Saturday, March 24, 2012

About the NDAA? Read this and tell us we have nothing to fear

March 23, 2012, Beaufort Observer

A recently published article about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) stirred up a ruckus, all the way to Sen. Richard Burr's office. Our contention was that several provisions in the NDAA are unconstitutional. We contended that the sections 1021, 1022 and 1031 provided for the indefinite detention of American citizens without benefit of a judicial hearing (Habeas corpus) and other constitutional rights.

Sen. Burr's office responded to a query from us about why he voted for the NDAA by saying that the sections did not apply to American citizens and would be applicable only to terrorists associated with Al Qaeda.

The problem we had with that position was that if it were true then those sections should have been pulled out of the omnibus appropriation authorizations bill and debated on their own merit. Attempts to clarify the wording that would have guaranteed what Sen. Burr's staff said were defeated.

In short we viewed, and still do, the NDAA as an extension of the most objectionable elements of the Patriot Act which was passed shortly after 9-11. We have watched the gradual expansion of the original intent of the Patriot Act and see the NDAA as a continuation of that erosion of our constitutional rights as Americans.

We've taken some flak from some who argue that terrorists do not deserve constitutional protections. We agree with that.

But the problem is defining what a terrorist is, in contrast with American citizens who are not involved in terrorist activities. The problem is the old "camel's nose under the tent" problem. Give them an inch and they'll take a mile. To be confident that "fighting terrorism" is not used as a subterfuge to violate American citizen's right requires us to trust that the terrorist fighters will not violate American's rights.

Now we have yet another example of why we don't trust our government to honor our constitution and the rights it guarantees all American citizens. last week published an article by Eileen Sullivan that described how the National Counterterrorism Center announced that it is changing its policy of storing information that it collects on law-abiding American citizens without search warrants.

So what's the big deal you may ask. It is the creeping expansion of government violation of our constitutional rights. Here's how.

The Fourth Amendment provides that the government must obtain a search warrant to eavesdrop on Americans. To get the search warrant the law enforcement official must get a search warrant from a judicial official, and to do that, they must show probable cause to believe the target has or is committing a crime.

But shortly after 9-11 the law was changed to allow the government to eaves drop on millions of Americans who have never done anything to cause anyone to believe they are engaged in terrorist activity. The compromise that was worked out was that the government would collect the information but if it then failed to find evidence that someone was engaged in a terrorist threat the information would be destroyed, typically within a matter of 90 days or so.

Now they have decided they will keep the information for up to five years.
What kind of information? Virtually all kinds of electronic communications, such as emails, phone conversations, phone records (incoming and outgoing phone call records, and the GPS location of your cell phone) and even what websites we visit as well as what we post on social networking sites such as Facebook.

Then we learned last week that many new TV sets will have cameras in them, much like webcams on PC, that will have the capability of transmitting what the camera sees back to some computer somewhere, with the video being capable of being intercepted in the network. And as we have previously published, the "smart meters" some electric companies are installing will create networks capable of being monitored by the government. And no doubt, more sophisticated, and thus more intrusive, gadgets are already in the pipeline that will allow us to be spied upon.

Trust the spies that they will never abuse these powers? Nope. Not going to happen with us. We would rather take our chances with the terrorists.

Big Oil’s Banner Year: Higher Prices, Record Profits, Less Oil

by Daniel J. Weiss, Jackie Weidman, Rebecca Leber
Think Progress on Feb 8, 2012

Top Five Oil Companies Made $1 Trillion in Profits from 2001 Through 2011


General economic theory holds that companies will produce more of a good if its price is higher, or if it receives subsidies. Funny that these rules didn’t seem to apply to Big Oil in 2011, when the highest oil price since 1864 and $2 billion in subsidies to the five largest oil companies—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell—yielded lower oil production than in 2010. But these five oil companies combined made a record-high $137 billion in profits in 2011up 75 percent from 2010—and have made more than $1 trillion in profits from 2001 through 2011.[1] This exceeds the previous record of $136 billion in profits in 2008.

Here are some more highlights from the big five’s activities in 2011:
  • They produced 4 percent less oil and “oil equivalent” in 2011 compared to 2010.
  • They spent a total of $38 billion, or 28 percent, of their profits to repurchase their own stock.
  • They are sitting on more than $58 billion in cash reserves as of the end of 2011.

Let’s dig a little deeper into this mystery to see why these companies are making more money while Americans see less oil and pay more at the pump.

Where the money goes

In spite of these high profits and oil prices, oil-equivalent production fell from 2010 levels for four of the big five oil companies. Shell’s profit, for example, increased by 54 percent from 2010 to 2011 while its oil and natural gas production decreased by 3 percent during the same time period.

So if the big five companies are not using their additional earnings to increase production, what are they spending their money on?

The answer: They’re buying shares of their own stocks and investing in politicians to maintain the policies that led to their enormous profits over the past decade.

Instead of heavily investing in job creation or production, the big five used $38 billion, or 28 percent of annual net income, to repurchase their own stocks. This practice enriches shareholders but it doesn’t add to oil supplies or investments in alternative fuels or other new technologies.

These companies also cling to tax breaks while maintaining $58 billion in cash reserves. This is nearly 30 times more than the estimated $2 billion in annual special tax breaks that these companies receive.

Tax breaks, but not more jobs

ExxonMobil, the most profitable of the big five, paid an effective tax rate of 17.6 percent (from 2008–2010 data), which is 3 percent less than what the average American family paid. But Exxon and other oil companies that receive these tax breaks do not pass benefits on to consumers. Instead, their board members, executives, and shareholders are the ones that profit.

These companies, along with the American Petroleum Institute—their political arm—fight relentlessly to keep their tax breaks intact by threatening economic and energy damage. API claims that eliminating tax loopholes for the oil and gas industry would “lose jobs … and energy production.” Yet higher oil prices and profits, combined with huge reserves and tax breaks, yielded lower, not higher, employment and oil production.

Last year, the Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee released Profits and Pink Slips: How Big Oil and Gas Companies are Not Creating U.S. Jobs or Paying Their Fair Share.

This report revealed:

Despite generating $546 billion in profits between 2005 and 2010, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP combined to reduce their U.S. workforce by 11,200 employees over that time.

Nor are many of these net revenues used for oil production. The report found that “among the Big 5 oil companies, less than 10 percent of profits are reinvested into exploration of new oil deposits.”

The report also concluded that:

The oil and gas industry is a mature and highly profitable sector that is no longer in need of generous tax breaks or royalty free drilling. The $43.6 billion in tax subsidies that the industry is set to receive over the next decade will not help consumers with rising energy costs.

One place where oil companies have no trouble spending money, however, is in Congress. Last year the big five spent $65.7 million on lobbying efforts, successfully persuading their congressional friends to retain tax breaks. Both the House and Senate had votes to scale back these tax breaks, and both proposals were defeated.[2]

And Big Oil’s lobbying expenditures were quite a bargain. For every $1 the big five spent on lobbying in D.C. last year, they effectively received $30 in subsidies disguised as tax breaks. This is equivalent to a 3,000 percent return on every dollar they invested in strong-arming Congress.

More than $1.6 million was spent on campaign contributions in 2011 from just four of the top five oil companies. And more than 90 percent of these campaign contributions were made to Republican candidates or committees. But that doesn’t even include their undisclosed contributions to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, or other organizations that also support tax breaks for Big Oil.

In the spirit of giving, three of the five Big Oil CEOs—Rex Tillerson of ExxonMobil, John Watson of Chevron, and Jim Mulva of ConocoPhillips—contributed an additional $75,000 to GOP candidates and committees.

