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Wednesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Wednesday August 27, 2014 7:37 pm

 

A closeup of a tabby cat's face

All Cats Are Beautiful (ACAB)

Today the Firedoglake Watercooler is in solidarity with the Michigan Cats. On Monday they ‘locked down‘ in support the First Nations’ fight against the Enbridge Pipeline:

This action is in solidarity with First Nations communities in Canada exploited at the point of tar sands extraction in Alberta. This action is in solidarity with everyone and everything displaced by Enbridge’s illegitimate abuse of eminent domain to seize land for this pipeline expansion. This action is in solidarity to the thousands of families and uncountable creatures in the Kalamazoo watershed that were injured and killed because of the 2010 pipeline spill. This action is in solidarity with residents in Detroit, especially those in 48217 where these dirty tar sands are refined, sacrificing health and life for the sake of corporate profit. This action is in solidarity with all those resisting and persisting in the face of uncertainty to #WageLove to fight the systemic extraction and exploitation of life.

At 7:30am on the morning of Monday, August 25th, 2014, two protestors with the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands locked themselves with bicycle U-locks to a truck while it was exiting a pipeline storage facility ran by Precision Pipeline. Precision was hired to work on the expansion of Enbridge Line 6B, the same pipeline which ruptured in 2010, spilling 1 million gallons of toxic tar sands into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo river. That spill is now commonly known as the largest in-land tar sands spill in US history.

Instead of choosing to double-down on clean-up efforts for that spill, 4 years later the spill is still not clean and Enbridge is dragging their feet. Meanwhile, Enbridge is expeditiously expanding its tar sands pipeline infrastructure throughout the midwest as well as all over the continent. Today, Duncan and Dylon took action in opposition to Enbridge’s criminal dealings with dirty tar sands. Direct action is a crucial tactic that must be utilized when the common systems of governance fail to protect us or recognize our basic rights.

And solidarity with San Antonio, Texas activists who protested against discriminatory anti-toplessness laws.

About forty protesters, both men and women, marched through downtown San Antonio Sunday afternoon as part of what was called ‘Go Topless Day,’ Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports. The women who were leading the march said the goal is gender equality.

‘What this is about is gender equality in all matters governed by civil law,’ one protester told Newsradio 1200 WOAI’s Stephanie Narvaez.

The women say it is a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution to allow men to appear in public bare chested while women face arrest if they do the exact same thing.

‘In any public space where a man is allowed to walk around without a shirt, a woman should be allowed to do the same,’ the protester said. ‘It is a violation of the Constitution to do otherwise, to be honest.’

Some men participated in the protest, by wearing bikini tops over their chests. There were no arrests, because the women weren’t exactly topless. They wore thin strips of red tape over their nipples. Otherwise, they would have been in violation of a city anti nudity ordinance, which the women say is also unconstitutional.

Bonus: Should You Catcall Her? a flowchart via Playboy 

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VIDEO: They Turned Her Water Off, Now She’s Fighting Back

By: Dennis Trainor Jr Wednesday August 27, 2014 2:26 pm

AtPeace Makita is a single mother of five, a life long resident of Detroit, and the Creative Director of the Detroit Water Brigade. She wants you to know that the push for the privatization of the water supply in Detroit could be coming to an area near you soon.

“If Detroit can be used as a prototype,” asks Makita “why can’t it happen in LA, Chicago, or New York? On top of the bankruptcy, on top of the foreclosures, on top of the mayoral issues and emergency manager, on top of all of it – now you want to take our life source?”

Watch the clip, or you can watch the full episode here.

Prepare to Bomb More Brown People: A New Bogeyman “Worse than Hitler!”

By: joe shikspack Wednesday August 27, 2014 5:47 am

'Destroy_this_mad_brute'_WWI_propaganda_poster_(US_version)There’s a new bogeyman in the middle east. It is a terrible monster of great proportions, a barbaric, sectarian, unrepentant butchery machine. Its name is ISIS and like the previous bogeymen (Saddam, Ahmadinejad, Gaddaffi, Osama bin Laden, Assad and Putin) it is like (or worse than) Hitler. You would think by now government propagandists would get worried that trotting out the Hitler meme so frequently would cause “Hitler fatigue.” Nonetheless, now that the terrible threat has been identified by a news media eager for action and ratings, there is a growing push for America to jump in and start killing brown people again.

