Sunday, July 10, 2011

Forced Labor? Georgia's Anti-Immigrant Law Is Pushing Probationers Into Farm Work

Forced Labor? Georgia's Anti-Immigrant Law Is Pushing Probationers Into Farm Work

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Georgia convicts who hoped to get a break from forced labor on probation have a unpleasant surprise waiting for them if a proposal to use probationers as field hands proceeds as planned, which seems highly likely since the Georgia Department of Corrections is already touting it on the front page of its website.

Trapped in a racist and xenophobic regulatory tangle of its own making, the state has decided to meet a critical shortage of farm labor created by one of the most draconian anti-immigration laws in the nation with the home-grown fruits of the prison-industrial complex. These lucky Georgia peaches can engage in some of the most hazardous work in the United States, or face a return to lockup.

The labor problems in Georgia started on 14 April, when the Georgia legislature, inspired by Arizona's SB 1070, passed an extremely aggressive anti-immigration law that included its own version of Arizona's “papers, please” legislation, and a mandate to use E-Verify, a program that requires employers to run background checks on all new hires to determine whether they are legally allowed to work in the United States. The program's error rate has been heavily criticized, but lawmakers across the United States are convinced it is the solution to all our problems. Alabama got so fired up by the Georgia law that it adopted one of its own, earning the dubious distinction of passing what is possibly the worst anti-immigration law in the nation.

In Georgia, the eager adoption of E-Verify hasn't solved problems, it's created them. Although a judge recently ruled that some components of the law, scheduled to take effect this Friday, should be struck down, the state is moving forward with the E-Verify provisions. Protests and arrests continue, with some activists concerned that the recent court victory may mask the very serious problems with the parts of the legislation that will be left intact.

The climate of fear so crudely cultivated by the law even before it goes into force has driven undocumented and documented immigrants alike out of Georgia, and the result is a critical shortage of agricultural workers. Crops are rotting in the fields for lack of farmhands, giving the lie to the suggestion that undocumented immigrants are out to “take American jobs." Here's an agricultural industry wide open and ready for workers, without a single eager job-seeker in sight, even in a crushing economic recession in a state with an almost 10 percent unemployment rate.

Almost 12,000 farm jobs are going unfilled in Georgia, and Governor Nathan Deal has proposed a solution: put probationers to work in the fields. News of the proposal has spread like wildfire through the activist and agricultural communities, and the reception has not been universally friendly. Immigration and anti-racist activists are concerned with the racial overtones of the proposal; labor advocates are worried about the potential for abuse, given that labor protections for farmworkers are thin on the ground and attempts to promote farmworker welfare often end in defeat; and prison abolitionists wonder about the implications of a probationer labor program in the context of a nation that relies heavily upon prison labor as it is.

Farmers, for the most part, are not impressed. Almost as soon as the news broke, they were complaining about having convicts foisted upon them. Interviewed by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Gary Paulk remarked that probationers should try finding jobs as cooks in the governor's mansion first, before being dumped on the agricultural industry, and suggested that despite the significant role played by agriculture in Georgia's economy, it's treated as a “red-headed stepchild.” Apparently farmers will take rotting crops over “bad people around [their] young 'uns,” illustrating a shocking lack of knowledge about the probationer system, which focuses on nonviolent offenders.

There's a loaded history behind this proposal. With the passage of the 13th Amendment in the United States, slavery was outlawed, leaving farms in the South with a serious shortage of available farm hands. Georgia led the way with a novel solution in 1868: convict leasing. Other states quickly picked up the model, using disproportionately black prison labour for all their farming needs. Writing in 1893, Frederick Douglass pointed out the complex dualistic relationship between convict leasing and lynch laws in the South, and the fact that the majority of the labor used was black. Leased convicts received no compensation for their work, although the state certainly did; from one form of slavery into another, with the state as master rather than the plantation owner. Despite being outlawed in the early 20th century, the practice left a profound legacy in the United States, particularly in the South.

Prison labor in the United States is legal and actively used by a number of states, at least 37 of which have created lucrative private contracts for prison labor. Prison laborers receive pennies on the dollar for their work and do not benefit from worker safety protections. Comparisons of modern-day prison labor to slavery, especially given the racial disparities in the prison system, are often dismissed. After all, the 13th Amendment does legalize slavery “as punishment for a crime.” Under this system, turning to probationers to meet a labor shortage is not so much of a stretch; it's perhaps more astounding that the governor hasn't proposed reviving convict leasing under another name, which will probably be next on the agenda before the state gives in and promotes a “guest worker” program where immigrants can labor until no longer needed before being discarded.

Georgia's prison system is rife with inequalities and serious health and safety issues. A recent survey of the prison population shows inmate numbers on the rise, with escalating costs for prisoner maintenance, thanks to aggressive laws passed in the 1990s to take a “tough stance” on crime. These laws result, as in other states, in a prison population bulging with nonviolent offenders trapped in the system under mandatory sentencing laws. If Georgia doesn't watch out, it will turn into another California, and face a mandate to reduce the number of inmates to address overcrowding.

Georgia's prison population is heavily slanted black, with a large percentage of poor whites as well; Georgia prisons have a roughly three to one ratio of black to white inmates. Last year, the state's prison system made major headlines with a multi-facility prison strike over poor living conditions. Release from prison doesn't mean an escape from inequality in South Georgia, where the agricultural industry is concentrated, with a population of 8,000 parolees and a staggering 25 percent unemployment rate among them, according to numbers from the Georgia Department of Corrections. The suggestion to use probationers as laborers is not occurring in a vaccum.

Probationer labor might not even work out, according to Jim Bogart, representing the Grower Shipper Association. Bogart points out that farm labor is grueling, demanding work and that people who are not in peak physical condition may not be able to withstand the demands of hours in the fields. The terms of probation in Georgia require parolees to seek “suitable employment,” but as the high unemployment rate illustrates, this is easier said than done. The same job discrimination that makes it difficult for probationers and ex-convicts to get employed in other states is present in Georgia, as evidenced by the high unemployment rate among probationers and resistance from the the agricultural community in response to the suggestion to use them as a labor force.

The Department of Corrections presents the suggestion to use probationers as a labor force as a novel and elegant solution to the farmworker shortage in Georgia. It claims that “[t]he decision to take advantage of this employment opportunity is the probationers [sic],” but how true is this when seeking employment is a mandatory component of parole? With probation officers leaning on parolees and farm jobs going begging, the pressure to participate in the field labor program is going to mount, and may present a probationer with the stark choice of fields or prison. Given the “option” of returning to the bowels of the fifth largest correctional system in the United States, one known for brutal living conditions and disparities, or participating in unfamiliar, potentially dangerous work, most probationers are going to be picking up a shovel.

Is Obama On The Brink Of Cutting Social Security? The Dangerous Game Over the Debt Ceiling

Is Obama On The Brink Of Cutting Social Security? The Dangerous Game Over the Debt Ceiling

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On Thursday, a media frenzy followed a report in the Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, that Barack Obama offered to include unspecified cuts to Social Security and Medicare in negotiations with Congressional leaders over raising the debt ceiling and heading off the economic disaster that a default would trigger.

This, according to multiple reports, would represent the administration's plan to “go big” in a deficit reduction deal, a kind of Hail Mary pass as the clock ticks down. Republican leaders and the White House had been wrangling over a package that would reportedly have knocked $2.4 trillion off of the projected deficits over the next 10 years. Now, with the deadline looming and both sides moving further apart, the White House, according to the Post story, is looking at going for a package worth $4 trillion over the next decade.

Progressives responded with appropriate outrage. Moveon released a survey showing that three-fourths of its members would be less likely to donate time or money to Obama's re-election if he messed with the crown jewels of America's social safety net. House Democrats told Talking Points Memo they'd been “caught off guard” by the announcement, and “progressives aligned to warn Obama and Republicans not to go too far, or they'll lack the support to pass the plan through the House.” Judging by his Twitter feed, Salon columnist David Sirota nearly had a stroke.

