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The Kitchen Sink / REs Diner Smart Phone Video Library Selections
« Last post by RE on Today at 09:08:59 AM »
I thought I would share some of the selections I am downloading for my Video Library on my phone.  Currently, I am downloading Episode 1 of the BBC Series, "The Celts".  Druids bored in the back of a Freightliner might find this series a good way to pass the time.

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/AU1dKfMIEUQ" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/AU1dKfMIEUQ</a>

RE
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Economics / Death of Retail Thread:
« Last post by azozeo on Today at 09:02:44 AM »
http://theantimedia.org/retail-apocalypse-3500-stores-closing/


‘Retail Apocalypse’ Causing More Than 3,500 Stores to Close: What You’re Not Being Told

Written by Carey Wedler

September 20, 2017

(ANTIMEDIA) In the latest blow to traditional retail sales, this week Toys R’ Us filed for bankruptcy, following in the footsteps of an increasing number of other brick-and-mortar chains. But the giant toy outfitter is not the only company suffering losses, as a recent report from Clark.com, a consumer analysis site details.

   
Though separate statistics show that more stores will open in 2017 than will close, the type of stores making gains suggests frugality is the norm U.S. consumers amid a continuously harsh economy.

Clark.com compiled a list of retail stores that announced closures of physical shops this summer. Sears said at the end of August that “in fiscal year 2017, [they] have closed approximately 180 stores previously announced for closure, and an additional 150 stores previously announced for closure are expected to be closed by the end of the third quarter of 2017.” They will also be closing 28 K-Mart locations, citing a desire to change their business model so “the physical store footprint and [their] digital capabilities match the needs and preferences of our members.”

Vitamin World filed for bankruptcy last week and plans to close 51 of 334 stores, which are located mostly in malls; Gap said in a press release earlier this month it will close 200 Gap and Banana Republic stores (and open 270 Old Navy shops); Perfumania filed for bankruptcy in August, moving to close 64 of 226 stores; Starbucks announced at the end of July it will close all of its 379 Teavana shops by next year; Gymboree plans to close roughly 350 stores following its bankruptcy in June; True Religion filed for bankruptcy in July and moved to close 27 stores; the Ascena Retail Group, parent company of Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, Justice, and other chains, announced in June it would shutter over 250 stores by 2019 (in addition to the 71 it had already closed this year). The group noted they could close up to a total of 667 of their 4,500 various locations.

The summer trend follows even more closures in 2017 — in March, Business Insider noted roughly 3,500 stores would shut down this year. Macy’s revealed plans to shut down 68 locations in January, J.C. Penney announced it would close 138 stores back in March, and Abercrombie and Fitch told investors it planned to close 60 locations, bringing the total closed to 169. Other retailers closing stores are Bebe, Guess, Crocs, Guess, American Apparel (which has filed for bankruptcy twice), RadioShack, Staples, CVS, and Gamestop.

Wet Seal and Limited are closing all or nearly all of their locations this year.

Many blame Amazon and the popularity of online retail, especially amid the general collapse of America’s once prominent shopping malls, and the news media has repeatedly sounded the alarm of the “retail apocalypse.”

But a recent report from the IHL Group, a global retail and hospitality analysis and advisory firm, argues there is no retail apocalypse. Rather, they contend, customer preferences are simply shifting. In “Debunking the Retail Apocalypse,” the analysts point out that more major retailers and restaurants are opening 4,080 more stores than they are closing this year.

Nevertheless, many of the closing stores have been mainstays of American retail culture for decades, and those finding the most success are focused on budget pricing. Stores like the Dollar Tree are making major gains, a trend also reflected in Gap’s decision to close their more expensive stores, including Banana Republic, to focus on Old Navy, which offers a much lower price point.

As the IHL report notes, “According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, since 1996, overall inflation in core consumer goods and services has averaged 55% over the 20 year period of 1996-2016.”

Prices on college tuition and textbooks have gone up 200%. Costs have increased for child care (125%) healthcare (120%), food and beverage (65%), and housing (60%). In contrast, products like cell phone services, TVs, toys, and software have become cheaper.

IHL explains that “products and services that are more likely to be considered as necessities have grown significantly in costs over the last 20 years and items that are typically in the luxury category have gone down in price.”

“In a vacuum, these prices don’t tell us much,” they explain. “However, when compared with income growth over the same period we can see that a much higher percentage of consumers cannot keep up with inflation, thus are shopping more at lower cost retailers and less at higher image/brand stores.”

IHL notes that 40% of Americans have not been able to keep up with inflation, and as a result, the higher costs for basic necessities have affected their shopping habits. So has student loan debt, the decline of the middle class, the growth of e-commerce, and the fact that large retailers have prioritized store expansion over customer experience.

