Saturday, May 25, 2013



Senators singled out Apple for taking advantage of generous tax breaks for multinational corporations, summoning Apple CEO Tim Cook to appear before an investigative subcommittee (5/21) to defend
Apple’s ducking US taxes by keeping more than $100 bln in cash and securities overseas. Cook said the problem is that the tax code is outdated and has not kept up with the digital age, but he said his company pays taxes amounting to 30.5% of its profits from products it sells in the US.

Apple paid $6 bln in US corporate income taxes in 2012, while ExxonMobil, which reported similar earnings for the last quarter of 2012, paid $3.6 bln in US corporate income taxes. But Exxon paid no income taxes and got a $156 mln rebate from the IRS as recently as 2009. And Microsoft, which debuted its new version of X-Box, paid $3.1 bln in federal taxes in 2011 but reduced its tax bill by a $2.43 bln — or 44% — by using an international network of controlled foreign corporations and the exploitation of various loopholes in the US corporate tax code, Walter Hickey noted at (5/21). Google uses tax shelters in Ireland and the Netherlands to avoid $2 bln in US taxes, while Cisco Systems has avoided paying billions of dollars by attributing half of its worldwide profits to a tiny unit at the foot of the Swiss Alps, Bloomberg News reported (5/22). A Senate subcommittee reported in September 2012 that US companies keep 60% of their cash — $1.7 tln — overseas and untaxed.

Apple’s Cook and other multinational corporate execs are proposing a “territorial” tax system – in which overseas profits of US corporations would be lightly taxed in the US or not taxed at all — to let companies bring those profits back to the US, but Eileen Appelbaum, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research ( noted at (5/21) that the US tried such a tax break in 2004, declaring a temporary tax holiday for offshore profits. The Congressional Research Service found that one-third of offshore profits were repatriated in the following year, but academic studies found no evidence that companies used the repatriated profits to increase investment or employment and no evidence that they increased economic activity.

“Instead, they freed up other funds that these companies used for stock buybacks and to pay dividends to corporate shareholders. Indeed, many of the companies that benefited from the tax holiday on offshore profits actually reduced employment in the US,” Appelbaum wrote.

She added, “US companies are supposed to account for offshore profits by setting aside funds to cover future tax liabilities when these profits are repatriated. Few companies actually do this. Most simply declare that the funds have been permanently invested overseas, which frees them from this obligation. Google, Oracle, Microsoft and numerous other companies have taken this route. As a result, these highly profitable companies owe very little in corporate income taxes.

“Apple, which currently has $102.3 bln in offshore profits, has not taken advantage of this provision. Its accounts show that it has set aside billions of dollars to cover future tax liabilities on offshore profits. According to the Financial Times, Apple set aside $5.8 billion last year, 70% of its reported tax liability, for this purpose. This boosted Apple’s apparent corporate tax rate to 25.2% — far above Google, Microsoft and others – and spared the company the public outrage directed at highly profitable companies that pay little or no corporate income taxes. However, the $5.8 bln is an accounting entry that had no effect on the actual taxes Apple paid.”

A territorial tax system would further increase incentives to locate jobs in low-tax countries, she noted, as profits earned in these countries could more easily flow back to US shareholders. “A better solution is to eliminate deferral of taxes on profits stashed offshore and, instead, to allocate taxes on profits based on its activity in various jurisdictions.

“About half of US states that have a corporate income tax use such a method for US companies that operate in multiple states. Earlier this year, California adopted a sales-based corporate tax system that taxes companies that sell products or services in California, no matter where in the world they are located, based on the proportion of their total sales revenue generated in the state. This could serve as an example for tax reform that is both simple and fair.”

IMMIGRATION REFORM ADVANCING. The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a comprehensive immigration reform bill that will provide a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11.1 mln undocumented immigrants. Three Republicans — Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — joined Democrats on the panel to support the legislation, which passed 13-5 (5/21), after 200 amendments were considered over five days.

The vote came following an emotional debate over a provision that would have recognized, for purposes of immigration, married same-sex couples. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) withdrew the amendment after Republican senators, including members of the so-called Gang of 8, signaled that they would abandon the underlining bill if it was included. “If you redefine marriage for immigration purposes [by the amendment], the bill would fall apart because the coalition would fall apart,” Graham said. “It would be a bridge too far.”

The full Senate is expected to debate the bill on the floor in June. Earlier on 5/21, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pledged to “vote for the motion to proceed so we can get on the bill and see if it we’re able to pass a bill that actually moves the ball in the right direction.” However, Republicans reportedly still hope to amend the bill when it reaches the Senate floor. Sen. Hatch said he was only committed to vote the bill out of committee.

In the House, where the tea party caucus could stand in the way, hopes for passage were raised when bipartisan group in the House reportedly reached an “agreement in principle” on immigration reform that would create a 15-year path to citizenship, longer than the 13-year citizenship plan in the Senate version.