The White House moved quickly to control the damage in an afternoon presser. "There is no news in the story that purports to be news this morning," said press secretary Jay Carney. "The fact is that the president's position has not changed, at all, since January," he added, referring to Obama's statement during the State of the Union that “we should... find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security... without slashing benefits for future generations.” (Pressed by ABC's Jake Tapper about whether “cutting” benefits was different from “slashing” them, Carney demurred.)

So they floated a trial balloon, a time-honored Washington tradition this White House has always been especially fond of. A senior official whispers anonymously into the ear of a prominent Beltway reporter, the White House denies the story, and that sends the pundits into a frenzied discussion of What It All Means. Such leaks are always done in the service of influencing the public debate, and the question is what the ultimate goal of the administration is with this latest one.

There are three ways of looking at the game. The most cynical is that Obama genuinely wants to make deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare and is laying the groundwork for blaming a move he knows will outrage his base and cause a revolt in the Congressional Democratic caucus on Republican intransigence. There is little evidence in Obama's public statements to support the idea that he has a heartfelt desire to do that -- beyond, perhaps, minor tweaks to shore up their long-term solvency -- but some disheartened progressives are nonetheless convinced that's the case.

Occam's Razor suggests that Obama, surrounded by genuine deficit hawks, is indeed willing to tolerate some cuts in the programs most important to Democrats in order to head off the potentially catastrophic consequences of a default going into the 2012 election season, and thinks that offering some incremental “entitlement reform,” long a top goal of conservatives, is a necessary concession to break the deadlock. The administration may also genuinely believe that making modest adjustments in the programs now would help head off deeper cuts later.

This administration has certainly shown itself to be enthralled by the idea of scoring big, “bipartisan” legislative victories on what the chattering class considers the most pressing issues facing the country, and a Beltway consensus has (unfortunately) gelled around the idea that reducing the deficit in the near term, rather than getting people back to work, is a top priority.

Finally, the White House may have surveyed the lay of the land in Congress and concluded that cutting a deal to head off default is unlikely. As polling guru Nate Silver notes, “The Republican Party is dependent, to an extent unprecedented in recent political history, on a single ideological group,” and that group is hard-core conservatives. The Tea Party base has taken on so much influence within the party that the GOP leadership can't “compromise on something like the debt ceiling, even when it might seem they have substantial incentive to do so,” writes Silver. As a result, the GOP's leadership is being forced to hew to an absolutely pure position that no increases in tax revenues can be included in a deal.

And that internal struggle between the GOP establishment and its Tea Party-infused base is only one of the divides that would have to be bridged in order to come to a last-minute agreement. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, doesn't have enough votes within his own caucus to move any debt limit deal that would have a chance of passing the Democratically controlled Senate – which is debating its own, more balanced plan – and gain the president's signature. He needs some Democrats. But the Dems, having offered most of what the GOP wants only to see them walk away from the table, refuse to accept any deal with a lot of painful cuts but zero new revenues.

Rep Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, told TPM that "without overwhelming support from our caucus I think it will be a hard deal to pass," and 24 house progressives sent a letter to the White House on Thursday demanding revenue increases and insisting that “no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security” be included in a debt deal.

If the White House has come to see a deal to raise the debt limit as unlikely, then this leak is about positioning itself politically for the fall-out. The consequences of a default aren't precisely known, but it would certainly be disastrous for the recovery, and this move would allow the Democrats to say that they put everything on the table, including the social safety net programs they cherish most, but the GOP refused to budge if it entailed closing a few loopholes for the wealthy.

It's what James Baker, writing about the fundamentals of complex, multilateral negotiations, called “laying the dead cat at the door” of your opponents – making sure they take the blame for the consequences of failing to come to an agreement. During Thursday's press conference, Carney talked a lot about how “both sides need some skin in the game” and said, “the reasonable thing to do here is be willing to accept less than your ideal outcome, because you acknowledge that the only possible outcome if you hope to achieve something significant is a compromise.” The White House, in this view, is positioning itself to look like the only grownups in the room.

These three possibilities provide a kind of Rorschach test for one's views of the administration – Obama is either a Manchurian progressive, the capitulator-in-chief, or is cunningly playing the game two steps ahead of the crowd.

Whatever the case, it's a volatile and dangerous situation. While House Republicans are taking an intractable stance, the leadership is also using their caucus's hardline position as a negotiating tactic, telling the White House that even if they wanted to play ball, their members won't let them. It's unclear to what extent that's true, as Nate Silver suggests, and to what extent it's bluff – time will tell.

At the same time, Congressional Democrats have made it very clear that the consequences of default would be catastrophic, which makes it difficult for them to reject even a terrible deal.

And, setting the politics aside, that's what we're talking about – a terrible deal. Making deep cuts to public spending in the middle of a grindingly slow, largely jobless “recovery” is crazy enough. Messing with Social Security and Medicare, which add nothing to the deficit for at least the next 13 years, is a concession too far, and one that would result in real pain for American seniors. And giving in to Republican hostage-taking, again, will only lead to more stand-offs down the road, more demands. A budget for 2012 has to be passed in the coming months.

We would not be at this difficult juncture, however, had the administration not embraced inherently conservative narratives about the deficit months ago. During Thursday's presser, Carney said, “Often you get a situation here where one side thinks something is a very, very important issue and a big problem that needs to be solved, and the other side doesn’t even accept the premise that there’s a problem. And that’s just not the case here.”

But it is the case – outside of the Beltway, the vast majority of progressive and middle-of-the-road economists agree that putting the economy back on track and getting people back to work by spending money over the short term is the only rational way to reduce the deficit over the longer term.

Ultimately, trial balloons are a way of gauging public reaction to proposals, so this is a good time to react. If you oppose balancing the budget in the middle of a downturn by making cuts to popular programs that help the elderly and the most vulnerable just so the wealthiest Americans can keep their taxes low, then let your representatives know. You can contact members of the House here, and your senators here. And you can send a message directly to the White House here.

Landmark US-Mexico trucking agreement resolves 15-year conflict

Landmark US-Mexico trucking agreement resolves 15-year conflict

After years of wrangling, US and Mexican officials signed an agreement Wednesday that allows trucks from each nation to travel on the other country’s highways – a key provision of NAFTA.

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Trucks barrel down Interstate 95 during the morning rush hour in this 2002 file photo. A new agreement, signed Wednesday by representatives of the US and Mexican governments, will allow cross-border trucking for the first time in 15 years – if Congress signs off.

The accord, signed in Mexico City by US and Mexican transportation officials, would end a 15-year-old controversy that on the US side featured fears of unsafe Mexican trucks barreling along US highways, driven by unprofessional Mexican truckers.

On the Mexican side, outrage over the American disregard for a NAFTA provision led to retaliatory tariffs on US goods ranging from pork to consumer care products – which cost the US as much as $2 billion in exports.

The accord was greeted warmly by US trade, farm, and business organizations – but condemned by US trucking organizations, a sign the agreement could face trouble in Congress.

Under the agreement, the US will reinstate a pilot program for Mexican truck certification that was introduced under the Bush administration – and defunded by an angry Congress in 2009. Mexico, in turn, will immediately drop half of the tariffs on about 100 US products, with the rest to be removed when Mexican trucks actually start rolling across the border.

“The agreements signed today are a win for roadway safety and they are a win for trade,” said US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood after signing the documents.

The accord requires all Mexican trucks operating in the US to comply with US safety standards, and it mandates the installation of monitoring devices to track truck usage and compliance with service requirements.

Recognizing the potential for a negative response from Congress, some supporters of Wednesday’s agreement wasted little time with praise and got right on to warnings against attempts to once again sidetrack the resolution.

“We are encouraged there is finally a positive end in sight,” said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council in Washington. But he added, “We urge Congress to refrain from any action that would derail the program or fall short of our commitments under NAFTA.”

