Monthly Archives: May, 2012

Uranium – The Virginia Battleground

(Click the map to see where future uranium mines could be in Virgina.)

Update –
Here’s an article about last night’s meeting: Science meets passion at uranium briefing

As you may know, Va. Beach is hosting a public briefing tonight on Uranium Mining in Virginia. A surprising number of people are getting seriously involved with this issue, and not just the people of Virginia.

Uranium mining can’t begin unless the moratorium is lifted, and due to a lack of support, the vote was postponed until 2013. The corporate money and power behind the mining project is becoming more clear all the time, though it’s been framed as a FFV’s love for their community and ultimate concern for its progress. The public isn’t buying it though, and they’re passionate about keeping the ban in place. As that firestorm continues to mount, I think we could have a real People v. Profit showdown next year, and that may be just what the doctor ordered.

I hope you’ll find a way to attend the briefing tonight, but even if you can’t, read this great exposé by award-winning investigative journalist, Rose Ellen O’Connor. It’s a three-part series that started in November about lifting Virginia’s ban, but covers much more than the 30-year moratorium. She carefully includes both sides, but weaves in and out of the ‘truth or consequences’ of uranium mining, complete with horror stories, lies, politics, corruption and misinformation. Each one is a prize, so if you’re interested in the prospects of mining and milling uranium in Virginia, I recommend reading all three for the nitty-gritty.

Uranium Mining – The Virginia Battleground – Environmental Concerns vs. Corporate Interests Part One
Just a taste:

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Marline, the Canadian firm that failed to win approval for mining from the Virginia General Assembly before the market tanked in 1985, had workers crisscross the state with Geiger counters, hopping out of their cars when an area seemed promising. Marline bought up leases on 16,000 uranium-rich acres in Fauquier, Madison, Culpeper and Orange counties, which have since expired. Opponents of lifting the moratorium say they fear that Virginia Uranium will seek to mine the sites that Marline found and that the state will be overrun by uranium mines.

Virginia Uranium executives insist publicly that they have no interest in other mines.

“We’ve made it clear we’re only interested in Coles Hill,” Wales said at the Richmond forum.

But Coles Jr. seemed to suggest that the company is, indeed, interested in other mining possibilities at a meeting with potential investors in London in February. Coles said the geologist who discovered uranium at Coles Hill has long believed that more deposits will be found. Virginia could be another “Athabasca Basin” Coles said, referring to an area in Saskatchewan, Canada, where 41 companies mine one-third of the world’s uranium supply.

“Talking to the lead geologist,” Coles said, “he’s insistent to this day that Coles Hill is the first of more major discoveries in Virginia that might lead to another Athabasca-style resource play.”

Uranium Mining – The Virginia Battleground – Environmental Concerns vs. Corporate Interests Part Two

Uranium Mining – The Virginia Battleground – Environmental Concerns vs. Corporate Interests Part Three

The main study on Uranium Mining in Virginia came out in December. Most people have read the non-technical brief that has been linked in many articles. But the full report to view on the internet is linked below. From the link, scroll to the Table of Contents and from there you can either read the full report, select chapters, or skim. Under the skim feature you can also search by “suggested” keywords.
Full report: “Uranium Mining in Virginia: Scientific, Technical, Environmental, Human Health and Safety and Regulatory Aspects of Uranium Mining and Processing in Virginia.”

Who owns Virginia Uranium Inc.?
Here’s how the company is structured: VA Uranium Holdings Inc., a company incorporated in Yukon, Canada, for tax purposes, owns 100 percent of Virginia Uranium Inc.  A little less than 50 percent of VA Uranium Holdings is owned by Canadian firms. Virginia Energy Resources Inc., a uranium development company based in Vancouver, Canada, owns 29.44 percent of the holding company’s shares, while Sprott Resource Corp., a Toronto-based natural resource development firm, owns another 18.06 percent. Local investors own about 52.5 percent of the holding company, according to Virginia Uranium.

Video: “Uranium has never been mined east of the Mississippi River–for good reason. Kay Slaughter, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, explains why mining and milling uranium in southern Virginia poses serious threats to the environment and public health.”

