Congress is now made up mostly of millionaires (over 50%) ..(more here)
The Australian government, after massive debates in and out of parliament, decided that cigarettes should be sold in plain packets, marked only with shocking health warnings. The decision was validated by the Australian supreme court. But, using a trade agreement Australia struck with Hong Kong, the tobacco company Philip Morris has asked an offshore tribunal to award it a vast sum in compensation for the loss of what it calls its intellectual property.
During its financial crisis, and in response to public anger over rocketing charges, Argentina imposed a freeze on people’s energy and water bills (does this sound familiar?). It was sued by the international utility companies whose vast bills had prompted the government to act. For this and other such crimes, it has been forced to pay out over a billion dollars in compensation. In El Salvador, local communities managed at great cost (three campaigners were murdered) to persuade the government to refuse permission for a vast gold mine which threatened to contaminate their water supplies. A victory for democracy? Not for long, perhaps. The Canadian company which sought to dig the mine is now suing El Salvador for $315m – for the loss of its anticipated future profits.
In Canada, the courts revoked two patents owned by the American drugs firm Eli Lilly, on the grounds that the company had not produced enough evidence that they had the beneficial effects it claimed. Eli Lilly is now suing the Canadian government for $500m, and demanding that Canada’s patent laws are changed.
The mechanism through which this is achieved is known as investor-state dispute settlement. It’s already being used in many parts of the world to kill regulations protecting people and the living planet.
These companies (along with hundreds of others) are using the investor-state dispute rules embedded in trade treaties signed by the countries they are suing. The rules are enforced by panels which have none of the safeguards we expect in our own courts. The hearings are held in secret. The judges are corporate lawyers, many of whom work for companies of the kind whose cases they hear. Citizens and communities affected by their decisions have no legal standing. There is no right of appeal on the merits of the case. Yet they can overthrow the sovereignty of parliaments and the rulings of supreme courts.
You don’t believe it? Here’s what one of the judges on these tribunals says about his work. “When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all … Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.”
There are no corresponding rights for citizens. We can’t use these tribunals to demand better protections from corporate greed. As the Democracy Centre says, this is “a privatised justice system for global corporations”.
Even if these suits don’t succeed, they can exert a powerful chilling effect on legislation. One Canadian government official, speaking about the rules introduced by the North American Free Trade Agreement, remarked: “I’ve seen the letters from the New York and DC law firms coming up to the Canadian government on virtually every new environmental regulation and proposition in the last five years. They involved dry-cleaning chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, patent law. Virtually all of the new initiatives were targeted and most of them never saw the light of day.” Democracy, as a meaningful proposition, is impossible under these circumstances."
Within the United States of America:
- Only 12 states require sex education to be medically accurate.
- Only 19 states require information on condoms and contraception.
- Only 12 states require sexual orientation to be covered. Out of those, only 9 states require it to be inclusive.
- 3 states require only negative information on sexual orientation.
- 22 states are not required to provide information on healthy decision making or on avoiding coercion.
Next time you hear anyone bitch about how the rich pay more than their fair share… reflect on this data.
Also. Middle Class and Poor US Residents and Citizens, There are 27 American countries, one of them is the US.
National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare will tell you more.
Anyone who complains about the cost of entitlements who doesn’t have mad money in Singapore or Lichtenstein or doesn’t talk about raising revenue to pay for them is a tool.
One of these photos was taken in 1965 and the other last night. Not much has changed: #BrooklynProtest
Via Occupy Wall Street
Well… After moving back to the USA on 15 May, 2011, I feel like I have a pretty sophisticated impression of the effects that living here has on me, even if they are not the same as for everyone else. To be honest, I’ve been pretty lucky. I’m on track to have my masters completed a week and a half from today (probably less, since I am talking about the day I started writing this), I have met a few incredible friends and a lot of exceptional passers-by in New York city, and I was one of the first in my masters program to receive a job offer in NYC.
Then again, I’ve gotten a ticket for an open container for drinking on my fire escape, been ticketed hundreds of dollars for speeding on my bicycle, and spent a night in jail for my involvement in the Occupy Wall Street protests (although I absolutely cannot consider OWS to be anything but a positive part of my life).
