Woken Up by Text About School Shooting at FSU

Woken Up by Text About School Shooting at FSUOur youngest daughter, SearchAmelia’s own “Ally at the Desk“, attends The Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, and I was woken up by the sound of a text message at 12:50 this morning.

“There was a shooting on campus just now. I’m terrified, I’m shaking so much right now. Apparently they caught the guy, he had a gun in the library and two people were shot. No one is dead as far as we know!” My daughter typed.

The library is open 24 hours and 450 – 500 students are said to have been studying in the popular library the week before Thanksgiving break, preparing for the upcoming final exams.

Three students were shot. The gunman was killed by police. Suicide by cop? We may never know, but he opened fire on officers from the steps of Strozier Library on the FSU campus after being directed to put down his weapon. A press conference Thursday afternoon identified the gunman as Myron May, an FSU graduate who later attended law school at Texas Tech University.

Our daughter has an apartment just off campus that she shares with two other students. They were all home safe when my daughter first heard the campus sirens. Then she received a text from school authorities. It read, “Dangerous Situation! Main Campus — Tallahassee. Seek shelter immediately, away from doors and windows.” FSU Police issued this alert to over 55,000 people, including approximately 40,000 students just after 12:30 am. Her friend, Christy, sent a text asking, “Are we under attack?” It was clear these young women had no idea what was happening at first. The next call she received was from a friend saying there was a shooter at the library, then social media like twitter and facebook exploded with related posts.

The “all clear” didn’t come until about 4:00 am after police had secured the area and believed no more threats existed, though classes were canceled on Thursday.

Having been accepted to every college she appied to, one of the reasons we liked FSU was the close proximity of all of the school buildings. A walking campus, she could easily walk, take the bus or bike from class to class. The University offers a distinct academic environment, championship athletics and strong science programs. The Florida State University Police Department has their accreditation by the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation, Inc. They are not just “campus security officers”. Florida State University Police officers are sworn officers with full powers of arrest provided to them by Florida State Statutes. Most of all, this is where our daughter chose to attend college. After spending her first 18 years in a small town like Fernandina Beach, she looked forward to being in a sea of 40,000 like-minded students.

No town is immune to this violence that didn’t exist in America 25 years ago. School shootings are becoming more frequent, and this is not the first fatal shooting on school property our daughter has been exposed to. On May 4, 2006, a gold Chrysler sped into the parking lot of Emma Love Hardee Elementary School on Amelia Island, where the driver, Denny Taylor, shot himself in the head. The school was put into immediate, emergency lock-down by a very attentive employee that unforgettable Thursday morning of the Annual Shrimp Festival Parade.

In both instances, the schools activated their safety procedures that were already in place and I am grateful there were not more injuries or deaths.


Here is a message from university President John Thrasher regarding the campus shooting:

“The Florida State University community is extremely saddened by the shootings that took place early this morning at Strozier Library, in the very heart of campus, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of all those who have been affected.

The three students who have been injured are our highest priority followed by the needs of our greater university community. We will do everything possible to assist with their recovery.

Over the past few hours, I have received several briefings from administrators and law enforcement regarding campus safety and security, and they have established that this was an isolated incident. Florida State University and Tallahassee police departments have done an extraordinary job taking quick and decisive action to prevent further tragedy, to secure the scene and to keep campus safe. They have assured me that there is no further threat.

We are increasing security measures and providing a strong law enforcement presence on and around campus today. I have great confidence in the abilities of our local law enforcement agencies to handle this matter.

As we try to make sense of what is a senseless incident, the Counseling Center and Employee Assistance will provide counseling and support for FSU faculty, staff and students affected by these events. Should anyone need or desire such services, please contact the center at the Askew Student Life Building or call (850) 644-2003.

We will continue to share information with you regarding this matter as it becomes available.”

FSU-shooting-vigilThousands of students showed up on campus this evening for a candlelight vigil. They sang, and they prayed for those injured, and they thanked the first responders. The vigil ended with the familiar “war chant” – encouraging students to come together.

When our daughter arrives home next Tuesday for the Thanksgiving holiday, we will hug her a little longer, and a little more often, until it is time for her to leave her childhood home and once again return to FSU. While these young adults will never forget what happened, I hope they can savor those special moments of what college traditionally offers during the holiday season: stressful final exams, sorority parties and exciting football games, and not solely focus on this horrible event.

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Can Government Tax You for the Sun?

Solar panels under governement attack

Solar panels under governement attack

Growing up my mom would often remind us that on this earth only the rays of the sun were free. Everything else on this earth had a price tag attached. Well, that ‘free’ sticker appears to be no longer the case either, now that officials in Spain have come up with something that is so outlandish that I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t read it in official print. They’ve decided to start taxing people who have installed solar panels on their roofs. And what exactly are they taxing? Their usage of the sun.

Believe it or not, they are actually taxing people’s use of the sun to generate electricity in their homes. No if that is not a classic example of bait and switch tactic, then I don’t know what is. First incentivize the use of solar energy with subsidies and tax credits and then wack them with a sun tax! I hear that the White House are kicking themselves for not having thought of this first. Especially since that move potentially opens the doors to a whole slew of other, equally absurd tax laws.

At least two international publications so far have labeled this taxation as “ludicrous” and “stupid.” A Forbes magazine reporter wrote, “You get the feeling that government officials, out of ideas, stared up at the sky one day and thought, “Why not? We’ll tax the sun!” Teresa Ribera, a senior adviser to the Paris-based Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, said the law was “illogical in terms of energy efficiency and costs” and “a serious invitation by the government for citizens to become even more anti-system.”

Personally I would like to ask the folks who came up with this idea a couple of questions like: “When did you take over ownership of the sun?” I’d also ask, “From whom did you acquire the sun?” And staying on the topic I’d want to know, “Are you also going to tax everyone who goes to the beach to get a sun tan? Because, while you’re at it, you might as well tax everyone who benefits in any way from the sun, which, of course, would be all of us.”

“Oh and one more thing….are you also going to put taxation on rain, like if I build a cistern and catch rain water for consumption? And how about chess pools used to water the fields and gardens? I was planning a little windmill in my backyard (after all I’m Dutch) to generate some wind energy. What type of taxation am I looking at”.

No, I’d better not give them those ideas. I’ve heard of some ridiculous laws in my day, and I’ve seen many politicians behave in incredibly audacious and irresponsible manners but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything quite this far-fetched yet. But then again my mom also warned us early on that ‘een kat in het nauw vreemde sprongen maakt’ or translated ‘a cat in a tight spot makes strange and unexpected moves.’

Our governments are in a very tight spot, which foreseeably will give this tax law in Spain enough momentum to also become potentially applicable in all the other countries under budget pressure, including the US.

What’s the most absurd law (existing or proposed) you’ve ever heard of? I’d love to hear about it.

The Building Monstrosity at Beach Access Nr. 6

The Dutch are known for expressions that do not beat around the bush. Racy, very direct and they spare no one directly involved in shenanigans that call for public attention. One of these expressions says : “Ben je nou helemaal van de pot gerukt?”, refinely translating as: “Did you get pulled off the toilet while you were not paying attention?” or are you completely out of your freaking mind.

I would like to introduce that expression in the case of the city official here in the Fernandina Beach’s Building department who permitted this monstrosity at literally spitting distance from Katie’s Light on South Fletcher next to Beach Access Nr. 6.

As the Innkeeper at Amelia Oceanfront Bed and Breakfast on the other side of public parking lot, I was obviously confronted with this monstrosity quite early on in the game, especially when I actually caught the concrete crew that made the pilings, hooking up a hose to my outside spicket to use our water.

Thank God my mom taught me very early on in life to count to 10 before getting stupid, and I did. And while in that process, I was wondering who in his right mind was going to build a beachfront home on that ridiculously small postage stamp. Worse yet I never thought there was actually a building lot wedged between Katie’s Light and the public parking area.

But apparently some 20 years ago, as far as the story goes, this idiotically small piece of land was sold to someone from “up north” who had moved to Miami and apparently has now plans to come settle or vacation here. Also according to hearsay, construction on this lot was successfully held off under legal pressure for more than 16 years. So the moron who gave a permit for this ugly box should still be part of our recent peripheral vision.

