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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Reason And Justice Address Realities

It is not just Donald Trump whose rhetoric is chronically bereft of reality. Politicians, reporters, commentators and academics are often similarly untethered to hard facts, albeit not for narcissistic enjoyment. There are many patterns of fact, relevant to a subject being discussed, that are off the table—either consciously or because they are deemed inconvenient. Rarely are there omissions due to the facts being hard to get or inaccessible.

That in mind, here are a few examples that warrant our scrutiny:

Consider the immense public attention to health insurance and health care and the recent struggles over Obamacare and now Ryancare. Conspicuously absent from the dialogues that pundits, politicians and reporters carry on is that the third leading cause of death in the U.S. is “medical error.” According to a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine report last May, over 250,000 people lose their lives yearly in U.S. hospitals from “diagnostic errors, medical mistakes and the absence of safety nets” to stop hospital-induced infections, incompetent personnel, dangerous mixes of prescribed drugs and more. Yet in the debate surrounding the health care industry, this huge annual human casualty toll is unmentioned and, for many, intentionally “off the table.”

From a financial perspective, all the coverage of the costs of health insurance and health care excludes at least an estimated $340 billion (according to, among other sources, the leading expert, Professor Malcolm Sparrow of Harvard University) lost annually as a result of computerized billing fraud and abuses — expenses for which taxpayers and consumers must eventually pay. All of this is “off the table.”

Despite all the attention currently being paid to Trump’s proposed $54 billion increase to the military budget, media coverage nonetheless neglects to mention the immense waste, fraud and redundancies already embedded in the roughly $600 billion that account for the Pentagon’s direct annual budget.

A mass of Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports for the Congress, Pentagon audits, and reports by reliable citizen groups regularly document this immense waste. Specifically, the annual cost of the anti-ballistic missile defense program in the Pentagon is over $9 billion—about the same as the budget of the lifesaving Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that Trump wants to cut by almost a third.

The anti-missile defense technology taxpayers are paying Raytheon and other defense contractors to work on is unworkable. Who says anti-missile defense programs are ineffective? The American Physical Society—more than a few of whom consult with the Department of Defense—as well as the very knowledgeable MIT professor Theodore A. Postol in his Congressional testimony, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Along with numerous other infirmities of this boondoggle, it is too easy to decoy the ballistic missiles, not to mention alternative ways for adversaries to endanger our country without signaling a return address as ballistic missiles would. Yet year after year, starting with Ronald Reagan, the money is automatically doled out uncritically by the Congress, backed by its generous contractors’ lobby, deeply entrenched in a system of unaccountable corporate welfare. For the gigantic Pentagon budget is unauditable, according to the GAO.

The Israeli/Palestinian struggle, when hostilities burst forth, is reported routinely as being one started by Palestinian “terrorists” versus Israeli defenders and retaliators. Little emphasized is the reality that the Israeli government is the illegal occupier, colonizer, invader and resource exploiter of the remaining Palestinian lands. Almost never mentioned is that, since 2000, the overwhelming majority of fatalities and injuries in the conflict have been innocent Palestinian civilians, including many children, at the hands of the powerful Israeli military.

Of course, readers can come up with their own examples arising out of local, state, national and international issues. When constantly subjected to a media and political system driven by distraction, one can’t help but ask the question, “Why are they focusing on this instead of that?” One reliable answer is that the powers-that-be work overtime to exclude such embarrassing realities, to assure that, as with corporate crime waves, they’re often not even counted or measured.

If you want a continuing frenzy of reality-exclusion, look no further than the Republicans and their forked tongues. They’re always complaining about deficits, while cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, overlooking real problems they pay lip service to such as “government waste.”

But here is what takes the cake. For six years the Republican House of Representatives has been slicing off more and more of the Internal Revenue Service’s slim budget. With Republicans now controlling both houses of Congress, they want to drive it below $10 billion for next year. Apart from resulting in your waiting forever to get someone from the IRS on the phone to answer your questions, there is the modest result of over $400 billion in yearly uncollected taxes.

