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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Michael Brown memorial tree destroyed, plaque stolen within a day of being dedicated in Ferguson

© blogs.riverfronttimes.com
One of the Michael Brown memorials, Ferguson, MO.

A tree dedicated to Michael Brown over the weekend in Ferguson, Mo., was damaged within a day, while a plaque accompanying the tree was stolen, according to the city. This tree, a sapling, was purchased by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association in Chicago. It was dedicated in January-Wabash Memorial Park on Saturday to Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old shot and killed by a white police officer in the summer.

© Twitter
Michael brown tree memorial

Another tree in the park, this one purchased by a resident in honor of a dead pet, was also damaged over the weekend, the city of Ferguson said in a statement Monday. The plaque at the base of that tree was stolen as well. While police believe the trees were broken and the plaques stolen overnight on Saturday, it could have happened any time before an officer patrolling the area noticed it Sunday, the city said.

© Twitter
The tree was destroyed and accompanying plaque stolen

"Officers canvassed the area talking to anyone who might have seen or heard anything related to the incident," the city's statement said. "No witnesses were located, and at this time police have no leads. An investigation into the incident is ongoing, and the City of Ferguson is replacing the trees today." New plaques will be in place later this week, the city said.

Ferguson has erupted in heated protests multiple times since Brown was killed by Darren Wilson, a police officer, in the summer. A grand jury ultimately decided not to indict Wilson last year, while the Justice Department announced last month that after a lengthy review, they found evidence that corroborated Wilson's account and declined to pursue federal civil rights charges.

This is at least the third time that a memorial to Brown was destroyed. In September, a memorial on Canfield Drive, not far from where Brown was killed, was destroyed by a fire. A car hit and destroyed a memorial in December.

Hungary, Greece, Cyprus to resume trade with Russia regardless of Western sanctions


© Flickr/ Bart Koop-Henzen

Hungary, Greece and Cyprus may soon be allowed to export fruit and vegetables to the Russian market, according to a report in the newspaper .

Russian health authorities are conducting audits of suppliers in all three countries, as well as India, Alexey Alexeyenko, the director of Rosselkhoznadzor (the Russian Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance) is quoted as saying.

"About 20 companies will be verified in Greece and Hungary. In India — less, around four to five. Cyprus has requested a delay for technical reasons and therefore, the audits will begin on April 27, where seven to eight companies will be checked."

The US, the EU and other western countries have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Moscow in 2014 and early 2015. Russia responded by embargo of several foodstuffs, including dairy products, meat, fruits and vegetables from the EU, Canada, Australia and Norway.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in early April and it is understood agricultural trade was discussed.

Russia banned about $9 billion worth of imports of fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish and dairy from the European Union and some other countries in early August of 2014.

USGS: Earthquake Magnitude 6.3 - 158km SSE of Lata, Solomon Islands

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Chile on red alert as Calbuco volcano erupts


© AFP Photo / Giordana Schmidt
Puerto Varas, Chile, as the Calbuco volcano erupts on April 22, 2015.

Hundreds of people are being evacuated in southern Chile following a massive eruption of the Calbuco volcano - its first in over 42 years. The government has declared a red alert, as thick clouds of ash and smoke shot up several kilometers into the sky.

The volcano is located near the tourist location of Puerto Varas, about 1,000 km (625 miles) south of the nation's capital Santiago.

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"There are a lot of people out in the streets, many heading to the gas stations to fill up on gas," a resident of Puerto Varas, Derek Way, told Reuters.
The area near the volcano is not densely populated, making it easier for the authorities to conduct evacuations.

Calbuco's last eruption was in 1972, while it is one of Chile's most dangerous active volcanoes.

Volcanic eruptions are frequent in Chile, where about 500 volcanoes are potentially active. It is considered to have the second largest chain of volcanoes in the world, after Indonesia. Southern Chile was a sight of a volcanic eruption back in March, when Villarrica sent ash and lava into the sky.

War: The birth and health of the State


Randolph Bourne

In my essay "The Herd Mind," I explained how "War is the health of the State," according to Randolph Bourne: in particular, how war causes a country to regress from a diverse civilization to a uniform herd locked in fight-or-flight mode, and easily driven by the government.

As I mentioned in my talk "How the Fed Feeds War," this propensity is not lost on those in government, which explains why so many of them are so wont to start and expand wars. War is a pressure point on the body politic which the government strikes to disable resistance and obtain submission. By repeatedly striking that nerve, and thereby inducing war fever and triggering fight-or-flight, a government continually renews its subject population's sense of alarm and dependence, its pliability and support.

Thus it has ever been, for as I propounded in my essay, " War is the Birth of the State," government owes its very origin to this effect. As Herbert Spencer wrote:

"...Government is begotten of [martial] aggression. (...)

...at first recognized but temporarily during leadership in war, the authority of a chief is permanently established by continuity of war; and grows strong where successful war ends in subjection of neighbouring tribes."


Herbert Spencer

This is the tribe transforming from a community of families into a ravaging horde and a stampeding herd under the direction of its chief as herdsman.

And the subjected "neighbouring tribes" are also brought into the fold. Interestingly, according to Franz Oppenheimer, the conquering people who become herders of beast-like men, in general, are previously herders of literal beasts. The primordial rise of the conquering State was largely the story of nomadic herdsmen first marauding, then extorting, and then finally ruling settled agricultural populations.


