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Confronting the Myth that Low Wages Are Necessary for Profits in the Fast Food Business | Alternet


Confronting the Myth that Low Wages Are Necessary for Profits in the Fast Food Business

Why In N Out Burger is far more attractive than McDonalds.

September 9, 2013

 

Editors note: This is the third in a series of reader-supported—i.e. crowdfunded —articles about the powerful National Restaurant Association and the plight of low-wage workers who are being screwed at every turn by industry lobbying tactics and misleading propaganda. An amazing 387 AlterNet readers contributed more than $5,500 to support this ongoing investigative project. Many of the donors are listed at the end of the article. Read part 1&2 of the series here and here.

The more you look at what it means to work in America’s restaurants—especially at the corporate-run chains—the less you will want to eat out.

The ongoing protests by fast-food workers for higher wages and paid sick days underscore the most visible problems. There’s also wage theft. There’s gender and racial harassment. There’s discrimination in pay and promotions. There’s slick public relations efforts that paper over this exploitation, with corporate lobbyists repeatedly telling politicians that they can’t pay workers more—while other executives tell Wall St. analysts about using their profits for stock-buybacks, expansion plans and shareholder dividends.

The nationwide fast food worker walkouts are highlighting and rejecting a predatory low-wage, low-benefit business model that’s all too common in service sector jobs. Ironically, some of the nation’s top business school professors say the restaurant industry’s scorched employee policies aren’t even the best way to build companies.  

“If paying more is considered part of a bigger strategy, then yes, I think companies can afford to pay more,” said Zeynep Ton, a MIT Sloan School of Management professor and author of the forthcoming The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits. “The only way to pay more (as well as invest in training, offer more stable schedules, etc.) without hurting business is if employees are more productive and more part of the company’s success.”   

But Ton’s prescriptions of investing in workers and empowering them are all-but absent in the restaurant industry, especially at the corporate chains. Instead, millions of the U.S. industry’s 12.2 million employees are all-too-often treated like robots and abused like serfs. And Ton and labor activists say that will not change until the public demands it.

“When we care, companies might start caring as well,” she said.

What follows are profiles of three trend-setting chains illustrating the issues that separate terrible employers from somewhat better ones. The fast food strikers want raises to $15 a hour and paid sick leave, as most are adults with families and not teenagers in first jobs. But they face other issues, too, such as gender and racial discrimination and harassment, segregated workplaces, and few opportunities for advancement.

Racing To The Bottom: McDonald’s.

McDonald’s is across-the-board terrible. They require employees to work at Christmas and Thanksgiving, but don’t pay overtime. They pay as close to minimum wage as possible. Their marketing to kids is predatory and creepy. Some salads have more calories than burgers. They use “pink slime” for chicken entrees. They encourage employees to get food stamps to offset low pay. And they’re everywhere.

This spring, USAToday and 24/7WallSt.com said that McDonald’s—more than any fast-food chain—was one of “eight companies that most owe workers a raise.” McDonald’s can afford to pay the vast majority of its 800,000-plus U.S. employees more, the paper reported, citing the firm’s own financial reports. Its stock was up 6.9 percent over last year, and up 68.2 percent over the past five years.

Most companies don’t make payroll data public, unlike their earnings reports. But there are websites that post jobs, average salaries and employee comments. Glassdoor.com lists hundreds of entries for McDonald’s. Almost all of its wages hover near legal minimums. For cashiers, the hourly average is $7.74. For crew member, it’s $7.70/hour. For a crew trainer, it’s $8.14. For drive through cashier, it’s $7.73. For grill cook, it’s $7.72. For fry cook, it’s $8.20. For swing manager, it’s $9.33. For general manager, its $43,862 a year, or $21.08 hourly. For assistant store manager, it’s $29,574 annually or $14.22/hour.

These are not living wages for adults or families. The federal mimimum wage is $7.25 an hour, although nearly two-thirds of the states have raised it a dollar or more. The striking fast-food workers are seeking $15 an hour, plus paid sick time. As USAToday noted, in late 2012, McDonald’s announced that it planned to return $5.5 billion to shareholders via increased dividends and stock buy-backs. It has paid dividends every year since 1976, the paper noted. Meanwhile, its senior executives have sent memos to franchise owners conveying customer complaints about poor service.

This big picture—chiseling employee wages and funneling profits to investors—is the reason for customer complaints, MIT’s Ton said. But it’s also part of a corporate culture that demeans workers. Writing of last Thanksgiving’s mandatory work and no overtime in the Harvard Business Review, she said, “employees are once again reminded of how little their companies care about their lives and well being.”

McDonalds’s can afford to pay its employees more, but, critically, it chooses not to. And that’s not the only thing that trouble employees. Its website, of course, boasts of careers and benefits. But employee share of paying for benefits is unaffordable, workers said on Glassdoor.com. And then there are other dimensions of restaurent and kitchen work that are abusive—and accepted as part of the work culture.

“Low pay, no insurance, top managers waste time on cell phones and… get involved in personal relationships with subordinates that caused preferential treatment,” a Newton, Mississippi, employee wrote on September 2. There’s little chance for advancement, an ex-assistant manager in Aurora, Colorado, wrote. “Rather hire in than train up.” There’s unreliable schedules. “Franchise stores focuses their hours around labor. Labor must be an overall 19 percent at the end of each month,” an Atlanta employee wrote this month. “So if store labor is 24 percent… be ready to have your hours cut.”

There’s also sexual harassment and a trail of lawsuits from it. The pro-worker advocacy group, Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC), issued a reportlast year about gender inequities—starting with lower pay for women in the same jobs as men—that also discussed sexual harassment. Its review of the previous four years of suits by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that “McDonalds was named in 16 percent of the cases, including possibly the most egregious one, where an 18-year-old employee strip-searches and assaulted for several hours by staff and management at the behest of a caller impersonaing a police officer.”

Across the country, polls regularly find that 80 percent of the public supports minimum wage increases. But most people staring at pictures of the fast food protesters, most of who are women, have little idea what it’s like to work in these kitchens. A former McDonald’s cook from Wyoming, Pennsylvania, summed it up this month on Glassdoor.com, using their format of first describing the pros and then the cons.

“I worked at McDonald’s fulltime for more than three years,” he said, then list the pros. “If you already worked in the restaurant business, this job is a cakewalk. High volume, yes, but the work is easy and not very physically demanding… You don’t have to worry about over- or under-cooking food. You don’t have to do tons of prep work. You don’t even need to have a solid grasp of health and safety standards until you move up to management.”

And then the negatives. “If you never worked in a restaurant before, you’ll think this job is terrible. You’re on your feet all day, performing what feels like intense cardio exercise during peak hours. After your shift, you will be coated in a layer of grease and filth, and you will smell like cooking oil… You will make close to the minimum wage the entire time you work there, even when you’re promoted to low-level management.”  

Jim Crow Jobs: The Capital Grille

There are more dimensions to poor working conditions than just wages. The restaurant industry is America’s largest employer of people of color and it is rife with segregation. Servers are predominantly white. Kitchens are predominantly people of color. And even though some chains have non-white CEOs, the culture and abuses are not very different from what’s depicted in the new movie, The Butler, profiling a self-educated African-American man who was a longtime butler at the White House. 

Capital Grille is the high-price, fine-dining chain run by Darden Restaurants, the world’s largest full-service—meaning sit down—restaurant corporation. Darden also owns Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Longhorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Eddie V’s, Seasons 52 and Yard House. “We own and operate 2,100 restaurants, employ more than 200,000 people, and serve more than 425 million meals a year,” its website says. “At the Capital Grille, it’s guests enjoying a personalized dining experience reminscent of being in a private club.” It says that more than 80 percent of workers like Darden and their job.

Darden boasts that its values include “sustainability,” from reducing energy to treating employees well. But in late 2011, ROC and Capital Grille employees in five states sued Darden for wage theft and racial discrimination. The lawsuits are ongoing. This spring, ROC issued a report, Darden’s Decision, as part of a campaign to pressure the Florida-based corporation into treating workers better. “If it lived up to these values, Darden could serve as a model for the entire restaurant industry,” ROC said. “Unfortunately, there is a gap between Darden’s stated values and their actual practice.”

