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Walmart warns workers not to use app helping them understand company’s labor rules

RT | November 15, 2016

OUR Walmart, a worker-led activist group, has devised a new app, now available for Android smartphones, that uses artificial intelligence to help workers understand company policies and legal rights. Walmart has told workers to not download the app.

The app, WorkIt, was released Monday to offer advice to Walmart workers on a host of issues, according to OUR Walmart.

OUR Walmart is a labor group, but not a union, as Walmart does not offer collective bargaining rights, which has thousands of paying members and has organized Black Friday protests at Walmart locations nationwide.

The OUR Walmart organization teamed up with software development company Quadrant 2 to develop WorkIt. The app uses IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence bot to answer concerns or questions of employee, who are only identified on the app by their username and store position. Watson accesses a database built by Walmart workers to address user questions. When Watson cannot answer one of about 200 queries, “there is a peer network of experts that will interact with the users,” Jason Van Anden, founder of Quadrant 2, told the Wall Street Journal. Watson then has the ability to learn how to answer certain questions from the peer experts.

For its part, Walmart has already addressed store managers about the app, warning that OUR Walmart is “increasingly trying to get our associates to turn over personal information to the union by using deceptive and slick looking social media and mobile apps,” according to a document reported by the WSJ.

“We just wanted to give you a heads up that if someone tries to get you to download an OUR Walmart work-related app on your mobile device, you may unknowingly be giving away valuable personal information like your location and personal contact information that the union can use however it wants,” Walmart wrote to store managers, according to Bloomberg.

“There is no way to know if the details this group is pushing are correct,” Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg said in a statement. “Our people are smart and see this for what it is; an attempt by an outside group to collect as much personal and private information as possible.”

The app does not track location or ask users to submit their location, according to Cat Huang, a technologist who worked on the app.

“We’re not going to sell the data, ever,” OUR Walmart co-director Andrea Dehlendorf told Bloomberg. “We will share it with researchers and use it to inform conversations with Walmart. But it’s not part of the revenue model.”

The app’s utility emerged in the days when Walmart employees had limited time to access information on the company’s extensive human resources policy guide held on the Walmart intranet known as Wire. (The company says it has offered more access to its policies since early 2016, Bloomberg reported.) In addition, queries to OUR Walmart’s Facebook page became to much for the group to handle.

OUR Walmart directors raised money from various groups, like the Workers Lab, and hired a technologist, Huang, and a developer, Van Anden, to help create the app.

The app will also assist OUR Walmart by gathering data on specific issues that impact employees, allowing the group to address the company with hard proof of the employee experience.

“It will give us real evidence to talk to the company about what’s broken,” Dehlendorf told Bloomberg. “We have to be in a place where we can say, ‘This is the truth. We have massive data.'”

The app does not access Walmart’s policy guide directly, but offers “interpretations of the policies,” Huang told Bloomberg.

OUR Walmart said it expects about 14,000 employees, or around 1 percent of Walmart workers, to download the app by the end of 2017.

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , | Leave a comment

Hillary Clinton’s Strong Proclivity toward the Use of Force

By Edward S. Herman | Dissident Voice | November 5, 2015

Diana Johnstone has written an extremely valuable book on Hillary Clinton, which not only examines in detail Mrs. Clinton’s political history and record, but places them in their evolving political context, which enlightens readers on the domestic and international political environment within which she works and into which she adapts and serves. Mrs. Clinton played an important role in the termination of Honduran democracy in 2009 and in the war on Libya in 2011, during her term as Secretary of State, and she had a lesser role but staked out definite positions in the 1999 war on Yugoslavia and the escalating hostilities against Russia in more recent years. Johnstone has excellent analyses of these cases: in her introductory chapter (a section on “A Taste of Hillary in Action: Hypocrisy on Honduras”) and in separate chapters on Yugoslavia (“Yugoslavia: the Clinton War Cycle”), Libya (“A War of Her Own”) and Russia (“Not Understanding Russia”).

