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We all pay for low wages

May 11
by Systemic Disorder

When you are paid starvation wages, it’s up to public-assistance programs to make up the difference. That government assistance, costing treasuries billions of dollars per year, is part of the high cost of low wages.

Working people with low wages use these programs heavily. One-third of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients are full-time workers and one-half of WIC recipients are full-time workers.

Contrary to right-wing propaganda, most recipients of public assistance work, a large number of them full time. The EPI study reports:

Among families or individuals receiving public assistance, two-thirds (67 percent) work or are members of working families (families in which at least one adult works). When focusing on non-elderly recipient families and individuals under age 65, this percentage is 72 percent.

About 69 percent of all public-assistance benefits received by non-elderly families or individuals go to those who work
About 47 percent of all working recipients of public assistance work full time (at least 1,990 hours per year).

Privatizing profits, socializing costs

Although not addressed in the EPI study, a big conclusion to be drawn from this data is that these billions of dollars of public-assistance money constitutes a massive subsidy of business. Often highly profitable businesses. Take War-Mart, for example. Wal-Mart reported net income of $14.7 billion for 2015 and nearly $80 billion for its last five fiscal years. Yet the company pays it employees so little that employees organize food drives for themselves while it dodges billions of dollars of taxes and receives further billions of dollars in government subsidies.

Intensified competition over private profits, and that “markets” should determine social outcomes, inexorably leads to a consolidation in which industries are dominated by a handful of giant corporations, and those corporations gain decisive power over governments and relentlessly reduce overhead (especially wages and benefits) in a scramble for survival.

Fighting back is surely what working people around the world need to do. But restoring a “golden age” of capitalism that never really existed (and definitely didn’t if you were a woman confined by limited options or an African-American facing officially sanctioned discrimination and/or state-endorsed terrorism) is a quixotic goal. Better to drive our energies into creating a better world, one in which the economy is geared toward human need rather than private profit.

Full article: https://systemicdisorder.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/we-all-pay-for-low-wages/

Millions for the boss, cuts for you

By Pete Dolack
Source: Systemic Disorder
May 28, 2016

More is never enough. By now we really don’t need yet another statement of inequality, but here goes anyway: The average ratio of chief executive pay to employee pay has reached 335-to-1 in the United States.

And some of the highest paid CEOs were at the companies that stash the most money in overseas tax havens. Among the giant corporations that comprise the Standard & Poor’s 500, the 25 at the companies with the most unrepatriated profits hauled in 79 percent more than other S&P 500 chief executive officers, reports the AFL-CIO union federation’s Paywatch 2016 report. Just 10 corporations — Apple, Pfizer, Microsoft, General Electric, IBM, Merck, Cisco Systems, Johnson & Johnson, Exxon Mobil, and Hewlett-Packard successor HP Inc. — are believed to be holding about $948 billion in accounts outside the reach of tax authorities.

Being at the top of the corporate pyramid certainly pays — the average S&P 500 chief executive officer hauled in $12.4 million in 2015, while the average non-supervisory worker earned $36,875. That average worker would have to work 335 hours to earn what the CEO makes in one hour. For a worker earning the federal minimum wage, the pay ratio is 819-to-1.



This goes beyond simple unfairness, although corporate tax collection in the U.S. has declined drastically, falling from about one-third of U.S. government tax receipts in the 1950s to 10 percent in 2015; it was as low as 6.6 percent in 2009. Nor is it simply that less taxes collected reduces the ability of governments to effectively provide an adequate social safety net. Higher taxes actually lead to more jobs. Countries that provide more subsidies toward services that are complementary to work — such as child care, elder care and transportation — have higher workforce participation rates. Yes, contrary to orthodox economics, higher rates of taxation lead to more employment.

Let’s not reduce all this to simply greed. The relentless competition endemic to capitalism mandates that corporations engage in an endless race to the bottom. “Grow or die” is an inescapable mandate — if you don’t grow, your competitor will and put you out of business.

That’s a war that working people can never win. Class warfare rages hotter than ever, but there is only one class that is waging it.

