The free market is an impossible utopia

July 24th, 2014

- This is one of the best things I’ve read in some time.  

- Will it be generally appealing?   I don’t think so.  

- Most of us just want simple understandings and good guys and bad guys.  We only need look around to see that sound bites predominate in the discussions among the average man.  

- Among these, I would include the “Free Marketeers“.   They want a world made of good guys and bad guys and a simple idealistic world in which entrepreneurs are absolutely free, where market economics solves all problems, and where all forms of government control simply withers away before the market’s profound self-balancing wisdom.

- This article says it cannot be so.

- dennis

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Article by Henry Farrell of The Washington Post about a book, The Power of Market FUNDAMENTALISM, by Fred Block and Margaret R. Somers:

Fred Block (research professor of sociology at University of California at Davis) and Margaret Somers (professor of sociology and history at the University of Michigan) have a new book, “The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique” (Harvard University Press, 2014). The book argues that the ideas of Karl Polanyi, the author of “The Great Transformation,” a classic of 20th century political economy, are crucial if you want to understand the recession and its aftermath. I asked the authors a series of questions.

HF - Your book argues for the continued relevance of Karl Polanyi’s work, especially “The Great Transformation.” What are the ideas at the core of Polanyi’s thought?

FB & MS – Polanyi’s core thesis is that there is no such thing as a free market; there never has been, nor can there ever be. Indeed he calls the very idea of an economy independent of government and political institutions a “stark utopia”—utopian because it is unrealizable, and the effort to bring it into being is doomed to fail and will inevitably produce dystopian consequences. While markets are necessary for any functioning economy, Polanyi argues that the attempt to create a market society is fundamentally threatening to human society and the common goodIn the first instance the market is simply one of many different social institutions; the second represents the effort to subject not just real commodities (computers and widgets) to market principles but virtually all of what makes social life possible, including clean air and water, education, health care, personal, legal, and social security, and the right to earn a livelihood. When these public goods and social necessities (what Polanyi calls “fictitious commodities”) are treated as if they are commodities produced for sale on the market, rather than protected rights, our social world is endangered and major crises will ensue.

Free market doctrine aims to liberate the economy from government “interference”, but Polanyi challenges the very idea that markets and governments are separate and autonomous entities. Government action is not some kind of “interference” in the autonomous sphere of economic activity; there simply is no economy without government rules and institutions. It is not just that society depends on roads, schools, a justice system, and other public goods that only government can provide. It is thatall of the key inputs into the economy—land, labor, and money—are only created and sustained through continuous government action. The employment system, the arrangements for buying and selling real estate, and the supplies of money and credit are organized and maintained through the exercise of government’s rules, regulations, and powers.

By claiming it is free-market advocates who are the true utopians, Polanyi helps explain the free market’s otherwise puzzlingly tenacious appeal: It embodies a perfectionist ideal of a world without “coercive” constraints on economic activities while it fiercely represses the fact that power and coercion are the unacknowledged features of all market participation.

- More… :arrow:

A private E-Mail

May 27th, 2014
- This is a private E-Mail I wrote recently which addresses ideas that I think we should all give some thought to.  It is an American-centric piece but it has implications for everyone.
- dennis
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There are things that benefit the population of the country broadly. This is, of course, the old idea about how a rising tide lifts all boats.  But there are also things that benefit a country disproportionately wherein the richest among us reap most of the benefits while the poorest reap virtually none.
Trade agreements negotiated in the past, with NAFTA being a good example, have promised at their outsets a lifting of everyone’s boats.  But in after-the-fact analyses, it’s been shown that such agreements have rarely lived up to their promises to benefit everyone.  And when there was benefit, it’s invariably been to the richest among us.

Indeed, if we look to see who the proponents of such trade agreements are, they not the average person on the street.  They are the corporate movers and shakers.  And they sell the idea to us on its supposed benefits for all of us while their actual motivations lie with those benefits that will accrue to them.

When Freddie questions my use of the word “inexplicable” as I’m discussing Obama’s apparent support for the TPPA, and when John responds to my concerns about the agreement by saying that if no other politician than Elizabeth Warren has deep concerns about it, then he’s comfortable with Obama’s handling of the issue, then I think I can intuit in both of their responses, an implicit assumption that Pres. Obama is truly a man who is doing the best he can and a man who’s working for the interests of all Americans equally.

And, in fact, I agree strongly with both of those statements.   Like Kael, I supported Obama’s candidacy in 2008 and I recall clearly having tears in my eyes when he won and feeling that some of the promise of America was still existent when such a thing could happen.

And I also get that Pres. Obama is indeed facing a hostile Congress and that he has to balance the spending of his political capital in such a way as to get as to get what he can given the situation he’s facing.

I get all of that. my friends.

But it seems weak tea to me and I’ll tell you why.
You see, my cynicism has grown since those heady election days and little of my new cynicism actually has to do with our President.
It has to do with the recognition that perhaps, while the Conservatives wanted very much to win the Presidency in 2008 to make their task easier, they didn’t consider it absolutely essential because they knew that they’d already usurped the system at deeper levels than any popularly elected President actually could interfere with.

We all know that the best interests of the American people are decisively not being served by the ongoing regulatory capture of United States legislative processes by big money.

And you will have all seen articles in the popular press in these last months stating that there is a growing perception that the United States is losing the ability to call itself a democracy because it’s legislative processes are ever more beholding to big money. These articles are saying that the country is evolving into an oligarchy or a plutocracy.   I don’t think these articles are spurious and sensationalistic.  Some of them have their roots in considered academic research.

For a country that sees itself as a beacon of personal freedom and an icon of democracy, this is deadly stuff indeed.

And it is not a new thing.
I can show you quotes from Napoleon – who was disparaging the bankers of his day:
“When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes… Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.
 
- Napoleon Bonaparte – 1815
And I can show you quotes from Theodore Roosevelt who was taking the financiers of his day to task:
 
Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.
 
- Theodore Roosevelt
and I know I don’t need to quote to you the remarks made by Pres. Eisenhower talking about the military-industrial complex in the 1950’s. 
 
The interference of big money in our political process is not a new thing.
Like all things it goes in cycles, sometimes better and sometimes worse. We are in a particularly bad period now

In our time,  corporations have become people.  The limits on corporations donating money to political campaigns has almost no limits.   And (I note with a nod to the process Freddie described to us) how laws are made now through a series of competing submissions from lobbyists on both sides of an issue to the legislative staff who then make quick judgments about which side they favor more and then move onto the next thing.

The days of our legislators carefully crafting laws designed to benefit the American people in general are gone.

The days of one-man-one-vote, in terms of influence, are gone.
The days in which popular elections actually decided the larger directions of the country also appear to me to be gone.

None of these facts can be lost on Pres. Obama.  Nor on anyone else who’s a keen observer of the American political process.

So, when I hear that President Obama is doing the best he can and that he is conserving his political capital in order to use it in the most effectively manner possible to eke out a few small victories here and there against the rising tide of corporate and big money domination, I wonder just what he’s optimizing and what it is he thinks he is conserving?

President Obama is in his second term now so he has no more election prospects ahead of him. And, if he’s conserving his political capital in order to benefit future office holders, then I have to wonder at the wisdom of that.  Because if they too conserve their political capital to benefit the office holders that come after them, and so on, then I just see a chain of delaying tactics which are certain to lose in the end.

When Freddie questioned my use of the word inexplicable”, he was asking me what do I really want to see happen?  He was asking if I have a better idea than what’s actually going on now?

Well, I do.

When playing by the rule book no longer works and you can see that the long-term trend is ever more losses, then it’s time for a new rule book.
Here are two examples of new thinking:

This is something that occurred on TV in 2011 that I thought was especially telling when I saw it. The news anchor lost his temper at the folks he was interviewing from the Democratic and Republican parties; both of whom were urging short-term solutions that were for their own party’s benefit in its battle against the other and without much if any thought to the long-term consequences to and needs of the country.

And here’s another article that appeared in the Nation magazine recently in which an activist calls for us to completely throw over the idea of “Earth Day” and get on with something more radical because, as he says, the green ethic, the working within the system, the let’s-all-recycle-together, ideology is simply not working and it’s time we recognize the deep and profound truth of this fact.  As a strategy to effect significant change to improve our ecological future, it has been a huge failure.
I resonated deeply with both of these examples.   I too am tired of strategies that doesn’t work, of analyses that should convince reasonable people that we have deep systemic problems, but which seemingly convince no one.

So what do I want?

I want the president, who’s in his second term and has little to lose, to come out and state the bald faced truth using the unmatchable bully pulpit he has access to.
I want him to do this point-blank for the future of America, for the future of the world and for the future of our children.

If he is truly for all Americans equally, and I actually believe he is, then he needs to realize that coming out and using his unparalleled access to the global media to reach people is the strongest lever he has to wake us up to the sad truth of what is happening to us.

His waffling around now preserving his political capital and eking out a few small victories here and there is a game of slow defense that is sure to only delay the ultimate outcome and leave the real issues in the shadows.   

