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Trump’s Budget Slashes Funding for Disadvantaged Students While Giving 1.4 Billion for Privatization
Video: Privatization on Steroids: Emergency Manager Who Switched Flint Water Resigns From Detroit Schools
Privatization Is A Ramp For Corruption and Insouciance Is a Ramp for War The New York Times has acquired a new Judith Miller Paul Craig Roberts Libertarian ideology favors privatization. However, in practice privatization is usually very different in result…
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A woman holding food coupons.(Photo: via Shutterstock)The government shutdown was not to blame for the crashing of the food stamp program for poor families in 17 states over the weekend, just the latest in a long line of snafus by private contractors hired by government.
Over the weekend, low-income shoppers in 17 states were unable to use their electronic food stamp debit cards. In this reporter's neighborhood in downtown New Orleans Saturday evening, rumors swirled around grocery store cash registers and street corners. Was the government shutdown to blame? Did the deadlock in Washington mean nutritional assistance was gone for good?
The public soon learned that government shutdown was not to blame. Xerox, a private company that state welfare agencies had contracted for computing services, admitted that a "routine test" caused a computer glitch that temporarily shut down the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system in Louisiana, Ohio, Michigan and 14 other states.
It turns out that the EBT incident is not the first screwup under Xerox's watch. Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), a subsidiary of Xerox since 2000 that specializes in privatizing government administrative services for the most economically vulnerable Americans, has taken heat in the past for siphoning excessive fees from welfare recipients, mismanaging Medicaid payment systems, and failing to complete multimillion dollar contracts for public agencies.
One of ACS's high-profile snafus occurred in Indiana after state politicians decided to outsource major public services as part of a failed privatization scheme, according to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD):
Indiana's 2006 experiment involving a $1.16 billion contract awarded to a consortium of firms including Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. (ACS) went so badly that the governor cancelled the contract at an unknown cost to the state, and the state legislature even considered banning privatization altogether.
Before Indiana privatized these services, it had one of the lowest rates in the country for incorrectly denying or ending access to food stamps, but in 2008, under for-profit outsourcing, that error rate jumped 13 percent according to the LA Times, resulting in kids going hungry and grandmas losing their Medicaid coverage.
The human cost of these failures is all too real. WTHR News in Indiana, reported on the story of Ronald Alexander, who died in 2009, more than a year after being wrongly denied Medicaid benefits and despite his frequent and frustrated attempts to get the help he needed.
Many blamed ACS, the main subcontractor on the project, for the repeated problems. By 2009, the state cancelled its contract and attempted to institute a hybrid method, transferring some functions back to the state government.
ACS's rap sheet includes a failed Medicaid payment system in North Carolina and years-long delays in contracts to update Medicaid computing systems in New Hampshire and North Dakota, according to a recent investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy.
Between 2002 and 2005, several ACS employees incorrectly reported enrollment numbers in federally funded welfare programs in Texas that resulted in overpayments to ACS, the CMD reports. The company voluntarily reported the errors to government officials and reimbursed the government $2.6 million after a court settlement.
In 2012, Xerox reported $22 billion in revenues and $1.2 billion in profits, the CMD reports. In 2009, the last year before ACS was completely absorbed by Xerox, the company posted $6.5 billion in revenues and $3.5 million in profits.
Since 2010, ACS and Xerox have together spent more than $5 million lobbying the federal government, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Xerox and ACS are not the only outsourcing firms that have put profits before the public interest, according to the CMD. In 2010, the France-based food service giant Sodexo was caught choosing food suppliers for public schools in New York based not on the quality of food provided, but rather on who could give Sodexo the highest cash rebate for a contract. After a state investigation and lawsuit, Sodexo agreed to pay $20 million to New York public schools after failing to pass the savings from those rebates to public college campuses and 21 public schools across the state.
Furthermore, private prison companies such as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) have made huge profits in recent years from federal policies that have increased incarceration and detention rates up to 500 percent in the past 30 years, according to the CMD.
In its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, CCA has sited "leniency" in enforcement efforts and sentencing practices as factors that could hurt the company's profitability. The CCA charges state prison facilities by each bunk filled by an inmate, and the company has succeeded in securing occupancy quotas at prisons across the country to guarantee that taxpayers will foot the bill if prison beds are not filled, according to the Justice Policy Institute.
In 2012, 100 percent of CCA's $156 million in profits came directly from taxpayers, but in 2013, the company converted into a real estate investment trust to avoid millions in corporate taxes, according to the CMD.
Privatization's the Name of the Game for Accident-Prone Train Company Behind Lac-MÃ©gantic Oil Disaster
Companies looking to take control of public services are winning government contracts for a wide array of services ranging from state prisons to local water systems to public schools, and often without much public oversight.
Private contractors are circumventing open records and sunshine laws as state and local governments push to privatize public services. For example, for-profit prison contractors are escaping scrutiny about prison conditions, financial information about government services that was once public such as management salaries and employee wage rates becomes “proprietary information” exempt from disclosure and even the names of corporations bidding to take control of public services are kept from the public. In Allentown, Pennsylania, the Mayor refused to release the identities of potential contractors that responded to his proposal to privatize the water system.
A 2012 report by In the Public Interest, demonstrates the real world consequences of privatization on government transparency. Recent examples show that some states are taking steps to strengthen their open records laws, while others are failing to protect public information.
In both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the governors’ efforts to privatize the states’ lottery systems have been rushed, top-down approaches occurring outside of the public’s view. In Pennsylvania, Governor Corbett went so far as to award the operations contract to the sole bidder, Camelot Global Services, without full input from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and the General Assembly. Ultimately, the proposal was rejected by the state’s attorney general.
As companies continue to evade transparency laws, demands for transparency are increasing. Recent court rulings across the country have ruled in favor of increased transparency of government contracting.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled that the for-profit prison giant, Corrections Corporation of America, must make public certain documents that they previously refused to disclose, including reports and audits in which they had been found in violation of their contracts and lawsuit settlements where the company had to pay damages.
The Florida circuit court ruled that Aramark, the company that took control of housekeeping and maintenance services at the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee, must divulge information regarding the number of formerly public employees that were offered positions with the company following the privatization effort.
Stronger open records laws and more transparency would render these court cases unnecessary.
Several states are taking action to protect access to information and public input in the contracting process. Virginia recently passed a bill that requires contractors engaging in public-private partnerships for transportation services to make their proposals readily available to the public. New Mexico legislators are advancing legislation that would require large government contractors to disclose their political contributions and post them on the state’s Sunshine Portal.
Federal and state-based open records and sunshine laws are essential accountability protections and help ensure that public services operate in our best interests. The more we privatize, the less we know and the less control we have over our public services. Stronger open records laws are the right step towards maintaining that control.
We all live better lives when the common good is not for sale.
March 10, 2013 |
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It gets more maddening every day. Essential human needs are being packaged into products to be bought and sold. The right to food and water, education, health care, public spaces, and unrestricted speech shouldn't be based on who can pay the most, or on who can generate profits with the slickest marketing pitch.
The free-market capitalism that drives our economy is a doctrine of individuals pursuing profit. Nothing else matters. An executive for Roche, a healthcare company, said "We are not in the business to save lives, but to make money."
With privatization of the common good we risk losing both our heritage and our humanness.
1. The Taking of Public Land
Attempts to privatize federal land were made by the Reagan administration in the 1980s and the Republican-controlled Congress in the 1990s. In 2006, President Bush proposed auctioning off 300,000 acres of national forest in 41 states.
The assault on our common areas continues with even greater ferocity today, as the euphemistic Path to Prosperity has proposed to sell millions of acres of "unneeded federal land," and libertarian groups like the Cato Institute demand that our property be "allocated to the highest-value use." Mitt Romney admitted that he didn't know "what the purpose is" of public lands.
Examples of the takeaway are shocking. Peabody Coal is strip-mining public lands in Wyoming and Montana and making a 10,000% profit on the meager amounts they pay for the privilege. Sealaska is snatching up timberland in Alaska. The Central Rockies Land Exchange would allow Bill Koch to pick up choice Colorado properties from the Bureau of Land Management, while neighboring Utah Governor Gary Herbert sees land privatization as a way to reduce the deficit. Representative Cliff Stearns recommended that we "sell off some of our national parks." One gold mining company even invoked an 1872 law to grab mineral-rich Nevada land for which it stands to make a million-percent profit.
The National Resources Defense Council just reported that oil and gas companies hold drilling and fracking rights on U.S. land equivalent to the size of California and Florida combined. Much of this land is "split estate," which means the company can drill under an American citizen's property without consent. Unrestrained by government regulations, TransCanada was able to use eminent domain in Texas to lay its pipeline on private property and then have the owner arrested for trespassing on her own land, and Chesapeake Energy Corporation overturned a 93-year-old law to frack a Texas residence without paying a penny to the homeowners. Most recently, the oil frenzy in North Dakota has cheated Native Americans out of a billion dollars worth of revenue from drilling leases.
Away from the mountains and the plains, back in the cities of Chicago and Indianapolis and L.A. and San Diego, our streets and parking spaces have been surrendered to corporations until the time of our great-grandchildren, with some of the highest profit margins in the corporate world.
2. Water for Sale
The corporate invasion of the water market is well underway. In May 2000 Fortune Magazine called water "one of the world's great business opportunities..[It] promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th." Citigroup is on board, viewing water as a prime investment, and perhaps the "single most important physical-commodity based asset class."
The vital human resource of water is being privatized and marketed all over the country. In Pennsylvania and California, the American Water Company took over towns and raised rates by 70% or more. In Atlanta, United Water Services demanded more money from the city while prompting federal complaints about water quality. Shell owns groundwater rights in Colorado, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens is buying up the water in drought-stricken Texas, and water in Alaska is being pumped into tankers and sold in the Middle East.
A 2009 analysis of water and sewer utilities by Food and Water Watch found that private companies charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services. Various privatization abusesor failures occurred in California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.
Of course, water monopolization is a global concern, and a life-threatening issue in undeveloped countries, where 884 million people are without safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion people lack the means for basic sanitation. Whether in the U.S. or in the world's poorest nation, the folly of privatizing water is made clear by the profit-seeking motives of business:
(1) Water corporations are primarily accountable to their stockholders, not to the people they serve.
(2) They will avoid serving low-income communities where bill collection might be an issue.
(3) Because of the risk to profits, there is less incentive to maintain infrastructure.
3. Owning Human Life
Monsanto and their agro-chemical partners call themselves the "life industry."
In 1980 a General Electric geneticist engineered an oil-eating bacterium, effective against oil spills, and in the first case of its kind the Supreme Court ruled that "a live, human-made micro-organism is patentable subject matter." Fifteen years later a World Trade Organization decision allowed plants, genes, and microorganisms to be owned as intellectual property.
The results, not surprisingly, have been disastrous. One-fifth of the human genome is privately owned through patents. Strains of influenza and hepatitis have been claimed by corporate and university labs, and because of this researchers can't use the patented life forms to perform cancer research. Thus the cost of life-preserving tests often depends on the whim (and the market analysis) of the organization claiming ownership of the biological entity.
The results have also been otherworldly. In 1996 the U.S. National Institutes of Health attempted to patent the blood cells of the primitive Hagahai tribesman of New Guinea. U.S. companies AgriDyne and W.R. Grace tried to gain ownership of the neem plant, used for centuries in India for the making of medicines and natural pesticides. Other examples of 'biopiracy': The University of Cincinnati holds a patent on Brazil's guarana seed; the University of Mississippi holds a patent on the Asian spice turmeric.
Most tragically, tens of thousands of Indian farmers, charged for seeds that they used to develop on their own, and forced to repurchase them every year, have been driven to suicide after experiencing crop failures and ruinous debt.
Monsanto is at the forefront of GMO seeds and litigation against vulnerable farmers. To date the company has won over half of its patent infringement lawsuits. The Supreme Court is currently weighing the arguments in Bowman vs. Monsanto, which asks if a company can have a claim on a farmer whose crops were derived from a seed already paid for. More significantly, the question is whether a company can claim the rights to a form of life that has been nurtured by communities of farmers for centuries.
4. Owning the Air
In polluted Beijing, wealthy entrepreneur Chen Guangbiao is selling "fresh air" in a soft drink can for about 80 cents.
While Americans are not yet dependent on (real or imagined) breathing supplements, we have relinquished public access to the air in another important way: the 1996 Telecommunications Act led the way to a giveaway of the transmission airwaves to the broadcast media. Through an effective lobbying campaign the communications industry gained all the benefits of a lucrative public space without even a licensing fee. Objected former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, "The airwaves are a natural resource. They do not belong to the broadcasters, phone companies or any other industry. They belong to the American people."
Closely related is our right to freedom of expression on the Internet, which has been repeatedly threatened, despite the presence of existing copyright laws, by aggressive proposals like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Privacy is at risk with the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), passed in the House despite objections by Ron Paul and others who recognize the "Big Brother" implications of government monitoring of Google and Facebook accounts. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has facilitated the monitoring of foreign communications in the name of anti-terrorism.
A 2011 UNESCO report offered this worrisome insight: "..the control of information on the Internet and Web is certainly feasible, and technological advances do not therefore guarantee greater freedom of speech."
5. Children as Products
Leading capitalists like Bill Gates and Jeb Bush and Michael Bloomberg and Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee, who together have a few months teaching experience, have decided that the business model can pump out improved assembly line versions of our children.
Charter schools simply don't work as well as the profitseekers would have us believe. The recently updated CREDO study at Stanford concluded again that "CMOs (Charter Management Organizations) on average are not dramatically better than non-CMO schools in terms of their contributions to student learning." Approximately the same percentages of charters and non-charters are showing improvement (or lack of improvement) in reading and math. In addition, poorly performing charters tend not to improve over time.
