Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Toll

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As a species we have tremendous talents. Our scientific achievements are incredible; our advances in medicine and technology are stunning.

In the US, 15% of its citizens, 46 million, live below the poverty threshold of $23,492 and 1.5 million of its children become homeless every year. Worldwide, 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day, 360 million of whom live on less than $1 a day. Grinding poverty, hunger and lack of clean water and effective sanitation blight their lives and their future. 22,000 children die every day due to poverty. Yet in this world of need and suffering, the world military spending stood at over $1.7 trillion in 2012.

A study by professor Linda J. Blimes of Harvard University concludes that the cost to the US of the Iraq and Afghan wars, taken together, will be between $4 and $6 trillion. This includes long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs. The cost so far is $2 trillion. In order to get our head round the colossal figure of $6 trillion, this is equivalent to $75,000 for every household in the US.

Deaths of Iraqis and Afghans taken together are estimated from 600,000 to a million, coalition troop deaths around 8,000, over 7,000 of whom are Americans. The suffering and the sheer misery of widows, orphans and families behind these statistics are unimaginable.

The vast majority of us individually can see that there is something seriously wrong with the way our priorities are perceived. It is beyond comprehension that with so much poverty and need worldwide, that so much wealth is spent on wars and weapons of death and destruction.

Leaders and those who would profit from these wars package their language in distortions and omissions to hide the truth. George Orwell summed it up: “Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

The suffering to millions of fellow human beings is kept from us by mainstream media too ready to play its role as servants to the ruling class.

From here 

Fact of the Day

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Since it is Easter.

 In 1911, English liturgical scholar Herbert Thurston counted all the nails that were at that time believed to have been used to crucify Jesus. Though only three or four nails (the exact number is up for debate) were supposed to have pinned Christ to the cross.  30 holy nails were being venerated in treasuries across Europe.

Time to Work Less

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People tend to think the way things are is the way it's always been. Once upon a time, they thought technology would produce more leisure time, but that didn't happen.

"Throughout the 19th century, and well into the 20th, the reduction of work-time was one of the nation's most pressing issues," professor Juliet B. Schor wrote in her seminal 1991 book The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. "Through the Depression, hours remained a major social preoccupation. Today these debates and conflicts are long forgotten."
 "By today, it was estimated that we could have either a 22-hour week, a six-month work-year, or a standard retirement age of 38," Schor wrote, citing a 1958 study and testimony to Congress in 1967.

But that didn't happen. Instead, declining work hours leveled off in the late 1940s even as worker productivity grew rapidly, increasing an average of 3 percent per year 1948-1968. Then, in the 1970s, workers in the US began to work steadily more hours each week while their European counterparts moved in the opposite direction.

Writer David Spencer in The Guardian UK in February wrote, "Why work more? We should be working less for a better quality of life: Our society tolerates long working hours for some and zero hours for others. This doesn't make sense.” He cites practical benefits of working less, from reducing unemployment to increasing the productivity and happiness of workers, and cites a long and varied philosophical history supporting this forgotten goal, including opposing economists John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx who thought “that under communism work in the 'realm of necessity' could be fulfilling as it would elicit and harness the creativity of workers. [Marx’s son-in-law, Paul Lafargue wrote the seminal work, “The Right to be Lazy”.]

Whatever irksome work remained in realm of necessity could be lessened by the harnessing of technology," Spencer wrote. He also cited Bertrand Russell's 1932 essay, "In Praise of Idleness," in which he reasoned that working a four-hour day would cure many societal ills. "I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached," Russell wrote.

Spencer concluded his article by writing, "Ultimately, the reduction in working time is about creating more opportunities for people to realize their potential in all manner of activities including within the work sphere. Working less, in short, is about allowing us to live more."

Carol Zabin — research director for the Center for Labor Research and Education at UC Berkeley, who has studied the relation between jobs and climate change explains the main stumbling block was a political one, rooted in the assumption that American-style capitalism, based on conspicuous consumption, would continue more or less as is. "Politically, reducing economic growth is really, really unviable," noting how that would hurt the working class. "It seems a little utopian when we have a problem we need to address by reducing energy use," Zabin said before finally taking that next logical step: "If we had socialism and central planning, we could shut the whole thing down a notch." Instead, we have capitalism, and she said, "we have a climate problem that is probably not going to be solved anyway."

So we have capitalism and unchecked global warming, or we can have a more sustainable system and socialism. Hmm, which one should we pick? Capitalism has given us great abundance, more than we need and more than we can safely sustain, so let's talk about slowing things down.

"There's a huge amount of work going on in society that nobody wants to do and nobody should do," Author and historian Chris Carlsson said, imagining a world where economic desperation didn't dictate the work we do. "Most of us would be free to do what we want to do, and most of us would do useful things."

Taken from an article on the Common Dreams website

Arguments for a 4-hour day by the Industrial Workers of the World can be read here

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Capitalism is killing you

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 The wealthy in the United States are enjoying longer lifespans than lower income Americans, according to a new analysis from Brookings Institute researchers, and the gap is threatening to get wider.

By the age of 55 years old, the average American man in the richest 10 percent of the county can expect to live another 35 years. But the average man in the poorest 10 percent only has about 24 years left. And the discrepancy is even starker among women, since low-income women’s life expectancy has actually been declining.

“Life expectancy is rising for those at the top of the distribution of individuals ranked by alternative measures of socio-economic status, but it is stagnate or declining for those at the bottom,” the researchers conclude.

Economic insecurity has a long list of negative effects on physical and mental health. People living in poverty are less likely to have access to quality food and clean air, and they’re more likely to struggle to afford the medical care they need. What’s most concerning is the fact that poverty is worsening, and extreme income inequality continues to widen the gulf between the richest and the poorest sectors of the country.

At the same time there are attempts to raise the age to qualify for Medicare or Social Security benefits, based on the erroneous assumption that everyone is living longer.

 Since the Supreme Court ruled the health law’s Medicaid expansion to be optional, over 20 GOP-led states have declined to implement it, leaving millions of the poorest Americans without any access to affordable insurance whatsoever. These people, who are already disproportionately poorer and sicker than the residents in other states, are the ones who need health coverage the most. It’s not an exaggeration to say that their lives may depend on it. A recent study conducted by Harvard researchers estimated that as many as 17,000 people will die directly as a result of their states refusing to expand Medicaid.

From here



Friday, April 18, 2014

Workers Versus Multinationals and Government In Colombia

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A national strike in Colombia -- involving groups of indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, students, women, small miners, petroleum workers, and campesinos (farmers) -- may begin on May 1st. The decision to strike if the government does not respond by the first week of May was made during the Peasant, Ethnic, and Popular Agrarian Summit, held from March 15-17 in Bogot√°. Over 4,000 delegates, activists, and leaders from different departments, sectors, and organizations in Colombia converged in the capital to discuss issues facing the agrarian and popular sectors. . . .

The summit is part of an ongoing attempt by Colombia's social organizations to provide space for people to articulate the problems they are facing and to collectively create solutions for a new order in the country. This process was constructed after the agrarian strike in 2013, when campesinos took to the streets and demanded an end to displacements, exploitation of labor, land and resource expropriation by multinational corporations and the government, and international free trade agreements; and a right to a dignified life. . . .

The agrarian strike began on August 19, 2013. Campesinos from the petroleum sector, small-mining sector, potato-growing sector, milk-production sector, and coffee-production sector mobilized in 22 departments across the country. Campesinos and their allies participated in a variety of actions, such as long-term roadblocks on highways and marches in Colombia's major cities. The mobilizations during the strike resulted in 19 dead, 600 injured, and hundreds detained.
The government responded to the strike with the "Pact for Agrarian and Rural Development," which was essentially a development program for the agro-industrial elites, favoring the industrial monoculture of exportable cash crops while largely ignoring the problems of small subsistence farmers. The minister of agriculture recently proclaimed: "I am not a friend of the poor campesinos who only farm for self-support and no more."

