Sunday, February 26, 2012

Kansas Bill Raises Taxes On The Poor While Cutting Them For The Rich

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In what one state Democrat has called “Robin Hood in reverse,” Kansas’ tax committee this week approved a bill that would cut taxes on the wealthiest Kansans to the tune of $1,500, while raising taxes on those residents making less that $25,000 per year. About half a million of the state’s poorest residents will see their taxes hiked under the plan:

A Kansas House tax committee passed a bill in which anyone making less than $25,000 a year — roughly half a million of the state’s 2.9 million residents — will pay an average of $72 more in taxes, while those making more than $250,000 — about 21,000 people — will see a $1,500 cut, according to Kansas Department of Revenue estimates cited by the Kansas City Star.

The hike would come from the elimination of tax credits typically benefitting the poor.

This plan was actually amended from an earlier one proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS) that would have been even worse for low-income Kansans, raising their taxes by hundreds of dollars while cutting them by more than $16,000 for a millionaire. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Kansas’ tax system is already regressive, with the poorest 20 percent of Kansans paying more than 9 percent of their income in taxes, while the richest 1 percent pay less than 6 percent of their income.

Former Reagan economic adviser and supply-side guru Art Laffer has been consulting with Kansas lawmakersabout the state’s tax overhaul. In fact, Laffer has been peddling bogus research in several states in an attempt to get them to make regressive tax cuts. And considering that Laffer openly brags about Reagan raising taxes on low-income Americans, perhaps its not surprising that Kansas’ plan does what it does.

Towards the Creation of the US-Canada Police State

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In a move that went largely unnoticed, the U.S. government unveiled a new counter-narcotics strategy for the northern border which will work towards closer cooperation with Canada in the war on drugs. This includes both countries strengthening integrated cross-border intelligence sharing and law enforcement operations. Canada has also released a comprehensive counter-terrorism plan aimed at combating the threats of domestic and international violent extremism. The separate U.S.-Canada undertakings are both tied to the Beyond the Border deal and efforts to establish a North American security perimeter.

In January, the Obama administration announced the National Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy. A press release by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) described how the plan seeks, “to reduce the two-way flow of illicit drugs between the United States and Canada by increasing coordination among Federal, state, local, and tribal enforcement authorities, enhancing intelligence sharing between counterdrug agencies, and strengthening ongoing counterdrug partnerships and initiatives with the Government of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).” Senator Charles Schumer proclaimed, “I pushed so hard for this strategy to be finalized because we have to immediately stop the flow of drugs from Canada into New York, and it’s going to take an inter-agency and international effort.” He added, “I’m pleased that this agreement lays the groundwork for Canadian and American law enforcement to work hand-in-glove to fight the drug trade.” Schumer has also endorsed the new cross-border action plan. In addition, he is pushing to establish aNorthern Border Intelligence Center in Franklin County, NY to better coordinate efforts to fight drug smuggling and other cross-border criminal activities.

While commenting on the new plan to disrupt the flow of drugs over the U.S.-Canada border, ONDCP Deputy Director of State, Local and Tribal Affairs, Ben Tucker explained that, “By strengthening integrated cross-border law enforcement between our two countries, the Strategy supports a key area of cooperation outlined by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper in theBeyond the Border declaration.” In December of last year, the leaders issued the follow up Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan. The deal focuses on addressing security threats early, facilitating trade, economic growth and jobs, integrating cross-border law enforcement, as well as improving infrastructure and cyber-security. As part of the agreement, both countries will, “create integrated teams in areas such as intelligence and criminal investigations, and an intelligence-led uniformed presence between ports of entry.” The U.S. and Canada continue to expand the nature and scope of joint law enforcement operations, along with intelligence collection and sharing.

The new northern border drug strategy also called for increasing judicial cooperation, improving information-sharing and extradition arrangements, as well as better coordinating cross-border undercover operations and investigations with Canada. It recommended working towards, “operational fusion with Canadian partners in interoperable communications, technology, and activities. The ability to integrate Canadian and U.S. technology, including sensors, videos, radio communications, and radar feeds, will permit automated sharing of timely information.” The document also argued that, "It is imperative that Canada and the United States work together to expedite the sharing of information from electronic communication service providers; and share information necessary to lay the foundation for intercepting internet and voice communications.” While various new measures are being put in place to thwart illegal drug, terrorist and other criminal activity, they could easily be used to target anyone else the government deems a threat.

