Friday, February 27, 2015

This Modern World

Smoking marijuana is 114 times safer than drinking alcohol – study

"safer" being a relative term...

As the debate over marijuana legalization continues in the United States, a new study suggests that smoking the controversial plant is about 114 times safer than drinking alcohol.

In fact, alcohol was found to be the deadliest drug on an individual level, at least when it comes to the likelihood of a person dying due to consuming a lethal dose. Heroin and cocaine were the next most deadly substances, followed by tobacco, ecstasy, and meth. Trailing up the rear was marijuana.

 According to the team of international researchers behind the study, published in the journal 'Scientific Reports,' the findings suggest that marijuana risks – at least those related to mortality – are trumped when compared to substances like alcohol.

“The results confirm that the risk of cannabis may have been overestimated in the past,” the report reads. “At least for the endpoint of mortality, the [margin of exposure] for THC/cannabis in both individual and population-based assessments would be above safety thresholds (e.g. 100 for data based on animal experiments). In contrast, the risk of alcohol may have been commonly underestimated.”
As reported by the Washington Post, the study’s results aren’t exactly new, though they do confirm similar findings first reported a decade ago. In a separate story last year, the Post noted that Wayne Hall of the World Health Organization said it’s nearly impossible for even those who smoke large amounts of cannabis to overdose on the drug.

"The estimated fatal dose [of THC, the primary active compound in marijuana] in humans derived from animal studies is between 15 and 70 grams. This is a far greater amount of cannabis that even a very heavy cannabis user could use in a day," Hall wrote last year. 

Even alcohol’s unsafe margin of exposure (MOE) ratio isn’t all that surprising since, unlike heroin and cocaine, it is legal and much more readily available and accepted.

Marijuana legalization advocates are welcoming the new study, using it to suggest that America’s current ban on the drug is wrong and misguided, considering the mortality rates associated with alcohol and tobacco – both of which are legal and easily accessible to those of age. Marijuana, meanwhile, is still illegal on the federal level and largely illegal on the state level – except in Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia.

Even the researchers noted that compared to other drugs, their findings support regulating pot as a legal substance instead of a banned one.

“Currently, the MOE results point to risk management prioritization towards alcohol and tobacco rather than illicit drugs,” the report reads. “The high MOE values of cannabis, which are in a low-risk range, suggest a strict legal regulatory approach rather than the current prohibition approach.”
Despite the new study, the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions that pot should not be smoked by children or teenagers, as there have been studies suggesting a link between youth smoking and impaired child development.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

What We Are Not Being Told About Suicide And Depression

Shouldn’t researchers examine societal and cultural variables that are making us depressed and suicidal?

For nearly two decades, Big Pharma commercials have falsely told Americans that mental illness is associated with a chemical brain imbalance, but the truth is that mental illness and suicidality are associated with poverty, unemployment, and mass incarceration. And the truth is that American society has now become so especially oppressive for young people that an embarrassingly large number of American teenagers and young adults are suicidal and depressed.

In November of 2014, the U.S. government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued a press release titled “Nearly One in Five Adult Americans Experienced Mental Illness in 2013.” This brief press release provides a snapshot of the number of Americans who are suicidal, depressed, and mentally ill, and it bemoans how many Americans are not in treatment. However, excluded from SAMHSA’s press release—yet included in the lengthy results of SAMHSA’s national survey—are economic, age, gender, and other demographic correlates of serious mental illness, depression, and suicidality (serious suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts). It is these demographic correlates that have political implications.

These lengthy results, for example, include extensive evidence that involvement in the criminal justice system (such as being on parole or probation) is highly correlated with suicidality, depression, and serious mental illness. Yet Americans are not told that preventing unnecessary involvement with the criminal justice system—for example, marijuana legalization and drug use decriminalization—could well prove to be a more powerful antidote to suicidality, depression, and serious mental illness than medical treatment.

