Japan’s Deadly New ‘Fukushima Fascism’

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/12/12-8

New secrecy law may make Japan’s democracy a relic of its pre-Fukushima past.

by Harvey Wasserman

Fukushima continues to spew out radiation. The quantities seem to be rising, as do the impacts.

The site has been infiltrated by organized crime.

There are horrifying signs of ecological disaster in the Pacific and human health impacts in the U.S.

But within Japan, a new State Secrets Act makes such talk punishable by up to ten years in prison.

Taro Yamamoto, a Japanese legislator, says the law “represents a coup d’etat” leading to “the recreation of a fascist state.” The powerful Asahi Shimbun newspaper compares it to “conspiracy” laws passed by totalitarian Japan in the lead-up to Pearl Harbor, and warns it could end independent reporting on Fukushima.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been leading Japan in an increasingly militaristic direction. Tensions have increased with China. Massive demonstrations have been renounced with talk of “treason.”

But it’s Fukushima that hangs most heavily over the nation and the world.

Tokyo Electric Power has begun the bring-down of hot fuel rods suspended high in the air over the heavily damaged Unit Four. The first assemblies it removed may have contained unused rods. The second may have been extremely radioactive.

But Tepco has clamped down on media coverage and complains about news helicopters filming the fuel rod removal.

Under the new State Secrets Act, the government could ban—and arrest—all independent media under any conditions at Fukushima, throwing a shroud of darkness over a disaster that threatens us all.

By all accounts, whatever clean-up is possible will span decades. The town of Fairfax, CA, has now called for a global takeover at Fukushima. More than 150,000 signees have asked the UN for such intervention.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/12/12-8

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The fourth wave of feminism: meet the rebel women

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/10/fourth-wave-feminism-rebel-women

The women’s movement may have been in hiding through the ‘ladette’ years, but in 2013 it has come back with a vengeance. Introducing the new feminists taking the struggle to the web – and the streets

The Guardian Women awards


The Guardian, Tuesday 10 December 2013

The campaign for women’s liberation never went away, but this year a new swell built up and broke through. Since the early summer, I’ve been talking to feminist activists and writers for a short book, All The Rebel Women, and as I tried to keep up with the protests, marches and talks, my diary became a mess of clashing dates. The rush was such that in a single weekend in October, you could have attended a feminist freshers’ fair in London, the North East Feminist Gathering in Newcastle, a Reclaim the Night march in Edinburgh, or a discussion between different generations of feminist activists at the British Library (this sold out in 48 hours, was moved to a room four times bigger, and sold out again).

You could have joined one of the country’s 149 local grassroots groups, or shared your experience of misogyny on the site Laura Bates, 27, started in April 2012. Her Everyday Sexism Project has proved so successful that it was rolled out to 17 countries on its first anniversary this year, tens of thousands of women worldwide writing about the street harassment, sexual harassment, workplace discrimination and body-shaming they encounter. The project embodies that feminist phrase “the personal is political”, a consciousness-raising exercise that encourages women to see how inequality affects them, proves these problems aren’t individual but collective, and might therefore have political solutions. This year, 6,000 stories that have been sent to the project about harassment or assault on public transport – the majority never reported to authorities – were used to train 2,000 police officers in London, and create a public awareness campaign. In its first few weeks, says Bates, the reporting of harassment on public transport soared. Everyday Sexism currently has more than 108,000 followers on Twitter. Of course, following a social media account isn’t the same as joining a political party, but to put this engagement in perspective, Tory membership is now at 134,000.

Welcome to the fourth wave of feminism. This movement follows the first-wave campaign for votes for women, which reached its height 100 years ago, the second wave women’s liberation movement that blazed through the 1970s and 80s, and the third wave declared by Rebecca Walker, Alice Walker’s daughter, and others, in the early 1990s. That shift from second to third wave took many important forms, but often felt broadly generational, with women defining their work as distinct from their mothers’. What’s happening now feels like something new again. It’s defined by technology: tools that are allowing women to build a strong, popular, reactive movement online. Just how popular is sometimes slightly startling. Girlguiding UK introduced a campaigning and activism badge this year and a summer survey of Mumsnet users found 59% consider themselves feminists, double those who don’t. Bates says that, for her, modern feminism is defined by pragmatism, inclusion and humour. “I feel like it is really down-to-earth, really open,” she says, “and it’s very much about people saying: ‘Here is something that doesn’t make sense to me, I thought women were equal, I’m going to do something about it.'”

