All posts by Ralph Nader

The Continuing Damages from Corporate-Managed so-called Free Trade

The great progressive Harvard economist and prolific best-selling author, John Kenneth Galbraith, wrote that “Ideas may be superior to vested interest. They are also very often the children of vested interest.” I wished he had written that assertion before I took Economic 101 at Princeton. One of the vested ideas taught as dogma then was the comparative advantage theory developed by the early 19th-century British economist, David Ricardo. He gave the example of trading Portuguese wine for British textiles with both countries coming out winners due to their superior efficiencies in producing their native products.

Ricardo’s theory drove policy and political power for two centuries fortifying the corporate and conservative proponents of alleged “free markets” (See: Destroying the Myths of Market Fundamentalism) and “free trade.” The theory’s endurance was remarkably resistant to contrary obvious empirical evidence. Whether Ricardo envisioned it or not, “free trade” became an instrument of colonialism, entrenching poor nations in the extraction and exportation of natural resources while becoming almost totally dependent on western nations’ value-added manufactured products. “Iron ore for iron weapons,” as one observer summed it up. Tragically, too often, the weapons came with the invaders/oppressors.

Fast forward to today’s supply chain crisis disrupting the flow of commerce. Why does the world’s largest economy and technology leader have a supply chain problem forcing businesses and consumers to helplessly wait for simple and complex goods to arrive at our shores? Why did we find ourselves in March 2020 desperately waiting on an Italian factory to sell us simple protective equipment to safeguard patients, nurses, and physicians to address the pandemic’s deadly arrival? Answer – the touted theory of comparative advantage embedded in so-called “free trade.”

In reality, there is no such thing. It is corporate-managed trade under the guise of “free trade.” As Public Citizen attorney Lori Wallach asked her audiences, while holding up heavy volumes of NAFTA and WTO trade agreements – “If its free trade why are there all these pages of rules?” Because they are corporate rules often having little to do with trade and everything to do with the subordination of labor, consumer and environmental rights and priorities.

These agreements, secretly arrived at, made sure that they pulled down higher U.S. standards in these areas instead of having them pull up serf labor, polluting factories and consumer abuses in authoritarian nations. Corporate managed trade leads to inherently dangerous dependencies, such as no antibiotics being produced in the U.S., which imports these and other critical drugs from unregulated Chinese and Indian laboratories. The supply chain enchains.

A remarkable take down appeared in a lengthy essay titled “The Idea of a Local Economy” twenty-one years ago by the agrarian wise man, Wendell Berry, who used a larger framework taking apart the so-called “free trade,” under monetized corporate control over governments, a clueless media and academics still indentured to Ricardo theory. He didn’t go after the obvious – that imported products from serf-labor countries are corporate opportunities to make even more profits by keeping prices high. Other than textiles, note the high prices of Asian-made computers, iPhones, electronic toys, Nike shoes and foreign motor vehicles sold to American consumers. This imbalance allows Apple’s boss Tim Cook to pay himself $833 a minute or $50,000 an hour. The markups on these products are staggering, but not as staggering as the plight of Apple’s one million serf laborers in China.

Berry opens up new horizons on  the deception called “free trade” to wit, “Unsurprisingly, among people who wish to preserve things other than money – for instance, every region’s native capacity to produce essential goods – there is a growing perception that the global ‘free market’ economy is inherently an enemy to the natural world, to human health and freedom to industrial workers, and to farmers and others in the land-use economies; and, furthermore, that it is inherently an enemy to good work and good economic practice.”

The farmer-thinker, Berry, listed numerous erroneous assumptions behind corporatist global trade. A few follow:

  1. “That there can be no conflict between economic advantage and economic justice.”
  2. “That there is no conflict between the ‘free market’ and political freedom; and no connection between political democracy and economic democracy.”
  3. “That the loss of destruction of the capacity anywhere to produce necessary goods does not matter and involves no cost.”
  4. “That it is all right for a nation’s or a region’s subsistence to be foreign-based, dependent on long-distance transport and entirely controlled by corporations.”
  5. “That cultures and religions have no legitimate practical or economic concerns.”
  6. “That wars over commodities – our recent Gulf War, for example – are legitimate and permanent economic functions.”
  7. “That it is all right for poor people in poor countries to work at poor wages to produce goods for export to affluent people in rich countries.”
  8. “That there is no danger and no cost in the proliferation of exotic pests, weeds, and diseases that accompany international trade and that increase with the volume of trade.”

A common theme in Berry’s warnings is that monetized corporations, in their ferocious search for profits, destroy or undermine far more important non-monetized democratic values of societies. That, in turn, leads to the suppression of impoverished societies on the ground where people live, work and raise their families.

That is why limitless greed, unbridled, whether formed from Empires or by domestic plutocrats, eventually produces convulsions which devour their mass victims and themselves.

*****

Website: Destroying the Myths of Market Fundamentalism
Website: The Idea of a Local Economy by Wendell Berry

The post The Continuing Damages from Corporate-Managed so-called Free Trade first appeared on Dissident Voice.

U.S. Senate: From Partisan (GOP) Swamp to a Bipartisan Graveyard for Democracy

Since January 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed 412 bills (See: Congress.gov) and sent them to the Senate. Unfortunately, the Senate hasn’t acted. “What?” you say, “don’t the Democrats control both Chambers of Congress?” Sure, by the barest of margins. Handcuffed by the filibuster, a Senate rule (not a federal law) requires 60 votes to pass legislation in what Senators of yore called the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”

“Nonsense,” says veteran Rep. John Larson (D-CT). The Democrats can hold public hearings, report bills to the Senate floor and then make the Republicans filibuster. Let the GOP sweat a days-long filibuster of a bill establishing a $15 minimum wage. Imagine the national TV coverage with Democrats rebutting the cruel or lying orations by megamillionaire Senator Mitch McConnell and his minions.

