Category Archives: buisiness
Engineer Duje Kovai, who has worked in the shipyard at Split for 40 years, asks: “Why does Europe want to stop Croatia building ships?” He has no answer. The country has a long coastline and history of sailors, fishermen and shipbuilders, but EU membership will probably put an end to one of its oldest industries. The yards had to be completely privatised before Croatia officially joined the EU on 1 July.
Croatia had five shipyards, dating back to the 19th century: Uljanik in Pula, and 3-May at Rijeka, Kraljevica, Trogir and Split. They were the economic backbone of the coastal regions. Ships built in Yugoslavia used to sail the world, and for decades Dalmatia’s shipyards rivalled those of Trieste and Saint-Nazaire. Shipbuilding was key to the political imagination of the socialist years: Josip Broz Tito had worked as a mechanic at Kraljevica in the 1920s. Split’s history is linked with the shipyard: the famous Hajduk football club — which is to Croatia what Olympique de Marseille is to France — was founded by shipbuilders who joined the Communist partisans when Dalmatia was annexed by the Italian fascists in 1941.The termination of all public subsidies is stipulated in chapter 8 (Competition Policy) of the accession treaty admitting Croatia to the EU, and the European Commission has been monitoring the implementation of the “restructuring” programme. “All over the world, states help shipbuilding,” said Zvonko Šegvi, president of Split’s shipbuilders’ union. “In Italy, the Fincantieri shipyards are entirely in public hands; in France, the state is still a minority shareholder in the biggest yards such as STX-Chantiers de l’Atlantique. Even in South Korea, the world leader in naval construction, the state subsidises shipbuilding. What’s acceptable in every other country is forbidden in Croatia in the name of European integration.”
A few months before EU accession, the state put its shipyards up for sale. But this proved more difficult than expected: debts were underestimated and some potential buyers were put off by the requirement that they shoulder 40% of restructuring costs. Kraljevica didn’t find a buyer and went under. Only the privatisation of the small site at Trogir seems a comparative success: one pier will be turned into a marina and chandler’s yard, and shipbuilding will continue. It was bought by a Croatian businessman, Danko Konar. The state will contribute €60m ($80m) to its restructuring over five years, and the agreement includes cutting the workforce from 1,200 to 900. Slavko Bilota, an engineer, hopes though that as older workers retire new ones will be taken on.The yards in Split were purchased by the DIV group for the nominal sum of 500,000 kunas ($88,600). DIV, which is owned by the businessman Tomislav Debeljak, has not put forward any serious plan for getting them back in operation, and announced in June that almost all of the 3,500 workers would be laid off: 1,500 of these will be rehired on short-term contracts, but the selection criteria are unclear. DIV has also promised to recruit 500 former employees, also on temporary contracts.
Split is not going down without a fight, and DIV has brought charges against union leaders for alleged acts of violence and has had them banned from the site.The identity of Istria is likewise inextricably linked to the Uljanik shipyard at Pula. In this tiny region of 200,000 people, shipbuilding accounts for nearly 30,000 jobs, direct and indirect. Production has continued and the order book is full, despite a reduction in state aid since 2006. Uljanik even made a bid to buy the 3-May shipyard in Rijeka. But the future remains uncertain. The site is attracting attention for its touristic rather than industrial potential: the islet on which the shipyards are located is in the middle of Pula bay, visible from the promenade and the town’s Roman amphitheatre. For now, Pula’s tourist future is focused on Muzil, a former military base built in 1859 for the Austro-Hungarian fleet and used by the Yugoslav then Croatian navies until it was closed in 2007. Pula residents currently stroll, bathe, fish, and picnic on the site, which also hosts alternative festivals, but there are plans to privatise it and turn it into a tourist complex with a 2,500-bed hotel, golf course and marina.
The planned demise of the shipyards will complete Croatia’s deindustrialisation. But can the country rely on tourism? The coastal regions have the highest unemployment, with 22% officially out of work overall, and a third of those under 25. Many young people get by on casual work on the black market, earning as little as $250 a month. Zvonko Šegvi says Croatia is joining the EU “without any real preparation … our economy has been devastated, and all we can do is provide services to the rich countries in the north. In the EU, Croatia is going to be a second-rank country, like all the other states in the south.”
The number of complaints received by the ethics watchdog last year which related directly to Tipperary North TD Michael Lowry is 388
THE number of people being sent to jail for failing to pay paltry court fines has soared by 25 per cent in just two years. read full article
A HIGH Court judge has cleared the way for aggrieved customers to initiate private criminal prosecutions against bank staff. read full article
INDEPENDENT MEP Nessa Childers, who resigned from the Labour Party last week, has sensationally claimed that she was subjected to a campaign of “overt bullying” by senior part read full article
The Sunday Independent posed the following questions to Minister of State for Small Business John Perry but he refused to comment. A spokesman said: “As this matter currently remains before the courts, Minister Perry will be making no comment.”
In relation to the loan Mr Perry agreed with Bank of Ireland to help pay his outstanding tax bill of approximately €100,000, what security – if any – was provided to the Bank of Ireland?
• Why did Mr Perry tell Danske Bank officials that he was friends with Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher? What would this have to do with any decision the bank would make on extending credit to him? Did he expect it to make a difference?
• Why did Mr Perry meet Danske officials in his Dail office? Did he not consider this to be an inappropriate use of that office? Did he think a meeting held in a minister’s office would in any way influence Danske Bank officials in their treatment of him?
• Can Mr Perry explain his remark to Danske Bank officials on January 31 last, where he accused them of being engaged in a form of bullying? Why did he go on to ask the bank’s officials if they treated all their customers in the same way? Does he consider it appropriate to have referred to the bank’s relations with other customers given his position as a government minister?
After hearing that GM crops could potentially increase yields, three farmers in Schmeiser’s region planted fields of Monsanto’s seed. Winds pushed pollen from GM canola into Schmeiser’s fields, and the plants cross-pollinated. The breed he had been cultivating for 50 years was now contaminated by Monsanto’s GM canola.
Did Monsanto apologize? No. It sued Schmeiser for patent infringement — first charging the farmer per acre of contamination, then slapping him with another suit for $1 million and attempting to seize his land and farming equipment. After a seven-year battle, the Canadian Supreme Court eventually ruled against him but let him keep his farm and his $1 million. He was one of the lucky ones.
Schmeiser’s case illustrates how Monsanto is dominating — and terrifying — the agricultural world with secretive technologies, strong-arm tactics, and government approval. According to the Center for Food Safety, Monsanto has filed at least 142 similar lawsuits against farmers for alleged infringement of its patents or abuse of its technology agreement. The company has won 72 judgments totaling almost $24 million.
Agriculture is a big industry in Florida. About $130 billion-per-year big, the second-largest industry behind tourism. Statewide, 9 million acres of farmland are divided into more than 47,500 commercial farms. In fact, Palm Beach County is the largest agricultural county east of the Mississippi River.
According to the USDA, 95,000 acres of corn, 125,000 acres of upland cotton, and 25,000 acres of soybeans have been planted in the state in 2013. With Food and Water Watch warning that nationally, 90 to 93 percent of such crops are genetically modified, Floridians have cause to know what’s lurking up the food chain.
A Biotech Revolution
When you’re good at something, you want to leverage that. Monsanto’s specialty is killing stuff.
When lawsuits piled up, putting a crimp in long-term profitability, Monsanto hatched a less lethal, more lucrative plan. It would attempt to take control of the world’s food supply.