Considering the economic situation, it’s unsurprising that the types of businesses opening the most chains are mass merchants — like Target, Wal-Mart and Dollar General — and convenience stores. IHL also notes that 2,026 fast food stores opened this year. Interestingly, more cosmetics stores are opening than closing (cosmetics become more popular when economic times are tough).

Ultimately, IHL notes, retail sales are up $121.5 billion from July 2016. However, Americans are carrying roughly $1 trillion in credit card debt against very little savings. While total retail sales may be growing, those making profits and finding success are doing so amid a climate of overall economic decline. While the “retail apocalypse” may not have come to total fruition, Americans’ financial futures certainly seem to be on the downturn.
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Economics / Death of Retail Thread:
« Last post by azozeo on Today at 08:59:50 AM »
https://www.veteranstoday.com/2017/09/20/retail-apocalypse/


Retail Apocalypse

By Preston James, Ph.D

September 20, 2017

The first American Debt-Bomb has now detonated. More are now on the way and will detonate one after another. These include the BRICS Nations Development Bank, the AIIB, the Silk Road Development, the end of the US Petro Dollar as the World’s Reserve Currency, and the IMF installment of a new world basket of balanced currencies called Special Drawing Rights (SDRs).

It was only a matter of time when retail prices would take a drastic climb upward to compensate for the recent demise of so many urban retail stores, some that have been successful for quite a long time.

The list of major retail stores closing is long and growing by the day.

This demise  of retail stores actually began when Walmart decimated rural ma-pop family retail businesses in small towns. Amazon is now finishing off urban retail.

Yes, Amazon is now completing the process of destroying retail, a process started by Walmart.

To compensate for reduced consumer spending, retail stores have been raising prices. This is the most evident in fast food. Note how fast the price of a fast food hamburger has risen the last several months or how fast food prices are rising in grocery stores.

This demise of retail is based on less and less disposable income by Americans to spend due to stagnant or falling incomes, rising taxes, and rising health-care costs.

Another cause if the growing number of college grads unable to find good paying job opportunities based on their degrees and the fact that so many graduate as debt-slaves with 80-100,000 USD debts for college loans. A large number of such grads (close to 40%) are not making payments and there is no way to discharge these debts because Bankruptcy isn’t allowed for these. In some cases going to work for the government or an approved job, after 5 years one can have a proportion discounted, but this isn’t viable for most since so few jobs are available.

One can join the volunteer US Military or the National Guard in their state, but few read the “fine-print” of what they are agreeing too and they may be signing away their lives for many years.

These new recruits are never given true informed consent a and told they will become slaves/serfs of the military and perhaps used as Henry Kissinger described as “dumb cannon fodder”.

Actually these volunteers sign away almost all their rights, can be “stop-lossed” for many years and all the promised benefits may come to nothing if they as about 50% of Mideast vets get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

After Vietnam it was decided by high Pentagon officials that the draft stimulated too much attention by Soldier’s families in any major war effort. It was decided that creating a voluntary, mercenary army would alleviate much of the public’;s concern.

Health-care in America has been infiltrated and hijacked and serves the elite Ruling Cabal and its Cutouts, not We The People.

Take health-care, the Affordable Health Care Act of Obama was actually written by the major “for profit” health insurance companies, most of whom have CEOs being paid salaries and benefits in excess of 100 million dollars a years.

Originally health-care insurers were non profit corporations. It is quite indecent for CEOs to profit off citizens’ illnesses, not to mention that this had led to the gelding of Physicians, harm to the physician-patient relationship, and a near complete transfer of power from the physicians and patient to the large for profit health insurer.

So far President Trump has not done anything to resolve this great injustice.

The Black Budget has sucked Americans dry.

We know that the US Federal Budget is about 3.3 Trillion USD. We also know that the secret Black Budget of the various 37 Intel Agencies (16 are public, the rest unacknowledged, special access only) is at least 2 Trillion USD per years.

We know that about 1.3 Trillion USD comes from the CIA and Pentagon’s illegal Opium trafficking from Afghanistan which is killing more young Americans than any recent war.

The rest of the Black Budget income comes from other CIA bustout scams like Enron, and illegal narcotics and drug trafficking from joint partnerships with the Central and South American Cartels. These joint partnerships are shared with their operational partners that include the Mossad and the Nazi Fourth Reich (some call the DVD).

What is this unimaginable fortune of US Debt-notes being spent on? We now know for certain it is going to a large Secret Space War system including US DOD contractors manufacture of anti-gravity craft, the new Space fence (ionized atmosphere for tracking and destroying missiles and some UFOs); 147 Deep Underground US Military Bases (DUMBs) connected by high speed maglev railroads; advanced psychotronics and mind-kontrol; and the take-down of nation-states who go off the BT/RKM/COL Reservation.

The actual root cause of the Retail Apocalypse.

