"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Big Business’

How All Of Us Are Helping Build A Participatory Totalitarianism

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2014 at 5:51 pm
social-media-state-corporate-surveillance-privacy

In the new public-private surveillance state, we’re so at home with Big Brother that we’re not just passively watched–we actively display ourselves

We are not passive objects of the surveillance state. We are active subjects of our own YouTube channels

 

Oldspeak: “We see, then, that modern technology has led to the concentration of economic and political power, and to the development of a society controlled (ruthlessly in the totalitarian states, politely and inconspicuously in the democracies) by Big Business and Big Govern­ment. But societies are composed of individuals and are good only insofar as they help individuals to real­ize their potentialities and to lead a happy and creative life. How have individuals been affected by the tech­nological advances of recent years? Here is the answer to this question given by a philosopher-psychiatrist, Dr. Erich Fromm:

 

        Our contemporary Western society, in spite of its material, intellectual and political progress, is in­creasingly less conducive to mental health, and tends to undermine the inner security, happiness, reason and the capacity for love in the individual; it tends to turn him into an automaton who pays for his human failure with increasing mental sickness, and with despair hidden under a frantic drive for work and so-called pleasure.

        Our “increasing mental sickness” may find expres­sion in neurotic symptoms. These symptoms are con­spicuous and extremely distressing. But “let us beware,” says Dr. Fromm, “of defining mental hygiene as the prevention of symptoms. Symptoms as such are not our enemy, but our friend; where there are symp­toms there is conflict, and conflict always indicates that the forces of life which strive for integration and happiness are still fighting.” The really hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. “Many of them are normal because they are so well adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been si­lenced so early in their lives, that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does.” They are normal not in what may be called the absolute sense of the word; they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their per­fect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted, still cherish “the illusion of indi­viduality,” but in fact they have been to a great extent deindividualized. Their conformity is developing into something like uniformity. But “uniformity and free­dom are incompatible. Uniformity and mental health are incompatible too. . . . Man is not made to be an automaton, and if he becomes one, the basis for mental health is destroyed.” –Adolous Huxley

“Share Everything”. “Broadcast Yourself” “Stay Connected”….  Relentlessly, we’re peppered with the propaganda and it is extremely seductive and powerful. Encouraged to incessantly create and consume “content” fashioned from our lives and the lives of others. Preying on the paradoxically profound narcissism/insecurity our maladjustment civilization breeds and selling it via the new virtues of ‘convenience’ and ‘personalization’, our privacy, liberty and ownership of our selves is freely given away to our controllers. Which they then use to surveil, sell, and profit handsomely from. The Stasi had it all wrong. Making the tools of totalitarianism ones that the populace loves, uses of its own free will and can’t live with out, makes things INFINITELY easier. How comfortable are you in your “Velvet Prison”? “Ignorance is Strength.” “Freedom is Slavery.” “War is Peace.”-OSJ

 

By John Feffer @ Foreign Policy In Focus:

According to the Chinese zodiac, the heavens circle around every 12 years. The Year of the Snake, the creature that sheds its skin to emerge anew, marks a time of great transformation. Indeed, for the last quarter century, the world has experienced three profound shifts at 12-year intervals, beginning with the Year of the Snake in 1989.

On June 4, 1989, on one side of the globe, Poles were participating in their first semi-free elections in more than 40 years, which—though few suspected at the time—sounded the death knell for Communism in East-Central Europe. Meanwhile, on the same day on the other side of the globe, the Chinese government was cracking down on the Tiananmen Square protests and ensuring that Communism would continue there as an official ideology for at least another 25 years.

Twelve years later, the Year of the Snake returned, and the ground shifted radically beneath our feet once again. This time, the 9/11 attacks brought the two sides of the world together as both China and Poland threw their weight behind the U.S.-led war on terror. Poland, presided over by a former Communist who’d embraced market reforms, even went so far as to host one of the “black sites” that the Bush administration set up to interrogate suspects gathered up through extraordinary rendition. China, presided over by a current Communist who’d also embraced market reforms, used the opportunity of 9/11 to ramp up operations against separatists in Xinjiang and secure “unprecedented” counter-terrorism information sharing with the United States.

And then last year, the Year of the Snake came around again, and this time it was Edward Snowden who caused a seismic shift in our understanding of everyday reality. We thought that we’d seen through the efforts of the Communist state to control our minds and the efforts of the corporate state to control our desires. But it turned out that we really didn’t know the full extent to which intelligence services and corporate entities had invaded our private spaces. Nor had we understood our own complicity in this brave new world. It wasn’t just states like Warsaw and Beijing that had joined forces with Washington against non-state actors. We had all become informers under this new regime, whether we liked it or not.

The old metaphor for surveillance was the Panopticon: the warden, sitting at the hub of a penitentiary, could see what all the inmates were doing along the perimeter of the structure. Then came the Big Brother of the Cold War era: a state apparatus that used informers, propaganda, and interrogations to infiltrate every crevice of society.

Today’s metaphor is still Big Brother—but it’s the TV show, not the sinister presence of the George Orwell novel. In this reality TV show, the public watches what goes on inside a house fully monitored by surveillance cameras. But here’s the twist: we are both voyeurs and exhibitionists, for we have also turned the cameras on ourselves so that the surveillance can be mutual. We don’t just like to watch, like Chance the gardener in Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There. We like to be watched as well.

It’s time to update Socrates for the era of selfies and YouTube: the unwatched life is not worth living.

The novel that out-Orwells Orwell in its depiction of this new reality is The Circle by Dave Eggers, in which characters willingly wear cameras that track their every movement and broadcast to an ever-increasing number of social media followers. The novel exaggerates only slightly what we are already doing through Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, or what is being done to us through our cell phones and our credit card purchases and our Google searches.

To rein in Big Corporations and even out the inequities of Big Politics, activists have long clamored for participatory democracy. What we didn’t expect was that Big Corporations and Big Politics would team up in what I’ve previously called the “surveillance blitz” to create a new phenomenon: participatory totalitarianism.

If we look at the three seismic shifts that have taken place between 1989 and today, they all center around the state and its ability to maintain its authority in the post-modern world. In 1989, the Communist states failed in their effort to manage the economy through five-year plans and artificially fixed prices. In both post-Communist Poland and post-Deng China, the market became the arbiter of production and consumption, restricting the state largely to redistribution (with a bit more capacity for strategic investments in China). Privatization and austerity budgeting in the capitalist world also whittled away what remained of the welfare state’s ability to intervene in the economy. This was the neo-liberal victory in what had been an epic 20th-century war, though many skirmishes continue to this day and a second grand battle may yet take place in the wake of the global financial crisis.

In 2001, states faced a second major challenge from al-Qaeda, though more as an idea than an actual military force. Al-Qaeda is an unusual hybrid of the globalized and the localized. It grew out of a specific context (the mujahedeen’s attacks on the Soviet army in Afghanistan) and has taken on a different character in each national context where it has taken root (Yemen, Syria, North Africa). Al-Qaeda is a franchise not unlike McDonald’s, offering a universal product (a global caliphate) that can be adapted to the cultural preferences of local consumers just as McDonald’s sells its well-known French fries with the McAloo Tikki burger in Mumbai or the McArabia Chicken sandwich in Doha. To use the awkward phrase from academia, al-Qaeda is a “glocalized” phenomenon. It thus has represented both a global and a local challenge to the state—offering a vision of subsuming the state into something larger and, from below, attacking the state’s monopoly on violence. It’s no wonder that states as different as Poland and China found common cause in fighting against al-Qaeda.

And now, after 2013, the state is suffering yet another challenge to its authority. After the revelations of Snowden, the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman and his colleagues point out, “It may not be going too far to suggest that what we still call national security has been colonized by a new nobility of intelligence agencies operating in an increasingly autonomous transnational arena.” National security, as the phrase suggests, has been the responsibility of the nation-state. But intelligence agencies, led by the disproportionately powerful NSA, have skirted the traditional mechanisms of the state to operate across borders and with little oversight. Members of Congress, even though many have branded Snowden a traitor, havepushed for changes in the way the NSA does business domestically. The leaders of Germany and Brazil who discovered to their dismay that they too have been punked by the NSA—U.S. spies listened in on the communications of both Angela Merkel and Dilma Rousseff—are also pushing at an international level for reform.

The state’s status has deteriorated over the decades. It no longer provides the “iron rice bowl.” Its monopoly on violence has been challenged by non-state actors, and many states have failed or are near failure as a result. And intelligence-gathering organs have metastasized beyond the control of the traditional nation-state in order to sift through the rapidly expanding universe of global data to stop plots while they are still twinkles in the eyes of the conspirators (shades of Minority Report).

If surveillance was monaural during the Cold War and became stereophonic in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, it is now quadrophonic. It can’t be reduced to the activity of a single state or even a particular government-industrial complex. We are all now embedded in a veritable matrix of surveillance. It has become surround sound.

In the Communist era, Hungarian writer Miklos Haraszti wrote about what he called the “velvet prison.” Under state socialism, he observed, the vast majority of artists accommodated to the strictures imposed from above. “We learn to live with discipline,” hewrote. “We are at home with it. It is a part of us, and soon we will hunger for it because we are unable to create without it.”

We are at home in the new surveillance state, for we barely register all the cameras, all the targeted advertising, all the intrusions into what had previously been considered sacred private space. We are not passive objects of observation. We are active subjects of our own YouTube channels.

This is not inevitable. States like Germany and Brazil are fighting back. Organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are fighting back. Whistleblowers and journalists are fighting back. So, perhaps when the next Year of the Snake rolls around and we are preparing to shed our skin once again, we will see a shift in the other direction—toward a new economy, a new kind of politics, a new definition of security, and a new way to interact with our fellow citizens that relies on mutual solidarity and not mutual surveillance.

Big Brother Is Prism: NSA Is Watching All Communications Over Phones, Facebook Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, Skype, Pal Talk, AOL & You Tube

In Uncategorized on June 7, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Prism Oldspeak:”It is a massive surveillance state of exactly the kind that the Church Committee warned was being constructed 35 years ago… the idea that the PATRIOT Act enables bulk collection, mass collection of the records of hundreds of millions of Americans, so that the government can store that and know what it is that we’re doing at all times, even when there’s no reason to believe that we’ve done anything wrong, that is ludicrous“. –Glenn Grunwald

If Someone want’s to know why their government has decided to go on fishing expedition through every personal record or private document – through library books they’ve read and phone calls they’ve made – this legislation gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law. No judge will hear their plea, no jury will hear their case. This is just plain wrong.” –Senator Barack Obama, 2005, On The USA Patriot Act.

