On Thursday the Trump administration dumped their budget on the table and then sent out Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to tell poor Americans why they are going to be hungrier and colder in Trump’s new America. It was jaw dropping to listen to some of the things Mick actually said in public, on the record …
Mar 17 2017
Aug 27 2015
It is 10 years since Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast causing $108 billion in damages, killing over 1300 people and completely changing the city of New Orleans and the coastline.
Today New Orleans has changed in many ways, it is whiter, richer and the poor are poorer:
Ten years later, it is not exactly right to say that New Orleans is back. The city did not return, not as it was.
It is, first of all, without the more than 1,400 people who died here, and the thousands who are now making their lives someplace else. As of 2013, there were nearly 100,000 fewer black residents than in 2000, their absences falling equally across income levels. The white population decreased by about 11,000, but it is wealthier.
The city that exists in 2015 has been altered, by both a decade of institutional re-engineering and the artless rearrangement that occurs when people are left to fend for themselves.
Empowered by billions of federal dollars and the big ideas of eager policy planners, the school system underwent an extensive overhaul; the old Art Deco Charity Hospital was supplanted by a state-of-the-art medical complex; and big public housing projects, at once beloved and notorious, were razed and replaced by mixed-income communities with housing vouchers.
In a city long marinated in fatalism, optimists are now in ascendance. They promise that an influx of bright newcomers, a burst of entrepreneurial verve and a new spirit of civic engagement have primed the city for an era of greatness, or, at least, reversed a long-running civic-disaster narrative.
“Nobody can refute the fact that we have completely turned this story around,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu, talking of streamlined government and year-over-year economic growth. “For the first time in 50 years, the city is on a trajectory that it has not been on, organizationally, functionally, economically, almost in every way.”
The word “trajectory” is no accident. It is the mayor’s case that the city is in a position to address the many problems that years of government failures had allowed to fester. He did not argue that those problems had been solved.
Jun 23 2015
A couple of weeks ago HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver took the chicken industry over the coals for a thorough roasting, uncovering facts that the public may not have known, the exploitation of contract chicken farmers, most of whom living below the poverty line.
Lo and behold, his genius satirical take down had an effect:
Comedian influences Ag Bill, members of Congress say
By Jonathan A. Capriel, Scripts Howard
The Department of Agriculture may be able to protect chicken farmers from industry retaliations in 2016, and satirical news anchor John Oliver may be part of the reason.
A draft of the 2016 Agriculture Appropriations Bill was unanimously approved by a House subcommittee Thursday.
It passed without any amendments that might prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture from punishing meatpacking companies if they use deceptive practices against contract livestock and poultry farmers.
Part of the credit goes to the host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” some members of Congress said.
On his show last month, the comedian criticized contracts that poultry producers, including Tyson Foods, Sanderson Farms, and Perdue, have their chicken farmers sign. [..]
These contract farms take out loans to build facilities, buy equipment and chicken feed – usually from the meat processing companies. The farmers are paid to raise the chickens, but they don’t get to sell them. The company owns the animals. Some farmers say they don’t make enough money in this system, but are usually in so much debt they can’t leave it.
The companies also force farmers to compete with each other. Lower-performing farms get less money. [..]
But Oliver also took a jab at members of Congress, who he said, have “fought efforts to protect chicken farmers” by adding riders to appropriations bills.
He told viewers that anyone on the House Appropriations Committee who votes against an amendment giving USDA power to protect farmers was a “chicken f–.” Oliver said this while flashing images of each of the committee members with their states and party affiliations.
The clip has gotten nearly 3 million views on You Tube. [..]
It’s still a long way from passage. The bill still has to pass the full House Committee on Appropriations, where it could be amended. It then must pass the full House and go through the same process in the Senate. If it weren’t fro John Oliver, the bill would never have been written. It’s good to know that someone in Congress watches these left wing programs.
Jun 01 2015
Happy first day of Hurricane Season everyone! I have 3 articles for your perusal this morning!
First, boy we’ve come along way from FDR:
These days, prominent experts and politicians seem determined to keep the American people in a perpetual state of trembling fear. Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations thinks “the question is not whether the world will continue to unravel but how fast and how far.” The outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, told Congress last year that “[the world is] more dangerous than it has ever been.” (Someone really ought to tell the general about the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis, and a little episode known as World War II.) Not to be outdone, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger believes the United States “has not faced a more diverse and complex array of crises since the end of the Second World War.” And then there’s CNN and Fox News, which seem to think that most news stories should be a variation on Fear Factor.
One could multiply alarming forecasts such as these almost endlessly. As investigative journalist David Sirota tweeted in response to a recent speech by New Jersey governor and erstwhile presidential aspirant Chris Christie, where FDR told Americans the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” today’s politicians and pundits mostly tell us to “Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.”
