Walmart’s Predatory Profit Model: Low Prices With a Heavy Cost

Stop Walmart by Flickr Lone PrimateAs the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Nowhere does that ring more loudly true than in the aisles of every Walmart store. Always low prices, yes – but at what cost?

There are, unfortunately, two inconvenient truths about the dollars you’ve supposedly saving from having elected the world’s largest retailer over Joe’s little store just down the street. First off, what you don’t pay, someone else is paying for. And secondly, the actual price you pay is much higher than what your receipt tells you.

I’m aware that the slogan I mentioned earlier is outdated. The irony was not lost when, in 2007, the company swapped it for the rather idealistically sounding “Save Money, Live Better” – a far cry from the everyday reality facing the average Walmart employee in the United States. Making an average hourly wage of $8.81 an hour, or about $18,300 a year working full-time, is hardly the way to live better. It’s only slightly over a third of a living wage for an adult with one child. 

That’s why Walmart isn’t quite as cheap as you’d think – because much of what you’re not paying at the cashier ends up getting paid for through your taxes. It’s estimated that every Walmart store in America costs citizens $1.7 million in welfare benefits such as food stamps. Taxpayers are effectively subsidizing the retailer for its failure to pay employees a living wage.

Abby Martin outlines Walmart’s horrible treatment of employees and destruction of the planet on Breaking the Set:

Why Walmart is an Economic Death Star

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Amazingly, Walmart could afford to give all of its employees a 50 percent raise without even touching its bottom line – but it chooses not to. And why does it choose to perpetrate the countless other assaults on its outsourced workforce, female employees and the environment? The answer’s simple: profit maximization.

We’ve all heard of corporate social responsibility. Be it sincere or mere corporate whitewashing, the “triple bottom line” of economic, social and environmental sustainability surely fares better than the single-minded focus on profit that prevails under the current global economic order.

The existing objective, profit maximization, is exactly what it sounds like: putting profits above all else, be it workers’ right to “live better”, the planet’s capacity to sustain human activity, worker and consumer health and safety, economic stability, or human lives. This reckless pursuit of profit is why taxpayers are propping up large corporations that make obscene profits in the meantime.

It’s why 1100 Bangladeshi workers, many of them making garments sold at Walmart, lost their lives when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed due to blatant disregard for building safety on the part of the companies it supplied (Walmart still refuses to sign an international agreement that would ensure worker safety in its sweatshops).

It’s why General Electric, Toshiba and Hitachi did nothing about the flaws in their nuclear reactors at Fukushima that caused them to melt down in 2011, despite knowing for decades that they were unsafe.

It’s why there is still no vaccine for ebola despite over 2000 deaths at the time of writing – because there’s no money to be made out of it. Or why corporate tax evasion through loopholes and tax havens costs the United States some $300 billion every year.

It’s why governments, on behalf of their grossly bloated financial sectors, are negotiating a secretive international financial treaty that further deregulates global finance known as the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). 

And so on. What these failures of the capitalist system, or what neoliberal economists term “market failure”, share is a common root in the unwillingness on the part of businesses to fully account for their costs. Taxpayers pay the price for Walmart’s refusal to adequately pay its own workers. The manufacturers of the Fukushima nuclear plants, unwilling to dish out the money to fix their inherent design flaws, unleashed a public health disaster that threatens to get worse. Global finance triggered the Great Recession through their own risky but rewarding behaviour and want to do it all over again.

The very nature of business needs to change if humanity is to avoid yet more Rana Plazas, Fukushimas and Great Recessions, and if it is to ever overcome ebola, tax evasion and corporate welfare. We need to move away from the predatory capitalist “I want it all” ethos and towards new business models that account for all costs rather than leaving them for others to pay. This is not financially impossible, and there’s no reason why such a model can’t be financially self-sustaining. But it’s only when business owners and executives start to acknowledge their responsibility to really help the rest of society to “live better” rather than taking more and more for themselves will that model be possible.

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Top Five Worst Corporations for US Workers

Abby Martin calls out the corporations that refuse to pay their workers a living wage, despite posting record profits and generously compensating their CEOs.

