stuartbramhall:

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Beats me why taxpayers are subsidizing oil companies to the tune of $10 million a minute – when budget deficits are forcing local communities to close libraries and lay off police and teachers.

Originally posted on RIELPOLITIK:

Source – theguardian.com

– Shell, ExxonMobil and Marathon Petroleum got subsidizes granted by politicians who received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, Guardian investigation reveals:

Related…Fossil fuels subsidised by $10 million a minute, says IMF: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/18/fossil-fuel-companies-getting-10m-a-minute-in-subsidies-says-imf

– The world’s biggest and most profitable fossil fuel companies are receiving huge and rising subsidies from U.S. taxpayers, a practice slammed as absurd by a presidential candidate given the threat of climate change.

A Guardian investigation of three specific projects, run by Shell, ExxonMobil and Marathon Petroleum, has revealed that the subsidizes were all granted by politicians who received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.

The Guardian has found that:

  • A proposed Shell petrochemical refinery in Pennsylvania is in line for $1.6bn (£1bn) in state subsidy, according to a deal struck in 2012 when the company made an annual profit of $26.8bn.
  • ExxonMobil’s upgrades to its Baton…

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Surviving Progress

Harold Crooks and Mathieu Roy (2011)

Film Review

Surviving Progress is based on Canadian Ronald Wright’s 2004 book A Short History of Progress and takes up where the book leaves off. The book’s main focus is the collapse of historic civilizations due to dangerous technological innovation. It introduces the term (originally coined by German economist Walter Kramer) “progress trap,” to designate technological innovations that have dangerous and unforeseen unintended consequences. An example used in both the book and the film is the case of the wooly mammoth – how new Stone Age techniques that vastly improved efficiency caused the species to become extinct.

The film, in contrast, focuses on our present “progress trap,” and the biological determinants that cause civilizations to produce progress traps. It features a broad range of experts in addition to Wright, including psychologists, geneticists, primatologist Jane Goodell, environmentalist David Suzuki, economist Michael Hudson and astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.

The filmmakers start from the premise that humanity has entered a final progress trap. In the past when civilizations collapsed, homo sapiens simply moved on and started new ones somewhere else. Our present civilization covers the entire planet, and this is no longer possible. The technologies we’ve devised over 200 years have become so ecologically destructive the coming collapse could easily spell the extinction of our species.

The case the Stephen Hawking, the psychologists, geneticists put forward is that our Stone Age brains are incapable of dealing appropriately with advanced technology – that the only conceivable way to prevent collapse is through some kind of human genetic engineering. I have a major problem with any hypothesis that blames the failure of capitalist civilization on human nature. In my experience, it’s not human nature that makes people into greedy, individualistic sociopaths, but an economic system that rewards people for being greedy and competitive and punishes them for being compassionate.

I also had a problem with the way the filmmakers left out half of humanity by designating male competitive behaviors as typical of the entire human species. As geneticist Bryan Sykes argue in Adam’s Curse, the Stone Age reptilian traits described in the documentary are extremely rare in human females (and most males for that matter). In fact, it’s extremely rare for women to commit violent crimes, become tyrants or start wars. (I will post a review of Adam’s Curse later in the week).

I found economist Michael Hudson’s contributions far more valuable. He talks about the role oligarchy, extreme inequality and ecological destruction in causing past civilizations to collapse. He gives the example of Rome, in which confiscation of public land by aristocrats led to rapid overgrazing and topsoil depletion. Two hundred years later Rome collapsed, owing to their inability to feed their empire.

stuartbramhall:

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Warren strikes back at Obama’s sexist accusations with fact-filled report.

Originally posted on LibertasIntel:

Last week, nasty infighting between Democrats broke out over President Obama’s public claim that Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Ma.) criticism of his trade agenda didn’t pass “the test of fact and scrutiny.” Warren’s progressive ally, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) charged that the president was acting in a sexist way, and the White House subsequently demanded an apology from Brown. Warren, meanwhile, remained silent on the matter.

But on Monday her office issued what can only be seen as a de facto response to President Obama’s broad criticism of her positions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a 68-endnote, 15-page report on labor regulations and US-backed free trade agreements, stretching back to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The paper, called “Broken Promises,” tacitly-but-obviously, turns the tables on the White House, suggesting that the President himself spectacularly failed “the test of fact and scrutiny.”

“President Obama has repeatedly stated that…

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Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out on Criminal Justice

Edited by Inimai Chettiar and Michael Waldman

Book Review

Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book The New Jim Crow has helped spark a national debate on the mass incarceration of Africans. Solutions, a collection of essays, is intended as a response. As many are written by presidential hopefuls, the range of solutions is cautious. None of the authors support the most obvious (and popular) criminal justice reform, namely legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use.*

Likewise there are no essays by anti-Wall Street senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Both were viewed as prospective presidential candidates when Solutions was being readied for publication.