Due in part to the OWS arrest, Columbia has told me I was not eligible to graduate twice, though I still am. I’ve been banned by the department of education from teaching in New York, though, due to a variety of loopholes and appeals, I still am.
The City has been good to me. Or better to me than a lot of people. Though anyone who has tried here knows that making it is a little bit bitter-sweet. You give up a lot on your way.
I don’t think, though, that these are uniquely the effects of life in New York City. Rather, it seems like they are pretty likely to be side effects of western society as a whole, and particularly, the manifestation of western society in the Untied States. We might refer to this phenominon as representing life through capitalist ideals.
Anyone who knows me well will tell you, I can be a bit of a harsh person. When asked about old friends who haven’t seemed to be going anywhere or moving towards their goals/ideals over a significant period, I’ll say that I am worried that they are failing at life. Having taken literally years of time to backpack in different parts of the world, this might sound a little bit ironic, but I see that education as very much connected to my goals of continuing to understand the world, connect with it, and develop as an educator and an activist. I see this as a strength.
But, even for someone with standards as high as my own, there are people in my life whose passion, drive, and work I deeply respect. Unfortunately, under the current framework of our society, it can very difficult to get close with other people who are very good at my craft. After all, we have been trained to compete. The road to success lies in most effectively balancing the highest quality output with the greatest speed, reliability, and efficiency.
Beyond the short term effects of this competition, working towards employment or whatever else, there is one really broad phenomenon: the way our society is structured, that road, or battle, never ends. We never arrive at security or stability or success, we just make it to the next phase of our struggle, and then keep fighting. And this is how a system as exploitative as that of the United States perpetuates itself (as a side note, this is why neoliberal forces in many countries with more public institutions and social support are pushing to change that reality).
For example, the typical, self perpetuating life of a bourgeois in the US:
- Complete primary and secondary school. If these schools are going to prepare an individual to be a critical thinker with doors open to them for their future, this school will be expensive: it will either be private, with a substantial price tag attached, or in a “public community school district” in a community that is socioeconomically selective.
- Snag a Bachelors Degree: This one is a prerequisite. There are a few detours from this path. Military service might be mixed into, or come before, university membership (as an officer, of course, as the upper classes of our stratified society rarely enter the lower ranks of the military). Whether public or private, the cheapest this degree is likely to be is about $50,000 US dollars (though $150,000 is much more typical). Loans will play a part in attaining this degree. Loans that make it increasingly hard for young people with degrees from the US to be employed abroad or compete on a global scale, since we are essentially saddled with an extra rent check every month: a sort of mortgage on our intellectualism.
- (Possibly) Snag a Masters: Tack on another $60-80,000 in debt. In a growing number of fields, particularly in major urban centers, people are virtually unemployable if they don’t have this all important graduate degree. The more elite the institution, the higher the price-tag. But, we are told, access to employment (and therefore the ever-elusive carrot of “security”) lies on having this piece of paper and bit of what is quite often guided reading of literature that could be attained for free.
- Start working: At the end of our formal education, numerous responsibilities shift onto our shoulders, quickly destabilizing our vision of what security might look like. For example, an income of $55,000 USD per year in New York City is about $36,000 after tax. After typical loan repayment, at the very minimum payment level, this is 26,000. Rent and living costs in New York City, at minimum, with a lot of roommates, no TV, and limited heat, is about 18,000 dollars. Alright, you say, that’s a surplus of $8,000. But let’s reflect. If you want to have a child, you need to be able to save up to help with its education, with its healthcare, etc. At this rate, you will take about 25 years to pay off your student loans, so if you’re planning on having a family (as our society pressures us to do) you better put that extra 8 grand into investments, a savings account, or making extra payments on your loans. More on this train of thought in the next section, The hoarding effect.)
- Keep Working: This is a big one. In the United States, if you stop working, a lot of things happen. Suddenly you don’t have access to healthcare. Neither do your children. So a year off to travel, six months to get your life together (unless it is for a “government approved” reason like substance abuse treatment, though you will probably loose your children for this, anyway), or anything other than full time employment are pretty much out of the question. This continues until you are 65 or 70 and have enough money hoarded (again,see below) to retire and hope that your pile of money doesn’t run out before your time on this earth does. Since there is pretty much no helping you (you little burden on society, you) if it does.
