Thursday, May 24, 2012

Messing With Our Minds: The Ever Finer Line Between News and Advertising

Thursday, 24 May 2012 By Kingsley Dennis, Truthout 

The manufacturing of consent is endemic within modern societies. Throughout history, the need to "persuade and influence" has always been manipulated by those people in power as a means to maintain authority and legitimacy. In more recent years, the overall manipulation of the mass public mind has become less about making speeches and more about becoming a pervasive presence within the lives of each of individual.

Edward Bernays has often been called "the father of public relations," as it was his teachings and research that spurred the postwar years of propaganda. Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, utilized psychological and psychoanalytical ideas to construct an informational system - propaganda - capable of manipulating public opinion. Bernays, apparently, considered that such a manipulative apparatus was necessary because society, in his regard, was composed of too many irrational elements - the people - which could be dangerous to the efficient mechanisms of power (or so-called "democracy"). Bernays wrote that, "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society."[1] Bearing in mind that Bernays was working in the early 1920s, we can expect the mechanisms of propaganda - mass manipulation - to have progressed to a very advanced degree since then. Within the context of our modern mass societies, propaganda has morphed into a mechanism for not only engineering public opinion, but also for consolidating social control.

Modern programs of social influence could not exist without the mass media. Today it exists as a combination of expertise and knowledge from technology, sociology, social behaviorism, psychology, communications and other scientific techniques. Almost every nation needs a controlled mainstream media if it is to regulate and influence its citizenry. By way of the mainstream media, a controlling authority is able to exert psychological influence upon people's perception of reality. This capacity works hand in hand with the more physical components, such as enforcing the legal system and national security laws (surveillance and monitoring). State control, acting as a "psychological machine," instigates specific psychological manipulations in order to achieve desired goals within its national borders (and often beyond). Examples of these psychological manipulations include the deliberate use of specific cultural symbols and embedded signifiers that catalyze conditioned reflexes in the populace. These triggers have included the words "red" and "communist" during the United States' 1950s McCarthyism, and "Muslim terrorist" during the currently constructed war on terror. Targeted reactions can thus be achieved, making the populace open to further manipulation in this state. This is a process of psychic re-formation that works repeatedly to soften up the people through continued and extensive exposure to particular stimuli. These are the symbols, artificial and human-made, that we live by in order to allow for the construction of a compliant society.

Today's media, which includes the dominant presence of advertising, extensively uses the notion of "attractors" and "attractor patterns" to target audience consciousness. This type of symbol manipulation is often referred to in the business as neuromarketing. Mainstream media corporations are using the huge growth in global communications to further shape their science of targeting human consciousness. In the case of neuromarketing, many advertisers first audience-test their commercials using brain-scanning techniques in order to know which part of a person's brain is being activated by the specific strong attractors. For example, it has been discovered that specific attractors can bypass the logical part of the brain and impact the emotional part. In such cases as the film industry, the advertisers place an award symbol (such as an Oscar or Golden Globe) which has proven to be an effective "strong attractor" which influences the emotional part of the brain. The philosophy here is to adjust the level of consciousness of an advertisement in relation to the measurable level of consciousness of the consumer.[2] Advertisers are aware that a person's consciousness passes on messages indirectly to the body in the form of galvanic skin response, pupil response, electrical nerve response, etcetera, and so every element of the screen promotion must elucidate the correct conscious reception. In order to achieve this correct set of attractor patterns, all elements of the advertising package are deliberately worked on: the music, the visuals, the script, the voice. Interesting, symbolic strong attractors that have the most impact to persuade the audience include visuals such as smiley faces and cute animals (dogs wagging their tails and kittens purring). In terms of voiced attractors, they include words such as "honesty," "integrity," "freedom," "hope and change," "friendship," etcetera. From here, it is clear how politicians use a great deal of these attractor patterns in their speeches and promotional material.[3]

Other methods of blatant propaganda include governing bodies using what can be called the "reality of truth" by releasing seemingly accurate statistics that tell of plausible situations. This is the expert-in-the-white-lab-coat tactic. For such propaganda/information to be effective, it cannot be too far from the truth; in other words, it must have the appearance of reality. Trade, employment and financial figures are an example of this. And which members of the general public have the knowledge and/or resources to check and confirm such figures? Those people who do know are usually those who have a vested interest in maintaining the illusion, such as traders and financiers. And when a nation releases its unemployment figures, do the numbers really include the many who are jobless but not signing on, or are dispossessed or immigrants? As a norm, statistics of a negative connotation are usually drawn from the smallest possible pile. Once a false or doctored claim is disseminated and accepted by the public, it becomes established and hard to deconstruct or invalidate, unless persuasive anti-propaganda is just as effective.

Modern societies are set up to accommodate both individualism and the mass collective. Yet the forms that the accepted individualism takes are often a sheath to hide the workings of a mass psyche. It is what might be called the "allowed liberty" that is provided to the modern person in pursuit of material gains, as long as there exists a contribution to the overall plan of the ruling authority. Liberty, then, is an expression of mobility within a pre-described system: it does not denote liberty external to the system. Examples are the rock star clichés that the mainstream media love to promote and publish to adorn their front pages. Notable examples are the raging antics of performers destroying hotel rooms and throwing televisions out of the window - behavior which later got morphed into copycat corporate rock PR. In essence, such hotel-trashing "rebels" are allowed, and even encouraged, because their antics sell records. Rebelliousness in these forms is thus another contribution to a consumerist society, albeit through a different lens.Today, there are many forms in which individualism is allowed to manifest.

The display of diversity in the information coming from the mainstream media gives the illusion of independent reportage and news. Yet the mainstream media of any given nation or nations is owned by only a small handful of corporate entities with high-level state relations. An individual is thus attracted to a particular newspaper, for example, relative to their views, beliefs, lifestyles, etcetera - all of these being "diversified patterned behavior" within the system. The mainstream media caters to these needs by operating a variety of newspapers that support these mythical standpoints, whether they be politically left, right, left/right of centre, liberal, independent, this, that, or any other of the positions available for the "diversity within the unity" of the mass mind. Yet the shift toward propagating banal reality lies at the heart of the ever-increasing centralized control of the media. It is somewhat worrying to learn that most Western media organizations are owned by only a handful of giant corporations: News Corp; Viacom; Time Warner; Disney; Vivendi Universal, and Bertelsmann.

For example, The Walt Disney Company is the largest entertainment and media multinational in the world. Disney owns the TV networks ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN, A&E and the History Channel, as well as publishing, merchandising and theatre subsidiaries. Disney also owns Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Miramax, Dimension and Buena Vista International, as well as 11 theme parks around the world.  

News Corp comes in next as the world's second-largest media multinational, with an incredible range of TV and satellite channels, magazine and newspaper holdings, record companies and publishing companies based worldwide, with a strong presence in Asian markets.

Similarly, Time Warner owns more than 50 magazines, a film studio as well as various film distributers, more than 40 music labels (including Warner Bros Records, Atlantic and Elektra) and several TV networks (such as HBO, Cartoon Network, and CNN).  

Viacom owns TV networks CBS, MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Paramount Pictures and nearly 2,000 cinema screens, as part of their media empire.

Likewise, Vivendi Universal owns 27 percent of US music sales via labels such as Interscope, Geffen, A&M, Island, Def Jam, MCA, Mercury, Motown and Universal. They also own Universal Studios, Studio Canal, PolyGram Films, Canal+, and numerous Internet and mobile phone companies.

Then there is Bertelsmann, which, as a global media corporation, runs Europe's second-largest TV, radio and production company (the RTL Group) with 45 TV stations and 32 radio channels, Europe's largest printing and publishing firm (Gruner + Jahr), the world's largest English-language general trade book publisher (Random House), the world's largest book and music club group (Direct Group) and an international media and communications service provider (Arvato AG).

In our media-saturated environments, people are allowed to live out their fantasies in what is considered a less harmful way to help alleviate the so-called "drudgery of repetitive lives." This construct also provides people with a conversation space and stalking point among friends and work colleagues, or offers a buffer zone to cover up the embarrassment of a non-communicative family. And if all hell breaks lose at work, at least you have "True Blood" or "Friends" waiting for you on the home screen!

In terms of mainstream news reporting, it is always important to check the source when reading a news item; that is, is it from an independent source or is it, "according to a government source," etcetera. The mainstream media is largely fed via global news services, the two largest being Reuters (now Thomson Reuters) and Associated Press. This again constitutes a centralization of news information. While both organizations do much fine and accurate news reporting - which, valuable as it is, may unfortunately be taken by some as adequate proof that the news is not manipulated - when such sources (especially through PR offices) disseminate information as "truthful news," they are doing nothing more than was parodied in Orwell's "1984" as Newspeak. Independent media, such as is now coming of age and maturity on the Internet, has served to counterneutralize some of the overwhelming persuasive power of the mainstream media propaganda. For this reason, there are concerted efforts underway to curtail the supposedly "wild" and "uncensored" nature of the Internet. In other words, this means that there is considerable corporate and political will to rein in the Internet under the umbrella of corporate and governmental/state control, or at least, to surveil its use.

