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Open Letter to Mark Duke, CEO of Walmart

Mike Duke, CEO
Walmart Corporation
Bentonville, Arkansas

Dear Mr. Duke,

Walmart, your gigantic company, is increasingly being challenged by your workers, government prosecutors, civil lawsuits, communities (that do not want a Walmart), taxpayers learning about your drain on government services and corporate welfare, and small businesses and groups working with unions such as SEIU and UFCW. Thus far, Walmart is successfully playing rope-a-dope, conceding little while expecting to wear down its opposition.

But you and your Board of Directors know what most shoppers and other people do not know – namely that these pressures are only going to increase. There is one policy announcement by your company that can “roll back” many of these pressures and relieve adverse public relations.

Walmart has about one million workers, give or take, in the U.S. who are making less per hour, adjusted for inflation, than workers made in 1968. This is remarkable for another reason – today’s Walmart worker, due to automation and other efficiencies, does the work of two Walmart workers from 40 years ago. A federal minimum wage, inflation-adjusted from 1968, would be $10.50 today. The present federal minimum wage is $7.25 – the lowest in major Western countries. In Western Europe and Ontario, where you have operations, you must currently adhere to minimum wages of $10.50 or more.

If you were to announce that Walmart is raising the wages of your one million laborers to $10.50, you would have a decisive impact on the momentum that is building this year for Congress to lift 30 million American workers to the level of workers in 1968, inflation adjusted. Imagine 30 million workers trying to pay their bills with wages below those of 1968, inflation adjusted, when, back then, overall worker productivity was half what it is today.

Raising your workers’ wages to a $10.50 minimum would cost your company less than $2 billion (deductible) on U.S. sales of more than $313 billion. Fewer Walmart workers would have to go on varieties of government relief. Some of that $2 billion would go to social security, and Medicare with more going back into purchases at Walmart. Employee turnover would diminish. If Walmart joins with many civic, charitable groups and unions to press Congress for legislation to catch up with 1968 for 30 million American workers, good things will happen. You and your fellow executives will feel better. Your public relations will improve. So will our economy.

Members of Congress, economists, workers and reporters know you can do this. After all, Walmart has to meet numerous safety nets in countries of Western Europe beyond a higher minimum wage, such as weeks of paid vacation and paid sick leave. Also, your top executives in Europe are paid far less than your $11,000 an hour plus benefits and perks.

Walmart watchers know that Walmart officials are worried about damaging disclosures, about Walmart problems such as foreign bribery in Mexico, which may become more numerous. Last year, during the Black Friday demonstrations, some of your workers and their supporters, raised the civil rights issue of Walmart’s retaliation for workers publically complaining about workplace harassment – pay, fair schedules and affordable health care. Such protests are only going to intensify in the future.

At a productive meeting with your government relations people in Washington, D.C. last year, I told them that Walmart was one billionaire away from a serious unionization drive, and I referred them to my political fiction book “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!” for a detailed step-by-step strategy that only awaits funding from one or two very rich, people.

You need to do something authentic that people can relate to – seventy percent of the people in polls support an inflation-adjusted minimum wage. So did Rick Santorum and even Mitt Romney, until he waffled during the primaries.

Your announcements this week about hiring 100,000 veterans in the next five years is less than what meets the eye. Twenty-thousand veterans hired each year is a tiny fraction of your workforce and if you are not doing that already, given your huge number of employees (1.4 million) and large annual turnovers, you should be ashamed.

Veterans would have to take a 50 percent or more pay cut from their military salaries – housing and food allowances, health care and other benefits – to work for Walmart. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the average active-duty service member receives Army benefits and compensation worth $99,000, which is much more than the prospect of a Walmart job paying less than $20,000 coupled with very limited health insurance.

Should you wish to discuss Walmart taking the lead in raising the minimum wage for its workers to catch up with 1968, please call me. It is better to anticipate than have to react to the looming dark clouds on Walmart’s horizon. Thank you for your considered response.

