Saturday, October 5, 2013

Democracy vs. 'Wealthocracy': People Rally Against 'Next Citizens United'

Friday, October 4, 2013 by Common Dreams
Ruling in favor of big-money donors in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission would be 'absolute perversion of the First Amendment'
- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Starting next week, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin oral arguments in a case many are calling "the next Citizens United" for its potential to vastly enhance the power of money in politics beyond its already lethal hold.

Shaun McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission will begin court hearings on Tuesday. In the case, republican donor Shaun McCutcheon is challenging current campaign donation rules that limit individual donors to $123,000 in total spending on federal candidates and political parties during any two-year federal election cycle, known as aggregate campaign limits.

“In McCutcheon, the Supreme Court will decide whether to double down on Citizens United to transform further our democracy – rule by the people – into a wealthocracy.” - Robert Weissman, Public Citizen

This amount is not enough for McCutcheon nor fellow plaintiff, the Republican National Committee (RNC). Neither was the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which gave corporations and other groups the freedom to spend as much as they want on political messaging campaigns, as long as they do not donate directly to candidates.

"With McCutcheon, the attack on our democracy continues," writes Marge Baker for OtherWords, "this time through a potential gutting of one of the last remaining pillars of our campaign finance legal structure, aggregate campaign contribution limits."

The effects of this new potential world of campaign funding would look like "the system of legalized bribery that existed prior to the Watergate campaign finance scandals," warns Fred Wertheimer of the group Democracy 21.

“In McCutcheon, the Supreme Court will decide whether to double down on Citizens United to transform further our democracy – rule by the people – into a wealthocracy,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen. “We can only hope that this is one step too far for the Supreme Court. But we shouldn’t have to hope, and we shouldn’t have to live with a campaign finance system already corroded by Citizens United and other harmful court decisions. That McCutcheon is even being considered by the Court highlights the imperative of a constitutional amendment to protect our democracy.”

"...we need to amend our Constitution to stop the distortions of big money in our elections and restore the primacy of the people in our democracy." - Lisa Graves, Center for Media and Democracy

If McCutcheon and the RNC are victorious, it will be the first time in history that the U.S. Supreme court determines a direct contribution limit unconstitutional.

"The case is a continuation of the attack on our democracy by wealthy interests," reads a statement by People for the American way, who along with eight other groups are helping organize a national call for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United and forever limit individual and corporate campaign contribution spending. "Plaintiffs challenging aggregate limits should clearly lose this case under current Supreme Court precedent, but the fact that the Court has agreed to hear their arguments at all underscores the need for amending the Constitution to restore the American people’s ability to limit corporate and special interest influence on elections and to promote a democracy of, by and for the people," the group writes.

“The Supreme Court should not repeat the grave mistakes of its disastrous Citizens United ruling in the McCutcheon case by giving the richest few even more disproportionate influence over our democracy,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy. “The notion that anyone’s ‘speech’ rights are burdened because he can’t give more than $123,200 in campaign contributions is an absolute perversion of the First Amendment, and the fact that the high court would even consider such a claim demonstrates that we need to amend our Constitution to stop the distortions of big money in our elections and restore the primacy of the people in our democracy.”

And a bevy of pro-democracy groups and activists have decided to stand up next Tuesday while the court begins its hearings and make their voices heard outside on the steps of the Supreme Court. A rally outside the court on First St NE, Washington, DC will take place October 8th at 9:30 am.

Shut It All Down: Report Calls for Nationwide Ban on Fracking

Friday, October 4, 2013 by Common Dreams
Hydraulic fracturing gas drilling turning America's water into cancer-causing, radioactive waste
- Jon Queally, staff writer

The explosion of hydraulic fracturing in the last several years, according to a new report, is creating a previously 'unimaginable' situation in which hundreds of billions of gallons of the nation's fresh water supply are being annually transformed into unusable—sometimes radioactive—cancer-causing wastewater.

According to the report, Fracking by the Numbers, produced by Environment America, the scale and severity of fracking’s myriad impacts betray all claims that natural gas is a "cleaner" or somehow less damaging alternative to other fossil fuels.

The report explores various ways in which gas fracking negatively impacts both human health and the environment, including the contamination of drinking water, overuse of scarce water sources, the effect of air pollution on public health, its connection to global warming, and the overall cost imposed on communities where fracking operations are located.

“The bottom line is this: The numbers on fracking add up to an environmental nightmare,” said John Rumpler, the report's lead author and senior attorney for Environment America. “For our environment and for public health, we need to put a stop to fracking.”

In fact, the report concludes that in state's where the practice is now occurring, immediate moratoriums should be enacted and in states where the practice has yet to be approved, bans should be legislated to prevent this kind of drilling from ever occurring.

Though the report acknowledges its too early to know the full the extent of the damage caused by the controversial drilling practice, it found that even a look at the "limited data" available—taken mostly from industry reports and government figures between 2005 and 2012—paints "an increasingly clear picture of the damage that fracking has done to our environment and health."

So what are the numbers?

The report measured key indicators of fracking threats across the country, and found:
• 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater generated in 2012,
• 450,000 tons of air pollution produced in one year,
• 250 billion gallons of fresh water used since 2005,
• 360,000 acres of land degraded since 2005,
• 100 million metric tons of global warming pollution since 2005.

“The numbers don't lie," said Rumbpler. "Fracking has taken a dirty and destructive toll on our environment. If this dirty drilling continues unchecked, these numbers will only get worse."

The Environment America report comes on the heels of a study released by researchers at Duke University earlier this week that found a "surprising magnitude of radioactivity" in the local water near a fracking operation in Pennsylvania.

And ClimateProgress adds:
The report also pointed out the weaknesses of current wastewater disposal practices — wastewater is often stored in deep wells, but over time these wells can fail, leading to the potential for ground and surface water contamination. In New Mexico alone, chemicals from oil and gas pits have contaminated water sources at least 421 times, according to the report.

