Category Archives: US Corpocracy

Capitalism Is Killing Patients… And Their Physicians

Photo Greanville Post

Physician burnout, depression, and suicide increasingly invade discussions within the medical field. Depression and suicide are more common among male and female physicians, with suicide rates 1.41 and 2.27 times greater than that of the general male and female populations, respectively. Though, the insults to the mental health of physicians begins much earlier in their career.

While the numbers may vary from study to study, some 28 percent of medical residents experience a major depressive episode during their training compared to 6 to 8 percent of the general population. These numbers are important, not only because suffering physicians are suffering humans in their own right, but also because this epidemic leads to poor patient care.

As a recent study out of the Stanford School of Medicine suggests, burnout and depression in physicians can lead to medical error and death. Many have tried to explain the causes of the epidemic, referencing everything from unmanageable workloads and work inefficiency, to lack of meaning in work and lack of work-life balance. Films are now being produced to shine light on the issue. In her TED talk “Why Doctors Kill Themselves,” Pamela Wible points to a medical school culture of hazing and bullying that continues into residency, along with a professional culture that hinders physicians from obtaining mental health treatment.

These factors certainly contribute to the epidemic, but when discussing physician suicide, we ignore the elephant in the room: capitalism. We are unable to recognize how the exploitation and alienation of physicians is integrally connected to this dominant economic system, but nothing could be more poignant, given in the state of the world today.

Ironically, the same destructive system that is driving physicians to extremes is also the main driver of the deterioration of health of the patients and populations, requiring patients to see physicians in the first place. The sooner we realize and confront our own exploitation, the sooner we can join in the fight to address the real driver of disease that is plaguing physicians and patients.

The System Outlined

Busy physicians may not have time to study how the world’s prevailing economic system functions, but doing so could benefit both our profession and the patients with whom we work. To briefly discuss, inside this system the working class that does not own the means of production is forced to sell its labor to an employer to survive.

A few corporations control most of the market for each of the commodities they produce. In these corporations, a very small sector of a board of directors and majority shareholders makes essentially all of the decisions on what to produce, where to produce and how to distribute profits. This puts the working class in a vulnerable position.  With the ultimate goal of profit maximization, decisions are often made by the corporate class which are not in the best interest of workers and negatively affect the health of entire communities.

Outsourcing work, closing factories, creating poor working conditions to cut costs, polluting waterways and the environment–decision after decision may initially increase profits, but in the long term harms health. This harm to health can be more obvious, as when air and water are polluted, or more subtle, for example, when families are put under chronic stress–which eventually leads to various forms of illness– from poor workplace conditions or income insecurity secondary to factory closure and outsourcing.

In this system, certain “costs”–the health of families, and entire communities being destroyed–are “externalized.” This means the business itself does not pay for these costs of poor societal health, which are created secondary to decisions made by business executives to increase profits. Such decisions are made by a small number of wealthy, powerful individuals pursuing their interests for greater wealth and power accumulation at expense of all else.

As economists such as Thomas Piketty have shown by combing through economic records from as far back as the 18th century, capitalism inherently generates inequality, concentrating wealth into the hands of the few at expense of everyone else. Study after study shows us that socioeconomic inequality itself is detrimental to patient health and actually increases morbidity and mortality.

Despite the negative effects, the working class today is more productive than ever, while wages remain flat (or are sometimes even lower) and work hours continue to increase. Workers struggle to put food on the table and meet basic needs, while the ownership class continues to become richer. Workers are exploited and reduced to tools for industry, many times forced to do mundane tasks or assignments over and over. They are alienated, or separated from the control and the product of their labor, each day they go to work. Inside this system workers are ultimately reduced to mechanistic cogs producing profit for large corporations.

This combination of being overworked and lacking true meaning and fulfillment in the work being done, drives more and more throughout both the white and blue collar sectors into despair. As Johan Hari, shows in his recent work Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and Unexpected Solutions, workers become separated from loved ones and from things that bring them joy as they work multiple jobs for longer hours as they struggle to make ends meet.

This constant stress leads to anxiety, depression, and various other forms of disease. Meanwhile, all medicine has to offer for them are at best poor attempts–many times with questionable supporting data demonstrating efficacy– to numb the pain that much larger systemic structures continue to create.

Unfortunately, the corporate elite know no limits in this system. They continue to exploit the masses and drive more and more into poverty and desperation while concentrating wealth in ever fewer hands. In America today, the three wealthiest individuals own the same wealth as the entire bottom half of the population, more than 160 million individuals. In order to maintain this system, the elite must ensure that the members of the working class fight amongst themselves rather than direct their rage toward those who are benefiting off of the oppression of the masses.

The capitalist system, born from racism and white supremacy as highlighted in studies such as Edward Baptist’s The Half That Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, continues to separate members of the working class based on social constructs such as race. At the same time, through a multitude of mechanisms, the system creates a self-loathing, insecure public, driven to constant consumption, leading to the pollution of the earth and poisoning of community after community.

These various forms of structural violence are the true drivers of disease and suffering, of which the health care system sees the results, but has little to no ability to truly address. The health of the majority of the population deteriorates and the elites benefit. Capitalism’s need to endlessly expand and its effect on the earth, has literally lead some scientists to call for the designation of a new geologic era called the anthropocene to describe the effect humans have had on the earth.

Scientists now warn we have moved into the sixth great mass extinction of species seen in our world’s history. A new report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) suggests, “Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation.” Meanwhile, a new U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns us that humanity has only a dozen years to address global warming to avoid increasing droughts, floods, etc., which will inevitably lead to more poverty and illness.

Capitalism does not just threaten the health and well being of every human, but life on this earth as we know it. Capitalism operates as a terminal cancer, knowing no limits to its endless growth and consumption, destroying systems necessary to survival and threatening the continued existence of its host.

Medicine Has Not Escaped

What is outlined above are the underlying causes of the majority of disease and suffering. The prevailing economic system in the world today commodifies every aspect of life including health care. As a result, the health of the public, especially the US public, is subjected to a barrage of market mechanisms.

US medical professionals, while often paid more than the typical member of the working class, are still forced to operate inside of this system that places profits above patient health. We see how this system harms our patients, limiting availability of the care they need, but we tend to miss that we also are damaged by this same system.

As Howard Waitzkin and the “Working Group on Health Beyond Capitalism” state in the book, Health Care Under the Knife: Moving Beyond Capitalism for Our Health,” until the 1980s, doctors, for the most part, owned and/or controlled their means of production and conditions of practice.” This allowed them to have control over things such as their work hours and how much time to spend with patients. As the Working Group references, “loss of control over the conditions of work has caused much unhappiness and burnout in the profession”.

As other members of the proletariat, or working class, have experienced for years, doctors now no longer have control over their labor. Now corporations or other large institutions control such decisions. Physicians have become “proletarianized” and while not members of the traditional working class, they have become tools in the corporate wheel of profit production. This has left us with a health system parasitized by the capitalism that cares more about profit production than it does the care of human beings.

The medical industrial complex, made of a multitude of different institutions–hospital corporations, large insurance companies, or pharmaceutical and device corporations and, more specifically the corporate elite who control these corporations–ultimately governs a majority of the large scale, structural decisions that affect patient care. The elite in these institutions, just like other capitalist organizations, make decisions that affect the lives of the majority with little to no input from those who are affected by these decisions.

They govern the prices of drugs–often leading to the obscene drug prices–and how long a physician should be spending with his or her patients in the clinic. These organizations have the primary goal of maximizing profit (regardless of whether they bear the title of “for profit” or “non-profit”) above all else. Consequently, patient health really becomes secondary in this system.

The metastasis of capitalism’s perverse incentives to even the sector that claims to care for the health of human beings, has given us the ineffective, damaging system we have today. Since profit production is of prime importance, physicians–and really health care providers in general–must be trained to be efficient tools for profit, seeing more patients more quickly, knowing how to bill appropriately, etc.

These incentives limit a physician’s ability to do what he or she actually went into medicine (or should have) for: to help people. Physicians want to help their patients, but are simply not able to truly address patient suffering because addressing the causes, as highlighted above, are outside the scope of a profit based medical system.

To understand how exactly this system creates human tools for health care profit while in the process leaving them physically and mentally broken, we must delve into the medical education and training structure and analyze how medical providers are conditioned to accept their own exploitation.

Training in the Art of Being Exploited

Step 1: Medical School

Medical trainees in the US enter medical school at least generally claiming they have some interest in caring for other human beings. Unfortunately, little do they know they are entering a system designed to prime them for their own exploitation from the second their training begins—one could argue even well before that point–and subsequently throughout their residency training.

During medical school, students are forced to study innumerable hours while being told they have to “lay a good foundation” of knowledge for their future practice. The first 2 years in most medical schools are classroom based, where insurmountable amounts of information are thrown at students as they are told “this is just the way medicine is, get used to it.”

Unfortunately though, much of the information students spend their time studying–or more often mindlessly memorizing–will never be used when caring for patients. This information is absorbed, regurgitated on an exam, and then often forgotten. One thing students do begin to learn–if they hadn’t already through their undergraduate education or their grade school education prior–is to listen to authority figures’ demands if they would like to succeed.

Students have little influence on what they are being taught. Instead, they must accept what they are being told or they may not pass their next exam. Students who entered medicine eager and idealistic, hoping to help others, begin to slowly withdraw from their individual passions and interests simply because tests, rotation evaluations determined by the opinions of supervising providers students must impress, and board exams are deemed more important. They are taught that listening to authority figures at the expense of their own interests and passions, comes first and then they can try to pursue their interests if they have time. This obviously can affect the mood and morale of a training physician.

During their third year, medical students are forced to spend numerous hours in the hospital. They are also required to take “shelf exams” at the end of each rotation, which can often have a large impact on their overall rotation grade. Because slight differences in grades can affect residency opportunities, students spend free-time studying for these exams instead of participating in activities to maintain their own mental and physical well being. While the exam scores offer little insight into the type of a physician the student will become, they serve to add extra pressure on students and ensure that they spend little time actually thinking for themselves while they are out of the hospital.

During fourth year many students are expected to complete sub-internships in the fields they are are interested in going into for residency training. These sub-internships normally require students to work near their 80 hour work limit, congruous to work limits of residents (more on that shortly). Medical students often carry their own patient panels, write notes that can be co-signed, and can even pend medication orders to be approved. The main difference between them and an actual paid intern is that they do not get paid. Instead they must work to “impress” their superiors in hopes of obtaining a positive evaluation. Once again, students are taught that listening to and striving to impress authority is their ultimate goal.

After four years of indoctrination, in addition to a medical degree, most medical students are given one final parting gift on their way into residency: hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. This debt serves as a convenient way of pushing newly minted doctors into financial constriction when entering their residency.

No matter how they view their new employer or the field they have chosen, they know that they now have hundreds of thousands of dollars that they must find some way to pay back. This makes them much less likely to question or challenge authority in their new positions because doing so could impede completion of their training, sabotaging their career and only chance to escape debt. Along, with the inherent emotional stress of caring for sick patients, these financial difficulties can lead to depression, anxiety and a host of mental health issues in the newly minted physician.

Step 2: Residency

Once medical school graduates enter residency, they have already been primed for their inevitable exploitation, understanding that they need to take direction from authority, curtail their passions to make them more palatable to superiors, and most importantly, suppress any depression or anxiety they feel secondary to an ineffective, exploitative system. They now have few options–or are at least told so–other than to continue through residency. They know that to find themselves at this stage, they have made significant financial and emotional sacrifices, often losing connection with the people and things they love in order to fulfill education requirements.

Unfortunately, the exploitation of these newly minted doctors is just beginning.  During training, residents are forced to work often 80 hours per week doing a large portion of the patient care in hospitals (not to mention the additional hours of preparation outside of hospital or clinic, which are not counted toward this 80 hour limit). Residents are salaried, so they provide a cheap, efficient source of labor for hospitals and clinics. Residents become physically and emotionally exhausted trying to care for maxed out patient loads effectively in understaffed hospitals. Work hours become normalized over time and residents simply expect to be working an unhealthy amount of time in the hospital or at least convince themselves that it is normal to maintain their own sanity. It is no wonder this situation plunges many, who are already at risk, into burnout and depression.

Throughout residency, residents do, admittedly, grow exponentially in their ability to care for patients and become independently functioning physicians. Though, there is another type of growth that occurs during these years, which is seldom discussed.

Residents are groomed to be efficient, effective profit producers once they enter the workforce. For example, over their time in residency, a large degree of emphasis is placed on residents meeting particular “quality measures” for the clinic or hospital settings. Training after training is spent ensuring residents understand how to properly bill and submit insurance claims. Residents learn how to see patients extremely quickly and complete entire patient visits within 15 minutes. As anyone who has even interacted with a health care provider can attest, this is not enough time to actually make any significant interpersonal connection with a patient.

Either during this visit or after, residents must also learn to input information into whichever electronic medical record their training center uses. As Matt Anderson notes in Health Care Under the Knife commenting on EMRs, “most were designed to capture billing and quality information, not facilitate clinical care.” Residents end up spending more time looking at a computer than they do connecting with a patient. In the inpatient setting, a hospitalized patient might only see their doctor for a few minutes each day. This is partially because the rest of the day is spent documenting a coordinating care inside of a completely nonsensical system to ensure hospitals will be able to cash in on patient hospital stays.

