For Year End Charitable Giving — Some Favorites

Here are some of my favorite, frugal, effective non-profit citizen action organizations that you may wish to favor with your tax-deductible generosity.

1. Veterans For Peace (VFP): Composed of veterans from World War II to the present, VFP takes strong stands, including peaceful demonstrations and marches, for peace and against a militarized, aggressive foreign policy and wars of choice. Donate here: (1404 North Broadway, St. Louis MO 63102 or

2. Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility (PEER): A group of U.S. Forest Service professionals started this remarkable group, which has since spread to civil servants in other federal agencies such as the EPA and the Department of the Interior. PEER’s staff is knowledgeable, organized and relentless in protecting federal employees’ right to bring their conscience to work and speak out against unlawful or reckless devastation of our environmental resources and health. (962 Wayne Ave #610, Silver Spring, MD 20910;

3. Appalachia-Science In The Public Interest (ASPI): This lean, dedicated and productive group works tirelessly to find solutions in one of the poorest regions of America through the application of practical science. They teach how to preserve forests, protect drinking water sources, how to cook without electricity or gas, how to grow their own food and build a home without visiting a big box store. (50 Lair St, Mt Vernon, KY 40456;

4. The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OPEPA) opposes the nuclear arms race, seeks enforceable treaties abolishing nuclear weapons (the latter is agreeable to numerous retired cabinet secretaries in both Republican and Democratic administrations) and monitors government arms contracts, radiation hazards and facilities such as the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Their newsletter is a must-read.(P.O. Box 5743, Oak Ridge, TN 37831;

5. The Pension Rights Center, the only national civic organization dedicated to reforming pension policies, unfair regulations and protecting and promoting retirement security. They help individual retirees and propose major retirement programs for all Americans. (1730 M Street, NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20036;

6. The North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) works to start and expand consumer and housing cooperatives, especially for young people in colleges and universities. NASCO provides “on-the-ground training for over 79 cooperative organizations…. Living in a co-op means learning that cooperation is not only an alternative solution but also a way to empower our local leaders and communities.” NASCO will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. Their fortune is bright and promising. (1100 West Cermak Road, #514, Chicago, IL 60608;

7. Organization for Competitive Markets Don’t let the name Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) mislead you. OCM is a ferocious, detail-oriented champion of small family farms in our country against giant agribusinesses squeezing farmers from both the supplying and buying their crops. OCM’s newsletter is unyielding in showing how preserving family farms is also good for consumers and the struggle against monopolization from industry giants like Monsanto. (P.O. Box 6486 Lincoln, NE 68506;

8. The Center For Auto Safety: Without this watchdog group holding accountable the auto industry and its federal regulators, tens of millions of cars would not have been recalled over the past four decades. It has been the guardian angel of American motorists and consumers in other respects as well. (1825 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 330, Washington, DC 20009;

9. The Indian Law Resource Center, based in Montana generates justice and safety for Indigenous Peoples. Under its brilliant executive director, Robert T. Coulter, the Center seems to be everywhere, protecting American Indian and Alaska Native families, fending off the Trump Administration’s move to undermine long-standing trust relationships, keeping indigenous lands in community ownership and supporting sustainable development in Central and South America. (602 Ewing Street, Helena, MT 59601;

10. Whirlwind Wheelchair helps people in less developed countries construct sturdy, inexpensive wheelchairs from local materials, building self-reliance and addressing the critical needs of safe mobility. Founder Ralf Hotchkiss has invented many improvements in wheelchairs for free public application. (2703 7th Street, #134, Berkeley, CA 94710;

11. The Salvation Army: And, of course, the old reliable Salvation Army – quick to the scene of natural disasters anywhere in the world with hands-on assistance, unbureaucratic and frugal. On a daily basis it helps the poor, the destitute and the hungry. Over 140 years old, with 15,409 congregations in 127 countries, 1,150,666 million members and many thrift stores, the Salvation Army is consistently rated near the top of the most popular charities/non-profits in America. As incorruptible as humans can possibly be. (615 Slaters Lane, Alexandria, VA 22313;

I’ve given donations to all these organizations over the years. Consider their selfless work, in the age of Wall Street profit-glutted greed, and support their activities for the New Year.

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What Does Trump Mean By ‘Make America Great Again’?

Donald Trump’s now ubiquitous slogan, “Make America Great Again!”, is often chanted at rallies, but rarely scrutinized in public discourse. What era in America’s past is Mr. Trump referring to when he says “Again”?

Would Mr. Trump prefer America return to the days of slavery, Jim Crow and labor exploitation in unsafe factories, mines, foundries and plantations? How about the late 19th century when “Robber Barons” monopolized one industry after another? Is he longing for the days when women were second-class citizens and couldn’t vote,  until securing this right less than 100 years ago, only to still be paid lower wages than their male colleagues for performing the same jobs and faced with consumer and educational discrimination?

Or is Trump referring to a time when the US was less of a giant empire than it is today?

Or, more optimistically, in the nineteen sixties and early seventies when America had its highest real wages and a large trade surplus? Has anyone heard him say he wanted to return America to that prominence that peaked in the nineteen sixties?

