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FrackWellMonday morning, Oct. 21, 2013: Vera Scroggins, a retired real estate agent and nurse's aide, was in Common Pleas Court for Susquehanna County, Pa., to explain why a temporary injunction should not be issued against her.

Before her were four lawyers and several employees of Cabot Gas and Oil, who accused her of trespassing and causing irreparable harm to the company that had almost $1 billion in revenue in 2012. They didn't want her on their property they owned or leased in the Marcellus Shale.

Scroggins is an anti-fracking activist, someone who not only knows what is happening in the gas fields of northeastern Pennsylvania, but willingly devotes much of her day to helping others to see and understand the damage fracking causes. Since 2010, she had led visitors, government officials, and journalists on tours of the gas fields, to rigs and well pads, pipelines, compressor stations, and roads damaged by the heavy volume of truck traffic necessary to build and support the wells.

As part of her tours, she introduces the visitors to those affected by fracking, to the people of northeast Pennsylvania who have seen their air and water polluted, their health impacted. The visitors come from New York, which has a moratorium on fracking; from Pennsylvania, which doesn't; from surrounding states and from foreign countries, who want to see what fracking is, and what it does.

And now in a court room in Montrose, she was accused of trespassing and forced to defend herself.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 24 October 2013 07:31

Jim Hightower | Monsanto Buys a Food Prize


MonsantoProtestAs Lily Tomlin has noted, "No matter how cynical you get, it's almost impossible to keep up."

For example, imagine if a prestigious group announced that this year's "World Environmental Prize" is being awarded to BP, for its unique contribution to the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico. No way, you say? Too absurd?

Right, but try this one: Imagine that an Iowa group announces that its "World Food Prize" will go to Monsanto for pushing its patented, pricey, genetically-tampered Frankenseeds on impoverished lands as an "answer" to global hunger. This would be so morally perverse that the "cyn" in cynical would be spelled s.i.n. Yet, it has actually happened.

Rather than encouraging sustainable farming and self-sufficiency in impoverished communities as a way to alleviate poverty and malnutrition around the world, this year's World Food Prize has been "won" by a profiteering, biotech, seed-and-chemical monopolist that's the freakish opposite of sustainability. Monsanto, which owns 90 percent of the world's genetically modified seeds, is globally infamous for bullying family farmers, bribing and corrupting governments, stiffing independent scientific inquiries into its hokum, running false ads and fraudulent PR campaigns, and going all out to keep consumers from knowing that the crops produced by its seeds contain alien, bioengineered DNA and have not been tested for long-term health and environmental problems.

Why would this avaricious outfit get any sort of award, much less one that can give it a false legitimacy as a corporate "savior" for the world's poor? Perhaps because Monsanto is a major funder of the World Food Prize. Indeed, the foundation that hands out the award is headquartered in downtown Des Moines in a historic building that recently got a spiffy remodeling, thanks to a $5 million donation from — you guessed it — Monsanto. The corporate honoree has also been a steady donor to the food prize foundation, giving some $400,000 to its promotion of industrial agribusiness in the last dozen years.

How cynical is that? Even Lily Tomlin wouldn't have imagined it.

Published in Guest Commentary


BullJ.P Morgan was recently socked in the wallet by financial regulators, who levied a fine of nearly a billion bucks against the Wall Street baron for massive illegalities.

Well, not a fine against John Pierpont Morgan, the man. This 19th century robber baron was born to a great banking fortune and, by hook and crook, leveraged it to become the "King of American Finance." During the Gilded Age, Morgan cornered U.S. financial markets, gained monopoly ownership of railroads, amassed a vast supply of the nation's gold and used his investment power to create U.S. Steel and take control of that market.

From his earliest days in high finance, Morgan was a hustler who often traded on the shady side. In the Civil War, for example, his family bought his way out of military duty, but he saw another way to serve. Himself, that is. Morgan bought defective rifles for $3.50 each and sold them to a general in the Union Army for $22 each. The rifles blew off soldiers' thumbs, but Morgan pleaded ignorance, and government investigators graciously absolved the young, wealthy, well-connected financier of any fault.

That seems to have set a pattern for his lifetime of antitrust violations, union busting and other over-the-edge profiteering practices. He drew numerous official charges — but of course, he never did any jail time.