So where did this new “worse than Hitler” bogeyman come from? Well, sorry to say it appears that some of our policy geniuses in the US government created it:

The reality of US policy is to support the government of Iraq, but not Syria, against ISIS. But one reason that group has been able to grow so strong in Iraq is that it can draw on its resources and fighters in Syria. Not everything that went wrong in Iraq was the fault of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as has now become the political and media consensus in the West. Iraqi politicians have been telling me for the last two years that foreign backing for the Sunni revolt in Syria would inevitably destabilize their country as well. This has now happened.

By continuing these contradictory policies in two countries, the US has ensured that ISIS can reinforce its fighters in Iraq from Syria and vice versa. So far, Washington has been successful in escaping blame for the rise of ISIS by putting all the blame on the Iraqi government. In fact, it has created a situation in which ISIS can survive and may well flourish.

… with a good bit of help from some of our frenemies allies:

[I]n the years they were getting started, a key component of ISIS’s support came from wealthy individuals in the Arab Gulf States of Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Sometimes the support came with the tacit nod of approval from those regimes; often, it took advantage of poor money laundering protections in those states, according to officials, experts, and leaders of the Syrian opposition, which is fighting ISIS as well as the regime. …

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been publicly accusing Saudi Arabia and Qatar of funding ISIS for months. Several reports have detailed how private Gulf funding to various Syrian rebel groups has splintered the Syrian opposition and paved the way for the rise of groups like ISIS and others. …

‘The U.S. Treasury is aware of this activity and has expressed concern about this flow of private financing. But Western diplomats’ and officials’ general response has been a collective shrug,’ [a Brookings] report states.

… But in fact, these policy geniuses have been running the asylum installed in government for years and have been allowed to create havoc unsupervised. For these geniuses, the creation of a vacuum of power in the oil-rich middle-east is an accomplishment not a failure:

Anya Schiffrin: Who Knew We Were Living in the Golden Age of Investigative Journalism?

By: Tom Engelhardt Sunday July 24, 2011 1:22 pm
A cartoon news boy delivering papers on a laptop computer screen

Maybe journalism isn’t dying after all.

Almost a decade ago, I spent more than a year freelancing for a major metropolitan newspaper — one of the biggest in the country. I would, on an intermittent basis, work out of a newsroom that appeared to be in a state of constant churn. Whoever wasn’t being downsized seemed to be jumping ship or madly searching for a life raft. It looked as if bean counters were beating reporters and editors into submission or sending them out of the business and into journalism schools where they would train a new generation of young reporters. For just what wasn’t clear. Jobs that would no longer exist?

Before the special series I was working on was complete, my co-writer — the paper’s Washington investigative editor — had left for the friendlier confines of academia and the editor who greenlit the series had resigned in the face of management’s demands for steep cuts to newsroom staff. It seemed as if the only remaining person associated with the series was a gifted photographer (who left for greener pastures within a year).

I thought I was witnessing the end of an era, the death of an institution.

At the same time, I was also working for a small but growing online publication that managed to produce three original articles each week — a mix of commentary, news analysis, and original investigative reporting.  More than a decade into that gig, the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com is still going strong, still publishing three original articles per week, and syndicating that content out to dozens and dozens of online publications, reaching hundreds of thousands of potential readers.

Over that time, online outlets have come and gone, venerable newspapers have closed up shop, predictions of doom — of the death of print publications, the demise of investigative reporting (maybe even of journalism itself) — have been aired repeatedly. And it’s true that in this new era it hasn’t been easy to make a living as a journalist or keep a media outlet afloat.  Yet, as a reader, I notice something else: I can’t even hope to read every eye-catching article that flashes by on my Twitter feed or piles up in my inbox from one listserve or another. I end up with 25 open windows in my taskbar — top-quality journalism from legacy media outlets and new digital magazines that I hope I might be able to skim later that day or the next or sometime before my laptop slows to a crawl under the weight of so much groundbreaking reporting.

It turned out that, 10 years ago, I actually was witnessing the end of an era while living through the formative stages of another.  It’s been a moment in which stories published on a relatively tiny website like TomDispatch circle the globe in a flash and a writer like me, who never went to journalism school, can see his articles almost instantly translated into Spanish, Japanese, Italian, and languages I don’t even recognize, and then reposted on websites from South America to Africa to Asia. In other words, they sometimes reach the sort of global audience that once might have been a stretch even for a reporter at a prestigious mainstream media outlet.

