Thursday, July 10, 2014

Free Market Hipocrisy



1M gallons of oil-drilling byproducts leaked into N. Dakota drinking water

July 10, 2014 RT


A North Dakota pipeline has hemorrhaged about 1 million gallons of oil-drilling saltwater into the ground of a native Indian reservation, with some of the byproduct suspected to have leaked into a lake that provides drinking water.

The spill of a toxic byproduct of oil and natural gas production at the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation was discovered on Tuesday.

The cleanup is expected to last for weeks, according to Miranda Jones, vice president of environmental safety at Crestwood Midstream Services Inc. A subsidiary of Crestwood - Aero Pipeline LLC - owns the underground pipeline.

Jones believes the leak started over the Fourth of July weekend, but was only detected when the company was sorting through production loss reports, according to AP.

"This is something no company wants on their record, and we are working diligently to clean it up," Jones said.

Yet Karolin Rockvoy, a McKenzie County emergency manager, visited the site of the leak and said, based on the amount of devastation done to local vegetation, the spill had probably gone undetected for some time.

The pipeline was not equipped with technology that alerts operators of a leak, Jones said. Last year, the state legislature rejected legislation mandating pipeline flow meters and cutoff switches.

It is as yet unknown how much of this saltwater - between 10 and 30 times saltier than sea water and considered an environmental hazard by the state of North Dakota - found its way into Bear Den Bay, which leads to Lake Sakakawea.

The lake supplies water for the reservation, where the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara tribes live in an area of western North Dakota that is experiencing an unprecedented drilling boom.

Crestwood Midstream Services Inc. and tribal officials maintain, though, that the spill is controlled and has not impacted the lake.

"We have a berm and a dike around it, around that bay area, to keep it from going into the lake," said the Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall.

The briny saltwater byproduct from drilling could contain petroleum and residue from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, an energy intensive process that involves the injection of highly pressurized water, sand, and chemicals into layers of rock. The practice concerns geologists, and human and environmental health officials alike.

Kris Roberts, environmental geologist with the North Dakota Department of Health, said the spill had already caused widespread damage at the site.

"We've got dead trees, dead grasses, dead bushes, dying bushes," he said, according to AP.

Saltwater spills in the state have increased as the North Dakota energy boom has evolved. The state produced 25.5 million barrels of brine in 2012. There were 141 pipeline leaks reported in the state that same year, 99 of which spilled around 8,000 barrels of saltwater, AP reports.

State regulators say about 6,150 barrels of the leaked saltwater were recovered. One barrel equals 42 gallons of fluid.

Drilling at the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation represents a major portion of the state’s oil production, as more than 300,000 of North Dakota’s 1 million barrels of oil produced daily come from the area, according to figures from the state’s Department of Mineral Resources.

Possibly the worst environmental disaster ever in the state occurred in 2006, when a broken oil pipeline leaked more than a million gallons of saltwater into a creek, aquifer, and pond. Saltwater from the rupture spewed unnoticed for weeks into a tributary of the Yellowstone River near Alexander, North Dakota, causing the death of many fish, turtles, and plants.

Cleanup efforts connected with that spill are ongoing.

Saltwater pipelines in western North Dakota have since been connected in an elaborate network that empties into hundreds of disposal wells, where the brine is permanently stored underground.

Fracking wastewater injected into storage wells has been linked to drastically increased seismic activity in areas with similar energy booms as North Dakota, including Oklahoma.

The US Geological Survey has said that “the injected wastewater counteracts the frictional forces on faults and, in effect, ‘pries them apart’, thereby facilitating earthquake slip.”

Blackwater’s Death Machine

The Privatization of Repression
by NORMAN POLLACK


Obama is excellent at multitasking in navigating the waters of international politics, seeking to construct a political-structural framework of American global hegemony, formally (for who knows the full extent of the forces standing behind him?) presiding over a Juggernaut of irresponsible power in which the US seemingly thwarted in one theater of operations then springs up in another. Obama the jumping jack, but with malice aforethought, ever moving forward through intervention, carefully-delineated war (at least that is the claim), regime change, drone assassination, CIA-JSOC joint-paramilitary operations, alliance systems to rationalize the internationalization of American power (as with NATO and “friends and allies”) often bilaterally arranged, affording joint-exercises and lucrative arms sales, and not least, the subject of this article, the use of PRIVATE ARMIES, which have an increasingly important role as occupation forces and for guarding US interests, facilities, and personnel worldwide.

By multitasking, I mean proving oneself at being adept in the service of ruling groups and the needs and objectives of the political economy, from establishing beachheads for business (commercial-financial penetration) to presenting a counterrevolutionary front onto the world on behalf of the security of US and global capitalism, wrapped in the protective shell of military omnipotence. This entails awareness of multiple pressure points, either to be worked with or destroyed, a geopolitical landscape itself forever in motion, so that, if not Russia, then China, if not China, then Iraq and Afghanistan, etc., etc., which is entirely befitting one who presides over US-defined processes of industrial and trade expansion within a world system unwilling to accept, because of its increasingly multipolar structure, American supervision. This still sporadic, but now more and more resolute, resistance to unconditional US supremacy in all that affects the world system, conforming in power-terms to the realities of structural change occurring over the last several decades, places emphasis on FORCE in maintaining its suzerainty. Diplomacy be damned (except as camouflaged in liberal rhetoric to cover the relentless application of power), humanitarianism now being the spearhead for intervention and the expansion of spheres of influence.

This is not to suggest Obama’s expertise in international politics and economics; he has a pedestrian mind (run-of-the-mill intelligence, impressionable when confronted by financial and military arcanum), nimble mental processes (except becoming congealed when his considerable defense-mechanisms go up), antennae out for what sells, personally ingratiates, or aligns with instruments of power, genial on the surface, harboring desires for recognition based on an imagined sense of hurt and deprivation which gives license for belligerence, power, cruelty in national and world affairs. Consider his engagement with drone assassination, the vaporization of fellow human beings thousands of miles away, or the impoverishment and growing underclass his actions support, again, fellow human beings, as policy further enriches the already very wealthy. His psychological attachment to power brings him closer to financial, military, and intelligence elites, leading to an aggressive role in the massive surveillance of the American people, contrariwise, the near-absolute secrecy of government, in which transparency per se is feared as a form of terrorism (witness the fulsome use of the Espionage Act against whistleblowers).

To know Obama is to understand better the relationship between the government and Blackwater, which is a particularly vicious form of private army, free-wheeling, trigger-happy, cloaked in patriotism, and demanding and receiving for itself complete immunity for the crimes it commits. These, however, are not crimes in ordinary parlance, because sanctioned by, and done in the name of, the government, which shares its ideology of force, righteousness, superiority. Mowing down the innocent, along with engaging in promiscuity on the government’s time, both revealed by investigators, are o.k., so long as counterterrorism can be a screen by which to hide behind. Under Obama’s umbrella, Blackwater was safe because deemed essential—and because there was a tinge of fear about going against it. When strength for questionable purposes is asked, one turns to the strongest, which follows an authoritarian mindset characteristic of the society.

Damage control is one area of his expertise bound to arise, given his record of war, drone assassination, regime change, and now, the use of private contractors, who are accorded (as are the military), through the status-of-forces agreements imposed where American intervention occurs, diplomatic immunity from punishment for the commission of crimes in the assigned country. Getting away with murder is both figurative and literal. A notorious case, in September 2007, occurred when Blackwater trucks entered a busy Baghdad traffic circle and, in a hurry and given prior immunity for their actions, simply cleared the way through spraying the area with machine-gun fire and killing 17 Iraqis. The “Ugly American” of the 1950s was Adonis compared with these mercenaries, themselves well-connected both with right-wing support in Congress and the Executive, and doing guard duty at foreign embassies as well as working with the CIA in conducting armed drone missions of assassination.

A private army, its usage is interrelated with the militarism-driven public policy that has shaped the confrontational posture toward Russia and China, and the broader context of counterrevolution where “Enemies” become defined and visited upon by all the majesty of military might. Proceed with impunity is the watchword for American forces, whether at an Iraqi traffic circle, a Pakistan or Yemen funeral procession (by definition bad guys because at the burial of the Bad Guy we just vaporized via a drone strike), or the numerous black-hole prisons around the globe recruited through rendition. Civilian or military, it makes little difference: impunity bears the imprimatur of Exceptionalism.

***

When Matt Apuzzo’s article in The Times appeared, “In a U.S. Court, Iraqis Accuse Blackwater of Killings in 2007,” (June 25), the readers in their Comments for the most part blamed Bush for the massacre yet, not the event so much as the cover-up, seeing no relation whatever to Obama and his administration for the subsequent fate of the perpetrators (nil) or participation in the cover-up. Obama, DOJ, Pentagon, even the media, a deafening silence, now broken, but Obama as always sheathed in protective armor. A century-and-a-third ago, ruling groups used Pinkertons to suppress the American labor movement (the Great Railroad Strikes of 1877). Now, ruling groups, better organized, more powerful, use a different private army, Blackwater, to class and systemic hegemony, a similar end, only on a broader basis, across the globe, directly reaching or affecting a wider constituency, all who stand in the way, or even seem to, of US foreign policy. The privatization of repression remains a constant in American history, whether as goons and scabs making up private armies or corporate executives in three-piece suits under marching orders to squeeze every bit of life from the masses through consumerism, indebtedness, and stagnant wages–a social system therefore whose motivating impulse is the differentiation of rich and poor, the former, more concentrated through time, the latter, more numerous.

Barrington Moore’s concept of legitimated violence, in Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, has resonance to our topic—the interrelatedness of actions and developments criminal in any meaningful sense yet falling inside and protected by the law as, if nothing else, the normalization of power, indeed, power as a law to itself, no questions asked, either by political leaders or most historians. Thus falling under his concept, for present purposes, would be a political economy making for the formation of an underclass of today at home and worldwide, and the gunning down of people at a Baghdad intersection, or for that matter, the Washington tricksters seeking to trap Putin and Russia into false moves justifying massive retaliation in the name of an international system they themselves are eroding if not destroying in the name of a higher law, yes, the “moral” utility of Exceptionalism. All of the foregoing come to mind as derivable from Moore’s classification of crimes which Authority in its prerogatives and power defines as noncrimes, erasing lines between the private and public spheres of life, just so long as the System has been served, refined, perpetuated.

