Published: Wednesday 3 October 2012
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for President Obama no matter what.”

The subject of so-called “entitlements” is sure to come up at tonight’s first presidential debate and so perhaps it makes sense to disabuse candidate Romney of his transfer payment fallacies and fantasies before he begins to speak. 

By now we’ve all seen the footage.  First publicized by Mother Jones in September, the infamous seven-minute clip depicts Mitt Romney openly excoriating the “47 percent” of parasitic “Americans dependent of government” at a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida. (As an aside, the inflation-adjusted median household income for an American family is currently $50,054.)

I give you, Mitt, in his own words…

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for [P]resident [Obama] no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

Although Romney’s claim that “47 percent” of freeloading Americans don’t pay income tax is easy enough to disclaim, his remarks represent a more insidious worldview that many conservatives unwittingly embrace. Romney’s anomic “entitlement society” theory begs the question: Exactly who  do republicans think benefit most from programs like unemployment insurance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), food stamps (SNAP), and Medicaid?

Well, remember ...

Published: Wednesday 12 September 2012
“500 mountains across West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky have been stripped of trees and flattened.”

Larry Gibson, 66, died in his home from a hear attack Sunday.  Gibson was the West Virginia activist who built a social movement from his will to save a mountain.  He was the face of the fight against mountain top removal.  After his retirement at General Motors, Gibson moved back to his family home on Kayford Mountain.  During that time, mountain top removal was just gearing up.  


Published: Wednesday 25 July 2012
“This year, Mountain Justice Spring Break was located in northern West Virginia, where fracking is currently wreaking havoc upon the landscape.”

Listening to the talk in Washington is depressing these days for those concerned about the future of our planet. Democrats join Republicans in trying to roll back environmental regulation, any discussion of climate legislation is dead and everyone wants to expand domestic fossil fuel production. But all across America in the midst of a long hot summer, ordinary citizens are telling a different story by confronting out-of-control energy extraction directly.

When she isn’t busy fighting fracking or organizing communities, Deirdre Lally teaches free health and nutrition classes in rural northeastern Pennsylvania. On Lally’s commute, she passes dozens of gas operation trucks and a number of active strip mines.

“While teaching children and seniors how to stay healthy, I look out the window of the classroom and I see nothing but strip mines surrounding the town,” Lally shared in a meeting between activists fighting mountaintop removal and fracking this past spring. “Poison is running into the streams and water tables and coal dust is in the air. How is a population to be healthy when extractive industries are taking over their towns?”

Lally was at Mountain Justice Spring Break, an annual training camp for anti-mountaintop removal activists. For the past several years, students, community members and activists have gathered together each spring to share skills and fight mountaintop removal, an extremely destructive form of strip mining that scrapes off the top of mountains to get to ...

Published: Tuesday 24 July 2012
“Sacrifice zones” - endless cycles of poverty, powerlessness, and despair as a direct result of capitalistic greed - have been destroyed for quarterly profit.

There are forgotten corners of this country where Americans are trapped in endless cycles of poverty, powerlessness, and despair as a direct result of capitalistic greed. Journalist Chris Hedges calls these places “sacrifice zones,” and joins Bill this week on Moyers & Company to explore how areas like Camden, New Jersey; Immokalee, Florida; and parts of West Virginia suffer while the corporations that plundered them thrive.

These are areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. We’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed,” Hedges tells Bill.

“It’s the willingness on the part of people who seek personal enrichment to destroy other human beings… And because the mechanisms of governance can no longer control them, there is nothing now within the formal mechanisms of power to stop them from creating essentially a corporate oligarchic state.”

The broadcast includes a visit with comics artist and journalist Joe Sacco, who collaborated with Hedges on Days of Destruction, Days ...

Published: Wednesday 18 July 2012
Mountaintop removal (MTR) is just what it sounds like — a process in which the tops of mountains are exploded to reveal the coal seams underneath.

Students from Swarthmore and Earlham College will be traveling to Appalachia this week as part of the Divest Coal Frontlines Listening Tour, which is the latest effort in a broader campaign calling on all colleges and universities to divest from the largest and most destructive U.S.-based fossil fuel companies. Arriving in West Virginia in time for the Mountain Mobilization — a regional gathering July 25 through August 1 that will culminate in direct action on a proposed mine site — the tour is meant to facilitate collaboration by connecting the divestment campaigns with groups that have been organizing against mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia for the past several decades.

