Uncontrollable — Pentagon and Corporate Contractors Too Big to Audit

The Reuters report put this colossal dereliction simply: “A law in effect since 1992 requires annual audits of all federal agencies—and the Pentagon alone has never complied.”

All $585 billion and more, e.g., for the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, of your money—not just unaudited, but, in the sober judgment of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of the Congress, this vast military budget is year after year UNAUDITABLE. That means that the Congressional auditors cannot obtain the basic accounting data to do their job on your behalf.

Auditing the Department of Defense receives left/right support, from Senator Bernie Sanders (Dem. VT) to Senator Ted Cruz (Rep. TX).

H.R. 942, the “Audit the Pentagon Act of 2014,” is supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives. In the statement announcing this legislation, the sponsors declared “The Treasury Department’s Financial Report of the US Government for fiscal year 2012 shows the DOD yet again has nothing to audit—its books are a mess. In the last dozen years, the Pentagon has broken every promise to Congress about when DOD would pass an audit. Meanwhile, Congress doubled Pentagon spending.”

Republican right-winger, Mike Conaway (Rep. TX) used to be a CPA in private life. At a Congressional hearing in 2011, he told Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “I go home to folks in West Texas, and when they find out the Department of Defense can’t be audited, they are stunned.” His constituents may be more stunned to learn that their Congressman also voted for all expanding defense budgets, which is why H.R. 942 is going nowhere unless the people rally to make auditing the Pentagon a presidential election issue.

Secretary Gates and his successor Secretary Panetta agree with Rep. Conway’s observations. Yet it has seemed that the military—this huge expanse of bureaucracy, which owns 25 million acres (over seven times the size of Connecticut) and owns over 500,000 buildings in the U.S. and around the world—is beyond anybody’s control, including that of the Secretaries of Defense, their own internal auditors, the President, tons of GAO audits publically available, and the Congress. How can this be?

Enormous scandal after enormous scandal is reported by newspapers such as Reuters, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal and by news services such as Associated Press and ProPublica. Citizen groups from the left and Right excoriate this runaway budget, including the national Taxpayers Union, POGO, and Taxpayers for Common Sense. TO NO AVAIL!

Have you heard of the $43 million natural gas station in Afghanistan that was supposed to cost $500,000? Do you know about the $150 million villas that were built for corporate contractors in Afghanistan so they could spend another $600 million advising Afghans about starting private businesses in that war-torn country?

Or how about purchase of billions of dollars of spare parts because the Army or Air Force didn’t know the whereabouts of existing spare parts in forgotten warehouses here and there? What about the $9 billion the Pentagon admitted could not be accounted for in Iraq during the first several months of the invasion?

The list goes on, together with massive cost over-runs by the private contractors that are rewarded with more contracts. Soldiers get dirty drinking water, bad food, inadequate equipment, and security breaches by these contractors. No matter.

President Eisenhower’s farewell warning about the “military-industrial complex” becomes ever more of an understatement as it devours over half of the entire federal government’s operating budget.

Mike McCord, the Pentagon’s chief financial officer, has some startling explanations for why the Department is not ready for an audit. It’s not the Department’s “primary mission,” he says, which is “to defend the nation, fight and win wars.” He continues: “We’re too big to just sort of blow up all our systems and go buy one new, gargantuan IT system that runs the entire Department.”

Where are the accounting standards groups when we need them to speak up?

Mr. McCord certainly knows how to enhance his job security. Why no Pentagon audit? Too big to audit? No. Just too many scandals, too much waste, gigantic weapon system redundancies, overlaps between military branches, and many sinecures in bloated, inflexible bureaucracies, so often condemned by commanding generals in the field.

McCord himself has pointed to the areas in which he prefers to cut costs in order to save money: Congressionally-opposed base closures, retiree costs, and consolidating “its Tricare health system.”