410GsPu3iRL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_As Johnstone indicates Mrs.Clinton quickly and clearly displayed her regressive, intellectually lightweight and hypocritical policy agenda in connection with the June 28, 2009, military coup in Honduras. She attended an OAS meeting in Honduras just a few weeks earlier, where she saw as her first order task how to prevent the lifting of the 47-year-old ban excluding Cuba, which a large majority of the OAS now considered “an outdated artifact of the Cold War”. Johnstone notes that Hillary and staff solved the problem by pouring the old wine into a new bottle. “No more Cold War, no more ‘communist threat’. ‘Given what President Obama had said about moving past the stale debates of the Cold War,’ Hillary wrote in her memoir Hard Choices, ‘it would be hypocritical of us to continue insisting that Cuba be kept out of the OAS for the reasons it was first suspended in 1962, ostensibly its adherence to ‘Marxism-Leninism’ and alignment ‘with the communist bloc.’ It would be more credible and accurate to focus on Cuba’s present-day human rights violations, which were incompatible with the OAS charter.’”

As Johnstone points out, Hillary sees nothing hypocritical in inventing a transparent device to keep Cuba out while pretending to let Cuba in: “What if we agreed to lift the suspension, but with the condition that Cuba be reseated as a member only if it made enough democratic reforms to bring it in line with the charter? And, to expose the Castro brothers’ contempt for the OAS itself, why not require Cuba to formally request readmittance?” Indeed, this proved just hypocritical enough to persuade the fence-hangers, Brazil and Chile, to go along. Thus Hillary began her diplomatic career in Latin America by rebranding hostility to any independent socio-economic policy from “anti-communism” to defense of “human rights”, by transparent hypocrisy enforced by arm-twisting, and by enforcing the Monroe Doctrine in both domestic and international affairs.

During and after the Honduran coup that followed, the Clinton State Department refused to call it a coup, and engaged in steady apologetics and protection of the coup leaders and their terroristic and corrupt new order. As Johnstone concludes, following a useful account of the negative outcome: “When a white hat appears on the horizon of a wretched place like Honduras proclaiming his intention to try to improve conditions [here the ousted president Manuel Zelaya], couldn’t the rich and powerful United States react otherwise than stigmatizing him as a potential ‘dictator’? Instead of giving an advocate of change the opportunity to try, Hillary’s State Department connived to help bundle him out of power. All is back to normal; however below normal that particular normal happens to be…. As we will see throughout this book, the foreign policy of Hillary Clinton amounts to the application of an enlarged Monroe Doctrine to the entire world.”

Mrs. Clinton has portrayed herself as an employer of “soft power,” but in reality Johnstone shows that she has had a strong proclivity toward the use of force. She hasn’t been bothered by its extensive use in post-coup Honduras, she pushed for it in Yugoslavia in 1999, she supported the invasion of Iraq, and it was central in her own war in Libya in 2011. She has been extremely hostile to Putin and seems to be anxious to fight with him in Ukraine and possibly elsewhere..She was a strong supporter of the war-mongering Madeleine Albright during Bill Clinton’s tenure, and her own appointments have included a string of militant women –Victoria Nuland, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power. Johnstone observes that: “A salient trait of the new school of women diplomats is that they are strikingly undiplomatic. Indeed, Madeleine Albright’s greatest diplomatic success [in the Yugoslavia war], was to obstruct diplomacy.” Secretary of State Clinton also appointed the notorious neocon husband of Victoria Nuland, Robert Kagan, as an adviser.