As 2013 unfolded, it became impossible to ignore the rumble of feminist campaigners, up and down the country. They gathered outside the Bank of England in early July, the first burst of a heatwave, dressed as aviators, suffragettes and warrior queens, organised by Caroline Criado-Perez, 29, shouting for women’s representation on bank notes and beyond.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/10/fourth-wave-feminism-rebel-women

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When Outsourcing Public Services to Private Companies Goes Wrong

From Truth Out:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/20546-when-outsourcing-public-services-to-private-companies-goes-wrong

By Mike Ludwig
Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The point of carpooling is to save some gas money while reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, but in Virginia, taxpayers could be on the hook when commuters try to do just that.

The Australian company Transurban recently teamed up with a construction firm to build new express toll lanes in a congested part of the Washington, DC-area beltway. Under a 40-year contract with Virginia, the state must reimburse the private companies up to 70 percent of toll revenues lost when the number of carpoolers in the express lanes exceeds 24 percent of the total traffic, making taxpayers foot the bill when carpooling cuts into contractor revenues.

It’s unclear if the carpooling rate will ever hit that mark. But whether they like it or not, Virginia taxpayers are stuck with the toll reimbursement deal for the next four decades, or until the firms post $100 million profit, according to In The Public Interest (ITPI), a policy group that examines government contracting. Voters can’t vote the consortium of private companies out of public service if carpooling becomes popular.

The Virginia carpooling toll deal is just one example on a list of “failures” that illustrate the problems that can arise when cash-strapped governments outsource public services to private companies that put profit before the public interest, according to a recent ITPI report.

Perhaps the most alarming outsourcing nightmare is the CityTime scandal in New York City. In 1998, the New York City contracted Science Applications International Corporation to modernize the payroll system that tracks the hours clocked by city workers. The project, known as CityTime, initially was projected to cost $63 million. But by 2010, the city had spent $700 million on the project.

New York City Comptroller John Lui, a Democrat who recently lost a bid for mayor amid a fundraising scandal, helped expose broad mismanagement and fraud in the CityTime project in 2010. Lui told reporters last week that the project was supposed to be a simple one if not a complete “boondoggle,” but because of mismanagement, lack of oversight of outside consultants, automatic contract extensions and outright fraud, CityTime ended being the most expensive outsourcing disaster in New York City history.

“The breadth and depth of what can go wrong when we hand over public services to for-profit corporations is staggering,” Lui told re  porters last week.

Continue reading at:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/20546-when-outsourcing-public-services-to-private-companies-goes-wrong

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Warren: credit history shouldn’t matter in employment

From MSNBC:  http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/credit-history-shouldnt-matter-employment

12/17/13
When someone applies for a job in the United States, employment law already places some limits on what an applicant can and can’t be asked. An employer can’t ask, for example, about someone’s marital status or national origin.

But businesses can and do check applicants’ credit rating, which puts those with poor credit histories at a severe disadvantage, even though credit ratings offer practically no useful information about a candidate’s qualifications. It’s exactly why Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced legislation to prohibit this practice (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the tip).
The Massachusetts Democrat’s measure has support from dozens of liberal consumer groups, who argue that credit history is a poor measure of character and discriminates against the economically disadvantaged. But it could face resistance from Republicans who oppose more restrictions on businesses and worry about taking away another tool in reviewing job applicants.
Warren has made her career writing about the causes and consequences of personal bankruptcy and debt and has galvanized liberal Democrats around her populist agenda.
“A bad credit rating is far more often the result of unexpected medical costs, unemployment, economic downturns, or other bad breaks than it is a reflection on an individual’s character or abilities,” Warren said in a statement. “Families have not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, and too many Americans are still searching for jobs. This is about basic fairness.”
The Hill reports that new legislation, called the Equal Employment for All Act, “amends the Fair Credit Reporting Act to prevent prospective employers from using consumer credit reports as a basis for making hiring decisions. It also blocks companies from using credit checks as a basis for decisions related to current employees.”
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Why the Christian Right Is Obsessed With the Collapse of Civilization

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-christian-right-obsessed-collapse-civilization

America’s Religious Right is losing the fight.

