Truthout Stories Mon, 22 Sep 2014 14:14:00 -0400 en-gb On the News With Thom Hartmann: Senate GOP Blocks Legislation on Gender Pay Gap, and More

In today's On the News segment: Senate Republicans block legislation aimed at closing the gender pay gap; voters in Sweden say "no" to austerity; our government may have bailed out Wall Street, but Rolling Jubilee is bailing out students; and more.


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

You need to know this. Just in time for election season, last week Senate Republicans blocked legislation aimed at closing the gender pay gap. For the third time since 2012, Republicans refused to allow debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act, and reminded women that the GOP doesn't believe in equal pay for equal work. Even in 2014, women still earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts, and there are substantial legal hurdles that prevent women from suing employers for pay discrimination. Senate Democrats introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act years ago, to provide training for salary negotiations, and prevent employers from retaliating against workers who fight for equal pay. Republicans in the upper chamber claim that the legislation would mean more lawsuits, and say that Democrats should be focused on other matters. Senator John McCain said, "Here we have an international crisis, with the defense authorization bill out there, and we refuse to take [that] up." However, many Americans would argue that the Senator from Arizona has his priorities backwards. Just like unemployment, student debt relief, and immigration reform, Republicans continue to block the Paycheck Fairness Act but have no problem voting to fund another war. Americans want Congress to get to work on jobs and infrastructure and equal pay for equal work, but those on the Right refuse to pass anything that could be viewed as a win for the President. Come this November, it's time to remind Congress that they work for us. Let's say enough with the obstruction, and elect new lawmakers who are actually listening to We The People.

When the local couple who owned three retail businesses in Deer Island, Maine started to think about selling, their employees came up with a plan. More than 60 workers got together and bought the couple's three stores – The Gallery, V&S Variety and Pharmacy, and the Burnt Cove Market – and created the largest worker cooperative in the state of Maine. The employees in all three businesses banded together and formed the Island Employee Cooperative, and kept dozens of good paying jobs in their community. In addition to becoming their own boss, these workers also provided a successful model that could be duplicated by workers around the country. It took over a year to form the Island Employee Co-op, but these retail workers fought hard to accomplish their goal. Thanks to that hard work, they will be able to shape their own futures, and they won't have to worry about outsourcing or corporate takeover. Employee-owned cooperatives give power to workers, and hopefully we will see many more co-ops in our future.

Voters in Sweden have said "no" to austerity. Last week, Swedish voters kicked out their pro-austerity lawmakers, and voted the Social Democrat Party in to power. Along with the Green Party and the Left Party, the center-left groups won 43.7 percent of the vote, and 159 seats in Parliament. That vote forced Prime Minister Fredrick Reinfeldt to resign, and to take his "tax-cuts-for-the-rich" and privatization policies with him. Their new leader Stefan Lofven is a former welder and union organizer, and he has promised to reverse Reinfeldt's austerity policies. During his victory speech, Lofven said, "The Swedish people have turned their backs against tax cuts and privatizations. The Swedish people demanded change." The austerity policies of the ousted prime minister have resulted in rising unemployment, increased privatization, and complaints about failing public services. In response to those failures, the Swedish voters changed course and elected a government that recognizes that they can't cut their way to prosperity. Hopefully, voters in our country will do the same.

Leave it to Walmart to find a new way to screw workers. Recently, the company announced a new dress code, which will require employees to buy blue collared shirts. According to federal labor law, workers can't be forced to buy new uniforms if paying for them drops wages below the federal minimum hourly wage. However, Walmart is getting around that regulation by insisting the new, required shirts aren't uniforms – they're part of a "dress code." Because the new shirts do not feature a company logo, employees could theoretically wear them outside of work, so Walmart gets to skip out on the bill for their new policy. Considering that many workers at the low-cost retailer make close to minimum wage, it's simply immoral to make them cover the cost of these new uniforms. Richard Reynoso, a Walmart employee and member of the OUR Walmart campaign, said, "The sad truth is that I do not have $50 laying around the house to spend on new uniform clothes just because Walmart suddenly decided to change its policy." If Walmart demands that workers wear these specific shirts, the company should be paying for them – and they should be paying a living wage as well.

And finally... Our government may have bailed out Wall Street, but Rolling Jubilee is bailing out students. Last week, on the third anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, the Strike Debt group announced that they have abolished nearly four million dollars of student debt. Because the federal government owns the majority of student loans, Rolling Jubilee could only purchase and eliminate private loan debt. However, the group continues to call on the Department of Education to reform student loans and help struggling debtors. Ann Larson, a member of Strike Debt, said, "Being forced into debt for basic social services is a systemic problem, and the only solution is to respond collectively to create a new, equitable economy." In addition to paying off loans for nearly 3,000 people, Rolling Jubilee also announced the launch of The Debt Collective, a new platform for advocacy, organization, and debt resistance. A Debt Collective organizer explained the platform, saying "The Debt Collective will challenge the 1% creditor class by empowering members to renegotiate, resist, and refuse unfair debts while advocating for real solutions including free education and universal health care." No one should be forced to destroy their credit to escape predatory loans and debts, and no one should have to be a life-long slave to their education loans. It's time we demand a national debt jubilee, and Strike Debt is getting that process rolling.

