The Destructive Power Trips Of Amazon’s Boss

For his smallish stature, Amazon Boss Jeff Bezos has a booming, uproarious laugh. Unleashed during workdays, its sonic burst startles people, given it comes from as harsh and driven a taskmaster as exists on the stage of corporate giantism.

Is Bezos’ outward giddiness a worrisome reflection of what Bezos is feeling on the inside? Is he laughing at all of us?

Is Bezos laughing at the tax collectors, having avoided paying most states’ sales taxes for years on all the billions of books he sold online, thereby giving him an immediate 6 to 9 percent price advantage over brick-and-mortar bookstores, that also paid property taxes to support local schools and public facilities? That, and being an early online bookseller, gave Bezos his crucial foothold, along with other forms of tax avoidance that big companies utilize.

Is Bezos laughing at the bureaucratic labor unions, that somehow can’t get a new handle on organizing the tens of thousands of exploited blue collar workers crying for help in Amazon warehouses and other stress-driven installations? With a net-worth over $80 billion, why should he worry?

Is Bezos laughing at the giant retailers, who are closing hundreds of stores because their thin margins cannot withstand Amazon’s predatory pricing?

Is Bezos laughing at the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division which, before Trump, was studying how old antitrust laws could be used to challenge monopolizing Molochs such as Amazon in the 21st century? It is time for antitrust officials to explore  new regulatory actions and modern legislation to deal with today’s conglomerates.

Is Bezos laughing at Main Street, USA which he is in the process of hollowing out; along with nearby shopping malls who can’t figure out how to supersede the convenience of online shopping with convivial ground shopping experience?

Is Bezos laughing at Walmart, bestirring itself, which is starting to feel like giant Sears Roebuck did before Walmart’s relentless practices caught up and crushed what is now a shrunken, fragile Sears?

Is Bezos laughing at the United States Postal Service, to which he has given – for the time being – much business for shipping Amazon’s packages? Bezos has no intention of this being a long term arrangement. Imagine Amazon with its own fleet of driverless vehicles and drones. Amazon is already using part-time workers to deliver its wares.

Is Bezos laughing at the Washington Post, which he bought for a song in 2014 while he was holding down a large contract with the CIA and other government agencies?

Is Bezos laughing at Alibaba, the huge (bigger than Amazon) Chinese online seller that is trying but failing to get a toehold in the US market? It is hard to match Amazon’s ruthlessness on its home turf. Is Bezos laughing at people’s manipulated susceptibility for convenience, hooking them with $99 a year for free shipping? Ordering from their computer or cell phone for speedy delivery to sedentary living, Amazon’s customers are robbed of the experience of actively going to local businesses where they can personally engage with others, get offered on the spot bargains and build relationships for all kinds of social, civic and charitable activities.

Is Bezos laughing at many millions of Amazon customers who think temporary discounts and minor shipping convenience can make up for the billions of tax dollars Amazon has learned to avoid and the thousands of small business competitors whose closures shrink the local property tax base that supports schools and other essential public services?

As Amazon spreads around the world selling everything and  squeezing other businesses that use its platform, is Bezos laughing at humanity? His ultimate objective seems to preside over a mega-trillion dollar global juggernaut that is largely automated, except for that man at the top with the booming laugh who rules over the means by which we consume everything from goods, to media, to groceries. Crushing competitors, history shows, is leads to raising prices by monopolizers.

Consumers, workers and retailers alike must be on higher alert and address this growing threat. You have nothing to lose except Bezos’s tightening algorithmic chains. To start the conversation, you can wait for Franklin Foer’s new book out this September, titled World Without a Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. Until then, a good substitute is his 2014 article in The New Republic, Amazon Must be Stopped.

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The Left/Right Challenge To The Failed ‘War On Drugs’

More and more conservatives and liberals, from the halls of Congress to people in communities across the country, are agreeing that the so-called “war on drugs” needs serious rethinking.

First, we should define our terms. The “war on drugs” that was started by Richard Nixon in 1971 and persists to this day, refers to illegal “street drugs” – cocaine, heroin, marijuana and variations thereof. It is not used to mean a war on legal pharmaceuticals, whose excessive and often inappropriate prescribing takes over 100,000 lives a year in our country. Ironically, prescription opioids alone took 35,000 lives last year – about equal to traffic fatalities.

The argument to criminalize “street drugs,” and severely punish their sellers and users, is largely based on the assumption that a “tough on crime” approach will reduce addiction and abuse of these dangerous substances. Criminalizing drug use consistently fails to address the health problems of addiction, and drives the drug trade underground where crime, violence and death flourish.

Our country learned this hard lesson firsthand when it prohibited the production and sale of alcoholic beverages in 1920 through the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. That led to an underworld of organized crime and illegal undercover stills making “moonshine,” whose victims could hardly go for medical treatment. Considered a failure, the amendment was repealed in 1933 with the 21st Amendment.

This national experiment with prohibition verified the wise observation of the famous dean of the Harvard Law School, Roscoe Pound, who said that there were certain human behaviors that are beyond “the effective limits of legal action.” In short, the law couldn’t stop the addicting alcohol business; it could only drive it underground.

Legalizing the sale and possession of alcohol allowed people suffering from alcoholism to come out of the shadows and find support through thousands of successful chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous and other treatment options. Alcoholism is still a problem in our country, but it is out in the open where a rational society can address it.

