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Breaking: New Keystone pipeline corruption exposed

Today, Friends of the Earth released a shocking expose of the State Departments handling of the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental review.

We discovered that the company hired by the State Department to conduct the environmental review for this risky pipeline has done extensive work for TransCanada and the many oil companies that stand to benefit if the pipeline is built. Making matters worse, the firm, Environmental Resources Management, lied on its federal conflict of interest disclosure forms when it declared it had no such ties.

Where does this leave the Keystone XL review? Its now time for Secretary of State John Kerry to determine how a firm with financial ties to TransCanada and the oil industry was allowed to write the governments environmental impact statement, and why the State Department never investigated the companys claims to have no such ties. Only then can we have a fair and accurate assessment.

Tell Secretary of State John Kerry that its time to cancel ERMs contract and halt the Keystone review until it can be done fairly and without the influence of Big Oil.

This is not the first time the State Departments botched handling of the Keystone XL environmental review has been in the news. In March, Mother Jones revealed that the State Department had tried to conceal the fact that some of the consultants who wrote the report had worked for TransCanada.

Now, with todays conflict of interest revelation, its clear that the Keystone review has been hopelessly compromised by the oil industry. The United States simply cannot afford to let Big Oil set its climate policy through shady deals and cover-ups.

Join us in calling on John Kerry to halt the Keystone review and launch an investigation immediately into this corruption of the environmental review process.

Since TransCanada first applied for a presidential permit in 2008, the State Department has acted like the oil industrys best friend, willing to sneak a thumb onto the scales to benefit Big Oil. We need your help to bring transparency and an end to these backroom deals.

Tell John Kerry, no more cover-ups. Halt the Keystone XL review now.

Standing with you,
Ross Hammond,
Senior campaigner,
Friends of the Earth

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“Genetic Roulette” Watch on demand thru 4/30 FREE. World Cafe to follow

from USF St Petersburg’s Office of Research
April 2013, “The Politics of Food: Rethinking Local Systems

GENETIC ROULETTE: The Gamble of Our Lives

Watch it on demand at no cost to you!
Offer ends April 30, 2013

If you’re concerned about genetically modified food & seeds –
for health, the environment, economies or all of the above…

don’t miss this opportunity to watch the film at times that work for you

Click to view USFSP’s webpage for the Genetic Roulette Film

Stream it online now, later with friends, organizations or classroom


If you’d like to join others who’ve seen the film, to share, explore and imagine next steps,
please consider organizing a gathering in your neighborhood
We’ll provide the World Cafe facilitator

“Genetic Roulette”
World Cafe

Thursday, April 25, 2013
10 AM – Noon
USFSP Coquina Club (off First St S near pool)
view USFSP map below

Questions to The Connection Partners at kleitsch

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Indefensible price gouging for basic communication is a fact of life for millions | Color of Change

I just got this in email, and time is short to make a difference on this, so please read and share widely.
If you’ve never known anyone who was incarcerated you may have never even heard of this particular aspect of the corruption rampant in our corporate owned government, but it is rotten.

When my best friend and roommate was arrested-
(for being a pothead which is a whole other can of worms about the ridiculousness of making a PLANT illegal. I have no personal interest in smoking pot, it does nothing for me but I cannot understand how my entire country has fallen for the lies that were told to destroy Monsanto and DuPont’s competition-Cannabis is illegal because Hemp is a superior product to nylon for ropes and sails etc)

-we were dirt poor and the phone bill was astonishing, I almost lost my phone service. We actually had to pay a FEE in order to be “eligible” to receive collect calls from the jail-because unlike ordinary collect calls, these calls cost a LOT more.

He was only in jail for a few months, (and then in a drug treatment center that tried to deny his religious freedom) so I did not have to bear the burden so many do whose loved ones are incarcerated for years, but I know this message is telling the truth from personal experience.

This is one small step in ending the corruption, but as the old saying goes the journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step….

