Monday, October 6, 2014

Monsanto's Roundup Linked to Cancer - Again

Monday, 06 October 2014
 By Jeff Ritterman, M.D., Truthout

A brilliant and celebrated inventor, John Franz, gave us an herbicide, Roundup, which has changed the face of agriculture. This herbicide has become the foundation for an entirely novel approach to farming - biotech agriculture - that has expanded rapidly throughout the globe.

Monsanto makes seeds for soy, corn, canola, cotton, alfalfa and sugar beets that are genetically engineered to be tolerant to Roundup. The seeds are marketed in 120 countries. Throughout the world, Roundup is sprayed heavily as a weed killer without fear of damaging the cash crops, which have been engineered to survive the herbicide's effects.

"The change in how agriculture is produced has brought, frankly, a change in the profile of diseases. We've gone from a pretty healthy population to one with a high rate of cancer, birth defects and illnesses seldom seen before."

Roundup seemed, at first, to be the perfect herbicide. It blocks the ESPS synthase enzyme, which prevents the synthesis of amino acids that plants need for growth. Since animals don't have this enzyme, it was initially hypothesized that they would be safe from Roundup's effects.

Unfortunately, Roundup has now been shown to affect much more than the EPSP synthase enzyme. The herbicide has been proven to cause birth defects in vertebrates, including in humans, and it may also be the cause of a fatal kidney disease epidemic.

An increasing number of studies are now linking the herbicide to cancer.

Roundup Linked to Increased Cancer in "Soy Republic"
Roundup is now heavily sprayed in what is known as the "Soy Republic," an area of Latin America larger than the state of California. This region has undergone a profound transformation since genetically modified (GM) crops were first introduced in 1996. Some 125 million acres in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay are now devoted to GM soy production.

Doctors serving these areas have documented an alarming increase in cancers. A group of dedicated physicians formed an organization, Doctors of Fumigated Towns. They held a national conference in August of 2010 in Córdoba, the center of Argentina's soy region. The Department of Medical Sciences of the National University at Córdoba sponsored the conference. An estimated 160 doctors from throughout the country attended.

Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez, a pediatrician specializing in environmental health, explained his concerns:
"The change in how agriculture is produced has brought, frankly, a change in the profile of diseases. We've gone from a pretty healthy population to one with a high rate of cancer, birth defects and illnesses seldom seen before. What we have complained about for years was confirmed and especially what doctors say about the sprayed towns and areas affected by industrial agriculture. Cancer cases are multiplying as never before in areas with massive use of pesticides."

Dr. Avila Vazquez blamed the biotech agricultural corporations for placing their profits over the public's health:
"The tobacco companies denied the link between smoking and cancer, and took decades to recognize the truth. The biotech and agrochemical corporations are the same as the tobacco industry; they lie and favor business over the health of the population."

It was the health of the population that concerned Dr. Damian Verzeñassi, professor of social and environmental health from the National University at Rosario. In 2010, he began a house-to-house epidemiological study of 65,000 people in Santa Fe, also in Argentina's soy region. He found cancer rates two to four times higher than the national average, with increases in breast, prostate and lung cancers.\

Dr. Verzeñassi commented on his findings: "Cancer has skyrocketed in the last fifteen years."

Much the same was found in Chaco, Argentina's poorest province. In 2012, two villages were compared, the heavily sprayed farming village of Avia Terai and the non-sprayed ranching village of Charadai. In the farming village, 31 percent of residents had a family member with cancer while only 3 percent of residents in the ranching village had one.

Carlos Fria lives in Avia Terai. He has complained about glyphosate spraying in close proximity to his home:
"If the wind changes, the agrochemicals come into the house. My uncle just died of cancer. My wife too, passed away from cancer. Now many, many people are dying of cancer. It didn't used to be like that. In my opinion, this has to do with the poison they put on the fields."

Roundup Linked to Lymphoma
Research has also been done in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand investigating possible links between glyphosate, Roundup's active ingredient, and cancer. A large number of studies have focused on glyphosate's possible association with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have analyzed studies spanning almost three decades. The IARC is the branch of the World Health Organization that promotes cancer research. Scientists throughout the world with skills in epidemiology, laboratory sciences and biostatistics are brought together to identify the causes of cancer so that preventive measures may be instituted. The agency views cancers as linked, directly or indirectly, to environmental factors.

The research shows that Roundup is linked to a host of cancers in those living in the heavily sprayed regions of Latin America. It has also been linked to B cell lymphoma, and to brain cancer.

In April of 2014, scientists at the IARC published their review of twenty-five years of research on the relationship between pesticide exposure and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. They found a positive association between organo-phosphorus herbicides, like glyphosate, and this cancer. The B cell lymphoma sub-type, in particular, was strongly associated with glyphosate exposure.
 
Roundup Linked to Brain Cancer
The linkage to lymphoma is the most recent research raising concerns about glyphosate's connection to cancer. Scientists from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services, specialize in illnesses caused by toxic substances. They published the results of the US Atlantic Coast Childhood Brain Cancer Study in 2009. Children with brain cancer from Florida, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania were compared to age matched controls. The researchers found that if either parent had been exposed to Roundup during the two years before the child's birth, the chances of the child developing brain cancer doubled.

Roundup and Cancer: Human Observations Summarized
The research shows that Roundup is linked to a host of cancers in those living in the heavily sprayed regions of Latin America. It has also been linked to B cell lymphoma, and to brain cancer.

While the epidemiological studies show close correlation, they cannot prove causality. The gold standard for scientific proof is a randomized controlled trial, which would be unethical in this instance. You cannot ethically expose humans to an herbicide. Scientists therefore use a variety of experimental models to assess cancer risk.

Roundup Causes DNA Damage,  Errors During Cell Division
Cancer risk can be evaluated by experiments that measure Roundup's ability to induce DNA damage.
One of the initial steps in the development of cancers is often damage to our DNA. Each of our cells gets its operating instructions from its DNA. If the DNA is damaged, the faulty operating instructions can re-program cells to divide rapidly and chaotically. When this happens, cells become transformed into cancers.

A number of experiments have been done using various animal models, all showing the same results: after exposure to Roundup, cells exhibited DNA damage. This was true in fruit fly larvae, in mice, in the blood cells of the European eel and in the lymphocytes of cows.

Another experimental model that has been used to judge glyphosate's cancer risk focuses on the herbicide's impact on cell division. Cells are vulnerable to being turned into cancers if an error is made during this delicate process. In the process of cell division, the DNA must be copied precisely. Each daughter cell must receive from its parent cell an identical copy of the DNA. If a mistake is made, the daughter cells will receive faulty DNA copies. Cells with damaged DNA can turn into cancers.

In a 2004 study done at the National Scientific Research Center and the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in France, Roundup caused significant errors in the cell division of sea urchin embryos. The scientists commented that these abnormalities are hallmarks of cancer and delivered a particularly chilling warning: The concentration of Roundup needed to cause these errors was 500 to 4,000 times lower than the dose to which humans may be exposed by aerial spraying or handling of the herbicide.

Roundup Damages Human DNA
The most worrisome of the DNA studies are the ones that show DNA damage in humans.

Dr. Fernando Manas, a biologist at the National University of Rio Cuarto in Argentina, has been investigating the effects of pesticides for years. He believes that glyphosate spraying is causing cancer by inducing DNA damage. His research has documented genetic damage in those exposed. When Dr. Manas studied pesticide sprayers working in the soy industry in Córdoba, he found significantly more DNA damage in their lymphocytes than in those of an unexposed group of controls. Roundup was one of the most commonly used pesticides.

The pesticide sprayers in Córdoba, the Ecuadorians living in Sucumbíos, and the normal volunteers all developed Roundup-induced DNA damage in their lymphocytes.

Genetics researchers from the Pontifical Catholic University in Quito, Ecuador evaluated Ecuadorians living in the Sucumbíos district in northern Ecuador for evidence of DNA damage. This area was heavily sprayed with Roundup by the Colombian government to eradicate illicit crops. Those exposed to the herbicide developed a number of acute symptoms, including abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, heart palpitations, headaches, dizziness, numbness, insomnia, depression, shortness of breath, blurred vision, burning of eyes, blisters and rash. When compared to a control group, they also showed significantly more DNA damage.

