Saturday, April 14, 2012

Just One of Monsanto's Crimes, Or Why We Can't Trust the EPA

By Alexis Baden-Mayer, Esq., Political Director
Organic Consumers Association, April 10, 2012

2,4-D and the dioxin pollution it creates are too dangerous to allow, period, but in the hands of bad actors like Monsanto the devil and Dow Chemical the dangers increase exponentially. What's the Environmental Protection Agency doing? Helping coverup the chemical companies' crimes!

In February, Monsanto the devil agreed to pay up to $93 million in a class-action lawsuit brought by the residents of Nitro, West Virginia, for dioxin exposure from accidents and pollution at an herbicide plant that operated in their town from 1929 to 2004.

That may seem like justice, but it is actually the result of Monsanto the devil's extraordinary efforts to hide the truth, evade criminal prosecution and avoid legal responsibility.

A brief criminal fraud investigation conducted (and quickly aborted) by the EPA revealed that Monsanto the devil used a disaster at their Nitro, WV, plant to manufacture "evidence" that dioxin exposure produced a skin condition called chloracne, but was not responsible for neurological health effects or cancers such as Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

These conclusions were repeatedly utilized by EPA and the Veterans Administration to deny help to citizens exposed to dioxin, if these persons did not exhibit chloracne.

The EPA knew the truth about Monsanto the devil's dioxin crimes, but it decided to hide it. Why? It would have affected us all. EPA's brief criminal investigation of Monsanto included evidence that Monsanto the devil knowingly contaminated Lysol with dioxin, even as the product was being marketed for cleaning babies' toys.

Here are the details of this jaw-dropping and heart-breaking case of corporate criminality and EPA collusion.

According to Natural News:

In the town of Nitro, West Virginia, Monsanto the devil  operated a chemical plant from 1929 to 1995, making an herbicide that had dioxin as a by-product. The name dioxin refers to a group of highly toxic chemicals that have been linked to heart and liver disease, human reproductive disorders, and developmental problems. Dioxin persists in the environment and accumulates in the body, even in small amounts. In 2001, the U.S. government listed dioxin as a "known human carcinogen".

In 1949, at the Nitro plant, a pressure valve blew on a container of this herbicide, producing a plume of vapor and white smoke that drifted out over the town. Residue coated the interior of buildings and those inside them with a fine black powder. Within days, workers experienced skin eruptions, and many were diagnosed with chloracne, a long lasting and disfiguring condition. Others felt intense pains in their chest, legs and trunk. A medical report from the time said the explosion "caused a systemic intoxication in the workers involving most major organ systems." Doctors detected a strong odor coming from the patients they described as men "excreting a foreign chemical through their skins".

Monsanto the devil  downplayed the incident, saying that the contaminant was "fairly slow acting" and only an irritant to the skin.

Meanwhile, the Nitro plant continued to produce herbicides, In the 1960's it manufactured Agent Orange, the powerful herbicide used by the U.S. military to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War, and which became the focus of lawsuits by veterans contending they had been harmed by exposure to the chemical. Agent Orange also created dioxin as a by-product.

At the Nitro plant, dioxin waste went into landfills, storm drains, streams, sewers, into bags with the herbicide, and then the waste was burned out into the air. Dioxin from the plant can still be found in nearby streams, rivers, and fish.

From NativeInterface:

According to Source Watch, in 1990, Cate Jenkins, a PhD chemist at EPA, became convinced that Monsanto the devil  had deliberately manipulated studies of worker victims of the Nitro disaster showing that dioxin was a human carcinogen.

Dr. Jenkins wrote a memorandum entitled "Newly Revealed Fraud by Monsanto the devil  in an Epidemiological Study Used by EPA to Assess Human Health Effects from Dioxins." Read the memo at

According to her memo:
Dr. Raymond Suskind at the University of Cincinnati was hired by Monsanto the devil  to study the workers at Monsanto the devil 's Nitro, West Virginia plant. Dr. Suskind stated in published studies in question that chloracne, a skin condition was the prime indicator of high human dioxin exposures, and no other health effects would be observed in the absence of this condition. Unpublished studies by Suskind, however, indicate the fallacy of this statement. No workers except those having chloracne were ever examined by Suskind or included in his study. In other words, if no workers without chloracne were ever examined for other health effects, there is no basis for asserting that chloracne was "the hallmark of dioxin intoxication." 
These conclusions have been repeatedly utilized by EPA, the Veterans Administration, etc., to deny any causation by dioxin of health effects of exposed citizens, if these persons did not exhibit chloracne. 
The results of Dr. Suskind's studies also were diluted by the fact that the exposed group contained not only individuals having chloracne (a genuine, but not the only effect of dioxin exposure), but also all workers having any type of skin condition such as chemical rash. The workers could have had no or negligible dioxin exposures, but they were included in the study as part of the heavily exposed group. This fact was revealed only by the careful reading of the published Suskind study. 
Further, Dr. Suskind utilized statistics on the skin conditions of workers compiled by a Monsanto the devil clerical worker, without any independent verification. 
Dr. Suskind also covered-up the documented neurological damage from dioxin exposures. At Workers Compensation hearings, Suskind denied that the workers experienced any neurological health effects. In the Kemner, et al. v. Monsanto the devil  proceedings, however, it was revealed that Suskind had in his possession at the time examinations of the workers by Monsanto the devil 's physician, Dr. Nestman, documenting neurological health effects.
In his later published study, Dr. Suskind denied the continuing documented neurological health effects suffered by the workers, falsely stating that symptoms "had cleared." 
All of the Monsanto the devil  dioxin studies also suffer another fatal flaw. The purported "dioxin unexposed" control group was selected from other workers at the same Monsanto the devil  plant. An earlier court settlement revealed not only that these supposedly unexposed workers were exposed to dioxins, but also to other carcinogens. One of these carcinogens, para-amino biphenyl, was known by Monsanto the devil  to be a human carcinogen and it was also known that workers were heavily exposed. 
Another Monsanto the devil  study involved independent medical examinations of surviving employees by Monsanto the devil  physicians. Several hundred former Monsanto the devil  employees were too ill to travel to participate in the study. Monsanto the devil  refused to use the attending physicians reports of the illness as part of their study, saying that it would introduce inconsistencies. Thus, any critically ill dioxin-exposed workers with cancers such as Non-Hodgkins lymphoma (associated with dioxin exposures), were conveniently excluded from the Monsanto the devil  study. 
There are numerous other flaws in the Monsanto the devil  health studies. Each of these misrepresentations and falsifications always served to negate any conclusions of adverse health effects from dioxins.


Within days of learning that the Office of Enforcement had initiated a criminal investigation of Monsanto the devil based on Jenkins' allegations, her job duties were withdrawn without warning. She was not given any assignments from August 30, 1990 until she was reassigned on April 8, 1992 to a job which was primarily administrative or clerical.

According to a 1994 report on "EPA's Phony Investigation of Monsanto the devil ," by William Sanjour, Policy Analyst, US Environmental Protection Agency, published in Rachel's Hazardous Waste News:
Dr. Jenkins filed a complaint with the Department of Labor claiming that she was being harassed for carrying out perfectly legal activities. The Labor Department investigated and found in Jenkins favor. The EPA appealed three times all the way up to the Secretary of Labor but each time the Department came down in favor of Jenkins finding that "None of the rationales [explaining her transfer] given by EPA ... appear valid". 
In August of 1992, EPA quietly closed the criminal investigation without ever determining or even attempting to determine if the Monsanto the devil  studies were valid or invalid, let alone fraudulent. ... There was no public announcement that the investigation was closed. Dr. Jenkins didn't learn about it until fifteen months later. Yet Monsanto the devil  knew within a few days of EPA's closing the case.

