How We Can Save Sports

“Immersed in sports as a player, coach, marketer, teacher and writer, Ken Reed shares our belief that many of the problems and challenges in sports – at all levels – have been exposed but little has been remedied. How We Can Save Sports reports on the panorama of issues in the sports world that are negatively impacting sports enthusiasts. Unfortunately, these issues are rarely on the table for anything close to a serious discussion. Reed’s book is an invitation to all of us who care about sports, and what they can be at their best, to start that much-needed discussion.”—Ralph Nader, founder, League of Fans

sports

Many sports fans are conflicted—they may love the games, the players, and their communities, but may be alarmed by issues including academic corruption, athlete safety, and the overarching emphasis on winning and profit at all costs. From disturbing new research about the long-term impact of sports concussions to publicly financed stadiums that drive profits to team owners but not communities, author Ken Reed argues that much of our sports culture is broken, driven by ego and greed. How We Can Save Sports, with a foreword by Ralph Nader, is written to inform and empower sports stakeholders who care deeply about the impact of sports today on individuals and society as a whole.

Reed, sports policy director for the League of Fans, introduces readers to nine of the most pressing problems in sports today and shows how they largely derive from the mentalities of profit-at-all-costs and win-at-all-costs. Chapters dig into issues such as concussions, overzealous adults in youth sports, the disappearance of PE from many school curriculums, the focus on profit objectives in college sports, discrimination in sports, and more. Each chapter outlines key challenges and provides concrete steps that readers can take to work for change. The book includes lists of helpful resources for readers interested in change at various levels—from youth and high school sports, to AAU and college athletics, to professional sports.

• Examines nine major sports issues, often from a public policy perspective.
• The book not only analyzes critical sports issues, it also provides a wide-range of recommended solutions. Resources and ideas for budding sports reformers are included.

Ken Reed is sports policy director for the League of Fans, a sports reform project started by Ralph Nader. Reed is a long-time sports marketing consultant, sports studies instructor, sports issues analyst, columnist and author. He holds a doctorate in sports administration and created the Center for the Advancement of Physical Education (CAPE) for the non-profit PE4Life, devoted to cardiovascular-based physical education for all students, K-12. He blogs on sports issues for the Huffington Post.

Purchase via Amazon.

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Tort Law: The Muscle of Justice

The common law of torts, which originated from English common law, has been elaborated in tens of thousands of judicial decisions with one basic message: If a person suffers a wrongful injury or harm, he or she can seek remedy in court with a trial by jury. Through tort law, our civil justice system operates to compensate victims, punish perpetrators and deter future harms. For years this system has been under sustained assault in Congress and state legislatures. Corporations, with their enormous lobbying influence, have few qualms about lobbying to limit Americans’ right to their day in court.

Tort law is one of the major pillars of our legal system. It provides crucial protections for individuals. Tort law has helped people harmed by defective products, medical malpractice, toxic chemical spills and much more. It sees that families are compensated for devastating losses; prevents future injuries, deaths or accidents by deterring dangerous products and practices; and spurs safety innovation and enforceable safety standards. Tort law provides a moral and ethical fiber for our society by defining appropriate norms of conduct and care. The late Peter Lewis, the former chairman of Progressive Insurance, once told me that tort law functions as his industry’s incentive for “quality control.”

The ongoing assault on the civil justice system in our country has resulted in a lessened public appreciation of the law of torts. Now comes the American Museum of Tort Law.

In the planning stages for many years, the museum is set to open in the fall of this year in my hometown of Winsted, Connecticut. The American Museum of Tort Law will be the first law museum in the country. This nonprofit, educational institution will seek to increase citizen understanding of tort law and its pivotal role in the protection of personal freedom and safety of millions of Americans. And it will celebrate the historical and contemporary achievements of the civil justice system.

What one can expect when visiting the museum later this year? Captivating displays will illustrate the history of exemplary cases, incorporating real artifacts and media. The exhibits will tell stories that illuminate the underlying principles of law and appeal to not just members of the legal profession but the many other Americans interested in learning about this important cornerstone of our legal system.

Some notable exhibits are cases that established new precedents for different wrongful injuries, such as the famous T.J. Hooper case. Cases of more contemporary significance range from those harmed by asbestos insulation to those harmed by the tobacco industry and defective motor vehicles.

In addition to housing these and many other physical exhibits, the museum will be an important digital clearinghouse for reports and commentaries on contemporary developments and judicial decisions in tort law. This will be a most valuable resource for students, scholars, the media, and the public.

There are thousands of museums in the United States — ones for every sport, many fruits and vegetables, even 30 timber and lumber museums! But, surprisingly, there are no law museums. The many victories and advancements to health and safety that have come from the law of torts and the constitutional right of trial by jury deserve a serious upswing in public recognition. We hope you will visit this first-of-its-kind institution later this year and be fascinated and enlightened by a unique museum experience.