The Capital Grille is the chain’s flagship. It has dark wood-paneled dining rooms, a menu emphasizing meat, fish and wine, and formally attired servers. There are 49 grills around the country, with annual sales at each restaurant averaging $7 million, it told investors in June, estimating that sales would grow 4.5 percent this year. It pays a few dollars an hour more than for the same job at Darden’s other chains, according to Glassdoor.com. A host at Olive Garden averaged $8.99/hour, versus $11.38/hour at Capital Grille. An Olive Garden’s server averaged $10.99/hour, versus $12.62/hour at Capital Grille.

As a chain, Darden pays low wages and lacks paid sick days, ROC said, even though its website says “you will receive excellent benefits including health insurance, 401(k), paid vacations and advancement opportunities.” ROC Research Director Teófilo Reyes said that benefits are for the full-time employees—and many don’t get those hours, and, as is the case at McDonald’s, “you do have to pay in. It’s a pretty significant cost.”   

But ROC’s biggest complaints about Capital Grille have to do with intentionally stealing wages from its employees of color, and discriminating against them in promotions. Some “claim that their restaurant hired employees of color in the rush to open and replaced them with white workers once the restaurant was established,” ROC said in its Darden’s Decision report, which, in part, recounted claims from its lawsuits. A Darden company spokesmen has repeatedly calledthese allegations baseless.   

“We know what happens in the industry.We know that there is segregation,” Reyes said. “The question is, ‘Is it conscious and are restaurants discriminating against individuals?’ You are less likely to be hired into a better-paying job if you are a person of color.”    

Capital Grille employee comments at Glassdoor.com re-enforce ROC’s claims, but they are not quite as edgy. An ex-host from Troy, Michigan, said, you “must have ‘game face’ on 24/7,” and that he faced a “very stuffy work environment, have to use ‘Capital Grille’ vocabulary, [and] I was never offered a raise in the two years employed.” An ex-maitre’d from Palm Beach, Florida, said, “no career advancement… they want you to wear very pricey dresses, but not suits, at your own expense.”

The picture that ROC paints is more severe, particularly with employees of color who are segregated to the kitchens. There are many ways that workers can be treated poorly, ROC said. They can be denied sick days. “I called in sick once because of throat problems,” said Ignacia Villegas, a Capital Grille pantry station employee. “My manager told me, ‘If you don’t come, you already know what could happen. You could get fired.’”

They cannot be paid for all their hours worked—which is wage theft. Franz, a Haitian immigrant and dishwasher from Miami, said that he was routinely being “clocked out” by the sous-chef before he was finished cleaning. Elose Arestil, another Haitian dishwasher, complained about the same thing and was fired. But the vengeful treatment didn’t stop there, she said, because her managers stopped her from receiving unemployment checks. “My boss had told them [state officials] that I had quit when I was actually fired.”

Other ex-employees talked of “haves and have-nots,” ROC said, referring to the chain’s bias against non-white servers. “The Capital Grille’s regional manager told the General Manager that he wanted certain servers gone because they ‘didn’t fit the company image,’ Keith [Jones, an ex-Memphis, Tennessee, server] noted. Upper management wanted to remove black servers and used corporate image as an excuse.” 

“Darden positions itself as being so conscientious,” Reyes said. “We find that’s not the truth of the matter.”

Taking The High-Road: In-N-Out Burger

The striking fast food workers have been calling for better working conditions, starting with higher hourly wages and paid sick time. They, and advocates like ROC United, and academics such as MIT business school professor Zeynep Ton, all say that paying more will not just improve job performance, employee morale and customer service, but it will save money in the long run that’s lost when new workers have to be hired and trained.  

ROC’s founder and executive director, Saru Jayaraman, singed out one fast-food chain, In-N-Out Burger, which is privately owned and was started by a family with Christian values, as a chain that paid better than most and offered opportunities for advancement. In-n-Out, as its name notes, is a classic hamburger chain whose wrappers and cups cite biblical quotes. Bloomberg reports that the chain has almost 280 units in five western states, $625 million in 2012 sales, and a five-year growth rate of 4.6 percent.

What does it do that McDonald’s and Capital Grille does not? Compared to McDonald’s, they start by paying all workers, including new hires, several dollars above the minimum wage. They have been doing that for years, according to Harvard Business School Professor Youngme Moon, who chairs its MBA program. In a Harvard Business Review article a decade ago, she wrote, “In 2003, new employees were paid $8.25 to $9.25 per hour, almost $1.50 to $2.50 more than California’s minimum wage, and they received benefits that included paid vacations, a 401(k) retirement plan with matching company contributions, and discounted medical, dental, and vision coverage… As a result of this treatment, employee turnover at In-N-Out was low.”   

Today, the chain still pays several dollars above minimun wage. Where Glassdoor.com lists most McDonald’s salaries at below $8 an hour, the lowest-paid jobs at In-N-Out average above $10/hour, with some non-management jobs paying more than $13/hour. Their assistant managers average $51,200 annually, which is $24.61/hour. Employee comments on Glassdoor.com notice this difference. “Great compensation for industry,” said a level 5 ($11.58/hour) employee from Chico, Califonia. “This place starts you off with more than the minimum wage hourly. You get one free meal per shift,” a former associate said, adding. “They are very strict on your conduct. But it’s understandable being they are the only fast-food place that pays well.” Another wrote, “Starting pay is $10.50 in most areas.” An older employee commented, “Good for students, but pay is still low, but better than other food places.”  

Compared to Capitol Grille, In-N-Out’s employees did not talk about discrimination or a lack of opportunities for advancement. An associate level 4, averaging $10.78/hour, from Las Vegas said, “Fast-paced, lots of room for growth, once you’re in, you’re pretty much in. Extensive hiring process, but all that means is they are selective in taking the best.” A Davis, Califronia, associate said, “This is a good paying job for the background required… good opportunities for advancement if you work hard.” But one employee from Palmdale, California, complained, “you can never get full-time hours and benefits once you’re hired. Lucky at some store[s] if you get more than 25 hours a week.”

As ROC’s Reyes notes, it’s important to keep In-N-Out’s pay and benefits in perspective, at least compared to what the striking fast-food workers are seeking. “The bar is set pretty low,” he said, referring to the restaurant industry’s pay and benefit standards. “They don’t pay $15 an hour, which is what the fast food workers are looking for.” 

Where Can Progressives Eat Anymore?

The closer you look at America’s restaurant industry—especially the fast food and dining chains—the more you’re likely to pause before eating there. The reality of what goes on behind the practiced smiles of servers and kitchen doors does not inspire confidence.

The fast food worker protests are attempts to shame their employers into boosting wages, especially because the National Restaurant Association, the industry’s lobbyists, have a record of stopping or delaying minimum wage increases and paid sick day laws. (Similar walkout are planned for 15 Walmart stores this Thursday). ROC has created a guide for consumers that grades restaurants across the country, including those paying living wages and offering opportunities for a advancement. The guide contains postcards that can be left behind for management to consider and contact the group.  

These activists don’t just want the public to pause before eating out; they want the public to gently push restaurant owners and managers to treat their staff better, just as they have demanded fresher ingredients in the menus. MIT’s Ton has reached the same conclusion, although she knows that the management mindset can be very inflexible.

“I imagine that executives are noticing [the fast food protests] but I don’t know if they’ll do anything to change,” she said. “What I really hope is that consumers are noticing. We as customers can choose where to eat and where to shop and we can start choosing businesses that treat their employees better. When we care, companies might start caring.”

 Confronting the Myth that Low Wages Are Necessary for Profits in the Fast Food Business | Alternet.

 

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Apple, Walmart, McDonald’s: Who’s the Biggest Wage Stiffer? | Alternet


AlterNet / By Paul Buchheit

Apple, Walmart, McDonald’s: Who’s the Biggest Wage Stiffer?

All three companies pay the majority of their employees poverty-level wages.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Leroy Harvey

July 28, 2013  

 

Apple, Walmart and McDonald’s are among the largest corporate employers and profit-makers in the U.S., with a total of 2.6 million employees worldwide (1.6 million in the U.S.) and combined 2012 pre-tax profits of more than $88 billion.

All three companies pay the majority of their employees low wages: poverty-level wages. This is borne out by SEC data and the companies’ own press releases. The only question is who gets away with the most profits while their employees are forced to tap into public money — our tax money — for food stamps, healthcare and other assistance.

Walmart: Underpaying the Most People 

Walmart employs about 2.1 million workers, two-thirds of them in the United States. Its 2012 revenue is three times that of Apple, and about 15 times that of McDonald’s. The company claims its average full-time wage is $12.78 per hour. That’s just under $26,000 per year. (IBISWorld says Walmart pays associates $8.81 per hour.)