 
His not stating the truths that are crying to be spoken boldly, the truths that deserve to be discussed over every dinner table in America, is to me a failure on his part to realize where his real leverage lies and how great the need is to break strongly with the business-as-usual way of doing things in favor of disrupting the current “let’s not talk about the real substantive issues” approach.
His trying to do things like balance off the recognition of impending long-term environmental disasters for burning more carbon against the short-term jobs that the keystone pipeline might bring to the public is, in my opinion, a failure to recognize that this is his moment to make real history.  To make history that will be remembered far into the future.
If there are still people around in the future to write the history of these times, and I think there will be, they will see us as having deluded ourselves about the problems facing us.  They will see us as having fiddled while Rome burned.
Who among us has the pulpit he has available?  Who has the credibility available and has the time he has remaining in office to speak truth to power and to call into the light all that is hidden in the shadows?
I’m speaking of the deep corruption of the legislative processes by money, the revolving door system between industry jobs and government regulators, the Teflon power of Wall Street that is, incredibly, too-big-to-fail.  The rise of corporations to citizen hood and the loosening of corporate purses to legally buy elections?

Like Roosevelt and Eisenhower before him he needs to stand up and say the truth.  Call it what it is.  And make a huge clamor about it.  Even if it brings the country into an enormous state of agitation.   

 
Because I will tell you, my friends, that the amount of agitation he might cause now will be well worth it if it results in significant reforms.  And if he does not act or if he acts and gets no result, then any agitation generated will pale before the other destinies that await us.

To quote Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night.

We are living in a world where most of the major economic systems we have employed, are based on the need for constant growth in order to retain their health.   How mathematical does one have to be to see that this is a completely incompatible idea with the simple fact that we are living on the planet of finite size.

There’s a truth that Should be stated as baldly as possible before the global populace because we as a species need to make some choices about it or we are going to suffer terribly.

The influence of money on the American political process is completely corrosive to the ideas of one-man-one-vote, to the idea of having a truly representative Democracy, to the idea that our legislators should be chosen by the people they are to represent and not by money focused to prejudice the outcome.

That’s the truth that should be shouted from every house top.  And who better than this president in his second term with the good reputation that he has and with the finest pulpit in the world at his disposal?

What are he and those like him waiting for? Do they assume that some future president will have a better pulpit?  Now is the time if ever!

So when I see half measures, when I see waffling about the keystone pipeline, when I see mixed signals coming out about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, then yes I’m deeply concerned that even this president, whom I highly respect, hasn’t realized the position he’s in and the possibilities open to him to use his position to try to affect some real change in America and in the world.  To at least try to create a conversation around every dinner table in America about the real issues.

But, to be skeptical for a moment, I suspected decades ago, when both of the Kennedy brothers were killed, that they were killed because they were not beholding to the existing political machinery of the time.  That they were considered to be loose cannons, to be too much of a danger to the existing order to be allowed to continue.

So, perhaps people like Obama know this and they know their limits.  That they know that even though they hold the title of President of United States, they still have a very small range of motion within which they can move safely.

I’ve said this next bit before.
My prognosis for the United States, if nothing significant changes, is that it is moving either towards a revolution or towards becoming a police state.

The stories that matter are not being reported in the American media because they’re owned by large business.   If you cannot see this, it is because you don’t miss what you never had.  Make an effort to read the world’s press to see how it all looks from the outside and give up the idea that the foreign press is just distorting everything from some misguided notion of hating America

The reasons why America goes to war are always touted to be for the dignity and freedom of foreign people.  But many of us realize that the real driving force behind the reason America goes to war is the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about.

These are large and very difficult truths.

There are many large and difficult truths lying about our feet and there have been such for sometime now.

The gathering of wealth by the 1%, the lessening buying power of the average American working man since the mid-70s, the capturing of the legislative process by big money, the dumbing down of America news reporting, and a whole host of other things are plagues on the American democracy – formerly such a bright spot in a dismal world history.

Those who would keep things the way they are are doing so because of their own profit motives. They sow disinformation into the media sphere to confuse the public.   They say there is no global climate change.  There is no military industrial complex. America is the moral policeman of the world,   Carbon fuels are not a problem.  The oceans are not rising.  The trade agreements being contemplated between the U.S. and Europe and the U.S. and the Pacific nations are simply about opening free trade.  American medicine and medical care is the best in the world.  Social Democracies are economic failures.  The NSA and the CIA are simply developing their intelligence assets to protect American interests against foreign threats.  Congress is not controlled by big money.  The American justice system is equally fair to people of all levels of affluence.

When I look at blog entries on the Internet and then read all the commentary that follows the articles, I find that there’s always a firestorm between liberal and conservative ideas.  Those people, for the most part, are convinced that they are fighting over the issues that matter.  When, in fact, they are all deluded.  The real systemic ills of America are seldom articulated there.

The issues they squabble over are illusions.  Because long-ago people at a higher level who are much smarter than the average bear realized how to undercut the entire process of politics in America and they grabbed the levers and gears of what actually controls things.
<10313061_10152069949762688_1434304502425871861_n.jpg>It is in their best interest that the American public continues to believe they’re engaged in debates that have meaning.  Debates about gun-control, debates about religion, debates about patriotism, debates about everything and anything but the things that really matter. I.e., who has really got the power?

In all of this enormous mess there are very few remaining people who actually have the power to be able to speak to the American public about it through the media without being filtered.

Pres. Obama is one of the very few who might be able to do this.   So, Freddie that is what I would like to have happen.

The direction America is headed in is not going to be changed by half measures nor by the conservation of political capital. They’re only going to be changed by serious and radical actions.

After a lifetime of working to achieve his goals, Pres. Obama has finally arrived at the pinnacle of American politics system.

If anyone is to speak out, he’s the one to speak, he’s the one to tell us the truth – to show us what’s behind the curtains.  He’s the one hope we have that things are not just going to go on and on into disaster.
 
So yes, I am disappointed in President Obama.  I think he, potentially, is one of the few bright hopes we have left for real change.  But he won’t realize it by waffling his bets.  
 
It’s time, as the writer who advocated dropping Earth Day implied, to drop all pretenses of being polite and to drop staying between the lines.  We are way past the 11th hour and midnight approaches.

 

Let This Earth Day Be The Last

May 22nd, 2014

- Strong words, these.  But my own frustrations with all that is not happening run deep as well.   When you can see that the car is being driven in the wrong direction and you can see that things are going to work out badly, how long should you persist in politely asking the driver to turn?  

Until you are financially at risk?  Until your health is at risk?  Until your life and the lives of your children are at risk?

- There have to be limits.

-dennis

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“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle.” 
—Frederick Douglass, 1857

Fuck Earth Day.

No, really. Fuck Earth Day. Not the first one, forty-four years ago, the one of sepia-hued nostalgia, but everything the day has since come to be: the darkest, cruelest, most brutally self-satirizing spectacle of the year.

Fuck it. Let it end here.

End the dishonesty, the deception. Stop lying to yourselves, and to your children. Stop pretending that the crisis can be “solved,” that the planet can be “saved,” that business more-or-less as usual—what progressives and environmentalists have been doing for forty-odd years and more—is morally or intellectually tenable. Let go of the pretense that “environmentalism” as we know it—virtuous green consumerism, affluent low-carbon localism, head-in-the-sand conservationism, feel-good greenwashed capitalism—comes anywhere near the radical response our situation requires.

So, yeah, I’ve had it with Earth Day—and the culture of progressive green denial it represents.

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But why Frederick Douglass? Why bring him into this? And who am I to invoke him—a man who was born a slave and who freed himself from slavery, who knew something about struggle, whose words were among the most radical ever spoken on American soil? Who the hell am I? I’ve never suffered racial or any other kind of oppression. I’ve never had to fight for any fundamental rights. I’m not even a radical, really. (Nor am I an “environmentalist”—and never have been.) All I want is a livable world, and the possibility of social justice. So who am I to quote Frederick Douglass?

Let me tell you who I am: I’m a human being. I’m the father of two young children, a 14-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, who face a deeply uncertain future on this planet. I’m a husband, a son, a brother—and a citizen. And, yes, I’m a journalist, and I’m an activist. And like more and more of us who are fighting for climate justice, I am engaged in a struggle—a struggle—for the fate of humanity and of life on Earth. Not a polite debate around the dinner table, or in a classroom, or an editorial meeting—or an Earth Day picnic. I’m talking about a struggle. A struggle for justice on a global scale. A struggle for human dignity and human rights for my fellow human beings, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable, far and near. A struggle for my own children’s future—but not only my children, all of our children, everywhere. A life-and-death struggle for the survival of all that I love. Because that is what the climate fight and the fight for climate justice is. That’s what it is.

Because, I’m sorry, this is not a test. This is really happening. The Arctic and the glaciers are melting. The great forests are dying and burning. The oceans are rising and acidifying. The storms, the floods—the droughts and heat waves—are intensifying. The breadbaskets are parched and drying. And all of it faster and sooner than scientists predicted. The window in which to act is closing before our eyes.

