Water Cooler – You Can’t Have A Real Wake Without A Smile

Okay I know that I already posted one post today about Ben Masel and that fact he died of lung cancer yesterday. However the first one was about the need to remember him and keep his legacy alive by our works. That is important but anyone who knew Ben would also know that he liked a party as much as any, and more than most.

Since he is still on my mind to night and I come from a tradition that cries and laughs when one of our own dies, I decided that the least I could do was post a song that I think encapsulates the whole thing.

So for you Ben, and for the rest of us, we have the Kings – Switching To Glide. It is almost always called “This Beat Goes On” but the first one is the real name. Which is just perfect; as you switch glide Ben, the rest of us know the beat goes on.

Yeah, it is cheesy 1980’s rock, but admit it, it made you smile and bounce in your seat a little. After all if the choir eternal has to sing you to your rest, what would you want, Church music, or something that makes everyone around want to get up and dance?

What is on your minds tonight Firedogs? The floor (dance that is) is yours!

US Assassinates Saif Qaddafi and Three Qaddafi Grandsons

Fresh off the BBC wire:

A Nato air strike in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, has killed the son of the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, a government spokesman has said.

Colonel Gaddafi himself was in the large residential villa which was hit by the strike, the spokesman added, but he was unharmed.

His son Saif al-Arab was killed, as well as three of his grandsons.

Journalists say the building was extensively damaged and one unexploded bomb remains at the site.

Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said the villa was attacked “with full power.”

NBC’s Richard Engel reports the “images look like NATO used bunker busters on compound”.

That is some “no fly zone” that is being enforced; apparently civilians, women and children (Saif Qaddafi’s wife and children) on the ground are considered legitimate targets. Mr. Obama and his White House have spoken out of both sides of their mouths as to whether “regime change” was their goal. Defense Secretary Gates has admitted that Libya did not pose any “actual or imminent threat” to the US. Mr. Obama has refused to characterize the Libyan intervention as a war even though it obviously is. The US is, just as obviously, the lead actor despite the faux NATO patina and gloss put on the pig.

So, is this type of action, full frontal force against the head of state and his family permitted under the UN resolution or the US guidance? Well, the operative UN provision is UNSCR 1973 . The OLC authorizing memo text is here.

Quite frankly it is hard to find any legal basis under either UN or US authorizations for the action that has been consummated today. Section 4 of UNSCR 1973 does authorize a broad range of force to ”protect civilians and civilian populated areas”; however, it is hard to see the moral, ethical or legal justification for today’s acts in that. It seems all the more tenuous coming directly on the heels of Qaddafi’s plea for a ceasefire.

As Jeremy Scahill stated,

Killing a dictator’s innocent grandchildren really showcases our moral superiority.

No kidding. But what the heck, maybe Obama can cut a few more drone killing jokes tonight at the White House Correspondents Dinner nerdprom. He seems to really like that kind of humor.

US Assassinates Saif Qaddafi and Three Qaddafi Grandsons

[Update caveat: As i mentioned in comments, there is no independent confirmation other than the Libya press release/announcement that either Saif or children truly were killed. Many on the ground in Libya are skeptical that it is a stunt. That is certainly possible; however, that is a ruse that would be exposed you would think, so it would not seem to make for a promising stunt. It is possible though.]

Fresh off the BBC wire:

A Nato air strike in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, has killed the son of the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, a government spokesman has said.

Colonel Gaddafi himself was in the large residential villa which was hit by the strike, the spokesman added, but he was unharmed.

His son Saif al-Arab was killed, as well as three of his grandsons.

Journalists say the building was extensively damaged and one unexploded bomb remains at the site.

Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said the villa was attacked “with full power.”

NBC’s Richard Engel reports the “images look like NATO used bunker busters on compound”.

