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Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Bumble Bee worker cooked to death with tuna batch

© Image from bumblebee.com

Los Angeles prosecutors charged Bumble Bee Foods and two managers on Monday with violating safety regulations when a worker was cooked to death in an industrial oven with 12,000 pounds of tuna.

Both managers could face serve jail sentences and the company could be charged with a maximum fine of $1.5 million.

Jose Melena, 62, was performing maintenance work in 35-foot-long industrial oven at Bumble Bee's Santa Fe Springs plant in October 2012 when a co-worker, thinking Melena was on a bathroom break, filled the pressure cooker with thousands of pounds of canned tuna and turned it on.

According to a report by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA), Melena's supervisor then noticed he was missing. A search was conducted in the plant and parking lot before his body was found two hours later - after the oven reached a temperature of 270 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prosecutors charged the company and two managers each with three counts of violating OSHA rules: The violation of a safety plan, the violation of rules for workers entering confined spaces and the violation of safety procedures that ensure machinery and equipment are turned off when a worker is conducting cleaning or maintenance

The two managers could face up to three years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 if convicted of all charges. The company faces a maximum fine of $1.5 million.

Bumble Bee Foods has already appealed the fines, arguing it improved its safety program after Melena's death.

"We remain devastated by the loss of our colleague Jose Melena in the tragic accident," the company said in a statement, according to . "We disagree with and are disappointed by the charges filed by the Los Angeles district attorney's office."

It is not the first time the company has been cited for dangerous work conditions with its ovens. A previous OSHA citation leads to a fine of $74,000.

The Los Angeles District Attorney's office has stepped up its prosecution of industrial accidents. In 2013, the state cited nearly 15,000 workplace violations. Of 189 investigations, the state referred 29 to prosecutors. So far this year, the DA's office has filed charges in 14 cases.

Whitewashing WWII: Europeans think the US liberated their ancestors from Nazi Germany

© RIA Novosti / Haldei
The Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. Banner of Victory over Berlin, 1945

As little as 13 percent of Europeans think the Soviet Army played the leading role in liberating Europe from Nazism during WW2, a recent poll targeting over 3,000 people in France, Germany and the UK reveals.

The majority of respondents - 43 percent - said the US Army played the main role in liberating Europe. The survey, carried out from March 20 to April 9, 2015, was conducted by the British ICM Research agency for Sputnik News.

Over 50 percent of Germans and over 61 percent of French citizens believe their ancestors were liberated by the Americans. Nearly fifty percent of Britons think British forces actually played the key role in ending the Second World War. Only 8 percent of respondents in France and 13 percent in Germany credited the Soviet Army for the victory.

WW2 lasted from 1939 to 1945 and involved over 80 countries and regions. Up to 70 million people are believed to have lost their lives. However, the USSR suffered the biggest losses. At least 27 million Soviet citizens died during the war.

The US hoped to stay out, not taking part in WW2. Between 1935 and 1939 the US Congress passed a series of Neutrality Acts meant to prevent Americans becoming involved. President Harry S. Truman was quoted as saying by the New York Times in June 24, 1941: "If we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances. Neither of them thinks anything of their pledged word."

Various estimates say the Soviet Red Army liberated nearly half of Europe's territory, which comprise 16 modern European countries. Allied forces liberated nine countries, while six more were freed by the Soviets and the Allies together, according to RIA Novosti's count. The combined population of the territories, in which the Red Army beat back Hitler's forces, was about 120 million people.

The Red Army also had to face the lion's share of Nazi forces on the Eastern Front - about five million soldiers. The vast majority of Hitler's military hardware was also concentrated in the East: 5,400 artillery pieces, 54,600 mortars and over 3,000 warplanes. Combined, it amounted to three-fourths of the heavy weapons at Hitler's disposal. By the end of the war, the Soviets had destroyed over 70 percent of the enemy's forces.

The Eastern Front was the widest, spanning four to six thousand kilometers, which is four times more than the North African, Italian and Western European frontlines combined. It was also the hottest, seeing 1,320 days of combat compared to North Africa's 309 and Italy's 49.

In mid-April 1945, the Soviet Army started the final offensive against the German capital, and on April 21, they entered Berlin. On April 27, the Red Army linked up with American troops at the River Elbe, cutting the German army in two. At the time, the commander of the US 12th Army Group, General Omar Bradley, praised the Soviet troops for their resolve in forcing the Germans out of Russia. On 2 May 1945, the Berlin garrison finally surrendered to the Soviet army. On 4 July 1945, US Independence Day, American troops officially took charge of their occupation sector in southwest Berlin.

In January, 1945, the Soviet Army liberated the Nazis' biggest concentration camp at Auschwitz, in southwestern Poland, which was seen as a symbolic landmark.

Earlier this year, in January, Polish foreign minister Grzegorz Schetyna bluntly dismissed Russia's role in the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, claiming it was liberated by Ukrainians.

"Maybe it's better to say ... the First Ukrainian Front and Ukrainians liberated [Auschwitz], because Ukrainian soldiers were there, on that January day, and they opened the gates of the camp and they liberated the camp," Schetyna said in an interview with Polskie Radio.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called his comments "sacrilegious and cynical."

"Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army, which included Russians, Ukrainians, Chechens, Tatars and Georgians, among others," Lavrov emphasized, calling Schetyna's words a "mockery of history [that] needs to be stopped."

Kilauea Volcano lava lake reaches rim, threatens to overflow


© GB Hajim, COO HawaiiCon

The lava lake at the summit of Kilauea volcano reached the rim of the Overlook crater vent this morning, "during a period when all spattering stopped, but did not get quite high enough to overflow onto the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater floor," scientists report.

The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory says there was no significant change in tilt recorded at Kīlauea's summit over the past day. This week's rise in the level of the lava lake to record heights has correlated with inflation recorded at the summit; about 7.5 microradians since inflation started on Tuesday, April 21. The radial tilt leveled off into slight deflation on Monday but as of this posting Tuesday morning it has returned to steady inflation. The lava lake remained at a steady 10-13 feet below the rim on Monday.

The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory says seismicity is elevated beneath Kilauea's summit and upper East and Southwest Rift Zones. Sulfur dioxide emission rates averaged 3000-5200 tonnes/day for the week ending April 21.

HVO has installed a new webcam at the Halemaʻumaʻu Overlook. The new angle compliments the four views already trained on the volcano vent at the summit.


New webcam at Kilauea summit.

As the lava level rises, some residents have expressed concern. To alleviate fears, Hawaii County Civil Defense issued an eruption information update Tuesday morning:

The recent rise of the lava lake within the Halema'uma'u Crater vent at the summit of Kīlauea has not resulted in any significant change or increased activity at Pu'u 'Ō'ō. All active flows from Pu'u 'Ō'ō remain within about 5 miles of the Pu'u 'Ō'ō vent, and about 8 miles from the area of Highway 130 near Pāhoa. The team at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory is maintaining close observations of all volcanic activity and the community will be kept informed of any changes in the level of volcanic threat. Presently, the Kilauea Volcano alert level remains at the WATCH or orange threat level and there is no immediate threat to any down slope communities.Hawaii County Civil Defense on April 28 at 8:03 a.m.