I do stress hearsay, because the owners of this monstrosity under construction never thought it necessary or appropriate to invite the immediate neighbors to a cocktail or even put a construction announcement in our mailboxes. Smart but devious. I run a B&B next door and my guests certainly do not appreciate being woken up by early morning nail guns and backhoes beeping. But that is a temporary nuisance. What’s way worse is the permanence of the structure!

As far a integration, in a small beach neighborhood like ours, a little communication would have been not only the proper, but most definitely the smarter thing to do. But if course if you’re an arrogant SOB, why care! We look after each other in this neighborhood. I cook breakfast for Miss Cody at least twice a week. She is 94 and lives in the house across the street from the Inn, already since 1958! When frost sets in like last week, we call to make sure all precautions to prevent pipe breaks are taken.

So arriving at this point let me start turning attention to whomever allowed this new piece of architectural wasteland to be built, because that is the person I would like to address with my Dutch expression in the opening paragraph: Have you lost your freaking mind?

Did anyone in the building department seriously look at the plans, before giving out the permits? Did it not occur to you that this design would stand out like a blunt ugly square in a neighborhood of nicely porched and nooks and crannied era architecture.

A roof seat overlooking the ocean

My neighbor Paul just purchased Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew’s mother’s home on the corner of New York and Fletcher, with impressive plans to renovate the home and add a roof deck with ocean panoramas. He actually on occasion tied a beach chair to the chimney and sat for hours on his roof last summer figuring how to make his new beach home take in as much of the ocean as possible. Since the monstrosity across the street has reached its maximum height, I haven’t seen much of Paul.

Did the Pencil pushers in City Hall Make a Design Exception and if so WHY… ?

Of course it’s way too late now to change anything and David Caples is looking at a substantial loss of value with this “thing” sitting on his rental house’s doorstep. Question is if anyone from the building department actually came out and figured that this thing was going to be an eye-sore. I for one knew at the first sign of construction and definitely when they started drilling concrete pillars for the foundation, that we were looking at a tall square building being raised. Not that surprising, since the building lot was minuscule in square footage.

Dozens of people asked me what I thought about this eyesore next to our charming B&B and David Caples’ Memorial for daughter Katie. Stories and comments were written in the local news leader, but nobody questioned the powers behind this building being allowed to be erected.

I kept quiet because I don’t like to judge on first impressions and listened to supposedly wiser, long term locals, who prefer “to wait and see”. Maybe there would be some architectural feature that would justify and redeem this thing being placed in a neighborhood of very traditional Florida oceanside design.
Well now that the outside is nearing its finish (4 obnoxious color plaques have been attached to ocean and street side, presumably to test sun light effect), this square wooden building of questionable durability in inclement weather conditions, is pretty much a reality in the neighborhood. I just hope that this part of the island never experiences a real category 3 or higher hurricane, because this “thing” will projectile wipe out the entire neighborhood.

Internal Revenue Service Scam Hits Close to Home

Internal Revenue Service Scam Hits Close to HomeMy cousin Sarah was the target of an Internal Revenue Service scam. She told me when she received a telephone voicemail, saying they were with the IRS, she called the number back.

The man who answered the phone identified himself as Officer Adam Scott, with the Internal Revenue Service. He told Sarah her full name and stated her correct home address.

He went on to explain that she had been audited for tax years 2010 and 2011, and that she owed $1,100.00. Scott made no mention of her husband’s name, who she files a joint tax return with, and that it would be turned over to the courts for prosecution… tomorrow.

Sarah told me he was aggressive and tried to intimidate her into giving him the personal information needed to withdraw the funds from her account; but since Sarah retired from the Marion County police department, all he accomplished was to make her mad and she gave him an earful! He even threatened to have someone at her front door within 45 minutes.

She reported this to the Ocala Police Department, where she lives, and was told their hands are tied unless they actually extort money.

It is important to SHARE THIS WARNING with others!

Apparently, this scam has been circulating since October and I found an press release on the IRS website, IRS.gov with more helpful information.

The Internal Revenue Service has warned consumers about a sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, throughout the country.

Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.

“This scam has hit taxpayers in nearly every state in the country. Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer,” says IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel. “If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling.” Werfel noted that the first IRS contact with taxpayers on a tax issue is likely to occur via mail.

Other characteristics of this scam include:
-Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers.
-Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security Number.
-Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.
-Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
-Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.

After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:
-If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.

-If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.

-If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.

Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the e-mail to phishing@irs.gov.

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Boston Will Stigmatize Athletes

Violence at Sporting Events like Boston Marathon Stigmatizes Athletes

Violence at Sporting Events Stigmatizes Athletes

By Dave Ferraro

All across the globe, sport unites and inspires and attracts crowds. Thus, unfortunately, it will always be a potential target for evil people looking to inflict pain, division, and turmoil. It started in 1972 during the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany and since 9 other sporting events have been targeted.

In 1976 I was watching the Montreal Summer Olympics on television, thinking I’d love to compete in an Olympic Games. I had been an athlete my entire life, including track. In Jr. High I did the 100, 220 and pole vault. In High School I did the 440 and long jump. I was fast, but not world class fast. I had endurance but not long distance endurance. The 800 meters could be my race. Just get in shape enough to run at 80% speed for 700 yards and then accelerate to the tape. I’d spend a year getting in shape, then a couple years entering AAU track meets so I could get a try out. I’d win the trials, go to Moscow in ‘ 80 and run to Olympic glory on international television. I’d be 26 years old. Perfect.

Well, I never got in shape. I never entered races at track meets. As life unfolded it got by me. Could I have actually made the Olympic Team? I doubt it, but I was disappointed in myself for not trying, until in 1980, our then president almost unilaterally pulled the entire rug out from under our Olympic hopefuls by boycotting the Moscow Games in protest over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I imagined having gone through all of that and then getting it ripped from my grasp. I hadn’t gone through all that, but the world class American athletes who had, got their work, opportunity and dream – ripped from their grasps – due to a useless political “statement”. They were at the pinnacle of their athletic life. Many of them would never get another chance.

This all came back to me the other day as I watched the news on television. I was watching replays of 2 explosions near the finish line of the Boston marathon.

Of course my first thoughts were of horror and sorrow for the senseless carnage. Shattered limbs and lives that will never be the same. Questions like why Boston, and not Chicago or New York. Why a sporting event such as a marathon, and not a World Series final or a Basketball arena? What could be the message? So many questions stranded in senselessness. Beyond that though, I saw world class athletes and rank amateurs looking forward to complete the running of their 26.2 mile dream.

They trained endlessly. Made lots of sacrifices to be in top shape. They had saved their money to book flights and accommodations to be part of it. They raced but….many did not even get to finish line because some deranged monster lit up the street ahead of them with explosives.

Why? We don’t know. Obviously not to create awareness for a cause, since no-one came forward yet to claim the atrocity. Terrorism is by definition violence or threats used to accomplish a goal – like free prisoners or make some vague, often barely thought out political statement. British scholar and terrorism expert Paul Wilkinson once remarked that “Fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves but the only shot that people remember is the one that gets past you.” This one definitely got past us, while it’s hard to imagine that it was the action of one deranged individual.

Since 9-11 we have learned as a nation that a measure of protection is needed to be somewhat safe against acts of terror. And we have learned to pay a price for that.

But this senseless act was just evil violence against the randomly unsuspecting. This was an act of violence against all of us, just because they had the opportunity and means.

Criminally insane and deranged actions are part of our world as it unfortunately has always been, whether defined as terrorism or unprovoked criminal violence. Thinking in this case it was probably the latter. I’m with the FBI agent in charge in Boston who said: “Someone knows who did this. The person who did this is someone’s friend, neighbor, co-worker or relative.” He omitted to include parent or child in this line up.

In other words, the person who did this is somehow part of a social circle, however small. Social control theory proposes that people’s relationships, commitments, values, norms, and beliefs encourage them not to break the law or to commit deviant acts. Consequently lack of social control may create the opposite.
After the ongoing atrocities in school-, church-, theater- and freeway shootings and bombings, it just may be time to start paying closer attention to the social circles that surround these sick individuals, so over time we may be able to spot irrational or deranged behavior, prior to individuals committing these unforgivable acts of violence.