This puts individuals, who went into medicine to care for and make connections with patients, torn between still trying to achieve this goal and meeting designated “quality measures.” If they are not able to see patients fast enough in the clinic or inpatient hospital setting they may not be seen as “marketable” to employers. This is clearly an environment that can breed physical, mental, and emotional suffering in the exploited trainee.

Even while studies have shown these grueling hours put both patients and residents at risk, when it comes to actually addressing the problems highlighted above, the onus is consistently put on the provider to maintain “self care.” From the beginning of residency, different “mental health departments” speak with residents about the importance of maintaining self care and “balance,” while at the same time maintaining an exploitative system that overworks its employees and drives suffering. Residents are a cheap form of labor for hospitals or clinics, and actually addressing this problem at a systemic level would be too threatening to the profitable status quo.

How the system’s leaders speak about these work conditions is very telling. For example, in 2016 Dr. Janice Orlowski, the Chief Health Care Officer with the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), stated:

The individual is going to go into a profession where their profession calls on them to work extended hours and to be available at unusual hours […] We need to train individuals who can learn to pace themselves, who can recognize when they have sleep deprivation or when they are stressed.

This is an interesting statement, coming from someone who should know the demands put on residents drastically limits their capacity to “pace themselves.” It is clear that there is much more concern for protecting a public image of medicine and hospital programs than there is for addressing the crisis of physician depression and suicide.

Step 3: Practicing Physicians

Finally, if not already burned out, the physician has escaped residency and now believes that he or she will be able to practice “however one wants.” Unfortunately, any overburdened physician–either fresh out of residency or seasoned–who has worked inside a busy hospital or clinic, can attest to feeling tired, overworked, and often unfulfilled, in part due to their lack of patient connection as they are rushed from patient to patient and progress note to progress note.

Again, citing Matt Anderson in the Health Care Under the Knife’s section “Becoming Employees: The Deprofessionalization and Emerging Social Class Position of Health Professionals,” concepts typically lauded again and again in the health sector–”value, efficiency, quality, and market discipline–are part of an ideology to justify corporate control over the work of physicians and other works providing health services.” He references Marx’s concept of alienation–the separation of worker’s control over his or her labor– and describes how more and more health care providers are separated from what they once truly loved about their work, and now must fill the primary role of profit producer and secondary role of health care provider. If this separation did not occur during residency, there is a good chance it will when outside of training working for an employer.

While practicing, providers are still attempting to treat patients who present with illnesses created by the much larger system of capitalist exploitation referenced above, but their training prior to starting independent practice in no way, shape, or form has actually prepared them to join the communities they serve in combating these larger oppressive systems. On the contrary, what they were taught was to keep their head down, survive, and make it through exploitative residency programs. They are in regular practice and know how to put in a billing code and attempt the near impossible task of making a true connection with someone in a 15 minute clinic visit, but have not remotely learned how to begin to resist a parasitic capitalist system damaging both their colleagues and their patients.

At the same time, even if a physician did want to step outside of traditional boundaries to help challenge the true socioeconomic and structural causes of disease highlighted above, the provider still has a massive amount of student loans constricting their decisions. They may also have started a family or accumulated other financial constraints during residency. This leaves them with few options and many find it easier to get back in the clinic, put their heads down, and tell themselves they are really helping to address patient health. When in reality, they have been indoctrinated into a system based on profit maximization and blunting of patient suffering at best.

This endless process of day after day in clinic, seeing little to no progress at a systemic level, can become frustrating and make one’s work seem futile. Imagine spending over 10 years in training–from college, through medical school, through residency–to find yourself in this position. It is no surprise that more and more physicians are burning out, and feeling so desperate, that harming oneself becomes a viable option to escape.

Recognizing One’s Exploitation and Fighting Back

Capitalism’s parasitic economic structure has infiltrated all aspects of our society, and medicine has not been spared. This results in physicians being trained and conditioned to be obedient profit producers above all else. It leads them to be alienated from their loved ones and from their true passions. Inside our healthcare system, physicians are separated from the things that truly brought them joy and fulfillment. Yet we still continue to question why physicians are killing themselves?

Some maintain hope that there will be action around these issues from residency administrations, hospital working groups, or any number of hierarchical bodies that govern medical education, graduate medical education, or our healthcare system in general. The reality is that these issues will never be solved by any large committees or “task forces” we currently have in place, which continually put the onus onto medical students, residents, and practicing physicians to develop more “resilience” inside of a system that is built to do the exact opposite.

Those who have made it to the top positions of organizations such as the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) or the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) are there because they will continue to support the status quo. As political dissident and linguist Noam Chomsky discusses in reference to elite control of institutions, “an unstated but crucial premise is that the ‘responsible men’ achieve that exalted status by their service to authentic power, a fact of life that they will discover soon enough if they try to pursue an independent path.” These institutions will never consider the best interests of physicians or the patients they serve. Their leaders have been groomed to support the status quo. It is up to us to realize our exploitation and begin to fight against it.

Realizing this fact is easier said than done, as most physicians, due to the filtering mechanisms throughout our educational system, which typically lead to those from the upper classes securing seats in medical school, come from the exploitive classes themselves. Physicians are also paid more than a majority of other employees within our healthcare system such as nurses, technicians etc. They are conditioned to believe that they are somehow different or more important than the rest of the working staff when in reality all members are important in caring for the patient and all members are overworked and exploited by the same system.

Giving one member of an exploited group–in this case the physician–more benefits than others, helps to keep the fighting going between all groups as opposed to collaboration and organizing. We will be able to begin addressing the crisis of physician suicide once we, as physicians, accept that just as this capitalist system exploits our patients and coworkers, it is also exploiting us. And then we organize against it.

Whether it is consciously recognized or not, physicians specifically are also often boosted up with a false sense of elitism from the second they step into the field. This creates a blind spot for them being able to recognize their own suffering and exploitation and organize against it. They are given special white coats, which–besides becoming completely filthy after 80 hour work weeks–distinguish them from other hospital staff and distinguish themselves by the title of “doctor.”

While other staff members, such as nurses, actually have the collectivist mindset to organize against the damage the health care industrial complex causes to the patients they care for and even strike when necessary, physicians–especially those in the US–have been conditioned to believe they are too important to the system to do the same, even while that system is actively damaging them. Their administrators and peers say, “If we aren’t caring for patients, our patients will die.”

Those with a vested interest in maintaining the business as usual hold patients as hostages inside this system, guilting providers into accepting the status quo (inadequate care, inadequate access to care, medical errors, and crushing debt) with this rhetoric. It is despite the fact that physicians around the world have been able to organize and strike effectively while also continuing to provide absolutely necessary care.

Referencing Mark Ames’s 2005 book, Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond is useful for understanding this current phenomenon. In the book, Ames evaluates the mental anguish caused by Reagan era policies and analyzes how our capitalist system degrades and humiliates workers until they are pushed to harm themselves and others. In the following passage he speaks of how people can often deny their own exploitation until it is too late. He notes:

The middle class persistently denies its own unique pathos, irrationally clinging to an irrational way of measuring it, perhaps because if they did validate their own pain and injustice, it would be too unsettling–it would throw the entire world order into doubt. It is more comforting to believe they aren’t really suffering, to allocate all official pathos to the misery of other socioeconomic groups, and its more comforting to accuse those who disagree of being psychologically weak whiners. Despite its several hundred million strong demographic, the white bourgeoisie’s pain doesn’t officially count–it is too ashamed of itself to sympathize with its own suffering.

Until physicians are willing to accept the fact they they are being exploited by the same system that harms their patients, there will be no progress made in addressing physician depression and suicide. At that same time, until health care providers generally accept that it is our current capitalist system which puts profit production above the well being of every living thing on this planet–including themselves–we will not be able to effectively address true social and structural causes of disease and suffering.

Capitalism exploits, damages, and destroys us all. History shows us, large scale systemic change has never come from the beneficence of those in power and, frankly, it never will. As historian Howard Zinn writes speaking about public activism, the rights of the citizenry only come when “citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel, and violate the law in order to uphold justice.”

As physicians, if we truly care about the well being of our coworkers and of our patients, we must begin to organize, unionize, and rebel inside our practices, residency programs, etc, resisting business as usual, and finding ways to threaten the profits of capitalists if we want to see systemic change. We must begin to organize with communities and populations resisting oppression from a parasitic capitalist system as physicians in the past have done with groups such as the Black Panthers and Young Lords.

Once physicians can begin to view the dynamics of our capitalist system more clearly–and view the dynamics of our healthcare system as just one microcosm of how capitalism harms us all–it will become clear what needs to be done. We must put down our fancy white coats and begin to organize with our fellow healthcare staff–and, more importantly, with our patients–against a system that exploits and damages us all. Only then will we be able to begin developing a new system that actually cares about both people and the planet.

• First published in Popular Resistance

Trump Trade Revealed: Another Rigged Corporate Deal

Since the Clinton era, when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was created, global trade has been written by and for big corporations at the expense of people’s health, worker’s rights and the environment. Trump Trade – through the renegotiation of NAFTA – continues that approach.

In some areas, people might argue the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) makes improvements over NAFTA, although many details are still being withheld. From what we do know, overall, it is a step backward for people and planet. And it undermines the US’ relationship with Canada and Mexico, as Geoffrey Getz of the neo-liberal Brooking’s Institution writes, “Trump’s aggressive, threatening approach succeeded in eliciting modest concessions from two of its closest trading partners.”

Trump is claiming a political victory merely by reaching an agreement, but it is not a victory for people or planet, as will be described below. Trump Trade should be rejected. If we are to achieve a new model of trade that protects the environment, workers and democracy, we need to demonstrate that rigged corporate trade will be rejected every time it is brought forward. The time to organize to stop this agreement is now.

Energy and the Environment

Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) because a mass social movement made it unacceptable and it could not pass in Congress. Some of the provisions in the TPP are included in the USMCA.

Like the TPP, the USMCA contains polluter-friendly non-binding terms on the environment; e.g., the text “recognizes that air pollution is a serious threat to public health,” but includes no single binding rule to reduce air pollution.

The Sierra Club reports the USMCA takes a significant step backward from environmental protections included in the last four trade deals by failing to reinforce a standard set of seven Multilateral Environmental Agreements that protect everything from wetlands to sea turtles. The absence of environmental enforcement continues the failed corporate trade of the Clinton-Obama eras.

Trade agreements could be designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but climate change is not even mentioned in the USMCA. Greenhouse gas emissions will increase. The Sierra Club reports the deal’s lack of binding environmental standards allows corporations to evade US environmental laws by shifting jobs and toxic pollution to Mexico where environmental policies are weaker. It reinforces the US’ status as the world’s largest outsourcer of climate pollution.

Some keys to preventing greenhouse gas emissions are ‘Buy American’ and ‘Buy Local’ laws that provide incentives for locally-produced goods. The USMCA negates those laws, requiring that industries based in Canada and Mexico be given equal access to US government contracts.

The USMCA exempts oil and gas corporations that have, or may have, government contracts for offshore drilling, fracking, oil and gas pipelines, refineries, or other polluting activities from reforms to Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. These intensely polluting corporations would be allowed to challenge environmental protections in rigged corporate trade tribunals.

Trump Trade preserves a NAFTA rule that prevents the US government from determining whether gas exports to Mexico are in the public interest. This creates an automatic gas export guarantee, which will increase fracking, expand cross-border gas pipelines, and increase dependency on Mexican climate-polluting gas.

The USMCA gives corporations extra opportunities to challenge proposed regulations before they are final, and to repeal existing regulations. This makes it harder to put in place environmental regulations or rollback the pro-polluting regulations of the Trump era.

Food and Water Watch summarizes:

The energy provisions will encourage more pipelines and exports of natural gas and oil that would further expand fracking in the United States and Mexico. The text also provides new avenues for polluters to challenge and try and roll back proposed environmental safeguards, cementing Trump’s pro-polluter agenda in the trade deal.

Food and Health

The USMCA undermines food safety and health by making it more difficult to regulate and inspect foods. It limits inspections and allows food that fails to meet US safety standards to be imported. Food and Water Watch states that it requires the US to “accept imports from Mexico with less scrutiny than from other countries. The deal even creates new ways for Canada and Mexico to second-guess US border inspectors that halt suspicious food shipments, which would have a dangerously chilling effect on food safety enforcement.”

USMCA does not require Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL), nor dolphin-safe labeling and makes GMO labeling more difficult. It uses the requirement that food labels reflect ‘sound science’ to prevent accurate labeling.

USMCA serves Monsanto and other giant agro-chemical corporations by allowing unregulated GMOs, rolling back Mexico’s regulation of GMOs, and letting chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow keep data on the safety of their pesticides secret for 10 years. USMCA is designed for agribusiness, not family farmers and consumers.

Like the TPP, the USMCA increases the cost of pharmaceutical drugs through intellectual property protections that go “significantly beyond” NAFTA. USMCA gives pharmaceutical companies at minimum 10 years of market exclusivity for biologic drugs and protects US-based drug companies from generic competition, driving up the price of medicine at home and abroad.