Health effects of uranium exposure in charts, graphics and pictures (pdf)

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I think lifting the ban has less to do with Virginia’s economy and more to do with the mining industry’s profits. Plus, our military’s unsustainable need for uranium and other strategic elements and rare earth minerals is a thirst we should be concerned about. It certainly won’t be sated in Pittsylvania County. In that context alone, I think the ban will be lifted by our lawmakers regardless of every foreseeable negative impact, and we can expect that this sort of dangerous mining and toxic dumping will spread … unless we can stop it.

Ms. O’Connor did point out the large Canadian presence involved, and in fact they are present throughout U.S. mining operations – but she didn’t mention that their web of partnerships sells to global markets. In foreign-owned hands, how can we control, or even know where the uranium and its by-products are being sold?

After 35 years of continuous mining (which is unheard of because they quit working when the market is down), the damage would be done and the mine would be abandoned. A hand full of people – maybe even some Virginians – would have made a startling fortune. After that, many generations of our children would be charged with finding safe ways to escape something we did knowing that we couldn’t control the outcome and that it could cause them cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations – among other things.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding … Virginia has a long history of catastrophic weather events, and that’s not including the climate change that promises to deliver circumstances we can’t conceive of today. There’s not a corporation nor a government on earth that can ensure a thousand years of safety. Nor can they deny that in the next thousand years, no matter how “safe” the clean-up is, one healthy explosion in the reclamation area is all it would take to contaminate the water, air and land that sustain millions of Americans. That’s a bullseye.

A while back, I read a comment that a physicist made about nuclear energy production, but I think it applies to uranium mining as well. He said, “We can send a spaceship to Alpha Centauri today but it would take a hundred years or more to arrive. In 80 years, we might send a spaceship that would pass the original en route. Are we advancing our progress by sending one today? Unlikely – we already know what the current technology can and cannot do. If we used the money on basic research instead of giving it to companies to try to make inferior technology competitive, we would be better off in the long run.”
DCKennedy

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A little Memorial Day history

The cemetery had been built on the grounds of the Race Course by two dozen men, groups that identified themselves as the “Friends of the Martyrs” and the “Patriotic Association of Colored Men.”

Memorial Day- how former slaves reburied the Union dead for our first memorial day – Podcast

According to The Charleston Post and Courier, on a Monday morning, May, 1865, nearly 10,000 former slaves marched onto the grounds of the old Washington Race Course, where wealthy Charleston planters and socialites had gathered in old times. During the final year of the war, the track had been turned into a prison camp. Hundreds of Union soldiers died there and were buried in mass graves…

For two weeks in April, former slaves worked to re-inter the Union soldiers in proper individual graves. On May 1, 1865, they sought to give them a proper funeral. The procession began at 9 a.m. as 2,800 black school children marched by their graves, softly singing “John Brown’s Body.” Former slave children strew flowers on the graves as they walked past. After “John Brown’s Body,” they sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” “America” and “Rally Round the Flag.” By the end, the graves looked like a massive mound of rose petals.

Soon, their voices would give way to the sermons of preachers, then prayer and — later — picnics. It was May 1, 1865 — they called it Decoration Day, but on that day, former Charleston slaves started a tradition that would come to be known as Memorial Day.

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Jack Johnson’s podcasts are a wealth of information in the tradition of “the first grassroots media project of its kind on the internet”. APV thanks Jack, as always, and we hope you will continue to enjoy his series, Hidden Histories.
DCKennedy

Sustainable Cooperative Banking ~ George Bailey Smiles, by Jack Johnson

Microcredit – Changing Village India

Perhaps one of the more ‘economically’ revealing movies in recent years was Slum Dog Millionaire, not only for its intriguing plot line but also for the scenes of contemporary India, scenes of disastrous poverty juxtaposed against obscene wealth. To a Western sensibility the primitive desperation of the Indian orphans is reminiscent of something out of a Charles Dickens novel, yet, for many around the world, it is merely a tragic common place. Lately, even for those of us in the ‘wealthy’ West.