Interestingly, scientists have known since 1998 that when normal human lymphocytes were exposed to Roundup in a test tube, the lymphocytes developed DNA damage.

The pesticide sprayers in Córdoba, the Ecuadorians living in Sucumbíos, and the normal volunteers all developed Roundup-induced DNA damage in their lymphocytes. A cancer of the lymphocytes is known as a "lymphoma," the very same type of cancer that the International Agency for Research on Cancer showed to be strongly associated with glyphosate exposure.

Roundup Boosts Cancer in Tissue Culture Studies
Another method that scientists have used to assess Roundup's cancer risk is to expose cells grown in "tissue culture" to the herbicide. Sheets of cells are grown on a small dish with nutrients. Glyphosate is added and its effects are observed.

In 2010, researchers in India exposed mouse skin cells grown in tissue culture to Roundup. When the herbicide was added, the cells became cancerous.

Scientists in Thailand studied the impact of Roundup on human estrogen-responsive breast cancer cells in tissue culture. They published their results in 2013. Hormone-responsive breast cancer cells are known to grow when exposed to estrogen. Roundup also stimulated these cells to grow. The herbicide was able to bind to the cancer's estrogen receptors, thus mimicking the effects of estrogen and accelerating tumor growth.

Roundup's effects have been assessed in studies with a variety of test animals for more than three decades.
One of the earliest studies was done in 1979-1981, under the auspices of the United Nations Environmental Program, the International Labor Organization and the World Health Organization. Rats exposed to low levels of the herbicide developed testicular cancer. A larger dose did not produce the cancer. Unfortunately, at the time of the experiment, it was not understood that certain substances have more potent effects at lower doses than at higher doses. The evaluators erroneously dismissed the results showing the low-dose effect.

In a study from the Institute of Biology at the University of Caen in France, researchers studied glyphosate's effects on rats. Originally published in 2012, the resulting report was retracted after the biotech agriculture industry complained. After extensive review failed to show any fraud or problem with the data, the report was re-published in 2014. In this study, Roundup was shown to double the incidence of mammary gland tumors. These cancers developed much faster in rats exposed to Roundup than in controls. There was also an increase in cancers of the pituitary gland.

Rounding Up the Evidence
Epidemiological studies in humans, in the soy regions of Argentina and in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have shown Roundup to be linked to an increase in cancer risk. There is a strong association between Roundup and B cell lymphoma, brain cancer and a variety of other cancers in those living in heavily sprayed areas.

In addition to these epidemiological observations, laboratory studies have shown that Roundup causes DNA damage, disturbs cell division, increases cancer growth in tissue culture and induces cancer when fed to test animals.

Proving Causality
Does the evidence linking Roundup to cancer prove causality? In the 1964 landmark Surgeon General's Report, which for the very first time linked tobacco to cancer, Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry presented criteria for the establishment of a cause and effect relationship in a scientific study.

To meet Dr. Terry's criteria, an association must be strong, specific and consistent. Cause must precede effect. And the association must be biologically plausible.

Biotech agriculture's most powerful backer, it seems, is the government of the United States.

How well does the association between Roundup and cancer fit these criteria?

Roundup exposure is consistently and specifically associated with precancerous abnormalities in a wide variety of experimental settings. Epidemiological observations show a tight linkage between glyphosate and cancer. In the laboratory research, as well as in the epidemiological studies in the field, exposure to the herbicide precedes the development of the abnormalities. There are plausible biological mechanisms that explain how glyphosate can transform cells into cancers.

In citing the Surgeon General's report, Drs. Wild and Seber, in their highly regarded statistics textbook, Chance Encounters, provide an example of a strong association. If an "illness is four times as likely among people exposed to a possible cause as it is for those who are not exposed," the association is considered strong.

Most of the glyphosate exposure experiments and epidemiological observations show a doubling of cancer risk. This leaves some room for doubt.

But who, given the science, would want to expose their loved ones to Roundup?

The State of the Science vs. the Science of the State
Roundup has now been conclusively proven to cause birth defects and to be closely linked to cancer. If we do not want this herbicide to accumulate in our water, land, and food, we need to stop using it.

In the final sad irony, when the cancer cells reach their growth peak, they kill their host and die in the process.

The science is clear, but powerful economic interests have, thus far, prevailed. The executives of the biotech agricultural corporations and their backers have ignored or denied the science documenting Roundup's harm.
Biotech agriculture's most powerful backer, it seems, is the government of the United States.

This official policy was explained in a 2010 US State Department cable from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
"Our biotech outreach objectives for 2010 are to increase access to, and markets for, biotech as a means to help address the underlying causes of the food crisis, and to promote agricultural technology's role in mitigating climate change and increasing biofuel production."
The US government has been willing to exercise its muscle in support of the biotech agricultural corporations.
In El Salvador, for example, the United States recently pressured the government to buy Monsanto's GM seeds or risk losing $277 million in development aid. El Salvador refused and stood firm, preferring to buy the seeds from its own struggling farmers.

Cancer's Lessons
There is a disturbing parallel between the exponential growth of biotech agriculture and the spread of a cancer in the human body.

Cancers are cells that reproduce rapidly and haphazardly with no regard for the greater good of the organism. Cancer cells consume valuable energy, starving out normal cells. They grow so wildly and so quickly that they crowd out their neighbors. They send off emissaries to start new cancer colonies. They make harmful substances that damage healthy cells. They spread relentlessly. In the final sad irony, when the cancer cells reach their growth peak, they kill their host and die in the process.

Like a cancer, biotech agriculture has crowded out its neighbors and is spreading relentlessly. Also like a cancer, it makes harmful substances. Roundup is one of them. As more acreage comes under GM cultivation, we can expect Roundup use to continue to increase.

Roundup kills plants, causes birth defects in vertebrates, and is linked to cancer. Can a living planet withstand the continuous assault from this poison any more than the human body can withstand the attack from an aggressive cancer?

Do we need to fight biotech agriculture with the same persistence, commitment and force that we bring to bear in battling cancers?

More Bad News From The Jobs Front

Paul Craig Roberts

The Bureau of Labor Statistics headline this morning reads: “Payroll employment increases by 248,000 in September; unemployment rate declines to 5.9%.”
How can this be? As I reported yesterday, US corporations are investing in buying back their own stocks, not in new business ventures that produce new jobs.

According to the Census Bureau’s Poverty Report, US real median family income has declined to the level of twenty years ago.

Consumer credit and real retail sales are not growing. Construction is limited to rental units. Construction shows 16,000 new jobs, half of which are “specialty trade contractors” or home remodelers.

The payroll jobs report lists 35,300 new jobs in retail trade. How is this possible when J.C. Penny’s, Macy’s, Sears, and the dollar store chains are in trouble and closing stores, and shopping centers are renting space by the day or hour?

At a time when there is a surfeit of office buildings and only 500 new jobs in “heavy and civil engineering construction,” the jobs report says 6,000 new jobs have been created in “architectural and engineering services.” What work are these architects and engineers doing?

The 4,900 computer systems jobs, if they exist, are likely short-term contracts from 6 to 18 months. Those who have the jobs are not employees but “independent contractors.”

The payroll jobs report gives an unusually high number–81,000–of “professional and business services” jobs of which 60,000 are “administrative and waste services,” primarily “temporary help services.”
“Health care and social assistance” accounts for 22,700 of the new jobs, of which 63 percent consist of “ambulatory health care services.”

“Performing arts and spectator sports” gave the economy 7,200 jobs, and 20,400 Americans found employment as waitresses and bartenders.

State governments hired 22,000 people.

Let’s overlook the contribution of the discredited “birth-death model” which overstates on average the monthly payroll jobs by at least 50,000, and let’s ignore the manipulation of seasonal adjustments. Instead, let’s assume the numbers are real. What kind of economy are we looking at?