If We The People want to find a workable solution to this current Retail Apocalypse we need to come to a good understanding of the actual root cause of this Retail Apocalypse.

Astute researcher experts tell us the root cause is the Federal Reserve System (FRS), a private franchisee of the City of London Rothschild Khazarian Mafia Banksters. This FRS system in America was incorporated in Delaware in 1914 and the IRS was incorporated in Puerto Rico soon after.

The FRS system started out using gold and silver back money, but in 1971 removed that and their money became strictly FIAT, required by US Law to be accepted as “legal tender” for all public and private debts but has no backing explain the “full faith and credit of the USG”.

The FRS is the biggest Ponzi Scheme and financial fraud ever perpetrated in history. The FRS prints and issues US Dollars in any amount it wants and “lend” them to Americans at pernicious usury which is paid out of federal tax receipts. Some experts have suggested that up to 40% of federal tax collections are paid each years to the FRS as interest on this phony national debt which is growing by the day.

The FRS  has been spreading incredibly large amounts of USD “Debt-notes” all over the world and China and Russia and the other BRICS nation Banking members have had enough and are not working to dump the US Petro Dollar as the world reserve currency. Saudi Arabia and other Mideast Oil producers are now secretly accepting other type of money such as the Chinese Renminbi (Ruan) for oil sales to China.

The FRS has a secret very illegal and evil agreement and arrangement with Congress and the Administration.

It’s called the “Elastic Checkbook” endless credit line. The FRS borrows the US Congress all the money it needs (creating it out of thin air) but charges accruing and pernicious interest to the American taxpayer for using what should have been their own money in the first place.

So Congress never balances its budget but keeps overspending foolishly and increasing this phony, illegal, unconstitutional debt more and more over time.

So now we have a phony claim US National Debt assigned to US taxpayers of Trillion so dollars that can never be paid back nor should it. It should be immediate declared null and void, a major RICO crime. All FRS assets and building should be immediate seized and transferred into the US Treasury.

Money paid to the FRS as interest should be clawed back to 1914 wherever it is, placed in the US Treasury and proportion out evenly to all American taxpayers as a one time stipend.

How much better would the average American worker live if he/she immediately paid 40% less federal tax to the USG?

Conclusion:

The FRS is unconstitutional, illegal and uses its self-created “money power” to advance the NWO Agenda of the Globalists who are best referred to as the Rothschild Khazarian Mafia (RKM).

Bottom line is that the FRS hijacked our American money creation and distribution system in 1913 when the RKM City of London folks bribed members of the US Congress and the President and gained passage of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913.

Since then it has been able to create all the “money” it needed to buy, bribe, blackmail and human compromise almost every elected and appointed DC official, including almost every single member of Congress. If all that fails then the solution becomes marginalizing the individual, targeting them with psychotronic harassment or in some cases using cutouts to arrange for their murder.

Doubt this then consider the fact that almost every single member of Congress has signed the AIPAC Loyalty Oath to place Israel first even before the USA in order to gain large campaign funding and to be able to be re-elected.

Representative Cynthia McKinney refused and was redistricted out of office as punishment for not signing. She is a great American Hero and the only one to ever dare reveal this sad reality publicly.

The only clear solution to this recent Retail Apocalypse Debt-Bomb that has detonated or any of the rest that will soon detonate like the end of the US Petro Dollar as the World’s Reserve Currency is to cancel the FRS, seize all assets and place them in the US Treasury where they should have remained in the first place and un elect almost every single Member of the US Congress who signed AIPAC’s Loyalty Oath to Israel.

After all, the Israel Likudists deployed the Mossad to run the attack on America on 9-11-01 and therefore should themselves to be a secret enemy of America just like they did b y attacking the USS Liberty ship in an attempt to draw America into a war wit Egypt as part of their Greater Israel project.

And we know for certain that the RKM set up Israel as their private nation-state sanctuary and action-agent right after WW2 and they hijacked America in 1913 with the passage of the FRS Act. It is now time for the whole world to expose the RKM as public enemy #1 of all mankind and society itself.
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Surly Newz / Re: The Daily Meme
« Last post by azozeo on Today at 08:54:19 AM »



I just got back from my recovery group meeting this a.m.
Our group mentors a half way house full of young men, mostly millennial age.
I would not want to trade places with that age group. They're all very fucked when it comes to fitting in
with this matrix world we live in.
Usually, my advice to them is to avoid the distractions of this world as best you can. Similar to my "don't feed the beast"
schtick I spread around here. 
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The Kitchen Sink / Loving Our Debt-Serfdom: Our Neofeudal Status Quo
« Last post by azozeo on Today at 08:49:06 AM »
http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2017/09/loving-debt-serfdom-neofeudal-status-quo.html#more-69541


Loving Our Debt-Serfdom: Our Neofeudal Status Quo
Posted on September 21, 2017 by Charles Hugh Smith

I have often used the words neoliberal, neocolonial and neofeudal to describe our socio-economic-political status quo. Here are my shorthand descriptions of each term:

1. Neoliberal: the commoditization / financialization of every asset, input (such as labor) and output of the economy; the privatization of the public commons, and the maximizing of private profits while costs and losses are socialized, i.e. transferred to the taxpayers.

