4/5/15 - Spring Round Table
7:01pm - RWS
7:15pm Jeannie Economos
7:30pm Emine Dilek Managing Editor at The Progressive Press
7:45pm Luis Cuevas
7:55pm Steve Horn
8:05pm Rob Abston
8:15pm Round Table
8:55pm- sign off
1. Iranian Peace Framework
2. Massive Antarctic Melting (63.5F - highest on record)
The West Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming areas on Earth, with only some areas of the Arctic Circle experiencing faster rising temperatures. However, since Antarctica is a big place, climate change is not having a uniform impact, with some areas experiencing increases in sea ice extent.
The warmest temperature ever recorded on the continent of Antarctica may have occurred on Tuesday, March 24, 2015, when the mercury shot up to 63.5°F (17.5°C) at Argentina's Esperanza Base on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. According to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, the previous hottest temperature recorded in Antarctica was 63.3°F (17.4°C) set just one day previously at Argentina's Marambio Base, on a small islet just off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Prior to this week's remarkable heat wave, the hottest known temperature in Antarctica was the 62.8°F (17.1°C) recorded at Esperanza Base on April 24, 1961. (The World Meteorological Organization—WMO—has not yet certified that this week's temperatures are all-time weather records for Antarctica, though the Argentinian weather service has verified that the temperatures measured at Esperanza Base and Marambio Base were the highest ever measured at each site.) A new all-time temperature record for an entire continent is a rare event, and Weather Underground's weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, has full details
Antarctica set a new territorial heat record of 17.5°C (63.5°F) at Esperanza Base on March 24. Previous record: 17.4°C (63.3°F) at Marambio Base, set the previous day.
Equatorial Guinea set a new national heat record of 35.5°C (95.9°F) at Bata on March 17. Previous record: 35.3°C (95.5°F) at Malabo in February 1957.
Ghana tied the national record of highest temperature with 43.0°C (109.4°F) at Navrongo on February 12.
Wallis and Futuna Territory (France) set a new territorial heat record with 35.5°C (95.9°F) on January 19 at Futuna Airport.
Samoa tied its national heat record with 36.5°C (97.7°F) on January 20 at Asau. Previously record: same location, in December 1977.
Yet in others, sea ice is decreasing, with measurable impacts on wildlife. ASOC believes that understanding climate change impacts on Antarctica is a matter of critical importance for the world and for the continent itself. -
See more at: Antarctic Climate
3. Actors as protestors Tea Party/Big Sugar [Land Grab?]
Sugar companies that operate on the north side of Lake Okeechobee discharge massive amounts of phosphorous from fertilizer into the lake, which has thus become horribly polluted. During the rainy season, the water gets high and threatens to break the dam and flood the surrounding area, so water managers must divert that dirty water east through the St. Lucie River and west through the Caloosahatachee. Last year, horribly polluted water killed dolphins and fish all along the rivers to both coasts, destroying local fishing and tourism economies and lowering property values.
If the state were to buy the land south of the lake, scientists say, water could go south and the plants there would naturally filter out pollution. Environmentalists have eyed this land for decades. The state now has until October to purchase the land or the deal expires.
This year, conservationists were especially optimistic that a deal would go through because last November, voters passed Amendment 1, which specifies that money from the documentary stamp tax — a few dollars charged when courts process paperwork lie deeds and mortgage documents — would be used for conservation.
But now, those monies are being hijacked, say the people who campaigned for Amendment One.
In the summer of 2008, then-Gov. Charlie Crist announced a deal with U.S. Sugar to buy its land for $1.75 billion — a deal Crist likened to the establishment of Yellowstone National Park. That fall, the recession hit, and the deal was watered down. Mark Ferrulo of Progress Florida explains that in 2010, the state signed a deal to buy. "Back then, Big Sugar even touted it — like they were stepping up and doing their part by turning this land into a reservoir." Money, however, wasn't available for the state to make the purchase. Now, with Amendment 1 funds, it should be.
"They're pulling a move like they did with the lottery money," says Ferrulo. In the late 1980s and 1990s, money from the Florida lottery was supposed to be earmarked for education. But instead of using the money to supplement existing school funding, "they took lottery money and used it for existing costs," Ferrulo says, "and to give tax breaks to corporations and other special interests. We're seeing the same thing play out with Amendment 1 — they're taking the bulk of Amendment 1 money and using it for pet projects pushed by powerful developers and other special interests for things that are not land and water conservation."
A program called Florida Forever used to be funded at $300 million a year for conservation, but it has been gutted over the years. Amendment 1 is expected to reap $757 million.
As the Sun Sentinel explained:
The chance to buy the 46,800 acres stems from a 2010 land deal between U.S. Sugar and the water management district. That deal cost the district $197 million to acquire 26,800 acres from U.S. Sugar for Everglades restoration. It also gave the district a 10-year option to buy the sugar giant's remaining 153,200 acres.
Instead of buying all of that remaining land, the deal gives the district until October 2015 to buy just the 46,800 acres.
It would cost $350 million if bought at the same per-acre price as the 2010 deal, but that could increase depending on what appraisals show.
4. New Abortion restrictions in Tallahassee
visit twice abort once - so the poor dear, will possible take a minute and consider it before they take that SINFUL STEP
5. Pesticide Forum - 4/17 & 18
upcoming pesticide forum
Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator
Farmworker Association of Florida
6. ALL SHE IS DAYING - "Give Hilary a chance" - Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Now, perhaps no one (at least no one still alive) can verify the oft-rumored existence of an outright Clinton mafia, but one thing's for sure: Hillary's dynastic family is even better positioned than the Corleones for painfully twisting arms--and hardly just in figurative ways. Who'd expect less from a full-fledged clan of globally connected Bilderbergs? And who can say what really happened at last December's hushed-up private meeting between Warren and Clinton at Hillary's Washington home ? But one thing is clear: Warren now kowtows to Clinton--precisely when one would expect Warren's leverage with a credibility-challenged presidential aspirant to be at itsmax--as if she'd been threatened within an inch of her life. Her shabby, hypocritical appearance on the Todayshow, where she emphatically ruled out opposing Hillary for president, should irresistibly convince progressives that Warren and Clinton are very much part of the same hypocrisy. The mealy-mouthed hypocrisy now required of every Democrat, just as the oath of silence (omerta) is imposed on every "made" mobster.
Clearly, no one should be rebuked for refusing to run for president. Much as Warren seemed the only progressive high-profile and popular enough to defeat Wall Street heartthrob Hillary--and clearly the only one who could trump her "first woman president" card--that in no sense personally obliges her to vie for our nation's highest office. Warren demonstrably lacks ambition for highest office, as perhaps any sensible, conscientious person would, knowing both the staggering life-or-death responsibilities and the wearying, acrimonious conflict and gutter-snipe personal smears that go with the role. Even the assassination risk is far from negligible--and heightened for anyone (like Warren) espousing policies that enrage the powers that be. If we don't lack for presidential aspirants, especially from the Republican aisle, it's precisely because most candidates likely take the office's staggering responsibilities--the ones that gave Honest Abe migraines--with roughly the brooding gravitas of overgrown frat boy Dubya. And furthermore because, amidst oligarchic and Deep State stranglehold on U.S. policy , few White House wannabes intend the remotest hint of offense to the powers that be. Hillary certainly doesn't, being as deep-dyed a "made" member of the Beltway Cosa Nostra as anyone possibly could.
No, it's hardly Warren's refusal to run that should enrage progressives, but the sniveling, insult-added-to-injury manner in which she announced it. It's bad enough we're forced to hear--in, for once, a convincing refusal--that our one most plausible hope for besting Hillary the Horrible is self-sidelined, but that such frustration of our hopes should be seasoned with the nauseating advice to "give Clinton a chance and find out what she's running on" is really beyond the pale. As if we didn't already know that she's running on oligarch dollars and a staunch unwillingness to offend suppliers of the same.
Or on a record of unapologetic hawkishness, contempt for heroic whistleblowers like Snowden, ardent promotion of fossil fuels, knee-jerk support for Israel, and obsessive secretiveness--capped by her support for ultra-secret corporate power grabs like the TPP.
Or on an utter lack of personal taste for a populist economics like Warren's, matched only by a triangulating unscrupulousness willing to tell progressives anything that will help her win the presidency. Doesn't Warren fathom that only someone with "populism in the blood" and therefore hell-bent on urgent reform would dare--in an age dominated by "malefactors of great wealth"--risk incurring their hatred in the way FDR did?
