The US Is an “oligarchy with unlimited political bribery” says former president

Former president Jimmy Carter said Tuesday on the nationally syndicated radio show the Thom Hartmann Program that the United States is now an “oligarchy” in which “unlimited political bribery” has created “a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors.” Both Democrats and Republicans, Carter said, “look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves.”

Carter was responding to a question from Hartmann about recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign financing like Citizens United.

HARTMANN: Our Supreme Court has now said, “unlimited money in politics.” It seems like a violation of principles of democracy. … Your thoughts on that?

CARTER: It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over. … The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody’s who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who’s just a challenger.

Just in case you feel good about the snow job we get on a daily basis from the leaders of the two old parties in the White House and Congress. They fill the air with blather and bluster about our constitutional tradition, free speech in action, the benefits we enjoy as a free people.

It has as much legitimate content as the average infomercial on network TV sold as filler in between fictional cop shows, comedies about fools and so-called reality TV. If you believe any of it – you are the fool.

Jimmy Carter continues to get my vote as the leading ex-president over the last century. He has the courage to tell the truth about everything from our phony foreign policy to criminal behavior in Congress.

In defense of Yanis Varoufakis


Click for video — With flair and style, Yanis Varoufakis resigns as Greece’ Finance Minister

Mohamed A. El-Erian, Chief Economic Adviser at Allianz and a member of its International Executive Committee, is Chairman of US President Barack Obama’s Global Development Council. He previously served as CEO and co-Chief Investment Officer of PIMCO. He was named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

From blaming him for the renewed collapse of the Greek economy to accusing him of illegally plotting Greece’s exit from the eurozone, it has become fashionable to disparage Yanis Varoufakis, the country’s former finance minister. While I have never met or spoken to him, I believe that he is getting a bad rap (and increasingly so). In the process, attention is being diverted away from the issues that are central to Greece’s ability to recover and prosper – whether it stays in the eurozone or decides to leave.

That is why it is important to take note of the ideas that Varoufakis continues to espouse. Greeks and others may fault him for pursuing his agenda with too little politesse while in office. But the essence of that agenda was – and remains – largely correct.

…Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, appointed Varoufakis to lead the delicate negotiations with the country’s creditors. His mandate was to recast the relationship in two important ways: render its terms more amenable to economic growth and job creation; and restore balance and dignity to the treatment of Greece by its European partners and the International Monetary Fund.

These objectives reflected Greece’s frustrating and disappointing experience under two previous bailout packages administered by “the institutions” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF). In pursuing them, Varoufakis felt empowered by the scale of Syriza’s electoral win and compelled by economic logic to press three issues that many economists believe must be addressed if sustained growth is to be restored: less and more intelligent austerity; structural reforms that better meet social objectives; and debt reduction.

These issues remain as relevant today, with Varoufakis out of government, as they were when he was tirelessly advocating for them during visits to European capitals and in tense late-night negotiations in Brussels.

RTFA to understand the reasoning behind Dr. El-Erian’s defense of Varoufakis. I feel he’s absolutely correct.

The case for fetal-cell research

We first acquired the stem cells from the red receptacles of a local hospital’s labor and delivery ward, delivered to our lab at the University of Southern California. I would reach into the large medical waste containers and pull out the tree-like branches of the placenta, discarded after a baby had been born. Squeezing the umbilical cord that had so recently been attached to new life, the blood, laden with stem cells, would come dripping out.

But sometimes a different package would arrive at our lab. Despite my distaste for wringing placentas, I felt more squeamish about what lay inside the unassuming white box. Packed in the ice was a crescent-shaped sliver of dark red tissue: a human liver. Just like the placentas that were discarded after birth, this tissue was originally destined for medical waste following an abortion.

Although their fates were similar, their origins couldn’t be more different. One source was the byproduct of celebration, the other a procedure often marked with stigma and shame. While under the bright focus of the microscope the cells we isolated were indistinguishable, in our minds there was a significant difference.

The reality is – there is no difference. I could swap the labels and neurotic hangups would switch just as easy.