In the final analysis, the principal culprits, because they have so much to lose in profits and bonuses, are the giant defense companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and others that lobby Congress, Congressional District by Congressional District, for more, more, more military contracts, grants and subsidies. They routinely hire ex-Pentagon specialists and top brass who know how to negotiate the ways and means inside of the government.

President Eisenhower sure knew what he was talking about. Remember, he warned not just about taxpayer waste, but a Moloch eating away at our liberties and our critical domestic necessities.

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Who Owns American Skies – the People or the Skyjacking Airlines?

That’s a question currently being asked by legislators in the halls of Congress. Without a muscular pushback from the public, the big airlines could claim the American airspace as their own to tax and regulate, without any significant compensation to the American taxpayer and no oversight from elected officials. Talk about getting skyjacked!

An amendment in the 273-page FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) reauthorization bill― H.R. 4441 ―currently moving through Congress means to remove air traffic control from the authority of the FAA and hand it over to a private, not-for-profit corporation. This new corporate-controlled body would be responsible for the over 50,000 flights that take off each day without any input from Congress or the American people. The Washington Post reports: “The House bill to create the federally chartered corporation would transfer about 38,000 federal workers, including 14,000 controllers who now work for the Federal Aviation Administration.” This amounts to a staggering nearly 80 percent of the FAA’s workforce. It would also give away billions of dollars’ worth of air traffic controller equipment to this private body.

Spearheading the charge for air traffic control privatization is House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) who states that his bill, called the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization [AIRR] Act, will lead to the “transformational improvements we need in order to modernize our nation’s aviation system.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Rep. Shuster is the top recipient in the House of Representatives of airline industry contributions, and has even admitted to being involved “personally” with a top lobbyist from Airlines for America, a trade association representing most of the major airlines, which is a leading advocate for air traffic control privatization.

This old song and dance routine might sound familiar to those who have paid attention over the years to the corporate-funded propaganda campaign that aims to convince the public that corporations can manage and deliver services more efficiently and at less cost than democratically-controlled governments.

One chief criticism against the current air traffic control system is a $40 billion FAA modernization program known as “NextGen” that is behind schedule. However, implementing a seismic shift in airspace authority is choosing to solve a problem that isn’t causing any major issues for travelers – the air transportation system – as it is not fundamentally broken, and the United States has the safest air travel in the world, which is remarkable when you consider that it is also the most active and most complex system in the world. Under this new plan, air traffic control navigation would shift from a ground-based radar system to a new, satellite-based method.

“Running a science experiment with the most complex airspace in the world comes with a lot of risk, including the uncertain futures of thousands of workers at FAA,” said Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) at a recent House Transportation Committee panel. (The airline-industry dominated panel approved the bill on a 32-26 vote and it will move on to the House floor.)

Most of the major airlines are, not surprisingly, in support of this new measure with one notable holdout — Delta Airlines. Delta released a study that found that “Travelers could have to cover 20-29 percent higher costs if the U.S. moves to a private ATC [air traffic control] organization.” Advocates for privatization often cite the privatized air traffic control systems of Canada and the United Kingdom as models to aspire to. According to Delta’s study however, during the first six years of implementation of the private model, “Canada saw an additional 59 percent increase on ATC-related fees. In the United Kingdom, ATC fees rose 30 percent.”

With potential higher costs to travelers, not to mention the risk of transitioning to a new untried and untested satellite system, what exactly is the American flying public gaining from this deal?

In an op-ed in USA Today, Captain Steve Dickson, senior vice president of flight operations for Delta Airlines, writes: “It just doesn’t make sense to remove the system responsible for the safe operation of our skies from the safety oversight of the FAA. The FAA is the gold standard against which every other nation’s airspace is measured. Do we have more work to do to improve the efficiency of our nation’s airspace? Yes. Is privatizing the answer? No.”

With a March 31st deadline looming to reauthorize funding for the FAA, Congress must either pass a new bill or extend the current legislation. This must-act scenario is like blood in the water to the privatization sharks that see an opportunity to reap even greater profits out of America’s skies.