Nevertheless, charters remain appealing to poorly informed parents. The schools like to represent themselves as equal opportunity educational options, but the facts state the opposite, as many of them have strict application standards that ensure access to the most qualified students. Funding for such schools drains money out of the public system.
Children are viewed as products in another way -- on the school-to-prison pipeline. Many school districts employ "school resource officers" to patrol their hallways, and to ticket or arrest kids who disrupt the academic routine, no matter the age of the offender or the nature of the "offense":
-- A twelve-year-old was arrested for wearing too much perfume.
-- A five-year-old was handcuffed for committing "battery" on a police officer.
-- A six-year-old was called a "terrorist threat" for talking about shooting bubbles at a classmate.
Along with these bizarre instances is the frightening precedent set by a private prison, Corrections Corporation of America, which despite having no law enforcement authority was allowed to participate in a drug sweep at a high school in Arizona.
A successful society doesn't derive from a few Ayn-Rand-type individuals. It's the other way around, as philosopher John Dewey reasoned in the 1930s. It's easy to forget that our country's greatest success was due to a collaborative effort in the years during and after World War 2, when advances in manufacturing and technology made us the strongest economy the world had ever seen. It was a shared success. The common good was not for sale.
Private military and security companies (PMSC) are the modern reincarnation of a long lineage of private providers of physical force: corsairs, privateers and mercenaries. Mercenaries, which had practically disappeared during the XIXth and XXth centuries, reappeared in the 1960’s during the decolonization period operating mainly in Africa and Asia. Under the United Nations a convention was adopted which outlaws and criminalizes their activities. Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions also contains a definition of mercenary.
These non-state entities of the XXIst century operate in extremely blurred situations where the frontiers are difficult to separate. The new security industry of private companies moves large quantities of weapons and military equipment. It provides services for military operations recruiting former militaries as civilians to carry out passive or defensive security.
However, these individuals cannot be considered as civilians, given that they often carry and use weapons, interrogate prisoners, load bombs, drive military trucks and fulfill other essential military functions. Those who are armed can easily switch from a passive/defensive to an active/offensive role and can commit human rights violations and even destabilize governments. They cannot be considered soldiers or supporting militias under international humanitarian law either, since they are not part of the army or in the chain of command, and often belong to a large number of different nationalities.
PMSC personnel cannot usually be considered to be mercenaries for the definition of mercenaries as stipulated in the international conventions dealing with this issue does not generally apply to the personnel of PMSCs which are legally operating in foreign countries under contracts of legally registered companies.
Private military and security companies operate in a legal vacuum: they pose a threat to civilians and to international human rights law. The UN Human Rights Council has entrusted the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries, principally, with the mandate: “To monitor and study the effects of the activities of private companies offering military assistance, consultancy and security services on the international market on the enjoyment of human Rights (…) and to prepare draft international basic principles that encourage respect for human rights on the part of those companies in their activities”.
During the past five years, the Working Group has been studying emerging issues, manifestations and trends regarding private military and security companies. In our reports we have informed the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly about these issues. Of particular importance are the reports of the Working Group to the last session of the Human Rights Council, held in September 2010, on the Mission to the United States of America (20 July to 3 August 2009), Document A/HRC/15/25/Add.3; on the Mission to Afghanistan (4-9 April 2009), Document A/HRC/15/25/Add.2, and the general report of the Working Group containing the Draft of a possible Convention on Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) for consideration and action by the Human Rights Council, Document A/HRC/15/25.
In the course of our research, since 2006, we have collected ample information which indicate the negative impact of the activities of “private contractors”, “private soldiers” or “guns for hire”, whatever denomination we may choose to name the individuals employed by private military and security companies as civilians but in general heavily armed. In the cluster of human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by employees of these companies, which the Working Group has examined one can find: summary executions, acts of torture, cases of arbitrary detention; of trafficking of persons; serious health damages caused by their activities; as well as attempts against the right of self-determination. It also appears that PMSCs, in their search for profit, neglect security and do not provide their employees with their basic rights, and often put their staff in situations of danger and vulnerability.
On 16 September 2007 in Baghdad, employees of the US-based firm Blackwater were involved in a shooting incident in Nisoor Square in which 17 civilians were killed and more than 20 other persons were wounded including women and children. Local eyewitness accounts indicate the use of arms from vehicles and rocket fire from a helicopter belonging to this company.
There are also concerns over the activities and approach of PMSC personnel, their convoys of armored vehicles and their conduct in traffic, in particular their use of lethal force. This particular incident was not the first of its kind, neither the first involving Blackwater.
According to a congressional report on the behaviour of Xe/Blackwater in Iraq, Xe/Blackwater guards were found to have been involved in nearly 200 escalation-of-force incidents that involved the firing of shots since 2005. Despite the terms of the contracts which provided that the company could engage only in defensive use of force, the company reported that in over 80 per cent of the shooting incidents, its forces fired the first shots.
In Najaf in April 2004 and on several other occasions, employees of this company took part in direct hostilities, as well as in May 2007, where another incident involving the same company reportedly occurred involving guards belonging to the company and forces belonging to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior allegedly exchanged gunfire in a sector of Baghdad.
Also in central Baghdad the shooting of employees of the PMSC, Unity Resources Group (URG), protecting a convoy, left two Armenian women, Genevia Antranick and Mary Awanis dead on 9 October 2007 when their car came too close to a protected convoy. The family of Genevia Antranick was offered no compensation and has begun court proceedings against URG in the United States.
This company was also involved in the shooting of 72-year-old Australian Kays Juma. Professor Juma was shot in March 2006 as he approached an intersection being blockaded for a convoy URG was protecting. Professor Juma, a 25-year resident of Baghdad who drove through the city every day, allegedly sped up his vehicle as he approached the guards and did not heed warnings to stop, including hand signals, flares, warning shots into the body of his car and floodlights. The incident occurred at 10am.
Two United States-based corporations, CACI and L-3 Services (formerly Titan Corporation), were involved in the torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. CACI and L-3 Services, contracted by the Government of the United States, were responsible for interrogation and translation services, respectively, at Abu Ghraib prison and other facilities in Iraq.
Seventy two Iraqi citizens who were formerly detained at military prisons in Iraq, have sued L-3 Services, Inc. (“L-3”), a military private contractor which provided civilian translators for United States military forces in Iraq and Adel Nakhla, a former employee of L-3 who served as one of its translators there under the Alien Tort Statute. They allege having been tortured and physically and mentally abused during their detention and that they should be held liable in damages for their actions. The plaintiffs assert 20 causes of action, among which: torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A number of reports indicate that private security guards have played central roles in some of the most sensitive activities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) such as the arbitrary detention and clandestine raids against alleged insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the involvement in CIA rendition flights as well as joint covert operations. Employees of PMSC would have been involved in the taking of detainees, from “pick up points” (such as Tuzla, Islamabad or Skopje) transporting them in rendition flights and delivering them to drop off points (such as Cairo, Rabat, Bucharest, Amman or Guantanamo) as well as in the construction, equipping and staffing of CIA’s “black sites”.
Within this context, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in May 2007 against Jeppesen DataPlan Inc. (a subsidiary company of Boeing) on behalf of five persons who were kidnapped by the CIA disappearing in overseas prisons kept by USA secret services. Jeppesen would have participated in the rendition by providing flight planning and logistical support. The five persons were tortured during their arbitrary detention.
The 2009 annual report of DynCorp International refers to four lawsuits concerning the spraying of narcotic plant crops along the Colombian border adjacent to Ecuador on behalf of 3 Ecuadorian Providences and 3266 plaintiffs.
From 1991, the United States Department of State contracted the private company DynCorp to supply services for this air-spraying program against narcotics in the Andean region. In accordance with the subscribed contract of 30 January 1998, DynCorp provides the essential logistics to the anti-drug Office of activities of Colombia, in conformity with three main objectives: eradication of cultivations of illicit drugs, training of the army and of personnel of the country, and dismantling of illicit drug laboratories and illicit drug-trafficking networks.
An NGO report indicated the consequences of the spraying carried out within the Plan Colombia had on persons living in the frontier region. One third of the 47 women in the study exposed to the spraying showed cells with some genetic damage. The study established the relationship of the air fumigations of the Plan Colombia with damages in the genetic material. The study demonstrates that when the population is subjected to fumigations “the risk of cellular damage can increase and that, once permanent, the cases of cancerous mutations and important embryonic alterations are increased that prompt among other possibilities the rise in abortions in the area.
This example is particularly important given that Plan Colombia has served as the model for the arrangements that the United States would apply later to Iraq and Afghanistan. Plan Colombia provides immunity to the employees of the PMSC contracted (DynCorp) the same as Order 14 of the Coalition Provisional Authority did in Iraq.
The 2004 attempted coup d’état, which was perpetrated in Equatorial Guinea is a clear example of the link between the phenomenon of mercenaries and PMSCs as a means of violating the sovereignty of States. In this particular case, the mercenaries involved were mostly former directors and personnel of Executive Outcomes, a PMSC that had become famous for its operations in Angola and Sierra Leone. The team of mercenaries also included security guards who were still employed by PMSCs as was the case of two employees of the company Meteoric Tactical Systems providing security to diplomats of Western Embassies in Baghdad-among which to the Ambassador of Switzerland. It also included a security guard who had previously worked for the PMSC “Steele Foundation” and had given protection to President Aristide of Haiti and conducted him to the plane who took him to exile.
Trafficking in persons
In 2005, 105 Chileans were providing/or undergoing military training in the former army base of Lepaterique in Honduras. The instruction consisted in anti‐guerrilla tactics such as possible ambushes and deactivation of explosives and mortars how to avoid them. The Chileans had entered Honduras as tourists and were illegally in Honduras. They used high‐caliber weapons such as M‐16 rifles or light machine guns. They had been contracted by a subsidiary of Triple Canopy.
They were part of a group, which included also 189 Hondurans recruited and trained in Honduras. Triple Canopy had been awarded a contract by the United States Department of State. The strong contingent left the country by air from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, in several groups with a stopover in Iceland. Then reached the Middle East and were smuggled into Iraq.
The majority of the Chileans and Hondurans were engaged as security guards at fixed facilities in Iraq. They had been contracted by Your Solutions Honduras SRL, a local agent of Your Solutions Incorporated, registered in Illinois, United States of America, which in turn had been subcontracted by Triple Canopy, based in Chicago, United States of America. Some of the Chileans are presently working in Baghdad providing security to the Embassy of Australia under a contract by Unity Resources Group (URG).
Human rights violations committed by PMSC to their employees
PMSC often put the contracted private guards in situations of danger and vulnerability, such as the ‘private contractors’ of Blackwater, killed in Fallujah in 2004 allegedly due to the lack of the necessary safety means that Blackwater was supposed to provide in order to carry out the mission.
It should not be forgotten that this incident changed dramatically the course of the war and the occupation by the United States in Iraq. It may be considered as the turning point in the occupation of Iraq. This led to an abortive US operation to recapture control of the city and a successful recapture operation in the city in November 2004, called Operation Phantom Fury, which resulted in the death of over 1,350 insurgent fighters. Approximately 95 America troops were killed, and 560 wounded.
The U.S. military first denied that it has use white phosphorus as an anti-personnel weapon in Fallujah, but later retracted that denial, and admitted to using the incendiary in the city as an offensive weapon. Reports following the events of November 2004 have alleged war crimes, and a massacre by U.S. personnel, including indiscriminate violence against civilians and children.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallujah – cite_note-17 This point of view is presented in the 2005 documentary film, “Fallujah, the Hidden Massacre”. In 2010, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a leading medical journal, published a study, which shows that the rates of cancer, infant mortality and leukemia exceed those reported in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The over 300 000 classified military documents made public by Wikileaks show that the “Use of Contractors Added to War’s Chaos in Iraq”, as has been widely reported by the international media recently.
The United States has relied and continues to rely heavily on private military and security contractors in conducting its military operations. The United States used private security contractors to conduct narcotics intervention operations in Colombia in the 1990s and recently signed a supplemental agreement that authorizes it to deploy troops and contractors in seven Colombian military bases. During the conflict in the Balkans, the United States used a private security contractor to train Croat troops to conduct operations against Serbian troops. Nowadays, it is in the context of its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular that the State is massively contracting out security functions to private firms.
In 2009, the Department of Defense employed 218,000 private contractors (all types) while there were 195,000 uniformed personnel. According to the figures, about 8 per cent of these contractors are armed security contractors, i.e. about 20,000 armed guards. If one includes other theatres of operations, the figure rises to 242,657, with 54,387 United States citizens, 94,260 third country nationals and 94,010 host-country nationals.
The State Department relies on about 2,000 private security contractors to provide United States personnel and facilities with personal protective and guard services in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Pakistan, and aviation services in Iraq. The contracts for protective services were awarded in 2005 to three PMSCs, namely, Triple Canopy, DynCorp International and the U.S. Training Center, part of the Xe (then Blackwater) group of companies. These three companies still hold the State Department protective services contracts today.
Lack of transparency
The information accessible to the public on the scope and type of contracts between the Government of the United States and PMSCs is scarce and opaque. The lack of transparency is particularly significant when companies subcontract to others. Often, the contracts with PMSCs are not disclosed to the public despite extensive freedom of information rules in the United States, either because they contain confidential commercial information or on the argument that non-disclosure is in the interest of national defense or foreign policy. The situation is particularly opaque when United States intelligence agencies contract PMSCs.
Lack of accountability
Despite the fact of their involvement in grave human rights violations, not a single PMSC or employee of these companies has been sanctioned.
In the course of litigation, several recurring legal arguments have been used in the defense of PMSCs and their personnel, including the Government contractor defense, the political question doctrine and derivative immunity arguments. PMSCs are using the Government contractor defense to argue that they were operating under the exclusive control of the Government of the United States when the alleged acts were committed and therefore cannot be held liable for their actions.