And that's the way it is - for the week of September 22, 2014 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 22 Sep 2014 12:42:03 -0400
Voices From the People's Climate March: Indigenous Groups Lead Historic 400,000-Strong NYC Protest

As many as 400,000 people turned out in New York City on Sunday for the People’s Climate March, the largest environmental protest in history. With a turnout far exceeding expectations, the streets of midtown Manhattan were filled with environmentalists, politicians, musicians, students, farmers, celebrities, nurses and labor activists — all united in their demand for urgent action on climate change. Organizers arranged the People’s Climate March into different contingents reflecting the movement’s diversity, with indigenous groups in the lead. Democracy Now!’s Aaron Maté was in the streets to hear from some of the demonstrators taking part in the historic protest.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the People’s Climate March. Organizers estimate as many as 400,000 people marched in New York Sunday in the largest climate protest in history. The turnout far exceeded expectations. Other marches and rallies were held in 166 countries. More protests are planned for today. Climate activists are gathering today in downtown Manhattan for a mass sit-in dubbed "Flood Wall Street." The actions are timed to coincide with the United Nations climate summit taking place here in New York Tuesday. President Obama and over 100 other world leaders are scheduled to attend.

Sunday’s events in New York began with an indigenous sunrise ceremony in Central Park. Indigenous activists then led the march. Democracy Now!'s Aaron Maté was in the streets at the People's Climate March.

AARON MATÉ: We’re near the very front of the People’s Climate March, and the sign behind me reads: "Front Lines of Crisis, Forefront of Change." This march has been divided up into different groups, and at the front are indigenous and front-line communities most impacted by climate change.

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: Hi. My name is Clayton Thomas-Muller. I’m an organizer with the indigenous peoples’ social movement Idle No More and Defenders of the Land. Things today are going really, really well. We’ve got tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people on the street. We have front-line indigenous communities from communities that are disproportionately affected by President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy policy. We’ve got leaders from communities fighting fracking, fighting tar sands, pipelines, all kinds of pipeline fighters from across the continent who are organizing in solidarity with First Nations from the belly of the beast in Alberta who are trying to stop tar sands expansion at the source. And we’re here to send a very clear message to President Obama, Stephen Harper and the rest of the world leaders that we need legally binding mechanisms on climate change right now passed, and if they ain’t going to do it, that the people certainly will.

INDIGENOUS ACTIVIST: Hi. We’re here to march for the next seven generations and to take astand against Big Oil companies that are coming through our territories and trying to take our ancestral lands and destroy them. We’re here because it’s going to take all of us—all of us—not just the indigenous people, but everyone in the whole world, to come together to save our water.

PERUVIAN ACTIVIST: We are from the Peruvian delegation here on the March. And we are marching because we are fighting for climate justice, and we are fighting because this December, the next COP event is going to be in our country. And we are preparing a people’s summit and the next march in December 10 in Lima. And we are asking the Peruvian government, Ollanta Humala, for coherence, because even if they are taking pictures here near Ban Ki-moon, they are not doing that kind of commitments in the country. So, we need to fight here, we need to fight in our country. This is a global fight.



EL PUENTE ACTIVIST: What do we stand for?

EL PUENTE ACTIVISTS: Peace and justice!

FRANCES LUCERNA: My name is Frances Lucerna. I’m the executive director of El Puente. We have about 300-strong here of our young people. We are a human rights organization located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Most of our young people are from Puerto Rico, from Dominican Republic. And the connection between what’s happening in terms of our islands and also what’s happening here in our waterfront community that Williamsburg is part of, we need, really, the powers that be to come together with our people and really make decisions that are about preserving our Earth.

CARLOS GARCIA: Hi. My name is Carlos Garcia. I’m the secretary-treasurer of the New York State Public Employees Federation. We represent 54,000 New York state employees who are professional scientific and technical workers. And we’re out here to say to the U.S. government, New York state government, let’s take care of our climate, let’s take care of our environment.

IRENE JOR: My name is Irene Jor. I’m with the National Domestic Workers Alliance with the New York domestic workers here today. And for us, we’re here because, as domestic workers, it’s time to clean up the climate mess.

DOMESTIC WORKERS: We are domestic workers! We want climate justice now!

IRENE JOR: Domestic workers have been part of the struggle for a long time. We’re disproportionately impacted by climate change. For those of us who are migrant women workers, we often come here because of what extractive resources and climate crisis has done to our home countries.

AARON MATÉ: We’ve come upon a huge contingent of young people, many carrying signs reading "Youth choose climate justice."

YOUTH ACTIVISTS: Obama, we don’t want no climate drama! Hey, Obama, we don’t want no climate drama!

JONAH FELDMAN: My name is Jonah Feldman. I’m here with the Brandeis Divestment Campaign from Brandeis University.

AARON MATÉ: And what does your sign say?

JONAH FELDMAN: It says, "Divest from Climate Change." We believe that our university should sell off all its investments in the fossil fuel industry—that’s in coal, oil, natural gas, tar sands—and to reinvest into clean, renewable alternatives.

LUIS NAVARRO: Hello. My name Luis Navarro. I’m 16. I’m from Boston, Massachusetts. I’m with the Boston-area Youth Organizing Project. Well, as a youth, I feel like every youth should be a part of this, because it concerns them and their future, whether or not if they can live by 20 years from now with this climate change. And I feel like it’s important for me to be here to show them that the youth is on our side.

AARON MATÉ: As we weave through this march that has taken over midtown Manhattan, tens of thousands out in full force, coming across all different sorts of diverse groups.

VEGAN: Number one way to fight climate change: Go vegan.

REV. SUSAN DE GEORGE: I’m Susan De George, and I’m with both Green Faith and with Hudson River Presbytery. We have everybody from Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics, Protestants, atheists, agnostics, all marching in a group.

PROTESTERS: What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!

CAITLIN CALLAHAN: My name is Caitlin Callahan. I’m from Rockaway Beach, and I’m an organizer with Rockaway Wildfire. Superstorm Sandy devastated the Rockaway Peninsula. We know that climate change is being worsened and exacerbated by all of the systemic profiteering that’s happening throughout our world. And it’s time for that to stop. If you haven’t been involved in climate justice activism before, it’s time to get involved in climate justice activism, because this is affecting all of us.

