Thursday, April 29, 2010

Don’t talk to aliens, warns Stephen Hawking
April 25, 2010
Don’t talk to aliens, warns Stephen Hawking
Hawking has depicted what kinds of alien could be out there
Jonathan Leake

THE aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.

The suggestions come in a new documentary series in which Hawking, one of the world’s leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe’s greatest mysteries.

Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.

Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”

The answer, he suggests, is that most of it will be the equivalent of microbes or simple animals — the sort of life that has dominated Earth for most of its history.

One scene in his documentary for the Discovery Channel shows herds of two-legged herbivores browsing on an alien cliff-face where they are picked off by flying, yellow lizard-like predators. Another shows glowing fluorescent aquatic animals forming vast shoals in the oceans thought to underlie the thick ice coating Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.

Such scenes are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

The completion of the documentary marks a triumph for Hawking, now 68, who is paralysed by motor neurone disease and has very limited powers of communication. The project took him and his producers three years, during which he insisted on rewriting large chunks of the script and checking the filming.

John Smithson, executive producer for Discovery, said: “He wanted to make a programme that was entertaining for a general audience as well as scientific and that’s a tough job, given the complexity of the ideas involved.”

Hawking has suggested the possibility of alien life before but his views have been clarified by a series of scientific breakthroughs, such as the discovery, since 1995, of more than 450 planets orbiting distant stars, showing that planets are a common phenomenon.

So far, all the new planets found have been far larger than Earth, but only because the telescopes used to detect them are not sensitive enough to detect Earth-sized bodies at such distances.

Another breakthrough is the discovery that life on Earth has proven able to colonise its most extreme environments. If life can survive and evolve there, scientists reason, then perhaps nowhere is out of bounds.

Hawking’s belief in aliens places him in good scientific company. In his recent Wonders of the Solar System BBC series, Professor Brian Cox backed the idea, too, suggesting Mars, Europa and Titan, a moon of Saturn, as likely places to look.

Similarly, Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, warned in a lecture earlier this year that aliens might prove to be beyond human understanding.

“I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive,” he said. “Just as a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum theory, it could be there are aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains.”

Stephen Hawking's Universe begins on the Discovery Channel on Sunday May 9 at 9pm

Mind-Controlled Robots and Electronics in 10 Years

Japanese Government and Industry Aim for Mind-Controlled Robots and Electronics in 10 Years
Everything from televisions to smartphones and robots will obey consumers' thoughts
Jeremy Hsu

Japan's insatiable love for robots and mind-reading technology has converged in the form of a new government-industry partnership. That means Japanese consumers can look forward to robots and electronics controllable by thought alone within a decade, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Nikkei daily first reported on this development yesterday by citing unnamed government sources, and so technical details remain a bit murky. Any such devices would supposedly use sensor-mounted headsets to analyze the electrical signals and brain blood-flow patterns of users.

The lack of specs has not prevented the collective sci-fi imagination of said sources from running wild. Future mind-controlled devices would include television sets and smart phones which compose text messages by thought. That's not unlike some brain-interface devices already slated to hit the market, but presumably they'd be much less expensive for daily-use items.

Other possible applications include a car navigation system which searches for restaurants when it detects the driver thinking on his or her empty stomach, and air-conditioners which adjust the temperature based on feeling too warm or cold. That's a huge stretch by today's standards.

Of course, the headsets would also allow the elderly or disabled to communicate with robot servitors and alert them to when help is required. We trust that won't lead to a future with the first robot-assisted homicide, but at least current mind-controlled fighting robots leave little to worry about.

We previously investigated the latest challenges of mind-reading technology in an extensive feature, which involves some serious numbers crunching and a few good brain scanners. Japan's upcoming effort could put some serious financial muscle behind this booming area of research, given the involvement of corporate giants such as Toyota, Honda and Hitachi, as well as top universities and research institutions.

Perhaps a mind-controlled future still sounds creepy to some, even if it's the consumer presumably doing the controlling. But at least it's a different approach from Intel's vision of consumer brain implants.

Campagna T-Rex

For those who haven't seen the Campagna T-Rex, here's some info on what could be the coolest looking vehicle on the planet.
2010 campagna t-rex 14R

It’s a pavement predator with a perfect blend of power and precise handling. Stylish and sleek, it expresses the laws of attraction. And deep within, Formula engineering expertise informs the intricate interplay of every valve, gear and belt.

Evolve the way you experience the road.


Modern Formula Racing inspired design, muscular tension
Fiberglass body panels
Unique and fluid lines

Powered by a Kawasaki® 1400 cc Inline 4 cylinder engine
197 horsepower
113 ft. lbs of torque
Best-in-class power to weight ratio
Top speed: 144mph (230km/h)

Sequential six-speed transmission
Custom designed mechanical reverse gear
Chain driven rear wheel
Strong and reliable

Ergonomically designed
Side-by-side, adjustable seating for two adults
Carbon fiber visors
Sport steering wheel
Waterproof leather-likeseat cushions
Adjustable pedals
12V adaptor

Fully digital instruments
Standard controls with speedometer, tachometer, odometer and trip computer
Electronic keyless imobilizer

FRONT: unequal opposed triangular arms
REAR: swingarm with dual shocks
Suspension components provide a smooth ride with excellent cornering ability and stability

Rigid tubular steel chassis
Safety roll-cage
3-points safety belts
Cross-drilled rotors on all wheels
High illumation hi-low beam headlights
High-mount thirdbraking light

Optional removeable and lockable side-cases
Room enough for two,rain suit and personalitems for a quick getaway
Color-matched to your vehicle
92 liters (46Lx2) of storage

E. Rex Is a 3-Wheeled Electric Hooligan

E. Rex Is a 3-Wheeled Electric Hooligan
By Chuck Squatriglia April 22, 2010

The E. Rex is the three-wheeled, electric equivalent of … well, we’re not quite sure. Something absurdly fast, ridiculously fun and more than a little impractical. But then that describes just about any vehicle capable of zero to 60 in less than 5 seconds.

Silicon Valley startup OptaMotive is building the E. Rex for the Progressive Automotive X Prize. It is essentially an electrified Campagna Motors T-Rex, which is itself a 144-mph exercise in vehicular overkill. OptaMotive says the E. Rex is three times more efficient than a Toyota Prius, delivers a range of 100 miles and has a top speed well into three digits.

Why build something so extreme?

“We wanted to focus on the driving experience,” OptaMotive founder Micheal Worry says. “We wanted a car that is exciting and fun to drive.”

Tiny, isn't it?

Worry and the rest of the crew got the idea for the car about a year ago and spent two months planning the build. They decided early on to start with a T-Rex — a three-wheeled two-seater powered by a motorcycle engine — because it provided a ready-made chassis with good brakes and suspension components.

“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel,” says computer engineer Murat Ozkan.

Campagna gave the team a deal on a T-Rex sans engine, and OptaMotive set to work in a garage in a suburban neighborhood in Campbell, California. Tinkering around with electronics and batteries is nothing new for the team. It has won the RoboGames four times with Ziggy, a robot capable of, among other things, making field goals from the 40-yard line.

“We view this as basically a big robot,” Ozkan says.

E. Rex sports a water-cooled permanent-magnet DC brushless motor made by UQM. It produces 45 kilowatts (60 horsepower) continuous and 125 kilowatts (167 horsepower) peak. That might not sound like much, but the E. Rex produces 220 pound feet of torque and will weigh less than 2,000 pounds when done.

The team built the battery pack using 96 lithium–iron phosphate cells from Thunder Sky Battery. The 13.6–kilowatt-hour pack has a claimed range of 100 miles and a claimed recharge time of 2.5 hours at 220 volts and 20 amps.

The air-cooled battery pack weighs 400 pounds and cost about $10,000. OptaMotive also built the battery-management system, which monitors each cell’s temperature and voltage while ensuring even charging of cells.

Of course the E. Rex has regenerative braking to return energy to the battery, and Mazat says the regen system has 80 percent efficiency. He is confident the drivetrain should be about 90 percent efficient.

Most of the rest of the E. Rex is just as it was when it left Campagna. The chassis features triangulated side walls, a reinforced roll cage and three-point safety belts. The team is working on an enclosed body with proper doors and a windshield.

“It will be a combination of eye-catching and streamlined,” says engineer Eliot Barker.

Just how streamlined remains to be seen because the team isn’t shooting for a particular drag coefficient. They want to make sure it’s as aerodynamic as possible while still looking normal. Well, as normal as a three-wheeled car can look, anyway. The T-Rex has small frontal area and a teardrop shape, Ozkan says, so aerodynamic efficiency shouldn’t be a problem.