Also, the survey results provide extensive evidence that unemployment and poverty are highly associated with suicidality, depression, and serious mental illness. While correlation is not the equivalent of causation, it makes more sense to be further examining variables that actually are associated with suicidality, depression, and serious mental illness rather than focusing on variables such as chemical imbalances which are not even correlates (see AlterNet January 2015). These results beg questions such as: Does unemployment and poverty cause depression, or does depression make it more likely for unemployment and poverty, or are both true?

And the survey results also provide extensive evidence that younger Americans are more depressed than older Americans, that women are more likely to be depressed than men, and that Native Americans and biracial Americans are more likely to be depressed than other ethnic/racial groups. Again, while correlation is not the equivalent of causation, depression obviously cannot cause one to become young, female, or Native American. More rationally, researchers should be asking what is it about American society that is so depressing, especially for young people, women, and Native Americans?

These recent SAMHSA survey results provide a golden opportunity for a scientific and societal shift to reconsider what about American society and culture is resulting in emotional suffering and self-destructive behaviors, especially for certain groups. Below is a summary of some of the key statistics in these buried SAMHSA survey results.

Summary of Buried SAMHSA Survey Results
Involvement with the Criminal Justice System: In 2013, the percentage of American adults with serious suicidal thoughts: 10.7 percent for those on parole or a supervised release from jail in the past 12 months, 9.2 percent among those who were on probation, and 3.9 percent for those not involved in the criminal justice system. The percentage for adults with any mental illness: if on probation was 32.3 percent, if on parole or supervised release, 36.5 percent, double the percentage of adults not involved in the criminal justice system (18.3 percent). The percentage of adults with serious mental illness: if on probation was 9.4 percent, if on parole or supervised release was 13.9 percent, more than triple for those not involved in the criminal justice system (4.1 percent).

Unemployment: Among American adults in 2013, the unemployed were more likely than those who were employed full time: to have serious thoughts of suicide (7.0 vs. 3.0 percent), make suicide plans (2.3 vs. 0.7 percent), or attempt suicide (1.4 vs. 0.3 percent). The percentage of adults with any mental illness: for the unemployed was 22.8 percent, for part-time employed was 20.3 percent, and for full-time employed was 15.4 percent. Among adults with serious mental illness: the percentage for the unemployed was 6.6 percent, for part-time employed was 4.8 percent, and for those full-time employed was 2.7 percent. Among those adults having a major depression episode: the percentage for the unemployed was 9.5 percent, for part-time employed was 7.8 percent, and for full-time employed was 5.3 percent.

Family Income: Among American adults in 2013, serious suicidal thoughts occurred in: 6.6 percent of those from family incomes below the Federal poverty level, 4.7 percent of those with family incomes between 100 and 199 percent of the Federal poverty level, and 3.1 percent of those with annual family incomes at 200 percent or more of the Federal poverty level. Among American adults, the percentage with serious mental illness: for those with a family income that was below the Federal poverty level was 7.7 percent, for those with a family income at 100 to 199 percent of the Federal poverty level was 5.1 percent, and for those with a family income at 200 percent or more of the Federal poverty level was 3.2 percent.

Age: No suicidality results were reported for Americans under 18, however, among American adults having serious suicidal thoughts, the percentage: for those aged 18 to 25 was 7.4 percent, for those aged 26 to 49 was 4.0 percent, and for those aged 50 or older was 2.7 percent. And among adults who made suicide plans in the past year: the percentage for those aged 18 to 25 was 2.5 percent, for those aged 26 to 49 was 1.3 percent, and for those aged 50 or older was 0.6 percent. The percentage of Americans having a major depressive episode in 2013: for those aged 12 to 17 was 10.7 percent, for those aged 18 to 25 was 8.7 percent, for those aged 26 to 49 was 7.6 percent, and for those aged 50 or older was 5.1 percent.

Gender: In 2013, adult women were more likely than adult men to have: any mental illness (22.3 vs. 14.4 percent), a serious mental illness (4.9 vs. 3.5 percent), a major depressive episode (8.1 vs. 5.1 percent), and suicidal thoughts (4.0 vs. 3.8 percent). Among American ages 12 to 17, females were more likely than males to have a major depressive episode (16.2 vs. 5.3 percent) and a major depressive episode with severe impairment (12.0 vs. 3.5 percent).

