world. To my fellow Californians, take care and good luck.    

United Serfs Of America

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serfdom

The United States of America is known by its citizens as the greatest country in the world, bar none. This belief has been drilled into our consciousness at a young age, and continues to be repeatedly enforced by the media we consume. We are the number one economy in the world, though lord knows how much longer that will last before China overtakes us. By some measures, China is already the number one economy, though the Chinese remain hesitant in claiming the mantle. Income inequality is currently at record levels, with most of the wealth gains going to the upper .01% of society. Meanwhile, the job market is completely in the shitter–official statistics have been massaged and twisted beyond recognition, as more and more Americans struggle to make ends meet on stagnant wages and dead end jobs. Is the American Dream really dead? Did they lie to us all those years, just to get us to quietly work for peanuts in the vain hope that some day, we too shall get our piece of the pie?

To be fair, it didn’t use to be a lie. At one time, the American middle class really was the envy of the world. During the 50’s and 60’s, the conditions were favorable to any citizen who wanted to climb the social and economic ladder: a good college education was cheap and affordable, unions still had leverage and could protect worker rights, health care costs were still somewhat reasonable, and high paying jobs had yet to be outsourced. An employee could reasonably expect to be taken care of by the company in return for lifetime corporate loyalty. Job security was the norm rather than the exception.

Of course, it wasn’t a social nirvana for all Americans. The 60’s era was a tumultuous time in American society, as women, gays, and racial minorities agitated for their place at the table. The country has definitely made plenty of social progress despite the continued existence of severe racial and gender discrimination. Unfortunately, the nation has undeniably devolved in terms of economic justice and mobility. The economic hierarchy is calcifying into a modern day feudal system, where a good education, employment opportunities, financial stability, and personal freedom are privileges of the rich rather than an inalienable right of every citizen regardless of socioeconomic status.

The Penalties Of Poverty

Here in America, the system really goes out of its way to punish and traumatize you for being poor. Many municipalities actually target the poor for its funding schemes, just so financially comfortable people don’t have to pay more taxes for expected social services. Though debtor’s prisons are technically illegal, the possibility of going to jail for fines you can’t afford to pay are very real in many parts of the country. Instead of incarcerating offenders who commit serious or violent crimes, jails are now being filled with people whose real crime is not having the money to pay fines right away.

In today’s America, if you are poor you are most likely going to stay poor. Life costs more when you are poor, because the system has perverse incentives built in to keep you poor. From escalating fines and financial penalties levied on people who can least afford them, to a taxation system that privileges income from investments over income from work, it’s pretty clear that the system is deeply stacked against the financially disadvantaged.

The College Loan Ball And Chain

My generation grew up hearing that the best way to move up the social and income ladder is to get a college education. Today, it is just another way of convincing the poor to volunteer for debt bondage. The average student loan debt is $30,000, which can be very difficult to pay off in today’s shaky job market. Unlike credit card debt, it cannot be discharged in bankruptcy–which means that loan obligations can (and do) follow debtors to the grave. And to add insult to irony, about 46% of recent college graduates are currently employed in jobs that don’t even require college degrees. Defaulting on the loan permanently damages a debtor’s credit score, which can affect the ability to rent an apartment and buy a car. It can even kill employment prospects, since credit checks by employers count as legal and reasonable discrimination.

Raising Healthy Children With Good Prospects Is A Class Privilege 

Though the Affordable Care Act has increased the number of insured citizens, it hasn’t succeeded in actually making healthcare affordable. For the typical American family, rising health care costs means less money for everything else–which affects where they can afford to live, how much they can spend on food, and discretionary spending on vacations and consumer items. Paid maternity leave is nonexistent for 51% of new mothers, which is usually a perk reserved for more privileged female employees. Child care costs have skyrocketed, and can cost as much as “$14,508 annually for an infant, or $12,280 annually for a four-year-old” with no guarantee of standardized quality. Public education, which is funded by income, sales, and property taxes, has been hit hard by declining wages and discretionary income. Conversely, private education is as expensive and unaffordable as ever for the average family. Annual private high school tuition averages around $13,500 in the southern states, compared to $29,000 in the western states and over $30,000 (!) for the northeastern states.

