Truthout Stories Sat, 01 Nov 2014 00:11:03 -0400 en-gb How to Buy a City: Chevron Spends $3 Million on Local California Election to Oust Refinery Critics

Also see: Chevron's "Company Town" Fights Back: An Interview With Gayle McLaughlin

The oil giant Chevron is being accused of attempting to buy the city government of Richmond, California. The company has spent more than $3 million to back a slate of pro-Chevron candidates for mayor and city council ahead of Tuesday’s election. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Chevron has paid for TV attack ads, purchased space on virtually every billboard in town, funded a flood of mailers and financed a fake “news” website run by a Chevron employee. The move comes two years after a massive fire at Chevron’s oil refinery in Richmond sent 15,000 residents to the hospital. It was the third refinery fire since 1989 in the city. The city of Richmond responded to the latest fire by suing Chevron, accusing officials of placing profits and executive pay over public safety. We speak to one of the politicians being targeted, outgoing Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. She was elected mayor of Richmond in 2006, becoming the first Green Party official to represent a city of more than 100,000. Due to mayoral term limits, McLaughlin is now running for Richmond City Council.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Richmond, California, where the oil giant Chevron is being accused of attempting to buy the city government. The company has spent more than $3 million to back a slate of pro-Chevron candidates for mayor and city council ahead of Tuesday’s election. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Chevron has paid for TV attack ads, purchased space on virtually every billboard in town, funded a flood of mailers, and financed a fake news website run by a Chevron employee.

The move comes two years after a massive fire at Chevron’s oil refinery in Richmond sent 15,000 residents to the hospital. It was the third refinery fire since 1989 in that city. The city of Richmond responded to the latest fire by suing Chevron, accusing officials of placing profits and executive pay over public safety. Now Chevron is attempting to defeat some of its critics in city government. Here is one recent political ad paid for by Chevron.

CHEVRON’S MOVING FORWARD AD: It seems like whenever Richmond faces a tough problem, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin packs her suitcase and flies away. When Richmond needed someone to fight crime, Gayle flew away to Ecuador. When Richmond needed someone to fix crumbling public housing, Gayle flew away to Cuba. When Richmond needed someone to attract new businesses and jobs, Gayle flew away to D.C. to try to free convicted foreign spies. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin ran away when we needed her the most. Why would we elect her to City Council?

AMY GOODMAN: An ad by Chevron’s campaign committee, Moving Forward, targeting Gayle McLaughlin. In 2006, she was elected mayor of Richmond, becoming the first Green Party official to represent a city of more than 100,000. She is now running for City Council. She was not allowed to run for a third term as mayor due to term limits. Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin now joins us from San Francisco.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you please explain this for a global audience that might not understand what is going on in Richmond right now, the extent to which Chevron is a player in your municipal elections?

MAYOR GAYLE McLAUGHLIN: Thank you, Amy. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Yes, what’s happening in Richmond now is that we have made remarkable—a remarkable transformation over the past 10 years since I’ve been in office, with other progressive electives and a progressive community. Previous to that, over the past hundred years, we were known as a company town, with Chevron having control of the City Council, having the City Council bought out, in their pockets. We had among the highest rates in the nation of violence. We were known for widespread corruption. You know, Richmond had the refinery, with a situation of allowing it to continue to pollute, without the refinery paying its fair share of taxes, without hiring locally, without upgrading the refinery in a responsible way in terms of having safety for our residents. In fact, they have thousands of clamps holding corroded pipes together. And that’s what led to the fire of 2012.

But at a certain point, in 2003—

AMY GOODMAN: And the fire and the extent of the damage caused by the fire?

MAYOR GAYLE McLAUGHLIN: —we formed a progressive alliance, and that RPA, Richmond Progressive Alliance, ran people for elected office. We won five local elections, including my mayoral seat. And we set about making the people’s priorities the focus of our work as elected officials.

And that has led to many, many gains. We won a $114 million tax settlement with Chevron. We’ve renovated our parks, many, many urban renewal projects. And we’ve reduced our crime dramatically, a 70 percent reduction in homicides. We are continuing to put forward sustainable projects—number one in the Bay Area for solar installed per capita. So, we’re spiraling up and reversing that downward spiral. And Chevron feels very threatened by that. They want to stop us as progressives. They want to continue and get and regain the City Council in their pockets. And so, we’re standing tall and making it clear that we’re a community that defines its own destiny and will continue to do so.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Mayor McLaughlin, I want to read from a statement Chevron made to MSNBC in response to reports of it spending $3 million in local elections this year. Quote, "The amount of money we spend to inform voters must be viewed in the context of the more than $500 million in local taxes, social investment and spending on local vendors from Chevron over the past five years, and our $90 million social and environmental commitment to the city that will follow once our $1 billion refinery modernization is allowed to proceed." Your response?

MAYOR GAYLE McLAUGHLIN: Yes, you know, yeah, sure, Chevron does some good things in the city of Richmond, but it comes at a price. First and foremost, they require all the money that they give to nonprofits to come with this requirement that these nonprofits utilize Chevron’s logo in their press releases, and they have press conferences where Chevron gets to do its PR campaign. So it comes at a price. Yes, we think those are good projects that they have contributed to, but it is no excuse for one domineering company to try and buy a city’s election.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the fire that led to your council and your government seeking redress from Chevron? Could you talk about the impact on your community?

MAYOR GAYLE McLAUGHLIN: Yes, the 2012 horrific fire caused great damage to our community. It was a situation where 15,000 people went to local hospitals for respiratory ailments. We had damages to our local economy in terms of our property values were lowered, and there was a slowdown in attraction of new businesses to Richmond. So we feel that there was, you know, a huge trauma and a huge impact on the health and the economic future of Richmond.

So we are taking them to court. We have a lawsuit. It’s the first-ever lawsuit that the city of Richmond has waged against Chevron. And we think we deserve a City Council that will stand strong and not drop this lawsuit. If Chevron-friendly candidates get into the City Council, we fear that’s exactly what will happen, the lawsuit will be dropped, or a very weak settlement will come about. We want to stand strong and get the kind of compensation that the community deserves. And we want to make it clear that Chevron’s corporate culture must change, that they must put the health and well-being of our community before their corporate profits.

AMY GOODMAN: Mayor, can you talk about the Richmond Standard website, which describes itself as a home of, quote, "community-driven news," but it is actually funded entirely by Chevron?

MAYOR GAYLE McLAUGHLIN: Yes, the Richmond Standard website tries to promote itself as a news website, but in fact it’s a public relations—Chevron public relations website. All the articles in there are Chevron-friendly articles. They’re articles that promote Chevron’s agenda. It is not anywhere near even a mainstream news service that pretends to be somewhat neutral. It is clearly a Chevron PR website.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. One of the tabs says "Chevron Speaks" on that website. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, mayor of Richmond, the Green mayor of the—she is the mayor of the largest—it’s the largest city, Richmond, to have a Green mayor. Her term is ending. She’s term-limited out, and she’s now running for the Richmond City Council. We’re going to continue with Green Party politics in a moment here in New York. Stay with us.

News Fri, 31 Oct 2014 11:42:31 -0400
Wind and Solar Create More Jobs When They're Locally Owned, Report Finds

At last month's People's Climate March, among the most popular signs were ones supporting renewable energy like wind and solar as the best way to avoid a climate catastrophe. And because of the urgency of the situation, it's easy to think that we should be building up renewables as much as we can.

