- Instead of a long article about what transpired in 2014 and what may be ahead, I’m going to offer readers three items… that have made a deep impression on me recently; these are “must watch” items for anyone interested in helping our species avoid peril from environmental degradation
- The deteriorating status of things at the destroyed nuclear plant at Fukushima, Japan…you have an obligation, really, to be aware of conditions there
- [There is a] very real and present threat from the… highly radioactive… destroyed cores of the reactors, as well as things like the storage of contaminated water in hastily-built, rusting containers
- This is serious stuff… an actual meltdown of the reactors — real China Syndrome stuff — as had been assumed would never likely happen in a modern reactor
- The situation is exponentially more dire than Chernobyl
- [Workers must] remove the rods for safe containment without having them contact one another and trigger a fire, the consequences of which would be unimaginable — We’re talking mass extinction around the world, especially in the northern hemisphere
- Most people have forgotten the situation and think of it only as a local Japanese problem
- It’s only a matter of time before another earthquake or tidal wave triggers such an event
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Go To Original
[After a quarter-century, this is] my last article written as Editor of HazMat Managementmagazine [and] Solid Waste & Recyclingmagazine Guy Crittenden, editor of HazMat Management magazine and Solid Waste & Recyclingmagazine (Part of the EcoLog Environmental Resources Group, “Canada’s leading publisher of print and electronic environmental, occupational health and safety, workers’ compensation news, legislation and compliance solutions – Subscribers include environmental health and safety managers, engineers, executives and lawyers in all industry sectors and government”), Dec 11, 2014 (emphasis added):
Kevin Kamps, nuclear waste watchdog for Beyond Nuclear, Nuclear Hotseat, Dec 9, 2014 (at 37:00 in): “If the meltdown is bad enough, that’s going to burn its way right through the foundations of the containment — like we’ve seen at Fukushima Daiichi.”
Go To Original
Nuclear radiation resulting from the March 2011 Fukushima disaster –which threatens life on planet earth– is not front page news in comparison to the most insignificant issues of public concern, including the local level crime scene or the tabloid gossip reports on Hollywood celebrities.
The shaky political consensus both in Japan, the U.S. and Western Europe is that the crisis at Fukushima has been contained.
The truth is otherwise. Known and documented, the ongoing dumping of highly radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean constitutes a potential trigger to a process of global radioactive contamination.
This water contains plutonium 239 and its release into the Ocean has both local as well as global repercussions. A microgram of plutonium if inhaled, according to Dr. Helen Caldicott, can cause death:
Certain isotopes of radioactive plutonium are known as some of the deadliest poisons on the face of the earth. A mere microgram (a speck of darkness on a pinhead) of Plutonium-239, if inhaled, can cause death, and if ingested, radioactive Plutonium can be harmful, causing leukemia and other bone cancers.“In the days following the 2011 earthquake and nuclear plant explosions, seawater meant to cool the nuclear power plants instead carried radioactive elements back to the Pacific ocean. Radioactive Plutonium was one of the elements streamed back to sea.” (decodescience.com).
It would appear that the radioactive water has already penetrated parts of the Japanese coastline:
Environmental testing of shoreline around the nuclear plant (as well fish, especially Tuna) showed negligible amounts of Plutonium in the seawater. The Plutonium, from what little is reported, sank into the sediments off the Japanese coast.” (Ibid)
A recent report suggests that the Japanese government is intent upon releasing the remaining radioactive water into the Ocean. The proposed “solution” becomes the cause of radioactive contamination of both the Japanese coastline as well as the Pacific Ocean, extending to the coastline of North America.
While the chairman of the Nuclear Radiation Authority recognizes that the water in the tanks is heavily “tainted”, a decision has nonetheless been taken to empty the tanks and dump the water into the Ocean:
The head of Japan’s nuclear watchdog said contaminated water stored at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant should be released into the ocean to ensure safe decommissioning of the reactors.Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, made the comment Dec. 12 after visiting the facility to observe progress in dismantling the six reactors. The site was severely damaged in the tsunami generated by the 2011 earthquake.“I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of tanks (holding water tainted with radioactive substances),” Tanaka told reporters, indicating they pose a danger to decommissioning work. “We have to dispose of the water.”With regard to expected protests by local fishermen over the discharge, Tanaka said, “We also have to obtain the consent of local residents in carrying out the work, so we can somehow mitigate (the increase in tainted water).”Tanaka has said previously that to proceed with decommissioning, tainted water stored on the site would need to be released into the sea so long as it had been decontaminated to accepted safety standards.“While (the idea) may upset people, we must do our utmost to satisfy residents of Fukushima,” Tanaka said, adding that the NRA would provide information to local residents based on continuing studies of radioactive elements in local waters.The inspection tour was Tanaka’s second since he became NRA chief in September 2012. He last visited in April 2013.During his visit, Tanaka observed work at a trench on the ocean side of the No. 2 reactor building, where highly contaminated water is being pumped out. He also inspected barriers set up around the storage tanks to prevent leaks of tainted water.Tanaka praised the completion in November of work to remove all spent nuclear fuel from the No. 4 reactor building, as well as changes to work procedures that he said allows for the completion of the work at the No. 2 reactor trench. Hiromi Kumai , NRA Head Signals Massive Release of Tainted Water to Help Decommission Fukushima Site Asahi Shimbun December 13, 2014
The contradictory statements of the NRA chief avoid addressing the broader implications, by giving the impression that the issue is local and that local fishermen off the Fukushima coast will be consulted.
