Friday, July 30, 2010

7 Drugs That You Can Legally Grow Right In Your Home

7 Drugs That You Can Legally Grow Right In Your Home

DISCLAIMER: I am not advocating, advising, endorsing, recommending, celebrating, or glamorizing drug use. That's the job of the music industry.

I am merely providing interesting and educational information on several plants that, while perfectly legal to grow, provide some added "recreational" effects when used for purposes other than decorating your home. (And if you want to read about three bonus plants, head over to our friends at, the green thumbs that provided this info.) I'm starting to rethink my No Living Houseplants rule.

1. Salvia

Saliva is unique because it isn’t habit forming, is hallucinogenic... and is legal to grow. The plant is usually dried and smoked (similar to marijuana), and when taken makes the user momentarily lose touch with reality. In the states, growing the plant (which is legal) is different than using the plant as a drug (which is illegal). As of this writing Florida, Illinois, Delaware, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Virginia, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Ohio, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi and North Dakota have laws against its usage.

2. Calea zacatechichi- Dream Herb

The dream herb gets its name from of the incredibly vivid dreams that users experience. The Chontal Indians of Mexico are known to smoke the plant’s leaves just before bedtime as a way of becoming conscious of dreaming while still in the dream. In typical US fashion, the plant is legal to grow AND to sell... but illegal to use.

3. Hawaiian Baby Woodrose

Hawaiian Baby Woodrose, also known as Elephant Creeper, is a vine that produces hallucinogenic seeds. With preparation , the active ingredient (LSA) can be extracted and has the same effect as LSD when consumed. However, consumption is illegal in the US, while growing the vine itself is not.

4. Kratom

Kratom is addictive, yet it remains legal to grow and to use. In appearance it resembles a small tree, usually growing up to 15 feet tall. The leaves contain the active ingredient and, unlike many other hallucinagenics, the leaves are constantly replaced on the same tree.

5. Wormwood

Wormwood emits a poison and can kill if too much is consumed. It’s also the primary herb used in absinthe. The leaves can also be smoked, usually in conjunction with marijuana. And, to this date, wormwood is legal to grow virtually anywhere in the world.

6. Betel Nut

As a whole, Betel Nut is relatively "soft." It induces a mild feeling of well being, reduces one’s appetite and isn’t physically addictive. The plant is legal to grow and to use, but it only grows in tropical or subtropical ecosystems. A variety of indoor growing systems can be used to succesfully grow this plant in your home.

7. Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca, or "vine of the dead," grows freely in the South American Amazon and is used by Shamans in healing/cleansing rituals. The vine, which contains DMT as an active ingredient, is brewed with a secondary plant which contains MAOI and is drank for effect. Growing the vine is legal in the US, but extracting the DMT (active ingredient) is against the law.

For three more drugs that are legal to grow in your home, go to

Resveratrol revs up metabolism, promotes weight loss

Resveratrol revs up metabolism, promotes weight loss in first ever primate study
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
S. L. Baker, features writer

(NaturalNews) Resveratrol is a type of phytonutrient known as a polyphenol. Found in the skin of grapes, wine, grape juice, peanuts, and berries, it has often been hailed as a life-extending natural compound. After all, research in mice and lab rats has indicated it can protect those animals from obesity and diabetes and has anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and blood-sugar-lowering effects, too. However, rats and mice are rodents -- and their physiology is in many ways different from the primate family that includes apes, monkeys and, most importantly, human beings.

But now for the first time a study has shown resveratrol has the ability to rev up metabolism and spark weight loss in primates -- and that means the polyphenol might have weight loss and even anti-aging and life-extending benefits in people, too.

Fabienne Aujard, from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, France, worked with a team of scientists to document how a diet supplemented with resveratrol impacted the weight, metabolism and energy intake of six mouse lemurs. (Despite their names, mouse lemurs have nothing to do with rodents. Found only on the African island nation of Madagascar, they are mouse-sized primates -- the group that includes apes and humans.)

The study, which was just published in the BMC Physiology journal, showed that after four weeks of resveratrol supplementation there was a significant decrease in the animals' food intake along with a reduction in the body-mass gain lemurs normally experience in winter. The response to the resveratrol supplementation also involved significant changes in the animals' body temperatures. The researchers noted that resveratrol appears to reduce weight by increasing satiety (the feeling of being full) and also by increasing the resting metabolic rate (the amount of energy expended while at rest) -- so the animals burned up more calories even when not exercising.

"We've found that lemurs eating a diet supplemented with the compound (resveratrol) decreased their energy intake by 13 percent and increased their resting metabolic rate by 29 percent," Dr. Aujard said in a statement to the press. "These results provide novel information on the potential effects of resveratrol on energy metabolism and control of body mass in a primate. The physiological benefits of resveratrol are currently under intensive investigation, with recent work suggesting that it could be a good candidate for the development of obesity therapies."

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Oakland pot-growing plan worries small bud tenders

Jul 18, 2010

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - After weathering the fear of federal prosecution and competition from drug cartels, California's medical marijuana growers see a new threat to their tenuous existence: the "Wal-Marting" of weed.

The Oakland City Council on Tuesday will look at licensing four production plants where pot would be grown, packaged and processed into items ranging from baked goods to body oil. Winning applicants would have to pay $211,000 in annual permit fees, carry $2 million worth of liability insurance and be prepared to devote up to 8 percent of gross sales to taxes.

The move, and fledgling efforts in other California cities to sanction cannabis cultivation for the first time, has some marijuana advocates worried that regulations intended to bring order to the outlaw industry and new revenues to cash-strapped local governments could drive small "mom and pop" growers out of business. They complain that industrial-scale gardens would harm the environment, reduce quality and leave consumers with fewer strains from which to choose.

"Nobody wants to see the McDonald's-ization of cannabis," Dan Scully, one of the 400 "patient-growers" who supply Oakland's largest retail medical marijuana dispensary, Harborside Health Center, grumbled after a City Council committee gave the blueprint preliminary approval last week. "I would compare it to how a small business feels about shutting down its business and going to work at Wal-Mart. Who would be attracted to that?"

The proposal's supporters, including entrepreneurs more disposed to neckties than tie-dye, counter that unregulated growers working in covert warehouses or houses are tax scofflaws more likely to wreak environmental havoc, be motivated purely by profit and produce inferior products.

"The large-scale grow facilities that are being proposed with this ordinance will create hundreds of jobs for the city," said Ryan Indigo Warman, who teaches pot-growing techniques at iGrow, a hydroponics store whose owners plan to apply for one of the four permits. "The ordinance is good for Oakland, and anyone who says otherwise is only protecting their own interests."

Council members Rebecca Kaplan and Larry Reid, who introduced the plan, have pitched it largely as a public safety measure.

The Oakland fire department blames a dramatic rise in the number of electrical fires between 2006 and 2009 in part to marijuana being grown indoors with improperly wired fans and lights. The police department says eight robberies, seven burglaries and two murders have been linked to marijuana grows in the last two years.

Reid and Kaplan also are open about their desire to have the city, which last week laid off 80 police officers to save money, cash in on the medical marijuana industry it has allowed to thrive.

Oakland's four retail marijuana stores did $28 million in business last year, and if sales remain constant, the city would get $1.5 million this year from a dispensary business tax that voters adopted last summer. A similar tax on wholesale pot sales from the permitted grow sites to the dispensaries would bring in more than twice that amount, the city administrator's office has estimated.

"Allowing medical cannabis and medical cannabis products to be produced in a responsible, aboveboard and legitimate way will be a benefit to the patients, to the workers and to the people of Oakland," Kaplan said.

Adding to the anxiety of growers - and the impetus Oakland officials have to get the grow tax in place - is a November state ballot measure to legalize marijuana possession for adult recreational use and authorize local governments to license and tax non-medical pot sales.

If it passes, Proposition 19 is expected to feed the state's hearty appetite for marijuana. Backers of creating the four big indoor gardens say the plan is not dependent on legalization, but would benefit from it.

"The reality is, this is an issue that is going to grow. I would like it to grow here. I would like it to be Oakland business and not the tobacco industry," Councilwoman Jean Quan said.

Regulating the supply side of the business would represent another turning point in California's complicated, 14-year-old relationship with medical marijuana. Although Maine, New Mexico and Rhode Island license nonprofit groups to produce and distribute cannabis, California's law is silent on cultivation other than for individual use.

Even as hundreds of storefront pot dispensaries, marijuana delivery services and THC-laced food products have flourished, the question of where they get their stashes remains murky: Inquiring is considered as impolite as asking someone's income or age.

Industry insiders usually say they rely on a variety of sources, including farmers who grow outdoors in the far northern end of the state, contractors who run sophisticated indoor operations, and customers who grow their own and sell the surplus.

Officials in Berkeley and Long Beach also are moving take the mystery out of medical marijuana production.

The Berkeley City Council last week approved a measure for the November ballot that would authorize the city to license and tax six pot cultivation sites. Companies running the facilities must agree to give away some pot to low-income users, employ organic gardening methods to the extent possible and offset in some way the large amount of electricity needed to grow weed.