Some, who oppose any trucking accord allowing Mexican trucks to come north, continue to hammer at safety concerns.

“Opening the border to dangerous trucks at a time of high unemployment and rampant drug violence is a shameful abandonment of the Department of Transportation’s duty to protect American citizens from harm and to spend American tax dollars responsibly,” said Jim Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters, in a statement. He said the accord “endangers American motorists.”

Mexican trucks are already allowed to circulate in the US within 25 miles of the border. The new agreement will allow Mexican trucks to deliver goods into the US and to return goods to Mexico, but it bars the transport of goods between US destinations.

Both sides in the debate over Mexican trucks are latching onto the issue of the day – jobs – to make their case for or against the agreement.

Secretary LaHood said that by “opening the door to long-haul trucking between the US and Mexico … we will create jobs and opportunity for our people and support economic development in both nations.”

Farmers are particularly happy: Mexico is the second-largest purchaser of US pork after Japan, for example, but pork sales to Mexico have sagged in recent years under the retaliatory tariffs.

But the Teamsters’ Mr. Hoffa says the deal will be a job killer. “The so-called pilot program [for certifying Mexican trucks] is a concession to multinational corporations that send jobs to Mexico,” he said. “It lowers wages and robs jobs from hard-working American truck drivers and warehouse workers.”

The opposing arguments reveal the trucking dispute to be a microcosm of the larger debate in the US over trade. How Congress responds may suggest which way the trade winds are blowing.

The CIA Put A Ton Of Cash Into A Software Firm That Monitors Your Online Activity

The CIA Put A Ton Of Cash Into A Software Firm That Monitors Your Online Activity

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American intelligence communities are interested in your YouTube video, flickr uploads, tweets -- even your online book purchases -- and for over a year they've been laying down some serious cash to get a better look at all of them.

According to Wired, the tech-focused investment firm In-Q-Tel, that works with the CIA, is investing in Visible Technologies who perform social media monitoring and analytics.

This is the first major shift in the spy community's commitment to monitoring public conversations that fill the Internet in blog posts, web uploads, purchases, TV shows, podcasts, YouTube videos, and articles every day.

Visible pulls from over 500,000 every 24 hours, grabbing more than one million posts, conversations, images, videos, and Amazon purchases. Clients get tailored real-time results of what's happening based upon desired keywords.

Once Visible has a handle on what's being said it "scores" each post and labels it negative or positive, mixed or benign. It also factors the influence of the author, or conversation, weighing each comment separately. The end-user interface then allows clients to tag user comments, and dialogue on them with colleagues.

While the program could benefit global security, the possibility for abuse is epic.

“Anything that is out in the open is fair game for collection,” says Steven Aftergood, who tracks intelligence issues at the Federation of American Scientists. But “even if information is openly gathered by intelligence agencies it would still be problematic if it were used for unauthorized domestic investigations or operations.

Intelligence agencies or employees might be tempted to use the tools at their disposal to compile information on political figures, critics, journalists or others, and to exploit such information for political advantage. That is not permissible even if all of the information in question is technically ‘open source.’”

When the CIA became an end user like Dell, AT&T and Microsoft who all use it to track customers -- what they do with the data they've purchased is entirely up to them.

The size of the CIA's investment in Visible is unknown, but the infusion of cash is supposed to be sufficient to enhance the company's foreign language capabilities.


A screen grab from the interface

Image: Wired

This is the first in a two part series tht examines the CIA's investment in online trending.

Everything From Food To Corporations Is Heading For The Great Reset

Everything From Food To Corporations Is Heading For The Great Reset

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Yesterday I laid out why the Status Quo is financially unsustainable in The Promises That Cannot Be Kept. The unavoidable consequence of that is the the nation will experience a Great Reset in which the promises of the Savior State are relinquished, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

As I discussed in July 4, 2011: The Cycle of Dependency and the Atrophy of Self-Reliance, our reliance on the Savior State has sapped our will and confidence, and hollowed out communities that have become dependent on the Savior State and its quasi-private partners, the corporate cartels of banking, defense, healthcare and so on.

The Great Reset will thus be a great shock to everyone who has grown dependent on Big Government and global Corporate America.

An unprecedented array of interconnected trends are converging that will force a Reset not just in the economy but in the American society and culture.

1. Peak Government and Moral Hazard. When the Savior State promises to "fix" any and all problems in the nation, such as banks making bad bets and becoming insolvent, it introduces a pervasive moral hazard into the culture. The defining characteristic of moral hazard is that it insulates a person from risk. That person will behave much differently than someone who is not insulated from risk.

In the case of finance, the person insulated from the consequences of his gambles will have an insatiable appetite for risky bets that would be viewed as insanely foolhardy by a person exposed to the full, real risk.

In broad brush, the financial crisis was caused by the Savior State backstopping all "too big to fail" banks and Wall Street bets. These financial institutions are essentially free to make stupendously risky bets and keep the gains, if any, while passing the losses back to the Savior State's taxpayers. Imagine being given a stake at the roulette table where you get to keep your winnings but Uncle Sam makes good your losses.

Closer to home, the Savior State's promises to fund our retirement and healthcare via modest payroll deductions has introduced a moral hazard that is reflected in the nation's anemic savings rate: there is no need to save, because the heavy lifting of our retirement and healthcare will be done by the Savior State.

The numbers are something like this: the average Medicare recipient pays in $10,000 and extracts $250,000 in benefits. This kind of system is only sustainable if there are 25 workers for every retiree. Right now, there are roughly 2.5 workers for every retiree in the U.S., and if you consider only private-sector workers, it's more like 2 to 1.

We are at Peak Government and Peak Promises.

2. Demographics. "Pay as you go" systems like Social Security and Medicare only function sustainably if the retirees drawing benefits remain about 1/10th of the number of workers paying the taxes. Alternatively, the population must pyramid up every generation to maintain that 10-to-1 ratio.

The Baby Boom is roughly 76 million people, or about 25% of the population. There are about 139 million workers and about 310 million residents. The Baby Boom has started retiring en masse; all of my relatives and friends who work for state or local government are already retired well before the age of 60, and the first Boomers qualify for Medicare this year.

Once the Boomers are in the system, the worker-retiree ratio will be less than 2-to-1. This is completely unsustainable in a "pay as you go" system. Here are the charts:




3. The End of Work. The cheerleaders will claim the U.S. economy will generate 50 million new jobs in the next 20 years and thus stave off demographic collapse of entitlements, but there is scant evidence to support this claim and plentiful evidence to suggest we are also at Peak Employment in terms of civlian participation in the workforce.

I have addressed these issues many times:

End of Work, End of Affluence I: Cascading Job Losses (December 8, 2008)

End of Work, End of Affluence III: The Rise of Informal Businesses (December 10, 2008)

Endgame 3: The End of (Paying) Work (January 21, 2009)

The "End of Work" and the Coming Revolution in Education (June 7, 2011)

4. Peak Health. We're past Peak Health and well into a level of chronic lifestyle and diet diseases that is unprecedented in our history.


(Check your own BMI with the National Institute of Health BMI calculator.)

I have covered sickcare and the decline of health many times, for example, The American Diet: Manufacturing Ill Health (April 25, 2007)

As expected, developing nations like Egypt and Asian nations with low-fat, low protein cuisines like Japan have few obese adults. The surprise is that European nations with high-fat diets rich in chocolate and cheeses like France are relatively low. (Switzerland, though not shown, was just above Japan despite a very high per capita intake of chocolate.)

This suggests that fat alone (or sweets alone) cannot be singled out as the "cause" of obesity.

Now please don't take this entry personally if you are overweight. By the NIH standards of what constitutes "normal weight," some 2/3 of American adults are overweight or obese. Since this wasn't the case 40 years ago, we have to ask what's different now.

What's different? Lifestyle and diet. Boiled down, here is the situation: unprocessed foods are healthy and unprofitable, processed foods are unhealthy and immensely profitable.

