Saturday, July 2, 2011

Movement to Abolish Corporate Personhood Gaining Traction

In the year and a half since the Citizens United decision, Americans from all walks of life have become concerned about corporate dominance of our government and our society as a whole. In Citizens United v. FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court (in an act of outrageous “judicial activism) gutted existing campaign finance laws by ruling that corporations, wealthy individuals, and other entities can spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.

Throughout the country people have responded by organizing against “corporate personhood,” a court-created precedent that illegitimately gives corporations rights that were intended for human beings.

The movement is flowering not in the halls of Congress, but at the local level, where all real social movements start. Every day Americans experience the devastation caused by unaccountable corporations. Thanks to the hard work of local organizers, Boulder, CO could become the next community to officially join this growing effort. Councilmember Macon Cowles is proposing to place a measure on the November ballot, giving Boulder voters the opportunity to support an amendment to the U. S. Constitution abolishing corporate personhood and declaring that money is not speech.

At the forefront of this movement is Move to Amend, a national coalition of hundreds of organizations and over 113,000 individuals (and counting). Move to Amend is committed to building a grassroots movement to abolish corporate personhood, to hold corporations accountable to the public, and ultimately to fulfill the promise of an American democratic republic.

Boulder is not alone in this fight, nor is it the first community to consider such a resolution. In April, voters in Madison and Dane County, WI overwhelmingly approved measures calling for an end to corporate personhood and the legal status of money as speech by 84% and 78% respectively. Similar resolutions have been passed in nearly thirty other cities and counties. Resolutions have also been introduced in the state legislatures of both Vermont and Washington.

Despite the momentum, Move to Amend organizers know this won’t be an easy fight. Corporate America controls traditional media, and has invested heavily in politicians, lobbyists, and extremist groups to oppose our efforts. We can’t expect Congress to act, nor can we depend on the courts to solve a problem of their own making. We draw our strategy and inspiration from the great social movements of history. 

The abolition of slavery, the struggle for women’s suffrage, trade unions, and the civil rights movement all started with grassroots organizing. The ruling elites denounced these movements as un-American, and they will make the same accusation against this effort. Others claimed that those movements went “too far,” and were unrealistic. Thankfully, folks before us did not quit or give up. They gained traction with solid strategy, unwavering commitment, and moral authority.

Move To Amend proudly identifies with this tradition of engaged citizen participation. Building momentum with local organizing and resolutions is our best chance of driving a constitutional amendment into Congress. Recent events in Boulder provide an example of this strategy in practice. Months of education, organizing, and advocacy by Boulder Move to Amend empowered Councilman Cowles to provide political leadership and prepared the community to respond.

Awareness of corporate personhood in Boulder is now higher than ever before. It is widely viewed as a mainstream issue, having earned the support of local Democratic Party leaders. Answering critics of the measure, Boulder County Democratic Party Chairperson Dan Gould recently told the Daily Camera that corporate personhood is an issue that must be addressed locally. "This is as important as municipalization, this is as important as school bonds," he said. "This is immediate."

Move to Amend is gaining momentum rapidly in communities throughout the country precisely because the problems of corporate power are most evident locally. Developers seeking special favors pour money into elections. Big polluters avoid investigations and litigation by hiding behind their illegitimate “rights.” Bad employers lie to the public about unfair labor practices with no legal consequences. People see it every day. They get it and they’re ready to fight back. Move to Amend is here to help them do that with a strategy for long-term success.

Friday, July 1, 2011

So Who Really Stands to Benefit from AT&T’s T-Mobile Takeover?

by Jenn Ettinger
Last week, a group of 76 Democrats made a small splash inside the Beltway after they signed a letter touting the alleged benefits of the AT&T-T-Mobile merger for rural communities and workers. The problem with the letter, though, is that it’s full of lies that have been trumpeted by AT&T and are being echoed by its supporters, despite being swiftly debunked by Free Press and others.

While it does not outright endorse the merger, the letter claims the deal would bring the benefits of broadband to rural communities that would otherwise not have access. But that’s not true. On June 10, AT&T reported to the FCC that, even without the merger, it already plans to deploy next generation "4G service to 97 percent of the population by the end of 2012."

The letter also suggests AT&T's takeover will generate billions of dollars in additional investment and create thousands of jobs. But AT&T has told Wall Street the merger will result in less investment and more layoffs.

So if these claims are false, who really does benefit from this merger? (Don’t worry, this won’t take long. It’s a short list.)


The most obvious beneficiary of this takeover is AT&T. By eliminating a competitor, AT&T would gain millions of subscribers, a cache of valuable wireless spectrum and a spot alongside Verizon in a massive wireless duopoly. (So massive in fact that these two companies would rival the market dominance of the top 10 oil companies combined.) AT&T’s shareholders are also poised to reap the benefits of the post-merger “synergies” which translate into tens of thousands of laid off workers and billions less investment. While AT&T tells Congress the merger will lead to more investment and jobs, it’s telling Wall Street the opposite. It’s probably not lying to Wall Street.

Deutsch Telekom and T-Mobile

Deutsch Telekom has been seeking to unload T-Mobile for a few reasons. T-Mobile has been slowly falling behind Verizon and AT&T, thanks in large part to the slanted regulations and unfair playing field that the duopolists have ordered up from friendly lawmakers. The investment necessary to bring it up to speed is not that large compared to the merger price, but it may be more than Deutsche Telekom wants to put in. Additionally, in order to expand its coverage and improve its network, T-Mobile needs more and better spectrum, and has trouble getting it because AT&T and Verizon are so dominant in that arena, too. AT&T’s offer of $39 billion was enough for Deutsche Telekom to unload the company and focus on its European business.


Communication Workers of America has been ceaselessly urging progressives to support the merger, calling it good for jobs and investment, but what it really means is that the merger is good for the union. CWA has been trying to unionize T-Mobile’s workforce for the last four years, and under AT&T it would have access to those workers. T-Mobile's workforce of course should be free to join unions. But what CWA doesn’t mention in its plugs for the merger is that a significant number of T-Mobile’s workers won’t even have the chance to join the union, because they’ll be laid off. The only benefits those downsized workers will see are unemployment benefits.


AT&T is one of the biggest contributors to congressional coffers, and it has spent nearly $54 million in campaign contributions over the past 25 years, and over $142 million on lobbying in the last 15. After the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the cost of running for Congress has spiraled upward, giving contributing corporations even more power to dictate policy to money-hungry elected officials. The signers of this week’s letter have received a total of nearly $1.8 million from AT&T, a number that probably helped the signers avoid taking a long look into the letter’s claims.

To be sure, the list of real beneficiaries is small, and noticeably missing are consumers in the wireless market, which after the loss of a key competitor will see less innovation. Everyday Americans will pay for this merger with higher bills and will have fewer choices in carriers, phones and plans.

The End Times

“All the evidence shows that we are nearing the end of man’s tragic experiment in independence from God.”
Wow, I thought. They get it. And suddenly I felt a burst of solidarity with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The words are from one of their tracts, which was given to me because I have this passion for talking about God — a wild glee, almost, for stepping up to The Big Serious and wrestling theology with the neighborhood proselytizers.

There are other ways to express the urgency of our situation, leaving God out of it. An eco-conscious soul might warn that the human species must reconnect with indigenous wisdom and the circle of life. But no matter. What strikes me is the growing recognition, in so many quarters, of the unsustainability of our global culture and the need for, and inevitability of, profound change.

Indeed, it’s more than mere “recognition” — it’s a primal disorientation. The culture of moneyed interests, war and techno-diversion, which is global in scope, is killing us at the same time that its media apologists, and the anonymous experts and authorities they quote, reassure us that everything is fine and under control.