That is some “no fly zone” that is being enforced; apparently civilians, women and children (Saif Qaddafi and Qaddafi grandchildren) on the ground are considered legitimate targets. Mr. Obama and his White House have spoken out of both sides of their mouths as to whether “regime change” was their goal. Defense Secretary Gates has admitted that Libya did not pose any “actual or imminent threat” to the US. Mr. Obama has refused to characterize the Libyan intervention as a war even though it obviously is. The US is, just as obviously, the lead actor despite the faux NATO patina and gloss put on the pig.

So, is this type of action, full frontal force against the head of state and his family permitted under the UN resolution or the US guidance? Well, the operative UN provision is UNSCR 1973 . The OLC authorizing memo text is here.

Quite frankly it is hard to find any legal basis under either UN or US authorizations for the action that has been consummated today. Section 4 of UNSCR 1973 does authorize a broad range of force to ”protect civilians and civilian populated areas”; however, it is hard to see the moral, ethical or legal justification for today’s acts in that. It seems all the more tenuous coming directly on the heels of Qaddafi’s plea for a ceasefire.

As Jeremy Scahill stated,

Killing a dictator’s innocent grandchildren really showcases our moral superiority.

No kidding. But what the heck, maybe Obama can cut a few more drone killing jokes tonight at the White House Correspondents Dinner nerdprom. He seems to really like that kind of humor.

Cognitive Dissonance Is Fueling Conservative Denial

Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive Dissonance (photo: TheGiantVermin)

On April 6, all but one of the Republican members of the US House of Representatives rejected a Democratic amendment that would have put the chamber on record backing the widely held scientific view that global warming is occurring and humans are a major cause. The following day the GOP-led House voted 255 to 172 to strip the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gases. It is remarkable that in 2011, a majority of Republicans in Congress reject the indisputable, scientific consensus that human activity is altering the climate.

Why are conservatives, despite the mounting evidence, so unwilling to accept that climate change is a serious threat caused by greenhouse emissions? It seems climate change is now part and parcel of America’s “culture wars.” Similar to abortion and other social issues, climate change has become a partisan issue, with liberals backing the science, and conservatives denying it. Often times, when pondering the reasons for climate change denial, we immediately blame the media for allotting disproportionate airtime for industry backed psuedo-scientists to sow doubt in the minds of viewers, in their quest for “balance.” Of course this analysis is correct, but incomplete.

It’s been widely proven that fossil fuel interests, most notably ExxonMobil, used the tobacco industry’s playbook and an extensive arsenal of lobbyists and “experts” to manufacture disinformation designed to confuse the public and stifle action to address climate change. As documented by Greenpeace, in recent years this corporate PR campaign has gone viral, spawning a denial movement that is largely immune to reasoned response. While the more powerful climate change deniers have manipulative objectives, such as preserving their vested interests in fossil fuels or political posturing with their constituencies, many on the right actually believe climate change is a hoax. This PR campaign has contributed immensely to denial, but there is still more to the story.

Thus, the question remains: Why is the reality of climate change such a threat to the right? A new study published in the Spring 2011 issue of Sociological Quarterly delves into this very topic. The study finds that conservatives’ refusal to acknowledge the very real threat of climate change, has more to do with its implications rather than skepticism of scientific facts. It’s a classic case of cognitive dissonance!

Stanford University social psychologist Leon Festinger coined the theory of cognitive dissonance, based on a famous case study from the 1950s. Festinger and his colleagues infiltrated a cult that was awaiting what they believed would be the imminent end of the world on December 21, 1954. When the prediction failed, rather than recognize the error of their beliefs, the cult members’ faith grew stronger, so strong that they began to proselytize. People will go to great lengths to rationalize their deeply held beliefs, even more so when exposed to evidence that challenges their worldview. [cont’d.]

(more…)

Cleaning up from Tornadoes, Both Natural and Financial

According to the NYT’s reporters Kevin Sack and Timothy Williams, the government response thus far to the tornadoes that spun their way across the South last week has been a marked improvement over the response to Katrina — the last major natural disaster of a similar size. Local, state, and federal agencies are working better together and coordinating their work with the various charitable groups to deal with the immediate needs for food, shelter, and the like.

