Thursday, March 1, 2012

Anonymous - Fed Reserve Caught Red Handed

Occupy Groups Target ALEC

Shut Down the Corporations!
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 by Common Dreams

Over 70 cities are participating today in a national day of action called by Occupy Portland to "Shut Down the Corporations." The group calls for non-violent direct action to "target corporations that are part of the American Legislative Exchange Council which is a prime example of the way corporations buy off legislators and craft legislation that serves the interests of corporations and not people."

The group explains the action on its website:
Occupy Portland calls for a national day of non-violent direct action to reclaim our voices and challenge our society’s obsession with profit and greed by shutting down the corporations. We are rejecting a society that does not allow us control of our future. We will reclaim our ability to shape our world in a democratic, cooperative, just and sustainable direction.

We call on the Occupy Movement and everyone seeking freedom and justice to join us in this day of action.

There has been a theft by the 1% of our democratic ability to shape and form the society in which we live and our society is steered toward the destructive pursuit of consumption, profit and greed at the expense of all else.

We call on people to target corporations that are part of the American Legislative Exchange Council which is a prime example of the way corporations buy off legislators and craft legislation that serves the interests of corporations and not people. They used it to create the anti-labor legislation in Wisconsin and the racist bill SB 1070 in Arizona among so many others. They use ALEC to spread these corporate laws around the country.

In doing this we begin to recreate our democracy. In doing this we begin to create a society that is organized to meet human needs and sustain life.

On February 29th, we will reclaim our future from the 1%. We will shut down the corporations and recreate our democracy.

Sara Jerving further explains ALEC on the Center for Media & Democracy:
ALEC is best described as a “bill mill” for corporate special interest legislation. Through ALEC, corporations vote behind closed doors with state legislators on changes to the law they desire that often directly benefit their bottom line. Along with right-wing legislators from across the country, corporations are given “a voice and a vote” on “model” bills to change the law in almost every area affecting people’s rights. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces. They fund almost all of ALEC’s operations. They have their own corporate governing board. They vote as equals with legislators to pre-approve legislation. Participating politicians then bring these bills home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing their origins in ALEC. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law. ALEC describes itself as a “unique,” “unparalleled” and “unmatched” organization. It is as if a state legislature had been reconstituted, yet corporations had pushed the people out the door. This is not what democracy is supposed to look like.
David Moberg looks at Occupy Portland's plan to target Verizon in In These Times:
In Portland, as part of the day of actions, Jobs With Justice (JWJ) is targeting Verizon, which is an ALEC board member. The company currently is demanding concessions from its unionized land-line employees in the eastern half of the country and is fighting the organization of mobile telephone workers, including those in Portland.
Meanwhile, it pushes for government subsidies and tax breaks and promotes legislation harmful to workers and consumers, says Madelyn Elder, a Communications Workers of America local president and board member of JWJ. ALEC has slowly been building a presence, but Democratic control of the Senate has constrained its influence, says Common Cause Oregon executive director Janice Thompson.
Their planned protest "is about the 1 percent being greedier than ever while the 99 percent suffer unemployment, underemployment and cutbacks," Elder says. "It's all of the same piece. Labor sees that. And Occupy is the best thing that ever happened to labor."

Homeland Security Searches Your Facebook For "Marijuana" and other terms

By Steve Elliott
Wednesday, February 29, 2012

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
I don't feel like a terrorist just because I smoke weed. Do you?

​You knew it would come to this, right? Lest you think those hard-working goons at the Department of Homeland Security are slacking in their jobs -- you know, spying on your everyday activities -- it has been revealed that the domestic surveillance agency has been scouring your online postings for, among other things, the word "marijuana."

Homeland Security personnel regularly monitor updates on social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, to uncover "Items Of Interest" (IOI), according to an internal DHS memo released by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), reports Animal New York.

That baseline list of terms for which the DHS searches -- or at least a DHS subcontractor hired to monitor social networks -- reveals which specific words generate realtime IOI reports.

Animal New York

​ ​The term "marijuana" is supposedly included because of drug cartel violence south of the border in Mexico. Interestingly, "cannabis" isn't on the furnished list, but my bet is that it will be very soon.

Although the released PDF is almost all reader-selectable text, the list of terms of curiously embedded as an image of text, preventing simple indexing. Animal New York fixed that problem by running the entire list themselves (see the entire list at the end of this article).

The DHS has an internal privacy policy, and in a weak attempt to follow what few privacy rules remain, they supposedly try to strip your Personally Identifiable Information (PII) out of the aggregated tweets and Facebook status updates. But this policy has some broad exceptions:

1) U.S. and foreign individuals in extremis situations involving potential life or death circumstances; (this is no change)
2) Senior U.S. and foreign government officials who make public statements or provide public updates;
3) U.S. and foreign government spokespersons who make public statements or provide public updates;
4) U.S. and foreign private sector officials and spokespersons who make public statements or provide public updates;
5) Names of anchors, newscasters, or on-scene reporters who are known or identified as reporters in their post or article or who use traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed;
6) Current and former public officials who are victims of incidents or activities related to Homeland Security; and
7) Terrorists, drug cartel leaders or other persons known to have been involved in major crimes of Homeland Security interest, (e.g., mass shooters such as those at Virginia Tech or Ft. Hood) who are killed or found dead.

The Media Monitoring Capability team can transmit personal information to the DHS National Operations Center over the phone as deemed necessary.

In addition to the following list of "suspicious" terms, the DHS can also add additional trigger terms circumstantially, "as deemed necessary." So basically, they can spy on you for any reason, or for no reason at all.

Looking at the list below, it's interesting to note that the Department of Homeland Security searches social media for -- wait for it -- the term "social media." Geniuses they are, I say! Geniuses!

Don't you feel safer now?

DHS Media Monitoring Terms
2.13 Key Words & Search Terms
This is a current list of terms that will be used by the NOC when monitoring social media sites to provide situational awareness and establish a common operating picture. As natural or manmade disasters occur, new search terms may be added.

The new search terms will not use PII in searching for relevant
mission-related information.

DHS & Other Agencies

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Coast Guard (USCG)
Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Border Patrol
Secret Service (USSS)
National Operations Center (NOC)
Homeland Defense
Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Task Force
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Fusion Center
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
Secure Border Initiative (SBI)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS)
Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS)
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Air Marshal
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
National Guard
Red Cross
United Nations (UN)

Domestic Security

Domestic security
Law enforcement
Disaster assistance
Disaster management
DNDO (Domestic Nuclear Detection Office)
National preparedness
Dirty Bomb
Domestic nuclear detection
Emergency management
Emergency response
First responder
Homeland security
Maritime domain awareness (MDA)
National preparedness initiative
Shots fired
Explosion (explosive)
Disaster medical assistance team (DMAT)
Organized crime
National security
State of emergency
Bomb (squad or threat)
Emergency Landing
Pipe bomb

HAZMAT & Nuclear

Chemical Spill
Suspicious package/device
National laboratory
Nuclear facility
Nuclear threat
Biological infection (or event)
Chemical burn
Hazardous material incident
Industrial spill
Powder (white)
Blister agent
Nerve agent
North Korea

Health Concern + H1N1

Food Poisoning
Foot and Mouth (FMD)
Small Pox
Human to human
Human to ANIMAL
Center for Disease Control (CDC)
Drug Administration (FDA)
Public Health
Agro Terror
Tuberculosis (TB)
Water/air borne
Norvo Virus
World Health Organization (WHO and components)
Viral Hemorrhagic Fever
E. Coli

Infrastructure Security

Infrastructure security
CIKR (Critical Infrastructure & Key Resources)
Computer infrastructure
Communications infrastructure
Critical infrastructure
National infrastructure
Airplane (and derivatives)
Chemical fire
Port Authority
NBIC (National Biosurveillance Integration Center)
Transportation security
Body scanner
Failure or outage
Black out
Brown out
Service disruption
Power lines