I think the Christian End Times movement (the message of my Jehovah’s Witness tract), the growing buzz over the Mayan calendar prediction (we shift into a new age on Dec. 21, 2012 . . . you can even order end-of-world mugs and T-shirts) and the science-based urgency of climate-change warnings all emanate from the same rawly intuitive sense: An unprecedented planetary shift is under way, which we can aggravate and perhaps turn into Armageddon if we continue ignoring our own thoughtless contributions to the situation.
“All the evidence shows that we are nearing the end of man’s tragic experiment in independence from God.”
Here’s another way this thought gets put:

“The world’s oceans are faced with an unprecedented loss of species comparable to the great mass extinctions of prehistory, a major report suggests today. The seas are degenerating far faster than anyone has predicted, the report says, because of the cumulative impact of a number of severe individual stresses, ranging from climate warming and sea-water acidification, to widespread chemical pollution and gross overfishing.”

Thus began an article last week in the U.K.’s Independent by environment editor Michael McCarthy, on the recently issued report of a panel of leading marine scientists convened in Oxford earlier this year by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The human contribution to oceanic dead zones is significant:
“. . . new scientific research suggests that pollutants, including flame-retardant chemicals and synthetic musks found in detergents, are being traced in the polar seas, and that these chemicals can be absorbed by tiny plastic particles in the ocean which are in turn ingested by marine creatures such as bottom-feeding fish.

“Plastic particles also assist the transport of algae from place to place, increasing the occurrence of toxic algal blooms — which are also caused by the influx of nutrient-rich pollution from agricultural land.”
And then there’s the Las Conchas fire, one of several wildfires now tearing across the state of New Mexico. The blaze has already forced the evacuation of thousands of people in Los Alamos, home of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a vast complex housing much of the nation’s nuclear weapons research.

But not to worry. A Reuters story assures us that — what else? — everything is fine: “Explosive materials on the laboratory’s grounds are stored safely in underground bunkers made of concrete and steel, as well as earthen berms,” according to a spokesman for the lab (and not simply the lab, but the entire military-industrial status quo).

The story abandons us in a state of feel-good pseudo-security, not bothering to report the technical concerns of environmentalists, e.g.: “One (concern) is the fact that over six decades the Lab has blown up a lot of uranium and depleted uranium in dynamic high explosives experiments in the general area in front of the fire,” according to an update from New Mexico’s Nuclear Watch blog, quoted by former lab scientist Subhankar Banerjee. “We don’t know to what extent the shrapnel or debris has been cleaned up and could possibly be aerosolized.”

Speaking of the entire nuclear industry — both the weapons- and energy-production components — which is reeling from environmental disasters from Japan to Nebraska to New Mexico, Harvey Wasserman writes: “We know only two things for certain: Worse is yet to come, and those in charge are lying about it — at least to the extent of what they actually know, which is nowhere near enough.”

In a sense, “those in charge” is all of us. We’re in charge of our own awareness, and we can remain in denial or grope, individually and collectively, for the wisdom that will help us face, and survive, whatever is to come.

Nuclear Fiddling, While Los Alamos Burns (2 articles)

 (I've read people downplaying the dangers of Fukushima--"It's not that bad," say they. And I've read some of the same people downplaying the Fort Calhoun emergency with the same "It's not that bad." Los Alamos: 30,000 barrels of plutonium waste... the largest wildfire in New Mexico  histor...the two are less than 30 miles from one another, and the fire has breached the perimeter of the facility. Is this that bad? I'm afraid we have no idea how bad it will be.--jef) 


Nukes, Fire and Secrecy
Burning the Truth at Los Alamos
The week began with news of the explosive growth of a fire bearing down on the town of Los Alamos. As of late Monday, Las Conchas fire is moving through the Jemez mountains towards the mesas and canyons of the community of Los Alamos. A photo of the hospital circulating online shows it edged by a wall of fire. We can only hope the community is spared from destruction, especially since it has never fully recovered from the trauma of the 2000 Cerro Grande fire.

Even if the outcome ultimately is a best-case scenario — a disaster averted — June 27, 2011 was day one of another major nuclear scare for New Mexico. It is difficult to write an about a situation that is changing minute by minute.

However, having been through this before, I will assume until proven wrong, that when Los Alamos burns, the first victim is the truth. Second, information will come in bits and pieces. It takes research and analysis to get at the whole truth.

For example, the official Los Alamos website reported that a fire that jumped the road into Technical Area 49, stating: "Emergency officials say the Las Conchas fire, which had burned to the southern edge of New Mexico State Route 4 at the Lab's southwest boundary, crossed the road to the north early this afternoon … About one acre burned and the Lab has detected no off-site releases of contamination."

Does that careful wording mean that releases were detected on-site and if so will anyone tell the public what the releases were? That phrasing sent me looking for information about TA 49 to learn the kinds of contamination it holds.

The site had been used years ago for underground experiments approved by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. Although the tests ended in the 1960s, TA 49 has a long paper trail documenting decades of leaks, ground water contamination by plutonium, and multiple failed efforts to stop the contamination and remediate the site. Six areas within TA 49 are designated Potential Release Sites (PRSs). A 2003 study states that on-site contamination levels at TA 49 are 40 kg of plutonium, 93 kg of uranium- 235, 170 kg of uranium-238, 11 kg of beryllium, and possibly more than 90,000 kg of lead; all toxic and very harmful to human health.
Threats from fire in Los Alamos are not just radiologic. In addition to sites contaminated by radiation, toxic chemical and heavy metal waste sites also dot the weapons compound.
Despite the number of toxic locations, Gov. Martinez joined the chorus of people saying that all hazardous materials are safe. That is just not true. She may have been assured of the safety of the small category of highly toxic radioactive elements referred to collectively as "special nuclear materials." These special nuclear materials are plutonium, uranium-233, and uranium-235. Special nuclear materials (SNM) are the guts of nuclear bombs. 

We have to hope the fire does not reach Technical Area 55, Area G, a dump filled with tens of thousands of 55 gallon drums of nuclear waste mostly just sitting on the ground. After the Cerro Grande fire in 2000 finally died and the public was allowed back into Los Alamos, I observed that only the two-lane road had kept the fire from reaching the dump. The fire last time was too close to Area G for comfort.

If the fire heads that way, it will take the perfect combination of luck and skill by our emergency responders to again protect Area G from fire. In recognition of our gratitude to the responders, we need to assure that every best practice of preventive and protective health be provided to them, including personal protective equipment.

If fire enters the bomb plant itself, more protection should be provided, including but not limited to radiation-monitoring badges, on-site laundry, as well as appropriate screening and follow-up based on actual individual exposure, and good record keeping for long term follow-up.

The failure to protect the health and safety of emergency responders during the Cerro Grande fire must not be repeated. 

Formerly a national "laboratory," the lead operator is Bechtel, a for-profit corporate octopus with tentacles around the world. Bechtel was awarded the management of Los Alamos in 2005 with the former operator the University of California demoted to a junior partner role. A nuclear bomb facility in a dangerous wildfire zone is too risky.

As we see over and over again, it is not possible to out-engineer Mother Nature. We have to once and for all finally just say no to nukes.
The Fire This Time

On May 4, 2000 a controlled burn on Cerro Grande Mountain, deep in the Bandelier National Monument, escaped control of the US Forest Service. The flames would rage across New Mexico's highlands for over one month until contained. It would take another month to fully extinguish. Hundreds of homes were burned to cinders, most in the city of Los Alamos, and final damage estimates were in the $1 billion range.

The Cerro Grande fire was an expansive conflagration by any standard, but what set it apart from other super-fires of the last decade was that it burned through a highly secretive government facility, the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

LANL is not just any government lab. LANL is the epicenter of the US nuclear weapons program. It is the home base of the weaponeers, the thousands of Department of Energy employees and subcontractors who have tethered their careers, livelihoods, and identities to the atom bomb's continuing role in American foreign, and domestic policy. In this respect LANL is the brain trust (or moral pit, if you prefer) of US nuclearism. LANL is also now the center of US plutonium manufacturing for nuclear weapons; the Lab is host to billion dollar factories dedicated to storing, milling (one could even say supplicating to) this most deadly material. Expansions are underway.

More generally, LANL is one of the most secretive and militaristic institutions in America. Many New Mexicans complain about the Lab as a colonizing force. Communities in its most immediate sphere of influence, the Espanola Valley, suffer from the exorbitant political influence it wields over the entire state's affairs, and the negative economic impact it bestows. The problems are deeply cultural and psychological even; the poor towns and counties downwind and downstream of LANL are among the poorest in the nation, with the highest rates of heroin and methamphetamine addiction, suffering epidemic violence, and disturbing instances of suicide, especially among the young. Living in the shadow of the lab (on clear days it's easy to spot LANL's buildings, and even one of its massive nuclear waste dumps from downtown Santa Fe), New Mexicans have long feared catastrophe.