One of her soft power triumphs was the intense politician-media-human rights organizations’ campaign on the trials and tribulations of the Pussy Riot group in Russia. This group achieved notoriety by arrests following their occupation and interruption of the service in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, which offended worshipers on the spot with anti-Christian obscenities, not by any “political messages.” They had their escapade videotaped, with a post-occupation addition of an attack on Putin. This was made in the West into a telling proof of a free speech crackdown, and by Putin, although the police had been called in by Church officials. And this group had been carrying out similar antics for some years without arrest or trial. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch made this into major campaigns in defense of Russian freedom, although these same organizations put up no defense at all for Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake or Edward Snowden. A similar group Semen, specializing in female bare breast exhibition, had similar success in France. Hillary Clinton was proud to be photographed with the Pussy Riot heroines, and her former State Department associate Susan Nossel, pushed the Pussy Riot-anti-Putin campaign aggressively from her position as head of Amnesty International (a low point in AI history). Johnstone has a valuable analysis of this episode and campaign.

Johnstone places Mrs. Clinton in the context of the triumph of the military-industrial complex and the derived forward actions of the warfare state. The gradual triumph of the MIC and rising inequality have made domestic reform out of bounds for political leaders in this country. But aggressive actions abroad are actually required to demonstrate belief in the “exceptional” nation called upon to “shape” the world in accord with U.S. free market ideology, and to feed the demands of the MIC. Johnstone argues that “The United States no longer even makes war in order to win, but rather to make sure that the other side loses.” Thus the fact that Mrs. Clinton’s wars were not won in any meaningful sense has not dented her popularity where it counts. She has kept the MIC busy and dealt blows to proper targets.

The American people swallow this nonsense because the wars are kept at a distance, no U.S. homes are blown up, and “for most Americans, U.S. wars are simply a branch of the entertainment industry, something to hear about on television but rarely seen.” Popular illusions are maintained by the “political branch of the entertainment industry: politicians, mass media news coverage, defense intellectuals, commentators.” These are sponsored by members of the underlying power structure, and Johnstone suggests that we can learn about these sponsors by examining the list of Clinton Foundation donors who have contributed millions of dollars, supposedly for charity:

“Eight digit donors [10 million or more] include: Saudi Arabia, the pro-Israel Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk, and the Saban family.”… Seven digit sponsors include: Kuwait, Exxon Mobil, ‘Friends of Saudi Arabia,’ James Murdoch, Qatar, Boeing, Dow, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, and the United Arab Emirates,” Earlier in her book Johnstone notes that billionaire Haim Saban was especially taken with Mrs. Clinton, declaring in a Bloomberg interview in July 2014 that he would contribute “as much as needed” to elect her to the presidency; also mentioning that “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.”

Johnstone asks “What is it about the Clintons that makes them so popular, particularly with Saudi Arabia?” She answers: “With friends like that, you need enemies. And Hillary knows where to find them – in countries these friendly donors don’t like. In her driving ambition to be the First Woman President of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton has made herself a figment of the collective imagination by fitting herself into the role of top salesperson for the ruling oligarchy:

• She has shifted her interest from children’s rights, a field with no big money backers, to promotion of military power (also known as ‘the only language they understand’).
• She has spread the message that U.S. interference in other countries is motivated by the generous impulse to spread ‘our ideals’ to the dark corners of elsewhere.
• She readily treats foreign heads of state with dehumanizing contempt, declaring that they have ‘no soul’, or ‘no conscience’, and dismissing them as lowly creatures that ‘must go’.
• She ‘misspeaks’, but sees nothing wrong with that. In politics, who doesn’t ‘misspeak’? She is not there to tell the truth, but to tell her story.
• She can still pose as a woman whose only aspiration is to ‘break the glass ceiling’ for the benefit of all women, who will now be able to fill all the top jobs in the country… thanks to Hillary!”

“In short, she has used all the stereotypical clichés of the ‘exceptional America’ narrative as rungs in her ladder to the top. Hillary Clinton’s performance as Secretary of State was a great success in one respect: it has made her the favorite candidate of the War Party. This appears to have been her primary objective. But Hillary Clinton is far from being the whole problem. The fundamental problem is the War Party and its tight grip on U.S. policy.”