Any discussion of the situation must begin by acknowledging the science and the sheer lateness of the hour—that the chance for any smooth, gradual transition has passed, that without radical change the kind of livable and just future we all want is simply inconceivable. The international community has, of course, committed to keeping the global temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above the preindustrial average—the level, we’re told, at which “catastrophic” warming can still be avoided (we’ve already raised it almost one degree, with still more “baked in” within coming decades). But there’s good reason to believe that a rise of two degrees will lead to catastrophic consequences. And of course, what’s “catastrophic” depends on where you live, and how poor you are, and more often than not the color of your skin. If you’re one of the billions of people who live in the poorest and most vulnerable places—from Bangladesh to Louisiana—even 1 degree can mean catastrophe.

But the world’s climate scientists and leading energy experts are telling us that unless the major economies drastically and immediately change course—leaving all but a small fraction of fossil fuel reserves in the ground over the next four decades—we are headed for a temperature rise of four or five or even six degrees C within this century. The World Bank haswarned that four degrees “must be avoided.” But we’re not avoiding it. Global emissions are still rising each year. We’re plunging headlong toward the worst-case scenarios—critical global food and water shortages, rapid sea-level rise, social upheaval—and beyond.

The question is not whether we’re going to “stop” global warming, or “solve” the climate crisis; it is whether humanity will act quickly and decisively enough now to save civilization itself—in any form worth saving. Whether any kind of stable, humane and just future—any kind of just society—is still possible.

We know that if the governments of the world actually wanted to address this situation in a serious way, they could. Indeed, a select few, such as Germany, have begun to do so. It can be done—and at relatively low cost. And yet the fossil-fuel industry, and those who do its bidding, have been engaged in a successful decades-long effort to sow confusion, doubt and opposition—and to obstruct any serious policies that might slow the warming, or their profits, and buy us time.

As I’ve said elsewhere, let’s be clear about what this means: at this late date, given what we know and have known for decades, to willfully obstruct any serious response to global warming is to knowingly allow entire countries and cultures to disappear. It is to rob the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet of their land, their homes, their livelihoods, even their lives and their children’s lives—and their children’s children’s lives. For money. For political power.

These are crimes. They are crimes against the Earth, and they are crimes against humanity.

What, are you shocked? The same industry, the same people committing these crimes—while we subsidize them for their trouble—have been getting away with murder along the fence lines and front lines for generations.

What is the proper response to this? How should I respond?

Remain calm, we’re told. No “scare tactics” or “hysterics,” please. Cooler heads will prevail. Enjoy the Earth Day festivities.

Fuck that.

The cooler heads have not prevailed. It’s been a quarter-century since the alarm was sounded. The cooler heads have failed.

You want sweet, cool-headed reason?

How about this? Masses of people—most of them young, a generation with little or nothing to lose—physically, nonviolently disrupting the fossil-fuel industry and the institutions that support it and abet it. Getting in the way of business as usual. Forcing the issue. Finally acting as though we accept what the science is telling us.

Um, isn’t that a bit extreme? you ask.

Really? You want extreme? Business as usual is extreme. Just ask a climate scientist. The building is burning. The innocents—the poor, the oppressed, the children, your own children—are inside. And the American petro state is spraying fuel, not water, on the flames. That’s more than extreme. It’s homicidal. It’s psychopathic. It’s fucking insane.

* * *

Coming to grips with the climate crisis is hard. A friend of mine says it’s like walking around with a knife in your chest. I couldn’t agree more.

So I ask again, in the face of this situation, how does one respond? Many of us, rather than retreat into various forms of denial and fatalism, have reached the conclusion that somethingmore than “environmentalism” is called for, and that a new kind of movement is the only option. That the only thing, at this late hour, offering any chance of averting an unthinkable future—and of getting through the crisis that’s already upon us—is the kind of radical social and political movement that has altered the course of history in the past. A movement far less like contemporary environmentalism and far more like the radical human rights, social justice and liberation struggles of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Does that sound hopelessly naïve to you? Trust me, I get it. I know. I know how it sounds.

And yet here I am. Because I also know that abolishing slavery sounded hopeless and naïve in 1857, when Frederick Douglass spoke of struggle.

What I’m talking about is not a fight to “solve the climate crisis.” That’s not possible anymore. But neither is it simply a fight for human survival—because there are oppressive and dystopian forms of survival, not to mention narcissistic ones, that aren’t worth fighting for.

What I’m talking about is both a fight for survival and a fight for justice—for even the possibility of justice. It’s a fight that transcends environmentalism. It requires something of us beyond the usual politics and proposals, the usual pieties. It requires the kind of commitment you find in radical movements—the kind of struggles, from abolition to women’s, labor and civil rights, that have made possible what was previously unimaginable.

Because our global crisis—not merely environmental but moral and spiritual—is fundamental: it strikes to the root of who we are. It’s a radical situation, requiring a radical response. Not merely radical in the sense of ideology, but a kind of radical necessity. It requires us to find out who we really are—and, nonviolently, in the steps of Gandhi and King and many others, to act. In some cases, to lay everything—everything—on the line.

And it requires us to be honest, with one another and with ourselves, about the situation we face. We’ll never have a movement radical enough, or humane enough, until we are.

That is, until Earth Day is buried—and a day of reckoning begins.

- To the original article:   :arrow:

America Is Declining at the Same Warp Speed That’s Minting Billionaires and Destroying the Middle Class

May 20th, 2014

Not a single U.S. city ranks among the world’s most livable cities

“The game is rigged,” writes Senator Elizabeth Warren in her new book A Fighting Chance. It’s rigged because the rich and their lobbyists have rigged the rules of the game to their favor. The rules are reflected in a tax code and bankruptcy laws that have seen the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich in U.S. history.

The result?

America has the most billionaires in the world, but not a single U.S. city ranks among the world’s most livable cities. Not a single U.S. airport is among the top 100 airports in the world. Our bridges, roads and rails are falling apart, and our middle class is being gutted out thanks to three decades of stagnant wages, while the top 1 percent enjoys 95 percent of all economic gains.

A rigged tax code and a bloated military budget are starving the federal and state governments of the revenue it needs to invest in infrastructure, which means today America looks increasingly like a Third World nation, and now new data shows America’s intellectual resources are also in decline.

For the past three decades, the Republican Party has waged a dangerous assault on the very idea of public education. Tax cuts for the rich have been balanced with spending cuts to education. During the New Deal era of the 1940s to 1970s, public schools were the great leveler of America. They were our great achievement. It was universal education for all, but today it’s education for those fortunate enough to be born into wealthy families or live in wealthy school districts. The right’s strategy of defunding public education leaves parents with the option of sending their kids to a for-profit school or a theological school that teaches kids our ancestors kept dinosaurs as pets.

“What kind of future society the defectors from the public school rolls envision I cannot say. However, having spent some time in the Democratic Republic of Congo—a war-torn hellhole with one of those much coveted limited central governments, and, not coincidentally, a country in which fewer than half the school-age population goes to public school—I can say with certainty that I don’t want to live there,” writes Chuck Thompson in Better off Without Em.

Comparisons with the Democratic Republic of Congo are not that far-fetched given the results of a recent report by Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which is the first comprehensive survey of the skills adults need to work in today’s world, in literacy, numeracy and technology proficiency. The results are terrifying. According to the report, 36 million American adults have low skills.

It gets worse. In two of the three categories tested, numeracy and technological proficiency, young Americans who are on the cusp of entering the workforce—ages 16 to 24—rank dead last, and is third from the bottom in numeracy for 16- to 65-year-olds.

The United States has a wide gap between its best performers and its worst performers. And it had the widest gap in scores between people with rich, educated parents and poor, undereducated parents, which is exactly what Third World countries look like, i.e. a highly educated super class at the top and a highly undereducated underclass at the bottom, with very little in the middle.

The report shows a relationship between inequalities in skills and inequality in income. “How literacy skills are distributed across a population also has significant implications on how economic and social outcomes are distributed within the society. If large proportions of adults have low reading and numeracy skills, introducing and disseminating productivity-improving technologies and work-organization practices can be hampered; that, in turn, will stall improvements in living standards,” write the authors of the report.

- To the Original article: :arrow:

Net Neutrality may be on the ropes

May 3rd, 2014

- Big money interests don’t give up.   They see the possibility to extract more profits for themselves from a ‘controlled’ Internet and the goal of increasing profits is their one aim.  The idea that it might disadvantage the rest of us simply doesn’t come into it.

- As I have said before, these situations come about because we, humanity, have not come to a clear decision about what our civilization should be about.

- Should we choose to make it a civilization which has the optimization of the quality of life for all of us as its highest priority?

- Or will we allow it to continue, by default, to be a Darwinian stage upon which we all struggle and in which the strongest cyclically and repeatedly corner the power and wealth of the world?   And these cyclic struggles to be periodically  punctuated by wars as different dominant factions vie or by revolutions because the unreasonably repressed and disadvantaged revolt against the unfairness.

- The calls for revolution are growing even now.

- A few years ago, I read the Rifters Trilogy (SciFi) by Peter Watts.  These were Starfish (July 1999), Maelstrom (October 2001) and Behemoth: Seppuku (December 2004).  Excellent books all.

- But what stuck with me from this series was Watts’ prediction that the world’s Internet would at some point be divided up into smaller regional units as a way of dealing with the rise of viruses, malware and attempts by various factions to control the medium of discourse.  

