Issue 216: November 2003

in

 Suspicion and

the evaluation of ‘information'

In the era of big-pharma, big-food, and big-media, it is a real challenge to find reliable sources of information. One has to start with what theologians call the hermeneutics of suspicion, that is, a method of interpretation [hermeneutics] informed by suspicion – suspicion about the authorship, intent, and authenticity of the text.

Source and authorship are the first things I look for. Was the article or report published by the New York Times, the Vancouver Sun or theNational Post? New Scientist, Nature Biotechnology or Milling and Baking News? In other words, what is the nature of the source? Is it a reliable, conservative journal ‘of record' such as the NY Times or M&B News with a known business bias or an inflammatory paper like the National Post orVancouver Sun with a blatant reactionary political position? Readers ofThe Ram's Horn will recognize our carefulness to note sources.

Authorship is obviously significant. I no longer bother to read anything authored or endorsed by Dennis Avery, Henry I. Miller, Gregory Conko, C.S. Prakash, Doug Powell and many other blatant propagandists unless I want to know their current line, such as that of Avery&Son who operate as the Centre for Global Food Issues of the Hudson Institute. Their latest mystification is an “Earth Friendly, Farm Friendly Seal of Approval” project which they describe as “the only science-based seal of approval which supports both farm economics and protects the environment without added costs to consumers.” This is clearly intended to confuse the public about organic certification. Note that they give no specifics about being “scientifically proven” and “economically sustainable” – though they might be referring to the massive subsidies that keep industrial agriculture in the USA afloat.

Introducing a new certification process and seal of approval for dairy producers and processors. This product is certified as having been produced under the best available, scientifically proven and economically sustainable agricultural methods. These techniques have been shown to help conserve or use fewer natural resources, thereby preserving more of nature and earning the approval of independent scientists including Nobel Prize winners. Purchasing products with this seal supports farmers while protecting nature. Brought to you by The Center for Global Food Issues, this is the only science-based deal of approval which supports both farm economics and protects the environment without added costs to consumers. Endorsed by recognized world leaders in the fields of animal agriculture, veterinary health, conservation and environmental stewardship and backed by published peer-reviewed data. (www.cgfi.org)

A close look at their website will confirm your suspicions; they are supporting Monsanto's fight against the labelling of rBGH-free milk in the USA (see RH# 212) and their ‘scientific' advisors are a convenient list of the big-food and biotech front groups whose ‘information' warrants suspicion: organizations such as the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy and the American Council on Science and Health. The names are, of course, intentionally deceptive, but after a while you get to know them and the names of their chief lobbyists.

The language on the Avery website is more than deceptive. Its intent and tone can best be described as ‘hate' language. Clearly the Averys are scared to death of organics and a well-informed public – just like the biotech industry they represent.

Authenticity implies that the author has some personal connection or experience of the issue discussed. Where material is ‘authored' by an organization that operates as a collective, such as ETC Group and GRAIN, you have to know that the organization works in respectful collaboration with the people affected by the issues and policies they write about. It is this kind of track record that gives credibility to authors, both individual and collective.

The above discussion was prompted by information recently published about Wal-Mart. A major source drawn on here is the Executive Intelligence Review, a text-book example of where suspicion is warranted. The Executive Intelligence Review is published by the Lyndon LaRouche organization, a right-wing populist organization that actually does a considerable amount of solid research. As Al Krebs (The Agribusiness Examiner, see www.electricarrow.com/CARP) describes LaRouche, it's a case not of a straight line continuum between left and right, but a horseshoe, where the populist right comes close to the socialist left in its anti-corporate position. Recognizing this, we are happy to draw on this source of verifiable data while omitting some of its more bombastic language and interpretation. (It also helps when the New York Times and the Financial Times of London , not known for their populist or anti-corporate politics, essentially confirms the LaRouche data as the NYTimes did in the editorial cited below.)

Wal-Mart's financial security
is not your food security

Wal-Mart posted sales of $245 billion in 2002, holding the position of the world's biggest company for the second consecutive year. It has more than doubled its size in the past five years, increasing sales at an annual rate of 16 %.

As of August 31, 2003, Wal-Mart had 1,489 Wal-Mart stores, 1,397 Supercenters, 532 Sam's Clubs and 56 Neighborhood Markets in the United States. Wal-Mart employs about 1.1 million “associates” nationally at an annual wage of about $14,000 a year, below the US $15,060 poverty line for a family of three.

