Cash Register Politics Destroys Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Cash Register Politics Destroys Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Obama, Not the Giant Telecoms, Is Right on Net Neutrality

Advocacy Talk

America has a media problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Advocacy Talk

Be a Passionate Voter for Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do the candidates stand on raising the minimum wage?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Be a Passionate Voter for Justice

Jerry Brown, Stop Punishing Victims of Medical Malpractice

By Ralph Nader

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

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

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

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

He wrote in a June 1993 statement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Jerry Brown, Stop Punishing Victims of Medical Malpractice

Attention Next Attorney General: More Justice Wanted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Attention Next Attorney General: More Justice Wanted

Bowling Strikes Against the Carbon Kingpins

By Ralph Nader

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

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

Each year climate change and global warming are chronically worsening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit democracyforus.org to learn more.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Bowling Strikes Against the Carbon Kingpins

Food Science: What’s the Harm?

By Ralph Nader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Food Science: What’s the Harm?

Left and Right Agree — Let Ex-Im Expire

By Ralph Nader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He revised his beliefs at a recent news conference:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Left and Right Agree — Let Ex-Im Expire

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

By Ralph Nader

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

If the Democrats want any chance of succeeding in defeating the cruelest, anti-worker, anti-consumer, corporatist Republican Party in history this November, they have to get into serious high visibility mode about raising the federal minimum wage. No more lip service or half measures! As corporate profits and CEO pay soar ever higher, 30 million hardworking Americans — two-thirds women and two-thirds employed by large corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s — are making less today, adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1968! Raising the stagnant minimum wage, which has been stuck at a paltry $7.25 per hour since 2009 must be the front burner issue for the upcoming November elections.

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

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

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

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

The Democrats should be steamrolling these Wall Street Republicans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Democrats Are Doomed (Unless They Make the Minimum Wage the #1 November Election Issue)