For more information, visit tortmuseum.org.

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RSVP for The Actual Dance

The Actual Dance

Samuel A. Simon’s autobiographical award-winning play about love and the caregivers journey.

A Performance Sponsored by Ralph Nader and the Center for Study of Responsive Law.

February 27, 2015
2 – 4pm
The Carnegie Institution for Science
1530 P St NW
Washington, DC 20005

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More information at The Actual Dance website.

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Credit Suisse: Big Crimes Become Big Business

In May 2014 financial firm Credit Suisse AG pled guilty to serious criminal charges. The giant bank aided and assisted approximately 22,000 wealthy U.S. taxpayers (whose names Credit Suisse AG escaped having to send to the Justice Department for law enforcement) for over a decade in filing false income tax returns and other documents with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The full extent of these crimes, according to a Department of Justice news release, are as follows: “assisting clients in using sham entities to hide undeclared accounts”; “soliciting IRS forms that falsely stated, under penalties of perjury, that the sham entities were the beneficial owners of the assets in the accounts”; “failing to maintain in the United States records related to the accounts”; “destroying account records sent to the United States for client review”; “using Credit Suisse managers and employees as unregistered investment advisors on undeclared accounts”; “facilitating withdrawals of funds from the undeclared accounts by either providing hand-delivered cash in the United States or using Credit Suisse’s correspondent bank accounts in the United States”; “structuring transfers of funds to evade currency transaction reporting requirements”; and “providing offshore credit and debit cards to repatriate funds in the undeclared accounts.”

These elaborate illegal acts over many years are quite revealing. They show a deliberate willingness by Credit Suisse AG officials to knowingly engage in profitable activities that defrauded the United States Treasury and burdened honest taxpayers. Credit Suisse paid a $2.6-billion fine — small compared with the size of the crimes and the company’s large revenues. These crimes were yet another sordid chapter in the ever-burgeoning tax-evading business that makes its waves with wealthy Americans and massive corporate entities. But the Credit Suisse story does not end there.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, or ERISA, was enacted to protect the retirement savings of retirement-plan participants. The law, in theory, automatically disqualifies institutions like Credit Suisse AG who have committed serious crimes or pled guilty to serious crimes from serving as a “qualified professional asset manager” (QPAM) of ERISA assets or pension plans.

Unfortunately, the Department of Labor has not adequately enforced this law or its regulations in this area. Since waivers started being granted in 1997, 23 culpable firms have been granted exemptions from this disqualification rule and been allowed to continue their business of advising pension and other investment funds. Six of these waivers were granted to QPAMs that, like Credit Suisse AG, violated serious laws either in the United States or abroad. Remarkably, no waivers formally demanded by their corporate law firms have been rejected.

The Department of Labor (DOL) already has granted Credit Suisse a temporary waiver to continue conducting their pension-management business. On Jan. 15 the DOL held a public hearing — where I testified — to discuss whether Credit Suisse and its affiliates can continue this troubling trend of avoiding the consequences of their actions indefinitely. Credit Suisse AG is hoping to completely sidestep the mechanisms of justice for their admittedly serious crimes and carry on business as usual — a result that, in itself, is, unfortunately, business as usual. Is it not astounding to think a company that knowingly engaged in such illegal activities would not be deterred from engaging in activities that could be harmful to retirees as well?

Public Citizen’s Bartlett Naylor wrote in a public comment to the Department of Labor:

Firms that engage in criminal activity should face real consequences. Where those consequences are excused, the firm is invited to become a repeat offender; and the deterrence effect for other firms is nullified. Pension fund beneficiaries are especially vulnerable to Wall Street abuse because their savings may be managed by firms they do not even choose, let alone control. As overseer of the nation’s ERISA-governed funds, the Department of Labor bears the heavy responsibility of policing the integrity of the pension fund management industry. The DOL must apply all its tools to achieve this lofty goal. They should be used, not routinely discarded.

This routine ability to evade proper punishment is the root of the issue of so much corporate and Wall Street crime — a slap on the wrist leads to a perpetual cycle of wrongdoing with no end in sight. Their corporate lawyers turn laws into “no-law” laws. Corporate crime pays.

James Henry, former chief economist at McKinsey & Co and current chair of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice, estimates that the United States loses between $170 billion and $200 billion a year in tax revenue through offshore tax havens. He told the Corporate Crime Reporter in 2013:

The idea that you would actually permit big ticket tax dodgers to walk off of the stage with a slap on the wrist — like the proposed [Credit] Swiss settlement — or that you would let companies like Apple and Microsoft, General Electric and Google — shift their most valuable corporate assets to places where they have almost no activity and evade corporate income taxes at a time when we are slashing aid to kids in schools, money for seniors — this is outrageous.