Call (202-224-3121) and write your member of Congress and let them know that corporatizing America’s air traffic control system is a bad deal for the flying public.

For more information see stopairtrafficprivatization.com.

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What Will Many Bernie Sanders Voters Do After July?

The hard-bitten, corporatist Democrats are moving Hillary Clinton through the presidential primaries. They are using “Republican-speak” to beat down Bernie Sanders as favoring Big Government and more taxes and they may unwittingly be setting the stage for a serious split in the Democratic Party.

What is emerging is the reaction of millions of Sanders supporters who will feel repudiated, not just left behind, as the Clintonites plan to celebrate at the Democratic Convention in July. The political experience gained by the Sanders workers, many of them young, helped Sanders register primary victories over Hillary in Colorado, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Vermont and New Hampshire with their energy and votes. They came close in Nevada and Massachusetts and probably won in Iowa.

Hillary’s rhetoric has outraged Sanders’ supporters. She berates Sanders regularly for not being practical or realistic about his Medicare-for-all, breaking up big banks, a $15 minimum wage, a tax on Wall Street speculation and carbon and getting big money out of politics. Clinton’s putdowns exemplify why so many people who back Sanders want to defeat her. Clinton is the candidate of the status quo, favored over all other candidates from both parties by the Wall Street crowd and quietly adored by the military-industrial complex who see Generalissima Clinton as a militarist who would maintain the warfare state.

Democrat Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, derided this “We Shouldn’t Even Try” attitude common among many frightened Democrats. These are, in Reich’s words, “the establishment Democrats – Washington lobbyists, editorial writers, inside-the-Beltway operatives, party leaders and big contributors who have grown comfortable with the way things are.” These hereditary Democrat opinion-shapers tell their audiences that Hillary personifies experience and electability. They argue it is either Clinton or Trump or some other crazed Republican.

Here we go again. Every four years, the Democratic leaders define the Democratic candidate by how bad the Republicans are. This is designed to panic and mute their followers. Every four years, both parties become more corporatist. Sanders’ voters want to define the Democratic Party by how good it can be for the people. And these Sanders voters may not go back into the Democratic Party fold.

Low turnout for the Democratic Party’s primaries is being compared to a much higher Republican voter turnout for their candidates. Low turnout in November would dim Hillary’s chances in an electoral college, winner-take-all system.

Such Democratic Party misfortune can become more likely should Bernie endorse Hillary at the Democratic Convention without any conditions or her acceptance of his agenda, assuming she is the nominee. Last year he declared that he would endorse “the Democratic nominee.” Certainly, all the Democratic politicos in the Congress who endorsed Hillary set no conditions. The large labor unions that went with Hillary are known for giving their endorsements without receiving any benefits for workers. So, Hillary would have no mandate should she win the election. And you know that Clintons without mandates tend to bend toward Wall Street and rampant militarism.

It is doubtful whether Hillary will credibly adopt any of Bernie’s agenda, considering where her campaign money is coming from and how unwilling she is to alienate her circle of advisers.

Where does this leave the Sanders people who see Hillary as experienced in waging wars, qualified as an entrenched pol, and realistic to suit the plutocracy’s tastes, and not really getting much of anything progressive done (alluding to the ways she has described herself)?

The energetic Sanders supporters, including the Millennials who voted so heavily for Bernie, could form a New Progressive movement to exercise a policy pull on the establishment Democrats before November and to be a growing magnet after November with the objective of taking over the Democratic Party starting with winning local elections. This will have long-term benefits for our country.

To those who point to history throwing water on such a potential breakout, I tell them to look at the 2016 presidential primaries. All bets are off when political debates become big media business with huge ratings, and when a gambling czar and builder of expensive real estate, Donald Trump (a hybrid Rep/Dem), is overturning all the old homilies about presidential politics, and is in a primary contest with two freshmen Senators whose vacuous ambitions are their only achievements.

