"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

US CIA Contractor Raymond Davis Organized Terrorist Activities With Taliban In Pakistan

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Oldspeak: Blowback: the violent, unintended consequences of a covert operation that are suffered by the civil population of the aggressor government. To the civilians suffering the blowback of covert operations, the effect typically manifests itself as “random” acts of political violence without a discernible, direct cause; because the public—in whose name the intelligence agency acted—are ignorant of the effected secret attacks that provoked revenge (counter-attack) against them.[1] Specifically, blowback denotes the resultant, violent consequences—reported as news fact, by domestic and international mass communications media, when the actor intelligence agency hides its responsibility via media manipulation. Generally, blowback loosely denotes every consequence of every aspect of a secret attack operation, thus, it is synonymous with consequence—the attacked victims’ revenge against the civil populace of the aggressor country, because the responsible politico-military leaders are invulnerable.”

By Dave Lindroff @ This Can’t Be Happening:

Pakistani and Indian newspapers are reporting that Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor in jail in Lahore facing murder charges for the execution-slayings of two young men believed to be Pakistani intelligence operatives, was actually involved in organizing terrorist activities in Pakistan.

As the Express Tribune, an English-language daily that is linked to the International Herald Tribunereported on Feb. 22:

“The Lahore killings were a blessing in disguise for our security agencies who suspected that Davis was masterminding terrorist activities in Lahore and other parts of Punjab,” a senior official in the Punjab Police claimed.

“His close ties with the TTP [the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan] were revealed during the investigations,” he added. “Davis was instrumental in recruiting young people from Punjab for the Taliban to fuel the bloody insurgency.” Call records of the cellphones recovered from Davis have established his links with 33 Pakistanis, including 27 militants from the TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi sectarian outfit, sources said.

The article goes on to explain a motive for why the US, which on the one hand has been openly pressing Pakistan to move militarily against Taliban forces in the border regions abutting Afghanistan, would have a contract agent actively encouraging terrorist acts within Pakistan, saying:

Davis was also said to be working on a plan to give credence to the American notion that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not safe. For this purpose, he was setting up a group of the Taliban which would do his bidding.

According to a report in the Economic Times of India, a review by police investigators of calls placed by Davis on some of the cell phones found on his person and in his rented Honda Civic after the shooting showed calls to 33 Pakistanis, including 27 militants from the banned Pakistani Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an group identified as terrorist organization by both the US and Pakistan, which has been blamed for the assassination of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and for the brutal slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. (You’d think this would be a big story for the Wall Street Journal, especially on the editorial page, but so far, there has been no mention of it in Murdoch’s rag.)

Meanwhile, while the US continues to claim that Davis was “defending himself” against two armed robbers, the Associated Press is reporting that its sources in Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), are telling them that Davis “knew both men he killed.”

The AP report, which was run in Thursday’s Washington Post, claims the ISI says it “had no idea who Davis was or what he was doing when he was arrested,” that he had contacts in Pakistan’s tribal regions, and that his visa applications contained “bogus references and phone numbers.”

The article quotes a “senior Pakistani intelligence official” as saying the ISI “fears there are hundreds of CIA contractors presently operating in Pakistan without the knowledge of the Pakistan government or the intelligence agency.”

In an indication that Pakistan is hardening its stance against caving to US pressure to spring Davis from jail, the Express Tribune quotes sources in the Pakistani Foreign Office as saying that the US has been pressing them to forge backdated documents that would allow the US to claim that Davis worked for the US Embassy. President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top US officials have been trying to claim Davis was an Embassy employee, and not, as they originally stated, and as he himself told arresting police officers, just a contractor working out of the Lahore Consulate. The difference is critical, since most Embassy employees get blanket immunity for their activities, while consular employees, under the Vienna Conventions, only are given immunity for things done during and in the course of their official duties.

The US had submitted a list of its Embassy workers to the Foreign Office on Jan. 20, a week before the shooting. That list had 48 names on it, and Davis was not one of them. A day after the shooting, the Embassy submitted a “revised” list, claiming rather improbably that it had “overlooked” Davis. At the time of his arrest, Davis was carrying a regular passport, not a diplomatic one, though the Consulate in Lahore rushed over the following day and tried to get police to let them swap his well-worn regular passport for a shiny new diplomatic one (they were rebuffed). Davis was also carrying a Department of Defense contractor ID when he was arrested, further complicating the picture of who his real employer might be.

Dave Lindorff is an award-winning investigative reporter and author of the blog, This Can’t Be Happening. A regular columnist for CounterPunch, he also writes frequently for Extra! and Salon, as well as for BusinessweekThe Nation and Treasury & Risk Magazine.

© 2011 This Can’t Be Happening All rights reserved.




USDA Approved Monsanto Alfalfa Despite Warnings Of New Infertility Causing Pathogen Discovered In Genetically Engineered Crops

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Oldspeak: “Now we learn we’ll all be eating, via our genetically contaminated livestock, “organic” crops and unlabeled GM food crops in very high concentrations, a pathogen that is believed to cause infertility and have significant impact on ” the health of plants, animals and probably humans.”  Behold the fruits of deregulation and regulatory agency capture. In a case of  life imitating art, a world like that depicted in “Children Of Men”soon come.”I wonder why if Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide has been shown to weaken plants natural defenses, be less and less effective over time, eventually giving rise to “superweeds” resistant to Roundup, and could itself be a promoter or co-factor of this deadly pathogen in our food, what are the real reasons for its continued use? We know the top one is profit…but what are the others?! I shudder to think.

By Mike Ludwig @ Truthout:

Just two weeks before the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) fully deregulated Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa, a senior soil scientist alerted the department about a newly discovered, microscopic pathogen found in high concentrations of Roundup Ready corn and soy that researchers believe could be causing infertility in livestock and diseases in crops that could threaten the entire domestic food supply.

Dr. Don Huber, a plant pathologist and retired Purdue University professor, wrote in a letter to the USDA that the pathogen is new to science and appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals and probably humans.

“For the past 40 years, I have been a scientist in the professional and military agencies that evaluate and prepare for natural and manmade biological threats, including germ warfare and disease outbreaks,” Huber wrote in his January 16letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Based on this experience, I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of a high risk status. In layman’s terms, it should be treated as an emergency.”

Huber called for an immediate moratorium on approvals of Roundup Ready crops, but on January 27, the USDA fully deregulated Roundup Ready alfalfa after nearly five years of legal battles with farmers and environmental groups. The USDA partially deregulated Roundup Ready sugar beats on February 4.

The pathogen is about the size of a virus and reproduces like a micro-fungal organism. According to Huber, the organism may be the first micro-fungus of its kind ever discovered, and there is evidence that the infectious pathogen causes diseases in both plants and animals, which is very rare.

The pathogen is prevalent in soy crops suffering from a disease called sudden death syndrome and corn crops suffering from goss’ wilt disease.

Laboratory tests show that the pathogen is present in a “wide variety” of livestock suffering from infertility and spontaneous abortions. Huber warned that the pathogen could be responsible for reports of increased infertility rates in dairy cows and rates of spontaneous abortions in cattle as high as 45 percent.

Huber is concerned that the pathogen could be spreading because of overreliance on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops systems, which have come todominate American agribusiness during the past decade.

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn, soy, cotton and alfalfa are genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate-base herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup. Farmers can blanket fields of Roundup Ready crops with glyphosate knowing that unwanted weeds will be killed and the genetically engineered crops will not.

“We are informing the USDA of our findings at this early stage, specifically due to your pending decision regarding approval of alfalfa,” Huber wrote. “Naturally, if either the Roundup Ready gene or Roundup itself is a promoter or co-factor of this pathogen, then such approval could be a calamity.”

Critics like Huber have long criticized glyphosate products like Roundup for weakening crops’ natural defense systems and promoting the spread of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds” that have developed their own tolerance to glyphosate and infested millions of acres of farmland in the US alone.

“We are now seeing an unprecedented trend of increasing plant and animal diseases and disorders,” Huber wrote. “This pathogen may be instrumental to understanding and solving this problem. It deserves immediate attention with significant resources to avoid a general collapse of our critical agricultural infrastructure.”

Huber is a longstanding critic of biotech crops and coordinates a committee of the American Phytopathological Society as part of the USDA National Plant Disease Recovery System.