May 20 2015
On HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver took the chicken industry over the coals for a thorough roasting, uncovering facts that the public may not have known, the exploitation of contract chicken farmers, most of whom living below the poverty line.
As they satiate America’s vast, gnawing chicken hunger, the four big poultry companies use a system of contract farmers that leaves many of those actually raising the chickens taking on debt and living below the poverty line. With a business model that sees farmers taking on all the expenses of equipment and infrastructure – subject to frequent demands for upgrades – while the corporations own the actual chickens, “That essentially means you own everything that costs money, and we own everything that makes money,” Oliver notes. To make matters worse, he reports that the big poultry companies are known to retaliate against any farmers speaking out against the practices.
Toward the end of the segment, Oliver gets into the legislative meat of the issue: although protective rules for poultry farmers have been written, they are not enforced, thanks to a rider inserted into the agriculture appropriations bill that forbids the USDA from enforcing the rules. Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur introduced a measure forbidding such retaliation, which failed to pass the House Appropriations Committee the first time around. But since the committee is meeting again next month and Kaptur might propose her provision once again, Oliver has a solution.
Introducing the 51 voting members of the committee, Oliver suggests citizens engage in a particularly delectable form of rumor-mongering for those who don’t vote in favor of Kaptur’s provision: “Because chickenfucker accusations do not come off a Wikipedia page easily.”
Nov 19 2014
The American “system” has been a bit tardy in its response to climate change. Experts tell us that the longer it takes to make needed changes, the more difficult it will be to make them.
As 350.org’s Bill McKibben puts it:
We’re talking about a fight between human beings and physics. And physics is entirely uninterested in human timetables. Physics couldn’t care less if precipitous action raises gas prices, or damages the coal industry in swing states. It could care less whether putting a price on carbon slowed the pace of development in China, or made agribusiness less profitable.
Physics doesn’t understand that rapid action on climate change threatens the most lucrative business on Earth, the fossil fuel industry. It’s implacable. It takes the carbon dioxide we produce and translates it into heat, which means into melting ice and rising oceans and gathering storms. And unlike other problems, the less you do, the worse it gets. Do nothing and you soon have a nightmare on your hands.
We could postpone healthcare reform a decade, and the cost would be terrible — all the suffering not responded to over those 10 years. But when we returned to it, the problem would be about the same size. With climate change, unless we act fairly soon in response to the timetable set by physics, there’s not much reason to act at all.
Unless you understand these distinctions you don’t understand climate change — and it’s not at all clear that President Obama understands them.
There are lots of reasons why the response of the system has been so slow. There is significant resistance in the system to the sort of changes that need to be made. That resistance has manifested itself in a number of ways, from President Obama using the spies at the NSA to kill global agreements on climate change to the bipartisan popularity of climate change denial in Congress, the media and the public relations industry, despite virtually indisputable scientific evidence.
Resistance is created by a variety of groups based on their perceived interests. Enormously wealthy, powerful corporations and individuals who want to preserve their profits from fossil fuels and related industries, people who rely on jobs created or enabled by fossil fuel industries, people who fear economic chaos and the loss of their comforts due to actions to stop climate change, and politicians whose fortunes depend upon the money and other resources of the fossil fuel industry are some huge sources of systemic inertia.
Nov 10 2014
I have 3 for you this Monday morning.
First, on the culprits of Climate Change:
The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.
The companies range from investor-owned firms – household names such as Chevron, Exxon and BP – to state-owned and government-run firms.
Jul 21 2014
Money is violence
Our system of money visits violence on people.
Economic sanctions are an obvious example:
In case you’re not video enabled, here’s a transcript of a portion of the conversation between 60 Minutes’ Leslie Stahl and Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright on May 12, 1996:
Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.”
What Stahl and the ghastly gasbag Albright are discussing are the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq allegedly in order to compel Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait and pay reparations, but more likely the unstated plan was to induce the people of Iraq to rise up and overthrow Saddam.
Economic sanctions are the weaponization of money. Government talking heads call this “soft power,” because apparently arranging for the slow, wasting death by starvation and disease of hundreds of thousands of children is a lot nicer than bombing them or sending soldiers to terrify and shoot them.
Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz had a particular gift for expressing the barely repressed beliefs of the most reprehensible people in the country. According to Wikiquote, Butz said two memorable things while Secretary, one was the tasteless, racist joke that got him fired, the other was the following:
“Food is a tool. It is a weapon in the U.S. negotiating kit.”
In one of the most brutal examples of the use of this technique, the Israeli government, with the complicity of the US government have for years kept the Palestinians’ economy in Gaza “on the brink of collapse.” As the Israelis kept the economy from performing, they made a “calorie count” to “put Gaza on a diet.” Israel’s sanctions and periodic bombings of Gaza have largely destroyed Gaza’s water infrastructure and “hundreds of thousands of people are now without water.”
