Category Archives: Class

Another sign of the death of mainstream journalism


What if they held a public hearing about a plan to slash the pensions of more than a quarter of a million American workers and but a single journalism showed up to cover the event?

Moreover, what if that heaving was held in the American city hardest hit by the collapse of American manufacturing, and the pension fund involved had been the subjects of countless books, magazine and newspaper articles, and films?

Well, that’s precisely what happened.

From Andre Damon of the World Socialist Web Site [emphasis added]:

The Obama administration is pushing ahead with its plans to slash pension benefits for up to one million participants in “underfunded” multiemployer pension funds as part of its drive to make defined-benefit pensions a thing of the past for all US workers.

The White House campaign, carried out in a conspiracy with the major trade unions and multinational corporations, takes place in the wake of the 2013–2014 bankruptcy of Detroit, which set a precedent for slashing the legally protected pension benefits of retirees.

Kenneth Feinberg, the Obama administration’s appointee to oversee the pension cuts, held a hearing on behalf of the Treasury Department in Detroit Monday to hear objections to the plan to slash the pension benefits of some 270,000 retired truck drivers, package handlers and other members of the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund.

The hearing, which took place at Wayne State University, drew an overflow crowd at a 500-seat lecture hall, with up to 1,000 people participating in total. With the exception of the World Socialist Web Site, the media ignored the event, with no US video crews present.

Such is live in 21st Century America, where Kim Kardashian’s ass rate more coverage than the loss of secure futures for a quarter-million workers.

Days of Revolt: Trouble in Steinbeck’s country


Monterey County, California, is one of the world’s richest agricultural producers, as the county Farm Bureau notes:

[C]rops grown in Monterey County supply large percentages of total national pounds produced each year:  61% of leaf lettuce, 57% of celery, 56% of head lettuce, 48% of brocolli, 38% of spinach, 30% of cauliflower, 28% of strawberries, and 3.6% of wine grapes.

In other words, if it’s green and on your dinner table, there’s a good chance it came from Monterey County.

And just how much do all those agricultural commodities bring in? Consider this graphic from the latest annual report [PDF] from the Farm Bureau:

BLOG MontereyAccording to the latest [2012] U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture [PDF], all those riches are produced on 1,179 farms with an average size of 1,076 acres, and each selling crops worth $2,527,341.

That’s a lot of wealth.

But Monterey County is also the home a tremendous income inequality, with some of California’s richest living it Carmel and Monterey, as well as in lavish homes along some of the state’s most spectacular coastline.

Head inland to Salinas — where many of the farm laborers live who produce all that wealth — and things are different, giving rise to high levels of poverty, as evident in these two charts from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:

Estimated Percent of People of All Ages In Poverty for Monterey County, CA — 17 percent

Estimated Percent of People of All Ages In Poverty for Monterey County, CA — 17 percent

Estimated Percent of People Age 0-17 In Poverty for Monterey County, CA — 25.2 percent

Estimated Percent of People Age 0-17 In Poverty for Monterey County, CA — 25.2 percent

When there is great disparity of wealth, political tensions are inevitable.

And that brings us to the latest edition of Days of Revolt, the weekly series for teleSUR English by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, focusuing on the political struggle in Salinas:

Days of Revolt: Company Town

From the transcript:

CHRIS HEDGES: Joining me in the studio is Jose Castaneda. He is an independent radical city councilperson who big business has made war against. And Anthony Prince, an attorney who has been working with groups in Salinas to fight back against the power of big business, and all the ways that they are distorting life within the city, including of course going after what has become a large homeless population. Thank you, Jose, and thank you, Anthony.

>snip<

HEDGES: What do they produce, primarily?

CASTANEDA: This is lettuce, iceberg lettuce. We have strawberries, as well.

HEDGES: Driscoll is there, right, which is huge.

CASTANEDA: Driscoll’s one of the major ag-business as well, Taylor Farms, Tanimura and Antle. There’s a long list of these agriculture–what I call agriculture empire within the county. And it’s an international market, now.

HEDGES: Whole parts of your city have, in essence, been destroyed by these corporations. Perhaps you can give us a picture of what’s happened and what it looks like.

CASTANEDA: I can tell you, the $8 billion industry has controlled, directly and indirectly, the politics. We can go into history. For example, John Steinbeck’s writings of In Dubious Battle, The Grapes of Wrath, Mice and Men, Tortilla Flats, just pick any novel and you’ll see how the, the Depression, as well as oppression in regards to the worker–.

HEDGES: We should be clear that Steinbeck was based in Salinas, right?

CASTANEDA: That is absolutely right. Until Steinbeck was banned, and his books were burned and he had to come to New York, as well, and finish a lot of his work there. That same lineage has continued to control the, the governance system as well, as a state. And it continues to be the case in 2015. I have experienced that myself, even running as an independent.

HEDGES: We should be clear, when you were elected, it used to be under the old rules that any city council member could bring an issue to be discussed at the council. And because they knew that you would be bringing issues that they did not want discussed they just rechanged–changed the rules. Perhaps you can explain what happened.

CASTANEDA: Sure. You’re absolutely correct. And the last time there was any type of rule change it was 1994. Once I defeated two candidates that were part of the status quo horses in this race, we had a 30-day waiting period, which was a certification of election results.

So one week before I took the oath of office at the city council, those rules were already being changed, with the action of the old council. And that’s implemented as rules of the quorum. It was a buddy–so-called buddy system, where you needed at least two council members at a minimum to agree to put any item on the agenda. Of course, what has affected, historically, my district area, which is considered the East Salinas, or the Alisal, as drawn and depicted in John Steinbeck’s books, where you have more–half of the major–half of the population in a concentrated five-mile radius. And that’s where you have the housing issues, water issues, crime.

A legal Icarus lashes out a a corrupt justice system


In Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of Daedalus, the architect of the labyrinth to which Minos, king of Crete, consigned the monstrous Minotaur to devour his enemies. Daedalus and Icarus were forced to flee after Daedalus plotted with Ariadne to help Theseus escape the monster.

Daedalus devised wings made of feathers mounted in wax, so he and his son could fly from the island, telling his son he must fly neither to low, lest the sea’s moisture render the wings useless, nor too high, lest the sun’s heat melt the wax.

Icarus, needless to say, flew tie, dying in a plunge into the sea after the wax had melted.

William S. Lerach was a legal Icarus, a San Diego class action attorney raised in an impoverished household in Pittsburgh, he specialized in shareholder litigation, recovering billions for investors in Enron, and served as a passionate advocate for his profession and for the public interest.

When Congress moved to radically restrict his profession, Lerach was outspoken, as Wikipedia notes:

While testifying in Congress in 1995 against the passage of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (part of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America) which Congress passed by over-riding the veto of President Clinton, Lerach warned at the hearing: “In 10 or 15 years you will be holding another hearing about a debacle in the securities market that will make you remember the S&L mess with fondness.”

But Lerach may have flown to close to the sun when he took on Vice President Dick Cheney for his actions at Halliburton, and in 2007 he was arrested by the Bush administration’s Justice Department and plead guilty to a single felony charge of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and making false declarations under oath related to his involvement in a kickback scheme, a scheme which to esnl‘s own knowledge was commonly practice by class action lawyers.

He was sentenced to two years in federal prison.

Lerach suspects his prosecution was political, given that the Bush administration almost never demanded criminal convictions of crooked banksters and corporate executives, the usual targets of Lerach’s lawsuits.

Disbarred after completely his prison term, Lerach lives in La Jolla, and according to one account, is worth nearly a billion dollars.

While he no longer practices law, he remains a passionate advocate, decrying changes in the criminal justice system and law enforcement that fall most heavily on people of color. And much more.

He has a lot to say in this address given to an audience at the University of California at San Diego, and there’s nothing he says we don’t agree with.

From University of California Television:

American Law: Instrument of Progress or Weapon of Oppression? William Lerach — A Life In The Law

Program notes:

Former litigator William S. Lerach explores the chasm between the ideals and the reality of the American legal system, one that promises equal access and accountability but often shields the financial elite from civil liability and criminal prosecution. Drawing on his extensive experience with class action lawsuits, Lerach shows how major court decisions have skewed toward defendants over time, even when evidence confirmed their participation in illegal activity. Lerach also condemns recent judicial decisions that have spared police officers from punishment for incidents that have led to the deaths of unarmed African-Americans. This is the first in a new series from UC San Diego — “A Life in the Law: Practitioners Reflecting on Law and the Legal Process on American Life.”

Quote of the day: On Bernie’s missed opportunity


From the redoubtable Jim Kunstler, writing at his blog, Clusterfuck Nation:

Bernie blew his biggest chance yet to harpoon the white whale known as Hillary when he cast some glancing aspersions on Mz It’s-My-Turn’s special side-job as errand girl of the Too-Big-To-Fail banks. Together, Bill and Hillary racked up $7.7 million on 39 speaking gigs to that gang, with Hillary clocking $1.8 million of the total for eight blabs. When Bernie alluded to this raft of grift, MzIMT retorted, “If you’ve got something to say, say it directly.”

There was a lot Bernie could have said, but didn’t. Such as: what did you tell them that was worth over $200,000 a pop? Whatever it was, it must have made them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Did it occur to you that this might look bad sometime in the near future? Is there any way that this might not be construed as bribery? And how is some formerly middle-class out-of-work average voter supposed to feel about you getting paid more for 45 minutes of flapping your gums than he or she has earned in the past five years?

Bernie could have found a gentlemanly way to say that directly, but perhaps he experienced a sickening precognitive vision of his jibes being used against the party establishment’s candidate in the fall general election. Of course, if it looked like Hillary was going to get elected, the remaining sound-of-mind in this country might be falling over each other to apply for citizenship in Uruguay.

Africa’s ‘Green Revolution’ helps only the richest


As for the poor, forget about it.

In reality, the set of practices endorsed by neoliberals in Washington and Europe, is a cover for driving the poorest farmers into debt as they are driven to buy fertilizers, seeds, herbicides, and pesticides from Big Agra companies in the North.

driven into debt and foreclosed when they can’t pay because of crops failures and poor yields, the only beneficiaries are large landholders.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Rather than alleviating poverty, a farming revolution aimed at increasing and modernising agricultural production in Africa could be harming the poorest, according to a new study.

The University of East Anglia research details how changes brought on by modernisation programmes disrupt subsistence practices, deepen poverty, impair local systems of trade and knowledge, and threaten land ownership.

The “green revolution” of the 1960s and 70s – when policies supporting new seeds for marketable crops, sold at guaranteed prices, helped many farmers and transformed economies in Asia – has also become increasingly popular in Africa where up to 90 percent of people in some countries are smallholder farmers.

In Rwanda, government, donors and development institutions such as the International Monetary Fund have hailed the strategy as a success for the economy and in reducing poverty.

But in interviews with villagers in Rwanda’s mountainous west the researchers found only a relatively wealthy minority had been able to keep up with modernisation, while the poorest cannot afford the risk of taking out credit for the seeds and fertilisers required for modernised agriculture.

Here’s the summary from the study from the report, Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications of Imposed Innovation for the Wellbeing of Rural Smallholders, which is available free in its entirety from the journal World Development, under a Creative Commons agreement sponsored by  Natural Environment Research Council:

Green Revolution policies are again being pursued to drive agricultural growth and reduce poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. However conditions have changed since the well-documented successes of the 1960s and 1970s benefitted smallholders in southern Asia and beyond. We argue that under contemporary constraints the mechanisms for achieving improvements in the lives of smallholder farmers through such policies are unclear and that both policy rationale and means of governing agricultural innovation are crucial for pro-poor impacts. To critically analyze Rwanda’s Green Revolution policies and impacts from a local perspective, a mixed methods, multidimensional wellbeing approach is applied in rural areas in mountainous western Rwanda. Here Malthusian policy framing has been used to justify imposed rather than “induced innovation”. The policies involve a substantial transformation for rural farmers from a traditional polyculture system supporting subsistence and local trade to the adoption of modern seed varieties, inputs, and credit in order to specialize in marketable crops and achieve increased production and income. Although policies have been deemed successful in raising yields and conventionally measured poverty rates have fallen over the same period, such trends were found to be quite incongruous with local experiences. Disaggregated results reveal that only a relatively wealthy minority were able to adhere to the enforced modernization and policies appear to be exacerbating landlessness and inequality for poorer rural inhabitants. Negative impacts were evident for the majority of households as subsistence practices were disrupted, poverty exacerbated, local systems of knowledge, trade, and labor were impaired, and land tenure security and autonomy were curtailed. In order to mitigate the effects we recommend that inventive pro-poor forms of tenure and cooperation (none of which preclude improvements to input availability, market linkages, and infrastructure) may provide positive outcomes for rural people, and importantly in Rwanda, for those who have become landless in recent years. We conclude that policies promoting a Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa should not all be considered to be pro-poor or even to be of a similar type, but rather should be the subject of rigorous impact assessment. Such assessment should be based not only on consistent, objective indicators but pay attention to localized impacts on land tenure, agricultural practices, and the wellbeing of socially differentiated people.

Chart of the day III: Wealth inequality by ethnicity


From Demos:

BLOG Inequality

Quote of the day Ted Cruz in a nutshell [Nut’s hell?]


From journalist and author Gary Leech, writing for Counterpunch:

Perhaps nothing captures the imperialist arrogance of Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz more succinctly than his campaign’s statement declaring, “What is best for America is best for the world.” In addition to the obvious fact that billions of people around the world might disagree with Cruz on this point is the fact that it is not at all clear that the Republican presidential candidate’s proposed policies are even best for most Americans. But given his victory this past week in the Iowa caucus, Cruz’s ultra-conservative views can no longer be ignored while mainstream and progressive pundits busy themselves dissecting the bombastic rhetoric of the far less scary Donald Trump.

In contrast to most candidates that run for president, Ted Cruz has a clear vision for the future of the country. The problem for many Americans is that it is a terrifying vision. It is a vision that is imperialist, racist, sexist, classist and homophobic. For instance, Cruz proposes building a giant wall across the US-Mexico border in addition to using high-tech measures to keep out “illegal” immigrants while allowing corporate labor needs to dictate the flow of “legal” immigrants into the country. In addition to strengthening the military to ensure US hegemony around the globe, he also vows to boost US military support for Israel and to withhold funding from the United Nations if it “continues its anti-Israel bias.”

On the domestic front, Cruz is calling for a flat tax that will benefit the rich and gut government social spending. He has also vowed to curtail women’s rights by stating that he will order the attorney general to investigate Planned Parenthood on his first day as president. And he opposes same-sex marriage, declaring that “marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman.” Finally, Cruz would not only fail to address climate change, which he views as a hoax, he would promote expanded oil and gas production. Given that these policy proposals make Cruz one of the most conservative presidential contenders in decades, it would behoove us to take a closer at them.