Obama is the perfect dramatis personae in microcosm of one who thrives on a legal order to camouflage his illegal acts—which of course cannot be judged illegal because, as in massive surveillance he has a dummy court, the FISA Court, to back him up, and in drone assassination, the presumably authoritative memos of DOJ and the Office of Legal Counsel. So, too, Blackwater, with pick-and-choose justifications from the myriad operations of government and stretched-out interpretations of Congress. Obama did not invent the System, its practices, or its rationales, but neither did he qualify or oppose their workings. To blame Bush for being on the ground floor when Blackwater members exploded in Bagdhad, and stop there, begs the question of what Obama did or didn’t do for six going on seven years after as the CRIME festered in at least the eyes of the victims’ families and Iraqis in general, if not a world encouraged to forget and/or bought off to look the other way. Obama is USG in fact as well as in symbol, and, under his watch, there is a matter of accountability for repression in continuous effect, whatever its origins. One wonders how many other acts of legitimated violence occurred and still occur during his reign, by Blackwater, CIA-JSOC operations, or the use of embargoes to bring civilian populations to their knees?

***

Apuzzo writes, “The Nisour Square shooting is a signature point in the Iraq war, one that inflamed anti-American sentiment abroad and contributed to the impression that Americans were reckless and unaccountable. The Iraqi government wanted to prosecute the security contractors in Iraq, but the American government refused to allow it.” I must comment at the outset: not only was our stooge-Iraqi government incensed enough by the evident crime to want to prosecute, but USG, by the very terms of the intervention, forbade it. Of the latter point, civilian contractors, coming under the status-of-forces agreements or similar exonerative measures binding local authorities NOT to prosecute for crimes committed in their jurisdiction, are or should be considered war criminals (and the nation employing them, guilty of war crimes) every bit as much as if they were members of the armed forces. In fact, we see government prosecution a solemn farce, and perhaps the use of civilians a deliberate ploy to fend off international condemnation calling for a proper accounting of the nation itself.

The Bush administration in 2008 began a half-hearted effort carried out by DOJ: “When the Justice Department indicted five former Blackwater guards in 2008 and reached a plea deal with a sixth, prosecutors said it was a message that, whether in a war zone or not, nobody was above the law.” Not so, more like damage control because the offense was so flagrant that to do nothing was not an option. Apuzzo notes: “But the case has suffered repeated setbacks, frequently of the government’s own making. In Iraq, the delays contributed to the impression that Blackwater operated with impunity. Prosecutors ultimately dropped charges against one guard, citing a lack of evidence, and have gone to trial against the remaining four.” Yet, given the 17 deaths, the paucity and downgrading of the charges is nauseating, especially when the reporter observes: “For the most part, the horrors of the Nisour Square shooting are uncontested. Nobody disputes that a team of Blackwater guards, working for the State Department [under Hilary, I might add, the firm’s services continued], drove four armored trucks into a busy traffic circle and opened fire.” Of the four standing trial, three faced manslaughter charges, and the fourth, a murder charge.

Even there, the protracted nature of the trial, along with the multiplicity of witnesses brought over one at a time or in small numbers, created conditions which opened the way for inconsistency in testimony, chiefly turning on which of the five fired the first shot, by which to determine the murder charge. Under the circumstances, the defense had a field day gladly jumping into the confusion to discredit witnesses. Too, because the travel arrangements were courtesy of the FBI, I am mistrustful, having observed at first hand during Mississippi Freedom Summer their devotion to civil liberties and the rule of law: browbeat the complainant, not the perpetrator. Bush’s DOJ initiated the prosecution, yet without providing the substantive underpinnings, but six years later, the trickle of witnesses finally begins. My point, however, going back to civilian contractors and questionable court proceedings, is that privatization, in so wide a stretch of society, should not, as seems to happen, be a get-out-of-jail card. More basic still, why such puny charges, instead of handing over the defendants to the International Criminal Court?

The answer is self-explanatory: Obama’s rule-of-thumb, never admit wrongdoing, is similar in spirit and procedure to the Israelis, i.e., never prosecute one of your own, no matter how heinous the crime. For one, using live ammunition to shoot down children throwing stones, for the other, clearing intersections with machine-gun fire, either from impatience for traffic delay or cold-blooded enjoyment of shooting down civilians. It is difficult to determine who learns from whom, Americans learning from Israelis, or Israelis, from Americans. Occurrences of “collateral damage” are so numerous as not to draw attention, much less, if attention is drawn, to call for punishment, the victim’s alleged inferiority often assumed.

(These remarks may seem inappropriate and insensitive in light of the discovery of the bodies of the three Israeli youths who were murdered. I mourn their loss and grieve for their loved ones. But the larger picture does not change. Repression is a sickly force; one speculates that respect for and fair-treatment of the Palestinians would never have brought about the tragedies found on a daily basis. Like the deaths of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman, the moral lessons of respect for human life and dignity have not been learned, and perhaps cannot be when the structure of society encourages violence and hatred. As if to underscore the tragedy of domination, cause and consequence of repression in the first place, we see the reprisal, the murder of a Palestinian youth burned alive as shown by forensic evidence, whose death I also mourn, and record here the words of Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Parliament, who contrasts the three-week search for the kidnappers and the actions to find Muhammad Abu Khdeir’s killer or killers: “It’s an ordinary message that the life of Jewish Israelis is much more valuable than the life of others, especially Palestinians. This is a double standard, both moral and political, and it’s part of the anger in the street here, about what the Israelis are doing to our lives.”)

On shooting down civilians in Nisour Square,this is the trial testimony of Sarhan Moniem, a traffic officer, who “held up two hands, showing how he pleaded with the American security contractors to stop.” Apuzzo continues: “’There was a lady. She was screaming and weeping about her son and asking for help,’ Mr. Moniem said. He showed the jurors how she had cradled her dead son’s head on her shoulder. ‘I asked her to open the door so I could help her. But she was paying attention only to her son.’”

Another witness, the first in the trial, Mohammed Kinani, “broke down last week [yes after nearly seven years from the time of the shooting, the trial has just begun in Washington, near the Capitol] as he talked about his 9-year-old son, Ali, who was shot in the head while riding in the back seat of the family car. Mr. Kinani sobbed so uncontrollably that Judge Royce C. Lambeth sent the jury out of the room.” The reporter adds, “The next day, one juror said she had been too haunted to sleep. The judge excused her from service.” Wouldst Obama be “too haunted to sleep,” for the crimes he has committed against humanity, and he, too, be “excused…from service” by the American people.

Finally, Majed Gharbawi, a 55-year-old commodity trader, testified, on the 24th, that “he was riding in a small truck with his friend Osama Abbas when the shooting started directly in front of them. Mr. Gharbawi tried to run away and was hit in the abdomen. As he slumped to the ground, he said, he saw another man who had been shot. ’He was screaming and praying to god, for Allah to save him from this calamity,’ Mr. Gharbawi testified. In Islam, he explained, it is customary for the dying to say a final prayer. ‘So I told him, let’s do that together.’”

Apuzzo concludes the witness’s testimony, a passage I would like to see tacked up in the room off the Situation Room, purported to be where Obama and his advisers look over the hit list for the next round of assassinations—the White House analogue to Blackwater practices in constructing a methodology of death: “As Mr. Gharbawi lay in the street, Mr. Abbas also tried to run. He did not make it far. ‘His body was shaking violently as the bullets were piercing him and hitting the sidewalk,’ Mr. Gharbawi said. He said the American security guards kept shooting at Mr. Abbas EVEN AFTER HE WAS ON THE GROUND, CLEARLY DEAD.” (caps., mine)

Who are the true psychopaths, the ones doing the shootings, those who hire them—in the name of the people—to do the shootings, the American people complicit in the enterprise of global hegemony—or all three, and the framework for legitimating war, intervention, murder, social and economic pillage, in our name?

My New York Times Comment on the Apuzzo article, same date, follows:
The shootings occurred in Sept. 2007. Why nearly seven years delay? Blackwater is pure American, a privatization of mercenaries, murder, and intervention. The State Dept. in all this time has done nothing and probably still keeps Blackwater on the payroll (under its new corporate name and logo). Is it any wonder the US is increasingly despised in the world? Private armies with license to kill, quite a testimony to American democracy.

With the FBI handling details, one can suppose a whitewash. Habeas corpus rights denied to detainees previews the US judicial system (as does the FISA Court), so how expect justice to be done? Clearing that intersection with machine guns was reported at the time as Blackwater impatience to get through a crowded area. Allowed for seven years to remain out of sight speaks volumes about the status of forces agreement, the cynicism of intervention, and yes, the cover-up of US criminal activity.

I’m sorry Moniem and fellow Iraqis participate in this farce. They are hoodwinked. There will be no justice, merely damage control. And what of countless other unjustified killings, which will not even see the semblance of prosecution? Blackwater on one hand, Obama, with his hit list and targeted assassination on the other, and in between, CIA-JSOC paramilitary operations geared to regime change, together constitute the package of Obama’s liberal humanitarianism, bringing democracy to the ignorant at gunpoint.

Virtual Economy’s Phantom Job Gains Are Based on Statistical Fraud


And More Fraud Is in the Works
July 7, 2014 |
Paul Craig Roberts

Washington can’t stop lying. Don’t be convinced by last Thursday’s job report that it is your fault if you don’t have a job. Those 288,000 jobs and 6.1% unemployment rate are more fiction than reality.

In his analysis of the June Labor Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, John Williams (www.ShadowStats.com) wrote that the 288,000 June jobs and 6.1% unemployment rate are “far removed from common experience and underlying reality.” Payrolls were overstated by “massive, hidden shifts in seasonal adjustments,” and the Birth-Death model added the usual phantom jobs.