2. Neocolonial: the exploitation of the domestic populace using the same debt-servitude model used to subjugate, control and extract profits from overseas populations.

3. Neofeudal: the indenturing of the workforce via debt and financial repression to a new Aristocracy; the disempowerment of the workforce into powerless debt-serfs.

Neofeudalism is a subtle control structure that is invisible to those who buy into the Mainstream Media portrayal of our society and economy. This portrayal includes an apparent contradiction: America is a meritocracy–the best and brightest rise to the top, if they have pluck and work hard– and America is all about identity politics: whomever doesn’t make it is a victim of bias.

Both narratives neatly ignore the neofeudal structure which disempowers the workforce in the public sphere and limits the opportunities to build capital outside the control of the state-corporate duopoly.

The book The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000 shed some light on the transition to a feudal society and economy. While the author is a fine writer, the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to light reading. The transition from the Roman legacy of centralized governance (empire, monarchy, theocracy, etc.) to feudalism (governance by local lords / aristocracy) was complex and uneven, and the author takes pains to describe the process and many variations that arose in a highly fragmented post-Roman Europe.

(Note that the Eastern Roman Empire, a.k.a. Byzantine Empire, endured until 1453 AD. I’ve written often on both the western and eastern Roman empires: The “Secret Sauce” of the Byzantine Empire: Stable Currency, Social Mobility (September 1, 2016)

Don’t Diss the Dark Ages (October 26, 2016)

In the Footsteps of Rome: Is Renewal Possible? (July 24, 2017)

Neofeudalism is not a re-run of feudalism. It’s a new and improved, state-corporate version of indentured servitude. The process of devolving from central political power to feudalism required the erosion of peasants’ rights to own productive assets, which in an agrarian economy meant ownership of land.

Ownership of land was replaced with various obligations to the local feudal lord or monastery–free labor for time periods ranging from a few days to months; a share of one’s grain harvest, and so on.

The other key dynamic of feudalism was the removal of the peasantry from the public sphere. In the pre-feudal era (for example, the reign of Charlemagne), peasants could still attend public councils and make their voices heard, and there was a rough system of justice in which peasants could petition authorities for redress.

Of course peasants usually lost to the aristocracy and monasteries, but at least the avenue of redress was at least partially open. This presence in the public sphere was slammed shut in feudalism.

From the capitalist perspective, feudalism restricted serfs’ access to cash markets where they could sell their labor or harvests. The key feature of capitalism isn’t just markets– it’s unrestricted ownership of productive assets–land, tools, workshops, and the social capital of skills, networks, trading associations, guilds, etc.

Our system is Neofeudal because the non-elites have no real voice in the public sphere, and ownership of productive capital is indirectly suppressed by the state-corporate duopoly. Various studies have found that politicians ignore the bottom 99.5% who don’t contribute to their campaigns or crony-capitalist wealth (five quick speeches for $200,000 each is $1 million. Rinse and repeat.)

The vast majority of incumbents are re-elected, as they leverage their power to vacuum up enormous sums of campaign contributions that then buy the compliance of a cowed public.

As for ownership of assets— small business startups have been crushed by soaring costs, heavy regulations and the dominance of cartels and quasi-monopolies enforced by the state.

Income growth is now the exclusive domain of the Financial Aristocracy:

The so-called middle class owns little to no productive capital; what it “owns” is a house, which is ultimately a form of consumption. I say “owns” for two reasons: one, most households have a mortgage, so their ownership is still contingent on making monthly payments to a lender, and two, the government collects property taxes on the home regardless of the owner’s income or ability to pay.

Compare this to taxes levied on business income: if the business has no net income, it owes no taxes. Not so with property taxes–they are the modern equivalent of “rent” paid to the feudal lord.

Note that the aristocracy owns productive assets while the serfs own housing and debt. This is not a flaw in the system, it’s a feature of the system.

Democracy (i.e. political influence) and ownership of productive assets are the exclusive domains of the New Aristocracy. This is Neofeudalism in a nutshell.

“Under a scientific dictator education will really work — with the result that most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.”

“The nature of psychological compulsion is such that those who act under constraint remain under the impression that they are acting on their own initiative. The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a victim. To him, the walls of his prison are invisible, and he believes himself to be free. That he is not free is apparent only to other people. His servitude is strictly objective.”