© NPS Photo/Mark Wasser ​
The rising lava lake within Halema‘uma‘u Crater at the summit of Kīlauea volcano draws thousands of additional visitors to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

Now that the laval lake is visible to the public, the activity has drawn thousands of additional visitors to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Over the last several days, hopeful onlookers waited up to 30 minutes or longer to park. Rangers are having to redirect vehicles during peak visitation hours to park at the Kīlauea Military Camp ball field. From there, park officials say visitors can hike one mile to the Jaggar Museum observation deck, the closest and best vantage point to view the spectacular lava lake.

Visitors should come prepared to ensure a safe and enjoyable park experience. We encourage people to avoid peak hours, and arrive after 10 p.m. and before 4 a.m. if possible, or they will likely wait in line for parking. The park remains open 24 hours a day." - Superintendent Cindy Orlando

The National Park Service also offered these tips for an optimal viewing experience:
  • Be prepared to hike one mile each way between Kīlauea Military Camp ball field and the Jaggar Museum observation deck on Crater Rim Trail. Wear sturdy closed-toe shoes, bring rain gear, water, binoculars, a flashlight, and extra batteries.
  • Carpool if possible to reduce the number of vehicles in the parking areas.
  • As a courtesy to other visitors, no "tailgating" in the Jaggar Museum or Kīlauea Overlook parking lots. Choose another picnic location so others have a chance to view the eruption.
  • To observe viewing and weather conditions, monitor the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory webcams. The KI camera provides a panoramic view of Halema'uma'u Crater from HVO.
  • High levels of dangerous sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas and volcanic ash can be blown over Jaggar Museum by southerly winds. These gases are a danger to everyone, particularly to people with heart or respiratory problems, young children and pregnant women. Kīlauea Visitor Center offers updates on air quality 24 hours a day, and visitors can monitor the Hawaii SO2 network website.
The public is also reminded that park entrance fees apply and that the use of unmanned aircraft (drones) is prohibited in all national parks. An incident at the park made headlines Monday: rangers tased a park visitor who was operating a drone at the overlook.

Prepping is just common sense!

Just how much damage can result from one severed wire? One crashed circuit board? A few errant keystrokes or transposed digits? It might surprise you to learn the magnitude of the impact of such a seemingly minor glitch.

With the incredible reliance we have on electronic communications, we are very vulnerable to system failures that could erupt in the event of a catastrophic interruption in telephone, data, or wireless communications. While much of the information moving in these networks is recreational, a huge proportion of it pertains directly to the distribution of food and other critical needs.

As simple as it seems to walk into a store and purchase items, the fact is that there are thousands of electronic components that must function without interruption in order to make those goods appear on a shelf.

After decades of this lifestyle, we take it for granted. We should not. Instead, we should all equip ourselves to survive for an extended period with no expectation of being able to buy anything--or even having money to buy it. In an article entitled "20 Facts that Prove the US Retail Sector is About to Collapse", theantimedia.org explains why.

So the logic behind hedging against such a disaster is sound, and the event isn't as unlikely as many would have you believe. Many of your neighbors may be well ahead of you on it.

You may not realize just how much prepping is going on right around you. What looks like a garden raised for fun and nutrition is really an insurance policy against trucks that can't deliver and stores that can't receive. Recycled, reused, and repurposed items aren't just economically and environmentally friendly, they're the development of skills that will keep the consumer from going without basic needs. Even the larger Rhino Steel metal buildings going up in various locations are pre-engineered for reuse and are an example of green engineering.

Start with the simplest preparations and then work toward greater and greater self-reliance, and you'll feel an unbelievable release from pressure you may not have realized you were feeling. And along the way, bear in mind that it's a good investment of time and money in several ways.

You don't have to encounter a major disaster to get benefits from your preparations. A day or two without municipal water, supply interruptions for groceries, or even simply a breakdown of your own vehicle can keep you from getting the basics needed for your survival. Don't hesitate to use your stockpile during these times!

Such events are a perfect chance to rotate stock and keep familiar with what you have gathered. They can also help you discover things you might have omitted, giving you a chance to get some on hand before a more significant problem takes place. You'll also learn more about your consumption rates for food and water, and you'll have a nice opportunity to experiment with different recipes and combinations of food. You can utilize basic staple items an impressive variety of ways, with some practice.

Amid the alarmist talk about the insignificant, it can be very easy to lose track of the very real and potentially immediate threats to our safe way of life. Prepping for disruptions of food and other necessities is just common sense.

Useful idiots and the limits of propaganda


© John Breed
Flim Flam

As Paul Craig Roberts has recently reported, the US government is in the process of launching an all-out war on truth. Those who express views contrary to the party line out of Washington will be labeled a threat. Eventually they may find themselves carted to one of the concentration camps which Halliburton (Dick Cheney's old company) has constructed for $385 million. But that may take a while. In the meantime, we can expect lots of other, less dramatic developments. Indeed, some of these are already happening. Here they are, listed in order of severity.

1. Self-censorship. Those who have previously tried to get the truth out no matter what become more reticent and prone to equivocation when reporting on "hot" issues.

2. Topic-avoidance. They start avoiding certain "hot" issues that they feel are most likely to get them into trouble.

3. Response to harassment. A few incidents of mild official harassment cause certain blogs to start watering down their content, or pulling down content in response to harassment.

4. Blacklisting. The officials start censoring content on a case-by-case basis, blocking or shutting down certain internet sites that they consider seditious.

5. Blocking communications. The officials start dealing with the "hard cases" of uncooperative individuals who remain, shutting down their communications by disabling their cell phones, shutting down internet access, and by imposing travel restrictions so that the "hard cases" are forced to remain in places where they can be watched.

6. Detention. Those found to be truly uncooperative, who try to circumvent the restrictions, are rounded up and shipped off to the above-mentioned camps.

This may seem like a dire prognosis, but actually I just want to present a relatively complete list of public measures for your consideration. Yes, there will be a few "hard cases" who will insist on getting right in the face of Washington officialdom in futile hopes of somehow affecting the political process or winning over a few of their compatriots. But at some point such individuals become indistinguishable from people with mental problems. That is because if you live in the US, actually know how the political system there operates, and still think that the US is a democracy, then you DO have a mental problem. You can't have it both ways: either you buy into the official propaganda, or you don't.

Also, it bears pointing out that the vast majority of people in the US are quite happy listening to Washington's propaganda, be it from Fox or NPR, don't consider it propaganda, and have been conditioned to consider anyone who attempts to tell them the truth to be tin hat-wearing conspiracy theorist nut case. And that means that tin hat-wearing conspiracy theorist nut cases have a role to play. They are important to have, in the same way that a village idiot is important to have, so that children can learn what idiocy looks and sounds like. So, why bother sending them to a concentration camp?

