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Member since: Thu Oct 28, 2004, 11:18 PM
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Journal Archives

Chicago Residents Rebel Against Koch Brothers and Rahm Emanuel Over Petroleum Coke Hazard

Chicago Residents Rebel Against Koch Brothers and Rahm Emanuel Over Petroleum Coke Hazard

The Koch brothers are benefitting from the Alberta tar sands operation big time as they amass mountains of a byproduct -- petroleum coke -- to sell overseas.

As with many toxic industries, the Koch brothers are locating storage large storage piles of “petcoke” in poor down-on-their-heels neighborhoods. This first came to notice in Detroit, where the Kochs were storing the hazardous material -- in open air -- along the Detroit River until ships could transport it overseas (particularly to China).

As EcoNews reported last year:

The New York Times is reporting about a growing, dirty side effect of refining tar sands bitumen from Canada. The evidence is on clear display as a black mountain piles up alongside the Detroit River, thanks in part to Charles and David Koch.

“Assumption Park gives residents of this city lovely views of the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit skyline. Lately they’ve been treated to another sight: a three-story pile of petroleum coke covering an entire city block on the other side of the Detroit River. Detroit’s ever-growing black mountain is the unloved, unwanted and long overlooked byproduct of Canada’s oil sands boom,” says the article, “A Black Mound of Canadian Oil Waste Is Rising Over Detroit.”

The toxic mountain of petroleum coke, or petcoke, is like coal but dirtier, and is being sold by Koch Carbon to fuel the coal plants of countries like China. “The coke (in Detroit) comes from a refinery alongside the river owned by Marathon Petroleum, which has been there since 1930. But it began refining exports from the Canadian oil sands—and producing the waste that is sold to Koch—only in November."

A study from Oil Change International earlier this year details just how dangerous petcoke is to the environment.

A similar storage hazard exists on Chicago's struggling Southwest Side, along the Calumet River. Many residents are revolting against Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposed industry friendly regulations and support a ban on open storage of petroleum coke (a move opposed by Emanuel). .........................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/18435-chicago-residents-rebel-against-koch-brothers-and-rahm-emanuel-over-petroleum-coke-hazard

Tuition-Free Public College Education Is Possible. Demand It

Tuition-Free Public College Education Is Possible. Demand It.

Friday, 24 January 2014 10:52
By Richard Long, Campaign for America's Future | Op-Ed

Here's a news flash for you that's neither news nor flash: The majority of college graduates are coming out of school with student loan debt. Today, nearly 70 percent of college graduates come out of school saddled with an average debt of $29,400. Check out this map to see student debt numbers in your state (except North Dakota and Hawaii).

Here's a news flash you probably didn't know: It would cost less for the government to make all public universities tuition-free than what the government already spends in higher education.

True story.

That's one reason why as of midday Friday close to 30,000 people had already signed a petition launched by Jeff Bryant, the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website and newsletter, calling for President Obama and Congress to "create a plan to make public college tuition-free."

Here's why that makes sense. Today, the government spends $69 billion a year on student aid for the neediest students. According to the New America Foundation, around $36 billion is spent on higher education grants (like the Pell Grant program), $32 billion of potential revenue is lost through tax credits, exemptions and deductions, and around $1 billion dollars is spent on federal work-study programs. The cost of all public universities? $62.6 billion. That is a $6.4 billion difference between what America spends to help its neediest students and the cost of all public colleges combined. .......................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21429-tuition-free-public-college-education-is-possible-demand-it

Who says crime doesn't pay?

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) gave Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon a 74 percent raise to $20 million last year, bringing his pay closer to where it stood before the board faulted his oversight of botched derivatives bets.

Dimon, who also serves as chairman, received $18.5 million in restricted stock, the New York-based lender said today in a regulatory filing. His salary was unchanged at $1.5 million, and he got no cash bonus, according to the filing.

While board members boosted Dimon’s pay from 2012, they kept it below levels from prior years after JPMorgan was beset by regulatory and criminal probes, agreeing to more than $23 billion in settlements in 2013. The board had cut his package in half last January to $11.5 million after finding he bore responsibility for faulty oversight of botched derivatives bets.