It looks as if when the acts are committed by agents of the government they are considered human rights violations but when these same acts are perpetrated by PMSC it is “business as usual”.
The human rights violation perpetrated by private military and security companies are indications of the threat posed to the foundations of democracy itself by the privatization of inherently public functions such as the monopoly of the legitimate use of force. In this connection I cannot help but to refer to the final speech of President Eisenhower.
In 1961, President Eisenhower warned the American public opinion against the growing danger of a military industrial complex stating: “(…) we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together”.
Fifty years later, on 8 September 2001, Donald Rumsfeld in his speech in the Department of Defence warned the militaries of the Pentagon against “an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America (…) Let’s make no mistake: The modernization of the Department of Defense is (…) a matter of life and death, ultimately, every American’s. (…) The adversary. (…) It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy. (…)That’s why we’re here today challenging us all to wage an all-out campaign to shift Pentagon’s resources from bureaucracy to the battlefield, from tail to the tooth. We know the adversary. We know the threat. And with the same firmness of purpose that any effort against a determined adversary demands, we must get at it and stay at it. Some might ask, how in the world could the Secretary of Defense attack the Pentagon in front of its people? To them I reply, I have no desire to attack the Pentagon; I want to liberate it. We need to save it from itself.”
Rumsfeld should have said the shift from the Pentagon’s resources from bureaucracy to the private sector. Indeed, that shift had been accelerated by the Bush Administration: the number of persons employed by contract which had been outsourced (privatized) by the Pentagon was already four times more than at the Department of Defense.
It is not anymore a military industrial complex but as Noam Chomsky has indicated “it’s just the industrial system operating under one or another pretext”.
The articles of the Washington Post “Top Secret America: A hidden world, growing beyond control”, by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin (19 July 2010) show the extent that “The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work”.
The investigation’s findings include that some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States; and that an estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances. A number of private military and security companies are among the security and intelligence agencies mentioned in the report of the Washington Post.
The Working Group received information from several sources that up to 70 per cent of the budget of United States intelligence is spent on contractors. These contracts are classified and very little information is available to the public on the nature of the activities carried out by these contractors.
The privatization of war has created a structural dynamic, which responds to a commercial logic of the industry.
A short look at the careers of the current managers of BAE Systems, as well as on their address-books, confirms we are not any longer dealing with a normal corporation, but with a cartel uniting high tech weaponry (BAE Systems, United Defence Industries, Lockheed Martin), with speculative financiers (Lazard Frères, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank), together with raw material cartels (British Petroleum, Shell Oil) with on the ground, private military and security companies.
The majority of the private military and security companies has been created or are managed by former militaries or ex-policemen for whom it is big business. Just to give an example MPRI (Military Professional Resources Incorporation) was created by four former generals of the United States Army when they were due for retirement. The same is true for Blackwater and its affiliate companies or subsidiaries, which employ former directors of the C.I.A.. Social Scientists refer to this phenomenon as the Rotating Door Syndrome.
The use of security contractors is expected to grow as American forces shrink. A July report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a panel established by Congress, estimated that the State Department alone would need more than double the number of contractors it had protecting the American Embassy and consulates in Iraq.
“Without contractors: (1) the military engagement would have had to be smaller–a strategically problematic alternative; (2) the United States would have had to deploy its finite number of active personnel for even longer tours of duty -a politically dicey and short-sighted option; (3) the United States would have had to consider a civilian draft or boost retention and recruitment by raising military pay significantly–two politically untenable options; or (4) the need for greater commitments from other nations would have arisen and with it, the United States would have had to make more concessions to build and sustain a truly multinational effort. Thus, the tangible differences in the type of war waged, the effect on military personnel, and the need for coalition partners are greatly magnified when the government has the option to supplement its troops with contractors”.
The military cannot do without them. There are more contractors over all than actual members of the military serving in the worsening war in Afghanistan.
CONCLUSIONS OF THE SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE impact of Private Security Contracting on U.S. Goals in Afghanistan
Conclusion I: The proliferation of private security personnel in Afghanistan is inconsistent with the counterinsurgency strategy. In May 2010 the U.S. Central Command’s Armed Contractor Oversight Directorate reported that there were more than 26,000 private security contractor personnel operating in Afghanistan. Many of those private security personnel are associated with armed groups that operate outside government control.
Conclusion 2: Afghan warlords and strongmen operating as force providers to private security contractors have acted against U.S. and Afghan government interests. Warlords and strongmen associated with U.S.-funded security contractors have been linked to anti Coalition activities, murder, bribery, and kidnapping. The Committee’s examination of the U.S. funded security contract with ArmorGroup at Shindand Airbase in Afghanistan revealed that ArmorGroup relied on a series of warlords to provide armed men to act as security, guards at the Airbase.
Open-ended intergovernmental working group established by the HR Council
Because of their impact in the enjoyment of human rights the Working Group on mercenaries in its 2010 reports to the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly has recommended a legally binding instrument regulating and monitoring their activities at the national and international level.
The motion to create an open ended intergovernmental working group has been the object of lengthy negotiations, in the Human Rights Council, led by South Africa in order to accommodate the concerns of the Western Group, but primarily those of the United States and the United Kingdom and of a lot a pressure exerted in the capitals of African countries supporting the draft resolution. The text of the resolution was weakened in order to pass the resolution by consensus. But even so the position of the Western States has been a “fin de non recevoir”.
The resolution was adopted by a majority of 32 in favour, 12 against and 3 abstentions. Among the supporters of this initiative are four out of the five members of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa) in addition to the African Group, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab Group.
The adoption of this resolution opens an interesting process in the UN Human Rights Council where civil society can participate in the elaboration of an international framework on the regulation, monitoring and oversight of the activities of private military and security companies. The new open ended intergovernmental working group will be the forum for all stakeholders to receive inputs, not only the draft text of a possible convention and the elements elaborated by the UN Working Group on mercenaries but also of other initiatives such as the proposal submitted to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Montreux Document and the international code of conduct being elaborated under the Swiss Initiative.
However, the negative vote of the delegations of the Western Group indicates that the interests of the new staggering security industry – its annual market revenue is estimated to be over USD one hundred billion – have been quite well defended as was the case in a number of other occasions. It also shows that Western governments will be absent from the start in a full in-depth discussion of the issues raised by the activities of PMSC.
We urge all States to support the process initiated by the Council by designating their representatives to the new open-ended intergovernmental working group, which will hold its first session in 2011, and to continue a process of discussions regarding a legally binding instrument.
The participation of the UK and USA main exporters of these activities (it is estimated at 70% the industry of security in these two countries) as well as other Western countries where the new industry is expanding is of particular importance.
The Working Group also urges the United States Government to implement the recommendations we made, in particular, to:
support the Congress Stop Outsourcing Security (SOS) Act, which clearly defines the functions which are inherently governmental and that cannot be outsourced to the private sector;
rescind immunity to contractors carrying out activities in other countries under bilateral agreements;
carry out prompt and effective investigation of human rights violations committed by PMSCs and prosecute alleged perpetrators;
ensure that the oversight of private military and security contractors is not outsourced to PMSCs;
establish a specific system of federal licensing of PMSCs for their activities abroad;
set up a vetting procedure for awarding contracts to PMSCs;
ensure that United States criminal jurisdiction applies to private military and security companies contracted by the Government to carry out activities abroad; and
respond to pending communications from the Working Group.
The United Nations Human Rights Council, under the Universal Periodic Review, initiated a review in November 2010 in Geneva, focussing on the human rights record of the United States. The above article is an edited version of the presentation given by Jose L. Gomez del Prado in Geneva on 3 November 2010 at a parallel meeting at the UN Palais des Nations on that occasion.
 Blackwater Worldwide abandoned its tarnished brand name in order to shake its reputation battered by its criticized work in Iraq, renaming its family of two-dozen businesses under the name Xe’, see Mike Baker, ‘Blackwater dumps tarnished brand name’, AP News Break, 13 February 2009.
 URG, an Australian private military and security company, uses a number of ex military Chileans to provide security to the Australian Embassy in Baghdad. Recently one of those “private guards” shot himself, ABC News, reported by La Tercera, Chile, 16 September 2010.
J.Mendes & S Mitchell, “Who is Unity Resources Group?”, ABC News Australia, 16 September 2010.
 Case 8:08-cv-01696-PJM, Document 103, Filed 07/29/10. Defendants have filed Motions to Dismiss on a number of grounds. They argue, among others, that the suit must be dismissed in its entirety because they are immune under the laws of war, because the suit raises non-justiciable political questions, and because they possess derivative sovereign immunity. They seek dismissal of the state law claims on the basis of government contractor immunity, premised on the notion that Plaintiffs cannot proceed on state law claims, which arise out of combatant activities of the military. The United States District Court for the district of Maryland Greenbelt Division has decided to proceed with the case against L-3 Services, Inc. It has not accepted the motions to dismiss allowing the case to go forward.
 Mission to the United States of America, Report of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, United Nations document, A/HRC/15/25/Add.3, paragraphs 22.
 James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, “Blackwater guards tied to secret C.I.A. raids ”, New York Times, 10
 Adam Ciralsky, “Tycoon, contractor, soldier, spy”, Vanity Fair, January 2010. See also Claim No. HQ08X02800 in the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Binyam Mohamed v. Jeppesen UK Ltd, report of James Gavin Simpson, 26 May 2009.
ACLU Press Release, UN Report Underscores Lack of Accountability and Oversight for Military and Security Contractors, New York, 14 September 2010.
 The reports also indicates that the Revenues of DynCorp for 2006 were of USD 1 966 993 and for 2009 USD 3 101 093
 Mission to Ecuador, Report of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, United Nations document, A/HRC/4/42/Add.2
 A number of the persons involved in the attempted coup were arrested in Zimbabwe, other in Equatorial Guinea itself the place where the coup was intended to take place to overthrow the government and put another in its place in order to get the rich resources in oil. In 2004 and 2008 the trials took place in Equatorial Guinea of those arrested in connection with this coup attempt, including of the British citizen Simon Mann and the South African Nick du Toit. The President of Equatorial Guinea pardoned all foreigners linked to this coup attempt in November 2009 by. A number of reports indicated that trials failed to comply with international human rights standards and that some of the accused had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment. The government of Equatorial Guinea has three ongoing trials in the United Kingdom, Spain and Lebanon against the persons who were behind the attempted coup.
 Report of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, Mission to Honduras, United Nations document A/HRC/4/42/Add.1.
 Mercenaries without borders by Karel Vereycken, Friday Sep 21st, 2007
 Among which General Carl E. Vuono, Chief of the Army during the Gulf War and the invasion of Panama; General Crosbie E. Saint, former Commander in Chief of the USA Army in Europe and General Ron Griffith. The President of MPRI is General Bantant J. Craddock.
 Such as Cofer Black, former Chief of the Counter Terrorism Center; Enrique Prado, former Chief of Operations and Rof Richter, second in command of the Clandestine Services of the Company
 Article published in the Spring 2010 issue of the University of Chicago Law Review, titled “Privatization’s Pretensions” by Jon D. Michaels, Acting Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law
 INQUIRY INTO THE ROLE AND OVERSIGHT OF PRIVATE SECURITY CONTRACTORS IN AFGHANISTAN, R E P O R T TOGETHER WITH ADDITIONAL VIEWS OF THE COMMITTEE ON ARMED SERVICES UNITED STATES SENATE, 28 September 2010
Protesters march as they shout slogans during a demonstration against regional government-imposed austerity plans to restructure and part-privatize the health care sector in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. (Andres Kudacki/ Associated Press )Thousands of nurses, doctors and other health professionals staged protests in sixteen cities across Spain on Sunday, decrying the nation's continued austerity policies that they say are putting real lives at risk each passing day.
Specifically, the energized protests were aimed at thwarting a proposal by the ruling rightwing government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of privatizing portions of the country's health care system.
"There is no study that shows that privatizing the management of hospitals leads to lower costs," said Emilia Becares to Agence France Presse. The 46-year-old nurse brought her three sons, aged seven, eight and nine to the day's protest. "This privatization hurts patients' health care to benefit other interests."
Civil servant Javier Tarabilla, 31, explained to the Associated Press that Spain’s welfare state was being systematically dismantled in order to be handed over to the private sector.
“This is pillaging of our public services, looting something we’ve all contributed to through taxes, to give it to private companies to run for profit,” he said.
As AFP reports, the Rajoy government has slashed "health spending by seven billion euros ($9.1 billion) a year as part of a campaign to squeeze 150 billion euros out of the crisis-racked country's budget by 2014."
And AP adds:
It was the third "white tide" demonstration in Madrid, named after the color of the medical scrubs many protesters wear. But it was the first time cities other than the capital took part, including Barcelona, Cuenca, Murcia, Pamplona, Toledo and Zaragoza. Protesters marched carrying banners saying "Public health is not to be sold, it's to be defended."
Healthcare workers and supporters hold signs as they take part in a protest against the local government's plans to cut public healthcare spending in Madrid February 17, 2013. (REUTERS/Javier Barbancho)
Protestors march as they hold a model with a skull face during a demonstration against regional government-imposed austerity plans to restructure and part-privatize the health care sector in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. (Andres Kudacki/ Associated Press )
Protesters march as they hold a banner reading “Health care system not for sale” during a demonstration against regional government-imposed austerity plans to restructure and part-privatize the health care sector in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. Madrid proposes selling off the management of six of 20 public hospitals and 27 of 268 health centers. (Photo: Andres Kudacki/ Associated Press )
Thomas Friedman may praise the emancipatory potential of online university courses, but are they really capable of producing more than docile workers?