Long Beach officials want to reduce the amount of medical marijuana being sold in the city that isn't grown there.

The city is in the process of trying to whittle its more than 90 dispensaries down to no more than 35 marijuana collectives through a lottery. License winners will be required to grow either at their retail sites or elsewhere in Long Beach and to open their books to prove they aren't growing more than enough to supply their members, said Lori Ann Farrell, Long Beach's director of financial management.

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Senate Bill S510

Senate Bill S510 Makes it Illegal to Grow, Share, Trade or Sell Homegrown Food
By Steve Green

S 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010, may be the most dangerous bill in the history of the US.

It is to our food what the bailout was to our economy, only we can live without money.

“If accepted [S 510] would preclude the public’s right to grow, own, trade, transport, share, feed and eat each and every food that nature makes. It will become the most offensive authority against the cultivation, trade and consumption of food and agricultural products of one’s choice. It will be unconstitutional and contrary to natural law or, if you like, the will of God.” It is similar to what India faced with imposition of the salt tax during British rule, only S 510 extends control over all food in the US, violating the fundamental human right to food." ~ Dr. Shiv Chopra, Canada Health whistleblower.

Monsanto says it has no interest in the bill and would not benefit from it, but Monsanto’s Michael Taylor who gave us rBGH and unregulated genetically modified (GM) organisms, appears to have designed it and is waiting as an appointed Food Czar to the FDA (a position unapproved by Congress) to administer the agency it would create — without judicial review — if it passes.

S 510 would give Monsanto unlimited power over all US seed, food supplements, food AND FARMING.


In the 1990s, Bill Clinton introduced HACCP (Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Points) purportedly to deal with contamination in the meat industry. Clinton’s HACCP delighted the offending corporate (World Trade Organization “WTO”) meat packers since it allowed them to inspect themselves, eliminated thousands of local food processors (with no history of contamination), and centralized meat into their control. Monsanto promoted HACCP.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton, urged a powerful centralized food safety agency as part of her campaign for president. Her advisor was Mark Penn, CEO of Burson Marsteller*, a giant PR firm representing Monsanto. Clinton lost, but Clinton friends such as Rosa DeLauro, whose husband’s firm lists Monsanto as a progressive client and globalization as an area of expertise, introduced early versions of S 510.

S 510 fails on moral, social, economic, political, constitutional, and human survival grounds.

1. It puts all US food and all US farms under Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, in the event of contamination or an ill-defined emergency. It resembles the Kissinger Plan.

2. It would end US sovereignty over its own food supply by insisting on compliance with the WTO, thus threatening national security. It would end the Uruguay Round Agreement Act of 1994, which put US sovereignty and US law under perfect protection. Instead, S 510 says:


Nothing in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) shall be construed in a manner inconsistent with the agreement establishing the World Trade Organization or any other treaty or international agreement to which the United States is a party.

3. It would allow the government, under Maritime Law, to define the introduction of any food into commerce (even direct sales between individuals) as smuggling into “the United States.” Since under that law, the US is a corporate entity and not a location, “entry of food into the US” covers food produced anywhere within the land mass of this country and “entering into” it by virtue of being produced.

4. It imposes Codex Alimentarius on the US, a global system of control over food. It allows the United Nations (UN), World Health Organization (WHO), UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the WTO to take control of every food on earth and remove access to natural food supplements. Its bizarre history and its expected impact in limiting access to adequate nutrition (while mandating GM food, GM animals, pesticides, hormones, irradiation of food, etc.) threatens all safe and organic food and health itself, since the world knows now it needs vitamins to survive, not just to treat illnesses.

5. It would remove the right to clean, store and thus own seed in the US, putting control of seeds in the hands of Monsanto and other multinationals, threatening US security. See Seeds – How to criminalize them, for more details.

6. It includes NAIS, an animal traceability program that threatens all small farmers and ranchers raising animals. The UN is participating through the WHO, FAO, WTO, and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in allowing mass slaughter of even heritage breeds of animals and without proof of disease. Biodiversity in farm animals is being wiped out to substitute genetically engineered animals on which corporations hold patents. Animal diseases can be falsely declared. S 510 includes the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), despite its corrupt involvement in the H1N1 scandal, which is now said to have been concocted by the corporations.

7. It extends a failed and destructive HACCP to all food, thus threatening to do to all local food production and farming what HACCP did to meat production – put it in corporate hands and worsen food safety.

8. It deconstructs what is left of the American economy. It takes agriculture and food, which are the cornerstone of all economies, out of the hands of the citizenry, and puts them under the total control of multinational corporations influencing the UN, WHO, FAO and WTO, with HHS, and CDC, acting as agents, with Homeland Security as the enforcer. The chance to rebuild the economy based on farming, ranching, gardens, food production, natural health, and all the jobs, tools and connected occupations would be eliminated.

9. It would allow the government to mandate antibiotics, hormones, slaughterhouse waste, pesticides and GMOs. This would industrialize every farm in the US, eliminate local organic farming, greatly increase global warming from increased use of oil-based products and long-distance delivery of foods, and make food even more unsafe. The five items listed — the Five Pillars of Food Safety — are precisely the items in the food supply which are the primary source of its danger.

10. It uses food crimes as the entry into police state power and control. The bill postpones defining all the regulations to be imposed; postpones defining crimes to be punished, postpones defining penalties to be applied. It removes fundamental constitutional protections from all citizens in the country, making them subject to a corporate tribunal with unlimited power and penalties, and without judicial review.

It is (similar to C-6 in Canada) the end of Rule of Law in the US.

Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) is the sponsor of this bill.

The bill's co-sponsors are:

Lamar Alexander [R-TN]
Jeff Bingaman [D-NM]
Richard Burr [R-NC]
Roland Burris [D-IL]
Saxby Chambliss [R-GA]
Christopher Dodd [D-CT]
Michael Enzi [R-WY]
Kirsten Gillibrand [D-NY]
Judd Gregg [R-NH]
Thomas Harkin [D-IA]
Orrin Hatch [R-UT]
John Isakson [R-GA]
Edward Kennedy [D-MA]
Amy Klobuchar [D-MN]
Ben Nelson [D-NE]
Tom Udall [D-NM]
David Vitter [R-LA]

Write these senators today and tell them to revoke their support of Senate Bill 510!

You may use the following letter in your correspondence:

Dear Congress(wo)man,

I am writing to express my deep concern over your sponsorship of Senate Bill 510. This bill represents yet another attempt to place more power into the hands of a centralized government, while taking power away from states and individual citizens. The danger of this bill is that it does so in the domain of our food. It sets in place a number of preconditions for manipulation of America's food supply and threatens to strip us of our freedoms to grow, sell, and buy food. We the people have elected you to office to serve us, not to disempower us and make us subject to bureaucratic regulations lacking our best interests. Please remove your sponsorship from Bill S510.

(your name)

Stallone says 'Velcro muscles' made old-school stars expendable

COMIC-CON 2010: Stallone says 'Velcro muscles' made old-school stars expendable
July 18, 2010

The lights were down low in Sylvester Stallone's Beverly Hills office on a recent afternoon, so it was impossible to see the 64-year-old movie star's eyes behind his plum-tinted sunglasses. His snug Italian suit emphasized his still-muscular frame as he sat ramrod straight. His face doesn't move much. So he seemed like a statue, until he started recounting the moment when he knew he was becoming expendable.

"It was that first Batman movie," he said, referring to the 1989 film starring Michael Keaton, an actor never known for biceps. "The action movies changed radically when it became possible to Velcro your muscles on. It was the beginning of a new era. The visual took over. The special effects became more important than the single person. That was the beginning of the end."

Yes, even action heroes get misty-eyed at times. In the 1980s, Stallone was one of the biggest names in Hollywood in movies in which he punched, shot or (in a film rightly called "Over the Top") arm-wrestled his way past overpowering odds as an especially sinewy everyman. And, despite the arrival of an era when actors such as Keaton, Johnny Depp or Tobey Maguire could play the action hero, Stallone never really went away. He didn't become small; Hollywood's collective bench press did.

"I wish I had thought of Velcro muscles myself," Stallone mused. "I didn't have to go to the gym for all those years, all the hours wedded to the iron game, as we call it," he said, a reference to weight training.

But Stallone is back in the heavyweight game this week, at least for a day. On Thursday, he will be in San Diego at Comic-Con International, the pop-culture expo that runs through Sunday at the convention center and where Velcro muscles are practically handed out at the door. He's not going there to get vengeance on the nerd heroes (although that might actually be entertaining), he's going to promote his ridiculously retro film "The Expendables," due in theaters next month.

The movie is a low-tech, deliriously un-ironic return to the sort of commando movies that were a popular cinematic sector during the Reagan era. Movies just like it get relegated to the small ballrooms at Comic-Con all the time, but "The Expendables" will be front and center in Hall H, the 6,500-seat hangar of a room where Angelina Jolie, Nicolas Cage, Will Ferrell and Jeff Bridges will be part of a celebrity parade during the four-day expo.