And Warren's best punishment, progressives' best way of kicking back at her spineless hypocrisy is--as with any national politician--a public shaming.
CREDO has a brilliant petition, a more direct version of an initiative launched by Pitchforks Against Plutocracy,demanding Hillary Clinton take a stand against both the Trans-Pacific Partnership and, above all, TPP fast track. The Pitchforks initiative, hoping to exploit populist favorite Warren's leverage with credibility-challenged candidate Clinton, had readers to contact Warren, demanding that she make Clinton's denouncing the TPP the price of her support.
Warren's Today appearance renouncing her own candidacy would have been the ideal occasion for doing so. Her sniveling failure to do so, in effect attaching zero meaningful strings to her support for Clinton--despite Clinton's likely diametrical opposition to Warren on major issues like TPP--suggests a fitting punishment. Not only should readers sign the CREDO petition, but they should flood Warren with copies of it, asking her why she failed to challenge Clinton on such a crucial issue of economics and democracy both.
Here's the link to the CREDO petition: http://act.credoaction.com/sign/Clinton_TPP?sp_ref=112550363.4.12330.f.49777.2&referring_akid=.3456960.GcEB6W&source=fb_share_sp
7. Saudi - don't behead me... bro?
Here's a look at five things about Saudi Arabia that US officials and the establishment media are neglecting to talk about as Saudi bombs continue to drop on the people of Yemen with the support of the United States:
- Sharia Law runs the country.
- Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian dictatorship: There are no national elections, no parties, and no rights.
- People are publicly beheaded in the Kingdom.
- Human rights for Saudi women are among the worst in the world.
- The monarchy is a cash machine for terrorists.
8. Sailors are "Fuked"
(NaturalNews) U.S. Navy sailors exposed to radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster have been falling ill, even as the Defense Department insists that they were not exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. Many of the sailors have now joined in a class action lawsuit against Fukushima operators and builders Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), Toshiba, Hitachi, Ebasco and General Electric.
Even if they wanted to -- which many do not -- the sailors would be unable to sue the Navy. According to a Supreme Court ruling from the 1950s known as the Feres Doctrine, soldiers cannot sue the government for injuries resulting directly from their military service.
Mocked and attacked
On March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. It was the worst nuclear disaster in history, releasing twice as much radioactive material as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
That same day, the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was redirected to the coast of Japan to participate in relief work for tsunami survivors. When sailors from the ship later began to fall ill, Congress asked the Defense Department for a report on the issue. The Pentagon report concluded that the sailors had not been exposed to enough radiation or contaminated water to cause health effects.
Yet in the four years since the disaster, at least 500 sailors have fallen ill, and 247 of them have joined the class-action suit. The 100-page legal complaint chronicles their symptoms: an airplane mechanic suffering from unexplained muscle wasting; a woman whose baby was born ill; a sailor told his health problems must be genetic, even though his identical twin is perfectly healthy; and case after case of cancer, internal bleeding, abscesses, thyroid dysfunction and birth defects.
The defendants initially claimed that they could not be sued in a U.S. court, so plaintiffs' attorney Paul Garner asked the sailors to come to a court hearing in San Diego, to offer moral support.
Nearly all of them refused, for fear of public attack. Initial plaintiff Lindsey Cooper, for example, had already been mocked by atomic energy experts on CNN and by conservative radio hosts. Others were afraid of being perceived as anti-military, or un-American.
Powerful interests at stake
Only one plaintiff was willing to show up: Lieutenant Steve Simmons. Once a triathlon runner, Simmons fell ill a year after returning from Japan, suffering from hair loss, muscle wasting, migraines, bloody discharge and incontinence. His fingers turned yellow or even brown, and his feet have now turned dark red. He suffers from whole-body spasms and must now use a wheelchair.
He has never received a diagnosis for his problems, and sometimes he wonders if his Defense Department doctors are deliberately withholding one, so that the Department need not be held responsible. One doctor, he said, told him it would be better if he didn't know the cause of his illness.
Disturbingly, Spiegel Online reported:
Early on, [Simmons] was in a military hospital in Washington DC together with three other men who had similar symptoms, he says. They had served on nuclear-powered submarines, but they disappeared from one day to the next, and when he asked what happened to them, everyone acted as though they had never been there in the first place.
Simmons believes that the Navy meant to do good with the mission to Japan, and does not blame USS Ronald Reagan's commander, Captain Thom Burke, for what happened to him. But he is troubled by Burke's silence now, he says. He believes that Burke will not speak out about the case because he hopes to become an admiral.
"Personal, diplomatic and economic interests are all at stake," Simmons said. "They're leaving us alone. They're closing their eyes, keeping quiet and waiting for it to blow over. There are sick soldiers everywhere, many in the hospital in San Diego, or in the medical center in Hawaii. They are ordinary folks who are poorly insured, with family and kids. Loyal and scattered. Most of them don't know how to react. Those who raise their voices are denounced in the Internet for being unpatriotic. You have to put up with a lot."
Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/048942_US_Navy_sailors_Fukushima_radiation.html#ixzz3WS6APBLe
9. Fukushima Noose
Cleanup crews trying to mitigate Japan's never-ending radiation crisis at Fukushima ran into more problems recently after sensors monitoring a drainage gutter detected a huge spike in radiation levels from wastewater pouring into the Pacific Ocean.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company says radiation levels were up to 70 times, or 7,000 percent, higher than normal, prompting an immediate shutdown of the drainage instrument. The first readings came around 10 a.m. local time on February 22, setting off alarms not once but twice as radiation levels spiked to extremely high levels.
"The levels of beta ray-emitting substances, such as strontium-90, measured 5,050 to 7,230 becquerels per liter of water between 10:20 a.m. and 10:50 a.m.," reported The Japan Times. "TEPCO requires radioactivity levels of groundwater at the plant discharged into the sea to remain below 5 becquerels."
TEPCO shut off leaky gutter, but radiation continued to spike throughout day
The gutter was quickly decommissioned to prevent further radiation emissions, but the leaks reportedly continued throughout the day, with radiation levels hovering between 10 and 20 times higher than normal. TEPCO says it doesn't know what caused the sudden radiation spikes.
"With emergency surveys of the plant and monitoring of other sensors, we have no reason to believe tanks storing radioactive waste water have leaked," stated a plant official to the media. "We have shut the gutter [from pouring water to the bay]. We are currently monitoring the sensors at the gutter and seeing the trend."
Multiple major leaks reported as Fukushima generates 400 tons of new radioactive waste daily
Just four days prior to the leak, the International Atomic Energy Agency congratulated TEPCO for its continued cleanup efforts at the Fukushima site. This is despite numerous other radiation leaks, some of them quite major, that have occurred in recent months at the shuttered facility.
Back in October 2013, for instance, a failed transfer of radioactive wastewater from one storage tank to another resulted in more than four tons of highly contaminated sludge being dumped into the ground. Not long before this, 300 tons of radioactive waste reportedly leaked from another nearby storage tank.
As we reported earlier in the month, a worker actually died after falling into a radioactive storage tank during a routine inspection. The 33-foot container that swallowed the man is one of many at the site that holds a portion of the 400 tons of highly radioactive water generated daily at Fukushima.
Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/048772_Fukushima_radiation_ocean_contamination.html#ixzz3WS6xSANR
10. Fuke Noose #2
To my knowledge, Sen. Wyden is the only U.S. Senator who has actually visited the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility and warned the U.S. public about what he saw. And what did he see? A wrecked, half-collapsed building site littered with massive collections of nuclear fuel rods that now threaten the entire Northern hemisphere with a radiation apocalypse. (http://www.naturalnews.com/035789_Fukushima_...)
When Wyden returned to the USA following the visit, he immediately issued an urgent warning, now reprinted on his website. In the watered-down language of political correctness, the warning is still quite strong. As his website says: (http://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-relea...)
Wyden's principal concern is the relocation of spent fuel rods currently being stored in unsound structures immediately adjacent to the ocean. He strongly urged the Ambassador to accept international help to prevent dangerous nuclear material from being released into the environment.
He then went on to say, in his own words: (emphasis added)
"The scope of damage to the plants and to the surrounding area was far beyond what I expected and the scope of the challenges to the utility owner, the government of Japan, and to the people of the region are daunting. The precarious status of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear units and the risk presented by the enormous inventory of radioactive materials and spent fuel in the event of further earthquake threats should be of concern to all and a focus of greater international support and assistance."