Ethnicity/Race: In 2013, the percentages of adults aged 18 or older having serious thoughts of suicide in the past year were: 2.9 percent among blacks, 3.3 percent among Asians, 3.6 percent among Hispanics, 4.1 percent among whites, 4.6 percent among Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders, 4.8 percent among American Indians or Alaska Natives, and 7.9 percent among adults reporting two or more races. The percentages of adults with a major depressive episode: were 1.6 percent among Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders, 4.0 percent among Asians, 4.6 percent among blacks, 5.8 percent among Hispanics, 7.3 percent among whites, 8.9 percent among American Indians or Alaska Natives, and 11.4 percent among adults reporting two or more races.

The SAMHSA press release states that among American adults in 2013: 10 million American adults (4.2 percent) experienced a serious mental illness, 15.7 million adults (6.7 percent) experienced a major depressive episode, and states that “major depressive episodes affected approximately one in ten (2.6 million) youth between the ages of 12 to 17.” The press release then laments how many Americans with mental illnesses are not receiving treatment.

While these statistics in the SAMHSA press release are troubling, the devil is in the details of the actual lengthy SAMHSA survey results. These results make clear that suicidality, depression, and mental illness are highly correlated with involvement in the criminal justice system, unemployment, and poverty, and occur in greater frequency among young people, women, and Native Americans.

Shouldn’t researchers be examining American societal and cultural variables that are making so many of us depressed and suicidal? At the very least, don’t we as a society want to know what exactly is making physically healthier teenagers and young adults more depressed than senior citizens?

5 Facts That Show Half of America Is Seriously Struggling

The media celebrates "economic growth," while new data shows most Americans are barely surviving.

Happy Monday! S&P 500 now up 10% for year --CNN Money
Third-quarter U.S. economic growth strongest in 11 years --Reuters
The U.S. economy is on a tear --Wall Street Journal 

Half of our nation, by all reasonable estimates of human need, is in poverty. The jubilant headlines above speak for people whose view is distorted by growing financial wealth. The argument for a barely surviving half of America has been made before, but important new data is available to strengthen the case.

1. No Money for Unexpected Bills 

A recent Bankrate poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans didn't have savings available to cover a $500 repair bill or a $1,000 emergency room visit.

A related Pew survey concluded that over half of U.S. households have less than one month's income in readily available savings, and that ALL their savings -- including retirement funds -- amounted to only about four months of income.

And young adults? A negative savings rate, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Before the recession their savings rate was a reasonably healthy 5 percent.

2. 40 Percent Collapse in Household Wealth 

Over half of Americans have good reason to feel poor. Between 2007 and 2013 median wealth dropped a shocking 40 percent, leaving the poorest half with negative wealth (because of debt), and a full 60% of households owning, in total, about as much as the nation's 94 richest individuals.

People of color fare the worst, with half of black households owning less than $11,000 in total wealth, and Hispanic households less than $14,000. The median net worth for white households is about $142,000.

3. Cost of Living Surges as Income Falls 

Official poverty measures are based largely on the food costs of the 1950s. But food costs have doubledsince 1978, housing has more than tripled, and college tuition is eleven times higher. The cost of raising a child increased by 40 percent between 2000 and 2010. And despite the gains from Obamacare, health care expenses continue to grow.

As all these essential costs have been going up, median household income has been going down since 2000, with the greatest drop occurring since 2009, as 95 percent of the post-recession income gains have gone to the richest 1%.

4. Lots of New Jobs (Below Living Wage) 

'Amazing' jobs report, apart from wages --Marketwatch 

Amazing at the top and at the bottom. According to the Federal Reserve Bank, there have been job gains at the highest paid level -- engineering, finance, computer analysis; and there have been job gains at thelowest paid level -- personal health care, retail, and food preparation.

But the jobs that kept the middle class out of poverty -- education, construction, social services, transportation, administration -- have seen a decline since the recession, especially in the northeast. At a national level jobs gained are paying 23 percent less than jobs lost.

