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Forum Post: Corporations Control Our Lives

Posted 11 months ago on Jan. 5, 2014, 3:12 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Corporations Control Our Lives

Sunday, 05 January 2014 09:21 By Thom Hartmann, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21021-corporations-control-our-lives

In our nation, finance has a hold on almost every single part of our lives – from the day we’re born, until we take our last breath. Capitalism and the quest for larger profits have taken hold of our healthcare, our education, our homes, our communication, and even our government. Today, most babies are born in for-profit hospitals, and their medical claims are paid by for-profit insurance. As children grow, many go to for-profit charter schools or private schools, and our public education system continues to crumble. Young adults are forced to deal with for-profit lenders to go to college at for-profit universities, and everything from their backpack to their first home will generate a profit for someone on Wall Street.

Throughout our lives, we are forced into paying huge monopolies for access to phones and internet and communication, and all that data is turned over to for-profit corporations who spy on us for our government. Even the vast majority of our elected leaders answer first to corporate lobbyists, and second to the American people. Corporate power has a stranglehold on the entire American existence, and it has turned our entire lives into a profit-making venture.

There is a place for profit in our world, and a reason for corporations, but we must shift the power back to actual people. Without us, corporations would have no production to make their goods, and no customers from which to make a profit. Business should be here to serve American needs, not control us and commercialize everything that we do. We must regain our power by declaring that corporations are not people and money is not speech. Only then can we stop the cycle of putting profit before people.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

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[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 11 months ago

India Is a Dystopia of Extremes, but Resistance Is Stirring

Sunday, 05 January 2014 00:00 By John Pilger, Truthout | News Analysis

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21000-india-a-dystopia-of-extremes-but-resistance-is-stirring

The worldwide assault on social democracy and the collusion of major parliamentary parties - begun in the United States and Britain in the 1980s - has produced in India a dystopia of extremes, but the great popular resistance that gave India its independence is stirring.

In five-star hotels on Mumbai's seafront, children of the rich squeal joyfully as they play hide and seek. Nearby, at the National Theatre for the Performing Arts, people arrive for the Mumbai Literary Festival: famous authors and notables drawn from India's Raj class. They step deftly over a woman lying across the pavement, her birch brooms laid out for sale, her two children silhouettes in a banyan tree that is their home.

It is Children's Day in India. On page nine of the Times of India, a study reports that every second child is malnourished. Nearly two million children under the age of 5 die every year from preventable illness as common as diarrhea. Of those who survive, half are stunted due to a lack of nutrients. The national school dropout rate is 40 percent. Statistics like these flow like a river permanently in flood. No other country comes close. The small thin legs dangling in a banyan tree are poignant evidence.

The leviathan once known as Bombay is the centre for most of India's foreign trade, global financial dealing and personal wealth. Yet at low tide on the Mithi River, in ditches, at the roadside, people are forced to defecate. Half the city's population is without sanitation and lives in slums without basic services. This has doubled since the 1990s, when "Shining India" was invented by an American advertising firm as part of the Hindu nationalist BJP party's propaganda that it was "liberating" India's economy and "way of life."

Barriers protecting industry, manufacturing and agriculture were demolished. Coke, Pizza Hut, Microsoft, Monsanto and Rupert Murdoch entered what had been forbidden territory. Limitless "growth" was now the measure of human progress, consuming both the BJP and Congress, the party of independence. Shining India would catch up to China and become a superpower, a "tiger," and the middle classes would get their proper entitlement in a society where there was no middle. As for the majority in the "world's largest democracy," they would vote and remain invisible.

There was no tiger economy for them. The hype about a high-tech India storming the barricades of the first world was largely a myth. This is not to deny India's rise in pre-eminence in computer technology and engineering, but the new urban technocratic class is relatively tiny, and the impact of its gains on the fortunes of the majority is negligible.

When the national grid collapsed in 2012, leaving 700 million people powerless, almost half had so little electricity, they "barely noticed," wrote one observer. On my last two visits, the front pages boasted that India had "gate-crashed the super-exclusive ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) club" and launched its "largest ever" aircraft carrier and sent a rocket to Mars; the latter was lauded by the government as "a historic moment for all of us to cheer."