This mission started in the mid-’90s, when the company began developing genetically modified crops like soybeans, corn, alfalfa, sugar beets, and wheat (much of it used for livestock feed). Monsanto bred crops that were immune to its leading weed killer, Roundup. That meant farmers no longer had to till the land to kill weeds, as they’d done for hundreds of years. They could simply blast their fields with chemicals. The weeds would die while the crops grew unaffected. Problem solved.
Monsanto put a wonderful spin on this development: The so-called “No-Till Revolution” promised greater yields, better profits for the family farm, and a heightened ability to feed a growing world.
But there was a dark side. First, farmers grew dependent on Monsanto, having to buy new seed every year, along with Monsanto’s pesticides. The effects on human health were largely unknown — would it harm people to consume foods whose genetic profile had suddenly changed after millions of years? Or to eat the animals that had consumed those plants? What about ripple effects on ecosystems?
But agriculture had placed the belligerent strongman in charge of the buffet line.
Monsanto squeezed out competitors by buying the biggest seed companies, spending $12 billion on the splurge. The company bought up the best shelf space and distribution channels. Its braying of global benevolence began to look much more like a naked power grab.
Seed prices began to soar. Since 1996, the cost of soybeans has increased 325 percent. Corn has risen 259 percent. And the price of genetically modified cotton has jumped a stunning 516 percent.
Instead of feeding the world, Monsanto drove prices through the roof — taking the biggest share for itself. A study by Dr. Charles Benbrook at Washington State University found that rapidly increasing seed and pesticide costs were tamping farmers’ income, cutting them from any benefits of the new technology.
Still, Monsanto was doing its best to make them play along. It offered steep discounts to independent dealers willing to restrict themselves to selling mostly Monsanto products. These same contracts brought severe punishment if independents ever sold out to a rival. U.S. regulators showed little concern for Monsanto’s expanding power.
“They’re a pesticide company that’s bought up seed firms,” says Bill Freese, a scientist at the Center for Food Safety. “Businesswise, it’s a beautiful, really smart strategy. It’s just awful for agriculture and the environment.”
Today, Monsanto seeds cover 40 percent of America’s crop acres — and 27 percent worldwide. The company makes nearly $8 billion per year.
“If you put control over plant and genetic resources into the hands of the private sector… and anybody thinks that plant breeding is still going to be used to solve society’s real problems and to advance food security, I have a bridge to sell them,” says Benbrook.
Seeds of Destruction
It didn’t used to be like this. At one time, seed companies were just large-scale farmers who grew various strains for next year’s crop. Most of the innovative hybrids and cross-breeding was done the old-fashioned way at public universities. The results were shared publicly.
“It was done in a completely open-sourced way,” says Benbrook. “Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture exchanged all sort of seeds with other scientists and researchers all over the world. This free trade and exchange of plant genetic resources was the foundation of progress in plant breeding. And in less than a decade, it was over.”
The first crack appeared in 1970, when Congress empowered the USDA to grant exclusive marketing rights to novel strains — with the exception that farmers could replant the seeds if they chose and patented varieties must be provided to researchers.
But that wasn’t enough. Corporations wanted more control, and they got it with a dramatic, landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1980 that allowed the patenting of living organisms. The decision was intended to increase research and innovation. But it did the opposite, encouraging market concentration.
Monsanto, which declined an interview request for this article, would soon gobble up every rival seed company in sight. It patented the best seeds for genetic engineering, leaving only the inferior for sale as non-GM brands.
Syngenta and DuPont both sued, accusing Monsanto of monopolistic practices and a “scorched earth campaign.” But instead of bringing reform, the chemical giants reached settlements that granted them licenses to use, sell, and cross-develop Monsanto products. (Some DuPont suits still drag on today.)
It wasn’t until 2009 that the Justice Department, working in concert with several state attorneys general, began investigating the company for antitrust violations. But three years later, the feds quietly dropped the case. (They also ignored interview requests for this article.)
Dr. Peter Carstensen, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, said some states were interested in pursuing the case and “some of the staff in the antitrust division wanted to do something, but top management — you say the word ‘patent’ and they panic.”
Set the Lawyers to Stun
Historically, farmers were able to save money on seeds by using those produced by last year’s crops for the coming year’s planting. But because Monsanto owns patents on its genetically modified strains, it forces farmers to buy new seeds every year.
Armed with lawyers and private investigators, the company has embarked on a campaign of spying and intimidation to stop any farmer from replanting his seeds.
Farmers call them the “seed police,” using words such as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” to describe Monsanto’s tactics. The company’s agents fan out into small towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants. Some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records.
In one case, Monsanto accused Indiana farmer David Runyon of using its soybean seeds, despite documented fact that he’d bought nonpatented seed from local universities for years. While attempting to pressure Runyon, Monsanto’s lawyer claimed the company had an agreement with the Indiana Department of Agriculture to search his land.
One problem: Indiana didn’t have a Department of Agriculture at the time. Like most Monsanto investigations, the case never went to trial and would appear to be more about intimidation than anything. Runyon incurred substantial costs defending himself without having done anything wrong. In 2006, the Center for Food Safety estimated that Monsanto had pressured as many as 4,500 farmers into paying settlements worth as much as $160 million.
Yet Monsanto wanted even more leverage. So it naturally turned to Congress.
Earlier this year, a little-noticed provision was slipped into a budget resolution. The measure, pushed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), granted the company an unheard-of get-out-of-jail-free card, which critics derisively dubbed “The Monsanto Protection Act.”
There have been some indications of adverse health effects, but Monsanto has largely kept its products from researchers. Long-term studies have been limited, but scientists have found greater prevalence of tumors and digestive problems in rats fed GM corn and potatoes, and digestive issues for livestock eating GM feed. Those who have published studies critical of GM have been besieged by industry-funded critics disputing their finding, assailing their professional reputations, and effectively muddying the water. The feds have never bothered to extensively study GM foods. Instead, they’ve basically taken Monsanto’s word that all is kosher. So organic farmers and their allies sued the company in 2009, claiming too little study had been done on Monsanto’s GM sugar beets.
A year later, a judge agreed, ordering all recently planted GM sugar beet crops destroyed until their environmental impact was studied.
The Monsanto Protection Act was designed to end such rulings. It essentially bars judges from intervening in the midst of lawsuits — a notion that would seem highly unconstitutional.
Not that Congress noticed. Monsanto’s spent more than $10 million on campaign contributions during the past decade — plus another $70 million on lobbying since 1998. The money speaks so loudly, Congress has become tone-deaf.
In fact, the U.S. government has become Monsanto’s de facto lobbyist in countries distrustful of GM safety. Two years ago, WikiLeaks released diplomatic cables showing how the feds had lobbied foreign governments to weaken laws and encourage the planting of genetically modified crops in Third World countries.
Other wires from State Department diplomats ask for money to fly in corporate flacks to lean on government officials. Even Mr. Environment, former Vice President Al Gore, was key in getting France to briefly approve Monsanto’s GM corn.
These days, the company has infiltrated the highest levels of government. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is a former Monsanto lawyer, and the company’s former and current employees are in high-level posts at the USDA and FDA.
But the real coup came in 2010, when President Obama appointed former Monsanto Vice President Michael Taylor as the FDA’s new deputy commissioner for foods. It was akin to making George Zimmerman the czar of gun safety.
Trust Us. Why Would We Lie?