    Southwest Border Violence

    Drug cartel
    U.S. Consulate
    El Paso
    Fort Hancock
    San Diego
    Ciudad Juarez
    Mara salvatrucha
    MS13 or MS-13
    Drug war
    Mexican army
    Cartel de Golfo
    Gulf Cartel
    La Familia
    Nuevo Leon
    Narco banners (Spanish equivalents)
    Los Zetas
    Meth Lab
    Drug trade
    Illegal immigrants
    Smuggling (smugglers)
    Barrio Azteca
    Artistics Assassins
    New Federation


      Al Queda (all spellings)
      Environmental terrorist
      Eco terrorism
      Conventional weapon
      Weapons grade
      Dirty bomb
      Chemical weapon
      Biological weapon
      Ammonium nitrate
      Improvised explosive device
      IED (Improvised Explosive Device)
      Abu Sayyaf
      FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces Colombia)
      IRA (Irish Republican Army)
      ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna)
      Basque Separatists
      Tamil Tiger
      PLF (Palestine Liberation Front)
      PLO (Palestine Libration Organization)
      Car bomb
      Weapons cache
      Suicide bomber
      Suicide attack
      Suspicious substance
      AQAP (Al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula)
      AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb)
      TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan)
      Home grown


        Extreme weather
        Forest fire
        Brush fire
        Tsunami Warning Center
        Mud slide or Mudslide
        Power outage
        Brown out
        Emergency Broadcast System

          Cyber Security

          Cyber security
          DDOS (dedicated denial of service)
          Denial of service
          Cyber Command
          Cain and abel
          Brute forcing
          Mysql injection
          Cyber attack
          Cyber terror
          Social media

            Yes, the Department of Homeland Security is searching social media for..."social media".

            Corporation Aims To Co-Opt Medical Marijuana, Make Billions

            I thought cannabis had no medicinal value whatsoever, according to the FDA...--jef


            By Steve Elliott
            Monday, February 27, 2012
            Health Freedom Alliance
            ​Crushed Beneath the Medicine Wheel
            By Kassy Fatooh

            In a scheme they think capable of making billions, a US corporation not only plans to market a delivery system for medicinal cannabis, but also hopes to cut out small time farmers and private growers by introducing prohibitive protocols through state health departments.

            In the course of following the medical story of myalgic encephalomyelitis, I've learned things I wish I didn't know about the big business of medicine, about government agencies charged with public health, and about Big Pharma's vendetta against alternative healing practices.

            Our pain is their payday. Today's story is one of cold avarice.

            The corporation is called MMDS: Medical Marijuana Delivery Systems LLC, marketing its medical cannabis delivery system through its "Medicine Wheel" subsidiary. They hold this patent for the Tetracan transdermal patch: like Nicoderm, but it delivers cannabinoids instead of nicotine.
            "We don't know for sure," he said, "but a very reasonable possibility is that THC may actually interfere with the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease."
            Nevertheless, MMDS is pushing the benefits of their transdermal patch as a healthier alternative to smoking, via its "Medicine Wheel Project."

            Here is their business plan [PDF].

            Page through it and you'll see some amazing things, like, yes, here are the billions, on page 12:
            TOTAL GROSS REVENUE: $2,843,540,662
            Now, to make even more money by paying less than the usual costs of launching a pharmaceutical product, they're cleverly trying to play both sides of the game with government agencies, avoiding FDA requirements by representing the patch as an alternative therapy...
            The TETRACAN™ Patch does not require U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval because it will be marketed as a holistic therapy in the same manner as Medical Marijuana is marketed and sold through Medical Marijuana Dispensaries across the United States. (Plan, page 7)
            ...while simultaneously acting to keep marijuana's status different from any herb like basil that anybody could grow in their garden, or even a medicinal herb which patients could be licensed to grow, as it is now in Medical Marijuana states: MMDS plans to manipulate the law to further their monopoly beyond the patented patch and into growing rights. The Plan states, on lucky page 13,
            "There are no Rules, Regulations or Protocols governing the manner in which Medical Marijuana is cultivated, harvested or processed in any of the Medical Marijuana States or the District of Columbia."

            The Medicine Wheel Project LLC, an associate company of MMDS, plans to introduce Growing Protocols to State Health Departments as it begins to organize the Medical Marijuana Industry under one umbrella organization.
            Emphasis added because I'm aghast at the blatant intent to influence state health departments to serve corporate ends.

            So that's where politics play a role. Remember the name Jim Alekson, from above? He's the principal in the patch company, and heads up many intriguingly related business ventures.

            Here he is playing politics with a friendly article. Touting the jobs to be created by the medical marijuana industry, Medicine Wheel has been blogging up the UK cannabis movement, engaging in friendly chats on a UK forum, and Alekson got his blog reposted on the official website of single-issue, pro-cannabis UK political party CLEAR (formerly Cannabis Law Reform)

            CLEAR leader Peter Reynolds appeared on the scene only recently, taking over the party with a massive vote of nearly 40 members, and changing its name and direction, while censoring and even ousting anyone who questioned his policies. More on that story can be read here and here.

            Meanwhile, back in the USA, it could prove interesting to delve into the names and natures of politicians and perhaps tribal leaders supporting Alekson's scheme. Medicine Wheel is an interesting name for the project, with its mellow, First Nations overtones. But this Kimosabe Connection isn't the only business headed by Alekson. His interest in things tribal appears to extend beyond image, or even medicine. Spinning the wheels to make some deals...

            For example, it's also about real estate develoment of tribal lands ...

            ...within the scope of his broader real estate goals as the Alekson Group ...

  , a huge contract to provide electricity to tribal lands ...

            ....within the broader scope of Energy Pointe Partners, which is yet another Alekson company...

            ...and if it's not enough of a monopoly to own a piece of politics, a patent, growing rights, land and energy, there are also the industrial scale hydroponic greenhouses mentioned on Alekson's profile at LinkedIn.

            A friend suggested that all this might be empty scheming with no money behind it, but it seems from Alekson's creds on pages 40-49 of his stock offering that he really is accustomed to running with the big boys.

            Let me repeat the big numbers quoted for the transdermal patch trade alone:
            TOTAL GROSS REVENUE: $2,843,540,662
            Add real estate, greenhouse construction, energy supply and a growing monopoly, and potential profits are plenty motivation for all the behind-the-scenes political manipulation implied in corporate documents, and more.

            None of this vast corporate empire is in the best interest of patients, of course, who typically suffer from the doings of Big Pharma --- not even Big Pharma in Alternative Medicine clothing is actually helpful to medical cannabis patients.

            As it currently stands in a Medical Marijuana state like my own, patients can buy, carry and use medicinal cannabis and cultivate it for their own use, and it can also be grown by licensed farmers with an agreement to supply it only to licensed dispensaries. Patients here can obtain high quality, organic cannabis in a variety of strains specifically developed with high levels of the compounds that best address their specific pain, inflammation or other health issues, from a safe, state-licensed dispensary; or simply grow their own.

            Everyone from the patients who require those varied strains to the growers who developed the strains, to the general public which is asked to criminalize actions because they run counter to corporate profit, everyone stands to lose, if Medicine Wheel gains its ends. Cannabis helps so many conditions from cancer to MS to Alzheimer's, plus is enjoyed by recreational users with far less danger than alcohol or cigarettes.

            The battle against prohibition doesn't end with legally-grown medicinal cannabis, and it can only be set back further by interference from a multi-billion dollar patent medicine show. The ultimate objective of cannabis campaigning is to get cannabis beyond the medicine cabinet and into the mainstream as a healthy alternative to dangerous substances used socially and for relaxation, such as alcohol and cigarettes.

            This could cost a lot of corporations a lot of money, but think what it would save taxpayers by abolishing the prosecution of all cannabis users. Some 20 million American citizens have been convicted of marijuana offenses since 1937. In 2005, alone, 800,000 Americans were arrested on pot charges, costing taxpayers over a billion dollars.

