Do you want to know how cold it can get in Antarctica in midwinter? Go to a city council meeting in Greeley, Colorado, any time regulation of the oil and gas industry is on the agenda. You’ll get an idea. Last week, the room temperature felt near absolute zero from the iciness of the council’s reaction to citizen petitions to rein in industry designs on their neighborhood, a place called Fox Run.
What was up for debate was a proposal to approve permits for 16 horizontally fracked oil wells on a small parcel of undeveloped land, itself about 16 acres within the city. The 16 wells would be only 350 feet from the back door of some residences. These wells, according to the oil company, would be fracked four at a time, meaning the citizens of these neighborhoods could expect heavy industrial activity out their back door for up to three or four months a year, 24/7, over half a decade, perhaps. We’re talking literally tens of thousands of truck trips to deliver water, chemicals, steel pipe and a variety of heavy industrial machinery via a single point of ingress.
Envision, if you will, the Saturday afternoon barbeque, with the excited voices of children at play competing with the drone and earth rattle of drilling next door as unknown quantities of who-knows-what are spewed onto the festivities. This scene could be played out over and over again as money is made for the few and public health and social wellbeing are sacrificed by the many. That was the argument most often made by the homeowners.
Add to this that some local businesses would actually be only 200 feet from the wells. It happens that the man who owns the 16 acres for the drilling site also owns the street-front buildings in which these businesses are housed. They had all voluntarily agreed to the reduced setback, and no one suspected collusion in these robust economic times. As the owner said--employing small town, Daddy Warbucks logic--these people couldn’t tell him what to do with his land. That would be a takings, and he would have to be compensated, royally. In his mind, his individual rights were superior to the public’s.
His understanding is almost certainly wrong, for the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed over and over again that the protection of the public’s health and well-being is superior to property rights, but no use to talk to this scion of private-property-rights-uber-alles. The only thing keeping the takings assertion alive for the oil boys and rent-seeking land owners is that government refuses to look at the health implications of fracking systematically, even though a host of scientific and public policy leaders at all levels of government and academia are asking for them. The EPA is studying the impacts on water. A draft of this study is to be released in 2014, but the agency has scrubbed any analysis of air impacts as a result of oil industry pressure.
In the end, despite roughly 45 people speaking in opposition to the permit, and only about 7 in favor--four of them owners of the permits and the property involved--in an audience of about 150 people, the city council voted 7-0 in favor of the oil company and private enrichment over repeated calls for caution and deferral until the health impacts of fracking are better understood.
Of the opposition, many are homeowners in Fox Run, some are tearfully concerned about their children, all are concerned about the air impacts. A doctor, head of the pulmonary unit at the Greeley Hospital, tried to appeal to the council’s better angels. Another woman explained that Fox Run is home to two city-chartered apartments for the disabled, 40 units in all. These units were built with $4 million in public money from HUD. Ranging in age from 20 to 70, many of these citizens are wheel chair bound, and the majority use oxygen, in the newer unit all but one. The impacts on them might prove frightful she reasoned.
One person said she had heard the vote was rigged, it had already been decided, but she had come to the meeting anyway just to find out. Her intelligence would prove out.
Leading the charge for adoption was Mayor Tom Norton. Of stentorian voice, and coifed in surprisingly vivid auburn hair, he was in control, for, after all, he was used to a much larger stage. He had been president of the Colorado Senate during the heyday of former Governor Bill Owens. Owens fancied himself a Texas oilman and had the pickup and plates to prove it, though perhaps not the chin, but that too has been altered to fit his rough and ready oil patch persona.
Norton, himself an engineer, had risen to become Owen’s Director of the Department of Transportation, before retiring to Greeley, his longtime residence, and running for mayor. A family affair, Governor Owens appointed Tom’s wife, Kay, President of Northern Colorado University. It too is in Greeley. She still heads this university of over 12,000 students. Previously, she was a staff lawyer for Monfort Meat Packing.
This “private sector” experience she recently wrote caused her to take the lead in leasing 246 acres of mineral rights under the university to Mineral Resources, Inc., the same family oil company that was seeking approval for 16 oil wells that would run under Fox Run.
In glowing terms she described the Richardson family owners as our neighbors, much in the same fashion they had described themselves at the hearing. She went on to fancifully describe their oil business as “boutique”. She reasoned, too, that since city records showed the Richardsons already had leases to the mineral rights under most of the city, both public and private, a little more land couldn’t hurt and might foster orderly development.
She also wrote that the university considered student public health issues and, in her opinion, there was nothing to worry about. In fact, she effused, the state’s regulations would only get stronger and more protective of the students.
The idea of stricter regulation to protect public health was not what husband Tom argued last winter when the state was considering greater setbacks. The proposal, eventually adopted, increased the setbacks from 350 feet to 500 feet. But as Matt Lepore, the head of the state’s oil regulatory agency, the COGCC, said to the press, these regulations were not to protect public health, but to reduce noise and dust near homes, or more concisely, the anger factor in neighborhoods invaded by the industry. Lepore added that the state hadn’t really gotten its head around the health issues. This fiscally wasteful and cynically driven form of decision-making was recognized as dangerously flawed by COGCC Commissioner Holton who said in these debates:
“I just felt like we should wait until we get some good data, in order to make a decision. If it’s 100 feet, fine, if it’s 1000 feet, whatever. Basically it looked to me like we were just changing the rules because we could, and I don’t think that is a good idea.”
Norton speaking for the city council, felt none of these compunctions, he was worried about reduced revenues to the city if some areas were no longer available to the industry because of a 500-foot setback rule. After all he said, the city already has over 400 operative wells and with the potential for many more, new setbacks might “affect the $3.2 million in annual city revenue from oil and gas, and the $900 million of royalties projected over 25 years to Greeley…”.
Clearly, the Nortons see Greeley as a classic company town where public services are paid out of monopoly oil and gas revenues. Moreover, Mayor Tom and the council need not have worried because the COGCC and the Department of Public Health approved a setback of only 200 feet for businesses in the case at hand. The Richardsons, father and son, did admit under friendly questioning that the council needed to act quickly because the new setback rules, which become effective on August 1, would make their well oiled plans more difficult, perhaps requiring even more official variances.
Unknown to most in the audience was that Mayor Tom, only weeks earlier, dressed all in black, with resplendent auburn mane, had come to Denver to testify against HR 1275, the only significant piece of fracking legislation before the 2013 state legislature. It would have funded a one-year effort to survey reported health impacts from people living near fracking. Mayor Tom said it was unnecessary, that everyone was happy with fracking in Greeley, for revenues from fracking helped pay for public services. His testimony was seconded by the boldly feckless Dr. Chris Urbina, Governor Hickenlooper’s choice to head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. Urbina spoke against the bill because of the dangers of collecting medical data too hurriedly, as opposed to the dangers of collecting none at all, apparently. These two presumed representatives of the public provided the cover needed to allow state representative from Greeley, Dave Young (D), to vote against the measure, thus ensuring its defeat. Company town, indeed!
Greeley has suffered greatly from oil and gas development. Its attempt to deny drilling within the city boundaries back in the 1980s was met with one of those great, dunderheaded decisions that only courts can make. The Colorado Supreme Court, uninformed about geography, reasoned that oil and gas development was so important to the state that any attempt to deny the industry access to the city proper would pose a threat to maximum development. Colorado is 104,000 square miles in size. Greeley is 47. Couldn’t they do the math?
Consider, too, that most of Colorado is underlain by shale deposits, the ancient sea floor that is giving up its treasure to the industry through the “magic” of horizontal fracking. All the incorporated cities and towns in the state comprise about 1900 square miles, less than 2 percent of the state. Yet, it is this wrongheaded 1980s court decision that is allowing the oil and gas industry to invade cities at will across the state.
The testimony of the city planner, parrying the comments of the young attorney, Matt Sura, who had been hired to represent the homeowners, was straight out of Charles Dickens. Sura was masterful in pointing out the numerous holes and unanswered questions in the city’s evaluation of the 16 drilling permits. Chief among them was the unanswered question of the impacts of these wells on public health, particularly for those people living in close proximity to the wells. The city manager, with obsequiousness one might expect of a Uriah Heep before his betters, told the council that he thought the city had done a stellar job of answering all questions except the questions concerning public health. But said he, that shouldn’t concern the council since the public’s health was a matter of state and federal concern. It was not their responsibility.
Surely there can be no truth in the old notion that we deserve the government we get.
Crossposted on Tikkun Daily
From 1999-2010, the total U.S. prison population rose 18 percent, an increase largely reflected by the "drug war" and stringent sentencing guidelines, such as three strikes laws and mandatory minimum sentences.
However, total private prison populations exploded fivefold during this same time period, with federal private prison populations rising by 784 percent (as seen in the chart below complied by The Sentencing Project):
This stark rise in private prison populations is partially due to increased contracts granted at the state and federal levels to behemoth prison companies such as Correction Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group. These companies claim - against available data - that they can run corrections facilities at lower costs.
However, whether such companies can save governments money is not the central issue. What's at issue here is the corrupt, immoral dynamic that fuels such contracts: the concept of treating inmates as commodities that must be grown for profit.
Take, for example, the offer CCA made in 2012 to 48 states:
We'll purchase and manage your jails, and in return you [the state] must promise to keep the jails at least 90 percent full.
Such contracts provide incentives for local law enforcement to increase incarceration rates, rather than decrease them. In some instances, private prisons are grown not because crime increases, but because police harvest criminals as though they are a crop that must be stocked on the local shelves.
Additionally, for-profit prison companies engage in intense lobbying efforts that have been tied to many of our nation's most stringent sentencing guidelines, and lobby hard against the decriminalization of things such as marijuana.
The financial motive to engage in such lobbying was clearly detailed in CCA's 2010 Annual Report (as prepared by The Sentencing Project):
Such financial incentives to stock corrections facilities naturally leads to widespread corruption. Evidence of such corruption surfaced when two Pennsylvania judges were found guilty of selling juveniles to private detention facilities for millions of dollars. The "kids for cash" scandal, in which innocent children who should not have been locked up were sold for set amounts to the detention facilities, is shocking and harrowing.
However, even more shocking and harrowing is the fact that we have allowed free market pursuits to infiltrate our system of justice, making such scandals possible. When prisoners become products, we no longer have a justice system. We have an illicit marketplace. We have a corral.
America has the highest rate of imprisonment in the world. And the private prison industry is a central driving force behind this. Add to this the staggering number of African-Americans locked up, and the private prison industry has essentially created a modern-day slave trade.
A trade that should never have been allowed to enter our criminal justice system in the first place.
Follow David Harris-Gershon on Twitter @David_EHG
When 20-year-old Sarah Smith got into an accident with a motorcyclist in 2008, it was nothing but bad news—she was driving with a suspended license. It got worse. When police showed up, officer Adam Skweres took Smith aside and implied that he could either make it look like the accident was her fault or give the other party a ticket. It depended on whether she’d agree to perform unspecified sexual favors. Skweres also threatened that if she told anyone, he’d “make sure you never walk, talk, or speak again,” and looked at his gun. That scared her enough that she immediately reported what he’d done to the police, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Another four years passed before the department arrested Skweres and suspended him without pay, and then only because he tried to rape a woman while on duty. By that time, Smith had moved out of the city for fear of running into him again. Three other women told stories similar to Smith’s, and on March 11 Skewers pleaded guilty to bribery, indecent assault, and other charges.
