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Member since: Wed Dec 10, 2014, 12:21 AM
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Information doesn't want to be free (Cory Doctorow speech)

Cory Doctorow talked about his book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age, about the clash between copyright laws and creative industries around the world.


Greece vs Europe: who will blink first?

There is a whiff of 1914 to the latest Balkan showdown. Everybody thinks everybody else is bluffing, all of them betting that a calamitous chain reaction will be averted.

In Germany, Der Spiegel reports that Angela Merkel thinks Greece can be ejected safely from the euro, if the rebel Syriza party wins the elections on January 25 and carries out its pledge to tear up Greece’s hated “memorandum” with the EU-IMF “Troika”. The German Chancellor’s team are blanketing the airwaves in what looks like a campaign to drive the threat home.

“We are past the days when we still have to rescue Greece,” said Michael Fuchs, the parliamentary leader of Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats. “The situation has completely changed. It is entirely different from three years ago when we didn’t have the backstop defences in place. Greece is no longer 'systemically relevant’ for the euro.” He added wickedly that the single currency might actually be stronger without the Balkan troublemaker.

It was revealed last week that Germany offered Greece a “friendly” return to the drachma in 2011. Months later, Mrs Merkel was prepared to eject Greece from EMU altogether. Tim Geithner, the former US Treasury Secretary, said the Europeans seemed determined to teach Greece a lesson: “They lied to us, and we’re going to crush them,” was the gist of it. Mrs Merkel retreated only after it became clear that Spain and Italy would be engulfed by contagion if Greece was thrown out.

This time, Berlin seems almost eager to finish the job. Yet Syriza’s ice-cool leader, Alexis Tsipras, is equally convinced that the EU elites will back down, knowing that they have invested too much political capital in Greece’s salvation to walk away. After all, the sums involved now are tiny compared to the €245 billion in loans already dispersed since the crisis erupted in May 2010. Surely, after having claimed so confidently that the crisis was essentially over, Mrs Merkel can hardly admit that her strategy has failed?

Syriza itself is a neo-Marxist mélange, an ideological work in progress. Mr Tsipras no longer has a picture of Che Guevara in his office and has quickly mastered the Brussels vernacular – so much so that EU leaders and City economists presume, rightly or wrongly, that his rhetoric is just for domestic consumption. Yet the ultra-Left Aristeri Platforma still holds the biggest bloc of votes on Syriza’s central committee, and has stated that the movement must “be ready to implement its progressive programme outside the eurozone” if the EU refuses to yield.

As a result of this crisis, the head of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mario Draghi, is caught in a horrible bind. He is itching to kick off a trillion-euro blast of quantitative easing on January 22 to head off the deflationary forces that threaten to lock the eurozone into a Japanese-style trap. To make any difference, this must entail the purchase of sovereign debt. Yet Mr Draghi can hardly agree to buy Greek bonds three days before the likely election of a party that has vowed to repudiate that same debt. Nor can he exclude Greece’s bonds from the purchases, for to do so would be to pre-empt democracy.

The German Bundesbank, and a core of ECB hardliners, are seizing on the unfolding drama in Athens to demand a further delay to QE – a policy that they view as fiscal union by the back door. But meanwhile, the eurozone is tipping into outright deflation, with the oil price crash almost certainly having pushed inflation below zero in December.


1 Million Adults Will Lose SNAP in 2016: The Very poor: few qualify for other assistance

Roughly 1 million of the nation’s poorest people will be cut off SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) over the course of 2016, due to the return in many areas of a three-month limit on SNAP benefits for unemployed adults aged 18-50 who aren’t disabled or raising minor children. These individuals will lose their food assistance benefits after three months regardless of how hard they are looking for work.

One of the harshest pieces of the 1996 welfare law, this provision limits such individuals to three months of SNAP benefits in any 36-month period when they aren’t employed or in a work or training program for at least 20 hours a week. Even SNAP recipients whose state operates few or no employment programs for them and fails to offer them a spot in a work or training program — which is the case in most states — have their benefits cut off after three months irrespective of whether they are searching diligently for a job.

