All posts by Ralph Nader

Needed: Indicators for Measuring Injustice and Societal Decay

Economic indicators – data points, trends, and micro-categories – are the widgets of the big information industry. By contrast, indicators for our society’s democratic health are not similarly compiled, aggregated, and reported. Its up and down trends are presented piecemeal and lack quantitative precision.

We can get the process started and lay the basis for qualitative and quantitative refinement. Years ago, when we started “re-defining progress” and questioning the very superficial GDP and its empirical limitations, professional economists took notice. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, economists cling to the yardsticks that benefit and suit the plutocrats and CEOs of large corporations.

Here are my offerings in the expectation that readers will add their own measures:

  1. A society is decaying when liars receive mass media attention while truth-tellers are largely ignored. Those who are chronically wrong with outrageous and baseless predictions are featured on news broadcasts, op-ed pages, and as convention and conference speakers. On the other hand, those who forewarn and are proven to be accurate are not regaled, but instead, they are excluded from the media spotlight and significant gatherings. Consider the treatment of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz post-Iraq invasion, compared to people like Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn who factually warned Washington not to attack illegally a country that didn’t threaten us.
  2. A society is decaying when rampant corruption is tolerated, and its perpetrators are rewarded with money, votes, and praise. When President Eisenhower’s chief of staff, former New Hampshire Governor Sherman Adams, accepted a vicuña coat from a textile manufacturer, he was forced to resign. The daily corruption of Trump and the Trumpsters towers beyond measure over Adams’ indiscretion. Yet calls for Trump and his cronies to resign are rare and anemic. Tragically, the law and the norms of decency have done little to curb the corrupt, criminogenic, and criminal excesses of Trump & company. Even government prosecutors and inspectors generals have been fired, chilled, and sidelined by Trump and his toady,  Attorney General Barr.
  3. A society is decaying when a growing number of people believe in fantasies instead of realities. Social media makes this an ever more serious estrangement from what is actually happening in the country and in the world. Believing in myths and falsehoods leads to political servitude, economic disruption, and social dysfunction. The corrupt concentration of power ensues.
  4. An expanding economy focusing increasingly on ‘wants and whims’ while ignoring the meeting of basic ‘needs and necessities’ shatters societal cohesiveness and deepens miseries of many people. Adequate housing, healthcare, food, public services, education, mass transit, health & safety standards, and environmental protections are the prerequisites for a humane democracy. The economy is in shambles for tens of millions of Americans, including hungry children. Minimal economic security is beyond the reach of tens of millions of people in our country.
  5. With few exceptions, the richer the wealthy become, the more selfish they behave, from severely diminished contributions to charities to the failure to exert leadership to reverse the breakdown of society. Take all the failures of the election machinery from obstructing voters to simply counting the votes honestly with paper records. The U.S. Senate won’t vote to give the states the $4 billion needed for administering the coming elections despite the Covid-19-driven need for expanded voting by mail. The Silicon Valley, undertaxed, mega-billionaires could make a $4 billion patriotic donation to safeguard the voting process in November and not even feel it.
  6. Rampant commercialism knowing no boundaries or restraints even to protect young children is running roughshod over civic values. Every major religion has warned about giving too much power to the merchant class going back over 2000 years. In our country, justice arrived after commercial greed was subordinated to humane priorities such as abolishing child labor and requiring crashworthy cars, cleaner air, water, and safer workplaces. Mercantile values produce predictable results, from excluding civic groups from congressional hearings and the mass media to letting corporations control what the people own such as the vast public lands and public airwaves.
  7. Then there is the American Empire astride the globe, enabled by an AWOL Congress and propelled by the avaricious military-industrial complex. In his 1961 farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower presciently forewarned that “[W]e must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” All Empires devour themselves until they collapse on the countries of their origins. Over 55% of the federal government’s operating spending goes to the Pentagon and its associated budgets. The military-industrial complex increasingly leads to quagmires and creates adversaries abroad, as it starves the social safety net budgets in our country. Our country’s military spending with all its waste is surging and unaudited. The U.S. spent more than $732 billion on direct defense spending in 2019; this is more than the next ten countries with the largest military expenditures.
  8. A society that requires its people to incur crushing debt to survive, while relying on casinos and other forms of gambling to produce jobs, is going backward into the future.
  9. Public officials who repeatedly obstruct voters from having their votes received and counted accurately and in a timely fashion continue with impunity to try to steal elections. Then Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (now governor of Georgia) “stole” the election in 2018 from gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Abrams said Kemp was an “architect of voter suppression.” And that because Kemp was the Georgia Secretary of State during the race, he was “the referee, the contestant and the scorekeeper” for the 2018 gubernatorial election. He escaped accountability. Democracy decays.
  10. Access to justice is diminishing. Tort law – the law of wrongful injuries – has been weakened in many states with arbitrary caps on damages for the most serious injuries. It also is harder than ever for citizens to get through to real people in government agencies.

Time to conclude and look forward to your indicators of societal decay. Send them to gro.lrscnull@ofni or CSRL, P.O. Box 19367, Washington, DC 20036. The more Americans know where their country is heading, the more they may just want a better future and participating in or supporting the movements dedicated to turning our democracy around.

From the Covid-19 Battle Can Come Unstoppable Citizen Power to Propel “Full Medicare for All” through Congress

Frontline healthcare, transit, and grocery clerk workers are too busy risking their lives helping and saving people exposed to the deadly Covid-19 pandemic to see themselves emerging as the force that can overcome decades of commercial obstruction to full Medicare for All.

These heroic, courageous, and selfless people are getting the job done, often without protective equipment and adequate facilities. Many of them get extremely sick or die from Covid-19.