Stories of cops propositioning, harassing, and sexually assaulting women turn up every week around the country. February 18 saw the arrest of Houston officer Victor Chris for allegedly telling two women he would tear up their traffic tickets in exchange for sexual favors, according to the Houston Chronicle. Police chargedSergio Alvarez, an officer from West Sacramento, California, on February 25 with allegedly kidnapping and raping six women while on duty. On March 1, Denver cop Hector Paez got eight years in prison for driving a woman he’d arrested to a secluded spot and forcing her to perform oral sex.
“Police sexual misconduct is common, and anyone who maintains it isn’t doesn’t get it,” says retired Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, author of the book Breaking Rank.
Since no one is investing resources in learning how many victims are out there, we’re left with estimates and news accounts. As part of a 2008 study, former police officer Tim Maher, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, asked 20 police chiefs whether police sexual misconduct was a problem; 18 responded in the affirmative. The 13 chiefs willing to offer estimates thought an average of 19 percent of cops were involved—if correct, that translates to more than 150,000 police officers nationwide. An informal effort by the Cato Institute in 2010 to track the number of police sexual-misconduct cases just in news stories counted 618 complaints nationwide that year, 354 of which involved forcible nonconsensual sexual activity like sexual assault or sexual battery.
The news steadily filtering in from around the country has forced police leaders nationally to take notice. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women funded the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to develop a guide for police chiefs, issued in 2011, that encourages them to adopt specific policies in their departments to prevent police sexual misconduct. The DOJ funded the report after noting “recurring accusations of sexual offenses implicating law enforcement officers.”
Two years later, the IACP can’t tell whether its recommendations are making any difference.
No one keeps data on the number of victims of police sexual abuse, and the IACP says it can’t track the number of police departments that have adopted its recommendations. “We think there’s a good-faith effort by police departments out there to be more accountable,” says the IACP’s John Firman. But how would the IACP know, given that there’s no data on the number of victims or departments with such policies? Replies Firman, “Well, we could say the opposite—we don’t see a groundswell from people who are protesting their police departments for this kind of activity.”
If there’s no pushback, one reason may be that the victims fear retaliation. “Women are terrified and won’t come forward,” says Diane Wetendorf, an author and advocate who has worked with victims for many years. Even in cases that don’t involve cops, only about a third of rapes and less than half of sexual assaults are ever reported, according to a 2004 DOJ study. The number of women reporting sex crimes involving cops likely is far lower. “Can you imagine how much harder it is to report abuse by a police officer?” asks New York City civil-rights attorney Andrea Ritchie, co-coordinator of Streetwise and Safe, a program trying to change the city’s policing practices toward LGBTQ youth of color. One tactic of abusive cops makes that especially true—extorting sexual favors from women who fear they could be charged with a crime, in exchange for leniency. Victims think that if they report what happened, their favorable treatment will disappear.
Advocates say only a radical shift—stronger federal laws that force better oversight of local police departments—will prevent more cases like Sarah Smith’s. Ritchie, for example, wants to see the federal 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act—which established “zero tolerance” for sexual abuse and sexual misconduct by prison and jail staff—expanded to apply to anyone in police custody, not just those in lockups.
States also need to communicate with each other about cops who have been fired or allowed to resign for sexual misconduct. That’s not happening now—only 34 states contribute to the National Decertification Index, first implemented in 2000. That database holds the names of officers who have lost their certification for any type of misbehavior, including sexual misconduct, which allows police departments that are hiring to screen out bad-apple candidates. But without a national database to which all states contribute, the decertification system nationally will never work as it should. “It’s just nuts that we haven’t come together as a society on this,” says Roger Goldman, a law professor at the Saint Louis School University School of Law who’s an expert on police-licensing laws and has worked for 30 years to convince states to contribute to the database.
Maher thinks it’s time to create a mandatory federal database. In 1996, in fact, Senator Ben Nelson and Representative Harry Johnston, both Democrats, introduced bills to create a national registry of officers whose certification had been revoked. Both bills died in committee, in part because opponents said there was a lack of evidence that unfit officers were moving between states, notes Goldman in a 2001 paper in the St. Louis University Law Journal. That was the last attempt of its kind.
Advocates like Wetendorf think the only way to change the boys-will-be-boys police culture is to hire more women cops. Today women represent about 13 percent of the force, and that figure is growing at less than half a percent per year, according to the IACP. A report last year from the Rand Corporation said police departments appear to be doing too little to recruit women into the force. It also found that police hiring tests may be biased against women and that police culture may be marginalizing and discriminating against woman officers. Meanwhile, female officers continue to file discrimination and sexual-harassment lawsuits and are winning the majority of them, according to the IACP.
Activists have tried to draw attention to the issue in international forums, says Ritchie. In December 2007, 38 organizations submitted a report to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination documenting ongoing incidents of police sexual assault and harassment. They made the case that the federal government’s failure to address the issue violates its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The groups submitted similar reports to two other U.N. committees.
Local grassroots groups also continue to organize. After a woman accused two Chicago officers of sexually assaulting her in March 2011, the group Campaign Against Police Sexual Assault held demonstrations in support of her during the subsequent court hearings. In Oregon, the group Portland Copwatch monitors and documents incidents of local cops involved in sexual harassment and assault. And Ritchie says that after years of talking to New York City’s police department about the issue, the department has finally told her it’s open to a conversation about developing a specific sexual misconduct policy—which is particularly important in a city where young women are summarily stopped and frisked by male cops.
Without those efforts and more, what Stamper says is needed—“a profound, radical change in policing”—isn’t likely. And thousands of abusive cops will continue to intimidate and take advantage of women they’re supposed to protect.Related Stories
If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Especially if it involves math, the Treasury Department, and two disparate political camps championing two different economic doctrines that came of age decades ago.
So went the telling of the deficit story last week. Most of the media bought the notion that somehow the deficit had magically halved to $682 billion from around $1.1 trillion last year, based on not even examining the Treasury Department's own reports before promoting that gleeful and surreal conclusion.
When the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced that the deficit underwent some kind of Fastest Loser diet, Keynesian types were thrilled that their philosophy was validated. The magic number proved that government fiscal stimulus will ultimately boost the economy. (Leave aside that John Maynard Keynes was actually an asset manager and successful speculator.) Thus, budgetary cuts are not necessary.
Where there is truth to this (austerity never helped anyone but those not affected by it), ignoring the fact that certain federal fiscal stimulus plans were used as reasons to increase overall debt in the form of treasury securities that banks use as reserve to buoy the banking system—and thus the stock market—and not the general economy, does economics and more importantly, the country, a disservice.
On the other hand, the free-market types also considered this a triumph of their philosophy. By not overly regulating the market (score another one for watering down the already tepid Frank-Dodd Act), the economy is marching back to normal.
Again, this does their notion a disservice because a true free-marketer would be against the Federal Reserve propping up the treasury (and thus debt) market by buying lots of treasuries, and allowing banks to park more treasuries on their books to the tune of $1.5 trillion worth) and toxic assets (in the form of buying $85 billion of them from banks who had them rotting on their books allowing banks to free up space to speculate in other ways).
Those debates, in all their generalities, will continue on. Meanwhile, there’s the matter of what sparked the latest phase of debates over big vs. small (rather than Wall Street-coddling vs. population-stimulating). -the deficit figure, that number that measures what the government takes in vs. what it spends, and what it shows, is that neither bank stimulus nor populace stimulus has changed very much in the past three years.
First, a hat tip to Karl Denninger at Market Ticker for boldly going where much of the media seemed too complacent or clueless to go. According to Denninger, since September 28, 2012, “there has been a net $762.6 billion of new debt added to the federal balance sheet, not the $488 billion the Treasury Department claims.” In addition, Social Security and Medicare are almost $90 billion in the hole this year already.
He writes that Treasury’s own cash statement indicates that, “At the current run rate over the four calendar months … the deficit on a cash basis this year is $1.188 trillion” compared to $1.210 trillion last year, which is about the same. If you include figures through the end of April, that same run rate produced a deficit of about $1.307 trillion.
I was truly puzzled by the new figure and more so by how much of the media and various Krugmanites tend to lump all fiscal stimulus into a population helping category, without noting that certain forms help the banking system more than the population. To be sure, stimuli like extended unemployment programs help families make ends meet while seeking better opportunities, but programs like HAMP barely make a dent in peoples’ foreclosure-related problems, while enabling banks to benefit from more aggregate support.
What seemed odder is that the deficit has always been reported as the total of those debts/expenditures relative to revenues, and simple logic says that those debts/expenditures haven't dropped, and revenues haven't increased by what is reported near a $500 billion shift....
One is tempted (if one cared to probe for a nanosecond) to ask what the Treasury Department didn’t include, but its math doesn't work even if it didn't exclude anything. Take its own report, the Monthly Treasury Statement which compiles activity from the start of the current fiscal year (October 2012) through April 2013.
A very cursory look at this report clearly reveals some items that don’t actively support the report’s optimistic subtitle.
Take Table 1. The numbers show that there have been $1.603 trillion in budget receipts so far for fiscal year 2013 vs. $2.090 trillion in outlays. This indeed produces a value for a current deficit (outlays minus receipts) of -$487 billion.
The same table also shows there were $1.383 trillion in receipts for the same period in 2012 and $2.1 trillion (about the same as this year) in outlays. Combining those figures, we do get a comparative deficit this time last year of -$719 billion. Okay, so far, it's on point with the headline's cheer.
However, just below Table 1 comes some small print. The Treasury Department appears to have changed some accounting methods. The small print reads: "The deficit figure differs by $2.23 billion due mainly to revisions in the data following the release of the Final Monthly Treasury Statement." There’s no clarity about how those revisions changed numbers, and the changes are small in the scheme of things, so let’s raise an eyebrow and move on for now—to the good part.
Even if we pretend those changes don’t matter and even if the rest of this year's receipts come in 16 percent greater than they did last year (which on average is what this table is indicating so far), we'd still get a total of $1.603 trillion receipts plus an expected $1.234 trillion. That equals $2.614 trillion in total receipts for 2013. Remember that number for a moment.
Now, consider that even if the rest of this year's expenditures remain flat to last year's (like the first part of the year indicated), there would be $3.5 trillion in outlays for 2013. If we subtract that $3.5 trillion in outlays from $2.614 trillion in receipts, we get a total deficit of approximately $886 billion; certainly not the $642 billion the CBO recently announced.
But there’s more. There’s Table 2.
According to Table 2, those expenditures actually won't be flat, instead they will be higher, by about $184 billion, to reach $3.684 trillion.
Subtracting $3.684 trillion from $2.614 trillion, we get a total expected deficit of approximately $1.069 trillion—or about the same as it has been over the last couple of years—and again not the $642 billion that the media spread, and that Krugmanites consider reflective of fiscal stimulus working for the overall economy.