But, from an economic point of view, it turns out that not all renewable energy is created equal.

One main difference is between energy generators that are locally owned and ones owned by some faraway entity, and a new report from the Institute of Self-Reliance presents the details. The report, written by Senior Researcher John Farrell, makes two main points: Locally owned renewable energy projects create more economic benefits than absentee-owned projects, and they are less likely to encounter community opposition. By enacting policies to support local renewables, Farrell argues, states and counties stand to gain thousands of jobs and millions of dollars.

Farrell's report presents striking data from an earlier study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which showed that wind power projects often provide twice as many jobs when they are locally owned. Farrell provides this example:

A 20-megawatt wind energy project built in Minnesota but owned by Spanish firm Iberdrola would add $20 million to the state's economy and create about 10 long-term jobs. But if that same project were owned by Minnesota farmers or Kandiyohi Power Cooperative, it would create 20 long-term jobs and generate as much as $68 million in economic activity for the state.

The benefit to a local economy depends on various aspects of a project, such as its size, location, and the amount of local labor and materials used.

Why do locally owned projects create more jobs per megawatt? The National Renewable Energy Laboratory gives three reasons: They are more likely to use local labor and materials, provide benefits to local shareholders, and borrow from local banks.

These economic benefits could also be the reason that neighboring communities are more likely to support renewable energy projects when they are locally owned. Farrell points to a study published in the journal Energy Policy in 2011 that looked at two German towns, each with a wind farm on its outskirts. The locally owned wind farm received far friendlier reception from neighbors than the absentee-owned wind farm.

Farrell says that seeing locally owned projects get built changes residents' impression of renewables and encourages them to think about how they can use renewable energy in their own lives.

"They realize this is real; it's not a fanciful notion," Farrell said. "People ask themselves 'I wonder if I could do that?'"

Barriers to local ownership

With all these benefits on the table, you would think local entrepreneurs would be starting up wind and solar projects across the country. Yet, in 2007, just 2 percent of wind projects in the United States were locally owned, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

It turns out that federal and state policies make it difficult for locally owned projects to get off the ground. The federal Solar Investment Tax Credit, for example, rewards developers of solar projects by lowering the amount they owe in taxes. But because the program doesn't provide any money up-front, it essentially requires entrepreneurs to have access to large amounts of capital before beginning a project.

While that may work for California's BrightSource Energy, which receives financing from companies like Google, Morgan Stanley, and Chevron Technology Ventures, it leaves most community owned projects behind. They can attempt to work around the rule by bringing in partners to provide capital—but these partners generally take a cut of the project's revenue and diminish its ability to grow.

Congress took a step forward in 2009 with the 1603 Treasury Program. This took the Section 48 Investment Tax Credit, which rewarded larger renewable energy businesses, and converted the tax credits into cash grants. That made it easier for locally owned renewable energy projects to grow, but then the program expired in 2011.

In some cases, policies are better at the state level. In Minnesota, the Community Based Energy Development statute (CBED) requires utilities to support locally owned renewable energy projects. The statute allows qualified candidates to charge higher rates for electricity in their first 10 years. This gives them the opportunity to get off the ground and has accelerated the growth and development of 100 MW of community-owned wind energy in Minnesota over the last nine years, Farrell reports.

Further west, a Colorado law established "community solar gardens" and obligated utilities to buy power from them. These "gardens" are arrays of solar panels that utility customers can own a share of. If the solar garden produces more energy than its shareholders can use, they get a share of the earnings after the excess power is sold to the utility.

Ultimately, Farrell's report points to exciting economic opportunities that are not too far out of reach. By enacting policies that encourage locally owned renewable energy projects, lawmakers can boost local and state economies while laying the foundation for a more stable climate.

News Fri, 31 Oct 2014 11:21:02 -0400
Ham Scramble: Southern Delicacy Companies Struggle to Replace Methyl Bromide

Mahogany and marbled, Sam Edwards' thinly-sliced ham melts in your mouth, with flavor that may rival even the finest European meats.

Once referred to as prosciutto's "redneck cousin," the South's country ham industry is undergoing a transformation. Often served with grits and gravy, country ham has become increasingly popular with chefs seeking a local alternative to European dry-cured meats.

The fate of the Southern delicacy, however, lies not on the fickle tongues of foodies, but with environmental regulators and an international treaty.

For more than 30 years, Edwards – like many country ham producers – has used a single chemical to keep critters from infesting high-value hocks. That chemical, methyl bromide, is being phased out under a 1987 United Nations treaty because it is one of the most potent compounds depleting the Earth's protective ozone layer.

The nation's country ham producers – about 50 companies – are hanging on as they scramble to find a pest-killing alternative.

The ham industry is exempted under the U.N.'s Montreal Protocol, but its annual allocations of methyl bromide are shrinking. Next year, its allowable use will decline 9 percent from the amount allowed this year.

"If you were to take methyl bromide away today, we couldn't produce our long-cured hams," said Edwards, a third-generation country ham producer in Surry, Va.

Gregg Rentfrow, a meat scientist at the University of Kentucky, said the process of creating country ham is a throwback to the way food was preserved before refrigeration. Producers rub sugar, salt and spices into the meat. Water is forced out of the fibrous tissue and the ham dry cures.

That drawn-out process gives the product a rich flavor, but also leaves it more susceptible to bug infestations than its quicker cousin, the wet-cured ham. Wet-cured, or "city ham," as Rentfrow calls it – think cold-cut slices sold at deli counters – is injected with a curing solution and takes only hours to complete.

Improved sanitary conditions have kept most critters out of many production facilities. "We don't see a lot of problems with bugs like we used to," Rentfrow said.

But some ham mites always sneak in, said Thomas Phillips, an entomologist at Kansas State University. "This group of pests co-evolved with human culture to specialize on stored food. They're very good at getting in," he said.

Not all country ham producers use methyl bromide. It's the longer-aged, high-quality niche products that are at stake in the search for pest control solutions.

Mite infestations begin when ham is aged around four months, said Wes Schilling, a Mississippi State University food scientist. Country ham is aged anywhere from about 50 days to four years.

"Methyl bromide was like a sledgehammer," Phillips said, adding that replacing it will take "a number of new tools in the pest control toolbox." Phillips and Mississippi State researchers are mounting a three-year, federally-funded study to come up with alternatives.

The chemical was first introduced as a fire suppressant in the late 1800s, and used in fire extinguishers until the 1960s, when it sickened workers. The ability of the gas to snuff out fires by filling up every nook and cranny also made it a desirable insecticide for fumigating soil, wooden shipping containers, grain elevators and ham hocks.

Ham producers fill a room of dry-curing meats with methyl bromide gas at first sign of a mite. "The rule is if I see even one in a room with 5,000 hams, I am supposed to fumigate," said Edwards, who uses the chemical three to eight times per year.

European producers, Edwards said, are allowed to have mites on their products during the dry-curing process, as long as they are removed before packaging and shipping. Some kill off mites by dipping their hams in hot olive oil, he said.

The phaseout of methyl bromide and other ozone-depleting chemicals has been hailed as a great success. In September, the United Nations reported that after 30 years, the ozone layer is finally starting to rebound.

But a few industries, for which governments deem "no technically or economically feasible alternatives exist," according to the treaty, are allowed to keep using the pesticide.

There's no timeline for when the ham exemptions will expire. Each year the EPA solicits applications for methyl bromide use. The U.S. government then nominates those exemptions to the countries that signed the Montreal Protocol. "The exemption period is intended to be limited and temporary to allow time for the development and implementation of alternatives," wrote Christie St. Clair, an EPA press officer, in response to questions.