Given that the strike was realized by small farmers whose livelihoods have been threatened by free trade agreements and agro-industrial production, this pact was widely criticized and rejected by social movements. . . .
The discussions after the working groups' meetings were dedicated to creating plans for future mobilizations. In all of the discussions, unanimous consensus was reached that there must be another national strike. Delegates stressed that this strike cannot just be of the agrarian sector: the next strike will be a national agrarian, civic, popular, and urban strike. The resolutions were used to create a strong united agenda which will be used in future government negotiations.
from here


Wealth Beats Health

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The fracking industry is having a bad week.
In the third asssessment in as many days focused on the pollution created by the booming industry, a group of researchers said Wednesday that the controversial oil and gas drilling practice known as fracking likely produces public health risks and "elevated levels of toxic compounds in the environment" in nearly all stages of the process.
The latest research, conducted by the Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy, compiled "the first systematic literature review" of peer-reviewed studies on the effects of fracking on public health and found the majority of research points to dangerous risks to public health, with many opportunities for toxic exposure.
“It’s clear that the closer you are [to a fracking site], the more elevated your risk,” said lead author Seth Shonkoff, from the University of California-Berkeley. “We can conclude that this process has not been shown to be safe.”
According to the "near exhaustive review" of fracking research, environmental pollution is found "in a number of places and through multiple processes in the lifecycle of shale gas development," the report states. "These sources include the shale gas production and processing activities (i.e., drilling, hydraulic fracturing, hydrocarbon processing and production, wastewater disposal phases of development); the transmission and distribution of the gas to market (i.e., in transmission lines and distribution pipes); and the transportation of water, sand, chemicals, and wastewater before, during, and after hydraulic fracturing."
Citing the recent research, the report continues:
Shale gas development uses organic and inorganic chemicals known to be health damaging in fracturing fluids (Aminto and Olson 2012; US HOR 2011). These fluids can move through the environment and come into contact with humans in a number of ways, including surface leaks, spills, releases from holding tanks, poor well construction, leaks and accidents during transportation of fluids, flowback and produced water to and from the well pad, and in the form of run-off during blowouts, storms, and flooding events (Rozell and Reaven 2012). Further, the mixing of these compounds under conditions of high pressure, and often, high heat, may synergistically create additional, potentially toxic compounds (Kortenkamp et al. 2007; Teuschler and Hertzberg 1995; Wilkinson 2000). Compounds found in these mixtures may pose risks to the environment and to public health through numerous environmental pathways, including water, air, and soil (Leenheer et al. 1982). [...]
At certain concentrations or doses, more than 75% of the chemicals identified are known to negatively impact the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal system, and the liver; 52% have the potential to negatively affect the nervous system; and 37% of the chemicals are candidate endocrine disrupting chemicals.
The group also warns that while numerous studies have proven the alarming and destructive nature of fracking, there is still not nearly enough research on the issue, particularly on the long-term effects of fracking on public health, such as future cancer rates.
"Most importantly," say the authors, "there is a need for more epidemiological studies to assess associations between risk factors, such as air and water pollution and health outcomes among populations living in close proximity to shale gas operations."
The review follows on the heels of two other reviews on the dangers of fracking released earlier this week.
The first report, a scientific study released Monday, found that methane emissions from fracking could be up to 1000 times greater than what the EPA has estimated. Methane is up to 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
The second report, a review conducted by Bloomberg News on Wednesday, detailed how industrial waste from fracking sites is leaving a "legacy of radioactivity" and other toxic problems across the country and spawning a "surge" in illegal dumping at hundreds of sites in the U.S.

From here


The Vulture Culture of the Rich

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“...Though the richest among us may be touted as beneficent “job creators” by ideologues and the obsequious mass media who revere them, the rich, in fact, are actually the major source of the harms and evils facing our society. Their vast industrial and corporate enterprises directly and indirectly contribute to the majority of all fossil fuel emissions, toxic pollution, worker exploitation, and income inequality. Contrary to popular opinion, the rich do not gain their wealth because they work harder or possess more skills and intellect than the rest of us; they amass profligate fortunes because they are more selfish, narcissistic, and sociopathic than others. They are rich for a specific reason. Where you or I would freely give of ourselves to help others and eschew extravagant excess, the goal of the rich is money-making, so everything they do is toward that end. Psychological studies have demonstrated that wealthy people are less altruistic than poorer people, which is precisely why they are wealthy...According to Professor Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, “the higher you go up the ladder… the great number of sociopaths you will find there.”...”

From here

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fact of the Day

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The richest family in the world—the Waltons—received nearly $8 billion in tax breaks last year, according to a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness.

The report stated that in 2013, Walmart received about $6.2 billion in federal taxpayer subsidies because its employee wages are so low. Many employees, in turn, are forced to rely on healthcare, food stamps and other taxpayer-funded programs. The corporation then further evaded $1 billion through tax breaks and loopholes. The Walton family, in addition, avoided about $607 million of taxes on their Walmart dividends.

Democracy?

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is made up of over 2,000 scientists.  It says bluntly that we only have 15 years left to avoid exceeding the “safe” threshold of a 2°C increase in global temperatures, beyond which the consequences will be dramatic,  from an increase in sea level, more frequent hurricanes and storms (increasingly in previously unaffected areas), to an adverse impact on food production. The main conclusion of the report is that to slow the race to a point of no return, global emissions must be cut by 40 to 70 percent by 2050, and that “only major institutional and technological changes will give a better than even chance” that global warming will not go beyond the safety threshold and that these must start at the latest in 15 years, and be completed in 35 years.

 However, of the leaders of the 196 countries it’s business as usual. Ten countries are responsible for 70 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas pollution, with the United States and China accounting for over 55 percent of that share. The U.S. Senate is made up of 100 members, and this means that you need 51 votes for a fossil fuels tax. In China decisions are taken by the seven-member Standing Committee of the Central Committee, which holds the real power in the Communist Party.

In other words, the future of our planet is decided by 58 persons.

With the current global population standing at close to 7.7 billion people, so much for a democratic world!

From here 

Indeed it could actually be down to two brothers.

The wealth of the Koch Brothers has surged past $100 billion dollars, a boost of $1.3 billion to their collective fortune based on a new industrial production forecast. Koch Industries is a multinational corporation based in Wichita, Kansas. Under its umbrella are Invista, Georgia-Pacific, Flint Hills Resources, Koch Pipeline, Koch Fertilizer, Koch Minerals and Matador Cattle Company. Koch companies are involved in core industries such as the manufacturing, refining and distribution of petroleum, fertilizers, paper, chemical technology equipment, ranching and commodities trading.

The brothers have been criticized for using their vast wealth to change laws in order to fit their political views and to tilt the playing field in their favor. The Koch's are attempting to win the Senate back for the Republicans by airing targeted television through their Freedom Partners fundraising network. Americans for Prosperity, one of those groups backed by Freedom Partners has been far outspending the top Democratic super PACs in nearly all of the Senate races the GOP is targeting this year. It has aired more than 18,000 broadcast TV commercials those states.

Many of the ads have been outed for proven falsehoods by many media watchdogs. A commercial featuring a leukemia patient who said she would die without medication and blamed the cancellation of her previous policy and another with a woman saying her policy costs rose $700 a month under Obamacare. When fact checked, both ads were found to contain spurious content. One ad showed "real" residents of Louisiana opening letters from health care companies warning them of the evils of Obamacare. But no such letters were sent out.  The ad conforms to the legal definition of false advertising.