Aldous Huxley
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Diner Newz & Multimedia / Re: Doomstead Diner Comic Strip
« Last post by knarf on Today at 08:15:08 AM »
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Surly Newz / Re: The Daily Meme
« Last post by Surly1 on Today at 07:51:31 AM »
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Diner Newz & Multimedia / Re: Doomstead Diner Comic Strip
« Last post by Surly1 on Today at 07:46:22 AM »
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Diner Newz & Multimedia / Re: Doomstead Diner Comic Strip
« Last post by Surly1 on Today at 07:43:41 AM »


Cartoon of the Year.
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The company’s operation in Michigan reveals how it’s dominated the industry by going into economically depressed areas with lax water laws.

In rural Mecosta County, Mich., sits a near-windowless facility with a footprint about the size of Buckingham Palace. It’s just one of Nestlé’s roughly 100 bottled water factories in 34 countries around the world.

Inside, workers wear hairnets, hard hats, goggles, gloves, and earplugs. Ten production lines snake through the space, funneling local spring water into 8-ounce to 2.5-gallon containers; most of the lines run 24/7, each pumping out 500 to 1,200 bottles per minute. About 60 percent of the supply comes from Mecosta’s springs and arrives at the factory via a 12-mile pipeline. The rest is trucked in from neighboring Osceola County, about 40 miles north. “Daily, we’re looking at 3.5 million bottles potentially,” says Dave Sommer, the plant’s 41-year-old manager, shouting above the din.

Silos holding 125 tons of plastic resin pellets provide the raw material for the bottles. They’re molded into shape at temperatures reaching 400F before being filled, capped, inspected, labeled, and laser-printed with the location, day, and minute they were produced—a process that takes less than 25 seconds. Next, the bottles are bundled, shrink-wrapped onto pallets, and picked up by a fleet of 25 forklifts that ferry them to the plant’s warehouse or loading docks. As many as 175 trucks arrive every day to transport the water to retail locations in the Midwest. “We want more people to drink water, keep hydrated,” Sommer says. “It would be nice if it were my water, but we just want them to drink water.”


Water bottles in motion at the Nestlé Ice Mountain facility in Stanwood, Mich.

Nestlé SA started bottling in 1843 when company founder Henri Nestlé purchased a business on Switzerland’s Monneresse Canal. “Ever the curious scientist, [he] analyzed and experimented with the enrichment of water with a variety of minerals, always with a singular goal: to provide healthy, accessible, and delicious refreshment,” reads Nestlé’s website. Today there are thousands of bottled water companies worldwide—there’s even Trump Ice—but Nestlé is the biggest globally in terms of sales, followed by Coca-Cola, Danone, and PepsiCo, according to Euromonitor International. Nestlé Waters, the Paris-based subsidiary, owns almost 50 brands, including Perrier, S.Pellegrino, and Poland Spring.

Last year, U.S. bottled water sales reached $16 billion, up nearly 10 percent from 2015, according to Beverage Marketing Corp. They outpaced soda sales for the first time as drinkers continue to seek convenience and healthier options and worry about the safety of tap water after the high-profile contamination in Flint, Mich., about a two-hour drive from Mecosta. Nestlé alone sold $7.7 billion worth worldwide, with more than $343 million of it coming from Michigan, where the company bottles Ice Mountain Natural Spring Water and Pure Life, its purified water line.

The Michigan operation is only one small part of Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company. But it illuminates how Nestlé has come to dominate a controversial industry, spring by spring, often going into economically depressed municipalities with the promise of jobs and new infrastructure in exchange for tax breaks and access to a resource that’s scarce for millions. Where Nestlé encounters grass-roots resistance against its industrial-strength guzzling, it deploys lawyers; where it’s welcome, it can push the limits of that hospitality, sometimes with the acquiescence of state and local governments that are too cash-strapped or inept to say no. There are the usual costs of doing business, including transportation, infrastructure, and salaries. But Nestlé pays little for the product it bottles—sometimes a municipal rate and other times just a nominal extraction fee. In Michigan, it’s $200.

The Romans were among the first to see water as more than a basic need. They ranked theirs by taste; Aqua Marcia, from a spring about 60 miles outside of Rome, was among the best. In the 19th century, some of the first mass-market brands were S.Pellegrino and Vittel, now owned by Nestlé, and Evian, a Danone label. Sales were driven by taste, as well as the age-old notion that the mineral contents are therapeutic, curing ailments from hangovers to kidney stones. But mineral water consumption in America cratered in the early 20th century in part because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made it harder to tout medicinal benefits without expensive testing.