Education is a concept that we confront every day in some way, shape or form, directly or indirectly. It has long been considered to be the “silver bullet” in addressing the greatest injustices pervasive in society; poverty, crime, racism, patriarchy, and socio-economic inequality. Our interaction with education is influenced by and varies based on the tentacles of power relations; class, ethnicity, gender, geography, and life experiences. For some, this interaction manifests itself in questions of best practices and educational philosophy.
For others, it revolves more around access to knowledge and questions of representation. Consequently, our conceptual interaction with education is not free of bias or ideological calculation. For whom and for what purpose(s) does education serve? What does education actually look like? Will we recognize it when we see it? Or, might we mistake it for something else? As the influential theorist of critical pedagogy Paulo Freire explained:
Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.
Famed New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently wrote about the expansion of free online courses by institutions such as Stanford and MIT, as well as companies such as Coursera and Udacity. While Friedman hails this phenomenon as a “revolution” he states that “(n)othing has more potential to lift more people out of poverty — by providing them an affordable education to get a job or improve in the job they have. Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems.” He goes on to sprinkle his column with anecdotes from individuals who have benefited from open online university courses.
Friedman views this technological and educational innovation as one that will allow foreign workers to have the formal training required to compete with First-World workers. The thought process is that this will ultimately be to the benefit multinational corporations, who will have a larger pool of technically skilled workers from which to employ. These private actors, equipped with a greater number of skilled (and relatively cheap) workers, will offer more gainful employment and generate more revenue, ultimately alleviating poverty in the Third World.
Along the same lines was a recent editorial written by Pauline Rose, Director of the Global Monitoring Report on Education published by UNESCO. In her piece, Rose calls for a Bill Gates-like figure to emerge to spark global education funding among private companies and foundations. Corporate philanthropy is deemed the solution to improving global access to education. Following Friedman’s logic, Rose states:
On the face of it, there should be little need to make the business case for education. It is intrinsically tied to all positive development outcomes. Economic growth, health, nutrition and democracy are all boosted by quality schooling. If all children in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, poverty would fall by 12 percent – and that’s good for business. The private sector benefits directly from an educated, skilled workforce.
Friedman and Rose are essentially calling for the accelerated privatization of global education. This is a trend that has already begun in the US, as we have witnessed the growth of schools run by private corporations, an unflinching emphasis on test scores, and the decimation of teachers unions coupled with the flawed notion that teachers alone are responsible for educational underachievement.
What this privatization enables, and what is furthered by both Friedman and Rose’s pieces, is the disavowal of considering the larger socioeconomic issues related to global capitalism and neoliberalism, issues that are intrinsically conjoined to education. The danger is not the technological advancement enabling greater access to education for the Third World, but rather its implications that we continually fail to critically scrutinize.
Instead of hailing the introduction of free online courses as a revolution in global education that will alleviate poverty and suffering, why do we not question the global system which allowed, if not actively encouraged, the formation of the existing desolate situation to begin with? Pieces like Friedman’s and Rose’s actively assist in paralyzing us from thinking about how we have arrived in a situation where, as Rose states, “(t)here are 61 million children out of school.”
They seem to conveniently forget the fact that IMF structural adjustment programs have severely reduced public education spending by governments, and that the privatization of education has led to an increase in societal segregation, asseen in Chile. When relying on the framework used by Friedman and Rose, we effectively hinder ourselves from asking what kind global economic system exists to allow the situation where the privatization and corporate philanthropy becomes the solutions to address already existing radical inequalities.
In the end, it all comes back to the original question of the purpose of education. For Friedman and Rose, its purpose is to produce worker who will further entrench an unjust economic order that created the problem in the first place. The overarching goal is to convince us that the remedy for our current problems is actually the very pill which caused the sickness to begin with. For Freire, education’s purpose is to enable students to flourish in a manner that critically analyzes how we arrived to this bleak situation and how we can begin to transform it.
Freire or Friedman? The choice is ours to make.
Teachers, parents, students and other supporters cross-country declared "enough is enough" Wednesday as they joined in the National Day of Action and the growing tide of support for the Seattle teachers' standardized test boycott.
(Photo: via Twicsy.com) The Day of Action is the culmination of a growing protest begun at Seattle's Garfield High School against the district-mandated Measure of Academic Progress, known as the MAP test, which the teachers say is deeply flawed and hijacks essential classroom time and resources. The MAP test is not exclusive to Seattle as it is annually administered to millions of students across the country.
Calling Wednesday's demonstrations—and the greater boycott—"the new face of teacher unionism," National Education Association President, Dennis Van Roekel, writes in an op-ed that the Garfield teachers' "brave" boycott has "focused attention on a long-simmering national issue." He adds:
A growing number of teacher evaluation systems are focused exclusively on using tests to measure student growth or achievement. Even worse, administrators and education officials nationwide are employing evaluation systems with little input from educators or teacher organizations[...]
Educators are fed up with flawed accountability measures, and the new face of teacher unionism has its eyes fixed on changing the current culture of standardized testing mania. In a dramatic way, Seattle teachers and others are driving the national conversation on professional issues and school reform.
"This could be a critical moment in education, with the reform movement facing a serious challenge," added Seattle Weekly blogger Nina Shapiro.
Across the country, groups took action. The Berkeley, Calif. teachers union held a rally and speak out at Berkeley High and in Chicago, anti high-stakes testing coalition More Than A Score petitioned at 30 local schools.
Rochester, NY supporters are rallying at the “State of the Schools” address that is taking place on the same day. "We hope to reach out to others in the community who support the Garfield High Teachers [to] build local allies" they write, in the fight to "sustain the struggle against the standardization and privatization of our children's education."
Fellow educators, parents, students and other supporters joined in the chorus online. The California Teachers Association wrote on twitter (#scrapthemap), "We share deep concerns about the overemphasis on standardized tests as an indicator of student achievement," adding:
A number shared pictures of themselves holding signs or wearing red in solidarity with the boycotting teachers.
Context: As yet there are no context links for this item.
Voiceover: A series of protests have erupted across Chile over the past year regarding a law that will impact the country’s fishing industry. Proponents say the law is needed in order to protect depleted fish reserves and ensure the sustainability of the industry, but opponents say the law seeks to privatize the Chilean sea and its resources to the benefit of 7 powerful families that control a handful of large fishing businesses.David Dougherty, Valparaiso, Chile: Many small-scale fishermen in Chile say that a way of life is at stake with the new fishing law. Fishermen in coastal towns and cities across Chile, like here in Valparaiso, are raising fundamental questions about whether the Chilean sea and its fish should be considered private property.Gabriel Valenzuela Andaur, President, Caleta Membrillo Fishermen’s Union, Valparaiso: As small scale fishermen, artisanal fishermen, we don’t really approve of this new law, it’s going to be more of the same law, which has treated us very poorly…(why, how has it treated you bad, what has been the impact)…because it has enabled the large fishing businesses, they are destructive pillagers, they’ve damaged the ocean floor, they haven’t let the species regroup and reproduce and this has resulted in the collapse of fishing resources.Miguel Angel Maureira, Artisanal Fisherman, Caleta Membrillo, Valparaiso: The ships that go after all the large fish, they have radar they have everything they need to capture the big ones and follow the schools of fish, they always take the biggest ones and leave the smallest ones, these are what they leave, the fish for the people, the rest are for foreigners, they are industrial fishermen, we are artisanal fishermen, and these are the only fish left for us.Voiceover: Chile’s current Minister of Economy Pablo Longueira, a founding member of the rightwing Independent Democratic Union party presented the law, which opponents have named the Longueira Law. Longueira is one of a number of current members of President Sebastian Piñera’s administration who were early supporters of and later collaborators with General Augusto Pinochet, who ruled the country under a military dictatorship after grabbing power in a US-backed coup in 1973 that ousted democratically elected leftwing president Salvador Allende. Longueira and other officials pushing for the law, which essentially seeks to consolidate and expand a shorter-term law approved in 2002, say the measures are necessary in order to ensure the sustainability of the fishing industry, which has faced severely diminishing yields in recent years due to overfishing.Pablo Longuiera, Minister of Economy, Chile: What this project does, which makes it difficult to implement, I fully understand that this is not an easy project, what it establishes in the first article is that the object of the Chilean Fishing Law is the sustainability of these resources.Voiceover: The 2002 law established a quota system that essentially divided up what’s left of the remaining depleted fishing stocks; the new law would extend the quota system for an additional 20 years and make it renewable and transferable, which critics say essentially enables the future generations large scale fishing industry giants to be born into ownership of the quotas several decades down the road. A number of species targeted by the fishing industry have faced near total collapse since the 90’s, like the jurel, or jack mackerel, having declined 90% in the past 20 years in the southern Pacific, with stocks diminishing from 30 million tons annually to less than 3 million. Some marine biologists like Gonzalo Araya have warned against the potential harmful environmental impacts of the law, which he says have already manifested themselves after 10 years under the existing quota system.Gonzalo Araya, Marine Biologist: If we do an analysis of the past 10 years of the implementation of this system that they want to extend for an additional 20 years, I think there is no doubt that the majority of the resources subject to the quota system are in collapse, they are in a state of full exploitation and decline…they need exclusive rights to the exploitation of the fish, for what they hope is indefinitely, to improve their economic efficiency, which is not conditioned on the sustainability of fishing resources.Voiceover: The Chilean fishing industry is estimated to be the 6th largest in the world and a major pillar of the national economy. Several decades of monopolization and mergers have resulted in the establishment of 4 major conglomerations controlled by 7 families, who also have major investments in other critical sectors of national the economy and abroad. Juan Carlos Cárdenas is the director of the Ecoceanos Center, a citizen’s organization that works with a number of community organizations and coastal communities on issues surrounding maritime resources and environmental sustainability. He explains how historically strong ties between the fishing industry oligarchs and elected officials have encouraged a system where the political process and public policies are influenced and driven by powerful economic interests.Juan Carlos Cárdenas, Director, Ecoceanos: It’s important to note that they obtained and gained access to a large number of resources during the period of the dictatorship, later during the end of the dictatorship and the start of the civilian governments, they conditioned the first fishing and aquaculture laws in a way that would maintain their control … there is not a deputy or senator from a coastal region who was elected without funding from the fishing and aquaculture companies.Voiceover: At least 4 senators have been accused of conflicts of interest due to investments and ties with the fishing industry, although their votes were not voided. The law was made a priority for discussion in parliament, with aspirations for a quick approval before the expiration of the existing fishing law at the end of 2012. However, the law’s passage was temporarily paralyzed after it was determined that the indigenous communities involved in the fishing economy were not properly consulted as required by law. Cardenas explains how the fishing law and its quota system seek to consolidate a market model open to speculation, which he describes as among the most privatized in the international fishing industry.Juan Carlos Cárdenas, Director, Ecoceanos: The system is based on eliminating the property of the state, along with access and use of the fishing resources, and transferring them to the market through an individual quota system of fish, they are transferable, which means the quotas can be sold, purchased, rented, or leased. They are also applying this quota system to the artisanal fishermen, and most likely they will have to leave the system within a matter of years because their quotas are small and they would have to sell them to the industry, this system makes it so that in the future, the fishing quotas on paper are going to have more value than the physical resources that actually exist in the water. Voiceover: Ironically for a country characterized by its extensive coastline, fish is considered a luxury for many Chilean families due to high prices that make it out of reach for regular consumption. The overwhelming majority of fish captured by the large-scale industry is destined for export to international markets, with most of it converted into fish oil or powder to be used as animal feed in aquaculture and factory farming. The fishing law has ignited questions over national food security and whether the majority of fish should be destined for domestic consumption as a national resource, or exported to foreign markets under the current industry model.Gabriel Valenzuela Andaur, President, Caleta Membrillo Fishermen’s Union: The large businesses have always been those who benefit the most, we have always denounced that fishing in the country is generally in the hands of 7 families…Here it’s worth much more to protect the interests and pockets of a few people than the benefit of the people who feed themselves with this product.Voiceover: Some divisions have arisen among more than 73,000 artisanal fishermen regarding the new law. A classification system based on boat size has led to ambiguities where some producers considered to be small-scale artisanal fishermen have been found to be operated by or working directly with the large-scale businesses. Minister Longueira signed an accord with 2 federations representing artisanal fishermen, but other fishermen like Gino Bavestrello of the national council for the patrimonial defense of Chilean fishermen, say that the groups consulted constitute a minority and do not represent the interests of the majority of small-scale fishermen in Chile.Gino Bavestrello, National Director, Condepp¬¬¬¬¬: In order for the law to be approved, Minister Longueira called upon a group of artisanal fishermen who represent their own interests. Our organization, the Council for the Defense of the Patrimonial Fishermen of Chile, is the largest group of artisanal fishermen, and they’ve never called on us to ask how we feel about this law…We think that artisanal fishing is going to disappear, because they’re basically handing over the fishing resources to a handful of businesses that are going to exploit them commercially.Voiceover: While the fishing law currently remains held up due to the failure of legislatures to consult indigenous communities, many are concerned that it will only be a speed bump to the eventual passage of all or most of its major provisions. Fishermen opposed to the measures have announced that they intend to not comply if they are signed into law, saying they are struggling to protect their way of life.
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The president of the union representing New York City school bus drivers announced earlier this week that a citywide strike will be starting Wednesday morning. This will be the first time in more than three decades that NYC’s largest union for school bus drivers will strike.
School buses lounge near the Coney Island boardwalk, July 8, 2007. (Photo:Jan-Erik Finnberg via Flickr) Michael Cordiello of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union said that more than 8,000 bus drivers and matrons—workers who make sure children get on and off buses safely—would take part in the strike in response to a dispute over job protections in any new bus company contracts for the bus routes.