At the same time Monsanto was cornering the food supply, its principal products — GM crops — were receiving less scrutiny than an NSA contractor.
Monsanto understood early on the best way to stave off bad publicity was to suppress independent research. Until recently, when negotiating an agreement with major universities, the company had severely restricted access to its seeds by requiring researchers to apply for a license and get approval from the company about any proposed research. The documentary Scientists Under Attack: Genetic Engineering in the Magnetic Field of Money noted that nearly 95 percent of genetic engineering research is paid for and controlled by corporations like Monsanto.
Meanwhile, former employees embedded in government make sure the feds never get too nosy.
Meet Michael Taylor. He’s gone back and forth from government to Monsanto enough times that it’s not a revolving door; it’s a Bat-pole. During an early-’90s stint with the FDA, he helped usher bovine growth hormone milk into the food supply and wrote the decision that kept the government out of Monsanto’s GM crop business.
Known as “substantial equivalence,” this policy declared that genetically modified products are essentially the same as their non-GM counterparts — and therefore require no additional labeling, food safety, or toxicity tests. Never mind that no accepted science backed his theory.
“It’s simply a political calculation invented by Michael Taylor and Monsanto and adopted by U.S. federal policymakers to resist labeling,” says Jim Gerritsen, a Maine farmer. “You have this collusion between corporations and the government, and the essence is that the people’s interest isn’t being served.”
The FDA approves GM crops by doing no testing of its own but by simply taking Monsanto’s word for their safety. Amusingly, Monsanto agrees that it should have nothing to do with verifying safety, says spokesman Phil Angell. “Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.”
So if neither Monsanto nor the feds is ensuring that the food supply is safe, who is?
The answer: No one.
We’ve Got Bigger Problems Now
So far, it appears the GM movement has done little more than raise the cost of food.
A 2009 study by Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman looked at four Monsanto seeds and found only minimal increases in yield. And since GM crops cost more to produce, their economic benefits are questionable at best.
“It pales in comparison to other conventional approaches,” says Gurian-Sherman. “It’s a lot more expensive, and it comes with a lot of baggage that goes with it, like pesticide use, monopoly issues, and control of the seed supply.”
Meanwhile, the use of pesticides has soared as weeds and insects become increasingly resistant to these death sprays. Since GM crops were introduced in 1996, pesticide use has increased by 404 million pounds. Last year, Syngenta, one of the world’s largest pesticide makers, reported that sales of its major corn soil insecticide more than doubled in 2012, a response to increased resistance to Monsanto’s pesticides.
Part of the blame belongs to a monoculture that developed around farming. Farmers know it’s better to rotate the crops and pesticides and leave fields fallow for a season. But when corn prices are high, who wants to grow a less profitable crop? The result’s been soil degradation, relatively static yields, and an epidemic of weed and insect resistance.
Weeds and insects are fighting back with their own law — the law of natural selection. Last year, 49 percent of surveyed farmers reported Roundup-resistant weeds on their farms, up from 34 percent the year before. The problem costs farmers more than $1 billion annually.
Nature, as it’s proved so often before, will not be easily vanquished.
Pests like Roundup-resistant pigweed can grow thick as your arm and more than six feet high, requiring removal by hand. Many farmers simply abandon fields that have been infested with it. Pigweed has infested Florida cotton fields, and farmers are now using old pesticides on top of Roundup to combat it.
To kill these adaptive pests, chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow are developing crops capable of withstanding even harsher pesticides. It’s producing an endless cycle of greater pesticide use at commensurate financial and environmental cost.
“It’s not about stewardship of the land,” says Thomas Earnshaw, sustainable farmer, educator, and founder of Outlaw Farmers in the Florida Panhandle. “The north Panhandle is probably the most contaminated land in the state — because of the monoculture farming with all the cotton and soy, both are “Roundup Ready” [GM crops]. They’re just spraying chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers into the soil, it’s getting into the water table, and farmers aren’t even making any more money — biotech is.”
Next Stop… the World!
The biggest problem for Monsanto’s global growth: It doesn’t have the same juice with foreign governments as it does with ours. That’s why it relies on the State Department to work as its taxpayer-funded lobbyist abroad.
Yet that’s becoming increasingly difficult. Other nations aren’t as willing to play corporate water boy as America is. The countries that need GM seeds often can’t afford them (or don’t trust Monsanto). And the nations that can afford them (other than us) don’t really want them (or don’t trust Monsanto).
Though the European Union imports 30 million tons of GM crops annually for livestock feed, it’s approved only two GM crops for human consumption. Although Brazil is poised to become the world’s largest soybean exporter on the strength of Monsanto seed, thousands of farmers there are suing Monsanto for more than $600 million after the company continued to charge them royalties two years after the expiration of its patent. Ecuador and Peru have shied away from GM crops. And even in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, Haiti mistrusted Monsanto so much that it declined its offer of seeds, even with assurances that the seed wasn’t GM.
In April, biotech companies took another hit when the European Union banned neonicotinoids — AKA “neo-nics” — one of the most powerful and popular insecticides in the world. It’s a derivative of nicotine that’s quite poisonous to plants and insects. German giant Bayer CropScience and Syngenta both make neo-nics, which are used to coat seeds, protecting crops in their early growth stage. In America, 90 percent of America’s corn crop comes with the coating.
The problem is that plants sweat these chemicals out in the morning dew, where they’re picked up by bees like a morning cup of Starbucks. Last year, a study linked neo-nics to the collapse of bee colonies, which threatens the entire food system. One-quarter of the human diet is pollinated by bees.
The mysterious collapse of colonies — in which bees simply fly off and die — has been reported as far back as 1918. Yet over the past seven years, mortality rates have tripled. Some U.S. regions are witnessing the death of more than half their populations, especially at corn planting time.
Last year’s study indicates a link to Monsanto’s GM corn, which has been widely treated with neo-nics since 2005.
But while other countries run from the problem, the U.S. government is content to let its citizens serve as guinea pigs. Beekeepers, though, are starting to fight back. This year, two separate lawsuits have been filed against the EPA demanding a more stringent risk assessment process and labeling laws for pesticides.
What’s Mine Is Yours
The same worries apply to contamination from GM crops. Ask Frank Morton, who grows organic sugar beet seeds in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and is among the few non-GM holdouts.
In 2010, a federal judge demanded farmers stop planting GM sugar beets. Farmers were surprised to find there was very little non-GM sugar-beet seed to be had. Since being introduced in 2005, Monsanto had driven just about everyone out of the market.
Morton’s farm is just two miles from a GM sugar beet farm. Unfortunately, beet pollen can travel as much as five miles, cross-pollinating other farmers’ fields and, in the case of an organic farmer, threatening his ability to sell his crop as organic and GM-free.
Morton has to worry about his fields because GM crops have perverted long-standing property law. Organic farmers are responsible for protecting their farms from contamination, since courts have consistently refused to hold GM growers liable.
Kansas farmer Bryce Stephens had to stop growing organic corn and soybeans for fear of contamination and has 30-foot buffer crops to protect his organic wheat. (Wheat pollen doesn’t travel far.)
“Monsanto and the biotechs need to respect traditional property rights and need to keep their pollution on their side of the fence,” says Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen. “If it was anything but agriculture, nobody would question it. If I decided to spray my house purple and I sprayed on a day that was windy and my purple paint drifted onto your house and contaminated your siding and shingles, there isn’t a court in the nation that wouldn’t in two minutes find me guilty of irresponsibly damaging your property. But when it comes to agriculture, all of a sudden the tables are turned.”