And so it seems likely that the village idiots... ahem, truth-tellers will remain free-range for the time being, unless they really lose it and start tilting at windmills. But then that becomes a bona fide mental health issue.

Unless, of course, full-on war hysteria breaks out. In that case, while the external goons are busy pretending to be "not winning, not losing" but somehow "keeping America safe" in yet another wretched part of the world, the internal goons have to be kept busy. Rounding up undesirables would give them something to do.

That's the state of affairs in the United States and its subservient territories: Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and a few others. But Washington's propaganda isn't working at all well in the rest of the world, be it Russia or China or Latin America. In all of these places, Washington's message control has more or less failed. This is why the people in Washington are in a bit of a panic, and labeling internal dissidents as a "threat" is just them flailing in search of an answer. They can't stop lying, and they can't even pretend to rule the world if everyone knows that they are lying, so their only option is to try to squelch every voice except their own. They may succeed at this within the US (some would say they already have) but as far as the rest of the world—good luck!

Bullied Michigan teen defies school officials, reposts video about struggle with bullying, lack of support from administration


© Screen capture
Dana Hamrick on You Tube

A Michigan teen who posted a video to Facebook complaining about lack of support from administrators at her high school who had failed to protect her from bullying, has reposted the video to YouTube after being told to take it down.

According to MyFoxDetroit, 16-year-old Dana Hamrick originally posted the video - where she tearfully explained that she is bullied on a daily basis at Harry Truman High School - only to be told later in the day to take it down by school officials.

In the video, an emotional Hamrick says, "One of the vice principals, he would threaten to suspend me for three days because I wasn't in the cafeteria getting bullied," adding, "I am sitting here, bawling my eyes out and you tell me to get out of your sight."

Two days later she reposted the video which had been seen by tens of thousands.

"I posted the video because I want people to know that bullying hurts," she explained. "It does, words hurt."

[embedded content]

According to school officials, the morning Hamrick posted the video, her parents were contacted and a meeting was scheduled. Administrators said that they had offered support and an intervention for the teen months ago, but she had refused, saying she was afraid to name her attackers out of fear of retaliation.

The parent of another teen at Truman told FOX 2 that when her daughter suffered a concussion in a fight recorded on cellphone video a year ago, the school didn't react, even when she says her daughter had warned staff the attack was coming.

Hamrick says she still doesn't feel safe at the school.

"People send their kids to school, it should be a safe environment,"she stated. "I don't think I'm safe. I don't feel safe."

Watch the MyFoxDetroit report below:

[embedded content]

Did Nepal earthquake change Mount Everest's height?


© Andy Bardon, National Geographic Creative
Mount Everest (left) and Mount Nuptse (right) might have shifted in the recent Nepal earthquake, but by how much?

The massive earthquake that struck Nepal Saturday likely caused permanent changes in the Earth's surface and may have made Everest a little taller - or shorter, scientists say.

A team of geologists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is working on the problem now, but they need to retrieve data from a GPS station near Everest within the next 11 days, warns Kenneth Hudnut, a geophysicist who studies earthquakes with the USGS in Pasadena, California.

After that, new data will start recording over information about the quake, erasing the most detailed information on how much the station swayed back and forth and up and down. As a result, the geologists are scrambling to raise the funds to book helicopter time or to piggyback the mission on scheduled humanitarian efforts. (Learn more about the science of the Nepal quake.)

In the meantime, Hudnut and colleagues have been analyzing satellite and seismology data on Saturday's estimated magnitude 7.8 earthquake, to better understand what happened and determine how likely future quakes may be. Preliminary models, which will need to be refined, suggest that Mount Everest and its surrounding area may have shifted by a few centimeters both vertically and horizontally, says Hudnut.

That jives with an estimate from James Jackson, a geologist at Cambridge University in England. At Everest, "the vertical motion is expected to be less than 10 centimeters [four inches] and the horizontal the same," Jackson said via email.

Another spot moved two centimeters to the north, one centimeter to the east, and nothing in the vertical, Jackson added. That location, in Tibet 124 miles (200 kilometers) east of the earthquake's epicenter, may be similar to what Everest experienced, he noted.

Zeroing In

For a closer look, Hudnut hopes to retrieve data from a station called SYBC in a valley less than 17 miles (30 kilometers) from Everest's peak. Since the station is no longer transmitting data, thanks to the quake, scientists will have to fly there and download it directly. Further information could eventually be provided if climbers can survey the top of the mountain with high-quality GPS units.

"We're not just looking to see whether Everest went up or down, but we're looking to understand what the whole Earth did and the science behind the earthquake," says Hudnut. "For example, we want to know if the quake put additional stress on other faults in the area, which could lead to future earthquakes."

Hudnut adds that the city of Kathmandu, which was closer to the epicenter than Everest and was heavily damaged by the temblor, may have seen movement of as much as a meter (three feet). Jackson says movement of the rocks along the fault near the city might have been as much as nine feet, or three meters.

Still, that doesn't mean the city was simply shifted by that much, cautions Jackson, because the Earth's crust deforms in complex, uneven ways. It may mean that parts of the ground underneath the city, or near it, moved relative to each other.

Time to Change Maps?

Asked if a new height for Everest will mean a change to National Geographic's many map products, society Geographer Juan Valdés says he is watching the science closely.

National Geographic doesn't rely on a single scientific agency for its data, he says, but rather reviews data compiled by as many sources as possible. In the case of Everest, that means data from agencies in China, Nepal, Europe, and beyond.

Quakes and other geological events have changed National Geographic's maps before, Valdés notes, from movements in the ground caused by earthquakes to new islands created by volcanoes. The movement experienced in Kathmandu is unlikely to show up in the resolution of the society's maps, says Valdés, but it remains to be seen for Everest's height.

The last time Valdés recalled a significant change in a mountain height was in January 2014, when glacial melt in New Zealand had reduced the height of Mt. Cook from the previously measured 12,316 feet (3,754 meters) to 12,218 feet (3,724 meters), a difference of 98 feet (30 meters).

The fact that the world's tallest mountains can move at all "proves how dynamic the planet truly is," says Valdés.

Bullied Michigan teen defies school officials, reposts video about strugglea with bullying, lack of support from administration


© Screen capture
Dana Hamrick on You Tube

A Michigan teen who posted a video to Facebook complaining about lack of support from administrators at her high school who had failed to protect her from bullying, has reposted the video to YouTube after being told to take it down.

According to MyFoxDetroit, 16-year-old Dana Hamrick originally posted the video - where she tearfully explained that she is bullied on a daily basis at Harry Truman High School - only to be told later in the day to take it down by school officials.

In the video, an emotional Hamrick says, "One of the vice principals, he would threaten to suspend me for three days because I wasn't in the cafeteria getting bullied," adding, "I am sitting here, bawling my eyes out and you tell me to get out of your sight."