When you ration tax collectors, how can you fairly enforce the law, reduce the deficit or, heaven forbid, repair America’s streets, bridges, drinking water systems, public transit and schools?

John Adams said that, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” The verity of our second president’s words should serve as a call to action against the “alternative facts,” lies and myths, which have already come to define the current Trump administration and pose so grave a threat to our weakened democratic society and its level of freedom and justice.

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Trump Is “Making America Great Again” At The American People’s Expense

Donald J. Trump was a builder of casinos and high-priced hotels and golf courses. Now he is a builder of a tower of contradictions for the American people that is making “America Great” at their expense.

He made many conflicting promises throughout his presidential campaign. He was going to be the “voice of the people.” He was going to make their safety and their job expansion his number one priority. He was going to make sure that everybody had health insurance under his then unannounced plan. He was going to deregulate businesses, cut taxes, increase the military budget, build and repair the country’s public infrastructure and not surge the deficit. He was going to scrap the trade agreements known as NAFTA and the WTO.

Now in the White House, he proceeds to push programs and policies that contradict many of his promises. He is ballooning an already massive, bloated military budget by cutting the health and safety budgets of consumer, environmental and labor regulatory agencies and housing and energy assistance. Reportedly he wants to cut one billion dollars out of the budget of the Centers for Disease Control that works to detect and prevent global epidemics! Just today, the Congressional Budget Office announced that under the proposed Republican Health Plan, 24 million people will lose health care by 2026. Apparently he is oblivious to the perils of Avian Flu, SARS, Ebola and Zika threatening our national security and the health and lives of millions of people.

There is more to this emerging betrayal. Trump is supporting Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s “you’re on your own, folks” devastating health insurance plan. Slash and burn Ryan, comfortably fully insured by the taxpayers, publicly admits he doesn’t know how many people will lose their health insurance. Imagine the impact of strip-mining Medicaid on the poor – nearly 70 million, including many children, are on that program. Runaway Ryan even fantasizes over going after Medicare next and corporatize it.

Republicans such as Mick Mulvaney, the new director of Trump’s Office of Management and Budget, argue that these measures are necessary for “efficiency.” Yet neither Trump, nor Mulvaney, nor Ryan, nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have ever gone after $60 billion in business fraud on Medicare each year. The Congressional Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) reports ten percent of all health care spending is drained away by computer billing fraud and abuse. That would be about $340 billion this year alone – an estimate considered rock bottom by the nation’s leading expert on health care billing fraud – Professor Malcolm Sparrow of Harvard University!

It gets nuttier. Trump wants to increase the budget of the sprawling Department of Homeland Security but cut the budget of the US Coast Guard (which is part of the Department) and whose budget is already strapped in safeguarding our coastlines (See David Helvarg’s engrossing book, Rescue Warriors, which describes the Coast Guard’s often unsung missions).

Trump seems unwilling to oppose the more extreme “mad dogs” among the Congressional Republicans who want to erase the budgets for legal services for the poor (150 corporate law firms last week signed a letter saying they support maintaining the budget for legal services for the poor), public broadcasting and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. The total number of dollars for all these programs is about $1 billion annually, or one thirteenth the cost of another redundant air craft carrier (we already have twelve in service—more active service carriers than the rest of the world combined).

Moreover, this self-touted “voice of the people” is instead placing in the highest government positions the “voices” of Wall Street billionaires. Next door to his Oval Office is Gary Cohn, former Goldman Sachs boss, a supposedly smart man who just mimicked Trump by absurdly claiming “we have no alternative but to reinvest in our military and make ourselves a military power once again.” Who in the world doesn’t think US Empire, bristling with arrays of weapons of mass destruction and able to immediately destroy far weaker adversaries in the air, on the sea and land is not a military power?

Wall Street and the mega-wealthy now run the Treasury Department, the State Department, and the Department of Education while corporatists and militarists run other major departments and agencies. Where are the people’s voices in that plutocratic park?

