Sep 1, 2011

‘Farmers are the intellectuals of the earth’ | SmartPlanet

By Boonsri Dickinson | August 31, 2011

The founder of the International Slow Food Movement, Carlo Petrini, spoke at The University of California, Berkeley on Tuesday. It was the inaugural class for Edible Education 101.

Petrini discussed food politics. His main point was reciprocity as the new economy. You can change the situation of food. You bring about change. You just have to make better food choices - and buy food from farmers when you can.

The entire lecture is available here.

Yes, it’s long. If you’d rather just read about major points, here are excerpts of Petrini’s talk:

We are spending more energy to produce food than we are getting from the food. We need new paradigms. It requires change. It requires changing systems.

What do a lot of politicians tell us? Just consume more. Well that’s obviously no solution. It’s like taking a diabetic into a pastry shop. Have this lovely cream puff and you’ll get better. You’re just killing them. So the idea that you can produce your way out of a crisis is a way of killing society. Let’s change paradigm. Let’s change our ideas and get out of this totalitarianism of productivity and participate. Become real symbols of change. Not that it’s so easy. If all we’ve have on our heads is economy and business, every solution will be production and business. There’s not only economy to think about. There’s sociability. Happiness. Friendship. Living well. It’s much more than economy.

The economy just robs our spirit and our soul. It’s this concept of productivity we have to change. We can do it thinking of food. Let’s take a symbol of slow food. It’s a snail. So the snail grows in concenric circles. At a certain point it stops, it strengthens its shell the other way. We’ve come to just that point. We’ve grown plenty. We are at the point we have to strength what we have. If we keep growing, we will kill ourselves. A snail can’t have an enormous shell, it goes back. We have to act like snails. Instead of growing, we have to consolidate what we have.

We have to build a convivial society. What does that mean? Society with new values. That can help bring about new relationships with new people and strengthen local communities. Re-invent communal goods and resources. So this is a trick question. Who knows what reciprocity means? What is reciprocity? Society based on linear exchange. I give something to you, you pay me something or pay me money. That’s linear exchange. Then there’s free giviing. You call it charity. I give something to you, you don’t give me anything. I, with this act, demonstrate my superiority. You are poor. I am giving you a little charity. Here’s reciprocity. I give something to you. It’s worth $100. You can’t give me a $100 back right now, so you give me $50. Or you give him $50. And then he gives $50 to the guy next to him. And he will give me $50. It creates a new economic economy. We have to recreate that kind of energy. It’s based on a gift. That requires you to be active.

I give money to a farmer, whenever it’s ready, give me what you got. That’s a lot better than going to a bank, and much better because the farmer doesn’t have to give the money back to the bank. The farmer gives you a product. That’s my idea of reciprocity. So this is the concept that I want you to create.

Then, perhaps, the highlight of the talk was when he asked who wants to become farmers after university? He asked the students to raise their hands and called them onto the stage. Petrini said:

You are my heroes.

My heroes.

It’s you who are going to generate the new world. Who will give hope. The generation that will reconcile man with the earth. Don’t think it will be easy.

Put the breaks on waste. And remake a new economic reality. It’s possible. And it’s sustainable.

We’ve got to give new dignity to manual labor. It’s got to return to having real value. A farmer must be respected as much as an intellectual. Like a university professor. Like a journalist. We need to return to the real value for manual labor for a farmer. Only in that value can we give real value for food. It only has a price. Price is not a value. They are two different things. We need to return and give new value to food. Farmers are the intellectuals of the earth. Manual labor has to return to having real significance.

So, be mindful of the food that you eat. And, be sure to invest in your own happiness.

Everything he said reminded me of my college food habits (which were horrible). Hopefully, these students take his advice.

Thanks Lee Swanson for the great link... Monte

Glenn Greenwald at FAIR's 25th Anniversary Benefit columnist Glenn Greenwald discusses the corruption of the mainstream news media, and the enduring importance of media criticism.

Glenn Greenwall is a great, great journalist, who will take on anyone and win the argument hands down... He is as good as there is in his field... His optimism is inspiring to me... Well worth the time to watch his speech... Monte

Michael Vick and the Forgotten Masses | The Nation

Dave Zirin
August 31, 2011

“All these guys who were saying that we’ve got it made through athletics, it’s just not so. You as an individual can make it, but I think we’ve got to concern ourselves with the masses of the people – not by what happens as an individual, so I merely tell these youngsters when I go out: certainly I’ve had opportunities that they haven’t had, but because I’ve had these opportunities doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten.” —Jackie Robinson

When did Michael Vick become a Horatio Alger story? The player who was vilified after spending nearly two years in federal prison for being part of a dog-fighting ring, is now our latest feel-good comeback story: a symbol of this country’s remarkable capacity for empathy and forgiveness. Vick signed a head-spinning six-year, $100 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday, and the narrative has centered on the way he’s been embraced by franchise and fans after falling so low. Mentioned often in an offhand manner, is that three years ago Vick was making eleven cents an hour as a janitor in Leavenworth.

