Dire, deadly consequences of our irrational, greed-driven, vice-into-virtue economic system
Perverse priorities undermine democracy, destroy our sense of humanity and community...
By Ernest A. Canning on 9/1/2010, 5:48am PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

While the recent recall of more than a half billion eggs in the wake of some 1,470 Salmonella infections has triggered a renewed focus on the dangers posed by factory farms to human health and to the environment (see videos below), the discussion stops short because factory farms are but one symptom of the deadly consequences of a perverse ideology whose sole purpose is to expand the already obscene wealth of less than 1% of the population at the expense of a healthy economy, community, the environment, peace, and the very ability of our planet to sustain life...

Wealth disparity and control of mass communications permits billionaire sociopaths to poison the well of public discourse

Earlier this summer, in 'Savage Capitalism,' we covered Maude Barlow's assessment that "the world has divided into rich and poor as at no time in our history." Barlow stated:

The richest 2% own more than half the household wealth in the world. The richest 10% hold 85% of total global assets and the bottom half of humanity owns less than 1% of the wealth in the world. The three richest men in the world have more money than the poorest 48 countries.

While these numbers are astounding, they are an abstraction. A rare opportunity for a glimpse of the excess that flows by permitting so few to possess so much occurred when two out-of-wedlock children sued Donald Bren, a real estate developer whose estimated $16 billion net worth placed him 16th amongst the 400 richest Americans.

In court records, former girlfriend Jennifer McKay Gold described a luxurious lifestyle, including a fleet of five jets with two full-time pilots, a 240-foot yacht with a crew, lavish homes in Bel-Air and Orange County, a ranch in Idaho and a large staff of servants.

As observed by Kevin Phillips in Wealth and Democracy, quoting political scientist Samuel Huntington:

"Money becomes evil not when it is used to buy goods but when it is used to buy power…Economic inequalities become evil when they are translated into political inequalities.' Political inequality, in turn, leads to more dangerous economic inequalities.

A lavish lifestyle, of itself, doesn't begin to scratch the surface of the combined $35 billion inherited fortunes of Charles and David Koch (pronounced "Coke") which, as reported by Jane Mayer in "Covert Operations" "is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett."

The Koch brothers are a testament to the unhealthy nature of a capitalist economy.

koch11.jpgKoch Industries, whose conglomerated holdings include "oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline," produces an estimated $100 billion in annual revenues and so much pollution that it has been listed as one of the nation's ten worst.

But the Koch brothers do more than pollute the planet. They have funneled so much money into "organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups," that Greenpeace has described Koch as "the kingpins of climate science denial."

It is the Koch brothers who, like their John Birch Society father before them, have poisoned the nation's discourse by covertly funding the pseudo grass-roots "Tea Party" movement, whose uninformed followers simply do not realize that theirs is an anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian agenda that is intended to solidify corporate wealth and power at their own expense.

The goal of billionaire sociopaths like the Koch brothers, Richard Mellon Scaife, and Rupert Murdoch, is a plutocracy; that is, government of, for, and by the wealthy --- a government which masquerades as a democracy.

Concepts like "liberty" and "freedom" become but a facade which hides the brutal reality of a system which, in the words used by former Vice President Henry Wallace to describe the "American fascist," is designed "to keep the common man in eternal subjugation."

The goal of the hard-right propaganda machine is to not only divert the attention of the working class useful idiots/'Tea Party' followers by way of what George Orwell described as "the three minutes of hate" --- as was reflected by the recent insanity on display regarding the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" --- but to convince the uninformed that their subjugation by capitalist inequality is the very essence of "liberty" and "freedom."

Any doubts about their plutocratic objective were erased by one of the Koch brothers' most blatant abuses of wealth and power --- the effort, described by Charles Lewis on Democracy Now:

They [Koch] were being prosecuted for 300 oil spills by the Customs and EPA and Justice Department...And they asked the Senate Majority Leader [Bob Dole] to insert in the so-called regulatory reform legislation a clause that would get rid of any current prosecutive effort by the US government against Koch Industries...The person writing the draft for that legislation was the chair of the board of Citizens for a Sound Economy [a Koch-funded front group], former White House counsel...Boyden Gray. This did not work because several people died from bad hamburgers from an E. coli outbreak, and the public started to realize that maybe we do need regulation.