BRADEN ELLIOTT: My name is Braden Elliott. I’m a Ph.D. student at Dartmouth College, and I’m here because I care.

AARON MATÉ: And the banner under which the scientists are marching is "The Debate is Over"?

BRADEN ELLIOTT: Correct. The banner says "The Debate is Over" because the core part, the part that the planet is warming and that humans are responsible for the lion’s share of it, is settled. There’s always debate to be had on the edges of a large topic, but the call to action is very clear.

AARON MATÉ: And now we’re in the bloc of demonstrators under the banner of "We Know Who is Responsible," anti-corporate campaigners, peace and justice groups, those who are organizing against the groups they say are holding back progress.

SANDRA NURSE: My name is Sandra Nurse. I’m here with the Flood Wall Street contingent. We’re calling on people to do a mass sit-in in the financial district to highlight the connections between corporate capitalism, extractive industries, the financing and bankrolling of climate change, the financing of politicians who will not bring meaningful legislation to the table and who are blocking the process of actually bringing meaningful legislation against climate change.

FLOOD WALL STREET CONTINGENT: All day, all week, let’s flood Wall Street!

AMY GOODMAN: Some of the voices from the 400,000-strong People’s Climate March here in New York. Special thanks to Aaron Maté and Elizabeth Press in the streets for Democracy Now!

News Mon, 22 Sep 2014 12:20:53 -0400
Most Members of the Black Caucus Have Supported Police Militarization


SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: This is The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Welcome to the Glen Ford Report on The Real News Network. Glen is the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report and a regular commentator on The Real News Network.

Glen, in a report recently on the Black Agenda Report, you wrote that 80 percent of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus refused to defund Pentagon's militarization of local police departments, also known as the Grayson amendment. That is shocking news, given the police brutality of the black community in this country. And I'm wondering if you have more to say on that.

GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Well, actually, it was 27 who voted against Alan Grayson's measure that would have forced the Pentagon to stop sending all these weapons and military gear to local police department. Twenty-seven voted against the amendment. Five abstained, which is just as good as voting against it. And that makes 32 out of only 40 caucus full-voting members. That's four out of five of the Black Caucus voted to continue the Pentagon's massive infusions of guns and tanks and other military gear into local police departments.

But that's only one of the complaints that's being voiced by a group, a coalition in Washington that's planning to hold a "Shame on the Congressional Black Caucus" rally on September 24. September 24 is the first day of the Congressional Black Caucus's annual legislative conference and gala. That's the time of the year that every year the caucus draws thousands of people, all dressed to the nines, for a bunch of workshops and stuff, but mainly for their gala dinner and lots of music and entertainment and festivities, and basically about three or four days of the caucus patting itself on the back for all the good deeds it's done, or maybe just for being here.

This year, finally, a group of activists in D.C. are putting their two cents in and saying, no, we don't appreciate a bit what you've been doing. And so they're focusing on the caucus's vote back in July, just three days after the Israelis begin bombing Gaza, a vote to join with the rest of the House unanimously in giving a blank check to Israel. The organizers of that protest are also outraged at the fact that most members of the Congressional Black Caucus seemed ready to go along with corporate America and turn the internet over to the corporations, to destroy internet neutrality. The fact of the matter is that since 2005, the Congressional Black Caucus has been more aligned with the telecoms, the big corporations that want to control the internet and all of our communications, they've been more aligned with these corporations than the Democratic Caucus as a whole. And this is ongoing. This has been for the last nine years.

And since the organizers planned to do this "Shame on the Congressional Black Caucus" rally, of course, Ferguson happened. And so they're going to call attention to the fact that four out of five of the Congressional Black Caucus members voted to continue the militarization of the police. And now almost all of them--all of them, in fact, are pretending like, well, they were against militarization all along. They weren't. Four out of five were for it.

PERIES: Four out of five were for funding and militarizing local police forces. What--.

FORD: And they had a choice. With Alan Grayson's amendment, they could have brought it to a halt. They chose to continue it. It's pretty clear, cut and dried.

PERIES: What justification is there for such a move, particularly given Ferguson now? Is there an attempt to reverse the decision? Is there any consciousness post-Ferguson?

FORD: Actually, Hank Johnson, who voted for the amendment, after Ferguson happened, then he announced plans to reintroduce the amendment. I guess the idea is that now that the caucus has been caught on the wrong side in the glare of publicity, maybe they'll change their votes.

What really happened back in June is the caucus thought it was voting in the dark, that nobody was looking. And, in fact, very few people are looking. There's very, very little independent black media that is watching every day the goings-on on Capitol Hill. And so, yeah, they were voting in the dark.

This rally on September 24, which will be right in front of the Washington Convention Center, where the caucus is holding all of its entertainment and other festivities, well, that may set them back a little bit with this very public demand for accountability. And that's what people are talking about. The caucus needs to be accountable. And if it were accountable to black sentiment, then it could still use in good faith its slogan, which is we are the conscience of the Congress. But the caucus has not been the conscience of the Congress, it has not been a dependable progressive body for a very, very long time.

PERIES: Glen, is this an effort to raise funds for the caucus? What is there to celebrate?

FORD: Oh! Oh, it is their big fundraiser. And all you have to do is go there and you will see where the funds come from. The corporations are, oh, certainly well represented. The CBC has become one of the biggest fundraising caucuses in the Congress. It is the go-to place to buy influence not in the black community, but among its representatives on Capitol Hill.

And shaming is in fact what's important here in this exercise that's going on, that will be going on on the 24th. Shaming is a very, very important tool for people, especially people who don't have power. The corporations have power in this country. And poor folks and black folks don't have much more than the ability to shame those who purport to represent them by saying loud and clear, you don't represent us.