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Written by Ming Chun Tang; image by Flickr user Jim

BP’s Oil Spill: Criminal Negligence, Thousands Still Sick & A Gulf Graveyard Left Behind

BP dead flickr user thierry ehrmannAfter BP agreed to pay $4.5 billion to the government, and another $9.2 billion in penalties since its catastrophic oil spill, a new ruling has put the corporation under fire again.

A US District Judge has found BP grossly negligent and it’s subcontractors, Halliburton and TransOcean, negligent for their roles in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent dumping of more than 210 million gallons of toxic sludge into the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and countless marine creatures in the process. Under the Clean Water Act, the new ruling could effectively quadruple the penalty per barrel spilled that BP will have to pay.

BP’s criminal negligence shouldn’t come as a surprise. After nine years at sea, company management acknowledged that the Deepwater drilling rig was in decline and presented a quote “intolerable risk” to safety, yet chose to do nothing. Halliburton also plead guilty to the destruction of key evidence related to the company’s shady cost-cutting practices like failing to inspect the well’s cement mixture, and using only six of the recommended 21 centralizers to secure the site.

Besides the massive damage that’s been done to the environment as a result of the BP disaster, the health impact on humans continues – largely because of the decision by BP and the EPA to spray nearly two million gallons of a dispersant called Corexit onto the water, making the oil 52 times more toxic, according to the Environmental Pollution Journal.

All this aside, BP’s contracts with the Defense Department have more than doubled in the years since the disaster.

Even though the media is fatigued with its coverage of this disaster, Breaking the Set went down to the Louisiana Gulf Coast to see how the region is faring nearly five years later and to investigate the spill’s lasting damagesWe learned that hundreds of thousands of people are still sick, and that the oil industry has turned the once vibrant shore into a graveyard.

Abby

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BP’s Oil Spill: Criminal Negligence, Thousands Sick & Gulf Graveyard Left Behind

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Exclusive coverage includes interviews with Jorey Danos, a sick clean-up worker who was exposed to a toxic chemical dispersant known as Corexit, award winning toxicologist Wilma Subra, Gulf Restoration Network’s Jonathan Henderson and Clint Guidry, President of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association.

We also reached out to BP, which provided the following statements:

Q: Why were cleanup workers refused respirators and even threatened with termination if they requested them, according to multiple interviews with clean-up workers and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network?

A: We certainly do not and would not retaliate against workers. BP worked closely with OSHA, the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and other US government agencies to take extraordinary measures to safeguard the health and safety of responders.

Workers were provided safety training and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), and were monitored by federal agencies and BP to measure potential exposure levels and to help ensure compliance with established safety procedures.

Response workers applying dispersants received training on work procedures and PPE usage designed to minimize exposures, and were provided respirators and other PPE.

Workers who were not exposed to dispersants may have asked for a respirator, possibly in the mistaken belief that it would provide an extra level of protection and safety. This is not true. Perhaps the most important consideration in voluntary respirator usage is the potential physiological burden placed on the user. That was particularly true given the hot working conditions encountered during the response.

Due to the extensive controls in place, there was little potential for worker or public exposure to dispersants. More than 30,000 air monitoring samples were collected by the Coast Guard, OSHA, NIOSH, and BP as part of a comprehensive air monitoring program to evaluate the potential for human exposure to dispersant and oil compounds. The results showed that response worker and public exposures to dispersants were well below levels that could pose a health or safety concern.

Additional Background: OSHA advises that, “in workplaces with no hazardous exposures, but where workers choose to use respirators voluntarily, certain written program elements may be necessary to prevent potential hazards associated with respirator use. Employers must evaluate whether respirator use itself may actually harm employees. If so, employers must medically evaluate employees and, if necessary, restrict respirator use…”

For these reasons, respirators typically are not provided to people who do not need them, and who have not passed the required tests for fitness to wear the equipment. In consultation with NIOSH and OSHA, BP developed guidelines to help determine when PPE, including respirators, was to be used. Known as the “PPE Matrix,” this guideline was made available on several websites, including websites for BP and OSHA. Under the PPE Matrix, respirators were to be used in specifically- identified situations, including during the application of dispersants. There were times, however, when the potential risks associated with using a respirator outweighed the benefits since air monitoring data indicated that worker exposures to chemicals of concern generally were well below occupational exposure limits, and respirator use could place physiological stress on the body. In those cases, protection was provided by work practices and procedures and the use of other PPE.