President Obama, too, appears to have learned from the past:

Stung by criticism that he waited 12 days to tour the Gulf Coast after last year’s BP oil spill, Mr. Obama took barely 40 hours to land in Tuscaloosa, the hardest-hit area in the seven Southern states struck by tornadoes last week. The death toll stands at about 350 people; Alabama officials said that included 249 in their state, with 39 in Tuscaloosa County.

“I’ve never seen devastation like this,” Mr. Obama said after Friday’s tour. “It is heartbreaking.”

It is indeed. I have clergy friends who are giving thanks for the twisters having missed their churches and the cities in which they live, and others who are mourning the loss of both lives and property.

But I’m struck by the quote from Obama.

There’s another disaster that has wreaked havoc on community after community across the nation. I’m speaking of certain urban areas that have been destroyed not by tornadoes and forces of nature, but torn apart by the financial meltdown, the mortgage mess, and the foreclosure crisis.

Like parts of Alabama after last week’s tornadoes, these areas have block after block of blighted homes and empty lots. Plywood covers the doors and windows of some, while others simply fall to pieces. They didn’t get that way by an “act of God” but by virtue of deliberate acts of human greed and callousness on the part of unscrupulous lenders, mindless robosigners, and coldly calculating investment bankers.

The Woodstock Institute put out a report last January entitled “Left Behind: Troubled Foreclosed Properties and Servicer Accountability in Chicago” [pdf] that spells out the toll that the foreclosure crisis has placed on one major urban area. From the introduction (pdf p.4):

The ongoing foreclosure crisis has led to a dramatic increase in vacant and abandoned properties across the City of Chicago. While some of these properties are secured and maintained by their owners, many are not and can pose significant risks for neighborhood stability. Vacant and abandoned properties can rapidly spiral into disrepair, affecting the values of neighboring properties and attracting criminal activity. In many cases, vacant properties lack clear ownership, without which the substantial costs of dealing with these troubled properties are borne by the city and by the community. Often, the most troubled properties are concentrated in African American communities on the City fs South and West sides, frequently clustered on highly distressed blocks.

The foreclosure crisis has made some of the traditional concerns with vacant properties more complicated. In the past, concerns about vacant properties and foreclosure were largely tied to the disposition of properties that had completed the foreclosure process, entered a mortgage servicer’s portfolio of lender-owned properties, often called real estate owned (REO) properties, and sat vacant until they could be sold and returned to productive use. While the management of such properties remains an issue, there are growing concerns about vacant properties where a foreclosure has been filed but has not yet been completed. Properties that are not occupied or proactively maintained by mortgage servicers are at high risk of falling into disrepair and having a significant negative impact on the community. This is especially true for troubled properties that have been in this state for extended periods of time, raising concerns that the servicer has chosen to charge-off the mortgage after initiating foreclosure and has effectively “walked away” from the property.

If President Obama wants another eye-opening tour, he might ring up his old friend Rahm Emanuel at City Hall in Chicago and the two of them could stroll through some of the neighborhoods like West Englewood (176 properties), Roseland (137), Englewood (137), and Austin (110). [There’s a nice map on pdf page 11 of “Left Behind” if they need directions.]

After strolling the streets, perhaps they could retire to an office at City Hall to take a look at the larger picture of this non-natural disaster, as described by the Woodstock Institute (p. 3):

Foreclosures make up a significant portion of properties on the City’s vacant buildings index. There were 18,320 properties on the City’s vacant buildings index as of September 2010. Of these, 12,674, or 69.2 percent, were associated with a foreclosure filed between 2006 and the first half of 2010. Of these 12,674 properties, 10,778 were related to a foreclosure filing which was linked to a subsequent outcome such as a completed foreclosure auction or a property transfer such as a short sale. There were 1,896 “red flag” properties on the City’s vacant buildings index where there was a foreclosure filing with no subsequent outcome.

These “red flag” properties are of significant concern to City officials and communities, particularly if they sit vacant for extended periods of time. Of the “red flag” properties identified, over 40 percent of these “red flag” homes have been in the foreclosure process for more than a year and a half, which means their loan servicers likely have decided not to complete foreclosure.

