Grandmother Sentenced to 1 Year in Prison After Protest at U.S. Drone Base

In New York, a peace activist and grandmother has been sentenced to a year in prison for her role in peaceful protests at a base where U.S. drones are piloted remotely. Mary Anne Grady Flores had been issued an order of protection aimed at keeping her away from Hancock Field Air National Guard Base after she participated in an act of civil disobedience there in 2012. Last year, Grady Flores says she attended another peace action, but did not participate, instead photographing it from the roadway, beyond what she believed was the base’s boundary. She was later told the base’s property extended into the road. On Thursday, Judge David Gideon of the DeWitt Town Court sentenced her to the maximum sentence of a year in prison for violating the protection order and fined her $1,000. Mary Anne Grady Flores was taken into custody following the sentencing. She is appealing the verdict. Earlier in the day, her supporters marched six miles from the drone base to the courtroom carrying a coffin bearing the words “First Amendment.”

German government cancels Verizon contract

The German government has cancelled a contract with U.S. telecoms firm Verizon Communications Inc VZ.N as part of an overhaul of its internal communications, prompted by revelations last year of U.S. government spying. Berlin subsequently demanded talks with Washington on a “no-spy” deal, but these collapsed after the United States appeared unwilling to give the assurances Germany wanted. Verizon has been providing network infrastructure for the German government’s Berlin-Bonn network, used for communication between ministries, since 2010, the statement said. The contract is set to expire in 2015.

React to the killing of innocents in Middle East

Also boycott following Israeli related companies

GAP, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, BOSS, M&S, DKNY which uses Delta-Galils textile
Head & Shoulders
Old Spice
Procter & Gamble
Johnson & Johnson

Please reduce oil use as energy source as well as fertilisers, plastics etc in the chemical industry.
This list is not complete.

Posted in News, Social, Surveillance, USA, war | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

NAFTA at 20

Two Decades of Job Loss, Record Inequality, Mass Displacement, and Corporate Attacks on Environmental and Health Laws

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The promises made by NAFTA proponents and warnings issued by its opponents during the fierce 1993 debate over congressional approval of the pact can now be measured against two decades of actual outcomes. For a detailed analysis of NAFTA’s two-decade legacy, check out our new NAFTA at 20 report.

NAFTA was an experiment, establishing a radically new “trade” agreement model. Despite the documented damage caused by 20 years of NAFTA, the Obama administration is now seeking to deepen the NAFTA model and expand it to additional countries through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive agreement with 11 Asian and Latin American countries. The Clinton administration’s efforts to do the same – through a Free Trade Area of the Americas and an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Free Trade Agreement (FTA) – were rejected by negotiating partners as the damaging results of NAFTA became apparent.

NAFTA was fundamentally different than past trade agreements in that it was only partially about trade. Indeed, it shattered the boundaries of past U.S. trade pacts, which had focused narrowly on cutting tariffs and easing quotas. In contrast, NAFTA created new privileges and protections for foreign investors that incentivized the offshoring of investment and jobs by eliminating many of the risks normally associated with moving production to low-wage countries. NAFTA allowed foreign investors to directly challenge before foreign tribunals domestic policies and actions, demanding government compensation for policies that they claimed undermined their expected future profits. NAFTA also contained chapters that required the three countries to limit regulation of services, such as trucking and banking; extend medicine patent monopolies; limit food and product safety standards and border inspection; and waive domestic procurement preferences, such as Buy American.

In 1993, NAFTA was sold to the U.S. public with grand promises. NAFTA would create hundreds of thousands of good jobs here – 170,000 per year according the Peterson Institute for International Economics. U.S. farmers would export their way to wealth. NAFTA would bring Mexico to a first-world level of economic prosperity and stability, providing new economic opportunities there that would reduce immigration to the United States. Environmental standards would improve.

Twenty years later, the grand promises made by NAFTA’s proponents remain unfulfilled. Many outcomes are exactly the opposite of what was promised, as detailed in our new NAFTA at 20 report. In sum:

Rather than creating the promised 170,000 jobs per year, NAFTA has contributed to an enormous new U.S. trade deficit with Mexico and Canada, which had already equated to an estimated net loss of one million U.S. jobs by 2004. This figure, calculated by the Economic Policy Institute, includes the net balance between jobs created and jobs lost. Much of the job erosion stems from the decisions of U.S. firms to embrace NAFTA’s new foreign investor privileges and relocate production to Mexico to take advantage of its lower wages and weaker environmental standards. The NAFTA-spurred job loss has not abated during NAFTA’s second decade, as the burgeoning post-NAFTA U.S. trade deficit with Canada and Mexico has not declined.

More than 845,000 specific U.S. workers have been certified for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) as having lost their jobs due to imports from Canada and Mexico or the relocation of factories to those countries. The TAA program is quite narrow, only covering a subset of the jobs lost at manufacturing facilities, and is difficult to qualify for. Thus, the NAFTA TAA numbers significantly undercount NAFTA job loss.

NAFTA has contributed to downward pressure on U.S. wages and growing income inequality. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, two out of every three displaced manufacturing workers who were rehired in 2012 experienced a wage reduction, most of them taking a pay cut of greater than 20 percent. As increasing numbers of workers displaced from manufacturing jobs have joined the glut of workers competing for non-offshorable, low-skill jobs in sectors such as hospitality and food service, real wages have also fallen in these sectors under NAFTA. The resulting downward pressure on middle-class wages has fueled recent growth in income inequality.

Despite a 188 percent rise in food imports from Canada and Mexico under NAFTA, the average nominal price of food in the United States has jumped 65 percent since the deal went into effect. This is the opposite of the outcome promised when NAFTA passage was debated. Then, some NAFTA proponents acknowledged that the deal would cause the loss of some U.S. jobs, but argued that U.S. workers would win overall by being able to purchase cheaper imported goods.

The reductions in consumer goods prices that have materialized have not been sufficient to offset the losses to wages under NAFTA. U.S. workers without college degrees (63 percent of the workforce) have likely lost an amount equal to 12.2 percent of their wages under NAFTA-style trade even after accounting for the benefits of cheaper goods. This net loss, calculated by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, means a loss of more than $3,300 per year for a worker earning the median annual wage of $27,500.

Soon after NAFTA’s passage, the small pre-NAFTA U.S. trade surplus with Mexico turned into a massive new trade deficit and the pre-NAFTA U.S. trade deficit with Canada expanded greatly. The inflation-adjusted U.S. trade surplus with Mexico of $2.5 billion and the $29.1 billion deficit with Canada in the year before NAFTA have morphed into a combined NAFTA trade deficit of $181 billion. The rosy job-creation promises made at the time of the NAFTA votes were predicated on NAFTA improving the U.S. balance of trade. The reality has been the opposite.

During the NAFTA debate, scores of U.S. corporations promised to create specific numbers of jobs if NAFTA passed. Public Citizen catalogued these pledges, the failure to meet them and even the record of the same firms’ relocation of jobs to Mexico and Canada in a comprehensive report.

Scores of NAFTA countries’ environmental and health laws have been challenged in foreign tribunals through the controversial investor-state system. More than $360 million in compensation to investors has been extracted from NAFTA governments via “investor-state” tribunal challenges against toxics bans, land-use rules, water and forestry policies and more. More than $12.4 billion are currently pending in such claims. These claims include foreign investor challenges of medicine patent policies, a fracking moratorium and a renewable energy program.

The average annual U.S. agricultural trade deficit with Mexico and Canada under NAFTA stands at $800 million, more than twice the pre-NAFTA level. U.S. food processors moved to Mexico to take advantage of low wages and food imports soared. U.S. beef imports from Mexico and Canada, for example, have risen 130 percent since NAFTA took effect, and today U.S. consumption of “NAFTA” beef tops $1.3 billion annually.

Overall imports of food into the United States have risen more steadily and to a greater degree than U.S. food exports under NAFTA. While the total volume of U.S. food exports in 2012 stood only 34 percent higher than the average level in the five years before NAFTA took effect, the volume of U.S. food imports was 137 percent higher. This stands in stark contrast to the promises made to U.S. farmers and ranchers that NAFTA would allow them to export their way to newfound wealth and farm income stability.

The export of subsidized U.S. corn did increase under NAFTA, destroying the livelihoods of more than one million Mexican campesino farmers and about 1.4 million additional Mexican workers whose livelihoods depended on agriculture.

