The Devastating Cost of Monetized Elections

Corporatized and commercialized elections reach a point where they stand outside and erode our democracy. Every four years the presidential and Congressional elections become more of a marketplace where the wealthy paymasters turn a civic process into a spectacle of vacuous rhetorical contests, distraction and stupefaction.

The civic minds of the people are sidelined by the monetized minds of a corrupted commercial media, political consultants, pundits and the purveyors of an ever-more dictatorial corporate state.

The dominance of influence money by the plutocracy and now big business PACs, such as that of the super-rich Koch brothers is just the beginning. The monetized minds don’t just rely on their “quid pro quo” checkbooks. They foster gerrymandering electoral districts so that politicians indentured to them pick the voters instead of a legitimate congressional district’s voters picking a candidate. And the debates now are more ratings inventory for Big Media than a discussion of major issues which remain off the table.

Presidential debates are controlled by a Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) — a private corporation — created by the Republican and Democratic parties and funded by beer, auto, telephone and other corporations whose patronage includes lavish hospitality suites. Thus, through the cover of CPD, the two big parties control the number of debates, who is invited to participate and which reporters ask the questions before an approved audience.

This year, the monetized minds went further. Now a commercial cable or network television company decides the formats and who is in tier one, tier two or not included at all. The Big Media sponsors (Fox, CNN, NBC and others) decided that Mark Everson, who dropped out in November, and was the first candidate to go to all of Iowa’s 99 counties, should be excluded from the competition because he does not have a PAC sponsor and hasn’t raised enough money. Yet he is the only Republican presidential candidate with executive branch experience. Under George W. Bush, he was head of the IRS and Deputy Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Monetizing elections has predictable consequences. The ditto-head reporters, obsessed with tactics and gaffes, never ask about corporate crime, corporate welfare, the American Empire with its un-auditable Defense Department, the over $300 billion a year in computerized billing fraud in the health care industry, or why corporations are given free exploitation of our public property – such as gold and silver mines on public land , the public airwaves and the trillions of dollars of federal research given away to big business in such industries as the drug, aerospace, computer, biotech and information companies.

Commercializing elections leads to an astonishing similarity among reporters traveling with candidates or those asking questions during so-called debates.

For example, Donald Trump always brags about his business prowess as an asset for his presidential run to “make America great again” but is not pressed by reporters to voluntarily release his thousands of pages of annual tax returns to see whether his boasts are justified.

The pretentious Marco Rubio, fresh from the Florida legislature and now an absentee U.S. Senator still getting his pay, repeatedly flaunts his difficult previous experience with student loans and living paycheck to paycheck. No reporter asks why then he is opposed to raising the inflation-gutted minimum wage and has no proposal to deal with the massive yoke of $1.3 trillion in student loans, with very high interest rates.

The brazen PAC-created Senator Ted Cruz now tells his audiences that the time for rhetoric is over, and that the focus should be on a candidate’s record. Meanwhile, he gets away without having to explain one of the zaniest, hateful, corporatist, empty presences in the U.S. Senate.

The monetized minds running our elections also make sure that our civic culture and its many intelligent civic advocacy groups are sidelined when it comes to informing the voters about important issues. This is just about the most amazing exclusion of them all. Non-partisan civic leaders and specialists, people who know the most about energy, the environment, the health industry, about militarism abroad and public budget abuses at home, about taxation and electoral reforms, about law enforcement regarding corporate crime and the prison industrial complex are rarely given voice by the media, including PBS and NPR.

Look at the Sunday morning network news shows. Pundits and politicians fill the stages. The real experts don’t get interviewed; they have trouble getting into the op-ed pages of the print media and are rarely drawn on by the candidates who are too busy dialing for commercial dollars that conflict with seeking out those who work with facts, for truth and justice.

Consequently, shorn of any participating civic culture, the political culture is ready for hijacking by the commercial interests and the corporate state.

The politicians ride merrily on a torrent of words and opinions without having to explain their record, so often different or at odds with what they are bloviating. Hillary Clinton gets away with her illegal war on Libya (against the advice of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates) and the resultant chaotic bloodshed spilling over into other African countries.

None of the candidates are asked whom they would consider as their White House advisors and cabinet secretaries. This information would give voters an idea of the likelihood of broken promises.

In 2008 Barack Obama campaigned repeatedly for “hope and change.” Then after his election, he gathered for a surprise photo opportunity with Clinton retreads like the bailout, self-enrichment banker, Robert Rubin, and others known for anything but “hope and change.”

Voters, you can change all this rancid defilement of our Republic and its democratic dreams. Do your homework on the parties and the candidates, form informal groups to demand debates and agendas that you preside over, push for more choices on the ballot, make votes count over money. The internet can help speed up such efforts.

You outnumber the politicos and their entourages everywhere. You are the ones who keep paying the price for letting politics remain a deadly form of distracting entertainment with a mainstream media obsessed with the horse race rather than the human race.

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Big CEO Pay Grab-Effects Beyond Greed!

As the New Year gets underway, the highest-paid CEOs of many large corporations have already paid themselves more than the average worker will earn in the entire year! By the end of the first week of January, the highest-paid CEOs had already made as much as their average workers will earn over 8 years.

An analysis by Equilar, a consulting firm specializing in executive pay, found that on average, the 200 highest-paid CEOs make approximately $22.6 million a year, or almost $10,800 an hour, a 9.1% increase from the previous year. Meanwhile, the Census Bureau reports the average household earns approximately $53,000 a year.

Over the past fifty years, the pay gap between many highly-paid CEOs and their employees has increased dramatically. In 1965, when they also liked to be rich, CEOs made approximately twenty times as much as their average employee, meaning they would earn their workers’ average pay by the third week of January, and since the 1980s, the average difference and greed have increased. Highly-paid CEOs now make 303 times as much as their employees in a year, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute.