Full article: https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/millions-for-the-boss-cuts-for-you/

Corporate Chicanery

Open Letter to Senator Elizabeth Warren of MA

by Mina Hamilton / May 27th, 2016

Right now something is happening in DC that urgently needs your attention. And it’s not about Trump.

A slick maneuver is under-way. A totally non-germane rider has been attached to the 1000-page-plus National Defense Authorization Act of 2016. It just passed the House and now moves to the Senate. Here’s why we are asking for your help.

What’s in this rider?

Amidst appropriations for aircraft carriers, Aegis missile systems, Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, adrift in the authorization for billions for special operations to combat terrorism in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and tucked in between military aid to Ukraine, Georgia, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and other hot-button areas, there it is: Section 1090. LNG PERMITTING CERTAINTY AND TRANSPARENCY

Now what does LNG (the acronym refers to Liquified Natural Gas the form in which natural gas is loaded onto ships for export) “permitting” have to do with the military budget?

Nada. Zip. So this is a ruse – a ruse to avoid the public outcry that a stand-alone bill would engender.

According to the proposed rider, a Liquified Natural Gas export license must receive its permit within 30 days after the conclusion of the National Environmental Policy Act review or within 30 days of the “date of enactment of this act.” Holy Moly, 30 days for an incredibly complex facility that will assure a huge build-out of fracked-gas pipelines, plus generate tons of climate-destroying methane each and every year – and for decades to come?

Fulll article: http://dissidentvoice.org/2016/05/corporate-chicanery/#more-62772

'Idiocracy' Realized: How Our Current Situation Is Worse Than the Film Predicted

The corporate overlords the movie indicted are creating a world where water is inaccessible to the poor and Trump Nation darkly looms.

By Paula Young Lee / AlterNet May 26, 2016

Photo Credit: Kues / Shutterstock

The 2006 cult comedy Idiocracy is having its moment in the sun. Written and directed by Mike Judge, creator of “Beavis & Butthead,” Idiocracy envisions a future corporate American wasteland where Costco is as large as a small city, the food pyramid consists entirely of fast food, and the president of the United States (Terry Crews) is a five-time "Ultimate Smackdown" professional wrestling champion and ex-porn star. “So you’re smart, huh?” President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho says to hapless time traveler Joe “Not Sure” Bauers (Luke Wilson), an Average Joe chagrined to discover he’s now the smartest man in the country. “I thought your head would be bigger,” Camacho bellows. “Looks like a peanut!”

Donald Trump's political ascendancy has made Idiocracy seem like prophecy. (Or, per a viral tweet by the film’s screenwriter, a “documentary.”) As satire, however, Idiocracy is uneven, precisely because recent events have already exceeded its most trenchant bits of lunacy. In the fictional Idiocracy future, Congress is full of idiots who do nothing but yell, “You’re a dick!” at the president. But those antics pale in comparison to stunts pulled by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Trump, a billionaire real-estate developer and reality TV show star whose foreign policy proposals include telling China, Listen, you motherfuckers, we’re going to tax you 25 percent! In 2009, Trump purchased the rights to pro-wrestling show “Monday Night Raw” and then sold them back to the previous owner “for twice the price,” according to the World Wrestling Entertainment website. “Since then, the WWE Hall of Famer focused on his ever-expanding real estate empire, his Emmy-nominated reality television show ‘The Apprentice’ and running for president of the United States.”

Mike Judge may be a funny guy, but his mind isn’t exactly subtle. A decade ago when Idiocracy was released, he was already treading well-worn ground by envisioning a future where being unable to pay debts is a crime (see: the return of debtor’s prison), the Violence Channel dominates the networks (see: all of cable), and a plotless film about a farting white ass wins Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards (see: Swiss Army Man, starring Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse).

The film opens with a voiceover explaining that rampant breeding among the dimwitted has undone civilization. After 500 years of exponential idiocy, corporate America has responded by catering to the lowest common denominator. Thus, future Starbucks offers hand jobs. Fuddruckers has become Buttfuckers. Fox News is anchored by pro-wrestlers. Costco gives out law degrees. And the company behind the energy drink Brawndo owns the FDA, FCC and USDA. But the film got the power dynamic backward, thereby softballing its critique. As Adam Johnson pointed out on AlterNet, it decided to highlight “the problem—in this case political ignorance—without addressing its primary culprit: the consolidation of media into large corporations, a PR-fueled think tank industry fed by billionaires designed to promote toxic right-wing canards… and a decades-long corporate assault on K-12 and postsecondary education.”