The cheering was inaudible in the rows of tarpaper shacks you see as you land at Mumbai international airport and in myriad villages denied basic technology, such as light and safe water. Here, land is life, and the enemy is a rampant "free market." Foreign multinationals' dominance of food grains, genetically modified seed, fertilizers and pesticides has sucked small farmers into a ruthless global market and led to debt and destitution. More than 250,000 farmers have killed themselves since the mid-1990s - a figure that may be a fraction of the truth as local authorities willfully misreport "accidental" deaths.

"Across the length and breadth of India," says the acclaimed environmentalist Vandana Shiva, "the government has declared war on its own people." Using colonial-era laws, fertile land has been taken from poor farmers for as little as 300 rupees a square metre; developers have sold it for up to 600,000 rupees a square metre. In Uttar Pradesh, a new expressway serves "luxury" townships with sporting facilities and a Formula One racetrack, having eliminated 1,225 villages. The farmers and their communities have fought back, as they do all over India; in 2011, four were killed and many injured in clashes with police.

For Britain, India is now a "priority market" - to quote the government's arms sales unit. In 2010, David Cameron took the heads of the major British arms companies to Delhi and signed a $700 million contract to supply Hawk fighter-bombers. Disguised as "trainers," these lethal aircraft were used against the villages of East Timor. They may well be the Cameron government's biggest single "contribution" to Shining India.

The opportunism is understandable. India has become a model of the imperial cult of "neo-liberalism" - almost everything must be privatized, sold off. The worldwide assault on social democracy and the collusion of major parliamentary parties - begun in the United States and Britain in the 1980s - has produced in India a dystopia of extremes and a specter for us all.

Whereas Nehru's democracy succeeded in granting the vote - today, there are 3.2 million elected representatives - it failed to build a semblance of social and economic justice. Widespread violence against women is only now precariously on a political agenda. Secularism may have been Nehru's grand vision, but Muslims in India remain among the poorest, most discriminated against and brutalized minority on earth. According to the 2006 Sachar Commission, in the elite institutes of technology, only four out of 100 students are Muslim, and in the cities, Muslims have fewer chances of regular employment than the "untouchable" Dalits and indigenous Adivasis. "It is ironic," wrote Khushwant Singh, "that the highest incidence of violence against Muslims and Christians has taken place in Gujarat, the home state of Bapu Gandhi."

Gujarat is also the home state of Narendra Modi, winner of three consecutive victories as BJP chief minister and the favorite to see off the diffident Rahul Gandhi in national elections in May. With his xenophobic Hindutva ideology, Modi appeals directly to dispossessed Hindus who believe Muslims are "privileged." Soon after he came to power in 2002, mobs slaughtered hundreds of Muslims. An investigating commission heard that Modi had ordered officials not to stop the rioters - which he denies. Admired by powerful industrialists, he boasts the highest "growth" in India.

In the face of these dangers, the great popular resistance that gave India its independence is stirring. The gang rape of a Delhi student in 2012 has brought vast numbers into the streets, reflecting disillusionment with the political elite and anger at its acceptance of injustice and a modernized feudalism. The popular movements are often led or inspired by extraordinary women - the likes of Medha Patkar, Binalakshmi Nepram, Vandana Shiva and Arundhati Roy - and they demonstrate that the poor and vulnerable need not be weak. This is India's enduring gift to the world, and those with corrupted power ignore it at their peril.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 11 months ago

The New Financial Scam Driving Workers Deep Into Debt

Sunday, 05 January 2014 10:25 By Dave Johnson, AlterNet | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21023-the-new-financial-scam-driving-workers-deep-into-debt

There's a new game in town: workplace loans, which should really be called company rip-offs.

If you can lure people into borrowing then you own them, sometimes literally—it’s a game as old as money itself.

Regular people don’t know much about money, loan terms or the trap of debt-slavery. This enables predators to dangle loans in front of desperate people and entrap them into various forms of financial and even actual servitude. Again and again schemes and scams pop up that trick people into borrowing. Of course, we all know how the credit-card trap has ensnared millions. Car loan terms have gone from two to three and now as long as five or even six years because people think a lower monthly payment is a good thing. In recent years we’ve seen “subprime” mortgages and payday lenders entrap borrowers. Now there is a new predatory lending scheme in operation called “workplace loans.” Keep an eye out for this, it is just one more way for the financial industry to lure workers into debt slavery.

