All posts by Ralph Nader

Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives

I’ve recently received fundraising letters from Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Chuck Schumer on behalf of their Democratic Party’s campaign committees. Mostly, all they ask for is money, though Schumer’s letter includes a short tough letter to President Trump for us to sign which they promise to deliver to the White House.

Although politicians review and sign fundraising letters, rarely do they write them. That lucrative task is left to political consulting firms that also profitably consult for corporations. That’s why the letters are so formulaic.

Over the years I have urged incumbents and candidates for elected office to do more than ask people for money. Why not ask them for their time, their minds, and their dedication by having “time-raisers,” not just “fund-raisers”? Great idea they uniformly say. This never gets done. Their consultants think asking for anything other than money diminishes donations. So the dreary letters continue to arrive with grand promises and few specifics. For example, both letters mentioned the need for higher minimum wages. Wages have been stagnant for many years while corporate profits and executive bonuses have skyrocketed on the backs of millions of American workers. But there is no mention of how high a minimum wage (gutted by inflation since the 1970s) these Democrats are committed to supporting. Similarly, there are no specifics that address protecting health care, social security, reversing huge tax cuts to big business, debloating military budgets and stopping costly, reckless wars. If politicians don’t give you specifics and timetables, they’re creating their own loopholes should they be elected.

Now comes the spanking new “People’s Budget” released by the House of Representatives Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party (see “The People’s Budget”). It is 40 pages with charts that rebuke and reject the cruel and vicious agenda of the corporatist, war-mongering, deficit-booming Republican toadies of Wall Street, and the fossil fuel and nuclear industries. The organized lobbies against the modest necessities of workers, consumers, and defenseless communities dominate the federal budget process.

But the CPC’s “People’s Budget” has its own infirmities. It doesn’t address very weak corporate crime enforcement, to repealing specific anti-labor laws, like the Taft-Hartley Act, to being number-specific in cutting the bloated, corporate crime-ridden military budget, or even giving a number to a higher minimum wage.

Showing both large expenditures for restoring social safety net programs and large savings by reducing corporate welfare, restoring corporate taxes, and adding some new ones such as a speculation tax on Wall Street transactions, the “People’s Budget” still comes off as a blizzard of funding for old programs with their welfare industries.

For example, the Progressive Caucus Budget does not recommend a universal basic income (UBI)—historically supported by liberal and conservative thinkers and politicians. UBI, in an age of rapid automation, would reduce the need for some of those welfare programs and bureaucracies.

The “People’s Budget” goes into details explaining its health care policies, without even mentioning what it proposes to do about $350 billion in annual billing fraud and abuse by the health care vendors. Not a word about 5,000 or more lives lost every week in our country from preventable problems in hospitals, according to a recent Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study. These are gigantic tragedies destroying peoples’ lives, regardless of how important it is to provide affordable and accessible healthcare.

Although the “People’s Budget” covers a myriad of needs, it is strangely minimalist on strengthening democracy besides stopping voter repression. Can you have a “People’s Budget” without people power?

These Progressives should have included a section on “Shift of Power” from the few to the many, arguing for a fuller system of electoral reform, experiential civic skills training in schools, fundamental corporate reform (from corporate charters to corporate personhood), and giving people usable tools for democratic engagement.

A full-blown assault on the corporate destruction of freedom of contract (one-sided fine print) and the (tort) law of wrongful injuries should have come naturally to these Progressives. But it did not.

Timid on taking on corporate-induced deficits, quagmires of boomeranging Empire (though “People’s Budget” advocates for auditing the Pentagon) and the massive waste and loss of life from health care commercialism (that far less expensive single payer has avoided in Canada, with better outcomes), the Progressive Caucus report reads too much like a revised New Deal laundry list.

Its wonky style does not lend itself to on the ground campaigning before voters hungry for regaining control over their lives and looking for changes that restore self-reliant economies detached from the speculative risks and greed of the global corporate disorder.

People are essentially looking for fair play, empowerment, respect, voice, and reduction of the overall rat race that provokes so much anxiety, dread, and fear. They want time, yes time, for their families and other pursuits than sinking into deeper debts from distant forces way beyond their accountability. This “People’s Budget,” to gain traction, cannot be about “bread” alone. Thomas Jefferson understood the political economy, but he also knew the importance of non-material goals that connected the economy to “the pursuit of happiness.”

Let’s hope candidates for the November election remember those finer intangibles that move more people to become better informed voters.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook: Serf Labor, Overpriced iPhones, and Wasted Burning Profits

The New York Times screamed its Headline— “In 1997, Apple was 90 Days from Going Broke. On Thursday [Aug. 2, 2018], It Became the first publicly traded American company to be valued at…$1,000,000,000,000.” The first trillion dollar company!

The boosters and commentators cheered, adding, “How High Could it Go?” In CEO’s Tim Cook’s announcement, we learned that there were $20 billion more of the shareholders money spent on wasteful stock buybacks. Stock buybacks enable fatter compensation metrics for Apple’s bosses (see Steven Clifford’s The CEO Pay Machine). Corporate managers love stock buybacks.

Earlier this year Apple executives dictatorially announced that it was going to spend $100 billion to buying back its stock, without of course, receiving the owners-shareholders’ approval. The owners might have preferred that some of that amount be used to pay them greater cash dividends. More far-sighted shareholders consider the presumably longer-view: institutional shareholders might have recommended more productive and equitable uses for that vast sum.