The city wants to cut transportation costs and has put bus contracts with private bus companies up for bid. The union is criticizing lack of employee protections, fearing current drivers may lose their jobs once contracts expire in June.
Writing for Alternet, Molly Knefel explains how the privatization effort is part of a push for widespread austerity:
The dispute is simple—it’s about saving money. As New York City schools chancellor David Walcott has noted, the city has operated its school-bus contracts without any “significant competitive bidding” for 33 years. During that time, something called “Employment Protection Provisions” ensured job security for senior workers, even if the city changed bus companies—meaning that experienced drivers were rehired year after year. But the contracts have gotten too pricey; more than twice what Los Angeles pays per student—and the city now plans to offer the contracts to the “lowest responsible bidder.” The union representing the school-bus drivers, Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, is asking for Employment Protection Provisions to be included in the new contract to protect workers from losing their jobs to newer, cheaper labor. But due to a state court of appeals decision last year, in which the court ruled to exclude the provisions based on competitive bidding laws, the city says its hands are tied.
Part of the significance of this dispute is that while the importance of job protections for current bus drivers is difficult to quantify, the city’s need to reduce the budget is as plain and clear as the budget numbers themselves. In the face of the millions of dollars the city stands to save with cheaper contracts, why should it matter if, for example, 22,500 special-needs students find themselves with brand-new bus drivers one day?
It matters because how we treat those who care for certain children reflects how we value those children. It creates a system in which workers entrusted to be responsible for a child’s safety are utterly replaceable in the name of protecting the bottom line.
Even though under the city’s strike contingency plans, students, parents, or guardians would receive free MetroCards for mass transit, some politicians immediately rushed to condemn the strike and bus drivers.
Fully embracing the false paradigm that school contract disputes pit parents against education employees, Democratic NYC Council member David G. Greenfield tweeted, “School bus strike is 1st major test for NYC mayoral candidates. Whose side will they take: parents or unions?”
Greenfield then goes on to use the example of special needs children—not to illustrate the importance of protecting workers’ jobs as Knefel did in the above passage—but to depict striking drivers as being selfish.
When a parent responded to Greenfield that she is a parent and supporter of the striking drivers, he tweeted, “That’ very nice. I have dozens of parents of special needs children who have no way to get their kids to school b/c of strike,” and “the victims are the children. Especially the special needs children - many of whom won’t be able to get to school.”
Valdes-Dapena, the mother of a 10-year-old, told the AP, “I’m concerned about what happens if the drivers lose their seniority, if they’re less experienced. You can teach someone to drive a school bus, but what happens when all hell breaks loose behind them?” She added it takes experience to deal with situations like bus breakdowns, medical emergencies of kids with special needs or traffic, when kids get frustrated or unruly. “The drivers we have now—I’d trust them with my own life,” she said.
Any time a labor dispute like this arises, leadership from the top-down rushes to blame selfish workers for putting children in jeopardy rather than addressing issues of job security, privatization and how children are far more likely to suffer under budget cuts and teacher layoffs, while trying to learn in hostile education environments monitored by overworked, under-paid educators, than they are to suffer during a hiatus to settle a labor dispute.
Mayor Bloomberg perfectly demonstrated the “think of the children!” concern trolling when he remarked, “We hope that the union will reconsider its irresponsible and misguided decision to jeopardize our students’ education.” (Note: This concern for the children was missing when Bloomberg cut millions from after school programs.)
Herein lies the false choice. It’s not the children versus the bus drivers, but a choice between living wages and jobs with dignity, and the forces of privatization threatening workers everywhere.
© 2013 The Nation
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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.Aaron Swartz was a brilliant 26-year-old software developer who most recently worked at a company called Thoughtworks, a global software developer, but before that, was well known as a developer of Reddit, the inventor of RSS, and one of the designers of Creative Commons. Well, Aaron committed suicide on Friday, January 11. At the time of his death, Aaron Swartz was under indictment for using MIT access to log into JSTOR, a database of scholarly articles, and downloading those articles with the intent to make them public. If Swartz had been convicted of these charges, he faced more than 30 years in prison.Now joining us to talk about Aaron the man and the significance of this case: first of all, Roy Singham. He's the founder and chairman of Thoughtworks Inc., the company that Aaron most recently worked for. And Brian Guthrie. Brian was a coworker with Aaron, and he's also a software developer and internet activist. Thank you both for joining us. BRIAN GUTHRIE, SOFTWARE DEVELOPER AND INTERNET ACTIVIST: Thank you.JAY: So, Roy, first of all, talk quickly about the basic case, but really what was at stake. I mean, the question I suppose everybody's asking is: why was the prosecutor going after Aaron with such fervor? Nothing actually was ever released. He took these documents perhaps with the intention of making them public, but he never did. But yet they were making a major case out of this.ROY SINGHAM, FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, THOUGHTWORKS: Yeah, no, no. The family issued a very, I think, poignant statement about this when they were defining this as prosecutorial overreach, and, unfortunately, in this case, also the complicity of MIT in letting this happen. I mean, understanding that these documents were downloaded, he had the right to access them, they were sitting on a server, nobody else received them, there was no victim in this alleged crime, none, why would you take—because you would have to allege intent to distribute.By the way, these documents are academic documents. These are not, you know, corporate secrets, they're not state secrets. These are often—most of these documents were created over, you know, centuries of human knowledge. And so the idea that there was an economic benefit to be gained is not true. So there was no economic motivation. There was no damage done to any of the institutions. JSTOR, which was the actual company from—organization from which the documents were downloaded, was quite frankly aghast at the end that this would—'cause they would have said, we'd settle, we don't believe in any charges.So here you have a government going after somebody where there are no damages and no victim, and at the same time the people who might have been the victim have said, please stop. Very unusual.JAY: So, clearly the objective has to be to send a message that anyone that has the kind of specialized know-how or talent that Aaron had, you stay away from privately owned or state-owned documents, period. This has to be about, you know, making—sending the message to this community.SINGHAM: Yeah. I mean, again, you know, different people have different views on this. Glen Greenwald, in his, I think, brilliant piece in The Guardian, looks at all the potential theories of why would this overreach have occurred. You know, was it because, you know, they wanted to make him a sample case? Was it because he had made some powerful enemies in the United States?As you probably know, he was the guy who led or certainly that he helped the movement against the defeat of the piracy act. You know, so he led that. He had already entangled with the government in showing then that the things [incompr.] that they had already produced for the courts ought to be free. He downloaded them. He had embarrassed them in this way. So he clearly had already reached the attention point of the FBI and the government. So we know that he was a target.What this individual prosecutor did, however, in Boston, in addition to whatever political issues are undoubtedly underlying his case—this was a vindictive, mean office of—and remember, this is the federal prosecutor's office. It is the—you know, this was not a state issue. The state prosecutors in Massachusetts was not going after him. This was a federal prosecutor, you know, of Massachusetts, Carmin Ortiz. And the particular prosecutor, they were vicious over a two-year period in attempting to drive this young, beautiful boy, man, into jail. So, now, what is the political case versus what were the individual motives of these two prosecutors at a minimum? And we called for this in our press statement today [incompr.] Today I'm speaking as an individual to you. But in our press statement, this idea that, you know, you can have prosecutors who use the plea bargaining system to drive people into admission of guilt [incompr.] defend this stuff is millions of dollars, bankruptcy, 35 years in prison. This is terrifying to any person. And so a number of issues have to be called into play, in our opinion, and certainly in my opinion and Brian's opinion, who also worked closely, you know, with Aaron. If this is allowed unchallenged, we will lose the next generation of Aarons, the next generation of the most important intellectual leaders of the planet. That's what's at stake. I have some personal views, which I would agree, you know, in terms of what was the underlying political motive. But I think first that the family really, you know, would want us to say this. You know, why was nobody in the federal government blocking the federal prosecution from taking on this [incompr.]JAY: Brian, you worked alongside Aaron. Tell us a little bit about the man. What motivated him, first of all, do you think, to take these documents in the first place? I don't think he ever denied doing it. But it was part of a broader vision he had about the world. What was that?GUTHRIE: Aaron is most often known for his technical contributions, but he really had the soul of a philosopher and activist. He was extremely widely read. He reached out early and often in his life to his heroes and people he admired, asking how he could get involved and how he could help out. And he used those technical skills to improve things all over the internet. I mean, one thing that you see people talking about everywhere is how often Aaron would reach out, out of the blue, with offers to help, to get involved, to support their website in some way. He really had a prodigious intellect and genuinely wanted to use that intellect and his skills and energy to do good in the world.He was also a tremendous writer, very, very thoughtful. And his personality really comes out, I think, in his online writings. When you met Aaron in person, face to face, he was a little quiet, he was very humble. He didn't come across as being this incredible activist. But really, when you follow what he had to say online and read the online archive of his thoughts and his opinions, you see this unbelievably thoughtful individual with a wealth of knowledge who really had done the research and worked his way through the issues.JAY: You must have discussed this specific case with him. How did he explain to you why he had done it and what his expectations were?SINGHAM: Aaron had a pretty disciplined approach to the way he worked and how he wanted to do good in the world in the issue of copyright specifically. He was targeting databases of documents that really had a public-good aspect and should have been opened by virtue of either government funding or content that was otherwise public domain as the property of the United States people. For example, the PACER database is a database of court documents that he helped to bring out into the open internet that PACER was charging money for. Those documents are public domain. They are funded and produced by the United States people. There's no reason why they should be behind a paywall. And that was the sort of thing that Aaron did. He was looking for the disconnect between the laws that we have about our information and the way in which regular people have access to that information. And that's what he was doing here. He was trying to bring an important database of documents that should have been opened out into the world.SINGHAM: And there's all kinds of even [incompr.] nuances. For example, most academics who write these journals, they're not getting paid for these materials. They're often funded by state institutions. And so—and/or the copyright has expired and these kind of things. In fact, JSTOR just last week released millions of documents, because—.GUTHRIE: Twenty percent of their archive.SINGHAM: Twenty percent. One of the things that he said in his speech, I think, in 2011 was, you know, here we have the last hundreds of years of human knowledge. I as a student in a wealthy country, in a wealthy institution, I have access to this, but, you know, a young girl in India, she has no access to the world's scientific and literary culture. I mean, this is a really dramatic change in how we think of knowledge. I mean, there was a library, and you can go read this. Now we're saying that a poor, you know, child in some country, in Brazil, has no access to the world's intellectual legacy. This really morally offended him. And he also understood, you know, the damage that it was going to do to society. GUTHRIE: [incompr.] JSTOR has a mission to do public good, and they were certainly founded with good intentions. And I think that we've been a lot happier with the way they've comported themselves here than with some of the other institutions that were involved. But Aaron's point was that academics share access to that knowledge already. JSTOR started to charge a prescription fee to institutions to gain access to their databases. And academics already share access to that. They invite people into their networks. They'll share passwords in order to give other people access. Academics form a community around sharing with the intent to bring that knowledge out into the world. They're not, most of them, reflexively protective people of their research. They want more people to go out and read their research.But people growing up and living in places without access to those expensive subscriptions don't have the same wherewithal to gain access to that knowledge. And he wanted to change that in a really big way.JAY: So, Roy, why does this prosecutor—and as you said, it's not likely just one prosecutor here. There's got to be other people in the justice department that are aware of all this. Why do they go after him (same question again) so strongly? Why do they consider this so threatening?SINGHAM: So, I mean, you know, obviously we don't have the chance—I mean, Heymann, who is the particularly egregious prosecutor, he worked for Ortiz. He was the head of the office. The two of them have, in my opinion, a 100 percent culpability for the overreach and for what happened here. Whether or not, you know, Holder or other people discussed this case, it's highly implausible to me that they didn't. And if you look at the timing of when these charges were filed against Aaron, it was exactly at the time of, you know, Assange and Manning, and there was just this paranoia, you know, in the Justice Department, in Homeland Security, that [incompr.] There's a generation of hackers out there that if we do not suppress and grab these people, our national security is in threat. And so the mood at the time was really, let us go out and guarantee [incompr.] even says this, not only Aaron, I mean, Jeremy Hammond, the Anonymous, a lot of these guys who—and [incompr.] who have been very active in internet freedom, they are being hunted down globally. I mean, this is—so if you ask me as a social—an historic thing, I had an internal debate with some of our colleagues last night about the press statement that we issued, because, you know, there is this question of why would Thoughtworks care as the company, 'cause we are very much calling for an investigation of prosecutorial overreach, and we're calling also for an apology by MIT to the family and for changes in policy. Why is that important? Isn't internet access important? Yes. If we allow the 12-year-old—and if you look at Aaron's site, for example, there's a 14-year-old who posted about how Aaron is their hero. Imagine if that 14-year-old who could be the next Aaron reads this thing about, you know, his—you know, the threats of imprisonment and what happened to Aaron. That young, you know, future humanist internet, you know, revolutionary is crushed.We have been forced into a defensive position to fight the suppression of civil resistance and disobedience. And unfortunately we, some of us—that's why it was just amazing, the last two days, some of the most creative and intelligent responses of the community towards these egregious acts.JAY: Is part of this that, you know, the United States has military superiority over just about everybody, they have financial superiority over just about everybody? But is it—and when it comes to computer technology—and they are so vulnerable on that front—that maybe they don't have intellectual superiority, and that leaves them feeling open?GUTHRIE: We have a narrative that we've constructed because technology is new and because it seems scary of the rogue hacker who can gain access to any system and do what they want with it at will, which simply isn't true. I mean, our understanding of technology is certainly still evolving. But I think Aaron got sucked into that narrative that prosecutors can use to their advantage if they're trying to bring home a prosecution, if they can paint Aaron in a particular way that makes him part of this unnoble, vast conspiracy of hackers. And Aaron—.JAY: Yeah. You explained something to me off-camera which is important, which is that Aaron actually didn't hack anything. I mean, he had a password. What Aaron did is akin to somebody going into a library with their library card and photocopying books and then, you know, planning to hand out the copies, isn't it?SINGHAM: But remember, he didn't even make the copies. In that case, he didn't even make the copies.GUTHRIE: Right. It's equivalent to checking out a lot of books very quickly, right? Unfortunately, it impacted the system for other people because he was downloading the papers very quickly. But he didn't do anything that any reasonable person would characterize as hacking. He didn't break into any