Corporate crime pays

"Behind every great fortune there is a crime".—Honore de Balzac

William K. Black, a former Wall Street regulator, described the environment created by the symbiotic relationship between Wall Street and politicians as "criminogenic."

A criminogenic environment is a steal from pathology --- a pathogenic environment [is] one that spreads disease. In this case, it's an environment that spreads fraud...And this ideology that both parties are dominated by says “No, big corporations wouldn't cheat. Fraud can't happen. The market's automatically excluded.” It's insane.

But when you add health care insurance, farming, outsourced manufacturing, the military-industrial complex, a brutal corporate empire, and coal, uranium, and oil extraction to the Wall Street/politician mix, what you find is a potentially deadly crimino-pathogenic environment all flowing from a twisted plutocratic philosophy that elevates the riches of the wealthy few above the health and very lives of the great bulk of humanity.

53 year old Philippe Padieu of Frisco, Texas, was sentenced to 45 years in prison after he was convicted on six counts of having unprotected sex with women without informing them that he was HIV positive.

Yet, when allegations surface that thousands of Americans have been knowingly infected by deadly bacteria and viruses (including E-coli, salmonella, MRSA, swine and bird flu, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy aka "mad cow disease") as a result of the filthy conditions of and methods applied by factory farms, as depicted in Food, Inc. (see trailer below), the corporate titans at the base of the factory food chain, at most, face fines that can be written off as part of the cost of doing business.

In Corporate Rotten Eggs, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich described the Clinton era "corporate crimes" of Austin "Jack" DeCoster: "His workers had been forced to live in trailers infested with rats and handle manure and dead chickens with their bare hands. It was an agricultural sweatshop." Reich, who fined DeCoster $2 million, notes that DeCoster's subsequent record "would make a repeat offender blush."

Earlier this year, upon the imposition of $125,000 in fines by the state of Maine for DeCoster's cruelty to animals, Martha Rosenberg, in “Teflon Chicken Don” Jack DeCoster Agrees to Cruelty Plea described this serial corporate criminal as the "John Demjanjuk of factory farming." The cruelty charges surfaced after state investigators in HazMat suits staged an eight hour raid, finding:

Egg barns were so noxious with ammonia, four Department of Agriculture workers got sick themselves and were treated by doctors for burned lungs....

Officials had been tipped off by an undercover video...depicting live hens suffocating in garbage cans, twirled by their necks in incomplete euthanasia, kicked into manure pits to drown and hanging by their feet over conveyer belts.

In the wake of the 550 million-egg recall, the FDA inspected the facilities operated by Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms of Iowa Inc., which house 750 million chickens. In addition to finding Salmonella in the water used to wash the eggs, federal officials observed "filthy conditions, including chickens and rodents crawling up massive manure piles and flies and maggots 'too numerous to count.'"

The Des Moines Register reports:

DeCoster piled up one environmental violation after another over his farms' mishandling of hog and chicken manure in the 1990s until he was denounced by both then-Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican ally of agribusiness, and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation...In 2000, the state classified DeCoster as a "habitual violator" of environmental rules...

deadzone.jpgDuring his recent appearance on Democracy Now, David Kirby, author of Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment, described the dire environmental threat posed by factory farm pig manure:

In the Midwest, it’s kept in pits underneath where the pigs live. So...when they defecate or urinate, it just goes right down into these pits, which of course creates huge amounts of ammonia...methane and hydrogen sulfide. If those fans were ever to break down, those pigs would die within minutes. That’s how bad it is. That then gets flushed out into these giant waste lagoons, and then it’s sprayed onto fields.

I’ve seen those farmers out there spraying directly into creeks, applying so much of this brown water onto the fields that it pools up and you see the little rivlets and you see it running off into creeks, that bloom red, orange, purple and green with algae from all of the nutrients, and then...that’s the number one cause of fish kills, including in the Gulf of Mexico every summer...