What has changed the game plan over the past two decades has been the rise of distributed and decentralized global communications between individuals. The Internet in particular, as well as other forms of social media, have spurred the growth of individuals seeking information between and among themselves, a process which is often external to the consensus of various nation-states. This has had the effect of shifting people away from conditioned patterns of propaganda and belief systems. This bottom-up intervention has seriously compromised the patterning techniques of ruling authorities. There are now efforts underway to censor information sites that are critical of the state. It is therefore imperative that our independent media be protected, our social networks of free speech preserved, and our right to seek and speak the truth defended. Messing with our minds has no place in a truly democratic and egalitarian future.
1. Bernays, E. L. (2004/1928) "Propaganda." New York: Ig Publishing.
2. This idea, as well as neuromarketing, was given to me in personal correspondence by Darryl Howard, who sent me his research, "Advertising in the New Paradigm" (Darryl Howard & Associates).
3. Anyone wishing to know more on this subject should investigate Neural-Linguistic Programming (NLP).

The US Government Is Running A Massive Spy Campaign On Occupy Wall Street

May 24, 2012 - Business Insider

Since last November, when the NYPD closed the Zuccotti Park encampment in downtown Manhattan –the Occupy Movement’s birthplace and symbolic nexus—Occupy’s relevance has seriously dwindled according to the mainstream media. We’re told that this erosion is due to Occupy’s own shortcomings—an inevitable outcome of its disjointed message and decentralized leadership.

While that's the corporate media’s take, the U.S. Government seems to have a different view.

If recent documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) are any indication, the Occupy Movement continues to be monitored and curtailed in a nationwide, federally-orchestrated campaign, spearheaded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In response to repeated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by the Fund, made on behalf of filmmaker Michael Moore and the National Lawyers Guild, the DHS released a revealing set of documents in April. But the latest batch, made public on May 3rd, exposes the scale of the government’s “attention” to Occupy as never before.

The documents, many of which are partially blacked-out emails, demonstrate a surprising degree of coordination between the DHS’s National Operations Center (NOC) and local authorities in the monitoring of the Occupy movement. Cities implicated in this wide-scale snooping operation include New York, Oakland, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Denver, Boston, Portland, Detroit, El Paso, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, San Diego, and Los Angeles.

Interest in the Occupy protesters was not limited to DHS and local law enforcement authorities. The most recently released correspondence contains Occupy-related missives between the DHS and agencies at all levels of government, including the Mayor of Portland, regional NOC “fusion centers,” the General Services Administration (GSA), the Pentagon’s USNORTHCOM (Northern Command), and the White House. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PCJF, contends that the variety and reach of the organizations involved point to the existence of a larger, more pervasive domestic surveillance network than previously suspected.

These documents show not only intense government monitoring and coordination in response to the Occupy Movement, but reveal a glimpse into the interior of a vast, tentacled, national intelligence and domestic spying network that the U.S. government operates against its own people. These heavily redacted documents don’t tell the full story. They are likely only a subset of responsive materials and the PCJF continues to fight for a complete release. They scratch the surface of a mass intelligence network including Fusion Centers, saturated with ‘anti-terrorism’ funding, that mobilizes thousands of local and federal officers and agents to investigate and monitor the social justice movement. (

As alarmist as Verheyden-Hilliard’s charge may sound, especially given the limited, bowdlerized nature of the source material, the texts made available contain disturbing evidence of insistent federal surveillance. In particular, the role of the “Fusion Centers,” a series of 72 federally-funded information hubs run by the NOC, raises questions about the government’s expansive definition of “Homeland Security.”

Created in the wake of 9/11, the Fusion Centers were founded to expedite the sharing of information among state and local law enforcement and the federal government, to monitor localized terrorist threats, and to sidestep the regulations and legislation preventing the CIA and the military from carrying out domestic surveillance (namely, the CIA ban on domestic spying and the Posse Comitatus Act).

Is nonviolent citizen dissent truly an issue of national security? The DHS, for its part, is aware of the contentiousness of civilian monitoring. That’s why, in a White House-approved statement to CBS News included in the dossier, DHS Press Secretary Matthew Chandler asserts that
Any decisions on how to handle specifics (sic) situations are dealt with by local authorities in that location. . . DHS is not actively coordinating with local law enforcement agencies and/or city governments concerning the evictions of Occupy encampments writ large.

However, as a reading of the documents unmistakably demonstrates, this expedient PR nugget is far from the truth. In example after example, from its seeking of “public health and safety” grounds from the City of Portland for Occupy’s ejection from Terry Schrunk Plaza, to its facilitation of information sharing between the police departments of Chicago and Boston (following a 1500-person Occupy protest in Chicago), the DHS’s active ”coordinating” with local authorities is readily apparent. Other communiqués are even more explicit in revealing a national focus, such as the DHS’s preemptive coordination with the Pentagon about a port closure in Oakland, and its collection of identity and contact information of Occupy protesters arrested at a Bank of America in Dallas.

Those Pesky Amendments

The right to public assembly is a central component of the First Amendment. The Fourth Amendment is supposed to protect Americans from warrantless searches—with the definition of “search” expanded in 1967 to include electronic surveillance, following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Katz v. United States. Assuming the Occupy protesters refrain from violence—and the vast majority do, in accord with a stated tenet of the Occupy movement—the movement’s existence is constitutionally protected, or should be.

The DHS’s monitoring, documenting, and undermining of protesters may in fact violate the First Amendment. In a recent piece for Dissent Magazine, sociologist James B. Rule explains the fundamental importance of a movement like Occupy in the American political landscape.
This surveillance campaign against Occupy is bad news for American democracy. Occupy represents an authentic, utterly home-grown, grassroots movement. Taken as a whole, it is neither terrorist nor conspiratorial. Indeed, it is hard to think of another movement so cumbersomely public in its deliberations and processes. Occupy is noisy, disorderly, insubordinate, and often inconvenient for all concerned—statements that could equally well apply to democracy in general. But it should never be targeted as a threat to the well-being of the country—quite the contrary.

Accordingly, Rule calls for the White House to rein in the ever-expanding surveillance activity of the DHS—which he contends is motivated by its own funding interests, and which prioritizes security at the expense of civil liberties.
The resource-rich Department of Homeland Security and its allies no doubt see in the rise of the movement another opportunity to justify their own claims for public legitimacy. We can be sure that many in these agencies view any noisy dissent as tantamount to a threat to national security.


Nobody who cares about democracy wants to live in a world where simply engaging in vociferous protest qualifies any citizen to have his or her identity and life details archived by state security agencies. Specific, overt threats of civil disobedience or other law-breaking should be dealt with on a piecemeal basis—not by attempting to monitor everyone who might be moved to such actions, all the time. Meanwhile, the White House should issue clear directives that identification and tracking of lawful protesters will play no further role in any government response to this populist moment.

Optimistic as it may be, Rule’s appeal to the White House is a problematic one, given the ubiquitous influence of the DHS revealed by these documents. If the White House-approved press release is any indication, the Oval Office, while not directly authorizing the DHS’s initiatives, is certainly turning a blind eye to the Department’s focus on the Occupy movement as a potential terrorist threat. Federal surveillance of citizens in the Bush years, most visible in NSA warrantless wiretapping controversy, has apparently not ceased with Obama’s inauguration.

Which raises the question: Does Obama, as he claims, “stand with the 99 percent,” or with those who cannot stand them?

(No, of course not. The Obama White House coordinated the crackdown on Occupy in major cities across the country, including my home town. Obama works for the top 1%. They are his base and his controllers.--jef)

American Grafitti...

Bet on Collapse

Recovery or Collapse? 

The US financial system and, probably, the financial system of Europe, like the police, no longer serves a useful social purpose.

In the US the police have proven themselves to be a greater threat to public safety than private sector criminals. I just googled “police brutality” and up came 183,000,000 results.

The cost to society of the private financial system is even higher. Writing in CounterPunch (May 18), Rob Urie reports that two years ago Andrew Haldane, executive Director for Financial Stability at the Bank of England (the UK’s version of the Federal Reserve) said that the financial crisis, now four years old, will in the end cost the world economy between $60 trillion and $200 trillion in lost GDP. If Urie’s report is correct, this is an astonishing admission from a member of the ruling elite. Try to get your mind around these figures. The US GDP, the largest in the world, is about 15 trillion. What Haldane is telling us is that the financial crisis will end up costing the world lost real income between 4 and 13 times the size of the current Gross Domestic Product of the United States. This could turn out to be an optimistic forecast.

In the end, the financial crisis could destroy Western civilization.