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The Conundrums of Justice Scalia

The passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin “Nino” Scalia evoked widespread commentary about how outspoken he was both on the Court and at law schools and other forums where he often lectured and sometimes tangled with audiences. Knowing of Justice Scalia’s unusual expressiveness for a jurist, my colleague Robert Weissman and I wrote him a challenging letter in 2006, starting with these words:

We are writing to inquire as to how the application of the Bill of Rights and related constitutional protections to the artificial creations known as corporations can be squared with a constitutional interpretation theory of “originalism.”

We referred to the Supreme Court case which was falsely reported to have decided that a corporation is a person. This was the 1886 case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. This case dealt with a taxation matter and the Court neither decided the personhood issue nor did it even address the issue. Instead, the court reporter (or scribe as he was called), a former railroad company president, simply wrote in the headnotes that, “Corporations are persons within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States…”

Despite this fraudulent representation of the Court’s opinion, subsequent Supreme Court cases started extending Bill of Rights protections to corporations. Nowhere in the Constitution is there any mention of the words “corporation” or “company.” The word “person” meant to the framers, in those early days, a human being; the framers never said a company or corporation is a person. The Preamble of the Constitution, we should remember, starts with, “We the People,” not “We the People and the Corporations.”

This is no minor distinction. Corporations have seized on this equivalence with being a “person,” to escape health and safety regulation, consumer and labor rights, and even strong regulation or prohibition of tobacco advertising that pushes a product known to take 400,000 American lives a year.

Corporate lawyers and judges have continued to use “equal protection of the law” to include corporate behavior. In 1988, I wrote a New York Times op-ed with public interest lawyer Carl Mayer. In this opinion piece titled “Corporations are Not Persons” we argued that:

The corporate drive for constitutional parity with real humans comes at a time when legislatures are awarding these artificial persons superhuman privileges. Besides perpetual life, corporations enjoy limited liability for industrial accidents such as nuclear power disasters, and the use of voluntary bankruptcy and other disappearing acts to dodge financial obligations while remaining in business.

The legal system is thus creating unaccountable Frankensteins that have human powers but are nonetheless constitutionally shielded from much actual and potential law enforcement as well as from accountability to real persons such as workers, consumers and taxpayers.

Justice Scalia espoused the doctrine of “originalism,” which meant that in cases, he interpreted the Constitution by the “original public meaning” of the words written by the framers, as understood nearly 240 years ago. That was, he believed, the only way to insulate the Constitution from the personal values of judges and the political winds of the day. He often derided “nine unelected lawyers” usurping the popular will of the people by Court opinions that were the equivalent of legislative enactments.

Some months after we sent our letter, lo and behold, Justice Scalia telephoned me. After some conversation about a possible event at the American University Washington College of Law, I put the question to him. How can his “originalism” square with giving corporations the rights of personhood? He replied that a clear case of corporate personhood had not come to the Court, so he hadn’t “researched it,” and when such a case did, he would research it and decide.

Then he added that, like Social Security, which he believed to be unconstitutional, the according of corporations the rights of personhood is so deeply embedded in our socio-economic fabric, that it is unlikely the status quo could be reversed. After a few minutes of further discussion, I said that I was looking forward to reading his forthcoming opinions, to which he jocularly replied, “You poor devil,” and said goodbye.

Vintage Scalia, alright! Yet there were other sides to Justice Scalia. He was a major force in Bush v. Gore’s 5-4 majority opinion that stopped the Florida Supreme Court’s ongoing order for a full state recount. In an utterly specious, brazenly-political opinion by the five Republicans on the Court, the recount was stopped and George W. Bush was “selected” as President by five unelected lawyers. When questioned in public about this decision, he replied injudiciously “get over it.”