How did Stallone's paramilitary exercise rate? Simple: He drafted an army of new friends and old rivals into "The Expendables" for a sort of "Magnificent Seven" approach to his battle-zone fantasy. Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger appear in the film (briefly). So do Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts. And British tough-guy Jason Statham and Chinese superstar Jet Li. There's also a former NFL player (Terry Crews), a pro-wrestling icon (Steve Austin), an Ultimate Fighting Championship star (Randy Couture) and Dolph Lundgren, whom Stallone enjoyed punching back in the good ol' Cold War days of "Rocky IV." Not every hot-shot he-man actor participated; Jean-Claude Van Damme, Forest Whitaker and Ben Kingsley demurred.

Stallone plays Barney "The Schizo" Ross, a mercenary who has assembled a team of paid killers who look like the models for a "United Colors of Harley-Davidson" ad campaign. Statham plays Schizo's second-in-command, Lee Christmas. A mission takes the team to South America where nasty surprises await. Rourke plays a tattoo artist and sometime spiritual advisor; Roberts is the bad guy.

In the eyes of a certain Sacramento politician, the lineup looks like a dream team. "The movie is fantastic with a terrific cast," Schwarzenegger said. "It’s like 'The Magnificent Seven' or 'The Dirty Dozen' — every character is totally believable because of their natural real-life personas."

Willis and Schwarzenegger play mysterious kingpins who meet with Stallone's character for a fleeting underworld summit staged in a church — perhaps they are the trinity of American action-movie heroes for fans of a certain age. The three actors have a history — they were partners in the 1991 launch of Planet Hollywood, the theme-restaurant chain, and seeing them meet on-screen is the tantalizing lure of the movie's trailers and posters. Stallone said his old screen rivals showed up for no pay as a gesture of support.

Stallone, who co-wrote the screenplay with Dave Callaham, said he was "a nervous wreck" on the day of the shoot. And, as a reflective director, it got him thinking about the three actors he would be guiding.

"Each of us chose a different style. Arnold was king of the one-liners. Bruce was witty and talkative; he had all these verbal pirouettes. And I was pretty silent. My guys seemed haunted, a lot of the time, but Bruce's guys were usually Teflon. Arnold was relentless, like this perfect machine. People asked if I could have played the Terminator. Are you kidding? Not a chance, I never could have played the Terminator."

Stallone didn't complete the corollary, but Schwarzenegger could never have inhabited the role of everyman Rocky Balboa, the neighborhood lug with hound-dog eyes and a heart full of sadness who never gives way to surrender.

Willis, for his part, has promoting to do for his big film called "Red," based on the comic, in which he portrays a former black-ops agent, but says he enjoyed "The Expendables" so much he'd like to work with Stallone again. "He's a very efficient and creative director; the experience on 'The Expendables' was great."

Schwarzenegger, whose return to Hollywood is a growing topic of interest, has enjoyed being back on a movie set: "Sly was so well-organized on the set with the way he communicated, not just with the actors but also with the crew. It was amazing how smooth the whole operation was."

The word from the state capital is that the governor will not be at Comic-Con, but Willis will appear with Stallone on Thursday, which will surely send the genre-loving fans of Comic-Con into delirium. Director Edgar Wright, who was going to Comic-Con to promote "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," said he got goose bumps thinking about the reception that the old war horses would get. "It's going to be like when 'Rocky' won the Oscar for best picture. I can't wait."

The trio's work in "Die Harder," "T2: Judgment Day" and Stallone's "Rocky III" helped propel Hollywood down the path of franchise obsession, for better or worse. (Below on the right is a photo of Stallone back in the day, on the set of "Rambo III.") The high-concept, high-explosives approach to cinema makes him a founding figure of sorts at Comic-Con, where action heroes never die, they just become video-game characters.

As robust as the Comic-Con reception might be, it might not even be the highlight of Stallone's day. He and other "Expendables" cast members will stop Thursday night at Camp Pendleton to screen the movie for Marines.

Here are some things you will encounter if you sit in the dark with "The Expendables": compound fractures, stab wounds, an abusive boyfriend beat down, bodies flying over sandbags in slow motion, testicle jokes, fiery debris, tropical airstrips, a major amount of C4 explosives, cocaine kilos stacked in a cave, water torture, cigarette-burn torture, tough love and tattoos. The movie reeks of cordite and is drenched in testosterone — there are women in it, but they're treated pretty much as props.

There's a scene in which a villain is engulfed in flames and staggers toward death. The director wasn't satisfied with it, so, despite the expense, Stallone went back to shoot more footage and ordered up some CG effects. Now, he proudly explains, the immolation has an exclamation point, and "The Expendables" is the first film in history in which a good guy goes up to an on-fire bad guy and punches him in the face.

Stallone is candid that the movie lurches and stalls a number of times. It was supposed to be a comedy, but then, after seeing early footage, he realized directing a commando comedy was a lot harder than it sounded.

"I think it would have been a disaster," he said, adding that a documentary team recorded much of the production, for posterity. "The Expendables" ended up as a straight-forward wolf-pack adventure that recalled some textures of the old "Missing in Action" films (which starred Chuck Norris, who somehow didn't get called to duty).

Stallone is a man of action but also has aspired to be a warrior poet, in his own way. Critics have savaged him through the years, with some notable exceptions (he was praised for his nuanced turn in the 1997 film "Cop Land," for instance). He got decent reviews in "Rocky Balboa" (which dropped the Roman numerals for the digital age), but his retro commando film may be marching to a beat that leaves young audiences confused.

Sitting in his office — next to shelves full of action figures, prop weapons and a latex decapitated head plucked from the set of a Rambo film — Stallone explained the mindset of the characters in his new film, but he seemed to be talking about more than movies.

"When the battle is on, that's easy. When boxers are in the ring, they're simple. It's when the fight is over, that's when the other fight, the real fight, begins. That's the problem. It's like Frank Capra said in his book: Reality started when he drove through the gates of Paramount. The surreal life started when he drove back home. Why do some actors want to do nine films a year? It's their element. They're more comfortable in the unreal world."

"Expendables" is a curious film to handicap, commercially. The cast and Comic-Con will stir interest, but will the film win over young fans whose word-of-mouth is essential? Lionsgate saw the hard-knuckle comic-book movie "Kick-Ass" spark public interest and press but fail to deliver any big bang; the studio picked up the Stallone project, which, conceivably, could be a rerun.

Stallone doesn't seem fazed. He's more interested in chewing on the story of the film and the old lions who reload for one more mission. "People that spend time in a foxhole — they're never going to find that relationship anywhere else again. … Everything else pales next to that. When you think about the second World War vets — more than even the Vietnam vets — there's a brotherhood. They're 90 years old now, and they're still wearing the hats. The way they feel about each other. Time stopped. That was the ultimate of life. Everything after it was anticlimactic. After that it just wasn't the same."

Stallone paused, going back to statue mode. Then he found the metaphor he was searching for, behind those shades. "After that, their life was straight-to-video."

-- Geoff Boucher

Real threat to U.S. national security may be along northern border

Real threat to U.S. national security may be along northern border
Bill Conroy
May 31, 2010
Whistleblower lawsuit raises troubling questions about cross-border commerce

As the Obama administration prepares to send some 1,200 National Guard troops to the Southwest to secure the border, it may well be the nation’s northern border with Canada that has already been breached.

A document detailing that potential threat to U.S. national security surfaced in a lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Canada. That document, an internal Federal Express Canada Ltd. report dubbed the “GTS Update,” reveals that a significant percentage of shipments involving high-value merchandise and/or controlled goods exported using FedEx Canada as the carrier appear to be leaving Canada without the proper Customs paperwork.

Under Canadian Customs law, goods exported to foreign countries, other than those destined for the U.S., that are valued at [Canadian] $2,000 or more, or that are deemed "controlled goods," must be reported to the Canadian Border Service Agency via an “export declaration,” otherwise known as a B13A form. Proof that the declaration has been filed also must be presented to CBSA at the time the goods are shipped.

Consequently, this class of shipments would likely include a high percentage of controlled goods (defined as strategic, dangerous or regulated, such as nuclear dual-use technology, dangerous chemicals or U.S. goods being shipped from Canada). According to Canadian Customs regulations, these controlled goods are monitored closely, in part, to assure that they don’t pose a security threat to other nations, such as the United States.

The still-pending lawsuit, filed by a former Federal Express Canada Ltd. customs department employee named Nazir Ghany, alleges that FedEx Canada has engaged in “unlawful activities” that violate the Canadian Customs Act. As a consequence of reporting these alleged violations, Ghany contends he was demoted and subjected to retaliation by FedEx Canada management — to the point where he claims he had no choice but to resign from his job.

FedEx Canada has not yet filed a statement of defense with the court in the case. However, a letter penned by one of the company’s legal representatives and directed to Dharamjit Singh, Ghany’s solicitor, or lawyer, argues that Ghany’s pleadings lack “material facts,” are “time barred” and are otherwise not supported by Canadian law.