Sincerely yours,

Ralph Nader

January 17, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , | 1 Comment

India, Pakistan agree on Kashmir truce

Press TV – January 17, 2013

dz-pop-1162013LOC-PIC-FAROOQ-JAVED2India and Pakistan have agreed on a ceasefire to halt cross-border fighting over Kashmir, following recent deadly clashes in the disputed region.

A ceasefire took hold Thursday in disputed Kashmir after Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar appealed for talks with her Indian counterpart to help defuse tensions.

“No fresh incidents of firing or violation of the ceasefire agreement have been reported from the Line of Control,” said Rajesh Kalia, the spokesman for the Indian army’s Northern Command.

Three Pakistani soldiers and two Indian troops have been killed along the de facto border known as the Line of Control since January 6. India says one of its two soldiers was beheaded.

The ceasefire agreement was reached during a phone call on Wednesday between India’s General Vinod Bhatia and Pakistan’s General Ashfaq Nadeem.

“An understanding has been arrived at between the two director-generals of military operations to de-escalate the situation along the Line of Control,” said Indian army spokesman Jagdeep Dahiya.

The Pakistani military confirmed the telephone conversation, saying in a statement that “both sides agreed on the need to reduce tension on the LOC.”

The Pakistani foreign minister said in New York on Wednesday, “We will be open to a discussion, a dialogue, at the level of the foreign ministers to be able to resolve” the issue of the Line of Control (LOC) “incidents and to re-commit ourselves to the respect for the ceasefire.”

Kashmir lies at the heart of more than 60 years of hostility between India and Pakistan. Both countries claim the region in full but each only has control over a section of the territory.

Over the past two decades, the conflict in Kashmir has left over 47,000 people dead by the official count, although other sources say the death toll could be as high as 90,000.

January 17, 2013 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

Veolia Withdraws from California Water Contract Bidding

End the Occupation | January 11, 2013

Davis, California – The Davis Committee of Palestinian Rights (DCPR) is happy to report that Veolia Water North America has withdrawn as a prospective bidder on a $325 million dollar project that would provide treated water from the Sacramento River to residents of Woodland and Davis in Yolo County, California.  The announcement came at the December 20, 2012 meeting of the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency (Water Agency), a joint powers authority between the University of California – Davis and the cities of Woodland and Davis. Veolia’s withdrawal followed efforts by citizens of Yolo County to prevent Veolia’s bidding due to the company’s involvement in the violation of Palestinian human rights.

Members of DCPR first contested the participation of Veolia Water as a prospective bidder in June 2011.  Appearing before meetings of the Water Agency Board of Directors, DCPR provided substantial documentation of Veolia’s history of profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation and apartheid policies in Palestine, as well as the dissatisfaction of public agencies throughout the U.S. for Veolia’s mismanaged operations and poor performance, environmental permit violations and fines, and failure to make good on promised improvements.

On April 19th, 2012, DCPR testified before the Board charging that Veolia did not meet the Water Agency’s ethical criteria. Veolia’s involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail Transit system, its operation of settler-only buses on segregated roads in the occupied West Bank for inhabitants of illegal Israeli settlements, and its operation of a landfill on land confiscated from Palestinians have been contested by Palestinians and international human rights activists throughout the last decade. Veolia has suffered the loss of more than $20 billion in contracts to date following this global outcry.

Within the U.S., the Friends Fiduciary Corporation, which handles investments for hundreds of U.S. Quaker institutions, recently divested from Veolia following requests by Quakers concerned about the violation of Palestinian rights.  In December 2012 the City of St. Louis voted to suspend approval of a contract with Veolia Water until it completed an investigation of Veolia’s controversial labor, environmental, and human rights practices.  There are ongoing campaigns protesting Veolia Transportation public contracts in Sonoma County and Los Angeles, CA; Baltimore, MD; Boston, MA; and beyond.  The state-wide California Israel Divestment Campaign calls on CalPERS public pension system to divest from Veolia Environnement, Caterpillar and Elbit Systems.

Bids were initially due in December 2012, but following outcry from citizenry regarding the large impact of the project’s capital cost upon resident’s water bills, the City Council decided to postpone the due date and appoint a citizens’ advisory committee to investigate rate alternatives, revisit the water supply need-assessment, and consider other water procurement options.  Veolia was the only company to withdraw from bidding.