Based solely on its U.S. business, Walmart makes over $13,000 in pre-tax profits per employee (after paying them), which comes to more than 50 percent of the earnings of a 40-hour-per-week wage earner.

A little-known fact about Walmart that impacts most of us: A study in Wisconsin by the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce determined that a typical Walmart store costs taxpayers over $1.7 million per year, or about $5,815 per employee.

Not mad enough yet? Four members of the Walmart family made a combined $20 billion from their investments last year. Less than half of that would have given every U.S. Walmart worker a $3 an hour raise, enough to end the public subsidy.

McDonald’s: Paying the Lowest Wages 

McDonald’s employs 440,000 workers worldwide, most of them food servers making the median hourly wage of $9.10 an hour or less, for a maximum of about $18,200 per year. The company’s $8 billion profit, after wages are paid, works out to the same amount: $18,200 per employee.

PayUpNow.org estimates that U.S. income per employee is approximately the same as the worldwide figure. As for franchises, which make up about 80% of worldwide stores and add well over a million employees to the global total, their sales totals are “not recorded as revenues by the Company,” although franchise fees are included.

At fast food establishments like McDonald’s, not only are workers poorly paid, they also have little hope for advancement. According to the National Employment Law Project, managerial, professional and technical occupations make up 31.1 percent of jobs throughout the U.S. economy, but only 2.2 percent of jobs in the fast food industry.

In summary, for the U.S. and around the world, McDonald’s makes over $18,000 in pre-tax profits per employee (after paying them), almost 100% of the earnings of a full-time food service worker. The company’s own employee budget recommends a second job to make ends meet.

Apple: Making a Half-Million per Employee 

Now for Apple. Like Walmart and McDonald’s, the company pays extraordinarily low wages to its store workers, an average of about $12 per hour, or $24,000 per year for a full-time employee. In-store salespeople make up about half of the total workforce.

With 80,000 worldwide employees (50,000 in the U.S.) and a 2012 profit of $55 billion ($19 billion declared in the U.S.), Apple made an astonishing $697,000 per employee in 2012 (almost $400,000 in the U.S.).

Apple, more than the other two companies discussed here, has numerous high-paying positions in engineering, design, programming, marketing, etc. Reports by two independent salary trackers indicate that the overall average salary at Apple is about $50,000. Even with this much higher figure, Apple pays its U.S. employees only $1 for every $8 in profits.

So who’s the biggest wage stiffer? Apple is by far the worst in rewarding profitability. But Walmart underpays the most people, and McDonald’s pays the lowest wages. For those of us who subsidize these companies with tax dollars for their employees’ food stamps and Medicaid, it doesn’t matter who’s worse. We’re all getting stiffed.

 Apple, Walmart, McDonald’s: Who’s the Biggest Wage Stiffer? | Alternet.

 

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How One GOP Plutocrat Helped Make 20,000 Kids Homeless | Alternet


How One GOP Plutocrat Helped Make 20,000 Kids Homeless

Homelessness in New York has skyrocketed, thanks in part to years of conservative policy predicated on right-wing ideology.

November 29, 2012 

 

A series of ads placed in New York’s subways by Coalition for the Homeless highlights skyrocketing rates of child and family homelessness in the city.

 

There are  20,000 kids sleeping in homeless shelters in New York City, according to the city’s latest estimate, a number that does not include homeless kids who are not sleeping in shelters because their families have been turned away. Up to 65 percent of families who apply for shelter don’t get in, and their options can be grim.

“Some end up sleeping in subway trains,” Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst at Coalition for the Homeless, tells AlterNet. “Some go to hospital emergency rooms or laundromats. Women are going back to their batterers or staying in unsafe apartments.” 

Families that make it into shelters are taking longer to leave and move into stable, permanent housing. Asked by reporters why families were staying 30% longer than even last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “… it is a much more pleasurable experience than they ever had before.”   

“Is it great?” He elaborated a day later in response to outcry over his comments. “No. It’s not the Plaza Hotel … but that’s not what shelter is supposed to be and that’s not what the public can afford or the public wants.” 

That deep-seated empathy for the poor also runs through the mayor’s policies, which have helped create a crisis that the New York Times  has called “an emergency.” Since the mayor took office, promising to slash the rate of total homelessness by two thirds in five years, the homeless rate in New York City has ballooned to 46,000 people sleeping in shelters, an increase of almost 40 percent. The administration blames the financial crisis, but as it turns out, there are ways to make the lives of the very poor tougher in the middle of a recession: you just need to subscribe to a governing philosophy that assumes the poor are both too lazy to get on their feet and working hard day and night to cheat the system. 

Here is a guide to how the Bloomberg administration managed to increase family homelessness while using up a lot of public money.  

1. Cut access to federal aid.

For decades, Republican and Democratic mayors kept family homelessness down by giving homeless parents and their kids priority access to federal housing subsidies and rental vouchers. But in 2004, as part of the mayor’s five-year plan to combat homelessness, the administration knocked homeless families from the top of the massive waiting list for federal rent subsidies. Administration officials, offering no empirical proof, claimed that poor people were scamming the system by moving into shelters in order to get Section 8 vouchers. (Like many conservative fantasies involving scheming minorities, it’s no doubt true that someone, somewhere, cheated  — but studies show this was not a widespread problem straining the system.)

The rate of homeless families who used federal subsidies fell to the low single digits. According to Giselle Routhier, policy analyst for Coalition for the Homeless, “In fiscal year 2010, at a time of then record homelessness, homeless families received only 2 percent of the 5,500 available public housing apartments and only 3 percent of 7,500 Section 8 vouchers.” 

In place of programs that gave them access to permanent housing, homeless families got the gift of personal responsibility! First the administration introduced Housing Stability Plus, a subsidy that fell by 20 percent each year. HSP was mired in controversy following revelations that families were being exposed to hazardous conditions in their new digs: “[M]any formerly homeless families and their children have suffered from lead poisoning, lack of heat and hot water, vermin infestation,” according to a Coalition for the Homeless report. 

The Advantage program, introduced in 2007, helped with a percent of families’ rents (requiring they work or take job training) but cut aid after either one or two years. When their subsidies ran out, families were supposed to find their own way into permanent housing. Instead, many found their way back to the shelter, because, as homelessness advocates point out, rents did not magically go down in New York. One out of three families whose Advantage assistance expired applied for shelter in 2011, according to city numbers crunched by Coalition for the Homeless.   

2. Cut and run.

Still, the administration touted the program as a success, defending it against homelessness advocates and city officials who pushed the mayor to give families priority in federal housing assistance. So it was strange that when the governor of New York cut half of Advantage’s funding in March 2011, the Bloomberg administration refused to make up the difference and just killed the program. Around that time the mayor suggested that poor families were pretending to be homeless to scam Advantage subsidies.“You never know what motivates people,” he said on his radio show. “One theory is that some people have been coming into the homeless system, the shelter system, in order to qualify for a program that helps you move out of the homeless system.”

When the city officially cut the program, 15,000 families who relied on Advantage to make rent were informed by letter that they had exactly two weeks to find other arrangements. An emergency court order forced the city to continue helping families in the program, but when the order was lifted in February 2012, the city abruptly cut off aid to tenants, saddling 7,000 households with full market rent for apartments they’d struggled to pay 30% to 40% on. 

The inevitable return to the shelter of many former Advantage families helped push the number of homeless people sleeping in shelters up to 43,000 in 2012. “In the last 18 months, there has been no housing plan,” Markee tells AlterNet.  

3. Spend money on temporary solutions.

Instead, the administration is just frantically opening up more and more emergency shelters. The AP reports that 10 new shelters for single adults and families have opened in recent months to deal with the crisis. The administration plans five more before the year is over.

The problem with that is everything. Putting up a family in a shelter costs $3,000 a month — way more than a rental subsidy. Beyond that, studies have shown that not having a permanent place to live is destabilizing and harmful to kids, even if they end up in one of those NYC shelters that so impressed the mayor with their luxury. Homeless kids get sick more often and with stranger and more serious ailments than poor kids who have homes, suffering respiratory infections and digestive infections at significantly higher rates. The lack of safe, permanent housing delays normal development  and homeless kids have higher levels of anxiety and depression, which often manifest in behavioral problems. 

