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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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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