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Is the U.S. Republic ending? 8 striking parallels between the Fall of Rome and the U.S.

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Lawrence Lessig's Republic Lost documents the corrosive effect of money on our political process. Lessig persuasively makes the case that we are witnessing the loss of our republican form of government, as politicians increasingly represent those who fund their campaigns, rather than our citizens.

Anthony Everitt's Rise of Rome is fascinating history and a great read. It tells the story of ancient Rome, from its founding (circa 750 BCE) to the fall of the Roman Republic (circa 45 BCE).

When read together, striking parallels emerge -- between our failings and the failings that destroyed the Roman Republic. As with Rome just before the Republic's fall, America has seen:

1 -- Staggering Increase in the Cost of Elections, with Dubious Campaign Funding Sources: Our 2012 election reportedly cost $3 billion. All of it was raised from private sources - often creating the appearance, or the reality, that our leaders are beholden to special interest groups. During the late Roman Republic, elections became staggeringly expensive, with equally deplorable results. Caesar reportedly borrowed so heavily for one political campaign, he feared he would be ruined, if not elected.

Comment: Indeed, the similarities are so striking that this brief but succinct summation barely even scratches the surface. Stay tuned for the next volume of the 'Secret History of the World' series, in which Laura Knight-Jadczyk will be taking a close look at the Fall of Rome.


Light Saber

Defiant Iran to build 16 new nuclear power plants

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© file photo
A view of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran
The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announces that the Islamic Republic plans to construct 16 nuclear power plants.

"Following months of efforts, 16 new sites for nuclear power plants have been designated in coastal areas of the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Sea of Oman, [southwestern province of] Khuzestan and northwestern part of the country," the AEOI said on Saturday.

It added the projects are in line with Iran's long-term plans to develop electricity generation via nuclear power plants and in accordance with standard and international regulations.

The organization also said that Iran has discovered more uranium deposits to further improve its position among countries possessing nuclear technology.

Bulb

How to deal with Banksters: Iran sentences four to death in country's biggest ever case of banking fraud

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What's that, you want a bailout for gambling away other people's money? What we'll do instead is hear your confession then terminate your genetic line.
"Four people were sentenced to death on charges of corruption on earth and disrupting the country's economic system," Iran's Judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei told reporters on Monday.

"The four are Mahafarid Amir-Khosravi...[the prime suspect], Behdad Behzadi, his legal advisor, Iraj Shoja, his financial solicitor and Saeed Kiani Rezazadeh, head of the Ahvaz branch of Saderat Bank," he said.

"The president of Bank Melli branch in Kish was slapped with life imprisonment and former deputy minister Khodamorad Ahmadi was sentenced to 10 years in prison," Mohseni-Ejei, who is also Iran's attorney general, added.

Other defendants were handed down sentences varying from flogging to paying cash fines and being barred from public office, he said.

Mohseni-Ejei also stated that almost none of the companies involved in this case were ordered closed by the court.

Comment: It's an idea whose time has come in the West. The alternative is that we let the pressure continue to build and eventually bloodshed spills out in uncontrollable ways. Let's start with the Rothschilds and Goldman Sachs and work our way down...


Black Magic

Mother sentenced for dumping infant in snow bank to freeze to death, escapes prosecution for deaths of her two other infants

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Justice: Katie Stockton, 32, faces 60 years in prison for leaving Baby Crystal in a snowbank to freeze to death shortly after she was born
A rural Illinois woman has admitted that she wrapped her infant daughter in a plastic bag and dumped her in a snow bank in the dead of water to freeze to death.

Katie Stockton, 32, pleaded guilty to first degree murder in the death of Baby Crystal outside her home in Rockton, Illinois in December 2004.

However, she will likely avoid prosecution on two other infant daughters that were found dead in plastic bags in the truck of her car because detectives can't prove the babies were born alive.

Stockton had been carrying the skeletons of the babies in the trunk of her car when she was stopped for a traffic violation in 2008.

Police impounded her car, but did not search the vehicle discover the remains of the infants until 2009.

Light Saber

Industry Minister defends French workers after Titan Tyres insults

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© Airbus S.A.S 2013 - Photo by H. Goussé
Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg has stoutly defended French workers after an American tyre boss denounced them as "so-called workers" who "work just three hours"

He has written to Titan Tyres boss Maurice Taylor saying his comments were "as extreme as they were insulting" and reminded him that his fellow Americans were the biggest industrial investors in France. "In 2012 companies like Massey-Ferguson, Mars Chocolat and 3M chose to increase their presence in France."

The minister had initially refused to comment on the letter about workers at the Amiens Goodyear plant, which is closing as Goodyear cuts its French workforce by about 40%.

But in his reply he said that Mr Taylor's remarks "illustrated a perfect ignorance of our country," a country which had "solid attractions" and solid links with the US.