“If homelessness is hard on adults, for the young, it can be disastrous, starting a slide into a lifetime of problems,” a NYT editorial put it. (It’s not entirely clear what the long-term impact of Hurricane Sandy will be on the city’s homelessness rates. Right now, families who lost their homes in the storm are staying in hotels paid by the city and reimbursed by FEMA.)

4. Refuse to change course.

The New York City Council has outlined a plan to revive programs proven to reduce homelessness. As Christine Quinn, Annabel Palma and Coalition for the Homeless director Mary Brosnahan wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed, “That means returning to the proven strategy of setting aside a reasonable share of open slots in public housing and marshaling valuable federal housing vouchers for those trapped in the shelter system. In addition, a new rental assistance program, modeled on the successful federal voucher program, must be created.” 

An assessment of the plan by the City of New York’s Independent Budget Office found, “if a total of 5,000 families a year were moved out of shelter through priority referrals for NYCHA and Section 8, family shelter costs would be $29.4 million lower, of which $11.0 million would be savings of city funds.” 

So far, the administration has rebuffed the plan. At a hearing in September, Department of Homeless Services commissioner Seth Diamond pointed, improbably, to job training programs as the way to address the city’s skyrocketing homelessness. One council member called it a “head-in-the-sand” approach.  

Diamond reiterated the administration’s position that shelter residents should not be prioritized for housing aid.

 How One GOP Plutocrat Helped Make 20,000 Kids Homeless | Alternet.

 

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Major Retailer Urges Workers To Take ‘Civics Course’ With Anti-Obama Content | Alternet


Major Retailer Urges Workers To Take ‘Civics Course’ With Anti-Obama Content

AlterNet uncovers an anti-Obama program linked to the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, spoon-fed to employees of a major home-improvement chain.

October 31, 2012 

If you live in the Midwest and you’re working on a home-improvement project, you’re as likely to do your shopping at a Menards store as at a Lowe’s or Home Depot. With 270 stores and 40,000 employees, Menards is the third-largest home-improvement chain in the U.S., and one of the largest privately held corporations in the country. But Menards stores sell more than just lumber and building supplies; their employees are sold a bill of goods in the form of right-wing ideology.

This January, as the Iowa Caucuses were underway, Menards began encouraging employees to take an at-home online “civics” course that characterizes the economic policies of President Barack Obama as a threat to the success of businesses such as Menards, and by extension, to the employees’ own well-being.

FBI Investigation

The course, titled “Civics 101: The National Self Governing Will In-Home Training,” incorporates much of the material comprising the Prosperity 101 program that AlterNet, working in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, exposed last year — a program concocted by Koch-linked political operatives Mark Block and Linda Hansen, late of the now-defunct Herman Cain presidential campaign. In March, Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the FBI is investigating possible financial improprieties involving two non-profit organizations founded by Block that are linked to Prosperity 101, which is a for-profit venture.

Menards employees who sign up for the course are graded on their knowledge via a multiple choice pass-fail test, and those who pass the test are acknowledged in company publications and bulletins. While workers are not required to take the course, those who hope for promotions may feel pressure to do so, since it is clear that management is paying attention to who is or isn’t taking the at-home classes, which are conducted on the employees’ own time. The civics course is offered as part of a battery of courses, most of which pertain to products sold by the company, or other aspects of working at Menards.

AlterNet has obtained the online textbook for the Menards civics course. The third part of the textbok, subtitled “American Job Security,” imparts a message similar to the letter sent by Koch Industries CEO Dave Robertson to retirees and employees of the company’s Georgia Pacific subsidiary, as well as the e-mail sent to employees of Rite-Hite, a Milwaukee equipment manufacturer, by company owner Mark White, urging them to vote for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. While the Menards course doesn’t offer an explicit candidate endorsement, it describes Obama policies in threatening terms, while policies that echo Romney’s proposals are portrayed in a positive and uplifting light.

Koch-Linked Program

In our June 2011 exposé, we reported that Herman Cain and Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore conducted more than a dozen Prosperity 101 seminars for the employees of companies in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states during the campaign season for the 2010 congressional midterm elections. Hansen, we reported, was looking to create an online Prosperity 101 program for the Wisconsin-based Menards, and it appears as if something like that happened just in time for the 2012 presidential campaign season. While it remains unclear whether the current Menards program was sold to the retailer by Prosperity 101, what is clear is that several sections of the program come directly — sometimes with minor edits — from the textbook, also called Prosperity 101, that was distributed during a breakout session that took place at an Americans for Prosperity Foundation conference in Las Vegas in July 2010. The conference, called RightOnline, took place at the opulent Venetian, owned by right-wing super-PAC funder Sheldon Adelson, and billed by AFPF president Tim Phillips as “the only non-union hotel on the [Las Vegas] Strip.” 

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation is chaired by David Koch, the multibillionaire funder, with his brother, Charles, of numerous right-wing think tanks and interest groups, and co-owner of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the U.S. Block is the former state director for the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the foundation’s sibling organization, and was deeply involved in effecting the sharp turn to the right that took place in Wisconsin politics in 2010 with the election of Governor Scott Walker, Sen. Ron Johnson, and Tea Party-allied members of Congress and the state legislature. (During the course of that campaign, Block was implicated in avote-caging scheme apparently designed to suppress turnout of young people and African Americans at Milwaukee polling places. He also enjoyed a brief moment of fame as the “smoking man” in a bizarre Herman Cain campaign ad.)

Menards, as we reported last year, is notorious not just as a polluter, but as a virulently anti-labor company. One former manager told Milwaukee magazinereporter Mary van de Kamp Nohl that he wasn’t allowed to hire two job candidates because, while in high school, they had worked as baggers in a union-organized grocery store. Menards threatened store managers with a 60 percent pay-cut, according to a 2003 Forbes article, if a union managed to get a foothold in a Menards store on that manager’s watch.

So it was not surprising to learn that Menards’ voluntary at-home civics course is part of a broader training program in which employees are encouraged to take part, unpaid, on their own time, often to simply learn about products sold in various store departments. After completing any of these courses with a passing grade, the employee is given a certificate, and sometimes a prize, such as an item of apparel bearing the Menards logo.

Attack on Obama

Among the materials the Prosperity 101 book and the Menards employee civics course both share is an article by Herman Cain, and another by Stephen Moore and Tyler Grimm (but in the Menards course, the article includes some Menards-specific references and a jokey graphic mock-up of an IRS tax-filing form that demands the filer pay his or her entire income to the government). More troubling, though, is an unsigned article not included in Prosperity 101 that is based on a study by the Heritage Foundation. The article, titled “A Path to Prosperity,” characterizes Obama’s 2012 budget as a “job destroying,” “reckless spending spree,” while laying out, in positive terms, an economic agenda almost identical to that of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. (See graphic, below.)

Click to enlarge.

 

 

In an article titled “The Keys to Prosperity” that also appeared in a slightly different form in the Prosperity 101 textbook, Stephen Moore offers, as I reported in 2011:

…a series of charts, some of them indecipherable, including a pie chart called “Where Your Federal Tax Dollar Goes.” (Apparently derived from an earlier presentation Moore made at an AFP Foundation event, the same charts can be found here; scroll to slide no. 15/16 for this one.) Citing such official sources as the Internal Revenue Service, the Government Accountability Office, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it features eight slices labeled “Flushed Down a Toilet, “Pissed Away,” “Down a Rat Hole,” “Sleaze,” “Corruption,” “Given to ‘Supporters,'” “Tossed Down the Drain,” and “Postage Stamps.” (The latter, Moore baselessly contends, accounts for 6 percent of your tax dollars — which is, incidentally, six times the allotment for non-military foreign aid.)

Click to enlarge.

 

Graphic from Steven Moore’s article, “The Keys to Prosperity,” as presented in Menards training program for employees, “Civics 101: The National Self Governing Will In-Home Training, Course 3: American Job Security.”

The article’s primary point is Moore’s claim that the rich are already paying more than their fair share of taxes, and that to ask them to pay more would have a detrimental effect on the economy.

Jacksonian Resentment

A second piece bearing Moore’s byline in the Menards course, “A Nation of Takers, Not Makers,” argues that the public sector is too large, and that government employees are draining the economy. The piece opens with this misleading statement:

If you want to understand better why so many states—from New York to Wisconsin to California—are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, consider this depressing statistic: Today in America there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million). This is an almost exact reversal of the situation in 1960, when there were 15 million workers in manufacturing and 8.7 million collecting a paycheck from the government.

