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Monday, 07 September 2015 06:29

Ten Troubling Numbers on Labor Day Week 2015


aaaaaaaaaaaaminwageLabor is the economic engine of the United States. (Photo: UUSC)

  • 5.1. The official unemployment rate is 5.1 percent, or 8 million people, according to the US Department of Labor. However, this widely reported “official” number overlooks the millions of people unemployed for more than a year nor does it count those who are working part-time and looking for full-time work. The Department of Labor monthly report which includes people working part-time and looking for full-time work shows the real rate of unemployment is 10.3 percent.
  • 6. It has been 6 years since the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour was raised.
  • 8.9. Millions of adults, 8.9 million in fact, work full-time, year round and earn too little to lift their families out of poverty.
Published in Guest Commentary
Sunday, 06 September 2015 15:04

On Labor Day, Why We Need a Guaranteed Income


aaaaaaaaaincomeWhen the economy is devastated by avarice, those without jobs deserve a guaranteed income. (Photo: Doran)

A thought for Labor Day: In the not-too-distant future we might wait around for a package delivery, hurry off to class, grab a taxi downtown, meet the family for dinner, and then take the train home. All without being served by a single human being. No delivery person, no teacher, no cab driver, no food server, no train conductor. 

Our jobs are disappearing. The benefits of a half-century of productivity, in which we and our parents all played a role, have largely accrued to the relatively few people who know how to make money by coordinating all the technological components, or by managing the money themselves. 

And despite the relentless optimism of starry-eyed pundits and tech leaders, the great majority of Americans will NOT be prepared to turn new technologies into life-sustaining employment. 

1. Our Jobs Are Disappearing

The jobs that kept the middle class out of poverty -- education, construction, social services, customer service, transportation, administrative support -- have dramatically declined since the recession. Programmers and engineers and financial experts are still in demand. But nine of the ten fastest growingoccupations don't require a college degree

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaaaaaaacapitalism(Photo: Daniel Lobo)

To followers of Ayn Rand and Ronald Reagan, and to all the business people who despise government, 'community' is a form of 'communism.' Even taking the trainis too communal for them. Americans have been led to believe that only individuals matter, that every person should fend for him/herself, that "winner-take-all" is the ultimate goal, and that the winners have no responsibility to others. 

To the capitalist, everything is a potential market: education, health care, even the right to water. But with every market failure, it becomes clearer that basic human rights can't be bought and sold like cars and cell phones. The pursuit of profit, when essential needs are part of the product, means that not everyone will be able to pay the price. Some will be denied those essential needs. 

Global Failures

Capitalism hasn't been able to control runaway global inequality. For every $1.00 owned by the world's richest 1% in 2011, they now own $1.27. They own almosthalf the world's wealth. Just 70 of them own as much as 3.5 billion people. 

Capitalism has not been able -- or willing -- to control the "race to the bottom" caused by "free trade," as mid-level jobs continue to be transferred to low-wage countries. 

Nor has capitalism been able to control global environmental degradation, with trillions in subsidies going to polluters that don't even pay their taxes, and with corporations ignoring any semblance of social responsibility as they seek ways toprofit from global warming 

Published in Guest Commentary

Wenonah Hauter of Ecowatch on BuzzFlash at Truthout

aaaaaaafrackerNew EPA methane regulations may actually increase fracking. (Photo: Environmental Illness Network)

Today the Obama Administration released proposed regulations to directly regulate methane leaks from the oil and gas industry. If adopted, these regulations would wrongly promote natural gas as a “clean” alternative to oil and coal. These weak regulations leave the impression that pursuing natural gas benefits the environment, providing a justification for continuing to drill and frack.

Besides contaminating water and causing earthquakes, drilling and fracking for gas is impacting the global climate.

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaaaabenn3Is Netanyahu more interested in showing that he can best Obama than act in the best interests of his constituents? Looks that way.(Image: DonkeyHotey)

Should anyone be listening to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fulminating against the Iran nuclear deal? His previous prognostications – dating back to his unbridled enthusiasm for George W. Bush’s Iraq War – place him in the same league as the late Harold Camping, whose predictions of the Rapture failed to materialize, Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham, who seems to believe that the Rapture is just around almost every corner, and his Republican Party colleagues who were certain the 2012 presidential election spelled the end of Barack Obama.