The FOP Crime and the Iraqi Dinar

When I read this afternoon that the seized safe of the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Nelson Cuba, contained 5 million Iraqi Dinars (US $4,300) I almost choked on my afternoon cup of coffee. Here is an organization’s president, accused  with a bunch of other officials of racketeering and money laundering with their involvement in a $300 million gaming ring supposed to support veteran charities, who is so incredibly gullible to fall for the sham of the Iraqi Dinar that has been going around the nation. Mind you I’m using the word SHAM, not SCAM, because the Iraqi Dinar is a totally legitimate national currency, albeit a government controlled currency.

For defined reason of misguided greed, some financial “experts” and otherwise delusional individuals have been promoting the story that Iraqi’s economy is experiencing such a meteoric rise from the ashes, that soon the mere possession of this currency, even in relatively small amounts, is going to be the heist of the century. The story goes that soon this currency is going to see a 1,175 to 3 explosion in a revaluation, now projected for July this year. Never mind that the roots of this story date back to 2007 and postponements of this revaluation have been plentiful since.

To be clear however, this whole sham conveniently forgets that we’re talking a re-denomination of the currency and Not a revaluation. The story goes that Iraq’s economy is so booming that soon three zeros will be dropped from the face of the currency which would make Nelson Cuba’s investment in the Iraqi Dinar worth a cool $4.3 million dollar??!! Not in 4.3 million years unless we see Zimbabwean Inflation, which is not entirely out of the question!

Under a “redenomination” scenario however, there is no “get rich quick” opportunity. Yet, when something as complex as foreign exchange rates are involved, the situation is ripe for a fraudster’s scheme. Con artists wasted no time for example devising clever “Dinar” deception scams that have been perpetrated as far away as Japan. Recently, over 200 unsuspecting Japanese investors, hoping for an immediate revaluation by the Iraqi Central Bank, bought millions of Dinars at inflated exchange rates. The sellers quickly disappeared.

The “Dinar story” sounds so plausible because much of it is based on perceived fact. The Iraqi people and their government have made good strides in resurrecting a burgeoning economy, based to a large degree on a revitalized oil industry. The potential size of Iraqi oil and gas reserves has yet to be accurately determined, but most agree that the potential is enormous. There have been similar occurrences in other countries that suggest a few history lessons might provide clues to the future. Examples can be found in Venezuela, Iran, and Russia, but in each case, as oil exports increased, so did the need for imports of other goods and services. Currencies did appreciate, but slowly and in a measured way over decades.

Still proponents of this macabre joke are hyping this magic wand to small time investors and baby boomers as the answer to make good for what was lost in and since the 2008 financial crisis.

And gullible idiots who have never been to the Middle East and have no clue of the forces at play, fall for this crap that infuriates those of us who do know.

The only reason Iraq had a thin coat of stability before Saddam Hussein stumbled over his particular brand of illusion of grandeur , one that eventually topples all dictators, was that he was artificially kept in place to balance between Iran, Syria and to a degree Saudi Arabia in a cold war scenario. Since Desert Storm in 1991, volatility in the region has actually increased a thousand fold. The 10 year war will have another 20 years of fall-out and religious, cultural and economic confrontations and conflicts, unless a true leader for the region will come forward.

For those who claim that the US dollar will support the rehabilitation and re-instatement of the Iraqi economy I got “news”…well it’s actually not news for anyone who looks around with eyes and ears open, this country is close to bankruptcy with a debt that is now unsustainable, coupled with unfunded liabilities that are so enormous that it doesn’t matter if it’s 50 or 100 Trillion USD. No a lot of space to support Iraq after already wasting a trillion plus on a war.

Back to FOP

So here are a bunch of neighborhood crooks clever enough to steal allegedly some $300 million from veteran charities, yet stupidly greedy enough to believe the sham to buy Iraqi Dinars. What a world!!!

Because then there is the poor but courageous dying veteran who clarifies why he considers Bush Jr. and Cheney war criminals, when they sent him and hundreds of thousands of young Americans to a war they created for oil. Iraq was a lie. And the Iraqi Dinar is a lie. Get it into your stubborn heads.

Saying Goodbye to Jim Wallace and Stephen Covey

Founder of The Travel Agencies dies after year long fight with cancer

Rest in Peace Jim Wallace, your community is grateful for your inspiration

Some weeks are just harder than others as we say goodbye to people who made a difference in this world because of the force of nature they were in life.

Last Monday I received message that Stephen Covey had unexpectedly passed away at age 79 from complications after a bicycle accident and this afternoon I received word that Jim Wallace, founder of the Travel Agency here on Amelia Island had passed on after a year long illness.

I had met Covey on several occasions during my early publishing days in NYC and as I phased out my corporate existence by moving to the Caribbean Islands, Stephen Covey became world famous as the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” in 1989;

Jim Wallace whom I met through my Internet work for the  Travel Agency, thought it was dangerously wrong ” to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Stephen Covey insisted we focus on our character, values, conduct, respect for others, to operate with unflinching integrity. He inspired us to have the courage to be extraordinary – not just of ourself, but in our ability to grow, develop, improve and enrich and seed greatness into countless others. He also urged us to have patience.

Jim Wallace made the very astute observation that often “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of ignorance.” He was honest to a fault and his business acumen was confirmed in the mantra “Take care of the client and your staff and the bottom line will take care of itself.” He started The Travel Agency in 1974 when most of the people in Fernandina thought they needed a passport to cross the bridge (so to speak)

Stephen Covey would have been proud of Jim Wallace, if their paths had ever crossed.

We lost two forces of human nature this week that inspired us to do better, to be decent and to be proactive. I’m sad yet proud that both men have in one way or another contributed to my life and made a better world.

Rest in Peace and thanks for all your inspiration.

Are We On Our Way to a Totalitarian Society?

Governements Once Again Shake Responsibility in favor of Expanded Legislation

Across the globe the signs are getting louder by the day that we are on our way to a totalitarian society as so often depicted in science fiction flicks.
In the aftermath of the Toulouse massacre last week, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is only a month away from an election, argued that it is time to treat those who browse extremist websites the same way as those who consume child pornography. ‘Anyone who regularly consults Internet sites which promote terror or hatred or violence will be sentenced to prison,’ he told a campaign rally in Strasbourg, in eastern France. ‘Don’t tell me it’s not possible. What is possible for pedophiles should be possible for trainee terrorists and their supporters, too.’

Is this really a good move for national security, or just another step towards a totalitarian society that prohibits free expression?” Considering that the perpetrator was already well known to authorities and on the US no-fly list and was picked up by US military in Kandahar in 2010, makes me think that the problem lies in the control system, rather than in the early warning system.
Considering the level of intelligence that goes around Homeland Security officials and Border Patrol I would have to ask the question: Who monitors the monitors?
“Will they also jail the intelligence agents who monitor said sites, or are we just going to witness the birth of another layer of exemptions for “special citizens”, pretty much like how Congress passes a law, but conveniently exempts themselves from it’s application to themselves.”

Another example

“Police in Kuala Lumpur detained Hamza Kashgari ‘following a request made to us by Interpol’ on behalf of the Saudi authorities. Kashgari, a newspaper columnist, fled Saudi Arabia after posting a tweet which read: ‘I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don’t understand about you I will not pray for you.’ Said tweet sparked outrage in Saudi Arabia and resulted in multiple death threats. “Police confirmed to the BBC that Hamza Kashgari was sent back to Saudi Arabia on Sunday despite protests from human rights groups. Mr Kashgari’s controversial tweet last week sparked more than 30,000 responses and several death threats. Insulting the prophet is considered blasphemous in Islam and is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. Mr Kashgari, 23, fled Saudi Arabia last week and was detained upon his arrival in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.” Sadly, the most likely outcome is that they are going to execute this man for three tweets.”

Do we have any defense against manipulation of our computer?

Not really.
Search Google for “javascript preload” and you’ll find that it’s easy for a site to download its images to your cache while you’re reading their main page(s), so those images will already be there when you go to other pages that use them. This can materially speed up a site’s apparent response time. But it’s oh so easy to abuse. I can easily fill the browser cache of anyone (who has javascript enabled) with any images or other files that I want them to have, from any other site on the Web. Unless you know how to look through their cache, you’d never see those files and would never know they were there. It is pretty obvious that the technique can easily be used to fill your disks with stuff that may get you fired or fined or jailed. If you don’t believe me, just ask any god Javascript programmer.