A paper reviewing OSHA and NIOSH’s response to the accident can be found here.

Q: Why was the public told that Corexit was as harmless as Dawn, when five of the ingredients in it are linked to cancer, 33 are linked to skin irritation and 11 are respiratory toxins, according to expert toxicologists, Wilma Subra and Dr. Susan Shaw?

A: The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Corexit, where human exposure characterization is addressed notes, “Based on our recommended product application and personal protective equipment, the potential human exposure is: Low.” Also, Section 16 of the MSDS characterized Corexit’s general product risk- “The human risk is: Low. The environmental risk is: Low.”

The same ingredients contained in Corexit are also found in common consumer products such as household cleaners, food packaging, hand lotion and cosmetics. The product ingredients alone do not determine if a compound has created a public health concern; there must also be exposure to a compound at levels and for sufficient duration that could cause harm.

The results of extensive monitoring conducted by federal agencies and BP show that response workers and the public simply were not exposed to dispersant compounds at levels that might pose a health risk.

Due to the controls in place during dispersant application operations, there was little potential for public or worker exposure when dispersants were applied to the oil offshore. This was confirmed by the government findings as previously mentioned.

Q: Why has the active cleanup of Louisiana’s coast officially ended when thousands of tar balls continue to wash on shore?

A: The Coast Guard ended active cleanup after an extensive four-year effort. Even so, we remain committed and prepared to respond at the Coast Guard’s direction if potential residual Macondo material is identified through the National Response Center reporting process and requires removal. We have teams and equipment at staging areas in Grand Isle, LA and Gulf Shores, AL ready to rapidly respond as necessary.

Additionally numerous studies and reports have documented the presence of tar balls along the Gulf coast in the decades before the Deepwater Horizon accident, and during our cleanup efforts we continued to find tarballs that did not contain residual Macondo oil.

Q: Why have only 148 people received any medical claim whatsoever well over four years after the disaster and why is the average benefit only $1,600 dollars, when doctors such as Michael Robichaux has studied hundreds of patients and observed long term and possibly lifelong health effects in the process?

A: BP and the PSC consulted with medical experts to determine compensation amounts and formulate a list of the conditions that, according to scientific evidence, could be caused by exposure to oil or to the dispersants used in the cleanup. Compensation for these listed conditions is subject to the clear terms of the MSA. As is common in class action settlements, the settlement program did not begin processing and paying out claims until all appeals were exhausted, which occurred earlier this year. As to Dr. Robichaux, his allegations were considered and rejected over a year ago by a New Orleans federal court, which found that the doctor “wholly failed to provide any competent evidence in support of the assertions he makes.”

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Follow me @AbbyMartin

Art by flickr user Hierry Ehrmann

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Terms and Conditions May Apply: Dangers of Corporate Surveillance

Robbie Martin talks to Cullen Hoback, privacy advocate and creator of Terms and Conditions May Apply, a must-watch documentary about digital privacy rights, corporate/government spying collusion and the data mining economy of corporate surveillance.

Terms and Conditions May Apply premiered a few months before the world learned Edward Snowden’s name. Following the leaks, Cullen’s thesis was emboldened, so he added an addendum contextualizing them.

Watch the trailer:


Terms and Conditions May Apply

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Be sure to listen to our previous Media Roots Radio episode ‘Occupy Silicon Valley‘ for more information on the history of Silicon Valley and why there is so much missing outrage over private sector spying.

If you would like to directly download the podcast click the down arrow icon on the right of the Soundcloud display. To hide the comments to enable easier rewind and fast forward, click on the icon on the very bottom right.

