Once again, lame NPR reporting lacks insight, relevance and courage

Today NPR, in reporting on the top news story of the day, the Gulf oil leak disaster, was once again lacking in insight and relevance. In so doing, they failed to perform one of the basic functions of journalism in our culture: to inform the public on dangerous industry practices, and to bring public pressure to bear on BP for its fraud, its lies and its wanton disregard for the health and welfare of its employees and contractors — indeed, its wanton disregard for life itself, whether human, animal or plant.

In particular, my complaint is in regard to the NPR report about today’s recall by the Coast Guard of the hundred plus boats operating as constractors to help with the oil clean up, by placing booms, removing oil from the water, etc. They were called in because of reports of nausea, eye and lung irritation and other symptoms; and there the NPR report stopped — end of story.

However, that is not the end of the story; it should have been the beginning of the *real* story: BP’s subtle strategy to escape legal liability. All the words spoken in the media matter not: what counts to BP, and what should count to the American public outraged over this issue, are the words that will matter in court. If you are concerned about this issue, you should be following how the court cases will emerge, and what BP’s legal strategy is.

At central issue in that legal strategy should be the deliberate denial by BP of the use of protective gear by these innocent contractors. BP is not allowing these contractors to use respirators, even though some of them have been advised to so by other authorities helping in the cleanup. Let me repeat that: BP is not allowing these contractors to use respirators, in conditions which are making them seriously ill. Why? Well, that is the question the NPR reporter should have posed to someone at BP. Then we could have had the opportunity to watch another corporate PR person from BP dance around the question and not admit to the gigantic elephant in the room: that BP needs to be held liable for all damages stemming from this disaster, and should be made to fully pay for all the damage it has caused. But BP will seek to evade all the liability they can. Let me repeat that: mark my words, they will seek to evade all the liability they can. Is this not obvious? It’s how Exxon acted in the aftermath of the Valdez disaster, and we can confidently expect that BP will act the same.

But back to our original question: why would BP prevent its contractors from wearing respirators? Because this would amount to their acknowledging that the contractors are operating in a toxic environment which BP caused, which would amount to admitting that they have liability for these damages. Rather than admit the obvious, this corrupt corporation willingly sacrifices the health of their contractors on the alter of denial. Put another way: they don’t give a damn about the health of these innocent contractors, who are serving as mere pawns in their game.

In contrast, Amy Goodman on Democracy Now on the morning of Thursday, May 27 interviewed Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, who was working directly with these contractors, trying to get them protective gear to operate in this toxic environment. He had direct experience of these contractors, and was told that they could not use the respirators, for the reasons stated above. (Check out his interview at democracynow.org)

This despicable behavior by BP needs to publicly criticized until they admit the motives for their behavior, and accept full liability for the worst environmental disaster in human history.

Yet another lame NPR interview…

[A comment that I made at NPR’s website on April 29, 2010, right after hearing the interview…]

I listened with interest this afternoon as NPR interviewed the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, on the heels of his grueling testimony before Congress yesterday. It was a rare opportunity to put some tough, direct questions to the head of the corporation that is more responsible than any other for causing the current US recession (not to mention their underhanded dealings on the international scene; they are behind Greece’s current difficulties as well). Not surprisingly, the NPR reporter was not up to the task, and let this duplicitous scoundrel off with a mere rap of his knuckles.

The main point that Mr Blankfein tried to use to defend his company is that they are constantly financing US business and government activities that help build and maintain our economy; that is only partially true, and hides an ugly truth. The glaring reality is that over 70 percent of Goldman Sachs’ profits come from trading for their own accounts. This is not investing in the real economy; it is like a cancer that is sucking the life out of its host body.

If the NPR reporter had bothered to do a little research prior to the interview, she would have found that Goldman Sachs is foremost in high frequency trading by having their own supercomputers located right at the exchanges, allowing them to front-end the trading market and skim off profits with near certainty, with their milliseconds of trade execution advantage. Indeed, recent evidence indicates that around 70 percent of all trading activity is done by this type of automated trading. If that is not newsworthy, I don’t know what is; the global financial investment sector has become one giant casino, and it will be our undoing yet again if it is not brought under control, and soon.

So, another lame interview from NPR passes for “news”…and the American people are kept in the dark once more. When there was a golden opportunity to shed some light on one of its chief denizens of darkness, the public is shielded once again from the ugly truth that Wall Street is a predatory and vicious institution that cares nothing for the real welfare of US citizens and their communities. They care for one thing: their lust for profits that enrich only them.

