Rather than why, what deserves far more attention than it generally receives is the question of how. Here is where we find Barack Obama and George W. Bush (not to mention Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter) joined at the hip. When it comes to the Islamic world, for more than three decades now Washington’s answer to how has been remarkably consistent: through the determined application of hard power wielded by the United States. Simply put, Washington’s how implies a concerted emphasis on girding for and engaging in war.
Presidents may not agree on exactly what we are trying to achieve in the Greater Middle East (Obama wouldn’t be caught dead reciting lines from Bush’s Freedom Agenda, for example), but for the past several decades, they have agreed on means: whatever it is we want done, military might holds the key to doing it. So today, we have the extraordinary spectacle of Obama embracing and expanding Bush’s Global War on Terror even after having permanently banished that phrase to the Guantanamo of politically incorrect speech.
Something terrible lies at the heart of New Orleans - a rampant, widespread and apparently uncontrollable brutality on the part of its police force and its prison service. The horrors of its criminal justice system from decades before Hurricane Katrina and up to now lie somewhere between, with little exaggeration, Candide and Stalin’s Gulags.
Spit on the sidewalk here, and you may be arrested - New Orleans has the highest incarceration rate of any city in the United States - and if you’re poor and black and can’t pay bail, you will enter a place where any protection under the American constitution and the Bill of Rights is stripped away. You will wait weeks or months to be charged, whether innocent or not, and in the meantime you will be subjected to foul, overcrowded jail conditions, prisoner-to-prisoner violence and the brutality of the deputies who guard you. God help you if you have a medical condition, or a mental-health problem, or if you’re pregnant (you may deliver in leg chains - it has happened). “A minor offence in New Orleans,” one civil rights attorney told me, “can get you into a hellish place.”
In 1970, the U.S. food system churned out 2,168 calories per day per person, of which 402 came from added sugar and 410 from added fat. Combined, that’s 812 calories from additives, or about 37 percent of the total.
Jump forward to 2008 (the last year for which there are figures), and you find that the food system cranked out 2,673 calories per person. That’s an impressive 23 percent jump from the 1970 number — even more impressive when you recall that it’s a per capita number and U.S. population rose significantly over that period. This is powerful evidence that the cheap-food policy instituted by Nixon-era USDA chief Earl Butz succeeded dramatically. In an age of maximum production of corn and soy, the U.S. food system became a calorie-generating juggernaut.
As for added fats and sugars, their 2008 levels reached 459 and 641, respectively, for a total of 1,100 calories. That’s a 35 percent jump over the 1970 level — and represents 41 percent of total calories available to U.S. consumers in 2008.
In this interview on Democracy Now!, Carl Safina explains quite succinctly the actions and mistakes that led to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, and the aftermath. This interview is well worth reading or watching.
At the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill:
Most of the oil is still there in the Gulf today. It’s in the water. It’s on the sediment. It’s on the seafloor. A lot of it’s washed up into the wetlands, and it’s still there. It’s still being eaten by marine life today.
What has been done to deal with the problem, and prevent future recurrences?
[…] one year later the rest of the nation seems to have forgotten this tragedy, and our policymakers, one year later—not a single piece of legislation—not one—written to respond to the disaster has become law. And the money that BP is supposed to be paying has not come to the ground. The care—the claims that are supposed to be filled, the health provisions, the environmental provisions, none of it is there right now, and the U.S. Gulf Coast is still suffering under this glut of oil and chemicals.
How about all those claims that BP is supposed to pay out?
BP set up a claims process right away, and that’s because, as a result of the Exxon Valdez disaster, we had a great piece of legislation passed: the Oil Pollution Act. We need legislation like that now. One of the things the Oil Pollution Act did was require an immediate claims process to be established. BP set that up. But at this date, one year later, less than 40 percent of the claims that have been filed have even been processed, much less paid out.
Are there any signs of rampant hypocrisy?
[…] Transocean, the company that owned the offshore rig that exploded, […] awarded its top executives these bonuses, and in doing so, saying—it described the, quote, “best year in safety performance in our company’s history.” The bonus for the Transocean CEO Steve Newman was $400,000. Amidst tremendous criticism, he said he would give it to the families of the—
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Part of it.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, he said he would give a part of it to the families of the dead workers.