As has been the practice for years, the Republican minority members in the Senate merely sent the majority leader an email threatening a filibuster (“extended debate” is the euphemism) and the majority leader placed the bills from the House in limbo.

Make the GOP filibuster” is a rising private cry of Democrats in the House led by Cong. Larson. Let the GOP show its cruel fangs, its opposition to the long-overdue necessities for workers, the elderly, consumers, the environment and equal rights for women. Many House bills passed “bipartisanly,” meaning they had more than nominal numbers of Republican votes.

The filibuster can be turned into a boomerang against the Republicans. It could become a form of public education to strip the GOP of its sugar-coated propaganda and make Republican Senators explain why they are against fair play, justice and the righting of past wrongs, which are harming all the people, not just Democratic voters.

Fierce debates draw large audiences in politics. Pretty soon, the GOP will realize that their filibustering is hurting them in the polls and diminishing their all-important vacation time from congressional work that will break the coerced unanimity and let some Republicans dissent from the Party line.

Remember the Senate has plenty of time for filibustering. Like the House, it works a three-day week, plus many weeks called “recesses,” including a recess for the entire month of August. If the Republicans were forced to filibuster to stay lucrative with their corporate paymasters, they would also make Democratic Senators work full time and maybe some evenings.

Rep. Larson recalls that the most extensive past use of real filibustering was by Southern segregationist Senators bent on blocking civil rights legislation. Now, the filibuster threat blocks all kinds of legislation on behalf of all the people at one time or another.

Filibuster excuses are even used in the House by right-wing Blue Dog Democrats whose small number hold the balance of power there. Using the excuse that a bill couldn’t get through a Senate talkfest, conservative House Democrats, in essence, veto bills with large popular support, such as Medicare for All. You got your free Covid-19 vaccines by showing your ID at a drug store. This is an example of the benefits of a single-payer system, which gives you free choice of doctors or hospitals.

The popular overdue bill (Social Security 2100) is updating social security, which hasn’t seen an increase in benefits for over 50 years! Cong. Larson calls his bill one that “preserves the #1 anti-poverty program for seniors and children.” Retirement, disability and survivor benefits are vital for many people. Mr. Larson wants to fully pay for these overdue increases by “making millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share” of taxes from their long-time, ridiculously low real payments.

Fed up with Senate obstructionism, a group of House lawmakers, I am told, are finally going public, challenging the Senate leadership to rise to the occasion and consider legislation demanded by the American people. A top priority for Mr. Larson and his fellow Democrats is strengthening voting rights to bolster the fort of democracy from increasing Trumpian assaults.

Going public joins the issue in explicit ways that will attract mass media and citizen attention. To make Republican Senators put their mouths where their corporatist ideology is will require the Democrats, under leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to have a sense of public urgency for fair legislation that overrides the stale pretexts for the bipartisan procedural, stagnant status quo. These pretexts have too long gone unrevealed and unexamined.

Take note: filibustering with all hands present on Capitol Hill disrupts convenient schedules and scheduled conveniences. A couple of televised ferocious public contests on the Senate floor will make the solons consider other arrangements to unclog the world’s most pompously unproductive legislative chamber.

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Time for a Taxpayer Revolt Against Rich Corporate Welfarists

It is time for an unusual but long overdue revolt by the 150 million tax-with-held taxpayers. I’m not speaking of rates of taxation that the rich and corporations largely avoid because of the gigantic tax escapes, which they grease through Congress. Today I’m hoping to get your dander up by showing how corporatist politicians make you pay for big corporations to come to their corporate welfare-friendly state and make profits.

You’ve been required to subsidize these companies for them to make a profit and you get nothing in return – silent partners pouring money indirectly into big-name corporations. They misleadingly call these subsidies “incentives,” but they are really coerced entitlements.

Before getting into these recent tax breaks, a little history is needed to show that once upon a time, giveaways to these self-styled “capitalists,” were not so easy.

In 1971, the Lockheed corporation was not doing so well. So, its corporate lawyers went to Congress to ask for a $250 million loan guarantee so that banks would lend the company money and have no risk because of Uncle Sam’s backing. The proposal created an uproar on Capitol Hill. Hearings were held and extensive debate on the House and Senate floor dissected all sides of this controversial, hitherto unheard-of special privilege. There was extensive coverage in the press.

The bill eventually passed but not without a strong fight and amendments by its opponents.

Fast forward to today where $250 million is chump change. Do you have any idea of the sum total of outstanding loan guarantees for private businesses passed or authorized by Congress? You don’t? Well, neither do any members of Congress. The data is not collected, though I’ll guess it is over a trillion dollars, including big chunks for unfinished or suspended nuclear power plants. Government guaranteed capitalism.

Congress hasn’t even compiled data on how many of these loan guarantees have been called in by failing or mismanaged corporations.

Besides loan guarantees, there are a blizzard of other forms of corporate welfare at the federal, state and local levels. (See, GoodJobsFirst.org). There are property tax abatements, direct cash subsidies as was extended to grossly mismanaged General Motors (GM) after it went bankrupt to get rid of its creditors and its wrongful injury lawsuits.

There are federal taxpayer-paid research and development (R&D) programs, such as new government medicine research given free to Big Pharma to sell without price restraints, and pioneering R&D breakthrough research for the computer, aerospace, biotech, nanotech and agribusiness industries, to name a few recipients of government giveaways.

Bear in mind that these handouts and bailouts rarely come with any payback conditions. The rare instances are when the feds take stock in companies they rescue. This partial reciprocity occurred in the form of stock from the GM and Chrysler bailout of 2008. When the Treasury Department eventually sold this stock, the revenue did not come close to paying for the bailout.

Now, handouts, bailouts, and other subsidies are given to companies as a matter of mindless routine. New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced the other day that he was going to give the newly approved marijuana retailers about $4 million to help them get started. Hey, delicatessens, fresh fruit and vegetable markets, why not get in line? If there’s tax money for getting people “high,” surely Mayor Adams should have some of your taxpayer cash to advance “nutritional highs”, especially for people in need.