The desperate migration of those displaced from Mexico’s rural economy pushed down wages in Mexico’s border maquiladora factory zone and contributed to a doubling of Mexican immigration to the United States following NAFTA’s implementation.

Though the price paid to Mexican farmers for corn plummeted after NAFTA, the deregulated retail price of tortillas – Mexico’s staple food – shot up 279 percent in the pact’s first 10 years.

Real wages in Mexico have fallen significantly below pre-NAFTA levels as price increases for basic consumer goods have exceeded wage increases. A minimum wage earner in Mexico today can buy 38 percent fewer consumer goods as on the day that NAFTA took effect. Despite promises that NAFTA would benefit Mexican consumers by granting access to cheaper imported products, the cost of basic consumer goods in Mexico has risen to seven times the pre-NAFTA level, while the minimum wage stands at only four times the pre-NAFTA level.

Facing displacement, rising prices and stagnant wages, over half of the Mexican population, and over 60 percent of the rural population, still fall below the poverty line, despite the promises made by NAFTA’s proponents.

U.S. Public Opinion Polling Shows Overwhelming Opposition to NAFTA

The U.S. public’s view of NAFTA has shifted from a divide during the time of the NAFTA debate to broad opposition and now to overwhelming opposition to NAFTA-style trade deals. According to a 2012 Angus Reid Public Opinion poll, 53 percent of Americans believe the United States should “do whatever is necessary” to “renegotiate” or “leave” NAFTA, while only 15 percent believe the United States should “continue to be a member of NAFTA.” Rejection of the trade deal is the predominant stance of Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. NAFTA has drawn the ire of Americans across stunningly diverse demographics. A 2011 National Journal poll showed strong rejection of the status quo trade model from both lower-educated and higher-educated respondents, and a 2010 NBC News – Wall Street Journal survey revealed that a majority of upper-income respondents have now joined lower-income respondents in opposing NAFTA-style pacts.

Given NAFTA’s record of diverse damage, it is not surprising that opposition to the TPP – a supersized NAFTA that would be open for any Pacific Rim country to later join – is growing among the U.S. public and in Congress.

— source

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The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics

After this story went to press, the US Food and Drug Administration published a paper finding that BPA was safe in low doses. However, due to laboratory contamination, all of the animals—including the control group—were exposed to this chemical. Academic scientists say this raises serious questions about the study’s credibility. Stay tuned for more in-depth reporting on the FDA’s most recent study.

Each night at dinnertime, a familiar ritual played out in Michael Green’s home: He’d slide a stainless steel sippy cup across the table to his two-year-old daughter, Juliette, and she’d howl for the pink plastic one. Often, Green gave in. But he had a nagging feeling. As an environmental-health advocate, he had fought to rid sippy cups and baby bottles of the common plastic additive bisphenol A (BPA), which mimics the hormone estrogen and has been linked to a long list of serious health problems. Juliette’s sippy cup was made from a new generation of BPA-free plastics, but Green, who runs the Oakland, California-based Center for Environmental Health, had come across research suggesting some of these contained synthetic estrogens, too.

He pondered these findings as the center prepared for its anniversary celebration in October 2011. That evening, Green, a slight man with scruffy blond hair and pale-blue eyes, took the stage and set Juliette’s sippy cups on the podium. He recounted their nightly standoffs. “When she wins…every time I worry about what are the health impacts of the chemicals leaching out of that sippy cup,” he said, before listing some of the problems linked to those chemicals—cancer, diabetes, obesity. To help solve the riddle, he said, his organization planned to test BPA-free sippy cups for estrogenlike chemicals.

The center shipped Juliette’s plastic cup, along with 17 others purchased from Target, Walmart, and Babies R Us, to CertiChem, a lab in Austin, Texas. More than a quarter—including Juliette’s—came back positive for estrogenic activity. These results mirrored the lab’s findings in its broader National Institutes of Health-funded research on BPA-free plastics. CertiChem and its founder, George Bittner, who is also a professor of neurobiology at the University of Texas-Austin, had recently coauthored a paper in the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It reported that “almost all” commercially available plastics that were tested leached synthetic estrogens—even when they weren’t exposed to conditions known to unlock potentially harmful chemicals, such as the heat of a microwave, the steam of a dishwasher, or the sun’s ultraviolet rays. According to Bittner’s research, some BPA-free products actually released synthetic estrogens that were more potent than BPA.

Estrogen plays a key role in everything from bone growth to ovulation to heart function. Too much or too little, particularly in utero or during early childhood, can alter brain and organ development, leading to disease later in life. Elevated estrogen levels generally increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer.

Estrogenic chemicals found in many common products have been linked to a litany of problems in humans and animals. According to one study, the pesticide atrazine can turn male frogs female. DES, which was once prescribed to prevent miscarriages, caused obesity, rare vaginal tumors, infertility, and testicular growths among those exposed in utero. Scientists have tied BPA to ailments including asthma, cancer, infertility, low sperm count, genital deformity, heart disease, liver problems, and ADHD. “Pick a disease, literally pick a disease,” says Frederick vom Saal, a biology professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia who studies BPA.

BPA exploded into the headlines in 2008, when stories about “toxic baby bottles” and “poison” packaging became ubiquitous. Good Morning America issued a “consumer alert.” The New York Times urged Congress to ban BPA in baby products. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) warned in the Huffington Post that “millions of infants are exposed to dangerous chemicals hiding in plain view.” Concerned parents purged their pantries of plastic containers, and retailers such as Walmart and Babies R Us started pulling bottles and sippy cups from shelves. Bills banning BPA in infant care items began to crop up in states around the country.

Today many plastic products, from sippy cups and blenders to Tupperware containers, are marketed as BPA-free. But Bittner’s findings—some of which have been confirmed by other scientists—suggest that many of these alternatives share the qualities that make BPA so potentially harmful.

Those startling results set off a bitter fight with the $375-billion-a-year plastics industry. The American Chemistry Council, which lobbies for plastics makers and has sought to refute the science linking BPA to health problems, has teamed up with Tennessee-based Eastman Chemical—the maker of Tritan, a widely used plastic marketed as being free of estrogenic activity—in a campaign to discredit Bittner and his research. The company has gone so far as to tell corporate customers that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected Bittner’s testing methods. (It hasn’t.) Eastman also sued CertiChem and its sister company, PlastiPure, to prevent them from publicizing their findings that Tritan is estrogenic, convincing a jury that its product displayed no estrogenic activity. And it launched a PR blitz touting Tritan’s safety, targeting the group most vulnerable to synthetic estrogens: families with young children. “It can be difficult for consumers to tell what is really safe,” the vice president of Eastman’s specialty plastics division, Lucian Boldea, said in one web video, before an image of a pregnant woman flickered across the screen. With Tritan, he added, “consumers can feel confident that the material used in their products is free of estrogenic activity.”

Eastman’s offensive is just the latest in a wide-ranging industry campaign to cast doubt on the potential dangers of plastics in food containers, packaging, and toys—a campaign that closely resembles the methods Big Tobacco used to stifle scientific evidence about the dangers of smoking. Indeed, in many cases, the plastics and chemical industries have relied on the same scientists and consultants who defended Big Tobacco. These efforts, detailed in internal industry documents revealed during Bittner’s legal battle with Eastman, have sown public confusion and stymied US regulation, even as BPA bans have sprung up elsewhere in the world. They have also squelched debate about the safety of plastics more generally. All the while, evidence is mounting that the products so prevalent in our daily lives may be leaching toxic chemicals into our bodies, with consequences affecting not just us, but many generations to come.

The fight over the safety of plastics traces back to 1987, when Theo Colborn, a 60-year-old grandmother with a recent Ph.D. in zoology, was hired to investigate mysterious health problems in wildlife around the Great Lakes. Working for the Washington, DC-based Conservation Foundation (now part of the World Wildlife Fund), she began collecting research papers. Before long, her tiny office was stacked floor to ceiling with cardboard boxes of studies detailing a bewildering array of maladies—cancer, shrunken sexual organs, plummeting fertility, immune suppression, birds born with crossed beaks and missing eyes. Some species also suffered from a bizarre syndrome that caused seemingly healthy chicks to waste away and die.

