Category Archives: History

Chevron’s malignant legacies in Ecuador, Bay Area


In the second of three programs on the brutal policies of a global oil giant [first part here], Abby Martin looks at the lethal pollution of Ecuador’s land and water by an American oil giant, a bizarre U.S. court ruling made by a judge who owns stock in the company, the the firm’s heavy-handed politics in Richmond, California.

During our six years at the Berkeley Daily Planet, we covered environmental politics in nearby Richmond, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s poorest communities, and watched as Chevron Texaco fought to control city council elections to ensure that operations at the company’s massive refinery were unhindered by council members’ concerns about dangers to the health and safety of their constituents.

Martin lived nearby and saw firsthand how the company spared no expense in courts and in political and public relations campaigns, and we’re glad that the issue will gain wider exposure through her efforts.

And now, one with the shot.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Chevron vs. the Amazon – The Environmental Trial of the Century

Program files:

In Part II of this three-part series, The Empire Files continues the investigation into the battle between Chevron Texaco and Ecuador.

In this installment, Abby Martin uncovers what really happened throughout the 22-year legal battle between the oil corporation and indigenous Amazonians, interviewing lead attorney for the case, Pablo Fajardo.

This episode also chronicles the shameful, scandalous history of Chevron Texaco—from the support of Hitler’s Nazi movement, to backing war crimes in Myanmar—and its retaliatory attacks against its victims.

Climate change ravages U.S. parks, monuments


The opening a a sobering report from the Guardian:

After a century of shooing away hunters, tending to trails and helping visitors enjoy the wonder of the natural world, the guardians of America’s most treasured places have been handed an almost unimaginable new job – slowing the all-out assault climate change is waging against national parks across the nation.

As the National Parks Service (NPS) has charted the loss of glaciers, sea level rise and increase in wildfires spurred by rising temperatures in recent years, the scale of the threat to US heritage across the 412 national parks and monuments has become starkly apparent.

As the National Parks Service turns 100 this week, their efforts to chart and stem the threat to the country’s history faces a daunting task. America’s grand symbols and painstakingly preserved archaeological sites are at risk of being winnowed away by the crashing waves, wildfires and erosion triggered by warming temperatures.

The Statue of Liberty is at “high exposure” risk from increasingly punishing storms. A national monument dedicated to abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who will be enshrined on a new $20 note, could be eaten away by rising tides in Maryland. The land once walked by Pocahontas and Captain John Smith in Jamestown, the first English settlement in the US, is surrounded by waters rising at twice the global average and may be beyond rescue.

These threats are the latest in a pile of identified calamities to befall national parks and monuments due to climate change. Receding ice, extreme heat and acidifying oceans are morphing America’s landscapes and coasts at a faster pace than at any time in human history.

Graphic Representation: Politics, with art & music


Today’s graphic offerings look at American politics from the other side of the pond.

Our first offering, from the Guardian, translates an Olympic phenomenon and takes it to the political arena:

Ben Jennings: The cupping of Uncle Sam

BLOG Eurotoon Jennings Trump

And the Independent watches The Donald’s transformation:

Dave Brown: Lighter than air

BLOG Eurotoon Bronw Trump

Finally, from the Guardian once again:

Martin Rowson: Celebrating Syrian airstrikes

BLOG Eurotoon Rowson Syria

We love European cartoonists, in part because their works so often reference great artists of the past.

In this last case, Rowson is playing on a remarkable image created by a German artist in the wake of a succession of continent-wide sieges of bubonic plague the century before which had killed about 80 percent of the population of his country. Smaller outbreaks were still continuing at the time a German artist created one of the most memorable images in the history of art:

Danse macabre by Michael Wolgemut, teacher of Albrecht Dürer, from folio CCLXI recto of Hartman Schedel’s Historia mundi, printed in Nuremberg in 1493.

Danse macabre by Michael Wolgemut, teacher of Albrecht Dürer, from folio CCLXI recto of Hartman Schedel’s Historia mundi, printed in Nuremberg in 1493.

The Danse macabre was a frequent motif in Medieval art, with the earliest known instance appearing in a Paris cemetery in 1424, and it has stopped fascinating artists since.

One artist inspired by the dance of death was French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, and his work is one you’re already familiar with, because you’ve heard it on the soundtrack of countless movies.