Additional articles and videos on Fukushima and Nuclear Radiation are available at Global Research’s Dossier on The Environment
Nuclear Radiation: Categorization
At Fukushima, reports confirm that alpha, beta, gamma particles and neutrons have been released:
“While non-ionizing radiation and x-rays are a result of electron transitions in atoms or molecules, there are three forms of ionizing radiation that are a result of activity within the nucleus of an atom. These forms of nuclear radiation are alpha particles (α-particles), beta particles (β-particles) and gamma rays (γ-rays).Alpha particles are heavy positively charged particles made up of two protons and two neutrons. They are essentially a helium nucleus and are thus represented in a nuclear equation by either α or . See the Alpha Decay page for more information on alpha particles.Beta particles come in two forms: and . particles are just electrons that have been ejected from the nucleus. This is a result of sub-nuclear reactions that result in a neutron decaying to a proton. The electron is needed to conserve charge and comes from the nucleus. It is not an orbital electron. particles are positrons ejected from the nucleus when a proton decays to a neutron. A positron is an anti-particle that is similar in nearly all respects to an electron, but has a positive charge. See the Beta Decay page for more information on beta particles.Gamma rays are photons of high energy electromagnetic radiation (light). Gamma rays generally have the highest frequency and shortest wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum. There is some overlap in the frequencies of gamma rays and x-rays; however, x-rays are formed from electron transitions while gamma rays are formed from nuclear transitions. See the Gamma Rays for more” (SOURCE: Canadian Nuclear Association)“A neutron is a particle that is found in the nucleus, or center, of atoms. It has a mass very close to protons, which also reside in the nucleus of atoms. Together, they make up almost all of the mass of individual atoms. Each has a mass of about 1 amu, which is roughly 1.6×10-27kg. Protons have a positive charge and neutrons have no charge, which is why they were more difficult to discover.” (SOURCE: Neutron Radiation)
“Many different radioactive isotopes are used in or are produced by nuclear reactors. The most important of these are described below:1. Uranium 235 (U-235) is the active component of most nuclear reactor fuel.2. Plutonium (Pu-239) is a key nuclear material used in modern nuclear weapons and is also present as a by-product in certain reprocessed fuels used in some nuclear reactors. Pu-239 is also produced in uranium reactors as a byproduct of fission of U-235.3. Cesium (Cs-137 ) is a fission product of U-235. It emits beta and gamma radiation and can cause radiation sickness and death if exposures are high enough. …4. Iodine 131 (I-131), also a fission product of U-235, emits beta and gamma radiation. After inhalation or ingestion, it is absorbed by and concentrated in the thyroid gland, where its beta radiation damages nearby thyroid tissue (SOURCE: Amesh A. Adalja, MD, Eric S. Toner, MD, Anita Cicero, JD, Joseph Fitzgerald, MS, MPH, and Thomas V. Inglesby MD, Radiation at Fukushima: Basic Issues and Concepts, March 31, 2011)
Do you ever get a sense of déjà vu? When you get a creepy feeling that you’ve been there before, or experienced something before? On Saturday, December 13, I was marching in a #BlackLivesMatter march down 4th Avenue in downtown Olympia, Washington, with about 50 other people in the middle of the street. It was dark, cars were honking in anger or support, and protesters were chanting about racist violence, militarization, and the police. That’s when the déjà vu hit me hard.
But of course, I had heard it all before. Only seven years ago, a few blocks to the north, antiwar protesters had blocked the Port of Olympia. They were keeping armored vehicles from being shipped between Fort Lewis and the killing fields of Iraq. The port protesters were facing down the police who were protecting the military equipment, so it could be sent against brown-skinned people in a foreign land.
But now, we were marching down 4th Ave. because similar armored vehicles were being brought back from Iraq to be deployed in the “homeland.” They were being deployed for the oldest and longest war that the United States has ever fought, against black- and brown-skinned people on American soil. Instead of occupying Iraq or Afghanistan, they were occupying the streets of American cities. The militarization of the police is causing the deaths of more and more African Americans and others, so that every new police killing becomes a déjà vu of the last one.
We live in a country where not only are the police being militarized, but an overseas military intervention is officially termed a “police action.” When soldiers return from Iraq or Afghanistan, sometimes the only job they can find is in law enforcement or private security firms, and their military training causes some of them to see potential enemies everywhere. And because there are fewer jobs available in the U.S., the same kids who are harassed by cops in their own neighborhoods have few options other than joining the military to harass other kids abroad.
We shouldn’t be so surprised that the war is coming home, because it’s always been here. When martial law was declared in African American neighborhoods of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, private Blackwater mercenaries were flown directly from Baghdad to enforce it. When the U.S. torture chambers in Abu Ghraib Prison were exposed, it was revealed that one of the torturers had come directly from the prison-industrial complex in Pennsylvania, where he presumably had learned his tradecraft on African American and Latino inmates.
The grand jury refusal to indict the killer of Eric Garner came the same week as the release of a Senate report on the CIA torture empire that has grown since 9/11. Part of the report focused on waterboarding, a torture technique (stretching back to counterinsurgency wars in Native America and the Philippines) in which the victims are nearly drowned to extract information or confessions. In other words, the purpose of waterboarding is to prevent a person from breathing, much like the police chokehold that caused Eric Garner to gasp for air. #ICantBreathe is a statement with global implications.