Chart Pie

Electricity bills to sky-rocket in France due to higher costs of nuclear plants and financing renewable energy

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© Photo: Kadmy - Fotolia.com
Electricity bills are set to rocket 30% from now until 2016 - with a large part of the increase being due to investment in developing renewable energy supplies.

The energy watchdog Commission de Régulation de l'Energie (CRE) has released projections showing that households will bear the brunt of the rise with a 30% increase in the tarif bleu for householders and small businesses, 23.7% for businesses on tarif jaune and 16% for tarif vert businesses.

Efforts to make renewable energy supply 23% of France's needs make up about one-third of the increase with the remainder for the building of new power supply networks and increasing power production. However, a boost could come from wind-power with the sector becoming less reliant on aid and able to contribute to the economy.

EDF chief executive Henri Proglio has said that he is going into negotiations with the government to renegotiate electricity prices and wanted a "reasonable rise in the years to come".

Horse

Practice of eating horses ancient but inconsistent

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© Christian Hartmann/Reuters
Dining on horsemeat -- hippophagy -- is culturally and historically significant, for good reason.

Everyone who seriously studies French or Italian food on scholarly (gluttonous) research trips eats horsemeat. Most every village in France, particularly the southwest and northern border regions with Belgium, and in Italy, particularly the northeast around Verona and Venice, will have a butcher shop specializing in horsemeat, marked with disconcerting gilded horseheads over the shop windows revealing trays of bright lean red meat. Anyone who visits Eastern Europe, especially the Stans, is likely to be used into a restaurant whose specialty is horse cuisine. It's a rite of passage, like watching a pig slaughter and eating fresh blood pudding right afterward.

So I've had horse tournedos, horse sausage, and horse ragu. Several times. For reasons I'll explain, I wasn't eager to continue this line of exploration. But given the recent storm in the media over tainted burgers and ground beef in Europe and possibly all over Europe, I did look further into why eating horse, a seemingly archaic custom that should have died along with other staples of the paleo diet, has persisted.

First, for catchup on what the discovery of horse DNA implies about food safety and what corrective measures might ensue, see Marion Nestle's chronological links. For a good summary of the media's reaction, see Jack Shafer's column (and the Dish debate it provoked).

Eye 1

Los Angeles hotel where the body of Elisa Lam was found in water tank has 'long, dark history'

Cecil Hotel
© Robyn Beck /AFP/Getty Images
The Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles, which advertises "low monthly rates."
The gruesome discovery this week of a young woman's body inside a rooftop water tank at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles is not the Cecil's first brush with such notoriety, as Southern California Public Radio's KPCC reports.

Chris Nichols, associate editor at Los Angeles Magazine, told KPCC about the hotel's "long, dark history."

"There were murders there in the '20s and '30s," he said, "and a woman jumped out a window in the '60s."

"Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez, now on California's death row,was a frequent resident in the 1980s, Nichols said. Back then, KPCC writes, "room rates were as cheap as $14. It's reported that he stayed in a room on the 14th floor while killing 14 people [he was convicted of 13 murders]."

Austrian murderer Jack Unterweger, KPCC adds, also stayed there in the '80s. "He picked up some prostitutes nearby and they ended up dead," Nichols said. The Guardian reminds us that "between 1990 and 1993 Unterweger murdered 11 prostitutes in Vienna, Prague and Los Angeles, strangling them with a self-styled ligature constructed from his victims' bra straps." Unterweger killed himself in an Austrian prison in 1994.

Dollar Gold

Rich get richer with IRS loophole in sunny Bermuda

money bermuda
Billionaire hedge-fund moguls are getting comfortable with a US tax loophole to fatten their already plump bottom lines.

All it takes to avoid tens of millions of dollars in taxes is a short trip to Bermuda - not by them, but their cash.

Hedgies like John Paulson and Steve Cohen are forming reinsurance companies in tax-free havens like Bermuda or the Cayman Islands - and then transferring cash from their funds to the reinsurance companies.

The cash, classified as insurance company reserves, is then transferred back into the funds as reserves to be invested for future claims.

Thanks to an IRS loophole, profits from these insurance companies aren't taxed - until the stake in the fund is sold, and that could be years down the line.

And here's the kicker: The taxes, when paid, are at the lower capital-gains rate and not as ordinary income.

Comment: Google tax dodge: Sheltered revenues in no-tax Bermuda soar to $10 billion


Chalkboard

Slavery-math questions cause uproar at New York City school

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© Fotolia
A school principal said she's "appalled" by a homework assignment that used scenarios about killing and whipping slaves to teach math.

Adele Schroeter has ordered sensitivity training for the entire staff of Public School 59 in Manhattan following last month's assignment, the Daily News reported Friday.