That being said, I was intrigued to see so many Republican politicians, both of the neoconservative Christian and the libertarian stripe, abandon their tough-on-crime rhetoric to argue for reducing prison populations. The forward, by Bill Clinton, argues that despite extreme political polarization on other issues, ending the incarceration of Americans for minor and victimless crimes is one area ripe for genuine bipartisan cooperation.

In his essay, Marc Levin, Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, suggests that conservatives, applying their core principles of personal responsibility, accountability and limited government, have become “the most vocal champions of prison reform.” In this regard, he and other key conservatives have clearly parted company with the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which continues to lobby for tough-on-crime legislation and increasing prison privatization.

Levin and editor Inimai Chettiar hold up Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and Pennsylvania as model states, due to their shift from prison building to community based alternatives. As Levin readily admits, Texas reforms were driven by a need to control ballooning prison costs in an era of severe budgetary shortfalls. He brags how Texas has saved taxpayers billions of dollars by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences (allowing judges more discretion in sentencing), by offering drug and mental health treatment as an alternative to incarceration, by increasing formal rehabilitation and through various measures aimed at increasing the employability of ex-offenders (including a provision for law abiding ex-offenders to seal their criminal record).

A few of the essays read like stump speeches, full of vague ideological platitudes without meaningful detail on how prison reform can be accomplished. Others are surprisingly detailed.

Here are some examples:

Vice-President Joe Biden (D): reads like a stump speech and quotes extensively from Martin Luther King. He calls for restoring police staffing cuts and more genuine community policing. Doesn’t explain where the funding will come from, given the massive debt this administration has racked up for bank bailouts and the wars in the Middle East.

Hillary Clinton (D): reads like a stump speech, with frequent references to what Robert Kennedy would do and “my friend” Nelson Mandela. Calls for respect for the law, ending inequality, reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, ending racial profiling by the police, increasing use of drug diversion (ie mandatory treatment as an alternative to incarceration), restoring police staffing cuts, increasing community policing and restoring voting rights to ex-offenders. She also makes no mention of how all this would be funded.

Ted Cruz (US Senator Texas – R): calls for more jury trials and an end to mandatory minimum sentencing. Proposes a federal law requiring prosecutors to disclose all exculpatory** evidence before an accused can enter into a plea bargain. Also supports the Military Justice Improvement Law. This would increase military convictions for rape by transferring responsibility for prosecution from unit commanders to independent federal prosecutors.

Mike Huckabee (former Arkansas governor – R): would eliminate waste by treating drug addicts, rather than incarcerating them. He would also work to build character in American young people by strengthening families.

David Keene (former president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the American Conservative Union: would reduce the number of crimes punishable by prison, end three strikes laws (which require mandatory life imprisonment for a third felony), amend grounds for probation revocation so they’re only used to protect communities from violent criminals and end arbitrary police violence against African Americans for nonviolent crimes.

Martin O’Malley (former Maryland governor – D): would abolish the death penalty because it’s expensive, ineffective, wasteful and unjustly applied (poor minorities are far more likely to receive the death penalty because they can’t afford adequate legal representation). He states that only six other (mainly authoritarian) countries have the death penalty: Iran, Iraq, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. (For some reason he omits Egypt.)

Rand Paul (US Senator Kentucky – R): would end mandatory minimum sentencing, police militarization, disproportionate sentencing of minorities for drug crimes and civil asset forfeiture laws.** He would also allow juvenile/nonviolent offenders to have their criminal records sealed.

Rick Parry (former Texas governor – R): calls for increasing use of drug courts, expanded rehabilitation and mandatory drug and mental health treatment in lieu of incarceration.

Marco Rubio (US Senator Florida – R): would require federal government and regulatory agencies to publish all federal laws and regulations in one place, would end civil forfeiture laws and would rein in “out of control” regulatory agencies. (Me, too. I think they should start putting corporate white collar criminals in jail, but I doubt this is what he means).

Scott Walker (Wisconsin governor – R): advocates for more workplace drug testing and more programs to reduce heroin addiction.

James Webb (former US Senator Virginia – D): would appoint a federal commission on mass incarceration to study the problem some more (you can’t make this stuff up).


*At present marijuana has been legalized for recreational purposes in four states (Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Colorado) and for medical purposes in 11 other states. Marijuana possession has been decriminalized or reduced to a misdemeanor in many other states. Cannabis possession for any purpose remains a felony in only six states (Wisconsin, Texas, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Alabama).
*Exculpatory evidence is evidence that tends to exonerate a defendant of guilt.
**Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool that allows law enforcement officials to seize, (without due process) property they assert has been involved in certain criminal activity. The burden remains on the defendant to initiate separate legal action to recover their property, even if they’re acquitted or charges are dropped.

