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Breadline 1003wrp opt(Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)There are at least three major American ​obstacles​ that are too entrenched in our society to undergo change with anything less than ​a revolutionary program.

Corporations Continue to Ignore Their Responsibility to Education

The Wall Street Journal says, "Many workers who were laid off in recent decades...don’t have the skills to do today’s jobs. An Apple executive recently lamented, "The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need."

But opportunities for young people have diminished as corporations have rejected their obligation to society. Public colleges and universities have suffered major cuts in funding over the last ten years, while the largest American corporations have avoided hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes by stashing their profits overseas.

Corporate leaders blame government, they blame society, they blame the poor for their own misfortunes. But they don't acknowledge their responsibility to pay for the people and research provided by higher education, especially during the technological boom of the 1990s. Instead they seem to agree with Donald Trump about skipping out on taxes: "That makes me smart." Higher education is one of the main victims of this narcissistic way of thinking.


InFrack 0930wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that the state's controversial Act 13 is unconstitutional, calling it a special law that benefits the shale gas industry. The massive Marcellus Shale formation, which underlies a large area of Western Pennsylvania, provides more than 36 percent of the shale gas produced in the U.S.

The Pennsylvania State Legislature passed Act 13 in 2012 and it was almost immediately challenged by seven of the state's municipalities along with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and a private physician. The onerous law enabled natural gas companies to seize privately owned subsurface property through eminent domain, placed a gag order on health professionals to prevent them from getting information on drilling chemicals that could harm their patients, and limited notification of spills and leaks to public water suppliers, excluding owners of private wells that supply drinking water for 25 percent of Pennsylvania residents. Act 13 also pre-empted municipal zoning of oil and gas development.

"The decision is another historic vindication for the people's constitutional rights," stated Jordan Yeager, lead counsel on the case representing the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Bucks County municipalities on the case. "The court has made a clear declaration that the Pennsylvania legislature cannot enact special laws that benefit the fossil fuel industry and injure the rest of us."

On Dec. 19, 2013, the state Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling on the grounds that the law violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution. That ruling returned local zoning rights to municipalities. It also ordered the state Commonwealth Court to reconsider other provisions. The ruling by the Supreme Court issued Wednesday addresses those rulings and should end the litigation.


setp30repoWells Fargo even violates the law by repossessing cars of those serving in the military. (Photo: Don Hankins)

On September 9, I wrote about how the banking giant Wells Fargo went on an illegal spree of opening false credit cards, checking and saving accounts; charged customers fees for unrequested "services"; and then fired more than 5,000 employees when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) discovered the illicit activity. The CFPB -- conceived by Elizabeth Warren -- has limited power to address systemic banking abuse, but it did force Wells Fargo to stop these practices and pay an extremely modest fine of less than $200 million.

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf scapegoated the terminated staff, who were paid an average of around $12 per hour. They were likely compelled to open fraudulent "cross-service" accounts to earn bonuses that would give them a living income. Stumpf himself has accumulated a reported $200 million in bank bonuses, while the executive -- Carrie Tolstedt – was expected to "retire" with a $20 million bonus.

Although Stumpf appeared to have escaped blame and financial penalty from the CPFB and other regulatory agencies, in the last week he ran into the buzzsaw of Elizabeth Warren and other senators at a Senate Banking Committee hearing. Warren has for years clamored that big bank executives should be held accountable for systemic deceptive and risky financial behavior in their institutions. Last week, Warren led the outraged condemnation of Stumpf for his nurturing of an environment that rewarded illegal behavior. CNN Money called it an "epic takedown": Warren called for Stumpf's resignation, accused him of "gutless leadership" and relentlessly castigated him for betraying consumers.

Stumpf may have thought that he was going to avoid any accountability after the original CFPB fine, but fortune is not shining upon him now. The treasurer of California has announced that it will halt much of its banking business with Wells Fargo. CNN Money also reported that Stumpf and Tolstedt will be issued multi-million dollar financial "fines" by the Wells Fargo board, in light of the Warren-led Senate committee hearings:


Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

bisenco32Bison in Yellowstone National Park face a harsh winter environment. Taken by Dan Zukowski for EcoWatch.