NPR vs Democracy Now: No Contest

[This is a comment I had to make on the NPR website on April 6, 2010 after hearing their lame and sycophantic coverage of a brutal assault by US forces against innocent Iraqi civilians. The story is based on a video leaked to WikiLeaks, which has posed it on collateralmurder.com ]

Dear NPR,

I listened to your report on this leaked video after hearing it earlier this morning on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman; the difference in the two reports was striking. Ms Goodman’s presentation was much more open, revealing and truthful (with abundant live clips of conversation exchange between the gunship and commanders on the ground), including an interview with a London Times reporter in Kabul who just published a very similar story that recently occurred in Afghanistan. In contrast, NPR’s coverage appeared insipid, hesitant and utterly sympathetic to the US military. After hearing the riviting account on Democracy Now, there is no doubt in my mind that the daily war in Iraq and Afghanistan is engaging the US military in nearly daily murders of innocent civilians, including children and pregnant women. Small wonder there is an insurgent war against an occupying force that behaves in such a manner. Shame on you for not reporting the truth to the American public. I suggest your reporters go to the Democracy Now website and take a look at some real reporting — maybe they’ll learn something.

Very Sincerely,
Rick Casey
Lafayette, CO

Is Global Climate Change Man-made?

In case you were wondering…

I’ve had any number of people ask me where is the best place for evidence of scientific concensus that global warming, or, more correctly, global climate change, is anthropogenic, i.e. man-made; well, here it is….

I finally found (thanks to one of my students) the document that shows this US scientific consensus :
http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/ssi/climate-change-statement-from.pdf

A Scary Night on Long’s Peak

It was to be a classic day: the forecast was perfect for the time of year, August 22: calm, clear and warm. I was to lead a CMC rock climb up the North Ridge of Spearhead, and had formed a strong team. Kent Crites, a mountaineer of deep experience, was my co-leader, and Heather Pore was the sole participant, both strong climbers. Since Spearhead is about four mile hike in, and since Kent and I were a little older (in our fifties), we decided to hike in the night before and bivouac below the climb to have a fresh start in the morning. Heather, a mere 20 something, of course thought nothing of hiking in and climbing the same day, so she was to meet us the next morning.

Kent and I enjoyed a pleasurable and leisurely hike in the balmy weather. Rocky Mountain Park was in its full summer glory, as we drank in the majestic sights that make up Glacier Gorge: Mills Lake, MacHenry’s Peak, Spearhead, Chiefshead, Arrowhead, Pagoda Peak and, of course, the west face of Long’s Peak. This is certainly one of the most scenic valleys in the park, and the compact clustering of high quality rock routes makes it especially exciting to climbers. Arriving in the cirque below Spearhead, we chose a flat grassy area about mid-way up the slopes towards the start of our route. With such benign weather, we would be fine sleeping without a tent, bedding down under the starry sky. We cooked and ate our simple meals, enjoying quiet conversation as dusk deepened into twilight. We were alone in the cirque, and savored the immense silence.

All seemed well as I snuggled into my bag, glancing up at the first stars appearing in the inky sky. The dark rocky ramparts of the west face of Long’s were directly across the valley from us, the exact ridgeline hard to make out in the dark, as I tried to make out exactly where the Keyhole would be. All of a sudden, I noticed two tiny points of light moving slowly along, bobbing and winking; a few seconds of steady observation confirmed that they must be hikers returning along the Keyhole route, the most popular trail up Long’s. I called over to Kent, and he noticed them too. Those poor guys! It was past nine o’clock, but they looked like they would be through the Keyhole soon, and, I thought, at least they would then be past the most exposed and dangerous part of the route.

A few minutes later, this assumption of safe harbor for the hikers seemed to be going terribly wrong: instead of the two bobbing lights going up and over the ridge as they neared the Keyhole, they seemed to be going down the ridge, toward Black Lake! I spoke in alarm to Kent, who confirmed what I saw — but there was absolutely nothing we could do. Communication was impossible at that distance, and we couldn’t call anyone for help; nor was it advisable to leave our camp to try to reach them in such dangerous terrain. I knew what that face looked like in daylight: steep, large, loose boulders, even large blank sections of rock face; at night, even with headlamps, it would be a nightmare to negotiate. But down they went, first left, then right…at times the lights would disappear, and I could only think the worst. I half expected one or both of them to suddenly begin descending rapidly, indicating a fall. Slowly but surely, they kept up their hesitant, zig-zag descent. When they were about half-way down, Kent and I could both hear cries of help; still, there was nothing we could do, other than pray for their safety.

