Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The War Criminal's Guide to Etiquette


Looting Main Street

How the nation's biggest banks are ripping off American cities with the same predatory deals that brought down Greece

PhotoIf you want to know what life in the Third World is like, just ask Lisa Pack, an administrative assistant who works in the roads and transportation department in Jefferson County, Alabama. Pack got rudely introduced to life in post-crisis America last August, when word came down that she and 1,000 of her fellow public employees would have to take a little unpaid vacation for a while. The county, it turned out, was more than $5 billion in debt — meaning that courthouses, jails and sheriff's precincts had to be closed so that Wall Street banks could be paid.
As public services in and around Birmingham were stripped to the bone, Pack struggled to support her family on a weekly unemployment check of $260. Nearly a fourth of that went to pay for her health insurance, which the county no longer covered. She also fielded calls from laid-off co-workers who had it even tougher. "I'd be on the phone sometimes until two in the morning," she says. "I had to talk more than one person out of suicide. For some of the men supporting families, it was so hard — foreclosure, bankruptcy. I'd go to bed at night, and I'd be in tears."
Homes stood empty, businesses were boarded up, and parts of already-blighted Birmingham began to take on the feel of a ghost town. There were also a few bills that were unique to the area — like the $64 sewer bill that Pack and her family paid each month. "Yeah, it went up about 400 percent just over the past few years," she says.
The sewer bill, in fact, is what cost Pack and her co-workers their jobs. In 1996, the average monthly sewer bill for a family of four in Birmingham was only $14.71 — but that was before the county decided to build an elaborate new sewer system with the help of out-of-state financial wizards with names like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. The result was a monstrous pile of borrowed money that the county used to build, in essence, the world's grandest toilet — "the Taj Mahal of sewer-treatment plants" is how one county worker put it. What happened here in Jefferson County would turn out to be the perfect metaphor for the peculiar alchemy of modern oligarchical capitalism: A mob of corrupt local officials and morally absent financiers got together to build a giant device that converted human shit into billions of dollars of profit for Wall Street — and misery for people like Lisa Pack.

What are you doing on Tax Day?

Join in the work of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee including WRL members across the country in organizing against taxpayer dollars spent for war and militarism!

The numbers are staggering: Over $1 trillion spent so far on the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan since October 2001. Nearly half of each tax dollar going to the Pentagon and military contractors. Cities and states are closing schools, cutting services, furloughing staff. Thousands of civilians and soldiers killed with no evidence that the world is safer.

Get out on (or before) tax day to protest the obscene and increasing military budget. See the action list below, but if there's not an action in your area, order some flyers (list at the bottom) and head out to a busy corner to leaflet for an hour.

Events are April 15 unless otherwise noted.
List is in development. Email your action to be added to this list.

For more information, go to the NWTRCC website.

How Stanislav Grof Helped Launch the Dawn of a New Psychedelic Research Era

The world of medicine may finally be ready to catch back up with psychedelic pioneers, whose work was rejected a half-century ago.

Next week, the brightest lights of the psychedelic cognoscenti will gather in San Jose, California. Leaving swirls of tracer visions in their wakes, they will converge from around the world at an incongruously bland Holiday Inn, 50 miles south of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood that once served as the pulsing capital of Psychedelistan. There, several hundred turned-on and tuned-in doctors, psychologists, artists and laypeople will participate in the annual conference of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). For four days, they will explore -- through workshops and lectures, nothing more -- the widening gamut of clinical inquiry into the uses of the psychedelic experience, a global resurgence of which has led to hopeful talk of a "psychedelic revival."

After decades of psychedelic deep freeze, such talk is finally more than just wishful thinking. A skim of the conference agenda offers a tantalizing glimpse into the newly bubbling world of clinical psychedelic research. UCLA Medical professor Charles Grob will speak about his work using psilocybin to treat anxiety in late-stage cancer patients. Psychologist Allan Ajaya will share findings from his research in LSD-assisted myofascial pain therapy. Other speakers will address possible psychedelic-based cures for alcoholism, addiction, depression, migraines, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Each will represent a different corner in a promising field newly awakened. From North America to the Middle East, recent years have seen a rising interest into the medicinal possibilities of MDMA, LSD, DMT, and other drugs now shaking off decades of government-imposed clinical hibernation.

Why The Animal Critic Gives The Panda An F

'The Animal Review' by Jacob Lentz and Steve Nash

The Animal Review: The Genius, Mediocrity, and Breathtaking Stupidity That Is Nature

By Jacob Lentz and Steve Nash
Hardcover, 144 pages
Bloomsbury USA: $12
Read An Excerpt
April 11, 2010

For too long, Jacob Lentz thinks, certain animals have gotten by on good looks and charm, while more impressive species are ignored by children and stuffed-animal manufacturers.