I came in with a healthy skeptcism about these programs. My team evaluated them, we scrubbed them thoroughly, we actually expanded the oversight. But my assessment… was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks. And the modest encroachment… on privacy in getting phone numbers and durations without a name attached, and looking at content that – [I decided] net, it was worth us doing. Some other folks may have a different assessment. I think it’s important to recognize you can’t have 100 percent security and also 100 percent privacy, and also zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society….In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance.” –President Barack Obama, 2013 

AHAHA! HA! My man went from “This is just plain wrong.” to “we scrubbed them throughly” and…decided it was worth doing.” My people Big Brother is OFFICIALLY watching you.  Obama was nice enough to scrub it down and balance it out for you, placing some of the burdens for surveillance on government and some on oligarchical collectivist corporations. We are living in the age of the painless concentration camp. Assume all your digital communications are insecure. I wonder though, when was it that society made these choices? When did “society” choose to be systematically surveilled during an endless war? To do away with, privacy safeguards, transparency, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom from unlawful search & seizure, summary execution and indefinite detention? I think when Obama said “society” he meant the elites and the imperial institutions they control. If you look at what he said that way, it makes a lot more sense, as I’m fairly certain most of the people who live and suffer in this society did not make those “tough choices”.  The good news about this though is there are more and more leaks springing in the secret U.S. Government. This is the third whisleblower to speak the truth about Big Brother. Thomas Drake and Willam Binney preceded him. Hopefully, conscientious patriots will continue to expose the lies, illegality and anti-democratic actions of the Secret Corporatocracy. ”

Related Stories:

A Massive Surveillance State”: Glenn Greenwald Exposes Covert NSA Program Collecting Calls, Emails

We Don’t Live in a Free Country”: Jacob Appelbaum on Being Target of Widespread Gov’t Surveillance”

By Glenn Grunwald @ The U.K. Guardian:

Prism

A slide depicting the top-secret PRISM program.

The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.

The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation – classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies – which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims “collection directly from the servers” of major US service providers.

Although the presentation claims the program is run with the assistance of the companies, all those who responded to a Guardian request for comment on Thursday denied knowledge of any such program.

In a statement, Google said: “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.”

Several senior tech executives insisted that they had no knowledge of Prism or of any similar scheme. They said they would never have been involved in such a program. “If they are doing this, they are doing it without our knowledge,” one said.

An Apple spokesman said it had “never heard” of Prism.

The NSA access was enabled by changes to US surveillance law introduced under President Bush and renewed under Obama in December 2012.

The program facilitates extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information. The law allows for the targeting of any customers of participating firms who live outside the US, or those Americans whose communications include people outside the US.It also opens the possibility of communications made entirely within the US being collected without warrants.

Disclosure of the Prism program follows a leak to the Guardian on Wednesday of a top-secret court order compelling telecoms provider Verizon to turn over the telephone records of millions of US customers.

The participation of the internet companies in Prism will add to the debate, ignited by the Verizon revelation, about the scale of surveillance by the intelligence services. Unlike the collection of those call records, this surveillance can include the content of communications and not just the metadata.

Some of the world’s largest internet brands are claimed to be part of the information-sharing program since its introduction in 2007. Microsoft – which is currently running an advertising campaign with the slogan “Your privacy is our priority” – was the first, with collection beginning in December 2007.

It was followed by Yahoo in 2008; Google, Facebook and PalTalk in 2009; YouTube in 2010; Skype and AOL in 2011; and finally Apple, which joined the program in 2012. The program is continuing to expand, with other providers due to come online.

Collectively, the companies cover the vast majority of online email, search, video and communications networks.

Prism

The extent and nature of the data collected from each company varies.

Companies are legally obliged to comply with requests for users’ communications under US law, but the Prism program allows the intelligence services direct access to the companies’ servers. The NSA document notes the operations have “assistance of communications providers in the US”.

The revelation also supports concerns raised by several US senators during the renewal of the Fisa Amendments Act in December 2012, who warned about the scale of surveillance the law might enable, and shortcomings in the safeguards it introduces.

When the FAA was first enacted, defenders of the statute argued that a significant check on abuse would be the NSA’s inability to obtain electronic communications without the consent of the telecom and internet companies that control the data. But the Prism program renders that consent unnecessary, as it allows the agency to directly and unilaterally seize the communications off the companies’ servers.

A chart prepared by the NSA, contained within the top-secret document obtained by the Guardian, underscores the breadth of the data it is able to obtain: email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP (Skype, for example) chats, file transfers, social networking details, and more.

PRISM slide crop
The document is recent, dating to April 2013. Such a leak is extremely rare in the history of the NSA, which prides itself on maintaining a high level of secrecy.

The Prism program allows the NSA, the world’s largest surveillance organisation, to obtain targeted communications without having to request them from the service providers and without having to obtain individual court orders.

With this program, the NSA is able to reach directly into the servers of the participating companies and obtain both stored communications as well as perform real-time collection on targeted users.

The presentation claims Prism was introduced to overcome what the NSA regarded as shortcomings of Fisa warrants in tracking suspected foreign terrorists. It noted that the US has a “home-field advantage” due to housing much of the internet’s architecture. But the presentation claimed “Fisa constraints restricted our home-field advantage” because Fisa required individual warrants and confirmations that both the sender and receiver of a communication were outside the US.

“Fisa was broken because it provided privacy protections to people who were not entitled to them,” the presentation claimed. “It took a Fisa court order to collect on foreigners overseas who were communicating with other foreigners overseas simply because the government was collecting off a wire in the United States. There were too many email accounts to be practical to seek Fisas for all.”

The new measures introduced in the FAA redefines “electronic surveillance” to exclude anyone “reasonably believed” to be outside the USA – a technical change which reduces the bar to initiating surveillance.

The act also gives the director of national intelligence and the attorney general power to permit obtaining intelligence information, and indemnifies internet companies against any actions arising as a result of co-operating with authorities’ requests.

In short, where previously the NSA needed individual authorisations, and confirmation that all parties were outside the USA, they now need only reasonable suspicion that one of the parties was outside the country at the time of the records were collected by the NSA.

The document also shows the FBI acts as an intermediary between other agencies and the tech companies, and stresses its reliance on the participation of US internet firms, claiming “access is 100% dependent on ISP provisioning”.

In the document, the NSA hails the Prism program as “one of the most valuable, unique and productive accesses for NSA”.

It boasts of what it calls “strong growth” in its use of the Prism program to obtain communications. The document highlights the number of obtained communications increased in 2012 by 248% for Skype – leading the notes to remark there was “exponential growth in Skype reporting; looks like the word is getting out about our capability against Skype”. There was also a 131% increase in requests for Facebook data, and 63% for Google.

The NSA document indicates that it is planning to add Dropbox as a PRISM provider. The agency also seeks, in its words, to “expand collection services from existing providers”.

The revelations echo fears raised on the Senate floor last year during the expedited debate on the renewal of the FAA powers which underpin the PRISM program, which occurred just days before the act expired.

Senator Christopher Coons of Delaware specifically warned that the secrecy surrounding the various surveillance programs meant there was no way to know if safeguards within the act were working.

“The problem is: we here in the Senate and the citizens we represent don’t know how well any of these safeguards actually work,” he said.

“The law doesn’t forbid purely domestic information from being collected. We know that at least one Fisa court has ruled that the surveillance program violated the law. Why? Those who know can’t say and average Americans can’t know.”

Other senators also raised concerns. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon attempted, without success, to find out any information on how many phone calls or emails had been intercepted under the program.

When the law was enacted, defenders of the FAA argued that a significant check on abuse would be the NSA’s inability to obtain electronic communications without the consent of the telecom and internet companies that control the data. But the Prism program renders that consent unnecessary, as it allows the agency to directly and unilaterally seize the communications off the companies’ servers.

When the NSA reviews a communication it believes merits further investigation, it issues what it calls a “report”. According to the NSA, “over 2,000 Prism-based reports” are now issued every month. There were 24,005 in 2012, a 27% increase on the previous year.

In total, more than 77,000 intelligence reports have cited the PRISM program.

Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s Center for Democracy, that it was astonishing the NSA would even ask technology companies to grant direct access to user data.

“It’s shocking enough just that the NSA is asking companies to do this,” he said. “The NSA is part of the military. The military has been granted unprecedented access to civilian communications.

“This is unprecedented militarisation of domestic communications infrastructure. That’s profoundly troubling to anyone who is concerned about that separation.”

A senior administration official said in a statement: “The Guardian and Washington Post articles refer to collection of communications pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This law does not allow the targeting of any US citizen or of any person located within the United States.

“The program is subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Executive Branch, and Congress. It involves extensive procedures, specifically approved by the court, to ensure that only non-US persons outside the US are targeted, and that minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about US persons.

“This program was recently reauthorized by Congress after extensive hearings and debate.

“Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.

“The Government may only use Section 702 to acquire foreign intelligence information, which is specifically, and narrowly, defined in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This requirement applies across the board, regardless of the nationality of the target.”

Additional reporting by James Ball and Dominic Rushe

How Global Warming Has Prevented Spring’s Arrival

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Snow on spring flowersOldspeak: It turns out that spring’s slow arrival in the US is likely being driven by changes half a world way, in the Arctic. Some of the nation’s most prominent climate researchers announced at a news conference on Tuesday that melting Arctic sea ice may actually be the culprit behind winter’s refusal to pack its bags and leave. Scientists from NOAA and various university climatology departments said that melting Arctic sea ice may be weakening the planet’s jet stream currents, and causing extreme weather systems to linger in the United States… If we continue on the path that we’re on, and continue to do nothing to stop the devastating effects of climate change, we won’t just be talking about freezing temperatures during the first week of spring. We’ll be talking about the beginning of an out-of-control spiral of weather effects that could range from a new ice age to the death of our oceans. ” –Thom Hartmann. This is the all important overarching problem of our times. More important than gun control. More important that immigration reform. More important than bank collapses. More important than austerity.  The changes that are coming in our climate will be irreversible. They’re already beginning. Desertification of arable land is increasing.  Lakes and streams  are drying up, sources of fresh water are evaporating. The ecosystem is in considerable distress.  Yet there is near universal silence in media and political classes about these all important and dangerous changes in the system that sustains us.  We do get plenty of sunny propaganda films from BP and Exxon and Cheveron et al. about all the good things they’re doing to provide energy in safe and environmentally friendly way. I fear universal attention will be paid to this only when it’s too late to stop it.