Justice Scalia recently told C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb that adherence to the text of the Constitution meant that he rendered opinions opposite to what he would have liked to decide. Presumably these include criminal defense opinions where he joined with the liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

By and large, however, Justices bring their political values about power, its distribution and impact, to their work on the Court. Justice Scalia was a corporatist, as displayed by his vote in the Citizens United case in 2010 overruling precedent and giving corporations the power to spend money without dollar limitations to support or denounce candidates for public office. Justice Scalia was inclined, with important exceptions, to defer to executive power against civil liberties. He was also inimical to fuller voting rights and hostile to government regulation of business and allowing class actions by consumers and workers.

Leading conservative thinkers often took him to task. Professor of law, Richard A. Epstein excoriated Justice Scalia’s judicial activism, especially his hostility to taxpayers “standing” to sue the government and Congress “for overstepping their Constitutional authority.” “Justice Scalia,” concludes the University of Chicago scholar, “takes a blatantly anti-originalist position by reading into the Constitution limitations found neither in its text nor its basic structure, nor in the general judicial practice running deep in our history.”

A more startling put-down from the celebrated conservative jurist and former academic colleague of Justice Scalia, Richard A. Posner, came in a lengthy critique of Scalia’s 2012 book, Reading Law: the Interpretation of Legal Texts. Judge Posner’s article was called “The Incoherence of Antonin Scalia.” The late Justice would have enjoyed debating the accusation.

People have strong opinions about Justice Scalia, but most would agree that he did make people think.

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Hillary Clinton Sugarcoating Her Disastrous Record

Bernie Sanders is far too easy on Hillary Clinton in their debates. Clinton flaunts her record and experience in ways that Sanders could use to expose her serious vulnerabilities and disqualifications for becoming president. Sanders responds to Clinton’s points, but without the precision that could demolish her arrogance.

For example, she repeatedly says that Sanders has not levelled with people about the cost of full Medicare for all, or single-payer. Really? In other countries, single-payer is far simpler and more efficient than our present profiteering, wasteful, corporatized healthcare industry. Canada covers all of its citizens, with free choice of doctors and hospitals, for about $4,500 per capita, compared to the over $9,000 per capita cost in the U.S. system that still leaves tens of millions of people uninsured or underinsured.

Detailed studies in the New England Journal of Medicine show big savings from a single-payer system in our country.

It is Hillary Clinton who is not levelling with the people about the costs of maintaining the spiraling U.S. costs of drugs, hospital stays and insurance premiums that are the highest in the world. The costs include: 1) the waste of well over $1 trillion a year; 2) daily denials of coverage by the Aetnas of the corporate world; 3) about forty thousand Americans dying each year, according to a peer-reviewed Harvard Medical School study, because they cannot afford health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time; and 4) daily agonizing negotiations over insurance company denials, exclusions and bureaucratic paperwork that drive physicians up the wall.

Clinton hasn’t explained why she was once for single-payer until she defined her “being practical” as refusing to take on big pharma, commercial hospital chains and the giant insurance companies. She is very “practical” about taking political contributions and speaking fees from Wall Street and the health care industry.

As one 18 year-old student told the New York Times recently about Clinton, “sometimes you get this feeling that all of her sentences are owned by someone.”

This protector of the status quo and the gross imbalance of power between the few and the many expresses perfectly why Wall Street financiers like her so much and prove it with their large continuing monetary contributions.

Hillary Clinton is not “levelling with the American people,” when she keeps the transcripts (which she requested at the time) of her secret speeches (at $5,000 a minute!) before large Wall Street and trade association conventions. Her speaking contracts mandated secrecy. Clinton still hasn’t told voters what she was telling big bankers and many other industries from automotive to drugs to real estate developers behind closed doors.

She has the gall to accuse Bernie Sanders of not being transparent. Sanders is a presidential candidate who doesn’t take big-fee speeches or big donations from fat cat influence-peddlers, and his record is as clean as the Clintons’ political entanglements are sordid. (See Clinton Cash by Peter Schweizer.)