systems. He didn't change any passwords. He didn't do anything that the website he was accessing didn't already allow people to access. He didn't so much as change the URL, which is an extremely—SINGHAM: Obvious.GUTHRIE: —an extremely obvious—it's something that increasingly has come to be used as a tool to accuse people of hacking. If you ever changed the URL of a YouTube video, there are people who would claim that under the wrong circumstances that's hacking. And Aaron didn't even go that far. He simply wasn't that person.JAY: So doesn't this mean—I mean, if an ordinary student that had no history of internet activism, of having had such high-level skills, if an ordinary student had done the same thing, it seems like it's not likely to have had the same kind of prosecutorial effort here. Were they not going after him because he's Aaron Swartz and because they're afraid of what people like Aaron are capable of?SINGHAM: I mean, that's my opinion, that this is a calculated move be the authorities to suppress the next generation. And, by the way, these civil disobedience are the same as Dr. King, the same as Gandhi, right? The argument that, you know, Gandhi broke the law because he called for the salt tax or, you know, Dr. King violated the law by, you know, breaking segregation, if a small transgression of an unjust law—. I mean, Aaron, you know, was a risk-taker. He believed—you know, and whether or not he could have possibly foreseen this [incompr.] absurd response is probably unlikely. But he understood that the laws that were no longer keeping up with the changes of technology, that laws that had passed 30 or 40 years ago had no relevance in this new area, were being used by a small group of very large corporations to privatize and monetize what was the human legacy of intellectual capital. That's why even The Economist, not known for its progressive views, called him the "commons man" and not [incompr.] in the sense of the defender or one of the great defenders of the concept of the commons [incompr.] and, as we know, that complete erosion. So Aaron in that sense was taking on directly the economic interests of the people who are trying to privatize human knowledge.But he also knew that there was a relationship between that and the state, which was actually why most of what you worked with him on was activism around legislation for this, because he then began to realize that the broader context was a political context. Even as passionate as he was about the Creative Commons, he was also passionate about the next generation of fighters.JAY: Yeah. Brian, talk a little bit about the other areas that Aaron worked in, 'cause you told me off-camera this actually was really a very small piece of Aaron's activism.GUTHRIE: Yeah. I mean, Aaron—again, we know him as a technologist, but technology to him was a tool. It's something that he wanted to leverage to really make change in the world. The work we were doing with him at Thoughtworks involved building a piece of software using the same tools and techniques that your startups in Silicon Valley are using to get people to post more on Facebook, applying that same level of analytical detail to encourage people to do good in the world and bring their voice out into the collective of people who are trying to change things.And so to that end, they're working on a piece of software that he intended to bring out and make—it's available for free now. You can download it yourself. It's released under an open-source license. He wanted to use that to bring the most advanced tools for social activism on the internet in the world to people who might not otherwise have access to them without a subscription fee.SINGHAM: Yeah. I mean, [incompr.] people think of him in some ways as a global Western hero. He was deeply an internationalist. I mean, in this particular [incompr.] he realized that the knowledge about campaigning and structuring right now is a wealthy-country phenomenon, and that even the progressives, there's a risk that the agendas are set not by the people themselves, but by an elite, even an elite that's pretending to speaking on behalf of the people. And so he was fiercely a democrat in the small-D sense of saying, what happens if I'm a villager in Burundi and I want to have my campaign around whatever my issues are, and I don't want that agenda to be [incompr.] by somebody in Washington, or even [incompr.] person in New York, how do they use that [incompr.] cell phones and all these things. He was an incredibly advanced thinker about the nature of political power, how to democratize access, how the internet ought to have been used to disempower wealth accumulation and power accumulation. He was really one of the last standing, you know, in that sense, humanists who fought aggregated power and totalitarian states.JAY: Brian, people like Aaron usually are able to make a lot of money, and that's what they focus on. But he never seemed all that interested in it, if that's what—if I understand correctly. GUTHRIE: Yeah. It—to his enormous credit, you know, I think he could have gone almost anywhere and done almost anything. I think he fell into money rather than seeking it. And, you know, it's to his enormous credit that he continued to pursue opportunities, wherever he could find them, to do good rather than make money. And he actively pursued that, rather than staying with the company helped found, Reddit.com, after it sailed to Condé Nast, he parted ways with them and used that money the same way we'd use oxygen, not to help propel him into the ranks of the wealthy, but to keep him going and give him the freedom to do what he needed to do to improve the world.SINGHAM: Yeah, I mean, just—you know, I mean, I think people—I mean, Larry said it in his pieces. It wasn't a lot of money. It wasn't as much money as people think. GUTHRIE: Yeah.SINGHAM: And he was only one of the owners. And he pretty much decimated that in the cause of all these things, PACER, living—you know, he wasn't a man of means.GUTHRIE: Yeah.SINGHAM: Right? And so there's a little bit of a misleading thing that—to believe that he sat there. So, therefore, here is this guy. And I—as a technologist, I'm very worried that young technical people are given the beautiful pictures of Steve Jobs as an icon. The human race needs Aaron Swartz as an icon, not Steve Jobs, because we are lucky, I mean, in our industry, because we get to do things we like for a living [inaud.] What do you use that for? And Aaron, in that sense, [incompr.] in my mind, the most important role model of your generation, certainly in the United States, and, I would argue, for somebody of privilege in the world, that there cannot be—.And, you know, it's hard for me. And I think Aaron—and, I mean, you know, you and I are in this incredibly fortunate thing, 'cause we spent a lot of time with Aaron in the last, you know, six or eight months. And I have cried for two days straight, as you have. And it's only today, in day three, that we can sort of begin to rebuild Aaron's legacy in the way that we know he would want us to. The thing that really disturbs me in all this kind of stuff is that they want to pigeonhole Aaron into too many narrow sets, right? It's the hacker or the internet guy. I have met—you and I have met lots of people. Can you imagine a deeper-caring person? I mean, it's just incredible. I mean, I still cry. I mean, he would touch anybody and do anything. I—we had a meeting, you know, recently about how could we change American views towards Muslims. Here's this young, beautiful Jewish kid. He walks into a room with a bunch of, you know, Muslim activists saying, we have to do something to change American opinion. He gets up on a white board and he says, listen, what we need to do is have a war against the merchants of hate. [incompr.] He walked in there for—what, you guys were in there for an hour or two.GUTHRIE: Right.SINGHAM: He would do those kind of things. His breadth of the issues that he would concern with were truly astounding. And a lot of the people, because he was in that sense quite a radical—I mean, he read Chomsky when he was 15. And those kind of things, again, people don't want to talk about. He was deeply unsatisfied. In fact, one of his speeches on SOPA, you know, when he first called about it, he says, listen, I'm not interested in copyright law; I want to deal with health care access, you know, I want to deal with this financial crisis, I want to understand how we don't have the Congress in the pay of these military contractors. I mean, he was thinking about every issue.JAY: Roy, a lot of people watching are going to ask—you know, are going to be asking the question, you know, why didn't he want to fight this case. Now, we know that Aaron suffered from depression. And so—I mean, it's not one and one equals two that he was facing a jail sentence and this was his choice; he wasn't—you know, I mean, the depression obviously played a major role here.GUTHRIE: One of the things that's come out into the internet after his passing is that—one of the things I've learned—I had no the problem was this big—is that the minimum amount of money to fight a federal grand jury case, even if you're completely innocent, even if you do, I guess, one day of trial and then walk away, you're looking at $1.5 million. I can't imagine the kind of [crosstalk]SINGHAM: Money he didn't have.GUTHRIE: Yeah. Yeah. And in order to do that, he would have had to go out and, I think, ask for that money, right? And that—.SINGHAM: And we were trying to help raise that money for him. I kept on personally saying, Aaron, the community will come to your defense. But he was such a polite, private person, that was just inconceivable to him. Yeah. And I think, you know, one never knows what happened to somebody's—in their brain. And, you know, I've had to deal with it in my personal life, people who I know are depressed. And I've thought a lot about this question of depression. So I'm aware that depression is a complex thing. And he was very open about it. I mean, very few people of his stature would have been as open and honest as he was about this thing. You know.And I feel that, you know, I can say safely that he was loved. I mean, you know, his partner and his parents are just amazing people. You know, he knew that he was loved. But it is difficult, no matter what anybody says, to have somebody who's thinking about the most deepest future of the human race to have this distraction, to be embarrassed about himself, to know there's a possibility of going to jail. I have—none of us in the family or in the company allege a direct correlation. But, you know, we did care for him. [incompr.] loved him.And, of course, any time you have a tragic thing, we all had to go through a self-realization—did we do enough, could we have done more. I mean, there's no way around that as a grieving process. But that misses the point. What if he hadn't? Would that change the outcome of going after prosecutorial reach? Would that excuse what MIT did? Would not the same terror to a young person fearing a jail sentence have occurred? It doesn't in the end matter, really, about the thing. It's personally a tragedy for Aaron and personally a tragedy for all of us who loved him. And that's a horrible thing, and we want accountability for that. But the broader is much deeper: intimidate the next generation of intellectual fighters, and we have created the world's greatest totalitarian state that dwarfs 1984.JAY: Alright. Thank you both for joining us.GUTHRIE: Thank you.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.~~~ADAM SWARTZ: The internet really is out of control. But if we forget that, if we let Hollywood rewrite the story so it was just big company Google who stopped the bill, if we let them persuade us we didn't actually make a difference, if we start seeing it as someone else's responsibility to do this work and it's our job just to go home and pop some popcorn and curl up on the couch to watch Transformers, well, then next time they might just win. Let's not let that happen.TEXT ON SCREEN: Aaron Swartz 1986-2013.
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A proposal is currently being considered by the US Postal Service to sell its building in downtown Berkeley, CA and relocate its services. This is just one city that is feeling the impact of a crippling financial crisis currently affecting the Postal Service. In fiscal year 2012 it lost approximately 5.9 billion. And now thousands of buildings may be sold and thousands of workers laid off in what USPS says is an attempt to save itself, but critics argue is a step toward privatization.It’s commonly understood that the internet and e-communication is causing the demise of USPS, but that's not the full story. What seems to be the prime cause is actually a little-known law passed in 2006.Susan Hammers, APWU: The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act requires prefunding of pensions 75 yrs into the future.Augustine Ruiz, USPS: This is a huge burden on us and it’s unfair.Gray Brechin, UC Berkeley faculty/activist: It seems as though it was designed to destroy the postl service. Postal revenue has taken a drop over the years, but until now the postal service has been able to get by and survive solely from its own revenue, receiving absolutely no US tax dollars, as stipulated by the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act.However, the pension prefunding is a mandatory requirement, and so in an attempt to address its budget shortfall USPS has begun a program of drastic restructuring. One effort underway is a massive reduction in its workforce. Currently the postal service provides around 550,000 middle-class jobs. But actions proposed by the Postmaster General could cut the workforce down to approximately 300,000, which union representatives say would have a devastating effect not only on workers and their families, but on the overall US economy as well.In addition to curtailing labor costs, current plans likely include the closing of around 3,700 post offices, although at other times it has been suggested that up to 15,000 locations may be considered for closure, almost half of the 32,000 USPS operates.Ruiz: we’re going to get rid of space we don’t need, become more efficient, and continue to offer our services in other smaller locations. Then we can stay in business.But unions and community organizations say it is hardly a solution to the budget problems. They stress this one-time cash injection will never be able to be repeated, so it’s hard to see how this will help alleviate the ongoing pension payments. Additionally, services are often being relocated from the sold buildings to new rented locations, meaning ongoing monthly payments often estimated at a cost greater than maintaining the already owned buildings.Activists argue this is part of an ongoing divestiture of assets that, along with $12 billion of annual outsourcing, is a significant step toward the privatization of the US Postal Service. While USPS denies there is a concerted effort to privatize, privatization does have its strong advocates. Tad DeHaven, for instance, of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, believes in full privatization. DeHaven sees the current measures as merely a band-aid, and the entire government-run model as a failure. Tad DeHaven, Cato Institute: If we don’t privatize US taxpayers will have to pick up the tab. This is a failing business model. I envision customers saying what services they need and entrepenuers filling that role with no government provision. Also championing paths toward privatization are UPS and FedEx. Already FedEx is the postal service’s number one private contractor, transporting Express, Priority, and First Class Mail. In 2011 the company earned postal revenues of $1.495 billion, an increase of $122 million over 2010. Like Tad DeHaven, FedEx CEO Frederick W. Smith is also a member of the Cato Institute, and in the past has been on its Board of Directors. In 1999, long before the postal service’s current crisis, Smith testified before a congressional committee urging it to consider privatization:“Closing down the Postal Service,” he stated, “like any other government agency that has outlived its usefulness, is an option that ought to be considered seriously.”In response to these outright demands for privatization, postal service advocates assert the current crisis is manufactured, not a result solely of a poor business model. The additional measures, they insist, are only further debilitating the postal service and making it less functional, thereby setting itself up for a further loss of revenue.Hammers: They’re cutting window staff, so there’s longer lines. They’re closing centrally located branches, so it’s harder to get to. This is costing us customers and revenue.During this process, some private contractors will do quite well off of the ongoing USPS fiscal crisis. CBRE, for example, is the world’s largest commercial real estate broker, chaired by San Francisco billionaire Richard Blum, husband of Sen. Diane Feinstein. Last year CBRE won a contract from the USPS to be the sole manager of its property sales, as well as an advisor on which properties should be sold. Brechin: CBRE also arranges the leases, so it’s involved in all aspects of the sale. They’re making a ton of money off this.CBRE has played this role before. In October 2009, the firm was contracted by the State of California to sell over $2 billion in office buildings the state wanted to privatize because of its own financial problems. But USPS dismisses any possible conflict of interest CBRE may have in performing its services.Ruiz: They’re just giving advice, it’s up to us if we want to take it.Activists agree the postal service needs to adjust its model if it hopes to succeed. Instead of scaling back, however, they believe a reinvestment in the institution would lead to a revitalization and bring customers and revenue back to the postal service. But their immediate priority is a congressional repeal of the tremendous burden that is the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.Hammers: Congress created this problem, they have to fix it.Meanwhile, the Downtown Berkeley Post Office, a nationally registered historic landmark, may soon be up for sale. Under the proposal the building would be sold and current services would be relocated to a leased storefront. But the news has not gone over well in Berkeley.Brechin: People are organizing and protesting. We’re not going to let them sell our post office.Ruiz: People are passionate about this, but they have to understand our fiscal responsibility.As activists in Berkeley and elsewhere across the country attempt to alter the current course--whatever motives may be behind it--what is clear is that unless something changes, the likely path will result in drastically less public ownership of assets, thousands fewer unionized employees, and more outsourcing, or in other words a semi-privatized US Postal Service. That is, of course, if it can stay in business. Reporting from Berkeley, CA, this is David Zlutnick for the Real News Network.