            Now, whose pockets do we want to put a billion dollars into? Jim Alekson's, or the taxpayers'? And whom do we wish to see benefit from the health-giving properties of cannabis? Patients, or profiteers? We need to be vigilant, lest AgriCannaBusiness squeeze small farmers out of one more market, and lest patients be denied the right to grow our own few plants for personal use.

            Note: since I first drafted this blog post, news has come out in Canada that shows the collusion of governments and corporations to keep cannabis profitable, as it's currently playing out in interpretation and enforcement of Canadian law:
            Health Canada is now in the process of consulting with the marijuana community to reorganize the program, and has proposed eliminating personal production licences and setting up a system of large-scale commercial growers. Established medical marijuana dispensaries were not mentioned in the government's new plans.

            These are the multi-billion-dollar shenanigans we have to be on the lookout for, worldwide.

            Even if you get compassionate medical cannabis laws passed, the governments and corporations collude to make it impossible to grow your own or operate small growing operations that serve local dispensaries.

            The result: cannabis is just more Agribusiness and Big Pharma.

            Tuesday, February 28, 2012

            Goodbye, First Amendment: ‘Trespass Bill’ will make protest illegal

            So, if you're keeping count: the 1st amendment is about to fall. the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th are already gone with the 2011 NDAA. So, from the original Bill of Rights, the only ones left, soon, are the 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 9th, 10th.--jef

            Published: 29 February, 2012, RT

            Just when you thought the government couldn’t ruin the First Amendment any further: The House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday that outlaws protests in instances where some government officials are nearby, whether or not you even know it.

            The US House of Representatives voted 388-to-3 in favor of H.R. 347 late Monday, a bill which is being dubbed the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. In the bill, Congress officially makes it illegal to trespass on the grounds of the White House, which, on the surface, seems not just harmless and necessary, but somewhat shocking that such a rule isn’t already on the books. The wording in the bill, however, extends to allow the government to go after much more than tourists that transverse the wrought iron White House fence.

            Under the act, the government is also given the power to bring charges against Americans engaged in political protest anywhere in the country.
            Under current law, White House trespassers are prosecuted under a local ordinance, a Washington, DC legislation that can bring misdemeanor charges for anyone trying to get close to the president without authorization. Under H.R. 347, a federal law will formally be applied to such instances, but will also allow the government to bring charges to protesters, demonstrators and activists at political events and other outings across America.

            The new legislation allows prosecutors to charge anyone who enters a building without permission or with the intent to disrupt a government function with a federal offense if Secret Service is on the scene, but the law stretches to include not just the president’s palatial Pennsylvania Avenue home. Under the law, any building or grounds where the president is visiting — even temporarily — is covered, as is any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance."

            It’s not just the president who would be spared from protesters, either.

            Covered under the bill is any person protected by the Secret Service. Although such protection isn’t extended to just everybody, making it a federal offense to even accidently disrupt an event attended by a person with such status essentially crushes whatever currently remains of the right to assemble and peacefully protest.

            Hours after the act passed, presidential candidate Rick Santorum was granted Secret Service protection. For the American protester, this indeed means that glitter-bombing the former Pennsylvania senator is officially a very big no-no, but it doesn’t stop with just him. Santorum’s coverage under the Secret Service began on Tuesday, but fellow GOP hopeful Mitt Romney has already been receiving such security. A campaign aide who asked not to be identified confirmed last week to CBS News that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has sought Secret Service protection as well. Even former contender Herman Cain received the armed protection treatment when he was still in the running for the Republican Party nod.

            In the text of the act, the law is allowed to be used against anyone who knowingly enters or remains in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so, but those grounds are considered any area where someone — whether it’s President Obama, Senator Santorum or Governor Romney — will be temporarily visiting, whether or not the public is even made aware. Entering such a facility is thus outlawed, as is disrupting the orderly conduct of “official functions,” engaging in disorderly conduct “within such proximity to” the event or acting violent to anyone, anywhere near the premises. Under that verbiage, that means a peaceful protest outside a candidate’s concession speech would be a federal offense, but those occurrences covered as special event of national significance don’t just stop there, either. And neither does the list of covered persons that receive protection.

            Outside of the current presidential race, the Secret Service is responsible for guarding an array of politicians, even those from outside America. George W Bush is granted protection until ten years after his administration ended, or 2019, and every living president before him is eligible for life-time, federally funded coverage. Visiting heads of state are extended an offer too, and the events sanctioned as those of national significance — a decision that is left up to the US Department of Homeland Security — extends to more than the obvious. While presidential inaugurations and meeting of foreign dignitaries are awarded the title, nearly three dozen events in all have been considered a National Special Security Event (NSSE) since the term was created under President Clinton. Among past events on the DHS-sanctioned NSSE list are Super Bowl XXXVI, the funerals of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, most State of the Union addresses and the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

            With Secret Service protection awarded to visiting dignitaries, this also means, for instance, that the federal government could consider a demonstration against any foreign president on American soil as a violation of federal law, as long as it could be considered disruptive to whatever function is occurring.

            When thousands of protesters are expected to descend on Chicago this spring for the 2012 G8 and NATO summits, they will also be approaching the grounds of a National Special Security Event. That means disruptive activity, to whichever court has to consider it, will be a federal offense under the act.

            And don’t forget if you intend on fighting such charges, you might not be able to rely on evidence of your own. In the state of Illinois, videotaping the police, under current law, brings criminals charges. Don’t fret. It’s not like the country will really try to enforce it — right?

            On the bright side, does this mean that the law could apply to law enforcement officers reprimanded for using excessive force on protesters at political events? Probably. Of course, some fear that the act is being created just to keep those demonstrations from ever occuring, and given the vague language on par with the loose definition of a “terrorist” under the NDAA, if passed this act is expected to do a lot more harm to the First Amendment than good.

            United States Representative Justin Amash (MI-03) was one of only three lawmakers to vote against the act when it appeared in the House late Monday. Explaining his take on the act through his official Facebook account on Tuesday, Rep. Amash writes, “The bill expands current law to make it a crime to enter or remain in an area where an official is visiting even if the person does not know it's illegal to be in that area and has no reason to suspect it's illegal.”

            “Some government officials may need extraordinary protection to ensure their safety. But criminalizing legitimate First Amendment activity — even if that activity is annoying to those government officials — violates our rights,” adds the representative.

            Now that the act has overwhelmingly made it through the House, the next set of hands to sift through its pages could very well be President Barack Obama; the US Senate had already passed the bill back on February 6. Less than two months ago, the president approved the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, essentially suspending habeas corpus from American citizens. Could the next order out of the Executive Branch be revoking some of the Bill of Rights? Only if you consider the part about being able to assemble a staple of the First Amendment, really. Don’t worry, though. Obama was, after all, a constitutional law professor. When he signed the NDAA on December 31, he accompanied his signature with a signing statement that let Americans know that, just because he authorized the indefinite detention of Americans didn’t mean he thought it was right.

            Should President Obama suspend the right to assemble, Americans might expect another apology to accompany it in which the commander-in-chief condemns the very act he authorizes. If you disagree with such a decision, however, don’t take it to the White House. Sixteen-hundred Pennsylvania Avenue and the vicinity is, of course, covered under this act.

            Upper class people more likely to cheat

            By Agence France-Presse
            Monday, February 27, 2012

            WASHINGTON — People from the wealthy upper classes are more likely than poorer folks to break laws while driving, take candy from children and lie for financial gain, said a US study on Monday.

            The seven-part study by psychologists at the University of California Berkeley and the University of Toronto analyzed people’s behavior through a series of experiments.

            For instance, drivers of expensive vehicles such as Mercedes, BMW and Toyota’s Prius hybrid were seen breaking the rules more often at four-way intersections than people who drove a Camry or Corolla.