Contamination isn’t just about boutique organic brands. It maims U.S. exports too.
Take Bayer, which grew experimental, GM rice — that was unapproved for cultivation and for human consumption — at test plots around Louisiana State University for just one year. Within five years, these test plots had contaminated 30 percent of U.S. rice acreage. No one’s certain how it happened, but Bayer’s rice was found as far away as Central America and Africa.
Within days of the USDA announcement that this untested GM rice had gotten loose, rice futures lost $150 million in value, while U.S. rice exports dropped by 20 percent during the next year. And Bayer ended up paying farmers $750 million in damages.
Last month brought another hit. A Monsanto test of GM wheat mysteriously contaminated an Oregon farm eight years after the test was shut down. Japan and South Korea immediately halted imports of U.S. soft white wheat — a particularly harsh pill for the Japanese, who have used our white wheat in almost all cakes and confectionary since the 1960s.
Monsanto’s response? It’s blaming the whole mess on eco-terrorists.
Just Label It
Trish Sheldon moved to Florida in 2001, but the bubbly blond still exudes a cool, friendly California air. In 2010, she started a state chapter of Millions Against Monsanto, then in 2011 founded a group called GMO-Free Florida to raise awareness of the risks of GMOs and push for mandatory labeling initiatives.
With Monsanto seeds covering more than 40 percent of America’s crop acres (a March study found that 86 percent of corn, 88 percent of cotton, and 93 percent of soybeans grown here are of a GM variety) and the agri-giant making an expected $7.65 billion profit this year, it’s doubtful the company will go away anytime soon. But as consumers become more aware of the sinister problems lurking in the food chain, activists in many states are pushing for laws that would require foods with GM ingredients to be labeled, much as foods with trans fats are.
More than 23 right-to-know groups have since popped up throughout Florida especially after California’s push for mandatory labeling legislation, called Proposition 37, failed last year. Chemical companies defeated the initiative, thanks to a $46 million publicity campaign full of deceptive statements.
“Even though there were lies and deceit by the biotech industry, that was the catalyst,” Sheldon says. “People were so pissed off that it failed [and] we started gaining steam.” This May, during a global day of action, more than 2 million protesters attended rallies in more than 400 cities across 52 countries. In Miami, organizers lost count when protesters topped 1,300.
“If they’re going to allow the American people to be lab rats in an experiment, could they at least know where it is from so they can decide whether they want to participate or not?” asks Lance Harvell, a Republican state representative from Maine who sponsored a GM labeling law this year. “If the FDA isn’t going to do their job, it’s time we stepped in.”
Maine is just the second state (nine days after Connecticut) to pass such a law. When Vermont raised the issue a year ago, a Monsanto official indicated the company might sue. So the new laws in both Maine and Connecticut won’t take effect until other states pass similar legislation so they can share defense costs.
In Florida, state Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs and House Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda have sponsored similar bills — but neither version made it to committee. Both intend to revise and resubmit bills in the next legislative session, in January 2014.
“God gave the seed to the earth and the fruit to the trees,” Harvell says. “Notice it didn’t say he granted Monsanto a patent. The human body has developed with its seeds. You’re making a major leap into Pandora’s box, a quantum leap that maybe the human body isn’t ready to make yet.”
As more information comes out, it’s increasingly clear that GM seed isn’t the home run it’s portrayed to be. It encourages greater pesticide use, which has a negative impact on the environment and our bodies. Whether or not GM food is safe to eat, it poses a real threat to biodiversity through monopolization of the seed industry and the kind of industrial farming monoculture this inspires.
Meanwhile, a study by the University of Canterbury in England found that non-GM crops in America and Europe are increasing their yields faster than GM crops.
“All this talk about feeding the world, it’s really PR,” explains Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The hope is to get into these new markets, force farmers to pay for seed, then start changing the food and eating habits of the developing world.”
But as much as he hates GM, Kansas farmer Stephens is sanguine. “I’ve seen changes since I was little to where it is now,” he says. “I don’t think it will last. This land and these people here have gone through cycles of boom and bust. We’re just in another cycle, and it will be something different.”
Providing we don’t irreparably break it first.
Additional reporting by Sara Ventiera.
Passing steeper taxes on the rich isn’t as hard as you’d think.
BY FRED GLASS
Demographic changes favoring a clear progressive message, coupled with the Occupy movement’s lasting insight that the 1 percent are robbing the rest of us blind, provide the opening to beat back the core conservative idea: that the problem is government and society should seek help from the wisdom of the rich.
“There is no alternative to austerity,” insist the rich, along with their politicians, foundations, think tanks and media.
They’ve been saying it for decades, along with, “taxes are bad,” “government doesn’t work” and “public employees are greedy.”
Consequently, common wisdom had it that “you can’t raise taxes.” Even people who should have known better believed this, while the public sector slid down the tubes.
So how did Proposition 30 succeed? This measure, passed by California voters last November, raises $6 billion a year for schools and services—and in a supposedly “anti-tax” state. The money comes mostly through an income tax hike on rich people, along with a tiny sales tax increase of 0.25 percent.
The story should be better known, because with the right preparation, you could make it happen in your state, too.
Testing the waters
Shortly after Democrat Jerry Brown was elected governor in November 2010, the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) pulled together labor and community groups to craft a ballot measure to raise the revenue needed to keep schools and services afloat. (Full disclosure: I am the CFT’s communications director.)
For two years we had been laying the groundwork for a progressive tax: creating educational materials, publishing opinion pieces, holding training sessions with our members and other unionists, and talking with potential coalition partners.
We funded polls and focus groups, testing how likely various types of taxes would be to gain a majority.
Regressive taxes—like sales taxes and across-the-board income tax hikes—were viewed unfavorably. By spring 2011, people felt ordinary folks had already sacrificed enough, in the worst recession since the 1930s.
The public believed, however, that the rich and large corporations needed to pay their fair share for the common good. They were quite willing to vote for higher taxes on the rich.
As we refined our research, we decided on three principles: bring in the most revenue possible; draw it from those who could most afford to pay; and have the best chance of winning. We arrived at a Millionaires Tax: people who made a million dollars a year would pay an extra 3 percent, and people making $2 million an extra 5 percent, raising $5 billion a year.
Unfortunately, Governor Brown had his own proposal that didn’t follow those principles—it included both a half-cent sales tax hike and an across-the-board income tax increase. People were out gathering signatures for Brown’s initiative, our Millionaires Tax, and a third tax measure sponsored by a wealthy liberal attorney.
The Millionaires Tax ran ahead of the other measures in five straight polls.
In early March 2012, the CFT helped organize a march in the capital against budget cuts and college tuition increases. Thousands of students, faculty, and others paraded Millionaires Tax signs outside the governor’s window.
Two days later, responding to the governor’s charge that three competing measures would all lose, we released the results of a poll testing that idea. It found the others would get less than 50 percent, and the Millionaires Tax would win handily.
At that point the governor called in CFT President Joshua Pechthalt to talk. We compromised and combined the two proposals into Prop 30. The new measure raised the top tax rates on income of $250,000 by 1 percent, on $300,000 by 2 percent, and on $500,000 by 3 percent. We had wanted a permanent tax; Brown’s was for five years. The compromise extended that to seven.