In 1974, the Indian, Muhamad Yunus, founder of the Nobel Prize winning Grameen Bank decided to do something about it.

“I would walk by people dying from famine to teach my economics class at the university…and I said ‘What is this?’ I felt completely empty…the theories I was teaching were useless for these dying people. I realized I could help people as a human being, not as an economists…So I decided to become a basic human being…I no longer carried any preconceived notions.”

As a ‘basic human’ Yunus led his economics students on a field trip to a poor village in Bangladesh. They interviewed a woman who made bamboo stools, and learned that she had to borrow the equivalent of 15 pounds to buy raw bamboo for each stool made. After repaying the middleman, sometimes at rates as high as 10% a week, she was left with a single penny profit margin. Had she been able to borrow at more advantageous rates, she would have been able to amass an economic cushion and raise herself above subsistence level.

What Yunus discovered as a ‘basic human’ was that all humans have basic needs. And one of the most basic was simply credit at a reasonable rate.

Against the advice of banks and government, Yunus started giving out ‘micro-loans’ at low rates, and in 1983, he formed the Grameen Bank, meaning ‘village bank’ founded on principles of trust and solidarity.

One more unusual feature of the Grameen Bank is that it is owned by the poor borrowers of the bank, themselves, most of whom are women. Of the total equity of the bank, the borrowers own 94%, and the remaining 6% is owned by the Government of Bangladesh.

The Grameen bank was just the beginning, of course. Move Your Money and Occupy Wall Street have followed up on these efforts. According to the web site of the Move Your Money campaign, an estimated 10 million accounts have left the largest banks since 2010. There’s good reason for this. In the West, the largest banks have become usurious in their late fees and over draft charges and penury in the interest they pay on savings. More importantly, as Occupy Wall Street and Move Your Money have pointed out, the larger the institution, the less likely they are to assist the community. They are more like vultures, picking over the corpses of the economically dead, than the heroic George Bailey who loaned out money not for the profit of a few, but for the good of the many.

In the following article, Ellen Brown for AlterNet details how cooperative banking is reinventing today’s financial industry in a way that would make George Bailey smile….Really.

Cooperative banking has arrived

Inside the Panopticon

APV calls on the Virginia Department of Corrections, the Governor and the General Assembly to begin an immediate investigation into conditions at Red Onion State Prison.

The Alliance for Progressive Values wishes to acknowledge and highlight the ongoing prisoner hunger strike which began this weekend at the Red Onion SuperMax facility in Wise County. SuperMax prisons are by definition grim places. They are designed to  house individuals who are considered dangerous to the staff and other prisoners as well as the public. Many of these prisoners suffer from mental illness and have histories of anti-social behavior and violence. Clearly the job of guarding and administering such a population is difficult, and at times trying.

BUT, we as a society have chosen to take on the responsibility that goes with the right we reserve to incarcerate. It is incumbent on us to house and care for these individuals in a way that is fundamentally humane and that acknowledges their basic rights as human beings, not merely in a way that satisfies particular rules, but in a way that reflects on us as a people, and how we choose to treat a despised and powerless segment of society.

On May 21st, prisoners in two segregation pods began a hunger strike in protest of the conditions at Red Onion. After over a decade in existence, Red Onion continues to have serious problems including the murder of a prisoner in custody and claims of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of guards. The prisoners’ list of grievances casts a wan light on an institution that clearly needs better oversight. APV calls on the Virginia Department of Corrections, the Governor and the General  Assembly to begin an immediate investigation into conditions at Red Onion. We also council that third parties be part of this investigation and that they include groups that speak for prisoners. Issues that should be addressed in such an investigation include:

• Claims of ongoing abuse and violence directed at prisoners from guards.

• The current practice of indefinite segregation and isolation as a means of punishment. Indefinite solitary confinement is both inhumane and counterproductive as a means of discipline.

• An end to the caging of prisoners in stacked cells. This is deeply degrading to the inmates and should be a cause of shame to the Commonwealth.

• Apparent problems with the grievance system and the introduction of a better system to mediate problems between prisoners and staff.

• Investigation into the system for feeding prisoners, cleaning cells and other basic aspects of how Red Onion is run on a day-to-day basis.