Williams reports that “the seasonal factors are changed each and every month as part of the concurrent seasonal-adjustment process, which is tantamount to a fraud,” as the changes in the seasonal factors can inflate the jobs number. While the headline numbers always are on a new basis, the prior reporting is not revised so as to be consistent.

The monthly unemployment rates are not comparable, so one doesn’t know whether the official U.3 rate (the headline rate that the financial press reports) went up or down. Moreover, the rate does not count discouraged workers who, unable to find a job, cease looking. To be counted among the U.3 unemployed, the person must have actively looked for work during the four weeks prior to the survey.  


The U.3 rate(the headline rate that the financial press reports)  automatically declines as people who have been unable to find jobs cease trying to find one and thereby cease to be counted as unemployed.

There is a second official measure of unemployment that includes people who have been discouraged for less than one year. That rate, known as U.6, is seldom reported and is double the 6.1% rate.
Since 1994 there has been no official measure than includes discouraged people who have not looked for a job for more than a year.  


Including all discouraged workers produces an unemployment rate that currently stands at 23.1%, almost four times the rate that the financial press reports.

What you can take away from this is the opposite of what the presstitute media would have you believe. The measured rate of unemployment can decline simply because large numbers of the unemployed become discouraged workers, cease looking for work, and cease to be counted in the U.3 and U.6 measures of the unemployment rate.

The decline in the employment-population ratio from 63% prior to the 2008 downturn to 59% today reflects the growth in discouraged workers. Indeed, the ratio has not recovered its previous level during the alleged recovery, an indication that the recovery is an illusion created by the understated measure of inflation that is used to deflate nominal GDP growth.

Another indication that there has been no recovery is that Sentier Research’s index of real median household income continued to decline for two years after the alleged recovery began in June 2009. There has been a slight upturn in real median household income since June 2011, but income remains far below the pre-recession level.

The Birth-Death model adds an average of 62,000 jobs to the reported payroll jobs numbers each month. This arbitrary boost to the payroll jobs numbers is in addition to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ underlying assumption that unreported jobs lost to business failures are matched by unreported new jobs from new business startups, an assumption that does not well fit an economy that fell into recession and is unable to recover.

John Williams concludes that in current BLS reporting, “the aggregate average overstatement of employment change easily exceeds 200,000 jobs per month.”

In other words, the economy did not gain 288,000 new jobs last month. But let’s assume the economy did gain 288,000 jobs and exam where the claimed jobs are reported to be.

Of the alleged 288,000 new jobs, 16,000, or 5.5 percent are in manufacturing, which is not very promising for engineers and blue collar workers. Growth in goods producing jobs has almost disappeared from the US economy. As explained below, to alter this problem the government is going to change definitions in order to artificially inflate manufacturing jobs.

In June private services account for 82 percent of the supposed new jobs. The jobs are found mainly in non-tradable domestic services that pay little and cannot be exported to help to close the large US trade deficit.

Wholesale and retail trade account for 55,300 jobs. Do you believe sales are this strong when retailers are closing stores and when shopping malls are closing?

Insurance contributed 8,500 jobs.

As so few can purchase homes, “real estate rental and leasing” contributed 8,500 jobs.

Professional and business services contributed 67,000 jobs, but 57% of these jobs were in employment services, temporary help services, and services to buildings and dwellings.
That old standby, education and health services, accounted for 33,700 jobs consisting mainly of ambulatory health care services jobs and social assistance jobs of which three-quarters are in child day care services.

The other old standby, waitresses and bartenders, gave us 32,800 jobs, and amusements, gambling, and recreation gave us 3,500 jobs.

Local government, principally education, gave us 22,000 jobs.

So, where are the jobs for university graduates? They are practically non-existent. Think of all the MBAs, but June had only 2,300 jobs for management of companies and enterprises.

Think of the struggle to get into law and medical schools. There’s no job payoff. June had jobs for 1,200 in legal services, which includes receptionists and para-legals. Where are all the law school graduates finding jobs?

Offices of physicians  hired 4,000 people. Outpatient care centers hired 700 people. Nursing care facilities hired 2,400 people. So where are the jobs for the medical school graduates?

Aside from all the exaggerations in the jobs numbers of which ShadowStats.com has informed us, just taking the jobs as reported, what kind of economy do these jobs indicate: a superpower whose pretensions are to exercise hegemony over the world or an economy in which opportunities are disappearing and incomes are falling?

Do you think that this jobs picture would be the same if the government in Washington cared about you instead of the mega-rich?

Some interesting numbers can be calculated from table A.9 in the BLS press release. John Williams advises that the BLS is inconsistent in the methods it uses to tabulate the data in table A.9 and that the data is also afflicted by seasonal adjustment problems. However, as the unemployment rate and payroll jobs are reported regardless of their problems, we can also report the BLS finding that in June 523,000 full-time jobs disappeared and 800,000 part time jobs appeared.

Employers are terminating full-time employment and replacing the jobs with part-time employment in order to come in under the 50-person full time employment that makes employers responsible for fringe benefits such as health care.

Americans are already experiencing difficulties making ends meet, despite the alleged “recovery.” If yet another half million Americans have been forced onto part-time pay with consequent loss of health care and other benefits, consumer demand is further compressed, with the consequence, unless hidden by statistical trickery, of a 2nd quarter negative GDP and thus officially the reappearance of recession.

What will the government do if a recession cannot be hidden? If years of unprecedented money printing and Keynesian fiscal deficits have not brought recovery, what will bring recovery? How far down will US living standards fall for the 99% in order that the 1% can become ever more mega-rich while Washington wastes our diminishing substance exercising hegemony over the world?

Just as Washington lied to you about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Russian invasion of Ukraine, Waco, and any number of false flag or nonexistent attacks such as Tonkin Gulf, Washington lies to you about jobs and economic recovery. Don’t believe the spin that you are unemployed because you are shiftless and prefer government handouts to work. The government does not want you to know that you are unemployed because the corporations offshored American jobs to foreigners and because economic policy only serves the oversized banks and the one percent.

The federal governments Economic Classification Policy Committee has come up with a proposal to redefine fact as fantasy in order to hide offshoring’s contribution to the US trade deficit, artificially inflate the number of US manufacturing jobs, and redefine foreign-made manufactured products as US manufactured products. For example, Apple iPhones made in China and sold in Europe would be reported as a US export of manufactured goods. Read Ben Beachy’s important report on this blatant statistical fraud in CounterPunch’s July 4th weekend edition.

China will not agree that the Apple brand name means that the phones are not Chinese production. If  Obama succeeds with this fraud, the iPhones would be counted twice, once by China and once by the US, and the double-counting would exaggerate world GDP.

For years I have exposed the absurd claim that offshoring is merely the operation of free trade, and I have exposed the incompetent studies by such as Michael Porter at Harvard and Matthew Slaughter at Dartmouth that claimed to prove that the US was benefitting from offshoring its manufacturing. My book published in 2012 in Germany and in 2013 in the US, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West, proves that offshoring has dismantled the ladders of upward mobility that made the US an opportunity society and is responsible for the decline in US economic growth. The lost jobs and decline in the middle class has contributed to the rise in income inequality, the destruction of tax base for cities and states, and loss of population in America’s once great manufacturing centers.

For the most part economists have turned a blind eye. Economists serve the globalists. It pays them well.

The corruption in present-day America is total. Psychologists and anthropologists serve war and torture. Economists serve globalism and US financial hegemony. Physicists and chemists serve the war industries. Physicists and computer geeks serve NSA. The media serves the government and the corporations. The political parties serve the six powerful private interest groups that rule the country.

No one serves truth and liberty. 

The Deteriorating Economic Outlook

July 8, 2014

Paul Craig Roberts, Dave Kranzler, and John Williams

The third and final estimate (until the annual GDP revisions) of first quarter 2014 real GDP growth released June 25 by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis was a 2.9% contraction in GDP growth, a 5.5 percentage point difference from the January forecast of 2.6% growth. Apparently, the first quarter contraction was dismissed by those speculating in equities as weather related, as stock averages rose with the bad news.

Stock market participants might be in for a second quarter surprise. The result of many years of changes made to the official inflation measures is a substantially understated inflation rate. John Williams (www.shadowstats.com) provides inflation estimates based on previous official methodology when the Consumer Price Index still represented the cost of a constant standard of living. The 1.26% inflation measure used to deflate first quarter nominal GDP is unrealistic, as Americans who make purchases are aware.

A reasonable correction to the understated deflator gives a much higher first quarter contraction. The two main causes of inflation’s understatement are the substitution principle introduced during the Clinton regime and the hedonic adjustments ongoing since the 1980s that redefine price rises as quality improvements. Correcting for excessive hedonic adjustments gives a first quarter real GDP contraction of 5%. Correcting for hedonic and substitution adjustments gives a first quarter real GDP contraction of 8.5%.

Realistic economic analysis is a rarity. The financial press echoes Wall Street, and Wall Street economists are paid to help sell financial instruments. Gloomy analysis is frowned upon. Even negative quarters are given a positive spin.

Years of understatement of inflation has resulted in years of overstatement of GDP growth. Thinking about the many years of misstatement, we realized that the typical computation in nominal terms of the ratio of debt to GDP is seriously misleading.

Consider that debt is issued in nominal terms and repaid in nominal terms (except for a few Treasury bonds with inflation adjustments). However, nominal wealth or nominal GDP overstates real economic strength. The debt is growing, but both the nominal and real values of the output of goods and services are not keeping up with the rise in debt.

To understand how risky the rise of debt is, nominal debt must be compared to real GDP. Spin masters might dismiss this computation as comparing apples to oranges, but such a charge constitutes denial that the ratio of nominal debt to nominal GDP understates the wealth dilution caused by the government’s ability to issue and repay debt in nominal dollars. We know that inflation favors debtors, because debts can be repaid in inflated dollars.

The graph below shows three different debt to GDP ratios. The bottom line is nominal debt to nominal GDP, the financial press ratio. The middle line is the ratio of nominal debt to the official measure of real GDP. The top line is the ratio of nominal GDP to Shadowstats’ corrected measure of real GDP that puts back in some of the inflation that is no longer included in official measures. The basis for this corrected measure is also 2000, but as the GDP number for 2000 is lower due to correction, this graph begins with the ratio at a slightly higher point.


