Saturday, May 12, 2012

EPA to Fracking Victims: Drop Dead

Dimock, PA.
I spend much of my time traveling between the fracked society of Northeastern Pennsylvania (Towanda, County Seat of Bradford) where my sister practices law and lives and my own, pre-fracked Otsego County New York.  It’s about a 3 hour drive each way.  From Towanda, I can get to Dimock, PA–where I went again this week.

That’s a lot of driving.

So, I reflect upon places I’ve seen similarly devastated.

Southeastern Louisiana, around New Orleans comes to mind.

I was a television and radio journalist there in the mid-1980s.

This week, I remembered the morning I received a phone call from a Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) official who was assigned to marshland in a lower parish.  “Frank” was out of breath.  “How soon can you get hee-yah?”, he practically whined into the phone.  “They’re tearing up the marsh before we can get the court order!”  Frank’s wife sensed he needed medical assistance.  He was in the middle of a heart attack.

An oil company was being pressured by the government to drill directionally.   The lawyers were doing their thing in court.  But the executives had ordered workers to go ahead and render the lawyers’ work ‘moot’–if there’s nothing LEFT of the marsh to damage–there is no justiciable issue.  Cutting a channel into the marsh would allow the saltwater and tidal action open the channel exponentially.


Frank was beside himself.  So, he called a journalist–a television journalist. Me.  The local newspaper, the Times Picayune, was largely ignoring a big story:
  • Oil companies were failing to use directional drilling off the Gulf of Mexico coast;
  • Directional drilling could have saved what was then 50 miles remaining of estuary marshlands south of New Orleans;
  • Every mile of that marshland could absorb a foot of hurricane storm surge.
Do the math.

New Orleans did not need to drown during Katrina.

But, first, a dedicated DEQ ranger would try saving his corner of the estuary. 

In the middle of his heart attack.
My videographer and I were about 45 minutes away when he called to say his wife was demanding that he get to the emergency room.  We told him to listen to his wife.  “I want to make sure you make the turn-off to get this.  I don’t know how much longer the tugboat’ll  be hee-yah.”   We assured him we could find it.  When we made the turn-off–there was Frank.  We would not have been able to get the shot without him.  There was a little lane we needed to drive down.  “The wife might be right,” he said as he left us and drove himself to the hospital.
Under the tree canopy, there was the tugboat driver.  The operator was ‘executing’ a K-turn.  In the marshland.   The smell of diesel was heavy in the mid-morning swelter.  He got stuck.  He rocked it back and forth until he was turned around and then quickly slid out to the coast, spewing mud and plants.   The saltwater would move northward.

Of course, so would these rapaciously piggy corporate thugs. Three and a half decades later.
You can see their workers display the company attitude:  “Wine-em, Dine-em, Pipeline-em’ on the rear window of the 4-door diesel pickup truck with the Oklahoma plates (why are all these trucks white?).  “Happiness is Dumping My Load” on the rear of a dump truck that monstrously huge digging equipment fills with rich Pennsylvania river-bottom farmland.

You might expect that attitude from people who don’t know any other way to make a living.
You don’t expect to see it from the ‘best of the best’ environmental regulators.

But the EPA officials I saw in Dimock April 18th were nothing like ‘Frank’ from Louisiana DEQ.  They were more refined, and, I suspect, better paid.  Yet, they were worse than any crude tug operator, pipeline crew member, or dump-truck driver.
These people knew better.

These people have options.

Not so Craig and Julie Sautner.  And their two teenagers living with them on the GASLAND-famous Carter Road in Dimock, PA.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden say ‘natural’ gas from the Marcellus bedrock underlying vast tracts of Pennsylvania and New York will be a ‘transition’ fuel to the solar panels other countries have used for decades.  Both men take huge amounts of campaign dollars from the companies benefitting from the devastation visited (regionally) first upon tiny Dimock, PA–the same companies paying millions to tell us that solar power will not work.

Both politicians take money from the companies pushing for a ‘new national grid’–when we could convert our old empty factories to make solar panels we could install on every home and factory.  Who needs a grid?  Who needs the oil companies?  Who needs regulators who don’t do their jobs?

What I documented a few weeks ago is monumental evidence of federal agency corruption.   They thought they could get away with it in the modest rural home of Craig and Julie Sautner.
 Watch the video. 

I know it’s good because an astro-turf website of fracking supporters in Dimock has pirated it, edited it to distort its message and posted it on ‘Dimock Proud’ a website advised by EID Marcellus–the propaganda arm of the fracking industry.

I did it because Julie and Craig Sautner asked me to come videotape the meeting.  Back in December, Josh Fox and Mark Ruffalo and the big environmental groups held their public show of support for the Sautners after the local gas supporters blocked free water from coming to those afflicted by fracking.  They brought a lot of water to Carter Road.  Drinkable water.

I said to Julie that there may come a time when there’s no one willing to come to Dimock–that’s when she could call me and I’ll come document for her.  Then a moneyed person expressed interest in my video.  So, unlike my other videos, I did not put a creative commons release on this video.   I said it would be fair use with prior permission.

That brought me some derision from some citizen journalists–people who never do anything but self-publish or post to a particular anti-fracking site.  Less than 24 hours later, has pirated my video, distorting it in the process.   Let me say to the thieves:  apologies for the quality–it’s finished in iMovie because I cannot afford Final Cut Pro yet.  Apologies for it’s less-than-slick presentation.

But, the admissions documented should astound everyone–even gas drilling supporters.
Here’s why:

  • The EPA claimed the Sautner’s water is fit to drink;
  • The EPA admitted to raising the ‘detect’ levels of suspected and known carcinogens appearing in the Sautner’s water;
  • The EPA said they raised the detect levels whenever there were suspected ‘laboratory contaminants’ or ‘contaminated samples’ (I’m not making this up–watch the video)
  • The EPA brought along, unannounced, a Pennsylvania regulatory official (a breed of human which should no longer have any credibility remaining whatsoever).
The composure of the Sautners should also astound you–not the least of which because Craig Sautner resolutely does not cuss. Seriously. Both Sautners had many reasons to cuss that day, including:
 *The condescending demeanor and words of the EPA and PA officials (watch the ENTIRE video); *Statements that officials would not drink the Sautners’ (newly deemed) ‘safe’ water because they may have done something to their own water (Watch Trish Taylor in the video at 25:26); *Claims the Sautners have a history of ‘bacteria’ problems with their well (not true, and even if it were true–many people in the Marcellus region opt out of treating ‘iron bacteria’ choliform colonies with yearly chlorine ‘shock’ treatments or year-round ultra-violet lights; *The PA ‘Sort of a Toxicologist’ claims (twice 30:36 and 30:47) that Craig had somehow fixed a door so that the industry-captured-regulators could not leave the Sautner’s house (as if anyone would such duplicitous guests to STAY?); *Claims that Methane in their home well is not a health hazard (though it ‘may’ be a fire hazard).
 Watch the video. I came to Dimock that day thinking I would be videotaping true public servants–people like ‘Frank’ or the newly ousted EPA official who was denounced as a regulator and ‘environmentalist’–as if the two occupations are incompatible. By the way, Frank had a heart attack when he first saw the tug in the marshland.  The hospital officials bawled him out for not coming sooner, but he was fine.  Not so the marshland.  Not so the 9th Ward. But, the Sautners are fine, for now.   You wonder how they bear up under all this pressure. All this bullshit. The township of Dimock refused to sign a ‘mutual aid’ agreement to let the City of Binghamton bring them clean water.  Just to be mean.  (I have that on videotape as well.) There is a court case ongoing regarding the removal of a state-ordered water supply to their home.

So, lawyers call. Film crews call.  “Can you take me to get some video of someone lighting their water on fire?”  or “I want to see a burn-off.” Environmental groups call.  Come to our fundraiser.  Let us do a photo-op (to fundraise–for what?  More buses to Albany to yell inside a building or deliver another petition?).   One young leader of a group that’s provided the Sautners water told Julie the other day that their coffers were ‘bleeding’ from providing water to her family. This is what I call a fracked society. No one seems to know how to behave. Least of all the EPA. They are still refusing to give the Sautners what they requested after hearing all the double-speak about ‘new protocols’ for lab testing, ya dada ya dada:  the original sample results before the ‘detect’ levels were raised. Simple data. Call the EPA at 202-564-4700 and demand they give the original Dimock lab tests for EVERY home tested by our regulatory agency back in January.  Make sure they get half as worked up as they made the Sautners and all the other people in Dimock the day they told them their water  was ‘safe‘ to drink. You won’t give them a heart attack. If they are half the public servant  ‘Frank’ was, you might give them a sleepless night or two. But, don’t bet on it.