Worker Rights and Jobs

The Labor Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Trade Negotiations (LAC) explained they do not oppose trade, but, “We oppose a set of rules made largely by and for global corporations that reward greed and irresponsibility at the expense of hardworking families across the globe.” They describe the USMCA as moving backwards from the original NAFTA in many areas important to working families:

including with respect to ‘Good Regulatory Practices’ (code for using this trade agreement to attack important consumer, health, safety, and environmental protections), Financial Services (providing new tools for Wall Street to attack efforts to rein in its continuing abuses), and affordable medicines (extending monopolies for brand name pharmaceuticals at the expense of affordability).

Similar to the environment sections, the labor sections do not provide enforcement mechanisms. Citizen’s Trade Campaign writes:

“There is a ground breaking labor annex that could help eliminate Mexican protection contracts and boost labor rights there — but only if currently absent enforcement mechanisms are added.”

As the Labor Advisory Committee states, “Unenforced rules are not worth the paper they are written on.”

Summarizing the impact of USMCA, Citizen’s Trade Campaign states:

Mexican workers will continue to be horribly exploited, American jobs will continue to be outsourced, the environment will continue to be degraded and the wages for workers in all three NAFTA countries will continue to decline.”

Corporate Trade Tribunals

A major area of concern has been ISDS, trade tribunals where corporations can sue governments if new laws or regulations undermine their profits. ISDS empowers corporations to attack environmental and health laws in trade tribunals made up of three corporate lawyers and receive monetary judgments worth billions from tax dollars. The USMCA reduces but does not eliminate the unjustifiable and indefensible ISDS settlement mechanism, which privileges foreign investors over communities regarding access to justice.

After three years, ISDS would be eliminated with Canada and dramatically scaled back with Mexico with some unacceptable exceptions. After that, US and Canadian investors would use domestic courts or administrative bodies to settle investment disputes with another government. Are there workarounds to this ISDS reform that protect investors; e.g., will domestic courts seize assets within their country to repay investors, as a US court did for a Canadian mining company this year?

Regarding Mexico, the new process is designed to protect oil and gas industry investors from the privatization of Mexico’s oil and gas sector. Global Trade Watch writes, “several additional sectors were added, including railways and infrastructure. . . followed by an open-ended list, which could provide problematic flexibility for investors to argue that their investments qualify.” In other words, what looks like ISDS reform contains a giant loophole for corporations to continue to sue governments.

Under NAFTA, corporations can receive exorbitant awards for “expected lost profits.” Under USMCA, investors can only be compensated for losses that they can prove on the “basis of satisfactory evidence and that is not inherently speculative.” How this is interpreted is up to the courts.

USMCA Continues US Imperialism and Corporatism

Popular movements in Mexico urge the incoming government to reject USMCA in an Open Letter To Andrés Manuel López Obrador And The Legislators Of MORENA. They decry the secret nature of the negotiation and the agreement as an attack on Mexico’s sovereignty. They argue the agreement will “further open up our economy for the sole benefit of the large U.S. transnational corporations, with an even greater subordination of our government to the dictates of U.S. foreign policy and its measures of internal security and migration.”

The letter describes the election of MORENA and Obrador as the people voting “to expel the oligarchy that has governed us, along with their paid servants.” The incoming government was given a clear mandate that includes rejecting corporate trade agreements. To create the transformation promised in the election requires Mexico to have full control of its resources and wealth to ensure the well-being of the population, with full rights and liberties. They see rejection of USMCA as a “first step toward reclaiming our nation.”

They urge incoming President Obrador to see this as part of the “mafia of power” that he ran against. They describe how Trump pressured the weakest negotiator, Mexico, with the right wing Peña Nieto administration, and used that to threaten Canada with exclusion and 25% tariffs if they did not agree.

Roger Jordan writes, the new agreement is an act of corporate imperialism by the United States:

Under the new deal, both Mexico, a country historically oppressed by US imperialism, and Canada, a lesser imperialist power that has long been a key US ally, made significant concessions in the face of US demands that the continental pact be refashioned to make it an even more explicit US-led protectionist trade bloc.

As the US struggles to retain power as a global empire, UMCA shows that “through ‘America First’ economic nationalism and the ruthless assertion of its interests against ostensible allies and rivals alike,” it will do what it must “to prevail in the struggle for markets and profits.”

Just as the TPP was President Obama’s attempt at economic domination of Asia, USMCA is part of President Trump’s economic war against China, which has already included “tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods.” Jordan explains how USMCA sent a message to China, writing:

It grants the US effective veto power over any attempt by Canada or Mexico to negotiate a free trade pact with a ‘non-market economy,’ a clear reference to China. This includes the right to transform USMCA into a bilateral agreement, excluding the third member if it has ratified such a free trade deal.

Stop Corporate Trade

There is still time to stop USMCA. Leaders are expected to sign the deal on December 1 at the G-20 meeting. Then President Trump has 60 days to report to Congress on changes to US law that are required by the agreement. Within 105 days of the agreement being signed, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) must complete a study of the agreement’s economic impact. Congress will have to pass legislation to implement USMCA.  After Congress receives the final bill from the president, it has 90 days of being in session to act on it under Fast Track rules. It is unlikely that all this can be accomplished before the 2019 legislative session.

Now that we know more about the contents of the new NAFTA, we need to mobilize to stop its ratification and implementation by Congress. If we are to win a new model of trade that raises the bar on protection of workers, the environment and democracy, we must show, as we did with the TPP, that rigged corporate trade will be stopped by a popular movement.

Kavanaugh Is The Wrong Nominee For Our Times

Demonstrators protest outside of Supreme Court after Judge Brett Kavanaugh was chosen by President Trump as his nominee for the high court. From FOX 45 DC twitter.

The Kavanaugh confirmation process has been a missed opportunity for the United States to face up to many urgent issues on which the bi-partisans in Washington, DC are united and wrong.

Kavanaugh’s career as a Republican legal operative and judge supporting the power of corporations, the security state and abusive foreign policy should have been put on trial. The hearings could have provided an opportunity to confront the security state, use of torture, mass spying and the domination of money in politics and oligarchy as he has had an important role in each of these.

Kavanaugh’s behavior as a teenager who likely drank too much and was inappropriately aggressive and abusive with women, perhaps even attempting rape, must also be confronted. In an era where patriarchy and mistreatment of women are being challenged, Kavanaugh is the wrong nominee for this important time. However, sexual assault should not be a distraction that keeps the the public’s focus off other issues raised by his career as a conservative political activist.

A demonstration against the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh outside the Capitol this month. Credit Erin Schaff for The New York Times

The Security State, Mass Spying and Torture

A central issue of our era is the US security state — mass spying on emails, Internet activity, texts and phone calls. Judge Kavanaugh enabled invasive spying on everyone in the United States.  He described mass surveillance as “entirely consistent” with the US Constitution. This is a manipulation of the law as the Constitution plainly requires probable cause and a search warrant for the government to search an individual.

Kavanaugh explained in a decision, “In my view, that critical national security need outweighs the impact on privacy occasioned by this [NSA] program.” This low regard for protecting individual privacy should have been enough for a majority of the Senate to say this nominee is inappropriate for the court.

Kavanaugh ruled multiple times that police have the power to search people, emphasizing “reasonableness” as the standard for searching people. He ruled broadly for the police in searches conducted on the street without a warrant. He ruled in favor of broader use of drug testing of federal employees. Kavanaugh applauded Justice Rehnquist’s views on the Fourth Amendment, which favored police searches by defining probable cause in a flexible way and creating a broad exception for when the government has “special needs” to search without a warrant of probable cause. In this era of police abuse through stop and frisk, jump out squads and searches when driving (or walking or running) while black, Kavanaugh is the wrong nominee and should be disqualified.

Kavanaugh also played a role in the Bush torture policy. Torture is against US and international law, certainly facilitating torture should be disqualifying not only as a justice but should result in disbarment as a lawyer. Kavanaugh was appointed by President Trump, who once vowed he would “bring back waterboarding and … a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Minimizing torture is demonstrated in his rulings; e.g., not protecting prisoners at risk of torture and not allowing people to sue the government on allegations of torture.

Torture is a landmine in the Senate, so Kavanaugh misled the Senate, likely committing perjury on torture.  In his 2006 confirmation, he said he was “not involved” in “questions about the rules governing detention of combatants.” Tens of thousands of documents have been kept secret by the White House about Kavanaugh from the Bush era. Even so, during these confirmation hearings documents related to the nomination of a lawyer involved in the torture program showed Kavanaugh’s role in torture policies leading Senator Dick Durbin to write:

It is clear now that not only did Judge Kavanaugh mislead me when it came to his involvement in the Bush Administration’s detention and interrogation policies, but also regarding his role in the controversial Haynes nomination.

Durbin spoke more broadly about perjury writing:

This is a theme that we see emerge with Judge Kavanaugh time and time again – he says one thing under oath, and then the documents tell a different story.  It is no wonder the White House and Senate Republicans are rushing through this nomination and hiding much of Judge Kavanaugh’s record—the questions about this nominee’s credibility are growing every day.

Perjury allegations should be investigated and if proven should result in him not being confirmed.

This should have been enough to stop the process until documents were released to reveal Kavanaugh’s role as Associate White House Counsel under George Bush from 2001 to 2003 and as his White House Staff Secretary from 2003 to 2006. Unfortunately, Democrats have been complicit in allowing torture as well; e.g., the Obama administration never prosecuted anyone accused of torture and advanced the careers of people involved in torture.

Shouldn’t  the risk of having a torture facilitator on the Supreme Court be enough to stop this nomination?

Protesters show there are a lot of reasons to reject Kavanaugh (Photo from NARAL Twitter)

Corporate Power vs Protecting People and the Planet

In this era of corporate power, Kavanaugh sides with the corporations. Ralph Nader describes him as a corporation masquerading as a judge.  He narrowly limited the powers of federal agencies to curtail corporate power and to protect the interests of the people and planet.

This is evident in cases where Kavanaugh has favored reducing restrictions on polluting corporations. He dissented in cases where the majority ruled in favor of environmental protection but has never dissented where the majority ruled against an environmental interest. He ruled against agencies seeking to protect clean air and water. If Kavanaugh is on the court, it will be much harder to hold corporations responsible for the damage they have done to the climate, the environment or health.

Kavanaugh takes the side of businesses over their workers with a long history of anti-union and anti-labor rulings. A few examples of many, he ruled in favor of the Trump Organization throwing out the results of a union election, sided with the management of Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian Casino Resort upholding the casino’s First Amendment right to summon police against workers engaged in a peaceful demonstration — for which they had a permit, affirmed the Department of Defense’s discretion to negate the collective bargaining rights of employees, and overturned an NLRB ruling that allowed Verizon workers to display pro-union signs on company property despite having given up the right to picket in their collective bargaining agreement. In this time of labor unrest and mistreatment of workers, Kavanaugh will be a detriment to workers rights.

Kavanough opposed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling in favor of net neutrality, which forbids telecom companies from discrimination on the Internet. He argued net neutrality violated the First Amendment rights of Internet Service Providers (ISP) and was beyond the power granted to the FCC. He put the rights of big corporations ahead of the people having a free and open Internet. The idea that an ISP has a right to control what it allows on the Internet could give corporations great control over what people see on the Internet. It is a very dangerous line of reasoning in this era of corporations curtailing news that challenges the mainstream narrative.

In 2016, Kavanaugh was asked if he believed that money spent during campaigns represents speech, and is protected by the First Amendment and answered: “Absolutely.”  Kavanaugh joined in decisions and wrote opinions consistent with efforts to oppose any attempt by Congress or the Federal Elections Commission to restrict campaign contributions or expenditures. His view that free speech allows unrestricted money in elections will add to the avalanche of big money politics. Wealthy elites and big corporations will have even greater influence with Kavanaugh on the court.

Kavanaugh will be friendly to powerful business and the interests of the wealthy on the Supreme Court, and will tend to stand in the way of efforts by administrative agencies to regulate them and by people seeking greater rights.

Kavanaugh protesters call for his rejection over sexual assault call to Believe Survivors (Photo by Carol Kaster Associated Press)

Women’s Rights, Abortion and Sexual Assault

Judge Kavanaugh has not ruled on Roe v. Wade and whether the constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion. In 2017, Kavanaugh gave a Constitution Day lecture to the conservative American Enterprise Institute where he praised Justice Rehnquist and one of the cases he focused on was his dissent in Roe. Rehnquist opposed making abortion constitutionally protected, writing, it was not “rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people.”  Shortly after that speech, Kavanaugh wrote a dissent that argued an immigrant minor in government detention did not have a right to obtain an abortion.

On the third day of his confirmation hearings, Judge Brett Kavanaugh seemed to refer to the use of contraception as “abortion-inducing drugs.” It was a discussion of a case where Kavanaugh dissented from the majority involving the Priests for Life’s challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Kavanaugh opposed the requirement that all health plans cover birth control, claiming that IUDs and emergency contraception were an infringement of their free exercise of religion.

Multiple accusers have come forward to allege Kavanaugh’s involvement in sexual assault and abuse. While Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is viewed as credible — she was the only witness allowed to testify — it is not clear these allegations will be thoroughly reviewed. After being approved by the committee, the Republican leadership and President Trump agreed on a limited FBI investigation. It is unclear whether the FBI will be allowed to follow all the evidence and question all the witnesses. As we write this newsletter, the outcome has yet to unfold. If there is corroborating evidence for the accusers, Kavanaugh should not be approved.