So when the Cerro Grande fire, incinerating pine and juniper trees like match sticks, crossed onto LANL property eleven years ago and torched over 100 lab buildings, many assumed the worst. The disastrous potential then was enormous. Spread across 43 square miles, LANL is made up of dozens of "technical areas." Many of these technical areas were the sites of toxic and radioactive experimentation throughout the Cold War, and deadly materials are scattered about the lab's soil, concentrated in the canyons by runoff, and bioaccumulated in some vegetation.

When news broke that Cerro Grande was torching Lab property, burning buildings to the ground, downwind communities such as San Ildefonso and Santa Clara Peublos, and Santa Fe panicked, assuming that radioactive and toxic fallout were headed toward them in volatile clouds of ash and smoke. Worse still was the fear that one of LANL's nuclear waste dumps, such as Area G, might be blazing, lifting huge concentrations of radioactivity in the atmosphere.
At the time my organization (which I did not yet serve on the board of), the Los Alamos Study Group, chartered a plane and made several flights over the Lab and fire areas. Like the rest of the community, the news media, and even the Department of Energy itself, we were being kept in the dark about what was going on at the Lab. The Lab's hierarchy, then a management team of men appointed by the University of California's Board of Regents, kept as much of the disaster a secret as possible. It was impossible to know if the worst was occurring.

New Mexico and the nation escaped the worst then. The fire certainly did have numerous ecological and health consequences for New Mexico, but the fears of mass radioactive contamination have since proven unfounded according to many scientific studies. Of course some locals vehemently counter these same studies with tales of cancers and birth defects among their family, and their farm animals, and note that the researchers who have "proven" no significant exposure from the fire event were on the payroll of the lab. True enough, and we will never really know all of what happened, and what costs we bear from it. Such is the nature of the technoscientific age of "progress" and poison we are steeped in.

In the end though, Cerro Grande, for all its feel of catastrophism, proved a bullet mostly dodged. The Lab vowed in Boy Scout fashion to be prepared and built a $21 million Emergency Operations Center out of which to coordinate future responses to fires and, after 9-11, other kinds of "unforseen" events.

Yet here we are again, in 2011 with a raging wildfire, this one already 50% larger than Cerro Grande, still growing, and moving faster, according to veteran firefighters. It's being called the Las Conchas fire. It too temporarily breached LANL property, although having not yet burned any Lab buildings, and has caused the company town of Los Alamos, where many of the Lab's weaponeers live, to evacuate.

It would be a mistake, however, to again fixate on the most immediate images of catastrophe this blaze conjures. The fears are so great, especially in the wake of the tsunami that has caused meltdowns at several of Japan's nuclear reactors, and the predictable and deplorable actions of that government and the giant Tokyo Electric Power Company in keeping the extensiveness of that radiological disaster secret. Even so, the likelihood that Las Conchas will rupture nuclear waste drums stored at Area G, or send up deadly plumes of legacy radioactive wastes from contaminated soils and plants is slim.

All this is not to say that Las Conchas isn't a disaster, or that severe dangers don't lurk in the flames. In fact it's much worse than any of this fixation on possible radioactive contamination implies. The Las Conchas fire is a major disaster tucked into a larger and unfolding world-shattering catastrophe. It is among a cohort of wildfires that may be phasing in a new ecology in the American West, one without forests. The scientific literature is overflowing with studies of the current impacts of rising average temperatures and reduced precipitation on forests lands. 

Future models forecasting the effects of such trends have been run countless times with different data sets. While there are a range of findings, the majority point toward greatly increased stresses upon western North American forests due to climate change. There are even detailed studies, nearly all of them, indicating that climatic changes will increase the number and severity of fire events beyond the parameters reconstructed through paleodendrological evidence. Wildfires are likely be the punctual culmination of various stresses, in one quick moment transforming forests into deserts where trees may never again grow in any great numbers.

As Chip Ward has written about the recent Wallow Fire in Arizona:
"These past few years, mega-fires in the West have become ever more routine. Though their estimates and measurements may vary, the experts who study these phenomena all agree that wildfires today are bigger, last longer and are more frequent. A big fire used to burn perhaps 30 square miles. Today, wildfires regularly scorch 150-square-mile areas. Global warming, global weirding, climate change--whatever you prefer to call it--is not just happening in some distant, melting Arctic land out of a storybook. It is not just burning up far-away Russia. It's here now. The seas have warmed, ice caps are melting and the old reliable ocean currents and atmospheric jet streams are jumping their tracks."
It is such a terrible irony that the fire that symbolizes the future of western North America blazes on the edge of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. In recent years, especially under Obama, LANL has seen its budget grow quickly, fueling a construction boom of nuclear weapons capital projects. Billions of dollars worth of construction is taking place within a lab site known as the "Pajarito Corridor". The biggest project, around which all else revolves, is the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project (CMRR), a boorishly descriptive yet also magniloquent name for a nuclear weapons factory that is designed to boost the lab's manufacturing capacity for bomb pits, the small spheres of plutonium metal that make a nuclear weapon go boom.

Last year there was some news of the Obama administration's pact with Senate Republicans to spend upwards of $180 billion on new nuclear weapons infrastructure far into the future. LANL's capital projects are the costliest single component of this larger portfolio of American nuclear militarism. The CMRR itself will cost over $6 billion when all is said and done. Alone the CMRR is the biggest construction project in New Mexico's history excepting perhaps the highways system. All together the construction boom at LANL might rival even that.

New Mexico is burning. The southwest is burning. It's not just the Las Conchas fire. There have reportedly been 1000 fires around the state in the last year. There are upwards of 40 major fires burning across New Mexico right now. Las Conchas probably just became the biggest fire in New Mexico's history.

While building nuclear weapons might not quite be fiddling, you get the idea. While America burns, its leaders are busy pouring scarce money and manpower into nuclear weapons. The fire in New Mexico is both symbolic and literal in this sense.

Earlier this year New Mexico's senior Senator Jeff Bingaman proudly announced to his constituents how the federal budget his party crafted would boost public lands, and environmental projects in the state. For public lands? $28 million in projects including, $8.8 million to replace the old and unsafe lighting and electrical system in Carlsbad Caverns National Park; $3.5 million for operations at the Valles Caldera National Preserve (which is now burning in the Las Conchas fire), and; $3.4 million to purchase the 5,000-acre Miranda Canyon property adjacent to the Carson National Forest in Taos County.

Bravo Jeff.

LANL's budget for 2011 exceeds $2 billion. They're building a fence around LANL's plutonium factory that alone will cost hundreds of millions. While the feds spend chump change to make pretend investments in our dying public lands, replacing light bulbs at Carlsbad Caverns and such, they're pumping billions into a bomb factory in the high desert.

Orgasm, Inc.

In the shocking and hilarious documentary ORGASM INC., filmmaker Liz Canner takes a job editing erotic videos for a drug trial for a pharmaceutical company. Her employer is developing what they hope will be the first Viagra drug for women that wins FDA approval to treat a new disease: Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD). Liz gains permission to film the company for her own documentary. Initially, she plans to create a movie about science and pleasure but she soon begins to suspect that her employer, along with a cadre of other medical companies, might be trying to take advantage of women (and potentially endanger their health) in pursuit of billion dollar profits. ORGASM INC. is a powerful look inside the medical industry and the marketing campaigns that are literally and figuratively reshaping our everyday lives around health, illness, desire — and that ultimate moment: orgasm.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cantor could rake in windfall profit if debt ceiling isn’t raised

By David Edwards - RAW Story - Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Economists have said that failing to raise the debt ceiling could be catastrophic for the U.S. economy, but at least one lawmaker stands to gain financially if the country defaults on its debts.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-VA) latest financial disclosure statement indicates that he owns up to $15,000 of ProShares Trust Ultrashort 20+ Year Treasury EFT, a fund that will likely skyrocket as U.S. debt becomes less desirable.