The use of technology is emphasized throughout the report, “Technical collection capabilities and programs along the Northern border, such as thermal camera systems, License Plate Readers (LPRs), Mobile Surveillance Systems, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), national distress and command and control networks, and Remote Video Surveillance Systems will be deployed and carefully coordinated among participating agencies.” The new strategy also recommended enhancing air and maritime domain awareness and response capabilities as another means of disrupting the flow of illegal drugs across the U.S.-Canada border. In February of 2009, U.S. Customs and Border Protection began using unmanned aerial vehicles on the northern border and expanded the program in January of last year. The UAV drones are being deployed in support of border security, counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism missions. Congress recently passed a bill that will make it easier for the government to use surveillance drones and it is projected that that there could be up to 30,000 in operation over U.S. skies by 2020.

On February 9, the Conservative government released theBuilding Resilience Against Terrorism: Canada’s Counter-terrorism Strategy. The new plan is aimed at countering domestic, as well as international terrorism and better protecting Canadian interests. It outlined counter-terrorism efforts under four pillars, “prevent individuals from engaging in terrorism; detect the activities of individuals who may pose a terrorist threat; deny terrorists the means and opportunity to carry out their activities; and respond proportionately, rapidly and in an organized manner to terrorist activities and mitigate their effects.” The report stressed partnership and cooperation as the key to achieving these goals which, “will require an integrated approach not only by the Government of Canada, but by all levels of government, law enforcement agencies, the private sector and citizens, in collaboration with international partners and key allies, such as the United States.” The strategy will, “serve to reinforce security initiatives between Canada and the U.S. and will complement the Canada-U.S. Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Competitiveness.”

The anti-terror policy identified Sunni Islamist extremism as Canada’s top security threat. It also warned of homegrown terrorists and lone wolf attackers, including issue-based domestic extremism which it stated, “tends to be based on grievances—real or perceived—revolving around the promotion of various causes such as animal rights, white supremacy, environmentalism and anti-capitalism.” CTV News reported that similar intelligence assessments can be found in documents regarding CSIS and RCMP surveillance between 2005-2010 which categorized, “some animal rights, environmental and aboriginal activists alongside terrorists that pose a threat to national security.” The documents were obtained through access to information requests. They became the basis of the research paper Making up Terror Identities where authors Jeffrey Monaghan and Kevin Walby voiced concerns on how, “intelligence agencies have blurred the categories of terrorism, extremism and activism into an aggregate threat matrix. This blurring of threat categories expands the purview of security intelligence agencies, leading to net-widening where a greater diversity of actions are governed through surveillance processes and criminal law.”

The never ending war on drugs and war on terrorism are being used to justify the huge police state security apparatus being assembled. This includes the militarization of the northern border and plans for a North American security perimeter. In the name of national security, there has been a steady erosion of civil liberties and privacy rights in both the U.S. and Canada. Our freedoms are under assault. The amount of information being collected and shared on all aspects of our daily lives has expanded and is being stored in massive databases. Sweeping new surveillance powers targeting terrorists and other criminals are being increasingly turned against those who are critical of government policy. There is a concerted effort to demonize political opponents, activists, protesters and other peaceful groups. We are witnessing the criminalization of dissent where those who oppose the government’s agenda are being labelled as terrorists and a threat to security.

Over A Million US Families Are Living On A Shocking $2 Per Day

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More than 1.46 million families in the U.S. are living on $2 or less per day, a new study found.

That's up from the 636,000 households who lived under the same conditions in 1996.

Two dollars or less per day translates to about $60 per person, per month.

While 43 percent of American households receive government benefits, a decreasing proportion of those benefits go to the poor, the researchers from University of Michigan and Harvard University, said.

The study based its definition of income on the U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).

It includes such factors as a person's pension and retirements, cash income from public programs, and reported income from friends and family members who are not part of the household.

When the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is included as income, the number of households living on $2 or less per day drops to about 800,000.

Additionally, the study found about 37 percent of the households living in poverty were headed by a married couple, while 51 percent were headed by a single female.

In 2011, nearly 50 percent of the households were headed by white non-Hispanics, 25 percent by African Americans, and 22 percent by Hispanics.

While minority groups do not represent the majority of these households, they're increased the most since 1996, the study found.