Monsanto Shifts ALL Liability to Farmers For Losses, Injury, Damages from Monsanto Seeds

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Oldspeak:” So Monsanto gets to sell seed that has demonstrably deleterious effects on the environment as well as the animals and humans that consume what grows out of their seeds. And they have the gall to draw up binding contracts that make farmers the only parties liable for all the destruction caused by Monsanto seed. Monsanto’s products can contaminate organic crops, cost organic farmers their livelihoods and then Monsanto can turn around and sue organic farmers for unauthorized use of their seed. Why are corporations the only “persons” allowed under law to externalize costs/damage/liability, sell dangerous products, and internalize all the profits/benefits from those sales? In Monsanto’s case it helps to have a regulatory agency chock full of former employees.”  😐

By Cassandra Anderson @ MORPcity:

armers like genetically modified (GM) crops because they can plant them, spray them with herbicide and then there is very little maintenance until harvest. Farmers who plant Monsanto’s GM crops probably don’t realize what they bargain for when they sign the Monsanto Technology Stewardship Agreement contract. One farmer reportedly ‘went crazy’ when he discovered the scope of the contract because it transfers ALL liability to the farmer or grower.

Here is the paragraph that defines Monsanto’s limit of liability that shifts it to the farmer:

“GROWER’S EXCLUSIVE LIMITED REMEDY: THE EXCLUSIVE REMEDY OF THE GROWER AND THE LIMIT OF THE LIABILITY OF MONSANTO OR ANY SELLER FOR ANY AND ALL LOSSES, INJURY OR DAMAGES RESULTING FROM THE USE OR HANDLING OF SEED (INCLUDING CLAIMS BASED IN CONTRACT, NEGLIGENCE, PRODUCT LIABILITY, STRICT LIABILITY, TORT, OR OTHERWISE) SHALL BE THE PRICE PAID BY THE GROWER FOR THE QUANTITY OF THE SEED INVOLVED OR, AT THE ELECTION OF MONSANTO OR THE SEED SELLER, THE REPLACEMENT OF THE SEED. IN NO EVENT SHALL MONSANTO OR ANY SELLER BE LIABLE FOR ANY INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, SPECIAL, OR PUNITIVE DAMAGES.”

 

G. Edward Griffin, author of ‘The Creature From Jekyll Island’, and numerous other books and documentary films, and Anthony Patchett, retired assistant Head Deputy District Attorney, Los Angeles County Environmental Crimes/ OSHA Division explain the consequences of the Monsanto contract in the video below.

Monsanto’s Technology Stewardship Agreement shifts responsibility to growers for any and all losses, injury or damages resulting from the use of Monsanto seeds. There is no expiration date on the contract. The grower may terminate the contract, but: “Grower’s responsibilities and the other terms herein shall survive…”

Also See: Mike Ludwig | Why Monsanto Always Wins

This includes contamination of other farms. Growers are purchasing seed for Spring planting right now. Alfalfa, America’s 4th largest crop, is a particular problem because it is a perennial plant and the seeds may lie dormant in the ground for 10-20 years, and WILL contaminate non-GM plants. Contaminated alfalfa cannot be recalled from the environment. The liability burden can follow the grower for decades. Farmers must be made aware of the danger of being sued before they plant GM crops (especially alfalfa because it is used for cattle feed and will affect dairy farmers).

Currently, Australian organic farmer Steve Marsh, who lost his organic certification due to contamination, is suing his GM crop-growing neighbor for the GM contamination.

Contamination of processing equipment is another risk.

There is evidence from India that GM crops are linked to livestock deaths. The Monsanto Technology Stewardship Agreement contract holds growers responsible for injuries, so this is another potential consequence for farmers planting Monsanto GM crops to consider.

The Monsanto Technology Stewardship Agreement has another clause that farmers will find disturbing: it appears that the growers agree that in order to sell their farm, the new purchaser must also sign a Monsanto Technology Stewardship Agreement. According to a top real estate broker, the contract places a covenant, condition or restriction (CCR) on the farmer’s land:

“GROWER AGREES: To accept and continue the obligations of this Monsanto Technology/Stewardship Agreement on any new land purchased or leased by Grower that has Seed planted on it by a previous owner or possessor of the land; and to notify in writing purchasers or lessees of land owned by Grower that has Seed planted on it that the Monsanto Technology is subject to this Monsanto Technology/Stewardship Agreement and they must have or obtain their own Monsanto Technology/Stewardship Agreement.”

 

Environmental attorney Anthony Patchett further elaborated on Monsanto’s contract in a letter that states “Monsanto’s agreement shifts all liability to the growers, including contamination issues or any potential future liability. All the grower receives is the price of the seed.” He further stated that this contract appears to be “Unconscionable”. Click here to view the letter.

For more information about the perils of contamination, please go to MorphCity.com to read the interview with alfalfa seed grower Phil Geertson who opposed Monsanto in the GM case heard in the Supreme Court last summer. Geertson said that Monsanto’s GM seeds are more expensive and after a few years, weeds can become tolerant to Roundup Ready and other glyphosate herbicides so farmers must return to conventional farming practices anyway. Therefore, there is no benefit to planting GM crops.

You can alert farmers to the hazard of growing GM crops and how growers can be hurt by Monsanto’s contract, if you would like to take action in opposing GM crops. Please share this article and video.

 


 

“CIA spy” Raymond Davis Was Giving Nuclear & Biological Material To Terrorists For Use Against The U.S., Says Report

In Uncategorized on February 22, 2011 at 4:59 pm

A rally in Lahore on Monday against Raymond A. Davis, who shot and killed 2 Pakistani Intelligence Agents; a third man was killed by an American S.U.V.

Oldspeak:” False flag operation thwarted? This should be the top story in U.S. media. It is not. I watched a report on MSNBC, and read a report in the New York Times, and these, the most terrifying and scandalous details were left out. This is the title of the Yahoo News INDIA report. No comparable report on Yahoo News USA. Why? And the most terrifying fact disclosed in the New York Times report :”The New York Times had agreed to temporarily withhold information about Mr. Davis’s ties to the agency at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk. Several foreign news organizations have disclosed some aspects of Mr. Davis’s work with the C.I.A”. The press has ceded its freedom to act as means of holding government and business accountable, instead acting as a propaganda arm for distributing approved information. Compare and contrast the Yahoo News India and New York Times story below. The differences in length and detail are striking.”

By Yahoo News India:

London, Feb 20(ANI): Double murder-accused US official Raymond Davis has been found in possession of top-secret CIA documents, which point to him or the feared American Task Force 373 (TF373) operating in the region, providing terrorists with “nuclear fissile material” and “biological agents,” according to a report.

Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) is warning that the situation on the sub-continent has turned “grave” as it appears that open warfare is about to break out between Pakistan and the United States, The European Union Times reports.

The SVR warned in its report that the apprehension of 36-year-old Davis, who shot dead two Pakistani men in Lahore last month, had fuelled this crisis.

According to the report, the combat skills exhibited by Davis, along with documentation taken from him after his arrest, prove that he is a member of US’ TF373 black operations unit currently operating in the Afghan War Theatre and Pakistan’s tribal areas, the paper said.

While the US insists that Davis is one of their diplomats, and the two men he killed were robbers, Pakistan says that the duo were ISI agents sent to follow him after it was discovered that he had been making contact with terrorists, after his cell phone was tracked to the Waziristan tribal area bordering Afghanistan, the paper said.

The most ominous point in this SVR report is “Pakistan’s ISI stating that top-secret CIA documents found in Davis’s possession point to his, and/or TF373, providing to terrorists “nuclear fissile material” and “biological agents”, which they claim are to be used against the United States itself in order to ignite an all-out war in order to re-establish the West’s hegemony over a Global economy that is warned is just months away from collapse,” the paper added. (ANI)

—————————————————————————————————————————–

American Held in Pakistan Worked With C.I.A.

By Mark Mazzetti, Ashley Parker, Jane Perlez and Eric Schmitt @ The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The American arrested in Pakistan after shooting two men at a crowded traffic stop was part of a covert, C.I.A.-led team collecting intelligence and conducting surveillance on militant groups deep inside the country, according to American government officials.

Working from a safe house in the eastern city of Lahore, the detained American contractor, Raymond A. Davis, a retired Special Forces soldier, carried out scouting and other reconnaissance missions as a security officer for the Central Intelligence Agency case officers and technical experts doing the operations, the officials said.

Mr. Davis’s arrest and detention last month, which came after what American officials have described as a botched robbery attempt, have inadvertently pulled back the curtain on a web of covert American operations inside Pakistan, part of a secret war run by the C.I.A.

The episode has exacerbated already frayed relations between the American intelligence agency and its Pakistani counterpart, created a political dilemma for the weak, pro-American Pakistani government, and further threatened the stability of the country, which has the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal.

Without describing Mr. Davis’s mission or intelligence affiliation, President Obama last week made a public plea for his release. Meanwhile, there have been a flurry of private phone calls to Pakistan from Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all intended to persuade the Pakistanis to release the secret operative.

Mr. Davis has worked for years as a C.I.A. contractor, including time at Blackwater Worldwide, the private security firm (now called Xe) that Pakistanis have long viewed as symbolizing a culture of American gun-slinging overseas.