CONTACT: Mikos Fabersunne, Davis Committee for Palestinian Rights, fabersunne@sbcglobal.net


Veolia Fact Sheet

December 18th, 2012  |  Published in Latest News and Action Alerts, STL-PSC Blog

What is Veolia?

According to a story broken by the Riverfront Times, St. Louis city lawyers have been negotiating a contract with Veolia Water North America to guide cost-cutting. Veolia Water is a major subsidiary of Veolia Environnement, a Paris-based multinational corporation and the largest water privatization business in the world. Veolia is infamous for:

  • Failure to make good on promised improvements
  • Anti-labor practices
  • Privatizing public resources
  • Irresponsible to disastrous environmental practices
  • Mismanagement
  • Corruption, bribery, embezzlement, and fraud
  • Supporting and profiting from segregation and discrimination in Palestine

Worldwide, consumers report that Veolia consistently charges high rates, provides poor service, causes staff turnover, discourages water conservation, and fails to implement promised improvements. Its history reveals consistent prioritization of private profit at the expense of the environment and public welfare.

Unless otherwise indicated, the following is based on extensive research and documentation on Veolia’s practices by Water for All, Polaris Institute, Global Exchange, Novato Friends of Locally Operated Wastewater, Public Citizen, Public Water Works, and Food & Water Watch (here, here, here, here, here).

What happened in Indianapolis?

In its proposal to the St. Louis Water Division, Veolia extensively references its work in Indianapolis as a successful model that could inform Veolia’s guidance in St. Louis. If Indianapolis is any indication of Veolia’s practices, then our city would do well to steer clear. Veolia claims that the contract was completed and “focused on building a collaborative environment with all of the project stakeholders (union, government and the community).” In fact the company’s 20-year contract with Indianapolis was terminated by the city less than halfway through, by which time the following had ensued:

  • Non-union employees claimed that the company cut retirement plans, health care and other benefits, costing the workers more than $50 million over 25 years. Hundreds of employees, many organized under a strong union, found themselves in a pitched battle with the company to preserve benefits and hold Veolia to its promises.
  • Veolia was sued for breaking state contract law, and for overcharging 250,000 residents.
  • Because the company lacked proper safeguards, a typo by an employee caused a boil-water alert for more than a million people, closing local businesses and canceling school for 40,000 students.
  • An independent review uncovered lax oversight of the city’s contract with Veolia.
  • Consumer complaints more than doubled in the first 10 months of the contract.
  • In a study of 100 large U.S. cities, Environmental Working Group ranked Indianapolis drinking water quality #90 (i.e. 11th-worst overall). St. Louis ranks #9 — among the best in the country.

In 2005, a federal grand jury subpoenaed four Veolia Indianapolis employees as part of an investigation into allegations that the utility falsified water quality reports. The probe began amid accusations by Indianapolis council members that the company had cut back on staffing, water testing, treatment chemicals and maintenance. Though Veolia was never charged, the corporation sustained multimillion-dollar losses and dug its way out of this hole by finagling concessions, including a 2007 contract amendment shifting at least $144 million in costs from Veolia to the city. Ignoring public outcry from consumers and state officials, the city then tried to raise rates by 35% to pay for these additional expenses and more expensive capital improvement projects.

In 2010, with infrastructure needs mounting and Veolia demanding more than the city could afford, Indianapolis canceled the contract more than 10 years early, for which they were forced to pay Veolia an additional $29 million. The nonprofit Citizens Energy Group took over, positioned to save the city more money than multinational Veolia was ever able to.

If Veolia gives Indianapolis as an example of a success story, what could a failure possibly look like?

New Orleans — an Environmental Disaster, and Other Cities

In 2001 in New Orleans, an electrical fire at a sewer treatment plant operated by Veolia caused operators to divert raw sewage into the Mississippi River for two hours. In 2001 and 2002, the plant released sewage into the river a total of 50 times, often violating water quality standards and resulting in more than $107,000 in fines. The city’s Sewerage and Water Board Director and staff made numerous, repeated and documented complaints about Veolia reducing staff to inadequate levels, neglecting preventive maintenance, failing to notify city officials of environmental violations, and other problems. Veolia has a long track record of failing to communicate with New Orleans in connection with the contract. In 2002, the board rejected Veolia’s bid for a new water/wastewater contract following public outrage.