Franz Oppenheimer

With these conquered peasants too, it was "foreign threats" that transformed them from proud, resisting men into docile herd animals. It was war and the threat of war that transmuted naked exploitation into "government." A settled plunderer will naturally fend off rival plunderers, just as a shepherd will ward off wolves: not for the sake of his flock per se, but for the sake of his wool and mutton. And so, as Oppenheimer wrote:

"The peasants become accustomed, when danger threatens, to call on the herdsmen, whom they no longer regard as robbers and murderers, but as protectors and saviors."

Thus, thanks to the panic of the spooked herd, "plunder" becomes "tribute" becomes "patriotic taxes for national defense" under that first of all protection rackets called the State.

In a sense, war sustains the State during "peacetime" as well. This is especially true for modern welfare democracies ("welfare" being defined so as to include corporate welfare). Earlier States, like the primordial ones discussed above, were characterized by what Frédéric Bastiat called "limited legal plunder," under which "The few plunder the many." Modern States, on the other hand, are characterized by what Bastiat called "universal legal plunder," under which "Everybody plunders everybody." As Bastiat explained:

"Men naturally rebel against the injustice of which they are victims. Thus, when plunder is organized by law for the profit of those who make the law, all the plundered classes try somehow to enter — by peaceful or revolutionary means — into the making of laws. According to their degree of enlightenment, these plundered classes may propose one of two entirely different purposes when they attempt to attain political power: Either they may wish to stop lawful plunder, or they may wish to share in it.

Woe to the nation when this latter purpose prevails among the mass victims of lawful plunder when they, in turn, seize the power to make laws! Until that happens, the few practice lawful plunder upon the many, a common practice where the right to participate in the making of law is limited to a few persons. But then, participation in the making of law becomes universal. And then, men seek to balance their conflicting interests by universal plunder. Instead of rooting out the injustices found in society, they make these injustices general. As soon as the plundered classes gain political power, they establish a system of reprisals against other classes. They do not abolish legal plunder. (This objective would demand more enlightenment than they possess.) Instead, they emulate their evil predecessors by participating in this legal plunder, even though it is against their own interests."

Bastiat concluded:

"The present-day delusion is an attempt to enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else; to make plunder universal under the pretense of organizing it."

And elsewhere, Bastiat wrote:

"Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."


Frédéric Bastiat

Rather than "live and let live," which according to Bourne, is what individuals do in a true state of peace, most people in a welfare democracy (including especially crony capitalists), corrupted as they are by access to the State machinery of compulsion, are bent on subsisting extractively on each other. As Bastiat characterized it, the modern State is a plundering, Hobbesian "war of all against all" sublimated into a seemingly genteel, orderly process. The law of the jungle is instituted and regularized under the mantle of the rule of law.

Just as military foreign wars do, this "war by other means" against domestic enemies causes the people to regress toward herd-minded animality. In order to attain the strength in numbers necessary to achieve fleeting victories in this war, people flock together as "interest groups", or "herds within the herd," which the government mobilizes against each other in the reciprocal pursuit of legal plunder and coercion. Decency and goodwill toward those outside the sub-herd go by the board as people embrace what Ludwig von Mises called " warfare sociology": the belief that those within a herd cannot gain except at the expense of another herd.


Ludwig von Mises

In Oppenheimer's terms, "the economic means" of acquiring wealth (production and exchange) give way to "the political means" (coercion and plunder). In Mises's terms, "social competition" gives way to "biological competition." People look upon those outside their herd, less as fellow human beings and potential partners in commerce and friendship, and more the way a lion looks at a zebra (something to feed on) or a jackal looks at a lion (something to snatch from).

By presenting them with easy access to the bestial means of aggrandizement, as well as the necessity to defend against those who use those means against them, the government makes people prone to fight-or-flight responses toward out-group others: like a predator transfixed with hunger at the sight of its prey, or like that prey transfixed with terror at the sight of a predator.

The herd mind manifests vividly, not only in war rallies, but in political rallies, where rival herds low and bray against each other. At these rallies, fevered minds are filled, not only with "foreign menaces," but various domestic ones: "welfare bums," "selfish businessmen," "the gay agenda," "bigoted shopkeepers," "droves of 'illegals,' "gentrification," "urban thugs," etc.

Through the government, each herd/horde plunders and persecutes by proxy, and is plundered and persecuted in turn. As the sole apparatus for legal plunder, the government takes a cut of the loot for itself for each theft it facilitates. And anger more properly directed at the government is diverted toward domestic enemy herds. In fact each herd becomes deeply wedded to the government as its chief implement for attacking and defending against its foes. And in order to achieve the unity necessary to realize its numerical strength, each herd rallies behind its "champions" in government and the political class.

Thus, this kind of sublimated war is also the "health of the State." The herd mind that reaches its apogee in times of international military conflict is continually activated even in "peacetime" by the modern government keeping its subject populace in a managed, chronic state of low-grade civil war.

This analysis fits well with Bourne's broadest definition of the State. At one point he defines it as follows:

"The State is the organization of the herd to act offensively or defensively against another herd similarly organized."

What is war but the mobilization ("organization") of multitudes ("herds") against each other in offense and defense? So Bourne's definition may be fairly rephrased as simply: "The State is war."

War is the birth, the health, the very essence of the State.

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The number one reason employees get sick....Perceived unfairness at work


© Getty

Recent studies confirm that emotional hurt and rejection, whether part of social interactions or the perception of inequitable and unjust workplace conditions can actually trigger the same neurophysiologic pathways associated with physical pain and suffering (Eisenberger, Lieberman, & Williams, 2003).
In a nifty study by Naomi Eisenberger and colleagues at UCLA, she was able to use the latest technology to peer into the inner workings of our brain called functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) while a team was involved in a social exercise designed to provoke feelings of social isolation and rejection.