The New York Times had agreed to temporarily withhold information about Mr. Davis’s ties to the agency at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk. Several foreign news organizations have disclosed some aspects of Mr. Davis’s work with the C.I.A.

On Monday, American officials lifted their request to withhold publication. George Little, a C.I.A. spokesman, declined to comment specifically on the Davis matter, but said in a statement: “Our security personnel around the world act in a support role providing security for American officials. They do not conduct foreign intelligence collection or covert operations.”

Since the United States is not at war in Pakistan, the American military is largely restricted from operating in the country. So the Central Intelligence Agency has taken on an expanded role, operating armed drones that kill militants inside the country and running covert operations, sometimes without the knowledge of the Pakistanis.

Several American and Pakistani officials said that the C.I.A. team with which Mr. Davis worked in Lahore was tasked with tracking the movements of various Pakistani militant groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, a particularly violent group that Pakistan uses as a proxy force against India but that the United States considers a threat to allied troops in Afghanistan. For the Pakistanis, such spying inside their country is an extremely delicate issue, particularly since Lashkar has longstanding ties to Pakistan’s intelligence service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.

Still, American and Pakistani officials use Lahore as a base of operations to investigate the militant groups and their madrasas in the surrounding area.

The officials gave various accounts of the makeup of the covert team and of Mr. Davis, who at the time of his arrest was carrying a Glock pistol, a long-range wireless set, a small telescope and a headlamp. An American and a Pakistani official said in interviews that operatives from the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command had been assigned to the group to help with the surveillance missions. Other American officials, however, said that no military personnel were involved with the team.

Special operations troops routinely work with the C.I.A. in Pakistan. Among other things, they helped the agency pinpoint the location of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy Taliban commander who was arrested in January 2010 in Karachi.

Even before the arrest of Mr. Davis, his C.I.A. affiliation was known to Pakistani authorities, who keep close tabs on the movements of Americans. His visa, presented to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in late 2009, describes his job as a “regional affairs officer,” a common job description for officials working with the agency.

According to that application, Mr. Davis carried an American diplomatic passport and was listed as “administrative and technical staff,” a category that typically grants diplomatic immunity to its holder.

American officials said that with Pakistan’s government trying to clamp down on the increasing flow of Central Intelligence Agency officers and contractors trying to gain entry to Pakistan, more of these operatives have been granted “cover” as embassy employees and given diplomatic passports.

As Mr. Davis is held in a jail cell in Lahore — the subject of an international dispute at the highest levels — new details are emerging of what happened in a dramatic daytime scene on the streets of central Lahore, a sprawling city, on Jan. 27.

By the American account, Mr. Davis was driving alone in an impoverished area rarely visited by foreigners, and stopped his car at a crowded intersection. Two Pakistani men brandishing weapons hopped off motorcycles and approached. Mr. Davis killed them with the Glock, an act American officials insisted was in self-defense against armed robbers.

But on Sunday, the text of the Lahore Police Department’s crime report was published in English by a prominent daily newspaper, The Daily Times, and it offered a somewhat different account.

It is based in part on the version of events Mr. Davis gave Pakistani authorities, and it seems to raise doubts about his claim that the shootings were in self-defense.

According to that report, Mr. Davis told the police that after shooting the two men, he stepped out of the car to take photographs of one of them, then called the United States Consulate in Lahore for help.

But the report also said that the victims were shot several times in the back, a detail that some Pakistani officials say proves the killings were murder. By this account, Mr. Davis fired at the men through his windshield, then stepped out of the car and continued firing. The report said that Mr. Davis then got back in his car and “managed to escape,” but that the police gave chase and “overpowered” him at a traffic circle a short distance away.

In a bizarre twist that has further infuriated the Pakistanis, a third man was killed when an unmarked Toyota Land Cruiser, racing to Mr. Davis’s rescue, drove the wrong way down a one-way street and ran over a motorcyclist. As the Land Cruiser drove “recklessly” back to the consulate, the report said, items fell out of the vehicle, including 100 bullets, a black mask and a piece of cloth with the American flag.

Pakistani officials have demanded that the Americans in the S.U.V. be turned over to local authorities, but American officials say they have already left the country.

Mr. Davis and the other Americans were heavily armed and carried sophisticated equipment, the report said.

The Pakistani Foreign Office, generally considered to work under the guidance of the ISI, has declined to grant Mr. Davis what it calls the “blanket immunity” from prosecution that diplomats enjoy. In a setback for Washington, the Lahore High Court last week gave the Pakistani government until March 14 to decide on Mr. Davis’s immunity.

The pro-American government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, fearful for its survival in the face of a surge of anti-American sentiment, has resisted strenuous pressure from the Obama administration to release Mr. Davis to the United States. Some militant and religious groups have demanded that Mr. Davis be tried in the Pakistani courts and hanged.

Relations between the two spy agencies were tense even before the episode on the streets of Lahore. In December, the C.I.A.’s top clandestine officer in Pakistan hurriedly left the country after his identity was revealed. Some inside the agency believe that ISI operatives were behind the disclosure — retribution for the head of the ISI, Lt. Gen.Ahmed Shuja Pasha, being named in a New York City lawsuit filed in connection with the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, in which members of his agency are believed to have played a role. ISI officials denied that was the case.

One senior Pakistani official close to the ISI said Pakistani spies were particularly infuriated over the Davis episode because it was such a public spectacle. Besides the three Pakistanis who were killed, the widow of one of the victims committed suicide by swallowing rat poison.

Moreover, the official said, the case was embarrassing for the ISI for its flagrancy, revealing how much freedom American spies have to roam around the country.

“We all know the spy-versus-spy games, we all know it works in the shadows,” the official said, “but you don’t get caught, and you don’t get caught committing murders.”

Mr. Davis, burly at 36, appears to have arrived in Pakistan in late 2009 or early 2010. American officials said he operated as part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Global Response Staff in various parts of the country, including Lahore and Peshawar.

Documents released by Pakistan’s Foreign Office showed that Mr. Davis was paid $200,000 a year, including travel expenses and insurance.

He is a native of rural southwest Virginia, described by those who know him as an unlikely figure to be at the center of international intrigue.

He grew up in Big Stone Gap, a small town named after the gap in the mountains where the Powell River emerges.

The youngest of three children, Mr. Davis enlisted in the military after graduating from Powell Valley High School in 1993.

“I guess about any man’s dream is to serve his country,” his sister Michelle Wade said.

Shrugging off the portrait of him as an international spy comfortable with a Glock, Ms. Wade said: “He would always walk away from a fight. That’s just who he is.”

His high school friends remember him as good-natured, athletic, respectful. He was also a protector, they said, the type who stood up for the underdog.

“Friends with everyone, just a salt of the earth person,” said Jennifer Boring, who graduated from high school with Mr. Davis.

Mr. Davis served in the infantry in Europe — including a short tour as a peacekeeper in Macedonia — before joining the Third Special Forces Group in 1998, where he remained until he left the Army in 2003. The Army Special Forces — known as the Green Berets — are an elite group trained in weapons and foreign languages and cultures.

It is unclear when Mr. Davis began working for the C.I.A., but American officials said that in recent years he worked for the spy agency as a Blackwater contractor and later founded his own small company, Hyperion Protective Services.

Mr. Davis and his wife have moved frequently, living in Las Vegas, Arizona and Colorado.

One neighbor in Colorado, Gary Sollee, said that Mr. Davis described himself as “former military,” adding that “he’d have to leave the country for work pretty often, and when he’s gone, he’s gone for an extended period of time.”

Mr. Davis’s sister, Ms. Wade, said she was awaiting her brother’s safe return.

“The only thing I’m going to say is I love my brother,” she said. “I love my brother, God knows, I love him. I’m just praying for him.”

Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington, Ashley Parker from Big Stone Gap, Va., and Jane Perlez from Pakistan. Ismail Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan, and Waqar Gillani from Lahore, Pakistan.






Back To The Future With ComcastNBC: Will Have Monopolies In 80% Of The Country

In Uncategorized on February 22, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Oldspeak: The Corporatocracy is consolidating its control over all that you see hear and read. “Net Neutrality” will soon be a thing of the past. “Comcast met behind closed doors with the FCC to map out the future of broadband service and video streaming over the Internet. Anyone who wonders how federal banking regulators got captured by the financial industry, or how lawmakers got neutered by the insurance companies on the health care bill, or how big money is going to buy the next presidential election, should study the Comcast merger. It is a cautionary tale of things gone awry in Washington, where corporate speech is heard and heeded and the voices of actual citizens are ignored.”-Peter White

By Peter White @ Truthout:

After hammering out the details in daily meetings with Comcast over a three-month period in late 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) approved the $30 billion merger of Comcast and NBC/Universal in January 2011. The nation’s largest Internet and TV provider is about to get much bigger. The public can comment for 60 days, but it’s pretty much a done deal.