When Big Pharma Writes the Laws

Just like ALEC, Big Pharma is doing the job of elected officials by writing legislation-ready bills for no charge, says the New York Times.  The new bills seek to prevent health insurers from raising co-pay amounts to a price where patients are unable or unwilling to buy them, especially with expensive drugs. When co-pays rise too high, many people engage in what Pharma calls “prescription abandonment”–leaving the prescription at the pharmacy “altar” or not refilling future prescriptions.

Pharma is losing so much money from rising co-pays and prescription abandonment, it has launched cagey, public service announcement-sounding campaigns about “patients not taking the drugs they need,” as if it is a health and not revenue issue. Pharma has even instituted arrangements with some pharmacies to send visiting nurses to patients’ homes to ensure “compliance,” Big Brother overtones notwithstanding.

Prescription abandonment is an especially thorny issue for Pharma when the drugs are taken on faith, to reduce patients’ “risks” and patients do not necessarily feel them working. It is also a thorny issue when studies suggest the drugs being abandoned may not be necessary to begin with or working.

One such expensive placebo is the drug known by the brand name Risperdal. The Department of Veterans Affairs spent $717 million on the drug to treat posttraumatic stress disorder in Afghanistan and Iraq troops with PTSD over nine years, only to discover it worked no better than a sugar pill! Veterans Affairs doctors wrote more than 5 million prescriptions from 2000 through June 2010 for naught, says a 2011 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Last month, Johnson & Johnson also agreed to pay $1.2 billion in fines for minimizing or concealing Risperdal’s  dangers. Many say unless a drug company’s chief officers go to prison or the company is banned from sales to Medicare and other government programs, penalties are a joke. Wall Street did not punish J&J stock after the Risperdal settlement and actually rewarded Abbott this week after a $1.6 billion settlement for mismarketing the seizure drug Depakote! Hello?

Nor did the JAMA revelations about Risperdal dry up government sales. Less than two weeks after the study was published, the VA awarded a contract for more than 200,000 bottles of generic risperidone, said published reports, containing more than $20 million pills.

Of course, people-aren’t-taking-their-drugs is not Pharma’s only faux PSA campaign. Big bucks are also going into a campaign to prevent patients “abusing” prescription drugs, as  if Pharma billions  in marketing

While no one wants sick people to go without their drugs, some say the Pharma-concocted bills are designed to change the debate over the cost of exorbitant drugs to coverage issues over who pays for them–thus giving “the drug companies a free ride to charge as much as they want.” Pharma is even using patient front groups to whip up a contrived demand for expensive drugs, some charge.

Patients may seem to benefit from the proposed co-pay legislation but health care costs and taxes actually skyrocket as Pharma tries to pass along the cost of expensive brand name drugs that may not even be necessary and are often less effective than cheaper drugs. Some don’t work at all.

An example of how Pharma is trying to play the co-pay card for its revenue stream is seen in a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, called “Out-of-Pocket Medication Costs and Use of Medications and Health Care Services Among Children With Asthma.” Increased co-pay is resulting in less use of the asthma “controller medications” say the authors, who have links to Pfizer, Novartis and Bristol-Myers Squibb, three large drug companies. Asthma controller medications are drugs added on top of  rescue inhalers or inhaled corticosteroids like Advair, Singulair, Symbicort, and Accolate.  But data published by Medco, the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit manager, says the controller drugs reduce neither trips to the ER or hospitalizations when taken by a large amount of patients. Worse–some reports say the controller asthma medications actually make asthma worse.

Do we really need laws written by Pharma to help “buy” drugs that may be worthless or even make us worse?

A Call to Arms for Class War: From the Top Down

Lewis F. Powell’s 1971 memorandum to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce“Attack on American Free Enterprise System” — may or may not have been the first shot fired in the nation’s late-20th-century right-wing revolution. But from the document’s title to its ominous conclusion — “Business and the enterprise system are in deep trouble, and the hour is late” — it was a literal call to the political arms that have subsequently driven the nation’s devolution from democracy to oligarchy.

While the then-Richmond, Va., lawyer couched his message in noble-sounding calls for openness, balance, truth and fairness, his overall tone was doomsday and militant. Referring to the enemies that Powell said were arrayed against the Chamber — largely on campuses, in the media and in the courts — he used the term attack 18 times; revolt  / revolution / revolutionaries five; war / warfare four; assault four; hostility two; destruction two; and shotgun attack and rifle shot one each. The stakes, he said, were tantamount to life and death.

“The overriding first need is for businessmen to recognize that the ultimate issue may be survival — survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people,” he wrote just two months before being nominated to the Supreme Court by President Richard M. Nixon.

Powell submitted the 6,400-word treatise on Aug. 23, 1971, at the request of Eugene B. Sydnor Jr., chairman of the U.S. Chamber’s Education Committee. The purpose, he wrote, was to identify the problem and suggest possible avenues of action for consideration at a discussion the next day between Sydnor, Chamber Executive Vice President Arch Booth and others.
Sydnor was a Richmond businessman who served one term each in the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate from 1953 to 1959. Upon his death in 2003, the House passed a joint resolutionhonoring his service.

According to Booth’s July 10, 1985, obituary from the Associated Press, he was a Wichita native who served as the Chamber’s chief spokesman for two decades. Between 1947 and 1973, he served as the organization’s manager, executive vice president and chief operating officer. He was named its president in 1974 before retiring the next year.

As described by PBS’s Primary Sources website, the Powell Memo called for business in general and the Chamber in particular to play more aggressive roles in politics. And while there is disagreement about how influential the memo actually was, its perceived impact has assumed the scope of legend.

In a brief introduction to the document itself, the Primary Sources website declares, “The memo is credited with inspiring the founding of many conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Manhattan Institute.”

In an October 2011 speech at Public Citizens’ 40th anniversary gala in New York City, journalist Bill Moyers pinpointed its submission as the moment today’s ruling oligarchy began taking form. An excerpt titled “How Wall Street Occupied America” was published in the Nov. 2, 2011, issue of The Nation.

“The rise of the money power in our time goes back 40 years,” he said. “We can pinpoint the date. On Aug. 23, 1971, a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell — a board member of the death-dealing tobacco giant Philip Morris and a future justice of the Supreme Court — released a confidential memorandum for his friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. We look back on it now as a call to arms for class war waged from the top down.”
A Suffolk, Va., native, Powell was a partner in the Richmond law firm of Hunton, Williams, Anderson, Gay and Moore when he wrote the 1971 memo, according to abiography posted on the website of his alma mater, Washington and Lee University. He received bachelor’s of science and law degrees from WLU in 1929 and 1931. He earned a master’s of law from Harvard Law school in 1932.
Rising to the rank of colonel, Powell spent four years in the U.S. Army Air Corps in Europe and North Africa during World War II, the bio says. As a “special branch ultra officer,” he helped break “the highest level German codes.” He returned to his old firm after the war and became a partner in 1958.

Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Powell to the National Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, where he served from 1965 to 1967. Also a member of the National Advisory Committee on Legal Services to the Poor, he was appointed by Republican President Richard M. Nixon in 1969 to the Blue Ribbon Defense Panel, which studied the Department of Defense.

On Oct. 21, 1971, Nixon nominated Powell as an associate justice on the Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on Dec. 7, 1971. He took office on Jan. 7, 1972, and retired from active service as a justice on June 26, 1987.

Powell died at his home in Richmond on Aug. 25, 1998, just a month shy of his 91st birthday. At the end of an Aug. 27 editorial tribute, the WLU bio says, The Washington Post cited his “role as a bridge-builder between opposing visions. … Justice Powell’s moderation — born of principles, not their absence — has much to teach the federal courts today.”
A 2005 article in The American Prospect, written by its former executive editor Mark Schmitt, said Powell and Sydnor were neighbors when the memo was written. Powell, he noted, was a conservative Democrat and moderate jurist, not a Goldwater Republican.

In the article titled “The Legend of the Powell Memo,” Schmitt disputes the notion that the document represented a turning point in American political history, doubted its transformative role and traced its history.

“The memo was circulated within Chamber of Commerce circles and became public after Powell’s confirmation to the court, when journalist Jack Anderson unearthed it to question Powell’s judicial temperament,” he wrote. “After that, it seems to have been forgotten.”

Schmitt credited the Alliance for Justice’s 1993 report “Justice for Sale” with reviving interest in the Powell Memo. He termed the report “a superb and still-relevant analysis of the use of corporate and right-wing foundation funds to reshape the legal academy, to introduce judges to ‘law and economics’ dogma, to promote tort reform and to build right-wing public-interest law firms.”