"If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, investors would start fleeing U.S. Treasuries," Motley Fool's Matt Koppenheffer told Salon. "Yields would rise, prices would fall, and the Proshares ETF should do very well. It would spike."

"Cantor's involvement in the fund and negotiations is not ideal," he added. "I don’t think someone negotiating the debt ceiling should be invested in this kind of an ultra-short... It looks pretty bad."

Cantor pulled out of negotiations to raise the debt limit last week saying, "Now is the time for these talks to go into abeyance."

Since that time, ProShares ETF is up 3.3 percent.

"Cantor's office claims the investment is simply part of a balanced portfolio," noted Washington Monthly's Steve Benen. "It's hardly a stretch, though, to suggest prominent officials should avoid these kinds of conflicts of interest."

Rick Perry: Calling All Texans to Prayer!

(Cue MC Hammer--"We got to pray, just to make it today". This is a simplistic show of support for an event for which the cost of it would be better spent feeding the homeless. Rather than renting out the Reliant Stadium (an NFL stadium) for hundred of thousands of dollars and having people spend their hard-earned greenbacks traveling there, wouldn't "Jesus" rather have those people volunteer in their communities, pray together with their friends and neighbors. In a down economy this is just a silly waste of funds for a forgettable symbolic effort that would not please Jesus, as far as the description of Jesus in the bible claims. I'm not attacking Christians, just poking fun at that small number of Christians (reflected below) who believe Jesus was white and preached a diversified stick portfolio and tax breaks for the wealthy are the paths to heaven. That Jesus NEVER existed.--jef)

Time to End the Chemical War Against Superweeds

by Lasse Bruun
Have you ever thought about how your favorite picnic spot in the local city park is managed? Or what happens when herbicides are sprayed on the crops that make up your breakfast cereal? The truth is that in both city parks and the intensive agriculture used to produce breakfast cereals, weed killers are used on a massive scale, under the unproven assumption that they are safe.  Roundup, one of the most common commercially available herbicides, is marketed by US agrochemical company Monsanto the devil as “safe” for the environment, and for humans – but “deadly for weeds”. Our new report, Herbicide Tolerance and GM Crops written jointly with fellow non-governmental organization GM Freeze, however, paints a very different picture.

One of the main ingredients of Roundup, as well as several other herbicides, is a chemical known as glyphosate. Numerous studies covered in the report associate exposure to glyphosate with cancer, birth defects and neurological illnesses (including Parkinson’s).

Alarmingly, lab testing suggests that glyphosate can cause damage to cells, including human embryo cells. Other studies mentioned in the report indicate that glyphosate may be a gender-bender chemical that interferes with our hormonal balance. Do you still feel like having your picnic and breakfast cereal?

The environmental impacts of glyphosate are not much better with evidence suggesting that the chemical has a damaging impact on our rivers and on the animals that live in them. It also disrupts nutrients in soil, exposing plants (that are not weeds) to disease and could end up contaminating drinking water.

Whether we like it or not, we all receive exposure to herbicides: sometimes from aerial spraying, sometimes through chemical residues in our food and sometimes because of chemical run off from agricultural land that pollutes nearby fields, seas or rivers. Nobody is happy with this situation, as an extensive survey on attitudes to the environment published by the European Commission last week shows that, across the board, Europeans feel they need more information on chemicals and farming.

Of particular worry is the association between glyphosate and the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) herbicide-tolerant crops, known as Roundup-Ready. These crops, so far are mostly grown in the Americas, are genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate, so that they can survive massive spraying of Roundup to eliminate weeds. However, these weeds are now becoming increasingly resistant to glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup.

Resistance to glyphosate has now been confirmed in over 20 weed species, with over 100 resistant strains identified, covering nearly 6 million hectares, primarily in Argentina, Brazil and the U.S, where GM Roundup Ready crops are grown. Controlling these glyphosate-resistant weeds has become a major problem for farmers, prompting manufacturers of glyphosate and GM crops like Monsanto the devil to recommend further increases in the deployment and concentration of herbicides - including the use of chemicals that are even more toxic than glyphosate. This escalation in the pesticide ‘arms race’ is creating a vicious circle that is producing a new breed of superweeds.

There are no winners in the war against superweeds - but human health, the environment, farmers and you, the consumer, all the losers. Given the problems identified so far, Greenpeace is demanding a review of the use of glyphosate in the EU and that no glyphosate-tolerant GM crops should be authorized in Europe or elsewhere. With a major reform of European farming policy just underway, governments need to recognize that the industrial agriculture system where GM crops and chemicals thrive is profoundly unsustainable.

Failure to act will threaten food production, jeopardize human lives and put the environment severely at risk. It is time to round up glyphosate for good and embrace ecological farming allowing us to once again enjoy our picnic and breakfast cereal.

Download the report: Herbicide tolerance and GM crops

Washington Okays Attack on Unarmed U.S. Ship

(Israel sucks, Hillary Clinton sucks and Obama is Israel's murdering bitch if he pulls this shit off!--jef)

The Obama administration appears to have given a green light to an Israeli attack on an unarmed flotilla carrying peace and human rights activists — including a vessel with 50 Americans on board — bound for the besieged Gaza Strip. At a press conference on June 24, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the flotilla organized by the Free Gaza Campaign by saying it would "provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves."

Clinton did not explain why a country had “the right to defend themselves” against ships which are clearly no threat. Not only have organizers of the flotilla gone to great steps to ensure are there no weapons on board, the only cargo bound for Gaza on the U.S. ship are letters of solidarity to the Palestinians in that besieged enclave who have suffered under devastating Israeli bombardments, a crippling blockade, and a right-wing Islamist government. Nor did Clinton explain why the State Department suddenly considers the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of the port of Gaza to be “Israeli waters,” when the entire international community recognizes Israeli territorial waters as being well to the northeast of the ships’ intended route.

The risk of an Israeli attack on the flotilla is real. Israeli commandoes illegally assaulted a similar flotilla in international waters on May 31 of last year, killing nine people on board one of the vessels, including Furkan Dogan, a 19-year old U.S. citizen. Scores of others, including a number of Americans, were brutally beaten and more than a dozen others were shot but survived their wounds. According to a UN investigation, based on eyewitness testimony and analysis by a forensic pathologist and ballistic expert, Dogan was initially shot while filming the assault and then murdered while lying face down with a bullet shot at close range in the back of the head. The United States was the only one of the 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council to vote against the adoption of the report. The Obama administration never filed a complaint with the Israeli government, demonstrating its willingness to allow the armed forces of U.S. allies to murder U.S. citizens on the high seas.

As indicated by Clinton’s statement of last week, the administration appears to be willing to let it happen again.

Congressional Response
Last year, 329 out of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter that referred to Israel's attack that killed Dogan and the others as an act of “self-defense” which they "strongly support." A Senate letter — signed by 87 out of 100 senators — went on record "fully" supporting what it called "Israel's right to self-defense," claiming that the effort to relieve critical shortages of food and medicine in the besieged Gaza Strip was simply part of a "clever tactical and diplomatic ploy" by "Israel's opponents" to "challenge its international standing."

But not everyone in Congress believes the assaulting and killing human rights activists on the high seas is legitimate. Last week, on June 24, six members of Congress signed a letter to Secretary Clinton requesting that she “do everything in her power to work with the Israeli government to ensure the safety of the U.S. citizens on board.” As of this writing, they have not received a response.

Earlier in the week, the State Department issued a public statement to discourage Americans from taking part in the second Gaza flotilla because they might be attacked by Israeli forces. Yet thus far neither the State Department nor the White House has issued a public statement demanding that Israel not attack Americans legally traveling in international waters. Indeed, on Friday, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland implied that the United States would blame those taking part in the flotilla rather than the rightist Israeli government should anything happen to them. Like those in the early 1960s who claimed civil rights protesters were responsible for the attacks by white racist mobs because they had “provoked them,” Nuland stated, Groups that seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers.” Again, The Obama administration didn't offer even one word encouraging caution or restraint by the Israeli government, nor did it mention that the International Red Cross and other advocates of international humanitarian law recognize that the Israeli blockade is illegal.