Two days later she reposted the video which had been seen by tens of thousands.

"I posted the video because I want people to know that bullying hurts," she explained. "It does, words hurt."

[embedded content]

According to school officials, the morning Hamrick posted the video, her parents were contacted and a meeting was scheduled. Administrators said that they had offered support and an intervention for the teen months ago, but she had refused, saying she was afraid to name her attackers out of fear of retaliation.

The parent of another teen at Truman told FOX 2 that when her daughter suffered a concussion in a fight recorded on cellphone video a year ago, the school didn't react, even when she says her daughter had warned staff the attack was coming.

Hamrick says she still doesn't feel safe at the school.

"People send their kids to school, it should be a safe environment,"she stated. "I don't think I'm safe. I don't feel safe."

Watch the MyFoxDetroit report below:

[embedded content]

While everyone watches California debate, Vermont sneaks bill eliminating vaccine exemptions into law

With the public focused on the lobbyist-driven California Senate Bill 277 (SB-277), the Vermont Senate quietly eliminated vaccine exemptions Thursday with an 18-11 vote. Missing the starting gun, communities across America are now facing the political push to remove the barrier between their bodies and a private company's medical product. Attempting to squeeze every last drop of credibility from the "safe and effective" argument, senators across the U.S. appear to be ignoring the voices of their people in addition to over $3 billion of payouts in the U.S. alone from The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

Recently, the population of Vermont, and the rest of the country, is swooning over the state's political representatives for enacting the nation's first mandatory GMO labeling law. After a short legal hang-up forced by corporate influence, the law will begin on July 1st, 2016. What better state to remove vaccine exemptions than one in which its politicians can do no wrong. As first reported by AgeofAutism:

"Friday, April 10th, Jennifer Stella, head of the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice learned that Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, and Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, had tried to tack the exemption removal language onto another bill. The move was ruled to be non-germane and was disallowed.

The following Tuesday evening Stella learned that another attempt was coming, this time to tack the bill onto a vaccination registry expansion bill that had already passed the house, and would be debated the following morning. By the time the bill (H98) hit the senate floor on Wednesday, a barrage of phone calls had been made to concerned parents, who showed up in the Senate Chamber ready to fight the measure. The bill surfaced as an amendment introduced, again by Senators Mullin and Campbell, and this time joined by Senator Sears, D-Windsor."

It was at this point the process went from underhanded to simply corrupt. Appearing it would fail, the Vermont H98 sponsors decided to postpone their bill a week mirroring the exact techniques seen during California SB-277. This was presumably at the advice of lobbyists who were present on the Vermont Senate floor from the American Academy of Pediatrics, phRMA, and others. Reconvening a week later, on the same day as the final California vote (4/22), Health and Welfare Committee Chair, Senator Ayer announced that no testimony was to be heard from parents. Only "experts" would be allowed to testify with an MD, PhD or greater. Among those testifying for removal of parent's rights was Dr. John Modlin, MD, Deputy Director of Polio for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation via phone from Geneva, Switzerland.

Minutes before the Vermont bills final 18-11 approval, Senator David Zuckerman proposed an amendment (to the vaccine exemption elimination amendment) that would allow children with genetic vulnerabilities to vaccine injury to be immune from mandated injections. In a truly telling move, Zuckerman's plea to exempt children virtually guaranteed complications from vaccines, was quickly denied.

Both the California and Vermont bills come at a time when Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is calling for, at The Centers for Disease Control, a "." In addition, prominent civil rights group the ACLU recently sent a letter to California SB-277 authors Richard Pan and Ben Allen raising serious alarms about their bill's constitutionality.


Big Pharma Lobbying in VT
Vermont Capital Reporting
Robert F Kennedy on Bill Mahr

The Ukraine I knew is dead and gone

What will appear in its place?

There may be some kind of Ukraine, but it will be far, far different from the Ukraine we knew and which has sadly ended

Hard as it is to say, sad as it is for those of us who liked Ukraine, as I liked Ukraine - over 2 years living there pre-war, it was a country I was very fond of - but post-Euromaidan, Ukraine is dead. Here's why -

1. If there's no law, it's not a country, it's a failed state

The recent wave of killings of anyone perceived to be 'anti-regime' in Ukraine, accompanied by not only resounding failure to investigate, but actually official endorsement of those responsible - the fact that the police in Ukraine defer to terrorist group Pravy Sektor. Just the start of a long list. There's no law whatsoever in post-Euromaidan Ukraine.

2. If there's no democracy, it's not a country

Dmitry Yarosh, leader of neo-Nazi terrorist group Pravy Sektor

It's a banana state. On February 22nd, 2014, Euromaidan kicked out not only a democratically-elected president, but a democratically-elected government. It waited three months before holding elections for a new president, 8 months before parliamentary. By that time, all too late, the extremist element had already taken a stake way beyond electoral control - neo-Nazi party Svoboda, despite scoring less than 5% in the parliamentary elections, still vocally sit in Ukraine's parliament, regularly send fighters to the front. Leader of neo-Nazi terrorist group Pravy Sektor Dmitry Yarosh (pictured), who polled less than 1% in the presidential election, on Interpol's wanted list, is now an official aide to to the Ukrainian military.

3. There will never be peace in Ukraine.

Azov battalion recruits

There's now a history, and future, of violent revolution. Maidan set the precedent, installed its president in Ukraine by violent revolution. Yet Maidan was comprised of different factions, far from all of whom support the president. In fact Ukrainian neo-Nazi Azov Battalion (pictured) have frequently stated their intention for a 'new Maidan' and a desire to 'bring the fight from Donbass to Kiev'. Even the generally pro-Kiev Moscow Times has written of the likelihood of another Maidan.

Maidan set the terms for the institutionalised demolition of democracy in Ukraine - a couple of thousand extremists, and a mass easily gulled by patriotic slogans, in central Kiev can, violently, topple any government they want. Ukraine's president Poroshenko knows it, does everything he can to appease the radicals. Every objective person knows that whatever, there will never be peace in post-Euromaidan Ukraine.

4. Crimea,

once the golden territory of the land, held a referendum to vote out of Ukraine, will never return to Ukraine, even Germany's leader Angela Merkel admitted that with her recent statement of 'we won't forget it' (but we won't do anything about it).

Once a country loses a part of its territory, it's never the same country.

5. The Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics, are never returning.

Ukrainian forces haven't taken any territory there since July of 2014, they've only lost territory. DPR and LPR forces have consolidated lines, and if there is movement, it will only be to take more of Donbass - currently they have around 1/3 of the region which once produced 80% of all Ukraine's coal, but from which the DPR and LPR do not supply to Ukraine any more, while industrial production in the rest of former industrial heartland Donbass has mostly ground to a halt.