The nominal debt to GDP ratio shows that as of the end of the first quarter of 2014 total US Treasury debt outstanding is 103 percent of US GDP.

The ratio of Treasury debt to official real GDP shows debt at 136% of GDP.

The ratio of debt to real GDP deflated with more a more realistic measure of inflation, one more in keeping with the experience of consumers, puts US public debt at 185% of GDP. In other words, the burden of US debt on the real economy is almost twice the burden that is normally perceived.

The Shadowstats adjustment we made to real GDP does not fully correct for what we believe has been a growing understatement of inflation since the 1980s. The adjustment we made corrects the implicit price deflator for a two-percentage point understatement of annual inflation due to hedonic distortion. Real GDP with this correction since 2000 looks like this:


We have calculated the ratios of US public debt to nominal GDP and to two measures of real GDP. The ratios of debt to GDP would be much higher if we used total credit outstanding, or total public and private debt, and if we used the government’s unfunded liabilities. The fact seems clear that debt is a major and unappreciated issue for the US economy. The enormous debt, especially with the middle class economy largely offshored, implies substantially lower living standards for the 99 percent.

The first quarter contraction, especially our corrected number, implies a second quarter negative real GDP. In other words, the years of Quantitative Easing (money printing) by the Federal Reserve has not resulted in economic recovery from the 2008 downturn and has not prevented further contraction.

Massive money creation and huge fiscal deficits have protected the balance sheets of “banks too big to fail” but have harmed the American people. Retirees and pension funds have been deprived for years of interest income as the Federal Reserve engineered zero or negative interest rates for the sake of a handful of oversized banks.

The extraordinary creation of new dollars diluted the dollars held by peoples, companies, institutions, and central banks throughout the world, raising fears that the dollar would lose exchange value and its role as world reserve currency.

Washington’s use of financial sanctions to force other countries to bend to Washington’s will is causing countries to leave the dollar payments system. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisor has said that the dollar must be crashed as the only way to prevent US aggression. The Chinese have called for “de-americanizing the world.”

The imperialistic US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which comes into full force July 1, 2015, imposes such heavy reporting costs on foreign financial institutions that these institutions might opt out of dollar transactions. All together, the result could be a serious tumble in the value of the US dollar, more wealth contraction, higher inflation via import prices, and less US wealth available to support US debt.

In view of this reality, why is Washington pushing its puppet in Kiev toward war with Russia? Why is Washington pushing NATO to spend more money and build more bases on which to deploy more troops in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, especially when Washington’s contribution will be the largest part of the cost? Why is Washington re-entering the Middle East conflict that Washington began by inciting Sunni and Shia against one another? Why is Washington constructing new naval and air bases from the Philippines to Vietnam in order to encircle China?

If Washington is this unaware of its budget constraints and its financial predicament, it cannot be long before Americans experience economic catastrophe.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Study Finds That Products Made with High-fructose Corn Syrup Contain Mercury

By Robert Preidt, USAToday

Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies.

HFCS has replaced sugar as the sweetener in many beverages and foods such as breads, cereals, breakfast bars, lunch meats, yogurts, soups and condiments. On average, Americans consume about 12 teaspoons per day of HFCS, but teens and other high consumers can take in 80% more HFCS than average.

"Mercury is toxic in all its forms. Given how much high-fructose corn syrup is consumed by children, it could be a significant additional source of mercury never before considered. We are calling for immediate changes by industry and the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply," the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's Dr. David Wallinga, a co-author of both studies, said in a prepared statement.

In the first study, published in current issue of Environmental Health, researchers found detectable levels of mercury in nine of 20 samples of commercial HFCS.

And in the second study, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), a non-profit watchdog group, found that nearly one in three of 55 brand-name foods contained mercury. The chemical was found most commonly in HFCS-containing dairy products, dressings and condiments.

But an organization representing the refiners is disputing the results published in Environmental Health.

"This study appears to be based on outdated information of dubious significance," said Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, in a statement. "Our industry has used mercury-free versions of the two re-agents mentioned in the study, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda, for several years. These mercury-free re-agents perform important functions, including adjusting pH balances."

However, the IATP told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that four plants in Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio and West Virginia still use "mercury-cell" technology that can lead to contamination.

IATP's Ben Lilliston also told HealthDay that the Environmental Health findings were based on information gathered by the FDA in 2005.

And the group's own study, while not peer-reviewed, was based on products "bought off the shelf in the autumn of 2008," Lilliston added.

The use of mercury-contaminated caustic soda in the production of HFCS is common. The contamination occurs when mercury cells are used to produce caustic soda.

"The bad news is that nobody knows whether or not their soda or snack food contains HFCS made from ingredients like caustic soda contaminated with mercury. The good news is that mercury-free HFCS ingredients exist. Food companies just need a good push to only use those ingredients," Wallinga said in his prepared statement.

Just 4 fracking wastewater sites cause 20 percent of all central US earthquakes – study

RT
Published time: July 04, 2014

Just four wastewater wells in Oklahoma – where energy companies dump water after completing the hydraulic fracturing process – have caused scores of earthquakes this year, some 30 km from the site, according to a new study by top US universities.

The report, published in Science magazine, focused on the Midwestern state, which has produced 45 percent of the country’s magnitude 3 or bigger seismic shocks in the past five years – with the numbers rising rapidly to match the intensification of fracking activities in the area.

While hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, – which involves pressuring rock formations with liquid until they crack, and then extracting the oil and gas within – poses an inherent risk of earthquakes, according to the authors, the biggest culprits were the wastewater wells, where the liquids used for fracking are pumped, once a reservoir is opened.

“The disposed fluids are capable of contributing to the seismic activity,” Katie Keranen, a geophysics professor at Cornell, and the lead author of the study, told The Oklahoman newspaper.

“These wells are capable. That doesn’t exclude anything else from contributing, but we have no reason to think these are tectonic. They don’t match tectonic activity in other areas. It does seem these are just linked to wastewater. Our research focuses on wastewater and shows it is sufficient.”

Because of a paucity of real data from the thousands of sites in Oklahoma, the team, which included a member from the US Geological Survey, used a three-dimensional model of the underground formations in the area, and then combined that with real liquid injection rates in the area.

There are more than 4,500 active disposal wells in the state, but scientists found that of those, four large wells collectively responsible for pumping 5 million barrels – the equivalent of more than 200 Olympic swimming pools – of liquid into the ground each month, exceed a threshold beyond which disproportionately large earthquakes can happen.

“These really big wells have the biggest impacts on the system,” said Geoffrey Abers, one of the authors, and a professor at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observator.

“The earthquakes themselves seem to occur on small discrete faults. As the pressure builds up in the sedimentary formation that they are pumped into... They put that fault over the edge by jacking up the pore pressure.”

The researchers have not named the four sites, though they are located around Oklahoma City. This is particularly alarming, as the academics say that the impact of the earthquake in their model was as far as 22 miles away (the previous limit was thought to be about, and also could happen even after the disposal well was shut down.

This is a situation where the pumping starts months or a couple of years before the earthquakes are observed at all,” said Abers.

New Dominion, which operates the biggest wastewater wells in the state, has dismissed the simulation used to draw the conclusions.

"An initial review reflects it is premised on certain false assumptions," said company spokesman Jack Money. "At best these incorrect assumptions are irresponsible."

The oil and gas industry – which directly or indirectly employs 1 in 6 in the formerly lagging state – has also urged caution.

“As an industry, we’ve been saying we need more data and we need to work with regulators and others to help determine what is causing the significant increase in seismic activity,” said Chad Warmington, president of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association. “But to unequivocally link it to wastewater injections, I think there still needs to be more research.”

Between 1967 and 2000, there was an average of 21 earthquakes of a magnitude greater than 3.0 – considered strong enough to be noticed - in Oklahoma. Last year there were over a hundred, and this year there have been more than 200.

State industry regulator, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, said it would not comment on the findings until it had a chance to examine them carefully.

Corporations Are Religious People




Guerilla Open Access Manifesto



 
 
Guerilla Open Access Manifesto 

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You'll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier. 

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost. 

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It's outrageous and unacceptable. 

"I agree," many say, "but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it's perfectly legal — there's nothing we can do to stop them." But there is something we can, something that's already being done: we can fight back. 

Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends. 

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends. 

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It's called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn't immoral — it's a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy. 

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies. 

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It's time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture. 

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access. 

With enough of us, around the world, we'll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we'll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us? 

Aaron Swartz July 2008, Eremo, Italy

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

‘Inventing terrorists’: New study reveals FBI set up terrorism-related prosecutions

RT
June 16, 2014 11:43
 
Nearly 95 per cent of terrorist arrests have been the result of FBI foiling its own entrapment plots as a part of the so-called post-9/11 War on Terror, a new study revealed.

According to the report entitled ‘Inventing Terrorists: The Lawfare of Preemptive Prosecution’, the majority of arrests involved the unjust prosecution of targeted Muslim Americans.

The 175-page study by Muslim advocacy group SALAM analyzes 399 individuals in cases included on the list of the US Department of Justice from 2001 to 2010.

“According to this study’s classification, the number of preemptive prosecution cases is 289 out of 399, or 72.4 percent. The number of elements of preemptive prosecution cases is 87 out of 399, or 21.8 percent. Combining preemptive prosecution cases and elements of preemptive prosecution cases, the total number of such cases on the DOJ list is 376, or 94.2 percent,” the report concluded.
 
The authors define ‘preemptive prosecution’ as “a law enforcement strategy adopted after 9/11, to target and prosecute individuals or organizations whose beliefs, ideology, or religious affiliations raise security concerns for the government.”
 

Nearly 25 percent of cases (99 of 399) contained material support charges. Another almost 30 per cent of cases consisted of conspiracy charges. More than 17 per cent of the analyzed cases (71 of 399 cases) involved sting operations. Over 16 percent of cases (65 of 399 cases) included false statement or perjury charges, and around six percent of cases involved immigration-related charges.