Indefensible price gouging for basic communication is a fact of life for millions of American families with loved ones who are currently incarcerated.1 They’re a captive audience for the phone service providers awarded monopoly contracts by prison operators, and are accordingly charged 15 times or more than regular phone rates.2

Martha Wright, an 86-year-old grandmother, has spent the last decade of her life fighting these predatory practices in the courts, and now before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).3For Wright, choosing to maintain her relationship with her grandson as he’s been transferred between four separate correctional facilities in as many states has meant at times going without her medication and even without food in order to afford their twice-weekly phone calls.4

Keeping up regular family contact is not only key to supporting our loved ones while they are incarcerated, but it also plays a critical role in reducing recidivism and assisting with successful reintegration post-release.5 In order to address the rampant profiteering that is so disruptive to these family and community relationships, the FCC is currently considering capping prison phone rates in line with those available to the general public but it’s only accepting public comment through this Monday, March 25th.

Please join us in urging the FCC to stand up for families and curb the abusive business practices of prison phone providers. It only takes a moment.

Prison phone corporations dont compete for contracts in the normal sense of the word, meaning that they dont win bids by offering the lowest rates. This is because phone companies arent contracting with the people who actually use their service by making and receiving phone calls theyre inking deals with states, localities and private prison operators that arent directly impacted by calling rates, but benefit to the tune of millions of dollars annually from commissions charged on each call. In at least Louisiana, Alaska, Nevada and Alabama, increasing these corrupt kickbacks from the phone service providers has been shown to have been the determining factor in selecting winning contract bids.6

And while government entities generating revenue by punishing the families of prisoners is a scandal, it’s the private prison industry in particular that has a ruthless track record of profit-seeking behavior that actively targets and exploits the most vulnerable among us. The countrys largest private prison operator, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), was a key architect of Arizonas notorious SB1070,7 the racial profiling law designed to fill prison beds with anyone unable to prove on demand that they arent an undocumented immigrant.8 The GEO Group, the industrys second largest player and regular subject of civil and human rights abuse investigations,9 was barred from doing business with the entire state of Mississippi after massive corner-cutting at their Walnut Grove youth facility led to rampant sexual and other physical abuse by staff of the minors in their care.10

In light of states widespread practice of warehousing their prisoners in private facilities owned by CCA and GEO Group out of state an ill-conceived attempt to address budget shortfalls and overcrowding that has failed miserably on both counts11,12 the cost of interstate prison phone calls deserves special scrutiny. Transferring inmates often repeatedly across state lines makes physical visits virtually impossible for most family members due to the distance and expense involved. And private prisons dont have to comply with the same visitation standards as their public counterparts, leaving inmates and their support networks even more reliant on the phone system for maintaining any kind of connection during incarceration.

For Black men in their 30s, one in every ten is in prison or jail on any given day, and federal sentencing data shows that Black men receive longer sentences than white men for the same crimes.13 Among Black children, one in nine has an incarcerated parent,14 constituting an enormous captive audience for prison phone operators preying on the need to keep family connections alive over the course of years or even decades apart.

Demand that the FCC cap interstate phone rates and stop prison phone operators from exploiting our families for extortionate profits. And when you do, please ask your friends and family to do the same.

Thanks and Peace,

–Rashad, Matt, Arisha, Kim, Johnny, Lyla and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
March 23rd, 2013

Help support our work. ColorOfChange.org is powered by YOUyour energy and dollars. We take no money from lobbyists or large corporations that dont share our values, and our tiny staff ensures your contributions go a long way.