We are looking at the workforce of a third world country with the vast bulk of the jobs in low-pay domestic service jobs. People working these part-time and independent contractor jobs cannot form a household or obtain a mortgage.

As John Titus, Dave Kranzler and I have shown, these jobs are filled by those aged 55 and over who take the low paying jobs in order to supplement meager retirement incomes. The baby boomers are the only part of the US labor force whose participation rate is rising. Of the claimed new jobs in September, 230,000 or 93 percent were jobs filled by those 55 and older. Employment of Americans of prime working age (25-54) declined by10,000 jobs in September from the August level.

As the US labor force continues its transition from first world to third world, real median family income will continue to decline. Ladders of upward mobility will continue to be dismantled, and income and wealth will continue to concentrate in the pockets of the One Percent. America is truly a country run for the few.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Corporations ‘the cancer’ that are slowly killing American middle-class, ‘Wire’ creator David Simon

John Mulholland, The Observer
28 Sep 2014

The writer’s next show, Show Me a Hero, is the true story of a battle over public housing that convulsed New York in the 80s. Here, on location in Manhattan, he talks about how money corrupts US politics, the erosion of the working class, why it’s a crime to be poor in America – and why he likes to argue

At the end of a long day scouting locations for his new TV miniseries, David Simon is sitting in his Upper West Side office in New York describing the type of person who needn’t bother tuning in to his new show. He’s speaking as a TV writer but also as a citizen angered by a political system that he thinks fails many of his fellow countrymen.

“People who think we’re being well governed at the moment… well, there’s no reason for them to watch. People who look at the inertia of Washington, at the partisanship, at the divisive and polarised discourse… people who think that’s the way to build a just society, well, don’t watch the show, because I got nothin’ for you.”

If, on the other hand, “You’re starting to believe that even the vernacular we’re using to argue about solutions to problems is dysfunctional, watch this show because I think it’s a perfect metaphor for what the American government is no longer capable of doing – addressing problems in a utilitarian fashion for the good of most people. American politics has left the room when it comes to finding solutions for our problems.”

Show Me a Hero, which will appear on screens late next year or in spring 2016, is based on a non-fiction book of the same name by former New York Times writer Lisa Belkin. It marks the time, says Simon, when American politics left the room.

The 1999 book’s subtitle, “a tale of murder, suicide, race and redemption” hints at the drama involved. Belkin documents the story through a series of interviews with many of the principals involved. It’s a tale of political and personal destruction that convulsed Yonkers, a city of 200,000 people just 40 minutes’ drive north of Manhattan. At its heart was a row about public housing for low-income residents being built in a part of Yonkers almost exclusively reserved for the wealthy.

Show Me a Hero shows how the fallout engulfed the New York body politic and ultimately brought unwanted national attention to Yonkers. When the dispute was finally settled the New York Times noted how the bitter row “had opened an ugly chapter in the city’s history, tearing apart neighbourhoods, building and destroying political careers and unleashing a heated court battle that nearly drove Yonkers to bankruptcy”.

On a bright, sunny morning last week the Schlobohm housing project, in west Yonkers, the largest low-income public housing site in the city and one of the principal locations for Show Me a Hero, is quiet. Except, that is, for Simon, his director Paul Haggis and other crew members who are here to scrutinise backgrounds, visualise scenes and figure out what angle offers the best view of the Hudson river in the near distance. Schlobohm is one of half a dozen stops they will make as they crisscross the city to finalise locations before four months of filming, which starts this week.

As the crew sweeps through a communal space that doubles as a car park, they pass by a mural. Painted on the side of a low wall that circles the area are five words in large, childlike lettering. They add colour to an urban landscape dominated by the red brick of the low- and high-rises. Spaced about a metre apart, they read “Unity”, “Harmony”, “Peace”, “Pride”, “Safe”.

But when the FBI’s New York field office writes about Schlobohm, it uses a different set of words. One of the most recent entries on its website is headed: “Three charged in connection with December 2013 homicide”. It lays bare the cycle of violence that is visited on places such as this when it notes that the arrest of two dozen gang members two years before had paved the way for a rival to thrive in their absence.

“In late June and early July 2012, federal authorities arrested 20 members of the Strip Boyz on charges of narcotics distribution and/or firearm offences… the arrests of the Strip Boyz left GMF [rival gang the Grimy Motherfuckers] dominant in the Schlobohm housing project.”

If the FBI’s reports were reduced to five words they might read “Narcotics”, “Gangs”, “Murder”, “Shooting”, and “Trafficking”.

The story of Schlobohm to be told by David Simonstarts in 1980, when the local Yonkers branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), backed by the US justice department, sued the city of Yonkers. The lawsuit alleged that the city’s housing and school policies had, over a period of 40 years, purposely segregated black and Hispanic residents from its more affluent white neighbours. It claimed that Yonkers deliberately placed its poorer (non-white) residents in the west of the city, while the east side remained predominantly white.

In 1985, US federal court judge Leonard Sand ruled in favour of the NAACP and instructed Yonkers to build 200 units of public housing on the east side. That’s when the trouble started.

The six-part miniseries will follow what happened from 1987 to 1994 as local residents and politicians defied the court order in a series of increasingly vocal and public demonstrations that brought the issues of race, housing and deprivation in Yonkers on to the national agenda.

An ABC news report broadcast at the time gives a glimpse of how divisive the dispute was. It features one of the residents at a Save Yonkers meeting (a man named Jack Tracy) making his position clear: “I lived with blacks, I delivered newspapers to blacks, but I can’t live next to what the government has in these projects. If the government wants to put criminals and dope-pushers in the projects I can’t live next to them. The federal judge can find me guilty, the supreme court can find me guilty… but if they think they’re going to integrate with Jack Tracy and his family, they’re going to have to build projects 60 miles north, 80 miles north, they can build them in Maine or wherever they want but I will not live next to a project. And if it means going to Canada, or back to Ireland that is what I will do. That ain’t why I am living in this country.”

In the fury and noise that engulfed Yonkers’s east side, what Jack Tracy and others failed to hear was that the judge’s proposal was not for old style “projects” (ie large-scale, densely populated, high-rise public housing) but for 200 two-storey houses to be distributed in small groups across the east side.

Later in the morning, after we have left Schlobohm and passed on to the noticeably more affluent (and white) east side of Yonkers, Simon and his crew stop at another location. Simon points to a small row of innocuous two-storey houses on this pleasant, leafy street. He says: “Look. That’s them, those are some of the houses. That’s what Yonkers tore itself apart over. And you wouldn’t even know they were public housing.”

What attracted Simon to this story was not the issues of housing or race or deprivation but something more fundamental – the dysfunction of the American political system. The story, Simon says, is tailor-made for showing how US politics now runs on fear and money, two forces that are slowly corroding American society.

“What intrigued me about the story was that it’s an almost perfectly allegorical argument about how our political processes are no longer equipped to recognise or solve problems. You have this mid-size American city, Yonkers, that didn’t have terrifying racial dynamics before the controversy. It had problems like any city but there was no reason that fear should be such an effective currency in the political process. And yet fear and money are the only currencies in the American political process that get their due any more. Nothing makes people more stupid and foolish than money and fear.”

The effect was to split the city in half. The east side set about protecting the value of its homes, livelihoods, children and way of life from the perceived threat from the west side. Looking now at the small clusters of neat, low-rise homes that were eventually built on the east side, its difficult to understand why the fury reached such a pitch.

For Simon, the answer is clear. “Politicians can gain so much by invoking fear and because money is at the core of that fear and the people who are the most frightened were looking towards their real-estate values, the values of their neighbourhoods and what they might personally lose if the neighbourhood went south. Money and fear paralysed Yonkers politically, and caused untold damage to the city’s reputation.”

For Simon, the story of Yonkers is telling for another reason – its timing marks the period in American history when a consensus fractured. The social compact between capital and labour was starting to break. From the 1980s onwards capital won virtually all of its battles with the labour unions in America.