Because this provision denies basic food assistance to people who want to work and will accept any job or work program slot offered, it is effectively a severe time limit rather than a work requirement, as such requirements are commonly understood. Work requirements in public assistance programs typically require people to look for work and accept any job or employment program slot that is offered but do not cut off people who are willing to work and looking for a job simply because they can’t find one.

The loss of this food assistance, which averages approximately $150 to $200 per person per month for this group, will likely cause serious hardship among many. Agriculture Department (USDA) data show that the individuals subject to the three-month limit have average monthly income of approximately 19 percent of the poverty line, and they typically qualify for no other income support.
About 40 percent are women. Close to one-third are over age 40. Among those who report their race, about half are white, a third are African American, and a tenth are Hispanic. Half have only a high school diploma or GED. They live in all areas of the country, and among those for whom data on metropolitan status are available, about 40 percent live in urban areas, 40 percent in suburban areas, and 20 percent in rural areas.

Since states don’t provide half-time employment opportunities to SNAP recipients, the only way that an unemployed person can maintain SNAP eligibility during normal economic times (i.e., when a high-unemployment waiver is unavailable) is to find 20 hours a week of job training, workfare, or another work program. As noted, job search, the lowest cost activity for a state to require and monitor, does not count as an allowable activity.

Yet states aren’t required to offer these recipients a place in a work or training program for 20 hours a week, and very few states do. This leaves it up to individuals who can’t find a job to try to find training or work program openings on their own, which few are able to do, especially since most training programs have insufficient resources to meet demand, resulting in substantial waiting lists. A person who wants to work but is unable to find a job, and is willing to participate in job training but has no opportunity to do so, loses all of his or her SNAP benefits at the three-month point.


12 Mainstream Corporations Benefiting from the Prison Industrial Complex

Prison labor in the United States is referred to as insourcing. Under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), employers receive a tax credit of $2,400 for every work-release inmate they employ as a reward for hiring “risky target groups.”

The workers are not only cheap labor, but they are considered easier to control. They also tend to be African-American males. Companies are free to avoid providing benefits like health insurance or sick days. They also don’t need to worry about unions, demands for vacation time, raises or family issues.

According to the Left Business Observer, “the federal prison industry produces 100 percent of all military helmets, war supplies and other equipment. The workers supply 98 percent of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93 percent of paints and paintbrushes; 92 percent of stove assembly; 46 percent of body armor; 36 percent of home appliances; 30 percent of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21 percent of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.”

With all of that productivity, the inmates make about 90 cents to $4 a day.

1. McDonalds
2. Wendy's
3. Walmart
4. Starbucks
5. Sprint
6. Verizon
7. Victoria's Secret
8. Fidelity Investments
9. JC Pennys
0. Kmart
1. American Airlines
2. Avis


10 Huge U.S. Brands Who Profit From What Americans Would Call Slave Labor

Would it surprise you if, at the bottom of your favorite brand’s supply chain, you find that the brand is heavily dependent upon using forced or child labor? Thankfully, more and more consumers are aware of such practices and making decisions about what to buy or boycott based on the human and environmental cost. The Internet provides plenty of documentation of worker abuse and petitions you can sign to help raise awareness of and combat such practices. The 10 U.S. brands named below, including the U.S. Department of Defense, currently profit from the abusive treatment of workers. Links to more detailed information and ways you can help are provided throughout.

1. Apple
2. Nike
3. Motorola
4. Hershey's
5. Forever 21 (Cotton)
7. Macy's
8. Walmart
9. Tobacco Industry
0. Chiquita


How Ikea, Siemens and Aldi profited enormously from slave labour

In 2012 Ikea had officially admitted that it had sold furniture which had been produced by prisoners of the German Democratic Republic, Soviet Russia's most hardline ally in the eastern bloc.

Shelves, sofas and a host of other home furnishings were churned out in their thousands by men and women imprisoned because of their opposition to the regime under which they lived.