Nicotine from tobacco products is one of the most addictive drugs that people can ingest. Lawmakers since the days of the Virginia tobacco growers in the 17th century have not prohibited the smoking of tobacco. For generations, smoking cigarettes and cigars was not considered harmful; it was said to help concentrate your mind on your tasks. The mass media perpetuated such false statements through ads that claimed doctors preferred Lucky Strikes because they were “less irritating.”

Then the historic and widely reported US Surgeon General’s Report of 1964 concluded that cigarette smoking is a cause of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men, a probable cause of lung cancer in women and the most important cause of chronic bronchitis. Over time, accumulating scientific knowledge connecting smoking to lung cancer and a host of other diseases began changing habits.

In 1964 about 44 percent of American adults smoked regularly; now it is down to 17 percent. Now smokers cannot indulge on airplanes, buses, trains or in schools, waiting rooms and most office buildings. Had we driven tobacco use underground, organized crime would have claimed the tobacco market and smokers and low-level dealers would have been jailed. If alcohol prohibition taught us the limitations of drug criminalization, efforts to reduce tobacco use have shown what is possible when dangerous products are taxed and regulated and consumers are educated.

So, what about “street drugs?” The drug trade is tearing Mexico apart. Just in the past few years, over 50,000 people have been slain by the fights between drug cartels and against police, judges, reporters and innocents who just happen to be in the way of the machine guns. Fear, anxiety, outright terror and political corruption grips large regions of our southern neighbor as the cartel’s violently work to meet the black market demand in the US and elsewhere.

Drug dealers in the US fight each other, producing violent crimes and terrorized neighborhoods.

To suppress this drug trade the US is spending tens of billions of taxpayer dollars a year. Drug cases are clogging our court dockets and crowding out important cases involving corporate crimes and negligence. Low-level drug offenders continue to receive mandatory minimum sentences; filling our prisons and leading to the expansion of the private prison industry whose lobbyists prefer a status quo that commodifies the ruined lives who sustain their profitable inventory.

For decades, conservatives like William F. Buckley and progressives like the then Mayor of Baltimore, Kurt Schmoke, have called for decriminalization, or legalization and regulation, of illegal drugs. We don’t jail alcoholics for being alcoholics, or incarcerate people for smoking highly addictive cigarettes. Their addictions are treated openly as afflictions to be treated individually and more broadly through sound public policies.

Despite the many calls for reform, the arch-reactionary Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has recently ordered 5,000 federal assistant US attorneys to charge defendants peddling street drugs, many of whom are addicts themselves, with the most serious crimes and impose the toughest penalties possible.

Not so fast, say a growing group of liberal and conservative members of Congress. From Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to liberal Patrick Leahy (D-VT), lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are joining together to sponsor a bill to end mandatory minimum sentences. Senator Paul said such sentences “disproportionately affect minorities and low-income communities” and will worsen the existing “injustice” in the criminal justice system, while Senator Leahy declared that as “an outgrowth of the failed war on drugs, mandatory sentencing strips criminal public-safety resources away from law-enforcement strategies that actually make our communities safer.”

The bipartisan bill, S.1127, is already supported by 37 Senators and 79 members of the House. Both the NAACP and the Koch brothers support this legislation!

We need more open debates about the impact of the “war on drugs.” As Justice Louis Brandeis said years ago – “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

To learn more about the need for drug policy reform, and the history of the failed war on drugs, watch this informative video from the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Schooling For Myths And Powerlessness

All over America, school children are completing another academic year before their summer vacation. This invites the questions: what did they learn and what did they do with what they learned?

I’m not talking about their test scores, nor the latest fads in rebranding education, like the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum that de-emphasizes the first two-thirds of the old mantra – reading, writing and arithmetic. Rather, I am questioning what they learned about their real-world surroundings, about preparing themselves for life as citizens, workers, consumers, taxpayers, voters and members of various communities.

Not very much, sad to say. The same is true of my generation. Instead of receiving an enriching and well-rounded education, we were fed myths. All societies perpetuate lavish myths that enable the few to rule over the many, repress critical thinking and camouflage the grim realities. Our country was, and remains, no exception.

In school we learned that our country was number one, the greatest in the world. We sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” in music class. Being the “greatest” was neither defined nor questioned. We simply had a vague sense that “great” meant militarily and economically “big.”

In practice, however, “great” was associated with kneejerk patriotism and served as a barrier to thinking critically about what we were told to take for granted. For were we to parse the deeper meaning of the word “great,” we might have had to make specific comparisons of the United States in concrete ways with other countries such as Canada and those in Europe. And we might have discovered that we weren’t first in many areas of human and environmental well-being.

Early in elementary school we were told that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America and what followed was the arrival of the pioneers of “civilization.” This myth served to justify the white man’s domination over “inferior races,” whether native or brought in as slaves from Africa. In truth, as my father taught me, Columbus invaded America in search of gold and, with his soldiers, slaughtered Caribbean tribes that long preceded Columbus’s arrival in their lands.

Along the way in school we were told that, unlike other “evil” countries, American soldiers did not intentionally kill civilians, as did our cruel enemies. Somehow General Sherman’s march to the sea during the Civil War escaped our attention; as did later mass slaughter of human beings in the Philippines and the deliberate targeting and incineration of entire residential, civilian areas in World War I and World War II –  to, in the language of the official strategies, “terrorize the populations.”