Equilar notes that Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav makes $156.1 million a year ($74,796.36 an hour), or approximately 1,951 times as much as his average employee. Doug McMillan, the CEO of Wal-Mart takes in $25.6 million ($12,266.41 an hour), 1,133 times as much as the average experienced store associate, who earns roughly $22,000. Other highly-paid CEOs include Larry Merlo, the CEO of CVS Caremark, who makes 422 times as much as CVS employee, meaning that he earns an average worker’s yearly pay by 1 PM on his first work day of the new year; and Goodyear CEO Richard Kramer, who pulls in as much as an average Goodyear employee’s yearly pay by 3:00 PM on January 1st.

Shareholders, the owners of those companies, do not have binding power to determine the pay of their hired help–the company bosses. The wined-and-dined selected boards of directors regularly rubber stamp massive CEO pay raises.

An additional consequence of CEOs pushing up their own wages is that the company’s accounting, stock options and stock buybacks are often shaped to further directly enrich the corporate executives. With such a vast disparity, the impact on employee morale is not good. All of these consequences for big companies are the reason Warren Buffett takes a critical view of sky-high corporate compensation packages.

As the gap between the wealthy and the working-class continues to grow, the federal minimum wage remains stagnant at $7.25 an hour, or a little more than $15,000 a year, far below the $24,000 poverty line for a family of four.

Do you find this state of affairs upsetting?

Economists see raising the minimum wage as an essential tool to fight income inequality, with an increase benefiting at least 35 million Americans, according to a 2015 study by the Economic Policy Institute.

Unlike the soaring pay awarded to highly compensated CEOs, the minimum wage has not even kept up with inflation. Department of Labor data shows that, had minimum wage increases kept up with inflation since 1968, the minimum wage would be nearly $11 today. Instead, it has lost one-third of its purchasing power.

Raising the federal minimum wage would also reduce spending on numerous social welfare programs. A 2013 study by the Center for American Progress found that by raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, the cost of enrollments in food stamp programs would decrease by $4.6 billion a year, which is why such prominent conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly and Ron Unz support a long-overdue raise.

On top of that, a minimum wage increase would also benefit the country’s gross domestic product. A 2013 study by the Chicago Federal Reserve showed that increasing the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour would increase the GDP by $22 billion annually.

In fact, raising the minimum wage can allow companies to remain profitable. A study by the United Kingdom’s Chartered Institute for Personnel Development found that when companies raised wages for their employees, the companies became more efficient, and workplace productivity increased.

Costco CEO Craig Jelenik explains that “An important reason for the success of Costco’s business model is the attraction and retention of great employees. Instead of minimizing wages, we know it’s a lot more profitable in the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment and loyalty.” Raising wages means that employee turnover is reduced, meaning that companies do not have to spend as much on recruitment and training. And because of this, Costco has an $11.50 an hour starting salary and benefits.

Jelenik is not the only CEO who supports raising the minimum wage. Other corporations that have started to pay a more livable wage include Aetna, The Gap and Ikea.

With the New Year, seventeen states saw an increase in the minimum wage, with Massachusetts being the first state in the country with a minimum wage of $10.00 an hour. In 2015, the city of Los Angeles set forces in motion to increase their minimum wage from $9 to $15 by 2020, and San Francisco plans to go from $12.25 an hour to $15 an hour by 2018. Currently, twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia and thirty-five cities have minimum wages set higher than the $7.25 federal minimum.

In the 2016 race for president, almost all of the Republican candidates are opposed to raising the minimum wage. The only Republicans who support a small wage hike are former senator Rick Santorum and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

On the Democratic side, all of the candidates endorse a higher minimum wage, with Hillary Clinton supporting an increase to $12 an hour, with no set time-frame, while both Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley support a $15 an hour minimum wage by the end of the decade.

As the 2016 gets started, it is important that CEOs concern themselves more with how they can stop denying their lowest-paid employees a fairer minimum wage than with how much more compensation they are going to demand for themselves over the next 351 days.

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12 People Who Made a Difference (and You Can Too!)

Can one person truly make a difference in the world?

Far too many people think not, and thus they sell themselves far too short. A wave of pessimism leads capable people to underestimate the power of their voice and the strength of their ideals. The truth is this: It is the initiatives of deeply caring people that provide the firmament for our democracy.

Take a sweeping look at history and you will discover that almost all movements that mattered started with just one or two people — from the fight to abolish slavery, to the creations of the environmental, trade union, consumer protection and civil rights movements. One voice becomes two, and then ten, and then thousands.

It’s fitting that this time of year marks the 79th anniversary of the sit-down strike in Flint Michigan, in which thousands of workers sat down in a General Motors factory to fight for recognition of the newly formed United Auto Workers (UAW) union. On February 11, 1937, General Motors conceded to raising wages and labor standards and recognizing the UAW, a major win for unionization in the United States.

This is an aspect of the American story that most people love and celebrate, yet sadly are quick to dismiss as being improbable in today’s partisan, corporate-dominated world. But, as I often say, real change is easier than you think.

The following twelve men and women maximized their power as citizens to improve the lives of millions of people in real, tangible ways. Let their stories serve as an inspiration to you in the coming year.