            They were also more likely to cut off pedestrians trying to cross the street than drivers of cheaper cars.

            In another test using a game of dice, given the opportunity to win a $50 prize, people who self-reported high socio-economic status were more likely to lie and say that they had rolled higher numbers than they actually had.

            “Even in people for whom $50 is a relatively small amount of money, cheating was three times as high,” said lead author Paul Piff of UC Berkeley.

            “It really shows the extreme lengths to which wealth and upper rank status in society can shape patterns of self-interest and unethicality,” he told AFP.

            In other studies, people with higher status were less likely to tell the truth in a hypothetical job negotiation in which they were the employer trying to hire someone for a job they knew was soon to be eliminated.

            And when given a jar of candy that they were told was for children in a nearby lab — though they could take some if they wanted — the richest people took more candy than anyone else.

            Even Piff, who has studied the impact of wealth on people’s morality and charitable giving in the past — finding that rich people tend to give less to charity than poor people — was surprised to see them taking sweets from kids.

            “I was astonished,” Piff said. “On average, people in the upper rank condition took two times as much (candy), so it was a pretty sizeable effect.”

            Also, in that particular study, researchers conditioned some of the subjects first to think of themselves as of a higher social rank by asking them to compare themselves to others with less.

            The exercise showed that people could be trained to think more highly of themselves, and that they would in turn act with more greed and less ethicality, demonstrating that status drives greed.

            “We also got them to increase their likelihood of saying ‘I’d do all these unethical things,’” such as keeping the change without saying a word if a coffee shop cashier returned them too much money.

            The study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, theorizes that a series of factors “may give rise to a set of culturally shared norms among upper class individuals.”

            For instance, richer people are more independent from others, have more resources and are therefore less concerned with what others think of their actions than poorer people, the authors suggested.

            According to Piff, people with more money tend to look more positively on greed and rely less on family and friend networks for support in times of need, and this elevated status tends to disconnect them from society.

            “It is that very different level of privilege in your everyday life that gives rise to this independence from others, this reduced sensitivity to the impact of your behavior on others’ welfare, and the prioritization of your self-interest,” he said.

            Certainly there are exceptions, said the study, pointing to famous upper-class whistleblowers at Worldcom and Enron; and wealthy philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

            Previous research linking poverty and violent crime also disproves the notion that all poor people are more ethical than the rich, it added.

            However, self-interest is “a more fundamental motive among society’s elite, and the increased want associated with greater wealth and status can promote wrongdoing,” it said.

            Although the study focused on US subjects, with each of the seven parts measuring between 100 and 200 participants, Piff said the findings are likely to be relevant to societies outside America, too.

            “These patterns are going to be particularly salient in societies where wealth is as unequally distributed as it is here,” he said.

            Stealing From The Mouth of Public Education to Feed the Prison Industrial Complex

            Tuesday, February 28, 2012 by Institute for Policy Studies
            We are witnessing a systemic recasting of education priorities that gives official structure and permanence to a preexisting underclass comprised largely of criminalized poor black and brown people.
            by Adwoa Masozi

            States across the US are excising billions of dollars from their education budgets as if 22% of the population isn’t functionally illiterate.According to the NAAL standards of the National Center for Education Statistics 68 million people are reading below basic levels. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that “nearly all states are spending less money (on education) than they spent in 2008 (after inflation), even though the cost of providing services will be higher.” On top of cutting 4 billion dollars from their budget, Texas has also eliminated state funding for pre-K programs that serve around 100,000 mostly at-risk children. North Carolina has cut nearly a half billion dollars from K-12 education resulting in an 80 percent loss for textbook funds and a 5 percent cut in support positions like guidance counselors and social workers among numerous other cuts. Decisions like these leave little reason to wonder why both those states are facing 27% drop out rates.

            Closing public schools has so become the rage that the state of California has even produced a best practices guide on how to close and make them fit for turn-around. Why not promote a ‘best practices guide for keeping a school going’ instead? Why make these decisions when we know that a lack of education decreases access to quality (and legitimate) employment opportunities, increases the likelihood of encounters with the criminal (in)justice system, negatively impacts health outcomes, and altogether limits one’s ability to determine her or his own future?

            What we’re witnessing is a systemic recasting of education priorities that gives official structure and permanence to a preexisting underclass comprised of largely criminalized poor black and brown people. Certainly having a prominent underclass isn’t new to the US as it has quite the track record of denying fill-in-the-blank people fill-in-the-blank rights. But the material outcomes of this shift are as communally and economically devastating as were the outcomes of the Black Codes in the 1800s and subsequent Jim Crow laws that persisted until 1965; both of which were legal, with implementation that varied from state to state and still impacts communities today.

            The collusion between this government and private interests are not new either. It is not a coincidence that at the same time neighborhoods with high incidences of black people are being destabilized and displaced through fast track urban-land grabs, or gentrification, by developers empowered by local municipalities states are divesting from the public school infrastructure serving them. This is an insidious process that forces the hand of communities. Public education is something more than a right, a liberty, or a privilege. It is a need. One as basic and inarguable as the land we must walk on, food we must eat, water we must drink, and air we must breathe to live. For absolutely nothing will or can be done in human society without it. So who would want to send their children to schools that have police presence and metal detectors in place of books? Or to overcrowded schools with teacher to student ratios of 1 to 30 and little to no extra curricular activities or wrap-around services? These are the material consequences of divestment from public schools. Who wants to send their children to schools in neighborhoods that are mini-police states? If it can be helped, no one.

            Charter schools by definition aren’t the real problem. They have been practical and creative solutions to educating children when needs go unmet. Forming alternative centers of education has been a norm practiced in communities across the country since the 1800s. But what we have today is something very different. Charters now elbow out established public schools in part or completely. Corporations like Wells Fargo, BOA, JP Morgan, and Wal-Mart, all major investors in private prisons and players in corporate education reform, have extraordinary influence on education policy at the state and federal levels.

            Parents, students, teachers, and other relevant stakeholders are manipulated into making a false choice, drawing a line in the sand where the wrong group of people is on the opposing side. Whether for public schools or charters, both sides want the same outcomes - creative, critical thinking students who are equipped to participate fully in their community and society at large. Instead of charters continuing to operate as creative workarounds, especially for communities in crisis, sharing in the resources for the public, they’ve been co-opted. Now taking an antagonistic role towards traditional public schools.

            While these turf wars are being fought, the children who don’t make it into the tier one schools or roll sevens in the charter lotteries are left behind and to their own devices in these poorly administered, under resourced and overcrowded schools.

            Forty-six percent of the 2.3 million people incarcerated are without a high school diploma and the skills to compete in an ever-shrinking job market. This means roughly a million people won’t ever get a shot at what should already be low-hanging fruit—a low-waged, skill-lite, benefit-deplete, socially unrewarding job with a work environment that’s likely to be mentally and spiritually stifling.

            Little guesswork is needed around what will happen to these unskilled and undereducated millions who have been failed by these schools that continue to be eroded. It is the prisons that will have them; for these youth are the preferred meat of the criminal (in)justice system.

            This is why we can have record closings of public schools throughout the country, and at the same time witness the rise of corporate backed charter schools and private prisons. The message to the people being that a select few will be educated and the rest will be locked in struggle against their own commoditization. This is why we must continue to fight.

            Gas in the Presidential Race

            Tuesday, February 28, 2012 by The Huffington Post
            by Dean Baker

            President Obama seems to be enjoying some good luck in that the economy appears to be picking up just in time for his re-election campaign. While the economy is still weak by almost any measure, growth is likely to be in the 2.5-3.0 percent range for 2012. This should lead to the creation of close to 2 million jobs and a modest drop in the unemployment rate.

            That is not much to cheer about in an economy that is still down close to 10 million jobs from its trend level; however, compared to the recent past, this is good news. And research shows that voters tend to focus primarily on the direction of change. This means that if the unemployment rate is falling and the economy is creating jobs at a respectable pace throughout the year, President Obama stands a very good chance of being re-elected in November.