We don’t know the names of most of the civilians who have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, or in U.S. bombings in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and countless other targeted “tribal regions.” But we can better understand their suffering through the voices of the mothers of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Trayvon Martin, John T. Williams, Aiyana Jones, and the countless other targets of racist killers.
We can have more empathy for what civilians face abroad by understanding this war at home, and conversely have more solidarity with civilians here by understanding the wars abroad. If repressive techniques are successfully tested on foreigners or immigrants, they are then inevitably brought back into the “homeland” to be used on citizens (as we’ve seen here in Olympia with Army surveillance of antiwar groups). And if cops and armed white citizens can commit violence with impunity in the homeland, it enables even greater violence elsewhere.
Only two hours before the Olympia youth rally, and a few blocks south at the Washington State Capitol, 1,000 gun-rights activists held an “I Will Not Comply” rally against a new voter-mandated state law for background checks on gun owners. The camouflage-clad militants openly brandished automatic assault weapons, and passed them freely amongst each other. The Washington State Patrol claimed it witnessed no violations of the law at the rally. These protesters, of course, were almost all white, and they flew at least one Confederate flag.
Whatever one thinks about gun control, let’s get one thing straight here. If a heavily armed crowd of 1,000 African Americans, Latinos, or Native Americans had protested at any State Capitol, the State Patrol would have tried to find (or engineer) an excuse to detain them. If the heavily armed crowd had been Muslim, the Army would have been brought in helicopters and armored vehicles against the “terrorists.” But because this homegrown threat was posed by white, Christian citizens, they were portrayed in the local paper merely as liberty-loving “advocates.”
The same double standards apply to wars abroad. When the enemies of the U.S. launch wars, they are “committing genocide” or “ethnic cleansing.” When the U.S. and its allies launch wars, they are “defending freedom,” or carrying out “humanitarian interventions.” Even at times when the military is called on to stop genuine dangers, it generally ends up killing more civilians and alienating its own allies. In much the same way, a family that calls the police to restrain a mentally ill relative sometimes regrets the decision, when the cops end up causing more harm than good.
The attention of the American public is moving away from overseas wars, because the Pentagon’s shift to bombers and drones, and proxy armies and mercenaries, has caused lower casualties among U.S. troops. But public attention is shifting toward the war at home, where it will be more difficult to automate or outsource the war, and it will be more difficult to hide it from evening commuters or even football fans. And if more Americans lose their faith in the local police department as our protectors, they may begin to rethink the Pentagon as our protector as well.
Since President Obama’s election in 2008, conservatives and progressives alike have declared the “death” of the antiwar movement. Strong antiwar sympathies caused a lowering of troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, and prevented wars against the Syrian and Iranian militaries, but could not prevent the new bombings of Iraq and Syria. Certainly the antiwar movement is not as visible or vocal as it was during the Bush years, if we only look at opposition to the wars abroad.
But if we see the upsurge in Ferguson, New York, and the entire country as opposing the racist militarization of American society and the “war at home,” the current upsurge is one of the strongest antiwar movements we’ve ever seen. It has stronger leadership from people of color than earlier movements. The movement is broadly based and deeply rooted in a wide range of local communities, and its protests have been sustained over weeks and months.
Black Lives Matter is even far more multiracial and multigenerational than earlier uprisings against the war at home, such as the 1992 Los Angeles rebellion. The youth who are taking the lead in the recent protests are not playing politics as usual, and will not easily go back to a compliant acceptance of militarization, either at home or abroad. I’ve witnessed many social movements in my years, and it just feels different this time.
Déjà vu means “already seen,” and that’s just the problem. We’ve already seen genocide and lynchings in our history. We’ve already seen kids shot down in cold blood, and their killers get promoted. We’ve already seen police and military alike trained to strike at peaceful civilians with their “hands up,” for the crime of challenging the empire, or merely for being in the way. We’ve already seen social movements blossom, get intimidated or coopted, and then wither away. But history doesn’t always have to repeat itself, because the cycles exhaust themselves and eventually hit a wall.
A tectonic generational shift is underway that we are only beginning to perceive. Upsurges such as Occupy, Idle No More, Climate Justice, and Black Lives Matter may either gradually release tension in the fault lines, or serve as harbingers of more intense shake-ups ahead. If, in our cynicism and fatalism, we think that we’ve “already seen” it all, we may be surprised by how quickly change can and does happen. Things will not always stay the same, and old patterns do not have to be repeated. If social movements remain brave and unpredictable, they can move mountains.
Go To Original
On December 11, 2014, the US House passed a bill repealing the Dodd-Frank requirement that risky derivatives be pushed into big-bank subsidiaries, leaving our deposits and pensions exposed to massive derivatives losses. The bill was vigorously challenged by Senator Elizabeth Warren; but the tide turned when Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorganChase, stepped into the ring. Perhaps what prompted his intervention was the unanticipated $40 drop in the price of oil. As financial blogger Michael Snyder points out, that drop could trigger a derivatives payout that could bankrupt the biggest banks. And if the G20’s new “bail-in” rules are formalized, depositors and pensioners could be on the hook.
The new bail-in rules were discussed in my last post here. They are edicts of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), an unelected body of central bankers and finance ministers headquartered in the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland (image right). Where did the FSB get these sweeping powers, and is its mandate legally enforceable?
