Category Archives: Corporate Globalization

Urban Madness: Inequality and the Right to the City

The weekend edition of the Financial Times dated April 7/8 featured a story in the House and Home section under the title ‘Barcelona hits the Brakes.’ The story describes the negative effect of last October’s Catalan independence referendum on Barcelona’s real estate market. The Times cites data from the Spanish property website Idealista. During the summer of 2017 (Q3 2017) properties in the city gained an impressive 018 percent compared to the previous year. In Q4 2017, in the midst of uncertainty stemming from the referendum, the prices fell 1.2 percent, with the sharpest drop taking place in the priciest neighborhoods.

The most interesting nugget of the story reads like this:

Foreign buyers’ sensitivity to Catalonia’s uncertainty political situation bode ill for the city’s property market in the mid-term since they form an increasing share of the market. Years of steady appreciation has meant that much of the city’s stock has become too expensive for locals. Salaries have been stagnant says Encinar (founder of Idealista). ‘Today, when you ask local agents about business, they talk to you about ‘investors’ rather than ‘clients.’

Meanwhile in February the British Columbia Finance Minister Carole James announced measures targeting foreign buyers and speculators. Foreigners now have to pay a 20 percent tax on top of the listing value (up from 15 percent), and a levy on property speculators will be introduced later this year. Starting this fall foreign and domestic investors who don’t pay income tax in the province where the property is will pay a speculator tax of 0.5 percent of the property’s assessed value in 2018 and 2 percent thereafter. The government also vowed to crack down on the condo pre-sale market and beneficial ownership to ensure that property flippers, offshore trusts and hidden investors are paying taxes on gains.

The flashpoint for the legislation is Vancouver where foreign, particularly wealthy Chinese capital, has been driving double digit gains in property value. Media accounts report that Vancouver casinos and real estate have in recent years become vehicles for laundering proceeds for Asian high rollers and drug dealers with ties to the fentanyl trade. There were also two seasons of the very corny reality TV show Ultra Rich Asian Girls which followed the exploits of daughters of wealthy Chinese families as they shopped and partied around the city. With Chinese capital flowing housing prices in Vancouver have skyrocketed-in 2016 CBC reported that price of a single family home shot up 30 percent in one year to an average of $1.4 million even as the city claims that over the past decade the housing stock has grown by 12 percent and the population by only 9 percent. Toronto and Montreal appear to be on the cusp of similar transformations.

This kind of thing is happening in cities all over the world. In Lisbon a flood of foreign investment and financial deregulation has in the city center up 30 percent over the past two years. Yet the average monthly wage in Lisbon is about €850. Over in London research conducted for mayor Sadiq Khan revealed foreign investors are buying up thousands of homes suitable for first-time buyers. Of the 28,000 new homes built between 2014 and 2016 3600 were scooped up by foreign buyers with the majority from Singapore and Hong Kong followed by Malaysia and China. Last year it was revealed that an entire new 81 unit complex in Southwark (on the site of the former Heygate council estate) was bought by foreign investors while the same was true for 87 percent of Baltimore Wharf, a development on the Isle of Dogs where apartments started at £400,000. Accounts of Russian oligarchs living the high life have filled the press, at one point in 2016 campaigners connected to Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny organized London’s first ever ‘kleptocracy’ tour. Charles Moore, a former editor of the Telegraph, said a few years ago that London’s property market has become ‘a form of legalized international money laundering.’

In New York, early numbers from the latest Census Bureau’s Housing and Vacancy survey show unoccupied apartments ballooned by 35 percent in the three years since the last survey. Over 100,000 units are occupied temporarily or seasonally (74,945), basically meaning investments and vacation pads for the wealthy, or for unexplained reasons (27,000), no doubt a good number of the latter fit the former description.

According to data compiled by the firm PropertyShark, cited in the June 2014 New York magazine article titled ‘Stash Pad’, since 2008 about 30 percent of condo sales in large-scale Manhattan developments have been to purchasers who either listed an overseas address or bought through limited-liability corporations (a method favored by wealthy international buyers). The marketing firm Corcoran Sunshine, which specializes in luxury buildings, estimates that 35 percent of its sales since 2013 have been to international buyers, half from Asia, with the remainder about evenly split among the rest of the world. Data from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey revealed 57 percent of apartments in the three block stretch from East 56th Street to East 59th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue, are vacant at least ten months a year. From East 59th Street to East 63rd Street the vacancy rate is almost 50 percent.  Stretching it out further the Bureau estimates that 30 percent of all apartments in the entire quadrant from East 49th to East 70th Streets are vacant at least ten months a year. This coincides with New York’s homeless population reaching an all-time high.

It is difficult to conceive a more absurd reflection of global inequality than the building of cities specifically for elite investors at a time when urban homelessness is spiraling. Indeed global inequality has reached absurd levels. According to Oxfam’s report An Economy for the 99%, since 2015 the world’s 1 percent has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet. The richest eight men own the same amount as the poorest half and over the next 20 years 500 people will hand to their heirs over $2.1 trillion- a sum larger than the GDP of India. While global development is slowly narrowing inequality between countries, inequality is rising within countries everywhere. The World Inequality Report 2018 reports the share of income going to the top 10 percent has increased somewhat in Europe, remained high in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East and has exploded in the United States, Russia, and Asia.

The city-as-investment dynamic is also a logical consequence of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism, defined as an economic system of liberated markets, free trade, deregulation, privatization, and the withdrawal of the state, emerged from the economic stagnation of the early 1970s. Neoliberalism hasn’t been good at producing productive profits as the rate of profit has remained low. U.S. productivity growth is at its lowest level since the 1800s.However, if production is producing profits at a reduced rate where are capitalists to go to increase wealth? Get the state to cut your taxes. Break unions and freeze wages. Invent and expand creative financial assets. Buy back your company’s stocks. Build and invest in urban properties.

Since the mid-1980s corporations have become by far the most important buyers of their own stock. The dirty fact is that money cannot be made as fast by actually investing in production, meaning new plants, equipment, workers, etc., as it can by pumping up stock prices. The price-earnings (P/E ratio) measures a company’s current share (i.e. stock) price relative to its per share earnings. Since the mid-1930s the median P/E ratio for the Standard & Poor 500 stock index is 17. It currently stands at about 25. Another metric is the CAPE index, ‘cyclically adjusted price-earnings’. It measures real earnings per share over a 10 year period and corrects for inflation. The historic median is 16. Currently it is at just almost 33.

For the U.S. this has caused inequality to explode. The World Inequality Report 2018 breaks down American income growth by selected percentile from 1980-2014. Income for the bottom 20 percent of the population grew by a mere 4 percent over that period. The bottom 50 percent grew at only 21 percent, less than 1 percent a year. The top 10 percent grew 113 percent, the top 1 percent grew 194 percent, the top .001 by 423 percent, the top .0001 by 616 percent.

As the planet grows more unequal it grows more urban. For the first time in history the world’s urban population outnumbers the rural population. Cities have absorbed about two-thirds of global population growth since 1950. In 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with more than one million inhabitants. As of 2016 there were 512 such cities, by 2030 there will be an estimated 662. Urbanization spans a vast gulf from the very wealthy neighborhoods of ‘International’ cities such as Shanghai, London, and New York to teeming slums all over the global South. Around one billion people, or roughly 1 in 8 people worldwide, live in slums. In this period cities have emerged as a key part of capital accumulation, absorbing surplus capital and labor. Gentrification has transformed from a local process, even an exception to urban disinvestment, to the pillar of global urban planning.

This inevitably makes the Right to the City movement of paramount importance to the International Left. The struggle against gentrification in London and San Francisco is easily linked to the struggle against displacement, and for basic human needs, in the pueblo jovens of Lima and favelas of Rio de Janairo. At bottom is the right for people to exist in space and time. This goes far beyond just an individual right to the resources a city contains. Since the process of urban change is a collective one, thus is the right to the city. Geographer David Harvey was surely correct when he wrote that ‘the question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from the question of what kind of people we want to be, what kinds of social relations we seek, what relations to nature we cherish, what style of daily life we desire, what kinds of technologies we deem appropriate, what aesthetic values we hold.’

This never will be easy.  As inequality deepens and urbanization expands, state militarization grows with it. Stephen Graham, in his important book Cities Under Siege: The New Military Humanism, shows boomerang effect of the War on Terror on policing in Western cities. Drones are now involved in crime patrol. Security Zones, based on efforts to build Green Zones in Baghdad, are prominent in big cities. Temporary Security Zones are set up around sports events and political conventions. Since the 1990s over $5 billion worth of surplus military equipment has been transferred to police departments across the country.  During the Obama years, before limits were put in place which have since been rescinded by the Trump administration, police departments received tens of thousands of machine guns, thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment, along with hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. The number of SWAT teams has skyrocketed since the 1980s. Originally established to deal with hostage situations and heavily armed criminals, SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times a year, mainly for drug searches (well glamorized by the CBS show S.W.A.T.). There was a glimpse of these possible confrontations with social movements during the protests against police brutality in Ferguson in 2014. There is no reason to expect these trends will cease and every reason to think they will expand.

Such is the specter that justice movements may have to confront in the future. Still, future social revolutions will be in cities or nowhere.

Dangerous Liaison: Corporate Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset

Food and agriculture across the world is in crisis. Food is becoming denutrified and unhealthy and diets less diverse. There is a loss of biodiversity, which threatens food security, soils are being degraded, water sources polluted and depleted and smallholder farmers, so vital to global food production, are being squeezed off their land and out of farming.

A minority of the global population has access to so much food that it can afford to waste much of it, while food insecurity has become a fact of life for hundreds of millions. This crisis stems from food and agriculture being wedded to power structures that serve the interests of the powerful global agribusiness corporations.

Over the last 60 years, agriculture has become increasingly industrialised, globalised and tied to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the international market, indebtedness to international financial institutions (IMF/World Bank).

This has resulted in food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on (US) agricultural imports and strings-attached aid. Food deficits in the Global South mirror food surpluses in the North, based on a ‘stuffed and starved’ strategy.

Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes related to debt repayment as occurred in Africa (as a continent Africa has been transformed from a net exporter to a net importer of food), bilateral trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the devastation of traditional, indigenous agriculture.

Integral to all of this has been the imposition of the ‘Green Revolution’. Farmers were encouraged to purchase hybrid seeds from corporations that were dependent on chemical fertilisers and pesticides to boost yields. They required loans to purchase these corporate inputs and governments borrowed to finance irrigation and dam building projects for what was a water-intensive model.

While the Green Revolution was sold to governments and farmers on the basis it would increase productivity and earnings and would be more efficient, we now have nations and farmers incorporated into a system of international capitalism based on dependency, deregulated and manipulated commodity markets, unfair subsidies and inherent food insecurity.

As part of a wider ‘development’ plan for the Global South, millions of farmers have been forced out of agriculture to become cheap factory labour (for outsourced units from the West) or, as is increasingly the case, unemployed or underemployed slum dwellers.

In India, under the banner of a bogus notion of ‘development’, farmers are being whipped into subservience on behalf of global capital: they find themselves steadily squeezed out of farming due to falling incomes, the impact of cheap imports and policies deliberately designed to run down smallholder agriculture for the benefit of global agribusiness corporations.

Aside from the geopolitical shift in favour of the Western nations resulting from the programmed destruction of traditional agriculture across the world, the Green Revolution has adversely impacted the nature of food, soil, human health and the environment.

Sold on the premise of increased yields, improved food security and better farm incomes, the benefits of the Green Revolution have been overstated. And the often stated ‘humanitarian’ intent and outcome (‘millions of lives saved’) has had more to do with PR and cold commercial interest.

However, even when the Green Revolution did increase yields (or similarly, if claims about GMO agriculture – the second coming of the Green Revolution – improving output is to be accepted at face value), Canadian environmentalist Jodi Koberinski says pertinent questions need to be asked: what has been the cost of any increased yield of commodities in terms of local food security and local caloric production, nutrition per acre, water tables, soil structure and new pests and disease pressures?

We may also ask what the effects on rural communities and economies have been; on birds, insects and biodiversity in general; on the climate as a result of new technologies, inputs or changes to farming practices; and what has been the effects of shifting towards globalised production chains, not least in terms of transportation and fossil fuel consumption.

Moreover, if the Green Revolution found farmers in the Global South increasingly at the mercy of a US-centric system of trade and agriculture, at home they were also having to fit in with development policies that pushed for urbanisation and had to cater to the needs of a distant and expanding urban population whose food requirements were different to local rural-based communities. In addition to a focus on export-oriented farming, crops were also being grown for the urban market, regardless of farmers’ needs or the dietary requirements of local rural markets.

Destroying indigenous systems

In an open letter written in 2006 to policy makers in India, farmer and campaigner Bhaskar Save offered answers to some of these questions. He argued that the actual reason for pushing the Green Revolution was the much narrower goal of increasing marketable surplus of a few relatively less perishable cereals to fuel the urban-industrial expansion favoured by the government and a few industries at the expense of a more diverse and nutrient-sufficient agriculture, which rural folk – who make up the bulk of India’s population – had long benefited from.

Before, Indian farmers had been largely self-sufficient and even produced surpluses, though generally smaller quantities of many more items. These, particularly perishables, were tougher to supply urban markets. And so, the nation’s farmers were steered to grow chemically cultivated monocultures of a few cash-crops like wheat, rice, or sugar, rather than their traditional polycultures that needed no purchased inputs.

Tall, indigenous varieties of grain provided more biomass, shaded the soil from the sun and protected against its erosion under heavy monsoon rains, but these were replaced with dwarf varieties, which led to more vigorous growth of weeds and were able to compete successfully with the new stunted crops for sunlight.

As a result, the farmer had to spend more labour and money in weeding, or spraying herbicides. Furthermore, straw growth with the dwarf grain crops fell and much less organic matter was locally available to recycle the fertility of the soil, leading to an artificial need for externally procured inputs. Inevitably, the farmers resorted to use more chemicals and soil degradation and erosion set in.

The exotic varieties, grown with chemical fertilisers, were more susceptible to ‘pests and diseases’, leading to yet more chemicals being poured. But the attacked insect species developed resistance and reproduced prolifically. Their predators – spiders, frogs, etc. – that fed on these insects and controlled their populations were exterminated. So were many beneficial species like the earthworms and bees.

Save noted that India, next to South America, receives the highest rainfall in the world. Where thick vegetation covers the ground, the soil is alive and porous and at least half of the rain is soaked and stored in the soil and sub-soil strata.