- Interestingly, Europeans are talking about doing just that as are some other countries.  

- Within such regional Internets, each region could have the Internet it wants.  

- And between regional Internets, the interfaces would be a matter of negotiation between regions.   Today, we can see the beginnings of such separations when we observe the Great Firewall of China.

- It is sad that it will come to this but, until we decide on a world for all of us rather than a world for the strong and greedy, we will inevitably have the conflicts and power grabs that will lead us down this road.

- dennis

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Net NeutralityLast week, an obscure but potentially internet-transforming document was leaked from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. It revealed that government regulators are considering rules that would give big companies a chance to make their online services run faster than smaller ones.

The proposed rules were revealed in the New York Timesand they would overturn the principle of “network neutrality” on the internet. Put simply, network neutrality allows you to use services from rich companies like Google and small startups with equal speed through your ISP. You can read a blog hosted on somebody’s home server, and it loads just as quickly as a blog on Tumblr.

Without network neutrality, Tumblr could cut a deal with your ISP — let’s say it’s Comcast — and its blogs would load really quickly while that home server blog might take minutes to load pictures. It might not even load at all. You can see why people in the freedom-of-speech obsessed United States might not be happy with chucking network neutrality. It privileges some speech over others, based on financial resources.

At the same time, ISPs would love to end network neutrality because they want to charge more to major players like Netflix in order to support their streaming content. Now, it looks like the FCC is thinking seriously about letting ISPs have what they want.

Over at Slate, lawyer Marvin Ammori sums up:

The FCC is going to propose that cable and phone companies such as Verizon, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable are allowed to discriminate against them, giving some websites better service and others worse service. Cable and phone companies will be able to make preferred deals with the companies that can afford to pay high fees for better service. They will even be allowed to make exclusive deals, such as making MSNBC.com the only news site on Comcast in the priority tier, and relegating competitors to a slow lane. The FCC is authorizing cable and phone companies to start making different deals with thousands or millions of websites, extracting money from sites that need to load quickly and reliably. So users will notice that Netflix or Hulu works better than Amazon Prime, which buffers repeatedly and is choppy. New sites will come along and be unable to compete with established giants. If we had had such discrimination a decade ago, we would still be using MySpace, not Facebook, because Facebook would have been unable to compete.

The chairman believes he can help us in one way: He will make sure all these highly discriminatory new tolls are “commercially reasonable.” Will that matter? No. Commercially reasonable deals won’t be measured by the market. If Amazon is paying twice what eBay is paying, the FCC will only make sure each price is reasonable, not that the prices are nondiscriminatory.

He adds that this “reasonable” pricing will hardly be reasonable, unless your company is insanely rich:

So, according to the FCC, when Verizon discriminates against a startup, we shouldn’t be alarmed, because (while being discriminated against), this startup can hire a lot of expensive lawyers and expert witnesses and meet Verizon (a company worth more than $100 billion) at the FCC and litigate this issue out, with no certainty as to the rule. The startup will almost certainly lose either at the FCC or on appeal to a higher court, after bleeding money on lawyers.

Big internet service companies have been pushing the FCC to craft such regulations for years. In 2010, we wrote about a proposal from Amazon and Google, urging the FCC to adopt pay-to-play rules that would allow some companies to get their content to your eyeballs faster than smaller players. It’s no exaggeration to say that rules like this would destroy the internet as we know it.

Now it looks like the rules that Googlezon wished for are actually in process.

Writing in the New Yorker, law professor Tim Wu explains:

The new rule gives broadband providers what they’ve wanted for about a decade now: the right to speed up some traffic and degrade others. (With broadband, there is no such thing as accelerating some traffic without degrading other traffic.) We take it for granted that bloggers, start-ups, or nonprofits on an open Internet reach their audiences roughly the same way as everyone else. Now they won’t. They’ll be behind in the queue, watching as companies that can pay tolls to the cable companies speed ahead. The motivation is not complicated. The broadband carriers want to make more money for doing what they already do. Never mind that American carriers already charge some of the world’s highest prices, around sixty dollars or more per month for broadband, a service that costs less than five dollars to provide. To put it mildly, the cable and telephone companies don’t need more money.

Wu has studied corporate controls of electronic communication for most of his life, and is the author of a terrific book about telecom monopolies called The Master SwitchHe’s worked as an adviser for the FCC, and has personally talked to President Obama about the need for net neutrality. So his disappointment is palpable when he notes that the leaked rules, confirmed as real by insiders at the agency, would allow internet companies to pay ISPs payola to get their traffic privileged above others.

This is the first step toward a world where corporate monopolies on content start affecting not just what you can see and read online — but also how you gain access to it. The signal will be out there, but your ISP just won’t deliver it to you.

An internet without network neutrality will look a lot like television does now. You’ll depend entirely on your cable company to get broadcasts, and they will only deliver their handpicked channels in their cable packages. There will probably be a little room for the web equivalent of public access television, but it will be so underfunded and slow to load that almost nobody will see it.

It used to be that when a show couldn’t make it on broadcast television, we would watch it online. That’s how amazing stuff like Dr. Horrible made it into the world. But without net neutrality, we lose that option too. If a company doesn’t have the money or legal acumen to get its content included in ISP packages, you will never see its programming. You’ll never have those shows; you’ll never have those apps; and you’ll never know what you’re missing.

- To the original… :arrow:

 

LANDMARK STUDY SAYS AMERICA IS NO LONGER A DEMOCRACY

April 20th, 2014

“What world are the five conservative Supreme Court justices living in?” Sanders said after the McCutcheon ruling. “To equate the ability of billionaires to buy elections with ‘freedom of speech’ is totally absurd. The Supreme Court is paving the way toward an oligarchic form of society in which a handful of billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will control our political process.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders commenting after the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. FEC ruling

(NATIONAL) — What Senator Bernie Sanders evidently did not know when he spoke those words earlier this month is that America wasn’t just headed toward an oligarchy – a form of government in which a powerful, dominant class exercises control over the general population – but indeed had stopped being a democracy years ago and has been a full blown oligarchy for a considerable period of time.

It turns out that former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich was also wrong when in late March he wrote, “America is not yet an oligarchy,” but added that’s where a handful of billionaires are taking us.

Both men were flat wrong according to the results of a new study set to appear in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics. 

The authors of what appears to be a landmark and historically important study are Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page. Their 42-page report is called “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.”

The study, done at Princeton and Northwestern Universities concludes that the U.S. government no longer represents the interests of the majority of its citizens – meaning average working class men and women – but those of the rich and powerful, of which the 1% are at the top of the heap in the power and control departments.

AVERAGE AMERICANS HAVE LOST CONTROL OF THEIR COUNTRY

In short: the wealthy few and powerful individuals in consort with big business interests now develop, move, manage and control public policy in this country to their wishes and designs while the average American has little power over anything in government anymore.

By extension that infers the average American no longer has control over his or her own life to a large degree or can even control in which direction the country is headed now or will be headed in the future because the act of voting – an act enshrined as the one thing that has always secured democracy in America – no longer works.

According to this study America, to a large degree, now has the type of government that has traditionally ruled Mexico or Russia. 

The DailyKos reports the anecdotal evidence of that has long been there from, “Modest gun control proposals that saw 90% public support, to unemployment compensation, to infrastructure spending, to women’s rights; where a plurality exists even across party lines, the median public interest seems to hold no sway in policy making.”

The same report notes, “We are all losers here. Despite the trappings and tradition of a representative democracy, the truth is those are just theatrics. At this point, even the echos of democracy are becoming faint. Spectacles like GOP presidential nominees making the pilgrimage to kiss the ring of King Adelson now happen with full knowledge, the vampires are out of the shadows and discover it’s fun in the sun. While satirists rightly lampoon it, media practically celebrates it and the Supreme Court in practice has endorsed it as a victory for the 1st Amendment.”

Some Americans, if not many saw the control shift away from democracy developing many years ago.Writing in a Feb. 2010 piece in OtherWords, columnist Donald Kaul penned:

“Democracy has been in decline here for some time…just look at our pathetic voter turnouts…we have traded our democratic republic for a corporate oligarchy on the model of a banana republic.

Americans are fond of saying that we’re the greatest country in the world. Would the greatest country in the world make a trade like that? I don’t think so.

And the corporations to whom we’ve given the keys to the store aren’t even American companies. They’re multi-nationals operating in their own self-interest without regard for the national good.”


The study analyzed extensive data, comparing nearly 1,800 U.S. policies enacted between 1981 and 2002 looking at the expressed preferences of average and affluent Americans as well as special interest groups.

THE RICH + BIG BUSINESS INTERESTS = CONTROL OF U.S.

The results of the peer-reviewed report, say the authors, empirically verifies that U.S. policies are determined by the economic elite, not the democratic process.

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,” say the authors. 

And if that isn’t frightening enough to millions of Americans who are not in that elite group that now runs the country, the authors point out that the data available to them – the numbers they crunched – are probably under-representing the actual extent of control of the United States by the super-rich.

Some items from the study:

~ A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. This paper purports to do just that, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.

Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. The authors say the study provides substantial support for theories of “Economic Elite Domination” and for theories of “Biased Pluralism,” but not for theories of “Majoritarian Electoral Democracy” or “Majoritarian Pluralism.”

~ Prior to the availability of the data set that the authors analyzed for the study, “No one we are aware of has succeeded at assessing interest group influence over a comprehensive set of issues, while taking into account the impact of either the public at large or economic elites – let alone analyzing all three types of potential influences simultaneously.


THE ILLUSION OF LIFE IN A DEMOCRACY

The authors also point out that despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy operating in this country, “Our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” even though average working Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance such as regular elections, freedom of speech and freedom of association.

This study is getting a lot of buzz and attention on the Internet but seemingly less so in newspapers – many of which are now controlled by huge media organizations (business interests) that also own and control multiple radio and TV stations as well as other media – and even less play on the nightly news half hour shows on networks like CBS, ABC and NBC which, the study somewhat infers when it refers to intertwined impact of “business interests” in tandem with the elite, may be part of the problem 

So far the results do not appear to have resonated much if at all with America’s Joe and Jill Sixpack who, the study’s authors intimate, may still labor under the delusion they live in a democracy. 

For a many reasons it may be difficult for some Americans to wrap their heads around the idea they no longer live in a democratic country.

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,” says the peer-reviewed study. 

The study purports to be the first-ever scientific study of the question of whether the U.S. is a democracy because until recently it has not been possible to test “contrasting theoretical predictions [that U.S. policy making operates as a democracy, versus as an oligarchy, versus as some mixture of the two] against each other within a single statistical model.” 

The authors say their report is an effort to do so using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.

They conclude the numbers show without ambiguity that the U.S. is not a democracy anymore. It is clearly an oligarchy.

Writing in CounterPunch Eric Zuess sums it up this way:

“American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s “news” media). The U.S., in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious “electoral” “democratic” countries. We weren’t formerly, but we clearly are now. Today, after this exhaustive analysis of the data, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” That’s it, in a nutshell.”


HOW THE DATA WAS BROKEN DOWN

The two professors came to their conclusion after reviewing answers to 1,779 survey questions that were asked between the years 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. 

They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels and organized interest groups saw their policy preferences enacted.

A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (just 1 out of 5 in favor) is adopted only about 18% of the time. But they discovered “a proposed change with high support (4 out of 5 in favor) is adopted about 45% of the time.”

But on the other hand when a majority of average citizens disagrees with the economic elites and/or with organized interest groups, they generally lose. 

What’s more, because of a strong “status quo bias” built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

Finally, the DailyKos points out what it considers one additional and ominous note to the report that many Americans may have missed:

“The date range for the data set for this study was 1981-2002. Did you catch that? The set of data does not include study beyond 2002, yet the conclusion even then is that we’ve become an oligarchy. Consider all that’s then missing in the equation:

The Iraq War, drones, the 2008 criminally-caused economy crash, the rise of the Kochs, the most obstructive Congress in history, OWS beat down by government proven collusive with the banks, Citizen’s United, McCutcheon, Wikipedia’s leaks & Manning’s torture (arguably), Edward Snowden revelations.

Even without the rigors of research, it would be obvious to conclude that 2002 compared to today was practically a majoritarian paradise. It boggles the mind and fuels the urgency of the issue.”

- To the Original story… :arrow:

Global Rankings Study Depicts an America in Warp Speed Decline

April 18th, 2014

- I wrote my friend, Kim, who sent me this article, and said,

“If some of us survive to write history in the future, it will make interesting reading looking back on America during these times.  I expect that many of us (and certainly most Americans) are simply too close now to the situation to see it from a lofty post-event historical perspective but I, sometimes, can imagine what that history book will read like.”

- We are truly embedded in our lives like those long-ago bugs trapped in amber.  Our 60 to 80 years and our short attention spans just don’t let us get a historical perspective on the times we are living in.   Oh, we can pick up history books and read about, say, Italy in the Renaissance or some other time and place and feel a lofty sense of understanding as we read and fly above all of their lives and times.   But for our here and nows we are too close to the forest to see anything but the trees of our daily rounds.

- In the relatively new scientific area of Complexity, there’s an idea that I’ve found to be very persuasive.  It deals with Emergent Properties.  I think it’s a good way to think about what’s wrong with our species and its civilization.

- In a nutshell, it is the idea that many small and relatively simple units acting together can produce something complex that you could never have predicted from just studying the simple units themselves in isolation.   And this something complex that arises does so because of the interactions of the many simple units and what arises is called an Emergent Property.  

- A bee colony is a good example.  You could study the intelligence and the behaviors of individual bees forever and never be able to predict bee hives.  

- A snowflake is another.  You could study the properties of a water molecule for a long, long time and never predict the organizational beauty of snowflakes.

- I won’t belabor the point.  If you are curious, follow either or both of the links, above.  

- My point is that we humans are simple units that  just want what is best for us and our families.  

- We want food, warmth, physical security and love.  Everyone that works, start a business, save for college, loves their child is looking out for themselves and those they love.

- In isolation, and considering all of us one by one, this is all good.  

- But in our world, some get very rich and want more.   Some are security conscious and they seek power to protect themselves and they go too far.

- All of us in our billions are loose in this world looking out for ourselves.  The big oil corporations, the folks that own Wal-Mart, and the dictator running Syria.   They are all just like us – but writ large.

- Read the article, below, and see ‘us’, all of us, just looking out for ourselves there.  The beggars, the CEO’s, the small businessmen and women and the war lords all sharing this stage together.

- There are more and more of us all the time.  

- And all of us want more and more for ourselves and our families.  

- We are like locusts sweeping along.   Every year, there are more of us but the planet and its resources just remain the same size as they were in the beginning.

- We simply can’t have continuous growth in a planet of fixed size.  

- It’s not just my opinion – it’s simple and unavoidable physical logic.  

- We can’t all keep wanting more for ourselves.  In there end, there will only be so much and then, after that, we will all be facing a big disappointment.

- Though in truth, many of the smartest among us have seen these limits approaching now and they’ve begun to collect their wagons into circles to protect themselves.   The rich and the powerful are getting richer and more powerful as a bulwark against the coming shortages, and, while they do this, they are telling the rest of us that things are going to be fine.

- They are not, my friends.   They are not going to be fine.

- Global changes of unimaginable size are coming in the next few decades.  The evidence is lying all around you.  Don’t let yourself be seduced by the “Things are going to be fine” messages.   Think about what’s going on and where you want to end up when the wheels begin to come off.  

- For those of you in America, this article should be a wakeup call though I know most of you will keep on sleeping.  

- Remember those few wise Jews that left Germany just as the anti-Jewish hysteria was beginning?   And remember the fates of those Jews who didn’t believe that such changes were coming?  They didn’t believe that such things could happen.

- dennis

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If America needed a reminder that it is fast becoming a second-rate nation, and that every economic policy of the Republican Party is wrongheaded, it got one this week with the release of the Social Progress Index (SPI).

Harvard business professor Michael E. Porter, who earlier developed the Global Competitiveness Report, designed the SPI. A new way to look at the success of countries, the SPI studies 132 nations and evaluates 54 social and environmental indicators for each country that matter to real people. Rather than measuring a country’s success by its per capita GDP, the index is based on an array of data reflecting suicide, ecosystem sustainability, property rights, access to healthcare and education, gender equality, attitudes toward immigrants and minorities, religious freedom, nutrition, infrastructure and more.

The index measures the livability of each country. People everywhere depend on and care about similar things. “We all need clean water. We all want to feel safe and live without fear. People everywhere want to get an education and improve their lives,” says Porter. But economic growth alone doesn’t guarantee these things.

While the U.S. enjoys the second highest per capita GDP of $45,336, it ranks in an underperforming 16th place overall. It gets worse. The U.S. ranks 70th in health, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, 39th in basic education, 34th in access to water and sanitation and 31st in personal safety.

More surprising is the fact that despite being the home country of global tech heavyweights Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Oracle, and so on, the U.S. ranks a disappointing 23rd in access to the Internet. “It’s astonishing that for a country that has Silicon Valley, lack of access to information is a red flag,” notes Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative, which oversees the index.

If this index is an affront to your jingoistic sensibilities, the U.S. remains in first place for the number of incarcerated citizens per capita, adult onset diabetes and for believing in angels.

New Zealand is ranked in first place in social progress. Interestingly, it ranks only 25th on GDP per capita, which means the island of the long white cloud is doing a far better job than America when it comes to meeting the need of its people. In order, the top 10 is rounded out by Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Denmark and Australia.

Unsurprisingly these nations all happen to rank highly in the 2013 U.N. World Happiness Report with Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden among the top five.

So, what of the U.S? In terms of happiness, we rank 17th, trailing neighboring Mexico.

We find ourselves languishing for the very fact we have allowed corporate America to hijack the entire Republican Party, and some parts of the Democratic Party. This influence has bought corporations and the rich a rigged tax code that has redistributed wealth from the middle class to the rich over the course of the past three decades. This lack of shared prosperity and opportunity has retarded our social progress.