Full article: http://www.alternet.org/media/corporate-trump-nation-made-america-worse-idiocracy

Bbm. I just wanted to highlight this because I don't believe the U.S. is a nation of idiots, by any means (and this same thing is happening not just in the U.S.) - but to agree with the author (imo) that it's been a strategy for decades, by all those he mentioned. Many countries may use violent repression to deny education and knowledge of events around the world - corporations have their dirty fingers into enough of everything in 'advanced nations' that they don't need to.

It's Not the Kids Turning on to Weed; It's Grandma and Grandpa

Baby boomers have discovered (or rediscovered) the bud.

By Phillip Smith / AlterNet May 24, 2016

The growing acceptance of and access to legal marijuana has some people worried that the youth are going to start using it more frequently, but that's not the demographic where pot has really taken off. Instead, it's senior citizens.

Whether it's wide-open medical marijuana states like California or fully legal states like Colorado, the gray-haired set is increasingly turning to pot, and not just to ease their aches and pains With a half-dozen more states likely to have legalization on the ballot (and win) this year and medical marijuana coming to more, grandma and grandpa are set to become even more interested.

Last week, CBS This Morning reported on the phenomenon of senior marijuana use, and the numbers are striking. Citing data from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the program reported that the number of pot users over 55 jumped from 2.8 million in 2013 to 4.3 million in 2014, a 55% increase in a single year. Watch the video " target="_blank">here.

Correspondent Barry Petersen took viewers inside Oakland's Harborside Health Center, the world's largest medical marijuana dispensary, where the senior demographic was well-represented. His footage shows people in their 50s and 60s describing how marijuana treats what ails them.

"Seniors account for only 14% of the population, but they use more than 30% of all prescription drugs, including some highly addictive pain killers," Petersen reported. "So pot is fast becoming a pill alternative."

One Harborside patient, an 80-year-old woman who uses marijuana to help with mobility got right to the point:

"Every medication has a risk," she said. "I've made my choice."

Full article: http://www.alternet.org/drugs/not-kids-turning-weed-grandma-grandpa?akid=14303.44541.6oPI9-&rd=1&src=newsletter1057317&t=12

Sorry, can't get video link to work, but it does in the article.

John Pilger - Silencing America As It Prepares For War

27 May 2016

Returning to the United States in an election year, I am struck by the silence. I have covered four presidential campaigns, starting with 1968; I was with Robert Kennedy when he was shot and I saw his assassin, preparing to kill him. It was a baptism in the American way, along with the salivating violence of the Chicago police at the Democratic Party's rigged convention. The great counter revolution had begun.

The first to be assassinated that year, Martin Luther King, had dared link the suffering of African-Americans and the people of Vietnam. When Janis Joplin sang, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose", she spoke perhaps unconsciously for millions of America's victims in faraway places.

"We lost 58,000 young soldiers in Vietnam, and they died defending your freedom. Now don't you forget it." So said a National Parks Service guide as I filmed last week at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. He was addressing a school party of young teenagers in bright orange T-shirts. As if by rote, he inverted the truth about Vietnam into an unchallenged lie.

The millions of Vietnamese who died and were maimed and poisoned and dispossessed by the American invasion have no historical place in young minds, not to mention the estimated 60,000 veterans who took their own lives. A friend of mine, a marine who became a paraplegic in Vietnam, was often asked, "Which side did you fight on?"

A few years ago, I attended a popular exhibition called "The Price of Freedom" at the venerable Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The lines of ordinary people, mostly children shuffling through a Santa's grotto of revisionism, were dispensed a variety of lies: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved "a million lives"; Iraq was "liberated air strikes of unprecedented precision". The theme was unerringly heroic: only Americans pay the price of freedom.