A good amount then percolates deeper to recharge aquifers or groundwater tables. The living soil and its underlying aquifers thus serve as gigantic, ready-made reservoirs. Half a century ago, most parts of India had enough fresh water all year round, long after the rains had stopped and gone. But clear the forests, and the capacity of the earth to soak the rain, drops drastically. Streams and wells run dry.

While the recharge of groundwater has greatly reduced, its extraction has been mounting. India is presently mining over 20 times more groundwater each day than it did in 1950. But most of India’s people – living on hand-drawn or hand-pumped water in villages and practising only rain-fed farming – continue to use the same amount of ground water per person, as they did generations ago.

More than 80% of India’s water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. For example, one acre of chemically grown sugarcane requires as much water as would suffice 25 acres of jowar, bajra or maize. The sugar factories too consume huge quantities.

From cultivation to processing, each kilo of refined sugar needs two to three tonnes of water. Save argued this could be used to grow, by the traditional, organic way, about 150 to 200 kg of nutritious jowar or bajra (native millets).

If Bhaskar Save helped open people’s eyes to what has happened on the farm, to farmers and to ecology in India, a 2015 report by GRAIN provides an overview of how US agribusiness has hijacked an entire nation’s food and agriculture under the banner of ‘free trade’ to the detriment of the environment, health and farmers.

In 2012, Mexico’s National Institute for Public Health released the results of a national survey of food security and nutrition. Between 1988 and 2012, the proportion of overweight women between the ages of 20 and 49 increased from 25% to 35% and the number of obese women in this age group increased from 9% to 37%.

Some 29% of Mexican children between the ages of 5 and 11 were found to be overweight, as were 35% of youngsters between 11 and 19, while one in 10 school age children suffered from anemia. The Mexican Diabetes Federation says that more than 7% of the Mexican population has diabetes. Diabetes is now the third most common cause of death in Mexico, directly or indirectly.

The various free trade agreements that Mexico has signed over the past two decades have had a profound impact on the country’s food system and people’s health. After his mission to Mexico in 2012, the then Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, concluded that the trade policies in place favour greater reliance on heavily processed and refined foods with a long shelf life rather than on the consumption of fresh and more perishable foods, particularly fruit and vegetables.

He added that the overweight and obesity emergency that Mexico is facing could have been avoided, or largely mitigated, if the health concerns linked to shifting diets had been integrated into the design of those policies.

The North America Free Trade Agreement led to the direct investment in food processing and a change in the retail structure (notably the advent of supermarkets and convenience stores) as well as the emergence of global agribusiness and transnational food companies in Mexico.

The country has witnessed an explosive growth of chain supermarkets, discounters and convenience stores. Local small-scale vendors have been replaced by corporate retailers that offer the processed food companies greater opportunities for sales and profits. Oxxo (owned by Coca-cola subsidiary Femsa) tripled its stores to 3,500 between 1999 and 2004. It was scheduled to open its 14,000th store sometime during 2015.

In Mexico, the loss of food sovereignty has induced catastrophic changes in the nation’s diet and has had dire consequences for agricultural workers who lost their jobs and for the nation in general. Those who have benefited include US food and agribusiness interests, drug cartels and US banks and arms manufacturers.

More of the same: a bogus ‘solution’

Transnational agribusiness has lobbied for, directed and profited from the very policies that have caused much of the above. And what we now see is these corporations (and their supporters) espousing cynical and fake concern for the plight of the poor and hungry.

GMO patented seeds represent the final stranglehold of transnational agribusiness over the control of agriculture and food. The misrepresentation of the plight of the indigenous edible oils sector in India encapsulates the duplicity at work surrounding the GM project.

After trade rules and cheap imports conspired to destroy farmers and the jobs of people involved in local food processing activities for the benefit of global agribusiness, including commodity trading and food processor companies ADM and Cargill, there is now a campaign to force GM into India on the basis that Indian agriculture is unproductive and thus the country has to rely on imports. This conveniently ignores the fact that prior to neoliberal trade rules in the mid-1990s, India was almost self-sufficient in edible oils.

In collusion with the Gates Foundation, corporate interests are also seeking to secure full spectrum dominance throughout much of Africa as well. Western seed, fertiliser and pesticide manufacturers and dealers and food processing companies are in the process of securing changes to legislation and are building up logistics and infrastructure to allow them to recast food and farming in their own images.

Today, governments continue to collude with big agribusiness corporations. These companies are being allowed to shape government policy by being granted a strategic role in trade negotiations and are increasingly framing the policy/knowledge agenda by funding and determining the nature of research carried out in public universities and institutes.

As Bhaskar Save wrote about India:

This country has more than 150 agricultural universities. But every year, each churns out several hundred ‘educated’ unemployables, trained only in misguiding farmers and spreading ecological degradation. In all the six years a student spends for an M.Sc. in agriculture, the only goal is short-term – and narrowly perceived – ‘productivity’. For this, the farmer is urged to do and buy a hundred things. But not a thought is spared to what a farmer must never do so that the land remains unharmed for future generations and other creatures. It is time our people and government wake up to the realisation that this industry-driven way of farming – promoted by our institutions – is inherently criminal and suicidal!

Save is referring to the 300,000-plus farmer suicides that have taken place in India over the past two decades due to economic distress resulting from debt, a shift to (GM)cash crops and economic ‘liberalisation’ (see this report about a peer-reviewed study, which directly links suicides to GM cotton).

The current global system of chemical-industrial agriculture, World Trade Organisation rules and bilateral trade agreements that agritech companies helped draw up are a major cause of food insecurity and environmental destruction. The system is not set up to ‘feed the world’ despite the proclamations of its supporters.

However, this model has become central to the dominant notion of ‘development’ in the Global South: unnecessary urbanisation, the commercialisation and emptying out of the countryside at the behest of the World Bank, the displacement of existing systems of food and agricultural production with one dominated by Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and the like and a one-dimensional pursuit of GDP growth as a measure of ‘progress’ with little concern for the costs and implications – mirroring the narrow, reductionist ‘output-yield’ paradigm of industrial agriculture itself.

Agroecology offers a genuine solution

Across the world, we are seeing farmers and communities pushing back and resisting the corporate takeover of seeds, soils, land, water and food. And we are also witnessing inspiring stories about the successes of agroecology.

Reflecting what Bhaskar Save achieved on his farm in Gujarat, agroecology combines sound ecological management, including minimising the use of toxic inputs, by using on-farm renewable resources and privileging natural solutions to manage pests and disease, with an approach that upholds and secures farmers’ livelihoods.

Agroecology is based on scientific research grounded in the natural sciences but marries this with farmer-generated knowledge and grassroots participation that challenges top-down approaches to research and policy making. However, it can also involve moving beyond the dynamics of the farm itself to become part of a wider agenda, which addresses the broader political and economic issues that impact farmers and agriculture (see this description of the various modes of thought that underpin agroecolgy).

Jodi Koberisnki’s nod to ‘systems thinking’ lends credence to agroecology, which recognises the potential of agriculture to properly address concerns about local food security and sovereignty as well as social, ecological and health issues. In this respect, agroecology is a refreshing point of departure from the reductionist approach to farming which emphasises securing maximum yield and corporate profit to the detriment of all else.

Wei Zhang – an economist focusing on ecosystem services, agriculture and the environment – says:

that ‘worldview’ is important to how you conceptualise issues and develop or choose tools to address those issues. Using systems thinking requires a shift in fundamental beliefs and assumptions that constitute our worldviews. These are the intellectual and moral foundations for the way we view and interpret reality, as well as our beliefs about the nature of knowledge and the processes of knowing. Systems thinking can help by changing the dominant mindset and by addressing resistance to more integrated approaches.

Agroecology requires that shift in fundamental beliefs.

A few years ago, the Oakland Institute released a report on 33 case studies which highlighted the success of agroecological agriculture across Africa in the face of climate change, hunger and poverty. The studies provide facts and figures on how agricultural transformation can yield immense economic, social, and food security benefits while ensuring climate justice and restoring soils and the environment.

The research highlights the multiple benefits of agroecology, including affordable and sustainable ways to boost agricultural yields while increasing farmers’ incomes, food security and crop resilience.

The report described how agroecology uses a wide variety of techniques and practices, including plant diversification, intercropping, the application of mulch, manure or compost for soil fertility, the natural management of pests and diseases, agroforestry and the construction of water management structures.

There are many other examples of successful agroecology and of farmers abandoning Green Revolution thought and practices to embrace it (see this report about El Salvador and this interview from South India).

In a recent interview appearing on the Farming Matters website, Million Belay sheds light on how agroecological agriculture is the best model of agriculture for Africa. Belay explains that one of the greatest agroecological initiatives started in 1995 in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia, and continues today. It began with four villages and after good results, it was scaled up to 83 villages and finally to the whole Tigray Region. It was recommended to the Ministry of Agriculture to be scaled up at the national level. The project has now expanded to six regions of Ethiopia.

The fact that it was supported with research by the Ethiopian University at Mekele has proved to be critical in convincing decision makers that these practices work and are better for both the farmers and the land.

Bellay describes another agroecological practice that spread widely across East Africa – ‘push-pull’. This method manages pests through selective intercropping with important fodder species and wild grass relatives, in which pests are simultaneously repelled – or pushed – from the system by one or more plants and are attracted to – or pulled – toward ‘decoy’ plants, thereby protecting the crop from infestation. Push-pull has proved to be very effective at biologically controlling pest populations in fields, reducing significantly the need for pesticides, increasing production, especially for maize, increasing income to farmers, increasing fodder for animals and, due to that, increasing milk production, and improving soil fertility.

By 2015, the number of farmers using this practice increased to 95,000. One of the bedrocks of success is the incorporation of cutting edge science through the collaboration of the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and the Rothamsted Research Station (UK) who have worked in East Africa for the last 15 years on an effective ecologically-based pest management solution for stem borers and striga.

But agroecology should not just be regarded as something for the Global South. Food First Executive Director Eric Holtz-Gimenez argues that it offers concrete, practical solutions to many of the world’s problems that move beyond (but which are linked to) agriculture. In doing so, it challenges – and offers alternatives to – prevailing moribund doctrinaire economics and the outright plunder of neoliberalism.

The scaling up of agroecology can tackle hunger, malnutrition, environmental degradation and climate change. By creating securely paid labour-intensive agricultural work, it can also address the interrelated links between labour offshoring by rich countries and the removal of rural populations elsewhere who end up in sweat shops to carry out the outsourced jobs.

Thick legitimacy

Various official reports have argued that to feed the hungry and secure food security in low income regions we need to support small farms and diverse, sustainable agroecological methods of farming and strengthen local food economies (see this report on the right to food and this (IAASTD) peer-reviewed report).

Olivier De Schutter says:

To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available. Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live, especially in unfavorable environments.

De Schutter indicates that small-scale farmers can double food production within 10 years in critical regions by using ecological methods. Based on an extensive review of scientific literature, the study he was involved in calls for a fundamental shift towards agroecology as a way to boost food production and improve the situation of the poorest. The report calls on states to implement a fundamental shift towards agroecology.

The success stories of agroecology indicate what can be achieved when development is placed firmly in the hands of farmers themselves. The expansion of agroecological practices can generate a rapid, fair and inclusive development that can be sustained for future generations. This model entails policies and activities that come from the bottom-up and which the state can then invest in and facilitate.

A decentralised system of food production with access to local markets supported by proper roads, storage and other infrastructure must take priority ahead of exploitative international markets dominated and designed to serve the needs of global capital.

It has long been established that small farms are per area more productive than large-scale industrial farms and create a more resilient, diverse food system. If policy makers were to prioritise this sector and promote agroecology to the extent Green Revolution practices and technology have been pushed, many of the problems surrounding poverty, unemployment and urban migration could be solved.

However, the biggest challenge for upscaling agroecology lies in the push by big business for commercial agriculture and attempts to marginalise agroecology. Unfortunately, global agribusiness concerns have secured the status of ‘thick legitimacy’ based on an intricate web of processes successfully spun in the scientific, policy and political arenas. This allows its model to persist and appear normal and necessary. This perceived legitimacy derives from the lobbying, financial clout and political power of agribusiness conglomerates which set out to capture or shape government departments, public institutions, the agricultural research paradigm, international trade and the cultural narrative concerning food and agriculture.

Critics of this system are immediately attacked for being anti-science, for forwarding unrealistic alternatives, for endangering the lives of billions who would starve to death and for being driven by ideology and emotion. Strategically placed industry mouthpieces like Jon Entine, Owen Paterson and Henry Miller perpetuate such messages in the media and influential industry-backed bodies like the Science Media Centre feed journalists with agribusiness spin.

When some people hurl such accusations, it might not just simply be spin: it may be the case that some actually believe critics are guilty of such things. If that is so, it is a result of their failure to think along the lines Zhang outlines: they are limited by their own reductionist logic and worldview.

The worrying thing is that too many policy makers may also be blinded by such a view because so many governments are working hand-in-glove with the industry to promote its technology over the heads of the public. A network of scientific bodies and regulatory agencies that supposedly serve the public interest have been subverted by the presence of key figures with industry links, while the powerful industry lobby hold sway over bureaucrats and politicians.

The World Bank is pushing a corporate-led industrial model of agriculture via its ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ strategy and corporations are given free rein to write policies. Monsanto played a key part in drafting the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights to create seed monopolies and the global food processing industry had a leading role in shaping the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (see this). From Codex, the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture aimed at restructuring Indian agriculture to the currently on-hold US-EU trade deal (TTIP), the powerful agribusiness lobby has secured privileged access to policy makers to ensure its model of agriculture prevails.

The ultimate coup d’etat by the transnational agribusiness conglomerates is that government officials, scientists and journalists take as given that profit-driven Fortune 500 corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. These corporations have convinced so many that they have the ultimate legitimacy to own and control what is essentially humanity’s common wealth. There is the premise that water, food, soil, land and agriculture should be handed over to powerful transnational corporations to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity.

Corporations which promote industrial agriculture have embedded themselves deeply within the policy-making machinery on both national and international levels. From the overall narrative that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world to providing lavish research grants and the capture of important policy-making institutions, global agribusiness has secured a perceived thick legitimacy within policymakers’ mindsets and mainstream discourse.

It gets to the point whereby if you – as a key figure in a public body – believe that your institution and society’s main institutions and the influence of corporations on them are basically sound, then you are probably not going to challenge or question the overall status quo. Once you have indicated an allegiance to these institutions and corporate power, it is ‘irrational’ to oppose their policies, the very ones you are there to promote. And it becomes quite ‘natural’ to oppose any research findings, analyses or questions which question the system and by implication your role in it.

But how long can the ‘legitimacy’ of a system persist given that it merely produces bad food, creates food deficit regions globally,  destroys health, impoverishes small farms, leads to less diverse diets and less nutritious food, is less productive than small farms, creates water scarcity, destroys soil and fuels/benefits from World Bank/WTO policies that create dependency and debt.