Enough is enough

Two days after his State of the Union address last month, President Obama spoke in Aurora, Colorado, about American-made energy. He reiterated his call to eliminate tax breaks for Big Oil:
We subsidized oil for a very long time, long enough. It’s time to stop giving taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s never been more profitable.
Seventy-four percent of Americans agree with the president’s desire to eliminate tax breaks for the oil and gas industry.

Instead of benefiting oil companies that reward senior executives, board members, and stockholders, these taxpayer funds should be invested in projects that benefit all Americans. A University of Massachusetts study found that investment in clean energy creates anywhere from two to four times more direct and indirect jobs compared to the same investment in oil and gas production.

But let’s put these tax breaks in context. Ending the $2 billion in annual tax breaks for the big five oil companies could pay for:

Last September while addressing economic growth and deficit reduction, President Obama noted that as we cut federal program funding to reduce the budget deficit, “Either we gut education and medical research, or we’ve got to reform the tax code so that the most profitable corporations have to give up tax loopholes that other companies don’t get. We can’t afford to do both.”

After a year of near-record profits and a decade of more than $1 trillion in total profits, the least the five huge oil companies can do to help our nation is to relinquish their unnecessary and ineffective tax breaks.

[1] In 2010 BP suffered a net loss of $4 billion due to its huge expenditures related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. If BP is excluded from profit calculations in 2010 and 2011, the four remaining companies had a 36 percent increase in profit.
[2] On March 1, 2011, the House voted 249-176 to defeat a “Motion to Recommit [that] would repeal oil and tax production tax breaks for major integrated oil companies.” On May 17 the Senate voted 52-48 on a motion to proceed to the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, S. 940. Sixty votes were required to end debate and proceed to the bill, so it failed.

Privatization Threatens Open Government

Saturday, 24 March 2012 | By Donald Cohen, In the Public Interest 

On July 4, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) into law, establishing the public's right to access to government information. Surprisingly, Republican Congressman Donald Rumsfeld helped deliver Republican votes to pass the groundbreaking law.

Since then, state governments followed suit and began passing open government laws across the country to ensure the public would have "sunshine" and access to information about the way public services and tax dollars are managed.

But the laws are out of date and need an overhaul. The explosion in the use of government contractors at every level of government -- from local trash services to security contractors in Iraq - has exposed weaknesses in sunshine and open record laws.

In some cases, conservative governors are even trying to weaken existing transparency requirements to make it easier to privatize. Florida Governor Rick Scott's failed proposal to privatize prisons in eighteen counties included a provision to eliminate the requirement for a cost-benefit analysis before moving ahead with the deal. Coincidentally, Florida-based GEO Corporation, one of the largest private prison companies, is a major contributor to GOP campaigns in the state.

Under existing law, private contractors in states throughout the country are evading oversight by exploiting loopholes in transparency protections. Most existing state laws don't pierce the corporate veil and now policy makers, journalists and advocates no longer have access to basic financial, performance and workforce information that is essential to government accountability.

For example:

In South Carolina, the Jenkinsville Water Company, a private utility, refused to comply with requests for information after they had failed to pay state employee payroll taxes, lost millions of gallons of water, and could not account for tens of thousands of dollars.

In Oklahoma, a private emergency service contractor, Paramedics Plus, refused to disclose the driving records of ambulance drivers after one who had caused a fatal car accident was found to havebeen convicted of criminal driving charges.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was "unable to locate or identify any responsive records" about personnel at an immigration detention facility operated by Cornell Corrections after allegations of misconduct surfaced.

In all these cases, current open records laws would have produced the information if government agencies had been providing the services or operating the facilities.

A few states are leading the way. Connecticut law now require large contracts to be covered by the state's freedom of information act. Minnesota requires contractors to makes public any government data that the contractor"creates, collects, receives, stores, uses, maintains, or disseminates."

Most states have not yet followed their lead. In an era of government by contract, federal, state and local governments should strengthen existing open records laws to expand the reach to government contractors.At a minimum,a complete list of contracts and contractors should be online. Handing over control of public services to private contractors shouldn't mean giving up the public's right to know.

For more information on the effects of government contracting and privatization on our access to public information, check out our new report "Floodlights Instead of Flashlights: Sunshine Laws Out of Step with Government Contracting Leaves Public and Lawmakers in the Dark".

Why Most People May Not Wake Up

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Corporate Mainstream Media Nutshelled for You!

The Neoliberal Hoax

Neoliberalism is the most powerful force in economic history; like a black hole in deep outer space, it consumes everything.

The great prophets of neoliberal economic policies like Milton Friedman claim economic freedom is a necessary condition for political freedom, but world events are not cooperating. In fact, neoliberalism may be a better door opener for totalitarian impulses than for democratic spirits.

As a matter of fact, it appears neoliberalism is a breeding ground for totalitarian tendencies, not free will and democracy. Nevertheless, the world community has embraced neoliberalism with gusto. There are examples, like Hong Kong (one of Friedman’s favorites), where economic behavior has proven quite extraordinary, especially for the top 10%-20%, but a United Nations Development Report ranks Hong Kong number one amongst the world’s most developed economies for income inequality, which continues to widen and grow. HK is ruled with an iron fist by a Chief Executive (Sir Donald Tsang), who is not popularly elected… not exactly Friedman’s formula for economic freedom opening the door to political freedom.

Neoliberalism’s ascendancy, according to The Crisis of Neoliberalism(Harvard University Press, 2011) by Dumenil Gerard, as a new stage of capitalism since the 1970s expresses the strategy of the capitalist classes in alliance with financial managers to establish their hegemony and expand it globally. In this regard, Dumenil goes on to state: This strategy has been successful based upon the income and wealth of a privileged minority gaining political dominance. Again, not exactly what Freidman had in mind… or did he?

With the advent of instantaneous global communications and universal acceptance, neoliberalism blazes thru the global economy like omnipotent robots programmed to seek out profits.  Meanwhile, obsequious humans are conceptually baffled within pre-conceived notions of political-socio-economic democratic nation-states. In truth, the modern democratic nation-state is passĂ©, out of touch.

Meanwhile, the invisible hand of the free market is in the vanguard prompted by neoliberal guidance to gain profits at any costs cascading over individual human rights and collectivist politics, resulting in an ever-tighter concentration of wealth and political power. How else account for a U.S. presidential election requiring hundreds of millions of dollars? The very fact that candidates spend hundreds of millions seeking public office is clear evidence that democracy is a failed institution. Nothing more need be stated… end of story.

There is no better example of neoliberalism’s abject failure to bring in its wake political renaissance than China because, based upon the economic determinist viewpoint, the consequences of economics are supposed to dictate politics and life’s patterns, fostering the predominate view among U.S. economists that China’s economic liberalism will lead to meaningful reform, i.e., ‘political openness’. However, economic liberalism has not sprung forth with any semblance of ‘political openness’ in China! In fact, an implacable Standing Committee of Nine, same as always, dictates the country’s politics and dissent is squashed like ripened tomatoes on a busy freeway.

Similar to 17th century Mercantilism whereby success is judged by exports exceeding imports, advancing commercial interests, China’s State Capitalism focuses on pure economic consequences. Thus, commercial interests are advanced to the level of national political policy, a dehumanizing factor in society as participants statistically react to events predetermining the individual’s role/slot in society, e.g., peasants fresh off the farm receiving $1.50/hr. for assembly-line work and living in tiny caged dormers. There is no economic liberalism at work to change politics. It is D.O.A. Rather, China is a prime example of how neoliberalism obliterates any hope for political renaissance.