By Thom Hartmann @ Truthout:

Last week, Butler County, Ohio prosecutor Mike Gmoser “indicted” famed weather-predicting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, after the groundhog inaccurately predicted an early spring.

Gmoser filed the tongue-in-cheek indictment after snow was forecast to fall in Butler County after the official start of spring.

The halfhearted indictment was dropped Tuesday however, when Gmoser realized that good old Phil had a “defense with teeth in it.”

And, while this whole ordeal may seem quite silly, it did help to raise a very good point: How could Phil be so wrong about the arrival of spring, when he’s usually pretty accurate?

Typically around this time of year, we expect to see spring flowers beginning to bloom in gardens after sun-spotted rain showers because, after all, spring showers are supposed to bring May flowers.

Instead, east coast Americans are still dealing with the effects of an already nasty winter season that has brought unprecedented amounts of snow to just about every region of the United States.

As a result, people are scratching their heads, wondering when spring will really get here.

Well now, it turns out that spring’s slow arrival in the US is likely being driven by changes half a world way, in the Arctic.

Some of the nation’s most prominent climate researchers announced at a news conference on Tuesday that melting Arctic sea ice may actually be the culprit behind winter’s refusal to pack its bags and leave.

Scientists from NOAA and various university climatology departments said that melting Arctic sea ice may be weakening the planet’s jet stream currents, and causing extreme weather systems to linger in the United States.

But how can melting ice cause colder temperatures? After all, that seems somewhat contradictory.

First, it’s important to understand exactly what the jet stream is.

The jet stream is a huge air current that blows from west to east across the planet, miles above the Earth’s surface.

The jet stream is responsible for moving along storm systems, and brings with it, depending on the season, both colder or warmer temperatures.

Normally, the jet stream moves at a relatively quick pace. That’s why weather conditions and temperatures normally change fairly quickly, and don’t stick around in any one place for too long.

For example, while a jet stream may cause cold temperatures and snow to hit Washington, D.C for a couple days, it can also replace those conditions with warmer temperatures and sunny skies in a matter of hours.

But, thanks to global warming and climate change, there is nothing normal about the way the jet stream is acting right now.

As the Earth continues to warm, Arctic sea ice continues to melt. And as that Arctic sea ice melts, it replaces white ice with blue water, which absorbs even more energy and heat from the sun.

As a result, all of that absorbed energy and heat in the arctic is affecting atmospheric pressures, and throwing the northern hemisphere’s jet stream completely out of whack.

The change in atmospheric pressures is slowing the down the flow of the jet stream, which is causing seasons to change more slowly than usual.

This is why the blizzards along the East Coast this winter seemed to linger around, and relentlessly hammered the coast with foot after foot of snow.

Since the jet stream was moving so slowly, the freezing temperatures and snow had nowhere to go.

And it’s only going to get worse.

Recent studies suggest that the entire Arctic may be ice-free by 2020, just seven years from now.

Already, over the course of the last 30 years, the Arctic has lost nearly 80 percent of its ice cover.

The bottom line here is that, if we do nothing to curb the current rate of climate change, the Arctic will continue to lose ice, the Arctic waters will continue to warm, and the jet stream will continue to slow.

And while we may think that freezing temperatures and snow storms during the first week of spring are bad now, just wait.

If we continue on the path that we’re on, and continue to do nothing to stop the devastating effects of climate change, we won’t just be talking about freezing temperatures during the first week of spring.

We’ll be talking about the beginning of an out-of-control spiral of weather effects that could range from a new ice age to the death of our oceans.

When the story first broke about Mike Gmoser indicting Punxsutawney Phil, the media was all over it.

After all, who could resist a story about someone suing a groundhog over bad weather?

What the media wasn’t all over however was climate change, the real reason why Phil’s prediction missed the mark.

The only way we as a nation, and as a global community, can hope to make a meaningful change in the fight to save our planet is to get the media on board with the fight.

Global warming and climate change are the biggest threats that mankind has ever faced, and they get nowhere near the time they should in our media.

It’s time to wake up the media, and inform the few climate change skeptics who are left.

Climate change is very real and it’s here to stay.

And unless we do something about it, a late spring will be the smallest of our worries.

Spinning Out Of Control: Governments, International Banks & Energy Conglomorates Fuelling Climate Change

In Uncategorized on March 15, 2013 at 1:15 pm

https://i1.wp.com/us.123rf.com/400wm/400/400/jcdesign/jcdesign1108/jcdesign110800002/10200011-planet-earth-with-dollar-sign-shaped-continents-and-clouds-over-a-starry-sky-contains-clipping-path-.jpg

Oldspeak: “Here is a very basic question that no one is asking, not politicians, bankers nor economists.  Even those campaigning about environmental destruction and climate change are not asking it.  Why do we have to have growth? Nothing grows forever, even though it may live for a very long time.  Humans, having reached their maximum height, stop growing.  Either that or they collapse.  Their bones cannot support a body too tall or too fat.  It is the same for anything else that grows.  Everything has limits.  Endless growth is not sustainable.  We cannot grow beyond what this planet can supply, nor should we assume that it can, no matter how much we are persuaded to.  So why is it a given that the ‘economy’ has to grow?  Why can’t it drop back to a level where it might be more sustainable, and maintain a steady position instead? –Lesley Docksey. Why indeed. Nathan Gardels, author, editor and Media Fellow of the World Economic Forum had a pretty good answer when he said: “The big rupture came in the 1800s, with the steam engine, the fossil fuel age, the industrial revolution, This was a great rupture from earlier forms and rhythms of life, which were generally regenerative. What happened after the industrial revolution was that nature was converted to a resource and that resource was seen as, essentially, eternally abundant. This led to the idea, and the conception behind progress which is: limitless growth, limitless expansion.”  We hear “Pro-Growth” mantras repeated incessantly. Perpetual growth is incompatible with natural physical laws and objective reality, yet it’s seen as an essential part of our economic system.  It’s led to all sorts of dangerous, toxic, maladaptive behaviors, that constitute a slow motion extinction level event. We’ve been led to believe that our economic system is the preeminent system on this planet, and that all other systems serve to perpetuate it. That it’s perfectly acceptable to see the commons that give us life as “economically exploitable resources” and “private property”. The reality is the modern human economy is a mere subsystem of the largest and evermost important system on this planet. The Ecosystem. The Dow Jones Industrial average may be at record highs, but ecosystem in which it exists is in extreme peril. The “Market” which dictates much of our behavior as a civilization, cannot exist if the ecosystem collapses. It’s a basic fact we need to understand and change our behaviour as a civilization to account for it. This piece by Lesley Docksey makes very clear that this severe thinking disorder, that we are somehow separate from and have dominion over nature, is a global pandemic. A brilliant documentary produced by Leo DiCaprio provides a look at the state of the global environment including visionary and practical solutions for restoring the planet’s ecosystems. Check it out.

Related Media:
The 11th Hour

By Lesley Docksey @ Dissident Voice:

Being born ‘with a silver spoon in your mouth’ means that you start with an advantage that others don’t have: parents with money, property, influence, business connections and so on, connections that can last for generations.  A silver spoon that appeared recently was the exceedingly generous compensation paid to British slave owners when the UK abolished slavery in 1833, though not one penny went to the freed slaves.  The ancestors of many well-connected people (including David Cameron) benefited.  One way or another, the silver spoon allows you to inherit the best of old boys’ networks and a guaranteed place at all sorts of top tables. These days you also appear to be born with a revolving door.

As I pointed out in Revolving Wars, the door between retiring senior military personnel or ministerial-level politicians and a well-paid position in companies supplying the military revolves at great speed, although sadly not at a fast enough rate as to fire the users into outer space – nor would they go without a profitable contract in place.  But other such doors exist.  And just as the links between government ministers, senior armed forces personnel and the arms trade make it almost impossible to stop our forces from fighting illegal and unnecessary wars, so the links between the government, banks and fossil fuel companies make it impossible to get politicians to take action to mitigate climate change or achieve realistic funding for renewable energy.

The World Development Movement has just published a briefing, Web of Power: the UK government and the energy-finance complex fuelling climate change, and it makes for disheartening reading.  Of the 125 MPs and Lords that make up the UK government, no less than 32% have links with finance and/or fossil fuel companies, while the top 5 banks give financial backing to fossil fuel companies and politicians (the City funded David Cameron’s campaign for the leadership of the Tory Party), and the fossil fuel companies give financial backing to government while lobbying hard for their industry.  There is a merry-go-round of people serving in government and sitting on the boards of financial institutions and energy companies.  It creates a cosy closed shop resulting in a lack of funding for research into and building the infrastructure for renewable energy.

Even worse, despite the noises made by politicians, any effective action to halt climate change is blocked because that would damage business.  It would ‘harm’ the economy – meaning that they, all of them, would lose money.  But they probably think they are the economy.  And, of course their mantra – that climate change is not caused by human activity and we can therefore go on chasing and making money from every scrap of oil or gas to fuel our modern lives – is funded and publicised by some very rich people indeed, many of them with links to… you’ve guessed it… fossil fuels and high finance.  Anything that might puncture that magic bubble of oil, money and power has to be fought (or bought) off by whatever means.

The thought of losing our comfortable lifestyle is challenging, which is why we are persuaded by their spin machine to see that as more of a threat than the destruction of our climate would be.  Even while we are asked to put up with cuts forced upon us by the government, they are proposing to, despite undertaking not to, subsidise companies like EDF with our money, in the hope that they will build nuclear reactors here.  And don’t even mention fracking and the carrot they hold out about ‘cheap’ gas.  It won’t be.  We are also encouraged to allow the bankers to continue paying themselves too much; otherwise they will all go somewhere else.  And, of course, they’d all far rather we worried about the price we pay to fuel our lives than think about a warming world.  Because business as usual means profits as usual.  And also because, whatever else happens, the economy (by which I mean that we remain poor and live economically while the rich grow in riches) must be encouraged to grow.