No doubt the Vick journey is perhaps unrivaled in the history of sports. But take a moment to consider that eleven-cents-an hour wage along with Jackie Robinson’s warning not to use the athletic achievement of one to blind us from larger realities. Michael Vick’s janitorial job was just a sub atomic particle of a prison labor industrial complex intimately interwoven with the highest levels of corporate America.

The foundation of our bounty of incarcerated labor is the fact that we have more people behind bars than any country on earth. David Fathi, the director of the ACLU’s National Prisoner Project, commented, “The United States is the world’s leading prison nation, with 2.3 million prisoners and an incarceration rate six times higher than Canada’s and twelve times higher than Japan’s.… Prisoners can be made to work, they don’t have to be paid, and they lack the protections that free workers have, like workers compensation and the right to join a union. So there’s a real potential for exploitation and abuse.”

Among African-American men, like Vick, the numbers incarcerated stagger the senses. As Michelle Alexander, best selling author ofThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, said in an August speech, “More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.” David Fathi also pointed out to me, “Most Americans know that the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude. What many don’t know is that it contains an exception for prisoners.”

A mind-boggling number of private companies outsource to US prisons. From K-Mart and JC Penny to McDonalds and Wendy’s, you can see the products of jailhouse labor. When you call American Airlines or Avis, the person helping you with your travel might be chained to their desk.

As Liliana Segura, a board member at the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and fellow journalist at The Nation, said to me, “Just last year we saw thousands of prisoners go on strike across the state of Georgia, in large part to protest the total lack of compensation for the hours they spend working. In Louisiana, prisoners at Angola harvest crops by hand, earning pennies per hour. There’s a reason people call it modern-day slavery. After the BP oil spill, Louisiana prisoners were used to clean up the beaches, a fact that not only angered local workers whose industries were being devastated, but also those who argued that such labor is not subject to adequate oversight given the risks involved. Prisoners represent nothing less than a massive—and expanding—invisible workforce in this country.”

Yes, Michael Vick has gone from eleven cents an hour to a $100 million man, but for the mass of prisoners who can’t run forty yards in 4.4 seconds or throw a ball sixty yards with a flick of the wrist, the future is bleak. That’s why in times like this, we should remember Jackie Robinson’s words. If we, as Jackie advised, “concern ourselves with the masses of the people,” then we’d properly view Michael Vick’s ascension as cause for reflection, not celebration. He made it out of the prison system intact. His story is exceptional because millions of people won’t be able to say the same. That’s what happens when caught in a system that measures your worth at eleven cents an hour.

WILLIAM REES: How to Convince People to Face Reality

PCI Ecology and Resilience Fellows offers some insight on what can motivate people to get off their asses and fight for our future... Monte

Aug 31, 2011

Obama administration debating care of national forests

Written by
Erin Kelly and Elizabeth Bewley, Gannett Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is crafting a new plan to manage the nation's 155 national forests, including four in North Carolina and Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee, for the next 15 to 20 years.

At stake is the future of 193 million acres of forests and grasslands that are the nation's single largest source of drinking water and home to more than 15,000 species of plants and wildlife.

The U.S. Forest Service says the new plan, due by year's end, is urgently needed to replace the forest planning rule written in 1982 during the Reagan administration. That rule, which emphasized using the forests for logging, does not reflect the latest science on climate change and how best to protect wildlife and water, the Forest Service says.

Forest plans are intended to provide a framework for the managers of individual forests and grasslands in the National Forest System to use in revising their own land-management plans, which they are supposed to do every 15 years.

The rule was never intended to last nearly three decades - about twice as long as expected. President Bill Clinton attempted to replace it in 2000, but his proposal was scrapped when President George W. Bush took office in 2001. Efforts by the Bush administration to draw up its own plan were derailed when the proposals were challenged by environmentalists and thrown out by federal courts.

