Are food stamps another subsidy for Big Food?

From Grist:

By Twilight Greenaway
12 Jun 2012

A few months back, we ran a post about the invisibility of modern hunger that looked at the way the current Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — with its use of EBT cards that fly under the radar — has made it easy for many to ignore the rampant food insecurity in this country. Meanwhile the use of SNAP benefits, or food stamps as they are often called, has gone through the roof (it rose from $30 billion in 2007 to $72 billion in 2011).

A new report released today called “Food Stamps, Follow the Money” suggests that this invisibility also extends to the mechanisms behind SNAP, and raises questions about just how much food makers, retailers, and big banks may be profiting from food stamps. Not only do big food manufacturers such as Coca-Cola, Kraft, and Mars benefit from the SNAP economy, but retailers (such as Walmart) get a cut of those taxpayer dollars, while banks bring in processing fees. Or, as the report’s author (and occasional Grist contributor) Michele Simon sees it, SNAP “represents the largest, most overlooked corporate subsidy in the farm bill.”

The report also calls for reporting by the USDA on the types of food Americans are buying with food stamps, which are designed (in theory, at least) to make good food more accessible.

“SNAP’s tagline is ‘putting healthy food within reach,’” Simon told Reuters. “Without data on how much money is being spent on Coke versus orange juice, or Lucky Charms versus oatmeal, how will we ever evaluate the nutrition goals of the program?”

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How Wall Street Hustles America’s Cities and States Out of Billions

From Alternet:

Many powerful interests have jumped at the opportunity to use the crisis to eviscerate what’s left of the welfare state.

ByThomas Ferguson
June 12, 2012

We all know that America’s cities and towns are in the throes of a deep financial crisis. And are told, over and over, what’s supposedly behind it: unreasonable demands by grasping state and municipal workers for pay and pensions. The diagnosis is a grotesque cartoon. Many of the biggest budget busters are on Wall Street, not Main Street.

In a country as big and locally diverse as the U.S., any number of wacky pay and pension schemes are likely to flourish, though some of the most outrageous turn out to cover not workers, but legislators.  But overall state and local pay has not been growing faster than in the private sector for equivalent work for many years now. 

What has driven cities and towns to the brink is not demands from their workforce but the collapse of national income and the ensuing fall in tax collections. Or, in other words, the Great Recession itself, for which Wall Street and the financial sector are principally to blame. But many powerful interests have jumped at the opportunity to use the crisis to eviscerate what’s left of the welfare state, roll back unionization to pre-New Deal levels, and keep cutting taxes on the wealthy. The litany of horror stories that now fills the media is ideal for their purposes.

The selective character of this press campaign became obvious last week. As the latest wave of stories started rolling in the wake of elections in California and Wisconsin, a striking piece of evidence surfaced that flies in the face of the conventional narrative. The Refund Transit Coalition, a coalition of unions and public interest groups, put out a study that documented in stunning detail how Wall Street banks have for years been hustling American cities, states, and regional authorities out of billions of dollars. But save for Gretchen Morgenson’s “Fair Game” column for the New York Times, the study drew almost no attention.

At a time when cities and states are taking hatchets to services and manically raising fees and fares, the group’s analysis merits a closer look and a much, much wider audience.

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Harvard professor on American society: Everything is up for sale

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The summer phase in Québec

From Socialist Worker:

With summer approaching, Québec students are being confronted by strategic questions–importantly, what comes next in the struggle

Richard Fidler
June 11, 2012

DESPITE MASSIVE mobilizations throughout Québec in opposition to Bill 78 and the government of Québec Premier Jean Charest, the student struggle is once again at an impasse.

At the end of May, the government terminated the latest round of negotiations with four college and university student associations without offering any concessions on the students’ key demands: for repeal of the tuition fee increases and repeal of its “bludgeon law” aimed at smashing student unionism in the province.

The student negotiators had bent over backwards to find some acceptable compromise. They agreed not to discuss Bill 78 pending an agreement on fees. They put aside the proposal of the CLASSE (Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, or Coalition of the Association for Student Union Solidarity), the most militant student group, that a tax on banks be substituted for the fee increase, proposing instead that the funds in question be found through increasing the existing education savings program. All to no avail.

Meanwhile, mounting public opposition to Bill 78 brought new forces into the struggle. On May 22, hundreds of thousands marched once more in the streets of Montréal and other cities in support of the students and against the law. The nightly demonstrations, which began in late April when the government ended its initial bargaining session with the students, continued.

And for the first time, they began to draw in masses of non-student participants, attracting entire families who spontaneously descended into neighborhood streets, banging pots and pans (casseroles) in angry yet exuberant displays of opposition to the Liberal government.

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Greece’s ‘potato movement’ grows in power

From Al Jazeera:

A growing group of grassroots activists are cutting out agricultural middlemen and connecting farmers and shoppers.