In 2002, an impassioned Benjamin Netanyahu was exceedingly bullish on President Bush’s looming War with Iraq. He was certain that it would not only usher in a new more peaceful era for the entire Middle East, but that it would also serve to encourage the youth of Iran to rebel against their country’s leaders.

Netanyahu told a Congressional committee that "every indication we have is that (Saddam Hussein) is pursuing, pursuing with abandon, pursuing with every ounce of effort, the establishment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.”

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaaacongressThe US Congress is enacting policies that regard people of color as disposable people. (Wikipedia)

In a recent discussion of United States neoliberalism, Henry Giroux described "the practice of disposability in which more and more individuals and groups are now considered excess -- consigned to zones of abandonment, surveillance, and often incarceration." This is certainly true of poor people in the US, especially those who are people of color. Many of our well-positioned, mostly Republican Congressional leaders have shown through their actions that they don't care about such people. The resulting neglect is life-threatening for the most vulnerable among us. 

1. Denying Health Care - Tens of Thousands of Deaths Every Year: Numerous studies have shown that lack of health coverage can contribute to sickness and early death. Low-income minorities, of course, are least likely to have coverage. Just having Medicaid greatly improves one's chances of prolonging life. Yet Congress lets individual states decide the fortunes of their own poor residents. With 22 states opting out of Medicaid this year, over 5 million Americans are without vital health insurance coverage, and women - especially black women - are dying because of the lack of maternal care. And now it's getting worse, with an attack on Planned Parenthood, which saves women's lives through breast cancer screenings, and reduces abortions by providing contraceptive services. 

2. Subsidizing Pollution: The IMF estimates that global subsidies for fossil fuels have reached about $5 trillion per year, with the greatest cost going to the smog-spewing coal industry. Pollution is killing people. That is well documented by the World Health Organization. But not only is Congress complicit in the outright subsidies of fossil fuel exploration and production, it is also allowing the worst polluters, especially Exxon Mobil and Chevron, to avoid almost all their taxes. We taxpayers may be subsidizing our own early deaths. 

Published in Guest Commentary


aaacalecodrought(Photo: EcoWatch)

The California State Water Resources Control Board on Friday ordered the largest cuts on record to “farmers holding some of the state’s strongest water rights,” according to The Guardian. Water officials told senior water rights holders, some of whose rights date back to 1903, to stop pumping water in California’s Sacramento, San Joaquin and delta watersheds.

It’s the first time the state has mandated such a large number of senior rights holders to curtail water use. “It will affect thousands of farmers,” says The Guardian. The last time any restrictions were placed on senior rights holders was during the 1976-77 drought, but “those curtailments were not as geographically widespread as Friday’s,” reports The New York Times. The move has been anticipated for weeks. Jay Lund, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of California, Davis, told The Guardian, “The order was both expected and necessary.”

In April, Gov. Jerry Brown issued unprecedented water restrictions for the state, mandating 25 percent water reduction for cities and towns. 

Published in Guest Commentary


aaaaainequality(Image: craftivist collective)

It's a vicious circle of hypocrisy: Americans dependent on the safety net are urged to "get a job" by the same free-market system that pays them too little to avoid being dependent on the safety net. 

Theft, Part 1: The Average U.S. Household Pays About $400 for Safety Net Programs for Low-Wage Workers

According to the Economic Policy Institute, $45 billion per year in federal, state, and other safety net support is paid to workers in the bottom 20 percent of wage earners. Thus the average U.S. household is paying almost $400 to employees inlow-wage industries such as food service, retail, and personal care. 

Blame: Accusing the Poor

Paul Ryan said that social programs "turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency." But 63 percent of eligible working-age poor Americans are employed, and 73 percent are members of working families. Yet in a show of hypocrisy by some of the leading safety net critics, Congress has killed or blocked or ignored numerous attempts to create better jobs for underemployed Americans. 

Greed: Profits for Stockholders, Poverty Wages for Workers

Demos study found that raising wages to $25,000 per year (about $12.50 per hour) for full-time retail workers would lift 734,075 people out of poverty. 