As the New York Times put it in an editorial (15/11/03):

“Wal-Mart is a non-union, low-wage employer aggressively moving into the grocery business. Everyone should be concerned about this fight. It is, at bottom, about the ability of retail workers to earn wages that keep their families out of poverty. . . Wal-Mart's prices are about 14% lower than other groceries' because the company is aggressive about squeezing costs, including labor costs. Its workers earn a third less than unionized grocery workers, and pay for much of their [own] health insurance. Wal-Mart uses hardball tactics to ward off unions. Since 1995, the government has issued at least 60 complaints alleging illegal anti-union activities. . . Wal-Mart may also be driving down costs by using undocumented immigrants. Last month, federal agents raided Wal-Marts in 21 states. Wal-Mart is facing a grand jury investigation, and a civil racketeering class-action filed by cleaners who say they were underpaid when working for contractors hired by Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart insists that it was unaware of its contractors' practices. But aware or not, it may have helped to deprive legally employable janitors of jobs and adequate pay. This Wal-Martization of the work force, to which other low-cost, low-pay stores also contribute, threatens to push many Americans into poverty. . .”

Wal-Mart Is Not a Business,
It's an Economic Disease

Wal-Mart is “a driving force behind the decadent Imperial Roman model of the United States. Unable any longer to reproduce its own population's existence through its own physical economy, the United States has, for the past two decades, used an over-valued dollar to suck in physical goods from around the globe for its survival. Wal-Mart is both the public face and working sinews of that policy. It brings in cheap pants from Bangladesh, cheap shirts from China, cheap food from Mexico . . . and workers who produce these things are paid next to nothing.”

Wal-Mart

  • sells 19% of all grocery-store food in the United States, making it the largest food seller.
  • handles 16% of all pharmacy-drug sales in the United States,
  • controls 30% of the U.S. household staples market
  • sells 15-20% of all CDs, videos, and DVDs in the United States

Reciprocally, Wal-Mart controls a large and increasing share of the business done by almost every major consumer-products company: 28.3% of Dial's (soap products); 24% of Del Monte Foods'; 23% of Clorox's (bleaches and cleaners); and 23% of Revlon's (cosmetics). It controls one-fifth or more of the business done by Proctor & Gamble, Levi Strauss and Newell Rubbermaid. This gives Wal-Mart tremendous leverage over all its producers/suppliers, even though many of them are in the Fortune 500. Today, Wal-Mart “co-determines” the price of the goods it buys; it tells the supplier what type of product it wants, how to arrange its inventory, what sort of product line to develop. Because Wal-Mart determines how much shelf space each supplier receives, it has life-and-death control over that supplier. If Wal-Mart says that it wants a product's price to be lowered by 20-25%, that supplier will be forced to outsource an increasing share of its production.

As a result, Wal-Mart has become “a conveyor belt, either directly or through its suppliers, for imported goods, mostly from cheap-labor countries. Wal-Mart imports 10% of all America's total imports from China.”

Rubbermaid, the largest producer of consumer rubber products in the United States, provides a good example what happens when a company is dependent on Wal-Mart as its major market. In January 2001, Joseph Galli was appointed the new chief executive officer of Rubbermaid, and he and his staff had an intensive series of meetings with Wal-Mart management on what products Rubbermaid should bring on line, including Wal-Mart's not-so-subtle suggestions about the price of the products. Since January 2001, Rubbermaid has shut down 69 out of its 400 facilities, and fired 11,000 workers

Levi Strauss is one of the biggest manufacturers of jeans and denim products, including the line of Docker slacks, and Wal-Mart is its biggest retailer. During the past 18 months, Levi Strauss has announced it will shut down its four remaining production plants in North America and shift the work to Latin America and Asia. –source: Executive Intelligence Review, 14/11/03, at www.larouchepub.com/eirtoc/2003/eirtoc_3044.html

Levi Strauss, a company that 22 years ago had 60 clothing plants in the United States – and that was known as one of the most socially responsible corporations on the planet – will, by 2004, not make any clothes at all. It will just import them.

Wal-Mart has also lulled shoppers into ignoring the difference between the price of something and the cost. Its unending focus on price underscores something that Americans are only starting to realize about globalization: Ever-cheaper prices have consequences. Says Steve Dobbins, president of thread maker Carolina Mills: “We want clean air, clear water, good living conditions, the best health care in the world – yet we aren't willing to pay for anything manufactured under those restrictions.”
–The Wal-Mart You Don't know,” FastCompany, Issue 77 December 2003, By: Charles Fishman –www.fastcompany.com/magazine/77/walmart.html

 

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