The myth of an America without imperial intentions camouflaged the purposes of several wars and many imperial assaults and overthrows. Who were we to question? Other countries were Empires; America was guided by “manifest destiny.”

Then there was the fictional character, Paul Bunyan, the giant lumberjack from American folklore who was hijacked and commercialized by the timber industry to propagandize the minds of millions of children. With his huge blue ox, Babe, Bunyan conquered and cut down forests. One of the Paul Bunyan stories ended with our hero leaving Montana for Alaska’s vast wilderness. Bunyan and Babe, we were assured, would persevere “until the last tree was down.” Progress, the myth instructed, was the exploitation of the natural world, not the preservation of nature in sustainable ways.

The most pervasive myth, which persists to this day, is that the free market provides the supreme pathway to economic prosperity. Never mind, monopolies, business crimes and deceptions, government subsidies, bailouts and taxpayer giveaways, patent monopolies, fine-print contract servitude and the abuse of our air, water and soil as toxic corporate sewers. The free market myth teaches that government regulation is inherently bad, suing businesses in court harms the economy and that unions and consumer cooperatives are un-American, even communistic.  This dogma has no room for the honest assertion that the market can “make a good servant, but a bad master,” in the words of Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

With the exceptions of some marvelous teachers, our many hours in class teach us to believe, not to think, to obey, not to challenge. For too many of our school years, the process was, and is, memorization and regurgitation. At the most, we are given some cursory training, but not educated in any deep or productive sense.

It is not surprising that such mythical conditioning does not give us the training to fight back, decade after decade, against forces that impoverish, gouge, unemploy, harm, exclude, disrespect and continue the three afflictions of corporatism, militarism and racism.

Just look at today’s headlines and ponder the joint partnership of plutocracy and oligarchy – often called the corporate state. No wonder “we the people” are not working to resist and overcome these destructive forces of greed and power.

A meaningful answer starts with replacing our years of schooling, punctuated by years of being commercially entertained and distracted, with acquiring the civic motivations and skills necessary to build a society that can move us toward “liberty and justice for all.”  As Thomas Jefferson observed at our nation’s conception, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”

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The Losing Warfare State

The U.S. is still bogged down in Afghanistan (the 16-year-old occupation is the longest in American history) and in Iraq (since the unconstitutional, illegal invasion of the country 14 years ago).

With about 30,000 poorly equipped fighters, the Taliban has held down a U.S. equipped and trained Afghan army eight times larger in soldiers, plus the U.S. forces – fluctuating from 100,000 at its peak to 8,500 now, plus contractors – with advanced air, sea and land weaponry  that is second to none.

Moreover, the Taliban has been advancing, controlling 30 to 40 percent of the country and a third of the population, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In Iraq, the U.S. had hundreds of thousands of soldiers and contractors during the Bush years. Yet today the country is still in the throes of a civil war, where a previously nonexistent threat – ISIS – with less than 15,000 fighters, has been successfully resisting a huge Iraqi army backed by U.S. trainers and air force.

How can this be? “We are vulnerable,” writes military author William Greider, “because our presumption of unconquerable superiority leads us deeper and deeper into unwinnable military conflicts.”

Jim Fallows, asserts in The Atlantic, that our military “is the best-equipped fighting force in history … also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years.” Nonetheless he concludes: “Yet, repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war.”

It gets worse. Less than 3,000 ISIS fighters took sudden control in 2013 of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city with over a million residents. Notwithstanding being vastly outnumbered by the Iraqi military and police – who fled – ISIS went on to control over a third of Iraq’s land area. Iraqis and U.S. forces are now destroying West Mosul in order to save it from a few hundred remaining ISIS fighters.

Fallows quotes former military intelligence officer, Jim Gourley, as saying “it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq.”

Setting aside the fundamental questions about why we invaded Iraq and continued to occupy Afghanistan long after 9/11, Americans are entitled to question how continued American occupations across the Middle East serve any kind of vital national interest and why they continue to fail.

In his analysis, military historian Thomas Ricks writes that “an important factor in the failure” is that no one gets “relieved by the military brass for combat ineffectiveness.” But there are other reasons all the way up the chain of command. Cargo planes ship $100 bills in bulk to Kabul airport as part of an extensive bribery/extortion system that weakens the opposition to the Taliban, whose appeal to the masses, despite their harsh rule over them, is to drive out the foreign invaders. That is a very powerful motivation, one that is lacking among Afghan forces and politicians whom the people of Afghanistan view as puppets of the US and its western allies.

Retired Admiral Mike Mullen makes another point concerning “the growing disconnect between the American people and our military.” He observes that, “fewer and fewer [American citizens] know anyone in the military. It’s become just too easy to go to war.”

The ease at which we embrace military interventions is in large part due to a gross dereliction of duty on the part of the Congress, which allows the White House to commence wars, large and small, without legal authority. Congress is the only branch of government constitutionally authorized to declare war and appropriate funds for war. The Libyan war, which was pushed by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (and opposed by Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates) was waged without seeking either legal authority or funds from the legislative branch. The Obama administration took monies from the unauditable Pentagon budget to start that continuing disaster in Libya and neighboring African countries.

Listening to the House and Senate Armed Services Committee hearings, one finds a sycophancy and level of questioning by the lawmakers of Pentagon officials that would embarrass a mediocre high school student.