And here is a very basic question that no one is asking, not politicians, bankers nor economists.  Even those campaigning about environmental destruction and climate change are not asking it.  Why do we have to have growth?

Nothing grows forever, even though it may live for a very long time.  Humans, having reached their maximum height, stop growing.  Either that or they collapse.  Their bones cannot support a body too tall or too fat.  It is the same for anything else that grows.  Everything has limits.  Endless growth is not sustainable.  We cannot grow beyond what this planet can supply, nor should we assume that it can, no matter how much we are persuaded to.  So why is it a given that the ‘economy’ has to grow?  Why can’t it drop back to a level where it might be more sustainable, and maintain a steady position instead?

What most of us want is stability and security, and we have let ourselves be persuaded that these only come if we have more – more money, more possessions, bigger televisions, faster cars – more, more, more.  Yet the majority of humanity has spent not centuries but millennia successfully existing by having sufficient.  We need enough, not more.  And let’s face it, the growth that is demanded by governments and corporations always has and always will go into the pockets of those who are already rich, already have far more than they need and certainly far more than their fair share.

Years ago manufacturers made things that could be serviced and repaired, things that we went on using until they fell to pieces.  Then what we bought came with ‘built-in obsolescence’.  It wasn’t a question of buying something new when the old had collapsed.  The new was designed to collapse and be replaced.  Then we were treated to ‘the latest model’ and encouraged to throw away anything that was out of date.  But students at Brighton University are now being asked to design a toaster that the buyer would want to keep!  On the Today programme Professor Jonathon Chapman explained: “It’s actually very easy to design and manufacture a toaster that will last 20 years; that can be done. What’s not so easy is to design and manufacture a toaster that someone will want to keep for 20 years, because as people, as consumers, we haven’t been trained to do that.”

No.  We’ve been trained to always think there is something better out there, and that we both want and need it.  And in the same way the people with their revolving doors are doing their best to train us into thinking that, as consumers, our behaviour has absolutely nothing to do with climate change and we can carry on as usual while the government ‘fixes’ the problem, the banks lend our money to companies we wouldn’t give the time of day to, and the energy companies dig up our back gardens while they frack for gas.

Well, you know what?  As a ‘consumer’ I have decided that governments, banks and fossil fuels also have built-in obsolescence.  They have reached the point of collapse and I want to bin the lot.  I don’t want their ‘latest model’ either because it always turns out to be more of the same with a different coat of paint.  I want to try something new – or rather, something both radical and reactionary – radical because the idea would be considered ‘impossible’, and reactionary because I want to turn back the clock.  I want to return to an old way of life that was sustainable and sufficient to our needs.  And, I suspect, far more satisfying than the constant hunger of consumerism.   Whether climate change will allow me to do that I don’t know.  My time may run out before the toaster fails.

Fracking The IRS: CEO Pay, Political Lobbying, Exceeds Company Tax Bill At Major Corporations

In Uncategorized on September 1, 2011 at 11:58 am

Oldspeak: “21st century welfare queens: CEOs of Verizon, Boeing, Honeywell, General Electric, International Paper, Prudential, eBay, Bank of New York Mellon, Ford, Motorola, Qwest Communications, Dow Chemical, and Stanley Black and Decker. While the U.S. Gov’t relentlessly harasses and pursues actual flesh and blood citizens, many “corporate citizens’ are given a pass, as hundreds of thousands are layed off to maintain profits and millions in revenues are lost. Oligarchy in action.”

By Chuck Collins @ The Institute For Policy Studies:

As the Super Congress eyes trillions in budget cuts that will undermine the quality of life for most Americans, here’s a stunning fact to contemplate: 25 hugely profitable U.S. companies paid their CEOs more last year than they paid Uncle Sam in taxes.

In other words, the more CEOs dodge their civic responsibilities, the more lavishly they’re paid. That’s the key finding of a new Institute for Policy Studies report,Massive CEO Rewards for Tax Dodging, which I co-authored.

These artful dodgers include the CEOs of Verizon, Boeing, Honeywell, General Electric, International Paper, Prudential, eBay, Bank of New York Mellon, Ford, Motorola, Qwest Communications, Dow Chemical, and Stanley Black and Decker. Their average annual compensation totaled $16.7 million, well above last year’s average of $10.8 million for the CEOs of S&P 500 companies.

Click here to see the full infographic.

Instead of paying their fair share, these companies spend millions lobbying for additional tax breaks and loopholes. Twenty of the 25 companies spent more lobbying Congress last year than they paid the IRS in federal corporate taxes. General Electric invested $41.8 million in lobbying and got $3.3 billion in tax refunds. Boeing spent $20 million on lobbying and got a $35 billion contract from the U.S. government, while paying a paltry $13 million in U.S. taxes for a company with $4.3 billion in U.S. income last year.

Eighteen of the 25 companies aggressively use off shore tax havens to shift profits around the globe to avoid U.S. taxes. These 18 companies together had 556 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands, Singapore, Ireland, and other havens. The offshore scam works like this: companies pretend their profits are earned in low-tax or no-tax jurisdictions — and then feign losses from their U.S. operations at tax time.>

Whatever happened to corporate civic leadership? A previous generation of CEOs would have been ashamed to be compensated so lavishly while their companies abandoned responsibility for paying their fair share. They would have been embarrassed to go year after year contributing little or nothing to the public investments that make the United States a vibrant business environment.

  • Chesapeake Energy paid its CEO Aubrey McClendon $21 million last year but paid zero federal corporate income tax in 2010. Chesapeake is fracking the tax code, drilling it for every possible subsidy it can extract — while lobbying to preserve antiquated tax breaks for oil and gas industry.
  • Online retailer eBay paid its CEO John Donahoe $21.4 million last year while collecting a federal tax refund of $131 million. eBay’ 31 subsidiaries in Switzerland, Singapore, and seven other tax havens facilitate its efforts to move money around the planet as a tax-dodging strategy.
  • Insurance brokerage Marsh & McLennan paid its CEO Brian Duperrault $14 million yet collected a $90 million tax refund from Uncle Sam. The company has 105 subsidiaries in 20 off shore tax havens, including 25 in Bermuda — a favorite locale for insurance companies seeking to avoid both taxes and regulation.

These super-moocher companies happily benefit from the privileges and advantages of doing business in the United States. If a competitor tries to steal their product or idea, these corporations rush to the U.S court system and law enforcement agencies for remedies and justice. The U.S. military guards their global assets.

They use the fertile ground of publicly funded research and infrastructure to bolster their own profits. They create new products from a foundation of Uncle Sam’s investments in medical and scientific research and government funded technologies like the Internet. Our taxpayer-funded roads, ports, and bridges bolster their business environment. Our public schools and universities educate the workers these companies rely on. In fact 16 of these 25 CEOs attended public universities. They personally were educated with help from U.S. tax dollars.

These CEOs profess to love America. But when it comes time to pay the bills, they’d rather outsource that job over to you or the small business down the road.

Congress should pass the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act which would limit some of these tax shenanigans. In the face of growing fiscal austerity, these companies should contribute to the solution and pay their fair share of U.S. taxes.

Read the full report, here

Details Of Secret Pact Emerge: Obama Administration Negotiating To Keep U.S. Troops In Afghanistan Until 2024

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2011 at 11:54 am

Oldspeak: Welp. So much for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. “America is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.” –Major General Smedley Darlington Butler; Congressional Medal of Honor Winner. Today America is in more wars than at any point in its history. There appears to be no end in sight. Spiritual death is upon us. Physical death soon come.”

By Ben Farmer @ The U.K. Telegraph:

Maybe you thought we’d get out of Afghanistan this very year, the drawdown date President Obama set as he surged U.S. troops into the country in December 2009; or maybe you thought the Obama administration’s target for withdrawal might be the last day of 2014, that date certain of recent vintage for turning over U.S. and NATO combat duties to the Afghans; or maybe — if you happen to be a news jockey — you took note when Brigadier General Walter Givhan suggested that the Afghan air force he was training might finally be up and running in 2016; or when his successor Brigadier General Michael  Boera suggested that the date might slip to 2018 if Congress insisted that the Pentagon buy American, not Russian, helicopters for its pilots.  Or maybe you noticed when Lieutenant General William Caldwell, commander of NATO Training Mission Afghanistan, recently suggested that the Afghan military would need the support of thousands of foreign trainers until at least 2020.

Whatever you thought, it turns out that you were wrong, and it’s time to recalibrate.  After all, according to Ben Farmer of the British Telegraph, the Obama administration is now negotiating a “pact” with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai that could leave American military “trainers” — thousands of them — as well as special operations forces, and the U.S. Air Force settled into some of the enormous Afghan bases the Pentagon has built there until… 2024.

Let’s try, as a start, to put 2024 in perspective.

It was 1979 — and I was 35 — when the U.S. embarked on its first Afghan war.  If 2024 is truly the Afghan endpoint for Washington, I’ll be 80 when the last American soldier leaves.

Or think of it another way: this September’s kindergarteners will be high school graduates in 2024 (and so eligible to join the all-volunteer army in the utterly unlikely event that victory hasn’t been achieved by then).

Or thought of another way, Mullah Omar, head of the Taliban, born in 1959, will 65 and ready for retirement in 2024; George W. Bush, the president who launched the war against the Taliban in 2001, will be 78; Barack Obama, the president who made Bush’s Afghan war his own, will be 63; and David Petraeus, the general who ran the Iraq War, Centcom, the Afghan War, and then the CIA, will be 72. (Expect years of Afghan-war-related memoirs.)  And NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched in 1977, may be only a year from losing power in 2024 and perhaps less than 73,600 years from the nearest star (by which time, the U.S. will be out of Afghanistan).