And it's more than just the emotional impact of shaming. It's not just attempting to get wayward elements of the caucus to see the light or to be embarrassed. When groups say, as the rally is trying to say, that these people do not represent us, they in fact devalue, they lessen, diminish the value of the caucus to the corporations. And that applies also to individual politicians and so-called leaders. Corporations, people with power, go out and buy the influence of so-called black leaders because they think it's worth something, because they think it translates into assent on the part of the black masses to what the corporations are doing. But when people rise up and say, no, no, no, no, we don't support that organization, we don't support that politician, we don't support that caucus, then the value of those individuals and organizations that offer themselves as agents for power is diminished. So it has real impact beyond emotional, beyond just an appeal to the reason and decency of the politician or the so-called black leader.

PERIES: Glen, is there any members of the Black Caucus that is upholding the values and consciousness of the black community here?

FORD: Well, there have been some seminal votes. And I think the vote on militarization of local police forces was one of them in which you only had seven who voted correctly. Those included John Conyers and Barbara Lee and Congresswoman Waters and Hank Johnson and about three others. But with the vote on Israel, it was unanimous: just like the whole House voted in favor of giving Israel a blank check, all of the caucus went along, and without even one abstention. I would say off the top of my head that there's no more than seven or eight Congressional Black Caucus members who are worth a damn, even sometimes. Sometimes none of them are worth a damn.

PERIES: Glen, thank you so much for joining us again on The Real News Network.

FORD: Thank you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network as well.

News Mon, 22 Sep 2014 12:07:36 -0400
Bernie Sanders at People's Climate March: To Stop Global Warming, Get Dirty Money Out of Politics

Speaking at the People’s Climate March in New York City, independent Senator Bernie Sanders discusses a potential 2016 presidential run and how getting money out of politics is critical to addressing the climate crisis. "[President Obama] can and should do more," Sanders says. "But the major impediment right now is not Obama, it is the Republican Party. We have to call them out on this. We don’t do it enough. These are people who do not even acknowledge the scientific reality because they are beholden to Big Energy money and the Koch brothers."

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Mon, 22 Sep 2014 11:54:11 -0400
Marijuana Decriminalization a Racial Justice Victory in Philadelphia

Philadelphia will soon become the largest US city where you can have marijuana and smoke it too — at least without going to jail. Rather than arrest, being caught with anything under an ounce of marijuana will carry with it a $25 fine and citation. Getting caught smoking in public means a slightly heavier penalty: a citation and a $100 fine that can be avoided with 9 hours of community service. Combined, this year’s series of national victories around marijuana decriminalization may look spontaneous, but they in fact speak to years of racial justice organizing and the cultural shift around criminalization that they’ve helped bring about.

The Philadelphia City Council voted 13-3 to decriminalize marijuana back in June, but putting the decision into law has been dependent on Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s signature. The bill, introduced by councilman Jim Kenney in May, originally included even less severe penalties, but was beefed up in a compromise with Nutter’s administration. In return, he’s agreed to sign the bill into law.

Nutter has been quick, however, to draw a distinction between legalization and decriminalization. On KYW Newsradio, he clarified that there will still be “a consequence to people violating the law.” Nutter scoffed at the council’s decision earlier this summer, saying, “Suddenly, this is the great civil rights issue of our day — that black guys should be allowed to smoke as much dope as they want.” As Dan Denvir pointed out for Philadelphia’s City Paper, Nutter’s class-tinged moral posturing around marijuana use has become an anachronism in light of a shifting political context; a Quinnipiac University poll found that 85 percent of Pennsylvanians favor not just the decriminalization, but legalization of marijuana.

Philadelphia’s decision is part of a growing trend among state and municipal governments. Washington, D.C., has a similar law, while Washington state and Colorado each voted to legalize recreational marijuana use last November. Twenty-three states have legalized the use and sale of the substance for medicinal purposes. Soon, Florida might become the first southern state to do the same.

Kenney described marijuana decriminalization as a cut and dry racial justice issue: “Marijuana possession and use has been decriminalized in Philadelphia for years… if you’re a white person.” Indeed, African Americans accounted for 83 percent of the over 4,314 marijuana arrests last year in the city. As Kenney told Policy Mic, city police have been far more reluctant to make arrests at Phish concerts or frat houses than predominantly black working-class neighborhoods.

Philadelphia is the nation’s poorest major city. The poverty rate is an astounding 26 percent, with 40 percent of children living below the poverty line. One in four people are at risk for hunger. As public education is gutted and prisons crop up around the city, it’s become harder for even the city’s most well-off to avoid the racial disparities embedded in the criminal justice system. Former gubernatorial candidate John Hanger made decriminalization a centerpiece of his Pennsylvania People’s Campaign, arguably pushing other primary contenders further left on the issue. The Hangar campaign itself was built on the foundation of groups like the Institute for the Development of African American Youth, or IDAAY, and Decarcerate PA, which for years have been fighting the prison expansion in the state.

Councilman Kenney’s use of phrases like “school-to-prison pipeline” didn’t spring out of nowhere; that one of America’s highest elected city officials has started using the talking points of prison reform and abolitionist movements is thanks to those movements themselves and the public pressure they’ve built. Kenney admitted as much to the Philadelphia Tribune, saying, “City government would not have gotten to this point without IDAAY and other groups’ grassroots effort to change the mayor’s opinion and get him to implement this policy.” IDAAY executive director Archye Leacock echoed the sentiment, and said that his group would work to hold the mayor and city council accountable to implementing the law on “terms that are agreeable to community stakeholders.”

Given the heightened visibility of racist violence in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere this summer, waves of marijuana legalization aren’t the only thing drawing national attention towards what can most generously be described as the country’s unequal justice system. Ideally, Philadelphia’s ruling will be the first of many movement victories decriminalizing not only marijuana, but whole segments of the population.

