Jerry Brown, Stop Punishing Victims of Medical Malpractice

By Ralph Nader

On November 4, Californians will vote on Proposition 46’s provision to adjust for inflation the unconscionable cap on pain and suffering, known as the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which Governor Jerry Brown signed into law in 1975.

At least 10,000 Californians perish every year, along with many more aggravated injuries and preventable illnesses, due to medical malpractice. This toll does not even include fatalities and other casualties brought on by hospital-induced infections. Compensation for such “non-economic” injuries is now capped at $250,000 for each affected person due to MICRA. Adjusted for inflation, $250,000 in 1975 dollars is worth well under $100,000 today!

MICRA also limits the legal rights of victims of incompetent or negligent medical care and makes it difficult to hold negligent doctors and hospitals accountable for their actions.

There is no doubt that Governor Brown is aware of the impact of MICRA’s cap on damages for the pain and suffering of victims of medical malpractice. He went so far as to openly disavow his prior position when its provisions were being considered for the Clinton Health Care Plan many years later.

He wrote in a June 1993 statement:

“We have learned a lot about MICRA and the insurance industry in the seventeen years since MICRA was enacted. We have witnessed yet another insurance crisis, and found that insurance company avarice, not utilization of the legal system by injured consumers, was responsible for excessive premiums. Saddest of all, MICRA has revealed itself to have an arbitrary and cruel effect upon the victims of malpractice. It has not lowered health care costs, only enriched insurers and placed negligent or incompetent physicians outside the reach of judicial accountability. For these reasons, MICRA cannot and should not be a model for national legislation.”

Could it be said any better than those forgotten words by Jerry Brown himself?

A pain and suffering cap is most harmful to those victims of serious injuries who do not have wage loss or other explicit economic damages. Thus, children, the elderly, stay-at-home moms and others pay the highest price for what Governor Brown and the California legislature did in the mid-Seventies. MICRA also arbitrarily ties the hands of judges and juries who are the only ones who actually see, hear and evaluate the evidence of malpractice cases in the court of law.

At the time Governor Brown signed MICRA, the doctors, hospital and insurance lobbies were clamoring for this cap. They were so aggressively pressuring the governor to sign the bill that he decided not to resist, thinking that the California Supreme Court would declare MICRA unconstitutional.

Instead, MICRA survived and became a bad example for other state legislatures to emulate. “Well, if Jerry Brown and liberal California did it…” became the public argument for commercial interests elsewhere in the United States.

According to a just-released Public Citizen report, despite a slight uptick in the last year, medical malpractice payments nationally are at an historic low. Meanwhile, estimates of “avoidable adverse events” in hospitals — harms that result from the care received that result in injury or death and are unrelated to the original ailment of the patient — are rising.

The report cites a 2013 Journal of Patient Safety study, which estimated the number of “premature” hospital deaths due to error to be 400,000 per year!

Passing Prop 46 would adjust the buying power to $1.1 million for a lifetime of pain and suffering. It only makes sense — adjusted for inflation; the purchasing power of $250,000 in 1975 is the equivalent of $1.1 million today. Very modest proposal: It would also institute stringent drug and alcohol testing of doctors in California, which is another factor in rampant medical negligence.

For some unexplained reason, Governor Brown now seemingly fears the health industry lobby more than he possesses the moral courage to correct a terrible injustice that he played a part in causing. This has greatly harmed some of the most innocent and vulnerable Californians. He could have easily rectified this situation early in his third term with a large Democratic majority in the state legislature but chose not to act.

Now is the time to catch up with 1975, Governor Brown. All eyes are on California voters when it comes to addressing the ongoing crisis of medical malpractice in the United States. Whereas MICRA served as a bad example to the nation, let us now reverse the tide and set out on a positive path when it comes to deadly and destructive medical negligence and incompetency.

Time is of the essence in this matter; there is only a week until Election Day.

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Attention Next Attorney General: More Justice Wanted

By Ralph Nader
Secret laws, secret courts, secret evidence, secret dragnet snooping, too big to fail, too big to jail… the Department of Justice (DOJ) has not been fully living up to its name.

As Attorney General Eric Holder prepares to step down, it is time to look forward and ask what his replacement must bring to the table for our country. The United States has been increasingly dominated by law-dodging, self-serving big corporations. Wall Street continues its corporate crime wave; strip-mining the economy whilst providing huge bonuses to its executives. The Executive Branch has run amok with acts of imperial military aggression, unlawful imprisonment and many civilian fatalities with no legal consequences.

President Obama should strongly consider the areas that Mr. Holder’s Justice Department has failed to adequately act upon when choosing his successor. The new attorney general will have the responsibility to establish trust and confidence with the American people that their Department of Justice is doing its job sufficiently.

Here is a brief list of areas where AG Holder’s Justice Department has been inadequate in enforcement.

Corporate criminals have unrepentantly looted and drained trillions of dollars from American workers and investors, wiping out their savings and pensions. No Wall Street executives were prosecuted for their part in the economic collapse in 2008-2009.

One important step the DOJ could take is establishing a comprehensive database on corporate crime. Imagine if the Department of Education had no measures for how well our children learn or if the U.S. Department of Agriculture had no idea of how much wheat or corn our farmers grew? This is the how the DOJ operates in its handling of corporate crime today.

For street crime, the FBI oversees the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, which tracks data from over 18,000 local and state law enforcement agencies. The DOJ should launch a similar data compiling program for corporate crime. Such a database would catalog antitrust and price-fixing, environmental crimes, financial crimes, overseas bribery, health care fraud, trade violations, labor and employment-related violations, consumer fraud and damage to consumer health and safety, and corporate tax fraud onshore and offshore.

In order to enforce the law, the authorities at the DOJ must have tools in place to measure the incidence and severity of corporate crime, to determine whether its efforts against them are successful or not, and the many ways they might be improved. Establishing such a database — called for by corporate reformers for many years — could be an excellent first step for the incoming attorney general.