Why did Monsanto the devil  and the EPA go to such great lengths to hide the truth? It would have affected us all. EPA's brief criminal investigation of Monsanto the devil  included evidence that Monsanto the devil  knowingly contaminated Lysol with dioxin, even as the product was being marketed for cleaning babies' toys.

Dr. Jenkin's memo also contained evidence that Lysol, a product made from Monsanto the devil 's Santophen, was contaminated with dioxin with Monsanto the devil 's knowledge. The manufacturer of Lysol was not told about the dioxin by Monsanto the devil  for fear of losing his business. Other companies using Santophen, who specifically asked about the presence of dioxin, were lied to by Monsanto the devil .

This is just one example of why we can't trust the EPA to stop Monsanto the devil  and Dow Chemical from poisoning us with dioxin.

TAKE ACTION: Call EPA's Fail! Tell the EPA You Won't Accept a Decision on 2,4-D Based on Dow Chemical's Biased Studies!

TAKE ACTION: Tell USDA to Stop Agent Orange Corn!

To learn more about what's wrong at the EPA, watch this video from the recent Occupy EPA protest:

The Battle for the Soul of the Republic

steele1.jpgThe National Security Agency (NSA) mega-data center, combined with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) special relationship with Google, and the federalization of local police using Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funds to pay for monitoring both the locations and the conversations of anyone they wish -- without a warrant --suggest that the government of the United States of America (USA)-from local to national-is no longer in friendly hands.
As a professional intelligence officer and a retired Marine Corps officer, I am deeply offended, personally threatened, and patriotically alarmed.  Evil has triumphed across the United States of America.  Every single institution -- from academies to civil society to commerce to the government and law enforcement at all levels, the media, the out of control military-industrial complex, and the bottom-feeding non-governmental and non-profit organizations that suck at the federal government tits gorged with printed money -- has failed to respect the Constitution.  There is neither intelligence nor integrity at the highest levels of all of our institutions.
2012 is a year of confrontation and convergence.  On the confrontation side, we have a federal government that dismisses the Constitution across all three branches -- a Court that believes corporations are citizens and strip-searches for parking tickets are "okay"; a Congress that abdicates its Article 1 responsibilities, instead serving as foot-soldiers to the corrupt two-party tyranny that excludes the majority from the ballot and the vote; and an Executive that borrows a trillion a year in our name, wastes two trillion a year, and has claimed the right to kill US citizens without due process, and to lie to the Courts when it deems it necessary for "national security."
There is nothing secure about the USA today, and the root of our insecurity is entirely of our own making.  The traitors among us -- the Wall Street banks and their front end, the Federal Reserve; the two political parties, best of the servant class; and a broad band of political appointee and uniformed flag officers (generals and admirals) as well as their civilian equivalent, the senior executive service, are all enmeshed in a grid of high crimes and misdemeanors that relegate the USA to being a Third World nation, crooked at the top, impoverished at the bottom.
The National Security Agency (NSA) is the poster child for the growth of Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State.  There are two major "costs" to the citizen of this pervasive national surveillance state.  First is the cost of creating it.  NSA and the Cyber-Command, led by the same politically-complacent individual, General Keith Alexander (the man responsible for ABLE DANGER not reporting its findings to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in advance of 9/11), now costs the taxpayer over $25 billion dollars a year.  A drop in the bucket when compared to the trillion a year spent on the US military, or the trillion a year spent on earmarks, entitlements, and other forms of  Congressionally-mandated waste, but a useful example to discuss.  Second is the cost to society of a government focused on the wrong targets for the wrong reasons.  For one third of what we spend on the US militaryincluding the secret intelligence world, we could eradicate the ten high-level threats to humanity from poverty to war to genocide to human trafficking.  For what we spend on NSA we could give every one of the five billion poor a free cell phone for life, backed up by call centers that educate them "one cell call at a time."
NSA is an example of a closed system, a secret system, a system without accountability, a system that processes less than 7% of what it collects on "important" targets such as China, and less than 1% of all that it collects.  It is, in other words, a pathologically ineffective organization, not just a pathologically intrusive organization.
Bearing in mind that NSA has cost the taxpayer hundreds of billions of dollars -- over a trillion dollars over its history and in today's inflated (devalued) dollars; it is quite salutary to recognize that still today NSA has not been able to build the ultimate computer.  In the words of James Bamford, the foremost author of books about NSA, as he described the ultimate computer in his last sentence of the book BODY OF SECRETS: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency:
Eventually NSA may secretly achieve the ultimate in quickness, compatibility, and efficiency -- a computer with petaflop and higher speeds shrunk into a container about a liter in size, and powered by only about ten watts of power: the human brain.
"Top Secret America" is an Administrative Law state, an inverted democracy, a totalitarian attempt to micro-manage everything from agriculture to water (the latter now under military control according to the latest national security decision memorandum).  The reason Congress strives to micro-manage is clear: this is how they extort money, using micro-management to frame earmarks and exemptions.  The Congress refuses to acknowledge the ten high-level threats to humanity while making the first threat -- poverty -- much worse within the USA. We now spend more on food stamps [Obama dollars] than we do on education.  In brief, our government is ignorant, unethical, and ineffective.  It is also pathologically out of control and acting against the public interest across the board.  
The corruption of the US Government is comprehensive -- the Cabinet departments strive to protect budget share for the recipients of taxpayer revenue and borrowed funds, instead of actually striving to address the public interest.  From agriculture, where 47% of the food is lost from mega-farm to processing to supermarket to home to trash; to energy where 50% of the generated energy is lost in the very inefficient downstream process; to health, where 50% of every federal dollar spent on health is documented waste; to the military, where the model for embedded fraud, waste, and abuse originated, We the People are no longer represented, nor served with integrity, by our so-called national government.
The time has come for the United STATES of America to dissolve the federation and eliminate the Congress, the Executive, and the Supreme Court.  I recommend that Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, and Washington threaten to secede from the Union immediately, demanding a new Constitutional Convention as a condition for returning to a reconstituted Second American Republic.  The rest of the STATES should be nullifying every federal regulation and expelling federal employees and especially federal military contingents, from their territory.  We need to rebuild the USA from the bottom-up, at Human Scale, with integral resilience, which is to say, true deep independence from any external authority.
There is a better way, the Open Source Everything (OSE) way.  For some time now the model created by Richard Stallman and other pioneers of Free/Open Source Software (F/OSS) has been migrating to other areas.  Open Government, Open Society, and Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) are three such areas.  Below is a figure from the forthcoming book (to be released 5 June 2012, now available for pre-order at all major online stores), THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Transparency, Truth & Trust.
The OSE way is the way of Panarchy -- of harnessing and empowering every human brain, of enabling all humans to connect to all information openly, transparently, making truth the primary input and trust the primary output.
The OSE way breaks the back of the closed Industrial Era tendency to "manufacture evil" as Lionel Tiger put it.  Commoditizing humans and locking up knowledge is the worst possible strategy for resilience in a complex delicate environment of "Peak Everything."  In the face to total corruption and total lack of responsibility at the federal level -- a corruption inherent in the two-party tyranny that promises no public gain irrespective of which of the two theatrical puppets might "win" the 2012 election already plagued by vote manipulation across the primaries -- we who wish to survive and prosper have no alternative but to reject the federal, secret, closed, corrupt system now in place as well as its illegitimate off-spring at the state and local levels.
THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Transparency, Truth & Trust is the culmination of my life's work as a former spy and former Marine Corps officer.  It is my ninth book, the first written for the general public and the first to be available in all bookstores.  It is also the first that is not also free online, a concession necessary to achieve the broadest possible sales to support North Atlantic Books / Evolver Editions.  They have priced the book honorably, and it can be bought right now on Amazon for under $10.
We are in an era where the government is lying to the public about everything.  The unemployment rate is actually 22.4% (and it is closer to 40% for the 18-24 and 55-65 year-old demographics).  Jobs are not being created, they are being lost.  Virtually everything that each Cabinet department claims in support of their respective budgets is a lie.  The Department of Defense (DoD) of which NSA is a major part, is especially corrupt and ineffective.  The infantry -- the most honorable and decent part of defense, comprises 4% of the total force, takes 80% of the casualties, and receives 1% -- ONE PERCENT -- of the total defense budget.  It is my judgment that at least 50% of the other 99% is fraud, waste, or abuse.  The service chiefs have been dishonorable, rejecting intelligence (decision-support on policy, acquisition, and operations) and forsaking integrity.  I am ashamed of what passes for "leadership" these days and agree with Lee Iacocca -- there are no leaders in Washington, only craven over-promoted clerks striving to please their banking and corporate masters against the day they can "retire" after a career in betrayal of the public trust, and roll over into an even more lucrative second career as a "beltway bandit."
I have led the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) movement these past 20 years, and while 90 governments have created OSINT units, the US Government has refused to modernize its intelligence fiefdoms, and continues to provide no more than 4% -- according to General Tony Zinni, USMC (Ret) -- of what any major official needs, and nothing for everyone else.  I have addressed this in my CounterPunch article, "Intelligence for the President-AND Everyone Else."
Today I am seeking one government or one great international university that is interested in creating an Open Source Agency (OSA) such as a handful of us finally got on to pages 23 and 423 of the 9/11 Commission Report, but under diplomatic auspices rather than spy auspices.  In the USA, Hillary Rodham Clinton has no legacy of note -- this could be her legacy.  Otherwise, I offer this to Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, or Venezuela -- together with the new financial system that is emerging in rejection of the vast corruption attendant to the US dollar.  The OSA, integrating a World Brain, a Global Game, and a Multinational Decision Support Centre (MDSC), could create a prosperous world at peace.
The rest of the world is now routing around the US Government because its corruption and its pathological disconnect from both ethics and reality.  The USG is now correctly seen as a fatal cancer for global to local governance, something Latin Americans realized long ago, as so ably described in Open Veins of Latin America.  Hybrid governance is the new way of the world.  This means that the eight communities of information: the academy, civil society including labor unions and religions, commerce, government at all levels, law enforcement, media including bloggers, military, and non-governmental/non-profit organizations -- must all learn to achieve consensus on the basis of shared information and a shared process of sense-making.
True cost economics and a strategic analytic model that integrates the ten high-level threats to humanity and the twelve core policies from Agriculture to Water, must be the heart of this new global to local panarchic system of self-governance.  The first major government or the first major university to create a School of Future-Oriented Hybrid Governance could become the de facto leader of the 21st Century, gaining enormous legitimacy and with legitimacy, global reach and effectiveness, from transparent truthful shared information.  As long as they root everything in ethics, and understand Will and Ariel Durant's point in Lessons of History that the only lasting revolution is in the mind of man, I have no doubt that our future will be bright.  There are not enough guns to keep us all down; the five billion poor and their brains are the one unlimited resources we have; from transparency, truth, from truth, trust, from trust, a prosperous world at peace.  St.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Corruption Is Responsible for 80% of Your Cell Phone Bill