The DPR and LPR have held a referendum, and election, to vote themselves out of Ukraine. The majority of those in Ukraine-occupied Donbass voted to secede. Meanwhile those all over Ukraine are becoming both less concerned with the 'retaking' of DPR and LPR territory, and more ambivalent towards Ukraine due to 6. -

6. Normal life is almost impossible in Ukraine.


Inflation in Ukraine is at 272%, the hryvnia's worth at less than 40% of what it was. Inflation has rocketed, salaries have collapsed, businesses across Ukraine have closed. In short, people don't have any money in Ukraine anymore - sales of new cars down 67% year-on-year - production of cars down 96%, 46 banks declared insolvent in the last year.

As for the eternal thorn in Ukraine's side, corruption, one which apparently became so pressing one of the defining aims of Maidan was to extricate it - it's even worse than it was before.

And for Ukrainian soldiers killed in action in Donbass, sources were estimating that at over 20,000 last August. I've seen the bodies of dozens of Ukrainian soldiers, how many of those were identified, fewer than a quarter. Across Ukraine - extreme poverty, hyper-inflation, unemployment, and relatives who left, or were mobilised, to fight in Donbass, disappeared forever, whose fate will never be known. There's no normal in Ukraine anymore.

7. Ukraine's debt is over $80 billion

Set to hit $100 billion soon, 100% and rising of a sinking GDP. An agreed recent IMF bailout programme of $17,5 billion would only scratch the surface. Ukraine's economy shrunk 7.5%, by conservative estimates, in 2014. Estimates for this year range from 6% to over 20%. European governments pledge support, meanwhile European businesses withdraw on mass, hundreds have already left the Ukrainian market, most of the 600 German firms operating in Ukraine conducting an audit about withdrawing from the market.

Trade with the country which was Ukraine's leading export and import partner by far, Russia, understandably decimated, Ukraine's economy is stricken, and only going down.

8. The whole meaning of 'Ukraine' has changed

Just look at a Google of Ukraine from 2011, 2012 and 2015 -

Ukraine images 2011


Ukraine images 2012


Ukraine images 2015

Ukraine now is associated with blood, death, war. There's blood associated with the Ukrainian flag from its military shootings in Odessa to Mariupol, to its military relentlessly shelling civilian areas of Donbass. The perception, identity, the very definition of 'Ukraine' has changed forever.

9. There's no one who could make Ukraine one again

There's no political figure who can unite the former country. No one elected or placed in Kiev could ever win the support of those regions which have broken away, by the very fact of their being connected to Kiev. No political figure would ever be elected in those seceded regions on a 'united Ukraine' platform.

There's simply no one who can make Ukraine one again.

10. There will be a 'Ukraine', whatever that is, in future.

But the 'Ukraine', to some simply 'the Ukraine' is finished. It's dead. The sooner those pro-Ukraine accept that, the more lives will be saved, the quicker they can find what, where, 'Ukraine' is, after all, and start to build that, rather than destroy the former Ukraine.


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Muslim girl banned from school for wearing long skirt in France

The case of a 15-year-old Muslim girl who was banned from class twice for wearing a long black skirt seen as too openly religious for secular France has sparked an outcry.

The girl was stopped from going to class earlier this month by the head teacher who reportedly felt the long skirt -- popular among some Muslim women who cover their whole body -- "conspicuously" showed religious affiliation, which is banned in schools by France's strict secularity laws.

"The girl was not excluded, she was asked to come back with a neutral outfit and it seems her father did not want the student to come back to school," local education official Patrice Dutot told AFP on Tuesday.

He added that the student always removed her veil before entering school premises in the northeastern town of Charleville-Mezieres, as is specifically stipulated by law.

According to the 2004 law that governs secularity in schools, veils, the Jewish kippa or large Christian crosses are all banned in educational establishments, but "discreet religious signs" are allowed.

The student, whom local daily L'Ardennais identified as Sarah, told the newspaper her skirt was "nothing special, it's very simple, there's nothing conspicuous. There is no religious sign whatsoever."

Her story was trending on Twitter in France Tuesday with the hashtag #JePorteMaJupeCommeJeVeux, translated into English as "I wear my skirt as I please."

"If it's worn by a 'white' person, it's hippy chic, if it's a Muslim, it becomes conspicuous," one user tweeted.

But the regional education office hinted in a statement that wearing the skirt could have been part of a concerted "provocation."

"When it comes to concerted protest actions by students, which follow other more visible incidents linked for instance to wearing the veil, the secular framework for education must be firmly reminded and guaranteed," it said.

According to the CCIF Islamophobia watchdog, some 130 students were rejected from class last year for outfits deemed too openly religious.

82-year old South Carolina woman dies of neglect; left to sit in chair for 6-months by 'care-giver' relatives


© WYFF4.com
Barbara Beam's home

The caregivers of an 82-year-old woman allowed her to sit in the same chair, not moving for six months, until she died earlier this year in a home that smelled so bad that some of the first firefighters on the scene set up a fan by the door, authorities said.

Prosecutors are deciding whether to charge Barbara Beam's caregivers in her Jan. 2 death at her house in Greenville after the coroner's office ruled her death was homicide by neglect. She lived with her sister and nephew.

The officer called to Barbara Beam's home on Jan. 2 noted indentions on the back of her legs near her knees and body fluids staining the sunken seat of her chair, according to the police report.

The officer asked the sister about Beam's condition, and the sister said Beam "stays in the chair located in the bedroom and that she had not moved out of the chair for approximately six months," according to the report.

The sister told police that Beam refused to eat a few hours before her death and they watched a soap opera together in her bedroom before she went to the kitchen. When she returned, Beam was slumped in her chair and the sister and nephew could find no pulse, police said.

Paramedics took Beam from the chair and put the 200-pound woman on the floor. Her legs were still bent in a sitting position when the officer arrived and she was not wearing pants, according to the report.

The report doesn't give the caretakers' names. Beam's home phone is disconnected.

Police turned their file on the case over to prosecutors, who are reviewing it, Greenville Police spokesman Johnathan Bragg said Friday.

Beam died from a blood clot in her lung. She also had deep vein thrombosis, which are clots caused by sitting for long periods of time, and a serious infection that started in her kidneys, according to the Greenville County Coroner's Office.

Man refused medical care, left in Arkansas jail with his 'colon hanging out' for four days


© Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

An Arkansas man is suing officials in Saline County after he said he was refused medical care while in their custody for four days, despite having a prolapsed colon "literally hanging outside of his body," according to court documents.

The suit, filed last week in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, alleges that law enforcement officials in Saline knowingly and purposely violated the constitutional and civil rights of former detention center detainee Steven David Cook.

Cook was arrested on June 29, 2012, according to the lawsuit, and that same day experienced a prolapsed colon.

"Approximately a foot of Cook's colon had inverted and was protruding out of his rectum," the suit alleges, causing extreme physical pain and emotional distress

Because Cook was refused medical care, his attorneys claim, he was left "languishing in jail, lying in feces and blood in a dirty cell, exposed to germs and bacteria of all sorts, with his colon hanging out" until four days later on July 2.

Archived news reports suggest he was arrested on counts of theft and trespassing.