Those toxic chemicals are exempt from federal disclosure laws, so it’s up to each state to decide if and how the oil and gas companies should disclose the chemicals they use in their operations — which is why in many states, citizens don’t know what goes into the brew that fracking operators use to extract oil and natural gas. Luckily, some states are beginning to address this — California recently passed a law ordering fracking companies to make their chemicals public, an order similar to laws in about seven other states.

The report also noted the vast quantities of water needed for fracking — from 2 million to 9 million gallons on average to frack one well. Since 2005, according to the report, fracking operations have used 250 billion gallons of freshwater. This is putting a strain on places like one South Texas county, where fracking was nearly one quarter of total water use in 2011 — and dry conditions could push that amount closer to one-third.

In addition to the impact on surface and ground water supplies, fracking is a well-known contributor to global warming and numerous studies have shown that the methane emissions created by the extraction and transportation of natural gas far outweighs any benefit generated by its ability to burn "cleaner" than oil or coal.

Download or read the complete report here (pdf).

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Weed to the Rescue in the Budget Crisis?

Congress Should Stop Blowing Smoke

Imagine U.S. House Speaker John Boehner blasted on weed.

Given Boehner’s teary-eyed trait, he’d probably cry uncontrollably when high on pot alternating his crocodile tears with hysterical laughter…perhaps even laughing at some of that dumb shi-tuff he and his GOP colleagues constantly do on Capitol Hill.

With Boehner and his GOP congressional confederates battling the Obama White House over federal budget expenditures and debt ceiling limits, there could be value in putting pot legalization into this partisan wrangling if Boehner is honest when claiming these fiscal imbroglios are really about federal government expenditures exceeding revenue.

Putting an end to the federal government’s failed pot prohibition policies, now nearing the eighty-year mark, would provide tremendous sources of new revenue. The federal government could save the estimated $10-billion-plus now spent annually on just law enforcement. The federal government could reap additional billions from taxing what experts estimate is the now untaxed $113-billion per year illegal marijuana industry. Plus ending prohibition would save millions now spent on the anti-pot propaganda oozing from government agencies.

A prime example of the money wasted by the federal government on enforcement efforts is evident in the September 2012 invasion of a predominately Latino community in Santa Rosa, CA by dozens of combat-clad/assault-rifle-armed agents from Homeland Security, the FBI and the DEA. That massive raid, also involving state and local cops, did net a stack of just pot plants but some of those plants were lawfully grown under provisions of California’s state approved medical marijuana law. That invasion, however, did accomplish a mission to terrorize that community including the spectacle of handcuffing mothers in front of their young children.

Yes, the Latino community site of the raid evidenced the racially discriminatory targeting embedded in America’s War on Weed. Other evidence of racism in pot prohibition is evident in blacks being arrested for pot possession in the county encompassing Santa Rosa in excess of twice their percentage of that county’s population according to a 2010 study conducted for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Drug warriors and others quickly dismiss charges of racially discriminatory practices but is it just mere coincidence that of the 3,709 pot possession arrests in Philadelphia, Pa during 2012, only 629 whites were arrested compared to 3,052 blacks? More than 600 whites smoke pot daily on just college campuses in Philadelphia.

This year, as thousands of federal government employees endured having their paychecks slashed by the bi-partisan boondoggle called Sequestration, the National Park Service in Philadelphia wasted money paying park rangers and other police overtime specifically to arrest pot legalization activists who smoke marijuana during monthly protests near the iconic Liberty Bell. And adding insult to the insanity of wasting money arresting peaceful pro-pot protestors, federal prosecutors want to send two of those arrested activists to prison for six months each.

This vengeful antic by federal prosecutors sending ‘a message’ to prohibition opponents will snatch over $28,000 in just jail-cell costs from federal coffers that Boehner-&-Company claim is too empty to fund food stamps for hungry children.

Ending pot prohibition would end the need for expensive anti-pot propaganda from the federal government that still touts discredited rationales initially fashioned by federal anti-drug warriors in the late 1930s.

President Obama’s Office of National Drug Control Policy still contends that use of cannabis causes “cognitive impairment” – propaganda belied by the personal/professional accomplishments of Obama himself. The president admits that he smoked marijuana as a teen and that cannabis consumption didn’t impede him from graduating from two Ivy League institutions including Harvard’s Law School. If marijuana is as mentally destructive as ONDCP contends Obama could have never made it to the Oval Office.

Officials across America have historically exaggerated the so-called ‘pot problem’ ignoring solid evidence that pot is benign and is not a ‘gateway’ drug to harder drug addition. Do some people get whacked-out on weed? Yes! But some people get whacked-out on religion. And some get whacked-out on politics. Remember the craziness radiating from Capitol Hill is not caused by conservatives smoking Whacky-Weed.

A few years after the federal government’s formal prohibition of pot in 1937 the mayor of New York City ordered an extensive examination into the alleged pot problem in his city. That multi-layered examination spanning over four years reached conclusions that contradicted alarmist claims of federal pot police. The fed’s top cannabis cop, Harry “Reefer Madness” Anslinger, indignantly dismissed that NYC study as “unscientific” despite it having been conducted by the New York Academy of Medicine, hardly a cabal of cannabis consumers.

With federal, state and local governments in desperate need of new revenues legalizing pot would clearly offer a good source of currently untapped income. The legalization of medical marijuana in 19 states so far has produced tax revenues for governments while stimulating employment and other economic benefits.

Santa Rosa, the site of that September 2012 pot raid, is the seat of Sonoma County, a jurisdiction providing examples that stupid spending priorities are not exclusive to Capitol Hill.

Many Sonoma County residents wanted to tap that jurisdiction’s contingency fund to restore full-day operating hours in its century old public library system. County officials had cut library hours to shave expenditures, a policy stance that penalizes children heavily. Yet, the same Sonoma County Board of Supervisors that defiantly refused to use contingency funds to restore library hours quickly approved using $240,000 from that fund to retain a marijuana eradication officer when federal funding for that anti-pot position was eliminated.