Two books in the early 2000s cite the memo, he wrote. John B. Judis’s The Paradox of American Democracy, published in 2000, credits it with convincing businessmen that they should be more active politically. John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s 2004 book The Right Nation devoted a single paragraph to it, in reference to the history of the Heritage Foundation.

Schmitt said the most likely source of the renewed, 21st-century interest in the Powell Memo was a 2002 article by Jerry Landay on the website, which tracked conservative funding. The website was acquired in 2008 by the Media Matter Action Network, where a search for “Powell Memo” returned no results.

“While the Landay article contains everything there is to know about the memo, including the specific newspaper clippings that Powell attached to personal letters that he sent to friends accompanying the memo, it falls short of establishing its premise that the memo ‘changed America,’” he wrote.

A biography of Powell, which Schmitt did not name, never mentions it, he wrote. Nor do several books on the right, including The Conservative Revolution, by Lee Edwards; The Idea Brokers, by James A. Smith; The Rise of the Counterestablishment, by Sidney Blumenthal; A World Turned Right-Side Up, by Godfrey Hodgson; or the authoritative The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, by George Nash.

Still, Schmitt said, the Powell Memo has been “routinely invoked as the blueprint for virtually all of the conservative intellectual infrastructure built in the 1970s and 1980s – ‘a memo that changed the course of history,’ in the words of one analysis of the anti-environmental movement, ‘the attack memo that changed America,’ in another account.”

As evidence of the consensus that the Powell Memo was indeed the first rifle shot in the neoconservative counterrevolution, Schmitt, who worked for former Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley in the late 1990s, quoted an op ed his former boss wrote for the New York Times on March 30, 2005.

“In 1971 he wrote a landmark memo for the United States Chamber of Commerce in which he advocated a sweeping, coordinated and long-term effort to spread conservative ideas on college campuses, in academic journals and in the news media,” Bradley wrote.
The 34-page, 16-subsection memo is a comprehensive analysis of what Powell saw as an all-out war on American business from liberals, leftists, socialists and communists. He mentioned four by name — consumer advocate Ralph Nader, UC-San Diego Professor Herbert Marcuse, Yale Professor Charles Reich and Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver.

The memo details the dimensions, sources and tone of the attack; the apathy and default of business, responsibility of business executives and possible role for the Chamber of Commerce; and analyses and strategies for reaching the campus, the public, and the “neglected” political, judicial and stockholder arenas.

He ends by casting the conflict as an apocalyptic struggle for economic and individual freedom.

“As the experience of the socialist and totalitarian states demonstrates, the contraction and denial of economic freedom is followed inevitably by governmental restrictions on other cherished rights,” he wrote. “It is this message, above all others, that must be carried home to the American people.”

Cannabis oil is a highly efficient natural cancer cure

(NaturalNews) Ever since the mid 70s, medical scientists have been well aware of the beneficial effects of cannabinoid compounds over cancerous cells. Thanks to modern science, over a dozen studies conducted during recent years have been able to partially reveal just how it works. Yet cannabis is still not endorsed by pharmaceutical companies as a cancer cure, and since it is not promoted through mainstream channels, very few people are aware of its benefits. Consequently, it is not sought after as an alternative to disfiguring chemotherapy and other harmful drugs.

Laboratory tests conducted in 2008 by a team of scientists formed as a joint research effort between Spain, France and Italy, and published in The Journal Of Clinical Investigation, showed that the active ingredient in marijuana, known as tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, can function as a cure for brain cancer by inducing human glioma cell death through stimulation of autophagy.

The study concluded that via the same biochemical process THC could terminate multiple types of cancers, affecting various cells in the body. Other studies have shown that cannabinoids may work by various mechanisms, including inhibiting cell growth, inducing cell death, and inhibiting tumor metastasis.

What is amazing is that while cannabinoids effectively target and kill cancerous cells, they do not affect healthy, normal cells and may actually protect them against cellular death. Moreover, cannabinoids are also researched for their pain-modulation and anti-inflammatory abilities as they bind to special receptors in the brain, much like opioid derivatives that are commonly prescribed today.

Further evidence to support the effects of cannabis extract on malignant cells comes from the real life experience of individuals who have successfully overcome cancer by using cannabis oil. Examples include a patient, who managed to completely cure his skin cancer by simply applying cannabis oil onto the affected areas of the skin, as well as another, who recovered from a severe head injury with the aid of hemp oil.

One of the cannabinoids that has displayed amazing medical properties is cannabidiol, or CBD - a non-psychoactive compound that is regarded by some as the medical discovery of the 21st century, and with good reason. Research indicates that CBD can relieve convulsions, reduce inflammation, lower anxiety and suppress nausea, while also inhibiting cancer development. In addition, CBD has exhibited neuroprotective properties, relieving symptoms of dystonia and proving just as effective as regular antipsychotics in the treatment of schizophrenia.

What stands out is that from the vast amount of research and data available, as well as the personal experiences of cancer survivors, is that no chemotherapy currently being used medically can match the non-toxic anti-carcinogenic and anti-tumorigenic effects of these natural plant compounds.

Sources for this article include:

How America's Police State Controls Black People

'They Think We Are Animals'
Racism in America's police force is linked to cops' role as keepers of the status quo in an unequal society. 
By Nicholas Powers, AlterNet
May 11, 2012,

“Get out of the fucking car,” he yelled. I dashed to my apartment window, looked down and saw a cop aiming his gun at a car. Slowly, hands trembling above his head, a black man stepped out and kneeled on the road. Is he going to kill him? I wondered. If he so much as twitches the cop will blast his brains out.

As the afternoon mist thickened into rain, I saw the officer blinking droplets from his eyes. His face was a knot of rage and fear. Thankfully the young man being arrested didn’t twitch as he was handcuffed. After they left and my panic ebbed, I knew it wouldn't be long until someone somewhere was blown into oblivion by the police.

It wasn’t a knee-jerk anti-authority reaction but a heavy feeling based on history. Months later I read of the NYPD killing 18-year-old Ramarley Graham and 68-year-old Vietnam veteran Kenneth Chamberlain. They join Duane Brown, Sean Bell, Timothy Stansbury, Patrick Dorismond, Michael Stewart and others on the growing roster of black men killed by the police.

Once the smoking guns cool and the body is buried, mainstream media repeat the same words, “accident” or “tragic.” But we, who are black or Latino or politicized, hear the slurs and threats shouted in the background. Progressive news show Democracy Now reported that when cops banged on Chamberlain’s door and he told them he was fine, one shouted, “I don’t give a fuck nigger!” In 2011, cops created a Facebook page to complain about working the West Indian Day Parade, on it they called the black partiers “animals” and “savages,” and one wrote, “Drop a bomb and wipe them all out.” Repeatedly, journalists or lawyers smuggle out of the Blue Code of Silence evidence of police using racist, animal imagery to describe the very people they are supposed to serve.       

Racism in America's police force is linked to their role as keepers of the status quo in an unequal society. They enforce laws written by politicians on behalf of the wealthy -- laws that end up trapping poor and working-class people in desperate lives. Racial and sexual minorities, legal and illegal immigrants are seen as threats to the social order. When we protest the law and “occupy” a space we are beaten and arrested. When we commit a crime to “get some” we are beaten and arrested. And when we do neither but simply live we’re busted to make a cop’s stop-and-frisk quota.

Language plays an essential role here. It starts with a defensive joke, a “perp” profile that becomes so blurred it encompasses nearly everyone on the street and a constant sense of danger. Each builds on the other until the change is complete and one day, they casually listen to NYPD Capt. James Coan give a racist hurrah speech to detectives executing warrants in Brooklyn. “They’re fucking animals," he repeatedly said of black people from 2008 to 2010, “If you have to shoot, you shoot them in the head.”

A Shot in the Dark
“He was obliged to keep watch all night long with his guns at hand,” wrote slave trader Robert Durand in 1733. “The negroes were continuously ready to force open his hut to rob him…as they were only looking to avenge the kidnapping of their friends.” During the Atlantic slave trade, 12 million people were stolen from Africa and shipped to the Americas. Slave traders herded them from ship plank to the market, where once bought, they shuffled in chains to plantations. And with each jangling step, slaves were circled by men with guns and whips who did not see them as human beings but as dangerous dark animals.

If your job was to herd, whip and sell people like animals then you must see them as such or risk your sanity. From the auction block, jokes and imagery of Africans as savage heathens and apes, swept through cotton fields and upward into the halls of power. Racial ideology, the belief that a physical difference between humans determines their place in society, rose from the material practice of slavery. In his 1781 book Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson equated blacks to animals, writing that they don’t feel love or pain. “Their griefs are transient,” he wrote “Those numberless afflictions…are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them.”