Cook alerted his jailers of the condition the same day he was taken into custody, according to the suit, and he showed off his condition to no fewer than four detention center officials, including sheriff's deputies and a physician.

Officials agreed on site to send Cook to a hospital, according to his account, but their plans were sidelined when Andy Gill, the assistant prosecutor attorney for Saline County, allegedly called the jail and claimed the inmate "could push his rectum inside out 'at will.'"

"Plaintiff does not know for certain how Gill obtained the information underlying his outlandish allegations," the complaint reads in part. "Certainly, Gill had no personal knowledge of Cook's body, specifically his colon and/or rectum. In any event, Gill's assertions are and were patently false. Upon information and belief, a healthy colon cannot simply become inverted and protrude outside the human body unless there is some sort of serious medical trauma taking place. More importantly, the allegation that Cook could 'at will' cause his colon to prolapse is patently false."

Courthouse News Service reports that Bruce Pennington, the sheriff of Saline County at the time of the alleged ordeal, is facing felony abuse of trust and theft of property charges along with two other former employees of the Sheriff's Office. Law enforcement officials did not return Courthouse News' request for comment.

In the lawsuit, filed April 21, attorneys for Cook say the mistreatment suffered by their client constituted deliberate indifference to his medical needs and thus violated the protections granted to him by the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth amendments to the US Constitution. He's seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the violations, cruel and unusual punishment, permanent injury and emotional pain and suffering.

What makes Brussels more equal than others


© Wikipedia

Dutch daily ran a little article recently that we're surprised no other news organization picked up. It concerned a proposal in the European Parliament in which the parliamentarians got to vote on raising their own paycheck (always a good idea). The best thing about the story is that not everyone voted in favor.

Most did though. It much amused me to see that apparently it was Angela Merkel's party, the German Christian Democrats, which was behind the proposal. Initially, they had even wanted double what they actually got. Here's some numbers and details - and please forgive me for not being a math wizard -.

A Member of the European Parliament (MEP), according to the article, receives the following for their valiant and entirely selfless efforts at public service:

- Salary: €8000+
- Expenses: €4300
- A per diem allowance of €300 for every day a meeting is attended.

Per year that adds up to: €147.600 + €30,000 if 100 meetings are attended. Let's say €180,000.

On top of that, the Parliament pays into MEPs pension funds, but we'll leave that alone for now.

There are 751 MEPs, so total 'salary' costs are €135,180,000. But that's just the start.

And we're not yet adding translation costs, which apparently can add up to over €120,000 per day (!), or perhaps some €30-40 million per year.

Nor are we taking into account the estimated at least €200 million per year it takes to have the entire Parliament (MEPs, assistants, translators, employees, in total about 4000 people) move between Brussels and Strasbourg every month, an oddity that springs from a drawn-out power poker play between Germany and France. Do note: the constant move costs way more than all 751 MEP's base salary + expenses.

No, the proposal discussed, concerns the added expense accounts MEPs receive for their assistants. At present, the amount involved is over €21,000 per month, and according to the people who receive it - and vote on raising it -, that's not enough.

Typically, says the Dutch paper, an MEP has 3 assistants, all of whom get paid €2500 a month. They're also in a special low Brussels income tax bracket. This means each MEP receives €252.000 per year in 'assistant costs', and spends €90,000 in salary costs, leaving €162,000 for food and lodging. Since there are 751 MEPs, the total adds up to €15,771,000 per month or €189,252,000 per year.

And they want more.

The original proposal called for another €3000 per month. Because some MEPs protested against this, it was reduced to €1500. Or €18,000 per year per MEP, times 751, a cool €13,518,000. Just in extra costs they voted in all by themselves.

There are many many stories about people living the high life once they get voted into the Brussels/Strasbourg traveling circus. The majority have lucrative jobs at home. They stay in swanky hotels. They collect per diems for meetings they don't actually attend. They lay the basis for lucrative corporate careers after they exit the Parliament. It's democracy in theory but not in practice.

Brussels/Strasbourg is no stranger to corruption, or whatever word you would want to to use to describe what goes on. Still, there are lots of MEPs who are completely on the up and up, and many who even pay back a lot of their 'compensation' into either the Parliament itself or into their own - national - part coffers, because they say the payments are exorbitant. But they don't speak up. At least not outside of the confines of the Parliament itself.

But these are also - all of them put together - the people who uphold the EU policies versus Greece, where there are really many children who are hungry, and seniors who can't get proper health care. Faced with a situation like that, one would think a proper parliament of a proper union wouldn't dare raise its own expenses - which have to be paid by member countries' taxpayers - before and until all children in the union are properly fed, and all grandmas properly taken care off by qualified medical personnel.

One would think. These are also the people responsible for the EU support that allows the Kiev army's mass killings of its own people. And for the continuation of the anti-Russia and anti-Putin stance that's become so popular across the western world. They may not be the daily executives of the circus, but they still are the responsible at the end of the day.

They are also the people who voted to cut down the budget for the Mediterranean refugee patrol missions, money saved that, if you want to take a cynical enough view, was freed to raise their own stipends. As thousands drown.

And so again we would like to raise that question: why would anyone, any country, want to have these people take their decisions for them? What would make you think when you live in Greece that these traveling circus clowns would be better at protecting and defending your interests than your own people, who live where you live, who see what you see on a daily basis?

It's fine, and it's perhaps even logical, at first glance, for Greeks and Italians to want to remain part of the euro. But when you look closer, you can't avoid the notion that by being part of the euro, you give up the autonomy you also crave. And that the price you pay for being a part of the euro, and of the EU, makes you a serf to greater and richer interests that care about you about as much as they care about flies on their walls.

This one story about what MEPs vote themselves is but one example. Why not send us an example of where and how you feel Brussels protects your interests better than your own governments? We're really curious to know. Because we don't see it.

Voice Profiling Software Dehumanizes Hiring Decisions

Imagine that you’re a contestant in an audition round of The Voice, where you belt out your best “I Will Always Love You”. A minute passes. No reaction from the celebrity judges. You keep singing. Another minute, still no encouraging smile or nod. You strain to hit your highest note, pleading with your performance: “Please, please accept me! I am doing my best!” The song ends. No one wants you. Your family bow their heads in shame. Your mom cries. You stand on the stage, alone in the spotlight, heartbroken. A trap door opens beneath your feet and you slide screaming into Adam Levine’s basement torture maze.


Think that’s bad? In the real world, science has come up with something worse. A company called Jobaline offers “voice profiling” to predict job success based on how candidates sound; its algorithm identifies and analyzes over one thousand vocal characteristics by which it categorizes job applicants on suitability.

It’s horrible and dehumanizing, like all our other profiling (the racial kind is always a big hit!) Reliant on born-in, luck-of-the-genetic-draw factors that we can neither avoid or control. Regardless of mood or intent, according to NPR’s Aaarti Shehani, “your voice has a hidden, complicated architecture with an intrinsic signature – much like a fingerprint”.