Coriell Wright, an attorney with Free Press, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) opposed to the merger, watched it all go down.

“I was genuinely positive about the process until November. The FCC staff asked great questions, they requested a lot of information from Comcast, But a lot of the good points that were made in the flings didn’t make it to the end game when push came to shove in bargaining with Comcast.”

Wright said a coalition of merger opponents met with FCC staffers about once a week during that time, while Comcast and NBC met with them “once a day or more.”

“I don’t feel we were excluded, but we didn’t have meetings every single day like Comcast and NBC did. And we don’t have hundreds of lobbyists on call like they do,” Wright said.

Comcast spent $100 million to get the merger approved. It hired 100 former government employees and paid $8.8 million to 30 lobbying firms to help seal the deal. It dumped a lot of cash all over Capitol Hill in the past two years. The numbers are here.

Twice in October 2010, the FCC granted Comcast and NBC enhanced confidential treatment, related to their programing and carriage agreements and their “current and forwardlooking business strategies and plans, which contain the company’s analyses of particular sectors of the media and communications industry and detail perceived trends, possible business initiatives to respond to those trends, and customer analyses.”

In other words, Comcast met behind closed doors with the FCC to map out the future of broadband service and video streaming over the Internet. Anyone who wonders how federal banking regulators got captured by the financial industry, or how lawmakers got neutered by the insurance companies on the health care bill, or how big money is going to buy the next presidential election, should study the Comcast merger. It is a cautionary tale of things gone awry in Washington, where corporate speech is heard and heeded and the voices of actual citizens are ignored.

The DOJ checked the deal for any anticompetitive elements. Under a much weakened Taft Hartley law, the DOJ doesn’t really oppose monopolies these days, but rather imposes conditions to protect the status quo of the so-called “free market.” So, under the terms of the agreement, Comcast cannot discriminate against program producers or distributors who want to provide Comcast programs to their customers. About 173 of the agreement’s 279 pages deal with those matters.

About 75 pages deal with the FCC’s job, which is quite different than the DOJ’s legal one. Under its mandate as a federal agency that regulates telecommunications, the FCC has to affirm that the merger would advance the public interest in some way and not just preserve the status quo.

The FCC says the conditions it put into the deal require Comcast/NBC “to take affirmative steps to foster competition” and based on the company’s promises, the FCC found the merger to be “in the public interest.”

“ComcastNBC will increase local news coverage to viewers, expand children’s programing, enhance the diversity of programing available to Spanish-speaking viewers, offer broadband services to low-income Americans at reduced monthly prices, and provide high-speed broadband to schools, libraries, and underserved communities, among other public benefits,” the FCC announced.

“Those are all good things,” says Wright, “but ultimately don’t touch on the problems that are baked into the structure of the new company.” In other words, a newer bigger Comcast won’t change your cable lineup much, if at all.

“I tried to find a place where the FCC says that the merger would result in more competition, lower prices, or more diversity. But that’s not in there because the merger won’t do any of those things,” she said.

How Big Is the Deal?

Very big. In addition to its cable systems in 39 states, Comcast would get a production arm, Universal Studios; and a broadcast network, NBC, with its 10 wholly owned stations; and CNBC, a financial news cable network; and 16 Spanish language stations on Telemundo. The combined company would own or control 125 cable channels, studios, stations and web sites that would provide 20 percent of what people watch on TV, and by next year, according to the FCC, broadband companies like Comcast will have monopolies in about 80 percent of the country.

Media scholar Ben Bagdikian, author of “Media Monopoly,” paints a grim picture of the future when Comcast has its way.

“The Comcast NBC merger will have twice as many customers as any other broadband service. Everyone who is dependent on AT&T for telephone service knows that their response to subscriber complaints is notoriously poor and woefully slow for repairs. NBC’s merger with Comcast will make it the world’s largest cable company and if history is repeated, a public service company that is twice as large as it’s nearest competitor, does not have to worry if it tells its customers to wait for repairs or service and the general public will suffer from restricted choices and programs. A generation ago when Gannett became the giant in newspapers good papers disappeared. If this happens to cable, the fate of newspapers will be repeated in the cable industry,” he said.

Even basic cable coach potatoes like me understand that this bleak future is already here. I’ve seen “Rocky” so many times, I’ve started hoping he’d just stay down in the fifth round and be done with it. I suspect it’s about the same everywhere else: the same action movies over and over and over again. Watching bowl games on New Year’s Day used to be a tradition in America. Not anymore, unless you pay to see them. ESPN carried 33 of 35 bowl games on their subscription channels this year. The take-away lesson about cable TV is that more is really less.

Critics say the merger will mean fewer choices and higher prices for consumers. Well, we’re already used to that. Will the future bring us better fare than “Deal or No Deal,” “Minute to Win It,” or “Dancing With the Stars”? These shows may be popular, but they are also pathetic because so many Americans are downwardly mobile these days. Mainstream TV is just a mass opiate to help us forget our misery.

What passes for quality programing on TV gives cold comfort to the three million Americans facing foreclosure this year, the 15.5 million American kids living in poverty and the 16 million Americans without a job. Remember “Playhouse 90,” “The Honeymooners,” “See it Now,” “The Twilight Zone”? For my money, there’s nothing comparable on TV today at any premium program price.

Rates for Cable TV have been going up 5 percent a year and more Americans aren’t buying it anymore. Last year, 800,000 households in the US dumped their TV provider and that number is expected to double this year. That’s a small proportion of the nation’s 100 million TV subscribers, but why pay money for shows you don’t want to watch, when you can see the ones you do for free or a lot cheaper on line?

Stifling Innovation

Comcast built its empire out of wire and lowest common denominator programing. The first has been around since the telegraph and the second since at least the third or fourth Grade. Now we have satellites, Dish TV, FiOS and wifi and all of these new technologies threaten Comcast, which lost 275,000 cable customers in the third quarter last year.

The Internet as video platform is just a few years old, but already has 150 million people watching at least once a month. Sales of web ready TVs and other equipment to watch Internet video will jump from 14.6 million to 83.4 million by 2014, according to InStat, an Internet, marketing research company.

Here’s the bad news: a combined Comcast/NBC will create a vertically integrated behemoth like the trusts and monopolies of Teddy Roosevelt’s day. It could operate with virtual impunity toward the public and over its rivals, like a Mexican drug cartel.

“The rise of the Internet makes cable companies obsolete…. the only way for them to stay alive is to generate so much power, both as a distributor and content provider, they become a mafia-style vertically integrated market. They will use content as a cudgel to extort exorbitant fees out other cable companies and customers,” said Josh Silver, President of Free Press.

Comcast’s Business Plans

John Dunbar, a former AP reporter who now works at American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop, published a report in the January/February 2011 issue of Columbia Journalism Review. He looks under the rug of the proposed merger and notes that Comcast wants to protect its revenue streams in broadband and cable, and grow them both, even as TVs and computers become one.

“One way to do that is to keep competition in check. Comcast would be in a unique position to do just that especially because, by adding NBC Universal to its holdings, Comcast will become one of the nation’s largest television programmers, too the only company to have such a large position in programing, cable and Internet distribution,” Dunbar wrote. His article is available here.

“Don’t hold your breath waiting for ComcastNBC Universal to welcome an Internet utopia of free-flowing, no-charge television content,” he concludes.

Comcast says after the merger, broadcast programs will most likely wind up on Hulu, in which it will have a 27 percent stake but no operational control, and cable shows will go to TV Everywhere, a joint venture Comcast started with Time Warner in 2009. Hulu is free, but TV Everywhere is only free to cable subscribers and only for the programs they already pay for.

“It’s not that Comcast thinks it can kill online video. They’re not stupid like the recording industry was,” said Harold Feld, legal director with the Washington, DC, digital advocacy group Public Knowledge. “What they want to do is manage the terms under which we’re going to change so that they can continue to make the tons of money they’re making right now selling their cable service.”

A Short History of Cable TV and Why Americans Are so Dumb

American broadcasters once described, reflected upon, entertained and helped shape our national identity. But maybe I’m just being nostalgic for a time that never really was. Way back in 1961, FCC Chairman Newton Minow called television a vast wasteland. (Oh, how I long for the days when a federal regulator called a spade a spade.) But let’s review some history.

In the halcyon days of broadcast TV, Walter Cronkite was the most respected man in America. Over time, pretenders, who looked good and could read other people’s copy as if they wrote it, replaced the sober men of Cronkite’s generation. Authenticity went out the window and with it our collective grip on reality. Then we got cable and that’s when everything started to go South. We stopped living the American dream, more or less together, and started listening to hucksters, spin doctors and pundits, dreaming our lives away in some ersatz reality via television.