But the Senators and Representatives have their reasons. They simply do not want the responsibility for military action except to provide a virtual blank check from taxpayers for the Department and its avaricious, wasteful contractors who fund their campaigns. Second, members of Congress see the military expenditures as a jobs program back in their states and districts. Finally, members of Congress are not getting any heat from the detached, indifferent voters (with few exceptions), either during or between elections. Notice there is never a debate by candidates on the military budget – how it is used or misused financially and strategically (yet candidates regularly pledge ever increasing dollars for the Defense budget).

As a final cruel insult to our children and grandchildren, Congress, by refusing to fund the wars as they persist, has built up a huge deficit for future generations of Americans to pay.

Retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich has written, “A people untouched (or seemingly untouched) by war are far less likely to care about it. Persuaded that they have no skin in the game, they will permit the state to do whatever it wishes to do.”

But, collectively, we all have skin in the game. Look at the unmet needs in our country, crumbling infrastructure, toxic environments and the corrosive costs of corporatism escaping law enforcement that would protect consumers and workers.

It is the members of Congress who have no skin in the game. Very few of their children are in the armed forces. Were the American people to demand enactment of a one page bill that requires drafting all able-bodied children and grandchildren of members of Congress anytime they or the White House plunges our country into war, you would see a very attentive Congress that pays attention to its Constitutional duties and responsibilities.

Why not ask your Senators or Representatives to put such a bill in the hopper?

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Citizens, We Must Bring Our Congress Back Home!

The large marches ― in Washington, DC and around the country ― calling attention to the importance of science and focusing on the calamitous impacts of climate change had impressive turnouts. But the protests would have been more productive if they concentrated more, in their slogans and signs, on 535 politicians to whom we have given immense power to influence policies relating to those issues, for ill or for good.

I’m speaking of Congress.

Congress cannot be ignored or neglected simply because we know it to be a corporate Congress, or a gridlocked Congress, or a Congress that is so collectively delinquent, or perk and PAC addicted, or beholden to commercial interests, or self-serving through gerrymandered electoral districts where they, through their party’s controlled state government, pick the voters to elect them.

Sure, there are probably 100 good legislators on Capitol Hill. But many of these progressive elected officials fail to effectively network with citizen groups, or organize left-right coalitions back home into an unstoppable political force. Issues that invite such left/right consensus are numerous, including raising the federal minimum wage, protecting civil liberties, tackling government waste and corruption, advancing solar energy, reforming the corporate tax system, full Medicare for all (with free choice of doctor and hospital) and a crackdown on corporate crime and abuses against consumers, workers and communities. Polls show big majorities behind these and other much-needed redirections and reforms.

All these improvements in the lives of all Americans have to go through Congress. Sure, some efforts can be partially achieved by self-help and state/local governments. But for a national, comprehensive change movement, it is the Congress, which must be effectively and forcefully instructed to act in the public interest.

Groups like the NRA and AIPAC focus, with laser-beam precision, on each member of Congress.

The big business lobbies haven’t given up on Congress, have they? They’re swarming over the senators and representatives to get the power we’ve given these lawmakers regularly deployed on the behalf of the crassest, most avaricious and harmful demands of the business bosses.

The most successful “citizen lobbies” focused on Congress do not bother with major marches and demonstrations. Groups like the NRA and AIPAC focus, with laser-beam precision, on each member of Congress. They know their background, their strengths and weaknesses, their key advisors and friends back home, their physicians, their lawyers and accountants, the social clubs they belong to, the kinds of hobbies and vacations they pursue. The NRA and AIPAC advocates personally know the lawmakers’ staff, sources of their campaign contributions, their concerns about possible primary challengers, what kinds of well-paying positions members of Congress seek after retirement or defeat.

With this face-to-face lobbying, threats of primary challenges and ample campaign contributions, these groups have gotten their way in Congress to an amazing degree, given their relatively small numbers of supporters.

Here is some advice: Get to know your two senators and congressperson personally and on your terms. It’s easier to do this with a comprehensive agenda of long-overdue reforms which can give you broad-based left/right support in your state. Then issue a formal Summons (a draft is in my new paperback, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think) for your senators and representatives to attend YOUR town meeting on YOUR agenda of changes and advances.

Every Congressional District has about 700,000 men, women, and children. Most districts have community colleges and/or universities. All have the necessary one percent of serious citizens working together to focus majority opinion directly on members of Congress. Often what is required is less than one percent, or say, 2,000 people, working collectively as Congressional Watchdogs for 5 to 10 hours a week and raising enough money for two full-time offices each with two staff.

The fruits of such efforts are numerous and immensely important to our country, our children and their children, not to mention the world.

To expedite and increase the ratios of success, such Congressional Watchdog organizations require study, discussions, and some training sessions with easily available material in bookstores or on the Internet. Just consider how much serious input goes into hobbies by millions of Americans all the time. Consider participating in this very important “civic hobby” achieving a better life for the people with “liberty and justice for all.”

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What Are The Super-Rich Democrats Waiting For?

Democratic Party loyalists are always complaining about the big-money fat cats behind the Republican Party’s candidates and platform. Over the last few election cycles, the Democratic Party has lost most state legislatures, governorships, the US Senate, the US House of Representatives and the White House. Republican control of the Senate is also leading to control of the US Supreme Court. It is time for Democrats to up the ante big time!