The continuous association of blacks to monkeys created a culture of violent policing of brown bodies. In his 1845 autobiography, abolitionist Frederick Douglass wrote of an overseer named Mr. Gore who used his whip like a tongue as if to speak with leather. One day he lashed a slave named Demby who ran into a creek and refused to come out. Douglass writes, “Mr. Gore then…raised his musket to his face, taking deadly aim at his standing victim, and in an instant poor Demby was no more. His mangled body sank out of sight, and blood and brains marked the water where he stood.”

Slavery By Another Name

After the Civil War ended, African Americans had a brief season of freedom during Reconstruction. But the sight of their former slaves walking the streets terrified Southern whites. In the book and PBS documentary, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of African-Americans from the Civil War to World War II, reporter Douglass Blackmon explained how the Southern ruling class, which wanted the return of free labor, created the Vagrancy Laws. If blacks couldn’t be owned they could be jailed and forced to work. Historian Talithia LeFouria said it meant that, “Anything from spitting or drinking or being found drunk in public or loitering in public spaces could result in confinement.”

Before the war, images of blacks in newspapers were of lazy watermelon-chomping coons or blissful mammies or silent Uncle Toms. After the war they changed into lewd jezebels and fierce brutes. The shift came as slavery gave way to the convict-lease system. Racial ideology still pivoted on the concept of blacks as animals, once safely shackled, now free and dangerous.
Nearly 900,000 black people were arrested and channeled into the convict-lease system, where once incarcerated they were “sold” or “rented” to industries. In this era, police took over for slave catchers and prison guards for overseers as the reactionary force used to turn back history.

Stop and Frisk

“When I was ten, and didn’t look, certainly, any older, two policemen amused themselves by frisking me, making comic (and terrifying) speculations concerning my ancestry and sexual prowess,” James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time (1963). If you read black writers of the past one truth becomes clear: an “unofficial” stop-and-frisk policy has always been in effect, though the entire nation.

It’s terrifying, humiliating to have a stranger’s hands pawing your limbs and their eyes peeling away your privacy, trying to find some illegal object on you. It takes a while for your body to feel like yours again. And decades after Baldwin wrote those lines, stop and frisk of blacks and Latinos has gone from unofficial racism to official policy. Nearly four million New Yorkers have been stopped and groped by the police between 2004 and 2011. Nine out 10 were innocent. And 87 percent were black or Latino.

Stop and frisk is a policy that legitimizes race-based control. The change came in 1993, at the end of the crack era, when Mayor Giulani was elected and paranoia of black and Latino youth hung in New York. Just four years earlier, the city convulsed when black teens were accused of and falsely confessed to raping a Central Park jogger.

In came Police Commissioner Bill Bratton with the “broken windows” theory. The premise of "broken windows" is that abandoned urban space invites worse crime, so a building with a broken window invites more vandalism, then squatters, then drug dealing, until it becomes a crack mansion. Broken window calls for ramped-up policing of smaller, quality-of-life crimes.

In reality, "broken windows" provides ideological justification for cracking down on low-level dealers and working-class people. CompStat managing used weekly reports to find the “hot spots,” which were inevitably black, Latino and poor. These areas flooded with police patrols. Drinking on the stoop, washing car windows at the intersection or smoking a joint got you busted.

An era of gentrification was upon the city. Neighborhoods that had been off limits were now open to investors. Rents went up. New stores came in. New people came in until the city is what it is today, large swaths serving as a playground for the transnational capitalist class.
So every day, in the city streets, blacks, latinos and the poor are fondled and pushed around by cops. It's a "natural" site because the classic image of the black “brute” has been transformed into the ghetto thug.

In May 2012, New York City Council members met with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and questioned him on stop and frisk. They said their constituents felt “under siege.” He shot back, “What I haven’t heard is any solution to the violence problems in these communities -- people are upset about being stopped, yet what is the answer?”

Tricky Math

In 2010, secret recordings were smuggled out of the 81st Precinct in “Do or Die” Bed-Stuy by officer Adrian Schoolcraft. Printed in the Village Voice, the transcripts show bosses ordering street level cops to “pay the rent,” parlance for issuing tickets, summons and making arrests. Precinct bosses showed the inflated numbers to upper management as proof they were working hard. But when actual crimes were reported, officers were told to aggressively question the victims and downgrade them.
Putting “paper” on people and suppressing reports of real crime created statistics for politicians to trumpet how safe the city was on their watch. Under the veneer of First World professionalism, New York shares an ugly dynamic with Third World cities. If you are working class, poor, colored or foreign, you essentially have to pay the cops off. Except in our city, the money doesn’t go into their pockets but to the state in the form of a ticket.

People are being “mugged” by cops. And if you have a ticket you can’t pay, you get a warrant you can’t avoid and when caught, you’ll go to jail. The poorest people in the city are paying for their own oppression.

What's Thug Got To Do With It?

His name was Ro’. I first sensed him in the panicked eyes of my neighbors. My block is a live wire of spoken and unspoken messages; I was told in their suspicious glances and fast walk-away that the new tall black man was trouble. When I got to my building, the DJ who lived downstairs was standing at the doorway with a small knife in his hand.
“What’s going on?” I asked.

“You see that nigga over there,” he jutted his chin to the new guy. “His name is Ro’. Just came back from prison and he’s trying to hustle people, yelling that his bike was broken and they gotta pay to repair it.”

Every time I saw Ro’, he was more raggedy and hungry. My last memory, he jerkily walked along the street like a puppet with invisible strings yanking his limbs. One foot was bare; the other had a dangling slipper. And his eyes seemed to bob in a sea of chemicals. The men on the street shot him hard stares. He vanished afterward, maybe dead or in jail or rehab. I didn’t care which, I was just glad he was gone.

Walking home, I think of who else I want to vanish from the neighborhood. Maybe the bored men who curse my gay friends or the youth who shoot up the summer nights, sending everyone running for cover. And that’s the social contradiction. Black and Latino people are the most victimized by crime but are often brutalized or ignored by the very police who are supposed to protect us. 

We live with a city government that is driven by a conservative vision that casts working-class minorities as “ghetto brutes.” On the other side, some activists on the left cast us as tomorrow’s revolutionary heroes or the mangled victims of capitalism. Between these ideologies is the ever-present reality of crime driven by desire to live the “good life” advertised around us without the resources to do so. Criminals defy the hypocrisy of society and try to “get some” but in a selfish, narcissistic way that destroys the neighborhoods they live in.

It leads to a corrosive division in black and Latino communities where we are afraid of each other and angry for being afraid. We lose faith in ourselves but crave it so much that we seize on spectacles of racist violence to experience once more an ephemeral unity. So when Trayvon Martin, a young black male, was shot dead in Florida by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, instantly we wore hoodies to love in him the innocence stripped and stolen and cursed and stopped and frisked from us every day.

After his death, the racist Web site Storm Front posted two photos of Martin. One was blurry with him giving two middle fingers, looking mad thug. The other was clearly him smiling his new “gold grill” into the camera. The goal was to lower Martin's credibility by making his face overlap with the “ghetto brute.”

It was quickly discovered that the first image was false. But as progressive critics pounced on the photos, we missed a vital point. Thugs don’t deserve to be shot either. In playing the politics of respectability, we relied on Martin’s cherubic youthful face to sell black innocence. He became for many, an icon of our own sabotaged lives. But the scarred, embittered men and women in the 'hood are once again ineligible for public sympathy.

And I fell into this conservative ideology. I studiously look hipster to avoid hassle by the police. Sweaters, dark-rim glasses and a man-pouch are my camouflage. And it works. They never harass me. Since I teach literature, a thick book is often in my hands, which is useful for hailing taxis in Manhattan. Drivers assume I’m “safe” but I hear fear and disappointment in their voices when I say, “Take me to Bed-Stuy!”

My First Night In Jail

Last summer, an officer clamped cold handcuffs on me as I turned to him and said, “I’m glad I’m helping you make your quota tonight.” He roughly pushed me into the car, “Alright smart ass, for that you can sit in the back.”

I had been ticketed for drinking a beer in Tompkins Park. The bills came in the mail but I ignored it until it was forgotten. Now I cursed myself for being caught by 21st century vagrancy laws. While in the cell, new men came in and others were let out. Over the next 16 hours, I heard story after story of guys busted for drinking a beer or not having a ID on them or smoking a joint in the park. Some shouted for hours, some slept and some stared at the wall, projecting a personal movie of where they wanted to be instead.

I thought of Richard Pryor’s routine where he said, “Don’t go to the courts thinking you’ll find justice because guess what you’ll find – just us.”