  1. Lois Gibbs. Lois Gibbs lived with her family in the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, NY when news of the toxic contamination beneath their feet made local headlines. Lois organized her neighbors into what was known as the Love Canal Homeowners Association. Her movement grew to become the country’s largest grassroots anti-toxic movement. She later founded the Center for Health, Environment & Justice.
  2. Ralf Hotchkiss. I first met Ralf at Oberlin College over 40 years ago where he was majoring in physics and moving about the campus in a wheelchair after a bicycle accident when he was in high school rendered him paraplegic. Recognizing a need for low-cost, sustainable and versatile wheelchairs, he started Whirlwind Wheelchair to teach people around the world how to manufacture their own wheelchairs in small shop facilities.
  3. Clarence Ditlow. Once described by the New York Times as “the splinter the [auto] industry cannot remove from its thumb” Clarence Ditlow is an engineer, lawyer and the Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety. He has been responsible for car companies initiating millions of lifesaving recalls, and was instrumental in the passage of “lemon laws” in all 50 states, which compensate consumers for defective automobiles
  4. Al Fritsch. A Jesuit priest and PhD, Al Fritsch was the environmental consultant at the Center for the Study of Responsive Law in Washington DC before returning to his roots in Appalachia to start the Appalachia Center for Science in the Public Interest. Using applied science and technology, Al Fritsch is a driving force for sustainability and maintaining a healthy planet.
  5. Ray Anderson. The late Ray Anderson was founder and CEO of Interface, the world’s largest modular carpet manufacturing firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. Disturbed by the hugely damaging effects of industry on the environment, he shifted his company’s directive to “make peace with the planet.” With the ultimate goal of zero pollution and 100 percent recycling for his company, he managed to move toward these objectives while reducing expenses year after year and increasing profits. Why aren’t more CEOs following his example?
  6. Annie Leonard. With her widely successful Story of Stuff project, Annie Leonard scoured the world for the stories that tell the tale of where our throwaway economy is leading us (hint: it doesn’t have a happy ending.) Her imaginative 20 minute Story of Stuff film has been watched and shared online by millions, and was turned into a book, and an ongoing website. She is now the Executive Director of Greenpeace.
  7. Wenonah Hauter. As the founder and Director of Food & Water Watch, Wenonah has fought tirelessly for the future of our food, water, energy and environment. A relentless organizer, author and activist, she is a champion in getting citizens involved in issues that matter most―the things we put in our bodies.
  8. Dr. William J. Barber. The Rev. William Barber walks with a cane but he is making big strides for justice and equality through his organizing of “Moral Mondays” protests, which first started in North Carolina. The protests started as a response to the “mean-spirited quadruple attack” on the most vulnerable members of our society. In the tradition of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Rev. Barber is fighting restrictions on voting and for improvements in labor laws. In addition to his work as a minister, Rev. Barber is the President of the North Carolina NAACP.
  9. Michael Mariotte. For over 30 years, Michael Mariotte has been a leader in successful movements against nuclear power in the United States. As the President of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), Michael has testified before Congress and spoken in countries around the world against the dangers of nuclear power and its radioactive byproducts.
  10. David Halperin. David is a tenacious advocate and tireless worker for justice who has launched several advocacy organizations and projects such as Progressive Networks, The American Constitution Society and Campus Progress. Nothing gives him greater joy than thwarting those with positions of power in our society who seek to profit from unjust practices. Most recently, Attorney Halperin has focused his considerable talents on exposing the predatory and deceptive practices of for-profit colleges.
  11. Sid Wolfe. Sidney M. Wolfe and I started the Public Citizen Health Research Group in 1971 to promote good health-care policy and drug safety. Dr. Wolfe, through his Worst Pills, Best Pills books, newsletters and outreach via the Phil Donahue show, has exposed by brand names hundreds of ineffective drugs with harmful side effects which were removed from the marketplace.
  12. Dolores Huerta. A legendary activist, Dolores Heurta co-founded the United Farm Workers Union with Cesar Chavez in the 1960’s and has a long history of fighting for social change, worker’s rights and civil justice. She was rightfully awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, amongst many other awards and recognitions.

Our country has more problems than it should tolerate and more solutions than it uses. Don’t allow cynicism to silence your voice―people matter, you matter, and systemic change will only happen when citizens speak out, gather, and believe in themselves and their ideals.

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Building a Renewable Energy Future

By Ralph Nader

The U.S. has some big problems that require bold solutions. Unfortunately, books about solutions to our society’s problems are often given short shrift by reviewers or languish on our bookshelves. As I often say, this country has more problems than it deserves and more solutions than it uses. Now comes S. David Freeman.

In 1974 David Freeman, an energy engineer and lawyer, wrote much of and directed all of the research for the book, A Time to Choose: America’s Energy Future, a comprehensive early inquiry into America’s energy crisis. A Time to Choose offered ideas galore about how our country could use efficiency and conservation to benefit the environment and the economy and ushered in a new era of energy efficiency.

Freeman has also run several giant utilities including the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), the New York Power Authority (PASNY) and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). After seven years at the TVA, he spent the next thirty advocating for and implementing environmentally sound and consumer friendly changes in energy policy. Mr. Freeman has been an innovator and leading authority on energy and environmental matters for a long time and knows what he’s talking about, so when he speaks up about energy policy we should listen.

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In January of 2016, in collaboration with his coauthor, Leah Y. Parks, he will publish a new and important book about our energy future: All-Electric America: A Climate Solution and the Hopeful Future. The book is scathing but optimistic, and manages to be bold while remaining pragmatic. Drawing on their combined years of experience, Freeman and Parks make the case for addressing the dangers of climate change with some concrete steps to counter our current downward spiral. Mr. Freeman argues that we will soon be able to power all of our energy needs with electricity generated completely by renewable energy as well as with increased energy efficiency in heating, cooling, lighting, transportation and our electric grid. The authors point out that:

Transforming our entire energy infrastructure to run on renewable energy by the year 2050 will require a larger effort than solely switching out our current electricity capacity. Investments in coal mining, oil and gas drilling and building new large coal, gas, and nuclear plants will give way to a massive increase in the construction of solar and wind power plants.It comes as no surprise that this book rejects the indiscriminate “all of the above” approach (coal, oil, gas, nuclear, solar and conservation) to generating energy and argues that we have a leadership gap when it comes to developing a clean, safe and efficient energy policy that can boost our economy:

Rapid progress toward an all-renewables future is being stymied not by lack of technology, or even by cost or market demand, but by lack of vision on the part of our political and business leaders, and lobbying and persuasive advertising by the oil, gas, coal, and nuclear industries.

President Obama, environmentally minded political leaders and most of the major environmental organizations have been promoting both the “green revolution” and the “brown surge,” supporting both renewables and the continued use of fossil fuels. They have failed to hammer home the message that a completely renewable future will be lower in cost, as well as necessity if we are to halt global warming, much less propose programs to make it happen. This is despite the fact that a long-sought bipartisan goal of U.S. energy policy has been to achieve energy independence. An all-renewable supply is the best way to do so.