In the case of Big Telecommunications, buying politicians pays off handsomely by killing the competition.
By Matt Stoller, Republic Report
Posted on April 11, 2012

Last year, a new company called Lightsquared promised an innovative business model that would dramatically lower cell phone costs and improve the quality of service, threatening the incumbent phone operators like AT&T and Verizon. Lightsquared used a new technology involving satellites and spectrum, and was a textbook example of how markets can benefit the public through competition. The phone industry swung into motion, not by offering better products and services, but by going to Washington to ensure that its new competitor could be killed by its political friends. And sure enough, through three Congressmen that AT&T and Verizon had funded (Fred Upton (R-MI), Greg Walden (R-OR), and Cliff Stearns (R-FL)), Congress began demanding an investigation into this new company. Pretty soon, the Federal Communications Commission got into the game, revoking a critical waiver that had allowed it to proceed with its business plan.

And so Americans continue to have a small number of expensive, poor quality cell phone providers. And how much does this cost you? Take your phone bill, and cut it by 80%. That’s how much you should be paying. You see, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, people in Sweden, the Netherlands, and Finland pay on average less than $130 a year for cell phone service. 

Americans pay $635.85 a year. That $500 a year difference, from most consumers with a cell phone, goes straight to AT&T and Verizon (and to a much lesser extent Sprint and T-Mobile). It’s the cost of corruption. It’s also, from the perspective of these companies, the return on their campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures. Every penny they spend in DC and in state capitols ensures that you pay high bills, to them.

This isn’t obvious, because much of how they do this has to do with the structure of the industry.
Telecommunications isn’t like selling apples, where you have a lot of buyers and sellers. In a business like buying or selling apples, all you need is an apple tree to get into the business. Cell phones aren’t like that. It’s a business where you sell services on top of a network of cell phone towers that can transmit phone calls and data, and these networks cost tens of billions of dollars to build. But even if you have the money to build one, you still might not be able to, as the Lightsquared example shows. These networks all use public airwaves, or “spectrum”, and you need government permission to use it. Remember the electromagnetic spectrum you learned about in school? The government literally leases that out to companies, and they make radios, microphones, wifi routers, and cell phones that use it.

This has implications for your cell phone bill. Once AT&T or Verizon has paid for its network and licensed spectrum from the government, the cost of adding an additional customer is very low. That means that the biggest providers with bigger networks and more licensed spectrum make more money. It’s not only that their costs are lower, but also because they can keep other players out through control of the political system. That is, they can move towards monopoly in the industry. And monopoly means higher prices for you, and more profits for them. Here’s the data.

Verizon and AT&T’s Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) are substantially higher than any other national carrier’s. Verizon’s wireless profit margins (EBITDA) are substantially higher than all other carriers except AT&T. And Verizon and AT&T together control four-fifths of the entire wireless industry profits, the only two major carriers to control double-digit shares of the industry’s total profits. Over the past 3 years Verizon and AT&T’s share of total industry profits has steadily increased while everyone else’s declined.

This of course doesn’t mean that these companies are investing more in their networks, for better service for you and me. In case you haven’t noticed, cell phone coverage is still really bad, and calls drop routinely. The chart below can explain why. The data is from the CTIA, or the Wireless Association, and it shows the effect of industry consolidation.

Basically, what this chart shows is that in the 1990s, cell phone companies bought up other cell phone companies, and Congress and the FCC were happy to go along because of the power of industry lobbying. Once these companies had an effective cartel, their amount of investment dropped. If you didn’t like your cell phone company, you couldn’t really switch, because the other big cell phone company was just as bad. In 1997, the industry was putting 50 cents of every dollar of revenue into investing in more cell phone towers. By 2009, that number dropped 12.5 cents of every dollar. CTIA has made it much harder to find this data since 2004, but it is obscure filing comments at the FCC. Pretty soon, we should expect the public not to even be able to track why our cell phone’s usage is so bad.