We knew the sales tax was a poison pill and we requested that Brown drop it entirely, but he explained that, to keep the Chamber of Commerce neutral, he had promised not to “demonize the rich,” meaning there had to be a “shared sacrifice” component. He did agree to reduce it to a quarter cent.
Sales tax confusion
Our research was validated during the campaign—people don’t like regressive taxes like the sales tax. Millions of dollars in opposition ads did their best to confuse the voters, calling Prop 30 “a massive tax increase on everyone.”
CFT’s coalition, Reclaiming California’s Future, included the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (which emerged after ACORN’s demise), the Courage Campaign and California Calls, a coalition of community groups dedicated to reforming the tax system through voter education and expanding the electorate.
Our coalition emphasized the “tax the rich” message in our literature, public events and door-to-door canvassing, but we were only part of a much broader Prop 30 coalition. The official campaign’s TV ads included asking the wealthy to pay their fair share, but as one message buried among others.
The polling numbers gradually sank to a bare 50 percent. One poll, three weeks before the election, had Yes on Prop 30 at just 48 percent, while the Nos had crept up to 44 percent.
The governor campaigned mostly on the idea that Prop 30 would save education from further cuts, but threw in “shared sacrifice” and “paying down the state’s wall of debt” in his public pronouncements.
We agreed with the education message, disagreed with the others, and insisted on a strong emphasis on taxing the rich. We stressed to the governor that, in order to neutralize the opposition’s ads, the public had to understand what services the tax paid for, who it taxed, and by how much.
In the final weeks, as the governor worked with CFT and other allies in rallies and media appearances, his message became clearer and more consistent: Prop 30 would stop cuts to schools and was fair, because, he said (drawing on his Jesuit background and citing St. Luke), it asked “those who are blessed with the most wealth to give back a little bit so everyone could benefit.”
Ninety percent of Prop 30’s revenues would come from taxing the wealthy; and the quarter-cent sales tax, he said, amounted to a “mere penny on a $4 sandwich.”
On Election Day, Prop 30 won 55 percent to 45 percent, reshaping the decades-old understanding of California as an “anti-tax” state. It is the single largest progressive tax passed in the state since World War II, both in the amount of revenue raised and as a percent bump on the income taxes of the wealthy.
What are some lessons from this tremendous victory?
If the word can be gotten out effectively, the electorate is ready to pass progressive taxes to pay for common needs like schools and services.
Demographic changes favoring a clear progressive message, coupled with the Occupy movement’s lasting insight that the 1 percent are robbing the rest of us blind, provide the opening to beat back the core conservative idea: that the problem is government and society should seek help from the wisdom of the rich.
Prop 30’s message was that public education is the foundation of a decent society and we can restore that promise if the rich pay their fair share of taxes.
The anti-Prop 30 messages were the same as always—government can’t do anything right; the rich will leave California if we tax them; taxes are too high; if we remove the waste, fraud, and abuse in government there will be plenty of money for schools.
But these ideas, so effective in the past, had lost their potency, because, especially post-Occupy, the public understands that economic inequality is growing.
Spending tens of millions of dollars didn’t work for the rich this time. In fact, it backfired—they proved our point. We didn’t have to “demonize” the rich; they did it themselves.
Another key, of course, was the old-fashioned work of reaching out to core constituencies. The Reclaiming coalition was crucial, along with a ground campaign by the broader labor movement, which was heavily mobilized to fight an anti-union measure on the ballot (which lost).
Volunteers and staff spent countless hours knocking on doors, phonebanking, rallying, educating. We reached out systematically to less-likely voters—young people, college students, immigrants, lower-income communities of color—and convinced them to come out to vote for their own futures.
Credit for this orientation is due especially to California Calls, which has targeted less-likely voters and stayed in touch over several election cycles.
This year California has begun to restore funds for public education for the first time in years. There is an alternative to austerity; its name is “progressive taxes.”
Reprinted with permission from Labor Notes.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Fred Glass is communications director for the California Federation of Teachers
* ‘Quality in preference to quantity’ and ‘evidence of value for money’ must be the two ‘vitals’ for a reformed new government. read full article
MORE hairshirt budgets are in prospect after the Central Bank urged the Government not to let up on austerity and Finance Minister Michael Noonan admitted next year’s cuts and taxes wil read full article
Member countries of the European Association of Hospital Pharmacists (EAHP) have issued a jointly agreed statement expressing apprehension about the impact of public spending austerity on services to patients in hospitals.
Amongst the negative impacts of public spending austerity causing concern to hospital pharmacists are: increasing expectancy placed upon patients to meet the up-front costs of their medicines; the unintended impacts national cost-cutting measures are having in respect of medicines shortage; short-staffing in hospitals; diminished opportunities for healthcare professional training and development; and shrinking investment in areas of patient safety enhancement.
EAHP’s members have called for a European Commission review into the potential for greater joint level cooperation between governments in terms of reducing the detrimental health impacts of austerity measures. Such a review could be conducted in the context of both the pan-European aspects of these problems, and the remit of the European Union to take action in the area of public health, as per article 168 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
Speaking about the new policy statement, EAHP president Dr Roberto Frontini said, “Hospital pharmacists, by the nature of our profession, are highly attuned to detecting patient safety threats. So with the impacts of public spending squeezes now keenly felt in almost all European countries, we call for greater caution, care and compassion by policy-makers when it comes to the area of health. Too much progress has been achieved in previous decades to be casually discarded in a rush to resolve macro-economic challenges. Sober analysis must made of the patient safety implications of all decisions, as well as the impacts on sustainable health services.”
Dr Frontini further added, “I see significant potential value that could be delivered by the European Commission taking a proactive role in helping member states navigate the current financial challenges to health systems. Ultimately, we all have a duty to ensure that it is not the sick and vulnerable that pays the price of austerity.”
EAHP is an association of national organisations representing hospital pharmacists at European and international levels.
Federal officials said that a criminal information charging Halliburton with one count of destruction of evidence was filed in federal court.
Halliburton has agreed to pay the maximum fine, be on probation for three years and continue to co-operate with the government’s criminal investigation, said the news release, which did not specify the fine amount. The Texas-based company has also made a voluntary 55 million dollar (£35 million) contribution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Halliburton was oil giant BP’s cement contractor on the drilling rig that exploded after a well blow-out, killing 11 workers and spilling millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf.
Around May 2010, the company directed a programme manager “to run two computer simulations of the Macondo well final cementing job using Halliburton’s Displace 3D simulation programme to compare the impact of using six versus 21 centralisers”, the news release said.
Halliburton recommended to BP the use of 21 centralisers in the well, but BP decided to use six instead, said the news release. The simulations indicated there was little difference between using six and 21 centralisers, but the programme manager “was directed to, and did, destroy these results”, federal officials say.
Similar evidence was destroyed in a subsequent incident in June 2010, said the Justice Department.
The news release said: “Efforts to forensically recover the original destroyed Displace 3D computer simulations during ensuing civil litigation and federal criminal investigation by the Deepwater Horizon Task Force were unsuccessful. In agreeing to plead guilty, Halliburton has accepted criminal responsibility for destroying the aforementioned evidence.”
The plea agreement and criminal charge both arise from a criminal investigation by the Deepwater Horizon Task Force. Halliburton and BP have blamed each other for the failure of the cement job to seal the Macondo well.
During a trial, BP asked a federal judge to sanction Halliburton for allegedly destroying evidence about the role that its cement slurry design could have played in the blow-out. The company announced in April it was trying to negotiate a settlement over its role in the disaster.