Some suggestions: Two billion dollars (a mere 2 percent of that $100 billion) would double the wages of its 1.3 million serf-workers driven to the wall by Apple’s Chinese-based mega-factory contractor. Another two billion would have made major improvements in the global recycling of the present deadly (to the environment and workers) handling of toxic discarded iPhones and computers. Some of that $100 billion could have gone to productive investments, R&D, shoring up Apple’s pension plan, raising wages of Apple’s employees, paying Apple’s fair share of taxes or, consumers take note, lowering the prices of their over-priced phones and components.

Apple’s media cheerleaders can only see blizzards of dollars. They don’t see the damage that this touted “successful business model” is doing to Apple stakeholders.

Exceptionally, Mark Phillips in his page one New York Times story on Apple’s report takes note of the corporate concentration in business profits and markets. “Economists,” he writes, “are starting to look into whether the rise of so-called super-star firms is contributing to the lackluster wage growth, shrinking the middle class and raising income inequality in the United States. The vast social and political influence wielded by their mega-companies has prompted lawmakers to demand more regulation to rein them in.”

Apple’s business model rests on low wage-labor in China and gouging iPhone consumers in the U.S. The federal cops on the corporate antitrust beat have been asleep for years— a somnolence well recognized by Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google.

Phillips reports, “Apple and Google provide the software for 99% of all smartphones. Facebook and Google take 59 cents of every dollar spent on online advertising in the United States. Amazon exerts utter dominance over online shopping and is quickly getting bigger, fast, in areas liking streaming of music and videos.”

The CEOs of these companies behave like “Emperors,” a designation levelled at Exxon/Mobile’s CEO years ago by prominent shareholder advocate Robert Monks at the company’s annual meeting. These new CEOs exude arrogance (sometimes with false Zuckerberg-like public humility). Once they hook their customers, the network costs for customers switching to a competition become higher with time and also serve to discourage any new would-be competitor. Years ago, dominant Hertz rent-a-car had Avis as a competitor. Who are the domestic non-collusive Avis equivalents to the aforementioned Big Four today?

The big institutional shareholders like Vanguard, Fidelity and giant worker pension-funds better wake up. Tim Cook can ignore small shareholder complaints with impunity. The big institutional shareholders, with their skilled staff, can get his attention. They can take a longer, responsible view and demand that he stop burning all their shareholder money with buybacks and give shareholders more in cash dividends and other important investments that produce productive and equitable outcomes.

Concentration of market power in other fields feed the likelihood of future instability through a domino effect. The top five megabanks in the U.S. control about half of the deposits, compared to about one-fifth twenty years ago. Labor’s annual share of the nation’s wealth gains have been declining since the 1990s. Speculation on Wall Street, slowed after the great crash of 2008, is roaring ahead toward the inevitable cliffs of unbridled greed. More taxpayer bailouts?

Grave risk levels are signaling caution; yet incredibly, a Republican Congress and Trump have loosened regulation on Wall Street.

As for you the people, your next big chance to grab hold of Congress and slow down these corporate supremacists comes in November. Do a little homework and find out who is on your side. “Slogan voters” are suckers.

Why Not Tell Us Their Names?

In elementary school they taught us the names of inventors. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, Robert Fulton the steamboat, Alexander Graham Bell the telephone, and Thomas Alva Edison the electric light bulb. Nowadays we rarely know the names of the inventors of modern technology—think biotechnology, nanotechnology, pharmaceutical technology, safety technology. Not every breakthrough is invented by a single person, but there are still clusters of people inventing new things each year.

Over twenty years ago, my associates searched for inventors of the air bag so we could celebrate their achievements. It’s not as if the names of such inventors are not known—their names often appear in technical publications or in the U.S. Patent Office’s archives. But inventors are not featured in the popular media or in our school courses. Corporations and their brands are credited for the work of their staff.

Some may think the era of the lone inventor is over and only collectives of inventors produce most of the significant breakthroughs. But you wouldn’t know this by examining the thousands of patents issued every month (see Patent Gazette). Lone inventors— inventors who are not attached to a company or other organization – are only represented in some of these patents. Many more, however, are employees who have to give their rights to institutions. Getting patents is extremely expensive for lone inventors.

Let’s focus on the anonymous people who invent or design things that increase our misery/anxiety/ripoff index. I’d want to know who designs those incomprehensible computerized bills that flood and so often defraud consumers from all sorts of sellers. Who creates those maddening forms that millions of Americans have to figure out and fill out?

Who drafts those demonic fine print one-sided standard form contracts that handcuff millions of American consumers—be they borrowers, home buyers, tenants, car buyers, insurance purchasers, or those Internet clickers who “agree” to “terms and conditions” they never read (see faircontracts.org).

Let’s call this situation what it is—contract servitude or contract peonage. There is, in fact, one prominent Philadelphia corporate lawyer who is the kingpin of this consumer contract abuse—Alan Kaplinsky of Ballard Spahr LLP. As Kaplinsky goes around the country, he exudes pride in fostering these “mice print” form contracts that enchain millions of people and leave them defenseless before big, bullying corporations. So voilà —we’ve located one antihero.

Then there are the wordsmiths who create those form “No” letters replying to consumers who complain about being dealt with unfairly or overcharged. Back comes these long slimy “No” letters full of smooth verbiage that evade the issues while faking a response to consumer complaints. Corporate and government bureaucrats are really experts at such “No” letters designed to wear you down so you don’t even make a second attempt to solve a problem. Who are the creators of such verbal naysaying?