Nearly 300,000 children of undocumented immigrants have been granted “deferred action” that stops deportation and grants a two-year work authorization for immigrants between the ages of 16 and 31 under an executive order from President Obama through April, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services reported.

GOP HISPANIC OUTREACH DIRECTOR JOINS DEMS. Republican hopes to attract Hispanic voters took a hit when Pablo Pantoja, citing the “culture of intolerance” in the GOP, quit as state director of Florida Hispanic Outreach for the Republican National Committee announced (5/13) that he was leaving the party and registering as a Democrat.

In an email Pantoja said, “Yes, I have changed my political affiliation to the Democratic Party. It doesn’t take much to see the culture of intolerance surrounding the Republican Party today. I have wondered before about the seemingly harsh undertones about immigrants and others. Look no further; a well-known organization recently confirms the intolerance of that which seems different or strange to them.”

Pantoja specifically cited the revelation — that an author of the Heritage Foundation’s widely discredited report on the cost of the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill, which claimed immigration reform would cost $6.3 tln, wrote a dissertation in which he suggested that Hispanics are at a permanent disadvantage because they have lower IQs — as the final straw in his political evolution.

Prior to assuming the role of state director, Pantoja served in the National Guard, doing multiple tours abroad in Kuwait and Iraq before returning to the states and getting involved in Republican politics. In 2010 he served as a field director in Florida during the midterm elections.

Republicans for months have tried to find ways to make inroads with the country’s growing Hispanic population, especially in the swing state of Florida, where the state’s 4.3 mln Hispanic voters supported Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by a 20-point margin. Hispanics there turned out to vote at a rate of more than 62% in 2012, significantly higher than the national turnout rate of 48% and the highest rate of Hispanic turnout in the country.

CONGRESSMAN GETS MILLIONS IN FARM SUBSIDIES, DENOUNCES FOOD STAMP RECIPIENTS AS ‘STEALING’. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) agitated against food assistance for poor Americans during the House Agriculture Committee debate, accusing the government of stealing “other people’s money.” The Senate Ag Committee already had agreed to cut $4.1 bln from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). House Republicans are proposing to cut SNAP by $20 bln, which would push nearly 2 mln Americans off food assistance. Fincher invoked the Bible in defense of the devastating cuts, quoting, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Fincher later expanded on his version of the social gospel: “The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity is to take care of each other, but not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country.”

It’s bad enough that the cuts would mainly hit the working poor, but the Environmental Working Group ( reported (5/21) that Fincher collected a staggering $3.48 mln in “our” money from 1995 to 2012, making him the second most heavily subsidized farmer in Congress. “Fincher’s $70,000 farm subsidy haul in 2012 dwarfs the average 2012 SNAP benefit in Tennessee of $1,586.40, and it is nearly double of Tennessee’s median household income,” EWG noted. “After voting to cut SNAP by more than $20 bln, Fincher joined his colleagues to support a proposal to expand crop insurance subsidies by $9 bln over the next 10 years.”

EWG noted that crop insurance subsidies have no limits on their recipients’ income levels. Therefore, the bulk of the crop insurance is paid out in million-dollar installments to a small group of large agribusinesses, while 80% of farmers receive roughly $5,000 a year. SNAP, on the other hand, limits aid to income below 130% of the federal poverty line, or $30,000 per year for a family of four. (, 5/21)

OBAMACARE ALREADY HELPING HEALTH CARE. Republicans are hoping to make repeal of Obamacare an issue in the 2014 election, but there’s new evidence to suggest that the Affordable Care Act is impacting the health industry for the better by successfully encouraging a greater emphasis on primary care. Ensuring that Americans are receiving regular preventative care is an important tenant of the health law, since it can ultimately help lower costs by preventing people from delaying medical treatment until they’re already very sick.

Tara Culp-Ressler noted at (5/20) that for the first time ever, Americans are spending more money on primary care physicians than they are on specialists, according to a new survey by the physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins. In what Merrit Hawkins’ president referred to as a “seismic shift” in medicine, primary care doctors are now the greatest source of revenue for the hospitals where they work:

As more than 25 mln previously uninsured Americans gain coverage under Obamacare, the trend toward primary care is expected to continue. Those people likely avoided expensive medical treatment while they didn’t have insurance, but they’ll have the opportunity to seek regular check-ups once they become covered in 2014. In order to tackle the influx of Americans who will require primary care services, there will be opportunities for nurse practitioners to expand their role as health care providers.

As state and federal officials work toward the full implementation of Obamacare, politicians on both sides of the aisle have blasted the ongoing effort as a “train wreck.” But there’s mounting evidence to suggest those concerns are overblown. Although there’s still more work to be done to prepare for the state-level insurance marketplaces that will open to the public in 2014, much of the health reform law is already in effect — and it’s already having a demonstrable impact on the United States’ health industry. In addition to the shift to primary care, Obamacare has also already ensured that health care will be cheaper for many Americans by forcing private insurers to lower their premiums.