But it is in the area of foreign and military affairs that “Hillary the hawk” is most vulnerable. As Secretary of State her aggressiveness and poor judgement led her to the White House where, sweeping aside the strong objections of Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, she persuaded President Obama to bomb Libya and topple its dictatorial regime.

Gates had warned about the aftermath. He was right. Libya has descended into a ghastly state of chaotic violence that has spilled into neighboring African nations, such as Mali, and that opened the way for ISIS to establish an expanding base in central Libya. Her fellow hawks in Washington are now calling for U.S. special forces to go to Libya.

Whether as Senator on the Armed Services Committee or as Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton has never met a war or raid she didn’t like, or a redundant, wasteful weapons system she was willing to aggressively challenge. As president, Hillary Clinton would mean more wars, more raids, more blowbacks, more military spending and more profits for the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower so prophetically warned about in his farewell address.

So when Bernie Sanders properly chided her for having as an advisor, Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under Richard Nixon, she bridled and tried to escape by asking Sanders to name his foreign policy advisors.

In fact, Kissinger and Clinton do have much in common about projecting the American Empire to brutal levels. Kissinger was the “butcher of Cambodia,” launching an illegal assault that destabilized that peaceful country into the Pol Pot slaughter of millions of innocents. She was the illegal “butcher of Libya,” an ongoing, unfolding tragedy whose blowbacks of “unintended consequences” are building by the week.

In a devastating recounting of Hillary Clinton’s disastrous war-making, Professor of Sustainable Economies at Columbia University, Jeffrey D. Sachs concludes that Clinton “is the candidate of the War Machine.” In a widely noted article on Huffington Post Professor Sachs, an advisor the United Nations on millennium development goals, called her record a “disaster,” adding that “Perhaps more than any other person, Hillary can lay claim to having stoked the violence that stretches from West Africa to Central Asia and that threatens U.S. security.”

The transformation of Hillary Clinton from a progressive young lawyer to a committed corporatist and militarist brings shame on the recent endorsement of her candidacy by the Congressional Black Caucus PAC.

But then, considering all the years of Clintonite double talk and corporate contributions going to the Black Caucus PAC (according to FEC reports January through December, 2015), and the Black Caucus conventions, why should anybody be surprised that Black Lives Matter and a growing surge of young African Americans are looking for someone in the White House who is not known for the Clintons’ sweet-talking betrayals?

See Michelle Alexander’s recent article in The Nation, “Hillary Clinton Does Not Deserve Black People’s Votes” for more information on this subject.

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What Did Hillary Clinton Say Behind Closed Doors?

Last month as Hillary Clinton was leaving a town meeting in Manchester, Lee Fang of the Intercept asked her if she would release the transcripts of her paid, and very private speeches to Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street powerhouse historically deep in Washington, D.C., influence-peddling. Mrs. Clinton just laughed.

It is probably a good bet that her laugh was masking a deep worry, shared by her husband, that disclosing what she confidentially told big-business conferences and conventions around the country, which paid her about $5,000 a minute, would emerge as a dominant issue in the mainstream media.

Reporters have taken notice of her $250,000-and-up speeches before trade associations from which they have been excluded. But journalists have not demanded that she tell the voters what she told the executives from Morgan Stanley, Fidelity Investments, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Golden Tree Asset Management, the National Automotive Dealers Association, Deutsche Bank, the National Association of Realtors, eBay, Cisco, among other plutocracy paymasters seeking to expand their political influence.

Until that is, Thursday night’s debate in New Hampshire. Chuck Todd of MSNBC asked Hillary Clinton: “Are you willing to release the transcripts of all your paid speeches? We do know, through reporting, that there were transcription services for all those paid speeches. In full disclosure, would you release all of them?”

Mrs. Clinton responded: “I will look into it. I don’t know the status but I will certainly look into it.”

Let’s see how long it will take for her large staff and contacts with these business groups “to look into it.”