The more that agroecology is seen to work, the more policy makers see the failings of the current system and the more they become open to holistic approaches to agriculture – as practitioners and supporters of agroecology create their own thick legitimacy –  the more willing officials might be to give space to a model that has great potential to help deal with some of the world’s most pressing problems. It has happened to a certain extent in Ethiopia, for example. That is hopeful.

Of course, global agribusiness nor the system of capitalism it helps to uphold and benefits from are not going to disappear overnight and politicians (even governments) who oppose or challenge private capital tend to be replaced or subverted.

Powerful agribusiness corporations can only operate as they do because of a framework designed to allow them to capture governments and regulatory bodies, to use the WTO and bilateral trade deals to lever global influence, to profit on the back of US militarism (Iraq) and destabilisations (Ukraine), to exert undue influence over science and politics and to rake in enormous profits.

The World Bank’s ongoing commitment to global agribusiness and a wholly corrupt and rigged model of globalisation is a further recipe for plunder. Whether it involves Monsanto, Cargill or the type of corporate power grab of African agriculture that Bill Gates is helping to spearhead, private capital will continue to ensure this happens while hiding behind platitudes about ‘free trade’ and ‘development’.

Brazil and Indonesia are subsidising private corporations to effectively destroy the environment through their practices.  Canada and the UK are working with the GMO biotech sector to facilitate its needs. And India is facilitating the destruction of its agrarian base according to World Bank directives for the benefit of the likes of Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill.

If myths about the necessity for perpetuating the stranglehold of capitalism go unchallenged and real alternatives are not supported by mass movements across continents, agroecology will remain on the periphery.

The Corporate Media’s World of Illusions

For several years now, I have been writing these regular blog posts with one end in mind: to help open a door for readers and encourage them to step through. I select issues, usually those that dominate western media coverage and represent a consensus that we might term the Great Western Narrative, and try to show how this narrative has been constructed not to inform and enlighten but to conceal and deceive.

It is not that I and the many other bloggers doing this are cleverer than everyone else. We have simply had a chance – an earlier one – to step through that door ourselves, because of a jarring life experience that the Great Western Narrative could not explain, or because someone held the door open for us, or more usually because of a combination of the two.

My personal awakening

It is easy for me to identify my own process of awakening. It began with the dislocation of moving to Nazareth and being immersed in someone else’s narrative – that of the Palestinians. Then, I faced for the first time in my career as a journalist an impenetrable wall of opposition, even from my own former newspaper, the Guardian, as I tried to explain that counter-narrative. In fact, I found that the Palestinian narrative was invariably misrepresented as anti-semitism. These were dark years of disillusionment and the loss of a professional and ideological compass.

It is in such a moment of bereavement – deprived of the consolation of the Great Western Narrative – that one searches for a door to enlightenment. It can be a long journey to find it. My door appeared while reading about the Propaganda Model of Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky in their book Manufacturing Consent, as well as stumbling across a website called Media Lens. They helped me understand that the narrative problem was not restricted to Israel-Palestine, but was a much more general one.

In fact, the Great Western Narrative has been developed and refined over centuries to preserve a tiny elite’s privileges and expand its power. The role of journalists like me was to keep feeding these illusions to readers so they would remain fearful, passive and deferential to this elite. It is not that journalists lie – or at least, not most of them – it is that they are as deeply wedded to the Great Western Narrative as anyone else.

Once one is prepared to step through the door, to discard the old script, the new narrative takes its hold because it is so helpful. It actually explains the world, and human behaviour, as it is experienced everywhere. It has genuine predictive power. And most importantly, it reveals a truth understood by all figures of spiritual and intellectual enlightenment throughout human history: that human beings are equally human, whether they are Americans, Europeans, Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Russians, Venezuelans, or Iranians, whether they are North or South Koreans.

The term “human” is not meant simply as a description of us as a species, or a biological entity. It also describes who we are, what drives us, what makes us cry, what makes us laugh, what makes us angry, what elicits compassion. And the truth is that we are all essentially the same. The same things upset us, the same things amuse us. The same things inspire us, the same things outrage us. We want dignity, freedom, safety for us and our loved ones, and appreciate beauty and truth. We fear oppression, injustice, insecurity.

Hierarchies of virtue

The Great Western Narrative tells us something entirely different. It divides the world into a hierarchy of “peoples”, with different, even conflicting, virtues and vices. Some humans – westerners – are more rational, more caring, more thoughtful, more fully human. And other humans – the rest – are more primitive, more emotional, more violent. In this system of classification, we are the Good Guys and they are the Bad Guys; we are Order, they are Chaos. They need a firm hand from us to control them and stop them doing too much damage to themselves and to our civilised part of the world.

The Great Western Narrative isn’t really new. It is simply a reformulation for a different era of the “white man’s burden”.

The reason the Great Western Narrative persists is because it is useful – to those in power. Humans may be essentially the same in our natures and in our drives, but we are very definitely divided by power and its modern corollary, wealth. A tiny number have it, and the vast majority do not. The Great Western Narrative is there to perpetuate power by legitimising it, by making its unbalanced and unjust distribution seem natural and immutable.

Once kings told us they had blue blood and a divine right. Today, we need a different kind of narrative, but one designed to achieve the same end. Just like kings and barons once owned everything, now a tiny corporate elite rule the world. They have to justify that to themselves and to us.

The king and the barons had their courtiers, the clergy and a wider circle of hanger-ons who most of the time benefited enough from the system not to disrupt it. The role of the clergy in particular was to sanction the gross imbalance of power, to argue that it was God’s will. Today, the media function like the clergy of old. God may be dead, as Nietzsche observed, but the corporate media has taken his place. In the unquestioned premises of every article, we are told who should rule and who should be ruled, who are the Good Guys and who the Bad.

To make this system more palatable, more democratic, to make us believe that there is equality of opportunity and that wealth trickles down, the western elite has had to allow a large domestic middle class to emerge, like the courtiers of old. The spoils from the rape and pillage of distant societies are shared sparingly with this class. Their consciences are rarely pricked because the corporate media’s function is to ensure they know little about the rest of the world and care even less, believing those foreigners to be less deserving, less human.

Nothing more than statistics

If western readers, for example, understood that a Palestinian is no different from an Israeli – apart from in opportunities and income – then they might feel sympathy for a grieving Palestinian family just as they do for an Israeli one. But the Great Western Narrative is there precisely to ensure readers won’t feel the same about the two cases. That is why Palestinian deaths are invariably reported as nothing more than statistics – because Palestinians die in large numbers, like cattle in an abbatoir. Israelis, by contrast, die much more rarely and their deaths are recorded individually. They are dignified with names, life stories and pictures.

Even when a moment arrives to single out a Palestinian from the mass of death, western corporate media show great reluctance to do so. Just take the case of Razan al-Najjar, the 21-year-old Palestinian medic executed by a sniper’s bullet as she tended to the unarmed demonstrators regularly being killed and wounded at the perimeter fence encaging them in the prison of Gaza.

Gaza is slowly sinking into the sea, but who cares? Those primitive Palestinians live like cavemen amid the rubble of homes Israel has repeatedly destroyed. Their women are hijabbed and they have too many children. They don’t look like us, they don’t speak like us. Doubtless, they don’t think like us. They cannot be us.

Even those young Palestinian demonstrators, with their faces covered with strange scarves, launching flaming kites and throwing the odd stone, look different. Can we imagine ourselves standing in front of a sniper to protest like that? Of course not. We cannot imagine what it is like to live in one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, in an open-air prison over which another nation serves as jailers, in which the water is becoming as saline as seawater and there is no electricity. So how can we put ourselves in the demonstrators’ shoes, how can we empathise? It is so much easier to imagine being the powerful sniper protecting the “border” and his home.

But al-Najjar undermined all that. A young, pretty woman with a beautiful smile – she could be our daughter. Selflessly tending to the wounded, thinking not of herself but of the welfare of others, we would love her to be our daughter. We can identify with her much better than the sniper. She is a door beckoning us to step through and see the world from a different location, from a different perspective.

Which is why the corporate media has not invested al-Najjar’s death with the emotional, empathetic coverage it would if a pretty young Israeli female medic had been gunned down by a Palestinian. It was that double standard in his own newspaper that outraged cartoonist Steve Bell last week as he noted in correspondence with the editor that the Guardian had barely covered the story of al-Najjar. When he tried to redress the imbalance, his own cartoon of her death was censored.

The Guardian’s editors argued that his cartoon was anti-semitic. But the deeper truth is that al-Najjar is dangerous. Because once you step through that door, you are unlikely to come back, you are unlikely ever again to believe the Great Western Narrative.

The true message of Israel

Israel-Palestine offered me that door, just as it has so many others. It is not, as Israel’s apologists – and the upholders of the Great Western Narrative – will tell you, because so many westerners are anti-semitic. It is because Israel lies in a grey zone of experience, one that is readily available to western tourists but can at the same time give them a chance to glimpse the dark underbelly of western privilege.

Israel is enthusiastically embraced by the Great Western Narrative: it is supposedly a liberal democracy, many of its inhabitants dress and sound like us, its cities look rather like our cities, its TV shows are given a makeover and become hits on our TV screens. If you don’t stand too close, Israel could be Britain or the US.

But there are clues galore, for those who bother to look a little beyond superficialities, that there is something profoundly amiss about Israel. A few miles from their homes, the sons of those western-looking families regularly train their gun sights on unarmed demonstrators, on children, on women, on journalists, on medics, and pull the trigger with barely any compunction.

They do so not because they are monsters, but because they are exactly like us, exactly like our sons. That is the true horror of Israel. We have a chance to see ourselves in Israel – because it is not exactly us, because most of us have some distance from it, because it still looks a little strange despite the best efforts of the western media, and because its own local narrative – justifying its actions – is even more extreme, even more entitled, even more racist towards the Other than the Great Western Narrative.

It is that shocking realisation – that we could be Israelis, that we could be those snipers – that prevents many from stepping through the door to see what is on the other side. Or, more troubling still, halting at the threshold of the doorway, glimpsing a partial truth without understanding its full ramifications.

Equally human

To explain what I mean, let us digress for a moment and consider the allegorical film The Matrix.

Neo, the hero played by Keanu Reeves, starts to realise that the reality around him is not as solid as it once seemed. Things have become peculiar, inconsistent, inexplicable. He is shown the door to an entirely different reality with the help of a mentor, Morpheus. Neo discovers that in truth he exists in a dark world taken over by computer-generated life forms that feed off the consciousnesses of him and the rest of mankind. Until then, he had been living in a dream world created to pacify him and other humans as they are exploited for their energy.

Neo and a small band of others who have liberated themselves from this false consciousness cannot hope to defeat their opponents directly. They must wage war through the Matrix, a digital world in which the computer life-forms always triumph. It is only when Neo finally grasps that the Matrix is an illusion too – that these life forms he is battling are simply binary code – that he becomes strong enough to triumph.

Back to us. On the other side of the door lies a truth that humans are all equally human. From this vantage point, it is possible to understand that a privileged westerner or Israeli would react exactly like a Palestinian if he had to endure the experiences of living in Gaza. From this location, it is possible to understand that my son might pull the trigger, just like most Israeli teenagers do, if he had been bombarded, like them, with brainwashing all his life from his media, school and politicians depicting Palestinians as primitive and violent.

From the other side of the door, Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Bashar al-Assad look as irrational, or rational, and as criminal as George W Bush, Tony Blair, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump. In fact, they look less criminal – not because they are better humans than their western counterparts, but simply because they enjoy less power and face more constraints in trying to impose their will. The issue is not about who is better. They are the same as humans. It is about who has more force at their disposal – and more will to use it – to perpetuate their power.

Enslaved to power

The conclusion from this is that the way to change our societies fundamentally for the better depends on a change in our consciousness, on liberating ourselves from false perspective, on stepping through the door.

If we remain in a world of illusions, of false hierarchies of virtue, oblivious to the role of power, we will continue to be like Neo living in his dream world.

And if we step only to the threshold, glimpsing the shadows on the the other side, we will be equally in thrall to illusions, just as Neo took his battle back into the Matrix, fighting ghosts in the machine as though they were flesh-and-blood enemies.

This danger can be seen in the case of Israel-Palestine too, where the horrors that Israel inflicts on Palestinians justifiably radicalise many observers. But not all step fully through the door. They linger at the threshold, angry with Israel and Israelis, and beatifying Palestinians as nothing more than victims. Some manage to find false consolation again, this time accepting ready-made conspiracies that “the Jews” are pulling the levers that make such outrages – and western inaction – possible.

To stand in the doorway is as bad as refusing to step through. The illusions are as dangerous, the false consciousness as profound.

Our planet and our children’s futures depend on us liberating ourselves, seeing the ghosts in the machine for what they truly are. We have to begin rebuilding our societies on the basis that we share a common humanity. That other humans are not our enemies, only those who wish to enslave us to their power.

The Empire Strikes Back Leaving Indian Farmers in the Dirt

By 2050, if current policies continue, India could have numerous mega-cities with up to 30-40 million inhabitants and just two to three hundred million people (perhaps 15-20% of the population) left in an emptied-out countryside. Given current trends in the job market, it could mean tens of millions of city-based rural migrants without much work: victims of the ill thought out policies we currently see being pushed through.

In the book The Invention of Capitalism Michael Perelmen lays bare the iron fist which whipped the English peasantry into a workforce willing to accept factory wage labour. English peasants didn’t want to give up their rural communal lifestyle, leave their land and go work for below-subsistence wages in dangerous factories being set up by a new class of industrial capitalists. A series of laws and measures served to force peasants off the land and deprive them of their productive means.

In India, what we are currently witnessing is a headlong rush to facilitate (foreign) capital and the running down of the existing system of agriculture. While India’s farmers suffer as the sector is deliberately being made financially non-viable for them, we see state-of-the-art airports, IT parks and highways being built to allow the corporate world to spread its tentacles everywhere to the point that every aspect of culture, infrastructure and economic activity is commodified for corporate profit.

GDP growth – the holy grail of ‘development’ which stems from an outmoded thinking and has done so much damage to the environment – has been fuelled on the back of cheap food and the subsequent impoverishment of farmers. The gap between their income and the rest of the population, including public sector workers, has widened enormously to the point where rural India consumes less calories than it did 40 years ago. Meanwhile, corporations receive massive handouts and interest-free loans but have failed to spur job creation; yet any proposed financial injections (or loan waivers) for agriculture (which would pale into insignificance compared to corporate subsidies/written off loans) are depicted as a drain on the economy.