He surely doesn’t want to raise wages for workers. On the campaign trail last year he said wages were too high and has not championed raising the frozen federal minimum wage (at $7.25 an hour) since.

He has spoken often about revising trade agreements to reduce our trade deficit, but he’s not going to take on the opposition of the emigrating giant global corporations to reduce our trade deficit.

Maybe he wants to go back to the America before there was Medicare and Medicaid, before dangerous cars had to be recalled, before food had to be labelled, before unions existed to collectively bargain with large companies in the auto, steel and oil industries?

Does he miss the days when there were segregated restaurants, hotels, trains and buses? What about when people could smoke in your space on airplanes, in college lecture halls, hospital waiting rooms, cafes, offices and just about all public spaces, no matter the presence of children and asthmatics? Or when people with disabilities faced physical exclusion and career discrimination?

More benignly, perhaps Mr. Trump is longing for the days when there was less soil erosion, fewer toxic chemicals in the environment and more family farms. Or when there was far less obesity and diabetes and less aggressive marketing to children of fast food full of fat, sugar and salt. If so, he sure is not going to Make America Great with the corporatists he’s appointed to run the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Agriculture.

Does he want to Make America Great Again by returning to the days when there were fewer people in prisons per capita, fewer non-violent drug offenders serving long sentences, including juveniles, fewer if any private corporate prisons? If so, he is going to have problems with his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.  What about when casino gambling was highly restricted and only legal in Nevada? It’s unlikely Mr. Trump would have wanted to prohibit gambling in his Atlantic City Casinos before they failed or went bankrupt. With his flurry of statements and Tweets endorsing sexual harasser and accused pedophile, defeated Senate candidate Roy Moore, Trump, given his boastful aggression toward women, certainly does not want to return to an America when such widely publicized misbehavior would have kept men from even running for office.

Maybe, Mr. Trump has a limited meaning to “Again.” Maybe he means going back to a time when America was respected and feared in the world. Going back to the days when a smaller Japan and Germany made war on the US or when Britain played Woodrow Wilson and the US for suckers and got us into World War I, which led to World War II. Oh, such glorious nostalgia for Donald J. Trump.

What a speech Trump could give were he to explain what Making America Great Again means to him. He could explain his desire to go back to the prosperous Sixties when big corporations and the rich paid much higher taxes, didn’t dare pay their CEOs more than 30 times the average wage in their companies and had to comply with a higher real minimum wage. He could wax nostalgic over the larger relative infrastructure budgets of the federal government, or the days when student debt was small or non-existent compared to the huge student debt load now imposed on this younger generation of Americans.

If all this sounds a little confusing, it is. Voters should have rejected such an unrebutted slogan repeated to applauding crowds again and again by Donald Trump in his get-away-with-anything presidential campaign of 2016.

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The Republicans’ Devious Tax Attack On The People

Have the Republican greed-hound toadies gone too far? How much are the American people going to take before they replace the reckless Republicans in the next election? Low and middle-income Americans are bracing for the likely passage of a Trump-supported tax bill that deviously redistributes even more of the people’s income to the richest one percent (including a big tax cut for Trump) and the unpatriotic giant corporations.

Greased through Congress with the support of Republican mega-donors, over the inept opposition of the Democrats who astonishingly offered no tax plan of their own, this tax legislation does exactly the opposite of what House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and their prevaricator-in-chief, Donald Trump, are declaring.

Namely, this utterly complex brew of greed and handouts for the super-rich gives a gut punch to the masses, including people making below $30,000. Far from a tax cut the Republicans are trying to peddle to the people, the Senate bill is projected to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years to pay for the huge tax cuts enriching the corporate plutocrats who are laughing all the way to the bank. Such unsustainable losses in revenue sets the stage for cutting Medicare, Medicaid and other critical services to vulnerable Americans, with Republicans using the ballooning deficit they created as their excuse.

Slashing and burning in every direction, this legislation endangers the financial security of regular Americans of every age, every occupation and, by ending many deductions for local sales and income taxes, hurting state and local budgets.

Ryan and McConnell undermined the integrity of the legislative process by banning public hearings on this tax legislation in the House and Senate. In doing so, they denied the American people, including honest tax experts, the opportunity to adequately examine these dangerous proposals, especially the huge giveaways to multinational corporations at the expense of working class families. No Congress has ever gone this far. If this shameless lack of transparency proves successful, Congressional Republicans will succeed in driving Capitol Hill further under the dictatorship of the oligarchs, using the people’s delegated power against them.

To make matters worse, Senate Republicans prevented their Democratic colleagues from even seeing clean portions of the bill until just before the final vote at 1:25 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2. When faced with such hyper-partisan foul play, the Democrats should have shut the Senate down with a sit-in until they were given a reasonable amount of time to read this raid on the regular taxpayers, before the final vote.