Diana Johnstone has written an exceptional book that enlightens on Hillary Clinton’s history, role and threat and the war system context in which she thrives.

• First Published at Z Magazine. November 2015

December 26, 2015 Posted by | Book Review, Militarism | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Human resources: Walmart hired Lockheed Martin to keep tabs on employees

RT | November 25, 2015

Walmart hired global security giant Lockheed Martin a few years ago to monitor activism in its massive workforce, according to new documents. The defense contractor tracked employees’ social media and reported protest participation to the retail giant.

Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, provided Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, with intelligence-gathering and surveillance services in 2012, according to a lengthy report by Bloomberg Businessweek. The news has emerged just before Black Friday protests by a union-funded group called OUR Walmart, the report claims. Participants demand higher wages and reliable scheduling for Walmart employees.

While Walmart publicly dismissed the demonstrations as “just another union publicity stunt,” their subsequent actions indicate that they took it seriously. In addition to hiring Lockheed Martin to keep tabs on employees’ social media feeds, the companies ranked stores by labor activity and monitored employees who were known to be involved in labor activism, according to Bloomberg.

The defense contractor offers a product called LM Wisdom, which is marketed as a tool for fighting drug and human trafficking, but which Walmart used  to track employees in 2012 and 2013. Lockheed Martin analysts would follow the Twitter and Facebook feeds of workers and then report information about labor activism back to the company’s corporate headquarters. The defense contractor also put together a map of likely routes for five “Ride for Respect” bus caravans that were sent to HQ to demonstrate.

In one of the documents obtained, when asked about the company’s relationship with Lockheed Martin, Walmart Senior Vice President of Labor Relations Karen Ann Cassey said that the company was even “partnering with the FBI/the Joint Terrorism Task Force” to monitor protesters that planned to go to the company’s headquarters, saying that similar protests have become violent.

Walmart didn’t comment on the specific allegations in the Bloomberg story, but sent a statement via email arguing that the measures had been taken to protect their shoppers, employees and business.

“Unfortunately, there are occasions when outside groups attempt to deliberately disrupt our business and on behalf of our customers and associates we take action accordingly,” the statement reads.

Bloomberg retrieved the information on Lockheed Martin’s labor-monitoring services by acquiring documents ahead of a National Labor Relations Board hearing. The case concerns Walmart’s alleged history retaliation against employees who protested against the retailer.

Earlier this year, Walmart announced that its company-wide minimum wage would go from $9 in 2015 and [to] $10. While OUR Walmart touts this wage increase as a victory, they remain steadfast in their demand for a minimum of $15 an hour. The group will be protesting this Black Friday for the fourth year in a row.

READ MORE: Walmart accused of dodging US taxes by storing $76 billion in assets abroad

November 25, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monsanto and the Subjugation of India

By COLIN TODHUNTER | CounterPunch | June 12, 2015

After a study of GMOs over a four-year plus period, India’s multi-party Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture recommended a ban on GM food crops stating they had no role in a country of small farmers. The Supreme Court appointed a technical expert committee (TEC), which recommended an indefinite moratorium on the field trials of GM crops until the government devised a proper regulatory and safety mechanism. As yet, no such mechanism exists, but open field trials are being given the go ahead. GMO crops approved for field trials include rice, maize, chickpea, sugarcane, and brinjal.

The only commercially grown genetically modified (GM) crop gown in India at this time is Bt cotton. It is hardly the resounding success story the pro-GMO lobby would like us to believe.

Pushpa M Bhargava is founder director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, India. Writing in the Hindustan Times, he states that

* Bt cotton is far from having been an unqualified success in India. It has worked only in irrigated areas and not in rain-fed regions that represent two-thirds of the area under cotton cultivation in the country.

* Out of over 270,000 farmers’ suicides, Bt cotton farmers constitute a substantial number.

* In Andhra Pradesh, there have been deaths of thousands of cattle that grazed on the remnants of Bt cotton plants after harvesting of cotton.