Saint-Saëns took his inspiration from the poem by Henri Cazalis [1840-1909], translated thusly by Wikipedia:

Zig, zig, zig, Death in cadence,
Striking with his heel a tomb,
Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
Zig, zig, zig, on his violin.
The winter wind blows and the night is dark;
Moans are heard in the linden-trees.
Through the gloom, white skeletons pass,
Running and leaping in their shrouds.
Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking.
The bones of the dancers are heard to crack-
But hist! of a sudden they quit the round,
They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.

Forthwith, and from the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, Euege Ormandy conducting:

Camille Saint-Saëns – Danse Macabre


You can also hear it played by a classical guitar trio, a Finnish accordion maestro, a bass clarinet quartet [and damn, those clarinets are YUGE], and a Korean viola quartet, all all-saxophone orchestra, and a 1930’s Argentine jazz band [grooovy].

Finally, the Danse Macabre itself [not the Saint-Saëns version] also attracted the attention of Walt Disney’s animators way back in 1929.

Enjoy [via Geoffroy Biencourt]:

Silly Symphonies – La Danse Macabre

Time to book your Northwest Passage cruise


Yep, the Northwest Passage, the impossible dream of early European explorers of an Arctic waters shortcut to Asia, is now open.

From NASA’s Earth Observatory:

BLOG Passage

From NASA:

In August 2016, tourists on a luxury cruise departed Seward Alaska and steered toward the waterways of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The excursion is one example of the growing human presence in an increasingly ice-free Northwest Passage—the famed high-latitude sea route that connects the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In mid-August 2016, the southern route through the Passage was nearly ice-free.

For most of the year, the Northwest Passage is frozen and impassible. But during the summer months, the ice melts and breaks up to varying degrees. The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured the top image of the Northwest Passage on August 9, 2016. A path of open water can be traced along most of the distance from the Amundsen Gulf to Baffin Bay.

“It was a warm winter and spring,” said NASA sea ice scientist Walt Meier. That means that the seasonal ice—ice that grew since the end of last summer, and the type found throughout most of the Passage—is thinner than normal. Thinner ice can melt more easily, break up, and move out of the channels.

A scattering of broken ice is visible just east of Victoria Island. “It looks pretty thin and disintegrating,” Meier said. “I think an ice-strengthened ship could get through without too much trouble.”

The open water this year flows along the southern route, or “Amundsen route.” It’s not unusual for the southern route to open up to some degree, as it is more protected than the northern route and receives less sea ice directly from the Arctic Ocean.

At some point in almost every summer since 2007, conditions along the southern passage have been fairly open. There have been exceptions; the second image shows the Northwest Passage on August 9, 2013, as observed by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite. Ice that year was relatively extensive. Turn on the image comparison tool to see the difference.

What’s left of the ice in 2016 is opening up fast. Meier expects that the Northwest Passage will open up completely in the next couple of weeks. Moreover, a strong Arctic cyclone appears to be approaching the archipelago. It could push the ice around and further open up still-blocked channels. Or, it could have the opposite effect and push in ice from the north.

IMF sounds the alarm for the U.S. economy


It’s bad, and getting worse.

From Xinhua:

The U.S. economy risks getting stuck in a prolonged period of low-growth amid slowing productivity and a shrinking middle class, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned.

The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.2 percent in the second quarter this year, following a downwardly revised 0.8 percent gain in the first quarter, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. That marked the third straight quarter in which the U.S. economy grew at lower than 2 percent, the weakest period in four years.

The weaker-than-expected economic data underscores the continuing frustration about the current U.S. recovery, which has repeatedly failed to shift to higher gear in the past seven years.

The U.S. economy has grown at an average pace of 2.1 percent since the recession ended in the mid-2009, registering the weakest U.S. economic expansion since World War II. During the postwar period up to the current recession (1947-2007), the average annual growth rate for the United States was 3.4 percent.

The IMF warned in June that the United States faces “potentially significant longer-term challenges” to strong and sustained growth, including a shrinking labor force and middle class.

Recoveries grow increasingly feeble

A report from the Economic Policy Institute reveals that recoveries are slower with each succeeding recession:

BLOG Econ 2More from the EPI:

One key gauge of the severity of recessions is the output gap, which measures the difference between the economy’s actual output and its potential output if all resources (including workers) were fully employed. At the trough of the Great Recession in June 2009, the output gap was 7.1 percent, equivalent to over a trillion dollars. The only larger output gap in the postwar period was the 7.6 percent gap recorded at the trough of the early 1980s recession in the last quarter of 1982. Cumulatively, the losses over the Great Recession and the sluggish recovery dwarf even those from the early 1980s recession. The output gaps at the trough of the early 1990s recession (the first quarter of 1991) and that of the early 2000s (the final quarter of 2001) were 2.6 and 1.8 percent, respectively.