So what’s it like on the road?

Worry wouldn’t let us drive it — something about insurance, liability and it being the only one — so we had to ride shotgun. The first thing you notice about the E. Rex is it’s tiny. At just 138 inches long and 42 inches tall, it’s smaller than a first-generation Honda CR-X. Getting in is a challenge, as you snake through the roll cage. Once inside things are very tight. The E. Rex makes the Tesla Roadster feel roomy.

Comfort aside, the E. Rex is impressively quick. Stomp on it, and it will push you, quite hard, back in your seat. The fact there’s no windshield and you’re sitting just inches off the ground makes it feel faster still. OptaMotive is shooting for a zero-to-60 time of less than five seconds, which would make it about a second slower than the T-Rex and Tesla Roadster. The E. Rex, like the T-Rex, uses a chain — a very noisy one — to drive the 10.5-inch wide rear wheel. With the current gearing, the team says E. Rex should be capable of 160 mph.

“We haven’t actually tested that,” Mazat said.

The ride is firm but not harsh, and Worry says the E. Rex handles like it’s on rails. We’ll have to take his word for it because Worry couldn’t properly wring the car out on city streets. But the T-Rex is capable of 1.3-g lateral acceleration — in other words, it sticks to the road like gum on a taxicab floor — so it’s a safe bet the E. Rex would be fun on a winding road.

“It’s like an open-wheel race car, but it handles like a normal car,” he says.

It won’t be priced like one, if it ever sees production. The T-Rex starts at $51,999, and “we think the electric would command a premium initially,” Worry says. That would come down over time, he said, but how quickly remains to be seen. But Worry says Campagna is ready to work with Optamotive should the company decide to build the E. Rex.

Lay's Changing Basic Shape of Salt Crystals for Healthier Potato Chips

Lay's Changing Basic Shape of Salt Crystals for Healthier Potato Chips
Paul Adams

In fourth grade science class, we learned that sodium chloride always, always forms simple cube-shaped crystals. That was before a gang of mad potato chip scientists got their hands on it.

In response to the Food and Drug Administration's imminent consideration of regulating the amount of sodium food manufacturers can include in consumer goods, Pepsico, whose Frito-Lay division makes Lay's potato chips, is redesigning the good old salt molecule to make it healthier.

The salt crystals on potato chips only dissolve about 20 percent of the way on the tongue, while the center of each tiny cube-shaped crystal remains intact until after it's swallowed. Thus, most of the salt you're eating on your chips is not contributing to the taste of the chip, but it is dissolving further down your digestive tract and causing whatever the FDA alleges that increased dietary sodium intake causes.

The redesigned salt crystal, with more surface area, should dissolve completely on the tongue, thus theoretically allowing each chip to taste just as salty with only 20 percent as much salt.

"There was an opportunity for our scientists," Pepsico's chief scientific officer Mehmood Khan said. "If we could figure out a way of getting the salt crystals to dissolve faster, then we could decrease the amount of salt we put on a snack with no compromise on taste."

Flying car? Dept of Defense OKs new Jetsons-like vehicle

Flying car? Dept of Defense OKs new Jetsons-like vehicle
The US Dept of Defense has budgeted $54 million so far to develop the flying car and believes it will take four years to develop a prototype.
Ned Smith, TechNewsDaily / April 22, 2010

The Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) has cleared the Transformer (TX) program for takeoff. If it flies, by 2015 U.S. soldiers will be able to ride into battle aboard a four-person flying car that can cruise in the air like an airplane, drive on the ground like an SUV, rove 250 miles on one tank of fuel and not require a runway to get airborne.

DARPA, the Department of Defense office that is tasked with exploring futuristic technologies that may have military applications, held an industry day workshop for companies earlier this year to solicit proposals for developing a prototype vehicle. Proposals are due May 27.


The Transformer will give troops the ability to avoid traditional and unconventional threats such as ambushes and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and road obstructions.DARPA envisions a variety of use-case scenarios for the TX, including strike and raid, interdiction, intervention, insurgency/counterinsurgency, reconnaissance, medical evacuation and logistics supply.

The notion of a flying car isn’t new. Remember the flying cars in Sim City 2000? What is new with the TX is pumping up the concept by demanding both enhanced performance and durability. Think of the TX as a super-mobile Humvee on steroids.

Vehicle specifications call for a robust four-passenger vehicle that can carry a 1,000-pound payload, perform on a variety of surfaces like an SUV and rapidly take off and land vertically (VTOL). (Read Coolest Vehicles You'll Never Get to Ride.)

It has to be able to fly as high as 10,000 feet with a minimum cruise speed of a light, single-engine airplane like a Cessna or Piper. It has to quickly change between ground and flight operations. The TX will also have to take into consideration ground crash safety for its occupants, handling, braking and passenger comfort.

A flying humvee

DARPA wants the TX to have the ability to automatically take off and land without a pilot while still offering a manual mode that would let the vehicle operator make flight steering commands in real time. Other desirable features are good forward and side visibility from inside the vehicle, dirt-road capability, easy reconfiguration for medical evacuation missions, low top profile and high ground clearance, four-wheel drive capability and the ability to handle small arms fire.

Technologies that DARPA told companies it was interested in seeing incorporated in their proposals include hybrid electric drive, advanced batteries, adaptive wing structures, ducted fan propulsion systems, advanced lightweight heavy fuel engines, lightweight materials and advanced sensors.

The Pentagon has budgeted $54 million so far to develop the concept. DARPA says it will take four years to develop a working prototype, a DARPA spokesman told TechNewsDaily.

“We’re not very far down the road,” he said. “That gives you an idea about the glide path for this program.”

Chica Bruce: Renaissance Woman

Alexandra “Chica” Bruce is a smart cookie. I’ve known her for about a decade, but we’ve only been able to meet in person a few times. She first came to my attention with her book The Philadelphia Experiment Murder: Parallel Universes and the Physics of Insanity.

Since then, Chica has written six more books on subjects ranging from myths and realities of the 2012 “apocalypse” to a new translation and examination of testimony from the 1917 Fatima apparitions to investing in rare wines.

On February 28th, we took a day trip to Santa Barbara with the aim of getting Chica a paraglider flight. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate, but I had her captive for the day, and convinced her to come by for a live appearance on Radio Misterioso.

She talked about her own startling UFO sighting at the age of 14 in Brazil. We then moved on to a short discussion of a book which accuses Tibetan Buddhist monks of various abuses, then an in-depth look at her Fatima book, and the implications of the prophecies that were revealed to the witnesses. We also talked about the devastating Chile earthquake, which had just occurred the day before, and the evidence of tidal surges we observed in the beach just that day. Chica talked about possible cosmic influences on the Earth and possible connections to the rash of recent earthquakes. This led to a conversation about the history of the planet as described by the theories of catastrophism (i.e. the work of Immanuel Velikovsky.) We end with some musical fun.

Lots more to enjoy in this episode. Download and enjoy.

Anti-Obesity Pill Swells in Your Stomach

Anti-Obesity Pill Swells in Your Stomach, Making You Full Before You Even Start Eating
The gelatinous capsule has passed its first human trials
Clay Dillow

It’s no secret that obesity is a growing problem for Americans. Our kids are growing larger, our rates of diabetes and heart disease show no signs of retreating, and our military is worried that the next generation of warfighters will be too big and sluggish to get the job done. But Boston-based Gelesis has engineered a complex obesity solution that works by a simple mechanism: take a pill, become full, eat less.

The idea of shrinking stomach size to reduce the amount of processed foodstuffs a person can consume in one sitting isn’t a new idea, but conventional methods of doing so – stomach stapling or gastric bypass surgery – carry with them a bevy of inherent risks (not to mention they’re invasive). Gelesis has engineered a similar plan of attack called Attiva, but rather than shrinking the stomach, it aims to reduce gastrointestinal real estate from the inside.

Gelesis engineered a super-absorbent polymer – is it ironic that it’s derived from an unspecified food source? – that can be reduced to small beads about the size of a grain of sugar. These tiny polymer beads swell up more than 100 times over when introduced to water, kind of like those little sponges you used to play with in the bath. So when you down a pill with a glass of water, the capsule dissolves in your stomach and the hydrogel beads begin to grow. In a few minutes you’re feeling pretty full, and that second Double Down from KFC is decidedly less attractive.