By Amanda Marcotte
December 12, 2013

Most of us are so familiar with the cluster of issues that compel the religious right—opposition to gay marriage and abortion, hostility to the separation of church and state, hostility to modernity—that we don’t often think about the underlying theme holding these disparate obsessions together. It might even be tempting to believe there isn’t a unifying theme, except for the fact that conservatives themselves often allude to it: “civilization collapse.”

Over and over again, right-wingers warn that all the things they hate, from pro-gay Broadway shows to immigration to multiculturalism, are not just signs of an evolving American society, but portend the actual end of it. The Roman Empire is often darkly alluded to, and you get the impression many on the right think Rome burned up and descended into anarchy and darkness. ( Not quite.) But really, what all these fantasies of cities burning down and impending war and destruction are expressing is a belief that the culture of white conservative Christians is the culture of America. So it follows that if they aren’t the dominant class in the United States, then America isn’t, in their opinion, really America anymore.

Once you key into this, understanding why certain social changes alarm the religious right becomes simple to see. Hostility to abortion, contraception and gay rights stems directly from a belief that everyone should hold their rigid views on gender roles—women are supposed to be housewives and mothers from a young age and men are supposed to be the heads of their families. School prayer, creationism and claims of a “war on Christmas” stem from a belief that government and society at large should issue constant reminders that their version of Christianity is the “official” culture and religion of America.

It’s hard to underestimate how much of a crisis moment the election of Barack Obama for president was for the religious right because of this. And his re-election, of course, which showed that his presidency was not a fluke. Even before Obama was elected, the possibility that a black man with a “multicultural” background was such a massive confirmation of their worst fear—that they are not, actually, the dominant class in America–that the campaign against Obama became overwhelmed completely by this fear. The media frenzy over the minister in Obama’s church was about racial anxieties, but it was telling that it was his church that was the focal point of the attack. The stories were practically tailor-made to signal to conservative Christians that Obama was not one of them.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-christian-right-obsessed-collapse-civilization

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Poverty nation: How America created a low-wage work swamp

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2013/12/15/poverty_nation_how_america_created_a_low_wage_work_swamp/

For decades, both parties supplanted a push for higher wages with well-intended public aid. The result: calamity


Sunday, Dec 15, 2013

2013 is the year many Americans discovered the crisis of the working poor. It turns out it’s also the crisis of the welfare poor. That’s tough for us: Americans notoriously hate welfare, unless it’s called something else and/or benefits us personally. We think it’s for slackers and moochers and people who won’t pull their weight.

So we’re not sure how to handle the fact that a quarter of people who have jobs today make so little money that they also receive some form of public assistance, or welfare – a proportion that’s much higher in some of the fastest growing sectors of the workforce. Or that 60 percent of able-bodied adult food-stamp recipients are employed.

Fully 52 percent of fast-food workers’ families receive public assistance – most of it coming from Medicaid, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit — to the tune of $7 billion annually, according to new research from the University of California-Berkeley’s Labor Center and the University of Illinois.

McDonald’s workers alone receive $1.2 billion in public aid, the study found. This is an industry, by the way, that last year earned $7.44 billion in profits, paid their top execs $52.7 million and distributed $7.7 billion in dividends and stock buyback. Still, “public benefits receipt is the rule, rather than the exception, for this workforce,” the study concluded.

Then there’s Wal-Mart, which as Salon’s Josh Eidelson recently reported, boasted to a Goldman Sachs conference that “over 475K” of its 1.3 million workers make more than $25,000 a year – which lets us infer that almost 60 percent make less.

Democrats on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce estimated that the giant low-cost retail chain benefits from many billions in public-assistance funding; one Wisconsin “superstore” costs taxpayers at least $1 million a year in public assistance to workers’ families. Remember, too, that six members of the Walton family own as much wealth as 48 million Americans combined.

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2013/12/15/poverty_nation_how_america_created_a_low_wage_work_swamp/

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The Jungle: Thousands of Homeless People Live in Shantytowns at the Epicenter of High-Tech, Super-Rich Silicon Valley

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/jungle-thousands-homeless-people-live-shantytowns-epicenter-high-tech-super-rich

Residents of Silicon Valley’s largest homeless encampment illustrate the widening divide between the nation’s haves and have-nots.

By Evelyn Nieves
December 15, 2013

By mid-morning on Thursday, the sun was shining hard enough to dry wet blankets and the residents of the Jungle began surfacing, letting each other know they were still alive.