There’s a danger in working with numbers. They can be massaged and bent and faked and shrouded with suppositions. But, that’s not the case here. This is a case of simple addition and subtraction using Treasury’s own report. Doing so reveals a discrepancy between the recent headline deficit number and the one in the report. The issue here isn’t whether government stimulus works or not (nor how it was designed and who it really helps most beneath associated political rhetoric), but about why people can be so eager to be right about the nature of the forest, they ignore the fact that they are running smack into a tree right in front of them. Let’s at least agree about the tree, and move on from there.Related Stories
Modern conservative Christianity is obsessed with marriage, relationships, and sexuality to the point where these concerns crowd pretty much everything else out. Much of their obsession is directed towards trying to get the government to force you to live by their rules, but they also spend a great deal of time offering advice on these issues to each other. Unfortunately, most of their advice is utter garbage that puts prudery, unfair expectations, and strict gender policing over actual advice that can make your life better. Here are ten examples of evangelical advice that show how far adrift the Christian right advice industry is from the real world:
1) Be a better housekeeper to prevent cheating. Recently, Pat Robertson addressed a question that haunts many a woman who has a husband with a wandering eye: How to get past his cheating? Robertson all but told women not to worry their pretty little heads about their husband’s infidelities, suggesting that male infidelity in nigh-inevitable. He did, however, make some suggestions on how to minimize the straying: “What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander.” On top of implying that clean floors and the smell of baking bread can prevent men from looking for strange women, Robertson asked women to sympathize with how hard it is for men, saying that they are “captured” by their sexual desires and it’s up to women to “get him free”. In general, Robertson takes the line that all problems in marriage are the fault of wives and never husbands. While most Christian advice-givers rarely go that far, most do adhere generally to the belief that keeping a marriage together is mostly a wife’s job.
2) Women need to submit to their husbands. Throughout fundamentalist Christianity, one piece of advice rings out above all others, which is that marriage only works if wives submit to their husbands. When speaking to outsiders, they often play it off like “submission” is just a bit of Biblical-language goofiness isn’t to be meant in the secular sense, but in practice “submit to your husbands” means exactly what it sounds like. Richard Strauss from Bible.org made it clear that women are to obey their husbands at all times, even when he’s being cruel. “Obedience is not to be practiced only when you feel like it, or when you wholeheartedly agree with your husband, or when he is treating you with Christ-like love, but in everything!” Michelle Duggar, right wing Christian icon and reality TV star, summarized some of the points of practicing wifely submission. She specifically singled out financial independence as something women should never have, saying, “Love is killed by self-sufficiency.” Sheryl Sandberg’s loving husband would be surprised to hear that!
3) How to make sex interesting in a Christian marriage. Conservative Christians are expected to abstain from sex until marriage, but for evangelicals, at least, as soon as you get married, you’re supposed to immediately drop years of prudish sexual avoidance and throw yourself completely into your intimate relationship. (Indeed, many proponents of wifely submission come down hard on women who are reluctant to have sex as often as their husbands want to.) In an attempt to overcome the obvious problems with these expectations, some Christians have created sex advice websites like Christian Nymphos, to get their readers in touch with those sexual desires they spent years repressing. Sadly, despite their best intentions, their advice is often the opposite of erotic. “Wake up each day, look in the mirror and ask Jesus to tell you what is beautiful about you,” they advise. Despite the winking permission to let yourself have some fun now that you’re married, Christian Nymphos can’t quite let go of the constant sex policing, either, particularly coming down hard on sexual fantasy, because it’s rarely “about a married couple enjoying each other exclusively, in a loving manner”.
4) If you’re gay, marry someone of the opposite sex and try not to think about it too much. While most people are familiar with the “ex-gay” movement that encourages people to try to turn straight, the new strategy is a bit more subtle: Encourage gay Christians to just live like they’re straight and ignore their real desires. Josh Weed, a gay Mormon married to a woman, is one of the most straightforward examples. He claims his marriage is better than ones where there’s sexual attraction, claiming that their sex life is “about more than just visual attraction and lust”, insinuating that a marriage without lust in it might even be better. Even the head of the infamous ex-gay organization Exodus International has embraced the “gay but not acting on it” line, having his wife write on their website that she doesn’t even want a heterosexual husband, because his lack of attraction to other women means “I am the only person he chooses to direct his attraction toward.” Marry a gay man and rest assured he won’t sleep with other women! It’s more foolproof than Pat Robertson’s advice to keep him at home with good housekeeping.
5) Men, do not masturbate. Women, either, I suppose, but most anti-masturbation materials on the Christian right focus on men and casually assume women don’t have the same urge towards hearty self-loving. To prevent themselves from masturbating, young men are encouraged to start “accountability groups” where they try to de-lust themselves, mostly by telling each other to think of Jesus when they’d rather think of boobs. (Unlike the Christian Nymphos, these groups understand that thinking of Jesus is not sexy.) But while there’s some small attempt to make men responsible for their own behavior, most of the attention on preventing male lust is given to young women, who are mostly told to wear more clothes.
6) If husbands want more sex, women should do everything they can to give it to them. Focus on the Family’s marriage counselor Juli Slattery is blunt about: Married men need sex, and so wives who aren’t providing enough need to step up. While she claims she isn’t trying to guilt trip women into having more sex, she argues that sex is a physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational need men have. (Though apparently not when they’re single and can’t even fill this need on their own time.) “You cannot love him as a husband but reject him sexually,” she says, suggesting that regardless of the hold-up, women whose husbands want sex more need to find a way to provide it.
7) However, if wives want more sex, they should learn to go without. Slattery has very different advice for wives whose problem is that they want to get laid more, but have unwilling husbands. While you should move heaven and earth to drum up more desire for a husband who wants more sex, if you’re the undersexed one, you’re instructed to tell yourself “friendship, seasoned love, and shared history are often enough to maintain a marriage in which sex is no longer possible”. Men who want more sex are entitled to wives who try to provide it, women who aren’t getting any are told to be happy with “forms of physical affection that don't involve the pressure of sexual intercourse, such as back rubs, holding hands, playful touching, and hugging”.
8) Men should not believe their partners who say they want abortions. While the Christian right doesn’t like to talk about it, plenty of Christian women want abortions, at about the same rate as other women. Anti-abortion activists then turn to men in an effort to prevent these abortions. Daybreak Crisis Pregnancy Center encourages men to disbelieve women who tell them they want abortions, instead saying the women were secretly “waiting for their boyfriends/husbands to stop them”, even if that means “rush through the door to rescue me and take me away somewhere safe”. Luckily for women who, generally, aren’t playing mind games by choosing abortion, most clinics have enough security to stop men who have crazed Christian right-induced white knight fantasies.
9) Handy tips to keep from screwing. The Christian right loves to chastise and scold the unmarried for having sex, but beyond a purity ring and encouragement to just say no, there’s surprisingly little advice to those who want to be abstinent on how to do it. What little advice there is out there is vague and useless. These ten tips on purity by Ron Hutchcraft at Christianity Today are typical. “You do not own the person you're dating,” he says, as if a feeling of ownership is necessary to feel desire. “That person belongs to God.” Knowing that kind of abstraction may not be that helpful, he also suggests not spending time alone with your dates, and “avoid French kissing and petting—anything that is sure to ignite the fires of passion”. Wait until you’re married, at what point you are expected to go from 0 to 60 in one night.
10) Be extremely paranoid about your teenager’s sexuality. Needless to say, parenting advice from conservative Christians is obsessed with the haunting fear that your kids are interested in sex, and no amount of guilt-tripping and shaming them for it will keep them away from it forever. Today’s Christian Woman recommends a Big Brother approach when teens bring dates home: “[T]here should never be a moment when they are alone without an adult in the house.” Turn your back for one second, and that’s the second penis slips into vagina! What Christians Want To Know recommends adding some thought policing duties to the pile. “What are you allowing your teen to watch on the TV or at the movie theatre?”, they ask. “Anything that has a rating now-a-days above “G” has sexual content.” History has long demonstrated that rebellion cannot be prevented by telling your teenager they can’t watch anything that’s not a cartoon produced by Disney. The frequency with which this useless tactic is recommended by Christians, however, suggests that playing censorship cops with your teen is its own reward.
The wide, weird world of Christian advice, when taken together, paints a grim view of what they expect out of love and sex. Mainly, it’s a world where men have very little responsibility in relationships, and women are given the job of doing most of the sacrificing and emotional work. The wedding ring is given almost magical qualities that are expected to turn nearly-asexual beings into hump monsters that nonetheless have no non-monogamous urges at all. One gets the impression that setting their followers up to fail---and therefore to turn to the church’s power for forgiveness and absolution---is the point behind all these impossible rules.Related Stories
It likely doesn’t matter much to the atheists of the world that — of all people — Pope Francis is on their side. But he is. And that’s a cool thing for all of us.
In a message delivered Wednesday via Vatican Radio, the new pontiff distinguished himself with a call for tolerance and a message of support – and even admiration – toward nonbelievers.
Naturally, a guy whose job it is to lead the world’s largest Christian faith is still going to come at his flock with a Jesus-centric message. But he’s taking it in an encouraging new direction. In his message, Francis dissed the apostles for being “a little intolerant” and said, “All of us have this commandment at heart: Do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not (a) Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must.”
And the pope spoke of the need to meet each other somewhere on our on common ground. “This commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.” It was a deeper affirmation of his comments back in March, when he declared that the faithful and atheists can be “precious allies… to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”
That’s a message that’s vastly different from Catholicism’s traditional “We’re number one!” dogma. Six years ago, the Vatican reasserted the church’s stance that while there may be“elements of sanctification and truth” in other faiths, “that fullness of grace and of truth… has been entrusted to the Catholic Church.” In other words, close but no cigar, everybody else.The pope was not, of course, addressing the non-believers of the world in his Wednesday sermon, or trying to win them over. Instead, he was telling his Catholics about the importance of cutting outsiders slack. And it’s a hugely important message for Christians to hear. It’s not about being right. It’s about being loving. And it’s a necessary concept, one that needs to be expressed again and again, in a world in which the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in Virginia is justifying his repulsive hate speech against gays and lesbians because “I’m a Christian, not because I hate anybody, but because I have religious values that matter to me.” Coming within a week when atheists have been stepping into the spotlighthere in America with their own messages of live-and-let-live tolerance, it’s downright refreshing to get a similar message from the biggest Christian in the world.
There are plenty of atheists out there who will no doubt take the pope’s message with a grain of salt or even flat-out disdain. The last thing somebody who doesn’t believe in heaven could possibly need is some guy in a funny hat telling them that they’re okay in God’s eyes anyway. But maybe, whatever we believe or don’t believe, we can consider that the man is on to something when he speaks about “the culture of encounter.”
Francis notes that the apostles were “closed off by the idea of possessing the truth,” an arrogant certainty that no one group currently has a monopoly on. Where we find each other is in practicing tolerance for our differences, and in finding the commonality of our values. “Doing good,” Francis says, “is not a matter of faith.”
It’s not that faith, for the faithful, doesn’t matter. It’s that belonging to a church isn’t what saves us. It’s belonging to each other.
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly paid a visit to Jon Stewart’s studio yesterday, where the two discussed the recent spate of scandals plaguing the Obama administration.
As we’ve learned in the past, these two sharply contrasting ideologues put on quite a show when they’re in a room together. O’Reilly acted his usual, bigoted self, justifying Muslim profiling, while Stewart jokingly suggested profiling Fox News viewers to curb gun violence. At one point, Jon prods Bill, asking him how much pleasure the Fox News takes from covering Obama’s scandals. “Is it joy? Is it sexual arousal?”