The Department of Labor, which exists to defend workers, now has a unique opportunity to stand proudly at its post and to send a clear message — a firm signal — to other Qualified Professional Asset Managers that if they commit unthinkable criminal violations, they lose the ability to handle pension funds. On the other hand, allowing these institutions to continue to receive permanent waivers would be a clear signal that the DOL will tolerate cutting corners and criminal wrongdoing by powerful financial institutions at the expense of workers, complying taxpayers, democracy, and the rule of law.

Now is the time for advocates and citizens alike to speak out strongly against this manner of blatantly averting justice and fostering a culture of continual corporate criminality. Contact the Office of Exemption Determinations at the Department of Labor and let them know.

If anyone knows of any other misdeeds from Credit Suisse, please let us know by tweeting @RalphNader.

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Toys from Abusive Chinese Factories Bring No Holiday Cheer

Here’s a question to ponder this Holiday season — what do toy brands like Barbie, Mickey Mouse and Thomas the Tank Engine have in common? What about the companies that produce these toys — Mattel, Disney, Fisher Price and other major toy companies such as Crayola and Hasbro? Many parents might say that the shared commonality of these toys and their corporate manufacturers is their young children’s affinity for them, especially around the holiday season when corporate advertising and marketing launches into overdrive. Many parents may be planning or have already purchased these and other toys as holiday gifts for their youngsters.

Here’s one common factor that many parents will likely not consider about the toys they purchase as gifts. According to a recently released 66-page report from the nonprofit organization China Labor Watch (CLW), these aforementioned popular toy brands and many others are manufactured in Chinese factories that have been found to have repeatedly committed a vast number of worker rights violations. This most recent CLW investigation was a follow-up to one conducted and reported on in 2007. Disturbingly, many of the same abuses reported then were discovered once more, seven years later. Despite efforts to bring attention to these harmful labor conditions, the conditions in Chinese factories persist, and Americans continue to buy up these products by the millions. As for the American companies that sell them, finding ways to shirk any responsibility for deplorable factory conditions is their primary public relations concern.

The CLW report states:

Many toy companies divide their toy orders among dozens or hundreds of factories in order to ensure that their orders in any given factory only consists of a small proportion of that factory’s total orders usually no more than 20 percent. Toy companies will also use this as a basis for avoiding responsibility for poor labor conditions. For example, if CLW uncovers labor rights violations at a Disney supplier factory in China, Disney might respond that it only maintains a small number of orders in the plant and is unable to influence the factory’s behavior.

Parents should consider the following harsh realities uncovered by CLW:

Workers who create these toy products often make just over a dollar an hour, nowhere near a living wage. Many live in cramped company dormitories with inadequate bathroom facilities for the number of people who occupy them. Many receive inadequate or no safety training. Many are forced to work excessive overtime hours in violation of Chinese labor laws. Many are provided inadequate safety equipment or work on poorly maintained and potentially dangerous equipment. None of the factories investigated by CLW conducted fire safety training, and one even locked emergency escape doors and had fire escape routes obstructed. Unfortunately, the grievance procedures for factory workers to file complaints or report incidents are ineffective or nonexistent.

Here’s one that might strike a chord with the smartphone generation — a 2013 CLW report on Mattel factories reported that in one factory, “A worker who checks his cell phone will have that day’s working hours reset to zero, effectively not paying the worker for the actual work that he did.”

These are only some of the numerous issues reported. Taken as a whole, the report describes a truly nightmarish and inhumane work environment that would appall many in the Western world. Behind the friendly plastic smiles of Mickey Mouse and Thomas the Tank engine lays immense human suffering and worker abuse.

Eighty-five percent of all children’s toys that are sold in the United States come from China. Furthermore, these toys often come with too many hazards — burning, choking risks for small children, or toxics in or on the toys. It can be difficult for parents to know what toys are safe for their youngsters. Some are recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. (See cpsc.gov for the latest recalls.)

A few examples of recent recalls: A singing monkey toy, sold in Cracker Barrel restaurants, has a battery compartment that can overheat and cause burns. Another is a “Dream on Me” playhouse that reportedly can collapse and pose a strangulation risk to young children. Yet another is a “Hello Kitty” whistle, distributed by McDonald’s, in which a small internal piece can come detached and be swallowed or choked on by young users. The proposed remedy from McDonald’s: “Consumers should immediately take the whistle away from children and return it to any McDonald’s for a free replacement toy and either a yogurt tube or a bag of apple slices.” All of these dangerous products were manufactured in China.

The Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act (H.R. 4842) was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) It would require U.S. companies to disclose its contracting practices in annual reports that find instances of “child labor, forced labor, slavery, and human trafficking.” It would also require the Secretary of Labor “to develop and publish annually on the Internet website of the Department of Labor a list of top 100 companies adhering to supply chain labor standards, as established under federal and international guidelines.” This would be an important step in holding toy companies accountable for the inhumane conditions they permit by doing business with abusive factories in China.

In the meantime, being a socially-conscious shopper is one way to let these corporations know that Americans do not approve of products built on the backs of Chinese serf-labor. One easy method is to check the country-of-origin label on products to see where they came from. Parents should know about the products their children request and not give into demands or nagging because the youngster wanted the products to fit in with their friends. These toy companies want their young consumers to be compliant, vulnerable and ever-hooked on fashionable fads.

Is such crass commercialism worth the cost of human suffering?

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Unsafe and Unnecessary Oil Trains Threaten 25 Million Americans

Back in 1991 the National Transportation Safety Board first identified oil trains as unsafe — the tank cars, specifically ones called DOT-111s, were too thin and punctured too easily, making transport of flammable liquids like oil unreasonably dangerous. As bad as this might sound, at the very least there was not a lot of oil being carried on the rails in 1991.

Now, in the midst of a North American oil boom, oil companies are using fracking and tar sands mining to produce crude in remote areas of the U.S. and Canada. To get the crude to refineries on the coasts the oil industry is ramping up transport by oil trains. In 2008, 9,500 crude oil tank cars moved on US rails. In 2013 the number was more than 400,000! With this rapid growth comes a looming threat to public safety and the environment. No one — not federal regulators or local firefighters — are prepared for oil train derailments, spills and explosions.

Unfortunately, the rapid increase in oil trains has already meant many more oil train disasters. Railroads spilled more oil in 2013 than in the previous 40 years combined.

Trains are the most efficient way to move freight and people. This is why train tracks run through our cities and towns. Our rail system was never designed to move hazardous materials, however; if it was, train tracks would not run next to schools and under football stadiums.

Last summer, environmental watchdog group ForestEthics released a map of North America that shows probable oil train routes. Using Google, anyone can check to see if their home or office is near an oil train route. (Try it out here.)

ForestEthics used census data to calculate that more than 25 million Americans live in the oil train blast zone (that being the one-mile evacuation area in the case of a derailment and fire.) This is clearly a risk not worth taking — oil trains are the Pintos of the rails. Most of these trains are a mile long, pulling 100-plus tank cars carrying more than 3 million gallons of explosive crude. Two-thirds of the tank cars used to carry crude oil today were considered a “substantial danger to life, property, and the environment” by federal rail safety officials back in 1991.

The remaining one-third of the tank cars are not much better — these more “modern” cars are tested at 14 to 15 mph, but the average derailment speed for heavy freight trains is 24 mph. And it was the most “modern” tank cars that infamously derailed, caught fire, exploded and poisoned the river in Lynchburg, Virginia last May. Other derailments and explosions in North Dakota and Alabama made national news in 2014.

The most alarming demonstration of the threat posed by these trains happened in Quebec in July 2013 — an oil train derailed and exploded in the City of Lac Megantic, killing 47 people and burning a quarter of the city to the ground. The fire burned uncontrollably, flowing through the city, into and then out of sewers, and into the nearby river. Firefighters from across the region responded, but an oil fire cannot be fought with water, and exceptionally few fire departments have enough foam flame retardant to control a fire from even a single 30,000 gallon tank car, much less the millions of gallons on an oil train.

Given the damage already done and the threat presented, Canada immediately banned the oldest of these rail cars and mandated a three-year phase-out of the DOT-111s. More needs to be done, but this is a solid first step. Of course, we share the North American rail network — right now those banned trains from Canada may very well be transporting oil through your home town while the Department of Transportation dallies.

The immense public risk these oil trains pose is starting to gain the attention it deserves, but not yet the response. Last summer, the U.S. federal government began the process of writing new safety regulations. Industry has weighed in heavily to protect its interest in keeping these trains rolling. The Department of Transportation, disturbingly, seems to be catering to industry’s needs.

The current draft rules are deeply flawed and would have little positive impact on safety. They leave the most dangerous cars in service for years. Worse yet, the oil industry would get to more than double its tank car fleet before being required to decommission any of the older, more dangerous DOT-111s.

We need an immediate ban on the most dangerous tank cars. We also need to slow these trains down; slower trains mean fewer accidents, and fewer spills and explosions when they do derail. The public and local fire fighters must be notified about train routes and schedules, and every oil train needs a comprehensive emergency response plan for accidents involving explosive Bakken crude and toxic tar sands. In addition, regulations must require adequate insurance. This is the least we could expect from Secretary Anthony Foxx, who travels a lot around the country, and the Department of Transportation.