Today, Americans often drink bottled water for what they hope is not in it. Fears about what comes out of the tap aren’t completely unfounded; 77 million Americans are served by water systems that violate testing requirements or rules about contamination in drinking water, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. In agriculture-heavy regions, pesticides, fertilizers, and nitrates from animal waste leach into the ground. Despite the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, compliance with harmful chemical restrictions isn’t monitored carefully, and most wastewater-treatment systems aren’t designed to remove hormones, antidepressants, and other drugs. The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency is also attempting to roll back existing regulations. That said, bottled water isn’t necessarily more pure than tap. In the U.S., municipalities with 2.5 million or more people are required to test their supply dozens of times each day, whereas those with fewer than 50,000 customers must test for certain contaminants 60 times per month. Bottled water companies aren’t required to monitor their reserve or report contamination, although Nestlé says it tests its water hourly.

There’s also the issue of scarcity. The United Nations expects that 1.8 billion people will live in places with dire water shortages by 2025, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under stressed water conditions. Supply may be compromised in the U.S., too. A recent Michigan State University study predicts that more than a third of Americans might not be able to afford their water bills in five years, with costs expected to triple as World War II-era construction breaks down.

Failing infrastructure has already led to a near-total reliance on bottled water in parts of the world. Nestlé started selling Pure Life in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1998 to “provide a safe, quality water solution,” the company says. But locals wonder if the Swiss multinational is exacerbating the problem. “Twenty years ago, you could go anywhere in Lahore and get a glass of clean tap water for free,” says Ahmad Rafay Alam, an environmental lawyer in the country. “Now, everyone drinks bottled water.” He adds that this change has taken the pressure off the government to fix its utilities, degrading the quality of Lahore’s supply: “What Nestlé did is use a good marketing scheme to make tap water uncool and dangerous. It’s ubiquitous, like Kleenex. People will say, ‘Give me a bottle of Nestlé.’ ”

Nestlé has been preparing for shortages for decades. The company’s former chief executive officer, Helmut Maucher, said in a 1994 interview with the New York Times: “Springs are like petroleum. You can always build a chocolate factory. But springs you have or you don’t have.” His successor, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who retired recently after 21 years in charge, drew criticism for encouraging the commodification of water in a 2005 documentary, saying: “One perspective held by various NGOs—which I would call extreme—is that water should be declared a human right. … The other view is that water is a grocery product. And just as every other product, it should have a market value.” Public outrage ensued. Brabeck-Letmathe says his comments were taken out of context and that water is a human right. He later proposed that people should have free access to 30 liters per day, paying only for additional use.

Compared with the water needs of agriculture and energy production, the bottled water business is barely responsible for a trickle; in Michigan, it accounts for less than 1 percent of total water usage, according to Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). But it rankles many because the natural resource gets hauled out of local watersheds for private profit, not used in the service of feeding people or keeping their lights on. There’s also, of course, the issue of plastic pollution.

In the U.S., Nestlé tends to set up shop in areas with weak water regulations or lobbies to enfeeble laws. States such as Maine and Texas operate under a remarkably lax rule from the 1800s called “absolute capture,” which lets landowners take all the groundwater they want. Michigan, New York, and other states have stricter laws, allowing “reasonable use,” which means property owners can extract water as long as it doesn’t unreasonably affect other wells or the aquifer system. Laws vary even within states. New Hampshire is a reasonable-use state, but in 2006, the municipality of Barnstead became the first nationwide to ban the pumping of its water for sale elsewhere.

Towns in Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have turned away Nestlé. In Washington, the mayor of Waitsburg, Walt Gobel, resigned last year after it was revealed that he’d conducted secret talks with the company about building a $50 million plant. “The representatives asked for confidentiality of this proposal until they could determine the feasibility,” Gobel wrote in his resignation letter. Town leaders later voted to reject Nestlé’s advances.

Elsewhere, Nestlé has largely prevailed against opposition. In Fryeburg, Maine, it took the company four years to successfully appeal a zoning board resolution to build a facility it said it needed for its Poland Spring line. Last year it gained rights to extract water for the next 20 years—and perhaps 25 more after that. In San Bernardino, Calif., Nestlé has long paid the U.S. Forest Service an annual rate of $524 to extract about 30 million gallons, even during droughts. “Our public agencies have dropped the ball,” says Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, which focuses on water issues. “Every gallon of water that is taken out of a natural system for bottled water is a gallon of water that doesn’t flow down a stream, that doesn’t support a natural ecosystem,” he says.

 

Nestlé isn’t the only bottled water company operating in Michigan, but it’s the most controversial. Pepsi and Coca-Cola bottle municipal water from Detroit for their Aquafina and Dasani brands, respectively; they pay city rates, then sell the product back for profit. In Mecosta County, Nestlé sucks up spring water directly from the source, which water conservationists say does more damage to the flow of streams, rivers, and wetland ecology. Municipal supplies come from larger bodies of water, so massive depletions, they argue, have less of an impact. Nestlé’s chief of sustainability, Nelson Switzer, responds: “Water is a renewable resource. As long as you manage the area, water will flow in perpetuity.”