Ikea was not alone. The study shows that a substantial portion of the West German 'economic miracle' came as a result of the slaves put to work in the east with 6,000 firms in all using them.

Others included engineering giant Krupp, telecommunications company Mannesmann and the oxygen manufacturer Linde.

The study says East Germany put some 15,000 prisoners to work making the products for which the state received much needed hard currency.

The Stasi secret police ran the slave programme.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2659038/How-IKEA-Siemens-Aldi-profited-enormously-slave-labour-former-communist-East-German-study-shows.html#ixzz3NycZmTf1
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They rule

SINCE BARACK Obama announced his intention to run for president in 2007, Paul Street has distinguished himself as one of the most consistent left-wing critics of both candidate Obama and President Obama. At a time when many people were starry-eyed about the possibilities for an Obama presidency, Street was documenting Obama's commitment to a pro-business, neoliberal agenda...

In They Rule, Street's canvas is larger than those of his earlier books, which focused on Obama and on the Tea Party. Here, he takes a step back. Rather than documenting Obama's betrayals of liberal hopes or deconstructing the American right, he asks how the political system that produced both an Obama and a Tea Party came to be during four decades of neoliberal rule. To build his case, he marshals an impressive array of social science research and Marxist-influenced analysis.

Street's inspiration for They Rule came from the 2011 Occupy movement and from horror film director John Carpenter. Occupy expressed mass sentiment against the "1 Percent" that owns and rules the country against the 99 Percent that does neither. In a way, Occupy's "1 Percent" is 21st century version of the wealthy alien capitalists who come to occupy the earth in Carpenter's 1987 They Live. Street takes us from They Live to They Rule.

Lest anyone think that the Carpenter analogy is far-fetched, Street documents just how "alien" the 1 Percent are from the rest of the population....To make this point, Street cites one staggering statistic after another. Perhaps the most dramatic is the calculation that the wealth of the 1 Percent of the U.S. alone exceeds the gross domestic product of Canada!

So the 1 Percent is quite literally another nation unto itself, which doesn't care for the welfare of the other 99 percent of people with whom they nominally share the same nationality. As a class with a global vision, Street writes, "America's elite business class holds no particular attachment to the people, communities, health or even competitiveness of the United States per se."Nor does this global 1 Percent care about the environmental destruction it is wreaking...

Street's message is sober. The United States, he argues, exists somewhere between democracy and oligarchy: "a corporate-managed state-capitalist democracy that sells the narrow interests of the wealthy business and financial elite as the public interest, closes off critical and independent thought, and subjects culture, politics, policy, institutions, the environment, daily life, and individual minds to the often hidden and unseen authoritarian dictates of money and profit."

He advocates a "duty to struggle" to change the current status quo, because he writes, "what's most lacking on the left is not so much good policy and an alternative social vision" but the lack of a "an organized and independent social movement with the strength and determination to challenge the standard top-down corporate-managed game of politics and policy by capturing and channeling popular resolve."


Hiding the homeless

AT ITS annual awards ceremony last month, the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) honored New York City for leading the nation in reducing homelessness among veterans, apparently cutting it by 64 percent in just three years...The same month, advocacy groups celebrated a glowing report published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announcing that overall homelessness is declining nationally....

Yet many anti-homelessness advocates are skeptical, finding it difficult to square the sunny narrative with the moribund economy: Income inequality is the worst it has been since the Great Depression, unemployment is still high, and poverty is acute.

"When they say homelessness is going down, it depends who you're talking to," says Ralph da Costa Nunez, president of the Institute for Children Poverty and Homelessness. "Forty-five percent of this country is poor or near poor. Those are the federal government's statistics since the recession. And you're telling me that things are getting better for the people at the very bottom? I doubt it...

THE DISCREPENCY between the publicized results of the study and those kept buried in its pages is indeed striking, and points to a virtual cover-up of a crisis that the government does not truly intend to solve.

New York City may have less than half as many homeless veterans as it did three years ago, but its overall homeless population is hardly on the decline. Over the same period that veteran homelessness fell by nearly two-thirds, the total number of New Yorkers without permanent shelter spiked by one-third. The increase in families without a home was even higher, at 38 percent. Going back to 2002, this latter demographic has mushroomed by an astounding 80 percent...