* Resistance to pests in Bt cotton has developed over the years. There has also been a marked increase in the number of secondary pests such as mealy bug.

* The soil where Bt cotton has been grown over a prolonged period has become incapable of sustaining any other crop.

* Some 90 percent of the member countries of the United Nations, including almost all countries of Europe, haven’t permitted GM crops or unlabelled GM food.

* There are over 500 research publications by scientists of indisputable integrity, who have no conflict of interest, that establish the harmful effects of GM crops on human, animal and plant health, and on the environment and biodiversity.

* On the other hand, virtually every paper supporting GM crops is by scientists who have a declared conflict of interest or whose credibility and integrity can be doubted.

* The argument that we need GM technology to feed the increasing population of India is fallacious. Even with low productivity, which can be increased, India even now produces sufficient grain in the country to take care of its requirements.

* India can double its food production by using non-GM technologies, such as molecular breeding.

* Few chronic toxicity tests have been done anywhere on GM food crops. Whenever these tests have been done, GM food has been shown to lead to cancer.

Back in 2003, after examining all aspects of GM crops, eminent scientists from various countries who formed the Independent Science Panel concluded:

“GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits and are posing escalating problems on the farm. Transgenic contamination is now widely acknowledged to be unavoidable, and hence there can be no co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture. Most important of all, GM crops have not been proven safe. On the contrary, sufficient evidence has emerged to raise serious safety concerns that if ignored could result in irreversible damage to health and the environment. GM crops should be firmly rejected now.”

On a similar note, writing in The Statesman Bharat Dogra quotes Professor Susan Bardocz as saying:

“GM is the first irreversible technology in human history. When a GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) is released it is out of our control; we have no means to call it back….”

Dogra also notes that 17 distinguished scientists from Europe, USA, Canada and New Zealand wrote to the former Indian Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh warning against “the unique risks (of GM crops) to food security, farming systems and bio-safety impacts which are ultimately irreversible.” This letter adds:

“The GM transformation process is highly mutagenic leading to disruptions to host plant genetic structure and function, which in turn leads to disturbances in the biochemistry of the plant. This can lead to novel toxin and allergen production as well as reduced/altered nutrition quality.”

Writing in The Hindu, Aruna Rodrigues states that the consensus on the negative impacts of GMOs in various official reports in India is remarkable.

Yet India seems to be pressing ahead with a pro-GMO agenda regardless. Little surprise then that Bhargava argues that the Central Government departments in India act as peddlers of GM technology, probably in collusion with the transnational corporations which market GM seeds.

There is no ‘probably’ about it and the collusion goes beyond GMOs.

The World Bank/IMF/WTO’s goals on behalf of Big Agritech and the opening up of India to it are well documented. With the help of compliant politicians, transnational companies want farmers’ lands and unmitigated access to Indian markets. This would entail the wholesale ‘restructuring’ of Indian society under the bogus banner of ‘free trade’, which will lead (is leading) to the destruction of the livelihoods of hundreds of millions [see this, this and this].

Moreover, Monsanto, Walmart and other giant US corporations had a seat at the top table when the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture was agreed with the US. Monsanto also dominates the cotton industry in India and is increasingly shaping agri-policy and the knowledge paradigm by funding agricultural research in public universities and institutes: it is the “contemporary East India Company.”

If further evidence were needed in terms of just who is setting the agenda, Vandana Shiva highlights the arm twisting that has gone on in an attempt to force through GMOs into India, with various politicians having been pushed aside until the dotted line for GMO open field testing approval was signed on.

And those like Shiva and Rodrigues who legitimately protest, resist or offer constructive alternatives are demonized by an Intelligence Bureau report whose authors might appear to some as having been sponsored by the very transnational corporations that are seeking to recast India in their own images.

Bhargava states that 64 percent of India’s population derives its sustenance from agriculture-related activities. Therefore, whosoever controls Indian agriculture would control the country. And here lies the crux of the matter. To control Indian agriculture, the bedrock of the country, one needs to control only seeds and agro-chemicals. Monsanto and its backers in the US State Department are well aware of this fact. And to control Indian politicians is to control India.