 

By reducing emissions by 3 percent each year, the authors argue we would be capable of achieving a zero-emissions society in 35 years. The book manages to reconcile its lofty goals with sensible policy prescriptions. Big items on the agenda put forth in this book include:

Outlawing the building of new fossil-fueled electric power plants;

Creating a Federal Green Bank, which provides loan guarantees (not loans) for the financing of railroad electrification and for the construction of renewable electricity power plants;Requiring that all new homes and buildings be Green House Gas (GHG) -free and existing buildings be retrofitted to zero GHG at time of sale or within fifteen years; and

Requiring all major auto, truck and bus manufacturers to reduce GHG emissions of vehicles by 3 percent each year, through a combination of improvements in mileage and lower GHG emissions.

The authors also note that big energy companies and their campaign contributions from the fossil fuel and nuclear industries have stifled sound, sustainable energy policies but how, with a little focused “civic energy” we can motivate industry and utility companies to adopt cleaner practices and policies that can make 3 percent annual emissions reductions not only feasible, but profitable.

The authors also challenge the notion that nuclear power and natural gas will eliminate our climate change woes and argue that renewables are a better financial bet for the consumer than oil, coal, natural gas or nuclear power for several reasons:

Nuclear power is a poor economic risk, requiring full government (taxpayer) loan guarantees, and also because no private insurance is available for an accident that causes billions of dollars of damage.There are no fuel costs for solar and wind maintenance and it is thus virtually inflation-proof.

Renewable costs are going down while the price of oil fluctuates with an upward trend. The future price of natural gas is most likely to go up.

The savings in the indirect cost of renewables over coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power are profound. Some indirect costs include damages from environmental contamination, climate change, health expenses, managing the risks of nuclear power and military commitments–including deployments and even wars to safeguard oil from the Middle East.

When All-Electric America comes out in January of 2016 you will have a chance to make yourself knowledgeable about the real avenues available to us to transform our energy infrastructure for present and future generations by moving toward a new renewable energy economy with far more jobs, health, efficiency and security benefits than there are in relying on hydrocarbons and radioactive atoms..

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The Tradition of Charity

By Ralph Nader

The old saying “it’s better to give than to receive” is often recited around the holidays when it comes to the tradition of gift giving. This type of giving is usually centered on small, personal gifts such as items of clothing, books and delicious food. But the saying can apply to the rewards of giving beyond friends and family. Our generosity can also include long-lasting ways to benefit society now and in the future. We must ask ourselves what gifts we want to give to future generations so that their lives can be nourished.

In my book, The Seventeen Traditions, I wrote about the ideals my parents passed along to my siblings and me. The chapter on “the tradition of charity” contains the following story, which I hope will inspire some reflection and contemplation this holiday season:

One bright summer afternoon, Dad took me for a ride around town. I suspected there was a purpose to this trip beyond catching the breezes by the lake or watching the teenagers playing sandlot baseball near the high school, and I was right.

First, we drove past the Beardsley and Memorial Library. Ellen Rockwell Beardsley had started this institution in 1901, he told me, with a donation of ten thousand dollars — a princely sum at that time. He then drove up Spencer Street until we got to the Litchfield Country Hospital — the first such institution in the county in 1902, when it was built, and also a product of private charity. Down a few more roads to the other end of town, and we were at the Gilbert School, a high school that for years was regarded as among the best in the nation. The Gilbert School was launched by a local industrialist, William Gilbert, who built the world-renowned Gilbert Clock Company in Winsted. His original gift established Gilbert as a private secondary school, the Gilbert School, but it gradually became more public over the years as more tax dollars were used to supplement a declining endowment.

Turning left, my father drove up a hill to Highland Lake. Nearby there was a small, inviting park with some seats and tables for having outdoor lunches — a park established by another local philanthropist. Then we made a 180-degree turn and drove down toward the long Main Street — passing the Winchester Historical Society, founded and nurtured with charitable contributions. He drove past some other charities, including the imposing Gilbert Home for orphans and other needy children, and arrived at the beautiful Soldiers’ Monument, so central to my childhood imagination. The town had paid a dear price in casualties during the Civil War, and after the war ended a volunteer veteran and local philanthropist promoted the idea of such a memorial; it was finally dedicated in 1890. With several donated acres of hilltop land, the structure and its grounds soon became a haven for the townspeople, who still conduct summer theater there, and whose children frolic on its grounds or run around the perimeter.

When we’d finished our tour of the area, my father pulled up to our house and turned the ignition off. “See all those fine establishments in our little town?” he said to me. “Think about how important they are to our community. Then ask yourself this question: Since 1900, there were and are at least a hundred townspeople as wealthy as those philanthropists were. What kind of town would this be if those people put some of their wealth back into the community the same way?” We sat there together in silence, a light wind breezing through the open windows. While I’ve since traveled many miles to many places, I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned on that one trip.

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Unsafe At Any Speed – Fiftieth Anniversary

On the 50th anniversary of Unsafe at Any Speed we are asking those who want a stronger democracy to solve current crises to join with us in launching a new and enduring era of activism. Stay tuned for more details in the coming months.

November 19, 2015

Unsafe At Any Speed – Fiftieth Anniversary (1965-2015)

(available for purchase here)

November 30, 2015, marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ralph Nader’s landmark book Unsafe at Any Speed. The book focused on the faulty rear suspension system of the General Motors Corvair, This defect could cause the Corvair to skid violently and roll over. The corporate negligence that had produced the various Corvair defects, Nader said, was “one of the greatest acts of industrial irresponsibility.” More generally, Unsafe at Any Speed documented how Detroit habitually subordinated safety to style and marketing concerns. The main cause of automobile occupant injuries, Nader demonstrated, was not the “nut behind the wheel” so often blamed by the auto industry, but the inherent engineering and design deficiencies of motor vehicles that were woefully unsafe, especially in terms of “crashworthiness”—no seat belts, etc.