New York City is not alone. Since 2011, Washington, D.C., has experienced a 21 percent decrease in homeless veterans, but a 41 percent increase in family homelessness and an 18 percent spike in the overall homeless population...

At fault for this distorted picture is a federal program called "Opening Doors," announced by President Obama in 2010 and which aims to end veteran and chronic homelessness by 2016 and family homelessness by 2020. For all other types of homelessness (like temporary homelessness among individuals), the plan aims to "set a path" to a solution.

The result has been a minor increase in funding accompanied by a reallocation of resources for local services. "We didn't really get more money or resources to address the problem," says Julie Dworkin, policy director at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. "All we've done is target specific groups."

HUD'S PROBLEM isn't just an inadequate estimate of the scope of homelessness. Nunez and his peers believe that one reason the federal government has targeted chronic and veteran homelessness is not because they are more severe than family homelessness, but because they are the most visible and therefore more separable from the broader issue of poverty. "What we have money for is to stop people from looking poor," Gowan says. "We don't want people out there wearing five layers of clothing and eating out of garbage cans because that shows off where our social policy is at."

Homeless families, who even HUD admits are becoming more prevalent, are largely invisible to the federal government. "In New York City," Nunez points out, "you have 25,000 kids in the shelter system and you have 80,000 homeless kids in the schools. So where are they coming from?"

But at the same time that the government has facilitated access to permanent shelter for a portion of the homeless, it continues to reduce its stock of subsidized housing for those who aren't, strictly speaking, homeless, which has lead to seemingly interminable wait lists. In Chicago, for example, the housing authority began accepting new applicants in October after four years of a closed wait list.

There are more empty houses in the U.S. than homeless people--many times over. Yet because these properties are largely privately owned, shelters have every reason to worry that the most needy are being sent back to the streets in order to accommodate families with access to alternative shelter.

Joe Willard, vice president of policy for the People's Emergency Shelter in Philadelphia laments that while his facility receives five to twenty-five requests for access every day, the beds in his shelter have been full, almost without exception, for the past four years. According to Willard, 48 percent of all daily requests for emergency homeless shelter in Philadelphia were turned down. (Willard, for the record, doesn't believe that homelessness is on the decline "by any stretch of the imagination."

That there is more than one open home for every one of the nation's homeless underscores the irrationality and immorality of capitalism, of which homelessness is a direct outgrowth. Despite all the bluster of Opening Doors, the Obama administration, like those before it, seems content with a cosmetic approach, its veneer of action facilitated by HUD's statistical underestimation of the crisis.

Homelessness will not be eradicated by engineering data or shifting around funds based on the prevailing definition of who is most deserving. As long as HUD's budget for building new public housing decreases, as long as housing isn't recognized as a right, the wait lists will grow along with housing insecurity...


How Benedict Cumberbatch's family made a fortune from slavery

High above Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, is a range of hills known locally as the ‘Scotland District’ ...Here...is a weather-beaten white stone archway announcing that you have arrived at the Cleland Plantation.

The owner, 66-year-old Stephen Tempro, has lived here since 1985, eking out a modest living from the small herds of cattle and goats...Mr Tempro and his wife, Jessie, also 66, eat and sleep in a four-bedroom colonial villa at the centre of the property, where they raised two grown-up children.

The one-storey building, believed to be almost 400 years old, is filled with antique furniture...With its high ceilings, wooden floors, and walls covered with peeling paint, it has what estate agents might describe as rustic charm....During almost half of its long history, the Cleland Plantation was home to 250 slaves, who lived and died in conditions of unimaginable brutality.

Their so-called home, throughout the 18th and early 19th century, was a giant bunk-house on a now-vacant plot fewer than 100 yards from Mr Tempro’s front door.

‘I sometimes think about what went on here, and it brings a tear to my eye,’ says Mr Tempro. ‘Thinking of the struggles of the people who occupied the place can be very emotional.’