US foreign policy has almost always rested on the control of agriculture:

“American foreign policy has almost always been based on agricultural exports, not on industrial exports as people might think. It’s by agriculture and control of the food supply that American diplomacy has been able to control most of the Third World. The World Bank’s geopolitical lending strategy has been to turn countries into food deficit areas by convincing them to grow cash crops – plantation export crops – not to feed themselves with their own food crops.” – Professor Michael Hudson

US foreign policy is about power and control: the power to control food, states and entire populations.

Politicians in India and elsewhere continue to ignore the evidence pertaining to the dangers of GMOs. They are handmaidens of US corporate-geopolitical interests. The US relies on compliant politicians in foreign countries. These figures are just as important for furthering US goals in India as much as they are elsewhere.

June 13, 2015 Posted by | Economics, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Stop Corporate Welfare Kings

By Ralph Nader | CounterPunch | April 17, 2015

“Tax day” comes and goes each year, but unfortunately, the systemic issues that plague American taxpayers linger on without resolution well past the mid-April deadline.

The U.S. tax code has long been manipulated by corporate lobbyists and their corporate tax attorneys. (President Jimmy Carter once called the loophole-ridden tax laws “a disgrace to the human race.”) A primary purpose of these perforations is to arrange the law and regulations so that certain categories of profit-rich companies can avoid paying their fair share to Uncle Sam.

In many states, it is a literal race to the bottom for elected officials to offer corporations sweeter tax deals to keep jobs in their locality — see the 2013 Boeing controversy in the state of Washington, in which the aerospace industry, much of which is made up of Boeing, was awarded $8.7 billion in tax breaks over 16 years to produce the 777X jetliner in-state. Notably, Boeing paid zero in federal income tax that year — along with many other major U.S. corporations such as GE and Verizon. Some of these Fortune 500 companies even get a rebate check!

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, “American Fortune 500 corporations are avoiding up to $600 billion in U.S. federal income taxes by holding more than $2.1 trillion” of retained profits offshore, which they designate as “permanently reinvested” to avoid a tax liability.

And of course, millionaires and billionaires often pay less in taxes than middle-class Americans do, taking full advantage of tax loopholes, deductions, deferrals and other forms of creative accounting. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives now intends to pass legislation to repeal the estate tax, which would see that “vast amounts of money that has never been taxed will be passed tax-free to the heirs of today’s billionaires,” according to Scott Klinger of the Center for Effective Government.

The end result is that, through a myriad of tax avoidance schemes, the wealthy 1 percent continue to profit using public resources, subsidies and infrastructure while the 99 percent disproportionately pay the bills for it — all while struggling to pay their own bills, mortgages, student loans, and more. And when Wall Street runs amok, it’s the taxpayers who have paid the bills for the catastrophic damage as a result of regulatory surrender. Millions of these taxpayers also lost their jobs and pensions in the 2008-2009 Wall Street collapse of our economy.

This brings us to the Internal Revenue Service — which has been made into a dirty word to many Americans. Those Americans might be surprised to learn, however, that the current IRS enforcement budget is $10.9 billion, after a cut of $346 million from the previous year. To put that in perspective, Apple Inc. spent $14 billion just to buy back its own stock last year, a move that only serves to provide a meager benefit, if that, to its shareholders, while nourishing executive compensation packages.

The IRS loses an estimated $300 billion a year due to tax evasion. A budget proposal by the Obama administration claimed that the IRS could bring in an additional $6 for every dollar it adds to the enforcement budget. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said that he pushes this very convincing point in Congress to little reception or reaction. “I say that and everybody shrugs and goes on about their business,” he told the AP in 2014. “I have not figured out either philosophically or psychologically why nobody seems to care whether we collect the revenue or not.”