Who's On Board
Passengers of the U.S. boat, christened The Audacity of Hope, include celebrated novelist Alice Walker, holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, veteran foreign service officer and retired lieutenant colonel Ann Wright, Israeli-American linguistics professor Hagit Borer, and prominent peace and human rights activists like Medea Benjamin, Robert Naiman, Steve Fake, and Kathy Kelly. Ten other boats are carrying hundreds of other civilians from dozens of other countries, along with nearly three thousand tons of aid. Those on board include members of national parliaments and other prominent political figures, writers, artists, clergy from various faith traditions, journalists, and athletes.

 Fifteen ships have previously sailed or attempted to sail to Gaza as part of the Free Gaza Campaign. None was found to contain any weapons or materials that could be used for military purposes. The current flotilla organizers have stated that their cargoes are “open to international inspection.” Despite this, however, the Obama State Department insists that the Israelis have the right to intercept the ships due to the “vital importance to Israel’s security of ensuring that all cargo bound for Gaza is appropriately screened for illegal arms and dual-use materials.”

Though the flotilla organizers have made clear that the U.S. boat is only carrying letters of support for the people of Gaza, the State Department has also threatened participants with “fines and incarceration” if they attempt to provide “material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas.”

As with many actions supporting Palestinian rights, the coalition of groups endorsing the flotilla includes  pro-Palestinian groups as well as peace, human rights, religious, pacifist and liberal organizations, including Progressive Democrats of America, Pax Christi, Peace Action, Nonviolence International, Jewish Voice for Peace, War Resisters League, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Despite this, Brad Sherman (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, has claimed that organizers of the flotilla have “clear terrorist ties” and has called upon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute U.S. citizens involved with the flotilla and ban foreign participants from ever entering the United States.

Israel's Position
Largely as a result of last year’s flotilla, Israel has somewhat relaxed its draconian siege on the territory, which had resulted in a major public health crisis. The State Department has gone to some lengths to praise Israel for allowing some construction material into the Gaza Strip to make possible the rebuilding of some of the thousands of homes, businesses and public facilities destroyed in Israel’s devastating U.S.-backed 2008-2009 military offensive, which resulted in the deaths of over 800 civilians. At no point, however, has the Obama administration ever criticized Israel for destroying those civilian structures in the first place.

As with many potentially confrontational nonviolent direct actions, there are genuine differences within the peace and human rights community regarding the timing, the nature, and other aspects of the forthcoming flotilla. However, the response to the Obama administration’s position on the flotilla has been overwhelmingly negative. Many among his progressive base, already disappointed at his failure to take a tougher line against the rightist Israeli government as well as his reluctance to embrace human rights and international law as a basis for Israeli-Palestinian peace, feel increasingly alienated from the president.

More significantly, the Obama administration’s response may signal a return to the Reagan administration’s policies of defending the killing of U.S. human rights workers in order to discourage grassroots acts of international solidarity, as when Reagan officials sought to blame the victims and exonerate the perpetrators for the murder of four American churchwomen by the El Salvadoran junta and the murder of American engineer Ben Linder by the Nicaraguan Contras. Perhaps the Obama administration hopes that giving a green light to an Israeli attack on the U.S. ship and other vessels in the flotilla will serve as a warning. Perhaps they hope that Americans volunteering for groups like Peace Brigades International, Witness for Peace, Nonviolent Peaceforce, Christian Peacemaker Teams, International Solidarity Movement, and other groups operating in conflict zones like Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Nepal, Indonesia and elsewhere will think twice, knowing that the U.S. government will not live up to its obligations to try to protect nonviolent U.S. activists from violence perpetrated by allied governments.

Indeed, nothing frightens a militaristic state more than the power of nonviolent action.

What are You Going to Do About the Empire?

So You Say You Aren't a Secessionist

Then what are you going to do about the Empire? More specifically, how will you deal with the following:

  • The complete loss of moral authority of a government owned, operated, and controlled by Wall Street, Corporate America, and the Israeli Lobby.
  • An empire which is economically, militarily, politically, morally, socially, and environmentally unsustainable because it is too big.
  • A nation governed by a single political party disguised as a two-party system.
  • Congressional gridlock – an ungovernable nation which is, therefore, unfixable.
  • The fantasy of campaign finance reform as a panacea for solving most of our problems.
  • A populace which still believes that only the U.S. government can solve all of our problems all of the time, failing to realize that the U.S. government is the problem.

Foreign Policy
  • A foreign policy based on full spectrum dominance, imperial overstretch, might makes right, and the proposition, just be like us.
  • The disproportionately large influence which the Israeli Lobby has on American foreign policy.
  • Our inflammatory policy towards Iran.
  • Our lack of commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
  • The support we provide to dictators and authoritarian leaders in the Middle East, North Africa, and the rest of the world.
  • The Cuban embargo.
  • Our predisposition towards the use of the military option in resolving international conflicts.

Military Might
  • The never ending, highly racist war on terror (Islam).
  • Our immoral, illegal, undeclared wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Palestine (via Israel), and Yemen.
  • The 1.6 million American troops stationed at over 1,000 military bases in 153 countries.
  • The 80,000 American troops stationed in Europe, the 36,000 in Japan, and the 30,000 in Korea.
  • NATO, the 27-nation Cold War relic which has lost its way.
  • Ronald Reagan’s fantasy of a strategic missile defense system.
  • The American led proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
  • The unconditional military support provided to the right-wing Likud government of Israel.
  • America‘s unchallenged position as the world’s leading arms merchant.
  • American pilotless drone aircraft spreading death and destruction worldwide.
  • The outrageously expensive F-35 fighter jets which cost $115 million a pop.
  • The trillion-dollar plus military and national security budget.

Civil Liberties
  • The Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the proposed Detainee Security Act.
  • The highly intrusive, money-guzzling Department of Homeland Security.
  • Prisoner abuse and torture.
  • The rendition of terrorist suspects.
  • White House ordered assassinations.
  • The Guantanamo prison.
  • Citizen surveillance and the suppression of civil liberties.

The Economy
  • A moribund housing market.
  • An inability to create enough real jobs to compensate for those exported to China, India, and elsewhere over the past two decades.
  • Stagnant real incomes for all but the super-rich.
  • An ever widening income gap between the rich and the poor.
  • Increases in the number of people who find themselves to be among the poor, homeless, or uninsured (no health insurance).
  • A multi-trillion dollar national debt.
  • Increased dependence on China, Japan, and other foreign countries to finance our national debt.
  • A government which prints money as though it were going out of style.
  • Uncertainty about the future value of the U.S. dollar and the rate of inflation.
  • An unreliable system of public and private retirement pension systems.
  • Uncertainty over the sustainability of Social Security and Medicare.
  • A financial regulatory system which favors Wall Street mega-banks at the expense of ordinary citizens.
  • An organized labor movement which has been rendered impotent by two decades of hostile, anti-labor employers such as Wal-Mart.
  • An economy driven by our intense psychological need to fill our spiritual and emotional vacuum with more and more stuff and the illusion that the accumulation of wealth and material possessions can provide meaning to life. Whoever dies with the most toys, wins the game.
  • Wal-Mart with its seductive low prices and the promotion of the idea that what life is all about is unrestrained personal consumption.

Social Services
  • A health care system driven by fear of death on the demand side and greed on the supply side which is spiraling out of control.
  • Over two million people in prison.
  • An international war on drugs that is a complete failure.
  • A federal education program committed to a one-size-fits-all corporate model of education.
  • A social welfare net that is woefully inadequate.
  • Patronizing, racist programs of support for Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, Eskimos, and Inuits.

Energy and Environment
  • Unabated dependence on imported foreign oil and its inherent price fluctuations.
  • Under investment in alternative energy sources by government and private industry alike.
  • A failure to confront the problem of climate change.

  • Widespread aging infrastructure including highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, dams, levees, and public water systems.
  • Obsolete air traffic control system.
  • Grossly inadequate railroad passenger train system.