The following statement was issued to the media in Cork this morning, on behalf of Cork’s ‘for DEMOCRACY!’ group.
A serious issue arises from the weekend’s events in Cork that should concern everyone. A concerted effort was made by officials claiming to represent Cork City Council to stop the activities of the ‘for DEMOCRACY!’ group. The group have organised an Anti-Austerity / Pro-Democracy stall in Patrick’s Street every Saturday for nearly a year, distributing leaflets and speaking with the public.
On Saturday, in successive incidents, up to six individuals approached the group’s information table to demand that the leaflet distribution stop, also demanding that the group stop speaking with the public. Diarmaid Ó Cadhla, spokesperson for the group, said that “despite being advised that we were entitled to be on the street the officials demanded that we ‘move on’, they claimed authority from Cork City Council for doing so.”
At one stage the speaker at the stall was man-handled while addressing the public, at other stages the officials lined up in front of the stall, face to face with members of the group – invading personal space in a threatening manner.
Ó Cadhla said, “Thankfully the Gardaí came to the scene and after some discussion they advised the officials that we were acting within our rights and our work continued uninterrupted.”
Mr. Ó Cadhla says that the ‘for DEMOCRACY!’ group will be lodging an official complaint and is already in contact with City Hall in this regard.
Ó Cadhla said “apparently City Council decided that last Saturday was a ‘festive day’ and for ‘fun’, our likes were not wanted … street performance was organised for entertainment and public money spent on it.”
Diarmaid Ó Cadhla noted that “the incidents on Saturday follow a number of earlier attacks on our work against Austerity made by Councillors and Management at City Hall”. He continued, “whether these incidents are related or just some officials ‘going maverick’, it remains a most serious matter – either way we want clarification and an apology from City Council”.
Mr. Ó Cadhla asked “Why does City Council feel it should stop citizens discussing the lack of democracy in our country/city and the unjust imposition of policy on the people?”
He also asked “Why does City Council feel that the people of Cork need more ‘festive’ and ‘fun’ days while so many thousands of families are facing destitution?”
Given that the Constitutional role of Local Government is to provide a “forum for the democratic representation of local communities” why isn’t City Council providing such a forum for the people? rather than distract them with trivia and try to silence anyone who speaks out?
Diarmaid Ó Cadhla 086-3805005
Cork for DEMOCRACY! c/o Ionad an Phobail, 99 Sráid na Dúghlaise, Corcaigh.
Note: It is understood that the event organising was undertaken by a Dublin based company, Emergent Events, who were sponsored and assisted by Cork City Council
Like plague in the 14th century, the scourge of debt has gradually migrated from South to North. Our 21st-century Yersinia pestis isn’t spread by flea-infested rats but by deadly, ideology-infested neoliberal fundamentalists. Once they had names like Thatcher or Reagan; now they sound more like Merkel or Barroso; but the message, the mentality and the medicine are basically the same. The devastation caused by the two plagues is also similar – no doubt fewer debt-related deaths in Europe today than in Africa three decades ago, but probably more permanent harm done to once-thriving European economies.
Faithful – and older – New Internationalist readers will recall the dread phrase ‘structural adjustment’. ‘Adjustment’ was the innocent-sounding term for the package of economic nostrums imposed by wealthy Northern creditor countries on the less-developed ones in what we then called the ‘Third World’. A great many of these countries had borrowed too much for too many unproductive purposes. Sometimes the leadership simply placed the loans in their private accounts (think Mobutu or Marcos) and put their countries in hock. Paying back in pesos, reals, cedis or other funny money was unacceptable: the creditors wanted dollars, pounds, deutschmarks…
Anti-austerity protests in Spain
Furthermore, the Southerners had contracted their loans at variable interest rates, initially low but astronomical from 1981 when the Federal Reserve declared an end to the era of cheap money. When countries such as Mexico threatened default, panicked creditor-country treasury ministers, top bankers and international bureaucrats spent some sleepless weekends eating take-out and cobbling together emergency plans.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.* Decades later, serial crisis meetings still take place, this time in Brussels and, with minor variations, the response is identical: you only get a bailout in exchange for committing to a set of stringent requirements. These once echoed the neoliberal ‘Washington Consensus’; now they are more truthfully labelled ‘austerity packages’ but demand the same measures. Sign here, please, in blood.
For the South, the contracts said: ‘Cut back food production and grow cash-earning crops. Privatize your State enterprises and open up profit-making activities to foreign transnational corporations, especially in raw materials and extractive industries, forestry and fisheries. Drastically limit credit, cancel subsidies and social benefits. Make health and education paying propositions. Economize and earn hard currency through trade. Your prime responsibility is to your creditors, not your people.’
Now it’s Europe’s turn. The countries of southern Europe, plus Ireland, are relentlessly told: ‘You have been living beyond your means. Now pay.’ Governments meekly accept orders and their people often assume that their debt must be paid instantly because the debt of a sovereign State is just like the debt of a family. It’s not – a government accumulates debt by issuing bonds on financial markets. These bonds are bought mostly by institutional investors such as banks which receive an annual interest payment, low when the risk of default is low, higher when it isn’t. It’s absolutely normal, desirable and even necessary for a country to have a debt which will pose zero problems and generate many benefits if the money is prudently invested for the longer term in productive activities such as education, health, social benefits, solid infrastructure and the like.
Indeed, the higher the proportion of public spending in a government budget, the higher the standard of living and the more jobs are created – including private-sector jobs. This rule has been verified time and again since the correlation between public investment and national well-being was first noted in the late 19th century.
Obviously, borrowed money can also be wasted and spent stupidly and benefits can be distributed unfairly. The big family-State budget difference is that States don’t disappear like bankrupt companies. Productive, well-managed investment financed by government borrowing should be seen on the whole as A Good Thing.
The magic numbers
In 1992, European countries narrowly voted Yes to the Maastricht Treaty, which at the insistence of Germany contained two magic numbers, 3 and 60. Never allow a budget deficit greater than three per cent; never contract public debt greater than 60 per cent of your Gross Domestic Product (GDP).** Why not two or four per cent, 55 or 65 per cent? Nobody knows, except perhaps some ancient bureaucrats who were there, but these numbers have become the Law and the Prophets.
In 2010, two famous economists announced that beyond 90 per cent of GDP, debt would plunge a country into trouble and its GDP would contract. That sounds logical because interest payments would take a bigger chunk out of the budget. But in April 2013, a North American PhD candidate tried to replicate their results and found he couldn’t. Using their figures, he got a positive result for GDP which would still rise by more than two per cent per annum. The famous, if red-faced, twosome had to admit they were Excel victims and had misplaced a comma.
Even the International Monetary Fund has confessed to similar mistakes, this time on the austerity cuts issue. We now know, because the Fund was honest enough to tell us, that cuts would hurt the GDP by two to three times more than it initially foresaw. Europe should go easy, says the IMF, and not ‘drive the economy with the brakes on’. The magic 60 per cent of GDP debt limit is no more sacred than the three per cent deficit limit; yet policies remain the same, because the neoliberal hawks seize upon every scrap of dubious evidence that seems to promote their cause.
We are faced with two basic questions. The first is why did the debts of European countries rise so steeply after the crisis struck in 2007? In just four years, between 2006 and 2010, debts escalated by more than 75 per cent in Britain and Greece, by 59 per cent in Spain and by fully 276 per cent in all-time champion Ireland, where the government simply announced it would assume responsibility for all the debts of all the private Irish banks. The Irish people would henceforward be held responsible for the irresponsibility of Irish bankers. Britain did the same, though in lesser measure. Just as profits are privatized, losses are socialized.