“Red flag” foreclosures are disproportionately concentrated in Chicago’s African American communities. Over 71 percent of  “red flag” homes are located in highly African-American communities, compared to only 6.5 percent in predominantly white communities. African-American communities are 11 times more likely to have a “red flag” home than are white communities, while they are 3 times more likely to have a foreclosed property and 6 times more likely to have a vacant building.

There are a substantial number of properties in the citywide inventory of likely vacant lender-owned properties that are not registered with the City as vacant properties. There are 2,558 lender-owned single family homes that are likely vacant but not registered with the City of Chicago. This represents over 57 percent of the inventory of lender-owned single family homes in the City as of the third quarter of 2010. These homes are likely not secured and maintained to the standards required by the City of Chicago and may be in an advanced state of disrepair.

The path toward recovering from this disaster — and preventing the disaster from continuing to spread — is not difficult to identify. The Woodstock Institute names four basic steps that can be taken to clean things up and prevent other communities from being blown apart by the winds of Wall Street’s shenanigans:

Keep properties occupied – For occupied properties, servicers should more aggressively pursue loan modifications that would allow owners to stay in their homes. In situations where loan modifications are not possible, servicers should allow occupants to remain in the property for a defined period of time so that the property remains occupied and does not become blighted. Servicers could also incent occupants to maintain the property so that it does not fall into disrepair. . . .

Hold servicers accountable – Where appropriate, state and federal regulatory agencies should hold servicers accountable for their property disposition strategies. Regulators should monitor whether servicers are complying with local vacant building regulations. Regulators should also ensure that servicers have developed and are implementing strategies to ensure that charged-off properties do not become blighted. Servicers should also be monitored to ensure that they are providing timely information both to city departments and the current property owner when they choose to charge off a loan on a property. . . .

Increase the ability of cities to enforce existing vacant building regulations – Local governments should be given more authority to ensure that mortgage servicers maintain vacant properties up to required standards. Such authority might include making financial institutions with a legal interest in the property responsible for property upkeep and any violations of local building codes and ordinances that might occur at a property even when the owner of record cannot be found or is no longer willing to maintain the property. Increasing the levels of servicer accountability for the outcomes of properties could work to shift internal cost-benefit analysis in favor of loss mitigation efforts, such as loan modifications, that would keep properties occupied.

Improve data sharing to increase information on vacant buildings – Many vacant building ordinances, including the City of Chicago’s, place the onus of registering a vacant property on its owner because a city has a limited capacity to catalog and keep current an index of all vacant properties. However, other entities already collect and update such data and could provide assistance to city governments. . . . These data are publicly reported at an aggregated level, but having such data available at the address level for certain types of properties, such as long-term vacancies, would better identify potential troubled buildings and vacancy hotspots.

Recommendation #2 is the key, and Obama is perfectly situated to make this at least begin to be a reality. Holding servicers and property owners accountable will make them much more interested in keeping the property occupied, either by doing loan modifications for the existing residents or by forcing them to maintain the property rather than letting it simply decay.

The communities that have been destroyed by the financial tornadoes are no less devastated than those destroyed by natural tornadoes, and the toll on the people is no less heartbreaking. The financial tornadoes didn’t roll through in a single night, but wreaked their destruction slowly over time. And they continue to spin out of control.

We may not be able to control natural tornadoes, but we damn well can control financial ones.

If we want to, that is.

(photo h/t: faceless b)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Nicholas Shaxson, Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World

Welcome Nicholas Shaxson, and Host Yves Smith.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World

Yves Smith, Host:

Treasure Islands tells us that tax havens are much larger and much more destructive than most might realize, yet at the same time enjoy much more unofficial and formal support from governments in advanced economies than many of us want to believe.

Nicholas Shaxson defines a tax haven (or “offshore”) as having these qualities: secrecy, low or zero taxes, very large financial service sectors compared to the domestic economy, and political stability by virtue of being captured by banking interests.