Instead of complaining constantly about the Koch brothers’ zillions pouring into the political system, the Democrats need to start asking what their billionaire supporters are willing to do in the era of the authoritarian Trumpsters. Democrats have their fair share of affluent supporters, such as George Soros. Besides their routine campaign contributions, and expressing among themselves a sense of dread over the fate of our democracy, why aren’t the pro-Democratic super-rich harnessing their resources to address the impending crisis they foresee, a crisis all the more likely to be provoked by the power-concentrating Trump regime?

It is not difficult to see what they could be doing. The first step is a strategy session to determine what civic and political resources could lead to the creation of new action institutions and thousands of energetic organizers toiling at the grassroots level in preparation for the 2018 elections.

A few billion dollars astutely distributed to achieve several long-overdue reforms, and replace lawmakers beholden to unsavory corporate interests and rampant militarism with legislators who will serve the people, could readily dispel the depression and discouragement that that is felt by liberal and conservative Americans alike. Policy precedes action, says political writer Bill Curry. You have to have something to fight for before you begin organizing. As I’ve pointed out in my book, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left/Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, many major policy reforms have long enjoyed substantial left/right support, and organizing such consensus could spark an unstoppable political movement. Millions of Americans of all political stripes back such causes as full Medicare for all, living wages, cracking down on corporate crime, eliminating crony capitalism, action on climate change and other critical environmental degradations, protecting the commons, developing robust civic skills in primary and secondary education, rationalizing the tax systems, expanding access to justice, protecting consumers and reforming criminal justice (to name just a few).

The enlightened super-rich citizens who want to make change, and civic leaders, must come together at the national and community level. Each has the critical assets for one another to get things done. They know of each other but rarely gather to maximize their combined dedication. Financial support linked to know-how can produce action.

Making the civil society stronger by expanding the good work of existing organizations, and starting new ones to tackle unaddressed challenges, is essential. From that heightened level of advocacy can spring a new politics with a fresh perspective and honest candidates for public office.

The progressive super-rich know each other. People like Nick Hanauer in Seattle, a champion for raising the minimum wage, and Michael Moritz in San Francisco, a generous patron of higher education, have shown the benefits of supporting important initiatives. Over 130 super-rich have signed up for the Buffett/Gates pledge to give away at least half their wealth to “good works.” Of the pledgers, there are at least three dozen who grasp the difference between charity and justice and seek the latter both structurally and programmatically.

As for the leading civic action groups from Washington to the state and local level, it is not enough for them to see more money coming in after the November selection by the Electoral College (see www.nationalpopularvote.com). They must reach out and organize small gatherings with wealthy people who recoil at the thought of handing our country to the next generation without trying to reverse course from the downward, unraveling conditions domestically and the nation’s destructive impact abroad. Financial support for civic infrastructure should be generous and ongoing.

The opportunities need not start from scratch. A few weeks ago, dozens of outdoor businesses, such as Patagonia and REI, signed a full-page newspaper ad directed to the Trump regime’s antagonism toward the public lands. The message was very clear: hands off the federal lands and stop your efforts to sell them off to private companies. Taken together, these companies represent billions of dollars in annual sales. They could create a powerful lobbying organization focused on Congress with majority public opinion support back home and stop this sell-off of our common wealth.

There is the group that calls itself Patriotic Millionaires that is a group of high-net worth Americans who are committed to building a more prosperous, stable and inclusive nation. They can maximize their impact and enlarge their ranks by increasing funding of action groups all over the country.

Why all this hasn’t scaled up to momentous proportions of resistance, recovery and reform is more than a failure of imagination or a sign of collective defeatism and despair. It reflects the historical asymmetry between the forces of greed and tyranny which, by definition, organize out of self-interest and the forces of justice and democracy which have to mobilize by choice for the public interest.

This difference in fervor can be overcome by an elevated sense of urgency, now and for posterity. Just reflect on the greatest advances in U.S. history when people organized to beat back and overcome the forces of darkness.

It has never been easier to challenge abuses of power than now, using modern technology and communication, with a pittance of available discretionary wealth on behalf of the great and crucial common good.

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The Savings And Stability Of Public Banking

As a society obsessed by money, we pay a gigantic price for not educating high school and college students about money and banking. The ways of the giant global banks – both commercial and investment operations – are as mysterious as they are damaging to the people. Big banks use the Federal Reserve to maximize their influence and profits. The federal Freedom of Information Act provides an exemption for matters that are “contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.” This exemption allows financial institutions to wallow in secrecy. Financial institutions are so influential in Congress that Senator Durbin (D, IL) says “[The banks] frankly own this place.”

Although anti-union, giant financial institutions have significant influence over the investments of worker pension funds. Their certainty of being bailed out because they are seen as “too big to fail” harms the competitiveness of smaller, community banks and allows the big bankers to take bigger risks with “other people’s money,” as Justice Brandeis put it.

These big banks are so pervasive in their reach that even unions and progressive media, such as The Nation magazine and Democracy Now have their accounts with JP Morgan Chase.

The government allows banks to have concentrated power. Taxpayers and Consumers are charged excessive fees and paid paltry interest rates on savings. The bonds of municipalities are are also hit with staggering fees and public assets like highways and public drinking water systems are corporatized by Goldman Sachs and other privatizers with sweetheart multi-decade leases.