Friday, May 11, 2012

Solar Flares on the Sun Captured on Video

Wisc.Gov. Walker promised billionaire he would ‘divide and conquer’ unions

By David Edwards - RAW Story
Friday, May 11, 2012

Before Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), who is facing a recall election, introduced legislation to strip some public employees of collective bargaining rights, he promised a billionaire donor that he would use a “divide and conquer” strategy to bust unions, a newly released video reveals.

In the video shot by documentary filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein on Jan. 18, 2011, billionaire Diane Hendricks asks Walker if he would make Wisconsin a “completely red state, and work on these unions, and become a right-to-work?”

“Oh, yeah,” Walker replies. “Well, we’re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employees, use divide and conquer.”

Hendricks went on to give the governor’s campaign $510,000. That makes makes her not only Walker’s biggest donor, but the biggest donor to any candidate in Wisconsin’s history, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Only a month later, Walker introduced the legislation that cut collective bargaining for most public workers, triggering months of protests and a wave of recall elections.

The video seems to contradict the governor’s claim that he had no intention of making Wisconsin a right-to-work state, which would cripple unions by prohibiting that they require that employees join or pay dues.

“Scott Walker told me directly that he believed in prevailing wage,” Operating Engineers Local 139 business manager Terrance E. McGowan recalled to the Journal Sentinel. “I tried to hold some dialogue with him when the collective-bargaining issue went down. I am a union man. I believe in collective bargaining. The one thing he assured me, time and again, is that he believes in private sector unions. I don’t know whatever beef he had with public sector unions. But he said he believed in private sector unions, and that’s why I believe I have no reason to believe that right to work would be a threat from his office.”

After seeing the newly released video clip, McGowan said he found the “divide and conquer” strategy troubling.

It means turning worker against worker,” he explained.

Lichtenstein, who filmed the video, donated $100 to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in 2010. Earlier this week, Barrett won the Democratic primary and will face Walker in the June 5 recall election. His campaign has already used the video to created an online ad.

Watch this video from Barrett for Wisconsin, uploaded May 11, 2012.

What a scumbag! And I know that many out there approve of this strategy of crushing the working class--those people who are loyal to companies who aren't loyal to them back.--jef

The Austerity Theory is a Big Lie

by BuzzFlash on Wed, 05/09/2012

You know that something is seriously out of whack when those who made a bundle, and then some, with financial black magic, nearly bringing down the entire industrial world, insist they be allowed to not only keep their booty but that the 99% who ate it in the shorts thanks to their skullduggery, should be forced to go on a fiscal diet. 

That, in a nutshell, describes the so-called "austerity" programs sweeping western economies.
Even liberal politicians are caving into this mind-bending logic. Give less to those who already have less, while making sure those with the most are allowed to keep more of whatever they can milk out of the system in the future.

I gotta tell ya folks, this stuff ranks right up there with other conservative nostrums such as:
  • To reduce the deficit, slash taxes.
  • War is the path to peace
  • For a bright energy future, "Drill baby, drill."
  • The right way to deal with climate change is to ignore it.
The austerity theory of recovery has two pieces to it. First, of course, everyone except the rich need to tighten their belts another few notches. 

The second part involves the opposite for the rich. It goes like this:
"The more money you allow the rich to keep for themselves by not taxing it, the more jobs they create."
Really? So we are supposed to believe, for example that Apple Computer would not have become what it is today if it's founder, Steve Jobs, had only been allowed to amass a multi-million dollar personal fortune, rather than a multi-billion dollar fortune? Or that Facebook would not have become a company worth billions if its founder, young Mark Zuckerberg, had only been incentivized by being allowed to amass hundreds of millions dollars in his personal checking account, rather than billions.

Really? Is that it? That's the reason why everyone else needs to tighten their belts now? Because few dozen future entrepreneurs will need a multi-billion dollar carrot at the end of the career-path stick because they just won't settle for a few hundred mil?

Now don't get me wrong. I've run a few of my own small businesses, and I know it's not that simple. Companies require operating income, capital investment money for future growth, etc. And I am not suggesting businesses per se be taxed so much they can't grow or even survive. But money spent on such things is already tax deductible as a business expense. What I am talking about here is personal wealth - and how it's taxed.

The austerity movement is not only unwise and grossly unfair, but nations adopting it are playing with fire. It's the ever so thinly disguised 21st-century version of "Let-em eat cake."

It's a slap in the face to populations which have already had the fiscal crap beat out of them. It's an affront, an insult implying that somehow the rest of us are at fault for all this and deserving of being taught a lesson.

Speaking of the French revolution, the French just threw one of these austerity-fascists out of office and elected a socialist President.

Austerity is a dirty word in Europe but what next? The Greeks are itching to do the same.

Still the momentum continues to favor austerity, punishing the already punished while rewarding the actual fiscal muggers.

Economists use a term to describe this kind of perverse incentive: moral hazard. In layperson's language it means creating a dynamic where, for a few, the rules are, "Heads we win. Tails someone else loses."

The austerity movement is the Mother of All Moral Hazards. And, this time around, the losers see it, feel it, and are in an ugly mood about it. Those in power who continue pushing austerity for their monied interests are playing with fire.

And, unless a genuinely fair and balance program of shared sacrifice doesn't appear, and soon, there will be fire.

Is The Food We Eat Killing Us?

May 10, 2012

By Michael Snyder
The Economic Collapse

Are we digging our own graves with our teeth?  Is the food that we eat every day slowly killing us?  When I was growing up, I just assumed that everything in the grocery store was perfectly safe and perfectly healthy.  I just assumed that the government and the big corporations were watching out for us and that they would never allow something harmful to be sold in the stores.

Today, the average American diet is extremely unhealthy.  Most of the foods that we all love to eat are absolutely packed with things that will damage our health.  Many of the ingredients that make our foods “taste good” such as fat, salt and sugar can be extremely damaging in large amounts.  On top of that, most processed foods are absolutely loaded with chemicals and preservatives.  The next time you go to the grocery store, just start turning over packages and read the “ingredients” that are being put into our food.  If you have never done this before, you will be absolutely amazed.  In many of our most common foods there are “ingredients” that I cannot even pronounce.  Sadly, most Americans have no idea that eating a steady diet of these processed foods will likely leave them massively overweight, very sick and much closer to death.

Eating healthy takes more time, more effort and more money than eating poorly does. (you can find cheap organic foods at close-out stores--jef)

Unfortunately, most Americans are content to chow down on foods that are quick to make and that taste good.

In particular, Americans are absolutely addicted to foods that are loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

When you start looking at food product labels, you will find that either sugar or high fructose corn syrup is in almost everything.

For example, I was absolutely amazed when I learned that most bread sold in our grocery stores contains high fructose corn syrup.

Why in the world would they need to put that into our bread?

Today, Americans are consuming far more sugar and high fructose corn syrup than ever before, and this has many health professionals very alarmed.  The following is an excerpt from an article on the website of the Mayo Clinic….
Some research studies have linked consumption of large amounts of any type of added sugar — not just high-fructose corn syrup — to such health problems as weight gain, dental cavities, poor nutrition, and increased triglyceride levels, which can boost your heart attack risk.
But it is not just sweeteners that are a concern.

There are great concerns about much of the meat that we eat as well.

Today, we grow animals much larger than we used to, but it comes at a price.

For example, we pump our cows full of growth hormones and they stand around in piles of their own manure until it is time for them to die.

If many Americans were aware of where the “cheap beef” in their grocery stores really comes from they might just change their eating habits.

Another dramatic change that has happened to our food supply in recent decades has been the rise of genetically modified crops.

In this area, there has been nothing short of a revolution.

In 1996, only about 2% of all soybeans in the United States were genetically modified. 

Today, about 90% of all soybeans in the United States are genetically modified.

At this point, approximately 70% of all processed foods in our grocery stores contain at least one ingredient that has been genetically modified.

This is one reason why so many Americans have shifted to an organic diet.  Nobody really knows what the long-term health effects of eating all of this genetically-modified food will be on all of us.

But there are some things that we do know.

For example, if you drink large amounts of soda every day you are going to gain weight and you are likely to damage your health.

Sadly, even though we know this, the average American still consumes over 600 12-ounce servings of soda per year.

Is it any wonder that we have an obesity epidemic in America?

As I wrote about the other day, approximately 36 percent of all Americans are obese.

In fact, the United States has a higher percentage of obese people than any other major industrialized nation does.

All of this obesity helps to explain the dramatic rise that we have seen in diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes in recent years.

Did you know that people living in the United States are three times more likely to have diabetes than people living in the United Kingdom?