According to Xibai Xu, Neoliberalism and Governance in China (Oxford, 2011), regarding the effects of neoliberalism: “…contrary to the expectation of many Western observers, economic liberalization has not led to political liberalization or democratization. Instead, it has transformed China into a highly unequal and divided society in which power and wealth are monopolized by a small elite class of party cadres and associates, while a large number of peasants and workers are deprived of land, employment, welfare and rights.”

Xu’s statement serves to reinforce the viewpoint that neoliberalism’s greatest proponents were incorrect, e.g., Friedrich von Hayek, arguing that economic freedom had to be wrested from control by government or suffer totalitarian rule, and Milton Freidman’s advocacy that economic freedom is a prerequisite to political freedom. China’s experience proves otherwise, and it is common knowledge in America that neoliberalist’s tendencies have served to concentrate wealth and power more so than at any time since the 19th century’s Gilded Age, a term coined by Mark Twain.  And, now personal freedoms are under attack in America as neoliberal groupthink impacts political policy.

The evidence of the influence of wealth in politics is replete within America’s tax code, dramatically favoring capitalists over governmental requirements, which is a major tenet of neoliberalism. The proof of this distortion is found in federal tax receipts as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at 50-year lows because the proponents of neoliberalism have worked the system to ‘starve the beast’ by lowering taxes on those who can afford it at the expense of the many whom all-together shoulder the burden of the resultant national debt. Today’s federal tax receipts vis a vis a similar level, pre-Bush tax cuts, amounts to a shortfall of ¾ of a trillion dollars, enough to cover more than half the annual deficit, and if U.S. citizen’s offshore income/profits were taxed, the deficit would be nearly balanced, back to the days of President Clinton, who raised taxes in ‘93 and sported a surplus because of economic growth.

The nation-state is subjugated to imperceptible profit-sourcing neoliberal forces that are extraordinarily rational in pursuit of profit/wealth whereas the masses are totally subservient, in turn, fostering fatuous, doltish citizenry obedient to the pursuit of profit for the sake of profit, similar to a religious experience. Note: The American public’s helpless acquiescence to challenges to their constitutional individual rights as well as lop-sided taxation policies that enrich the wealthy but penalize all taxpayers with a concomitant widening societal divide between the rich and everybody else. As an example, Mitt Romney pays a 13.9% tax rate on tens of millions while average Americans pay over 20% on tens of thousands whilst Mitt receives millions of votes from the ‘everybody elses’.

The neoliberal fixation on profits as a glorified path to success is, in fact, dictated by neoliberalism’s instincts, which embodies the free movement of goods, resources and enterprises to find cheaper resources, i.e. labor, to maximize profits worldwide. In turn, the mindsets of the participants are warped into insane worshiping over profits/wealth/capital at all costs, or as explained by Doh Jung-il, emeritus professor, Kyung Hee University and author of Market Totalitarianism and Barbarism of Civilization: “When the educational systems nurtures human ‘machines’ to just make money… culture is governed by market-favorable by-products and there is no soul-searching, the totalitarian capitalism destroys us… the globe is suffering from a direct result of the totalitarian capitalism that is relentlessly tramping down on human thought and values.”

Unbeknownst to Doh Jung-il, he keeps strange bedfellows right here in the USofA. Senators Mark Udall (D. Colorado) and Ron Wyden (D. Oregon) of the U. S. Senate Intelligence Committee have expressed outrage over America’s flirtation with totalitarian behavior, addressing a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking him to address the issue: “We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act….” referencing the latitude the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, grants the government to investigate people. For two U.S. senators to suggest Americans would be “stunned” is very strong language in the world of politics-speak (what secrets do the senators know?)

And… more poignantly yet, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which negates the writ of habeas corpus, a powerful cornerstone of civil rights since the Magna Carta in 1215. Who dreams this stuff up?
According to David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford University Press, 2005): 
Neoliberalism values market exchange as “an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide to all human action, and substituting for all previously held ethical beliefs.” He further states, “Neoliberalism has meant, in short, the financialization of everything.” It is a power shift away from production to the world of finance, and the effect in many parts of the world has increasingly been to see it as necessary, even wholly natural, a way for the social order to be regulated.

Furthermore, according to Harvey, in the event of conflict, neoliberal states favor the integrity of the financial system and solvency of the financial network over the well being of the population and over the integrity of the environment, contrary to the best interests of its citizens (written by Harvey in 2005.) Witness: The U.S.’s massive bailout of the banks in 2008-09 at taxpayer expense. Plus, the right wing sponsored war against the reality of global warming, putting the planet’s health at risk of total breakdown… all for a buck!

Harvey disputes the tendency of the competitive advantages, a significant positive element of neoliberalism, which all too often proves ephemeral, introducing extraordinary volatility into global capitalism. Witness: The extreme volatile behavior of the capital markets these past years, upsetting a balanced approach to capital investment, begging the question: Does neoliberalism really work in anybody’s best interests?

Harvey concludes: “The first lesson we must learn, therefore, is that if it looks like class struggle and acts like class war then we have to name it unashamedly for what it is.” And… according to Warren Buffet (qtd. In Woodward 2004): “If there is a class war in America, my side is winning.”

Neoliberalism is a great disruptive force that dominates policy, politics, and culture to the detriment of the masses but to the advantage of the select few, unwittingly, maybe not, enabling concentration of wealth and power to breed totalitarian nation-states. This seemingly natural progression of neoliberalism’s political and economic influence results in an increase of concentration of fewer people celebrating at the same parties, diminishing societal, political, and cultural values to something comparable to driblet performances at Disneyland.

California Moves Towards Overturning Citizens United

Friday, March 23, 2012 by Common Dreams
Move "helps re-establish the principle that democracy means ruled by the people, not giant corporations.”

The California state Assembly endorsed yesterday a constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United. 

The amendment, which passed by a 48-22 vote, calls on Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that allows unlimited corporate political spending.

“This is a major victory,” said Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause. “Californians are saying that corporations aren’t people and they shouldn’t be permitted to use their tremendous economic power to take charge of our elections. Congress should listen – and act on – the message.”

Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said, “Thank you, California, for helping lead the charge to re-establish the principle that democracy means ruled by the people, not giant corporations.”