            This explains the decision of the Republican Party to focus on the price of gas. The price of gas has long played a pivotal role in U.S. politics. High gas prices will be forever a symbol of the economic malaise of the Carter presidency in the late '70s. The drop in gas prices under President Reagan was associated with a resurgence of America's political and economic power.

            The fact that both the rise in the price of oil in the '70s and the subsequent decline in the 80s had little to do with domestic policy decisions and much more with international politics (e.g. the Iranian revolution in 1979) mattered little. President Carter got the blame for events beyond his control and President Reagan got the credit.

            The Republicans are hoping to benefit from this pattern again in the fall election. Gas prices had plummeted following the economic collapse in 2008, falling as low as $2.00 a gallon, half of their pre-recession peak. However, in the last two years they have been on the rise as the world economy recovers and instability in the Middle East and the possibility of a war with Iran threaten the oil supply from the region. Gas prices are almost certain to soar past $4.00 a gallon in the peak summer driving season.

            The Republicans are hoping to blame this rise in the price of gas on President Obama's environmentally friendly policies. As a matter of logic, there are two basic problems in this story. First, President Obama's policies have not been especially friendly to the environment.

            He has opened up large portions of previously protected coastal areas to drilling. Oil production has risen substantially in his three years in office and is now back near the peaks reach in 2002. While some areas do remain protected, even if every last piece of land and coastline had been opened to drilling on his first day in office it would not have increased production much beyond current levels.

            The other problem with the Republican complaints is that production in the United States really does not matter much for the price of gas. Oil prices in the United States depend on the world market, not just supply and demand in the United States.

            U.S. production is roughly 8 million barrels a day, it accounts for less than 9 percent of a world-wide market that is close to 90 million barrels a day. Even if U.S. production could be increased by a third (an almost impossible increase) it would only increase world supply by 3 percent. This would lower the price of oil by 7-8 percent. This is not trivial, but it is not the difference between $2 a gallon gas and $4 a gallon gas. In other words, there is nothing that the United States can do in terms of its domestic production that would bring gas prices down to the levels that would make many American car owners happy.

            The other part of this story is that U.S. proven reserves are in the neighborhood of 20 billion barrels. At our current rate of production we would exhaust them in around 10 years. If we could somehow increase production by a third that would bring the date of exhaustion to just 7 years in the future. This would mean that we would be seeing sharply lower production levels before the end of President Drill Everywhere's second term.

            That is the arithmetic of the situation, but the Republicans are betting that they can get away with their story nonetheless. The public is almost completely ignorant of the dynamics of world oil markets. It is widely believed that prices are determined domestically and that if upscale environmentalists did not get in the way, we could drill out enough oil so that gas prices would be cheap again.

            Since the media consider it to be their job to report what candidates say and not assess its accuracy, it is likely that the public will go the polls believing that we can again get cheap gas if we just destroyed the environment. The reality is that we have the ability the do the latter.

            The Economic Crisis and Iran

            Regenerating Global Capitalism
            by BEN SCHREINER

            On February 21, to great media fanfare, the Dow Jones Industrial Average surpassed the 13,000 mark for the first time since the 2008 collapse. Appearing on NBC’s Today Show the following morning, Jim “Bear Sterns is not in trouble” Cramer jubilantly prophesied “the future is better than the past.” A more ominous indication of lurking economic peril is perhaps difficult to imagine.

            Indeed, for despite growing optimism on Wall Street (where profits have been ascendant through the course of the Great Recession), the economy remains teetering precariously on the precipice. The potential collapse of the eurozone, along with mounting signs of a bursting Chinese growth bubble both still loom along the horizon. Each of which could threaten to send the world economy barreling toward the abyss. Hardly indicative of what one might deem a better future.

            In fact, given the protracted nature of the current crises, it is increasingly evident that we are in the thralls of a systemic crisis. That is to say, we are in the midst of a crisis that can no longer be resolved within the present neoliberal framework—try as one might.

            Nowhere is this more apparent than Greece. For as the “market” (i.e., the transnational financial elite) dictates a neoliberal inspired cocktail of deeper and deeper austerity as a way out of the crises, Greece becomes further ensnared in a downward spiral of unending economic depression and societal unrest.

            To glimpse the utter failure of such bankrupt policies one need look no further than Greece’s burgeoning youth unemployment. Staggeringly, nearly one out of every two Greeks under 25-years of age is currently without a job. Although, Greece is by no means alone, as equally high youth unemployment now menaces Italy, Portugal, Spain, and beyond.

            Of course, much the same is unfolding, albeit on a lesser magnitude, the world over. Seen from the push to privatize education in Chile to the attack on public sector workers in the United States. Needless to say, imposing such economic despair is simply unsustainable. Hence, the correspondent worldwide revolts seen from the Indignatos to the Occupy movement.

            Yet, as the system falters, and popular unrest mounts, the ruling elites have largely remained blinded by their neoliberal thinking, leaving them incapable of offering any viable solutions for resolving the entrenched global economic crisis.

            Still, there remains one last means left for global capitalism’s regeneration. For as Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, along with heightening levels of exploitation, the capitalist class can always resort to the “enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces.” In other words, the capitalism can ultimately be renewed via war.

            Regenerating Capitalism Through War
            War functions as a bailout of sorts for the system of capitalism on two levels. First, war unleashes the power of what Joseph Schumpeter so fondly deemed “creative destruction.” For by destroying capital—i.e., crudely addressing the chronic affliction of overproduction—war creates the opportunity for renewed growth. As General Smedley Butler famously argued (and the likes of Lockheed Martin know all too well): war is a racket.

            Second, and perhaps most important in the minds of the ruling classes, war functions to quell domestic social unrest. For war paves the way for both domestic repression and the ultimate fracturing of the working class itself. The former is seen in measures dating from the Espionage Act of 19 17 to the latest National Defense Authorization Act. The latter occurs once elements of the working class, particularly elements directly benefiting from increased military spending, eagerly rally to the flag. The resultant splintering of the working class between such opportunists on one side and the more politically advanced on the other renders it as a whole rather impotent.

            And so it is that we now see a growing war fever gaining traction amongst the capitalist class, as they search for a way out of the present crisis. And in this regard, all eyes are cast towards Iran.

            Target Iran
            Iran, of course, has been on the imperial hit list since 1979, when it first broke free from its U.S. shackles. Something all war lusting neocons have not since forgot. As they are known to proclaim: real men go to Tehran.

            We are now told, however, that the present belligerence towards Iran is solely related to its nefarious nuclear program. But such claims are merely ruses—disputed by no less than both the U.S. and Israeli intelligence communities—and are posited in an attempt to shroud imperial motivations. It’s a ploy we have all seen before (most recently in regards to Iraq).

            The targeting of Iran is really then a byproduct of both the opportunity it presents and the great economic potential it holds in regards to regenerating global capitalism. For sitting atop vast energy reserves, Iran possesses the world’s third largest oil reserves, and the world’s second largest natural gas reserves. And according to investment bank Goldman Sachs (the Mecca of U.S. capitalism), Iran is one of the 11 countries outside of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) forecast to drive world economic growth.

            Therefore, the aim in the escalating showdown with Iran is to ultimately seize control of the country’s sizable energy reserves, and envelop its largely un-integrated economy more fully into the global capitalist system. And least one wonders, concerns over the inevitable human carnage of a potential conflict factor little into any such calculus. The system of capitalism simply must be saved, whatever the costs.

            The only hope then, if one truly seeks a future better than our past, is for the working classes within the U.S. (the locus of global capitalism) to transform any impending imperial war against Iran into, as Lenin would no doubt argue, a class struggle between the ruling elite and the working class at home—into a struggle between the 1-percent and the 99-percent.