A recent innovation is letters, unsigned by any human being, from corporations and big institutions demanding a person respond.  A pension plan writes its pensioners every year requiring a form to be filled out confirming monthly receipt of payments and that the correct amount was being paid. Not sending in the form on time, the pensioners were advised, could result in suspension of payments due. Signed by the impersonal Pension Plan, not by an accountable human being who can be told—check your cancelled checks for heaven’s sake. Why are you bothering us?

Who in the U.S. invents and manufactures those huge bombs or those deadly cluster bombs that are illegally sent over to Yemen to kill and injure innocent children, women, and men in that war-torn, starving country? Who designs those deceptive, sugary television ads to get the little ones to take their path to obesity and related sicknesses?

The names of those who are culpable are anonymous, except for occasional tort lawsuits or whistleblowing that outs them.

In a world full of Facebooks, Googles, Amazons, Microsofts, credit rating bureaus, and ever more, your name and just about everything these snoopers can know about you are sold to their advertisers and others.

Who are the backroom mathematicians and electrical engineers who create and implement these algorithms that are taking over people’s lives everywhere?

Who are the creators of those Wall Street multi-tiered derivatives that speculate with and often lose other peoples’ money as in the giant financial crash of 2008? These towers of bubbling derivatives are so complex fewer people understand them than understand Einstein’s theory of relativity. Who are these geniuses of such high-stake gambling?

Let’s demand the creators of injustice, mayhem, irritation, and the waves of anxiety, fear, and dread reveal their names. Huge numbers of real humans, who cannot hide behind anonymity and who end up paying their bills by name, deserve to know the names of their tormentors.

Trump’s Sadist-in-Chief

Mr. Mick Mulvaney’s title seems uninterestingly bureaucratic—director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). But as Trump’s chief hatchet man extraordinaire, Mugger Mick Mulvaney is easily one of the cruelest, most vicious presidential henchman in modern American history. From his powerful perch next door to the White House, he is carving a bloody trail against tens of millions of Americans who are poor, disabled, frail, and elderly. He has gone after defenseless children and injured or sick patients with little or no access to health care.

It is difficult to exaggerate the relentless, savage delight that this former Congressman from South Carolina—handpicked for Trump by the brutish, oil funded Heritage Foundation—takes in attacking the most vulnerable members of our society.

A human wrecking ball, Mugger Mick has pushed to eliminate the Meals-on-Wheels assistance for isolated elderly, to increase rents for poor tenants, to severely gut SNAP (food stamps) and nutritious food standards, and to diminish Medicaid. In addition the Trump administration wants to impose work requirements in Medicaid as a condition of eligibility. Many adult Medicaid recipients are already working. Where will the new jobs come from? Those who want to work but can’t find jobs are not Mr. Mulvaney’s concern.

His hellish agenda, undertaken on behalf of his plutocratic rulers, is comprehensive. He wants to smash consumer, environmental, and workplace health and safety standards. To Mugger Mick, killing and disabling Americans doesn’t even qualify as collateral damage. To Mulvaney’s fevered, psychopathic mind, eliminating Americans’ health and safety protections is worth it if it means “efficiency” and less spending of tax dollars (more on that lie later).

He even would plunge a dagger into Social Security and Medicare. President Trump has the political sense to restrain Mugger Mick from this attack on the elderly. However, biding his time, Mulvaney has led the campaign for the enacted corporate and wealthy tax cuts that are already swelling the forthcoming massive deficits. Mulvaney wants to use the deficit to persuade Trump eventually to butcher these two pillars of our society’s foresight and compassion for seniors.

The New York Times reports that Mulvaney is at the core of the Trump regime’s “rollback in the enforcement of fair housing, educational equity, payday lending and civil rights cases pursued aggressively under the Obama administration intended to protect vulnerable populations from discrimination and abusive business practices.”

Nowhere has Mugger Mick been more blatant about his ugly mission than in his efforts to freeze and dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB was created after the Wall Street collapse of the economy, which displaced millions of workers and drained trillions of dollars from pension and mutual funds. Remember Wall Street then had to be bailed out by America’s taxpayers.

Mulvaney has jettisoned ongoing enforcement actions, driven or reassigned personnel, zeroed out the CFPB’s first quarter budget, and prioritized the protection of Wall Street in the CFPB mission statement. How grotesque a response to the corporate crime wave in this country that has been stealing trillions of dollars from defenseless consumers, workers, and investors!

There is, of course, more to this colossal bully. Mulvaney is also a colossal coward and a greasy hypocrite at that. He shuts his foul mouth when it comes to the bloated defense budget and the corporate contractors profiting from endless Pentagon golden handshakes. He shuts his mouth when confronted with thousands of corporate subsidies, handouts, giveaways, and bailouts. In these crony capitalistic binge arenas, he demands no corporate self-reliance or worries about taxpayer losses. Why would he argue with his future paymasters and the corporate donors who funded his prior Congressional campaigns?

Mugger Mick is a walking candidate for impeachment, a poster boy for high crimes and misdemeanors, as well as a lawsuit by members of Congress for the deliberate dereliction of duties that aids and abets corporate criminality. Every day he has been systematically defying and violating existing Congressional mandates, called federal statutes.