America’s rapid descent into impoverished nation status is the inevitable result of unchecked corporate capitalism. By every measure, we look like a broken banana republic. Not a single U.S. city is included in the world’s top 10 most livable cities. Only one U.S. airport makes the list of the top 100 in the world. Our roads, schools and bridges are falling apart, and our trains — none of them high-speed — are running off their tracks.

With 95 percent of all economic gains funneled to the richest 1 percent over the course of the last decade, and a tax code that has starved the federal government of revenues to invest in public infrastructure, America will be a country divided by those who have and those who have not. In The World As It Is, Chris Hedges writes, “Our anemic democracy will be replaced with a robust national police state. The elite will withdraw into heavily guarded gated communities where they will have access to security, goods, and services that cannot be afforded by the rest of us. Tens of millions of people, brutally controlled, will live in perpetual poverty.”

This week the Republican Party rolled out its 2014 Ryan budget. Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, noted that under the Ryan budget, “[affluent] Americans would do quite well. But for tens of millions of others, the Ryan plan is a path to more adversity.” Greenstein pointed out that the plan would leave millions without health insurance through repeal of the Affordable Care Act and changes to Medicaid funding.

Greenstein also criticized the budget for its impact on anti-poverty programs, estimating that it would slash basic food aid provided by SNAP by at least $135 billion and convert the program to a block grant, make it harder for low-income students to attend college and make massive unspecified cuts to domestic non-military spending, which means cuts to social welfare programs.

The countries ranked highest in social progress are doing the complete opposite. They’re investing in schools rather than drones. They’re expanding collective bargaining laws rather than busting unions. They’re providing their citizens with universal healthcare and education rather than selling these basic human rights to the highest bidder.

“Those who care about the plight of the working class and the poor must begin to mobilize quickly, or we will lose our last opportunity to save our embattled democracy. The most important struggle will be to wrest the organs of communication from corporations that use mass media to demonize movements of social change and empower protofascist movements such as the Christian Right,” observes Hedges.

It’s your move, America.

- research thanks to Kim W.

Campaign Fundraising is Bribery

April 14th, 2014

Selling influence is what our legislators do, legally, all the time

The bribery allegations against California state Sen. Leland Yee expose the folly of the U.S. Supreme Court’s logic in its April 2 decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down restrictions on the amount of money individuals may donate to federal campaigns in an election cycle.

The only legitimate reason to set limits on funding politicians’ campaigns, according to the court’s majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, is explicit trades of campaign dollars for action — quid pro quo corruption. The court pointedly dismissed “the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials” as a reason to limit campaign donations.

The way our broken political system works, though, is that the chief place to raise money for campaigns is from industries and interest groups that want something from government. Influence is purchased all the time, whether in explicit quid pro quo trades or not, and such influence peddling just as bad for democracy as bribery. The real scandal in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., is not the occasional lawbreaking; it’s what’s legal.

According to the indictment, Yee allegedly received $10,000 from a campaign contributor and then wrote a letter in support of that contributor’s software firm. In addition, Yee allegedly made this trade on tape with an undercover FBI agent. (He has also been indicted for gun trafficking, which is not relevant to this discussion.) But imagine you’re state Sen. Jane Doe and you accept a $10,000 campaign contribution at a fundraiser and then a week later that contributor says to you, “By the way, my company could really use a letter of support, if you feel like it.” You say, “I’ll see what I can do,” and then you write the letter. Your behavior would be perfectly legal.

What’s the difference? For Yee, who was allegedly indiscreet enough to make such a deal explicit and to be caught on tape by the FBI, plenty. But for the rest of us citizens who must live under the distorted decisions of politicians continually focused on raising the campaign funds they need for re-election, it is a distinction without a difference.

Reading the FBI complaint against Yee on this bribery allegation, I was struck by how his discussions with the undercover FBI agent disguised as a campaign contributor were so similar to other lawmakers’ routine campaign fundraising. The usual fundraising and lawmaking that goes on in Sacramento and Washington is legalized bribery.

It costs $1 million, on average, to win a state senate campaign. That means raising about $10,000 a week for two years. How can any candidate raise that much money?

Simple: There’s an unlimited supply of campaign funds available from the people, companies and interests that want something from government. That’s where Yee’s money — and most of the money for political campaigns — comes from.

MapLight, the nonprofit I head that studies money in politics, researched campaign contributions to Yee, going back several years. Some of the people mentioned in the indictment have given him campaign contributions. But overall, his campaign contribution pattern is similar to many other California Democratic legislators’. For example, unions are among his top contributors; he received money from Time Warner and other companies too.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In Arizona and a half-dozen other states, laws creating public funding of elections let candidates run for office and win without dependence on big campaign donors. Former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano was the first governor in U.S. history elected without private money. She quickly created a prescription-drug discount program for Arizona citizens and said that she couldn’t have done this if she had taken pharmaceutical firm campaign money.

The Yee affair is the third scandal to hit California’s state legislature in the past six months. These stories further erode the trust people have placed in our political institutions and the well-meaning public servants who have become tainted by these scandals. Lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington understandably don’t want the public to distrust them all equally.

But dismissing the accused as just a few bad apples hardly does justice to the situation. It’s our broken money-based political system that elects legislators who are forced to spend most of their time on transactions with special interests for campaign donations rather than on legislating for the common good. The system forces politicians to compete for money and attracts lawmakers who are good at trading money for influence. Instead of electing the best leaders, we elect the best fundraisers.

If lawmakers from Sacramento to Capitol Hill want to change the public’s perception of them, they must stand up and say, “We are going to reform the system that makes people dependent upon relentless fundraising to get elected.” Legalized bribery is bribery all the same.

- Daniel G. Newman is President and Co-Founder of MapLight, a nonpartisan nonprofit revealing money’s influence on politics.

- To the original article… :arrow:

 

The Ascendancy of the Oligarchy

April 7th, 2014

(NATIONAL) — If wealth and income weren’t already so concentrated in the hands of a few, the shameful “McCutcheon” decision by the five Republican appointees to the Supreme Court wouldn’t be as dangerous.

But by taking “Citizen’s United” one step further and effectively eviscerating campaign finance laws, the Court has issued an invitation to oligarchy.

Almost limitless political donations coupled with America’s dramatically widening inequality create a vicious cycle in which the wealthy buy votes that lower their taxes, give them bailouts and subsidies, and deregulate their businesses – thereby making them even wealthier and capable of buying even more votes.

Corruption breeds more corruption.

That the richest four hundred Americans now have more wealth than the poorest 150 million Americans put together, the wealthiest 1 percent own over 35 percent of the nation’s private assets, and 95 percent of all the economic gains since the start of the recovery in 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent — all of this is cause for worry, and not just because it means the middle class lacks the purchasing power necessary to get the economy out of first gear.

It is also worrisome because such great concentrations of wealth so readily compound themselves through politics, rigging the game in their favor and against everyone else.

“McCutcheon” merely accelerates this vicious cycle.

As Thomas Piketty shows in his monumental “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” this was the pattern in advanced economies through much of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

And it is coming to be the pattern once again.

Picketty is pessimistic that much can be done to reverse it (his sweeping economic data suggest that slow growth will almost automatically concentrate great wealth in a relatively few hands).

But he disregards the political upheavals and reforms that such wealth concentrations often inspire — such as America’s populist revolts of the 1890s followed by the progressive era, or the German socialist movement in the 1870s followed by Otto von Bismarck’s creation of the first welfare state.

In America of the late nineteenth century, the lackeys of robber barons literally deposited sacks of money on the desks of pliant legislators, prompting the great jurist Louis Brandeis to note that the nation had a choice:

“We can have a democracy or we can have great wealth in the hands of a few,” he said. “But we cannot have both.”

Soon thereafter America made the choice.

Public outrage gave birth to the nation’s first campaign finance laws, along with the first progressive income tax.

The trusts were broken up and regulations imposed to bar impure food and drugs. Several states enacted America’s first labor protections, including the 40-hour workweek.

The question is when do we reach another tipping point, and what happens then?

ROBERT B. REICH, currently Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century.

He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock” and “The Work of Nations.” His latest, “Beyond Outrage,” is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. This article originally appeared at RobertReich.org

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The withering away of America

March 26th, 2014

The other day, I read a story about a Hedge Fund buying up foreclosed homes in Atlanta, Georgia.   They bought up 4000 such homes on a single day and the story said they are buying more all the time.

Their plan, according to the article, is to hang onto these homes until the price of the houses rise and then they will sell them for a nice profit.  In the mean time, they will rent them.

Apparently, these folks have a lot of money so they can afford to buy these houses up at distressed prices and then be patient until the market turns.

This is one of those stories where you could say these folks are pretty smart.   Or not.

On a smaller scale, many of us, if we had a few extra dollars in the bank and if we saw a reasonable house come up on a foreclosure sale, we might just jump on that opportunity.  We would fix it up a bit, rent it out and wait for its property value to go up and then, at some point in the future, perhaps at retirement time, we’d sell it for a tidy profit.  And it would be all to the good.

Indeed, many of you who are doing fairly well with your finances probably already own one or more extra properties as investments that you are renting out just as the hedge fund folks are.

This is the American way, is it not?  We get ahead by working hard, saving our money and by investing it well.