* * *
San Francisco Chronicle: State lawmakers want repeal of ruling boosting corporate spending
As big money pours into the November election campaign, the California Assembly voted Thursday to ask Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court ruling that opened the door to unlimited corporate political spending.
By a 48-22 vote along party lines, the Assembly endorsed a constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United, the 5-4 ruling in January 2010 that declared corporations and labor unions had a First Amendment right to give money to independent committees supporting political candidates.
The Constitution, the resolution declared, “was designed to protect the free-speech rights of people, not corporations.” The floor sponsors of AJR22 were Democrats Bob Wieckowski of Fremont and Michael Allen of Santa Rosa.
* * *
Common Cause: California State Assembly endorses amendment to overturn Citizens United
Golden State jumps into national drive to reform campaign finance
Sacramento, CA – The California State Assembly jumped into the national campaign finance debate today, overwhelmingly approving a resolution that calls on Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment permitting limits on corporate political spending.
The 48-22 vote in favor of Assembly Joint Resolution 22, sponsored by Assembly Members Bob Wieckowski and Michael Allen, puts the Golden State at the forefront of a national effort to undo the damage done by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. A vote in the state Senate is expected within a few weeks.
Common Cause has launched a national campaign, Amend 2012, to secure the passage of similar resolutions across the country and to help voters voice their sentiments on an amendment through ballot initiatives and referenda.
“This is a major victory,” said Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause. “Californians are saying that corporations aren’t people and they shouldn’t be permitted to use their tremendous economic power to take charge of our elections. Congress should listen – and act on – the message.”
The Citizens United decision has fed the growth of “super PACs,” fundraising operations that are collecting millions of dollars – mostly from wealthy corporations and individuals – to finance advertising campaigns promoting or opposing various candidates. The groups are required by law to operate independent of political parties and candidates, but several are run by veteran Republican and Democratic operatives and appear to be closely tied to partisan leaders. This new and unregulated flow of campaign funds has led to one of the most negative campaign seasons in modern history.
* * *
Public Citizen: Way to Go, California! Assembly Passes Resolution Calling for Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United
California is well in stride to be the third state to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in an attempt to influence elections. The California Assembly passed a resolution today – by a 48-22 vote – calling for an amendment, sending the measure to the California Senate.
Introduced Jan. 5 by Assemblymembers Bob Wieckowski and Michael Allen, the resolution calls for an amendment that would prevent corporations from being granted the same rights as individuals and would create fair elections, in which Congress could regulate all forms of campaign spending.
“The Citizens United decision tilts the scales of campaign funding toward those who support wealthy special interests rather than working Americans,” Wieckowski said. “This resolution is designed to send a grassroots message to Washington about the urgent need to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling and restore fair elections to the people.”
Added Jonah Minkoff-Zern, senior organizer with Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign, “California is poised to take this momentous step in calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and return fair elections and constitutional rights to the people. It is because of the work of dedicated activists throughout the state that California’s elected officials are joining them in taking a stand to say that democracy is for people, not for corporations.”
California’s in good company. Hawaii led the charge in calling for a constitutional amendment, followed by New Mexico on Feb. 11. And while Maryland does not consider such resolutions, a majority of the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates have signed onto a letter calling for an amendment.
Public Citizen has helped lead the introduction of similar resolutions in Massachusetts, Vermont and Maryland, and has supported the efforts of local activists and lawmakers who have introduced similar resolutions in Alaska, Iowa, Kansas and New York. In total, resolutions have been introduced or passed in 16 states. Public Citizen is leading a coordinated effort to pass hundreds of similar resolutions at the local level the week of June 11.  More information about this effort – and a map of resolutions introduced and passed – can be found at
“Every day brings more evidence of how Citizens United is making a mockery of our democracy,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Thank you, California, for helping lead the charge to re-establish the principle that democracy means ruled by the people, not giant corporations.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What Veterans? The Republican Budget Proposes to Cut $11 Billion in Veterans Programs

03.21.12 - Common Dreams
by Abby Zimet

This week, which marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, let us note one of many crimes committed by the recently released GOP budget written by Rep. Paul Ryan: In the nearly 100-page document, the word "veteran" does not appear. But veterans are there: They face $11 billion in cuts.
"For those of us who served, in many ways, yesterday is today. And today, we read that the GOP doesn't even talk about veterans in their budget."

Voters Have Two Candidates, No Choice

Thursday, March 22, 2012 by TruthDig
by Robert Scheer

With Mitt Romney’s super-PAC limo now on cruise control to victory at the GOP convention, voters are left with only two reasons to vote against Barack Obama: Either they are desperate to return a white man to the White House or they feel strongly that it is time to break the glass ceiling denying Mormons the presidency.

Out of a sense of tolerance I could cotton to the latter—heck, why should the bizarre beliefs of Romney’s church be a deal breaker? I’m hoping for a strong Jewish contender someday and wouldn’t like her burdened with defending Old Testament claptrap.

The problem in this mind-numbing Republican primary season is that the campaign has exposed Romney as not just another white male Mormon like some of the fairly reasonable senators who have represented Utah. Or like Romney’s own father, George, at one time the governor of Michigan. No, this Romney is now widely regarded as the vulture capitalist he is, a politician who is a say-and-do-anything opportunist with no moral limits on his outsized ambitions.

Nothing is sacred to the former Massachusetts governor, not even his own signature health plan that he sold to that state’s voters as the standard for rational government decision-making as regards the deep problems faced by our economy. The weaknesses of what Romney and the GOP deride as Obamacare have been all too obvious in the plan Romney touted in Massachusetts—a mandate to sign up without the cost restraints that a single-payer government program would offer. Now, with a new national plan from Rep. Paul Ryan emerging from the U.S. House, Romney and the Republican Party generally seek to compound that error by undermining Medicare and Medicaid, two programs that offer at least a modicum of cost control. Instead, the candidate and his fellow Republicans would turn consumers over completely to the tender mercies of for-profit insurers.

The justification for gutting what little remains of enlightened government programs to aid the vulnerable is, of course, the dreaded federal deficit. (Lest we forget, seniors were foremost among the vulnerable until the arrival of the programs now under attack.) What is so outrageously hypocritical about the proposals from both Romney and Ryan is that they do not touch, and indeed would further open, the spending spigot that caused all of the red ink following President Bill Clinton’s budget-balancing act.

Both Romney and Ryan want to increase President George W. Bush’s tax breaks for the wealthy, which seriously cut revenues while treating as sacrosanct the Cold War levels in military spending that Bush put in place in a wildly irrational response to the 9/11 attacks. This week Ryan announced that defense spending is off-limits, and Romney has campaigned for an increase in what represents more than 40 percent of the non-mandated federal budget.

I can’t wait for the moment in a presidential debate when Romney talks about the need for even more advanced U.S. weaponry to counter the emerging military threat from Communist China and Obama ever so coolly points out that Bain Capital, the company that Romney co-founded, has been supplying those Red tyrants with surveillance equipment to better monitor their citizenry.

With Ron Paul’s fortunes as a presidential candidate declining, there is no pressure on GOP leaders to link a withdrawal from the imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan with a reduced federal handout to the corporate military-industrial complex. Nor will the Republican leadership confront the party’s responsibility for the nation’s economic collapse, the subsequent loss in tax revenues, and the Fed and Treasury policies that bailed out the Wall Street charlatans who invented this meltdown.

Instead of reigning in Wall Street greed, the GOP is demanding a reversal of even the tepid efforts of the Obama administration to hold the financial industry accountable to honest business practices. And, at a time when the largest multinational companies have shifted jobs and profits abroad, the GOP stands for rewarding that betrayal of American workers by eliminating all taxes on overseas corporate profits.

The pity in all this is that a legitimate critique of the Obama recordpresent to some degree in the Ron Paul dissection of the president’s war policy and his continuation of the Bush Wall Street bailout strategy—will not be heard in the general election debate. Instead, on the one hand, we will have Obama offering clever-sounding arguments for establishment policies that fail to deal with high unemployment, a brutal level of housing foreclosures and sharpening income inequality. And on the other hand there will be a Republican Party so steeped in the ethos of greed, racism and war-mongering that it would leave even Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, were they alive, with no choice but to vote for Obama as the lesser evil.

US Intelligence Report: Expect Water Wars Soon (2 articles)

Thursday, March 22, 2012 by Common Dreams
Report sees biotechnology, agricultural exports and virtual water trade as the way forward

A report released today on global water security from the Defense Intelligence Agency assesses that in next 10 years, water instability will be likely in "nations important to the United States", and says that in the next decades, the use of water as a weapon will be more become more likely.