Getting people to pay for what they used to get for free turned the country upside down. It was a very big deal … for the cable companies. In exchange, we got CSPAN. Then, in 1984, we got the Cable Act. It was the first major revision of telecommunications policy in the US since 1934. The law deregulated the industry that quickly spread like a cancer all over the country and into fewer and fewer hands. By 1991, just nine companies owned more than half the cable business in the US. Today, six media giants control most of what we see, hear and read.

Former Washington Post editor and scholar, Ben Bagdikian, has been like Paul Revere on this issue for nearly three decades. He and other media critics, mostly from the left, have been warning about the dangers inherent in such concentration. In short, robust public discourse is stifled when huge corporations control the marketplace of ideas. Same thing when it comes to cultural programs. Producers get strong-armed, competitors are squeezed out and consumers get gouged wherever a monopoly controls a market. The public interest is not served.

Window Dressing the Public Interest

For its part, the FCC wanted assurances from Comcast that it would play fair after the merger was approved. But that’s like asking the greedy banker not to foreclose on the sweet, old widow because she can’t pay the mortgage any longer. All regulators have a similar problem: they presume the innocence, if not the good will, of the industry players in whatever game they referee. They are hopelessly utopian in a dystopic world. All corporations engage in the single-minded pursuit of money. They aren’t moral or engaged in fairness, and it sometimes takes years before some kind of remedy can be found for the bad things they do. And by then it can be too late. Think Bernie Madoff, not Bill Gates.

Comcast sweetened the deal by agreeing to provide a $10/month broadband service to low income families. And it agreed to add ten new channels, to its D1 Digital Tier lineup. Eight of them will be minority owned or at least partly minority owned. Comcast will pick the owners. It also agreed to give two Asian groups $1 million dollars to develop programs and committed $20 million in venture capital to Hispanic and African-American producers to develop “new media content and applications.” It is not clear if that content would be created for the new channels or not.

That sounds pretty good, but it breaks down to the average price of just one Hollywood action movie spread over eight years and a very wide demographic. There will be no lack of ethnic producers to fight over the money. They will be picked by Comcast, of course, and they may or may not produce programs that rise above your average “ghetto channel” offerings. But even if they do, they won’t be able to reach a really big audience because their programs will likely run only in Detroit; Washington, DC; Atlanta; Chicago; and Philadelphia. Comcast will decide where the channels will be carried, of course. And after a few years it will probably shut them down for failure to thrive.

The company also agreed to support local partnerships between nonprofit news sites and ten of its NBC broadcast stations and six of its Telemundo Spanish language stations. NBC’s San Diego affiliate currently takes two stories a week from a local news startup called Voice of San Diego.

Adding 1,000 more hours of news and public affairs programs a year sounds good, but it comes out to about 16 minutes a day, and its just 16 markets out of about 300. And it will almost certainly be more of the same dumbed-down and warmed over mainstream pabulum that we already have. Why? Because Comcast has not promised a plug nickel to fund the newsgathering operations of their prospective news partners in those markets. Where will the investment come from to nurture news startups in those cities? Presumably, from some rich philanthropist, but it’s a safe bet it won’t be Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.

“You can’t point to any current Comcast owned channels as exemplary public interest programing,” claims Josh Silver, president of Free Press. “Now that they are taking on $30 billion in added debt to NBC, you can be 100 percent sure they aren’t going to surprise us with quality content,” he added.

Its critics say Comcast is a notoriously bad actor on public interest issues. It has a long history of opposing local journalism efforts on public access channels that it is required to provide wherever it operates cable systems. Indeed, the company blocked local PEG channels for decades in Philadelphia, where the company is headquartered. In any case, Comcast’s promises aren’t nearly enough to satisfy opponents of the deal because the conditions the FCC imposed all sunset after seven years.

“The conditions are sort of a side show and the negative impacts of the merger are still going to happen, they just aren’t going to happen until 2018,” Silver said.

Two Cases in Point

If Comcast’s critics are right, the merger puts the entire communications infrastructure, the information superhighway and the entertainment industry all at risk by putting too much control in too few hands.

Take former Vice President Al Gore’s ill-fated Current TV, for example. Even a Nobel Prize-winning author and former presidential contender, some say undeclared winner, even he could not muster enough venture capital to get his channel onto a major cable network.

“It’s because of the whims of these cable companies whose policy decisions are completely corrupt. It’s a walled garden they run,” says Silver. “Their goal is part of a master plan to turn online video into the 21st Century version of cable TV.”

If the past is any guide, the merger won’t boost news and public interest programing, but rather stifle it. Al Jazeera is a perfect example of that. It is well-funded and the quality of its news is first rate and no news organization anywhere can match its coverage of the Arabs-peaking world. By and large, Americans can’t watch it.

“Other than in a handful of pockets across the U.S. including Ohio, Vermont and Washington, D.C. cable carriers do not give viewers the choice of watching Al Jazeera,” wrote Ryan Grim of Huffington Post recently.

“That corporate censorship comes as American diplomats harshly criticize the Egyptian government for blocking Internet communication inside the country and as Egypt attempts to block Al Jazeera from broadcasting,” he wrote.

On cable systems in Canada, Al Jazeera became widely available after the network ran a successful campaign to get Canadians to demand it from the Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission. Not so in the US with the FCC.

“There is no policy teeth, no leverage or hook in order to compel Comcast to carry certain kinds of programs like Al Jazeera,” said Silver.

Is Redemption Possible?

When the FCC approved the merger, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who voted for it, released a statement that sums things up and may prove to be prescient:

“I encourage people to speak out should they see the slightest bit of programing discrimination or any other type of questionable behavior from the soon-to-be-formed entity. My door will remain open and I will be perpetually available to field any and all future concerns in this regard,” he wrote.

“I expect the parties to live up to the letter and spirit of their commitments. I, and the American people, will be watching,” he concluded.

Well, some of us are watching now, and the FCC just gave away the farm with damned little to show for it. So, if exhortation does not work and several years down the road we are faced with more insipid programs, higher prices, and a less informed public, will the FCC step in to fix what they have wrought?

Stay tuned.

Bio: Peter White is a former USFS smokejumper, surfer, and has covered two wars and three civil conflicts on four continents. He has written anchor copy and produced news for a number of foreign networks, NBC, ABC, PBS. NPR, and a number of print media outlets including The New York Times and San Francisco Examiner. He lives in Nashville with his two sons.

 



Wisconsin Labor Jams State Capitol To Resist Governor’s “Budget Repair Bill”

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm

 

Protesters flood the rotunda of the Wisconsin Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, February 16, 2011

 

Oldspeak: “And so it begins… 30,000 Americans resisting corprocratic tyranny via “Austerity”. How long before the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol is jammed with protestors resisting unfair treatment by their government?

By Howard Ryan @ Truthout:

Wisconsin’s new Republican governor inadvertently issued a wake-up call to the state’s labor movement by announcing legislation February 11 that would crush public employee unions.

Scott Walker made the proposals just two days after similar measures were unveiled in Ohio.

Wisconsin’s labor movement and allies mobilized three days of emergency rallies in Madison, the state capital, ahead of an expected vote in the legislature February 17. Thirty thousand drumming, chanting protesters descended on the Capitol February 16. Some made plans to camp out there that night.

Building trades members planned to set up a grilling operation to feed bratwurst to workers and students there.

For continuing updates on Wisconsin protests, follow Truthout’s blog.

Madison schools had closed that day when about half the teachers called in sick. About 800 Madison high school students walked out of class and marched to join protests. University of Wisconsin students, who had planned an action around university funding, turned instead to workers’ rights and brought an estimated 1,000 protesters to the Capitol.

Also See:

Noam Chomsky on Wisconsin’s Resistance to the Assault on the Public Sector

A thousand teachers and supporters stopped traffic as they walked from Wisconsin AFL-CIO headquarters to Walker’s house near Milwaukee. Two hundred protesters turned out when the governor spoke in Eau Claire.

A massive phonebanking and door-knocking campaign urged voters to contact the more moderate Republicans in the state senate. In the face of such massive resistance, Republican legislators signaled a willingness to back off late Wednesday.

A Part of History

Jim Cavanaugh, president of Madison’s 90,000-member South Central Federation of Labor, described an outpouring of solidarity. An AFL-CIO news conference brought private sector union leaders to declare their support for embattled public employee unions.

In an email, Dave Poklinkoski, president of a utility workers local, said, “The breadth and depth of the solidarity at these rallies is beyond anything witnessed in Madison in living memory.” He invited friends to come “be a part of history.”

Walker would eliminate collective bargaining for public employees on all matters except wages. Any wage increase surpassing the consumer price index would have to be approved by voters. His plan calls for state employees to contribute much more to their pensions and health insurance costs—the equivalent of an 8 percent pay cut.