According to the report, since 9/11 only 11 cases posed “potentially significant” threat to the United States.

“Only three were successful (the [Tamerlan and Dzhokhar] Tsarnaev brothers and Major Nidal Hasan), accounting for 17 deaths and several hundred injuries,” the paper says.

One of the FBI’s strategies involved “using agents provocateur to actively entrap targets in criminal plots manufactured and controlled by the government.”
 
“The government uses agents provocateur to target individuals who express dissident ideologies and then provides those provocateurs 25 with fake (harmless) missiles, bombs, guns, money, encouragement, friendship, and the technical and strategic planning necessary to see if the targeted individual can be manipulated into planning violent or criminal action,” the report concluded.

The government could also choose to use “minor ‘technical’ crimes,” such as errors on immigration forms, an alleged false statement to a government official, gun possession, tax or financial issues, etc., to go after someone for their “ideology.”
 
“What they were trying to do is to convince the American public that there is this large army of potential terrorists that they should all be very-very scared about. They are very much engaged in world-wide surveillance and this surveillance is very valuable to them. They can learn a lot about all sorts of things and in a sense control issues to their advantage,” Steven Downs, an attorney for Project SALAM, which issued the report, told RT. “And the entire legal justification for that depends on there being a war on terror. Without a war on terror they have no right to do this. So they have to keep this war on terror going, they have to keep finding people and arresting them and locking them up and scarring everybody.”
 
In the conclusion, authors of the report offered the US government several recommendations that the DOJ "should employ" to change the present unfair terrorism laws. A total seven recommendations call on the US government to accurately identify people who offer material support for terrorism, strengthening the “entrapment” defense in the courts; abolish “terror-enhanced sentencing” that triples or quadruples jail time in cases linked to terrorist acts; disallow secret court proceedings, and immediately notifying defendants if any evidence in their case is derived from secret surveillance.

Income Inequality by State

http://www.reuters.com/subjects/income-inequality/list

What Makes the United States So Unequal?

By Robert J.S. Ross

If governments did nothing, Western Europe and the United States would have similar levels of inequality. But governments don’t sit on the sidelines. They collect taxes. They provide social programs. They take steps that can lessen the amount of market inequality. The difference: Governments in European and other high-income societies do much more to reduce inequality than the United States.

Comparisons among the high-income countries usually show the United States as the most unequal.

Comparisons of income inequality among the high income countries usually show the United States as the most unequal, as measured by a standard index called the Gini coefficient. A Gini value of 100 means that all the income is held by one household. A value of 0, on the other hand, means that all income is equally shared.

For the United States, the Gini coefficient runs about 38, according to the OECD, the economic policy tank for the rich countries, or about 48, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The American Gini rating has risen sharply in the last generation, after falling gradually in the middle of the twentieth century.

By comparison, the Nordic countries– Sweden, Denmark, Norway – have among the lowest Gini coefficients, in the 25-27 range, while Germany has a Gini of 29 and France, 28.

Comparisons that show the United States as the most unequal of high-income societies typically take into account the income households have from market-based activity (work and investments) and government transfer programs (Social Security and unemployment compensation, for instance) and subtract away taxes. Researchers call the end result from these calculations “post tax and transfer” or “disposable” income.

Political decisions determine taxes and transfers. Public policies, everything from minimum wage to labor laws, also influence market-based income. So we should expect inequality levels to differ among developed nations. Even so, the actual differences among developed nations can be surprising.
Political decisions determine taxes and transfers.

On the yardstick of market-based income, the level of inequality in the United States does not come off as particularly extreme. The United States ranks eighth most unequal among the 26 countries that reported 2010 data to the OECD. The United States sports about 7 percent more market-based inequality than the average of all OECD nations.

The extreme inequality status of the United States only kicks in when we go beyond market-based income and look at tax and transfer policies.

In the United States, taxes and transfers are doing much less to reduce inequality than these policies are doing in other developed nations. On average, rich countries’ tax and transfer policies reduce inequality by about 36 percent. The figure in the United States: only about 24 percent.

In Sweden, market-based inequality shows a Gini of about 44, but the disposable income Gini sits at a much more equal 27, a reduction of 39 percent in inequality. In the United States, the market Gini comes in about 50. The disposable income Gini: just 38 in the OECD data, a reduction of only 24 percent.

Over the last generation, major changes in U.S. tax and transfer policies – mainly cuts in the tax rates on high incomes – have actually served to increase inequality.

Inequality, to be sure, is increasing in almost all high-income countries, the consequence of the triumph of global capitalism and its neoliberal policy package: market dominance, privatization, and deregulation. But even in this company, the United States stands out for the depth of its commitment to policies – particularly tax policies – that favor the rich.
The United States stands out for its policies that favor the rich.

Many Americans are, not surprisingly, concerned about excessive taxes. Ours, after all, has been a nation forged in a struggle against a grasping, remote, tax-hungry overlord. Yet when we compare ourselves to other countries about as rich and democratic as we are, it appears we are not highly taxed. Our total taxation level stands at about 24 percent of GDP (the total value of national production and income), a level significantly lower than the 34 percent average of the other high-ncome countries.

Why should we care about how little our tax system reduces inequality? Among the world’s high-income countries, the British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have powerfully pointed out in The Spirit Level, the more unequal societies – and regions within countries – have more violence, infant mortality, lower life expectancies, and more mental illness. Societies that are more equal, on the other hand, have more trust among people. Our levels of inequality produce fractured community and social resentment, and they drive sour and even violent politics.

Inequality has become like the weather: Everybody talks about it but no one does anything. Unlike the weather, we can fix this mess and heal these wounds. To do so, we may need a reminder from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”

Saturday, June 7, 2014

More Phantom Jobs Created–All In The Wrong Places

June 6, 2014
More Phantom Jobs Created–All In The Wrong Places
education is not the answer
Paul Craig Roberts

Last April I saw a report that 83% of May’s college graduates did not have a job. I remarked that in my day most of us had 2 or 3 job or graduate school offers before we graduated. The latest payroll jobs report issued on June 6 proves that the April report was true.

My opinion, schooled in part by John Williams’ very precise reports on Shadowstats.com, is that on average about half of the new jobs each month are phantom jobs created by the birth-death model and inappropriate seasonal adjustments. So, I figured that the 217,000 jobs claimed for May are more like 108,000. Then I read John Williams’ report on the May jobs number: “Monthly payroll gains overstated by 200,000 plus jobs”

In other words, there were zero new jobs in May.

Just as the US government can turn an inconsequential Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria into dangerous threats against “the world’s only superpower,” the US government can turn zero jobs growth into 217,000 jobs. It is easy when you have a prostitute media and a gullible public, both of which Washington most certainly has.

But let’s take the government data at face value.

First, consider the news report that finally as of May 2014 as many Americans had jobs
as had jobs in January 2008. That might seem like good news until you take into account that since January 2008 the US has experienced 6.5 years of population growth. Economists seem to have settled on population growth adding 129,000 people to the work force each month. That comes to 10,000,000 people. Where are their jobs? The “jobs recovery” doesn’t provide for the 10 millions who have come of working age since January 2008.

We can conclude from this that the official 6.3 percent unemployment rate is nonsense. The unemployment rate is in the neighborhood of 23 percent as John Williams has established.

Just as the US government claims, falsely, that Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that Assad used chemical weapons on Syrians, and so forth and so on, the 6.3 percent unemployment rate is just another government lie.

Second, consider where the claimed 217,000 May jobs are. Hardly any of these claimed jobs are jobs in which university graduates begin their careers. The jobs are in wholesale trade, retail clerks, transportation and warehousing, employment services and temporary help, waitresses and bartenders, and health care and social assistance. In the later category, ambulatory health care services and social assistance account for the majority of jobs.

If college graduates have jobs, they are not the jobs for which they studied. On March 31, CNN Money reported that 260,000 college graduates were employed at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

For the many years that I have been reporting on the jobs statistics, there has been scant sign of any jobs for college graduates. Considering that there are at least 3,100 colleges and universities in the US, the May graduating class must number in the hundreds of thousands. Looking at the May jobs statistics, those graduating from law school face a dismal situation as employment of lawyers dropped by 700. There were jobs for only 4,100 accountants and bookkeepers. There were 4,500 jobs for architects and engineers, a number that includes secretaries and office managers. There were 1,800 management jobs. State government education jobs declined by 5,300 and local government education jobs declined by 6,600 jobs. So where did the education majors find employment?

How is the second quarter going to come roaring back, as the financial media assures us it will, when the jobs report is so discouraging? How much longer will Washington be able to hide the fact that the US economy is sinking?

If you read all the bullshit that the American media and educational establishment puts out, “education is the answer.” Apparently not. Education is the way to become deeply in debt and work for $7.25 per hour, if you are lucky to escape unemployment.

America is a Great Big Lie. There is no truth in what we are told. The entire country, along with that part of the world under Washington’s thumb, is run for about six private interest groups. The rest of us are being fleeced.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Operation Gladio: Proving that Large Scale Conspiracies Do Exist



1992 BBC Documentary on Operation Gladio


Utilizing interviews from the many European and American principals involved, the documentary relates the story of the biggest "conspiracy" of our time — the existence of a covert terrorist network maintained throughout Europe by NATO, which utilized terrorism in an effort to discredit the political left.

These "stay-behind" networks originally were built up by recruiting fascists from the countries the U.S. and Britain occupied, meant to be a bulwark against a possible and feared Soviet invasion after World War II. When the invasion never occurred, the networks were not dismantled, but took on a different mission: to keep the left from gaining power in any of these states, from Sweden and Belgium to France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Turkey and elsewhere.

The existence of secret "stay-behind" armies and groups, known today by the Italian name, Gladio, caused a sensation in the early 1990s, when they were revealed by then-Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. Since then, Gladio-like operations, supposedly ran by the CIA and to some extent the British MI6, have been linked to a number of terrorist attacks, assassinations, and right-wing coups in Europe, e.g., the Bologna train station bombing in 1980, the 1967 generals coup in Greece, etc.