Even though Shaxon’s account includes a rogue’s gallery that would be at home in a Graham Greene novel, such as a Mr. Autogue, who has access to everyone important in Gabon, and virtually the entire government of the Isle of Jersey, the broader ramifications are far more chilling.

It’s bad enough that money launderers, arms dealers, and dictators are major beneficiaries of the presence of banks that profess to operate at first world standards without pesky first world oversight. “Offshore” also allows for governments to be denied legitimate tax revenues for activities within their borders. Thus, as implausible as it seems, Africa is a net capital exporter, losing far more in taxes than it gets back in foreign aid. And as Shaxson accounts, many of the devices used by major corporations to chop their tax bills have nothing to do with the actual flow of goods.

Treasure Islands describes how this system evolved. The UK’s Vestey Brothers, early in the 20th century, went to considerable lengths to be “technically abroad” so as to shield their income from beef imports from Argentina from taxes. Switzerland became the modern template for a tax haven during World War II. The Bank of England’s decision not to regulate the Eurodollar market, which developed in the 1960s, set the stage for the development of a much larger unfettered banking system. It expanded during the 1980s as a new cluster of tax havens in parts of what was once the British Empire, became “intimately linked to the City of London.” And the City of London, or more accurately, the Corporation of London, is a state-within-a-state, existing from “time immemorial,” with the world’s longest-standing official lobbyist, the Remembrancer. Nominally democratic, with corporate voters far outnumbering the real inhabitants, it like the various tax havens in its web, has quite deliberately been allowed to exist outside the normal rules of transparency and accountability due to the status and power of its bank residents. Even major scandals like BCCI have left this system unperturbed.

And this network also increases systemic risk. The IMF warned in 1999 that the growth of OTC markets, particularly derivative trading, likely involves offshore banks, which are typically highly leveraged. And when they get in trouble, they lack ready access to a big balance sheet central bank to bail them out. The shadow banking system is heavily anchored in offshore banking, with many hedge funds domiciled in the Caymans or Luxembourg, and special purpose like SIVs typically located in Ireland, Luxembourg, Jersey, or the UK. The point here is that their offshore status means that they finesse key aspects of regulation and oversight.  [cont’d.] (more…)

Virtually Speaking: Scott Tribe, digby, Joan McCarter, David Swanson, Olivier Knox

Live – and archived – on BlogTalkRadio: Sunday May 1 thru Friday May 6

Scott Tribe joins host Kevin Wood on Virtually Speaking Sundays, the Maple Syrup Edition. Election watch, Canada; from a Liberal Party POV. Scott is the current site admin for Progressive Bloggers, the centre-left blogging aggregate in Canada. A member of the Liberal Party of Canada, he blogs here.  Sunday May 1. Listen here beginning 5pm pacific|8pm eastern. Archived here beginning midnight.

Digby and Joan McCarter (DailyKos’s Senior Policy Editor) together on Virtually Speaking Sundays. What did the Sunday morning talking heads cover, distort or ignore? Consider us a counterpoint. Listen here beginning 6pm pacific|9pm eastern, Sunday, May 1.

David Swansonantiwar activist, blogger and the author of War Is A Lie – recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan – on Virtually Speaking Susie with Susie Madrak. Listen here beginning 6pm pacific|9pm eastern, Tuesday, May 3.

• Stuart Zechman, Jay Ackroyd on VS A-Z: This week in liberalism: the coverage of the killing of bin Ladin. | Listen here Thursday May 5 @ 5pm pacific | 8pm eastern. Beginning 8pm eastern,  Listen here Beginning midnight May6, archived here.

Olivier Knox on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd. Conflicts in the Republican caucus; international concern – or its lack – regarding US debt service. Listen here beginning Thursday, May 5 @ 9pm eastern/6pm pacific.

Coming to VS in future weeks: Dahlia Lithwick, Gabirella Coleman, Dan Ellsberg and Glenn Greenwald.

Scroll down for additional show notes.

