Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Walmart Is Crushing Its Ambitious Global-Responsibility Goals

crow on Walmark sign
Walmart, that bastion of cheap food, clothing, and everything in between, has corporate-responsibility goals that put every other big box retailer to shame. When Walmart asks its 60,000 suppliers to shape up, the world listens; a demanding packaging goal will have companies the world over scrambling to fit the requirements (for both Walmart and the inevitable copycat retailers that jack up their requirements later). In Walmart's 2011 Global Responsibility Report, we get a glimpse at just how far along the company is in meeting its ultra-ambitious goals. It's making exceptional progress.
Goal: Reduce our global plastic shopping bag waste by an average of 33% per store by 2013 (2007 baseline)
Convincing people to part with their beloved plastic bags is no small feat (outside of San Francisco, of course, where bans are a way of life). But Walmart has managed to do it. In 2010, the retailer cut down on plastic bag waste across its global operations by approximately 3.5 billion bags. This is a 21% reduction from the company's 2007 baseline--meaning the 2013 goal isn't out of the question.
In some California locations, Walmart is experimenting with nixing single-use plastic bags altogether (and offering reusable bags for a price)--a measure that is saving materials for Walmart and, to a degree, pissing off the locals (and biting Ikea). Now imagine if Walmart extended this plastic bag ban to all of its stores. At first, customers might riot. But the power of Walmart's ubiquity is that eventually, this ban could shift the average customer's mindset; this new breed of Walmart customer might bring reusable bags for every shopping trip, even outside of the big box retailer. This wouldn't come close to eliminating the plastic vortex currently floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but it would be a start.
Goal: We will partner with suppliers to improve energy efficiency by 20% per unit of production in the top 200 factories in China from which we directly source by 2012 (2007 baseline).
Believe it or not, Walmart has already managed to achieve this goal (with a little help from the Environmental Defense Fund). An impressive 119 factories have improved their efficiency by 20%--but the EDF told us recently that Walmart's goal isn't ambitious enough. The organization believes that in many cases, factories can cut down on energy use by up to 60% with simple fixes. Unfortunately, Walmart asking its Chinese suppliers to increase energy efficiency probably won't inspire a sea change anytime soon; the EDF has had to deal with skepticism (initially, at least) during many of its factory visits.
Goal: In the U.S., Walmart will double sales of locally sourced produce, accounting for 9% of all produce sold by the end of 2015.
This goal, announced in October 2010, is still "in progress," according to Walmart. The chain says that it will measure success based on the amount of produce sales within the state of origin versus overall dollar amount of produce sales. We think Walmart can reach this goal purely because it has the cash resources to do so. In October, the company explained that it intends to go so far as to expand cash crops in certain regions. In Mississippi and Arkansas, for example, Walmart is using its hulk-like size to convince farmers to switch from tobacco and cotton to blueberry farming. If Walmart wanted, we imagine it could go far beyond a 9% goal just with the promise that farmers growing certain crops will get business from the company. And this, needless to say, could change the crop landscape across the U.S. to include foods that are suited to the local climate. Still, we don't expect to see the people with "Buy Local" bumper stickers hitting up Walmart anytime soon.
Walmart's goals seemed almost too ambitious when they announce them. But never question Walmart; some of the goals might not have even bee ambitious enough. Either way, Walmart wins. Cutting down on waste, increasing energy efficiency, and ramping up sales of local produce will save the company on fuel, energy costs, and materials--and in the end, make Walmart even more powerful than it already is.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Big Disconnect

On one level, American politics looks amazingly stable. President Obama’s approval rating is about 47 percent, and it hasn’t changed much in well over a year. Health care reform is mildly unpopular, and the public’s view hasn’t shifted much since before it was passed.

According to Pew Research Center polls, the public is evenly divided over which party can do a better job of handling foreign policy, the job situation, Social Security reform, health care reform and many other issues. It looks as if we’re back to the 50-50 stasis that has been the norm for the past few decades.

Moreover, the two parties are about to run utterly familiar political campaigns. The Democrats are going to promise to raise taxes on the rich to preserve the welfare state, just as they have since 1980. The Republicans are going to vow to cut taxes and introduce market mechanisms to reform the welfare state, just as they have since 1980.

Pesticides Make Us Dumber

pesticide warning sign
Ethonomic Indicator of the Day: 7 -- The number of IQ points that children exposed to pesticides in utero fell behind other children.