While the afflictions and species varied widely, Colborn eventually realized they had two factors in common: The young were hardest hit, and, in one way or another, all of the animals’ symptoms were linked to the endocrine system, the network of glands that controls growth, metabolism, and brain function, with hormones as its chemical messengers. The system also plays a key role in fetal development. Colborn suspected that synthetic hormones in pesticides, plastics, and other products acted as “hand-me-down poisons,” with parents’ exposure causing affliction in their offspring. Initially, her colleagues were skeptical. But Colborn collected data and tissue samples from far-flung wildlife populations and unearthed previously overlooked studies that supported her theory. By 1996, when Colborn copublished her landmark book Our Stolen Future, she had won over many skeptics. Based partly on her research, Congress passed a law that year requiring the EPA to screen some 80,000 chemicals—most of which had never undergone any type of safety testing—for endocrine-disrupting effects and report back by 2000.

Around this time, the University of Missouri’s vom Saal, a garrulous biologist who previously worked as a bush pilot in Kenya, began studying the effects of synthetic estrogens on fetal mouse development. The first substance he tested was BPA, a chemical used in clear, hard plastics, particularly the variety known as polycarbonate, to make them more flexible and durable. (It’s also found in everyday items, from dental sealants and hospital blood bags to cash register receipts and the lining of tin cans.) Naturally occurring estrogens bind with proteins in the blood, limiting the amount that reaches estrogen receptors. But vom Saal found this wasn’t true of BPA, which bypassed the body’s natural barrier system and burrowed deep into the cells of laboratory mice.

Vom Saal suspected this would make BPA “a hell of a lot more potent” in small doses. Working with colleagues Susan Nagel and Wade Welshons, a professor of veterinary biology, he began testing the effects of BPA at amounts 25 times lower than the EPA’s safety threshold. In the late 1990s, they published two studies finding that male mice whose mothers were exposed to these low doses during pregnancy had enlarged prostates and low sperm counts. Even in microscopic quantities, it seemed, BPA could cause the kinds of dire health problems Colborn had found in wildlife. Before long, other scientists began turning up ailments among animals exposed to minute doses of BPA.

These findings posed a direct threat to plastics and chemical makers, which fought back using tactics the tobacco makers had refined to an art form. By the late 1990s, when tobacco companies agreed to drop deceptive marketing practices under a settlement agreement with 46 states, many of the scientists and consultants on the industry’s payroll transitioned seamlessly into defending BPA.

Plastics and chemical interests worked closely with the Weinberg Group, which had run Big Tobacco’s White Coat Project—an effort to recruit scientists to create doubt about the health effects of secondhand smoke. Soon Weinberg, which bills itself as a “product defense” firm, was churning out white papers and lobbying regulators. It also underwrote a trade group with its own scientific journal, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, which published studies finding BPA was safe.

The industry also worked hand in glove with the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, a think tank affiliated with the university’s school of public health that has a history of accepting donations from corporations and then publishing research favorable to their products. In the early 1990s, its founder, John D. Graham—who was later tapped as George W. Bush’s regulatory czar—lobbied to quash an EPA finding that secondhand smoke caused lung cancer, while soliciting large contributions from Philip Morris.

In 2001, as studies on BPA stacked up, the American Chemistry Council enlisted the center to convene a panel of scientists to investigate low-dose BPA. The center paid panelists $12,000 to attend three meetings, according to Fast Company. Their final report, released in 2004, drew on just a few industry-favored studies and concluded that the evidence that low-dose BPA exposure harmed human health was “very weak.” By this point, roughly 100 studies on low-dose BPA were in circulation. Not a single industry-funded study found it harmful, but 90 percent of those by government-funded scientists discovered dramatic effects, ranging from an increased breast cancer risk to hyperactivity. Four of the 12 panelists later insisted the center scrub their names from the report because of questions about its accuracy.

Chemical interests, meanwhile, forged deep inroads with the Bush administration, allowing them to covertly steer the regulatory process. For decades, the Food and Drug Administration has assured lawmakers and the public that BPA is safe in low doses. But a 2008 investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed that the agency had relied on industry lobbyists to track and evaluate BPA research, and had based its safety assessment largely on two industry-funded studies—one of which had never been published or peer reviewed.

The panel the EPA appointed to develop guidelines for its congressionally mandated endocrine disruptor screening was also stocked with industry-backed scientists. It included Chris Borgert, a toxicology consultant who had worked closely with Philip Morris to discredit EPA research on secondhand smoke. He later served as the president of the International Society of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, the Weinberg Group-sponsored outfit, which met in the offices of a plastics lobbyist.

Members of the EPA panel say Borgert seemed determined to sandbag the process. “He was always delaying, always trying to confuse the issue,” recalls one participant. And the screening approach the EPA settled on came straight from the industry’s playbook. Among other things, the chemicals would be tested on a type of rat known as the Charles River Sprague Dawley—which, oddly, doesn’t respond to synthetic hormones like BPA.

How best to test for estrogenic activity would become a key front in the fight over plastic safety. The American Chemistry Council joined forces with an unlikely ally, PETA, to fight large-scale chemical-safety testing on animals. At the same time, Borgert and other industry-funded scientists made the case that the other common method for testing—using cells that respond in the presence of estrogen—did not necessarily tell us how a substance would affect animals or humans. In fact, a massive, ongoing NIH-run study has found that cell-based tests track closely with animal studies, which have accurately predicted the effects of synthetic estrogens, particularly DES and BPA, on humans.

Stanton Glantz, who directs the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California-San Francisco, argues the chemical industry’s real aim in challenging specific testing methods is to undermine safety testing altogether. “Like the tobacco companies, they want to set up a standard of proof that is unreachable,” he says. “If they set the standard of proof, they’ve won the fight.”

During the height of the battle over BPA, vom Saal periodically traveled to Texas and huddled around the dining table with his old friend George Bittner, whose home overlooks a walnut grove on the outskirts of Austin. Bittner, who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Stanford, is quirky and irascible. But he has a brilliant mind for science and an interest in applying it to real-world problems—in his lab at UT-Austin, he had developed a nerve-regeneration technique that had helped crippled rats walk within days. And he had taken a keen interest in vom Saal’s research on endocrine disruption. “It struck me as the most important public health issue of our time,” Bittner told me when we met at his lab. “These chemicals have been correlated with so many adverse effects in animal studies, and they’re so pervasive. The potential implications for human health boggle the mind.”

In the late 1990s, Bittner—a squat, ruddy man with thinning red hair and Napoleon Dynamite glasses who had made a tidy sum investing in real estate and commodities—began mulling the idea of launching a private company that worked with manufacturers and public health organizations to test products for endocrine disruptors. He believed this approach could help raise awareness and break the regulatory logjam—while also reaping a profit.

In 2002, armed with a $91,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, Bittner launched a pair of companies: CertiChem, to test plastics and other products for synthetic estrogens, and PlastiPure, to find or develop nonestrogenic alternatives. Bittner then enlisted Welshons to design a special test using a line of breast cancer cells, which multiply rapidly in the presence of estrogen. It features a robotic arm, which is far more precise than a human hand in handling microscopic material.

But before long Bittner began butting heads with Welshons and vom Saal. Bittner wanted the researchers to sign over the rights to the test Welshons had developed, while they insisted it belonged to the University of Missouri. Eventually, they had a bitter falling out. Welshons and vom Saal filed a complaint with the NIH, alleging that Bittner had misrepresented data from Welshons’ lab in a brochure. (Bittner maintains that he merely excluded data from contaminated samples; the institute found no evidence of wrongdoing.) Bittner, meanwhile, enlisted V. Craig Jordan, a pharmacology professor at Georgetown University with an expertise in hormones—he discovered a now-common hormone therapy that blocks the spread of breast cancer—to refine the testing protocol. By 2005, Bittner had opened a commercial lab in a leafy office park in Austin. He managed to attract some big-name clients, including Whole Foods, which hired CertiChem to advise it on endocrine-disrupting chemicals and test some of its products.

At this point, BPA was among the most studied chemicals on the planet. In November 2006, vom Saal and a top official at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences convened a group of 38 leading researchers from various disciplines to evaluate the 700-plus existing studies on the subject. The group later issued a “consensus statement” that laid out some chilling conclusions: More than 95 percent of people in developed countries were exposed to levels of BPA that are “within the range” associated with health problems in animals, from cancer and insulin-resistant diabetes to early puberty. The scientists also found that there was “great cause for concern with regard to the potential for similar adverse effects in humans,” especially given the steep uptick in these same disorders.