This is not the only creepy algorithm system HR departments have been employing to help the company bottom line. Companies like Wal-Mart and Credit Suisse have been crunching data to predict which employees are “flight risks” who are likely to quit (easily remedied with a simple anklet attaching the worker to his or her cash register or cubicle) vs those deemed “sticky,” meaning in-it-for-the-long-haul. The information lets bosses either improve morale or get a head-start on a search for a replacement.

The inventors of such programs often enjoy the impeachable, amoral cloak of scientific legitimacy. When it comes to voice profiling, computers are not judging the speakers themselves; only the reactions the speaker’s voice provokes in other (presumably human) listeners…

It is a crime to be poor in America - punishable by further impoverishment


© WLRN.com

The criminalization of America's poor has been quietly gaining steam for years, but a recent study, "The Poor Get Prison," co-authored by Karen Dolan and Jodi L. Carr, reveals the startling extent to which American municipalities are fining and jailing the country's most vulnerable people, not just punishing them for being poor, but driving them deeper into poverty.

"In the last ten years," Barbara Ehrenreich writes in the introduction, "it has become apparent that being poor is in itself a crime in many cities and counties, and that it is a crime punished by further impoverishment."

A few months ago, the Department of Justice's Ferguson report revealed how that city has disproportionately targeted its majority minority population with traffic and other minor infractions that heavily support the municipality's coffers. But Ferguson is far from alone. Municipalities like New York City have greatly increased the number of minor offenses that are considered criminal (like putting your feet up in the subway) or sitting on the sidewalk. Wealthy white people in business attire are rarely targeted for such summonses, and if they are, they can quickly pay the fine or hire counsel to get out of it. The over-punishment of minor offenses is just another way the rich get richer, and as the report says, the "poor get prison." They also get poorer and more numerous. In one striking statistic, the Southern Educational Foundation reports that 51 percent of America's public schoolchildren are living in poverty.

Perversely, it is the poor who, according to Dolan and Carr, are subsidizing municipalities' budgets and becoming reliable sources of enrichment for the private companies contracted by local governments to carry out what used to be government duties.

Here are five troubling trends from the report that show us how the government is financially abusing poor people.

1. Jailing probationers who can't pay fees and fines

More than four million people are sentenced to probation in America, according to the report. Because state funding for probation services is on the decline, more private companies are talking over the responsibility of managing them. Private probation companies don't charge local governments for their services, so there is no fee to the taxpayer. Probationers, however, are charged a supervision fee, and if they can't afford to pay, they face jail time. Despite the fact that it is unconstitutional to jail people because they can't pay fines, the reality is that many probationers are poor and unaware of their rights and they end up in modern-day debtors' prisons.

"While indigent people have a right to free counsel in some cases, more municipalities are requiring an 'application fee' of at least $50 to pay for a public defender," Karen Dolan, a co-author of the study, told AlterNet via email. "Many poor people with misdemeanor charges end up before a judge without legal representation and do not understand their rights. Without legal representation, poor people often don't understand that they ought not to be offered 'jail or probation' simply for debt, and they choose probation. They unwittingly enter into a potential dungeon of debt due to the huge fees charged by private probation companies and inability to pay those eventually—illegally—leads to jail anyway."

At least 13 states allow localities to outsource probation supervision services. In 2012, these companies generated $100 million in revenue.

2. Taking poor people's property through asset forfeit seizures

More than $3 billion in cash and property has been seized by local and state police agencies through a Department of Justice asset seizure program. Eighty percent of the assets collected through this program stay with the law enforcement agencies that collect them, the reported. Under asset forfeit seizure programs, cops can take someone's property simply under "reasonable suspicion" it was used to commit a crime; the burden of proof is on the property owner that the seizure was unjustified.

Dolan and Carr's report outlines how this program disproportionately impacts the poor, especially black and Latino people. Given that black and Latino working families are twice as likely as whites to be low-income, they are less likely to have the financial resources to reclaim property that was, in many cases, taken from them.

3. School-to-prison pipeline

Black students make up just 16 percent of the population but represent 32-42 percent of students who are suspended or expelled, according to the "The Poor Get Prison" report. Many school districts around the country use local police to provide security, which further increases these students' chances of arrest.

"When you have zero tolerance policies, combined with law enforcement officers at the doors and in the hallways and you have a poor and black student body—both demographics considered potential criminals from the time they board the bus in the morning—you have the makings of unnecessarily harsh and punitive actions against black students," Dolan told AlterNet.

"Studies show that students with disabilities are also disproportionately affected by overly harsh punishments at school," she continued. "The two overriding factors appear to be class and race. Poverty plays a big role, but overlaying that is what seems only explainable by a widespread cultural bias against black youth, especially black male youth, even small children who are black and poor. The presumption that black schoolchildren are potential criminals seems to play into the disparity in the levels and severity of discipline when you compare them with white schoolchildren."

As previous studies have shown, people with arrest records find it difficult to find employment. A 2013 National Institute of Justice report cited a study that was carried out in New York City that found people with a criminal record are 50 percent less likely to get a call back for a job interview; most of those affected are black.

What this tells us is that the criminalization of poor black and Latino children through hyper-disciplinary actions doesn't end at the schoolhouse door. It is a poverty-inducing policy that harms these kids' employability prospects later in life.

4. Hyper criminalization of petty infractions

The New York City Council is considering proposals to make petty crimes like peeing in public and drinking from an open container civil instead of criminal offenses. This follows years of hyper-policing and criminalizing an increasing list of tiny infractions.

Since 2001, 81 percent of the people fined and punished under these "broken windows" policing policies have been Latinos or black Americans, many them from the city's communities.

New York is not alone in its enforcement of petty violations. In Ferguson, for example, revenue from its police department enforcing municipal codes wereexpected to account for 23 percent of the city's budget or more than $3 million. In 2013, that figure was $2.46 million.

Loistine Hoskin, a resident of Ferguson, told CNN that her car was towed in 2009 because it was missing a tire. She chose to pay a $1,200 fine rather than try to fight the ticket in court and face the threat of jail, she said.

"It's definitely a vicious cycle," Hoskin, 64, a retired airline reservation agent, told CNN. "Unfortunately for most people who are in this cycle, they continue to be in a downward spiral because they can't get jobs, they can't do anything, they can't pay the fines."

5. Fining the homeless for being homeless

If you are homeless in America and have nowhere to go and are down on your luck, it is increasingly difficult to find a safe space in which to exist without being fined for loitering. According to the report, an estimated 600,000 people are homeless on any given night. Though nearly 13 percent of the nation's low-income housing has been lost since 2001, and many people simply cannot afford housing, 34 percent of cities ban public camping, 18 percent prohibit sleeping in public and 43 percent prevent people from sleeping in vehicles, according to a study the report cited.

Often, homeless people who are fined for violating these laws have no way to pay the fine. Jailtime is on the table for many who can't pay up.