But let’s not get downhearted. If Farmer’s 2024 date turns out to be accurate, based on what we’ve repeatedly seen over the last near decade, there’s plenty to look forward to in the intervening 13 years — and here’s just a sampling:

The U.S. Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (call it the IG), government task forces, and various media organizations can do periodic investigations and issue corruption reports for 13 more years, just like the one Task Force 2010, set up by General Petraeus, recently issued. It indicated that some $360 million in U.S. taxpayer dollars have “ended up in the hands of… the Taliban, criminals, and power brokers with ties to both,” all thanks to “profiteering, bribery, and extortion.”

And here’s something else to look forward to: If all goes well, the U.S. and its allies can continue to offer another 13 years’ worth of military and “development” funding that, as a June report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic majority staff indicated, already accounts for 97 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product. And as that report (and so many others before it) also made clear, that funding has a remarkable way of “developing” next to nothing.

Or look forward to years more of reports like the one issued in April by the IG pointing out that some of the $10 billion a year being poured into training, building up, and supplying Afghanistan’s police is simply missing-in-action. Gone. Nowhere in sight. Not accounted for. The IG reported that “the country’s police rolls and payrolls cannot be verified because of poor record keeping,” which meant that the numbers “for all practical purposes become somewhat fictitious.” In other words, you can expect 13 more years in which your tax dollars fund significant numbers of “ghost policemen.”

Or look forward to more than a decade of news articles and official reports on the approximately 30 percent of Afghan army troops who desert each year. (Lieutenant General Caldwell supplied that figure in June.) To be exact, if enrolment in the army reaches 171,600 by this October, as scheduled, you’re talking about slightly more than 51,000 deserters a year, or a minimum of 668,000 by 2024 (and since army troop levels are slated to rise, however absurd that number already sounds, it’s undoubtedly an underestimate).

Or consider the cost of the war as reflected in the Pentagon’s 2012 budget request:$107.3 billion a year. (Of course, like those police figures, that’s probably a kind of happy fiction.) A group of experts on the Afghan war, for example, puts the actual number at $120 billion — and neither of these figures includes the money that Washington will be spending in 2024 and beyond to care for the war’s damaged veterans. Still, just for argument’s sake, let’s go with $107 billion a year through 2014, when the last U.S. “combat” troops are slated to depart, and then just arbitrarily slash that figure by half to 2024. That would total $856 billion over the next 13 years.  (By comparison, were President Obama’s proposals to close corporate tax loopholes and tax the mega-rich at Clinton-era rates put into effect, that would pull in only $700 billion over 10 years.)

And of course, while a rollicking good time would be had by all over those 13 years of training local forces and carrying out special operations and air missions in the greater Afghan region, a newly released report from the Medicare and Social Security Trustees predicts that “the Hospital Insurance fund, which pays for hospital stays of Medicare recipients, will run out in 2024, five years earlier than last year’s report estimate.” And don’t even think about what’s likely to happen to America’s infrastructure, already sorely underfunded — all those dams, bridges, natural gas pipelines, roads, and other basics of our lives — in those same years.

I could go on, but you get the idea. If by dint of sheer grit and tons of dough, the Pentagon somehow outlasts the Taliban (and whatever is left of al-Qaeda in the region), victory in Afghanistan in 2024 will assumedly leave in place a desperately frail semi-nation with a still-hemorrhaging security force of 400,000 that it will be utterly incapable of paying for.

In the meantime, the U.S. will undoubtedly be a nation unbuilt. Still, what a 13 years to look forward to!

So mark it on your calendars. If that Washington-Kabul pact goes through as planned, consider it settled: victory in 2024 and mission accomplished.

Kashi, Burt’s Bees, Tom’s of Maine, Naked Juice: Your Favorite Good, Natural, Socially Conscious Brands? Owned By The Corporatocracy.

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Oldspeak: “Burt’s Bees; owned by Clorox. Tom’s of Maine; Owned by Colgate-Palmolive. Kashi Cereals; Owned by Kellogg’s. Naked Juice; owned by PepsiCo. The Body Shop; owned by L’oreal/Nestle. Most all “Naturally Produced Spring Water”  is actually corporate owned tap water. Deliberately deceptive ‘Marketing strategies have been fooling us to trust that the niche brands continue to be small, environmentally conscious businesses that combine ecologically sound practices with a political agenda to put products out on the market under a business model of “the Greater Good.” In fact, they are frequently cogs in the giant corporate wheel.‘ –  Andrea Whitfill Most all socially conscious, environmentally friendly brands are now nothing more than revenue streams for profit-hungry Megaconglomorates. The commons, social, environmental, political, media, have been commodified and corporatized. Is there no way to escape giving our hard-earned dollars to the decidedly anti-social, anti-environmentally friendly entities that are destroying and exploiting our planet and peoples alike? But I guess the fundamental Catch 22 question as discussed in the article is this: “If you want to change what people consume on a grand scale, you have to penetrate mass markets. ‘And you can’t do that if you’re a small, specialist brand stuck in the organic or whole-food niche, even if that means you are on supermarket shelves. It is a familiar dilemma: stay pure and have a big impact on a small scale, or compromise and have a small impact on a grand scale.’ –Roger Cowe

By Andrea Whitfill @ Alter Net:

My first introduction to natural, organic and eco-friendly products stems back to the early ’90s, when I stumbled upon Burt’s Bees lip balm at an independently owned health food store in the heart of Westport, Kansas City, Mo.

Before the eyesore invasion of ’98, when Starbucks frothed its way into the neighborhood, leading to its ultimate demise, Westport was the kind of  ‘hood I still yearn for. It was saturated with historically preserved, hip and funky, mom-and-pop-type establishments, delivering their goods people to people.

I was surprised more recently when I saw Burt’s Bees products everywhere — in grocery stores, drug stores, corner bodegas and big-box stores like Target and Wal-Mart. I thought to myself, fantastic; the marketplace is working, and good for Burt. He has made his mark, and the demand for his products is on the rise.

Needless to say, I was shocked when I recently found out that Burt’s Bees is now owned by Clorox, a massive corporate company that has historically cared very little about the environment, but whose main industry is directly associated with harmful chemicals, some of which require warning labels for legal sale.

Clorox; yes, that’s right — the bleach company with an estimated revenue of $ 4.8 billion that employs nearly 7,600 workers (now bees) and sells products like Liquid-Plumr, Pine-Sol and Armor All, a far cry from the origins of Burt.

I now understood. The reason Burt’s Bees products were everywhere was precisely because they now had a powerful corporation in the driver’s seat, with big marketing budgets and existing distribution systems.

The story of Burt is a charming one gone bad. Burt Shavitz, a beekeeper in Dexter, Maine, lived an extremely humble life selling honey in pickle jars from the back of his pickup truck and resided in the wilderness inside a turkey coop without running water or electricity.

In the summer of 1984, Shavitz was driving down the road and spotted a hitchhiker who needed a lift to the post office. He pulled over and picked up Roxanne Quimby, a 34-year-old woman who eventually became Shavitz’s lover and business partner. Quimby started helping him tend to the beehives, and that eventually led to the all natural-inspired health care products made with Shavitz’s honey and the birth of Burt’s Bees products.

Burt’s story and very powerful narrative gave Burt’s Bees products their legitimacy in my book. Creative entrepreneurs and knowledgeable consumers together working their magic; not the results of a corporate behemoth out to dominate the marketplace.

However, Quimby and Shavitz’s relationship became ‘sticky’ in the late ’90s for reasons unclear, yet probably having little to do with honey. Their romantic break up carried over to the split of their business partnership as well. In 1999, Quimby bought out Shavitz’s shares of the company for a small six-figure sum. Quimby then continued, becoming phenomenally successfully and growing sales to $43.5 million by 2002.

In 2003, a private equity firm, AEA investors, purchased 80 percent of Burt’s Bees from Quimby, with her retaining a 20 percent share and a seat on the board. In 2006, John Replogle, the former general manager of Unilever’s skin-care division became CEO and president of Burt’s Bees. The company was sold to Clorox in late October 2007 for $925 million.

Quimby was paid more than $300 million for her stake in Burt’s Bees. At the time of that deal, Shavitz reportedly demanded more money, and Quimby agreed to pay him $4 million. Quimby now refurbishes fancy, swank homes in Florida, travels the world and buys massive chunks of land in her free time. Our bearded man Shavitz, on the other hand, now 73 and unchanged, continues to reside amidst nature in his now-expanded turkey coop, which still remains absent of electricity or running water.

The Burt’s Bees story is disconcerting. I vaguely remembered long ago that one of my favorite ice cream products, Ben & Jerry’s, sold out. Unilever (which also owns Breyers), the giant conglomerate with an estimated market cap of $50 billion and close to 174,000 employees, bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000 for $326 million.

I began to wonder about the other products I liked, trusted and respected for their independence and their social responsibility. How many were really owned by big corporations, who were going out of their way to hide the link between the big corporate company with the small, socially responsible brand? It didn’t take long for my list of disappointments to grow and grow.

Upon first meeting someone, I can usually tell a quite a lot about them by the contents of their bathroom. The brand I see most often behind medicine cabinets of people I consider to be environmentally conscious is Tom’s of Maine. What Tom’s says to me about the person is that they are willing to spend a little bit of extra cash in order to take proactive steps to help green the Earth.

Well, no more. My bathroom assessments will never be the same. Tom’s of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive, a massive, tank-like company with an estimated 36,000 employees and revenue of approximately $11.4 billion. Its big products include: Ajax, Anbesol and Speedstick.

I am only left to wonder, is Trader Joe’s, popularly known to showcase Tom’s of Maine in its hygiene department, just as much in the dark about all of this as I have been? Or is Joe’s simply another conduit for big corporate products?

As my curiosity grew, I took a little field trip to the grocery store with one of my friends to be a “brand anthropologist.” “Let’s get to the bottom of this,” I said, aiming to check out all of the brands that I and countless other good consumers were buying in our efforts to support grassroots business and not corporate behemoths. Little did I know how deep the hole was going to be, and in some cases, how hard to find out who owns what.

Thinking Dairy

In the dairy section sit many flavors of Stoneyfield Farm Yogurt. I knew its socially conscious CEO, Gary Hirshberg, had created major organic brand recognition to become the No. 1 seller of organic yogurt in the United States, but since then Danone, the French conglomerate (which also owns Brown Cow), acquired a majority holding in Stoneyfield. This is the same Danone that had to recall large quantities of its yogurt in 2007 after it was found to contain unsafe levels of dioxins. (In an interesting twist, the still-active Hirshberg sits on the board of Dannon U.S.A. Unlike most of the early entrepreneurs, who took the dough and left the scene, Hirshberg is still involved. )

Meanwhile, I learned that Horizon Organic milk was bought out by the largest dairy company in the U.S., Dean Foods Co., in 2005.