According to the New York Times, her “contracts for such events typically include strict confidentiality agreements, meaning there are no known video recordings of Mrs. Clinton’s Wall Street appearances.” But why would Clinton, in a heated contest with Sen. Bernie Sanders, maintain this cloak of secrecy and further the speculation it feeds? Could it have something to do with the many deals and entanglements, for political pursuits and self-enrichment, that have enveloped both Clintons over the years, detailed in Peter Schweizer’s recent book, Clinton Cash?

Were the contents of these meetings with business interests revealed, Hillary Clinton would lose more control of the progressive narrative she has worked hard to fabricate. Reporters, opponents and voters would quickly start to make connections and conclusions, whether rooted in fact or surmise. Her campaign message, recently garnished with progressive language to thwart Sanders, would be overshadowed.

What might have Hillary Clinton told these commercial audiences? What did those in attendance want to hear from her in such closed-door sessions? She says she spoke at these corporate gatherings about the state of the world. That is a big umbrella indeed. No doubt she delivered her views of U.S. foreign and military policy – unclassified observations she made in media interviews or public addresses. However, Hillary does her homework for each specific audience she addresses; it’s her way of responding to their priority interests and impressing them with her command of the subject matter.

For example, Morgan Stanley, one of many major Wall Street supporters of her electoral campaigns, is a strong supporter of the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty. So was she until recently, when she expediently stepped back with some skepticism about its labor and environmental contents. What did she say to Morgan Stanley’s officials when she was with them on the TPP, opposed by many voters?

According to Politico, drawing leaks from attendees, she told the Goldman-Sachs financiers that banker-bashing was unproductive and foolish. What these businesspeople want, of course, is access, should she become president, and such meetings generate friendships. They also want to hear Hillary Clinton’s views on regulation, tax policies, subsidies, government contracting matters and trade. We won’t know what she told those groups, who made her a millionaire many times over (she received in a single speech five times the household median income for a year) until the press and the people demand their right to know and judge her accordingly.

So far she has been able to dodge disclosing the content of her speeches, while interviewers were focusing on the giant speech fees. But now she is in New Hampshire – the last state of “retail campaigning” and town meetings where voters can put face-to-face to Clinton the demand that she disclose the content of her speeches inside these closed-door business gatherings. Once she leaves New Hampshire, her flaks and screeners will rapidly replace people-to-people dialogue with big-media buys and photo opportunities.

The right to know is never more important than when it pertains to the activities of presidential candidates. The White House is a cauldron of excessive secrecy – secret deals, secret memos, secret meetings with special interests on matters of serious public policy. Morbid secrecy breeds recklessness and bad government. If there is ever a time to teach presidential candidates about openness in government, it is when they are desperately seeking our votes.

Inquiring voters and Bernie Sanders now have an opportunity to make transparency an important matter of candidate accountability and believability. Otherwise, manipulative and deceptive rhetoric holds sway.

In any event, before Hillary Clinton departs from New Hampshire on Tuesday, the voters themselves who meet her can insist that she tell them just what she told those business magnates on Wall Street. She has a large staff and good files for fully and promptly responding to lifting this strange curtain of secrecy around closed speeches for big fees.

Her laughing off any such questions is not the way, as I recall, New Hampshirites expect candidates to treat them. My mother always had a way with getting answers from candidates she met. On shaking hands with a candidate, she did not let go of the candidate’s hand until she got her answer.

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Hillary’s Corporate Democrats Taking Down Bernie Sanders

Before announcing for President in the Democratic Primaries, Bernie Sanders told the people he would not run as an Independent and be like Nader — invoking the politically-bigoted words “being a spoiler.” Well, the spoiled corporate Democrats in Congress and their consultants are mounting a “stop Bernie campaign.” They believe he’ll “spoil” their election prospects.