Criminalizing the Poor

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On August 22, 1996 President Bill Clinton signed into law his now infamous Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act thereby “end[ing] welfare as we have come to know it.” The Act replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF establishes a lifetime limit of 60 months (5 years) for federal assistance, mandates that single parents participate in work activities for an average of 30 hours per week, and caps federal block grant contributions to states at $16.6 billion per year. (As a result of inflation the real value of the TANF block grant has already fallen by 28%.)

And despite few fluctuations in the poverty rate since TANF supplanted AFCD, the participation rate among eligible families has plummeted by 52% since 1995.

Over the same time period—and despite flat to declining crime rates— the U.S. prison and jail population has increased by 44%. Perhaps a quickly expanding prison population is precisely the unspoken foundation upon which “welfare to workfare” rests. We haven’t “ended welfare;” instead we’ve invisiblized it by shifting its beneficiaries from the public square to the prison yard.

The atrophy of the social welfare state and the growth of the penal state represent a double criminalization of poverty. Considering TANF/AFDC data alongside trends in incarceration is necessary for rethinking the role of the state in provisioning basic social services. The transition from welfare to workfare and the proliferation of bodies behind bars taken together “work to marginalize populations—by forcing them off the public aid rolls, on the one side, and holding them under lock, on the other—and eventually pushing them into the peripheral [and deeply precarious] sectors of the labor market.”

The shared historical roots and political convergences of the assistantial and penitential functions of the state are further validated by the fact that the “social profile” of their respective beneficiaries is uncannily similar. For instance, 50% of former AFDC recipients throughout the early 1990s lived at or below half of the poverty line. Today, 65% of inmates in the United States inhabit the same category.

Both populations, as well, are disproportionately composed of people of color. In 1995, 37.2% and 20.7% of AFDC recipients were Black or Latin, respectively, and in 2010 40% and 20% of state and federal inmates were Black and Latin@, respectively. Finally, 44% of AFDC recipients in 1994 had not finished high school compared to 41% of those incarcerated in 2003, the most recent year for which data is available.

The correlative relationship between the sudden but substantial growth in containment justified through the rhetoric of social dishonor and emergence of workfare as a condition of federal subsidy represents an intra-State struggle over its basic social function. Simply asked, what is the role of the State? And further, what ought to be the role of the State? (Should the role of the State, as neoliberals contend, be limited to safeguarding the so-called “free market” and protecting contracts???) The double criminalization of poverty marked by 1) reducing public aid to low income people of color (disproportionately) and 2) locking them up (disproportionately) for being poor is evidence that the State is trying to re-architecting itself on our watch. Further, the double criminalization of poverty serves an important ideological function in that it allows the corporate class to attribute widespread unemployment and poverty to personal moral depravity instead of material deprivation. The poor are not depraved; they’re deprived of the basic social resources to secure a dignified standard of living. In the end, the survival of any “criminal State” hinges on its ability to individualize criminality so as to divert attention from its complicitous role in its production.

Secret documents reveal DHS lied about tracking Americans on social media

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One of the nation’s leading electronic privacy groups claimed this week that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) misled members of Congress during a recent hearing on whether the Department is paying a defense contractor $11.4 million to keep tabs on protected free speech and dissent against government policies on the Internet.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which triggered the hearing by publishing a trove of secret government documents in January, told Raw Story on Thursday that a second round of documents they’ve obtained directly contradicts testimony given on Feb. 16, showing that the DHS instructed their analysts to do exactly what the Department denied.

“There were several exchanges that they had with members of Congress in which they sort of distanced themselves from the idea — that they weren’t engaging in this monitoring of public reaction to government proposals,” McCall told Raw Story. “But that’s… Well, it’s not true, according to the documents we obtained.”

In a letter (PDF) sent Wednesday to the ranking members of the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, Ginger McCall, who directs EPIC’s Open Government Project, explains that details within the document directly contradicttestimony given during the hearing(PDF).

Altogether, the documents released by EPIC in January and in February reveal that the Department is paying defense contractorGeneral Dynamics to monitor the Internet for “reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities,” including “reports that pertain to DHS and sub agencies — especially those that have a negative spin on DHS/Component preparation, planning, and response activities,” among other things.

“The DHS testimony, as well as the documents obtained by EPIC, indicate that the agency is monitoring constantly, under very broad search terms, and is not limiting that monitoring to events or activities related to natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or manmade disasters,” McCall explained to lawmakers. “The monitoring is designed to be over-broad, and sweeps in large amounts of First Amendment activity. The DHS has no legal authority to engage in this monitoring.”