Singh counters in his pleadings that Ghany will be able to produce evidence at the proper point in the proceedings. He also points to the GTS Update as proof of FedEx Canada’s lack of vigor in following Canadian Customs laws. That GTS Update includes an analysis of the total number of shipments FedEx Canada “exported with out proof of report” — proof that an export declaration, or B13A, had been filed with the Canadian Border Service Agency, or CBSA.

Susan Foster, manager of Customs Regulatory Trade and Compliance for FedEx Canada, in an affidavit filed in the Gh any lawsuit, states the following concerning the shipments involving missing B13A forms:

The GTS Update “shows that there were approximately 19,549 shipments exported without proof of report” and as a result of the foregoing, the potential … penalties to FedEx customers just for the period of May 2005 to April 2006 would have been approximately [Canadian] $19 million.

Singh, however, contends the potential damage to the “national security of the USA and Canada” is much greater. He stresses that, according to the GTS Update, the nearly 20,000 “illegal shipments in just one year” represented 21 percent of total B13A-eligible shipments for that period. That means, he alleges, nearly one-fifth of those shipments were exported in violation of Canadian Customs law.

"It would be inconceivable that nuclear and other technology was not involved [in some of those shipments],” Singh contends. “In any event, there is no excuse for these shipments to have been shipped.”

FedEx Canada’s Foster stresses in her affidavit that “exporters of shipments, not carriers such as FedEx Canada, are ultimately accountable for meeting the export reporting requirements [such as filing required B13A documents]. …”

Big Stakes

FedEx Canada, which employs some 5,000 people, is based in Mississauga, Ontario, and is a subsidiary of USA-based FedEx Corp. — which ships some 6 million packages daily to nearly 230 countries. So, in the scheme of things, a total of 20,000 shipments lacking the proper paperwork doesn’t seem like a big deal.

“Unless there’s a pattern to it,” says U.S. attorney Mark Conrad, a former supervisory special agent with the U.S. Customs Service — since integrated into the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

And that pattern, Singh argues, is the fact that the shipments would have involved a high percentage of “controlled” goods destined for foreign nations, including to countries that might serve as transshipment points for materials destined for Iran.

President Barack Obama, Singh stresses, has been very clear about his concern over Iran’s nuclear intentions, expressed most recently in a letter Obama sent to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president of Brazil, and last year during a presentation he made at the G20 Conference in Pittsburgh [video below].

Singh also points to an article that appeared in the Vancouver Sun last year that quoted the head of CBSA’s Counter Proliferation Section, George Webb: “We have anything [and everything] to do with a nuclear program going to Iran.”

The story claims Canadian authorities “have seized everything from centrifuge parts to programmable logic controllers that were being illegally shipped to Iran through third countries.”

In fact, Singh adds, a trial is now underway in Toronto involving a Canadian man accused of attempting to ship to Iran, via Dubai, nuclear dual-use goods (10 specialized gas-pressure gauges, which would have required a B13A filing for export from Canada). The gauges, which are commercial products that could have been used to help centrifuges produce the highly enriched uranium needed for a nuclear weapon, were purchased from a U.S. company and shipped from Boston to Toronto “and undervalued when declared,” according to a story in the Canadian Globe and Mail. The alleged plot was uncovered in this case because the U.S. company reported the suspicious shipment to law enforcement authorities.

There is no information available publicly on how the accused planned to ship the gauges to Dubai, according to Singh. Still, he says the case is an example of how violations of Canada’s export laws can involve real threats to global security.

One U.S. Customs official who spoke with Narco News explains that even if all the proper paperwork is filed with an export shipment, that still does not guarantee an illegal shipment will be caught by Customs officials, in either the U.S. or Canada, since criminals lie on forms and the government “bureaucracy takes time to have the AM coffee, get up, and get going.”

The Customs official adds that in cases where required export documents are not filled out, it’s usually because the shipper wants to avoid the extra paperwork and duties involved — with the rare exception being a situation where a shipper is part of a criminal conspiracy.

However, if shipments are known to lack the proper customs declarations, as is allegedly the case with the shipments outlined in the GTS Update, then that should raise some red flags, even if it is likely that only a small fraction of those shipments might involve controlled or dangerous goods, the U.S. Customs official points out.

Singh adds that in the case of FedEx Canada, most of the exports destined for foreign nations other than the U.S. are routed first through FedEx terminals in the U.S. Foster, in a separate deposition she underwent as part of Ghany’s litigation, confirms that the B13A-eligible shipments outlined in the GTS Update “go to the U.S.” prior to being transported to their final destinations.

That fact, the Customs official says, creates a whole other set of potential problems on the U.S. Side of the border, where self-regulation is the guiding hand.

The U.S. Customs officials explains:

You are looking into a truly bottomless pit. First, the shipper has to be honest. Then, the common carrier, say FedEx, has to be honest. All of the employees at both companies have to be honest; no one can be bribed, because generally, all it takes is one person taking a bribe to fiddle with the paperwork. Self-regulation does not work for precisely this reason. You only need one weak link, and that criminal doesn't have to be a boss, or a senior manager; it can be a clerk in the shipping office.

“Gaping Hole”

In the case of controlled goods exported from Canada and destined for the U.S., there is no requirement for a B13A filing under Canadian law. That’s because Canada and the U.S. have in place a memorandum of understanding that calls for each nation to exchange import data.

However, major criticisms have been raised about U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s reliance on self-regulation under programs such as “C-TPAT,” which allows qualifying private-sector companies to oversee their own shipment security. In exchange, these C-TPAT-approved companies are granted a reduction in cargo examinations as well as expedited processing when their shipments are selected for examination.

The rational for such programs is that it allows U.S. border enforcers to better allocate scarce resources toward monitoring the immense volume of goods moved by shippers who have not been prescreened through C-TPAT and similar self-regulation programs.

Over the first six months of fiscal 2009, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, goods shipped via C-TPAT and a sister program called Importer Self Assessment (ISA), accounted for about half of all U.S. import value for the period — some $454 billion worth of goods.

The Washington, D.C.-based Project on Government Oversight (POGO), in a letter sent to members of Congress late last year, pointed out some serious flaws in this self-regulation model.

From the POGO letter:

In our efforts to further this mission, we want to bring to your attention two troubling self-policing programs—the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) and Importer Self-Assessment (ISA) programs—administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Inherent in this sort of self-regulation is a reduction of federal oversight of imported goods coming into the country. POGO believes that self-regulation programs, by their very nature, are unsound because they are not objective or reliable, and that they are ripe for abuse, placing U.S. citizens in jeopardy.

… Specifically, POGO has received insider information that importers non-compliant with trade laws and regulations have been approved and are applying for the C-TPAT and ISA programs.

… It must also be noted that a number of the known C-TPAT companies have committed serious trade violations in the past, yet have been granted membership into C-TPAT and ISA, without testing to verify their problems have been corrected.

…. It is easy to conclude that all of these programs are, in part, the result of limited resources to monitor the hundreds of billions of dollars of goods that enter the U.S. each year. However, the risk inherent with that strategy becomes a financial, security, and safety issue.

Although CBP does not make public the list of companies participating in C-TPAT or ISA, POGO was able to identify a number of those firms via government and company Web sites. Among the companies in the program, according to POGO, are BP America, Tektronix, Target Corp. and FedEx.

Singh concedes he does not yet know how FedEx Canada knew about the 20,000 or so shipments lacking the proper B13A filings, or when they discovered the problem. However, he contends that the confidential FedEx Canada GTS Update report now entered into evidence in Ghany’s lawsuit -- even though it is some four years old -- is not an isolated document and that FedEx has been tracking this data across multiple years.

“We haven't gone for discoveries as yet,” Singh says. “But my client did tell me that there were status reports every year and FedEx obviously knew of these shortcomings.”

For its part, FedEx Canada is not conceding the GTS Update is or is not part of a regular reporting regime, nor that the report included in the lawsuit was even seen by the company’s top management.

Whether the nearly 20,000 exports that left Canada absent the proper export declaration, per the GTS Update, are part of a continuing pattern or not, or whether some of those shipments might have contained materials destined for a foreign arms program, is simply not known at this point.

However, according to former U.S. Customs supervisory special agent Conrad, the questions raised by the Ghany case are not new.

“All of us in law enforcement that dealt with technology theft from the U.S. by the old USSR were aware that high-speed, efficient organizations such as FedEx ... were problems because of their need to move things through the system faster than the government could [track it],” Conrad says. “That is still the case today.

“It is it a huge gaping hole. ... The bad guys are always thinking of ways and means to beat us.”

Stay tuned.....

A Modest Proposal for Improving a Dull Game

From The Wall Street Journal ( ):

JULY 10, 2010
A Modest Proposal for Improving a Dull Game
Use your hands, dummies. Also, add body slams, get rid of useless nil-nil ties and play on an extremely steep slope. With a few modifications, soccer could become hugely popular world-wide.

Dear International Soccer Officials, Participants and Fans,

Congratulations on a terrific World Dish or World Platter or whatever you've been having. It's very interesting, compared to curling. There's lots of falling down and a ball that's big enough for me to see on my old analog TV with converter box (which makes golf look like weed trimming and hockey appear to be two gangs of overfed, angry figure skaters).