Published in Guest Commentary


asantabarbaraSunset west of Santa Barbara. (Photo: Sourav Das)

On May 19th, it was announced over breaking news that an onshore oil pipeline, owned by Plains All American Pipeline, a Houston Texas company led by ex-Flint Resources (Koch Industries) ruptured at Refugio Beach, north of Santa Barbara. An estimated 105,000 gallons of crude oil gushed into the Pacific Ocean, five times worse than the initial estimated 21,000 gallons.

I live three hours away from Refugio Beach. This quiet, isolated shoreline is a favorite beach for campers, hikers and surfers. When I was earning my undergraduate degree at UC Santa Barbara, I used to walk the trails and watch whales, shorebirds and sea otters bop in and out of the turquoise waters; tiny crabs would scuttle in between the black rocks and tide pools. Our California beaches are bristling with wildlife, including rare endangered species. The central coast is a habitat for seals, sea lions and whales, a variety of fish, which are migrating north this time of the year.

Oil kills every living thing it covers. Imagine being drenched from head to toe with thick, gooey tar: Toxic suffocation is an extremely painful way to die. That’s what happens to dolphins, whales, pelicans, otters that, unbeknownst to them, swim into the devil’s poison.

The national networks neglected to say that Plains transports oil for Exxon-Mobil. According to Miyoko Sakashita of BiologicialDiversity.org, the Houston-based company has had “175 devastating oil spills nationwide since 2006, including 11 in California,” documented by federal authorities.

Published in Guest Commentary


abordersongs214 year old Josseline Janiletha Hernandez Quinteros, from El Salvador, was a victim of US border policy who died in the Sonoran Desert. (Photo: Rex Koningsor for Border Songs)

Today's BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary is an interview with Robert Neustadt – a professor of Spanish at Northern Arizona University - who cofounded Border Songs, a group that supports saving the lives of migrants from Mexico who often perish from the harsh desert conditions trying to make it into Arizona. 

MARK KARLIN: Why do so many migrants die trying to cross into the US through Arizona? Hasn't the US created border enforcement strategies that force people to cross through a broiling desert?

ROBERT NEUSTADT: Yes, there is no question that US government border enforcement strategies have resulted in an enormous increase in border crosser deaths. In 1994, the US government explicitly adopted a strategy called “enforcement through deterrence”, which was outlined in a Border Patrol position paper. The strategy was to seal off the easy-to-cross urban areas near El Paso, Tijuana and Nogales by building walls, ramping up Border Patrol presence, adding more sensors, technology, and recently, patrolling with drones, while leaving open swaths of remote, hazardous back country. By closing the urban areas where people traditionally crossed, enforcement pushes undocumented border crossers into desert and mountain terrain in Arizona (and Texas). This “funnel effect” is clearly a primary factor that results in migrant deaths, and has been acknowledged by everyone from policy makers to humanitarians.

During the early 1990’s, the number of border crosser deaths examined per year by the Pima County Medical Examiner in Arizona varied between 5 and 11. In the year 2010, following construction of almost 700 miles of wall and a huge increase in the number of Border Patrol agents and enforcement technology, they examined 225 human remains in the same office. I find it profoundly disturbing that most people have no idea of the scope of this crisis. These statistics are all readily available and confirmable, but you have to seek them out because the media does not cover the issue sufficiently. Since 1994, they have found over 7,000 human remains in the borderlands, the majority of these in Arizona, and this number only represents the number of bodies found! The actual number of border crosser deaths is almost certainly significantly higher though the bodies were never found.

Currently, the morgue in Tucson houses over 900 unidentified human remains of presumed border crossers. Marc Silver’s documentary film, Who is Dayani Cristal (with Gael Garcia Bernal, 2013) emphasizes the severity of the issue.

This situation is a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe, and US government border enforcement strategy is directly implicated in the dramatic increase in deaths. Even more disturbing is the fact that the number of undocumented border crossers has dropped precipitously while the rate of deaths has remained relatively steady. This means that the chance that someone will die while crossing the border has sky-rocketed, and this is a direct result of our efforts to “secure the border.” This is compounded by the fact that we have deported over two million people since Obama has been in office. Many of these people will attempt to cross to rejoin their families.

Published in Guest Commentary
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