Three wildlife groups sued the federal government Tuesday, asking for the Yellowstone bison to be listed as a threatened or endangered species in order to protect the iconic animals from hunting and prescribed culling. Currently, park officials manage the population to about 4,000 animals using these methods. The population now numbers about 4,500.

Some 60 million bison, also known as buffalo, once roamed the prairies and grasslands of North America. They provided food, clothing and sustenance to Native Americans. In the 1800s, European settlers began hunting the animals and the U.S. Army undertook a deliberate program of extermination as a way to starve the Native peoples who depended on them. They nearly drove the bison to extinction.

By the time Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, there were only about two dozen bison in the area. The Army was then told to protect this herd. They also brought 21 bison from two private herds to Yellowstone in 1902 to create a larger breeding population. Today's herds in Yellowstone—the only place where wild bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times—descended from these few animals.

The majestic 2,000-pound bison is an iconic symbol of the American West. On May 9, it became our official national mammal when President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law. It is a creature beloved by visitors to Yellowstone National Park—sometimes too much—but outside park boundaries, ranchers aren't fans.

Their concern is a disease called brucellosis. It can be transmitted among bison, elk and cattle, and it can cause pregnant females to abort their calves. But it isn't the bison's fault: the non-native bacteria was introduced by cattle brought to the West by early pioneers. Brucellosis was first discovered in Yellowstone bison in 1917. It's thought they likely contracted the disease from domestic cattle, and today about half the bison herd tests positive for brucellosis.


2016foreclosureYour misery is Donald Trump's gain. (Photo: nzlawyer)

Yesterday, I accused Donald Trump of betraying the nation by essentially admitting, in Monday's debate, that he had not been paying federal taxes in at least some recent years -- and characterizing this as a "smart business tactic." 

By yesterday afternoon, the momentum against Trump's statements mounted, and even Vice President Joe Biden was slamming the candidate for touting his failure to pay the costs of running the United States. Trump's position epitomizes his endless illogical and contradictory statements. He implied this dubious achievement proved his ability to run the United States like a business. Of course, this makes no sense because if no one paid their taxes, there would be no government to run.

That's one baffling Catch-22 that should be enough to merit front page news and top television coverage. However, to add to this egregious disregard for the financing of the United States, Trump has also boasted of his savvy in taking advantage of a cratered housing market after 2008. Yes, that means Trump was one of those investors who was seeking to make -- and succeeded in making -- money by bottom-feeding off the housing market implosion of 2008. He advocated predatory tactics that would result in the "American Dream" of homeownership disappearing into a nightmare for countless people.

As Politico reported yesterday:

When Donald Trump said he was hoping for a collapse in the housing market before the Great Recession, it was just smart business sense, he said in the first sharp exchange of the debate.

“In fact, Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis,” Hillary Clinton said when discussing the recovery from the Great Recession. “He said back in 2006, ‘Gee, I hope it does collapse because then I can go in and buy some and make some money. Well it did collapse.”

“That’s called business, by the way,” Trump said, interrupting. But Clinton talked over him.

“Nine million people lost their jobs, five million people lost their homes,” she said.

This has been a periodic accusation leveled at Trump throughout the presidential campaign. It was the first time, however, he responded before a record-breaking audience of approximately 84 million people. To Trump, the misfortunes of many of the Americans he seeks to serve were seen by him as profitable opportunities.


Tigers 0928wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)In legal tiger farms across China, some 6,000 caged cats are kept in filthy conditions and will be killed for dubious medicinal uses and as home decor for the country's newly-rich elite. The sordid business is mostly legal, but hides behind carefully-worded agreements and pretensions of conservation. The issue is expected to be addressed at this week's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Johannesburg.

