Thursday, May 13, 2010

That hands-offy non-regulatory thing

As we die for BP, our military rots in the wrong Gulf

By Harvey Wasserman

As you read this, the life of our bodies, nation and planet is being blown out a corporate hole in the Gulf of Mexico and into a BP Dead Zone of no return.

The apocalyptic gusher of oily poison pouring into the waters that give us life can only be viewed---FELT---by each and every one of us as an on-going death by a thousand cuts with no end in sight.

Yet our government---allegedly the embodiment of our collective will to survive---has done NOTHING of significance to fight this mass murder. Not one meaningful thing.

As it did while New Orleans drowned downstream from a willfully neglected levee system, our most potentially effective counter-force dithers on the other side of the world, in the wrong Gulf.

We squander our treasure on the largest conglomeration of people and weapons the world has ever seen. It's bloated with hardware designed specifically to destroy and kill. Hundreds of thousands of Americans sit on our dime in more than a hundred countries, rotting in the outposts of a bygone empire.

Why aren't they in the Gulf of Mexico, fighting for our truest "national security"?

The depth and scope of this catastrophe is impossible to grasp because it is just beginning. The entire Gulf, the west coast of Florida, the Everglades, the east coast of Florida and all the way up, wherever the currents go....they are all at risk.

This is the most lethal single attack on the life of this nation since December 7, 1941. It is a time that will live only in infamy.

The moment it happened, a sane president, a functional government, a society worthy of survival, would have marshaled every mobile resource available and moved it down to the Gulf.

Except by hitting a nuclear power plant and rendering this all radioactive, no terrorist could dream of igniting the kind of havoc now destroying our most vital, precious and irreplaceable resources.

Our mass media should be filled with stirring images of a focussed, determined President mobilizing all available assets to curb the damage. Instead, Barack Obama defends offshore drilling and endorses the resumption of whaling---if this underwater gusher actually leaves any alive. It is a suicidal tribute to the power of corporate ownership.

Instead of a seeing a Gulf population deputized and mobilized to fight for survival, we are subjected to a loathsome trio of corporate stooges---apparently named Larry, Curly and Moe---blaming each other for the catastrophe. They should all be clamped into orange jumpsuits and locked onto a clean-up vessel.

Thus far the only armies officially mobilized are of the corporate PR departments and ubiquitous lawyers savoring the gusher of billable hours sure to stretch through the decades.

Our collective non-response to this cataclysmic reality now includes the introduction of a pathetic "climate bill", concocted by another woeful trio, in service to the very corporations that have brought us this lethal gusher.

This bill will do nothing to solve this particular problem. Nor will it address the root cause of our addiction to obsolete and suicidal fossil and nuclear fuels at a time when the clean, cheap renewable alternatives are readily available. It is, in short, Beyond Tragic.


I share their despair, but I'm not quite ready to climb the Dark Mountain home
To sit back and wait for the collapse of industrial civilisation is to conspire in the destruction of everything greens value

George Monbiotby George Monbiot

Those who defend economic growth often argue that only rich countries can afford to protect the environment. The bigger the economy, the more money will be available for stopping pollution, investing in new forms of energy, preserving wilderness. Only the wealthy can live sustainably.

Anyone who has watched the emerging horror in the Gulf of Mexico in the past few days has cause to doubt this. The world's richest country decided not to impose the rules that might have prevented the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, arguing that these would impede the pursuit of greater wealth. Economic growth, and the demand for oil that it propelled, drove companies to drill in difficult and risky places.

But we needn't rely on this event to dismiss the cornucopians' thesis as self-serving nonsense. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences calculates deforestation rates between 2000 and 2005 in the countries with the largest areas of forest cover. The nation with the lowest rate was the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The nation with the highest, caused by a combination of logging and fire, was the United States. Loss of forest cover there (6% of its own forests in five years) was almost twice as fast as in Indonesia and 10 times as fast as in the DRC. Why? Because those poorer countries have less money to invest in opening up remote places and felling trees.

The wealthy nations are plundering not only their own resources. The environmental disasters caused by the oil industry in Ecuador and Nigeria are not driven by Ecuadorian or Nigerian demand, but by the thirst for oil in richer nations. Deforestation in Indonesia is driven by the rich world's demand for palm oil and timber, in Brazil by our hunger for timber and animal feed.

The Guardian's carbon calculator reveals that the UK has greatly underestimated the climate impacts of our consumption. The reason is that official figures don't count outsourced emissions: the greenhouse gases produced by other countries manufacturing goods for our markets. Another recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that the UK imports a net 253m tonnes of carbon dioxide, embodied in the goods it buys. When this is taken into account, we find that far from cutting emissions since 1990, as the last government claimed, we have increased them. Wealth wrecks the environment.