The only actual defense is turning off all scripting. Anything that downloads code and runs it on your machine is an easy entry path for such malware, especially when it’s using popular JS features that are there to speed up your web access.


Sarkozy’s proposal, wrapped in the accusatory comparison blanket of “child pornography and pedophiles” is rapidly becoming a government sanctioned way to frame opponents and contrarians by tricking them into downloading lots of illegal or soon to be declared illegal stuff. Again since elections are on the French President’s doorstep, details on the specifics of the proposal are not available, so I can’t help but think that this is one of those things where everyone is guilty until proven innocent, so  the government can arrest and detain whoever they want and at any time they want.

I am pretty sure that Sarkozy is just making noise to attract some fundamentalist right wingers, since his ride against opponent Le Pen is quite rocky, but giving this “weapon” to US Attorney General Eric Holder, who just recently declared the US Constitution null and void, will soon lead to: “I don’t like this guy. Go arrest him and make sure to get his computer. We don’t have anything on him but we will.”

Pink Slime Offered to Children in our Schools

Pink Slime Offered to Children in our SchoolsPink slime is all over the news. Fast food companies have banned it from their oh-so-nutritious menus, but apparently it is good enough to feed to our children!

The following story is used with permission from The Tireless Agorist:

Take all the scraps and connective tissue left over from slaughtering cows. Throw it in a big vat. Grind thoroughly. Squeeze it through a thin tube and spray it with ammonia hydroxide. (Yes, the same stuff that’s in that bottle labeled “Ammonia – Do Not Drink” stored under your kitchen sink)

Sound appetizing? I didn’t think so. It’s banned in the United Kingdom. Even McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell, hardly bellweathers of culinary excellence, want nothing to do with the stuff anymore, although they have used it in the past.

It’s perfectly legal, after all. The U.S. Department of Agriculture first approved it for human consumption in 1994, and according to Beef Products Inc. more than 70% of the ground beef sold in the U.S. contains the stuff. Curiously though, a number of grocery chains, including Publix, have recently announced they do not use it, and other meat outlets are running away from it rapidly now that consumers are becoming aware of the issue.

Not the USDA, though. To the contrary, they’re doubling down, having announced plans to buy seven million pounds of it for use in the National School Lunch Program. The cynic in me says it’s because the producers are suddenly having trouble unloading it elsewhere, and the USDA is more concerned about the profits of the meat-packing industry than the people who actually consume the products they’re supposed to be assuring are safe.

Not surprisingly, both the primary producer and the USDA promise ammoniated meat scraps are perfectly safe.

Its primary producer, South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc., stands by their product and says it’s completely safe. And the U.S. government backs them up: the ammonium hydroxide compound has been vetted by the Food and Drug Administration and was allotted its “Generally Recognized As Safe” mark many years ago in 1974. “USDA would only allow products into commerce or especially into schools that we have confidence are safe,” the government agency said in a statement to The Daily in February.

My cynical side takes note of the fact that while the USDA and Beef Products Inc. are quick to throw around the “safe” word, I see no mention of “healthy” “nutritious” or “natural” anywhere in the coverage of pink slime.

This story brought to mind the story of the four-year-old and the chicken nuggets, covered quite ably at The Ponds of Happenstance.

So, apparently what went on, at the West Hoke Elementary School, is that an inspector from some State agency was busy inspecting preschool lunches brought from home and determined that at least one of them did not meet the USDA standards for a healthy lunch. A turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, chips, and some juice. Not a healthy meal. Uh-huh. The child was instead fed processed, pressed, breaded, and fried pieces of chicken, along with some other things that she chose not to eat.

No mention was made in the story of whether the chicken nuggets contained white slime (aka meat slurry), which is the chicken version of pink slime. You can probably figure out the guess my cynical side makes.

All I can say is I sure am glad we’ve got the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education protecting our children. Sure they cost us billions of dollars each year, but they’re so totally worth it. If it wasn’t for them, there’s no telling what sort of garbage the schools would be making our children eat. And who can guess what sort of garbage they’d be forced to consume from their textbooks.

After all, if it wasn’t for the Department of Education, who would teach our children about the Great Depression of 1920, statistics, the General Welfare Clause, the Perils of Paper Money, basic economics, or the Lesson of Athens, Tennessee?

…and that’s all I have to say about that.

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I Got a Phone Call Out of the Blue

searchamelia on liberty and due process granted by the constitution

Liberty and Due Process were once granted by the constitution

Out of the blue I got a phone call this morning that completely caught me off guard. Over the years I have had tons of people writing me emails about published articles. Most of them agree with my stance that America the Beautiful has changed into a fascist smelling  empire, and some obviously don’t. It really does not matter to me when people claim ignorance on my side and that America has a right to make the excusable young republican claim that “our nation is still young, we are allowed to make mistakes.” And frankly I often agree with that somewhat juvenile approach, ….provided that action is taken to correct those mistakes and people don’t collectively stick their heads in the sand. After all I’m not writing my essays to please myself. I write them so people who have less time to look around, because they are burdened down with every day survival issues, get a notion of what is going on with what once was a promise of freedom and democracy the world could look up to.

The phone call this morning asked me if I was the publisher of Searchamelia, upon confirmation of which, I received a huge compliment that completely took me by surprise. The caller (as my caller ID indicated) was a concerned official who complimented me on yesterday’s story exposing US Attorney General Holder’s blatant abandonment of the US Constitution.
From the content of the call I abstracted that the caller was possibly a ranking member of Florida’s Law Enforcement elite, who expressed grave concerns about the direction this country has taken especially when at one point in the conversation he claimed that he “dreaded the day he would have to turn in his badge and move over to the other side.”
That admission in itself was a not only a chilling reinforcement of how we are now divided, it also brought back a story I recently received from Pete K, who owns a cloud computing solutions company, but is lately focusing on helping people train for a new future build on a different paradigm.

Give me Liberty or Give me death! - Patrick Henry

Give me Liberty or Give me death! - Patrick Henry

I would like to share excerpts of that story with you, as it will hopefully help you realize that the Race is truly on and not all of us will make it through the narrow gate. Kind of like the ending of the movie 2012.

Here is Pete K’s race scenario:

Imagine the  example of a race condition involving the tale of the young newlywed couple facing cash shortages at the end of the month. While awaiting the electronic deposit of her paycheck, the wife writes a check to pay for unexpected automotive repair. Unaware of this fact, the husband writes a check to pay for groceries, confident that there is enough money in the bank. Should their paychecks clear first, all is well and disaster is averted. On the other hand, if their paychecks do not get deposited in time, a series of bounced checks will result in inconvenience, embarrassment as well as a myriad of fees charged by the respective bank and vendors. The outcome of the race is not known until insufficient-funds notices start showing up in the couple’s mailbox.

In many ways our economies are is a similar race. And then there is the Cultural Race Condition.
While it may be a simplification of the circumstances faced, it can be said that the world is currently experiencing a “cultural race condition,” pitting the forces of liberalization against an increasingly desperate establishment. The upheaval being observed is no natural ebb and flow of power transitions. Rather, for reasons that will be further explored, the dramatic changes witnessed are occurring at a pace so rapid that existing social and political structures are unable to reach new positions of equilibrium.

In Lane Number One – The Establishment

By definition, it is the objective of the establishment to preserve the status quo. Often presented from a position of benevolent paternalism, preserving the status quo is traditionally accomplished through the creation of boundaries that are invisible until they are touched. These “electronic dog fences” are marketed by the established state and corporate powers as being for the benefit of society. Regardless whether financial, physical, cultural or informational in nature, in an attempt to keep up with shifting societal tides, new controls are regularly introduced and implemented by the establishment, even though most of the populace may be oblivious to that reality.

A key control technique is to establish boundaries beyond the interest or perception of the masses. This accomplishes two objectives. One is that the control measure will be perceived by the majority as arcane and largely irrelevant to their personal condition. After all, if a restriction is placed in the realm beyond the daily vicissitudes of life, why bother expending significant intellectual energy debating its validity?

The second and more powerful consequence is that it facilitates the marshaling of the majority against “the fringe.” Consider the expression, “If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide.” This argument is invariably used by the individual who is not impacted by the boundary established.