However, it was up to Kathy Hochul, the unelected Governor of New York (as Lt. Governor, she succeeded the resigned Andrew Cuomo last year) to raise the corporate tax break competition to unheard-of jackpot levels. The $10 BILLION tax break for chip-makers to locate in New York state, instead of any other state, was so brazen that the Governor resorted to secrecy and legislative darkness.

As reported in the Albany Times Union, with no prior public exposure, her bill was passed without any public hearing by the state Senate on the final day of its legislative session. The state Assembly whisked it through, also without hearings, at 8:00 am on its last day following 20 continuous hours of voting before adjourning.

The newspaper took note of “sleep-deprived lawmakers who were enduring the grueling schedule.” (Republicans went along in both chambers).

John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, told the Times Union: “This is like the ugliest of Albany. In this type of fog, the governor’s office can misinform the Legislature, and do it all at the last second.”

There is no reinventing the Governor. Marinated in avalanches of corporate campaign money for her election bid this November, Hochul is addicted to heavily obligating taxpayers for years, without their knowledge or the informed, open consent of their state representatives. This last point was raised by dissenting state senator Liz Krueger (who should be the state’s Governor).

Earlier this year, Hochul secretly negotiated an $850 million taxpayer subsidy for a new Buffalo Bills stadium. The owners of this NFL team, the Pegula family, is worth according to Forbes, $5.8 billion! She then rammed this entertainment giveaway through the legislature, again without public hearings, as part of the state’s budget.

Hochul is just getting started in her enormous giveaways to the super-rich and greedy. She is the plutocrats’ Governor. Public Defenders are leaving their crucial positions in the state because they are paid so little they can’t meet their living expenses. Kathy Hochul has no interest in raising their salaries and securing their constitutional mission of justice for indigent defendants.

There is something seriously out of control with this reckless corporate welfare-disbursing Governor. She even refuses to meet the press or return calls from civic leaders about her dictatorial giveaways to a very profitable semi-conductor industry.

It gets worse. Every day since 1982, according to corporate tax expert and reform advocate Jim Henry (Follow on Twitter: @submergingmkt), the state is refunding electronically about $40 million every day collected from the financial transaction taxes on Wall Street trades in stocks, derivatives and bonds. This is a miniscule sales tax, (a fraction of one percent) in a state where consumers pay 8 percent sales tax on their purchases of essential goods.

With New York City’s budget shaky and the state budget relying heavily on a one-time burst of federal monies, Hochul is refusing requests by numerous informed state legislators, such as Assemblyman Phil Steck, to simply keep the daily collected transaction tax. No way! She’d rather collect campaign money from her Wall Street contributors.

It’s clearly time for a taxpayers’ revolt. For starters, call Governor Hochul to protest. Her office’s phone number is 518-474-8390 and you can email her via https://www.governor.ny.gov/content/governor-contact-form. If you are not from New York state, her race-to-the-bottom to grab some factories will pressure your state to offer the same tax breaks, on your back.

The post Time for a Taxpayer Revolt Against Rich Corporate Welfarists first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Is Corporate Criminal Law Heading for Extinction?

Crimes without criminals was not a subject for study when I was in law school. The two were seen as part of the same illegal package. That was before notorious corporate lawyers and a cash register Congress combined to separate economic, health and safety crimes from corporate accountability, incarceration and deterrence.

Lawlessness is now so rampant that a group of realistic law professors, led by Professor Mihailis E. Diamantis of the University of Iowa Law School, claim there is no corporate criminal law. I say “realistic” because their assertion that corporate criminal law, does not in fact, exist is not widely acknowledged by their peers.

Most Americans know that none of the executives on Wall Street who are responsible for the lies, deception, and phony investments they sold to millions of trusting investors were prosecuted and sent to jail. “They got away with it,” was the common refrain during the 2008-2009 meltdown of Wall Street that took our economy down and into a deep recession that resulted in massive job loss and the looting of savings of tens of millions of Americans.

Not only did the Wall Street Barons escape the Sheriff but they got an obedient Congress, White House and Federal Reserve to guarantee trillions of dollars to bail them out, implicitly warning that the big banks, brokerage firms and other giant financial corporations were simply “too big to fail.” They had the economy by the throat and taxpayer dollars in their pockets. Moreover, Wall Streeters made out like bandits while people on Main Street suffered.

All this and much more made up a rare symposium organized by Professor Diamantis last year at Georgetown Law School. (See here). He wrote that the “economic impact of corporate crime is at least twenty times greater than all other criminal offenses combined,” quoting conservative estimates by the FBI. It’s not just economic, he continued: “Scholars, prosecutors and courts increasingly recognize that brand name corporations also commit a broad range of ‘street crimes’: homicide, arson, drug trafficking, dumping and sex offenses.”

The litany of corporate wrongdoing ranges from polluting the air and drinking water, dumping microplastics that end up inside human beings, promoting lethal opioids that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, providing millions of accounts or products to customers under false pretenses or without consent, often by creating false records or misusing customers’ identities, (Wells Fargo), manufacturing defective motor vehicles, producing contaminated food, allowing software failures resulting in crashes of two Boeing 737 MAX’s with 346 deaths. (See, Why Not Jail? By Rena Steinzor).

People don’t need law professors to see what’s happening to them and their children. People laugh when they hear politicians solemnly declare that “no one is above the law,” extol “the rule of law” and “equal justice under the law.”

By far the greatest toll in preventable fatalities and serious injuries in the U.S. flows from either deliberate, negligent or corner-cutting corporate crime under the direct control and management of CEOs and company presidents, many of whom make over $10,000 an hour over a 40-hour week.

Five thousand people a week die in hospitals due to “preventable problems,” documents a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study. The EPA estimates some 65,000 deaths a year from air pollution; OSHA has estimated about 60,000 work-related fatalities from diseases and traumas in the workplace. This carnage does not include the far greater numbers of people suffering from illnesses and injuries.

This range of corporate destruction was pointed out thirty-four years ago by Russell Mokhiber in his classic book, Corporate Crime and Violence: Big Business Power and the Abuse of the Public Trust (Sierra Club, 1988).

What are Congress and the White House saying and doing about this growing corporate crime wave? Saying little and doing almost nothing. Corporate criminal law enforcement budgets are ridiculously paltry. The Department of Health and Human Services recovers less than three percent of the estimated $100 billion a year stolen from Medicare and Medicaid.  There are too few cops on the corporate crime beat and the White House and Congress are unwilling to remedy this problem.

Congress doesn’t hold broad hearings on corporate crime, except when a dustup gets headlines like the recent contaminated baby formula from the unsanitary Abbott factory in Sturgis, Michigan.

This is remarkable because since January 2021, two of the rare outspoken lawmakers against corporate criminality, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), both are chairs of subcommittees in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There are large gaps to be filled and updated in the inadequate federal corporate criminal law. Some regulatory agencies, such as the FAA (aviation) and NHTSA (auto safety) have no criminal penalty whatsoever for willful and knowing violations that directly result in fatalities.

Then there is the patsy Department of Justice (DOJ). For years we’ve asked DOJ officials to ask Congress to fund a corporate crime database (like the street crime database). Attorney General Merrick Garland won’t even respond to letters about this issue. For years, specialists like Columbia Law professor John Coffee have been urging the DOJ to stop settling the few cases they bring against corporate crooks with weak “deferred prosecution agreements” or “non-prosecution agreements.” These deals involve modest fines, no jail time for the corporate bosses and a kind of temporary probation for the corporation.

Corporate attorneys play the DOJ like a harp knowing that the Department has a small budget for prosecuting corporate crime and that many DOJ attorneys are looking for lucrative jobs in these corporate law firms, after a few years of government service. Any one of many giant corporate law firms has more attorneys than all the lawyers working on corporate crime in the Department of Justice.

Professor Diamantis, W. Robert Thomas and their colleagues are prolific writers of law review articles. They argue for a range of effective penalties that will deter recidivism, which is rampant. They probe restructuring the corporate hierarchies of privileges and immunities from the law. They argue for updating the antiquated federal criminal code to match new technological/Internet/artificial intelligence (AI) violations.

Until, however, these scholars can make it into the mainstream media to reach enough citizens and get this “law and order” agenda adopted by candidates campaigning for elective office, the ideas they advance will circulate mostly among themselves indefinitely.

The post Is Corporate Criminal Law Heading for Extinction? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Public Justice” – Standing Forty Years Against Brutish Corporate Power

It is not often that one speech urging the creation of a national public interest law firm, driven by seasoned trial lawyers, would move from words to deeds, from oratory to action.

That is just what happened following my address in June 1980 to the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association. I spoke of a gap in trial practice which needed to be filled. There was a pressing need to bring cases against the many corporate abuses, which included non-enforcement of regulatory laws. Without the prospect of a contingent fee after a successful outcome, trial lawyers were unlikely to take on these uncertain cases or structural reform cases on behalf of tenants, farm workers, or cruel prison conditions.

I noted the assault of corporations on “the biosphere, personal injury law from trauma to toxics.” The corporate lobby was blocking legislative proposals to strengthen consumer class action rights, digging deeper for unconscionable corporate welfare payments and funding corporatist politicians. To challenge these damaging corporate power plays, I suggested a full-time core of public interest attorneys supported by a sabbatical program for trial lawyers who wanted to take a year off from their regular practice and come to Washington, D.C. to advance justice and refresh themselves.

It turned out that there were some leading trial lawyers – Scottie Baldwin, J.D. Lee, Bill Colson and Dean Robb – who were dissatisfied with the slow pace of the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), then controlled by a small clique of smug members. They took this proposal to the ATLA convention and convened a meeting of like-minded attorneys. With the determined assistance of Joan B. Claybrook, who was with Public Citizen, the nonprofit Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) was born.

In the ensuing forty years, TLPJ renamed Public Justice (PJ) in 2007 has shown that there are opportunities for widespread justice successes so long as the peoples’ advocates are on the field of action.

Public Justice has taken on a wide range of cases from going up against mountain-top removal and the coal industry’s poisoning of fresh water in West Virginia, to industrial agricultures’ toxic contaminations, to making sure Title IX is enforced to open wide the doors for women participating in intercollegiate athletics.

Today, led by Paul Bland, Public Justice is celebrating its fortieth anniversary. The firm has a $7 million annual budget (which is about three and a half weeks’ pay for the miserly Tim Cook, CEO of Apple), 23 staff on its legal team and a total staff size of 46.

Look at Public Justice’s docket of lawsuits. They have challenged court secrecy, fought compulsory arbitration and federal pre-emption of good state laws and the weakening of class actions. Students subjected to harassment and discrimination have found a champion in Public Justice, as have consumers cheated in so many ways by devious commercial thieves.

Special is Public Justice’s stand against what it calls the “Debtor’s Prison Project.” Here governments try to cash in by imposing fees on charged defendants trapping them in cycles of poverty, with PJ arguing that “no one should lose their freedom because they lack the means to pay a fine.”

A large vacuum is filled by Public Justice in its Worker Justice Project. Giant agri-business, Public Justice asserts with abundant evidence, “has always capitalized on the exploitation of workers, since its origins in plantation agriculture that relied on the forced labor of enslaved Africans. Today, meatpacking workers are subject to some of the most brutal working conditions in the labor market.”

When Covid-19 viruses came to America, Public Justice went to the defense of food-system workers who were not given protection and care and therefore their industry facilities “quickly became epicenters of outbreaks.”

Paul Bland and his colleagues teamed up with other public interest groups on some cases, including Toward Justice and the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom.

Within today’s right-wing, corporatist judicial system, Public Justice still wins cases, deters wrongdoing because companies know it is on watch, and even raises the visibility of issues when they lose.

Like any forty-year-old institution, it must remain alert to becoming too settled, too risk-averse and instead continue to be a pioneering organization and break new ground with bold causes of action as if there is no tomorrow. Hear that younger attorneys? Your burden is to keep your unique law firm as fresh as a cool mountain breeze caressing a gushing mountain brook. For more information visit the Public Justice website.

The post “Public Justice” – Standing Forty Years Against Brutish Corporate Power first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Dishonoring Earth Day 2022 with an Oil, Gas, Coal, and Nuclear Heyday

Instead of championing solar, wind and conservation energy, the GOP (Greedy Old Party) is championing the skyrocketing profits and prices for the omnicidal fossil fuel and atomic power companies.

Surging gasoline prices at the pump are not met with excess profits taxes on profit-glutted Big Oil. Rather the GOP and the Democrats are suspending taxes on gasoline sales that are used to repair roads and bridges. An excess profits tax could be used to provide rebates to consumers who are being gouged at the pump.

The case for an excess profits tax is made in a new report, Big Oil’s Wartime Bonus: How Big Oil Turns Profits Into Wealth, April 5, 2022, by Bailout Watch, Public Citizen and Friends of the Earth. Profits (and stocks) of companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron zoomed so much that Big Oil, not wanting to moderate their wholesale prices, have spent $45 billion of your money to buy back their stocks this past year and increase the compensation of their bosses.

Unleashing their lobbying forces in Washington, Big Oil and Gas are demanding, the report relates, “faster approval for natural gas pipelines … and increased drilling on public lands and waters.” Biden is opening up more oil and gas leases on public lands even though he reported some 9000 leases already granted are still not being utilized by the oil and gas companies.

The Biden administration is spending $6 billion to shore up aging nuclear plants that safety advocates say should be mothballed.

Washington is silent on using taxes on fossil-fuel price profiteering for more wind, solar and the little mentioned energy conservation retrofits of buildings throughout the U.S. The energy savings and renewable approach would be faster, cleaner, produce more jobs and benefit more directly to Main and Elm Streets USA.

The becalmed Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission should swing into bold action under their anti-monopoly and consumer protection authorities.

It shouldn’t have taken Consumer Watchdog in California to sound the alarm on the price manipulation by the five big oil refiners that control 96 percent of the gasoline made in California, led by Chevron. Jamie Court, the dynamic president of Consumer Watchdog, declared: “with California taxes and environmental fees adding about 60 cents per gallon, Californians have long wondered where the extra $1.50 per gallon more they are paying than other US drivers (from 5 to 7 dollars per gallon) goes, and with this legislation (SB1322) we will finally know. California has been an ATM for oil refiners for too long. SB1322 requires California oil refiners to document monthly how much they pay for the average barrel of crude oil they process into gasoline and how much they charge for the barrel of finished gasoline. At 42 gallons per barrel, we will then know how much they are making per gallon of gasoline sold in California, and be able to take back the excessive profits.” That is, assuming the completely Democratic Party dominated California state legislature enacts this legislation.

If Democrats do not stand tall in going after gasoline price inflation and other price gouging, the GOP will succeed in putting the blame on the Dems in the November elections. Washington is decades late in cutting our addiction to fossil fuels that are causing the climate crises.

On the first Earth Day in April 1970, over 1500 demonstrations against air, water and pesticide pollution were held on college campuses around the country. With the onset of the omnicidal fossil-fuel-driven climate catastrophes, leading to even more virulent wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and floods, the college campuses are now too silent, the streets are too empty, and the Congress too somnolent.

Congress is on another vacation this week so citizens should be buttonholing their representatives back home and pressing them to take action to counter the fossil fuel industry’s greed and to move toward a clean energy future.

Except for the far too small number of authentic advocates pressing decision-makers in government and industry to “follow the science”, the country’s officials appear too resigned, too attentive to short-term campaign money and political myopia to be stewards of the people, the natural environment and the planet.

If these power brokers need any more evidence of the ominous threat to humanity and its tiny planet, they should read the latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said humanity has a “brief and rapidly closing window” to head off a hotter, deadly future.” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world is “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe” as the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and lack of political willpower undermine the necessity to cut greenhouse gas pollution by about half before 2030 and get rid of the carbon footprint by 2050.

It is not as if an abused Nature is not warning homo sapiens daily with unprecedented intensifications of its deadly outbursts and disruptions all around the world.

Once again, given the way our government is structured, it is the Congress – with just 535 members – which can become the rapid engine of energy transformation to the readily known renewable solutions. Solar panels are now seen on rooftops, and windmills on hillsides. Energy efficient technologies are affordable and abundant. Unfortunately, the GOP blocked the infrastructure proposals for clean energy proposed by Biden and the Democrats. Will the voters remember in November?

You know the Congressional switchboard number: 202-224-3121. Summon your representatives to your own town hall meetings and directly confront their desire for re-election in the fall. Tell them, for the sake of the world, their country and their state, it is time to shake off whatever invisible chains are around them and do what they and most of America knows has to be done. A clean energy future is better for the climate, the economy, the health and consumer pocketbooks of ALL THE PEOPLE, regardless of their self-described political labels.

When it comes to the ravaging climate disruptions, all people bleed the same color. Summon your Senators and Representatives directly to your community. (See my book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think, Pages 144-145).

The post Dishonoring Earth Day 2022 with an Oil, Gas, Coal, and Nuclear Heyday first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Consumer Protection Progress and Regress

I’m often asked whether consumers are better or worse off since the modern consumer movement took hold in the nineteen sixties.

Let’s look at the record. Motor vehicles are much safer, less polluting, and more fuel efficient now, but not nearly what they should be. Today, consumers have warranty rights, recall rights, equal credit opportunity rights they did not have back then. Labeling has also improved. There is no more lead in gasoline and paint, though lead water pipes still contaminate some drinking water systems.

From being King tobacco over 50 years ago, cigarette companies are more regulated and daily tobacco smoking is down from 45% of adults to less than 15% of adults. But now there is vaping. Deadly asbestos is out of most products.

Solar energy and wind power are growing, even though energy company propaganda smeared them as Buck Rogers science fiction over 50 years ago.

Nuclear power plants are closing and no new ones are under construction, except for the massive Georgia boondoggle projects costing taxpayers and ratepayers billions of dollars in cost overruns. Heating, lighting, and air-conditioning technology is more efficient, but nowhere near what it could be.

Clothing is cheaper due to production being taken to horrific polluting sweatshops abroad, leaving empty factories here (See, Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas, September 3, 2019).

Now look at the dark side. Housing is less affordable and homelessness is greater. Hunger is still a shameful plague in a land of plenty, with some 15 million children going to bed hungry. Nutritional, organic, and ethnic foods are more widely available. We have pandemics instead of epidemics. Highway congestion and the paucity of mass transit is probably comparatively worse, despite some new investments in public transit since the sixties.

The profit-driven opioid pandemic taking over 100,000 American lives a year didn’t exist in the 1960s. Drug prices are sky high, even with large government subsidies and free research and development from the National Institute of Health.

Corporate crime escaping accountability is more diverse, brazen, and massive. Big time corporate crime pays. Over $350 BILLION is lost in computer billing fraud every year just in the health care industry. There are very few prosecutions. Since computer use has grown, it has been much easier for corporations to cheat, fine, penalize, and overcharge consumers and commit automated billing fraud. With the repeal of state usury laws in the nineteen seventies, payday rackets and rent-to-own swindles have fewer restraints.

Fine print contracts keep reaching new levels of coercion unheard of in the nineteen sixties. This is due to the endless opportunities created by the incarcerating credit card economy, which has taken away consumers’ control over their own money. Over 80% of consumers do not use cash or checks as they did in the sixties.

It is hard to exaggerate the massive controls over consumers which come from losing their freedom of contract and being coerced by companies with threats to worsen consumer credit scores and credit ratings, especially if they dare to persistently complain about a lemon car or a callous landlord. Fine print contract companies – just about every major corporation selling to you – are now taking away your right to go to court and have a trial by jury if you are wrongfully injured and want to hold wrongdoers accountable for damages.

Working only three days a week when they are not in extended recesses, Congress holds fewer investigative public hearings on issues affecting consumers such as monopolies or oligopolies that plague one industry after another. There are far fewer full-time consumer reporters at newspapers and radio/TV stations. Wells Fargo Bank creates fictitious credit card accounts, auto insurance, and other sales for millions of their non-requesting customers for years and then when caught escapes any jail time for the top bosses. Where was the preventative oversight?

What would have been incredible in the nineteen sixties is the relentless drive by companies such as Amazon, rental car giants, and others to get rid of purchasing by cash or check. Many companies want everybody to be coerced into the credit/debit penitentiary so they can charge your account for their dictatorial fees and other abuses (see my column, Ten Reasons Why I Don’t Have a Credit Card, April 24, 2019).

Companies can charge you an outrageous fee or so-called penalty. They control your money through access to your credit card and deduct their bilk. What if instead they had to send you a bill to pay by check? They would probably decide to revise their business model, because you would be more outraged if you had to consciously pay them, instead of being passively debited.

Finally, the marketing to children is out of control. Companies are circumventing parental authority selling directly to kids, harmful junk food, junk drink, and violent programs and games. These avaricious corporations are electronic child molesters. Direct marketing to kids and pushing to hook them with credit cards at an early age is pulling them into the addiction industries and creating intense family turmoil – especially with children’s omnipresent iPhone as the delivery vehicle.

Now comes Facebook’s “metaverse” that sucks in these youngsters far beyond the cruel seductions of today’s internet, further distancing this generation from the realities of life and communion with their families and the natural world.

We need hundreds of new consumer protection organizations from the local to the national and international levels making tough demands on lawmakers and pushing for wider access to justice for aggrieved people.

Big corporations have meticulous strategic plans for humans, including robotic replacement of workers and human to human contact. It is time for a new consumer revolution and new consumer rules for a just, safe, and consumer-sovereign economy.

Alexa can’t help you with this portentous mission.

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No Corporate Law and Power Questions for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

In over twenty hours of grueling confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Jackson’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Republican Senators (Cruz, Cotton, Hawley, Blackburn, and Graham) found much time to disgrace themselves, using the Judge as a prop for their despicable political ambitions. Meanwhile the Democratic (and Republican) Senators found no time to tap into Judge Jackson’s knowledge and analysis of the grave issues regarding the nexus of the power of giant corporations and the Constitution.

Senators, who should have known better, declined to raise the important questions about corporate personhood, or the provision of equal rights for corporations with human beings in a Constitution that never mentions “corporations” or “companies.” The Constitution is all about “We the People.”

Ignoring the immense power of global corporations over the rule of law, the immunities and privileges these companies use to escape the law and harm people with impunity, and the power of corporations under the 2011 Citizens United case to spend unlimited amounts of money to independently support or oppose candidates for public office were taboo subjects.

These are critical questions that leading citizen groups like Public Citizen and Common Cause would have wanted raised. The hearings, before a large television and radio audience, could have provided a rare educational moment for the public!

In numerous nomination hearings for Associate Justices of the High Court, we have submitted questions to presumably receptive Democratic Senators about corporations and the law. They were never asked. Our requests that Senators submit questions on corporate power to the nominee for written responses were also regularly denied.

Since my testimony with Dr. Sidney Wolfe during Justice Stephen Breyer’s confirmation hearings in 1994, outside civic witnesses have largely been prohibited from testifying at these tightly choreographed spectacles. Congress has added this exclusion to their overall closure movement against the civic community.

We are left with submitting testimony for the record, which rarely sees the light of the Judiciary Committee’s day. On the last day of the hearings with the nominees, the two Parties each select their own panel of rubber-stamp witnesses (often law professors). Both the media and senatorial attendance declines.

The Committee’s arrogance is such that distinguished people asking to testify do not even get the courtesy of a written acknowledgement. They’re just treated as nonpersons, instead of valuable contributors to the nomination process.

During the nomination in 2006 of the most right-wing corporatist, unitary-presidency ideologue, Samuel A. Alito, Jr., I wrote that the Senators did not “pose questions relating to access-to-justice, as provided by tort law, nor to the generic constitutional questions relating to NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO) and their dubious authority to side-step the sovereignty of our three branches of government with their mandatory decisions” affecting workers, consumers, and the environment.

When the most powerful institutions in our country escape scrutiny at these times of peak interest in the rule of law (constitutional and statutory), the charge that Congress refuses to confront corporatism and the supremacy of these out-of-control corporate behemoths comes full circle.

Call them above the law, beyond the law, or the creators of the law, giant and powerful corporations are a major domestic threat to our democracy. They are corrupting elections, dominating the media, blocking union formation, obstructing judicial justice for wrongfully injured people, and destroying our consumer freedom of contract – while strategically planning the future of human beings, down to their genetic inheritance.

Asking Judge Jackson her thoughts about the legal rights of robots, the engagement in military activities by corporate contractors, and the corporate patenting of life forms would have increased public awareness about important legal issues. Even if she artfully avoided judgmental replies, just asking what she knows about the settled law in these and other areas would have educated lawmakers and the public.

To get a sense of the immensity of this overlooked corporate phenomenon, please visit our website nader.org for the list of my previous questions and see the excellent article by the great journalist Morton Mintz in the November 1, 2005 issue of The Nation titled “Serious Questions for Samuel A. Alito Jr.”

Readers, remember Congress is misusing the powers that you have granted it under the Constitution, but you still hold the sovereign power and duty to safeguard and improve our democracy.

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Facilitating Civic and Political Energies for the Common Good

Some readers responded to one of my earlier columns urging the national progressive civic groups, with millions of members back home, to overcome the dominance of giant corporatism with a Ten-Year Plan1 budgeted at $1 billion a year (See, “Think Big to Overcome Losing Big to Corporatism,” January 7, 2022). Readers wanted to know more about the Plan and where the money would come from to implement this grand initiative.

New billionaires are proliferating in numbers reflecting the record stock market surges. Some are enlightened and worried enough to gather with citizen group leaders to review the Plan, the strategy, timetable, and required budget. Those who count themselves in, and want to back the Plan, would pledge to contribute the total pledges of $10 billion for the ten-year effort. After the funding is secured, (possibly augmented with internet crowdfunding), the Plan commences in several coterminous stages.

The First Stage is to get through Congress, vetoproof if necessary, the long overdue necessities for half of the U.S. population, which is poor, with collateral benefits for the entire country.

A Brain Trust will expertly draft legislation addressing the elements of ending endemic poverty. These include a living wage, Medicare for All insurance (already well drafted in H.R.1976 and supported by over 118 co-sponsors), affordable housing, adequate nutrition that abolishes hunger in America, personal and environmental health care with emphasis on prevention, necessary public services for families and communities, and a system of private retirement savings to supplement Social Security.

These conditions for good livelihoods, which were mostly secured years ago by some Western countries, lead to larger market demand, have consistent left/right support in Europe and in the U.S., and they make for strong economies. (See, Reframing the Politics of Polarization by Hazel Henderson, August 4, 2021).

The driving pressure to implement the Plan would come from civic offices staffed by two full-time people in each of the 435 Congressional Districts and for US Senators in all fifty states plus territories. Groups would be established with an expanding corps of citizen volunteers committing 500 hours and $500 annually forming a grassroots juggernaut. These citizen groups would focus intensely on their members of Congress, using precise petition-backed citizen summonses to their Senators and Representatives to appear at Town Meetings, which these organizers arrange with detailed and broadly supported agendas.

The yearly cost to establish these offices and recruit significant numbers of volunteers as the ever-deepening force is about $100 million a year. This sum would include inter-district coordinators and other facilities to organize the self-funded, expanding volunteer corps.

Passage of vital and overdue bills is less difficult than assumed by a society that is presently AWOL from the playing field of legislation. Such catch-up legislation can already count on the overt support of about thirty percent of Congress, with the latent support of at least a quarter of Congress once the organized rumble from the People is heard. (That was the case with Nixon Republicans in the 1960s and early 70s.)

Once the political tea leaves become clear, lawmakers become responsive. This is what happened in corporate President Richard Nixon’s first term, sometimes leading to great majorities behind environmental, consumer, and labor bills. Nixon even sent to Congress a basic minimum-income plan, a better health insurance proposal than Clinton offered as President, and congressional voting rights legislation for the District of Columbia. Congress did not pass these three reforms coming from a Republican White House. Nonetheless, Nixon felt he had to propose these bills.

The Second Stage, parallel to the first, is to create facilities that invite and enable an accelerated banding together of willing people in their various roles. People can have rights and remedies under the law, but without organized groups they are mostly not used, defended, or improved. Whether you are customers of insurance, utility and banking companies, or tenants, or consumers of food, energy, transportation, and healthcare or using government services, or have been wrongfully injured, membership in these “communities,” as organized advocacy groups is essential. Such groups would work to fundamentally change existing dysfunctional systems, extending to protections of children, services for students, and corporate control of the vast commons (public lands, public airwaves, etc.) that we the people already own.

Daily seeking their own interests, corporations are organized to the teeth by comparison to millions of citizens. This is why corporations control the major sectors of our government, our economy, and other societal institutions day by day. The large drug companies have 500 full-time lobbyists regularly working on Congress with large industry backup forces. The people are vastly outmatched. So what do we expect without a strong citizen team on the field?

Corporate power stems not from votes (corporations don’t vote, yet) nor so much from the campaign money. It comes as a byproduct of the almost wholly unorganized populace not utilizing its powerful exclusive sovereignty (“We the People”) under our Constitution. In our country’s history, it is remarkable what a small percentage of people (often under one percent) when organized and representing broad public concerns, have achieved against all odds. (See my book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think, 2016).

Much of the conceptual work on these legislated facilities has been developed and used to produce pilot projects vis-à-vis electric utility giants years ago by citizen organizations. (See, Banding Together: How Check Offs Will Revolutionize the Consumer Movement by Andrew Sharpless and Sarah Gallup, 1981).

To get these facilities set up and into action all around the country, with seed money for ten years, would annually cost about another $100 million. They would put the people and their expert champions at the table in more ways than one, with near immediate results. Right now, for example, according to consumer advocate, actuary, and former Federal Insurance Commissioner, Robert Hunter, about $30 billion is not being returned as state laws require, to motor vehicle owners by auto insurers that received a windfall when the pandemic reduced auto traffic and claims. Without state-by-state insurance consumer organizations, there will be few of these refunds.

Forthcoming columns will describe the uses for the remainder of the $800 million in the first of ten years.

  1. Richard Parker, Here, the People Rule: A Constitutional Populist Manifesto, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.
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Lost Opportunities in Joe Biden News Conference

President Joe Biden broke the record for the longest presidential press conference ever – going nearly two hours fielding question after question. He stood that long to prove his stamina and dispel bigoted charges of ageism.

How did he do by his own standards? First, his opening remarks naturally touted the bright spots in the economy and the administration’s efforts to control Covid-19 during his first year in office. However, he missed an important opportunity to connect with the public and focus the tunnel-vision media on the serious legislation he wants to advance.

For example, early on Biden proposed reversing some of the tax cuts for giant corporations and the super-wealthy that Trump rammed through Congress in 2017. Biden did not say why it is urgent for Congress to act on this matter or explain that these taxes are necessary not just for fairness, but to pay for the major proposals he has on Capitol Hill. Therefore, the media will not pay attention and assume he has given up.

Calling himself a “union guy” for decades, Biden inexplicably did not give a shout-out for a higher federal minimum wage, now frozen at $7.25 an hour. The House Democrats passed a bill increasing the minimum wage in stages to $15 but the bill is stuck in the Senate and threatened by an anti-worker GOP filibuster. He also could have brought national attention to the House-passed “Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act” that makes it less difficult to form unions. This legislation is also mired in the Senate. The President’s failure to mention these proposals signals to the press that these bills are off the table for this election year. Consequently, reporters don’t write about these important measures.

Biden portrayed his Republican enemies in the Senate with weak language, asking thrice whether there was anything the GOP was for. That criticism could have been far more penetrating had he enumerated ten proposals, passed in the House, that the corporate-indentured Republicans in both the House and Senate were against big time. Imagine the impact, for example, of noting the GOP blocking the renewal of $300 or $250 monthly checks to over 65 million children (both liberal and conservative families in need) in a mid-winter pandemic. Why not mention expanding Medicare for the elderly, or rebuilding America in every community—the latter desired by just about every local chamber of commerce, union, and small business? Such concise contrasts by Biden would have sent the cruel duo, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy reeling.

Biden spoke of infrastructure, to be sure, but didn’t highlight the appeal to specific local interests and the overwhelming public support. He should have also warned big business to stop grabbing and corrupting the safety net assistance for deprived small business, under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). He could have referred to the Inspector General’s exposés at the Small Business Administration (SBA), which have gone almost unnoticed.

Biden marveled at the fact that not one Republican senator has dissented from draconian do-nothing Republican leaders. Unfortunately, the Democrats assured the Republican lock-step by not trying months ago to intensely spin-off some GOP Senators starting with the five not running for re-election and Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT). Romney says he hasn’t received one call from the White House.

Presidential remarks at press conferences needn’t devote more than two or three sentences to alert the country and the media to an administration’s priorities. Biden’s omissions were puzzling indeed by comparison to his own previous policy stands.

As a long-time corporate Democrat, it was not surprising that Biden did not mention law and order for the corporate crooks that have hugely ripped off government programs, as well as exploiting consumers and workers. But then he doesn’t exactly have the strong support from the Democratic Party or the Democratic National Committee (DNC) down to the state committees whose hands are out 24/7 for corporate campaign contributions.

Equally disappointing were the reporters’ questions narrowly ranging over a small number of issues – voting rights, the votes in Congress, his declining poll numbers, and Ukraine. The White House Press Corps, as the legendary pioneer Helen Thomas would politely point out, censors itself when it isn’t fearful of its bosses or being sycophantic. There were no questions on what Biden wants, but omitted. There were no questions on the corporate domination of just about every sector of our government and its political economy. And there were no questions about the bloated, unauditable, draining military budget to which was added $24 billion more than Biden and the Pentagon requested.

Consumers are hurt by gouging prices, deceptive practices, and blocked remedies. Many workers have widespread occupational hazards, low pay, and few benefits, yet they are taking more opportunities in a period of temporary labor shortages to form unions among some big-box chains and retailers (Starbucks, Amazon). The White House Press Corps repeatedly fails to ask questions that ordinary people would want answered about their conditions.

When Biden signals his acceptance of only pieces of his proposals being passed, he pre-signals defeat and weakens his negotiating leverage in advance. Presidents who appear weak diminish per se their influence with Congress.

Perhaps the media’s worst performance last Wednesday was their war-inciting, history-forgetting questions about Ukraine – goading a properly cautious Biden. After all, President Putin knows how deep Russian memories are of losing about 50 million people from western frontier invasions in World War I and World War II. They know that any Russian leader would oppose NATO, a military alliance against the Soviet Union – bringing weapons and membership to adjacent Ukraine. Nonetheless, the reporters chose war inciting, not peace inciting (diplomacy), questions, other than asking about what happened to his campaign promise to end the war in Yemen.

Biden, his advisers, and the Press Corps need to review their performances to avoid future ditto heading. We need to make them care enough to engage in such introspections.

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