Fat cat CEO’s are placing full-page ads elaborately praising their workers whom they regularly underpaid and disrespected before Covid-19. These bosses are now recognizing both the physical and moral courage it takes for these exceptional saviors to serve their communities.

What is emerging from this catastrophe is an exceptional class of millions of potential advocates receiving mass media coverage. Deeply personal profiles and first-person accounts of the pain and anguish they endure fills the news. They have experienced firsthand the perverse priorities of the profiteering corporate health vendors that are leaving tens of millions of innocent families uninsured, underinsured, and without paid sick leave.

Now shift the scene to the only obstacle to single-payer universal health insurance in America – the corporate indentured Congress. Out of 535 Senators and Representatives, 135 in the House already support H.R. 1384 full Medicare for All with free choice of doctors and hospitals. This much more efficient and comprehensive lifesaving system is far superior to our current profits-first morass. In the Senate, add another 30 supporters. With about 200 more converts for Medicare for All, a veto-proof passage is possible.

Now can come the steely determined Covid-19 workers with their national advocates representing all their skills and geographic regions, heading straight for Congress. In relays, day after day, observing CDC guidelines, they will find Congress mostly AWOL. These days Congress is only periodically present for pressing financial legislation. The frontline workers can push for Congressional hearings, floor debates, and then voting. No more lies, delays, distortions, or domination of members of Congress by the corporate crime complex. The legislators are directly told they work for the people, not the corporations pouring money into their campaign coffers.

These Covid-19 workers cannot be stared down or flimflammed. They have the decisive karma that veterans’ groups often have with Congress. They have seen more fatalities among their protectees in three months then the U.S. soldiers lost in the Korean and Vietnam wars (apart from the massive greater casualties on the native peoples). They have experienced the staggering pressures of their hands-on service from ambulances to intubations and the solitary deaths of their patients. While members of Congress huddle at home, they are shamed by the low-paid valiant toil of exposed grocery, public transit, and sanitation workers who don’t have the luxury of laboring remotely.

This new unstoppable non-partisan assemblage of Americans will have plenty of backup. Funding by well-to-do people will be forthcoming. Experts like Dr. Stephanie Woolhandler, Dr. David Himmelstein, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, Dr. Michael Carome, former Nurses Union leader RoseAnn DeMoro, who keenly understand the tactics of the medical corporatists, are on hand. So are the Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) and many other consumer and labor groups.

The polls will expand from a present, majority of Americans, doctors, and nurses to even greater numbers backing universal health care coverage. Rising to greater prominence to lead the way in Congress will be the long-supportive Representatives and Senators energized and propelled by this new, relentless citizen dynamic demanding action now!

What should have been done over a hundred years ago, when Republican President Theodore Roosevelt proposed universal health care, should not be stalled any longer.

Not when 1500 to 2000 people lose their lives every week because they can’t afford to be diagnosed or treated in time, according to a new Yale study.

Not when an average of a billion dollars a day is taken by billing fraud according to a conservative estimate by the leading expert on such crimes – Professor Malcolm Sparrow of Harvard University.

Not when a minimum of five thousand people a week die from preventable problems in hospitals (not including clinics) as reported in a peer-reviewed Johns’ Hopkins School of Medicine analysis. Putting people before profits would lower that horrendous casualty toll substantially.

Not when numerous countries, including Canada, cover all their people at half the price per capita with better outcomes, free choice of physicians and hospitals, and peace of mind.

Not when documentation for fundamental change is so overwhelmingly at everyone’s fingertips (See: SinglePayerAction.org). Dr. John Geyman’s latest in a series of educational books by this sagacious practitioner and scholar – the galvanizing “Profiteering, Corruption and Fraud in U.S. Health Care” will be available very soon (See: johngeymanmd.org).

The Covid-19 pandemic and its bungling by Trump and Trumpsters leading to the loss of loved ones, the loss of patients, and the horrific experiences of frontline workers would pave the way to this long-overdue change. The humane laser-beamed arrival of workers, who have witnessed the tragedies caused by the pandemic will push Congress to provide Americans universal care and relief, from economic anxiety, dread, and fear. Americans deserve the same health care coverage enjoyed by people in every other western country.

Moving Street Protests from Futility to Utility

The nationwide street protests following the gruesome murder of George Floyd, who was pinned to the ground and choked by a Minneapolis police officer and three accomplices, were spontaneous and diverse. No leaders, charismatic or otherwise put out the call for people to turn out in the face of militarized police legions. It was a wondrous display of civic self-respect.

Showing up is half a Democracy.

The New York Times asked some of the protesters who stood in solidarity, why they turned out? Their responses boiled down to inner compulsions that required action. A municipal employee in Minneapolis, Don Hubbard said “…I feel like if I don’t come out here, and we don’t all show up, then what are we doing?” and he added, “We’re letting this man die in vain.”

In Los Angeles, Beatriz Lopez replied “I felt I had to go. I had been asking ‘what can I do?”

Beth Muffett of Austin, Texas declared “If you’re not standing up for George Floyd, who’s going to stand up for you? It’s just a level of wrongness, that I couldn’t say no to going out to try to do something.”

Young Chad Bennett (age 22) from St. Louis – “seeing the video of what happened to Mr. Floyd left him “numb,” he said. “It’s a silent rage, I guess.”

The personal and conscience-driven feelings which arise from these people and many others are not uncommon.

These protesters are well aware of previous mass demonstrations that did not lead to reforms and did not even result in prosecutions of the felonious police officers.