In Richmond, CA in 2006, the city and Veolia were sued for dumping more than 17 million gallons of sewage into tributaries that empty into the San Francisco Bay. The Baykeeper watchdog group said Richmond had one of the highest spill rates in the state. The city had given a 20-year, $70 million contract to Veolia, which promised to cut costs and develop and implement an improvement plan for the sewer and storm water systems. By the time of the lawsuit four years later, the company had not even finished designing the plan, much less begun the renovations. Richmond settled the lawsuit out of court by agreeing to pay for multimillion-dollar improvements to reduce sewer spills. In addition, Richmond taxpayers had to shell out $500,000 annually for years to compensate residents and businesses for property damaged. Even after the lawsuits, the problem continues: Veolia’s Richmond plant had 22 spills dumping more than 2 million gallons of sewage during the first two months of 2008.

Lynn, MA ended a wastewater overflow plant contract with Veolia because the company failed to stay adequately bonded for the project. While company officials lauded the continuing contracts with water and wastewater treatment plants in the community, the town rapped the company for cutting costs by refusing to properly treat wastewater with chemicals. As a result, the town was blanketed in a stench.

Angleton, TX terminated a Veolia contract for non-performance and took the company to court, charging that it breached its contract by failing to maintain adequate staffing levels, not submitting capital project reports and charging improper expenses to the maintenance and repair tab picked up by the city.

In Atlanta, Veolia tried to maximize revenue simply by slashing the work force in half, contributing to boil-water orders, maintenance backlogs and other issue that ultimately led to dissolution of the contract.

In Sauget, IL, right across the river, a related Veolia subsidiary operated a hazardous waste incinerator for over 10 years without a clean air permit. In 2005, “the owners agreed to pay $150,000 for alleged air pollution violations.” As of 2008, the facility had been fined more than $3 million,” mostly related to small explosions and releasing toxic chemicals, including carcinogenic dioxins, into the air.

For more examples, see: Burlingame, CA; Wilmington, DE; Port Arthur, TX; Cranston, RI; and others.

Bribery, Corruption, Embezzlement, Fraud

Corruption, bribery, embezzlement, and fraud appear to part of Veolia’s corporate culture. The president of a Veolia subsidiary was convicted of bribing a New Orleans sewer board member to support renewal of its contract (see background above) in 2002. The same year, the mayor of Bridgeport, CT was convicted on 16 counts including taking kickbacks, bribes and extortion along with 8 other defendants a contract proposal from Veolia (then called Vivendi). A forensic audit in Rockland, MA led to contract termination amid embezzlement charges involving a sewer department official and a local company executive charged with embezzling more than US$300,000. Veolia disclosed accounting fraud in the U.S. from 2007-2010 amounting to $120 million. The scandal took place in their Gulf of Mexico Marine Services unit. These are small examples of a pattern of Veolia replicated around the country and world.

Would this contract privatize the city’s water? No — not yet. But the contract would position Veolia — which specializes in water privatization — as a “brain-trust” of management expertise in reducing costs. Many view Veolia and focusing on privatizing services through long-term monopoly contracts rather than through outright ownership. These types of “advisory” roles can serve as a backdoor avenue toward eventually privatizing municipal operations.

Supporting Apartheid and Segregation in Israel/Palestine

Veolia is involved in Israel’s systematic ethnic discrimination against the Palestinians in many ways:

An Israeli subsidiary, Veolia Water – Israel, operates a wastewater treatment plant located in an illegal Jewish-only settlement called Modiin Ilit, built on Palestinian land in the West Bank. The owners of the land on which this settlement was built have been violently driven out. Two unarmed Palestinians from the Palestinian village on which Modiin Ilit was built, have been killed as they protested nonviolently against the ongoing confiscation of their land and resources. Veolia continues to service the settlement.