It is estimated that 60 percent of China's 1.4 billion people use so-called traditional medicines made from tiger bones, rhinoceros horn, bear gall bladder and other exotic animal parts. As China has grown in recent decades, creating a larger middle class and many newly rich entrepreneurs, demand for tiger parts has grown.

"The use of endangered tiger products and their medicines is seen as a symbol of high status and wealth," states Tigers in Crisis.

China signed on to CITES, but maintains about 200 tiger farms, where tigers are bred to serve this growing market. Claiming that these tiger parts are for domestic consumption, and therefore not subject to the treaty on international trade, China also defends the tiger farms as a captive breeding program that actually helps the species.

However, in 1993, China banned trading in tiger bone, and a 1988 wildlife law that purports to protect endangered species sets forth a policy of "actively domesticating and breeding the species of wildlife."

Wednesday, 28 September 2016 06:44

Jim Hightower: Laboratories of Democracy


Lab 0928wrp opt(Photo: Tweenk)In a 1932 dissenting opinion, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis noted that the benefit of America's federal structure is that "a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."

During my two terms as Texas Agriculture Commissioner, I was lucky enough to get the chance to put the Brandeis proposition into practice. There, we succeeded in establishing a broad network of farmers markets, providing state certification and labeling for organic products, promulgating comprehensive pesticide protections, creating food marketing co-ops, encouraging farmers to grow high-value nonconventional crops (from apples to wine grapes), financing and developing locally-owned ag processing facilities, opening the doors of corporate-controlled commerce so small farmers and food artisans could sell their products in supermarkets and even in international markets, and promoting both water conservation and the use of renewable energy sources, Brandeis' "laboratory" realized!

But — oops — meet unintended consequences of Brandeisian theory: The gaggle of small-minded, far-right extremists who've grabbed the levers of gubernatorial power and established notoriously regressive regimes in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Kansas, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Arizona, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Texas. These governors share an uncanny uniformity in the policies (written by the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC) they push and the political language they use — as if operating from a common plan, advancing the same duo of governmental goals:

— To increase the power and profits of the corporate interests that put up the campaign cash that keep the governors in office by delivering subsidies, no-bid contracts, special tax breaks, regulatory benefits, etc.

— To knock down working-class and poor people by such despotic actions as suppressing voter turnout, destroying unions, bashing immigrants, militarizing police forces, slashing education budgets, corporatizing government programs, cutting human services for the needy, holding down wages, using theocratic piety to invade women's bodies and rights, and autocratically pre-empting the democratic authority of activist citizens and local governments.


Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

ecoforestryfish copy(Photo courtesy of EcoWatch)

An international team of scientists led by the U.S Geological Survey (USGS) released a comprehensive report last week showing widespread mercury contamination across western North America.

The report, based on decades of mercury data and research, found alarming levels of mercury and methylmercury in the forests, fishes, wildlife, plants and waterways of America's western landscapes. The USGS study provides the first integrated analysis of where mercury occurs in western North America, how it moves through the environment, and the processes that influence its movement and transfer to aquatic and ultimately, the human food chain

Among the many disturbing findings are shocking accumulations of mercury in densely forested areas such as those found along the Pacific mountain ranges of California and Oregon. The scientific team showed that these critical ecosystems collect dangerous mercury loads because they receive high amounts of precipitation. Rainfall washes mercury from the atmosphere onto wet forested regions where it binds to the vegetation and accumulates in the soils and surface waters. From these vectors it can bioaccumulate in fish, including salmon.

The report confirms the findings of a January 2016 study that narrowly investigated mercury levels in rainfall. That study reported that the long-term trend of decreasing mercury levels in precipitation had leveled off and that some sites in the western U.S. were experiencing increases, which the investigators concluded were due to exploding mercury emissions from Asia.