The publication of Unsafe at Any Speed led to GM’s contemptible investigation by private detectives and attempts to smear Nader, GM’s subsequent public apology at a Senate hearing, and ultimately the 1966 auto and highway safety laws that have saved countless lives and profoundly accelerated the pace of auto safety innovation.

On March 22, 1966 at a Senate hearing chaired by Senator Ribicoff, James M. Roche, the President of GM, apologized to Nader saying:

As president of General Motors, I hold myself fully responsible for any action authorized or initiated by any officer of the corporation which may have had any bearing on the incidents related to our investigation of Mr. Nader…While there can be no disagreement over General Motors’ legal right to ascertain necessary facts preparatory to litigation…I am not here to excuse, condone, or justify in any way our investigating Mr. Nader. To the extent that General Motors bears responsibility, I want to apologize here and now to the members of this subcommittee and Mr. Nader. I sincerely hope that these apologies will be accepted. Certainly I bear Nader no ill will.

This episode catapulted auto safety into the public spotlight, leading to a series of landmark laws that have prevented millions of motor vehicle-related deaths and injuries. In particular, the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed put forces in motion that brought about the passage of the law that created the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in order to assert federal leadership in auto and highway safety. The agency was empowered to set minimum, uniform safety performance and eventually fuel efficiency standards for all motor vehicles, and to require automakers to notify owners and recall cars containing safety-related defects. The episode also cemented Nader in the public mind as a fierce, incorruptible advocate and watchdog, a reputation that launched one of the most singular and enduring roles in American politics. Nader has used his considerable talents as an organizer, activist, legal analyst, and author to rally public opinion, start many citizen initiatives, and push through hundreds of reforms in business, government, and various professions.

In November of 1966, Ralph Nader’s lawyer, Stuart Speiser, filed suit against GM for its harassment, invasion of privacy, attempted intimidation, and other nefarious actions. In 1970, GM settled with Nader, agreeing to pay him $425,000, which he used to found several public interest organizations. Newsweek remarked that this settlement will in effect serve as “General Motors’ contribution to the consumer movement. They are going to be financing their own ombudsman.”

This prediction proved to be true; Nader went on to found a wide variety of organizations, all aimed at advancing corporate and government accountability. Nader-inspired groups include Public Citizen, the Center for Auto Safety, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Clean Water Action Project, the Pension Rights Center, the Princeton Alumni Corps, and the Appleseed Foundation—a nonprofit network of 17 public interest justice centers.

In addition, Nader helped establish the state-based PIRGs—Public Interest Research Groups—which are organizations that function on college campuses and in communities in 23 states. The PIRGs have published hundreds of ground-breaking reports and guides, lobbied for laws in their state legislatures, and called the media’s attention to consumer, environmental, and energy problems. Many other non-profit advocacy groups followed in the wake of these Nader-inspired organizations.

Nader also played a pivotal role in advancing and improving several major federal consumer protection laws such as the motor vehicle safety laws, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Clean Air Act, and the landmark Freedom of Information Act, and he worked tirelessly to launch federal regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

An author, lecturer, attorney, and political activist, Nader’s life-long work and advocacy has led to safer cars, healthier food, safer drugs, cleaner air and drinking water, and safer work environments. In 2006 he was cited by The Atlantic as one of the one hundred most influential figures in American history, TIME Magazine has called him the “U.S.’s toughest customer,” the New York Times has said of him that “[w]hat sets Nader apart is that he has moved beyond social criticism to effective political action,” and in 1974, a survey conducted by U.S. News and World Report rated him as the fourth most influential person in the United States.

In September of 2015, Nader received extensive media coverage for his newest project: the American Museum of Tort Law in Winsted, Connecticut—the first law museum in America.

Nader continues to work relentlessly to advance meaningful civic institutions and citizen participation as an antidote to corporate and government unaccountability. In light of recent revelations about Volkswagen’s deceptive skirting of emissions tests, Nader’s work is again proving its centrality in consumer advocacy. Not only did the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed spur the creation of many necessary organizations, it also provided a fundamental framework for protecting citizens from corporate malfeasance that is as effective today as it was in 1965.

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10 Reasons the TPP Is Not a ‘Progressive’ Trade Agreement

By Ralph Nader

“We have an opportunity to set the most progressive trade agreement in our nation’s history,” it states on BarackObama.com, the website of the president’s “Organizing for Action” campaign.

One must seriously question what President Obama and his corporate allies believe to be the definition of “progressive” when it comes to this grandiose statement. History shows the very opposite of progress when it comes to these democratic sovereignty-shredding and job-exporting corporate-driven trade treaties — unless progress is referring to fulfilling the deepest wishes of runaway global corporations.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) set our country’s progress back through large job-draining trade deficits, downward pressure on wages, extending Big Pharma’s patent monopolies to raise consumers’ medicine prices, floods of unsafe imported food, and undermining or freezing consumer and environmental rules.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is formally described as a trade and foreign investment agreement between 12 nations — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. The White House is now pressuring Congress to Fast Track through the TPP. Fast Track authority, a Congressional procedure to limit time for debate and prohibit amendments to proposed legislation, has already passed in the Senate, although only after an unexpectedly rough ride.

Here are 10 reasons why the TPP is explicitly not a “progressive” trade agreement:

1. Over 2000 progressive groups recently sent a letter to members of Congress opposing fast track. “Fast Track is an abrogation of not only Congress’ constitutional authority, but of its responsibility to the American people. We oppose this bill, and urge you to do so as well,” the letter reads. See it in full here. On the other hand, supporters of the TPP and its autocratic, secret transnational governance, include Wall Street, Big Pharma, Big Ag, oil/gas and mining firms, and the Chamber of Commerce–in short the plutocracy does not tolerate voices and participation by the people adversely affected.

2. Only six out of the 30 total chapters in the TPP have anything to do with trade. So what makes up the bulk of this agreement, which was shaped by 500 U.S. corporate advisors? Jim Hightower writes: “The other two dozen chapters amount to a devilish ‘partnership’ for corporate protectionism. They create sweeping new ‘rights’ and escape hatches to protect multinational corporations from accountability to our governments… and to us.”