“Not this time” is the sentiment of these seekers of justice against the broader criminal injustice system. The Attorney General of Minnesota, Keith Ellison, promptly brought second-degree murder charges against the knee-choking police officer. The signs carried by protesters called for defunding bloated municipal police budgets and using the proceeds for housing, education, and healthcare. “Abolish the police” speeches meant establishing community-shaped security for neighborhoods.

Even the presence of pre-meditated vandals destroying stores and other properties could not overshadow the historic continuing grievances of Black Americans.

They face racism daily. It is built into conditions of discriminatory poverty – no jobs or low-paid jobs, or unprotected work that is too often dangerous in nature. As tenants, many African Americans are defenseless against evictions and landlord safety code violations. As ripped off borrowers (payday loan rackets) defrauded consumers (the poor pay more for less), are grossly under-served by a wide array of public services, such as health care, crumbling schools, and inadequate mass transit where they experience on-going discrimination. They are arrested and imprisoned more often for similar offenses committed by white people. Then there is the obstruction or suppression of their voting rights in Republican states. They face public harassment and targeted racism while walking, jogging, or driving. Add it all up and their suppressed pain, despair, dread, fury, and fear for their children can’t be ignored anymore.

No matter how many books, articles, documentaries expose this aggregate life under “The New Jim Crow,” little changes. Even concerned politicians routinely break their promises to communities of color.

How then can this current moral force avoid dissipation once the media loses interest and the protesters become exhausted? How can such widely praised demonstrations produce real change?

Seize the movement. Immediately secure funding from enlightened or guilt-ridden wealthy residents of these cities to form full-time citizen watchdog groups leveraging the reforms demanded by the protesters. Some permanent presence must be established to thwart the status quo ante. That’s what seizing the moment means.

The collective street experiences must become the engine for massive early voter registration and voter turnout by Black and Hispanic Americans. Such a turnout is essential to replacing many of the corporatist racists like Senate ruler, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, with elected officials who will stand with and for the people.

The conscious raising of such vocal mass challenges to the dominant powers brings new leaders to the forefront to run for office, to forge new advocacy groups, to join existing groups, and to litigate and educate and motivate.

Innocent Americans died and were injured in these peaceful protests. Many others risked batons, harmful tear gas, pepper spray, and other weaponry. Awareness, authenticity, and resolve can be the products of such confrontations. These are seeds for a strengthened, enlarged democracy of justice, freedom, and equality.

Again, seize this moment! Big Time!

Governor Cuomo: Avoid Budget Cuts by Not Rebating Stock Sales Tax to Wall Street!

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is basking in the popularity of his meticulous Covid-19 news briefings and simultaneously predicting a pandemic-driven $61 billion state deficit over four years. Astonishingly, the Governor electronically rebates an existing tiny stock transfer sales tax back to Wall Street. This stock transfer sales tax, bringing in an estimated 13 to 16 billion dollars a year, would reduce forthcoming budget cuts in health, education, transportation, and other safety nets.

No Governor in the country has the luxury of simply keeping very significant tax revenues that are already collected to avoid cutting necessities of life. Yet Governor Cuomo has supported these rebates for the past ten years, as have previous New York state Governors all the way back to 1981 when this early 20th-century tax stopped being retained in the state’s treasury. As much as a staggering $250 billion dollars has been immediately returned to the stockbrokers over that time period.

Bear in mind, a fraction of one percent of this tiny sales tax is paid by the investors buying stocks, bonds, and engaging in massive volumes of derivative speculation. Since the great bulk of trading is conducted by upper-income people and large companies, this sales tax, unlike the regressive 8 percent sales tax ordinary New Yorkers pay when they buy from stores, is progressive in its impact.

So why hasn’t the media taken this eminently timely and newsworthy story to the people? I’ve been explaining this surrender to Wall Street for years. Most recently, given its timeliness, calling up reporters and columnists of major press outlets, but to no avail; with the exception of the Buffalo News. This indifference is inexplicable. After all, Governor Cuomo regularly talks about drastic budget cuts.

Well, a new factor may change this equation. Blair Horner, a longtime, prominent director of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), an influential university college student-funded civic advocacy group is now on the case.

On May 28, 2020, Mr. Horner held a virtual news conference in Albany, presented a letter signed by over fifty labor, consumer, women’s, educational, minority, health, taxpayer, elderly, and justice organizations – all calling on the Governor to keep the many billions of dollars from the stock transfer tax. The number of New York groups supporting this proposal will only grow. Attentively advanced by the seasoned Horner and his team, a detailed news release was distributed and several speakers, including me, briefly spoke. At question time, only a Newsday reporter asked about Wall Street’s reaction.

A half-hour later, no reporter asked Governor Cuomo during his long daily briefings about keeping the collected revenues. The next day there was no media coverage of this event and the benefits the revenue could have for communities whose members will be bearing the brunt of avoidable service cuts and job losses.

Everyday New York state rebates about $40 million to an upper-economic class, already further enriched by Trump’s 2017 tax bonanza. Nor have these privileged plutocrats shared, via a wealth tax, a fraction of the sacrifice of New York’s 2.2 million front-line Covid-19 workers. Shameful!

Bills mandating the retention of this stock sales tax are already in the state legislature. A prime sponsor, Assemblyman Phil Steck believes that there will be overwhelming left/right support in the polls.

However, the legislature’s leaders await the signal from a thus far reluctant Governor Cuomo. But not, I suspect for long.

With Wall Street’s Robert Rubin and Michael Bloomberg coming out for a financial transaction tax (thanks probably to the Bernie Sanders movement), can the son of Mario Cuomo be much far behind?