As President Barack Obama's administration takes up the contentious issue, it is under intense scrutiny from competing interest groups that hope to shape the plan to their liking. Neither environmentalists nor business interests are happy with the first draft of the new rule. Conservation groups say it lacks adequate protection for wildlife and water and gives individual forest managers too much discretion in how to carry out the plan. Business groups say some of its provisions to protect species could end up kicking timber companies, ranchers and others off the land. The first draft of the Forest Service plan focuses for the first time on how to strengthen the health of forests in the face of climate change and includes enhanced protections for water resources and watersheds, updated provisions for sustainable recreation, and a requirement that the land be managed for such multiple uses as mining, logging, energy production, outdoor recreation and wilderness protection. The final plan, which does not require congressional approval, is expected to be published in November. "We believe this is one of the most important conservation policies the Obama administration will undertake," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton administration and executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife. "This is land that belongs to all of us as Americans." The country's national forests attract more than 170 million people a year who hike, camp, hunt, fish, go boating or whitewater rafting, ride horses, ski, and drive snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. Visitors spend an estimated $13 billion a year in communities surrounding the national forests, supporting more than 224,000 jobs. In North Carolina last year, about 5.5 million visitors flocked to the peaks and waterfalls at Nantahala and Pisgah national forests and another 3.2 million were drawn to the streams at Uwharrie National Forest and the wetlands at Croatan National Forest. The state's national forests span 1.3 million acres - of which Nantahala and Pisgah account for roughly half - and employ 200 permanent workers. Cherokee National Forest, which runs along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, attracted 1.8 million visitors in 2010. Almost 3 million Americans have forest-related jobs in such fields as forest management, outdoor recreation and the forest products industry, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Environmentalists say the current rule has not proved to be strong enough to protect the watershed that carries drinking water to 124 million Americans. Clark said about three-quarters of the forest watersheds are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be "impaired," meaning that federal water-quality standards are not being met. According to the Forest Service, the biggest causes of water-quality impairment include excessive sediment loads, habitat destruction near waterways and contamination from mercury and other metals. Environmentalists applaud the proposed planning rule's increased protections for water resources and watersheds, stronger requirements to provide habitat for diverse animal and plant species, and a plan to address the impact of climate change, which Western North Carolina Nature Center Director Chris Gentile calls the "faceless enemy" of forests. "If we start to see climate change, then some of the animals that have adapted to the environment suddenly can't make it anymore - especially in a fragile environment like a mountain ecosystem," he said. But some environmentalists say the plan undermines those goals by giving too much power to individual forest managers to decide how - or even if - to protect wildlife and water. In Western North Carolina, that means managers could choose whether to maintain healthy populations of cerulean warblers, gray bats, pygmy salamanders and other animals designated as endangered or species of concern. Gentile said he would like the new forest rule to simplify the process of designating new wilderness areas, where logging, mining and other resource extractions are banned. Congress is considering a new wilderness area in Tennessee's Cherokee National Forest, but a new wilderness area has not been created in North Carolina since the 1980s. He also would like to see the forest rule create "habitat corridors" to provide for migration of animals and prevent national parks and forests from becoming "isolated islands." "Looking at ways to protect the spine of the Western Appalachians all the way up to Maine, that's important because of seasonality and migration of wildlife," he said, adding that such corridors would protect animals whose homes are hit by blights or forest fires. The timber, cattle and sheep industries complain that the proposed protections for wildlife are too broad and unclear because they require the Forest Service to "maintain viable populations of species of conservation concern," which could lead to restrictions on grazing and logging. In 2010, about 2 billion board feet of timber was harvested from national forests, down from about 12 billion in 1980. About 24 million board feet were harvested from North Carolina's national forests, yielding about $1.2 million in revenue. The proposed new rule does not specify how much logging would be allowed. Environmental litigation and complicated bureaucratic rules already have significantly reduced logging in North Carolina's forests by roughly 80 percent over the past 20 years, said Steve Henson, executive director of the Southern Appalachian Multiple Use Council. "It's been mainly caused by litigation that's actually been out West, not here in the East, but it's impacted all the forests," he said. "Certainly what we'd like to see is much more logging in this area than what we've seen in the last decade." Logging and grazing can strengthen a forest's health by reducing wildfire risk in some cases, he said. Henson said it may be years before the proposed planning rules take effect, since lawsuits are likely to follow new regulations. "Nobody knows what planning regulations to use, because it's been litigated so much," he said. "It's going to continue to keep us in a perpetual planning cycle that doesn't get anything done on the ground." The debate between environmentalists and logging advocates mirrors a split in Congress, where lawmakers have sent dueling letters to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, calling for him to heed their calls for changes in the final forest rule. A letter organized by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and signed by 59 House members asks Vilsack to start over. "Please do not lose this opportunity to produce a planning rule that is truly simple, understandable, flexible and (defensible) in court," the letter says. A letter drafted by Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., and signed by 66 members of Congress, urges Vilsack to go further in protecting water and wildlife. "The course set by these sweeping new rules will determine the future of our national forests for generations to come," it says. "It is essential that we get this right."

Aug 30, 2011

Ex-Bush Official Col. Lawrence Wilkerson: "I am Willing to Testify" If Dick Cheney is Put on Trial

As former Vice President Dick Cheney publishes his long-awaited memoir, we speak to Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. "This is a book written out of fear, fear that one day someone will 'Pinochet' Dick Cheney," says Wilkerson, alluding to the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was arrested for war crimes. Wilkerson also calls for George W. Bush and Cheney to be held accountable for their crimes in office. "I’d be willing to testify, and I’d be willing to take any punishment I’m due," Wilkerson said. We also speak to political and legal blogger Glenn Greenwald about his recent article on Cheney, "The Fruits of Elite Immunity." "Dick Cheney goes around the country profiting off of this sleazy, sensationalistic, self-serving book, basically profiting from his crimes, and at the same time normalizing the idea that these kind of policies…are perfectly legitimate choices to make. And I think that’s the really damaging legacy from all of this," says Greenwald. [includes rush transcript]

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Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005.
Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for

Attack of the Monsanto Superinsects | Mother Jones


Over the past decade and a half, as Monsanto built up its globe-spanning, multi-billion-dollar genetically modified seed empire, it made two major pitches to farmers.