His website goes on to say something that should stun anyone who understands the threat of radioactive contamination of the environment:
"Wyden found that the facilities designed to house spent nuclear fuel and the reactors themselves were still in a state of disrepair and located in areas that would make them susceptible to further damage from future seismic events. The reactor buildings still contain large amounts of spent fuel -- making them a huge safety risk and the only protection from a future tsunami, Wyden observed, is a small, makeshift sea wall erected out of bags of rock."
Did you catch that last part? The only protection from a tsunami is a "makeshift sea wall erected out of bags or rock."
And to think, the fate of the world now depends on us all just "lucking out" and crossing our fingers in the hope that no earthquake or tsunami takes place before they clean up the Fukushima facility mess.
Which brings up the question: What exactly is being done to clean up the Fukushima facility mess?
In a word, nothing.
Governments play pretend
Virtually nothing is happening. All the governments involved (Japan and USA, primarily) are playing a ridiculously stupid game of pretending there is no problem. The Japanese government, for its part, has decided that instead of admitted to a radiation problem, it's easier to just tell Japanese citizens they have a mental disorder if they're concerned about radiation (http://www.prisonplanet.com/fear-of-radiatio...).
The U.S. government plays a similar mind game, raising the allowable levels of radiation exposure by thousands of times and then declaring Fukushima fallout to be suddenly safe! (http://www.naturalnews.com/031963_radiation_...)
Governments, in other words, are in denial mode even while Fukushima smolders and hurls us all toward irreversible global disaster.
If Fukushima were a "terrorist," the U.S. government would stop at nothing to defeat it
What's really telling in all this is that if a "terrorist" organization were threatening the USA with the same amount of nuclear material held at Fukushima, the U.S. would take immediate and decisive action to eliminate that threat. For the record, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility has enough radioactive material to make thousands of terrorist "dirty bombs".
All that radioactive material now threatens America, but because it is subjected to random "natural" causes (earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.) instead of "terrorist" causes, the U.S. government has stupidly chosen to ignore it. It's not politically advantageous to talk about Fukushima, you see, because it doesn't fit into the false theatrical narrative of terrorists threatening America.
This leaves us all in a frustratingly idiotic catch-22, where governments refuse to address a problem that threatens the world unless and until the problem explodes in their faces, at which point it is too late to address it.
All this leads to the obvious solution for resolving the Fukushima conundrum. The way to get governments to address Fukushima is to allow the facility to be taken over by terrorists! Only then will the U.S. government consider the threat to be real, since the entire government only sees things through "terrorist glasses."
The science of denial
Of course, the real source of all this terror is the arrogance of modern science itself, which now threatens the very survival of the human race. As I recently wrote here on NaturalNews, the human race is being "suicided" in the name of science. (http://www.naturalnews.com/035790_scientific...)
Science has become a far greater threat than terrorism could ever imagine, because in the name of "science," we have been placed in the crosshairs of not just a nuclear apocalypse, but also the disastrous effects of self-replicating genetic pollution via GMOs.
"Science" has handed us antibiotic-resistant superbugs, the global pollution of crops and soils with synthetic pesticides, the death of the honey bees, and the mass poisoning of children with mercury through dentistry and vaccines (among other crimes). "Science" told us that nuclear power was safe ... yet here we are in 2012, on the verge of an event that could kill a quarter of the human population on the planet, and all the scientists can do is deny any problem exists at all.
Denial may be an effective psychological tactic in politics and poker, but unfortunately for the rest of us it does not alter the laws of physics. "Denial" does not change the 30-year half life of Cesium-137, a radioactive isotope that mimics the mineral potassium and thus is easily absorbed into food crops, poisoning the entire food supply.
Denial is not a tactic of genuine leaders; it is a last-ditch desperate ploy of the weak-minded.
We are living in the land of denial, led by elected denialists who are voted into office by working-class denialists. Denial has become our modus operandi, our fabric of fairytales. It has allowed our civilization to ride high on a global debt pyramid and it will be the harbinger of our ultimate destruction at the hands of "scientists" who promised us life but delivered us unto death.
11. Japan orders Fukushima waste to be released into ocean after worker falls into tank of radioactive water and dies
Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/048634_Fukushima_radioactive_waste_worker_death.html#ixzz3WS86qAN1
With nowhere else to put it and workers constantly being exposed to it, radiation from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility in Japan has been ordered to be dumped into the ocean by Japanese regulators, according to new reports. This was just two days after a plant employee accidentally fell into one of the onsite storage tanks filled with radioactive water, resulting in his death.
According to the Star Tribune, the 55-year-old man died of multiple injuries after falling through an opening at the top of the 10-meter (33-foot) high tank. He was one of three men who was inspecting the tank at the time of the fall.
Following the incident, Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Authority met to discuss options for disposing of the radioactive waste, which continues to pose health threats at the facility. The Wall Street Journal reports that the regulatory body's chairman isn't pleased with the way the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has handled the disaster, which continues to wreak havoc.
"Tokyo Electric Power must consider whether it (storing the water) is really necessary," stated Shunichi Tanaka during a recent board meeting. "It is surely harmful if it leads to the death of workers."
Japanese regulators suggest that TEPCO start disposing of radioactive water in 2017
A draft recommendation was made at the meeting that proposes a 2017 start date for discharging the water. That proposal is expected to receive approval within the next week. More than one year ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency made the recommendation to TEPCO that it begin releasing small amounts of low-level tritium-contaminated water in a controlled manner so that it could focus on other problems at the plant.
But the power operator has yet to take action, which has resulted in massive contamination of local groundwater. Reports indicate that up to 400 tons of highly contaminated water is added to the site every day, an insurmountable level that will only make it that much worse to clean up in the future.
TEPCO's water purification process can't remove tritium; operator running out of room for storage tanks
TEPCO is currently trying to remove radioactive material from the tainted water before dumping it into the ocean. But the system it currently has in place to do this is unable to remove radioactive tritium, which is why the power operator has begun moving the water into large storage tanks onsite.
There are currently about 1,000-and-counting storage tanks at the facility, but TEPCO is quickly running out of space to add more. Besides this, TEPCO is having to continue working towards removing spent fuel rods and replacing cooling equipment to prevent further problems at the plant, which show no signs of relent.
Worker injuries increasing at Fukushima, suggesting sloppier safety measures
The plant's decommissioning process, which is expected to take several decades, currently involves some 7,000 workers laboring day and night to get things under control. Between April and November of 2014, however, there were 40 injuries at the plant compared to 12 the year prior, suggesting that safety measures are degrading.
"He was wearing a harness, but the hook was found tucked inside the harness," explained a TEPCO spokesman to reporters about the tank fall incident. "This means the harness was not being used. We are investigating whether safety measures were appropriately observed."
Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/048634_Fukushima_radioactive_waste_worker_death.html#ixzz3WS8HYpuf
12. In a Win for Opponents of Mountaintop Removal, West Virginia Government Will Study Health Impacts
or decades, people in southern West Virginia have suffered from elevated rates of health problems like lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and birth defects. In McDowell County, for example, life expectancy for females is about 73 years, approximately eight years below the national average.
Although many attribute these problems to the poverty of the region, scientists and epidemiologists have been looking at a different culprit. Beginning in 2006, more than two dozen studies have explored the possibility of a link between the region’s illnesses and mountaintop removal mining, a common term for the surface mining of coal.
For Janet Keating, executive director of the nonprofit environmental group Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, that link is a no-brainer. “Long before there were any studies, people knew that mountaintop removal mining was making them sick,” she said.
But policymakers in the state weren’t convinced. Until now, they considered the research inconclusive and continued to let coal companies practice surface mining. On March 18, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a permit renewal to the South Fork Coal Company to continue surface mining at a location in Greenbrier County. Currently, the department cannot deny a permit to any applicant that meets the requirements, according to Communications Officer Kelley Gillenwater.
But what if that policy were to change? On March 13, Randy Huffman, the secretary of the DEP, acknowledged for the first time that reviewing the existing research is necessary. Four days later, the administration of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin announced that the state would conduct an official review of those studies, under the leadership of the state Bureau for Public Health’s commissioner, Dr. Rahul Gupta.
That’s good news for those who blame the health disparities of southern West Virginia on mountaintop removal mining. It’s also good news for environmentalists worldwide, who want to see more urgency in transitioning society away from fossil fuels.
Environmentalists hope that if the review verifies the results of the studies, it could lead to a change in state policy. Some have expressed doubt about this possibility, however, given the economic and political power of the coal industry. But in a phone interview, Gupta insisted that scientific evidence would prevail: “Most of the policies about worker safety, worker health, community health, in this country over the last 150 years have come from science and data.”