Of course, now you have a belly full of hydrogel, and this is where the engineers at Gelesis had to be clever. The food is now mixed in with the gel, but you still need to digest that food (the object here is weight loss, not starvation). The hydrogel keeps food in the stomach longer, giving stomach acid more time to break down both the food and the hydrogel, which begins to release its water. Everything then moves to the small intestine where the gel can re-expand to some extent, slowing the absorption of fatty materials and sugars. Finally everything ends up in the lower bowels, and the rest is history.

The clever part of the engineering, of course, was creating a polymer that can stand up to changing pH levels so that it never fully breaks down; the company claims its product never touches the bloodstream, making it more of a medical device than a medication. How will the FDA treat it? Who knows, but it did just pass its first human trial without any problems beyond the occasional stomach ache. And let’s be honest, that second Double Down probably would have given you a stomach ache anyhow.

Past Life Dissolving Device

Jaye Beldo

I dreamed that Robert Sterling handed me this past life dissolving device.

I pointed it at some frozen Tibetans on an inter-dimensional Mobius strip and thawed them out.

Robalini's Response: It wasn't a dream, dude...

Fight the Derivatives Cancer

Fight the Derivatives Cancer with a Wall Street Sales Tax, Plus Bans on Hedge Funds, Credit Default Swaps, and Synthetic CDOs
Webster G. Tarpley
April 24, 2010

The Obama administration has been posturing this week about the life and death issue of Wall Street reform. Obama’s predicament is that of a Wall Street puppet who has been put into the White House thanks among other things to almost $1 million of contributions from the infamous Goldman Sachs – but who now needs to make a show of fighting his own Wall Street patrons for political reasons. Of course, Obama’s health-care reform was largely a bailout of insurance companies, which are themselves a key part of Wall Street. But Obama is now pretending to quarrel with Wall Street to shore up his waning credibility, partly because many House Democrats are desperately seeking anti-banker, economic populist street creds in order to avoid defeat in November. So far, the results have been largely feckless and inadequate.

The urgent problem raised by all this is the $1.5 quadrillion derivatives bubble. The financial crisis which struck the United States and the world in September and October 2008 was in fact a world derivatives panic. This panic marked the first phase of a world economic depression caused by derivatives speculation. The second phase of this depression, which is now beginning, can also be attributed in large part to derivatives, since derivatives are the main tool being used in the speculative attacks on Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and other nations, building up towards a chaotic collapse of the euro.

Derivatives are the Cause of the World Depression of Our Time

Far from being some arcane or marginal activity, financial derivatives have come to represent the principal business of the financier oligarchy in Wall Street, the City of London, Frankfurt, and other money centers. A concerted effort has been made by politicians and the news media to hide and camouflage the central role played by derivative speculation in the economic disasters of recent years. Journalists and public relations types have done everything possible to avoid even mentioning derivatives, coining phrases like “toxic assets,” “exotic instruments,” and – most notably – “troubled assets,” as in Troubled Assets Relief Program or TARP, aka the monstrous $800 billion bailout of Wall Street speculators which was enacted in October 2008 with the support of Bush, Henry Paulson, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and the Obama Democrats.

Asset-Backed Securities

Derivatives can be defined as any financial paper which is based on other financial paper. In other words, they are financial instruments whose value depends upon or is derived from the value of other financial instruments. Any kind of securitization results in the creation of derivatives. If individual mortgages are wrapped up and packaged together as a mortgage-backed security (MBS), that is a derivative. Any asset-backed security (ABS), be it based on car loans, credit card debt, or anything else, also qualifies as a derivative.

Beyond this, there are generally speaking two kinds of derivatives. The first type includes the derivatives which are traded more or less openly on exchanges like the Chicago Board Options Exchange, etc. These include options, futures, and indices, plus all the combinations of these. These are what expire in each quadruple witching hour in the markets. This type of derivative has generally amounted to about $600 trillion of speculation in recent years.

OTC Derivatives

Then there are the so-called over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives, otherwise known as structured notes, counterparty derivatives, or designer derivatives. These often take the form of contracts which are kept secret by the counterparties, and which are often not included on the balance sheets of banks and other institutions which enter into these contracts. This type of derivative is currently not reportable to any regulatory agency. This secrecy is a result of the successful effort by Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Alan Greenspan to block the modest proposal of Brooksley Born of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to bring the OTC derivatives into the sunlight during the second Clinton administration. Since these derivatives are not reportable at the present time, we must guess at their amount, and the best guess is that OTC derivatives make up almost $1 quadrillion of ultra-toxic speculation.

CDOs, CDS, and SIVs

OTC derivatives include collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), which often represent the packaging together of large numbers of mortgage backed securities, along with other debt instruments. A CDO can also be concocted out of other CDOs, in which case it qualifies as a synthetic CDO or CDO squared (CDO²). Notice that a synthetic CDO is not really an investment, but rather a form of gambling, in which a speculator in effect places a bet on the performance of some other financial instruments. This fact exposes the big lie inherent in the widespread reactionary myth that the current depression was caused by poor people taking out subprime mortgages on slum properties and then defaulting on these loans, thus bringing down the US and British banking systems. This fantastic story ignores the fact that derivatives were only a wager placed by speculative bettors from afar on mortgage backed securities which included some subprime notes.

Credit default swaps represent bets on whether a given asset or company will go bankrupt or not. As such, they can be used as insurance against such an eventuality, or else they can be used to make money on the insolvency. CDS are therefore a form of insurance, but they are issued by counterparties who have not registered as insurance companies and who have not met the legal and capital requirements which are necessary to function as an insurance company. It ought therefore to be clear that CDS have been totally illegal all along, and have flourished only because of an outrageous failure by state insurance regulators to enforce applicable laws against the privileged class of financiers.

Structured investment vehicles (SIVs) are another type of derivative, commonly used to wrap up masses of CDOs and synthetic CDOs and then to park them off-balance sheet, where they can be hidden from regulatory and public scrutiny.

All Derivatives Illegal under the New Deal, 1936-1982

All kinds of derivatives, be they exchange traded or over-the-counter, were strictly banned and outlawed in the United States between 1936 and 1982 thanks to a wise measure enacted under the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In the wake of several attempts by predatory and sociopathic speculators to manipulate the prices of wheat and corn during the First Great Depression, the Commodities Exchange Act of 1936 outlawed the selling of options on agricultural products. This law had the effect of blocking most derivative speculation, until the counterattack of free-market fanatics gathered steam under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, an ideological zealot of the Austrian and Chicago schools. The very existence of derivatives today and their resulting ability to bring on a new world depression are thus directly attributable to the reckless and irresponsible dismantling of the New Deal regulatory regime. It should be added that derivatives were also banned in many states as a result of laws prohibiting gambling or forbidding bucket shops, which were betting parlors in which side bets could be placed on stock market fluctuations.

If Obama wants to pretend to have something in common with Franklin D. Roosevelt, he ought to be proposing measures to ban at least the most poisonous types of derivatives, and to discourage the others. Notice that he does nothing of the kind. Obama’s Cooper Union speech of April 22, 2010 approvingly cites Warren Buffett’s remark that derivatives represent financial weapons of mass destruction. But Obama then says that derivatives nevertheless have an important and legitimate role to play. So which is it? Some years back, French President Jacques Chirac rightly referred to derivatives as “financial AIDS.” What useful purpose can these toxic instruments possibly serve?

Again: in his 1936 re-election speech in Madison Square Garden in New York City, Franklin D. Roosevelt famously noted that the forces of organized money hated him, and that he welcomed their hatred. Obama, in sharp contrast, called on the Wall Street predators to join him in his efforts, compounding this with the monstrous thesis that Wall Street and Main Street are in the same boat. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The recent Goldman Sachs scandal has underlined once again that the Wall Street investment houses serve no useful social purpose whatsoever. They exist solely for the purpose of pursuing speculative profits through a process of looting and pillaging the rest of the economy. The Wall Street zombie banks are monopolizing US credit, while Main Street goes broke.

Thanks no doubt to the efforts of certain House Democrats, the reform bill is likely to contain two points which can qualify as positive half measures.

Force Derivatives Out in the Open

The first is the effort to end the secrecy of OTC derivatives by forcing these instruments to be traded on public exchanges or through clearing houses. This is a step in the right direction. But this provision needs to be strengthened by making all derivatives of any type whatsoever reportable to a central regulatory authority. This would include, for example, the derivatives held by hedge funds. In 1998, the Connecticut-based hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management went bankrupt with more than $1 trillion worth of derivatives, blowing a huge hole in the international banking system, and causing Greenspan to rush in with a crony bailout. Nobody has any idea of the amount of derivatives held by hedge funds today. Highly leveraged hedge funds are perfectly capable of causing a worldwide systemic crisis with derivatives, so they must emphatically be made to report their holdings.