And the gold goes to. . .

From the World Socialist Web Site:

Hundreds of retail stores have been shut over the past two years as the impact of relentless cuts in wages and pensions and the permanent destruction of decent-paying jobs, combined with sweeping cuts in social programs, have thrown tens of millions of working class families into poverty or near-poverty. The bankers and speculators have placed relentless pressure on the chains to cut costs and increase profit margins at the expense of their employees and the general public.

The surge in stock and bond prices both in the US and internationally, which has further enriched the capitalist elite, has come amid mounting indications of stagnation and slump in the real economy and a worsening social crisis. Economic growth in the US, Europe, Japan and China has slowed to a crawl. New figures released Friday pointed to a slowdown across the entire Chinese economy, with factory output, business investment and retail sales all failing to meet economists’ projections.

The euro zone economy grew by a paltry 0.3 percent in the second quarter, with Italy failing to register any growth and the German economy expanding at a reduced rate.

Gross domestic product in the US is barely increasing, rising only 0.8 percent in the first quarter and 1.2 percent in the second. Both labor productivity and business investment are falling sharply, reflecting the systematic diversion of resources from productive investment to financial speculation and parasitic activities such as stock buybacks, dividend increases and mergers and acquisitions.

US corporations, flush with cash extorted through the slashing of wages and benefits and the imposition of speedup, are hoarding $1.9 trillion. They refuse to invest in new plants and equipment that could provide decent jobs and address the decay of the country’s bridges, roads, schools and housing because the profit margins are too low, preferring instead to speculate on the market and buy back their own stock to increase the take of big investors and inflate the bonuses of top executives.

More from the Associated Press:

Income inequality has surged near levels last seen before the Great Depression. The average income for the top 1 per cent of households climbed 7.7 per cent last year to $1.36 million, according to tax data tracked by Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. That privileged sliver of the population saw pay climb at almost twice the rate of income growth for the other 99 per cent, whose pay averaged a humble $48,768.

But why care how much the wealthy are making? What counts the most to any family is how much that family is bringing in. And that goes to the heart of the income-inequality debate: Most Americans still have yet to recover from the Great Recession, even though that downturn ended seven years ago. The average income for the 99 per cent is still lower than it was back in 1998 after adjusting for inflation.

Meanwhile, incomes for the executives, bankers, hedge fund managers, entertainers and doctors who make up the top 1 per cent have steadily improved. These one-percenters account for roughly 22 per cent of all personal income, more than double the post-World War II era level of roughly 10 per cent. One reason the income disparity is troubling for the nation is that it’s thinning out the ranks of the middle class.

Incomes in California follow the pattern

The Golden State is, increasing, golden for those at the top, lead for those below.

Consider this graphic from the Public Policy Institute of California:

BLOG Econ

More from the Institute:

Over the past three decades, the distribution of pre-tax cash income in California has been driven by broad, long-term economic forces—although economic booms and busts also figure in. We can track changes in the spread of incomes since 1980 by measuring family incomes at the top, middle, and bottom of the ladder.

Top income levels (at the 90th percentile) were 39.7 percent higher in 2014 than they were in 1980, while low incomes (at the 10th percentile) were 18.6 percent lower. The middle-income level (at the 50th percentile) in California is a mere 5 percent higher than it was in 1980.

California’s economy has experienced a number of boom-and-bust cycles in the past three decades, and incomes across the spectrum have clearly been affected by the gains and losses of these cycles. However, their effects have been uneven. Top incomes have contracted in bust periods, but they have typically rebounded fairly quickly and have gained additional ground. Over the long term, top incomes have increased well beyond 1980 levels. Middle incomes gained some ground in the late 1990s and early 2000s, rising roughly 10 percent above 1980 levels, but these gains disappeared during the last recession. Low incomes declined the most during each of he major recessions since 1980 (early 1980s, early 1990s, and late 2000s) and did not rise above 1980 levels during recovery periods. In 2006, after the growth period of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the 10th and 20th percentiles of income had rebounded to 1980 levels, but the Great Recession took hold soon after. These trends at the bottom, middle, and top of the income ladder add up to a long-term divergence of family incomes in California.

According to the most recent data (from 2014), the median family income before taxes and adjusted to represent a family of four in California is about $69,000. Incomes at the bottom are $15,000 or less, while the top incomes are $198,000 or more.