Moving the clock forward, we come to JPMorgan Chase, today's financial powerhouse bearing J.P.'s name. The bank also inherited his pattern of committing multiple illegalities — and walking away scot-free.

Published in Guest Commentary


AtlantaPresident Obama's victory this week was as complete and devastating as Sherman's march through the South. But there is no early sign that the zealots of the anti-government far right have learned the lessons of their defeat -- which means that more battles lie ahead.

House Speaker John Boehner was not being honest Wednesday when he explained the GOP surrender by saying, "We fought the good fight; we just didn't win." This was not a good fight. Republicans picked an objective that was never realistic -- forcing Obama to nullify the Affordable Care Act, his biggest achievement -- and tactics that amounted to self-immolation.

Boehner knew from the start that the GOP would be blamed for shuttering the government and that he could never really allow the Treasury to default. So what on earth was the point?

Apologists say that Boehner had to go through with the shutdown and go down to the wire on the debt ceiling to show the hard-core tea-party members of his caucus that "we control one-half of one-third of the government," as the speaker has said -- that a slender House majority has limited power.

But come on, really? Can these people not count? Or do they have such blind faith in their own wisdom that they think they are divinely ordained to prevail, whatever the odds? That is the mindset of crusaders, not legislators.

Published in Guest Commentary


HostageMany haters of Barack Obama claim his policies are stifling their freedom. In fact, they dislike him because he's a shining example of what they refuse to become—a civil, considerate, rational, and powerful (in his own self) human being. They want to tear him down so he doesn't make them feel so personally inadequate.

It's like this the world over. Many Pakistanis resent 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who won the European Union's human rights award after surviving a Taliban assassin, because she campaigns for women's educational opportunities. A friend of hers said, "Here in Swat, we have seen the hell that is Taliban rule. And yet, some people still say they would much rather side with the Taliban than Malala. Sometimes people never learn."

Stubbornly resentful people like these hang out in the company of a tenacious trio: denial, resistance, and willful ignorance. They cling to their limited sense of self, embrace the status-quo, and stifle their own inner growth. They are inclined to dislike if not hate anyone who, unlike them, is not suffocating from closed minds and hearts.

Hateful people are beguiled by self-image and diminished by self-centeredness. They can't bring themselves to step out from behind an ego-centered mentality that cuts them off from an appreciation of (and emotional connection to) their own deeper humanity and the people around them. Their ego, which demands allegiance to its self-importance, is experienced as their core or essence. Their only reverence is for the sanctity of self-image. Their hatred is for those who discount this "religion."

Published in Guest Commentary


SandyDamageThere is a lot of discussion about how victims of poverty will get hit the hardest from climate change disasters, but how will radical climate changes impact world economies, and the wealthiest members of society?

The consequences have proven that the poor suffer dramatically more from climate change disasters than the rich, but prosperous businesses are also being severely challenged and impacted. No industry falls alone. In the financial markets, everything is interconnected. Climate change is having a crippling ripple effect across global economies.

Consider Fukushima. It can be scientifically argued that climate change played a role in creating the “extreme conditions” of a record breaking 9.0 magnitude earthquake followed by a massive tsunami that led to the ongoing emergency crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. The released radiation into the Pacific Ocean and the atmosphere threatens the world as we confront an insolvable nuclear meltdown with no end in sight. We now know that we cannot rely on nuclear power after Fukushima.

Due to the high levels of radiation, most of the agricultural region surrounding Fukushima have been reduced to ghost towns. Japan’s fishing industry has lost billions of dollars from the spilled radiation that has spread as far as California. Take a look at these photos for a close up view of Japan’s decimated economy. Global warming does not spare the rich. Everyone on the ship goes down.

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 15 October 2013 11:24

Refusing to Make Peace With War


MilitarismWhat if we had politicians who believed in the abolition of war with as much passion as the Republican right believes in the abolition of taxes?

For me, the question that immediately follows is: What kind of politics draws power from resources other than the deep pockets of billionaires? Just because the world is sick of war, how will that ever translate into serious political action to defund standing armies and ongoing weapons research? How will it ever cohere into a consensus that has political traction? Does Washington, D.C. only have room for one consensus?