For good measure, Walker added that he had briefed the National Guard, so it would be ready to address any potential disruption of services caused by union protests. A veterans group slammed the governor, asking if he understood the military is not a “personal intimidation force to be mobilized to quash political dissent.” A spokesman later said soldiers would only replace prison guards.

Police and firefighter unions would be exempt from the new law. Both of Milwaukee’s uniformed unions endorsed Walker’s gubernatorial bid last year, leaving other unionists in the state muttering about backroom deals. But firefighters, to great applause, joined the throngs descending on the Capitol.

“Budget Repair”

Walker is selling his anti-bargaining proposal as part of a “Budget Repair Bill” aimed at addressing the state’s immediate $136 million deficit as well as a larger deficit of $3.6 billion projected for the next two-year budget cycle. He says his proposals on health and pension contributions would save $30 million and help avert wide layoffs of state employees.

But AFSCME Council 24 points out that state employees have already sacrificed for years, taking unpaid furlough days and heavier workloads. Late last year, they offered a contract containing $100 million in concessions—an offer legislators rejected and the governor ignores.

The Economic Policy Institute think-tank said Wisconsin public employees actually earn 5 percent less in wages and benefits than private-sector counterparts, when workers with similar experience and education levels are compared.

Much of the governor’s proposal does not concern the state budget at all, but serves to cripple public employee unions. It would prohibit collecting member dues through payroll deductions and end any requirement that employees pay union dues at all. It would require union bargaining units to hold an annual certification vote in order to maintain representation.

Cavanaugh believes Walker may have overreached politically and that, assuming the immediate threat can be turned back, the labor movement can reap benefits.

“We’re getting a lot of people off their butts, seeing what these right-wing fanatics are capable of,” he said. “We’re achieving more union solidarity than we’ve seen in a long time.”


Why Some Men Don’t Want To Get Married

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘Some men just don’t want to be married. Others do, but unrealistically wait for the “perfect” partner.’ -Hugo Schwyzer. An interesting, well reasoned, and inclusive take on the whole ‘to be or not to be married’ question. And what prevents many men from answering it.”

By Hugo Schwyzer @ The Good Men Project:

Last week, Jennifer Doll offered a familiar lament in the pages of the Village Voice“Dear Single Women of NYC: It’s Not Them, It’s You.Though her focus is on New York, Doll could have been describing almost any large American city in which the number of single, straight, employed, and emotionally competent men is apparently dwarfed by the number of women who want to meet them.

The “man shortage” is a perennial go-to for articles aimed at women readers; these pieces differ mainly in the degree to which they blame the crisis on women’s ambition, pickiness, or sexual aggressiveness.

Refreshingly, Doll gets that men also desire relationships. She interviews one guy who claims to be looking for marriage:

“I don’t want to be 34 and doing that thing that sketchy New York guys do where they go out and act as though they’re 24. I’ve seen too much of it … It’s a real cautionary tale.” When I told him that was refreshing, he said, “I think most guys feel that way.”

I think we can all agree that guys in their 30s, 40s, and even 50s who behave like overgrown teenagers is not a phenomenon limited to the 212 area code. Middle-class male adolescence is a countrywide phenomenon that can last a quarter-century or more.

Women’s sexual availability often takes the rap for men’s increasingly famous ambivalence about marriage. Pundits offer endless variations on the why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free aphorism. If women would commit to being less sexually available, the argument goes, men would be more willing to commit to marriage.

But that reasoning misses the mark on two counts. First, plenty of women like sex, and not just because it’s so irresistible to men. Second, it doesn’t take into account just how hungry many men are for an enduring relationship. Like the guy whom Doll found so “refreshing,” a lot of men — far more than the stories like hers let on — want more than an endless supply of free milk from new cows.

♦◊♦

Doll’s interviewee is right: most guys do want to grow up. Most of us have winced as we’ve watched men humiliate themselves chasing women who are too young and not interested. What seems cool at 25 is embarrassing at 50. But how do we figure out when the moment is right to “settle down”? Do it too early, and we might be tortured by regret about all the new skin we’re missing. Wait too long, and we’re in danger of becoming the creepy bachelor uncle, the one about whom a niece warns all her girlfriends.

Of course, marriage isn’t for everyone, nor should it be. And being married — or being willing to be married — shouldn’t be the only benchmark for growing up. The marriage rate is falling, and one reason is that more people are finding alternatives that work better for them. But another reason is that too many young people — men especially — have such lofty expectations for marriage (and such fears of divorce) that they set themselves up to never be “ready.”

My dad once told me that the biggest mistake men make is “waiting to be struck by certainty.” Men expect signs. They want a “burning bush” or a billboard on the interstate; they want to hear the voice of God booming, “Marry her!”

Most guys see certainty as the total absence of doubt, and so they keep imagining that settling down is what you do when you’re 100 percent sure about someone. Problem is, it’s damn near impossible to be 100 percent sure about anything. In most ventures in life, we’re 70 percent sure at best. But then again, we don’t expect most ventures to last forever. And so we hedge our bets, we play the field, we wait for the one to come along who will strike us with certainty. And with no biological clock ticking (just the fear of turning into an aging “creeper”), we can spin out that waiting for a very long time.

A friend once told me, “I’ll know I’ve met the one when I don’t want to screw any of her friends, no matter how hot they are.” He would know he’d met his future wife when monogamy would seem effortless. For him, being “struck by certainty” would mean the complete absence of interest in ever having sex with anyone other than his “one.”

♦◊♦

Growing up means letting go of the need for a “burning bush” moment. It means not holding other people hostage to your own indecisiveness and understanding that certainty comes after you make a commitment to something. It’s the result of an action taken, not a prerequisite for taking it.

Again, marriage isn’t for everyone. The willingness to make a commitment is hardly the only proof of maturity. But I’m not concerned here with the men who are certain they never want to marry. The problem is with the ones who very much want to get married but are waiting to be struck by (and keeping everybody else waiting for) that thunderbolt of certainty.

As men grow older, the poet David Justice wrote, men should “learn to close softly the doors to rooms they will not be coming back to.” What’s left behind in those rooms? The unlimited options and possibilities we love to contemplate.

The certainty you’re looking for comes only after that door is shut.

 

Hugo Schwyzer has taught history and gender studies at Pasadena City College since 1993, where he developed the college’s first courses on Men and Masculinity and Beauty and Body Image.


Ecuador Judge Orders Chevron to Pay $9 Billion In Damages

In Uncategorized on February 16, 2011 at 2:25 pm

 

Local residents washed in the contaminated Santa Fe River in 2009 near Shushufindi, in the oil producing Amazon region of northern Ecuador.

 

Oldspeak: “Score one for The People… Maybe. Pretty ballsy that Chevron one of the most ruthless, duplicitous, destructive, chronically criminal corporations on the planet is suing indigenous Ecuadorian indians for fraud and conspiracy when that’s basically their stock in trade. They go into these communities, lie to people about their intentions, the toxicity of their product, illegally dump their waste, contaminate the local environment, knowingly and willfully break the law over and over again, paying paltry fines that have zero effect on their illicit behaviour and allow them to continue to conduct business as usual destroying our planet for profit. And the sad thing is if they have their way, in this case they may get away with it.”

By  Simon Romero and Clifford Krauss @ The New York Times:

CARACAS, Venezuela — A judge in a tiny courtroom in the Ecuadorean Amazon ruled Monday that the oil giant Chevron was responsible for polluting remote tracts of Ecuadorean jungle and ordered the company to pay more than $9 billion in damages, one of the largest environmental awards ever.

The decision by Judge Nicolás Zambrano in Lago Agrio, a town founded as an oil camp in the 1960s, immediately opened a contentious new stage of appeals in a legal battle that has dragged on in courts in Ecuador and the United States for 17 years, pitting forest tribes and villagers against one of the largest American corporations.

The award against Chevron “is one of the largest judgments ever imposed for environmental contamination in any court,” said David M. Uhlmann, an expert in environmental law at the University of Michigan. “It falls well short of the $20 billion that BP has agreed to pay to compensate victims of the gulf oil spill but is a landmark decision nonetheless. Whether any portion of the claims will be paid by Chevron is less clear.”

Both sides said they would appeal the ruling, setting the stage for months and potentially years more of legal wrangling in the closely watched case, which has already been marked by claims of industrial espionage and fraud, and remarkably bitter disputes among the various lawyers involved. Legal experts said that the size of the award and the attention the case has focused on environmental degradation were likely to encourage similar suits.

The 188-page ruling found Chevron responsible for damages of about $8.6 billion, and perhaps double that amount if Chevron fails to publicly apologize for its actions within 15 days. The judge also ordered Chevron to pay $860 million, or 10 percent of the damages, to the Amazon Defense Coalition, the group formed to represent the plaintiffs.