If you’re a person stuck in a low-paying, non-union retail job, that sounds pretty awful. But Moore neglects to mention that the percentage of the workforce made up of government workers is almost exactly the same today as it was in 1960:15.2 percent in 1960, and 15.3 percent in 2010. What’s changed is the size of the manufacturing sector due to the offshoring of manufacturing jobs — something Moore and his paymasters at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (which owns the Wall Street Journal) and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation (from which he’s collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees) are all in favor of. 

The very title of the “Takers, Not Makers” piece invokes the old right-wing “producerist” trope, described this way by Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons in their book, Right-Wing Populism in America:

Calls to rally the virtuous “producing classes” against evil “parasites” at both the top and bottom of society is a tendency called producerism. It is a conspiracist narrative used by repressive right-wing populism. Today we see examples of it in the Tea Party and Republican Party rhetoric, some sectors of the Christian Right, in the Patriot movements and armed militias, and in the White Supremacist Right.

Berlet and Lyons go on to explain producerism’s origins during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, during which a “vision of the producing classes included white farmers, laborers, artisans, slave-owning planters, and ‘productive’ entrepreneurs…”

In the Menards civics course, which also addresses the nation’s early history, Andrew Jackson is given an outsized role — four pages unto himself, more word spillage than devoted to any one of the nation’s founders, for instance. What makes Jackson such a hero to Menards? He paid off the national debt in full before leaving office. (The method by which he did this had nothing to do, the reader is assured, with the ensuing Depression.)

Fear-Mongering on Regulation and Environmental Protection 

Other articles in the Menards civics course focus on the evils of cap-and-trade pollution-curbing schemes which, the reader is told, “have resulted in the pilfering of nearly $1 trillion from the private sector.” The Waxman-Markey bill, supported by the Obama administration and which aimed to apply a cap-and-trade framework to reduce carbon emissions, is described as a threat to job security, and would, according to Menards, “destroy between 1.8 million and 2.4 million jobs.”

Cap-and-trade is also a favorite bugaboo of Americans for Prosperity, and coincidentally an idea fiercely opposed by Koch Industries, whose core business is in the gas, oil and coal sectors.

Also targeted for the ire of Menards management is the auto bailout, and the TARP measures that bailed out the big banks. Meanwhile, government programs aimed at helping smaller businesses are described as a government plan for making small businesses dependent on government.

Familiar Rhetoric

If this rhetoric sounds familiar, it’s because these are the same lines that have been advanced by Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity, and the Tea Party movement that AFP shaped and nurtured. In fact, the opening volume of the course is a rather benignly told history of the nation’s founding that is imbued with graphics recognizable to any Tea Party-leaning individual, thanks to the movement’s co-option of some of the American Revolution’s most iconic symbols, most notably the “Join or Die” cartoon published by Benjamin Franklin showing a snake cut into segments labeled for eight territories or colonies. The cartoon was appropriated by Glenn Beck for his 9/12 Project, which was a Tea Party organizing effort conducted over the cable spectrum occupied by Fox News Channel, which is also owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

When the Prosperity 101 program from which the Menards civics course is derived first launched, Linda Hansen promoted it with an endorsement from Menards’ owner, J.R. Menard, who is quoted on her textbook’s back cover:

“It is the duty as a responsible employer to inform employees of the current and future business climate so they may make the best decisions for their career and their families. Public policy that is not business friendly will be detrimental to job quality and growth unless we voice our concerns and make a difference.”

On the inside cover, Hansen is described as the creator of Prosperity 101, and executive director of the Wisconsin Prosperity Network, one of the two non-profits founded by Mark Block that have earned the scrutiny of the feds. The other is a now-defunct entity called Prosperity USA, whose last profit-and-loss statement, as reported by Daniel Bice, revealed up to $42,000 in payments to Hansen’s for-profit Prosperity 101, for which she is named as the registered agent. Prosperity USA was also revealed to have improperly covered expenses for the Herman Cain campaign. including the chartering of a private jet to ferry the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO to campaign events.

When he shilled for the Prosperity 101 program at Sheldon Adelson’s hotel in Las Vegas in 2010, Cain called it the right’s “answer to ACORN” — referring to the now-defunct community organizing group that was famous for registering voters, especially among the poor and communities of color.

In his article in the Menards course, Herman Cain reinforces the notion that workers’ jobs are threatened by those who seek to regulate business. He writes:

There are three things you can do to protect your personal prosperity. First, you can become informed about threats to your prosperity. Secondly, be involved. Register to vote and make sure you vote in elections. You can be involved by being connected to an organization that reflects your values and helps to express your view. Last but not least, be impactful. Voting makes an impact, but also be ready to protect your right to prosperity with your voice. Your voice and your votes are the two major weapons you can use to make sure we get this nation back on track.

At Menards, the boss may step just shy of telling you who to vote for, but there’s little doubt for whom he thinks you should cast your vote. Hoping for a promotion? You just may want to rethink that Obama/Biden bumper sticker.

 Major Retailer Urges Workers To Take ‘Civics Course’ With Anti-Obama Content | Alternet.

 

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Increasing the Number of Republicans in Congress Means Billions More for the 1 Percent, Study Shows | Alternet


Increasing the Number of Republicans in Congress Means Billions More for the 1 Percent, Study Shows

There’s a direct correlation between the composition of Congress and the richest Americans’ share of pre-tax income.

October 16, 2012 

 

L-R: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Speaker of the House John Boehner arrive at a remembrance ceremony for the victims of the attacks of September 11 at the US Capitol.

 

During the period between 1949 and 2008, a 1 percent increase in congressional seats held by Republicans (about five seats), has resulted in the top 1 percent of American households seeing their share of the nation’s income go up by about four-fifths of a percent, regardless of which party occupied the White House. That translates into about $6.6 billion in 2008 dollars being redistributed upward to those at the top.

That’s according to a new study co-authored by Thomas Volscho, a sociologist at the City University of New York, and Nathan Kelly, a political scientist at the University of Tennessee. The study appears in the October issue of American Sociological Review, which looks at the rise of the super-rich in the United States.

“The central finding of our study is that politics matters for the one percent,” Volscho told AlterNet. “That’s probably not news to a lot of people, but we found that the party of the president – whether Democrat or Republican – didn’t really matter as far as the one percent getting richer. But whether or not the Congress was Democrat or GOP did matter.”

The study looked only at pre-tax income, so it gauged the degree to which the rules of the “free-market” shape income inequality before any redistributive policies come into play. That’s where Congress plays a dominant role, explains Volscho. “The presidency is a very powerful position,” he noted. “The president impacts legislation – he signs bills, he has input into legislation and he proposes the budget every year – but the Congress can really shape how our labor laws are being enforced, who’s heading agencies, whether or not to launch investigations or hold congressional hearings into things like minimum wage laws or financial regulation, all these things that influence the market distribution of income.”

The study’s findings are confirmed by a quick look at the historical composition of Congress from 1949 through the 1970s. During that period, Republicans held a majority in the Senate in just one session and held the House in one session (both in the 83rd Congress in the mid-1950s). During that period, the top 1 percent of American households grabbed an average of 10 percent of the nation’s pre-tax income, and it was very consistent, regardless of who was in the White House.

Since the election of Ronald Reagan, the GOP has held majorities in the Senate in eight different congresses and in the House during six sessions. And during that period – again, regardless of which party held the White House — the richest 1 percent have seen their share of the nation’s income skyrocket. It reached 15.5 percent by the end of Reagan’s presidency and would peak at 23.5 percent in 2007, before the Wall Street crash.

The scholars also found that income inequality is driven by de-unionization, trade policy and changes in the tax code. They concluded that a 1 percentage point drop in income and capital gains taxes had the same effect on equality as a similar increase in Republican representation in Congress.

Using 2008 Gross Domestic Product, the scholars found that the effect of a 1 percentage point drop in private sector union membership results in the transfer of about $33.4 billion to the top 1 percent of households. “I kind of thought that labor unions would shape the wage distribution of income and not be so important [for the investor class],” says Volscho. “But they’re very important for the top 1 percent – as the private sector unions have fallen off a cliff in the United States, the top 1 percent have gotten much richer.”

“With a decrease in union membership, workers’ wage bargaining power diminishes and this can increase firms’ market value and their profitability,” wrote the scholars. “A higher market value often translates into higher stock prices and executive compensation, thereby shifting income toward the top.”