Even if Urie’s report, or Haldane’s calculation, is incorrect, the obvious large economic loss from the financial crisis is still unprecedented. The enormous cost of the financial crisis has one single source–financial deregulation. Financial deregulation is likely to prove to be the mistake that destroys Western civilization. While we quake in our boots from fear of “Muslim terrorists,” it is financial deregulation that is destroying us, with help from jobs offshoring. Keep in mind that Haldane is a member of the ruling elite, not a critic of the system like myself, Michael Hudson, or Pam Martens, to mention some CounterPunch contributors.)

Financial deregulation has had dangerous and adverse consequences. Deregulation permitted financial concentration that produced “banks too big to fail,” thus requiring the general public to absorb the costs of the banks’ mistakes and reckless gambling.

Deregulation permitted banks to leverage a small amount of capital with enormous debt in order to maximize return on equity, thereby maximizing the instability of the financial system and the cost to society of the banks’ bad bets.

Deregulation allowed financial institutions to sweep aside the position limits on speculators and to dominate commodity markets, turning them into a gambling casino and driving up the prices of energy and food.

Deregulation permits financial institutions to sell naked shorts, which means to sell a company’s stock or gold and silver bullion that the seller does not possess into the market in order to drive down the price.

The informed reader can add more items to this list.

The dollar in its role as world reserve currency is the source of Washington’s power. It allows Washington to control the international payments system and to exclude from the financial system those countries that do not do Washington’s bidding. It allows Washington to print money with which to pay its bills and to purchase the cooperation of foreign governments or to fund opposition within those countries whose governments Washington is unable to purchase, such as Iran, Russia, and China. If the dollar was not the world reserve currency and actually reflected its true depreciated value from the mounting US debt and running of the printing press, Washington’s power would be dramatically curtailed.

The US dollar has come close to its demise several times recently. In 2011 the dollar’s value fall as low as 72 Swiss cents. Investors seeking safety for the value of their money flooded into Swiss francs, pushing the value of the franc so high that Switzerland’s exports began to suffer. The Swiss government responded to the inflow of dollars and euros seeking refuge in the franc by declaring that it would in the future print new francs to offset the inflows of foreign currency in order to prevent the rise in the value of the franc. In other words, currency flight from the US and Europe forced the Swiss to inflate in order to prevent the continuous rise in the exchange value of the Swiss currency.

Prior to the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, the dollar was also faced with a run-up in the value of the euro as foreign central banks and OPEC members shifted their reserves into euros from dollars. The euro was on its way to becoming an alternative reserve currency. However, Goldman Sachs, whose former employees dominate the US Treasury and financial regulatory agencies and also the European Central Bank and governments of Italy and, indirectly, Greece, helped the Greek government to disguise its true deficit, thus deceiving the private European banks who were purchasing the bonds of the Greek government. Once the European sovereign debt crisis was launched, Washington had an interest in keeping it going, as it sends holders of euros fleeing into “safe” dollars, thus boosting the exchange value of the dollar, despite the enormous rise in Washington’s own debt and the doubling of the US money supply.

Last year gold and silver were rapidly rising in price (measured in US dollars), with gold hitting $1,900 an ounce and on its way to $2,000 when suddenly short sales began dominating the bullion markets. The naked shorts of gold and silver bullion succeeded in driving the price of gold down $350 per ounce from its peak. Many informed observers believe that the reason Washington has not prosecuted the banksters for their known financial crimes is that the banksters serve as an auxiliary to Washington by protecting the value of the dollar by shorting bullion and rival currencies.

What happens if Greece exits the EU on its own or by the German boot? What happens if the other EU members reject German Chancellor Merkel’s austerity, as the new president of France promised to do? If Europe breaks apart, do more investors flee to the doomed US dollar?

Will a dollar bubble become the largest bubble in economic history?

When the dollar goes, interest rates will escalate, and bond prices will collapse. Everyone who sought safety in US Treasuries will be wiped out.

We should all be aware that such outcomes are not part of the public debate.

Recently Bill Moyers interviewed Simon Johnson, formerly chief economist of the International Monetary Fund and currently professor at MIT. It turns out that deregulation, which abolished the separation of investment banks from commercial banks, permitted Jamie Dimon’s JPMorganChase to gamble with federally insured deposits. Despite this, Moyers reports that Republicans remain determined to kill the weak Dodd-Frank law and restore full deregulation.

Simon Johnson says: “I think it [deregulation] is a recipe for disaster.” The problem is, Johnson says, that correct economic policy is blocked by the enormous donations banks make to political campaigns. This means Wall Street’s attitudes and faulty risk models will result in an even bigger financial crisis than the one from which we are still suffering. And it will happen prior to recovery from the current crisis.

Johnson warns that the Republicans will distract everyone from the real crisis by concocting another “crisis” over the debt ceiling.

Johnson says that “a few people, particularly in and around the financial system, have become too powerful. They were allowed to take a lot of risk, and they did massive damage to the economy — more than eight million jobs lost. We’re still struggling to get back anywhere close to employment levels where we were before 2008. And they’ve done massive damage to the budget. This damage to the budget is long lasting; it undermines the budget when we need it to be stronger because the society is aging. We need to support Social Security and support Medicare on a fair basis. We need to restore and rebuild revenue, revenue that was absolutely devastated by the financial crisis. People need to understand the link between what the banks did and the budget. And too many people fail to do that.”

Consequently, Johnson says, the banksters continue to receive mega-benefits while imposing enormous social costs on society.

Few Americans and no Washington policymakers understand the dire situation. They are too busy hyping a non-existent recovery and the next war. Statistician John Williams reports that when correctly measured as a cost of living indicator, which the CPI no longer is, the current inflation rate in the US is 5 to 7 percentage points higher than the officially reported rate, as every consumer knows. The unemployment rate falls because, and only because, people unable to find jobs drop out of the labor force and are no longer counted as unemployed. Every informed person knows that the official inflation and unemployment rates are fictions; yet, the presstitute media continue to report the rates with a straight face as fact.

The way the government has rigged the measure of unemployment, it is possible for the US to have a zero rate of unemployment and not a single person employed or in the work force.

The way the government has the measure of inflation rigged, it is possible for your living standing to fall while the government reports that you are better off.

Financial deregulation raises the returns from speculative schemes above the returns from productive activity. The highly leveraged debt and derivatives that gave us the financial crisis have nothing to do with financing businesses. The banks are not only risking their customers’ deposits on gambling bets but also jeopardizing the country’s financial stability and economic future.

With an eye on the approaching dollar crisis, which will wreck the international financial system, the presidents of China, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, and the prime minister of India met last month to discuss forming a new bank that would shield their economies and commerce from mistakes made by Washington and the European Union. The five countries, known as the BRICS, intend to settle their trade with one another in their own currencies and cease relying on the dollar. The fact that Russia, the two Asian giants, and the largest economies in Africa and South America are leaving the dollar’s orbit sends a powerful message of lack of confidence in Washington’s handling of financial matters.

It is ironic that the outcome of financial deregulation in the US is the opposite of what its free market advocates promised. In place of highly competitive financial firms that live or die by their wits alone without government intervention, we have unprecedented financial concentration. Massive banks, “too big to fail,” now send their multi-trillion dollar losses to Washington to be paid by heavily indebted US taxpayers whose real incomes have not risen in 20 years. The banksters take home fortunes in annual bonuses for their success in socializing the “free market” banks’ losses and privatizing profits to the point of not even paying income taxes.

In the US free market economists unleashed avarice and permitted it to run amuck. Will the disastrous consequences discredit capitalism to the extent that the Soviet collapse discredited socialism?

Will Western civilization itself survive the financial tsunami that deregulated Wall Street has produced?

Ironic, isn’t it, that the United States, the home of the “indispensable people,” stands before us as the likely candidate whose government will be responsible for the collapse of the West.

Wall Street Banks Secretly Build The World’s Largest Private Army

Posted on May 16, 2012 by Admin
Alexander Higgins
Wall Street banks have secretly taken over US firearms and ammunition manufacturers and the world’s largest mercenary firms in a stealth build up private military force.

A Daily KOs article reveals that Wall Street banks have used private equity firms to acquire and launch a massive stealth takeover of private security firms, US ammo and gun manufacturers, uniforms, silencers and an army of mercenaries to build what amounts to the world’s largest private army.

At the same time the private mercenary companies they now control, which include the likes of  Dynacorp and the notorious name changing Blackwater/Xe Services/Academi,  have been authorized under Department of Defense DIRECTIVE NUMBER 3025.18 to actually conduct policing operations inside the United States.

The article reveals CitiBank, Bank of America, Barclays, and Deutsche Bank have provided huge amounts of funding to two private Wall Street equity firms, Cerebus and Veritas Equity, which in turn have used umbrella companies such as Freedom Corp., to engage in stealth takeovers and weapons stockpiling which has consumed the likes of  several gun manufacturers and ammunition manufacturers including Remington, Cobbs, H&R, Marlin, Dakota, and Bushmaker.