Pablo Fajardo, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, called the ruling a “triumph of justice,” but said it still fell short. “We’re going to appeal because we think that the damages awarded are not enough,” he said in a telephone interview. The plaintiffs were seeking as much as $113 billion, according to a report recently submitted to the court.

A Chevron spokesman, Kent Robertson, called the decision “illegitimate and unenforceable.” He said Chevron would appeal through the Ecuadorean legal system, and would not pay the damages.

“This is the product of fraud,” he said. “It had always been the plan to inflate the damages claim and coordinate with corrupt judges for a smaller judgment.”

He suggested that the timing of the ruling, a week after Chevron filed a lawsuit against the plaintiffs’ lawyers, was not coincidental. He said it was coordinated between the plaintiffs and the court, which had previously accepted an expert environmental opinion that Chevron contended was partly ghost-written by representatives of the plaintiffs, who include villagers and Indian tribes in northeastern Ecuador.

The plaintiffs have denied any collaboration with the judge and said they merely provided information for the expert’s report as the court encouraged both sides to do.

Chevron, the second-largest American oil company, reported a net profit of $19 billion last year. In addition to its appeal in Ecuador, the company hopes to block enforcement of the judgment in American courts.

“It might as well be Monopoly money, given all the respect that Chevron will show it,” said Ralph G. Steinhardt, professor of law and international affairs at George Washington University Law School. “There is a legal regime for enforcing foreign judgments but there is a lot of discretion for U.S. judges to suspend the enforcement of foreign judgments.”

The decision was the latest installment in a legal soap opera in which Chevron and lawyers for Ecuadorean peasants have sued and countersued over oil pollution in Ecuador’srain forest.

The origins of the case go back to the 1970s, when Texaco, which was later acquired by Chevron, operated as a partner with the Ecuadorean state oil company. The villagers sued in 1993, claiming that Texaco had left an environmental mess that was causing illnesses. Chevron bought Texaco in 2001, before the case was resolved.

Chevron has been playing hardball for at least the last two years. It produced video recordings from watches and pens wired with bugging devices that suggested a bribery scheme surrounded the proceedings and involved a judge hearing the case. The judge was forced to resign, although it was later revealed that an American behind the secret recordings was a convicted drug trafficker.

Chevron appeared to gain the upper hand again when it won a legal bid to secure the outtakes from a documentary about the case, “Crude,” in which Steven Donziger, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, is seen developing strategy and discussing the judicial system and how it operates. Mr. Donziger appeared boastful about meetings with judges and other Ecuadorean officials.

Last week, Chevron filed a suit against dozens of people involved in the case, charging that they conspired to extort the company for $113 billion by making up evidence and trying to manipulate the Ecuadorean legal system. At the company’s request, an American judge issued a temporary restraining order to block any judgment for at least four weeks. A day later, international arbiters ordered Ecuador to suspend the enforcement of any judgment.

Almost lost in the various disputes related to the lawsuit is the fact that Chevron and plaintiffs have agreed that oil exploration contaminated what had been largely undeveloped swaths of Ecuadorean rainforest. The plaintiffs claim that Chevron must be held responsible for damage where Texaco once operated. Chevron, however, argues that Texaco carried out a cleanup agreement with the Ecuadorean government and that much of the damage was done after Texaco left in the early 1990s, actions for which it should not be held responsible.

“The judge recognized the crime committed,” said Guillermo Grefa, head of a Quichua Indian community who claims that Texaco’s oil contamination created respiratory problems among his people. “For us, this is very little. For us, the crime committed by Texaco is incalculable.”

Simon Romero reported from Caracas, and Clifford Krauss from Houston. John Schwartz contributed reporting from New York, and Irene Caselli from Quito, Ecuador.



USDA Approves Monsanto Genetically Engineered Corn, Alfalfa, Sugar Beets

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Oldspeak: ” ‘There’s nothing they are leaving untouched: the mustard, the okra, the bringe oil, the rice, the cauliflower. Once they have established the norm: that seed can be owned as their property, royalties can be collected. We will depend on them for every seed we grow of every crop we grow. If they control seed, they control food, they know it – it’s strategic. It’s more powerful than bombs. It’s more powerful than guns. This is the best way to control the populations of the world.’ – Dr. Vandana Shiva.

While Goldman Sachs and a woefully corrupt finance industry gets all the press for dominating and eventually crashing the financial system, they deal in imaginary derivatives. Monsanto has been quietly and relentlessly expanding its control over and profit from our food supply. Along the way, contaminating the food supply and threatening public health worldwide with its genetically engineered “foods”and herbicides which have demonstratively deleterious effects on human health. Monsanto gets to sell its products even though there is data that indicates they would have adverse impacts if mixed with naturally occurring food crops. With The Secretary Of Agriculture Vilsack’s long pro-biotech record, USDA rife with former Monsanto employees, FDA headed by Monsanto’s Chief Lobbyist Michael Taylor, the Frankenfood giant has completely captured and manipulated the very government agencies charged with ensuring the security of the food supply. They do Monsanto’s bidding. At the expense of your health and safety. Please see ‘The World According To Monsanto” to really under stand the enormity of this existential threat.”

From Mike Ludwig @ Truthout:

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved plantings of three genetically engineered (GE) crops in as many weeks, including Monsanto Co.’s Roundup Ready sugar beets and alfalfa that are engineered to tolerate Roundup Ready weed-killing herbicide.

The USDA on February 11 also legalized, without restriction, the world’s first GE corn crop meant for biofuel production. Biotech giant Syngenta’s Event 3272 seed corn will simplify ethanol production and is not meant to feed animals or humans.

The approvals flew in the face of legal and regulatory challenges posed by GE crop opponents and members of the agricultural industry. Opponents fear the GE crop varieties could contaminate conventional food crops and promote the overuse of herbicides like the glyphosate-based Roundup and more toxic chemicals used to kill glyphosate-resistant weeds.

Monsanto won a victory on February 4 when the USDA partially deregulated Roundup Ready sugar beets. A federal court in August 2010 temporarily banned the beets and ordered the USDA to re-review the environmental impacts of the Roundup Ready sugar beets as the result of a lawsuit filed by farmers and environmental groups.

Plaintiff attorney Paul Achitoff from the environmental group Earthjustice said the USDA’s decision to allow plantings of the sugar beets under “lax conditions” violates federal law. However, the USDA said the beets pose no “plant pest risk” and farmers can start planting them before a final Environmental Impact Statement is issued in 2012.

Roundup Ready alfalfa was legalized without any restrictions on January 27 after nearly five years of legal battles that pitted farmers and GE critics against the USDA and Monsanto.

The USDA disappointed GE critics again last week when it fully deregulated Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta’s Event 3272 GE corn. The corn is genetically engineered to produce an enzyme that converts starch to sugar, making it easier to process the corn and turn it into the biofuel ethanol.

The North American Millers Association (NAMA), a normally pro-biotech organization that represents 170 agricultural mills in 38 states, is concerned that Event 3271 kernels could accidentally mix with corn meant for food processing and damage the quality of food products like snacks and breakfast cereals.

“USDA has failed to provide the public with sufficient scientific data on the economic impacts of contamination on food production, or information on how USDA will ensure Syngenta’s compliance with a stewardship plan,” said NAMA President Mary Waters.

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The USDA is counting on a “closed loop system” created by Syngenta to prevent Event 3272 corn from contaminating the food supply and is encouraging dialogue between Syngenta and the food industry, according to a release.  The USDA is aware that some millers and food processors are concerned about Event 3272 and is promoting participation in an industry advisory council sponsored by Syngenta to review the “closed loop system.”

Bill Freese, GE critic and policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety (CFS),  said that the USDA should to take a closer look at Syngenta’s track record.

A 2004 investigation conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed that Syngenta had illegally distributed GE seed corn engineered to produce an unregistered pesticide on over 1,000 occasions to farmers in the US, South America and Europe.

The EPA fined Syngenta $1.5 million in 2006 for distributing the seed corn, which produced a then unregistered pesticide called Bt 10.

The USDA did not classify Event 3272 corn as a crop grown to produce an industrial compound during its review of Syngenta’s petition to legalize the corn, and NAMA argues that the agency would have completed a more thorough scientific review of the product if it regulators classified it as industrial.

A USDA spokesperson told Truthout that Event 3272 is not considered an industrial product crop because its extra genetic traits turn starch into sugar, not ethanol itself.

Syngenta’s own recently released data shows Event 3272 would have “adverse impacts” on food quality if it entered the conventional corn supply, according to NAMA.

NAMA spokesperson Terri Long said the millers’ association is concerned about food product quality and not Syngenta’s past violations.