Is Serfdom The New Normal?

All indications point to a yes, unfortunately. In the theoretical land of the free, the only real choice for the underclass is to acquire backbreaking debt for the privilege of working it off for the rest of their natural lives. Upward income and social mobility through marriage is an increasingly unlikely option, especially since most Americans prefer to marry those with similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Is there any hope left for the poor and the rapidly disappearing middle class? Perhaps the American Dream is just harder to attain than it used to be, at least according to the stubbornly optimistic. Does the average American truly believe that the best they can expect is a lifetime of corporate vassalage? Though our final fate has yet to be written, our state of slavery is doomed to inevitability should we fail to wake up from this all too American nightmare.

An Extraordinary Threat To American Imperialism

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nicolas maduro

On March 9, 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency, proclaiming the nation of Venezuela to be “an extraordinary threat to the national security” of America. This may seem like hyperbolic overstatement, which it definitely is in a strict military sense. The American military is still by far the largest in the world, and outspends every other country with Russia as a distant second. Venezuela harbors no expansionist ambitions, and unlike the U.S., has no history of destabilizing other sovereign countries via color revolutions or outright invasions. That said, it is entirely accurate to describe the continued existence of Venezuela’s left wing government as an “extraordinary threat”. Not to ordinary Americans like me of course, but to the calcified American Neocon leadership who are deathly afraid of losing power and prestige in an increasingly multi-polar world.

Initially, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s announcement of a thwarted coup on Februaly 12, 2015, was greeted with deafening silence by the Western mainstream media. Telesur was practically the only media outlet to provide extensive coverage, while Counterpunch provided some in-depth reporting as the coup attempt was in progress. The only other major news organization to acknowledge Maduro’s announcement at the time was RT, Russia’s state backed news channel. Unfortunately for the American puppet masters, no amount of official denial or evasion could obscure the evidence of failure: the stillborn coup in Caracas was the second obvious regime change flop in a row for this year, fresh after the failed coup in Macedonia just the month before.

Starting the year with a “coup de dud” in an obscure country like Macedonia may have seemed innocuous at first. Though the color revolution tactic has been remarkably successful in fomenting political destabilization, it’s simply unrealistic to expect 100% success every single time. Fortunately for the empire builders in Washington, the regime change failure was largely overlooked by most media outlets because of Macedonia’s obscure global profile.

However, the failure in Venezuela proved impossible to ignore. Maduro’s government moved quickly to arrest the conspirators while Telesur did its part to disseminate damning evidence and testimony to the public. In response, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki smirked her way through a press conference and dismissed Maduro’s accusation of attempted American subversion, stating that “as a matter of long standing policy, the United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means.”

Preposterous denials aside, it’s clear that resistance to the color revolution strategy has been getting stronger and more effective as time goes on. In the age of declassified information, alternative news sources, and Wikipedia, it’s much easier for target governments to be aware of destabilization attempts–especially when the methods being used are continuously recycled from previous color revolutions. The CIA’s greatest hits are distilled in this handy infographic form, which details the standard characteristics of America’s favorite covert method of warfare. Despite the documented failures in Hong Kong, Macedonia, and Venezuela, the aging dogs of war still prefer to use to the same old tricks to sow the seeds of death and destruction. While it’s too soon to dismiss the overall effectiveness of the color revolution method, its presence and implementation has become increasingly obvious, eliminating the element of surprise. All once-innovative tactics get old without exception, which inevitably paves the way for counter-evolutionary strategies that reinforce political stability by exposing, neutralizing, and discrediting subversive political opposition.

Venezuela’s Bolivarian government is a true threat to American hegemonic power because the realization of successful resistance can be profoundly destabilizing to the foundations of a decaying empire. Aspiration and the sense of possibility have always been dangerously contagious, which can lead to an agonizing death or an unlikely revitalization of the American body politic. But whatever path it may lead to, one thing is certain: it won’t be a graceful way down.