She studied what part of the brain was activated while a group of subjects played a computer game with other individuals they did not know. She created two possibilities of being rejected - either actively or passively (she told them they couldn't not continue because of some technical problems). Comparison of fMRI brain activity in the active exclusion group versus inclusion conditions revealed greater activity in the part of the brain that is associated with physical pain (anterior cingulate cortex). Additionally, the subjects who were rejected also reported feeling psychological distress based on self-report measures1.

Current findings suggest that people report higher levels of self-reported pain and have diminished performance on a cognitively demanding task after reliving a past socially meaningful event than a past physically painful event2.

Additionally, interpersonal judgment and social evaluation tends to elicit strong stress reactions with cort in our system being elevated fifty percent longer when the stressor is interpersonal versus impersonal3. It might take approximately an hour for our cortisol levels to respond to "normal" after dealing with an upsetting interpersonal situation.

Perceived Unfairness and Employee Health

Quite a bit of research supports the idea that when employees experience injustice (distributive or procedural), psychological contract breach (e.g., feeling exploited in our work relationship with the company) or unfairness can negatively impact an employee's health.

In a very comprehensive meta-analysis, 279 studies were reviewed to explore the association between employee perceived fairness at work and diverse health outcomes (e.g., absenteeism, job burnout, unhealthy behaviors, negative emotional states, and physical health problems4. Perceived unfairness was significantly associated with indicators of physical and mental health.

Several findings were interesting to note:

  1. Although unfairness was associated with poorer health, the results suggested that unfairness was more strongly associated with indicators of strain and psychological conditions, rather than, physical health outcomes.
  2. Mental health problems were most pronounced for those experiencing (i.e., the kind of injustice related to distribution of rewards and recognition).
  3. Neither age or gender had any impact on the association between unfairness and health.
  4. Interactional unfairness (interpersonal interactions) was consistently one of the weaker predictors of employee health. However, a closer look at the analyses suggested that interactional justice uniquely predict some health indicators such as job burnout and stress distributive and procedural injustice.
These findings suggest that perceived unfairness is a pretty significant predictor of employee health and that the experience of interpersonal mistreatment (e.g., disrespect, bullying behavior, evaluative feedback) are highly associated with well-being.

We already know that working for a competent jerk can be a health risk5.

It would seem safe to conclude that both perceived social inequity, unfairness and negative interpersonal interactions might be more important than just impacting disengagement - it might actually directly lead to such health outcomes as job burnout, absenteeism and psychological distress... Be well.....


  1. Eisenberger, N., Lieberman, M. and Williams, K. (2003). Does rejection hurt? An fMRI study of social exclusion. , 302, 290-292 []
  2. Chen, Z., Williams, K., Fitness, J. & Newton, N. (2008). When hurt will not heal. Exploring the capacity to relive social and physical pain. , 19, 789-795 []
  3. Dickerson, S. & Kemeny. M. (2004). Acute stressors and cortisol responses: A theoretical integration and synthesis of laboratory research. 130, 355-391 []
  4. Robbins, J. (2012). Perceived unfairness and employee health: A meta-analytic integration. , 97, 235-272 []
  5. Nyberg. et al., 2008. Managerial leadership and ischemic heart disease among employees: The Swedish WOLF study. , 66, 51-55 []

Revealed: child sex abuse gang 'with tentacles that go round the world'

Full details of paedophile ring's activity can be reported for first time after trial of two of them, John Denham and Matthew Stansfield, ended with convictions.

© National Crime Agency
Left to right, top row: Adam Toms, David Harsley, John Denham (previously known as Benjamin Harrop), Christopher Knight; L-R bottom row: Matthew Stansfield, Robin Hollyson and Matthew Lisk.

Seven members of a paedophile gang were involved in the rape and abuse of babies, toddlers and children in attacks that were streamed on the internet and seen on every continent.

The sex ring - described as having "tentacles that go round the world" - preyed on the families of the children they targeted, in one case grooming a mother and father before their baby was born.

Members would frequently travel long distances to carry out the attacks together or watch the abuse over the internet, often using the dark web, if only one of them had access to a victim. Online chat revealed that members of the gang, who lived across the UK, would offer advice and guidance to others on drugging their young victims.

Seven men, aged between 30 and 51 and including three convicted sex offenders, were brought to justice following an investigation led by the National Crime Agency.

The details can be reported in full for the first time after the trial of two of them, John Denham, 49, and Matthew Stansfield, 34, concluded at Bristol crown court with their convictions. Denham was found guilty of conspiracy to sexually assault a child under 13. Stansfield was convicted of two charges of conspiracy to rape a child under 13.

The others - Robin Hollyson, 30; Christopher Knight, 35; Adam Toms, 33; David Harsley, 51, and Matthew Lisk, 32 - pleaded guilty earlier to the charges they faced.

Hollyson, who was previously known as Robin Fallick, Stansfield and Harsley are convicted sex offenders while Denham, who changed his name from Benjamin Harrop, was a respected youth football coach.

In total they faced more than 30 charges, including the rape of a child, conspiracy to rape a child, sexual activity with a child and administering a substance with intent against three victims - a baby, a toddler and a pre-school-age child. Investigators, who spoke before the verdicts, believe there are other victims.

The gang hid behind a veil of respectability with careers and families to habitually target children under the age of five in Yorkshire, and the south-east and south-west of England.