We have Internet Relay Chat (IRC) so you can be part of the virtual studio audience (aka chat room), sharing comments and questions while listening to Virtually Speaking live on BlogTalkRadio. Logs are shared with the show hosts and guests.

  1. Connect to http://webchat.freenode.net/
  2. Create a log-in name
  3. Enter #vspeak into the channel field.
  4. NOTE: ‘Relay Rinq’ is not a person but a bridge to IRC chat.
  5. Type into the text field along the bottom of the screen.
  6. Begin your question with ‘QUESTION’ so it’s easy for the host (and me) to spot.

Show notes (I’ll add these as I get them or as they occur to me.):

Can’t bear to watch the Sunday morning talking heads that inspire VS Sundays? Let Culture of Truth boil them down for you with the Bobblespeak Translations. Warning: Before reading, swallow and put down the hot tea/coffee/cocoa.

Most weeks, the VS Sunday panel draws from Avedon Carol, Chicago Dyke, Cliff Schecter, CS KendrickCulture of Truth, David Dayen, digby, Eve GittlesonJoan McCarter, Marcy Wheeler, Stuart Zechman and  Susie Madrak. From time to time, the make-up of the panel shifts. Also, every 5 weeks or so, one of our regular panelists invites a guest to join them.

Epilogue;

Epilogue;
by David Glenn Cox

We have been overtaken by a monster in this country, a monster that will cut down every tree and mine every mountain and let children die for a few more pennies in their pockets. This monster has no respect for government or God. It knows no borders and honors no philosophy and even objects to the principle of human dignity.

In its insatiable greed it corrupts and destroys its own country and profanes its own people. It sells the doctrine of personal responsibility while it acts not only irresponsibly, but criminally. It entices purchasers to buy homes with low interest rates and programs and then it foments a crisis forcing a downturn in the economy. It then reels in its nets while the catch struggles against the ropes and then the monster contemptuously spits on the captured and blames them for their fate.

Evolution teaches us of mankind’s rise from among the realm of the apes, that somehow, some way we awoke one dawn to become aware of this world that surrounds us at the end of our finger tips. We became aware not just of life but of death, without the awareness of death then life becomes trivial and meaningless. This mystery of death confounds us and inspires us to do great things. This monster deprives the multitudes of the opportunities of life and offers up only the mystery of death. I know now that my own planned suicide wouldn’t have been a suicide at all but just another attempted murder at the hands of the monster.

Were those thousands of evolutionary eons productive if our society is no safer today than in the days of marauding Vikings or the Black Death? The germs and pillagers are this time from among our own. Where the doctors will only help you for a price? Where you are no safer inside the city walls than outside them, where you must watch your back as well as your front out of a fear of your own kinsman.

Not a life, but a pale imitation of life, a neo-feudal existence with billionaire lords of the manor reducing the life of the multitudes to that of the live stock animals grazing in the feed lot. Each of us just waiting our turn, waiting for the oven to get hot so that the lord of the manor might have another fine house in France or in some other paradise.

The mystery of our awareness is hidden in darkness, the darkness of the night and the darkness of that soul which hides behind our eyelids. That simian part of us which we are unable to overcome, its dark victory means that all of those epochs and all of the struggles of mankind have been in vain. We have charged the gates of heaven for nothing and have been turned back by our own hideous reflection. That ugliness that dwells inside of us all, that ugliness of greed which all of the prophets, religions, philosophies and accumulated wisdom of mankind have railed against has won out in the end and will reign supreme over the graveyard of man.

King of the corpse, Major Domo of the maggot and the regent of rot. Wearing a crown of gold and waving a scepter of a child’s broken thigh bone discontent and incontinent at its failure to pollute the last drop of water or to obtain the last fleck of gold. A desolate evolutionary answer and the ultimate verdict on God’s human evolutionary experiment.

In this darkness, this swirling storm of greed and vengeance there is a shaft of light and a beam of truth that has fallen down upon me. I have gone from an upright affluent Capitalist consumer of whatever crap they’re peddling this week to a different person. I no longer ride the roller coasters nor do I eat the shit burgers. I along with millions of Americans have been robbed and stripped of every last possession that we’ve ever owned and in our loss we have found our freedom, for we no longer have anything left for the monster to take from us.