Somehow though, unbelievable as it seemed at the time, after about an hour and a half, they were nearing the lower third of the black wall across the valley. The lights began to veer more to the right, indicating horizontal traversing on more level ground; this was good. They were going to make it! As the lights changed direction, now heading more directly into the eastern rim of the valley floor, we could just make out their voices: animated, strong, exhuberant. I couldn’t make out the words, but I could pick up on what it meant: two young guys, probably inexperienced, but very excited to have survived a dangerous escapade in the mountains. Ah well! I thought, that’s good; now all they have to worry about is hiking all the way out Glacier Gorge, at night, with their car probably parked at the Long’s Peak trailhead — a mere triviality, having cheated death! Kent and I congratulated each other on not having to participate in a rescue, and turned back into our bags, finally able to go to sleep. We never heard anything about the pair again; just another scary night in RMNP…

–Rick Casey

The Growing Case for Local Banks

I read with interest an article in my local newspaper, The Denver Post, last Sunday, November 15, 2009, Too Big To Succeed? which was about how big banks are “too big to succeed” to help local businesses, and how we need to “revive the nation’s broken community banking system.” This was written by Henry Dubroff and John Huggins, who should both know the local business environment in Denver extremely well. Dubroff was formerly business editor of The Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal; he’s currently editor at the Pacific Coast Business Times. Huggins is an entrepreneur and investor who twice served as economic development director for the city and county of Denver.

What was of interest to me is how their call for local, community oriented banking coincides exactly with similar recommendations I reading about several years ago (2006, 2007) in the works of David Korten and Michael Shuman. Both these authors have been decrying the disastrous effects of global capitalism on local economies for years, and I was thankful to them as my first discovery of authors who were able to validate and give shape to the vague but nagging feeling of dismay I’d had about the direction of local, and international, economic development for some time. At times, this led to bouts of profound emotional nausea, since there seemed no chance of escape from these global financial forces that were slowly but surely grinding the life and joy out local communities the world over by making them ever more dependent on multinational banks and chain stores.

So it was with no small amount of enjoyment to read how Dubroff and Huggins were bluntly stating that the “big banks” (national banks and financial institutions like Chase, Wells Fargo, CIT and the like) are simply ignoring the financing needs of small to medium sized companies at the local level. Because of their own misguided greed for short term profit and obscene executive paychecks, their failed balance sheets have sucked up the trillions of taxpayer bailouts with little or none of it passing through them to serve as loans to local banks, much less local companies — all without the least evidence of shame or contrition on their part.

But what to do? Rather than try to change these behemouths, it seems more sensible, say Dubroff and Huggins, to start over with new local banks that do listen and respond to the needs of local businesses; in other words, “to bring back community-savings intstitutions that would harken back to the ‘building and loan’ of the past-World War II era.” They then go on to briefly describe how this smaller, more locally-oriented banks would work, and their advantages over larger banks. However, their description any detail on how such a transition might get started was disappointing. The only quote from Dr. Sung Won Sohn, former chief economist at Wells Fargo, stated “…he thinks it would be essential for any new community banks to have ‘enough products and economies of scale’ to attractive to investors.”

Huh? Why these authors chose to use a quote from a high level employee of one the very institutions that helped cause our current mess is confusing, to say the least; and Dr. Sohn’s statement insinuates that such local banks would end up beholden to some vague, larger investment source…perhaps the very same larger banks we would like to rid ourselves of?

A clearer statement of how to the slavish relationship to larger banks is not hard to find. (In fact, I suspect this story has been told many times, ever since big banks have been oppressing communities.):

Every existing business support program needs to be reviewed and recast in community-friendly terms. Here are some goals policymakers might keep in mind: Make publicly supported incubators and one-stop small business shops off-limits to TINA. [Explanation of TINA below.] Use public money for educating entrepreneurs, whether through adult-ed classes or full-blown MBA programs, to emphasize LOIS [Explanation of LOIS below.] entrepreneurs. Fund studies that focus on the needs of LOIS businesses — on indicators, assets, leakages, entrepreneurship, finance, policy reform — and take advantage of a whole new generation of economists eager to do this kind of research. (Shuman, 2006, 168)

To explain TINA and LOIS: TINA means ‘There Is No Alternative’ and LOIS means ‘Local Ownership and Import Substitution’. Both terms…

An even more powerful case for why local banks are needed comes from David Korten, who has a 12 point litany of urgent supplications of what to do here:

1. Redirect the focus of economic policy from growing phantom wealth to growing real wealth
2. Recover Wall Street’s unearned profits, and assess fees and fines to make Wall Street theft and gambling unprofitable.
3. Implement full-cost market pricing.
4. Reclaim the corporate charter.
5. Restores national economic sovereignty.
6. Rebuild communities with a goal of achieving local self-reliance in meeting basic needs.
7. Implement policies that create a strong bias in favor of human-scale businesses owned by local stakeholders.
8. Facilitate and fund stakeholder buyouts to democratize ownership.
9. Use tax and income policies to favor the equitable distribution of wealth and income.
10. Revise intellectual property rules to facilitate the free sharing of information and technology.
11. Restructure financial services to serve Main Street.
12. Transfer to the federal governement the responsibility for issuing money.
(Korten, 2009, 122)

References

Korten, David C., Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009.

Shuman, Michael H., The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses are Beating the Global Competition, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2006.