Legalizing and taxing marijuana will not eliminate the federal budget deficit but it will end the absurdity of ruining lives with arrests for simple pot possession like the 658,231 persons nabbed nationwide in 2012 according to recently released FBI statistics.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Economy is Falling Further and Further Behind


Proponents of austerity both in the United States and Europe are eager to claim to success for their policies. In spite of economies that look awful by normal standards, austerity advocates are able to claim success for their policies by creating a new meaning for the word.

In Europe we have the bizarre story of both George Osborne, the UK’s chancellor of the exchequer, and Olli Rehn, the European Union’s commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, claiming success for their austerity policies based on one quarter of growth. Apparently, they are arguing that because their policies did not lead to a never-ending recession, they are a success. Remarkably, they seem very proud of this fact.

In the United States we were treated to the Wall Street Journal boasting of the success of the 2011 debt ceiling agreement on the eve of another standoff on the budget and the debt ceiling. The measure of success in this case appears to be that the sequester budget cuts put in place by the agreement are still in place and that the economy has not collapsed as a result. By this standard the WSJ has a case, but as with the austerity crew in Europe, this is a rather pathetic bar.

First, it is worth noting that many of the disaster warnings about the sequester from President Obama and the Democrats were grossly exaggerated. There was no plausible story in which cutting 5 percent of the discretionary portion of the federal budget would lead to imminent disaster. Most departments have some amount of reserves in various forms that they can tap into in order to minimize the impact of these cuts over a relatively short period. This meant nothing horrible happened when the sequester first began to bite on March 1.

However this doesn’t mean that the sequester is harmless. Suppose the 5 percent cutback rule was applied to any major corporation, even a highly profitable one such as Verizon or Apple. Surely these companies could find ways to reduce their operating expenses by 5 percent. They could put off hiring workers to fill vacancies. They may delay renovating office space. Perhaps they would freeze or cut some workers’ pay.

In the short-run there would probably be little change in the company’s ability to operate. After all, much of what they do is already baked into the cake. Verizon is going to be a huge and highly profitable wireless and phone company in 2013 and 2014 even if they cut back their marketing and don’t do proper maintenance and care for their network for six months or a year. In time of course the cutbacks will take a toll and likely lead to serious loss of market share and profits.

In the case of the federal government, we will see departments that are less able to do their jobs over time. This has been highlighted most clearly at the National Institutes of Health, where many promising lines of research were abandoned because of the sequester. But there will be similar stories in other departments.

Also, while kicking federal employees is apparently great sport for many, over time these people will look for other jobs and those who will replace them will likely be less qualified. Most people don’t want to work at a job where their pay and hours can be cut at any time for reasons that have nothing to do with their performance.

Employers in the private sector understand this fact even if it too complicated for members of Congress. This means that we can expect future government employees, like air traffic controllers, meat inspectors, and FBI agents, to be less qualified and committed than the current crew. The Wall Street Journal might think it some great victory that this deterioration has not been evident six months after the sequester, but people with more knowledge of the business world might be less impressed.

But the deterioration of government services might be the less important damage done by the sequester. The more visible and certain damage is the slower growth of the economy and higher unemployment.

Businesses hire people and undertake investment when they see demand for their product and/or have a new innovative idea. Outside of Wall Street Journal editorial page land, no business increases employment or undertakes investment because the government has laid off workers and cut back spending. This means that the government cutbacks directly reduce employment and curtail growth.

In the last two years, the government sector has shed 200,000 jobs. In a comparable period in the last recovery (August 2003 to August 2005) it added more than 300,000 jobs. This difference of 500,000 jobs would have a substantial impact on the labor market, especially when we consider that spending by these workers can be expected to increase the employment impact by at least 50 percent, bringing the total gain to 750,000 workers.

We can tell a similar story about growth, which has averaged just 2.2 percent over the last two years. This pace is less than most estimates of the economy’s potential growth rate, which means that rather than making up ground lost in the recession, we have been falling further behind the economy’s potential level of output. According to the Congressional Budget Office we are losing roughly $1 trillion in output a year because of the lack of demand in the economy.

So we know the sequester will give us deteriorating government services, higher unemployment, and slower economic growth. That’s the track record which prompts the Wall Street Journal’s boasts and advocacy of more austerity.

The Police State of America

‘Freedom’s just another word...’

I no longer recognize my country.

Back in 1997, after two years living in China, and five more living in Hong Kong, during which time, as a correspondent for Business Week magazine, I slipped in and out of China regularly as a journalist to report on developments there, I got a good dose of life in a totalitarian society. When I alit from the plane in Philadelphia where my family and I were about to start a new chapter of our lives, I remember feeling like a big weight had been lifted off my chest.

The sense of freedom was palpable.

Almost immediately, though I got an inkling that something was amiss. An art teacher in Upper Dublin, the suburban town where we had bought a house, had just been arrested, charged with theft of $400 in school art supplies. Of course, my initial reaction was, “Great school district we’re in, if the teachers are stealing from the school!”

The teacher, Lou Ann Merkel, who had been arrested and briefly jailed pending arraignment, was fired and was facing trial on a felony charge of stealing public property. But in a few weeks, as I followed the story in the local weekly paper, it became clear that there had really been no theft (she was taking old supplies which were being replaced with new ones, intending to bring them to a local community center used by low-income children who went there for day care and after-school care. Moreover, when stopped by the principal and told that the old supplies had to be put in the dumpster, she grudgingly complied. She was arrested anyway later, at her home). I learned over subsequent weeks of news reports that Merkel actually was being hounded by an obsessive power-tripping school administration simply for being an “activist” and outspoken teacher. A school board hearing I attended was packed in December of that year with over a hundred angry parents and former students of Merkel’s demanding that the board drop its case against her. It did not, but a county judge had the good sense to do exactly that, ruling that “no crime occurred here.” (Merkel, who got her job back with back pay, later sued the school district and won a significant judgement against it.)