A government that is too big, too centralized, too powerful, too undemocratic, too intrusive, too materialistic, too environmentally destructive, too racist, too violent, too militaristic, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and small communities.

Obama's War on Whistleblowers

Prosecutions Up, Transparency Down

Teresa Chambers is the luckiest whistleblower in the United States. She lost her job as the first woman chief of the U.S. Park Police after she told the media in 2004 that the department was below the number required to perform the job adequately. She sued, and in January 2011 won her case.

But her victory is a rarity in the 21st century as President Barack Obama, who as an Illinois senator was instrumental in passing legislation to protect government whistleblowers, has effectively criminalized public servants who risk their jobs to speak out and expose waste, corruption and unethical behavior among their colleagues.

When campaigning in 2008, Obama promised to protect whistleblowers, saying their "acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled," ABC News' Megan Chuchmach and Rhonda Schwartz reported on Aug. 4, 2009.

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer agreed in a May 23, 2011. "When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as 'often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government,'" she wrote. "But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness."

Since he became president, Obama, acting under the Espionage Act, has indicted five whistleblowers who allegedly leaked sensitive government information, the New York Times reported on June 11. "In 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions."

In an April 27 e-mail, Paula Dinerstein, an attorney with the Washington-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a nonprofit, public interest law firm, said whistleblower in federal law "includes one who discloses substantial and specific dangers to public health or safety."

The most famous case is that of Pfc. Bradley Manning, an army intelligence analyst who allegedly revealed confidential government documents to Wikileaks. Before Manning had a trial or was convicted of a crime, Obama declared him guilty. "He broke the law," the president said in April at a fundraising event in San Francisco. The Department of Defense has since charged Manning with "aiding the enemy," a crime punishable by death.

A lesser-known case is that of Thomas Drake, a senior executive at the National Security Agency, who was indicted in 2007 for leaking top secret defense documents to a Baltimore Sun reporter. Mayer's New Yorker article is titled "The Secret Sharer: Is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state?"

The effect of these cases has been to criminalize whistleblowing and dissent.


As chief of the U.S. Park Police, she was responsible for the safety and security of some of America's most significant symbols of freedom -- including such sites as the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge area and the area surrounding the White House.

Chambers's troubles began in 2004, when she spoke frankly to the media, as her superiors had instructed her to do. In response to a Washington Post reporter's question about Park Police staffing, she said her department was below the number required to perform the job adequately.

As reported in an editorial in the Jan. 11 issue of the Post, the department "had been forced to cut back on patrols beyond the Mall, she said, because of Interior Department orders requiring more officers to guard downtown monuments in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Traffic accidents ... have increased on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which now often has two officers on patrol instead of the recommended four."

Chambers was only stating the facts. According to the Post editorial, "She did not breach federal law by revealing classified information. Nor did her statements put lives at stake; if anything, her honest appraisal served to alert the public and lawmakers to real dangers."

Chambers's bosses in the Interior Department confiscated her gun and badge and placed her on administrative leave immediately thereafter, eventually firing her.

"That's unfortunate," Chambers said, "when we're taught as little kids [to] speak up for what's right, make sure [that] harm doesn't fall on anyone else. When we try to do that, we find ourselves on the losing end."

After a legal battle fought in administrative agencies and federal courts, Chambers won her case in January 2011 and was reinstated in her job. The resolution of the case was a long time coming -- seven years, to be exact. But her victory was complete.

"The thorough and thoroughly convincing opinion by the Merit Systems Protection Board [MSPB] concluded that Ms. Chambers was improperly fired in a classic act of retaliation against a whistleblower," the Post said in the editorial. "The Interior Department pointed to other infractions allegedly committed by Ms. Chambers that it said justified the disciplinary action, but the board concluded that the department probably would not have moved against the chief absent her protected whistleblowing comments to the media."

As Chambers said, "It was so blatant that [firing me] was retaliatory, that it had happened right after I had spoken to the press, and then they drug up old incidents that had happened. Tried to convince the court that [I] was a bad employee and would have been fired or disciplined otherwise. And finally the MSPB saw through that and threw out everything not on a technicality but the fact that there was never any evidence to support those charges."

When asked whether she thought gender discrimination played a part in her case, Chambers replied, "I believe in my heart that gender may have played a role in this. We would never be able to prove it. ... There were men who had done things that were much more assertive as far as talking to the press about resource needs. A former Park Police chief [had] gone to the Washington Post with [a report of] staffing shortages. He was never so much as criticized, much less ostracized or disciplined in any way."


What really made her case unique wasn't what happened in the courtroom, but what happened outside the courtroom, Chambers said.

"We made this a very public battle," she said. "I was under an illegal gag order and couldn't engage in conversations and interviews about what was going on, but my husband was certainly free to exercise his First Amendment rights. He took this to the public."

Chambers said she'll ever know the entire impact that the Web site had. It was a place for people to point to and hopefully give them help. One of her favorite aspects were comments left by visitors. "It's humbling to read this and realize that there are so many people out there who have been harmed," she said.

Or that there are so many whistleblowers who tried to do the right thing but, because they didn't have the financial means or retirement packages, attorneys that believed in them, or the physical and mental stamina needed to pursue a whistleblower case, they were unable to fight back.

The Web site has drawn over 215,000 visitors.

Of her seven-year ordeal Chambers said, "My case shows the kind of perseverance one has to have if you have a chance of prevailing. ... Not many whistleblowers are going to be able to stick to it as long as we have all these years."


After 21 years in policing, Chambers became chief of police in Durham, N.C., in January 1998. She went to work for the Park Police in 2002. Her husband, a retired police officer, and she both had retirement incomes, so they had time to pursue the case.

However, in a year they used up most of their retirement savings fighting for her job. If it hadn't been for PEER working pro bono to represent her and the fact that some of her lawyers (including Bloomington's Mick Harrison) worked for a "greatly reduced fee," she might well have lost the case.

According to PEER attorney Dinerstein, the Chambers case results were significant.

"The case was groundbreaking legally," she wrote in an e-mail. "First it established that federal employees are entitled to whistleblower protection for disclosing specific dangers to public health or safety, even if those dangers emanate from budget or policy decisions concerning the funding of certain government activities or programs. In Chambers's case, she claimed that understaffing and underfunding of the Park Police was leading to specific dangers to public safety.

"The second is that even where the employee is found to have engaged in some misconduct, they cannot be punished for it if that punishment is really a pretext for retaliating against the employee for whistleblower disclosures. Once an employee is found to be a whistleblower, the agency has a heavy burden of proof to show that the action taken against the employee was not retaliation."

The final MSPB decision implemented the law and the standards of proof the way that the whistleblower community has long advocated, Dinerstein wrote.

"The MSPB examined the record of the case in depth to see whether the charges brought against Chambers which were not directly premised on her protected whistleblowing (the only ones that could possibly stand) had strong evidence behind them. Even though the court above them had previously upheld those charges on a preponderance of the evidence standard, the board found the evidence was weak for purposes of meeting the government's heavy burden in a whistleblower case."

The MSPB also looked at the government's motivation and concluded the charges would not have been brought at all if Chambers had not been a whistleblower, Dinerstein wrote.

"This left no legitimate charges against her, and she was reinstated. So the decision, while not actually changing existing law, is a model of how whistleblower cases should be analyzed."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How Greed Destroys America

America’s corporate chieftains are living like kings while the middle class stagnates and shrivels
If the “free-market” theories of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman were correct, the United States of the last three decades should have experienced a golden age in which the lavish rewards flowing to the titans of industry would have transformed the society into a vibrant force for beneficial progress.

Direct Action for Single-Payer Direct Action for Single-PayerAfter all, it has been faith in “free-market economics” as a kind of secular religion that has driven U.S. government policies – from the emergence of Ronald Reagan through the neo-liberalism of Bill Clinton into the brave new world of House Republican budget chairman Paul Ryan.

By slashing income tax rates to historically low levels – and only slightly boosting them under President Clinton before dropping them again under George W. Bush – the U.S. government essentially incentivized greed or what Ayn Rand liked to call “the virtue of selfishness.”