Here is a long-term study which supports the connection between lowering salt intake and lowering the risk of heart disease:
Scientists prove that salty diet costs lives; "Eating less salt reduces the chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke, the first long-term study of salt’s impact on health confirms today."

The usual image of a high-salt diet is someone shaking loads of salt on their steak or veggies. Too bad it's not this simple. A careful study of standard American manufactured foods has led me to conclude that even if you don't add a single grain of salt to a single morsel of food, you are eating far more salt than is healthy.

And by manufactured foods I don't mean just frozen dinners; I mean canned beans, prepared salads, packaged noodles, sausage, snacks, etc. Everything which isn't fresh produce, bread. dairy/soy or fresh meat/fish, i.e. foods which require some preparation.
The "recommended salt intake per day" is about 2300 mg (milligrams), which in terms of limiting your risk of dying prematurely should be viewed as a maximum best avoided--about half that would be a better target.

So let's "eat healthy"--low fat and low sugar--and see how we do:

Breakfast: Wheat Chex: 420 mg of salt and a low-fat Aidells sausage: 300 mg

Lunch: Trader Joe's mushroom rice noodle soup bowl: 700 mg
one bag of low-fat chips: 600 mg

dinner: organic garbanzo beans, 390 mg, salad with blue-cheese dressing with bacon bits (500 mg), frozen low-fat enchiladas (750 mg.)

Total salt content of "low calorie, restricted fat" diet: 3660 mg. What can we say about this level of salt intake? It raises the risk of stroke and heart disease. Put simply: it will very likely take years off your life.

So next time you're in a fast food outlet or a supermarket, try to find something you can eat that won't kill you.It will be a challenge, I guarantee you.

Here's a short list of what I no longer eat:

  • chips: out, too much salt
  • fries: out, too much salt
  • sausage: out, too much salt
  • fast food in general: out, too much salt
  • salted nuts: out, too much salt
  • canned goods: out, too much salt
  • most cereals: out, too much salt
  • bottled salad dressings: out, too much salt
  • sports drinks: out, too much salt
  • pre-packaged salads: out, too much salt in the dressing
  • frozen meals: out, too much salt
  • packaged snacks: out, too much salt
  • packaged noodles: out, too much salt

In other words, literally everything in the supermarket except the fresh produce and the meat counter (with rare exceptions like frozen blueberries, which are essentially produce anyway).
If you want to locate the cause of American obesity and poor health, look no further than the label on virtually every item in the American supermarket.

Demographically, the Savior State programs of healthcare are unsustainable, even as the costs of treating chronic lifestyle diseases with expensive medications is skyrocketing along with the population at risk of these chronic lifestyle diseases.

5. Peak Cheap Oil. Cheerleaders assure us the world has 40 years of oil, no problem, but these cheerleaders inevitably avoid the consequences of EROEI. It now takes more capital to extract a barrel of oil or process shale into liquid oil, a dynamic measured by EROEI, energy returned on energy invested (or EROI, energy returned on investment, which to the degree that money is a measure of energy is the same thing).

In the good old days, oil gushed out of the ground and the total recovery cost was $1 per barrel, or perhaps $5 if the well was deep. So what happens as the recovery cost rises to $50 per barrel? That is the cost for deep offshore wells, tar sands, shale oil and all the other so-called "unconventional" sources of oil.

We should recall here that relatively modest (in the long view) increases in the cost of energy in the 1970s sent the U.S. economy into a decade-long stagflation. Cheerleaders reassure us that energy is a much smaller part of the economy now, but that reassurance is hollow, for oil leverages everything from air travel to plastics to fertilizer to the cheap frozen foods in the supermarket.



Bottom line, more of our national income will be diverted to pay for higher energy costs, leaving less discretionary income for the consumer society that has become the foundation of the economy. As the Savior State promises are revealed as impossible, then people will respond by saving more as they are exposed to the real-world risks of having no savings. This will leave less discretionary income for consumption.

The Great Reset won't just transform government, it will transform the economy and culture. Although it will be marketed as a great tragedy by those losing power and profits, the end of Savior State moral hazard will not be a tragedy, it will simply be a return to reality. Those exposed to risk behave differently than those insulated from risk. That is neither "good" nor "bad," it is an observation any of us can make.

Since the Status Quo is unsustainable, there will be a Great Reset. The timing and nature of that Reset is up to us.

The Tea Party and Goldman Sachs: A Love Story

The Tea Party and Goldman Sachs: A Love Story


Who Has Actually Recovered in this Recovery?

Who Has Actually Recovered in this Recovery?

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Money is flowing again, but it’s not going to workers or household incomes.

This week’s credit check: Corporate profits have taken in 88% of the raise in national income since the recovery began, while household incomes only took in 1%.

Whether or not this feels like a recovery, we’re technically in one. And it’s true that some money is flowing again. But where exactly is that money going? Not necessarily to those who need it.

It’s going to corporations. The recovery began in the second quarter of 2009, and between then and the fourth quarter of 2010 national income rose by $528 billion — and $464 billion of that, or 88%, went to pretax corporate profits, according to economists at Northeastern University. In fact, corporate profits have been growing quite rapidly in the post-crash period. The NYTimes reported in November of 2010, “Since their cyclical low in the fourth quarter of 2008, profits have grown for seven consecutive quarters, at some of the fastest rates in history.” In the third quarter of 2010, they grew at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion, the highest figure recorded in noninflation-adjusted terms.

It’s going to the pocketbooks of the richest of the rich. The Guardian reports: “The globe’s richest have now recouped the losses they suffered after the 2008 banking crisis. They are richer than ever, and there are more of them — nearly 11 million — than before the recession struck.” According to the annual world wealth report by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini, the wealth of high net worth individuals — those who have more than $1 million in free cash — rose nearly 10% last year and surpassed 2007’s peak of $40.7 trillion, topping out at $42.7 trillion. It was even better for “ultra-high net worth individuals,” those with $30 million to spare, as their numbers surged by 10% and the total value of their investments rose by 11.5% to $15 trillion.

Where is it not going? To wages and salaries. As compared to corporate profits, household incomes only saw 1% of the $528 billion in national income growth, or $7 billion. The NYTimes reports, “The share of income growth going to employee compensation was far lower than in the four other economic recoveries that have occurred over the last three decades.” In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that average real hourly earnings declined by 1.1% percent from the beginning of the recovery to May 2011. This comes on top of the fact that real wages have been faring worse in the last ten years than during the Great Depression — incomes fell by almost five percent and wages barely budged. These facts don’t escape the public. In a recent poll by Democracy Corp, 43% of likely voters said that either they or someone in their family had experienced “reduced wages, hours or benefits at work” in the last year.

As I’ve pointed out before, when wages fall or stagnate for the average worker, it only leads to an increased need to take on debt. The typical family spends more today on the unavoidables — energy, housing, health care, etc. — than a generation ago, and have taken on debt to finance it. In 2007, the typical American owed 138% of their after-tax income. Our total revolving debt now comes to $796.1 billion, and that number will only rise as less money comes into households in real wages.

Ex-national security advisor warns inequality could lead to unrest

Ex-national security advisor warns inequality could lead to unrest

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Former National Security Advisor Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Wednesday to discuss how income disparity in the United States could lead to civil unrest.

He said civil unrest was likely if the middle class became more severely affected by America’s growing income disparity and economic troubles.

“I don’t want to be a prophet of doom — and I don’t think we are approaching doom — but I think we’re going to slide into intensified social conflicts, social hostility, some forms of radicalism, there is just going to be a sense that this is not a just society,” Brzezinski said.

He added that the United States had slid into a pattern of “really drastic” social inequality, and that the inequality could only be endured if the whole country was economically successful — which it is not.

World food prices rise as cost of sugar soars

World food prices rise as cost of sugar soars

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World food prices rose by one percent in June, the UN's food agency said on Thursday.