A Republican Political Operative As A Justice?

Kavanaugh has been a legal operative for the Republican Party involved in many high profile partisan legal battles. He spent three years working for Ken Starr on the impeachment of Bill Clinton where he pressed Starr to ask Clinton sexually graphic details about his relationship with Monica Lewinisky. He tried to expand the Starr investigation into the death of Vince Foster, whose death had been ruled a suicide. He was a lead author of the infamous Starr Report—widely criticized as “strain[ing] credulity” and being based on “shaky allegations.”

Kavanaugh was one of George W. Bush’s lawyers in the litigation after the election in 2000, which sought to block a recount of ballots in Florida, resulting in a decision that handed the presidential election to Bush. In the Bush administration, he was involved in pushing for conservative judges as well as controversial policies like torture.

During his confirmation process, in response to the accusations of assault, he claimed they were “a calculated and orchestrated political hit” and “revenge on behalf of the Clinton’s.” He demonstrated partisan anger and displayed a lack of judicial temperament, making him unfit to serve on the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh exposes the true partisan nature of the highest court, which is not a neutral arbiter but another battleground for partisan politics. The lack of debate on issues of spying, torture and more shows both parties support a court that protects the security state and corporate interests over people and planet. Accusations of sexual assault must be confronted, but there are many reasons Kavanaugh should not be on the court. The confirmation process undermines the court’s legitimacy and highlights bi-partisan corruption.

Drone Days of Summer

This summer flew by. While many of us were baking in the heat, the U.S. war industry was raking in the money, selling unmanned aerial vehicles (a.k.a. “drones”). All told, summer sales of drones and related technology topped $3,509,000,000. Such waste is a national tragedy.

Boeing

Boeing’s main drone division is known as Insitu. It manufactures and assembles its products in Washington and Oregon along the Columbia River. Two of its bestsellers are the Blackjack and the ScanEagle.

Boeing sold Blackjack parts worth roughly $9 million to the U.S. Marine Corps in July and again in August, capping off the summer by selling Blackjack drones and equipment worth $53.9 million to Poland.

Poland wasn’t the only country that Boeing successfully courted this summer. At the end of June, Boeing sold Lebanon ScanEagle drones worth $8.2 million. This deal included helping set up the equipment and training the Lebanese military on how to operate it. Lebanon is a long-term Boeing customer. In September 2015, for example, Boeing sold ScanEagle drones to Lebanon, delivered to a base in Hamat.

Endless war brings endless opportunity to create and market new weaponry. Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray is a good example of this. On 30 August, Boeing sealed a deal (worth a cool $805 million) to provide the Pentagon with four MQ-25A vehicles, which are capable of flying from aircraft carriers.

Like any proficient war corporation, Boeing spreads production across congressional districts. The MQ-25 Stingray is worked on in St. Louis, MO; Indianapolis, IN; Cedar Rapids, IA; Palm Bay, FL; San Diego, CA; and many overseas locations. Take caution. The claim that the “defense” industry brings “jobs, jobs, jobs” is a stale public relations ploy. It hides the truth: spending on healthcare, education, or clean energy creates more jobs than spending on war.

Sometimes allied governments get weapons for free. In the middle of the summer, Boeing sold the Pentagon over $10.8 million worth of ScanEagle systems and spares, which the Pentagon is giving to Afghanistan’s military. The Pentagon paid for this with “building partner capacity funds,” not through foreign military sales (FMS). Building partner capacity funds come directly from the U.S. taxpayer. The war in Afghanistan is now entering its seventeenth year—seventeen years of corporate profit.

Owned and Operated

One of Boeing’s bigger payoffs of the summer came in early August when the war corporation sold up to $232 million worth of drone services to U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in a continuation of an earlier deal. Under the terms of the deal, Boeing contractors—what one might call “mercenaries”—support USSOCOM operations, using Boeing’s proprietary drone infrastructure. This is a stellar example of how war corporations now run the wars.

General Atomics behaves the same way. In June, General Atomics sold nearly $40 million for MQ-9 “surge support” in U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM), primarily helping U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

Not to be outdone, Textron is offering its drones to protect the Pentagon’s footprint in Afghanistan. In early August, Textron’s AAI division sold over $12 million worth of “force protection efforts” at Bagram and Kandahar airfields. Under the deal, Textron provides and operates various drones to protect the aforementioned bases.

Boeing, General Atomics, and Textron make millions selling and operating drones in war zones overseas, further increasing the corporate takeover of what was once an inherently governmental job: waging war.

General Atomics

The General Atomics MQ-9 “Reaper” is the Pentagon’s workhorse. When there’s a drone strike, the MQ-9 is most likely the culprit. In recent years, General Atomics has sold the MQ-9 to Spain, the U.K., Italy, and France. It’s a cash cow.

General Atomics produces many pricey gizmos for its drone fleet. On 14 June, General Atomics sold the Pentagon nearly $23 million worth of engineering on MQ-9 radars. On 20 August, General Atomics sold $133.9 million worth of new sensors on the MQ-9. On 22 August, General Atomics sold over $11 million worth of engineering services on the MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” drone. (The MQ-1C is an upgrade of the Pentagon’s former favorite, the MQ-1 Predator, which was retired in recent months.)

CAE USA Inc. creates the training curriculum for MQ-9 drone pilots and sensor operators. At the end of the summer, CAE USA sold the Pentagon four months of air crew training and course work development for General Atomics’ drones. CAE USA delivers the curriculum to major drone hubs within the United States: Creech Air Force Base (AFB), NV; Hancock Air National Guard Base, NY; Holloman AFB, NM; and March Air Reserve Base, CA.

Raytheon

“The Hive” is what I’ve nicknamed a cluster of towns in northeast Texas where the U.S. war industry produces some of its most profitable and destructive goods, including the infamous F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The towns comprising The Hive are Dallas, Fort Worth, Garland, Grand Prairie, Greenville, McKinney, and Richardson.

Raytheon produces many of its aircraft sensors in McKinney, including electro-optical, infrared (EO/IR) devices that are bolted onto the underside of drones. These devices cost an arm and a leg, bringing Raytheon a lot of money.

In McKinney, Raytheon makes the targeting system used on the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C “Triton” drone. At the end of the summer, Raytheon received millions to get this multi-spectral targeting system up and running on some of the U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C drones.

Raytheon makes the targeting system for the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper as well. In July, Raytheon received over $10 million to upgrade this targeting system in McKinney. On 31 August, Raytheon received over $281 million for targeting system (MTS-B) turrets, upgrades, and spares.

Money flowed swiftly to Raytheon this summer. In June, Raytheon received $29.6 million to develop a Low Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) prototype. The next day, Raytheon received $45.8 million for work on the Common Sensor Payload (CSP) system, which is used on General Atomics drones. It is worth noting that the current Raytheon CEO used to be the executive supervising development of such technology.

Northrop Grumman

The Pentagon is throwing money at the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton, a new drone designed to complement Boeing’s P-8A maritime surveillance aircraft.

At the beginning of June, Northrop Grumman received $61.7 million to “provide operator, maintenance, logistic support and sustainment engineering” in support of MQ-4C drones “to ensure the aircraft are mission-capable.” In straightforward terms, Northrop Grumman got paid to keep doing what it’s doing, keeping a costly weapon of war up and running.

War corporations are greedy, just like other corporations. In mid-July, Northrop Grumman received over $41 million for MQ-4C drones, field service representatives, and work on training devices. Five days later, Northrop Grumman received $19.3 million for MQ-4C software updates. Selling software updates on a brand-new weapon of war is a blatant rip-off. No consumer would ever pay for mandatory software upgrades on their 2018 automobile immediately after driving it off the lot, yet this sort of abusive deceit is commonplace in the war machine. Such treachery highlights the real relationship between the U.S. war industry and its primary customer, the Pentagon. War corporations are running the show.

Many leeches are attracted to the funding associated with endless war. The day before U.S. Independence Day, the British corporation Rolls-Royce sold the Pentagon $420 million worth of maintenance and repair on the MQ-4C’s engines. At the end of July, Northrop Grumman received $7.5 million to incorporate “interoperability” in support of the RQ-5 Hunter drone, which was originally an Israeli product, tested in the skies over Palestine.

Millions Up For Grabs

There are many more players in the drone racket. Millions are to be made from selling surveillance drones and associated technology to the Pentagon and allied governments around the world.

SSC Pacific is an integral military node through which the U.S. war industry profits. SSC Pacific uses cyber, drones, and information technology to help the U.S. Navy dominate the Pacific Ocean. Towards the end of August, four corporations sold engineering services to SSC Pacific. Their work focuses on providing “emerging positioning, navigation and timing technologies for C4ISR applications,” basically helping to develop reconnaissance technology and the related command and control equipment.

AeroVironment Inc. sells small drones to the Pentagon and allied nations. At the end of June, AeroVironment sold hardware for its Switchblade drone. A month later, AeroVironment sold communications devices to Norway for use on drones like the RQ-12A WASP. Just like all U.S. war corporations, AeroVironment sells to governments with dismal or questionable human rights records. Previous customers of AeroVironment include Egypt and Ukraine.

War corporations like CACI and L3 sell goods and services that comprise the information technology backbone of the U.S. Armed Forces. At the beginning of June, CACI (Six3) received $48.6 million to help the U.S. Navy deploy “counter-UAS” technology. Counter-UAS equipment tries to stop drones (“unmanned aerial systems”) from approaching U.S. government facilities, usually by jamming the incoming vehicle.

On the last day of July, Leonardo DRS, an Italian war corporation, sold the Pentagon its expertise to engineer and test counter-UAS technology. At the end of August, L3 sold sensors, which will likely be used on Textron’s RQ-7 Shadow drone. The sensors (“Electro-Optic/Infrared/Laser Designator Payload”) sold for $454 million.

Academic institutions like Johns Hopkins University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are among the Pentagon’s favorite bastions of scientific and mathematical knowledge. But endless war corrupts all corners of academia. In mid-August, George Mason University received over $60 million to help the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) improve the hardware and software that connect and synchronize small drones.

Unmanned vehicles are not limited to the skies above. Increasingly, the U.S. war industry lobbies for dominating the depths of the oceans with unmanned vehicles. In mid-June, Metron Inc. sold its expertise ($8 million) to work on advanced modular payloads for unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV). Later in the summer, several war corporations and academic institutions, including Draper Lab, L3, SAIC, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, sold over $561 million worth of UUV research and development.

While the Pentagon spends billions of tax dollars on drones, students struggle with mounting debt, children go hungry, and the nation suffers from stagnant wages and a lack of universal healthcare. Boeing, General Atomics, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and other war corporations do not care. They are busy developing, marketing, and selling weapons of war to the Pentagon and allies worldwide. These same corporations fund think tanks, bribe U.S. Congress with campaign contributions, and lobby Capitol Hill daily in order to sustain endless war. Drone sales over the summer months—totaling over $3.5 billion—show how profitable this racket really is.

An Allegory for Our Time

To preserve and expand its power, America’s power elite, hugely outnumbered, must keep the massive but powerless, subjugated and exploited public at bay. It does so in myriad ways. One is to divide and conquer the public. Perhaps the oldest means of doing this was to have written the U.S. Constitution and then years later to have created multiple political parties to confuse and distract the public. Another is to impose a police state that takes no prisoners. Another is to spin the legacies of US presidents whose behavior was so odious and heinous that to leave it bare and open to the public would likely cause a revolt. Another is to create foreign enemies to stoke fear and the revenue draining national security budget. Another is to create an open-door immigration law to further diversify the nation as well as to gain cheap labor. Yet another, more relevant to the allegory to be told, is to barrage the public daily with corporate mainstream media’s propaganda and untruths about any prominent politician who does not fall meekly in line with the power elite’s imperialistic agenda.

That brings us to the current U.S. president, Donald J. Trump, the only US president in America’s history to challenge the corpocracy’s power elite. There isn’t one aspect of his domestic or foreign policy views and actions that have not come under withering attack from those who are fearful of America’s corpocracy crumbling. Consider his seeking to localize more and globalize less America’s economy. If I were to pick two of the corpocracy’s strategies that have turned America into a third world country in terms of quality of life conditions for the citizenry they would be globalization and a burgeoning war budget. Consider his seeking to end America’s open-door immigration policy, one that I have already mentioned that serves only the power elite. Consider his seeking detente with Russia and North Korea, enemies created by his predecessors solely by and for America’s power elite.

In short, Trump goes against the grain of the corpocracy. He’s not really one of its members. He is the only US president never to have previously held public office, which means he wasn’t groomed in a poisonous crucible spewing out corruptible politicians. He made his fortune in the real estate industry, one of the least injurious of the major industries such as the war industry. In other words, despite his wealth and position, he senses and is trying to be responsive to the needs, despair and misery of Joe and Jill America, which brings us now to the allegory. I got it in an e-mail from a friend who tells me the author is unknown. Here it is.

The Racoon Story

If you really want to know how the majority of people feel? And this applies to both Democrats and Republicans; read below, it says it all. You’ve been on vacation for two weeks, you come home, and your basement is infested with raccoons. Hundreds of rabid, messy, mean raccoons have overtaken your basement. You want them gone immediately.