The first involved weeds. Leave the weed management to us, Monsanto insisted. We've engineered plants that can survive our very own herbicide. Just pay up for our patented, premium-priced seeds, spray your fields with our Roundup herbicide whenever the fancy strikes, and—voilĂ !—no more weeds.

The second involved crop-eating insects. We've isolated the toxic gene of a commonly used bacterial pesticide called Bt, Monsanto announced, and spliced it directly into crops. Along with corn and soy, you will literally be growing the pesticide that protects them. Plant our seeds, and watch your crops thrive while their pests shrivel and die.

Monsanto focused its technology on three widely planted, highly subsidized crops: corn, soy, and cotton. Large-scale farmers of these commodities, always operating on razor-thin profit margins, lunged at the chance to streamline their operations by essentially outsourcing their pest management to Monsanto. And so Monsanto's high-tech crops essentially took over the corn/soy- and cotton-growing regions of the country.

But now the pitches are wearing thin. Dumping a single herbicide onto millions of acres of farmland has, predictably enough, given rise to weeds resistant to that herbicide. Such "superweeds" are now galloping through cotton and corn country, forcing farmers to resort to highly toxic herbicide cocktails and even hand-weeding. More than 11 million acres are infested with Roundup-resistant weeds, up from 2.4 million acres in 2007, reckons Penn State University weed expert David Mortensen.

And now insects are developing resistance to Monsanto's insecticide-infused crops, reportsthe Wall Street Journal. Fields planted in Monsanto's Bt corn in some areas of the Midwest are showing damage from the corn rootworm—the very species targeted by Monsanto's engineered trait. An Iowa State University scientist has conclusively identified Bt-resistant root worms in four Iowa fields, the Journal reports.

The findings are not likely isolated to those fields—just like spotting a cockroach on your kitchen floor probably signals an infestation, not that a lone cockroach randomly stumbled in for a visit. Sure enough, farmers in Illinois are also seeing severe rootworm damage in fields planted in Monsanto's Bt corn. And it's not just in the United States: In 2010, Monsanto itself acknowledged that in industrial-agriculture regions of India, where Monsanto's Bt cotton is a dominant crop, a cotton-attacking pest called the bollworm had developed resistance.

Just as Roundup-resistant superweeds rapidly bloomed into a major problem after first appearing in the mid-2000s, Bt-resistant superinsects may be just getting started. Colleen Scherer, managing editor of the industrial-ag trade magazine Ag Professional, put it like this: "There is no 'putting the genie back in the bottle,' and resistance in these areas is a problem that won't go away."

So what does all of this mean for Monsanto? If its main attraction for farmers—the promise of easy pest management—is turning to dust in a quite public way, should we expect the company be on the verge of getting crushed under the weight of its failures?

To get a glimpse of how the publicly traded company is faring, I looked at how its stock has been performing over the past year, compared to the broader stock market. Early Monday afternoon, Monsanto's shares were trading at about $71—a more than 25 percent gain over the past 12 months. Over the same period, the S&P 500—a broad gauge of US stocks—is up just over 10 percent. That means investors have high hopes for Monsanto going forward, despite the high-profile failures. Like weeds and bugs in farm fields, Monsanto shares have developed resistance to toxic tidings.

What gives? The Wall Street Journal article provides a clue:

The [Bt-resistance] finding adds fuel to the race among crop biotechnology rivals to locate the next generation of genes that can protect plants from insects. Scientists at Monsanto and Syngenta AG of Basel, Switzerland, are already researching how to use a medical breakthrough called RNA interference to, among other things, make crops deadly for insects to eat. If this works, a bug munching on such a plant could ingest genetic code that turns off one of its essential genes.

In other words, Monsanto claims it has the answer to the trouble it's cooking up on corn, soy, and cotton fields: more patent-protected GM technology. It has managed to shove US farmers on a kind of accelerating treadmill: the need to apply ever more, and ever more novel, high-tech responses to keep up with ever-evolving pests. And while farmers run ever faster to stay in place, Monsanto just keeps coming up with highly profitable "solutions" to the problems it has generated.

Investors have embraced Monsanto's pitch. Large-scale farmers, battered and desperate for relief, probably will too. But the broader citizenry, in the form of the regulatory agencies that ostensibly guard the public interest, should start asking hard questions.

Tom Philpott is the food and ag blogger for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here.