The study flies in the face of the commonly held belief that presidents manage the economy. As people like economist Dean Baker have been saying for some time, there is no naturally occuring “free market” – the rules of the game determine who wins, who loses and by how much, and those rules are shaped first and foremost by the legislative branch.

 Increasing the Number of Republicans in Congress Means Billions More for the 1 Percent, Study Shows | Alternet.

 

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Advertising on Television Rockets, as Super PACs Pour in the Dough: Total Spending $5 Billion | Alternet


 

AlterNet / By Steven Rosenfeld

Advertising on Television Rockets, as Super PACs Pour in the Dough: Total Spending $5 Billion

Are owners’ profits conflicting with newsrooms’ public interest obligations?

September 27, 2012 

 

 

After the votes are counted in November, there will be a big winner in the 2012 election who is not Mitt Romney, Barack Obama nor their top donors. This winner does not want to change anything about how America’s latest national election was run.

The unadvertised victors are media businesses that are seeing political advertising profits reach into the billions. There is no one estimate that combines all of 2012’s campaign advertising across all media, but one of the biggest winners clearly will be local TV stations and regional TV networks in 10 presidential swing states—and in California because of its costly statewide ballot measures.

These TV stations alone will earn $2.8 billion in the 2011-12 election cycle, according to a forecast by Moody’s Investors Service, with a big slice of profits coming from shadowy political groups that sprouted like mushrooms after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in early 2010. They are part of media landscape that last month surpassed the 2008 presidential campaign’s spending record. 

“Based on the new environment of virtually unlimited political advertising, we have long expected that political ad sales would set records in 2012,” Moody’s said. “This year the surge in political spending could translate to as much as $2.8 billion in ad revenue for local broadcast and cable television—more than half of the estimated $5 billion total outlay on 2012 political advertising in all media, in line with our initial high-case forecast for a 19% to 27% increase for the broadcasters.” 

The way this mix of money, politics and media is reshaping and distorting the electoral process is one of the biggest news stories of 2012. As Media Mattersreported, “The sheer volume is hard to comprehend. This year, more than 97,000 political ads have aired in the state of Iowa alone; nearly 115,000 have been broadcast in Ohio. That’s two and a half times the number that aired in Ohio four years ago.”

This story has many dimensions, but one that particularly stands out concerns a conflict of interest at the heart of being a media business. The local television stations that are reaping this advertising bonanza are largely not covering the biggest sponsors of the political ads on their airwaves.

“While many TV stations are covering local and national races, they are ignoring the ever-expanding role money and the media are playing in these contests,” a new report by the progressive media reform group, FreePress.org, found. “It’s clear that the election’s biggest winners are the conglomerates that own local TV stations in battleground states. And the biggest loser? Democracy.”

New Political Money Trail Emerges

One of the central features of the post-Citizens United world is that many political groups were created by known partisans—like Karl Rove and the Koch brothers—and structured in a way that they could collect unlimited donations, not identify donors, and run political ads whose message was clear but did not require them to file reports with the Federal Election Commission. The Democrats quickly copied the tactic.

The emergence of super PACS with no contribution limits and politicized non-profits that are pushing the boundaries of federal tax law—to the point of inviting lawsuits—have been well covered in the media. But the media criticism part of the Free Press analysis concerning local television news in swing states has not.

What’s especially frustrating to the Free Press and other progressive reformers is that there are new tools that investigative reporters and citizens can use to trace the very groups that have figured out how to evade disclosure to the FEC. Since August, anyone buying a political ad on a TV network affiliate in the 50 biggest media markets—including many swing state cities—must fill out a Federal Communications Commission form and post it online. In other words, what the FEC doesn’t see, the FCC does and is making available.     

At the biggest stations, reporters in television newsrooms can simply go onlineand start downloading the latest advertising buys. At the smaller stations not under this electronic FCC umbrella, local TV reporters still have to walk down the hall and ask colleagues in advertising to show them the public file of who is booking and paying for the latest political ads. Some reporters are being told to get lost, as these Ohio student journalists found. But the information is there.

“Some journalists at ABC, NBC, want to see disclosure and who is funding the ads,” said Adam Smith, communications director of Public Campaign, which supports public financing of elections and full disclosure of political spending. “The parent company is opposing the disclosure.”     

Shining a Light on Shadowy Groups

After years of public-interest lobbying, last spring the FCC issued its rule requiring network affiliates in the 50 largest media markets to put the ad-buying information online. It went into effect even though the TV lobby has sued to block it. Anyone can go to the FCC website, type in a station’s name or city, and see which groups are buying ads.

Here’s the FCC’s link to an ABC station in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the Karl Rove’s non-profit, Crossroads Grassroots Political Strategies, has bought dozens of “issue ads” during prime-time hours. The group does not file FEC reports. In another example from this spring, during Wisconsin’s gubernatorial recall election, the Koch brothers’ group, Americans for Prosperity, did not file campaign reports with the state because it claimed all of its ads were “public education,” an old loophole in the law. But the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit that collects and analyzes campaign finance reports, worked with a Green Baynewspaper and found information at local TV stations that tied the rightwing group to a big television ad campaign. They also reported who else was investing in that election’s outcome.

An intriguing report by the Columbia Journalism Review noted that some very big local TV ad buys were canceled at the last minute after Republican presidential hopefuls dropped out. There is likely to be similar reshuffling of the swing-state ad buys in coming weeks. This money trail, as much as polling, will reveal what is really going on inside the campaigns and shadowy allied groups. Ad buys reveal which voters are—and are not—being targeted.

The Sunlight Foundation will be trying to track these last-minute changes in ad-buying activity at a new Web site, PoliticalAdSleuth.com. It is hoping that journalists and citizens in swing states—or districts that could tip the balance of who controls the House—will help with crowdsourcing the research. That ability is based on the FCC forms the agency is requiring stations put online. In some cases, stations are uploading their entire ad-buying file; there is no standardization.

These public interest efforts will not stop local TV stations from reaping the windfall Moody’s said is surging in battleground states. But they might enable a few more reporters and local TV newsrooms departments to better inform viewers who is monopolizing the airwaves.

 Advertising on Television Rockets, as Super PACs Pour in the Dough: Total Spending $5 Billion | Alternet.

 

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Food MythBusters Take on Big Ag’s Worst Lies | Alternet


 

AlterNet / By Anna Lappé

Food MythBusters Take on Big Ag’s Worst Lies

For those who are tired of the ad campaigns, the trade-group public relations machines, the lobbying, the front groups and the myth-making from Big Ag and Big Food.

October 3, 2012 

 

Photo Credit: Gunnar Pippel/ Shutterstock.com 

It’s a tired old refrain you’ve probably heard before: “Industrial agriculture is the only way to feed the world.” Even if you shop at your weekly farmers market, and love your local kale and carrots, maybe you also secretly worry: Are you cursing people to more hunger around the world for your organic proclivities?

Well, folks, the research is in. Study after study is showing the opposite is true: we can onlyensure a well-fed world if we start shifting away from an agricultural system dependent on fossil fuels, mined minerals, and lots of water—all of which will only get more costly as they run out. Some of the most esteemed global institutions have documented that the best way to fight hunger—and grow food abundantly—is to go for organic and ecological production methods and get people eating whole, real food again.

So if we have scientific consensus, why don’t we have more public consciousness? You can find the answer in the marketing budgets of Big Ag. Thanks to well-funded, multi-decade communications campaigns by the very corporations profiting from chemical agriculture, many of us are still in the dark about the true costs of industrial agriculture and the true potential of sustainable agriculture.

Thanks to these efforts, we are inundated with messaging that we need their products—chemicals, fertilizer, genetically engineered seeds—to ensure the world is fed. We hear it all the time.

We hear the grain trader, ADM, is supermarket to the world—while the company’s price-fixing scandals were so outrageous they became fodder for a Matt Damon, Hollywood film.

We hear Monsanto is going to “squeeze more food from a raindrop”—that its genetically engineered crops will help farmers deal with extreme drought—even though no genetically engineered drought-tolerant seeds have been commercialized.