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Feet to the Fire: Time to Hold the Big Energy Villains Who Kill the Earth While Making a Killing Accountable
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We have a word for the conscious slaughter of a racial or ethnic group: genocide. And one for the conscious destruction of aspects of the environment: ecocide. But we don’t have a word for the conscious act of destroying the planet we live on, the world as humanity had known it until, historically speaking, late last night. A possibility might be “terracide” from the Latin word for earth. It has the right ring, given its similarity to the commonplace danger word of our era: terrorist.
The truth is, whatever we call them, it’s time to talk bluntly about the terrarists of our world. Yes, I know, 9/11 was horrific. Almost 3,000 dead, massive towers down, apocalyptic scenes. And yes, when it comes to terror attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings weren’t pretty either. But in both cases, those who committed the acts paid for or will pay for their crimes.
In the case of the terrarists -- and here I’m referring in particular to the men who run what may be the most profitable corporations on the planet, giant energy companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, and Shell -- you’re the one who’s going to pay, especially your children and grandchildren. You can take one thing for granted: not a single terrarist will ever go to jail, and yet they certainly knew what they were doing.
It wasn’t that complicated. In recent years, the companies they run have been extracting fossil fuels from the Earth in ever more frenetic and ingenious ways. The burning of those fossil fuels, in turn, has put record amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Only this month, the CO2 level reached 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. A consensus of scientists has long concluded that the process was warming the world and that, if the average planetary temperature rose more than two degrees Celsius, all sorts of dangers could ensue, including seas rising high enough to inundate coastal cities, increasingly intense heat waves, droughts, floods, ever more extreme storm systems, and so on.
How to Make Staggering Amounts of Money and Do In the Planet
None of this was exactly a mystery. It’s in the scientific literature. NASA scientist James Hansen first publicized the reality of global warming to Congress in 1988. It took a while -- thanks in part to the terrarists -- but the news of what was happening increasingly made it into the mainstream. Anybody could learn about it.
Those who run the giant energy corporations knew perfectly well what was going on and could, of course, have read about it in the papers like the rest of us. And what did they do? They put their money into funding think tanks, politicians, foundations, and activists intent on emphasizing “doubts” about the science (since it couldn’t actually be refuted); they and their allies energetically promoted what came to be known as climate denialism. Then they sent their agents and lobbyists and money into the political system to ensure that their plundering ways would not be interfered with. And in the meantime, they redoubled their efforts to get ever tougher and sometimes “dirtier” energy out of the ground in ever tougher and dirtier ways.The peak oil people hadn’t been wrong when they suggested years ago that we would soon hit a limit in oil production from which decline would follow. The problem was that they were focused on traditional or “conventional” liquid oil reserves obtained from large reservoirs in easy-to-reach locations on land or near to shore. Since then, the big energy companies have invested a remarkable amount of time, money, and (if I can use that word) energy in the development of techniques that would allow them to recover previously unrecoverable reserves (sometimes by processes that themselves burn striking amounts of fossil fuels): fracking, deep-water drilling, and tar-sands production, among others.
They also began to go after huge deposits of what energy expert Michael Klare calls “extreme” or “tough” energy -- oil and natural gas that can only be acquired through the application of extreme force or that requires extensive chemical treatment to be usable as a fuel. In many cases, moreover, the supplies being acquired like heavy oil and tar sands are more carbon-rich than other fuels and emit more greenhouse gases when consumed. These companies have even begun using climate change itself -- in the form of a melting Arctic -- to exploit enormous and previously unreachable energy supplies. With the imprimatur of the Obama administration, Royal Dutch Shell, for example, has been preparing to test out possible drilling techniques in the treacherous waters off Alaska.
Call it irony, if you will, or call it a nightmare, but Big Oil evidently has no qualms about making its next set of profits directly off melting the planet. Its top executives continue to plan their futures (and so ours), knowing that their extremely profitable acts are destroying the very habitat, the very temperature range that for so long made life comfortable for humanity.
Their prior knowledge of the damage they are doing is what should make this a criminal activity. And there are corporate precedents for this, even if on a smaller scale. The lead industry, the asbestos industry, and the tobacco companies all knew the dangers of their products, made efforts to suppress the information or instill doubt about it even as they promoted the glories of what they made, and went right on producing and selling while others suffered and died.
And here’s another similarity: with all three industries, the negative results conveniently arrived years, sometimes decades, after exposure and so were hard to connect to it. Each of these industries knew that the relationship existed. Each used that time-disconnect as protection. One difference: if you were a tobacco, lead, or asbestos exec, you might be able to ensure that your children and grandchildren weren’t exposed to your product. In the long run, that’s not a choice when it comes to fossil fuels and CO2, as we all live on the same planet (though it's also true that the well-off in the temperate zones are unlikely to be the first to suffer).
If Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 plane hijackings or the Tsarnaev brothers’ homemade bombs constitute terror attacks, why shouldn’t what the energy companies are doing fall into a similar category (even if on a scale that leaves those events in the dust)? And if so, then where is the national security state when we really need it? Shouldn’t its job be to safeguard us from terrarists and terracide as well as terrorists and their destructive plots?
The Alternatives That Weren’t
It didn’t have to be this way.
On July 15, 1979, at a time when gas lines, sometimes blocks long, were a disturbing fixture of American life, President Jimmy Carter spoke directly to the American people on television for 32 minutes, calling for a concerted effort to end the country’s oil dependence on the Middle East. “To give us energy security,” he announced,
“I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel -- from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun... Just as a similar synthetic rubber corporation helped us win World War II, so will we mobilize American determination and ability to win the energy war. Moreover, I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation's first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20% of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.”
It’s true that, at a time when the science of climate change was in its infancy, Carter wouldn’t have known about the possibility of an overheating world, and his vision of “alternative energy” wasn’t exactly a fossil-fuel-free one. Even then, shades of today or possibly tomorrow, he was talking about having “more oil in our shale alone than several Saudi Arabias.” Still, it was a remarkably forward-looking speech.
Had we invested massively in alternative energy R&D back then, who knows where we might be today? Instead, the media dubbed it the “malaise speech,” though the president never actually used that word, speaking instead of an American “crisis of confidence.” While the initial public reaction seemed positive, it didn’t last long. In the end, the president's energy proposals were essentially laughed out of the room and ignored for decades.
As a symbolic gesture, Carter had 32 solar panels installed on the White House. (“A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people: harnessing the power of the sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”) As it turned out, “a road not taken” was the accurate description. On entering the Oval Office in 1981, Ronald Reagan caught the mood of the era perfectly. One of his first acts was to order the removal of those panels and none were reinstalled for three decades, until Barack Obama was president.
Carter would, in fact, make his mark on U.S. energy policy, just not quite in the way he had imagined. Six months later, on January 23, 1980, in his last State of the Union Address, he would proclaim what came to be known as the Carter Doctrine: “Let our position be absolutely clear,” he said. “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
No one would laugh him out of the room for that. Instead, the Pentagon would fatefully begin organizing itself to protect U.S. (and oil) interests in the Persian Gulf on a new scale and America’s oil wars would follow soon enough. Not long after that address, it would start building up a Rapid Deployment Force in the Gulf that would in the end become U.S. Central Command. More than three decades later, ironies abound: thanks in part to those oil wars, whole swaths of the energy-rich Middle East are in crisis, if not chaos, while the big energy companies have put time and money into a staggeringly fossil-fuel version of Carter’s “alternative” North America. They’ve focused on shale oil, and on shale gas as well, and with new production methods, they are reputedly on the brink of turning the United States into a “new Saudi Arabia.”
If true, this would be the worst, not the best, of news. In a world where what used to pass for good news increasingly guarantees a nightmarish future, energy “independence” of this sort means the extraction of ever more extreme energy, ever more carbon dioxide heading skyward, and ever more planetary damage in our collective future. This was not the only path available to us, or even to Big Oil.
With their staggering profits, they could have decided anywhere along the line that the future they were ensuring was beyond dangerous. They could themselves have led the way with massive investments in genuine alternative energies (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, algal, and who knows what else), instead of the exceedingly small-scale ones they made, often for publicity purposes. They could have backed a widespread effort to search for other ways that might, in the decades to come, have offered something close to the energy levels fossil fuels now give us. They could have worked to keep the extreme-energy reserves that turn out to be surprisingly commonplace deep in the Earth.
And we might have had a different world (from which, by the way, they would undoubtedly have profited handsomely). Instead, what we’ve got is the equivalent of a tobacco company situation, but on a planetary scale. To complete the analogy, imagine for a moment that they were planning to produce even more prodigious quantities not of fossil fuels but of cigarettes, knowing what damage they would do to our health. Then imagine that, without exception, everyone on Earth was forced to smoke several packs of them a day.
If that isn’t a terrorist -- or terrarist -- attack of an almost unimaginable sort, what is? If the oil execs aren’t terrarists, then who is? And if that doesn’t make the big energy companies criminal enterprises, then how would you define that term?
To destroy our planet with malice aforethought, with only the most immediate profits on the brain, with only your own comfort and wellbeing (and those of your shareholders) in mind: Isn’t that the ultimate crime? Isn’t that terracide?Related Stories
Contrary to the hysteria from conservatives, health care spending continues to decline as a percentage of the provincial budget. Last year, health care accounted for 38.5 per cent of total expenditures, this year the government plans to bring it down to 38.3 per cent. This continues the trend downward since 2003/04 when health care accounted for 40 per cent of total expenditures.
5 Most Horrifying Things About Monsanto—Why You Should Join the Global Movement and Protest on Saturday
Fed up with the fact that she has to spend “a small fortune” in order to feed her family things she says “aren’t poisonous,” Tami Canal of Utah has organized a global movement against the giant chemical and seed corporation Monsanto. Monsanto is the conglomerate mastermind behind many of the pesticides and genetically engineered seeds that pervade farm fields around the world. Monsanto produces the world’s top-selling herbicide; 40 percent of US crops contain its genes; it spends millions lobbying the government each year; and several of its factories are now toxic Superfund sites.
Canal, who has a 17-month-old baby and a six-year-old girl, cites concerns over public health, adverse affects on the environment, and political corruption as her motivation to organize against the biotech giant. And her concern has resonated. Protesters around the world have responded to Canal’s call to action, and will amplify their dissatisfaction with the corporation in a “March Against Monsanto” on May 25.
“Not only are they threatening our children and ourselves as well, but also the environment,” Canal says. “The declining bee population has been linked to the pesticides that they use, and that’s just the start. I’ve been reading studies recently that butterflies are starting to disappear, and birds. It’s only a matter of time, it’s pretty much a domino effect.”
What started as one mother’s call to action on a Facebook page has become a movement with more than 400 demonstrations scheduled in 50 countries and 250 cities around the globe. The events are organized online via an open Google Document, where people can find the protest nearest them. The March Against Monsanto Facebook page has received more than 105,000 “likes.” It has reached more than 10,000,000 people in the last week according to its website, which averages over 40,000 visitors per day.
