California’s Drought: Water For Profit

For months we’ve been hearing about how severe California’s drought is. Governor Jerry Brown has made several warnings that drastic measures might have to be taken if the drought continues. And usually the overall message is clear: individuals need to cut back on their water consumption, and if necessary, extreme water rationing will be imposed on cities and households.

This blames excessive water use on individuals while it lets corporations off the hook. In reality, corporations don’t see water as a vital natural resource to be preserved. They see it as just another ingredient in their drive to make a profit at any cost.

The messages coming from politicians tell a familiar story. They tell us Californians are wasting too much water on their extra long showers, on their gigantic lawns, on watering down their driveways and washing their cars. It’s true that water is being wasted in these ways – but this is not the main source of the problem. Over the last two decades, personal water consumption in California has decreased by over twenty percent, even while the population has been increasing. And in total, individual water use only makes up about eight percent of total water use in California.

So even if there is plenty of ways individuals could reduce their water use, it is not the major source of the problem. Even if you included most corporations in most major cities in California, their total combined water use is only about twelve percent. In total, the water use from individuals and most corporations and cities only makes up about twenty percent of water use in the state.

So the real question is where is all the water going? About eighty percent of all water use in California comes from the farming industry. California is the largest agricultural producing area in the country, supplying over thirty percent of the country’s vegetables, and over sixty percent of the country’s fruits and nuts. California is also the largest dairy producing state, and among the top five in other livestock. All together the total profits from these industries is estimated at over $15 billion per year, making up about 26 percent of all the money made in California each year.

But in order for California’s massive agribusiness industry to make its money, it must be guaranteed enormous amounts of water. California supplies 99% of all almonds in the U.S., 99% of all walnuts, 98% of pistachios, 95% of broccoli, 92% of strawberries, 91% of grapes, 90% of tomatoes, 74% of lettuce. And each of these crops require a massive amount of water to be produced:

  • one head of broccoli: 5.4 gallons
  • one walnut: 4.9 gallons
  • one head of lettuce: 3.5 gallons
  • one tomato: 3.3 gallons
  • one almond: 1.1 gallons
  • one pistachio: 0.75 gallons
  • one strawberry: 0.4 gallons
  • one grape: 0.3 gallons

California’s water sources of aquifers, wells, lakes, rivers and streams are running dry not because of this current drought. Even with the little snow and rainfall causing the drought, there should still be plenty of water in California. California’s water supply has been depleted only because so much water has been pumped just to distribute it to these massive farming companies so they can continue to make billions of dollars every year.

There is certainly a drought in California. And we could all do a little bit to cut back on our water waste. But the only reason this drought is causing disastrous effects is because the water in California has been sucked dry just to supply massive profits to these farm companies.

With this water shortage, the logic of this system is clear: it is willing to destroy a resource necessary for life in order to continue to make a profit.

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From Selma to Ferguson

This past weekend people poured into Selma, Alabama to mark the 50th anniversary of the famous civil rights march. The original march was met with a furious and brutal response by Alabama police. Among those beaten was John Lewis, an activist in SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) that was organizing in Selma. Today Lewis is a member of the House of Representatives. He marched, with Obama. But the presence of the politicians does not change the reality of history or the need to fight racism today.

Those who represent the interests of the 1%, whether they are in the White House, the Congress or the Board Rooms of the corporations will never provide the leadership we need. Obama and Eric Holder, the current head of the Justice Department, can point to the report of the racism of the Ferguson police department as a stand against racism. The report documents what is well known to the people of Ferguson and became known throughout the country following the murder of Michael Brown. Black people are targeted by a mainly white police department and subject to all sorts of harassment.

And what will the impact of this report be? Who will be indicted and imprisoned for this systematic terror against the Black people of the area? We didn’t have to wait long for an answer. The same day this report was issued, the Justice Department issued another report saying that Darren Wilson, the cop who murdered Michael Brown, did not violate Brown’s civil rights!

According to their law, the racism and brutality of the cops is not significant. After getting advice from police lawyers, Wilson claimed he was fearful of Brown, who was unarmed and almost 150 feet away from Wilson’s patrol car when he was shot. Because there is no way to disprove his claim of fear, Wilson walks. That would be like claiming that people coming over the bridge in Selma 50 years ago frightened Jim Clark, Selma’s notorious racist sheriff, causing him to lead his brutal attack.

It’s clear, one more report exposing the racism of the police forces will not stop police brutality. Are we to believe that those in power have been unaware of the violence of their police? Are we to believe they are unaware of the violence of their prison system? Are we to believe they are unaware of the violence of the grinding poverty generated by their system? Of course not!

The Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of “Bloody Sunday”, still carries the name of a racist U.S. Senator and Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. The Voting Rights Act, which was enacted after “Bloody Sunday”, expired recently and was not extended by Congress. Both stand as symbols of the racism of this society today.

In Selma, Obama and other politicians, talked about the huge changes the Civil Rights movement made. It swept away the open laws of segregation that had existed for 75 years. It challenged the pervasive and open racism of this society. It inspired movements through the years that followed, leading to an expansion of rights for Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans, women, people with disabilities, gays and lesbians and others whose rights had been ignored.

The politicians’ encouraging words and advice to be patient do not point a way forward. The lesson of the movement is that if we are going to change things, we must rely on ourselves. Lyndon Johnson did push for the Voting Rights Act but only after national media coverage of the violence of “Bloody Sunday”. Before that, he opposed the Selma march and the demand for a federal voters rights law.

The people of Selma did not wait for Johnson to send troops or marshals to protect them. They did not wait until Johnson was ready to support their right to vote. And 50 years later, the people of Ferguson did not wait for a Justice Department that didn’t know or care about Ferguson to act. They took to the streets day after day and month after month, demanding justice.

History shows that the changes that we need will come into being by our own actions, not those whose goal is to maintain the order of this system.

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An Injury To One Is An Injury To All

For nearly a month workers at refineries across the country have been on strike. This week the number on strike rose to 14 refineries, out of a total of 63, involving 5200 workers out of 30,000. This strike has followed a path similar to recent contract strikes. Union officials put demands on the table. The bosses reject them. A strike is declared. Workers show up to picket when they are told and then wait on the negotiations.

The refinery workers, like workers everywhere, have plenty of reasons to strike. Their wages and benefits are under attack. And the bosses refuse to deal with health and safety issues because that often means increasing staffing and less profits for them. Like many other jobs, refinery jobs can be dangerous – with workers suffering acid burns, exposure to toxic fumes due to leaks, refinery fires and other hazards.

One thing that has been different about this strike is that the union officials of the USW (United Steel Workers) have called for support for workers on the picket lines. They have appealed mainly to environmental activists and those in the communities near the refineries to join with them.

They have pointed to the fact that those who live nearby have the same interests as the workers do. When there are accidents, workers and community members all suffer the health impacts and the environment is impacted. Poorly run refineries have the same effect just over a longer period of time.

The union officials are right when they say workers and the nearby communities share a common interest. But why stop there? Workers all have common interests. When one group of workers gains, we all have the possibility of gaining. But that’s not the way we are organized, even if we are in unions. Each contract is for a specific group of workers and that group of workers is supposed to defend itself alone.

The reality is, that the bosses rarely stand alone. They know if any workers begin to get wage and benefit increases, they will be faced with the same demands. So they support each other. They use their politicians and the courts. They use their media to present their case. During the 2013 BART contract, the media carried the bosses’ lies without question. Their reporters went from station to station in search of riders who were pissed off and would denounce the so-called greedy BART workers. Even when BART killed two workers it had sent out to work on the tracks, by running a train with unqualified management at the controls, the media did not investigate.

Unfortunately, in the face of the attacks we confront, the union officials usually offer the same old strategy. They may call workers to rallies or short symbolic strikes. But they keep negotiations a secret and the real power of the workers is not organized and mobilized.

If workers were prepared before the contract expires, it would be different. If people come together to discuss and decide on their demands and make the decisions, it becomes a struggle they can be fully involved in. If the workers who are ready are organized to go out and talk with other workers, people in their communities and the people they provide services for about the real issues, the groundwork for a real fight can be prepared.

We need to see our common interests. We depend on each other for the things we need – from transportation, healthcare, the food we eat, schools our kids go to and the water we drink – everything! We face the same obstacles in our daily lives -juggling pressures at work and home while our wages fall behind and benefits are cut.

Today we are bound by the bosses’ legalisms – their contracts and negotiations. According to the USW it “represents 850,000 workers in North America employed in industries that include metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining, plus the service and public sectors” Imagine if the power of just that one union was organized and mobilized!

The slogan of the early workers’ movement “An Injury To One Is An Injury To All” needs to be revived. When workers are on strike we should give them more than a nod of support. We need to get out there and show our support. And wherever we are, we need to begin to organize ourselves.

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When Ordinary People Did Extraordinary Things

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s -1970s was one of the most significant social movements in U.S. history. It involved millions of people in its ranks. It was a grass roots movement often organized locally. It involved elementary school children in Selma, Alabama and the elderly, registering a man to vote for the first time, in Lowndes County, Alabama who was over 100 years old. It appealed to the consciences of hundreds of northern white students who came to participate in the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964. A whole generation of local leaders emerged, people like Robert F. Williams, a machinist from Monroe, North Carolina and women leaders like Rosa Parks, a seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, and Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi sharecropper.