The sensationalistic charges have fed a number of conspiracy theories, particularly those around the existence of "false flag" government operations. One can understand how any individual might come to seriously mistrust the U.S. government after learning of the Gladio history, which is extensive and well-documented.

Among other canards the Gladio story can put to rest is the silly belief that no large scale conspiracies can exist, at least in a so-called open, democratic society such as ours. And yet, Gladio proves that is not true. In fact, since the revelations of the early 1990s, there has been practically no discussion of this crucial aspect of contemporary history by U.S. historians or policy makers. The existence of this huge conspiracy and intervention against sovereign European states is almost never even referred to by the vast majority of political commentators, left or right, in the United States. I don’t see how anyone can intelligently discuss modern European politics without understanding the Gladio revelations and the fallout from them in the various European countries. ~ Firedog Lake

Always Low Wages, More Pollution: Why Barack and Michelle Obama Relentlessly Shill for Walmart

Sunday, 01 June 2014
By Bruce A. Dixon, Black Agenda Report


Earlier this month President Obama visited a Bay Area Wal-Mart to praise the world's largest and most anti-union retailer for its supposed environmental responsibility. The fact is that Wal-Mart's maintenance of diesel-fueled supply chains between its stores and wherever on the planet wages are lowest and environmental restrictions are totally absent make it a major ongoing contributor to runaway climate change. The president's appearance therefore, was simply a hypocritical exercise in greenwashing for Wal-Mart.

Though it was an insult to working people and to many of his abject and fervent supporters, it should have been no surprise. It wasn't President Obama's first wet kiss to Wal-Mart and with almost three more years in office to go it won't be his last. Still the willingness of the Obama Administration to do the bidding of Wal-Mart shows just how hollow has become the pretense of elected black Democrats to representing the poor and oppressed.

There was a time when Democrats in the White House did not dare openly shill for the giant retailer. Hillary Clinton served on Wal-Mart's board of directors through most of the 1980s, while her husband Bill was governor of Arkansas. Even then, Wal-Mart was notorious for overworking and underpaying its workers, violating labor laws to thwart unions, and sopping up prodigious amounts of corporate welfare in the forms of tax breaks and subsidies of all kinds. Being in bed with those crooks wasn't just an embarrassment, it was a hypocritical affront to Democratic voters, so somewhere on the 1992 road to the White House, Hillary resigned from Wal-Mart's board. Similarly in 2007 with her husband on the way to the White House, Michelle Obama felt compelled to resign from the board of TreeHouse Foods, a major Wal-Mart vendor. “I won't shop there,” said presidential candidate Barack Obama when questioned about Wal-Mart at an AFL-CIO labor forum.

Of course labor audiences in 2007 and 2008 were where Obama pledged to renegotiate NAFTA, and immediately raise the minimum wage as soon as he took office. The president never mentioned raising the minimum wage again till about 2012 when Republicans were safely in control of the House of Representatives, and instead of renegotiating NAFTA, President Obama is engaged in secret negotiations to extend it across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Evidently the Obama that promises is a different guy, and far less powerful, than the Obama that acts.

Safely in office, Michelle and Barack Obama have enthusiastically embraced Wal-Mart. The first lady allowed the unscrupulous retailer to leverage her personal image as an advocate of exercise and healthy eating in her “Let's Move” initiative, and spouting the company line that the best solution to urban “food deserts” is opening more Wal-Mart neighborhood grocery stores. Michelle Obama's many appearances at and pronouncements around Wal-Mart have done the retailer more good than she and Hillary could ever have done in another decade or two apiece on its board of directors.

Right now Wal-Mart is approaching 30% of the US retail grocery market, with far lower wages, fewer hours, skimpier benefits, and longer and dirtier supply chains than its major competitors. As I said a couple years ago in an article about Michelle Obama's cynical embrace of Wal-Mart:
    Wal-Mart's business model of corrupting public officials, lying about job creation numbers, rampant sex and race discrimination, relentlessly low wage and benefit levels, and aspirations to monopoly control of local markets across the country make it a bad neighbor, a worse boss, an unfair competitor and sometimes a criminal enterprise.

How Regulators Ignore Science and Cave to Oil & Gas Companies

Frack, Rattle and Roll
by JOSHUA FRANK


When one thinks of earthquakes, what comes to mind is usually the vast fault line straddled lands of southern California or the great subduction zones off the coasts of Chile and Japan. Surely, it isn’t the cattle fields of Texas or the rolling plains of Ohio and Oklahoma. Natural disasters in the central and southern United States typically blow in with the winds in the form of deadly tornadoes and storms. Yet, thanks to the insatiable rush to tap every last drop of oil and gas from the depths of the earth’s crust, earthquakes are fast becoming the new norm in “fly-over country”.

Fracking involves shooting a mix of sand, water and chemicals deep underground to force natural gas and oil to the surface. The practice is employed in geological areas where typical extraction methods can’t be utilized. Depending on the size of the operations, fracking produces millions of gallons of water waste, which ends up being stored undergound in so-called injection wells. In 2012 fracking in the U.S. produced nearly 280 billion gallons of this chemically-laden fluid and the EPA reports there are over 155,000 oil and gas wastewater wells active nationwide. Geologists have long associated these deep wells with earthquakes.

Back in the 1960s the U.S. military injected chemical waste northeast of Denver, Colorado at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal station. From March of 1962 to September 1963 an average of 21 million liters were injected 3,600 meters below the earth’s surface monthly. While injections ceased for nearly a year, the military again resumed the practice in April 1965 through February 1966, only to be halted once earthquakes were reported at local seismic stations. After observing this earthquake activity before, during and after the injection of chemical water waste, researchers were convinced the pressurized injection had caused numerous tremors that would have otherwise not occurred.

Since this recorded instance, dozens of other cases have been studied with reports being published in peer reviewed journals, where geologists have concluded there is indeed causality between deep-well injections and earthquakes. Yet, this stark research hasn’t stopped state governments from issuing thousands of permits to allow wastewater and other drilling to proceed, often in close proximity to homes and schools. In many such instances state resource departments blatantly ignore science that doesn’t favor the oil and gas industry.

Take the case of lonesome Youngstown, Ohio. Prior to 2011, Youngstown, population 65,405, had never experienced an earthquake, at least not since records were first kept by Europeans who settled the region in 1776. Nonetheless, this lack of seismic activity changed dramatically when the area recorded 100+ tremors over the course of 2011, including a 3.9 quake that shook the town on New Year’s Eve. Those earthquakes, according to a study by Won-Young Kim of Columbia University, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, were the result of a pesky injection well known as Northstar 1.

“Earthquakes were triggered by fluid injection shortly after the injection initiated – less than two weeks,” Dr. Won-Young Kim told LiveScience.

After eight quakes occurred near Northstar 1, Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ (ODNR) spokesperson Heidi Hetzel-Evans stated, “ODNR has not seen any evidence that shows a correlation between localized seismic activity and deep injection well disposal.”

It’s important to note that it’s not the process of fracking itself that is causing quakes, but the practice of pumping wastewater back into the earth after it’s been used to help extract oil or natural gas. These wells, if located in and around fault lines, have a high likelihood to causing tremors.

Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer, a geology professor at Youngstown University, was mystified by ODNR’s response to the Youngstown quakes. “Based on what I witnessed in the 2011 incident, I believe ODNR is a captured agency,” argues Beiersdorfer. “The language used by industry and the regulatory agency was indistinguishable.”

Professor Beiersdorfer’s suspicion that ODNR is in bed with industry isn’t far-fetched. In a leaked internal document obtained by the Sierra Club, a 2012 draft communication plan outlined how agency staff ought to respond to criticism of the fracking operations ODNR was greenlighting.

“[Fracking] will be met with zealous resistance by environmental activist opponents, who are skilled propagandists,” the Communication Plan stated. “Neutral parties in particular – such as ordinary citizens concerned about families’ health – will be vulnerable to messaging by opponents that the initiative represents dangerous and radical state policy by Gov. Kasich.”

While the Northstar 1 injection well was shut down after the significant 3.9 magnitude earthquake on December 31, 2011, ODNR wasn’t about to admit it had ignored the science and allowed the operation to continue for far too long. It also didn’t stop ODNR from issuing other permits to allow injection well drilling in Ohio.

Consequentially, in March 2014 twelve new earthquakes hit south of Lowellville, Ohio where Hilcorp Energy was fracking. On March 10, ODNR stated it would force Hilcorp to “suspend all activity”, yet the agency allowed the company to continue gas production and flaring at the site.

Unsurprisingly, Beiersdorfer and others aren’t pleased with the state’s half-hearted response and have called on ODNR to deploy portable seismic stations closer to the Hilcorp operation to get better measurements of quakes, which will in turn provide scientists clearer information about size and location of the tremors.

“The request has been ignored,” Beiersdorfer frustratingly asserts in a piece in Columbus Free Press, “According to a telephone conversation I had with [ODNR Spokesperson] Mark Bruce they are not even discussing deploying portable seismic stations to the site. He said that the five seismometers located within 8 miles (the closest is 4 miles away) are sufficient. My reply that these stations are not close enough to precisely determine the depth of these small earthquakes was not addressed.”

Ohio state Representative Bob Hagen has repeatedly asked ODNR for more information on these quakes as well as drilling activity, yet Hagen has been stonewalled by the agency who would rather fight the “zealous resistance” by environmentalists than allow geologists and even elected representatives access to information about drilling activity. Without the data there can be no research and therefore no blame.

Currently citizens of Youngstown are rallying to ban fracking and injection wells through ballot measures, having failed twice before. Beirsdorfer and his wife, a fellow geologist, have joined the local fight against fracking despite having both worked for oil companies in the past.

“We suffered another set of earthquakes in [Ohio’s] Mahoning Valley and the ODNR claims to be getting to the bottom of this, yet the most important thing they could do, deploy the remote seismic stations, is not being done,” Professor Beiersdorfer contends. “Representative Hagan is being neglected. The press is being avoided. Somehow, we are expected to believe that ODNR has the technical expertise and social reasonability to decide where in our communities fracking and waste-injection can take place, whether you want them or not.”