Mountaintop removal (MTR) is just what it sounds like — a process in which the tops of mountains are exploded to reveal the coal seams underneath. Anti-coal activist and lifelong West Virginia resident Larry Gibson describes the practice as “raising the dead, while burying the living.” This method is less labor-intensive, and thus more profitable to mining companies, than underground mining. In regions where it is practiced, MTR results in poisoned water, deadly health impacts and economically devastated communities.

Engagement with environmental issues is nothing new for many colleges. Student-led initiatives have driven down institutional energy consumption in the past 10 years, placed wind turbines on campuses and taken coal-fired power plants off of them. While these efforts continue, students across the country are turning to divestment as a new means to confront the coal, oil and ...

Published: Sunday 15 April 2012
Monsanto agreed to pay up to $93 million in a class-action lawsuit brought by the residents of Nitro, West Virginia, for dioxin exposure from accidents and pollution at an herbicide plant that operated in their town from 1929 to 2004.

2,4-D and the dioxin pollution it creates are too dangerous to allow, period, but in the hands of bad actors like Monsanto and Dow Chemical the dangers increase exponentially. What's the Environmental Protection Agency doing? Helping cover-up the chemical companies' crimes!

In February, Monsanto agreed to pay up to $93 million in a class-action lawsuit brought by the residents of Nitro, West Virginia, for dioxin exposure from accidents and pollution at an herbicide plant that operated in their town from 1929 to 2004. 

That may seem like justice, but it is actually the result of Monsanto's extraordinary efforts to hide the truth, evade criminal prosecution and avoid legal responsibility. 

A brief criminal fraud investigation conducted (and quickly aborted) by the EPA revealed that Monsanto used a disaster at their Nitro, WV, plant to manufacture "evidence" that dioxin exposure produced a skin condition called chloracne, but was not responsible for neurological health effects or cancers such as Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. 

These conclusions were repeatedly utilized by EPA and the Veterans Administration to deny help to citizens exposed to dioxin, if these persons did not exhibit chloracne.

The EPA knew the truth about Monsanto's dioxin crimes, but it decided to hide it. Why? It would have affected us all. EPA's brief criminal investigation of Monsanto included evidence that Monsanto knowingly contaminated Lysol with dioxin, even as the product was being marketed for cleaning babies' toys.

Here are the details of this jaw-dropping and ...

Published: Monday 2 April 2012
“Part of Occupy Century’s success was due to the negative publicity it was able to generate about the company, making the blood on its hands visible.”

Karen Gorrell choked back tears one Saturday in early March as she pulled the final stake from the tent that had been her home for the past 75 days. Last fall, the protracted struggle she led for retired workers from Century Aluminum Corporation found itself an accidental part of the Occupy movement. “I’m elated that a bunch of little senior citizens can take on corporate giants in West Virginia,” Gorrell said.

The group fought to have their healthcare benefits reinstated after the company unilaterally dropped coverage for more than 500 retirees and their families. After more than a year of organizing, protests and, ultimately, a physical occupation, the Occupy Century group reached a settlement with the company late last month that will restore those health benefits and grant $44 million to the retirees over 10 years, with up to $25 million in additional contributions to follow.

“I love these people,” Gorrell, 62, said about her fellow occupiers, whose ages range from their early 60s to mid 80s. “This is the closest family you could have in the world.” Gorrell is married to a Century retiree and describes herself as a high school graduate, a community volunteer and a grandmother.

The Century Aluminum factory in Ravenswood, W.Va., had seen struggles before. In 1990, 1,700 union workers at what was then called Ravenswood Aluminum Corporation were locked out in an effort to drastically cut wages. The ensuing “Battle of Fort RAC” was a divisive conflict for the Jackson County community; the negotiations that ended the two-year lockout and picket resulted in workers forced to take a significant pay cut in exchange for healthcare retirement accounts. When the plant closed in 2009, laying off 651 workers, Century Aluminum promised workers that their health benefits would continue.