This reporting requirement should also include the derivatives held by non-financial corporations, whose shareholders deserve to know if and when management is dabbling in these toxic instruments. Some years back, the Gibson Greeting Card Company took a huge loss on derivatives, so this is no theoretical danger.

In addition, all derivatives must henceforth be clearly listed ON the balance sheets of banks and all other financial institutions. The intolerable practice of hiding derivatives off-balance-sheet must be immediately brought to an end.

The other positive half measure which might survive Obama’s usual quest for a “bipartisan” sellout is the so-called Volcker Rule, which specifies that commercial banks with insured deposits are not allowed to engage in proprietary speculation with their own money. Depending on how this is worded, this may include a long overdue ban on derivatives speculation by commercial banks. Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, the chair of the Senate Agriculture committee—who is fighting for her political life against a primary challenge this spring—has been backing a provision that would explicitly prohibit commercial banks from engaging in derivatives speculation. These ideas go in the right direction. But we need to do much more. We need to go back to the full New Deal regulations embodied in the Glass-Steagall Act. This law stated that a financial institution could be either or a commercial bank, or an investment house, or an insurance company, but never more than one of these. In other words, the suicidal folly of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which repealed Glass-Steagall, must be rolled back.

Outlaw Credit Default Swaps

Beyond this, we must urgently address the catastrophic effects and obvious illegality of credit default swaps. More than a year ago, Senator Warner of Virginia asked Fed boss Bernanke about the advisability of creating a “bright line prohibition” against these CDS. Remember that CDS are already illegal, because they always involve an investor masquerading as an insurance company without having fulfilled the legal and capital requirements that would be demanded from a real insurance company. Credit default swaps have cost the US taxpayer almost $200 billion in the case of AIG alone, because of the bankruptcy of the AIG London-based hedge fund which had issued more than $3 trillion of derivatives – a total greater than the gross domestic product of France.

Credit default swaps are also a clear and present danger today, since they are the principal tool being used by wolf packs of banks and hedge funds against Greece and other nations, accelerating the arrival of the dreaded second wave of the world economic depression. Unless credit default swaps are banned now, they will be increasingly used for speculative attacks against the bonded debt of American states like California, New York, Illinois, and all the others. Before long, credit default swaps will be used by international speculators to attack the value and integrity of United States Treasury securities, threatening our country with the calamity of national bankruptcy. If the United States fails to shut down credit default swaps with timely legislation now, credit default swaps will be used to help destroy the United States and human civilization in general.

Ban Synthetic CDOs

The synthetic CDO or CDO² must also be outlawed. These are the toxic instruments which brought down Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Lehman Brothers in the great derivatives panic of 2008. What are we waiting for to ban this kind of highly destructive derivative? Such a ban is easy to formulate: “Any collateralized debt obligation which contains other collateralized debt obligations is hereby prohibited.” End of story. This language recalls the approach of the very successful Public Utility Holding Company Act of the New Deal. One layer of CDO is more than enough risk, and it must not be further compounded.

Another ban which is long overdue and which should be included in the current legislation is the outlawing of the Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM). The ARM is another catastrophic innovation of recent decades which inherently carries with it an intolerable risk for any homeowner. No American family should be deprived of a roof over their heads because of the unpredictable and volatile fluctuations of interest rates over the life of a mortgage. These ARMs shift an unacceptable risk to the mortgage buyer. Fixed-rate mortgages should be the only legal kind, and any reset or change in interest rates on a residential mortgage should be strictly outlawed. While we are at it, we also need to outlaw the high-interest payday loan, a type of devastating usury to which the poorest and most defenseless parts of our population are now exposed. The outlawing of payday loans should take the form of a de facto federal usury law establishing an upper limit of no more than 10% on any promissory note or credit card. This was the limit traditionally set by state usury laws before the coming of the Volcker 22% prime rate three decades ago, and it should be restored. This simple prohibition of adjustable rate mortgages and payday loans will be far more effective than the proposed creation of an inefficient and unwieldy consumer protection bureaucracy, especially one that is located inside the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve has repeatedly struck out when it comes to recognizing systemic risk, when it comes to preventing financial bubbles, and when it comes to protecting ordinary Americans. The Federal Reserve failed in the run-up to the crash of 1929, in the run-up to the banking crisis of 1933, in the run-up to the stock market crash of 1987, in preventing the dot com bubble of 1999-2000, and in regard to the financial derivatives which caused the banking panic of 2008. Locating any consumer protection bureaucracy inside the privately owned Federal Reserve is simply to guarantee that such a bureaucracy will be subject to regulatory capture by Wall Street at the earliest possible moment.

Wall Street Sales Tax of 1% on All Financial Transactions

Derivatives which escape prohibition under these blanket bans on credit default swaps and synthetic CDOs must then be subjected to their fair share of the tax burden. In a time when haircuts, bowling alleys, and restaurants are threatened with new taxation, it is simply inconceivable that the financial turnover of US financial markets should remain immune to all taxation, rather like the French aristocrats of the pre-1789 old regime. Rather than crush the US economy under an ill-advised and oppressive Value Added Tax (VAT) or national sales tax, we must institute a Wall Street sales tax of 1% on all financial transactions and turnover, including derivatives. This is the levy known as the Tobin tax, the Wall Street sales tax, the financial transactions tax, the trading tax, the securities transfer tax, or the Robin Hood tax. A low-ball conservative estimate of US financial turnover (including derivatives) in any given year might be about one quadrillion dollars. In that case, a 1% Wall Street sales tax would yield $10 trillion, $5 trillion of which could be used to confront the federal budget deficit, the costs of entitlements, and the various unfunded liabilities of the federal government. The other $5 trillion would be available for revenue sharing with the states, who could use these funds to deal with their own budget crises, which currently threaten police, firemen, health services, and other indispensable parts of the fabric of civilization itself. One of the main causes for budget deficits of all levels of government in the United States is the glaringly obvious exemption of financial turnover from all taxation, while financial speculators use various tricks to escape paying the corporate income tax. The proceeds from such a Wall Street sales tax would almost certainly decline as speculation became less attractive, but in the meantime they would provide much-needed relief for the public treasury. Needless to say, any idea of paying the proceeds of such a tax to the International Monetary Fund is out of the question. Many other countries are in the process of instituting a Tobin tax on financial turnover, so the inevitable objection that a Wall Street sales tax would represent a crippling competitive disadvantage for US financial markets is increasingly untenable.

Additional Safeguards: Bankruptcy Triage, Reserve Requirement, Hedge Fund Ban

Further safeguards against the derivatives plague are also in order. Current bankruptcy law gives special privileged treatment to derivatives. These poisonous instruments continue to exact their claims even when protection against other creditors has been provided by the federal courts. This abusive and unwarranted favoring of derivatives must be reversed. Derivatives must be made to wait their turn in bankruptcy court, and sent to the end of the line after all other creditors and claims have been satisfied. If bankruptcy triage becomes necessary, it should be at the expense of derivatives.

Another needed measure is the establishment of a reserve requirement for anyone issuing derivatives. We have seen how Goldman Sachs is accused of designing their notorious ABACUS 2007-AC1 CDO, colluding with hedge fund speculator John Paulson to load this CDO with all kinds of super-toxic paper with the intent of designing an instrument which would have the best possible chances of going bankrupt in the short run. A reserve requirement for those issuing derivatives would mean that they would have to buy and hold on their own books for the life of the investment at least 20% of any derivatives they issued. This would represent an additional deterrent against the deliberate concocting of toxic derivatives with the intention of then allowing a speculator to short them with the help of credit default swaps.

A final necessary change involves the grave risk inherent in the existence of hedge funds. Despite their name, the main business of hedge funds is pure predatory speculation. Hedge funds are currently allowed to fly below the radar of the Securities and Exchange Commission, escaping regulation because they have only a limited number of super-rich investors. It is high time that this loophole came to an end. Once a hedge fund is regulated, it is no longer a hedge fund, so the call to regulate hedge funds is for all practical purposes a call for their abolition. Hedge funds should have been subject to regulation no later than the immediate aftermath of the Long-Term Capital Management debacle of 1998. The hedge fund loophole in the SEC rules must be closed now.