This was one small example of government tyranny run amok but since then I have seen it become the norm in a United States where people are now being arrested for almost everything — kids jailed without trial for shoplifting, hitchhikers jailed for arguing, correctly, with cops that it is not illegal for them to thumb for a ride, non-white youths in many cities stopped and frisked for “walking while black or hispanic” and then getting busted on trumped up charges (resisting arrest, assaulting an officer, disturbing the peace, etc.) when the cops find no guns or drugs on them, protesters beaten and gassed and jailed for simply trying to exercise their First Amendment rights.

But that is just the surface.

As a journalist working in China, I had to watch my back all the time. Spies from the Ministry of State Security (China’s KGB) or one of the local Public Security Bureaus that operate under its jurisdiction would secretly follow my movements, and would keep track of whoever I interviewed. In one case, after my departure, they badly beat a source to the point that he had to be hospitalized for reconstructive surgery to his crushed cheek bones (his entire groin region was also left black and blue after his brutal beating). The man’s offense? He had shown me around a rural region where peasants were improving their lives by sending some of their children off to the city to do construction jobs.

I thought this kind of monitoring and intimidation of sources was a nightmare back then in China.

Now it’s happening here in the US, only worse. Not only is the National Security Agency monitoring every phone call I make, every email I sent, every person I interview and every article I write–something Chinese police were not capable of at least in those days–but the agency can be watching what I write at this moment, as a type these letters on my keyboard.

How do I know they’re watching me? Well, of course I can’t know for certain, because they won’t tell me on the grounds of “national security,” which has rendered the Freedom of Information Act moribund. But courageous leakers from within the NSA, most notably Edward Snowden, have released documentary evidence proving that the super-secretive spy agency has been monitoring all communications between Americans and foreign contacts, most notably with countries like Russia or Iran or other nations which the US views as “enemies.”

In my case, as a journalist, I write often on international issues, as when I broke the story exposing an arrested killer in Lahore, Pakistan as a CIA operative, or wrote about how Israeli commandos executed a 19-year-old unarmed American peace activist in their raid on a Turkish-flagged peace flotilla headed for Gaza. I am also an occasional guest on news programs on RT-TV, the Russian state television news network, and on Iran’s state-owned Press TV. For one year, ending about a year ago, I was contracted to write a weekly column for PressTV’s English-language website, for which I was paid $200 per column. Because of US sanctions against Iran’s banking business, Press TV said they would pay me quarterly, rather than monthly, to minimize the paperwork hassles. This meant that for a year I was getting wire transfer of about $2600 every quarter from an Iranian bank. You can be sure I was on the NSA’s radar for that, if nothing else.

(Interestingly, I had more editorial freedom with that job than I’ve ever had writing for any news organization in the US. I picked my own topics for columns, Press TV agreed not to make any changes, or cuts, in my pieces, and I got paid in full whether they ran a story or not. Only once in the course of a year of columns did they not run a piece — an article I did on the debate over the death penalty in the US. The editor claimed that it was too “US-focused” and that it would “not be of interest” to Press TV readers. Even articles I wrote that included criticisms of Iranian policy ran unaltered.)

Even if everything I say on the phone or write on my computer, every site I visit online, every place I travel, every person I interview, is not being monitored by the NSA, the fact that we know the government is doing this, and is capable of doing this thanks to billions of dollars being spent in secret on massive super-computer arrays in Maryland and Utah, the damage is done. I have to assume that it is being done, and adjust my mind and my working methods to that reality. Recent arrests, convictions and lengthy sentences handed out to journalists’ sources also mean I have to assume that my promises of anonimity to sources — a key to any good investigative journalism — are empty. The reality is that unless I resort to secret meetings in person with sources, or start using throw-away cell phones, the NSA can find out who I am communicating with.

A total police state may not exist (yet) in the US in the sense of the one I lived in for a while in China, where people get taken away without charge, not to be seen again for years, if ever, and where people get executed without even the semblance of a fair trial on trumped-up charges of corruption or assaulting an officer or threatening state security. But because of the extent of the spying secretly being done now in the US by the NSA, the FBI and other US “law-enforcement” and national “security” agencies, we have to live now as though it is happening.

Because it could be happening to any one of us, and because all that data they are collecting could be used later against us.

Not only that, but the data being collected can be manipulated, clipped and doctored, so as to make us look guilty of something when we are not.

Make no mistake. What happened to Lou Ann Merkel was an example of a police state at work. A courageous woman who dared to speak out against subtle and sometimes not so subtle racism in the school where she worked, and someone who dares to speak her mind on any topic, was threatened with jail by a school superintendent who felt he had absolute power and who in fact had the power to have her arrested on his say so on trumped-up charges.

Today we are all Lou Ann Merkel. Step out of line or stand on principle and we lose jobs, face arrest, and become the targets of the NSA’s spy machine.

(Incidentally, by way of full disclosure, Lou Ann is a friend and the wife of my ThisCantBeHappening! colleague John Grant. I met them both at that Upper Dublin School Board hearing mentioned above.)

There is one difference between China, the police state I lived in and reported on back in the 1990s, and the US police state of today. In China, everyone knows they are living in a totalitarian society. There is no confusion about that. Chinese people know that their news is controlled, that they are being watched and monitored on phone and online, and that if they step out of line there will be dire consequences for them and their families. Many do anyway, or resist in smaller ways.

In the US, most Americans remain blissfully unaware of how their freedoms have been stolen or surrendered. While they may say they don’t trust the government and don’t believe the news, they actually do to a remarkable extent. That’s the only explanation for society allowing — even encouraging — the government to continue to execute people based on a findings of a court system that is clearly corrupt to the core. It’s the only reason so many people say they support government spying to keep us “safe from terrorism.” It’s the only reason local communities, like mine here in Upper Dublin, keep voting more money for small armies of police officers equipped with M-16s and SWAT gear in places that violent crime is almost unheard of.

The United States is not China, or the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Not yet. But I’m afraid we are almost there, and in some ways we are in a worse place than the peoples of those societies, because so many of us here in the so-called “Land of the Free and the Brave” are living with eyes willfully closed to what is happening to us and to our country.