• The continued poor communications between administration and inmates.

Invariably, we will be told that these are the worst of the worst, that they are getting exactly what they deserve and that we on the outside have no idea what goes on behind those prison walls. BUT many of the men now behind bars at Red Onion will one day be released. Many of them were originally convicted of lesser crimes and found their way to Red Onion because of conduct issues. From the troubling reports that have seeped out over the years and these new complaints from the inmates, it appears that whatever ameliorating effects incarceration might once have been thought to have, nothing of the kind is occurring here. Instead we have a correction system that, in its zeal to punish and control, is in fact helping to create potential monsters that eventually will be  returned to their communities, angry, hardened and often further and more deeply disturbed by their stay in prison. It best serves us as a society to treat these individuals with enough respect and dignity while they are in our power, that when they emerge, they are not in fact worse people than when they went in. Below are the demands of the ROSP  Hunger Strike.

Ten Demands of ROSP Hunger Strikers:

We (Prisoners at Red Onion State Prison) demand the right to an adequate standard of living while in the custody of the state!

1. We demand fully cooked food, and access to a better quality of fresh fruit and vegetables. In addition, we demand increased portions on our trays, which allows us to meet our basic nutritional needs as defined by VDOC regulations.

2. We demand that every prisoner at ROSP have unrestricted access to complaint and grievance forms and other paperwork we may request.

3. We demand better communication between prisoners and higher-ranking guards. Presently higher-ranking guards invariably take the lower-ranking guards’ side in disputes between guards and prisoners, forcing the prisoner to act out in order to be heard. We demand that higher-ranking guards take prisoner complaints and grievances into consideration without prejudice.

4. We demand an end to torture in the form of indefinite segregation through the implementation of a fair and transparent process whereby prisoners can earn the right to be released from segregation. We demand that prison officials completely adhere to the security point system, insuring that prisoners are transferred to institutions that correspond with their particular security level.

5. We demand the right to an adequate standard of living, including access to quality materials that we may use to clean our own cells. Presently, we are forced to clean our entire cell, including the inside of our toilets, with a single sponge and our bare hands. This is unsanitary and promotes the spread of disease-carrying bacteria.

6. We demand the right to have 3rd party neutral observers visit and document the condition of the prison to ensure an end to the corruption amongst prison officials and widespread human rights abuses of prisoners. Internal Affairs and Prison Administrator’s monitoring of prison conditions have not alleviated the dangerous circumstances we are living under while in custody of the state which include, but are not limited to: the threat of undue physical aggression by guards, sexual abuse and retaliatory measures, which violate prison policies and our human rights.

7. We demand to be informed of any and all changes to VDOC/IOP policies as soon as these changes are made.

8. We demand the right to adequate medical care. Our right to medical care is guaranteed under the eighth Amendment to the Constitution, and thus the deliberate indifference of prison officials to our medical needs constitutes a violation of our constitutional rights. In particular, the toothpaste we are forced to purchase in the prison is a danger to our dental health and causes widespread gum disease and associated illnesses.

9. We demand our right as enumerated through VDOC policy, to a monthly haircut. Presently, we have been denied haircuts for nearly three months. We also demand to have our razors changed out on a weekly basis. The current practice of changing out the razors every three weeks leaves prisoners exposed to the risk of  dangerous infections and injury.

10. We demand that there be no reprisals for any of the participants in the Hunger Strike. We are simply organizing in the interest of more humane living conditions.

The Frosh and Grover Norquist – by Jack Johnson

Stop the presses. Grover Norquist, that ruddy no-tax zealot of the far right has just had his neatly trimmed beard plucked. Freshman Republican Scott Rigell of Virginia, has openly rejected his insanely rigid no-tax pledge. Why?

Um, because it’s insane.

Rigell carefully explained on his website that such a pledge would be counterproductive when working in a real world environment. Unlike Grover’s world, revenue is sometimes necessary for the functioning of, well, everything, including the government. Rigell points out that such no-tax pledges will prevent Congress from eliminating corporate loopholes or government subsidies because those changes would have to be revenue-neutral. The math, he said, just doesn’t make sense.