It is not a mystery why this is happening. It is because of our unhealthy diets. The food we eat is killing us. We are a nation that is becoming a little less healthy every single day, and this is causing healthcare costs to completely spiral out of control.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, health care costs accounted for just 9.5% of all personal consumption back in 1980.  Today they account for approximately 16.3%. That is an incredible rise. And health care costs have been rising much faster than the overall rate of inflation.For example, health insurance premiums have risen three times faster than wages have in the United States over the past decade.

As Americans get sicker, health care will continue to be a “growth industry”. When we all get sick, what do the doctors do? They put us all on prescription drugs.

According to the CDC, the percentage of Americans that report that they have taken at least one prescription drug within the last 30 days has risen to almost 50 percent.

In fact, 31 percent of Americans say that they have taken at least two prescription drugs within the last 30 days and 11 percent have taken at least five prescription drugs within the last 30 days.

But what happens when you take prescription drugs? Most of them have nasty little side effects that cause even more health problems. There is something to be said for going back to a much more natural approach to health.  For example, a recent study found that Amish children have very low levels of asthma and allergies.  The following is from a recent Reuters article….
Amish children raised on rural farms in northern Indiana suffer from asthma and allergies less often even than Swiss farm kids, a group known to be relatively free from allergies, according to a new study.
“The rates are very, very low,” said Dr. Mark Holbreich, the study’s lead author. “So there’s something that we feel is even more protective in the Amish” than in European farming communities.
What it is about growing up on farms — and Amish farms in particular — that seems to prevent allergies remains unclear.
Could the Amish teach the rest of us a thing or two about staying healthy?
That is something to think about.

Another aspect of all this is the packaging that our food comes in.

Chemicals from the packaging in which our food comes can often get into our food and have serious health effects as an article by Emily Barrett recently described….
Increasingly, evidence shows that the plastics and wrappers used for packaging can inadvertently leach unwanted chemicals into food. Several recent studies found high levels of bisphenol A – an environmental chemical that can disrupt hormonal processes – in canned foods and in packaged foods for people and pets.
Now, another study suggests that the problems go far beyond just one culprit or one health effect. Among the many toxic chemicals that can migrate from packaging into food are the endocrine disrupting phthalates and organotins and the carcinogen benzophenone. These compounds are heavily used in food packaging and have known health effects, yet are not routinely tested or regulated in food, according to the paper’s author Jane Muncke.*
Although some regulations exist to guarantee safe food packaging, the current system does not address concerns posed by endocrine disrupting chemicals, Muncke explains.* The associated health effects of exposure to hormone altering compounds are many and varied, including immune disfunction, metabolic disorders (diabetes, thyroid) and reproductive problems.
But our story is still not over.

After we are done with our food we throw the packaging in the garbage and most Americans never even think about where it eventually ends up.

Unfortunately, much of the garbage ends up out in the ocean.

In the Pacific Ocean today, there is a toxic stew of plastic and garbage about twice the size of the continental United States that is known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch“.

According to a BBC report, there are now 100 times more small plastic fragments in the northeast Pacific Ocean than 40 years ago.

Most of us never even stop and think about how the food we eat is destroying our bodies and the world around us.

Most of us just go through our daily lives assuming that somehow everything is going to be okay. But the truth is that our food is causing major problems.

Sadly, with each passing year the federal government and the big corporations get even more control over our system of food distribution.

Hopefully more Americans will wake up and will start rejecting the “food” that the system wants to cram down our throats.

We all need to start making better choices. Growing a garden, eating organic foods and supporting local farmers are some good places to start.

Senate panel to examine overturning Citizens United ruling in July

By Eric W. Dolan - RAW Story
Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Senate Constitution Subcommittee will hold a hearing on constitutional amendments aimed at overturning the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision on July 17, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced on Thursday.

“The devastating effects of the Court’s divisive decision in Citizens United are already being felt in states and communities across the country,” said Leahy. “Since the decision was handed down, Democrats in Congress have been working to protect the voices of millions of American voters. Regrettably, we have not seen the bipartisan cooperation needed in Congress to move forward with even debating these proposals. This hearing will explore and evaluate a number of constitutional amendment proposals that have been introduced.”

The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission held that limiting corporate campaign spending violated the First Amendment, because political contributions were a form of political speech and corporations were legally persons.

“Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy — it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people — political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence,” Justice Kennedy wrote.

Citizens United struck down key provisions of the federal McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law and gave rise to Super PACS, which can raise an unlimited amount of money to influence federal elections as long as they do not directly coordinate with a candidate’s campaign. The ruling allowed campaign spending by outside groups to skyrocket.

More than 200 local government resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment have passed nationwide and another 80 resolution efforts are under way, according to the group Public Citizen. More than 100 members of Congress have backed a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling as well.

“Amending the Constitution is a step that should not be taken lightly, and the process is laborious and lengthy,” Leahy said.

A number of constitutional amendments have been introduced to Congress this year that target the controversial ruling, but they have little chance of succeeding.

After first being considered by the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee panel, the amendments would need to be approved by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. However, the proposed amendments have almost no support from Republicans.  
(Because Congressional Republicans are corporate shills with no conscience, and the Congressional Democrats are too weak and spineless to oppose them.--jef)

Overlooked GOP Budget Provision Would Fuel Offshoring With New Tax Incentives

Corporate shill, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sucks. You people in his district need to vote that greedy fucker out after you vote Gov. Scott Walker out. Both are corporate-serving shills whose task is to destroy the collective bargaining process, offshore the good jobs, and turn all workers into wage slaves. The sooner they fail, the sooner we will have REAL progress.--jef

Wednesday, May 9, 2012 by In These Times
Ryan Shrugs: Overlooked GOP Budget Provision Would Fuel Offshoring With New Tax Incentives
by Roger Bybee
GOP House Budget Chair Paul Ryan reigns as the GOP’s resident economic genius, even as the productive base and health of his own southeastern Wisconsin district deteriorates under the impact of the very policies he has championed: deregulation, cuts to the social safety net, and “free trade”-fueled offshoring of jobs. 

In recent years, Ryan’s congressional district has been hollowed out by the loss of major employers like Delco in Oak Creek (3,800 jobs, mostly going to Mexico), Chrysler in Kenosha (850 jobs sent to Mexico with the help of auto industry “bailout” funds), and General Motors in Janesville (a plant closing wiped out 2,800 jobs directly and another 3,000 jobs in nearby supplier plants).

A devotee of hyper-capitalist author Ayn Rand, Ryan has seen the misery and, well, shrugged, just like Rand's Atlas. At least that's what his latest federal budget, which was passed by the House in late March, implies. In the face of suffering in his district and across the nation, Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" would deepen the economic polarization of America by heaping new riches on the 1%. A little-understood provision in it would make the exodus of jobs even worse by creating huge new tax incentives for corporations to relocate more jobs and assets overseas.

Although praised by Mitt Romney as “marvelous,” Ryan’s plan is so extreme it has gained criticism from even the conservative U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other theologians for its sweeping cuts on programs serving the poor—which comprise about 62 percent of deficit-cutting measures in the budget—despite their tiny share of the overall federal budget. While cutting $3.3 trillion from safety-net programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, Ryan, a practicing Catholic, is all for creating $3 trillion in new tax breaks for corporations and the rich.

Among the most pernicious provisions of Ryan’s tax breaks is a plan to halt the authority of the U.S. government to tax the foreign profits of U.S. corporations once they are brought back into the country, notes tax expert David Cay Johnston, author of Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With The Bill. Known in right-wing parlance as “extra-territoriality,” this proposal would be disastrous to both U.S. jobs and tax revenues.

“Ryan’s plan would insure that any profits created offshore by U.S. corporations would never be taxed by the U.S. government,” explains Johnston, who won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for his work as The New York Times' tax reporter. “This would create a tremendous incentive to move more and more U.S. jobs overseas to escape taxes on the profits that foreign workers produce for them,” Johnston says.

“Up until now, we’ve been losing good jobs because CEOs practice a kind of labor ‘arbitrage,’ seeking the most advantageous place to locate their plants based on low wages,” Johnston says. “It doesn’t take a genius to see that if your labor costs are about $40 an hour at a major unionized —$27 an hour plus benefits—you can save money if you relocate the work to China where the cost may be $4 an hour or under.”

Right now, foreign-generated profits of U.S. firms are not taxed until they are brought back into the United States. But a huge number of multinational corporations like Apple and GE and Nike use a variety of accounting tricks to essentially launder their profits before moving money home.

The key mechanism to this systematic tax avoidance is not the territory in which profits are generated, said Johnston. "Territoriality is a phony issue,” he stated “What's critical is the ability of corporations to form hundreds of corporations.”