Americans can still wake up. We seem to have done that in the latest attempt by the war-mongers in Washington to launch yet another bloody war in the Middle East. But there is still far too much sleep-walking going on.

Benjamin Franklin once famously said: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
We Americans have been surrendering our liberty since the dawn of the national security state in 1947. The process accelerated with President Nixon’s “war” on crime and especially his “war” on drugs, which militarized police. Things grew worse under subsequent presidents, including President Reagan, who accelerated the “Drug War,
 and President Clinton, who gutted habeas corpus. Presidents George W. Bush and current President Obama have stolen more freedom from Americans than any leaders in the country’s history, with the acquiescence of most citizens.

Clearly we are not safer now. And as Franklin warned so presciently, when it comes to our liberties, we are now in danger of losing it all.

As it is, I no longer recognize the country I grew up in and in which I began my journalism career.

Some Facts You Should Know About Fukushima

A Letter to All Young Athletes Who Dream of Coming to Tokyo in 2020

 On September 7, 2013 Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said to the 125th session of the International Olympic Committee, the following:
Some may have concerns about Fukushima. Let me assure you, the situation is under control. It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo.

This will surely be remembered as one of the great lies of modern times. In Japan some people call it the “Abesolute Lie”. Believing it, the IOC decided to bring the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo.

Japanese government spokespersons defend Abe’s statement by saying that radiation levels in the Pacific Ocean have not yet exceeded safety standards.

This recalls the old story of the man who jumped off a ten-storey building and, as he passed each storey, could be heard saying, “So far, so good”.

We are talking, remember, about the Pacific Ocean – the greatest body of water on earth, and for all we know, in the universe. Tokyo Electric Power Company – TEPCO – has been pouring water through its melted-down reactor at Fukushima and into the ocean for two and a half years, and so far the Pacific Ocean has been able to dilute that down to below the safety standard. So far so good. But there is no prospect in sight of turning off the water.

Here are eight things you need to know.

A letter to All Young Athletes ENGLISH (1)_html_7c908f6a

1. In a residential area park in Tokyo, 230 km from Fukushima, the soil was found to have a radiation level of 92,335 Becquerels per square meter. This is a dangerous level, comparable to what is found around Chernobyl ④ zone (the site of a nuclear catastrophe in 1986). One reason this level of pollution is found in the capital is that between Tokyo and Fukushima there are no mountains high enough to block radioactive clouds. In the capital people who understand the danger absolutely avoid eating food produced in eastern Japan.

A letter to All Young Athletes ENGLISH (1)_html_2ccd6755

2. Inside Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactors #1 – #3 the pipes (which had circulated cooling water) are broken, which caused a meltdown. This means the nuclear fuel overheated, melted, and continued to melt anything it touched. Thus it melted through the bottom of the reactor, and then through the concrete floor of the building, and sank into the ground. As mentioned above, for two and a half years TEPCO workers have been desperately pouring water into the reactor, but it is not known whether the water is actually reaching the melted fuel. If a middle-strength earthquake comes, it is likely to destroy totally the already damaged building. And as a matter of fact, in the last two and a half years earthquakes have continued to hit Fukushima. (And as an additional matter of fact, just as this letter was being written Fukushima was hit by another middle-strength earthquake, but it seems that the building held up one more time. So far so good.) Especially dangerous is Reactor #4, where a large amount of nuclear fuel is being held in a pool, like another disaster waiting for its moment.

3. The cooling water being poured into the reactor is now considered the big problem in Japan. Newspapers and TV stations that previously strove to conceal the danger of nuclear power, are now reporting on this danger every day, and criticizing Shinzo Abe for the lie he told the IOC. The issue is that the highly irradiated water is entering and mixing with the ground water, and this leakage can’t be stopped, so it is spilling into the outer ocean. It is a situation impossible to control. In August, 2013 (the month prior to Abe’s IOC speech) within the site of Fukushima Daiichi Reactor, radiation was measured at 8500 micro Sieverts per hour. That is enough to kill anyone who stayed there for a month. This makes it a very hard place for the workers to get anything done. In Ohkuma-machi, the town where the Daiichi Nuclear Reactor is located, the radiation was measured in July, 2013 (two months before Abe’s talk) at 320 micro Sieverts per hour. This level of radiation would kill a person in two and a half years. Thus, over an area many kilometers wide, ghost towns are increasing.

4. For the sake of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, an important fact has been left out from reports that go abroad. Only the fact that irradiated water is leaking onto the surface of the ground around the reactor is reported. But deep under the surface the ground water is also being irradiated, and the ground water flows out to sea and mixes with the seawater through sea-bottom springs. It is too late to do anything about this.

5. If you go to the big central fish market near Tokyo and measure the radiation in the air, it registers at about 0.05 micro Sieverts – a little higher than normal level. But if you measure the radiation near the place where the instrument that measures the radiation of the fish is located, the level is two or three times greater (2013 measurement). Vegetables and fish from around the Tokyo area, even if they are irradiated, are not thrown away. This is because the level established by the Japanese Government for permissible radiation in food – which if exceeded the food must not be sold – is the same as the permissible level of radiation in low-level radioactive wastes. Which is to say, in Japan today, as the entire country has been contaminated, we have no choice but to put irradiated garbage on the dinner table. The distribution of irradiated food is also a problem. Food from near Fukushima will be sent to another prefecture, and then sent on, relabeled as produced in the second prefecture. In particular, food distributed by the major food companies, and food served in expensive restaurants, is almost never tested for radiation.

6. In Japan, the only radiation from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Reactors that is being measured is the radioactive cesium. However large amounts of strontium 90 and tritium are spreading all over Japan. Strontium and tritium’s radiation consists of beta rays, and are very difficult to measure. However both are extremely dangerous: strontium can cause leukemia, and tritium can cause chromosome disorder.

7. More dangerous still: in order, they say, to get rid of the pollution that has fallen over the wide area of Eastern Japan, they are scraping off the top layer of the soil, and putting it in plastic bags as garbage. Great mountains of these plastic bags, all weather-beaten, are sitting in fields in Eastern Japan subject of course to attack by heavy rain and typhoons. Eventually the plastic will split open and the contents will come spilling out. When that happens, there will be no place left to take them.