A refreshing confession from the ranks of the no tax inquisition: the math just doesn’t make sense. Indeed, ask any moderately conscious ten-year old and you might have gotten the same response. Of course, said ten-year old may also believe in biological evolution and the fact that man-made climate change is as real as you’re neighbor’s Ford Explorer — intellectual advances notably missing from today’s GOP, but we’ll take what we can get.

Norquist, in his role as Grand Inquisitor of the GOP’s no-tax inquisition made wet, forgiving sounds, but there was an edge to it:

Of Rigell’s apostasy, he said, “I think he’ll make it clear he’s not going to raise taxes and he’ll get himself reelected and whatever momentary impure thoughts he had on taxes will pass.”

Good to know those ‘impure’ thoughts –raising revenue for government services –won’t be a hindrance to his political career, although, Norquist added, while twisting the ends of his thin mustache, that he had “been in touch with the Republican Party in [Rigell’s] district, and they aren’t excited about it.” Then, with a hint of menace, “This is not going to be a continuing problem.”

But Rigell is not alone, and despite Grover’s electoral extortion, a few other Freshmen Republican are turning to elementary math and learning to add and subtract.

According to Politico: Freshman Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) never signed the pledge to begin with, making up half of the six House Republicans who refused to sign on.

Woodall argued the pledge was too restrictive because it promises that lawmakers must “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

No word from Inquisitor Grover on whether the Republican Freshmen will be tortured, excommunicated or simply burned at the stake for their tax heresy, but GOP Speaker of the House, Boehner is said to be tearfully praying for their lost souls.

More here from Politico:
GOP rookies buck Grover Norquist

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And more! Has Rigell quit drinking the Kool-Aid?
Virginia Republican Wants To Tie Congress’s Pay To Its Effectiveness

The War on the Poor

We’re awash these days in various wars both real and figurative; wars against women, terrorism, gays, various brown people throughout the world and of course Christmas. Below, author Barbara Ehrenreich counts some of the many ways that the rich and the powerful wage their ongoing war on the poor.

“Lenders, including major credit companies as well as payday lenders, have taken over the traditional role of the street-corner loan shark, charging the poor insanely high rates of interest. When supplemented with late fees themselves subject to interest, the resulting effective interest rate can be as high as 600% a year, which is perfectly legal in many states.”

via The poor: Americas piggy bank – Poverty – Salon.com

Occupy’s Second Coming – by Jack Johnson

The great writers of the nineteenth century had neither religion nor politics nor aesthetic principles in common. But what they did have in common was a climate of ethical judgment, a moral climate. They shared certain values, they were humanist. If you read a nineteenth century novel today, Dostoevsky or Dreiser, Dickens or Twain, it is recognizable as a novel from the 19th century because of this moral climate. The core question that is asked is not are the characters successful or witty, but are they right? Writers of that period saw the individual struggling to find the correct balance between their independence and individual beliefs and the needs of the collective. There are only a handful of 20th century writers that have carried on this discourse and too many of them are given over to despair. The post-modernists of the 70s and 80s saw almost any political action as futile, compromised, or something of a joke. Some –too many –took ironic delight in pointing out the obvious difficulties. And rather than enlighten, they left one feeling bleak and hopeless. Meanwhile, in the real world, small wars and large wars continued. Corporations were stripped of their essential community based purpose, and instead were turned into the raw machines of profit. Yet, despite this sea change, our writers seemed stuck in a kind of identity crisis, a second gear, neither willing or able to tackle political issues of the day. Our popular culture essentially gave up on political man. News shows only pretended to objectively cover politics, and then only covered scandal. People forgot what it was to be politically or ethically engaged. During this same period, roughly from the late 1970s to 2012, our industrial base was eviscerated, our addiction to oil became deadly, and the American middle class saw their healthcare costs sky-rocket, their pensions raided, and their educational institutions privatized for the profit of a few. None of this is a coincidence.