Here are some malicious items from the House and Senate bills:

  1. The Senate bill widens the double standard of favoring corporations over individuals, with a top corporate tax rate of 20 percent compared to a highest tax rate of 38 percent for individuals. Such blatant corporate favoritism shows which “people” the Republican Congress truly represents. Chalk one up for corporate supremacy for further inequality.
  2. The House bill retains business entertainment deductions for hard liquor but takes away deductions from teachers who use their own money to buy needed classroom materials for their students, along with taxing fellowships for graduate students.
  3. The Senate bill repeals the individual mandate for buying health insurance, setting the stage for higher health insurance premiums and 13 million more people going without health insurance over the next ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
  4. The House bill repeals the medical expense deduction used by millions of ailing citizens. The Senate bill does not.
  5. The House phases out the estate tax, while the Senate bill exempts more rich people from that tax, which only applied to less than 5,000 estates a year, according to the Tax Policy Center. These measures were vigorously opposed by 400 very rich Americans, in a public letter to Congress and by another responsible organization called Patriotic Millionaires.
  6. There is a new tax on university and college endowments and tax breaks for parents to send their elementary students to private schools. And this massive piece of legislation is full of escape hatches, such as credits, for preferred vested interests in commercial arenas. Cash register politics.

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that beginning in 2021 taxpayers with incomes of only $10,000 to $30,000 will be worse off, paying nearly $6 billion more in taxes. The Committee also concluded that by 2027, taxes will go up for taxpayers with income below $75,000 by over $27 billion.

Increase a standard deduction here, get rid of an exemption there, cause the increase in deductibles for health insurance policies here, but decrease deductibles used by consumers there – this cruel deception produces a mind shattering complexity and bonanza for accountants and lawyers.

The last minute gifts to monied interests emerged as usual from the darkness at the last minute – what the New York Times called “Last-Minute Breaks for Developers, Banks and Oil Industry” plus tax breaks for offshore profits by the likes of Pfizer, Google and Apple, lower taxes for the top one percent, benefits for car dealers and other goodies for people dealing with speculative security derivatives on Wall Street.

The Republican leadership justifies everything they are doing to the powerless people back home by claiming the tax bill will increase wages, investment and economic growth. This trickery could spark the voters to say “enough” and send the Republican scoundrels packing.

Dozens of impartial experts laugh at the fanciful Republican predictions about the “benefits” of the tax bill, citing historical evidence, and the existing economic growth, enabled by low inflation and low interest rates.

Nothing was more embarrassing for Donald Trump and the Republicans than when Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic advisor, asked a business audience how many of them would increase jobs and wages due to what he called this “tax reform.” Almost nobody raised a hand.

The corporate bosses in the audience knew what the Republicans don’t want us to know. These big companies are already neck-deep in massive uninvested capital, so they’re wasting trillions of dollars on stock buybacks which don’t produce any jobs. They don’t need more tax breaks for any more capital.

It is time for a voter’s revolt!

Tell your members of Congress there is still time to reject the Republican attack on the working class. A shift of just two more votes in the senate (e.g. Senators McCain, Collins and Flake) will defeat the existing legislation.

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Be Aware of the Dark Side of Sports Media

The sports pages of major newspapers, such as the Washington Post, are thriving while other sections of newspapers such as business sections or book review pages struggle to survive.

That doesn’t mean that the sports pages allow the fans, the consumers, the taxpayers and many of the players have their say. Over the years, the sports sections have been neglecting the dark sides of organized sports as a deliberate practice, not as an oversight.

Ken Reed, author of several books, weekly columns, and the Sports Policy Director for our League of Fans, is arguably the leading contemporary essayist of sports at its best and at its worst. Ever hear of him? Probably not. His truth telling rarely makes it onto radio, television and the sports pages or into the sports publications such as Sporting News, because he writes about the greed, the covered-up dangers, the exploitation of youngsters by greedy owners and coaches, and way in which sportsmanship is most often pushed to the sidelines—all issues that the sports industry works tirelessly to suppress and squelch.

Probably no segment of journalism makes censorship so central a part of its craft, and yet receives so little criticism for its failings; no segment of journalism so arrogantly continues to exclude vast regions of crucial reporting from its pages. In his new book, EGO vs. Soul in Sports: Essays on Sport at Its Best and Worst, Reed systematically tackles the most neglected and under-reported territories of the athletic world.

And he knows what he’s talking about. He holds a doctorate in sport administration with an emphasis in sport policy. He has taught sports, played sports, worked in sports marketing, and he has a regular blog for the Huffington Post. But mostly, he can’t crack the sports media because he is onto too many serious topics affecting sports—from middle school to the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL—that the giant profiteering sports business doesn’t want to reach you, so as to preserve sports fantasies.

Reed summarizes the driving ethics of organized sports as “win-at-all-costs” (WAAC) and “profit-at-all-costs” (PAAC).  Reed writes about the hidden injury epidemics (early onto concussions and how to detect and minimize them); about sports participation for all (not just spectator sports); on the serious decline in physical education in elementary and high schools and how it is connected to the rise of obesity; on the harm of encouraging specialization at age 10 in sports; on athletes’ right to protest; on women athletes still being short changed under title IX; on Division One of the NCAA with its corruption, cheating and exploitation of student athletes; on the need for creating a National Sports Commission, as other western countries have done; on taxpayer and consumer rip-offs in the subsidized construction and operation of stadiums, arenas and ballparks; on the need for oversight that can lead to the benching of tyrannical coaches; on how television and aggressive advertising are not good for sports; on deliberate, brutal fighting in NHL games; on over-commercialization, and why its time “the fans ran the show”—to name a few of these engrossing essays in Reed’s book, EGO vs. Soul in Sports.