8. On 21 September, 2013 (again, as this letter was being composed) the newspaper Tokyo Shimbun reported that Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose said at a press conference that what Abe expressed to the IOC was his intention to get the situation under control. “It is not,” Inose said, “under control now.”

American Workers: Hanging on by the Skin of Their Teeth


After five years of Obama’s economic recovery, the American people are as gloomy as ever. According to a Bloomberg National Poll that was released this week, fewer people “are optimistic about the job market” or “the housing market” or “anticipate improvement in the economy’s strength over the next year.” Also, only 38 percent think that President Obama is doing enough “to make people feel more economically secure.” Worst of all, Bloomberg pollsters found that 68 percent of interviewees thought the country was “headed in the wrong direction”.

So why is everyone so miserable? Are things really that bad or have we turned into a nation of crybabies?

The reason people are so pessimistic is because the economy is still in the doldrums and no one’s doing anything about it. That’s it in a nutshell. Survey after survey have shown that what people really care about is jobs, but no one in Washington is listening. In fact, jobs aren’t even on Obama’s radar. Just look at his record. He’s worse than any president in modern times. Take a look at this graph.

More than 600,000 good-paying public sector jobs have been slashed during Obama’s tenure as president. That’s worse than Bush, worse than Clinton, worse than Reagan, worse than anyone, except maybe Hoover. Is that Obama’s goal, to one-up Herbert Hoover?

Obama has done everything he could to make the lives of working people as wretched as possible. Do you remember the Card Check sellout or the Wisconsin “flyover” when Governor Scott Walker was eviscerating collective bargaining rights for public sector unions and Obama blew kisses from Airforce One on his way to a campaign speech in Minnesota? Nice touch, Barry. Or what about the “Job’s Czar” fiasco, when Obama appointed GE’s outsourcing mandarin Jeffrey Immelt to the new position just in time for GE to lay off another 950 workers at their locomotive plant in Pennsylvania. That’s tells you what Obama really thinks about labor.

What Obama cares about is trimming the deficits and keeping Wall Street happy. That’s it. But the people who elected him don’t want him to cut the deficits, because cutting the deficits prolongs the slump and costs jobs. What they want is more stimulus, so people can find work, feed their families, and have some basic security. That’s what they want, but they’re not going to get it from Obama because he doesn’t work for them. He works for the stuffed shirts who flank him on the golf course at Martha’s Vineyard or the big shots who chow down with him at his $100,000-per-plate campaign jamborees. That’s his real constituency. Everyone else can take a flying fu** for all he cares.

Then there’s the Fed. Most people don’t think the Fed’s goofy programs work at all. They think it’s all a big ruse. They think Bernanke is just printing money and giving it to his criminal friends on Wall Street (which he is, of course.) Have you seen this in the New York Times:
“Only one in three Americans has confidence in the Federal Reserve’s ability to promote economic growth, while little more than a third think the Fed is spinning its wheels, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll….

The Fed has been trying for five years to speed the nation’s recovery from the Great Recession by reducing borrowing costs to the lowest levels on record….

Most Americans, it would appear, remain either unaware or unpersuaded.” (“Majority of Americans Doubt Benefits of Fed Stimulus“, New York Times)

“Unpersuaded”? Are you kidding me? Most Americans think they’re getting fleeced; unpersuaded has nothing to do with it. They’re not taken in by the QE-mumbo jumbo. They may not grasp the finer-points, but they get the gist of it, which is that the Fed has run up a big $3 trillion bill every penny of which has gone to chiseling shysters on Wall Street. They get that! Everyone gets that! Sure, if you want to get into the weeds about POMO or the byzantine aspects of the asset-purchase program, you might detect a bit of confusion, but –I assure you–the average Joe knows what’s going on. He knows all this quantitative jabberwocky is pure bunkum and that he’s getting schtooped bigtime. You don’t need a sheepskin from Princeton to know when you’ve been had.

And that’s why everyone is so pessimistic, because they know that the Fed, the administration and the media are all lying to them 24-7. That’s why–as Bloomberg discovered–”Americans are losing faith in the nation’s economic recovery.” Because they don’t see any recovery. As far as they’re concerned, the economy is still in recession. After all, they’re still underwater on their mortgages, Grandpa Jack just took a job at a fast-food joint to pay for his wife’s heart medication, and junior is camped out in the basement until he can get a handle on his $45,000 heap of college loans. So where’s the recovery?

Nobody needs Bloomberg to point out how grim things are for the ordinary people. They see it firsthand every damn day.
Did you catch the news on Wal-Mart this week? It’s another story that helps explain why everyone’s so down-in-the-mouth. Here’s what happened: Wal-Mart’s stock tanked shortly after they announced that their “inventory growth …had outstripped sales gains in the second quarter…. Merchandise has been piling up because consumers have been spending less freely than Wal-Mart projected….” (Bloomberg)

Okay, so the video games and Barbie dolls are piling up to the rafters because part-time wage slaves who typically shop at Wal-Mart are too broke to buy anything but the basic necessities. Is that what we’re hearing?

Indeed. “We are managing our inventory appropriately,” David Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said today in a telephone interview. “We feel good about our inventory position.”

Sure, you do, Dave. Here’s more from Bloomberg:
“US. chains are already bracing for a tough holiday season, when sales are projected to rise 2.4 percent, the smallest gain since 2009, according to ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based firm. Wal-Mart cut its annual profit forecast after same-store sales fell 0.3 percent in the second quarter. …

Wal-Mart’s order pullback is affecting suppliers in various categories, including general merchandise and apparel, said the supplier, who has worked with Wal-Mart for almost two decades and asked not to be named to protect his relationship with the company. He said he couldn’t recall the retailer ever planning ordering reductions two quarters in advance.” (“Wal-Mart Cutting Orders as Unsold Merchandise Piles Up”, Bloomberg)

So we’re back to 2009?