These arrangements permit some subsidiaries to artificially charge other parts of the corporation high fees for the use of logos and brand names, and then to place the real profits in tax havens like the Cayman Islands.

As a result of Apple’s complex tax maneuvers, including such exotically-named tricks as “the Double Irish,” the corporation has been able to sharply drive down its U.S. tax burden. The impact has been immense, as a recent front-page New York Times investigation concluded:
Without such tactics, Apple’s federal tax bill in the United States most likely would have been $2.4 billion higher last year, according to a recent study by a former Treasury Department economist, Martin A. Sullivan. As it stands, the company paid cash taxes of $3.3 billion around the world on its reported profits of $34.2 billion last year, a tax rate of 9.8 percent. (Apple does not disclose what portion of those payments was in the United States, or what portion is assigned to previous or future years.)
Apple is far from exceptional in this respect. GE has been particularly fortunate, Citizens for Tax Justice reported:
Over the past decade, GE’s effective federal income tax rate on its $81.2 billion in pretax U.S. profits has been at most 1.8 percent…. GE is one of 30 major U.S. corporations that paid zero – or less – in federal income taxes in the last three years.
But this reality is rarely made visible in our commercial media, which instead uncritically transmit Republicans’ incessant claims of uncompetitive and excessive tax burdens. If the Obama campaign is smart, it will seize upon the Romney-endorsed House budget and condemn its favorable treatment of U.S. companies' foreign profits and new incentives for offshoring.

Fracking Wastewater Disposal Methods Leave Environment, Public Health at Risk

New report from NRDC shows national implications for Pennsylvania's risky fracking wastewater practices
A report released Wednesday from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) shows that the five main ways of dealing with wastewater from fracking leave public health and the environment in jeopardy.

The report, co-authored by NRDC and an independent scientist, investigates the fracking wastewater disposal practices in Pennsylvania. It notes that of some of the fracking additives, "significant concern has been raised" regarding their nature, "with 29 identified as of particular concern for human health and 13 identified as probable or known human carcinogens. Among the most notable are 2-butoxyethanol (2BE), naphthalene, benzene, and polyacrylamide."

“Contaminated wastewater has long been one of our biggest concerns about fracking, and this report confirms that current practices put both the environment and public health at risk,” said NRDC attorney Rebecca Hammer. “Americans shouldn’t have to trade their safe drinking water for fuel. We need strong safeguards on the books to ensure oil and gas companies aren’t polluting our rivers, contaminating our drinking water or even risking man-made earthquakes when they come to frack in our communities.”

The report finds that better federal and state protections are needed to help protect human health and the environment.

“Pennsylvania and the entire Marcellus Shale region have geological limitations that make wastewater disposal a particularly vexing problem for the area,” said Kate Sinding, senior attorney at NRDC. “But the lessons learned there are applicable nationwide. It is critical states in this region that are already fracking clean up their act fast. And states like New York, where gas companies are still knocking on the door, must not let them in until they get this right.”
* * *

NRDC: Report: Five Primary Disposal Methods for Fracking Wastewater All Fail to Protect Public Health and Environment
The five most common disposal options for fracking wastewater currently in use are: recycling for additional fracking, treatment and discharge to surface waters, underground injection, storage in open air pits, and spreading on roads for ice or dust control. All of these options present significant risks of harm to public health or the environment. And there are not sufficient rules in place to ensure any of them will not harm people or ecosystems.
Some of these methods present such great threats that they should be banned immediately. These methods include treatment at municipal sewage treatment plants and subsequent discharge into surface waters, storage in open air pits, and road spreading.
* * *
When this wastewater is sent to municipal sewage facilities, harmful chemicals and other pollutants are merely diluted, rather than removed, and then released into surface waters, posing serious threats to the state’s rivers, lakes and streams, as well as drinking water supplies. Industrial facilities, too, are often not designed to treat the contents of the wastewater, and can also release it into waterways or send it for reuse, after it is processed. Complete information about where industrial facilities sent processed wastewater in Pennsylvania last year was not made available by the state.
* * *
The problem of what to do with this byproduct is growing as the volume of wastewater continues to increase rapidly with the expansion of fracking in the Marcellus Shale formation and nationwide. In Pennsylvania alone, total reported wastewater volumes more than doubled from the first half of 2011 to the second half.
* * *
Wastewater contains a variety of potentially harmful pollutants that can be toxic to humans and aquatic life, radioactive, or corrosive if they are released into the environment or if people are exposed to them. They can damage ecosystem health by depleting oxygen or causing algae blooms, or interact with disinfectants at drinking water plants to form cancer-causing chemicals. These pollutants include salts, oil, grease, metals, naturally occurring radioactive material, and a cocktail of chemicals used in fracking.
Fracking involves using blasting high volumes of water and sand, mixed with undisclosed chemicals, into the ground to break apart rock and release previously inaccessible pockets of natural gas. Wastewater is created when that water mixture returns to the surface immediately after fracking, and continues to emerge from the well after production begins along with polluted water contained naturally within the underground rock formation.

Vermont Set to Become 1st State to Ban Fracking 

Vermont is poised to become the first U.S. state to ban the natural gas drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The Vermont legislature has sent a measure imposing the ban to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who is expected to sign it into law. 

On the History of the U.S. Economy in Decline

Plutonomy and the Precariat

The Occupy movement has been an extremely exciting development. Unprecedented, in fact. There’s never been anything like it that I can think of. If the bonds and associations it has established can be sustained through a long, dark period ahead — because victory won’t come quickly — it could prove a significant moment in American history.

The fact that the Occupy movement is unprecedented is quite appropriate. After all, it’s an unprecedented era and has been so since the 1970s, which marked a major turning point in American history. For centuries, since the country began, it had been a developing society, and not always in very pretty ways. That’s another story, but the general progress was toward wealth, industrialization, development, and hope. There was a pretty constant expectation that it was going to go on like this. That was true even in very dark times.

I’m just old enough to remember the Great Depression. After the first few years, by the mid-1930s — although the situation was objectively much harsher than it is today — nevertheless, the spirit was quite different. There was a sense that “we’re gonna get out of it,” even among unemployed people, including a lot of my relatives, a sense that “it will get better.”

There was militant labor union organizing going on, especially from the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations). It was getting to the point of sit-down strikes, which are frightening to the business world — you could see it in the business press at the time — because a sit-down strike is just a step before taking over the factory and running it yourself. The idea of worker takeovers is something which is, incidentally, very much on the agenda today, and we should keep it in mind. Also New Deal legislation was beginning to come in as a result of popular pressure. Despite the hard times, there was a sense that, somehow, “we’re gonna get out of it.”

It’s quite different now. For many people in the United States, there’s a pervasive sense of hopelessness, sometimes despair. I think it’s quite new in American history. And it has an objective basis.

On the Working Class

In the 1930s, unemployed working people could anticipate that their jobs would come back. If you’re a worker in manufacturing today — the current level of unemployment there is approximately like the Depression — and current tendencies persist, those jobs aren’t going to come back.

The change took place in the 1970s. There are a lot of reasons for it. One of the underlying factors, discussed mainly by economic historian Robert Brenner, was the falling rate of profit in manufacturing. There were other factors. It led to major changes in the economy — a reversal of several hundred years of progress towards industrialization and development that turned into a process of de-industrialization and de-development. Of course, manufacturing production continued overseas very profitably, but it’s no good for the work force.

Along with that came a significant shift of the economy from productive enterprise — producing things people need or could use — to financial manipulation. The financialization of the economy really took off at that time.

On Banks

Before the 1970s, banks were banks. They did what banks were supposed to do in a state capitalist economy: they took unused funds from your bank account, for example, and transferred them to some potentially useful purpose like helping a family buy a home or send a kid to college. That changed dramatically in the 1970s. Until then, there had been no financial crises since the Great Depression. The 1950s and 1960s had been a period of enormous growth, the highest in American history, maybe in economic history.

And it was egalitarian. The lowest quintile did about as well as the highest quintile. Lots of people moved into reasonable lifestyles — what’s called the “middle class” here, the “working class” in other countries — but it was real. And the 1960s accelerated it. The activism of those years, after a pretty dismal decade, really civilized the country in lots of ways that are permanent.

When the 1970s came along, there were sudden and sharp changes: de-industrialization, the off-shoring of production, and the shift to financial institutions, which grew enormously. I should say that, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was also the development of what several decades later became the high-tech economy: computers, the Internet, the IT Revolution developed substantially in the state sector.