From the department of "science proves the obvious": exposure to neurotoxic pesticides in the womb results in children with lower IQs, according to a study from the University of California at Berkeley. Time to raid the organic fruits and vegetables section of Whole Foods.

UC Berkeley's study focused on organophosphate exposure (a neurotoxic pesticide sprayed on food crops and used for pest control in apartments) among children in Salinas, an agriculture-heavy town in California. The results were disturbing: Children exposed to the most prenatal pesticides scored seven points lower on standardized intelligence tests compared with children who had the lowest pesticide exposure levels. Two similar studies from Mt. Sinai Medical Center and Columbia University (published in this month's Environmental Health Perspectives) also found links between prenatal pesticide exposure and IQ. Exposure to organophosphates after birth had no repercussions on intelligence (but still: not good for you).

Beet Down: Court Orders Monsanto Sugar Beets to Be Destroyed

sugar beets
The world of genetically modified agriculture has become so contentious that a judge ordered Monsanto seedlings to be removed from the soil this week. U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White issued the ruling after Monsanto ignored his August ruling, which deemed the planting and sale of the company's "Roundup Ready" sugar beets illegal, due to insufficient environmental review from the USDA.

Fearful of Genetically-Modified Crops? You're Too Late

Ethonomic Indicator of the Day: 93% of U.S. soybeans are genetically modified.
Frankenfood! It's the evil-sounding name given to genetically modified crops by organic enthusiasts fearful that altering nature's design will result in irreparable damage to either the environment or our bodies. And there is a good chance that they're right. The fight against GM crops has been intensifying of late, with the USDA approving modified alfalfa early this year, despite protests from big organic (which might be less worried about the potential risks and mostly worried about their organic certification). Because a cow that eats GM alfalfa is no longer organic, no matter how it was raised, and GM alfalfa has the extra ability to spread like kudzu--even to places where it's not supposed to be, like an adjacent field of original-gene alfalfa.
But these fights should not give the impression that we are about to step over a precipice into a world full of GM crops. We did that in 1996. See this chart from the USDA:

Genetically Modified Showdown: Monsanto Sued by Organic Farmers

Imagine if Apple tried to charge you every time you accidentally glanced at an iPhone on the street. That's basically the policy that Monsanto, an agriculture giant whose patented genes are in 95% of all soybeans and 80% of all corn grown in the U.S, enforces. The company is notorious for suing farmers that the company suspects of violating patents in even inadvertent manners. Monsanto has sued hundreds of farmers and received over $15 million from these patent-violation cases (PDF), which have included incidences of farmers being sued because pollen from nearby farmers' Monsanto-brand genetically modified crops blew over the fence onto their field. Now, finally, organic farmers are fighting back.

Monsanto Will Soon Be Allowed To Police Itself

Monsanto, enemy of organic farmers and anti-GMO advocates alike, will likely be allowed to conduct its own environmental studies as part of a two-year USDA experiment. But there is no good that can possibly come of an experiment where the company behind nearly every genetically modified crop in our daily diets is allowed to decide whether its products are causing any environmental harm. And Monsanto isn't the only biotech company that will be permitted to police itself.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Texas Psychologist Barred from Death Row Evaluations for sending Mentally retarted people

A psychologist used as a key government witness in death row cases in Texas has reached a settlementn barring him from performing future evaluations. George Denkowski agreed to the deal after his methods came under challenge. Denkowski has been accused of helping prosecutors unfairly send mentally retarded prisoners to death row. Defense attorneys are planning to seek appeals court reviews of at least 14 death row cases that relied on Denkowski’s testimony. But the settlement says that it cannot be used as evidence in cases that are retried.

Decision to not sign onto the ban of cluster bombs: US and Libya....

Gaddafi Forces Accused of Firing Cluster Bombs

In Libya, the Gaddafi regime is being accused of firing cluster bombs in its ongoing attack on the rebel-held city of Misurata. Human Rights Watch says the clusters were fired on a residential area. A rebel spokesperson said the bombing underscores the need for increased international aid.
Abdul Ghoga: "This just goes to reinforce the statement we made, that this regime is bent on creating a large humanitarian crisis in Misurata, and lends support to our request that the international community takes up its responsibility to increase support of the civilian population."
A global treaty banning cluster bombs went into effect last year, but Libya, along with countries including the United States and Israel, refused to sign. A Gaddafi regime spokesperson denied that clusters had been fired.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What Caused the Economic Crisis?