So far, Secretary Foxx is protecting the oil industry, not ordinary Americans. In fact, Secretary Foxx is meeting with Canadian officials this Thursday, December 18, to discuss oil-by-rail. It is doubtful, considering Canada’s strong first step, that he will be trying to persuade them to adopt even stronger regulations. Will Secretary Foxx ask them to weaken what they have done and put more lives at risk? Time will tell. He has the power, and the mandate, to remove the most dangerous rail cars to protect public safety but he appears to be heading in the opposite direction. Earlier this month ForestEthics and the Sierra Club, represented by EarthJustice, filed a lawsuit against the DOT to require them to fulfill this duty.

Secretary Foxx no doubt has a parade of corporate executives wooing him for lax or no oversight. But he certainly doesn’t want to have a Lac Megantic-type disaster in the U.S. on his watch. It is more possible now than ever before, given the massive increase in oil-by-rail traffic.

Pipelines, such as the Keystone XL, are not the answer either. (Keystone oil would be routed for export to other countries from Gulf ports.) Pipelines can also leak and result in massive damage to the environment as we have seen in the Kalamazoo, MI spill by the Enbridge Corporation. Three years later, $1.2 billion spent, and the “clean up” is still ongoing.

Here’s the reality — we don’t need new pipelines and we don’t need oil by rail. This is “extreme oil,” and if we can’t transport it safely, we can and must say no. Secretary Foxx needs to help make sure 25 million people living in the blastzone are safe and that means significant regulations and restrictions on potentially catastrophic oil rail cars.

Rather than choosing either of these destructive options, we are fortunate to be able to choose safe, affordable cleaner energy and more efficient energy products, such as vehicles and furnaces, instead. That is the future and it is not a distant future — it’s happening right now.

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Cash Register Politics Destroys Democracy

“The mid-term elections are over. After spending hundreds of millions of business dollars, the Republicans now control the Senate and hold on to the House of Representatives. It is amazing that the Democrats did not do worse.” If those sentences ring familiar, it’s because I wrote them in 2002 in response to that year’s midterm elections, although they could easily apply today.

Now several weeks removed from the 2014 elections, the news cycle has moved on to other matters, but the fallout remains to affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans. Unless Americans start to get serious about their elections, we may as well repeat the same sentiments in another 12 years with an even greater price tag attached.

After spending even more hundreds of millions of campaign dollars, the craven, corporatist Republicans once again control Congress. Of course, the Democrats dialed for many of the same commercial dollars and spent their own hundreds of millions in campaign advertising, all while spectacularly failing to make a better case about the direction of our country to the voters than the worst Republican Party in history.

Note another 2002 reaction of mine: “…the Democrats were not highlighting the desperate need for raising the federal minimum wage (now about a third less in purchasing power than it was in 1968!)” Once again, 12 years later in 2014, Democrats dropped the ball on an issue that polls show 80 percent of Americans agree upon. I also wrote about the Democrats failing to go after Republicans on consumer protection issues like food safety and clean air and water, which we all need regardless of political alignment.

In light of history repeating itself so completely, one must ask where did all these millions of dollars go if, 12 years later, the very same mistakes, blunders and oversights are being made?

The answer is: huge media buys, endless mailings both paper and electronic, and incessant telephone calls, many recorded, to registered voters. One firm estimated that $2.6 billion was spent just on TV advertising in the 2014 midterms. Very few, if any, of these political ads are informative to voters — in fact, most people find them enormously irritating, specifically in swing states where they run constant until Election Day. Despite the overload of political noise on the airwaves, the issues that would really strike a difference are disturbingly ignored.

Just think about all the good those millions could have done were they focused on public needs such as repairing roads and infrastructure, or easing student loan burdens, or refurbishing water systems, schools and libraries — it is enough to get anyone with a deep interest in the preservation and improvement of their own local community riled up. The amount of money and resources poured into these showy and substance-lacking elections is appalling.

And where is all this money coming from? See author Darrell West’s recent book Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust (Brookings Institution Press, 2014) which takes a fascinating look at the politically-active super-rich and how they have, in so many ways, seized enormous amounts of influence with the “wealthification” of politics in our country (and around the world.)

It raises the question: How much should an individual vote cost? How much is too much? According to a recent Brookings report the 2014 Alaska Senate race cost $120.59 per voter. The next highest per voter expenditure is New Hampshire, at $50 per voter — despite being considerably less, it’s still an extraordinary amount spent for a single vote. (Iowa is next at $39.11, followed by Colorado at $27.40. See the rest of the top ten at the link above)

Another stunning example from Brookings is the North Carolina Senate race. This contest between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis reportedly cost $111,000,000. It’s being called the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history (not accounting for inflation.) More than 100,000 ads were run in that single state. Similarly, $97,100,000 was spent in Colorado, $88,000,000 in Iowa and so on.