Seize and Liquidate the Zombie Banks

Obama’s $50 billion resolution fund for bankrupt banks is unnecessary. What we need most of all is to have the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Comptroller of the Currency, and other regulators enforce the applicable laws. Every Friday, Sheila Bair of the FDIC shuts down a number of small town banks because of insolvency. In her interview yesterday on CNBC, Ms. Bair blatantly admitted that she has no intention of enforcing these same public laws against the large Wall Street and other money center banks. She covers this malfeasance and nonfeasance with her opinion that bankruptcy does not work for the big banks. But there is little doubt that, if their massive derivatives holdings were priced according to mark to market rules, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citibank, and Bank of America would all be thoroughly insolvent candidates for Chapter 7 liquidation. Unless and until this is done, these zombie banks will continue to block any real economic recovery in the United States. Ms. Bair’s policies showed the destructive folly of the current administration’s illegal policies, which are all based in the final analysis on the discredited doctrine of Too Big to Fail.

Any Wall Street reform bill should also deal with the public scandal of the ratings agencies – Standard & Poor’s, Fitch, and Moody’s. These agencies enjoy a quasi-governmental status when it comes to certifying the quality of certain investments. But the failure of these agencies to provide timely warnings during the onset of the derivatives panic was nothing short of spectacular. During that crisis, the ratings agencies were certifying investments as AAA investment-grade until mere hours before they collapsed. Senator Carl Levin’s investigation of the ratings agencies has now unearthed horror stories of corruption and incompetence. The ratings agencies need to be stripped of any special role in relation to the United States government. Senator Levin’s findings merit criminal referrals to the Justice Department for prosecution of these agencies and their executives. In short, the United States government should take this opportunity to shut down these rating agencies, before these corrupt entities join in the looming speculative assault on the US Treasury, which is being prepared by George Soros and the other hedge funds.

Wall Street speculators will certainly howl that the measures outlined here represent a vindictive policy of discrimination against derivatives, which they will attempt to portray as a beneficial innovation serving the public interest. But no serious analysis of the banking panic of 2008 can ignore the obvious role of financial derivatives as one of the principal causes of this disaster. As for the charge of discrimination, it should be clear that the proposals made here generally represent nothing more than ending the privileged special treatment which has been granted to derivatives so far. Derivatives have been exempted from the gambling laws. Derivatives have been given special status in bankruptcy proceedings. Derivatives have been made non-reportable, and carrying them off balance sheet has been allowed. Derivatives have been exempted from the usual laws governing the operations of insurance companies. Hedge funds have been exempted from the scrutiny of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Wall Street derivatives banks have been exempted from the usual bankruptcy laws and probably from the antitrust laws as well. Finally, derivatives, like all financial instruments, have been exempted from state sales taxes. This distorted treatment amounts to a systematic pattern of facilitating and fostering derivatives speculation under US laws and regulations. This pattern might be defensible if derivatives represented a public good. But all experience shows that derivatives are just the opposite – they are a public menace which now threatens to destroy our civilization and way of life.

Pat Tillman film a haunting blindside,0,1036733.column
Pat Tillman film a haunting blindside
Safety Pat Tillman anchored the Cardinals defense for four seasons after his playing days at Arizona State.
Bill Dwyre
April 24, 2010

I have never quite gotten the Pat Tillman story out of my system. Only now am I understanding why.

It has been six years and two days since he died, his head blown off amid a pile of rocks on the side of a hill in Afghanistan, killed by guys on his own team, other U.S. soldiers. After lying about it, the military eventually called it friendly fire and treated it as a mistake. Horrible, yes, they said. But a mistake.

He was a football hero, a star safety for the Arizona Cardinals. Before that, he was a free spirit linebacker at Arizona State, whose hair flowed out of his helmet and whose tackles left physical and mental imprints.

When he walked away from a fat pro contract to become a soldier, fighting in the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan, we all swooned. What a guy, what a hero, what a story.

We are so used to pro athletes being incapable of gazing beyond their own navels, unable to fathom anything of importance beyond their next contract and ensuing trip to the jewelry store, that we couldn't get enough of Tillman. Journalism celebrates the unusual, and this sure was.

Like other writers in the West, I had a head start. I had been face to face with Tillman, had met him, had a feel for him. Once, after an otherwise unmemorable UCLA-Arizona State game, my postgame question, as we walked along, brought him to a stop. I had danced around something controversial and he did what no other athlete, before or since, has done. He called me on it.

"That's not what you really want to know," he said. "Ask it again."

I did, this time straight to the point. He answered the same way. I was now a Pat Tillman fan. Veteran scribe learns from long-haired linebacker.

I laughed when he was taken near the end of the NFL draft and the babblers at ESPN assured all that he was too small to make it. They had likely never talked to him, certainly never been hit by him.

I loved the stories about him riding his bike to training camp and, when he drove, parking his junky old car next to the Beemers and Mercedes in the team lot.

When he died, when the tragedy dripped from the front pages and wept from the TV screens, I fell right in line. It was a story of heroics, the red, white and blue kind. It was more apple pie and Chevrolet than Don McLean, more American than John Wayne.

He wasn't just a hero. He was our hero.

In June 2006, I flew to San Jose to see Alex Garwood, Tillman's brother-in-law, who had been acting as a family spokesman in the absence of much speaking of any kind by the rest of the family. Garwood was cooperative, friendly and clearly a person who knew lots more than he was saying. By then, the story of Tillman being killed by the enemy had changed to friendly fire. Still, I didn't press Garwood much. I was looking for tears, when I should have been looking for facts.

My column ran on the Fourth of July. I blathered on about barbecues and water skiing with the family, about cherishing the freedoms we have because of heroes such as Tillman. All I missed were some rockets red glare. I was so pleased with myself. Heroes are a columnist's best friend.

Thursday night, on the sixth year anniversary of Tillman's death, I went to a screening of "The Tillman Story." It is a documentary about the quest of Tillman's mother, Mary (Dannie) Tillman, to get the real facts of what happened on that hillside. Halfway through, I was mortified. I realized why the Tillman story has stayed in my gut.

Dannie Tillman did what a nation full of high-paid, overblown journalists should have done. She went after the real story while the beautiful people on TV and the nerds with notepads broadcast and wrote morality plays. She got in the military's face, in the government's face. She didn't let up. She was doing journalism while journalists were doing what we mostly do now — chase Web hits and take short cuts to higher profits.

A housewife got the real story, or as much of it as anybody probably will. Professionals trained to do so gathered moss and wrote slop.

The youngest of the three Tillman boys, Richard, said of his mother, "She hit the ball out of the park, but the government kept moving the fences back."

The documentary won't be out until August. It won't be in many theaters, and it won't be around for long. You need to watch for it. It will make you angry and ashamed. Like I am.

Archie Comics' gay turn: An explainer

Saturday, Apr 24, 2010

Archie Comics' gay turn: An explainer
What the arrival of hunky Kevin means for the traditionally conservative franchise aimed at kids
Douglas Wolk

The reaction to Thursday's announcement that Archie Comics' Riverdale High would now include a gay student was as predictable as, well, an Archie Comics plot: hand-wringing and high-fiving, raised eyebrows and rolled eyes. Veronica No. 202 (cover caption: "Meet the Hot New Guy!"), written and drawn by veteran Archie artist Dan Parent, will introduce slender, blond Kevin Keller. From the few pages of the story released so far, it appears Parent is treating Kevin's orientation as a surprise but not a shock: The hot new guy is being pursued by Veronica but has no interest in her, Jughead advises him that she's pretty persistent, and Kevin declares that "it's nothing against her! I'm gay!" To which Jughead's immediate reaction is deciding to to wait and let Veronica figure it out for herself, and the plot goes on.

Kevin Keller, it's worth noting, isn't the first openly gay character in American comic books by a very long shot -- he's just the first character to say "I'm gay" on a panel in an Archie comic book. In superhero comics, it's old news (and in art comics, it's very, very old news). The recently announced Batwoman series by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman will be, as far as I can tell, the first ongoing superhero comic book with an openly gay title character and a Marvel or DC logo on its cover -- but "ongoing," "superhero," "openly," "gay," "title character" and "Marvel or DC logo" are all qualifiers in that description, because otherwise Starman or Renee Montoya or Freedom Ring or Midnighter or any number of other possibilities got there first.

The significant distinction here is that, unlike superhero comics, Archie comics are specifically aimed at kids (well, and at aging collectors who remember reading them as kids, but the kids are the primary audience): They're a fantasy about what high school will be like. That's why the addition of Kevin to the series' endless comedy of desire and disdain is welcome and long overdue. The social fabric of high school is going to include gay people, and the sooner kids (and aging collectors) take that as much for granted as they do the Archie/Betty/Veronica love triangle, the better.