See the Coalition release, letter to Governor Cuomo, and the New York State Assembly and Senate bills to stop the rebate of the stock transfer tax at https://nader.org/ny-stock-tax/

S. David Freeman: Seven Decades of Participating in Power for All of Us

If the planet Earth were animate, it would have shuddered at the news that S. David Freeman passed away this month. Freeman was that important to Earth’s future.  In his 94th year, he inspired all he met with his burning passion, relentless energy, and keen intellect.

Freeman, an engineer and a lawyer, knew where decisions were being made or ignored regarding our energy future. He mocked the foolish embrace of fossil fuels and warned all who would listen about the deadly impact of coal, oil, and natural gas consumption on our   environment. This humble son of an immigrant umbrella repair man made the most of his formidable talents over seven decades and helped steer mankind toward renewables and energy efficiency. Freeman worked to prevent the perilous use of fossil and nuclear fuels.

Freeman was one of the first environmentalists to warn us of the dangers posed by fossil fuels and he was one of the first to offer practical remedies.  He started his career in the 1950s as an engineer with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) before holding a series of positions with the Federal Power Commission (FPC) and the Johnson White House. In 1974 Freeman    authored the Ford Foundation’s groundbreaking report “A Time to Choose: America’s Energy Future.”  He was an adviser to President Jimmy Carter, who appointed him chairman of the giant TVA in 1978.

At the TVA, Freeman managed with a no-nonsense, down-to-earth, results-focused approach to reform. Using what he learned at TVA, Freeman became known for turning around hidebound giant utilities that were unable to process evidence contrary to their wasteful ways and environmental destructiveness. The tenacious Tennessean had no patience for self-serving talk that avoided obvious solutions. Freeman was a serious advocate who used humor, wit, and charm to make his case in the court of public opinion and the corridors of power. “Mother Nature doesn’t care what we say, Mother Nature only cares about what we do,” he would remind bloviators!

Freeman shut down or suspended construction of half a dozen nuclear reactors at the TVA, scoring them as dangerous, uneconomical, and unnecessary. He liked “free” sources of energy, such as solar and wind, instead of lethal coal, gas, oil, and uranium that had to be ripped perilously from the bowels of the Earth. As for vast opportunities afforded by energy efficient sources, he paraphrased Benjamin Franklin, saying a megawatt of energy that isn’t wasted is a megawatt you don’t have to produce.

In between his clearheaded impact on conferences around the world, advising presidents, governors, members of Congress and parliaments, and many cogent writings, Freeman ran three other giant utilities (other than TVA, Freeman ran utilities in California, Texas, and New York). At Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), he implemented a public vote against the troubled Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station, replacing its energy with conservation and renewables.

In the decades I knew David, he always made the changes he implemented look easy because he so deftly and honestly used evidence, facts, and economics— sometimes to rectify his previous positions. He used his knowledge to serve the public that was too often shoved aside by bureaucratic and corporate vested interests.

Freeman had that unparalleled combination of managerial experience, scholarly knowledge, and programmatic urgency in confronting the climate crisis. We would invite him for brown bag lunches with younger leaders working on energy transition. He would “out urgent” them, mocking dilatory cap and trade ideas while demanding  mandatory reduction in fossil fuels and ending nuclear power, and replacing them with job producing energy conservation, retrofitting homes and buildings as solar and wind ramp up. Freeman said, “We need to pass a law that says that every utility in this country must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5% of 2020 emissions every year, starting now, and until we get down to zero.”

You may be wondering why you haven’t seen Freeman on television or read about his urgent proposals, as a doer, covering the crisis of climate and regular air water soil safeguards from ruinous extractive fuels.

Certainly, the mass media has devoted many hours and pages to these subjects, interviewing far lesser and often conflicted people on NPR, PBS, commercial networks, and major newspapers. I made many calls to energy and environmental reporters about David’s availability, but to no avail.

Was it ageism? Which is rampant. Was it his free-thinking challenges to named influential corporations? Was it that he was seen as no longer an adviser to powerful officials? At age 93 he was flying to California negotiating the closure of the last nuke plant there with Pacific Gas Electric. He co-authored a book All-Electric America: A Climate Solution and the Hopeful Future with Leah Y. Parks in 2018 and his human interest memoir The Green Cowboy: An Energetic Life in 2016. Recently he was meeting with the pro-“Green New Deal” members of Congress.

But the media wasn’t calling. Until, that is, David’s “energetic” life came to an end and the obituary pages gave him his due in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other outlets. Unlike like celebrity entertainers and athletes, however, he didn’t make page one. But his prescient legacy is an enduring example of how we can save our green planet and brighten our future. Biographers may wish to wrap their minds around this functional, enlightened life of such immense productivity.

We Honor What We Value: Entertainers Over Saviors

“We honor what we value,” goes the old saying. In our hedonistic culture we value most those who can put a ball in a hole. We ignore those who save lives through civic action.

The sports champions – golf, basketball, football, and baseball – receive riches and accolades from the masses. They are inducted into “Halls of Fame” and are the subjects of biographies, and documentary and feature films. As for the mass life-savers –few even know their names, much less their dramatic victories against overwhelming odds.

I was reminded of this contrast by a major New York Times Sports feature on Tiger Woods and his comeback win in the 2019 Masters Tournament, which was watched breathlessly by millions of golf fans around the world. Praises poured in on social media and many articles, features, and editorials covered every nuance of this golf match.

Barack Obama tweeted, “To come back and win the Masters after all the highs and lows is a testament to excellence, grit, and determination.”