For the Democrats to stand moderately tough against GOP right-wing zealots in defense of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Social Security, there's no way they could also — even if they wanted to — stand tough on, let us say, nuclear disarmament or a movement toward demilitarization. Such concepts aren't on or anywhere near the fabled "table" of national debate; they're as marginalized as segregated restrooms. This is a deep problem from the point of view of anyone looking clear-eyed into the future.

"'They were all dying,' she said, 'and there was no medicine, and there was nothing we could do.'"

The speaker is 82-year-old Kono Kyomi, one of the "Hibakusha," or survivors of the atomic blasts that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, quoted by the Rev. John Dear. She was part of a delegation of survivors who came to the United States last August to commemorate the anniversary of those blasts and speak of their experiences. Their visit included a trip to Los Alamos, N.M., where the Hiroshima bomb was built and still the center of the country's ongoing nuclear weapons research and production.

Published in Guest Commentary


Gay flagIf the names of the organizations and funders gearing up for the next big battle in California's Culture Wars sound familiar, that's because they are. In addition to the campaign's chief strategist, many of the same organizations and funders that came together to sponsor Proposition 8 five years ago, are teaming up for a signature gathering campaign to place an initiative on the November 2014 ballot that would overturn a bill that providing protections for transgender public school students, which was recently signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown.

The law, which will go into effect January 1, says schools must allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms and play on sports teams that match their gender identification.

According to the Transgender Law Center, which cosponsored the bill with Equality California, 44% of transgender people reported experiencing some form of discrimination, assault, or harassment in 2011.

While it is not surprising that the Religious Right hasn't tired of waging Culture War battles, since, among other things, it provides media opportunities galore fabulous fundraising openings, it is a little surprising that the state's Republican Party – which has diminishing official political standing in the state – would endorse the referendum effort.

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 15 October 2013 06:52

Eugene Robinson | Democrats Raise Their Ante


HoldemA crazy thing is happening in shuttered, dysfunctional Washington: Democrats are pushing back.

This phenomenon is so novel and disorienting that many Republicans in Congress, especially the tea party bullies, seem unable to grasp what's going on. They keep expecting President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to fold like a cheap suit because, well, such a thing has happened before. I guess it's understandable that the GOP might have forgotten the difference between bluffing and actually holding a winning hand.

Late last week, Reid began demanding that Republicans not only reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling but that they also make concessions on the draconian, irrational-by-design budget cuts known as sequestration. In political terms, he is demanding that the GOP pay a price for putting the country through all this needless drama.

Suddenly, Republicans who thought it was fine to hold the government and the economy hostage in order to nullify a duly enacted law -- the Affordable Care Act -- are shocked that Democrats would even suggest tampering with another duly enacted law: the Budget Control Act of 2011, which established the "sequester" cuts.

Was Reid moving the goal posts? Of course he was. That's what negotiators do when they have the upper hand.

Published in Guest Commentary


BallotBox1The Presidential election of 2000 was Karl Rove's first big play on the national stage. He won the election for Bush through a combination of luck (his opponent and the President he was trying to succeed didn't talk to each other much), skill (hiding the true nature of his candidate very well and also managing to get the media by and large to ignore his "military record"), Ralph Nader's 90,000 votes in Florida, threats of violence (which were carried out by a John Bolton-led team that prevented the Miami-Dade Board of Elections from proceeding with its recount, which if it had been done at that stage would have given the election to Gore), and of course a Supreme Court on which the majority was so tilted Republican that it actually said in their opinion, "our giving the election to Bush" cannot be regarded as setting any precedents.

But once getting his man into the White House, Rove went on to have delusions of grandeur that he could create a permanent Republican Majority, and he spoke about it openly. Not that he would be able to do simply by un-manipulated vote totals, of course. And so, in 2004, first he used the issues of religious determinism on gay marriage (the screen for homophobia) and abortion rights to get the necessary Religious Right voters to the polls.

Second, he set up a fairly sophisticated vote-count cheating system, especially in the key swing state of Ohio (in which the vote there, as well as other states, may well have been manipulated in 2000 as well).

Published in Guest Commentary
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