An example would be the issue facing American citizens regarding foreign financial holdings. Reporting requirements and sanctions imposed for noncompliance stipulated by the US Treasury against non-US banks has made it exceedingly difficult for US citizens and residents to open bank accounts outside the United States. As most Americans have not given thought to such matters, most will dismiss the topic as a matter of concern only to the financial elite. Many in fact support such restrictions, even though, for all intents and purposes, they represent de facto capital controls. The electronic dog fence in this instance is beyond the “roaming range” of the majority and therefore is not perceived as a boundary.

And in Lane Number Two…

Occasionally, the establishment will be caught off guard by significant and empowering changes sweeping society. These changes, typically caused by technological innovations, extend the masses’ awareness, interest and influence into realms previously considered under the uncontested control of the establishment. Naturally, this results in conflict as the establishment redoubles its efforts to maintain control.

An instructive case is the debate surrounding the SOPA and PIPA legislation put forth by the US Congress at the end of 2011. The purported argument for the legislation was to protect intellectual property – primarily digital content distributed over the Internet. While reasonable people can debate the principles and logistics surrounding the issue of intellectual property, this legislation overstepped by trying to grant the State very broad privileges to shut down Internet sites even for allegations of intellectual property infringements. Without delving into the technical and legal details, it is important to note that the legislation received so much pushback that the entire affair was dropped. Well, not really, as it turns out – more on that momentarily.

The case is interesting on several fronts, starting with how it demonstrates that an issue – in this instance, intellectual property – can rapidly morph from being a fairly esoteric discussion point into an almost explosive national issue. Simply, the establishment failed to recognize in advance that the roaming range of the masses had already increased, leaving the government feverishly behind and rushing out a clumsy attempt to install new electronic dog fences.

As for my somewhat cryptic comment above, you may find it interesting that the US government unilaterally shut down dozens of web sites the day after SOPA and PIPA were abandoned by the US Congress. It appears that SOPA and PIPA represented an optional formality.

Back to the point, on one side of the horse race, we have the establishment, which is working constantly to contain and control knowledge, thought and action. On the other, we have the unexpectedly empowered masses who are increasingly aware of, and resistant to, the government’s attempts to curtail their ability to think and act freely.  The cultural race condition is afoot.

Communication Constructs as Agents of Change
As mentioned, this cultural race condition, and the social instability manifested thereby, does not represent a traditional generational changing of the guard. Rather, the world is facing a communications-driven cultural shift on a scale not seen in five hundred years, a shift that has come about from the invention and adoption of game-changing technology.

The last time the world experienced a similar shift was in the middle of the fifteenth century with the advent of Gutenberg’s moveable type print. Gutenberg’s invention is credited with being the catalyst of the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, the Reformation as well as the Scientific Revolution and expansion of learning to the greater populace. The existing establishment of the period, largely centered on the Catholic Church, saw its authority erode in political, scientific as well as religious matters. These historical movements were accompanied by significant social upheaval and unrest.

Today we are seeing a shift of similar significance. In the current instance, the catalytic technology is of course the Internet, enabled by the introduction of microprocessor-based computing. While most will agree that the Internet represents a revolutionary technology, to fully appreciate its transformative power, we need to consider it in the context of the three laws of the network.

The Three Laws of the Network

The First Law of the Network is Sarnoff’s Law, named after David Sarnoff, the founder of NBC. Sarnoff’s Law states the power of the network is directly proportional to its number of participants. This law applies to a traditional broadcast environment, regardless of medium. The model is defined by a single producer of content serving an arbitrary base of information consumers. Under Sarnoff’s Law, information flows only in one direction, which fundamentally leaves no distinction between the Gutenberg print press, newspapers, radio and broadcast television. Logistical efficiencies and the speed that information can be distributed are certainly factors to be considered, but fundamentally they all represent a one-to-many relationship.

The Second Law of the Network is Metcalfe’s Law, named after Bob Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet and co-founder of the technology firm 3Com. Metcalfe’s Law states that the power of the network is directly proportional to the square of the number of participants. In this model, every participant in the network is both a consumer and producer of information. It is the many-to-many relationship that is its distinguishing characteristic. Email is an example of Metcalfe’s Law – a network with two email addresses represents a single connection. As additional email participants are added to the network, the power of the network grows geometrically.

The Third Law of the Network is Reed’s Law, named after David Reed, an accomplished computer scientist with the Viral Communications Group in the MIT Media Lab. Reed’s Law states that when a network reaches a certain size, further growth achieves power far greater than that described by Metcalfe’s Law because the contributions of subgroups within the network become an increasingly significant component of the overall network. This can be summed up as a “many many-to-many” arrangement. Perhaps the most prominent example is Facebook.

As of December 2011, Facebook had 845 million users. The power of Facebook, however, does not lie primarily with the user count, but rather with the innumerable groupings that are formed within the Facebook community.

Twitter provides another prominent example of a network governed by Reed’s Law. During the infamous Mumbai attacks on November 26, 2008, a very clear picture of the events emerged within five minutes via Twitter. And Twitter continued to provide detailed, real-time updates of all phases of the event. Traditional broadcast and cable media were never able to get in front of the story.

Reed’s Law allows for complex information to be formed, processed and distributed almost in real time, pushing the bottleneck of information to the very source, virtually eliminating the challenges of distribution as a road block. In addition, it allows for value to be added throughout the process.
Goodbye Gutenberg, So Long Sarnoff

It can be reasonably postulated that mass media began with Gutenberg’s invention in the middle of the fifteenth century. From the first copy produced by Gutenberg’s printing press to broadcast and cable television, information distribution and the power that lay therein was governed by Sarnoff’s Law. With the advent of interactive media, largely driven by the Internet, Sarnoff’s Law has given way to media being governed by Metcalfe’s Law and recently Reed’s Law. This in turn has resulted in an erosion of the establishment’s ability to maintain tight control over both medium and message.

That erosion is central to the social unrest we are witnessing in the beginning of the 21st century.
If history is any guide, in the end the establishment will lose in its attempt to retake control; however, no organism forgoes its position without a struggle. As traditional institutions are likely to become unstable, and in some instances collapse, it becomes increasingly critical that each of us prepare plans and build resources to better weather coming periods when social institutions experience acute disruptions.

Making it Through the Bumpy Ride

In looking back on the social and political consequences of Gutenberg’s revolutionary innovation, the positive impact on Western civilization can hardly be overstated. The invention marked the end of the Dark Ages, a ten-century period beginning with the fall of the Roman Empire during which virtually no progress was made and the human condition was generally dismal. That the invention proved to be a monumental step in the advancement of mankind was, however, of little consolation to the people caught up in the extreme violence and volatility of that period.

Religious, scientific and cultural pioneers often faced personal and professional attacks and frequently paid for their leadership with their fortunes and lives. William Tyndale is remembered for translating the Bible into English. It was a “crime” for which he paid with his life.

Today Egypt, Libya and Syria are but the most obvious examples of violent social unrest; unrest fueled by the paradigm shift of the Internet and Social Media. The yet unproven advances in the human condition many expect to see materialize in these places provide little relief to those who will lose their property, livelihood and lives during the transition. In the process of greater advances, it is easy to become collateral damage. Volatility impacts “bystanders” as much as active participants during social upheaval.

“Keep Your Head Down and Your Powder Dry”

While Oliver Cromwell’s famous admonition should always be considered sage advice, it is especially warranted during periods of widespread volatility. Today that advice should be considered in the context of ensuring personal safety, safeguarding financial resources and maintaining access to current information that either provides immediate actionable guidance or helps establish an emerging trend that can be used for predictive analysis.

This is an iterative process, demanding regular if not continuous vigilance against existing and emerging threats. This requires committing to continuously seeking trustworthy sources of information. Fortunately, Reed’s Law, and technology based on it, allows for rapid cross-pollination of ideas. Focused sources of information can be rapidly processed and reassembled to help in making specific decisions, a concept that is called content “mash-up.”
It is inadequate to exclusively rely on monolithic traditional information sources, such as those still operating under Sarnoff’s Law, many of which are unduly influenced by the establishment and so are no longer to be fully trusted.

lady liberty and the twin towers

Just before the rapid erosion of Liberty Values Began

Final Thoughts
The first of the three alleged Chinese curses proclaims “May you live in interesting times.” By every measure, it would seem that we do. The period just ahead will be defined by opportunity seized and opportunity lost. How you personally make out during the transition will largely be a function of your willingness to remain current with the societal transformations taking place. In other words, only by dedicating a portion of just about every day to assemble relevant and timely information will you be able to properly assess and manage your exposure to risk.