1. State PSC considers lowering sinful prison phone rates, The Lens, 11-15-12

2. FCC: Prison phone rates far too high, NBC News, 03-07-13

3. Martha Wright v. Corrections Corporation of America (FCC Petition), Center for Constitutional Rights, accessed 03-21-13

4. Will Middle of Nowhere Convince the FCC to Do the Wright Thing on Prison Phone Rates? Take Part, 09-21-12

5. “Family Connections During Imprisonment and Prisoners Community Reentry” (.pdf), Jane Addams Center for Social Policy and Research, University of Illinois at Chicago, Winter 2004

6. Nationwide PLN Survey Examines Prison Phone Contracts, Kickbacks (.pdf), Prison Legal News, 04-01-11

7. Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law, NPR, 10-28-10

8. Stand up against racial profiling in Arizona, Jack & Jill Politics, 04-28-10

9. Too late for FAUs prison sponsor GEO Group to erase its Wikipedia record, SB Nation, 02-21-13

10. VICTORY: Mississippi prison will no longer abuse youth for profit, ColorOfChange.org blog, 02-29-12

11. The perverse incentives of private prisons, The Economist, 08-24-10

12. Transferring Inmates Out-Of-State Has Negative Consequences, California Progress Report, 08-01-12

13. “Black men six times more likely to go to prison,” Amsterdam News, 03-18-13

14. “One in 28 US kids has a parent in prison: study,” The Raw Story, 09-29-10

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PressTV – Austerity versus a people’s budget

Mark Vorpahl, Counterpunch

Its no secret that most cities, counties, states and school districts in the U.S. are facing big deficits. What is less understood is the extent to which austerity cuts have become politicians bi-partisan response to the situation. The dramatic measures being implemented in Portland, Oregon are no exception.

By austerity is meant a bag of policies intent on reforming, that is, reducing spending by cutting jobs and public services, tearing up social contracts that workers have benefited from, and, in general, making workers and the poor do all the sacrificing to close budgetary imbalances. These austerity measures range from potential cuts to Social Security and Medicare to cuts on a local level that go after our schools, social services, parks, and infrastructure.

While this sacrificing is imposed on the vast majority of citizens, obscenely low tax rates for big business and the wealthy are being left in place as their profits swell and their dominance over the political system increases. To appreciate the scope of this trend, one need merely note The New York Times report that there are nearly $1.1 trillion in annual deductions, credits and other tax breaks that flow disproportionately to the highest income Americans and that cost more, each year, than Medicare and Medicaid combined.

The Case in Portland

Portlands newly elected Democratic Mayor Charlie Hales has announced that there is a $25 $40 million hole in the citys budget. In response, he is demanding that all 27 city bureaus submit budget proposals with 10 percent cuts. This latest round follows several consecutive years of budget cuts.

The cuts already put into effect have resulted in lost jobs, underfunded services and a decline in Portlands livability. While it is not clear yet how Hales will wield his cleaver, he is signaling that his cuts will be the deepest yet. The programs that he has already targeted at-risk teen summer internships, job-training efforts and youth bus passes, among others will have an immediate impact on great numbers of households, shifting the costs of these publicly funded programs onto the shoulders of families that can least take the burden.

The majority of Portlands residents can ill afford the costs of trying to close the deficit without damaging the regional economy further. Portlands unemployment rate is 7.9 percent. According to the Business Journal, 8.3 percent of Portland families live below the poverty level; for families with children the number is 12.9 percent, and 27.4 percent for single, divorced and separated women. If he gets his way, Mayor Hales austerity axe will continue to swing at the citys most vulnerable citizens.

Portlands top companies make hundreds of millions, if not billions, every year. In Oregon the share of total state income collected by the wealthiest 1 percent increased by 70 percent from 1979 to 2009. In contrast, during that same period, the bottom 80 percent of Oregonians saw their income decline.

In 2009 the highest effective state tax rate for corporations with profits over $10 million was less than 1 percent. For a middle income Oregon household, the average effective rate of payment was 4.1 percent.

If corporations paid the same rate of state and city income taxes that is expected of most citizens, there would be no deficit, no crisis, no need for cuts. Given the vast amount of untouched revenue tucked away in these corporate coffers, Hales call for public sacrifice to balance the citys budget amounts to a shell game to distract people from asking, Where is the money?

Portland is not broke. The problem is that those with the money are being let off the hook.