On Obama's watch, a second cold war is under way. The Russian president is a pantomime villain; the Chinese are not yet back to their sinister pig-tailed caricature - when all Chinese were banned from the United States - but the media warriors are working on it.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders has mentioned any of this. There is no risk and no danger for the United States and all of us; for them, the greatest military build-up on the borders of Russia since World War Two has not happened. On May 11, Romania went "live" with a Nato "missile defence" base that aims its first-strike American missiles at the heart of Russia, the world's second nuclear power.

In Asia, the Pentagon is sending ships, planes and special forces to the Philippines to threaten China. The US already encircles China with hundreds of military bases that curve in an arc up from Australia, to Asia and across to Afghanistan. Obama calls this a "pivot".

As a direct consequence, China reportedly has changed its nuclear weapons policy from no-first-use to high alert and put to sea submarines with nuclear weapons. The escalator is quickening.

It was Hillary Clinton who, as Secretary of State in 2010, elevated the competing territorial claims for rocks and reef in the South China Sea to an international issue; CNN and BBC hysteria followed; China was building airstrips on the disputed islands. In a mammoth war game in 2015, Operation Talisman Sabre, the US and Australia practiced "choking" the Straits of Malacca through which pass most of China's oil and trade. This was not news.

Clinton declared that America had a "national interest" in these Asian waters. The Philippines and Vietnam were encouraged and bribed to pursue their claims and old enmities against China. In America, people are being primed to see any Chinese defensive position as offensive, and so the ground is laid for rapid escalation. A similar strategy of provocation and propaganda is applied to Russia.

Clinton, the "women's candidate", leaves a trail of bloody coups: in Honduras, in Libya (plus the murder of the Libyan president) and Ukraine. The latter is now a CIA theme park swarming with Nazis and the frontline of a beckoning war with Russia. It was through Ukraine - literally, borderland - that Hitler's Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, which lost 27 million people. This epic catastrophe remains a presence in Russia. Clinton's presidential campaign has received money from all but one of the world's ten biggest arms companies. No other candidate comes close.

The election of Trump or Clinton is the old illusion of choice that is no choice: two sides of the same coin. In scapegoating minorities and promising to "make America great again", Trump is a far right-wing domestic populist; yet the danger of Clinton may be more lethal for the world.

Full article: http://johnpilger.com/articles/silencing-america-as-it-prepares-for-war

This and all her scheming for Libya makes me fucking sick.

She persuaded an ambivalent Obama for that 51-49 vote to intervene, using a banned Blumenthals's info - all the while he was being paid through her Foundation. She not only gave her finger to her own President, but helped cause unimaginable horror to yet another sovereign nation, and now, the whole region.

Imperialism’s Junior Partners

By Patrick Bond
Source: Jacobin Magazine
May 26, 2016

On May 12, Brazil’s democratic government, led by the Workers’ Party (PT), was the victim of a coup. What will the other BRICS countries (Russia, India, China, and South Africa) do?

Will they stand by as the reactionaries who took power in Brasilia pivot closer to Western powers, glad to warm Dilma Rousseff’s seat at the BRICS summit in Goa, India in five months’ time?

Here in South Africa, few expect Jacob Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC) government to react constructively on the international stage. Making waves isn’t likely at a time when Standard & Poors and Fitch are on a South Africa visit, deciding whether to downgrade the country’s credit rating to “junk” status, as happened in Brazil late last year.

This is a shame because the last two weeks have offered excellent opportunities for diplomatic rebellion: revelations have emerged implicating the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in assisting the apartheid state’s 1962 arrest and twenty-seven-year imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. This isn’t exactly surprising; the State Department did keep Mandela on its terrorist watch list until 2008.

Following these revelations ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa charged that the CIA “never stopped operating here. It is still happening now — the CIA is still collaborating with those who want regime change.”

Seeds of suicide

By Vandana Shiva
Source: Asian Age
May 26, 2016

The UN appointed me on the expert panel for the framework for the biosafety protocol, now adopted as the Cartagena protocol on biosafety. I was appointed a member of the expert group to draft the National Biodiversity Act, as well as the Plant Variety and Farmers Rights Act. We ensured that farmers rights are recognised in our laws. “A farmer shall be deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce, including seed of a variety protected under this act, in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into force of this act”, it says.