3. After six years of secret negotiations, Fast Track legislation would allow President Obama to sign and enter into the TPP before Congress approves its terms. It then requires a vote 90 days after submission of this Fast Track legislation on the TPP itself and changes in existing U.S. laws to comply with its terms. No amendments would be allowed and debate would be limited to a total of only 20 hours in each chamber of Congress. By limiting debate and preventing any amendments to the agreement, Fast Track prevents challenges to any issues about how America conducts business with the countries included in the TPP. Some of the countries in the TPP — Brunei, Malaysia, Mexico and Vietnam, for example — have terrible human and labor rights records. Those conditions attract big companies looking for serf labor and their accommodating governments.

4. Millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost due to NAFTA and WTO being railroaded through Congress. The TPP would only expand these offshoring incentives. These types of deals ultimately increase the income inequality gap by displacing well-paid middle-class workers, negating any benefit to lower prices of goods. According to a report for the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), the TPP would result in wage cuts for all but the wealthiest Americans.

5. The American people have yet to see the full text of the TPP — it has been negotiated in secret and shown to members of Congress under demeaningly strict secrecy. We only know about some of its terms because of leaks. But Wall Street and industry operatives, who seek to benefit enormously from the TPP, do have access to the text. Why so selectively secretive? Supporters of the deal outright told Senator Elizabeth Warren, “[trade talks] have to be secret, because if the American people knew what was actually in them, they would be opposed.”

6. The TPP allows corporations to directly sue our country if federal, state or local laws, government actions or court rulings are claimed to violate new rights and privileges the TPP would grant to foreign firms. Firms from TPP nations operating here could attack U.S. regulations over cancer-causing chemicals or environmental concerns before tribunals comprised of corporate lawyers that rotate by day and night between acting as “judges” and representing corporations attacking governments. These decisions then cannot be challenged in U.S. courts — and U.S. taxpayers will get stuck with the bill. So much for our precious sovereignty!

7. The proponents of the TPP claim that it will raise labor and environmental standards. However, the labor and environmental standards included in the TPP are equivalent (or less stringent) to modest ones agreed upon by House Democrats and President Bush in May 2007 in trade agreements with Peru, Panama and Colombia. These provisions have not been effective — Peru has since undermined these laws, and the Obama Administration has done nothing to enforce them. Nothing in the TPP suggests the unenforceable rhetoric– cited by President Obama — will be any different now.

8. TPP will further weaken America’s regulatory watchdogs — we can’t use our own government to over-rule TPP tribunal decisions that over-rule our health, safety and economic protections as non-tariff trade barriers. Senator Elizabeth Warren told POLITICO: “This deal would give protections to international corporations that are not available to United States environmental and labor groups. Multinational corporations are increasingly realizing this is an opportunity to gut U.S. regulations they don’t like.” Keeping the United States from being first in health and safety protections is un-American.

9. Prescription drug costs will increase. The TPP includes terms that would limit access to generic drugs and curtail government power to limit the price of drugs. See Public Citizen’s report “The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) threatens access to affordable medicines.”

10. The TPP could potentially undermine reforms of Wall Street and threaten U.S. financial stability by providing the institutions that caused the 2008-2009 financial crisis a path to circumvent U.S. regulations, such as limiting capital controls and prohibiting any taxes on Wall Street speculation. See the letter sent by Senators Warren, Markey and Baldwin last year to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

For further comprehensive analysis of the TPP, see Global Trade Watch.

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Auto Safety: Past Is Prologue

By Ralph Nader

It doesn’t take a comprehensive examination of American culture to notice the all-too-commonplace glorification of war. Violent war movies and television shows routinely make big bucks for Hollywood. Video games called Call of Duty and Battlefield sell millions of copies each year. Even history books are filled with stories of “great” battles won and lost. There are even devoted Civil War reenactors!

We are quick to recognize and commemorate wars that took enormous amounts of human lives through acts of intentional violence from opposing sides. It is unfortunately quite rare to see the same public attention dedicated to campaigns where preserving human life was the only true objective.

Michael R. Lemov’s new book is about such a conflict — called “the equivalent of war” by the U.S. Supreme Court — which was fought not with guns or bombs but by concerned citizens, safety advocates, and responsive legislators in Congress. The new book, Car Safety Wars: One Hundred Years of Technology, Politics and Death (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2015), is a comprehensive history of the movement for safer cars over the course of a century. Lemov knows his stuff: In addition to being a talented author and historian, he served as the general counsel of the National Commission on Product Safety, as the chief counsel of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House of Representatives, and as a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Car Safety Wars is prime reading for anyone interested in automobiles and their development, the consumer safety movement, or the mechanisms of democratic government, or for those who are simply curious about the origins of the many auto safety features like seatbelts and airbags that now protect countless lives.

Here are some statistics to put the critical importance of auto safety into perspective. Over 3.5 million people have died due to automobile accidents since the first cars took to the roads in the early 1900s. In the 1960s, nearly 50,000 people died each year in car crashes, and millions more were injured; that’s nearly the same number of U.S. military deaths in the entire Vietnam War.

In one noteworthy chapter of his book, Lemov details the background and life’s work of U.S. Rep. Kenneth Roberts of Alabama, who was a true pioneer of safety legislation:

Roberts introduced and pushed to enactment legislation mandating that household refrigerators be manufactured with safety locks on the inside of the door, so that children who might become trapped in them could push the door open. … He introduced legislation requiring the labeling of poisonous household substances, promoting public-educational television, and bills providing for health care for migrant workers and Native Americans. Roberts was a congressman, it seemed, who was instinctively concerned about the well-being of a wide range of people.

(Many of these proposals later became law as part of larger pieces of legislation.)

In 1956, Roberts was the first representative or senator to tackle highway and automobile safety when he introduced a bill to establish a special subcommittee to study the growing crisis of injury and death on America’s roads.

The auto safety movement truly took off in a serious way with the congressional outrage following General Motors’ clumsy attempt to dig up dirt on me before and after publication of my book Unsafe at Any Speed in November 1965. The extensive congressional hearings that followed in the Senate and the House brought to light overwhelming evidence that the auto companies were knowingly suppressing the use of long-available safety devices.