Year-to-year applications make it difficult for producers such as Edwards, who cures some hams for up to four years, to plan for the future. Edwards grew up in the business, learning the art of dry-curing from his father and grandfather.

As methyl bromide has become scarcer, it's also become more expensive. The rising cost may cause some producers to phase it out before the government does, according to Rentfrow. It used to cost Edwards – who sells his Surryano ham for more than $3 per ounce – about $500 to fumigate a room, while it now costs nearly $2,000.

Candace Cansler, executive director of the National Country Ham Association, estimates that 50 companies make country hams, which comprise about 4 percent of all hams produced in the United States.

California strawberry growers are the biggest group still using methyl bromide. In 2015, they will be allowed to use about 370 metric tons. Country ham, in comparison, will be allowed about 3 metric tons. All uses amount to just a sliver of historical consumption. In 1991, the United States used more than 25,000 metric tons of the pesticide.

About 13 percent of California's strawberry fields are dependent upon methyl bromide. But exemptions for strawberry growers will end after 2016, according to David Doniger, director of the Climate and Clean Air Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C.

"Because nearly all ozone-depleting chemicals have been eliminated worldwide, the ozone layer is slowly mending, and millions of skin cancer deaths have been avoided," he said.

Experiments with two new mite-killing chemicals already widely used for treating grains and nuts have turned up mixed results. Phosphine gas killed mites in all stages of development, but it's also corrosive to copper and other metals used in heating and electrical wiring. The chemical did about $25,000 in damage in a trial run at Edwards' facility. Another option, sulfuryl fluoride, marketed as ProFume, killed adult mites but not eggs and larvae. Early trials have indicated that turning up the heat during fumigation may make ProFume more effective. However, sulfuryl fluoride is considered a potent greenhouse gas.

Phillips also has created bait stations, using pheromones to draw mites away from hams that are being tested in some ham facilities this year.

Researchers at Mississippi State are experimenting with gels and other food grade coatings made from seaweed to keep the mites off. "We're testing what it does to the quality and flavor profile of the ham," Schilling said.

So far, early tests of a new food grade coating have been promising, Edwards said. After four months, there were no mites and the flavor was "on the money," he said. They still need to test the coatings for about another year to see if they stand up to the challenge of his long-cured products.

For producers, a solution can't come fast enough.

"We want to be stewards of the planet," Cansler said, "but we also need to make a living and employ the people that work for us."

News Fri, 31 Oct 2014 11:06:16 -0400
Is Your Judge for Sale? Dark Money Groups Pour Millions Into Judicial Races to Reshape Courts

Also see: In Depth: How Big Business Buys State Courts

With the 2014 midterm elections just days away, we look at how anonymous donors are reshaping judicial races by pouring millions of dollars in "dark money" into races. Some donors see giving to the campaigns of judicial candidates as a way to get more influence, for less money than bankrolling legislative campaigns. A new investigation by Mother Jones magazine is headlined "Is Your Judge for Sale?: Thanks to Karl Rove and Citizens United, judicial elections have been overtaken by secretive interest groups, nasty ads, and the constant hustle for campaign cash." We speak to Andy Kroll, senior reporter for Mother Jones.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to the 2014 midterm elections, which take place Tuesday, and the increasingly outsized role played by groups that don’t disclose their donors. A new investigation zeroes in on this year’s judicial races, which have drawn unprecedented attention from dark-money donors that seek more influence, for less money, than bankrolling legislative campaigns.

AMY GOODMAN: The story is headlined "Is Your Judge for Sale?: Thanks to Karl Rove and Citizens United, judicial elections have been overtaken by secretive interest groups, nasty ads, and the constant hustle for campaign cash." We’re joined by its author, Andy Kroll, senior reporter for Mother Jones magazine.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Andy. You only have a few minutes. Lay out what you found.

ANDY KROLL: Well, what we’ve seen is that judicial elections have become another playground for the same kind of business interests and huge spenders and anonymous donors that we’re seeing in presidential races and congressional races up and down the ticket. And our judicial elections used to be a more sleepy corner of American politics, and obviously the dynamic is different, if we’re electing the arbiters of the law. But times have changed, and Citizens United has really begun to change the landscape in this place.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And could you explain, Andy Kroll, why these judicial races are so important?

ANDY KROLL: Well, there’s a lot at stake, obviously. I mean, these Supreme Court justices and other state-level justices decide judgments against business interests. They have a role in social issues like marriage equality. And as large forces from corporate America, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for instance, have gotten more involved, they have tried to tilt the courts in a way that are more pro-business to try to avoid these multi-hundred-million-dollar or billion-dollar judgments that can be handed down against businesses around the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Andy Kroll, talk about the role of Karl Rove.

ANDY KROLL: Karl Rove is, you know, really one of the pioneers, if you will, when it comes to judicial elections in Texas. In the late ’80s and ’90s, Rove helped flip the Texas Supreme Court from being a traditionally Democratic bench to a fervently Republican one. Rove was also sort of the mind behind the so-called tort reform effort, this effort saying that plaintiffs were sort of out of control, the hot-coffee incident, which has become more of a myth, really, than reality. Rove helped create that model, show how business interests could flip a Supreme Court in Texas. It was exported to Alabama some years later and then has since become a playbook around the country.

AMY GOODMAN: What most shocked you in your reporting, if you can give us a few quick examples of the role in money in judicial races?

ANDY KROLL: Sure. One example in 2004 in Illinois that sticks out, the insurance company State Farm is hit with a more than a billion-dollar judgment. And then, in the years that follow, the company and its allies, its tort reform, again, allies, you know, allegedly—it appeared to have vetted, picked out a candidate for a Illinois Supreme Court race, and funded to the tune of millions of dollars this candidate, got him elected. And then, when State Farm’s appeal of this billion-dollar judgment gets to the Supreme Court, this justice casts the vote overturning that incredibly big judgment.

Another finding that really stood out was how we are seeing—potentially seeing the use of soft-on-crime attack ads in judicial races, I mean, and how—I mean, this is a common bludgeon against candidates in races, even when the business interests are the main players—soft on crime, weak on the death penalty. And what we’ve seen, and what Justice—Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has written about, is that this is perhaps having an effect on judges in states around the country who are more inclined to, say, overturn jury ruling, like in a state like Alabama, and approve the death penalty, and less inclined to overturn a death penalty judgment. So judges being—thinking about, you know, "They’re going to be weak on crime, so I’m going to be tougher with death penalty."

AMY GOODMAN: Andy Kroll, we have to leave it there, but we’re going to link to your piece. Andy Kroll is senior reporter for Mother Jones. "Is Your Judge for Sale?" is his piece.

I’ll be speaking in Oslo, Norway, on Saturday. Check our website at for our special election coverage Tuesday night.

News Fri, 31 Oct 2014 11:12:17 -0400
Driving Government Out of Business

Republican operative Grover Norquist used to quip about shrinking government to the point where it would get small enough to drown in the bathtub. You probably thought he was kidding.

His joke could be on us all soon enough. Pollsters say the Republican Party is likely to nab at least a slim Senate majority in this year’s mid-term elections. And The Washington Post gives Republicans a 99 percent chance of retaining their firm control over the House of Representatives.

The GOP's Sharp Teeth, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

The GOP’s Sharp Teeth, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

If the experts are getting these forecasts right, the GOP will completely dominate Congress for the first time in eight years. What could go wrong?