At the same time, a new body of research was finding that BPA altered animals’ genes in ways that caused disease. For instance, it could switch off a gene that suppresses tumor growth, allowing cancer to spread. These genetic changes were passed down across generations. “A poison kills you,” vom Saal explains. “A chemical like BPA reprograms your cells and ends up causing a disease in your grandchild that kills him.”

Scientists were also uncovering links between endocrine-disrupting chemicals known as phthalates and health problems, including genital abnormalities and infertility in humans. These chemical additives were commonly found in soft, pliable plastics, such as those used in pacifiers and baby bottle nipples. In 2008, Congress passed a law banning six types of phthalates in children’s products. As concerns about BPA hit the mainstream, Congress also launched an investigation into the industry’s efforts to manipulate science and regulation, and a number of states proposed BPA bans.

In 2009, the BPA Joint Trade Association—which included the American Chemistry Council, Coca-Cola, and Del Monte, among others—gathered at the Cosmos Club, a members-only retreat in Washington, DC’s Dupont Circle. According to meeting minutes leaked to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the group explored messaging strategies, “including using fear tactics (e.g., ‘Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?’).” The “‘holy grail’ spokesperson,” attendees agreed, was a “pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA.”

Even as the industry crafted defensive talking points, some companies began offering BPA-free alternatives. But they often didn’t bother testing them for other potentially toxic compounds or synthetic hormones. Nor did they have to: Under US law, chemicals are presumed safe until proven otherwise, and companies are rarely required to collect or disclose chemical-safety data. Michael Green, the Center for Environmental Health director who worried about his daughter’s sippy cup, says this results in a “toxic shell game”: Corporations that come under pressure to root out toxins often replace them with untested chemicals, which sometimes turn out to be just as hazardous. “It’s an unplanned science experiment we’re doing on our families,” Green told me when I visited him at his Bay Area home, where Juliette, now 5, was padding around in a pink princess costume.

One of the most popular BPA-free options, especially among companies catering to families and health-conscious consumers, was Tritan, a clear, sturdy, heat-resistant plastic that Eastman rolled out in 2007. (Eastman also produces the chemical that sullied the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians in January.) A company founded by alternative medicine guru Dr. Andrew Weil launched a line of Weil Baby bottles made from Tritan, which it touted as “revolutionary” and “ultra-safe” material. Thermos began churning out Tritan sippy cups, decorated with Barbie and Batman. With more and more consumers demanding BPA-free products, Nalgene, CamelBack, Evenflo, Cuisinart, Tupperware, Rubbermaid, and many other companies also worked Tritan into their production lines.

Eastman, a $7 billion company that was spun off from Eastman Kodak in the 1990s, assured its corporate customers that it had done extensive safety testing on Tritan. But its methods were questionable. According to internal Eastman documents, in 2008 Eastman signed a two-year contract with Sciences International, another product defense firm that had played a key role in the tobacco industry’s scientific misinformation campaign. On Sciences’ advice, Eastman then commissioned a study that used computer modeling to predict whether a substance contains synthetic estrogens, based on its chemical structure. The model suggested that one of Tritan’s ingredients—triphenyl phosphate, or TPP—was more estrogenic than BPA.

Eastman, which never disclosed these findings to its customers, later commissioned another study, this one involving breast cancer cells. Again, the initial results appeared positive for estrogenic activity. In an email to colleagues, Eastman’s senior toxicologist, James Deyo, called this an “oh shit moment.”

— source

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A dirty little secret of EV

Debate over the so-called “dirty little secret” of AC fluid muddies the merits of electric vehicles.

Why? Electrification of transportation is an important solution to reduce oil use and global warming emissions. The obvious advantage of electric vehicles (EVs) over conventional cars and trucks is the lack of tailpipe exhaust, meaning the elimination of both smog-forming pollution and carbon dioxide production from the vehicle. Even factoring in the emissions to produce electricity, the benefits of using EVs are significant. In California using an EV like the Nissan Leaf produces 63% less global warming emissions than the average new compact gasoline vehicle.

However, a recent article claims that EVs have a “dirty little secret”: some have a potent greenhouse gas called HFC-134a in their air conditioning (AC) system. The fact that most EVs have HFC-134a in their AC system is true, but the “dirty little secret” characterization is disingenuous for several reasons.

First, this compound (HFC-134a, also known as R-134a) is found in almost all vehicles built after 1994 on the road today, not just in some electric vehicles! When assessing the benefits of EVs, we can’t look at these vehicles in isolation; we need to compare them to the current alternatives. In the case of global warming emissions from AC system leaks, there’s little if any difference between EVs and conventional vehicles.

Second, the global warming impact of HFC-134a leaking from AC units is small compared to that of burning of gasoline. The EPA has estimated that the HFC-134a that leaks over a new vehicle’s lifetime produces the equivalent of about 18 grams CO2 per mile. The emissions produced from using gasoline in a 29 mpg car is about 386 grams CO2 per mile or over 21 times higher than the emissions from AC leaks. We shouldn’t ignore the effect of AC refrigerant on global warming emissions, but reducing the amount gasoline we burn will have the most significant impact on emissions.

Reducing emissions from leaking vehicle AC systems is possible. In fact, the current EPA vehicle emissions standards encourage the use of more climate-friendly refrigerants and there are options available today that reduce the emissions from AC leaks to nearly zero. One option, HFO-1234yf, is already in use in 9 car models, including 2 EVs. We can and should replace HFC-134a in all vehicles with alternatives that are safe, effective, and produce less global warming emissions. However, it doesn’t make sense to look at a relatively minor emissions source that is shared by electric AND conventional vehicles and call it electric vehicle’s “dirty little secret”.

— source

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Media Blackout over Syria

On April 6, The London Review of Books published in its online journal Seymour Hersh’s “The Red Line and the Rat Line.” Hersh continues to expose details surrounding the staged August 21 chemical attack incident in Syria, which apparently pretty much everyone in Washington’s intelligence bureaucracy suspected was carried out by the rebels as soon as it happened.

Seymour Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist whose 40+ years career includes the exposing of the My Lai Massacre and its cover-up, as well as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. His December 19 report, “Whose Sarin?” -was his first report to expose the Syria chemical attack hoax based on close contact with US Intelligence officials. While “Whose Sarin” was originally prepared for the Washington Post, the newspaper rejected it and a media blackout followed in American press. Currently, Hersh’s newest investigative findings are going unacknowledged in mainstream US media.

Hersh’s report confirms the following:

Obama’s push for attack on Syria was halted last minute when evidence that the Syrian government had nothing to do with the August 21 chemical attack became too overwhelming
It had been well known to US government officials throughout the summer of 2013 that Turkish PM Erdogan was supporting al-Nusra Front in attempts to manufacture Sarin
US military knew of Turkish and Saudi program for bulk Sarin production inside Syria from the spring of 2013
UN inspectors knew the rebels were using chemical weapons on the battlefield since the spring of 2013
As a result of the staged chemical incident, the White House ordered readiness for a “monster strike” on Syria, which included “two B-22 air wings and two thousand pound bombs” -and a target list which included military and civilian infrastructure targets (note: most of these are in densely populated civilian areas)
Full military strike was set for September 2
UK defense officials relayed to their American counterparts in the lead up to planned attack: “We’re being set up here.”
CIA, MI6, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey set up a “rat line” back in 2012 to run Libyan weapons into Syria via Turkey, including MANPADS; the Benghazi consulate was headquarters for the operation
Obama OK’ed Turkish-Iranian gold export scam (that went from March 2012 to July 2013) which erupted in a Turkish scandal that nearly brought down the Erdogan government
US Intelligence community had immediate doubts about Syrian regime responsibility for Aug. 21 attack, yet “reluctant to contradict the president”
US government will not expose continued Turkey support of terrorism simply because “they’re a NATO ally”

In addition, last Thursday freelance Middle East journalist Sara Elizabeth Williams broke the story of a CIA/US Military run training camp for Syrian rebels in the Jordanian desert. VICE UK ran her story, “I Learned to Fight Like an American at the FSA Training Camp in Jordan,” yet it too failed to make it across the Atlantic into American reporting. International Syria experts thought her story hugely significant, but it got little attention. Top Syria expert in the US, Joshua Landis, announced on his Twitter account Thursday: “Sara Williams gets the scoop on the top secret FSA Training Camp in Jordan.” This courageous young freelancer revealed, with photos, the ins and outs of this secretive facility -yet the mainstream carefully shielded Americans from knowledge of the explosive report.