What about the excellence, grit and determination of economist James Love? In the midst of the horrendous HIV epidemic, Love brilliantly organized, argued, wrote, and traveled the world before he found Dr. Yusuf Hamied and Cipla, an Indian company that took down Big Pharma’s $10,000 price for HIV drugs per African patient per year to $300 per patient. Neither Love nor his allies William Haddad and Robert Weissman were the subjects of features in major media outlets.

Others in the unsung circle of self-motivated stalwarts are David Zwick, Clarence Ditlow, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, and Joan Claybrook. Zwick helped write the Clean Water Act of 1972 and then started Clean Water Action which canvassed tens of millions of homes, distributing materials sparking local citizen action and nationally lobbying against water pollution for over four decades.

Engineer and lawyer Clarence Ditlow ran the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, DC and over forty years caused the recall of millions of defective cars. He also got the states to enact “lemon laws” to give voice to new car owners getting justice when their new car turned out to be “lemons.” Over roughly the same time span Joan Claybrook repeatedly blocked the auto-giants’ constant efforts to weaken or stop federal safety regulation that protected motorists.

As for Dr. Wolfe, with his small team, he  produced three major books: Worst Pills Best Pills, Pills That Don’t Work: A Consumers’ and Doctors’ Guide to Over 600 Prescription Drugs That Lack Evidence of Effectiveness, and Over the Counter Pills That Don’t Work  reaching millions of consumers through  mass audience outlets such as the Phil Donahue Show. Dr. Wolfe also persistently pushed the FDA and drug companies to remove hundreds of ineffective and/or dangerous drugs from the market, thus preventing health-threatening side-effects and saving consumers billions of dollars. That’s just a few of the successes of Dr. Wolfe’s Public Citizen Health Research Group.

In 1971 three scientists spun off from our organization to start the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Still turning its pistons nearly 50 years later, its long-time leader Dr. Michael Jacobson went after the junk food/drink industry and the deadly amount of high salt, high fat, and high sugar content in processed foods with scientific rigor and persistence. CSPI publishes the very popular health newsletter Nutrition Action and uses litigation and regulatory interventions to educate the public. CSPI arguably changed the nutritional habits of millions of people and exposed the slick and deceptive ads and crude direct marketing to children by the fast food chains and the cereal manufacturers. These companies are heavily responsible for the childhood obesity epidemic and its ongoing malignant health consequences.

Then there are Karen Ferguson and Karen Friedman running the Pension Rights Center in Washington, DC. They provide members of Congress and labor unions with technical advice on pension policy, inform the press, and help thousands of pensioners who are being ripped off by employers. Only trillions of dollars are at stake.

For these and many other long-term fighters for justice up against cruel or reckless corporations and their political toadies, there are few accolades, almost no recognition, and no citizen Hall of Fame. (See breakingthroughpower.org)

It is time for foundations or the enlightened super rich to start an annual “Citizen Academy Awards” to correct this imbalance of recognition and offer the mass media some inspiring content. This big-time dramatic event would elevate our priorities as a society and showcase motivating role models for our youngsters. Perhaps Barack Obama could be the first MC for this authentic reality event.

To put the spectator mania for professional sports in perspective, we can listen to the words of the great all-round Hall of Fame superstar, the late Al Kaline of the Detroit Tigers. At his peak in the nineteen sixties, he told New York Times reporter Ira Berkow:

‘Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing, if I’ve wasted my time all these years,’ he told me, his eyes thoughtful. ‘And sometimes I think I have. I would like to have more to contribute to society. I don’t know, maybe a doctor. Something where you really play an important part in people’s lives.’

Al Kaline was one humble, great athlete, compared, with some luminous exceptions, to the “me, me, me” narcissism of too many sports stars today.  Sports superstars could easily direct more support and attention to those little recognized citizen advocates who protect the serious necessities of life on shoe-string budgets.

Moreover, in these critical times the selfless dedication of the nurses, doctors, grocery store clerks, postal workers activists, sanitation laborers, and other truly essential workers should spark long-overdue recognition of these valiant heroes and their critical contributions to our lives beyond the stage or stadium. ESPN has just broadcast a ten-part series about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bills’ triumphant years of putting balls in holes for championships. Someday a network may produce a ten-part series on how citizen leaders historically built the justice safeguards that benefit us all. We should make it happen as owners of our public airwaves.

Cowardly Congress Chooses to be AWOL: Shouldn’t Our Elected Representatives be on the Job Providing Essential Services?

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic a careening, confused President is fibbing, flailing, breaking laws, and mishandling money. As the domino effect of this crisis mounts, the public is asking: “Where is the Congress?” Our Senators and Representatives have been home since March 20 and won’t be back until May 4th, not on the job inside the Capitol. Shameful!

Worse, some lawmakers want a remote Congress so they can remain AWOL and pretend to deal with the many crises remotely.

Why? Fear of the pandemic? Escaping rollcall responsibility? No matter that Congress can follow all the CDC guidelines and more for personal protection. No matter that millions of essential workers – some a few blocks from Congress, bravely go to work to perform their critical duties. Healthcare, transit, grocery, police, maintenance and sanitation workers, many executive branch civil servants and others are faithfully on the job.

Congress should be working harder than ever – 6 days a week, not its usual 21/2 days. Congress should be monitoring the spending of trillions of dollars it approved for recovery, and passing improved rescue legislation that puts the people first. Congress should also be anticipating and preventing the ugly greed of commercial lobbyists who will cravenly push for more giveaways for their fat-cat big-business clients. The devil is in the details and in the fine print of new and upcoming bills. Scams, gouging, waste, and corruption are exploding already in a corporate crimewave while the President pulls the federal cops off their beats.