Well, a lot. For starters, consider these four pillars of public service that the Republican Party will try to send down the drain.

First, there’s Social Security. Their game is to gradually chip away at the nation’s primary retirement benefit program and then privatize it when it runs into trouble. Scores of Social Security offices around the country have already closed even though record numbers of people are turning 65, setting the stage for failure.

Then, there’s what passes for affordable health care in the United States. Despite the Republicans’ sneering over “Obamacare,” their backers in the health insurance industry love its requirement that everyone must get one of their plans. Next up on the GOP agenda: replacing Medicare with a voucher system.

And don’t forget the public schools. Many Republicans are heeding a push by billionaires to jam as many pupils as possible into charter and online K-12 schools. That means taxpayers are increasingly paying private businesses to educate their kids at ostensibly public facilities. And do kids learn more at brick-and-mortar charters or virtual schools? In a word, nope.

Finally, Republicans are tampering with your mail. The U.S. Postal Service is losing money because Congress forced it to pay upfront for future retirement benefits — unlike any other agency — creating the illusion that it’s on a shaky footing. This started the last time the GOP controlled both chambers, when lawmakers produced the cynically named Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. If Republicans recover their majority in both chambers, this absurd law would be sure to stay on the books.

There’s nothing new about trying to replace government services with private ones or substituting contract workers for government employees. And the GOP doesn’t always act on its own. Plenty of Democrats are joining with their colleagues across the aisle to accomplish at least some of these maneuvers.

The difference today is money.

Thanks to a string of Supreme Court decisions, corporations and wealthy individuals may contribute nearly limitless amounts of money to political campaigns. Later, they demand favorable policies when their candidates win.

The result? Social Security, schools, affordable health care, the postal service, and other essential government operations all suffer as the private sector extracts ever larger profits from the public realm.

Grover Norquist has compelled most Republican politicians to swear off raising the tax revenue that might cover the cost of delivering essential public services. Is this what Norquist envisioned before he conjured up his his anti-tax pledge? Probably.

Opinion Fri, 31 Oct 2014 11:01:13 -0400
Is OCA's "Traitor" Boycott Working?

It's boycott time again.

With less than two weeks to go before voters in Oregon and Colorado decide on ballot initiatives to require mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the Junk Food Giants are at it again.

According to the latest numbers provided by the pro-labeling campaigns (as of October 22, 2014), the opposition in Oregon has raised $16.5 million to defeat Measure 92, while opponents of Colorado's Proposition 105 have raised $14.3 million.

Monsanto is the largest donor to both campaigns, with combined donations totaling approximately $8.8 million. While Dow has spent only $668,000 in both states, DuPont Pioneer has dumped a combined whopping $7.46 million into the opposition's war chests in Colorado and Oregon.

But apart from Monsanto, and now DuPont Pioneer, the most prolific donors to the campaigns intent on defeating the Oregon and Colorado GMO labeling initiatives have been large, multinational food corporations. Many of these corporations own organic and "natural" brands—brands we've been asking consumers to boycott ever since Big Food helped defeat Proposition 37, California's citizen-led GMO labeling initiative, in 2012.

Has the boycott strategy worked?

Aside from a couple of exceptions, the "Traitor" Boycott hasn't kept Big Food from continuing to spend millions to block GMO labeling campaigns. But there's evidence that the reputations, and in some cases, revenues, of some of the natural and organic brands have suffered. And even more evidence to suggest that some of those brands' parent companies, including big anti-labeling donors Coca-Cola and General Mills, are struggling to overcome declining profits and consumer distrust.

This much is clear: It's time to step up the pressure on all of the brands owned by companies that are pouring millions of dollars into defeating your right to know.

Big Food Would Rather Fight than Switch

The big, multinational food companies are pouring millions into fighting GMO labeling laws for one reason—to protect the profits they make by selling products loaded with cheap, GMO ingredients like hydrogenated cooking oils, sugar (from genetically engineered beets), high fructose corn syrup and trans fats.

GMOs are the feedstock for junk food. Even though these corporations make GMO-free versions of many of their brands, for sale in countries that require labeling of GMO ingredients, here in the U.S., companies are digging in their heels to avoid reformulating popular junk food brands.

With 93 percent of Americans in favor of GMO labeling laws, has Big Food's very expensive, very public anti-labeling support made the companies' brands less appealing to consumers?

Let's take a look at a few of the top funders of anti-labeling campaigns.

Coca-Cola: The headlines say it all. "Have a Coke and a...Nevermind," wrote a blogger at Barron's this week. "Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors," according to Slate. Coke's third-quarter net income was down a staggering 14 percent, compared with the previous year. The company's answer to consumers' lack of interest in its product? Its "Share a Coke" campaign, launched in June. The "mass personalization" campaign aims to make people more eager to buy Coke, by putting "ordinary names" on Coke cans and bottles. Nice try, but as one reporter wrote, "Investors waiting for Coca-Cola's fundamentals to turn around will need strong stomachs." Coke donated $3.2 million to defeat Prop 37 and I-522, and despite its recent financial woes, has so far contributed a total of $2.27 million to the NO on 92 and NO on Prop 105 campaigns.

General Mills: Following a "bleak" fourth quarter, General Mills recently announced a two-year plan to cut costs by $100 million by, among other things, closing two plants and slashing 700-800 jobs. The struggling cereal-maker took a couple of steps this year to try to woo health-conscious consumers. In January 2014, the Minneapolis-based company announced that its Cheerios brand would be GMO-free. (The company said none of its other brands would follow suit and, in September, shareholders unanimously rejected a proposal to dump GMOs from all General Mills products). Just this week, General Mills finalized its acquisition of Annie's Naturals, a move aimed at boosting sales by capturing a piece of the growing organic sales pie. Annie's reported 20-percent sales growth in fiscal year 2013. But according to Sustainable Food News, the organic favorite recently reported a first-quarter net loss of $1.1 million, and a 45-percent decline in sales "due to inventory reductions by its largest customer." The Organic Consumers Association added Annie's to the boycott list, after the acquisition was announced. General Mills donated a total of $3.2 million to defeat Prop 37 and I-522, and has contributed $1.5 million so far in an attempt to block GMO labeling initiatives in Oregon and Colorado.

Kellogg's: Whether it's lack of consumer interest in cereals, or growing concern about the ingredients in those cereals—or a reputation tarnished by lawsuits and the company's support of anti-labeling campaigns—either way, Kellogg's isn't doing a lot better than General Mills. According to the Motley Fool: "Sales in Kellogg's biggest division, U.S. breakfast foods, fell 5 percent last quarter. Worse still, operating profit from that product line was down 20 percent through the first six months of the year." Kellogg's doesn't rank high in the trust department among consumers who favor transparency in labeling. Earlier this year, the Battle Creek, Mich., company paid $5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit for falsely labeling Kashi products as "All Natural" or "Nothing Artificial." Kellogg's has contributed a total of $1.85 million to defeat GMO labeling initiatives.

Hershey's: The Hershey brand itself is healthy, at least among children and teens, according to the latest Piper Jaffray "Young Love" survey, which ranked Hershey's second only to iPad. Still, sales are down and the chocolate-maker is looking to the acquisition of Shanghai Golden Monkey Food Company, a leading confectionary in China, to help revive them. Hershey's donated $800,000 to defeat California's Prop 37 and Washington's I-522, and another $500,000 to defeat this year's initiatives in Oregon and Colorado. The company has only one organic brand on the "Traitor" Boycott list—Dagoba.