Thirsty? Juices and Water

Next I ventured to the juice section. Drinking Odwalla juices was an expensive habit I had justified for years because of its healthy California brand. The ubiquitous refrigerators in thousands of stores should have given it away that Odwalla wasn’t the small company it once was. It is now owned by Coca-Cola. Almost as soon as Coca-Cola bought the company, back in 2001 for $181 million, it stopped selling the fresh-squeezed OJ that had made Odwalla famous and popular among the healthy set. With its massive distribution system, fresh squeezed wouldn’t last the days and weeks the juices are in transit or on the shelf.

Not to be outdone (although it took it a while), Pepsi bought Naked Juice in 2006 for $450 million, in order to compete with Odwalla. Smuckers, the brand we are told is the “brand we can trust”, grabbed several juice mainstays from the health food store shelves: After the fall — R.W. Knudsen and Santa Cruz Organic.

Turns out that Coca-Cola also owns Glaceau, the company once known for its “fresh new approach to bottled water that is inspired by nature and enhanced by science.” Glaceau is the maker of Vitamin Water, Fruit Water, Smart Water and Vitamin Energy — all bottled waters that are adorably marketed and loaded with sugar. It’s no wonder Coca-Cola was slapped with a lawsuit in 2006 for making deceptive and unsubstantiated health claims in its Vitamin Water marketing strategies; they are selling glorified sugar water.

As for bottled water, egads! That’s a whole article in and of itself. The scourge of bottled water, of course, is an environmental disaster on many levels, as corporations have moved in to take control of water local supplies, while some of the same companies and their mega advertising budgets have created a giant market for bottled water, with enormous waste from plastic bottles and giant carbon foot prints as water is shipped over many thousands of miles from Fiji for example, or Italy, when pretty much no bottled water is needed. Frequently, tap water is of higher quality and more closely tested than bottled water.

And as Michael Blanding notes on AlterNet, “In fact, many times bottled water is tap water. Contrary to the image of water flowing from pristine mountain springs, more than a quarter of bottled water actually comes from municipal water supplies. The industry is dominated by three companies, who together control more than half the market: Coca-Cola, which produces Dasani; Pepsi, which produces Aquafina; and Nestle, which produces several “local” brands, including Poland Spring, Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ozarka and Calistoga. Both Coke and Pepsi exclusively use tap water for their sources, while Nestle uses tap water in some brands.

The Breakfast Nook

Over in the breakfast aisle, my friend was a bit apoplectic when we learned that the “super healthy” Kashi cereals, the favorites of millions of healthy breakfast eaters, was bought in July 2000 for an “undisclosed sum” by Kellogg’s, the 12th-largest company in North American food sales, according to Food Processing. I picked up a box of Kashi’s “Go Lean Crunch” and searched every word; not one mention of the fact that Kellogg’s owns them. That change was rally below the radar. In 2004, Kraft Foods, known for processed cheeses and Kool-Aid, bought the natural cereal maker Back to Nature. Kraft is a subsidiary of Altria, which also owns Philip Morris USA, one of the world’s largest producers of cigarettes.

According to the New York Times, “Many of the alternative cereal brands are owned by larger companies, including Kellogg and General Mills.”

“Cereals, like milk, are one of the primary entrance points for use of organics,” said Lara Christenson of Spins, a market research group for the natural products industry, “which is pretty closely tied to children — health concerns, keeping pesticides, especially antibiotics, out of the diets of children. These large firms wanted to get a foothold in the natural and organic marketplace. Because of the mind-set of consumers, branding of these products has to be very different than traditional cereals.”

These corporate connections are often kept quiet. “There is frequently a backlash when a big cereal package-goods company buys a natural or organic company,” Christenson said. “I don’t want to say it’s manipulative, but consumers are led to believe these brands are pure, natural or organic brands. It’s very purposely done.”

A little more digging shows that General Mills owns Cascadian Farm; Barbara’s Bakery is owned by Weetabix, the leading British cereal company, which is owned by a private investment firm in England; Mother’s makes it clear that it is owned by Quaker Oats (which is owned by PepsiCo); Health Valley and Arrowhead Mills are owned by Hain Celestial Group, a natural food company traded on the NASDAQ, with H.J. Heinz owning 16 percent of that company.

The Sweet Tooth

After the Kashi news, I wondered what was next? I didn’t have to go any further than the organic chocolate aisle of my favorite deli to find Green and Black’s organic chocolate was taken over in 2005 by Schweppes, the 10th-largest company in North American packaged-food sales. And even more surprising to chocolate lovers is that Dagoba Chocolate, which had a little cult chocolate following for a while, is surprise, surprise, owned by Hershey Foods.

There seems to be an apt analogy between the huge growth in the “naturalization” of packaged goods in grocery stores and supermarket aisles and the massive transformation of organic fresh foods. Organic farming began as a grassroots movement to produce food that was healthier and better for the land. But it is now a huge, $20 billion industry, increasingly dominated by large agribusiness companies. Furthermore, when the government certifies food as “organic,” it has nothing to do with the original values of locally grown produce, workers being treated fairly, etc.

So it may cheer some to know that on the East Coast, McDonald’s has served fair-trade-certified Newman’s Own organic coffee in stores, while others may cringe at the words of Lee Scott, former CEO of WalMart, when he said, “We are particularly excited about organic food, the fastest-growing category in all of food.”

“What’s important to keep in mind is that these big corporations are getting into organics not because they have doubts about their prior business practices or doubts about chemical, industrial agriculture,” said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association. “They’re getting in because they want to make a lot of money — they want to make it fast.” He said the companies couldn’t care less about “family farmers making the transition to organic farms.”

What does this all mean? One conclusion it is easy to come to is that big food companies and the stores and supermarkets that deliver their goods have stretched and abused descriptions of food until they are sometimes almost meaningless, and consumers believe that they are getting more benefits than they actually are. Consumers “walk down the aisle in the grocery stores’ health and beauty area, and they’re confronted with ‘natural’ at every turn,” says Daniel Fabricant, vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the Natural Products Association. “We just don’t want to see the term misused any longer.”

On the other hand, Roger Cowe, a financial commentator states: “If you want to change what people consume on a grand scale, you have to penetrate mass markets. And you can’t do that if you’re a small, specialist brand stuck in the organic or whole-food niche, even if that means you are on supermarket shelves. It is a familiar dilemma: stay pure and have a big impact on a small scale, or compromise and have a small impact on a grand scale.”

Some think that socially responsible business sellers don’t lose it all when selling out. Both Craig Sams from Green and Black chocolate and the late Anita Roddick from the Body Shop ( sold to L’Oreal/Nestle — one of the most vilified of multinational companies) have said that they believe that an acquired ethical company can influence its new parent to improve its corporate behavior.

Others are not so positive about this turn of events. Judy Wickes from the Social Venture Network describes corporate takeovers of socially responsible businesses as “a threat to democracy when wealth and power are concentrated into a few hands.” And David Korten, in his book,When Corporations Rule the World, explained how sustainable business “should be human scale — not necessarily tiny firms, but preferably not more than 500 people — always with a bias to smaller is better.”

It is clear that so-called organic brands are a rapidly growing portion of the consumer dollar, and that every major food corporation has invested deeply in buying these already-established brands.

Marketing strategies have been fooling us to trust that the niche brands continue to be small, environmentally conscious businesses that combine ecologically sound practices with a political agenda to put products out on the market under a business model of “the Greater Good.”

In fact, they are frequently cogs in the giant corporate wheel. I like to refer to this “other” business model as “We’ve Been Had.” It is time for we, the consumer, to question how much the ownership and neglectful marketing of these “pseudo” responsible brands warrant crossing them off our shopping list.

And it is time to find products more in tune with our values, which include thinking small. At least until they, too, get bought out by some large conglomerate.


For Sale: The Desperate States Of America

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2011 at 11:35 am

Oldspeak:” The U.S. economy is being restructured in a way that will largely benefit wealthy elites and be detrimental to the rest. Everything public: Government, Schools, Prisons, Energy, Services, Parks, Lands, Housing Health Care, etc. if the free-market ideologues in government have their way, is to be privatized. The usual result of  privatization: significant increases in costs to customers; reduction in quality of and access to service. When dealing with organizations whose prime directives are to Internalize and maximize ever-increasing profit while externalizing and minimizing as much cost as possible this is the only logical outcome. We’ve seen it played out time and time again in the gutting of America. “The core tenets of free market fundamentalism —  privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services — has laid the foundation for the economic breakdown we are witnessing today.  And this recession-induced breakdown is being used by professional disaster capitalists to warrant more privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services until there is nothing left.  It is clear that the continued auctioning off of pieces of the state to large corporations will result in a total loss of democratic control to the disaster capitalists who are profiting immensely from their orchestrated crisis.” –Rania Khalek.  Meanwhile, the “Defense” budget continues to grow. Why is our “civilization” predicated on “owning” everything, hoarding “wealth” and “power”? Why are a few deranged people, Bohemian Grove Members willing to sacrifice our entire planet for their own personal gain?

By Rania Khalek @ Common Dreams

While we have been frantically playing defense against relentless assaults on multiple fronts, from anti-union legislation to draconian anti-choice laws to the attempted privatization of Medicare, the selling off of public assets to the private sector has received little attention.

As states face a budget shortfall of $125 billion dollars for fiscal year 2012, leaders are searching for creative ways to fill budget gaps, while refusing to consider the one legitimate solution: forcing tax-dodging corporations and the rich to pay their fair share in taxes.  Rather than upset the moneyed interests who bought their seats in office, politicians of all stripes prefer to cut pensions, close schools, slash child nutrition programs, and most importantly privatize, privatize, privatize!