Sorry Bernie, because anybody who challenges the positions of the corporatist, militaristic, Wall Street-funded Democrats, led by Hillary Clinton, in the House and Senate — is by their twisted definition, a “spoiler.” It doesn’t matter how many of Bernie’s positions are representative of what a majority of the American people want for their country.

What comes around goes around. Despite running a clean campaign, funded by small donors averaging $27, with no scandals in his past and with consistency throughout his decades of standing up for the working and unemployed people of this country, Sanders is about to be Hillaried. Her Capitol Hill cronies have dispatched Congressional teams to Iowa.

The shunning of Bernie Sanders is underway. Did you see him standing alone during the crowded State of the Union gathering?

Many of the large unions, that Bernie has championed for decades, have endorsed Hillary, known for her job-destroying support for NAFTA and the World Trade Organization and her very late involvement in working toward a minimum wage increase.

National Nurses United, one of the few unions endorsing Bernie, is not fooled by Hillary’s sudden anti-Wall Street rhetoric in Iowa. They view Hillary Clinton, the Wall Street servant (and speechifier at $5000 a minute) with disgust.

Candidate Clinton’s latest preposterous pledge is to “crack down” on the
“greed” of corporations and declare that Wall Street bosses are opposing her because they realize she will “come right after them.”

Because Sanders is not prone to self-congratulation, few people know that he receives the highest Senatorial approval rating and the lowest disapproval rating from his Vermonters than any Senator receives from his or her constituents. This peak support for a self-avowed “democratic socialist,” comes from a state once known for its rock-ribbed conservative Republican traditions.

Minority House Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi has unleashed her supine followers to start wounding and depreciating Sanders. Pelosi acolyte Adam Schiff (D. California) tells the media he doubts Sanders’s electability and he could have “very significant downstream consequences in House and Senate races.”

Mr. Schiff somehow ignores that the House and Senate Democratic leadership repeatedly could not defend the country from the worst Republican Party in history, whose dozens of anti-human, pro-big business votes should have toppled many GOP candidates. Instead, Nancy Pelosi has led the House Democrats to three straight calamitous losses (2010, 2012, 2014) to the Republicans, for whom public cruelties toward the powerless is a matter of principle.

Pelosi threw her own poisoned darts at Sanders, debunking his far more life-saving, efficient, and comprehensive, full Medicare-for-all plan with free choice of doctor and hospital with the knowingly misleading comment “We’re not running on any platform of raising taxes.” Presumably that includes continuing the Democratic Party’s practice of letting Wall Street, the global companies and the super-wealthy continue to get away with their profitable tax escapes.

Pelosi doesn’t expect the Democrats to make gains in the House of Representatives in 2016. But she has managed to hold on to her post long enough to help elect Hillary Clinton — no matter what Clinton’s record as a committed corporatist toady and a disastrous militarist (e.g., Iraq and the War on Libya) has been over the years.

For Pelosi it’s bring on the ‘old girls club,’ it’s our turn. The plutocracy and the oligarchy running this country into the ground have no worries. The genders of the actors are different, but the monied interests maintain their corporate state and hand out their campaign cash — business as usual.

Bernie Sanders, however, does present a moral risk for the corrupt Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee, which are already turning on one of their own leading candidates. His years in politics so cleanly contrasts with the sordid, scandalized, cashing-in behavior of the Clintons.

Pick up a copy of Peter Schweizer’s Clinton Cash, previewed early in 2015 by the New York Times. Again and again Schweizer documents the conflicted interest maneuvering of donors to the Clinton Foundation, shady deals involving global corporations and dictators, and huge speaking fees, with the Clinton Foundation and the State department as inventories to benefit the Clintons. The Clintons embody what is sleazy and harmful about corporate political intrigues.

If and when Bernie Sanders is brought down by the very party he is championing, the millions of Bernie supporters, especially young voters, will have to consider breaking off into a new political party that will make American history. That means dissolving the dictatorial two-party duopoly and its ruinous, unpatriotic, democracy-destroying corporate paymasters.

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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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