Pepsi-Co: One giant corporation heavily invested in defeating consumers' right to know, but still apparently thriving, is Pepsi-Co. Across-the-board sales of soda are down. But analysts say the company's financial strength is due in large part to strong sales of its Doritos and Frito-Lay brands. One Pepsi brand that isn't thriving is Naked Juice (also on our Traitor Boycott list). In August, Pepsi settled a $9 million lawsuit for using phrases like "100% Juice," "100% Fruit," "From Concentrate," "All Natural," "All Natural Fruit," "All Natural Fruit + Boosts" and "Non-GMO" to describe its "healthy" Naked Juice line. Pepsi is one of the biggest donors to anti-labeling campaigns, having contributed $4.8 million in California and Washington, and $3 million in Oregon and Colorado.

Two companies that previously donated to anti-labeling campaigns have been missing-in-action in Oregon and Colorado. Unilever, owner of Ben & Jerry's, donated $467,000 to help defeat Prop 37 in California, but sat out the battle over I-522 in Washington. The global food company hasn't directly donated to anti-labeling campaigns in Oregon and Colorado. But Unilever is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a donor to all anti-labeling campaigns, and party to a lawsuit against Vermont aimed at overturning the state's new GMO labeling law, passed earlier this year.

Nestlé, owner of Gerber Organic and also a member of the GMA, contributed a total of $3 million to defeat California and Washington State initiatives. So far the company hasn't shown up on the list of donors to anti-labeling campaigns in either Oregon or Colorado.

Did consumer pressure cause Unilever and Nestlé to back off in Oregon and Colorado? We can't prove that. But we do know that it was fear of consumer backlash, following California's Prop 37 campaign, that led the GMA to illegally launder millions in donations to the NO on I-522 campaign the following year, in Washington, in order to shield food corporations.

What about the organic and natural 'Traitor' brands?

Organic Consumers Association first launched the "Traitor" Boycott, in 2012, on the premise that the more than one million consumers in our network don't buy products like Coke, Diet Pepsi and Fruit Loops—but they do buy organic and natural brands owned by Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Co and Kellogg's.

Initial response was strong. Consumers signed petitions, harassed brands on social media, called customer hotlines.

Especially encouraging were the trends we found, in the year immediately following the loss of Prop 37 in California, as we researched organic and natural health stores for our top Right to Know Grocer's Contest. A significant number of store owners and managers told us at the time that they were discounting and/or eliminating not only products containing GMOs, but organic (non-GMO) products owned by the parent companies of big donors who opposed California's GMO labeling initiative.

For example, a manager at Eugene, Ore.-based Sundance Natural Foods, told us in early 2013:

"Our policy is to investigate the business practices of parent companies. If a brand line of organics happens to be owned by a multinational or national brand identified as a "traitor brand", we do a practices and policy analysis of the subsidiary company in relation to the practices of the parent company. If we feel that the parent company exerts undue influence on the practices of the organic line, we then begin to phase out or search for ways to reduce brand representation on or shelves."

This week, we checked back with Sean O'Hare at Florida-based Sunseed Natural Foods Co-Op, to ask if the store continues to phase out brands owned by anti-labeling donors, and he confirmed that's the case. He said Sunseed has replaced some of those brands with alternative "brands with integrity."

Did all this consumer outrage and responsive (and responsible) buying by retailers have an impact?

According to April 2014 SPINS data, brands that contributed to campaigns opposing Proposition 37 and I-522 showed a 0.02-percent decline during the first three months of 2014, compared with same-period sales in 2013. Sales of brands that supported Prop 37 and I-522 grew at an average rate of 9.9 percent during the same three-month period. (Source: Sales data from SPINS, an independent information provider for the Natural and Organic industry. 12-week period ending 3/23/2014 versus the same period year prior).

One inside source at a major organic retail chain estimated a 20-percent decrease in sales of "Traitor" brands.

So, is the "Traitor" Boycott working?

We believe it is, as consumers pay more and more attention to GMO labeling initiatives, and who's spending how much to defeat them. We also believe that by drawing attention to the parent companies of the "Traitor" brands, we're slowly chipping away at those company images and brands.

Maybe not every brand. Maybe not every company.

But consumers are having an impact. And there's no better time than now, while the money is still pouring into anti-labeling campaigns in not one, but two states, to renew the boycott pledge.

*Top donors to Colorado's No on 105 Campaign
Monsanto, $4.7 million
DuPont/Pioneer, $3.04 million
Pepsico, $1.65 million
Coca-Cola, $1.1 million
Kraft Foods, $1.03 million
General Mills, $820,000
The Hershey Co., $380,000
J.M. Smucker Co., $345,000
Dow Agrosciences, a Dow Chemical Company, $300,000
Kellogg Co., $250,000
Conagra Foods, $250,000
Flowers Food Inc., $250,000
Smithfield Foods, $200,000
(*Source: No on 105 Campaign)

*Top donors to Oregon's NO on 92 Campaign
Monsanto – $4.8 million
Dupont/Pioneer - $4.46 million
Pepsi - $1.4 million
Coke - $1.17 million
Kraft – $870,000
Land O'Lakes - $760,000
General Mills – $695,000
Kelloggs – $500,000
Dow - $368,300
Hershey - $320,000
Smuckers' – $295,000
ConAgra - $250,000
(*Source: Oregon Secretary of State website)

Opinion Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:32:28 -0400
Chevron's "Company Town" Fights Back: An Interview With Gayle McLaughlin

Amidst all the noise of this year's midterms, in the middle of all the charges and countercharges, attack ads and spin control, barnstorming and whistlestopping, one of the most interesting and significant elections in the country is happening not at the state or federal level but in the small city of Richmond, California, population just over 100,000.

What makes Richmond such a big deal is the enormous influence of Chevron, the multinational energy company that keeps a problematic oil refinery in the city — problematic in the sense of its tendency not only to generate handsome revenues but leaks, fires and explosions, too. Complaints about its environmental impact have built for decades.

Chevron was accustomed to dominating the economy and politics of Richmond, treating it like an old-fashioned company town, but in 2007, Gayle McLaughlin, candidate of the Green Party, became mayor. She and her allies on the city council began calling Chevron out, especially after a 2012 refinery fire that sent 15,000 people off to area hospitals for treatment.

This year, Gayle McLaughlin is not running again for mayor but seeks a seat on the city council. Chevron has pulled out the stops, spending some $3 million – an unheard of amount for a small, local election – to campaign against McLaughlin and her slate, and to use its corporate clout in support of more business-friendly, opposition candidates.

Chevron and the Moving Forward political alliance it underwrites say they're just protecting the company's interests in Richmond, and are dedicated to preserving the city's "quality of life." Mayor McLaughlin and progressives around the country point to Chevron's well-heeled electioneering as a textbook example of big money co-opting politics and taking over government. We spoke with Mayor McLaughlin as she took a short break from the final days of campaigning.


Michael Winship: I'm talking with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Richmond, California. Now, you're term limited as mayor, so after eight years in office, you're running for city council instead. Why did you decide to continue seeking public office?