Monsanto tactics continue... educated public will do them in eventually...  Monte

Aug 29, 2011

3 Reality-Based Charts

Here are some reality-based charts...  Monte

Government spending increased dramatically under Bush. It has not increased much under Obama. Note that this chart does not reflect any spending cuts resulting from deficit-cutting deals.

Notes, this chart includes Clinton's last budget year for comparison.

The numbers in these two charts come from Budget of the United States Government: Historical Tables Fiscal Year 2012. They are just the amounts that the government spent and borrowed, period, Anyone can go look then up. People who claim that Obama "tripled the deficit" are either misled or are trying to mislead.

The Stimulus and Jobs

In this chart, the RED lines on the left side -- the ones that keep doing DOWN -- show what happened to jobs under the policies of Bush and the Republicans. We were losing lots and lots of jobs every month, and it was getting worse and worse.The BLUE lines -- the ones that just go UP -- show what happened to jobs when the stimulus was in effect. We stopped losing jobs and started gaining jobs, and it was getting better and better. The leveling off on the right side of the chart shows what happened as the stimulus started to wind down: job creation leveled off at too low a level.

It looks a lot like the stimulus reversed what was going on before the stimulus.

More False Things
These are just three of the false things that everyone "knows." Some others are (click through): Obama bailed out the banks, businesses will hire if they get tax cuts, health care reform cost $1 trillion, Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme or is "going broke", government spending "takes money out of the economy."

Why This Matters
These things really matter. We all want to fix the terrible problems the country has. But it is so important to know just what the problems are before you decide how to fix them. Otherwise the things you do to try to solve those problems might just make them worse. If you get tricked into thinking that Obama has made things worse and that we should go back to what we were doing before Obama -- tax cuts for the rich, giving giant corporations and Wall Street everything they want -- when those are the things that caused the problems in the first place, then we will be in real trouble.

Dave Johnson blogs at Seeing the Forest and is a Fellow at the Commonweal Institute. He has over 25 years of technology industry experience.

David Sirota: It’s the Stupidity, Stupid - Truthdig

By David Sirota Redistributionist—as epithets go, the moniker is so mild, so ... 2008. Today, we’re hammered by screeds against Democrats’ alleged socialism and President Barack Obama’s supposed Marxism. The class war is clearly on—the paranoids and royalists of the world have united, seizing the means of propaganda production in these waning days of this year’s election campaign. The onslaught, of course, is predictable. After all, this is an election season—which inevitably evokes Red-baiting crusades by the plutocrats. Less predictable is this crusade’s traction. As Wall Street executives make bank off bailouts, as millions of Americans see paychecks slashed and as our economic Darwinism sends more wealth up the income ladder—it’s surprising that appeals to capitalist piggery carry more electoral agency than ever. What could cause this intensifying politics of free-market fundamentalism at the very historical moment that proves the failure of such an ideology? Two new academic studies suggest all roads lead to ignorance. The first, by Harvard’s Michael Norton and Duke’s Dan Ariely, finds that Americans grossly underestimate how much inequality our economy produces. Among the survey respondents, the vast majority said they believe the richest 20 percent own 59 percent of the wealth, when, in fact, that quintile owns 84 percent of the wealth. In other words, in spite of the data, many believe our system produces the moderate equality we desire, which means many see efforts to better spread wealth as a confiscatory overreach. That, however, is not the full story of 2010. Because this now-ascendant economic view relies on misperceptions about inequality, we are still left to wonder: What accounts for those misperceptions? Advertisement Some of it undoubtedly stems from debt’s illusions. In a country of overused MasterCards, we are surrounded by luxury cars, McMansions and flat-screen TVs purchased on credit. Such ubiquitous bling feigns a widespread prosperity that doesn’t really exist. Some of it is also televisual iconography. In the media’s fun-house mirror we see a news world populated exclusively by six- and seven-figure salaried journalists—as if that wealth is a societal norm. Meanwhile, on the entertainment side, our beloved sitcom families trick us into thinking our nation is less stratified than it is: We were led to believe the super-rich Huxtables epitomized the middle class just as we are now asked to regard “Modern Family’s” affluence in the same way. But, as insidious as artificial aesthetics are, the most powerful factor in our economic illiteracy is found in the other new academic report—the one examining our innate denial reflex. As Northwestern University’s David Gal and Derek Rucker recently documented in a paper titled “When in Doubt, Shout!” many Americans respond to convention-challenging facts not by re-evaluating their worldview. Shaken by an assault on their assumptions, many become more adamant in defense of wrongheaded ideas. So, for instance, we may be aware that our broken economy is creating destructive inequality; we may know the neighbor’s opulence is underwritten by loans; we may understand that Brian Williams’ multimillion-dollar NBC salary is uncommon; and we may appreciate that seemingly average “30 Rock” characters make above-average salaries. We may get all this, and we may even see the connection between our personal financial struggles and census figures showing inequality at a record high. But many of us nonetheless react by more passionately insisting our economic system sows equality—and worse, by embracing a free-market-worshiping politics aimed at halting systemic change. This means the current crisis is deeper than we imagine. In a past recession, we could all at least concede that the challenge was “the economy, stupid.” Now, though, we can’t even agree on that truism. Our problem is the stupidity, stupid —and solving that will take far more than an election. David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books “Hostile Takeover” and “The Uprising.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at E-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.