The report, which focused on the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Mekong, Jordan, Indus, Brahmaputra, and Amu Darya water basins, states that the availability of potable water will not keep up with demand without better water management.

While environmentalists have pointed to agroecology, food sovereignty and viewing water as part of the commons as a path towards responsible water management, the intelligence report sees biotechnology, agricultural exports and virtual water trade as the way forward.

Today, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who requested the report, commented on the report in a speech at the State Department, saying, "As the world's population continues to grow, demand for water will go up but our fresh water supplies will not keep pace." "These difficulties will all increase the risk of instability within and between states," she said.

* * *

The report: Global Water Security:
  • We assess that during the next 10 years, water problems will contribute to instability in states important to US national security interests. Water shortages, poor water quality, and floods by themselves are unlikely to result in state failure. However, water problems— when combined with poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions— contribute to social disruptions that can result in state failure.
  • We assess that a water-related state-on-state conflict is unlikely during the next 10 years. Historically, water tensions have led to more water-sharing agreements than violent conflicts. However, we judge that as water shortages become more acute beyond the next 10 years, water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage; the use of water as a weapon or to further terrorist objectives also will become more likely beyond 10 years.

* * *

The report notes that agriculture is responsible for approximately 70 percent of the global fresh water supply, and implies the need for geneticically modifed crops to deal with the decreasing water supply. (that's a stinking pile of bullshit!--jef)
From the report:
  • Research to develop drought resistance in crops has been conducted for several decades, but no commercialization exists to date. During the next three decades, selected crops could be developed that require half the water used by current crops, but widespread cultivation of such crops is problematic.
  • Limited experiments are being conducted to develop food plants that can tolerate salt or waste water. The advances in biotechnology may result in new plants or genetically altered strains that can grow in salt water from the ocean or large saltwater aquifers.

* * *

It also touts virtual water trade as one of "the best solutions for water problems" and says that the U.S. will lead in the export of virtual water:
The United States is also one of the highest exporters of “virtual water” (water consumed in the manufacturing or growing of an export product), providing numerous opportunities for engagement with the rest of the world.
The reports sees other countries' water scarcity as a boon for U.S. exports:
The United States can benefit from an increased demand for agricultural exports as water scarcity increases in various parts of the world. This would be especially true if states expecting increased water scarcity rely upon open markets instead of seeking bilateral land-lease arrangements in other countries to achieve their food security.

* * *

Today, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who requested the report, commented on the report in a speech at the State Department.
"I think it's fair to say the intelligence community's findings are sobering." 
"As the world's population continues to grow, demand for water will go up but our fresh water supplies will not keep pace." 
"These difficulties will all increase the risk of instability within and between states," she said. 
"Within states they could cause some states to fail outright. And between and among states, you could see regional conflicts among states that share water basins be exacerbated and even lead to violence."

Thursday, March 22, 2012 by (Pakistan)
No Water, No Food
by Rizwana Naqvi

Water is a basic necessity of life, yet it remains inaccessible for a large part of the world’s population. At present, almost one fifth of the global population (about 1.2 billion people) live in areas which are water scarce and a quarter live in developing countries that face water shortages. Globally the situation is getting worse due to the increase in population and the need for more water for agriculture, industry and household use to meet the needs of the increasing population. With the existing climate change scenario, it is predicted that almost half of the world population will be living in water stressed areas by 2030.

It needs to be understood that freshwater resources are limited and are fast depleting due to irresponsible use. As a means of focussing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources, the United Nations General Assembly designated March 22 to be observed as World Water Day in 1993.

Each year, the World Water Day highlights a specific theme and this year’s theme is Water and Food Security. The theme is very relevant as there are growing indications for both water and food scarcity in the years to come.

To feed the burgeoning world population, an increased food growth is required. Almost one billion people live in chronic hunger and with the depleting water resources, food production is likely to suffer.

All the food from crop and livestock, fisheries and forest products requires water…a lot of water. Just imagine: it takes about 1,500 litres of water to produce one kilogram of wheat and 10 times more to produce beef. It may come as a surprise for many but the fact is that when combined all the water required for raising a cow (its feed too needs water to grow), slaughtering and processing meat it the water content for beef becomes this high. Even fisheries and aquaculture require a certain quantity and quality of water in rivers, lakes and estuaries and are therefore important water users.

The biggest share of water use is in agriculture. In fact, about 70 per cent of all water usage is in agriculture. But world’s water supply is being impacted by climate change because of changed rainfall patterns, greater droughts, melting glaciers and altered river flows; this will drastically affect agriculture, including feed and fodder for livestock. Erratic rainfall and seasonal differences in water availability can cause temporary food shortages, while floods and droughts can cause intensive food emergencies. Lack of water can be a major cause of famine and result in under-nourishment, as it limits farmers’ ability to produce enough food to eat or earn a living.

With population increase, economic growth and urbanisation, the demand for water in cities and industries is also growing at a fast rate. Attempts to meet this growing demand put pressure on both the current availability and further expansion of the irrigated area. This is besides the water required for non-food crops such as bio-fuels and fodder for livestock.

This increased competition for water further impacts the poor and vulnerable groups. Millions of small farmers, fishers and herders depend on water as one of the most important factors of production — without water they cannot make a living.

With climate change affecting water availability, there is an urgent need to find ways and means to conserve water; it also calls for better water management in agriculture. Techniques must be developed to improve water usage in the fields, so that more crop is produced using less water or crop yield per unit of water is more. This can be achieved by better control and application of irrigation water, as well as combination of rain and irrigation water wherever possible. These, combined with good agricultural practices, will ensure highest possible productivity.

Along with measures to maximise food production, dietary habits must be changed and the consumption of water-intensive food must be lessened. For example, a more vegetarian diet can be helpful as producing meat needs more water. Moreover, emphasis should be on cultivating less water intensive crops so more food is produced with less water.

Treated waste water, drainage water and desalinated water can be used for agriculture, especially in arid and semi-arid areas, after making sure that no toxic substances are present in the water. Similarly, recirculation of water in aquaculture can reduce the use of water to a great extent.

It is important to reduce food wastage. Roughly about 30 per cent (1.3billion tons) of the food produced worldwide is never eaten. It is either wasted somewhere between farmers’ field and markets due to poor storage or during transportation or ends up in garbage dumps by consumers who are not aware or do not care how important it is for the starving millions. It is not only the food that is wasted but the water used to produce it is also lost.

Conservation of water is vital as not only its resources are dwindling, but food security also depends on it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mysterious ‘zombie’ disease afflicts thousands of Ugandan children

By David Ferguson - RAW Story
Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Agnes Apio has to tie up her son Francis before she can leave the house. In his state, he is a danger to himself. Where once he walked and talked like a normal child, now he is only able to drag himself along in the dirt. Francis is suffering from “Nodding Disease,” a brain disorder that,according to CNN, afflicts at least 3,000 children in northern Uganda, leaving them physically stunted and severely mentally disabled.

“I feel dark in my heart,” Apio says as waves flies away from her son’s face and mops up his urine after a seizure, “This boy has become nothing.”

“Reportedly the children gnaw at their fabric restraints, like a rabid animals,” says The Daily Tech. The article calls them “zombie children,” having “no cure” and “no future.”

First the victims become restless, can’t concentrate. They say they have trouble thinking. Then comes the nodding, an uncontrollable dipping of the head that presages the disease’s debilitating epilepsy-like seizures. It is this nodding motion that gives the illness its name.