Over the past month, this one source of toxic waste merged with another, making it difficult to determine precisely how much of a 7,722 square mile "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico (slightly smaller than New Jersey) is due to agricultural run off and how much is due to another egregious corporate crime, the deadly BP Deep Water Horizon explosion.

Of course, if one were to hold a contest for most despicable corporate criminal of the decade, Massey Energy CEO and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Director Don Blankenship would beat DeCoster hands down.

In addition to the ecological devastation wrought by mountaintop removal, between 2005 and April 2010, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration cited Blankenship's company for 1,342 safety violations at a single mine --- the Upper Big Branch Mine. Massey's injury rate at four of its mines was more than double the national average.

In the wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster that killed 29 miners, the Velvet Revolution's StoptheChamber.com called for Blankenship to be prosecuted for "mass murder."

Don't hold your breath!

Whether we deal with DeCoster's corporate crime spree or massive safety violations by the likes of BP and Massey Energy leading to deadly disasters, what we don't see is anything resembling the life behind bars fate of the guy who knowingly infected women with HIV. DeCoster, according to Reich, writes off the fines as simply the cost of doing business. In the case of BP, we find the chief U.S. Coast Guard inspector lamenting "that a top BP executive could not articulate any lessons learned from previous deadly oil refinery and drilling disasters over the last two decades."

If you thought the deaths of 29 miners would weigh on a sociopath like Blankenship, think again. In the wake of the disaster, Blankenship said: "The very idea that they [federal regulators] care more about coal miner safety than we do is as silly as global warming."

Blankenship followed up the deadly Big Branch disaster by continuing his effort to pour millions into the Tea Party movement --- a movement the L.A. Weekly aptly dubbed "Poison Populism."

Massey has funneled money into the campaign of the Tea Party's Rand Paul, who initially rewarded BP and Massey by dismissing the disasters with "accidents happen." Paul then came up with a means of eliminating Massey's sorry record of federal safety violations --- eliminate all federal mine safety regulations. Paul dismissed environmental devastation wrought by mountaintop removal with "nobody will miss a hill or two."

According to Mike Rozelle of Climate Ground Zero, "over 500 mountaintops have been blasted away" producing landfills that buried over 2,000 creeks. While the Environmental Protection Agency has delayed hundreds of additional projects for further study, Rozelle predicts that if the coal industry gets its way, in 10 years most of the mountains in southwest West Virginia will be gone.

Age of absurdity

We are living an absurdity solely due to a twisted philosophy that elevates profits before people, community, and the environment; an absurdity that kills 45,000 Americans each year simply because they can't afford health insurance; an absurdity that, as revealed by the tearful Congressional testimony of Dr. Linda Pino, permits health insurance carriers to kill patients by denying necessary medical procedures in order to protect the corporate bottom line.

The simple solution --- a single-payer system --- eludes us not because it isn't more cost effective, efficient, and just but because of the effectiveness of capitalist propaganda and the ability of a corrupt media and PR industry which drowns out the message of all political candidates who do not toe the corporate line.

The corporate message is that a Medicare-for-all system that cuts out the unnecessary parasites (health insurance companies, their CEOs, and Wall Street investors) is bad and that a system that puts profits before people is good --- a message which succeeds not because of its intrinsic truth but because 95% of what Americans see, hear, and read comes from either hard-right ideologues or from corporate-owned media. Both have worked in tandem to convince the victims of toxic capitalism that democratic socialism, an equitable economic system which stresses our common, humanitarian interests and public co-responsibilities to one-another and to a sustainable planet is evil and that unregulated monopoly capitalism, which, while cloaked by the myth of a "free-market," sacrifices all to the unbridled greed of the privileged few is good.

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David Kirby's Aug. 24 discussion of the looming threat of factory farms on Democracy Now follows...

The trailer for Food, Inc. follows below. (Note: If you get the DVD, be sure to watch the lengthy but highly informative deleted scenes)...

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).

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