One of the short-term goals of the march, Canal says, is to spread immediate awareness about the offenses Monsanto commits. Another is to inspire people to vote with their dollars by boycotting Monsanto-owned companies that put unsafe products—like genetically modified organisms (GMO) and pesticide-ridden foods—on the market. The effort also advocates for labeling of genetically modified products so consumers can make informed decisions, and demands further scientific research on the health effects of GMOs.
Canal is particularly interested in drawing attention to what she calls dangerous products that are marketed to children. “Like Kellogg's,” she says. “For example, Froot Loops is 100-percent genetically engineered, and that’s a children's cereal. That’s irresponsible and unacceptable on so many levels.”
The ultimate goal of the march is a complete ban on Monsanto within the US. At least 60 countries worldwide, including Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Peru, South Australia, Russia, France, and Switzerland, have implemented outright bans of Monsanto and its genetic modification of food products.
“I don’t understand why the US isn’t on the forefront of that thinking,” says Canal. “[Monsanto] has a long history of crimes against humanity.”
Here are the five most disturbing reasons you should join the March Against Monsanto:
1. Profiteering poisonous chemical company posing as agribusiness.
Remember the horrors of Operation Ranch Hand during the Vietnam War, when the US military designed a chemical warfare program and used the herbicide and defoliant Agent Orange to kill and maim 400,000 people (estimated by the Vietnam government), and ultimately cause birth defects for 500,000 children? Monsanto made that possible.
Monsanto began as a chemical company in 1901 and was responsible for some of the most damaging toxins in US history, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s), and dioxin. Consumer advocacy group Food and Water Watch (FWW) released a report on APril 3 detailing Monsanto’s role in chemical disasters, Agent Orange, and the first genetically modified plant cell. The report shows that the “feed-the-world” agricultural and life sciences company Monsanto markets itself as today is only a recent development. The majority of Monsanto’s history is involved with heavy industrial chemical production, including the supply of Agent Orange to the US for Vietnam operations from 1962-'71.
Ronnie Cummins, executive director of the Organic Consumers Association told Common Dreams, in response to the FWW report:
Despite its various marketing incarnations over the years, Monsanto is a chemical company that got its start selling saccharin to Coca-Cola, then Agent Orange to the U.S. military, and in recent years, seeds genetically engineered to contain and withstand massive amounts of Monsanto herbicides and pesticides. Monsanto has become synonymous with the corporatization and industrialization of our food supply.
Another example, according to the FWW corporate profile, is a Monsanto plant in Sauget, Illinois that produced 99 percent of PCBs until they were banned in 1976. PCBs are carcinogenic and harmful to multiple organs and systems, but they're still illegally dumped into waterways. They accumulate in plants and food crops, as well as fish and other aquatic lifeforms, which enter the human food supply. The Sauget plant is now home to two Superfund sites.
Monsanto’s chemicals continue to impact the world, both inside and outside of the United States, and Monsanto has settled a number of chemical lawsuits in the last couple of years alone. Scientific studies have linked the chemicals in Monsanto’s Roundup pesticides to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimers disease, autism and cancer.
Another example of Monsanto’s chemical folly came in February when a French court declared Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning of French grain grower, Paul Francois. The farmer suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto's Lasso weedkiller in 2004, and blames the agri-business giant for not providing adequate warnings on the product label.
AlterNet published an article in April titled, “Exposed: Monsanto’s Chemical War Against Indigenous Hawaiians,” which details a series of protests on the five Hawaiian Islands Monsanto and other biotech companies have turned into the world’s “ground zero” for chemical testing and food engineering.
2. Building a monopoly, putting farmers out of work.
There is nothing more quintessentially American than the independent family farmer; and there is nothing more un-American than stomping out that farmer’s livelihood to bolster your corporate monopoly. Monsanto is attempting this as it sues small farmers out of their livelihoods time and again.
You might have heard about the 75-year-old soybean farmer from Indiana, Vernon Hugh Bowman, who was ordered in the beginning of May to pay Monsanto $85,000 in damages for using second-generation seeds genetically modified with Monsanto’s pesticide resistant “Roundup Ready,” treatment. He pulled the seeds from the local grain elevator, which is usually used for feed crop, and planted them. The court decided Monsanto’s patent extends even to the offspring of its seeds, and the farmer had violated the company’s patent.
Bowman is by no means the only US farmer to be sent into debt at Monsanto’s hands. Monsanto reported enormous profits from 2012 to shareholders in January, while American farmers filed into Washington, DC to challenge the corporation’s right to sue farmers whose fields have become contaminated with Monsanto’s seeds. Oral arguments began on January 10 before the U.S. Court of Appeals to decide whether to reverse the cases' dismissal last February. The corporation’s total revenue reached $2.94 billion at the end of 2012, and its earnings nearly doubled analysts' projections.
In the article, “Monsanto's Earnings Nearly Double as They Create a Farming Monopoly”—originally published in Al Jazeera and reprinted on AlterNet on January 16—Charlotte Silver outlines how Monsanto has increased the price of the Roundup herbicide and exploiting its patent on transgenic corn, soybean and cotton, to gain control over those agricultural industries in the US, “…effectively squeezing out conventional farmers (those using non-transgenic seeds) and eliminating their capacity to viably participate and compete on the market.” The company also uses its power to coerce seed dealers out of stocking many of its competitor products.
Monsanto was under investigation by the Department of Justice for violating anti-trust laws by practicing anticompetitive activities towards other biotech companies until the end of 2012. The investigation was quietly closed before the end of last year.
Monsanto exerts vast control over the seed industry. It started buying out seed companies as early as 1982. Some of Monsanto’s most significant purchases were Asgrow (soybeans), Delta and Pine Land (cotton), DeKalb (corn), Seminis (vegetables) and Holden’s Foundation Seeds (in 1997). Monsanto is unmatched in its tactics for squashing its competition, but the US has not put its antitrust laws into practice to clamp down on the corporate monopoly it's forming.
3. Controlling the food, privatizing the water.
Half of the Earth’s population will live in an area with significant water stress by 2030, according to estimates from the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. Corporations like Monsanto (along with Royal Dutch Shell and Nestle) are vying for a future in which free water supply is a thing of the past, and private companies control public water sources.
According to a government report titled "Intelligence Community Assessment; Global Water Security," by 2025, the world's population will likely exceed 8 billion people, and the demand for water will be 40 percent higher than sustainable water supplies available, with water needs of around 6,900 billion cubic meters due to population growth.
Private corporations already own 5 percent of the world's fresh water. Billionaires and companies, including Monsanto, are purchasing the rights to groundwater and aquifers. In an even more ominous twist, Monsanto is accused of dumping its plethora of toxic chemicals, including PCBs, dioxin and glyophosate (Roundup) into the water supply of various nations worldwide. Then, seeing a profitable market niche, it has begun privatizing those water sources it polluted, filtering the water, and selling it back to the public.
4. Running the FDA, writing its own protection laws.
Ex-Monsanto executives run the United States Food and Drug Administration, the agency tasked with ensuring food safety for the American public.
This obvious conflict of interest could explain the lack of government-led research on the long-term effects of GM products. Recently, the U.S. Congress and president together passed the law that has been dubbed “Monsanto Protection Act.” Among other things, the new law bans courts from halting the sale of Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds.
The pro-Monsanto “Farmer Assurance Provision, Section 735,” rider was quietly slipped into Agricultural Appropriations provisions of the HR 933 Continuing Resolution spending bill, designed to avert a federal government shutdown. It states that the department of agriculture “shall, notwithstanding any other provisions of law, immediately grant temporary permits to continue using the [GE] seed at the request of a farmer or producer [Monsanto].”
Obama signed the law on March 29. It allows the agribusiness giant to promote and plant GMO and GE seeds free from any judicial litigation that might deem such crops unsafe. Even if a court review determines that a GMO crop harms humans, Section 735 allows the seeds to be planted once the USDA approves them.
Public health lawyer Michele Simon told the New York Daily News the Senate bill requires the USDA to “ignore any court ruling that would otherwise halt the planting of new genetically mengineered crops.”
5. Continuing environmental nightmares.
As Tami Canal points out, studies have linked Monsanto and other biotech conglomerates to the decline of bee colonies in the US and abroad.
Their environmental blunders don’t stop there. In 2002 the Washington Post published a piece titled “Monsanto Hid Decades of Pollution,” outlining the corporation’s pollution of an Alabama town with toxic PCBs for decades without disclosure.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) published an articledebunking Monsanto’s claim that it is a “leader and innovator in sustainable agriculture.”
While Monsanto advertises its technology as important to achieving such goals as adequate global food production and “reducing agriculture's negative impacts on the environment,” the UCS says in reality, the corporate giant stands in the way of sustainable agriculture.
For one, Monsanto’s policies promote pesticide resistance. “Their RoundupReady and Bt technologies lead to resistant weeds and insects that can make farming harder and reduce sustainability,” reads the UCS article.
The article also notes that Monsanto’s policies increase herbicide use, which can cause health effects, and perpetuates gene contamination, as engineered genes tend to show up in non-GE crops. Additionally, the UCS says Monsanto is a purveyor of monoculture because it focuses only on limited varieties of a few commodity crops, reducing biodiversity, and as a result, increasing pesticide and fertilizer pollution.
The union points out that Monsanto’s lobbying, advertising and stronghold over research on its products makes it difficult for farmers and policymakers to make informed decisions about more sustainable agriculture.
Finally, UCS says Monsanto contributes little to helping the world feed itself, and has failed to endorse science-backed solutions that don't give its products a central role.
Tami Canal encourages those who can’t make it to the March Against Monsanto on Saturday to support and foster relationships with their local farmers, buy organic, plant a vegetable garden, and become more self-sustainable. “That is definitely the one way to break the bond Monsanto has on us,” she says. “People should get involved because this is basically an outright attack on humanity.”Related Stories
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Have you ever felt like your friendship is suffering from a prolonged period of stagnation? You’re not alone. According to Lifeboat co-founder Tim Walker, most Americans say they would prefer to have deeper friendships than more friends.
“People are feeling more insecure and unconfident about the quality of their friendships than ever before. That’s the experience of most adults across the country,” Walker told AlterNet.
Walker and co-founder Alia McKee, launched the very first "State of Friendship in America Report 2013," in response to their own independent, mid-life friendship slumps, with a view to discovering what friendship in adulthood really meant.
“We wanted to see if the friendship crisis in our own lives and in academic studies was taking a toll on the real lives of American people,” McKee told AlterNet.
Drawing upon academia, expert advice, philosophy and the assistance of two research teams on the quest to unlock the social science of friendship, McKee and Walker surveyed over 10,000 Americans across the country in search of finding answers.
Among the key findings in the study was that gen-Xers and baby boomers are hit hardest by the friendship crisis, exhibiting lower levels of satisfaction then millennials and seniors.
“Today’s generation is extremely busy and heavily invested in juggling a career and family and as a result these friendships have been sacrificed,” McKee explained.
The report also found that while women said they had access to more intimate friendships than men, they were not any happier than men with the state of their friendships. What’s more, the use of social media did not factor in the quality of one’s friendships or one’s overall friendship satisfaction.
“We have broader connections than ever before. However, social media isn’t helping us connect in terms of creating better friendships. The real gauge on whether people will be satisfied depends on the depth of the relationship you have created,” Walker said.