Nodding Disease first attacks the nervous system, then the brain. As the epilepsy-like seizures progress and worsen, the children become less and less like themselves, and more and more distant and blank. Eventually the brain stops developing and the victims’ bodies stop growing. So far, no patients have recovered.
Grace Lagat also has to tie up her children in order to leave the house. Daughter Pauline, 13, and son Thomas are bound hand and foot to keep them from shuffling away and getting lost. Pauline recently disappeared for five days.

Experts are baffled as to what causes the disease, which only occurs in children. Early findings suggest a confluence of the presence of the black fly-borne parasitic worm Onchocerca Volvulus, which causes river blindness, and acute vitamin B6 deficiency.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, onset usually takes place at the age of five or six and progresses rapidly, leaving the victims severely mentally and physically handicapped within a couple of years.

Victims can wander off and disappear. Some 200 “secondary deaths” have been blamed on fires and accidents caused by children with the disease.

Physicians and workers with the Ugandan Red Cross are frustrated by what they see as a lack of urgency in the government’s handling of the disease. After months of lagging, officials have only begun an official tally of cases within the last two weeks.

The situation was already dire when a team from the World Health Organization visited northern Uganda in 2009. CNN quotes one doctor from the team, Dr. Joaquin Saweka as saying, “It was quite desperate, I can tell you. Imagine being surrounded by 26 children and 12 of them showing signs of this. The attitude was to quickly find a solution to the problem.”

Solutions, however, have been slow in coming.

Doctors have been treating the seizures caused by the disease with epilepsy drugs, but their efficacy is limited. The drugs only slow the progression of the disease, but fail to stop it.

Currently, Ugandan government officials say that they are doing everything they can to fight the epidemic. They say that new epilepsy drugs are being tried and special training has been instituted for local health officials. This, they say, is as much as can be done for a disease whose cause and cure are largely unknown.

Saweka said, “When you know the root cause, you address the cure. Now you are just relieving the symptoms. We don’t expect to cure anybody.”

Watch a CDC video about Nodding Disease, embedded via YouTube, below:

Fact: US Drilling Doesn't Lower Gas Prices

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 by SwitchBoard / NRDC Blog
by Luke Tonachel

The ‘drill, baby, drill’ approach to energy won’t ease your pain at the pump according to an analysis by the Associated Press. In an article running in papers across the country, AP puts it simply: “…more U.S. drilling has not changed how deeply the gas pump drills into your wallet, math and history show.”

The AP’s findings are not surprising. Gasoline prices are subject to the global oil market that U.S. producers cannot control. Changes in the price at the pump do not follow U.S. oil supply trends.

The AP compared inflation-adjusted gas prices to U.S. oil production from 1976 to the present and found no correlation between them. If they were connected one would expect a consistent trend where gas prices eased as production from drilling increased. But AP’s statistical analysis did not bear this out. Multiple statisticians and economists consulted by AP for verification of their analysis also agreed with the findings.

In a recent speech, Senator Jeff Bingamin also pointed out the lack of a relationship between U.S. oil production and gas prices using the chart below.

Senator Bingamin: “Here, the red line is the change in domestic production, year over year. The blue line is gasoline prices. And what’s striking about this chart is the lack of relationship between the two lines. Even with U.S. production increasing as it was at some points, oil prices were also increasing, and gas prices were also increasing.”

Many pundits choose to ignore the facts and play a gas price blame game that focuses on drilling everywhere and expanding polluting tar sands from Canada. These wrong-headed prescriptions only serve to confuse an already frustrated public. The only guaranteed way to lower consumers’ fuel bills is to provide ways to use less gasoline.

We have clean energy strategies that can move us beyond oil and loosen oil's grip on our economy. Using known and cost-effective technologies and measures we can provide more choices of fuel-efficient vehicles, cleaner and cheaper non-petroleum fuels and alternatives to driving alone. Recent improvements in federal automobile standards are already bolstering arise in the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks.

Recently proposed auto standards to reach the equivalent of 54.5 mpg by 2025 will save the average driver $4,400 over the life of their vehicle due to fewer trips to the gas pump.

Improved fuel efficiency and other clean energy solutions are what policymakers should be supporting. The facts don’t support more U.S. drilling as a solution to high gas prices. It’s good to see AP set the story straight. The public needs the facts and clean energy solutions. As history shows, we’ve drilled and drilled and it doesn’t help your wallet.

Obama Set to Speed Up Approval of Tar Sands Pipeline

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 by Common Dreams
Cushing, Oklahoma, to Port Arthur, Texas, section likely to be quickly approved

Although President Obama denied a permit for the main Keystone XL pipeline from Canada's tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico in January, it is expected that he will announce on Thursday on a visit to Cushing, Oklahoma, a plan to speed up the permit for the southern section of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sands crude from Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas.

Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity said today, “Keystone XL may be a boon to Big Oil companies in the exporting business but those profits will come at a stiff price for our land, water, wildlife and climate.” “Building Keystone XL in pieces doesn’t make it any less dangerous.”

* * *

CNN: Obama to fast track southern half of Keystone XL Pipeline
President Barack Obama plans to announce in Cushing, Oklahoma Thursday that his administration will expedite the permit for the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline, a source familiar with the president's announcement tells CNN.

* * *

The Texas Tribune: Obama to talk about Keystone XL pipeline in Oklahoma this week
A White House official confirmed Tuesday that the president on Thursday will "reiterate his administration's commitment to expediting the construction of a pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf of Mexico, relieving a bottleneck of oil and bringing domestic resources to market."

* * *

Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian/UK:
On two-day energy tour, US president is expected to hasten building of southern section of tar sands line out of Canada
Barack Obama is expected to speed up approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on Thursday after taking to the road with what the White House is billing as an "all of the above" energy tour. 
Obama's planned visit to the oil hub of Cushing, Oklahoma, on day two of the energy tour has raised expectations he will speed up approval of the southern US-only segment of the pipeline, running from the town to Port Arthur, Texas. 
The approval, which would infuriate environmental groups, could allow construction on that portion to begin before November's presidential elections instead of next year. 
Obama's tour starts with a visit to the country's biggest operating solar farm in Boulder City, Nevada. The White House said in a statement: "The president will highlight his administration's focus on diversifying our energy portfolio, including expanding renewable energy from sources like wind and solar, which thanks in part to investments made by this administration is set to double in the president's first term." 
But the visit seemed a detour on a trip apparently solidly focused on fossil fuels and the price of gas at the pump. 
Obama has been under nonstop attack from Republicans for rising petrol prices, which now stand at well over $4 (£2.50) for a US gallon in some parts of the country, and for his decision in January to halt the pipeline because of a section running through an ecologically sensitive part of Nebraska. 
On the campaign trail, Newt Gingrich has said he would cut gas prices to $2.50 if he is elected president, and Mitt Romney has taken to demanding Obama sack his energy secretary, Steven Chu, the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, and his Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Lisa Jackson. Gingrich calls the three the "gas hike trio"
But Obama's forthcoming speech at a pipe yard owned by TransCanada, the Canadian company behind the project to pump crude from the tar sands of Alberta, was seen as a strong signal that the pipeline – at least, the portion running from Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas – is back on track. 
The White House said last month it would allow the southern portion, which requires no State Department approval, to go ahead. It was not immediately clear how Obama would push the process along further. 
TransCanada has said it will go ahead with the Cushing-Port Arthur segment of the pipeline as soon it gets the go-ahead from the army corps of engineers. 
The White House said in a statement Obama's visiting Cushing was intended to show his commitment to "improving and supporting the infrastructure that helps us leverage our domestic resources, while also ensuring these projects are developed in a safe and responsible way". 
It continued: "This includes a pipeline that will transport oil from Cushing to the Gulf of Mexico, which will help address the bottleneck of oil that has resulted in large part from increased domestic oil production in the midwest." 
Fast-tracking a portion of the pipeline would be a huge disappointment for a broad coalition of activists who have campaigned against the project, framing it as a test of Obama's green credentials.