Dimon’s 2012 compensation, which included $10 million in restricted shares, was less than at least three of his subordinates, including Mike Cavanagh and Daniel Pinto, the corporate and investment bank co-heads who got $17 million apiece. Among CEOs of the six largest U.S. banks, Dimon’s pay tied for fourth. His compensation package had ranked No. 1 a year earlier. ..................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-24/jpmorgan-increases-dimon-s-total-pay-to-20-million-for-2013.html

Why Drug Prices Are Out of Control, or Money Well Spent by Big Pharma

Why Drug Prices Are Out of Control, or Money Well Spent by Big Pharma

Friday, 24 January 2014 10:18
By A W Gaffney, Truthout | Op-Ed

Nowadays, it's not only radicals who are recognizing the rising problem of inequality. Between Bill de Blasio's mayoral inauguration, Obama's pointed speech early last month, and Pope Francis' critique of trickle down economics in November, the rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street seems to be going mainstream. Newly emerging statistics - for instance, that the top 0.01% of earners now seem to take home a bigger percentage of the national income than in any other year for which we have the numbers - seemingly rubs more and more Americans the wrong way.

To be fair, however, perhaps this increasingly skewed distribution of income and wealth should be interpreted as nothing more than the fair return on a prudent investment strategy. With enough money devoted to government lobbying, one could argue, any of us could be the beneficiary of upward wealth redistribution. But while some contributing factors to inequality - say the failure of the minimum wage to keep up with inflation (much less with productivity growth) - can be concisely displayed in numbers and graphs, acts of direct upward wealth redistribution require demonstration by way of a specific case study. Here, I consider the illustrative (and evolving) case of the transfer from taxpayers to pharmaceutical companies through Medicare Part D.

When Medicare was crafted in 1965, a drug benefit had strong Democratic Congressional support; at the same time, it wasn't a political priority for either party, and so given concerns about costs, it was dropped from the final bill. Growing pressure from seniors over subsequent decades, however, ultimately made a drug benefit an important political issue. Prescription drug coverage for seniors could have been created over these years with relative ease: A benefit could have been affixed to traditional Medicare, which would then have administered the program, and could have negotiated with pharmaceutical companies over prices (as other capitalist democracies, and even our own Veteran's Administration, already do).

However, the drug benefit that ultimately emerged - "Medicare Part D" - with President George W. Bush's 2003 Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) was the result of a much stronger power than common sense: corporate lobbying. Indeed, as argued in the 60 Minutes exposé, "Under the Influence," the pharmaceutical industry all but wrote the law. Former congressmen and senators who had registered as lobbyists for the industry then endeavored to get it passed. Thomas Scully, a former hospital industry lobbyist who was appointed by Bush to run Medicare, was the primary negotiator with Congress over the MMA. He managed to obtain a waiver of federal ethics rules that allowed him to negotiate for lobbying jobs while still running Medicare, and in the lead up to the law's passage, actually threatened to fire his chief actuary if he revealed a higher cost estimate for the program. Meanwhile, the main proponent of the bill in the House - Congressman Billy Tauzin, who had received significant campaign funding from the pharmaceutical industry - was actually already looking for lobbying jobs while the legislation was under consideration. Within weeks of its passage, he was in negotiations with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the chief lobbying group for the industry, for a position. ......................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21294-why-drug-prices-are-out-of-control-or-money-well-spent-by-big-pharma

Michael Moore: One of Ezra Klein's Last Wonkblogs Made an Unwonky Mistake About My Obamacare Op-Ed

January 21st, 2014 9:44 PM

One of Ezra Klein's Last Wonkblog Posts Made an Unwonky Mistake About My Obamacare Op-Ed
By Michael Moore

My New Year's Day op-ed in the New York Times seems to have kickstarted a discussion about how to make Obamacare better. I hope you can read it if you haven't already and get involved.

But it also attracted criticism from, surprisingly, the otherwise very smart and very cool Ezra Klein, who created the Washington Post's Wonkblog. (He's now leaving to create something on his own.)

Ezra wanted everyone to hear about 'What Liberals get wrong about healthcare':

Michael Moore greeted the introduction of Obamacare with an admission many liberals will cheer. “Obamacare is awful,” he wrote.

Its awfulness, Moore said, stems from “one fatal flaw: The Affordable Care Act is a pro-insurance-industry plan implemented by a president who knew in his heart that a single-payer, Medicare-for-all model was the true way to go.”