You call the city, 4 different exterminators, but nobody can handle the job. But there is this one guy and he guarantees you to get rid of them, so you hire him. You don’t care if the guy smells, you don’t care if the guy swears, you don’t care if he’s an alcoholic, you don’t care how many times he’s been married, you don’t care if he has a plumber’s crack, you simply want those raccoons gone! You want your problem fixed! He’s the guy. He’s the best. Period!

Here’s why we want Trump. Yes, he’s a bit of an ass; yes, he’s an egomaniac, but we don’t care. The country is a mess because politicians suck, the Republicans and Democrats can be two-faced and gutless, and illegals are everywhere. We want it all fixed! We don’t care that Trump is crude. We don’t care that he insults people; we don’t care that he has changed positions; we don’t care that he’s been married 3 times; we don’t care that he fights with Megyn Kelly and Rosie O’Donnell. We don’t care that he doesn’t know the name of some Muslin terrorist.

This country is weak, bankrupt, our enemies are making fun of us, we are being invaded by illegals, we are becoming a nation of victims where every Tom, Ricardo, and Hasid is a special group with special rights to a point where we don’t even recognize the country we were born and raised in; “AND WE JUST WANT IT FIXED” and Trump is the only guy who seems to understand what the people want.

We’re sick of politicians, sick of the Democratic Party, Republican Party, and sick of illegals. We just want this thing fixed. Trump may not be a saint, but he doesn’t have lobbyist money holding him; he doesn’t have political correctness restraining him; all you know is that he has been very successful, a good negotiator, he has built a lot of things, and he’s also not a politician, he’s not a cowardly politician. And he says he’ll fix it, and we believe him because he is too much of an egotist to be proven wrong or looked at and called a liar. Also, we don’t care if the guy has bad hair. We just want those raccoons gone, out of our house, NOW. The raccoons have got to go.

End of story.

In Closing

Wonder what will be Trump’s legacy some day? Like that of Honest Abe? No. Abe was not so honest, was a racist, and triggered a war that killed 750,000 Americans simply so the power elite could maintain a unified” country large and strong enough to keep expanding its empire. Like that of Likeable Ike? No. Over a million Koreans were slaughtered due to his decisions, not to mention the reign of terror by his puppet dictators in Central America. Like Harry Truman? No. In addition to his culpability for war crimes against N. Korea, he sent millions to their deaths just to show Russia America was no weakling and thus to usher in a profitable Cold War. Like LBJ and his murderous war crimes? No. Like Bill Clinton, called “the world’s leading active war criminal?1 No. Like George Bush and his devastation of Iraq? No. Like his predecessor, Obama who began drone killing shortly after taking office and kept on droning and rationalizing?2

No, I predict that when Trump’s tenure is over he will have been the least murderous of all his predecessors save two who died early in office and the most populist president of any before him. To ensure a continuation of his policies and actions that erode the dangerous and malevolent power elite of the corpocracy, all Americans who agree with the Racoon Story need to help build a “Citizens’ Voice Alliance” or a “Peoples’ America.” Notice that I didn’t call them “parties.”

  1. Herman, E.S. Clinton Is the WorId’s Leading Active War Criminal, Z Magazine, December 1999. Herman is an economist and media analyst.
  2. See, for example, my article, Spinning the Legacies of America’s Presidents, Dissident Voice, July 31; OpEdNews, August 1, 2016.

A New World Order: Brought to You by the Global-Industrial Deep State

There are no nations. There are no peoples … There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business.

Network (1976)

There are those who will tell you that any mention of a New World Order government—a power elite conspiring to rule the world—is the stuff of conspiracy theories.

I am not one of those skeptics.

What’s more, I wholeheartedly believe that one should always mistrust those in power, take alarm at the first encroachment on one’s liberties, and establish powerful constitutional checks against government mischief and abuse.

I can also attest to the fact that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I have studied enough of this country’s history—and world history—to know that governments (the U.S. government being no exception) are at times indistinguishable from the evil they claim to be fighting, whether that evil takes the form of terrorism, torture, drug trafficking, sex trafficking, murder, violence, theft, pornography, scientific experimentations or some other diabolical means of inflicting pain, suffering and servitude on humanity.

And I have lived long enough to see many so-called conspiracy theories turn into cold, hard fact.

Remember, people used to scoff at the notion of a Deep State (a.k.a. Shadow Government), doubt that fascism could ever take hold in America, and sneer at any suggestion that the United States was starting to resemble Nazi Germany in the years leading up to Hitler’s rise to power.

We’re beginning to know better, aren’t we?

The Deep State (“a national-security apparatus that holds sway even over the elected leaders notionally in charge of it”) is real.

We are already experiencing fascism, American-style.

Not with jackboots and salutes, as Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution notes, “but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac ‘tapping into’ popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.”

And the United States is increasingly following in Nazi Germany’s footsteps, at least in the years leading up to Hitler’s rise to power.

Given all that we know about the U.S. government—that it treats its citizens like faceless statistics and economic units to be bought, sold, bartered, traded, and tracked; that it repeatedly lies, cheats, steals, spies, kills, maims, enslaves, breaks the laws, overreaches its authority, and abuses its power at almost every turn; and that it wages wars for profit, jails its own people for profit, and has no qualms about spreading its reign of terror abroad—it is not a stretch to suggest that the government has been overtaken by global industrialists, a new world order, that do not have our best interests at heart.

Indeed, to anyone who’s been paying attention to the goings-on in the world, it is increasingly obvious that we’re already under a new world order, and it is being brought to you by the Global-Industrial Deep State, a powerful cabal made up of international government agencies and corporations.

It is as yet unclear whether the American Police State answers to the Global-Industrial Deep State, or whether the Global-Industrial Deep State merely empowers the American Police State. However, there is no denying the extent to which they are intricately and symbiotically enmeshed and interlocked.

This marriage of governmental and corporate interests is the very definition of fascism.

Where we go wrong is in underestimating the threat of fascism: it is no longer a national threat but has instead become a global menace.

Consider the extent to which our lives and liberties are impacted by this international convergence of governmental and profit-driven interests in the surveillance state, the military industrial complex, the private prison industry, the intelligence sector, the technology sector, the telecommunications sector, the transportation sector, and the pharmaceutical industry.

All of these sectors are dominated by mega-corporations operating on a global scale and working through government channels to increase their profit margins: Walmart, Alphabet (formerly Google), AT&T, Toyota, Apple, Exxon Mobil, Facebook, Lockheed Martin, Berkshire Hathaway, UnitedHealth Group, Samsung, Amazon, Verizon, Nissan, Boeing, Microsoft, Northrop Grumman, Citigroup… these are just a few of the global corporate giants whose profit-driven policies influence everything from legislative policies to economics to environmental issues to medical care.

The U.S. government’s deep-seated and, in many cases, top secret alliances with foreign nations and global corporations are redrawing the boundaries of our world (and our freedoms) and altering the playing field faster than we can keep up.

Global Surveillance

Spearheaded by the National Security Agency (NSA), which has shown itself to care little for constitutional limits or privacy, the surveillance state has come to dominate our government and our lives.

Yet the government does not operate alone.

It cannot.

It requires an accomplice.

Thus, the increasingly complex security needs of our massive federal government, especially in the areas of defense, surveillance and data management, have been met within the corporate sector, which has shown itself to be a powerful ally that both depends on and feeds the growth of governmental bureaucracy.

Take AT&T, for instance. Through its vast telecommunications network that crisscrosses the globe, AT&T provides the U.S. government with the complex infrastructure it needs for its mass surveillance programs. According to The Intercept:

The NSA considers AT&T to be one of its most trusted partners and has lauded the company’s ‘extreme willingness to help.’  It is a collaboration that dates back decades. Little known, however, is that its scope is not restricted to AT&T’s customers. According to the NSA’s documents, it values AT&T not only because it ‘has access to information that transits the nation,’ but also because it maintains unique relationships with other phone and internet providers. The NSA exploits these relationships for surveillance purposes, commandeering AT&T’s massive infrastructure and using it as a platform to covertly tap into communications processed by other companies.

Now magnify what the U.S. government is doing through AT&T on a global scale, and you have the “14 Eyes Program,” also referred to as the “SIGINT Seniors.” This global spy agency is made up of members from around the world (United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Israel, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, India and all British Overseas Territories).

Surveillance is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these global alliances, however.

Global War Profiteering

War has become a huge money-making venture, and America, with its vast military empire and its incestuous relationship with a host of international defense contractors, is one of its best buyers and sellers. In fact, as Reuters reports, “[President] Trump has gone further than any of his predecessors to act as a salesman for the U.S. defense industry.”

The American military-industrial complex has erected an empire unsurpassed in history in its breadth and scope, one dedicated to conducting perpetual warfare throughout the earth. For example, while erecting a security surveillance state in the U.S., the military-industrial complex has perpetuated a worldwide military empire with American troops stationed in 177 countries (over 70% of the countries worldwide).

Although the federal government obscures so much about its defense spending that accurate figures are difficult to procure, we do know that since 2001, the U.S. government has spent more than $1.8 trillion in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (that’s $8.3 million per hour). That doesn’t include wars and military exercises waged around the globe, which are expected to push the total bill upwards of $12 trillion by 2053.

The illicit merger of the global armaments industry and the Pentagon that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us against more than 50 years ago has come to represent perhaps the greatest threat to the nation’s fragile infrastructure today. America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour)—and that’s just what the government spends on foreign wars. That does not include the cost of maintaining and staffing the 1000-plus U.S. military bases spread around the globe.

Incredibly, although the U.S. constitutes only 5% of the world’s population, America boasts almost 50% of the world’s total military expenditure, spending more on the military than the next 19 biggest spending nations combined. In fact, the Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety. There’s a good reason why “bloated,” “corrupt” and “inefficient” are among the words most commonly applied to the government, especially the Department of Defense and its contractors. Price gouging has become an accepted form of corruption within the American military empire.

It’s not just the American economy that is being gouged, unfortunately.

Driven by a greedy defense sector, the American homeland has been transformed into a battlefield with militarized police and weapons better suited to a war zone. Trump, no different from his predecessors, has continued to expand America’s military empire abroad and domestically, calling on Congress to approve billions more to hire cops, build more prisons and wage more profit-driven war-on-drugs/war-on-terrorism/war-on-crime programs that pander to the powerful money interests (military, corporate and security) that run the Deep State and hold the government in its clutches.

Global Policing

Glance at pictures of international police forces and you will have a hard time distinguishing between American police and those belonging to other nations. There’s a reason they all look alike, garbed in the militarized, weaponized uniform of a standing army.

There’s a reason why they act alike, too, and speak a common language of force.

For example, Israel—one of America’s closest international allies and one of the primary yearly recipients of more than $3 billion in U.S. foreign military aid—has been at the forefront of a little-publicized exchange program aimed at training American police to act as occupying forces in their communities. As The Intercept sums it up, American police are “essentially taking lessons from agencies that enforce military rule rather than civil law.”

Then you have the Strong Cities Network program.  Funded by the State Department, the U.S. government has partnered with the United Nations to fight violent extremism “in all of its forms and manifestations” in cities and communities across the world. Working with the UN, the federal government rolled out programs to train local police agencies across America in how to identify, fight and prevent extremism, as well as address intolerance within their communities, using all of the resources at their disposal. The cities included in the global network include New York City, Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis, Paris, London, Montreal, Beirut and Oslo.

What this program is really all about, however, is community policing on a global scale.

Community policing, which relies on a “broken windows” theory of policing, calls for police to engage with the community in order to prevent local crime by interrupting or preventing minor offenses before they could snowball into bigger, more serious and perhaps violent crime.

It sounds like a good idea on paper, but the problem with the broken windows approach is that it has led to zero tolerance policing and stop-and-frisk practices among other harsh police tactics.

When applied to the Strong Cities Network program, the objective is ostensibly to prevent violent extremism by targeting its source: racism, bigotry, hatred, intolerance, etc. In other words, police—acting ostensibly as extensions of the United Nations—will identify, monitor and deter individuals who exhibit, express or engage in anything that could be construed as extremist.

Of course, the concern with the government’s anti-extremism program is that it will, in many cases, be utilized to render otherwise lawful, nonviolent activities as potentially extremist. Keep in mind that the government agencies involved in ferreting out American “extremists” will carry out their objectives—to identify and deter potential extremists—in concert with fusion centers (of which there are 78 nationwide, with partners in the private sector and globally), data collection agencies, behavioral scientists, corporations, social media, and community organizers and by relying on cutting-edge technology for surveillance, facial recognition, predictive policing, biometrics, and behavioral epigenetics (in which life experiences alter one’s genetic makeup).

This is pre-crime on an ideological scale and it’s been a long time coming.

Are you starting to get the picture now?

We’re the sitting ducks in the government’s crosshairs.

On almost every front, whether it’s the war on drugs, or the sale of weapons, or regulating immigration, or establishing prisons, or advancing technology, if there is a profit to be made and power to be amassed, you can bet that the government and its global partners have already struck a deal that puts the American people on the losing end of the bargain.