Some of you, as you are reading this now, are waiting for the “gotcha” fish hook to emerge out of this little story of mine, aren’t you?

Well, sorry, it’s not going to happen.  At least not for all of those Mom and Pop investors among you.  I am decidedly on your side in all of this.  The hard working and smart saving American work ethic is one I embrace.

But, if we go back to the opening of this story and think about those Hedge Fund folks buying up thousands of foreclosed homes, I’ve got some problems there.

More is not always better

This Hedge Fund is buying up thousands and thousands of homes and taking them off the real estate market.

That means less homes are available for those people that want to buy.  And that also means that the prices of the homes that are available for sale will rise given the inexorable logic of supply and demand.

Buyers on the lower end of the economic scale will not be able to buy in this situation and they will be forced into renting.

All of us know that renting, while done by many, is surely not the best way to spend your money.  All you get is a roof over your head and as soon as you stop paying rent, the roof goes away and you have nothing.  The best thing you can do as a renter, is to save money as quickly as possible so you can buy a place of your own and start building some equity.

Stacking the deck

So, here we have a case where a very large entity, the Hedge Fund, is driving the market in a way that highly favors them and disadvantages the smaller folks.

From the Hedge Fund’s POV, as they take more houses off the real estate market and put them away into their investment portfolio, they are causing the prices on the remaining houses to rise. As the prices of the remaining houses rise, less people can afford them and more are driven into the rental market.

And look who is there waiting?   Its the Hedge Fund which has lots of houses to rent. Sweet, eh?   It’s not unlike driving sheep into a pen.

Its sweet on all sides for the Hedge Fund beacuse as more folks compete for the available rentals, the price of rents will rise as well.

The Hedge Fund will always do well with this strategy so long as they pick their locations well.

All they have to know to win is that in desirable areas, the population inexorably rises because people want to live there for the environment and/or the work opportunities.  And in such areas, more people means more homes are needed.

The bottom line here is that the Hedge Fund is using its enormous financial clout in a way that benefits them but not necessarily the rest of us.

Now, small folks with some accumulated savings can invest it by buying one or two extra homes and renting them out as we mentioned earlier and that’s just what the Hedge Fund is doing, isn’t it?   Except they are doing it on a vastly huger scale.

And it is precisely this difference between the huge Hedge Funds of the world and the small folks like us which is the point of what this article is about.

The story of bigger and bigger

A small fellow starts a Mom and Pop business in his home town and it goes well.   The local people like what he’s doing and they buy what he’s got.

He’s smart.  He saves his profits and he opens a second shop across town.  He employees more folks in the second shop. The situation is a winner all around.

He opens more shops all up and down the area of the state he lives in.  More people are employed by him.  He gives money to charities and he support the local Boy Scouts and the YMCA.   The story is getting better and better.

At some point, he shifts from being a family owned business to being a corporation because that structure provides better protect for his family by separating their corporate assets from their family assets.  And perhaps it works better for their taxes as well.

Soon, as things continue to grow, the owner opens subsidiaries or franchises and moves into other states.

And for this business and these people, things just continue to go from strength to strength.

Now, the owner knows State Representatives and State Senators on a first-name basis.   He’s invited to sit on various boards for the YMCA and the local hospital.

At some point, his privately owned corporation may go public.  And, if the public offering is successful, he and his family will make a large amount of money and the corporation will get a large influx of cash to fund its further growth.

Now, as a publicly held corporation, it has a board and stock holders and it becomes responsible to more than just the former owner and his family.  Now, it becomes responsible to its stockholders who expect it to make a good return on their investment in the company.

This is all the stuff of magic.   The stuff that every small business owner hopes will happen to his or her business.  It is, literally, the stuff of the American Dream.

Ever onward and upward

The newly minted public corporation continues its growth.  And with the wisdom now of its board of directors and of its corporate officers, (either of which may or may not include the former owner) the corporation becomes a real competitor in the market segment it competes in.

Somewhere along this spectacular rise, it expands out across the nation from its original state and soon it is eying international markets and establishing overseas subsidiaries. And, if the run of success last long enough, it will become an international success.  It will become a global player.

Every national and global corporation you’ve ever heard of has followed this trajectory, unless it was spun off from earlier corporations.  If you trace their roots back far enough, every corporation, or its antecedents, will have begun with one person, one family or a small group’s dream that they too could build something out of their hard work and creativity.  It is a hugely commendable thing to build something like this out of nothing.

But can there be too much of a good thing?

Can there be too much competitiveness?  Too much success?  Too much market dominance?

Yes, there can be, Dorothy.  Absolutely.   Just because bigger seems better here in Kansas, or anywhere else, doesn’t mean it’s always the case.

Businesses can get so big that they becomes monopolies and bullies in their markets And when their competitiveness becomes market dominance, then serious systemic problems can develop.   And those problems mostly affect the small folks.

Remember the U.S. breakup Standard Oil in 1911? Or the U.S. breakup of Ma Bell in 1982?

In both of these cases, the growth of the organizations had led to so much market power that they were in the position to virtually set any price they wanted for their goods. They had grown so strong that they had very little competition left.

So, what limits run away corporate power?

What has always limited corporate power, up until recent times, has been government power.
That was what did it with Standard Oil and Ma Bell.

Now, by many people’s definition, government is suppose to exist to look out for the people’s common good.  See if you recognize this quote:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….”

The founding fathers of the United States specifically said, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men….”.

When corporations are small, they are of a net benefit to all of us because of the the products and services they create and provide for us.   But, when they get too large, this net benefit can become a net liability.  And, when things get too far out of whack, corporations need to be controlled and regulated by the government for the common good.

And that’s the way it has worked with our government and corporations in the past.  But things are changing, Dorothy.

To show you how things are changing, let me digress and tell you a short story about the environmentalist movement in the U.S. during the 1960s.

Bear with me, please, even if you are not an environmentalist.  My story is relevant to the overall point of this article which is actually about the corrosive influence of mega corporations and big money on the American Democracy.

In the 1960′s there were numerous movements afoot to get laws passed that would protect the quality of our air and our water. These proposed laws were wending their way slowly through the legislative process at the national level and the corporate world was half attending to all of this but it is probably safe to say they weren’t too deeply worried about it.

Then some things happened that changed the game. There were reports about the utterly disgraceful state of some of the east coast’s rivers.  The Cuyahoga River in particular caught fire in Cleveland.  And the Interior Department was proposing to flood the Grand Canyon.  And then there was the infamous Santa Barbara Oil Spill that occurred in 1969.

Almost overnight the environmental movement, which had been simmering, was galvanized by these events to do something now.   And the bills in the legislature involving clean air and clean water were well positioned to benefit from the public’s new found passion for environmental protection.

As a result, these bills were passed decisively in a strong and undiluted form and became the new laws of the land.

The corporate world had been caught flat-footed by these rapidly moving events.  Things had moved too quickly for them and suddenly there were powerful new laws that put serious limitations on what corporations could and couldn’t do with their waste.

And they couldn’t complain too openly about all of this because, after all, the new laws had widespread public support.  The corporations couldn’t be seen in that political environment as opposing laws that protected the public commons from those who would abuse the air and the water for their own profits.

And about the same time that big business was realizing their vulnerability to such laws, the environmentalists were realizing that passing good environmental laws that just applied to the U.S. wouldn’t be sufficient, if the rest of the world just continued on as before. So, most of the people who were big players in the U.S. environmental movement shifted their efforts from being U.S. centric to being globally focused.

But never again

But, the business world is anything but stupid.   They had learned their lesson the hard way and they resolved to never again be caught sleeping nationally or internationally.

And, indeed, they’ve kept this promise to themselves.   Since those fateful days in the 1960′s and 70’s, when the Clean Air and Clean Water acts were passed, very little else of environmental significance has been signed into law within the U.S. or internationally because of effective and well focused resistance from the world business communities.

The only notable exception to this trend would be the Montreal Accord, which was ratified in 1989.  This international accord limits the production and use of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) which were decisively shown by scientists to be the smoking gun that was destroying the world’s Ozone Layer.

For those who might be interested in this type of history, I learned a lot of this from reading the books of James Gustave Speth, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.  Speth is, and has been, one of the foremost actors in the U.S. and International environmental movements for many decades now.

The two books of his which I’ve read are, Red Sky at Morning – America and the Crisis of the Global Environment (2004) and The Bridge at the Edge of the World – Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis  to Sustainability (2008).

But now back to the main plot line

So, here’s how the story continues to unfold after the seminal events of the 60’s and 70’s:

The large corporations, whose bottom line’s were impacted by the new environmental laws, learned their lesson.   Now they could not just dump their industrial wastes into the rivers nor put just anything they wanted to up their smokestacks.  And those changes to what they could and could not do were going to cost them money and lower their profits.

Stung badly once, the corporate world began to pay attention to the environmental laws that were wending their ways through the world’s legislatures on their way to possibly becoming laws. And now, the corporate world began to put on the quiet full-court press to dilute or defeat such laws preemptively to protect their bottom lines.

These battles have mostly been fought in the smokey back rooms of the political world but sometimes they have erupted into public view.

Who doesn’t remember the Tobacco Industry executives testifying in front of Congress in 1994 on TV, no less, that smoking cigarettes was not harmful to public health?