Those questions were addressed in an article I wrote in June 2009, two months after the FSB was formed, titled “Big Brother in Basel: BIS Financial Stability Board Undermines National Sovereignty.” It linked the strange boot shape of the BIS to a line from Orwell’s 1984: “a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” The concerns raised there seem to be materializing, so I’m republishing the bulk of that article here. We need to be paying attention, lest the bail-in juggernaut steamroll over us unchallenged.
The Shadowy Financial Stability Board
Alarm bells went off in April 2009, when the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) was linked to the new Financial Stability Board (FSB) signed onto by the G20 leaders in London. The FSB was an expansion of the older Financial Stability Forum (FSF) set up in 1999 to serve in a merely advisory capacity by the G7 (a group of finance ministers formed from the seven major industrialized nations). The chair of the FSF was the General Manager of the BIS. The new FSB was expanded to include all G20members (19 nations plus the EU).
Formally called the “Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors,” the G20 was, like the G7, originally set up as a forum merely for cooperation and consultation on matters pertaining to the international financial system. What set off alarms was that the new Financial Stability Board had real teeth, imposing “obligations” and “commitments” on its members; and this feat was pulled off without legislative formalities, skirting the usual exacting requirements for treaties. It was all done in hasty response to an “emergency.” Problem-reaction-solution was the slippery slope of coups.
Buried on page 83 of an 89-page Report on Financial Regulatory Reform issued by the US Obama administration was a recommendation that the FSB strengthen and institutionalize its mandate to promote global financial stability. It sounded like a worthy goal, but there was a disturbing lack of detail. What was the FSB’s mandate, what were its expanded powers, and who was in charge? An article in The London Guardian addressed those issues in question and answer format:
Who runs the regulator? The Financial Stability Forum is chaired by Mario Draghi, governor of the Bank of Italy. The secretariat is based at the Bank for International Settlements’ headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.
Draghi was director general of the Italian treasury from 1991 to 2001, where he was responsible for widespread privatization (sell-off of government holdings to private investors). From 2002 to 2006, he was a partner at Goldman Sachs on Wall Street. He was succeeded in 2011 by Mark Carney, who also got his start at Goldman Sachs, working there for 13 years before going on to become Governor of the Bank of Canada in 2008 and Governor of the Bank of England in 2012. In 2011 and 2012, Carney attended the annual meetings of the controversial Bilderberg Group.
What will the new regulator do? The regulator will monitor potential risks to the economy . . . It will cooperate with the IMF, the Washington-based body that monitors countries’ financial health, lending funds if needed.
The IMF is an international banking organization that is also controversial. Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist for the World Bank, charged it with ensnaring Third World countries in a debt trap from which they could not escape. Debtors unable to pay were bound by “conditionalities” that included a forced sell-off of national assets to private investors in order to service their loans.
What will the regulator oversee? All ‘systemically important’ financial institutions, instruments and markets.
The term “systemically important” was not defined. Would it include such systemically important institutions as national treasuries, and such systemically important markets as gold, oil and food?
How will it work? The body will establish a supervisory college to monitor each of the largest international financial services firms. . . . It will act as a clearing house for information-sharing and contingency planning for the benefit of its members.
“Information-sharing” can mean illegal collusion. Would the information-sharing here include such things as secret agreements among central banks to buy or sell particular currencies, with the concomitant power to support or collapse targeted local economies?
What will the new regulator do about debt and loans? To prevent another debt bubble, the new body will recommend financial companies maintain provisions against credit losses and may impose constraints on borrowing.
What sort of constraints? The Basel Accords, imposed by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (also housed at the BIS) had not necessarily worked out well. The first Basel Accord, issued in 1998, had been blamed for inducing a recession in Japan from which that country had yet to recover; and the Second Basel Accord and its associated mark-to-market rule had been blamed for bringing on the 2008 crisis. (For more on this, see The Public Bank Solution.)
The Amorphous 12 International Standards and Codes
Most troubling, perhaps, was this vague parenthetical reference in a press release issued by the BIS, titled “Financial Stability Forum Re-established as the Financial Stability Board”:
As obligations of membership, member countries and territories commit to . . . implement international financial standards (including the 12 key International Standards and Codes) . . . .
This was not just friendly advice from an advisory board. It was a commitment to comply, so you would expect some detailed discussion concerning what those standards entailed. But a search of the major media revealed virtually nothing. The 12 key International Standards and Codes were left undefined and undiscussed. The FSB website listed them, but it was vague. The Standards and Codes covered broad areas that were apparently subject to modification as the overseeing committees saw fit. They included money and financial policy transparency, fiscal policy transparency, data dissemination, insolvency, corporate governance, accounting, auditing, payment and settlement, market integrity, banking supervision, securities regulation, and insurance supervision.
Take “fiscal policy transparency” as an example. The “Code of Good Practices on Fiscal Transparency” was adopted by the IMF Interim Committee in 1998. The “synoptic description” said:
The code contains transparency requirements to provide assurances to the public and to capital markets that a sufficiently complete picture of the structure and finances of government is available so as to allow the soundness of fiscal policy to be reliably assessed.
Members were required to provide a “picture of the structure and finances of government” that was complete enough for an assessment of its “soundness” — but an assessment by whom, and what if a government failed the test? Was an unelected private committee based in the BIS allowed to evaluate the “structure and function” of particular national governments and, if they were determined to have fiscal policies that were not “sound,” to impose “conditionalities” and “austerity measures” of the sort that the IMF was notorious for imposing on Third World countries? Suspicious observers wondered if that was how once-mighty nations were to be brought under the heel of Big Brother at last.