The steps you should take to protect yourself include:
•    Understand and participate in social media. It will initially serve as an early warning system to opportunities, threats and risks. In time, it may be the only warning system. Stay on top of it. While contributing is optional, participation is becoming mandatory.

• Recognize that social unrest can happen anywhere, including “here.” During social unrest, the government is not your friend. Their objective is to restore their order. Think Katrina. Diversify your life, including physical and financial assets, so you can safely sit out the mayhem. Start planning now. There may come a time when it is too late.

• Assess your geographical environment as it applies to your physical safety. Large metropolitan areas and economically marginal communities can quickly descend into upheaval should basic life support systems fail. Develop the skills to protect yoursel f, your family and your property.

• Recognize the increased significance of your digital life and take meaningful steps to protect it. Governments will increasingly seek to control and monitor your digital life. Develop and maintain the skills to protect your digital identity – it is inextricably linked to your physical and financial well-being.

• Don’t go it alone. There are a lot of complexities afoot in the world today, and trying to process all this information on your own is almost impossible. By teaming up with other individuals you know and trust, and sharing resources, you can enhance awareness and improve your capabilities in planning should the sorts of serious changes that we could see come to pass during this transitive period.

These are but a few steps you can take that will serve you well and likely put you ahead of your peers. By keeping your head on swivel and regularly updating your fall-back plans, you can get on with enjoying your life, create value in your chosen field of endeavor and not worry about becoming the horse that doesn’t make it through the gate.

Publisher: Yes I was thrilled by the compliment delivered over the phone; I felt graced by the fact that I reached “the other site” and was reimbursed with the knowledge that even on that site, some are concerned. While looking at my phone’s LCD display and recognizing where the call came from, there was also a little nagging warning signal (you’re being set up!!!) going off at the same time.

We are all racing towards a small gate and who is going to make it through depends largely on trivial components and seemingly inconsequential distractions.

Personally I am looking forward to the day that people shed fear and use their educated belief system to comment on stories on this and other websites and realize that we the people disperse the authority. Whether we agree or disagree, liberty is just too important to keep indoors or beat it down with silence and fear. Especially since we are in a race, where losing our Liberty is a very serious possibility.

Machiavelli’s Solution to the Internet Surveillance Problem

internet-censorship; searchamelia.com

Machiavelli has found a clever way around the constitution

In a world of short term thinking and collective amnesia, many of us have already moved on from the SOPA(House) and PIPA(Senate) governmental monkey wrenches aimed at ultimately silencing the Internet. Yes millions protested and politicians got nervous so they tabled the legislation, pending the advice from more committees and “government experts”.

Google turned black, Wikipedia and Reddit went completely dark and even here on the Searchamelia website we carried the protest logo in the top right hand corner, usually reserved for AmeliaBites.com – restaurant reviews or important local event links. Millions of online petitions were signed and there was so much outpouring of dissent that even Washington had to pretend that the voice of the people still carried weight.
The bills, which had seem assured of swift passage, rapidly turned into a suicide mission in this important election year. Supporters of it, forced to accept and concede that the public really was pissed off this time, fled back into anonymity….for now.

Everyone on “our” side of the fence exchanged congratulatory wishes and moved rapidly back to the speed of life in cyberspace.  But caution and vigilance is needed, because in today’s world, politicians are no statesmen with vision and a level of sophistication. They are for the most part vicious, backstabbing opportunists, who get paid by us to go back to their corner and figure out another approach or, and that is what is happening with an alarming frequency lately, they will incorporate the package into a bigger package of such economic or social importance, that nobody in the senate or congress can say no to, without risking political suicide.

For example next to SOPA and PIPA there is also PCIP. SOPA and PIPA are about shutting down Internet sites that the federal government deems offensive. PCIP is about gathering information. As practically always, especially with “well-intended” legislation, the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 (H.R. 1981, or PCIP) is allegedly aimed at shielding kids from pornographers. Something everyone hopefully agrees with. Especially since the problem of internet stalking is real and sexual predators should be prosecuted to the maximum of the law, even if it means a certain level of cyber-entrapment, allowing police to run online sting operations against those who are targeting kids. Harsher punishment and a wider net to catch interstate commerce transactions that promote child porn. No problem. Even the acceptance that there will be an occasional case of collateral damage against innocent people being caught in the net is acceptable to a degree. But as always the stinger hides in the details.
PCIP is also about pre-crimes as it entails gathering evidence before any crime is committed… even before said crime is contemplated. The objective given is, that in the event of an arrest, supporting online records can quickly and easily be subpoenaed.
But in order to accomplish that, everyone must be considered a potential criminal. That’s right…Everyone.

Here is how that works.
PCIP mandates or will mandate once it is ratified, that Internet providers keep detailed records about each one of us, beyond just name, address, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, all Internet activity for the previous 12 months (imagine the extension of this feature after the first successful busts!), and any IP addresses assigned to you – without a search warrant, court order, or even the slightest suspicion of criminal activity. Now tell me, are you still worried about your Facebook or Google profile? If you are it’s time to wake up to the real danger coming from your government as it is in a very sly way proposing to expand the ranks of de facto private-sector cops, the same way that banks are now forced to report any “suspicious financial activity.” The legislation would require ISPs to compile detailed dossiers on every online citizen, and to have them readily accessible for whatever “crime-fighting” or other purposes authorities want them. It’s actually breathtaking how it saves federal government officials the trouble and expense of doing it themselves. We’re paying for it. Macchiavelli himself would have to admire the elegance of their solution to the universal ‘Net surveillance problem’ that’s vexed them for some time.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has scornfully tabbed this the “Data Retention Bill,” warning that the stored data “could become available to civil litigants in private lawsuits – whether it’s the RIAA trying to identify downloaders, a company trying to uncover and retaliate against an anonymous critic, or a divorce lawyer looking for dirty laundry.” And in a grotesque illustration of the law of unintended consequences, the EFF adds: “These databases would also be a new and valuable target for black hat hackers, be they criminals trying to steal identities or foreign governments trying to unmask anonymous dissidents.”

H.R. 1981 sailed through the House Judiciary Committee in late July of last year but is yet to be voted on (although it was slated for “expedited consideration” in mid-December). Will it provoke the kind of public outcry directed against SOPA? Don’t count on it. What politician in his or her right mind would dare oppose legislation that “protects kids from pornographers?”

Just so you know, how the muzzling of the Internet will happen! Neatly packaged in a way Count Machiavelli would have enjoyed.

Proof Your Tax Dollars are Wasted

Proof Your Tax Dollars are WastedDo you need proof that your tax dollars are being wasted with too many assistance programs? Consider this: If you sign up with the government for assistance with your housing and then the money you receive from a subsidy program is spent on going out and partying, is that an abuse of the welfare system?

The following video from the television show, Judge Judy, shows us a college student who has a basic misunderstanding about what his assistance money is to be used for.

I love it when the Judge says she is sending a copy of the tape to Congress.

This link provides a clearer image of the video:

Rumor has it that CBS removed the video from YouTube, but it is still there as you’ll see below.

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A Look Into Sheeple Future

We want to believe - searchamelia.com

Little by Little Until there was no one left to care

This is an expansion to my friend and partner Judie’s story titled: “We the Sheeple”

The story, although not new, there is even a website wethesheeple.com, stirred up emotions I have been trying to walk away from lately. My excuse?

All my life I have been a contrarian who placed (and places) the sanctity of the individual above the rights of the common good, a philosophy that after Ronald Reagan’s presidency rapidly lost ground and now is considered downright anti social.

But the story reminded me of the responsibility to deliver warning, regardless if the recipient does not want to know or hear the truth. After all there is no proof that “the truth will set you free”.

So after I posted my comment on the story and the reference to Milton Mayer’s study of ordinary Germany in the 1920s and 30s that allowed the atrocity called Hitler and the Third Reich to rise and become part of our modern history, I went back to find the possibly most telling excerpt from that book to share with our readers.