They were prepared to, and they did, lie and say anything they could to deflect congress and the people’s will from diminishing their profits.  The Tobacco Industry spent an enormous amount of money on dis-information campaigns trying to deflect the law makers. But eventually Congress, with the input of scientific data on the effects of smoking, saw through their smoke screen and national laws were passed to lessen the dangers of smoking to the American public.

But the corporations have won many of these battles as well.

For instance, have you ever wondered why we cannot read on the  labels of the food we buy exactly what is in it and where it came from?

I could cite many examples where the corporate world has prevented the passage of laws to protect their own bottom line profits.

For a long time now, corporations have fought via their lobbyists in our legislatures to defeat or to water down bills that will impact their bottom line profits.

And regardless of the PR and the advertisements they put out which attempt to make them all look like our cuddly responsible corporate friends, these mega corporations and extremely high net-worth individuals, like the Koch brothers, are simply all about profits with little or no concern for the public good.

We’ve drifted from what the founding fathers envisioned

Do you remember the idea of one-man-one-vote that we all learned about in school?

We are not all equal voters.  It is obvious that mega corporations or very high net worth people with big money behind them can inordinately influence which laws are passed and which are not through lobbying.

Some of you will say, “Well, it’s always been that way in politics.”    And, probably, you are right.

But I’m not happy about it.  Maybe I was corrupted by watching Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 movie ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington‘ too many times.

So, here we have the picture then of why the corporate world exerts so much of its financial muscle on lobbying in our nation’s capital.   And the ugly truth is that it is to protect their own profits.  And all of that power, which is being exerted to shape the nation’s laws, have little or nothing to do with the common good as the fathers of our nation intended it.

Ah, but don’t despair – it gets worse

It gets worse? Yes, it does. This battle between the various forces in our society for who gets to make the laws is an ongoing thing. And like any ongoing battle, the strategies and the rules change as new opportunities are realized.

At some point, the large corporations and the mega high net-worth individuals realized that they could better influence which laws get made and which don’t not by lobbying – but by influencing who gets elected to make the laws in the first place.   Why hack at the branches if you can go for the roots, eh?

So big money has begun to pour huge sums into getting folks elected who will be sympathetic to the needs of business – rather than to the needs of the people.   And lets be clear, again, about what those ‘needs’ are.

The needs of business are to have their way cleared of ‘unnecessary’ laws so they can increase their profits.

This process of gaming the system in American politics with big money has gotten quite advanced.  And amazingly, most of the American public hasn’t noticed.

Big business isn’t stupid by any means. They know that they can still have their gains rolled back at the ballot box if people were to get aware of and upset about what’s going on.

So, you won’t see them promoting their side of this battle by saying things like, “The rich have every right to get richer regardless of the consequence to ordinary citizens.”

Instead, they push themes like, “We need less government regulation and interference.  Such interference prevents small hard working Mom and Pop entrepreneurs all over this great country from reaching their full potential.”

They purposely, and cynically, associate themselves with the small and medium size business community and make it seem like these folks and big business have common cause.

And there’s just enough truth in what they say sometimes to make it plausible.

But the cynicism of why they are doing it is breathtaking. They don’t give a rat’s behind about the small and medium Mom and Pop folks other than to use them as a foil to distract the public’s attention from their devious gaming of the American political system.

Back near the beginning of this piece, I made a point to say that I applaud the Mom and Pop small and medium sized entrepreneurs of America.  And I meant it. The are the engines of creation in this country. They make the country better.

But, the really big corporations, those whose sole motivation is to maximize their profits and minimize their costs, and the really high net worth individuals who never think they’ll have enough money, these folks are of a different breed altogether.

The signs that they are making inroads into controlling our legislative processes for their own benefit are all around us.   But, these signs are largely hidden by the immense PR smoke screens they are putting up to confuse the public.

In this context, the ‘Citizens United‘ decision by the Supreme Court a few years ago to grant corporations the same rights as people was huge.

So, what is a corporation anyway?

I’ll tell you this – they are not our neighborhood fuzzy responsible community friends.

Consider that a large corporation is an entity that exists solely to maximize the investment returns of its stockholders. This is a simple cold hard fact. They have only one motivation and that is profit maximization.

They have zero motivation to consider what’s good for the nation or for the public unless the issue begins to interfere with their profits.

And, if some public concern does begin to impact their profits, they’ll make superficial changes and unleash a storm of PR designed to make us think that they are on our side and they have our best interests in mind and they are part of our community and they share our values and etc. and etc. We’ve seen it all. But few of us have recognized how deeply cynical it all is.

If this was a real person who had such a single minded focus, most of us would think they were a dangerous unfeeling psychopath walking among us.

But now, according to the Supreme Court, these entities can move among us with the same rights as sovereign citizens.

And the limits of how much they can donate to political campaigns have largely been lifted.

So, what causes do you think that these newly minted mega corporate ‘citizens’ donate money to?   The only ones they care about, of course. And that’s getting folks elected who will not pass laws that will interfere with their right to maximize their profits.

Their audacity knows no limits

This corporate philosophy, of not hacking at the branches if you can go for the roots, is expanding in a frightening manner internationally now.

There’s something called the TPPA, the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.   It has been under negotiation since 2005 and currently 11 nations from around the Pacific Rim are involved.

The stated purpose of the TPPA is:

… to enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries, promote innovation, economic growth and development, and support the creation and retention of jobs.

Whooo-ee.  That sounds good, doesn’t it?

Folks in most of the countries involved in these negotiations have no idea these negotiations are even going on, much less the details of what’s actually being negotiated.

You see, the negotiations are being carried out in secret.  In many cases, they are being kept secret from even from the legislators of the countries negotiating.  Specially appointed government trade negotiators are conducting these negotiations and these folks are appointed people – not elected people.

It gets even more incredible.

In the U.S., which is the most dominate of the countries involved, the vast majority of the House and Senate membership are blocked from knowing the details of what’s being negotiated while representatives from a number of large U.S. corporations are allowed to sit in on the negotiations – as they occur.

Yes, you heard that right. Our elected representative are locked out and the mega corporations are sitting in as advisors to the negotiators.

Why the h*** would that be, you say?

Well, from the few documents that have been leaked from these secret negotiations, it turns out to be evident that only about 30% of these agreements actually have anything to do with free trade.  While the majority of what’s being negotiated has to do with protecting corporate rights and profits!

I know, many of you at this point in this story think that I must have drunk the bad kool-aid on this one right?

Well, you’d be wrong.  This is no straw man.

There’s ample documentation of what’s going on out there and of what’s intended to happen, if the corporations get their way.

Proof?

Here’s a statement by Ron Wyden, a U.S. Senator from Oregon expressing his deep frustration as how little, as a U.S. Senator, he’s been able to find out about what’s being negotiated.

In a floor statement to Congress Wyden said, “The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of US corporations — like Halliburton, Chevron, Comcast and the Motion Picture Association of America — are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement.”

And here’s a recent article that appeared in the New York Times by Joseph E. Stiglitz, a U.S. Nobel Prize winning economist, about what he thinks the TPPA is really about and what’s wrong with it. I encourage you to read this.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/on-the-wrong-side-of-globalization/

This is huge, my friends.  Just Google the TPPA and you will find a ton of commentary on the Internet about it.   And then you might also reflect on why you never hear about this sort of thing on your evening news?

Just a bit more on the TPPA and then I’m going to wrap this up.

One of the worst aspects of what’s being proposed in the TPPA is that corporations will be able to sue sovereign nations – if those nations pass laws that diminish the profits of the corporations.

Yes, you heard that right.

Imagine that a country passes laws mandating that cigarette packs sold in that country have to have plain labeling and carry pictures of what happens to folk’s lungs when they smoke. Such a law would be passed for the good of the people, yes?

Or, perhaps they pass a law that no mining will be allowed in their national parks.  Again, this is a law passed for the good of the people of that country.

But, of course, the profits of the cigarette manufacturers and those of the mining companies would be decreased.

Under trade agreement law, as it would stand post-TPPA, the corporations involved could sue the countries that passed such laws to recover their lost profits.   And these law suits would be not be held in the courts of the countries involved but rather they would be decided by a three man international tribunal which would not be beholding to any country.

Hard to believe, isn’t it?  And all of that is going on around you in secret.   In secret even from your legislators.

When I tell folks that the large multi-national corporate world is infiltrating and taking over the sovereign functions of national governments as their latest strategy to increase their profits, some people look at me like I’m a nut case.

Make up your own mind

Pay attention to the news, now that you are aware of all of this.   Keeping watching and see what you think.

Ask yourself if mega corporations, solely obsessed with profits and utterly indifferent to the welfare of the people or of the nation, should be considered to be people and allowed to walk around unchecked in polite society?

Ask yourself, if a corporation is suppose to be a person, if you’d actually associate with a real person that had such nasty and mercenary personal attributes?

Or even more to the point, given how things are going, ask yourself what you think about living in a country where the “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth” is, in sad fact, withering away before our very eyes and being taken over by mega corporations and the very greedy.

These are not idle questions in the world today, my friends.

-dennis