Koch Industries is a multinational corporation based in Wichita, Kansas. Under its umbrella are Invista, Georgia-Pacific, Flint Hills Resources, Koch Pipeline, Koch Fertilizer, Koch Minerals and Matador Cattle Company. Koch companies are involved in core industries such as the manufacturing, refining and distribution of petroleum, fertilizers, paper,  chemical technology equipment, ranching and commodities trading. Much of their welth would be adversely affected by climate change controls and it is no surprise that they are also amongst the high spenders financing the sceptics of the climate change deniers. 

A Picture Post

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Bookchin Quote

Race And Class Significant For Health Issues

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A new study published this week shows that both race and class are significant indicators of how much toxic air pollution individuals face in the United States with minorities receiving nearly 40% more exposure to deadly airborne pollutants than whites.
The University of Minnesota study, according to lead researcher Julian Marshall, looked closely at the rates of pollution exposure by race, income, education and other key demographics to establish the key predictors of how specific populations are impacted across the country, state by state.
“The [main] ones are race and income, and they both matter,” Marshall said in an interview with MinnPost. “In our findings, however, race matters more than income.”
Specifically looking at levels of outdoor nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a byproduct found in vehicle exhaust and fossil fuel-fired power plants, the study—titled “National Patterns in Environmental Injustice and Inequality”—found that people of color are exposed to 38 percent more of the deadly chemical which experts say can be a key driver of heart disease and other health problems.
According to the study:
Breathing NO2 is linked to asthma symptoms and heart disease. The researchers studied NO2 levels in urban areas across the country and compared specific areas within the cities based on populations defined in the U.S. Census as “nonwhite” or “white.”
The health impacts from the difference in levels between whites and nonwhites found in the study are substantial. For example, researchers estimate that if nonwhites breathed the lower NO2 levels experienced by whites, it would prevent 7,000 deaths from heart disease alone among nonwhites each year.
Though it has been well-documented that low-income families and minorities have long been forced to live in undesirable neighborhoods near coal plants or high-traffic roadways, this study is being called "ground-breaking" for taking a national look at the issue and using advanced satellite technology to compare specific geographic areas with advanced pollution data.
As Emily Badger writes at the Washington Post:
Studies dating back to the 1970s have pointed to a consistent pattern in who lives near the kinds of hazards -- toxic waste sites, landfills, congested highways -- that few of us would willingly choose as neighbors. The invariable answer: poor people and communities of color.
This pattern of "environmental injustice" suggests that minorities may contend every day with disproportionate health risks from tailpipe exhaust or coal plant emissions. But these health risks are harder to quantify than, say, the number of power plants in a city. And most of the research that has tried to do this has been limited to a single metropolitan area, or to those few places that happen to have good monitoring data on pollution.
From here

And at the global level, black, brown, white - class determines one's level of access to the different options available, whether health, education, food, water or housing.
JS


Want To Be Rid Of The .001%? Change The System

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In a 1971 memo, Lewis Powell, then a corporate lawyer and soon to be a Supreme Court Justice, stressed the need for change in how the business community participated in politics. That memo was in response to numerous successful efforts that advanced the public interest in many areas.
Since Powell's memo, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and other wealthy and powerful groups and individuals have staged a slow-motion takeover of our government. These oligarchs, through their money, have corrupted all branches of government as well as many of the regulatory agencies. This corruption has led to a system of crony capitalism.
Here are a few examples demonstrating the extent of the takeover.
Campaign Financing
Recent Supreme Court decisions on the 2010 Citizens United case and the April 2, 2014 McCutcheon vs. the FEC case opened the floodgates to huge amounts of money pouring into elections. These decisions allow the wealthy and powerful to exercise even more undue influence over candidates and the outcomes of elections.
The unseemly pilgrimage to Las Vegas over the last weekend in March of some possible Republican candidates for president demonstrated these politicians' lust for campaign funds. These men went to Las Vegas to participate in the 'Sheldon Adelson primary' and to meet other wealthy Jewish donors. In case you don't recognize Adelson's name, he and his wife Miriam spent $93 million during the 2012 election and they intend to invest more in 2016. Given that a key Adelson litmus test is support for Israel, these Republican politicians tried to outdo one another in showing their devotion to Israel.
Housing Finance Reform
On March 11th, the leaders of the Senate Banking committee announced an agreement on a housing finance reform proposal. The proposal, despite all the groups backing it and the support from President Obama, appears to be another huge taxpayer ripoff. A key provision of the proposal would limit investors' losses in mortgage backed securities to 10% of their investments. Taxpayers would be required to reimburse investors for any additional losses. This federal support would make these investments very attractive while hurting competing investments such as municipal bonds that fund state and local improvements.
However, provision of this assurance, without real improvement in upgrading the criteria for qualifying for a mortgage, would likely lead to another huge financial disaster. Instead of providing more corporate welfare for the too-big-to-fail banks, a reasonable reform would be to continue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as public entities.
Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations
Six hundred representatives from the corporate world, and almost nobody representing the public interest, have been working with the U.S. trade negotiators on the Trans-Pacific Partnership since March 2010. Although marketed as a trade agreement, only 5 of its 29 chapters deal with traditional trade issues such as tariffs. Most of the chapters deal with topics such as increasing the length of drug patents, removal of bank regulations, and empowering corporations to challenge laws protecting our environmental and health safeguards.
If you have not heard of this negotiation, don't be surprised since the oligarch-controlled media have generally avoided this topic, called ‘NAFTA on steroids’ by many activists. We know how poorly NAFTA turned out for the average worker versus how well it turned out for the rich and powerful.
As of August 2013, there were 12 Pacific Rim nations secretly negotiating the details of the agreement. Obama strongly supports these negotiations that would lead to a further entrenchment of corporate control at the expense of democracy and sovereignty.
Climate change, Wall Street, and health care
Three additional examples are the roles of: 1) the fossil fuel companies in preventing any real movement on climate change; 2) the gigantic banks that led to the transfer of trillions of dollars from the 99.99% of us to the those at the very top of the wealth ladder; and 3) the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries in increasing health care costs unnecessarily while limiting health care coverage.
Community Rights Networks
One way of reclaiming our rights from this corrupt system is to join with others. One group working to promote local self government is the Colorado Community Rights Network (http://www.cocrn.org/). This group is attempting to get an initiative on the ballot here this year. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (http://www.celdf.org/) works nationally to help us reclaim our rights.
Ron Forthofer, Ph.D. is retired Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, Texas; former Green Party candidate for Congress and for Governor of Colorado 


Whilst agreeing in very large part with the thrust of this article, we at SOYMB would seek to point out our fundamental disagreement with the idea that we can 'reclaim our rights from this corrupt system' from within the system. We do not view each of the separate points raised here as single issues as possible to be dealt with in isolation but as part of the structure of the capitalist system as a whole. It is this structure, the capitalist system, that we promote has to be overcome in total (not reformed) and be replaced by a system - socialism - that works in favour of people as a whole with no possibility of pecuniary advantage. We say that capitalism must go. Full stop.
For more detail on how we work to achieve this goal see the previous post here.
JS

Wall St Law

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Attorney James Kidney, who was retiring from the Securities and Exchange Commission, gave a widely reported speech at his retirement party. He said that his bosses were too "tentative and fearful" to hold Wall Street accountable for the 2008 economic meltdown. Kidney, who joined the SEC in 1986, had tried and failed to bring charges against more executives in the agency’s 2010 case against Goldman Sachs. He said the SEC has become "an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors. ... Tough enforcement, risky enforcement, is subject to extensive negotiation and weakening," he said.

The too big to jail position was put forth by Attorney General Eric Holder, with his remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee last May in which he suggests that some banks are just too big to jail:
“I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to—to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy. And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large. Again, I’m not talking about HSBC; this is just a more general comment. I think it has an inhibiting influence, impact, on our ability to bring resolutions that I think would be more appropriate.”