News Mon, 22 Sep 2014 11:21:17 -0400
Giant Corporations Want to Control All of Your Beer

The variety of the craft-brewing wave sweeping the US makes drinking beer more fun than ever. Maine’s Flying Dog Brewery brews a beer from local oysters, and the Delaware-based Dogfish Head uses an ancient beer recipe they dug up from 2,700-year-old drinking vessels in the tomb of King Midas.

But as this trend spreads, there’s another revolution going on that’s concentrating most of the world’s beer into the hands of just a few mega-corporations. These kings of beer are riding the wave of craft brewing enthusiasm, buying up smaller breweries, and duping customers along the way.

“If you want to listen to Milli Vanilli, I suppose that’s a choice you get to make. Just know that you’re making that choice,” is how Greg Koch of Stone Brewing Company put it.

Take Blue Point, Long Island’s first microbrewery. A couple of home brewers started the company ten years ago, but this year, Anheuser-Busch InBev bought Blue Point for $24 million. John Hall, the founder of Chicago’s Goose Island beer, told a reporter in 2013, “Goose Island is a craft beer, period.” Yet it too was sold to AB InBev in 2011.  

Whereas craft beers only made up about six percent of the beer sales in the US in 2012, AB InBev owns almost half of the US market. Together the top-four beer companies – AB InBev, MillerCoors, Heineken, and Modelo – brew 78 percent of the beer sold in the US. The diversity of beer has changed – in 1978, the US was home to just 89 breweries, and as of last year, that number had climbed to 2,336—but the craft and microbrew boom still seems unlikely to make a major dent in the corporations’ power.

The strange brew of each dominant beer company’s name speaks of the rapid monopolization of the industry over the past ten years. The story of AB InBev, the biggest beer corporation in the world, is emblematic of this shift. In 2004 Brazil’s Companhia de Bebidas das Américas (AmBev) merged with Belgian’s InterBrew to form InBev, and in 2008, this conglomerate went on to take over Anheuser-Busch to form AB InBev. In the process, they gained one of China’s biggest brewers, Harbin, and Canada’s Labatt beer company.

The world’s second biggest brewing conglomerate, SAB Miller, has followed a similar path. The mega-brewer formed after South African Breweries purchased Miller in 2002 and bought Bavaria, the second biggest brewer in South America in 2004. Two years later, the giant merged with MolsonCoors to make MillerCoors, which in 2011 purchased Foster’s, Australia’s largest brewing company, and Efes, Russia’s second biggest beer business.

The result is a world whose beer is mostly in the hands of just a few corporations, with AB InBev leaping ahead as the king of beers.

And what about all of those brews often considered to be craft beers or imported, but actually turn out to be from the same place that produced nearly everything else at the corner store? For example, Heineken now owns Dos Equis, Tecate and Sol. MillerCoors owns Fosters and Molson Canadian. Along with Budweiser, Beck's, Bud Light, Brahma and Quilmes, AB InBev owns Stella Artois, Corona, and Goose Island—as well as about 18 percent of the rest of the beer produced on the planet.

“AB InBev aims to dominate the world’s beer supply, one country at a time,” explained a Fortune profile of the company.

Their plan has worked so far—they own over 200 different beers across the globe—but they have also run into trouble. In January of last year, the US Department of Justice launched a lawsuit to prevent AB InBev from buying Mexico’s Grupo Modelo. In a statement Bill Baer, the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, said the merger plans threatened to hurt competition in the US beer market and concentrate the beer industry, resulting in “less competition and higher beer prices."

Who runs AB InBev’s beer empire? Carlos Brito is the Brazilian-born, Stanford-educated, CEO of the company, who worked at Shell Oil before coming to the beer business. He’s known on Wall Street as a low profile, frugal boss with an eye for making a profit. Brito is the one who acquired Anheuser-Busch in 2008, then went ahead and laid off 1,400 of the AB workers, used thinner glass for its bottles, weaker cardboard for its 12 packs, and ditched the traditional and often-touted “beechwood aging” of Budweiser to save money. Indeed, there are plenty of pissed off drinkers who have complained about the lower quality of their beer since Brito’s corporate monster took over what they drink.

The multimillionaire clearly knows how to cut costs. “I don’t have a company car. I don’t care. I can buy my own car,” Brito explained at a 2008 speech at Stanford, “I don’t need the company to give me beer. I can buy my own beer.”

If Brito has his way, everybody else will have to buy his beer too.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

News Mon, 22 Sep 2014 11:04:33 -0400
The Troubling Way We Pay Hospitals in Maine and Throughout the US

A study published in the current issue of Health Affairs found that hospitals in the US spend about twice as much per capita on administration as the seven other countries studied. If spending on administrative costs were reduced to the average level of spending in the other countries, we could reduce by about $150 billion the $750 billion a year we waste in health care.

These findings reminded me of my recent trip to Nova Scotia. While there, I visited a small hospital on Cape Breton. I asked the hospital’s director what they charge for a CT scan. “We don’t charge for every test,” she replied, “but simply bill the provincial health fund for each day in the hospital. The cost of the CT scan is bundled in. The only time we charge individually for CT scans is if we treat a visiting American and think it is worth the trouble to bill their insurance company.”

“May I speak to somebody in your billing department about CT scan prices?” I asked.

“Sure, but you’ll have to come back another day,” the hospital’s director replied. “She (meaning the billing ‘department’) only works part-time.”

Compare that to the gargantuan billing departments in US hospitals.

In talking to the long-serving doctors at that Canadian hospital about their experience practicing medicine, I was struck by how much their focus is on patient care, not money. Money is almost all I hear about when I talk to American doctors and hospital directors.

In Canada there is only one insurance company: the provincial government. A bill for each patient is sent to the province and is paid (no questions asked) within several weeks.