Robert Davies, prosecuting, told the jury in the trial of Denham and Stansfield: "This prosecution will take you into a world you wished did not exist. The evidence exposes the shocking interest a group of men had in sexually abusing babies, toddlers or pre-school children.

Police described the men as "monsters in disguise", working together to commit some of the most "vile and depraved" child sex offences the authorities had ever seen.

The NCA, which led the investigation, said the men met after discussing their sexual interests in young children on legitimate social media and adult sex sites. The gang was described as "incredibly skilled" at grooming victims' families, even striking up relationships with pregnant women to abuse their babies.

The men, who did not know each other outside of their involvement in the abuse, led outwardly respectable lives and concealed their activities from the outside world until they were unmasked.

Graham Gardner, deputy director of investigations at the NCA, said: "They don't stand out as monsters, but they are monsters in disguise. We rarely see criminal behaviour involving the sexual abuse of children to this degree. This is serious organised crime at its worst.

"The men involved in this group actively targeted families to facilitate the sexual abuse of their children, toddlers and babies. The depravity of these men appeared to know no bounds and is without doubt as vile as we have seen."

The NCA launched its investigation, codenamed Operation Voicer, last September after Toms contacted police and admitted he had abused a child. Their inquiries led to the unmasking of the ring operating across the UK, which had links to other paedophiles across the world.

In the weeks that followed, the other six members were arrested and a further two victims were identified. Another 21 children have been the subject of safeguarding measures in relation to the investigation.

The NCA has worked closely with the Avon and Somerset, Bedfordshire, Greater Manchester, Hampshire, Humberside, Wiltshire and Sussex police forces, as well as the Crown Prosecution Service and nine local authorities.

Police combed the suspects' electronic communications and established that contact between them began on adult online sex forums, which are publicly accessible and legal to use. Investigators recovered Skype chat logs that recorded conversations between the men, which police described as disgusting and abhorrent.

The exchanges - which were never meant to have been discovered as the men went to great lengths to destroy their online activities - included references to "nep", a term investigators had not come across before. It is a shortening of "nepiophile" - a word used to describe those sexually attracted to babies and toddlers.

There were also references to controlled drugs and over-the-counter medicines, with members of the ring openly discussing what dosages were needed to drug children of different ages.

Police said an "incredible" amount of planning went into gaining access to victims.

Ian Glover, senior investigating officer, said: "We've encountered grooming where the family have been groomed prior to birth of the baby. They go in that early with the sole intention of abusing that baby once it's born."

Extensive planning went into enabling the abuse to be screened over the internet to co-conspirators and also other paedophiles around the world.

Members of the gang were "savvy" in establishing a way to broadcast their activities without transferring files in a way that could be easily traced, instead using video conferencing site Zoom to stream their abuse. They also used the dark web - a way of hiding online activity - to communicate with each other.

Images of abuse in this case are believed to have been seen on every continent and British police have circulated evidence about other suspected paedophiles to authorities in Europe, South America and Australia. There was no business element to the activities, with no evidence of any payment being received.

Greg McGill, head of the CPS organised crime division, said: "It is difficult to find the words to describe the activities of these men, and the harm that they have done. The families of these children have endured a horrendous ordeal and I would like to thank them for their invaluable assistance in securing these convictions.

"Fortunately, the CPS, NCA and police forces were able to coordinate a swift and effective response when matters came to light, which resulted in the arrest and prosecution of these men. The efforts have resulted in guilty pleas from all involved, followed by further convictions secured after a trial for other offences."

The gang will be sentenced together at a later date.

Monsanto sued in Los Angeles County for false advertising


© T. Matthew Phillips

Today a class action lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County, California against the Monsanto corporation. The suit alleges that Monsanto is guilty of false advertising by claiming that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, targets an enzyme only found in plants and not in humans or animals. Monsanto makes this claim to support the contention that glyphosate is harmless to humans.

In the lawsuit, the argument is made that the targeted enzyme, EPSP synthase, is found in the microbiota which reside in our intestines and therefore this enzyme is found in humans and animals. It is further stated in the lawsuit that there are many human and animal health problems associated with the disruption of our intestinal microbes.

"Because it kills-off our gut bacteria, glyphosate is linked to stomach and bowel problems, indigestion, ulcers, colitis, gluten intolerance, sleeplessness, lethargy, depression, Crohn's Disease, Celiac Disease, allergies, obesity, diabetes, infertility, liver disease, renal failure, autism, Alzheimer's, endocrine disruption, and the W.H.O. recently announced glyphosate is 'probably carcinogenic'."

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization (WHO), last month declared that glyphosate is Group 2A carcinogen. The American Cancer Society quickly followed suit, also listing glyphosate as a Group 2A carcinogen.

An Environmental Protection Agency memo dated October 30, 1991 states that the EPA classified glyphsate as a possible carcinogen in 1985. In this 1991 memo, without any justification, this classification was changed to Not Carcinogenic. Three scientists refused to sign, two of whom wrote beside their name: Do Not Concur. This document contains data that clearly shows a statistically significant increase in tumors in laboratory animals treated with glyphosate. But because there weren't more tumors in the group of animals who received a higher dose of glyphosate than there were in the group that received a lower dose, Monsanto made the claim that the tumors could not be related to glyphosate.