An earlier study in 2002 reported that industrial emissions in Asia are a major source of mercury in rainwater falling along the California coast. The new USGS study describes the precise atmospheric transport mechanisms that carry massive mercury contamination from Asia and deposit the potent neurotoxin in the water, soils and biota across America's West Coast. According to the papers lead author, it is not just the mercury itself, but a cocktail of atmospheric pollutants that contribute to the deposition of mercury in rainfall. Elemental mercury behaves as a gas in the atmosphere and is not washed out in rain until it has been oxidized into a charged ionic form that can be captured by water droplets.

The USGS study sheds light on earlier research with frightening human health implications. A 2008 study reported children living in areas of high precipitation may be more likely to have autism. Those investigators looked at rainfall in California, Washington and Oregon. That team obtained autism prevalence rates for children born in those three states between 1987 and 1999 and calculated average annual precipitation by county from 1987 to 2001. The researchers also computed the autism rates in relation to the average annual precipitation in the counties when the children were younger than 3 years old.

Mark Karlin, Editor of BuzzFlah at Truthout

2106taxtrump(Photo: Phillip Ingham)

Regardless of who one plans to vote for in the November presidential election, it was the general consensus in punditry and instant-polling land that Hillary Clinton made Donald Trump look like a coarse, weary muskrat last night. Particularly in the second half of the debate.

Indeed, CNN sponsored a post-debate snap poll that found Clinton the decisive "winner":

Hillary Clinton was deemed the winner of Monday night's debate by 62% of voters who tuned in to watch, while just 27% said they thought Donald Trump had the better night, according to a CNN/ORC Poll of voters who watched the debate.

Voters who watched said Clinton expressed her views more clearly than Trump and had a better understanding of the issues by a margin of more than 2-to-1. Clinton also was seen as having done a better job addressing concerns voters might have about her potential presidency by a 57% to 35% margin, and as the stronger leader by a 56% to 39% margin.

The consensus of the post-debate Democratic and Republican pundits on MSNBC was that, ironically, Trump lost his stamina after the first third to first half of the debate, even as he bizarrely accused Hillary Clinton of not having the stamina for the job and not "looking" like a president. (Of all the defensive babble that Trump fell back on during the second half of the debate, none appeared more feeble, as The Washington Post pointed out, than his sneering accusation that Clinton did not have the endurance to be president -- while the split screen showed her standing poised and calm, as he wandered into verbal cul-de-sacs.)

However, this is not a commentary about who "won or lost" the debate, whatever one's thoughts may be about the presidential candidates of the two major political parties. Rather, it has to do with a moment in the debate that did not receive widespread coverage: the seeming concesison by Donald Trump that he may not have paid any federal taxes for years. As Hillary Clinton pointed out, Trump is the only major party presidential candidate in decades not to release his recent income taxes. Trump is using the excuse that he can't share them with the public because he is under audit by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), but Lester Holt, the moderator last night, pointed out that the IRS allows people under audit to release their income taxes if they want to.


Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

Even though scientists are pretty certain that wastewater injection from fracking and conventional drilling has led to the unprecedented spate of earthquakes rollicking Oklahoma,Texas and other states in recent years. Definitive proof, however, is rare. But now, in a study published Thursday in Science Magazine, researchers have fastened another nail in the "man-made earthquakes" coffin.

Using satellite imagery, the researchers found that a series of earthquakes that struck Texas between 2012 and 2013 -- including the largest-ever quake recorded in eastern Texas -- were caused by the injection of large volumes of wastewater from oil and gas activities into deep underground wells.

As Mashable explained from the study:

Wastewater not only puts pressure on underground fault lines, causing "induced" earthquakes, but also pushes up the surface of the ground -- a phenomenon called "uplifting" that can be seen from space.

Researchers used satellite images of ground uplifting to show how wastewater disposal in eastern Texas eventually triggered a magnitude-4.8 earthquake in May 2012, the largest earthquake recorded in that half of the Lone Star state.

"Our research is the first to provide an answer to the questions of why some wastewater injection causes earthquakes, where it starts and why it stops," said study co-author William Ellsworth, a geophysics professor at Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

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