‘CITIZENS UNITED’ SAVING PROGRESSIVE POLITICS? The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was supposed to be bad for democracy but it is good for progressive fundraisers.

Markos Moulitsas noted at (5/22) that Emily’s List raised $7.3 mln in the first four months of 2013, a record for the group that promotes progressive female candidates for office, with more donors than ever in the same period. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) also had a record -breaking haul in the first quarter, bringing in $22.6 mln, with strong support from members and online donors.

“Once upon a time, these organizations and others like them received heavy support from wealthy individuals. Citizens United shifted those big-donor dollars into unregulated 527s, seemingly starving the party committees and other non-527 political organizations of a huge chunk of their budgets,” Moulitsas wrote.

“Instead, smart organizations have transitioned toward building their grassroots base, building out email action lists and integrating deeper into social networks. The results speak for themselves — they aren’t just holding steady, they’re breaking fundraising records. And not only are they bringing in more money, but an organization beholden to its grassroots will be far more responsive and less corruptible than one that depends on a few handful individuals.”

But Moulitsas added, “Just because liberals are benefitting better from this fundraising regime doesn’t mean it’s ideal, and a Constitutional Amendment repealing Citizens United would still be the desired outcome. But liberal wishes alone won’t make it happen. We need conservatives as well, and their inability to take advantage of this post-CU world might finally make that happen. Indeed, at this pace, they may need it just to keep pace.”

SCANDAL SHARKS DON’T DRAW BLOOD. Republicans clearly hoped that their attacks on the Obama administration’s handling of Benghazi, the IRS and the AP would diminish the President’s popularity, but Charles Cook, a respected nonpartisan political observer, noted in National Journal (5/20) that while the Republican sharks were circling, there was no blood in the water. A CNN/ORC survey of 923 Americans (5/17-18) pegged Obama’s job-approval rating at 53%, up a statistically insignificant 2 points since their last poll (4/5-7) which was taken before the Benghazi, IRS and AP-wiretap stories came to dominate the news and congressional hearing rooms. Obama’s disapproval rating was down 2 points since that last survey. In Gallup’s tracking poll, Obama’s job approval rating so far this year has averaged 50% and for that week his average was 49%, the same as the week before.

“Maybe that will change. Maybe these allegations will start getting traction with voters. But it might just be that Americans are more focused on an economy that is gradually coming out of the longest and deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression,” wrote Cook.

Greg Sargent noted at (5/21) that a new Washington Post poll confirms Cook’s diagnosis. “The Post poll finds a majority believes the Obama administration is trying to ‘cover up’ facts about the IRS scandal and that a plurality thinks it is trying to cover up Benghazi facts. These numbers are at odds with yesterday’s CNN poll, which found more Americans think Obama is being truthful. But that aside, in spite of these negative findings about the scandals, the Post poll also finds that Obama’s approval rating is holding steady, at 51%, and the economy may be the reason why: Majorities believe the economy is beginning to recover and are optimistic about where the economy will go in the next year.

“More to the point, majorities believe Obama is focused on their problems, and Republicans aren’t — again confirming Cook’s diagnosis. Only 33% say Republicans are focused on things that are important to them, versus 60% who say they aren’t. By contrast, 51% say Obama is concentrating on things that are important to them.”

A poll released by the Pew Research Center (5/21) showed the public was less interested in the AP story, as just 16% said they had followed the AP controversy, while 25% had followed the hearings on the Benghazi attack and 26% said they were following the IRS controversy closely. A plurality of 44% of respondents said they disapproved of the Justice Department obtaining AP phone records as part of its investigation into the disclosure of classified information, while 36% approved and 20% didn’t know.

DEEP SOUTH SUPPORTS MEDICAID EXPANSION DESPITE GOVERNORS. Over 60% of Americans living in the Deep South support Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, according to a new poll that surveyed a broad sample of people in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. The poll, conducted between March and April by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, found that support for Medicaid expansion is somewhat divided along partisan lines. Nevertheless, a solid majority of residents in each of the five Deep South states favor expanding the public insurance program to extend coverage to additional uninsured Americans:

That public support stands in sharp contrast to the five states’ political leaders, who have resisted cooperating with health care reform at any cost. The GOP governors in each of those Southern states — Govs. Robert Bentley (R-Ala.), Nathan Deal (R-Ga.), Bobby Jindal (R-La.), Phil Bryant (R-Miss.), and Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) — have refused to expand their Medicaid programs.

“This survey clearly shows that governors and state legislators in the South who are resisting the Medicaid expansion are out-of-step with their constituents,” Brian D. Smedley, the director of the Joint Center’s Health Policy Institute, pointed out.