Year after year, Reed works relentlessly to sound the alarms and urge our society to get the best out of sports. He gives many examples of efforts that are sidelined by sports media reporters in favor of gratuitous slime and reporting on petty behaviors that they revel in sensationalizing—often without denouncing the roots of the behavior itself. Why should they be critics? Get fewer favors and freebies? Get fewer doors opened to the thrilling inner sanctums of the sports owners and high-dollar players?

Most sports pages have either no letters to the editor sections or they devote very little space to letters to the editor. Why should they allow letters that might expose their incompetence, their sacred cow managers and players, their refusing to give the fans—the source of all their profits—consistent voices, beyond some selected ones calling into sports talk-radio shows with rapid-fire comments on that day’s teams, tactics and strategies. ESPN Radio, for example, needs to think about these exclusions.

Earlier this year I sent a letter to the former General Manager of the New York Yankees, and current Chief Baseball Officer for MLB, Joe Torre, detailing the incessant in-game advertisements (“this is a x company call to the bullpen,” “that’s a x company double play,” etc., breaking the spirit of the action). The letter was also sent to sports reporters and columnists, some of whom I notified in advance. Not a word came in response. Not a reply came from anyone to this longtime Yankees fan since the time of Joe Dimaggio.

People I know, who are inveterate fans, often get brushed aside with no responses to their well thought-out emails, and they are screened out when trying to make calls to talk-radio hosts.

Some impartial observers of contemporary sports trends believe that self-destruction lies ahead for most high school football (concussions, etc.), for unpaid big-time college athletes, and for pushing the commercialistic envelope too far (staggering ticket prices and other extortions) in big time sports.

We’ll see how much spectator fans will take before they demand that the tax dollars and priorities go toward neighborhood recreational athletic facilities so that sport becomes a pleasurable way of life for tens of millions of presently sedentary adults and youngsters.

If you’d like to read Ken Reed’s book, you can order a copy at

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National Democratic Party – Pole Vaulting Back Into Place

Seeking to capitalize on the Republicans’ disarray, public cruelty and Trumpitis, the Democratic Party is gearing up for the Congressional elections of 2018. Alas, party leaders are likely to enlist the same old cast and crew.

The Democratic National Committee and their state imitators are raising money from the same old big donors and PACs that are complicit in the party’s chronic history of losing so many congressional, gubernatorial and state legislative races—not to mention the White House.

The large, embattled unions are preparing to spend millions on television ads and unimaginative get-out-the-vote efforts, without demanding fresh pro-worker/pro-union agendas from the Democratic politicians they regularly endorse.

The same old political consulting firms, which also consult profitably for corporations, are revving up their defeat-prone tactics and readying their practice of blaming the candidates—their clients—when their strategies and lucrative ad buys don’t work.

The party’s scapegoating machine remains well-oiled. To explain why they cannot defeat the cruelest, most plutocratic, anti-worker, anti-consumer, anti-environment, anti-patient Republican Party in history, the woeful party leaders blame gerrymandering (in which they also engage), the Green Party, the Koch Brothers, voter suppression, “lying” Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the “Red States,” and more.

So what’s the plan for the Democratic Party? Their new slogan, developed at some cost by political consultants, is “A Better Deal.” Mention this to John Larson (D-Conn.), a leading Democrat in the House of Representatives, and you’ll hear scorn and ridicule.

Major Democratic operatives and leaders flocked last week to the posh La Costa Resort in Southern California to discuss the Democracy Alliance’s theme of “Beyond Resistance: Reclaiming our Progressive Future.”

Aside from their usual avoidance of taboo subjects such as the corporate crime wave’s ravaging of workers, consumers and the poor, or the need for a “universal basic income,” (something which was supported in the nineteen seventies by no less than President Richard Nixon and market fundamentalist economist Milton Friedman—for more information visit what were the Democratic strategists doing in this ostentatious venue?

A super wealthy waterhole like La Costa Resort with its spas, pools and golf courses is not a place that signals solidarity with the working class. But then what can be expected of a party that has let the Republicans seize control and power over the interpretation of the Flag, the Bible and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Trenchant and prescient criticism of the Democratic Party by its own prime loyalists goes back many years. In 1970, John Kenneth Galbraith, eminent economist, author and adviser to John F. Kennedy, wrote an article for Harper’s, warning about the decline of the party’s representation of the people’s interest. Twenty years later, Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, wrote a column in the Washington Post calling the Democratic Party “dead.”

It was in the ’70s that the Democratic Party started abandoning the South and pursuing a blue-state focus in presidential campaigns. This geographic neglect atrophied the party all the way down to local races. Presently, the Democrats are paying the price in their inability to support the campaign for U.S. Senate by former prosecutor, Doug Jones, against Roy Moore, an accused the child-molester, religious hypocrite and prevaricator. This is a crucial contest in a narrowly divided Senate. In their coverage of this competitive race inside a very “red” state, the New York Times reports:

“With a fairly anemic state party, there is little existing infrastructure for routine campaign activities like phone banks or canvassing drives … There are no beloved statewide officeholders or popular party elders to rally the troops.”