You've got the makings of a great sport with this soccer or, as I believe you call it, "foosball." With a few modifications it could become highly popular globally.

I have one suggestion: Use your hands, dummies. Is this something that you simply forget to do? I recall from being beaten up in the schoolyard that sometimes the bully gets so involved in kicking that he fails to remember to punch too. Or is using your hands something that hasn't occurred to you? In the sport of "kick-the-can," for instance, there's no particular reason for the winning player not to run in and toss the can instead of giving it the boot. True, kicking something generally makes a more satisfying sound than throwing it (the shot put excepted). But is it worth ruining a whole athletic contest for the sake of a sound effect?

In case you hadn't noticed, the goalies on your teams use their hands all the time. Hardly anybody ever scores a goal in soccer so obviously this works. And Uruguay's Luis Suarez, who plays the position of "thwacker" or "slacker" or something, used his hands to defeat Ghana and was carried off the field in triumph. (Why a triumph over Ghana was a cause for celebration I'm not sure. Poor Ghana has been triumphed over by British, Portuguese, German, Dutch and Danish colonialists, the Kwame Nkrumah regime, a CIA-sponsored coup and at least four other coups just since the 1900s. But I guess this is a separate question from why people don't use their hands in soccer.)

Your fingers don't seem to be otherwise engaged while you're playing. I could understand the hands-off business if you were carrying an egg in a spoon down the field or if, like me when I play soccer with my kids in the backyard, you were holding a beer and a cigar. Maybe, being foreigners, you need both hands free at all times to gesticulate wildly at referees or, if you're French, at your coach. Take a tip from American basketball players and learn some dirty words.

I've also been told that in soccer it is actually against the rules to slam into an opposing player for the deliberate purpose of doing him bodily harm. Why? Anyone who's spent an hour with Dr. Freud (a hands-on fellow himself) can tell you that sport is a sublimation of fighting. That's how we got into sports, with the ancient Greek Olympic games. Every four years the Greeks would take time out from fighting to wrestle. True, soccer isn't the only sport where bodily contact is prohibited. There's croquet, tennis, most track and field events and the aforementioned golf. But think how much more lively all these sports would be if they involved late hits, full nelsons and round-house rights. Picture, if you will, contact pole-vaulting. On the other hand, imagine the deadly dullness of Nascar if no car ever crashed.

And let's talk about soccer scores. There are a few things that people all around the world need to admit to themselves. Trade restraints slow economic growth, the euro is not a reserve currency and scoreless sports ties are boring. What if there were a World Series where no team got a run? What if, during March Madness, Indiana were able to advance to the Final Four without making a basket? (Although this idea might find some support at IU lately.)

"Nil-nil" is not a sports score, "nil-nil" is a foreign policy. Judging by the many successes of the United Nations, it's a foreign policy favored by the majority of the world's foreign countries. Of course nil-nil is not an American foreign policy, or wasn't until we got a president with a suspiciously foreign name. Americans like to win. And, come on global sports fans, you like to win too. In this one respect you're all Americans at heart. So knock it off with the whole "everybody's a loser" soccer thing.

Personally, I think it has to do with World War I. Nobody could decide who had really won and everybody had to have another whole World War to figure it out. What with millions of dead and all, winning got a bad name. The Europeans, especially, just gave up on winning. I'll bet that before World War I there were soccer matches with scores of 105 to 97 or, anyway, 8 to 3. Get over it. It's just soccer. No fire bombing of Dresden is involved. Go ahead and kick (or throw) that ball into the net and win big. Hitler won't get re-elected to the Reichstag if Germany loses.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm a soccer booster, a soccer enthusiast. Soccer is becoming more and more popular in the United States because I—like most American parents—can't do a damn thing to stop it. I have three young children enrolled in a progressive school. I attend between four and eight soccer games a week. (Vodka in my Vitaminwater helps.) There's soccer season, indoor soccer, soccer clinic, soccer day camp, soccer sleep-away camp and midnight soccer to help children from the nearby big city avoid a life of crime.

Like it or not, I've come to appreciate soccer. Any kid can play, which fits with the inclusive agenda of progressive schools. Although the corollary to any kid can play is that every kid must play because there is an iron grip to the warm hug of progressive inclusionism. Hence the vodka in my Vitaminwater. But it's good that there's a sport where kids don't need to be freakishly tall or massively strong or gifted with triathlon masochism. It's particularly good for me because I want my kids to play sports. That is, I want them out of the house so I can have the computer back. But my children possess body types best suited to contract bridge and even after 10,000 hours of computer games their hand-eye coordination is barely up to operating a light switch.

Ah-hah! Maybe that's what soccer's manual abstention is about. Perhaps foot-eye coordination is more widely distributed among humans than hand-eye coordination. This seems entirely possible. I've seen my kids poke themselves in the eye with their own thumbs. I've never seen my kids poke themselves in the eye with their toes.

Anyway, they all play soccer. I enjoy watching them run around like maniacs. It raises hope for a compliant bedtime. And I enjoy watching foreigners run around like maniacs in the World Cup and Saucer. I specifically enjoy watching the Europeans run around. Being happily married it's not that I'm hoping for any European bedtime compliance. But when I'm in Europe no one seems to be moving very fast. When I go to the Brasserie Lipp the maitre d' most certainly doesn't run to find me a place to sit down and eat. And when I am seated the waiter doesn't exactly hustle with my food. I understand that Hillary Clinton is having some of the same trouble getting Iran sanctions on the table. It's nice to see that something can build a fire under Europeans.

Naturally my children play a much more fascinating game of soccer than the Europeans and other foreigners do. For one thing my children give me someone in the game to yell at. Having once been a foreign correspondent I've given up on yelling at foreigners. They pretend not to understand. As an American I remain convinced that English, if spoken loudly enough, can be understood by anyone, but yelling doesn't affect foreigners. Yelling doesn't affect my children either, but at least I can take them home and yell at them some more in the comfort of my own kitchen, which I can't do with foreigners. "It's a ball game! You play it with a ball, not with a finger up your nose!" (This advice did not, by the way, work with the French soccer team.)

There's a lot that international soccer could learn from watching American kid soccer. If somebody's really bad at the game they get extra encouragement. So let North Korea win every so often. It might quit acting out in a plea for attention.

I wonder if international soccer coaches have considered instituting the "cluster kick." This is a popular play with my 6-year-old's team. Every player, regardless of the position that he or she is supposed to be playing, descends on the ball in a horde furiously attempting to get a leg in. It combines the most picturesque elements of rugby scrum, mosh pit and 2 a.m. brawl in an Irish pub. It is a crowd-pleaser. You never know where the ball is going to go. Frequently it goes into some distant neighbor's backyard. This would add an element of suspense to the Netherlands-Spain game.

Speaking of wayward soccer balls, have any international soccer teams tried playing indoors in a progressive school's small gym that also serves as the arts and crafts room and yoga studio? The 8-foot ceiling moves soccer into a third dimension. Parents often have to swat away for dear life with rolled-up yoga mats. And sometimes a student sculpture celebrating multicultural sustainability and made from glued-together biodegradable packaging of many nations is smashed to bits.

If the international soccer establishment is still intent, despite my warnings, on keeping scores down, it can do what our school does. When one team (invariably the visitors) gets too far ahead we quit keeping score. Usually this happens after the other side has made about 10 goals, so you could still get your score boards into double digits. A scoring moratorium keeps feelings from being hurt. And from what I've seen of your games over the past few weeks, hurt feelings abound.

There are many other ways that you could make soccer more attractive and engaging. For example, play it on an extremely steep slope. This did wonders for the luge. Remember how people were suddenly paying much more attention to luge events in the last Winter Olympics? And I know that international soccer is not at all averse to innovation. The vuvuzela is a brilliant stroke. One of my soccer-playing children is a 12-year-old girl. The sound of vuvuzelas is a huge improvement over the squeals of 12-year-old girls, let alone the Lady Gaga tunes leaking out of their ear buds.

There is, however, the possibility that the powers-that-be in international soccer have no interest in creating more excitement, that their entire aim and purpose is to increase the tedium in the sport. In that case I suggest you encourage your players to do as my daughter and her teammates do and wear their iPods throughout the game.

But I don't believe this is what you want for soccer. The purpose of sports—even foreign sports—is not to bore people. Boredom can be so easily obtained. Hunger, exhaustion from making a living and authoritarian governments that ban the fun parts of the Internet provide it free in most of the world. And here in America we just have kids and send them to progressive schools.

Soccer matches should be something special, something people eagerly look forward to, something that brightens life. You're almost there. Just use your hands, introduce some full-body blocking, expand the goal area, break up the game a little so that people have time to go to the bathroom between plays and maybe change the shape of the ball slightly so it's easier to carry. Now you've got a sport.