Aug 28, 2011

Dave Zirin: COINTELPRO Comes to My Town: My First-Hand Experience With Government Spies

Finally, at long last, I have something in common with Muhammad Ali. No, I'm not the heavyweight champion of the world, and haven't been named spokesperson for Raid bug spray. Like "the Greatest" - not to mention far too many others -- I have been a target of state police surveillance for activities -- in my case against the death penalty -- that were legal, non-violent, and, so we assumed, constitutionally protected. In classified reports compiled by the Maryland State Police and the Department of Homeland Security, I am "Dave Z." This nickname was given by an undercover agent known to us as "Lucy." She sat in our meetings of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, smiling and engaged, taking copious notes about actions deemed threatening by the Governor of Maryland, Robert Ehrlich. Our seditious crimes, as Lucy reported, involved such acts as planning to set up a table at the local farmer's market and writing up a petition. Adding a dash of farce to this outrage, she was monitoring us in the liberal enclave of Takoma Park, Maryland, a place known more for vegans than violence, more for tie-dying than terrorism.

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and the ACLU, we now know that "Lucy" was only one part of a vast, insidious project. The Maryland State Police's Department of Homeland Security devoted near 300 hours and thousands of taxpayer dollars from 2005 and 2006 to harassing people whose only crime was dissenting on the question of the war in Iraq and Maryland's use of death row.

My dear friend Mike Stark, a board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty is at times referred to in "Lucy's" report as a "socialist" and an "anarchist." One can only assume this is the pathetic time honored tradition of reducing people to simple caricatures, all the better to garner Homeland Security grant money.

Veteran peace activist in Baltimore, Max Obuszewski, who initiated the suit, was as well consistently shadowed as he walked down the streets. His "primary crime" (their lingo) was entered into the homeland security database as "terrorism - anti govern(ment)." His "secondary crime" was listed as "terrorism -- anti-war protesters." The database is known as the Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA. Yes, a respected peace organizer of many decades standing is checked as a terrorist, his actions listed as criminal, for doing nothing more than exercising his rights. It boggles the mind.

Former police superintendent Tim Hutchins defended these totalitarian practices by saying, "You do what you think is best to protect the general populace of the state." (The article mentioned that Hutchins is now a federal defense contractor. I guess The Global War on Terror is just the gift that keeps on giving for the Hutchins family.)

But "protect the general populace" from what? The surveillance continued even after it was determined that we were planning nothing more dangerous that carrying clipboards in a public place. Hutchins and the Ehrlich administration have undertaken an ugly violation of our civil rights, manipulating fears of terrorism to stamp out dissent.

This is COINTELPRO pure and simple. Like the infamous counter-intelligence program whose heyday many assume was a relic the 1950s and 1960s, it's an effort to harass the innocent and breed paranoia, all for daring to question power.

Governor Ehrlich and Tim Hutchins stand in the legacy of those who hounded Martin Luther King, and facilitated the death of Malcolm X. They stand in the tradition of those who drove the great actor, college football superstar, and activist Paul Robeson toward The mental breakdown that claimed his life. When Robeson's files were opened under the Freedom of Information Act, the results were terrifying.

As his son, Paul Robeson Jr. has written, "From the files I received, it was obvious that there were agents who did nothing but follow every public event of my father, or even of me.... It took on a life of its own.... Over time, even for someone as powerful and with as many resources as my dad had...the attrition got to him."

Now Robeson is on a postage stamp. The moral midgets who destroyed him went unpunished. That's what has to change. The ACLU, to their credit, is going on the offensive. As ACLU lawyer David Rocah said at a news conference in Baltimore on Thursday, "To invest this many hours investigating the most all-American of activities without any scintilla of evidence there is anything criminal going on is shocking. It's Kafkaesque."

Unfortunately for people like Gov. Ehrlich, it is also "the most All American of activities" to take the constitution and use it as their personal hand wipe.

As the great political philosopher Ice T wrote, "Freedom of Speech.... just watch what you say." Well, now is exactly the time not to watch what we say. I'm angry. I'm angry for my friends, who trusted "Lucy" and others. I'm angry that my tax dollars went to paying the salaries of people who spy and intimidate those exercising their rights. I'm angry that Barack Obama just voted to increase the power of the Federal government to disrupt people's lives. And I'm angry enough that I'm joining a lawsuit initiated by the ACLU. "Homeland Security" picked on the wrong sports writer. They also picked on the wrong group of activists. We will not be silenced.