But also keep an eye out for a different form of workplace loan that can actually help employees.

Yesterday: Payday Loans

These are tough times for a large number of people. By some estimates as many as 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck some or all of the time, if this is defined as not having enough savings to live for at least six months. Some surveys show that 40% of Americans have less than $500 in savings. This means they are one car breakdown away from needing an emergency loan.

These are the very people who are poor credit risks and cannot get loans from the usual sources. So they often turn to “payday lenders.” Payday loans can have an interest rate up to 500%. They charge very high interest rates for short-term loans, often trapping people into a vicious debt spiral, borrowing to pay the interest on earlier borrowing while money for food and rent disappears. These lenders charge 15% or more for a two-week loan. That’s not 15% per year, that’s 15% for two weeks.

The combination of this huge portion of Americans living on the edge, and few lending sources available, the predatory payday loan industry was at one point said to have more payday loan outlets than McDonald's and Burger King outlets combined.

Fortunately the payday loan industry is coming under scrutiny. States are cracking down on the predatory industry, the Justice Department has been issuing subpoenas looking for illegal or deceptive schemes, and in November the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced its first action against a payday lender. The lender, Cash America International, Inc. will pay back up to $14 million to approximately 14,000 people for robo-signing practices related to debt collection lawsuits and will pay a $5 million penalty for the violations and other misconduct.

Today: Workplace Loans

Now there is a new game in town. It’s called “workplace loans” but in many cases they should be called “company store loans.” You may have heard stories about the old days when companies would set up company towns with company stores. You may have heard the song "16 Tons," first recorded by Merle Travis in 1946, with its line, “You load 16 tons and what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt, St. Peter don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store.”

When employees are at your mercy, as in times of high unemployment, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of them. Coal mining companies in particular were notorious for running company stores.

You could get a job mining coal, but you had to lease the equipment from the company. The company town would charge exorbitant rent for a place to stay, and the company store would charge outrageous prices for food and other necessities. All of these costs would come out of your pay. (The miners were sometimes paid in special “scrip” that could only be used to pay off what the miner owed the company.)

This new loan scheme is being promoted as a “service” by unscrupulous employers working in cahoots with predatory lenders. The employee can ask for an “advance” and the loan is included right in the paycheck. These loans are great for the lender because payments come straight out of the employee’s paycheck. The loans are terrible for the employee because payments come straight out of the employee’s paycheck.

Workplace loans have very high interest rates, as much as 165% per year, and are repaid directly out of wages. So far only about 100,000 workers are being offered these scams by their companies, but at least half a dozen companies are marketing this “service” to employers.

These loans are justified as being better than those offered by corner Payday Lenders, which isn’t saying much. The Wall Street Journalrecently covered the story, in Workplace Loans Gain in Popularity:

Arizona Restaurant Systems Inc., a Scottsdale, Ariz., company that operates 28 Sonic locations in the state, allows workers to take out loans ranging from $150 to $500 that typically last two weeks.

The fees, ranging from $8 to $25 plus interest, don't go to the restaurant franchisee, but to a lender called Think Finance Inc., which makes the loans. Based on the fees, the loans carry an effective annual percentage rate of 100% to 165%.

Here’s the tipoff to the nature of this scam, from the WSJ report,

Federal and state regulators are concerned that payday lenders don't adequately disclose the costs of such loans and that the fees lenders charge may drive consumers deeper into debt. At least 15 states have laws that effectively ban payday loans.

Lenders making loans through employers are in many cases still subject to state regulations, which is why some of the firms only offer their programs in certain states. In other cases, their loans are priced low enough to comply with state laws.

That’s right, with states cracking down on payday lenders this new form of debt-entrapment is popping up, calling itself a “service.” Inc. Magazine is warning employers to “be leery” of this new scam, saying that among other problems the loans can expose the employer to a risk of discrimination lawsuits.

Some Workplace Loan Services Help Workers

Some workplace loan services are actually in the business of helping rather than harvesting workers. Companies like Emerge Workplace Solutions offer an actual alternative to the predatory loans that trap many workers in debt slavery. The company works with partner banks and credit unions to offer the employees short-term loans of up to $2500 at reasonable interest rates of 9 to 18 percent— lower than many credit cards.