            Perhaps not much in the way of hope, but it’s certainly high time the American working class came to realize that all wars are class wars.

            What’s Really Pushing Up the Price of Gas?

            Return of the Speculators
            by MIKE WHITNEY

            Is the Fed’s “Easy Money” policy pushing up the price of gas? The editors of the Wall Street Journal seem to think so. Here’s how they summed it up in an article last week:

            “Oil is traded in dollars, and its price therefore rises when the value of the dollar falls, all else being equal. The Federal Reserve throughout Mr. Obama’s term has pursued the easiest monetary policy in modern times, expressly to revive the housing market….. 
            “Oil staged its last price surge along with other commodity prices when the Fed revved up its second burst of “quantitative easing” in 2010-2011. Prices stabilized when QE2 ended. But in recent months the Fed has again signaled its commitment to near-zero interest rates first through 2013, and recently through 2014. Commodity prices, including oil, have since begun another surge, and hedge funds have begun to bet on commodity plays again….(“‘Stupid’ and Oil Prices”, Wall Street Journal)
            “Another surge” for commodity prices?

            Not exactly. As a whole, commodity prices have remained relatively flat. (Copper, nickel, zinc etc are all up a bit, but not much. No more than 4 per cent for any of them.) It’s only oil that’s skyrocketing. Oil soared to a 10-month high on Friday hitting $109-plus per barrel, up 14 percent in the last month. Prices at the pump have also jumped to nearly $4 per gallon across the country putting more pressure on consumers’ budgets and, once again, raising the prospect of a double dip recession.

            The WSJ is correct in saying that quantitative easing (QE2) did push up food and energy prices, but is that really what’s driving oil prices higher today?

            Probably not. There are other factors that are likely having a greater impact, like the escalating tension in the Middle East–particularly the supposed threat of a war with Iran. Buyers are rushing to build up their stockpiles before the conflict might begin. Here’s an excerpt from a post at Econbrowser that explains:
            “Phil Flynn, a senior market analyst at PFGBest Research in Chicago, offered this interpretation: 
            “We’re seeing panic buying in Europe and Asia because they’re absolutely convinced that they’re not going to be able to buy Iranian oil or there’s going to be some kind of conflict that disrupts the transport of oil through the Strait of Hormuz…. there is a lot of hoarding in case the worst-case scenario happens. Asian buyers have been buying up West African crude like it’s going out of style.” (“Crude oil and gasoline prices”, James Hamilton, Econbrowser)
            So, is panic buying driving up the price of gas or does it have more to do with a gradually improving economic picture that’s increasing demand around the world? That seems to be the gist of a report by NPR’s John Ydstie on Thursday’s All Things Considered. Ydstie notes that “for the first time in six decades” the US “has become a net exporter of gasoline. We’re sending more gasoline out than we’re bringing in.” (“What’s Behind The Rise In Gas Prices?”, NPR) And that’s because it’s now cheaper to produce gas in the US than it is in the rest of the world (mainly due to fracking). Unfortunately, cheaper production costs don’t translate into cheaper prices at the pump. Why? Because gas is traded in a global market where prices are set by supply-demand dynamics.

            Still, whether China is purchasing more oil or not doesn’t explain the sharp uptick in prices, because there’s no apparent shortage of supply. In fact, according to the EIA, the statistical arm of the Energy Department, inventories are unusually high.

            Here’s a clip from their statement: “At 339.1 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories are in the upper limit of the average range for this time of year….Total motor gasoline inventories increased by 0.4 million barrels last week and are in the upper limit of the average range.”

            So, if there’s no shortage of supply, then Ydstie’s “global market” theory doesn’t make much sense because there’s no pressure on prices. And there’s something else to consider, too, which is that gas consumption in the US has dropped sharply in recent months. In fact, “demand for refined oil products is close to its lowest level in nearly 15 years”. (CNBC) Here’s a clip from a post by Charles Hugh Smith’s titled “Why Is Gasoline Consumption Tanking?” that explains what’s going on:
            “Retail gasoline deliveries, already well below 1980 levels, have absolutely fallen off a cliff….the declines in retail gasoline deliveries are mind-boggling….”
            “There are no data-supported broad-based drivers for dramatically lower gasoline consumption other than austerity and lower economic activity……What other plausible explanation is there for the decline from 42.4 MGD in July 2011 to 30.9 MGD in November 2011 other than a dramatic decline in discretionary driving? (“Why Is Gasoline Consumption Tanking?”, Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds)
            Whatever the reason may be, US drivers have cut back on their gas consumption dramatically which should have a material effect on prices, but it hasn’t. Prices continue to soar, and the soaring prices cannot be explained in terms of the Fed’s easing policy, constriction of supply, refinery closings, or fear of another Middle East war. (The so called “fear premium” should be no more than $10 to $15 per barrel) Investigative journalist Kevin G. Hall explains what is really driving prices in an article for McClatchy titled “Once again, speculators behind sharply rising oil and gasoline prices.” Here’s an excerpt:
            “….oil’s price shot up because it trades in financial markets, where Wall Street firms and other big financial players dominate the trading of oil, even though they have no intention of ever taking possession of the oil whose contracts they are trading…. 
            Historically, financial speculators accounted for about 30 percent of oil trading in commodity markets, while producers and end users made up about 70 percent. Today it’s almost the reverse. 
            A McClatchy review of the latest Commitment of Traders report from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates oil trading, shows that producers and merchants made up just 36 per cent of all contracts traded in the week ending Feb. 14. 
            That same week, open interest, or the total outstanding oil contracts for next-month delivery of 1,000 barrels of oil (about 42,000 gallons), stood near an all-time high above 1.486 million. Speculators who’ll never take delivery of oil made up 64 per cent of the market….. 
            Not surprisingly, big Wall Street traders on Tuesday projected oil will rise above $112 a barrel; some such as Swiss giant Vitol even suggested $150-a-barrel oil is coming soon. When they dominate the market, as they do, speculators’ bids can make their prophecies self-fulfilling.
            “These people are not there to be heroes. They are there to make money. It’s our fault because we are allowing them to do that,” said Gheit. “Obviously these people are very strong, and the financial lobby is the strongest of any single lobby. I’ve been in this business 30 years, and I can tell you I think this is smoke and mirrors.” (“Once again, speculators behind sharply rising oil and gasoline prices”, Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy News)
            Repeat: “Speculators who’ll never take delivery of oil made up 64 percent of the market.” That explains why prices are going up, up, up.

            Sunday, February 26, 2012

            Criminalizing the poor: from welfare to cellfare

            RT | Christopher Petrella
            24 February, 2012

            On August 22, 1996 President Bill Clinton signed into law his now infamous Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act thereby “end[ing] welfare as we have come to know it.” The Act replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF establishes a lifetime limit of 60 months (5 years) for federal assistance, mandates that single parents participate in work activities for an average of 30 hours per week, and caps federal block grant contributions to states at $16.6 billion per year. (As a result of inflation the real value of the TANF block grant has already fallen by 28%.)

            And despite few fluctuations in the poverty rate since TANF supplanted AFCD, the participation rate among eligible families has plummeted by 52% since1995.

            Over the same time period—and despite flat to declining crime rates— the U.S. prison and jail population has increased by 44%.

            Perhaps a quickly expanding prison population is precisely the unspoken foundation upon which “welfare to workfare” rests. We haven’t “ended welfare;” instead we’ve invisiblized it by shifting its beneficiaries from the public square to the prison yard.

            The atrophy of the social welfare state and the growth of the penal state represent a double criminalization of poverty. Considering TANF/AFDC data alongside trends in incarceration is necessary for rethinking the role of the state in provisioning basic social services. The transition from welfare to workfare and the proliferation of bodies behind bars taken together “work to marginalize populations—by forcing them off the public aid rolls, on the one side, and holding them under lock, on the other—and eventually pushing them into the peripheral [and deeply precarious] sectors of the labor market.”