* * *

Bill McKibben: Mr. Obama Goes to Cushing, OK
Amidst the many environmental disappointments of the Obama administration -- the fizzled Copenhagen conference, the opening of vast swathes of the Arctic to drilling and huge stretches of federal land across the northern Plains to coal-mining, the failure to work for climate legislation in the Senate, the shameful blocking of regulations to control ozone -- the president has done one somewhat brave thing. He responded to the largest outpouring of environmental enthusiasm so far this millennium and denied a permit for the main Keystone XL pipe from Canada's tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. 
Cynics said he did so just to avoid disappointing young people before the election, and pointed out that he invited pipeline proponent Transcanada to reapply for the permit. It's hard not to wonder if those cynics might be right, now that he's going to Oklahoma to laud the southern half of the project just as Transcanada executives have requested. 
True, the most critical part of the pipeline still can't be built -- thanks to Obama and 42 Democratic Senators, the connection to Canada remains blocked, and hence that remains a great victory for the people who rallied so fiercely all fall. But the sense grows that Obama may be setting us up for a bitter disappointment -- that his real allegiance is to the carbon barons.

* * *

Center for Biological Diversity: Obama Trumpets Dirty Fuel Pipeline That Will Allow Global Export of Tar Sands Oil, Worsen Climate Crisis
“The Gulf Coast leg would add to the fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when we critically need to transition away from fossil fuels in order to avoid climate catastrophe,” said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Just like Keystone I, the Gulf Coast leg of Keystone XL will spill, polluting land and water and ruining important habitat for endangered species like the whooping crane, piping plover, American burying beetle, interior least tern, and Arkansas River shiner.” 
“The president’s support for this pipeline is troubling,” said Greenwald. “Keystone XL may be a boon to Big Oil companies in the exporting business but those profits will come at a stiff price for our land, water, wildlife and climate.” 
“The American people have spoken clearly against this project,” said Greenwald. “Building Keystone XL in pieces doesn’t make it any less dangerous.”

The Real Agenda Behind Paul Ryan’s Deficit-Slashing Mania

Tax Cuts for Corporations and the Super-Rich; Budget Cuts for Medicare and Medicaid

If you want to see House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan sanctimoniously excuse himself and his friends for missing the most predictable economic crisis in the history of the world, you now have the opportunity: In a YouTube video produced by his staff, Ryan tells viewers that the crisis called by the collapse of the housing bubble caught “us” by surprise.

Well, it didn’t actually catch us by surprise. Some of us had been warning about the potential damage caused by the collapse of the bubble since 2002. We repeatedly tried to warn of the dangers of the housing bubble in whatever forum we had.

It was easy to see that the housing market was hugely over-valued and that at some point it would collapse, just as the stock bubble had collapsed in 2000-2002. It was also easy to see that its collapse would have a devastating impact on the economy.
The bubble was driving the economy both directly by propelling a construction boom and indirectly through the impact of housing bubble wealth on consumption. When the bubble burst, there would be nothing to replace this bubble driven-demand. It would be necessary to run the sort of large government budget deficits that we have seen the last four years in order to sustain the economy and keep unemployment rate out of the double digits.

All of this was 100 percent predictable and predicted. However Representative Ryan wants to give himself the blanket “who could have known” amnesty because he and his Wall Street friends chose to ignore the people who were giving the warnings.

Ryan should apply a variation on the sanctimonious lines in his video to himself:
“Imagine being warned about an economic crisis that would throw more than 10 million people out or work and cause millions to lose their home and doing nothing. Imagine that our politicians in Congress and the White House chose to do nothing while there was still time because it would have been bad politics to upset the Wall Street banks who were making so much money. They instead chose to ignore the warnings. That is immoral.”
While some of us were putting in overtime and missing sleep to try to warn about the dangers of the housing bubble, Representative Ryan and his cronies were whining about a budget deficit that was almost non-existent. The budget deficits that the government was running in the years just before the collapse of the housing bubble were less than 2.0 percent of GDP. The debt-to-GDP ratio was actually falling. We could have run deficits of this magnitude forever.

After contributing through his negligence to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Representative Ryan has the gall to imply that the people who don’t like his plan are immoral. While we don’t yet know the specifics of his new plan this year, we do know what he put on the table last year.

According to projections from the Congressional Budget Office, that plan would have raised the cost to the country of buying Medicare-equivalent insurance policies by $34 trillion over Medicare’s 75-year planning period. It also would have led to huge cuts in Medicaid, denying health care to children as well as other budget cuts that would have worsened the situation of low and moderate-income children.

And to offset these cuts Representative Ryan promised big tax breaks to corporations and the richest people in the country. His budget lowered the tax rate on both to just 25 percent.
If we can skip the sanctimony let’s just say what every budget wonk knows to be true. We don’t have a budget problem; we have a health care cost problem. If per person health care costs in the United States were in line with those in any other wealthy country we would be looking at huge budget surpluses, not deficits.

The answer lies not in cutting back and/or eliminating Medicaid and Medicare, but in fixing the health care system. That’s the simple truth and to try to contend otherwise is immoral, Representative Ryan.

Poisoning Americans Daily: Genetically-Modified Soda, Tofu, and Chips

Americans are poisoning themselves daily and they don’t know it.

Americans are eating genetically modified foods every day and they don’t know it. That’s why they don’t know they’re poisoning themselves.

In the United States, 88 percent of the corn, 93 percent of the canola, and 94 percent of the soybeans are genetically modified organisms (GMO). Genetically modified tomatoes, pork, and salmon, among many other foods, are also in our stores. In 2011, the country had 69 million hectares (170.5 million acres) of GMO cropland.

Are you a vegetarian who uses textured vegetable protein (TVP) or tempeh in your recipes? TVP and tempeh are derived from soybeans. If the package didn’t say organic, then you’re eating genetically-modified products. Same for soy milk, tofu, and miso . . .  you get the idea.

For babies allergic to dairy, there is even soy-based infant formula.

Are you a carnivore? Livestock feed for cattle, pigs, chickens, and aquaculture catfish is dominated by corn and soy . . . genetically modified corn and soybeans. In fact, 98 percent of the American soy crop is used in livestock feed. So, when you eat meat, you’re eating a GMO.

Approximately 75 percent of the processed food in American grocery stores has GMO ingredients. High fructose corn syrup, for example, is found in most sodas, many snack foods, ketchup, and even commercial bread and that syrup usually comes from GMO corn.

If the food label has words like ascorbate, lysine, maltodextrin, modified food starch, or xanthan gum than you’re most likely eating GMO-derived food.

What do GM foods have to do with poison?They are poison. Literally.

Take GMO corn. Monsanto the devil engineered their corn to be "Round-Up Ready." "Round-Up" is a weedkiller that would kill the corn, too, if it hadn't had the BT toxin spliced into its RNA making it "Round-Up Ready." GMOs are not engineered to grow bigger, taste better, produce larger yields, or to be more nutritious. They are engineered with poison to be able to resist poison. Thus, GMOs, themselves, are poison.

Genetic modification has produced toxins never seen before, and those toxins are in the GMO foods we’re eating. It has increased the level of allergens in GMO crops, altered the composition of protein and other nutrients, and increased the GMO crop’s absorption of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals. It doesn’t matter how much we wash an ear of corn. We’re eating those pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals, too.