Intriguingly, almost every single one of the brutal slave masters who held sway here boasted the same, highly-distinctive surname: Cumberbatch... The plantation was purchased in 1728 by Abraham Cumberbatch, Benedict’s seventh-great-grandfather. It remained in the family until slavery was abolished in the 1830s, when it was owned by Benedict’s great-great- great-grandfather, Abraham Parry Cumberbatch. Slavery built the Cumberbatch fortune, which at its height in the mid-18th century made them one of Britain’s wealthiest families, owning at least seven Barbados sugar plantations and a stately home near Taunton, Somerset.

The Cumberbatch family's planter digs in Barbados

Its proceeds, trickling down through generations, helped Benedict attend Harrow, the £33,000-a-year boarding school which has produced no fewer than seven British prime ministers.

Today, Cumberbatch, 37, is rightly horrified by his family’s dark history.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2549773/How-Benedict-Cumberbatchs-family-fortune-slavery-And-roles-films-like-12-Years-A-Slave-bid-atone-sins.html#ixzz3NhYq2P2O
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Yes. Bernard is horrified -- but he ain't giving up the money or his position in life, both of which derive from that horror more than any other single factor. (Even though he's a good actor IMO, if he'd been a nobody it's likely he'd have not gotten into the acting trade.)

Britain's colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after abolition

The true scale of Britain's involvement in the slave trade has been laid bare in documents revealing how the country's wealthiest families received the modern equivalent of billions of pounds in compensation after slavery was abolished.

The previously unseen records show exactly who received what in payouts from the Government when slave ownership was abolished by Britain – much to the potential embarrassment of their descendants. Dr Nick Draper from University College London, who has studied the compensation papers, says as many as one-fifth of wealthy Victorian Britons derived all or part of their fortunes from the slave economy.

As a result, there are now wealthy families all around the UK still indirectly enjoying the proceeds of slavery where it has been passed on to them. Dr Draper said: "There was a feeding frenzy around the compensation." A John Austin, for instance, owned 415 slaves, and got compensation of £20,511, a sum worth nearly £17m today. And there were many who received far more...

Among those revealed to have benefited from slavery are ancestors of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, former minister Douglas Hogg, authors Graham Greene and George Orwell, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the new chairman of the Arts Council, Peter Bazalgette. Other prominent names which feature in the records include scions of one of the nation's oldest banking families, the Barings, and the second Earl of Harewood, Henry Lascelles, an ancestor of the Queen's cousin. Some families used the money to invest in the railways and other aspects of the industrial revolution; others bought or maintained their country houses, and some used the money for philanthropy. George Orwell's great-grandfather, Charles Blair, received £4,442, equal to £3m today, for the 218 slaves he owned...

Dr Draper said: "Seeing the names of the slave-owners repeated in 20th‑century family naming practices is a very stark reminder about where those families saw their origins being from. In this case I'm thinking about the Hogg family. To have two Lord Chancellors in Britain in the 20th century bearing the name of a slave-owner from British Guiana, who went penniless to British Guyana, came back a very wealthy man and contributed to the formation of this political dynasty, which incorporated his name into their children in recognition – it seems to me to be an illuminating story and a potent example."

Mr Hogg refused to comment yesterday, saying he "didn't know anything about it". Mr Cameron declined to comment after a request was made to the No 10 press office...

Campaigning against slavery began in the late 18th century as revulsion against the trade spread. This led, first, to the abolition of the trade in slaves, which came into law in 1808, and then, some 26 years later, to the Act of Parliament that would emancipate slaves. This legislation made provision for the staggering levels of compensation for slave-owners, but gave the former slaves not a penny in reparation.

More than that, it said that only children under six would be immediately free; the rest being regarded as "apprentices" who would, in exchange for free board and lodging, have to work for their "owners" 40 and a half hours for nothing until 1840. Several large disturbances meant that the deadline was brought forward and so, in 1838, 700,000 slaves in the West Indies, 40,000 in South Africa and 20,000 in Mauritius were finally liberated.

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