One example of how economically devastating these fines are comes out of Missouri. Edward Brown, 62 and homeless, has been jailed at least twice since 2009 for failing to pay fines, one of which stems from his failure to get a rabies vaccination for his dog, Matrix. He was ticketed $464 and just barely paid it off. Brown's monthly Social Security check is $484.

The report offers suggestions for addressing some of these issues. Whether those in power will listen to the solutions is another matter.

When asked whether race or poverty was the factor driving the criminalization of the poor, Dolan said the two are intertwined.

"I don't think we can separate the two," she said. "It's not an either/or. It's a both/and. There's no question that poor people of all races are vastly more impacted by fines, fees, aggressive policing and more vulnerable in court than people with the ability to pay misdemeanor charges and afford legal representation. And there is no question that the mandate for police and court systems to fill in budget deficits by aggressive collection of these fines are more prevalent in lower-income areas, regardless of race.

"But there is equally no question that racial profiling has been ever-present in our country despite civil rights laws designed to address such bias and discrimination. And black people are disproportionately poor and disproportionately policed and incarcerated in this country. Police and courts in low-income/high poverty areas are increasingly in the service of aggressive money collection rather than public safety. When racist bias is added to this already fraught situation, the match is thrown on this tinderbox and consequences can be deadly."

Charting the American Oligarchy – How 0.01% of the Population Contributes 42% of All Campaign Cash

This is an economic fight, but this is also a political fight. The biggest financial institutions aren’t just big – they wield enormous political power. Last December, Citibank lobbyists wrote an amendment to Dodd-Frank and persuaded their friends in Washington to attach it to a bill that had to pass or the government would have been shut down. And when there was pushback over the amendment, the CEO of JPMorgan, Jamie Dimon, personally got on the phone with Members of Congress to secure their votes. How many individuals who are looking for a mortgage or a credit card could make that call? How many small banks could have their lobbyists write an amendment and threaten to shut down the US government if they didn’t get it? None. Keep in mind that the big banks aren’t trying to make the market more competitive; they just want rules that create more advantages for themselves. The system is rigged and those who rigged it want to keep it that way.

– From Senator Elizabeth Warren’s excellent speech: “The Unfinished Business of Financial Reform”

This is probably one of the most important posts I’ll write all year. The reason is because in order to displace the current paradigm, the public needs to deeply and intellectually understand exactly where the real cancer resides.

I never liked the saying: “We are the 99%.” While admittedly catchy and effective as a slogan, I think it is ultimately divisive and counterproductive. The reason I say this is because the statement itself alienates much needed allies for no good reason.

In a country with a population of 320 million, the 1% represents 3.2 million people, which is a pretty big number. While the 1% certainly have far superior material lives compared to the 99%, that doesn’t mean a particularly large percentage of them are thieves, cronies or oligarchs. In fact, it behooves people interested in transitioning to another paradigm to court as many of them as possible to the cause. It is very useful to have well meaning people with resources and connections on your side. To blithely assume there aren’t plenty of potential allies from a pool of 3.2 million is committing strategic suicide. Indeed, John Hancock came from one of the wealthiest families in the American colonies in the run up to the Revolution, yet he isn’t remembered by history for his family’s tremendous wealth, but for his signature:

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 10.45.54 AM

The moment you proudly espouse, “I am the 99%,” you are being tribal and open yourself up to irrational thought. You are essentially saying 3.2 million of your countrymen and women are in some way the enemy merely because of their income. You are lumping a lot of very decent — albeit wealthy — people inappropriately into the oligarch bucket. While many of them are indeed oligarch wannabes or their well paid henchmen, many of them are not. You create a barrier between yourselves and them. This works to make many of the 1% reflexively align with each other when they should be aligning with you. It’s a pretty stupid strategy to alienate millions of people you know nothing about.

The root of the problem is the oligarchy, run by, well, oligarchs. Here is how I defined the term in the post: Inside the Mind of an Oligarch – Sheldon Adelson Proclaims “I Don’t Like Journalism.”

In a nutshell, while many oligarchs are extremely wealthy (or have access to extreme wealth), not all people with extreme wealth are oligarchs. The term oligarch is reserved for those with extreme wealth who also want to control the political process, policy levers and most other aspects of the lives of the citizenry in a top-down tyrannical and undemocratic manner. They think they know best about pretty much everything, and believe unelected technocrats who share their worldview should be empowered so that they can unilaterally make all of society’s important decisions. The unwashed masses (plebs) in their minds are unnecessary distractions who must to be told what to do. Useless eaters who need to be brainwashed into worshipping the oligarch mindset, or turned into apathetic automatons incapable or unwilling to engage in critical thought. Either outcome is equally acceptable and equally encouraged.

So oligarchs are the problem, but there aren’t 3.2 million of them. In case you missed it the first time around, I discussed this in the post, Where Does the Real Problem Reside? Two Charts Showing the 0.01% vs. the 1%. In that piece, I highlighted the following chart, which showed how the 1% has more or less been treading water while the wealth of the 0.01% has exploded in recent years:

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 10.56.53 AM

While that chart is disturbing in its own right, over the weekend, I came across another one that simply blew me away. It was from Palo Alto based political data compiling company CrowdPac, and it showed the percentage of political contributions emanating from the 0.01% of income earners. Here is what it showed:

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 11.01.38 AM

You’ll notice a couple of trends from the chart above, but one that is crystal clear is that although the trend has been higher for decades, it hit escape velocity since the bailouts (and the Citizens United decision). These two things resulted in an increased concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the oligarchy (the bailouts), and provided an avenue for this wealth and power to be wielded (Citizens United). The bailouts did very little to help the American economy, but served as a mind-boggling windfall for the plutocracy.

There are roughly 250 million adults in America, so 0.01% of that is about 25,000 people. I would argue even this number is too high. In fact, I want to find out information about what percentage of political contributions come from the 0.001%. That number will probably get us much closer to the root of the problem. It is far more possible and efficient to closely monitor 2,500 people as opposed to 25,000. After all, 25,000 people don’t regularly call Congress and get the specific legislation they want passed. 25,000 people don’t have a direct line to the Federal Reserve, but people like Jamie Dimon do, and it is these people we must watch like hawks. If we can zero in on the 2,500 wealthiest people, we can also efficiently pick out the worst offenders, as opposed to just demonizing people based on wealth, even within the 0.001%. You can’t easily separate the good from the bad with a sample of 25,000 people, but you can with 2,500 (and that smaller group has much more pull anyway).

Far fewer people are calling the shots in America than you could ever imagine, and we must zero in with laser like precision on them, as opposed to alienating 3.2 million people. A more accurate slogan would be: “We are not the Oligarchy.” 

For related articles, see:

Portrait of the American Oligarchy – The Very Troubling Income and Wealth Trends Since 1989

When Asked if the U.S. is a Capitalist Democracy or Oligarchy, Janet Yellen Can’t Answer…

New Report from Princeton and Northwestern Proves It: The U.S. is an Oligarchy