Today's lawsuit may be the beginning of an avalanche. Earlier this month, Beijing resident Yang Xiao-lu filed a lawsuit against the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture requesting information disclosure of the toxicology report submitted to the Chinese government for glyphosate pesticide registration in China. The case has been accepted and the collegiate panel of the court has informed the plaintiff that, considering that Monsanto is a stakeholder to the case, they have added Monsanto as an involved party to the case. Chinese citizens had previously petitioned the Ministry of Agriculture for this toxicology report but were denied. The Ministry cited "trade secrets" as the reason for denial. It is difficult to comprehend how a toxicology report would contain trade secrets since trade secrets generally constitute ingredients or a recipe for a compound or manufacturing procedure.

In today's lawsuit, Monsanto is accused of deliberate falsification to conceal the fact that glyphosate is harmful to humans and animals. "Defendant intentionally misleads consumers by misrepresenting and concealing the true and correct facts concerning glyphosate..." Attorney T. Matthew Phillips says, "We are not trying to prove that Roundup is harmful or carcinogenic, we are merely pointing out that Monsanto is lying about the enzymes that Roundup targets. Roundup kills the weeds in your backyard and the weeds in your stomach."

Judgment is sought against Monsanto to prohibit the company from continuing to make the claim that glyphosate targets an enzyme not found in humans and for compensation to the plaintiffs, including attorney fees.

Residents of California can become members of the class in this action by contacting T. Matthew Phillips at [email protected]. Phillips has indicated that he hopes other attorneys in other states will follow suit [pun intended].

No surprise: Tax cuts for poor and middle class, but not the rich boost employment and investment

© Agence France-Presse/Jim Watson
Tax cuts for the rich do not lead to growth in jobs or investment, a study says.

The exact link between tax cuts and job growth has for years been a matter of fiery debate, from college economics departments to the chambers of Congress. Now, a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research could add some nuance to the dispute: Tax cuts do, in fact, boost employment and investment, just not when they're directed at the rich.

The study from Owen Zidar, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, found that tax cuts aimed at the top 10 percent of earners produce little stimulative effect on the overall economy. On the other hand, those aimed at the bottom 90 percent have a greater impact.

Zidar examined the short- to medium-term impact of tax changes at the state and federal levels going back to 1948. On the national level, he found a 1 percent gross domestic product (GDP) tax cut aimed at the bottom 90 percent translates to job growth of 2 to 5 percent, but the impact of a similar cut on the top 10 percent of earners has a negligible effect. He reached similar conclusions on the state level: Tax decreases for most of the population generated 5 percent employment growth, but yielded little change when applied to the top income bracket.

Tax hikes produce similar effects, the paper says. When applied to the rich, they're insignificant. But when applied to the rest of the population, they have a negative effect on economic activity.

Zidar contends that his is the first paper to quantify the economic impact of tax cuts on different income levels -- something he acknowledges is "a very hard problem to tackle" because of a relative lack of data points. But he overcomes that challenge, in part, he says, by looking more closely at the regional impact of tax shocks. In other words, Connecticut, with its high proportion of top income earners, responds differently to tax cuts than Mississippi.

Zidar says the paper carries policy implications, too. If lawmakers want to stimulate job growth, "this suggests payroll tax reform could be a pretty powerful tool," he says. Scrapping those taxes up to a certain amount would be a far more effective means of creating jobs than say, slashing income taxes on the top 1 percent.

The paper is also an academic rebuttal of sorts to former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's infamous slam of the 47 percent "who pay no income tax." More tax breaks for the masses are actually a good thing, Zidar's research suggests.

Likewise, the paper suggests expanding programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit -- which applies largely to working class families -- would be healthy for the overall economy.

Why are oil and gas workers mysteriously dying across America?


© AP

In July of 2012, the mother of 21-year old Dustin Bergsing filed a wrongful-death suit in Yellowstone County District Court. Bergsing died on January 7 of that year — his first child was born just six weeks prior. The cause of death was hydrocarbon poisoning. More specifically, Bergsing died from inhaling fatal amounts of petroleum vapors after gauging a crude oil tank on a Marathon Oil site in Mandaree, North Dakota. Here is what happened (from a North Dakota Supreme Court apellee brief):

Dustin Bergsing was working for Across Big Sky when he was found dead at a Marathon well-site near Mandaree, North Dakota, in the early morning hours of January 7, 2012. Across Big Sky also submitted a report of death, describing the accident happened when Bergsing was "on the catwalk and was going to gauge the oil level in the production tank."

On January 6, 2012, Bergsing left the home he shared with Lacey Breding in Montana to start his shift in North Dakota. The week before, Breding and Bergsing began making plans for their wedding, which was scheduled for June 30, 2012. The night of January 6, Breding and Bergsing were messaging each other, and Bergsing stopped responding around 9:30 p.m. The next contact Breding had was from the Dunn County Sheriff's Department at approximately 4:15 a.m. informing her Bergsing had died...

The bloodwork showed Bergsing had ethane, propane, butane, isobutene, pentane, hexane, and cyclohexane in his blood.

The concept of tank gauging is simple: workers check the level of oil in storage tanks at tank batteries by opening a hatch and putting a gauge inside. Here's how it works:
One of the problems with manual tank gauging is that, as one might imagine, noxious vapors have a tendency to build up inside the tanks and so, when the hatches on top are opened, those vapors are suddenly released into the previously breathable air around the workers. Breathing these hydrocarbon "plumes" can lead to sudden death by asphyxiation and/or cardiac arrest. In some cases, tank gauging is done alone, increasing the risk of fatal accidents.

Nine workers have been killed over the past four years in circumstances that strongly suggest hydrocarbon poisoning as the likely cause of death, and yet so far, only one of the fatalities has been solely attributed to hydrocarbon vapor inhalation.