Unless we can put the brakes on this dramatic expansion, globalization and merger of governmental and corporate powers, we’re not going to recognize this country 20 years from now.

It’s taken less than a generation for our freedoms to be eroded and the police state structure to be erected, expanded and entrenched.

Rest assured that the U.S. government will not save us from the chains of the global police state.

The current or future occupant of the White House will not save us.

For that matter, anarchy, violence and incivility will not save us.

Unfortunately, the government’s divide and conquer tactics are working like a charm.

Despite the laundry list of grievances that should unite “we the people” in common cause against the government, the nation is more divided than ever by politics, by socio-economics, by race, by religion, and by every other distinction that serves to highlight our differences.

The real and manufactured events of recent years—the invasive surveillance, the extremism reports, the civil unrest, the protests, the shootings, the bombings, the military exercises and active shooter drills, the color-coded alerts and threat assessments, the fusion centers, the transformation of local police into extensions of the military, the distribution of military equipment and weapons to local police forces, the government databases containing the names of dissidents and potential troublemakers—have all conjoined to create an environment in which “we the people” are more divided, more distrustful, and fearful of each other.

What we have failed to realize is that in the eyes of the government, we’re all the same.

In other words, when it’s time for the government to crack down—and that time is coming—it won’t matter whether we voted Republican or Democrat, whether we marched on Washington or stayed home, or whether we spoke out against government misconduct and injustice or remained silent.

When the government and its Global-Industrial Deep State partners in the New World Order crack down, we’ll all suffer.

If there is to be any hope of freeing ourselves, it rests—as it always has—at the local level, with you and your fellow citizens taking part in grassroots activism, which takes a trickle-up approach to governmental reform by implementing change at the local level.

One of the most important contributions an individual citizen can make is to become actively involved in local community affairs, politics and legal battles. As the adage goes, “Think globally, act locally.”

America was meant to be primarily a system of local governments, which is a far cry from the colossal federal bureaucracy we have today. Yet if our freedoms are to be restored, understanding what is transpiring practically in your own backyard—in one’s home, neighborhood, school district, town council—and taking action at that local level must be the starting point.

Responding to unmet local needs and reacting to injustices is what grassroots activism is all about. Attend local city council meetings, speak up at town hall meetings, organize protests and letter-writing campaigns, employ “militant nonviolent resistance” and civil disobedience, which Martin Luther King Jr. used to great effect through the use of sit-ins, boycotts and marches.

And then, as I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, if there is any means left to us for thwarting the government in its relentless march towards outright dictatorship, it may rest with the power of communities and local governments to invalidate governmental laws, tactics and policies that are illegitimate, egregious or blatantly unconstitutional.

Nullification works.

Nullify the court cases. Nullify the laws. Nullify everything the government does that flies in the face of the principles on which this nation was founded.

We could transform this nation if only Americans would work together to harness the power of their discontent.

A Fatal Incompatibilty: Big Business and Human Survival

Dramatic as the title of the article is, it is becoming increasingly clear that this is not hyperbole or hysterics. It is the only logical conclusion one can arrive at if one analyses the facts of our current situation as a species.

Commerce has existed for thousands of years, with private and government-owned companies providing goods and services for sale, largely unregulated for most of that time. Of course, government has always had the capacity to intervene where business practices have been found to be unsafe or unethical, for the protection of society.

As economies have developed beyond a mostly agricultural foundation into a consumer-driven industrial system, corporations have gained increasing economic, social and political influence. Although there is now an enormous quantity of legal regulation in relation to the conducting of business (in the developed world particularly) corporations exert such a huge influence on countries (democratic or otherwise) that we could accurately be described as living in an age of corpocracy. The infiltration of governments by corporate interests is so severe that governments are almost powerless to prevent the wholesale destruction of our environment and huge damage to humanity without causing a worldwide economic collapse.

Most corporations are not owned by one or a few individuals any more. Generally a large number of unknown individuals (shareholders) own them, to whom the directors are solely answerable. In almost all cases, the priority of the shareholders is the maximising of dividends and share prices, which companies achieve by creating as much profit as possible within a given time frame; e.g., per quarter year.

As a result of this priority of creating profits, above all other activities, companies have a long history of ignoring ethical concerns or paying lip-service to such issues in order to avoid any negative impacts on profitability. Considering the continual impact of corporate donations and lobbying on the political process and subsequent regulation, it is clear that corporations have deliberately attempted to prevent or diminish assessment and legislation that might adversely affect them.

There are a multitude of examples of big business attempting to conceal nefarious practices or to prevent any actions to control or end them. It would be easy to write a huge tome on the subject but here I am only going to refer to a few of the most famous and serious examples of corporate irresponsible behaviour.

The production of energy that fueled the industrial revolution, the expansion of commerce, science, technology and the massive growth of human populations is a dirty business. This began with the discovery of coal and its crucial role in the use of steam power. It was clear from the start that coal was at times dangerous to mine, potentially explosive and extremely dirty to burn, as is still the case today. Crude oil and natural gas have long since overtaken coal as energy sources of prime importance, but these too are flammable/explosive and extremely damaging to the environment when burned but particularly so if leaked. Nuclear power, the youngest of the destructive energy industries, likes to portray itself as clean when the reality could not be more different. Apart from well-known polluting disasters such as Three Mile Island, Sellafield, Chernobyl and Fukushima, nuclear power produces huge quantities of troublesome waste that remain radioactive. This waste remains dangerous for centuries or millenia and the industry still has no way to decontaminate it or to guarantee permanent safe storage.

Throughout its history the energy industry has downplayed or dismissed health and environmental concerns in order to continue maximising profits – any changes that have arisen have been fought against and succeeded only due to overriding public pressure. Examples of this are the smog and acid rain from coal burning, lead poisoning due to tetraethyl lead in petrol, radiation leaks in nuclear power stations, oil and gas spills in the marine environment and most recently contamination of land and water from fracking. In each case, despite clear scientific evidence to the contrary, the energy industry has attempted to dismiss dangers, conceal or discredit incriminating data, avoid accepting responsibility and minimising reparations for disastrous incidents.

Even now, when overwhelming scientific evidence proves that these industries are polluting, unsafe and detrimental to all life on Earth, they continue not just to fight for their survival but try to expand and curtail any attempts to contain them. All this is still occurring despite almost universal government and public acknowledgement of the need to gradually close down these industries in order to secure the future of humanity.

The same problem is to be found in a wide variety of other industries. The tobacco industry is one of the most obvious examples – for decades it has fought against regulation despite knowing, all along, that its products are dangerous and entirely detrimental to health. The pharmaceutical industry was most famously scandalised by the Thalidomide catastrophe of the 1950s and 1960s but despite many benefits to humanity this industry is also responsible for repeated cover-ups, creating wide-scale dependency on addictive prescription drugs, over-prescription of antidepressants, causing antibiotic resistance through over-use and environmental pollution, all in the name of profit expansion.

Plastics, an offshoot of the oil industry, seemed like a manufacturing miracle but it has turned out to be a nightmare for humanity and a vast number of the world’s species. Despite increasing evidence of planet wide pollution and damage to huge numbers of species, including humans, the industry continues to fight against change and much needed regulation instead of attempting to transition to bio-plastics and reinvent itself.

Another major offender is the agricultural and food industry, which has been hugely responsible for the degradation of the environment. Apart from continual reckless deforestation, agriculture is responsible for damaging top soil run-off and pollution of rivers and seas with pesticides and fertilizers. In the 1960s DDT famously caused huge numbers of bird, insect and animal deaths as well as dangers to humans leading to it being banned. Despite improvements in regulations, pesticides continue to have a catastrophic effect on the environment (bees in particular) and contamination of our food and water is still occurring all across the globe. Irresponsible farming practices are degrading the environment, increasing desertification, causing water contamination and biodiversity loss; overfishing is depleting the oceans; genetically modified organism of questionable safety are entering the food chain, all of which is despite wide-spread public opposition.

These are just a few areas that I’ve chosen, but the list is almost endless – in virtually every area of industry and corporate activity attempts have been and are being made to circumvent or decrease regulation, deny responsibility and avoid adopting practices that will affect profitability. Self-regulation and government regulation has almost entirely failed to prevent unchecked growth at the expense of humanity and the environment we depend on. Perhaps the side-effects of industrial society were not so evident decades ago and one can assume businesses generally are not created with the intention to destroy the fabric of life. However, due to decades of solid scientific evidence, no-one can plead ignorance any longer regarding the dire situation humanity has placed itself in.

Short-sighted as it is, governments are so influenced by the corporate sector and by fear of economic instability that they are able to offer little more than token gestures or reforms over such a long timescale that they are too little, too late. Apart from a sudden and catastrophic economic collapse, there is little to indicate that the behemoth of corporate big business is likely to change its destructive practices in any significant way or stop attempting to prevent or diminish restrictions upon it.

So given, that the corporate world is most likely to continue to act against the greater interests of humanity (and ultimately itself) what can we do about the situation? Although we may feel powerless as individuals to effect change in the world, especially when faced with the enormous power of the corpocracy, we do in truth wield massive economic power. In the absence of governments fighting our corner with any sincerity, it is up to us to wield the only weapon we have in the effort to force corporations to change their ways.

The one and hugely powerful weapon we have is our choice as consumers. What corporations want and need most of all is our money; without it they cannot function and without consumers to buy their products they have no reason to exist. While campaigning to governments should not be abandoned, it is of unpredictable worth, with no guarantee of success – another approach is required. Direct action in the form of consuming less or withdrawal of custom has an immediate and severe effect on any business if enough people are prepared to take part.

If we meekly wait for government regulation to kick in and curtail the rampant irresponsibility of the corporate sector, then there is little chance of major change happening before the collapse of human society is unpreventable. If, however, we as concerned consumers, vote with our wallets and also let companies know why we are doing so, then businesses that wish to survive will be forced to change. In a revitalized society where the consumer calls the shots businesses that are able to embrace environmentalism, revolutionize their products and methods will succeed. In the past, when businesses that failed to adapt to new trends or new technology they simply disappeared, sometimes extremely rapidly. That is still the case today. Businesses that fail to adapt to consumer demand for ecologically responsible trade and a move away from putting profit above all else can be forced to change their stance or face extinction.

Personally I would rather suffer the economic effects of irresponsible businesses ceasing to exist than see the continued rapid extinction of species and degradation of our planet. Ultimately we as individuals have the power to change our own behaviour and demand that corporations change theirs. The time available to bring this transition about is not unlimited. In a decade or two it may already be too late; now is the time to turn the tables on big business and force it to change its ways.

The Peoples’ Capitalism

Introduction

America began as a plutocracy and rather quickly evolved into a corpocracy, or an unequal partnership between Corporate America and Government America, with the former controlling the latter. We now call the plutocracy the power elite of the corpocracy, and it is this power elite that is responsible for America’s economy and its capitalistic economic system. Both the economy and the system serve the power elite, obviously, and not the common good. Assuming you are not one of the power elite, you, like me, are on the short end of the stick. How short depends generally on what your socioeconomic status is. The stick is very short for America at large, for it is becoming, if it hasn’t already gotten there, a third world country, which means a substandard living for many of the citizenry.

I once raised the question, “Is America going to Hell in a handbasket?”1 If it is, there are three “isms” why; imperialism, militarism, and capitalism. There is absolutely nothing intrinsically good about the first two isms. There is no good imperialism, no good militarism. Not so the third ism. All America has ever known and used is bad capitalism. But as Parts 1-9 have shown us, there are many visions of a good capitalism. However, there are probably millions of people, especially socialists, who insist there is no good capitalism. Well, they can believe whatever they want to believe.

That being said, what do I have to offer in this last part, Part 10, of the ten-part series on “economic sanity and alternative economic systems”? A “peoples’ capitalism,” a good capitalism, is what I have to offer. It does not stand alone. It stands on the shoulders of the non-economist thinkers who preceded me in Parts 1 through 9.

The Lodestar for The Peoples’ Capitalism

The lodestar tells us what to aim for, the end goal, which is the creation of a fully functioning peoples’ capitalism, and how we know if we get there. The lodestar is nothing more nor anything less than that prescribed in the first 28 Articles of the United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights. At first blush some of the articles seem to have nothing or little to do with a nation’s economy and its economic system, yet these 28 rights could never materialize under bad capitalism.

(1) Innate freedom and equality
(2) Ban on discrimination
(3) Right to life
(4) Ban on slavery
(5) Ban on torture
(6) Right to recognition as a person before the law
(7) Equality before the law
(8) Right to effective judiciary
(9) Ban on arbitrary detention
(10) Right to public hearing
(11) Right to the presumption of innocence
(12) Right to privacy
(13) Right to freedom of movement
(14) Right to asylum
(15) Right to a nationality
(16) Right to marriage and family
(17) Right to own property
(18) Right to freedom of thought and religion
(19) Right to freedom of opinion and expression
(20) Right to freedom of assembly and association
(21) Right to take part in government
(22) Right to social security
(23) Right to work
(24) Right to rest
(25) Right to an adequate standard of living
(26) Right to education
(27) Right to participate in cultural life
(28) Right to a social and international order.