So citizens pay through austerity, whereas bankers and other investors who bought the country’s bonds or toxic financial products contribute nothing. After the 2007 crisis, the GDP of European countries dropped by an average five per cent and governments had to compensate. Escalating business failures and mass unemployment also meant more expenditures for governments just when they were taking in less income from taxes.
The New Morality
Economic stagnation is expensive – higher expenditure and lower revenue add up to a single answer: borrow more. Saving the banks and taking the consequences of the crisis they created are the fundamental reason for the debt crisis – and consequently for harsh austerity today. People were not ‘living beyond their means’ but the New Morality is clearly ‘Punish the Innocent, Reward the Guilty’.
This is no defence of stupid or corrupt policies such as allowing the Spanish housing bubble to inflate or Greek politicians to hire masses of new civil servants after each election. The Greeks have a bloated military budget and inexcusably refuse to tax the great shipping magnates and the Church – the biggest property owner in the country. But if your bathtub leaks and the dining room paint is peeling, do you burn down your house? Or do you fix the plumbing and repaint?
The human consequences of austerity are inescapable and well known: pensioners search through rubbish bins at mid-month hoping to find a meal; talented, well-educated Italians, Portuguese and Spaniards flee their countries as unemployment for their age group approaches 50 per cent; unbearable stress is laid on families; violence against women increases as poverty and distress rise; hospitals lack essential medicines and personnel, schools decline, public services deteriorate or disappear. Nature takes the brunt as well: nothing is invested in reversing the climate crisis or halting environmental destruction – it’s too expensive. Like everything else, we can’t do it now.
We know these outcomes, the results of what Angela Merkel calls ‘expansionary austerity’ policies. This neoliberal theory claims that markets will be ‘reassured’ by tough policies and reinvest in the newly disciplined countries concerned. This hasn’t happened. Pictures of Merkel adorned with swastikas are appearing throughout southern Europe.
Many Germans think they are helping Greece – and they don’t want to anymore. In fact, virtually all the bailout money has taken a circuitous route: EU government contributions made through the European Stability Mechanism have been channelled via the Greek Central Banks and private banks right back to British, German and French banks that had bought up Greek Eurobonds to get a higher yield. It would be simpler to give European taxpayers’ money directly to the banks, except that said taxpayers might notice. Why make an ongoing psycho-drama over two per cent (Greece) or 0.4 per cent (Cyprus) of the European economy? A cynic might say: ‘Easy. To ensure Ms Merkel’s re-election in September.’
The second basic question is: why do we continue to apply policies that are harmful and don’t work? One can look at this self-created disaster in two ways. Eminent prize-winning economists like Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz believe that the European leadership is brain-dead, ignorant of economics and needlessly committing economic suicide. Others note that the cuts conform exactly to the desires of such entities as the European Roundtable of Industrialists or BusinessEurope: cut wages and benefits, weaken unions, privatize everything in sight and so on. As inequalities have soared, those at the top have done nicely. There are now more ‘High Net Worth Individuals’ with a much greater collective fortune than in 2008 at the height of the crisis. Five years ago there were 8.6 million HNWIs worldwide with a pile of liquid assets of $39 trillion. Today, they are 11 million strong with assets of $42 trillion. Small businesses are failing in droves, but the largest companies are sitting on huge piles of cash and taking full advantage of tax havens. They see no reason to stop there.
This is not a crisis for everyone and the European leadership is no more stupid than its counterparts elsewhere. It is, however, entirely subservient to the desires of finance and the largest corporations. Certainly, neoliberal ideology plays a key role in its programme but serves especially to emit thick smokescreens and pseudo-explanations and justifications so that people will believe There Is No Alternative. Wrong: the banks could have been socialized and turned into public utilities, like other utilities that run on public money; tax havens closed down, taxes levied on financial transactions and many other remedies applied. But such thoughts are heretical to neoliberalism (although 11 Eurozone countries will start taxing financial transactions in 2014).
I am a fervent European and want Europe to thrive, but not this Europe. Against our will we have been plunged into class warfare. The only answer for citizens is knowledge and unity. What the one per cent has imposed, the 99 per cent can reverse. But we’d better be quick about it: time is running out.
Susan George is Board President of the Transnational Institute and author of 16 books, most recently Whose Crisis, Whose Future? and How to Win the Class War, on her website in June for electronic download and print on demand along with six ‘Susan George Classics’.
* ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’
** Public debt is money owed by a government in the form of loans obtained on the financial markets rather than other forms of lending.
Americans are now more likely to die by their own hands than from a car accident or a murder-related incident, a grim statistic that shines a light on abusive corporate practices.
Judging by the latest data by the Center for Disease Control, something is driving Americans to become their own worst enemies: From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among US citizens between the ages of 35 to 64 soared by about 30 per cent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people.
Suicide now ranks higher than death by automobile: in 2010, there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes compared with 38,364 suicides.
Although suicide tends to be viewed as a problem inflicting teenagers and the elderly, the recent study shows a marked rise in the number of suicides among the Baby Boom generation (a demographic group born between the years 1946 and 1964, when the annual birthrate rose dramatically in the US).
Suicide rates soared across all four geographic areas and in 39 states. The state of Wyoming recorded the highest increase in suicides with a 78.8 per cent jump (31.1 per 100,000). Even the paradise state of Hawaii witnessed a 61.2 per cent increase (21.9 per 100,000).
Yet some believe even these shocking numbers are too low since many deaths are not treated as actual suicides.
“It’s vastly under-reported,” Julie Phillips, an associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University, told The New York Times. “We know we’re not counting all suicides.”
What’s going on here? What is suddenly pushing so many Americans to take their own lives?
The striking thing about the data is that the suicide rates really began to surge just as the Global Financial Crisis was making landfall in late 2008. While suicide rates increased slowly between 1999 and 2007, the rate of increase more than quadrupled from 2008 to 2010.
“There is a clear need to implement policies to promote mental health resilience during the ongoing recession,” said Aaron Reeves of Britain’s University of Cambridge, who submitted his findings to The Lancet medical journal.
Reeves went so far as to suggest that the Democrats and Republicans are partially to blame for failing to mention the issue during the latest presidential campaign.
“In the run-up to the US presidential election, President Obama and Mitt Romney are debating how best to spur economic recovery, [but] missing from this discussion is consideration of how to protect Americans’ health during these hard times,” Reeves warned.
Where’s the democracy?
So what else is responsible for driving up American suicide rates? Could it be the loss of democratic representation inside our corporate fortresses, those medieval-style fiefdoms that are now working overtime to control the US political process as well?
Thanks largely to the passage of the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission ruling (2010), transnational corporations are now entitled to donate unlimited amounts of hard cash to the political campaign of their choice without having to come clean on the expenditures. The ruling even applies to foreign corporations!
So great is the corporate footprint in the halls of power that I fear the day is close at hand when we will actually see a corporation make a run for political office. Why not? They have already been designated as bona fide individuals by our craven Supreme Court (In the book, “Unequal Protection,” Thom Hartmann persuasively explains how the 1886 US Supreme Court decision in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company case wrongfully granted corporations personhood).