Like Moore, I’d prefer a more nationalized health-care system. But his analysis relies on a common mistake that distorts both the benefits of single-payer systems and the deficiencies peculiar to Obamacare…the problem with the Affordable Care Act isn’t the insurance industry. In fact, the main benefits of nationalized health care can be achieved in systems with hundreds, even thousands, of for-profit insurers…

Most countries rely on many, many insurers…It’s health-care providers – not insurers – who have too much power in the U.S. system (but politicians) routinely rail against for-profit insurers...

I read that line -- "the problem isn't the insurance industry" — and I wondered, is that true? Are there great universal healthcare programs in tons of other countries where insurance companies are – as under Obamacare – free to make a profit on basic health insurance? Have I been wrong about this for all these years (here's a piece I did on universal health care on NBC's TV Nation, some 20 years ago)? ....................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/mike-friends-blog/one-ezra-kleins-last-wonkblog-posts-made-unwonky-mistake-about-my-obamacare-op-ed

Bankruptcy of Bike Share Company Will Not Immediately Affect Systems in U.S. Cities

[font size="1"]A Citi Bike station on Canal Street (Kate Hinds)[/font]

Montreal's bike share company, which also supplies equipment and technology to the largest bike share systems in the U.S., has filed for bankruptcy—but transportation officials in the U.S. say that won't have any immediate impact on operations.

Public Bike System Company (PBSC), which owns Bixi, Montreal's bike share system, has been placed under bankruptcy protection in Canada. The firm is deeply indebted to Montreal after borrowing money from the city. PBSC’s creditors are owed a total of 46 million in Canadian dollars, according to a list (see below) obtained by TVA Nouvelles in Canada. Some cities have withheld payments to the company due to ongoing system problems (remember NYC's computer glitches?), contributing to the company’s financial shortfall.

Alta Bicycle Share (ABS), which operates a number of systems across the U.S., reportedly wants $11 million from PBSC for software delays, but would not confirm that in a phone call with a reporter. Despite the dispute, Alta says its own bike share operations would be unaffected.

“Our systems across the country—in New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston, the Bay Area, Columbus, OH, and Chattanooga, TN—are up and running and ABS will ensure that they continue to operate without interruption. Having served more than 15 million trips to date, we’re focused on continuing to provide a convenient, fast, fun, and affordable means of transit,” the Alta statement said. ......................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.wnyc.org/story/bankruptcy-bike-share-tech-company-will-not-immediately-affect-systems-us-cities/

Portland's Food Truck Heaven: How a New Kind of Fast Food Brings Jobs, Flavor, and Walkability

from YES! magazine:

Portland's Food Truck Heaven: How a New Kind of Fast Food Brings Jobs, Flavor, and Walkability
Immigrants and other restaurant workers get a way to rise in local economies. Communities get the best fast food they've ever had.

by Abby Quillen
posted Jan 17, 2014

At noon on a sunny day in Portland, Ore., in what not long ago was a vacant lot, customers roam past brightly painted food carts perusing menus for vegan barbeque, Southern food, Korean-Mexican fusion, and freshly squeezed juice.

The smell of fried food and the tent-covered seating bring to mind a carnival, but a number of Portland's food carts take a healthy approach to street food. The Big Egg, for instance, serves sandwiches and wraps made with organic farm-fresh eggs, balsamic caramelized onions, and arugula. Their to-go containers are compostable, and next to the order window is a list of local farms where they source their ingredients.

"We don't have a can opener. We make everything ourselves, so it's very time-consuming. And that's the way we want it," says Gail Buchanan, who runs The Big Egg with her partner, Emily D. Morehead.

The Big Egg usually sells out, says Buchanan as she hands a customer the last sandwich of the day, one made with savory portobello mushrooms. And on weekends, customers form a line down the block, willing to wait up to 45 minutes for their food. ...............(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/how-to-eat-like-our-lives-depend-on-it/portland-s-food-truck-heaven

World’s most endangered big cat is also super, super adorable

from Grist:

World’s most endangered big cat is also super, super adorable
By Holly Richmond

Today in Cute Tiny Animals, welcome baby Sochi into your heart. Born December 3 at the Denver Zoo, Sochi is one of the world’s few Amur leopards. (There are only about 30 Amur leopards in the wild, according to World Wildlife Fund.) The cub was named after Sochi, Russia, home to the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Zooborns has the scoop:

Sochi is the second cub for Dazma and her mate, Hari-Kari. Hari-Kari was born at El Paso Zoo in 2003, while Dazma was born at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 2001. The two came to Denver Zoo and were paired under recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals. Fortunately, the couple has proved to be an excellent match.