Special Arrangements

In addition, Portlands city budget is far from transparent. It is divided into a General Fund, which is where the so-called deficit is located, as well as Internal Service Funds (ISF). ISFs are unrestricted net assets of the city. They can be used for any purpose. The amount of money in this part of the budget has been steadily increasing. In 2010-2011, the ISF balance was $120.6 million.

But rather than using this money to benefit Portlands working class communities, the City Council keeps it stashed away for pet projects to lure wealthy investors to the city. Since the ISF lacks transparency and accountability, it is difficult to determine how the money in these funds is used; we only know that it isnt available when the tax paying public needs it.

Another way Portlands politicians stash away huge sums to benefit big business is through the use of Urban Renewal (UR). UR requires that money be spent on development projects in a certain area. The revenue created by this development, including property taxes, remains locked up in the area for decades from 20 to 50 years.

UR taxes in 2010-2011 amounted to $35 million for the city of Portland alone. These funds can only be spent in the UR areas from which they were collected. Consequently, while the posh UR area of Portlands Pearl District enjoys more public funds than it needs, elsewhere in Portland school closures are looming, streets remain unpaved and infrastructure and park maintenance is done on the cheap, if at all.

Put simply, UR is a means of enriching developers and other corporate interests like big contributors to politicians campaign funds to the detriment of Portlands working class communities. The fact that this model, which results in widening inequality, continues to be pursued by those advocating cuts to public programs could not make more clear where these politicians allegiances lie.

While Mayor Hales is blaming the citys deficit on several factors, the math does not add up. When low corporate tax rates, the millions kept in shady city funds, and the revenue drain of development programs such as UR are taken into account, it becomes clear that Portlands deficit hawks are manufacturing a crisis in order to continue arrangements where workers are left to pay for big business greed.

Our Priorities, Our Budget

In addition to the I feel your pain displays by Mayor Hales towards those affected by his cuts, he will also employ the tactic of divide and conquer. Those threatened by these cuts will be told the lie that raising revenue by taxing big business and the wealthy is off the table. The pie is only so big, promoters of the cuts moan, you must decide your own priorities. And in this way they hope to set different communities and unions against one another.

It should be clear, for reasons already discussed, how false this storyline is. While there is likely more than a little padding in upper management that can be cut, and plenty of taxes that remain uncollected, the truth is that a real solution to Portlands deficit wont emerge until these priorities are confronted and turned around.

What would a budget that prioritizes peoples needs look like? Rather than job cutting, it would fund job creation. Instead of slashing social programs, it would build a thriving and accountable public sector. And corporate interests would take second place behind the health of working class communities. A peoples budget could easily be funded if the 1 percent paid their fair share in taxes and were not given the drivers seat in determining Portlands development and political policies.

To change business as usual in Portland will require mobilizing an independent grassroots social force to oppose Hales cuts and the corporate interests behind them. It will take a unified Labor and community movement capable of expanding its goals towards winning a peoples budget.

The demands to unite such a movement must be those that the greatest numbers are willing to mobilize behind. No Cuts! Tax the Rich! would be a good place to start. While each union and community group has its own priorities, highlighting those which build the broadest unity in mass campaigns and rallies is the best way to bring these organizations specific concerns and struggles to the greatest number.

With his austerity cuts, Mayor Hales has issued a challenge to the grassroots. A unified fightback is necessary to meet it. With such a movement it will be possible to shift the political dialogue towards measures that serve the vast majority of citizens. Without it, Portland will be left with Hales cuts and worse.

At the same time, a big fight is gearing up as Oregons democratic governor has threatened cuts to public workers jobs and retirement benefits, on the tail of passing emergency legislation to lock in Nikes absurdly low tax rate for 30 years. In building a citywide response, Labor and community groups will be strengthening their capacity to take on austerity at a statewide level as well.

Every city, county and statewide struggle against the corporate austerity attacks can set an example for and strengthen our ability to resist cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other socially needed federal programs. From this resistance a movement can develop with the ability not only to resist attacks but to fight for and implement policies that benefit all working people.