For three centuries, private international banking interests have brought governments in line by blocking them from issuing their own currencies and requiring them to borrow banker-issued “banknotes” instead. Political colonialism is now a thing of the past, but under the new FSB guidelines, nations could still be held in feudalistic subservience to foreign masters.
Consider this scenario: the new FSB rules precipitate a massive global depression due to contraction of the money supply. XYZ country wakes up to the fact that all of this is unnecessary – that it could be creating its own money, freeing itself from the debt trap, rather than borrowing from bankers who create money on computer screens and charge interest for the privilege of borrowing it. But this realization comes too late: the boot descends and XYZ is crushed into line. National sovereignty has been abdicated to a private committee, with no say by the voters.
Marilyn Barnewall, dubbed by Forbes Magazine the “dean of American private banking,” wrote in an April 2009 article titled “What Happened to American Sovereignty at G-20?”:
It seems the world’s bankers have executed a bloodless coup and now represent all of the people in the world. . . . President Obama agreed at the G20 meeting in London to create an international board with authority to intervene in U.S. corporations by dictating executive compensation and approving or disapproving business management decisions. Under the new Financial Stability Board, the United States has only one vote. In other words, the group will be largely controlled by European central bankers. My guess is, they will represent themselves, not you and not me and certainly not America.
The Commitments Mandated by the Financial Stability Board Constitute a Commercial Treaty Requiring a Two-thirds Vote of the Senate
Are these commitments legally binding? Adoption of the FSB was never voted on by the public, either individually or through their legislators. The G20 Summit has been called “a New Bretton Woods,” referring to agreements entered into in 1944 establishing new rules for international trade. But Bretton Woods was put in place by Congressional Executive Agreement, requiring a majority vote of the legislature; and it more properly should have been done by treaty, requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate, since it was an international agreement binding on the nation.
“Bail-in” is not the law yet, but the G20 governments will be called upon to adopt the FSB’s resolution measures when the proposal is finalized after taking comments in 2015. The authority of the G20 has been challenged, but mainly over whether important countries were left out of the mix. The omitted countries may prove to be the lucky ones, having avoided the FSB’s net.
Go To Original
No doubt in a sop to their corporate masters, a bipartisan group of lawmakers reached a deal just days ago to allow, for the first time, pension benefits of current retirees to be severely cut.
As reported by The Washington Post and MSN, the deal was necessary, say its backers, in order to save some of the most distressed pension plans. But what it will really do is pull the economic rug out from underneath millions of aged retirees when the economy remains sluggish and they are at their most vulnerable.
2014 Spending Bill last-minute attachment saves pension plans, not pensioners
The Post reported:
The rule would alter 40 years of federal law and could affect millions of workers, many of them part of a shrinking corps of middle-income employees in businesses such as trucking, construction and supermarkets.
The amendment was attached – without prior publication or announcement, of course – to the $1.01 trillion spending bill just passed by the House and Senate.
The rule change will “apply to multi-employer pensions, where a group of businesses in the same industry join forces with unions to provide pension coverage for employees. The plans cover some 10 million U.S. workers,” said the Post.
Millions will lose benefits when they can least afford to
The paper reported that, overall, there are about 1,400 multi-employer pension plans in existence, and many still remain in good fiscal condition. Those would not be affected by the deal. But several dozen plans have failed while several more larger plans are facing insolvency.
Over the next 20 years, as many as 200 multi-employer plans that cover 1.5 million workers are in danger of running out of funds. And half are believed to be in such bad shape that they are likely to ask for permission to reduce pension payments to recipients in the very near future.
“We have to do something to allow these plans to make the corrections and adjustments they need to keep these plans viable,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who, with Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., led efforts to hammer out a deal. Naturally no congressional pension plans are in danger of running out of funds – not as long as taxpayers continue to fund them.
As you might have guessed, the provision has angered retirement security advocates. They say that giving pension plans permission to cut benefits and payments will only lead to additional cuts later.
“After a lifetime of hard work to earn their pensions, retirees don’t deserve to receive a bad deal, in which they have had no say, cut behind closed doors and excluding the very people who would be impacted the most,” Joyce Rogers, a senior vice president for AARP, the lobbying giant lobbying group for older Americans, said in a statement, as reported by the Post.
Worse, there are some unions and retirement fund managers – those who supposedly stand up “for working Americans” – supporting this deal (the Post said they are “reluctantly” supporting it, but it is support nonetheless). They have said they see the deal as necessary to prevent the plans from running out of money (which, as our editor Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, says will happen anyway – more on that in a moment).
“This bipartisan agreement gives pension trustees the tools they need to maintain plan solvency, preserves benefits for the long haul, and protects the 10.5 million multiemployer participants,” Randy G. DeFrehne, executive director of the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans said in a statement, according to the Post. “With time running out on the retirement security of millions of Americans, moving this bipartisan proposal forward now is not only timely, but necessary.”