Check out the cuteness:

The ACA and America’s Health-Care Mess

from Dollars & Sense:

The ACA and America’s Health-Care Mess
BY GERALD FRIEDMAN | January/February 2014 |

While it was enacted in 2010 without a single Republican vote, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. “Obamacare,” was built model first proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation in the 1990s and implemented by Republican Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts in 2006. The ACA extends the public safety net to more of the working poor but otherwise keeps the private health insurance system intact. Rather than replacing the private system—and far from the “government takeover of health care” its critics claim—it provides subsidies for individuals to buy private health insurance through state-level “exchanges.”

As social policy, the ACA is a qualified failure. The expansion of Medicaid and mandates for individuals to buy subsidized private insurance will expand health insurance to an additional 30 million people. Regulations establishing minimum standards for coverage and barring exclusions for pre-existing conditions will improve coverage for many. On the other hand, by maintaining the existing system of for-profit medicine and private insurance, the ACA does little to rein in out-of-control cost growth while leaving millions without coverage. We can hope that the ACA’s strengths and its failures will soon pave the way for a rational universal system such as single payer health care.

Not Everyone Will Be Insured: While the ACA will provide health insurance to millions of Americans, millions of others will remain uninsured. While over 25 million will gain coverage either through the expansion of Medicaid or by buying subsidized private insurance, somewhat more will remain without coverage. Some are not covered by the act (including undocumented immigrants); others will be excused from the requirement to have insurance because of cost; and others will not comply (see Figure 1).

Problems of People with Insurance Will Remain: Because it builds on the existing private health-insurance system, the ACA does little to reduce access problems for people with health insurance. Those with insurance have dramatically fewer problems accessing health care (including seeing doctors, arranging follow-up visits, and filling prescriptions) than those without. But even insured Americans are twice as likely as citizens of countries with public insurance to have trouble getting care (see Figue 2).

States Rejecting Medicaid Expansion and Exchanges Are Lowering Enrollment: The ACA’s Medicaid expansion would cover everyone with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level. Half the states, all with Republican governors, rejected expansion, denying coverage to 7.5 million people. States can establish “health exchanges” for people to choose a health plan and sign up for federal subsidies. Republicans refused to establish exchanges in 34 states. ................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2014/0114friedman.html

Gar Alperovitz: "Understanding the Imperialist System Changed My Life"


ALPEROVITZ: Well, what is interesting about the development at that time--and it was a very sophisticated development, not only of the power of capitalism, but of the power of generating a culture and ideology which encapsulated the society and gave people ideas about what could or could not be done, including American imperial ideas, and how that was formed, not a crude analysis of just the power of the corporations. Indeed, if you look back at that, who pushed for American imperialism at the beginning of the 20th century, it's not only Wall Street; it's the farmers who want markets, small businessman. So it's a very big culture, a big theory of what they were doing.


ALPEROVITZ: At that moment, the 89th Congress, the House had changed 76 votes because of Goldwater, and the Senate was very pro-Democrat. You could pass--he passed Medicare, he passed Medicaid. You could pass progressive legislation, water bills. It was an amazing moment. And for a moment I thought that was possible. And, of course, after the next election it disintegrated. We went back to the norm. But at that particular moment it--and that's a very odd two years in the U.S. Senate. And I happened to be running a legislative shop. And we could pass all kinds of legislation at that point, including legislation to set up community ownership and to pass--we did a bill in those days, 33 senators, including half liberal Republicans, to set up community-owned industry. And they put it in--it's actually, if you look carefully, it's in the party platforms of both parties, 'cause we wrote it into the platforms. And that all went away after the election of nineteen sixty--ninety-six. And then, of course, the Vietnam War took it all back to what was the norm. So there was a brief moment, but it was an aberration, and I realized it was an aberration. .........................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://truth-out.org/news/item/21405-gar-alperovitz-understanding-the-imperialist-system-changed-my-life

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