Stem cell science is a big deal in California, thanks to the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a state agency that has allocated almost $2 billion in research grants since 2004 (federal funding is still highly restricted). To meet the demand for cells, researchers turned to a procedure protected by federal law: abortions. The discarded tissue from terminated pregnancies, performed up to 26 weeks in California, is a rich source of stem cells…

The use of fetal tissue in research is not new. Fetal cells extracted from the lungs of two aborted fetuses from Europe in the 1960s are still being propagated in cell culture. They’re so successful that today we still use them to produce vaccines for hepatitis A, rubella, chickenpox and shingles. From two terminated pregnancies, countless lives have been spared.

It isn’t just vaccines. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego, have injected neural stem cells into two patients to treat their spinal cord injuries. And progress is being made in the use of stem-cell therapies against cancer, blindness, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, H.I.V. and diabetes…

Perhaps this is why it was difficult to hear Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services, discuss the organs of aborted fetuses so casually in surreptitiously recorded conversations with anti-abortion activists posing as fetal-tissue buyers. It’s understandable that politicians, angered by her callous tone, are investigating how fetal tissue is handled and how research is conducted, despite the strict institutional review that governs the use of anatomical tissue donated for research.

Politicians aren’t “angered by her callous tone” they’re excited by one more opportunity to turn up their patriarchal opposition to women making reproductive choices without their approval. Don’t confuse opportunism with judicious thought.

The choice I made is repeated every day, in labs all over the world. Researchers have no say in whether a fetus is aborted or develops into a human baby; those decisions are made by women and shaped by politicians. Yet their science, performed on discarded tissue, has the ability to save lives. It already has.

Choices surrounded by politicians, priests and superstition. The facts of life and science may be difficult for some folks to deal with; but, at least they’re grounded in reality. Making decisions based upon the greatest good for the greatest number ain’t a bad starting place.

Republicans pushing GE to ship $10 billion in work overseas

General Electric Co is taking steps to shift some U.S. manufacturing work overseas now that the U.S. Export-Import Bank will be shuttered at least until September…

GE Vice Chairman John Rice said the conglomerate is bidding on over $10 billion worth of projects that require support from an export credit agency (ECA) like Ex-Im.

With Ex-Im unable to extend new loans or guarantees thanks to an effort by congressional Republicans to shut it down, GE is arranging with ECAs in other countries to finance the deals involved, with much of the production going to GE plants in those foreign locations. The prospective government partners include Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Hungary, he said…

Ex-Im has been unable to consider any new financing requests since Congress allowed the bank’s charter to expire on June 30.

Rice’s comments come as the U.S. Congress starts a five-week summer recess with no clear path to revive Ex-Im in the months ahead. A group of conservative Republicans, who say the 81-year-old trade bank is a nest of “crony capitalism” that doles out government welfare to GE, Boeing Co and other wealthy corporations, want to keep it closed for good…

Rice, who is based in Hong Kong, said GE is not moving to shift work and jobs overseas “just to make a point” to Congress, but to win contracts that require export credit agency support. “We’re doing this because if we don’t, we can’t submit a valid tender,” he said.

In one such power-sector bid, for example, GE would do final assembly work on its aero-derivative gas turbine power generation units at GE plants in Hungary or China instead of a factory in Houston. It already has capacity in place, and export credit agencies willing to support the work, he said.

“Next year, if we win this bid, work that would have been in Houston will be someplace else,” Rice said.

In practice, shutting down the Ex-Im Bank handicaps small-biz as much or more than any other. Such questions devolve from commercial regulations and cause problems just like this one.

I expect Tea Party idjits will ignore the result they cause as often as ever. And if we’re really lucky, Luddites who panic over commerce taking place in a real world which now stretches well beyond the boundaries of the industrial landscape pre-World War 2 will join their peers on the Right.

After more than a half-century of political activism on behalf of the working class I was born into I’m still frustrated by sectarians who can turn an ordinary question of guaranteeing a loan – into religious fears over the purity of their bodily fluids.