So where are the Democrats? Aside a few members such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown pummeling Mugger Mick at Congressional hearings that go nowhere, action by the Democratic Party on Capitol Hill is largely AWOL. Mulvaney just laughs at the Democrats’ verbal darts.

Forget about their own pride, these lawmakers have little fortitude in preserving the best work of their forbears in Congress and in the White House. They’re too busy having fun ridiculing Trump’s foibles, fibs, and fantasies. Such distractions may well cause them not to urgently focus on what is happening to the American peoples’ freedom, urgent necessities and livelihoods emanating from the Trumpsters and their media ditto heads.

November is coming fast.

The Road to Political Masochism

Nearly a year and a half into his presidency, Donald Trump continues to hold his base and maintain an approval rating of around 40% – close to the same percentage he polled at just after his inauguration. Let’s try to figure out why.

It can’t be because he lies as a matter of daily routine. It can’t be because he’s giving away our store to big business – engaging in crony capitalism, creating more tax loopholes for corporations, shredding corporate crime enforcement, knowingly exposing Americans to more toxic pollution, committing more business fraud, adding more hazards to the workplace, cutting access to health insurance, and thereby making America dread again.

It can’t be because he’s taking your tax dollars away from repairing your infrastructure back home – schools, public transit, bridges, highways, airports, power grids, drinking water systems, etc., and pouring money into the bloated Pentagon budget beyond what even the Generals requested. (The huge “infrastructure project” he promised has yet to be proposed to Congress.)

It can’t be because he is soiling our society’s moral and ethical fabric and breaking the Golden Rule. (Trump is a peerless Oval Office bully, lashing out against the weak, powerless and defenseless.)

It can’t be because he is openly holding onto his business interests and enriching himself from foreign vendors in unconstitutional ways, violating the Emoluments Clause (cases challenging his personal gains while in office are now in federal court).

Maybe it is because he is expediently against a woman’s right to choose and common-sense gun regulation, selects corporatist judges, and keeps saying he loves his country (what politician doesn’t?).

President Trump’s words and deeds have not changed the minds of 40 percent of people polled. What else is going on here?

One answer is Slogan Voters. I’ve spoken to many people who are still for Trump despite all of his lies and misdeeds. They don’t pay much attention to politics. When they do, they reveal themselves as Slogan Voters. They are content with Trump’s rhetoric and rarely look beneath the surface at the details. That is, they are not bothered by being fact-deprived in political matters.

Here is what they tell me: They hate Hillary. They like Trump. They repeat the three slogans: Make America Great Again, Drain the Swamp, and Lock Her Up! Over and over again.

When I politely ask whether they are specifically aware of what Trump and his heads of departments and agencies are doing, they draw a blank. They explain that President Trump is shaking up Washington and draining the swamp. They believe that’s the reason why he generates such an uproar from the swamp-dwellers. In a bizarre way, the more outrageously false and nutty Trump’s tweets and actions are, the more these people feel that all the outrage is because he is draining the swamp and the swamp is lashing back at him.

Slogan Voters stress their belief in self-made men and women. They are often college-educated. They are not seen as bigots by their co-workers. They believe if you fail at something, it’s your own fault.

They agree there are bad things going on in government, but it’s not Trump’s fault. Their reaction to bad things that are openly, brazenly, and admittedly Trump’s fault – such as shutting down a consumer agency designed to stop Wall Street and the financial/credit industry from cheating you, crashing the economy, or crippling environmental health protections — is: It’s all part of draining the swamp.

Trump has become homeostatic — whatever goes around, comes around to his advantage for the Slogan Voters. Evidence against Trump is turned around to justify Trump. More than anyone else, Trump has understood this and fed these strange conclusions by inattentive minds.

What would the eminent philosopher of science, Aldous Huxley, think now? He said in 1927: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” But they do for Trump and his Slogan Voters. He creates his own web of delusion, and his supporters say he is draining the swamp and making America great again.

It wouldn’t matter a whit were they to receive critical articles, books, DVDs, or even Trump’s own self-contradictory words and record through the years. Recall his boastful sugarcoating as his giant casinos went bankrupt while he profitably escaped their draining impacts on others (e.g. the employees and unpaid contractors he hired to build them).

Unless someone comes up with a secret key to awaken the minds of Trump’s Slogan Voters, the best response is to draw some of the more than 100 million eligible non-voters to the polls for the crucial November elections. There are far more than enough votes to surpass the choices of the Trump Slogan Voters for the Congressional races.

One thing you have to credit these Slogan Voters for: THEY VOTE!!

Yeah, “Making America Great Again, Drain the Swamp, and Lock Her Up!”​

Professional Societies: Corporate Service, or Public Services for You!

They call themselves non-profit professional societies, but they often act as enabling trade associations for the companies and businesspeople who fund them.  At their worst, they serve their paymasters and remain in the shadows, avoiding publicity and visibility.  When guided by their better angels, professional societies can be authoritative tribunes for a more healthy and safe society.

I am referring to the organizations that stand for their respective professions – automotive, electrical, chemical and mechanical engineers; physicians; architects; scientists; and accountants.  The people working in these occupations all want to be members of a “professional” association, not a “trade” association.

So let’s start by distinguishing how a “profession” is supposed to differ from a “trade.”  First, profit is not to be the end-all of a profession and its practitioners. Moral and public interest codes of ethics are supposed to be paramount when they conflict with maximizing sales and income.

The National Society of Professional Engineers’ code of ethics stipulates that an engineer has a professional duty to go to the appropriate authorities should the engineer be rebuffed by employer or client who was notified of a dangerous situation or product.