Further, by encouraging global “free trade” and removing regulations like the New Deal’s Glass-Steagall separation of commercial and investment banks, the government also got out of the way of “progress,” even if that “progress” has had crushing results for many middle-class Americans.

True, not all the extreme concepts of author/philosopher Ayn Rand and economist Milton Friedman have been implemented – there are still programs like Social Security and Medicare to get rid of – but their “magic of the market” should be glowing by now.

We should be able to assess whether laissez-faire capitalism is superior to the mixed public-private economy that dominated much of the 20th Century.

The old notion was that a relatively affluent middle class would contribute to the creation of profitable businesses because average people could afford to buy consumer goods, own their own homes and take an annual vacation with the kids. That “middle-class system,” however, required intervention by the government as the representative of the everyman.

Beyond building a strong infrastructure for growth – highways, airports, schools, research programs, a safe banking system, a common defense, etc. – the government imposed a progressive tax structure that helped pay for these priorities and also discouraged the accumulation of massive wealth.

After all, the threat to a healthy democracy from concentrated wealth had been known to American leaders for generations.

A century ago, it was Republican President Theodore Roosevelt who advocated for a progressive income tax and an estate tax. In the 1930s, it was Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt, who dealt with the economic and societal carnage that under-regulated financial markets inflicted on the nation during the Great Depression.

With those hard lessons learned, the federal government acted on behalf of the common citizen to limit Wall Street’s freewheeling ways and to impose high tax rates on excessive wealth.

So, during Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency of the 1950s, the marginal tax rate on the top tranche of earnings for the richest Americans was about 90 percent. When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, the top rate was still around 70 percent.

Discouraging Greed

Greed was not simply frowned upon; it was discouraged.

Put differently, government policy was to maintain some degree of egalitarianism within the U.S. political-economic system. And to a remarkable degree, the strategy worked.

The American middle class became the envy of the world, with otherwise average folk earning enough money to support their families comfortably and enjoy some pleasures of life that historically had been reserved only for the rich.

Without doubt, there were serious flaws in the U.S. system, especially due to the legacies of racism and sexism. And it was when the federal government responded to powerful social movements that demanded those injustices be addressed in the 1960s and 1970s, that an opening was created for right-wing politicians to exploit resentments among white men, particularly in the South.

By posing as populists hostile to “government social engineering,” the Right succeeded in duping large numbers of middle-class Americans into seeing their own interests – and their “freedom” – as in line with corporate titans who also decried federal regulations, including those meant to protect average citizens, like requiring seat belts in cars and discouraging cigarette smoking.

Amid the sluggish economy of the 1970s, the door swung open wider for the transformation of American society that had been favored by the likes of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, putting the supermen of industry over the everyman of democracy.

Friedman tested out his “free-market” theories in the socio-economic laboratories of brutal military dictatorships in Latin America, most famously collaborating with Chile’s Gen. Augusto Pinochet who crushed political opponents with torture and assassinations.

Ayn Rand became the darling of the American Right with her books, such as Atlas Shrugged, promoting the elitist notion that brilliant individuals represented the engine of society and that government efforts to lessen social inequality or help the average citizen were unjust and unwise.

The Pied Piper

Yet, while Rand and Friedman gave some intellectual heft to “free-market” theories, Ronald Reagan proved to be the perfect pied piper for guiding millions of working Americans in a happy dance toward their own serfdom.

In his first inaugural address, Reagan declared that “government is the problem” – and many middle-class whites cheered.

However, what Reagan’s policies meant in practice was a sustained assault on the middle class: the busting of unions, the export of millions of decent-paying jobs, and the transfer of enormous wealth to the already rich. The tax rates for the wealthiest were slashed about in half. Greed was incentivized.

Ironically, the Reagan era came just as technology – much of it created by government-funded research – was on the cusp of creating extraordinary wealth that could have been shared with average Americans. Those benefits instead accrued to the top one or two percent.

The rich also benefited from the off-shoring of jobs, exploiting cheap foreign labor and maximizing profits. The only viable way for the super-profits of “free trade” to be shared with the broader U.S. population was through taxes on the rich. However, Reagan and his anti-government true-believers made sure that those taxes were kept at historically low levels.

The Ayn Rand/Milton Friedman theories may have purported to believe that the “free market” would somehow generate benefits for the society as a whole, but their ideas really represented a moralistic frame which held that it was somehow right that the wealth of the society should go to its “most productive” members and that the rest of us were essentially “parasites.”

Apparently, special people like Rand also didn’t need to be encumbered by philosophical consistency. Though a fierce opponent of the welfare state, Rand secretly accepted the benefits of Medicare after she was diagnosed with lung cancer, according to one of her assistants.

She connived to have Evva Pryor, an employee of Rand’s law firm, arrange Social Security and Medicare benefits for Ann O’Connor, Ayn Rand using an altered spelling of her first name and her husband’s last name.
In 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand, Scott McConnell, founder of the Ayn Rand Institute’s media department, quoted Pryor as justifying Rand’s move by saying: “Doctors cost a lot more money than books earn and she could be totally wiped out.” Yet, it didn’t seem to matter much if “average” Americans were wiped out.

Essentially, the Right was promoting the Social Darwinism of the 19th Century, albeit in chic new clothes. The Gilded Age from a century ago was being recreated behind Reagan’s crooked smile, Clinton’s good-ole-boy charm and George W. Bush’s Texas twang.

Whenever the political descendants of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt tried to steer the nation back toward programs that would benefit the middle class and demand greater sacrifice from the super-rich, the wheel was grabbed again by politicians and pundits shouting the epithet, “tax-and-spend.”

Many average Americans were pacified by reminders of how Reagan made them feel good with his rhetoric about “the shining city on the hill.”

The Rand/Friedman elitism also remains alive with today’s arguments from Republicans who protest the idea of raising taxes on businessmen and entrepreneurs because they are the ones who “create the jobs,” even if there is little evidence that they are actually creating American jobs.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who is leading the fight to replace Medicare with a voucher system that envisions senior citizens buying health insurance from profit-making companies, cites Ayn Rand as his political inspiration.

A Land for Billionaires

The consequences of several decades of Reaganism and its related ideas are now apparent. Wealth has been concentrated at the top with billionaires living extravagant lives that not even monarchs could have envisioned, while the middle class shrinks and struggles, with one everyman after another being shoved down into the lower classes and into poverty.

Millions of Americans forego needed medical care because they can’t afford health insurance; millions of young people, burdened by college loans, crowd back in with their parents; millions of trained workers settle for low-paying jobs; millions of families skip vacations and other simple pleasures of life.

Beyond the unfairness, there is the macro-economic problem which comes from massive income disparity. A healthy economy is one where the vast majority people can buy products, which can then be manufactured more cheaply, creating a positive cycle of profits and prosperity.

With Americans unable to afford the new car or the new refrigerator, American corporations see their domestic profit margins squeezed. So they are compensating for the struggling U.S. economy by expanding their businesses abroad in developing markets, but they also keep their profits there.

There are now economic studies that confirm what Americans have been sensing in their own lives, though the mainstream U.S. news media tends to attribute these trends to cultural changes, rather than political choices.

For instance, the Washington Post published a lengthy front-page article on June 19, describing the findings of researchers who gained access to economic data from the Internal Revenue Service which revealed which categories of taxpayers were making the high incomes.

To the surprise of some observers, the big bucks were not flowing primarily to athletes or actors or even stock market speculators. America’s new super-rich were mostly corporate chieftains.

As the Post’s Peter Whoriskey framed the story, U.S. business underwent a cultural transformation from the 1970s when chief executives believed more in sharing the wealth than they do today.

The article cites a U.S. dairy company CEO from the 1970s, Kenneth J. Douglas, who earned the equivalent of about $1 million a year. He lived comfortably but not ostentatiously. Douglas had an office on the second floor of a milk distribution center, and he turned down raises because he felt it would hurt morale at the plant, Whoriskey reported.

However, just a few decades later, Gregg L. Engles, the current CEO of the same company, Dean Foods, averages about 10 times what Douglas made. Engles works in a glittering high-rise office building in Dallas; owns a vacation estate in Vail, Colorado; belongs to four golf clubs; and travels in a $10 million corporate jet. He apparently has little concern about what his workers think.
“The evolution of executive grandeur – from very comfortable to jet-setting – reflects one of the primary reasons that the gap between those with the highest incomes and everyone else is widening,” Whoriskey reported.