Thirteen million people will lose their health insurance between March and July of this year. Over 25% unemployment is bringing untold fear, dread, and deprivations to millions of families. Where are the indispensable 535 lawmakers? Back at home ignoring their duties.

Small businesses and family farms, lacking the reserves and political privileges of big business, are suddenly experiencing a deadly freefall in sales with slow arrivals of temporary federal assistance. Many will face ruin and bankruptcy. Lifetimes of work smashed.

Trump has encouraged the EPA to stop enforcing violations of prohibited pollution laws. Trump’s FDA announced that it was suspending inspections of foreign plant exporters of food and drugs to the U.S. The President is even threatening the existence of our post offices.

Where is the Congress? It’s halls and committee rooms are empty!

With knowing criminal intent, the Trumpsters are running the life and health saving Federal agencies into the ground. Under Trump’s puppet Andrew Wheeler, the EPA has become the environmental pollution agency. OSHA has been turned upside down. Trump is even weakening nursing home safety regulations in our pandemic. Scientists and other civil servants are being muzzled or pushed out.

Where is Congress? It is looking for how it can push button constitutional duties from perches back home. Can Congress truly believe that it can run our national legislature from home? There is no substitute for members of Congress convening in real time in the nation’s capital. Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution requires a quorum to conduct Congressional lawmaking. The full Senate voted in person in March to pass the $2.2 trillion relief/bailout package.

Now, Congress agrees another large assistance law is needed. It has to be preceded by hard work, the best ideas, public hearings, tight drafting, and intense deliberation over long days.

So far Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is on the job, is resisting remote voting. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said he agrees, but he led the flight out of Congress back to Kentucky a month ago.

Many of these pampered politicians, comfortable at home in their safe gerrymandered districts, drawing their regular salaries and benefits while watching or reading the stories of courageous workers risking their lives daily for pittances, will go down in history as cowards. Historians will not treat them kindly.

Meanwhile these so-called guardians of our crucial constitutional separation of powers are having a mock video hearing to try to show Congress can go online. This is indefensible when we have a Constitution-breaking monarchical president who says: “I have an Article 2 where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”

Sovereign people – give your Senators and Representatives, who have fled Washington and are back home, a galvanizing piece of your mind. Just pick up the phone and dial your member or the Congressional switchboard (202-224-3141) and make your needs known. Remind them that if they don’t get back to work, you’ll remember in November.

The Federal Reserve Dictatorship Runs Amok Against Savers


If you are a saver in a money market account or in a bank, you’ve already noticed your dwindling interest income as interest rates have been at their lowest in modern American history. Well, brace yourself. Your saving account has just become little more than a lock box, thanks to the supreme dictatorship of the Federal Reserve.

On Sunday, March 15, the Federal Reserve announced that it would cut interest rates to “near zero.”

After ignoring the largely unproductive spiral in corporate debt, now a staggering $9.3 trillion, the risk of a domino effect from underwater “zombie companies” is pushing the Fed toward an orgy of printing money for an anticipatory bailout of profitable corporations – not depleted savers.

The Federal Reserve is our version of what other countries call a Central Bank. The Fed is not funded by Congress; its budget comes primarily from interest on government securities and fees from financial institutions. Bankers influence who gets appointed to its Board of Governors. Bankers can also elect three directors directly to the boards of the Fed’s regional Boards.

The Fed decides in secret the fate of the monetary policy, which includes the interest rates paid on your savings. There are no public hearings or open dockets for submission of views.  No real explanations by the Fed; just dictates. It is a government of its own inside our government – the epitome of corporate socialism.

The President nominates members to the Board of Governors and they have to be confirmed by the Senate. This is almost an automatic process by a supine Senate. These nominated “governors” and Chairman Jerome H. Powell have allowed themselves to be publically bullied by Trump who, as a failed lifelong debtor, wants zero interest rates.

The Fed has no regard for the hundreds of billions of dollars in interest payments taken from one hundred million unorganized savers who have their savings in Treasury bonds, banks, and money market accounts. Now trillions of dollars’ worth of interest rates are getting “near zero.” What a blow by the Trumped Fed reducing interest rates from about 2.25% – 2.5% to near zero in five dictatorial steps over the past 14 months.

The big Fed fib is that this cut in interest rates will stimulate a shaken economy buffeted by the coronavirus pandemic. How? By reducing mortgage rates and other costs of borrowing. Well, the last interest rate cut by the Fed saw mortgage rates actually increase. Moreover, the Fed’s move doesn’t affect the sky-high credit card interest rates on unpaid balances, the horrifically gouging “pay-day loan” and “rent-to-own” rackets and the towering interest rates charged by lenders for student loans. There is no Fed regulation of usurious interest rates by profiteering lenders.

What harms the economy is reduced interest income for savers that in turn cuts down on consumer demand.

So what is the Fed up to? Juicing the stock market and big finance is the narcotic offered to the executive suite speculators. To enhance further its credentials as the aider and abettor of crony capitalism, the Fed is buying $700 billion in government securities and will be increasing “its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $500 billion and its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities by at least $200 billion” (See: Federal Reserve issues FOMC statement, March 15, 2020). At the same time, the Fed is reducing bank reserve requirement ratios to zero percent and letting banks tap into the Fed’s discount window at ridiculously tiny interest rates. The average interest on millions of student loans is 5.8%.

On Sunday, when no one was looking, the Fed imperiously announced its decision to hold interest rates near zero “until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals.” That is a very nebulous standard. Congress doesn’t establish any standards for the Fed except the vague mission of advancing employment and maintaining a stable monetary system.