Another area in which Attorney General Holder has failed is his inaction on the out-of-control national security state. Holder signed off on the National Security Agency’s legal authority to sweep up the phone and email records of millions of Americans not charged or suspected of any crime. This mass dragnet snooping is a clear violation of the Constitution. Whereas Attorney General Holder failed to go after the Wall Street criminals, he disturbingly did not hold back in prosecuting whistleblowers of security state wrongdoing and their reporters.

It would greatly benefit the new attorney general to take drastic steps in protecting the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans by establishing an open legal process on how and why data is collected.

Attorney General Eric Holder has maintained that there is sufficient due process entirely inside the White House to engage in military aggression overseas without Congressional oversight or judicial review. The result is a continuation of the Bush-era secretive imperial presidency that bypasses the Constitution’s separation of powers and checks and balances in unending wars of choice.

Using drone strikes, the White House has usurped the authority to target anyone suspected of terrorist ties based on secret information, whether or not the targeted person is actually plotting an attack against the United States, and whether or not innocent family members or bystanders are nearby. The next attorney general should apply the Constitution and international law to rein in these dictatorial actions by the out-of-control White House.

The next attorney general must, above all else, respect the Constitution and the rule of law. Our country cannot afford and does not deserve an attorney general who puts political loyalty above the sworn obligation to respect and defend civil liberties, civil rights, challenge the abuses of executive power and corporate crime.

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Bowling Strikes Against the Carbon Kingpins

By Ralph Nader

Scientists agree. Businesses agree. Economists agree. Even the Pentagon agrees — climate change must be a national priority. In 2010, The National Security Strategy, a memo released by the White House, warned:

“The danger from climate change is real, urgent and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of land across the globe.”

Each year climate change and global warming are chronically worsening.

Despite this clear convergence on climate change, the only ones who won’t agree on treating it are those who hold the most power to do so — The United States Congress. The reason for their inaction, unsurprisingly, is tied to one of the biggest problems currently festering in America’s weakened democracy, the corrupting influence of money in politics.

Greenpeace has just released a new report, written by Charlie Cray and Peter Montague, titled “The Kingpins of Carbon and Their War on Democracy.” The report begins with the well-accepted premise that climate change or global warming is a catastrophic issue that requires immediate serious attention from the world’s governments. The United States, however, remains frustratingly gridlocked and paralyzed on climate change. The report says,

“In Congress, the fossil corporations’ allies are refusing to act, based on the false claim that global warming is scientifically unproven or is even a hoax perpetrated by the world’s major scientific organizations. Meanwhile the 3.6 ° F. ‘safe’ limit on global warming will soon disappear in our rear-view mirror.”

Consider the “dog-whistle” issues that consistently divide Americans such as gun laws, school prayer and abortion, and one must ask what is it about climate change — an issue that 83 percent of Americans agree on according to a 2013 survey — that creates such turmoil? What is the source of the pushback in the face of a clear convergence?

The Greenpeace report identifies that source as “a multi-decade war on democracy by the kingpins of carbon — the coal, the oil, and gas industries allied with a handful of self-interested libertarian billionaires.” The self-interested libertarian billionaires are, of course, the infamous Koch brothers whose political influence has become well-known with the rise of the Tea Party movement. Not surprisingly Koch Industries has made billions of dollars off of the use of fossil fuels.

How is such a relatively small group of millionaires and billionaires able to achieve such great success in stalling national action on an issue that has dire consequences for the majority of the people on this planet? (See my letter to wealthy individuals asking them to band together to fund advocacy on climate change.)

Look to three Supreme Court decisions to find the answer. In 2010, Citizens United v. FEC gave big corporations like Pfizer, Aetna, Chevron, GM, Citigroup and Monsanto the ability to spend unlimited funds in independent expenditures to oppose or support candidates for public office. In 2013, Shelby County v. Holder overturned a provision in the Voting Rights Act that required areas with known, entrenched racial discrimination to be required to receive clearance from the U.S. Justice Department before instituting changes in voting laws. Finally, in 2014, the McCutcheon v. FEC decision significantly raised the amount that each individual can contribute to federal candidates and federal party committees from $123,200 to $3.6 million!

These Supreme Court decisions (mostly by a majority 5-4) are clear signs of a judicial dictatorship for plutocrats that carries the rancid banner for corporate privilege and power overriding the rights of individual voters. The unelected, life-tenured corporate court continues to tighten the noose of corporatism around the American people.

The Greenpeace report reveals that 89 wealthy political spenders with ties to the coal, oil and gas industries are the leading aggressors in support of fossil fuel companies that are raising the Earth’s temperature with little regard for the rest of humanity or posterity. Because of the current state of campaign laws, most of these donors remain anonymous and regularly pull the strings of government in their favor with few repercussions.

The singular agenda of these “Carbon Kingpins” according to the report:

“Prevent Congress from taking action to mitigate global warming; Eliminate all remaining restrictions on money in federal and state elections for legislators and judges, allowing totally-secret, unrestricted donations; Cut taxes [for the corporate and wealthy classes] to starve and shrink government, to keep it ineffective; Eliminate regulations that protect the environment, and, finally, Crush labor unions and reverse the victories of the civil rights movement.”

It’s a common theme in blockbuster Hollywood science fiction movies to demonstrate how an extraterrestrial invader can prompt the nations of Earth to set aside their various disagreements and band together to defend against a common foe. Climate change is, essentially, the equivalent of an extraterrestrial enemy. Just imagine if a handful of self-interested billionaires influenced the United States to let the Martians invade? The public would not stand for it. Yet the reality in America today is that a small group of reckless corporatists have put the entire world in danger to protect their harmful, environmentally destructive industries.

Obviously, the “Kingpins of Carbon” are not going to back down when their profits are on the line. It’s going to take a rising rumble from the people to turn the tide in favor of protecting the planet for future generations.