To reduce prices in such a system, you need either competition in the form of more networks (with the same or different technology) or price regulation. The Federal Communications Commission has neither forced more competition, nor has it restricted price gouging. In fact, by doing things like killing Lightsquared, it has ensured high prices for all of us. Furthermore, the FCC has allowed a small number of big players like AT&T and Verizon to buy up much of the public airwaves (or “spectrum”) available for cell phone use, just to keep out competitors. It tends to allow big mega-mergers to go through (with the exception of the recent T-Mobile and AT&T merger). Meanwhile, Congress is trying to tie the hands of the FCC on making more spectrum available for anyone to use, and broadcasters are also throwing their lobbying into the ring, because they want to be able to control more spectrum to transmit television signals.

Why does the FCC and why does Congress want us to have high cell phone costs? Well, they don’t, not really. It’s more accurate to say they don’t particularly care about our problems, but are responding to an entirely different problem that is completely unrelated to cell phones. The government is responding to the need for campaign contributions for politicians.

Politicians need huge sums of money to run for office. Just a regular Congressman (and remember, there are 435 of these) needs $2 million on average to win reelection – which is about $20,000 per week he’s in office. He needs this money to buy TV ads. Unlike in other countries, where political parties get free TV time or public money to pay for elections, American politicians get this money from private interests. Some of the biggest donors, in fact the single biggest donor, is AT&T, with Verizon in the top 100. These politicians lobby regulatory agencies like the Federal Communications Commission to make sure these companies can do what they want, and politicians make sure that phone companies get to buy up other phone companies, eventually creating a near monopoly situation. And we all know that monopolies charge more and deliver less to their customers. As telecom legal expert Marvin Ammori said, “It’s proven cheaper to buy politicians than invest in high speed broadband or to provide good customer service at a fair price. ”

In other words, we are stuck with big bad cell phone companies not because those companies are good at providing cell phone service (which anyone with a dropped cell phone call knows), but because they are good at corrupting markets through political donations. AT&T has the single biggest donor group (known as a “Political Action Committee”) in Washington, DC.

Again, that’s on average $500 a year, $40 a month, or $1.50 a day, from you, straight into the pockets of Verizon and AT&T.

Millions Against Monsanto the devil: The Food Fight of Our Lives

By Ronnie Cummins, AlterNet
Posted on April 11, 2012

"If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it." -- Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsanto the devil, quoted in the Kansas City Star, March 7, 1994
"Monsanto the devil should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job." -- Phil Angell, Monsanto the devil's director of corporate communications, quoted in the New York Times, October 25, 1998

For nearly two decades, Monsanto the devil and corporate agribusiness have exercised near-dictatorial control over American agriculture, aided and abetted by indentured politicians and regulatory agencies, supermarket chains, giant food processors, and the so-called “natural” products industry.

Finally, public opinion around the biotech industry’s contamination of our food supply and destruction of our environment has reached the tipping point. We’re fighting back.

This November, in a food fight that will largely determine the future of what we eat and what we grow, Monsanto the devil will face its greatest challenge to date: a statewide citizens’ ballot initiative that will give Californians the opportunity to vote for their right to know whether the food they buy is contaminated with GMOs.

A growing corps of food, health, and environmental activists - supported by the Millions against Monsanto the devil and Occupy Monsanto the devil Movements, and consumers and farmers across the nation - are boldly moving to implement mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods in California through a grassroots-powered citizens ballot initiative process that will bypass the agribusiness-dominated state legislature.  If passed, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act will require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods and food ingredients, and outlaw the routine industry practice of labeling GMO-tainted foods as “natural.”

Passage of this initiative on November 6 will radically alter the balance of power in the marketplace, enabling millions of consumers to identify - and boycott - genetically engineered foods for the first time since 1994, when Monsanto the devil’s first unlabeled, genetically-engineered dairy drug, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), was forced on the market,

As Alexis Baden-Mayer, Political Director for the Organic Consumers Association, pointed out at an Occupy Wall Street teach-in in Washington DC in early April: “The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act ballot initiative is a perfect example of how the grassroots 99% can mobilize to take back American democracy from the corporate bullies, the 1%. By aggressively utilizing one of the last remaining tools of direct democracy, the initiative process (available to voters not only in California and 23 other states, but in thousands of cities and counties across the nation), we can bypass corrupt politicians, make our own laws, and force corporations like Monsanto the devil to bend to the will of the people, in this case granting us our fundamental right to know what’s in our food.”

Moving the Battleground

This is not the first time Monsanto the devil has been challenged by citizens’ initiatives or state and local legislative efforts. But this time, the momentum is in our favor.

In the past, GMO “right-to-know” activists have been outmaneuvered and outgunned by Monsanto the devil and its minions in every state, except Vermont and Connecticut, where passing a labeling bill is still, at least theoretically, a long-shot.  (Monsanto the devil recently threatened to sue the state of Vermont if legislators there pass a GMO labeling bill).

Efforts to pass GMO labeling laws at the federal level have gone nowhere, despite the fact that more than one million consumers have emailed “Just Label It” petitions to the FDA, demanding mandatory labeling. (The FDA counted only 394 of the signatures, claiming that the main petition was submitted as a single document, or docket, and therefore counted as only one signature.)

Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has introduced his perennial GMO labeling bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, though everyone knows it will never make it out of committee and come to a full House vote on the floor. Similar symbolic bills have been introduced in 18 state legislatures.

The battle has been raging for decades. But this time, it’s different.

Behind this historic California initiative is a broad, growing and powerful health, environmental, and consumer coalition, which includes the Organic Consumers Association, Organic Consumers Fund, Food Democracy Now!,, Nature’s Path, Lundberg Family Farms,, Eden Foods, Alliance for Natural Health, Dr. Bronner’s, United Farm Workers Union, American Public Health Association, Cornucopia Institute, Institute for Responsible Technology, Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, California Certified Organic Farmers, and scores of others.

This time,  the industry faces informed – and alarmed - consumers who understand the danger of allowing out-of-control chemical and biotech companies like Monsanto the devil, Dow, or Dupont - the very same corporations that have assaulted us with toxic pesticides and industrial chemicals, Agent Orange, carcinogenic food additives, PCBs, and now global warming – to dictate their food choices.

Keeping Consumers in the Dark, Keeping Farmers and Scientists Intimidated

Why has it taken so long to get this far? How have Monsanto the devil and its cohorts been able to grow and maintain market supremacy while force-feeding unlabeled “Frankenfoods” to the public for decades?

By buying off politicians, bullying farmers and scientists, and keeping consumers in the dark.

Monsanto the devil has sued more than 150 farmers across the US and Canada, and threatened thousands of others, for refusing to pay for “intellectual property theft” after their fields were contaminated by Monsanto the devil’s patented genetically engineered crops.

The company has harassed and used the media to bully scientists who have exposed the public health and environmental hazards of genetically engineered foods and crops in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Europe. The renowned scientist Dr. Arpad Pusztai from the UK, was pressured and discredited for reporting on the dangers of genetic engineering until he was eventually fired from his job. The same thing happened to the UK’s Environmental Minister, Michael Meacher.

In a number of other cases, scientists such as Ignacio Chapela, have received death threats. Chapela also said he received death threats to his children from “a high government official” in Mexico after he showed contamination of native corn with Monsanto the devil’s GMOs. Other scientists, most notably Andres Carrasco from Argentina, have been assaulted by thugs. Monsanto the devil has even hired the notorious mercenary gang, Blackwater, to spy on its opponents worldwide.

Why has Monsanto the devil gone to such great lengths to thwart GMO labeling laws and initiatives? Because it understands the threat that truth-in-labeling poses for GMOs – and biotech industry profits. As soon as genetically engineered foods are labeled in the U.S., millions of consumers will read these labels and react. They’ll complain to grocery store managers and companies, they’ll talk to their family and friends. They’ll switch to foods that are organic or at least GMO-free. Once enough consumers complain about GE foods and food ingredients, stores will eventually stop selling them.  Farmers will stop planting them.