Judie’s story revived a long forgotten movie titled Soylent Green (1973) back into my Coldwar angst complex. The other day I witnessed 15-20 federal agents staking out a house in an upscale neighborhood here on island and after search warrants were delivered, they moved with stealth and precision in on what was rumored to be a major money laundering case. 15 to 20 agents for money laundering charges?? A bit of waste of resources in my opinion. Usually a sign of the Police State in the Making. Today after reading on Yahoo News another repulsive piece of mainstreet manipulations about the price of gold going down as the result of an improving economy and a stronger dollar,makes me want to scream from the highest mountains: :”They want you to sell your gold so they can buy it from you at a cheaper price.” Talking heads and their Wall Street cronies loudly claim that the recent “meltdown” of gold is a result of the continuing mess in Europe, hoping that we don’t push too hard on the continuing mess here at home. Did anyone hear anything else about Bloomberg’s news announcement that the Federal Reserve gave in excess of $7 trillion to Wall Street, Interest free….since 2008? Scare the ignorant into panic reactions has been the road to “protective” legislation for decades now. Little by little, until it’s too late and there is no one left to care.

In any case, they’re is nothing new under the sun my dear mother used to say as she reminded her 5 sons to always stay vigilant. She had experienced it all; Hitler, the Third Reich and the Nazi Police State, growing up less than a stone’s throw from the German border.

I hope that our readers will recognize the parallels to what happened in Nazi Germany and what’s been going on in America and elsewhere and I hope it will also send chills down their spine and, I hope they feel compelled to forward the following warning to everyone they can think of, just as I am compelled to publish it in its entirety.

We have an important election year coming up, maybe the last chance to change course from turning into a world Mindless Sheeple. No one in Germany was aware either (so they said…)

They Thought They Were Free

They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-45

“What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

“You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the university was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was ‘expected to’ participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one’s energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time.”

“Those,” I said, “are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.'”

“Your friend the baker was right,” said my colleague. “The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about-we were decent people-and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?

Searchamelia.com - Sheeple just want to believe

We the Sheeple Just Want to Believe

“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it-please try to believe me-unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop.

Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

One Must Foresee the End in Order to Resist the Beginning

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice-‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.

“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better.

Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that,

• when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing;

• and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing;

• and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing.

• And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something-but then it was too late.”

“Yes,” I said. “You see,” my colleague went on, “one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?-Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

“Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’

And you are an alarmist.

You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.

But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to-to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.

“But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes!

That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked-if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33.

But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in-your nation, your people-is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

“You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks.

Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

“What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know.”

I said nothing. I thought of nothing to say.

“I can tell you,” my colleague went on, “of a man in Leipzig, a judge. He was not a Nazi, except nominally, but he certainly wasn’t an anti-Nazi. He was just-a judge. In ’42 or ’43, early ’43, I think it was, a Jew was tried before him in a case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an ‘Aryan’ woman. This was ‘race injury,’ something the Party was especially anxious to punish.

In the case at bar, however, the judge had the power to convict the man of a ‘nonracial’ offense and send him to an ordinary prison for a very long term, thus saving him from Party ‘processing’ which would have meant concentration camp or, more probably, deportation and death. But the man was innocent of the ‘nonracial’ charge, in the judge’s opinion, and so, as an honorable judge, he acquitted him. Of course, the Party seized the Jew as soon as he left the courtroom.”

“And the judge?”

“Yes, the judge. He could not get the case off his conscience-a case, mind you, in which he had acquitted an innocent man. He thought that he should have convicted him and saved him from the Party, but how could he have convicted an innocent man? The thing preyed on him more and more, and he had to talk about it, first to his family, then to his friends, and then to acquaintances. (That’s how I heard about it.) After the ’44 Putsch they arrested him. After that, I don’t know.”

I said nothing.

“Once the war began,” my colleague continued, “resistance, protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them a multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment. Mere lack of enthusiasm, or failure to show it in public, was ‘defeatism.’ You assumed that there were lists of those who would be ‘dealt with’ later, after the victory. Goebbels was very clever here, too. He continually promised a ‘victory orgy’ to ‘take care of’ those who thought that their ‘treasonable attitude’ had escaped notice. And he meant it; that was not just propaganda. And that was enough to put an end to all uncertainty.

“Once the war began, the government could do anything ‘necessary’ to win it; so it was with the ‘final solution of the Jewish problem,’ which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its ‘necessities’ gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany’s losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it.”

Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 166-73 of They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©1955, 1966 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)

Tell me What Am I Missing Here

This computer enhanced photograph sold for more than $4.3 millionTell me…is there something I don’t see here? Something I’m missing maybe…like an under-developed sense of artistic refinement?  I woke up this morning to a headline that a 1999 photograph of the Rhine river by German photographer Andreas Gursky had sold for $4,338,500 at Christie’s in New York City, setting a record for any photograph sold at auction.

The story further points out that the photograph titled “Rhein II,” is a chromogenic color print face-mounted to acrylic glass. Aha, I thought, there must be a very special process involved in order to command this kind of money. So in search of widening my knowledge, I learn that the first commercially available chromogenic print process came from Kodacolor, introduced in January of 1942. I learn a lot in a couple of minutes research, mostly about the chemical process and types of paper involved, but most of all that it is the most common type of color photographic printing.

So now I’m on a quest. I had to find out what it was that made an undisclosed buyer shell out more than $4.3 million for a photograph.

It turns out that Gursky’s photographs are large, digitally enhanced and in apparent demand. His 99 Cent II Diptychon, which depicts the interior of a Supermarket with numerous aisles, fetched $3.34 million in 2007, while get this…. second and third prints of the same image caught another respective $2.25 million and $2.48 million!!!

The son of a commercial photographer, Andreas Gursky was always a photographer, but until digital photography made its debut in the early 1990s, he was just talented. It was really the possibilities allowed by digitization that made him find his niche, which the New Yorker Magazine in 2001 called vast, splashy, entertaining and literally unbelievable. Art critic Calvin Tomkins wrote:

“The first time I saw photographs by Andreas Gursky…I had the disorienting sensation that something was happening—happening to me, I suppose, although it felt more generalized than that. Gursky’s huge, panoramic color prints—some of them up to six feet high by ten feet long—had the presence, the formal power, and in several cases the majestic aura of nineteenth-century landscape paintings, without losing any of their meticulously detailed immediacy as photographs. Their subject matter was the contemporary world, seen dispassionately and from a distance.” New York’s Museum of Modern Art added that Gursky’s work was “a sophisticated art of unembellished observation. It is thanks to the artfulness of Gursky’s fictions that we recognize his world as our own.”

When art is put into those words, a simple earthling as myself, may get a tiny glimpse of what art means to different people.
And guess what, Gursky’s panoramic image of the Rhine is just one of an edition of six photographs. Four are in major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Modern in London. Who says there is no money in Arts?

Cuba Drilling for Oil 60 Miles from Florida Coastline

The Scarabeo 9 oil rig will be anchored off the north coast of Cuba and operated by Respol, a Spanish firm.

During a short performance presentation at City Hall for the island’s Tourism Development Council last week I learned that the Florida Panhandle had a record number of visitors this year; better than ever before. And that was just one year after the miserable oil leak disaster of 2010 that brought tourism to an abrupt halt. However, the visitor explosion may be entirely attributed to  the fact that culprit BP on a major redemptive guilt trip, gave two times $25 million on marketing the Gulfcoast part of the Sunshine State to the world of vacationers, an amount  almost twice as much as the State of Florida spends on marketing the entire state ($29.4 mill in 2010). Besides the usual reservations I carry about statistics and numbers, especially where it gets into the nitty gritty percentages of bird watchers vs visiting fishing aficionados (both ranked at 8% of the visitors?), the reminder of the oil spill, which gave us on Amelia Island a bumper year in 2010, made me remember a frightening little story I read a week or so ago. One that I think you may want to keep an eye on.

Offshore Oil and the Politics of Cuba

It turns out that one of Spain’s largest oil companies, Repsol, is gearing up to spud a deep, offshore well in Cuban waters, just 60 miles from the Florida Keys. A huge rig is en route to the site from Singapore, and as it draws closer to its destination I expect the zealous opposition from Floridian politicians who rely on the Cuban expatriate vote to put the issue right into the square of our attention.