Solutions is published under a Creative Commons license and can be downloaded free at Solutions

stuartbramhall:

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Interesting that large commercial properties have the biggest unpaid bills, but not one of them has been cut off – all the service cuts have been to private homes.

Originally posted on Finding Truth In an Illusory World:

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CarbonWA-tax-swap

Carbon Washington (CarbonWA) is a citizens’ coalition seeking to enact a statewide carbon tax through a citizens’ initiative.* I-732 would incrementally institute a tax of on all fossil fuels consumed in Washington State. The revenue raised would be used to cut the state sales tax by 1%, to eliminate the Business and Occupations (B&O) tax on manufacturing and to fund the Working Families Rebate (a program the state legislature created in 2008 but never funded).

British Columbia’s Carbon Tax

I-732 is modeled after a carbon tax British Columbia (BC) introduced in 2008, which has received lavish praise from the (pro-corporate) Economist. Prior to its enactment, business warned the carbon tax would increase costs and slow the economy, while the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) warned it would hurt the poor. Both were wrong.

Because the funds raised by BC’s carbon tax are used to cut income taxes (for individuals and businesses), it has been as beneficial for the British Columbia economy as for the environment. In a way, this makes a lot of sense. Taxing people for working and adding wealth to the economy is one of the biggest drags on economic growth there is. It makes a lot more sense to tax activities you want to discourage, such as polluting the atmosphere.

BC also implemented their carbon tax incrementally. The new tax was initially set at C$10 ($10) per tonne of carbon-dioxide emissions, rising by increments of C$5 per year to C$30 in 2012. At present this translate into a 7 cent per litre tax (approximately 25 cents per gallon) on gasoline.

As predicted, the carbon tax has proved as beneficial  for the economy as the environment. Since 2008, per capita fuel consumption in British Columbia has dropped by 16%, which contrasts with an increase of 3% in the rest of Canada. The province now has the lowest income tax rate in Canada and one of the lowest corporate tax rates in North America. Meanwhile per capita GDP continues to outperform other provinces. BC also enjoys lower jobless rates. Thus it’s no wonder it remains extremely popular, supported by 64% of BC residents.

How I-732 Will Work

Under I-732, the state will collect a tax on all fossil fuels sold or used within Washington State. This will include fossil fuels sold or used for air travel, motor vehicles boats, and electrical generation. (19% of Washington’s electricity is renewable, generated by hydropower). The tax rate will start at 15 dollars per metric ton of carbon dioxide as of July 1, 2017, increasing to 25 dollars per metric ton as of July 1, 2018, with automatic increases thereafter by 3 ½ percent plus inflation.

This tax swap will take place over two years. B&O tax on manufacturers will be eliminated in full the first year. The state sales tax will be reduced by ½ percentage point per year over two years. The Working Families Rebate will phase in from 15% of the federal EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) in the first year to 25% of the federal EITC in the second year and beyond.

Halving US Carbon Emissions

Carbon Washington executive committee member Yoram Bauman hopes Washington will serve as a model for other states. According to Bauman, CO2 emissions could be halved if all fifty states adopted similar a similar carbon tax.

More information at www.carbonwa.org


*I-732 is an initiative to legislature. If Carbon Washington collects enough signatures to qualify, the 2016 legislature has a choice of enacting it into law, enacting substitute legislation or placing it on the 2016 ballot.

stuartbramhall:

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Excellent article shedding light on Sanders’ history of supporting US military aggression. The pro-Israeli position he articulates in the video (see original article) is also troubling. The majority of the town hall meeting clearly doesn’t appreciate being fed the party line on Israel’s right to defend itself – nor his condescending attitude. First he tells them to shut up. Then he suggests they leave.

Originally posted on Finding Truth In an Illusory World:

Bernie Sanders’ Troubling History of Supporting US Military Violence Abroad

Why aren’t we talking about Sanders’ foreign policy more?

The presidential candidacy of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has excited many liberals throughout the country, but there’s been very little analysis of his foreign policy positions. This past Sunday Sanders criticized Hillary Clinton for her support of the Iraq war, declaring, “On foreign policy, Hillary Clinton voted for the war in Iraq…Not only I voted against, I helped lead the effort against what I knew would be a disaster.” Sanders assertion about Clinton is obviously true, but the difference between the two candidates on war is hardly substantial and his political closet is filled with as many skeletons. Notably he supported NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, a stance which caused one of his staffers to resign in protest.

In his resignation letter…

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