 In 1999, when Eric Holder was a deputy attorney general in Clinton’s administration, he wrote a memo that has now come to be known as "the Holder Memo." originally considered a get-tough-on-corporate-crime memo, because it gave prosecutors a number of new tools with which they could go after corporate criminals. But at the bottom of it,  he laid out what is called the "collateral consequences doctrine." And what "collateral consequences" meant was that if you’re a prosecutor and you’re targeting one of these big corporate offenders and you’re worried that you may affect innocent victims, that shareholders or innocent executives may lose their jobs, you may consider other alternatives, other remedies besides criminal prosecutions—in other words, fines, nonprosecution agreements, deferred prosecution agreements.

Lanny Breuer in 2012 was the assistant attorney general, number two in the Justice Department, the head of the Criminal Division, so he’s basically the top cop in America, who spoke before the New York City Bar Association:
“I personally feel that it’s my duty to consider whether individual employees, with no responsibility for or knowledge of misconduct committed by others in the same company, are going to lose their livelihood if we indict the corporation. In large multinational companies, the jobs of tens of thousands of employees can literally be at stake. And in some cases, the health of an industry or the markets are a very real factor. Those are the kinds of considerations in white-collar cases that literally keep me up at night, and which must, must play a role in responsible enforcement.”

Federal Judge Jed Rakoff speaking last November at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, responded to this admission by saying:
“ To a federal judge, who takes an oath to apply the law equally to rich and poor, this excuse, sometimes labeled the too-big-to-jail excuse, is, frankly, disturbing for what it says about the department’s apparent disregard for equality under the law.”

This leads to the retort what about a single mother on welfare who is going to lose her kids because she’s going to lose custody in an $800 welfare fraud case and the many knock-on personal consequences of practically every crime. Does Breuer lie awake at night, thinking about the consequences that ordinary people suffer when they are caught up in the criminal justice system. Of course, not. Nor does it apply to lesser financial criminals

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced the indictmentof Abacus Federal Savings Bank, which is a small, community bank and the first bank to be indicted in Manhattan in over two decades:
 “Today we are announcing the indictment or guilty pleas of 19 individuals on charges including mortgage fraud, securities fraud and conspiracy, as well as the indictment of Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a federally chartered bank that has been catering to the Chinese immigrant community since 1984. Now, these defendants—the bank and former employees and managers from its loan department—are charged with engaging in a systematic scheme to falsify and fabricate loan applications to the Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly known as Fannie Mae, so that borrowers who would otherwise not legally qualify for Fannie Mae’s mortgages could obtain them unlawfully. This is a large-scale mortgage fraud case that we estimate to include hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of falsified loan applications. If we have learned anything from the recent mortgage crisis, it’s that at some point these schemes unravel, and taxpayers can be left holding the bag. Financial institutions, in short, have to obey the law and follow the rules. Our financial system is predicated on this basic concept.”

The 19 defendants were litrally chained together and hauled before the court. Three of the defendants had actually already been arraigned, but they asked them to volunteer to come down to the courthouse for the photo op that day, brought them in, chained them up to the rest of the defendants so they could be re-arraigned for the benefit of the cameras. These were working-class Chinese immigrants. The highest-ranking official in this entire case made $90,000 a year. Many of them didn’t speak English. This is a small bank wedged between two noodle shops in Chinatown. This was the target they chose to go against as a symbol of the financial crisis by the government,  a stone’s throw from all these gigantic skyscrapers, you know, housing all of these other major banks that committed crimes that were hundreds of times worse than Abacus was even accused of.

Contrast that with Jamie Dimon, the head of JPMorgan Chase, a bank which paid $20 billion in fines last year which beats by a factor of five the record for the largest amount of regulatory fines in a single year, which was previously held by BP for their Deepwater Horizon incident. They were accused of an extraordinary array of things, everything from being Bernie Madoff’s banker and not raising red flags early enough, to manipulating energy prices in Michigan and California, to failing to disclose to investors the extent of losses in the London Whale episode, to abuses during the subprime mortgage period by some of their subsidiaries. The list of things goes on and on. if this were translated into common criminal law it would mean hundreds of years in prison for many different people. Instead, Dimon, of course, gets a 74 percent raise. They essentially paid for $20 billion fines by laying off 7,500 lower-level workers that year.

If in the case of a company like HSBC, which admitted to laundering $850 million for a pair of Central and South American drug cartels, somebody has to go to jail in that case. If you’re going to put people in jail for having a joint in their pocket or for slinging dime bags on the corner in a city street, you cannot let people who laundered $800 million for the worst drug offenders in the world walk. HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks,  Europe’s largest bank got caught for money-laundering offenses for two drug cartels, one in Mexico and one in South America, and including the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico that is suspected in thousands of murders. The bank paid a $1.9 billion fine. And some of the executives had to defer their bonuses for a period of five years—not give them up, defer them. But there were no individual consequences for any of the executives. Nobody had to pull money out of their own pockets for permanently. And nobody did a single day in jail in that case.

In New York City it’s not illegal to carry a joint around in your pocket. It was decriminalized  in the late '70s. But with stop-and-frisk, what they do is they would stop you, and then they would search you and force you to empty your pockets. When you empty your pockets, now it's no longer concealed, and now it’s illegal again. So they had—in that year, they had 50,000 marijuana arrests, even though marijuana—having marijuana was technically decriminalized at the time. Somebody at the bottom of the illegal narcotics business, goes to jail, and these people who are at the very top of the illegal narcotics business, they get to walk.

There was another case involving a company called General Reinsurance where executives were charged with a $750 million stock fraud, more than the total value of all the cars stolen in the American Northeast that same year. So think about everybody who’s doing time for a stolen car that year and these guys ultimately got off on a technicality.

The government always says in response to the question of why aren’t these guys in jail, they always say, "Well, we don’t have enough evidence. These cases are hard to make." But my question is, over and over again, they somehow seem to have enough leverage to get billions of dollars of fines out of these companies, but not enough leverage to get even a day in jail for any of their executives? It doesn’t add up. Logically, it’s a total non sequitur. There’s no way you can have a company paying that much money and not have somebody guilty of a crime. It’s just—it’s not possible. Again compare this with the treatment of the poor. In San Diego where if you apply for welfare, the state gets to pre-emptively search your house to make sure that you’re not lying about, for instance, having a boyfriend. You know, so you’re a single mom. You go to the welfare office. You need financial assistance. You represent on the form that you’re not cohabiting with anybody. And just to check, they tell you to go sit tight in your house for a week, not knowing when the inspector is going to come, because if you’re not there when they come, you don’t get your welfare. So, the person comes finally. It’s not a social worker. It’s very often a law enforcement official. They go in, and they search your house. It’s very striking that the recipients of bailouts, we don’t have the right to go in and check their books, but somebody who applies for federal assistance to feed their kids, we have the right to go through their underwear drawer.

Richard Fuld, the final chair and chief executive officer of bankrupted  Lehman Brothers who loaded up his company with deadly leverage and making a string of irresponsible decisions to over-invest in subprime mortgages, and the collapse of the company resulted in all of us having to pay these enormous bailouts. But Fuld walked away with, by his count, $300 million but $350 million, or by the count of some others, more closer to half-a-billion dollars, and he kept the money. And that is a consistent theme of the financial crisis. Not only were the guilty not prosecuted, they got to keep all of their money, all of the ill-gotten gains that they made during these periods. The way the media covers, and the prosecutors go after or don’t, these institutions, it’s all from the perspective of those who would be or should be charged.

Adapted from an interview on Democracy Now

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Socialist Party Conference

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The Annual Conference of the Socialist Party of Great Britain takes place on Friday the 18th at 1030 AM at its head office. The second session will be on Saturday the 19th. All visitors are welcome and it is not unknown for non-members to be allowed to make a brief contribution, if time permits.