Oliver Stone and the politics of film-making

Oliver Stone and the politics of film-making
There's no let-up for Hollywod's most controversial director – the sequel to Wall Street, a documentary about Hugo Chávez and his most ambitious and personal project to date, the secret history of America
Carole Cadwalladr
The Observer, Sunday 18 July 2010

Oliver Stone is a man's man. Of this I have no doubt before meeting him. Not just because of his status as a sort of latter-day Ernest Hemingway, an action man with a reputation for women and drugs who won the Purple Heart for bravery in Vietnam, and then an Oscar for reproducing his experiences on celluloid. But because the most compelling sequences from his latest film, a documentary called South of the Border, show him hanging out with Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, chewing the cud about politics and war, talking very much mano a mano.

It's an impression that's reinforced moments before I meet him in his Los Angeles office when the photographer appears and shows me some of the portraits he's taken. They're slightly startling because Stone has a new moustache, a big, bristling, Zapata number, and in the tiny digital frame on the back of the camera, he looks like it's him who really ought to be dressed in military fatigues and running his own small South American regime.

Then he ambles in, distractedly. "Suzie!" he calls to his assistant. "Where are my glasses? I think I've lost my glasses."

We both look at him. He has one pair of glasses on the top of his head. And another pair on a piece of cord around his neck.

"They're on your head," says Suzie.

"Do you think you could go and look for them? They're very valuable to me."

Suzie hesitates and then, having seemingly witnessed this sort of situation before, says: "OK!" and disappears out the room. Two minutes later, Stone puts his hand to his head. "Suzie! I've found them! They were on my head!"

Suzie reappears at the door. "I know," she says. "I told you."

"Did you? Jesus! What, now I can't even hear?"

It's a rather nice surprise, this. The bumbling, the self-accusation, the absentmindedness. On paper, he's so much the alpha male that, as one interviewer put it: "One expects to find antler stubs under his thatch of suspiciously too-black hair." As well as his war record, there are his various arrests for possession of drugs, as well as his well-rehearsed views on monogamy ("unnatural"). But, mostly, there's the work.

There seems an almost hyper-masculinity to Stone's oeuvre. He's the director of Platoon, one of the most highly rated Vietnam films of all time, a film that was based on his experience. The war spawned a further two films, Born on the Fourth of July and Heaven & Earth. He made one of the most violent and controversial films of the 90s, Natural Born Killers. And he's had a fascination with some of the most powerful men on earth, having made films about no fewer than three American presidents: the Oscar-winning JFK, Nixon and, most recently, W, about George W Bush.

In the flesh, however, he's more like an amiable professor. There's a sort of otherworldly air of distraction and he reminds me of one of those old-fashioned Marxist academics who have now all but disappeared. Although he's not a Marxist, he has a strictly Stoneist view of the world and to this end he has facts, figures, theses, arguments, names, dates, an entire view not just of contemporary politics but also history.

But one of the most appealing aspects of Stone is the sheer depth and breadth of his interests and ambition. In addition to tackling socialism (and how Chávez has fanned its flames across South America) in South of the Border, he has also, this year, taken on capitalism in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the much-awaited return this September of Gordon Gekko to a Wall Street where greed isn't just good, it's legal. Two films, two ideological systems, and yet this pales in the face of his next project: a 10-part documentary series for HBO, Oliver Stone's Secret History of America.

He's right in the throes of it. "It's my big project. It's something I want to leave behind. And we're now in the third fucking year of it," he says. "It's a war. They're in that room next door working on it right now. It's an ongoing odyssey."

It's a truly massive project, a personal mission, the encapsulation seemingly of all that Oliver Stone has thought and read and felt in the 63 years of his life so far, and by the end of the interview I feel slightly anxious about it on his behalf. After all, Stone's passion projects haven't always ended well. Platoon did. It was the film that he had to make, a heavily autobiographical account of his Vietnam war, "a grunt's-eye view", and won him his second Oscar (his first was for writing the screenplay of Midnight Express). But Alexander, his magnum opus, a biopic of Alexander the Great that he at one point calls "his life's work", was savaged by the critics.

The reception of South of the Border in the States is, I imagine, a small taste of what is to come. If Platoon was a grunt's-eye view of war, South of the Border is a leftie's-eye view of South America and he's spent the last few weeks fighting off criticism: that he's a patsy; a Chávista; that he didn't speak to any of the opposition figures. "But that wasn't what we set out to do!" says Stone. "I let him talk. That way you see him as he sees himself. It's a psychiatrist's technique."

It's interesting that he brings this up. He's been in analysis three times, he tells me later. But the biggest surprise about Oliver Stone, and perhaps his greatest contradiction, is that for somebody who is such a doer, who has such a relentless drive to work, who has done and accomplished so much, who started his career writing scripts for Scarface and Midnight Express and has gone on to direct nearly 20 feature films and several documentaries – is that he's also an introvert and a self-critical one at that.

He can quote, verbatim, unfavourable reviews he's received years after the event. More than this, there's an introspective aspect to his nature that is quite at odds with the macho persona. And, for all the argument and theorising, it becomes apparent that Stone is a creature of his emotions. He makes the films he does because he feels he has to. Many of his career decisions seem to be motivated not by good sense, money or the esteem of his peers – he's driven by something far more internal than that.

In an old interview, Stone once said that his films are an "emotional barometer" for him. The violence of Natural Born Killers came out of the anger and sadness he felt when his second wife and mother of his two sons, Elizabeth, left him. So, I wonder, what attracted him to the competing issues at stake in South of the Border and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps?

"My father was a Republican. And he hated Roosevelt. And that's sort of been the battle of my life, I think. You have to understand that I grew up a Republican conservative. I hated Castro. And I put my money where my mouth was because I went to war, but I understood pretty quickly that this was another place, another culture, and we would never fit in there.

"It's the same story in Afghanistan, Iraq and South America. It's white people meeting people who they think they are better than. And I feel that this war is the war of my life. I've seen it over and over again and if I can do one thing with what's left of my remaining years, it's just to cry it out and say it, I hope, with enough entertainment that people will want see it."

In this context, South of the Border is simply another variant on this, his life's work. What the film makes clear is how much of a bogeyman Chávez is in the United States. The first half of the film, a not-altogether-successful Michael Moore-esque homily, features clips from the US news media (or "the missile shield", as Stone refers to it) with Fox News declaring that Chávez is "as big a threat as Osama bin Laden".

It's in the second half that the film comes to life, though, where Stone meets Chávez. "I liked him. He's very warm and very gracious. And he's a bear. I've always said that if he looked like Woody Allen he'd play a lot better with the world press. I think men are threatened by his physicality."

The affection seems to be mutual. At one point, standing on a runway in the dark, Chávez points to a building where he was imprisoned during a coup and where some of his men lost their lives. "As an ex-soldier I understand," says Stone and Chávez rests his hand upon his shoulder.

Making a documentary "was the last thing I wanted to do," says Stone. "It was Fernando Sulichin who I worked with on Comandante [the 2003 documentary of Stone interviewing Fidel Castro] and who is funding Secret History who suckered me in. And we went and we talked to Chávez and he said, 'Don't just take my word for it; go and talk to these other presidents.' So that's what we did, we went on this road trip." He jaunts off and chews coca and talks socialism with Bolivia's Evo Morales and meets Brazil's Lula da Silva, Paraguay's Fernando Lugo, Ecuador's Rafael Correa and Cuba's Raúl Castro. "The result," says Stone, "is this weird little thing. What is it? It's not a documentary."

It is, just not an entirely sane one, with two halves that don't quite fit together, but it's still a fascinating glimpse of Chávez and an overview of a massive popular movement on one of the largest continents of the world.

"I'm not an interviewer, I'm a director. And I go to these places and take advantage of the status that I have as a film-maker and can treat the person like an equal. And I'm not hostile. I give them face time. We don't even know the names of these guys in the United States."

Fundamentally, Oliver Stone is doing it his way because he can and because he's spent his life doing things his way. He's as idiosyncratic as they come, jumping from genre to genre, from indie documentaries to studio blockbusters. Hitting spectacularly with some (he's won three Oscars), missing spectacularly with others (Nixon, like Alexander, was brutally panned). He's always been impossible to pigeonhole, to predict quite where he'll go next.

There are high hopes for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. I rewatch Wall Street on the plane over and enjoy it as much as I did when I first saw it years ago. It's completely of its time – mobile phones the size of breeze blocks, an array of kitchen equipment so dazzling it gets its own special sequence (I give you the microwave and the hand-held blender). But it has stood the test of time.

Released in 1987, it was a brilliant, prescient taste of what was to come: the crash later that year; the insider trading scandals. I also spot Stone in a cameo I hadn't noticed before. He's plays a moneyman, a financier.

"I was playing my father, Lou," he says. And, had the 60s and Vietnam not blown him off course, it's what Stone might very well have become. It was what he was born to. His father was a stockbroker, who met Oliver's French mother in Paris during the second world war. Stone had a privileged, if emotionally austere, upbringing at an east coast boarding school. His mother was often absent and then disappeared altogether: aged 15, his headmaster called him into his office and informed him that his parents were getting divorced.

He went to Yale – he was in the same year as George Bush – and it's here that his conventional, bourgeois upbringing breaks down. He dropped out, deciding first to try to write a novel and then to enlist.