As the financial crisis of 2008-09 draws to a close, narratives of the meltdown are flooding bookstores, think tanks are cranking out white papers, and four different congressional committees, along with the official Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, are investigating what went wrong. Well they might, as the most basic question about the meltdown remains unsettled: Why did it happen?

The only near consensus is on the question of what triggered the not-quite-a-depression. In 2007, the housing bubble burst, leading to a high rate of defaults on subprime mortgages. Exposure to bad mortgages doomed Bear Stearns in March 2008, then led to a banking crisis that fall. A global recession became inevitable once the government decided not to rescue Lehman Bros. from default in September 2008. Lehman's was the biggest bankruptcy in history, and it led promptly to a powerful economic contraction. Somewhere around here, agreement ends.

House GOP Says ‘So Be It’ To Taxpayers, Votes Unanimously to Protect Big Oil Subsidies

House Republicans voted in lockstep this afternoon to protect corporate welfare for Big Oil, even as they call for draconian cuts to programs that everyday Americans depend on each day.  As the House of Representatives moved toward approving a stopgap resolution to avert a government shutdown for another two weeks, Democrats offered a motion to recommit that would have stripped the five largest oil companies of taxpayer subsidies, saving tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer funds.  The motion failed on a vote of 176-249, with all Republicans voting against (approximately a dozen Democrats joined the GOP). A similar vote two weeks ago to recoup $53 billion in taxpayer funds from Big Oil was also voted down, largely along party lines. The former CEO of Shell Oil, John Hoffmeister, recently said Big Oil doesn’t need subsidies “in face of sustained high oil prices.”  From 2005 to 2009, the largest oil companies have made a combined $485 billion in profits.


   Conservatives in Congress and the right-wing intelligentsia have unleashed a flurry of deficit reduction plans in recent months, which both continue to enrich the wealthy with massive tax cuts and which take aim at programs and investments for Main Street -- solutions that were tried under the previous president and failed. In House Republicans' much-touted budget resolution, H.R. 1, some of which made it into the recent budget deal to keep the government open, they dramatically cut Pell Grants, Head Start, foreign aid to children suffering from malaria, and other programs that benefit ordinary p eople, but are in no way the cause of our modern deficits. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) upped the ante when he released his FY2012 budget, which continues to call for   massive and crippling cuts to the Pell Grant program, slash the Food Stamp program by $127 billion over ten years, effectively privatize Medicare, and likely increase taxes on the middle cl ass while dramatically cutting them for the rich and corporations, actually making taxes on the rich lower than at any other time since Herbert Hoover's presidency. At the end of the day, Ryan's budget would leave the safety net in tatters, investments in Main Street severely under-funded, and would have seniors  paying the majority of their income for health care, destroying the promise of Medicare -- a system that Americans actually want expanded, not crippled. And while these conservatives are quick to ask Main Street to pay for debt that it did not primarily cause, they have no problem exempting some of the nation's biggest dirty energy corporations from fair sacrifice. Last month, House Republicans effectively said "so be it," as they voted in lockstep to protect billions of dollars in corporate welfare for Big Oil.


To understand the most responsible way to tackle our long-term deficit problem, it's important to first understand exactly what the challenge of the debt is and what caused it. Interest rates and inflation are currently low, and addressing unemployment is a   far more pressing immediate problem. A March 2010 CBS News poll found that 51 percent of Americans said that jobs/economy is the most important problem facing the country, and only seven percent said the deficit was. Still, we should address the $14.2 trillion debt and the $1.3 trillion budget deficit over time, as doing so is crucial to our long-term economic health. In the short-term, there are a handful of major factors driving our debt. This  includes the cost of two wars, a runaway defense budget, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, taxes on the richest Americans being the lowest in a generation, and a recession caused by the lack of regulation of Wall Street. The greatest long-term driver of our debt is health care costs, with our "possibly most inefficient" system in the world having us spend more than any other country in the world on health care with worse results. Thus, long-term deficit reduction plans that do not seriously deal with these causes of the current debt are avoiding the key issue.