Emerge is a “B Corp”— a “social mission driven business.” Emerge partners with companies and works with employees by providing financial counseling and helps them begin saving and build credit. (A good credit score enables people to borrow from banks at lower cost and for more reasonable terms resulting in more reasonable payments.) So instead of enslaving the employee with debt, they help the employee save and learn how to avoid debt.

This service helps the employee but also helps employers because it helps the employee become more stable. For example, one car breakdown doesn’t have to mean missing work and the stress of debt-slavery.

Debt Bondage

What this is all about is “debt bondage.” When a person pledges labor in exchange for paying off debt it is a form of slavery. A 1957 UN treaty called the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery bans debt bondage. Specifically, article 1a bans, “Debt bondage, that is to say, the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services or of those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined.”

But hey, this is America, where anything is possible.

Solutions

If, like so many people today, you are stuck in a low-wage job borrowing only makes things worse. Borrowed money has to be paid back, with interest. This is especially true when it is a short-term, high-interest loan to cover a shortfall from low wages. All this means is that the reason you needed the money just gets worse when the next payday comes around. Times are hard, but don’t let yourself fall into the debt trap. There is a reason it is called debt-slavery.

The right answer to problems like this is for the country to raise the minimum wage to a living-wage level so people are not constantly facing a shortage of money just to get by.

An even better solution is to implement full-employment policies where the government hires people when times are hard to do jobs like maintaining our infrastructure, taking care of children, teaching, and other things the country badly needs.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 11 months ago

Coney Island Community Garden Bulldozed in the Dead of Night

Sunday, 05 January 2014 11:24 By Kevin Mathews, Care2 | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21028-coney-island-community-garden-bulldozed-in-the-dead-of-night

Another community garden bites the dust at the hand of wealthy developers. The latest victim is the Boardwalk Garden, a local staple that had survived for 16 years with love and maintenance from the residents of Coney Island. Members of the garden were helpless to protect the land since it was destroyed without warning in the dark of night.

The 70,000 square-foot Boardwalk Garden at West 22nd Street featured 40 plots full of plants and vegetables. The nearly two dozen chickens that lived in the garden were corralled into pet carriers and abandoned outside of the property. The feral cats that took up residence in the garden were even worse off — left to their own devices to survive the bulldozing.

In the garden’s place, developers intend to construct a $53 million, 5,000 seat amphitheater. Residents of the area have long been opposed to the concert venue in general. However, even after the community board voted not to approve the construction, moneyed interests got involved and convinced the city council to give them the go ahead, despite continued objections from residents.

Elena Voitsenko, one of the garden’s members, compared the covert nighttime operation to the communist maneuvers she emigrated from Russia to escape. “They destroyed life!” Voitsenko told the New York Post while crying. She has taken responsibility for the displaced chickens until a new home can be found for them.

Fellow volunteer Yury Openzik also expressed anger. “I’m heartbroken not only for myself, but for the elderly people that were gardening here every day,” he said.

The developers, meanwhile, maintain that they are in the clear for bulldozing the garden without warning. They claim that the garden was officially “decommissioned” in 2004 and has been “operating illegally” for the past decade. For those keeping score at home: using abandoned space to do something positive for the community is illegal, but sneakily ruining the hard work and food supply of well-meaning citizens is perfectly acceptable.

Many in Coney Island contend that the developers only ambiguously have the law on their side at best. According to a press release by the New York City Community Gardens Coalition, the space had been deemed a public “parkland,” thereby guaranteeing it certain legal safeguards from real estate development. Rather than following their own existing environmental regulations, however, the City ignored and altered these procedures to push approval of the amphitheater through more easily.

The NYCCGC also alleges that the developers had offered to find gardeners an alternative site so residents could transplant their crops. Before this plan could be negotiated, however, the developers just razed the site while no one was watching. Apparently, it seemed easier to bulldoze everything than to try to save the vegetation.

With moves like this one, New York City may lose its title as one of the best cities for community gardening. What does it say about a city that has such little regard for 16 years of its residents’ joy and effort? What does it say about a city that is willing to hand over the amount of public space available to commercial entities?

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] -1 points by twerkie2 (-13) from Palmas, TO 11 months ago

nevermind