So the Dark Mountain Project, whose ideas are spreading rapidly through the environment movement, is worth examining. It contends that "capitalism has absorbed the greens". Instead of seeking to protect the natural world from the impact of humans, the project claims that environmentalists now work on "sustaining human civilisation at the comfort level which the world's rich people – us – feel is their right".

Today's greens, it charges, seek to sustain the culture that knackers the planet, demanding only that we replace old, polluting technologies with new ones – wind farms, solar arrays, wave machines – that wreck even more of the world's wild places. They have lost their feelings for nature, reducing the problem to an engineering challenge. They've forgotten that they are supposed to be defending the biosphere: instead they are trying to save industrial civilisation.

Seymour Hersh Describes "Battlefield Executions" in Afghanistan

'Secret' telecom anti-Net neutrality plan isn't
The Center for American Progress seemed to have blockbuster news on Tuesday: an expose titled "Telecoms' Secret Plan To Attack Net Neutrality."

On its Think Progress blog, the liberal advocacy group announced it had "obtained" a PowerPoint document "which reveals how the telecom industry is orchestrating the latest campaign against Net neutrality" through a pseudo-grassroots effort. The story was echoed on Slashdot, Boing Boing, and innumerable pro-regulation blogs.

There's just one problem with Think Progress' claim: It's not, well, accurate.

In a case of truth being stranger than astroturf, it turns out that the PowerPoint document was prepared as a class project for a competition in Florida last month. It cost the six students a grand total of $173.95, including $18 for clip art.

The "No Net Brutality" campaign idea was one of the four finalists created as an assignment for a two-and-a-half week "think tank MBA" program. The other finalists were a project promoting free speech in Venezuela, one supporting education reform in Poland, and one dealing with sales taxes rates in Washington, D.C. ("No Net Brutality" came in third. The Polish reform idea won.)

Not only was the PowerPoint document presentation no secret, but it was posted publicly on the competition's blog, along with an audio recording of the event in Miami where the student contestants presented their ideas to the judges.

The competition was organized by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a nonprofit, free-market group that spends millions of dollars a year supporting regional think tanks in other countries, especially those where the rule of law or protection of individual rights may be impaired. Some examples include the Imani Center for Policy and Education in Ghana, the Fundacion Global in Argentina, and the Cathay Institute for Public Affairs in China.

"The Think Progress article is hilarious," David MacLean, the Canadian member of the six-person student team from four different continents, told CNET on Wednesday. "We've had a really good laugh in the last day over this. This is one of the funniest things I've ever seen."

Call it class struggle: How politics went too far

By Bill Nemitz

Some called it a political convention. But in reality, it was where worlds collided.

This poster, "War Has Begun," is part of the decor in teacher Paul Clifford's classroom at King Middle School in Portland.

Late Friday afternoon, as Maine's Republican State Convention fanned out from the Portland Expo to county caucuses at nearby King Middle School, GOP loyalists from Knox County found themselves directed to Classroom 110 – the domain of eighth-grade social studies teacher Paul Clifford.

Now this, in case you haven't heard by now, was no ordinary county delegation.

The insurgent Knox County conservatives, heavily steeped in the Tea Party Movement, would manage by the time the convention was over to replace a run-of-the-mill party platform with a new set of planks imported from, well, another political planet.

It's a place where all of the borders are sealed, global warming is a myth (and a potentially illegal one at that), health care is by no means a right, Austrian economics rule and you will never, ever witness the creation of "a one world government."

It's also a place where, according to Section V, item k, "It is immoral to steal property rightfully earned by one person, and give it to another who has no claim or right to its benefits."

Which brings us back to the worlds colliding – and a more-than-slightly irritated Paul Clifford.

When he went home for the weekend on Friday, one of Clifford's most prized teaching tools – a collage-type poster depicting the history of the U.S. labor movement – was affixed to his classroom door. Clifford uses it each year to teach his students how to incorporate collages into their annual project on Norman Rockwell's historic "Four Freedoms" illustrations.

The poster includes this quote from the labor organizer and one-time presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs: "Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization. Progress is born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation."

"It's one of my favorite posters," said Clifford. "I've had it sitting there for seven years."

Enter the Knox County Republicans, whose weekend convention coup has attracted national attention as a harbinger of a movement that knows a thing or two about agitation.

Details are sketchy – as they often can be when political passion gives way to apparent criminal activity. But this much we know: When Clifford returned to school Monday morning, his cherished labor poster was gone.