An Israeli subsidiary of Veolia Transdev, Connex – Israel, operates buses on segregated roads through the occupied West Bank, including two bus lines that use road 443, which is built partially on confiscated land with portions closed entirely to Palestinians. A separate but unequal Palestinian road system is made up of low grade roads cut by checkpoints and physical barriers restricting Palestinian freedom of movement. Last year, Palestinian Freedom Riders attempted to board buses operating on their own land and were violently removed and arrested. Veolia is profiting from segregation and discrimination.

Another Israeli subsidiary, Veolia Environmental Services – Israel, supervises, consults for, and operates the Tovlan Landfill in the occupied Jordan Valley, collecting refuse from illegal settlements. Israel renders it almost impossible for Palestinians in the Jordan Valley to gain permits to build homes, toilets, wells, animal pens, or other vital infrastructure for local communities, which has forced almost all Palestinian families out, with those remaining living in dire conditions. Some are left with no alternative but to work on settlements that have taken their families’ land, for pay far below the minimum wage, unable to take bathroom breaks, and denied any rights to unionize. Veolia takes captured Palestinian land and natural resources to service the settlements exploiting or driving out Palestinians.

UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk recently recommended that Veolia “should be boycotted, until they bring their operations into line with international human rights and humanitarian law and standards.” Veolia’s extensive profiting from Israel’s illegal practices have provoked global outcry, costing Veolia more than $12.5 billion in lost contracts to date. Recently, the Friends Fiduciary Corporation, which handles investments for hundreds of U.S. Quaker institutions, also divested from Veolia.

Veolia already in Financial Trouble

With public opinion shifting negatively around the world, Veolia is paying a price. After a 25-year contract, Veolia’s home city of Paris declined to renew its contract in 2009. Cities around the world have done the same. Veolia’s profit margin has plummeted since 2008 and the company lost more than half its market value in 2011. Veolia’s CEO pledged to sell $1.8 billion of assets and to stop operations in at least 37 countries. In September 2012, Veolia’s debt stood at more than $19.7 billion.

Now, Veolia is trying to bring its risky and immoral business to our backyard.

January 17, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Fantasies of David Brooks

By JOHN W. FARLEY | CounterPunch | January 17, 2013

David Brooks, conservative pundit at the New York Times, reviewed a new book (The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?) by geographer Jared Diamond in the Sunday January 13 NYT. Under the title Tribal Lessons, Brooks discusses warfare between pre-state tribal societies in New Guinea.  Between April and September 1961, a series of battles between rival tribal alliances, using spears and arrows, killed total of 0.14% of  the total population of the tribal alliances.

Brooks informs the readers of the New York Times that “As a share of the total population, that’s a higher casualty rate than Europe, Japan, China, or America suffered during the world wars.”  Brooks goes on to say that “The highest war-related death rates for modern societies (Russia and Germany during the 20th century) are only a third of the average death rates of tribal societies. Modern societies average war-related death rates that are about one-tenth a high as tribal societies.”

That didn’t sound right to me, so I decided to do some fact checking on Wikipedia, looking up casualties (military and civilian) during the First and Second World War.

During the First World War, many countries suffered losses far greater than Brooks’ 0.14%, including the UK (2.19%), France (4.29%, Germany (3.82%), and the Russian Empire (1.89% to 2.14%). The heaviest percentage losses were suffered by Romania (9.33%), the Ottoman Empire (13.72%) and Serbia (16.11%).  The United States escaped with 0.13%. The Central Powers (Austria-Hungary,  Bulgaria, German Empire, and Ottoman Empire) averaged 5%, while the Entente Powers (including the U.S.) averaged 1.19%. The Second World War was even bloodier: Wikipedia lists casualties for Germany (8 to 10.5%), the Soviet Union (13.88%), Japan (3.67 to 4.37% ), and China (1.93% to 3.86%).

Notice that the combined losses in both world wars for Russia/Soviet Union is 16%, which according to Brooks is “only a third of the average death rates of tribal societies”. That would imply that the death rates of tribal societies at 16% x 3 = 48%, instead of Brooks’ number of 0.14%. Brooks’ error is a factor of 343 (!!)