            The shared historical roots and political convergences of the assistantial and penitential functions of the state are further validated by the fact that the “social profile” of their respective beneficiaries is uncannily similar. For instance, 50% of former AFDC recipients throughout the early 1990s lived at or below half of the poverty line. Today, 65% of inmates in the United States inhabit the same category.

            Both populations, as well, are disproportionately composed of people of color. In1995, 37.2% and 20.7% of AFDC recipients were Black or Latin@, respectively,

            and in 2010 40% and 20% of state and federal inmates were Black and Latin@, respectively.

            Finally, 44% of AFDC recipients in 1994 had not finished high school compared to 41% of those incarcerated in 2003, the most recent year for which data is available.

            The relationship between the sudden but substantial growth in containment justified through the rhetoric of social dishonor and emergence of workfare as a condition of federal subsidy represents an intra-State struggle over its basic social function.

            Simply asked, what is the role of the State? And further, what ought to be the role of the State? (Should the role of the State, as neoliberals contend, be limited to safeguarding the so-called “free market” and protecting contracts???)

            The double criminalization of poverty marked by ...
            1. reducing public aid to low income people of color (disproportionately) and  
            2. locking them up (disproportionately) for being poor...
            is evidence that the State is trying to re-architecting itself on our watch.

            Further, the double criminalization of poverty serves an important ideological function in that it allows the corporate class to attribute widespread unemployment and poverty to personal moral depravity instead of material deprivation. The poor are not depraved; they’re deprived of the basic social resources to secure a dignified standard of living. In the end, the survival of any “criminal State” hinges on its ability to individualize criminality so as to divert attention from its complicitous role in its production.

            White House refuses to reveal ties with Monsanto the devil

            RT 23 February, 2012

            Despite requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for correspondence out of the White House, the Obama administration is refusing to comply with calls to disclose discussions with Monsanto the devil-linked lobbyists.

            The US-based non-profit group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is demanding that the White House comply with a FOIA request for information that might link the Obama administration with lobbyists tied to the Monsanto the devil corporation. Monsanto the devil, an agricultural biotech company that rakes in billions each year, has become the enemy of independent farmers in recent years after the corporation has sued hundreds of small-time growers and, in many cases, purchased farms that are unable to compete in a court of law. As Monsanto the devil’s profits grow and the group comes close to monopolizing the market for American agriculture, the company has at the same time thrived due its use of controversial genetically-engineered seeds.

            Three-hundred thousands organic farmers across America are currently trying to take Monsanto the devil to court to keep the corporation from continuing its war on independent growers. As a case is composed, the PEER group suspects that the White House’s refusal to comply with the FOIA request could be because Monsanto the devil the devil has some powerful friends on Pennsylvania Avenue.

            Particularly, PEER is trying to pry correspondence that came into the inbox of a White House policy analyst from a lobbyist with the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which represents  Monsanto the devil  and other manufacturers of genetically-engineered seeds. The White House says that disclosing the full details of the email could give competing companies an advantage as lobbying secrets are unearthed for the world, but PEER thinks the truth is much worse than that.

            "We suspect the reason an industry lobbyist so cavalierly shared strategy is that the White House is part of that strategy," PEER staff counsel Kathryn Douglass tells the Truthout website. "The White House's legal posture is as credible as claiming Coca Cola's secret formula was 'inadvertently' left in a duffel bag at the bus station."

            Michael Taylor, a former attorney for the US Department of Agriculture and lobbyist for Monsanto the devil, was recently appointed to a federal role as the deputy commissioner for foods at the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Since then, the FDA shot down requests from consumer protection groups to label genetically modified products as such. With a White House-Monsanto the devil  connection already established with the appointment of Taylor, PEER and others are interested in what other ties could exist between the two.

            The inquiry from PEER stems from an earlier email obtained in which biotech lobbyist Adrianne Massey confronts a White House official with regards to if and how the administration is dealing with a lawsuit PEER had filed. In that instance, PEER had fought and won to keep genetically-engineered crops from being planted in wildlife refuges. PEER is now suing the White House for the rest of that correspondence and other related emails.

            EU suspends ACTA ratification, refers treaty to court

            RT | 22 February, 2012

            The EU has suspended the ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and referred the text to the European Court of Justice to investigate possible rights breaches.

            The European Commission decided on Wednesday to ask the EU's top court "to clarify that the ACTA agreement and its implementation must be fully compatible with freedom of expression and freedom of the internet."

            The ACTA debate "must be based upon facts and not upon the misinformation or rumor that has dominated social media sites and blogs," says EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Guch. The EU will not ratify the international treaty until the court delivers its ruling, he added.

            De Guch insists the treaty will change nothing in the bloc, but help protect the creative economy.

            European countries were quick to sign US- and Japan-lobbied ACTA agreement in Tokyo just a month ago. Ratification of the controversial agreement, however, is not going so smoothly.

            ACTA faced fierce opposition by the Europeans, who saw it as an anti-democratic move. People took their anger to the streets in a synchronized protest, saying it violates their rights. About 200 cities participated in an anti-ACTA march on February 11.

            The initial goal authorities pursued was to protect intellectual property and copyright, but human rights activists fought to prove its bias in favor of those in power. They argue it violates freedom of expression on the internet and allows unprecedented control of people’s personal information and privacy.

            Some critics have been saying ACTA is a somewhat-disguised  SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act).

            ACTA has so far been signed by the EU as a bloc, 22 EU members as individual states, and also by the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia, South Korea and some other countries. The total number of signatories to the treaty is 31.

            The European Parliament is set to vote on ACTA in June. In parallel, the accord has to be ratified by all the 27 EU member states. Germany, the Netherlands, Cyprus, Estonia and Slovakia have not put individual signatures under the treaty as such and, in the wake of the mass anti-ACTA protests in Europe, are not eager to proceed with it.Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Latvia suspended the ratification process, while Poland on the second thought refused to ratify the accord all together.

            Wednesday's decision means ACTA's ratification in the EU could be delayed for months.

            Rob Beschizza, the managing director of online magazine and group blog Boing Boing, says nothing can stop Internet file swapping.

            “What the industry needs to do when it considers how it makes entertainment products – music, movies and so on – available, is make it so that people can easily buy them. People don’t want to be thieves. They don’t want to take things they are not entitled to,” he told RT.

            Beschizza believes that legislative initiatives like ACTA never do anything to stop piracy.

            “The way the Internet works [is], as long as two computers can connect to each other, people are going to find a way to share files. The Internet works by copying data,” he said. “So what we foresee is when these laws are passed, there’ll be all this social harm and there’ll be no actual prevention of piracy.”

            US entering Fascism, please fasten your seatbelts

            Robert Bridge - RT
            25 February, 2012

            With Russian presidential elections just days away, it is hard not to notice a marked difference between the US and Russian versions of ‘democracy in action.’ While neither system has worked out all the kinks of electing their leaders, in the United States the story boils down to the latest franchise owned and operated by Corporate America, known as the Democrats and the Republicans (or why not the McDemoReps: 300 million deceived!).

            Somewhere along the road to a fun-loving place known as Democracy, America took a nasty wrong turn. And like every stubborn driver, it was too proud to stop and ask for directions. So, with the pedal to the metal, America has been careening through school zones, zebra crossings and police barricades, confusing raw motion with deliberate, rational progress. Now, it’s too late to turn back. America is not heading for Fascism. We are already there.

            First, what is fascism? Maybe it would be easier to ask what fascism is not, or doesn’t necessarily have to be. Fascism does not have to be jackboots goose-stepping along cobblestone streets. Fascism does not have to be an egomaniac with a bad mustache ranting from the rostrum. Fascism does not have to mean the end of fun. Indeed, the most sinister political program can easily conceal itself behind fast food, circuses and mindless amusements. Keep the masses distracted, dumb-downed and drugged-up and you can get away with whatever political system you want.