One simple solution would be to enact a carbon tax — supported by some conservatives and companies — that would place a fee on polluters that emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. This tax would discourage the use of dirty fossil fuels and encourage clean energy alternatives to avert global warming while raising considerable revenue that could be applied to bettering life in America in other innumerable ways.

Such solutions will not enact themselves without the will of the people, however. The clock is ticking. It’s time for immediate action on climate change and global warming.

Visit democracyforus.org to learn more.

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Food Science: What’s the Harm?

By Ralph Nader

Corporate CEOs are always strategizing in their quest for greater revenues and profits. Often these strategies — and their resulting, insidious successes — have shaped our elections, our government, our education system, our media, our publicly funded research and development, our tax and credit systems, our trade agreements and so on. The world has never seen such an ingenious, power-concentrating machine as the modern, global corporation.

Even science, which ideally should carry the banner for rigid standards, openness and integrity, has suffered the undue influence and control of autocratic, commercially-driven multinational corporations. In many disturbing cases, independent science has been increasingly displaced by the far more devious “corporate science” which places profits over people, above safety, and above revealed scientific method and peer-reviewed accountability.

The food we eat is increasingly engineered by such corporate science. Biotech companies like Monsanto and DuPont have moved towards monopolizing the seed market — an antitrust investigation of Monsanto by the Department of Justice was quietly ended in 2012, and no steps have been taken by regulators since.

Monsanto, with its massive, relentless marketing and harassing litigation campaigns, has repeatedly claimed that its genetically-modified patented seeds (GMOs) are superior to traditional seeds — claiming that genetically modified foods are safe, cheaper, higher yielding, more nutritious, requiring lower chemical inputs, and resistant to drought and blight. Yet Monsanto has refused to meet its burden of proof about these claims with evidence. Moreover, it intimidates independent scientists from testing its proprietary products!

Corporate science is, above all else, secretive. The flimsy excuse of “trade secrets” is used to prevent independent or academic scientists from evaluating exaggerated corporate claims. Scientists who wish to replicate or test the biotech industry’s claims about their products find a paucity of available grants, obstructed access to the products, and a litigiously backed up refusal to disclose. Research on the migration of genetically-modified pollen from farms to non-GMO-farms; the level of developing bacterial, viral, and insect resistance to GMO-linked herbicides; and longer-run studies of the consequences of GMO seeds and crops on the environment is grossly underfunded, whether by government agencies or foundations. The cover-up continues.
One Monsanto claim is that GMO seeds provide higher yields than traditional seeds. A report released earlier this year by the USDA’s Economic Research Service showed that those claims are untrue. The report states:

Over the first 15 years of commercial use, GE [genetically-engineered] seeds have not been shown to increase yield potentials of the varieties. In fact, the yields of herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant seeds may be occasionally lower than the yields of conventional varieties.

Lester Brown, founder of WorldWatch and President of the Earth Policy Institute, puts it more bluntly: “…no genetically modified crops have led to dramatically higher yields… Nor do they seem likely to do so, simply because conventional plant-breeding techniques have already tapped most of the potential for raising crop yields.”

And there is the issue of farmers who enter into one-sided adhesion contracts with GMO seed suppliers and find themselves ensnared in a tight web of control. Under these contracts, farmers are forbidden from saving seeds (forcing them to buy new seed every season), are subject to intrusive inspection provisions, and much more. (See faircontracts.org)

Other claims, such as the long-term effects of consuming genetically-modified food remain inconclusive, largely for lack of consumer-oriented testing.

Basic openness has been pushed aside in the realm of commercialized global agriculture. Take for instance the fact that consumers overwhelmingly want the right to know what is in their food by mandating the labeling of genetically engineered food. A poll in The New York Times last year showed that 93 percent of Americans support labeling of food containing GMO’s.
Public sentiment shows that Monsanto is in trouble. While the seed production conglomerate has fought off several attempts by states to require GMO labeling, ballot initiatives to require labeling in Oregon and Colorado this November are promising developments in the food safety movement. GMO labeling has already passed in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine, although only Vermont has put the law into effect. Over 60 countries, including the members of the European Union, Australia, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, Russia and China have also required labeling of GMO’s. The new book, The GMO Deception: What You Need to Know about the Food, Corporations, and Government Agencies Putting Our Families and Our Environment at Risk is a comprehensive, definitive collection of essays by leading experts on the subject of genetically-modified food. Edited by Sheldon Krimsky, arguably the nation’s leading advocate of ethics in science, and lawyer Jeremy Gruber, this book is essential reading for those interested in the ongoing debate about the future of our food. (I wrote the introduction.) Sheldon Krimsky puts it best in his summary conclusion of the anthology:

The real and potentially adverse effects of GMOs have been understated or negated by many in the scientific community who accept uncritically a corporate-crafted message. A fair-minded and unbiased individual looking at all the evidence must reach the conclusion that there is a great deal we do not know and what we do know impels us to be both cautious and concerned, skeptical of an early manufactured consensus, and critical of a framing that fails to recognize the diversity of public objections to GMOs.

The history of corporate marketing has long used secretive corporate science and engineering to promote products. This has been the case with polluting products, pharmaceuticals, nuclear power and industrial materials and chemicals. GMOs follow these practices in the more ominous process of changing the nature of nature.

Together with resisting farmers, challenging scientists, and liberated civil servants, an aroused public will recognize that its own interests and those of posterity must be preeminent over these corporate monopolists and their short-range, narrow commercial pursuits.

For more information and to acquire a copy of The GMO Deception: What You Need to Know about the Food, Corporations, and Government Agencies Putting Our Families and Our Environment at Risk see The Council for Responsible Genetics.