The broad public support for Medicaid expansion in this region makes sense. Low-income Americans in the South who don’t currently qualify for their state’s Medicaid program are being forced to simply skip out on medical care, and expanding Medicaid’s eligibility levels would ensure that they can access the health treatment they need. Deeply red Southern states also tend to have worse health outcomes compared to Democratic-controlled states on the coasts, and expanding Medicaid could help lessen some of those disparities. (, 5/22)

REID READIES FOR FILIBUSTER FIGHT. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appears to be readying for a showdown over the filibuster this summer as he pulled back a vote on the confirmation of Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. With 43 Republicans demanding changes to the structure of the bureau before they will approve any nominee to run it, Democrats lack the 60 votes they need under the current filibuster rules.

Democrats are frustrated with Republican obstruction of judicial appointees as well as key agencies, including a majority of the National Labor Relations Board, which has left it unable to conduct business. Republicans have blocked one of President Obama’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, forcing Caitlin Halligan to withdraw after delaying the former New York state solicitor general’s confirmation for almost two and a half years, and they have delayed another nominee, Srikanth Srinivasan, the deputy US solicitor general, for nearly a year. [Srinivasan was confirmed 5/23 on a 97-0 vote, leaving three vacancies on the court.]

A Senate aide told the “plan is to wait until immigration is complete before engaging in total all-out nom[ination] fight,” the aide said.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reported (5/17) that Reid was eyeing July for renewed battle over the matter and has President Obama’s support if he chooses to move ahead with it. Democrats could change the rules of the Senate however they like with a majority vote and support of the Vice President, as president of the Senate, though doing so would be highly controversial.

The idea of rules reform itself, however, is broadly popular. A HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted last November found that 65% of Americans believe senators should have to participate in debate for the duration of a filibuster, while only 9% of those polled said senators should be able to filibuster without being physically present. counts 51 Democrats and independents supporting a rules change that would require a “talking filibuster” to stop a bill. (Opponents include Sens. Max Baucus, Mont., Joe Donnelly, Ind., Carl Levin, Mich., and Mark Pryor, Ark.)

“July is the best time to have this debate over rules and nominees,” another Democratic aide told “After immigration, and before the budget battles.”

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2013
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Editorial: ‘Scandals’ Don’t Stick

Republican attempts to gin up controversy over last year’s attacks at Benghazi and IRS targeting of Tea Party groups were helped by sloppy reporting by the corporate media.

But Republicans lost most of the traction that was left with Benghazi when it was disclosed that a purported White House “email” quoted by Jonathan Karl of ABC News apparently was enhanced for dramatic effect. Karl quoted national security communications adviser Ben Rhodes’ writing that talking points should “reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department” to protect the administration, but the actual email released by the White House didn’t mention State. CBS News reported that the email Karl quoted was leaked by Republicans. Apparently the leakers didn’t think the White House would release the actual emails.

Republicans then sought to blame Obama for the IRS’s scrutiny of Tea Party applications for tax-exempt status as “social welfare” organizations in 2012, until the Inspector General reported that the controversial scrutiny occurred under the holdover commissioner appointed by President George W. Bush and there is no credible evidence that Obama or his White House had anything to do with the Tea Party episode.

If anything, the blame lies with the austerity measures imposed by Congress, which cut IRS resources at the same time the caseload in its tax-exempt offices increased by nearly 60% after the Supreme Court in 2010 provided opportunities for political money launderers to operate tax-exempt as 501(c)(4) groups.

The Citizens United decision allowed corporations to get involved in politics, setting aside more than a century of laws and court precedents. The attraction of 501(c)(4)s is that corporations may bankroll a group’s operations without the bankrolls being publicly disclosed. The law requires that 501(c)(4)s be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare,” but the IRS in 1959 interpreted “exclusively” to mean “primarily,” which has since been whittled down to “at least 51%” non-partisan activity.

The Tea Parties and other right-wing groups, which appear to be primarily political organizations with little, if any, social welfare functions, could have organized as “527” tax-exempt organizations, which would allow them to engage in most political activities, but then they would have to disclose their donors and file periodic reports of contributions and expenditures. Instead, they chose to keep the money-laundering option, but they squealed like stuck pigs when the IRS questioned their bona fides.

Republicans are howling now, but they were not outraged in 2004, when the IRS threatened to revoke the tax-exempt status of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., after the rector gave an anti-war sermon criticizing then-President Bush the Sunday before the 2004 election. In 2007, the IRS found that the church violated rules preventing political intervention, but it did not revoke its nonprofit status.

The IRS also went after the NAACP in 2004, auditing the nation’s oldest civil rights group after then-Chairman Julian Bond criticized President Bush for being the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover not to address the organization. Republicans didn’t share the outrage.