Outside the "safe world for everyone" that Archie Comics' Jon Goldwater says Riverdale represents, this is, of course, a hot-button issue, and if Archie Comics actually wanted to suggest that it's no big deal, they'd have just published the story instead of announcing it via press release long before it appears. (Honestly, somebody protesting a fictional character's entirely chaste homosexuality would be the best possible publicity for this project.) It's safe to assume that the primary audience for this particular issue of Veronica -- which won't be in stores until September -- will be people who haven't bought an Archie comic in decades, unless they also bought those similarly hyped-up comics a few months ago in which a future Archie married Betty or Veronica.

The comics-historical significance of Kevin's appearance is that it marks a shift in the Archie franchise's history. The Riverdale gang appeared in a series of very conservative Christian comic books in the '70s and '80s. And in 2003, playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa -- who's also written for Marvel Comics and "Big Love" -- wrote a play called "Archie's Weird Fantasy," which involved older, gay versions of the Archie characters, and was blocked by a cease-and-desist order shortly before its premiere. (It was promptly rewritten as "Weird Comic Book Fantasy.")

So how big a deal will Kevin end up being in the long run? Probably not much of one. Parent has noted that the Archie line has been trying to expand the diversity of its cast, but as Chris Sims has pointed out, the last new character who's actually appeared in Riverdale more than a few times was introduced something like 35 years ago. Even if Kevin sticks around, it's hard to imagine him having a role beyond "the token gay guy." That's just hard-wired into the premise of the last 68 years' worth of Archie comics: There's a small, limited group of characters, and everyone gets exactly one personality trait. And it's safe to assume that the first same-sex kiss in an Archie comic is a good long ways off -- the interracial kiss on the cover of this week's Archie No. 608 was a long time coming, too.

So, yes: Archie's bosses get points for trying to make Riverdale a slightly less 1940s vision of what American culture is like, because stories for children don't just reflect the world, they shape it. But the proof that the Archie characters don't live in a world where everyone is heterosexual won't be the first story Kevin Keller appears in -- it'll be the 40th.

'Couch surfing' comic book writer produces 'Hypothetical Cerebus'

'Couch surfing' comic book writer produces 'Hypothetical Cerebus'
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Sara Waisanen

Somewhere in Ann Arbor is a comic book writer who could have changed the course of history. He is a man who earned fame and notoriety for the comics he wrote in the 1970s and now he's homeless and "couch surfing."

At the age of 61, he hangs out in Ann Arbor meeting "chicks" and talking about how he "helped kill John F. Kennedy."

T. Casey Brennan is the author of Warren Publishing's "Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella," DC Comics' "House of Mystery" and Archie Comics' "Red Circle Sorcery," among others.

The "T" in T. Casey stands for Terrance and he's gone by T. Casey ever since he has been a published comic.

Brennan's most head-turning comics are the ones in which he tells of his involvement in the JFK assassination, as a victim of MK-ULTRA, an alleged CIA operation that involved brainwashing and experimenting with drugs.

In 1996, Brennan first wrote about what he says happened in the JFK assassination in his comic "Conjurella."

"It seemed to breathe new life into my comic career," Brennan said.

In 2006, Brennan wrote more about the JFK assassination in his comic "Hypothetical Cerebus" in Actor Comics Presents. He writes in detail about how he was forced to take a shot at JFK and what his life has been like since that historic event. Brennan's comic is for sale and can be purchased at Labyrinth Comics and Games, located at 324 S. State St. in Ann Arbor

"I wanted to tell the truth about the Kennedy assassination," he said.

Prior to JFK's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, Brennan said he would go with his father who would get hypnosis from a Dr. Earnshaw. While they were there, the doctor would drug them with or without their consent, he said.

"I was a docile kid," Brennan said. "I did what they told me to do."

Brennan claims that Dr. Earnshaw and David Ferrie, who some conspiracy theorists believe was involved in the JFK assassination, came at him with a needle and injected something into his neck. He was then stuffed in a crate and flown to Dallas.

Brennan said he woke up in a storage room. A hood was put over his head and he was forced to fire a shot at the president who was driving by on the street below. Brennan said he didn't know if the shot connected, but he thinks it ricocheted off the pavement and hit a pedestrian.

He was then pushed out of the way and Ferrie continued to shoot. Brennan said they left the storage room and ran into Lee Harvey Oswald on the second floor, pushing a broom. Brennan was 15 years old at the time of the assassination, he said.

Brennan's name is mentioned in the book "Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy" by Vincent Bugliosi, which he carries around with him on he streets of Ann Arbor.

Brennan said he would take a polygraph test and testify about his experience, but no one seems to care.

"Nobody wants to know or hear about it," he said.

After Brennan's comic success in the 1970s, he says he was blacklisted by the comic book industry. He started having financial problems and took jobs in restaurants and started "couch surfing."

"I had been through such hell in the '80s," he said. "No one knew I was a celebrity comic book writer."

In 2003, Brennan said a car hit him while he was crossing the street on the corner of Washtenaw and Oakwood in Ypsilanti. He couldn't speak and he had "post-concussion syndrome," he said. Brennan was never able to get a lawyer.

After his accident he thought he was 15 years old, he said. One day he looked in the mirror, saw his gray hair and was brought back to reality. He recovered at a "punk house" and he said the sounds of punk rock music playing made him feel better. Since his accident, he's never been able to work, he said.

Brennan, out of work and homeless, says he hangs out with his punk rock friends, goes to parties every weekend and hangs out with cool girls.

"There's times when it (being homeless) works well," he said. "I'm having fun, but there are times when I'm on the brink of disaster."

Brennan doesn't hang out on the streets asking for money. He gets meals at the shelter and sometimes people come up to him and give him money. He says he doesn't really think about food and is "way better off starving."

Whenever he needs a place to crash, he calls a woman from a notebook of names of "foxy girls" that he carries around with him.

"It's like everything about me seems to fit," he said.

Stan's Corner Doughnut Shop

If you're ever in UCLA's Westwood Village, check out Stan's Donuts, just named one of the ten best donut shops in the USA by Maxim Magazine.

For over 40 years, Stan's Corner Doughnut Shop of Westwood, California, has baked the world's most gourmet donuts. Every customer finds something to satisfy their donut desires--from a Cinnamon Chocolate Cheese Danish, to an Apple Fritter, to a Reese's Peanut Butter Pocket with fresh banana. Stan's offers donuts you will find nowhere else in the world. You can take a look at our 75+ varieties on this site, and learn more about how Stan's has grown from a small shop frequented by locals, to a nationally-acclaimed donut heaven recognized for creating the world's finest donuts.

In 1965, Stan Berman, a third generation baker, opened his first bakery, The Corner Shoppe in the heart of Westwood Village, the home of UCLA and adjacent to Beverly Hills, Brentwood, and Bel Air.

The shop thrived as customers appreciated the delicious new varieties Stan would experiment with. With high quality ingredients and a delicious final product, Stan's Donuts became more than just popular. Generation after generation of UCLA students would munch on the delicious treats for breakfast, as an afternoon snack, or to satify their late-night munchies after a movie. These alumni keep coming back to Westwood-to visit their alma mater and to remember how delicious Stan's Donuts are.

Although he experimented with several stores in other locations, Stan eventually decided to stick with his original shop on the corner of Broxton and Weyburn. The name evolved into Stan's Donuts and as many new shops came in and went out of the Village, Stan's remained.

Now, as one of the oldest stores in Los Angeles, Stan relies on the time-honored strategy that has kept his donut shop successful for so long: high quality, fresh ingredients (in a multitude of scrumptious varieties), an amiable attitude toward his customers, and of course the pride and love that go in to baking his donuts every day.

In 2005, Stan and his son, Scott Berman, acquired Master's Donuts in Thousand Oaks, California, and will be transforming the store into a Stan's Donuts producing the same high quality product and service that Stan offers his customers in Westwood Village.

Now you can enjoy Stan's Donuts at 2 locations.

Our original store in Westwood Village, California is located at 10948 Weyburn Avenue. You can reach us by calling (310) 208-8660 or by e-mail at

Our newest store is located at 658 N. Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks, California, in the new Whole Foods shopping center at the corner of Wilbur and Moorpark Road. Contact us by phone at (805) 381-1818 or by e-mail at

If you don't live near one of our locations, however, We ship donuts anywhere in the country overnight. Please click Order Donuts to learn more about how you can be eating Stan's gourmet donuts tomorrow!

Robalini & Fluffer

Photo of Konformist editor Robert Sterling with his cat Fluffer...

Stoner Cooking: Fiesta Tostadas
Total Cook Time: 35 minutes

Think of them as open-faced tacos. Start with crisp, baked corn tortillas. Then top them with a little of whatever you like, and a lot of what you love—hot, juicy slices of your favorite Hillshire Farm® Smoked Sausage.