Deficit Reduction:

Today, President Obama will deliver a   wide-ranging speech laying out a strategy to deal with the U.S. budget deficit. Although the exact policies that he will endorse are unknown, he is expected to lay out a vision that will alter the country's entitlement programs and call for high-income earners to pay more taxes. In addressing the U.S. debt, Obama is entering an increasingly heated debate about how to address our long-term deficits in a way that does not shoulder Main Street Americans with undue burdens or hinder job growth. On one side, conservatives are proposing cruel plans that would sacrifice the services and investments in America's great middle class while asking nothing more from the wealthiest among us. On the other side, a growing number of progressives are demanding fair sacrifice that protects our crucial needs while demanding fair sacrific e from those who are richer than ever. The path that we choose will determine the very kind of country we will have in the future: one where only the wealthiest among us have opportunities or one that enshrines the American Dream -- the idea that anyone, no matter what their background, can work hard and succeed.
The U.S. health care system is possibly the most inefficient in the world: We spend twice as much per person on health care as other advanced countries, but we have worse health outcomes, including a lower life expectancy. The government, through programs like Medicare and Medicaid, pays for approximately half of the country's health care, almost all of which is actually provided by the private sector. Thus, the bulk of our projected rising budget deficits are due to skyrocketing health care costs.

See Graph

The CEPR Health Care Budget Deficit Calculator shows that if the U.S. can get health care costs under control, our budget deficits will not rise uncontrollably in the future. But if we fail to contain health care costs, then it will be almost impossible to prevent exploding future budget deficits.

The Calculator lets you see what projected U.S. budget deficits would be if we had the same per person health care costs as any of the countries listed below, all of which enjoy longer life expectancies than the U.S. (Life expectancies are listed in parentheses.)

The yellow line shows projected deficits based on baseline projections from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The blue line shows where the deficits would be if health care costs in the U.S. were to rise only due to the aging of the population and stay even with per capita GDP growth (based on CBO's "Low Health Care Cost" projection).

CHART: As Services For Main Street Are Gutted, Richest Pay Lowest Taxes In A Generation

Last night President Obama and congressional negotiators cut a deal to keep the government running, cutting “$38.5 billion under current funding levels, per Republican demands,” and $78 billion below what Obama called for in his initial 2011 budget.

Yet as Republicans and Democrats continue to battle over the deficit within a political framing that includes taking aim at Pell Grants for low-income students — which Obama preemptively proposed to cut, calling summer grants “too expensive,” while Republicans want far deeper cuts than that — Head Start funding, and other programs from Main Street Americans, there is one group of Americans that seems to be getting away without having any sacrifices demanded of them: the very richest.
As this chart from from Wealth for the Common Good shows, the top 400 taxpayers — who have more wealth than half of all Americans combined — are paying lower taxes than they have in a generation, as their tax responsibilities have slowly collapsed since the New Deal era as working families have been asked to pay more and more:

There have been a handful of proposals by congressional progressives to once again put requiring more sacrifice from the luckiest among us back on the table. The Congressional Progressive Caucus recently unveiled a “People’s Budget” that would boost taxes on the wealthiest Americans, returning them to levels closer to where they were under Ronald Reagan’s first term — hardly socialism.
Yet these proposals have yet to gain steam, and the budget debate in Washington appears to revolve completely around cutting spending for Main Street Americans who’ve already been asked to pay too much during the recession. That’s why there’s a Main Street Movement demanding fair sacrifice and standing up for the great American middle class. Whether it succeeds may determine the fate of most hard-working Americans for a generation to come.

REPORT: U.S. Military Spending Has Almost Doubled Since 2001

A new report released today by SIPRI, a Swedish-based think tank, reveals that U.S. military spending has almost doubled since 2001. The U.S. spent an astounding $698 billion on the military last year, an 81% increase over the last decade.

U.S. spending on the military last year far exceeded any other country. We spent six times more than China — the second largest spender. Overall, the world expended $1.6 trillion on the military, with the United States accounting for the lion’s share:

As a percentage of GDP, U.S. military spending has increased from 3.1% in 2001 to 4.8% last year.
The report notes that, “even in the face of efforts to bring down the soaring US budget deficit, military spending continues to receive privileged treatment.” Indeed, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and others on the right are passing legislation increasing defense spending. At the same time, they are insisting on massive cuts to social programs that provide vital assistance to the elderly, the poor and the middle class.

The more the opposition becomes dependent on military means, the more influence will be accorded to those within their ranks with military skills, which means defecting soldiers, those with experience fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, or those connected to past paramilitary groups. The more dependent the opposition becomes on the Western powers, the more influence will be accorded to those with connections to and views compatible with these powers.