I read a quote, I say, where he says that he felt he wouldn't be properly human if he didn't know what war was. "There was something bugging me," he says. "Yale was a problem for me. I was not a happy young man. I didn't feel good in my skin. I'm glad I left but it was very painful at the time. My father thought I was pissing away my life. I was becoming an infantry soldier and I was going to become one of life's unfortunates. I wasn't going to amount to much. He was worried. And frankly so was I."

You've spent the rest of your life proving him wrong? "In a way, although it took me years. Coming back from Vietnam was extremely difficult. My father did, towards the end of his life, believe that Vietnam was a mistake, but we had many, many fights about it."

What would your father have made of the Wall Street of the last few years? I ask. "Look, he was pissed off when we left the gold standard in '73, although'73 is actually very interesting. It's a really crucial year, because the income of the average working man flattened out in '73 and never went up in spending ability. But meanwhile the productivity of America went up like this. Where did that money go? It went to CEOs and stock holders. It went to the banks."

The most remarkable aspect of Wall Street was that the villain of the piece, Gordon Gekko, became a hero to a new generation of moneymen. Michael Douglas claims that he's unable to go out for dinner in New York without having a hedge fund manager slap him on the back and thank him for inspiring him to enter Wall Street.

But if the first film was an old-fashioned, rite-of-passage story about a young man, Bud Fox, corrupted by greed, is there a take-home message from Wall Street 2?

"It's a fun movie, an entertaining movie. The first one I think you'd say is a morality tale and I think this one is too. In the sense of what is important? Are there more important values than money?"

Were you wary of glamourising it, given what happened to Gekko?

"It's 23 years on and greed will go on for the rest of times. And envy. Envy plays a big role in this film too. If you pass all the regulations in the world, they'll try and get around that. I have no problem with people wanting to make money. But don't make the banks into hedge funds, which is what they did.

"There's something Douglas says in the movie. He says that in 2008, of the corporate profits in the US, 47% were from finance-related companies. In the old America, it was 17%. It became the main business of America. We became a giant casino."

There is a father and son at the heart of the first Wall Street, as there is in much of Stone's work. It's a relationship that has clearly preoccupied him. But Lou Stone was perhaps not your standard, uptight New York stockbroker: he paid for Stone to lose his virginity to a prostitute at the age of 16. Stone has raised two sons himself now – Sean, 26, and Michael, 18. Has that made him see his father differently?

"Sure, but even before I had my sons, I was very father-oriented. He was a very powerful man. But you must remember my mother was very powerful too."

Ah yes, his mother. Jacqueline Goddet met Lou Stone when he was working as an aide to Eisenhower. She does sound like an extraordinary character, I say. "She still is – she's 88 and a party animal. She loves people and they love her. She called me the other night and she'd been out on the 4th of July weekend until two in the morning."

Perhaps Stone's greatest exploration of his relationship with his mother is in his novel, A Child's Night Dream. He started writing it when he was 17 and returned to it at 50, a period that he refers to as his midlife crisis. "I'd been criticised and loved, and criticised and loved, I mean, really, extremely… Nixon had just come out and had flopped. And I loved Nixon. I thought it was one of my more mature works and it had not been well-received. But it didn't matter. I returned to the book. I knew that it would never have a big circulation, but it mattered to me and I got it out. I just stopped making films for two years and basically did that. I think I lost my way and I felt like the book was putting me back."

Was writing the novel a way of reckoning with the past and in particular his mother? After all, there is a character called Oliver Stone who is sexually obsessed with his mother… "Yeah, well, there were two Stones, William and Oliver; they were two sides to me. But, yes that's correct. There was no incest, but my mother was very French and very free. It wasn't a big deal to walk around naked in the house and stuff like that."

I tell him about an extraordinary quote I have found from her a few years ago, where his mother says" "Oliver didn't just love me. He was in love with me."

"Is that right?" he says. "Ha, ha, ha. Well, she was a great tease. If that's the case, it's a classic Freudian case, the frustrations of an Oedipus complex. The son wants the mother but never gets her because she's the first woman in his life."

"Does that make sense to you?" I ask. "The Freudian explanation?"

"Absolutely. Your mother's body is the first thing you know and, frankly, it's very attractive and it turns you on. But you don't know what to do so it's a tremendous puzzle."

Usually, when an interviewer discovers something interesting about a subject, it's repeated in every article thereafter, but I find only one piece from the mid-90s, an interview with Elizabeth Stone, in which she claims that it was his mother who initiated him sexually. She says that Jacqueline had told her: "He couldn't relax and I had to show him."

"It's not clear," the interviewer goes on, "from detailed interviews with Elizabeth, Oliver and his mother, Jacqueline, what actually occurred. Elizabeth claims that Jacqueline Stone touched her teenage son's genitals and masturbated him. Jacqueline heatedly denies it."

So, I ask him straight out: "Did your mother teach you how to masturbate?"

"Well, I can't live with denial – sure."

"She physically showed you?"

"It was no big deal. It's not English. It's French. It was no big deal. I wasn't attracted to her. You have to understand. After a certain point, I grew up and I moved on. And I've had successful relations – with everybody!"

He says this a joke, but it's also true. He is a self-confessed womaniser. Elizabeth, his second wife, (his first, Najwa Sarkis, was Lebanese ) is said to have left him after having finally run out of patience with his extramarital dalliances. "It's on the record," says Stone. "And I don't like to lie. That's bullshit. It's not a big deal… I'm not running for office."

The Asian mentality is very different, he says, to the Anglo-Saxon one. "That's why I loved Asia when I was young. When I went over there, it was a revelation. I could never quite come back. I always had difficulties readjusting to the Anglo-Saxon mentality with women."

It is why his third wife, Sun-jung Jung, understands him, he says. "She's cool. She's Korean. Different mentality. Mutual respect… she laughs and trills and she sings when she speaks. I love the sound of her voice."

Their daughter, Tara, is 14. "She's part of that new generation, Asian-American. We're really going through it now. I mean, she's 14 – she does respect me but she does give me a hard time. But it's fun. She's smart. We go to the movies. She loves talking about movies."

Has having a daughter changed his attitude to women? "Yes it has. It's harder to be blind. Sometimes, you have to be blind to jump into some of these things, but when you see your daughter in some of these women… you see the human side more clearly than before."

I wonder aloud whether his relationship with his daughter will inform his female characters. His films have always seemed to me to be explorations of masculinity, of male relationships, in one form or another, but then his world, for years, was male. He was an only child and incarcerated for years in an all-male boarding school, before going to an all-male Yale. Discovering women in Vietnam, he says, he felt like Gauguin in the South Seas. "They were these ripe fruits."

He starts reciting his female characters, finishing with Olympias, Alexander's mother. It is abundantly clear from everything he says that Alexander was the project of his life. "It was. That's why I went back three years later and did a third version of it. If you could ever see it – it's the right version of it. The editing was rushed… I was never able to… frankly it's a complicated vision and I'm fighting to get it recirculated. In England, there is a release of it, but it's very little known because it was so slagged at the time. It was very painful to me."

Of all the films, it's his most autobiographical, he says. That's a strange statement given that its subject concerns the greatest emperor who ever lived, but then he is also the vulnerable son of all-powerful parents. He first dreamt of making it as a film student, he says, and it was during that midlife period of reflection that he came back to it again.

"I remember feeling like I had lost my way. The book was important and so was Alexander. I do think that there is the idea what you are when you're young, you must stay faithful to something in there."

This is one of his core beliefs. His teenage years are still the crucible of Oliver Stoneness on which he draws. They were so extreme, in almost every way. From the emotional barrenness of boarding school ("For years, I thought it was a disaster; it had taken the love out of my life; there was no sense of humanity"), those odd experience with his parents and sexuality, through the privilege of Yale and finally, apocalyptically, Vietnam. You really don't need to be a Freudian to read something into this. His ex-wife, Elizabeth, has put it more bluntly: "That little boy didn't stand any chance of any normal sort of life."

He's an assiduous diary-keeper and regularly rereads ancient entries to check up on himself. In 2000, he even decided to relive the acid trips of his youth. Under the supervision of three psychoanalysts, he sat on a mat, put an eyemask on and took LSD. It lasted nine hours and was, he says, because he wanted to relive past experiences with the drug "under more scientific conditions".

He's gone through various stages of taking drugs, mostly psychedelic ones. "Heavy trips," he calls them – in Oliver Stone there's a small part of the 60s that never died. He tells me about being "frightened to death" on one of them. So why did he do it? "Because of the adventure."

Ah yes. The adventure. That other Oliver Stone hallmark. His cousin James says that Stone went to war because: "Anything he could do to be at the edge, and to experience more than other people had experienced, and to shock, he was likely to do. It was consistent for him to want to experience the most intense thing that was going on then in the world."

Even now, there seems to be no letting up. The hell-raising days may be over – although I wouldn't bank on it – but there still seems to be this lust for experience, as evidenced by South of the Border. At an age where most men might start thinking about golf, Stone is chasing socialists across South America.