Europe Shows Labels Can Drive GMOs off the Market

In Europe, there almost no genetically engineered crops, while here in the US, nearly 75% of all supermarket foods - including many so-called “natural” foods - are GMO-tainted.  Why?  Because Europe requires labeling of genetically engineered foods – and the US does not.

This is exactly why activists have launched the California Ballot Initiative. Passing mandatory GMO food labeling in just one large state, California, the eighth largest economy in the world, where there is tremendous opposition to GE foods as well as a multi-billion dollar organic food industry, will ultimately have the same impact as a national labeling law.

If California voters pass the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, the biotech and food industry will face an intractable dilemma. Will they dare put labels on their branded food products in just one state, California, admitting these products contain genetically engineered ingredients, while withholding this ingredient label information in the other states? Will they allow their organic and non-GMO competitors to drive down their GMO-tainted brand market share?

The answer to both of these questions is likely no. What most of them will do is start to shift to organic and non-GMO ingredients, so as to avoid what the Monsanto the devil executive 16 years ago aptly described as the “skull and crossbones” label.

Can you imagine Kellogg’s selling its Corn Flakes breakfast cereal in California with a label that admits it contains or may contain genetically engineered corn? This would be the kiss of death for their iconic brand. How about Kraft Boca Burgers admitting that their soybean ingredients are genetically modified? How about the entire non-organic food industry (including many so-called “natural” brands sold in Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s) admitting that a large proportion of their products are GE-tainted?

Once food manufacturers and supermarkets are forced to come clean and label genetically engineered products, they will likely remove all GE ingredients, to avoid the “skull and crossbones” effect, just like the food industry in the EU has done. In the wake of this development American farmers will convert millions of acres of GE crops to non-GMO or organic varieties.

What Now? The Campaign Needs Volunteers and Money

Monsanto the devil, the Farm Bureau, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association – under the guise of its front group, the so-called Coalition Against the Costly Food Law - are building up a massive war chest up to defeat the California Ballot Initiative. They will literally spend millions to spread lies and disinformation that GMO foods and crops are perfectly safe - and that we need more, not less GMO food and biofuel crops in this era of climate change and growing population.

They will lie and say that GMO labels will be costly to the food industry and raise food prices. They will say that it is the job of the FDA to decide whether GMOs are labeled, not the states. Yet we already know that this battle will never be won in Washington DC, where Monsanto the devil and Food Inc. lobbyists have politicians in their back pockets. It will only be won in places like California (or Vermont), vital centers of organic food and farming and anti-GMO sentiment, where 90% of the body politic, according to recent polls, support mandatory labeling.

This citizens initiative in California is a battle all of us. Please contact the campaign if you are willing to volunteer to join a national phone bank to contact California voters this fall or provide other support.

It’s time to take back control over our food and farming system. It’s time to stand up to Monsanto the devil and the Biotech Bullies.

The Campaign to Privatize the World

Friday, April 13, 2012 by Common Dreams
by David Macaray

One of the biggest con games going on at the moment is the sustained attack on the U.S. public school system. It’s being perpetrated by predatory entrepreneurs (disguised as “concerned citizens” and “education reformers”) hoping to persuade the parents of school-age children that the only way their kids are going to get a decent education is by paying for something that they can already get for free. You might say it’s the same marketing campaign that launched bottled water.

The profit impulse fueling this drive is understandable. All it takes is a cursory look at the economic landscape to see why these speculators are drooling at the prospect of privatizing education. Millions of students pulling up stakes, bailing out of the public school system, and enrolling in private or charter schools? Are you kidding? Just think of the money that would generate.

Mind you, these “education reformers” are the same people who want to privatize the world—the same people who want more toll roads, who want hikers to pay trail fees, who want city parks and public beaches to charge admission. Indeed, they’re the same tribe who convinced a thirsty nation to voluntarily pay for drinking water that it could otherwise get for free.

Before comparing private and public schools, let’s revisit that bottled water craze, the stunning marketing phenomenon that made beverage companies wealthy and added a billion plastic bottles to our landfills and oceans. For the record, since passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), municipal water, unlike bottled, has been stringently regulated by the EPA, which is why bottled water contains more impurities and bacteria. In truth, city water is safer, cheaper and better for the environment.
Of course, there are people who refuse to believe one word the government (municipal or otherwise) tells them. They don’t believe the census, they don’t believe the figures in the federal budget, and they regard EPA statistics as state-sponsored propaganda. Fine. You’ll never get these people to change their minds, so save your breath. Let them, Grover Norquist, and Orly Taitz do whatever it is they do.

And then you have your beverage connoisseurs who (even though blind taste-tests tend to dispute this) insist that they can not only instantly tell the difference between bottled and tap water, but can tell the difference between varying brands of bottled water. I’m not saying that some of these epicureans (taste-test evidence aside) can’t do this. All I’m saying is that they’re fanatical about it.

Offer a glass of tap water to a beverage connoisseur who—before the bottled water craze swept the nation—had happily guzzled city water his entire life, and he’ll recoil in horror, as if you’d invited him to drink from your toilet. I’ve joked with these people that if I ever introduced a brand of bottled water, I would name it “Placebo.”

Back to education. The thing about private schools is that they’re very much like bottled water. They are far less regulated than public schools. In fact, they’re largely unregulated. Take California, for example. In order to teach in a California public school (elementary, intermediate or high school), you must have both a college degree and a teaching credential. The private schools require neither.

Not only can you teach in a private without a credential or degree, but private teachers earn significantly less than their public counterparts. Less education, less certification, less salary. The obvious question: Which institution—private or public—is going to attract the better instructor? Would we ever choose a medical doctor with those startling deficiencies? Yet, free enterprise hounds continue to extol the virtues of privatization, pretending it’s the cure for what ails us.

Another component to this anti-public education campaign is the Republican Party’s on-going attempt to subvert organized labor by attributing the flaws in our public school system to the teachers’ union. In 2008, labor is reported to have donated $400 million to the Democratic Party, which has been a rallying cry for Republicans ever since. Their stated goal is to neutralize the Democrats by crippling organized labor.

Of course, the irony here is that labor is furious at the Democrats for having more or less abandoned them. Labor places $400 million in the Democrats’ war chest, and what do they get in return? A pat on the head and a condescending lecture on the virtues of patience from Rahm Emanuel. Talk about your placebo.

Fossil-Fuel Subsidies Are the Real Job Killers

Friday, April 13, 2012 by
by May Boeve and Brendan Smith

How many lobbyists does it take to defend billions in subsidies for one of the most profitable industries in the world? 786. That’s the size of the army that oil and gas companies maintain in Washington to strong-arm Congress into bankrolling an industry that is cutting jobs and literally fueling the climate crisis. This army is bigger than Congress itself, which has only 535 members.

Last year, Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee decided to investigate Big Oil’s jobs claims— and it turns out the industry has gone on a firing spree in recent years. They discovered that despite generating $546 billion in profits between 2005 and 2010, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP reduced their U.S. workforce by 11,200 employees over that period. In 2010 alone, the top five oil companies slashed their global workforce by 4,400 employees — the same year executives paid themselves nearly $220 million. But at least those working in the industry as a whole get paid high wages, right? Turns out that 40 percent of U.S oil-industry jobs consist of minimum-wage work at gas stations.

With job numbers like these, it is no wonder the fossil-fuel industry needs to spend millions ensuring they are not branded as “job killers.” As Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said, “Oil companies that make record profits and then cut American jobs strain their own credibility when they claim to be huge job-creators.”