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Left and Right Agree — Let Ex-Im Expire

By Ralph Nader

I have recently traveled from New York to California talking to audiences from the left, right and middle about my new book, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. The topic has been how activists from both the right and left side of the political spectrum can come together to bring about long-overdue changes in America. With the current “Do-Nothing” Congress halting progress on many important issues, there is much skepticism in America about political rivals coming together in support of common goals. But a major issue that could create unlikely allies is now coming to a head on Capitol Hill.

As a September 30 deadline looms, Congress must decide on whether or not to reauthorize the controversial Export-Import Bank. Established in 1934 by an Executive Order from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Ex-Im bank provides credit to domestic exporters and foreign importers to the U.S. The Ex-Im bank has long been accused of being little more than a corporate welfare fund, mostly for Big Business, by outspoken progressives and conservatives.

In short, the function of Ex-Im is to subsidize businesses that export American products. The major problem with this agency comes from the fact that a big bulk of Ex-Im funds go to huge, wealthy companies, such as the Ex-Im’s largest beneficiary Boeing, which in 2013 received 30 percent of its loans and guarantees. Ex-Im defenders argue that the majority of its loans go to small businesses that cannot secure financing in the private market, conveniently ignoring the crucial fact that the majority of the money goes to big businesses such as the aforementioned Boeing, as well as other giant corporations like General Electric (10 percent of Ex-Im loans and guarantees in 2013) and Caterpillar (approximately 5 percent).

Economist Dean Baker, a leading voice on the left against the reauthorization of the Export-Import, puts it best:

“If the bank backs $80 billion in loans for Boeing, General Electric, or Enron (a favorite in past days), and $20 billion for small businesses, it doesn’t matter that the $20 billion in small business loans accounted for the bulk of the transactions. Most of the money went to big businesses. That is what matters and everyone touting the share of small business loans knows it.”

It’s also important to note that the Ex-Im Bank is involved in only 2 percent of U.S. exports — the other 98 percent function just fine without its largesse. Thus the expiration of the Ex-Im would mainly affect the profit margins of a handful of big corporations.

Robert Weissman of Public Citizen explained: “Ex-Im puts the federal government in a role which ought to be filled by private lenders and insurers. It forces taxpayers to bear the risk that should be absorbed by business.”

Eighty years after its creation, the Ex-Im Bank’s stated mission of boosting American jobs is questionable, at best. And, the Ex-Im’s general lack of transparency and a growing list of allegations of fraud and corruption (as in the recent headlines regarding four Ex-Im officials accepting kickbacks) are additional red flags.

The Ex-Im reauthorization efforts have the predictable support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and many prominent Democrats and Republicans — some of whom have changed their tunes over the years. Dean Baker writes that the prospect of ending Ex-Im “prompted the most hysteria among the Washington elite since the financial crisis threatened to lay waste to Wall Street following the collapse of Lehman. As we know, when major companies have their profits on the line, the pundits get worried and truth goes flying out the window.”

Baker also criticizes GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who recently claimed it was “just wrong” for him to have to arduously make a case for the reauthorization of the Ex-Im. Baker notes that Immelt, who makes $25 million a year, has advocated cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits.

The elimination of the Ex-Im Bank was once a decidedly progressive cause. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was once extremely outspoken on Ex-Im — in 2002 calling it “corporate welfare at its worst” and writing that, “American citizens have better things to do with their money than support an agency that provides welfare for corporations that could care less about American workers.”

Nowadays, Senator Sanders is strangely silent in public on the matter of reauthorization, although he remains opposed to it.

This past July, 29 state governors sent a letter to Congressional leaders expressing their support for reauthorization — 20 Democrats and 9 Republicans. Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry and Republican South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley also expressed their crony capitalistic support of reauthorizing the Ex-Im.

From the Democratic quarters, former President Bill Clinton said during a recent panel at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum (alongside GE’s Jeffrey Immelt) that attacks on the Ex-Im were “ridiculous.”

“Economics is not theology. If you’re running a country, you’ve got to try to create an opportunity for all of your businesses to be competitive,” Clinton said.

Mr. Clinton declined to be more specific — but some of the very profitable companies using Ex-Im, such as GE and Boeing, contribute to his foundation.

During the 2008 election, then-Senator Barack Obama called the Export-Import bank, “Little more than a fund for corporate welfare.” Today, President Obama tells a very different story.

He revised his beliefs at a recent news conference:

“For some reason, right now the House Republicans have decided that we shouldn’t do this, [reauthorize the Ex-Im bank] which means that when American companies go overseas and they’re trying to close a sale on selling Boeing planes, for example, or a GE turbine or some other American product that has all kinds of subcontractors behind it and is creating all kinds of jobs and all of sorts of small businesses depend on that sale…we may lose that sale.”

Convergence works both ways, unfortunately — in this case, the political corporatists are aligning with Big Business interests. Dean Baker, a consistent voice of reason in a storm of hysteria, writes: “Just to remind everyone, the Export-Import Bank issues the overwhelming majority of its loans and guarantees to benefit a small number of huge corporations. It is a straightforward subsidy to these companies, giving them loans at below market interest rates.”

Moreover, many of these giant corporations, like General Electric and Boeing, pay little or no federal income tax on U.S.-based profits! (See Citizens for Tax Justice at ctj.org.) Keep that in mind when General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt complains about having to defend his company’s lucrative corporate subsidy to its critics.

In a role-reversal of sorts, it is now the Tea Partiers who have taken to the ramparts to condemn what they refer to as the Ex-Im’s “crony capitalism.” The Tea Party influence is having great effect — the Ex-Im bank was last reauthorized in 2012 with the full support of then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Cantor was ousted from his seat earlier this year in a primary election by Tea Party candidate David Brat, who Cantor outspent 27 to one.

Cantor’s replacement, Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), has taken note of his predecessor’s missteps. McCarthy, who voted for reauthorization in 2012, recently told Fox News: “One of the biggest problems with government is they go and take hard-earned money so others do things that the private sector can do. That’s what the Ex-Im Bank does.”

