Category Archives: Community

On the mad utopian dreams of neoliberals

A recent episode of Christ Hedges’s news series for Telesur English features an interview with Canadian intellectual provocateur John Ralston Saul on the twisted origins and pernicious intellectual distortions of neoliberal ideology.

An erudite scholar and ferocious analyst, Saul has relentlessly pilloried the intellectual perversions underlying much of modern economic thought in a series of books [most famously Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West] and essays, with his most recent targets being the twisted rationales employed by apologists for an economic order that has given rise to modern plutocracy.

In conversation with Hedges, Saul worries that modern neoliberalism has proven to resemble Beniuto Mussolini’s fascism.

From The Real News Network:

Days of Revolt: Neoliberalism as Utopianism

From the transcript:

SAUL: Right? And what they did, most universities, was they did an intellectual cleansing of the economic historians to remove the possibility of doubt, the possibility of speculation on ideas, leaving these sort of hapless — mainly hapless macroeconomists, who fell quite easily into the hands, frankly, of the ideologues, the neoliberals, neoconservatives, who were — you know, let’s face it. What is this ideology? It’s an ideology of inevitability, an ideology based on self-interest, an ideology in which there is no real memory. And at the end of the day, it really is — it’s about power and money.

HEDGES: It’s about, you write, making every aspect of society conform to the dictates of the marketplace, which, as you point out, there’s nothing — and I think you say something like 2,000 or 5,000 years of human history to justify the absurdity that you should run a society based on —

SAUL: On the marketplace.

HEDGES: — the marketplace.

SAUL: Let me just take a tiny step back as a historical marker, which is the day that I realized that the neos were claiming that Edmund Burke was their godfather or whatever, I realized that we were into both lunacy and the denial of history, ‘cause, of course, in spite of his rather crazy things about Mary Antoinette and the French Revolution, most of his career was about inclusion, standing against slavery, standing for the American Revolution, and of course leading a fight for anti-racism and anti-imperialism in India — amazing democratic [incompr.] a liberal in the terms of the early 19th century. So when you see that these guys were trying to claim him, it’s like lunatics today claiming Christ or Muhammad to do absolutely unacceptable things.

And I think that the fascinating thing is once you get rid of history, once you get rid of memory, which they’ve done with economics, you suddenly start presenting economics as something that it isn’t, and you start saying, well, the market will lead. And these entirely theoretically sophisticated experts are quoting the invisible hand, which is, of course, an entirely low-level religious image–it’s the invisible hand of God, right, running the universe. As soon as you hear that term and they say, oh, that’s what Adam Smith said — but when you talk to them, they haven’t read Adam Smith. Adam Smith isn’t taught in the departments of economics. You get quotes from Adam Smith even when you’re doing an MA or whatever. They don’t know Adam Smith. They don’t know that he actually was a great voice for fairness, incredibly distrustful of businessmen and powerful businessmen, and said never allow them to be alone in a room together or they’ll combine and falsify the market and so on, so that what we’ve seen in the last half-century is this remarkable thing of big sophisticated societies allowing the marketplace to be pushed from, say, third or fourth spot of importance to number one and saying that the whole of society must be in a sense structured and judged and put together through the eyes of the marketplace and the rules of the marketplace. Nobody’s ever done this before.

HEDGES: How did it happen?

SAUL: Well, I mean, I think it happened gradually, partly by this emptying out of the public space, by this gradual —

HEDGES: What do you mean by that?

SAUL: Well, by the advancing of the idea of the technocracy and the gradual reduction of the space of serious political debate and ideas, and with that the rise of kinds of politicians who would be reliant on the technocracy and really were not themselves voices of ideas that would lead somewhere, you know, the humanist tradition, democratic tradition, egalitarian tradition. And we can see this all sort of petering out. And you can like them or dislike them, but you can see when the real idea of debate of ideas and risk on policy starts to peter out with Johnson and suddenly you’re into either populists or technocrats.