This is a point forcefully made by ex-Clinton labour secretary Robert Reich in his recent film, Inequality for All. He dates the busting of the labour unions and the rupture of the social compact to Ronald Reagan’s firing of 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981. From then on, the idea that a market-driven society would mutually benefit those who held the capital and those who provided the labour was no longer in place, he says. For Simon, this is the point at which the shared community of interests that walked side by side as the American economy surged after the second world war came apart. The collective will that bound together communities, cities and, ultimately, America started to erode.

“What was required in Yonkers was to ask: ‘Are we all in this together or are we not all in this together?’ Is there a society or is there no society, because if there is no society, well, that’s the approach that says ‘Fuck ’em, I got mine’. And Yonkers coincides with the rise of ‘Fuck ’em I got mine’ in America.

“That’s the notion that the markets will solve everything. Leave me alone. I want maximum liberty, I want maximum freedom. Those words have such power in America. On the other hand ‘responsibility’ or ‘society’ or ‘community’ are words that are increasingly held in disfavour in the United States. And that’s a recipe for cooking up a second-rate society, one that does not engage with the notion of collective responsibility. We’re only as good a society as how we treat those who are most vulnerable and nobody’s more vulnerable than our poor. To be poor is not a crime, except in America.”

These are not new themes in Simon’s work. The Wire was a grand tour of the institutions that were failing Americans, from politics to journalism, and from education to the criminal justice system. It was also an indictment of how capital had decisively won its war against American labour, with enduring consequences for America’s working class. This is the issue that most exercises Simon.

In his long and brilliant introductory essay to the 2009 book The Wire: Truth Be Told (a collection of essays by people involved in the making of the series), Simon wrote: “The Wire depicts a world in which capital has triumphed completely, labour has been marginalised and moneyed interests have purchased enough political infrastructure to prevent reform. It is a world in which the rules and values of the free market and maximised profit have been mistaken for a social framework, a world where institutions themselves are paramount and everyday human beings matter less.

“Unemployed and under-employed, idle at a west Baltimore soup kitchen or dead-ended at some strip-mall cash register – these are the excess Americans. The economy staggers along without them, and without anyone in this society truly or sincerely regarding their desperation. Ex-steelworkers and ex-longshoremen, street dealers and street addicts, and an army of young men hired to chase and jail the dealers and addicts, whores and johns and men to run the whores and coerce the johns – and all of them unnecessary and apart from the new millennium economic model that long ago declared them irrelevant.

“This is the world of The Wire, the America left behind.”

But Simon acknowledges that this wider message may have been lost on some of those who watched the highly acclaimed series, set among the politicians, police, press and drug dealers of Baltimore.

“Sure, there’s people who watch The Wire and go ‘Man I love all these fuckin’ characters but I hate it when the politics comes on… I just want to see the badasses shoot each other.’ And it’s like yeah, well, OK, I get it, you know, I get it, but I didn’t leave journalism to write fuckin’ television for you because that’s just horrific.”

He expresses relief, and some amusement, that the cable channel HBO continues to commission his work in spite of the relatively low ratings his TV work attracts (The Wire, belatedly through word of mouth, drew in a healthy audience. Subsequent series, though highly acclaimed, including Generation Kill and Treme, fared less well).

He jokes about “getting a 2% share” of audience, but appears untroubled about how long his shelf life as a TV writer might be. “You got to commit to something. If you’re a writer you got to write something. You might as well believe in it.”

HBO seems to believe in it too. That much is clear the next day when Simon and co-writer Bill Zorzi (who has been working on Show Me a Hero, on and off, for 10 years) are the star attractions at a start of production meeting in HBO’s Manhattan headquarters. There are close to 50 people here, and another 10 are looped in on a screen from LA. Haggis jokes that “he’s never seen this many people in a room before”.

Before Simon addresses the room, senior HBO executive Kary Antholis steps forward to speak. One of the executives closest to Simon’s projects, he is wholehearted in his praise. “This project is among the most meaningful that David has ever done. In its reflections on race, politics and community, I think it will be a powerful story and will make an important contribution to this country’s social dialogue. It’s one of the great legacies of HBO that we make these contributions to our social dialogue… I believe that Treme lives in that legacy, so does Generation Kill, and The Wire. I am very proud and grateful that David is doing these series for HBO.”

When Simon speaks he emphasises why Show Me a Hero is so prescient. But he goes further too, in pointing out precisely what it is that has gummed up the US political machine. “The most dysfunctional part of the government is Congress, the most loathed institution in America (with approval ratings of 7%), but they are unrepentant about that. The reason to do this project is that it speaks exactly to what is wrong with our country. It happens that this story is about 200 houses that needed to be built, but substitute any other issue… immigration, budgetary issues, almost any foreign policy or environmental issue that requires any systematic action, or thought, and you see it. This is a country that can get nothing done.”

Simon argues forcefully that it’s the US Congress which smothers the body politic and destroys its capacity for action. Money has tilted the balance of power by inserting itself into the political system and now has the power to influence Congress – and the legislation that governs how society organises itself.

“You can buy congressmen so fast. Ideas have nothing to do with it. And that’s the part that’s broken. And that was the part that was broken in Yonkers.

“It has to change. When capital also is entitled to buy the government, that same government that might in some way create the basic standards of behaviour, everything from child labour to environmental protection, to workplace safety, to minimum wages that are consistent with the cost of living… Well eventually it’s going to get to the point where it’s so fuckin’ bad that people are going to throw a brick.”

Simon, at 54, is driven. Driven to write about the issues that exercise him. And driven to engage in intellectual combat. He relishes argument, and thrives on the mental exercise that debate provides. You get a strong sense that, left to his own devices and left all alone, it wouldn’t be long before he was picking a fight with himself. It’s a thirst for intellectual friction, and appetite for a dialectic, that drives all of his work. Plots, characters and narrative are all very well, but only in that they are part of a toolkit needed to construct an argument. Simon is never going to sit down and write a TV drama about people per se: his work will always be about something more elemental, more structural.

Writing in 2009 about the impulses that drove The Wire, he said: “The Wire had ambitions elsewhere. Character is essential for all good drama, and plotting is just as fundamental. But ultimately, the storytelling that speaks to our current condition, that grapples with the basic realities and contradictions of our immediate world – these are stories that, in the end, have some chance of presenting a social, and even political, argument. And to be honest, The Wire was not merely trying to tell a good story or two. We were very much trying to pick a fight.”

Simon has been picking fights since he was a young kid growing up in Washington. He learned his way around an argument at an early age while sitting at his family dinner table. It was how you gained your spurs (your “moxie”) in the Simon family: by holding your own in intellectual fisticuffs. “I lived in a house where argument was sport. Dinner discussions were about what was going on in the world. Not everybody was expected to agree, because then you couldn’t have a good argument, but if people didn’t agree, then you could have a good argument.”

Simon remembers the day he came of age intellectually. In his telling, it sounds like a duel, a rite-of-passage moment. “I was having an argument in my uncle Hank’s house in New York, and I would stake myself out against my father and two of my uncles. I must have been 17 and I just knew they were wrong. And I held them off to a draw for about an hour and a half in my uncle’s den. And I remember my uncle Hank turning to my father and saying, “Who knew he had a brain?” It was the biggest thing for my uncle Hank; it was how you earned moxie in my house.”

The web has given Simon another place to pick fights. Having lain dormant and then only been used for professional announcements, davidsimon.com has now become a place where Simon has, over the last few years, written occasional often coruscating posts on anything from the NSA to the policing of the Ferguson riots. Given time he will engage at length with some of those who post comments. The engagement is robust. He pushes, and is willing to be pushed, if he thinks contributors (and he himself) will learn, develop and mature their argument. It’s the family dinner table again.

When he was setting out what davidsimon.com would become, he wrote, with unerring honesty: “Those who know me understand that while it’s refreshing to meet people with no opinions, I’m not that fellow – I like to argue. I don’t like to argue personally, but rather I like pursuing a good ranging argument.”