Lemov writes:

During the first six decades of the twentieth century the American automobile industry seemed wedded to the idea that safe design was not its responsibility. There was no public demand, it was said, for safer automobile design. Nor did the industry seem to think it had much responsibility to inform the public about the risks of vehicle design and the omissions such as lap and shoulder belts.

Safety was not deemed a major concern in these early industry days, despite the fact that the knowhow existed: Patents for airbag technology were first issued as early as the 1950s. Instead style and horsepower were favored over things like safety and fuel efficiency. Airbags did not become commonplace until the late 1980s. Some younger readers might actually not recall a time when crash test ratings were not a fiercely highlighted aspect of car advertisements.

The seminal 1966 federal safety law that resulted from the auto safety movement has since saved 600,000 lives. The highway death toll has dropped from roughly 50,000 deaths per year in the 1960s to roughly 30,000 deaths per year today, even though far more vehicles are now traveling far more miles. Together, highway death and injury rates have been lessened by 70 percent.

There are unfortunately few national problems that are less serious today than they were 50 years ago. The fact that our roads are safer is a testament to the power of public sentiment, citizen advocacy and a government that acts to promote the welfare of its people, not the interests of big business. In this sense, the “car safety war” is certainly a war worth studying, reflecting on, and celebrating.

However, the battle still rages on. A record 50 million cars were recalled in 2014 for safety defects. With recent developments regarding defective ignition switches from General Motors, defective airbags from Takada Industries, exploding Jeep Grand Cherokees from Fiat Chrysler, Toyota’s sudden acceleration, and many other dangerous defects that have been uncovered in the past few years, it’s clear that vigilant watchdogs are needed now as much as ever. Fortunately, we presently have some law enforcement tools to make the auto companies correct their deficiencies or face penalties and lawsuits — both good deterrents.

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Stop Corporate Welfare Kings and Tax Escapees From Strip-mining America

“Tax day” comes and goes each year, but unfortunately, the systemic issues that plague American taxpayers linger on without resolution well past the mid-April deadline.

The U.S. tax code has long been manipulated by corporate lobbyists and their corporate tax attorneys. (President Jimmy Carter once called the loophole-ridden tax laws “a disgrace to the human race.”) A primary purpose of these perforations is to arrange the law and regulations so that certain categories of profit-rich companies can avoid paying their fair share to Uncle Sam.

In many states, it is a literal race to the bottom for elected officials to offer corporations sweeter tax deals to keep jobs in their locality — see the 2013 Boeing controversy in the state of Washington, in which the aerospace industry, much of which is made up of Boeing, was awarded $8.7 billion in tax breaks over 16 years to produce the 777X jetliner in-state. Notably, Boeing paid zero in federal income tax that year — along with many other major U.S. corporations such as GE and Verizon. Some of these Fortune 500 companies even get a rebate check!

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, “American Fortune 500 corporations are avoiding up to $600 billion in U.S. federal income taxes by holding more than $2.1 trillion” of retained profits offshore, which they designate as “permanently reinvested” to avoid a tax liability.

And of course, millionaires and billionaires often pay less in taxes than middle-class Americans do, taking full advantage of tax loopholes, deductions, deferrals and other forms of creative accounting. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives now intends to pass legislation to repeal the estate tax, which would see that “vast amounts of money that has never been taxed will be passed tax-free to the heirs of today’s billionaires,” according to Scott Klinger of the Center for Effective Government.

The end result is that, through a myriad of tax avoidance schemes, the wealthy 1 percent continue to profit using public resources, subsidies and infrastructure while the 99 percent disproportionately pay the bills for it — all while struggling to pay their own bills, mortgages, student loans, and more. And when Wall Street runs amok, it’s the taxpayers who have paid the bills for the catastrophic damage as a result of regulatory surrender. Millions of these taxpayers also lost their jobs and pensions in the 2008-2009 Wall Street collapse of our economy.

This brings us to the Internal Revenue Service — which has been made into a dirty word to many Americans. Those Americans might be surprised to learn, however, that the current IRS enforcement budget is $10.9 billion, after a cut of $346 million from the previous year. To put that in perspective, Apple Inc. spent $14 billion just to buy back its own stock last year, a move that only serves to provide a meager benefit, if that, to its shareholders, while nourishing executive compensation packages.

The IRS loses an estimated $300 billion a year due to tax evasion. A budget proposal by the Obama administration claimed that the IRS could bring in an additional $6 for every dollar it adds to the enforcement budget. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said that he pushes this very convincing point in Congress to little reception or reaction. “I say that and everybody shrugs and goes on about their business,” he told the AP in 2014. “I have not figured out either philosophically or psychologically why nobody seems to care whether we collect the revenue or not.”

The effects of these budgetary cuts are already being seen. Current staffing levels at the IRS are at 87,000 — the lowest since the early 1980s. The agency lost 13,000 employees from 2010 to 2014 and expects to lose another 3,000 this year. In the final stretch towards April 15, many taxpayers have experienced excruciatingly long waits on hold and long lines at local IRS offices as a result. Congress doesn’t care. (National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, who operates independently within the IRS, detailed this degradation of service in her annual report to Congress. (See taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov.)

Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has gone so far as to publicly state his intention to abolish the IRS entirely, calling that radical course of action the “simplest and best tax reform.” It’s not clear how Senator Cruz intends the federal government to collect revenue to pay for his presidential salary, the White House budget and expanding his giant military budget if he should be elected and not recover his senses.

It is clear, however, that significant rational tax reform is necessary. What remains unclear is who will benefit the most from such reform. Americans must seriously ask why individual U.S. taxpayers are fronting the money for hugely profitable corporations. These are funds that could potentially be used to repair critical public infrastructure, create decently paying jobs, or simply reduce the tax burden on middle-income individuals.