This Media Roots podcast is the product of many long hours of hard work and love. If you want to encourage our voice, please consider supporting us as we continue to speak from outside party lines. Even the smallest donations help us with operating costs.

Listen to all previous episodes of Media Roots Radio here.

Follow Robbie @fluorescentgrey

What If Edward Snowden Leaked All the Documents?

NSAbyEFFIn the few public interviews given by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, he’s hinted at having access to documents that include CIA outpost locations and secret agents’ names. Yet Snowden has also outlined the agreement he made with journalists to vet the documents carefully, and consult with the government before every release to ensure no harm to national security.

Russ Tice, the first post-9/11 NSA whistleblower said that he would have ‘shot Snowden’ himself if he had leaked juicier documents Tice refers to as ‘the jewels’, presumably in reaction to the potential dangers posed by what’s considered legitimate spying, black-ops programs and/or by exposing the people who secretly work within the intelligence sector.

Interested in how other NSA whistleblowers feel about this potential scenario, Media Roots posed the question to former AT&T technician turned NSA whistleblower Mark Klein in an exclusive radio interview.

Media Roots: What would be your opinion of Snowden if he leaked everything that he had without any regard for protecting intelligence assets names?

Mark Klein: I would say well, he did a heroic thing and it’s better the world knows the crimes that the government’s committing. Frankly a lot of the people who might get exposed, whose lives might be in danger, probably are bad people anyways. I’m from the 70s, my hero in the 70s was Philip Agee who exposed a whole list of names of CIA agents all over the world, because he figured rightly that the CIA was a dangerous, evil organization whose main task was to assassinate people, and he was right. I don’t give a shit what happens to the CIA, I hope this organization is dismantled and destroyed, it’s dedicated to assassination, that’s what it’s always done.

Klein’s blistering critique against the US intelligence apparatus differs greatly from statements made by any other NSA whistleblower. As a private sector employee, he never held any allegiance to the US government, nor signed any secrecy oath in contrast to other former NSA employees like Bill Binney, Thomas Drake, Kirk Wiebe, and Russ Tice.  

The typical template framing how Snowden’s leaks could have or did put American service members lives at risk is always met with adamant denial from those involved, especially Glenn Greenwald (with Shepard Smith and Bill Maher) and even Snowden himself. Understandably, when facing potential espionage charges, the exaggerated construct of harm devised by National Security state apologists has to be countered with a measured response by people in positions like Greenwald.

Though hypothetically speaking, if Snowden had leaked information like this, do secret CIA agents even deserve protection? Does an unabashed assassination and torture agency sponsoring an illegal arms trade and funded by our tax dollars really deserve a cloak of secrecy any longer?

Instead of shying away from the potentially false premise that lives might be in danger from the ongoing leaks, why are journalists not confronting it with a similar line to what war-criminal-walking-free Dick Cheney said about the public outrage regarding the Iraq war?

“So?”

Written by Robbie Martin of Media Roots, @fluorescentgrey on twitter

Photo from the EFF

PBS Frontline Documentary: United States of Secrets

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logo taken from an actual NSA spy satellite exterior called: NROL-39

PBS’ United States of Secrets is a stunning, must watch documentary covering the detailed history of the post 9/11 NSA mass surveillance program.

The two part series lets state officials prop up the narrative that such spying is needed amidst a ‘War on Terror’, but juxtaposes their rhetoric with stories from NSA whistleblowers’ who were targeted for speaking out.

Incidentally, the history of ‘The Program’ derives in large part from an internal leaked document, which outlines how former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales helped shield the Bush administration from the illegality of dragnet spying. After Obama inherited Bush’s spying apparatus, he charged multiple whistleblowers with espionage for leaking information about ‘The Program’ to the press.

United States of Secrets puts the Snowden leaks in context with the NSA’s sordid past, and cogently outlines how the surveillance state got to where it is today.

MR

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You can watch United States of Secrets on You Tube, albeit in lower quality than PBS:


United States of Secrets Part 1 of 2

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United States of Secrets Part 2 of 2

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