Over these years, I’ve also watched others who have passed through the Nation Institute wade into a scary media market and find great success. TomDispatch’s own former intern Andy Kroll, for example, has gone on to break one important story after another at Mother Jones, a print publication that now thrives online, while former Nation Institute program associate Liliana Segura has taken a top post at First Look Media, one of the most dynamic and talked-about new media ventures in years. And they are hardly anomalies.

In her new book, Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Journalism from Around the World, Anya Schiffrin, the director of the media and communications program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, chronicles the brave new world of global journalism in the age of the Internet (and how the stage was set for the new golden age of the reader we’re living in). In her inaugural article for TomDispatch, the longtime foreign correspondent reveals the investigative exposés by today’s top global muckrakers that you missed and explains why investigative journalism is on the rise, not the decline, worldwide.

From Asia to Central America, a new generation of Nellie Blys and Ida Tarbells, Seymour Hershes and Rachel Carsons, is breaking one big story after another with equal parts old-fashioned shoe leather and twenty-first-century knowhow. “The fact that journalists have been calling attention to some of the same problems for more than a hundred years might make one despondent, but it shouldn’t…” Schiffrin writes in her book. “That the battles are still going on should remind us that new abuses, new forms of corruption, are always emerging, providing new opportunities and new responsibilities for the media.” Luckily, there is a new generation of reporters around the world, she points out, rising to the challenge. Nick Turse

The Fall and Rise of Investigative Journalism
From Asia to Africa to Latin America, Muckrakers Have Corrupt Officials and Corporate Cronies on the Run
By Anya Schiffrin

In our world, the news about the news is often grim. Newspapers are shrinking, folding up, or being cut loose by their parent companies. Layoffs are up and staffs are down. That investigative reporter who covered the state capitol — she’s not there anymore. Newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune have suffered from multiple rounds of layoffs over the years. You know the story and it would be easy enough to imagine that it was the world’s story as well. But despite a long run of journalistic tough times, the loss of advertising dollars, and the challenge of the Internet, there’s been a blossoming of investigative journalism across the globe from Honduras to Myanmar, New Zealand to Indonesia.

Truly Respecting A Woman’s Right To Choose

By: toriach
Richard Dawkins in a suit on a gray background

Dawkins stepped in it, again.

Well now. Richard Dawkins has sure kicked up a pretty little hornets nest hasn’t he. The man, well known for his outspoken Atheism, and more recently for his rather tasteless remarks about different “types” of rape, has managed to arouse international ire by proclaiming that the only moral thing for someone carrying a fetus that tests positive for Downs Syndrome, to do, is to abort the child. This has led to him being denounced by many people, most of them using all manner of fairly predictable hyperbole. And to be sure Dawkins is absolutely wrong.

Every bit as wrong as most of those who oppose him.

What both Dr. Dawkins, and most of those who vehemently disagree with him, have lost sight of, is a very important core truth. Unless they are pregnant with a potential Downs child, the decision is not, and should not, be the purview of anyone, except the woman carrying said child.

Everything else is extraneous moralizing, and well beside the point.

The simple, ugly, truth, is that raising any special needs child, whether they have a physical condition, or a mental/developmental one, is at best, a major challenge for most people. Both materially, and mentally/emotionally. There are many people who feel that it is well worth it. Good for them. I fully support the right of a woman to bring such a child into the world even knowing full well the potential challenges both child and parents may face. But, it is long past time, that we put a stop to the mythologizing of the challenged, and their care givers. For a great many people, children who are typical can be more than a bit of a handful, and for some, even on a good day, they may feel that they are in over their heads. This can be multiplied exponentially when dealing with a child with a challenge, whether physical, mental, or both in combination. We need to stop demonizing those women, who upon being informed that their child may be challenged, take an honest look at themselves and their situation and decide that they, for whatever reason, are not up to the lifelong challenge that raising such a child can bring. We need to stop acting as if these are special magical fairy children, and as if the mere fact of their existence will alleviate all the very serious difficulties that both they and their care givers may face over the course of their lives. Some challenged individuals end up being comparatively fortunate. Their level of affectedness may be minimal. They may be born to parents either with excellent resources, or living in a place where helping people care for such children is a priority.

For many people however, this is not the case. The child could be born severely affected. Or if the potential mother is poor, or working class, she may live in an area where there is simply little to no resources available to help her. To force any woman to bear a child using social coercion is quite frankly disgusting and it needs to end.