I see this life in these United States as it truly is and I stand naked before it. I’m revolted by it and appalled by its unnecessary cruelties and by its unmitigated greed. I’ve been enraged by its phony illusions to a two party state and by its cartoonish pretensions of political purity. I know the difference between a September morning raining down and the Reichstag fire’s warm glow; only, there was no one inside the Reichstag when it was burned to the ground. My eyes and ears are filled with constitutional comedies where the law is whatever they say it is this week or law hiding from justice by simply adding, just this once.

These things that I’ve learned under the heal of American life, is that, for all that you will ever gain the monster will take it all away from you in the end. This monster profits from everything at your expense. These shiny things all have hooks in them but I’ve learned not to bite. I’ve talked to these injured and broken people and I’ve heard their stories of abuse that happen in no other industrialized country besides the United States. I’ve seen the wreckage first hand and I have come within a hairs breath of drinking from its poison chalice.

The sidewalks have become our classrooms and public libraries our laboratories and we have learned the truth. We are not stupid, we are misled. We are not lazy, only bereft of tools. We are not gaming the system, the system has gamed us. We have not taking away from this country, this country has taken away from us. It has pilfered us and robbed us blind. It has robbed us by the millions in wages and in numbers, stolen opportunity in every way humanly imaginable. It has subverted our government and turned it into a monster to devour us and unleashed upon us its vile organs and tentacles.

The problems of homelessness were created by this monsters path and in its footsteps are the footprints of unemployment, urban decay and a people left desperate for hope. The monster destroys our homes, our families, our communities, our cities and if left unmolested the monster will destroy the whole Earth upon which we live. The monster brings early death to the elderly and suffering to the little children. Then, in all of the monster’s phony piety and self serving righteousness it has the nerve and the unmitigated gall to call its own people, the children of its own mothers and fathers, bums.

I have become the new man with eyes of passion and heart of stone. I carry the dust of this journey in my pockets and in my sweat and in my tears. I have returned from this odyssey to avenge the interlopers who have taken over my home and pillaged my land. I have returned this new man consecrated by the blood of the martyrs and the tears of the innocent and I have returned with the trophies from hell.

From the forthcoming book; Cooking in a Coffee Pot – 50 essays of America

The High Cost of Fracking – And the Movement Against It

down with fracking (photo: ProgressOhio)

A relatively new natural gas drilling technique – hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” – is being rushed into wide scale use with the same heedless abandon as deep water oil drilling.  Activists are trying to put the brakes on it before fracking has the chance to produce its own version of last year’s BP oil spill.

BACKGROUND

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Marcellus Shale is “a sedimentary rock formation deposited over 350 million years ago in a shallow inland sea located in the eastern United States where the present-day Appalachian Mountains now stand” and it “contains significant quantities of natural gas.” How significant? Well, it kind of depends on whom you ask. University researchers said there was quite a bit, but a key industry player claimed a wildly larger amount (emph. added):

In 2008, two professors at Pennsylvania State University and the State University of New York (SUNY) Fredonia estimated that about 50 TCF (trillion cubic feet) of recoverable natural gas could be extracted from the Marcellus Shale (Engelder and Lash, 2008). In November 2008, on the basis of production information from Chesapeake Energy Corporation [remember that name! – ed.], the estimate of recoverable gas from the Marcellus Shale was raised to more than 363 TCF (Esch, 2008).

Asking Chesapeake Energy if it was worthwhile to drill in an area where they had a direct financial interest seems a bit like asking Tobacco Institute scientists if smoking is linked to lung cancer, no? An increase of over 700% ought to be looked into, not blandly passed along. But either way, there’s a lot of natural gas under them thar hills and it is, as the USGS helpfully notes in its summary, “an abundant, domestic energy resource that burns cleanly, and emits the lowest amount of carbon dioxide per calorie of any fossil fuel.”