Astronomical election spending should come as no surprise to avid Congress watchers. In post-Citizens United and McCutcheon Supreme Court decisions America, politicians from both major parties go into their meetings talking about raising money and walk out talking about raising money. Where governance was once a matter of more importance to those we sent to represent us in Congress, campaign cash — and how to accumulate truckloads of it — has instead become the primary concern to candidates.

If there was any doubt, newly-minted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell once called the signing of the McCain-Feingold bill which imposed some limits on corporate campaign spending “the worst day of his political life.” On the Democratic side, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) responded to my call for Nancy Pelosi to step down as House minority leader by arguing that she “personally raised over $100 million for the [House Democratic] caucus. There’s no one else on Earth who could do that,” as if this was the principle measure of her leadership.

And it’s only going to get worse — the SuperPACs are already gearing up for 2016. Even Warren Buffett, who has been quite critical of SuperPACS, recently gave the maximum donation allowed to a “Ready for Hillary” group.

Here’s some more observations from 2002 to once again consider, still relevant today:

“Lessons for the future? Don’t give your major political opponents a free ride between and before elections. Challenge the corporate takeover of elections, including the sudden surge of political television advertising paid directly by industries like the big price-gouging drug companies. And get down to the neighborhood level with visible stands for the people.

Otherwise the Democrats will become even better at electing very bad Republicans.”

If you are tired of rinse-and-repeat electoral politics and are interested in taking action, consider signing Public Citizen’s petition for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. FEC and Citizens United v. FEC rulings. You will be emailed regular updates on the campaign and other ways to fight back against the overflow of money in politics.

First the petitions, then the mass, peaceful street protests.

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Obama, Not the Giant Telecoms, Is Right on Net Neutrality

In the aftermath of his party’s defeat in the midterm elections, President Obama surprised many when he reaffirmed his overwhelming support for net neutrality, proposing that the Internet should be treated as a public utility. On the other side of the political spectrum, Senator Ted Cruz sparked a firestorm of ridicule amongst net neutrality advocates when he tweeted a response to the president, calling net neutrality “Obamacare for the internet” and stating “the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.” House Majority Leader John Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell affirmed the Cruz position.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans in Congress have chosen to side with the large, corporate telecom companies in the ongoing debate about controlling the so-called “pipes” of the Internet. Forty-one Republican senators and representatives recently sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler protesting a proposal to reclassify Internet service providers as “common carriers” under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 — this would acknowledge that Internet service is a regulatable “telecommunications service” and not an “information service” open to commercial tampering.

This Republican call to action comes from the aftermath of the controversial Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposal earlier this year that would allow Internet service providers to implement “fast lanes” for certain data of their own choosing, presumably at a premium cost. Nearly 4 million comments — a record — were submitted to the FCC objecting to this proposal.

It doesn’t take active use of the Internet to see that at its core the fight about net neutrality is a fight about big corporations trying to stratify and limit the rights and options of consumers.

It’s the same old song and dance — corporations want more control at the expense of consumer choice and at the expense of a fair market. Net neutrality is about whether or not corporations have the right to seize this control and obtain the ability to give preferential treatment to certain websites, companies or services.

An apt historical comparison is the movement to control the public airwaves. The FCC has a giveaway history of allowing giant broadcast corporations to acquire valuable radio and television licenses free across the country with no rent payable to the citizens who own them. When it comes to the airwaves, the FCC has chosen to largely ignore citizen speakers, writers, and artists who need and deserve a platform to share their message and values, in favor of big money “marketplace forces.” As such, there are no meaningful requirements anymore for broadcasters to provide useful, educational information or ascertain the needs of local communities.

The Internet, in an idealized sense, is an open medium far greater and more wide-reaching than even the public airwaves. Unlike any other time in history, people can freely share ideas, coordinate events or movements, have a platform for films and art, start businesses, do research or schoolwork, acquire and read books and more. If you walk into any college classroom in the United States today, you’ll see the majority of the students with laptops in front of them, taking notes and using the Internet to do their work. If it’s not laptops, it’s smartphones. The Internet, for better or worse, has fundamentally changed the way that people communicate, operate and see the world. Even job seekers rely on the Internet to search for openings, submit applications, and field responses. There are many ways the Internet is abused for trivial social exchanges, data collection and advertising, but comparing its benefits and its potential against its negatives, the argument for treating it as a public utility is overwhelming.

One of the main issues facing President Obama in his new push for net neutrality is his counterintuitive choice to head the FCC, Chairman Tom Wheeler. Wheeler, a former cable industry lobbyist, has been criticized for his past involvement with the big corporations that seek to end net neutrality. At this point, it’s not clear how Wheeler intends to proceed, although some reports state that he favors a middle-ground approach, which is an unacceptable compromise for open Internet advocates.

It’s no surprise that companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T are battling the open nature of the Internet because they cannot control how their customers use it. In fact, some op-eds have shown up in the major papers in the past week arguing against net neutrality, written by authors with industry ties, in a thinly-veiled effort to sway public opinion. Recent polls, however, have shown that the majority of Americans — including conservatives — are in favor of net neutrality.

I’ve written in the past about left-right convergence (see my book Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.) It is vitally important for those on the left and right to unite on this common ground. After all, nothing shakes up lawmakers like the rumblings from both ends of the spectrum.

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Advocacy Talk

America has a media problem.

Much of commercial radio consists of music and advertisements for corporate products. Network and cable news are increasingly hyper-focused on political gaffes, irrelevant scandals, sensationalism and gossip. There are very few serious, compelling programs in the mainstream media that aim to educate and enlighten audiences about issues that deeply affect millions of Americans.

With this in mind, we have launched a weekly radio show and podcast. Along with my co-hosts Stephen Skrovan and David Feldman — two talented comedic minds based out of Los Angeles — we aim to discuss the vital issues that challenge the corporate state and which are so often overlooked by mainstream news and talk radio. The show, known as the “Ralph Nader Radio Hour”, airs on several Pacifica radio stations and is also available online. We all make the show each week as volunteers.

Of course there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cable news channels, radio stations, podcasts and the like which discuss politics and current events. Unfortunately, too few truly delve into serious matters that affect millions of people in their own communities. Our program covers a wide range of these subjects such as corporate crime, Wall Street excess, citizen activism, American imperialism, unreported movements and authors, the two-party duopoly and more. Our goal is to be informative, engaging, and even funny — there’s no reason why discussing serious matters always has to be tedious, for in humor there is truth.

We hope that by reaching a new listening audience, we can bring light to matters that are given such disturbingly limited, if any, coverage by the large news outlets that reach the most people, and thus do not find their way into the grander public discourse. We also believe that our country has far more problems than it deserves and far more solutions than it applies. Therefore while it is important to expose problems, it is equally important to showcase their solutions, such as David Bollier’s work on our immense commonwealth that is owned by the people but mostly controlled by corporations. (See his new paperback, Think Like a Commoner.)

Once upon a time, television network talk shows like Phil Donahue, and even lighter fare hosted by Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin, found some time in their schedules to inform audiences about subjects like dangerous consumer products, unsafe medicines and critical worker and environmental issues. Now, these topics are practically taboo. And forget about local television or radio covering many issues related to your own community. Too infrequent here as well.

As a whole, this degradation of the media has fueled public cynicism far more than public enlightenment. The consequences are direr than most realize. Without media coverage, the civic community cannot expand it ranks, spread word of its accomplishments and be recognized and respected by decision-makers in government. Important press releases, reports, and testimonies on key issues are routinely ignored or marginalized.

The great progress made in the past by citizen activists in the peace, consumer, environmental and civil right movements was dependent on civic leaders being able to spread their message to America via the news media. Now, global companies have concentrated their influence over the two major political parties, the federal government, the economy and our culture itself. Except for smaller, independent media like Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now, these small but powerful voices of progress have been shut out of the public discourse.

Even traditionally progressive outlets like PBS and NPR fail to give adequate airtime to many top progressive leaders, scholars, experts, writers and commentators. Names that come to mind are Harvey Wasserman, Jim Hightower, Ed Mierzwinski, Rob Richie, Patrick Burns, Robert Weissman, Phineas Baxandall, David Morris, Wenonah Hauter, Jamie Love, Amory Lovins, Margaret Flowers, Greg LeRoy, Gayle McLaughlin, Michael Gecan, Russell Mokhiber, David Halperin, Harvey Rosenfield, Sid Wolfe, Winona LaDuke and Chris Hedges . Unfortunately, many Americans have not heard of these warriors for justice who work tirelessly for our society. I recommend you to research a bit about every one of them — our country would be far better off if these experts were given as much airtime as the warmongers, the corporate apologists and the partisan talking-heads.

With the “Ralph Nader Radio Hour,” we want to provide a platform for many of these leading minds to share their expertise and wealth of knowledge. Once recent such guest was David Freeman, a profound energy expert, attorney and author, with serious renewable energy conversion proposals coming from decades of experience running giant utilities such as the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). Other recent guests were slip and fall expert Russell Kendzior, the aforementioned David Bollier, and Bill Curry, former aide to President Bill Clinton and gubernatorial candidate in Connecticut. I think that you’ll find that these lively conversations are far more interesting, substantial and enlightening than anything you’ll hear on the cable news networks. Next week our guest will be Stephen Goldstein, author of The Dictionary of American Political Bullshit.