As a matter of political principle the Socialist Party holds no secret meetings, all its meetings including those of its executive committee being open to the public. This means that all its internal records (except, understandably, the names and addresses of members which remains confidential) are open to public consultation. In keeping with the tenet that working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership, the Socialist Party is a leader-less political party where its executive committee is solely for housekeeping administration duties and cannot determine policy or even submit resolutions to conference (and all the EC minutes are available for public scrutiny with access on the web as proof of our commitment to openness and democracy ). All conference decisions have to be ratified by a referendum of the whole membership. The General Secretary has no position of power or authority over any other member being a dogsbody. Despite some very charismatic writers and speakers in the past, no personality has held undue influence over the the SPGB.

The Socialist Party is the oldest existing socialist party in the UK and is perhaps unique in its democratic structure. The Socialist Party are not the socialist "party" that Marx (or even our Declaration of Principles) envisaged, i.e. the working class as a whole organised politically for socialism. That will come later. At the moment, we can be described as only a socialist propaganda or education organisation and can't be anything else (and nor should try to be, at the moment ). Possibly, we might be the embryo of the future mass "socialist party" but there's no guarantee that we will be (more likelier, just a contributing element). But who cares? As long as such a party does eventually emerges. At some stage, for whatever reason, socialist consciousness will reach a "critical mass", at which point it will just snowball and carry people along with it. It may even come about without people actually giving it the label of socialism.

The Socialist Party’s Principles possesses what has become known as our  hostility clause,"to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist." Its origin lies in the 19th century social democrat roots of the Socialist Party stemming from the experience of the SDF and the Socialist League. William Morris together with Eleanor Marx, Belfort Bax and others of the SDF, resigned and issued a statement giving their reasons yet they added: "We have therefore set on foot an independent organisation, the Socialist League, with no intention of acting in hostility to the Social Democratic Federation.” Some viewed this intention of not being hostile to the SDF as a flaw so when the Socialist Party was formed, its members made certain that their Declaration of Principles would include a hostility clause against all other parties who advocated palliatives, not socialism. Given the context when it was drawn up that the early members of the Socialist Party envisaged the party developing rapidly into a mass party, not remaining the small educational group that it has done up to the present, the intent of the clause is that when the working class form a socialist party this party is not going to do any election or parliamentary deals with any other political party, either to get elected or to get reforms. Basically, the hostility clause applies to political parties aiming at winning control of political power. In fact, in the eyes of those who drew it up, it was about the attitude that a mass socialist party (such as along the lines of the German Social Democratic Party was then seen to be albeit with its warts and all ) should take towards other political parties. Importantly, the hostility clause doesn't mean that we are hostile to everything. There are a whole range of non-socialist organisations out there, ranging from trade unions to claimants unions to community and tenants associations to which we are not opposed. Nor does Clause 7 mean that if you are not with the Socialist Party, somehow you are automatically anti-socialist. The Socialist Party raised the banner for a single, mass socialist party and proclaimed itself as the basis of such a party. Not only did the working class in general not "muster under its banner" but neither did all socialists. So although with a long history as a political party based on agreed goals, methods and organisational principles we were left as a small propagandist group, but still committed to the tenets set out in our Declaration of Principles. But we have never been so arrogant as to claim that we're the only socialists and that anybody not in the SPGB is not a socialist. There are socialists outside and some of them are organised in different groups. That doesn't mean that we are not opposed to the organisations they have formed, but we are not opposed to them because we think they represent some section of the capitalist class. We are opposed to them because we disagree with what they are proposing the working class should do to get socialism and, of course, the opposite is the case too: they're opposed to what we propose.

Nearly all the others who stand for a classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless society are anti-parliamentary (the nearly defunct Socialist Labor Party being an exception). For our party, using the existing historically-evolved mechanism of political democracy (the ballot box and parliament) is the best and safest way for a socialist-minded working class majority to get to socialism. For them, it's anathema. For the SPGB, some of the alternatives they suggest (insurrection or a general strike) are anathema. Our attitude to them is to try to convince them that the tactics they propose to get socialism is mistaken and to join with us in building up a strong socialist party. Of course, if we think that the tactic they advocate is dangerous to the working-class interest then we say so and oppose them. We are opposed to them because we disagree with what they are proposing the working class should do to get socialism. We agree to disagree as comrades. We cannot see any alternative to the present situation of each of us going our own way, putting forward our respective proposals for working-class action to get socialism and, while criticising each other's proposals, not challenging each other's socialist credentials. In the end, anyway, it's the working class itself who will decide what to do. For the moment, "our sector", the thin red line, is condemned to remain an amorphous current. At a later stage, when more and more people are coming to want socialism, a mass socialist movement will emerge to dwarf all the small groups and grouplets that exist today. If this situation were to arise then unity and fusion would be the order of the day.

In the meantime, the best thing we in the Socialist Party can do, is to carry on campaigning for a world community based on the common ownership and democratic control of the Earth's natural and industrial resources in the interests of all humanity. We in the SPGB will continue to propose that this be established by democratic, majority political action. Other groups will no doubt continue to propose your own way to get there. And , in the end, we'll see which proposal the majority working class takes up. When the socialist idea catches on we'll then have our united movement .
The Socialist Party does not claim that socialist consciousness will come to dominate the working-class outlook simply as a result of the activity of socialists. The movement for socialism must be a working class movement. It must depend upon the working class vitality and intelligence and strength. Until the knowledge and experience of the working class are equal to the task of revolution there can be no emancipation. The Socialist Party's job is to shorten the time, to speed up the process - to act as a catalyst. This contrasts with those who seek to substitute the party for the class or who see the party as a vanguard which must undertake alone the sectarian task of leading the witless masses forward.

Mandating delegates, voting on resolutions and membership referendums are democratic practices for ensuring that the members of an organisation control that organisation – and as such key procedures in any organisation genuinely seeking socialism. Socialism can only be a fully democratic society in which everybody will have an equal say in the ways things are run. This means that it can only come about democratically, both in the sense of being the expressed will of the working class and in the sense of the working class being organised democratically – without leaders, but with mandated delegates – to achieve it. In rejecting these procedures what is being declared is that the working class should not organise itself democratically.

Those who know of the SPGB have noticed that we don't go out of our way to recruit members. Some would in fact say we do just the opposite. At first sight, we seem to have an odd approach to recruitment of any political party in existence - we actually have a test for membership. The Socialist Party will not allow a person to join it until the applicant has convinced the branch applied to that she or he is a conscious socialist. Surely it must put some people off? Well, that may be, but it can't be helped. There would be no point in a socialist organisation giving full democratic rights to those who, in any significant way, disagreed with the socialist case. The outcome of that would be entirely predictable.

This does not mean that the Socialist Party has set itself up as an intellectual elite into which only those well versed in Marxist scholarship may enter. The Socialist Party has good reason to ensure that only conscious socialists enter its ranks, for, once admitted, all members are equal and it would clearly not be in the interest of the Party to offer equality of power to those who are not able to demonstrate equality of basic socialist understanding. Once a member, s/he have the same rights as the oldest member to sit on any committee, vote, speak, and have access to all information. Thanks to the test all members are conscious socialists and there is genuine internal democracy, and of that we are fiercely proud.

Consider for a moment what happens when people join other groups which don't have this test.The new applicant has to be approved as being "all right". The individual is therefore judged by the group according to a range of what might be called "credential indicators". Hard work (often, paper selling) and obedience by new members is the main criterion of trustworthiness in the organisation. In these hierarchical, "top-down" groups the leaders strive at all costs to remain as the leadership , and reward only those with proven commitment to the "party line" with preferential treatment, more responsibility and more say. New members who present the wrong indicators remain peripheral to the party structure, and finding themselves unable to influence decision-making at any level, eventually give up and leave, often embittered by the hard work they put in and the hollowness of the party's claims of equality and democracy.