A couple of years ago, Lentz and friend Steve Nash set out to right this wrong. They began a blog called Animal Review.

It's exactly what the name implies: reviews of critters, not unlike reviews of cars or new gadgets, complete with letter grades. The ladybug gets an A-. The bald eagle gets a C+.

Their blog has now become a book, also titled The Animal Review. Lentz tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer that being a good animal critic is "more of an art than a science."

"It takes at least two years of blogging to really get good at this," he says. "I can't expect laypeople to just start judging animals accurately. It's probably best left to me and Steve."

Part of that professional skill involves knowing which animals not to tick off. "I'm not going to be the one who gives the king cobra a B+," Lentz says. "And I have no interest in upsetting a great white shark. I only have good things to say about those animals.

"If they're listening, I just want to tell them that I think they're amazing. And whatever they want to do is great," he continues. "There's a ton to recommend them to anyone, whether they're planning to kill you or not."

A panda.

Panda: F

"Pandas have absolutely no interest in reproducing. They rarely mate," Lentz says. That goes against the raison d'etre of a species. "We spend all this money flying these animals around the world, trying to convince them to mate, and we could spend it on a lot of other stuff.

"Second of all, they eat bamboo. They're not supposed to eat bamboo. Their bodies are not adapted to digest cellulose, but they hang in there with the bamboo. But the result of that is that they have to eat a ton of bamboo," he says. "They don't have a lot of energy to do things, like to mate.

"That could be Nature kind of hinting around the fact that they should collectively shuffle off this mortal coil."

An octopus.

Octopus: A

"We gave the octopus an A because it would make a great superhero. They're supersmart, they can solve puzzles, they can remember things.

"They can change their bodies, so they can slip through tiny crevices," Lentz adds, "and they shoot ink. There's all sorts of cool stuff with the octopus that doesn't get talked about enough — because we're spending all our time talking about pandas."

The king cobra.

King Cobra: A+

"The king cobra, largest venomous snake, makes nests. It's the only snake known to make nests, and good for them. I mean, great. I think that's amazing. They can inject enough venom to kill an elephant. You have to respect that."

How Journalists are Using Social Media for Real Results

The Real Results series is supported by Gist, an online service that helps you build stronger relationships. By connecting your inbox to the web, you get business-critical information about key people and companies. See how it works here.

Journalists are, by nature, crafty folk who are wonderfully adept at stalking — I mean, finding sources and relevant information for various and sundry stories. Well, the advent of social media has made the process of reporting all the more nuanced, and has served as a vital channel for everything from finding leads to contacting sources to sharing and furthering one's brand.

Still, as the Internet continues to expand, it can be difficult to pick and choose which tools are right for you as a journalist — it can be daunting to litter one's desktop with Twitter applications, social networks, location-based tools and blogs. At times, it's tempting to throw one's laptop into the sea and return to the days of notepads and typewriters.

Still, if one can manage to circumvent the information overload and pick and choose which tools are most effective for which purposes, social media can be an extremely effective.

Mashable spoke with an array of journalists and industry folks to see how they're using social media in their day-to-day work. Here's what we dug up.

Finding Leads, Noticing Trends

The Internet is, in essence, a huge hive of simultaneous conversation that reflects the populace's pressing concerns — from health care reform to this week's episode of Glee. Therefore, it can be quite difficult to cut through the static and put one's finger on the pulse of the story. That's where social media comes in: Tools such as Facebook and Twitter serve as excellent filters for the masses of information circulating on the web.

Aaron Lazenby, DJ for Pirate Cat Radio, was scanning Twitter one night last year when he noticed #iranelection trending. Curious, he clicked on the hashtag, and started poring over the flood of tweets about the "stolen" election.

Lazenby became fascinated with the situation, and stayed up all night talking with people in Iran and reading up on the subject. The next day, he was hanging out with a Pulitzer Prize-winning AP reporter who was completely unaware of what was going on in Iran — news of the protests had not reached the mainstream news. Lazenby seized the opportunity to tell the story.

He contacted one of his Twitter sources, who agreed to do an interview over Skype for Lazenby's radio show. The interview, in turn, was picked up by CNN's iReport, a citizen journalism portal.

"Our interactions on Twitter built enough trust between us where he was comfortable talking to me and I was comfortable using him as a source," Lazenby says. "Reading through tweet histories really can give you a good idea if the person is for real or not. I think that was critical for us getting the interview done," he says.

Brian Dresher, manager of social media and digital partnerships at USA TODAY, agrees that Twitter is an excellent source for journalists looking for leads. In fact, throughout 2009, he conducted bi-weekly training sessions with the paper's journalists in order to teach them how best to use the microblogging site. "I think the most vital [aspect of the] tool is the engagement with the audience," he says. "To not participate in conversations that are taking place or to avoid monitoring trends is going to result in lost opportunities. [By keeping up with Twitter], journalists are able to take a trend they first spot on Twitter and the real-time Internet and continue to develop it in more detail."