We hear pharmaceutical behemoth, Bayer, is “helping to feed a hungry planet” while at the same time it’s one of the biggest distributors of antibiotics to the livestock industry, leading to a public health crisis of antibiotic resistance. And it’s the maker of a toxic pesticide, now covering nearly 90 percent of all U.S. corn seeds, and a likely culprit in  colony collapse disorder—the fancy name for the disappearance of bees. It doesn’t take a PhD in agronomy to know that pollinators like bees are an essential part of being able to feed the world.

I don’t know about you, but I’m increasingly frustrated by all this spin: by the ad campaigns, the trade-group public relations machines, the lobbying, the front groups—the myth-making. And, while I don’t have $817 million (that’s what Monsanto spent on advertising in just one year), I do have some powerful allies—great food, farming and labor groups who share my frustration and want to do something about it. So together, we’re launching Food MythBusters: a one-stop shop to get your burning questions about food answered through short films, Q&As with experts and links to essential research.

Our first film takes on the myth that we need industrial agriculture to feed the world. We’re offering sneak peeks at SXSW Eco in Austin and with partners in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston and culminating with a national launch on Food Day, October 24th.

We’re inviting you – yes you – to help join us in spreading the word about the potential for sustainable food, farming and the exciting work springing to life across the country to remake our food system. This will ensure more and more of us have access to good, healthy, sustainably raised food.

Please join us by screening our first film wherever you are—on college campuses, in church basements, at CSA pickups and family rooms. We hope screenings will stimulate conversation, educate more about the real story of our food and compel people to get involved in transforming our food system—in their communities and across the country.

Visit www.foodmyths.org to see a teaser trailer and download a step-by-step toolkit for organizing a screening—it’s not too late. Or tune on October 4 at www.SXSWEco.com to watch a livecast. Contact JGordon@StopCorporateAbuse.org if you’d like more information about how to join the many groups around the country hosting a screening on Food Day, or any day this fall.  Together, we can take back the story of our food from the marketing machine of Big Agriculture.

 Food MythBusters Take on Big Ag’s Worst Lies | Alternet.

 

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Revealed: Romney’s Bain Capital Invested in Grotesque Chinese Sweatshop, Detailed at Boca Raton Fundraiser | Alternet


 

Revealed: Romney’s Bain Capital Invested in Grotesque Chinese Sweatshop, Detailed at Boca Raton Fundraiser

 

Far from the respectable businessman he claims to be, Romney has long engaged in horrific practices that mock American values.

October 4, 2012 

 

 

Republicans like to paint Romney as an entrepreneur whose activities at Bain Capital have benefited Americans. In a campaign full of whoppers, that’s one of the biggest lies of all. Economist Paul Davidson recentlypointed out the truth on AlterNet: “Romney has spent his career offshoring and outsourcing American production processes — and associated jobs — to countries like China where human labor is valued in the market at a very low wage rate.” The sub-human conditions at these production facilities represent things that Americans are strongly opposed to: child abuse, squalor, forced overtime, and peanuts for pay.

Romney’s penchant for bragging about his business activities at fundraisers helps underscore just how vile his brand of capitalism really is. While CEO of Bain, Romney invested in a Chinese sweatshop which he appears to be describing in detail at the very same Boca Raton fundraising event where he made his infamous case that nearly half of all Americans are freeloaders.

A report recently released by the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights reveals that while Romney was deeply invested at a firm called Global-Tech, low pay and horrific conditions were status quo at its Chinese appliance factory.

Was Romney aware? Let’s take a look at the presidential hopeful’s own words:

“When I was back in my private equity days, we went to China to buy a factory there. It employed about 20,000 people. And they were almost all young women between the ages of about 18 and 22 or 23. They were saving for potentially becoming married. And they work in these huge factories, they made various uh, small appliances. And uh, as we were walking through this facility, seeing them work, the number of hours they worked per day, the pittance they earned, living in dormitories with uh, with little bathrooms at the end of maybe 10, 10 room, rooms. And the rooms they have 12 girls per room. Three bunk beds on top of each other. You’ve seen, you’ve seen them? (Oh…yeah, yeah!) And, and, and around this factory was a fence, a huge fence with barbed wire and guard towers. And, and, we said gosh! I can’t believe that you, you know, keep these girls in! They said, no, no, no. This is to keep other people from coming in. Because people want so badly to come work in this factory that we have to keep them out.”

Charles Kermaghan, director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, asks: “Does Mr. Romney seriously believe that young men and women in China are racing to climb over fortress-like walls topped with barbed wire, just to get a poorly paid job at Global-Tech? Or is it possible that the barbed wire and armed guards are meant to lock the Chinese workers in and strip them of their legal rights?”

From April 1998 through August 2000, Romney and his Brookside Capital Partners Fund, a Bain affiliate, poured around $23 million into the Global-Tech sweatshop in Dongguan, China. Among the details outlined in the report were the following:

  • Factory workers made 24 cents an hour in 1998 and less than $2 a day. Wages in Global-Tech were less than 2 percent of U.S. wages.
  • As CEO, Romney appears to have been uninterested in calling for improvements at the facility. Today, the sweatshop is still a horror where starvation wages prevail and workers’ rights are nonexistent. Overcrowded, filthy dormitories; rotten food; routine 15- to 16-hour shifts; and backbreaking 105- to 112-hour, seven-day workweeks are the norm.
  • The appliance factory has 800 student “interns” — 16-years-olds forced to work repetitive, exhausting 15- to 16-hour shifts on assembly lines with no overtime pay.

On Feb. 16, 2012, Mitt Romney brought hypocrisy to new heights, assuring the public that “We will not let China steal jobs from the United States of America.”

In reality, Romney has done everything in his power to profit from offshoring and outsourcing that evaporate decent jobs in America and keep workers in places like the Chinese Global-Tech appliance factory in a state of utter misery.

 Revealed: Romney’s Bain Capital Invested in Grotesque Chinese Sweatshop, Detailed at Boca Raton Fundraiser | Alternet.

 

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8 Falsehoods, Lies and Misstatements From Romney Fundraising Video | Alternet


 

AlterNet / By Steven Rosenfeld

8 Falsehoods, Lies and Misstatements From Romney Fundraising Video

The real Mitt Romney speaks his mind; and he’s as twisted as he is misinformed.

September 17, 2012

 

 

Mother Jones released the first of several video excerpts secretly shot at a Mitt Romney fundraiser earlier this year, presumably after he secured the Republican nomination in late May. The first video excerpts, and a related article by MoJo’s David Corn, made big waves on Monday; they show Romney making a series of broad-brush comments insulting Obama voters as ne’er-do-wells who linger on the public payroll and don’t pay taxes.

And that’s only the start. Romney apparently says he would be doing better if he had been born to Mexican parents, says he can’t get too intellectual or specific and win the White House, says the economy would recover by virtue of his election alone—and a whole bunch of other assertions that one feels comfortable making in a room that’s apparently filled with people he believes can raise millions of dollars for him.

There are many things that are disturbing about Romney’s fundraiser remarks, starting with the undignified portrayal of the American middle class. But there also are some big factual errors, which show that Romney doesn’t know the country he seeks to lead. AlterNet went through several of the video excerpts and fact-checked his claims. (Romney’s words are in italics, followed by the fact-checking and video below.)

VIDEO I: Obama and the 47 Percenters

1. “All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, you name it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.

Are all of Obama’s supporters on some form of public assistance—whether state welfare programs, Medicare, Social Security, a government pension or disability payment? The answer, obviously, is no. According to a JZ Analytics poll of 1,014 likely voters between 9/11 and 9/12, of which 469 backed Obama (46.3%) and 395 backed Romney (38.9%), 137 people, or 29 percent, said they earned more than $75,000 a year. That alone tells you that there is something wrong with Romney’s assertion.

The deeper you go, however, it is possible to see where Romney gets his figure of about half of Americans relying on some form of government assistance—particularly after the stock market crashed in 2008 and Great Recession ensued. According to U.S. Census information cited in various news reports, in 2011’s first quarter, 49.1 percent of the American population lived in households receiving some form of government aid. That figure grew by 5 percent since 2008. But, for Romney to be correct, those beneficiaries would not include any Republican households, which is absurd. In fact, landlocked red states rely on federal subsidies that come from taxes paid by coastal blue states—and have for years, as this chart, which comes via Greg Mitchell, points out.

2. “I mean the president starts off with 49, 48, he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect.

These tax numbers are slippery—the equivalent of cherry-picking statistics to butress a foregone conclusion. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has examined this claim and issued this detailed analysis, which says that in 2009 about 51 percent of the country did not pay federal income tax. That figure was up from 40 percent before the economic downtown. Anyway, these households paid many other taxes—whether federal fees, levies or state and local taxes.