There can be no doubt that the diet devised for Gaza – much like Israel’s blockade in general – was intended as a form of collective punishment, one directed at every man, woman and child. The goal, according to the Israeli defense ministry, was to wage “economic warfare” that would generate a political crisis, leading to a popular uprising against Hamas.
While these are shocking, overt uses of the power of economic systems, there are more subtle and refined means of using economic power to coerce and subjugate peoples that are often brought to bear. Economic sanctions, by depriving people of their means of survival through the manipulation of money and goods is a means of an elite asserting control over a population. While these techniques are used as a tool of foreign policy or in tandem with wartime goals, this is far from the only situation under which these techniques are used by elites.
Jun 26 2014
Most Americans take water for granted. We get up in the morning shower, brush teeth, flush the toilet, run water to drink, clean and on and on. What would you do if you couldn’t do those things? How would it effect you daily life? You ability to work? Support yourself and your family? How would it effect you health?
Those questions are all being faces right now by hundreds of thousands men, women and children, not in some third world country, but Detroit, Michigan.
In March, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is resuming efforts to shut off water service to thousands of delinquent customers.
Crews will be targeting those who have received a shutoff notice and whose bills are more than two months late. Customers with late bills can avoid a shutoff by entering into a payment plan. Typically, it takes a payment of 30% to 50% of the amount owed to start such a plan. [..]
There are 323,900 DWSD accounts in Detroit. Of those, 150,806 are delinquent. Some of those delinquencies are low-income customers who are struggling to keep their utilities on, said some who work in providing assistance to those in need.
But agencies aiding the mostly low income families currently without water are short on cash
“The need is huge,” said Mia Cupp, director of development and communications for the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency. “There are families that have gone months and months without water.”
The group is among a handful of local agencies that provide assistance to those who need help with their water bills. The Water Access Volunteer Effort, a Detroit-based nonprofit, is another. [..]
The organization has very limited resources. Cupp said the group raised about $148,000 during a charity walk; that money could go to helping people pay water bills. [..]
Mayor Mike Duggan’s spokesman John Roach referred to the Water and Sewerage Department questions about how the city handles community outreach to inform residents about programs to help with water bills. Detroit’s Human Services Department used to perform outreach but no longer does, Latimer said. So the water department is finalizing an agreement with The Heat And Warmth Fund, or THAW, to do so, he said. THAW provides low-income Michigan residents with emergency energy assistance.
Jill Brunett, vice president for marketing and communication for THAW, confirmed that the group is in talks with the water department. She said the extreme weather this winter increased heating bills, putting a strain on finances.
Al Jazeera reported that the average Detroit water bill is nearly double the national average of $40 per month (pdf). Tho add insult to injury, DWSD said it would again raise rates, this time by 8.7 percent.
A coalition of groups including the Detroit People’s Water Board, Food and Water Watch, Blue Planet Project and Michigan Welfare Rights Organization have appealed to the United Nations for assistance (pdf)
“We are asking the UN special rapporteur to make clear to the U.S. government that it has violated the human right to water,” said Maude Barlow, the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and a key member of the coalition that put the report together. In addition to creating international pressure to stop the Detroit shutoffs, Barlow said, the UN’s intervention could lead to formal consequences for the United States. “If the US government does not respond appropriately this will also impact their Universal Periodic Review,” she said, “when they stand before the Human Rights Council to have their [human rights] record evaluated.”
Two of those activists, Maureen Taylor, state chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Meera Karunananthan, international water campaigner for the Blue Planet Project, spoke with Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman about Detroit’s water crisis.
Trancript can be read here
The US may be the wealthiest country in the world but it is rapidly turning it’s cities into third world slums, endangering thousands of lives.
Jun 15 2014
It’s been one of those weeks where so many things have come to light that I simply do not know where to begin writing first. I sit there and think, which of the various things that I have been listening to or reading about have actually annoyed me to the point of actually writing about. I have realised that I am just generally annoyed.
When I thought about it more, I concluded that the underlying theme of these various stories is a complete and utter contempt by bourgeois governments (that lay claim to being utterly democratic) of the vast majority of people that they govern. Whether they govern competently or not, whether there is anything resembling a democratic mandate or not; it is the utter contempt in which they hold the majority of the population that has really gotten my goat.
I also realised that this is not only confined to governments, it is a view shared by the leadership of religious authorities, by arms of the state (police, armies, etc.) and even by the heads of sporting associations. This contempt is a reflection of the fact that those in power think/know that when push comes to shove, they know who they serve and it is not the vast majority of people; it is a tiny elite hiding behind the word “democracy” while actually not even slightly being accountable to that majority. It is the abuse of power by those that have it wielded against those that view themselves as powerless. Having just spoken to my postman about my frustration, he agreed and said “this is a long term problem, what can you and I do about it”?