And it gets worse. In what must rank as one of the greatest boondoggles in history, Big Oil is leveraging its taxpayer subsidies to rake in profits that, in the words of The New York Times, are “being continuously recycled to win the support of pliable legislators [and] underwrite misleading advertising campaigns.”

There is also a bigger, far more insidious way that Big Oil is killing jobs and undermining our economy: The industry remains hell-bent on denying climate change and obstructing climate action.

But the planet appears to be running a campaign of its own to persuade Americans that the oil lobby is leading us ever closer to economic ruin. Over the last year alone, hurricanes, floods, and droughts have had a devastating effect on American jobs. After tornadoes hit the area around Tuscaloosa, Ala., in April of last year, more than 6,000 people applied for disaster-related unemployment benefits. In Vermont, the number of workers filing unemployment claims went from 731 before Hurricane Irene to 1,331 two weeks afterwards. For the U.S. economy as a whole, 2011 was a historic year for expensive weather-related disasters, costing taxpayers $52 billion.

Consider one of the centers of U.S. oil production: Louisiana. Economists have been studying the long-term economic effects of Hurricane Katrina [PDF] in hopes of modeling the risks for the rest of the nation’s coastal regions. They found that Katrina wiped out 129,000 jobs in the New Orleans region — about 19 percent. Three years later, in 2008, 47,000 of the jobs lost in Katrina had returned, but 82,000 had not — and that doesn’t even consider the tens of thousands of new jobs that likely would have been created had there been no Katrina.

Our nation is in desperate need of jobs. Instead of bankrolling an industry that is laying off workers and threatening our economic future, why not take the billions in subsidies going to oil companies and invest instead in a sector that both creates jobs and protects the planet? It will be money well spent: According to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, investment in a green infrastructure program would create nearly four times as many jobs as an equal investment in oil and gas.

Big Oil has spent millions positioning itself as the ultimate job creator, while branding those of us pushing to end fossil-fuel subsidies as “job killers.” But we are the ones fighting to put people back to work and ensure that we have a sustainable economy for generations to come. The oil and gas industry may have an army of 786 lobbyists, but we tally in the hundreds of thousands. This is the year we are coming to take our money back, create jobs, and protect our planet.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Caves on Credit Card Fees

Anyone surprised by this? Anyone? No one was! If you were surprised, you haven't been paying attention.--jef

Friday, April 13, 2012 by Common Dreams
Credit card companies win battle over introductory fees

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has decided not to challenge credit card companies on introductory fees. Credit card companies had been more aggressive in charging fees to users before they use a credit card, ever since new regulations made it so they could no longer charge more than 25 percent of the total credit limit in standard fees.

The CFPB originally proposed regulations to eliminate the introductory fees, but on Thursday relented and decided not to pursue the matter.

Consumer advocate groups expressed discontent over the decision, and what it says about the possibility of the CFPB as a sufficient consumer watchdog of financial products.

“Even if it is a small rule, it affects the most vulnerable of consumers — consumers with impaired credit records, often of limited means, who end up with these expensive fee-harvester cards,” said Chi Chi Wu, a lawyer at the National Consumer Law Center, told the New York Times. “Exactly the sort of consumers that we think CFPB. should stand strongest for.”

* * *

NY Times: Consumer Bureau Declines to Resist Upfront Credit Card Fees

In one of the first tests of its willingness to show its muscle, the new agency created to protect consumers declined on Thursday to put up a fight.
The agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, introduced a proposal that would make it easier for credit card issuers to charge fees before borrowers’ accounts were officially open. 
The bureau, which began overseeing many consumer financial products last year, said it was issuing the proposed rule in response to a federal court decision that challenged how the Credit Card Act was being applied. The act, which took effect in February 2010, put several rules in place aimed at curbing abusive lending practices. 
Part of the new law said that credit card issuers could not charge fees equal to more than 25 percent of the borrower’s credit limit in the first year after the account was opened. But after certain credit card issuers started charging application or processing fees before consumers’ accounts were opened, the Federal Reserve expanded the rule so that the fee limit would also apply to those upfront charges. That’s the piece of the rule that the consumer protection agency, which has since assumed regulatory authority, is proposing to eliminate. 
The bureau declined to say why it took this course. But some consumer advocates said they believed that the consumer agency, led by Richard Cordray, may be backing down because it has decided to “pick its battles,” while trying to show that it is not unfriendly to business.
But other advocates said they could not understand why the agency was not taking a more aggressive stand. “Even if it is a small rule, it affects the most vulnerable of consumers — consumers with impaired credit records, often of limited means, who end up with these expensive fee-harvester cards,” said Chi Chi Wu, a lawyer at the National Consumer Law Center, referring to cards marketed to people with tarnished credit histories. “Exactly the sort of consumers that we think C.F.P.B. should stand strongest for.” 
The bureau’s proposal stems from a ruling in September by the Federal District Court for South Dakota that granted a preliminary injunction blocking the rule on the upfront fees from taking effect. To resolve the matter, the consumer agency said it was seeking comment on whether it should revise the rule so that it no longer applies to fees charged before an account is opened. 
The initial lawsuit that led to the federal ruling was brought in July 2011 by First Premier Bank of South Dakota, which issues cards to borrowers with troubled credit records. The bank told the court that it would “suffer irreparable harm” if it were not allowed to collect the upfront fees. “The regulation will threaten First Premier’s very existence by causing the loss of millions of dollars in profits,” the bank said.

* * *

Huffington Post: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Backs Down In Fight To Limit Credit Card Fees
Last summer First Premier took the Federal Reserve and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to court, arguing that the government didn't have the authority to cap the fees associated with opening an account. The judge ruled in favor of First Premier, effectively freezing the amendment. 
In response to the judge's decision, on Thursday the consumer agency threw in the towel and proposed striking the amendment completely so that up-front fees would not be subject to any cap. The agency is advocating the change to "resolve the uncertainty" in light of the judge's ruling, according to its filing with the Federal Register. 
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, inherited responsibility for regulating credit card fees upon opening its doors last summer. Prior to that, the Federal Reserve Board oversaw the issue. The agency's decision not to fight the judge's ruling has frustrated Wu, who said the agency should have fought harder to maintain the cap. 
"The Federal Reserve always had a lot of authority" on credit card fees, Wu said. "The CFPB inherited this authority. It should have appealed the ruling." 
The agency's change of heart is a win for credit card companies, said Mark Williams, a former Federal Reserve examiner, in an interview with the Associated Press
"Just a year ago, the view was that this agency was going to be devastating for business," he said, adding that Thursday's action shows that the agency "could be very effective for consumers and also bridge the needs of business to make profits."

How Neocons Sank Iran Nuke Deal

Friday, April 13, 2012 by Consortium Newsby Robert Parry

Two years ago, Washington’s influential neoconservatives – both inside and outside government – shot down a possible resolution to the Iranian nuclear dispute because they wanted a confrontation with Tehran that some hoped would lead to their long-held dream of “regime change.” In the ensuing two years, the cost of that confrontation has been high not just for Iranians, who have faced harsh sanctions, but for the world’s economy. For instance, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent escalation of bomb-Iran rhetoric contributed to the spike in gasoline prices that seems to be choking off the U.S. recovery, just as job growth was starting to accelerate.

But the Israelis and their neocon allies have yet to back away from the path toward war. They appear ready to take President Barack Obama to task if he makes any meaningful concessions to Iran in international negotiations that are set to resume in Istanbul, Turkey, on Friday.

A key question in those talks is whether some version of an earlier peace deal can be revived, whether Iran will agree to trade some of its enriched uranium – especially the amounts refined to 20 percent – for nuclear isotopes needed for medical research. That arrangement might let Iran retain its low-enriched uranium for energy production.