Let them eat dirt

Although farmers continue to produce bumper harvests, they are being put out of business by underinvestment, the lack of a secure income and support prices, exposure to artificially cheap imports, neoliberal reforms, profiteering companies which supply seeds and proprietary inputs and the overall impacts of the corporate-backed Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture.

For all the talk of ‘helping’ farmers, the plan is to displace the existing system of livelihood-sustaining smallholder agriculture with one dominated from seed to plate by transnational agribusiness and retail concerns. To facilitate this, independent cultivators are being bankrupted, land is to be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation and those farmers that are left will be absorbed into corporate supply chains and squeezed as they work on contracts, the terms of which will be dictated by large agribusiness and chain retailers.

Some like to call this adopting a market-based approach: a system in the ‘market-driven’ US that receives a taxpayer five-year farm bill subsidy of around $500 billion.

This is clearly a con-trick and not the way forward:

If government can be convinced or forced by the power of the global grassroots to reduce and eventually cut off these $500 billion in annual subsidies to industrial agriculture and Big Food, and instead encourage and reward family farmers and ranchers who improve soil health, biodiversity, animal health and food quality, we can simultaneously reduce global poverty, improve public health, and restore climate stability.

Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association

Well over 300,000 Indian farmers have taken their lives since 1997 and millions more are experiencing economic distress. Over 6,000 are leaving the sector each day. And yet the corporate-controlled type of agriculture being imposed and/or envisaged only leads to degraded soil, less diverse and nutrient-deficient diets, polluted water, water shortages and poor health.

Although various high-level reports (as I outlined previously) have concluded that policies need to support more resilient, diverse, sustainable (smallholder) agroecological methods of farming and develop decentralised, locally-based food economies, the trend continues to move in the opposite direction towards industrial-scale agriculture and centralised chains for the benefit of Monsanto, Cargill, Bayer and other transnational players.

The plan is to shift hundreds of millions from the countryside and into the cities to serve as a cheap army of labour for offshored foreign companies, mirroring what China has become: a US colonial outpost for manufacturing that has boosted corporate profits at the expense of US jobs. In India, rural migrants are to become the new ‘serfs’ of the informal services and construction sectors or to be trained for low-level industrial jobs.

Even here, however, India might have missed the boat as jobless ‘growth’ seems to be on the horizon and the effects of automation and artificial intelligence are eradicating the need for human labour across many sectors.

If we look at the various western powers, to whom many of India’s top politicians look to for inspiration, their paths to economic prosperity occurred on the back of colonialism and imperialist intent. Do India’s politicians think this mindset has disappeared? The same mentality now lurks behind the neoliberal globalisation agenda hidden behind terms and policies like ‘foreign direct investment’, ‘ease of doing business’, making India ‘business friendly’ or ‘enabling the business of agriculture’.

Behind the World Bank/corporate-inspired rhetoric that is driving the overhaul of Indian agriculture is a brand of corporate imperialism which is turning out to be no less brutal for Indian farmers than early industrial capitalism was in England for its peasantry. The East India company might have gone, but today the bidding of elite interests (private capital) is being carried out by compliant politicians, the World Bank, the WTO and lop-sided, egregious back-room trade deals.

And all for a future of what – vast swathes of chemically-drenched monocrop fields containing genetically modified plants or soils rapidly turning into a chemical cocktail of proprietary biocides, dirt and dust?

Thanks to the model of agriculture being supported and advocated, India will edge nearer to having more drought vulnerable  regions, even more degraded soils (which is already a major problem) as well as spiralling rates of illness throughout the population due to bad diets, denutrified food, agrochemical poisoning and processed food laced with toxic ingredients.

Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and other transnational corporations will decide on what is to be eaten and how it is to be produced and processed. A corporate takeover spearheaded by companies whose character is clear for all to see:

The Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture with agribusinesses like Monsanto, WalMart, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and ITC in its Board made efforts to turn the direction of agricultural research and policy in such a manner as to cater their demands for profit maximisation. Companies like Monsanto during the Vietnam War produced tonnes and tonnes of ‘Agent Orange’ unmindful of its consequences for Vietnamese people as it raked in super profits and that character remains.

Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) could accelerate this process. A trade deal now being negotiated by 16 countries across Asia-Pacific, the RCEP would cover half the world’s population, including 420 million small family farms that produce 80 percent of the region’s food.

RCEP is expected to create powerful rights and lucrative business opportunities for food and agriculture corporations under the guise of boosting trade and investment. It could allow foreign corporations to buy up land, thereby driving up land prices, fuelling speculation and pushing small farmers out. If RCEP is adopted, it could intensify the great land grab that has been taking place in India. It could also lead to further corporate control over seeds.

The dairy trade could be opened up to unfair competition from subsidised imports under RCEP. According to RS Sodhi, managing director of the country’s largest milk cooperative, Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation, the type of deals being pushed under the banner of ‘free trade’ will rob the vibrant domestic dairy industry and the millions of farmers that are connected to it from access to a growing market in India.

India’s dairy sector is mostly self-sufficient and employs about 100 million people, the majority of whom are women. The sector is a lifeline for small and marginal farmers, landless poor and a significant source of income for millions of families. Up until now they have been the backbone of India’s dairy sector. New Zealand’s dairy giant Fonterra (the world’s biggest dairy exporter) is looking to RCEP as a way in to India’s massive dairy market. RCEP would give the company important leverage to open up India’s protected market. Many fear that Indian dairy farmers will either have to work for Fonterra or go out of business.

In effect, RCEP would dovetail with existing trends that are facilitating the growth of chemical-intensive farming and corporate-controlled supply chains, whereby farmers can easily become enslaved or small farmers simply get by-passed by powerful corporations demanding industrial-scale production.

RCEP also demands the liberalisation of the retail sector and is attempting to facilitate the entry of foreign agroprocessing and retail giants, which could threaten the livelihoods of small retailers and street vendors. The entry of retail giants would be bad for farmers because they may eventually monopolise the whole food chain from procurement to distribution. In effect, farmers will be at the mercy of such large companies as they will have the power to set prices and will not be interested in buying small quantities from small producers.

Corporate concentration will deprive hundreds of millions of their livelihoods. RCEP is a recipe for undermining biodiverse food production, food sovereignty and food security for the mass of the population. It will also massive job losses in a country like India, which has no capacity for absorbing such losses into its workforce.

Current policies seek to tie agriculture to an environmentally destructive, moribund system of capitalism. RCEP would represent a further shift away from real, practical solutions to India’s agrarian crisis based on sustainable agriculture and which place the small farmer at the centre of the development paradigm. Once you begin to consolidate land, displace the small-scale farm and amalgamate land into larger parcels for industrial-scale agriculture, you implement a more inefficient model of agriculture and undermine food security.

In a future India, people might eventually ask, why did India let this happen when far-sighted and sustained policy initiatives based on self-sufficiency, food sovereignty, smallholder-based regenerative agriculture and agroecology could have been implemented?

They might also ask why was the countryside emptied out and more effort not put into developing rural infrastructure and investing in village-based industries and smallholder farmers?

And not least of all, they might ask why did policy makers buy into neoliberal dogma, the only role of which is to seek to justify a corporate takeover?

Ultimately, it is a case of asking does India want – does any country want – industrial-scale agriculture and all it entails: denutrified food, increasingly monolithic diets, the massive use of agrochemicals, food contaminated by hormones, steroids, antibiotics and a range of chemical additives, spiralling rates of ill health, degraded soil, contaminated and depleted water supplies and a cartel of seed, chemical and food processing companies that seek to secure control over the global food production and supply chain to provide people with low-grade but highly profitable food products.

Solutions to India’s agrarian crisis (and indeed the world’s) are available, not least the scaling up of agroecological approaches which would be a lynchpin of rural development. However, in India (as elsewhere) successive administrations have bowed to and continue to acquiesce to grip of global capitalism and have demonstrated an unflinching allegiance to corporate power. It is unlikely that either the Congress or BJP, wedded as they are to neoliberalism, will ever undertake initiatives for seriously developing agroecological alternatives:

But even if for argument’s sake… the present governance structure were to embrace agroecological alternatives, the problem of extreme inequality that results from the structural logic of capitalism… would require mitigation. Without tempering the ravages of the market, hunger will continue, as will the disempowerment of small producers. Indeed, an agroecological alternative would simply be co-opted by capitalist relations of production and distribution, with community-based initiatives becoming mere decentralised production points within a supply-chain logic that centralises power and profits in the hands of seed corporations.

Milind Wani

The Ideal of a Free Media Died Long Ago

Should the media include positive editorial content secretly paid for by major corporations, as London’s Evening Standard newspaper has begun doing, according to new revelations?

Most of us instantly recoil from any blurring between editorial and advertising in the media. How would we know if what was reported was factual, truthful and newsworthy or there simply as public relations spin? How could we trust anything we read?

But here’s a seditious idea. Would that be such a bad thing? Maybe it would better if we were far more wary of the corporate media and began to think of it chiefly as a sales platform – selling us an ideology harmful to our individual welfare and that of our societies.

But before we continue with that line of thought, let’s first recap.

James Cusick has an important article on the Open Democracy website about a £3 million agreement between the Evening Standard and six major corporations, including Google and Uber, to let them buy favourable news coverage and commentary. The project, called London 2020, offers these corporations the chance to covertly influence the paper’s nearly 1 million readers in London.

Corporate cheerleaders

The idea is the brainchild of George Osborne, the paper’s editor. It is perhaps not surprising that it has been left to Osborne to clear the path for newspapers to become more overt cheerleaders for major corporations.

For six years prior to 2016, he was chancellor of the exchequer (Britain’s finance minister) for Conservative governments overseeing strict economic austerity, a policy designed to bleed the British public of money that was used instead to revive the private banking sector and major corporations.

Additionally, Osborne has his finger deep in various lucrative corporate pies. In a blatant conflict of interest since he became the Standard’s editor last year – and one that predates his offer to sell favourable coverage to these six corporations – he has a £650,000 contract to work one day a week for BlackRock, the world’s largest fund manager.

BlackRock, meanwhile, has a £500 million stake in Uber – the taxi-app company that is among the corporations that signed up to Osborne’s deal. Uber desperately needs an image makeover as it fights through the courts to keep its licence to operate in London.

What is good for big business is very good for George Osborne’s bank balance. Which is why Osborne’s commitment to real journalism comes a far second to his commitment to his pals in the City.

‘Public relations death’

Nonetheless, it would be foolish to imagine that this is really a battle between Osborne’s slash-and-burn economics and journalistic ethics.

First, we should remember that all corporate media have been blurring the line between editorial and advertising over the past two or three decades. In the past they called it “sponsored content” and advertorials. More recently it has been transformed into “native advertising” – a euphemism for media outlets prostituting themselves to large corporations. Osborne’s crime is simply that he is doing it more brashly and on a larger scale than his competitors.

Second, a senior executive in Starbucks, one of the corporations Osborne approached, says the firm rejected the deal for the following reason: “Buying positive news coverage is PR death… something you might do in Saudi Arabia, but not here. This wasn’t right for us.”

As the statement implies, Starbucks are not averse to manipulating public perception of their activities to counter a poor image – in their case, because they and other corporations have rigged the UK system so that they pay hardly any tax. But the company was worried that Osborne’s plan might backfire. Presumably they suspected that this dishonest deal would eventually become public – as it indeed has – and would further dent their image. Or, to use their terminology, it risked becoming “PR death”.

As one should expect, the only consideration when corporations try to influence public opinion as they pursue their relentless battle to maximise profits is whether the effort will prove beneficial. Not whether such efforts are honest, or ethical, or in the public interest. Only whether they work – whether the public will think better of the company as it seeks to increase its profits, whatever the costs to the rest of society or the planet.

Invisible deal

In fact, far more sensible than the Evening Standard’s plan for each major corporation to make a one-off deal with a newspaper is for them all to have a permanent, collective and invisible deal with all media outlets – to promote a business environment that allows them to maximise their profits. And that is precisely the situation we already have.

It is not primarily because the media is dependent on advertising, though, of course, that helps to ensure the corporations get their way. What newspaper or commercial TV station is going to attack the very corporations they depend on for the bulk of their income. Attacking these corporations would be the media’s equivalent of shooting oneself in the foot.

But more significant still, the media are themselves corporations, no different from Google, Uber and Starbucks.

Jon O’Donnell, the commercial director of ESI Media, which publishes the Standard as well as the Independent newspaper, alludes to this in a statement cited by Open Democracy.

He says ESI is no longer simply providing advertising services but is now a “media business”, adding that the “strict divide between the so-called ‘church and state’ [editorial and advertising] was doing more harm than good.”

What Osborne and O’Donnell have done is make explicit what was until now largely veiled.

Shared ideology

The media aren’t just dependent on advertising from corporations. They are corporations – enormous ones. Today, six media corporations own 90 per cent of all US media. That destroys even the pretence of media choice and pluralism. But it signifies much more.

It ensures that these massive media corporations share the ideological assumptions of other major corporations, because all of them are driven by the same two considerations. First, to maximise their own profits whatever the external costs, including to the real world. And second, to maximise profits while minimising the damage to their carefully crafted public reputations for being ethical or caring companies pursuing the public good.

That means the core activity of media corporations is to act as the public relations arm for a turbo-charged neoliberal ideology that sanctions the pillage and plunder committed by all corporations – including media corporations – in the pursuit of endless “economic growth”.

The superficial differences between the various media outlets are there only to persuade us, readers and viewers, of yet another myth: that we have choice and control over the media, and that there is some kind of healthy debate taking place in our societies expressed through a supposed media “pluralism”.

The reality, however, is that our choice is between two wings of the corporate public relations industry: one advocating a confident corporate capitalism unapologetically pursuing activities that are destroying our societies and the planet, and another apparently committed to making minor adjustments to corporate capitalism to slow down – but not halt or reverse – the ongoing destruction.

Consumerism as panacea

Through adverts and editorial, all corporate media lobby relentlessly in favour of a mythical – and suicidal – endless “economic growth” and for an intensification of consumerism as a panacea for the very troubles inflicted by consumerism on our societies.

Regarding the most vital issues we face, there is already no distinction between the editorial and advertising sides of the media.

Lonely and depressed? Spend more time on your smart phone that isolated you from meaningful relationships and that bombards you daily with messages telling you that you will be happier if you improve yourself, or at least distract yourself, by acquiring more things.

Want to save the planet? Salve your conscience by ditching your old, polluting car and buy a greener, hybrid car. Soon you’ll need to trade that in for an electric model. Later you can scrap that one to buy a more efficient vehicle running on hydrogen, or maybe pixie dust. And while you’re pondering a greener lifestyle, maybe we can sell you a top-of-the-range bicycle and accessories.

Corporations are now so much in charge of our societies that our main political parties – whether nominally of the left or right – represent their interests above all else. It is no accident that the Evening Standard’s London 2020 campaign to promote these planet-destroying corporations as our allies was timed to coincide with the London mayoral election.

What better idea than to use the corporate media to sell us the idea that other profit-obssessed corporations are really there selflessly to help improve life in London. If the campaign is successful, those same rapacious corporations will have even more leverage over the winning mayor than they do over the present incumbent.

What is happening in London is occurring in every city, from New York and Los Angeles to Paris and Frankfurt. And it is being replicated on the national level. We will remain powerless over our lives as long as the corporations have power over our cities and countries – and our media.

So let Osborne sell the Evening Standard’s soul to the highest corporate bidder. In truth, the newspaper had no soul to begin with. It is time we ditched the Standard and the rest of the corporate media, and created new models of a pluralistic media that represents us, not billionaires.

I Went to Flagstaff for a Commencement

What is explained can be denied but what is felt cannot be forgotten.

Charles Bowden

What do you say, at age 61, as I am rubbernecking the constant superficial, seedy, consumer-caked world now as someone considered a major failure – a few dozens jobs, mostly sacked from, and a few dozen careers, and, I am slogging away at a homeless shelter trying to save myself from the constrictor of capitalism, that strangulating system that gets us all complicit in the crime, making us all little Eichmann’s in this murder incorporated killing, complicit in the hyper exploitation of man, woman, child, ecosystem?

Consumerism as a psychological wedge to allow for the synchronized event horizon of finance-government-surveillance-media-military to work on the masses as a suffocating fog pumped out across the globe by an elite bent on total dominance.

We can jump onto the global stage and see the battering truth:

Diagnosing the Empire with Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD)

Western culture is clearly obsessed with rules, guilt, submissiveness and punishment.

By now it is clear that the West is the least free society on Earth. In North America and Europe, almost everyone is under constant scrutiny: people are spied on, observed, their personal information is being continually extracted, and the surveillance cameras are used indiscriminately.

Life is synchronized and managed. There are hardly any surprises.

One can sleep with whomever he or she wishes (as long as it is done within the ‘allowed protocol’).

Homosexuality and bisexuality are allowed. But that is about all; that is how far ‘freedom’ usually stretches.
Rebellion is not only discouraged, it is fought against, brutally. For the tiniest misdemeanors or errors, people end up behind bars. As a result, the U.S. has more prisoners per capita than any other country on Earth, except the Seychelles.

And as a further result, almost all conversations, but especially public discourses, are now being controlled by so-called ‘political correctness’ and its variants.

But back to the culture of fear and punishment.

Look at the headlines of the Western newspapers. For example, New York Times from April 12. 2018: Punishment of Syria may be harsher this time.

We are so used to such perverse language used by the Empire that it hardly strikes us as twisted, bizarre, pathological.

It stinks of some sadomasochistic cartoon, or of a stereotypical image of an atrocious English teacher holding a ruler over a pupil’s extended hands, shouting, “Shall I?”

Carl Gustav Jung described Western culture, on several occasions, as a “pathology”. He did it particularly after WWII, but he mentioned that the West had been committing terrible crimes in all parts of the world, for centuries. That is most likely why the Western mainstream psychiatrists and psychologists have been glorifying the ego-centric and generally apolitical Sigmund Freud, while ignoring, even defaming, Carl Gustav Jung.

The reality is, though, most of the revolutionaries like myself in this cesspool of capitalism have to slog ahead in the belly of the beast, without the rarefied air of being an international journalist like Andre Vltchek. The reality is most of us know that when 11 million babies under age two die of treatable maladies each year, or when bodies are shot through and extremities are shattered by the sadism that is the Gestapo-Apartheid “state/religion” of Israel, we push through the fog of rapacious consumerism and consort with our deep empathy for our brothers and sisters under the thumb of despotic regimes like USA, Russia, Israel, China, India, et al.

Because, now, no matter the level of melanin in a collective people’s skin or the desperation of the people, the globe has been infected by a virus called Capitalism-Finance-Unfettered Exploitation.

Exploitation is a pretty tame word for what I am hinting at: destruction, annihilation, extinction. As is the case with me, a rant percolates from the bowels of the commonness of my life, the microcosm of traveling from point A to point B. What happens in Vegas happens in New York City. What unfolds in little town USA is unfolding in San Fran.

Whatever it is, here I was, back in Arizona, first Phoenix, the cancer, the cancer, and then up to Flagstaff, oh that place before white man invasion sacred healing cloud island peaks. Arizona, as I’ve written extensively, is where I cut my teeth as a small town newspaper reporter, learned directly the value of radical conservation, became a brother in arms for Chicanoism, tried my hand at diving and helping bring across refugees of the proxy wars of USA in Guatemala, etc.

I’ve written poetically about the place – here and there, and have inserted the value of those formative years into almost everything I’ve written, taught, done in my 48 years since coming to Arizona young, 13:

Wrestling the Blind, Chasing Apache Horses, and Unpacking the Vietnam War – (September 4th, 2013) or page 12, Cirque

But this most recent trip, a weekend, I went to celebrate my 22-year-old niece’s matriculation, with bachelor of science degree, from Northern Arizona University. The old days when I was young, 19, and a journalist, and then, activist, like quicksilver in my brain, taking over not only my senses, but memory. Many of us saw the writing on the wall 40 and 50 years ago – this barely inhabitable place (a place of migration for Papago and other indigenous people’s), with a blitzkrieg of outsiders plowing the desert and eventually corralling the Colorado River into brackish canals to feed the malls and mayhem of winter baseball leagues and out of control military complex tax cheats. Three state universities, and then this new cheater, University of Phoenix . . . headquarters for the bizarre U-Haul . . . dry mothball arenas for the USA’s killing flying machines. Odd as hell place, with the likes of Edward Abbey running amok. I hear now Noam Chomsky is visiting prof at U of A in Tucson.

Humans build their societies around consumption of fossil water long buried in the earth, and these societies, being based on temporary resources, face the problem of being temporary themselves.

— Charles Bowden, Killing Hidden Waters

I kind of think of Charles Bowden from time to time, who was a reporter and novelist living in Tucson and covering the Southwest and northern Mexico. When I go into the desert, after looking at some shell of a rag that we now call daily newspapers, I feel this guy’s haunting – now dead going on four years:

When he got a hold of a story, he wouldn’t let it go, said former Citizen copy editor Judy Carlock. He had a very generous heart and a lot of compassion … he didn’t mince words.

The way I was trained up, reporters went toward the story, just as firemen rush toward the fire. It is a duty.

He was compelled to work; he had to write … in vivid imagery and concrete detail, Carlock said. Every Monday morning, the (Citizen) city desk would come in to find a long, brilliant masterpiece they had to find room for in the paper.

He lived at full tilt, fueled on caffeine and nicotine, said Carlock. Bowden had stopped smoking about two years ago, Carroll said, and was lifting weights, working on that second wind in his life.

He was no saint, but he was true to himself, said Carlock. I think he secretly relished being thought of as a rogue.

This amazing ecosystem, with syncopated Native American tribes and amazing Mexican communities turned into a wheezing series of six-lane freeways and spiraling communities for the infirm, the emphysemic and the insane.

It’s really difficult to find a place to start.  Sedona and the vortices? Flagstaff, from one-horse town to bedroom (climatically cooler but fire prone) to Phoenix? The 365 days a year fire pit danger, as heat comes earlier, rain disappears quicker, and the landscape is peppered with suburbia’s faux Mexican-Italian-Spanish-Greek designs as the ubiquitous 20-mile caravans of cars and trucks push the hot tunnel of air which is Arizona?

As a former newspaperman, I am compelled to read the dwindling local news anywhere I go, even five and dime advertising things, or corny local monthlies, and so just a few minutes with the Arizona Republic show me where the mass delusion, mass magical thinking and mass ignorance get set in. But, compelling, the stories slugs or ledes:

• Border Patrol punk who murdered 16 year old for throwing rocks, and the jury convicting him of involuntary manslaughter gets hung

• Animal abuse claims against the Havasupal Tribe’s section of the Grand Canyon – you know, animal lovers saying the pack animals used to ferry the tourists into the Canyon are treated like shit (abused) . . . . oh those do-gooders, just how many of them are animal-free product users . . . how many of them know how every stitch of clothing, every chemical smeared in their lives, every product of the modern age are placed in their realm with millions of rats, mice, dogs, and apes murdered for that consumer entitlement . . . ?

• PK12 teachers on the march for wage increases, class size reductions, more counselors, more money for staff and support personnel . . . and yet many of these Arizona scallywags want them to eat shit

• Flagstaff keeping homeless people from living – camping – on public property through ordinances from hell

• A great female representative from the state wanting dreamer children – undocumented – out of the Copper State, more of the same Trump et al giving children the boot while Trump’s monster wife calls for no more bullying

• God in the classroom, a civics literacy bill, more report cards for schools (to fail them so the charter schools get more easy pickings), and this drive for charter (for- profit, hedge-fund lined) schools to take from the public coffers and teach absolute shit

• More gigantic housing developments planned in the Sonora desert without any water delivery plans, without any water!

• Raytheon Missile Systems breaks ground on an expansion of its Tucson facility – 2,000 more Little Eichmann’s added to the already large 10,000 workers designing, testing, manufacturing and delivering via Amazon dot Com killing systems to include Tomahawk missiles and this new Stormbreaker small diameter bomb

• Mexican-American female columnist for the Arizona Republic newspaper bashing the possibility of socialist former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador making it as president of Mexico . . . “he’s a Hugo Chavez-style authoritarian tropical messiah who would turn Mexico into another Venezuela”

• The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community building lavish baseball stadiums for professional teams like the Diamondbacks

• HBO plans to debut John McCain documentary on Memorial Day – “John McCain; For Whom the Bell Tolls”

• soda or sugar taxes outlawed in the state
• non-English contracts will be voided in all insurance transactions, and beyond

• Abortion patient questions are now mandatory

Oh the compounding blasphemy. If this were a thematic essay, well, here are the components:

• Wanton excess in the state, with brand new, freshly washed expensive SUV’s, power cars, pick-up trucks

• Endless strip mall after strip mall and faux Spanish colonial kitsch and after faux Hacienda kitsch which propels the dribbling consumerism of 24/7 Superstore Grand Openings

• Zero tribute to the peoples of the real Arizona – Chemehuevi, Chiricahua, Cocopa, or Xawitt Kwñchawaay, Dilzhe’e, Apache, Havasupai, or Havasuw `Baaja, Hopi, Hualapai, or Hwal `Baaja, Maricopa, or Piipaash, Mohave, or Hamakhava (also spelled Mojave), Navajo, or Diné, Southern Paiute, Akimel O’odham, formerly Pima, Quechan, or Yuma, San Carlos Apache, Nné – Coyotero, or Western Apaches, Tewa, Tohono O’odham, formerly Papago, Southern Ute, White Mountain Apache, Ndé – Coyotero or Western Apaches, Xalychidom, or Halchidhoma, Yaqui people, Yavapai, or Kwevkepaya, Wipukepa, Tolkepaya, and Yavepé (four separate groups), Zuni, or A:shiwi

• Redneck clashing with wimpy liberal clashing with snowbird clashing with old Mafia clashing with Hispanic-Latino/a clashing with senior citizen Trump lover clashing with new money clashing with the Raytheon mentality clashing with the endless cancer spur that is Arizona

• My old stomping grounds, now despoiled by in-ground pools, putrid man-made lakes, endless track homes like carcinoma, endless twisting cul-de-sacs where minds end up mushed up in mojito-ville

• Hatred, man, the Trump way, McCain way, Goldwater, putrid former Maricopa County Sheriff and Minutemen militias on the border, and the Gestapo Border Patrol and the rot which is a state in the union emblematic of red state loafers and the hard-working people like those teachers

• A college, NAU, broken by a president who cheats faculty and luxuriates in the money thrown her way and the attention the local yokels give her

• Students fighting this female NAU president Rita Cheng who wants cuts to all sorts of important programs (in the liberal arts) so she can court those wanton criminal corporations and alt-right Koch Brothers

• The graduation I went to was embarrassing, dead, nothing in the way of speakers, controlled by this president, and was ten times more lackluster than a Missouri Synod Lutheran Sunday meeting

• Peter Principle of incompetents rising, as in the case of Rita Cheng and thousands of movers and shakers (sic) that run the state

• The inarticulate middle and upper classes of society exemplified in Arizona

• A state with more sun per year with nary a solar panel in sight

• The rotten belief that infinite growth, infinite in-migration, infinite giveaways to the corporate leeches will lead to prosperity

• The Caucasian and other Whitey people’s insipid Trader Joe’s-Dutch Brothers-Bed, Bath and Beyond systematic lobotomizing of the masses

• Sprayed-on lawns and Astroturf backyards scattered around the desiccating real lawns throughout the entire Phoenix and Tucson metroplexes

• Daily reminder of the old adage of “who the fuck thought white people and their poodles settling in Arizona made any sense”

• Like anywhere else, Arizona has no worthy newspaper of note anymore, and the news is not to be seen in the light of day

I’ve always said, that one slice of life is a microcosm, that splice onto one of the big fat four-hour reels of 70 mm movie film depicting the universality in the absurdity of being Homo Sapiens under the thumb of money changers, militaries and grand exploiters. Example: One shit-hole sugar cane fucker and his sibling (Fanjul Brothers) and his fucking family destroying the lives of thousands of slaves, upsetting the natural world, and sending the sweet sting of death to millions. One fucking family owning billions of dollars and billions of people and draining the Everglades. Something along those lines – just look at history of rubber, gold, oil, wood, fruit, minerals, raw labor, animals.

This arithmetic is as clear as the day is long, in a world where this time, the so-called now time, is bereft of no logic, no ethics, no depth of knowledge, no truth except the rubbery huckster kind. While NAU had zero commencement speakers for all five graduation sequences, we now have to read about a world of Rex Tillerson — that son of a bitch lying, thieving, fossil fuel thug — now at a graduation for a military institute (what the fuck are we still living in a world of military academies – sic).

You can’t make this shit up in a work of fiction:

In a commencement speech at Virginia Military Institute, the camera-shy former secretary of state gave his most public remarks since President Donald Trump ousted him from the White House in March.

“As I reflect upon the state of American democracy,” he told the Class of 2018, “I observe a growing crisis in ethics and integrity.”

Tillerson’s emphasis on integrity echoed his parting words to colleagues at the State Department in March. Then he went even further:

“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.”

Tillerson’s time in Trump administration was marked by tension. He reportedly called the president a “moron” eight months before he was fired and replaced by then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

But the oil industry veteran has yet to directly criticize Trump. His speech, which began with a discussion on the globalized economy and stressed “the value of friends and allies,” is the closest he has come to attacking Trump’s rhetoric and “America First” policy.

This from the moronic Huffington Post. Alternative realities, sure, Mister Exxon. The reality of propping up dictators, of hiring murderers to take over land, of stealing oil from any number of countries, and the complete environmental despoilment created by the great Exxon-Shell-Chevron-You-Name-It soul and soil eating machine. Imagine, this guy’s a thug, Tillerson, who has no concept of realities, except his thuggery, and a billionaire mentality. Yeah, Exxon and the alternative reality of climate change and the bullshit destruction of the earth from fossil fuel burning. What great record this keynote speaker Tillerson has, and, in the end, he’s as ballless as the lot of the millionaires\billionaires, afraid to criticize the deviant, stupid and reckless Trump.

Where do these people come from? Which DNA-warped womb do they exit from? Which felonious family raised them? Which two-bit schools educated them? Which insane people hire them and then promote them?

A two-day trip back to Arizona is like a two-year LSD trip, floating around with mushrooms on the tongue daily, as bottles of mescal run through the veins. I am telling you, when you get out of your routine – I am a social worker in a veterans’ homeless shelter, where the word “chaos” describes the totality of my time there, daily – and this rushing hot wave of air sucks the oxygen from the lungs for a minute or two. Arizona is California is Oregon is Washington . . . .

And exactly what is the US of A, with so much junk, so much materialistic droning, and yet, poverty is growing, big time, and the fear of the future in terms of no one achieving affordable housing and clean public transportation and free education and decent jobs is like us all whistling as we walk past the graveyard which is Western Capitalism.

Arizona, like any other state, is defined by the kleptomaniacs in government, on boards, in corporations and in the political class. Arizona is defined by a schizophrenia of faux opulence and real indebtedness and our fellow citizens struggling, dying, really, in a world that is upside down when it comes to clean air, clean water, real medicine, and affordable life.

Arizona is the mix of Eastern seaboard accents and southern twangs and amazingly mean people who are in it for themselves, for their backyard in-ground pools, for the 6,000 square foot Barcelona- style triple-decker home. We are talking about leathery skin from all the sun and leathery pools of empathy in the hearts and minds of most Arizonans.

Yet, here I am, 61, wishing my niece good tidings, as she embarks on the journey of medical school applications, and then, what? What world is it we have to give or anoint our children with? I am flabbergasted at the stupidity of the NAU graduation, the bloodlessness of the speakers, the lack of verve, the paucity of an event that for many has cost a pretty penny in debt for parents and children alike.

I end with 2011 commencement speech at Olympia’s Evergreen State College, Angela Davis:

Commencement speakers frequently assume that their role is to encourage graduates to go out and conquer the world. The task I have set for myself is much more modest. I want to urge you to be able to retrieve and sort through and rethink and preserve memories of your time here, which may very well turn out to be the most important period of your lives. Like the philosopher Walter Benjamin, I emphasize the past as the key to your future.

And so as you move on, some of you will go to graduate school, right? Some of you will find jobs. Unfortunately, some of you may not find jobs. Some of you will make families, some of you will engage in activism, some you will be involved in cultural work, and there are all kinds of permutations and combinations of all of these. But I would like you to periodically stop and reflect about the extent to which your lives were radically transformed by your experiences here. And I hope that you will have courage to draw upon the education you have received here from your most challenging professors, as you try to imagine more equitable ways of inhabiting all of our worlds. If you continue to think and act in the tradition of your college you will respect all of the inhabitants of our environments, and not simply assume that the environment must be preserved for the sake of future human generations, but rather for all the future generations of plant life, future generations of all animal life.

How do we extricate ourselves from enduring hierarchies, class, race, sexual, religious, geopolitical? This question, I think, is the question that needs to be posed. Posing that question is the mark of educated human beings. So I might then ask you to think about education as the practice of freedom. Education is the practice of freedom. And so freedom becomes, not an imagined condition in the future, not the set of achievements that will fulfill some desire, but rather an unrelenting, unending, collective effort to reconstruct our lives, our ways of relating to each other, our communities, and our futures. Congratulations to The Evergreen State College class of 2011.

Crib Notes on Late Capitalism

Gordon Gekko, the fictitious corporate raider so memorably personified by Michael Douglas in Wall Street, lectured an assemblage of investors and flaccid board members with this eye-opening burst of insight:

The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

Gekko cut to the core of capitalism. He unclothed its essence, he upvoted its pseudo-scientific rationale, and he recognized its dominion over America. We should know by now, all these years and a Great Recession later, that sociopathic late capitalism reduces all morality to a single ethic: increase profits. At any cost. By any means necessary. And always as at a faster pace with fewer hands involved in the assembly, one day to be as seamlessly automated as it is amoral. Even when a throng of angry workers rise up and startle the bourgeoisie from its dogmatic slumber, the subsequent concessions are often piecemeal and temporary. As soon as they are implemented, the animated masses slip back into their consumer coma, and a cadre of capitalist purists, furiously underlining quotes in their laissez faire bibles, begin a massively financed rollback. Without round-the-clock vigilance by a perpetually agitated electorate, the restoration of unchecked plunder seems inevitable. Today that process of unchecked plunder is in full swing. It feels like late capitalism, an exhausted time when the rhetorical salves that once hid the gruesome core of exploitation, have lost their power, revealed as empty platitudes. Late capitalism is perhaps an era unfettered by regulatory regimes or unified labor, in which manufacturing has fled abroad, financialization is pre-eminent, bureaucracies enable blame-shifting and abdication of responsibility at the highest levels, where personal finances are credit-fueled, debt deflation cannibalizes income, and there is no sacred ground that is not ripe for commodification. And crucially, an era in which brutal economic and military aggression has become normalized. Wars are no longer historically bookended epochs, but quotidian realities for millions that live in the crosshairs of imperial greed. A few notes on our present reality and the ways in which we cloak it behind comforting facades:

Acceptable Casualties: What are the consequences of that rollback? Brutal corporate raiding, to be sure, of the Gekko variety. And strip-mining private equity firms like Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital. And supercharged offshoring kingpins like General Electric. But also extrajudicial murder. Assassinations. Indefinite detention. Saturation bombing. Backing coup d’états birthed at midnight on a distant Maidan. Funding jihadi terrorists in faux uprisings in drought-stricken border towns. Green-lighting neo-Nazi fascists in jackboots with Bandera flags held aloft. Stationing a fleet of drones above the clouds over Yemen, their 24-hour buzz reminding powerless villagers below that their futures and funerals are separated by a hair’s breadth. Launching Tomahawk missiles and flying sorties to destroy legitimate government forces as al-Qaeda terrorists advance toward Tripoli. Enabling a longtime leader’s death by rape in a featureless dune outside of Sirte. Parading tanks and Humvees down the roads of Eastern Europe, shadowing the frontiers of Russia with the clustered muzzles of their long artillery. And, of course, rolling out all the domestic austerities that they pretend must be cut to pay for our protection. And don’t forget jerry-rigging pensions to implode thanks to naive derivative bets placed by deluded municipalities. All to make a quick buck, protect a currency regime, or pulverize resistance to western dominion over MENA energy resources. But that’s just at the national level. On the individual level, the profits system is protected and reinforced and expanded using torture, including simulated drowning and anal rape (Abu Ghraib), slaughtering villagers (Vietnam, Nicaragua), shameless genocide (see history of Native Americans), rampant slavery (see history of African Americans), sending armed terrorists into sovereign nations with the intention of total ruin (Syria, Libya, Nicaragua), and numberless other particularized forms of cruelty against men and women. One of our former arbiters of torture is now assuming command of the CIA, her suburban soccer mom pose pacifying the tired assemblage of corporate supplicants in Congress.

The Pall of Good Intentions: All of this to secure profits (variously euphemized as power, wealth, resources, influence, liquidity, reserve currency, etc.). Of course, these acceptable consequences are acceptable because they can be written off as bad judgment or mistakes. Lapses in foresight. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. As national mythologist Ken Burns’ sagacious narrator purred in The Vietnam War, “It was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings.” This rancid preface is enveloped in the amniotic afterbirth of every act of imperial violence, a postscript rationalization. One can imagine the wizened faces of imperial stormtroopers asking with incredulous naiveté, “What happened?” The Burns documentary is artfully presented, with a master’s touch, and dropped deep into the fog of war from which we can comfortably resolve, “…in war, there is no single truth.” Thus the resolution is no resolution at all. Judgment is judiciously reserved. What cannot be swept under the carpet or plausibly denied, can be amplified into total confusion, confounding even the most discerning observer. In the final analysis, there is no one to blame.

It’s the System! When ill-conceived choices don’t suffice, the blame can be offloaded onto the system itself. As automation in warfare improves, expect more of the moral blame to be shifted to technological malfunctions rather than human error. AI may play in war the same role bureaucracy plays in consumer capitalism, the abdication of responsibility. Remember the middle manager mantra: “Sorry, but that decision is above my pay grade.” This is the requisite assumption of bureaucratic capitalism and the reason why the abdication of responsibility and subterfuge of false historical narratives are so important to the capitalist system. It cannot be conceded that profitability is valued above human life. When such charges are leveled at imperial capital, blame for such inhumane values must be placed on the system, while individuals are set scot free. No major bankers were jailed for the bank-generated mortgage meltdown. No major government figures were jailed for their role in sanctioning torture and war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a consequence, a torturer now runs the CIA and banks have leveraged their derivative bets beyond 2008 levels. Obama launched the largest covert CIA operation since Afghanistan in Syria, ultimately generating the cauldron that displaced half the country and killed half a million. But his staunchest defenders will swiftly lift the accusations from their paladin’s slim shoulders, dust off his lapels, and deposit the blame squarely on the monolithic system itself. No one is powerful enough, therefore no one bears responsibility. Given the casuistry of capital, it any wonder then that the wages of capitalism are so often death?

Capital Fight, Capital Flight: Most of us don’t think of wars as capitalist wars. But what else are they? The United States has established bases inside of Syria’s predominantly oil-rich Kurdish region. That war itself began, conspicuously, not long after Bashar Al-Assad opted to back a gas line built with Russia and Iran over one involving Qatar and Turkey. Wars against Iraq and Libya were both conspicuously ramped up not long after those nations floated the idea of abandoning the US petro-dollar. And you know how temporary installations morph into permanent occupations. Baghdad’s Green Zone didn’t start out as a Bellagio-on-the-Tigris, but soon became a permanent encampment, even if it is now euphemistically named, “the international zone.” Military contractors still have a considerable presence there (surely cheered by the citizenry) and the American wrecking crew has whittled its official footprint to world’s largest ‘embassy’ cum occupation zone. Iraq, too, was a resource war, and yet is not generally grasped as a distinctively capitalist conflict. But the only apparent alternative to foreign exploitation in a rent-seeking system is capital flight.

Savagery as Security: The evidence of bloody exploitation is all around us, but most of it beyond our borders and across abyssal seas most of us have never crossed. Hence the worthlessness of this system of plunder for the majority is better grasped by people living outside the walls of our doctrinal system. People living in the 57 countries we’ve attempted to overthrow since WWII. People living in occupied territories, alongside the 800 military bases we’ve flung like a net across the planet. People living beneath the drone arsenals that float in the sky, or those in nations that suffered the 51,000 bombs President Obama let drop in the final two years of his presidency. These acts are all, suffice it to say, forms of aggression defined as defensive measures. Obama was thus the perfect avatar of imperial conquest, a man who neither seemed capable of anger or interested in expansion. Unlike snarling Dick Cheney and more akin to soothing Bill Clinton, Obama provided the necessary update on Jesse Jackson’s candidacy in 1984 and 1988, tweaking the persona from that of an impassioned African-American decidedly on the side of the working class to one of a cross-class unifier who healed divisions with a kind of amiable centrism. And so Obama and the Democratic Party merely inhabited the emptied husks of progressivism, while embodying in practice the regressive rollback of worker advances.

Domestic Digs: Evidence may be bloodier abroad, but the wages of capitalist globalization have also been coming home to roost for some time. The millions of middle class jobs exported abroad to line the coffers of rich shareholders and impoverish the sad ledgers of working men and women. If there is a definition of the word ‘sellout,’ it ought to sit astride the logos of companies like GE, Walmart, Nike, JP Morgan, Lockheed Martin, and Halliburton. Hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers have committed suicide thanks to the ‘liberalization’ of markets, permitting western multinationals to savagely undercut subsistence farmers in nations like India, and deliberately drives them into urban slums to fortify the surplus army of cheap labor available to faceless capital. Now New York taxi drivers are killing themselves, unable to continue working 16 hour days for ever-declining wages while mobile sweatshops like Uber and Lyft lobby for deregulation, undercut the wages of the entire industry, and hire a multicultural new CEO with a kindly face who softly promises helpful innovation for all. Capitalists fear a falling rate of profit, but care nothing for the falling rate of wages. As Marxist geographer David Harvey said, capitalism will cannibalize the source of its own wealth–something no PR campaign can cure. Every revenue stream will be bled dry. Harvey also said capitalism’s current form, a viciously anti-state neoliberalism, is a conscious project of class restoration, a war on workers by elite shareholders looking to restore their class privilege, despite their role as a parasitic rentier class that induces debt deflation in the larger economy. If labor mis-attributes its travails to personal inadequacies, it likewise misses the fact that it is under attack. Labor is kept afloat through credit, with student, credit card, mortgage, and auto debts all swelling past the trillion-dollar threshold in the U.S. With that increase in debt come obvious corollaries: the one percent grabbed 95 percent of the overhyped recovery in America, while the overlapping global one percent will own two-thirds of all wealth by 2030.

Class Blinders: In practice, capitalism is primarily about the freedom of the rich to exploit the poor. That’s what Barack Obama signaled to elite constituencies when he campaigned for president, a willingness to either look the other way or facilitate exploitation. Even if he believed the lofty rhetoric he ventriloquized through his Ivy League education. Donald Trump may perhaps be a bit more aware that capitalism is red in tooth and claw. But like Gekko, he merely recites the tiresome credos of Social Darwinism, the naturalistic fallacy that conservatives and ambitious financiers never stop falling for. It may be the only method of rationalizing their success as the product of their intrinsic talents, rather than a stroke of fortune delivered by a confection of birth, breeding, temperament, and natural ambition. Marx was right when he proposed a materialist conception of history. Our circumstances do shape our consciousness. The rich have been taught to take credit for their successes and externalize responsibility for their failures. A tireless work ethic provides the moral backdrop to every Fortune 500 profile, but for every bankruptcy, regulation and taxation are reviled. On the flip side, the elite media never tires of conditioning the poor to do the reverse: self-indict for their failures and thank affirmative action and America for their successes. Read Adam Johnson on “perseverance porn,” the celebration of disenfranchised peasants who endure intolerable conditions. As such, too often the exploited blame themselves for their exploitation, and the exploiters blame the system for their failures (the system they rely upon in times of crises).

Money Never Sleeps: No matter, Gordon Gekko had it right. Greed is good–for the one percent. After all, they seem to be the only ones benefiting from institutionalized cupidity of imperial capitalism, for which all are blameless but from which only a handful may benefit. That its unchecked bacchanalia came to a juddering halt in Mesopotamia has bedeviled the plutocrats at the helm of the global capitalism. Their loyal serfs in the military-financial complex have demonstrated alarming judgment since the Syrian conflict began. The plutocrats surely fear their unipolar moment is being threatened by a poker-faced piker in the Kremlin and his infuriatingly refined ally in Damascus. The nervous frenzy in the western media only reflects the disturbed priorities of the corporate state. Perhaps the only question left appears to be whether Washington will make good on its implicit wish to use small nukes to salvage its hegemony, or strategize a more successful use of criminal sanctions, proxy forces and soft coups to redraw the balance of power to their liking. Either choice will entail not only decimation abroad but vacuuming more taxes from social need into metastasizing budgets that fuel military aggression and police a restive homeland. Peace and prosperity are not in the cards. As the infamous Margaret Thatcher said of capital’s creed: “There is no alternative.”

Counter Punching the Corpocracy?

America’s corpocracy, or what I call the Devil’s marriage between dominant corporate and subordinate government America, is a vast domain of thousands of colluding corporations and government agencies.1 While the corpocracy’s rampant and successful wrongdoing is what makes the corpocracy so powerful, it still must depend on customers to survive and thrive. Customers? Let’s make that more often “victims,” people harmed by the corpocracy’s wrongdoing in some way or another from trivial to irrevocable, like death.

Ironically, one of the corpocracy’s victims is itself, as when the Department of War is exploited by the war industry.2 This article is not about how the corpocracy can protect itself from itself. Why would I ever want to offer self help to the corpocracy? Better that it self-destructs! No, this article is a review of the literature on ways in which Americans victimized by the corpocracy can fight back, if they should be plucky enough or sure enough.

Why, you may well ask, do I even bother to write this article since the counter-puncher is invariably outpunched, sometimes more than once? Since Corporate America tells Government America what to do and not to do, if there is no redress from the former, there is unlikely to be any from the latter either. Since Government America is a corporate service, not a public service, “the public be Damned” is more likely to be the outcome of any follow-up counter-punching. Nevertheless, being an informed customer surely is preferable to being an uninformed customer, particularly at the beginning when the options are to buy or not to buy a suspect product or service.

Not writing the article, moreover, would be defeatist, a response to be avoided. Moreover, writing a good article requires good second-hand research only fingertips away from the keyboard and the Internet that just might yield some practical insights and revelations.

But before getting to the types of counterpunches available to those wronged, let’s quickly scan the land of wrongdoers to remind us of who they are and what they do to their customers. Excluded will be the greatest wrongdoers of history, the U.S. war (and gun) industry and the U.S. Department of War.3 Their customers and non-customer victims are well known and fall outside the present topic.

A Few Examples of Wrongdoers and Their Wrongdoing

Since knowledgeable readers of the alternative media already know what they know about the subject at hand and are also victimized customers themselves, only a few examples are given for the three more harmful industries.4 A few examples are also given for the retail industry simply because of the sheer volume of their customers.

Pharmaceutical Industry. Diluted cancer drugs to boost profits. Successfully lobbies to keep drug prices high. Sells pills that kill about 100,000 Americans annually. Markets a drug that is more expensive than alternative drugs and deadly among adults and children.

Agriculture/Chemical Industries. Sued a farmer claiming he was using the company’s patented seeds. Causes billions of dollars to be spent yearly for healthcare, subsidies, environmental damage, and more from producing and consuming foods laced with pesticides, antibiotics and GMOs.

Financial Services Industry. Created and marketed fantasy financial products plummeting U.S. into its 2nd greatest depression. Soaks credit card holders with excessive rates. Constantly raises deductibles while shrinking coverage. Hem haws in honoring insurance claims and short changes legitimate claims.

Retail Industry. A dozen or so large corporations monopolize this industry. Its predominate victims are their employees who work for pittance and are bullied along the way, bullied suppliers, and small communities that lose their small retailers when a mammoth retailer arrives on the scene. An illustrative retailer is Walmart, referred to as “the beast from Bentonville,” by the author of an incriminating expose. 5

Its other victims are customers in the ordinary sense.  Exploiting them is rife in this industry  Sometimes customers don’t even know they are being exploited. Here is an example of stealth marketing: a few extremely pricey items are prominently displayed to lure bargain hunters into buying two of the less pricey items displayed nearby.6 Other examples of exploitation include making false claims, baiting and switching, reneging on deals, using small print and lengthy terms and conditions to discourage their being read or understood, and requiring prospective buyers to waive their Constitutional right to sue in court for any damages from the product after its purchase and use.

Counter Punches

  • Complaining
  • Boycotting
  • Lobbying
  • Suing

Complaining

To whom do the complainers submit a complaint? Let’s briefly review the three options: business complaint departments, independent complaint resources, and the government’s myriad complaint resources.

Business Complaint Departments. They are, to put it simply, a farce. Companies with the worst customer service that “people hate calling” reportedly are Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Wells Fargo, and Dish Network.7 Mind you, they are simply the five worst, which leaves a lot of room for hundreds of other despised customer complaint departments.

Private Complaint Resources. Probably the most familiar is the Better Business Bureau to which consumers can submit complaints and get ratings for better businesses to patronize. BBB is a useless resource and has been criticized for allegedly giving higher ratings to businesses that pay a membership fee.8 Then there are websites on the internet that air complaints without resolving them such as the “Complaints Board” that bills itself as “the most trusted and popular consumer website.”

Regulatory Agencies.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists, if I counted correctly, 115 industries in the U.S. but a U.S. government website lists only six federal regulatory agencies by product type where consumer complaints can be filed, and two of the unlisted types are two of the most harmful industries I highlighted above, the pharmaceutical and agriculture/chemical industries. Such bureaucratic nonsense is to be expected. But it really doesn’t matter, anyway. All the federal regulatory agencies were captured by Corporate America long ago. Suppose you were permanently impaired by eating a GMO product engineered by “MonSatan.” Don’t bother contacting FDA, the federal agency supposedly regulating the safety of food. FDA has given “Monsanto a pass” that amounts to “playing with genetic fire” whenever we eat.9

Boycotting

Boycotts have minimal effect. Corporations can afford them. A few years ago, corporations were listed that were boycotted by various groups for one reason or another.10 As far as I can tell the corporations on the list are still thriving, although a large percent of customers dissatisfied with a given brand switched to a different brand and are likely to tell friends about their negative experience and may even post a negative review online.11 Kudos to them!

Lobbying

Lobbying, you ask incredulously, when corporate America is the summa cum laude of lobbying for their self-interests? Well, any approach, I reason, is worth considering when the corpocracy has us hanging onto the ropes by our fingertips. Consider consumers of eggs and animal rights activists, for instance, who have been lobbying against the cruel treatment of hens by industrial farm factories. Despite a few isolated reforms, “severe abuses throughout the industry remain commonplace.”12 Let’s not dismiss this form of counterpunching altogether, however. I learned, for instance, of a success story, one in which the “largest and most powerful lobbying group for the processed food industry” has been brought “to the breaking point” by organized consumer groups.13

Suing

The scold of corporate America, Ralph Nader, has exhorted us to “sue for justice” because our “lawsuits are good for America.”14 His exhortation is most quixotic. He contends that “tort law is seriously underused,” and finishes the sentence with the reason why, namely, “primarily because it is not easy to hire attorneys to litigate against wealthy commercial firms.” Tort lawyers, an appendage of the corpocracy, and legislators, have all but guaranteed through tort “reform” legislation the futility of winning a lawsuit against corporate wrongdoing except for truly egregious and indisputable cases. Moreover, even if there were a customer-friendly tort law, proving the plaintiff’s case probably would take a Houdini lawyer because no corporation is going to go down without an interminable and nasty fight. Furthermore, wily corporations put clauses into contracts for big ticket items replacing the customer’s right to sue with arbitration agreements skewed in favor of guess who?

Conclusion

This article’s title is written as a question implying uncertainty over the usefulness of counterpunching the corpocracy. It is mostly a rhetorical question. Except in rare instances involving indisputable cases of bodily harm or wrongful death, we can be almost certain that the corpocracy will win the fight.

  1. Brumback, GB. The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch, 2011.
  2. See Brumback, GB. “Inside the War Industry“, OpEdNews, April 6; Dissident Voice, April 10; Uncommon Thought Journal, April 15, 2018.
  3. Brumback, GB. America’s Oldest Professions: Waring and Spying, 2015.
  4. See Brumback, GB. “An Evil Root“, OpEdNews, March 8; Dissident Voice, March 15; The Greanville Post, March 20; Uncommon Thought Journal, March 21, 2017.
  5. Hightower, J. “How Wal-Mart Is Remaking Our World: Bullying people from your town to China”, April 26, 2002.
  6. Poundstone, W. Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value and How to Take Advantage of It, 2010.
  7. Oswald, E. “Worst Customer Service: 5 Companies People Hate Calling”, CheatSheet.com., July 14, 2017.
  8. Reference Designer. “Better Business Bureau – A Useless Institution?” Reference Designer, September 21st, 2009.
  9. Todhunter, C. “Genetic Engineering and the GMO Industry: Corporate Hijacking of Food and Agriculture”, Global Research, January 1, 2013.
  10. Ethical Consumer. “List of Consumer Boycotts”, May 2016.
  11. Llopis, G. “Consumers Are No Longer Brand Loyal”, Forbes, December 10, 2014.
  12. Greenwald, G. Consumers Are Revolting Against Animal Cruelty — So the Poultry Industry Is Lobbying for Laws to Force Stores to Sell Their Eggs”, The Intercept, March 2, 2018.
  13. Mercola, J. “Lobbying Group for Processed Food Industry Teeters on Brink of Extinction — Will Its Science Propaganda Arm Follow Suit?” Organic Consumers Association, February 27, 2018.
  14. Nader, R. Suing for Justice. Your lawsuits are good for America,” Harper’s, April 2016.

“May Day” Militancy Needed To Create The Economy We Need

The Popular Resistance School will begin on May 1 and will be an eight-week course on how movements grow, build power and succeed as well as examine the role you can play in the movement. Sign up to be part of this school so you can participate in small group discussions about how to build a powerful, transformational movement. REGISTRATION CLOSES MIDNIGHT APRIL 30.

Seventy years of attacks on the right to unionize have left the union movement representing only 10 percent of workers. The investor class has concentrated its power and uses its power in an abusive way, not only against unions but also to create economic insecurity for workers.

At the same time, workers, both union and nonunion, are mobilizing more aggressively and protesting a wide range of economic, racial and environmental issues.

On this May Day, we reflect on the history of worker power and present lessons from our past to build power for the future.

May Day Workers of the World Unite, Melbourne, Australia, in 2012. By Johan Fantenberg, Flickr.

In most of the world, May Day is a day for workers to unite, but May Day is not recognized in the United States even though it originated here. On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the US walked off their jobs for the first May Day in history. It began in 1884, when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions proclaimed at their convention that workers themselves would institute the 8-hour day on May 1, 1886. In 1885 they called for protests and strikes to create the 8-hour work day. May Day was part of a revolt against abusive working conditions that caused deaths of workers, poverty wages, poor working conditions and long hours.

May Day gained permanence because of the Haymarket rally which followed. On May 3, Chicago police and workers clashed at the McCormick Reaper Works during a strike where locked-out steelworkers were beaten as they picketed and two unarmed workers were killed. The next day a rally was held at Haymarket Square to protest the killing and wounding of workers by police. The rally was peaceful, attended by families with children and the mayor himself. As the crowd dispersed, police attacked. A bomb was thrown—no one to this day knows who threw it—and police fired indiscriminately into the crowd, killing several civilians and wounding forty. One officer was killed by the bomb and several more died from their own gunfire. A corrupt trial followed in August concluding with a biased jury convicting eight men, though only three of them were present at Haymarket and those three were in full view of all when the bombing occurred. Seven received a death sentence, the eighth was sentenced to 15 years, and in the end, four were hanged, one committed suicide and the remaining three were pardoned six years later. The trial shocked workers of the world and led to annual protests on May Day.

The unity of workers on May Day was feared by big business and government. That unity is shown by one of the founders of May Day, Lucy Parsons, who was of Mexican American, African American, and Native American Descent. Parsons, who was born into slavery, never ceased her work for racial, gender, and labor justice. Her partner was Albert Parsons, one of those convicted for Haymarket and hanged.

Solidarity across races and issues frightens the power structure. In 1894 President Grover Cleveland severed May Day from its roots by establishing Labor Day on the first Monday in September, after pressure to create a holiday for workers following the Pullman strike. Labor Day was recognized by unions before May Day. The US tried to further wipe May Day from the public’s memory by President Dwight Eisenhower proclaiming “Law and Order Day” on May 1, 1958.

Long Shoreman march in San Francisco on May Day 2008 in the first-ever strike action by U.S. workers against U.S. imperialist war. Source: The Internationalist

Escalation of Worker Protests Continues to Grow

Today, workers are in revolt, unions are under attack and the connections between workers’ rights and other issues are evident once again. Nicole Colson reports that activists on a range of issues, including racial and economic justice, immigrant rights, women’s rights, a new economy of worker-owners, transitioning to a clean energy economy with environmental and climate justice, and a world without war, are linking their struggles on May Day.

There has been a rising tide of worker militancy for years. The ongoing Fight for $15 protests helped raise the wages of 20 million workers and promoted their fight for a union. There are 64 million people working for less than $15 an hour. Last year there was also a massive 36-state strike involving 21,000 mobility workers.

Worker strikes continued into 2018 with teacher strikes over salaries, healthcare, pensions and school funding. Teachers rejected a union order to return to work. Even though it included a 5 percent raise, it was not until the cost of healthcare was dealt with that the teachers declared success. Teachers showed they could fight and win and taught others some lessons on striking against a hostile government. The West Virginia strike inspired others, and is followed by strikes in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona. These strikes may expand to other states, evidence of unrest has been seen in states including New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as Puerto Rico because courage is contagious.

Graduate students have gone on strike, as have transit and UPS workers and low-wage workers. The causes include stagnant wages, spiraling healthcare costs, and inadequate pensions. They are engaged in a fight for basic necessities. In 2016, there wasn’t a single county or state in which someone earning the federal minimum wage could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment at market rate.

Workers are also highlighting that women’s rights are worker’s rights. Even before the #MeToo movement took off, workers protested sexual harassment in the workplace. Workers in thirty states walked off the job at McDonald’s to protest, holding signs that said “McDonald’s Hands off my Buns” and “Put Some Respect in My Check.”

Last year on May Day, a mass mobilization of more than 100,000 immigrant workers walked off their jobs. This followed a February mobilization, a Day Without Immigrants. The Cosecha Movement has a long-term plan to build toward larger strikes and boycotts. There will be many worker revolts leading up to that day.

The Poor People’s Campaign has taken on the issues of the movement for economic, racial, environmental justice and peace. Among their demands are federal and state living wage laws, a guaranteed annual income for all people, full employment, and the right to unionize. It will launch 40 days of actions beginning on Mother’s Day. Workers announced a massive wave of civil disobedience actions this spring on the 50th anniversary of the sanitation strike in Memphis, at a protest where they teamed up with the Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for Black Lives.  Thousands of workers walked off their jobs in cities across the country.


Unrealized Worker Power Potential Can Be Achieved

The contradictions in the US economy have become severe. The wealth divide is extreme, three people have the wealth of half the population and one in five people have zero wealth or are in debt. The U.S. is ranked 35th out of 37 developed nations in poverty and inequality.  According to a UN report, 19 million people live in deep poverty including one-quarter of all youth. Thirty years of economic growth have been stagnant for most people in the US. A racial prism shows the last 50 years have made racial inequality even wider, with current policies worsening the situation.

May 5 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of economic philosopher, Karl Marx, the failure of US capitalism has become evident.  Over the last fifty years, in order for the few to exploit the many, labor laws have been put in place to weaken workers’ rights and unions.  Andrew Stewart summarizes some of the key points:

First, the National Labor Relations Act, signed by FDR, that legalized unionization. Or more precisely, it domesticated unions. When combined with the Taft-Hartley Act, the Railway Labor Act, and Norris-La Guardia Act, the union movements of America were forced into a set of confines that reduced its arsenal of tactics so significantly that they became a shell of their pre-NLRA days. And this, of course, leaves to the side the impact of the McCarthy witch hunts on the ranks of good organizers.

In addition, 28 states have passed so-called “right to work” laws that undermine the ability of workers to organize. And, the Supreme Court in the Janus case, which is likely to be ruled on this June, is likely to undermine public unions. On top of domestic laws, capitalist globalization led by US transnational corporations has undermined workers, caused de-industrialization and destroyed the environment. Trade must be remade to serve the people and planet, not profits of the few.

While this attack is happening, so is an increase in mobilizations, protests, and strikes. The total number of union members grew by 262,000 in 2017 and three-fourths of those were among workers aged 35 and under and 23% of new jobs for workers under 35 are unionized. With only 10 percent of workers in a union, there is massive room for growth at this time of economic insecurity.

Chris Hedges describes the new gig economy as the new serfdom. Uber drivers make $13.77 an hour, and in Detroit that drops to $8.77. He reports on drivers committing suicide. One man, who drove over 100 hours a week, wrote, “I will not be a slave working for chump change. I would rather be dead.” This while the former CEO of Uber, one of the founders, Travis Kalanick, has a net worth of $4.8 billion. The US has returned to pre-20th Century non-union working conditions. Hedges writes that workers now must “regain the militancy and rebuild the popular organizations that seized power from the capitalists.”

Solidarity across racial and economic divides is growing as all workers suffer from abuses of the all-powerful capitalist class. As those in power abuse their privilege, people are becoming more militant. We are seeing the blueprint for a new worker movement in the teacher strikes and Fight for $15. A movement of movements including labor, environmentalist, anti-corporate advocates, food reformers, healthcare advocates and more stopped the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This shows the potential of unified power.

In recent strikes, workers have rejected proposals urged by their union and have pushed for more. Told to go back to work, they continued to strike. The future is not unions who serve to calm labor disputes, but unions who escalate a conflict.

The future is more than re-legalizing unions and raising wages and benefits, it is building wealth in the population and creating structural changes to the economy. This requires a new economy where workers are owners, in worker cooperatives, so their labor builds power and wealth. Economic justice also requires a rewoven safety net that ensures the essentials of healthcare and housing, as well as non-corporatized public education, free college education, a federal job guarantee and a basic income for all.

The escalation of militancy should not demand the solutions of the past but demand the new economy of the future. By building community wealth through democratized institutions, we will reduce the wealth divide and the influence of economic inequality over our lives.

Commercializing Peace?

This article is an adaptation of one of my book reviews. I am adapting it for this venue because I want to share far and wide with readers what corporate citizenship and social responsibility are not versus what the corpocracy and its allies would have you think they are.

The book is about how responsible corporate citizenship can achieve peace through commercializing it (readers in the know may be scoffing or laughing already).1 The author at the time was on the faculty of the business school at the University of Notre Dame, Director of the Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business, an ordained Catholic priest, and an editor or author of fourteen books on business ethics. Sorry, but those credentials really don’t impress me.

When I review books if I am at the least skeptical about them at the outset, I do my own exhaustive literature research to check on questionable findings or claims, and never more so than with this book. You will see why as we go along.

The book’s thesis is that the road to peace is through global commerce and adherence to a global code of ethics as codified in the UN’s Global Compact, described by the UN as both a policy platform and a practical framework for companies that are committed to sustainability and responsible business practices.2 That being so either the UN or the book ought to define peace, preferably operationally, so that we know if and when the Compact has achieved its intent. Neither do. The author does define the process of peace building as “the intentional confluence of improbable processes and people to sustain constructive change that reduces violence and increases the potential and practice of justice in human relationships.”3 I suppose I could translate this verbosity into some criteria for progress toward final peace, but why should I even try? I didn’t write the book.

This compact, as many critics including me see it, is nothing but a paper code of ethics that provides an opportunity for multi-national corporations (MNCs) to “blue-wash” (the U.N.’s flag is white/blue, and so is part of the book’s cover) their dirty business-as-usual.4 The compact is a voluntary initiative. There is no monitoring by the UN to see if the compact is being honored in practice and there are no penalties if it isn’t.

Much of the book consists of discussions about corporate social responsibility (CSR), related ideas such as corporate philanthropy and corporate citizenship, and corporate partnerships with non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, in negotiating and working with foreign governments and the populace. The book barely alludes to the fact that having and touting a CSR office and program is a way for the corporation to polish its tarnished image and defend its actions.5 Moreover, CSR is a superfluous concept. Sometimes CSR is referred to as the corporation’s third bottom line, but there are only two bottom lines that matter, the bottom line of results and the bottom line of ethics.  If a corporation conducts its business ethically, it is ipso facto being socially responsible. I don’t know of any corporation that is truly social responsible in all its ramifications.

The book contains case studies written by contributors purporting to demonstrate the commercialization of peace. If commerce does indeed yield peace, the evidence should be laid out in the book. Let’s sample some of the case studies and compare them outside the book with reality. I will tell you when a case contributor’s corporate affiliation may have compromised that person’s objectivity.

The Chevron case is written by a coordinator for the UN, Chevron, and the country involved, Angola. It is loaded with mineral resources, mainly oil and diamonds, and Chevron is Angola’s largest crude oil producer.6 Other than giving a miniscule $3 million to a project to help alleviate poverty, a project where some headway is claimed while admitting that much work remains to be done, and in a country no less where social unrest, crime and public protests were rising, nothing else in this chapter told me what else Chevron did.7 Its operations outside Angola get no attention in this book, operations that “are mired in human rights, environmental, and social damages and harm.”8

The Ford Motor Company case is basically a public relations piece on how the company is becoming environmentally responsible. Two of the contributors are Ford executives and the other two are academics. A few years before this book was written, Ford was heavily criticized by activists, with one claiming that “If Ford were a country, it would be the 10th largest global warming polluter worldwide.’’ 9 The contributors do acknowledge criticisms of Ford from environmentalists and respond that the company is committed to improving its environmental performance. I would guess that Ford has improved it in the last few years. But what does that have to do with peace through commerce? Ford, incidentally, is one of the U.S. corporations that reportedly “made significant contributions to Germany’s war efforts.”10 I would call that the normal “commercializing war.”

The third case is about the Swiss-based, corporation Nestles and what it is doing in developing nations. The contributors, an academic and a public affairs manager for the company, describe how Nestles, in partnership with NGOs and governments, has helped refurbish schools, build housing for the poor, provided earthquake damage relief, helped farmers who are suppliers to the company’s milk product operations, introduced sustainable farming methods, and has become a major food distributor. The contributors highlight a project that paired Nestles with an NGO to make two video series for conflict-torn Nigeria on conflict resolution techniques. The contributors concede that it will be years before they know if the project brings peace. What does Nestles look like outside the book? I found 13 corporate crimes (e.g., “unethical marketing of artificial baby milk,” “exploiting farmers,” “illegal extraction of groundwater”) reportedly committed by Nestles.11

The fourth case is about GE improving the health of the poor in Africa. One contributor is a new university graduate; the other is the VP of GE’s Corporate Citizenship and President of the GE Foundation. GE funded a $20 million initiative to improve the health care and infrastructure of hospitals in Africa. The contributors make the unsubstantiated claim that GE has seen immediate successes. Outside the book GE has been called “one of the most destructive corporations on the planet [because of its] global weapons manufacture and trade, with international criminal convictions for weapons trading fraud and money laundering,” and a “recidivist” corporate criminal “not merely [for its] number of crimes committed — or the dollar amount of the crimes — but a consistent pattern of violating criminal and civil laws over many years.”12

In the next case, a former government affairs analyst of Occidental Petroleum comments on the preliminary findings from the implementation of a “corporate code of conduct” in Columbia. I couldn’t find in the chapter what the findings are and can’t imagine they would amount to anything in any case as you will appreciate in a moment. The company reportedly had authorized several years earlier an air raid during an anti-guerilla operation at a village where one of its pipelines is located in Columbia that mistakenly led to the killing of 18 civilians, including nine children who, survivors said, “ran out of their homes to a nearby road with their hands in the air.”13 The chapter’s contributor says nothing about the air strike. He does mention native unrest and threats of mass suicides over oil explorations, militarization of the zone, and guerrilla sympathizers. He also notes how that history combined with the company’s relocating people and cutting illegal gas and water services near a new company oil well project would “inevitably complicate relations with local communities.” What an understatement! I doubt if the company’s new corporate code of conduct could have helped the company placate the natives.

In the last case I’ll highlight, the VP of international policy and government affairs and deputy general counsel for Bristol-Meyers Squibb (BMS) writes a very short chapter about his company’s $150 million commitment to a program for battling HIV/AIDS in several African countries. While the company has had skirmishes with the law, its program in Africa is certainly a worthy one and I suppose could be considered to represent a very early stage in the peace building process.14  A quick scanning of the Internet while writing this article shows BMS’s continuous record of various criminal activities.  It’s par for the course among pharmaceutical corporations.15

Conclusion

I’m no less skeptical and even more cynical about peace through commerce by MNCs after reading this book, especially its case studies. The book risks being an insult to people who know the real story about the UN and MNCs. Were the academic contributors in some instances bamboozled or corporatized? I don’t know. Maybe they are just very idealistic. I personally know a thing or two about idealism, and I am often called idealistic.

It’s incredibly idealistic and unrealistic to believe that the commerce of MNCs can put an end to all the warring and misery around the world today. It’s not at all inconceivable that corporatizing the world could eventually end life on the planet. The corporate balance sheet, after all, is remarkably insensitive to what matters most in life, life itself.

  1. Williams, O. Peace through Commerce: Responsible Corporate Citizenship and the Ideals of the United Nations Global Compact. 2008. Reviewed in the Book Section of the Personnel Psychology. Summer Issue, 2011, 540-545.
  2. United Nations Global Compact Office. UN. Corporate citizenship in the World Economy: United Nations Global Compact, October 2008.
  3. Williams, Ibid. pp. 98-99.
  4. See Brumback, GB. Toward Becoming a Great Corporation: Part One. The CEO Refresher Online, November 2009; Bruno, K & Karliner, J. Tangled up in Blue: Corporate Partnerships at the United Nations, Corporatewatch.org, September 1, 2000; and Knight, G & Smith, J. “The Global Compact and its Critics: Activism, Power Relations, and Corporate Social Responsibility”, In Leatherman, J. (Ed.). Discipline and Punishment in Global Politics: Illusions of Control, 2008, pp. 191-214.
  5. Brumback, GB. The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch, 2007, pp. 144-145; Brumback, GB. “Corporate Charades. Part 2. Social Responsibility Programs”, OpEdNews, August 28, 2013; Dissident Voice, August 28, 2013; Uncommon Thought Journal, August 28, 2013; Cyrano’s Journal, August 31, 2013; Mitchell, N. The Generous Corporation: A Political Analysis of Economic Power.
  6. APS. Angola – Chevron Operations. APS Review Downstream Trends Newsletter Online, March 9, 2009.
  7. Monitor Staff. Angola. Business Monitor Online, September 16, 2009.
  8. Baker, DR. “Critics’ Annual Report Blasts Chevron”, San Francisco Chronicle Online, May 20, 2010.
  9. Buffa, A. “Activists Respond to Ford Motor Company’s Sustainability Report”, Global Exchange Online, October 19, 2005.
  10. Matthews, RA. Ordinary Business in Nazi Germany. In R.J. Michalowski and RC Kramer, State-Corporate Crime: Wrongdoing at the Intersection of Business and Government, Rutgers University Press, 2006, p. 118.
  11. Corporate Watch, Nestle SA. Corporate Crimes, June 2005.
  12. Corporate Watch. US: The Case Against General Electric, August 1, 2001.
  13. Montero, D. & Whalen, K. Columbia: “The Pipeline War”, PBS, November 2002.
  14. Reisinger, S, “Bristol-Myers Takes its Medicine: Pharmaceutical Giant is the First Company to Sign a Deferred Prosecution Agreement and then Violate It”, Law.Com, September 20, 2007.
  15. Brumback, GB. “Inside the Corpocracy: Big Pharma and Servile Government”, Cyrano’s Journal, June 18, 2013; Dissident Voice, June 18, 2013; OpEdNews.com, June 21, 2013.