Will California Legalize Marijuana? Q&A With Assemblyman Tom Ammanio, Who Wants to do Just That.

Tom Ammiano is a California assemblyman from San Francisco, a former teacher, a long-time civil rights activist and a stand-up comic. Last year, Ammiano introduced a bill to legalize pot in California.'s Paul Feine sat down with Ammiano in March to talk about his life, his bill, and his relationship with Gov. Schwarzenegger.

Approximately 10 minutes. Produced by Paul Feine; shot and edited by Alex Manning.

Go to for embed codes and downloadable iPod, HD, and audio versions.

Gatherings Planned for 4/20, International Day of Marijuana Celebration

Annual Four Twenty Gatherings Throughout U.S., Canada and New Zealand
Gatherings Planned for 4/20, International Day of Marijuana Celebration Four-Twenty (including 4:20, 420 and 4/20) has long been associated with marijuana use and marijuana activism. 4:20 is a time of day when people smoke marijuana. April 20th has evolved into a counterculture holiday, known for large gatherings of people celebrating and consuming marijuana, a.k.a. cannabis. Thousands of people gather annually in Boston, Boulder, New York, Santa Cruz, Seattle and many other cities in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and elsewhere around the world.

Most reports about the origins of 4/20 trace back to 'The Waldos,' a small group of students at San Rafael High School in 1971. The teens would meet after school at 4:20, next to a statue of Louis Pasteur, and smoke marijuana. Four Twenty passed from those high school students, into the 70's Grateful Dead culture where it spread all across the United States.

The 4/20 smoke-outs are a series of cannabis rallies that demonstrate the impracticability of enforcing the current marijuana laws. Drug peace activists invite all herb enthusiasts to join them in defiant solidarity.

Annual 420 Celebration at UC Santa Cruz! | International Cannabis Smoker's Day at Hippie Hill, San Francisco | 4/20: Smoke Out The Globe | Don't Just Smoke a Joint on 4/20 - Take Action Against Marijuana Prohibition | imc_photo.gif2007 and 2008: 420 at UCSC | imc_photo.gif2009: 420 at UCSC "Gets Bigger Every Year" | Cannabis Culture

Food Safety in the US: We're on Red Alert

Andrew Kimbrell
by Andrew Kimbrell: Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety

The United States once had one of the safest food systems in the world, but now, 70 million Americans are sickened, 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die from food-borne illness every year. It is a sad fact: since 9/11, far more Americans have been killed, injured or hurt because of our lack of a coordinated food safety system than by terrorist acts that challenge our Homeland Security system.

The culprits in this assault on American wellbeing aren't shadowy terrorist figures, but rather, they are what most consumers would identify as wholesome -- not harmful -- foods. Peanuts, lettuce, pistachios, spinach, hamburgers sold to Boy Scout camps, peppers, tomatoes, and pepper-coated sausages are among the foods that have sickened and killed Americans in just the last few years. Our children are most at risk from these food threats, with half of all food-borne illness striking children under 15 years old.

The Bush administration constantly claimed it was protecting Americans from potential security threats, yet it completely failed to protect the public from the clear and present danger of deadly food. 2010-04-10-sSLAUGHTERHOUSEBEEFFOODSAFETYlarge300.jpg
Due in part to that administration's cuts in funding and staff, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently inspects less than 25% of all food facilities in the U.S. More than 50% of all American food facilities have gone uninspected for five years or more. During President Bush's last term, regulatory actions against those companies selling contaminated food to Americans declined by over a half (Office of the Inspector General: FDA's Food Facility Registry. Report: OEI-02-08-00060, December 2009).

The result is tragically predictable. Large processing facilities, which now mix foods from across the country and the world, are not being inspected. Illnesses caused by contaminated foods, which could be prevented with proper government oversight, are instead causing the hospitalization of hundreds of thousands and the deaths of thousands of Americans. Again, the victims are, disproportionately, our children.

The tens of millions of victims of food-borne illness represent only one segment of the casualties from our failure to require safe and nutritious food. Because of lax regulation of agricultural chemicals, many of the fruits and vegetables that should bring us health and nutrition are instead laced with dangerous pesticides, dozens of which are known carcinogens. Much of the food marketed to our children and served in their schools are confections brimming with trans-fats and high-fructose corn syrup; these contribute mightily to the epidemic of obesity in the young and heart disease and diabetes in our older populations. Under pressure from agribusiness, our federal agencies and legislators continue to commercialize genetically modified foods with no safety testing and no labeling for consumers. And, despite the strong potential of health hazards, food made with new, nanotechnology-based chemicals are getting waived through to the market, without any independent testing at all.

One Job Lost Because of Health Care Reform