In an email exchange, DHS spokesman Matthew Chandler insisted that they only monitor social media “for situational awareness purposes only, within the clearly defined parameters articulated in our Privacy Impact Assessment (PDF), to ensure that critical information reaches appropriate decision-makers.” He added that the DHS will “review the language contained in all materials to clearly and accurately convey the parameters and the intention of the program.”

Documents published by EPIC show that analysts were instructed to watch for “both positive and negative reports” about the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the strangely wide-ranging “organizations outside of DHS.” Other “items of interest” include discussions about immigration policies, drug policies, cyber security matters, and U.S. foreign policy.

About 300 pages of documents (PDF) obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and published by EPIC in January revealed that analysts were specifically told to scour the Internet and social networks like Facebook and Twitter in search of “any media reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government,” and to zero in on discussions criticizing government policies and proposals.

Revelations in that initial round of documents triggered a Feb. 16 Congressional hearingand sent DHS officials backpedaling, insisting that type of monitoring was only discussed, not implemented. On the same day of the hearing, EPIC published its second round of documents, revealing a DHS manual on social media monitoring dated “2011,” which carries detailed instructions on what agency analysts are supposed to look for.

“This has a profound effect on free speech online if you feel like a government law enforcement agency — particularly the Department of Homeland Security, which is supposed to look for terrorists — is monitoring your criticism, your dissent, of the government,” McCall told Raw Story.

Reached for comment, aides to subcommittee Chairman Patrick Meehan (R-PA) and ranking member Jackie Speier (D-CA) said they had not read EPIC’s letter, offering no further statements.

Similarly, General Dynamics did not respond to a request for comment, and it is still not clear if the company actually produced reports for the DHS detailing public dissent against government policies, or if the Department’s instructions to social media analysts were even ever implemented.

EPIC said that its lawsuit against DHS was continuing, and that they would press members of Congress for further hearings on the matter. Meanwhile, they have proposed that Congress suspend the DHS program and investigate whether these same practices are being carried out by other agencies.

It is already a matter of public record that the U.S. Air Force has purchased software used for “persona management” across multiple social media platforms, which gives information operatives the ability to control a virtual army of fake people online. Military officials told Raw Story that the software was being used for “classified social media activities” overseas.


The DHS Analyst’s Desktop Binder document is here.

More States Plan to Divert Foreclosure Fraud Settlement Money Away From Helping Homeowners

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Already, three states have announced plans to divert some of their share of the $26 billion foreclosure fraud settlement with the nation’s five biggest banks away from helping homeowners (which is the money’s intended purpose), and towards other parts of their respective budgets. Wisconsin and Missouri are planning to use the money to plug budget holes, while Ohio wants to use the funding to demolish vacant homes.

And those states are evidently not the only onesplanning to use the settlement funds for something other than helping troubled homeowners, as the Associated Press noted:

In Pennsylvania, where a fourth straight budget deficit is projected, Democrats are pressing the Republican-run attorney general’s office to use some of its $69 million payment to offset $2 billion in cuts to programs that benefit education, the elderly, disabled or poor. [...]

Vermont plans to use $2.4 million from the settlement to help balance its budget. Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said about 10 percent of his state’s $62.5 million payment will be made available for the governor and lawmakers to spend as they choose.

It’s understandable, given the massive budget cuts that states have had to implement in the last few years to comply with balanced budget requirements during a recession, that there is a temptation for state lawmakers to use an unexpected windfall to plug budget holes. But as good as their intentions are, that is not the purpose of the settlement. Settlement money is meant to make up for bank malfeasance by reducing loan principal for underwater homeowners or to compensate families to lost their homes due to potentially wrongful foreclosure.

Members of the Florida congressional delegation have already penned a letter to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) in an attempt to head off a similar effort to siphon away funds, writing, “given the ongoing state of Florida’s housing crisis, we strongly urge you to use these settlement funds for housing relief, and resist any effort to divert the funds to close shortfalls in the state budget.” Hopefully more states don’t go down the road of the six listed above, and actually use the settlement money to alleviate the ongoing pain of the housing crisis.