Others fear the review could further reduce the already shrinking number of coal mining jobs in a region suffering economically. “In the coal communities of southern West Virginia, the coal industry is the only show in town,” said Jason Bostic, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association. (To read about emerging solutions to the decline in coal jobs in Appalachia, start here.)
For many local people, these announcements have been a long time coming. “We’ve been trying and trying to get them to pay attention to these things, and it’s just time to really bring down your foot and stomp it and say, ‘You are going to pay attention to me,’” Keating said.
Keating credited the timing of the state’s decision to the publicity surrounding The People’s Foot, a rally held on March 16 in front of the DEP office in Charleston, the state capital. Multiple groups—including OVEC, Coal River Mountain Watch, and Christians for the Mountains—spent months organizing the rally, employing social media, sending postcards in the mail to supporters, and strategically locating billboards demanding that the government “Stop the Poisoning.”
“That’s pretty striking, but it’s the truth,” Keating said of the billboards. “We let them know we were coming and that we would be pretty hard to ignore.”
Speakers at the rally, such as Bo Webb of Coal River Mountain Watch, stressed the importance of the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, or ACHE, a federal bill that would place a moratorium on new mountaintop removal permits until the federal government has completed and evaluated studies into health disparities in the region.
Daile Rois was in the crowd at the rally. She’s been an active volunteer with OVEC and other environmental groups since May 5, 2014, when the DEP issued a permit to the Korean mining company Keystone Global that would allow blasting just behind the Charleston house that has been in her family since 1966. Her friends from outside the state were worried, she said, and urged her to move.
“They kept telling us we are District 12 from The Hunger Games,” Rois said. “I refuse to accept that.”
Instead of accepting it, Rois became increasingly involved in the local environmental movement. She said the People’s Foot rally reminded her that those engaged in the fight against mountaintop removal mining were members of a community. “We were sharing stories that were heartrending, and yet there was this expectation that the time was right.”
In a phone interview, Gupta agreed that the timing was good. “The public interest is clearly present in having that unbiased analytical look at this data.”
Debating the data
Yet the validity of that data remains contested.
“I’m convinced with the research I’ve done and what I’ve seen with my own eyes that mountaintop removal mining is harmful,” said Dr. Michael Hendryx, a professor of applied health science at Indiana University. Hendryx has been researching health disparities in Appalachia since 2006 and has authored numerous peer-reviewed articles correlating exposure to mountaintop removal mining to higher rates of birth defects, mortality, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer. In one frequently cited study of reported live births between 1996 and 2003 across Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky, Hendryx and co-author Melissa Ahern found elevated rates of birth defects including circulatory and respiratory anomalies in counties where mountaintop mining occurred.
Bostic dismissed Hendryx’s works as “health journalism, not public health epidemiology.” Born and raised in southern West Virginia, Bostic did not deny that health problems disproportionately affect rural communities where coal is the main economic base, but he attributed them to general behaviors such as poor diet and tobacco usage.
“Public health has always been a challenge in isolated areas,” Bostic remarked.
Hendryx, however, insists that he has controlled for factors such as alcohol and tobacco use, quality of prenatal care, and diet. Therefore, he says the health disparities he has encountered must be due to the increased chemical exposure, impaired water sources, and air pollutants generated by blasting and mine runoff.
He has maintained in published articles as well as interviews that mountaintop removal mining should be discontinued. He argues that the reason Bostic and others have refused to recognize the validity of his data comes down to money. “The coal industry has a tremendous financial interest in doing what they’re doing,” he said. “I have no financial interest in doing what I’m doing.”
According to Gupta, these conflicting views are “exactly why an unbiased agency from a public health perspective will be engaged in this type of work.” The researchers will include scientists from multiple agencies from different states. He stressed that public health has no agenda, either for pro-mining or for environmental groups.
13. Arrested for a miscarriage
While Indiana has been in the spotlight over its new anti-LGBT "religious freedom" law, another state controversy is brewing. On Monday, Purvi Patel became the first person in U.S. history sentenced to prison for feticide for what the state said was an attempt to end her own pregnancy. While Patel says she had a miscarriage, delivering a stillborn fetus, prosecutors accused her of taking drugs to induce an abortion, even though no drugs were found in her system. They also used a discredited test to claim the fetus was born alive. Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison. We look at her case amidst the rising tide of anti-choice laws and the criminalization of pregnancy with Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
On Monday, Purvi Patel, an Indian-American woman, became the first person in U.S. history sentenced to prison for feticide, for ending her own pregnancy. In 2013, Patel arrived at a hospital, bleeding. She told doctors she had had a miscarriage and disposed of her stillborn fetus in a trash receptacle. Under questioning by police, Patel said she had believed she was about two months pregnant. After miscarrying in the bathroom, she said she tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate the fetus, which wasn't moving. She told police, "I assumed because the baby was dead there was nothing to do." Bleeding, in shock, and not wanting her conservative Hindu parents to find out, she disposed of the fetus and went to the hospital.
Prosecutors would later accuse Patel of taking drugs to try to end her pregnancy, based on text messages to a friend where she discussed buying the drugs online. But no evidence of abortion drugs was found in her body. The prosecutors also used a discredited "float test" to claim Purvi Patel's fetus, which they said was between 25 and 28 weeks, was born alive. So, in addition to feticide, Patel was charged and convicted of "neglect of a dependent." On Monday, a judge sentenced Patel to serve 20 years in prison. In total, her sentences actually add up to 41 years, but will be served but will be served concurrently, with 10 years suspended.
The sentencing comes amidst a growing, ongoing crackdown on reproductive rights. According to RH Reality Check, lawmakers in states across the country have introduced at least 235 bills to restrict abortion in 2015 alone. To talk more about this issue we are joined here in New York by Lynn Paltrow, Founder and Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
Well, Purvi Patel is an amazing example of the fact that it's not just reproductive rights that are under attack, it is the personhood of people who can get pregnant, that this case demonstrates that we are not going back to some — going through some time warp to a time before Roe, that women's pregnancies are now becoming the subject of policing, prosecution, and severe sentences in an age of mass incarceration. So, here's a woman who goes to the hospital for help because she has a miscarriage, and ends up being sentenced to jail for 20 years. They charge her with feticide, and originally people were very confused. It's like, how can you be charged with both feticide and neglect of a dependent because feticide is understood as causing the death of a fetus, but the prosecutors says, in Indiana, no, our law means any deliberate attempt by a woman to terminate her own pregnancy is a crime. It didn't succeed, so we convinced — they then used —- deliberately used a invalid scientific test to convince the jury that the baby had been born alive and neglected. So, here you have -—
What is unique is the judge allowed this case to go forward in spite of a motion to dismiss, in spite — rejected an amicus brief that we prepare on behalf of numerous health groups. Thirty-eight states have feticide laws. Many of them — most of them explicitly say what they all were passed — how they were all passed, which is, they were all past or amended in the wake of violence against pregnant women, with the promise that it would protect pregnant women and so-called unborn children from violence. In fact, in many states, as my research with Jeanne Flavin has shown, it has been used to arrest woman who delayed having Cesarean surgery. A woman in Iowa who fell down a flight of stairs while she was pregnant was arrested for attempted feticide. Indiana's law is somewhat different from other states, but it is not really about the language of the statute, it's about the commitment of the prosecutors and the state to use it as a mechanism for depriving pregnant women of their human rights.
14. CHEVRONS SPIES and LIES
Thursday, Indigenous leaders in the Ecuadorean amazon denounced the presence of agents from the Chevron oil company in their territories, whom they believe were there to sow divisions within their communities.
Rural workers and indigenous peoples are currently facing off with Chevron in court, seeking to collect US$9.5 Billion in compensation for environmental damage caused by the company. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled earlier this month that a prior ruling by an Ecuadorean court that fined the U.S.-based oil company Chevron should be upheld.
Humberto Piaguaje, a coordinator with the Union of Persons Affected by Texaco Operations (UDAPT), said the agents from the U.S. oil-giant were suspected of offering money or benefits to community members in exchange for their signature on a form.
“In the past there was a similar case, where the people were lied to, they would offer them money and they would ask them to sign a document, which was then used against these very same communities,” said Piaguaje.
His comments were echoed by Luz Casangua, the president of affected persons from Campo Joya de los Sachas.
“In 1993 a group of persons also came, pretending to be technical experts, first they said they were going to look at the contamination and we showed them, then they started to ask us how much we wanted to end the case,” said Sachas. “We realized they were infiltrators and we got organized so that they could not enter (our) communities.”