Worse yet, the lowest paid workers, those in housekeeping and home health care and food service, haveseen their wages drop 6 to 8 percent (although wages overall rose about 2 percent in 2014).

5. Our Greatest Shame: Half of the Children Feeling Poverty 

Over half of public school students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies. There's been a stunning70 percent increase since the recession in the number of children on food stamps. State of Working America reported that almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty.

The celebratory quotes about a booming economy seem so far away.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Did Grassroots Power Push FCC in Right Direction on Net Neutrality?

No, internet giants like Google and Facebook did. People with as much money than the telecom giants did it~jef.
Monday, February 02, 2015
Wheeler likely to support strict net neutrality protections after backing off from pro-industry initiatives
Following a months-long campaign by consumer advocacy groups that pushed for strict protection of the internet, Federal Communications Commissioner Tom Wheeler appears to be ready to introduce some of the strongest regulations possible on Thursday ahead of the FCC's final net neutrality vote on February 26, according to reports.

Those regulations include redefining broadband as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act, a policy change that has been touted by internet watchdog groups as one of the most important net neutrality protections available.

Once a lobbyist for the cable and telecommunications industries, Wheeler initially supported lax regulations that critics said would open the door to controversial paid-prioritization policies, known as "fast lanes," allowing internet service providers to charge higher fees for speedier website loading times.

According to reporting by Politico on Monday, "interviews with FCC officials, industry executives and representatives of public interest groups reveal the origins of his dramatic pivot on this issue: an intense and relatively brief grass-roots lobbying campaign that targeted two people — him and President Barack Obama."

Pressure from digital rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Press, which galvanized support from consumers and progressive media figures, saw Wheeler steadily backpedaling on his initiatives last year. His shift appeared near-complete after President Barack Obama spoke out in favor of strict net neutrality regulations on November 10.

Wheeler proposed in April new rules that would allow ISPs to create fast lane deals with internet companies as long as they were "commercially reasonable."

In response, a coalition of internet watchdogs and consumer advocacy groups launched a months-long series of campaigns against the chairman's proposals, while protesters camped out in front of FCC headquarters.

On June 1, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver ridiculed Wheeler and his proposed rules in a segment that quickly went viral, sending hundreds of thousands of consumers to the FCC website to comment in favor of stronger net neutrality regulations. Within months, four million emails and comments had come in, breaking FCC records.

Wheeler then moved towards a hybrid proposal that would impose Title II rules on parts of the internet, but not all of it. That, too, was met with disapproval by watchdogs and tech companies alike.

Meanwhile, Obama had also been under pressure from internet advocacy groups, who urged him to speak out in favor of stricter regulations. On November 10, he did just that, issuing a statement that called for using a Title II reclassification to safeguard the internet, "one of the most significant democratizing influences the world has ever known."

Earlier this month, Wheeler indicated support for reclassification of the internet as a public utility under Title II, bringing praise from Free Press president and CEO Craig Aaron who said, "Chairman Wheeler appears to have heard the demands of the millions of Internet users who have called for real net neutrality protections."

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Police State Is Upon Us

Paul Craig Roberts 

Anyone paying attention knows that 9/11 has been used to create a police/warfare state. Years ago NSA official William Binney warned Americans about the universal spying by the National Security Agency, to little effect. Recently Edward Snowden proved the all-inclusive NSA spying by releasing spy documents, enough of which have been made available by Glenn Greenwald to establish the fact of NSA illegal and unconstitutional spying, spying that has no legal, constitutional, or “national security” reasons.Yet Americans are not up in arms. Americans have accepted the government’s offenses against them as necessary protection against “terrorists.”

Neither Congress, the White House, or the Judiciary has done anything about the wrongful spying, because the spying serves the government. Law and the Constitution are expendable when the few who control the government have their “more important agendas.”

Bradley Manning warned us of the militarization of US foreign policy and the murderous consequences, and Julian Assange of WikiLeaks posted leaked documents proving it.