Nestlé purchased Ice Mountain from Pepsi in 2000 and moved the production facilities from the East Coast to mountain-less Mecosta. State and local officials appreciated the business and offered a $13 million, one-time tax break. When people found out that Nestlé was pumping water in their backyards, however, they formed an opposition group, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. Spearheaded by retired librarians and teachers, the group added more than 2,000 members statewide, enlisted the land-and-water-rights lawyer Jim Olson, and filed a lawsuit to stop Nestlé.

The case dragged on for eight years and cost the group more than $1 million. To raise money, it charged membership fees and threw fundraisers. “Garage sales twice a year, Texas Hold ’em, raffles, a few grants from nonprofits,” says President Peggy Case, a retired schoolteacher who rigged her own water towers to irrigate the gardens on her 35-acre property.

In 2003 a judge ruled against Nestlé, saying that data documenting three years of extraction by the company showed a significant depletion of the area’s streams and wetlands. Nestlé appealed, and the case lasted six more years before the two parties settled in 2009. Nestlé would reduce pumping from 400 gallons per minute to 218, with further restrictions in spring and summer, which residents hoped would limit the environmental impact.

Even before the settlement, Nestlé had expanded its operation beyond Mecosta County to neighboring Osceola County. For access to municipal wells in the city of Evart and one nonmunicipal well nearby, the company promised to fund 14 acres of new softball fields, plus a bullpen and lockers, for the high school team. The school superintendent, Howard Hyde, told the Grand Rapids Press in March 2005: “I’m tickled. It’s like Christmas. Our current fields are pretty nice, but these are going to be better.”

More than 44 percent of Evart’s 1,500 residents live below the poverty line, according to Data USA. Officials were disappointed that Nestlé built its Ice Mountain plant in Mecosta, which cost the city 280 jobs, but they were grateful for the roughly $250,000 Nestlé pays Evart annually for its water. “[If they left], our services would decline,” says Zackary Szakacs, the city manager.

In addition to the softball fields, Nestlé has helped Evart finance other upgrades, including new well houses for its municipal water, parks, and a fairground that hosts a dulcimer festival in July. For decades the fairground was also home to Evart’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration, attended by as many as 10,000 locals. In 2015, Nestlé discovered contamination in the watershed from perchlorate in those fireworks. The carcinogen is banned only in Massachusetts and California, which is why Evart hadn’t been testing for it. But because Nestlé sells in all 50 states, says Szakacs, none of its water can test positive for the chemical. The company has since stopped pumping from affected wells and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean them up.

At 58, Szakacs has snow-white hair, a goatee, a gruff voice, and a love of fishing and Coors Light. A former policeman, he’d moved to Evart in 2006 to be chief. His office at Evart City Hall is within walking distance of the pumping station where a steady stream of 12,500-gallon trucks arrive each day to pick up water for the Ice Mountain factory. Szakacs isn’t worried about Evart’s springs. “Look, we’ve got plenty of water, more water than you can imagine,” he says. “We’ve got rivers, and streams, and fish—bass, trout.”

Last Halloween, however, Garret Ellison, an environmental reporter for MLive and the Grand Rapids Press, discovered that Nestlé had applied for a permit to more than double its pumping rate at the well near Evart, to 400 gallons per minute—the same rate that was ruled harmful in Mecosta. Anticipating approval, Nestlé had invested $36 million to build an 80,000-square-foot addition to its Ice Mountain plant and applied for another permit for a booster station to help pump the additional flow. Michigan’s DEQ had all but approved the application for the increased pumping rate without allowing for a period of public comment.

After Ellison’s story went live, the department received more than 1,100 emails in three days (the number is now 81,000). “It sent a shock wave through most communities in Michigan,” says Olson, the lawyer, who filed an injunction with the nonprofit rights group For Love of Water demanding that the department extend its comment period and release relevant documents for review. Nestlé now awaits a decision on whether it will be allowed to increase pumping at the well near Evart. In late July the DEQ asked the company to produce data showing that higher pumping rates wouldn’t damage the environment, numbers that Nestlé plans to submit on Sept. 29.

Arlene Anderson-Vincent, a natural resource manager for Nestlé, says the uptick won’t damage the ecosystem. “The water here is constantly being replenished, much more quickly than we can pump,” says Anderson-Vincent, who was born and raised in Michigan and got a bachelor’s degree in geology from Michigan State University while working at General Motors as a welder. Nestlé has collected 17 years’ worth of data evaluating groundwater levels and stream flow—and although, she concedes, the wetlands in Mecosta might not have withstood 400 gallons per minute, Evart’s can. “Every well is different,” she says.

Nestlé’s data doesn’t make “reliable assumptions about real world conditions,” says Olson. “We know our glacial soils in Michigan, and we know our vegetation. You can pretty much take the old case [in Mecosta] as a predictor” of environmental impact.