Ordinarily, I regard the UN as a worthless entity, a pawn of the world’s power elite, particularly that of America’s corpocracy, but I give the UN credit at least for enunciating the above principles. But I must discredit if for being feckless. No nation can expect UN enforcement of the 28 rights. The UN declaration is like all corporate codes of ethics, paper principles to be preached and never practiced.

The Lodestar’s Lodestar: Article 25

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

All the other articles are represented in one way or another in Article 25. We must look to it for the criteria for determining whether every human being has the essentials for an adequate living and nothing less. If they do, then it is at least partly due to some form of socially responsible capitalism. Adequacy, of course, is the minimum standard. Millions of Americans and billions of other peoples have far less than an adequate standard of living. They have a miserable standard of living.

Developing criteria, or indicators of progress and reaching the goal, used to be among the mainstays of my working career, but no more. I shall turn that responsibility over to a task force of special people to be identified next.

Setting the Stage for True Reform

Let’s assume the following stage setting. My proposal for a U.S. Chamber of Democracy (USCD) has been implemented.2 It has commissioned a task force, peopled by the non-economists highlighted earlier in this series along with Aristotle and Marx in absentia, and charged with developing and publishing under the auspices of the USCD a proposal for a new national economic policy and a new economic system, the peoples’ capitalism. The proposal would include strategic initiatives, a time table for finishing, and indicators of progress.

The task force would also be charged with polling the opinions of middle class Americans, the socioeconomic group essential to any true democracy and viable economy, and then melding the solicited public opinion with the draft proposal.

Additionally, the USCD would implement my proposal for establishing the “democracy’s commandos,” comprising nearly 20 groups of disgruntled or otherwise receptive Americans numbering in the hundreds of thousands to apply pressure on the corpocracy’s power elite, including its corrupt politicians, to implement the proposal or suffer the consequences.3

The task-force’s strategic initiatives are mostly mine. That is, after all, my prerogative since I fathered the task-force! I have written reams of real and virtual paper identifying and explaining the strategic initiatives necessary for ending the corpocracy (including its endless spying and warring) and achieving true economic reform.4  I will spare you the details and the time by listing in no particular order just those 19 initiatives necessary to create the “peoples’ capitalism” and then arbitrarily pick and summarize just one of them. But I guarantee you, all 19 are solid initiatives, and if they were all achieved America would have a new economic system, the peoples’ capitalism.

(a) End Free Market Ballyhoo;
(b) End Fear Mongering Over the National Debt;
(c) End Privatization;
(d) End Economic Disparities and Poverty;
(e) End Trickle-down Economics Hokum and Blaming the Poor for their Poverty;
(f) Move toward “An Acceptable” Level of Employment;
(g) Increase Wages;
(h) Reduce the Costs of Daily Living;
(i) Move toward a Quality American Education;
(j) End Shut-Out Capitalists: So Much Capitalism, so Few Capitalists!
(k) End Wall Street along with Financial Speculation at Home and Away;
(l) Replace Bad with Good Globalization: Localize More, Globalize Less;
(m) Abolish the Unholy Trinity: The WTO, WBO and IMF;
(n) Repeal Existing Trade Agreements;
(o) End Unsustainable Development and Ovidian Growth;
(p) Make Commerce Greener;
(q) Replace Private Banks with Public Banks: Starting with abolishing the FED;
(r) End Elitist Corporate Pay for Socially Irresponsible Performance; and,
(s) Share Democracy’s Cost Fairly.

I will arbitrarily pick the last initiative, “Share Democracy’s Costs Fairly” and summarize it.

The task force would consider all good ideas on how to achieve fair-share taxation, including Barnes’ proposals for common tax credits. Just as importantly. the task force would peer through the corpocracy’s veil and do a “tax-escape” audit” of all forms of corporate welfare, including tax havens, tax cuts for the filthy rich, etc.5 While this exercise is being done, the aforementioned poll would include asking the polled to rate the importance of the UN’s Articles. Finally, democracy’s commandos would be told about the findings and asked if they would be willing to apply their democracy power to end corporate welfare for the sake of the general welfare.

In Closing

I will close with these short remarks. Yes, neither the USCD nor the democracy commandos exist, but not for my lack of trying for 10,000 or so hours on and off for several years. Yes, it is a wish list of 19 initiatives, but they represent thoroughly studied ideas, and from ideas flow change if opportunities arise. Yes, up against America’s mighty corpocracy, it’s the corpocracy’s ideas that prevail. From those three remarks conclude what you will about the peoples’ capitalism or any other significant reforms in the economic arena ever occurring.

Recapping Parts 1-9

Part 1: Economic Sanity and Alternative Economic Systems introduced this 10-part series on economic sanity and alternative economic systems. I told readers “Never mind that I am not an economist. Instead, please appreciate that I am not an economist.” That led to me trotting out for the umpteenth time my “human equation” for explaining anything involving humans. Getting closer to the subject at hand, I went on to say that “human behavior, even habitual behavior, needs to be motivated. At the heart of human motivation are values, beliefs, attitudes, needs and wants, with the latter two being the most relevant for the topic of this series. Human needs and wants are the bedrock of any economy and any economic system. Money is not the bedrock. It is simply a medium. There was no money when the earliest humans started needing and wanting. Debt, as some economic thinkers think, is not the bedrock. Debt is merely an offshoot of a usually uneven transaction. And since no human, not even a member of a society’s power elite, is self-sufficient, satisfying one’s needs and wants will in one way or another depend on what some other human beings do. So, you see, the psychology of human nature is the bedrock of economics, any economy and any economic system.” While I truly believe what I just wrote, it also gives me passage to writing about economies and economic systems as a psychologist!

Part 2. Economic Insanity Up Close. This article summarizes Roger Terry’s book on “economic insanity.” He is a non-economist and a responsible businessman. Terry contends that the growth-driven capitalism of big, authoritarian, and unaccountable organizations is devouring the American dream. Terry’s features of a new economic system would be a structurally different capitalism, one we’ve never seen before. It would be a “Nation of Owners,” in which there are three levels of ownership: (a) small enterprises, like his own, with the founders and a few partners who share ownership commensurate with their seniority and other factors like start-up funding; (b) larger enterprises, the corporations of today, would be owned collectively by their members, who would elect managers for limited terms of office; and (c) public enterprises, such as utilities, education, defense, and the like, would be created and managed by public boards or local governments. Now that I would add and enthusiastically emphasize would be real economic sanity!

Part 3. Notes on Some Classical Thinking. In this article I “pick the brains” of Aristotle, Adam Smith and Karl Marx. I close by telling readers I’m leaving Smith behind and feel much closer to Aristotle and Marx.

Part 4. The Fringe Economy. Part 4 reviews the book, Short Changed, Life and Debt in the Fringe Economy, written by Howard Karger, who at the time was a professor of social policy.

The fringe economy preys on the poor through seven different medium all controlled by corporations; pawn shops, the credit card industry, alternative financial services such as check cashing and rent-to-own, fringe housing, real estate speculation and foreclosure, the fringe auto industry, and the “getting-out-of-debt” industry such as the multi-billion dollar debt management business. The solution, Karger thinks, is not to eliminate the fringe market because mainstream services are not as accessible physically or as culturally compatible to poor neighborhoods. He suggests numerous solutions, some more plausible than others that would accommodate the realities of these neighborhoods while also eliminating some of the abusive and fraudulent practices of doing business with the people who live in those neighborhoods.

Part 5. Six Economies. This is a review of Riane Eisler’s book, The Real Wealth of Nations. I am not going to summarize it here. She is a genius. You need to read her book.

Part 6. Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. The authors of Natural Capitalism argue that it is needed to “create the next industrial revolution.” They warn that if we continue to ignore the value of natural capital; i.e., nature’s life-support systems for humankind, there will come a time when there won’t be any more life support. My rejoinder was that “America doesn’t need the next industrial revolution. America needs a new and better capitalism that enfolds industry without its corpocracy.”

Part 7. The Uncommon Commons. This is a review of a book, Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons, by Peterr Barnes, co-founder, president, or a director of various socially responsible businesses. He wants “capitalism 3.0” to replace “capitalism 2.0,” the existing economic “operating system.” He complains that corporations, with no resistance from “our” government, are privatizing the commons, profiting from it and externalizing the costs. He defines “the commons” as assets we all share by inheriting or creating them together and subdivides them into three sectors, nature, community, and culture. Together they represent our “common wealth” in contrast to our “private wealth.” Barne’s proposals are among the most unique I’ve ever read on capitalism and deserve your attention.

Part 8. Shared Capitalism. Jeff Gates wrote a book jam packed with ideas about what he calls “shared capitalism for the twenty-first century.” He was once counsel to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee (1980-87). In this role, Gates crafted federal law on employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) and pension plans. In other words, he worked for the corpocracy, and that opened his eyes! Unshared capitalism, he argues, while made to order by the corpocracy, is totally unfit for a democracy. His solution is to make widespread ownership a specific goal of national economic policy. His opinion that people take responsibility for what they own resonates with me, having watched for two decades party-going renters misbehave and scar property in an ocean-side condominium where my wife and I owned and never rented a unit.

Part 9. Spiritual Capitalism. Dana Zohar and Ian Marshall wrote the book, Spiritual Capital: Wealth We Can Live By.  Zohar is broadly trained and thus taps into diverse resources such as classical literature, physics, religion, and psychology. Marshall is a Jungian-oriented psychiatrist and psychotherapist. The authors argue that material capitalism, the kind that predominates in America’s corpocracy, is unsustainable, depleting our natural resources, creating political and social instability, eroding our moral standards, and degrading the very meaning of life in terms of its deepest values and aspirations. Rather than reject this conventional capitalism altogether, however, the authors advocate transforming it into a more positive, sustainable economic system that they call “spiritual capitalism” in the secular, non-religious sense.

It’s defined as the amount of knowledge and expertise available about “meaning, values, and fundamental purposes.” It produces not material wealth that ultimately consumes itself but a self-sustaining wealth “that enriches the deeper aspects of our lives.”

The authors are creative thinkers who forced me repeatedly to think outside my own relatively narrow paradigms. There is much about their views and ideas with which I agree. Yet, the authors’ analysis of the problem and their proposed remedy are too unbalanced and insufficient. Material capitalism is far more than what they call a crisis of motivation. Many other factors contribute to the failings of traditional capitalism. Moreover, relying on a critical mass of business people to shift upwards their spiritual intelligence, as they propose, is naïve and simplistic in my opinion.

Part 10. The Peoples’ Capitalism. You are reading it now.

• Part 1 here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here; Part 4 here; Part 5 here; Part 6 here; Part 7 here; Part 8 here; Part 9 here

  1. Brumback, GB. “Is America Going to Hell in a Handbasket?” The Greanville Post, March 29; Uncommon Thought Journal, April 21; Cyrano’s Journal, April 22, 2013.
  2. See my book, The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch, 2011.
  3. Ibid.
  4. See also my books Corporate Reckoning Ahead, 2015, and America’s Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying, 2015.
  5. Editorial. $100 Billion the Country Could Use. The New York Times Online, March 13, 2009.

Six Economies

By the time we come to the end of this series we will have been swimming in the primordial soup of the seeds for alternative forms of traditional capitalism! As I have long said, there is bad capitalism, the kind we have, and good capitalism, the kind we need

Part 5 is an adaptation of my review of a book about six economies written by Riane Eisler.1 She titled the book “The Real Wealth of Nations,” which to me was a repartee to Adam Smith’s magnum opus. Because she is absolutely one of my favorite authors I must begin by telling you about her.

Escaping with her parents from the Nazis in Germany led her eventually to ponder how there could be a world so cruel, insensitive, and destructive when humans, she believed, have a great capacity for caring, consciousness, and creativity (we should highlight “capacity” for she could not say “habit”). She ultimately concluded that “we have to change present economic systems” for the sake of ourselves, our children, and future generations. Being trained not in economics but in sociology, anthropology, and law was, I’m convinced, an asset for her, not a liability, in doing the research and writing for this book. And I certainly agree with her when she quotes Einstein as having said that solving problems can’t be done with the same thinking that created them, even though I hardly think it takes a genius to know that. In any case, Eisler has done some very creative and constructive thinking.

She was selected as the only woman among twenty great thinkers including Hegel, Adam Smith, Marx, and Toynbee in recognition of the lasting importance of her work.2 Her book, The Chalice and the Blade recounting the transition from earliest egalitarian to later patriarchal societies, was an international best seller and acclaimed by Princeton anthropologist Ashley Montagu as “the most important book since Darwin’s Origin of the Species.”3,4

Karl Marx once said about capitalists, “give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves” If only that would happen! Eisler isn’t sympathetic to either Marx or Adam Smith. She contends that their theories and their application call for the control of natural resources and the means of production by a male dominated culture and as a consequence neither communism nor capitalism as we know it is capable of solving the chronic problems confronting society. Well, if you remember what I wrote about Marx in the previous part of this series, I would give him some slack here.5

Her focus in her book is on explaining dysfunctional economic structures, rules, and practices, offering an alternative perspective for a new economics along with providing convincing evidence of its superiority, and proposing necessary reforms to change the present system. Whereas Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations focused on the market, she goes beyond it to reexamine economics from a larger perspective that includes the life-supporting activities of households, communities, and nature. “Ultimately,” she says, “the real wealth of a nation lies in the quality of its human and natural capital” and the basic purpose of an economic system should thus be to “promote human welfare and human happiness,” characteristics that are missing from our present economic system. She is obviously more in tune with Aristotle’s thinking about economics than with Smith or Marx.6

A central theme of her book is that since any economic system emerges out of a larger social, cultural, and technological context, a viable system can’t be constructed without taking that broader context into account, and especially not without giving visibility and value to the socially and economically essential work of caring for people and nature. She defines care giving as “actions based on empathy, responsibility, and concern for human welfare and optimal human development.”