“Businesses have won,” David Macaray, a labor columnist, wrote in his Huffington Post blog. “They’ve increased their production demands, they’ve extended employees’ work hours (after having-laid off a segment of the workforce), they’ve taken to issuing ultimatums, and they’ve done all of it while, simultaneously, having kept wages relatively stagnant.”
As for traditional benefits such as pensions, bonuses, sick leave and paid vacations, forget about it. Most of those have been abolished, Macaray added.
Did somebody mention a vacation? Despite all the hyped-up talk about freedom and liberty, American workers receive the stingiest vacation packages in the free – and oppressed – world. That is not because Americans have some sort of masochistic attachment to their desks, as some like to argue, but rather because we lack any sort of labor law that forces corporations to remove our chains more than once a year.
Incredibly, the United States is the only country in the world where corporations are under no legal obligation to provide their workers with a break from their jobs. Compare that sad statistic with any other country in the world, even the most totalitarian. This Scrooge mentality must change, or all of our boastful talk about democracy and freedom will be revealed as nothing more than a diversionary smokescreen to conceal what can only be described as an attack on human rights.
Why is it that other countries can readily afford to give their people a break from their jobs and still maintain high living standards?
“Germany is among more than two dozen industrialized countries from Australia to Slovenia to Japan – that require employers to offer four weeks or more of paid vacation to their workers, according to a 2009 study by the human resources consulting company Mercer,” reported CNN.
Still other countries, including Finland, Brazil and France, guarantee their workers up to six weeks off.
It seems fair to ask whether America’s lack of time away from the office is contributing to high stress levels and even sporadic episodes of domestic and workplace violence, up to and including suicide. Shouldn’t the world’s most heavily armed and medicated nation allow its people to hit the beach more than once a year?
This question brings us back to the issue of democratic representation in the workplace, which is presently missing in action.
Although organized labor is itself fraught with problems, it is nevertheless the last line of defense when it comes to protecting US workers against the insatiable greed of the corporate overlords. Thus, it should come as no surprise that US wages have been plummeting over the last 30 years at the very same time that unions are being decimated.
The total number of union workers fell by 400,000 last year, to 14.3 million, even though the nation’s overall employment rose by 2.4 million, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Just 11.3 per cent of the US workforce is enrolled in a union, the lowest recorded levels since 1916, when it was 11.2 percent, according to a study by two Rutgers economists, Leo Troy and Neil Sheflin, as reported in The New York Times.
Never before has the wealth divide been greater in the United States, a land that was built on the foundation of opportunity.
Between 2009 and 2011, the top 7 per cent of wealthy Americans saw their average net worth explode by 28 per cent, while the wealth of the remaining 93 per cent of the population steadily declined during the same period, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.
The average net worth of the country’s 8 million wealthiest households surged from an estimated $2.7 million to $3.2 million, the Pew study said. For the 111 million households that make up the bottom 93 per cent, average net worth plunged 4 per cent, from $140,000 to an estimated $134,000.
In 2010, the first supposed year of economic recovery, 93 per cent of all pre-tax income gains went to the top 1 per cent of the American population (that is, any household earning more than $358,000).
Meanwhile, the most affluent 7 per cent of households owned 63 per cent of the nation’s household wealth in 2011, up from 56 per cent in 2009.
These mind-numbing statistics are a mere reflection of millions of individual cases of pain and suffering wrought by the economic crisis, which seems to have only affected the middle and lower classes.
One consequence of the economic fallout is the record number of foreclosures on homes. Since 2007, almost 4 million homes have been lost in the foreclosure crisis, according to Forbes. At the same time, US home prices – except in the most affluent neighborhoods – remain essentially flat.
On top of this pummeling, Americans must digest the incredible news that many US corporations, some of which were rescued by taxpayer-funded bailout, are not paying any taxes on their earnings.
General Electric, for example, reported global profits of $14.2 billion for the year 2010, with $5.1 billion of the total deriving from its operations in the United States.
So how much did the granddaddy of US corporations pay in taxes to Uncle Sam? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. In fact, GE actually claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.
How was GE able to pull off that disappearing act?
“Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore,” tooted The New York Times.
Is the rash of suicides across a broad spectrum of the American population a direct result of the wealth hoarding by the top income earners – many of them US corporate ‘individuals’? Since it is clear that Monsters Inc. have all but hijacked the American dream, not to mention the US political process, the evidence seems to point in that dark direction.
Clearly it is time for the United States to tame the beast of corporate power, and as was the case with the separation of church and state, we must prohibit business from unduly influencing our political leaders.
Our government representation is a precious and limited resource. It cannot be allowed to be squandered on entities that are already enjoying great wealth and power as it is.
Robert Bridge is the author of the book, Midnight in the American Empire, which discusses the dangerous consequences of excessive corporate power in the United States.
Junior minister John Perry’s position has become increasingly tenuous after it emerged he had tax arrears of €100,000 with the Revenue Commissioners.
The documents also show Mr Perry accusing the bank of “a form of bullying” and alluded to the personal consequences of actions by the bank “with his job”.
Mr Kenny said he has spoken with Mr Perry about his financial difficulties this week.
And the Taoiseach has also discussed the matter with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore as concern within the Coalition over Mr Perry’s position mounts.
However, it is not clear if the Taoiseach or Tanaiste were aware of Mr Perry’s tax arrears – as neither Government leader is commenting.
But Mr Perry told Danske Bank in January 2012 that Bank of Ireland had agreed to give him a 10-year loan to help him address tax arrears of about €100,000, according to Commercial Court documents.
But it is not clear if the minister has since cleared the arrears with Revenue.
Last night, opposition parties called on Mr Perry (pictured) to make a statement on his finances as the reference to tax arrears piled the pressure on the minister.
Mr Perry has six weeks to repay €2.5m after he and and his wife Marie consented to a judgment for that amount against them at the Commercial Court over unpaid loans on Monday.
Mr Kenny said Mr Perry’s case was “indicative” of a number of business people across the country who have got into financial difficulty. I don’t really want to say anymore about John Perry’s particular problem.
“I spoke to him on Sunday and obviously they are working on that for the future,” he said.
Speaking on Mid-West Radio in Mayo, Mr Kenny said Mr Perry was committed to continuing his work as Small Business Minister.
“Obviously he has worked exceptionally hard in terms of his ministry. He’s got a court judgment to deal with here now in respect of the next five or six weeks,” he said.
Mr Gilmore’s spokesman said the Tanaiste reiterated that Mr Perry and his wife should be given the “time and space” to deal with the issues.
He also confirmed the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste had a “brief conversation” on the matter.
Mr Kenny’s spokesman also would not comment on the tax arrears question.
“The Taoiseach is not going to comment on the details of the case as the court proceedings progress,” the spokesman said.
But Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath said it would not be acceptable for Mr Perry, as Minister of State for Small Business, to preside over businesses that were not meeting their taxation obligations to the State.
“In my view, on that issue alone, his position is very much called into question,” he said.
Mr Perry also told Danske Bank that AIB had agreed to give him an 11-year loan to pay €125,000 to other creditors and his other lenders had agreed to continue facilities on an interest only basis, minutes of meetings state.
The minutes relate to some of a number of meetings held between Danske and Mr Perry about delays in making repayments on a loan of €2.4m made to him and his wife in October 2011.
It also emerged that when the bank indicated last january that it would seek judgment or appoint a receiver if satisfactory proposals were not provided, Mr Perry expressed shock at the bank’s “aggressive approach”.