We will hear the argument that the well should not be allowed to proceed because it violates the embargo and on a deeper level, that any oil found would prop up the Cuban regime. The first claim is incorrect – it does not violate the embargo as there are no American companies involved; but the second claim deserves closer inspection. Indeed, oil experts say Cuba may have as much as 20 billion barrels of oil in its as-yet untapped portion of the Gulf of Mexico, even though the estimate from the US Geological Survey is considerably more modest, pegging potential reserves at 5 billion barrels, which of course could well have been politically orchestrated.

And yes, finding and developing oil resources in Cuban waters would provide a major boost to the country’s struggling economy and would help to reduce its total dependence on oil-rich, leftist ally Venezuela. Castro’s close ally Hugo Chavez currently dispatches 120,000 barrels of oil a day to Cuba on very favorable financing terms. However, the arrangement is heavily dependent on the friendship between octogenarian Castro and cancer-stricken Chavez… hardly a recipe for permanence. Cuba’s oil contracts with Repsol and various other international partners probing its waters call for Cuba to get 60% of the oil, so a few good wells would make a marked difference for the Caribbean nation.

But for Florida, a state that pulls $65 billion of its income from tourism, the more pressing issue is proximity. If this well were to blow – like several and not in the least the Macondo, have done – the two American companies that provide blowout-containment services to deepwater drillers in the Gulf of Mexico would not be allowed to come to its aid. Yes, it is possible to obtain exemptions from the embargo, but spill responses are based on a simple premise: Everything has to be on standby, ready to go.

While US officials say there is a longstanding practice of providing licenses (embargo exemptions) to address environmental challenges in Cuban waters, and Americans have previously provided booms, skimmers, dispersants, pumps, and other equipment to respond to a spill, obtaining exemptions from international embargoes does not fit the ready-to-go picture.
The Repsol well will sit just 60 miles from the Marquesas Keys, an uninhabited group of islands near Key West in an area of strong, 4-6 mile-per-hour currents that come from the Gulf, shoot through the Florida Straits, and then churn northward up the Atlantic Coast. It would take only a few days for an oil spill to reach the Keys. In fact, Repsol’s well will be twice as close to US shores as drillers in American waters are allowed to operate.

Very Close for Comfort??

Any angst over the situation should not be directed toward Repsol, as the Spanish company has done nearly everything it can to placate American concerns. The company has offered US agencies an opportunity to inspect the drilling vessel and its equipment before it enters Cuban waters, and Repsol officials have stated publicly that in carrying out its Cuba work it will adhere to US regulations and the highest industry standards. The only thing Repsol has not done is concede to demands from some US Congresspeople to walk away from the project, which the politicians described in a letter to Repsol as a venture that “endangers the environment and enriches the Cuban tyranny.””

However, Repsol is inclined to be accommodating because it is a publicly traded company. It is the only such company operating in non-American Gulf waters – the others operating or considering operating in Cuba’s Gulf waters are primarily national oil companies. The United States’ sphere of influence over these state-owned, national oil companies is far, far less; in many cases, American desires have no bearing on these entities… and any effort to exert influence over them immediately raises questions of sovereign immunity.
So, while Repsol’s case is at the forefront for the moment, it seems that the US government needs to pay more attention to these national companies and attempt to formulate a way to engage in their exploration process. It’s a complicated, sensitive arena, incorporating issues like transboundary compensation for oil pollution damages, the role of international oil pollution liability conventions, and recovering costs when one country provides most of the spill response and clean-up assets.

But there are quite a few national oil companies interested in Cuba. Repsol is working in a consortium with Norway’s Statoil and a unit of India’s ONGC. The partners plan to drill one or two wells; once they are complete, the rig will pass to Malaysia’s state-owned oil company, Petronas, and then on to another ONGC unit, ONBC Videsh, both of which have also leased offshore Cuban blocks. Brazilian state oil company Petrobras is also developing plans to explore its Cuban blocks.

The Cuban Embargo is no longer in our best interest.

The multinational face of exploration in Cuba’s waters is a good representation of the support Cuba has received from the rest of the world. Indeed, every year for the past 19 years, and soon for an almost-guaranteed twentieth time, the United Nations General Assembly has overwhelmingly adopted a resolution condemning the US embargo. Every year, something like 187 of 189 nations appeal to the United States to end the embargo, with (usually) only Israel voting with the US.
Almost no one else supports the embargo, and it is time to assess whether it is still in the US’s best interests.

The embargo on Cuba represents the most comprehensive set of economic sanctions the US imposes on any nation in the world. The goal has always been to make the Cuban people suffer so much that they would tear down a government that was at one point a Cold-War security threat. The US has: imposed sharp limits on Cuba’s access to American food, medicines, and visitors; banned almost all other business activity; used sanctions to stop third countries from trading with Cuba; blocked Cuba’s access to high-technology goods; and even siphoned off some of its most promising thinkers by giving Cubans incentives to emigrate and persuading its highly trained doctors to defect.

None of this has, of course, caused an uprising, let alone broken the back of the Cuban system. It has been a generation since the Cold War ended, since the Soviet Union fell, and since the US intelligence community concluded that Cuba posed no threat to American security. Why does the embargo still stand? Well, for several reasons, two of the clearest being opposing communism in general and maintaining political support from the large Cuban expat community. However, another reason may be a lack of data. There is no formal mechanism within the US government to monitor the impact of the embargo on economic and social rights in Cuba; nor is there a process to assess the impacts of the embargo on the United States.

Without a way to gather this information, there are tough questions that remained unanswered. Do the sanctions backfire and take away from everyday Cubans the prospect for leading more prosperous and independent lives? Is the embargo damaging US standing in Latin America? Do the sanctions cost the US jobs for workers, markets, profits for businesses, or liberties for American travelers?

These questions have lingered for years, but with Fidel Castro having passed the reins over to his slightly more liberal younger brother Raul, changes are afoot in Cuba that make these questions more pressing. Adding all the new interest in Cuba’s deepwater oil potential to the mix only increases the pressure.

Raul Castro took over the presidency in 2008, and his goal is to have 35% of the economy privatized by 2015. In April the Cuban Communist Party approved 311 decrees designed to meet that goal, though to date only a few have passed into law. Those that have been enacted are mild relative to the bigger picture of creating a private sector. Nevertheless, they represent dramatic change for Cubans, who have not been allowed to buy or sell vehicles or real estate for fifty years. Now they can.

For the first time since the early years of Castro’s 1959 revolution, private individuals in retail services, agriculture, and construction are allowed to hire employees, even though there remains an article in the Cuban Constitution that says one’s property and equipment “cannot be used to obtain earnings from the exploitation of the labor of others.”
Over the next five years the regime intends to lay off up to a million public sector workers – no less than 10% of its workforce. The food rationing system, on which many Cubans rely daily, is also set to be phased out. The goals are clear – to reduce the state payroll, boost productivity (especially in the agricultural sector), and nourish the private sector – even if the timeline and plans for dealing with the fallout are far from clear.

Cuban authorities are careful to depict this restructuring as upgrading the revolution, not forsaking it. As one political analyst said, the Cuban government is trying to “let the economic genie out of the bottle while keeping the political genie in.” It’s a tough act. And the fact is that the regime can no longer afford to finance the socialist ideas upon which it was founded. The question is: Which way will it turn?

If reforms are too limited and private enterprise remains too restricted to flourish, nothing much really changes, aside from a few aspects of the current black market becoming legal. At the other end of the spectrum is rapid and rampant capitalism, with all of the debt and accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few that today are such clear downsides of free-market economies.

The Goldilocks answer is somewhere in between, positioning Cuba as a miniature China with a mixed economy, the state holding tight grip over some sectors but loosening control over others. The state will almost certainly retain its grip over mining, oil, sugar, health care, and tourism, cumulatively a large chunk of the country’s economic strength.
Nevertheless, even this partial transition to capitalism offers some good economic opportunities to the US, if it were to open those avenues. The embargo may be aimed at restricting the Cuban regime so harshly that it fails, but it is also preventing the US from even encouraging, let alone participating in, a more modern Cuba. In terms of the Gulf, the embargo not only restricts US opportunities to provide exploration expertise to a developing nation and to share in the spoils of that work, which could be another, much-needed, convenient source of oil, it is also hamstringing the US’s ability to protect its own waters.

If not Washington, then at least Tallahassee should start reaching out to Havana a bit more, even if it is only to have some form of communication in  place when another Oil Well should start leaking.

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