Looks like it. When the nation’s biggest retailer starts trimming its sails, it ripples through the whole industry. It means softer demand, shorter hours, and more layoffs. Get ready for a lean Christmas.

The Walmart story just shows that people are at the end of their rope. For the most part, these are the working poor, the people the Democratic Party threw overboard a couple decades ago when they decided to hop in bed with Wall Street. Now their hardscrabble existence is becoming unbearable; they can’t even scrape together enough cash to shop the discount stores. That means we’re about one step from becoming a nation of dumpster divers. Don’t believe it? Then check out this clip from CNN Money:
“Roughly three-quarters of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, with little to no emergency savings, according to a survey released by Monday. Fewer than one in four Americans have enough money in their savings account to cover at least six months of expenses, enough to help cushion the blow of a job loss, medical emergency or some other unexpected event, according to the survey of 1,000 adults. Meanwhile, 50% of those surveyed have less than a three-month cushion and 27% had no savings at all..

Last week, online lender CashNetUSA said 22% of the 1,000 people it recently surveyed had less than $100 in savings to cover an emergency, while 46% had less than $800. After paying debts and taking care of housing, car and child care-related expenses, the respondents said there just isn’t enough money left over for saving more.” (“76% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck“, CNN Money)

Savings? What’s that? Do you really think people can save money on $30,000 or $40,000 a year feeding a family of four?

Dream on. Even an unexpected trip to the vet with pet Fido is enough to push the family budget into the red for months to come. Savings? Don’t make me laugh.

The truth is, most people are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. They can’t make ends meet on their crappy wages and they’re too broke to quit. There’s no way out. It’s obvious in all the data. And it’s hurting the economy, too, because spending drives growth, but you can’t spend when you’re busted. Economist Stephen Roach made a good point in a recent article at Project Syndicate. He said,
“In the 22 quarters since early 2008, real personal-consumption expenditure, which accounts for about 70% of US GDP, has grown at an average annual rate of just 1.1%, easily the weakest period of consumer demand in the post-World War II era.” (It’s also a) “massive slowdown from the pre-crisis pace of 3.6% annual real consumption growth from 1996 to 2007.” (“Occupy QE“, Stephen S. Roach, Project Syndicate)

So the economy is getting hammered because consumption is down. And working people are getting hammered because jobs are scarce and wages are flat. But we live in the richest country in the world, right?

Right. So what’s wrong with this picture?

People Want Full Medicare for All

Time for Single Payer

Freshman Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who somehow got through Princeton and Harvard Law School, is the best news the defaulting Democratic Party has had in years.

As the Texas bull in the Senate china shop, he has been making a majority of his Republican colleagues cringe with his bare-knuckle antics and language. His 21 hour talkathon on the Senate floor demanding the defunding of Obamacare made his Republican colleagues gasp. His Nazi appeasement analogies, and threats to shut down were especially embarrassing.

After listening to his lengthy rant on the Senate Floor on Tuesday and Wednesday, one comes away with two distinct impressions. Ted Cruz cannot resist inserting himself here, there and everywhere. And nothing is too trivial for Senator Talkathon. He likes White Castle hamburgers, he loves pancakes; he talked about what he liked to read as a little boy, where he’s traveled, what clothes he wears and other trivia.

You’d think he would have used his time to talk specifically about the suffering that uninsured people and their children are going through, especially in the Lone Star State. Or about what could replace Obamacare other than his repeated “free market” solution, which is to say the “pay or die” profiteering, tax-subsidized corporate system.

It was puzzling why he never mentioned that during his two days of talking, over two hundred Americans died, on average, because they couldn’t afford health insurance to get diagnoses and timely treatment. (A peer reviewed study by Harvard Medical School researchers estimated about 45,000 die annually for lack of affordable health insurance every year.)

The other reaction to Senator Cruz was that many of his more specific objections to Obamacare – its mind-numbing complexity, opposition by formerly supportive labor unions, and employers reacting by reducing worker hours below 30 hours a week to escape some of the law’s requirements – are well-taken and completely correctible by single-payer health insurance, as provided in Canada. Single-payer, or full Medicare for all, with free choice of physician and hospital has been the majority choice of Americans for decades. Even a majority of doctors and nurses favor it.

Single-payer’s advantage is that everybody is in, nobody is out. It is far more efficient, allows for better outcomes, saves lives, prevents injuries and illnesses, relieves people of severe anxieties and wasted time spent figuring out often fraud-ridden, inscrutable computerized bills and allows for the collection of pattern-detecting data to spot harmful trends.

For example, in Canada, full Medicare covers everyone at half the per capita cost that Americans pay even though 50 million Americans are still not covered. The U.S. per capita figure is almost $9,000 a year and over 17% of our total GDP. In Canada, administrative costs are much lower.

Symbolically, the single-payer legislation that passed in Canada over four decades ago was 13 pages long, compared to over two thousand pages for Obamacare.

Critics of Canada’s system charge it with delays for patients. For some elective procedures, provinces that were under-investing have experienced some delays until Ottawa raised its contributions. Canada spends just over 10% of its GDP on healthcare, by comparison.

But in the U.S. not being able to pay for treatment is the biggest problem. And in the U.S., who hasn’t heard of delays in various areas of the country due to lack of primary care physicians or other specialties? I have many friends and relatives in Canada who have not complained of delays for routine, essential or emergency treatments.

For those who prefer to believe hard-bitten businesspeople, Matt Miller, writing yesterday in The Washington Post, interviewed big business executives – David Beatty who ran the giant Weston Foods and Roger Martin long-time consultant to large U.S. companies in Canada. They were highly approving of the Canadian system and are baffled at the way the U.S. has twisted itself in such a wasteful, harmful and discriminatory system.

Mr. Beatty wondered why U.S. companies “‘want to be in the business of providing health care anyway’ (‘that’s a government function,’ he says simply).”