It was a movement filled with ingenuity and imagination. There was certainly violence and danger but it was also joyful, full of singing and defiant celebration – a festival of the oppressed. Consciousness changed overnight and what started out as an act of conscience quickly mushroomed into a massive social movement. The American apartheid system, in place for hundreds of years, was overturned in a decade of action.

The Civil Rights Movement was launched in 1955 with the Montgomery Bus Boycott and followed in 1957, by the fight to desegregate Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Then, in 1960, a few courageous Black freshman from a local state university sat in at the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. The student movement quickly spread. Within two weeks there were demonstrations in 15 cities in five southern states. In 1961, the Freedom Rides challenged the federal government to defend the right of all of its citizens to be treated equally while traveling on interstate buses. By September of 1961 there were actions in more than 100 cities in 20 states, and more than 70,000 participated, 3600 got arrested and 58 college faculty were fired for participating in the movement.

The movement spread with voter registration drives and community organizing on multiple issues. In 1963, there were 1,412 demonstrations in just the first three months of the year. And the March on Washington that summer brought one quarter of a million people to the capitol. Millions of people were active in small and larger ways. Thousands of activists gained valuable experience and a new order was born.

College students and other youth were the spark of the movement but it was made up primarily of working class and poor people. Members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters were often the backbone of the movement, bringing their experience to bear on organizing. The energy and activism of the Civil Rights Movement went on to contribute to every other important U.S. social movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. And it was a movement that had an international impact, linked to the struggles going on all over the world as people fought to liberate themselves from colonialism. Many activists of the Civil Rights Movement helped build the movement against the war on Vietnam.

It is important this February to remember and honor the struggles of the past. The police killings in Ferguson, Missouri and New York and other cities around the country show that many of the same problems the Civil Rights Movement tried to address, continue to exist today. And the response to those incidents in Ferguson and elsewhere shows the same spirit of resistance continues today. It is especially necessary to remember the lessons of the past, for they hold the keys to our future.

Consciousness can change quickly and social movements can be born. When ordinary people decide to stop being treated as victims and instead to be active fighters on the stage of history extraordinary things can happen.

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Super Bowl Sunday – Who Will Win

Super Bowl Sunday is a day we get to spend with family and friends whether we like football or not. For some, the Super Bowl is the only football game they’ll watch all year. For others, it is the game they wait for all year. At work the game gets even more exciting if we bet with our coworkers. The Super Bowl is practically a national holiday.

For the past five years, the Super Bowl reached record levels of viewers, with over 110 million people watching. This year it’s expected to be another record, with as many as 50 percent of homes tuned in. With millions watching, corporations pay big money for the chance to sell us more of their crap. This year a 30-second spot costs $4.5 million each, the highest price ever, a twelve percent increase from last year. While normally commercials are a reason to change the channel, Super Bowl ads can sometimes get more attention than the game itself. For the corporations, the Super Bowl is nothing but a chance at more profits.

The Super Bowl is just business as usual for the rest of the season. From overpriced merchandise, expensive tickets, outrageous parking, and souvenirs, to the stadiums themselves – it’s all just another buck for the owners, media, and corporate advertisers. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry. Their goal isn’t to bring us a national past time – it’s to take advantage of it.

It’s this same relentless push for profit that has the players themselves being treated like disposable equipment. The average NFL career lasts just under three years, and players die an average of twenty years sooner than their fans. Professional football has a 100 percent injury rate, and players fight for years to get treatment. Players suffer higher rates of memory loss, various forms of brain damage, and lack of impulse control, which often result in violence against themselves and their loved ones.

These brain injuries have been so severe that some players (Dave Duerson and Junior Seau) have even committed suicide by shooting themselves in the chest so their brains could be studied. A study conducted last year found that out of 128 brains studied of deceased football players, over 80 percent suffered serious brain injuries. These injuries are not just from the heavy hits, but from the effects of everyday play. To the owners, these tragedies are just part of doing business.

Football is like any other business – the one’s who do the work are just used up and thrown away once they are no longer considered profitable. Sometimes it’s easy to just look at the salaries of the players, but the real money is being made by the owners, over half of whom are multi-billionaires.

Whether we’re diehard fans sporting body paint on the sidelines, or we only watch one game a year, just because we like to watch the sport doesn’t mean we like the way it’s used for profit. And even though our money is used to build the stadiums, the only way most of us can afford to go is if we’re the ones selling the hot dogs or pouring the beer.

On Sunday, we might be watching one game, but the team owners are playing another. Whichever team ends up with the highest score will get the trophy. But the real winners will be the owners. Their game is rigged – they’re the only ones who win every time.

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