Although limited by time and a work schedule that, alongside Show Me a Hero, sees Simon wrestling with three other development projects for HBO, including one about the New York sex industry in the 70s (not to mention a theatre project involving the songs of the Pogues), he still finds time for occasional posts. What he relishes is the opportunity to write in long-form and to develop an argument, see a thought grow, mature and ripen. “I guess what you’re hoping, the equivalent of what often resulted at my family’s dinner table, was that the argument goes somewhere, that it has legs. This is why you engage with people on ideas. At its best ideas can build, arguments can develop.”

The fight that David Simon has most often picked in recent years – and one he will address when he delivers the keynote talk at the Observer Ideas festival next month – is how the power of the market has trumped all other priorities in his country, and destroyed the values that brought America together.

“My conviction is that what made us great as an economic power was transforming our working class into a middle class and making them this economic engine that not only bought all the shit that they needed, but a lot of stuff they didn’t. By the middle of the century, or a little later, the American workforce had been launched into middle-class status and had discretionary income and the ability to construct a future that allowed the next generation to maintain that upward mobility and even advance further on it. That’s a pretty good dream. That’s more than a dream. But it’s no longer true. We’ve been disassembling that middle class slowly by degrees.”

For typical middle-class Americans, the squeeze is on. The certainties they had come to expect no longer exist. Late capitalism is unable to provide the generation-on-generation wealth advances that many had come to assume was normal. The new normal is something very different.

“Now you have an existing upper middle class or upper class that is politically powerful, quite moneyed and is larger than at any time. It’s not just the 1%, it’s the 10%, the 20% that have been carried higher up on the pyramid and who are in those industries that have caught the wave of the information age and for them the American dream seems uninterrupted. What they’re not noticing is that the people who used to be able to send their kids to college and hold down a mortgage on a factory wage or on a mid-level administrative [job] or on a civil servant’s salary, that they’re being crushed.”

Simon is not an outlier in his criticism of the American body politic or in his reflections on unfettered capitalism and the rise of inequality. What is marked is how many voices have joined this debate in the US.

For the last two years the New York Times has been running a series on inequality, curated by the venerable economist Joseph Stiglitz, entitled The Great Divide. It has featured contributions from academics, business people and politicians.

Stiglitz recently wrote about the fracturing of the same postwar consensus, and how it came about. “Corporate interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment, our safety, our health and the economy itself.

“But this ideology was hypocritical. The bankers, among the strongest advocates of laissez-faire economics, were only too willing to accept hundreds of billions of dollars from the government in the bailouts that have been a recurring feature of the global economy since the beginning of the Thatcher-Reagan era of ‘free’ markets and deregulation.

“The American political system is overrun by money. Economic inequality translates into political inequality, and political inequality yields increasing economic inequality.”

More recently, Robert Reich contributed an essay to Salon.com entitled “American democracy is diseased – how we can wrest back power from our corporate overlords”, in which he addresses the same issue. “We entered a vicious cycle in which political power became more concentrated in moneyed interests that used the power to their advantage – getting tax cuts, expanding tax loopholes, benefiting from corporate welfare and free-trade agreements, slicing safety nets, enacting anti-union legislation, and reducing public investments. These moves further concentrated economic gains at the top, while leaving out most of the rest of America.”

Simon is not sanguine about what it will take for corporate and political America (increasingly one and the same) to recognise that if the story continues in this vein it will not end well.

“I think in some ways the cancer is going to have to go a little higher. It’s going to start crawling up above the knee and people are going to have to start looking around and thinking ‘I thought I was exempt. I didn’t know they were coming for me’.

“It’s happened to the manufacturing class, it’s happened to the poor. Now it’s happening to reporters and schoolteachers and firefighters and cops and social workers and state employees and even certain levels of academics. And that’s new. That’s not the American dream.”

Simon reserves particular contempt for the forces in America that have helped strip labour of its dignity, who refuse to see the benefits, or necessity, of people collectively organising in order to protect their interest.

“Unions are part of the equation. They’re not the whole equation – the unions needed to lose as many battles as they won, but they needed to win some. And the demonisation of them has been an astonishing achievement of political disrepute in the west, and particularly in my country.”

Back in his Upper West Side office, Simon is now starting to seem fatigued by a long day of scouting locations, of being photographed, of being interviewed and, frankly, of being angry. It’s time to bring a close to the interview. But Simon’s sense of humour and self-deprecation is still very much intact.

When, at the very close of the conversation, he is asked how, or when, this TV career ends, he replies: “Well, I have enough to keep writing these miniseries nobody will watch for as long as HBO will allow nobody to watch them.” When it’s put to him that the story in development about New York’s sex industry is a sure winner, he retorts: “Just watch that one not get made either.”

In his 2009 introduction to The Wire: Truth Be Told, Simon concluded his essay by referring to The Wire as “an angry show, but that anger comes honestly”.

It’s difficult to think of a more fitting way to describe David Simon.






Friday, September 26, 2014

UN Security Council resolution 2178 on “foreign terrorist fighters” targets democratic rights

By Joseph Kishore
25 September 2014

The United Nations Security Council passed a broadly worded resolution on Wednesday targeting the flow of “foreign terrorist fighters” internationally. While presented as a response to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the resolution is aimed at legitimizing a raft of antidemocratic measures as part of a renewed “war on terror.”
Significantly, the resolution does not purport to authorize the bombing of Syria that began early Tuesday morning. The United States and other imperialist powers, together with their allies among the Gulf monarchies, have launched the new war—directed ultimately at the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—without even seeking UN sanction.

On Wednesday morning, President Barack Obama defended these actions in a bellicose speech before the United Nations General Assembly, pledging not only an intensified military campaign in the Middle East, but also issuing fresh threats against Russia.
Security Council Resolution 2178, passed in a unanimous 15-0 vote, directs all countries in the UN to
“prevent and suppress the recruiting, organizing, transporting or equipping of individuals who travel to a State other than their States of residence or nationality for the purpose of the perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts or the providing or receiving of terrorist training, and the financing of their travel and of their activities.”

The resolution was adopted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, making it legally binding on all member countries. Chapter 7 governs the Security Council’s response to any “breach of the peace or act of aggression,” including authorizing military or nonmilitary action. While the resolution does not explicitly mention military action, it will no doubt be cited in the future for this purpose.

To this end, the definition of “terrorism” is left for individual countries to determine. In her own comments before the Security Council, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, citing unrest in Europe, insisted that ISIS was not the only target. This was a clear reference to Ukraine, where the right-wing government installed by the US and Germany earlier this year has called pro-Russian separatists in the east “terrorists.” In August, Grybauskaite declared that Russia was in a “state of war against Europe” over the conflict in Ukraine.

At the same time, under the guise of opposing “extremism,” all the major powers are intensifying the assault on democratic rights within their borders. Obama, who personally chaired the Security Council meeting, said the resolution “must be followed by tangible commitments” and urged all countries to take “concrete steps…to counter extremist ideologies in our own countries.”
The passage of the resolution comes as the media in the US, Europe and Australia is engaged in a nonstop propaganda campaign over supposed terrorist threats against the “homeland.” In the United States, news programs have been filled with scare-mongering over Khorasan, a group that US military officials claim is in the “advanced stages” of planning a terrorist attack in the US or Europe. The police presence in New York and other major cities was beefed up on Wednesday in response to these unsubstantiated threats.

Already, a number of countries, including France, Australia, Canada and Britain, have proposed or begun implementing measures to strip individuals of citizenship and take away their passports on the basis of allegations of participating in terrorist or “extremist” organizations. There are ongoing discussions within the United States over similar proposals.
Last month, following the beheading of US journalist James Foley by ISIS, British Prime Minister David Cameron laid out a series of proposals, including the seizure of passports and the removal of citizenship. Government actions, he said, would target “all types of extremism,” which a British government agency has defined as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”—a definition that could be used to cover almost any opposition group.

The UN resolution is also part of efforts to utilize ISIS to strengthen state spying powers and deflect public outrage over the illegal and unconstitutional National Security Agency (NSA) programs revealed over the past year. In his remarks before the Security Council, Obama said that the resolution “will strengthen cooperation between nations, including sharing more information about the travel and activities of foreign terrorist organizations.”