Then there are the immense taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street, such as those in 2008-2009 after the financial industry’s recklessness and crimes brought down the economy, cost workers 8 million jobs, and shredded the pension and mutual fund savings of the American people.

Standing like a beacon of stability, responsiveness and profitability is the 98 year-old, state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND). As reported by Ellen Brown, prolific author and founder of the Public Banking Institute (Santa Clarita, California), “The BND has had record profits for the last 12 years” (avoiding the Wall Street crash) “each year outperforming the last. In 2015 it reported $130.7 million in earnings, total assets of $7.4 billion, capital of $749 million, and a return on investment of a whopping 18.1 percent. Its lending portfolio grew by $486 million, a 12.7 percent increase, with growth in all four of its areas of concentration: agriculture, business, residential and student loans…”

North Dakota’s economy is depressed because of the sharp drop in oil prices. So the BND moved to help. Again, Ellen Brown:

In 2015, it introduced new infrastructure programs to improve access to medical facilities, remodel or construct new schools, and build new road and water infrastructure. The Farm Financial Stability Loan was introduced to assist farmers affected by low commodity prices or below-average crop production. The BND also helped fund 300 new businesses.

All this is in a state with half the population of Phoenix or Philadelphia.

 

What assets does the state have to make this bank fully operational? California has surplus funds which total about $600 billion, including those in a Pooled Money Investment account managed by the State Treasurer that contains $54 billion earning less than 1 percent interest.

Money in these funds is earmarked for specific expenditure purposes, but they can be invested – in a new state bank. To escape from a Wall Street that is, in Brown’s words “sucking massive sums in interest, fees and interest rate swap payments out of California and into offshore tax havens,” a state bank can use its impressive credit power to develop infrastructure in California.

Huge state pension funds and other state funds can provide the deposits. Each one billion dollar capital investment can lend $10 billion for projects less expensively and under open stable banking control by California. Presently, California and other states routinely deposit hundreds of billions of dollars in Wall Street banks at minimal interest, turn around and borrow for infrastructure construction and repair from the Wall Street bond market at much higher interest and fees.

This is a ridiculous form of debt peonage, a lesson Governor Jerry Brown has yet to learn. He and other officials similarly uninformed about how the state of California can be its own banker should visit publicbankinginstitute.org and read Ellen Brown’s book, The Public Bank Solution.

Legislation for public banks is being pursued in the states of Washington, Michigan, Arizona and New Jersey, as well as the cities of Philadelphia and Santa Fe. Look for county commissioners and state treasurers to come on board when they see the enormous safeguards and savings that can be secured through “public banks” in contrast to the convoluted casino run by unaccountable Wall Street gamblers and speculators.

A longtime backer of public banking, retired entrepreneur Richard Mazess, hopes that national civic groups like Public Citizen, Common Cause, People for the American Way and Consumer Watchdog can get behind the proposal. “Public, not private, infrastructure is essential for an equitable economy,” he says.

California already has a public infrastructure bank called the IBank. Mr. Mazess and others believe that expanding the existing IBank into a depository institution would be more likely to pass through the California legislature. The deposits would come from public institutions, and NGOs (not from private persons). These pension funds and other public deposits would become reserves and serve as the basis for safely leveraged loans to public projects at a conservative tenfold multiplier. No derivatives or other shenanigans allowed.

Before that proposal can be enacted, however, there needs to be much more education of state legislators and the public at large.

Such enlightenment would illuminate the enormous savings, along with the restoration of state sovereignty from the absentee, exploitative grip of an unrepentant, speculating, profiteering Wall Street that believes it can always go to Washington, DC for its taxpayer bailouts.

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Self-Censored Questions By Career Questioners

I’ve always been intrigued by the major questions not asked by reporters at press conferences, not asked by legislators at public hearings or even the questions citizens at town meetings don’t ask public officials. It’s not that they do not know about or could not easily become informed enough about a given issue and ask substantive questions. It’s just that so many taboos are packed into these questioners’ ideological mindset, career goals or concern with what other people over them might think. Maybe it is a culturally-rooted fear of challenging entrenched power brokers.

Decades ago, I noticed that press conferences, symposia and formal studies and reports on the toll of highway traffic fatalities never mentioned the role of motor vehicle design and construction.

The focus was almost entirely on the driver, or what some auto bosses called “the nut behind the wheel.” What the drivers were driving – vehicles without seatbelts, padded dash panels, rollover and side protection from collisions, but with faulty tires and brakes or poor handling – never came up. Construction defects in vehicles were never formally recalled to be fixed by the culpable manufacturers.

Questions never asked assure that answers, solutions and public awareness will not emerge.

Today, reporters who go to the Pentagon press briefings rarely, if ever, ask about dubious test results from the unproven ballistic defense project costing taxpayers over three decades, rising to nine to ten billion dollars a year. Or when the Department of Defense is going to obey a 1992 law and provide auditable data to the Congress’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) so that DOD’s massive budget, with its waste and redundancies, can be audited.

Lengthy Congressional hearings on the nomination of U.S. Supreme Court Justices do not produce questions to the nominee about corporate personhood (corporations being considered people for constitutional purposes) or rampant corporate crime. Both issues are important matters for judges.

Think about all the news conferences and hearings about rescheduling marijuana, by taking it off the DEA’s Schedule I controlled substances list. Far less attention is paid to legalizing the domestic growing of industrial hemp – grown by our founding fathers – which provides food, fuel, clothing, paper, car parts and lubricants, among hundreds of other uses.