The developments that took place during the 1970s set off a vicious cycle. It led to the concentration of wealth increasingly in the hands of the financial sector. This doesn’t benefit the economy — it probably harms it and society — but it did lead to a tremendous concentration of wealth.

On Politics and Money

Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle. The legislation, essentially bipartisan, drives new fiscal policies and tax changes, as well as the rules of corporate governance and deregulation. Alongside this began a sharp rise in the costs of elections, which drove the political parties even deeper into the pockets of the corporate sector.

The parties dissolved in many ways. It used to be that if a person in Congress hoped for a position such as a committee chair, he or she got it mainly through seniority and service. Within a couple of years, they started having to put money into the party coffers in order to get ahead, a topic studied mainly by Tom Ferguson. That just drove the whole system even deeper into the pockets of the corporate sector (increasingly the financial sector).

This cycle resulted in a tremendous concentration of wealth, mainly in the top tenth of one percent of the population. Meanwhile, it opened a period of stagnation or even decline for the majority of the population. People got by, but by artificial means such as longer working hours, high rates of borrowing and debt, and reliance on asset inflation like the recent housing bubble. Pretty soon those working hours were much higher in the United States than in other industrial countries like Japan and various places in Europe. So there was a period of stagnation and decline for the majority alongside a period of sharp concentration of wealth. The political system began to dissolve.

There has always been a gap between public policy and public will, but it just grew astronomically. You can see it right now, in fact. Take a look at the big topic in Washington that everyone concentrates on: the deficit. For the public, correctly, the deficit is not regarded as much of an issue. And it isn’t really much of an issue. The issue is joblessness. There’s a deficit commission but no joblessness commission. As far as the deficit is concerned, the public has opinions. Take a look at the polls. The public overwhelmingly supports higher taxes on the wealthy, which have declined sharply in this period of stagnation and decline, and the preservation of limited social benefits.

The outcome of the deficit commission is probably going to be the opposite. The Occupy movements could provide a mass base for trying to avert what amounts to a dagger pointed at the heart of the country.

Plutonomy and the Precariat

For the general population, the 99% in the imagery of the Occupy movement, it’s been pretty harsh — and it could get worse. This could be a period of irreversible decline. For the 1% and even less — the .1% — it’s just fine. They are richer than ever, more powerful than ever, controlling the political system, disregarding the public. And if it can continue, as far as they’re concerned, sure, why not?

Take, for example, Citigroup. For decades, Citigroup has been one of the most corrupt of the major investment banking corporations, repeatedly bailed out by the taxpayer, starting in the early Reagan years and now once again. I won’t run through the corruption, but it’s pretty astonishing.

In 2005, Citigroup came out with a brochure for investors called “Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances.” It urged investors to put money into a “plutonomy index.” The brochure says, “The World is dividing into two blocs — the Plutonomy and the rest.”

Plutonomy refers to the rich, those who buy luxury goods and so on, and that’s where the action is. They claimed that their plutonomy index was way outperforming the stock market. As for the rest, we set them adrift. We don’t really care about them. We don’t really need them. They have to be around to provide a powerful state, which will protect us and bail us out when we get into trouble, but other than that they essentially have no function. These days they’re sometimes called the “precariat” — people who live a precarious existence at the periphery of society. Only it’s not the periphery anymore. It’s becoming a very substantial part of society in the United States and indeed elsewhere. And this is considered a good thing.

So, for example, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, at the time when he was still “Saint Alan” — hailed by the economics profession as one of the greatest economists of all time (this was before the crash for which he was substantially responsible) — was testifying to Congress in the Clinton years, and he explained the wonders of the great economy that he was supervising. He said a lot of its success was based substantially on what he called “growing worker insecurity.” If working people are insecure, if they’re part of the precariat, living precarious existences, they’re not going to make demands, they’re not going to try to get better wages, they won’t get improved benefits. We can kick ’em out, if we don’t need ’em. And that’s what’s called a “healthy” economy, technically speaking. And he was highly praised for this, greatly admired.

So the world is now indeed splitting into a plutonomy and a precariat — in the imagery of the Occupy movement, the 1% and the 99%. Not literal numbers, but the right picture. Now, the plutonomy is where the action is and it could continue like this.

If it does, the historic reversal that began in the 1970s could become irreversible. That’s where we’re heading. And the Occupy movement is the first real, major, popular reaction that could avert this. But it’s going to be necessary to face the fact that it’s a long, hard struggle. You don’t win victories tomorrow. You have to form the structures that will be sustained, that will go on through hard times and can win major victories. And there are a lot of things that can be done.

Toward Worker Takeover

I mentioned before that, in the 1930s, one of the most effective actions was the sit-down strike. And the reason is simple: that’s just a step before the takeover of an industry.

Through the 1970s, as the decline was setting in, there were some important events that took place. In 1977, U.S. Steel decided to close one of its major facilities in Youngstown, Ohio. Instead of just walking away, the workforce and the community decided to get together and buy it from the company, hand it over to the work force, and turn it into a worker-run, worker-managed facility. They didn’t win. But with enough popular support, they could have won. It’s a topic that Gar Alperovitz and Staughton Lynd, the lawyer for the workers and community, have discussed in detail.

It was a partial victory because, even though they lost, it set off other efforts. And now, throughout Ohio, and in other places, there’s a scattering of hundreds, maybe thousands, of sometimes not-so-small worker/community-owned industries that could become worker-managed. And that’s the basis for a real revolution. That’s how it takes place.

In one of the suburbs of Boston, about a year ago, something similar happened. A multinational decided to close down a profitable, functioning facility carrying out some high-tech manufacturing. Evidently, it just wasn’t profitable enough for them. The workforce and the union offered to buy it, take it over, and run it themselves. The multinational decided to close it down instead, probably for reasons of class-consciousness. I don’t think they want things like this to happen. If there had been enough popular support, if there had been something like the Occupy movement that could have gotten involved, they might have succeeded.

And there are other things going on like that. In fact, some of them are major. Not long ago, President Barack Obama took over the auto industry, which was basically owned by the public. And there were a number of things that could have been done. One was what was done: reconstitute it so that it could be handed back to the ownership, or very similar ownership, and continue on its traditional path.

The other possibility was to hand it over to the workforce — which owned it anyway — turn it into a worker-owned, worker-managed major industrial system that’s a big part of the economy, and have it produce things that people need. And there’s a lot that we need.

We all know or should know that the United States is extremely backward globally in high-speed transportation, and it’s very serious. It not only affects people’s lives, but the economy. In that regard, here’s a personal story. I happened to be giving talks in France a couple of months ago and had to take a train from Avignon in southern France to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, the same distance as from Washington, DC, to Boston. It took two hours. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken the train from Washington to Boston, but it’s operating at about the same speed it was 60 years ago when my wife and I first took it. It’s a scandal.

It could be done here as it’s been done in Europe. They had the capacity to do it, the skilled work force. It would have taken a little popular support, but it could have made a major change in the economy.

Just to make it more surreal, while this option was being avoided, the Obama administration was sending its transportation secretary to Spain to get contracts for developing high-speed rail for the United States, which could have been done right in the rust belt, which is being closed down. There are no economic reasons why this can’t happen. These are class reasons, and reflect the lack of popular political mobilization. Things like this continue.

Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons

I’ve kept to domestic issues, but there are two dangerous developments in the international arena, which are a kind of shadow that hangs over everything we’ve discussed. There are, for the first time in human history, real threats to the decent survival of the species.

One has been hanging around since 1945. It’s kind of a miracle that we’ve escaped it. That’s the threat of nuclear war and nuclear weapons. Though it isn’t being much discussed, that threat is, in fact, being escalated by the policies of this administration and its allies. And something has to be done about that or we’re in real trouble.

The other, of course, is environmental catastrophe. Practically every country in the world is taking at least halting steps towards trying to do something about it. The United States is also taking steps, mainly to accelerate the threat. It is the only major country that is not only not doing something constructive to protect the environment, it’s not even climbing on the train. In some ways, it’s pulling it backwards.

And this is connected to a huge propaganda system, proudly and openly declared by the business world, to try to convince people that climate change is just a liberal hoax. “Why pay attention to these scientists?”

We’re really regressing back to the dark ages. It’s not a joke. And if that’s happening in the most powerful, richest country in history, then this catastrophe isn’t going to be averted — and in a generation or two, everything else we’re talking about won’t matter. Something has to be done about it very soon in a dedicated, sustained way.

It’s not going to be easy to proceed. There are going to be barriers, difficulties, hardships, failures. It’s inevitable. But unless the spirit of the last year, here and elsewhere in the country and around the globe, continues to grow and becomes a major force in the social and political world, the chances for a decent future are not very high.