1 pkg. Hillshire Farm® Turkey Smoked Sausage
12 corn tortillas
6 cups shredded lettuce
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 ripe avocado, peeled, thinly sliced
¾ cup chopped red onion
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend
1 cup salsa

Beef Smoked Sausage, Lite Smoked Sausage, Turkey Smoked Sausage


1.Preheat oven to 450°F. Cut sausage into ¼” slices; set aside. Arrange tortillas on 2 baking sheets. Bake tortillas 5 minutes, turn and bake 3-4 minutes longer.

2.Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add sausage and cook, stirring frequently for 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from pan and drain.

3.Top tortillas with lettuce, tomatoes, avocados, onion, sausage, cheese and salsa.

Yield: 6 servings (2 tostadas each)

Prep Time: 20

Cook Time: 15

The Black Sabbath Show

The best of the 70's rock band cartoon, the sadly forgotten Black Sabbath cartoon hour...

Great Quotes: South Park, Part 3

General: What I am about to tell you is highly classified. Two days ago, Muslim terrorists hijacked our imagination. Frankly we don't know what their next move is or how to stop them.

Specialist: In times like these the government often turns to Hollywood for help. You creative filmmakers can think of idea we just can't.

General: That's why we've asked you here, M. Night Shyal-amalam. The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Village, all very clever films. But can you use your amazing idea brain now to help us stop the terrorists?

M. Night Shyalaman: What if... What if it turns out they aren't terrorists? But they're actually werewolves? From the future?
General: N, no. No, they're terrorists. They've been linked to Al Qaeda.

M. Night Shyalaman: But what if Al Qaeda, it turns out, is the group being terrorized? By aliens?

General: No- No. That's not an idea, that's a twist. We need ideas.

M. Night Shyalaman: How about we make everyone think that terrorists attacked us? But really, we were all already dead.

General: Get him out of here. [M. Night Shyalaman is hauled away, only to be replaced by...] Mr. Bay, can you think of any idea how to outwit these terrorists?

Michael Bay: I believe I can. We start... by making a big CG building and then we have a meteor go CROSSHH! and it, and it's all like CRAAWWWLL a-and motorcycles burst into flame while they jump over these helicopters, right?

General: No no! We need ideas how to stop the terrorists!

Michael Bay: An eighteen-wheeler spins out of control and it's all like BROSSHH! And then this huuuge tanker full of dyna-

General: Those aren't ideas, those are special effects!

Michael Bay: I... don't understand the difference.

General: I know you don't. Get him out of here! [next in the chair is Mel Gibson] Aaand being that we are all big Mel Gibson film fans, we thought maybe you could help us.

Mel Gibson: Ah, my nipples, they hurt! They hurt when I twist them!

General: Yes, uh, I don't suppose you have any creative ideas how to fight these terrorists?

Mel Gibson: How about this? You have that tape that the terrorists made, right? Well maybe if you did a background check on that videotape, you might find somebody who doesn't belong. Somebody who doesn't fit Imaginationland. Ohhh!

Specialist: Heyy... that's not a bad idea.

General: Yeah. Say what you will about Mel Gibson, but the sonofabitch knows story structure.

South Park Drawing of Mohammad

"In the 14 years we've been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn't stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn't some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle's customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn't mention Mohammad at all but it got bleeped too. We'll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we'll see what happens to it."
Matt Stone & Trey Parker

Picture above includes a drawing of Mohammad which ironically has aired in South Park's opening credits...

And from the April 25th Episode of The Simpsons:

Tea parties, backing the Arizona immigration bill
Tea parties, backing the Arizona immigration bill
David Weigel
April 23, 2010

Arizona's SB 1070, the legislation that would allow law enforcement to demand proof of citizenship from anyone they find suspicious, is getting some clutch support from the local tea party movement.

From the Arizona Tea Party's page on how to rally for the bill:

We are asking for you to spread the word to see if anyone is available to come down there... to show your support of the bill.
They are meeting by the Arizona Flag on the House Lawn. Bring American Flags and signs if possible... Signs: We support "LEGAL" Immigration, In Mexico, You Must Be Legal... Why not here? - etc...
The call for protesters is a response to the teeming anti-SB 1070 protests outside of the Capitol.

So, here is one effort to give government more power that tea partiers are not pounding the pavement to oppose.

Judge Napolitano: Immigration law will ‘bankrupt the Republican Party’

Judge Napolitano: Immigration law will ‘bankrupt the Republican Party’
Andrew McLemore
Saturday, April 24th, 2010

After Fox News analysts spent most of Friday defending Arizona's bill to target illegal immigrants, Judge Andrew Napolitano offered a different take on the controversial measure, Crooks and Liars reported.

When asked about Gov. Jan Brewer, Napolitano said her signing of the bill into law will have disastrous consequences:

Napolitano: She's gonna bankrupt the Republican Party and the state of Arizona. Look at what happened to the Republicans in California with the proposition --

Cavuto: What happens?

Napolitano: Ah, Hispanics -- who have a natural home in the Republican Party because they are socially conservative -- will flee in droves. She's also gonna bankrupt her state, because no insurance company will provide coverage for this. And for all the lawsuits that will happen -- for all the people that are wrongfully stopped -- her budget will be paying for it. Her budget will be paying the legal bills of the lawyers who sue on behalf of those that were stopped.

This will be a disaster for Arizona -- to say nothing of the fact that it's so unconstitutional that I predict a federal judge will prevent Arizona from enforcing it as soon as they attempt to do so. That will probably be tomorrow.

The new law, which will take effect in late July or early August, was cheered by many, including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose tough crackdowns have made him a hero in the anti-illegal immigration community. He said it gives him new authority to detain undocumented migrants who aren't accused of committing any other crimes.

"Now if we show they're illegal, we can actually arrest them and put them in our jails," Arpaio said.

Critics claim the bill will effectively encourage racial profiling. President Barack Obama branded it "misguided." Hispanic groups across the country tend to agree with Napolitano's assessment of the bill.

Immigrant advocates say the bill could worsen an already tenuous relationship between law enforcement and Hispanics in Arizona.

State Sen. Rebecca Rios, a Phoenix Democrat and fourth-generation Arizonan, said she's concerned about her 14-year-old son being harassed by police because of his brown skin, black hair and dark-brown eyes.

"I don't want my son or anyone else's son targeted simply because of their physical characteristics," Rios said. "There's no reason I should have to carry around any proof of citizenship, nor my son."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

No One is Illegal: Boycott the Arizona Diamondbacks

Dave Zirin

Gonna find a way
Make the state pay
Lookin’ for the day
Hard as it seems
This ain’t no damn dream
Gotta know what I mean
It’s team against team
— Public Enemy, By the Time I Get to Arizona

This will be the last column I write about the Arizona Diamondbacks in the foreseeable future. For me, they do not exist. They will continue to not exist in my mind as long as the horribly named “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” remains law in Arizona. It's a law that has brought echoes of apartheid to the state.

One Democratic lawmaker has said that it has made Arizona a “laughingstock” but it’s difficult to find an ounce of humor in this kind of venal legislation. The law makes it a crime to walk the streets without clutching your passport, green card, visa, or state I.D. It not only empowers but absolutely requires cops to demand paperwork if they so much as suspect a person of being undocumented. A citizen can, in fact, sue any police officer they see not harassing suspected immigrants. The bill would also make it a class one misdemeanor for anyone to “pick up passengers for work” if their vehicle blocks traffic. And it makes a second violation of any aspect of the law a felony.

In response, Representative Raul Grijalva, who’s from Arizona itself, has called for a national boycott against the state, saying, “Do not vacation and or retire there.” He got so many hateful threats this week that he had to close his Arizona offices at noon on Friday.

Many of us aren’t in either the imminent vacation or retirement mode. We do, however, live in baseball cities where the Arizona Diamondbacks comes to play.

When they arrive in my hometown in D.C., my back will be turned, and my television will be off. This is not merely because they happen to be the team from Arizona. The D-backs organization is a primary funder of the state Republican Party, which has been driving the measure through the legislature.