In email conversation with her this weekend, Williams told me: “The access was tough to get, but I think it was worth the effort: to my mind, it’s important that people know what their government is doing in their name, with their tax dollars.”

According to her investigative report:

Confirmed: “US-run training camp” for Syrian rebels in Northern Jordan
Rebel recruits go “off the grid” while in secretive training camp
Rebel fighter: “The Americans who taught us wore military uniforms I did not recognize. We called them by their first names and they spoke English to us.”
Camp awash with “American food and American dollars”: recruits eat Kentucky Fried Chicken and live in temporary “pre-fabricated housing” units
Recruits sent through intense 40 day program, which includes exercise, training in anti-tank missiles, and boot camp style atmosphere with orders given by US military instructors
Upon graduation, US trained insurgents slip back across Syria’s southern border
Experts say there are more camps like this one
American trained rebel insurgent says: “America is benefiting from the destruction and the killing in order to weaken both sides.”

— source

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Urban farm in London

East Hounslow’s London Road isn’t exactly a bucolic vision. In fact, it’s a major thoroughfare in west London, studded with take-aways and fuggy with traffic fumes.

Nevertheless, after walking for just a few minutes, I find a small but thriving urban farm. It’s one of the sites occupied by Cultivate London, an urban farm and social enterprise based across various formerly derelict spaces in the west of the city. I’m here to find out why urban farming is enjoying such a boom.

Problems with the global food system have rarely been out of the headlines. Massive rises in the prices of staple foods sparked riots across more than 25 countries in 2008 – and the price of basics is expected to double by 2030.

Even in rich cities such as London, this has started to hurt people: it’s one of the reasons why we’re seeing an increase in the number of families who rely on food banks to survive. Meanwhile, our dependence on food imports causes a huge carbon footprint.

But an urban food revolution has sprung up in response. With Cultivate London part of an assortment of urban farms, orchards, city bee-keepers, office block rooftop gardens and even a King’s Cross vineyard, it’s getting easier for Londoners to source many of their meals from within the M25 – and a similar picture is emerging in cities all around the country.

In central Nottingham, for example, a project by RHS Britain In Bloom, which turned the equivalent of 2,000 football pitches of derelict land into community spaces, has transformed a piece of neglected land in a deprived area of the city into a community allotment serving 7,000 people.

Adrienne Attorp, Cultivate London’s general manager, shows me around the polytunnels and cages where all varieties of salad are grown. She sets me to turning over the soil, joined by farm trainee volunteers who have been referred by the local Jobcentre and various other programmes.

It’s fun and I can imagine what a sense of satisfaction it must give to look after something from seed to harvest. But with my shoulders aching after a few minutes, I realise it’s harder work than it looks. This is a sunny, crisp afternoon – but the recent spate of storms must have made life tough.

‘Unlike many rural farmers who have been facing serious flooding and wind damage as a result of the storms, we have actually been relatively lucky,’ says Attorp. ‘The high winds damaged one of our polytunnels slightly, but it was nothing serious. However, there are more storms on the way, so we will just have to react as needed. It’s really hard in the summer when it gets hot, too – you really don’t want to be sweating inside one of those tunnels. But we have a ball digging outside in the sunshine.’

Ben Mann has previously worked on food-growing projects in Guatemala and Vietnam, and he directed Best Before, a short documentary about London’s food revolution. He doesn’t believe locally sourced food needs to be a fad that’s the preserve of the rich.

‘As food growing spaces are becoming more accessible, urban food is becoming more affordable,’ he says. ‘There has been a rise in the number of places to buy this food – local food co-ops, farmers’ markets and more affordably priced vegetable box schemes.’

It’s not easy to fight the good fight in Britain, though. No matter how innovative our use of city space, our land is at too much of a premium.

Attorp compares London to the huge urban farming scene forming part of the regeneration movement in Detroit, where the useable spaces are vast by comparison.

‘You are never going to have the space you need to grow or to meet all of London’s food needs but it’s a good supplement,’ she says. ‘And promoting it to city kids can be a great way of reconnecting them with where food comes from.’

‘Though a very small quantity of food is being produced, urban food has the capacity to be far greater in quantity,’ says Mann. ‘But, most crucially, it challenges the model of the global food system. It shows we can change the distance of supply, from the global to the local.’

— source

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Collusion between Washington and Wall Street

the last four years have been a time of economic growth in the United States. Corporate profits and stock prices have mostly recovered and, in many cases, surpassed their levels from before the financial crisis. On Wall Street, bonuses are now the highest they’ve been since before the 2008 crash. Just last year, payouts increased 15 percent to $26.7 billion. That’s enough money to more than double the pay of every minimum-wage worker in the country. That’s because, for most Americans, the recovery has been elusive. Inequality is now at its highest point since 1928, and the wages for lower-income Americans are stagnant.

In her new book, All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power, financial journalist Nomi Prins traces the hundred-year history of collusion between Washington and Wall Street. Prins reveals how a small number of bankers have played critical roles in shaping a century’s worth of financial, foreign and domestic policy in the United States. These relationships have influenced events from the creation of the Federal Reserve, the response to the Great Depression, and the founding of the IMF and the World Bank.

For a good part of the 20th century, bankers and presidents presided over a financial system that was relatively stable. But as Wall Street grew increasingly outside of Washington’s control, financial speculation has exploded, leading to the financial crisis of 2008. And even though the economy may now be on the mend, Nomi Prins ends her book with a stark warning, writing, “Either we break the alliances, or they will break us.”

Nomi Prins talking:

we were on the show a few years ago; I was talking about a novel I had written, a historical novel on the 1929 crash called Black Tuesday. And what had happened as one of the segments in that book was that six bankers had gotten together at the behest of the acting chairman of the Morgan bank, who was Thomas Lamont at the time, and they had so been afraid of losing all of the money and all of their reputations and their institutions at the time that they got together and decided to pool their own money to save the markets—stark difference from what happened more recently, which was that the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department and everyone else from the government decided to work with them to save themselves. But the impetus for the book really came from those big six bankers. We still have big six bankers today. And I looked into the relationships that they had with all of the presidents going forward and backward from that time to come up with this All the Presidents’ Bankers analysis.

so, in 1929, the men that sat in the room at Morgan was Tom Lamont, who was the acting chair of Morgan, as I mentioned; Charles Mitchell, who was the chairman of National City Bank, which has now grown into Citigroup; Al Wiggin, who was the head of the Chase Bank, which is now part of the Chase—JPMorgan Chase constellation; and a couple of other bankers. And they basically have morphed into some of the six banks we have today. The ones that were absent were Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, but they came in through other avenues and personal connections to bankers, from FDR and forward since that time.

And what I did was I went backwards from the crash in 1929 and noticed that J.P. Morgan, who is arguably—not even arguably, who is the most powerful banker this country has ever known and the most powerful political, financial actor—he died a hundred years ago, but his legacy, his family and what he created and the constellation of relationships between him and, at the time, Teddy Roosevelt, as far back as 1907, through Jamie Dimon’s relationship with Obama more recently, has been a very apparent apparatus in the connection of politics and finance, which I believe has no separation line.

So, this panic in 1907 happened. Teddy Roosevelt, who historically we know as the great trust buster, didn’t bust banks—busted a lot of other companies, a lot of other industries, not banks. And the reason for that was he truly believed—and he says this in documents and memoirs that I looked through—he truly believed that J.P. Morgan, the man, and his bank and his friends could save New York and the country from a greater catastrophe after the panic of 1907. And J.P. Morgan got together with a bunch of people at the Hotel Manhattan at midnight, didn’t have the president there, didn’t have the treasury secretary there, told them later what they would do. And what they would do is save their friends. And that’s what they did, with some of their own money, little bit of Treasury money, saved their friends, saved the Trust Company of America, because they had interests in that. They decided they didn’t want to really have that kind of scare again, so they continued to push for this idea of a central bank, which was the Federal Reserve.