In meetings with reporters and editorial writers, politicians pledge to lower deficits and prevent waste, but almost never have to answer questions about instances of massive fraud on the taxpayers (such as corporate vendors ripping off Medicare other government programs).

With all the blather officials, such as former Rep. Tom Price (now Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services) devote to repressing medical malpractice lawsuits, when will the first reporter ask: “But Secretary Price, what are you going to do about the loss of 250,000 lives a year in our hospitals due to mishaps, incompetence, hospital-induced infections, etc. (documented by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine professors last May)? What will you do to prevent the 5,000 people in America losing their lives each week because of such failures?”

Back in 2000, the great Washington Post reporter, Morton Mintz, submitted numerous questions to the major presidential candidates. No response. So a group called TomPaine.com placed an advertorial on the New York Times op-ed page with the heading “Mort Wants to Know – Hard Questions Reporters Don’t Ask.” While reporters may not ask such questions, this group understood they were certainly the kind that voters welcome. Three questions were selected, as follows:

“Do you take campaign contributions from Exxon-Mobil, ARCO and other oil companies that cheated taxpayers out of billions of dollars owed for oil pumped from public land?”

“Should Congress investigate drug pricing by companies like Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Novartis, which charge Americans more for drugs that in other countries they sell for much less?”

“Rules pending in Congress would deny federal contracts to chronic corporate lawbreakers – those that repeatedly violate environmental, worker safety, tax and other laws. Where do you stand on these Rules?”

I would add one additional question to the many reporters bored with daily routine coverage of the major party candidates on the road: “What in the world keeps you from freeing your minds and asking the obvious  and important questions?” More generally, time and again reporters do not respond to declarations and assertions by those in positions of power with two fundamental questions:

  1. What is your legal authority for this decision?
  2. What is your evidence to back up your claim, policy or practice?

Sure, we’re all likely to be against censorship. But let’s pay attention to the enablers of the censors – the self-censoring career questioners whose lack of inquisitiveness does the censors’ job for them.

To read stories from reporters who ask the hard questions, visit FAIR.org and projectcensored.org.

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All The News That’s Fit To Buy

“Fake news” comes in many different forms. Before the 2016 presidential election, the term was used to describe modern day yellow journalism―false or misleading news stories widely shared on social media platforms. The term was later co-opted by President Donald Trump and his rabid defenders to describe any news story not favorable to his corporatist, fact-adverse regime.

Before the term’s emergence as a political buzzword, however, “fake news” has existed as a device of corporate marketers and advertisers whose deceptive tactics continue to evolve in the digital age. And has it evolved!

“Fake News is fast replacing recognizable advertising as the weapon of choice for the clear majority of advertisers and websites battling for revenue, and consumers,” says Will deHoo, cofounder and Executive Director of the FoolProof Foundation. DeHoo and iconic news anchor Walter Cronkite created their foundation to teach consumers to be healthy skeptics.

Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent by corporations each year on advertising, from flashy Super Bowl ads to banners on the sides of city buses. Just how effective these ads are in selling products is an ongoing debate kept mostly private within the advertising industry. Pioneering department store magnate, John Wanamaker of Philadelphia, once mused that half the money he spent on advertising was effective, but he didn’t know which half.

Fake News is going to be a big, nearly overpowering presence in all of our lives for a long time to come. Will deHoo

Americans are now under constant bombardment by advertisers, from billboards to radio and TV commercials, internet ads, athlete jerseys and even in once off-limits schools. However, research shows that more and more Americans consciously attempt to avoid advertisements when they can. This is a serious problem to a multi-billion dollar industry ever striving to justify its relevance.

Ever flip through a magazine or a newspaper and come across an article that looks nearly identical to any other article in the publication, only to see “advertisement” along the bottom in small letters? These are called advertorials―advertisements designed to look like editorial content. The practice is not new. Merriam-Webster dates the origin of the word to 1946. Back in the 1970’s, Mobil Oil famously bought ad space on the op-ed pages of major newspapers to push oil and gas interests and favorable policy positions.

The intent of an advertorial is shameless deception, to fool readers into absorbing a one-sided marketing release without even realizing it. With the oversaturation of easily-ignorable advertising in other mediums, this old tactic has re-emerged online with new life.

Now called “native” or “invisible” advertising, companies are investing big into Trojan horsing their sales pitches. An added benefit to these shifty sellers is that by shedding the legal baggage that comes attached to “pure” advertising, they are more able to make even more outrageous and unprovable assertions about their products. Perhaps a more accurate term is “ambush advertising.”

Even online articles from highly-respected outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post are routinely covered in banner advertisements, sometimes embedded in the middle of the article text. Similar to the old days of Mobil Oil, many of these ads can initially appear to be links to other legitimate articles from the same outlet, unless one is paying enough attention to notice that they are covertly labeled as paid for by a sponsor. Other websites show sponsored ads with innocuous labels like “Recommended For You” or “From Our Partners.”

“Advertisers have spent the last five years perfecting how to hide advertising within editorial content,” says Dr. Mara Einstein, author of Blacks Ops Advertising: Native Ads, Content Marketing, and the Covert World of the Digital Sell. Einstein also serves on the FoolProof Foundation’s board. “The newest research suggests that native advertising will soon represent almost 3/4 of display advertising. And most of that will be ‘custom native’ – the kind that looks most like the website on which it appears.”