[People who want to express their outrage can contact the office of the current Governor Martin O'Malley. We should demand a full investigation of the MSP, public release of all documents obtained through this illegal activity, and a specific commitment that the anti-death penalty and anti-war movement will not be targeted. Call the office of the governor at 1-800-811-8336, or submit a comment online at]

Capitalism's New Era | Truthout

Sunday 28 August 2011
by: Shamus Cooke, Truthout | News Analysis

(Photo: Kaba; Edited: JR / t r u t h o u t)

"Karl Marx got it right, at some point capitalism can destroy itself," said Mr. Roubini, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "We thought markets worked. They're not working."

The world economy is in shambles and about to get worse, according to even mainstream economists. How bad is anybody's guess. Some things, however, are certain: the recovery that politicians have been promising for years existed only in their heads. The reality of the situation is now apparent to millions of people across the globe, who, before, clung to the empty promises of economic recovery. This newfound consciousness will inevitably find expression in the political realm and, more importantly, the streets.

A key aspect of this sudden mass awareness is in response to high unemployment and the deeply unpopular measures that politicians are forcing upon working people, both byproducts of the Great Recession. Politicians are blaming "the markets" for demanding austerity measures, but "markets" are simply places where wealthy people invest their money. To guarantee a profitable return on their money these investors demand that labor laws be squashed and social programs be eliminated, all over the world.

Spain, for example, is one of many countries having austerity measures forced down their throats. Reuters reports:

"Analysts see the shaking up of the country's inflexible labor laws [laws that protect workers] and the easing of hiring and firing [so older, activist, or slower workers can be fired] as vital to restoring the country's competitiveness. The labor reforms are crucial. They will help to restore growth [profits] in the long term. Growth is the only way out of these adverse fiscal trends,' said Luigi Speranza, analyst at BNP Paribas." [May 27, 2010]

To summarize, creating new laws that enable Spanish corporations to work their workers harder will be better for profits.

Greece faces a similar austerity plan, according to The Guardian UK:

"Tax increases, spending cuts and wage reductions and a sweeping privatisation programme have led to violent protests in Greece, with many arguing that the International Monetary Fund and European Union have demanded too high a price for their financial support." [August 2, 2011]

In the United States, these policies find expression in the attack against public-sector unions and the targeting of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for cuts, while mass unemployment is allowed to act as a very efficient way to lower wages for all workers.

Politicians have made it clear that economic growth, especially corporate profits, will increase in response to these anti-worker policies. They are only partially right. Corporate profits in fact have been on the rise, but the austerity measures have been responsible for the depressed economies throughout Europe and the US. When workers' wages are lowered and social programs are decimated, working people and the poor are left with little money for any purchases other than the bare necessities. Without consumer demand for their products, corporations curtail operations even more. This global dynamic has been decades in the making, with the recession having finally forced the issue into the forefront.

The Reagan and Thatcher administrations were the first Western representatives during the post-World War II era of this now dominant trend, which aimed at pushing back the social programs and wages won by the labor movements. Their policies were in response to the lower corporate growth rates that began in the 1970s and continue to this day. Now, all of Europe is suffering because banks and corporations demand a more profit-friendly business environment: universal health care and education programs are in jeopardy, plus wages and other benefits are under attack.

For the wealthy and corporations this is a life-and-death struggle. The Great Recession has already bankrupted the banks and corporations who were not fit enough to survive under a crumbling market economy. The existing companies are thus forced to squeeze more work for less pay out of their workers, since labor is the most flexible cost of any business. Pushing labor costs down - and by extension cutting social programs - is thus the priority of the corporations and their paid-for politicians across the globe, since the global economy is tightly connected and they all play by the vicious rules of the market. In fact, the intensity with which the corporate elite is pursuing these policies is a reflection of their negative outlook for the global economy.

This constitutes a new era in global capitalism, one that mimics the market economy of past generations. The 2008 recession was not a temporary phenomenon, but the ushering in of a new period in which the corporate elite attempt to restructure social relations, meaning that past assumptions regarding wages and social programs must be destroyed, as a new, more profitable equilibrium is sought between the corporate elite and working people.

Implied in this nation-by-nation restructuring is a restriction of democracy, since these anti-worker policies negatively affect the vast majority of the population. The riots in London are an expression of this, as are the mass demonstrations throughout Europe as well as the Middle East. In the United States, democracy is circumvented via the so-called Super Congress, whose duty it is to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Austerity programs throughout Europe are being implemented against the wishes of the general working populations.

Also included in this attack on working people is the corporate elite's doubled efforts to divert the working-class anger toward fake populist movements - like the Tea Party in the US - or against minorities, such as Muslims and immigrants in the US.

This will require that working people stay focused on who exactly is attacking them, while focusing on measures that can serve as alternatives to what the corporate elite are forcefully implementing.