“When all federal, state, and local taxes are taken into account, the bottom fifth of households pays about 16 percent of their incomes in taxes, on average,” the Center’s analysis said. “The second-poorest fifth pays about 21 percent.” According to the one tax return he’s released, Romney paid less than 14%.

3. “He’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that’s what they sell every four years. So my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

This statement is outrageous not because it has no basis in fact (it doesn’t), but because it shows Romney’s class prejudices. He really doesn’t care about vast swathes of America’s populace, because he wrongly believes that anyone who hasn’t made their millions of dollars is a freeloader.

Again, it’s worth returning to Greg Mitchell’s chart of which states have the highest concentration of households that pay no federal income taxes, because it is clear that contrary to Romney’s biased view, it is the red states that are the “moochers.” (Of course, there are many states that are in-between, but that doesn’t jibe with Romney’s black-and-white pronouncements.)

4. “What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center, that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending on, in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not.”

This is a really curious statement, especially when contrasted with JZ Analytics polling data from last week. Of the 9.9 percent of voters who said they were undecided, about 40 percent said they earned $50,000 a year or less. Do you really think undecided voters in middle- and low-income cohorts are going to be drawn to Romney’s harsh rhetoric?

Video 2: Who’s Failing To Tell The Truth?

5. “We speak with voters across the country about their perceptions. Those are the people that I told you—the 5 to 6 or 7 percent that we have to bring to our side. They all voted for Barack Obama four years ago. So, and by the way, when you say to them, ‘Do you think Barack Obama is a failure?’ they overwhelmingly say no. They like him. But when you say, ‘Are you disappointed that his policies haven’t worked?’ they say yes…

They love the phrase that ‘he’s over his head.’ …The best success I have at speaking with those people is saying, you know, the president has been a disappointment. He told you he’d keep unemployment below 8 percent. Hasn’t been below 8 percent since.”

Obama made many promises when pushing for his federal stimulus package in 2009, but according to PolitiFact.com, “This rephrases a tired GOP charge that consistently gets Mostly False or worse ratings. Many Republicans have claimed that Obama promised his stimulus package would keep the national unemployment rate below 8 percent. But Obama never made such a vow.” PolitiFact reported that “it came up with a list of 508 pledges of specific action Obama made when he was running for president and monitors how he’s performed on each one. The list does not include any promises to reduce unemployment.”

6. “Fifty percent of kids coming out of school can’t get a job. Fifty percent.”

This is another jumbled statement. A report released last week from the Social Science Research Council found one in seven American young people (ages 16 to 24) was not attending school or did not have a job. That is a very disturbing statistic as it points to generational poverty, but it is not a wholesale 50 percent figure. Where youth unemployment is the highest and approached that 50 percent figure is in minority communities, where the foremost indicator appeared to be the lack of education, the report said—not graduating from school and not finding meaningful work.

Video 3: Mitt Romney, Wall Street Superman

7. “They’ll probably be looking at what the polls are saying. If it looks like I’m going to win, the markets will be happy. If it looks like the president’s going to win, the markets should not be terribly happy.”

This claim is nothing but vanity and smugness. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is already up nearly 11 percentage points in 2012. The big problem is many Americans don’t own stocks as they used to, or haven’t shared in that economic good fortune. However, to say that a Romney presidency will send the markets soaring is absurd. Indeed, this chart shows the Dow has recovered nearly all it lost since 2007.

8. “It depends of course which markets you’re talking about, which types of commodities and so forth, but my own view is that if we win on November 6th, there will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country. We’ll see capital come back and we’ll see—without actually doing anything—we’ll actually get a boost in the economy.

This is another dubious claim by Romney, because one of the key features of the bank credit crunch since the U.S. housing market crashed is that banks have not been lending money to home buyers or small businesses unless they have a lot of collateral. Instead, they have been extending credit to corporations that have fortified their balances sheet by making acquisitions that are not related to a national economic recovery.

Romney’s statement is curious, because when he talks about boosting the economy, you might ask, boost the economy for whom? Clearly not the 47 percenters, all presumably Obama supporters, whom Romney says are paupers on the federal dole. It’s not the undereducated young people who should be getting low-interest government loans for education and building a future, including being qualified employees or entrepreneurs. It seems that Romney is talking to multi-millionaires like himself, who seem to believe that the world turns in response to their pronouncements and business plans. And nothing else matters.

 8 Falsehoods, Lies and Misstatements From Romney Fundraising Video | Alternet.

 

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4 Easy Ways We Can Tax the Rich to Fill Government Coffers | Alternet


 

  ECONOMY  

AlterNet / By Paul Bucheit

4 Easy Ways We Can Tax the Rich to Fill Government Coffers

With a little smart arithmetic, here’s how we can pay off the deficit–two times over.

August 28, 2012 

 

 

Conservatives force the deficit issue, ignoring job creation, and insisting that tax increases on the rich wouldn’t generate enough revenue to balance the budget. They’re way off. But it takes a little arithmetic to put it all together. In the following analysis, data has been taken from a variety of sources, some of which may overlap or slightly disagree, but all of which lead to the conclusion that withheld revenue, not excessive spending, is the problem.

1. Individual and small business tax avoidance costs us $450 billion.

 

The IRS estimates that 17 percent of taxes owed were not paid, leaving an underpayment of $450 billion. In way of confirmation, an independent review of IRS data reveals that the richest 10 percent of Americans paid less than 19% on $3.8 trillion of income in 2006, nearly $450 billion short of a more legitimate 30% tax rate. It has also been estimated that two-thirds of the annual $1.3 trillion in “tax expenditures” (tax subsidies from special deductions, exemptions, exclusions, credits, capital gains, and loopholes) goes to the top quintile of taxpayers. Based on IRS apportionments, this calculates out to more than $450 billion for the richest 10 percent of Americans.

 

2. Corporate tax avoidance is between $250 billion and $500 billion.

 

There are numerous examples of tax avoidance by the big companies, but the most outrageous fact may be that corporations decided to drastically cut their tax rates after the start of the recession. After paying an average of 22.5% from 1987 to 2008, they’ve paid an annual rate of 10% since. This represents a sudden $250 billion annual loss in taxes. Worse yet, it’s a $500 billion shortfall from the 35% statutory corporate tax rate.

 

3. Tax haven losses are at least $337 billion.

 

The Tax Justice Network estimated in 2011 that $337 billion is lost to the U.S. every year in tax haven abuse. It might be more. A recent report placed total hidden offshore assets at somewhere between $21 trillion and $32 trillion. Using the lesser $21 trillion figure, and considering that about 40% of the world’s ultra-high-net-worth individuals are Americans, at least $8.4 trillion of untaxed revenue sits overseas.

 

4. That’s enough to pay off a trillion-dollar deficit. Reasonable tax changes could pay it off a second time:

 

(a) A non-regressive payroll tax could produce $150 billion in revenue.

 

Get ready for some math. The richest 10% made about $3.84 trillion in 2006. A $110,000 salary, which is roughly the cutoff point for payroll tax deductions, is also the approximate minimum income for the richest 10%. A 6.2% tax paid on $1.43 trillion ($110,000 times 13 million payees) is about $90 billion. The lost taxes on the remaining $2.41 trillion come to about $150 billion.

 

(b) A minimal estate tax brings in another $100 billion.

 

The 2009 estate tax, designed to impact only the tiny percentage of Americans with multi-million dollar estates that have never been taxed, returns about $100 billion per year.

 

(c) A financial transaction tax (FTT): up to $500 billion.

 

The Bank for International Settlements reported in 2008 that annual trading in derivatives had surpassed $1.14 quadrillion (a thousand trillion dollars!). The Chicago Mercantile Exchange handles about 3 billion annual contracts worth well over 1 quadrillion dollars. One-tenth of one percent of a quadrillion dollars could pay off the deficit on its own.

 

More conservative estimates by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the Chicago Political Economy Group suggest FTT revenues of a half-trillion dollars annually.

 

Add it all up, and we’ve paid off the deficit, almost twice. More importantly, the avoided taxes and a few other sensible taxes could provide sufficient revenue for job stimulus without cutting the hard-earned benefits of middle-class Americans.

 4 Easy Ways We Can Tax the Rich to Fill Government Coffers | Alternet.

 

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