“He’s got to do it all by himself,” said a former chairman of the state Democratic Party, Mark Kennedy.

The other milestone event in 1979 that has turned into a disastrous millstone around the Democratic Party’s neck was the party leadership accepting California Congressman Tony Coelho’s strenuous urging that it start pushing hard for the same corporate campaign cash that the Republicans had long solicited. The full-throated devouring of cash register corporate politics was the final slide into the pit of institutional corruption for the Democrats.

If the Democrats do not compete to win in all states – blue and red, and if they do not rely on the kind of small-donor fundraising so immensely successful in Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign, they will continue to lose elections under the failed leadership of Nancy Pelosi. She recently unfurled her mantra for 2018: “money, message and mobilization”—in that order, of course.

As former White House Counsel, Bill Curry, has repeatedly said in his incisive columns for Salon, “policy precedes message.” Without authentic policies for the people of our country, “message” following “money“ simply becomes the same political consultants’ con game.  “Mobilization” is not possible when voters feel there is no political movement prepared to work on their behalf.

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Public Cynicism Enables Costly Political Hypocrisy

The political hypocrisy of crony capitalism –  touting market capitalism while making taxpayers fund corporate welfare – is a rare and unfortunate case of bipartisan consensus. Republicans openly embrace it, but many Democrats also fall prey to government-guaranteed corporate capitalism when they believe it to be politically expedient.

Maybe these examples will get you steamed enough to tell your members of Congress – “enough already!”

Jeff Bezos recently launched a bidding war pitting cities against one another for Amazon’s second headquarters. Imagine shelling out at least 7 billion taxpayer dollars in return for Amazon’s unenforceable promise of 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in capital investment.

The bidding frenzy with the taxpayers’ money, without a taxpayer referendum, should be an embarrassment to the mayors who are bidding for Amazon’s business. Mayor Jeff Cheney of Frisco, Texas (population 160,000) wants to build the city around Amazon and its taxpayer-funded entitlements. Philadelphia’s officials have offered a slew of tax incentives for Amazon’s empty promises. Never mind that existing businesses would continue to pay taxes that are waived for a giant company that is emptying out property tax-paying Main Street, USA.

So far, Amazon has managed to flim-flam local leaders across North America. GT Bynum, Tulsa’s Mayor, is doing somersaults. No problem with tax escapes. “Whatever it takes,” he assures them. From the Mayor of Washington, DC to the Mayor of Ottawa, Canada, cities are promising whatever it takes to bring this predatory-pricing Moloch to their city.

Egging them on before the October 15, 2017 deadline for submissions, Bezos’ spokesman, Adam Sedo, imperiously declared: “We invited cities to think big, and we are starting to see their creativity.”

San Jose, California’s Mayor Sam Liccardo said “no way.” In a column printed by the Wall St. Journal, Liccardo wrote: “My city won’t be offering incentives to Amazon. Why? Because they are a bad deal for taxpayers. With many subsidies, the jobs a company brings to an area don’t generate revenues commensurate with public expenditures.” He cites the cost to Boston’s taxpayers for luring GE’s headquarters from Connecticut to be $181,000 for every job promised. Iowa, he added, gave Apple $213 million in tax escapes to locate a 50-job data center in Waukee, IA.

Besides, wrote the forthright Mayor Liccardo, the presence of a skilled workforce, good schools and infrastructure “play a far larger role in determining boards’ corporate location decisions.”

“Why are they doing this whole dog and pony show?” asks Matthew Gardner, from the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. “They would like a package of tax incentives for something they were going to do anyway.” Professor Art Rolnick of the University of Minnesota went so far as to call Amazon’s bidding wars “blackmail.”

Meanwhile, Emperor Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, gets to sit back and watch his “candidates” fight it out.

A Taiwanese giant, Foxconn, the builder of Apple’s iPhones in China, enjoys a similar advantage. To build a flat-screen plant, by sheer coincidence, in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s district, Ryan’s buddy, Governor Scott Walker, compelled his Republican legislature to cobble together a $3 billion taxpayer-funded package for an unenforceable promise of 13,000 jobs (from an initial 8,000 jobs after more taxpayer cash was assured).

The whole deal, repeatedly trumpeted by Trump, with a company notorious for not following through on previous deals elsewhere, was pushed on Wisconsin’s elected officials by funding from the extreme right-wing Charles Koch Foundation and the Bradley Foundation.

Not to be outdone, Trump’s energy secretary, Rick Perry, is pushing $3.7 billion in loan guarantees to the failing, long-delayed, red-ink doused Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant in Georgia. Add this sum to the $8.3 billion already extended in taxpayer-guaranteed loans to this “boondoggle” and still the New York Times reports that these guarantees “might fall short of what will be required to complete the costly reactors.”

These corporate interests see American taxpayers as a limitless honey pot for their giant, bungling, conniving businesses. At the same time, Trump’s director of management and budget, Mick Mulvaney, constantly justifies ruthless cuts to important public programs by citing taxpayers’ rights. Apparently, these rights are not applicable to protecting taxpayers from predatory big-business executives hungry for corporate welfare that gets Mulvaney’s regular approval.