Pablo Fajardo, the lawyer representing the affected communities, said that the fact Chevron was up to its old tricks was a sign of desperation and that the company's “lies are being brought to light.”
Despite the ruling by the Ecuadorean Supreme Court and the CIJ, Chevron refuses to pay. Because pulled out its assets from Ecuador, the plaintiffs are seeking to seize the company's assets in other jurisdictions. The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in December 2014 and is set to decide soon if Canada is an appropriate jurisdiction for the case.
15. TSA TIPS
The document listing the criteria, known as the “Spot Referral Report,” is not classified, but it has been closely held by TSA and has not been previously released. A copy was provided to The Intercept by a source concerned about the quality of the program.
The checklist ranges from the mind-numbingly obvious, like “appears to be in disguise,” which is worth three points, to the downright dubious, like a bobbing Adam’s apple. Many indicators, like “trembling” and “arriving late for flight,” appear to confirm allegations that the program picks out signs and emotions that are common to many people who fly.
A TSA spokesperson declined to comment on the criteria obtained by The Intercept. “Behavior detection, which is just one element of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) efforts to mitigate threats against the traveling public, is vital to TSA’s layered approach to deter, detect and disrupt individuals who pose a threat to aviation,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Since its introduction in 2007, the SPOT program has attracted controversy for the lack of science supporting it. In 2013, the Government Accountability Office found that there was no evidence to back up the idea that “behavioral indicators … can be used to identify persons who may pose a risk to aviation security.” After analyzing hundreds of scientific studies, the GAO concluded that “the human ability to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance.”
The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security found in 2013 that TSA had failed to evaluate SPOT, and “cannot ensure that passengers at United States airports are screened objectively, show that the program is cost-effective, or reasonably justify the program’s expansion.”
Despite those concerns, TSA has trained and deployed thousands of Behavior Detection Officers, and the program has cost more than $900 million since it began in 2007, according to the GAO.
The 92-point checklist listed in the “Spot Referral Report” is divided into various categories with a point score for each. Those categories include a preliminary “observation and behavior analysis,” and then those passengers pulled over for additional inspection are scored based on two more categories: whether they have “unusual items,” like almanacs and “numerous prepaid calling cards or cell phones,” and a final category for “signs of deception,” which include “covers mouth with hand when speaking” and “fast eye blink rate.
Points can also be deducted from someone’s score based on observations about the traveler that make him or her less likely, in TSA’s eyes, to be a terrorist. For example, “apparent” married couples, if both people are over 55, have two points deducted off their score. Women over the age of 55 have one pointed deducted; for men, the point deduction doesn’t come until they reach 65.
Last week, the ACLU sued TSA to obtain records related to its behavior detection programs, alleging that they lead to racial profiling. The lawsuit is based on a Freedom of Information Act request the ACLU filed last November asking for numerous documents related to the program, including the scientific justification for the program, changes to the list of behavior indicators, materials used to train officers and screen passengers, and what happens to the information collected on travelers.
“The TSA has insisted on keeping documents about SPOT secret, but the agency can’t hide the fact that there’s no evidence the program works,” said Hugh Handeyside, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
Being on the lookout for suspicious behavior is a “common sense approach” that is used by law enforcement, according to TSA. “No single behavior alone will cause a traveler to be referred to additional screening or will result in a call to a law enforcement officer (LEO),” the agency said in its emailed statement. “Officers are trained and audited to ensure referrals for additional screening are based only on observable behaviors and not race or ethnicity.”
One former Behavior Detection Officer manager, who asked not to be identified, said that SPOT indicators are used by law enforcement to justify pulling aside anyone officers find suspicious, rather than acting as an actual checklist for specific indicators. “The SPOT sheet was designed in such a way that virtually every passenger will exhibit multiple ‘behaviors’ that can be assigned a SPOT sheet value,” the former manager said.
The signs of deception and fear “are ridiculous,” the source continued. “These are just ‘catch all’ behaviors to justify BDO interaction with a passenger. A license to harass.”
The observations of a TSA screener or a Behavior Detection Officer shouldn’t be the basis for referring someone to law enforcement. “The program is flawed and unnecessarily delays and harasses travelers. Taxpayer dollars would be better spent funding real police at TSA checkpoints,” the former manager said.
A second former Behavior Detection Officer manager, who also asked not to be identified, told The Intercept that the program suffers from lack of science and simple inconsistency, with every airport training its officers differently. “The SPOT program is bullshit,” the manager told The Intercept. “Complete bullshit.”
By Bill Black, the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Jointly published with New Economic Perspectives
HSBC got a sweetheart deal from the Obama administration. It laundered vast amounts of money for Mexico’s murderous Sinaloa cartel, helped bust sanctions for terrorists and mass murderers, and did not cooperate with the investigation. The U.S. Attorney in charge of the case, Loretta Lynch, refused to prosecute any of the HSBC bankers or even sue them individually. Instead, there was a pathetic non-prosecution agreement limited to HSBC. Lynch is accused of not contacting either of the primary whistleblowers in the case. The failure to contact one of the whistleblowers has already blown up in Lynch’s face as it became public a few months ago that the governments of the U.S. and Europe were provided many years ago with data on HSBC’s Swiss affiliate that show it was helping terrorists, genocidal leaders, the most violent drug gangs, and tens of thousands of wealthy people evade taxes. Lynch failed to bring that case or use any of the invaluable data provided by the whistleblower who copied the files from the Swiss bank.
Now comes word that, like Standard Chartered, HSBC is failing to abide even by the pathetic sweetheart deal Lynch gifted HSBC’s criminal managers with. In the case of Standard Chartered, NY authorities came down on Standard Chartered with at least one foot on the neck. Lynch is made of considerably less stern stuff. She failed even to do the most obvious move of extending the agreement with HSBC. The New York Times tells the tale in DealBook’s trademark incoherent fashion.
The filing represents a subtle yet important shift for the Justice Department, which until now has largely applauded HSBC’s efforts since reaching the deferred-prosecution agreement and paying $1.9 billion to the federal authorities. While commending HSBC for continuing “to act in good faith to meet the requirements of the D.P.A.,” prosecutors highlighted times when bank employees resisted the overhaul.
DealBook, of course, is not so impolite as to mention that the two clauses of the second sentence are contradictory and that HSBC is acting in bad faith and violating even the sweetheart agreement. HSBC’s violations were a heaven sent opportunity for Lynch to undo the massive embarrassment of the shameful deal she gave HSBC – one of the world’s largest and most destructive criminal enterprises. She could use the “watchdog” report damning HSBC to state the reality – HSBC’s managers have acted in bad faith and violated the deal that would have got them off with no real prosecution. Lynch could now prosecute HSBC and its senior managers for all the frauds – including the vast frauds she missed last time because of her failure to talk with the whistleblowers. And the chances of that happening closely approach zero because Obama chose Lynch to continue Holder’s shameful policies of refusing to prosecute bankers rather than change those policies.
In fairness, DealBook’s incoherence appears to reflect Lynch’s incoherence in her HSBC filing. Consider the (unintentional) humor resident in the DealBook’s description of her filing.
Her filing, alternating between praise and concern, reflects dueling messages from the Justice Department. Coming at a time when prosecutors are grappling with repeat offenses on Wall Street, the filing underscores the Justice Department’s efforts to stem the pattern of corporate recidivism.
Notice the disastrous admissions tucked into the convoluted paragraph. Holder’s refusal to prosecute the bankers has led to “repeat offenses on Wall Street.” Ponder that which DealBook religiously refuses to ponder – if fraudulent bankers find they grow wealthy from the “sure thing” of fraud with no risk of prosecution or even being sued, why wouldn’t they respond with “repeat offenses” that would create a “pattern of corporate recidivism?” DealBook is very sympathetic to Holder and Lynch. They are portrayed as “grappling” with the thorny problem that because senior bankers realize that under Holder and Lynch they can grow wealthy and powerful by leading “repeat offenses” they will do so even though they promise “dad” (Holder) or “mom” (Lynch) that they’ll never do it again. (DealBook hates to use the “f” word to describe elite bankers’ frauds.)
As DealBook (hilariously) portrays the matter, Holder and Lynch “grapple” with this intractable and apparently inconceivable (in the Princess Bride sense of the word made famous by Vizzini) problem that the elite bankers keep on committing massive felonies helping terrorists and the world’s most violent drug gangs even after they look Holder and Lynch (dad and mom) straight in the eyes and solemnly promise to never hit their little brother and steal his toy truck again. Five minutes later, dad and mom hear a smack followed by the little brother breaking into tears and find big brother with little brother’s toy truck. Big brother, of course, solemnly says he never hit his little brother and the truck in his hand is not his little brother’s truck. Big brother, being sophisticated, even pleads in the alternative that if he is holding little brother’s truck it is because little brother gave him the truck. Except, that we’re not talking about toy trucks, but senior bank officers knowingly funding mass murder and terrorism.