The effects of these budgetary cuts are already being seen. Current staffing levels at the IRS are at 87,000 — the lowest since the early 1980s. The agency lost 13,000 employees from 2010 to 2014 and expects to lose another 3,000 this year. In the final stretch towards April 15, many taxpayers have experienced excruciatingly long waits on hold and long lines at local IRS offices as a result. Congress doesn’t care. (National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, who operates independently within the IRS, detailed this degradation of service in her annual report to Congress. (See taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov.)

Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has gone so far as to publicly state his intention to abolish the IRS entirely, calling that radical course of action the “simplest and best tax reform.” It’s not clear how Senator Cruz intends the federal government to collect revenue to pay for his presidential salary, the White House budget and expanding his giant military budget if he should be elected and not recover his senses.

It is clear, however, that significant rational tax reform is necessary. What remains unclear is who will benefit the most from such reform. Americans must seriously ask why individual U.S. taxpayers are fronting the money for hugely profitable corporations. These are funds that could potentially be used to repair critical public infrastructure, create decently paying jobs, or simply reduce the tax burden on middle-income individuals.

One solution to ensure that the interests of small taxpayers are accounted for and protected is to establish taxpayer watchdog associations across the country. These organizations would work full-time in each state to make sure that individual taxpayers get the best deal possible. After all, big corporations can afford to support an army of tax accountants and attorneys to continually update the playbook of tactics to avoid having to pay their fair share. Most taxpayers don’t have this luxury. What they do have, however, is sheer force of numbers. Organization of such watchdog organizations could be facilitated by including a notice on the 1040 tax return inviting people to pay a small due and join these advocacy and educational nonprofit groups. These associations would be supported by membership dues and would receive no tax money. The members would elect a board of directors that could hire researchers, organizers, accountants and lawyers.

Such pressure from united citizen bodies would provide the organizational mechanism to enhance the influence of individuals in the tax-collection and policy-making process — something that is much-needed in our current American plutocracy.

A simple motto to consider when asking what we choose to tax is: “Tax what they burn, not what we earn.” Before we place the largest burdens of taxation on workers, we should tax areas that have the greatest potential negative or damaging influence on our economy and our society. Tax the polluters, the Wall Street speculators, the junk-food peddlers, and the corporate criminals. Consider that just a fraction of a 1-percent sales tax on speculation in derivatives and trading in stocks could bring in $300 billion a year! (See robinhoodtax.org.)

If taxpayers really want to protect their interests, they must organize and fight for them. The corporations certainly have the money — but they can’t match the manpower or votes of an organized citizenry.

In the meantime, big corporations on welfare like Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Pfizer, General Electric, Weyerhaeuser, and ExxonMobile should declare April 15 to be Taxpayer Appreciation Day. The corporate welfare kings should have the decency to, at least, thank smaller taxpayers who pay for all the freeloading that the corporatists have rammed through Congress. (See goodjobsfirst.org for much more on this issue.)

Follow Ralph Nader on Twitter : www.twitter.com/RalphNader

April 17, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Can Right and Left Rally Against Walmart?

337112_protest against Wal-Mart

By Ralph Nader | November 28, 2013

One of the most profitable corporations in America is having a holiday food drive. Sounds good — it’s the least Corporate America can do for those struggling to make ends meet while big companies rake in record profits and give so little back. But wait… there’s a catch. The food drive is for the company’s own underpaid, poverty-stricken workers. You really can’t make this stuff up.

Last week, it was reported that a Walmart store in Canton, Ohio is asking for food donations for its own employees. Photos of the food donation bins circulated online showing signs that read: “Please donate food items here so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.” (That’s if they even have a chance to — Walmart stores are open on Thanksgiving and are beginning their “Black Friday” deals at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day to get a jump on the holiday shopping madness.)

Walmart is America’s largest employer with a workforce consisting of 1.3 million “associates.” The company made nearly $17 billion in profit last year. So why can’t Walmart afford to pay its own store workers enough for them to enjoy a holiday meal with their families? The answer is Walmart doesn’t really care about its workers.