An article published in Foreign Policy on Wednesday spelled out part of the motivation behind the resolution. Under the headline, “The Islamic State Makes Electronic Surveillance Respectable Again,” columnist Colum Lynch noted that the resolution “would require governments to grant law enforcement authorities wider scope to monitor and suppress the travel and other activities of suspected local jihadists.”

The article states that Congressional legislation on NSA spying, which includes token restrictions that nevertheless allow the spying to continue, has stalled. Moreover, Lynch notes, “The debate in France and other European countries reflects the degree to which discussions about surveillance on the continent no longer fixate on the NSA’s massive electronic spying that contractor Edward Snowden revealed when he leaked the spy agency’s internal documents.”

The Foreign Policy article cites Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch, who says the UN resolution is “rampant” with potential violations of due process. “Nowhere does it articulate by what process would [suspects] be denied their right to travel,” she says. Some provisions, moreover, “promote the idea that people can be prosecuted for their thoughts and their beliefs, but not their actions. It does not articulate any actual criminal conduct as a prerequisite for detention.” 



...people can be prosecuted for their thoughts and their beliefs, but not their actions. It does not articulate any actual criminal conduct as a prerequisite for detention.”


As in the “war on terror” launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the real targets of all of these measures are not Islamic fundamentalist groups (in this case ISIS, which is a direct product of the civil war incited by the CIA in Syria), but any opposition to the foreign and domestic policies of the imperialist ruling classes. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Funnies




Scientists Find ‘Direct Link’ Between Earthquakes And Process Used For Oil And Gas Drilling


But like with everything controversial that makes people lots of money, the profiteers of this industry will deny it until the earth swallows them up. i'm sorry, folks--if anyone still reads this blog--but the only thing that can save humanity is something which will wipe out civilization. technology is wonderful, but we are too stupid and shortsighted to use it correctly. we destroy something permanently if we can profit from its destruction. THAT'S why UFOs and aliens don't come here any more. They put up a "quarantined" sign in the Kuiper Belt telling explorers that this solar system is off-limits. imagine if we were allowed to travel the galaxy--we would be hated instantly and cause our planet to be invaded and destroyed to keep us from expanding. like the great Bill Hicks said: "humanity is a virus with shoes."


by Emily Atkin, THINKPROGRESS
Posted on September 16, 2014

A team of scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey have found evidence “directly linking” the uptick in Colorado and New Mexico earthquakes since 2001 to wastewater injection, a process widely used in the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and conventional drilling.
In a study to be published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America on Tuesday, the scientists presented “several lines of evidence [that] suggest the earthquakes in the area are directly related to the disposal of wastewater” deep underground, according to a BSSA press release. Fracking and conventional natural gas companies routinely dispose of large amounts of wastewater underground after drilling. During fracking, the water is mixed with chemicals and sand, to “fracture” underground shale rock formations and make gas easier to extract.

The USGS research is just the latest in a string of studies that have suggested the disposed water is migrating along dormant fault lines, changing their state of stress, and causing them to fail.

For their research, the four California-based USGS scientists monitored the 2,200 square mile Raton Basin, which goes from southern Colorado into New Mexico. They pointed out that the Basin had been “seismically quiet” until 1999, when companies began “major fluid injection” deep into the ground. Earthquakes began in 2001 when Colorado wastewater injection rates were under 600,000 barrels per month, and and since then there have been 16 earthquakes that could be considered large (above a magnitude of 3.8, including two over a 5.0 magnitude), compared with only one — a 4.0 magnitude quake — in the 30 years prior.


CREDIT: Rubenstein et. al.

“These earthquakes are limited to the area of fluid injection, they occur shortly after major fluid injection activities began, and the earthquake rates track the fluid injection rates in the
Raton Basin,” the paper said, noting the scientists’ comparisons of the timing and location of earthquakes with the timing and location of injected wastewater. By the mid-2000s, Colorado’s wastewater injection rates were up to 1.9 million barrels per month.

Taking that and the unexpected frequency of the earthquakes into consideration, the paper noted that it was “highly unlikely” that the quakes could have been due to any random fluctuations underground.

“Detailed investigations of two seismic sequences places them in proximity to high-volume, high-injection-rate wells, and both sequences occurred after a nearby increase in the rate of injection,” the study’s accompanying press release said. “A comparison between seismicity and wastewater injection in Colorado and New Mexico reveals similar patterns, suggesting seismicity is initiated shortly after an increase in injection rates.”

The study does note that despite the strong and direct link, the findings are not definitive, echoing language often used by climate scientists to describe why it’s nearly impossible to say that individual weather events are caused by climate change. “Although there are many lines of evidence showing that the seismicity in the Raton Basin has been induced by wastewater injection activities in the area, it is very difficult to say whether an individual earthquake was caused by injection because natural seismicity has also been recorded there,” the study says. “For future research, a longer-term study with dense network coverage on both sides of the border would be especially useful in understanding the inducing relationship between the earthquakes and fluid injection in the Raton Basin.”

The U.S. government announced back in May that it would begin to track the risks that so-called “frackquakes” pose, and start including them on official maps that help influence building codes. Before then, the USGS had never taken man-made earthquakes into account during its regular quake mapping activity. It made the decision to do so after finding that two strong earthquakes in heavily-drilled areas of Colorado and Oklahoma in 2011 might have been the result of wastewater injection. “For future research, a longer-term study with dense network coverage on both sides of the border would be especially useful in understanding the inducing relationship between the earthquakes and fluid injection in the Raton Basin.”

Since then, drilling for natural gas and fracking has proliferated across the country, as have earthquakes in the places where those booms are occurring. Oklahoma, a hotbed for fracking, is currently experiencing anywhere from 5 to 20 small earthquakes every day, according to the state’s Geology Survey. What’s more, Cornell University scientists have linked more than 2,500 small earthquakes that have hit Oklahoma in the past five years to the wastewater disposal process.

These quakes are usually too small to be felt, but scientists have warned that they stand to get stronger as more wastewater injection happens — a likelihood considering the growing expansion of fracking.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

People Who Live Near Fracking More Likely To Become Sick, Study Finds



People Who Live Near Fracking More Likely To Become Sick, Study Finds
by Emily Atkin
September 10, 2014

People living close to natural gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania are more than twice as likely to report respiratory illnesses and skin problems than those living farther away, according to a new study from Yale University.

Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, a former Yale School of Medicine professor who now teaches at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health, got the results by randomly surveying 180 households with 492 people in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Washington County is in the heart of the Marcellus Shale, one of one of America’s fracking hotspots — and arguably the epicenter of fracking-related pollution complaints and industrial accidents.

Of those surveyed, Rabinowitz found that 39 percent of people living less than 0.6 miles from a gas well reported upper-respiratory problems like sinus infections and nosebleeds, compared to just 18 percent of people living more than 1.2 miles away. For skin problems like rashes, 13 percent living close to the wells reported irritation, compared to only 3 percent living further away who said the same.

Rabinowitz said that his findings represent “the largest study to date of general health status of people living near natural gas wells.”

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives, is careful not to claim outright that the fracking itself is causing the health problems. Rather, it solely states that there are higher rates of illness in households closer to gas wells. To say that drilling or fracking causes illness would require more research, Rabinowitz said.

“It’s more of an association than a causation,” Rabinowitz told the New Haven Register. “We want to make sure people know it’s a preliminary study. … To me it strongly indicates the need to further investigate the situation and not ignore it.”

Rabinowitz is not the first to assert that more research needs to be done into the health impacts of fracking.

Just last week, scientists at the University of Texas published research stating that 30 percent of water wells near Texas fracking sites contained higher-than-normal levels of arsenic. However, the researchers stated that their findings were not conclusive in stating that the contamination is because of fracking.

“We think that the strongest argument we can say is that this needs more research,” Brian Fontenot, the paper’s lead author, said at the time.