The good news for those of us who are suffering from "friendship inertia" is that there are a number of easy techniques we can use to spice up our old friendships or recreate deeper bonds. According to McKee, those seeking greater fulfillment from their friendships should invest more time and energy into the relationships they consider “close” -- with one of the primary predictors of friendship being "proximity."
“We’re not purposeful about who we choose as friends. Friendships happen to us through work, our daily lives and where we live. One of the joys of life is being introduced to new ideas, new professions and new ways of thinking. By purposefully seeking out people who are different from us, we can become more satisfied in relationships,” McKee told Alternet.
In addition to providing insight into the art of making and having friends, the study also revealed some quirky facts about friendships across various demographic groups in the United States:
- Those who attend religious ceremonies once a week or more are twice as satisfied with their friendships then those who do not.
- Conservatives are more satisfied in friendships than liberals.
- Urban residents are happier with their friendships than those living in rural areas.
- Most Americans don’t believe their close friends would bail them out of jail, lend them $500 or donate a kidney.
If you’re interested in how to become a better friend, Lifeboat has developed a list of Ten Simple And Powerful Practices of Amazing Friends to give people practical solutions on how to become an excellent friend. As Walker explained, “deep friendships give people greater meaning in life, higher levels of longevity, clear direction and a higher degree of empathy toward others.”Related Stories
Despite issuing a highly publicized memorandum in 2009 stating, "Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration," it remains clear that federal lawmakers and the White House continue to willfully ignore science in regards to the cannabis plant and the federal policies which condemn it to the same prohibitive legal status as heroin. In fact, in 2011 the Obama administration went so far as to reject an administrative petition that called for hearings to reevaluate pot’s safety and efficacy, pronouncing in the Federal Register, “Marijuana does not have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions. At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.” (The Administration’s flat-Earth position was upheld in January by a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.)
Nevertheless, scientific evaluations of cannabis and the health of its consumers have never been more prevalent. Studies are now published almost daily rebuking the federal government’s allegations that the marijuana plant is a highly dangerous substance lacking any therapeutic utility. Yet, virtually all of these studies – and, more importantly, their implications for public policy – continue to be ignored by lawmakers. Here are just a few examples of the latest cannabis science that your federal government doesn’t want you to know about.
Frequent cannabis smokers possess no greater lung cancer risk than do either occasional pot smokers or non-smokers
Subjects who regularly inhale cannabis smoke do not possess an increased risk of lung cancer compared to those who either consume it occasionally or not at all, according to data presented in April at the annual meeting of the American Academy for Cancer Research.
Investigators from the University of California, Los Angeles analyzed data from six case-control studies, conducted between 1999 and 2012, involving over 5,000 subjects (2,159 cases and 2,985 controls) from around the world.
They reported, Our pooled results showed no significant association between the intensity, duration, or cumulative consumption of cannabis smoke and the risk of lung cancer overall or in never smokers.”
Previous case-control studies have also failed to find an association between cannabis smoking and head and neck cancers or cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract.
Nevertheless, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration continues to maintain, Marijuana smokers increase their risk of cancer of the head, neck, lungs and respiratory track.”
Consistent use of cannabis associated is associated with reduced risk factors for Type 2 diabetes
Will the pot plant one day play a role in staving the ongoing epidemic of Type 2 diabetes? Emerging science indicates that it just might.
According to trial data published this month in the American Journal of Medicine, subjects who regularly consume cannabis possess favorable indices related to diabetic control compared to occasional consumers or non-consumers.
Investigators at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, assessed self-report data from some 5,000 adult onset diabetics patients regarding whether they smoked or had ever smoked marijuana. Researchers reported that those who were current, regular marijuana smokers possessed 16 percent lower fasting insulin levels and reduced insulin resistance compared to those who had never used pot. By contrast, non-users possessed larger waistlines and lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or ‘good’) cholesterol – both of which are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Similar benefits were reported in occasional cannabis consumers, though these changes were less pronounced, “suggesting that the impact of marijuana use on insulin and insulin resistance exists during periods of recent use,” researchers reported.
The recent findings are supportive of the findings of 2012 study by a team of UCLA researchers, published in the British Medical Journal, which reported that adults with a history of marijuana use had a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and possess a lower risk of contracting the disease than did those with no history of cannabis consumption, even after researchers adjusted for social variables (ethnicity, level of physical activity, etc.) Concluded the study, [This] analysis of adults aged 20-59 years … showed that participants who used marijuana had a lower prevalence of DM (Diabetes Mellitus) and lower odds of DM relative to non-marijuana users.”
Diabetes is the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer.
Inhaling cannabis dramatically mitigates symptoms of Crohn’sdisease
Smoking cannabis twice daily significantly reduces symptoms of Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disorder that is estimated to impact about half a million Americans. So say the results of the first-ever placebo-controlled trial assessing the use of cannabis for Crohn’s – published online this month in the scientific journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Researchers at the Meir Medical Center, Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Israel assessed the safety and efficacy of inhaled cannabis versus placebo in 21 subjects with Crohn’s disease who were nonresponsive to conventional treatment regimens. Eleven participants smoked standardized cannabis cigarettes containing 23 percent THC and 0.5 percent cannabidiol – a nonpsychotropic cannabinoid known to possess anti-inflammatory properties -- twice daily over a period of eight weeks. The other ten subjects smoked placebo cigarettes containing no active cannabinoids.
Investigators reported, “Our data show that 8-weeks treatment with THC-rich cannabis, but not placebo, was associated with a significant decrease of 100 points in CDAI (Crohn’s Disease and activity index) scores.” Five of the eleven patients in the study group reported achieving disease remission (defined as a reduction in patient’s CDAI score by more than 150 points). Participants who smoked marijuana reported decreased pain, improved appetite, and better sleep compared to control subjects. Researchers reported that “no significant side effects” were associated with cannabis inhalation.
The clinical results substantiate decades of anecdotal reports from Crohn’s patients, some one-half of which acknowledge having used cannabis to mitigate symptoms of the disease.
Marijuana-like substances halt HIV infection in white blood cells
The administration of THC has been associated with decreased mortality and ameliorated disease progression in monkeys with simian immunodeficiency virus, a primate model of HIV disease. So could cannabinoids produce similar outcomes in humans? The findings of a newly published preclinical trial indicate that the answer may be ‘yes’ and they reveal the substance’s likely mechanism of action in combating the disease.
Writing in the May edition of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, investigators at the Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia reported that the administration of cannabinoid agonists limits HIV infection in macrophages (white blood cells that aid in the body's immune response). Researchers assessed the impact of three commercially available synthetic cannabis agonists (non-organic compounds that act on the same endogenous receptor sites as do plant cannabinoids) on HIV-infected macrophage cells. Following administration, researchers sampled the cells periodically to measure the activity of an enzyme called reverse transcriptase, which is essential for HIV replication. By day 7, investigators reported that the administration of all three compounds was associated with a significant decrease in HIV replication.
“The results suggest that selective CB2 (cannabinoid 2 receptor) agonists could potentially be used in tandem with existing antiretroviral drugs, opening the door to the generation of new drug therapies for HIV/AIDS,” researchers summarized in a Temple University news release. The data also support the idea that the human immune system could be leveraged to fight HIV infection."
Cannabinoids offer a likely treatment therapy for PTSD
Post-traumatic stress syndrome is estimated to impact some eight millions American annually and effective treatments for the condition are few and far between. Yet just published research in the May issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry indicates that cannabinoids hold the potential to successfully treat the condition.
Researchers at the New York School of Medicine reported that subjects diagnosed with PTSD possess elevated quantities of endogenous cannabinoid receptors in regions of the brain associated with fear and anxiety. In addition, authors also reported that these subjects suffer from the decreased production of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter, resulting in an imbalanced endocannibinoid system. (The endogenous cannabinoid receptor system is a regulatory system that is present in living organisms for the purpose of promoting homeostasis).
Authors speculated that increasing the body’s production of cannabinoids would likely restore the body’s natural brain chemistry and psychological balance. They affirmed, “[Our] findings substantiate, at least in part, emerging evidence that … plant-derived cannabinoids such as marijuana may possess some benefits in individuals with PTSD by helping relieve haunting nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD.”
The researchers concluded: “The data reported herein are the first of which we are aware of to demonstrate the critical role of CB1 (cannabinoid) receptors and endocannabinoids in the etiology of PTSD in humans. As such, they provide a foundation upon which to develop and validate informative biomarkers of PTSD vulnerability, as well as to guide the rational development of the next generation of evidence-based treatments for PTSD.”
But don’t expect federal officials to help move this process forward. In 2011 federal administrators blocked investigators at the University of Arizona at Phoenix from conducting an FDA-approved, placebo-controlled clinical trial to evaluate the use of cannabis in 50 patients with PTSD.
Scientific integrity? Not when it comes to marijuana. Not by a long shot.
The average CEO salary broke records in 2011 at $9.6 million — and now, that record high has been topped by 2012 salaries, which averaged out to $9.7 million. Health care and media CEOs enjoyed the highest pay, while utility CEOs had the lowest at $7.5 million. Sixty percent of CEOs got a raise last year.
Though CEO pay dropped slightly after the financial crisis, it quickly rebounded to reach new heights in 2010, 2011, and now 2012. Simultaneously, the pay gap between CEOs and workers has also broken records, as the average CEO in 2012 earned 354 times more than the average worker.
During the recession, some companies changed their compensation formulas to incorporate more stock as a way to tie executives’ salaries to the company’s performance. As the stock market enjoys all-time highs, CEO pay has also soared. Yet the stock market’s rally has not been felt by most middle and low income families, as the housing market recovers in fits and starts. As a result, income inequality has beenexacerbated in the first two years of the recovery.
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law tried to address this phenomenon by ordering public companies to reveal the exact disparity between their CEO and worker pay. Three years later, many big businesses are lobbying to kill the requirement in the rule-making process. Transparent payrolls can help keep executive compensation within the stratosphere and help investors get a sense of employee morale and company reputation. Even so, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon compared efforts to tamp down executive pay to Communist Cuba. Whole Foods, which tracks pay to ensure that no employee makes more than 19 times the median company salary, has dismissed claims that the rule burdens businesses, noting it only takes a few days to track.
Skewed executive compensation levels made some CEOs iconic villains after the financial crisis. Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit got a $6.7 million pay-out after driving the bank to near ruin, while a Duke Energy CEO received $44 million for one day of work.Related Stories
Construction unions in British Columbia and the broader union movement in Canada lost a court battle this week in Ottawa over the efforts of an upstart coal mining company, HD Mining, to build and operate a coal mine in northeast BC using workers from China. Below are three news articles describing this case.
Cops Go Undercover at High School to Bust Special-Needs Kid for Pot: Why Are Police So Desperate to Throw Kids in Jail?
Californians Doug and Catherine Snodgrass are suing their son’s high school for allowing undercover police officers to set up the 17-year-old special-needs student for a drug arrest.
In a video segment on ABC News, they say they were "thrilled" when their son -- who has Asperger's and other disabilities and struggled to make friends -- appeared to have instantly made a friend named Daniel.
“He suddenly had this friend who was texting him around the clock,” Doug Snodgrass told ABC News. His son had just recently enrolled at Chaparral High School.