Morales unveils the anti-School of the Americas


The School of the Americas [previously], rebranded as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is where the U.S. Army schools Latin American soldiers and police [more than 60,000 to date] on the fine art of suppressing dissidents and rebels.

Needless to say, most of those soldiers came from countries that allowed American corporations to exploit their resources, something those dissidents and rebels didn’t take kindly to.

Many of those soldiers participated in massacres, and some used their training to reach high ranks and even the presides of their countries. Two graduates founded Mexico’s notorious Los Zetas cartel.

And now Bolivia’s president has launched a new academy designed precisely to counter Washington’s agenda.

From teleSUR English:

Bolivian President Evo Morales opened Wednesday a new regional military defense school—a kind of anti-School of the Americas—which will offer courses on a wide range of subjects meant to counter the U.S. imperialist presence in the developing world, including the Theory of Imperialism, Geopolitics of Natural Resources and Bolivian Social Structures.

The new school, which will be based in the city of Santa Cruz in eastern Bolivia, and named after former President Juan Jose Torres. will have an initial enrollment of 100 students. Morales, a socialist and Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, has been a strong critic of US imperialism in Latin America, and throughout the world.

“Empires,” he said at Wednesday’s ceremony, “exhibit cultural racism because they do not believe in the popular sovereignty of the people.”

The Bolivian military academy is intended as a direct rebuttal to the infamous U.S. School of the Americas in Georgia , which provides military training to U.S. allies in Latin America, and whose graduates include a “Who’s Who” of Cold War era military figures who carried out some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America.

Fluoridated water linked to Type II diabetes


Way back in the 1960s, ultra-Right wing groups published screeds attacking integration, looked for commies under every bed, and otherwise fostered a culture of racism, intolerance, and ignorance.

One of their pet hates was water fluoridation, as Congressional Quarterly noted back in 1965:

The extremist groups that are active today are constantly uncovering “plots” aimed at undermining the United States. Water fluoridation, for example, is condemned as a Communist scheme to addle American brains in preparation for a Red takeover. Civil rights activity is likewise asserted to be directed by the Kremlin.

But nowadays even the libertarian magazine Reason gives its blessing to water fluoridation, noting:

On balance the scientific evidence seems to indicate that fluoridation is a safe and effective way to prevent tooth decay. Of course, that doesn’t mean that future studies will not identify problems–research is always subject to revision. However it is highly likely that, after 50 years of use by millions of people, any truly major health problems resulting from fluoridation would already have made themselves evident.

But new evidence revels that, while not a Soviet mind control agent, fluoridated water may be a factor in the growing spread of Type II diabetes, the adult onset version caused, according to conventional wisdom, by obesity and lack of exercise.

From Case Western Reserve University:

Water fluoridation prevents dental cavities, which are a costly public health concern. But despite the benefits supplemental water fluoridation remains a controversial subject. Some indicate it may cause long term health problems, but studies reporting side effects have been minimal or inconclusive. The long-term effects of ingested fluoride remain unclear.

A recent study published in the Journal of Water and Health examined links between water fluoridation and diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a growing epidemic in the United States. Incidence rates have nearly quadrupled in the past 32 years and show no signs of stopping. According to the study, fluoridation with sodium fluoride could be a contributing factor to diabetes rates in the United States, as the chemical is a known preservative of blood glucose.

The sole author of the paper, Kyle Fluegge, PhD, performed the study as a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Fluegge now serves as health economist in the Division of Disease Control for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and co-director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research in Cleveland, Ohio.

In the study, Fluegge used mathematical models to analyze publicly available data on fluoride water levels and diabetes incidence and prevalence rates across 22 states. He also included adjustments for obesity and physical inactivity collected from national telephone surveys to help rule out confounding factors. Two sets of regression analyses suggested that supplemental water fluoridation was significantly associated with increases in diabetes between 2005 and 2010.

“The models look at the outcomes of [diabetes] incidence and prevalence being predicted by both natural and added fluoride,” said Fluegge.

Fluegge reported that a one milligram increase in average county fluoride levels predicted a 0.17% increase in age-adjusted diabetes prevalence. Digging deeper revealed differences between the types of fluoride additives used by each region. The additives linked to diabetes in the analyses included sodium fluoride and sodium fluorosilicate. Fluorosilicic acid seemed to have an opposing effect and was associated with decreases in diabetes incidence and prevalence. Counties that relied on naturally occurring fluoride in their water and did not supplement with fluoride additives also had lower diabetes rates.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading