All posts by Ralph Nader

The Root of the Internet’s Disrepute

In all the mounting media coverage of problems with the Internet, such as invasion of privacy, vulnerability to hacking, political manipulation, and user addiction, there is one constant: online advertising. Online advertising is the lifeblood of Google, Facebook, and many other Internet enterprises that profit by providing personal data to various vendors. Moreover, the move of tens of billions of dollars from conventional print and broadcast media continues, with devastating impacts, especially on print newspapers and magazines.

But does online advertising work for consumers? The Internet was once considered a less commercial medium. But today consumers are inundated with targeted ads, reviews, comments, friends’ reactions, and other digital data.  Unfortunately for advertisers, consumers are not intentionally clicking on online ads in big numbers.

Google’s search ads tackle people when they search for a product or service. A controlled study by eBay research labs in 2014 concluded that Google was greatly exaggerating the effectiveness of such ads—at least those bought by eBay. eBay’s researchers concluded that “More frequent users whose purchasing behavior is not influenced by ads account for most of the advertising expenses, resulting in average returns that are negative.” This is the “I-was-gonna-buy-it-anyway problem,” says an article in the Atlantic.

The Atlantic notes:

Whether all advertising—online and off—is losing its persuasive punch…Think about how much you can learn about products today before seeing an ad. Comments, user reviews, friends’ opinions, price-comparison tools…they’re much more powerful than advertising because we consider them information rather than marketing. The difference is enormous: We seek information, so we’re more likely to trust it; marketing seeks us, so we’re more likely to distrust it.

Some companies like Coca-Cola have cooled on using online advertising. But advertising revenues keep growing for Google, Facebook, and the other giants of the Internet. These companies are racing to innovate, connecting ads to more tailored audiences, which tantalize and keeps hope springing eternal for the advertisers. The Internet ad sellers also provide detailed data to advertise themselves to the advertisers staying one step ahead of growing skepticism. This is especially a problem when there is inadequate government regulation of deceptive advertising. It is the Wild West! Online advertising revenues are the Achilles’ heel of these big Internet companies. Any decline will deflate them immensely; more than public and Congressional criticism of their intrusiveness, their massive allowed fakeries, their broken promises to reform, and their openings to unsavory political and commercial users. If they lose advertising revenue, a major revenue bubble will burst and there goes their business model, along with their funding for ventures from video hosting to global mapping.

After reviewing the many major negatives attributed to the Internet, the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo writes, “So who is the central villain in this story, the driving force behind much of the chaos and disrepute online?… It’s the advertising business, stupid.” He adds, perhaps optimistically, “If you want to fix much of what ails the internet right now, the ad business would be the perfect perp to handcuff and restrain.”

Randall Rothenberg, who heads a trade association of companies in the digital ad business, urges advertisers “to take civic responsibility for our effect on the world.” Then he shows his frustration by saying that, “Technology has largely been outpacing the ability of individual companies to understand what is actually going on.”  All of this even before artificial intelligence (AI) takes root. Meanwhile, Facebook, Google, and Twitter keep announcing new tools to make their ads “safe and civil” (Facebook), open and protective of privacy. At the same time matters keep getting worse for consumers. The backers and abusers keep getting more skilled too (see Youtube Kids ).

In a recent report titled “Digital Deceit,” authors Dipayan Ghosh and Ben Scott wrote:

The Central problem of disinformation corrupting American political culture is not Russian spies or a particular media platform. The central problem is that the entire industry is built to leverage sophisticated technology to aggregate user attention and sell advertising.

If so, why isn’t more public attention being paid to this root cause? Not by the mass media which is obviously too compromised by the Congress, by academia, or by more of US before “We the People” become the conditioned responders that Ivan Pavlov warned about so many years ago.

Gross Hospital Negligence Does Not Exempt Celebrities

Solid studies by physicians at leading medical schools have been warning of the huge casualty toll that flows from preventable problems in hospitals. A 2016 peer-reviewed study by physicians at the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine estimated that at least 5,000 people a week in the U.S. lose their lives due to such causes as hospital-induced infection, medical malpractice, inattentiveness, and other deficiencies. Media attention lasted one day.

What will it take to make the powers-that-be outside and inside the government reduce what medical analysts call the third leading cause of death in America? Let that statement sink in—preventable problems in hospitals are the third leading cause of death in America after heart disease and cancer!

Indignation and frustration over the massive avoidance of action to save American lives and reduce even more preventable injuries and sicknesses prompted the issuance of an eye-opening, factual report by the Center for Justice and Democracy (lodged at New York Law School) titled “Top 22 Celebrities Harmed by Medical Malpractice.” Surely in a celebrity culture, this documented report should have made headlines and prompted widespread commentary. Unfortunately, the report received little coverage from major news outlets.

Let’s see if you agree that this compilation, written by Emily Gottlieb and conceived by Joanne Doroshow, the Center’s Director, should have been newsworthy. Surveys cited in the Report show that “Four in 10 adults have experience with medical errors, either personally or in the care of someone close to them.” “Nearly three-quarters [73 percent] of patients say they are concerned about the potential for medical errors.”

Count tennis superstar, Serena Williams, was among them.  She had to save her own life overcoming inattentive medical personnel “that initially dismissed her legitimate concerns about lethal blood clots following the birth of her child.” That story made news. Other celebrities passed away without the public knowing the causes until lawsuits were filed and settlements were rendered. For the most part, the physicians have received reprimands, temporary suspensions, but rarely lost their license to practice.

Joan Rivers, the long-time comedian, entered an endoscopy center in July 2014 for a routine throat procedure in New York. Her vital signs started failing, but her caretakers were “so busy taking cell phone pictures of their famous patient that they missed the moment her vital signs plummeted,” according to her daughter Melissa who filed a successful lawsuit ending in a private settlement.

Celebrity doctors who “cater to ‘the demands of wealthy and/or famous drug-seekers’” are overprescribing pain killers and other drugs. Reckless practices “led to the premature deaths of legendary entertainers like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, to name just three.” More recently, over-prescription of drugs has harmed or killed Michael Jackson, Prince, Anna Nicole Smith, and 3 Doors Down guitarist Matt Roberts, to name a few. These were not one-time prescriptions but rather deadly ministrations over time by physicians who knew the conditions and vulnerabilities of their famous patients.

Other tragedies recounted in the Center’s report, based on lawsuit evidence and/or a medical board sanction, include singer Julie Andrews (destroyed her singing career); Marty Balin, Jefferson Airplane’s co-founder and lead-singer (destroyed his career); comedian Dana Carvey (led to “serious illness”); Maurice Gibb, the Bee Gees’ star (“died in a Florida hospital”); NASCAR champion, Pete Hamilton (survived “horrendous surgical errors causing… multiple complications”); and John Ritter, the Emmy award-winning actor, was “misdiagnosed and improperly treated at a hospital where he died.”

The great sports writer, Dick Schaap died after routine hip replacement surgery, when contemporary tests showed his weakened lungs indicated that the procedure would be too dangerous.

In 1987, the pioneering artist, director, and producer, Andy Warhol, underwent gallbladder surgery and died a day later when medical personnel put too much fluid intravenously into his body.

The Center’s report concludes by noting that “health care in the United States can be incredibly unsafe, and this is true even for well-known actors, singers, musicians, athletes and other personalities …wealth and fame cannot shield someone from being victimized by a preventable medical error.”

Safety and health reforms are long overdue in hospitals and clinics astonishingly. The American Medical Association has not produced any calls to action with effective recommendations. State regulators are heavily compromised by conflicts of interest and low budgets. The federal government is AWOL. A minimum of 5,000 lives lost a week, not counting the casualties in clinics and medical offices is a serious health crisis. This ongoing epidemic should lead to public alarms and reforms long known but kept on the shelf. Contact your members of Congress and demand public hearings. The evidence cannot be ignored any longer.

Stop Brett Kavanaugh: A Corporation Masquerading as a Judge

Observers say that confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to become President Trump’s second pick for a lifetime job on the Supreme Court will make the Court more conservative. It is more accurate to say Kavanaugh will make the Court more corporatist.

With Kavanaugh, it is all about siding with corporations over workers, consumers, patients, motorists, the poor, minority voters, and beleaguered communities.

Repeatedly Kavanaugh’s judicial opinions put corporate interests ahead of the common good—backing the powerful against the weak, the vulnerable, and the defenseless.

Apart from his declared views pouring power and immunity into the Presidency (which is why Trump wants him), Kavanaugh could be the most corporate judge in modern American history. Two meticulous reports on his judicial decisions, one by the Alliance for Justice (AFJ) and one by Public Citizen demonstrate that for him it’s all about corporations uber alles.

Here is AFJ’s summary:

Kavanaugh has repeatedly ruled against efforts to combat climate change and the regulation of greenhouse gases. He also repeatedly ruled against protections for clean air. He has repeatedly sided with the wealthy and the powerful over all Americans. He has fought consumer protections in the areas of automobile safety, financial services, and a free and open internet. Kavanaugh has also repeatedly ruled against workers, workplace protections and safety regulations.

Do you want him to be on the Supreme Court?

Kavanaugh is a corporate supremacist to a fanatic level of protecting corporate cruelty and greed. Giving him an unaccountable lifetime position on the Court will weaken our democracy and empower the corporate state.

What will he do when cases involve robots harming workers or consumers; corporate algorithms corkscrewing consumers; corporations turning the governments against their citizens; and corporate criminals being bailed out by taxpayers?

Fortunately, Kavanaugh gives us more than a clue from his many judicial decisions and dissents, especially with healthcare cases coming before the Court. Public Citizen’s factually-based report on Judge Kavanaugh’s opinions in split-decision cases provides insight into his judicial philosophy.

He ruled 15 times against worker rights, 2 times for worker rights. On environmental protection, he ruled 11 times for business interests and 2 times for the public’s interest. On consumer and regulatory cases, he ruled 18 times for businesses and 4 times for consumer protection interests. In the area of antitrust or anti-monopoly, he ruled 2 times for the corporations and zero times for market competition.

He seems to love government power when it is arrayed against the people, ruling 7 times for police or human rights abuses versus zero rulings for the victims. But he rules against government agencies when they are protecting the interests of the people over those of corporations.

Even more extreme, he does not like human beings to sue corporations or sue the government. But if you are a corporation, the courthouse doors are always open.

Kavanaugh rules like he is a corporation masquerading as a human. But in his introductory statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he wanted us to see him a regular guy, weirdly remembering the row and seat number at two professional sports games his father took him to as a child and listing all the names of his sixth grade daughter’s basketball team.

Shame on Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) for severely restricting the voices from civil society allowed to testify before the Judiciary Committee. No wonder Code Pink had to protest from the galleries.

Watch out for a cruel man with a folksy smile. Watch once again the Democratic Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee minimizing Kavanaugh’s bias for corporations — except for Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Given the lives, injuries, and sickness at stake; given the dictatorially approved taxpayer-funded corporate welfare and bloated corporate contracts with governments draining the peoples’ necessities, given Kavanaugh’s mindless support for corporate dollars corruptly buying elections, maybe the motto against this awful nomination should be “Kavana-ugh!”

Calling for Ten Million More Voters, a Few Billionaires, and a Just Congress

About 80 days separate the people from the November 6th Congressional elections. Judging by the past midterm turnout, at least 125 million age-eligible voters will stay home. Too many people say: “Can’t be bothered;” “politicians don’t care about me;” “all politicians lie so why should I be part of that game;” “I’m not into politics;” “Nobody I like.”

Whoever finds the way to bring ten million or so of these non-voters to the polls in swing Congressional Districts will solidly control the Congress. Control of the House of Representatives by the Democratic Party stops most of Trumpism in its tracks, assuming the Democrats use their power and uphold their sworn duties in domestic and military/foreign matters under the Constitution.

Ten million non-voters becoming voters may not seem so decisive. Remember, however, that John Kerry lost to George W. Bush in 2004 by less than 90,000 votes just in Ohio. Donald Trump swung the key Electoral College votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin by a mere 107,000 votes.

Therefore, let’s ask the question: What’s it worth in costs compared to benefits? How do we achieve a progressive Congress, committed to the needs and rights of the American people and not beholden to the big corporations? A mere half a billion dollars would achieve that objective—about what the Koch brothers’ network intends to spend this year.

The benefit of increasing the turnout of informed voters is a more enlightened Congress. A new and improved Congress could produce huge savings in dollars, lives, health, safety, and improve the environment. In addition, a new Congress could end boomeranging illegal wars, enact a long-overdue increased minimum wage, corporate tax reform, facilitate faster conversion to solar-renewable energy, and restore our public facilities with good local jobs. Our public transit, national parks, schools, highways, bridges, libraries, and community health clinics all need repairs. Ending massive, taxpayer-funded corporate welfare and taming the bloated, skyrocketing military budget that is devouring our public resources are also benefits of rebuilding a responsive Congress.

The list could go on, but permit a single example. Over a decade ago, it was revealed that a single disclosure line, put back in the tax forms filed by business partnerships, would end a loophole that has cost Uncle Sam anywhere from $7 billion to $20 billion a year in tax revenue. The corporate-indentured Congress refused to approve such a line and fund its implementation.

In the massive accounts receivable for big business that is our federal budget, you can pick and choose what can be saved were a super-majority of our 535 Representatives and Senators accountable to the voters and they definitely can be.

How would a half-billion dollars for voter education and mobilization be spent effectively? Not by using the same old ways of getting out the non-voters that have failed again and again.

First, most get-out-the-vote efforts target registered voters. Non-voters are considered, for the most part, too hard to convert into voters.

The reasons are obvious. You don’t get these conversions by the usual last-minute phone banks, post cards and door knocks. You have to have adequate time and you need engaged neighborhood people-to-people resources for at least several weeks to achieve those persuasions through relationships of trust and discussion and you may need transportation facilities. Voter suppression and registration barriers also need to be overcome one voter, one family at a time.

In the late 1880s, dirt-poor Texas farmers started one of the greatest political revolts/reforms in American history. Spreading into many other states, this populist surge— against the rapacity of banks, railroads and their political toadies— elected Governors, took over state legislatures, installed members of Congress and almost won the presidency. What did the farmers have? Their land, open minds, courage, heart, passion, energy,  and the Post Office.

What did they lack? Money (other than the $1 dues from each Texas farmer), telephones, paved roads, motor vehicles, radio, television, and the Internet. Yet somehow they pulled it off and we’re benefiting this day from their electoral, economic, and pro-farmer-labor reforms.

At present, every neighborhood, housing project, and community has what political analysts call “influentials,” long known and trusted people who can be persuasive in converting non-voters to voters. Two thousand full-time organizers can spark these “influentials” into action—if the organizers have the financial resources to pay for necessary expenses, arrange pot-luck suppers, and provide transportation to the polls.

Backup support by people skilled in administration, law, accounting, recruitment, public relations, and media would accelerate the pace and minimize pitfalls. Moving people together in buses to the polls followed by celebratory dinners increases the spirit, the elan of what would likely become a widely publicized movement, extending beyond Election Day, replete with visuals, posters, special songs, and even empowering parades.

Five billionaires could provide the money with one resolute meeting! Our country has more than that number of concerned philanthropists with records of enlightenment. They are worried about the downward direction of our country and what it means to the children and grandchildren, and to our precious environment, to our need for stable peace. They want to be good ancestors. They can make a very quick decision and start making it happen.

Are any possible benefactors listening? If so, contact nader.org.

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.