Our economic system is dysfunctional she contends because it, like its larger context, depends on what she calls the domination model. It has four core components; a rigid top-down social structure, much abuse and violence, a male superiority premise, and beliefs that perpetuate domination and violence. This system, where people are either dominating or being dominated rests on several erroneous assumptions such as people being inherently untrustworthy, that fear of pain (as a psychologist, I disagree with this as a source of motivation) and scarcity are the main motivators for work, and that caring and care giving are impediments to productivity or at best irrelevant to economics. For example, with regard to the last misassumption, she points out that care giving isn’t, but should be, included as a positive value in economic indicators such as the GNP, which, manifesting a domination system as it does, misleadingly includes war-related expenditures as positive values. She cites a Swiss survey and a UN report, the first, showing that the value of unpaid, care giving work accounts for 70 percent of the reported Swiss GDP, and the second, estimating in 1985 that the value of women’s unpaid work amount worldwide and annually to 11 trillion dollars. Those are amazing findings!

A functional economic system along with its larger context would be one she posits that depends on what she calls the partnership model of mutually respectful and caring relations. She leaves no stone unturned, no relevant field of inquiry unexplored in showing in various ways how this model is far superior to the other one. For example, she documents studies demonstrating that in business “it pays to care-in dollars and cents.” Organizational psychologists like me would be familiar with the evidence presented that caring and empowering corporations do indeed give a positive return on investment in their human capital. She shows how the Nordic countries, the only ones coming close to her partnership model, are faring well economically and socially.

Having a national capacity and resources for providing optimal human development is clearly necessary for having a healthy economy, and she persuasively links the domination form of child rearing (and thus suboptimal human development) to adverse consequences later in life that show up in the kinds of leaders and followers our society has, in our belligerent relationships with other countries, and in our diminished capacity for a functional and healthy economy. She presents neuroscientific evidence of how care giving rather than selfishness produces the most powerful reactions in the brain circuitry associated with pleasurable sensations. Finally, she shows how disastrous it could be if the domination model is played out with new and risky technological developments on the horizon.

Her perspective and understanding are so broad that she conceptualizes not one but six economic sectors. The first sector, the core one, is the household economy from which the rest of the sectors spring because productivity depends so much on human activity, which starts at birth and is markedly shaped by what kinds of experiences there are throughout human upbringing. Her core economy is clearly reminiscent of Aristotle’s thinking.7 The second is the unpaid economy made up mostly of volunteers. The third is the conventional market economy. The fourth is the illegal economy like illegal arms trade (and I suppose she would include Karger’s fringe economy summarized earlier in this series).8 The fifth is the government economy that includes not just the large population of government workers but also the laws, rules, and policies that (should) govern the market economy. The sixth, the natural economy, is as basic as the first in that our environment produces natural resources used and misused by the market economy.

The sectors are inextricably intertwined, and all must be taken into account in order to transform our economic system, our institutions, and our culture from the domination into the partnership model. The greatest challenge, she contends, is to develop economic models, measures, and rules where the first, second, and sixth sectors are recognized and highly valued. Our beliefs about what we value are largely unconscious, she continues, having been inherited from earlier times when anything associated with the female half of humanity, such as caring and care giving was devalued. If you scoff at this, you should read her book because I can’t do it real justice here other than to say I know of no other living scholar that has evolved a new theory of economics after having spent 30 years of research combing the data from over 20 thousand or more years of history collected by herself and others from myriad fields of inquiry.

Her book is much more than just theoretically significant, as would be expected from a social activist. She proceeds smoothly and logically from her theorizing to advocacy and conclusion. She makes a number of practical suggestions about what needs to be done on Wall Street (e.g. stiff tax on short-term speculations), in government (e.g., massive investment in child care and human development), by business leaders (e.g., changing from top-down to empowering corporations), and among social activist citizens (e.g., mounting a global movement to change laws and customs-she describes how she wrote an amicus brief that helped women legally gain equal rights). She summarizes the progress being made that she believes represents a “caring revolution.”

The only quibble I have with her summary is her assessment that “hundreds of thousands of nongovernmental organizations” are all working she says toward the “common goal of shifting to a more caring economic and social system.” I seriously doubt that claim. I’ve studied about 150 prominent NGOs in the U.S. My conclusion is that they are first and foremost compromised by the corpocracy, and secondly, represent a very fragmented activity, where even NGOs with similar missions and initiatives don’t communicate with each other let alone coordinate or collaborate in their work. Moreover, I once contacted the leadership of 176 NGOs proposing a super coalition of NGOs under the auspices of, let’s say, a U.S. Chamber of Democracy that is a counterpoint to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the advocate and lobbyist for big business that typifies the domination model. That proposal fell flat. Only five endorsed it; 32 said no; and 139 didn’t even respond.9

Conclusion

Eisler’s conclusion is my conclusion, “we have to change present economic systems” for the sake of ourselves, our children, and future generations.

I had originally intended to pair this Part 5 with Part 6 to shorten an otherwise lengthy chain of articles. But her book is so seminal, so profound, so unique that it absolutely deserves to stand alone! Furthermore, I am revising my “pantheon of brilliant, radical and humane thinkers.”10 I am telling Aristotle he must share the top spot with Eisler!

• Read Part 1 here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here; Part 4 here;

  1. Brumback, GB. Review in the Book Review Section of Personnel Psychology (2009, Vol 62, #1, 179-183) of The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics, 2007, by Riane Eisler.
  2. Galtung, J.& Inayatullah S. Macrohistory and Macrohistorians: Perspectives on Individual, Social, and Civilizational Change, 1997.
  3. Eisler, R. The Chalice & the Blade: Our history, our Future, 1987.
  4. Eisler, R. Wikipedia. wikipedia.org/wiki/Riane Eisler.
  5. Brumback, GB. “Notes on Some Classical Thinking” (Part 3 of 10 Part Series) “Economic Sanity and Alternative Economic Systems”, Dissident Voice, May 20; OpEdNews, May 21, 2018.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid. Part 3
  8. Ibid. Part 4.
  9. Brumback, GB. Tyranny’s Hush Money, OpEdNews 9/28/2013, The Greanville Post, September 29, 2013.
  10. Op. Cit. Footnote 5.

Fringe Economy

Fringe, adj. not part of the mainstream; unconventional, peripheral. When this definition is applied to the economy it becomes the title of a book, Short Changed: Life and Debt in the Fringe Economy, written by Howard Karger, who at the time was a professor of social policy.1 Part 4 is a review of that book.

Do you have any idea what the “historical neighborhood banker” is? I didn’t until I read his book. It’s the pawnshop says Karger. Most likely not in your neighborhood, though. Indebted people have been pawning their belongings as long ago as 1000 BC. If your image of today’s American pawnshop is of a storefront operation owned and operated by a shady character, you’ll be as surprised as I was to learn that many of those storefronts have been gobbled up by five publicly traded corporations (e.g., EZ Pawn) raking in 100’s of millions of dollars yearly from pawnshop loans and with boards of directors lavishly paying their CEOs. Even the shrinking population of go-it-alone pawn shop brokers gets loans to set up their operations from big banks. Well, why not? No banksters worthy of the name will miss out on grabbing other people’s money.

Karger defines the fringe economy as “corporations and business practices [that pray on the poor] by charging excessive interest rates or fees, or exorbitant prices for goods and services.” He divides this economy into seven sectors and gives a chapter to each. Besides a storefront loan sector that includes pawnshop businesses, the other sectors are the credit card industry, alternative financial services such as check cashing and rent-to-own, fringe housing, real estate speculation and foreclosure, the fringe auto industry, and the “getting-out-of-debt” industry such as the multibillion dollar debt management business. Large corporations operate in each of these sectors, and some, like EZ Pawn, may not be household names, while other large corporations that operate in both the fringe and mainstream economies surely are, such as the really big banksters, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Verizon, and then the telecommunications giant, AT & T, that depended on the banksters at the outset.

Karger fills his book with a lot of facts about his subject, so much so that he warns early on that reading them “may be tedious” yet necessary because the “devil is in the details.” He compensates nicely for them, though, by fleshing out the facts with many anecdotes. I couldn’t help but think how Charles Dickens might have novelized them into a modern classic, absent the debtor’s prison (see the next paragraph) in “David Copperfield.

Karger’s name for the last sector, the “getting-out-of debt” industry surely has to be tongue-in-cheek, for as he describes and explains it, this industry can only be a multi-billion dollar business because its customers never get out of debt. Businesses in the other sectors, as he amply shows, are no different in that they all seek to sink already indebted people further into debt by escalating the interest fees levied on them, amounting in some cases to nearly a 500% APR! It would not be profitable to put these people in debtors’ prisons. Indeed, the entire sub-prime and predatory lending businesses of the fringe economy are built on the backs of persistently indebted customers.

Obviously, it would it not be profitable either to drive indebted people into bankruptcy, an escape hatch of last resort so to speak. This explains why corporations, especially in the credit card industry lobbied heavily to get the draconian Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act passed by a captive Congress. Known pejoratively but aptly as the “loan shark law,” Karger notes that it “intensifies the economic war on the poor and credit-challenged.”

If you are thinking loan sharks might starve if people stopped spending beyond their means you would be giving, in Karger’s opinion, too much credence to what he calls the “over consumption” argument. While he agrees that such “affluenza” (see De Graaf et al., 2002) is a contributing factor, he maintains that the argument fails to address a major cause of indebtedness, “the high cost of living in a privatized society.”2 He notes that the rising cost of necessities amounted then to 75% of a family’s two-person income, leaving little left for luxuries for the “functionally poor.” Moreover, consumer spending is less than it was a decade ago then. The argument, he believes, lets lawmakers fault debtors “for an economic reality they can’t control.”

Besides its loan shark law, the government has boosted the fringe economy in various other ways. For example, what Karger means by a “privatized society” is that stricter federal and state public assistance policies more quickly than before throw former recipients into jobs with no benefits and with pay suppressed by the miserly minimum wage law that has been frozen at that time by conservative politicians since 1997. Another example is public policy on homeownership along with sub-prime mortgage lenders and their low teaser rates that lure unqualified customers to buy homes eventually foreclosed. And not to leave out the judiciary’s role, Karger cites a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows national banks to charge the highest rate allowable in their home states to borrowers living elsewhere.

What, you might ask, is the difference between the two types of lending, sub-prime and predatory? Is the first legal and the second not? No. Illegalities exist in both. Moreover, state usury laws vary, so what may be illegal loans in one state are legal in another. Ethical considerations certainly don’t differentiate the two types of lending. Unscrupulous but legal practices abound in both types. The difference between them Karger says is blurry, offering his own blurry view that the first is generally “beneficial” and the second is “destructive.” In my opinion the only difference may be in how excessively customers are gouged. It seems to me, moreover, that sub-prime loans can’t be beneficial because the effects of being gouged benefit only the gouger.

The profitability of the fringe market has been too tempting for mainstream financial institutions not to enter it. Some observers, Karger says, believe this development will help to counteract unscrupulous lending practices. Not a chance! Anyone who tracks big financial institutions and corporations in general should know that the profit to be made and the pressure to make it every quarter will compromise the means to make it. Karger is not “optimistic” either and offers some corroborating evidence by citing some very prominent corporations that entered the fringe market. Customers of this market represent what I would call our own undeveloped “sub-country,” so why should we expect it to be any less exploited than are undeveloped countries by multi-national corporations?

The solution, Karger thinks, is not to eliminate the fringe market, as if that were even a remote possibility! He also thinks it would not be desirable because compared to fringe services the mainstream ones are not as accessible physically or as culturally compatible to poor neighborhoods.

At the end of each sector’s chapter and in the concluding chapter, therefore, he suggests numerous solutions, some more plausible than others, that would accommodate the realities of these neighborhoods while also eliminating some of the abusive and fraudulent practices of doing business with the people who live in those neighborhoods. Many of the solutions, like lending “only to borrowers who have the income or liquid assets to repay the debt” (how plausible, though, is that for some borrowers?) could be voluntarily adopted by lenders. But business being what it is, whether in the fringe or mainstream economy, socially and genuinely responsible behavior is rarely volunteered. So Karger adds some legislative recommendations. In this sense his book is very timely. As I wrote the review, for instance, Congress was considering legislation to curb the excesses of the sub-prime mortgage business. But whatever Congress passes is academic. Anything Congress does is not done without the heavy hand of large corporations in the mix.

In Closing

Were it only true that the corpocracy and its capitalism were relegated to the fringe economy and then made to vanish to never-never land!

  1. Brumback, GB. “Review of the book Short Changed: Life and Debt in the Fringe Economy by Howard Karger in the book review section of Personnel Psychology 60″, 2007, pp. 787-790.
  2. John De Graaf, J. et al. Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, 2002.