As Christopher Hedges points out, “We have been, like nations on the periphery of empire, colonized. We are controlled by tiny corporate entities that have no loyalty to the nation and indeed in the language of traditional patriotism are traitors. They strip us of our resources, keep us politically passive and enrich themselves at our expense. The mechanisms of control are familiar to those whom the Martinique-born French psychiatrist and writer Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth,” including African-Americans. The colonized are denied job security. Incomes are reduced to subsistence level. The poor are plunged into desperation. Mass movements, such as labor unions, are dismantled. The school system is degraded so only the elites have access to a superior education. Laws are written to legalize corporate plunder and abuse, as well as criminalize dissent. And the ensuing fear and instability—keenly felt this past weekend by the more than 200,000 Americans who lost their unemployment benefits—ensure political passivity by diverting all personal energy toward survival. It is an old, old game.”

Hedges goes on to note that what fosters revolution is not misery, alone, but the gap between what people expect from their lives and what is offered. As if in response to this syllogism, on September 17th of last year, activists and students descended on Wall Street and said, essentially, the gig is up. The scam must stop. The financialization of the world is killing our Earth. The Occupy Wall Street crowd did not operate in a vacuum. They were following The Arab Spring and the European Indignados. In fact, Spaniards from Puerta del Sol marched with us on Wall Street in those beginning days. And, on cue, it would seem, the Indignados in Spain have returned. They have reoccupied the Puerta del Sol as part of a global day of action to commemorate the first anniversary of the 15-M (May 15) movement. Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards amassed in the square, some dancing joyfully, others debating the replacements for capitalism. According to an article on roarmag.org, a message circulating on Twitter yesterday perfectly caught the mood in Madrid:

“This is not an anniversary — it’s a tradition!”

In a few more months, the United States will have its own anniversary. In advance of that, Noam Chomsky, MIT linguist and political activist, outlines the reasons Occupy should make a come back, and, seeing the challenges ahead, he offers a warning as well:” Unless the spirit of the last year continues to grow and becomes a major force in the social and political world, the chances for a decent future are not very high. ”

Read more below…

Chomsky: Do We Have the Makings of a Real Revolution?

National Teacher Appreciation Week – Last Call

Today is the last day of Teacher Appreciation Week for 2012, but it shouldn’t end. Our teachers earn appreciation from the American people every day. Collectively, they shape our nation and the world, preparing us for every crisis on earth. Individually, they do everything from wiping runny noses and spending their own money on school supplies, to forfeiting more gainful careers for a life of helping the rest of us improve ourselves. I think there is no calling more noble or worthy of our constant praise than that which falls to the devoted teachers who enrich our lives – all year, every year – in every imaginable way.

In recent years, with the help of  ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, our school system has been under attack like never before in our country. So much blame has been placed on our hard-working, dedicated educators it is ridiculous. It comes from misinformation and faulty logic, and it’s just as wrong as saying all parents are to blame for failures in the school system, so we need to demonize parenting.

To honor our teachers this year, take a close look at what’s really happening with education.

Why Isn’t Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News?

So the carving up of Philadelphia public schools IS a national story. It’s just one that corporate media won’t tell. Not in Philly, not in LA, not in Kansas City or anywhere, for fear that ordinary people might try to write themselves into a leading role. Polls show that the American people don’t want their schools privatized, and don’t believe education should be run by business people like a business. People want to take the money we spend on wars and bailouts and use it on education. Telling the story might give people the notion that the ultimate power is in their hands, not of mayors and chambers of commerce or the so-called “CEOs” of school system. It’s time that story was told, and more of us heard it.

Changing the way we educate America’s students is a priority for three groups – parents, educators and corporatist-neoliberals. And the legislation to change our system is being pushed through by the wrong group – the ones who want to implement their corporate control fantasies. Every benefit of a school system that actually educates the people flies in the face of their profit-driven goals.

They’ve done their best to ruin our schools through neglect, defunding, the demonization of good teachers and by eliminating the protections that allow them to keep teaching. So much disinformation has been spread about it that many good-hearted American parents can only see their children as the “trees”, and are helping to burn down the forest for every American student to come.