High Facebook ‘likes’ stress out recipients

Last week we noted that researchers in Denmark found that folks who ditch Facebook are happier after they do.

And now research from Sonia Lupien, professor at the University of Montreal’s Department of Psychiatry and Scientific Director of the university’s affiliated Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal Research Center, gives us an idea why that’s so.

From Newswise:

Facebook can have positive and negative effects on teens levels of a stress hormone, say researchers at the University of Montreal and the Institut universitaire de santé mentale de Montréal. Led by Professor Sonia Lupien, the team found that having more than 300 Facebook friends increased teens’ levels of cortisol. On the other hand, teens who act in ways that support their Facebook friends – for example, by liking what they posted or sending them words of encouragement – decreased their levels of cortisol. Their findings were published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Lupien and her colleagues recruited 88 participants aged 12-17 years who were asked about their frequency of use of Facebook, their number of friends on the social media site, their self-promoting behaviour, and finally, the supporting behaviour they displayed toward their friends. Along with these four measures, the team collected cortisol samples of the participating adolescents. The samples were taken four times a day for three days.

Stress levels measured in adolescents from cortisol samples are obviously not entirely due to the popular social media site. “While other important external factors are also responsible, we estimated that the isolated effect of Facebook on cortisol was around eight percent,” Lupien said. “We were able to show that beyond 300 Facebook friends, adolescents showed higher cortisol levels; we can therefore imagine that those who have 1,000 or 2,000 friends on Facebook may be subjected to even greater stress.”

Other studies have shown that high morning cortisol levels at 13 years increase the risk of suffering from depression at 16 years by 37%. While none of the adolescents suffered from depression at the time of the study, Lupien could not conclude that they were free from an increased risk of developing it. “We did not observe depression in our participants. However, adolescents who present high stress hormone levels do not become depressed immediately; it can occur later on,” Lupien said. “Some studies have shown that it may take 11 years before the onset of severe depression in children who consistently had high cortisol levels.”

The study is one of the first in the emerging field of cyberpsychology to focus on the effects of Facebook on well-being. “The preliminary nature of our findings will require refined measurement of Facebook behaviors in relation to physiological functioning and we will need to undertake future studies to determine whether these effects exist in younger children and adults,” Lupien said. “Developmental analysis could also reveal whether virtual stress is indeed ‘getting over the screen and under the skin’ to modulate neurobiological processes related to adaptation.”

The study, “Facebook behaviors associated with diurnal cortisol in adolescents: Is befriending stressful?,” was published in Psychoneuroendocrinology and would cost a nonsubscriber $35.95, with the proceeds going to the rapacious Elsevier.

The Mafioso, missing beef, and death by arson: A censored story appears, four decades later

esnl reported for the Sacramento Bee for three years, starting in January, 1983. We left because of censorship of stories we reported involving organized crime in California and its ties to politics and corrupt union officials.

What follows is one of those stories, the last we wrote on the Bee’s payroll. It is a story about the Mafia, corrupt businessmen, and a fatal arson.

It is also a story that’s never before been told in its full scope. We submitted it on 28 June 1985 and met with the expected response from an editor wearing a solid gold Rolex with a diamond-studded bezel: “It’s not the sort of thing we’re interested in.”

But it’s a story that should ring familiar to anyone who’s seen Goodfellas, and we think it should be finally told:

An element of mystery still lingers

“I don’t think we’ll ever know what really happened,” said the judge. “There was just too much going on.”

“My feelings are that all of these little arms are part of the same octopus,” said the prosecutor. “I think organized crime is the right adjective. I think it’s totally organized.”

All the investigators and prosecutors who worked on the case agree that they never got to the bottom of it all. But some things can be said for sure about a drama that had been playing out for more than a decade.

Tehama County’s largest stable employer was bankrupted, scores of workers lost their jobs, a arsonist died in a Long Beach because of a fire he had set, and scores of ranchers lost livestock and cash.