"A strong rise in international sugar prices" was behind much of the increase, the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation said in a statement.

The agency said that its index of food prices rose to 234 points in June, 39 percent higher than in June 2010 but below the all-time high level of 238 points in February this year.

The FAO Sugar Price Index rose 14 percent from May to June and "production in Brazil, the world's biggest sugar producer, is forecast to fall below last year's level," it said.

The FAO Cereal Price index averaged 259 points in June, down one percent from May in part due to "improved weather conditions in Europe and the announced lifting of the Russian Federation's export ban," it added.

However the agency warned that the maize market "remained tight" because of "low 2010 supplies and continued wet conditions in the United States."

Prices of rice were mostly up in June, "reflecting strong import demand and uncertainty over export prices in Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter."

The FAO Dairy price Index averaged 232 points in June, virtually unchanged from 231 points in May.

The FAO Meat Price Index averaged 180, marginally up from May. Poultry meat prices rose three percent and climbed to a new record, while pig meat prices dropped somewhat, the agency said.

Following revisions to the US crops and planting prospects for 2011, FAO's latest forecast for world cereal production in 2011/2012 was nearly 3.3 percent up on last year and 11 million tons above FAO's last forecast on 22 June.

"While wheat and rice inventories are expected to become more comfortable, coarse grains stocks, especially maize, would remain tight," it forecast.

In debt talks, Obama offers Social Security cuts

In debt talks, Obama offers Social Security cuts

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President Obama is pressing congressional leaders to consider a far-reaching debt-reduction plan that would force Democrats to accept major changes to Social Security and Medicare in exchange for Republican support for fresh tax revenue.

At a meeting with top House and Senate leaders set for Thursday morning, Obama plans to argue that a rare consensus has emerged about the size and scope of the nation’s budget problems and that policymakers should seize the moment to take dramatic action.

As part of his pitch, Obama is proposing significant reductions in Medicare spending and for the first time is offering to tackle the rising cost of Social Security, according to people in both parties with knowledge of the proposal. The move marks a major shift for the White House and could present a direct challenge to Democratic lawmakers who have vowed to protect health and retirement benefits from the assault on government spending.

“Obviously, there will be some Democrats who don’t believe we need to do entitlement reform. But there seems to be some hunger to do something of some significance,” said a Democratic official familiar with the administration’s thinking. “These moments come along at most once a decade. And it would be a real mistake if we let it pass us by.”

Rather than roughly $2 trillion in savings, the White House is now seeking a plan that would slash more than $4 trillion from annual budget deficits over the next decade, stabilize borrowing, and defuse the biggest budgetary time bombs that are set to explode as the cost of health care rises and the nation’s population ages.

That would represent a major legislative achievement, but it would also put Obama and GOP leaders at odds with major factions of their own parties. While Democrats would be asked to cut social-safety-net programs, Republicans would be asked to raise taxes, perhaps by letting tax breaks for the nation’s wealthiest households expire on schedule at the end of next year.

The administration argues that lawmakers would also get an important victory to sell to voters in 2012. “The fiscal good has to outweigh the pain,” said a Democratic official familiar with the discussions.

It is not clear whether that argument can prevail on Capitol Hill. Thursday’s meeting at the White House — an attempt by Obama to break the impasse that halted debt-reduction talks two weeks ago — will provide a critical opportunity for leaders in both parties to say how far they’re willing to go to restrain government borrowing as the clock ticks toward an Aug. 2 deadline for raising the debt limit.

Privately, some congressional Democrats were alarmed by the president’s proposal, which could include adjusting the measure of inflation used to determine Social Security payouts. But others described it as primarily a bargaining strategy intended to demonstrate Obama’s willingness to compromise and highlight the Republican refusal to raise taxes.

Obama has already spoken to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) about the possibility of building support for a more ambitious debt-reduction plan, according to people with knowledge of those talks, who, like others quoted in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to shed light on private negotiations. The two discussed various options for overhauling the tax code and cutting entitlement spending, but they reached no agreement.

Asked to comment, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel would say only that “there are no tax increases on the table.”

Meanwhile, another senior Republican on Wednesday signaled a new openness to raising taxes— at least for selected special interests. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) told reporters that he is now willing to consider Democratic demands to end tax breaks for corporations, hedge-fund managers and owners of corporate jets, so long as the final deal does not raise tax rates or overall federal tax collections.

“If the president wants to talk loopholes, we’ll be glad to talk loopholes,” Cantor said at his weekly roundtable with reporters. “We’ve said all along that preferences in the code aren’t something that helps economic growth overall. But listen, we’re not for any proposal that increases taxes, and any type of discussion should be coupled with offsetting tax cuts somewhere else.”

Among the options for cutting taxes are a number of proposals that should appeal to Democrats, said Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring. They include a White House proposal to temporarily reduce payroll taxes for employers, an idea aimed at propping up the sputtering economy. Democrats also routinely support an annual effort to restrain the alternative minimum tax, which would otherwise strike heavily at households in high-cost urban areas that tend to vote Democratic.

Even as Cantor cracked the door open, however, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) slammed it shut, reiterating the long-standing Republican position that policymakers should consider eliminating tax breaks only as part of a comprehensive effort to rewrite the code and lower income tax rates.

“To sort of cherry-pick items in the context of this current negotiation with the White House strikes me as pretty challenging,” McConnell told reporters, adding that raising taxes on any sector of the economy could trigger job losses at a time when the unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent. “We want to tackle deficit reduction in a way that doesn’t exacerbate unemployment.”

Democrats, in any case, dismissed Cantor’s offer, saying it makes no sense to cut taxes in a package whose primary goal is to reduce borrowing.

“It is like taking one step forward and then two steps back,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.). “The point isn’t to get rid of these loopholes simply to pay for new tax breaks elsewhere. It’s to do it in a way that contributes to the reduction of the debt.”

With Obama offering major savings from entitlement programs, Republican intransigence on taxes looms as the biggest sticking point in the debt negotiations. Policymakers are rushing to craft a debt-reduction deal big enough to persuade reluctant lawmakers to approve an increase in the legal limit on government borrowing, which now stands at $14.3 trillion.

The national debt hit the limit in mid-May. Unless Congress acts before Aug. 2, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner has said, the government will begin to default on its obligations for the first time in history.

WATCH: Guide to understanding the federal debt

READ: Latest coverage of the debt ceiling showdown

Prison inmates replace unionized workers in Racine, Wisconsin

Prison inmates replace unionized workers in Racine, Wisconsin

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Prison inmates have replaced union workers in Racine County, Wisconsin, thanks to the changes to the states collective bargaining laws that went into effect at the end of June.

The Journal Times reported prison inmates will now be able to do tasks such as landscaping, painting, and shoveling sidewalks in the winter that were previously performed by unionized employees.

Inmates are not required to do any work for the county, but can receive time off their sentence if they do. Racine County Executive Jim Ladwig said the use of prison labor would not result in any public works staff reductions.

"We're gonna have them do landscaping at county buildings, have them pick up trash on the roads," he told local Fox News 6. "So we can use some of the county personnel to do difficult tasks, such as putting in a parking lot at the park."

Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a non-fiscal version of his budget plan into law in March that stripped nearly all collective bargaining rights from Wisconsin public workers, giving officials the power to make many changes affecting workers without formal negotiations.

Devastating cuts to state Medicaid programs

Devastating cuts to state Medicaid programs

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With the start of the new fiscal year, the majority of US states are inflicting deep cuts to Medicaid, the health care program for the poor.

The cuts come as millions more working class families are compelled by the ongoing economic crisis to seek out public assistance such as Medicaid. Medicaid recipients are largely poor children, pregnant women, the elderly and disabled.

The program, jointly funded by state and federal governments, now serves nearly 60 million people—one in five Americans. While constituting an enormous segment of the population, Medicaid recipients are largely disenfranchised from the political process, and are considered an easy target by the Obama administration and its state counterparts, both Democratic and Republican, in the ongoing attack on living standards.