Privatization, vouchers, choice, corporate scholarships, internet education – it’s all about neoliberals deconstructing the public good. They want it; they want to control it; they want to sell it; and eventually, they will decide who is entitled to it. What they’re doing is typical: 1) break it 2) get paid to privatize and rebuild it 3) and then funnel the money up to the top. It’s always the same pattern for these people. You can see it in everything they do.

What Matt Taibbi so aptly said about Goldman Sachs applies to neoliberalism in general: It’s “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

We’re turning the education of America’s children over to the same group – the likes of Goldman Sachs – who destroyed our economy with impunity. They’ve already come so far with higher education that extreme personal indebtedness now stunts the beginning of independent life for most students who graduate from college. And typically, they pushed through legislation to remove all the reasonable American protections against bankruptcy and credit abusers for these same students.

Will a Young Generation’s Dreams Be Rescued – Or Bundled and Sold On Wall Street?
Jobless or overextended college graduates aren’t even allowed to declare bankruptcy – a privilege that’s extended to every reckless investor and mismanaged corporation in the nation. Once they finally find work, college graduates face years of garnished wages to repay the loans that funded their often-overpriced educations. If they haven’t repaid that debt by the time they grow old – a very real possibility at the cost of a college education today – they’ll even be forced to surrender part of their Social Security benefits.

That’s indentured servitude.

Meanwhile banks have been slicing and dicing student loans into derivative financial instruments called “SLABS” – student-loan asset backed securities. We’ve seen this movie before – the one where big banks mass-market loans to a population with stagnated wages and dwindling economic prospects, then bundle them and sell them to investors who haven’t reviewed the way they were underwritten and sold.

SLABS for Wall Street investors are a big red flag waving in our faces. And when they jack up the interest and cut the grants while increasing the salaries of college presidents, it’s neoliberalism and it’s not going to end well for the American people.

As neoliberals find it reasonable to cut food money from hungry people – which is what they are doing now, how long will it be before they refuse tuition loans to anyone who might be a financial risk? This brand of corporate interference is what has happened to healthcare, the Post Office, the prison system – and everything else their blood funnels have jammed into … and it’s a long list. It always starts with “breaking” something they want to take from the public good to be controlled by corporate players for maximum profit.

While America still has the finest educators in the world, why aren’t we listening to their advice about the needed changes for our education system? This opinion by Chris Hedges from last year is the best answer I’ve found to that question. Please read it. Our teachers have earned and deserve America’s wholehearted protection in the fight for better education, last week, next week, every week … they simply are not the culprits.

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System

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Off topic, here, but to drive the point home, consider another recent and shocking example of planned privatization. Last year, the Chief Economist at Citigroup, Willem Buiter, announced a similar neoliberal vision for our drinking water!

“I expect to see a globally integrated market for fresh water within 25 to 30 years. Once the spot markets for water are integrated, futures markets and other derivative water-based financial instruments—puts, calls, swaps—both exchange-traded and OTC will follow. There will be different grades and types of fresh water, just the way we have light sweet and heavy sour crude oil today. Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.”

Chris Saladino: “This only has the worst possible outcomes. The attempts at water privatization have so far created far more problems than solutions and in most cases have actually failed. To make it worse, this kind of corporate intervention in yet another essential component of human survival has been just as unfairly dominated as food, health care, and energy.

The Cochabamba riots in Bolivia are a telling and frightening case study. The police actually arrested people for illegally collecting rain water. It’s just a bit too much like the fear of Jack T. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove…”
Water Privatization Case Study:
Cochabamba, Bolivia (pdf)

We thank our new APV member, Chris Saladino, Professor of International Studies at VCU, for commenting on the privatization of fresh water and look forward to more of his contributions in the future!
DCKennedy

The Wolf in South Carolina ~ ALEC

South Carolina has a new and improved Lobbying Law. SECTION 2-17-5, transfers the duties and powers from the Secretary of State to the State Ethics Commission – among other things.

If you read it, you’ll notice it includes wording like this throughout: “Except as otherwise provided by Section 2-17-90”, “Notwithstanding the limitations of Section 2-17-90”, “pursuant to Section 2-17-90”.