If the Walmart food donation drive doesn’t get you properly steamed, then consider that Walmart CEO, Mike Duke, makes approximately $11,000 an hour — he took home about $20.7 million last year, plus ample benefits. Still not mad? It has also recently been reported that Duke has a retirement package worth more than $113 million! That is 6,200 times larger than the average 401k savings of a non-executive level Walmart employee! (Check out this recent report which charts other massive CEO pensions in relation to those of average workers)

One final fact to really get your dander up — The Walton family, heirs to the Walmart fortune, have accumulated more financial wealth than the entire bottom 40 percent of the population of the United States or 313 million Americans. That’s six Waltons worth a combined $102.7 billion!

No matter what one’s political leanings may be, the problem of massive income inequality and insatiable corporate greed is worsening year-by-year as CEO salaries rise, overall corporate profits soar and worker salaries stagnate. Liberal or conservative–all Americans should be outraged by this trend.

I recently wrote to conservative anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist to bring both sides of the political spectrum together on this troubling issue. In the past, Mr. Norquist and I have backed popular, reasonable policies, such as putting the full text of government contracts online, rolling back corporate welfare and opposing the civil liberties restrictive Patriot Act. As someone who claims to care about taxpayer protection, the issue of poverty-level wages and their major effect on taxpayers should be an important issue for Mr. Norquist.

Here’s why — low wages at the 10 largest fast food chains cost taxpayers $3.8 billion per year. Fifty-two percent of families of fast food workers have to rely on government assistance. McDonald’s’ “McResource” help line goes so far as to advise workers who cannot make ends meet from their poverty-level wages to sign up for government food stamps and home heating assistance. Is it fair that taxpayers have to shell out $1.2 billion a year to subsidize McDonald’s paying its workers while the fast food giant rakes in $5.5 billion in profit?

Walmart is even worse — according to a study from the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce study, a single Walmart Supercenter store in Wisconsin can cost taxpayers upwards of $1.75 million in public assistance programs. If taxpayers have to cover over $1 million for just one 300-employee superstore, consider how much Walmart is costing taxpayers each year at their 4,135 stores in the United States. According to the 2012 “Walmart Associate Benefits Book”, which is distributed to employees, the company also advises its workers about getting on public assistance. Is this a fair or reasonable burden on taxpayers as Walmart reports $17 billion in profits?

Over the past five years, Walmart has had enough excess funds to buy back billions in its own stock. Walmart reportedly spent $7.6 billion last year buying back its shares. These funds are enough to raise the salaries of the lowest paid workers by $5.83 an hour. Catherine Ruetschlin, policy analyst at Demos, stated in a recent release: “These share repurchases benefit an increasingly narrow group of people, including the six Walton family heirs. But buybacks do not improve the fundamentals of the firm. If the funds were used to raise the pay of Walmart’s 825,000 low paid workers, it would not harm the retailer’s competitive ability and would add no cost to the consumer.”

(See the recent report from Demos titled: “A Higher Wage is Possible”)

The quickest way to lessen reliance on food stamp, EITC and Medicaid outlays is to raise the federal minimum wage. Raising the wage has the backing of 80 percent of Americans, 69 percent of Republicans, and even writers from The National Review and The American Conservative magazines. So why isn’t there more rage from the other end of the political spectrum? Even Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney supported raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation — at least until Mitt Romney flip-flopped on the issue during the 2012 election.

The support of Grover Norquist and the Congressional followers of his no-tax pledge would be a significant boost for 30 million struggling workers who make less today than workers made in 1968, inflation adjusted. With a doubling in both worker productivity and the cost of living, there is no excuse for such a decline in their livelihoods.

Mr. Norquist, join this fight to protect taxpayers. Underpaid workers (who are also taxpayers) and their families need your support.

November 27, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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