Public cynicism allows the costly hypocrisy of politicians to thrive. So watch out for the “pox on both your houses” public sentiment. Beware of crony capitalism – it turns politicians against the taxpayers they allegedly represent in favor of unaccountable corporate interests. Don’t let the “welfare kings” pick your pockets, by letting Congress wallow in cash register politics misusing the very power you have delegated to it.

For more information on accountability in sustainable economic development, see

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The Serious Price Of The Hyper-Convenient Economy

Apart from sensual appeals, the chief marketing wave in our country is selling convenience. It has reached a level of frenzy with companies like Amazon and Walmart racing your order to your doorstep (with Amazon now wanting the electronic key to your house).

Ever since the industrial revolution, when the division of labor between consumers and producers widened and deepened, the convenience of not having to grow your own food, weave your own clothes and build your own shelter have become a given of economic progress. Expert specialization has tended to make products better and more standardized as well.

But, in recent decades, adding tiers of conveniences touted by the vendors’ television/radio/print advertisements has rarely mentioned the downsides.

For example, consider the fast food industry. Fast food was sold to the American consumer as convenient, tasty and always available. For these shallow advantages, many consumers chose to give up home-made and nutritious meals for those with heavy doses of fat, sugar and salt—all deadly when taken in such excessive amounts by tens of millions of children and adults. Food that “melts in your mouth,” and “tastes great” usually comes with additives that turn your tongues against your brain and bodily health.

There is the convenience of credit and debit cards. It started in the nineteen fifties when a businessman found it inconvenient in restaurants to have to make sure he had enough cash. Why not sign up restaurants to take the Diner’s Card? Before long the question became, why not take it all the way to enable massive impulse buying, massive invasion of privacy, revolving debt traps, bankruptcies, and the iron collar of unilaterally determined credit scores ratings? Why not deliberately overextend  credit and turn consumers into hooked supplicants who won’t complain  to their car dealers, insurance agencies or landlords for fear of a complaint lowering scores and ratings?

What could be more convenient than signing on the dotted line of fine print contracts or click-on agreements? You don’t have to read, understand, bargain or reject. It’s easy, if you don’t mind having your rights taken away on page after page as fees, penalties and other overcharges plus closed courtroom doors plunge you into contract servitude or peonage.

Like any steps of “progress,” convenience taken too far induces dependency, ignorance of the product and service and more loss of voice, self-determination and self-reliance.  Today, rampant advertising and telemarketers tell  you to sign up to have your groceries be home-delivered. For some people with disabilities, this can be a plus, if you get what you ordered. For most people, the price is a loss of sociability, of going to markets where real people have meaningful interactions with learn from one another.

The promotion of touted quick-fix drugs, when successful, less invasive treatments are available with fewer deadly side-effects (note the pain-killer epidemic that will take 60,000 American lives this year) is accelerating beyond tranquilizers and sleeping pills. The advance of biologics could make Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) an understatement of silent manipulation and mind control.

How about the convenience of online gambling, pay-day loan rackets and cosmetic surgery—all loaded with their unpublicized and underreported costs or the “convenience” of outsourcing your judgement and self-control by omnipresent apps?

But surely the “free” Facebook and Google do not come with such costs, do they? In return for this “free” service, you surrender your most personal information, which they turn into massive profits without giving you a share. Then they data-mine your buying profile for in-house use or outside sale; they select the news you get and expose you to anonymous, and often fraudulent, solicitations and propaganda. If these violations are invasive and omnipresent for you, just consider how it will affect your children and grandchildren?

Technology driven by narrow commercial interests needs to provoke us into asking, “What’s all this convenience doing over the long run? What kind of community and society is coming out of this un-assessed marketing?” For a better future, we must mobilize, community by community, for some inconvenient thoughts and organization. Unless, that is, the corporate future doesn’t need us.

To get started, encourage your friends and neighbors to sign up for Jim Hightower’s Hightower Lowdown newsletter.

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Why Harvard Law School Matters: A New Critique

As Harvard Law School celebrates its 200th anniversary with two days of events attended by hundreds of alumni, some law students, led by Pete Davis (’18), are inviting the Law School to engage in extraordinary introspection as it looks toward its third century.

Mr. Davis, after two years of observation, participation, conversation and research, has produced a major report titled “Our Bicentennial Crisis: A Call to Action for Harvard Law School’s Public Interest Mission.” Over the past sixty years, many of the beneficial changes at the law school were jolted, driven or demanded by a small number of organized students calling for clinical education, for women and minorities to be admitted as students and faculty, for more affordability, for more realism in their legal education and for more intellectual diversity among the professors. (The critical legal studies scholars obliged them up to a point.) Over time, the law school administration, with faculty persuasion, responded.

The bicentennial report by Pete Davis asks important questions about the law writ large square in the context of the law school’s long declared mission statement: “to educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society.”

Out there in the country, the rule of law and justice is relentlessly overwhelmed by concentrated, unjust power. Just consider the stark reality that our profession’s legal services are unaffordable to most Americans and, as retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has been tirelessly arguing, legal aid resources for access to justice are consistently pathetic.

But the reality of raw economic, political and technological power over a just legal order has broader consequences. From the lawlessness of presidential war-making exercised abroad daily, to the plutocrat-shaped and dominated corporate state, to stifling the fair usage of our two pillars of private law ― contracts and torts ― there is an undeniable crisis outside of Harvard Law School that Davis factually and normatively contends is aided and abetted by the culture, incentives and practices at our alma mater.