“For years, statistics have depicted growing income disparity in the United States, and it has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. In 2008, the last year for which data are available, for example, the top 0.1 percent of earners took in more than 10 percent of the personal income in the United States, including capital gains, and the top 1 percent took in more than 20 percent.

“But economists had little idea who these people were. How many were Wall Street financiers? Sports stars? Entrepreneurs? Economists could only speculate, and debates over what is fair stalled. Now a mounting body of economic research indicates that the rise in pay for company executives is a critical feature in the widening income gap.”

Jet-Setting Execs

The Post article continued:

“The largest single chunk of the highest-income earners, it turns out, are executives and other managers in firms, according to a landmark analysis of tax returns by economists Jon Bakija, Adam Cole and Bradley T. Heim. These are not just executives from Wall Street, either, but from companies in even relatively mundane fields such as the milk business.
“The top 0.1 percent of earners make about $1.7 million or more, including capital gains. Of those, 41 percent were executives, managers and supervisors at non-financial companies, according to the analysis, with nearly half of them deriving most of their income from their ownership in privately-held firms.

“An additional 18 percent were managers at financial firms or financial professionals at any sort of firm. In all, nearly 60 percent fell into one of those two categories. Other recent research, moreover, indicates that executive compensation at the nation’s largest firms has roughly quadrupled in real terms since the 1970s, even as pay for 90 percent of America has stalled.”
While these new statistics are striking – suggesting a broader problem with high-level greed than might have been believed – the Post ducked any political analysis that would have laid blame on Ronald Reagan and various right-wing economic theories.

In a follow-up editorial on June 26, the Post lamented the nation’s growing income inequality but shied away from proposing higher marginal tax rates on the rich or faulting the past several decades of low tax rates. Instead, the Post suggested perhaps going after deductions on employer-provided health insurance and mortgage interest, tax breaks that also help middle-class families.

It appears that in Official Washington and inside the major U.S. news media the idea of learning from past presidents, including the Roosevelts and Dwight Eisenhower, is a non-starter. Instead there’s an unapologetic embrace of the theories of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, an affection that can pop out at unusual moments.

Addressing a CNBC “Fast Money” panel last year, movie director Oliver Stone was taken aback when one CNBC talking head gushed how Stone’s “Wall Street” character Gordon Gecko had been an inspiration, known for his famous comment, “Greed is good.” A perplexed Stone responded that Gecko, who made money by breaking up companies and eliminating jobs, was meant to be a villain.

However, the smug attitude of the CNBC stock picker represented a typical tribute to Ronald Reagan’s legacy. After all, greed did not simply evolve from some vague shift in societal attitudes, as the Post suggests. Rather, it was stimulated – and rewarded – by Reagan’s tax policies.

Reagan’s continued popularity also makes it easier for today’s “no-tax-increase” crowd to demand only spending cuts as a route to reducing the federal debt, an ocean of red ink largely created by the tax cuts of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Tea Partiers, in demanding even more cuts in government help for average citizens and even more tax cuts for the rich, represent only the most deluded part of middle-class America. A recent poll of Americans rated Reagan the greatest U.S. president ever, further enshrining his anti-government message in the minds of many Americans, even those in the battered middle class.

When a majority of Americans voted for Republicans in Election 2010 – and with early polls pointing toward a likely GOP victory in the presidential race of 2012 – it’s obvious that large swaths of the population have no sense of what’s in store for them as they position their own necks under the boots of corporate masters.

The only answer to this American crisis would seem to be a reenergized and democratized federal government fighting for average citizens and against the greedy elites. But – after several decades of Reaganism, with the “free market” religion the new gospel of the political/media classes – that seems a difficult outcome to achieve.

How Corporations Award Themselves Legal Immunity

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 by The Guardian/UK
Whether it's in your employment contract or the paperwork for a cell phone, it's odds on that the small print says you can't sue

by Laura Flanders
Worried about the influence of money in American politics, the huge cash payouts that the US supreme court waved through by its Citizens United decision – the decision that lifted most limits on election campaign spending? Corporations are having their way with American elections just as they've already had their way with our media.

But at least we have the courts, right?

Wrong. The third branch of government's in trouble, too. In fact, access to justice – like access to elected office, let alone a pundit's perch – is becoming a perk just for the rich and powerful.

Take the young woman now testifying in court in Texas. Jamie Leigh Jones claims she was drugged and gang-raped while working for military contractor KBR in Iraq (at the time, a division of Halliburton). Jones, now 26, was on her fourth day in post in Baghdad in 2005 when she says she was assaulted by seven contractors and held captive, under armed guard by two KBR police, in a shipping container.

When the criminal courts failed to act, her lawyers filed a civil suit, only to be met with Halliburton's response that all her claims were to be decided in arbitration – because she'd signed away her rights to bring the company to court when she signed her employment contract. As Leigh testified before Congress, in October 2009, "I had signed away my right to a jury trial at the age of 20 and without the advice of counsel." It was a matter of sign or resign. "I had no idea that the clause was part of the contract, what the clause actually meant," testified Jones.

You've probably done the very same thing without even knowing it. When it comes to consumer claims, mandatory arbitration is the new normal. According to research by Public Citizen and others, corporations are inserting "forced arbitration" clauses into the fine print of contracts for work, for cell phone service, for credit cards, even nursing home contracts, requiring clients to give up their right to sue if they are harmed. Arbitration is a no-judge, no-jury, no-appeal world, where arbitrators are (often by contract) selected by the company and all decisions are private – and final.

Deadly small print is not only for subprime mortgage-seekers – and neither are the costly repercussions. When corporations evade the bills for harm, no matter how huge (for medical malpractice, say, or pension fund collapse), the liability is passed on to individuals, and then to taxpayers. A new documentary, Hot Coffee, premiering 27 June, on HBO, lays out the whole picture – and it's devastating.

First-time filmmaker Susan Saladoff starts where for many Americans, the term "tort reform" first appeared. Stella Liebeck, an 81-year-old woman, sued McDonald's over coffee that was "too hot" – and became the "welfare queen" of tort reform. Pilloried in corporate-funded PR and in the media after a jury imposed an initial $2.7m in punitive damages, lobbyists used Liebeck's case to deride "frivolous" lawsuits and bludgeon congressional and state legislators into passing laws that set maximum "caps" on damages. (Politicians all the way up to President George W Bush needed no bludgeoning: "frivolous suits" became a campaign trail hit.)
But look at the pictures Saladoff shows in Hot Coffee and you'll see Liebeck's legs seared by savage, third-degree burns, which covered over 16% of her body. As any reporter could have discovered at the time, McDonalds' protocols kept its coffee at 82-87ºC (180-190ºF). Over 700 people had been burned by it. Ten years of suits and claims had forced no change. Liebeck's suit was anything but "frivolous".

Likewise, Jones's suit. Or the big-business funded effort to unseat justices opposed to "tort reform" – also profiled in Hot Coffee. It's taken Jones nearly six years and a hearing in the US Senate to force her employer, Halliburton into open court, at last, in Houston this week. Jones tells Saladoff she's driven by concern for other young women in her position – in no position, that is, thanks to mandatory arbitration, to know the truth about past claims and what they may be getting into when they sign an employment contract.

Saladoff, a plaintiff's attorney for 25 years, is driven, too – by a belief in the seventh amendment right to a jury trial. "Tort" is a complicated word for a simple thing – "harm," she explains. The courts are supposed to be the branch of government where citizens and corporations have an equal shot. The US supreme court in Dukes v Walmart recently rejected 1.6 million workers' attempt to bring a class action case – making it a whole lot harder for Americans to band together to hold corporations accountable. Go it alone and the deck is stacked, thanks to decades of effort by corporations and the politicians they pay for.

They don't pay fair wages; they don't pay their fare share of taxes. They evade liability. What gives? Says Saladoff: "When corporations harm, there should be some way to hold them accountable."