Here’s a hint to dad and mom if we presume for the sake of analysis that Holder and Lynch actually wished to “stem the pattern of corporate recidivism.” Put the senior officers in prison for at least a decade. Have the OCC and the NY State authorities yank HSBC’s (and Standard Chartered’s licenses to do business in the U.S.). If they cannot operate profitability without the license have the UK put them in receivership on a Friday, replace the managers with honest, skilled managers, and open the bank (complete with renewed U.S. licenses) on Monday. Then sue and bring enforcement actions against any culpable officers to “clawback” their compensation.
We had no problem with recidivism when we got the Department of Justice (DOJ) to bring the S&L prosecutions. To my knowledge, of the over 1000 felony convictions in S&L cases designated as “major” by the DOJ, no senior S&L crook that we convicted played any material role in leading the three fraud epidemics that drove the 2008 financial crisis. The truth is that Holder and Lynch are taking no meaningful efforts against what even DealBook now admits is “the pattern of corporate recidivism” by our most elite bankers. The only thing they “grapple” with is the bad publicity arising from the stench of that “pattern” of the most despicable and harmful elite financial frauds in history.
There can be no more incriminating indictment of the Nation’s leading federal prosecutors than the fact that even the sycophantic DealBook admits that on Holder and Lynch’s watch a “pattern” of recurrent frauds by our most elite CEOs has emerged – and those frauds commonly involve profiting from the banks aiding the funding of mass murderers. The administration has managed to turn into reality all those bad novels they sell in airport book stores that describe networks of criminal elite bankers financing terrorists, drug gangs, and venal and brutal kleptocrats with impunity from the laws.
By Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns
Matt Taibbi is one of the few commentators in the mainstream media who is not worried about ‘access’ and has, therefore, been free to write much more critically about the economic crisis and reform efforts on Wall Street.
His first piece was a polemic against Goldman Sachs, which triggered a backlash against the venerated Wall Street firm due to its incestuous relationship with Washington. Afterwards, he took on health care reform. Now, he is taking on the Obama Administration and its status quo bias. I have an excerpt below and a link to the full article. But, first, let me say a few words.
As you probably know, I have been quite disappointed with this Administration’s leadership on financial reform. While I think they ‘get it,’ it is plain they lack either the courage or conviction to put forward a set of ideas that gets at the heart of what caused this crisis.
It was clear to many by this time last year that the President may not have been serious about reform when he picked Tim Geithner and Larry Summers as the leaders of his economic team. As smart and qualified as these two are, they are rightfully seen as allied with Wall Street and the anti-regulatory movement.
At a minimum, the picks of Geithner and Summers were a signal to Wall Street that the Obama Administration would be friendly to their interests. It is sort of like Ronald Reagan going to Philadelphia, Mississippi as a first stop in the 1980 election campaign to let southerners know that he was friendly to their interests.
I reserved judgment because one has to judge based on actions. But last November I did ask Is Obama really “Change we can believe in?” because his Administration was being stacked with Washington insiders and agents of the status quo.
Since that time it is obvious that two things have occurred as a result of this ‘Washington insider’ bias. First, there has been no real reform. Insiders are likely to defend the status quo for the simple reason that they and those with whom they associate are the ones who represent the status quo in the first place. What happens when a company is nationalized or declared bankrupt is instructive; here, new management must be installed to prevent the old management from covering up past mistakes or perpetuating errors that led to the firms demise. The same is true in government.
That no ‘real’ reform was coming was obvious, even by June when I wrote a brief note on the fake reform agenda. It is even more obvious with the passage of time and the lack of any substantive reform in health care.
Second, Obama’s stacking his administration with insiders has been very detrimental to his party. I imagine he did this as a way to overcome any worries about his own inexperience and to break with what was seen as a major factor in Bill Clinton’s initial failings. While I am an independent, I still have enough political antennae to know that taking established politicians out of incumbent positions (Joe Biden, Janet Napolitano, Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel, Kathleen Sebelius or Tim Kaine) jeopardizes their seat. So, the strategy of stacking his administration has not only created a status quo bias, but it has also weakened his party.
That’s it. I’ve said my piece. Here is the Taibbi excerpt now. I don’t agree with everything Taibbi says and his tone is a lot more apoplectic than mine; but that is mostly stylistic. On the major point – that the Obama Administration is more of the same – he is right.
Here he talks about the Citi bailout
“Just look at the timeline of the Citigroup deal," says one leading Democratic consultant. "Just look at it. It’s fucking amazing. Amazing! And nobody said a thing about it."
Barack Obama was still just the president-elect when it happened, but the revolting and inexcusable $306 billion bailout that Citigroup received was the first major act of his presidency. In order to grasp the full horror of what took place, however, one needs to go back a few weeks before the actual bailout — to November 5th, 2008, the day after Obama’s election.
That was the day the jubilant Obama campaign announced its transition team. Though many of the names were familiar — former Bill Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, long-time Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett — the list was most notable for who was not on it, especially on the economic side. Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist who had served as one of Obama’s chief advisers during the campaign, didn’t make the cut. Neither did Karen Kornbluh, who had served as Obama’s policy director and was instrumental in crafting the Democratic Party’s platform. Both had emphasized populist themes during the campaign: Kornbluh was known for pushing Democrats to focus on the plight of the poor and middle class, while Goolsbee was an aggressive critic of Wall Street, declaring that AIG executives should receive "a Nobel Prize — for evil."
But come November 5th, both were banished from Obama’s inner circle — and replaced with a group of Wall Street bankers. Leading the search for the president’s new economic team was his close friend and Harvard Law classmate Michael Froman, a high-ranking executive at Citigroup. During the campaign, Froman had emerged as one of Obama’s biggest fundraisers, bundling $200,000 in contributions and introducing the candidate to a host of heavy hitters — chief among them his mentor Bob Rubin, the former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs who served as Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton. Froman had served as chief of staff to Rubin at Treasury, and had followed his boss when Rubin left the Clinton administration to serve as a senior counselor to Citigroup (a massive new financial conglomerate created by deregulatory moves pushed through by Rubin himself).
Incredibly, Froman did not resign from the bank when he went to work for Obama: He remained in the employ of Citigroup for two more months, even as he helped appoint the very people who would shape the future of his own firm. And to help him pick Obama’s economic team, Froman brought in none other than Jamie Rubin, a former Clinton diplomat who happens to be Bob Rubin’s son. At the time, Jamie’s dad was still earning roughly $15 million a year working for Citigroup, which was in the midst of a collapse brought on in part because Rubin had pushed the bank to invest heavily in mortgage-backed CDOs and other risky instruments.
Now here’s where it gets really interesting. It’s three weeks after the election. You have a lame-duck president in George W. Bush — still nominally in charge, but in reality already halfway to the golf-and-O’Doul’s portion of his career and more than happy to vacate the scene. Left to deal with the still-reeling economy are lame-duck Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a former head of Goldman Sachs, and New York Fed chief Timothy Geithner, who served under Bob Rubin in the Clinton White House. Running Obama’s economic team are a still-employed Citigroup executive and the son of another Citigroup executive, who himself joined Obama’s transition team that same month.
So on November 23rd, 2008, a deal is announced in which the government will bail out Rubin’s messes at Citigroup with a massive buffet of taxpayer-funded cash and guarantees. It is a terrible deal for the government, almost universally panned by all serious economists, an outrage to anyone who pays taxes. Under the deal, the bank gets $20 billion in cash, on top of the $25 billion it had already received just weeks before as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. But that’s just the appetizer. The government also agrees to charge taxpayers for up to $277 billion in losses on troubled Citi assets, many of them those toxic CDOs that Rubin had pushed Citi to invest in. No Citi executives are replaced, and few restrictions are placed on their compensation. It’s the sweetheart deal of the century, putting generations of working-stiff taxpayers on the hook to pay off Bob Rubin’s fuck-up-rich tenure at Citi. "If you had any doubts at all about the primacy of Wall Street over Main Street," former labor secretary Robert Reich declares when the bailout is announced, "your doubts should be laid to rest."