Along with verifiable commitments from Iran not to develop a nuclear bomb, such a deal might be enough for President Obama and the West to begin rolling back some of the toughest economic sanctions imposed on Iran, including restrictions on Iran’s banking and oil sales.

However, it’s also clear that any compromise would provoke fury from the neocons as well as war hawks in Congress and Israel. They all may claim they don’t want a new war with Iran but still insist on a confrontational path that leads in that direction.

On Thursday, the neocon-dominated Washington Post editorialized that a deal might be within Obama’s grasp to avert an immediate conflict with Iran, but “the risk is that it would be counterproductive in the medium term, because it would ease what is now mounting economic pressure on Iran and allow the regime breathing space.”

The Post added: 
“It could leave the [Iranian] nuclear program in a stronger position than it was when the Obama administration began negotiations in the fall of 2009 — with more centrifuges and enough low-enriched uranium to make several nuclear bombs with further processing. If the regime refused a more comprehensive deal, or cheated, it might be difficult to restore sanctions that only now finally appear to be biting.
“With the presidential election looming, President Obama might be happy to trade those problems for avoiding a major international crisis in the coming months. For us, the call is closer. But most likely the Iranians themselves will settle the matter. For better or for worse, the chances the regime will meet Mr. Obama’s terms don’t look good.”

Iranian Flexibility
In recent comments, key Iranians have signaled flexibility along the lines of the earlier swap arrangement, but the reason why such a deal might leave Tehran “in a stronger position” than in 2009-2010 is that then the Post’s editors, along with other neocon pundits and allies inside the Obama administration, sank the earlier plan for Iran to surrender much of its low-enriched uranium for isotopes needed by an Iranian medical research reactor.

Iran had yet to overcome the technical obstacles to refine uranium to the 20 percent level to produce those isotopes. Now, Iran’s 20 percent level is only a few steps short of bringing uranium to the 90 percent refinement for a nuclear bomb. So, the earlier deal would have left Iran much further from the threshold of a nuclear-bomb capability.

However, in 2009 – and again in 2010 – Washington’s neocon voices ridiculed the proposed uranium swap on the grounds that Iran would have kept enough low-enriched uranium (at the much lower 3.5 percent level) that it could theoretically, sometime in the future, be able to refine it and build one nuclear bomb.

Today, Iran has much more enriched uranium at a much higher level, enough for at least several theoretical nuclear bombs (though Iran says it doesn’t want any).

So, one could agree with the Post’s assessment that Iran’s nuclear position today is stronger than it was in 2009 and 2010. But whose fault was that? It would seem to rest more with the Post editorialists and other neocons who demanded the heightened confrontation with Iran in place of the uranium swap.

For instance, even before the revived swap deal was unveiled on May 17, 2010, the Washington Post’s editors were mocking the leaders of Brazil and Turkey who had spearheaded the initiative. The Post called the plan “yet another effort to ‘engage’ the extremist clique of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

After the Iran-Brazil-Turkey deal was announced in Tehran, the rhetorical abuse escalated with Washington pundits and administration hardliners, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, treating the leaders of Brazil and Turkey as unwelcome interlopers who were intruding on America’s diplomatic turf in an effort to grandstand.

On May 26, 2010, the influential New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman weighed in, excoriating the leaders of Brazil and Turkey for negotiating an agreement with Iran to ship about half its low-enriched uranium out of the country.

To Friedman, this deal was “as ugly as it gets,” the title of his column, though others might have had different ideas about what could be uglier, like the carnage in Iraq that Friedman and other neocon pundits had advocated seven years earlier.

But Friedman stuck the “ugly as it gets” label on the peace-seeking actions of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazil’s then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who had persuaded Iran’s President Ahmadinejad to accept an agreement to send 2,640 pounds of Iran’s low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for higher-enriched uranium that could only be put to peaceful medical uses.

That agreement followed one originally brokered by the Obama administration in fall 2009 before Iran’s internal political tensions caused the deal to collapse.

A Perturbed Leader
After the revived deal encountered a hostile reaction in Official Washington in spring 2010, a perturbed Lula da Silva challenged those Americans who insisted that it was “none of Brazil’s business” to act as an intermediary to resolve the crisis with Iran. “Who said it was a matter for the United States?” he asked.

The Brazilian president continued: “The blunt truth is, Iran is being presented as if it were the devil, that it doesn’t want to sit down” to negotiate, despite the fact “Iran decided to sit down at the negotiating table. It wants to see if the others are going to go along with what (it) has done.”

But Friedman’s column delivered a political coup de grace to the swap idea. Instead, he signaled that the neocon bottom line was the ratcheting up of pressures on Iran with the goal of “regime change” or possibly a military assault on Iran’s infrastructure.

Friedman portrayed the leaders of Brazil and Turkey as glory-seeking dupes, writing:

“I confess that when I first saw the May 17 [2010] picture of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, joining his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with raised arms — after their signing of a putative deal to defuse the crisis over Iran’s nuclear weapons program — all I could think of was:
“Is there anything uglier than watching democrats sell out other democrats to a Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing Iranian thug just to tweak the U.S. and show that they, too, can play at the big power table? No, that’s about as ugly as it gets.”

This U.S. hostility toward the Iran-Brazil-Turkey accord caught Brazilian and Turkish officials by surprise, in part because Obama had encouraged the initiative.

After Friedman’s column and other derogatory U.S. comments, Brazil released a three-page letter that Obama sent to Lula da Silva in April in which Obama said the proposed uranium swap “would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran’s” stockpile of low-enriched uranium.

The contrast between Obama’s support and the anger from other voices in Washington caused “some puzzlement,” one senior Brazilian official said. After all, this official noted, the supportive “letter came from the highest authority and was very clear.”

But, in 2010, the neocons were still dreaming about “regime change” in Iran, one of the charter members of President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil.” The neocons – and much of the U.S. press – also had deluded themselves into thinking that Ahmadinejad had “stolen” the June 2009 election from the so-called Green movement and that “regime change” was just around the corner.

“In my view, the ‘Green Revolution’ in Iran is the most important, self-generated, democracy movement to appear in the Middle East in decades,” Friedman wrote. “It has been suppressed, but it is not going away, and, ultimately, its success — not any nuclear deal with the Iranian clerics — is the only sustainable source of security and stability. We have spent far too little time and energy nurturing that democratic trend and far too much chasing a nuclear deal.”

‘Regime Change’ Argument
That argument ran parallel to the neocons’ earlier case for war with Iraq, that “regime change” was the only acceptable outcome to that crisis. Thus, false or dubious claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were justified to get the American public on board for war, just as the exaggerated fears about Iran’s nuclear program became the new excuse for another bid at “regime change.”

However, unlike Iraq which was ruled by dictator Saddam Hussein, the neocon goal of overthrowing Iran’s government faced the unacknowledged reality that Ahmadinejad almost certainly won the June 12, 2009, election and that he thus was a popularly elected leader (at least within the rules of Iran’s Islamic Republic).

Though the U.S. press corps refused to accept that fact – and still routinely describes the election as “fraudulent,” “rigged” or “stolen,” the reality was that no serious evidence has been presented to support those claims.

Indeed, the overwhelming evidence is that Ahmadinejad, with strong support from the poor especially in more conservative rural areas, defeated the “Green Revolution” candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi by roughly the 2-to-1 margin of the official results.

For instance, an analysis by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes concluded that most Iranians voted for Ahmadinejad and viewed his reelection as legitimate, contrary to claims made by much of the U.S. news media.

Not a single Iranian poll analyzed by PIPA – whether before or after the June 2009 election, whether conducted inside or outside Iran – showed Ahmadinejad with less than majority support. None showed Mousavi, a former prime minister, ahead or even close.