Were these whistleblowers and honest journalists, who alerted us to the determined attack on our civil liberty, rewarded with invitations to the White House and given medals of honor in recognition of their service to American liberty?

No. Bradley Manning is in federal prison, and so would be Julian Assange and Edward Snowden if Washington could get its hands on them.

Binney escaped the Police State’s clutches, because he did not take any documents with which to prove his allegations, and thus could be dismissed as “disgruntled” and as a “conspiracy kook,” but not arrested as a “spy” who stole “national secrets.”

Greenwald, so far, is too prominent to be hung for reporting the truth. But he is in the crosshairs, and the Police State is using other cases to close in on him.

These are only five of the many people who have provided absolute total proof that the Bill of Rights has been overthrown. Washington continues to present itself to the world as the “home of the free,” the owner of the White Hat, while Washington demonstrates its lack of mercy by invading or bombing seven countries on false pretenses during the past 14 years, displacing, killing, and maiming millions of Muslims who never raised a fist against the US.

Many commentators have written articles and given interviews about government’s ever expanding police powers. The totality of the American Police State is demonstrated by its monument in Utah, where an enormous complex has been constructed in which to store every communication of every American.

Somehow a son or daughter checking on an aged parent, a working mother checking on her children’s child care, a family ordering a pizza, and sweethearts planning a date are important matters of national security.
Some educated and intelligent people understand the consequences, but most Americans perceive no threat as they “have nothing to hide.”

The Founding Fathers who wrote the Bill of Rights and attached it to the US Constitution did not have anything to hide, but they clearly understood, unlike modern day Americans, that freedom depended completely on strictly limiting the ability of government to intrude upon the person.

Those limits provided by the Founding Fathers are gone. The hoax “war on terror” demolished them.
Today not even the relationships between husband and wife and parents and children have any protection from arbitrary intrusions by the state.

Essentially, government has destroyed the family along with civil liberty.

Those insouciant Americans who do not fear the police state because they “have nothing to hide” desperately need to read: Home-schooled Children Seized By Authorities Still In State Custody.

In Police State America, authorities can enter your home on the basis of an anonymous “tip” that you are, or might be, somehow, abusing your children, or exposing them to medicines that are not in containers with child-proof caps or to household bleach that is not under lock and key, and seize your children into state custody on the grounds that you present a danger to your children.

The government does not have to tell you who your accuser is. It can be your worst enemy or a disgruntled employee, but the tipster is protected. However, you and your family are not.

The authorities who receive these tips treat them as if they are valid. A multi-member goon squad shows up at your house. This is when the utterly stupid “I have nothing to hide” Americans discover that they have no rights, regardless of whether they have anything to hide.

We owe this police power over parents and children to “child advocates” who lobbied for laws based on their fantasies that all parents are serial rapists of children, and if not, are medieval torturers, trained by the CIA, who physically and psychologically abuse their children.

In the opinion of “child advocates,” children are brought into the world in order to be abused by parents. Dogs and cats and the fish in the fishbowl are not enough. Parents need children to abuse, too, just as the Police and the Police State need people to abuse.

Of course, sometimes real child abuse occurs. But it is not the routine event that the Child Protective Services Police assume. A sincere investigation, such as was missing in the report on the home-schooled children, would have had one polite person appear at the door to explain to the parents that there had been a complaint that their children were being exposed to a poisonous substance in the home. The person should have listened to the parents, had a look at the children, and if there was any doubt about the water purifier, ask that its use be discontinued until its safety could be verified.

But nothing sensible happened, because the Police State does not have to be sensible.

Instead, a half dozen goon thugs show up. The parents are put outside in the snow for 5 hours while the children are scared to death with questions and then carried away from their home, mother, and father.
In Police State America, this is called Protecting Children. We owe this tyranny to the idiot “child advocates.”

It is no longer important to protect children from homosexuals, unless the homosexuals are Catholic child pedophiles. But it is absolutely necessary to protect children from their parents.

So, yes, dear insouciant American fool, whether you have anything to hide or not, you are in grave danger, and so are your children, in Police State America.

You can no longer rely on the Constitution to protect you.