In 2008, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley auctioned off the city’s 36,000 parking meters to a Morgan-Stanley lead partnership, for a lump sum of $1.15 billion.  According to Bloomberg, Chicago drivers will pay Morgan Stanley at least $11.6 billion to park at city meters over the next 75 years, 10 times what the system was sold for.  The Mayor used millions from the deal to help balance the budget, but since then, Morgan Stanley has raised parking fees 42%.  It now plans on stuffing more cars into fewer metered spaces by getting rid of marking lines, raising the number of metered slots and expanding the hours that require fees.  Chicago gave up billions of dollars in revenue for a short-term fix and now, if the city faces another fiscal crisis, it will be left with an asset that generates revenue for Morgan Stanley.  Despite the controversy in Chicago, the Associated Press reports that New York is exploring private options for its parking spaces as well.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), a member of the Tea Party Caucus, has suggested that one way to help close the nation’s budget deficit is to “start liquidating” public lands in Utah by privatizing large parts of the state, 70 percent of which is owned by the federal government.  Soon after, Utah Governor Gary Herbert hopped on board, agreeing that Ross’s idea was “worth exploring.”  He even went so far as to claim that the land would be better in private hands because private owners maintained Indian artifacts and burial grounds better.  Apparently his position is quite popular, since it has been embraced by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and John McCain (R-AZ), who proposed a bill which would sell off land in Utah and other western states.

The most insidious privatization scheme so far this year was in Wisconsin, the center of the state budget battles.  A provision in Republican Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill would have empowered politicians to sell any state-owned heating, cooling, or power plant, including those located in prisons and the University of Wisconsin campuses, to anyone for any price at any time, without public approval or a call for bids.  Although the provision was ultimately removed from the budget bill just before it passed, it is expected to be taken up again later this year.

In an effort to offset an $8 billion budget deficit, Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich has proposed privatizing five prisons, a sale expected to bring in an estimated $200 million.  Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature is set to require the state to privatize prisons in South Florida, home to one-fifth of the statewide inmate population of 101,000.  Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal plans to sell three state prisons to private operators.  Similar bills have sprung up in other states, nevermind that evidence showing that private prisons actually save any money is seriously lacking.

In more desperate and bizarre attempts to fill in budget gaps the City Council in Naperville, IL is considering giving corporations exclusive rights to plaster their logos on city property.  One proposed municipal sponsorship deal would allow Kentucky Fried Chicken to repair potholes in exchange for stamping the fresh asphalt with the chicken chain’s logo.

It would be foolish to assume that the push for privatization is isolated to the GOP or the states.  The “liberal” Obama administration has proposed legislation that would establish a presidentially appointed, seven-member Civilian Property Realignment Board, tasked with evaluating excess federal properties.  The surplus includes 12,000 buildings, pieces of land and other property nationwide that the federal government wants to get rid of.

According to McClatchy, the White House claims it would see savings of as much as $15 billion by no longer having to maintain or pay for utilities at some of the underused or unused facilities.  The government in 2009 reported spending $134 million to maintain buildings that have been declared excess.  It costs an estimated $1.3 billion a year to maintain federal buildings that aren’t yet declared surplus but that go underused.  However, it remains unclear if and how this strategy would result in a significant enough amount of savings to make a dent in a trillion dollar deficit.

Ironically, the list includes land where the dorms in Daniel Boone National Forest are located, which once served as a camp for workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Great Depression work program.  Rather than invest in jobs programs to put the unemployed back to work like FDR did during the Great Depression — an idea that the Obama administration has all but abandoned — the President has instead chosen the path of austerity and privatization, tactics that have historically been detrimental to society.

It’s no secret that corporate behemoths, backed by their free-market think tanks and foundations have long dreamed of privatizing everything public.  Thus far, they have been largely successful in hollowing out the defense department by outsourcing computer, intelligence, and even combat operations to for-profit companies like Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, and Blackwater, to name a few.  We now know that this was done intentionally, strategically planned by the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, who profited magnificently as a result.  The terrorist attacks on 9-11 presented the Bush administration with the opportunity to accelerate the outsourcing of war.

In the Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein thoroughly documents how wealthy elites often use times of crisis and chaos to impose unpopular policies that restructure economies and political systems to further advance their interests.  She calls these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, “disaster capitalism.”

While catastrophic events, such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks, are difficult to predict, economic disasters are not.  With this in mind, it’s difficult to deny that the economic crisis has been somewhat manufactured to serve as a pretext for draconian cuts into social programs that the corporate state has long been eyeing.  On it’s face, this theory seems conspiratorial, however a brief review of recent history demonstrates a trend of intentional crisis generation.

Paul Krugman understood this concept in 2003, during the implementation of the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy, when he wrote the following:

“the gimmicks used to make an $800-billion-plus tax cut carry an official price tag of only $320 billion are a joke, yet the cost without the gimmicks is so large that the nation can’t possibly afford it while keeping its other promises.

But then maybe that’s the point. The Financial Times suggests that ”more extreme Republicans” actually want a fiscal train wreck: ”Proposing to slash federal spending, particularly on social programs, is a tricky electoral proposition, but a fiscal crisis offers the tantalizing prospect of forcing such cuts through the back door.”

It’s no secret that right-wing ideologues want to abolish programs Americans take for granted. But not long ago, to suggest that the Bush administration’s policies might actually be driven by those ideologues — that the administration was deliberately setting the country up for a fiscal crisis in which popular social programs could be sharply cut — was to be accused of spouting conspiracy theories.”

As the free-market ideologues in government continue to neglect America’s aging infrastructure while making deep cuts into education funding and borrowing upwards of a trillion dollars for two failed wars, they reaffirm the perception that the government is inefficient and incapable of providing what they believe private enterprise can do better.

The fact of the matter is that those now shrieking about big government debts and deficits have spent the last decade maximizing government spending with unaffordable wars, financial deregulation, and tax cuts for the wealthy, which they knew would cost trillions of dollars.  Today, the consequences of their actions, which they were warned about, are the ploy these very same people are using to justifythe accelerated demise of welfare programs, and the incremental destruction of the meager social safety net that guarantees Americans won’t starve in their old age.

The core tenets of free market fundamentalism —  privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services — has laid the foundation for the economic breakdown we are witnessing today.  And this recession-induced breakdown is being used by professional disaster capitalists to warrant more privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services until there is nothing left.  It is clear that the continued auctioning off of pieces of the state to large corporations will result in a total loss of democratic control to the disaster capitalists who are profiting immensely from their orchestrated crisis.

Rania Khalek is a young, progressive activist with a passionate dedication to social justice. Check out her blog Missing Pieces or follow her on twitter @Rania_ak. You can contact her at raniakhalek@gmail.com.


U.S. Multinational Corporations Increase Hiring Abroad, While Cutting Hiring In The U.S.

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2011 at 3:14 pm

A General Electric worker in Belfort, France, examines a component for a gas turbine. These days, GE gets about 60% of its business overseas.

Oldspeak:”Behold! The bitter fruits of Globalization. It really doesn’t matter that GE, Wal-Mart, Cisco, Oracle etc, pay little to no corporate taxes in the U.S. . Corporations do business where they can extract the most profit and incur the lowest costs. ‘The companies cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million, new data from the U.S. Commerce Department show.’-David Wessel  With the top 1% hoarding wealth, resources, and commodifying everything, while the other 99%’s buying power shrinks as they struggle to survive, multinationals see the writing on the wall.  With crumbling infrastructure, a failing eduction system, a draconian immigration system that discourages import of skilled workers, more and more service jobs replacing skilled jobs, the U.S. and it’s economy is slowly and surely collapsing as it’s government stands idly by.”

By David Wessel @ The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. multinational corporations, the big brand-name companies that employ a fifth of all American workers, have been hiring abroad while cutting back at home, sharpening the debate over globalization’s effect on the U.S. economy.

The companies cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million, new data from the U.S. Commerce Department show. That’s a big switch from the 1990s, when they added jobs everywhere: 4.4 million in the U.S. and 2.7 million abroad.

The downside of economic globalization: U.S. multinational corporations, that employ 20% of all U.S. workers, are increasingly hiring overseas workers

In all, U.S. multinationals employed 21.1 million people at home in 2009 and 10.3 million elsewhere, including increasing numbers of higher-skilled foreign workers.

The trend highlights the growing importance of other economies, particularly in rapidly growing Asia, to big U.S. businesses such as General Electric Co., Caterpillar Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The data also underscore the vulnerability of the U.S. economy, particularly at a time when unemployment is high and wages aren’t rising. Jobs at multinationals tend to pay above-average wages and, for decades, sustained the American middle class.

Some on the left view the job trend as reason for the U.S. government to keep companies from easily exporting work overseas and importing products back to the U.S. or to more aggressively match job-creating policies used in some foreign markets. More business-friendly analysts view the same data as the sign that the U.S. may be losing its appeal as a place for big companies to invest and hire.

„It’s definitely something to worry about,“ says economist Matthew Slaughter, who served as an adviser to former president George W. Bush. Mr. Slaughter, now at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, is among those who think the U.S. has lost some allure.

A decade ago, Mr. Slaughter, who consults for several big companies and trade associations, drew attention with his observation that „for every one job that U.S. multinationals created abroad…they created nearly two U.S. jobs in their [U.S.-based] parents.“ That was true in the 1990s, he says. It is no longer.

The Commerce Department’s summary of its latest annual survey shows that in 2009, a recession year in which multinationals’ sales and capital spending fell, the companies cut 1.2 million, or 5.3%, of their workers in the U.S. and 100,000, or 1.5%, of those abroad.

The growth of their overseas work forces is a sensitive point for U.S. companies. Many of them don’t disclose how many of their workers are abroad. And some who do won’t talk about it. „We will decline to comment on future hiring or head-count numbers,“ says Kimberly Pineda, director of corporate public relations for Oracle Corp.

Those who will talk say the trend, in some instances, reflects the rising productivity of U.S. factories and, in general, a world in which the U.S. represents a smaller piece of a bigger whole. „As a greater percentage of our sales have been outside the U.S., we have seen our work force outside the U.S. grow,“ says Jim Dugan, spokesman for construction-equipment maker Caterpillar, which has added jobs more rapidly abroad than in the U.S.

The Commerce Department’s totals mask significant differences among the big companies. Some are shrinking employment at home and abroad while increasing productivity. Others are hiring everywhere. Still others are cutting jobs at home while adding them abroad.