Gayle McLaughlin: Well, I'll tell you, in the last 10 years that I've been in elected office, Richmond has undergone a remarkable transformation. We're a low-income, urban, very diverse city with many, many needs. We have 27 percent African-American, 40 percent Latino, 13 percent Asian, 20 percent Caucasian. And one in four of our residents are immigrants. So we have a city with much diversity, which is our strength, but we also have many, many needs. And we've been ruled as a city for a hundred years by the Chevron Corporation, because Chevron did control the council. And as recently as the 1990s, a Chevron executive had a desk in the former city manager's office. So until recently, we were known as a company town and this company, Chevron, doesn't hire locally, it's the number one polluter, it doesn't pay its fair share of taxes and it's run their refinery with thousands of corroded pipes ready to explode like what happened in August of 2012 when there was a horrific fire that sent 15,000 people to local hospitals. So this company rule was allowed to happen because Chevron had the city council in its pockets. And so we put forward a progressive movement to run local progressive candidates with our pledge not to take a penny from corporations for our campaigns. And we won five local elections, including the mayor's seat. And when we won, we made sure the people's priorities became the priorities of our time in office. And so we've accomplished so much, including breathing better air, reducing the pollution and building a cleaner environment and cleaner jobs, and reducing our crime rate. Our homicide number is the lowest in 33 years and we became a leading city in the Bay Area for solar installed per capita. We're a sanctuary city. And we're defending our home owners to prevent foreclosures and evictions. And we also got Chevron to pay $114 million extra dollars in taxes. So this all came through community pressure. So we've recognized these great results. But we know there's so much more to do. We still have 18 percent poverty, we need to continue reducing our crime and we have to continue reducing unemployment, it's still higher than the national average, even though we cut it in half. And we just have a lot of future work in terms of building community schools and saving our local hospital. So that's why I chose to run for city council even though I'm termed out as mayor. I'm just deeply committed to continuing our transformational work and that means standing up for our residents against the attacks by Chevron and Wall Street and all those that would put profits before our gains. So that led me to where I am right now in the middle of this campaign.

Winship: Can you tell me some more about the 2012 fire? What exactly happened and how much damage was done?

McLaughlin: Right, yes, there was a horrific explosion that occurred in August of 2012 at the refinery, due to a corroded pipe, that send a toxic plume over our heads throughout Richmond and throughout the neighboring cities. Fifteen thousand people went to local hospitals for respiratory ailments. And it was frankly a very traumatic experience for all of us in Richmond. Chevron was eventually charged with criminal neglect and pleaded no contest to the charges. It's clear that their poor maintenance practices and safety practices were what led to this fire. In fact, workers had sought out solutions to these piping issues and talked about these pipes needing replacement but management had disregarded the warnings that the workers were putting out there. So this fire was really a clear-cut example of a corporate culture putting its profits first before all else. And we need to change that. This refinery, the Richmond Chevron refinery, produces 10 percent of Chevron's global revenue and yet it puts only one quarter of one percent into its maintenance.

Winship: Chevron paid $2 million in fines and restitution, but your city also sued.

McLaughlin: Yes. Chevron, of course, states the suit is without merit and that's what they'll always do, and manufacture lies in its own defense. But we have the opportunity to make this lawsuit gain substantial damages for the impact to our city, to community, for the impact to our health, to our economy, because we had lower property values and we had a slowdown in business attraction. But I also see this lawsuit as a counter-pressure to the corporate culture which is trying so hard to dominate 100 percent of our lives. So we really, really think this is pressure on them to put the health and safety of our residents before its corporate profits.

Winship: So your feeling is that part of Chevron's response to all of this has been this $3 million they're spending running against you and your slate.

McLaughlin:Absolutely, Chevron's been spending more and more money every election year polluting our democracy, trying to pull the wool over the eyes of our residents, but this year they've pulled out all the stops, $3 million plus. Some are saying by the end of the election it will be more like $4 million. But it's really obscene to be spending that amount of money on a city of 104,000 people. But they're mad at us in the progressive movement because we stand up to them. We work with a mobilized community to make gains on our own behalf. And we've gained a lot. We've gained that $114 million tax settlement based on the people's desire for fair taxation. But as I said, there's more to do. They are the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the State of California, this Richmond Chevron refinery. And so they want councilmembers that will allow them to continue to pollute, to continue to emit greenhouse emissions and who will not push for further taxation from them. And of course, they want the council of the future that they are trying to get on board with this election, they want that council to drop the lawsuit or settle for peanuts.

Winship: They say that the money that they're putting into the campaign "Supports city leaders who share our commitment to policies that foster an economic environment where businesses can thrive and create jobs" and that the amount of money they're spending has to be put in the context of the more than $500 million in local taxes, social investment and spending on local vendors, that they've done, that's their response.

McLaughlin: Right. Well, Chevron's investment in our city always comes at a price. They do some good investments and some of their volunteers are out doing good work at various community events but regardless of positive contributions, that is no argument for letting one company control our city council, and that's indeed what they're trying to do.

Winship: What have their specific campaign tactics been in this election?

McLaughlin: Well, they have done so, so very much in terms of just inundating our mailboxes and our airwaves and our billboards with their candidates, highlighting and putting out lies and misinformation about who their candidates are and attacking myself and other progressives running. I'm running as part of a team called Team Richmond and we're working very hard and we've done so much already and yet Chevron is putting out blatant lies about us. So people are getting pretty, pretty clear on what's happening, because the level of overkill is just outrageous. Driving through Richmond, seeing the billboards all over, makes you pretty aware of the fact that there's an attempt to buy our election. So it's a very strange phenomenon if you will, when you're living in a country that was founded on the principles of democracy.

Winship: Their ads, their TV ads are very, very highly produced and they've gone after you specifically on your out-of-town travel.

McLaughlin: Right. I took three trips overseas, out of eight years. It was a total of 22 days. That's out of nearly 3,000 days that make up eight years. These trips were, one was to Mondragón, Spain to learn about worker-owned co-ops. It was a five-day trip. I learned a lot and came back to Richmond and helped to promote and implement worker co-ops here in Richmond.

I also, and this particular trip is one that Chevron was very upset about, I took a five-day trip to Ecuador to learn about the contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest by Chevron Texaco, and I saw the massive contamination and the harm that the indigenous and farmer communities suffered, and that Chevron is not rising to its accountability in regards to. So they were not too happy about my doing that, but I think it's important to learn from other communities that have also suffered at the hands of this oil giant.

And then I did make an official trip to our sister city in Cuba, which is something we hadn't done in 14 years, and we were very excited to learn from that experience and share some of our gains and learn from Cuba some of the wonderful gains they have made.

Winship: You've fought back with a grassroots organizing campaign, is that correct?

McLaughlin: Yes. Well, we've fought back as we always do, with authentic relationship building in the community. We go door to door, we go to the community events and build that real authentic relationship, something Chevron can't do. They do paid canvassers. Many of them are from outside of Richmond, don't know the issues. They're simply given a script, and when questioned, they simply just don't know the issues and aren't there to build relationships. But we are, and all our work is to build that community sense of empowerment. And we have done so much good work in that regard already, and we want to make sure every resident is part of this empowerment movement that we have going forward.

Winship: Now, you've also, in addition to Chevron, you've also gone up against the banks and the real estate interests.

McLaughlin: Yes. And we really have to continue helping our struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure with innovative solutions, and that's what this program that we call the CARES Program — it's seeking to acquire underwater mortgages, either voluntarily or using our tool of eminent domain as a city—

Winship: You're the first city to have done that, the eminent domain plan?