The cast of players includes a talented sausage-maker who was less skillful as an entrepreneur, an Arizona businessman with a shadowy past and shadowier linkers to th Teamsters Union, and a mafioso with powerful connections.

The name of then-California Attorney General John Van de Kamp also surfaced in a nor found in a fugitive’s briefcase that triggered an investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

The Beginnings

The story opens in 1972.

Nicholas J. Cichirillo Sr. was a skilled maker of Italian sausage and, the the time, principal officer of Messina Sausage Company.

“Cichirillo decided he wanted to expand, explained Roger Boren, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who got to know Chicirillo when he prosecuted him got arson and grand theft.

Cichirillo engineered the merger of four firms into one company. They were: Messina Sausage; Selecto Sausage, an East Los Angeles manufacturer of Mexican-style sausage; Capri Sausage of Covina, another Italian sausage firm; and The Red Devil, Inc., a pizza restaurant chain.

The resulting firm was called Messina Meat Products, Inc., and was based in Covina — although Cichirillo incorporated in Utah after buying a corporate “shell” called Wasatch Iron and Gold Co.

It was in 1975 that Cichirillo ran into trouble. That’s when Messina Meat Products acquired Minch Meats of Red Bluff.

A family-owned firm for 41 years, Mich Meats was Tehama County’s largest employer. Minch was an attractive takeover target. The company owned equipment for reprocessing meat — for removing fat and boine and packing the beef into leaner, more nutritious cuts.

In 1974, according to former company president Robert Minch, the firm had done just over $30 million in business and employed over 150 people.

Just how Cichirillo learned of Minch is still an open question in the minds of law enforcement investigators.

Enter ‘Sal the Swindler’

Sources have told the Bee that before the sale to Messina, Salvatore Pisello may have met with one of the company’s owners. Munch, the grandson of the firm’s founder, says he doesn’t recall ever meeting Pisello, although “somebody mentioned that Sal was going to do this or that.”

Though a sale was allegedly discussed, Pisello didn’t buy the firm then — it went to Cichirillo. Pisello surfaced as an owner later, along with one of Southern California’s most prominent citrus and meat magnates. But more of that later.

Pisello had been a target of law enforcement investigators for decades. The FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have labeled him a member of the powerful Gambino Family from New York.

According to an FBI report, Pisello once bragged to an informant of starting restaurants with “laundered” underworld funds received from Meyer Lansky, the mob’s late financial genius [and model for the Hyman Roth character in Godfather, Part 2].

Pisello has also been linked to frauds in Italy, a ripoff at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, and to an alleged scheme to smuggle heroin into the country in airborne lobster tanks used in a fish importing business he once ran.

According to an FBI file, one of his street names is “Sal the Swindler.”

And the troubles begin

Minch and his three partner taded their interest in Minch for a share in Messina and the deal was consummated in July.

But Minch Meats was in trouble even as the deal was being signed. Minch said his company simply couldn’t compete with Midwestern firms, which relied on lower-priced labor, assembly line techniques,m and cheaper feeding procedures.

In the West, Minch said, Safeway set the price standard for beef carcasses, and the price was less than the cost of production. To avoid financial hemorrhaging, Minch remodeled the plant to produce “portion control” prepackaged cuts which, he hoped, could be sold as a higher-priced brand name line.

But stock of beef accumulated in the Minch plant. Buyer weren’t that interested in portion control, and unions refused to accept company-suggested wage concessions.

An attempt to void the existing labor contract failed, despite predictions from company lawyers that courts would strike down the contract, Minch said.

Then disaster fell. Messina filed for bankruptcy on 5 December 1975. When the front doors were locked and workers forced out, some of the plant’s new equipment disappeared — although no one knows where it went, according to William O. Scott, the former Tehama County District Attorney who conducted a seven-year investigation of Messina in conjunction with the district attorney’s office.