Blaming Decline in Family Values for Soaring Inequality

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All the talk on the intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual) right seems to be about Charles Murray’s book “Coming Apart: The State of White America,” which asserts that the problem with blue-collar whites is … declining family values.

David Frum, who may really be the last honest conservative, published a terrific takedown recently in The Daily Beast. He writes:

“To understand what Murray does in ‘Coming Apart,’ imagine this analogy: A social scientist visits a Gulf Coast town. He notices that the houses near the water have all been smashed and shattered. The former occupants now live in tents and FEMA trailers.

“The social scientist writes a report:

"The evidence strongly shows that living in houses is better for children and families than living in tents and trailers. The people on the waterfront are irresponsibly subjecting their children to unacceptable conditions.

“When he publishes his report, somebody points out: ‘You know, there was a hurricane here last week.’ The social scientist shrugs off the criticism with the reply, ‘I’m writing about housing, not weather.’ ”

And Alec MacGillis, a commentator at The New Republic, points out in a Feb. 6 online post that Mr. Murray himself grew up in a company town where Maytag provided good jobs for blue-collar workers — until it shut the plant and moved operations to Mexico.

“As Murray sees it,” wrote Mr. MacGillis, “the working class has been hurt less by economic shifts that have made it hard for its members — particularly the male ones — to earn a good living than it has by a lamentable decline in industriousness and social values brought on by the upheavals of the 1960s.”

He continued: “The question, then, for Murray and those who are using his theories to explain away inequality, can be put very concretely: did the community he enjoyed growing up in Newton [Iowa] really go away because his working-class neighbors mysteriously lost their gumption? It might have been simpler than that.”

From an analytical point of view, this would seem to be a very odd time to focus on the alleged moral decline of the lower classes. During the ‘60s, it was at least somewhat reasonable to ask why social ills were rising though a booming economy was producing widely shared gains (although as the sociologist William Julius Wilson pointed out in his book “When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor,” work was disappearing in the inner cities, and this helped explain rising social problems among those trapped in those inner cities).

But now we have an economy that has left blue-collar workers behind: why invoke social values to explain their plight?

And to the extent that social decay is a reality among, say, those in the bottom third of the income distribution among whites, doesn’t this say that Mr. Wilson was right; that lack of economic opportunity is what breeds social disruption?

Of course, the sudden fuss about values makes perfect sense from a political point of view, as a distraction from the issue of soaring incomes at the top.

This Is a Strange Form of Social Collapse

Reading Mr. Murray’s book and all the commentary about the sources of moral collapse among working-class whites, I’ve had a nagging question: Is it really all that bad?

I mean, yes, marriage rates are way down, and labor force participation is down among working-age men (although not as much as some of the rhetoric might imply), but it’s generally left as an implication that these trends must be causing huge social ills. Are they?

Well, one thing oddly missing in Mr. Murray’s work is any discussion of that traditional indicator of social breakdown, teenage pregnancy. Why? Because it has actually been falling like a stone, according to National Vital Statistics data.

And what about crime? It’s soaring, right? Wrong, according to Justice Department data.

So here’s a thought: maybe traditional social values are eroding in the white working class — but maybe those traditional social values aren’t as essential to a good society as conservatives like to imagine.

Dow and Monsanto Join Forces to Poison America's Heartland

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In a match that some would say was made in hell, the nation's two leading producers of agrochemicals have joined forces in a partnership to reintroduce the use of the herbicide 2,4-D, one half of the infamous defoliant Agent Orange [4], which was used by American forces to clear jungle during the Vietnam War. These two biotech giants have developed a weed management program that, if successful, would go a long way toward a predicted doubling of harmful herbicide use in America's corn belt during the next decade [5].

The problem for corn farmers is that "superweeds" have been developing resistance to America's best-selling herbicide Roundup, which is being sprayed on millions of acres in the Midwest and elsewhere. Dow Agrosciences has developed a strain of corn that it says will solve the problem. The new genetically modified variety can tolerate 2,4-D, which will kill off the Roundup-resistant weeds, but leave the corn standing. Farmers who opt into this system will be required to double-dose their fields with a deadly cocktail of Roundup plus 2,4-D, both of which are manufactured by Monsanto.

But this plan has alarmed environmentalists and also many farmers, who are reluctant to reintroduce a chemical whose toxicity has been well established. The use of 2,4-D is banned in several European countries and provinces of Canada. [6] The substance is a suspected carcinogen, which has been shown to double the incidence of birth defects in the children of pesticide applicators in a study conducted by University of Minnesota pathologist Vincent Garry [7].