Even Speaker John Boehner, who also previously voted for reauthorization, has backed off support.

In light of this new found common ground between left and right, where are the congressional leaders on the left who once shared a similar viewpoint on corporate welfare? Their silence is deafening. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) is one of few Democrats who are still outspokenly opposed — even Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) have come out in support of the Ex-Im.

The Ex-Im bank situation presents a unique opportunity later this month to do something (ironically, through doing nothing) by letting the Ex-Im Bank’s charter expire for good.

Leaders in Congress must get over the “yuck factor” of working with their colleagues across the aisle and come together when such concurring occasions present themselves.

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Democrats Are Doomed (Unless They Make the Minimum Wage the #1 November Election Issue)

By Ralph Nader

If you were the Democrats and you were looking for a good vote-getting midterm election issue, what criteria would you use? How about an issue with 70-80 percent support in polls? How about one that is bipartisan — supported by Republicans like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and Bill O’Reilly? How about one that is national in scope, with plenty of local, grassroots energy? What about one that is simple and easy to understand, unlike Obamacare. What about one that offers tax savings and stimulates our economy understandably and is concrete — a real pocketbook issue. What about one with a big constituency, specifically 30 million hard-pressed workers and their families, needing the necessities of life?

If the Democrats want any chance of succeeding in defeating the cruelest, anti-worker, anti-consumer, corporatist Republican Party in history this November, they have to get into serious high visibility mode about raising the federal minimum wage. No more lip service or half measures! As corporate profits and CEO pay soar ever higher, 30 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! Raising the stagnant minimum wage, which has been stuck at a paltry $7.25 per hour since 2009 must be the front burner issue for the upcoming November elections.

With polls predicting that the Republicans are likely to control the House and Senate next year, President Obama better barnstorm the country and meet with hard-pressed workers of all backgrounds for a $10.10 federal minimum wage.

Just take a look at recent polling data which shows that over 70% of Americans are in favor of raising the minimum wage. That’s nearly three out of every four Americans. With such overwhelming public support, where is the Democratic leadership in Congress? Why are they just talking about it but avoiding an all-out offensive on this decisively winning election issue? If they are not willing to vigorously act in the interest of these American people, then why don’t they escalate the media buys and the grassroots organizing in the interest of the survival of the party? The minimum wage is buried as one of seven points in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) so-called “Middle-Class Jumpstart” package.

Last March, Democrats in the House of Representatives proposed an amendment to a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage. It was unanimously voted down by the clenched-teeth Republicans. Following in April, the Senate tried to bring legislation raising the federal minimum wage to a vote. Yet again, corporatist Republicans opposed raising the federal minimum wage by threatening to filibuster. The Senate leadership was short of the 60 votes necessary to defeat the emailed intention to filibuster.

Speaker John Boehner once told The Weekly Standard that he’d “commit suicide” before voting on a clean minimum wage bill. And just this week, a leaked audio from a meeting of wealthy conservative funders revealed U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowing to block any vote on the minimum wage. “We’re not going to be debating all of these gosh darn proposals,” McConnell told the audience of millionaires and billionaires. “These people believe in all the wrong things.” Shouldn’t these cruel words be widely disseminated to beat McConnell in Kentucky and his party of plutocrats in November?

The Democrats should be steamrolling these Wall Street Republicans.

The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 (H.R. 1010), sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), seeks to partially rectify the dramatic decline in the purchasing power of the minimum wage by modestly raising it to $10.10 over three years. Most Congressional observers believe that if H.R. 1010 is brought to a roll call vote, it will pass. Thus, simply forcing a minimum wage raise vote past corporatists like House Speaker Boehner and McConnell is all that is standing between 30 million Americans and fairer wages.

The benefits are many. The low wages offered by America’s profitable corporations do not just affect workers; they affect all taxpayers as well. Workers making $7.25 an hour often cannot afford to buy food, pay rent, or get adequate healthcare. As a result, these employees must turn to taxpayer-funded government safety nets such as food stamps, Medicaid, the earned income tax credit, and housing-assistance programs. A $10.10 minimum wage would make life easier for these workers and their families. It would even strengthen the economy by increasing the consumer spending of millions of Americans. Therefore it’s no surprise that some prominent out-of-office Republicans like Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty have expressed their support for raising the federal minimum wage.

Earlier this year, Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) filed a discharge petition to force an up or down vote on H.R. 1010. To date, 195 House members have signed the petition. Only 23 more member signatures are needed to bring H.R. 1010 to a vote.

There has been a stunningly insufficient effort by House Democrats, the few concerned Republicans, labor unions and poverty organizations to mount a serious effort find and persuade 23 more House members needed to activate the discharge petition to get the vote. Shockingly, few progressive leaders have raised the discharge petition to the press nor pressured non-signers publicly since March. The silence from Democratic leadership and the White House is shameful. What are they waiting for? (U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is a notable exception — he made a cross-country speaking tour this past week on the occasion of Labor Day discussing the benefits of raising the minimum wage, among other issues.)

The Time for a Raise campaign just released a study identifying 55 Members of Congress who have yet to sign H.R. 1010’s discharge petition to bring a federal minimum wage raise to a vote, but who could be susceptible to pressure on the issue. Visit Give1010AVote.org to see the report.

Here’s a fact that might jolt some apathetic citizens into action, as well as make some members of Congress sweat: While tens of millions of Americans live on a poverty-level $7.25 per hour, their hired hands in Congress, working a 40-hour work week, are making $83 per hour plus generous healthcare and pension benefits. How can these elected officials “represent” millions of Americans earning poverty-level wages? They can’t when they are beholden to the Walmarts and the Wall Streeters.

Labor Day weekend is an opportune time to press members of Congress to get serious about the necessities of 30 million long-suffering American workers. It only takes five minutes for you to call, write or email your member of Congress and ask them to sign Rep. Bishop’s discharge petition, if they have yet to. Even better, rally around the local offices of your Senators and Representatives. It’s time to get serious; it’s time to give $10.10 a vote in September.