Scientists have linked microRNA (ribonucleic acid) to cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, among other illnesses. It is found in GMO crops, like rice, and in the blood and organs of people who eat those GMO crops. Recently, Chinese scientists found that microRNA survives the human digestive process and affects, among other things, our cholesterol function.

GMO scientists now propose splicing microRNA into more seeds to block the function of specific genes in insects, so that the GMO crops can better resist pest infestations. Unfortunately, humans and insects share a lot of the same DNA. Thus, the microRNA in a GMO crop would undoubtedly impact human genes as well when it is eaten.

In independent laboratories from the U.S. to Russia, animals fed GMO foods suffered damage to their kidneys, livers, hearts, adrenal glands, spleens, and the haemotopoietic (blood-forming) system. They slowed immune response times, provoked often severe inflammatory (allergic) responses, and altered testicles and sperm cells in males. Infant size and weight dropped. Infant mortality rates skyrocketed to over 50 percent.

In a 2011 published study of human consumption of GMO foods, scientists found that the genetic material inserted into GMO soybeans transferred into bacteria living inside human intestines, stayed there, and continued to function.

Traces of Bt toxin from Monsanto the devil's Bt corn were found in the blood of 93 percent of the women studied and in 80 percent of their umbilical cord and fetal blood.

In Europe, the German chemical company, BASF, moved its GMO plant-science headquarters from Germany to Raleigh, North Carolina. Widespread opposition from citizens, farmers, and politicians to its GM crops, like the Amflora potato, meant that BASF had no market in Germany for its GMO seeds.

GMO giant Monsanto the devil has stopped developing genetically-modified crops to be grown in Europe, because most European countries refuse to allow them to be grown.
In America, however, the Food & Drug Administration’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Safety is a former Monsanto the devil executive. In February 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sped up the approval process for genetically-modified foods.
When he was campaigning for the presidency in 2007 and 2008, Barack Obama promised to introduce legislation mandating the labeling of GMO foods. So far, he’s done nothing. So, grassroots movements in several states like California and Florida and Vermont are putting GMO labeling bills on their ballots.

If they pass, people will at least have the information they need to decide whether to poison themselves or not.

Words We Would Do Well to Remember

Missouri Caucus Meltdown by the Missouri GOP

look at this!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

90 Degrees in Winter: This Is What Climate Change Looks Like

While everything that has been proposed by politicians from both parties and corporate think tanks are ridiculous and do nothing to improve our deteriorating climate situation, no one can deny that man-made climate change is real. The climate denial industry is completely funded by the oil industry, and it's team of TV meteorologists are paid shills, not climate scientists.--jef

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 by The Nationby Bill McKibben

The National Weather Service is kind of the anti-Mike Daisey, a just-the-facts operation that grinds on hour after hour, day after day. It’s collected billions of records (I’ve seen the vast vaults where early handwritten weather reports from observers across the country are stored in endless rows of ledgers and files) on countless rainstorms, blizzards, and pleasant summer days. So the odds that you could shock the NWS are pretty slim.

Beginning in mid-March, however, its various offices began issuing bulletins that sounded slightly shaken. “There’s extremes in weather, but seeing something like this is impressive and unprecedented,” Chicago NWS meteorologist Richard Castro said. “It’s extraordinarily rare for climate locations with 100+ year long periods of records to break records day after day after day,” the office added in an official statement.

It wasn’t just Chicago, of course. A huge swath of the nation simmered under bizarre heat. (Winter 2012 was the 4th warmest winter ever on record.--jef)

International Falls, MN, the “icebox of the nation,” broke its old temperature records—by 22 degrees, which according to weather historians may be the largest margin ever for any station with a century’s worth of records. Winner, South Dakota reached 94 degrees on the second-to-last day of winter. That’s in the Dakotas, two days before the close of winter. Jeff Masters, founder of WeatherUnderground, the web’s go-to site for meteorological information, watched an eerie early morning outside his Michigan home and wrote “this is not the atmosphere I grew up with,” a fact confirmed later that day when the state recorded the earliest F-3 strength tornado in its history. Other weathermen were more…weathermanish. Veteran Minneapolis broadcaster Paul Douglas, after noting that Sunday’s low temperature in Rochester broke the previous record high, blogged “this is OFF THE SCALE WEIRD even for Minnesota.”

It’s hard to overstate how impossible this weather is—when you have nearly a century and a half of records, they should be hard to break, much less smash. But this is like Barry Bonds on steroids if his steroids were on steroids, an early season outbreak of heat completely without precedent in its scale and spread. I live in Vermont, where we should be starting to slowly thaw out—but as the heat moved steadily east ski areas shut down and golf courses opened.

And truth be told, it felt pretty good. Most people caught in the torrid zones probably reacted pretty much like President Obama: 
“It gets you a little nervous about what is happening to global temperatures,” he told the audience assembled at a fundraiser at Tyler Perry’s Atlanta mansion (records were falling in Georgia too). “On the other hand I have really enjoyed the nice weather.”
Anyone thinking about the seasons ahead was at least as ambivalent, and most were scared. Here are a few of the things that could happen with staggering warmth like this early in the year:
  • The plants that have budded out prematurely (there’s fruit budding across the nation’s apple belt) can be easily killed by the freezes that will come if temperatures revert to anything like normal. (Frost is common here, for instance, late into May).
  • The soils left exposed by the early retreat of snow will dry out much earlier in the growing season, raising dramatically the risk of drought
  • Forests dry out too. In recent years three-quarters of the big fires across the West have come in years when snow melted well ahead of schedule. Across the East the next six or eight weeks, before trees are fully leafed out, will be scary for forest rangers unless we get heavy rains.
One could go on: 
  • mild winters and early springs allow ticks to spread into new places, carrying disease. 
  • Reservoirs can start evaporating early. 
  • We see wickedly strong storms along the frontal boundaries of these record-setting zones. 
But the real fears are the things we can’t anticipate, simply because we are moving into uncharted territory. 

We know that we can make a normal seasonal cycle, with variations within a typical range, work—we know, because we’ve done it as long as we’ve been here. But we’ve never seen anything like what we’re seeing this week.

Except, of course, in the models that the climatologists have been printing out on their supercomputers for the last two decades. This is what climate change looks like, just like last year’s new record for multi-billion dollar weather disasters is what climate change looks like. As Masters put it in a recent blog post, notable for its understatement, 
“It is very unlikely that the intensity of the heat would have been so great unless we were in a warming climate.”
One could make some sad jokes about the coincidence of Chicago’s record heat with the Illinois primary, or with the president’s tour this week of drilling rigs to convince Americans that he’s a great champion of fossil fuel (with a visit to a solar production facility thrown in for good measure). But the power of our politics seems puny this week compared to the power of the carbon we’ve unleashed for a century.

Still, one’s compelled to make a witness and put up a fight. On May 5, all around the world, is organizing a day for people to testify to the impacts of climate change. There will be Pakistanis forced from their homes in the worst flooding the country’s ever seen, and Somalians dealing with a drought horrible even by the standards of the Horn of Africa. Thais, who watched floods do damage last fall equal to 18 percent of the country’s GDP, and El Salvadorans who watched 15 years worth of development wash away in a week of record rains. Lots of Americans were already planning to join in—Texans who watched drought kill half a billion trees there last year, Vermonters who saw the state damn near wash away in the wake of Irene. But now they’ll have more company.