The Grand Illusion — choosing excellent American Universities

To understand the failures of the modern American college system — from admissions marketing to graduation rates — you can begin with a notorious university football scandal.

In November 2006, Butch Davis, a high-profile coach with jobs in the N.F.L. and the University of Miami on his résumé, was hired to coach football at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The job offered Mr. Davis a rare opportunity to work for a university that had won dozens of championships in multiple sports while avoiding the scandals and corruption that seemed commonplace at Miami and elsewhere.

But it didn’t take long for Mr. Davis to realize that Chapel Hill’s reputation for sports excellence without compromise was a myth. From 1991 to 2009, the university’s department of African and Afro-American studies ran a huge academic fraud operation. Thousands of students, including regular undergraduates and athletes trying to maintain playing eligibility, enrolled in fake courses in which they didn’t have to attend classes, meet with professors or produce any legitimate academic work.

After the fraud was exposed and both the university chancellor and Mr. Davis lost their jobs, outside investigators discovered that U.N.C. had essentially no system for upholding the academic integrity of courses. “So long as a department was offering a course,” one distinguished professor told the investigators, “it was a legitimate course.”…

Most colleges, presumably, aren’t harboring in-house credit mills. Yet in its underlying design, organizational values and daily operations, North Carolina is no different from most other colleges and universities. These organizations are not coherent academic enterprises with consistent standards of classroom excellence. When it comes to exerting influence over teaching and learning, they’re Easter eggs. They barely exist.

This goes a long way toward explaining why colleges spend so much time and effort creating a sense of tribal solidarity among students and alumni. Think of the chant that Joe Paterno and students cried out together at the height of their university’s pedophilia scandal: “We are! Penn State!” The costumes, rituals and gladiatorial contests with rival colleges are all designed to portray the university as united and indivisible. Newer colleges that lack such deeply rooted identities spend millions of dollars on branding consultants in order to create them.

They do this to paper over uncomfortable truths revealed by their own researchers.

RTFA. Understand “How College Affects Students” concludes – after 848 pages – “The great majority of postsecondary institutions appear to have surprisingly similar net impacts on student growth,” the authors write.

“If there is one thing that characterizes the research on between-college effects on the acquisition of subject matter knowledge and academic skills, it is that in the most internally valid studies, even the statistically significant effects tend to be quite small and often trivial in magnitude.”

Prestigious colleges are those with the most bucks, which, in and of itself, is the driving force in ranking. You get to select the best students then you crank out the slightly better resulting graduates. The rest is sound and fury signifying nothing more than the usual mind-candy-level advertising.

Pick out a college you can afford. Make certain it meets adequate standards – and do the work. Ignore the time wasted on sports rivalries and other gladiatorade pursuits. Graduate and carry on.

Military contractor wants court help extorting money from sick vets

Private military contractor Kellogg Brown and Root is suing 12 National Guard veterans for $850,000 in legal fees that the company has incurred through defending a suit brought by the 12 for damages related to service on behalf of the company while in Iraq.

Early in 2003, the Department of Defense ordered members of the Oregon National Guard to protect supply convoys and repair facilities operated by KBR. The DoD had hired KBR to restore the flow of Iraqi oil to pipelines supplying the West and Europe. At the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility, severely damaged by American attacks and fleeing Iraqis, members of the Guard were exposed to hexavalent chromium, a cancer agent.

After developing health problems consistent with hexavalent chromium exposure, the veterans sued KBR for negligence in Federal Court in Portland. After a month long trial, the jury awarded the veterans $85 Million in 2012. KBR appealed, and sought $30 Million in legal fees and damages from the veterans for initiating the lawsuit.

The soldiers, residents of Oregon and under orders from the Department of Defense, placed on loan to a private entity contracted by the DoD, sued in their home state in federal court, not state court. They argued that a chemical used at the Qarmat Ali treatment facility had, to the knowledge of KBR, contaminated the site. Remaining at the site without being informed of the presence of the cancer agent by DoD or KBR constituted negligence. The Oregon jury agreed.