As far as the oil & gas industry's position on the dangers of manual tank gauging is concerned, there appear to be two possibilities: either they did not realize that opening a hatch on top of an oil tank and looking inside might expose workers to dangerous fumes, or they did realize this and chose not to do anything about it. Here's WSJ:

The deaths of Trent Vigus and at least nine other oil-field workers over the past five years had haunting similarities. Each worker was doing a job that involved climbing on top of a catwalk strung between rows of storage tanks and opening a hatch.

There were no known witnesses to any of the men's deaths. Their bodies were all found lying on top of or near the tanks. Medical examiners generally attributed the workers' deaths primarily or entirely to natural causes, often heart failure...

According to some industry-safety and government officials, the industry has been ignoring warning signs for years and has been resistant to implementing some steps that would reduce or eliminate the risk to workers.

"I was trying to get workers into respirators and all kinds of things and running an uphill battle," said a former industrial hygienist for a large oil company who said he had noticed dangerously high hydrocarbon levels in some of his testing as far back as 2009. "They say, 'Everyone does it this way.' But that doesn't make it any less right or wrong."

Some industry officials said that companies hadn't realized there might be a problem until the pattern of deaths began to emerge, but they now acknowledge the situation needs to be studied further.

One company that surely did "realize there might be a problem" was Marathon because, as the following excerpt from the Billings Montana Gazette details, both sides in the wrongful death suit of Dustin Bergsing agreed that hydrocarbon poisoning was indeed the cause of death and although the exact amount of the settlement wasn't revealed, someone apparently made a payment to the family "in the seven-figure range":

A confidential settlement has been reached in a lawsuit involving a Montana man who died working at a Marathon Oil well in North Dakota.

An attorney representing the family of Dustin Bergsing said Friday that he could not reveal any details of the settlement.

Fredric Bremseth, of the Bremseth Law Firm in Minnetonka, Minn., said only that "the case was resolved for a confidential amount"...

In pretrial statements filed by attorneys for the family and Marathon Oil, both sides agreed that Bergsing died of hydrocarbon poisoning...

The statement said Marathon Oil "knew or should have known that the oil well and tank facility where Dustin Bergsing worked was unreasonably dangerous due to the presence of a large amount of toxic hydrocarbon gases under pressure in the oil."

The statement further said that Marathon "was actually warned by an employee that the accumulation of gases at these wells was ultrahazardous, and could result in a death."

A computation of damages hadn't yet been done, the statement continued, "other than to value the case in the seven-figure range."

Fortunately for everyone in the oil & gas industry who may have been hitherto unaware that breathing hydrocarbon vapors emitted out of giant oil tanks might be dangerous, both the CDC and OSHA have put together some helpful information on the subject.

From the CDC:

NIOSH researchers, along with officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and members of the academic community, have continued to investigate these and other reports of worker deaths associated with manual tank gauging and sampling operations in the oil and gas extraction industry. Through this investigation, NIOSH researchers have now identified nine fatalities of oil and gas extraction workers from January 2010 to December 2014 associated with tank gauging or sampling. The degree of detailed information about each case varies but all have in common manually gauging or sampling production tanks at oil and gas well sites...

When hatches on production tanks are opened by a worker, a plume of hydrocarbon gases and vapors can be rapidly released due to the internal pressure present in the tank. These gases and vapors can include benzene, a carcinogen, as well as low molecular weight hydrocarbons such as ethane, propane, and butane. In addition to asphyxiation and explosive hazards, exposure to high concentrations of these low molecular weight hydrocarbons can have narcotic effects, resulting in disorientation, dizziness, light-headedness and other effects.

For those wondering what a deadly hydrocarbon plume looks like, here's an infrared image which shows you just what it is that these workers are breathing when they open the hatches atop the oil tanks...
...and here is OSHA to explain exactly how the buildup occurs and what happens when the vapor is released...

Hatch is closed. No visible emissions, greater than 95% VOCs produced are controlled. Gases and vapors in tank are in equilibrium with gas and vapors in the liquid hydrocarbon. The different gases and vapors are exerting pressure on the container.


Hatch is opened. A large volume of gases (mostly propane and butane) rush out of the hatch very quickly. The "cloud" can displace oxygen in the immediate work area and presents an immediate asphyxiation hazard.

Below, courtesy of the CDC, is a list of the circumstances surrounding each of the nine workers' deaths. Note that the fatalities are variously attributed to things like atherosclerosis, diabetes, and tobacco use. Particularly absurd is the fact that the following series of events was attributed to ischemic heart disease ("natural causes") with no mention of hydrocarbon vapors:

The employee (52 years old) lost consciousness while pulling an oil sample out of a thief hatch on a tank. The employee fell backwards on the 90 degree corner of the catwalk guardrail. The employee's clothing became hooked to the guardrail. The employee was hanged by his sweatshirt hood. From the toxicology report, autopsy, and extensive air monitoring conducted by the employer and emergency personnel it was determined this individual died from natural causes. The cause of death was sudden cardiac death due to ischemic heart disease. Contributing factors include atherosclerosis and cardiomegaly.

While "natural causes" are blamed in most of these cases, it seems to us that there is a very real possibility that most (or all) of these fatalities were the result of hydrocarbon poisoning and thus could have been entirely avoidable. Of course the likely reason why the proper solutions have not been implemented is that fixing the problem would cost money. Here's WSJ again:

Some industry experts say the industry knew the plumes could unleash potentially dangerous vapors and should have been monitoring the chemical levels all along. And, they say, companies could implement safety fixes that would reduce or remove hazards. One option is to use automated or remote methods to read tank levels. That is done regularly elsewhere, including in Canada.

"There's no question in my mind it was absolutely known" that there were dangerously noxious fumes coming from the tanks, said Dennis Schmitz, a safety consultant for oil companies in North Dakota. "You are absolutely required to evaluate that hazard before you put that employee up there."

"Every hazard should be engineered out," added Mr. Schmitz, who acknowledged that fixes would add some cost.

We'll leave you with the following quote from Dr. William Massello, a North Dakota state forensic examiner, and a forensic pathologist — these are some of the things that can happen should you inhale toxic hydrocarbon vapors right before you coincidentally die of "natural causes":

Well, as I mentioned, number one is you can have a seizure. You could have respiratory ­what we call respiratory arrest or respiratory paralysis, it can put you in a coma, or you can have what we call a fatal arrhythmia of the heart, the heart can quit beating normally and actually sort of fibrillate or jiggle in such a fashion that it doesn't produce any flow of blood and you die from that. And then, of course, you know, when you have fluid in your lung, this can impair the exchange of oxygen that you are going to you're not going to get enough oxygen when you breathe. And then also these components will displace oxygen from your lungs so that in and of themselves they're displacing oxygen from the lung and, as a consequence, you just don't have enough oxygen in your system. So it can be any one of these or all of these things and these can end up killing you.

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The propaganda is working: A significant majority of Americans think the economy is good... and only getting better


© Unknown
Obama would like everyone to think that the U.S. is Disney Land when it is perilously close to becoming Mordor.

Americans' perception of President Obama's economic policies are on the mend according to a new report from CNN.

"For the first time since President Obama took office," says journalist Matt Egan, "a significant majority of Americans give the economy two thumbs up."

The findings are based on a poll conducted by CNN/ORC.

According to the poll 52% of Americans described the economy as "very or somewhat good."

By CNN standards this is considered a "significant majority." So significant, in fact, that the network contends it is great news from Hillary Clinton's Presidential campaign because it shows how successful Democratic programs have been.

And things are only going to get better from here.

On top of that, Americans think the sunny economy will keep going. Over two-thirds of those polled believe the economy will be in good shape a year from now, compared with 38% who say it will be in poor shape.

The findings are the result of several factors including more jobs, healthier economic growth and cheap gas.

But what if, for the sake of argument, the factors CNN cites are complete conjecture?

Jobs, jobs, jobs: It's no secret that people feel better about the economy when they're confident they can get a job.

After years of sluggishness, more than 2.95 million jobs were created last year, making it the best year of employment growth since 1999.

Michael Snyder recently noted that the unemployment numbers are a massive lie. One cannot cite job creation as a measure of economic health without also mentioning job losses and population growth rates. Since 2008, according to Snyder, our population has grown by 16.8 million people but there has been a net loss of 140,000 jobs. It's also important to note that the jobs which have been created are most part-time or low wage. Moreover, the reason the official unemployment rate is going down is because the government considers millions of long-term unemployed workers to "no longer be in the labor force." Currently a record 101.6 million working age Americans are not working.

Finally, if we look specifically at last year, net job gains are nowhere near what CNN says they were. Last year's entire net gain, when we include all the data and not just the cherry-picked statistics, is about 218,000 jobs. Now, that is a "significant" difference in what CNN claims actually happened.

Americans love cheap gas: Everyone loves a surprise windfall — and that's exactly what millions of drivers received when oil and gasoline prices crashed last year.

The average price of a gallon of gasoline has plunged 34% over the past year, according to Federal Reserve data.

Yes, gas is cheaper. But from a realistic perspective, the savings are not that much and they are most certainly offset by health care costs which have tripled for many working families. The average yearly gas savings are roughly $600, or about $50 a month. Sure, it helps, but not to the degree being touted by mainstream media. In fact, the lower gas prices may do more harm than good as hundreds of jobs are now at risk and defaults for oil and gas exploration companies loom. According to one analyst, the negative effects of lower gas prices are spreading like a cancer.

Healthier growth: The U.S. economy is growing again... Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of growth, rose 2.4% in 2014.

The government's official statistics say the U.S. economy is growing again, but let's get real.

There is no growth when you account for inflation. This is made clear by the following real GDP chart from John Williams at ShadowStats. CNN cites 2.4%, but when you account for inflation you end up with a negative growth rate.

That means our economy is not growing, but rather, has been shrinking for over a decade.

CNN goes on to cite other factors like improved consumer confidence and rising stock markets.

But as we know, consumer confidence has only improved because literal trillions of dollars have been injected into the marketplace in the form of credit for things like electronics, houses, cars and education. That tap is starting to run dry.

And when the credit locks up, so too will any remaining momentum in the economy.

Further, should the Federal Reserve stop injecting money into the economy we would very quickly see a reversal in stock markets.

So, while a "significant majority" of Americans think the economy is doing good and even more people think it'll be better next year, the stark reality is more than likely the exact opposite.

The end game is close and a lot of very influential people are warning that the economy is in serious trouble. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who has been credited as the architect of America's modern day monetary policy, says that we will soon experience a significant market event and that something big is going to happen.

And he's not alone, elite individuals all over the world are preparing exit strategies for what many believe will be breakdowns of civil order when the global economy finally does tank.