This is the only way that you can protect yourself: grovel before your neighbors, your co-workers, your employees and employers, and, most definitely, before “public authority” and your children, as your children can report you. Don’t complain about anything. Do not get involved in protests. Don’t make critical comments on the Internet or on your telephone calls. Don’t homeschool. Don’t resist vaccines. Turn your backs to leaders who could liberate you as it is too dangerous to risk the failure of liberation. Be an abject, cowardly, obedient, servile member of the enserfed, enslaved American population. Above all, be thankful to Big Brother who protects you from terrorists and Russians.

You, dear insouciant, stupid, American are back on the Plantation. Perhaps that is your natural home. In his masterful A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn documents that despite their best efforts the exploited and abused American people have never been able to prevail against the powerful private interests that control the government. Whenever in American history the people rise up they are struck down by brute force.

Zinn makes totally clear that “American freedom, democracy, liberty, blah-blah” are nothing but a disguise for the rule over America by money.

Wave the flag, sing patriot songs, see enemies where the government tells you to see them, and above all, never think. Just listen. The government and its presstitute media will tell you what you must believe.

More evidence of Police State America.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Friday, October 24, 2014

Shielded from Justice: The High Cost of Living in a Police State

By John W. Whitehead
October 14, 2014

“It’s been over five months since the night a SWAT team broke into the house in which we were staying…We were staying with relatives and my whole family was sleeping in one room. My husband and I, our three daughters and our baby (nicknamed “Baby Bou Bou”) in his crib. Dressed like soldiers, they broke down the door. The SWAT officers tossed a flashbang grenade into the room. It landed in Baby Bou Bou’s crib, blowing a hole in his face and chest that took months to heal and covering his entire body with scars.

“Doctors tell us that my son will have to have double reconstructive surgeries twice a year, every year for the next 20 years… [I]n five short months our family has taken on nearly $900,000 in medical bills, some of which have now gone into collections… After initially offering to cover the medical expenses, the county has since refused to cover any of our medical costs, all of which would never have happened if the SWAT team hadn’t broken into the home.”—Alecia Phonesavanh

Who pays the price for the police shootings that leave unarmed citizens dead or injured, for the SWAT team raids that leave doors splintered, homes trashed, pets murdered, and family members traumatized and injured, if not dead?

I’m not just talking about the price that must be paid in hard-earned dollars, whether by taxpayers or the victims, in attempting to restore what was vandalized and broken by police. It’s also the things that can’t be so easily calculated to a decimal point: the broken bones that will never quite heal right, the children’s nightmares at night, the uneasy sleep, the broken family heirlooms, the loss of faith in a system that was supposed to serve and protect you, the grief for loved ones whose lives were cut short.

Baby Bou Bou may have survived the misdirected SWAT team raid that left him with a hole in his face and extensive scars on his body, but he will be the one to pay the price for the rest of his life for the SWAT team’s blunder in launching a flashbang grenade into his crib. And even though the SWAT team was wrong about the person they were after, even though they failed to find any drugs in the home they’d raided, and even though they may have regretted the fact that Baby Bou Bou got hurt, it will still be the Phonesavanh family who will pay and pay and pay for the endless surgeries every year to reconstruct their son’s face as he grows from toddler to boy to teenager to man. Already, they have racked up more than $900,000 in medical bills. Incredibly, government officials refused to cover the family’s medical expenses.

That is just one family’s experience, the price they must pay for living in a police state. Tally their pain, their loss and their medical bills, and add it to that of the hundreds of other families in cities and towns across the nation who are similarly reeling from the blows inflicted by the government’s standing armies, and you will find yourself reeling. For many of these individuals, there can never be any amount of reparation sufficient to make up for the lives lost or shattered.

As for those who do get “paid back,” at least in monetary terms for their heartache and loss, it’s the taxpayers who are footing the bill to the tune of millions of dollars. Incredibly, these cases hardly impact the police department’s budget. As journalist Aviva Shen points out, “individual officers are rarely held accountable for their abuses, either by the police department or in court… Internally, police departments rarely investigate complaints of misconduct, let alone punish the accused officers. Because cities insulate police officers and departments from the financial consequences for their actions, police on the street have little incentive to avoid unnecessary force, and their departments may not feel the need to crack down on repeat offenders. And so the bill for taxpayers keeps growing.”