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As much of Latin America braces itself for the possibility of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s death, observers around the world would do well to note the stark contrasts that exist within the region. On the one hand, there are the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) countries, united by Chavez in their rejection of US imperialism and neoliberal capitalism. On the other hand, there are those countries which are still very much living under the hegemony of the United States.
In El Salvador, this means subservience to Washington and international investors who seek nothing less than total control of that nation’s economic destiny. This attempt at economic monopolization can be summed up with one word: privatization. It is precisely this strategy with all the union-busting, wage gouging, and propaganda disinformation that it entails, that is rearing its ugly head in El Salvador.
Public-Private Partnership (P3) Law
The corporate-financier drive to privatize the Salvadoran economy has taken the form of the proposed Public-Private Partnership law which, if approved, would grant the government the right to sell off national resources, infrastructure and services to foreign multinationals. In effect, it would allow for the privatization of those sectors of the economy traditionally controlled by the state. As Gilberto Garcia of the Salvadoran Center for Labor Study and Support stated, “Essentially, they want to take a strategic service from the state in favor of a multinational.”  The ultimate goal of this legislation is not merely to cede control of state institutions to private interests, it is also to subvert and ultimately eliminate the power of organized labor and thereby reduce wages and the standard of living of working people in the country.
Public sector workers in El Salvador earn a minimum wage of $300 per month while their private sector counterparts earn anywhere between $187 and $219 per month. The drive to privatize is, at least in part, aimed and driving down the wages of industrial workers while maximizing profits for foreign investors. However, the law is aimed not only at lowering wages, but weakening the public sector unions on a fundamental level in order to prevent mass resistance to the implementation of the neoliberal policies that have been so destructive in other parts of Latin America and the developing world. Many of the public sector unions have mounted effective resistance to these sorts of policies in the past, therefore making them high-priority targets for corporate bosses seeking to transform the economy for their own benefit.
This transformation of the economy affects the working class and the poor most acutely. Not only is access to vital social services and resources reduced, but the prices are increased dramatically. One clear example of this is the privatization of much of the electrical distribution system in El Salvador back in 1996 which resulted in an average increase in price of 47.2% for the lowest-level consumers. Essentially then, the poor and working class of the country have to pay to subsidize the selling off of their own resources and services to powerful multinational corporations. It is for this reason that tens of thousands have begun mobilizing against this legislation and in support of organized labor. However, in order to fully appreciate the vast scope of this issue, one must understand the larger framework within which the P3 law was created.
The US and the “Partnership for Growth”
The Public-Private Partnership legislation is merely an outgrowth of the Obama Administration’s so-called “Partnership for Growth” bilateral agreement, signed with the Funes government in 2011. This agreement “embodies a key administration policy of seeking to elevate broad-based economic growth as a top priority of our development assistance, ensuring that our investments and policies are guided by rigorous assessments of how countries can achieve higher levels of growth,” according to Mark Feierstein, assistant administrator for the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite the innocuous diplomatic rhetoric, the bilateral agreement intends to create a climate conducive to foreign exploitation of the resources and services of a country that is, in many ways, entirely dependent upon the United States for its economic survival. It should be noted here that, on more than one occasion, the Obama administration ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte, has threatened to withhold crucial aid if the Public-Private Partnership law is not enacted. In effect, the Partnership for Growth lays the foundation for a dependent relationship in which the United States, acting as the benefactor, controls the direction and type of development that El Salvador is allowed to have.
It is essential to understand the foundations of the Partnership for Growth in order to fully appreciate its far-reaching implications. One of the primary mechanisms by which the substance of this agreement is enacted is a so-called “Growth Council” whose goal is to create a business-friendly environment conducive to foreign corporations. Made up of five wealthy capitalists and five government bureaucrats, the council acts as a sort of advisory board to the President, speaking on behalf of business interests and promoting the agenda of private business at the highest levels of the Salvadoran government. This council is, for all intents and purposes, the mouthpiece of international finance capital, collaborating with foreign interests to destroy the labor movement and reduce the standard of living for the working class and the poor while enriching themselves.
The Partnership for Growth recently had its first annual review in which delegates from the US and the Growth Council met to discuss the progress made in implementing the agreement. The delegates “gave a positive evaluation of the progress made on the PFG’s (Partnership for Growth’s) 20 goals and actions for achieving them…the delegation cited new bilateral security initiatives, programs to train youth for jobs with US fast food restaurants, hotels, and Wal-Mart; and new laws presented to the Salvadoran legislature to incentivize foreign investment.” What should be evident from this is the fact that, in the minds of these representatives of corporate interests, growth can be understood as improving the investment climate while training young people to work in low-wage sectors in the service of multinational corporations, rather than promoting young people to work in the interests of their own country. This falls directly in line with the goal of the Partnership, namely furthering the interests of the wealthy while stifling the progress of the working class and the poor.
Another key player in this “partnership” is USAID. Promoting itself as an institution “extending a helping hand to those people overseas trying to make a better life,” it is in fact merely an extension of the imperialist ruling class of the United States. USAID is intimately linked to this drive toward privatization in El Salvador. In fact, USAID works in close collaboration with the Millennium Challenge Corporation to disburse funds to countries that follow the prescribed neoliberal reform formula. As James Parks, Deputy Vice President for Policy and Evaluation at Millennium Challenge Corporation was quoted on USAID’s own website, “”El Salvador’s economic growth can be increased by enacting sound policies that enhance the ability of Salvadoran businesses to compete in the global economy…A more competitive El Salvador can create new jobs on the basis of a stronger private sector and more foreign investment. The key goal of the partnership is to help unlock the country’s full economic potential.” What becomes clear is that USAID is instrumental in transforming the Salvadoran economy, using the leverage of conditional aid and other economic incentives to bend the government to the will of international capital. However, it is essential to understand that even the definition of the “challenges to prosperity” is purely propaganda.
The Propaganda of “Prosperity”
One of the central aspects of the “Partnership for Growth” campaign is a sustained propaganda assault directed at the people of El Salvador. The attempt is to convince citizens, the middle class especially, that by simply addressing a few key “bottlenecks” in production, the country will be on its way to a brighter economic future. These main “constraints to growth” are crime and low productivity. Those of us in the United States should be familiar with this sort of terminology which is always used as a rhetorical smokescreen to refer to the poor and organized labor. When the Partnership for Growth committee, led by American “advisors” described these twin problems as the central obstacles to growth, it was essentially a declaration of war on the unions and the poor. Moreover, it further legitimizes the abhorrent so-called US drug war and the union-busting policies of neoliberalism.
The attempt is to convince the people of El Salvador that, rather than corrupt puppet governments and a disgraceful and exploitative economic system beholden to multinational corporations, the problems in that country are of their own making. This same logic has been applied to countless other countries in the region for decades and is the root cause of much of the conflict and internal strife in Latin America. One need only look to Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador and elsewhere to find examples of countries that, despite tremendous pressure and international demonization campaigns, have been able to take control of their own economic systems, becoming the masters of their own destiny. In this time of uncertainty in Latin America, one must examine how El Salvador is really a microcosm for the United States and the world more broadly both in terms of the assault by corporations on workers and the way in which it represents the class struggles we see throughout the world. By seeing this issue in its broadest possible context, peace-loving anti-imperialists around the world can stand in solidarity with the people of El Salvador and all working people struggling to be free.
Eric Draitser is the founder of StopImperialism.com. He is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City. He is a regular contributor to Russia Today, Press TV, GlobalResearch.ca, and other media outlets. You can reach him at [email protected]Notes  http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2013/01/us-intervention-el-salvador-privatization-time  http://www.cispes.org/blog/workers-mobilize-for-higher-wages-in-private-sector/  http://www.cispes.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/APPFactSheet.pdf  http://transition.usaid.gov/press/frontlines/fl_mar12/FL_mar12_LAC_El_SALVADOR.html  http://www.cispes.org/blog/us-ambassador-ransoms-aid-for-passage-of-public-private-partnerships-law/  http://photos.state.gov/libraries/elsavador/92891/octubre2011/Joint_Country_Action_Plan.pdf  http://www.cispes.org/blog/partnership-for-growth-pushes-privatization-as-development-in-el-salvador/  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USAID  http://transition.usaid.gov/press/frontlines/fl_mar12/FL_mar12_LAC_El_SALVADOR.htm
Health workers and supporters take part in a protest against the local government's plans to cut spending on public health care in Madrid January 7, 2013. (Reuters / Juan Medina)(32.1Mb) embed video
Thousands of Spanish health workers have marched through the streets of Madrid protesting the privatization of healthcare system. But financial analyst Patrick Young believes the government has no better option given its dire economic situation.
The demonstrators protested against the privatization of six hospitals and 27 health centers in the Spanish capital. This comes after a new law was passed last month allowing Madrid’s regional government to transfer the management of hospitals and health centers to private companies. Spain’s heath care and education are administered by regional authorities rather than the central government.
Monica Garcia, spokeswoman for the Association of Medical Specialists of Madrid, which initiated the march, told AP that her organization would continue to protest "the loss of our public health care, a national heritage that belongs to us and not to the government." She added that the regional government was trying "to obtain economic benefit" from a system it had not invested in.
Agustin Reverte, a 31-year-old doctor, said, "Private companies will want to get profit out of this, so fewer diagnostic tests will be made for patients, they will hire fewer staff and patients will be looked after worse."
The privatization proposal comes as Madrid’s government insists that austerity measures are needed to save the health care system.
Spain's 17 semi-autonomous regions are struggling with a combined debt of 145 billion euros.
Health workers and supporters take part in a protest against the local government's plans to cut spending on public health care in Madrid January 7, 2013. (Reuters / Juan Medina)
Financial analyst Patrick Young argues that there is nothing that can be done about the current Spanish situation. “Spain has the tenth biggest deficit on the planet and effectively is haemorrhaging money at the moment because the budgets were made in the good old days when property markets were going through the roof. Nowadays nobody can sell a property, nobody can get a job and obviously the government simply doesn’t have the money even for essential facilities like healthcare.”
“The truth is that ultimately governments are hideously inefficient when they do large-scale health provision,” he told RT.
Young insists that the government has no other choice but to privatize the health sector. “Ultimately privately deployed capital tends to be deployed in a way that is more efficient both for the user and indeed the provider of that capital.”
“What we are looking at here is the idea that the cradle to the grave – socialist methodology that has been popular in post war Western Europe, particularly in Mediterranean nations, simply is unaffordable. And therefore now we have to go private, we have to have that better provision and government is going to do its best to safeguard that the services are actually as good as they were before and probably better.”
A woman blows a whistle during a protest against the local government's plans to cut public healthcare spending in Madrid January 7, 2013. (Reuters / Juan Medina)
A woman walks during a protest against the local government's plans to cut public healthcare spending in Madrid January 7, 2013. (Reuters / Juan Medina)
Musicians perform during a protest against the local government's plans to cut public healthcare spending in Madrid January 7, 2013. (Reuters / Juan Medina)
Spanish police stand in front of health workers during a protest outside the regional assembly in Madrid on December 4, 2012.
Thousands of doctors and health workers have staged a protest in the Spanish capital to express discontent with plans by the regional government of Madrid for the privatization of healthcare services and austerity cuts.
The demonstrators took to the streets in central Madrid on Monday, carrying banners that read, “Healthcare is up for sale so politicians can make money.”
Some demonstrators were blowing horns and banging drums, while a number of others were wearing white scrubs.
The demonstration in the Spanish capital is the latest in a round of similar events described as a ‘white tide.’
The regional government of Madrid plans to privatize six hospitals and 27 health centers of the 270 in the region, insisting that the sell-offs and cuts are necessary to secure health services during a deep recession.
Lucia Munoz, one of the protesters, said, “I don’t think it’s fair that the taxes we all pay are going to go to private companies to provide our healthcare.”
“Those companies have to make a profit, so they are going to cut whatever they can” including jobs and budgets, Munoz said. “That is going to affect the quality of healthcare.”
On December 20, 2012, Spanish lawmakers voted for further cuts in the 2013 budget, which slashes spending for healthcare and education, and reduces pensions.