 The Socialist Party is a Marxist-based organisation although some say a William Morris - Peter Kropotkin amalgam might be a better description. It never joined the Social Democrat 2nd International, It never affiliated to the Bolshevik 3rd International, nor has it been part of the Trotskyist 4th International. We were pre-1914 accusing the 2nd International of being non-socialist, and while we were throwing cold water on the 2nd International, the Lenins of the world were still adhering to the mistaken strategies and tactics.

We share in common with the Industrial Workers of the World the view that unions should not be used as a vehicle for political parties. The SPGB have always insisted that there will be a separation and that no political party should, or can successfully use, unions as an economic wing, until a time very much closer to the revolution when there are substantial and sufficient numbers of socialist conscious workers. And thats not in the foreseeable future.

 It is NOT the Socialist Party's task to lead the workers in struggle or to instruct its members on what to do in trade unions, tenants' associations or whatever social activism engaged in, because we believe that class conscious workers and socialists are quite capable of making decisions for themselves. For those on the Left, all activity should be mediated by the Party (union activity, neighbourhood community struggles or whatever), whereas for us, the Party is just one mode of activity available to the working class to use in their struggles.

The Socialist Party reject ALL forms of minority action to attempt to establish socialism, which can only be established by the working class when the immense majority have come to want and understand it. This is why we advocate using parliament. Not to try to reform capitalism but for the single revolutionary purpose of abolishing capitalism. What our capitalist opponents consequently do when the majority prevail will determine our subsequent actions. If they accept defeat, well and good. If they choose not to accept the verdict of the majority which is given through the their own institutions and contest that verdict by force, then the workers will respond in kind, with the legitimacy and the authority of a democratic mandate.

We need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party. We don't suffer from delusions of grandeur so we don't necessary claim that we are that party. What we are talking about is not a small educational and propagandist group such as ourselves, but a mass party that has yet to emerge. It is all about understanding limitations and they will be subject to change when conditions change. The main purpose of the SPGB at the moment is to (a) argue for socialism, and (b) put up candidates to measure how many socialist voters there are. The SPGB doesn't go around creating myths of false hopes and false dawns at every walk-out or laying down of tools but will remind workers of the reality of the class struggle and its constraints within capitalism and as a party unfortunately suffers the negative consequence of this political honesty.

Anton Pannekoek, the Dutch writer on Marxism said: "The belief in parties is the main reason for the impotence of the working-class . . . Because a party is an organisation that aims to lead and control the workers". He qualified this statement. "If . . . persons with the same fundamental conceptions (regarding Socialism) unite for the discussion of practical steps and seek clarification through discussion and propagandise their conclusions, such groups might be called parties, but they would be parties in an entirely different sense from those of to-day"

Our position is that it was not parties as such that had failed, but the form all parties (except the SPGB) had taken as groups of persons seeking power above the worker. Because the establishment of socialism depends upon an understanding of the necessary social changes by a majority of the population, these changes cannot be left to parties acting apart from or above the workers. The workers cannot vote for socialism as they do for reformist parties and then go home or go to work and carry on as usual. To put the matter in this way is to show its absurdity. The Socialist Party of Great Britain and its fellow parties therefore reject all comparison with other political parties. We do not ask for power; we help to educate the working-class itself into taking it.

Pannekoek wished workers' political parties to be “organs of the self-enlightenment of the working class by means of which the workers find their way to freedom” and “means of propaganda and enlightenment”.

Which is almost exactly the role and purpose hoped for by the Socialist Party of Great Britain's present members. So if you are in the locale of south London on the 18th or 19th, why not drop by and see genuine socialist democracy in action.

Wage Slavery And The Bondage Of Marriage

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On Sunday, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) sought to advance the GOP’s rebranding effort among female voters by suggesting that Republicans have long “led the fight for women’s equality.” The statement came just days after Republicans voted down the Paycheck Fairness Act and sought to downplay the problem of equal pay for equal work by suggesting that Democrats were using the issue to distract from Obamacare.

Now three days later, a prominent member of the Republican movement further undermined the party’s campaign to appeal to women voters by suggesting that the current pay gap isn’t wide enough. In an op-ed published by the Christian Post, Phyllis Schlafly — the founder of the Eagle Forum — maintained that increasing the pay gap will help women find suitable husbands:
Another fact is the influence of hypergamy, which means that women typically choose a mate (husband or boyfriend) who earns more than she does. Men don’t have the same preference for a higher-earning mate.
While women prefer to HAVE a higher-earning partner, men generally prefer to BE the higher-earning partner in a relationship. This simple but profound difference between the sexes has powerful consequences for the so-called pay gap.
Suppose the pay gap between men and women were magically eliminated. If that happened, simple arithmetic suggests that half of women would be unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate.
Obviously, I’m not saying women won’t date or marry a lower-earning men, only that they probably prefer not to. If a higher-earning man is not available, many women are more likely not to marry at all. [...]
The best way to improve economic prospects for women is to improve job prospects for the men in their lives, even if that means increasing the so-called pay gap.
Schlafly has long been crusader for “traditional values” within conservative movement and the Republican party, serving as a member of the National GOP Platform Committee as recently as 2012 and as a delegate to the National Convention. Her Eagle Forum PAC has also donated thousands to prominent Republicans like Eric Cantor, Michele Bachmann, Steve King, and Ted Cruz.

Since losing the presidential election in 2012, Republicans have repeatedly tried to enhance the GOP’s appeal beyond its traditional white male voting base. In 2013, the Republican National Committee published a widely discussed “autopsy,” promising to “addresses concerns that are on women’s minds in order to let them know we are fighting for them,” and held training sessions advising candidates to simply avoid talking about rape. Schlafly’s comments appear to undermine that effort.

From here

The abolition of wage slavery will herald equality in all areas for those who are currently called 'employed': female, male, old, young, black, white, brown or yellow, blue collar or white. Equal access to our common wealth, from each according to ability to each according to need. Marriage, too, will be deemed unnecessary by many when women are released from the bondage that many currently find necessary to exist. JS

 


USAID - Food, Vouchers, Or Special Interests?

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NEW YORK, 14 April 2014 (IRIN) - Efforts to improve the way the US government distributes roughly US$2 billion in international food aid each year achieved some successes in the recently enacted Agriculture Act of 2014 - commonly referred to as the Farm Bill - but the food aid mechanism used by the world’s largest donor continues to prioritize the needs of US commercial interests.

The positives are: a pilot project in the 2008 Farm Bill that tested the feasibility of local and regional procurement of food aid during emergencies has been transformed into a regularized programme that will provide $80 million for local and regional procurement (LRP) each year. In addition, the new Farm Bill increases from 13 to 20 percent the percentage of funding in the largest food aid programme, Food for Peace (or Title II), that can be spent on non-emergency programmes with cash-based resources or commodities rather than through the much-criticized vehicle of monetized food aid.

Monetization is a major flaw in the US food aid system, in which US grain is donated to NGOs and other “cooperating sponsors”, who then sell the food in recipient countries to raise money for their programmes. Almost all other major aid agencies have given up the practice because selling the donated food distorts local markets, and is detrimental to long-term food security.

“The main favourable developments [in the new Farm Bill] were the authorization of a permanent (if modest) LRP programme and a significant increase in the cap on funding cooperating sponsors, which effectively allows USAID [the US Agency for International Development] to end open monetization of food aid,” said Chris Barrett of Cornell University, a leading food aid analyst.

“These are important developments. But the Farm Bill still fell well short of providing USAID with flexibility to use cash, vouchers or LRP where those would be the most appropriate food assistance tools, as the main US food aid programme (Title II of PL480) remains legislatively restricted to buy commodities in the US and to ship from the US, at least half of the cargo on US flag vessels. This causes needless waste and delay without generating any significant benefit to the US economy. So the 2014 Farm Bill can be reasonably assessed as modest progress.”