In addition, preliminary scientific research is finding more and more of a connection between birth defects and the proximity of the child’s mother to a natural gas well. Still, scientists generally agree that more research needs to be done before a conclusive statement can be made about whether that proximity to natural gas drilling actually causes birth defects or other health problems in babies and mothers.

Fracking is a controversial yet popular technique used to stimulate natural gas wells underground by injecting high-pressure water, sand, and chemicals miles-deep into subsurface rock, effectively cracking or “fracturing” it, making the gas easier to extract. It has been controversial in part because of how quickly the practice has spread in the United States, without much credible scientific information regarding the potential impact on public health.

Pennsylvania has had more than 6,000 hydraulic fracturing wells drilled within the last six years, and zero state studies on their health impacts. Because of the lack of research, it’s been increasingly hard to prove that families can be sickened by drilling.

Natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania has skyrocketed under Gov. Tom Corbett. He has expanded fracking in Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests, and in 2012 implemented a controversial state oil and gas law, known as Act 13, which severely restricts the ability of local governments to have control over drilling in their area. Multiple portions of the law have since been ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

Monday, September 8, 2014

No Economy For Americans

Paul Craig Roberts

The Dow Jones stock average closed Friday at 17,137, despite the fact that the payroll jobs report was a measly 125,000 new jobs for August, an insufficient amount to keep up with the growth in the working age population.

The low 125,000 jobs figure is also inconsistent with the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ second estimate of second quarter 2014 US GDP growth of 4.2 percent–a figure beyond the capability of the present-day US economy.

Clearly, the economic numbers are out of sync with one another. They are also out of sync with reality.

One of the reasons the stock market average is high is the massive liquidity the Federal Reserve has pumped into the banking system since 2008. Instead of going into consumer inflation, the money went into stock and bond price inflation.

Another reason for the artificial high stock market is the multi-trillion dollar buy-back of their own stock by US corporations. Many of these corporations have even borrowed from the banks in order to drive up their share prices with heavy purchases, thus maximizing executive bonuses and the values of stock options for board members. In effect, they are looting their own firms by loading the companies with debt in order to drive up executive and board incomes.
The stock market’s rise is not because consumer incomes and real retail sales are growing. Real family median incomes have been falling, and real retail sales, at best, are flat.

Let’s look at the composition of the pathetic 125,000 new jobs, and then we will examine whether these jobs are real or make-believe. (Keep in mind that payroll jobs include part-time jobs and that the number of payroll jobs is not the number of people employed, because many Americans make ends meet by working two and even three jobs.)

As I have reported for many years, the US economy no longer is capable of creating goods producing jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics August payroll jobs report shows zero manufacturing jobs. I read the other day that the US now has four or five times more people on food stamps than in manufacturing jobs.
The jobs of the New Economy are in lowly paid, nontradable domestic services–the jobs that characterize a Third World Economy.

Perhaps reflecting the collapse of retail sales, retail trade lost 8,400 jobs in August.

“Professional and business services” accounted for 47,000 or 38% of August’s new jobs. Of these 47,000 new jobs, 49% consisted of “administrative and waste services,” largely temporary help services.

“Health care and social assistance” accounted for 42,700 or 34% of the new jobs of which 53% consists of “ambulatory health care services.”
Waitresses and bartenders accounted for 21,100 or 17% of the new jobs.

There were 8,000 new government jobs or 6% of the 125,000 new jobs.

That’s it. That is the job picture of “the world’s only superpower,” “the world’s largest economy,” “the world’s richest people.” It is the picture of employment in a Third World country.

And now for the real question: Are those 125,000 new jobs really there, or are they a statistical mirage? Statistician John Williams (shadowstats.com) says the jobs are a mirage produced by “the changing seasonal adjustments within the concurrent-seasonal adjustment process used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics” and by the birth/death model, which assumes that many more unreported new jobs are created each month by new start-up businesses than are lost from unreported business closings. Williams says that without the gimmicks used by BLS to create jobs that are not there, the actual change in August payrolls “was a solid contraction in excess of 125,000 jobs.” In other words, the economy did not gain 125,000 jobs. It lost 125,000 jobs.

Beginning with the Clinton regime, the American economy has only worked for the One Percent, and it only works for them because the government makes the 99 percent bail out the One Percent. The American economy is an Aristocratic Economy that works for the government-privileged few, but not for anyone else. To understand this hard fact, read Nomi Prins book, All The Presidents’ Bankers.

Of course, the real figures are more like the Ten Percent and the 90 percent. The One Percent caught on, because the upper reaches of that one percent are all multi-billionaires with more money than a family could spend in multiple lifetimes.

The time has passed when American corporations had a sense of social responsibility. Two distinguished Americans writing in Daedalus, one of the few remaining publications not (yet) under corporate control, show that US corporations have become socially dysfunctional because they only serve shareholders and executives.

Historically in the US, corporations had responsibilities to their customers, employees, communities, and owners. In recent years this has been changed. Today corporations only have responsibilities to their shareholders. If profits go up, executives receive performance bonuses for serving shareholders.

Reducing executive success to one indicator has has enormous negative consequences for everyone else. Americans are suffering in many ways. Their jobs, both manufacturing and professional tradable services such as software engineering, have been moved offshore and given to foreigners. Americans have been deprived of interest income so that the former bank officials in charge of the US government can save the banks that deregulation permitted to over leverage with debt and risk.

The costs of customer service has been shifted to customers who lose large amounts of time waiting to connect with a live person who can correct the mistake the company has made. The unleashing of greed as the only business virtue and pressure from Wall Street for greater profits has caused many service providers, such as telephone and Internet, to forego maintenance and upgrade of facilities in order to hold down costs and boost profits. My telephone ceased to work on September 3, and my service provider lacks sufficient work crews to repair my line prior to the evening of September 8. Last year my Internet provider could not reestablish my Internet service for 10 days. If you call about a bill or a service problem, the companies keep you on the line forever awaiting a real person while they try to sell you new services even though the ones you have purchased don’t work.

Sufficient service crews to provide satisfaction for customers means higher costs, less profits, less shareholder earnings and less performance bonuses for managers. Guess who pays the price for the large rewards to owners and managers–the customers.

I remember the days of AT&T, a regulated monopoly. Everything worked. Any problem was fixed within two hours, barring a major catastrophe such as a hurricane or tornado. The telephone was answered no later than the third ring by a real person, not a voice recording, and the person who answered could fix any problem. There was no menu of a half dozen or dozen from which to select and to wait another quarter hour while being given sales pitches.

Profits made by imposing costs on customers are not legitimate profits.
Profits made by
relocating American jobs offshore are not legitimate profits. Profits achieved by bailouts of managerial mistakes by taxpayers who provide the bailout funds but don’t share in the bonuses are not legitimate profits.

Profits achieved by monopoly concentration, as now exists in the financial “services” industry, are not legitimate profits.

In America, franchises, chains, and big-box stores have destroyed a wide array of independent and family businesses that allowed enterprising Americans an independent existence.

Deregulated free-market America has created an economy that serves only the few, which explains the extraordinary concentration in the 21st century of income and wealth in fewer and fewer hands–another defining characteristic of a Third World country.

American capitalism has failed. It can no longer produce jobs for the work force, and its
profits come from its political ability to impose costs on the American population.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Guide to Middle Eastern Terror Groups ;-)


The Underbelly Of Corporate America: Insider Selling, Stock Buy-Backs, Dodgy Profits

The hollowing out of corporate strengths to enable short-term profiteering by the handful at the top leads to systemic fragility.
Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,

Anonymous comments on message boards must be taken with a grain of salt, but this comment succinctly captures the underbelly of Corporate America: massive insider selling, borrowing billions to buy back their own stocks to push valuations to the moon so shares granted as compensation can be sold for a fortune, and dodgy accounting strategies that boost headline profits and hide the gutting of investments in long-term growth.