If there is an author or activist who you would like to hear interviewed, please send an email to [email protected] with the appropriate information.

All past episodes of the non-profit “Ralph Nader Radio Hour” are available to listen to, free of charge, here. I hope you’ll check them out and spread the word about what we are trying to accomplish.

And if you want your local radio station to carry the show, please contact them and let them know. After all, the only way to overcome the trivialities and distortion of the media and redefine what is considered important news is to demand treatment of the issues that matter to us most.

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Be a Passionate Voter for Justice

Millions of Americans displayed passion and fevered interest in the recent exciting World Series championship. Now it’s time to move on to a serious matter of national importance that often suffers from a lack of public enthusiasm. Millions of Americans, many of whom are avid sports fans, are suffering due to low wages, income inequality, and a gridlocked Congress that is obsessed with campaign fundraising and incapable of addressing many of country’s most pressing needs, from public investments to fair play for working families.

With Election Day just days away, now is the perfect time to transfer some of that passion and energy for sports into the political realm. After all, there is far more on the line than just a championship and bragging rights. And elections are not a spectator sport — you need to be on the field yourself!

Just imagine if the majority of eligible voters had the same dedication and diligence as sports fans who know all the stats and figures, the players, and the management hierarchy. Imagine if voters were as informed, passionate and vocal as baseball fans.

Unfortunately, many voters will head to the polls on November 4th and simply vote down the party line. Far too many won’t spend a little time to research the various candidates’ actual records beyond their party affiliation. Voters won’t learn about what their candidates or elected officials have done beyond what they have said they would do. They won’t even consider the issues that matter most to them and their families. That’s if they even show up at all, of course. It’s expected that only 40 percent of eligible voters will even bother showing up on November 4th.

The mass media certainly does not help spark voter engagement. Most network and cable news programs fail to do an adequate job in covering or presenting issues that really matter most to millions of Americans and they certainly do not hold candidates to their words or put their feet to the fire when they have broken their past campaign promises.

And, of course, the election season airwaves are filled with campaign ads that attack, make bold promises, and mislead on facts. They are all expensive noise with little substance.

Here are few serious questions that voters should consider — no matter whether the candidates on their ballot identify as Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, Independent or otherwise — before they cast their votes on Tuesday.

Where do the candidates stand on raising the minimum wage?

Stagnant at $7.25 per hour since 2009, 3 out of 4 Americans now support raising the minimum wage. Thirty million hardworking Americans — two-thirds women and two-thirds employed by large corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s — are making less today, adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1968. Millions would benefit from a restoration in purchasing power to 1968 levels and in turn would be able to strengthen the economy by increasing their consumer expenditures. Despite being a winning issue for Election Day, many corporatist members of Congress have remained firmly opposed.

Where do the candidates stand on corporate welfare (otherwise called crony capitalism)?

Corporate welfare forces taxpayers to subsidize or bail out big corporations — many of which are badly mismanaged or even corrupt. Giveaways of natural resources, taxpayer-funded sports stadiums, free use of the public airwaves, taxpayer-funded research and development handouts, not to mention a plethora of credits and exemptions, grants, loan guarantees and more are just some examples. Each year, tens of billions of dollars are doled out to large, profitable corporations in the United States. This is an issue that both the left and right agree upon, yet many corporatist members of Congress refuse to act for fear of upsetting their pro-corporate campaign contributors.


Where do the candidates stand on supporting Wall Street and the big banks?

Wall Street’s actions collapsed the U.S. economy in 2008-2009. Their misdeeds destroyed the pensions and savings of millions and strip-mined the economy and cost 8 million jobs. Despite this criminal recklessness, these “too big to fail” financial institutions were bailed out by American taxpayers. Since then, very little has changed. Wall Street executives are still bringing in huge bonuses and continue many of the same risky actions that led to the previous collapse. Once again, many members of Congress do not want to bite the hand that feeds them, so they are giving them another free ride at the peoples’ expense.

Unhappy with your choices when considering these criteria? One idea that I and others have proposed in the past is “A None of the Above” (NOTA) line on the ballot. If the binding NOTA option obtains the majority of the votes cast, the election for that seat would be cancelled, along with the dismissal of the candidates, and a new election would be held. Such an option could counteract the disillusionment that so many feel with their political choices and give them a reason to go to the polls and register a no-confidence vote. (If you wish to obtain a NOTA [None of the Above] Advance Packet with information on the idea, visit csrl.org/nota.)

We can change the direction of this country, and it’s easier than you think, especially with emerging left-right alliances. It begins with keeping an open mind, knowing where you stand, and asking tough questions of those who want your votes.

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