“Unprecedented” debate


Yet reform advocates have emerged from the legislative process hopeful for the future. “I’ve been working on this issue for 10 years,” said Eric Munoz, senior policy adviser for Oxfam America. “I’ve been through two Farm Bills. And this is the first time in my experience when there has been a serious debate and where real proposals were put on the table and where there was a real demand for the special interests who are supporting the status quo to defend the programme in its current form. This is unprecedented. I don’t think that the conversation is over yet and certainly from our perspective we will continue to press to see that inefficiencies in the programme are addressed.”


“This is actually the beginning of a reform conversation.”
Among the most noteworthy developments was an amendment to the Farm Bill (jointly offered by a Republican, Ed Royce of California, and a Democrat, Eliot Engel of New York) that proposed giving USAID the flexibility to use up to 45 percent of food aid funds for LRP, cash transfers or food vouchers. During a hearing convened by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, some Congress members expressed worry that the increased reliance on transfers or vouchers would deny the US the public relations benefit of commodity donations.

“This is what food aid looks like,” said Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, holding up a photograph of a large bag with US markings. “It says, `From the American people. USAID.’ It makes it very clear that this is an American product.” If food aid comes in the form of a voucher, he said, the generosity of the US will not be properly advertised. “I think we are losing a very impactful thing that we do, which is that we put right in front of the people of Afghanistan or Darfur or wherever that this is a gift grown in and from the American people,” he said.

“Congressman, if you could put up the picture of the food voucher,” said Andrew Natsios, administrator of USAID from 2001 to 2006, a hearing witness, referring to a second photograph. “It says on it, `US aid from the American people’ on the right side.”
“Yeah, it’s not quite the same as a bag with food,” said Congressman Kinzinger.

Powerful shipping interests

But it wasn’t concerns over losing the PR benefit of commodity food aid that defeated the amendment. It was a powerful lobbying campaign by shipping companies and maritime unions. The Royce-Engel amendment lost by a vote of 220 to 203. According to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, Congress members who received contributions from the two leading maritime unions voted 83 to 29 in opposition to the measure.

“I am not aware of one single source other than special interest groups who are effected financially by these reforms who thinks the current system works well and works to our advantage,” said Natsios.

Frederic Mousseau, policy director of the Oakland Institute, noted that both President Bush and President Obama have sought to reform US food aid over the last decade. “The US Congress has each time resisted changes because of the combined influence of the US agribusiness firms and the shipping industry, which both highly benefit from this form of hidden subsidy and pocket every year hundreds of millions of dollars of public money through this business,” he said.

Yet perhaps the most powerful sign that greater change is in the offing was the broadcast of a satirical segment on the food aid debate on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the Comedy Central programme that represents one of the most powerful progressive voices in American culture. During a report that featured interviews with Chris Barrett and a maritime industry magazine editor, correspondent Jessica Williams mockingly demanded that the needs of “most vulnerable among us” - “international shipping conglomerates” - be “balanced against the needs of the hungry.”


from here




CEOs keep on getting richer

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 SOYMB  keeps saying it - the rich get  richer while you get poorer

In new data certain to fuel the growing public debate over economic inequality, a survey released Tuesday by the biggest U.S. trade-union federation found that the CEOs of top U.S. corporations were paid 331 times more money than the average U.S. worker in 2013. According to the AFL-CIO’s 2014 Executive PayWatch database, U.S. CEOs of 350 companies made an average of $11.7 million last year compared to the average worker who earned $35,293. The 331 to 1 ratio between the income of the 350 corporate CEOs in the Pay Watch survey and average workers is generally consistent with the pay gap that has prevailed over the past decade.

The same CEOs averaged an income 774 times greater than U.S. workers who earned the federal hourly minimum wage of $7.25 in 2013, or just over $15,000 a year, according to the database.

A separate survey of the top 100 U.S. corporations released by the New York Times Sunday found that the media compensation of CEOs of those companies last year was yet higher — $13.9 million. That survey, the Equilar 100 CEO Pay Study, found that those CEOs took home a combined $1.5 billion in 2013, slightly higher than their haul the previous year.

As in past years, the biggest earner was Lawrence Ellison, CEO of Oracle, who landed $78.4 million in a combination of cash, stocks, and options.

“Consider that the retirement benefits of the CEO of Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, has benefits of over $232 million in his company retirement fund, all of which is tax deferred,” said Sarah Anderson, at the Institute for Policy Studies . “It’s quite obscene when you know it’s a corporation that relies on very low-paid labour.”

http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ceos-big-u-s-companies-paid-331-times-average-worker/

Anti-union USA

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Volkswagen offered a deal to the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union: Please represent workers at our assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Volkswagen offered their workers a German-style works council through which workers could participate in decision-making at the plant, guarantees that unionization would not affect the future of the plant, and broad support for a pro-union vote. The workers voted no by a margin of 712-626. Even if the UAW had won the vote, any Volkswagen worker could simply refuse to pay dues to the UAW - with no negative consequences.

Tennessee's senior US senator, Lamar Alexander, declared that Tennessee workers "have decided in almost every case that they are better off union-free. The UAW may not like this, but that is the right of employees in a right-to-work state like Tennessee."

Unfortunately, living in a "right-to-work" state does not mean that you have a right to work. In Tennessee, only 55.6 percent of the working-age population has a job of any kind, compared to 58.6 percent for the country as a whole. Work is as hard to find in "right-to-work" states as anywhere else.

 In America the "right to work" means the "right not to join a union or pay union dues despite the fact that your co-workers have democratically voted for union representation." Under federal law, once a union has won the right to represent the workers in a workplace, it has a duty of representation to fairly and without prejudice represent all workers in that workplace, whether or not they are union members. In "right-to-work" states, recognized unions must fairly represent even those workers who refuse to join them or even to pay modest representation fees. Given the legal duty of fair representation, the problem with granting workers this dubious "right to work" is obvious. No union can survive for long in a "right-to-work" environment. Inevitably, workers who are facing financial difficulties, lazy about paying their dues, or just plain jerks decide it would be easier not to pay dues than to pay them.  The right to work in "right-to-work" states is a right to freeload on your coworkers who pay union dues so you don't have to.

There seems no point in conservative politicians mobilizing business support to defeat a union representation vote in "right-to-work" Tennessee. Just 3.4 percent of Tennessee's private sector workers are union members. Yet,  right-wing politicians and political operatives pulled out all the stops to convince Chattanooga Volkswagen workers to reject UAW representation.  The anti-union National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation  prepared a legal brief on behalf of five anti-union Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga defending political interference in union representation votes.

The anti-UAW campaign at Volkswagen had everything: a senator deliberately misleading workers; a governor offering Volkswagen hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars - but only if the union lost - senior state politicians openly making threats of financial retribution; Republican staffers secretly coordinating the anti-UAW campaign with notorious union busters; shadowy organizations with links to the nation's leading right-wing activists; an Ayn Rand-inspired anti-union consultant; and right-wing political fronts that purported to be groups of rank-and-file workers.

Unions are membership organizations  so it is hard to see why non-members should be involved at all. But here is a list of those who interfered in the practice of democracy.

Center for Worker Freedom: A special project of Grover Norquist's American for Tax Reform. CWF Director Matt Patterson spent a year in Chattanooga spreading misinformation. After the election, he boasted that his strategy of involving workers' families and the community had caused "strife."

Bob Corker: Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) twice told workers he had been given assurances that Volkswagen would expand production at Chattanooga if they voted against the union. It wasn't true. Never before has a senator misused his position to interfere in a union election at a private company in this way.

Jim Gray: Antiunion consultant Gray heads a South Carolina firm that has a "primary focus on union avoidance." After attending an anti-UAW planning meeting, Gray stated, "I'm just here to help out." It appears that Gray helped arrange the production of the antiunion campaign videos.