* * *

Oklahoma is far worse than Ohio, and California for that matter, at least when it comes to earthquake activity. By early April of this year the state had already been dealt 109 earthquakes with a magnitude 3.0 or higher – that’s as many quakes as the Sooner state had in all of 2013. Still, Oklahoma regulatory and industry officials aren’t ready to admit outright the quakes are a result of injection wells.

Yet, all this shaking is not an entirely new phenomenon. In 2011 Oklahoma experienced a large 5.6 earthquake and a 4.7 aftershock near the sleepy town of Prague, which damaged over 200 buildings and injured two people. The Corporation Commission, which tracks injection wells in the state, says there are at least 10,000 active underground injection wells in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Geological Survey examined a cluster of quakes that hit near wells in August 2011 and found “that shortly after hydraulic fracturing began small earthquakes started occurring, and more than 50 were identified, of which 43 were large enough to be located. Most of these earthquakes occurred within a 24 hour period after hydraulic fracturing operations had ceased.”

“We’re trying to make sure we understand what data the state needs in order to start making some determinations on cause and effect,” Chad Warmington, president Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association told Bloomberg in response to the seismic activity. “We don’t want anybody to jump to conclusions.”

But conclusive links between deep wastewater injection wells and earthquakes is exactly what the scientific community has detected. The U.S. Interior Department has openly acknowledged the six-fold increase in quakes in the central U.S. from 2000-2011 are strongly correlated to wastewater injection, including those rolling through Oklahoma.

Even the few scientists that don’t oppose fracking see the dangers. Stanford University professor Mark Zoback, who moonlights as a senior adviser to Baker-Hughes, a multinational well services firm, wrote in a 2011 issue of Earth Magazine that man-made earthquakes can be managed, noting that “…it is important to avoid injection into active faults.” Zoback went on to admit that “a number of the small-to-moderate earthquakes that occurred in the U.S. interior in 2011 appear to be associated with the disposal of wastewater, at least in part related to natural gas production.”

Even so, state officials have not halted companies from continuing to inject millions of gallons of wastewater into underground wells in Oklahoma near known faults. Many of these wastewater dumping holes are located less than three miles from the epicenter of the large Prague quake of 2011.

Austin Holland, an Oklahoma Geological Survey seismologist, recently told E&E News that injections must continue despite the swarm of quake activity rattling Oklahoma. “We can actually learn what’s going on,” he claimed, “and perhaps mitigate these things in the future.”

Such brash sentiments are disconcerting to folks who are living in the midst of these ongoing earthquakes. For those residing in the tremor zones down in Arkansas, where numerous injection wells are active, daily anxiety caused by numerous quakes has many on edge.

“I remember days when the tremors were most active in the Greenbrier area, the rural town where I grew up [in Arkansas],” says Emily Lane, who now sits on the Board of Directors of Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group in Arkansas. “Some days I’d feel 1-2 earthquakes an hour. The roar would approach quickly and roll through the house like a train passing through. Pictures rattled, the dog barked, and a fear grew inside me and many in the community about when the ‘big one’ would come.”

Arkansas officials shut down four disposal wells near Greenbrier and the quakes have stopped; yet tremors in other areas of the state near injection wells continue. “These quakes in outlying areas continue to compromise the integrity of well casings, increasing the likelihood of water contamination in the area,” attests Lane, who is deeply concerned about what lies ahead. “What is most discouraging, beyond the obvious dangers present from future earthquakes and fluid migration/contamination, is that most people in Arkansas still do not realize that a strong correlation was found between disposal wells and seismicity.”

Residents in Arkansas have filed a class action suit against the drillers who operate the disposal wells. Texas residents also lodged a similar case against Royal Dutch Shell, Sunoco and others, claiming their properties have been damaged by earthquakes near the companies’ injection wells.

The fight to end fracking, or at least relocate these earthquake-inducing disposal wells away from fault zones, is going to be an uphill battle. It will likely take thousands more earthquakes, severe property damage, injuries and perhaps death before regulatory agencies stop ignoring science and start protecting people instead of Oil & Gas industry profits.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Why Can't the Unemployed Get Off Their Couches? And Eight Other Critical Questions for Americans

Tuesday, 03 June 2014
By Peter Van Buren, TomDispatch


Last year eight Americans -- the four Waltons of Walmart fame, the two Koch brothers, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett -- made more money than 3.6 million American minimum-wage workers combined. The median pay for CEOs at America's large corporations rose to $10 million per year, while a typical chief executive now makes about 257 times the average worker's salary, up sharply from 181 times in 2009. Overall, 1% of Americans own more than a third of the country’s wealth.

As the United States slips from its status as the globe's number one economic power, small numbers of Americans continue to amass staggering amounts of wealth, while simultaneously inequality trends toward historic levels. At what appears to be a critical juncture in our history and the history of inequality in this country, here are nine questions we need to ask about who we are and what will become of us. Let's start with a French economist who has emerged as an important voice on what’s happening in America today.

1) What does Thomas Piketty have to do with the 99%?

French economist Thomas Piketty’s surprise bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is an unlikely beach read, though it’s selling like one. A careful parsing of massive amounts of data distilled into “only” 700 pages, it outlines the economic basis for the 1%-99% divide in the United States. (Conservative critics, of course, disagree.)

Just in case you aren’t yet rock-bottom certain about the reality of that divide, here are some stats: the top 1% of Americans hold 35% of the nation's net worth; the bottom 80%, only 11% percent. The United States has such an unequal distribution of wealth that, in global rankings, it falls among the planet’s kleptocracies, not the developed nations that were once its peers. The mathematical measure of wealth-inequality is called "Gini," and the higher it is, the more extreme a nation's wealth-inequality. The Gini for the U.S. is 85; for Germany, 77; Canada, 72; and Bangladesh, 64. Nations more unequal than the U.S. include Kazakhstan at 86 and the Ukraine at 90. The African continent tips in at just under 85. Odd company for the self-proclaimed “indispensable nation.”

Piketty shows that such inequality is driven by two complementary forces. By owning more of everything (capital), rich people have a mechanism for getting ever richer than the rest of us, because the rate of return on investment is higher than the rate of economic growth. In other words, money made from investments grows faster than money made from wages. Piketty claims the wealth of the wealthiest Americans is rising at 6%-7% a year, more than three times as fast as the economy the rest of us live in.

At the same time, wages for middle and lower income Americans are sinking, driven by factors also largely under the control of the wealthy. These include the application of new technology to eliminate human jobs, the crushing of unions, and a decline in the inflation-adjusted minimum wage that more and more Americans depend on for survival.

The short version: A rising tide lifts all yachts.

 

2) So why don't the unemployed/underemployed simply find better jobs?

Another way of phrasing this question is: Why don't we just blame the poor for their plight? Mention unemployment or underemployment and someone will inevitably invoke the old "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" line. If workers don't like retail or minimum-wage jobs, or if they can't find good paying jobs in their area, why don’t they just move? Quit retail or quit Pittsburgh (Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis) and...

Move to where to do what? Our country lost one-third of all decent factory jobs -- almost six million of them -- between 2000 and 2009, and wherever "there" is supposed to be, piles of people are already in line. In addition, many who lost their jobs don't have the means to move or a friend with a couch to sleep on when they get to Colorado. Some have lived for generations in the places where the jobs have disappeared. As for the jobs that are left, what do they pay? One out of four working Americans earn less than $10 per hour. At 25%, the U.S. has the highest percentage of low-wage workers in the developed world. (Canada and Great Britain have 20%, Japan under 15%, and France 11%.)
One in six men, 10.4 million Americans aged 25 to 64, the prime working years, don't have jobs at all, a portion of the male population that has almost tripled in the past four decades. They are neither all lazy nor all unskilled, and at present they await news of the uncharted places in the U.S. where those 10 million unfilled jobs are hidden.

Moving “there” to find better work isn't an option.

3) But aren't there small-scale versions of economic “rebirths” occurring all over America?

Travel through some of the old Rust Belt towns of this country and you’ll quickly notice that “economic rebirth” seems to mean repurposing buildings that once housed factories and shipping depots as bars and boutiques. Abandoned warehouses are now trendy restaurants; a former radiator factory is an artisanal coffee shop. In other words, in a place where a manufacturing plant once employed hundreds of skilled workers at union wages, a handful of part-timers are now serving tapas at minimum wage plus tips.

In Maryland, an ice cream plant that once employed 400 people with benefits and salaries pegged at around $40,000 a year closed its doors in 2012. Under a "rebirth" program, a smaller ice cream packer reopened the place with only 16 jobs at low wages and without benefits. The new operation had 1,600 applicants for those 16 jobs. The area around the ice cream plant once produced airplanes, pipe organs, and leather car seats. No more. There were roughly 14,000 factory jobs in the area in 2000; today, there are 8,000.

General Electric’s Appliance Park, in Louisville, Kentucky, employed 23,000 union workers at its peak in 1973. By 2011, the sputtering plant held onto only about 1,800 workers. What was left of the union there agreed to a two-tier wage scale, and today 70% of the jobs are on the lower tier -- at $13.50 an hour, almost $8 less than what the starting wage used to be. A full-time worker makes about $28,000 a year before taxes and deductions. The poverty line for a family of four in Kentucky is $23,000. Food stamp benefits are available to people who earn up to 130% of the poverty line, so a full-timer in Kentucky with a family still qualifies. Even if a worker moved to Kentucky and lucked out by landing a job at the plant, standing on your tiptoes with your lips just above sea level is not much of a step up.

Low paying jobs are not a rebirth. 

 

4) Can't people just get off their couches and get back to work?

There are 3.8 million Americans who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. These are the country’s long-term unemployed, as defined by the Department of Labor. Statistically, the longer you are unemployed, the less likely it is that you'll ever find work again. Between 2008 and 2012, only 11% of those unemployed 15 months or more found a full-time job, and research shows that those who do find a job are less likely to retain it. Think of it as a snowball effect: more unemployment creates more unemployable people.