Like most other wealthy countries, they have simplified a lot of costs out of their health care system. In contrast, US hospitals must deal with scores of insurance plans (each playing by their own rules); submit detailed bills for every test, procedure, drug or other supply; and then be prepared to justify them as hospitals try to maximize their revenues and insurance companies try to minimize their “medical losses.” Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act is complicating things even more.

All of this fighting about money costs plenty of it and contributes to the unconscionable amount of waste documented by the Health Affairs study while actually interfering with patient care. The effects of this money-driven system on the quality of care may be even more damaging than the financial costs.

In the US, hospital managers spend huge amounts of time, effort and money chasing and maximizing profitable revenue. They do this in two ways. The most obvious is fighting directly with insurance companies over payment — when and whether to pay and if so, how much.

But less well-known and understood are the powerful ways our insurance-based system affects the types of services hospitals offer and promote, and the ways doctors practice. Caregivers are strongly encouraged by hospital managers to promote services that are profitable and discouraged from recommending those that are not, often without much regard to the actual needs of patients.

A physician employed by a large Maine hospital recently complained to me about her resentment at being pressured by hospital management to order completely unnecessary tests and procedures in order to meet the hospital’s revenue goals. Doctors throughout Maine, and the US, can relate to that.

That’s why we have hospitals with too many scanners and other fancy and expensive gadgets and too few primary care physicians. That’s why physicians are forced to see too many patients and spend too little time with each of them. That’s why more and more physicians are burning out and retiring. This will not change until we change the ways we pay hospitals and our “healthcare is a business” culture.

Canada and most other wealthy countries have shown that there are better ways to do things. Hospitals there are on a lump-sum budget or something very similar. The pursuit of revenue that is so consuming in US hospitals is mostly eliminated.

If we were to adopt a similar system here, doctors and hospital managers in the US would be able to focus on how to best provide care to their communities. Most would likely jump at the chance if they believed the corporate interests and their political enablers who are blocking real reform would allow it to happen.

That would save money and improve the quality of care at the same time. What’s not to like about that?

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Opinion Mon, 22 Sep 2014 10:51:47 -0400
Uganda's Youth Discover the Beauty in Farming

Kampala - Before she entered the Miss Uganda beauty contest, 24-year-old Fiona Nassaka was a farmer.

“You grow your lettuce, you go and supply it to any market like Capital Shoppers [a Kampala supermarket] and you get your money at the end of the month,” says the young beauty queen who is also not afraid to get her hands dirty growing peppers and passion fruit, and through rearing pigs, rabbits and hens.

“As a young person getting your own cash from your own product, you become really proud of yourself,” she tells IPS.

Today the glamorous Ugandan woman is the reigning Miss Talent, having won that category of the national beauty competition ahead of the finals on Oct. 25. But Nassaka is first and foremost a farmer.

Now she’s encouraging other young ladies to move into agriculture through this year’s contest, which has a new theme, “Promoting agriculture entrepreneurship among the youth”.

The 2014 Miss Uganda pageant is particularly trying to recruit women aged between 18 and 25 into farming. There’s also a new, unlikely sponsor: the Ugandan army.

According to the State of Uganda Population Report 2013, four out of every five of Uganda’s 17.3 million women are employed in agriculture, the majority of whom work as subsistence farmers.

But Nassaka says many young women turn up their noses at working in the sector, despite the fact that youth unemployment is said to be as high as 62 percent, according to “Lost Opportunity? Gaps in Youth Policy and Programming in Uganda” by ActionAid International.

“Women think agriculture is only for the older people, they think it’s not profitable,” Nassaka says. “But most of the rich people in the world are related to agriculture.”

“At the end of the day we’re going to fight poverty. We’re all going to be happy,” she adds.

The new direction for Miss Uganda has raised some eyebrows. But organisers insist it is all about encouraging young women to develop skills to take care of themselves and their families, boosting the economy, and of course, in pageant speak, “beauty with a purpose”.

Brenda Nanyonjo, the chief executive of Miss Uganda Ltd, says in the lead-up to the winner being crowned the 20 competition finalists will take part in a cattle and poultry farm boot camp and visit the marketplace to gain hands-on agricultural experience. Eventually, many could get good jobs in what is the biggest industry in Uganda.

“You feed the nation, you feed the community. You make a bigger difference than having a boutique,” Nanyonjo says.

“That’s why we chose the theme. To some people it was weird, funny, ‘it can’t happen’. But it’s going to happen because we are going to run this campaign for the rest of the year and it’s not a one-off campaign.”

2014 0922schartj According to an ActionAid International report, Uganda’s youth are extensively involved in agriculture. Courtesy: ActionAid International

Dr Kihura Nkuba is the chief strategist at Operation Wealth Creation (OWC). It’s an initiative spearheaded by the army and tasked by the presidency to galvanise production in rural areas.

‘We can start industries, we can increase our foreign exchange revenue,” Nkuba said speaking the launch of the Miss Uganda contest on Monday, Sept. 15.

“We can become food secure. We can have seeds, we can grow our own food and have granaries and silos.”

OWC will fund Miss Uganda and four winners to market Uganda’s local produce within and outside Uganda for two years, he says.

Miss Uganda contestants could eventually market products the country is already producing, such as juice, cornflake and honey.

“Uganda produces a lot of products which are not known,” Nkuba says. “Miss Eastern Uganda should be rooting for her own products, which is rice. Miss Western Uganda should be rooting for Ugandan milk.”

The competition organisers and sponsors aren’t the only people talking up agriculture.

“The ones living in the paradise called Uganda are having food shortages,” the country’s President Yoweri Museveni told 200 Ugandan students as they left for agricultural apprenticeships in Israel, the Daily Monitor newspaper reported over a week ago.

“People don’t know they can get money from agriculture. The problem is not skills but attitude.” Nassaka says she was “so supportive” of her leader, because “agriculture is our backbone in Uganda”.