Furthermore, the same private equity firms have taken over companies involved in the “crowd control industry”.

One such example is CPI which manufacturers microwave and radio frequency crowd control pain inducers similar to the US Military’s heat gun which has been mentioned for deployment to control Occupy protestors.

All of this comes following news that the Department of Homeland Security has purchased 450 million rounds of ammunition banned by the Geneva Convention which is coupled with reports that feds are buying up all surplus ammo and even ordering stores to cease sales to civilians.

At the same time a DHS informant says that the DHS is preparing for a civil war and recently leaked army manuals reveal mass military detention centers are being prepared inside the US for a War On Terror ‘strategy shift‘.

War With Iran Has Already Begun

Is there any more useless entity than the US House of Representatives? Hey, assholes in congress, you do know that Russia and China have committed to protecting Iran, don't you? And that by attacking Iran, you'll be starting WWIII. You will. The United States will be the aggressor starting WWIII. That makes us just like Nazi Germany invading Poland. These idiot fuckbags want to start WWIII. They'll be protected, who gives a shit, right? We won't be protected. And you can guarantee, once we attack Iran, the war comes home. China and Russia will be dropping bombs on OUR houses, killing OUR children, OUR parents. By not allowing these morons to start their wars, we're complicit in our own demise at the hands of the allies of our enemy. We started it, and war will come to the US and be fought on our soil because of these stupid shitheads. Every one of them, Democrats and Republicans, should be voted out of office for betraying the US citizens by starting WWIII.--jef

On Friday, 93% of the U.S. House of Representatives affirmed a resolution escalating America’s already aggressive position on Iran, from “crippling” sanctions to a zero-tolerance policy on nuclear weapons. The Congressional Research Service summarized the bill (emphasis mine):
Affirms that it is a vital national interest of the United States to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and warns that time is limited to prevent that from happening. Urges increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran to secure an agreement that includes: (1) suspension of all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, (2) complete cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding Iran’s nuclear activities, and (3) a permanent agreement that verifiably assures that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful. Supports: (1) the universal rights and democratic aspirations of the Iranian people, and (2) U.S. policy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Rejects any U.S. policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran. Urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.
The resolution passed the House 401-11, with a few representatives absent and a few abstaining. This means it had massive bipartisan support – for those of you who only consider Republicans to be warmongers: 166 of 190 Democrats voted in support, including some of its ostensibly most progressive members, such as Barney Frank and Rush Holt.

The language used bodes terribly for the United States’ already disastrous and destructive foreign policy. The House affirms not merely that Iran will not be allowed to manufacture nuclear weapons, but that it will not be permitted the capability of said manufacturing. Never mind that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta observed that Iran is not actually pursuing these weapons; given the extreme and persistent threats from the nuclear-armed Israel and United States, coupled with the U.S. forces surrounding Iran, we would have no right to prevent them if they were.

Further, examining the House’s reasoning for denouncing Iran as a repressive regime highlights severe hypocrisy:
“Whereas, on December 26, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution denouncing the serious human rights abuses occurring in Iran, including torture, cruel and degrading treatment in detention, the targeting of human rights defenders, violence against women, and ‘the systematic and serious restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly’, as well as severe restrictions on the rights to ‘freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.’”
Switch in that paragraph “the United States” for “Iran” and you might think we should be sanctioning ourselves. Regarding the first several accusations, consider this: the United States tortures foreign adversaries by proxy, abuses accused whistle-blowers in prison before trial, detains more prisoners than any country on Earth, and continues to pass state laws assaulting women’s rights. Perhaps the most hypocritical, though, is the accusation of the repression of peaceful assembly. Just two days after the House passed this resolution, Chicago riot police beat protesters with nightsticks, hit others with CPD vehicles, and used sound canons to disrupt peaceful demonstrators against the NATO summit. So the idea that the U.S. deems Iran a barbaric nation that represses political speech is extremely two-faced at best.

The worst part about the bill, though, is not what policies it specifically introduces or accusations it announces but rather what it signifies more broadly: the U.S. is taking the next step in the war on Iran that has already begun.

For one thing, Israel has already teamed up with a U.S.-backed terror group within Iran to assassinate nuclear scientists, serving both the temporary, practical purpose of inhibiting Iran’s nuclear progress and the long-term, psychological purpose of instilling fear within Iran and its fledgling nuclear program.

More insidiously, the U.S. has imposed severe sanctions on Iran that most describe as “crippling” and that all should describe as acts of war. Just today, the Senate voted unanimously to escalate those very sanctions. While President Obama may say that sanctions are intended to isolate Iran’s leaders in their nuclear position, it is citizens who bear the burden of these economic moves. Look to Iraq for the devastating effects, where a senior U.N. official estimated that U.N.-imposed sanctions in the 1990s killed a staggering 500,000 children under the age of 5. They don’t call ‘em “crippling” for nothing.

We should also look to Iraq to understand how this bipartisan process of escalation works, from sanctions to bombing to occupation. Arguing against sanctions on Iran in April 2010, Rep. Ron Paul recalled how sanctions on Iraq led inevitably to war:
“Some of my well-intentioned colleagues may be tempted to vote for sanctions on Iran because they view this as a way to avoid war on Iran. I will ask them whether the sanctions on Iraq satisfied those pushing for war at that time. Or whether the application of ever-stronger sanctions in fact helped war advocates make their case for war on Iraq: as each round of new sanctions failed to “work” – to change the regime – war became the only remaining regime-change option.
"This legislation, whether the House or Senate version, will lead us to war on Iran. The sanctions in this bill, and the blockade of Iran necessary to fully enforce them, are in themselves acts of war according to international law. A vote for sanctions on Iran is a vote for war against Iran. I urge my colleagues in the strongest terms to turn back from this unnecessary and counterproductive march to war.”

The Iraq war did not begin with the 2003 invasion – it began with the 1990s embargo. Sanctions on Iraq not only killed hundreds of thousands, but they structured the narrative on Iraq to winnow out peaceful options on the path to war. And the same is true of Iran. Now debates on Iran focus on whether Ahmadinejad will relent in his pursuit of weapons, whether sanctions are “working” sufficiently, or where the U.S. and Israel should draw “red lines” for attack.

President Obama called last month’s “negotiations” with Iran that country’s “last chance,” effectively threatening to escalate sanctions or initiate an attack if Iran didn’t cease and desist its nuclear enrichment program entirely. How are those “negotiations”? How is that “diplomacy”? Threatening Iran to completely submit to the U.S.’s will to get nothing in return is not a discussion – it’s bullying.

What would Iran have to gain in that situation? Iran is seeking to defend itself from nuclear-armed bullies surrounding it constantly. Passively complying would only speed up the U.S. plan to replace the Iranian regime with one even more compliant.

But the United States will not relent on Iran – just as it did not relent on Iraq. Examine again the House resolution’s first principle:
“…it is a vital national interest of the United States to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and warns that time is limited to prevent that from happening.”
Compare that with President Bill Clinton’s 1998 remarks on Iraq:
“One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line.”
This is how American bipartisanship – or more accurately, duopoly – works. Both parties want war with Iran, the way both parties wanted war with Iraq. It is in both of their interests – appeasing Israel and its chief lobby, AIPAC, and posturing for their respective bases. 

Republicans take the hard line on our “enemies,” using blatantly aggressive language, refusing to “apologize for America” and reducing our victims to less than human. Democrats take the more “pragmatic” approach, adopting “national security” rhetoric based in protecting Americans that disguises the exact same policies. The Senate vote to go to war with Iraq, after all, didn’t barely squeak through on Republican support: it passed 96-4. (Now, 9/11 catalyzed the whole process in Iraq and made dissent even less popular, but the biggest antiwar protest in recorded history couldn’t sway more than four measly votes in the Senate.)

This endless posturing is how President Obama can be accused of being “soft on terror” and simultaneously escalate sanctions on Iran and massive drone campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

This is why, in the interest of war, sanctions by one party is a huge gift to the other. If Mitt Romney is elected this year, he’ll likely announce that Obama’s sanctions were insufficient and encourage an Israeli attack on Iran behind closed doors. If Obama is re-elected, he’ll continue on the path he’s currently on: allowing Israel to assassinate Iranian scientists, officially recognizing the terror group seeking regime change in Iran, and escalating sanctions that cripple the Iranian people and isolate its leaders.