Physicians have a duty to prevent the trauma or disease which they are trained to treat. A half-dozen physicians in the 1960s aggressively pressed the auto industry to build more crash-protective vehicles to prevent trauma casualties they had to treat regularly.

A profession has three basic characteristics.  First is a learned tradition – otherwise known as going deep and keeping up with a profession’s literature and practices.  Second is to continue a tradition of public service.  Third is to maintain the independence of the profession.

How do professional societies measure up? Not that well. They are too monetized to fulfill their public service obligations and retain their independence. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has had a notorious history of following the technological stagnation of the auto companies. Their standards almost never diverge from what is permitted by GM, Ford et al.  Indeed, the SAE’s standards committees are mostly composed of company engineers whose employers provide funding and facilities for any testing.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is waist-deep in the automation and artificial intelligence drive.  You’ll not hear from that Society about the downsides, collateral risks and undisclosed data by the companies in this portentous area.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has not distinguished itself regarding the safety of gas and oil pipelines, allowing industry lobbyists to take over the federal regulator without as much as a warning whistle.  This history was exposed years ago by a retired DuPont engineer, Fred Lang.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) knows about the scores of vulnerable plants resisting regulatory efforts to safeguard their premises from sabotage that could destroy a nearby town or city.  Ask Rick Hind, former legislative director for Greenpeace, about this evasion (See: “Chemical Security Testimony by Greenpeace’s Rick Hind”).

The American Medical Association (AMA) received peer-reviewed studies by Harvard and Johns Hopkins Schools of Medicine pointing to at least 5,000 patient deaths per week from preventable problems in hospitals – from malpractice to hospital-induced infections.  Despite this clear medical emergency, the AMA refuses to move into high drive against this epidemic.  Mum’s the word.  Where the AMA shouts out is against the law of torts and the civil justice system that, every once in a rare while, hold negligent or criminally behaved physicians accountable to their victims.

Possibly the most complicit profession facilitating, covering for, and explaining away corporate greed and deception is the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Too many corporate accountants specialize in complex cooking of the books for their corporate clients.  The Wall Street crash in 2008-2009 is a major case in point. Donald Trump knows about such accountants from his business career of obfuscation.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), after a long period of submissiveness, woke up to the energy waste/pollution crisis of modern buildings and developed standards with labels to give builders incentives toward more responsible construction. But by and large, it remains a profession, apart from modern technologies, which has left its best days back in the 18th and 19th centuries (e.g., the classic cities of Europe).

Now what about the scientific societies? The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has led the way for nuclear arms control and other weaponized discoveries of the warfare state. On the other hand, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — by far the largest membership organization and publisher of Science magazine — has been utterly timid in putting muscle behind its fine pronouncements.

The large street protests by scientists in Washington, after the Electoral College selected Donald Trump, were started by young social and physical scientists. They stood up for scientific integrity and conscience and opposed Trump’s defunding of such governmental organizations as the National Science Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  These scientists’ efforts have been met with some success.

What most Americans do not know is that many of the state and federal safety/health standards are taken in considerable measure from the weak “consensus” standards advanced by professional societies. These societies, so heavily marinated with their respective industries, see their important role of feeding their industry standards into state, national, and international standards which are enforceable under domestic law or treaty.

Maybe these societies continue a learned tradition at their annual meetings, workshops, and in their publications.  But they far too often fail to maintain their profession’s standards of independence (from commercial supremacy) and commitment to public service.

These professional societies, and other associations not mentioned here, need to be brought out of their convenient shadows into the spotlight of public scrutiny, higher expectation, and broader participation.

Professional Societies: Corporate Service, or Public Services for You!

They call themselves non-profit professional societies, but they often act as enabling trade associations for the companies and businesspeople who fund them.  At their worst, they serve their paymasters and remain in the shadows, avoiding publicity and visibility.  When guided by their better angels, professional societies can be authoritative tribunes for a more healthy and safe society.

I am referring to the organizations that stand for their respective professions – automotive, electrical, chemical and mechanical engineers; physicians; architects; scientists; and accountants.  The people working in these occupations all want to be members of a “professional” association, not a “trade” association.

So let’s start by distinguishing how a “profession” is supposed to differ from a “trade.”  First, profit is not to be the end-all of a profession and its practitioners. Moral and public interest codes of ethics are supposed to be paramount when they conflict with maximizing sales and income.

The National Society of Professional Engineers’ code of ethics stipulates that an engineer has a professional duty to go to the appropriate authorities should the engineer be rebuffed by employer or client who was notified of a dangerous situation or product.

Physicians have a duty to prevent the trauma or disease which they are trained to treat. A half-dozen physicians in the 1960s aggressively pressed the auto industry to build more crash-protective vehicles to prevent trauma casualties they had to treat regularly.

A profession has three basic characteristics.  First is a learned tradition – otherwise known as going deep and keeping up with a profession’s literature and practices.  Second is to continue a tradition of public service.  Third is to maintain the independence of the profession.