At some companies, hiring to sell or make products abroad means more research or design jobs in the U.S. At others, overseas hiring simply shifts production away from the U.S. The government plans to release details about various industries and countries in November.

While hiring, firing, acquiring and divesting in recent years, GE has been reducing the overall size of its work force both domestically and internationally. Between 2005 and 2010, the industrial conglomerate cut 1,000 workers overseas and 28,000 in the U.S.

Jeffrey Immelt, GE’s chief executive, says these cuts don’t reflect a relentless search for the lowest wages, or at least they don’t any longer. „We’ve globalized around markets, not cheap labor. The era of globalization around cheap labor is over,“ he said in a speech in Washington last month. „Today we go to Brazil, we go to China, we go to India, because that’s where the customers are.“

In 2000, 30% of GE’s business was overseas; today, 60% is. In 2000, 46% of GE employees were overseas; today, 54% are.

Mr. Immelt says GE did or will add 16,000 U.S. jobs in manufacturing or high-tech services in 2010 and 2011, including 150 in Erie, Pa., making locomotives for China, and 400 at a smart-grid technology center in Atlanta.

Caterpillar increasingly relies on foreign markets for its sales. It has been adding workers world-wide—except for global layoffs in 2009, amid the recession—but is hiring much faster abroad. Between 2005 and 2010, its work force grew by 3,400 workers, or 7.8%, in the U.S. and 15,900, or nearly 39%, overseas.

Mr. Dugan, the company spokesman, says Caterpillar still does most of its research and development in Peoria, Ill., where it is based, and that „a little over half“ of its planned $3 billion in capital spending this year is earmarked for facilities in the U.S.

Several high-tech companies have been expanding their work forces both domestically and abroad, but doing much more of their hiring outside the U.S.

Oracle, which makes business hardware and software, added twice as many workers overseas over the past five years as in the U.S. At the beginning of the 2000s, it had more workers at home than abroad; at the end of 2010, 63% of its employees were overseas. The company says it still does 80% of its R&D in the U.S.

Similarly, Cisco Systems Inc., which makes networking gear, has been creating jobs much more rapidly abroad. Over the past five years, it has added 10,900 employees in the U.S. and 21,350 outside it. At the beginning of the decade, 26% of its work force was abroad; at the end, 46% was.

Microsoft is an exception. It cut its head count globally last year, but over the past five years, the software giant has added more jobs in the U.S. (15,300) than abroad (13,000). About 60% of Microsoft’s employees are in the U.S.

While small, young companies are vital to U.S. economic growth, big multinationals remain a major force. A report by McKinsey Global Institute, the think-tank arm of the big consulting firm, estimates that multinationals account for 23% of the nation’s private-sector output and 48% of its exports of goods.

These companies are more exposed to global competition than many smaller ones, but also more capable of taking advantage of globalization by shifting production, and thus can be a harbinger of things to come.

The economists who advised McKinsey on its report dubbed multinationals „canaries in the coal mine.“ They include Mr. Slaughter and Clinton White House veterans Laura Tyson, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Martin Baily, of the Brookings Institution.

They warn that a combination of the U.S. tax code, the declining state of U.S. infrastructure, the quality of the country’s education system and barriers to the immigration of skilled workers may be making the U.S. less attractive to multinationals. „We can excoriate them“ and also listen to them, Mr. Slaughter says of the multinationals. „But we can’t just excoriate them.“

Other observers see the trend as a failure of U.S. policies to counter aggressive foreign governments. „All the incentives in the global economy—an overvalued U.S. dollar, lower corporate taxes abroad, very aggressive investment incentives abroad, government pressure abroad versus none at home—are such as to steadily move the production of tradable goods and the provision of tradable services out of the U.S.,“ says Clyde Prestowitz, a former trade negotiator turned critic of U.S. trade policy. „That has been having, and will continue to have, a negative impact on U.S. employment and wages.“

—Scott L. Greenberg contributed to this article


Nowhere Man 2012: Because Everyone Else Is Worse

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Oldspeak: “The feeble fiction of the Democrats vs. Republicans paradigm has been falling to dust for a long time now, inexorably being replaced by a simple truth. There is but one paradigm in this reality, one core fact to be reckoned with: the struggle in America is between the Have’s and the Have Not’s, between towering wealth , towering greed and everyone else. It is about a class struggle that has been three centuries in the making, and even those who are today moderately comfortable will not be able to escape calamity. When it comes down, it will come down on all of us…all, of course, except the fortunate few who caused it all in the first place.” – William Rivers Pitt

By William Rivers Pitt @ Truthout:

So, yeah, Obama is in. The President of the United States officially threw his hat into the 2012 election ring on Monday morning, and the nation reacted with a resounding, “Oh.”

What a mess.

It wasn’t even two and a half years ago. Can you believe it? Two and a half years ago, there was a detonation of optimism that echoed across the country once the returns were in on that November night. People took to the streets here in Boston, literally banging pots and pans together as they danced and shouted in celebration. The scene was repeated in city after city and town after town, and even the “mainstream” media gushed from election night to Inauguration Day about the spectacular moment in American history we were all witnessing together.

Hindsight, however, tells us today that much of that optimism was wildly misplaced. The long shadow of George W. Bush still hung low and dark over the land, as it does even now. That was part of it, of course, part of the sense of expiation and purgation so many felt once the deal went down; on that November night, the national nightmare of Mr. Bush’s presidency was writing its final pages, and then came January, and he was gone. Despite all the failures and disappointments that have since come, those were two very good days.

And there have been disappointments. A great, great many of them. The words we heard were beautiful back then, soaring and sure, and many believed. How could they not? Here was this new president who could sing the birds down from the trees, who was introduced to the country in 2004 by way of a convention keynote address [4] that blew the roof off the joint. Some years later, along the jagged, wending path of a brutal primary campaign, candidate Obama was carried to the nomination by the power of his words, and yes, many believed, even in spite of themselves.

But then he won it all, and two and a half years later, many of his most ardent supporters now hear his words and taste ashes in their mouths. You campaign in poetry, someone once said, but you govern in prose.  The poetry was magnificent. The prose, in far too many ways, has been dreck, and those who believed now find themselves more demoralized than they can easily describe.

He and his fellow Democrats all but folded on health care, leaving us with less than half a loaf. He backtracked [5] on Guantanamo, and doubled down on Afghanistan. He promised to erase Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, and broke his oath shamelessly, to his party’s great lament in 2010. Wall Street stands unmolested at the center of his counsel, while Main Street withers on the vine. He is flipping missiles into Libya while flipping off the American people by racing to “compromise” with brigands and thieves on the matter of how many billions to cut. He has, to be sure, had his share of victories [6], but in so many critical ways, he has been the Nowhere Man, the absence of what was so seemingly present when he was elevated to his current station.

What galls the most, what infuriates and confounds, is the brazen clarity of the situation at hand. Mr. Obama has not been losing policy arguments to reasonable people. He has been losing policy arguments to people who are, in many instances, absolutely and unabashedly barking mad. He is losing policy arguments to people who sought elected office in government in order to denude and destroy that very government. Listen to them talk and the matter is plain: they got the job to destroy the job, and are so blinded by the fervor of their political catechism that they cannot be reasoned with under any circumstances. They are destroyers and usurpers, but Mr. Obama has time and again bared his neck to them, and we have all suffered with their sundry victories, and his sundry defeats.

They cannot be reasoned with, but can only be defeated, and after two and a half years, it is the President of the United States alone who appears to have not received the memo. Now he’s running for re-election – not that anyone suspected he would do otherwise – and the machinery of campaign war is grinding to life in Chicago and Washington DC. Last time around, Mr. Obama’s vast campaign war chest was filled with donations from millions of regular folks all across the country. The Obama campaign took money from the big boys, too; lots and lots of money. But what ultimately brought him to victory came from average Americans who could not afford to give but did. That, as much as anything else, was part of that sense of optimism felt by so many at the beginning.

Now?

Well, now is a different story. A great many of those who gave willingly the last time are two and a half years older today, two and a half years poorer, and two and a half years wiser. They will not be as quick to reach for their wallets and checkbooks when the piper calls them to campaign charity with his well-worn cadence. The Obama 2012 brain trust seems to know this, and are preparing a financial strategy far more dependent on big money [7] than last time. They aim to raise a billion dollars this time. Thus, the political DNA of campaigner Obama and President Obama will even more closely resemble the CEOs and bankers that tore this nation to shreds and tatters.

The feeble fiction of the Democrats vs. Republicans paradigm has been falling to dust for a long time now, inexorably being replaced by a simple truth. There is but one paradigm in this reality, one core fact to be reckoned with: the struggle in America is between the Have’s and the Have Not’s, between towering wealth , towering greed and everyone else. It is about a class struggle that has been three centuries in the making, and even those who are today moderately comfortable will not be able to escape calamity. When it comes down, it will come down on all of us…all, of course, except the fortunate few who caused it all in the first place.

But who knows? Mr. Obama could choose to steer back into the wind, challenge his demented opposition with a will, and prevail in a way that inspires those who have waited all this time for the man they gave to and voted for to show up. The odds of re-election favor him in any case; it is hard to defeat an incumbent, and when considering the ludicrous carnival of nonsense that is the presumed Republican field, Mr. Obama’s chances only improve. In many battlefield states, demographics favor the president in ways the GOP is not prepared to deal with. The 2012 election campaign promises, above all else and with absolute certainty, to be one of the most deranged political affairs to be seen since time out of mind.

It is tempting to comfort oneself with the notion that there are worse things in the world than a second Obama term, and there is a fat, cynical dollop of truth in that. After all, given the array of challenges this administration has faced since taking office, it is daunting to imagine the sorry condition we would be in under a President McCain. Now imagine watching Vice President Michele Bachmann, tapped by the Republican nominee in two years to shore up the Tea Party vote, taking the oath a heartbeat shy of the biggest chair in the country. Think it can’t happen that way? Want to bet on it?

I don’t.

Two and a half years ago, it was all about hope and change. Remember that? I am, personally, waiting with bated breath for the next battery of slogans to be deployed by the Obama campaign. No, seriously, I am. Nowhere Man 2012: Because Everyone Else Is Worse. That’ll send them racing to the polls.

Yup. Here we go.

Again.