Citing Glenn Greenwald and Greg Sargent on liberal support for Obama’s escalated drone strikes, here’s Stephen Walt on ‘Why Hawks Should Vote for Obama’:
“Obama can do hawkish things as a Democrat that a Republican could not (or at least not without facing lots of trouble on the home front). It’s the flipside of the old “Nixon Goes to China” meme: Obama can do hawkish things without facing (much) criticism from the left, because he still retains their sympathy and because liberals and non-interventionists don’t have a credible alternative (sorry, Ron Paul supporters). If someone like John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or George W. Bush had spent the past few years escalating drone attacks, sending Special Forces into other countries to kill people without the local government’s permission, prosecuting alleged leakers with great enthusiasm, and ratcheting up sanctions against Iran, without providing much information about exactly why and how we were doing all this, I suspect a lot of Democrats would have raised a stink about some of it. But not when it is the nice Mr. Obama that is doing these things.”
So if you vote for Barack Obama because you think that Mitt Romney would put troops on the ground, you’ll only be doing it to make yourself feel better. You’ll be playing right into the partisan posturing that seeks to fabricate a meaningful difference between the two major parties, both with long histories of support for wars of aggression. You’ll be fundamentally misunderstanding how American duopoly works: both parties decry each other for tactically approaching the same policies differently in the interest of electing their own representatives to power. Both parties want war – they just want to play it to their respective bases properly.

If you think Al Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq, that Ralph Nader ruined the antiwar movement and George Bush is all to blame, point me to where Gore opposed Clinton’s sanctions on Iraq when he was Vice President. In the meantime, read how Gore argued for regime change in Iraq a few short months before Bush invaded:
“Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.”
If you think Bush’s war was a terrible mistake that warranted John Kerry’s election in 2004, read Kerry on Iraq two months before the invasion:
“Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime … He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation … And now he is miscalculating America’s response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction … So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real…”
Find more quotes from Democrats leading up to and supportive of Bush’s 2003 invasion here.

Liberals criticize President Obama for escalating drone strikes, failing to close Guantanamo, aggressively persecuting Bradley Manning, illegally invading Libya, offering cuts to Social Security, and immunizing the war crimes and torture of the Bush administration – but many same liberals say that despite all of these transgressions, the ostensible likelihood of Mitt Romney attacking Iran makes them feel they have to re-elect the president.

If this were true, wouldn’t these liberals be criticizing Obama’s sanctions on Iran? Wouldn’t they have abandoned Clinton, Gore, and Kerry after their comments on Iraq? More to the point, if these liberals despise war so much, why aren’t Obama’s surge in Afghanistan or expanded wars in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen deal-breakers for re-election?

If you actually don’t want war with Iran, you have to help end duopoly. You can’t support either of the two establishment parties who feed the corporate military-industrial complex and fear-monger voters into submission. We must make it known that the people want peace – meaning no sanctions, no assassinations, no threats of war.

We must make war making and fear mongering unacceptable. Come Election Day, we can vote third party, or boycott the election, or protest to shut down military recruitment centers or drone bases. But we can’t fund or vote for the war parties – our victims can’t afford it. No votes for empire, no money for war. No exceptions.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How Rural America Got Fracked: The Environmental Nightmare You Know Nothing About

by Ellen Cantarow

If the world can be seen in a grain of sand, watch out.  As Wisconsinites are learning, there’s money (and misery) in sand -- and if you’ve got the right kind, an oil company may soon be at your doorstep. 

March in Wisconsin used to mean snow on the ground, temperatures so cold that farmers worried about their cows freezing to death. But as I traveled around rural townships and villages in early March to interview people about frac-sand mining, a little-known cousin of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” daytime temperatures soared to nearly 80 degrees -- bizarre weather that seemed to be sending a meteorological message.

In this troubling spring, Wisconsin’s prairies and farmland fanned out to undulating hills that cradled the land and its people. Within their embrace, the rackety calls of geese echoed from ice-free ponds, bald eagles wheeled in the sky, and deer leaped in the brush. And for the first time in my life, I heard the thrilling warble of sandhill cranes.

Yet this peaceful rural landscape is swiftly becoming part of a vast assembly line in the corporate race for the last fossil fuels on the planet. The target: the sand in the land of the cranes.

Five hundred million years ago, an ocean surged here, shaping a unique wealth of hills and bluffs that, under mantles of greenery and trees, are sandstone. That sandstone contains a particularly pure form of crystalline silica.  Its grains, perfectly rounded, are strong enough to resist the extreme pressures of the technology called hydraulic fracturing, which pumps vast quantities of that sand, as well as water and chemicals, into ancient shale formations to force out methane and other forms of “natural gas.”

That sand, which props open fractures in the shale, has to come from somewhere.  Without it, the fracking industry would grind to a halt. So big multinational corporations are descending on this bucolic region to cart off its prehistoric sand, which will later be forcefully injected into the earth elsewhere across the country to produce more natural gas.  Geology that has taken millions of years to form is now being transformed into part of a system, a machine, helping to drive global climate change.

“The valleys will be filled… the mountains and hills made level"
Boom times for hydraulic fracturing began in 2008 when new horizontal-drilling methods transformed an industry formerly dependent on strictly vertical boring. Frac-sand mining took off in tandem with this development.

"Awash in promises of corporate jobs and easy money, those who lease and sell their land just shrug."

“It's huge,” said a U.S. Geological Survey mineral commodity specialist in 2009. “I've never seen anything like it, the growth. It makes my head spin." That year, from all U.S. sources, frac-sand producers used or sold over 6.5 million metric tons of sand -- about what the Great Pyramid of Giza weighs.  Last month, Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Senior Manager and Special Projects Coordinator Tom Woletz said corporations were hauling at least 15 million metric tons a year from the state’s hills.

By July 2011, between 22 and 36 frac-sand facilities in Wisconsin were either operating or approved. Seven months later, said Woletz, there were over 60 mines and 45 processing (refinement) plants in operation. “By the time your article appears, these figures will be obsolete,” claims Pat Popple, who in 2008 founded the first group to oppose frac-sand mining, Concerned Chippewa Citizens (now part of The Save the Hills Alliance).

Jerry Lausted, a retired teacher and also a farmer, showed me the tawny ridges of sand that delineated a strip mine near the town of Menomonie where he lives. “If we were looking from the air,” he added, “you’d see ponds in the bottom of the mine where they dump the industrial waste water. If you scan to the left, you’ll see the hills that are going to disappear.”

Those hills are gigantic sponges, absorbing water, filtering it, and providing the region’s aquifer with the purest water imaginable. According to Lausted, sand mining takes its toll on “air quality, water quality and quantity. Recreational aspects of the community are damaged. Property values [are lowered.] But the big thing is, you’re removing the hills that you can’t replace.  They’re a huge water manufacturing factory that Mother Nature gave us, and they’re gone.”

It’s impossible to grasp the scope of the devastation from the road, but aerial videos and photographs reveal vast, bleak sandy wastelands punctuated with waste ponds and industrial installations where Wisconsin hills once stood.

When corporations apply to counties for mining permits, they must file “reclamation” plans. But Larry Schneider, a retired metallurgist and industrial consultant with a specialized knowledge of mining, calls the reclamation process “an absolute farce.”

Reclamation projects by mining corporations since the 1970s may have made mined areas “look a little less than an absolute wasteland,” he observes. “But did they reintroduce the biodiversity? Did they reintroduce the beauty and the ecology? No.”

Studies bear out his verdict. “Every year,” wrote Mrinal Ghose in the Journal of Scientific and Industrial Research, “large areas are continually becoming unfertile in spite of efforts to grow vegetation on the degraded mined land.”

Awash in promises of corporate jobs and easy money, those who lease and sell their land just shrug. “The landscape is gonna change when it’s all said and done,” says dairy farmer Bobby Schindler, who in 2008 leased his land in Chippewa County to a frac-sand company called Canadian Sand and Proppant. (EOG, the former Enron, has since taken over the lease.) “Instead of being a hill it’s gonna be a valley, but all seeded down, and you’d never know there’s a mine there unless you were familiar with the area.”

Of the mining he adds, “It’s really put a boost to the area. It’s impressive the amount of money that’s exchanging hands.” Eighty-four-year-old Letha Webster, who sold her land 100 miles south of Schindler’s to another mining corporation, Unimin, says that leaving her home of 56 years is “just the price of progress.”

Jamie and Kevin Gregar -- both 30-something native Wisconsinites and military veterans -- lived in a trailer and saved their money so that they could settle down in a pastoral paradise once Kevin returned from Iraq. In January 2011, they found a dream home near tiny Tunnel City. (The village takes its name from a nearby rail tunnel). “It’s just gorgeous -- the hills, the trees, the woodland, the animals,” says Jamie. “It’s perfect.”

Five months after they moved in, she learned that neighbors had leased their land to “a sand mine” company. “What’s a sand mine?” she asked.

Less than a year later, they know all too well.  The Gregars’ land is now surrounded on three sides by an unsightly panorama of mining preparations. Unimin is uprooting trees, gouging out topsoil, and tearing down the nearby hills. “It looks like a disaster zone, like a bomb went off,” Jamie tells me.

"...Multinational corporations use their considerable resources to steamroll local councils and win sweetheart deals."