How do professional societies measure up? Not that well. They are too monetized to fulfill their public service obligations and retain their independence. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has had a notorious history of following the technological stagnation of the auto companies. Their standards almost never diverge from what is permitted by GM, Ford et al.  Indeed, the SAE’s standards committees are mostly composed of company engineers whose employers provide funding and facilities for any testing.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is waist-deep in the automation and artificial intelligence drive.  You’ll not hear from that Society about the downsides, collateral risks and undisclosed data by the companies in this portentous area.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has not distinguished itself regarding the safety of gas and oil pipelines, allowing industry lobbyists to take over the federal regulator without as much as a warning whistle.  This history was exposed years ago by a retired DuPont engineer, Fred Lang.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) knows about the scores of vulnerable plants resisting regulatory efforts to safeguard their premises from sabotage that could destroy a nearby town or city.  Ask Rick Hind, former legislative director for Greenpeace, about this evasion (See: “Chemical Security Testimony by Greenpeace’s Rick Hind”).

The American Medical Association (AMA) received peer-reviewed studies by Harvard and Johns Hopkins Schools of Medicine pointing to at least 5,000 patient deaths per week from preventable problems in hospitals – from malpractice to hospital-induced infections.  Despite this clear medical emergency, the AMA refuses to move into high drive against this epidemic.  Mum’s the word.  Where the AMA shouts out is against the law of torts and the civil justice system that, every once in a rare while, hold negligent or criminally behaved physicians accountable to their victims.

Possibly the most complicit profession facilitating, covering for, and explaining away corporate greed and deception is the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Too many corporate accountants specialize in complex cooking of the books for their corporate clients.  The Wall Street crash in 2008-2009 is a major case in point. Donald Trump knows about such accountants from his business career of obfuscation.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), after a long period of submissiveness, woke up to the energy waste/pollution crisis of modern buildings and developed standards with labels to give builders incentives toward more responsible construction. But by and large, it remains a profession, apart from modern technologies, which has left its best days back in the 18th and 19th centuries (e.g., the classic cities of Europe).

Now what about the scientific societies? The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has led the way for nuclear arms control and other weaponized discoveries of the warfare state. On the other hand, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — by far the largest membership organization and publisher of Science magazine — has been utterly timid in putting muscle behind its fine pronouncements.

The large street protests by scientists in Washington, after the Electoral College selected Donald Trump, were started by young social and physical scientists. They stood up for scientific integrity and conscience and opposed Trump’s defunding of such governmental organizations as the National Science Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  These scientists’ efforts have been met with some success.

What most Americans do not know is that many of the state and federal safety/health standards are taken in considerable measure from the weak “consensus” standards advanced by professional societies. These societies, so heavily marinated with their respective industries, see their important role of feeding their industry standards into state, national, and international standards which are enforceable under domestic law or treaty.

Maybe these societies continue a learned tradition at their annual meetings, workshops, and in their publications.  But they far too often fail to maintain their profession’s standards of independence (from commercial supremacy) and commitment to public service.

These professional societies, and other associations not mentioned here, need to be brought out of their convenient shadows into the spotlight of public scrutiny, higher expectation, and broader participation.

Degrading Newspapers’ Business Sections

It’s alarming that there are far fewer media outlets for consumer protection news and features than there were thirty years ago. Recall the huge Phil Donahue Show, the regional radio show and TV news shows, the television networks and syndicated radio shows that would report and interview consumer advocates about the injustice, rip-offs, and harms done to the consumer by unscrupulous corporations. These shows are largely gone now. Shows marked by fluff, narcissism, trivia, and sensationalist, frenetic news bits are their replacements.

What is disturbing is that the major newspapers – the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal—are cutting back reporting on the revelations and doings of active consumers, and consumer organizations. Sure, they do occasional features that may gain them big journalism prizes. But the regular coverage of very important consumer struggles with Congress, the White House, the courts, and the state legislatures has vastly shrunken. Moreover, the media, especially TV, is dittoheading itself with the daily “big story”, as with the Trumpian escapades.

Serious readers are left with the New York Times daily Business pages (the Washington Post dropped its separate, daily business section a few years ago). Of late, the editors of the Times business section have been diluting its contents with what two former reporters called a more “business friendly” priority. My attempts to discuss this problem with their news editors have not been answered.

Last Sunday I picked up the weighty Sunday New York Times and went to the business page (business is often defined as stories about sellers, when it should include buyers and consumers). The cover page featured a huge photograph and article titled: “Tiger Is Back, Will Sponsors Follow?”

This article—straining for justification—proceeded to sprawl over another half page or more inside. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods hasn’t even won a single championship on his asserted comeback. This is not the first time that the business page has attempted to entertain readers with inflated articles that evoke the reader’s quizzical response—“what’s this all about?”

Our country is in a midst of a corporate crime wave against consumers, workers, investors, and small taxpayers. Fraudsters are also annually stealing tens of billions of dollars from Medicare, Medicaid, and other government programs. Massive billing fraud and abuse is rampant in the private marketplace as well.

The Pentagon’s gigantic annual budget (currently at more than $700 billion) has been unauditable for decades and, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of Congress, is in regular violation of a 1992 law requiring all government departments to provide audits to the GAO.

The ongoing destruction of the freedom of contract, through fine print stripping of consumer rights and remedies to use the courts keeps eroding the value of consumer dollars. Consumers don’t deserve this costly irritation.

Courts are restricting consumer access by legislative reductions of court budgets and obstacles presented by what is euphemistically called “tort reform” by the insurance and tort-feasors lobbies.

A trillion dollars of unproductive stock buybacks is coming in the next 18 months so as to increase the stock option value of the corporate bosses’ compensation packages. A trillion dollars that can be used for raising low-pay of workers, such as at Walmart, or shoring up company pension fund reserves or investing in R&D or productive enterprise, not to mention dividends to shareholders (individual pension and mutual funds).