Visit timeforaraise.org for more information on the campaign to raise the minimum wage.

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Corporations Spy on Nonprofits With Impunity

By Ralph Nader

Here’s a dirty little secret you won’t see in the daily papers: Corporations conduct espionage against U.S. nonprofit organizations without fear of being brought to justice.

Yes, that means using a great array of spycraft and snoopery, including planned electronic surveillance, wiretapping, information warfare, infiltration, dumpster diving and so much more.

The evidence abounds.

For example, six years ago, based on extensive documentary evidence, James Ridgeway reported in Mother Jones on a major corporate espionage scheme by Dow Chemical focused on Greenpeace and other environmental and food activists.

Greenpeace was running a potent campaign against Dow’s use of chlorine to manufacture paper and plastics. Dow grew worried and eventually desperate.

Ridgeway’s article and subsequent revelations produced jaw-dropping information about how Dow’s private investigators, from the firm Beckett Brown International (BBI), hired:

• An off-duty DC police officer who gained access to Greenpeace trash dumpsters at least 55 times;

• a company called NetSafe Inc., staffed by former National Security Agency (NSA) employees expert in computer intrusion and electronic surveillance; and,

• a company called TriWest Investigations, which obtained phone records of Greenpeace employees or contractors. BBI’s notes to its clients contain verbatim quotes that they attribute to specific Greenpeace employees.

Using this information, Greenpeace filed a lawsuit against Dow Chemical, Dow’s PR firms Ketchum and Dezenhall Resources, and others, alleging trespass on Greenpeace’s property, invasion of privacy by intrusion, and theft of confidential documents.

Yesterday, the D.C. Court of Appeals dismissed Greenpeace’s lawsuit. In her decision, Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby notes that “However Greenpeace’s factual allegations may be regarded,” its “legal arguments cannot prevail as a matter of law” because “the common law torts alleged by Greenpeace are simply ill-suited as potential remedies.” At this time Greenpeace has not decided whether to appeal.

The Court’s opinion focused on technicalities, like who owned the trash containers in the office building where Greenpeace has its headquarters and whether the claim of intrusion triggers a one year or three year statute of limitations. But, whether or not the Court’s legal analyses hold water, the outcome — no legal remedies for grave abuses — is lamentable.

Greenpeace’s lawsuit “will endure in the historical record to educate the public about the extent to which big business will go to stifle First Amendment protected activities,” wrote lawyer Heidi Boghosian, author of Spying on Democracy. “It is crucially important that organizations and individuals continue to challenge such practices in court while also bringing notice of them to the media and to the public at large.”

This is hardly the only case of corporate espionage against nonprofits. Last year, my colleagues produced a report titled Spooky Business, which documented 27 sets of stories involving corporate espionage against nonprofits, activists and whistleblowers. Most of the stories occurred in the US, but some occurred in the UK, France and Ecuador. None of the U.S.-based cases has resulted in a verdict or settlement or even any meaningful public accountability. In contrast, in France there was a judgment against Electricite de France for spying on Greenpeace, and in the UK there is an ongoing effort regarding News Corp/News of the World and phone hacking.

Spooky Business found that “Many of the world’s largest corporations and their trade associations — including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Walmart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald’s, Shell, BP, BAE, Sasol, Brown & Williamson and E.ON — have been linked to espionage or planned espionage against nonprofit organizations, activists and whistleblowers.”

Three examples:

• In 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, its law firm Hunton & Williams, and technology and intelligence firms such as Palantir and Berico were exposed in an apparent scheme to conduct espionage against the Chamber’s nonprofit and union critics.
• Burger King was caught conducting espionage against nonprofits and activists trying to help low-wage tomato pickers in Florida.
• The Wall Street Journal reported on Walmart’s surveillance tactics against anti-Walmart groups, including the use of eavesdropping via wireless microphones.

Here’s why you should care.

This is a serious matter of civil liberties.

The citizen’s right to privacy and free speech should not be violated by personal spying merely because a citizen disagrees with the actions or ideas of a giant multinational corporation.

Our democracy can’t function properly if corporations may spy and snoop on nonprofits with impunity. This espionage is a despicable means of degrading the effectiveness of nonprofit watchdogs and activists. Many of the espionage tactics employed appear illegal and are certainly immoral.

Powerful corporations spy on each other as well, sometimes with the help of former NSA and FBI employees.

How much? We’ll never begin to know the extent of corporate espionage without an investigation by Congress and/or the Department of Justice.

While there is a congressional effort to hold the NSA accountable for its privacy invasions, there is no such effort to hold powerful corporations accountable for theirs.
Nearly 50 years ago, when General Motors hired private investigators to spy on me, it was held to account by the U.S. Senate. GM President James Roche was publicly humiliated by having to apologize to me at a Senate hearing chaired by Senator Abraham Ribicoff (D-CT). It was a memorable, but rare act of public shaming on Capitol Hill. GM also paid substantially to settle my suit for compensation in a court of law (Nader v. General Motors Corp., 307 N.Y.S.2d 647).

A public apology and monetary settlement would have been a fair outcome in the Greenpeace case too.

But in the intervening half-century our Congress has been overwhelmed by lethargy and corporate lobbyists. Today, Congress is more lapdog than watchdog.

Think of the Greenpeace case from the perspective of executives at Fortune 500 companies.

They know that Dow Chemical was not punished for its espionage against Greenpeace, nor were other US corporations held to account in similar cases.

In the future, three words may well spring to their minds when contemplating whether to go after nonprofits with espionage: Go for it. Unless the buying public votes with its pocketbook to diminish the sales of these offending companies.

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What the Democratic Party Does Well: Doing Itself In

By Ralph Nader

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the minority leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, just had her political consultants send out a mass mailing to women asking for money and responses to an enclosed survey of their opinions.