            To put it briefly, fascism is a black wedding between political and corporate power. 

            Perhaps the Soviets gave the best definition of this sociopolitical phenomenon: “Fascism is the open, terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary…forces of finance capital."

            If this definition is correct, then many other countries besides the US may be heading for interesting times. But since America currently has the largest global footprint it deserves the most attention.

            However one may define his terms, one thing remains undeniable: US politicians and the transnational corporations are in bed together, enjoying the ultimate orgy while We the People are forced to suck it up. Naturally, those straddling the political pyramid do not want to relinquish their death grip on Power so they monkey wrench the political system in their favor.

            By comparison, in Russia, corporate power and the oligarchs saw their political free-for-all come to a screeching halt when Vladimir Putin became president in 1999. Since then, there has been a definite line drawn between Russia’s political world and the business world, indeed, as there should be. This article hopes to show what went so horribly wrong with the American political scene, and how Russia may hope to avoid a similar situation in the future. And with any luck, we Americans can save our country from a looming disaster.

            Welcome to the CDP, members only

            Between 1976 and 1988, the League of Women Voters (LWV) was the proud sponsor of the US presidential debates. But apparently feminine sponsorship was not venal, male and testosterone-laced enough for these modern hard times. Thus, on the eve of the 1988 election between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, LWV relinquished their duties when it was discovered that the Democrats and Republicans secretly agreed to a "memorandum of understanding" that would decide which candidates could participate in the debates.

            “The League of Women Voters is withdrawing its sponsorship of the presidential debate scheduled for mid-October because the demands of the two campaign organization (the Democrats and the Republicans) would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter,” League President Nancy M. Neuman wrote in a statement.

            According to Neumann, the Democrats and Republicans hatched a campaign scheme “behind closed doors” that put forward 16 pages of “non-negotiable self-serving demands.” These demands include “control the selection of questioners, the composition of the audience, hall access for the press.” This is not unlike two professional boxers petitioning the World Boxing Association with the demand that no other competitors are allowed in the ring besides them – even if a more eligible contender demands a match!

            Although the LWV said they had “no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public,” the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) that took over the duties of the ladies league certainly had no such misgivings. During the 2000 election, the CPD said third-party candidates would only be invited to debate if they had a 15 percent support level across five national polls. Yet without the ability to debate against the Democrats and Republicans in order to pass the magic threshold, the US public never gets to hear other political voices.

            Before we continue, it is important to keep in mind that the CDP is not only sponsored by corporations, and overseen by the Democrat and Republican parties, but it is, in fact, itself a corporation.

            Media Matters for the two-party system

            A handful of US media empires (the Disney-Viacom-News Corp-CBS-Time Warner anaconda viper that is sucking the American brain dry) largely determine what is heard – and therefore discussed – in living rooms across the United States.

            Although such influence means relatively little when the outcome of a basketball game or Super Bowl halftime show hangs in the balance, it is a totally different story when the subject involves what course our country decides to take on the domestic and international fronts. Since these media corporations are heavily invested into the present system, it is no wonder that political “mavericks” (Nader, Perot, LaRouche) who threaten to rock the boat get treated like common lepers.

            Consider the media manhandling of Ron Paul, the veteran Republican who is campaigning to represent the GOP in November’s presidential race. Practically every single US news channel betrayed their loyalty to higher masters by glaringly ignoring the 12-term Congressman from Texas, who consistently ranks in the top tier of debate straw polls.

            “This pretending that Ron Paul doesn’t exist for some reason has been going on for weeks,” railed comedian/political pundit John Stewart.He’s the one guy in the field – agree with him or don’t agree with him – who doesn’t go out of his way to regurgitate talking points.”

            But that seems to be exactly the problem. Paul, whose only radical act to date is following the US Constitution, is courageous enough to take on the corporate military-industrial complex (he would bring the troops home his first day on the job), audit the Federal Reserve (or even better, shut down the unconstitutional money-making racket altogether), and terminate welfare checks for ailing banks, corporations and foreign countries. In other words, Ron Paul is the only true conservative candidate out of the entire field of wannabe Republicans.

            Paul’s fierce devotion to true American ideals, which has nothing at all in common with running around the globe planting the seeds of democracy courtesy of fighter jets and drones, is why, during the one-hour CBS News/National Journal debates in November, the Texas Congressman was granted just 89 seconds to present his political views.

            Paul’s campaign manager John Tate sent out an email entitled, “What a Joke,” in which he stated, “It literally made me sick watching the mainstream media once again silence the one sane voice in this election….Ron Paul was silenced, in perhaps the most important debate of the cycle.”

            Goldman Sachs, the bank that keeps giving

            US politicians have been blabbing about the need for campaign reform since about the time of the Moon Landing. Yet not only does the situation not improve, it continues to worsen. The true depth of the situation came to light following the latest global economic implosion, courtesy of an investment banking and securities firm known as Goldman Sachs.

            Most people already know the story: Back around 2005, Goldman Sachs was peddling billions of dollars of junk subprime mortgage securities to unsuspecting investors, while at the same time betting that the securities would tank. And tank they did. The elaborate scheme failed so impressively that it led to the implosion of the modern economy as we know it. Indeed, for all intent and purposes, classic capitalism as set forth by Adam Smith is dead. Now, the entire global economy – the little banks, corporations and assorted minions – depends upon the goodwill of central banks and the US Federal Reserve to lend high-interest financial lifelines to keep on paying the bills and avoid social upheaval. For all intent purposes, many modern states are being held hostage by bankers.

            The once democratic, fiercely independent nation of Greece, which just approved an emergency injection of billions of euros of emergency funds, now finds itself a slave to the banking cartel. The Greek Street, however, which is furious about having to accept “austerity measures,” has not had the last word on the subject. But we are getting away from the real point of the story, which is Goldman Sachs.

            How bad does the United States need campaign reform? Well, at the very same time Goldman Inc. was busy planting time bombs inside the global economy, they were also pumping millions of dollars into Barack Obama’s presidential campaign – to the tune of $994,795 – Obama’s biggest donor by far.

            Is that why Goldman got away with a $60 million dollar slap-on-the-wrist fine for practically destroying the global economy – and perhaps capitalism itself?

            Citizens United, but don’t get excited

            It is, at the very least, diabolically strange that the banks, security firms and corporations that crashed the global economy in 2008 were rescued by a 20-trillion dollar injection of cash courtesy of the American taxpayers. Heck, the bankers and executives didn’t even miss their Christmas bonus checks following the “worst financial crash since the Great Depression.”

            Meanwhile, Corporate America is reportedly sitting on $2 trillion dollars of hard cash reserves, while millions of Americans remain unemployed. But the story gets better. Not only were the criminals responsible for destroying globalization and capitalism as we knew it rewarded for their egregious activities, they have been handed unlimited power to influence the future of American politics.

            Banks like Goldman Sachs no longer need to worry about public scrutiny of their campaign-giving habits thanks to the passage of a recent court ruling, dearly entitled, Citizens United. Sounds like a love story starring Keira Knightley, right? Well, it’s not. Not by a long shot.

            Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission represents a devastating blow to American democracy by the US Supreme Court that prohibits the government from restricting political funding by corporations.

            One of the four dissenting justices out of nine, John Paul Stevens, said the ruling represents “a rejection of the common sense of the American people.”

            “The Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt,” Stevens wrote. “It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

            President Barack Obama condemned the decision during the 2010 State of the Union Address, stating that, "Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities."

            Yet, given the separation of powers set down by the US Constitution, there seems to be little hope that Obama, or any other future president, will be able to reverse this devastating decision that further increases corporate power’s grip on the political reigns.

            Clearly, the iron roots of this hardy political weed have burrowed deep into the foundation of the American edifice, threatening to topple the entire structure if given enough time. Meanwhile, US politicians are forced to pander to corporate interests if they wish to continue their careers.