The Fed has its own inscrutable language. “Quantitative easing,” is jargon for printing trillions of dollars in liquid money to lift stock markets and big banks. What the Fed doesn’t want to explain is how boosting the “paper economy” and tolerating trillions of dollars in unstable corporate debt – some incurred for unproductive stock buybacks – helps the common worker.

Pension funds, conservatively invested, can’t begin to earn the interest rates called for by the actuarial tables for payouts. So, backed up against the wall, pension funds dive into riskier stock investments and derivatives for higher returns which bring their own perils in case of stock market collapses.

The Fed has lots of explaining to do for the public in plain language. But why bother? As described by William Greider, in his classic book, Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country, the Fed can do pretty much what the financial industry wants it to do. For all the help the Fed gives to the unrepentant speculative financial industry, it does not ask for anything in return for the huge bailouts that would help the common folk. “Reciprocity” is outside of the Fed’s self-defined dictionary.

After all, the Fed does nothing about rampant speculation and staggering debt until it sees a “liquidity problem” (a.k.a. “the greedy big boys got themselves into a fix”) and then it rushes to inject massive sums of liquidity into the economy as relief. And the self-inflicted cycle of government guaranteed corporate greed and abuse of power starts all over again.

Remarkably, groups like Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America are not fighting for the one hundred million small and mid-size savers who are being taken to the cleaners and have no voice whatsoever in the Fed dictatorship.

Beware of the Medicare Disadvantage Corporate Trap

While the Democratic presidential candidates are debating full Medicare for All, giant insurance companies like UnitedHealthcare are advertising to the elderly in an attempt to lure them from Traditional Medicare (TM) to the so-called Medicare Advantage (MA) – a corporate plan that UnitedHealthcare promotes to turn a profit at the expense of enrollees.

Almost one third of all elderly over 65 are enrolled in these numerous, complex MA policies the government pays so much for monthly. The health insurance industry wants more enrollees as they continue to press Congress for more advantages.

Medical Disadvantage would be a more accurate name for the programs, as insurance companies push to corporatize all of Medicare, yet keep the name for the purposes of marketing, deception, and confusion.

Elderly people enrolled in MA will experience its often merciless denials when they get sick. As hospital expert – attorney, physician, Dr. Fred Hyde put it: “It’s not just what you pay, it’s what you get.”

Start with the cross-subsidy of MA from TM. In 2009, the Congressional Budget Office estimated these overpayments would cost the federal government $157 billion over the coming decade. Obama’s Affordable Care Act started to reduce these subsidies to the giant insurers, but they still amount to many billions of dollars per year.

Add that with Medicare Disadvantage you are restricted to networks of vendors. That restricts your choice for competence and skills, and sometimes, requires you to travel longer distances for treatment. This could mean fewer enrollees will utilize their healthcare and more profits for the insurance companies.

Under Medicare Disadvantage you are subject to all kinds of differing plans, maddening trapdoor fine print, and unclear meaning to the insurers arguing no “medical necessity” when you’re denied care.

The advertisements for Medicare Disadvantage stress that you can sometimes get perks – gym memberships, hearing aids, and eyeglasses, as enticements, but they avoid telling you they are not so ready to cover serious needs like skilled nursing care for critically ill patients.

Under Medicare Disadvantage, there is no Medigap coverage as there is for TM. Co-pays and deductibles can be large. Under a recent Humana Medicare Advantage Plan in Florida, your co-pay for an ambulance is up to $300, up to $100 co-pay for lab services, and another $100 for outpatient x-rays.

A few years ago, UnitedHealthcare corporations dismissed thousands of physicians from their MA networks, sometimes immediately, sometimes telling their patients before telling their physicians.

Dr. Arthur Vogelman, a gastroenterologist, said he received a termination letter in 2013 from UnitedHealthcare. He appealed, documenting his successful treatment of many patients. The company denied his appeal, with no reason, as it had for thousands of network physicians.

Dr. Vogelman called it “an outrage. I have patients in their 80s and 90s who have been with me 20 years, and I’m having to tell them that their insurer won’t pay for them to see me anymore. The worst thing is I can’t even tell them why.” Except that the company wanted more profits.

After a lengthy protest by national and state medical societies in 2013, UnitedHealthcare began to be less aggressively dismissive.

Studies show the main reason MA enrollees return to TM is how badly the corporate insurers treated them when they became sick.

Medicare itself is getting overly complex. But nothing like the ever changing corporate rules, offerings, and restrictions of Medicare Disadvantage. How strange it is that AARP, with its Medigap insurance business run by UnitedHealthcare, doesn’t advise its members to go with the obviously superior Traditional Medicare. AARP reportedly receives a commission of 4.95% for new enrollees on top of the premiums the elderly pay for the Medigap policy from United Healthcare. This money – about seven hundred million dollars a year – a significant portion of AARP’s overall budget.

AARP responded to my inquiries into their Medicare Advantage policy saying that it does not recommend one plan over another, leaving it to the less informed consumer. That’s one of AARP’s biggest cop-outs— they know the difference.

There is no space here to cover all the bewildering ins and outs of what corporations have done to so-called managed Medicare and managed Medicaid. That task is for full-time reporters. The government does estimate a staggering $60 billion in billing fraud annually just on Medicare – manipulating codes, phantom billing, etc. You need the equivalent of a college-level course just to start figuring out all the supposed offerings and gaps.

Suffice it to say that, in the words of Eleanor Laise, senior editor of Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, “the evidence on health care access and quality decidedly favors original Medicare over Medicare Advantage, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation review of 40 studies published between 2000 and 2014.”