McLaughlin: We're the first city to have really moved the program forward. We have yet to actually take or acquire a mortgage through eminent domain, but we have the city council's support in doing this. We're seeking other cities to join us. And of course, yes, Wall Street is all up in arms, as are all the big banks and lobbyists for them, and we just believe strongly that standing up against these big entities is important, because otherwise they, like Chevron, have monopoly control, in this case, of the financial industry. So we're working hard on that. We think it's an innovative solution, and we think the needs of our residents, who were harmed greatly by the foreclosure crisis, by the housing crisis, to a great extent by predatory lending practices. So we think it's really important to stand strong against the big banks and provide a way for homeowners to have a sustainable life and our neighborhoods to be sustained, and our local economy is sustained as well when you avoid foreclosure and those empty homes that attract crime.

Winship: You also passed a minimum wage ordinance, is that correct?

McLaughlin: Yes, we did. We passed a minimum wage, which is the highest in the State of California so far. It's a phased-in approach. It will go up to $13-an-hour in 2018. We did it because we know that the real value, the buying power of the minimum wage is really outrageous. It's lower than what the buying power of the minimum wage was in the 1970s. So we believe our families should have, and all workers should have a right to have their needs met for their hard work. So we think that there's opportunities for raising it even more and faster and still be competitive in the region, so that's what I'm looking forward to.

Winship: Tell me a little bit about you. How did you get involved in politics?

McLaughlin: Well, I come from a working class family in Chicago. My whole adult life, I've worked as an activist, as a community organizer. I've taught kids and tutored special needs kids at various times. I guess I'm just a regular person trying to live a decent life with my husband and my neighbors, and I believe in the values and the principles that our country was founded on and I'd like to see them implemented. So that's kind of what has motivated me to move into the realm of political office, and I just have a real fierce commitment to our democracy. So I know it's at risk right now with the destructive influence of corporate money, and that keeps me going, and I'm just really proud to be a part of this struggle. Because it is a struggle, and it is actually quite an exciting time to be alive, because we're making history. So I'm very proud to be a part of this effort.

Winship: Now, there's a new report just out yesterday from the Center for Responsive Politics, their, that overall spending for these midterms will be probably $3.7 billion or more, and that, although that's not all that much more than the 2010 midterms, it does represent a case where the mega donors are contributing a lot more of that money. How do you continue to fight back against that, win or lose on Tuesday?

McLaughlin: Well, I'm actually very optimistic about the future. Like I said, I think it's a great time to be alive, because we do have a growing movement and we've shown that it can be done in Richmond. We're in a fight to determine our own destiny, and in the case of Richmond, Chevron would like to manipulate people to fall in line and place the role of the corporation as the key entity in determining a city and community's future. So I'm very much looking forward to winning this David versus Goliath fight that we have going on here in Richmond. And we know that many eyes are upon us who look to Richmond as an example of what can happen when people stand united and tall against corporate power. So we don't want to let ourselves down, we don't want to let others down, and we think with that driving us, we just can't help but win.

Winship: Mayor McLaughlin, thank you so much for this.

McLaughlin: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

News Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:02:14 -0400
Before the Zombie Apocalypse - These Four Trade Deals Were Ravaging the World

2014 1031yes 1

This time of year, the fabric that separates our world from prowling ghouls is at its thinnest. But what really keeps us at YES! Magazine up at night are the international trade agreements constantly being negotiated by the United States and its partners—each one more terrifying than the last.

How can something as pleasant-sounding as “free trade” be more threatening than a zombie apocalypse? The devil’s in the details, and the fine print on some of these agreements is enough to curdle a bucket of blood.

Whether it’s blocking a ban on chocolate-flavored cigarettes marketed to kids, or rolling back post-2008 regulations on Wall Street, these deals have a way of favoring corporations over people. They’re not popular, as you might imagine, and in some cases people’s movements have been able to stop them in their tracks. In response, proponents of the deals have attempted to slip under the radar by conducting negotiations in secret.

Here are four of the scariest deals—and why they're so abominable.

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The World Trade Organization, created in 1995 as a re-imagining of an earlier group called the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, is the mother of all trade bodies and sets the rules for the flow of goods and services between countries. The WTO claims its goal is to “improve the welfare of the peoples of the member countries.” But critics say what it really does is force poor nations to open their markets to wealthier ones, who themselves often bend the WTO’s rules.

The WTO also gives companies a place to complain about regulations enacted by democratically elected governments. It has found fault with laws protecting public health, the environment, workers' rights, and other things that would affect industries’ bottom line. Recent rulings have objected to producers labeling certain kinds of tuna as “dolphin safe;” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ban on sweet-flavored cigarettes that entice kids; and labels that inform consumers what country meat products originated in. The WTO says such labels violate the rights of Mexican and Canadian farmers to a level playing field. The United States sometimes refuses to comply—but risks trade sanctions when it does so.

Perhaps most frightening of all, the WTO (along with NAFTA) has spawned a whole new brood of bilateral and regional deals that take the same approach to trade and development.

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The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, if approved, would promote trade between the United States and the European Union.

The deal has some bright spots—for example, it would universalize the plugs for electric cars. But American negotiators are also pushing hard to overturn Europe’s ban on imports of U.S.-grown genetically modified crops. Meanwhile, European negotiators and bankers are trying to set Wall Street free from regulations passed after the financial crisis of 2008. According to the nonprofit research group Public Citizen, they want to roll back the Volcker Rule, which restricts U.S. banks from the riskiest investments, and to block efforts to limit the size of banks.

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When President Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada in 1993, he sold it to the people of the United States as a job creator. “NAFTA means jobs,” he said. “American jobs, and good-paying American jobs.”

More than 20 years later, the agreement’s dark side is showing. The U.S. government’s own Trade Adjustment Assistance program acknowledges that nearly 900,000 workers in the United States have officially lost their jobs due to the relocation of businesses to Canada or Mexico under NAFTA. Meanwhile, exports of cheap U.S. corn have damaged the livelihoods of Mexican farmers and driven huge waves of migration. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of Mexican-born people living in the United States more than doubled from 4.5 million to 9.8 million.

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The Trans Pacific Partnership, if approved, would unite 12 Pacific Rim countries into the world’s largest free trade area, comprising 40 percent of the global economy. When he spoke about the TPP in 2011, President Barack Obama, who has made the deal's passage a major objective of his administration, sounded a lot like Clinton in 1993. Obama said the deal “will boost our economies, lowering barriers to trade and investment, increasing exports, and creating more jobs for our people.”

But leaked sections of the agreement’s secret text show the TPP taking more controversial stances—and it has its tentacles on a breathtaking variety of issues. On health care, U.S. negotiators seem to be working at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry, trying to extend the rights of patent-holders to charge more money for medicines. On labor, the TPP makes it easier for companies to move manufacturing to low-wage Vietnam, but offers no enforceable provisions to prevent abuse. On the environment, it preserves the status quo, doing little to prevent the illegal logging and overfishing that are taxing the forests and oceans of the region.

Last but not least, advocates of a free Internet are up in arms over sections in the TPP’s intellectual property chapter they say would significantly diminish the free speech rights of web users.

Opinion Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:46:38 -0400
Disposable Life: Jean Franco

Drawing upon her extensive understanding and personal experience of the Latin American region, Specialist Jean Franco maps out the history of state violence as perpetrated against disposable populations, notably indigenous, onto the privatization of atrocity in more contemporary times and what this means for normalizing a fatalistic politics that destroys hope and political transformation.