Freese said that Event 3272 is supposed to be used for domestic ethanol production, but Syngenta has applied for import approvals for Event 3272 in nations where the US exports corn. Freese said Syngenta is trying to avoid liability in case Event 3272 does contaminate the domestic corn supply.

Freese and CFS helped represent plaintiffs in the lawsuits against the USDA that challenged initial approvals of Roundup Ready alfalfa and sugar beets.


5 Ways Big Business Has Found To Profit From The Economic Suffering On ‘Main Street.’

In Uncategorized on February 13, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Oldspeak:” Need food stamps? JP Morgan Chase profits. Have bad credit and need a credit card to eat or pay rent? First Premier Bank profits. Can’t afford to pay back taxes? Bank of America profits. Living paycheck to paycheck and need a short-term loan to get by? Pay Day Loansharks profit. Need a Degree to get that job that 100’s of others are applying for? Diploma Mills like University of Phoenix profit. Disaster Capitalists are making big money off Average Joes in these uncertain times. Finding all kinds of new and inventive ways to squeeze every last penny out of an ever shrinking middle and working class.  Profit is Paramount.”

From Joshua Holland @ Alter Net:

The ruins of the American economy represent a massive crime scene. Wall Street built a house of cards on fraud and misrepresentation, it crashed, and Americans’ aggregate net worth is now more than $12 trillion off of its peak. Unemployment remains sky-high and the prospects for a robust recovery anytime soon are dim.

But as Naomi Klein artfully laid out in her book, The Shock Doctrine, a catastrophe for you and I usually presents an opportunity for the Titans of capital. And the grievous economic crisis affecting so many American families is no exception — big business has found a number of ways to profit, directly, from Main Street’s economic pain. Like vultures descending on a rotting corpse, they’ve come up with a variety of innovative methods to pull the last scraps of meat off the bones of America’s middle-class.

Here are five ways these scavengers are making coin from our economic devastation.

When Americans Go Hungry, JPMorgan Profits

It’s been widely reported that 43 million Americans now require help meeting their basic nutritional needs. Less well known is that JPMorgan is the largest servicer of food-stamps in the U.S., offering benefit cards in 26 states. As Mary Bottari wrote for AlterNet, “The firm is paid per customer. This means that when the number of food stamp recipients goes up, so do JPMorgan profits.”

Perhaps that doesn’t get your blood boiling. If not, Bottari adds: “JPMorgan is taking its responsibility to keep the U.S. unemployment rate high by offshoring the servicing of many of these contracts to India, according to ABC News.” Yes, they’re profiting off of our pain, and offshoring the work required to do so.

JPMorgan was the recipient of $25 billion worth of taxpayer bailout, and its CEO, Jamie Dimon, took home $17 million in compensation last year – the biggest windfall on the Street.

Good Old-Fashioned Biblical Usury

When First Premier Bank first offered a credit card with a top interest rate of 79.9 percent, it evoked outrage. So they lowered it…to 59.9 percent. And, as Michael Snyder at the Economic Collapse noted, “Not only are the interest rates on those cards super high, but they also charge a whole bunch of fees on those cards as well.”

They include:

  • $45 processing fee to open the account
  • annual fee of $30 for the first year
  • $45 fee for every subsequent year
  • monthly service fee of $6.25

Some argue that anyone who would sign onto a deal like that must be “stupid.” But these are cards pitched to those with bad credit – an ever larger group thanks to the recession. It’s easy to scoff at such rubes until one realizes that the lion’s share of these “stupid” people have no choice but to take on even very costly debt if they want to eat or pay the rent. 6.2 million Americans have been out of a job for 27 or more weeks; 3.9 million saw their benefits run out entirely last year.

CNN reported that 700,000 people have signed up for the card, and between 200,000 and 300,000 new applications are coming in each month. That’s a lot of bread for First Premier.

Dunning the Desperate for Fun and Profit

One sector in this moribund economy is doing quite well: collection agencies. But they’re not your father’s collection agencies –the business is different today.

Across the country, savvy investors are buying up the debts of those who have run into difficulties for just pennies on the dollar. They then turn the screws on borrowers in order to get a return on their investments. As the Sarasota Post-Star reported, “Debt collectors often use threats and insults to intimidate consumers. But in recent years, collection has become more aggressive, more litigious and more prone to fraud.”

Creditors will call neighbors and family members in search of the consumer, and reveal information about their debt. They will contact the consumer’s place of employment and threaten to get them fired with repetitive calls. They will say harsh and insulting things to force the person to pay.

“Around 9/11, a debt collector said to my client, ‘After all those people died in the towers, you won’t pay your bills,'” said [attorney Ron] Kim. “It was an absurd statement, as if the two were connected, but she was so upset and ultimately ended up filing for bankruptcy.”

They’ve increasingly resorted to filing lawsuits, which are often settled by borrowers who don’t have good legal representation, even when the lender’s claims are suspect. According to research by the Legal Aid Society, debt buyers filed over 450,000 lawsuits in New York City alone between January 2006 and July 2008, over 90 percent of which ended in judgments against consumers who “likely weren’t aware they were being sued and only 1% of whom were represented by an attorney.”

According to Moe Bedard of LoanWorkout, a newsletter about the loan modification industry, the now familiar robo-signing scam is popping up in the market for consumer debt as well as home-loans.

According to the Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, collectors are increasingly taking disputes to court without proof that they own the debt in question, or even that the debt is valid.

Consumers Union points to automated software used to file lawsuits by the thousands and the proliferation of “robo-signers” who falsely claim to review and verify debtors’ records before taking legal action.

For a while after the crash, Americans had unloaded debt, but with wages stagnating and unemployment remaining above 9 percent for 21 straight months, the trend has reversed and they’re again taking on mountains of debt to stay afloat. All of this means that while the recession takes its toll on the American middle class, the shaky debt industry is booming.

Pay-Day!

So-called pay-day loans are sold as short-term, stop-gap measures for people living paycheck to paycheck, but their interest rates often start at an annual rate of 600 percent – and some go much higher than that.

This recession has been great for the industry. Congress has tried several times to put a cap on their usury, but as the Huffington Post reported last year during the financial reform debate, “The influential $42 billion-a-year payday lending industry, thriving from a surge in emergency loans to people struggling through the recession, is pouring record sums into lobbying, campaign contributions, and public relations.”

It worked, they killed off any meaningful limits on the vig they can charge and business is booming.

A similar ripoff for the working (or the not-working) poor are those rent-to-own schemes that allow people to pick up a couch with no money down, only to end up paying far, far more than they would have otherwise paid. According to ABC News, “The rent-to-own industry has a history few retailers would envy but recent sales most would covet.” And contrary to popular belief, people rarely rent these items in order to own them at the end of the day; industry officials told ABC that “just 5% of their customers end up buying their products; customers are simply looking for short-term solutions when critical appliances go kaput.”

Can’t Afford to Pay Back Taxes? There’s a Ripoff That’s Right for You!

A lot of folks are struggling with all sorts of costs, and some can’t afford to pay the property taxes on their homes. The Huffington Post Investigative Fund dug into the problem, and found that Bank of America and a hedge fund called the Fortress Investment Group had “spotted a fresh money-making opportunity — collecting the tax debts of tens of thousands of people.” What do they do with it? Well, the banksters add interest charges and fees, and then they bundle the debts into securities and sell them off to investors. (Sound familiar?)

In late May and early June, proxies for the two institutions quietly bought hundreds of millions of dollars in homeowners’ property tax debts in Florida by bidding at a series of online auctions held by county tax collectors. They didn’t use their names but donned multiple other identities, dominating the auctions and repeatedly bidding on the same parcels — in the case of Walker’s small home, more than 8,000 times.

Then, in September, Bank of America’s securities division packaged $301 million worth of the tax liens it and Fortress had acquired into bonds pitched privately to major investors. The anticipated return — estimated at between 7 to 10 percent — is possible because buyers of tax debts can assess a panoply of interest charges and other fees. When the debt goes unpaid long enough, the liens buyer can seize properties through foreclosure.

That’s Just Big Finance

All of these scams probably add up to a fraction of what the financial industry has gained from the Treasury’s bailouts and the free money the Fed has showered on them.

But it’s not just Wall Street that’s profiting from the wreckage of our once-mighty economy. Good old fashioned wage theft is on the rise. With all sorts of subsidized programs to retrain workers – and with Americans feeling, rightly, that they need as much education as possible — fly-by-night diploma mills are proliferating. Walmart, which had seen its profits languishing, isnow making a killing on the cheap goods it imports from its overseas sweatshops.

It’s the essence of the Shock Doctrine: never let a crisis pass without exploiting the potential to profit.

 

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author ofThe 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America)Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.