We have worked for the past three decades to protect the diversity and integrity of our seeds, the rights of farmers, and resist and challenge the illegitimate IPR monopolies of companies like Monsanto which do genetic engineering to claim patents and royalties.

Patents on seeds are unjust and unjustified. A patent or any intellectual property right is a monopoly granted by society in exchange for benefits. But society has no benefit in toxic, non-renewable seeds. We are losing biodiversity and cultural diversity, we are losing nutrition, taste and quality of our food. Above all, we are losing our fundamental freedom to decide what seeds we will sow, how we will grow our food and what we will eat.

Seed as a common good has become a commodity of private seed companies. Unless protected and put back in the hands of our farmers, it is at risk of being lost forever.

Humanity has been eating thousands and thousands (8,500) of plant species. Today we are being condemned to eat GM corn and soya in various forms. Four primary crops — corn, soya, canola and cotton — have all been grown at the cost of other crops because they generate a royalty for every acre planted. For example, India had 1,500 different kinds of cotton, now 95 per cent of the cotton planted is GMO Bt Cotton for which Monsanto collects royalties. Over 11 million hectares of land are used to cultivate cotton, of which 9.5 million hectares is used to grow Monsanto’s Bt variety.

Monsanto and the biotechnology industry challenged the government order. We were impleaded in the Karnataka high court. On May 3, Justice Bopanna gave an order reaffirming that the government has a duty to regulate seed prices and Monsanto does not have a right to seed monopoly. Biodiversity and small farmers are the foundation of food security, not corporations like Monsanto which are destroying biodiversity and pushing farmers to suicide. These crimes against humanity must stop. That is why on October 16, International Food Day, we will organise a Monsanto Tribunal at The Hague to “try” Monsanto for its various crimes.

Full article: https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/seeds-of-suicide/

Big Ag Is the Biggest Obstacle to Global Food Security: Here's What Can Turn It Around

The primary obstacle to sustainable food security is an economic model and thought system, embodied in industrial agriculture, that views life in disassociated parts, obscuring the destructive impact this approach has on humans, natural resources, and the environment. Industrial agriculture is characterized by waste, pollution, and inefficiency, and is a significant contributor to climate change. Within so-called free market economics, enterprise is driven by the central goal of bringing the highest return to existing wealth. This logic leads inexorably to the concentration of wealth and power, making hunger and ecosystem disruption inevitable. The industrial system does not and cannot meet our food needs. An alternative, relational approach—agroecology—is emerging and has already shown promising success on the ground. By dispersing power and building on farmers’ own knowledge, it offers a viable path to healthy, accessible food; environmental protection; and enhanced human dignity.

People yearn for alternatives to industrial agriculture, but they are worried. They see large-scale operations relying on corporate-supplied chemical inputs as the only high-productivity farming model. Another approach might be kinder to the environment and less risky for consumers, but, they assume, it would not be up to the task of providing all the food needed by our still-growing global population.

Contrary to such assumptions, there is ample evidence that an alternative approach—organic agriculture, or more broadly “agroecology”—is actually the only way to ensure that all people have access to sufficient, healthful food. Inefficiency and ecological destruction are built into the industrial model. But, beyond that, our ability to meet the world’s needs is only partially determined by what quantities are produced in fields, pastures, and waterways. Wider societal rules and norms ultimately shape whether any given quantity of food produced is actually used to meet humanity’s needs. In many ways, how we grow food determines who can eat and who cannot—no matter how much we produce. Solving our multiple food crises thus requires a systems approach in which citizens around the world remake our understanding and practice of democracy.