A year-and-a-half ago, in a piece for Natural News, Adams predicted the decline and fall of pensions – private, for sure, but also public pensions. With the declaration of bankruptcy by the city of Detroit in the headlines, Adams wrote:
Yes, Detroit owes former government employees – teachers, firefighters, cops and more – a whopping $3.5 billion in current and future payments. Except Detroit doesn’t have $3.5 billion to pay the pensions. The city is in a state of economic collapse. Remember, the U.S. government used billions in taxpayer money to help General Motors move its manufacturing offshore to countries like China. As a result of economically-insane actions and criminal mismanagement, a city that used to be the hub of industrial output in America has become a ghost town of abandoned buildings, crumbling infrastructure and financial destitution.But even as all this was becoming apparent, the government workers there continued to collect fat paychecks and pensions, all based on the promise that endless population growth would outpace the rise in pension obligations. Many pensioners are owed over $100,000 a year from the government, and this is true across California, Illinois and many other states as well.Chicago, for example, owes $19 billion in pension payments that it doesn’t have, and the city of Los Angeles is more than $30 billion in the hole. The story is much the same in every major U.S. city.
Go To Original
Last week, the US Congress approved a bipartisan “pension reform” measure that will undo 40 years of retirement income rights for industrial and other private-sector workers in the United States.
Coming on the heels of the ruling in the Detroit bankruptcy case overturning state constitutional protections for public employee pensions, the new measure, included in the federal budget bill backed by the White House and passed over the weekend, opens the floodgates to the gutting of pensions for current retirees across the country and in every sector of the economy.
It marks a major escalation of a social counterrevolution that aims to take back every gain won by workers in the 20th century.
The pension provision was backed by major corporations such as UPS and Kroger and by trade unions that jointly administer so-called “multi-employer” pension plans covering 10 million retired and active workers in the trucking, coal mining, construction and other industries.
Cynically pitched as a means of “saving” financially troubled plans and protecting retiree benefits, the bill allows employer and union trustees to “adjust” monthly pension checks, with cuts expected to range from 10 to 30 percent.
While US employers, with the complicity of the unions, have repeatedly frozen or reduced benefits for future retirees, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974 prohibited the rescinding or reduction of benefits for those already in retirement. The law made payment of these vested benefits legally binding on employers. It also required corporations to pay into the government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to insure a portion of the pension benefits if they sought to escape their obligations through bankruptcy.
The new bill permits preemptive cuts in benefits from still-solvent pension funds if the funds are deemed to be in a “critical status.” While the bill ostensibly allows retirees to vote against such cuts, their votes can be overridden if the pension plan is considered big enough to pose a threat to the solvency of the PBGC.
As it is, the average annual pension of the 410,000 retired truck drivers and warehousemen enrolled in the Teamsters Central States pension fund is only $15,000. A 10-30 percent cut will throw hundreds of thousands of retirees and surviving spouses into poverty and lead to early deaths.
The Pension Rights Center declared that the bill “sets a terrible precedent,” encouraging similar cuts in state and local pension plans as well as in Social Security and Medicare. The Wall Street Journal noted the watershed character of the measure in a December 14 article, headlined “Pension Bill Seen as Model for Further Cuts.”
The financial oligarchy has long coveted the trillions of dollars in pension money owed to workers. The campaign by both big business parties and the media over the supposed “pension crisis” has provided a political cover for theft on a grand scale. The ruling class seeks nothing less than to turn the clock back to the days when workers were forced to labor until they dropped dead.
In this attack, the working class faces in the union apparatus an enemy no less savage than the corporations. The pension measure is largely based on the February 2013 document “Solutions, Not Bailouts,” drawn up by the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans (NCCMP), a joint labor-management body that includes the Teamsters, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and several construction unions.
As the title of the document implies, the unions reject any call for a Wall Street-style government rescue of the pension funds and accept without question that the working class must pay to keep the funds solvent. The union executives know full well that the funds have been depleted due to the failure of corporations to keep up their payments as well as losses resulting from speculative investments by union trustees and their Wall Street advisors in the sub-prime mortgage bubble that crashed in 2007-08.
In a joint letter urging Senate leaders to pass the legislation, UFCW President Joseph T. Hansen and the CEO of the Kroger supermarket chain noted that they had already increased pension contributions from workers and reduced their benefits. Nevertheless, Hansen co-wrote: “Unless these plans are allowed to reduce benefits, nothing can prevent some of these plans from certain insolvency.” What was needed was further “sacrifice” insisted Hansen, whose 2013 salary of $350,960 is ten to twenty times the average pension of a supermarket worker.
The unions have long been accomplices in the looting of pensions and retiree health benefits. In the 1980s, they collaborated with corporate raiders and executives who stole pension money to finance leveraged buyouts, fund golden parachutes and conceal slumping profits. The unions established the closest ties to Wall Street, peddling such financial scams as Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPS) that put union officials on corporate boards and left workers penniless.
Even as the number of union members and their wages and benefits plummeted over the ensuing three-and-a-half decades, the businessmen who run the unions parleyed these connections into lucrative careers through the administration of pension, retiree health care and housing investment funds worth hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars.
Established in 2011, the AFL-CIO’s $4 billion Equity Index Fund is a case in point. As a glossy brochure entitled “Investing In Ourselves” boasts, the fund “tracks the S&P 500 closely, outperforming 89 percent of its peer funds in every period measured.”
The unions have a direct financial incentive to lower both the benefits and life expectancy of workers. They are determined to reduce payouts from pension funds that provide a source of income to the parasites who control these misnamed “labor organizations.” Similarly, as holders of corporate stock, they have a direct interest in lowering the wages of their members in order to boost profits and stock prices.
Workers cannot fight the corporate-government attack within the framework of organizations that are completely hostile to their interests. They must rise up against these bureaucratic, corrupt anti-working class outfits and build new, democratic organizations of struggle.