June 30 marked the expiration of the White House “stimulus” plan of 2009, which over the course of two years provided some $90 billion to state Medicaid programs. While the rolls have swelled considerably over the period, the Obama administration has ruled out any extension of additional aid to threadbare state budgets. As a result, the federal share of Medicaid spending will fall from 67 percent to 57 percent this year.

A prime focus of state cutbacks is the level of reimbursement paid to doctors who treat Medicaid recipients. While federal Medicaid statutes mandate that states maintain reimbursement rates “sufficient to enlist enough providers” so that care for enrollees is comparable to that accorded to those with private insurance, the law leaves the rate-setting to state governments. On average, Medicaid reimbursements are half that paid out by private insurers, and 30 percent lower than the federal reimbursements for Medicare. A legal challenge brought by providers against this situation has been opposed by the Obama administration.

At least 33 states have announced plans to slash reimbursement rates, according to the National Association of Budget Officers. Thirteen states are reducing payments to physicians and hospitals starting this month.

The reductions will have serious consequences on the health of millions of people. Spiraling health care costs and the low reimbursement rates over the past decade have already created a dire shortage of providers who accept Medicaid enrollees.

In an attempt to offset the reimbursement cuts, many Medicaid-participating providers will scale back services, cut staff and wages, push operating costs onto other patients, or leave the program altogether. As a result, Medicaid recipients will be forced to travel further and wait longer to be seen, resort to hospital emergency rooms, and go without needed care and prescription drugs.

In South Carolina, primary care doctors will have their Medicaid payments cut by 2 percent beginning July 8. Specialists will see a cut of 5 percent, payments to dentists will be cut 3 percent, and hospitals payments will be cut 4 percent.

These reductions come atop a 3 percent rate cut for hospitals and doctors that was instituted in April, an inadequate level of payment to begin with. Taken together, the cuts will amount to some $125 million in state funding over the fiscal year, a figure that will be more than doubled with the loss of federal matching funds.

Dr. Fran Kunda, a family doctor in Spartanburg, South Carolina (population 40,000) told USA Today, “It’s going to get a whole lot tougher for people on Medicaid to find a doctor,” noting that the city had no Medicaid-accepting orthopedic surgeons and was short on other specialists.

Kathy Maxwell, the owner of a pediatric therapy clinic in Greenville, told the paper she had lowered the salaries of 24 employees by 6 percent due to the cuts, and feared some physical and speech therapists would leave as a result. “It was some very sobering news for highly skilled therapists that … change the lives of children,” she commented. Nearly three quarters of Maxwell’s patients are Medicaid-enrolled children.

Hospitals are freezing hiring and are “re-evaluating offering some community services,” the state’s hospital association has said.

Similar measures are being put into effect in other states. Florida has capped reimbursements to providers and put management of the system into hands of for-profit HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations). This month, Florida hospitals will see payments cuts by 12 percent. Kentucky has swiftly followed Florida’s example; Democratic Governor Steve Beshear has proposed turning the Medicaid program over to for-profit managed care organizations.

Washington state’s Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire signed a bill in late May transforming Medicaid into a “block grant” program and giving the state “the ability to streamline eligibility determination, free from maintenance of eligibility requirements imposed by the federal patient protection and affordable care act or any future federal laws.” The state’s hospitals will have reimbursements cut by 10 percent this month.

Delaware has cut Medicaid coverage for eye exams and glasses, affecting over 12,000 people. Governor Jack Markell (a Democrat) has proposed requiring new co-pays on doctor visits and prescription drugs, and limiting Medicaid coverage to three emergency room visits per year.

In Democratic-controlled Illinois, $276 million in reimbursements to hospitals are being withheld for one year. A recent analysis by the Illinois Hospital Association found that as a result of payment cuts the number of hospitals operating at a loss would increase by 40 percent, encompassing half of all facilities in the state.

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in June suggested that as a direct result of low payment rates in Illinois, two out of three requests for appointments with pediatric specialists were denied. Patients on Medicaid waited on average 22 days longer to see providers than those with private insurance.

Illinois has also enrolled 40,000 elderly and disabled Medicaid recipients into private health plans.

Texas is imposing an 8 percent cut in payments to hospitals; North Carolina hospitals will see a cut of 7.3 percent; Oregon hospitals and doctors will have reimbursement rates reduced 11 percent; Colorado is instituting cuts to doctor and medical equipment services of up to 6.25 percent; Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New York are also authorizing hospital payment cuts of up to 4 percent.

Arizona imposed a 5 percent cut to hospital and doctor reimbursement rates in April and is planning another 5 percent reduction in October.

The state received federal approval to impose a cap in enrollment beginning July 8, which will impact a substantial portion of recipients in the state’s program, called the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS). The state intends to cut spending by an estimated $500 million, primarily by freezing enrollment for adults earning above 75 percent of the poverty line.

Approximately 135,000 people in Arizona will lose coverage in the coming year, according to state officials. As with the precedent-setting attacks carried out in Florida and Washington, federal officials have encouraged the extreme measures. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Arizona could dump all 250,000 childless adults from AHCCCS rolls without losing matching funds.

Advocacy groups filed suit against the institution of the enrollment cap plan, asserting that it violated the state constitution. The Arizona Supreme Court dismissed the case without explanation on June 22.

Health care advocates in Arizona have warned that combined with other proposals, such as one requiring Medicaid recipients to re-enroll with AHCCCS every six months, the cap will strip the most vulnerable patients of coverage.

Homeless, mentally ill individuals, and others with unstable housing and employment situations are most likely to be dropped. “I expect a large number of patients will drop off,” Maricopa County Health Care for the Homeless Director Jonathan Cartsonis told the Arizona Republic. “It could create more misery for the patients and chaos in the emergency rooms.”

These attacks come on the heels of the ending of enrollment in another vital area of coverage known as the “spend-down” program. This program provided coverage for people earning too much to qualify for AHCCCS but who “spend down” far below the poverty line because of enormous medical bills.

With approval from the Obama administration, Arizona’s Republican governor Jan Brewer froze enrollment in the program on May 1, and it is slated to be completely eliminated October 1. This cruel attack, which amounts to a death sentence for those with catastrophic health problems and which will produce further foreclosures and bankruptcies, is estimated to “save” the state a mere $70 million.

Obama puts Social Security on chopping block

Obama puts Social Security on chopping block

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During a 90-minute session with congressional leaders at the White House Thursday, President Barack Obama reportedly offered cuts in Social Security as part of a “grand bargain” on debt reduction.

The talks, described by Obama as “very constructive,” marked a further turn to the right by the administration and a more open embrace of the position that the debate on the federal deficit must be utilized to effect the most far-reaching rollback of social benefits in US history.

Obama said that “the parties are still far apart on a wide range of issues,” but that they would reconvene for talks at the White House on July 10, at which time they would “at least know where each other’s bottom line is” and could begin “the hard bargaining that’s necessary to get a deal done.”

The US president provided no details on the positions taken by either his administration or the Republican and Democratic leaderships in the House and Senate. He said all those participating “acknowledged that there’s going to be pain involved politically on all sides, but our biggest obligation is to make sure that we’re doing the right thing by the American people, creating an environment in which we can grow the economy and make sure that more and more people are being put back to work.”

The claim that social programs are being gutted to benefit the American people and create jobs is a grotesque lie. The “pain” will be inflicted upon the working class, the poor, the elderly and the sick by two parties, the Democrats and Republicans, which are equally committed to “doing the right thing” for big business and Wall Street. The plan that is being hashed out behind the backs of the people has no more to do with providing jobs than the bailout of the banks nearly three years ago.

In advance of Thursday’s talks, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, the newspapers of record of the political establishment and the financial elite, all cited senior Democratic officials as reporting that Obama was going into the meeting with an offer to carry out sweeping cuts in Social Security and Medicare, the bedrock program upon which millions of older Americans depend for retirement income and health care.