In its place, taped to the same door, was a red-white-and-blue bumper sticker that read, "Working People Vote Republican."

"So I start laughing at first, thinking, 'All right, that's funny,"' said Clifford. "But then I go inside my room thinking the poster will be on my desk – and it isn't. And so now I'm like, 'You know what? This is baloney!"'

It gets worse.

While Clifford used his break time Monday to bang out a few pointed e-mails to GOP leaders asking for help in getting his poster back, King Middle School Principal Mike McCarthy started getting phone calls from rank-and-file Republicans who were upset by what they said they had seen in Clifford's classroom.

They objected to other "freedom" posters produced by kids from past years – one depicts former President George W. Bush with no eyes over the caption "I feel like I can see evil."

They objected to a sticker attached to a filing cabinet in the corner that reads, "People for the American Way – Fight the Right." (Clifford says he didn't put the sticker there – it was on the cabinet when he salvaged it from another classroom.)

They also objected to the contents of a closed cardboard box they found near Clifford's desk. Upon opening it for a look-see, they found copies of the U.S. Constitution printed and donated to the school by (gasp) the American Civil Liberties Union.

Tax bills in 2009 at lowest level since 1950

A drop in income can trigger big tax breaks and sharply lower rates, sometimes falling to zero.Amid complaints about high taxes and calls for a smaller government, Americans paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman's presidency, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data found.

Some conservative political movements such as the "Tea Party" have criticized federal spending as being out of control. While spending is up, taxes have fallen to exceptionally low levels.

Federal, state and local taxes — including income, property, sales and other taxes — consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8.% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010.

"The idea that taxes are high right now is pretty much nuts," says Michael Ettlinger, head of economic policy at the liberal Center for American Progress. The real problem is spending, counters Adam Brandon of FreedomWorks, which organizes Tea Party groups. "The money we borrow is going to be paid back through taxation in the future," he says.

Quebec student shaken by U.S. border ordeal

Nina Vroemen, right, has previously volunteered at organic farms in Europe, like this one in Portugal, where she picked figs with her friend Erin Hill.
Nina Vroemen, right, has previously volunteered at organic farms in Europe, like this one in Portugal, where she picked figs with her friend Erin Hill. (Courtesy of Nina Vroemen)

"It was a horrible experience," said Nina Vroemen, 20, who was on her way to volunteer at a California organic farm. "There was no need for that humiliation and mistreatment of a young, female Canadian volunteer."

As of Wednesday morning, U.S. immigration officials had not returned calls about the case.

Vroemen, who studies theatre at Concordia University, set off from Montreal on May 5 on a Greyhound bus. She had found the volunteer job in California through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and planned to spend a month helping run art workshops at the farm. She thought she would explore the U.S. by bus on the way there.

"You can go to a farm anywhere in the world and help out," she told CBC's Ottawa Morning Wednesday. "You gain friends and experience…you travel, it's low cost and you feel good."

The bus arrived at the Windsor-Detroit border at 2 a.m., and Vroemen was interviewed about her plans by a U.S. border guard.

"He was trying to make it seem like … because I was getting room and board, that was considered being paid," said Vroemen, who had previously volunteered through WWOOF in Europe. "He told me that I was taking jobs from American citizens because I was going to help out on this community workshop."

'I watched the bus leave'

The guard asked for official documentation. She provided her passport and WWOOF membership, but he said it wasn't enough, and denied her entry.

Nina Vroemen had to sleep at a women's shelter after being denied entry to the U.S. at 3 a.m.
Nina Vroemen had to sleep at a women's shelter after being denied entry to the U.S. at 3 a.m. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"They told me to take off all my stuff from the bus and I watched the bus leave," she recalled. "Two women came with blue latex gloves … I was just in a panic."

She was told to take off everything except her jumper and was patted down. Then she was fingerprinted and photographed.

"This photograph is me in tears," she recalled.

With that image on record, Vroemen said she is afraid to cross the border again.

10 Rules For Dealing With The Police

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)

Flex Your Rights' latest film, 10 Rules For Dealing With The Police, is narrated by famed Baltimore trial lawyer, former judge of circuit court and LEAP speaker Billy Murphy.  LEAP's incoming executive director, retired Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police veteran Major Neill Franklin, served as a technical advisor for the film.  Drawing from 33 years of law enforcement experience, Neill believes that the majority of police officers stay within the boundaries of the law, but that the film focuses on officers who are "getting it wrong" by violating basic freedoms such as the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure. The solution, he says, is to ensure that people are aware of their rights and exercise them properly, which he sees as a safeguard against police abuse.  (From Roll Call, April 5, 2010)

Tomorrow's Tasing Targets