It is not as if the business pages are lacking top level urgent conditions to report as news and features which can also provide topics for their editorial pages.

Instead, the business pages are filled with constant technology hype, as with the inflated promotions and data-starved claims by the companies working on the eminently hackable self-driving cars.

There is plenty of personal advice to taxpayers, but very little on the crisis brought about by the Republican Congress starving the IRS’s budget where staff is trying to collect a part of the $400 billion in uncollected yearly taxes.

Other trends are disturbing. Their first-class weekly aviation columnist, Joe Sharkey, was dismissed three years ago. Times readers fly a lot and have bushels of complaints about an increasingly tone deaf airline industry— the sensible Southwest Airlines is a luminous exception. Yet the Times editors felt they could not justify Sharkey’s $1000 weekly remuneration for doing a sterling job.

Gone also is The Haggler who dissected real consumer grievances in a most engrossing manner. He has not been replaced. Reader voices do not even have a letter to the editor space in the Times business section in which to react or vent.

It has been several years since the Times stopped using print pages for the stock market tables. This should have opened up space for more serious and compelling articles by the paper’s talented staff and contributors. Instead, they no longer have a place for their former star investigative reporter, Gretchen Morgenson, whose searing, well documented Sunday column sent deterrent shivers through culpable corporatist wheeler-dealers.

If anyone is listening to those readers who know what a “business friendly” atmosphere means for the public’s right to know more, please let us know. Two-way conversations on the telephone between editors/reporters and readers are almost extinct.

I, for one, wanted to tell the New York Times business editors that there is only one New York Times and that stupefying standards by this flagship newspaper is seriously consequential for the country.

Stopping War Pusher John Bolton, Trump’s Choice for National “Insecurity” Advisor

John Bolton’s career of pushing for bombing countries like Iran and North Korea, and his having played an active role in the Bush/Cheney regime’s criminal war of aggression that destroyed Iraq, makes him a clear and present danger to our country and world peace. He is about to become Donald Trump’s personal national security advisor with a staff of 400 right next to the White House. He must be stopped!

For Bolton, the Constitution, federal law, the Geneva Conventions, and other international laws are pieces of paper to be thrown away with unctuous contempt.  This outlaw – the shame of Yale Law School—should have been cast away as a pariah if not prosecuted and imprisoned. A bully to his subordinates in the government and known as “kiss-ass” to his superiors, Bolton is aggressive, relentless, and consistently wrong, when not prevaricatory.

Under Secretary of State Colin Powell, during the imperial Bush/Cheney presidency, Bolton told the media that Fidel Castro was developing chemical and biological weapons. False. Secretary Powell, who believes Bolton is impetuous and dangerous, overrode his in-house liar and corrected the record. While in Cuba with a group, I heard Fidel Castro say he feared Bolton’s words were a precursor to a U.S. attack until Bolton’s remarks were dismissed by his superiors.

There is a remarkable liberal/conservative dislike and fright about Bolton having Trump’s ear daily. Especially since Trump is susceptible to adopting the positions of the last person who reaches him. The added danger is that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has privately told people that he, like many who have experienced Bolton in government, cannot work with him. So does that mean that Trump will have to choose between the restraining hand of General Mattis and the recklessness of the draft-avoiding torture advocate John Bolton?

Will Republicans, who refused to confirm Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2005, assume some responsibility for opposing this sociopath? They could easily pass a joint resolution of Congress demanding withdrawal of the appointment by Trump.

There are many vigorous critics of Bolton’s career and subsequent belligerent stances ; Just last month Bolton wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal demanding the bombing of North Korea. His juvenile, lethal positions avoid considering the consequences, responses, backlash and danger to our country’s own safety. He likes to bet on the world—a Dr. Strangelove on steroids.

lengthy New York Times editorial (March 23, 2018) declares, “Yes, John Bolton Really is that Dangerous.”  It begins: “there are few people more likely than Mr. Bolton to lead the country into war.” Especially since Trump – mired in domestic scandals, investigations, and personal lawsuits—may wish to wag the dog and start wider, distracting, armed hostilities abroad.

The American Conservative magazine is stirring that segment of the political spectrum with Gareth Porter’s article, “The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War with Iran.”  Trump didn’t like General McMaster’s (Trump’s outgoing National Security Advisor) counsel that the U.S. remain in the Iran nuclear accord and not isolate itself from other major country signatories who say Iran is complying with its terms.

Then there is Bolton’s bigotry against Arabs and Muslims and his alliance with Pamela Geller—the notorious Islamophobe. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has elaborated on Bolton’s outrageous falsehoods against Arabs and Muslims (the “other anti-semitism” in the words of James Zogby in 1994 at a conference in Israel).

How does such a deep hatred in the White House connect to Trump’s repeated declaration that he allegedly seeks a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians?

Republican constitutional law analyst, Bruce Fein, presents a strong case that the powerful position of national security advisor to the President must be confirmed by the Senate. In which case, Bolton would be gone.

Fein argues: “The Appointments Clause of the Constitution militates against the National Security Advisor aberration.  It makes Senate confirmation of ‘officers of the United States’ the rule. But Congress may by statute create exceptions for ‘inferior officers.’  But it has not done so for the Advisor—even assuming the office qualifies as ‘inferior.'”