They had help with a senator, Nelson Aldrich, who was head of the Senate Finance Committee at the time, after—a year or so after that under President Taft. Nelson Aldrich took a group of bankers in 1910 to Jeckyll Island. He almost didn’t make that meeting. He got hit by a trolley car up on Madison Avenue, was convalescing with his son, Winthrop Aldrich, who became the head of Chase later, and took a bunch of representatives from J.P. Morgan’s bank—J.P. Morgan was not there, and that’s power: you don’t go, you send your lieutenants—to Jeckyll Island for 10 days. They hunted. They shot pheasants. They did all sorts of things. But they came out also with the impetus for the Federal Reserve. On the way back, the train back to Washington, Nelson Aldrich had to present this plan. He was still convalescing. Two bankers that came from that meeting went in his place to Washington to put up the plans. Now, it wasn’t passed under Taft; it was passed under the Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson. But a lot of those same individuals were friends with Woodrow Wilson, as well, into his presidency, and in fact helped campaign and raise money for his presidency. and the Federal Reserve Act was ultimately passed in the end of 1913 under Wilson.

one of them was Tom Lamont, who, I mentioned, was around in 1929. But he started his life moving up the chain of Morgan after the panic in 1907 in things called the Pujo trials, which were in 1912, which, at the time, looked at what bankers had done to cause the panic of 1907. He was a young lawyer at the time. He had gone to Harvard with FDR. But as a young man, he was also hanging out—living in the house of FDR up on 65th Street, renting it for several years while FDR was the assistant Navy secretary under Woodrow Wilson. They chose Tom Lamont to go with Wilson to France for six weeks. Wilson was in France. It was the longest time a U.S. president was outside of U.S. soil and the first time a U.S. president was outside of U.S. soil. But the banker that was by his side was Tom Lamont. He was a Republican. He went across his party lines to come back with Woodrow Wilson to fight for the League of Nations to try to preserve peace after World War I, which was defeated.

But Tom Lamont and Woodrow Wilson developed this relationship. And their letters are crazy. They’re like—they’re like so full of gratuity and love and just, you know, “thank you for being there by my side, and I couldn’t have done it without you,” because when Woodrow Wilson then got a stroke and it was difficult for him to go around the country to, after the war, fight for the League of Nations, which the Senate didn’t want to pass and ultimately did not pass, Tom Lamont took it up in his newspapers that he owned, the Saturday Review, went before—you know, backdoors in terms of the senators that he knew, and really tried to push it. And the two of them really worked very closely together and had this bromance. And, of course, Woodrow Wilson ultimately did die from complications of those strokes.

one of the men, Winthrop Aldrich, who I mentioned before was the son of the founder of the Fed, one of the founders of the Fed, Senator Nelson Aldrich, was also friends with the Roosevelts. He was friends with FDR. And he also knew, from a business perspective, he wanted to outdo the Morgans. So he said, you know, Chase has some trading, some speculation, that went miles wrong in the crash of 1929, and he believed that for the stability of the economy and for his bank going forward, so he could sort of walk and chew gum at the same time—see the public interest as well as his bank’s interest—worked with FDR to pass the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated the speculative activities from the depositors that had their money entrusted to banks at the time, including at Chase. And, actually, Carter Glass, whose name is on that act, wanted a slightly weaker version of the act than Winthrop Aldrich pushed inside of Washington with the alliance of FDR. So that was a very, very different time. You cannot imagine today Jamie Dimon pushing with President Obama to separate his bank in such a way that it decreases its risk to depositors and taxpayers. It’s just unimaginable.

I actually remember being up that 4:30 or so in the morning and all night talking about Jamie Dimon bold-faced lying to those committees and then—yeah, and then turning over and saying, “Well, can you give us advice about the economy?” It was kind of ridiculous. This was after the London Whale trade, after they had lost billions in dollars, in money that should have been separated from speculation, to begin with.

So, the relationship is much more dangerous also because those big six banks today—again, slight derivations of the big six banks in 1929, but today—own 85 percent of deposits of all the commercial banks, 84 percent of assets of all the commercial banks, and control 96 percent of all of the derivatives that financial institutions that are backed by the government utilize today, and 45 percent of the world’s derivatives. Six banks control so much capital and have so much power as to the laws around that capital. And the administration—and this started in Reagan, through Bush, through Clinton, into Obama—this is not new—but the reaction of the administrations has been to allow this to happen, to allow the concentration of this capital, of this power, to do nothing in the face of the financial crisis of 2008, which I believe is still ongoing, just in a different manifestation, because this risk still exists and because these numbers are worse than they were before the crisis of 2008.

one of the things I look at in the book is sort of the pedigree and the social stature of a lot of the bankers and presidents, and also their connections. In the case of JFK, for example, he was in London in 1938 because his father, Joe Kennedy, who was the first appointed SEC head under FDR, because they were friends, because he helped with that campaign—met David Rockefeller in London at this gala coming-out party for JFK’s sister Kathleen. And David Rockefeller even briefly dated his sister Kathleen. So there were just so many social ties, as well.

But the other side of JFK is that his personal relationship, despite the social background, was a little more stilted. He just came off as a little more trying to do his own thing. So, even when—and because he had this long-standing relationship with David Rockefeller, they started to really diffuse. Rockefeller started saying disparaging things in public, in particular in this really interesting Life magazine article that came out in 1962, that were going against what JFK was trying to do. JFK, for example, in Latin America was trying to allow those countries to be more independent, to not have more private debt imposed upon them, which is what Rockefeller and the other bankers wanted to do at the time as a new source of making money. And this really disturbed Rockefeller, in particular, who was trying to expand the bank into those areas.

So, on the one side, they had a very strong social connection, and on the other side, JFK really tried to go about in a way to make external countries a little bit more independent financially from the United States, whereas that was a point where things started going in separate directions, and Rockefeller and Walter Wriston, who ran National City Bank at the time, really wanted to dump them with debt and to privatize and do all sorts of things that have gotten worse since then.

Since the ’70s, though, Wall Street kind of goes rogue. it’s a little bit—started when they found they could do a foreign policy that was separate from U.S. policy, that was an expansion of banks in a foreign capacity. And then LBJ tried to rein some of that back. He had some friends that he basically said, “You know, you guys, I know you want to do your own thing, but I have a Great Society vision coming on board, so you need to back me.” So there was a little, still, quid pro quo there.

By the time the ’70s came along, with Nixon, who had less personal relationships and also ultimately took the country off the gold standard, which he did because the bankers pushed him to do it, because at this point they wanted two things. They saw that there was Middle East oil, and they could go in there and start to forge relationships and branches in the Middle East and utilize those petrodollars to recycle—it was a huge thing in the early ’70s—into Latin America and other countries. So they started operating more internationally and independently of their connections to the president.

And the minute they discovered all that money and they dumped all of that debt into the Third World, that manifested in a huge Third World debt crisis in the 1980s. And that was the first very large instance of a bailout. There was a small bailout for Penn Central, which was a railroad constellation in the ’70s. But in the ’80s, under Reagan and under Bush, the idea of bailing out the banks, who had now refunneled all of this debt into Latin America, was a very epic decision, and it was one in which the bankers gave nothing back to the government. They were like, “We’re going to use your money to bail us out.” They were in Washington talking about the catastrophe that would happen to America if that didn’t happen. They got the government to basically push the World Bank and the IMF to work on the areas where they had the most risk and they had the most interest in retrieving it, and then in the ’90s just compiled that with the Mexican peso crisis, where Clinton also worked with Robert Rubin to save Mexican interests for Goldman and other U.S. banks, and then the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999. And then all of this idea of consolidation of risk and power just exponentially grew from there.

Goldman Sachs almost died in 1928. Or, well, basically between 1928 and 1929, they had a trading partnership, “partnership,” in which investors invested money, and the stock of that trust went up to $320-something, and then it subsequently went down to $1. And there were a lot of angry investors around the street and so forth. But a man named Sidney Weinberg, who was the chairman of Goldman at the time, who actually joined Goldman in the panic of 1907 as sort of an underling, decided that if he could befriend FDR in such a manner as to help him run his 1932 campaign, he would kind of have a seat at the table. And so, the legitimacy of Goldman with respect to FDR also allowed FDR to create the first Business Council, that Sidney Weinberg pushed in Washington to forge relationships between the business financial community and Washington and so on. Sidney Weinberg also was behind LBJ’s choice of Henry Fowler as a treasury secretary, who then joined Goldman Sachs after being a treasury secretary. And, of course, we had Henry Paulson, who did the other way—Bush picked him to be the treasury secretary, George W. Bush. And then, of course, Clinton picked Robert Rubin, coming from Goldman Sachs, to be the treasury secretary in his administration. So, but it started with Sidney Weinberg and FDR.