The mass mailing duly recites the truly horrible House Republican votes against a variety of women’s health, safety and family protections and seeks to survey women’s priorities for the Congressional Democrats’ legislative agenda. Under the category titled “Employment,” there is no mention of restoring the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, which Rep. Pelosi supports. The closest option to check was “inadequate/or no salary increase.”

The Pelosi mailing, uninspiring and defensive, is another product of the Party’s political consultants who have failed them again and again in winnable House and Senate races against the worst Republican Party record in history. These consultants, as former Clinton special assistant, Bill Curry, notes, make more money from their corporate clients than from political retainers. Slick, arrogant and ever reassuring, these firms are riddled with conflicts of interests and could just as well be “Trojan horses.”

The full restoration of the federal minimum wage to make up for the ravages of inflation since 1968 would take it from the present, stagnant $7.25 per hour and beyond the proposed $10.10 to $10.90 per hour. Over 30 million American workers — two-thirds of them women and two-thirds of them employed by large low-wage companies like Walmart and McDonald’s — would benefit from this wage restoration, and in turn would be able to strengthen the economy by increasing their consumer expenditures. There are a lot of votes out there if the Democrats go beyond lip service and push for a major media and grassroots campaign against the Congressional Republicans who are blocking a vote on this minimum wage bill.

Three of four Americans favor a restored minimum wage. Some cities and states have already taken their state minimum wage toward $9.00 per hour. They’re feeling pressure from distressed workers, from growing street demonstrations and from holding their fingers to the political winds. This is an issue whose time has come. A few months ago, even Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and other out of office Republicans who are not raising money from their corporate paymasters, declared their support for increasing the minimum wage.

Bill Curry flatly says that the Democrats can retain control of the Senate and take back the House by making raising the federal minimum wage a top 2014 campaign issue. The many human interest stories about the plight of underpaid workers are compelling and would motivate more voters to turn out.

After being too inactive in 2010 and 2012, the labor movement has touted a restored minimum wage, lobbied at some state legislatures for a raise, and organized demonstrations of workers, backed by SEIU, in front of fast food and other big box chains. AFL-CIO chief, Richard Trumka, has been at demonstrations and has put out materials demanding that Congress act on H.R.1010 to take the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

However, organized labor can do more with multimillion-dollar organizing drives and ad buys (as they did in 1996). More demonstrations in more Congressional districts and more pressure on nervous Republican incumbents to sign the pending Discharge Petition to force Republican House Speaker, John Boehner, to let the House members vote on the bill could make a difference on this important fight.

Boehner is on the wrong side of this politically popular issue, but up to now he hasn’t thought the Democrats can turn this into enough votes to discharge his speakership after November. At the very least, the AFL-CIO unions should prepare a big mass media buy soon, since there are less than 100 days to the elections.

The key discharge petition in the House, to bring the modest $10.10 over three years to a vote, is assumed to have all 199 Democrats signed on. Only 19 Republicans need to sign it to get to the decisive 218 tally. Six Republican incumbents pushed for the last minimum wage raise in 2006 saying that “nobody working full time should have to live in poverty.” These six went on to vote for the raise in 2007.

The trouble is that since the discharge petition was filed by Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) in February, there has been little publicity for it by either the Democratic House Leadership or the White House (see timeforaraise.org).

And what of President Obama, who is reportedly desperate to win back the House? On April 30, he held an event with some minimum wage workers and criticized Republicans. On June 12, he announced the details of the executive order to raise wages for federal contract workers. But he is not barnstorming on this big proposal that resonates with so many people in their hard-pressed daily life. He does, however, barnstorm around the country to attend exclusive high contributors’ fundraisers. How can he not understand that, with his “bully pulpit” and hard-working Americans by his side around the country, he could raise real political heat under the Republicans whose refusal to bend on this issue could result in their breaking? The mass media, after all, covers the news-making president everywhere.

I’ve often said that the Democratic Party cannot even defend the country against the demonstrably cruel, anti-worker, anti-consumer, pro-big business/Wall Street over Main Street Republican Party. The voting evidence in Congress is fully accessible. The Democrats compiled, but did not adequately deploy a report on some 60 outrageous Republican Party House votes during the last Congress that, if really driven home to voters, would have resulted in a landslide Democratic win against the GOP. Instead, the Democrats allowed the GOP to cover its truly vicious tracks with flowery rhetoric that kept their day of reckoning from seeing sunlight (see for yourself).

My message to Democrats is: Dump your corporate consultants. Just campaign for the necessities of the people. And publicize those Republican votes crisply, widely and repeatedly.

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Find Out What You’re Buying

By Ralph Nader

The issue of government procurement is one that may not rouse the public into mass outrage such as much other pressing political and social problems — but continue reading and perhaps it will rouse you intellectually.

It is no secret that the U.S. government is a very big spender. Much like its citizens, the government regularly buys products such as vehicles, appliances, furniture, fuel, clothing, cleaning supplies, pharmaceuticals and much more. Government procurement is used to purchase telephone and Internet services, other utilities, health insurance services and more. Government-sponsored research and development has led to advancements in aviation, medicine, electronics, and even the development of the Internet. The U.S. federal government is one of the world’s biggest consumers. These hundreds of billions of dollars in purchases and investments are a driving force of the American economy — procurement creates jobs, promotes innovation and even has socially beneficial effects. It also is often associated with outsourcing waste and fraud and crony capitalism.

It took a federal procurement of automobiles with driver-side airbags in 1985 for the use of government employees to press the big auto manufacturers to finally acknowledge the life-saving protection of airbags. And we owe the civilian market for cheaper, generic drugs to purchases first pioneered by the U.S. Army.

The other side of government spending, however, is the waste, fraud and abuse that occur without proper comprehensive oversight. A perfect example is the troubled F-35 joint strike fighter program which has lifetime cost estimates of over $1 trillion and is rife with technical problems. (The test F-35 fleet is currently grounded after one caught on fire on the runway last month.)