“Uganda, they call it the Pearl of Africa because of its favourable climate, because of its fertile soil,” she says.

“So we need to go back to our roots and say what can we do best? Planting, rearing cattle. At the end of the day we are fed and hunger and poverty is eradicated.” But those women already working in the sector struggle compared to their male counterparts, many point out.

Most engage in small-scale farming and business activities which earns little money, and few know the market dynamics of what they’re selling, often underpricing their produce, a “clear case of poor returns for the months of labour spent in the fields,” according to the State of Uganda Population Report.

Some women sell their produce and are then forced to surrender the money to their husbands, it says.

“They’re just in the background digging and growing the food crops, not going to the market to sell them,” Bridget Mugambe, a policy advocate from Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), tells IPS.

“The lucky ones will have maybe a few roadside stalls. But if you actually visited a lot of the rural gardens the women do a lot of farming. But for cash crops like maize and coffee, all that harvesting will be done by the men.”

Nancy Mugimba, the National Coordinator at Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum Uganda, tells IPS that she doesn’t think it’s women who have a negative attitude towards agriculture.

“It is not that they don’t want [to engage in the sector] but they’re dealing with issues of land ownership, how do I get access to products and resources, land, water?”

Mugambe says the questions needs be asked about how to “bring women to the forefront of the sector where they are the majority?”

This could also be where the 2014 Miss Uganda beauty contest comes in.

“Women are the ones who do the work and then the men take the output,” Judith Acayo, 24, a records officer, poultry farmer and the current Miss Uganda Northern Region, admits to IPS.

“I entered Miss Uganda to speak out about their rights.”

Visit IPS news for fresh perspectives on development and globalization.

News Mon, 22 Sep 2014 10:25:05 -0400
Occupy Offshoot Cancels $4 Million in Predatory Student Loans - and Starts a Debtors Union

Nathan Hornes was sitting on the couch watching Maury when he saw the ad for Everest College.

Owned by the for-profit education company Corinthian Colleges, Inc., Everest commercials are known to target low-income people, promising a flexible education and, through it, jobs that earn more than minimum wage. They're often aggressive, the actors calling viewers out for being lazy and then daring them to live up to their full potential. Hornes was an easy target.

“The first commercial I saw was the girl and she’s like ‘Oh, you’ve got to get off the couch,’” he said. “You can go to work, go to school, everything like that.”

Hornes, who had dropped out of high school to pursue a career in music, had just turned 20 and thought getting a degree sounded like a good idea. Plus, the woman in the ad promised, he could work around his current gigs. So he called Everest.

After that first informational call, Hornes said Everest representatives phoned him constantly, sometimes up to four times a day. They told him he needed to enroll for classes in order to graduate as soon as possible. They promised that a “network of employers” would be waiting after he graduated, and they would help him find a job. So Hornes signed up for a degree in business management, and at Everest’s suggestion he took out loans to pay for it.

“I used to always tell people I went to Everest,” he said of the early days, when he was proud of being a college student. But now, he said, “I don’t even like telling people I went to this school.”

At the time he enrolled, Hornes didn’t know how to evaluate a school’s accreditation or what to expect from college classes. Sometimes teachers didn’t even show up, and much of what they did teach felt like common sense. He said he didn’t even really have homework.

When he started to look for work after graduation, Hornes quickly realized his options were not as abundant as Everest had led him to believe. Job leads from the career center were sometimes forwarded from Craigslist. He hadn’t realized that many other colleges and employers don’t take degrees from for-profit colleges seriously.

“Employers find it laughable,” he said. “I’ve literally taken it off my resume. That’s how embarrassing it is.”

Now 24, Hornes shares a Los Angeles studio apartment with his aunt. He often works 16 hours a day at two part-time jobs, one of them at a Carl’s Jr. restaurant in the airport.

And that degree from Everest? He owes $56,000 for it.

A Rolling Jubilee for Student Debt

The abysmal quality of Hornes' academic experience may be extreme, but the debt—and the way it will constrain his life, possibly for decades—is not. Hornes and millions of other former students and their families are part of a student debt crisis of tremendous proportions: Americans—some of them senior citizens—together owe more than $1 trillion in student loan debt, the figure steadily rising as states and the federal government cut funding for higher eduction. Even credit card debt is not as large.

2014 0922chjf 1Graphic from Demos.That's why Strike Debt, an organization that emerged out of Occupy Wall Street to protect debtors' rights, announced today it has purchased—and abolished—more than $4 million in student debt. It's a first for the organization, which until now has only canceled medical debt.

The organization's Rolling Jubilee project used $100,000 of raised capital to buy the privately owned debt of more than 2,700 Everest College students. They did this by purchasing private student loans from secondary markets for pennies on the dollar—just the way collection agencies do. And then, they simply canceled it.

The idea arose from conversations three years ago at Occupy Wall Street. There, and at smaller gatherings focused specifically on the issue of debt, people who held student loans or medical debts often stood in a circle and encouraged each other to shake off their feelings of guilt. Sometimes they brought their bills or other paperwork and set them on fire. Meanwhile, members were constantly studying the mechanisms through which banks, collection agencies, and other organizations traded and profited from debt.

They took what they learned and turned it into Rolling Jubilee.

The project kicked off in November 2012—on the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street’s eviction from New York’s Zuccotti Park—and organizers raised more than $250,000. Because Strike Debt was paying only about $5 for $100 of debt, that amount allowed them to purchase millions of dollars worth of other peoples’ unpaid medical obligations.

In the nearly two years since then, organizers this week told YES! that Rolling Jubilee has canceled more than $15 million in medical debt.