Mr. Martin, an avowed capitalist, who has experienced healthcare in the U.S. and Canada, according to Mr. Miller, called Canadian Medicare “incredibly hassle-free,” by comparison. (In Canada, single-payer means government insurance and private delivery of healthcare under cost controls). Now Dean of the business school at the University of Toronto, Mr. Martin told reporter Miller: “I literally have a hard time thinking of what would be better than a single-payer system.”

So why the U.S. is the only Western country without some version of a single-payer system?

Most concessionary Democrats, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have said in the past that they prefer single-payer, but that the corporate forces against it cannot be overcome. (They use phrases like “single-payer is not practical.”)

But with the Cruz crew in Congress going berserk against Obamacare, now is the time to press again for the far superior single-payer model. Or at least get single-payer into the public discussion. Unfortunately, even some of the major citizen groups organized for single-payer, behind H.R. 676, are keeping quiet, not wanting to undercut Obama and the Congressional Democrats.

Go to Single Payer Action and connect with the movement that does not play debilitating politics and seeks your engagement.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Americans warned bank 'bail-ins' coming

Experts say institutions will grab deposits without warning

WASHINGTON – With the United States facing a $17 trillion debt and an acidic debate in Washington over raising that debt limit on top of a potential government shutdown, Congress could mimic recent European action to let banks initiate a “bail-in” to blunt future failures, experts say.

Previously the federal government has taken taxes from consumers, or borrowed the money, to hand out to troubled banks. This could be a little different, and could allow banks to reach directly into consumers’ bank accounts for their cash.

Authority to allow bank “bail-ins” would be in lieu of approving any future taxpayer bailouts of banks that would be in dire need of recapitalization in order to survive.

Some financial experts contend that banks already have the legal authority to confiscate depositors’ money without warning, and at their discretion.

Financial analyst Jim Sinclair warned that the U.S. banks most likely to be “bailed-in” by their depositors are those institutions that received government bail-out funds in 2008-2009.

Such a “bail-in” means all savings of individuals over the insured amount would be confiscated to offset such a failure.

“Bail-ins are coming to North America without any doubt, and will be remembered as the ‘Great Leveling,’ of the ‘great Flushing’ (of Lehman Brothers),” Sinclair said. “Not only can it happen here, but it will happen here.

“It stands on legal grounds by legal precedent both in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.”

Sinclair is chairman and chief executive officer of Tanzania Royalty Exploration Corp. and is the son of Bertram Seligman, whose family started Goldman Sachs, Solomon Brothers, Lehman Brothers, Bache Group and other major investment banking firms.

Some of the major banks which received federal bailout money included Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase.

“When major banks fail, they are going to bail them out by grabbing the money that is in your bank accounts,” according to financial expert Michael Snyder. “This is going to absolutely shatter faith in the banking system and it is actually going to make it far more likely that we will see major bank failures all over the Western world.”

Given the dire financial straits the U.S. finds itself in, these financial experts say that Congress could look at the example of the European Parliament, which recently started to consider action that would allow banks to confiscate depositors’ holdings above 100,000 euros. Generally, funds up to that level are insured.

Finance ministers of the 27-member European Union in June had approved forcing bondholders, shareholders and large depositors with more than 100,000 euros in their accounts to make the financial sacrifice before turning to the government for help with taxpayer funds.

Depositors with less than 100,000 euros would be protected. Considering protection of small depositors a top priority, the E.U. ministers took pride in saying that their action would shield them.

“The E.U. has made a big step towards putting in place the most comprehensive framework for dealing with bank crises in the world,” said Michel Barnier, E.U. commissioner for internal market and services.

The plan as approved outlines a hierarchy of rescuing struggling banks. The first will be bondholders, followed by shareholders and then large depositors.

Among large depositors, there is a hierarchy of whose money would be selected first, with small and medium-sized businesses being protected like small depositors.

“This agreement will effectively move us from ad hoc ‘bail-outs’ to structured and clearly defined ‘bail-ins,’” said Michael Noonan, Ireland’s finance minister.

The European Parliament is expected to finalize the plan by the end of the year.

The purpose of this “bail-in,” patterned after the Cyprus model, is to offset the need for continued taxpayer bailouts that have come under increasing criticism of the more economically well-off countries such as Germany.

Last March, Cyprus had agreed to tap large depositors at its two leading banks for some 10 billion euros in an effort to obtain another 10 billion European Union bailout.

While this action prevented the collapse of Cyprus’ two top banks, the Bank of Cyprus and Popular Bank of Cyprus, it greatly upset depositors with savings more than 100,000 euros.

WND recently revealed that the practice of “bail-ins” by Cyprus a year ago was beginning to spread to other nations as large depositors began to see their balances plunge literally overnight.

A “bail-in,” as opposed to a bailout that countries especially in Europe have been seeking from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, is a recognition that such outside monetary injections won’t be forthcoming.

Sinclair said that the recent confiscation of customer deposits in Cyprus was not a “one-off, desperate idea of a few Eurozone ‘troika’ officials scrambling to salvage their balance sheets.”

“A joint paper by the U.S. federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Bank of England (BOE) dated December 10, 2012 shows, that these plans have been long in the making, that they originated with the G20 Financial Stability Board in Basel, Switzerland, and that the result will be to deliver clear title to the banks of depositor funds,” Sinclair said.

He pointed that while few depositors are aware, banks legally own the depositors’ funds as soon as they are put in the bank.

“Our money becomes the bank’s, and we become unsecured creditors holding IOUs or promises to pay,” Sinclair said.

“But until now, the bank has been obligated to pay the money back on demand in the form of cash,” he said. “Under the FDIC-BOE plan, our IOUs will be converted into ‘bank equity.’ The bank will get the money and we will get stock in the bank.”

“With any luck,” Sinclair said, “we may be able to sell the stock to someone else, but when and at what price? Most people keep a deposit account so they can have ready cash to pay the bills.”

Such plans already are being used, or under consideration, in New Zealand, Poland, Canada and several other countries.


uh oh, criticize anything to do with Israel and you are a racist! Israel's people are cool, it's their government that sucks ass. And their govt has way too much sway with the US govt. That is some suck.