The underlying moral basis of law has been supplanted by the commercial motivations and their tailored analytic skills. For most students, Harvard Law has long been a finishing school (a farm team, if you will) for lucrative corporate law practice in service to ever larger global corporations. The corporate attorneys weave strategies that mature the authoritarian corporate state (recall President Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex as one example) to undermine a weakening democratic society and support corporate supremacy.

As institutionalized lawlessness robs our country of its potential and promise, the opportunities for Harvard Law, a well-endowed, proud historic law school, to be a leading institution for justice, become ever more significant and urgent. The civic jolt, as always, comes from the rising of the deprived, denied, excluded and disrespected citizenry, from an informed and motivated student body ― seeking higher estimates of their own significance in contemporary history and drawing on their forebears’ finest initiatives ― and a faculty that lifts its horizons beyond its specializations and moves from knowledge to action ― as a few Harvard professors have done. It helps to nourish a media that recognizes law schools as heavily underutilized but very important national resources. In short, law schools need a constant dose of demands and invitations that come from higher public expectations.

Looking at HLS 200: HLS in the World ― Friday’s numerous sessions ― one wonders about key subjects left out, such as corporate crime, consumer protection and the role of large corporate law firms.

“Our Bicentennial Crisis” was written by Pete Davis to be discussed, analyzed and amplified by the Harvard Law School community, including its alumni, and the affected public at large. Copies will be distributed to all the law schools in the country and other civic and public organizations.

The law school administration, so historically adept at waiting out its student and alumni critics, would do well to engage with an open and sensitive mind. With Dean John Manning taking the helm, a fresh attitude, unencumbered by past decisions, can encourage constructive engagements in the coming weeks. Our country’s crises are worsening, the needs are great and the existing capacities at HLS should rise to meet, in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., “the felt necessities of our times.”

(“Our Bicentennial Crisis” is available online here.)

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Why Is Nobel-Winning Economist Richard Thaler So Jovial?

When Professor Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago received the news that he had won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for “contributions to behavioral economics,” he faced an eager press with unusual mirth. What’s the story behind Professor Thaler’s jovial response?

Maybe he is laughing because the joke is finally on the empirically-starved economists whose dominance of the field is finally being challenged by a handful of increasingly noticed “behavioral economists.” In turning the tide of mainstream economic thought, Thaler and his colleagues reject the myth of the hyper-rational consumer – “homo economicus” – who are primarily motivated to maximize utility. It has been a struggle for these less dogmatic economists who for almost three decades have incurred ridicule and condescension by the mathematical economists of the Chicago School of Economics, before people started questioning theories of consumer behavior that are absurd on their face.

Years ago, I asked my Econ 101 professor after class whether the basis of economics is psychology. He gave me an incredulous look and asserted that economics was far too precise a discipline to be so vaguely rooted.

Perhaps Professor Thaler had a similar inquiry as a student watching his economics professors mark up the blackboard with intricate models of how markets and consumers work. Perhaps he was struck by a clear contradiction; He would ask, “Really?” Repeatedly, he would ask “Really?” because this was not how consumers he knew, including himself, operated when they bought or didn’t buy goods and services.

Thaler’s skepticism helped him produce books and articles showing an obvious but powerful truth: that people are consistently and predictably irrational and will act in a way that undermines their own self-interest. And contrary to the dogma of mainstream economics, the market overall doesn’t filter out such irrationality to avoid messy realities.

It’s a small wonder Dr. Thaler is jovial. He has reproduced what the much deprecated Home Economists and later the leading consumer advocates have documented ad infinitum. He built with more bracing analyses concise narratives involving many examples taken directly from consumer protection studies, together with his own common sense observations and candid descriptions of his own irrational behavior. For this he receives his profession’s most coveted prize, while home economists and consumer advocates keep toiling away, their heroism unsung to the majority of consumers who would benefit from this consumer-based wisdom regarding  buying and saving smarter than they have been doing  (e.g., avoiding frauds and harmful irrational choices) so as to protect their health, safety and pocketbooks.

The Nobel Committee praised Thaler as “a pioneer on integrating economics and psychology.” Maybe this is true in the case of the ‘dismal science’ of economics, but it does not account for the thousands of people who have worked to advise people to buy more nutritious foods, choose safer cars and medicines, be more savvy in buying insurance and borrowing and reject the deceptive ads from avaricious vendors flooding the airwaves.

Many mainstream economists got their kicks, promotions and consultantships by playing with complex numbers having concern for human experience, whether manipulated, gouged or drawn from ignorance, despair, fear, lack of time or gullibility. No matter their irrelevance to the real world, these economists were remarkably arrogant toward any of their “soft-headed” colleagues who worked in what was once called the ‘political economy’ or in the field of ‘consumer economics.’

I recall sharing a dinner table in the late nineties with Federal Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook (an adherent of the Chicago School of Economics), who sneeringly described Derek Bok of Harvard as someone who wouldn’t recognize a regression analysis if it hit him between the eyes.