Today, the world produces—mostly from low-input, smallholder farms—more than enough food: 2,900 calories, amounting to three to four pounds of food, per person per day. Per capita food availability has continued to expand despite ongoing population growth. This ample supply of food, moreover, comprises only what is left over after about half of all grain is either fed to livestock or used for industrial purposes, such as agrofuels.1

The seed market, for example, has moved from a competitive arena of small, family-owned firms to an oligopoly in which just three companies—Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta—control over half of the global proprietary seed market. Worldwide, from 1996 to 2008, a handful of corporations absorbed more than two hundred smaller independent companies, driving the price of seeds and other inputs higher to the point where their costs for poor farmers in southern India now make up almost half of production costs.13 And the cost in real terms per acre for users of bio-engineered crops dominated by one corporation, Monsanto, tripled between 1996 and 2013.

Not only does the industrial model direct resources into inefficient and destructive uses, but it also feeds the very root of hunger itself: the concentration of social power. This results in the sad irony that small-scale farmers—those with fewer than five acres—control 84 percent of the world’s farms and produce most of the food by value, yet control just 12 percent of the farmland and make up the majority of the world’s hungry.14

Recent studies have dispelled the fear that an ecological alternative to the industrial model would fail to produce the volume of food for which the industrial model is prized. In 2006, a seminal study in the Global South compared yields in 198 projects in 55 countries and found that ecologically attuned farming increased crop yields by an average of almost 80 percent. A 2007 University of Michigan global study concluded that organic farming could support the current human population, and expected increases without expanding farmed land. Then, in 2009, came a striking endorsement of ecological farming by fifty-nine governments and agencies, including the World Bank, in a report painstakingly prepared over four years by four hundred scientists urging support for “biological substitutes for industrial chemicals or fossil fuels.”16 Such findings should ease concerns that ecologically aligned farming cannot produce sufficient food, especially given its potential productivity in the Global South, where such farming practices are most common.

Democratizing Farming

Ecological agriculture, unlike the industrial model, does not inherently concentrate power. Instead, as an evolving practice of growing food within communities, it disperses and creates power, and can enhance the dignity, knowledge, and the capacities of all involved. Agroecology can thereby address the powerlessness that lies at the root of hunger.

Applying such a systems approach to farming unites ecological science with time-tested traditional wisdom rooted in farmers’ ongoing experiences. Agroecology also includes a social and politically engaged movement of farmers, growing from and rooted in distinct cultures worldwide. As such, it cannot be reduced to a specific formula, but rather represents a range of integrated practices, adapted and developed in response to each farm’s specific ecological niche. It weaves together traditional knowledge and ongoing scientific breakthroughs based on the integrative science of ecology. By progressively eliminating all or most chemical fertilizers and pesticides, agroecological farmers free themselves—and, therefore, all of us—from reliance on climate-disrupting, finite fossil fuels, as well as from other purchased inputs that pose environmental and health hazards.

Lessons from Ethiopia

Case studies in some of the world’s hungriest regions can illuminate the potential of agroecology to meet global needs. The experience of Tigray, Ethiopia, an extremely cash-poor region of almost five million people with degraded soils and poor crop yields, offers one promising example. In part because of the region’s low rainfall, the “hunger season” for the poorest farmers has typically lasted more than half the year, and climate change has intensified such hardships. In 1996, national and regional agencies took action. Working with the Institute for Sustainable Development, they launched a transformational strategy with the goal of restoring soil fertility as well as developing community-environmental governance.21

The Tigray Project worked with farmers to infuse a few basic agroecological practices, like composting, into their work. Unlike chemical fertilizers, which require application every year, good compost can increase and maintain soil fertility for up to four years. Thanks to healthier soil, farmers began achieving higher yields, with fewer challenging weeds, and their crops became more resistant to disease and pests. Stopping the uncontrolled grazing of livestock allowed for the revegetation of degraded lands, including steep slopes and gullies not suitable for agricultural production. This previously “useless” land now provides biomass for livestock feed or compost, thereby returning nutrients to the soil. In just five years, from 2000 to 2005, farmers doubled yields of cereals grown on compost-treated soil. The project incorporated other innovations as well, such as the creation of small trenches along the bunds (low earthen ridges) between fields to catch rain and soil runoff, and tree planting and the nurturing of tree regrowth.

Full article: http://www.alternet.org/food/big-ag-biggest-obstacle-global-food-security-heres-what-can-turn-it-around
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