The most immediate and important demand of working people must be taxing the rich and corporations, since social programs need to be funded and expanded and a massive jobs program with a strong green component is desperately overdue. It's not by coincidence that taxing the rich is rarely used in austerity plans; and when, on rare occasions, the rich are taxed, it's at low levels with high publicity, so the angry public will think the illusion of "shared sacrifice" is a reality.

For example, in the US, President Obama is again calling to end the Bush tax cuts for the rich (after allowing them to continue less than a year ago). It is doubtful that the Bush tax cuts will be ended, but if they were, it would be insufficient. Working people must demand that taxes on the rich be raised to at least pre-Reagan levels (70 percent), while President Eisenhower levels would be best (90 percent). Over the decades, the tax burden has shifted dramatically, causing wealth to accumulate into the bank accounts of the top 1 percent of the population, the same people who are now demanding that social programs be destroyed so that their investments are secured and their corporate profits remain high.

Since illusions of an economic recovery have now been shattered, it's up to working people to demand that their labor unions and community groups unite to tax the rich and corporations in order to finance a massive jobs program. Fortunately, the AFL-CIO is organizing actions for the first week of October to demand jobs and oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Many within the labor movement are calling for massive demonstrations across the country for October 1. It will take these types of actions to unite working people to fight for a positive solution to the economic crisis.

Working with nature, instead of against it, can mean less work - The Messenger

Good article... Monte

Jerry Richardson, Cam Newton, and the Color of Control | The Nation

Dave Zirin
August 27, 2011

Jerry Richardson, as a Google search quickly proves, is invariably described as “old school.” The 75-year-old Carolina Panthers owner played pro football back when tickets were a dollar, there were no player unions, and black quarterbacks didn’t exist. He made his fortune in the food service industry, with a strong emphasis on personal appearance and low wages for all under his employ. During the NFL lockout, he oozed with contempt toward every player, union official and fan. Even the sainted Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning earned an ugly sneer. Now he’s the owner who told number 1 draft pick, quarterback Cam Newton, that his grooming and servility are prerequisites for success. On "The Charlie Rose Show", Richardson proudly recounted asking Newton if he had any tattoos or piercings. When Newton replied, "No sir, I don't have any," Richardson told Rose he informed his new franchise quarterback: "Good. We want to keep it that way. We want to keep no tattoos, no piercings and I think you’ve got a very nice haircut.” No word if he then checked Newton’s gums. It’s worth noting Richardson didn’t hesitate signing Jeremy Shockey in the off-season, a tight end with more tattoos than a Hell’s Angel. But there’s a difference. Shockey is a white good ol’ boy from Oklahoma. Newton is black and branded by the media as having “character issues.” Certainly, many were surprised when the “old school” Richardson used the NFL draft's number 1 overall pick on the University of Auburn Heisman trophy winner. While Newton’s talent, size, and speed are unquestioned, his recent past has been a national soap opera. It includes multiple school transfers, accusations of theft, and the findings that his father attempted to sell his services to the highest bidder. It was a unique journey that said less about Newton than the gutter economy of the NCAA where everyone gets paid but those the people pay to see perform. Now Richardson’s is telling the world that no one should worry about Newton’s “character issues” because he’s under the owner’s care from this point forward. He even told Newton not to worry about the past because Richardson would guide his future. It’s one thing to have the Panthers owner express these feelings to Newton privately. One gets the feeling that a rich variety of racist nonsense is said to players behind closed doors. We can remember last year, before the 2010 NFL Draft, when it was leaked that Miami General Manager Jeff Ireland asked star Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute. Or recall Anthony Prior, former NFL player, who wrote the book Slave Side of Sunday. Prior said to me, “I’ve heard coaches call players ‘boy,’ ‘porch monkeys,’ ‘sambos.’ I’ve been in film sessions where coaches would try to get a rise out of players by calling them “boy” or “Jemima,” and players are so conditioned to not jeopardize their place, they just take it.” What differentiates Richardson brand of racial paternalism is his public, boastful, pride. It’s like when Rick Perry made Jose Cuervo jokes in a speech at a Latino Political event. In other words, it’s a way of proclaiming your power over others because your station, your bank account and your skin color allow you to treat others like they live on their knees. There are some in the press defending Richardson on the grounds that “the Carolina Panthers are a company, Richardson runs the company and many companies have dress codes and rules concerning personal appearance.” Yet there are two problems with that argument. The first is that the Panthers have no such team rules (see Shockey, Jeremy.). The second is that once you have on your pads and are under the helmet, no one can tell if you have more tattoos and piercings than Lisbeth Salander. This is not about Newton’s personal appearance. It’s about the public effort to exert control over a 22 year old man by an owner who posesses what can only be called a plantation mentality. If Richardson really wants this kind of absolute power over young, gifted black athletes, he should just sell the Panthers and apply for a job at the NCAA. As for Cam Newton, he might want to read about some Panthers who weren't under the control of people like Jerry Richardson.