Researchers say that the effect of 2,4-D on human health is still not fully understood. But it may be a risk factor for conditions like Hodgkin's lymphoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and certain leukemias [8], which were often found in Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that the chemical could have "endocrine disruption potential" [9] and interfere with the human hormonal system. It may prove toxic to honeybees, birds and fish, according to research conducted by the US Forest Service and others. [10] In 2004, a coalition of groups spearheaded by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network, wrote a letter to the EPA taking it to task for underestimating the health and environmental impacts of 2,4-D.

Large-scale industrial farming has grown dependent on ever-increasing applications of agrochemicals. Some have compared this to a drug addict who requires larger and larger fixes to stay high. Herbicide use has increased steadily over time as weeds develop resistance and need to be doused with more and deadlier chemicals to kill them. This, in turn. requires more aggressive genetic engineering of crops that can withstand the escalating chemical assault.

Many agricultural scientists warn that this growing addiction to agrochemicals is unsustainable in the long run. The fertility of the soil decreases as earthworms and vital microorganisms are killed off by pesticides and herbicides. They also pollute the groundwater and compromise the health of farm animals that are fed with the chemical-infused grain.

These impacts are poised to grow. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures reveal that herbicide use rose by 383 million pounds from 1996 to 2008 [11]. Significantly, nearly half of this increase (46 percent) took place between 2007 and 2008 as a result of the hawking of new herbicide-resistant crops like the new corn hybrid developed by Dow.

Nobody knows what effect introducing this hybrid would have on the health of American consumers. Corn laced with high levels of 2,4-D could taint everything from breakfast cereals to the beef of cattle, which concentrate the toxin in their flesh. Given that corn and high-fructose corn syrup are key elements in so many processed foods, some public health experts warn that all Americans will soon be guinea pigs in an ill-conceived mass experiment with one of the staples of our food supply. America's agriculture department, the USDA is considering deregulating Monsanto's new genetically modified corn variety (the one which will be used in conjunction with the 2,4-D) and is accepting final public comments on the matter until the 27th of this month [12].

Until recently, herbicide-resistant crops were popular with farmers who benefited from higher yields and nearly effortless management of weeds. But now that the weed problem is coming back with a vengeance, some are reconsidering the wisdom of this chemical-intensive mode of farming. Dow biotech corn costs nearly three times more than conventional seed. And the projected doubling of pesticide use in the years ahead [13] will be expensive, as well as destructive to farmland and ecosystems.

There are viable alternatives to chemical-intensive farming, time-tested methods like crop rotation, use of cover crops, and other practices which allow farmers to compete naturally with weeds. The time has come for farmers to revive the knowledge of their ancestors in this regard.

Some agricultural scientists advocate developing a system of integrated weed management to replace the unsustainable use of chemicals. [13] But the big agrochemical companies have no interest in supporting the sustainable agriculture that would put them out of business. So long as there are billions of dollars to be made in selling herbicide and herbicide-resistant genetically modified seed, there won't be much research money available to explore the natural alternatives to the destruction of our nation's heartland.

New Georgia Bill Includes $10,000 Fine, Felony for "Conspiracy" for Picketing, Protest

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The growing trend of legislators in Southern states that already have low union density and so-called "right-to-work" laws on the books proposing harsher anti-union laws has now spread to Georgia.

In a move that could impact non-labor groups engaged in direct action, picketing, or protest, Georgia's Senate Bill 469 includes felony penalties for "criminal trespass" and, unbelievably, "conspiracy to commit criminal trespass"--the punishment being a $10,000 fine or a year in jail, or possibly both. That this is specifically included in a bill that cracks down on organizations' right to picket outside a workplace or company seems to indicate that a union or other group engaged in picketing could be charged with a crime for the activity of one member who crosses the line.

And in the bill, the line is pretty nebulous. The bill has this to say about what would constitute "unlawful" picketing:

It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in mass picketing at or near any place, including private residences, where a labor dispute exists in such number or manner as to obstruct or interfere with or constitute a threat to obstruct or interfere with the entrance to or egress from any place of employment or the free and uninterrupted use of public roads, streets, highways, railroads, airports, or other ways of travel, transportation, or conveyance.