Also missing was a large amount of beef for which Tehma County ranchers and feedlots hadn’t been paid.

The investigations commence

Alerted to the missing beef and equipment, Scott began an investigation with the help of Robert Crim, an investigator for the state attorney general’s office.

According to the public statements of the California Cattlemen’s Association at the time of the collapse, Minch owned $780,000 [$3.53 million in 2015 dollars] to beef producers and $100,000 [$452,000 today] to workers.

At one point the missing beef was reportedly stored in a Sacramento warehouse, but by the time a creditor appeared at the warehouse with a court order, the beef had vanished. Minch speculates that it was unloaded by his former partners for ten cents on the dollar.

During the period of the collapse, one of the four original partners, Donald L. Stroud, had been unloaded his own stock onto another partner, H.L. “Tex” Allen.

According to a lawsuit Allen filed later, Stroud had told him that he had access to 60,000 shares of Messina stock they could acquire jointly at a bargain price.

The stock Allen bought turned out to be Stroud’s personal or family holdings — sold, according to court records, after Stroud had assured Allen that the company’s financial outlook was good.

When Messina collapse, Allen was left holding Stroud’s stock and Stroud was holding $37,000 of Allen’s cash.

[Stroud became a controversial character in Tehama County again in the mid-1980s when his Exchange Enterprises, a barter service exchange, collapse, leaving particpants on the hook for thousands of dollars and leading to another criminal investigation by the county district attorney.]

After the jump, a wiseguy takeover, the lethal arson, Teamsters money-laundering, a political connection, convictions, and more. . . Continue reading

Facebook defaces our lives, stealing happiness

esnl has never been on Facebook for the simple reason that we loathe the notion of commercialized friendships.

And now we find there was a solid foundation for our concern, as documented by researchers from Denmark’s Happiness Research Institute0, who compared moods in two groups: One which continued using Facebook as usual, the other which gave it up for a week. The results were stunning.

From RT America:

Facebook blues: People feel happier after ditching social media

Program notes:

A new study by the Happiness Research Institute, a Danish think tank, found that people’s moods and emotions are linked to how often they use social media sites like Facebook. People who took breaks from the site felt better about their lives. Alexey Yaroshevsky has the details.

And it wasn’t just stress.

Here’s a summary of other findings from the report, The Facebook Experiment: Does Social Media Affect The Quality of Our Lives? [PDF]:


California’s public schools, triply segregated

And those hit hardest by the problems are the state’s growing population of Latino youth.

We begin with a video report from RT America:

CA schools highly segregated against Latino students – report

Program notes:

A report from UCLA found that Latinos are more segregated in California schools today than in the 1970s. RT’s Simone Del Rosario takes a look at the report and speaks with one of its authors, Professor Gary Orfield, about the findings and how this happened.

Contrary to the RT interviewer’s statement, the report was released last year by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles on the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education decision mandating public desegregation.

Here are the highlights:

  • California has had an extremely dramatic increase in the segregation of Latinos, who on average attended schools that were 54 percent white in 1970, but now attend schools that are 84 percent nonwhite.
  • In 1993, black and Latino students were in schools with 52% and 58% poor children, respectively, and no racial/ethnic group attended schools of overwhelming poverty, on average; by 2012, blacks, on average, attended a school that was two-thirds poor children and Latinos a school more than 70% poor.
  • Black and Latino students attend schools that on average have more than two-thirds poor students, while whites and Asians typically attend schools with a majority of middle-class students.
  • The typical black student in California today attends a school with more than 2.5 times as many Latinos as blacks, thus making them a minority within a school dominated by another disadvantaged group.
  • Latino and African-African-American students are isolated in schools with lower graduation rates, less availability of college preparatory courses, the overuse of suspensions and the number of experienced teachers.  By contrast, almost half of Asian American students and about 40% of white students attend schools that rank in the top 20% of Academic Performance Index test scores.
  • The most segregated of the state’s twenty largest school districts are Los Angeles Unified, Santa Ana Unified, San Bernardino Unified and Fontana Unified (near San Bernardino). School districts that are among the most integrated and diverse are in the Sacramento area and Clovis, in the Fresno area.
  • The authors point to these less segregated school districts in California, and stress their value to policymakers seeking models for other communities.  The report details a half-century of desegregation research showing the major costs of segregation and the variety of benefits of schools that are attended by all races.