Chesapeake is on the same page, touting natural gas as “clean, affordable, abundant” and flatly states: “The only scalable, affordable alternative to burning dirty coal is to burn clean natural gas.” This is an extremely relevant and compelling point if the natural gas packages itself, grows legs and walks to the surface. Sadly, it remains stubbornly immobile. So the alternative is to force it out via directional drilling,

which involves steering a downhole drill bit in a direction other than vertical. An initially vertical drillhole is slowly turned 90 degrees to penetrate long horizontal distances, sometimes over a mile, through the Marcellus Shale bedrock. Hydraulic fractures are then created into the rock at intervals from the horizontal section of the borehole, allowing a substantial number of high-permeability pathways to contact a large volume of rock (fig. 5).

This drilling process requires a large quantity of water to hydraulically fracture the rock (hence the nickname “fracking”), and that water turns into a toxic stew:

Along with the introduced chemicals, hydrofrac water is in close contact with the rock during the course of the stimulation treatment, and when recovered may contain a variety of formation materials, including brines, heavy metals, radionuclides, and organics that can make wastewater treatment difficult and expensive. The formation brines often contain relatively high concentrations of sodium, chloride, bromide, and other inorganic constituents, such as arsenic, barium, other heavy metals, and radionuclides that significantly exceed drinking water standards (Harper, 2008).

No matter how clean it is when you actually consume it, the process of getting to it is unbelievably dirty. Even the USGS acknowledges as much: “While the technology of drilling directional boreholes, and the use of sophisticated hydraulic fracturing processes to extract gas resources from tight rock have improved over the past few decades, the knowledge of how this extraction might affect water resources has not kept pace.”

Drilling technology sprinting past environmental protection – sound familiar?  [cont’d.] (more…)

Anti-Bank Activism Grows with Series of Events in May

Next month, we will see a series of actions at bank shareholder meetings designed to hold the financial industry accountable for crashing the economy. The New Bottom Line coalition plans events at the shareholder meetings of three of the leading banks – Wells Fargo, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. Details on those events are here.

This will culminate in a large rally on May 12 on Wall Street in New York City. It coincides with the release of the New York City budget from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which will include major cutbacks in social programs:

The Big Banks crashed our economy, destroying jobs, foreclosing on millions of homes and wrecking cities and states budgets across the country. After trillions in taxpayer funded bailouts, Wall Street is making billions in profits and giving away record bonuses to CEOs. But our communities are still hurting. Here in New York City, tens of thousands have lost their homes and their jobs. Now, Billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg is proposing devastating budget cuts as the only solution to the economic crisis that Wall Street caused. Enough is Enough. On Thursday May 12, 2011 we’ll be bringing some of that spirit of Wisconsin to Wall Street when thousands of people, from all walks of life, converge in a unique and inspiring action in the heart of the financial world — Wall Street. Join us — because it’s time to make the Big Banks and Millionaires pay!

The event updates can be found at the Facebook event page.

The coalition pushing this forward has come out of the financial reform debate and the foreclosure fraud actions, and consist of clergy, unions and community activist groups. Their demands include ensuring that corporations pay their fair share of taxes, that the banks stabilize the housing market through loan modifications and principal reductions and that they increase lending to create American jobs rather than facilitating the shipping of them overseas.

One of the bank accountability groups, Showdown in America, posted the phone number and email address of a senior vice president at JPMorgan Chase and is encouraging a virtual rally during the shareholder meeting:

Can’t come? Mark your calendars. On May 17, while we’re at the shareholder’s meeting, join us in the action by calling JP Morgan Chase Senior VP, James Gilliam. Tell him to modify Virginia Holwell’s loan, and keep families in their homes: 312-325-5057.

Rather send him an email? Here you go: James.V.Gilliam@jpmchase.com

Virginia Holwell is a homeowner who had her loan modification denied by JPMorgan Chase.

This series of actions reflects the intent of activists fed up with inaction and taking whatever stances are necessary to make themselves heard. State and federal regulators have failed. Politicians have failed. They’re heading into the streets.