What's that mean? "Constitute a threat to obstruct or interfere with" could be interpreted pretty broadly, and leaves a lot of discretion up to police on the scene--or to business owners, who could have picketers removed by claiming they presented a "threat." But that's not all:

A person, or organization that he or she is affiliated with or acting on behalf of, commits an offense when he or she engages in targeted picketing of a private residence that has or intends the effect of interfering with the resident's right to quiet enjoyment, or when such targeted picketing has or intends the effect of violence or intimidation.

I wasn't aware that one's right to "quiet enjoyment" trumps the First Amendment. These provisions would seem to target, in addition to labor unions, movements like Occupy that have engaged in actions both at businesses and at private residences.

Along with the attacks on unions and other protest groups' right to peaceably assemble, the bill also includes a slew of provisions to make it clear that the already right-to-work-for-less state isn't going to make it easy for workers to join unions. "Right-to-work" already makes sure that workers don't have to even pay their share of the costs of representation, despite requiring the union to bargain for all employees in a union shop. The new bill would reiterate this, and require private employers to post notices in the workplace reminding workers that they have the "right" not to join the union. (In other words, it mandates anti-union information being posted in the workplace; management will no doubt be happy to comply.)

It also requires workers to certify in writing every year that yes, they really do want their boss to deduct their union representation fees and dues from their paycheck.

Eric Robertson, Georgia Teamsters Local 728 Political Director, told AlterNet, "This bill is obviously a an attack on working people and anyone who believes in organizing for justice. It undermines civil liberties, and clearly is designed to cripple working peoples' ability to organize and build organizationations to improve their working conditions. Labor, civil rights and community organizations, and our allies are going to have to play hardball to beat this bill."

Let Your Life Be a Friction to Stop the Machine

How the 1% Exploits America

5 Reasons You Should Never Agree to a Police Search (Even if You Have Nothing to Hide)

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Do you know what your rights are when a police officer asks to search you? If you're like most people I've met in my eight years working to educate the public on this topic, then you probably don't.

It's a subject that a lot of people think they understand, but too often our perception of police power is distorted by fictional TV dramas, sensational media stories, silly urban myths, and the unfortunate fact that police themselves are legally allowed to lie to us.

It wouldn't even be such a big deal, I suppose, if our laws all made sense and our public servants always treated us as citizens first and suspects second. But thanks to the War on Drugs, nothing is ever that easy. When something as stupid as stopping people from possessing marijuana came to be considered a critical law enforcement function, innocence ceased to protect people against police harassment. From the streets of the Bronx to the suburbs of the Nation's Capital, you never have to look hard to find victims of the bias, incompetence, andcorruption that the drug war delivers on a daily basis.

Whether or not you ever break the law, you should be prepared to protect yourself and your property just in case police become suspicious of you. Let's take a look at one of the most commonly misunderstood legal situations a citizen can encounter: a police officer asking to search your belongings. Most people automatically give consent when police ask to perform a search. However, I recommend saying "no" to police searches, and here are some reasons why:

1. It's your constitutional right.

The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures. Unless police have strong evidence (probable cause) to believe you're involved in criminal activity, they need your permission to perform a search of you or your property.

You have the right to refuse random police searches anywhere and anytime, so long as you aren't crossing a border checkpoint or entering a secure facility like an airport. Don't be shy about standing up for your own privacy rights, especially when police are looking for evidence that could put you behind bars.

2. Refusing a search protects you if you end up in court.

It's always possible that police might search you anyway when you refuse to give consent, but that's no reason to say "yes" to the search. Basically, if there's any chance of evidence being found, agreeing to a search is like committing legal suicide, because it kills your case before you even get to court.

If you refuse a search, however, the officer will have to prove in court that there was probable cause to do a warrantless search. This will give your lawyer a good chance to win your case, but this only works if you said "no" to the search.

3. Saying "no" can prevent a search altogether.

Data on police searches are interesting, but they don't show how many searches didn't happen becausea citizen said no. A non-search is a non-event that goes unrecorded, giving rise to a widespread misconception that police will always search with or without permission.

I know refusing searches works because I've been collecting stories from real police encounters. The reality is that police routinely ask for permission to search when they have absolutely no evidence of an actual crime. If you remain calm and say no, there's a good chance they'll back down, because it's a waste of time to do searches that won't hold up in court anyway.

4. Searches can waste your time and damage your property.

Do you have time to sit around while police rifle through your belongings? Police often spend 30 minutes or more on vehicle searches and even longer searching homes. You certainly can't count on officers to be careful with valuables or to put everything back where they found it. If you waive your 4th Amendment rights by agreeing to be searched, you will have few legal options if any property is damaged or missing after the search.

5. You never know what they'll find.

Are you 100 percent certain there's nothing illegal in your home or vehicle? You can never be too sure. A joint roach could stick to your shoe on the street and wind up on the floorboard. A careless acquaintance could have dropped a baggie behind the seat. Try telling a cop it isn't yours, and they'll just laugh and tell you to put your hands behind your back. If you agreed to the search, you can't challenge the evidence. But if you're innocent and you refused the search, your lawyer has a winnable case.

Remember that knowing your rights will help you protect yourself, but no amount of preparation can guarantee a good outcome in a bad situation. Your attitude and your choices before, during, and after the encounter will usually matter more than your knowledge of the law. Stay calm no matter what happens, and remember that you can always report misconduct after things settle down.

Finally, please don't be shy about sharing this information with your friends and family. Understanding and asserting your rights isn't about getting away with anything, and it isn't about disrespecting police either. These rights are the foundation of freedom in America, and they get weaker whenever we fail to exercise them.

Huge Increase In Us Kids Living In Poverty: Study

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Years of economic setbacks have taken their toll on the nation’s youngest residents, with another 1.6 million children living in high-poverty neighborhoods, according to one study that shows nearly 8 million children residing in poor areas in 2010.

In 2000, 6.3 million children lived in high poverty in the United States, a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found.

The growth – a 25 percent increase – reverses the trend just a decade ago that saw fewer children living in communities with high poverty rates, according to the nonprofit group.

And three-quarters of those children live in such areas despite having at least one parent working, the study showed.

The findings reflect the hit the U.S. economy took during and after the 2007-2009 recession even as signs now point to steady recovery. The nation’s jobs market has improved, the number of home sales has grown and recent gains on Wall Street have prompted optimism among investors.

“The recession has really set back much of the progress that was made in the 1990s when poverty went down,” Robert Sampson, a professor of social sciences at Harvard University and head of the Social Sciences Program at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and data at the foundation, said the data is a key indicator because the poverty children face growing up can have a direct impact on their success as adults.

“Their families have a harder time providing for basic necessities like good housing, being able to access health insurance and good quality health care,” Speer said. “Kids who attend schools that are in low-income communities … tend to struggle in school in lots of different ways.”

The foundation, which focuses on children and family issues, gathered the data looking at U.S. Census data from 2010, the latest year available.

The study defined high-poverty communities as those areas where 30 percent or more are in poverty, defined by the federal government in 2010 as annual income of less than $22,314 for a family of four.


Still, while many experts say the effects on children and families who themselves are poor is clear, the impact of poor neighborhoods is still an area of debate.

“I think the geographic dimension is less understood or well known,” said Harvard’s Sampson, author of “Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect,” a book based on 10 years of research.

The recession has exacerbated children’s exposure to poverty, and his research shows it can set back their learning the equivalent of a year, he said. That can be difficult to change, Sampson said, and policies need to target both individuals and communities.

“Neighborhoods get locked into the poverty,” he said.

Greg Duncan, an education professor at the University of California, Irvine, said when it comes to “the double whammy of both family poverty and neighborhood poverty” the data is far less clear on the impact of where people live.

“How much that really effects how kids turn out when they are adults – that is still somewhat contentious,” he said.

But, he added, “we worry about both what it means for kids, what it means for the next generation of workers, what it means for the nation’s future prosperity.”

Lawrence Mead, a professor of politics and public policy at New York University, said the rise in children living in poverty is dramatic, but that their environment is less a factor than whether their parents work and whether both parents are at home.

“The environment outside the home doesn’t add a whole,” said Mead, who is also a visiting scholar at the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute.

The foundation’s Speer said the effect of living in a poor community varies depending on whether it is in a more isolated rural one or an urban area. Overall, the report found children living in rural areas and large cities were considerably more likely than youth in the suburbs to live in concentrated poverty.

States with the highest rates of children living in poor areas are Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, Texas and Arizona.

Detroit, Cleveland, Miami, Milwaukee, Fresno and Atlanta showed the highest rates of children living in areas of concentrated poverty among the 50 largest U.S. cities.