One example of comprehensive oversight that we have long fought for is free access to the full text of government contracts online. It only makes sense — shouldn’t taxpayers have the right to see how their dollars are being spent? Comprehensive oversight is only possible when information is available to the public eye. Such access would inevitably encourage fiscal responsibility and hinder corruption. The Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act, which was signed into law earlier this year by President Obama, will address some of the challenges in documenting government spending, although it does not mandate the full text of contracts online. Considering the hundreds of billions of dollars in annual federal government contracts, grants, leaseholds and licenses that are awarded to corporations each year, much work is left to be done in adequately informing the public of how their dollars are spent.

One promising development recently came from the U.S. Navy.

Last month, The Washington Post reported that the Navy, in a small news conference, publicly announced a ranking of the best contractors that they do business with. The top 30 contractors, broken into individual work units within their larger corporations, were separated into three tiers based on their performance. (Notably, only the top nine were shared with reporters at the briefing. See the full list here.)

To my knowledge, this is the first time that any federal agency has done such a public ranking. But it should not be the last, given the massive amount of taxpayer dollars for government purchases and outsourcing every year.

Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics said at the media briefing that the Navy’s method of ranking and categorizing its contractors would be expanding to the Army and Air Force, as well.

This pioneering method could serve as a modest template for other government departments and agencies. A publicly visible ranking system with publicly explicit standards promotes competition and keeps corporations accountable for the services they are paid to provide. And making the public keenly aware of the quality of the contractors the government chooses to hire is a critical first step in taxpayers seeing a better return for their spent dollars. It’s an issue that both the left and right can and should align on — who besides the corporatists, with their hand in the cookie jar, would oppose spending taxpayer dollars wisely?

Just this week I wrote a letter to the heads of many of the government’s top contracting departments and agencies inquiring into whether their agency would follow the Navy’s lead and consider doing their own ranking of contractors and the criteria used. Perhaps an inter-agency conference between departments would significantly increase accountability and efficiency in government spending. Where is the roar of the people?

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Unpatriotic U.S. Corporations Becoming Hot Political Issue That Unites Right and Left

By Ralph Nader

CEO Greg Wasson of the giant Walgreen drugstore chain may be thinking of other things than patriotism this 4th of July. He confirmed last month that, to save on taxes, he and his Board of Directors may be renouncing the company’s U.S. citizenship and moving its incorporation to Switzerland or some nearby tax haven.

Were Mr. Wasson to quit America, where the company rose to great profits and where it receives one quarter of its annual $72 billion in sales from Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, he would be grossly underestimating the reaction of many Americans.

Following intentions by corporate welfare kings Pfizer and Medtronic to quit their native country to get further tax escapes, Walgreen is unique in that it has 8000 pharmacies — convenience stores well situated for citizen picketing.

Imagine the signs:

“Walgreen Goes For the Green Instead of the Red, White and Blue.”

Or “Walgreen: Where’s Your Patriotism?”

Or “Walgreen: Pay Your Fair Share of Taxes and Stay Loyal to the U.S.A.”

Or “Walgreen: American Taxpayers Fund Your Sales But Not If You Abandon America.”

“The average person who pays taxes cannot take advantage of the tax loopholes exploited by corporations and they don’t think it’s fair,” says Professor Klaus Weber at Northwestern University’s Kellog School of Management. Nell Geiser, associate director of Change to Win Retail Initiatives, declared that “Walgreen should show its commitment to our communities and our country by staying an American company.” While Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who has filed legislation to make it harder to move overseas to cut taxes, bluntly asserted that he is “troubled by American corporations that are willing to give up on this country and move their headquarters for a tax break.” Durbin must be upset to challenge one of the biggest corporations in his own state of Illinois.

Nonetheless, Mr. Wasson seems unperturbed by the coming uproar and damage to his 103 year old corporate brand name. He still says the company is “looking at everything” that could reduce their effective tax rate. Analysts estimate Walgreen saving $4 billion in taxes over five years.

I wonder if Mr. Wasson is ready for the public reaction implicit in Senator Carl Levin’s (D-Mich.) recent statement: “Average taxpayers are fed up with profitable U.S. corporations using tax haven gimmicks to dodge their tax obligation, while still benefitting from this country’s laws, infrastructure and workforce.”

The senator could easily have added more grist for the “fed-up” mill. These include U.S. companies shipping jobs and whole industries, encouraged by our tax laws, to fascist and communist regimes abroad that know how to keep their workers in their serfdom. Or very profitable drug companies, lathered with U.S. tax credits and U.S. taxpayer-funded research and development of new drugs, still going to China and India to make 80 percent of the ingredients in medicines that Americans buy so as to make even more profits and avoid tougher safety regulations here.

Mr. Wasson will be taking many considerations before making a decision for his company’s nearly $80 billion in annual sales. Let’s hope he does this before the public blowback starts adversely affecting the company’s stock price. Over the years, it is amazing how oblivious to public opinion and mores these overly monetized CEOs can be. All these U.S. chartered, big corporations better get used to corporate unpatriotism becoming more and more a political electoral issue.

As the U.S. Supreme Court rules again and again that corporations (never mentioned in the Constitution) are “persons” under the Constitution and in federal statutes, it should not be surprising if real people start judging them by such human values as loyalty, reciprocity, gratitude and love of country.

The days when Big Business can have it both ways — as an artificial, power-concentrating entity with special privileges and immunities, on the one hand, and all the constitutional human rights of real people on the other hand, are coming to an end. When the public sentiment changes and becomes politically and electorally operational, it won’t matter what Chief Justice John Roberts and his band of four other corporatists think. For their decisions subordinating the sovereignty of the people to the domination of corporations will be consigned to the ‘dustbins of history.’

The subject of unpatriotic corporate behavior, at huge cost to the people, is emerging as a left/right unifier.

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