Every day it becomes clearer that the most elementary social rights—to a decent-paying job and a secure retirement—are incompatible with the profit system. Just as clear is the failure of a “labor movement” based on the defense of capitalism and nationalism.
Go To Original
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not essential for feeding the world [1,2], but if they were to lead to increased productivity, did not harm the environment and did not negatively impact biodiversity and human health, would we be wise to embrace them anyhow?
The fact is that GMO technology would still be owned and controlled by certain very powerful interests. In their hands, this technology is first and foremost an instrument of corporate power, a tool to ensure profit. Beyond that, it is intended to serve US global geopolitical interests. Indeed, agriculture has for a long time been central to US foreign policy.
“American foreign policy has almost always been based on agricultural exports, not on industrial exports as people might think. It’s by agriculture and control of the food supply that American diplomacy has been able to control most of the Third World. The World Bank’s geopolitical lending strategy has been to turn countries into food deficit areas by convincing them to grow cash crops – plantation export crops – not to feed themselves with their own food crops.” Professor Michael Hudson .
The Project for a New American Century and the Wolfowitz Doctrine show that US foreign policy is about power, control and ensuring global supremacy at any cost [4,5]. Part of the plan for attaining world domination rests on the US controlling agriculture and hijacking food sovereignty and nations’ food security.
In his book ‘Seeds of Destruction’, William Engdahl traces how the oil-rich Rockefeller family translated its massive wealth into political clout and set out to capture agriculture in the US and then globally via the ‘green revolution’ . Along with its big-dam, water-intensive infrastructure requirements, this form of agriculture made farmers dependent on corporate-controlled petroproducts and entrapped them and nations into dollar dependency and debt. GMOs represent more of the same due to the patenting and the increasing monopolization of seeds by a handful of mainly US companies, such as Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer.
In India, Monsanto has sucked millions from agriculture in recent years via royalties, and farmers have been compelled to spend beyond their means to purchase seeds and chemical inputs . A combination of debt, economic liberalization and a shift to (GMO) cash crops (cotton) has caused hundreds of thousands of farmers to experience economic distress, while corporations have extracted huge profits . Over 270,000 farmers in India have committed suicide since the mid to late nineties .
In South America, there are similar stories of farmers and indigenous peoples being forced from their lands and experiencing violent repression as GMOs and industrial-scale farming take hold . It is similar in Africa, where Monsanto and The Gates Foundation are seeking to further transform small-scale farming into a corporate controlled model. They call it ‘investing’ in agriculture as if this were an act of benevolence.
Agriculture is the bedrock of many societies, yet it is being recast for the benefit of rich agritech, retail and food processing concerns. Small farms are under immense pressure and food security is being undermined, not least because the small farm produces most of the world’s food . Whether through land grabs and takeovers, the production of (non-food) cash crops for export, greater chemical inputs or seed patenting and the eradication of seed sharing among farmers, profits are guaranteed for agritech corporations and institutional land investors.
The recasting of agriculture in the image of big agribusiness continues across the globe despite researchers saying that this chemical-intensive, high-energy consuming model means Britain only has 100 harvests left because of soil degradation . In Punjab, the ‘green revolution’ model of industrial scale, corporate dominated agriculture has led to a crisis in terms of severe water shortages, increasing human cancers and falling productivity . There is a global agrarian crisis. The increasingly dominant corporate-driven model is unsustainable.
More ecological forms of agriculture are being called for that, through intelligent crop management and decreased use of chemical inputs, would be able to not only feed the world but also work sustainably with the natural environment. Numerous official reports and scientific studies have suggested that such policies would be more appropriate, especially for poorer countries [14-16].
When on occasion the chemical-industrial model indicates that it does deliver better yields than more traditional methods (a generalization and often overstated ), even this is a misrepresentation. Better yields but only with massive chemical inputs from corporations and huge damage to health and the environment as well as ever more resource-driven conflicts to grab the oil that fuels this model. Like the erroneous belief that economic ‘growth’ (GDP) is stimulated just because there becomes greater levels of cash flows in an economy (and corporate profits are boosted), the notion of improved agricultural ‘productivity’ also stems from a set of narrowly defined criteria.
The dominant notions that underpin economic ‘growth’, modern agriculture and ‘development’ are based on a series of assumption that betray a mindset steeped in arrogance and contempt: the planet should be cast in an urban-centic, ethnocentric model whereby the rural is to be looked down on, nature must be dominated, farmers are a problem to be removed from the land and traditional ways are backward and in need of remedy.
“People are perceived as ‘poor’ if they eat food they have grown rather than commercially distributed junk foods sold by global agri-business. They are seen as poor if they live in self-built housing made from ecologically well-adapted materials like bamboo and mud rather than in cinder block or cement houses. They are seen as poor if they wear garments manufactured from handmade natural fibres rather than synthetics.” Vandana Shiva 
Western corporations are to implement the remedy by determining policies at the World Trade Organization, IMF and World Bank (with help from compliant politicians and officials) in order to depopulate rural areas and drive folk to live in cities to then strive for a totally unsustainable, undeliverable, environment-destroying, conflict-driving, consumerist version of the American Dream [19,20].
It is interesting (and disturbing) to note that ‘developing’ nations account for more than 80% of world population, but consume only about a third of the world’s energy. US citizens constitute 5% of the world’s population, but consume 24% of the world’s energy. On average, one American consumes as much energy as two Japanese, six Mexicans, 13 Chinese, 31 Indians, 128 Bangladeshis, 307 Tanzanians and 370 Ethiopians .