In return, the administration is seeking what amounts to small change in revenues through a Republican agreement to accept minor tax changes that would close loopholes benefiting private jet owners, hedge fund managers and oil corporations. While such changes will do little to reduce the federal deficit, they are meant to provide the administration with a political fig leaf, allowing it to falsely claim that the punishing cutbacks to come are being implemented as part of a “balanced” program in which the financial aristocracy is doing its share.

The pretext for these talks is the looming deadline for Congress to approve an increase in the federal debt ceiling. According to official estimates, the federal government already broke through the $14.3 trillion limit in May, but by August 2 various accounting tricks will have been exhausted, raising the specter of a default that could trigger a sharp intensification of the US and world financial crisis.

Both the Republican and the Democratic leaderships have seized upon the debt ceiling and the prospect of default as justification for reversing social reforms that go back more than a century.

The White House has publicly announced that it is now pushing for $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade. Even if it were to get the changes in tax policy that it is seeking, more than four-fifths of this amount would be the result of spending cuts, the lion’s share affecting essential social programs.

As the Washington Post reported Thursday in advance of the White House meeting: “President Obama is pressing congressional leaders to consider a far-reaching debt-reduction plan that would force Democrats to accept major changes to Social Security and Medicare in exchange for Republican support for fresh tax revenue.”

The Post reported that Obama planned to use Thursday’s meeting “to argue that a rare consensus has emerged about the size and scope of the nation’s budget problems and that policymakers should seize the moment to take dramatic action.”

The article continued: “As part of his pitch, Obama is proposing significant reductions in Medicare spending and for the first time is offering to tackle the rising cost of Social Security, according to people in both parties with knowledge of the proposal. The move marks a major shift for the White House and could present a direct challenge to Democratic lawmakers who have vowed to protect health and retirement benefits from the assault on government spending.”

A Democratic official involved in the talks told the Post: “Obviously, there will be some Democrats who don’t believe we need to do entitlement reform. But there seems to be some hunger to do something of some significance. These moments come along at most once a decade. And it would be a real mistake if we let it pass us by.”

The “hunger” the Democratic official refers to is that of the ruling elite to increase profits by reducing social benefits to below the bare minimum. The federal deficit has been hyped into a historic crisis in order to provide the historic “moment” in which a meat cleaver can be taken to programs that date back to the New Deal of the 1930s and even earlier.

While 11 House Democrats, who comprise the so-called “Progressive Caucus,” have drafted a letter demanding that “any cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should be taken off the table” and warning that these measures “would hurt households and damage the country’s economic recovery,” party leaders clearly believe that the cutbacks can be pushed through Congress.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that discussions between President Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner had already “touched on changes to all three major safety-net programs—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.” The report added, “Participants in the debt talks had been weighing changes to Medicare and Medicaid, but tinkering with Social Security had not been part of the discussion until recently. Such a move would be anathema to many Democrats.”

According to published reports, the cuts to Social Security would be accomplished through a cynical sleight of hand in calculating cost of living increases. This would involve the adoption of something known as the “chained” consumer price index, which underestimates the impact of inflation. It is projected that such a shift could cut Social Security spending by $112 billion over the course of the next decade. As a result, retired Americans would be forced to choose between buying food, heating their homes or paying for medical care.

In a statement Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama’s position was that “while Social Security is not a major driver of the deficit, we do need to strengthen the program.” The obvious question the statement did not address is why, if Social Security has not contributed to the deficit, its “strengthening” has become part of the discussion on slashing spending.

In relation to Medicare, the federal health insurance program covering those over 65 and the disabled, proposals are being advanced to calculate benefits based upon financial status, a first step toward eliminating the program altogether.

As for the “grand bargain’s” tax component, Boehner and his fellow Republicans have insisted that any minor tinkering with tax loopholes enjoyed by America’s super-rich be offset by more fundamental changes to the tax code that would significantly reduce the rate paid by the corporations and the wealthy.

What is being prepared in the name of reducing the deficit is another gigantic transfer of wealth from the working class to the top 1 percent of American society, with both major parties, the congressional leadership and the Obama White House working together to advance the interests of the banks, the corporations and the financial elite at the expense of the vast majority of the people.

US government openly admits arming Mexican drug gangs with 30,000 firearms - but why?

US government openly admits arming Mexican drug gangs with 30,000 firearms - but why?

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(NaturalNews) It is now a widely-reported fact that under the Obama administration, U.S. federal agents actively placed over 30,000 fully-functional weapons into the hands of Mexican drug gangs, then halted all surveillance and tracking activities of where those weapons were going.

This is not a conspiracy theory, nor a piece of fiction. It is now an openly-admitted fact that this was pulled off by the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, more commonly called "ATF") under orders from Washington. The program was called "Fast and Furious."

Even Reuters is now covering the news and reporting how members of Congress are outraged to learn that this happened (

Details are also starting to leak about the cover-up inside ATF, which was led by the U.S. Attorney in Arizona, Dennis Burke, an Obama appointee ( The engineering of the illegal gun running went right up the chain of command to the director of the ATF, Kenneth Melson, who is now expected to resign. The real planning of this event went even higher up the chain of command in Washington, possibly all the way to Attorney General Eric Holder (

Among the firearms sold to the Mexican drug gangs were AK-47s, thousands of pistols and, remarkably, .50-caliber rifles which are typically used to disable vehicles or carry out sniper-based assassinations at extremely long ranges (up to two miles). The mainstream media is now reporting that these weapons are turning up in violent crimes being committed in Phoenix, Arizona. As an ABC news affiliate reports:

"According to the testimony of three Phoenix ATF agents, including Dodson, hundreds of weapons are now on the streets in the United States and Mexico, possibly in the hands of criminals. Dodson estimated the number could be as many as 1,800 weapons. He estimated agents in the Phoenix field division facilitated the sale of approximately 2,500 weapons to straw purchasers. A few hundred have been recovered." (

How the "Fast and Furious" program put thousands of weapons directly into the hands of Mexican drug gangs

Here's how "Fast and Furious" worked: Under orders from Washington, ATF agents were specifically told to acquire these weapons using "straw" buyers in the USA, find new buyers in Mexican drug gangs, then sell the weapons and "lose track" of them. Although some agents raised concerns about the insanity, they were overruled by the higher-ups in Washington who wanted to pursue this policy for their own reasons. "It made no sense to us either, it was just what we were ordered to do, and every time we questioned that order there was punitive action," said Phoenix Special Agent John Dodson.

But what could be the reasons for Washington initiating such a program in the first place? Why would the Obama administration actively send 30,000 sniper rifles, assault weapons and firearms into Mexico even while claiming to follow an anti-gun stance back in the USA?

To answer that question, you need to understand P.R.S -- Problem, Reaction, Solution. It is the "playbook" that governments use to get what they want, which usually involves: 1) Disarming their populations, 2) Taking away all their rights and freedoms, and then 3) Ruling over their people as tyrants with complete power.

Precisely such an effort is now underway in the United States, led by the Obama administration which has repeatedly demonstrated itself to be an enemy of the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights.

How Problem, Reaction, Solution really works

If you're the U.S. government, you can't just announce a new program to disarm the country, end the Bill of Rights and install yourself as the King. People won't go for it if you try to sell it that way. Instead, you need to find a way to get people to BEG you to do all that.

So you need a way to put people in a state of mind where they are terrified of drugs, terrified of guns and terrified of the border violence -- to the point where they insist that somebody in Washington do something about it.

Therefore, you first need a way to cause the problem that results in all the violence that people react to. You effectively need to create violence and then wait for people to beg you to stop it.

This is where the Obama administration's program to send 30,000 firearms into Mexico comes into play. If you want to cause gun violence and drug war violence, what better way to accomplish it than to just arm all the bad guys?