In June 2010, however, the company announced it would be terminating health coverage for its retirees and ...

Published: Tuesday 28 February 2012
“Monsanto has now set a precedent for settling claims, and hopefully some good attorneys will seize the opportunity in order to hold Monsanto accountable.”

Monsanto tentatively agreed to a $93 million settlement with some residents of Nitro, West Virginia. Nitro is a small town that got its name from manufacturing explosives during WWI.  It was also the site of a Monsanto chemical plant that manufactured 2,4,5-T herbicide that was half of the Agent Orange recipe. Herbicide 2,4,5-T was contaminated with the caustic by-product dioxin. This settlement may open the floodgates to successfully suing Monsanto for its poison.

Nitro Settlement

Herbicide 2,4,5-T was phased out in the late 1970′s. Dioxin is the most dangerous chemical known and has a 100 year half-life when leached into soil or embedded in water systems. The Veteran’s Administration recognizes and pays out on Agent Orange injury claims that include cancer, birth defects in children of exposed victims, leukemia, liver disease, heart disease, Parkinson’s Disease, diabetes and chloracne.

Despite an explosion in the Nitro plant in 1949, not a single penny has been paid to residents of Nitro for dioxin injuries, per an attorney that worked on a previous dioxin case. After 7 years of litigation, and on the heels of the EPA releasing part of its dioxin assessment report,  Monsanto has made a tentative agreement to settle a class action suit with some Nitro residents for a total of $93 million.  Here are the proposed settlement figures:

  • Medical Testing:  $21 Million
  • Additional Screening:  $63 Million
  • Cleanup of 4500 homes:  $9 Million


Published: Wednesday 1 February 2012
Though Century failed to fulfill its obligation to pay for retiree health care, it handed its last CEO, Logan W. Kruger, $4.9 million in 2010.

On Dec. 18, a dozen retirees, men and women in their 60s, 70s, even 80s, began occupying a median strip along Route 33 in front of the closed Century Aluminum smelter in Ravenswood, W.Va. In tents and under tarps, a small group stays overnight, despite hypertension, arthritis and other old age ailments. One has suffered a stroke.

These vulnerable people expose themselves to weather extremes although some have no health insurance at all. Century cancelled it. That’s why they’re occupying Century.

The retirees labored their entire lives for wages and pensions comparably lower than those of other aluminum workers. They did it believing they made those sacrifices in exchange for good, lifelong health coverage. Over the past two years, however, Century evicted them, about 540 retirees altogether, from the insurance plan.

The betrayal burns. Executives at Century, corporate 1 percenters, committed the same sort of treachery that is being ...

Published: Monday 23 January 2012
“According to the data, only 10 ‘blue states’ were net recipients of federal subsidies, as opposed to 22 ‘red states.’”

We’ve all heard it: “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.” I often wonder if the same logic applies to electoral politics. Though conflating “the political” with “the sartorial” isn’t at all my intention, I cannot help but believe that we vote for the lives we want, not the ones we have. Politics, broadly understood, helps to bridge the chasm between the immediate and the aspirational, to negotiate the oscillation of our material needs and our magical desires. To this end, I think there is sufficient evidence to argue that politics is what we do when metaphysics fails, what we do when transhistorical categories of supposed universality become unlaced.

So what exactly constitutes the ground for our political calculus? And what happens when voting for our future aspirations negates our current needs?

Traditional scholars in the field of political science often suggest that our unobstructed self interest (premised on rational choice theory) tends to produce policy preferences and electoral outcomes largely reflective of our material interests. Regrettably, however, according to a 2007 report published by the Tax Foundation entitled “Federal Spending Received Per Dollar Paid by State,” U.S. states that rely most heavily on federal subsidies for public programs routinely elect politicians who are determined to excoriate such funding sources. The articulation of policy preferences and, indeed, the creation and maintenance of a deeply democratic society are co-premised on free and equal access to reliable information, but even a cursory exegesis of the Tax Foundation data compels one to conclude that the particular states most dependent on aid from the federal government are the very same states whose residents voted overwhelmingly for John McCain in 2008. How could this be?

According to the data, only 10 ...

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