In 2005, the IRS investigated Greenpeace after it labeled ExxonMobil the “No. 1 climate criminal.” After a three-month audit that concluded in December 2005 the organization got a letter in March 2006 that it still qualified for tax-exempt status.

Glenn Smith, a political activist in Austin, noted that during the Bush II administration he started a 501(c)(4) organization called that was audited because, “in the words of the auditor, the ‘Democracy’ in its name clearly meant the org was partisan Democratic.”

And while all the tea parties eventually got their tax-exempt status, Emerge America, a progressive non-profit that trains Democratic female candidates for public office, was denied 501(c)(4) status in 2011, forcing it to disclose donors and pay some taxes, Bloomberg News reported. Progress Texas faced the same lines of questioning as the Tea Party groups from the same IRS office that issued letters to the Republican-friendly applicants. A third group, Clean Elections Texas, which supports public funding of campaigns, also received IRS inquiries, Bloomberg News reported.

I was an editor at The Texas Observer in Austin in the 1990s when, for good reasons mainly related to fundraising, the perennially underfunded magazine was converted from a privately owned corporation to a non-profit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. The process required the assistance of a CPA and a lawyer and it took months before the tax-exempt status was approved by the IRS in 1994. The editorial staff was advised that under the new status we should not endorse candidates or advocate for specific legislation, but we figured that wouldn’t interfere with the muckraking that was the Observer’s stock in trade.

When we set up The Progressive Populist in 1995, we didn’t want to have to answer to the IRS for our political beliefs or editorial content, so the publication was set up as a subchapter S corporation, which does not pay federal income taxes, but passes profits or losses through to our shareholders. You might say we operate as a “non-profit by other means,” as losses are reported most years.

Congress should return permitted functions of 501(c)(4)s to their original intention — that they must be exclusively for the promotion of social welfare — and Congress should require the disclosure of major donors to non-profit organizations — that is, those over $200, the same as for political campaign disclosures. Those whose motives are pure shouldn’t fear having their names associated with non-profit organizations.

THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE overreached when it secretly snooped into the phone logs of the Associated Press for April and May 2012 as investigators sought to find out who leaked news that US allies had placed an informant close to the al Qaeda leadership in Yemen. In another case, Justice also apparently considered bringing charges against Fox News Channel’s James Rosen when it investigated the source of his June 2009 story on US intelligence sources in North Korea.

DOJ violated its own rules in not informing AP or Fox News when it issued subpoenas for phone records under the expanded national security authority passed after 9/11. At least now the nation’s news organizations are on notice that they, too, can be victimized by the knee-jerk legislation that set aside civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights in the pursuit of “security.” And leakers with classified information they’d like to pass on to reporters are on notice that they should use disposable cell phones or other non-traceable methods of communication to contact reporters.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice has prosecuted a record number of leakers and investigative reporters say they have detected a chilling effect on their sources.

President Obama supports a law to shield reporters from being required to reveal sources. News organizations should take him up on this offer and persuade a bipartisan coalition to proceed not only with a shield law for journalists, but also restoration of civil liberties for all. A step in the right direction is the bipartisan HR 2014, the Telephone Records Protection Act, which would require court approval when the government seeks telephone records.

We’re inclined to say that journalists should not have special privileges, other than the right to print the facts as they find them, as the First Amendment provides, but Associated Press President Gary Pruitt reminds us that if the government is allowed to restrict how journalists gather news about controversial government actions, “the people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know and that’s not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment.”

Or, as John Nichols wrote at, “No matter what action is taken, or not taken, journalists will continue to clog the corridors of the Capitol and crowd into White House press briefings. The question is whether those journalists will be present to challenge the status quo or as mere stenographers to power.” — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2013
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Selections from the June 15, 2013 issue