"Daniel," however, was an undercover cop with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department who "hounded" the teenager to sell him his prescription medication. When he refused, the undercover cop gave him $20 to buy him weed, and he complied -- not realizing the guy he wanted to befriend wanted him behind bars.
In December, the unnamed senior was arrested along with 21 other students from three schools, all charged with crimes related to the two officers' undercover drug operation at two public schools in Temecula, California (Chaparral and Temecula Valley High School). This March, Judge Marian H. Tully ruled that Temecula Valley Unified School District could not expel the student, and had in fact failed to provide him with proper services.
Within three days of the officer’s requests, [the] student burned himself due to his anxiety,” Tully said. “Ultimately, the student was persuaded to buy marijuana for someone he thought was a friend who desperately needed this drug and brought it to school for him.”
In January, a juvenile court judge decided that extenuating circumstances applied to the student's case, and ruled that he serve informal probation and 20 hours of community service, which would translate into “no finding of guilt.”
Since being allowed back to school, Snodgrass says his son has been "bullied" via suspensions and threat of expulsion. “Our son was cleared of the criminal charge, but the school continued to try and expel him,” Snodgrass said.
The Snodgrasses are now suing the school for unspecified damages. District administrators, they told ABC, should have protected their son, but instead “participated with local authorities in an undercover drug sting that intentionally targeted and discriminated against [him]."
“Sending police and informants to entrap high-school students is sick,” says Tony Newman, director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance. “We see cops seducing 18-year-olds to fall in love with them or befriending lonely kids and then tricking them into getting them small amounts of marijuana so they can stick them with felonies. We often hear that we need to fight the drug war to protect the kids. As these despicable examples show, more often the drug war is ruining young people's lives and doing way more harm than good.”
Stephen Downing, a retired Deputy Chief of Police in the LAPD, said the behavior of the police in this case points to troubling trends in policy. "It is evidence of just how far we have gone, and how callous we have become, in treating our children with the care and dignity they should be entitled.”
“The fact that the police officer chose to prey upon the most vulnerable" is “egregious” but not surprising, he said. He pointed toward policing tactics and policies -- like quotas, the increasing criminalization of America's schools, and the war on drugs -- that put pressure on police to treat normal teen behavior as criminal.
Downing, who is a member of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, also pointed out, “The less fortunate are always targeted."
“Do we ever hear of an undercover operation like this conducted in an exclusive private school, or on a university campus, or on the stages of a movie studio in Hollywood? No, we don't. Why? Because those people would complain, get lawyers and make life miserable for the status quo."
"The parents of this child are right to bring a lawsuit, to take that needed step that will, hopefully, bring about the kind of change that will stop this kind of tyrannical corruption and harm to our children," he said.
Drug crimes are not the only charges unfairly leveled against students. Marginalized youths are regularly the targets of the school-to-prison pipeline, as in the case of Kiera Wilmot, a 16-year-old girl who was arrested less than a month ago for accidentally causing a small explosion during a science experiment.Related Stories
The immigration bill crafted by the Senate “Gang of Eight” passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday evening, with a 13-5 vote. Every senator involved in the markup session leading up to the vote was very proud of him- or herself for how great the markup session was going. Especially after the senators bravely shot down a proposal to recognize the marriages of LGBT immigrants.
It was a very self-congratulatory affair, as each senator congratulated every other senator for their great legislative skill, their deeply held principles and their impressive civility. The markup deliberations were “courageous,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said, in reference to a bunch of people, mostly old dudes, carefully deciding exactly how awful they had to make an immigration bill before it could pass a Congress full of bigots, cynical fake-bigots and wingnuts. Even Ted Cruz was sort of civil as he hectored the committee for not passing his amendments, most of which were designed to ruin the bill. Everyone who opposes the bill, and those proposed amendments designed to sink it, had to say that they deeply wanted immigration reform to happen, it’s just that they defined reform as “no citizenship plus a bigger fence.” (Also everyone referred to the bill’s authors as the “group of eight” and not a “gang.”)
The most dispiriting moment came late in the amendment process, when Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy was forced to withdraw his own amendment, which would have treated same-sex couples equally under the proposed law. And senator after senator announced why they couldn’t support it. Not necessarily because they didn’t think gay couples deserved the same protection of the law, but because, you know, their colleaguesdon’t support it. Not because their colleagues are unkind! Just because, you know, their constituents are still a bit squicked out by gay people.
Sen. Lindsey Graham went first, saying he opposed the inclusion of gay couples’ protections in the bill.
“If you redefine marriage for immigration purposes [by the amendment], the bill would fall apart because the coalition would fall apart,” he said. “It would be a bridge too far.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein cited Graham’s comments, then, saying, “I think this sounds like the fairest approach, but here’s the problem … we know this is going to blow the agreement apart. I don’t want to blow this bill apart.”
One Democrat after another caved, entirely because they knew that if they supported LGBT rights, pathological deal-destroyer Lindsey Graham would destroy the deal. (He basically promised as much.) This is the micro form of the problem Democrats have been having since Obama took office: They want their legislation to pass, because they support the goals of their legislation. Republicans are indifferent, usually, to the goals of legislation and more concerned with how supporting or opposing bills makes them appear.
Democrats want immigration reform to pass because they want immigrants to have a chance to become citizens. Senate Republicans want to be seen as in favor of reform but they also wouldn’t mind (and in many cases would prefer) being seen as having been forced to regretfully withdraw their support from the reform proposal, because Democrats “overreached.”
So yesterday was a game where Republicans try to see how bad they can get away with making the bill, in order to try to get Democrats to jump ship, while Democrats tried to see how bad they had to allow the bill to be in order to retain Republican support. It’s healthcare all over again! In that fight, Republicans knew they had a strategic advantage, because Democrats desperately wanted to extend healthcare coverage to all Americans, and Republicans did not give a shit about that goal. So Republicans (and Lieberman) could just screw with the bill as much as they wanted and then not support it at all, confident that Democrats were too attached to the broader goal to give up on the bill just because there was no public option or Medicare buy-in.
Everyone in the Senate yesterday pretended the markup session and vote were an example of legislating the way it’s supposed to be done, with both sides agreeing to tough compromises and bravely chucking aside special interests in favor of the broader good. But it was just another fight between a group of people committed to a cause and a bunch of policy nihilists. The policy nihilists have a built-in advantage, every time. They are happy to exploit that advantage. That’s why Democrats had to abandon same-sex couples, and that’s why doing so still doesn’t guarantee the bill’s success.Related Stories
When I went to the United States for the first time, long before 9/11, I wondered if immigration officials would harass me, a single young man from a turbulent part of the world. I didn’t have to worry. Customs officials and their formidable sniffing dogs were much more interested in middle-aged Indian women. They rifled through the contents of the bursting-at-the-seams suitcase of a lady who could have been my aunt. In those days the “illegal immigrant” America was most nervous about a forbidden mango or a sneaky parwal.
September 11 changed everything. Soon shoes were suspect. Cosmetic bags were viewed as booby traps. Even the clearest liquids and gels signalled danger in an America that was permanently colour-coded threat level orange. And men with beards and brown complexions and Muslim names found themselves regularly pulled aside for questioning.
Now after the Boston bombings we enter confront the newest marker of the dangerous other – beware the pressure cooker.
Talal al Rouki, a Saudi student in Michigan found the FBI suddenly surrounding his house. Officers said a woman had called them because she had seen him carrying a “bullet coloured” pressure cooker out of his apartment.
The young man told the FBI he was cooking a traditional rice dish called the kabsah which he was taking to a friend’s house.
“You need to be more careful moving around with such things, sir,” an FBI agent told al Rouki.
Indian mothers need to be more careful too in a jittery America. A Hawkins or Prestige pressure cooker has long been part of the must-have go-to-America-kit for any self-respecting desi student. The only question was how many liters – 2, 3, 5? I never took one with me when I went there, not because my mother was extraordinarily foresighted but because she was sure I’d make an absent-minded mess of it without her on-the-spot supervision.
However the hiss and whistle of a pressure cooker has always been the signature sound of apartment complexes filled with H1B families as much a marker of desi-dom as Subbulakshmi singing Suprabhatam. “The whistle is not working” is a domestic crisis on par with a lost green card. In Kolkata, my abiding memory of Sunday morning, is the pressure cooker whistling in kitchens around the neighbourhood – promising a Sunday lunch of goat curry and rice. In a country where it is hard for grown children to tell their mothers “I love you” and vice versa, we make do by asking “How many whistles?” the sharing of that pressure cooker wisdom as sure a sign of love as any Hallmark card.
The South Asian love affair with the pressure cooker is legendary though it was invented by a Frenchman. The blog TiffinCarrierAntiques hails the stainless steel workhorse of the Indian kitchen for being mother’s little helper in managing the “patriarchal expectations of a ‘complete Indian meal’” – a fairly impossible task which “would have been Herculean without the humble pressure cooker.”
Now thanks to the brothers Tsarnaev, the workhorse of the Indian kitchen is being viewed as the Trojan horse of America, its hiss more ominous than comforting. Swati on the blog WhistlingPressureCooker.com remembers how the pressure cooker saved her during Hurricane Irene in 2011.
(W)hen the electricity failed and the shiny, contemporary convection stove and oven beneath it at my in-laws’ house in Rhode Island were rendered useless, I cooked chicken tikka masala and rice in my pressure cooker over our tiny gas camping stove. Instead of ripening deli meat sandwiches made with stale bread, my in-laws and I ate a fresh, piping hot curry.
Now she writes of her dismay at the end of innocence as she sets her caramel custard in her trusty pressure cooker.
"(T)hat a pressure cooker could be used for anything other than cooking tasty food fast had never crossed my mind. I now feel nervous professing my love for my pressure cookers, and pressure cookers in general, openly."
Swati might be well-advised to change the name of her blog before the FBI comes knocking at her door. But one could also argue the Swatis of the world have been in blissful denial. As Praveen Swami points out in Firstpost, the pressure cooker has been cooking terror for a long time:
"In India, the Indian Mujahideen’s urban terror networks have used pressure cookers on several occasions—starting with the attack on Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar market in 2005. Pressure cookers were also used in the 2006 attacks on a temple in Varanasi and the Mumbai’s train system; again, they were used to in the recent Dilsukh Nagar bombing in Hyderabad. On other occasions, though, the group has used steel milk cans and flour-boxes."
But Indians take the pressure cooker’s dark side in their stride. You can still get onto a bus or a train with your pressure cooker without everyone clearing the compartment.
In America it’s a different story. But it should not come as a surprise. Soon after 9/11, the Shaikh family of Pennsylvania found secret agents in moon suits and gas masks going through the spice cabinets in their kitchen after neighbours spotted them carrying a large pot of biryani into their friend’s home.
At that time I had written:
Multiculturalism was supposed to take care of this fear of the other. But despite Diwali greetings to Hindus from the White House and International Day at school, in the end, multiculturalism has proven to be just a cute, fancy dress party. If it has really made a dent on how we conceive what it means to be American, it hasn’t trickled down to the Shaikh family’s biryani… Multiculturalism might have made the foreign a little more familiar. It certainly did not make it any more American.
Now we find the pressure cooker has remained resolutely un-American as well – the shining symbol of diversity that needs to be hidden at home, not carried out into the yard. Perhaps some enterprising pressure cooking enthusiast will embark on a Take Back the Pressure Cooker whistlestop tour of America to restore its lost shine.