Getting closer to reality, to on-the-ground evidence of the many human behavioral variables that cannot be quantified by computers so smugly, is the real challenge of social science. Thaler et al. now have the ‘prestige’ to press these other corporate economists to jettison their myths, climb down from their abstraction ladders and face the facts, urgencies and injustices of their time. Getting a grip on the way things really are may deny them some riches from their corporate patrons, for whom they so often shill. But it may encourage economists to embrace what their profession should be about: independent thinking, expanding knowledge and service to the public.

In a backhanded slam against his pompous or indentured (take your choice) brethren, Professor Thaler made a key point (quoted in the New York Times) in a presidential address at the American Economic Association in January 2016: “I think it is time to stop thinking about behavioral economics as some kind of revolution,” adding that, “all economics will be as behavioral as the topic requires.”

In an important sense, however, behavioral economics is a revolution – a revolution against the pitiless abstractions that have shaped the phony cost-benefit equations of corporatist economists who still work to undermine regulatory law and order in the fight against serious corporate misbehavior.

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Obama: Too Cool For Trump’s Crises

Back in the 1970s, there was a best-seller, widely read in the business community, called “Winning Through Intimidation.” Barack Obama should pick up a copy, because that is what Donald Trump may be doing to him. Obama stays mostly silent as the belligerent Trump rolls back or destroys the legacies of Obama’s eight years in office. The mere thought of tangling with the Trumpster’s foul, prevaricatory, sneering tweets offends Obama’s own sense of civil discourse between politicians.

Given the present crises, this revulsion is just another form of self-indulgence by the former, self-described community organizer, senator and president. There is no other political leader, in our celebrity culture, as well known or so high in the polls. Consequently Obama owes a different attitude and level of engagement to the American people.

In a previous column, I described some of these engagements, none of which involve a Twitter fight with Trump. They provide focal points for Americans to rally around agendas and opposition to the politics of anxiety, dread and fear generated by the unstable occupant of the White House. That is, a way to respond to Trump’s raging tantrums, fact-impairment, loss of self-control and ego-centric vanities.

Obama could, for example, work to strengthen civic groups and help substantially to create new organizations to address urgent needs (such as averting wars); he could back opposition to Trump’s destructive policies that are running America into the ground while shielding Wall Street and the dictatorial corporate supremacists whose toadies Trump has put into high government positions.

Obama is a big draw and can raise hundreds of millions of dollars faster than most. Furthermore, he has the unique ability to fill the void the mass media is desperately looking to fill by serving as a counterweight to Trump. Hillary, hawking her latest book, doesn’t fit the bill here.

Instead, Obama, besides raising funds for his presidential library (about $1 billion), is getting press primarily for being paid $400,000 or more per speech before Wall Street and other big business audiences. Most recently, the “New York Times” located him in Sao Paulo, Brazil, speaking generalities to businesspeople who were charged from $1,500 to $2,400 to hear him say essentially nothing of note. The speech title was grandly cheerleading: “Change the World? Yes, You Can”—a nod to his unofficial 2008 campaign slogan, “Yes We Can.”

Obama’s spokesman would not say how much Obama gets to keep of the approximate $2 million generated by this event, which was sponsored by the Spanish bank Santander and Brazilian media conglomerates. The paying attendees were attracted to his celebrity status and didn’t care about the sizable tab probably picked up by their companies. One attendee was quoted by the Times as saying, “It was a bit disappointing. I don’t feel like he said anything new.”

There is plenty to be said in the U.S. that is both new and significant by Obama. However, apart from a few words here and there on bigotry and immigration, Obama has preferred to bounce between high-priced lecture gigs and wealthy watering holes where he is a guest of the super-rich, and to work on his book, for which he is receiving over $30 million. Michelle Obama is receiving many millions of dollars for her book and has also been attending celebrity-filled gatherings. When asked at one such event, whom she would most like to be if she had another career, she answered, Beyoncé.

Meanwhile, down at the grassroots level, where people live, work and raise their families, tens of millions are without living wages or health insurance. Underemployment and people dropping out of the labor market in frustration over their rejected skills, mask what is in reality a deceptively low unemployment rate, and yet poverty indicators are everywhere. Under Trump, families will be exposed to more hazards in the workplace, the environment and the marketplace, and they will face rip-offs by companies that have been liberated from regulatory law and order.

The list of protective programs and responsible business laws destroyed by Trump’s wrecking crew of a cabinet grows longer every week.

It isn’t as if Barack Obama doesn’t realize what he is doing and what is happening to him in this self-enriching bubble he has shaped, post-presidency. He can’t seem to help himself, and going to nearly 500 fat-cat political fund-raisers outside Washington, D.C. as President didn’t help to change or expand his chosen circle.

In his best-selling 2006 book, “The Audacity Of Hope,” then Senator Obama admitted:

I found myself spending time with people of means — law firm partners and investment bankers, hedge fund managers and venture capitalists. As a rule, they were smart, interesting people. But they reflected, almost uniformly, the perspectives of their class: the top one percent of the income scale.

Classic Obama: Say the right thing, and the people won’t mind so much when your words don’t match your deeds.

Think of your millions of supporters, Mr. Obama. They want you to regularly stand up for them and fight the Trump-led assault on our weakening democracy.

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