Six straight nights of freezing temperatures had tested their tenacity, not to mention their tarps and tents. It was so cold that the raccoons that raid the trash bins every night disappeared, a first. Ditto the crows, squirrels and feral cats. Life in the Jungle, 75 wooded acres off Interstate 101 in San Jose that comprises Silicon Valley’s largest homeless encampment, came to a standstill.

With the hard ground thawing, the Jungle looked as if spring had sprung. People strolled the dirt paths, rode their bikes and walked their dogs. Everyone in the Jungle—200 men and women, give or take—looked ready to celebrate surviving the earliest, coldest cold snap on record.

“We were lucky,” said Troy Feid, a former carpenter, squinting into the bright sky. “Not everyone was.”

Four homeless men in Silicon Valley did not make it through the season’s first bout of sub-freezing temperatures. Over the last two weeks, three of them froze to death on the streets of San Jose, not far from the Jungle.

That people live and die on the streets of Silicon Valley is no news to the poor, of course. With more than 6,500 tech companies in all, Santa Clara County is home to the biggest stars in the tech universe, including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay and Apple. But the land of high-tech milk and honey is also a prime example of the widening divide between the nation’s haves and have-nots.

For all its stock-option millionaires, the San Jose/Santa Clara County region (pop. 1.8 million) also has the nation’s fifth largest population of homeless (after New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Diego), according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The main culprits? Budget cuts that have frayed the safety net and sky-high housing costs. These days, a three-bedroom, one-bath starter home in San Jose, the county seat and one of its most affordable cities, costs a cool million. Rents for a two-bedroom apartment go from $2,000 to $5,000 a month, and those on the low-end are scarce.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/jungle-thousands-homeless-people-live-shantytowns-epicenter-high-tech-super-rich

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Three Ways the Super-Rich Suck Wealth Out of the Rest of Us

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/12/09-2

by Paul Buchheit

The facts are indisputable, the conclusion painful. The wealthiest people in the U.S. and around the world have used the stock market and the deregulated financial system to lay claim to the resources that should belong to all of us.

This is not a matter of productive people benefiting from their contributions to society. This is a relatively small number of people extracting massive amounts of money through the financial system for accomplishing almost nothing.

1. They’ve Taken $1.6 Million Per Family in New Wealth Since the Recession

The richest 5% of American families each gained at least that much in five years, mostly from the stock market. Using data from Credit Suisse, the Economic Policy Institute, Pew Research, and the Census Bureau and two separate analyses (shown here and here), this extraordinary wealth grab can be calculated.

To briefly summarize, the richest 5% (six million households) own about two-thirds of the wealth, or about $10 trillion of the $15 trillion in financial wealth gained since the recession. That’s $1,667,000 per household. Calculations based on alternate sources resulted in a gain of over $2 million per household.

It is noteworthy that most of their windfall came from stock market gains rather than from job-creating business ventures. The stock market has, once again, been forming an overblown bubble of wealth that does not reflect the relative degrees of productivity of workers around America. The market has more than doubled in value since the recession, and the richest 5% own about 80% of all non-pension stocks.

2. They Create Imaginary Money That Turns Real

The world’s wealth has doubled in a little over ten years. The financial industry has, in effect, created a whole new share of global wealth and redistributed much of it to itself.

In the U.S., financial sector profits as a percentage of corporate profits have been rising steadily over the past 30 years. The speculative, non-productive, and fee-generating derivatives market has increased to an unfathomable level of over $1 quadrillion — a thousand trillion dollars, twenty times more than the world economy.

With the U.S. driving the expansion of this great bubble of wealth, our nation has become the fifth-most wealth-unequal country in the world, while global inequality (between rather than within countries) has become even worse than for any one country. Just 250 individuals have more money than the total annual living expenses of almost half the world – three billion people.

3. They’ve Stopped Payment on Productive Americans

Reputable sources agree that the working class has not been properly compensated for its productivity, and that the “rent-seeking” behavior of the financial industry, rather than changes in technology, is extracting wealth from society.

As a result, our median inflation-adjusted household wealth has dropped from $73,000 to $57,000 in a little over 25 years. We’ve lost another five percent of our wealth since the recession.

Shockingly, only one out of four Americans, according to a survey by Bankrate.com, “have six months’ worth of expenses for use in emergency, the minimum recommended by many financial planning experts.”

The End Result? That suction-like sound is the financial industry soaking up our country’s wealth.

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