- Retire and die: See above. You better be sure your investments hold out, and that enough is left over to pay for the funeral that will cost tens of thousands of dollars, lest you be a burden to your family.
The hoarding effect
But let’s get back to that $8000 dollar surplus from our “start working” section. That’s a pretty good chunk of money. It could build more than 10 houses for victims of violence in Central Africa. It could provide capital or life saving medical treatment in areas of the world where lack of access to these resources routinely results in death for those people deemed “less important” in the grand capitalist scheme of things.
But at the end of the day, the vast majority of people with access to this chunk of money (and an even more vast majority of people with access to bigger chunks of money) decide to keep it. And because of the way in which our economy is structured, inflation essentially forces us to give our money over to major banking institutions or risk it losing value (well, losing even more value than it will when given to the bank). Often, this involves using it to the advantage of the upper class in this country. So it ends up invested. With the good investments of our society. In case you are wondering, green energy isn’t a good investment. Companies like Chevron, Monsanto, and WalMart are. Because those are the companies that the US government, and the economic culture it fosters, will reliably continue to support.
It’s something of a tough conundrum. In order to be even remotely free to use this cycle, one is seemingly forced to claw their way to a position of relative “security” within the petit bourgeoise. Then they might be able to save enough money to go travelling or wandering about for a period of time.
But in the process, they are expected to become imperializers in their own right, invested in a system that is consuming not only the freedom of others, but also their own.
The American Dream. This is what it’s come to. Or, if we are being a bit more honest, we can point out that this is likely what it’s always been.
FINALLY. Thank you Qatari oil money.
Without question the most fair, professional piece yet. And certainly useful for teaching, in a way that much footage has not yet been.
It’s 24 mins long. Please take the time to watch.
At least it’s nice to see that I’m not the only person who can’t talk about the eviction without their voice cracking.
This is for sure the most important forward of the last 3 weeks from me.
Five freedom-killing tactics the police will use to crack down protests in 2012:
1. Expanding permit requirements.
2. Charging protesters for municipal costs.
3. Demonizing protesters in pre-event press conferences.
4. Creating exclusion zones & segregating protesters.
5. Mass arrests, punitive detention.
Find out more here.
Photo from Occupy San Diego
Look at these adults, look at these fathers, these chiefs; look how they find it convenient to deal with things, with people protesting for justice, equality, peace. With young people claiming back their world.
In some ways, we’re already living in a post-Obama age. Sure, he may still be president, but except for those running liberal magazines or voting in Republican primaries, few still think he’s waiting to reveal his secret progressive identity for the second term. Like other promise-filled politicians, he had a chance to bring about change, but embraced the comfort of the status quo. Instead of defending the people’s property against fraudulent foreclosures, he’s stood by as banks repossess land they often can’t even prove they own, with an eye not towards working class solidarity, but towards financial market stability.
Turning their backs on the false promise of electoral politics, those who would like change to be more than just a politician’s ad campaign are increasingly turning to direct action. And with camps associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement almost entirely evicted at this point - almost all by Democratic mayors - activists are now spanning out into the cities they were occupying to address the housing crisis that is tearing them apart.
They haven’t all been moral victories, either. This month, government-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac agreed to allow a resident of Prince George’s County, Maryland, who had been falsely foreclosed upon, stay in her home after activists with Occupy DC took up her cause. Freddie Mac’s announcement was made just an hour after a rally outside its Washington headquarters.
In Minneapolis, community activists rallied to keep Bank of America - a recipient of billions of dollars in federal aid - from evicting 57-year-old Bobby Hull from his home. Sold at foreclosure for under $84,000, roughly a third of the $230,000-plus Hull still owed on the home, the bank yielded to pressure and backed out of the sale, agreeing to negotiate a modification to Hull’s mortgage."
Occupy Austin Guerrilla Gardeners make one new public garden every week. Some have been destroyed the city, others remain and are sprouting vegetables. We have had run ins with park staff who are confounded by our activities and threaten us with police who never show up.
We do this to make people rethink notions of food, of where it comes from, of who produces it. We do this to make people rethink the use of space and the concept of property. We do this to make people rethink the concept of labor versus employment. We do this so you will do it to.