In May of this year, however, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling. The Court, persuaded by KBR lawyers, determined that an Oregon court, even if a federal circuit court, was not the proper jurisdiction for the case. Rocky Bixby, Ronald Bjerklund, Charles Ellis, Matthew Hadley, Colt Campredon, Vito Pacheco, Brian Hedin, Charles Seamon, Aaron St. Clair, Byron Greer, Jason Arnold and Larry Roberta must now take their case to Houston, Texas, where KBR is located.

A magnanimous KBR was pleased that the 9th Circuit ruled that the Oregon court did not have “personal jurisdiction” over the Texas based company. KBR executive vice president and general counsel Eileen Akerson said, “This ruling is another major step in resolving the few remaining legacy tort claims related to KBR’s work supporting the U.S. military in Iraq. We look forward to bringing closure to all of those matters.” Closure for KBR includes hiding behind its military contractor indemnification clause, and suing the Oregon soldiers for fees and damages incurred through the long course of this trial.

Creeps who should have been indicted as co-conspirators in the lawsuits should have included all the Republicans who profited from the war – starting with Dick Cheney with his ties to Halliburton. Yes, KBR was a subsidiary of Halliburton while Cheney’s firm was getting all those juicy no-bid contracts from the War Department.

Then, we get to confront our less-than-equal rights before American courts. Of course, we must move the retrial into KBR’s backyard. Makes it easier for lawyers, judges and politicians to discuss the case over cocktails.

Meanwhile, the Oregon soldiers contemplate zero compensation for their abuse and ill health in the Bush-Cheney War.

Cilantro imports banned from Mexican farms littered with feces and toilet paper

The US has banned imports of cilantro from several farms in the Mexican state of Puebla after an investigation found growing fields littered with human feces and toilet paper.

A joint investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration and Mexican authorities found “objectionable” hygiene conditions in eight of 11 cilantro farms inspected in Puebla, Mexico’s fourth-biggest state, 130km (80 miles) south-east of the capital.

Five of the eight Puebla farms have been linked to recurrent outbreaks of the serious gastric disease cyclosporiasis in the US since 2012. The herb is thought to be at least partially responsible for a current outbreak which has so far sickened 200 people in Texas.

The disease, which is caused by a parasite that lives in human faeces, can lead to severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, weight loss, nauseas, vomiting, fever, extreme tiredness and other flulike symptoms. It can last from a few days to more than a month, and even after the symptoms disappear, some people will suffer recurrent relapses. In rare cases, people can suffer long-term muscle weakness and tiredness.

The parasite is spread by people ingesting contaminated food or water, but is not transmitted person to person…

In Puebla they found that some farms had no toilet or handwashing facilities for workers, while others had bathrooms but no running water, soap or paper towels. They also found visibly dirty surfaces where the herb was cut, bundled and stored, including the crates used for transportation. The water used to wash coriander in some farms may have been contaminated by sewage.

At one firm, the storage tank which supplied workers with water for handwashing tested positive for the cyclospora parasite that causes the illness…

The summer ban will continue in future years unless a company can prove to health authorities that its product is safe.

The FDA said it is tightening documentation requirements after it found firms producing coriander in Puebla often do business under multiple names and addresses, and some falsely claimed their suppliers are located outside of the state.

Cripes. Grow your own, folks. Easy-peasy as having a basil plant, Italian parsley or some rosemary in your kitchen window.

We planted it once in our courtyard kitchen garden and it came back for years.

Remember knocking on a door and not wondering if you need a bulletproof vest

image

An off-duty New Jersey state trooper fired shots at a car with three young men inside as they were trying to drive away from his house after knocking on his door by mistake at night while looking for the house of a friend who lives next door…

The trooper told investigators he suspected the three men were trying to enter his Sparta home, 50 miles northwest of New York City, between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. Sunday, according to the attorney general’s office.

Jesse Barkhorn, 18, who was in the car that night, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they attended a party earlier and were dropping off one of them at a friend’s house. He said they mistakenly knocked on the door at the house next to their friend’s house. He said they heard a man screaming from inside and they ran back to the car.