Jean Franco. (Screengrab: Disposable Life)Jean Franco. (Screengrab: Disposable Life)“If you think of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia there were war crime tribunals set up because of atrocities in those places. Those atrocities were absolutely no worse than the atrocities perpetrated in Latin America, and the hand behind the perpetrators was the United States,” says Jean Franco.

Launched in January 2014, the histories of violence “Disposable Life” project interrogates the meaning of mass violence and human destruction in the 21st Century. Inviting critical reflections from renowned public intellectuals, artists and writers, this three year project will feature a series of monthly filmed reflections from our illustrious list of participants (see contributors below); a subsequent feature film for public broadcast; accompanying book of complementary essays and associated publications/media articles; along with a series of global events that will bring together the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences to offer innovative and publicly engaging forums to inform debate and rethink the ideals of global citizenship.

The tenth contribution to our reflections series is provided by the renowned Latin American specialist Jean Franco. Drawing upon her extensive understanding and personal experience of the region, Franco maps out the history of state violence as perpetrated against disposable populations, notably indigenous, onto the privatization of atrocity in more contemporary times and what this means for normalizing a fatalistic politics that destroys hope and political transformation. Franco focuses directly here on the symbolic nature of violence against disposable bodies, onto asking searching questions regarding complicity and who should still be held responsible for past atrocities.

Opinion Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:21:43 -0400
Anelo, From Forgotten Town to Capital of Argentina's Shale Fuel Boom

Añelo, Argentina - This small town in southern Argentina is nearly a century old, but the unconventional fossil fuel boom is forcing it to basically start over, from scratch. The wave of outsiders drawn by the shale fuel fever has pushed the town to its limits, while the plan to turn it into a "sustainable city of the future" is still only on paper.

The motto of this small town in the province of Neuquén is upbeat and premonitory: "The future found its place."

But for now the town's roads, most of which are unpaved and throw up clouds of dust from the heavy traffic of trucks and luxury cars driven by oil company executives, contradict that slogan.

"Many eyes around the world are on Añelo, but unfortunately we don't have a good showcase, to put us on display," the director of the town's health centre, Rubén Bautista, told IPS.

"We are living on top of black gold, they take riches out of our soil, but they leave practically nothing to the local population," added the doctor who, along with three other colleagues, covers the health needs of a population that doubled, from 2,500 to 5,000, in just two years.

Añelo, a bleak town on the banks of the Neuquén river surrounded by fruit trees, goats and vineyards, is the town closest to the Loma Campana shale oil field, which is being worked by Argentina's state oil company YPF and the U.S.-based Chevron.

It is only eight km from the oil field, which is part of new riches that hold out the biggest promise for revenue to fuel the country's development: Vaca Muerta, a 30,000-sq km geological reserve that is rich in shale oil and gas and has made this country the second in the world after the United States in production of unconventional fossil fuels.

But the black gold is not shining yet in Añelo – which means forgotten place in the Mapuche indigenous language – located some 100 km north of Neuquén, the provincial capital.

The health centre, which refers serious cases to hospitals in the provincial capital, has just two ambulances, while 117 companies from across the planet are setting up shop in and around the town.

According to conservative projections, Añelo will have a population of 25,000 in 15 years, including people directly employed by the oil industry, indirect workers, and their families, who have begun to pour into the new mecca for Argentina's energy self-sufficiency plans.

"They are people who come to Añelo with the idea of finding a better future...thinking about what unconventional fossil fuels could mean in their lives," YPF Neuquén's communications manager, Federico Calífano, told IPS.

YPF alone has 720 employees in the area. The workers come from nearby towns as well as other provinces, and from abroad, brought in by international companies in the construction, chemistry, hotel, transportation and services industries.

The town's only hotel is full, and camps spring up on any flat area, with containers turned into comfortable temporary lodgings for the workers. Rent for a small apartment is five times what people pay in the most expensive neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires.

"We are building a city from scratch," Añelo Mayor Darío Díaz told IPS, although he pointed out that even before the shale boom the town was "a strategic waypoint."

YPF has been exploiting unconventional fossil fuels in the region since the 1980s, but "when their work was done they would leave," Díaz explained. "This is much more intensive; there will be a lot of work over the next 30 years."

"The town has infrastructure for around 2,500 inhabitants. It is too small now given the new demand for basic services like water, electricity, roads, and dust emission," the province's environment secretary, Ricardo Esquivel, told IPS.

The sound of hammering and pounding is constant. Two workers, who make the 120-km commute back and forth every day from Cipolletti, in the neighbouring province of Río Negro, are working on a new sidewalk. "It's spectacular.There's a lot of work here for everyone. More people are needed. The problem is housing," construction worker Esteban Aries told IPS.

The YPF Foundation carried out an "urban footprint" study which gave rise to the Añelo Local Development Plan. The plan has the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and its Emerging Sustainable Cities Initiative.

Carried out together with the local and provincial governments, the plan outlines different growth scenarios with the aim of assessing the risks and vulnerabilities of the area.

It addresses, among other aspects, "what surface area the city should have, how the urban planning process should start, what the diagram should look like, what services are needed – what Añelo is going to need today and in two, three, or five years," Calífano said.

YPF reported that the work had already begun, including an expansion of the sanitation system, construction of homes for doctors, and a vocational training centre, linked to the needs of the oil industry. Primary healthcare clinics were set up in two trailer trucks – although Dr. Bautista said that's not enough.

The economic growth has brought heavy traffic. The government is planning a two-lane highway to Vaca Muerta, on the so-called "oil route", to keep the trucks out of the town.

"The steadily growing number of accidents is overwhelming," Bautista said. The average has increased from 10 traffic and work-related accidents a month two years ago to 17 today.

"You have to keep in mind that most of the activity has been going on for a year," said Pablo Bizzotto, YPF's regional manager of unconventional fuels in Loma Campana, where some 20 wells are drilled every month, which has driven production up from 3,000 to 21,000 barrels per day of oil.

"There are things that we will obviously work out together with the authorities, as we go. This is all very new," he said.

Agricultural engineer Eduardo Tomada left everything behind in Buenos Aires and invested his savings to open up a restaurant in Añelo, which is now packed with workers.

His cook, local resident Norma Olate, said she was happy because she's earning more. But she nostalgically remembers when her town was "practically a sand dune."

Development has brought work, "but also bad things," the 60-year-old Olate told IPS. "There have been armed robberies, which we didn't see here before."

Olate, who has young, single daughters, said she is also worried about "the invasion of men."

"So many men!" she said, laughing. "I'm not interested anymore, but the girls...there are guys who come and deceive them, a lot of them end up pregnant....that's bad for the town too."

Provincial lawmaker Raúl Dobrusín of the opposition Popular Unity party denounced the rise in prostitution, drug trafficking and use, alcoholism and corruption.

"We say the only things modernised in Añelo were the casino and the brothel," he said ironically.

Dobrusín complained about the government's lack of "planning" and "control" over these and other problems, such as real estate speculation and prices that are now unaffordable for many people in the town.

Nevertheless, for Mayor Díaz the balance is positive. "We have to take advantage of this opportunity for Añelo to develop as a town and improve the living standards of our people. What worries me is whether we will make the necessary investments quickly enough," he said.

The province is preparing a "strategic development plan" for Añelo, along with nearby "oil micro-cities", which will include the construction of an industrial park, schools, hospitals, roads and housing, and increased security.

"We're not going to build an oil camp in Añelo without a city," the mayor summed up.

News Fri, 31 Oct 2014 09:17:10 -0400