John Psaropoulos
11 June 2012

Athens, Greece –When an economy shrinks, prices are meant to go down in response to falling demand. This has not happened in Greece – at least not yet. While the Greek economy shrank by an average of five per cent a year between 2009 and 2011, consumer prices rose by an average 3.7 per cent a year. The combination of falling revenues and rising prices has led to an explosive political mix.

It is not politicians but grassroots activism that has come to address this issue. In April, the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) reported a 24.6 per cent drop in potato prices from March 2011 – the largest ever one-year drop in any commodity. The reason for this historic deflation was what has come to be known as the potato movement – and it is having an empowering effect on Greeks, not only as consumers, but also as citizens and voters.

The seminal event of the movement was a free distribution of more than ten tons of spuds in the centre of Greece’s northern metropolis, Thessaloniki, on February 5. It was organised by a group of farmers from the village of Nevrokopi, Greece’s potato-growing capital.

The farmers were protesting against imports of Egyptian potatoes – while they had barns full of the Greek product – after a meeting between the agriculture minister and potato importers days earlier failed to yield any concessions.

A growing movement

The first to invite the farmers of Nevrokopi to sell their potatoes at wholesale prices was the Pieria Prefecture Voluntary Action Group, based in the northern Greek town of Katerini, on the foothills of Mount Olympus.

The Pieria group was formed in late 2007, after a series of wildfires devastated Greece’s forests, to provide the local fire service with an early warning system. It was already busy creating a free supermarket for the destitute when it heard of the potato handout in Thessaloniki. On February 19, it organised a sale of potatoes to the Katerini public at 25 cents a kilo – one-third of market price.

Days later, the movement spread to Thessaloniki’s Aristotelian University. Christos Kamenidis, a professor of agricultural marketing, organised a potato sale on campus with student volunteers. “I was worried that we would [only] sell three or four tonnes. We sold 50 tons on the first day,” Kamenidis said.

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IMF chief Christine Lagarde warns world risks triple crisis

From The Guardian UK:

Lagarde says world risks falling incomes, environmental damage and social unrest without more sustainable approach to growth

, economics correspondent, Tuesday 12 June 2012

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, has warned that the world risks a triple crisis of declining incomes, environmental damage and social unrest unless countries adopt a more sustainable approach to economic growth.

Ahead of the Rio+20 Earth summit later this month, she said the rich should restrain their demands for higher incomes while there are still 200 million people worldwide looking for a job and poverty is on the rise.

Giving her clearest backing yet to green taxes and a range of measures to protect the environment, she argued for taxes on petrol-guzzling cars among a range of green measures to tackle climate change.

“It has been 20 years since world leaders first went to Rio to commit to the noble goal of protecting the planet for future generations. And now, 20 years on, we will be journeying back to Rio to affirm our commitment to sustainable development – the idea that we should strive for economic growth, environmental protection and social progress at the same time,” she said in a speech in Washington on Tuesday.

“The idea that different economic, environmental and social objectives can be seen as distinct aspects of a single vision, essential parts of a connected whole.”

But she said the current economic crisis in Europe and slowing growth worldwide, coupled with the growing threat from climate change and social tensions could wreck the efforts of leaders to chart a more sustainable future.

“Over the past four years, we have been mired in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And we are not out of it yet.

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U.S. trade proposal would let corporations overrule laws

From Raw Story:

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a forthcoming U.S. trade agreement that looks to solidify a seamless regional economy in the Pacific-rim, would give multinational corporations the power to challenge and even avoid compliance with laws in member countries — including the U.S. — provided a super-national corporate tribunal agrees with their claim.

That’s according to documents leaked this week by the Citizens Trade Campaign, an activist group responsible for leaking TPP proposals on intellectual property last year. The latest leak details a TPP draft chapter on “investments,” which proposes an independent dispute arbitration process that would be empowered to supersede domestic laws or regulatory actions in member states if they are seen as conflicting with the TPP’s framework.

Consumer advocacy group Public Citizen said Wednesday that it “has verified that the text is authentic,” and described the proposals as being fraught with “dangers.”

“It reveals that negotiators already have agreed to many radical terms granting expansive new rights and privileges for foreign investors and their private corporate enforcement through extra-judicial ‘investor-state’ tribunals,” they explained.

“Although TPP has been branded as a ‘trade’ agreement, the leaked text shows that TPP would limit how signatory countries may regulate foreign firms operating within their boundaries, with requirements to provide them greater rights than domestic firms,” Public Citizen’s analysis added. “The leaked text reveals a two-track legal system, with foreign firms empowered to skirt domestic courts and laws to directly sue TPP governments in foreign tribunals. There they can demand compensation for domestic financial, health, environmental, land use laws and other laws they claim undermine their new TPP privileges.”

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