Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Report: US targets poor and working class with mass imprisonment

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A new report from the National Research Council titled “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States” details the devastating impact of the American prison system on increasingly wide sections of society.

The report depicts a society in which nearly one percent of the adult population is locked up in prison or jail, and where the immediate and residual effects of mass incarceration mean that the most exploited sections of the population face a relentless cycle of hunger, homelessness, disease, poverty and violence.

“In communities of concentrated disadvantage—characterized by high rates of poverty, violent crime, mental illness and drug addiction—the United States embarked on a massive and unique intensification of criminal punishment” over the past fifty years, the study explained. “Although many questions remain unanswered, the greatest significance of the era of high incarceration rates may lie in that simple descriptive fact.”

The facts enumerated in the study are a damning indictment of the American ruling class, which has no progressive role to play in society. Today, the American elite relies on an elaborate network of gulags to keep large sections of the population constantly moving through the turnstiles of the criminal system. The impact on the population at large is devastating.

According to the report, 2.1 million children—three percent of the total—had a father in prison in 2000. The period of 1991 to 2007 saw a 77 percent increase in the number of children with a father in prison. Over the same period, there was a 131 percent increase in the number of children with a mother in prison.

For the first time in US history, male high school dropouts are almost more likely to go to prison than not. One third of white male high school dropouts born in the late 1970s have served time by their mid-30s. The figure rises to two thirds for black men of the same background.

As the report notes, “the pervasiveness of imprisonment among men with very little schooling is historically unprecedented, emerging only in the past two decades.”

The American prison system is unmatched globally in terms of size. US prisons now hold 2.2 million adults, and more than five million Americans are also on parole or probation, putting the number of people under some form of state punishment at over seven million.

The US imprisons more people than any other country in the world, including countries like China and India with much larger populations. Roughly a quarter of all prisoners worldwide are kept in American prisons, this despite the fact that the US accounts for only five percent of the world’s population.

The US also has the dubious distinction of imprisoning a higher ratio of the general population—707 per 100,000—than any other country. The ratio of Americans in prison is 50 percent higher than the next worst country, Russia, with a ratio of 474 per 100,000.

The current state of the American prison system is the culmination of a decades-long process whereby criminal codes, sentencing rules, and constitutional guidelines have been rewritten to provide a legal cover for the imprisonment of large swaths of the population, both juvenile and adult.

The report explains that “across all branches and levels of government, criminal processing and sentencing expanded the use of incarceration in a number of ways: prison time was increasingly required for lesser offenses; time served has significantly increased for violent crimes and for repeat offenders; and drug crimes, particularly street dealing in urban areas, became more severely policed and punished.”

During the 1970s, “the numbers of arrests and court caseloads increased, and prosecutors and judges became harsher in their charging and sentencing. In the 1980s, convicted defendants became more likely to serve prison time.”

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws, “three strikes” laws mandating life sentences for a third criminal offense, no matter how trivial, and “truth-in-sentencing” laws requiring that offenders serve a minimum of 85 percent of their sentences, were increasingly adopted by states and by Congress in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

The development of harsher laws and policing is inextricably bound up with the policies of social counterrevolution that have dominated the period from 1970 to the present day.

Over the past decades, the growth in prison population has taken place alongside deindustrialization, massive wage and benefit cuts, the slashing of programs like welfare, food stamps, unemployment benefits and other social services, cuts to mental health programs, housing assistance programs, and unprecedented hikes in the cost of living.

Neither the growth of mass incarceration nor the intensified attacks on the rights and living standards of the working class are accidental developments. Rather, both are conscious policies of the ruling class: the mantras of “belt-tightening” and “getting tough on crime” are different sides of the same coin.

Through cuts to wages, benefits, and social programs, the ruling class has overseen a massive transfer of wealth from the broad masses of workers into the coffers of the financial aristocracy. The resulting growth of social misery is handled with increasing brutality by police thugs and reactionary prosecutors, judges, and probation officers.

The report calls for “a systematic review” of penal policies in order to reduce crime and prison populations. However, appeals to the American ruling class to “review” their own prison system will prove as fruitless as asking Louis XVI to “review” conditions in the Bastille. The needs of the millions whose lives are impacted by mass incarceration can only be met through the development of a mass revolutionary movement of the international working class aimed at reorganizing society on a genuinely egalitarian basis.