And how hard is it to land even a minimum-wage job? This year, the Ivy League college admissions acceptance rate was 8.9%. Last year, when Walmart opened its first store in Washington, D.C., there were more than 23,000 applications for 600 jobs, which resulted in an acceptance rate of 2.6%, making the big box store about twice as selective as Harvard and five times as choosy as Cornell.

Telling unemployed people to get off their couches (or out of the cars they live in or the shelters where they sleep) and get a job makes as much sense as telling them to go study at Harvard. 

 

5) Why can't former factory workers retrain into new jobs?

Janesville, Wisconsin, had the oldest General Motors car factory in America, one that candidate Obama visited in 2007 and insisted would be there for another 100 years. Two days before Christmas that year and just before Obama's inauguration, the plant closed forever, throwing 5,000 people out of work. This devastated the town, because you either worked in the plant or in a business that depended on people working in the plant. The new president and Congress quickly paid for a two-million-dollar Janesville retraining program, using state community colleges the way the government once used trade schools built to teach new immigrants the skills needed by that Janesville factory a century ago.

This time around, however, those who finished their retraining programs simply became trained unemployables rather than untrained ones. It turned out that having a certificate in “heating and ventilation” did not automatically lead to a job in the field. There were already plenty of people out there with such certificates, never mind actual college degrees. And those who did find work in some field saw their take-home pay drop by 36%. This, it seems, is increasingly typical in twenty-first-century America (though retraining programs have been little studied in recent years).

Manufacturing is dead and the future lies in a high-tech, information-based economy, some say. So why can't former factory workers be trained to do that? Maybe some percentage could, but the U.S. graduated 1,606,000 students with bachelor's degrees in 2014, many of whom already have such skills.

Bottom Line: Jobs create the need for training. Training does not create jobs. 

 

6) Should we cut public assistance and force people into the job market?

At some point in any discussion of jobs, someone will drop the nuclear option: cut federal and state benefits and do away with most public assistance. That'll motivate people to find jobs -- or starve. Unemployment money and food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) encourage people to be lazy. Why should tax dollars be used to give food to people who won't work for it? “If you’re able-bodied, you should be willing to work,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said discussing food stamp cuts.

The problem with such statements is 73% of those enrolled in the country’s major public benefits programs are, in fact, from working families -- just in jobs whose paychecks don’t cover life’s basic necessities. McDonald’s workers alone receive $1.2 billion in federal assistance per year.

Why do so many of the employed need food stamps? It’s not complicated. Workers in the minimum-wage economy often need them simply to survive. All in all, 47 million people get SNAP nationwide because without it they would go hungry.

In Ohio, where I did some of the research for my book Ghosts of Tom Joad, the state pays out benefits on the first of each month. Pay Day, Food Day, Mother’s Day, people call it. SNAP is distributed in the form of an Electronic Bank Transfer card, or EBT, which, recipients will tell you, stands for “Eat Better Tonight.” EBT-friendly stores open early and stay open late on the first of the month because most people are pretty hungry come the Day.

A single person with nothing to her name in the lower 48 states would qualify for no more than $189 a month in SNAP. If she works, her net monthly income is multiplied by .3, and the result is subtracted from the maximum allotment. Less than fifty bucks a week for food isn’t exactly luxury fare. Sure, she can skip a meal if she needs to, and she likely does. However, she may have kids; almost two-thirds of SNAP children live in single-parent households. Twenty percent or more of the child population in 37 states lived in “food insecure households” in 2011, with New Mexico (30.6%) and the District of Columbia (30%) topping the list. And it's not just kids. Households with disabled people account for 16% of SNAP benefits, while 9% go to households with senior citizens.

Almost 22% of American children under age 18 lived in poverty in 2012; for those under age five, it’s more than 25%. Almost 1 in 10 live in extreme poverty.

Our system is trending toward asking kids (and the disabled, and the elderly) to go to hell if they're hungry. Many are already there.


7) Why are Walmart and other businesses opposed to SNAP cuts?

Public benefits are now a huge part of the profits of certain major corporations. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Walmart was oddly blunt about what SNAP cuts could do to its bottom line:
“Our business operations are subject to numerous risks, factors, and uncertainties, domestically and internationally, which are outside our control. These factors include... changes in the amount of payments made under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan and other public assistance plans, [and] changes in the eligibility requirements of public assistance plans.”


How much profit do such businesses make from public assistance? Short answer: big bucks. In one year, nine Walmart Supercenters in Massachusetts received more than $33 million in SNAP dollars -- more than four times the SNAP money spent at farmers' markets nationwide. In two years, Walmart received about half of the one billion dollars in SNAP expenditures in Oklahoma. Overall, 18% of all food benefits money is spent at Walmart.

Pepsi, Coke, and the grocery chain Kroger lobbied for food stamps, an indication of how much they rely on the money. The CEO of Kraft admitted that the mac n’ cheese maker opposed food stamp cuts because users were “a big part of our audience.” One-sixth of Kraft’s revenues come from food stamp purchases. Yum Brands, the operator of KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, tried to convince lawmakers in several states to allow its restaurants to accept food stamps. Products eligible for SNAP purchases are supposed to be limited to “healthy foods.” Yet lobbying by the soda industry keeps sugary drinks on the approved list, while companies like Coke and Pepsi pull in four billion dollars a year in revenues from SNAP money.

Poverty is big business.


8) Should We Raise the Minimum Wage?

One important reason to raise the minimum wage to a living one is that people who can afford to feed themselves will not need food stamps paid for by taxpayers. Companies who profit off their workers' labor will be forced to pay a fair price for it, and not get by on taxpayer-subsidized low wages. Just as important, people who can afford to feed themselves earn not just money, but self-respect. The connection between working and taking care of yourself and your family has increasingly gone missing in America, creating a society that no longer believes in itself. Rock bottom is a poor foundation for building anything human.

But won't higher wages cause higher prices? The way taxpayers functionally subsidize companies paying low-wages to workers -- essentially ponying up the difference between what McDonald's and its ilk pay and what those workers need to live via SNAP and other benefits -- is a hidden cost squirreled away in plain sight. You're already paying higher prices via higher taxes; you just may not know it.

Even if taxes go down, won't companies pass on their costs? Maybe, but they are unlikely to be significant. For example, if McDonald’s doubled the salaries of its employees to a semi-livable $14.50 an hour, not only would most of them go off public benefits, but so would the company -- and yet a Big Mac would cost just 68 cents more. In general, only about 20% of the money you pay for a Big Mac goes to labor costs. At Walmart, increasing wages to $12 per hour would cost the company only about one percent of its annual sales.

Despite labor costs not being the most significant factor in the way low-wage businesses set their prices, one of the more common objections to raising the minimum wage is that companies, facing higher labor costs, will cut back on jobs. Don’t believe it.

The Los Angeles Economic Round Table concluded that raising the hourly minimum to $15 in that city would generate an additional $9.2 billion in annual sales and create more than 50,000 jobs. A Paychex/IHS survey, which looks at employment in small businesses, found that the state with the highest percentage of annual job growth was Washington, which also has the highest statewide minimum wage in the nation. The area with the highest percentage of annual job growth was San Francisco, the city with the highest minimum wage in the nation. Higher wages do not automatically lead to fewer jobs. Many large grocery chains, including Safeway and Kroger, are unionized and pay well-above-minimum wage. They compete as equals against their non-union rivals, despite the higher wages.

Will employers leave a state if it raises its minimum wage independent of a nationwide hike? Unlikely. Most minimum-wage employers are service businesses that are tied to where their customers are. People are not likely to drive across state lines for a burger. A report on businesses on the Washington-Idaho border at a time when Washington’s minimum wage was nearly three bucks higher than Idaho’s found that the ones in Washington were flourishing.

While some businesses could indeed decide to close or cut back if the minimum wage rose, the net macro gains would be significant. Even a small hike to $10.10 an hour would put some $24 billion a year into workers' hands to spend and lift 900,000 Americans above the poverty line. Consumer spending drives 70% of our economy. More money in the hands of consumers would likely increase the demand for goods and services, creating jobs.

Yes, raise the minimum wage. Double it or more. We can't afford not to.


9) Okay, after the minimum wage is raised, what else can we do?

To end such an article, it’s traditional to suggest reforms, changes, solutions. It is, in fact, especially American to assume that every problem has a "solution." So my instant suggestion: raise the minimum wage. Tomorrow. In a big way. And maybe appoint Thomas Piketty to the board of directors of Walmart.

But while higher wages are good, they are likely only to soften the blows still to come. What if the hyper-rich like being ever more hyper-rich and, with so many new ways to influence and control our political system and the economy, never plan to give up any of their advantages? What if they don't want to share, not even a little more, not when it comes to the minimum wage or anything else?

The striking trend lines of social and economic disparity that have developed over the last 50 years are clearly no accident; nor have disemboweled unions, a deindustrialized America, wages heading for the basement (with profits still on the rise), and the widest gap between rich and poor since the slavery era been the work of the invisible hand. It seems far more likely that a remarkably small but powerful crew wanted it that way, knowing that a nation of fast food workers isn’t heading for the barricades any time soon. Think of it all as a kind of Game of Thrones played out over many years. A super-wealthy few have succeeded in defeating all of their rivals -- unions, regulators, the media, honest politicians, environmentalists -- and now are free to do as they wish.
What most likely lies ahead is not a series of satisfying American-style solutions to the economic problems of the 99%, but a boiling frog’s journey into a form of twenty-first-century feudalism in which a wealthy and powerful few live well off the labors of a vast mass of the working poor.


Once upon a time, the original 99% percent, the serfs, worked for whatever their feudal lords allowed them to have. Now, Walmart “associates” do the same. Then, a few artisans lived slightly better, an economic step or two up the feudal ladder. Now, a technocratic class of programmers, teachers, and engineers with shrinking possibilities for upward mobility function similarly amid the declining middle class. Absent a change in America beyond my ability to imagine, that's likely to be my future -- and yours.