Brooks’ concludes that “the most obvious difference between us is that pre-state tribal societies are just a lot more violent.”  Not if you do the math right. Actually, the most obvious difference is that modern industrial societies at war are just a whole lot more violent than tribal societies.

The New York Times employs fact-checkers. Did anybody ever fact-check Brooks’ review? Apparently not.

The NYTimes employs statistician Nate Silver, author of the 2012 book The Signal and The Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail, But Some Don’t. Mr. Silver can do math, and Silver can pull up Wikipedia on his computer. The Times should hire Nate Silver to babysit for David Brooks.

This is not the first offense for David Brooks. A dozen years ago, Brooks’ 2001 article in the  Atlantic Monthly, “One Nation, Slightly Divisible”  explored the cultural differences between Red State America and Blue State America.  Brooks’ article was widely praised. However, when journalist Sasha Issenberg  fact-checked it in a 2004 article in Philly Magazine, Issenberg found that many of Brooks’ generalizations were false, and much of his “research” was invented out of whole cloth.

January 17, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism | | Leave a comment

CNOOC, Chevron sign production sharing contracts

Xinhua | 2013-01-17

BEIJING – China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) has signed two production sharing contracts with Chevron China Energy Company for two blocks in the South China Sea, a statement said.

CNOOC Limited, a subsidiary of CNOOC — the country’s largest offshore oil and gas producer, said in the online statement late Wednesday that the two blocks, Block 15/10 and Block 15/28, are located in the Pearl River Mouth Basin in the east part of the South China Sea.

According to the terms of the contracts, Chevron will conduct 3D seismic data surveys in the two blocks during the exploration period, in which all expenditures incurred will be borne by Chevron.

CNOOC is allowed to take up to 51 percent of interest in any commercial discoveries in the blocks, the statement said.

“We are very pleased to become a partner with Chevron again and hope this project achieves commercial discoveries soon to create economic returns for both companies,” said Zhu Weilin, executive vice president of CNOOC Limited.

January 17, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Malthusian Ideology, Phony Scarcity | , , , , | Leave a comment

Norway is squeezing Russia out of European gas market

RT | January 17, 2013

Norway, Russia’s closest rival in the European gas market, seems to overtaking Russia’s Gazprom. Norway boasted record high exports in 2012, while Gazprom suffered the worst numbers in 10 years.

Norway increased its exports 16% in 2012 to reach 107.6bn cubic metres, according to Europe’s key statistics office Eurostat. This is “a record level, close to the Russian gas exports to Europe,” Michael Korchyomkin, head of East European Gas Analysis, told Kommersant daily.

During the same period, Russia’s gas giant Gazprom cut sales to Europe and Turkey by 8%, according to the company’s head Aleksey Miller. That’s the lowest export level for the last decade, Korchyomkin said.

At the moment Norway is breathing down Russia’s neck in its key European market – Germany. In 2011 Gazprom supplied 30bln cubic meters out of the total 80bn cubic meters of gas Germany consumes annually. Norway sold just a bit less – 28bn cubic meters. Norway’s Statoil accounts for about 70% of the country’s exports and in 2012 signed a 10 year contract to supply gas to Germany’s Wintershall.

Norway’s lower gas prices are another tool to win customers. The country’s Petroleum Ministry is suggesting charges for gas transportation in new contracts should be significantly cut, according to Reuters citing Norwegian Petroleum Minister Ola Borten Moe.The exact price cut remains unclear, with Kommersant daily assessing it at 7%.

Competitive pricing has become a crucial issue at a time when crisis – stricken Europe can’t afford huge bills.

On Thursday Gazprom 9M 2012 IFRS results showed things are not that rosy for Russia’s’ gas monopoly. The company’s profit for the period was down 12% year on year to $27.1bn, with the net sales of gas decreasing by 8% year on year, to about $61.4bn.

Net sales exclude the amounts paid by the company in form of value added tax and customs duties.

Earlier in the week Fitch rating agency predicted a further fall of sales for Gazprom in 2013, referring to weak economic conditions and slack demand.

January 17, 2013 Posted by | Economics | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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