All this anxiety, dread, and fear, all these arbitrary denials of care – prompted by a pay-or-die commercial profit motive – all these restrictions of what doctors or hospitals you can go to, do not exist in Canada. All Canadians have a Medicare card from birth; they have free choice of health care vendors. There are few American-style horror stories there; patients have better outcomes, and almost never even see a bill. The whole universal system costs half per capita of that in the U.S., where over 80 million people are uninsured or underinsured – still! (See singlepayeraction.org, for civic action to rid Americans of this perverse chaos).

Massive Rallies Work!

Around the world people are marching, rallying, and demonstrating in huge numbers. Some of these countries are ruled by dictators or plutocratic regimes, others are considered democracies. Despite the peril of protest, people are seeking justice, freedom, and decent livelihoods.

Many boast about the United States being the oldest democracy in the world. While there are some street protests in the US, they are sadly too few and far between. Rallies calling attention to climate disruption have received less public support and media attention than they deserve. Likewise, the Parkland rally in Washington, D.C. against gun violence could have received more follow up publicity. And we all remember the massive women’s march the day after Trump was inaugurated in Washington, D.C. The subsequent women’s marches have attracted smaller crowds and therefore less media coverage.

It is not as if our country doesn’t have a historic tradition of sustained demonstrations. Mass protests have carried the labor movement, the farmer movement, the civil rights movement, and the anti-war movement to breakthroughs. These mass protests alone were not the sole drivers of political action – books, articles, editorials, pamphlets, posters, and litigation were essential. But visible displays of aggregated people power had a profound effect on those politicians’ actions. When politicians put their fingers to the wind, the repeated rumble from the masses is what fills the sails of change.

It is not as if mass injustices are absent in the “land of the free, home of the brave.” Sadly, the informed populace is just not showing up in an organized, big crowd fashion – the way they did to challenge the nuclear arms race and nuclear power in the nineteen seventies and eighties. In the era of the iPhone and Internet, activists have greater access to organizing tools than ever – no postage stamps or costly long-distance telephone calls are needed.

Consider these candidates for mass demonstrations proximate to where the decision makers are located. Millions of young people are being gouged by student loan creditors and for-profit colleges. Whether it is the U.S. Department of Education’s high interest rates or the exploitation by for-profit universities, the abuses are outrageous, cruel, and in the latter case, often criminal.

Total outstanding student loans amount to over $1.5 trillion. These burdened young Americans know how to contact each other for free; they also can raise money instantly using new crowdfunding technology. They know how to use the visual arts and the verbal arts. Congress can reverse the predatory practices in higher education. Where is the advocacy from millions of student loan debtors? They could have a huge impact if they surrounded the Capitol or held smaller rallies around Congressional offices back home, especially in the coming election year.

Millions of workers are making, inflation adjusted, less than workers made in 1968. The federal minimum wage, frozen at $7.25, is the culprit. The House of Representatives finally bestirred itself to pass a $15 minimum wage stretched over a number of years. But when the Walmart-indentured members of the Senate look out their windows, it would be nice to see masses of workers surrounding their Senate offices, prior to some insistent personal lobbying?

There are no labor mass rallies in front of Trump’s anti-labor White House either, even though, the headquarters of the AFL-CIO are just yards away on 16th Street NW. The face-off of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka v. Donald Trump is overdue.

Millions of minorities are suffering voter suppression. Civil rights leaders are angry. They anticipate Republicans at the state and federal level to again erect all kinds of insidious roadblocks that disproportionately affect people of color the most. Abuses in the Florida and Georgia races were rampant in 2018. Presidential races in swing states are also plagued by voter suppression tactics. All signs point to a more intrusive stripping of eligible voters in the 2020 election.

Where are the marches before the offices of the state secretary of state and culpable legislators and Governors headquarters?

A quarter of our country’s families are poor. A Poor People’s Campaign, led by the Reverend William Barber and local pastors, has been protesting in the streets in North Carolina and other states. Their protests deserve far greater attendance. The media has given them too little coverage. But if there were massive demonstrations in major cities and before state legislatures and the Congress, with coordinated demands and large photographs of key politicians fronting for the rich and powerful, will get mass media coverage.

Tens of millions of Americans have no health insurance or are severely underinsured. Thousands of lives are lost annually as a result. This is a problem in America but not other developed nations that have systems in place that prioritize their citizens’ health. Getting sick or injured without medical care is far too frequent in the U.S. Those who suffer from this deprivation can be motivated to take to the streets. The health care industry’s soaring profits and their mega-rich bosses should move additional Americans to rally for Medicare-for-All!

These rallies can be led by physicians and nurses, tired of the paperwork, the bureaucracy, and the health insurance companies denying access to health care for their patients and arbitrarily rejecting doctor-recommended treatments.

In the nineteen forties, President Harry Truman proposed to Congress universal health insurance. Americans still do not have Medicare-for-All and are paying the highest prices, premiums, and out of pocket bills in the world – not to mention the human suffering caused by an inadequate healthcare system.

What a great street story for television, radio, and print newspapers! Think of the tragic human interest stories, straight from the heart by mothers and fathers with children having limited or no access to health care.

Other marches can come from the homeless and the desperate tenants spending over half their income on rent in the many communities where there is a shortage of affordable housing.

All these mass turnouts can pass contribution buckets or tout websites and raise money from the crowds for the next round of even larger protests. At each event, a list of demands can be presented to decision-makers. At each event, protestors can go to the offices where the decision-makers are or insist that these lawmakers speak to the assembled protestors.

There are many innovations to make these action rallies more impactful, more motivating, and more mass-media-centric. There also have to be some enlightened billionaires, worried about their country and their descendants, who want to provide the modest amount of money necessary for event organizers and focused political action. Show up America!