Friday, May 24, 2013

Everyone's horrified by Monsanto

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: Warren Porter of the U of Wisconsin, a zoologist, was on Farm and Fiddle, my radio program on KOPN 89.5 fm Wednesday night talking about how poisons are delivered to plants and animals. It turns out that the inert ingredients in common poisons, like Monsanto’s Roundup, are not inert. In fact, some of them are designed particularly to deliver the poisons into the cells. They are like soaps that break down oils to break down cell barriers. These ingredients are dangerous because they help the poisons kill. Warren’s research has looked into ramifications of all these ingredients in the environment. Because after they kill, they go into the water and air. So we drink, breathe, eat them. There’s an epidemic of sterility going on—low sperm counts and hermaphrodite aberrations in reptiles and insects. Some boy children in areas of Mexico where our vegetables are raised have developed breasts that can function to make milk and girl children losing the cells they’ll need to make milk for their future babies. I asked Warren if we could stop using all the poisons tomorrow, how long would it take to get rid of the effects? He said 100 years, if it was possible at all. After talking to him, Hannah was nearly in tears. Dan looked like he had been slammed with a two by four. As for me, I tried to reassure them that, as responsible, sustainable-minded farmers, we’re trying to do all we can to change the trend and I apologized for being part of my generation, the ones who have created all the excess. It would be great to be in denial about the effects Dr. Porter was talking about. Then you could just go to Wal-Mart, buy crappy lettuce and fried chicken and pretend like you were providing a good meal for your family. With the March Against Monsanto coming tomorrow, I’ve been really surprised by the hatred against that company. All it takes is a casual mention, and people just open up with really revealing comments. One friend told me to keep her in the loop. Her son works for Monsanto and she tries to tell him, for example, that his employer is the number one reason for suicides among farmers in India, and he acts like that doesn’t matter. It makes her so ashamed. Other people, more political ones, are angry about the derailment of democracy—the money Monsanto spends on lobbying. Some of my university friends are mad that Monsanto money skews the research that comes out of the university. It seems like everyone has a different reason to be disgusted with this company. I wonder if the disgust has gotten to the stockholders and buyers of Monsanto products. I know that some farmers say they can’t find seeds without the GMO genes in them. One of my young friends, a chemist, thinks she might want to work for Monsanto some day and change things “from the inside.” Well, that’s a great idea but with so much money at stake, nearly impossible.

Thumbs up to Boy Scouts. Thumbs down to parents who pull their boys from the Scouts

By Marc Jampole

With the acceptance of gay Boy Scouts, the mainstreaming of gays is almost completed.  It won’t be long before the Scouts take the next step and allow gays to be Scout leaders and it won’t be long before gay marriage is legal in virtually every state, or at least in every northern and western state. The movement towards full acceptance of gays has been swift and overwhelming.

There are two cries in any liberation movement, be it for African-Americans, Latinos, women or gays. One cry is to be allowed to be oneself, to openly practice one’s ethnic, national or religious traditions. The other cry is to be allowed to be just like everyone else, to live in the same places, to fight the same wars and to join the same organizations.   The new Boy Scout admissions policy has answered both cries.   

Many readers may be too young to remember when the Boy Scouts was all there was for kids—Boy Scouts and Little League baseball. In the 50s and 60s there was very little in the way of developed activities for kids such as the chess, dancing, drama, soccer, football, lacrosse, video game and other leagues and groups to which most middle class kids have had access over the past 25 years or so.

My scouting story will probably sound familiar to many men in their late 50s and older. Virtually all of my happy memories from my elementary and middle school years have to do with the Boy Scouts. And my brother used to say the same thing, too. I loved cooking over an open fire and I loved playing war games in the woods like “Capture the Flag.” I loved all the merit badges, jamborees and competitions. Most of the victories I still savor from my youth were Scout-related. The only friend I have left from before my senior year in high school was my assistant patrol leader the first time I was given a patrol to lead.

I loved the memory of the Scouts, long after I became a left-wing anti-war activist and could no longer stomach its single-minded patriotism and inherent militarism, long after I became too much of a wise guy to salute any flag. I thought briefly about my son becoming a Scout, but it was never a question: by the time he was old enough to join the Cub Scouts he was already a nationally-ranked chess player and very active in organized sports. He went to one Cub Scout meeting and didn’t like it.

How many other Boomer dads could tell the same or a similar story?

The Scouts may have lost its central place in the development of American boys into men, but it has not lost its symbolic place, which is why the news media has dedicated so much time and space to the new policy.  That the organization symbolizing traditional American values learned in the context of rural, preindustrial entertainments is now accepting gays is particularly offensive to the intolerant right.  The definition of American tradition now includes homosexuality and that makes the right wing angry and insecure.

It also gives the many right-wing demagogues an enormous red flag to wave at their constituency for the purposes of raising funds and organizing propaganda activities. These religious right-wingers certainly have every right to take their boys out of the Boy Scouts and to start their own organization, but I’m guessing that not many parents will withdraw their boys from Boy Scouts. While the families with boys in the scouting movement nowadays tend to be more socially and politically conservative than average, they are parents first and foremost.   Not only is it disruptive to the child to pull him from an organization he likes, it represents an overt act of socially unacceptable prejudice.  

But we shouldn’t discount the worst instincts of humans. After all, we know that vast numbers of people in many areas of the country created new organizations to avoid sending their children to school with African-Americans. In the 70s and 80s, part of America developed a shadow education system that paralleled public school suborned segregation.  I have no doubt some will try to establish a shadow Boy Scout organization for boys that will hold the same values and does the same things as the Boy Scouts does, but denies admission to gays. The open question is how successful these hate-driven people will be.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Listification turns knowledge into tidbits of information

By Marc Jampole

10 Things You Need to Know This Morning

13 Jokes That Every Math Geek Will Find Hilarious

The 20 Most Valuable Brands In The World

7 Tornado Apps For Your Smartphone That Will Alert And Protect You
These headlines are four of the five links on Google News to Business Insider this morning. Business media in particular seem enamored with lists, which they routinely use to organize disparate material, serve as examples of an idea or trend, or help to sell a category of products.  The four articles, all in the current edition of Business Insider, serve as examples of all of these types of lists.