Sadly, there is little hope of making the so called “pro-life” crowd understand this reasoning, let alone accept and embrace it. But far too many people on the Left, who proclaim their support for a woman’s right to exercise total sovereignty over her person, suddenly turn into the worst kind of anti-choice zealot where the issue of aborting a fetus diagnosed with a congenital condition is concerned. It is high time that we accept that a woman’s right to choose is sacrosanct at all times and in all circumstances. Even at those times that one might personally disagree with her choice or her reason for it. Perhaps especially at those times.

Keep The Faith My Brothers And Sisters!
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Oil-By-Train Or Grain-By-Train?

By: KateCA Tuesday August 26, 2014 5:26 pm
A BNSF Oil Train en route

It’s not carrying grain anymore.

Farmers are experiencing great crops in the midwest this year, but are having difficulty getting their products shipped by train since the trains are hauling oil.  According to the NYTimes that’s what’s happening, “leading to millions of dollars in agricultural losses and slower production for breakfast cereal giants like General Mills.” And farmers expect things to go even further downhill as they achieve “a record crop of wheat and soybeans.”

Some farmers may have ordered more rail cars than they really need as Canadian Pacific Railroad claims, but if that were the case you’d think we’d be hearing about empty railcars sitting around waiting to be loaded up with something other than grain or soybeans or sugar beets. Warren Buffett’s BNSF’s executive chairman related the more likely scenario, “Of course, the big difference is what we are shipping these days is oil.” Then he added, “But we aren’t favoring one type of product over another.” No, of course not, they’re just shipping oil, that’s all.

Remember that back in July 2013, the Canadian ambassador to the US, Gary Doer, warned President Obama “if he does not approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, then he can expect similar oil trains [referring to the ones involved in the Lac-Megantic disaster] and even trucks to enter the U.S.”

Well, that’s one promise kept.

What choice is there at the moment since conversion to safer rail cars is not mandated by either the US or Canadian governments for another couple or so years (here and here)? Moreover, the companies raking in the oil bucks in ND’s Bakken are resisting using stabilizers to make the oil less volatile, although “industry experts and energy executives” reportedly are reluctant to make this point in public “for fear of antagonizing the companies that do business in North Dakota.” Stabilizers, now commonly used in TX to make the highly flammable oil more stable for shipment,  “could cut potential revenue by perhaps 2%” in ND. Heavens to Betsy, where are my smelling salts?

No doubt there’s more to this story,  and many explanations and excuses to be made. Mainly, though, there’s the perceived arrogance of pushing the oil through to market by train—and leaving us to pay even higher prices for bread and cereal at the local grocery store.

Adding insult to injury, we learn that Warren Buffett, who owns BNSF, is helping finance Burger King’s move to avoid paying US taxes by buying Tim Hortons Inc and creating a new company in Canada, which has lower corporate tax rates.

Studies Confirm Huge Wealth Loss of Middle Class

By: masaccio Monday March 7, 2011 12:58 pm

Chart from Saez and Zucman, link in post. Remember, total wealth of bottom 50% is effectively zero, so this chart is the middle class as Piketty defines it.

Three recent studies using different data sets and methodology show the horrendous losses inflicted on what used to be the middle class by the Great Crash. In March, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman presented a preliminary report on net worth showing a loss among the bottom 90% from about 36% of total house wealth to about 25% between the peak in 1984 and 2013. The Russell Sage Foundation estimates that the median net worth was worth about 20% less in 2013 than in 1984. A report From the Census Bureau says that the median household net worth fell nearly 7% between 2000 and 2011. These findings confirm the work of Edward Wolff in a 2012 study.

Median wealth hardly tells the whole story. It would be helpful if these researchers would provide data by decile, but most data is by quintile. So, take a look at the bottom two quintiles, the bottom 40%, as reported by the Census Bureau. The lowest quintile has a negative median net worth: the median person’s debt is $6,029 more than the value of that person’s assets. In 2000, the median was also negative, at -905 dollars. The second quintile saw its median drop in half, from $14,319 to $7,263. The median of the third quintile also dropped, from $73,911 to $68,839, a 7% drop. Only the fourth and fifth quintiles saw a rise in the median. (P. 12)

The report of the Russell Sage Foundation confirms the drop in the bottom half. It also shows that net worth declined at the 75th percentile. In 2003, the net worth was $302,221. It rose to $367, 959 in 2007, and fell back to $310,412 in 2009 and then continued dropping to $260,405 in 2013. Even at the 90th percentile, there was only a $26,246 increase between 2003 and 2013, from $736,853 to $763,099. (Table 1).