Bill Haslam: Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam offered Volkswagen $300 million in subsidies, but only if the UAW lost. Written at top of the confidential document was the following caveat: "The incentives described below are subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee."

Peter List: A notorious antiunion consultant, List is the founder and CEO of Kulture Labor Relations. According to a profile in Fortune magazine, List is "a firm believer in Ayn Rand's philosophy of radical individualism" who "opposes all state efforts to regulate labor relations." In a 2007 organizing campaign, NLRB member Dennis Walsh wrote that in his effort to "persuade" workers, List had engaged in "patently unlawful" activities.

National Right to Work Committee Legal Defense Fund: The organization claimed that it only provided free legal support for antiunion workers, but the UAW has alleged that a NRTW lawyer was also involved in coordinating the antiunion campaign.

Maury Nicely: A Chattanooga antiunion lawyer who fronted Southern Momentum, Inc., Nicely told Reuters that his group had raised over $100,000 from antiunion businesses and individuals. Despite purporting to represent ordinary Volkswagen workers, none of SMI's funding came from workers, and few Volkswagen workers had any direct involvement with it.

Projections, Inc.: One of the country's leading "union avoidance" firms, Projections created three antiunion videos for SMI, which were shown at public meetings, put on SMI's "no2uaw.com" website and given to workers on flash drives so they could watch them with their families. The videos implied that workers job security would be threatened if they voted for the union.

Robin Smith: Chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, Smith compared the UAW to an "infestation" of "Ichneumon wasp larvae." When the NAACP expressed support for an investigation into Haslam's secret offer, Smith tweeted: "@NAACP supports @UAW at @VW in Chattanooga. Those allies tell the tale." As indicated by her comments, the Tennessee GOP establishment intervened in the election in a disgraceful manner.

Southern Momentum, Inc.: SMI was the one antiunion group that claimed to represent ordinary Volkswagen workers. In reality, it was another AstroTurf organization, headed by antiunion lawyer Maury Nicely, funded by antiunion businesses, and which hired expensive external union avoidance professionals.

Bo Watson: State Senator Watson and other senior state politicians threatened to block financial incentives for the company - which the workers understood would threaten their job security - if workers voted for the UAW. The day before workers started voting, Watson stated at a press conference that, "members of the Tennessee Senate will not view unionization as in the best interest of Tennessee," and that lawmakers would "have a difficult time convincing our citizens to support any Volkswagen incentive package."

Todd Womack: Corker's chief of staff was in direct contact with Tennessee politicians - including members of the Governor's cabinet - and union avoidance groups about anti-UAW messaging. Womack sent an email concerning the three Projections anti-UAW videos. Recipients of his message included Grey, List, and the heads of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce and Tennessee Manufacturers Association.

The Volkswagen election showed the extraordinary lengths to which Republican lawmakers and anti-union organizations are prepared to go to subvert workers' right to choose a union. US business is vehemently anti-union for the obvious reason that unions empower workers vis-à-vis their employers. Representation is a matter for the workers to decide, not for their employers. Once workers have professional union representation, employers have a right to professional bargaining representation as well. But for employers to hire professional union-busting firms to prevent their workers from joining a union seems patently unfair. It seems even more unfair for elected political leaders to seek to influence union representation votes.

Maybe the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is right. Maybe union representation votes should be more like national elections. It is strictly illegal to seek to intimidate, threaten, or coerce voters. For unions used to dealing with ruthless and well-funded opponents, a system as simple and transparent as a federal election would be a blessing. Every few years workers at all large companies could simply be asked: "Which of these candidates do you want to represent you?" Any person or organization that registered as a candidate could run, perhaps including the employer itself. Workers could decide. After a workplace election, all workers should be held responsible for abiding by the outcome. If the majority votes for a union that charges dues, all workers should be forced to pay their dues. Minority protections might allow workers to opt out of some union programs on moral grounds, but these should be the exception, not the rule. If a majority of workers vote in a fair workplace election free from company or outside intimidation that they would prefer not to join a union, let the unions take the bad with the good and come back in two years for a re-match.

The labor unions themselves have proposed a limited fix compromise: the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). The EFCA would enshrine the "card check" system, whereby unions can be empowered to represent workers when over 50 percent of the workers at a plant sign a card requesting union representation. The card check system avoids the need for a subsequent election once workers have expressed their pro-union preferences in writing. This prevents employers and outsiders putting undue pressure on workers to vote against union representation in an election, for example by threatening to close the plant if the workers unionize. Card check is better than the system we have now, but it is far too modest and not sufficiently democratic. It gets around the problem of political and economic coercion in representation votes by doing away with the votes. Sadly, Obama missed his opportunity to enact it, despite a pledge to do so.

Workers’ unions need more freedom and democracy in the workplace, not less. Current regulation of unions is anything but democratic.  A free economy in a free society requires free workers.

From here and here  at the Truth Out website



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

EQUALITY AT LAST! (poem)

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EQUALITY AT LAST!
(Mad about the M.O.D.)

(7/4/2014. The British army will seriously
consider close-combat roles for women.)

Rejoice! all gentle Feminists,
And soon enjoy the thrill;
Of having full equality--
The right to fight and kill!

The right to march repeatedly,
Across the barrack square;
Whilst Sergeant Major-ette barks forth,
Obscenities out there.

The right to polish hobnail boots,
And whitewash army coal;
As indispensable parts of,
The training for this role.

The right to look like brutish men,
Whilst dressed in camouflage;
The right to be last in the yomp, (1)
And dressed down by the Sarge.

The right to keep the enemy,
Of either sex at bay;
With rifles and fixed bayonets,
Has really made the day!

The right upon the Killing Fields,
To fill up empty graves;
Now all we want’s the right to be,
Dead equal as wage-slaves!

(1) A army march with heavy
equipment over difficult terrain.

© Richard Layton 

American Democracy - Working Only For The Wealthy

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In a functioning democracy, free from corruption and the money of private interest groups, you'd expect that as more and more average citizens approved of a policy or piece of legislation, lawmakers would be more and more likely to adopt that policy or piece of legislation.

But that's not the case anymore here in America.

Instead, according to Gilens and Page, as more and more average American citizens support a policy or piece of legislation, the probability of it being adopted by lawmakers in Washington stays the same. It doesn't matter if 10 percent of Americans support it, or 90 percent of Americans support it.
But the same can't be said for the interests of the wealthy elite.
That's because, as more and more members of the wealthy elite support a policy or piece of legislation, the likelihood that lawmakers in Washington adopt that policy or piece of legislation increases steadily.
And the same is true with well-funded special interest groups. The more special interest groups support a policy or piece of legislation, the greater the likelihood that lawmakers will adopt it.

You also see similar results when you break up Americans by income groups.
When more and more Americans in the bottom tenth percentile supported a particular policy or piece of legislation, the likelihood that it would be adopted by lawmakers stayed relatively the same.

But, as more and more Americans in the 90th income percentile or the even richer wealthy elite supported a policy or piece of legislation, the likelihood that it would be adopted by lawmakers increased dramatically.
When it comes to working class Americans, it doesn't matter if they're in the bottom 10th income percentile or the 50th income percentile: they're ignored by our politicians for the preferences of the wealthy elite.

The bottom line here is that the elites are getting what they want, while the rest of us aren't, because money has taken over our political process.
For the first time in American history, a majority of lawmakers in the House of Representatives are millionaires, and a startling number - at both the federal and state level - are being bankrolled by billionaires like the Koch brothers.

This isn't what the founders had in mind when they founded our once-great nation.
Thomas Jefferson once said that, "Those seeking profits, were they given total freedom, would not be the ones to trust to keep government pure and our rights secure. Indeed, it has always been those seeking wealth who were the source of corruption in government..."

Whole article here