But lists can do many other things: they can also convey a process in simple terms, such as 10 things to do before retiring. I frequently write about lists which result from applying a set of ideological assumptions to cities, states or other boundaries, as in the best cities in which to live; typically these assumptions favor low taxes and the automobile-and-mall culture of the suburbs and discount the importance of mass transit, cultural institutions, hospital systems and major universities.  Other lists allow organizations, regions or industries to do some serious self-congratulating, as in the lists of best doctors or lawyers, or the top “40 under 40.”

Ideological subtext lurks behind most of the lists we see in the news media. Just take a look at the four Business Insider articles:
  • “13 jokes…” repeats the myth of the intelligent person (math) as a socially maladroit unathletic loser (geek).
  • “20 most valuable brands…” glorifies mindless consumerism by portraying in a positive light not just these brands, but the very idea that brands hold real value.
  • “7 tornado apps…” sells smartphones and the idea that more technology is always good.
The compilers of many lists we see in the mass media commit the sin of Procrustes, who was an ancient Greek who had a bed of one size only. If visitors were too tall for the bed, Procrustes would cut off their legs; if too short; he would put them on a rack and stretch them out. In making a list, the sin of Procrustes is get to a certain number, 7 or 12 being the most common, only by repeating what is essentially the same idea twice in slightly different words or to list two distinct ideas as one.  We can see the sin of Procrustes also at work in lists of hottest people or top doctors, because these lists will always seek to fill socially necessary spots: A “top docs” list will have at least one physician in every specialty, whereas the hottest celebrities of the year will be a rainbow of ethnic types, and nowadays of sexual proclivities as well.

You will also see contradictory advice on lists, such as in a recent list of why rich people are different. The contradictions usually derive from the writer’s need to get to 10 or 12 or 15, or because the ideological imperative is so strong that it overcomes any logical qualms.

The more bogus the list, the easier it is to write. It’s hard to do real research to determine which cities have the highest mass transit ridership or which countries are least dependent on fossil fuels for electrical generation. It’s pretty easy, though, to come up with seven or eight reasons to go to one college instead or another; it’s getting to 10 which may take a few more minutes! And for writers of financial planning articles, it’s particularly easy, since “invest in stocks,” “consider immediate annuities,” “retire later” and “open a 401(k)” will make most of the lists.  Easiest of all to write are the lists that the writer completely spins out of thin air, such as one science writer’s outrageous list of 10 dumb things he claims to have learned from brilliant people.

I’m not against all lists in the mass media. Lists that reveal hard data in simple terms can be useful, such as a list of cities with the largest population or the areas that receive the most rainfall.

What I dislike are the artificial lists that are put together by selecting ideology-tinged criteria or by pulling from the air a disparate set of ideas, pieces of advice or personalities and organizing them by a common theme. These lists almost always are Trojan horses for propaganda.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Marching against Monsanto

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: More rain. More rain. The bare ground of my neighbors’ cornfields, poisoned with Roundup to kill the weeds, unplanted because of the rain, is washing away. Big ruts that will have to be bulldozed to fill in. More fossil fuels used to raise more ethanol. How does that make sense? There is a march against Monsanto on Saturday. In fact, there are dozens of marches all around the world. Here in Missouri, we have five to pick from: St. Louis, Columbia, Jeff City, Springfield, Kansas City. I am amazed that when I mention it to friends, they say, “Yeah. I want to go.” We could probably fill a bus to go to St. Louis or Columbia. And we haven’t decided which one to go with. That’s all for tonight. May 20, 2013.

Can we get on with addressing the challenges of global warming?

By Marc Jampole

A recent study found that over the past 20 years, scientists have written more than 4,000 academic papers on global warming and a nearly unanimous 97.1% of them agreed that climate change exists and is primarily caused by humans.
To quote study leader John Cook of the University of Queensland, “Our findings prove that there is a strong scientific agreement about the cause of climate change, despite public perceptions to the contrary.”  The authors of the survey said ”the finding of near unanimity provided a powerful rebuttal to climate contrarians who insist the science of climate change remains unsettled.”

Now isn’t it time for the mass media to stop the coy and distracting game of “does it or doesn’t it exist” that keeps us from doing more about the challenges of global warming?

As Bill McKibben details in Eaarth, there is no question any more of the existence of global warming. It’s happening and it’s going to keep happening.  What that means is that securing the Earth as a safe habitat for human beings will entail far more than replacing fossil fuels with solar, wind and other renewable energy sources.