But unlike hospital bills, federal student loans are guaranteed by the government and are mostly unavailable for purchase on secondary markets. This is where debt collectors usually hunt for it. However, because Everest College encourages students to privately borrow a percentage of their tuition to supplement money available through federal student loans, this for-profit school created a unique pool of student debt ripe for the raiding.

“We started with medical debt because there is a clear moral argument,” said Laura Hanna, a Strike Debt organizer. “People shouldn't be forced into debt because they get sick.”

Hanna said education was a natural next step, from an ethical point of view: “With education, people are trying to work to improve their lives. To make something better for themselves. Instead, most people fall into a debt trap. And there is no escape ... not even through bankruptcy.”

2014 0922chjf 2Graphic from Demos.

Predatory Lending U

Yesterday, the national Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Corinthian Colleges, Inc., for defrauding tens of thousands of students. The CFPB accused Corinthian of running a “predatory lending scheme,” enrolling students in an overpriced education that would never help them get a job.

Corinthian is charged with lying to prospective students about job placement statistics. Ben Lopez, a former Everest student, told us he was hired as a librarian's assistant in January when he finished his program, but after his graduation ceremony a few months later, he was laid off. Part of the company’s schtick is to hire recent grads to inflate career placement numbers, classifying one or two days’ employment as a career.

When 20-year-old Hornes first talked to Everest on the phone, the numbers they fed him were based on this and similar practices.

According to the suit, from July 2011 to March 2014, Corinthian issued 130,000 private loans to pay its own exorbitant fees. The outstanding loans total more than $568 million.

And what kinds of students did they target? The CFPB claims that according to Corinthian's own internal documents, they sought out people with “low self-esteem” and “[f]ew people in their lives who care about them”; “isolated” people who felt “stuck, unable to see and plan well for future.” They intentionally marketed to people with little-to-no financial literacy or credit history.

Moreover, the school misled students to believe it had no financial interest in the private loans they were pushing, known as “Genesis” loans. But because the law prevented Everest schools from receiving all of their funding from federal loans, they were incentivized to convince students to take private ones, which then allowed the school to receive more public money. As the Bureau put it, “Every Genesis loan dollar that Corinthian induced its students to borrow, in effect, allowed Corinthian to receive up to an additional nine dollars in Title IV aid.”

Corinthian has been under fire for a long time. It’s been accused of fraud by more than one federal agency and is on the verge of collapse. (For more on Corinthian's sad backstory, check out John Oliver below).

If won, the CFPB’s case will secure more than $500 million, which will be used to cancel existing private student loans. That would be great for former students like Hornes. But it could also take years, while many who owe the company money slog away at minimum wage, trying to pay down their Genesis loan.

When asked whether he might consider going to college somewhere else in the meantime, Hornes says he is interested, but wary. Going to school almost anywhere else would, for him, mean more debt.

A Debtors Union

As effective as Rolling Jubilee has been in calling attention to debt issues, $4 million hardly makes a dent in a trillion-dollar picture—not to mention the billions of dollars tied up in medical and other debts.

“Rolling Jubilee is a fantastic way to punch through the illusion that you actually owe what the 1 percent thinks you owe,” said Thomas Gokey, a Rolling Jubilee co-founder who's eager to take things to the next level. “It’s not going to be possible to buy all the debt out there and get rid of it, so we’re going to need other tactics to win … it’s going to be a coordinated, large-scale effort.”

Alongside today’s $4 million abolition announcement, Strike Debt is also unveiling plans for a new project: Debt Collective. Gokey, who's forthright about his personal investment in the effort (“My student debt today is significantly more than the last time I talked to YES!” he told us—and that was just two years ago), calls Debt Collective an “on ramp” to bigger changes and more aggressive tactics when it comes to abolishing debt. “There’s never been something like a debtors union before.”

Gokey envisions a movement where debtors are empowered to “renegotiate, resist, and refuse unfair debts” in the same way labor unions collectively leverage better pay, safer work environments, and time off. And to beat down the enormous pile of debt in general, they’ll advocate for free education and universal health care.

Hanna compares Debt Collective to “the factory floor of the past,” when labor organizers, gathered in the same physical space, came up with tactics like slowdowns, walkouts, and strikes. As debtors, Hanna said, “We might engage in collective bargaining or more robust refusal campaigns down the line … with an aim to transform the way we fund and access social goods.”

As for this round of jubilee, Strike Debt has been sending letters to the thousands of debtors from Everest, delivering the news of a lifetime. Unfortunately, Hornes will not be one of them (debts are purchased anonymously, and Strike Debt only finds out debtors' identities afterward). Still, he’s not giving in to the prospect of a lifetime of interest payments while working minimum wage jobs.

Back in Los Angeles, Hornes is now a key organizer with the Everest Avengers, a group of nearly 200 current and former Everest College students who feel they were duped into believing they were paying for a good education and are now burdened with crippling debt because of it. And within the Avengers, the Corinthian Collective was formed.

Made up of about 40 former students from the for-profit school system, the Corinthian Collective has been working directly with Strike Debt to strategize around freeing students from unfair and fraudulent loans. On the table, Hornes hopes, will be options like legal action and working to convince the Department of Education to discharge outstanding debts for Everest students across the country.

He may have missed out on the high-quality education in business management he aspired to. Instead, though, Hornes has gotten a crash course in leadership and organizing. Today, he’ll be facilitating national conversations uniting Everest students, publicizing the facts behind his fraudulent debt, and fielding questions from the media.

Finishing up his short shift break before heading back to Carl’s Jr. last night, he said he now sees himself as a “buffer” who helps demoralized classmates understand that the education they received at Everest College will likely never lead to the jobs they were promised. Instead, it has brought them together.

Liz Pleasant, Christa Hillstrom, and James Trimarco wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions.

News Mon, 22 Sep 2014 09:05:57 -0400
Obamacare ]]> Art Mon, 22 Sep 2014 09:44:05 -0400