He's as committed as he ever has been, if not more so. Politically, workaholically. There's still a relentless drive to work, work, work. It's coming up to 9pm by the time I leave his office and nobody seems to be making a move to go home. His film editor has been waiting patiently for him in the room next door, ready to attack yet another section of Oliver Stone's Secret History of America. There's another documentary on Castro to come – the third part of his trilogy. He'd like to do an update to his novel, he says, some sort of epilogue. There are the final edits on Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. And then there's South of the Border to launch in London. And defend from attacks all over again.

I fear for Oliver Stone's Secret History of America. Oliver Stone will do it Oliver Stone's way, whatever the critics think. He exhibits an artist's singlemindedness, an ideologue's obduracy. If his ambition occasionally exceeds his talent, it's not because his talent is small, but that his ambition is so very, very large. The Alexander comparison is really not as far-fetched as it might seem: he really is trying to remould the world according to his vision. Watch out, world.

Oliver Stone: US should nationalize oil resources
Oliver Stone: US should nationalize oil resources
RAPHAEL G. SATTER, Associated Press Writer
Tue Jul 20, 2010

LONDON – The Gulf of Mexico oil spill shows that the United States should follow the example of South American socialists in nationalizing its energy industry, filmmaker Oliver Stone said Tuesday.

The Academy Award-winning director of "Born on the Fourth of July" and "JFK" said that America's country's natural wealth was too important to be left in private hands, telling journalists in central London that oil and other natural resources "belong to the people."

"This BP oil spill is typical" of what happens when private industry is allowed to draw revenue on what should be a public good, Stone said.

"We shouldn't make this kind of profit on oil or on health or on war or on prisons. All these industries should be public industries."

Stone, 63, is in the British capital to promote his documentary, "South of the Border," which tells the story of firebrand Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his left-wing Latin American allies.

The 75-minute film is meant to draw attention to the social improvements ushered in by Chavez, who has nationalized vast swaths of Venezuela's economy, including important parts of the oil sector and big chunks of the banking, electric and steel industries. Bolivian leader Evo Morales, also interviewed by Stone for the documentary, has similarly expanded the state's control over the country's energy infrastructure.

Critics of the film accuse Stone of painting a fawning portrait of the Venezuelan leader, saying the documentary ignores Venezuela's opposition — which human rights groups say is being squeezed by Chavez's increasingly authoritarian leadership and a crackdown on private media.

Stone accused critics of "nitpicking."

The director occasionally wandered off-topic during the press conference, discussing Latin American history, sharing his thoughts about President Barack Obama (who he dismissed as "Bush not-so-lite") and musing about the possibility of making a film about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

"I don't know, that's a hot potato for me," Stone said when asked whether a movie about Ahmedinejad was in the works. "Obviously he's got bad press in the West."

"South of the Border" had its U.K. premier Monday at the Curzon Cinema in central London.

Chavez "communes" stoke Venezuela democracy debate
Chavez "communes" stoke Venezuela democracy debate
Pascal Fletcher
CARACAS | Thu Jul 15, 2010

(Reuters) - Tucked into forested hills in southwest Caracas, a red-brick housing complex for the poor is a testing ground for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's latest step to build socialism in the Latin American oil producer.

The phalanx of simple five-storey apartment blocks, some still being built, anchors the "Cacique Tiuna Commune". This is one of a network of "socialist communes" that Chavez and his supporters want to extend across the nation in a political and legislative offensive to dismantle "bourgeois" capitalism.

Not surprisingly in a country whose politics is as flammable as gasoline, the project enshrined in a package of "power to the people" laws is stoking a political firestorm.

Fueling the political debate is the proximity of legislative elections on September 26.

The government says the communes will help end poverty. But furious opponents, who already denounce Chavez as a repressive autocrat, say the initiative heralds outright communism in Venezuela and so violates its pluralist constitution.

"A barrier is being crossed ... we're passing from Chavez's tropical socialism to open and glaring communism," says Emilio Grateron, mayor of Chacao, an opposition stronghold entrenched in a more wealthy eastern neighborhood of Caracas.

Displaying colorful murals of Venezuela's 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, and one of Argentine guerrilla legend Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the 2,220-inhabitant Cacique Tiuna Commune is conceived as a showcase "socialist" community among the dirt-poor hilltop slums that hem in the capital.

Chavez and the laws' promoters deny the communes project is a bid to railroad the country into Soviet- or Cuban-style Marxism. They say the legislation is compatible with the 1999 Constitution and follows socialist goals of ending decades of inequality in Venezuela and giving more say to the poor in the running of their own lives and that of the country.

"We're headed for socialism here, I haven't deceived anyone," the combative Venezuelan leader told his ruling PSUV party in a meeting this week. He blasted local Roman Catholic bishops who have criticized the communes program, calling them "troglodytes" and "fascists".

Chavez says the bishops and business "oligarchs", media tycoons and foreign "imperialists" who populate his full pantheon of ideological foes are misrepresenting the communes project as a pretext to destabilize his government.

The former soldier survived a brief coup in 2002. Opponents say he is conjuring up fake threats to throw a smokescreen over his failure to turn around the deteriorating economy and put a brake on rampant violent crime.

In the upcoming elections, opponents are expected to dent the National Assembly majority of Chavez's PSUV, which has been shaken by a scandal over the discovery of thousands of tonnes of rotten government-managed foodstuffs and polls showing weak public backing for more socialism and expropriations.

Chavez is still popular in his 11th year of rule, but his support is under strain as the economy slumps. It contracted 5.8 percent in the first quarter of this year and inflation is persistently high at an annualized rate of 31 percent in June.


Chavez's searing leftist rhetoric and his investor-scalding track record of strategic oil, industry and mining nationalizations have made him an anti-capitalist and anti-U.S. standard bearer in Latin America and the world.

The largely pro-Chavez National Assembly has initially approved the communes bill and some related laws. A second final approval is pending, and supporters say they hope this can happen before the elections.

"We're talking about government by the people," said Ulises Daal, a pro-Chavez parliament deputy and one of the main promoters of the project. He says the legislative plan to set up self-sustaining, self-governing "socialist communes" builds on the existence of some 36,000 Chavez-inspired "communal councils" that already dot the country.

Daal said 214 communes were already "under construction". Some have introduced barter markets and their own currencies.

Grateron and other opposition mayors have launched a noisy counter-offensive. They say Chavez is trying to force through by law a shift to all-out socialism he failed to introduce in a 2007 constitutional referendum that he narrowly lost, the only nationwide ballot he has not won.

Opponents single out the Communes Law's repeated references to "social" and "collective" ownership.

"It's a clear orientation toward the reduction and disappearance of private property," said Noel Alvarez, president of the Fedecamaras private business group.

However, the Communes Law text does say Venezuelans can "possess, use and enjoy individual and family property and patrimony", and Daal insisted that private property remained unaffected by the legislation and was guaranteed.


Neither ideological nor productive fervor were much visible at the Cacique Tiuna Commune, which boasts a plastics plant, a vegetable garden, a "socialist" carpentry shop and a plant nursery.

During a visit last week, the plastics plant was idled, the irrigated garden was awaiting "refinancing" to start and at the carpentry shop only a handful of laborers worked under the stern gaze of a mural depicting the historic Indian chief Tiuna after which the commune is named.

"The Comandante (Chavez) wants this to be a showcase community," said Yamilet Ramirez, the Commune's spokesperson. "The idea is that it should be self-supporting."

But the Cacique Tiuna commune seemed some way off its intended goal as a self-sustaining, self-governing community.

"People don't seem enthusiastic, they don't want to participate, I don't know why, since it's for them," said the head of the carpentry shop, Alexis Valdiviezo.

He himself did not have an apartment in the commune but was brought in six months ago by the Basic Industry Ministry to oversee the creation of a "socialist" carpentry network.

"I'm living in a hotel," said Valdiviezo, who said he had been promised an apartment in the commune by Chavez.

But for many of the commune inhabitants, the apartments, built with a primary school, a state MERCAL grocery and a soon-to-be opened high school, represent a huge improvement on their previous slum accommodation in hilltop shanties.

"We like it, of course ... this benefits all the people," said Ines Herrera, who works as a cleaner at the primary school. "There is a bit of apathy, but that's normal".

"No one here is shouting about Marx or Lenin," said Ramirez.


In the same way that Venezuela's oil income has bankrolled Chavez's socio-political projects over the last few years, a host of government ministries and their budgets are clearly heavily engaged in supporting the emerging communes.

A clause of the Communes Law stipulates that existing state governorships and municipal mayorships should make funds available to finance projects for the communes. This has led to worries by opposition mayors that the new structures will monopolize funds, accompanied by political discrimination.

The Commune Ministry's own information sheet on the Cacique Tiuna community notes among its weaknesses: "There were commune members who hold an ideology opposed to the government".

The legislation foresees each commune having its own parliament, elected in open assemblies, and a five-member council to ensure the execution of decisions taken. A Communal Bank, and communal justice system will also be created.

Critics say the creation of these parallel systems alongside existing state and local structures will generate confusion. "It's the frontier of chaos," Grateron said.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Rondon; Editing by Kieran Murray)