“These findings do not prove that there were no irregularities in the election process,” said Steven Kull, director of PIPA. “But they do not support the belief that a majority rejected Ahmadinejad.” [For details, see’s “Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It!”]

If these and other scholarly examinations are correct – and there is no counter-evidence that they aren’t – what happened after the election was that Mousavi simply refused to accept the voters’ choice and – with the enthusiastic backing of the U.S. news media – undertook to reverse the results with massive street protests.

During those demonstrations, a few protesters threw Molotov cocktails at police (scenes carried on CNN but quickly forgotten by the U.S. news media) and security forces overreacted with repression and violence.

Though it’s fair to condemn excessive force used by Iran’s police, you can be sure that if the same factors were transplanted to an American ally – or, say, the United States itself – the U.S. news media’s treatment would be completely different. Suddenly, the security forces would be protecting “democracy” from anti-democratic mobs disgruntled over losing.

But Friedman and other neocon pundits took this false conventional wisdom – that Mousavi was the voters’ choice – and transformed it into a new casus belli, a pattern of turning propaganda into political truth that was eerily reminiscent of the black-and-white portrayals of the crisis with Iraq in 2002-2003.

‘Tony Blair Democrat’
In those days, Friedman was enamored of the idea of invading Iraq and was smitten by British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s glib oratory about forcibly planting seeds of “democracy.” Friedman even dubbed himself a pro-war “Tony Blair Democrat” and made the witty observation that it was time to “give war a chance” in Iraq.

Today, it might seem obvious that anyone foolish enough to call himself “a Tony Blair Democrat” – after Blair has gone down in history as “Bush’s poodle” – or to twist John Lennon’s advice to “give peace a chance” into its opposite should have the decency to simply vacate the public stage and let some other aspiring pundit try his or her luck.

But that’s not how it works in the world of U.S. punditry. As long as you don’t offend the powerful, you keep your job, and when the carousel circles around, you’re poised to reach for another brass ring – another glorious war, another lucrative book contract.

Friedman also hasn’t heard any anti-Iranian propaganda theme that he won’t repeat, much like he did in hyping threats from Iraq.

Surely, Ahmadinejad, like Saddam Hussein, has contributed to his and his nations’ problems with wrongful actions and stupid rhetoric, making the work of neocon propagandists all the easier. But the truth is that actions of any national leader can be made to appear more outrageous or more reasonable depending on how the media frames these matters.

For example, Ahmadinejad, a little-educated populist from the Tehran’s “street,” has made obnoxious and ill-informed comments questioning the Holocaust. However, to extrapolate Ahmadinejad’s offensive remarks into a readiness to attack Israel, which has hundreds of undeclared nukes, is the kind of illogical overreach that we saw before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Back then, the Bush administration conjured up nightmare scenarios of Iraq flying unmanned planes over the United States to spray poison gases or secretly building a nuclear bomb that it might give to Islamic radicals (though the secular Saddam Hussein was infamous for his brutal repression of those religious fundamentalists).

It’s also should be clearer today that the mercurial Ahmadinejad has been largely sidelined by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, a more predictable figure who has renounced any Iranian interest in developing a nuclear bomb, calling possession of such a weapon a “grave sin.”

Still, the neocons are itching for another conflict, this time with Iran, and they are sure to condemn any concessions that Obama makes in the upcoming negotiations. However, if an eventual deal does end up more favorable to Iran than the one available in 2010, the neocons will have themselves to blame.

The Rich Are Different Than You and Me

They Pay Fewer Taxes

Benjamin Franklin, who used his many talents to become a wealthy man, famously said that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. But if you’re a corporate CEO in America today, even they can be put on the back burner – death held at bay by the best medical care money can buy and the latest in surgical and life extension techniques, taxes conveniently shunted aside courtesy of loopholes, overseas investment and governments that conveniently look the other way.

In a story headlined, “For Big Companies, Life Is Good,” The Wall Street Journal reports that big American companies have emerged from the deepest recession since World War II more profitable than ever: flush with cash, less burdened by debt, and with a greater share of the country’s income. But, the paper notes, “Most of the 1.1 million jobs the big companies added since 2007 were outside the U.S. So, too, was much of the $1.2 trillion added to corporate treasuries.”

To add to this embarrassment of riches, the consumer group Citizens for Tax Justice reports that more than two dozen major corporations – including GE, Boeing, Mattel and Verizonpaid no federal taxes between 2008 and 2011. They got a corporate tax break that was broadly supported by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Corporate taxes today are at a 40-year-low — even as the executive suites at big corporations have become throne rooms where the crown jewels wind up in the personal vault of the CEO.

Then look at this report in The New York Times: Last year, among the 100 best-paid CEOs, the median income was more than $14 million, compared with the average annual American salary of $45,230. Combined, this happy hundred executives pulled down more than two billion dollars.

What’s more, according to the Times “… these CEO’s might seem like pikers. Top hedge fund managers collectively earned $14.4 billion last year.” No wonder some of them are fighting to kill a provision in the recent Dodd-Frank reform law that would require disclosing the ratio of CEO pay to the median pay of their employees. One never wishes to upset the help, you know. It can lead to unrest.

That’s Wall Street — the metaphorical bestiary of the financial universe. But there’s nothing metaphorical about the earnings of hedge fund tigers, private equity lions, and the top dogs at those big banks that were bailed out by tax dollars after they helped chase our economy off a cliff.

So what do these big moneyed nabobs have to complain about? Why are they whining about reform? And why are they funneling cash to super PACs aimed at bringing down Barack Obama, who many of them supported four years ago?

Because, writes Alec MacGillis in The New Republic — the President wants to raise their taxes. That’s right — while ordinary Americans are taxed at a top rate of 35% on their income, Congress allows hedge fund and private equity tycoons to pay only pay 15% of their compensation. The President wants them to pay more; still at a rate below what you might pay, and for that he’s being accused of – hold onto your combat helmets — “class warfare.” One Wall Street Midas, once an Obama fan, now his foe, told MacGillis that by making the rich a primary target, Obama is “shitting on people who are successful.”

And can you believe this? Two years ago, when President Obama first tried to close that gaping loophole in our tax code, Stephen Schwarzman, who runs the Blackstone Group, the world’s largest private equity fund, compared the President’s action to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

That’s the same Stephen Schwarzman whose agents in 2006 launched a predatory raid on a travel company in Colorado. His fund bought it, laid off 841 employees, and recouped its entire investment in just seven months – one of the quickest returns on capital ever for such a deal.

To celebrate his 60th birthday Mr. Schwarzman rented the Park Avenue Armory here in New York at a cost of $3 million, including a gospel choir led by Patti LaBelle that serenaded him with “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Does he ever — his net worth is estimated at nearly $5 billion. Last year alone Schwarzman took home over $213 million in pay and dividends, a third more than 2010. Now he’s fundraising for Mitt Romney, who, like him, made his bundle on leveraged buyouts that left many American workers up the creek.

To add insult to injury, average taxpayers even help subsidize the private jet travel of the rich. On the TimesDealBook blog, mergers and acquisitions expert Steven Davidoff writes, “If an outside security consultant determines that executives need a private jet and other services for their safety, the Internal Revenue Service cuts corporate chieftains a break. In such cases, the chief executive will pay a reduced tax bill or sometimes no tax at all.”

Are the CEOs really in danger? No, says Davidoff, “It’s a common corporate tax trick.”

Talk about your friendly skies. No wonder the people with money and influence don’t feel connected to the rest of the population. It’s as if they live in a foreign country at the top of the world, like their own private Switzerland, at heights so rarified they can’t imagine life down below.