One solution to ensure that the interests of small taxpayers are accounted for and protected is to establish taxpayer watchdog associations across the country. These organizations would work full-time in each state to make sure that individual taxpayers get the best deal possible. After all, big corporations can afford to support an army of tax accountants and attorneys to continually update the playbook of tactics to avoid having to pay their fair share. Most taxpayers don’t have this luxury. What they do have, however, is sheer force of numbers. Organization of such watchdog organizations could be facilitated by including a notice on the 1040 tax return inviting people to pay a small due and join these advocacy and educational nonprofit groups. These associations would be supported by membership dues and would receive no tax money. The members would elect a board of directors that could hire researchers, organizers, accountants and lawyers.

Such pressure from united citizen bodies would provide the organizational mechanism to enhance the influence of individuals in the tax-collection and policy-making process — something that is much-needed in our current American plutocracy.

A simple motto to consider when asking what we choose to tax is: “Tax what they burn, not what we earn.” Before we place the largest burdens of taxation on workers, we should tax areas that have the greatest potential negative or damaging influence on our economy and our society. Tax the polluters, the Wall Street speculators, the junk-food peddlers, and the corporate criminals. Consider that just a fraction of a 1-percent sales tax on speculation in derivatives and trading in stocks could bring in $300 billion a year! (See robinhoodtax.org.)

If taxpayers really want to protect their interests, they must organize and fight for them. The corporations certainly have the money — but they can’t match the manpower or votes of an organized citizenry.

In the meantime, big corporations on welfare like Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Pfizer, General Electric, Weyerhaeuser, and ExxonMobile should declare April 15 to be Taxpayer Appreciation Day. The corporate welfare kings should have the decency to, at least, thank smaller taxpayers who pay for all the freeloading that the corporatists have rammed through Congress. (See goodjobsfirst.org for much more on this issue.)

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Start With Red Corporate Faces On the Golf Course

Should you ever find yourself in the unique situation of being out on a golf course alongside some big time CEOs of major corporations, here’s a fun experiment to try. It’s very simple — just ask the CEOs for their opinion on welfare. Many CEOs — who typically make thousands of dollars an hour — might spout the old “stand on your own two feet instead of relying on government assistance” rhetoric. Should that be the case, you should point out that there are hundreds of programs in existence that directly or indirectly provide billions of dollars of taxpayer money to corporations. The left calls this corporate welfare, the right calls it crony capitalism, but the sentiment is the same.

“Well, my company doesn’t do that,” a CEO or two might protest.

Oftentimes, that denial might be enough to end the conversation. Some information about these subsidies is available to the public… but it is often buried away in dense reports and not easily obtainable, which of course makes it far easier for these corporations and their top executives to squirm away from the uncomfortable truth about how much money they take from American taxpayers.

Here’s something that might make our golf course experiment a little more interesting.

The Subsidy Tracker (subsidytracker.org) is a webtool designed by the nonprofit organization Good Jobs First. An ongoing work-in-progress since 2010, the Subsidy Tracker compiles information on grants, special tax credits, loans, loan guarantees, and bailouts into an easily usable online search engine by company name. The most recent update adds information on federal subsidies, in addition to state and local government subsidy data.

Subsidy Tracker now features data on 441,000 payments from 704 programs across the country. More data is being added regularly. The easy availability of this data means no more hiding inconvenient information for corporations on the dole.

To conclude our little hypothetical experiment, you can use your smartphone to search for those CEO’s companies on the Subsidy Tracker and present to them the hard facts about how much they take from American taxpayers…and see how it affects the rest of their golf score.

In addition to the updated Subsidy Tracker, Good Jobs First has released a new report called Uncle Sam’s Favorite Corporations: Identifying the Large Companies that Dominate Federal Subsidies. This report covers the latest revealing data about federal government subsidies to named big corporations―such as the fact that two-thirds of $68 billion in subsidies and tax credits have gone to big corporations over the past 15 years.

The report states:

“Six parent companies have received $1 billion or more in federal grants and allocated tax credits (those awarded to specific companies) since 2000; 21 have received $500 million or more; and 98 have received $100 million or more. A group of 582 large companies account for 67 percent of the $68 billion total.”

Bigtime freeloaders!

Energy companies are some of the biggest recipients of grants and tax credits. Spanish energy company Iberdrola received $2.2 billion. NextEra Energy, NRG Energy, Southern Company, Summit Power and SCS Energy all received more than $1 billion.

As for government bailouts, Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase have all received hundreds of billions of dollars in guarantees of their toxic paper. (All of these banks, notably, have had to pay large fines in recent years for misconduct despite being rescued by American taxpayers.) Corporate welfare kings!

Household corporate names like Boeing, General Electric, General Motors and Ford are also prominent on the subsidy lists, receiving substantial amounts of both federal, state and local funds.

If the idea of these companies receiving so much of your taxpayer money isn’t enough to get you steamed, consider this: Some recipients of these subsidies are benefiting while also avoiding paying taxes. Enter Uncle Sam the sucker!

The report states:

“Federal subsidies have gone to several companies that have reincorporated abroad to avoid U.S. taxes. For example, power equipment producer Eaton (reincorporated in Ireland but actually based in Ohio) has received $32 million in grants and allocated tax credits as well as $7 million in loans and loan guarantees from the Export-Import Bank and other agencies. Oilfield services company Ensco (reincorporated in Britain but really based in Texas) has received $1 billion in support from the Export-Import Bank.”

Check out subsidytracker.org for yourself and see how companies are taking advantage of these government subsidies. You might be surprised by the number of corporations that are on corporate welfare. Some may freeload where you live and work.

It’s time for a serious public rebellion to curtail welfare spending on giant, profitable corporations who use our public services and infrastructure, ship American jobs to dictatorial regimes overseas and even brazenly avoid paying their share of taxes to Uncle Sam. This is a clear left/right convergence issue that has been muddied by corporatist rhetoric about free markets and self-reliant capitalism for far too long.

For more on this topic, listen to my 20-minute, agitating conversation with Philip Mattera of Good Jobs First, the courageous creator of the Subsidy Tracker and co-author of the “Uncle Sam’s Favorite Corporations report.”

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