A New York Times editorial criticized the Supreme Court’s conservative members yesterday for protecting the right of wealthy individuals and special interests to financially overwhelm opponents in political campaigns. The constitutionality of a campaign finance provision in Arizona came before the Court on March 28, 2011 […details…] Under the challenged law, candidates in Arizona who accepted public financing could receive increased public funding for their campaigns if they faced attacks from well-financed independent expenditure groups that spent more than statutory limits or if the candidate’s opponent refused public funds and overspent the law’s limits.
The editorial called this reform “one of the most compelling innovations in the country.” Opponents claim that it burdens the free speech of wealthy special interests. For example, during oral arguments, Chief Justice Roberts strongly suggested that he “sees triggered matching public funds as a limit on the privately financed candidate’s speech.” This is counterintuitive, as the law does not in any way limit the spending or speech of privately-financed candidates; it simply provides matching funds for candidates that accept public financing. The Times added that under Arizona’s law,
“more candidates — not just the wealthy — will be able to run in elections,” which will result in “more political speech, not less.”
In other words, you can’t believe a single word that Chief Justice Roberts says.
America has two national budgets, one official, one unofficial. The official budget is public record and hotly debated: Money comes in as taxes and goes out as jet fighters, DEA agents, wheat subsidies and Medicare, plus pensions and bennies for that great untamed socialist menace called a unionized public-sector workforce that Republicans are always complaining about. According to popular legend, we’re broke and in so much debt that 40 years from now our granddaughters will still be hooking on weekends to pay the medical bills of this year’s retirees from the IRS, the SEC and the Department of Energy.
Most Americans know about that budget. What they don’t know is that there is another budget of roughly equal heft, traditionally maintained in complete secrecy. After the financial crash of 2008, it grew to monstrous dimensions, as the government attempted to unfreeze the credit markets by handing out trillions to banks and hedge funds. And thanks to a whole galaxy of obscure, acronym-laden bailout programs, it eventually rivaled the “official” budget in size — a huge roaring river of cash flowing out of the Federal Reserve to destinations neither chosen by the president nor reviewed by Congress, but instead handed out by fiat by unelected Fed officials using a seemingly nonsensical and apparently unknowable methodology.
Christy Mack and Susan Karches did not respond to requests for comments for this story. But even without more information about the loans they got from the Fed, we know that TALF wasn’t the only risk-free money being handed over to Wall Street. During the financial crisis, the Fed routinely made billions of dollars in “emergency” loans to big banks at near-zero interest. Many of the banks then turned around and used the money to buy Treasury bonds at higher interest rates — essentially loaning the money back to the government at an inflated rate. “People talk about how these were loans that were paid back,” says a congressional aide who has studied the transactions. “But when the state is lending money at zero percent and the banks are turning around and lending that money back to the state at three percent, how is that different from just handing rich people money?”
And at a time when America is borrowing from the Middle East at interest rates of three percent, why did the Fed extend $35 billion in loans to the Arab Banking Corporation of Bahrain at interest rates as low as one quarter of one point?
Even more disturbing, the major stakeholder in the Bahrain bank is none other than the Central Bank of Libya, which owns 59 percent of the operation. In fact, the Bahrain bank just received a special exemption from the U.S. Treasury to prevent its assets from being frozen in accord with economic sanctions. That’s right: Muammar Qaddafi received more than 70 loans from the Federal Reserve, along with the Real Housewives of Wall Street.
It is truly sickening to see how the well-placed rich continue to squeeze money out of the government while the majority of the population suffers from the economic collapse caused by those very same people.
Its skyline erupting from the desert in just two decades, Dubai is a cautionary tale about what money can’t buy: a culture of its own. After gorging on the Viagra of easy credit, the emirate has the world’s tallest building, the world’s most expensive racetrack, and a financial crisis to match. From the Western mercenaries and Asian drones who maintain the gaudy show to 100-odd families who are impervious to any economic reality, A. A. Gill discovers that no one truly belongs in Dubai, where the legacy of oil has made everything worthless.
TransCanada cannot begin constructing Keystone XL without both presidential permission and a State Department environmental impact statement (EIS), made necessary because the project crosses international borders. The State Department issued that EIS in April 2010 in the wake of public hearings in towns along the pipeline route. Environmental organizations, landowners, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were sharply critical of the EIS. Among other things, says the NRDC’s Anthony Swift, the statement failed to demonstrate “the need for the pipeline, its safety, and its greenhouse gas impacts.” Especially troubling, according to Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, was the failure to consider an alternate pipeline route that would not slash through the Ogallala aquifer.