Until then you have to careful moving around pressure cookers in America these days. Guns, not so much.
This article first appeared in the Nation. For more great content, subscribe to the Nation here.
The Center for American Progress, Washington’s leading liberal think tank, has been a big backer of the Energy Department’s $25 billion loan guarantee program for renewable energy projects. CAP has specifically praised First Solar, a firm that received $3.73 billion under the program, and its Antelope Valley project in California.
Last year, when First Solar was taking a beating from congressional Republicans and in the press over job layoffs and alleged political cronyism, CAP’s Richard Caperton praised Antelope Valley in his testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, saying it headed up his list of “innovative projects” receiving loan guarantees. Earlier, Caperton and Steve Spinner— a top Obama fundraiser who left his job at the Energy Department monitoring the issuance of loan guarantees and became a CAP senior fellow—had written an article cross-posted on CAP’s website and its Think Progress blog, stating that Antelope Valley represented “the cutting edge of the clean energy economy.”
Though the think tank didn’t disclose it, First Solar belonged to CAP’s Business Alliance, a secret group of corporate donors, according to internal lists obtained by The Nation. Meanwhile, José Villarreal—a consultant at the power- house law and lobbying firm Akin Gump, who “provides strategic counseling on a range of legal and policy issues” for corporations—was on First Solar’s board until April 2012 while also sitting on the board of CAP, where he remains a member, according to the group’s latest tax filing.
CAP is a strong proponent of alternative energy, so there’s no reason to doubt the sincerity of its advocacy. But the fact that CAP has received financial support from First Solar while touting its virtues to Washington policy-makers points to a conflict of interest that, critics argue, ought to be disclosed to the public. CAP’s promotion of the company’s interests has supplemented First Solar’s aggressive Washington lobbying efforts, on which it spent more than $800,000 during 2011 and 2012.
“The only thing more damaging than disclosing your donors and having questions raised about the independence of your work is not disclosing them and have the information come to light and undermine your work,” says Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “The best practice, whether required by the IRS or not, is to disclose contributions.”
Nowadays, many Washington think tanks effectively serve as unregistered lobbyists for corporate donors, and companies strategically contribute to them just as they hire a PR or lobby shop or make campaign donations. And unlike lobbyists and elected officials, think tanks are not subject to financial disclosure requirements, so they reveal their donors only if they choose to. That makes it impossible for the public and lawmakers to know if a think tank is putting out an impartial study or one that’s been shaped by a donor’s political agenda. “If you’re a lobbyist, whatever you say is heavily discounted,” says Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University and an expert on political ethics. “If a think tank is saying it, it obviously sounds a lot better. Maybe think tanks aren’t aware of how useful that makes them to private interests. On the other hand, maybe it’s part of their revenue model.”
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When Newt Gingrich was running for president, The Washington Post ran a story about the Center for Health Transformation, which it described as his “hybrid” single-issue think tank. The center, which subsequently went bankrupt and was bought by WellStar, published reports and advocated on behalf of donors—including lobbyists and industry groups that donated millions to support its work—in addition to offering perks like “direct Newt interaction.” While the center did disclose some of its donors, it didn’t reveal how much money they had contributed.
It was an interesting story, but it obscured a key point: Newt’s “hybrid” was a particularly straightforward form of pay-to-play, but its basic features are common at Washington think tanks. Like Newt’s Center for Health Transformation, many lure big donors with a package of benefits, including personalized policy briefings, the right to directly underwrite and shape research projects, and general support for the donor’s political needs.
Most think tanks are nonprofit organizations, so a donor can even get a nice tax break for contributing. But it’s their reputation for impartiality and their web of contacts that makes them especially useful as policy advocates. “Think tanks can always draw a big audience to your event, including government folks,” a Washington lobbyist who has worked with several told me. “And people generally don’t think they would twist anything, or wonder about where they get their money.”
While think tanks portray themselves as altruistic scholarly institutions, they emphasize their political influence when courting donors. “If you have a particular area of policy interest, you can support a specific research effort under way,” the Brookings Institution says in one pitch for cash. Those interested in ”a deeper engagement”—read: ready to fork over especially large sums of money—get personal briefings from resident experts and can work directly with senior Brookings officials to draw up a research agenda that will “maximize impact on policymaking.”
The Center for Strategic and International Studies advertises itself as being “in the unique position to bring together leaders of both the public and private sectors in small, often off-the-record meetings to build consensus around important policy issues.” It allows top-tier donors to directly sponsor reports, events and speaker series.
Because most think tanks don’t fully disclose their donors, it’s not always easy to see what sort of benefits money can buy. But during Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings, the Atlantic Council, where he’d been chairman before moving to the Pentagon, released a list of its foreign donors. One of them turned out to be the oil-rich government of Kazakhstan, headed by dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev. Last year, the council hosted a conference on Kazakhstan that was paid for by the Nazarbayev regime and Chevron, which has vast oil interests in the country and is also a major donor to the council. Keynote speakers included Kazakhstan’s former ambassador to the United States and Kenneth Derr, a former Chevron CEO and now Kazakhstan’s honorary consul in San Francisco.
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John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and the head of Obama’s first transition team, founded the Center for American Progress in 2003. Last year, Podesta stepped down as CAP’s president—he remains its chair and counselor—and was replaced by Neera Tanden, who served in both the Obama and Clinton administrations. Former Virginia Congressman Tom Perriello heads the CAP Action Fund, an advocacy unit, which operates out of the same offices and shares personnel.
CAP has emerged as perhaps the most influential of all think tanks during the Obama era, and there’s been a rapidly revolving door between it and the administration. CAP is also among the most secretive of all think tanks concerning its donors. Most major think tanks prepare an annual report containing at least some financial and donor information and make it available on their websites. According to CAP spokeswoman Andrea Purse, the center doesn’t even publish one.
Purse told me that CAP “follows all financial disclosure requirements with regard to donors…. We don’t use corporate funds to pay for research or reports.” But she flatly refused to discuss specific donors or to provide an on-the-record explanation for why CAP won’t disclose them.
After growing rapidly in its first few years, tax records show, CAP’s total assets fell in 2006 for the first time, from $23.6 million to $20.4 million. Assets started growing again in 2007 when CAP founded the Business Alliance, a membership rewards program for corporate contributors, and then exploded when Obama was elected in 2008. According to its most recent nonprofit tax filing, CAP’s total assets now top $44 million, and its Action Fund treasury holds $6 million more.
A confidential CAP donor pitch I obtained describes the Business Alliance as “a channel for engagement with the corporate community” that provides “the opportunity to…collaborate on common interests.” It offers three membership levels, with the perks to top donors ($100,000 and up) including private meetings with CAP experts and executives, round-table discussions with “Hill and national leaders,” and briefings on CAP reports “relevant to your unique interests.”
CAP doesn’t publicly disclose the members of its Business Alliance, but I obtained multiple internal lists from 2011 showing that dozens of major corporations had joined. The lists were prepared by Chris Belisle, who at the time served as the alliance’s senior manager after having been recruited from his prior position as manager of corporate relations at the US Chamber of Commerce. According to these lists, CAP’s donors included Comcast, Walmart, General Motors, Pacific Gas and Electric, General Electric, Boeing and Lockheed. Though it doesn’t appear on the lists, the University of Phoenix was also a donor.
Incidentally, Scott Lilly, a Hill veteran who joined CAP in 2004 as a senior fellow covering national security, simultaneously served as a registered lobbyist for Lockheed between 2005 and 2011. Rudy deLeon, CAP’s senior vice president for national security and international policy, was a Boeing executive and directed the company’s lobbying operations between 2001 and 2006, before joining the think tank the following year.
Of the CAP donors mentioned in this story, I contacted Lockheed, which refused to confirm or deny its membership in the Business Alliance, and First Solar and Boeing, both of which confirmed that they had been members but wouldn’t say how much they gave or when. “Our work with think tanks is not political, but is more educational in nature,” Tim Neale of Boeing told me. “We want to learn from and share ideas with scholars across the political spectrum, and we like to get a wide range of viewpoints and ideas rather than focus solely on a particular political bent.”
Several CAP insiders, who asked to speak off the record, told me that when Podesta left, there was a fear that contributions would dry up. Raising money had always been important, they said, but Tanden ratcheted up the efforts to openly court donors, which has impacted CAP’s work. Staffers were very clearly instructed to check with the think tank’s development team before writing anything that might upset contributors, I was told.
I obtained a March 2012 e-mail from Belisle to Podesta and CAP’s communications and legal teams, which was also copied to Tanden. The e-mail noted a Think Progress item featuring a New York Times op-ed by former Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith, who called the company’s environment “toxic and destructive.” At the time, the firm was under heavy fire for deceiving investors and for its larger role in driving the speculation in toxic securities that unwound the economy. Belisle said he was “flagging” the item for Tanden since she had recently met with Michael Paese, director of Goldman’s Washington lobbying office. Two sources told me that Goldman Sachs subsequently became a donor. Purse and Paese declined comment.
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Foreign governments and business entities can also join the Business Alliance, whose membership list includes the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office—which functions as Taiwan’s embassy in Washington and retains many lobbyists, including former Oklahoma Republican Senator Don Nickles and former Missouri Democratic Representative Richard Gephardt—and the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey (TUSKON).
In 2010, CAP issued a report, “Ties That Bind: U.S.-Taiwan Relations and Peace and Prosperity in East Asia,” which warned that the partnership between the two countries had stagnated and suggested that the United States maintain arms sales to Taiwan, increase economic and diplomatic cooperation, and otherwise “seek ways to deepen their relationship.” That same year, CAP’s Scott Lilly gave an address at the American Institute in Taiwan, in which he hailed the ties between the two nations as “one of the more important bilateral relationships in the world” before calling for additional arms sales to Taiwan. Lockheed, whom Lilly lobbied for at the time, is a leading arms merchant to Taiwan.
With help from TUSKON, CAP also makes an annual fact-finding trip to Turkey, the most recent being in February of this year. The CAP delegation met with US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone and senior Turkish government officials. A former CAP staffer told me that TUSKON had “amazing access” and “could call anyone in the government and get us a meeting or interview.” As a result of the Turkish group’s support, CAP was “totally in the tank for them,” this source said.
CAP also presses for closer ties between the US and Turkish governments, just as Ankara’s lobbyists do. Last year, CAP hosted an event featuring Commerce Secretary John Bryson, who spoke on his “vision for deepening even further the US-Turkish commercial relationship.” Two years earlier, Podesta gave the keynote address at a TUSKON conference in Istanbul. In his speech—titled “The Unique Importance of the Turkish-American Relationship”—he praised CAP senior fellow Michael Werz for his work on “strengthening the US-Turkey relationship.” He also pointedly noted that Werz’s predecessor as CAP’s Turkey expert, Spencer Boyer, had left the think tank to become the Obama administration’s deputy assistant secretary for European affairs.
“Our policy work is independent and driven by solutions that we believe will create a more equitable and just country,” Purse told me. It would be easier to believe that statement, let alone evaluate it, if CAP was more transparent about its funding. The same holds true for think tanks in general—which, unlike other powerful Washington institutions, have the luxury of telling the public and policy-makers only what they choose about their funders.