Six months after Ellison’s reporting, on a chilly evening in April, more than 500 people filed into a large auditorium at Ferris State University near the Ice Mountain plant. They’d come from all across Michigan to take part in the DEQ’s public hearing on Nestlé, but they had more on their mind than Evart. “We took a bus here from Flint because we’re tired of bottled water, tired of Nestlé, tired of them making a profit off of our disaster,” said Bernadel Jefferson, a pastor and activist who arrived with a dozen other protesters.

It’s impossible to talk about water in Michigan without raising the crisis in Flint. Beginning in 2014 thousands of families were exposed to dangerous levels of lead and bacteria in tap water. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder cut costs by switching the city’s water source, after which the state failed to properly treat the water with anticorrosives. An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease killed at least 12 people and led to manslaughter charges against five state and city officials. Snyder also tried, unsuccessfully, to block a federal court order forcing the state to deliver bottled water to residents. He argued that, at an estimated $10.5 million a month, it would be too costly, put more trucks on the road, and overwhelm Flint’s recycling system.

Nestlé is quick to point out that it has nothing to do with the water problems in Flint or elsewhere. “What happened in Flint, and what’s happening in other communities in the United States, is absolutely outrageous,” says Switzer, the sustainability chief. Nestlé even teamed up with Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi to donate 35,000 bottles per month to Flint residents—“for schoolchildren,” he says.

But since the crisis, Flint residents have paid thousands of dollars to purchase bottled water for drinking, cooking, washing, and bathing. “Between 2005 and 2016, Nestlé has taken over 4 billion gallons of our water for pennies and sold it back to us for huge profits,” said Case, the opposition group president, the first of about 50 people to speak at the hearing. “Meanwhile, the people of Flint have been forced to use this bottled water for several years and are required to pay some of the highest water bills in the country for undrinkable water. The people of Detroit have experienced massive shutoffs since 2014, with up to 90,000 people shut off at times. If Detroiters could pay Nestlé rates, few would owe more than a dollar, and the majority would owe less than a dime.”

Case’s three-minute speech got a standing ovation. Onstage, two DEQ employees listened in silence. “F--- the DEQ,” a man from Flint yelled into the microphone, holding up his middle fingers. Three hours later, past 10 p.m., the hearing ended. The DEQ employees shuffled offstage, refusing to comment.

Nestlé maintains that its subsidiary is a good steward of the land. An emailed statement from corporate headquarters says: “With a third of its factories already operating in water-stressed areas, water availability is and will increasingly be a major risk to Nestlé Waters. This is why water stewardship at both factory and watershed level remains an integral approach to our business strategy.”

Environmental activists counter that multinationals shouldn’t be in charge of protecting water. But these companies seem more poised to do so than some state and local officials. There’s even a Davos-style event called the World Water Forum, whose stated mission is to “put water firmly on the international agenda.” In March, 40,000 people are expected to convene in Brasilia, Brazil. The occasion isn’t without its critics. In an April blog post, water-rights activist Maude Barlow wrote, “It is a corporate trade show organized by the World Water Council—a multi-stakeholder consortium promoting solutions to the water crisis that serve the interests of multinational corporations.”

A tool for conservationists might be the public trust doctrine, which says natural resources belong to the public. The principle dates back at least 1,500 years; in 1215, it was invoked to prohibit the British Crown from transferring valuable fisheries to private lords because seabeds belonged to the people. David Zetland, author of Living With Water Scarcity, says governments must decide how much water they want to protect under the public trust doctrine and the rest should be divvied up on the open market. “Political allocation is usually corrupt,” he says. Olson doesn’t think a market is a good idea. “The poorest among us have the same rights and should enjoy the same basic access and enjoyment of water as the wealthiest,” he says.

Down a dirt road in Traverse City, about an hour’s drive from Evart, Case is standing in her garden, harvesting fat stalks of asparagus. A neighbor’s dog, a black-and-white mutt left with one eye after a porcupine run-in, follows her through the yard to the home she moved to from Detroit after retiring. “We grow a good portion of our food here for the entire year,” she says.

Case, echoing her comments at the Ferris State hearing, says she’ll keep fighting. “It has to do with the privatization of water and taking the people’s water and making a profit from it, an exorbitant profit, a ridiculous profit, when there are people with no water at all, or people with poisoned water,” she says. “We don’t believe water should be owned by anybody. It’s a public right.” Depending on how Michigan rules on Nestlé’s bid to pump more water in Evart, Case’s group may take legal action. How it will pay to challenge the Swiss conglomerate a second time, she doesn’t know. “We might,” she says, “end up back in bake sales.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-09-21/nestl-makes-billions-bottling-water-it-pays-nearly-nothing-for
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