So what does Section 2-17-90 have to say? It’s an exemption for ALEC – by name:

SECTION 2-17-90. Acts prohibited of lobbyists’ principals; acts prohibited of public officials and employees; exceptions; disclosure requirements. (…) except for:
… (a) national and regional conventions and conferences of organizations for which the General Assembly pays annual dues as a membership requirement and (b) American Legislative Exchange Council conventions and conferences;

SC Makes A Special Exception To State’s Lobbying Law for ALEC:

State Rep. Boyd Brown (D-Fairfield) discovered the exemption in the lobbying law on Wednesday.

“I am disgusted that this group has been specifically exempted from ethics laws in the state of South Carolina,” said Brown in a statement. “I am appalled but not surprised that an extremist group such as ALEC wields such influence in the South Carolina General Assembly.”

This new S.C. law comes conveniently in the wake of a recent Common Cause submission “to the Internal Revenue Service under the Tax Whistleblower Act, 26 U.S.c. § 7623(b) regarding underreporting of lobbying and operation in furtherance of private corporate interests in contravention of 26 U.S.c. § 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable status.”

They’re covering the bases. Here’s a good report on the action being taken – the one they’re heading off at the pass:

Shame on South Carolina legislators!
DCKennedy

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May Day, 2012

While not officially involved in the May Day events scheduled for today including marches and a call for a general strike, APV is very sympathetic to many of the concerns and aspirations that have traditionally revolved around the first of May. So while the press may end up fixating about confrontations between authorities and protesters we’d like to draw your attention to some of the serious issues that this day’s events are meant to be highlighting.

  • · Stalled wages: over the last three decades the cost of living has continued to rise, but average wages have not moved. While worker productivity has skyrocketed compensation has not kept pace. Instead profits for the wealthy have soared over this period creating the largest gap between rich and poor since the 1920s and effectively shrinking a broad middle class that gave us the strong underpinning that a democracy needs to survive.
  • · During this same period a concerted war against organized labor has raged. Union busting has been largely successful in much of the United States and there is clear evidence that it has contributed to the previous problem of stalled wages. When workers can no longer bargain collectively to leverage concessions from corporate bosses, the outcome is invariably lower wages, longer hours and less safe working conditions.
  • · America is the only industrialized nation that does not provide its citizens with a state funded healthcare system. This places massive stress on both industry and on labor. State sponsored healthcare is simply cheaper and more effective than the Byzantine, patchwork system that exists today. While some elements of the 2009 Affordable Care Act were laudable, its focus on preserving the current system was a bad idea and we need to move ahead with a universal, single payer plan that removes the profit motive as the prime indicator for healthcare outcomes.
  • · In the second decade of the 21stcentury women still make 77 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. Women deserve equal pay for equal work! Women deserve equal pay, but they also need support if they choose not to work or to work less in order to have children. We need to support American families with longer maternity leaves and childcare alternatives as well as options for men that would allow them to share more fully in raising their children. Measures like these would go a long way to helping women finally achieve parity. In the meantime, women need to be paid the same as men for the same work.
  • · America needs a financial system that serves American workers and protects them from the most harmful byproducts of globalization. Companies have to stop being rewarded for moving jobs overseas or from using that threat as a wedge to pry even more concessions from our already battered workers. The continued assault on labor has taken the form of union busting, offshoring, and more recently moves to bring back relics from the Gilded Age, like legal sweat shops and child labor. While a global economy may be inevitable, there is no reason that the burdens and stresses associated with it should be born solely by the workers and their families.

For a generation now America has been steadily moving backwards on issues that involve labor and the rights and privileges of workers. It’s time to stop this harmful trend. May Day originated in the U.S. in 1867 as part of the agitation for an eight hour work day. It’s sad that 145 years later we’re still fighting for some of the same basic rights that fueled the Progressive Movement and the New Deal. Today we urge you to stop and think at some point during your busy day at work, or if you chose to strike or if you chose to do something in between, about the fact that if we don’t diligently foster and protect our rights, including our right to a decent wage, a safe working environment and the right to organize and bargain collectively, we will surely lose them. Happy May Day from the Alliance for Progressive Values.