When I mention her service to her country, her voice breaks. “I am devastated. We’ve done everything right. We’ve done everything we were supposed to. We just wanted to raise our family in a good location and have good neighbors and to have it taken away from us for something we don’t support…” Her voice trails off in tears.

For Unimin, the village of Tunnel City in Greenfield township was a perfect target. Not only did the land contain the coveted crystalline silica; it was close to a rail spur. No need for the hundreds of diesel trucks that other corporations use to haul sand from mine sites to processing plants. No need, either, for transport from processing plants to rail junctions where hundreds of trains haul frac-sand by the millions of tons each year to fracture other once-rural landscapes. Here, instead, the entire assembly line operates in one industrial zone.

There was also no need for jumping the hurdles zoning laws sometimes erect. Like many Wisconsin towns where a culture of diehard individualism sees zoning as an assault on personal freedom, Greenfield and all its municipalities, including Tunnel City, are unzoned. This allowed the corporation to make deals with individual landowners. For the 8.5 acres where Letha Webster and her husband Gene lived for 56 years, assessed in 2010 at $147,500, Unimin paid $330,000. Overall, between late May and July 2011, it paid $5.3 million for 436 acres with a market value of about $1.1 million.

There was no time for public education about the potential negative possibilities of frac-sand mining: the destruction of the hills, the decline in property values, the danger of silicosis (once considered a strictly occupational lung disease) from blowing silica dust, contamination of ground water from the chemicals used in the processing plants, the blaze of lights all night long, noise from hundreds of train cars, houses shaken by blasting. Ron Koshoshek, a leading environmentalist who works with Wisconsin’s powerful Towns Association to educate townships about the industry, says that “frac-sand mining will virtually end all residential development in rural townships.” The result will be “a large-scale net loss of tax dollars to towns, increasing taxes for those who remain.”

Town-Busting Tactics
Frac-sand corporations count on a combination of naïveté, trust, and incomprehension in rural hamlets that previously dealt with companies no larger than Wisconsin’s local sand and gravel industries. Before 2008, town boards had never handled anything beyond road maintenance and other basic municipal issues.  Today, multinational corporations use their considerable resources to steamroll local councils and win sweetheart deals.  That’s how the residents of Tunnel City got taken to the cleaners.

On July 6, 2011, a Unimin representative ran the first public forum about frac-sand mining in the village.  Other heavily attended and often heated community meetings followed, but given the cascades of cash, the town board chairman’s failure to take a stand against the mining corporation, and Unimin’s aggressiveness, tiny Tunnel City was a David without a slingshot.

Local citizens did manage to get the corporation to agree to give the town $250,000 for the first two million tons mined annually, $50,000 more than its original offer. In exchange, the township agreed that any ordinance it might pass in the future to restrict mining wouldn’t apply to Unimin. Multiply the two million tons of frac-sand tonnage Unimin expects to mine annually starting in 2013 by the $300 a ton the industry makes and you’ll find that the township only gets .0004% of what the company will gross.

For the Gregars, it’s been a nightmare.  Unimin has refused five times to buy their land and no one else wants to live near a sand mine. What weighs most heavily on the couple is the possibility that their children will get silicosis from long-term exposure to dust from the mine sites. “We don’t want our kids to be lab rats for frac-sand mining companies,” says Jamie.

Drew Bradley, Unimin’s senior vice president of operations, waves such fears aside. “I think [citizens] are blowing it out of proportion,” he told a local publication. “There are plenty of silica mines sited close to communities. There have been no concerns exposed there.”

That’s cold comfort to the Gregars. Crystalline silica is a known carcinogen and the cause of silicosis, an irreversible, incurable disease. None of the very few rules applied to sand mining by the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) limit how much silica gets into the air outside of mines. That’s the main concern of those living near the facilities.

So in November 2011, Jamie Gregar and ten other citizens sent a 35-page petition to the DNR. The petitioners asked the agency to declare respirable crystalline silica a hazardous substance and to monitor it, using a public health protection level set by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. The petition relies on studies, including one by the DNR itself, which acknowledge the risk of airborne silica from frac-sand mines for those who live nearby.

The DNR denied the petition, claiming among other things that -- contrary to its own study’s findings -- current standards are adequate. One of the petition’s signatories, Ron Koshoshek, wasn’t surprised. For 16 years he was a member of, and for nine years chaired, Wisconsin’s Public Intervenor Citizens Advisory Committee.  Created in 1967, its role was to intercede on behalf of the environment, should tensions grow between the DNR’s two roles: environmental protector and corporate licensor. “The DNR,” he says, “is now a permitting agency for development and exploitation of resources.”

In 2010, Cathy Stepp, a confirmed anti-environmentalist who had previously railed against the DNR, belittling it as "anti-development, anti-transportation, and pro-garter snakes," was appointed to head the agency by now-embattled Governor Scott Walker who explained: “I wanted someone with a chamber-of-commerce mentality.”

As for Jamie Gregar, her dreams have been dashed and she’s determined to leave her home. “At this point,” she says, “I don’t think there’s a price we wouldn’t accept.”

Frac-Sand vs. Food
Brian Norberg and his family in Prairie Farm, 137 miles northwest of Tunnel City, paid the ultimate price: he died while trying to mobilize the community against Procore, a subsidiary of the multinational oil and gas corporation Sanjel. The American flag that flies in front of the Norbergs’ house flanks a placard with a large, golden NORBERG, over which pheasants fly against a blue sky.  It’s meant to represent the 1,500 acres the family has farmed for a century.

“When you start talking about industrial mining, to us, you’re violating the land,” Brian’s widow, Lisa, told me one March afternoon over lunch.  She and other members of the family, as well as a friend, had gathered to describe Prairie Farm’s battle with the frac-sanders. “The family has had a really hard time accepting the fact that what we consider a beautiful way to live could be destroyed by big industry.”

Their fight against Procore started in April 2011: Sandy, a lifelong friend and neighbor, arrived with sand samples drillers had excavated from her land, and began enthusiastically describing the benefits of frac-sand mining. “Brian listened for a few minutes,” Lisa recalls. “Then he told her [that]… she and her sand vials could get the heck -- that’s a much nicer word than what he used  -- off the farm.  Sandy was hoping we would also be excited about jumping on the bandwagon. Brian informed her that our land would be used for the purpose God intended, farming.”

Brian quickly enlisted family and neighbors in an organizing effort against the company. In June 2011, Procore filed a reclamation plan -- the first step in the permitting process -- with the county’s land and water conservation department. Brian rushed to the county office to request a public hearing, but returned dejected and depressed. “He felt completely defeated that he could not protect the community from them moving in and destroying our lives,” recalls Lisa.

He died of a heart attack less than a day later at the age of 52. The family is convinced his death was a result of the stress caused by the conflict. That stress is certainly all too real.  The frac-sand companies, says family friend Donna Goodlaxson, echoing many others I interviewed for this story, “go from community to community. And one of the things they try to do is pit people in the community against each other.”

Instead of backing off, the Norbergs and other Prairie Farm residents continued Brian’s efforts. At an August 2011 public hearing, the town’s residents directly addressed Procore’s representatives. “What people had to say there was so powerful,” Goodlaxson remembers. “Those guys were blown out of their chairs. They weren’t prepared for us.”

“I think people insinuate that we’re little farmers in a little community and everyone’s an ignorant buffoon,” added Sue Glaser, domestic partner of Brian’s brother Wayne. “They found out in a real short time there was a lot of education behind this.”

“About 80% of the neighborhood was not happy about the potential change to our area,” Lisa adds. “But very few of us knew anything about this industry at [that] time.” To that end, Wisconsin’s Farmers’ Union and its Towns Association organized a day-long conference in December 2011 to help people “deal with this new industry.”

Meanwhile, other towns, alarmed by the explosion of frac-sand mining, were beginning to pass licensing ordinances to regulate the industry. In Wisconsin, counties can challenge zoning but not licensing ordinances, which fall under town police powers.  These, according to Wisconsin law, cannot be overruled by counties or the state. Becky Glass, a Prairie Farm resident and an organizer with Labor Network for Sustainability, calls Wisconsin’s town police powers “the strongest tools towns have to fight or regulate frac-sand mining.” Consider them so many slingshots employed against the corporate Goliaths.

In April 2012, Prairie Farm’s three-man board voted 2 to 1 to pass such an ordinance to regulate any future mining effort in the town. No, such moves won’t stop frac-sand mining in Wisconsin, but they may at least mitigate its harm. Procore finally pulled out because of the resistance, says Glass, adding that the company has since returned with different personnel to try opening a mine near where she lives.

“It takes 1.2 acres per person per year to feed every person in this country,” says Lisa Norberg. “And the little township that I live in, we have 9,000 acres that are for farm use. So if we just close our eyes and bend over and let the mining companies come in, we’ll have thousands of people we can’t feed.”