To savvy readers and internet users, these ad traps might stand out and be easily avoided, but many consumers of content are not aware of the ulterior motives behind what they see on their screens.

According to a Stanford University study, 82% of middle-schoolers could not tell the difference between a real online news story and an advertisement designed to look like one―even with the presence of a small disclaimer.

Corporate brands have also moved into social media platforms, blurring the lines between corporate advertising, human relationships and editorial content. With Congress now passing a bill allowing Internet Service Providers to sell the private browsing data of its customers, it seems nothing is off limits for those seeking to shamelessly sell.

The Walter Cronkite project at The FoolProof Foundation has put together a useful website with information on how to identify the signs of fake news advertising. It also has resources for teachers to help educate their students about this deceptive new wave of advertising. It’s worth a visit.

“Fake News is going to be a big, nearly overpowering presence in all of our lives for a long time to come,” summed up FoolProof Founder Will deHoo. Cronkite would have agreed with him.

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The Crash Of Trumpcare Opens The Door To Full Medicare For All

You can thank House Speaker Ryan and President Trump for pushing their cruel health insurance boondoggle. This debacle has created a big opening to put Single Payer or full Medicare for all prominently front and center. Single Payer means everybody in, nobody out, with free choice of physician and hospital.

The Single Payer system that has been in place in Canada for decades comes in at half the cost per capita, compared to what the U.S. spends now. All Canadians are covered at a cost of about $4500 per capita while in the U.S. the cost is over $9000 per capita, with nearly 30 million people without coverage and many millions more underinsured.

Seventy-three members of the House of Representatives have co-signed Congressman Conyers’s bill, HR 676, which is similar to the Canadian system. These lawmakers like HR 676 because it has no copays, nasty deductibles or massive inscrutable computerized billing fraud, while giving people free choice and far lower administrative costs.

Often Canadians never even see a bill for major operations or procedures. Dr. Stephanie Wohlander, who has taught at Harvard Medical School, estimated recently that a Single Payer system in the U.S. would potentially save as much as $500 billion, just in administrative costs, out of the nearly $3.5 trillion in health care expenditures this year.

Already federal, state and local governments pay for about half of this gigantic sum through Medicare, Medicaid, the Pentagon, VA, and insuring their public employees. But the system is complexly corrupted by the greed, oft-documented waste, and over-selling of the immensely-profitable, bureaucratic insurance and drug industry.

To those self-described conservatives out there, consider that major conservative philosophers such as Friedrich Hayek, a leader of the Austrian School of Economics, so revered by Ron Paul, supported “a comprehensive system of social insurance” to protect the people from “the common hazards of life,” including illness. He wanted a publicly funded system for everyone, not just Medicare and Medicaid patients, with a private delivery of medical/health services. That is what HR 676 would establish (ask your member of Congress for a copy or find the full text here. Conservatives may wish to read for greater elaboration of this conservative basis, my book, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.)

Maybe some of this conservative tradition is beginning to seep into the minds of the corporatist editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal. Seeing the writing on the wall, so to speak, a recent editorial, before the Ryan/Trump crash, concluded with these remarkable words:

“The Healthcare Market is at a crossroads. Either it heads in a more market-based direction step by step or it moves toward single payer step by step. If Republicans blow this chance and default to Democrats, they might as well endorse single-payer because that is where the politics will end up.”

Hooray!

Maybe such commentary, repeated by another of the Journal’s columnists, will prod more Democrats to come out of the closet and openly push for a Single Payer system. At a recent lively town meeting in San Francisco, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi blurted at her younger protesters: “I’ve been for single-payer before you were born.”

Presumably retired President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will do the same, since they too were for “Full Medicare for All” before they became politically subservient to corporate politics.

Even without any media, and any major party calling for it, a Pew poll had 59% of the public for Full Medicare for All, including 30% of Republicans, 60% of independents and 80% of Democrats. Ever since President Harry S. Truman proposed to Congress universal health insurance legislation in the nineteen forties, public opinion, left and right, has been supportive.

We’ve compiled twenty-one ways in which life is better in Canada than in the U.S. because of the Single Payer health insurance system. Canadians, for example, don’t have to worry about pay or die prices, don’t take or decline jobs based on health insurance considerations, nor are they driven into bankruptcy or deep debt, they experience no anxiety over being denied payment or struck with reams of confusing, trap-door computerized bills and fine print.

People in Canada do not die (estimated at 35,000 fatalities a year in the U.S.) because they cannot go for diagnoses or treatment in time.

Canadians can choose their doctors and hospitals without being trapped, like many in the U.S., into small, narrow service networks.

In Canada the administration of the system is simple. You get a health care card when you are born. You swipe it when you visit a physician or hospital.

All universal health insurance systems in all western countries have their problems; but Americans are extraordinarily jammed with worry, anxiety and fear over how or if their care is going to be covered or paid, not to mention all the perverse incentives for waste, gouging and profiteering.

Time to call your Senators and Representatives. There are only 535 of them and you count in the tens of millions!

For the full 21 Ways, see the article here.

For more information on health care in the U.S., what’s being done to combat vicious commercial assaults on our country’s most vulnerable people, and to find out how you can help fight back, visit singlepayeraction.org.

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