As the official Arizona Diamondbacks boycott call states, “In 2010, the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s third highest Contributor was the [executives of the] Arizona Diamondbacks, who gave $121,600; furthermore, they also contributed $129,500, which ranked as the eighteenth highest contribution to the Republican Party Committee.” The team’s big boss, Ken Kendrick, and his family members, E. G. Kendrick Sr. and Randy Kendrick, made contributions to the Republicans totaling a staggering $1,023,527. The Kendricks follow in the footsteps of team founder and former owner Jerry Colangelo. Colangelo, along with other baseball executives and ex-players, launched a group called Battin’ 1000: a national campaign that uses baseball memorabilia to raise funds for a Campus for Life, the largest anti-choice student network in the country. Colangelo was also deputy chair of Bush/Cheney 2004 in Arizona, and his deep pockets created what was called the Presidential Prayer Team—a private evangelical group that claims to have signed up more than 1 million people to drop to their knees and pray daily for Bush.

Under Colangelo, John McCain also owned a piece of the team. The former maverick said before the bill’s passage that he “understood” why it was being passed because “the drivers of cars with illegals in it [that] are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway.”

This is who the Arizona Diamondback executives are. This is the tradition they stand in.

The Diamondbacks’ owners have every right to their politics, and if we policed the political proclivities of every owner’s box there might not be anyone left to root for (except for the Green Bay Packers, who don’t have an owner’s box). But this is different. The law is an open invitation to racial profiling and harassment. The boycott call is coming from inside the state.

If the owners of the Diamondbacks want to underwrite an ugly edge of bigotry, we should raise our collective sporting fists against them. A boycott is also an expression of solidarity with Diamondback players such as Juan Guitterez, Gerardo Parra, and Rodrigo Lopez. They shouldn’t be put in a position where they’re cheered on the playing field and then asked for their papers when the uniform comes off.

Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) Receive his column every week by emailing Contact him at

Behind the Arizona Immigration Law

The new Arizona law to require all people to carry citizenship papers is part of a long-running program of the state GOP to disenfranchise Hispanic voters.

Governor Janet Brewer, until last year Arizona's Secretary of State, zealously directed a program to block over 100,000 voters from registering without a single case proven of a non-citizen attempting to vote.

The racially-loaded electoral blockade was fiercely promoted by State Senator Russell Pearce, sponsor of the new citizenship ID law.

According to BBC reporter Greg Palast, the Arizona GOP's blockade of voters is an ill-disguised program to systematically exclude legal voters, overwhelmingly Democrats.

Palast conducted the investigation for Rolling Stone Magazine and BBC Television.

See below for Palast's latest story on the Arizona Immigration law.

For media inquiries please contact Matt Pascarella at +1 (347) 321-4616 or +1 (212) 505-5566.

Kindest regards,


For release Monday 4/26/2010

Contact Matt Pascarella: +1 (347) 321-4616
Palast office: +1 (212) 505-5566

Behind the Arizona Immigration Law:
GOP Game to Swipe the November Election
Our investigation in Arizona discovered the real intent of the show-me-your-papers law.
by Greg Palast

[Phoenix, AZ] Don't be fooled. The way the media plays the story, it was a wave of racist, anti-immigrant hysteria that moved Arizona Republicans to pass a sick little law, signed last week, requiring every person in the state to carry papers proving they are US citizens.

I don't buy it. Anti-Hispanic hysteria has always been as much a part of Arizona as the Saguaro cactus and excessive air-conditioning.

What's new here is not the politicians' fear of a xenophobic "Teabag" uprising.

What moved GOP Governor Jan Brewer to sign the Soviet-style show-me-your-papers law is the exploding number of legal Hispanics, US citizens all, who are daring to vote -- and daring to vote Democratic by more than two-to-one. Unless this demographic locomotive is halted, Arizona Republicans know their party will soon be electoral toast. Or, if you like, tortillas.

In 2008, working for Rolling Stone with civil rights attorney Bobby Kennedy, our team flew to Arizona to investigate what smelled like an electoral pogrom against Chicano voters ... directed by one Jan Brewer.

Brewer, then Secretary of State, had organized a racially loaded purge of the voter rolls that would have made Katherine Harris blush. Beginning after the 2004 election, under Brewer's command, no less than 100,000 voters, overwhelming Hispanics, were blocked from registering to vote. In 2005, the first year of the Great Brown-Out, one in three Phoenix residents found their registration applications rejected.

That statistic caught my attention. Voting or registering to vote if you're not a citizen is a felony, a big-time jail-time crime. And arresting such criminal voters is easy: after all, they give their names and addresses.

So I asked Brewer's office, had she busted a single one of these thousands of allegedly illegal voters? Did she turn over even one name to the feds for prosecution?

No, not one.

Which raises the question: were these disenfranchised voters the criminal, non-citizens Brewer tagged them, or just not-quite-white voters given the José Crow treatment, entrapped in document-chase trickery?

The answer was provided by a federal prosecutor who was sent on a crazy hunt all over the Western
mesas looking for these illegal voters. "We took over 100 complaints, we investigated for almost 2 years, I didn’t find one prosecutable voter fraud case."

This prosecutor, David Iglesias, is a prosecutor no more. When he refused to fabricate charges of illegal voting among immigrants, his firing was personally ordered by the President of the United States, George W. Bush, under orders from his boss, Karl Rove.

Iglesias' jurisdiction was next door, in New Mexico, but he told me that Rove and the Republican chieftains were working nationwide to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria with public busts of illegal voters, even though there were none.

"They wanted some splashy pre-election indictments," Iglesias told me. The former prosecutor, himself a Republican, paid the price when he stood up to this vicious attack on citizenship.

But Secretary of State Brewer followed the Rove plan to a T. The weapon she used to slice the Arizona voter rolls was a 2004 law, known as "Prop 200," which required proof of citizenship to register. It is important to see the Republicans' latest legislative horror show, sanctioning cops to stop residents and prove citizenship, as just one more step in the party's desperate plan to impede Mexican-Americans from marching to the ballot box.

[By the way, no one elected Brewer. Weirdly, Barack Obama placed her in office last year when, for reasons known only to the Devil and Rahm Emanuel, the President appointed Arizona's Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano to his cabinet, which automatically moved Republican Brewer into the Governor's office.]

State Senator Russell Pearce, the Republican sponsor of the latest ID law, gave away his real intent, blocking the vote, when he said, "There is a massive effort under way to register illegal aliens in this country."

How many? Pearce's PR flak told me, five million. All Democrats, too. Again, I asked Pearce's office to give me their the names and addresses from their phony registration forms. I'd happily make a citizens arrest of each one, on camera. Pearce didn't have five million names. He didn't have five. He didn't have one.

The horde of five million voters who swam the Rio Grande just to vote for Obama was calculated on a Republican website extrapolating from the number of Mexicans in a border town who refused jury service because they were not citizens. Not one, in fact, had registered to vote: they had registered to drive. They had obtained licenses as required by the law.

The illegal voters, "wetback" welfare moms, and alien job thieves are just GOP website wet-dreams, but their mythic PR power helps the party's electoral hacks chop away at voter rolls and civil rights with little more than a whimper from the Democrats.

Indeed, one reason, I discovered, that some Democrats are silent is that they are in on the game themselves. In New Mexico, Democratic Party bosses tossed away ballots of Pueblo Indians to cut native influence in party primaries.

But what's wrong with requiring folks to prove they're American if they want to vote and live in America? The answer: because the vast majority of perfectly legal voters and residents who lack ID sufficient for Ms. Brewer and Mr. Pearce are citizens of color, citizens of poverty.

According to a study by professor Matt Barreto of Washington State University, minority citizens are half as likely as whites to have government ID. The numbers are dreadfully worse when income is factored in.

Just outside Phoenix, without Brewer's or Pearce's help, I did locate one of these evil un-American voters, that is, someone who could not prove her citizenship: 100-year-old Shirley Preiss. Her US birth certificate was nowhere to be found as it never existed.

In Phoenix, I stopped in at the Maricopa County prison where Sheriff Joe Arpaio houses the captives of his campaign to stop illegal immigration. Arpaio, who under the new Arizona law will be empowered to choose his targets for citizenship testing, is already facing federal indictment for his racially-charged and legally suspect methods.

I admit, I was a little nervous, passing through the iron doors with a big sign, "NOTICE: ILLEGAL ALIENS ARE PROHIBITED FROM VISITING ANYONE IN THIS JAIL." I mean, Grandma Palast snuck into the USA via Windsor, Canada. We Palasts are illegal as they come, but Arpaio's sophisticated deportee-sniffer didn't stop this white boy from entering his sanctum.

But that's the point, isn't it? Not to stop non-citizens from entering Arizona -- after all, who else would care for the country club lawn? -- but to harass folks of the wrong color: Democratic blue.

Greg Palast has investigated the illegal disenfranchisement of voters for BBC Television, Rolling Stone (with Robert Kennedy Jr.), Harper's, The Nation and Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy."