The 6-Step Process to Dispose of the Poor Half of America

America’s wealth-takers are all too ready to abandon people when they aren’t useful.

Photo Credit: Jeff Wasserman/

One of the themes of the superb writing of Henry Giroux is that more and more Americans are becoming “disposable,” recognized as either commodities or criminals by the more fortunate members of society. There seems to be a method to the madness of winner-take-all capitalism. The following steps, whether due to greed or indifference or disdain, are the means by which America’s wealth-takers dispose of the people they don’t need.

1. Deplete Their Wealth 

Recent analysis has determined that half of America is in or near poverty. This is confirmed by researchers Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, who point out: “The bottom half of the distribution always owns close to zero wealth on net. Hence, the bottom 90% wealth share is the same as the share of wealth owned by top 50-90% families – what can be described as the middle class.”

The United States has one of the highest poverty rates in the developed world. It’s much worse since the recession, especially for blacks and Hispanics.

From 2008 to 2013 the stock market, which is largely owned by just 10% of Americans, gained 18% per year. Well-to-do stockholders get capital gains tax breaks, including a carried interest subsidy thatRobert Reich calls “a pure scam.”

The bottom half of America, relying on regular bank accounts, earn about one percent on their savings.

2. Strip Away Their Income 

Earnings due to workers for their years of productivity have been withheld by people in power. Based on inflation, the minimum wage should be nearly three times its current level. An investor report from J.P. Morgan noted a direct correlation between record profits and cutbacks in wages.

We hear occasional news about job growth, but low-wage jobs ($7.69 to $13.83 per hour), which made up just 1/5 of the jobs lost to the recession, accounted for nearly 3/5 of the jobs regained during the recovery. And it’s getting worse. Nine out of ten of the fastest-growing occupations are considered low-wage, generally not requiring a college degree, including food service, health care, housekeeping, and retail sales.

Among rich countries, according to OECD data, the U.S. is near the bottom in both union participationand employee protection laws.

3. Take Away Their Homes 

study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition concluded that an average American renter would need to earn $18.92 per hour — well over twice the minimum wage — to afford a two-bedroom apartment. “In no state,” their report says, “can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent.” Over one-eighth of the nation’s supply of low income housing has been permanently lost since 2001.

Little wonder that so many people are homeless: over 600,000 on any January night in the U.S., tens of thousands of children, tens of thousands of veterans, and one of every five suffering from mental illness.

4. Hit Them with Fines, Fees, and Fleecings 

The poor half of America is victimized by the banking industry, which takes an average of $2,412 each year from underserved households for interest and fees on alternative financial services; byrental centers that charge effective annual interest rates over 100 percent; by payday lenders whocharge effective annual interest rates of over 1,000 percent; and by the burgeoning prison industry, which charges prisoners for food and health care and phone calls and probation monitoring and anything else they can think of.

On top of all this, bubbly TV personalities rave about all the lottery money just waiting to be taken home. Poor families account for most of the lottery sales.

5. Criminalize Them 

Matt Taibbi’s recently published book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gapcontrasts the targeting of the poor for trivial offenses with a tolerance for the architects of billion-dollar financial crimes.

The U.S. court system is flooded with cases for minor infractions, including loitering charges reminiscent of the infamous Black Codes of post-slavery years. The buildup of arrests has added one out of every three U.S. adults to the FBI’s criminal database.

The poor are criminalized for lying down or sleeping in public; for sharing food; for simply havingnowhere to go.

6. Most Insidious: Let Their Children Suffer 

The U.S. has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world. Almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty. Nearly half of all food stamp participants are children. The number of homeless children has risen by 50 percent in less than ten years.

Early education is certainly part of the solution, for numerous studies have shown that pre-school helps all children to achieve more and earn more through adulthood, with the most disadvantaged benefiting the most. But even though the U.S. ranks near the bottom of developed countries in the percentage of 4-year-olds in early childhood education, Head Start was recently hit with the worst cutbacks in its history.

Meanwhile, public schools in the inner-city are being closed to satisfy the profit urges of the privatizers, who view our children as commodities. Said community organizer Jitu Brown after 50 schools were shut down in Chicago: “It has ripped black communities apart.”

Americans seek reasons for all the violence in our city streets. With so many “disposable” citizens deprived of living-wage jobs and a meaningful education and equal treatment by our system of justice, rebellion in the form of violence is not hard to understand. The privileged members of society would lash out, too, if they were stripped of everything they own and tossed into the streets.

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, a writer for progressive publications, and the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (,,


UK faces a return to 1930s levels of poverty


By Robert Stevens
15 December 2014

This month, the UK government’s autumn statement announced cuts that will slash public spending back to where it was in the 1930s, before the welfare state came into being.

The scale of the cuts required to reduce public spending to around 35 percent of GDP were described as “colossal” by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The ruling elite in Britain intend to carry out an offensive against the working class equal to that in Greece, where the average family has seen their average earnings drop by almost 40 percent since the 2008 global financial crash.

Commenting on the plans of Conservative Chancellor George Osborne, an RBS bank economist said, “The previous spending projections looked daunting,” but the “revised figures give the impression of trying to scorch the scorched earth” (emphasis added).

Many reports have been produced documenting the impact of the savage reduction in living standards already visited on millions of workers, youth and pensioners over the last six years.

The latest, published Friday by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), found that British workers suffered the biggest drop in real wages of all major G20 countries in the three years to 2013. They have fallen more sharply than at any time since records began in 1964. Real wages of UK workers have fallen even faster than Portugal, Spain and Ireland—countries forced by the International Monetary Fund and European Union to impose vast austerity packages since 2008. Only the wages of Greek workers have plummeted faster than those in the UK.

Each year the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) produces an annual report “monitoring poverty and social exclusion” in the UK. The latest states that 13 million people are living in poverty, nearly a quarter of the population.

The JRF notes, “Average incomes fell by 9 percent between 2007/08 and 2012/13 on the after housing costs measure.”

Even more people are, in fact, in poverty, but this is covered over by the general fall in wages.

The JRF explains, “This fall has an effect on the analysis in this report. The measure of poverty we use, stemming from the definition of poverty as being a state where people are far below the norms of everyday life, is set relative to the average (median) income. As that average falls, so does the poverty threshold so that threshold is now 9 percent lower than it was in 2007/08. So while there are 13 million people in poverty in the UK, it would be 3 million higher if we used the poverty threshold from 2007/08” (emphasis added).

Millions of workers have faced a catastrophic wage fall and are now classed as being part of the growing “working poor”. This phenomenon is noted by the JRF, which records that half of all those in poverty live in a family with at least one wage earner.

Since 2008/09, the report states, “more than 45 percent of poverty has been in working families.”

One in five of the poverty-stricken are working age adults without children. The report found that 1.1 million working age adults in poverty are not themselves working, but live with a working partner. It notes, “Among children in poverty, most (2.2 million) are in a working family. Of these, 850,000 are in a fully working family; that is, one where all the adults are in paid work. A much higher number, 1.3 million, are in families where one adult is in work and the other is not. The remaining 1.4 million children in poverty live in a workless family.”

Since 2008 the number of people forced to eke out an existence in low-paid jobs has risen substantially, with last year’s JRF report finding that around 5 million people are paid below the living wage (set last year at £7.40 per hour). Many were on the minimum wage, which stood at £6.31 last year.

The JRF notes, “Among those currently in work who were unemployed a year ago, around three-fifths are paid less than the living wage, around three times the average for all those in work. What this suggests is that a large chunk of this year’s in-work poor were last year’s workless poor. Given that only one-fifth of low-paid employees have left low-paid work completely ten years later, they may be next year’s working poor too.”

Another report issued this year revealed that wages have fallen even further, with youth now paid the same in real terms as in 1988.

Given a jobs market based on rock bottom pay and the fact that many are working zero hours and on other insecure contracts, last year’s JRF report established that “movement in and out of work is substantial—4.8 million different people have claimed Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA)—in the last two years.”

As a result of decades of growing social inequality, child poverty is now permanently entrenched. Based on figures collated for 2013, the JRF found that one of London’s boroughs, Tower Hamlets, with a population of more than 250,000, had 49 percent of children living in poverty.

The report adds that “the next highest areas were its neighbours, Newham and Hackney. The highest area outside London was Manchester, on 39 percent, with Birmingham, on 37 percent, not far behind.”

Every part of the UK was afflicted. According to the report: “Those local authorities where child poverty is above 30 percent include Liverpool, Glasgow, Hull, Cardiff, Derry and Newcastle: almost all the major cities in the UK, and a large number of London’s boroughs, have more than 30 percent of children in poverty.”

The decade up to 2013 saw the cost of living shoot up by 30 percent, based on the consumer prices index. Within that average, some basic requirements of life have risen astronomically, including electricity, gas and other fuels, which “have risen by more than 150 percent since 2003, and domestic water bills have risen by 70 percent. The cost of public transport has risen by 88 percent, and private transport by 63 percent.”

In the same period, food and drink prices overall, excluding alcohol, rose by 47 percent.

Millions of people are forced to rely on welfare payments, the real value of which is constantly dropping as they have not risen with inflation. The report found: “At the individual level, the value of means-tested benefits has not been rising in the last five years.”

Real terms pensioner benefits “are back where they were ten years ago,” while benefits for children are “the lowest they have been since 2007.” Means-tested benefits, adjusted for inflation, “for a working-age couple have not been as low since 1979.”

Those whose jobs and livelihoods have been destroyed have faced the most cruel and sadistic punishment of having even their pittance Job Seeker’s Allowance payments “sanctioned” and suspended, leaving them with no income, under legislation introduced in 2012. According to the Citizens Advice Bureau, the average duration of a sanction was eight weeks, but they can last up to three years.

The JRF notes, “In 2013/14, the number of people whose JSA was suspended for not complying with the terms of their ‘claimant commitment’—commonly referred to as a sanction—rose to 800,000, the highest level ever. The year before, the figure was 740,000, itself a record.”

We need to talk about death

Why ignoring our darkest fears only makes them worse

It’s a universal human experience. So why do we act like we need to confront it alone?

We need to talk about death: Why ignoring our darkest fears only makes them worse
(Credit: P_Wei via iStock)

“I don’t want to die. It’s so permanent.”

So said my terminally ill grandmother, a kick-ass woman who made life-size oil paintings and drank vermouth on the rocks every afternoon.

This isn’t an anecdote I’d be likely to mention in regular conversation with friends. Talk about ruining everyone’s good time. (“Ick, that’s so morbid,” everyone would think.) But earlier this month, the New York Times released its 100 Notable Books of 2014, and among the notables was not one but two – two! – nonfiction titles about death. This seemingly unremarkable milestone is actually one that we should celebrate with a glass of champagne. Or, better yet, with vermouth.

Right now our approach to death, as a culture, is utterly insane: We just pretend it doesn’t exist. Any mention of mortality in casual conversation is greeted with awkwardness and a subject change. That same taboo even translates into situations where the concept of death is unavoidable: After losing a loved one, the bereaved are granted a few moments of mourning, after which the world around them kicks back into motion, as if nothing at all had changed. For those not personally affected by it, the reality of death stays hidden and ignored.

For me this isn’t an abstract topic. There’s been a lot of death in my life. There was my grandmother’s recent death, which sent my whole crazy family into a tailspin; but also my dad’s sudden death when I was 20. Under such circumstances (that is, the unexpected sort), you quickly discover that no one has any clue whatsoever how to deal with human mortality.

“Get through this and we’ll get through the worst of it,” someone said to me at my dad’s funeral, as if the funeral itself was death’s greatest burden, and not the permanent absence of the only dad I’ll ever have.

Gaffes like that are common. But insensitivity is just a symptom of much deeper issues, first of which is our underlying fear of death, a fear that might only boil to the surface when we’re directly confronted by it, but stays with us even as we try our best to ignore it. It’s a fear that my grandmother summed up perfectly when she was dying — the terror of our own, permanent nonexistence. Which makes sense. After all, it’s our basic biological imperative to survive. But on top of that natural fear of death, there’s another, separate issue: our unwillingness, as a culture, to shine a light on that fear, and talk about it. And as a result, we keep this whole huge part of the human experience cloistered away.

“We’re literally lacking a vocabulary to talk about [death],” said Lennon Flowers, a co-founder of an organization called the Dinner Party, which brings together 20- and 30-somethings who have lost a loved one to discuss “the ways in which it continues to affect our lives.”

That lack of vocabulary is a big problem, and not just for people who directly experience loss. It’s a problem for all of us, because it means we each grapple alone with the natural fear of our own expiry. We deny the fear, we bury it under an endless stream of distractions. And so it festers, making us all the more invested in keeping it buried, for how painful it would be to take it out and look at it after letting it rot for so long.

But why all the self-enforced agony? Maybe it’s because a more honest relationship with death would mean a more honest reckoning with our lives, calling into question the choices we’ve made and the ways we’ve chosen to live. And damn if that isn’t uncomfortable.

Of course, if there’s one thing our culture is great at, it’s giving instruction on how to live. There are the clichés — “live each day to the fullest” and “dance like no one’s watching” — and beyond them an endless stream of messages telling us how to look better, feel better, lose weight, have better sex, get promoted, flip houses, and make a delicious nutritious dinner in 30 minutes flat. But all of it is predicated on the notion that life is long and death is some shadowy thing that comes along when we hit 100. (And definitely not one minute before then!)

To get a sense of how self-defeating each of these goals can be, consider this chestnut given to us by a Native American sage by the name of Crazy Horse:

“Today is a good day to die, for all the things of my life are present.”

No, today is not a good day to die, because most of us feel we haven’t lived our lives yet. We run around from one thing to the next. We have plans to buy a house or a new car or, someday, to pursue our wildest dreams. We rush through the day to get to the evening, and through the week to get to the weekend, but once the weekend comes, we’re already thinking ahead to Monday morning. Our lives are one deferral after another.

Naturally, then, today isn’t a good day to die. How about tomorrow? Probably not. What number of days would we need to be comfortable saying what Crazy Horse said? Probably too big a number to count. We preserve the idea of death as an abstract thing that comes in very old age, rather than a constant possibility for us as fragile humans, because we build our whole lives atop that foundation.

What would we gain from finally opening up about death? How about the golden opportunity to consider what’s really important, not to mention the chance to be less lonely as we grapple with our own mortality, and the promise of being a real friend when someone we love loses someone they love. Plus it would all come back to us tenfold whenwe’re the ones going through a loss or reeling from a terminal diagnosis.

Sounds like a worthy undertaking, doesn’t it?

And that’s where there’s good news. Coming to grips with death is, as we’ve already established, really hard. But we at least have a model for doing so. Let’s consider, for example, the Times notable books I mentioned earlier. One of them, the graphic memoir “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant,” provides an especially honest — and genuinely funny — account of author Roz Chast’s experience watching her parents grow old and die. The other book, Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal,” reveals just how much even our medical establishment struggles with the end of life. Doctors are trained to treat sickness, of course, but often have little or no training in what to do when sickness is no longer treatable.

What both of these books do especially well is provide a vocabulary for articulating just how difficult a subject death can be for everyone — even the strongest and brightest among us. As a universal human experience, it isn’t something we should have to deal with alone. It doesn’t make a person weak or maladjusted just because he or she struggles openly with death. And what Chast and Gawande both demonstrate is that talking about it doesn’t have to be awkward or uncomfortable, because these are anxieties that all of us have in common.

It’s a common refrain that what distinguishes humans from other animals is that humans can understand, on a rational level, the full magnitude of our mortality. But what also distinguishes humans is the richness of our relationships and the depths of our empathy — the ability we have to communicate our experiences and support those around us. Death is a deeply unsettling prospect, no matter who you are. But it doesn’t need to be a burden you face alone.

The following is a list of resources for those looking for an organized platform to discuss the topic of death:

  • Atul Gawande serves as an advisor to the Conversation Project, a site that encourages families to talk openly about end-of-life care — and to choose, in advance, whether they want to be at home or in a hospital bed, on life support or not — in short, to say in unequivocal terms what matters most when the end is near.
  • Vivian Nunez is the 22-year-old founder of a brand-new site called Too Damn Young. Nunez lost her mom when she was 10 and her grandmother – her second mother – 11 years later. “Losing someone you love is an extraordinarily isolating experience,” she said. “This is especially significant when you’re talking about teenagers, or a young adult, who loses someone at a young age, and is forced to face how real mortality is, and then not encouraged to talk about it.” She founded Too Damn Young so that bereaved teenagers will know they’re not alone and so they’ll have a public space to talk about it.
  • The Recollectors is a groundbreaking project by writer Alysia Abbott, that tells the stories of people who lost a parent to AIDS. She’s exploding two big taboos – death and AIDS – in one clean shot.
  • Get Your Shit Together is another great one, a site launched by a young widow who learned the hard way that everyone should take some key steps to get their financial matters in order in case of an untimely death. “I (mostly) have my shit together,” the site’s founder says. “Now it’s your turn.”
  • There’s also Death Cafe, dedicated to “increasing awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.” And Modern Loss, a site that’s received coverage from the New York Times and the Washington Post, shies away from nothing in its quest to tell stories about end of life and living with loss. “Death Cafe and Modern Loss have attracted a loyal following,” said Nicole Bélanger, author of “Grief in the Rearview: Three Motherless Years.” “They offer the safe space we crave to show up as we are, without worrying about having to polish up our grief and make it fit for public consumption.”

Perhaps these communities will start to influence the mainstream, as their emboldened members teach the rest of us that it’s OK, it’s really OK, to talk about death. If that happens, it will be a slow process – culture change always is. “Race and gender and myriad other subjects were forever taboo, but now we’re able to speak truth,” said Flowers of the Dinner Party. “And now we’re seeing that around death and dying.”

If she’s right, it’s the difference between the excruciating loneliness of hiding away our vulnerabilities and, instead, allowing them to connect us and bind us together.

Why Paris is waging a war against driving

Inside the campaign to dramatically reduce automobile traffic in the city of lights

A "canyon of pollution": Why Paris is waging a war against driving

A car drives near the Eiffel tower in Paris, March 14, 2014. (Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau)

The mayor is supposed to be a problem-solver and a cheerleader, comfortable with both honest assessment and hometown boosterism

The two roles come into conflict now and again. And yet it still seems strange to hear Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, call the Champs-Elysées a “canyon of pollution” — as she did in an interview last week.

The grand boulevard is one of the world’s most famous streets and a major tourist attraction in its own right. It’s an urban design archetype with dozens of imitators, from Budapest to Philadelphia. And it’s also one of the worst places in Paris to take a breath of fresh air.

Hidalgo is offering some constructive criticism. In an interview on Sunday, the socialist mayor outlined a radical plan to reduce automobile use in the French capital, which will be introduced in full next month.

In addition to removing all but hybrid and electric cars from the Champs-Elysées, the Rue de Rivoli, and other major corridors, Hidalgo wants to ban all diesel vehicles from Paris by 2020. Trucks not headed for a destination in Paris will be forbidden from using Parisian roads. The speed limit will drop to 30 km/h on all but a few big streets. The mileage of the city’s bike lane network will double.

The central four arrondissements will be restricted to taxis, buses, delivery trucks and emergency vehicles. Only residents will be allowed to operate private cars.

It’s not that Paris needs to reduce traffic for mobility, raise money with fines and tolls, or discourage driving in the name of global sustainability — though all those may be beneficial side effects. The pressing problem is local air pollution, and Hidalgo’s plan to fight it may be the most drastic anti-car policy undertaken in a major city.

Air quality in the City of Light has been of increasing concern. Particle pollution exceeds the European Union’s suggested level of PM 10 content between 32 and 130 days a year, depending on one’s location within the city. Hidalgo likes to say that Parisians lose six months off their lives compared to their rural compatriots.

Hidalgo was elected in March, two weeks after a particularly bad cloud of smog disrupted life in the capital. The state activated stringent emergency measures. Mass transit, bike share and car share were free. Alternate driving days were instituted inside the city.

It worked — traffic fell and pollution followed. But Hidalgo would like to avoid making such crises an annual occurrence. She talked about the need to shift away from diesel fuel on the campaign. But making that a citywide reality is a huge challenge: 80 percent of French cars run on diesel.

That she feels she has the political will to do so reflects a long-term mobility shift underway in the city. In 2001, 40 percent of Parisians didn’t own a car. Today, Hidalgo says, it’s 60 percent. For that, she can thank her predecessor, Bertrand Delanoe, who established the city’s much-imitated bike share system, and a car share system, and turned a riverside highway into a beach every summer. Traffic dropped by 25 percent.

Hidalgo’s carless majority marks an important moment in municipal street policy. Just as the much-maligned Parisian “donut” — a wealthy center surrounded by poorer suburbs — provided a warning for cities like San Francisco and London; so too the city’s shift from the car may be a bellwether.

Unlike her counterpart in New York, Hidalgo doesn’t have to assuage constituents in car-dependent, low-density neighborhoods. She can afford to be openly radical. Even in Paris, with its outsize influence over France, achieving a ban on diesel would be a striking gesture of urban power and could reverberate throughout the French automobile industry.

But she won’t be able to enact her reforms without a larger consensus. This is, in part, a political issue: Without state approval, she can’t ban diesel vehicles from inside Paris or, to take another of her ideas, use commuter rail tracks to transport freight. But it’s also an environmental reality. Paris is a hub, but twice as many people live in the inner suburbs; there are 200,000 more jobs there as well. Airparif, the agency that monitors regional air quality, has said that to be effective, the ban on diesel vehicles would need to extend to the A-86, the ring road three miles beyond the city’s boundaries.

Hidalgo has said she will meet with the mayors of those suburban cities. Many of them are as dense if not denser than central Paris. But they aren’t under the inner city’s blanket of metro stations. The number of car trips per person has dropped in the region at large, but only slightly, from 1.54 trips per day in 2001 to 1.46 in 2010.

The ongoing expansion of the regional transport network should sweeten the deal. (Another huge stretch of suburban tramway opened on Saturday.) Hidalgo has also spoken about making exceptions for low-income drivers and distributing credits for upgrading vehicles. She recently introduced Utilib’, a car-sharing service intended for the transport of goods. She has pledged to expand the passenger-focused, car-sharing service Autolib’.

Whether or not Hidalgo can bring the Petite Couronne municipalities along with her, her scheme for Paris demonstrates how the megacity has been divorced from its national context. The plan to pedestrianize central Paris is similar to a measure that will debut in Madrid next month. The push to rethink freight transport is similar to efforts undertaken by Michael Bloomberg in New York. Tracking what types of vehicles enter the city is an idea indebted to the success of London’s congestion pricing initiative.

It’s not surprising that these metropolises share problems and solutions across different national cultures and legal frameworks. More interesting is the extent to which smaller, regional cities imitate them, diffusing policy innovations across the country.

In France, that does not seem to be happening. In fact, many smaller French cities are moving in the opposite direction, bringing cars back to central districts. In provincial centers like Lille, Angers and Saint-Etienne – and many smaller cities – authorities fear that exiling cars may have hurt the ability of urban shops to compete with their suburban counterparts. (Sound familiar? Many American cities share the philosophy.)

It’s not a worry on the Champs-Elysées. Within a few years, the avenue will no longer resemble the smoggy backdrop from “Breathless.” The transformation won’t be as novel as you might think: Most of the grand urban boulevards, including this one, were designed before cars existed. It’s a testament to their charm that people have continued to enjoy such streets in spite of the noise, traffic and exhaust.

Just think how nice the avenue will be without them.


US budget resolution funds war and repression


By Patrick Martin
13 December 2014

The omnibus spending resolution adopted by the US House of Representatives just before midnight Thursday, and which is now before the Senate, is a detailed public statement of the priorities of the American ruling elite. The bulk of the more than $1.1 trillion in funding goes to the military and other repressive functions of the federal government, such as spying, prisons and the police.

President Obama hailed the measure as a “bipartisan effort to include full-year appropriations legislation for most government functions that allows for planning and provides certainty, while making progress toward appropriately investing in economic growth and opportunity, and adequately funding national security requirements.” In other words, the bill makes it possible for the administration to continue waging war around the world and building up the apparatus for a police state at home.

Attached to the funding bill are hundreds of policy measures, many of them added at the last minute with no public discussion and, in many cases, without most congressmen or senators even being aware of what was being proposed before they rubber-stamped the bill. These include, most notoriously, the repeal of a major section of the Dodd-Frank legislation that sought to place some restrictions on the speculative activities of the banks following the 2008 financial crash.

The language in this section, permitting banks to use federally insured deposits to gamble in the swaps and derivative markets, was literally drafted by the banks. According to an analysis by the New York Times, 70 of the 85 lines in that section of the bill come directly from Citibank, which spearheaded the lobbying by Wall Street on this issue.

The four largest Wall Street banks conduct 93 percent of all US derivatives trading, so the measure is a brazen demonstration of the subservience of Congress to the big banks. According to the Washington Post, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, another of the big four banks, personally telephoned individual congressmen to urge them to vote for the amendment to Dodd-Frank.

The House of Representatives passed the funding bill late Thursday by a vote of 219 to 206 after a delay of seven hours. The delay was to allow the Obama administration to pressure a sufficient number of Democratic congressmen to support the Republican-drafted bill and offset defections among ultra-right Republicans who wanted the legislation to block Obama’s executive order on immigration.

The final vote saw 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats supporting the bill, while 136 Democrats and 70 Republicans opposed it. As always, just enough Democratic votes were found to assure that the reactionary measure passed, the government agencies were funded, and the financial markets were reassured.

Some liberal Democrats, most notably the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, made speeches posturing as opponents of the legislation. Pelosi even declared, in a comment that was widely publicized, that she was “enormously disappointed that the White House feels that the only way they can get a bill is to go along with this.”

But in remarks to a meeting of the Democratic caucus, Pelosi gave the game away, refusing to seek a party-line vote and instead telling members, “I’m giving you the leverage to do whatever you have to do.” The second-ranking and third-ranking Democratic leaders, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Deputy Whip James Clyburn, broke with Pelosi and sided with the White House on the bill, openly recruiting the votes required for passage.

Along with the $1.1 trillion bill that will fund most federal agencies through September 30, the House passed by voice vote a resolution funding the whole government through Saturday midnight, to give the Senate time to act on the main measure. The Senate approved this stopgap as well, and Obama signed it at the White House on Friday morning.

The House met again Friday afternoon and passed another extension, this time for five days, giving the Senate until midnight Wednesday to complete action on the funding legislation. Ultimate Senate passage is not in doubt. Outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid has given his public backing, saying Thursday, “I’m upset with certain things in the bill. It’s not perfect. But a longer-term funding is much better for our economy than a short-term one.”

Most press coverage of the funding bill gives the following breakdown of the spending: $521 billion for the military, $492 billion for nonmilitary items, and $73 billion in emergency spending, most of it military-related. This is highly misleading, since much of the “nonmilitary” spending is demonstrably in support of US military operations or domestic police and security operations directed against the American population.

The $492 billion of “nonmilitary” spending includes the following, according to the official summary posted on the web site of Congress. (Click here and then page down to the section titled “Omnibus summaries,” which contains live links to department-by-department spending).

· $11.4 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration, the unit of the Department of Energy that assembles US nuclear weapons.

· $40.6 billion for Department of Energy, NASA, NSF and other scientific research, much of it related to nuclear energy, cybersecurity and missile technology.

· $65 billion for the Veterans Administration, which provides medical care and other services for those shattered in body and mind by their service as cannon fodder in American wars.

· $26.7 billion for the Department of Justice, which includes the FBI, DEA and BATF ($10.7 billion), federal prisons ($6.9 billion), and aid to local police ($2.3 billion).

· $25 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded only through February 27, 2015 because of its role in enforcing immigration policy (the full-year amount would be more than $60 billion).

· $7 billion from the health budget for biodefense and bioterrorism research.

· An undisclosed figure, believed to be in the range of $60 billion, for intelligence operations, including the CIA and 17 other federal agencies.

At a minimum, these figures suggest that $236 billion, or nearly half, of the supposedly “nonmilitary” spending is actually directed to sustaining the military-intelligence capabilities of American imperialism.

Adding that to the explicitly military and overseas contingency funding, the real dimensions of the US military-intelligence-police-prison complex begin to come into view: a staggering $830 billion, more than 80 cents out of every dollar in the funding bill, is devoted to killing, spying on, imprisoning or otherwise oppressing the people of the world, including the American people.

Further details of the massive legislation, weighing in at more than 1,600 pages, will undoubtedly emerge over the coming days. Among the provisions worth taking note of:

· The bill provides $3.1 billion in aid to Israel, mostly financial subsidies, and $1.45 billion in aid to Egypt, most of it military, as well as $1 billion in aid to Jordan, another US client state in the region.

· The bill eliminates the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, used for six years to promote private charter schools and attacks on teachers in public schools. Republicans attacked the program as an effort to impose federal standards in education.

· The bill bans enforcement of a series of environmental and labor regulations, ensuring that air and water will be more polluted and workers will be more brutally exploited.

What the decline of McDonald’s really means

Death of a fast-food Goliath: 

McDonald’s is on the decline in America. Here’s why that isn’t automatically good news

Death of a fast-food Goliath: What the decline of McDonald's really means
(Credit: 1000 Words via Shutterstock/Salon)

The reign of the golden arches is ending. McDonald’s reported this week that its already-declining U.S. sales nose-dived in November, down 4.6 percent compared to last year. The company that introduced America to fast food, and has come to stand as its icon, is fading away.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that America’s falling out of love with fast food. It’s just that these days, we call it Chipotle.

There are plenty of reasons ascribed to McDonald’s downfall, but one constantly cited is that the post-”Super Size Me” world just isn’t eager to subject itself to the chain’s version of food any longer. Americans, the narrative goes, are demanding more of their meals. And the spoils are going to a new generation of “fast casual” providers who can provide they’re rising to the challenge.

McDonald’s certainly seems to believe this to be the case. While the company says it plans to pare its offerings down to the essentials, one of the new initiatives it’s spearheading in an attempt to reverse its fortunes is a sleek, touch-screen burger customization system, giving customers a greater degree of control over the options they do have — just like at Chipotle. Crucially, the company also seems to be realizing that there may be a problem with the food itself: building on its recent P.R. campaign aimed at demystifying the origins of McRibs and McNuggets, executives say they’re also considering paring down the list of ingredients in their highly processed offerings. In November, it rejected a new variety of genetically modified potato from its biggest supplier.

None of that, however, holds a candle to the image Chipotle is selling, best encompassed by “The Scarecrow.” The viral video’s success lay in its portrayal of everything it claims its food isn’t: unnatural, inhumanely raised, factory farm meat laden with God-knows-what chemicals and additives. “From the very beginning, Chipotle has used really high-quality fresh ingredients, and prepares all the foods we serve,” company spokesman Chris Arnold boasted to the AFP. ”So from the beginning, we were doing something which is pretty different than what was happening in traditional American fast food.”

Chipotle’s opened itself up to a fair amount of scrutiny from critics who say it’s overselling just how enlightened its “farm to face” fare truly is, however. Most of its food isn’t organic, and the company still uses genetically modified ingredients. While its efforts to source local, humanely raised and antibiotic-free meat are encouraging, it isn’t always able to live up to its own high (and highly advertised) standards. In some cases, customers end up paying premium fare for a product that’s more of the same.

This is a system-wide trend. Promising signs that other fast food giants are beginning to reform their ways — Panera ditching artificial additives, Chick-Fil-A eliminating chickens raised with antibiotics, Burger King removing gestation crates from its pork supply chain and switching over to cage-free eggs, In-N-Out Burger paying its workers a living wage — are laudable, but they shouldn’t be mistaken for what they are: positive P.R.-garnering baby steps toward improvement of a system that requires a total overhaul.

What Mark Bittman calls Improved Fast Food is still, after all, fast food. It still comes laden with fat, sodium and calories, often in excess of what you’ll get from McDonald’s. Even Chipotle continues to pour Coca-Cola. “Natural,” one of the new guard’s go-to adjectives, is a word with plenty of positive connotations but no FDA-enforceable definition; “humanely raised,” as a standard for livestock, is fallible at best. And I hate to break it to friends of Five Guys and Smashburger, but there’s really no such thing as a “better burger“ (or, for that matter, a better beef burrito) from a health perspective, and certainly not if you’re looking for a sustainable meal. Our growing understanding of diet’s contribution to climate change, on the contrary, holds that we’ve got to drastically cut down our consumption of meat, and of beef in particular.

But consumers don’t care how a Big Mac compares to a burrito in terms of fat and calories, according to a lengthy analysis of the company’s downfall in Fortune – they just care that Chipotle’s food is “seen as being natural, unprocessed and sustainable.” McDonald’s failing may not be that it’s so much worse than its competitors — it’s just that it’s so much worse at making itself look better. This is a food provider, after all, that’s still working to convince us that its burgers don’t contain ground-up worms.

That Americans are seeking out fresh, healthy food is unequivocally a good thing, one that’s already brought about some important reforms. But we’re still a long way away from revolution.

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email



Tides of relief: Nikos Romanos wins victory in hunger strike

By ROAR Collective On December 11, 2014

Post image for Tides of relief: Nikos Romanos wins victory in hunger strikeAfter a month on hunger strike and weeks of solidarity protests, the anarchist prisoner Nikos Romanos is finally granted his demands by the government.

By Foula Farmakidis, Spyros Marchetos and Christina Laskaridis

Tides of relief emanated from Greece on Wednesday, when the anarchist prisoner Nikos Romanos ended his month-long hunger strike that sparked solidarity actions across the globe. His demands were essentially met, with the parliament decreeing that student prisoners will be allowed educational leave on certain conditions, including electronic security tagging.

Romanos’ desperate struggle against an intransigent government brought up international memories of Bobby Sands and the other Irish republican prisoners who died in 1981. Now his victory, suggesting that the extreme right-wing Samaras government may be on its last throes, shows what a huge influence a person can have when they are unafraid to risk their own life and when they are backed by a resourceful solidarity movement.

Video report by Ross Domoney:

Romanos, 21, carries a tragic past. In December 2008, his childhood friend Alexis Grigoropoulos died by his side after having been shot, in cold blood, by a policeman. This 15-year-old became the symbol of an entire generation which, with alarming premonition, foresaw the social catastrophe that was soon to be unleashed on Greece. Alexis’ death galvanized and radicalized the youth. No surprise that Romanos, who at 15 years of age carried his friend’s coffin on his shoulder, decided to battle against the state.

In February 2013, Romanos was arrested along three other youths for attempted bank robbery. Witnesses and the public prosecutor agreed that the arrestees did not use their weapons out of concern for the hostages’ safety. After their capture they were all tortured so brutally, that the police digitally edited the photos given to the press so as to mask their injuries.

While serving his sentence, Romanos studied for the national university entrance exams, and thus secured a place at a university. The Minister of Justice visited his prison in September to grant, on behalf of the Greek state, an educational achievement award to him and other inmates. Romanos at the time was protesting against the appalling conditions within the prison, never received the award, and explicitly refused any favors from the state.

Despite awarding Romanos for his efforts in entering university, the state forbade him to actually attend it. Protesting for the law granting inmates educational leave to be enforced, Romanos started a hunger strike on November 10. The legal grounds for withholding his leave are convoluted. The Greek penal system includes educational leave in the framework of the rehabilitation of prisoners, but the Justice Ministry argues that a terrorism suspect cannot be safely let out of prison, even if Romanos has already been acquitted once for the terrorist charges against him.