It is bad enough that one of Bob Rubin’s former protégés from the Clinton years, the New York Fed chief Geithner, is intimately involved in the negotiations, which unsurprisingly leave the Federal Reserve massively exposed to future Citi losses. But the real stunner comes only hours after the bailout deal is struck, when the Obama transition team makes a cheerful announcement: Timothy Geithner is going to be Barack Obama’s Treasury secretary!
Geithner, in other words, is hired to head the U.S. Treasury by an executive from Citigroup — Michael Froman — before the ink is even dry on a massive government giveaway to Citigroup that Geithner himself was instrumental in delivering. In the annals of brazen political swindles, this one has to go in the all-time Fuck-the-Optics Hall of Fame.
Wall Street loved the Citi bailout and the Geithner nomination so much that the Dow immediately posted its biggest two-day jump since 1987, rising 11.8 percent. Citi shares jumped 58 percent in a single day, and JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley soared more than 20 percent, as Wall Street embraced the news that the government’s bailout generosity would not die with George W. Bush and Hank Paulson. "Geithner assures a smooth transition between the Bush administration and that of Obama, because he’s already co-managing what’s happening now," observed Stephen Leeb, president of Leeb Capital Management.
Taibbi assumes intent and damns the actors as a result. He writes as if Froman and Geithner openly colluded in some way to favour Citi. But you don’t need to prove intent, you only need to prove motive. I don’t care if Froman or Geithner ‘intended’ to favour Citi over other institutions; I care whether they were mentally predisposed to helping Citi and other large institutions at the expense of others because they ascribed unwarranted and disproportionate importance to them. Unfortunately, cognitive regulatory capture leads to crony capitalism just as outright corruption would do.
There is a lot more at the link below.
Obama’s Big Sellout – Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
Although there is no shortage of victims of the financial crisis, one group that has generally been missed is the middle aged and elderly. Yes, there are reports of people in their 40s and 50s moving in with their children or other relatives, but for the most part, this cohort does not get much attention.
Yet it isn’t hard to see how grim their prospects are. Many thought they’d be employed at decent jobs through age 65 and are un or underemployed. And those still working full time are often victims of downward mobility, and have lost a well paying job and are now working at a lower pay level. If you don’t have a decent level of earnings, you can’t save much or at all. These pressures come against a backdrop of loss of wealth due to plunges in home prices and to a lesser degree, financial investments. And that’s before we get to pension fund whackage and plans to “reform” Social Security and Medicare.
Some mainstream media outlets took note of an AARP study that found that the group that had the highest rate of foreclosures was the 75 and older cohort. And remember, these are people who retired after a period when unemployment was relatively low and the stock market delivered attractive returns.
While people who are under financial stress don’t much in the way of options, I see more and more people of modest and better means planning on becoming expats to make their retirement incomes go further. San Miguel, Mexico, was long a destination for older Californians who wanted to stretch their retirement dollar. A once well off jewelry dealer (the “trade” has been in desperate shape for over a decade) planned to move to Buenos Aires, but his situation decayed too quickly for him to exit. Costa Rica is apparently popular with economic emigrants. And I’ve now heard two mentions of Thailand in the last three weeks. One came a reader who told me how his Abyssinian/Manx cat Precious had been trained to stay on a porch, except when he unwisely tried chasing roadrunners and foxes. His e-mail had this sad postscript:
Without going into a rant … we live in rural Clark County, NV outside Las Vegas, and are in that group of former middle class folks that have lost it all … having invested our life savings in this property (peak month Jul, 2006) we have not been able to sell. To view the place Precious and I were behind the fox, go to the home’s website and see the view from the “Perch” seating area. We gave up selling. We have it for rent with option to buy. We hang on but face BK or foreclosure like so many others. When we leave we are moving out of the country. At 65, unemployed since 2007 in a small town, and with a disabled wife, there is no starting over here. We will be able to save more than half my small government pension/her social security in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I am not bitter, but I no longer believe in capitalism or democracy as I once did; not the way they are being practiced now.
Those who are approaching retirement age and have the time, energy, and financial headroom would do much better to get out of Dodge. America ranks badly on pretty much every social indicator, which means that moving to what is nominally a third world county isn’t just a step up in terms of spending power but often in overall quality of life. Thus we are likely to see another sort of hollowing out take place: the lower income and wealthy elderly will remain here, while more in between who have the resources and energy will depart. We already have the economic-oriented literature depicting retirees as a burden. Imagine what a middle class exodus in this age group will do for the political and economic position of the aged.
Matt Taibbi, in giving a well deserved thrashing to the banking industry’s Tokyo Rose, aka New York Fed director Kathryn Wylde, said:
[S]tealing is pretty much the worst thing that a bank can do — and these banks just finished the longest and most orgiastic campaign of stealing in the history of money.
Once you read the allegations in the cases included in this post, I strongly suspect you will agree that the “ruining lives” in the headline is not an exaggeration. And as important, these two cases, with very similar fact sets, also suggest that these abuses are not mere “mistakes”. These are clearly well established practices that Chase can’t be bothered to clean up, since cleaning them up costs money and letting them continue is more profitable.
Both cases took place in Alabama. In both cases, the borrowers had made every mortgage payment on time. One was a couple with three children, the Barnetts. The second is a widow, Besty Barlow, but her husband was still alive when this ugly saga started.
In both cases, the house burned down, The borrowers both had homeowners’ insurance. In the case of the Barnetts, they promptly notified Chase, their servicer, and made one mortgage payment post the fire. Both the homeowners and the insurer, State Farm, called Chase to get a ten day payoff amount. They were told not to make the next payment, since it would be included in the payoff amount. State Farm sent as check as instructed, asked that the mortgage be paid off, and Chase cashed the check.
But Chase did not pay off the mortgage. It put the funds in a suspense account
The Barnetts found out the mortgage had not been paid off on their own, and called Chase to get the matter corrected. Chase then proceeded to harass the Barnetts for payment, calling at home and at work. Chase then ‘fessed up that they had the money, and asked the wife, April, to send a fax instructing them to make the payoff. They didn’t, called to pressure her again, and claimed they never got the fax. April repeated the process as instructed a second time (to a different number).
Chase continued to call demanding payment and then sent a letter stating that Fannie had refused the payoff due to “past due” amounts. Chase wanted an additional $8000, which consisted of fees that were not warranted and were due solely to the failure to pay off the mortgage with the money they had.
Around this time, April, who was over four months pregnant, miscarried, and she believes the miscarriage was as a result of the stress created by Chase. And this is far from the end of the mess: the “foreclosure” was reported to the credit bureaus, which meant the Barnetts, who have three children, which has thrown a big wrench into their efforts to get back on a normal footing (more ugly details in the filing).
Some Republican Senators are having a field day, and rightly so, over the fact that Obama’s attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch, looks to have allowed bank giant HSBC, and more important, its executives and officers, off vastly too easy in a massive money-laundering and tax evasion scheme.
The background is that Lynch, as attorney for the Eastern District of New York, led the investigation of HSBC’s money laundering for drug dealers and other unsavory types that led to a $1.9 billion settlement in 2012. That deal was pilloried by both the right and left as being too lenient given the scale of HSBC’s misdeeds.
And now it turns out the great unwashed public was kept in the dark about another set of misdeeds, that of large-scale tax evasion for the wealthy, which Lynch was aware of when she was negotiating the money-laundering deal.From the Guardian:
Lynch negotiated a controversial settlement with HSBC in 2012, after the bank admitted to facilitating money-laundering by Mexican drug cartels and helping clients evade US sanctions.
Now there are questions over why she did not also pursue HSBC over evidence that its Swiss arm helped US taxpayers hide their assets.
The secret bank files – obtained and examined in detail this week in a series of reports by the Guardian, CBS 60 Minutes and other media outlets – reveal that HSBC’s Swiss arm colluded with some high net-worth individuals to hide their assets from tax authorities across the world.
The new data, leaked by a whistleblower, was obtained by French tax authorities and shared with the US government in 2010, raising questions over why the Department of Justice has yet to take action against HSBC in the US.
US government officials have told the Guardian that investigations by the DoJ’s tax division have been continuing for five years and criminal charges against HSBC or its bankers remain a possibility..
British, French and Spanish tax authorities have publicly disclosed the number of HSBC Swiss clients investigated as a result of the leak and the total sums recovered. In total, the three countries have recovered more than $825m from taxpayers who had not declared their assets in Geneva. However, in Washington, the IRS is refusing to disclose any information about investigations or recovered assets stemming from the leak.
If you think the DoJ was entertaining filing criminal charges, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. The only reason there actually might be some prosecutions is solely as a result of the leak and the resultant media firestorm.