Obama’s second term, when he ran against Romney, his donations from Wall Street dropped. It was something like $16 million, went down to $6 million.

Wall Street was very primary in getting him elected, to begin with. And I think also Wall Street doesn’t really particularly care who is in office, so there was a time during that campaign period where they just believed Romney had a better shot. It wasn’t so much necessarily a negative on Obama. I think they were just playing their bet, and they happened to have lost, which they usually haven’t over the many of elections. Who Wall Street backs tends to be who wins. But sometimes that backing gets a little bit split.

But in that clip, and in a lot of what Obama has said, you know, what is said publicly and what actually happens inside the private office and with respect to what’s going on with bankers, you know, shows up in the reforms. It shows up in the structures. It shows up in the minions of lobbyists and lawyers that continue to funnel money, and little chips away at even very weak but existing rules. And Obama has allowed that to happen. He’s never come out and named a name against a banker. He talks about Wall Street “fat cats” as some sort of like big, broad category. He has not named names. He has not said what Wall Street needs to done. It’s just sort of fluffy rhetoric.

the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act was somehow sweeping reform, and he characterizes it as being relative to FDR’s reform when he did the Glass-Steagall Act and the New Deal and created the SEC and all sorts of things. And it simply wasn’t. As I mentioned before, banks got bigger. Their concentration of our deposits and assets and risk got bigger. Nothing was fixed by that, “reform” act. And so, he doesn’t need to say that now. He said it kind of in the beginning to consolidate his base, to get elected, whatever it was. But many presidents—and, actually, Democrats are a little bit more guilty of this than Republicans, because I think they feel they need to do this—from Wilson on, have always bashed the bankers in their campaign speeches, and then when it comes right down to it, most of them have been very helpful and very symbiotic with them after they have been in office. So it tends to get said to the public, and then when you look at what actually occurred, it’s a completely different matter, because they are connected.

— source

Nomi Prins, former managing director at Bear Stearns and Goldman Sachs, and previously an analyst at Lehman Brothers and Chase Manhattan Bank. She is now a senior fellow at Demos and author of the new book, All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power.

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Fight for the values

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Plastic guide

The safety debate over plastic products has centered largely on BPA, but many BPA-free items may be exposing us to harmful chemicals with similar effects. Neuroscientist George Bittner and his colleagues tested 455 products, from plastic wrap to food containers, and found that 72 percent leached some amount of synthetic estrogens. Here’s a guide to common plastics (often identifiable by the number stamped on them) and the percentage of samples that displayed estrogenic activity.

— source

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Enterprise Structure

Richard Wolff talks about “The Shape of a Post-Capitalist Future,” his entry in the new anthology Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA, and his conviction that making the transition from capitalism to socialism requires a deliberate critique of capitalist workplace organization.

Make a contribution to Truthout and receive Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA. Click here.

Leslie Thatcher for Truthout: What motivated you to choose (of all things!) “corporate structure” in your search for a “powerful, attractive and credible vision of socialism?”

Richard Wolff: Chiefly because the internal organization of our workplaces has been so badly undervalued and thus so little transformed in and by socialist practices. This was true not only in the efforts to establish actual socialism but likewise in the theoretical and political projects for transition from capitalism to socialism.

Human beings spend most of their adult lives – the central parts of most days of most weeks – at work. How their work structures their interactions with other people (their interdependencies, interactions, freedoms and responsibilities) are crucial to everything from daily personal life to politics, culture … everything. Socialists have focused on changing ownership of means of production – from private to social – and on changing the mechanism of distributing resources and products – from market to planning. Those foci meant that the internal organization of workplaces was neglected and/or treated as a secondary matter of what technology and efficiency require, something largely independent of the transition from capitalism to socialism.

I am convinced that to make the transition from capitalism to socialism requires a deliberate critique of how capitalism organizes its workplaces. It likewise requires a deliberate specification of how and why socialism organizes its workplaces very differently.

“Marx stressed there that a central dimension of capitalism that he wished to see transformed was ‘exploitation.’ “

To drive the point home, let me add two further and closely interrelated considerations. First, most of the “actually existing” socialist experiments to date unraveled in part because they never transformed the organization of their workplaces. They more or less replaced private shareholders and boards of directors with state officials and they more or less substituted planned distributions of inputs and outputs for market exchanges. What they did not do was to radically alter the internal organization of workplaces in a specifically socialist way. Second, by a “specifically socialist way” I mean pretty much what Marx specified in Capital. Marx stressed there that a central dimension of capitalism that he wished to see transformed was “exploitation.” By that he meant the capitalist organization of the workplace. In that organization workers add more value by their labor than the value paid to them (wages, salaries) for that labor. Capitalists appropriate that “more,” or what Marx called “surplus.” To squeeze as much surplus from the workers as possible, capitalists control and make all the key decisions: what, how and where to produce and what to do with the surpluses they appropriate from the workers.

A transition to socialism would thus require the transformation of capitalism’s exploitative internal organization of enterprises. In other words, the transition to socialism requires that workers not only produce surpluses, but also themselves appropriate and distribute them. Workplaces stop being conflict-ridden confrontations of two different groups of people – employers and employees – and become instead cooperatives in which the same people who produce the surpluses also – collectively and democratically – appropriate those surpluses. Workplaces are reorganized into workers self-directed enterprises (WSDEs). In WSDEs, workers (rather than capitalists) decide what, how and where to produce and what to do with the surpluses their labor generates.

Imagine a socialism for the 21st century that included among its central goals the democratic transformation of the workplace, a dramatic advance beyond the major 19th and 20th century versions of socialism.

In other writings and presentations you’ve indicated you are altogether aware that all dominant CEOs after their initial selections, pick their own board for loyalty and for their identification with the CEO’s interests, yet you present a very idealized picture of actually-existing corporate structure in “The Shape of a Post-capitalist Future.” Why?

Because I wanted to ground a basic critique of the corporate organization of production – the dominant form of capitalist enterprise in the world today – by focusing on its paradigm form, its textbook formulation without the many deformations and biases that shape its particular incarnations. I wanted to show the profound problems, weaknesses and flaws in its best form before examining the additional defects it often displays, such as the one you chose as illustration. Indeed, it is often the basic corporate organization of the enterprise that positions and enables a CEO, for example, to produce such additional defects. In my view, what you call the idealized capitalist enterprise organization is already fundamentally anti-democratic in how it determines (1) who produces the net-revenues versus who disposes of those net revenues and (2) who does the work versus who decides what products will be produced with what technology and where. The actual specifics of many capitalist corporations are only that much more vulnerable to the basic critique.

Your essay proposes that production decisions be relocated from the supposedly neutral market of capitalism and the purportedly incompetent and heavy-handed state of Soviet socialism, but how do you counter arguments like Richard Smith’s that government planning is necessary to arrest climate change as equitably as possible?

First of all, I try to make clear that democratizing the enterprise is a necessary component of socialism that must be added to correct its traditional overemphases on socialized (versus private) ownership of means of production and planning (versus market exchange) as mechanisms for distributing resources and products. It is not a matter of enterprise democratization as a substitute for socialized property and planned distribution. And this applies for many objectives of a socialist system, including arresting climate change.

Second, production decisions, the priority responsibility of all the workers in a democratized enterprise, would have to be made interdependently with residence-based democratic political decisions. Because enterprise decisions affect residential communities and vice versa, a commitment to democracy requires that each site participate in the decisions of the other.

Third, the issue is thus not whether the government at one or another level (local, regional, national and international) plays a role in the economy (planning is one such role). Among economic theories, only the neoclassical affirms laissez-faire fantasies of economies functioning without government interference despite the overwhelming empirical evidence that every actually existing capitalist economy has been intimately entwined with government. Keynesian economic theory celebrates the appropriate government interventions in the capitalist economy. Most versions of socialist economic theories articulate very powerful roles for governments in contemporary and likely near future economic realities. The issue is rather how interdependent enterprise and residential democracies work out those decisions, co-determine what government is and does.