I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t taken some delight in watching the complete and utter collapse of Blockbuster.
You see, back when I was a child, our community had a couple of thriving local video stores that were the source of pretty much endless enjoyment for me. Then Blockbuster came along. By then, the company was already a mega-chain of blue and gold awnings that decorated much of the country. They had inventory that simply could not be matched. Unsurprisingly, they crushed the local video stores.
Of course, Blockbuster’s inventory consisted mainly of “hit” movies, while the local video store probably had a much wider selection.
This happened all over the country for years. Goliath didn’t just beat David, he obliterated him simply by showing up — and then danced on his grave while entertaining his children.
You’d think the sheer momentum of such a behemoth would make them unbeatable. And yet, here we are. Earlier today came word that Dish Network was buying Blockbuster’s assets out of bankruptcy court for around $230 million — in cash. This is the same company that Viacom once paid $8.4 billion for (and later spun them off in their own multi-billion dollar IPO). The fall from grace is almost unbelievable.
Hilariously stupid quotes from Blockbuster executives come later in the article.
Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz writes in this month’s Vanity Fair about the corrosive, self-reinforcing wealth concentration that has hijacked American politics, in which the America’s future is sacrificed to give ever more money to an ever-smaller group of oligarchs. We’ve heard lots of people talking about wealth concentration before, but Stiglitz combines impeccable credentials with a lay-friendly explanation:
America’s inequality distorts our society in every conceivable way. There is, for one thing, a well-documented lifestyle effect—people outside the top 1 percent increasingly live beyond their means. Trickle-down economics may be a chimera, but trickle-down behaviorism is very real. Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military—the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain. The rules of economic globalization are likewise designed to benefit the rich: they encourage competition among countries for business, which drives down taxes on corporations, weakens health and environmental protections, and undermines what used to be viewed as the “core” labor rights, which include the right to collective bargaining. Imagine what the world might look like if the rules were designed instead to encourage competition among countries for workers. Governments would compete in providing economic security, low taxes on ordinary wage earners, good education, and a clean environment—things workers care about. But the top 1 percent don’t need to care.
Or, more accurately, they think they don’t. Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. The cards are stacked against them. It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling. With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”)—given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else. All of this is having the predictable effect of creating alienation—voter turnout among those in their 20s in the last election stood at 21 percent, comparable to the unemployment rate.
Scott Walker’s administration is all about cutting costs, which is why it gave the largely unqualified son of a major campaign donor a $81,500 senior managerial job in the state Commerce Department. A state official confirmed that the young gentleman got his job after his daddy put in a good word for him. As ThinkProgress points out, Walker’s anti-union legislation allows him to directly appoint dozens more people for high-paying gubmint jobs.
Today, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reveals that Walker is using state funds to pay more than $81,500 a year to the 26-year-old son of a major campaign donor with no college degree and two drunken-driving convictions.
Despite having almost no management experience, UW Madison college dropout Brian Deschane now oversees state environmental and regulatory issues and manages dozens of Commerce Department employees. After only two months on the job, Deschane has already received a 26 percent pay raise and a promotion.
Gosh, who could have seen something like this coming?
I live in earthquake country, so I’ve been told most of my life that I must have an earthquake kit. Almost anyone anywhere would benefit from having an emergency kit on hand: the usual flashlight, blanket, coins for pay phones (cell phones and cell-phone service die quick in disaster), small bills, potable water, and so forth. To really deal with an emergency, though, you not only need to pack, but to unpack.
Think of your mind as your most fundamental and important emergency kit. You have a great deal of what you’ll need to survive there already, but if you’re not careful, a lot of junk will end up piled on top of your excellent equipment. Lift up that big television of yours, for example, and gently lob it out the window. It will fill your head with hysteria, presuppositions, misinterpretations, stereotypes, exaggerations, and racial slurs that will leave you ill-prepared for what to expect when your world is turned upside down.
Be careful with newspapers, online media, and those emails your anxious friends forward to you. Watch out for experts who aren’t (or who have an unspoken agenda), for authorities who lie and withhold crucial information, for hysterics, and those who fill in the blanks of disasters past, present, and future with invented scenarios. Be clear that a lot of the worst-case scenarios are just that, not breaking news (though what happened in Japan was and continues to be pretty horrendous).
Interesting look at the social dynamics of disaster response. Sounds like it’s worth reading her book.