Food or frac-sand: it’s a decision of vital importance across the country, but one most Americans don’t even realize is being made -- largely by multinational corporations and dwindling numbers of yeoman farmers in what some in this country would call “the real America.”  Most of us know nothing about these choices, but if the mining corporations have their way, we will soon enough -- when we check out prices at the supermarket or grocery store. We’ll know it too, as global climate change continues to turn Wisconsin winters balmy and supercharge wild weather across the country.

While bucolic landscapes disappear, aquifers are fouled, and countless farms across rural Wisconsin morph into industrial wastelands, Lisa’s sons continue to work the Norberg’s land, just as their father once did. So does Brian’s nephew, 32-year-old Matthew, who took me on a jolting ride across his fields. The next time I’m in town, he assured me, we’ll visit places in the hills where water feeds into springs. Yes, you can drink the water there. It’s still the purest imaginable. Under the circumstances, though, no one knows for how long.

Many thanks to Wisconsin filmmaker Jim Tittle, whose documentary,The Price of Sand,” will appear in August 2012, and who shared both his interviewees and his time for this article.


More proof that EVERY SINGLE aspect of fracking is corrupt, unhealthy, bad for the environment, people, animals, the earth, the water and the air. The clean burning fuel my ass! When it's all said and done, fracking will have hastened our demise.--jef

How Much Can Potential Employers Ask About You?

by Alan Greenblatt--May 22, 2012--NPR

Everyone knows it's tough to get a job these days. The task is that much harder if you have any kind of blemish on your past.

The use of background checks to screen potential employees has become a billion-dollar business. More than 90 percent of employers in the U.S. conduct criminal background checks, at least on some potential hires, according to a recent study by the National Consumer Law Center.

In addition to criminal records, businesses commonly look into all kinds of other information, such as credit reports and driving records.

"Our approach has been, there should be a job for everybody, but not everyone is appropriate for every job," says attorney Les Rosen, head of Employment Screening Resources, a background check firm in California.

How Far Is Too Far?
Businesses can be legally liable if they don't check out workers who go on to commit crimes while on the job. And no company wants the embarrassment of finding out later that high-profile employees fibbed on their resumes, as happened recently with Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson.

Great Moments In Resume Padding

May 13: Scott Thompson steps down as chief executive of Yahoo after it comes to light he didn't have a computer science degree from Stonehill College as claimed on his resume.

2007: Marilee Jones resigns as dean of admissions at MIT, admitting she falsified her credentials when she first went to work for the university 28 years prior.

2006: Dave Edmundson steps down after eight months as CEO of RadioShack and 11 years with the company. He had claimed two college degrees but had none.

2002: Ronald Zarrella offers to step down as CEO of Bausch & Lomb when it is revealed he doesn't have an M.B.A. from New York University, as stated on his resume. He loses a big bonus but remains on the job until 2008.

2001: George O'Leary steps down as head football coach at Notre Dame five days after being hired, having falsely claimed to have a master's degree in education and to have played college football for three years.

1987: Then-Sen. Joe Biden drops out of the presidential race amid revelations of plagiarism and false claims about having received a full scholarship to law school and having earned three undergraduate degrees.

But consumer advocates say employers have become too cautious — and too nosy.
Demands from some companies and universities that applicants hand over their passwords to social media pages such as Facebook led Maryland to enact a prohibition on the practice earlier this month. Similar legislation is pending in Congress and a handful of other states. Lawmakers also have grown concerned that employers are using background checks to screen out entire categories of potential workers in ways that are discriminatory.

"The fact of the matter is that there aren't tremendous privacy protections for job applicants and employees in this country," says Judy Conti, who lobbies for the National Employment Law Center, an advocacy group for low-income and unemployed workers.

"Background checks are a very big issue, even though they often bear no relation to the job you do," she says.

Last month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission revised its guidelines regarding the use of criminal background checks. This didn't represent so much a change in policy as an attempt to clarify the rules.

The gist was that when it comes to criminal records, employers should look only at those cases that are directly relevant to the position. No one thinks that banks need to be hiring embezzlers to handle money, but the EEOC wants employers only to consider convictions — not arrests — and to make an individual assessment in each case as to whether the criminal activity is directly related to the job at hand.

Companies that currently say they will not consider applicants with any sort of criminal background for any job will very likely have to rethink their approach.

"The EEOC has long held the position that a blanket use of criminal records for screening people out of jobs can often constitute disparate impact discrimination," Conti says, adding that credit reports also can be a proxy for racial discrimination.

'You Don't Want To Have A Police State'
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick vetoed parts of a spending bill a couple of weeks ago that would have required criminal history checks, urine screening and fingerprinting and photographs of all new hires at the state Gaming Commission.

It's not that Patrick, a Democrat, doesn't share the Legislature's concern about preventing corruption, but he concluded that mandating urine tests for potential receptionists went a step beyond what was necessary.

Hiring Do's And Don'ts

Every state has different regulations regarding which types of information employers can solicit from job applicants, but here are some general guidelines.
Generally OK To Ask About
  • Aliases/previous identities
  • Proof of age if hires must be at least 18
  • Legal status to work
  • Criminal convictions or pending charges
  • Educational attainment
  • Military service
Not OK
  • Questions that lead to disclosure of ages above 40
  • Citizenship/national original
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status
Sometimes OK
  • Arrests
  • Disability — questions can be asked about ability to perform specific required task but not about general level of disability, treatment or time missed in previous jobs.
Source: Les Rosen, Safe Hiring Manual

This is the kind of balancing act employers in and out of government have to perform all the time, says Rosen, the background check attorney in California. Every story of a person denied a job because of some youthful indiscretion decades in the past seems to be balanced by the case of a registered sex offender whose record wasn't properly checked before being hired for a job involving interaction with the public.

"You don't want to have a police state," Rosen says, "but you also don't want any liar or miscreant to get any job they want."

The trend has been toward more checks, driven by factors such as worries about immigration status, scandals involving matters such as child abuse and overall security concerns following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The ability to do those checks has been made easier by the growth of databases and search engines.

Asking job applicants to supply passwords for their social media accounts seems to cross a line, Conti says. It makes people nervous that there will be no limits on what employers will ask to see. Some employers also request to see tax returns or W-2 forms.

Still, for all the attention they've gotten, instances of companies seeking social media passwords are rare. No company with an alert human resources department wants to find out things on Facebook that it isn't allowed to ask during the normal interview process, such as information about an applicant's age or religion.

"Somebody says 'it's all over my Facebook page that I'm gay' and they file a lawsuit," Conti says. "That would be hard to defend against."

Using Information Wisely
State lawmakers also are concerned about employers looking into people's credit. Over the past three years, seven states have enacted laws barring employers in many instances from gaining access to credit reports. Fifteen states have similar legislation pending.

They hope to avoid situations where people need a job to get their finances back in order, yet can't get a job because their finances aren't in order.

Many lawmakers concerned with background checks are motivated by the desire to tear down barriers to employment, helping even convicted criminals find productive paths back into society in hopes of keeping them from re-offending.

For employers who are understandably nervous about hiring people with criminal pasts or questionable personal circumstances, background checks offer some peace of mind — and some protection down the road from legal liability.

But they don't always weed out bad actors. Too often, companies rely on cheap vendors that charge only $10 or $20 and then perform cursory searches of databases often riddled with inaccurate information.

The current spate of regulatory pressures — and some lawsuits over misinformation — will help "cull the herd a bit" and lead more companies to use reliable screeners, says Rosen, of Employment Screening Resources.

No one expects a sudden stop to background checks. The key will be what employers do with the information they gather. Companies should ask applicants about potentially negative reports to give them a chance to explain away errors that inevitably come up and also to put their circumstances into context, says Cynthia Springer, a labor and employment lawyer in Indiana.

"Collecting the information isn't the big issue right now, it's how it's being used," Springer says. "You should be doing a case-by-case analysis anytime you're using criminal background information in making a decision."

Beyond the Big, Bad Corporation

By Tara Lohan, AlterNet
Posted on May 21, 2012

As our political system sputters, a wave of innovative thinking and bold experimentation is quietly sweeping away outmoded economic models. In New Economic Visions, a special five-part AlterNet series edited by economics editor Lynn Parramore in partnership with political economist Gar Alperovitz of the Democracy Collaborative, creative thinkers come together to explore the exciting ideas and projects that are shaping the philosophical and political vision of the movement that could take our economy back.

In September 2011, two Appalachian women traveled to Delaware to deliver a petition to the state's Attorney General Beau Biden. Betty Harrah and Lorelei Scarbro represented thousands who believed that the business charter for coal-mining company Massey Energy should be repealed. The company, mostly operating in Appalachia but incorporated in Delaware, has violated the Clean Water Act 60,000 times. An investigation commissioned by the governor of West Virginia found Massey could have prevented the explosion that claimed the lives of 29 miners, among them Harrah's brother, at the Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010.