Despite the environmental and social devastation caused, the outcome is regarded as successful just because business interests that benefit from this point to a growth in GDP. Chopping down an entire forest that people had made a living sustainably from for centuries and selling the timber, selling more poisons to spray on soil or selling pharmaceuticals to address the health impacts of the petrochemical food production model would indeed increase GDP, wouldn’t it? It’s all good for business. And what is good for business is good for everyone else, or so the lie goes.
“Corporations as the dominant institution shaped by capitalist patriarchy thrive on eco-apartheid. They thrive on the Cartesian legacy of dualism which puts nature against humans. It defines nature as female and passively subjugated. Corporatocentrism is thus also androcentric – a patriarchal construction. The false universalism of man as conqueror and owner of the Earth has led to the technological hubris of geo-engineering, genetic engineering, and nuclear energy. It has led to the ethical outrage of owning life forms through patents, water through privatization, the air through carbon trading. It is leading to appropriation of the biodiversity that serves the poor.” 
The ‘green revolution’ and now GMOs are ultimately not concerned with feeding the world, securing well-rounded nutritious diets or ensuring health and environmental safety. (In fact, India now imports foods that it used to grow but no longer does ; in Africa too, local diets are becoming less diverse and less healthy .) Such notions are based on propaganda or stem from well-meaning sentiments that have been pressed into the service of corporate interests.
Biotechnological innovations have always had a role to play in improving agriculture, but the post-1945 model of agriculture has been driven by powerful corporations like Monsanto, which are firmly linked to Pentagon and Wall Street interests . Motivated by self-interest but wrapped up in trendy PR about ‘feeding the world’ or imposing austerity to ensure prosperity, the publicly stated intentions of the US state-corporate cabal should never be taken at face value [26,27].
In India, Monsanto and Walmart had a major role in drawing up the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture . Monsanto now funds research in public institutions and its presence and influence compromises what should in fact be independent decision and policy making bodies [29,30]. Monsanto is a driving force behind what could eventually lead to the restructuring and subjugation of India by the US . The IMF and Monsanto are also working to ensure Ukraine’s subservience to US geopolitical aims via the capture of land and agriculture . The capture of agriculture (and societies) by rich interests is a global phenomenon.
Only the completely naive would believe that rich institutional investors in land and big agribusiness and its backers in the US State Department have humanity’s interests at heart. At the very least, their collective aim is profit. Beyond that and to facilitate it, the need to secure US global hegemony is paramount.
The science surrounding GMOs is becoming increasingly politicized and bogged down in detailed arguments about whose methodologies, results, conclusions and science show what and why. The bigger picture however is often in danger of being overlooked. GMO is not just about ‘science’. As an issue, GMO and the chemical-industrial model it is linked to is ultimately a geopolitical one driven by power and profit.
1] This report indicates the root causes for global food shortages: http://www.cban.ca/Resources/Topics/Feeding-the-World/Will-GM-Crops-Feed-the-World
2] Citing official reports and data sources, references in this article indicate agricultural productivity in India was better in 1760 and 1890 and that India does not require chemical-industrial agriculture let alone GMOs: http://www.globalresearch.ca/india-genetically-modified-seeds-agricultural-productivity-and-political-fraud/5328227
6] Arun Shrivastava reviews and summarizes Engdahl’s book here: http://www.globalresearch.ca/seeds-of-destruction-the-hidden-agenda-of-genetic-manipulation-2/9379
8] Based on the findings of a report by researchers at Cambridge University in the UK: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/new-evidence-of-suicide-epidemic-among-indias-marginalised-farmers
9] Official figure quoted by the BBC as of 2013: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21077458
11] Official report released by GRAIN: http://www.grain.org/article/entries/4929-hungry-for-land-small-farmers-feed-the-world-with-less-than-a-quarter-of-all-farmland
12] Farmers Weekly quotes a report by researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK: http://www.fwi.co.uk/news/only-100-harvests-left-in-uk-farm-soils-scientists-warn.htm
13] Newspaper report quoting official statistics and research findings: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/337124/punjab-india039s-grain-bowl-now.html
14] Official UN report: http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/tdr2013_en.pdf
15]http://www.srfood.org/en/official-reports# and http://www.plantpartners.org/agroecology-reports.html
19] Food policy analyst Devinder Sharma outlines the motives of Western corporations in India: http://www.bhoomimagazine.org/article/cash-food-will-strike-very-foundation-economy
20] Arundhati Roy discusses the erroneous notion of ‘progress’ being applied in India and the conflict and violence that has followed: http://www.guernicamag.com/features/we-call-this-progress/
23] Vandana Shiva describes how the ‘green revolution’ and ‘free trade’ have turned India into a net importer of foods it used to be self sufficient in: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/09/201398122228705617.html
24] Article describing the plight of agriculture in Africa: http://www.globalresearch.ca/behind-the-mask-of-altruism-imperialism-monsanto-and-the-gates-foundation-in-africa/5408242
26] Article providing factual historical insight into Monsanto and its wrongdoings: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-complete-history-of-monsanto-the-worlds-most-evil-corporation/5387964
27] Analysis of Wall Street’s fraudulent practices in recent times and the complicity of the entire political and economic system: http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/03/pers-m15.html