The more the opposition becomes dependent on military means, the more influence will be accorded to those within their ranks with military skills, which means defecting soldiers, those with experience fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, or those connected to past paramilitary groups. The more dependent the opposition becomes on the Western powers, the more influence will be accorded to those with connections to and views compatible with these powers.

1. Is Qaddafi socialist? Was he ever?
Socialists believe that people should democratically and collectively control all aspects of their lives. Qaddafi has ruled Libya as an absolute dictator -- the very antithesis of socialism -- for more than four decades. The fact that he calls his political system a direct democracy is as relevant as the fact that East Germany used to call itself a People's Democracy or that the Pentagon calls itself the Defense Department.
It is true that Libya, because of its oil wealth, has a relatively high human development index (HDI), a UN-developed measure that takes account of income, literacy, and life expectancy. But this no more makes it socialist than the even higher HDIs of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, or the roughly equivalent HDI of Saudi Arabia make any of them socialist. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Symphony Way -- Apartheid never left

“Everyday there is people that come from everywhere and ask many questions, then we tell them its not lekker to stay on the road and in the blikkies.” But this book isn’t an exercise in prurience. It’s a means to dignity, a way for the poors to reflect, be reflected and share with you. This book is testimony to the fact that there’s thinking in the shacks, that there are complex human lives, and complex humans who reflect, theorise and fight to bring change. This book is a sign of that fight, and in reading it, you have been conscripted. Mon semblable, mon frère[3] – you are addressed, reader, not as a voyeur, but as a brother or sister, as someone whose eyes dignify the struggle.

Fight against corruption good; what about the method? - Democracy, Civil Society and the State

Even as Anna Hazare’s protest demanding an anti-draft bill gains nationwide momentum and nears a solution, there has been some criticism of the methods the veteran social activist has adopted in his crusade.
While everyone seems to agree with demands of more transparency in the system and more accountability in governance, Hazare’s fasting to force the government to accept his demands has led to some calling his tactics as being unconstitutional and unreasonable.
The primary argument is, if a single man can launch a protest, and within four days can virtually force the government to come up with a tweaked version of a legislative bill, does it augur well for a democracy?
Anna Hazare“The movement behind the Jan Lokpal Bill is crossing the lines of reasonableness. It is premised on an institutional imagination that is at best naïve; at worst subversive of representative democracy,” wrote political analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express.
In a column titled “Of the few, by the few,” Mehta says the claim that the “people” are not represented by elected representatives, but are represented by their self-appointed guardians is disturbing.

Anna Hazare wins anti-graft bill demands, ends hunger strike

Social activist Anna Hazare waves to his supporters after he called off his hunger strike during a campaign against corruption in New Delhi April 9, 2011. REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma
NEW DELHI | Sat Apr 9, 2011 2:52pm IST
(Reuters) - Veteran activist Anna Hazare ended on Saturday a five-day hunger strike after the government gave in to his demands for tougher anti-graft legislation which had drawn the support of thousands.
Septuagenarian Hazare's demands for a bill that gives an independent ombudsman police-like powers to prosecute ministers, bureaucrats and judges had tapped into widespread anger over a spate of graft scandals that have tarnished the country's image and weakened the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Fall of Glenn Beck: Did the Controversial Fox Host Become an Economic Liability?

Fox News host Glenn Beck announced Wednesday in a carefully worded press release he will "transition off of his daily program" later this year in order to pursue solo projects. Fox News Chair Roger Ailes denied economic pressure played a role in Fox’s decision to let Beck go. But major advertisers have stayed away from Beck’s show since 2009, when he claimed President Obama has "a deep-seated hatred of white people, or the white culture." We speak with James Rucker, co-founder of, a group whose economic boycott of Beck prompted as many as 300 companies to abandon the right-wing pundit’s program.

Malcolm X - cont

Tribute to Marable Manning --Malcom X

No Pat for Congress--The Shutdown

The New York Times' Nicholas Kristoff says today that if the government shuts down, members of Congress should go without pay . He concludes, "If members of Congress shut down government and trigger a new financial crisis, then they shouldn't just have their own pay docked. They should also learn the discipline of a market economy and be fired by the public that they are betraying."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Lululemon Killings: When Bad Things Happen to White People?

By: Latoya Peterson

The Lululemon Killings: When Bad Things Happen to White People?

By: Latoya Peterson