The other obstacles to Bolton’s assuming his position is that it will take the FBI many weeks to decide whether he can receive a top security clearance. At age 69, Bolton has a long trail of entanglements and intrigues in and out of government, not to mention his tantrums—some involving female public servants.

Fein recounts Bolton’s “unmasking the names of Americans whose conversation has been intercepted by the National Security Agency under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).” He still defends the catastrophic invasion and occupation of Iraq (for more information see Madea Benjamin’s “10 Reasons to Fear John Bolton“).

How does such a madman like Bolton keep coming back? Two reasons stand out. First, the more aggressive parts of the military-industrial complex, bolstered by the neocons, see him as a useful tool—for bigger military budgets and empire. Second, he is a staunch collaborator with the Israel lobby’s support of Israel’s militaristic, increasingly autocratic regime that regularly works against a two-state solution (The majority of American Jews support a two-state solution).

If President Trump gives Bolton a waiver while he works without a security clearance, as he has done, under wide condemnation, for his family and a few others already, the political firestorm may be enough, with other factors, to cause Trump to have Bolton bolt the White House with only his Trump-irritating walrus mustache intact.

In the immediate meantime, members of congress and aroused citizens must use their influence to block or evict John Bolton from our White House.

Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear

Polls show that over 125 million adults in our country already favor full Medicare for all, with free choice of doctor and hospital without stifling networks. I say ‘already’ because, as of yet, there is no major national campaign underway showing that an ‘everybody in, nobody out’ system of health insurance costs less, with better outcomes, is simpler, without maddeningly inscrutable or fraudulent bills, co-pays, deductibles and additional trap doors set by a bunch of greedy corporations. The campaigns that exist today are receiving too little on-the-ground assistance for such a widely-supported issue.

A super-majority of only 535 members of Congress—Senators and Representatives—can make that decision. The bill—H.R. 676, the ‘Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act’—is now supported by 121 House Democrats—two thirds of all the Democrats in the House of Representatives. So that’s a good start.

H.R. 676 has been referred to several, regular, Committees of the House whose Chairs are all Republican corporatists. So there have been no public hearings. The bill, not surprisingly, is not moving at all.

Millions of Americans have had the bitter experience of denials of health care, staggering bills, pay-or-die drug prices and even loved ones dying because they couldn’t afford health insurance (about 35,000 a year based on Harvard Medical School experts). So, in the next month, imagine what would happen, if just ten million of the 125 million who support full Medicare for all wrote, telephoned or emailed their two Senators and Representative demanding action and a written response by their lawmakers (who don’t pay postage).

Just ten million Americans making the least difficult effort—perhaps ending with a demand for a town meeting back home to educate the negative solons—would strike the Congressional Dome like a thunderbolt. Are there a dozen leaders among you up for launching such an electrifying internet mobilization?

Not to be confused with other lesser health insurance bills, mostly in the Senate, H.R. 676 is the real thing. It covers ‘all individuals in the U.S. with free health care that includes all medically necessary care, such as primary care and prevention, dietary and nutritional therapies, dental services, and vision care.’ No more premiums, co-pays or gaping deductibles.

How does H.R. 676 pay for all these services? Five ways:
” (1) from existing sources of government revenues for health care, (2) by increasing personal income taxes on the top 5% of income earners, (3) by instituting a progressive excise tax on payroll and self-employment income, (4) by instituting a tax on unearned income (such as on capital gains), and (5) by instituting a tax on stock and bond transactions. Amounts that would have been appropriated for federal public health care programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (SHIP), are transferred and appropriated to carry out this bill.”

Presently, all Canadians are covered at an average per capita cost half of what Americans—insured and uninsured—are having to spend for health care. The system proposed in H.R. 676 is similar to Canadian Medicare. It includes public funding and free choice of private delivery of health care. It also has provisions for better record keeping, prevention and quality control. There is even transition retraining for all those clerical and administrative jobs that would not be necessary after displacement of the present bloated, wasteful, redundant health care sub-economy.

What would happen to the giant health insurance companies such as Aetna and United Healthcare? They would be prohibited from selling insurance that duplicates the benefits provided under H.R. 676. They could only sell benefits that are not deemed ‘medically necessary,’ such as certain cosmetic surgery operations.

Rep. Keith Ellison (Dem.-Minn.), the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), is officially the lead House Democrat on the bill, which indicates that the DNC may be getting a little more interested in endorsing such legislation.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ellison is talking it up everywhere he travels. He says:
“One of the consistent applause lines we’re all hearing is: ‘We need Medicare for all.” There’s a lot of folks who feel that it’s time for us to organize around that. It’s a better policy, at a better price. People in labor, people all over the country, they’re going to be driving the public conversation, raising the dialogue about this….What some people think is a really important progressive position is just what the rest of the industrialized world does.”

Medicare for all is what the Pentagon does. It is what President Harry Truman wanted from Congress back in the nineteen forties!! It is time.

So will the first ten million Americans step up and be counted by sending messages directly to their Senators and Representatives in the month of April? The amount of time required to send a letter, an email or a telephone call is so brief that activated citizens could be called the modern “Minutemen” for universal health insurance. Just think of all the tasks you do every day that take far more time, like trying to figure out bills, denials, exclusions, from this basic human right.

Go to SinglePayerAction.org to get the details, the motivation and the groups with which to connect. The Congressional telephone switchboard is 202-224-3121. Make sure to give your legislators your name and contacts; they’ll take the call or letter more seriously.