Massey, they contended, was simply too dangerous to be in business. But their pleas fell on deaf ears. The company plugs along, despite its shoddy environmental and safety records, churning out profits for its parent company, Alpha Natural Resources.

To many, Massey is not simply one bad apple, but part of an economic system heavy with rotten fruit. Companies like Lehman Brothers, Bank of America, Countrywide, BP, and Walmart epitomize the relentless drive of corporations to maximize profit above everything else, including safety, fair working conditions, clean air and water, healthy communities, and common decency. In doing so, the very word "corporation" has become a dirty word.

Forget bad apples, perhaps we should just raze the entire orchard, right?

Our economy, like our environment, is in trouble. Limitless growth that drives the profit-hungry corporate model today is ecologically impossible. We simply cannot sustain business as usual and the cracks in our system are showing.

"You look at the Arab Spring ... what looked like very stable regimes across the Arab world were suddenly shown to be completely vulnerable and brittle and I think that we may see the same kind of thing in our economy," said Marjorie Kelly, a fellow at the Tellus Institute and author of the new book Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution. "What looks massive and permanent and invulnerable, may show itself quite suddenly to be brittle."

Maybe this doesn't sound heartening but it should. The corporate model we have today hasn't always been around and it doesn't need to remain the dominant way we do business. There is no reason we should be swabbing the decks of a sinking ship -- alternatives already exist and they are flourishing.

"What's underway is an ownership revolution. It's about broadening economic power from the few to the many and about changing the mindset from social indifference to social benefit," Kelly writes. "We're schooled to fear this shift, to think there are only two choices for the design of an economy: capitalism and communism, private ownership and state ownership. But the alternatives being grown today defy those dusty 19th-century categories. They represent a new option of private ownership for the common good. This economic revolution is different from a political one. It's not about tearing down but about building up. It's about reconstructing the foundation of ownership on which the economy rests."

Better Business
A common complaint in today's world is one of disconnection. Our industrialized world has resulted in less contact with community -- we don't know our neighbors or who grows our food. In the same way that we've lost touch with a deeper sense of belonging and place, many of us have become disconnected from the soul of our work. The corporation-worker structure today is a master-servant relationship. We're slaves to the company, working longer hours for less wages.

"Now mass layoffs to boost profits are the norm, while the expectation of a career with one company is long gone," William Lazonick wrote. "This transformation happened because the U.S. business corporation has become in a (rather ugly) word 'financialized.' It means that executives began to base all their decisions on increasing corporate earnings for the sake of jacking up corporate stock prices. Other concerns -- economic, social and political -- took a backseat. From the 1980s, the talk in boardrooms and business schools changed. Instead of running corporations to create wealth for all, leaders should think only of 'maximizing shareholder value.'"

Our economy is dominated by a monoculture business model, Kelly says, driven largely by publicly traded corporations that have built in pressure from Wall Street for maximum short-term earnings. But a healthy, living economy needs biodiversity. We can find this if we begin to look around -- across the U.S. and the world -- where there are businesses designed not for maximum profit, but with a mission-driven social and economic architecture. One of these models is the "social enterprise."

The Social Enterprise Alliance defines these organizations as "businesses whose primary purpose is the common good. They use the methods and disciplines of business and the power of the marketplace to advance their social, environmental and human justice agendas." And one of the defining characteristics is that "The common good is its primary purpose, literally 'baked into' the organization's DNA, and trumping all others."

Here's an example. Remember Working Assets? Starting out as a progressive-minded credit card company in the '80s, it added phone service -- first long-distance in the '90s, then cellular in 2000 -- and now it has created the subsidiary CREDO Mobile. The company operates as a for-profit business, which is privately owned, with most of the employees owning the stock, so it doesn't have to bow to Wall Street pressures. They use their profits to help support causes they believe in -- so far the amount of money donated is $70 million and counting.

Social enterprises can also be nonprofits, like Goodwill Industries, which last year turned donations from 79 million people into revenue that provided job training to 4.2 million people. And by reselling donated clothing, furniture and household goods, they divert an estimated 2 billion pounds from landfills every year.

The idea of social enterprises is catching on in the business world in the U.S. with the emergence of Benefit Corporations, also known as B Corps, which are designed, "to create a new sector of the economy which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems." B Corps are all for-profit companies that have legal structures mandating that the company is designed to work not for maximum shareholder gain, but for the good of society and the environment.

Currently there are more than 500 companies that have become approved B Corps and legislation has been passed in seven states (Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia, California, Hawaii and New York) making them official entities. Some are larger corporations, such as Method Products and Patagonia, but many are also smaller companies and business-to-business operations.

B Corps are similar in design to another kind of company called L3Cs. "The L3C is a hybrid between the nonprofit and for-profit models in that it is essentially a profit-generating entity with a socially beneficial mission," writes Ashley Holmes for GreenBlue. "Like an LLC corporation, L3Cs have the same liability protection and are not tax-exempt; however L3Cs have access to forms of capital that traditional corporations don't qualify for, all in order to further social and environmental goals. Americans for Community Development describe the L3C as a company that 'combines the best features of a for-profit LLC with the socially beneficial aspects of a nonprofit... the for-profit with a nonprofit soul.'"

It's About the Workers
B Corps and L3Cs create a legal foothold for a more sustainable kind of business. But other models get to the heart of the new economy as well and take up the important ideas of ownership and governance. Who gets to make decisions about how our companies are run and who gets to share in the wealth that's created?

The U.S. helped create a system in post-war Germany for works councils, where workers are elected from companies to help manage how the business is run. "That means the councils help determine core issues, like when to open and close the store or office, who gets what shift, and who gets laid off or fired," wrote Jeremy Gantz in a review of Thomas Geoghegan's book Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life. Germany also has co-determined boards, which give workers a voice in governance -- companies with more than 2,000 employees have half of their boards composed of workers.

Empowering employees has proved a successful business model elsewhere. The John Lewis Partnership has been around in the UK since 1920 and has grown to over 30 department stores and more than 200 supermarkets, with a revenue of $13.4 billion. The business is employee-owned -- all workers get to share the profits and vote for the governing council and company's board.
"This firm has a written constitution, printed up and publicly available, which states that the company's purpose is to support 'the happiness of all its members,'" wrote Kelly. "Now, let me pause and note: this is the only major corporation I've found that declares its purpose is to serve employee happiness. This is so, at JLP, not because it boosts returns for shareholders. At the John Lewis Partnership, employee happiness isn't a path to some other goal. It is the goal."

Employee-owned companies aren't just a British anomaly. "In the United States, the National Center for Employee Ownership reports that there are 11,300 employee-owned firms, with some 14 million participants," Kelly found. "And in Europe, large companies have nearly 10 million employee-owners. Employee ownership has been increasing in such countries as Spain, Poland, France, Denmark, and Sweden."

Organizations can be run with employee owners or other kinds of members. The London Symphony is owned by the musicians who play in it. Barcelona FC soccer team and the Green Bay Packers football team are community-owned. Mutual insurance companies are owned by policy holders and credit unions are owned by depositors.

Employee-owned businesses and cooperatives have emerged in the green business world with great success, as well. Community-owned forests in Mexico support indigenous people, protect the environment and prevent illegal logging. In Denmark community-owned wind farms have jumpstarted wind energy, supplying 20 percent of country's power. In Minnesota, Minwind is a farmer-owned wind development company that's grown to 350 members.

A New Vision
There are different legal and social structures that can help to feed this growing new economy. In Quebec, a "solidarity" or "social economy" was created to help nonprofits and cooperatives, and it gets popular and government support. Spain is home to Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, which is a network of more than 100 cooperatives, employing 100,000 workers. This cooperative model helps support new business ventures. If a firm is struggling in its first few years, interest rates are lowered to help it instead of flagging the business as high risk and then jacking up interest rates like we do here, says Kelly.

Supporting these new ventures is important, but so is holding the companies accountable to their missions. For cooperatives and employee-owned companies, like the John Lewis Partnership, where members get a vote and can elect those who make governing decisions (or run for the positions themselves), there is more power to make sure the company is keeping its word. With privately held businesses, accountability can be much harder. The B Corp certification process is one way that helps get around the blind spots -- certified B Corps have to prove themselves to a third-party organization -- creating accountability and transparency.

So what can we do in the U.S. to spur the development of socially and ecologically conscious business? "I used to think we needed new federal legislation and corporate chartering and that we could drive change with state and federal law," Marjorie Kelly said. "And I do think we do need an articulation of what a company ought to be in law." But we have to go beyond that, she insists.

"A teacher at Schumacher College posed a question: What kind of economy is suited for living inside a living being?" Kelly said. "It's not an endlessly expanding economy, it's not an economy that's designed to serve the few, at the expense of the many, it is an economy that is generative; that is life-serving in its purposes. How do we generate the conditions for life to continue and to thrive?"

The answer will likely be not one thing, but a compilation and diversity of different business models that are consistent with supporting workers, protecting the environment, and serving the broader social good.