Our critique of the Soviet model (see S. Resnick and R. Wolff, Class Theory and History: Capitalism and Communism in the USSR. New York and London: Routledge Publishers, 2002) focused on the rarity there of democratized workplaces (in the sense of WSDEs). We carefully specified them as enterprises where productive laborers themselves appropriated the surpluses they produced. Thus the behavior of successive Soviet governments reflected the prevalent absence of democratized enterprise organization. The socialization of property and planning established by the 1917 Soviet revolution eventually were undermined in significant ways by that enduring absence. The same logic suggests that the prospects for governments to arrest climate change equitably would be greatly enhanced by the transition from capitalistically organized enterprises (e.g. typical private corporations and state enterprises with their employer-employee dichotomies) to WSDEs.

How can you create a structure whereby corporate decision making will involve the workers and the residential communities whose lives are interdependent with the enterprise in a globalized world?

Remarkable achievements at special moments in the history of capitalism can provide foretastes of and pointers toward a viable post-capitalism. In the socialist enthusiasms of the new Weimar government in post-World War I Germany, a parliamentary arrangement emerged that helps us to answer this question. In that bicameral system, one legislative body was based on residence in the by-now conventional manner of voting by geographic district. The other legislative body was based on the economy. It was representational too, but the voting was by enterprise and industry.

Thus, we might proceed comparably now as part of a transition from capitalist to WSDE-type economic organization. Enterprise decisions would be made first and democratically by the workers engaged there (rather than the tiny minority of major shareholders and the boards of directors they select, as is typical in capitalist corporations). However, such decisions would have to be consistent with the larger industrywide and economywide rules and regulations that would be the purview of the economy-based legislative body. And in turn, that body’s activities would have to be consistent with the framework co-determined with the other legislative body’s parallel deliberations and their results.

”We cannot expect a newly emerging economic system to automatically or by itself guarantee the culture, politics, or other aspects of society needed for that new system to survive or prosper.”

In such a structure, local, regional and national enterprise decisions would always and necessarily incorporate (and be subject ultimately to veto by) the democratically generated desires of the communities they interact with. Likewise, political decisions in residential communities would incorporate the democratically generated desires of enterprise workers they interact with.

Bill Ayers’ essay in Imagine! describes how very few Americans are educated for responsibility – for democratic citizenship and decision making of any kind – today. What prevents bad actors from taking over workers’ councils? Do you feel a change in enterprise structure will bring along a change in culture, enterprise councils will educate for responsibility or do we need to make other cultural changes for this to work?

We cannot expect a newly emerging economic system to automatically or by itself guarantee the culture, politics or other aspects of society needed for that new system to survive or prosper.

Economic systems (feudal, capitalist, communist, and so on) try to shape their social and natural environments to secure their reproduction. That is because every economic system depends on its surrounding physical nature, culture and politics to persist. From their birth through their subsequent evolutions and to their deaths, economic systems interact with their natural, cultural and political conditions. Conditions and system are thus always in a process of continuous mutual transformation. Historically, every economic system eventually reached a point where its interactions with its surrounding conditions provoked and enabled transition to a new and different system.

Capitalism may well again be nearing such a point now. Its crises, its evolution into global mega-corporations, and its increasingly unequal social impacts are shaping the surrounding natural, political and cultural conditions in ways generating fast-growing criticism and opposition. If a social transition from capitalistically organized enterprises to WSDEs occurs, that would likely mean transformations in the surrounding natural, cultural and political conditions.

Economic democracy at the enterprise level would drive to alter, for example, education. The goal would be to create and support the capacities, attitudes and motivations in people needed to enable WSDEs to function well and persist. Of course, many other social processes will simultaneously impact education. All these factors will together determine whether the resulting educational system does or does not support a WSDE-based economic system.

No economic system has been able to finally control its conditions. That’s why history displays the rise, development, and eventual demise of every past system. There is little reason to presume that capitalism will not follow that path. Likewise, there seems little reason to presume that for a WSDE-based economic system either.

So yes, indeed, for economic democracy to be established in a WSDE-based economy that displaces and supersedes capitalism, it will take major changes in culture, politics and much else. Everyone in society will play a role – in how they think and interact with others, wherever they live and work. Everyone, consciously, intentionally, or not, will help determine whether the system reaches tipping-point soon and whether a democratic enterprise system is part of the changed world that emerges.

— source

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Commodity Supercycle Slows Down in 2012

Global commodity prices dropped by 6 percent in 2012, a marked change from the dizzying growth during the “commodities supercycle” of 2002–12, when prices surged an average of 9.5 percent a year, or 150 percent over the 10-year period, according to the new Vital Signs Online trend released by the Worldwatch Institute ( This change of pace is largely attributed to China’s shift to less commodity-intensive growth. Yet while prices declined overall in 2012, some commodity categories—energy, food, and precious metals—continued their decade-long trend of price increases.

The commodities market consists of various raw materials and agricultural products with fluctuating value that are bought and sold in global exchanges. This includes agricultural products, such as corn, wheat, soybeans, and cotton; energy sources, such as crude oil and natural gas; metals used in construction, such as copper and aluminum; and precious metals that are often used for financial security, such as gold, silver, and platinum.

“Commodity prices were generally in decline for decades before 2002,” said Mark Konold, Worldwatch’s Caribbean Program Manager and the report’s author. “But as the number of rapidly growing emerging economies grew after 2000, urbanization led to a surge in demand. But that demand bumped up against a supply that was limited because of underinvestment in new capital expenditures as well as the difficulty of procuring new supplies due to stricter environmental regulations and deposits that were more remote. This opened the door to a dizzying climb in commodities prices over the next 10 years.”

During the supercycle, the financial sector took advantage of the changing landscape, and the commodities market went from being little more than a banking service as an input to trading to being a full-fledged asset class—what some people refer to as “the financialization of commodities.” These days, large investment banks that participate in both the financial and commercial aspects of commodities trading dominate the landscape.

At the turn of the century, total commodity assets under management came to just over $10 billion. By 2008 that number had increased to $160 billion, although $57 billion of that left the market that year during the global financial crisis. The decline was short-lived, however, and by the end of the third quarter in 2012, the total commodity assets under management had reached a staggering $439 billion.

The widespread drought in 2012 had an adverse effect on many parts of the agricultural commodities landscape, with corn being hit the hardest. According to the International Monetary Fund, corn is the most vulnerable of crops to price shocks because stocks of the grain remain low. In 2011, corn yields stood at 147 bushels per acre, but in 2012 yields went as low as 122.6 bushels, a 17 percent drop. By year’s end that number had risen only slightly.

Further complicating price dynamics in the agricultural sector is a crop’s end use, especially whether it is used for food or biofuels. According to a 2011 report by the Farm Foundation, global corn use in the category “food, seed, and industrial” has expanded by 88 percent since the 2005–06 marketing year. Ethanol falls in this category. During this time in the United States use of corn increased by 2.23 billion bushels, and corn usage for ethanol increased by 2.46 billion bushels. The strong demand put upward pressure on corn prices and on the price of other commodities displaced by the expanded area devoted to corn production.

Throughout the commodities supercycle, the price of precious metals grew robustly. Although the rate of price increases for some precious metals slowed recently, gold maintained its momentum in 2012.

Stockpiling by owners was another reason for sustained metal prices in 2012. As the demand for metals declined at the start of the financial crisis in 2008, owners set aside inventory to prop up prices. In one year, metal inventories registered on the London Metal Exchange jumped by 313 percent. As a result, banks and trading companies began buying up warehouse space and storing surplus supplies, thereby inflating the prices of metals.

“The slowdown in commodity price growth in 2012 was indeed notable, but it is still not clear if the supercycle is completely over,” added Konold. “Prices are still much higher than they were in 2002, but the dramatic slowdown in Chinese demand has investors abandoning these markets.”

By the end of April 2013, the commodities markets saw a loss of $63 billion, and Barclays Bank claimed that total commodity assets under management had dropped to their lowest level in three years. It is going to take a little more time to find out whether the commodities market has permanently cooled, reverses dramatically, or picks up and resumes its blistering pace.

Further highlights from the report:

Oil market prices, though still high, were stable in 2012, with the average selling price for crude oil around $105 per barrel, in current dollars.
In constant 2012 dollars, the average annual price for gold was $1,669 per troy ounce (oz t.), a 3.9 percent increase from 2011.
Silver fell 13 percent to $31.15 per oz t., platinum dropped 11.7 percent to $1,551 per oz t., and palladium fell 14 percent to $643 per oz t.

— source

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