The Saez-Zucman results are even more extreme. The chart above (click to make it bigger) reflects the changes in middle class wealth. They call it the bottom 90%, but they say that the bottom 50% has a total net worth effectively equal to zero, as the other studies more or less confirm. Thus, this chart reflects essentially the net worth of the 50th to the 90th percentiles. This is the group Thomas Piketty calls the Middle Class, as I discuss in more detail here. As you can see in the chart, the share of net worth of this group has fallen dramatically since its peak in the mid-80s, when Reagan was in office. Business assets have fallen dramatically as this group is no longer a significant part of the business life in this country. The percentage ownership of equities and bonds has fallen below net non-mortgage debt, and disappears. Pensions are down, and housing is down. Debt has risen.

Saez and Zucman report that the people in the bottom .9% of the top 1% have seen no significant increase in wealth. The gains in wealth have only gone to the top .1%, and most of those gains have gone to the top .01% of US households. The top .1% have net worths in excess of $20 million. The top .01% share of national wealth has risen 400% in the last 35 years, and now exceeds its peak in 1929.

There were approximately 121 million households in the US in 2012. That means that substantially all of the gains in net worth in the country went to just 121,000 households. Among them, these families control at least 22% of the total wealth of the country according to Saez and Zucman. These households are our new Oligopoly.

The trend lines are clear. The Oligopoly will get richer. The middle class will disappear in a few years.

Politicians don’t care. The Republicans are ecstatic: it shows that markets are working and heavily rewarding the most moral and superior among us. The Democrats don’t care. They’re happy to talk about income inequality, but they can’t bring themselves to mention the growing Oligarchy, the vanishing middle class, or the sickening poverty of the bottom 24 million households.

The country we grew up in is dying.

Over Easy: Public Schools in New Orleans 1958-1959

By: Crane-Station Wednesday August 27, 2014 3:25 am

Old Kenner High School

Letty Owings, age 89 and the author of this post, recalls moving to New Orleans and teaching in a public elementary school in 1958.

New Orleans, 1958

Cultural experiences abound in this land of ours, but none can surpass living in New Orleans for just one year. The mockingbirds singing in the magnolias were left behind in Atlanta, along with red dirt and Stone Mountain. Ray went ahead of the six of us to begin his year of duty in the New Orleans Public Health Service Hospital. He got established and rented a house before the kids and I loaded the car and followed to what we found to be a strange locale.

As we drew up the drive to the hospital, moisture dripped from the huge vine-covered trees. A big crab inched his way across the street. Ray was sweating bullets because his “room” had no air conditioning to tame the heat and humidity. I remember his coming to the car and saying, “I don’t think you should have come here.”

Our rented house proved to be nicer than we expected. It did have its moments, however. An alligator came to the carport to lounge around, and the neighbors whose house practically touched ours fought half the night. That could be entertaining in the days before TV if they had only known when to shut it off. Our house, built on a concrete slab, sweated the floors sopping wet at night. Walking around could be precarious. Clothes that touched the floor or shoes left in the closet turned green with mold.

The quarreling neighbors told me to stay out of the yard during the day for fear of heat stroke. I blew off that advice since a veteran of the Midwest dust bowl could not possibly have a heat stroke. I did not have the stroke, but I did get mighty sick when I gardened in midday—only once. That once was all it took to pay attention to the natives. I never made my peace with the heat and humidity, but we did build immunity to mosquitoes.

School in Jefferson Parish where we lived came as an impressive challenge. One day right before enrollment time, the neighbor lady—not the battling one—asked me where the kids were going to school. Considering that a question with an obvious answer, I told her they would go wherever the local school was located. She was quick to inform me that nobody that was anybody sent kids to public school, and, in fact, it was unthinkable. Without either money for private school, which meant Catholic in New Orleans, or a desire to try to change plans in a strange location, we forged ahead with public education. Our oldest was ready for high school. When enrollment day came, we found the high school, if it could be dignified by that name.

The school building, completely buried in a summer’s growth of tall weeds, appeared as though it had been a long time condemned and given over to hopelessness and rot. The principal, a hefty Italian sweating profusely and flailing his arms around, trying to impose order on the chaos, hardly seemed to notice our inquiry about enrolling a student. In fact, students appeared to be the least of his worries. The attendees chiefly consisted of those who had been disciplinary cases thrown out of Catholic school or sons and daughters of the dock and levy crews. The kids that slept on the levy were called “levy kids.”