For example, Baltimore taxpayers have paid roughly $5.7 million since 2011 over lawsuits stemming from police abuses, with an additional $5.8 million going towards legal fees. That’s money that could have been spent on a state-of-the-art recreation center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds. As the Baltimore Sun reports: “Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson… Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.”

New York taxpayers have shelled out almost $1,130 per year per police officer (there are 34,500 officers in the NYPD) to address charges of misconduct. That translates to $38 million every year just to clean up after these so-called public servants. Over a 10-year-period, Oakland, Calif., taxpayers were made to cough up more than $57 million (curiously enough, the same amount as the city’s deficit back in 2011) in order to settle accounts with alleged victims of police abuse.

Chicago taxpayers were asked to pay out nearly $33 million on one day alone to victims of police misconduct, with one person slated to receive $22.5 million, potentially the largest single amount settled on any one victim. The City has paid more than half a billion dollars to victims over the course of a decade. The Chicago City Council actually had to borrow $100 million just to pay off lawsuits arising over police misconduct in 2013. The city’s payout for 2014 should be in the same ballpark, especially with cases pending such as the one involving the man who was reportedly sodomized by a police officer’s gun in order to force him to “cooperate.”

Over 78% of the funds paid out by Denver taxpayers over the course of a decade arose as a result of alleged abuse or excessive use of force by the Denver police and sheriff departments. Meanwhile, taxpayers in Ferguson, Missouri, are being asked to pay $40 million in compensation—more than the city’s entire budget—for police officers treating them “‘as if they were war combatants,’ using tactics like beating, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and stun grenades, while the plaintiffs were peacefully protesting, sitting in a McDonalds, and in one case walking down the street to visit relatives.”

That’s just a small sampling of the most egregious payouts, but just about every community—large and small—feels the pinch when it comes to compensating victims who have been subjected to deadly or excessive force by police. The ones who rarely ever feel the pinch are the officers accused or convicted of wrongdoing, “even if they are disciplined or terminated by their department, criminally prosecuted, or even imprisoned.”

Indeed, a study published in the NYU Law Review reveals that 99.8% of the monies paid in settlements and judgments in police misconduct cases never come out of the officers’ own pockets, even when state laws require them to be held liable. Moreover, these officers rarely ever have to pay for their own legal defense. As law professor Joanna C. Schwartz notes, police officers are more likely to be struck by lightning than be made financially liable for their actions.

Schwartz references a case in which three Denver police officers chased and then beat a 16-year-old boy, stomping “on the boy’s back while using a fence for leverage, breaking his ribs and causing him to suffer kidney damage and a lacerated liver.” The cost to Denver taxpayers to settle the lawsuit: $885,000. The amount the officers contributed: 0.

Kathryn Johnston, 92 years old, was shot and killed during a SWAT team raid that went awry. Attempting to cover their backs, the officers falsely claimed Johnston’s home was the site of a cocaine sale and went so far as to plant marijuana in the house to support their claim. The cost to Atlanta taxpayers to settle the lawsuit: $4.9 million. The amount the officers contributed: 0.

Meanwhile, in Albuquerque, a police officer was convicted of raping a woman in his police car, in addition to sexually assaulting four other women and girls, physically abusing two additional women, and kidnapping or falsely imprisoning five men and boys. The cost to the Albuquerque taxpayers to settle the lawsuit: $1,000,000. The amount the officer contributed: 0.

In its report on police brutality and accountability in the United States, Human Rights Watch notes that taxpayers actually pay three times for officers who repeatedly commit abuses: “once to cover their salaries while they commit abuses; next to pay settlements or civil jury awards against officers; and a third time through payments into police ‘defense’ funds provided by the cities.”