Here is some of what must be done besides shifting our source of fuel:
  • Secure coast lines and other areas where extreme weather events are likely to increase both in frequency and intensity. Achieving this goal will involve building barriers, dunes, dams and bulwarks; developing commercial and residential buildings that can withstand more intense weather; improving evacuation and emergency response procedures; and reforming the insurance market in high-risk areas.
  • Reduce the population, hopefully by birth control and not famine, war or epidemic.
  • Increase the use of mass transit, especially in the suburbs, and increase the cost of car ownership and operation everywhere.
  • Grow the local food movement, which saves energy both in growing and distributing food.
  • Develop technologies to address the harm that we have already inflicted on the Earth; e.g., remove the carbon dioxide from the oceans and seas and store it in a way that doesn’t interfere with any terrestrial ecosystem; turn polluted or salt water into potable water and deliver it to drought-plagued regions throughout the world.
This short list does not include a lot of other actions we should take right now to address global warming, and by address I mean 1) slow it down or stop it; and 2) deal with the mess we’ve made.

At this point, anyone who spends any time or money in the mass media denying either global warming or human complicity in it is acting irresponsibly and is probably making money through climate change denial in one way or another. They are no better than the money lenders in the Temple. Or the lawyers who constructed the web of falsehoods that purported to serve as the legal basis for the U.S. gulag of torture sites.

One aspect of the global warming denial movement has never made sense to me. The movement depends on funding from a handful of extremely wealthy folk and companies holding large fossil fuel and industrial assets. You’d think that these people would have the most to gain from keeping the Earth clean and safe from the ill effects of global warming. After all, they and their heirs are going to inherit a pretty good chunk of that Earth. 

The rich folk and their access to politicians have kept taxes low in the United States and enforced austerity economics across the globe. We know they can get together at Davos, Jackson Hole, Dubai and wherever and impose a new order in which their assets are protected from the destructive vagaries of global warming.  That the very richest people regardless of their holdings have not yet forced governments everywhere to take bold and aggressive steps to combat global warming suggests that our species may in fact carry a collective death wish.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Political comedy

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: The political process is an interesting pageant, and everyone wants to assume that it’s impossible to change the direction once it gets started. Because if you think it’s impossible to change, you’re relieved from participating, right? So all you do is sit at the coffee shop and complain to your buddies. But, really, politics is more like an audience participation comedy than like a written script. If you’ve ever seen those standup routines where the director stops the action, asks for audience ideas, then starts it again, that’s what it’s like. And ideas can come from anywhere, stage right or stage left. So this year in Missouri, one subject was “agribusiness vs. healthy food and land.” The comedians started with a silly idea: Change the state constitution so that “modern” technology would forever be guaranteed in the state. “Modern” would mean, of course, biotechnology and highly toxic chemicals on the land in an escalation that has already caused irreparable ecosystem damage. The debate began right after New Year’s. The comedians boasted that they had a bullet-proof majority. The governor, in other words, wouldn’t be able to make a veto stick if the general assembly passed a bad bill. By March 4, the shtick was established. Here’s the language that would have gone into the state constitution, introduced in HJR 7 and 11: “No state law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and modern livestock production and ranching practices, unless enacted by the General Assembly.” Even the careless bypasser can see the problems. No definitions of “technology” or “modern,” for example. And no room for local control. As one legislative aide said, “This would allow cockfighting in St. Louis.” Seeing the problems, citizens started coming to the capitol. There was a lobby day for family farm supporters. The Comedy stopped. The Audience spoke up. Somebody said, “this would eliminate local control. Our county governments couldn’t make rules to protect the health of citizens.” And the Director said, “go” and the comedians proceeded. They took the language out of one bill, pretended it had disappeared, slipped it into another. And this happened again and again, but the citizens continued to show up. When we couldn’t show up, we sent e-mails, phone calls, faxes. Our leadership hung in there, meeting with key players. Everyday folks delivered flyers after work or just called on their lunch breaks or weekends. We stood up for our farms and communities as well as we could. One grandma, babysitting for the granddaughter, wheeled a stroller all over the capitol to say her piece. It wasn’t easy, but she knew it was important. That’s the thing—nobody did anything super-human. We just learned the issues, showed up, sent e-mails, made phone calls, stood together. Anyone can do it, and should. Sensing that they would lose, the comedians pulled a stunt of desperation. They called a press conference and accused the governor of wrongdoing. The sharpest of the comedians, kind of a ring leader, made a tour of the state, pointing fingers all the way. When citizens came to call, he pretended to be out. Comedy of the dullest form, certainly beneath such a sharp guy. Quite often, I meet people that say they hate to go to the capitol. They hate the rudeness, the meanness, the clusters of ego in the hallways. “Just go and be a witness,” I tell them, but they say it makes them ashamed to see such low doings in the halls that are supposed to be respected and cherished. I get it, but it makes me sad. We need to get our democracy back.