Here's the comment:
"I’m occupying a vantage point that allows me to see what is going on inside the top Fortune 50 companies. I have never seen such rot before. Of the 50, at least 30 have debt at 120% of cash. Most have cut capex, R&D and maintenance by 80%. Most have been borrowing money to do stock buy-backs, while simultaneously selling off business units and doing layoffs.
 
Of the 50, at least 20 have 100% insider selling. For some, you would have to go back decades to find a point where all of the acting board of directors are selling. In essence, they are paying the mortgage with their credit cards. Without bookkeeping games, there are no solid earnings. There will be no earnings growth.
 
“Executive compensation based on stock performance” is killing corporate America.
 
A black swan is not needed to make it fall, a gentle breeze will do just fine."
(source message thread)
So let's try contesting these points.
 
Where is the data showing insiders buying hand over fist at these valuations?
 
Insider selling has been raising red flags since March 2014: In-the-know insiders are dumping stocks
 
Where is the data proving Corporate America isn't borrowing billions of dollars and using the nearly-free money to buy back shares? Buying back shares reduces the float (stocks available for purchase by the public), reducing supply and creating demand which pushes prices higher.
 
Stocks’ Biggest Gains Are an Inside JobCompanies spent $598.1 billion on stock buybacks last year, according to Birinyi Associates in Westport, Conn. That was the second highest annual total in history, behind only 2007, Birinyi calculated. The pace picked up in the first quarter of 2014, when companies spent $188 billion, the highest quarterly amount since 2007.
 
Where is the data showing Corporate America has added jobs?
 
Who actually creates jobs: Start-ups, small businesses or big corporations? During the 1990s, American multinational companies added 2.7 million jobs in foreign countries and 4.4 million in the United States. But over the following decade, those firms continued adding positions overseas (another 2.4 million) while cutting 2.9 million jobs in the United States.
 
As for dodgy accounting: when the dodgy accounting has been institutionalized, it's no longer viewed as dodgy. Which brings us to the money shot of the comment: “Executive compensation based on stock performance” is killing corporate America.
 
When executives and others at the top of the corporate pyramid have such an enormous incentive (stock options worth tens of millions of dollars) if they can push the stock price higher with buy-backs paid with borrowed money and accounting gimmicks that inflate headline earnings, then why wouldn't they do precisely that?
 
The profits are as bogus as the stock prices: both are relentlessly gamed to make sure fortunes can be reaped in a few years by those at the top.
 
As the comment noted, this hollowing out of corporate strengths to enable short-term profiteering by the handful at the top leads to systemic fragility. No shock is needed to bring down these fragile corporate structures: existing debt and the slightest tremor of global recession will be enough to topple the rickety facade.

30 Million Americans On Antidepressants And 21 Other Facts About America's Endless Pharmaceutical Nightmare

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 09/03/2014
New York Times
Reality


Submitted by Michael Snyder of End of The American Dream blog,

Has there ever been a nation more hooked on drugs than the United States?  And I am not just talking about illegal drugs – the truth is that the number of Americans addicted to legal drugs is far greater than the number of Americans addicted to illegal drugs.  As you will read about below, more than 30 million Americans are currently on antidepressants and doctors in the U.S. wrote more than 250 million prescriptions for painkillers last year.  Sadly, most people got hooked on these drugs very innocently.  They trusted that their doctors would never prescribe something for them that would be harmful, and they trusted that the federal government would never approve any drugs that were not safe.  And once the drug companies get you hooked, they often have you for life.  

You see, the reality of the matter is that some of these “legal drugs” are actually some of the most addictive substances on the entire planet.  And when they start raising the prices on those drugs, there isn’t much that the addicts can do about it.  It is a brutally efficient business model, and the pharmaceutical industry guards their territory fiercely.  Very powerful people will often do some really crazy things when there are hundreds of billions of dollars at stake.  The following are 22 facts about America’s endless pharmaceutical nightmare that everyone should know…

#1 According to the New York Times, more than 30 million Americans are currently taking antidepressants.
#2 The rate of antidepressant use among middle aged women is far higher than for the population as a whole.  At this point, one out of every four women in their 40s and 50s is taking an antidepressant medication.
#3 Americans account for about five percent of the global population, but we buy more than 50 percent of the pharmaceutical drugs.
#4 Americans also consume a whopping 80 percent of all prescription painkillers.
#5 It is hard to believe, but doctors in the United States write 259 million prescriptions for painkillers each year.  Prescription painkillers are some of the most addictive legal drugs, and our doctors are serving as enablers for millions up0n millions of Americans that find themselves hooked on drugs that they cannot kick.
#6 Overall, pharmaceutical drug use in America is at an all-time high.  According to a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, nearly 70 percent of all Americans are on at least one prescription drug, and 20 percent of all Americans are on at least five prescription drugs.
#7 According to the CDC, approximately 9 out of every 10 Americans that are at least 60 years old say that they have taken at least one prescription drug within the last month.
#8 In 2010, the average teen in the United States was taking 1.2 central nervous system drugs.  Those are the kinds of drugs which treat conditions such as ADHD and depression.
#9 A very disturbing Government Accountability Office report found that approximately one-third of all foster children in the United States are on at least one psychiatric drug.
#10 An astounding 95 percent of the “experimental medicines” that the pharmaceutical industry produces are found not to be safe and are never approved.  Of the remaining 5 percent that are approved, we often do not find out that they are deadly to us until decades later.
#11 One study discovered that mothers that took antidepressants during pregnancy were four times more likely to have a baby that developed an autism spectrum disorder.
#12 It has been estimated that prescription drugs kill approximately 200,000 people in the United States every single year.
#13 An American dies from an unintentional prescription drug overdose every 19 minutes.  According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, accidental prescription drug overdose is “the leading cause of acute preventable death for Americans”.
#14 In the United States today, prescription painkillers kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined.
#15 According to the CDC, approximately three quarters of a million people a year are rushed to emergency rooms in the United States because of adverse reactions to pharmaceutical drugs.
#16 The number of prescription drug overdose deaths in the United States is five times higher than it was back in 1980.
#17 A survey conducted for the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that more than 15 percent of all U.S. high school seniors abuse prescription drugs.
#18 More than 26 million women over the age of 25 say that they are “using prescription medications for unintended uses“.
#19 If all of these antidepressants are helping, then why are more Americans killing themselves?  The suicide rate for Americans between the ages of 35 and 64 increased by nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2010.  The number of Americans that die by suicide is now greater than the number of Americans that die as a result of car accidents every year.
#20 Antidepressant use has been linked to mass shootings in America over and over and over again, and yet the mainstream media is eerily quiet about this. Is it because they don’t want to threaten one of their greatest sources of advertising revenue?
#21 The amount of money that the pharmaceutical industry is raking in is astronomical.  It has been reported that Americans spent more than 280 billion dollars on prescription drugs during 2013.
If many of these drugs were not so addictive, the pharmaceutical companies would make a lot less money.  And pharmaceutical drug addicts often don’t fit the profile of what we think a “drug addict” would look like.  For example, CNN shared the story of a 55-year-old grandmother named Cynthia Scudo that become addicted to prescription painkillers…
For Scudo, her addiction began — as they all do — innocently enough.

She sought relief from hip pain, possibly caused by scarring from cesarean sections she had delivering several of her children.

Her then-husband recommended a physician.

“There was no physical therapy offered,” she said of the doctor’s visit. “The first reaction was, let’s give you some drugs.”

He put her on OxyContin.

By the second week, she was physically addicted.

She was popping so much of the painkiller and other drugs such as anti-anxiety Valium that they equated to a dosage for three men.
There is lots and lots of money to be made from addiction.  In fact, if the U.S. health care system was a totally separate nation it would actually be the 6th largest economy on the entire globe.  We are talking about piles of money larger than most people would ever dare to imagine.

And with so much money floating around, it is quite easy for the pharmaceutical industry to buy the cooperation of our politicians and of the media.

Some time when you are watching television in the evening, consciously take note of how often a pharmaceutical commercial comes on.

It has gotten to the point where we are literally being inundated with these ads.

They are already making hundreds of billions of dollars, and they think that there is room for even more growth.