A large part of the problem can be chalked up to influential police unions and laws providing for qualified immunity, which invariably allow officers to walk away without paying a dime for their wrongdoing. Conveniently, those deciding whether a police officer should be immune from having to personally pay for misbehavior on the job all belong to the same system, all cronies with a vested interest in protecting the police and their infamous code of silence: city and county attorneys, police commissioners, city councils and judges.

In a nutshell, the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning when it comes to qualified immunity for government officials (not just police officers) is essentially that these officials might be too cautious in carrying out their duties if there was a risk that they might be held personally liable for wrongdoing on the job. Frankly, we’d be far better off if government officials operated under the constant fear that there would be ramifications for wrongdoing on the job. As it now stands, we’ve got way too many lawbreakers, scoundrels, cheats and thugs on the government’s payroll, (many of whom are actually elected to office).

So what’s the solution, if any, to a system so clearly rigged that it allows rogue cops who engage in excessive force to wreak havoc with no fear of financial consequences? As HRW concludes:
The excessive use of force by police officers, including unjustified shootings, severe beatings, fatal chokings, and rough treatment, persists because overwhelming barriers to accountability make it possible for officers who commit human rights violations to escape due punishment and often to repeat their offenses…. Officers with long records of abuse, policies that are overly vague, training that is substandard, and screening that is inadequate all create opportunities for abuse. Perhaps most important, and consistently lacking, is a system of oversight in which supervisors hold their charges accountable for mistreatment and are themselves reviewed and evaluated, in part, by how they deal with subordinate officers who commit human rights violations. Those who claim that each high-profile case of abuse by a “rogue” officer is an aberration are missing the point: problem officers frequently persist because the accountability systems are so seriously flawed.

Unfortunately, we’re so far gone as a nation in terms of cronyism, corruption and unequal justice that there’s little hope of reformation working from the top down. As I point out in A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, if any change is to be made, if any hope for accountability is to be realized it must begin, as always, at the local level, with local police departments and governing bodies, where the average citizen can still, with sufficient reinforcements, make his voice heard.

So the next time you hear of a police shooting in your town of an unarmed citizen, don’t just shrug helplessly and turn the page or switch the channel. Form a coalition of concerned citizens and call your prosecutor’s office, email the police department, speak out at your city council meeting, urge your local paper to cover the story from both sides, blog about it, stage a protest, demand transparency and accountability—whatever you do, make sure you send the message loud and clear that you do not want your taxpayer dollars supporting illegal and abusive behavior.

Unprecedented catastrophe underway at Fukushima… Radioactive material will keep coming across to North America for centuries


Oct. 20, 2014 Chronic and long-lasting radioactive releases are [ongoing]… Fukushima continues to bleed into the ocean, because those nuclear cores have melted down and are in direct contact with the groundwater. It will bleed for centuries perhaps, and certainly decades to come. So when you compare these nuclear accidents… [Chernobyl] didn’t hit groundwater… The bottom line is that accidents are getting worse… Chernobyl contaminated all of Europe – 

Fukushima is contaminating the entire Pacific. >> Watch presentation here Kevin Kamps, nuclear waste watchdog, Oct. 21, 2014 (at 46:00 in): It shows what’s really been expected, that the massive releases of radioactivity — both atmospheric, that fell out on the ocean, and liquid, that are still on a daily basis pouring into the ocean — are slowly, or not so slowly, making their way to the North American coastline… This is going to keep going on for years, decades, even centuries into the future… Everyday, it’s 300 tons of radioactive groundwater that flows into the sea – every single day for the past nearly 4 years now — 300 tons of radioactive groundwater, containing a toxic alphabet soup of radioactive poisons, cesium… strontium-90, plutonium isotopes. That’s each and every day, so it is an unprecedented catastrophe for the oceans… The significance is — that is open ocean sea water. The bioaccumulation, biomagnification — we’re talking about orders of magnitude concentration of these radioactive poisons. First plankton, then go up the food chain — we are at the top of that food chain. So that’s just going to get worse the further up the food chain you go. It’s a very significant issue that the US federal government and the state governments are not paying attention to.

The Most Distrusted New Sources

This Modern World

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, 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 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 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.