They turned around in the cul-de-sac where the home is located and saw the man standing with his weapon pointed at them, Barkhorn said.

“At this point we’re freaking out, ‘It’s a gun. It’s a gun,'” Barkhorn said. “I was like ‘Dude, get out of here.'”

He said the driver accelerated and the man then fired at them. One of the bullets struck the car’s front tire and the driver stopped the car a short distance away.

According to officials, who didn’t release the names of those involved, two 18-year-olds and a 19-year-old went to the wrong house, knocked on the door and fled after a verbal exchange. They got in their car and drove away and the trooper fired three shots with his personal weapon when the car did not stop…

Barkhorn told the AP that after they stopped the car, one of the men fled. He was found by officers hours later.

Barkhorn said all three were taken to the Sparta police department then to state police barracks in Netcong. He said he remained in custody for more than nine hours before being released without being charged.

“It was traumatic. I really have never been in a situation like that,” Barkhorn said. “You don’t really appreciate things until you have a gun pointed at your head. It was really scary.”

Nine hours in state police custody because their cop bubba did the shooting – so it had to be the kids’ fault, right? How long does it take to establish that the cop firing at these kids was the one breaking the law?

Yes, you can be suspicious about someone turning up at your door at 2 in the morning. Maybe even you keep your piece handy if you’re a gun owner. But, if the dudes are obviously hurrying to depart, you needn’t do more than try to get their license number and call it in. You don’t start shooting up the neighborhood.

I’ve been in the same situation – with a young guy showing up at the door who ran out of gas in front of our home. Yes, I had a handgun in my pocket. No need to wave it about or even mention it. And, yes, we hunted up the gas can for our lawnmower and got enough into his car to get him close enough back to civilization to find an all-night gas station and get himself home.

Cripes! Being civilized is really easier than being paranoid.

Researchers find no benefit from chemotherapy at end of life

Chemotherapy near death failed to improve quality of life (QOL) for patients with cancer, even those who otherwise were in good health, a review of end-of-life care showed.

Quality of life near death (QOD) deteriorated in patients who had good performance status when they started chemotherapy. Palliative chemotherapy had no impact on QOL among sicker patients, Holly Prigerson, PhD,…and colleagues reported online in JAMA Oncology.

…”Thus, chemotherapy appears to contribute directly to worse QOD, presumably through adverse and toxic effects that impair the QOL of those who are initially feelling well.”

Organizations that have clinical guidelines addressing end-of-life chemotherapy, such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), might need to rethink their recommendations, Prigerson and colleagues added.

Even an accompanying editorial expressing some disagreement…acknowledged that “if an oncologist suspects the death of a patient in the next 6 months, the default should be no active treatment.”…

Three years ago, ASCO’s expert panel for the “Choosing Wisely” campaign identified use of chemotherapy in patients for whom no proven benefit existed as one of the most widespread, wasteful, and unnecessary practices in oncology. ASCO recommends against the use of chemotherapy for patients who have not benefited from prior therapy…

Prigerson and colleagues examined the association among ECOG performance status, chemotherapy, and QOL in the last week of life…They hypothesized that patients with good performance status would have worse QOL if they received additional chemotherapy, and that patients with poor performance status would not have an improvement in quality of life with chemotherapy…

Beyond the data, the study suggests that “equating treatment with hope is inappropriate,” Blanke and Fromme said.

“Even when oncologists communicate clearly about prognosis and are honest about the limitations of treatment, many patients feel immense pressure to continue treatment,” they said. “Patients with end-stage cancer are encouraged by friends and family to keep fighting, but the battle analogy itself can portray the dying patient as a loser and should be discouraged. Costs aside, we fell the last 6 months of life are not best spent in an oncology traetment unit or at home suffering the toxic effects of largely ineffectual therapies for the majority of patients.”

Time to turn away from the greed-centric portion of the medical-industrial complex, folks. Pay attention to the folks who say, as did these researchers, “This is a clarion call…to take the lead in curtailing the use of ineffective therapy and ensuring a focus on palliative care and relief of symptoms throughout the course of illness.

Overdue.