Retail sales slump points to dismal conditions for US workers

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The S&P 500 stock index hit a new record Friday, closing above 1900 for the first time, having more than doubled in value since 2008. Corporate profits are booming, and economic pundits are proclaiming that the economic “recovery” is in full swing.

The flip side of the unprecedented growth in the wealth of the ruling class are the dismal economic conditions facing the vast majority. Six years after the economic crash, unemployment, poverty, stagnant wages, and increasingly precarious employment continue to be defining realities of life for broad sections of the population.

This reality was starkly expressed in a report on retail sales released Friday by Retail Metrics, which found that earnings in the first quarter fell below estimates by the largest level in thirteen years. The 87 major retailers surveyed saw their earnings fall by 4.1 percent, compared to January estimates of a 13 percent increase.

While the colder-than-average winter likely had an impact on the sales figures, the real culprit is the disastrous financial position of American households. “The American consumer is not fully back and remains cautious,” wrote Ken Perkins, Retail Metrics’ president, in the report.

Wal-Mart, the discount retailer, posted its worst quarterly same-store performance in five years, and its profits fell by five percent for the quarter. Twenty percent of the retailer’s customers rely on food stamps, and the retailer said the two successive cuts to the program over the past year impacted sales.

Stores that target the affluent and wealthy were the exceptions. The upscale department stores Nordstrom and Dillard’s reported sales increases; Nordstrom’s sales grew by 6.8 percent, while those of Dillard’s grew by two percent.

The disparity between the phenomenal growth of the stock market and corporate profits on one hand, and worsening conditions for the great majority of the population on the other, expresses the basic character of the economic “recovery.” Stock markets have been fueled by an infusion of cash from the Federal Reserve, while corporate profits have been boosted by wage cuts and an increase in part-time labor.

Last month, the National Employment Law Project issued a report showing that nearly two million medium and high-wage jobs have been replaced by low-wage jobs. While US businesses have on the whole added 1.85 million low-wage jobs over the past six years, they have eliminated 1.83 million medium-wage (paying between $13 and $20 per hour) and high-wage (between $20 and $32 per hour) jobs.

Speaking last month at the New York Federal Reserve’s Regional Economic Press Briefing, William C. Dudley, acknowledged, “The vast majority of jobs that were lost in the nation and across the region were middle-skill jobs, such as construction workers, teachers, machine operators, and administrative support workers. These jobs have not come back during the recovery.” Dudley noted that these jobs are being replaced with “lower-skilled jobs—such as food service workers, retail clerks, health care aides, and child care workers.”

The number of people working part-time because they cannot find full-time work, which stood at 7.3 million last year, has nearly doubled since before the 2008 economic crisis. Fifteen years ago, only 2.3 percent of the employed population was working part-time for economic reasons, this share now stands at 5.3 percent.

In addition to the growth in part-time labor, the percentage of workers employed by temp agencies has nearly doubled, from 1.3 percent of all employees to 2.1 percent of all employees. There are now 2.8 million workers in such jobs, and are employed not by the companies who buy their labor, but rather by labor contractors. “Once known as a source of stopgap labor used primarily for routine clerical assignments, temp help services now plays an important role in the U.S. economy,” wrote the Bureau of Labor Statistics last month.

Meanwhile mass unemployment continues to take a disastrous social toll on the working population, with the long-term unemployed affected worst of all. A recent survey by the Brookings Institution revealed the extremely precarious situation for this section of the unemployed. In the survey, long-term unemployed people were interviewed during their bout of unemployment, and then again fifteen months later. Of those who were surveyed, only one in ten had found full-time work. Two-thirds were not able to find work of any kind.

The combined impact of falling wages and mass unemployment has had a devastating impact on workers’ incomes. The median household income in the US plummeted by 8.3 percent between 2007 and 2012. Meanwhile, the net worth of America’s billionaires reached $1.2 trillion last year, more than double what it was in 2009.

Over the past year, the White House and Congress have cut food stamp benefits twice, ended federal emergency jobless benefits for more than three million long-term unemployed, implemented sharp cuts to social spending, and used the rollout of the Affordable Care Act to encourage companies, including Target and Home Depot, to slash employee healthcare benefits.

These realities are an expression of the fact that the American ruling class, led by the Obama administration, is waging a brutal campaign against workers’ living standards, seeking to slash wages and social services while all instruments of government policy are directed at ensuring the wealth of the financial aristocracy.

The Size Of The Derivatives Bubble Hanging Over The Global Economy Hits A Record High

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The global derivatives bubble is now 20 percent bigger than it was just before the last great financial crisis struck in 2008.  It is a financial bubble far larger than anything the world has ever seen, and when it finally bursts it is going to be a complete and utter nightmare for the financial system of the planet.  According to the Bank for International Settlements, the total notional value of derivatives contracts around the world has ballooned to an astounding 710 trillion dollars ($710,000,000,000,000).  Other estimates put the grand total well over a quadrillion dollars.  If that sounds like a lot of money, that is because it is.  For example, U.S. GDP is projected to be in the neighborhood of around 17 trillion dollars for 2014.  So 710 trillion dollars is an amount of money that is almost incomprehensible.  Instead of actually doing something about the insanely reckless behavior of the big banks, our leaders have allowed the derivatives bubble and these banks to get larger than ever.  In fact, as I have written about previously, the big Wall Street banks are collectively 37 percent larger than they were just prior to the last recession.  "Too big to fail" is a far more massive problem than it was the last time around, and at some point this derivatives bubble is going to burst and start taking those banks down.  When that day arrives, we are going to be facing a crisis that is going to make 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.

If you do not know what a derivative is, Mayra Rodríguez Valladares, a managing principal at MRV Associates, provided a pretty good definition in her recent article for the New York Times...

A derivative, put simply, is a contract between two parties whose value is determined by changes in the value of an underlying asset. Those assets could be bonds, equities, commodities or currencies. The majority of contracts are traded over the counter, where details about pricing, risk measurement and collateral, if any, are not available to the public.

In other words, a derivative does not have any intrinsic value.  It is essentially a side bet.  Most commonly, derivative contracts have to do with the movement of interest rates.  But there are many, many other kinds of derivatives as well.  People are betting on just about anything and everything that you can imagine, and Wall Street has been transformed into the largest casino in the history of the planet.

After the last financial crisis, our politicians promised us that they would do something to get derivatives trading under control.  But instead, the size of the derivatives bubble has reached a new record high.  In the New York Times article I mentioned above, Goldman Sachs and Citibank were singled out as two players that have experienced tremendous growth in this area in recent years...

Goldman Sachs has been increasing its derivatives volumes since the crisis, and it had a portfolio of about $48 trillion at the end of 2013. Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported that as part of its growth strategy, Goldman plans to sell more derivatives to clients. Citibank, too, has been increasing its derivatives portfolio, despite the numerous capital and regulatory challenges, In fact, its portfolio has risen by over 65 percent since the crisis — the most of any of the four banks — to $62 trillion.

According to official government numbers, the top 25 banks in the United States now have a grand total of more than 236 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.  But there are four banks that dwarf everyone else.  The following are the latest numbers for those four banks...

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $1,945,467,000,000 (nearly 2 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $70,088,625,000,000 (more than 70 trillion dollars)


Total Assets: $1,346,747,000,000 (a bit more than 1.3 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $62,247,698,000,000 (more than 62 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $1,433,716,000,000 (a bit more than 1.4 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $38,850,900,000,000 (more than 38 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $105,616,000,000 (just a shade over 105 billion dollars – yes, you read that correctly)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $48,611,684,000,000 (more than 48 trillion dollars)

If the stock market keeps going up, interest rates stay fairly stable and the global economy does not experience a major downturn, this bubble will probably not burst for a while.

But if there is a major shock to the system, we could easily experience a major derivatives crisis very rapidly and several of those banks could fail simultaneously.

There are many out there that would welcome the collapse of the big banks, but that would also be very bad news for the rest of us.

You see, the truth is that the U.S. economy is like a very sick patient with an extremely advanced case of cancer.  You can try to kill the cancer (the banks), but in the process you will inevitably kill the patient as well.

Right now, the five largest banks account for 42 percent of all loans in the entire country, and the six largest banks control 67 percent of all banking assets.

If they go down, we go down too.

That is why the fact that they have been so reckless is so infuriating.

Just look at the numbers for Goldman Sachs again.  At this point, the total exposure that Goldman Sachs has to derivatives contracts is more than 460 times greater than their total assets.

And this kind of thing is not just happening in the United States.  German banking giant Deutsche Bank has more than 75 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.  That is even more than any single U.S. bank has.

This derivatives bubble is a "sword of Damocles" that is hanging over the global economy by a thread day after day, month after month, year after year.

At some point that thread is going to break, the bubble is going to burst, and then all hell is going to break loose.

You see, the truth is that virtually none of the underlying problems that caused the last financial crisis have been fixed.

Instead, our problems have just gotten even bigger and the financial bubbles have gotten even larger.

Never before in the history of the United States have we been faced with the threat of such a great financial catastrophe.

Sadly, most Americans are totally oblivious to all of this.  They just have faith that our leaders know what they are doing, and they have been lulled into complacency by the bubble of false stability that we have been enjoying for the last couple of years.

Unfortunately for them, this bubble of false stability is not going to last much longer.

A financial crisis far greater than what we experienced in 2008 is coming, and it is going to shock the world.

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Japan Begins Purposely Dumping 100s Of Tons Of Radioactive Water From Fukushima Into The Pacific

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How do you get rid of hundreds of tons of highly radioactive water?  You dump it into the Pacific Ocean of course!  In Japan, the  Tokyo Electric Power Co. has made the “painful decision” to begin purposely dumping massive amounts of radioactive water currently being stored at the destroyed Fukushima nuclear facility directly into the Pacific.  This is being done even though water radiation levels near Fukushima spiked to a brand new all-time record high just a few days ago.  The radioactive material that is being released will enter our food chain and will potentially stay with us for decades to come.  Fukushima is an environmental nightmare that never seems to end, but the mainstream media in the United States decided to pretty much stop talking about it long ago.  So don’t expect the big news networks to make a big deal out of the fact that Japan is choosing to use the Pacific Ocean as a toilet for their nuclear waste.  But even though they aren’t talking about it, that doesn’t mean that radioactive material from Fukushima is not seriously affecting the health of millions of people all over the planet.

According to the Japan Times, Tepco released 560 tons of radioactive water into the Pacific on Wednesday, and Tepco says that for the foreseeable future we should expect another 100 tons of radioactive water to be released into the ocean every single day…

Tokyo Electric Power Co. began dumping groundwater from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant into the Pacific on Wednesday, in a bid to manage the huge amounts of radioactive water that have built up at the complex.

The utility, which says the water discharged is within legal radiation safety limits, has been fighting a daily battle against contaminated water since Fukushima No. 1 was decimated by the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

Tepco said 560 tons of groundwater captured and stored before it entered reactor building basements was to be released Wednesday, using a bypass system that funnels it toward the ocean after checking for radiation levels.

Using the bypass, Tepco hopes to divert an average of 100 tons of untainted groundwater a day into the ocean.

Tepco is assuring us that the radioactive water that is being released is within “legal radiation safety limits”.

But this is the same company that could not tell us why radiation levels in water near Fukushima reached a new all-time high just a few days ago…

Radiation has spiked to all-time highs at five monitoring points in waters adjacent to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power station, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Friday.

The measurements follow similar highs detected in groundwater at the plant. Officials of Tepco, as the utility is known, said the cause of the seawater spike is unknown.

Three of the monitoring sites are inside the wrecked plant’s adjacent port, which ships once used to supply it.

At one sampling point in the port, between the water intakes for the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors, 1,900 becquerels per liter of tritium was detected Monday, up from a previous high of 1,400 becquerels measured on April 14, Tepco said.

Nearby, also within the port, tritium levels were found to have spiked to 1,400 becquerels, from a previous high of 1,200 becquerels.

So do you trust Tepco?

I certainly do not.

And this is not just a Japanese issue.  Radioactive material from Fukushima has literally been found all over the planet.  For example, a nuclear fuel fragment from Fukushima has been found as far away as Norway.

Once this radioactive material gets into the ocean and into our food chain, there is no telling where it may end up.

If the mainstream media really did care about “the environment”, they would be talking about this.  But instead, there seems to be a conspiracy of silence.  Just consider the comments that Martin Fackler of the New York Times made during one recent interview…

Yeah… it’s so hard in Japan to talk about the radiation issue, like how bad is it really… There is a sense that if you even talk about these issues, you’re hurting the poor people of Fuksuhima. Therefore, we shouldn’t talk about it. That’s just not right… The folks who don’t want us to talk about it are the government, because they don’t want to pay compensation… I feel like there is a lot going on in Fukushima that just doesn’t get talked about in the local media, not necessarily for government cover-up sort of issues, but self restraint or self censorship. Even papers that are pretty strong in their reporting on Tepco in some ways, like the Tokyo Shimbun, won’t talk about these issues because they’re afraid that somehow its unpatriotic to talk about radiation. There’s a lot of questions and issues that are not being talked about, and I think they should be talked and if there is damage to the people of Fukushima that’s the responsibility of Tepco…

And the U.S. media certainly doesn’t seem to want to talk about how radiation from Fukushima could be affecting the west coast of our country.

But the evidence continues to mount that something very unusual is happening.

Just consider what is happening to young sea lions along the coast of California…

Sea lions are once again struggling to survive and are washing ashore, many of them pups dehydrated, malnourished and on the brink of death.

The year started off quieter than last year, and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center’s director of development, Melissa Sciacca, thought they were in the clear – until about a month ago, when the calls started coming in nonstop. The center, in Laguna Beach, is near capacity, with about 100 sea lions being treated so they can be returned to the wild once they are strong enough.

“We thought it was going to be a nice calm year; in the last month it’s just spiked,” she said. “The rescues just keep coming in at a steady pace.”

And as I wrote about just the other day, something is causing millions of fish to die in mass death events all over the globe right now.

Could Fukushima be a contributing factor?

A lot of people out there are attempting to downplay the impact that the Fukushima nuclear disaster has had on the Pacific Ocean.

I believe that this is a huge mistake.

Nuclear radiation causes cancer.

Nuclear radiation kills.

The total amount of nuclear material released from Fukushima just continues to increase and slowly accumulate in our food chain.  When these nuclear particles get into you, they can literally start cooking you from the inside out.  In a previous article, I included a quote from an opinion piece by Helen Caldicott that was published in the Guardian….

Internal radiation, on the other hand, emanates from radioactive elements which enter the body by inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption. Hazardous radionuclides such as iodine-131, caesium 137, and other isotopes currently being released in the sea and air around Fukushima bio-concentrate at each step of various food chains (for example into algae, crustaceans, small fish, bigger fish, then humans; or soil, grass, cow’s meat and milk, then humans). After they enter the body, these elements – called internal emitters – migrate to specific organs such as the thyroid, liver, bone, and brain, where they continuously irradiate small volumes of cells with high doses of alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation, and over many years, can induce uncontrolled cell replication – that is, cancer. Further, many of the nuclides remain radioactive in the environment for generations, and ultimately will cause increased incidences of cancer and genetic diseases over time.

Doesn’t that sound lovely?

And it has been documented that radioactive material from Fukushima has been getting into the seafood being sold in North America.

For example, back in 2012 the Vancouver Sun reported that cesium-137 was being discovered in a very high percentage of the fish that Japan was selling to Canada…

• 73 percent of the mackerel

• 91 percent of the halibut

• 92 percent of the sardines

• 93 percent of the tuna and eel

• 94 percent of the cod and anchovies

• 100 percent of the carp, seaweed, shark and monkfish

So why was radiation testing for seafood subsequently shut down in Canada?

Since that time, as I detailed in one of my previous articles, a high school student up in Canada tested seafood bought at local grocery stores for radioactive contamination.  What she found was absolutely stunning…

A Canadian high school student named Bronwyn Delacruz never imagined that her school science project would make headlines all over the world.  But that is precisely what has happened.  Using a $600 Geiger counter purchased by her father, Delacruz measured seafood bought at local grocery stores for radioactive contamination.  What she discovered was absolutely stunning.  Much of the seafood, particularly the products that were made in China, tested very high for radiation.  So is this being caused by nuclear radiation from Fukushima?  Is the seafood that we are eating going to give us cancer and other diseases?

Why aren’t we being warned about this?

Earlier this year, a fish that was caught just off the coast of the Fukushima prefecture was discovered to have 124 times the safe level of radioactive cesium.

But virtually nobody in the mainstream media considers this to be important enough to talk about.

A lot of people seem to think that the Fukushima nuclear disaster is old news.  But in many ways the biggest problems for North America may just be beginning.  For example, according to scientists at the University of South Wales, the main radioactive plume of water from Fukushima has finally crossed the Pacific Ocean and is going to hit our shores at some point during 2014…

The first radioactive ocean plume released by the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster will finally be reaching the shores of the United States some time in 2014, according to a new study from the University of New South Wales — a full three or so years after the date of the disaster.

The following graphics come directly from that study…

Fukushima Radiation - University Of New South Wales

So as the main plume of nuclear radiation reaches our shores, what will that do to our wildlife, our fishing industry and our beaches?

And what kind of danger does this radioactive water pose to those living along the west coast?

These are very important questions, but unfortunately those in power and those working for the mainstream media don’t really want to talk about these things.