The fourth largest eurozone economy, Spain must lower its deficit to 4.5 percent in 2013 and 2.8 percent in 2014. Economists, however, say those targets will be difficult to meet amid poor prospects for the country’s economic recovery.
The Spanish economy slid into recession in the second half of 2008, taking with it millions of jobs.
‘School Choice Is Not Serving the Most Disenfranchised’ – CounterSpin interview with Kevin Kumashiro...
The victory of Conservatives in UK general elections has sparked hot debates among experts about the democratic nature of its political system and economic prospect.
One of the main points which is repeated in most debates is that the austerity measures would continue in the next five years.
“Obviously we had a 5 year coalition government where at least some of the extreme right-wing policies of the conservative party was controlled and managed by the Lib Dems. What we are likely to see is that the austerity measures now are taking a full speed,” London-based commentator Shabbir Razvi told Press TV.
He blamed the Conservatives politicians for not briefing the nations over the budgets allocated for various fields saying:” What we have is that austerity measures will continue unabated and really what this reflects is that Britain is very much a democracy, or a form of democracy, which can be bought by money.”
According to Razvi, at the end of last year, the electoral commission found that Tories received the largest amount of donations at 8 billion, the bulk of which came from financial associates in banks, different industries and business.
The analyst said the Tories are now going to follow the agenda of big corporations, big businesses saying what big corporations want is to create a sort of jargon and euphemistically it is called to create a competitive environment.
“What the multinational corporations want is that vast majority of the people in the UK to be working at a very minimum wage so that the corporations make bigger and bigger profits and at the same time cuts and the privatization of the national health service, cuts and the privatization of the police service, the fire service, and so on,” he noted.
He then referred to the relatively low turnout in the general elections saying out of the 45 million people who were eligible for vote, only 30 million voted.
“That means the largest party that didn’t participate in the elections was the non-voters and the conservative party only got 35 percent of the popular vote, he said.
Razvi slammed the form of democracy in the UK saying that it appears that the form of democracy that is being practiced in the UK, the mother of all democracies, is not really quite democratic as it is run by big businesses, big media tycoons, and the rich and the wealthy.
RINF, Countercurrents, Global Research
“India is on fast track to bring agriculture under corporate control... Amending the existing laws on land acquisition, water resources, seed, fertilizer, pesticides and food processing, the government is in overdrive to usher in contract farming and encourage organized retail. This is exactly as per the advice of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as the international financial institutes.”
“Agriculture has been systematically killed over the last few decades… the World Bank and big business have given the message that this is the only way to grow economically… Sixty percent of the population lives in the villages or in the rural areas and is involved in agriculture, and less than two percent of the annual budget goes to agriculture… When you are not investing in agriculture, you think it is... not performing. You are not wanting it to perform... Leave it to the vagaries or the tyranny of the markets… agriculture has disappeared from the economic radar screen of the country… 70 percent of the population is being completely ignored…”
“In the last 10 years, we had 36 lakh crore going to the corporates by way of tax exemptions... They just created 1.5 crore jobs in the last ten years. Where are the exports? … The only sector that has performed very well in this country is agriculture... Why do you want to move the population... Why can’t India have its own thinking? Why do we have to go with Harvard or Oxford economists who tell us this?” (36 lakh crore is 36 trillion; 1.5 crore is 15 million)
On Twitter this week, someone asked the question “Why do people doubt science?” Accompanying the tweet was a link to an article in National Geographic that implied people who are suspicious of vaccines, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), climate change, fluoridated water and various other phenomena are confused, adhere to conspiracy theories, are motivated by ideology or are misinformed as a result of access to the ‘University of Google.’ The remedy, according what is said in the article, is for us all to rely on scientific evidence pertaining to these issues and adopt a ‘scientific method’ of thought and analysis and put irrational thought processes to one side.
Who tweeted the question and posted the link? None other than Robert T Fraley, Monsanto’s Vice President and Chief Technology Officer.
Before addressing that question, it is worth mentioning that science is not the giver of ‘absolute truth’. That in itself should allow us to develop a healthy sceptism towards the discipline. The ‘truth' is a tricky thing to pin down. Scientific knowledge is built on shaky stilts that rest on shifting foundations. Science historian Thomas Kuhn wrote about the revolutionary paradigm shifts in scientific thought, whereby established theoretical perspectives can play the role of secular theology and serve as a barrier to the advancement of knowledge, until the weight of evidence and pressure from proponents of a new theoretical paradigm is overwhelming. Then, at least according to Kuhn, the old faith gives way and a new 'truth' changes.
Philosopher Paul Feyerabend argued that science is not an 'exact science'. The manufacture of scientific knowledge involves a process driven by various sociological, methodological and epistemological conflicts and compromises, both inside the laboratory and beyond. Writers in the field of the sociology of science have written much on this.
But the answer to the question “Why do people doubt science” is not because they have read Kuhn, Feyerabend or some sociology journal. Neither is it because a bunch of ‘irrational’ activists have scared them witless about GM crops or some other issue. It is because they can see how science is used, corrupted and manipulated by powerful corporations to serve their own ends. It is because they regard these large corporations as largely unaccountable and their activities and products not properly regulated by governments.
That’s why so many doubt science - or more precisely the science corporations fund and promote to support their interests.
US sociologist Robert Merton highlighted the underlying norms of science as involving research that is not warped by vested interests, adheres to the common ownership of scientific discoveries (intellectual property) to promote collective collaboration and subjects findings to organised, rigorous critical scrutiny within the scientific community. The concept of originality was added by later writers in order to fully encapsulate the ethos of science: scientific claims must contribute something new to existing discourse. Based on this brief analysis, secrecy, dogma and vested interest have no place.
This is of course a highly idealised version of what science is or should be because in reality careers, reputations, commercial interests and funding issues all serve to undermine these norms.
But if we really want to look at the role of secrecy, dogma and vested interest in full flow, we could take a look at in the sector to which Robert T Fraley belongs.
Last year, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called for “sound science” to underpin food trade between the US and the EU. However, he seems very selective in applying “sound science” to certain issues. Consumer rights groups in the US are pushing for the labelling of GMO foods, but Vilsack said that putting a label on a foodstuff containing a GM product “risks sending a wrong impression that this was a safety issue.”
Despite what Vilsack would have us believe, many scientific studies show that GMOs are indeed a big safety issue and what’s more are also having grave environmental, social and economic consequences (for example, see this and this).
By not wanting to respond to widespread consumer demands to know what they are eating and risk “sending a wrong impression,” Vislack is trying to prevent proper debate about issues that his corporate backers would find unpalatable: profits would collapse if consumers had the choice to reject the GMOs being fed to them. And ‘corporate backers’ must not be taken as a throwaway term here. Big agritech concerns have captured or at the very least seriously compromised key policy and regulatory bodies in the US (see this), Europe (see this), India (see this) and in fact on a global level (see here regarding control of the WTO).
If Robert T Fraley wants to understand why people doubt science, he should consider what Andy Stirling, Professor of Science and Technology Policy at Sussex University, says:
“The main reason some multinationals prefer GM technologies over the many alternatives is that GM offers more lucrative ways to control intellectual property and global supply chains. To sideline open discussion of these issues, related interests are now trying to deny the many uncertainties and suppress scientific diversity. This undermines democratic debate – and science itself.” (see here)
Coming from the GMO biotech industry, or its political mouthpieces, the term “sound science” rings extremely hollow. The industry carries out inadequate, short-term studies and conceals the data produced by its research under the guise of ‘commercial confidentiality’ (see this), while independent research highlights the very serious dangers of its products [see this and this). It has in the past also engaged in fakery in India (see this), bribery in Indonesia (see this ) and smears and intimidation against those who challenge its interests [see this), as well as the distortion and the censorship of science (see this and this).
With its aim to modify organisms to create patents that will secure ever greater control over seeds, markets and the food supply, the widely held suspicion is that the GMO agritech sector is only concerned with a certain type of science: that which supports these aims. Because if science is held in such high regard by these corporations, why isn't Monsanto proud of its products? Why in the US doesn't it label foods containing GMOs and throw open its science to public scrutiny, instead of veiling it with secrecy, restricting independent research on its products or resorting to unsavoury tactics?
If science is held in such high regard by the GMO agritech sector, why in the US did policy makers release GM food onto the commercial market without proper long-term tests? The argument used to justify this is GM food is ‘substantially equivalent’ to ordinary food. But this is not based on scientific reason. Foreign genes are being inserted into organisms that studies show make them substantially non-equivalent (see this). Substantial equivalence is a trade strategy on behalf of the GM sector that neatly serves to remove its GMOs from the type of scrutiny usually applied to potentially toxic or harmful substances. The attempt to replace processed-based regulation of GMOs in Europe with product-based regulation would result in serving a similar purpose (see this).
The reason why no labelling or testing has taken place in the US is not due to ‘sound science’ having been applied but comes down to the power and political influence of the GMO biotech sector and because a sound scientific approach has not been applied.
The sector cannot win the scientific debate (although its PR likes to tell the world it has) so it resorts to co-opting key public bodies or individuals to propagate various falsehoods and deceptions (see this). Part of the deception is based on emotional blackmail: the world needs GMOs to feed the hungry, both now and in the future. This myth has been blown apart (see this, this and this). In fact, in the second of those three links, the organisation GRAIN highlights that GM crops that have been planted thus far have actually contributed to food insecurity.
This is a harsh truth that the industry does not like to face.
People’s faith in science is being shaken on many levels, not least because big corporations have secured access to policy makers and governments and are increasingly funding research and setting research agendas.
“As Andrew Neighbour, former administrator at Washington University in St. Louis, who managed the university’s multiyear and multimillion dollar relationship with Monsanto, admits, "There’s no question that industry money comes with strings. It limits what you can do, when you can do it, who it has to be approved by”… This raises the question: if Agribusiness giant Monsanto [in India] is funding the research, will Indian agricultural researchers pursue such lines of scientific inquiry as “How will this new rice or wheat variety impact the Indian farmer, or health of Indian public?” The reality is, Monsanto is funding the research not for the benefit of either Indian farmer or public, but for its profit. It is paying researchers to ask questions that it is most interested in having answered.” - 'Monsanto, a Contemporary East India Company, and Corporate Knowledge in India'.
Ultimately, it is not science itself that people have doubts about but science that is pressed into the service of immensely powerful private corporations and regulatory bodies that are effectively co-opted and adopt a ‘don’t look, don’t find approach’ to studies and products (see this, this and this).
Or in the case of releasing GMOs onto the commercial market in the US, bypassing proper scientific procedures and engaging in doublespeak about ‘substantial equivalence’ then hypocritically calling for 'sound science' to inform debates.
The same corporate interests are moreover undermining the peer-review process itself and the ability of certain scientists to get published in journals - the benchmark of scientific credibility. In effect, powerful interests increasingly hold sway over funding, career progression as a scientist, journals and peer review (see this and this, which question the reliability of peer review in the area of GMOs).
Going back to the start of the piece, the question that should have been tweeted is: “Why do people doubt corporate-controlled or influenced science?” After that question, it would have been more revealing to have posted a link to this article here about the unscrupulous history of a certain company from St Louis. That history provides very good reason why so many doubt and challenge powerful corporations and the type of science they fund and promote (or attempt to suppress) and the type of world they seek to create (see this).
“Corporations as the dominant institution shaped by capitalist patriarchy thrive on eco-apartheid. They thrive on the Cartesian legacy of dualism which puts nature against humans. It defines nature as female and passively subjugated. Corporatocentrism is thus also androcentric – a patriarchal construction. The false universalism of man as conqueror and owner of the Earth has led to the technological hubris of geo-engineering, genetic engineering, and nuclear energy. It has led to the ethical outrage of owning life forms through patents, water through privatization, the air through carbon trading. It is leading to appropriation of the biodiversity that serves the poor.” Vandana Shiva
Nile Bowie is an independent journalist and political analyst based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His articles have appeared in numerous international publications, including regular columns with Russia Today (RT) and newspapers such as the Global Times, the Malaysian Reserve and the New Straits Times. He is a research assistant with the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), a Malaysian NGO promoting social justice and anti-hegemony politics. He can be reached at [email protected].
“We can draw many very good lessons from the early period of the Industrial Revolution… independent farmers were being driven into the industrial system. Men and women… bitterly resented it… The people driven into the industrial system regarded it as an attack on their personal dignity, on their rights as human beings. They were free human beings being forced into what they called ‘wage labor,’ which they regarded as not very different from chattel slavery.” 
A similar process is occurring in many countries today and is underpinned by an arrogance that privileges the dominant mode of ‘development’ over indigenous knowledge and practices that have by and large allowed people to live sustainably with nature and the environment for thousands of years. Chomsky says:
“This is the first time in human history that we have the capacity to destroy the conditions for decent survival. It is already happening. Look at species destruction. It is estimated to be at about the level of 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the earth, ended the period of the dinosaurs and wiped out a huge number of species. It is the same level today. And we are the asteroid… There are sectors of the global population trying to impede the global catastrophe. There are other sectors trying to accelerate it. Take a look at whom they are. Those who are trying to impede it are the ones we call backward, indigenous populations - the First Nations in
, the aboriginals in Canada , the tribal people in Australia . Who is accelerating it? The most privileged, so-called advanced, educated populations of the world.” India
“Corporations as the dominant institution shaped by capitalist patriarchy thrive on eco-apartheid. They thrive on the Cartesian legacy of dualism which puts nature against humans. It defines nature as female and passively subjugated. Corporatocentrism is thus also androcentric - a patriarchal construction. The false universalism of man as conqueror and owner of the Earth has led to the technological hubris of geo-engineering, genetic engineering, and nuclear energy. It has led to the ethical outrage of owning life forms through patents, water through privatization, the air through carbon trading. It is leading to appropriation of the biodiversity that serves the poor.”