While they all have played their part in bringing about the current and continuing imbalance that is tipping the world towards social chaos, none of them want their own families to be caught up in it. Hence, they are hastening to buy up what they believe to be remote and relatively safe locations, where they can put a hideaway, retreat or survival station until the world regains its senses. New Zealand tends to come up a lot, but there are other hidden areas, too, where a few million dollars can still be a landing strip, a farmhouse or a homestead worthy of an "elite."

And the government, especially here in the United States knows something is coming and they have been actively simulating the collapse of our economy and potential for widespread violence.

While the propaganda for why everything is fine and why the economy will only get better from here continues to convince millions, the facts show that things may not be as peachy as they would have us believe.

The media tells us one thing. But the actions from elite politicians, business leaders and officials suggest that America about to change in a major way.

Perhaps, just in case they are right, it's time to finalize your preparedness plans. Because if things really are as bad as we and others have detailed over the years, then we're about to experience an environment even more economically difficult than the great depression.

Significant portion of Deepwater Horizon oil transported to sea floor via marine snow

© Sean Gardner/Reuters
Where did the oil go?

After the accident on the Deepwater Horizon platform five year ago in the Gulf of Mexico, an estimated 210 million gallons of oil leaked at a depth of about 1,500 meters for 87 days. This spill was unusual, not only because of the duration and quantity of oil spilled, but because it was also the first oil spill at such great depths.

Where did the oil go? Initially the oil floated upward toward the sea surface. Crude oil consists of many different chemical components, each with different properties. Some of the components of the released oil formed a deep plume at around 1,000 meters of water depth, whereas another fraction continued its upward path until it reached the surface to form an oil carpet.

About 25% of the oil was recovered or removed by skimming and burning directly at the sea surface. Some of the oil evaporated and some was rapidly consumed by bacteria. But a large fraction dissipated, dissolved, or dispersed, naturally or due to the application of dispersants - chemicals that break down the oil into small droplets. These components of the oil remained in the water, even if concentrations were too low to measure reliably.

My research has focused on how oil and dispersants interacted with natural organisms in the water. My experiments suggest that a significant portion of the oil spilled from the well has been carried to the seafloor by marine particles and organisms, a finding that can help guide cleanup efforts in future spills.

Enter marine snow

Tracking oil as it ages is complex: As oil weathers, its composition changes chemically with the aging process depending on environmental conditions, like pressure, temperature and light. For example, the fingerprints of petroleum are the not the same when exposed to sunlight versus when it remains in the dark.

Nevertheless, it is possible to track the Deepwater Horizon spilled oil. Components of the oil mixture have been found in ocean organisms, which indicates that they entered the food web, and oil has been found on the seafloor, where marine life such as corals were heavily affected. Finding large amounts of oil at the seafloor was unexpected, as fresh oil usually floats.

© University of California Santa Barbara
Ocean gunk: a photo of marine snow created in Passow’s lab roller tables.

How did the oil reach the seafloor? This is where so-called marine snow comes in. It is not snow; we just call it that, because in the water these sinking, millimeter-sized particles look like falling snow.

Marine snow consists of many smaller particles, including phytoplankton, feces or feeding structures from zooplankton, or it's made of bits and pieces of miscellaneous material, all stuck together. For example, when phytoplankton grows well, reaching high cell densities, the tiny algae may stick together to form marine snow aggregates. Or, some types of zooplankton's feeding structures, similar in some ways to spider webs, are discarded when clogged. Such clogged, sticky structures also form marine snow.

More recently we discovered that some bacteria respond to oil by forming large amounts of mucus, which collapses, forming very mucus-rich marine snow.

Because it is relatively large, marine snow sinks rapidly and is one of the main transport vehicles for small particles to the deep sea. It provides food to many creatures living at great depth or on the seafloor.

Going down

Oil, when present, is incorporated into marine snow. Oil may be trapped during the formation of marine snow, or later scavenged when sinking snow passes through oil-contaminated water. Marine snow is frequently very sticky and collects additional particles and substances while sinking. In combination with suspended mineral particles, oil may also form oil-mineral aggregations, sometimes called OMAs, which are much smaller than marine snow, but also sink rapidly because of the high density of mineral particles.

It is likely that a significant fraction of the oil released during the Deepwater Horizon spill was transported to the seafloor via different types of marine snow and OMAs.

Sedimentation of oil containing marine snow or OMAs and its accumulation at the seafloor has the effect of re-concentrating the oil, which had dispersed in the water. Undoubtedly, marine life at the seafloor and animals feeding on those living at the seafloor will be affected in a variety of ways by such an input.

Because the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico is not level - it has mounts, gullies and canyons - sedimented marine snow, or floc, does not necessarily stay where it falls. There is a lot of resuspension and lateral flow of floc just above the seafloor, with oil and particles accumulating more heavily in low spots, and sparsely on mounts.

As a consequence, estimating the thickness of the sedimented layer is difficult. Moreover, the extent of the affected area - that is, the size of the footprint of the spill on the seafloor - is also challenging to approximate, making it difficult to assess how much of the spilled oil arrived at the seafloor.

Nevertheless, many scientists believe that the amount of oil that sunk to the sea floor was between 3% to near 25% of the total spill. But the research is ongoing and our understanding of these processes is still increasing. Five years is actually not a long time for science to understand a process as complex as the pathways of the oil after a large spill. Some of the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill on the marine life and ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico will only become visible in future years.

We use oil products daily. As we have depleted the easily accessible reservoirs, we now extract oil under increasingly more challenging conditions to satisfy these needs. Spills are bound to happen. Reducing our dependency on oil will be one significant step towards decreasing the likelihood of spills.