The full report is here [PDF].

And to conclude, one graphic from the report that highlights the dramatic changes in the public school student population in the Golden State:

BLOG CA schools

Quote of the day: Race, crime, and perceptions

From Brittney Dennis, writing at Sociology Lens:

If Whites are the majority in the United States then why do people not logically consider that Whites are committing the majority of crimes? Why is it hard to accept that Whites do commit the majority of crimes? And where is the national outcry for the over-imprisonment of African Americans and Hispanics? Institutional discrimination has made it so there is a disproportionate amount of Blacks and Hispanics in the prison system. Think about disparate circumstances such as poverty, and how poverty is concentrated racially due to residential segregation, a structural policy. Then consider how neighborhoods in extreme poverty are cut off from resources such as hospitals, grocery stores, community centers etc., and how the lack of decent jobs in a given poverty stricken area prevents individuals from escaping such disparate neighborhoods. One might be able to understand the circumstances that would drive a person to turn to a life of crime in order to survive, to feed themselves or their family. Think about how racially segregated (especially Black and Hispanic) neighborhoods are heavily policed and thus over-policed and monitored, resulting in a disproportionate amount of arrests for these minorities. Then when the statistics of these instances are reported, members of the dominant status group use these occurrences as systems of justification for why policy should not be implemented to help members of subordinate status groups.

Nuclear woes both at home and abroad

We’ll start with abroad, via the Japan Times:

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Thursday that radiation levels of up to 9.4 sieverts per hour have been detected outside a reactor containment vessel at the meltdown-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

People exposed to the maximum radiation dose for some 45 minutes will die. Tepco expects decontamination work to take at least one month.

Sept. 4-25 checks found the extremely high radiation levels at a cell that accommodates a pipe connected to the containment vessel of reactor 2 at the plant, which was devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Tepco said.

And now at home, with an 21 October CBS St. Louis report on alarming developments in the northern metropolitan area suburbs of Hazelwood and Florrisant, Missouri:

Officials are concerned after an unusual amount of cancer cases have popped up in a community outside of St. Louis. CBS News met with seven individuals from the same St. Louis suburb, all of whom have cancer or a lost a child or parent to it.

“You’ll never forget the moment they tell you, ‘We found lesions on your lung and your liver,’” Mary Osckso, who has stage 4 lung cancer, told CBS News.

Radioactive waste was discovered beneath the topsoil of the neighborhood park, which is now padlocked as construction crews work to remove it.


“What you see is an environmental health disaster unfolding slowly over decades,” county health director Dr. Faisal Kahn told CBS News.

And a parallel video report from CBS Nightly News:

Suspicious cancer surge in St. Louis area

Program note:

Residents of North County, near St. Louis, are joining a class action lawsuit over the high rate of cancer in their towns which they say is related to radioactive waste in topsoil samples. Vinita Nair has the story.

Finally, a related St. Louis area development from the 13 October St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

More than 40 years ago, radioactive waste was dumped at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton. The decades since have been filled with legal and political moves that have not gotten the site cleaned up.

Now a growing number of residents want to know how dangerous it is to live and work in the area as a fire burns underground in the adjoining Bridgeton Landfill. More than 500 people showed up at a Bridgeton church on Thursday for a meeting organized by residents. The monthly meetings held for the last two years typically attract no more than 50.

The surge in public interest comes after state reports showed the fire is moving toward the nuclear waste, and radioactive materials can be found in soil, groundwater and trees outside the perimeter of the landfill.

More on that fire here.