Think about it: 30,000 weapons in the hands of drug criminals! Then all you have to do is sit back and wait for all the violence to kick in. And it has kicked in -- in huge numbers. Shootings on the border, kidnappings, armed conflict across the border with U.S. border agents, and so on. Violent crimes in Arizona are now being committed with these very same weapons the ATF trafficked into the hands of Mexican drug gangs.

As Judicial Watch president Tim Fitton explains, his belief is that Operation Fast and Furious was purely an anti-gun political ploy from the Obama administration, designed to put more guns into the hands of criminals as a justification for confiscating guns from all citizens. He adds, "I think another major part of this story is that the narrative of the Obama administration and the ATF is that, 'wouldn't it be great if we could tie guns, as part of our anti-gun agenda, to the Mexican civil war, as opposed to, you know, our lack of enforcement of the drug laws or failure to protect the borders.'" (

And here's the real kicker: Of all the weapons now being confiscated by police in Mexico, an astonishing 70 percent came from the United States. So now you have a situation where the USA is actually arming the criminals in Mexico and destabilizing that country's entire system of law and order. The drug gangs are at war with the police there, and thanks to thinks like U.S.-supplies AK-47s and .50-caliber sniper rifles, the drug gangs are winning!

ATF can now demand more power and bigger budgets

Getting back to the U.S. issue, if you're the DEA or the ATF, you now have 30,000 more reasons to have your own budgets increased. There's a wave of violence coming across the border! The drug gangs are out of control! They're shooting back!

Well gee, I wonder why? It's because the ATF actually sold them these 30,000 rifles under orders from Washington.

And now the Obama administration is, predictably, saying there's so much "gun violence" in the Southern USA that new laws are needed to curb gun sales there.

Seriously? New laws? What about the 30,000 guns the ATF openly and admittedly sold to the Mexican drug gangs? Wasn't that already a violation of law?

It all comes back to Problem, Reaction, Solution, you see. Want to keep the useless War on Drugs going a little longer? Just dump a few thousand pounds of cocaine into the hands of criminals and let 'em run loose with it. Want to beef up the budgets of the ATF? Just distribute 30,000 illegal weapons into the hands of drug gangs and then sit back and wait for people to beg for your help. Want to justify a war on "terror" in the Middle East? Dream up some stupid story about Weapons of Mass Destruction and then launch a war.

For every power-hungry tyrannical agenda in Washington, there's a false flag operation that will make it come true.

If the U.S. government would actively arm drug gangs, in what other ways might it betray the American people?

Now that you know the truth about how Washington put 30,000 guns into the hands of Mexican drug gangs, it naturally makes you start to wonder about the government's involvement with things like vaccines.

Want to make people so afraid of infectious disease that they beg for vaccines? Just release an infectious disease into the population yourself! It's a simple matter, really.

Want to get the public to beg for new food safety regulations? Just release e.coli into the food supply and then wait for the deaths to be reported in the news. All of a sudden people are demanding more food safety regulations.

Want to justify military imperialism and expansion? Just stage your own terrorist attack against your own country! Then magically find the passports of some terrorists at the scene of the crime and blame the whole thing on them.

When theory becomes fact

You see, all this used to exist solely in the realm of conspiracy theory. A few years ago, if you even suggested this kind of thing was going on, you were called a kook. But now it's an established fact being reported by Reuters, Washington Post and other major news outlets. Now the U.S. government has been forced to admit that yes, it actively delivered 30,000 firearms into the hands of Mexican drug gangs and then intentionally stopped tracking where they went.

This is no longer conspiracy theory. It's conspiracy FACT. And similar types of operations are being planned right now for other agendas the government has in mind: Taking away your Fourth Amendment rights, for example. How do you accomplish that? Just stage an airport terrorism attack, just like the one the TSA was caught rehearsing in Minnesota (

Want to take away peoples' Second Amendment rights? Just brainwash some low-IQ psychopath to walk into a shopping mall and start blazing away with fully automatic weapons that were provided to him by the ATF!

It's simple, you see. Pick a topic, choose an agenda, then cause the problem yourself. Then sit back and wait for the reaction. Works every time.

The CDC pulled the same stunt back in the 1980's with AIDS. At a time when the CDC was facing severe budget cuts, it actually hyped up the whole AIDS epidemic and started releasing complete scientific fictions as if they were fact. The disease mongering by the CDC caused widespread fear and panic across the country, earning it huge budget increases from the U.S. government.

This is all fully documented in the movie House of Numbers, by the way, using recorded video interviews from many of the key scientists involved in the whole fiasco who finally went on record to tell the truth. Almost everything you've been fed about AIDS is a fabrication or a distortion of the scientific truth. Watch these astonishing videos to see for yourself:

The American government is working AGAINST you, not for you

The point in all this is that much of what you see happening in the world today in terms of terrorism, the drug war, infectious disease and health care are just fabricated, staged events actually pulled off by the very people who stand to benefit from the reaction!

Suckers and sheeple always believe the mainstream news at face value. They believe we're under attack from terrorists who bring down tall buildings, or we're being assaulted by Mexican drug gangs on the border, or we're threatened by the Swine Flu. That's what suckers are supposed to believe, you see: That your government is never working against you... it's always working FOR you, right?

But intelligent people know the opposite is true: Your government is usually plotting against you and trying to figure out how to expand its power, expand its reach, reduce your freedoms and control your life. This is accomplished by unleashing the very problems that the government claims to be fighting to prevent.

The government, for example, says it's trying to solve our nation's economic problems. And how does it accomplish that? By generating trillions of dollars in new fiat currency and handing it over to the criminals running Wall Street. This has the net effect of stealing money from everybody else through dollar devaluation.

How does the government solve our national health care crisis? By enacting Obamacare, which mandates that more people buy into a system that has utterly failed to serve the health interests of the American people in the first place!

So at the very same time the government says it's working to improve the economy, it's actually stealing from you behind your back. At the very same time the government says it's trying to stop cancer, its own health-related agencies (National Cancer Institute, for example) are openly engaged in massive disinformation campaigns that spread false information about sunlight being "dangerous" to your health (while conveniently ignoring the truth about vitamin D and its cancer preventive properties).

The government says it wants to make your food safer, and yet the USDA keeps approving genetically modified foods that are essentially massive biological experiments that cause widespread infertility and disease.

The same story goes on and on... with fluoride in the water, mercury in dental fillings, aspartame in diet sodas, pesticide use in agriculture and so on. At nearly every turn, the government itself is actively plotting against the People to keep them financially enslaved, biologically diseased and mentally ignorant.

Shipping guns into Mexico, you see, is just a tiny part of the big picture that's going on today in the USA. The same process -- Problem, Reaction, Solution -- is in use almost everywhere in government at both the state and federal level.

Big Government is the enemy of peace and freedom

Bureaucrats hate to lose their jobs, and if there's a way to stage something that makes them suddenly look more important, they won't hesitate to roll it out. The U.S. government, just so you know, has been actively engaged in weapons trafficking, drug running and counterfeiting for decades. If you or I did what our own government does every single day, we'd be arrested as felony criminals. But when the government runs guns into Mexico, or traffics in cocaine, or prints counterfeit dollar bills that have no backing with real value, somehow it's all okay.

Amazing how our own government has now turned into the very criminals that it claims to be protecting us against, isn't it? Who are the real terrorists in America? The ATF agents running guns into the hands of Mexican drug gangs, of course. And the FBI agents who set up Arab-looking patsies to try to set off fake bombs that the FBI actually assembled for them!

By the way, Alex Jones ( has been covering all this for years. He's been saying this all along, and time and time again, he's been proven right. I realize his presentation style may seem a little intense to some people, but at the end of the day, Alex Jones is far more accurate at decoding what's really going on behind the scenes than any mainstream news channel or newspaper. Here's an article from InfoWars on this very topic:

I'm scheduled to host the Alex Jones show next week and will likely be discussing more about the ATF's gun-running activities in Mexico. In the mean time, stay tuned to for more stories that aren't afraid to report the truth about what's really happening in our world today.