Few doubt that the young anarchist was refused educational leave as a punishment for his ideas, by a government eager to show that it will not tolerate radical dissent. Romanos demanded from the state, which he intensely abhors, that it recognize his legal rights, which the state is supposed to guarantee for all. He never stole from the public purse nor from citizens; rather he attempted to rob one of the banks which was never brought to account for its part in the economic debacle of the country. No one failed to notice the irony of young anarchists being brutally persecuted for an unsuccessful and bloodless bank robbery by the very same people who treat those convicted of large-scale theft of public money and violent crimes with utmost lenience.

Examples abound. A corporate media and business tycoon who embezzled 235 million euros from the ex-state owned Postal Bank was released on bail, and even visited the US, Paris and the Maldives while his bail terms forbade him from exiting the county. A banker convicted of embezzling 700 million euros from the now defunct Proton Bank, and also facing trial for homicide, was left free to roam by the very same prosecutor who denied Romanos educational leave.

Two electricity company owners facing trial on embezzling 270 million euros from the state were also released on bail, thanks to the legal acumen of their defense attorneys, who just happened to be the Government Speaker at that time, Makis Voridis, and the then Secretary General of the Government, Takis Baltakos. A shipping magnate and oil tycoon sentenced to five years in prison for tax evasion and various other unlawful activities was immediately rewarded with the ownership of the most profitable public company in Greece, privatized at a fire-sale price. Finally, one of the accomplices of Grigoropoulos’ murder was released on bail after just one year in jail, on “humanitarian grounds,” to deal with family difficulties.

The Minister of Justice himself, Charalambos Athanasiou, has often made moves characterized as extreme-right, bigoted, and even venal. He never managed to explain the considerable property he amassed while holding public positions, property he even failed to declare, thus breaking the law — but this was no problem, as he soon changed the law and made it legal. He consistently hindered controls on other high earners with unexplained incomes; he legislated in favor of embezzlers of public money; and he even tried to get most of the convicted drug wholesalers out of prison with a law catering especially for them.

Athanasiou furthermore provoked an international outcry when he snubbed the European Court of Human Rights that had condemned Greece for refusing elementary rights to same sex partners. A further irony, that does not escape the polarized and intensely politicized Greek society, is that he maintained his inhuman stance towards Romanos while his own father — a collaborator of the Nazi occupiers during the Second World War — owed his life to the leniency showed to him by communist partisans.

The Minister of Justice greatly contributed to the heightening of tensions during the past few days. He stoked fears that Romanos might escape, while Romanos had agreed to be tagged during his leave. Romanos’ teacher in prison, actually the head of the prison education service, even proposed to escort the young convict to classes himself, and guaranteed his prompt return to the jailhouse, to no avail. Romanos refused to follow distance courses from within the prison walls, an idea beyond the logistical capabilities of the Greek system, denouncing it as an attempt to chip away at the right of prisoners for leave permits. But during the last month the government clearly cared more about publicly humiliating Romanos than about keeping him alive.

On Monday, December 8, Romanos’ father met with Prime Minister Samaras, who rebuked his pleas on the grounds that a Prime Minister cannot obstruct the course of justice. Actually Samaras has governed the country by bulldozing through austerity and repressive measures, using decrees with no concern whatsoever for the constitution or any other legal obstacles. How else could the state, for example, refuse to implement the court ruling that the cleaners of the Ministry of Finance building be re-hired, following their unlawful redundancy?

On Tuesday, December 9, the Supreme Court refused to overturn the lower court’s decision that refused educational leave to Romanos. With the government rebuking any alternative to distance learning from within prison walls, the parliamentary discussion on Tuesday descended into mayhem. On Wednesday, the 31st day of his hunger strike and with his demands still unmet, Romanos escalated his fight by starting a thirst strike, as an act of refusal to further dilute prisoners’ rights. The danger for his life was now imminent.

Minister Athanasiou had stated: “Even if God Himself were to descend to earth, He couldn’t change this decision.” We do not know who proved more mighty than God Himself, but the fact is that the Greek government — hell-bent on humiliating and thwarting all dissidents, as well as outright beating them — was obliged to make a costly and humiliating U-turn.

A day earlier, it had announced a change of plans for the forthcoming election of the President of the Republic, that may soon lead to a SYRIZA government. Political games played on the back of Romanos might have something to do with this. Seeking alliance with the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn to scrape together the necessary votes for electing the President, the government had its tactics exposed in Parliament and rejected by Golden Dawn. Its plans to score political points by claiming that the hated Memorandum days are over were further foiled on Monday, when the extension of the international bailout was agreed by European Finance Ministers.

On the back of a mounting public outcry, with masses of people gathering in solidarity outside Romanos’ hospital, tensions rising, and time running out, Athanasiou brought the amendment to Parliament on Wednesday, and Romanos stopped his hunger strike. On the other hand, the government still ignores the300 Syrian refugees who are also on hunger strike on the Parliament’s doorstep; it is still introducing high security prisons fit for an era of austerity and repression; and it still finalized the purchase of Israeli drones for border and protest control. But these may be the government’s last days, while Romanos’ brave and principled stance in prison brought results beyond his wildest dreams. All in all: a big victory for Romanos’ and his comrades’ struggle.

By Foula Farmakidis, Spyros Marchetos and Christina Laskaridis.