Keep in mind that the Republican opponents, Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley and David Vitter, both have a history of being tough on banking issues, so they have legitimate grounds for consternation. Grassley has put a hold on Loretta Lynch’s nomination. He and Vitter, who is in contact with the whistleblower, are planning to grill Lynch over what she knew about the tax evasion charges and when she became aware of it. Democratic senator and ranking Judiciary committee member Sherrod Brown has also said he is going to push the DoJ and the IRS for answers.
But what about Democratic Senators who were so upset about the wrist slap settlement in 2012? What of this supposed bold progressive wing that we are led to believe will rescue the Democratic party from its corporate sellout ways? Even with a safe target like HSBC, party tribalism apparently takes precedence over principle when a major Presidential nomination is in play. But mind you, no one expects this contretemps to derail Lynch getting voted in, since most Republicans deem her to be acceptable. But given a chance to move the Overton window in the direction of demanding something the American public overwhelmingly wants, prosecutions of bankers, key Democrats are trying to finesse being tough on HSBC without being tough on Lynch. Again from the Guardian:
Until now, Senate Democrats have been most outspoken over the revelations. The Republican chair of the Senate banking committee, Richard Shelby, from Alabama, declined to comment when pressed by the Guardian this week….
Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator who was most vocal in her opposition to the 2012 settlement with HSBC, also called on prosecutors to “come down hard” on the bank if the leaked data shows it colluded with US tax evaders. However, neither senator mentioned Lynch, amid concern on the Democratic side that the HSBC revelations could derail Lynch’s confirmation.
Jeff Merkley, a Democratic senator from Oregon, also called for tough action against HSBC over tax evasion, while steering clear of any reference to Lynch. “It is time to hold HSBC fully accountable under the law for its disturbing conduct,” Merkley said. “While criminal charges are obviously a matter to be settled in the judicial system, I strongly encourage prosecutors to mount the strongest possible charges rather than going for another slap on the wrist.”
What gives? The same logic of targeting bank executives, not banks, applies with administrative action in government agencies. It was on Lynch’s watch that the critical decision of how far to take the HSBC decision was made. Once she had made the deal, it was almost certain that staff were pulled off the case and tasked to other matters. It’s not realistic to hold the current DoJ accountable for a decision made by Lynch years ago.
If the Democrats want to regain the trust and ground they lost in the 2014 midterm debacle, they need to recognize the problem is how Obama has governed and start demanding higher standards from the party. That means going into opposition when the situation warrants it. Elizabeth Warren gained stature by fighting the Administration on the so-called Cromnibus bill and on Antonio Weiss. The way to move the party is to be willing to stand against it when its position is demonstrably wrong, which sadly is way too often, and inflict costs. The objective is not to win in every case but to exert influence and make the leadership think twice before taking expedient actions.
But so far, the much-touted progressive wing seems willing to buck the Administration only on comparatively narrow issues and mid-level appointments. Most important, both parties are still in the dark as to where the facts lie with Lynch and HSBC. Perhaps she has a cogent defense, but a head in the sand approach is no way to deal with a position this important. The Democratic bank critics should grill Lynch and be prepared to withhold support if her answers are evasive or confirm the worst suspicions about her being willing to go easy on powerful corporate miscreants.
Here, Hedges laments the lack of an effective left, and blames its death on the “inability to articulate a viable socialism”. I’m not sure that was ever possible given the virulence of anti-Communism in the US through the fall of the USSR (and right after that, the Rubinites took over). Look at how Keynes was bastardized in the US (which has also had serious knock-on consequences) because an economic text that was faithful to Keynes by Lorie Tarshis was targeted by, among others, William F. Buckley. As we wrote in ECONNED:
A Canadian student of Keynes, Lorie Tarshis, published an economics textbook in 1947, The Elements of Economics, which included his interpretation of Keynes. It also suggested that markets required government support to attain full employment. It was engaging and well written, and sold well initially, but fell off quickly, the victim of an organized campaign by conservative groups to have the textbook removed. The book, and by implication Keynes, was inaccurately charged with calling for government ownership of enterprise.
Any taint of Communist leanings would damage the career of a budding academic. So aside from his refusal to accept some fundamental elements of Keynes’s construct, [Paul] Samuelson had another reason to distance himself from the General Theory. Samuelson said he was well aware of the “virulence of the attack on Tarshis” and penned his text “carefully and lawyer like” to deflect similar attacks.
Hedges also believes we can still have a radical uprising in America that would change the power dynamics. I’m at a loss to see how that happens. I’m told that protests against the then almost certain US entry into the Iraq War were very effectively tamped down in New York City, that the protestors (estimated at as many as 1 million, certainly well over 250,000) who were trying to get to the UN were barred at Second Avenue and shunted up into Harlem, resulting in a pathetic-looking crowd for broadcast consumption at the official site. And that was a decade before the 17-city paramilitary crackdown of Occupy Wall Street.
But more important, unlike Europe, massing on the street is just not how Americans do things. Large scale sustained protests have been the province only of the downtrodden (labor organizers, later the civil rights movement) and students (with issues of their own in the Vietnam war and as sympathizers to and supporters of radicals). A good American bourgeois identity and demonstrations don’t sit well together. Students are more conservative than ever, thanks to 30 years of neoliberal indoctrination, and even if those that have more idealistic impulses would sensibly be deterred by what an arrest record would do to their job prospects, particularly if they have student debt.
One other bit I believe that Hedges misses in his view that Obama is mediocre. No, Obama has done a fantastic job, just not one that will prove to have done the public well. By happenstance, Lambert flagged a 2011 essay in Aljazeera by William Robinson, Global capitalism and 21st century fascism, which describes clearly the role that Obama was meant to and has ably filled:
A neo-fascist insurgency is quite apparent in the United States. This insurgency can be traced back several decades, to the far-right mobilisation that began in the wake of the crisis of hegemony brought about by the mass struggles of the 1960s and the 1970s, especially the Black and Chicano liberation struggles and other militant movements by third world people, counter-cultural currents, and militant working class struggles.
Neo-fascist forces re-organised during the years of the George W Bush government. But my story here starts with Obama’s election.
The Obama project from the start was an effort by dominant groups to re-establish hegemony in the wake of its deterioration during the Bush years (which also involved the rise of a mass immigrant rights movement). Obama’s election was a challenge to the system at the cultural and ideological level, and has shaken up the racial/ethnic foundations upon which the US republic has always rested. However, the Obama project was never intended to challenge the socio-economic order; to the contrary; it sought to preserve and strengthen that order by reconstituting hegemony, conducting a passive revolution against mass discontent and spreading popular resistance that began to percolate in the final years of the Bush presidency.
The Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci developed the concept of passive revolution to refer to efforts by dominant groups to bring about mild change from above in order to undercut mobilisation from below for more far-reaching transformation. Integral to passive revolution is the co-option of leadership from below; its integration into the dominant project. Dominant forces in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Middle East and North America are attempting to carry out such a passive revolution. With regard to the immigrant rights movement in the United States – one of the most vibrant social movements in that country -moderate/mainstream Latino establishment leaders were brought into the Obama and Democratic Party fold – a classic case of passive revolution – while the mass immigrant base suffers intensified state repression.
Obama’s campaign tapped into and helped expand mass mobilisation and popular aspirations for change not seen in many years in the United States. The Obama project co-opted that brewing storm from below, channelled it into the electoral campaign, and then betrayed those aspirations, as the Democratic Party effectively demobilised the insurgency from below with more passive revolution.
Thus while Hedges is correct to point to increasing anger and dislocation in the US, I’m not optimistic that it will be channeled effectively, and if by anyone, it’s not likely to be from the deflated left. A general strike would be a galvanizing event but I don’t see how that gets done. I suspect we’ll see more and more random violence as frustrated individuals lash out. And that sort of violence will serve as the perfect pretext for more and more aggressive policing and surveillance.
22. Cruz, Rubio, Hackabee, Bush, Cristy
23. Clinton &
PNN - Progressive Round Table 4/5 7pm Eastern time
Join News Director Rick Spisak and his guests:
Jeanne Economos - Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator for the Farmworkers Association of Florida who will discuss the upcoming Pesticide Conference in Orlando 4/17 & 18th
Emine Dilek - Managing Editor at The Progressive Press will discuss the recent Iranian Peace Framework
Luis Cuevas - Executive Director with Progressive Push
Steve Horn - DeSmog Blog Fellow
Rob Abston -- Executive Director PLAN / Founder of Recall Governors Now
Round Table - Our panelists will discuss the stories of the day.