As the opposition coalesces in their resistance to various measures pushed by Trump’s tantrums, it is interesting to note the surprising diversity of those challenging President Trump. More than a few corporate leaders are appalled by extreme Trumpism and their opposition is not restricted to the destabilizing bill to replace Obamacare or to Silicon Valley.

Sure, corporate CEOs are tempted by the tax cuts and jettisoning of some regulations. But they know they are making record after-tax profits, record corporate after-tax pay for themselves, and the stock market is soaring. As they watch the growing rumble from the people in street demonstrations and at Congressional town meetings, there is building a little foreboding.

They’re thinking why rock the boats (or yachts) – Trump is taking away what people already have – their health insurance –  and their health and safety protections while the Republicans plan to continue depressing their vote and rigging the electoral districts by gerrymandering. When a society, blocked from advancing justice, is unraveling what fair play there remains, the corporate bosses, who see beyond tomorrow, get worried, for good reason.

The tower of contradictions, being constructed by Trump and the most extreme Republican Party in its history, won’t be camouflaged or distracted for long by provocative, prevaricating 3:00 am tweets from the White House.

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Bad Bob Goodlatte Blocks Your Day In Court

Why does House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (Rep. VA) want to fast-track legislation  overhauling civil litigation that protects all Americans—including those in his Congressional District, who simply wish to have their day in court when wrongfully injured or cheated by the very corporations to whom Chairman Goodlatte is beholden? Does he distrust judges and juries that have fairly adjudicated disputes for years? Does he hate the American people?

As with many issues, it is about campaign money from the big business members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its cruel chief, Tom Donohue. But it is also about being inebriated with the secure power that gerrymandered electoral districts provide to him and his other corporate-indentured Committee members. Being inebriated with secure power means that you can be detached from the harms and hurts of people back home. Goodlatte doesn’t have to worry about the Democrats, who hardly bestir themselves to give even a modest election fight. So he lives in his corporate bubble and unleashes, through the House of Representatives, the most devastating attack on our democracy’s federal and state civil justice system in American History.

He is repealing protections won during the American Revolution when revered George Mason of Virginia led the fight to get the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution. George Mason wrote that, “the ancient trial by jury is preferable to any other and ought to be held sacred.” The conservative journalist and tea-party activist Judson Phillips has his own modification of that mantra: “It is held sacred,” Phillips writes, “except by the big business corporatists who believe that rights exist only for the corporate elites and not for the average citizen.”

Without any public hearings  (to assure that the press doesn’t show up), Chairman Goodlatte is pushing either to close the courtroom door or place hurdles in front of those citizens who want to go after wrongdoers and deter future injuries and harms.

The bill proposes a cap of $250,000 for a lifetime of pain and suffering compensation in medical malpractice cases. This ties the hands of judges and juries from adequately awarding victims—especially children, homemakers and the elderly who have no wage losses to claim, and who often have the most serious disabling injuries.

In case you missed the peer-reviewed Johns Hopkins University Medical School study from last May, the physician-authors gave a conservative estimate that an average of 5,000 people a week die in the U.S.  in hospitals due to preventable mishaps such as malpractice, medical errors, hospital-induced infections and bad drug prescriptions. Imagine how many more patients are sickened or injured from these and other preventable acts.

When these absentee legislators over-regulate the courts and shred the courts’ independence,  the result is that judges and juries (the only ones who see, hear and evaluate the evidence in each individual case) have their hands tied and are unable to perform their duties.

Goodlatte and his henchmen are also pressing a bill to weaken the ability of consumers, investors and workers to band together in class actions when they are not able to afford hiring a lawyer to represent them for their individual harm. Since companies like Wells Fargo, drug and medical device companies, polluters and insurance giants are among wrongdoers, it is no wonder that their lobbyists want more immunity from the rule of law for corporate violations and damage to innocent people.

Another bill would harm asbestos victims who are waiting for their compensation before they die, forcing them to wait longer for compensation and leave their online and personal privacy vulnerable to violations and identity theft.

“More. We want more,” bellow the large corporate lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

Goodlatte obliges. He has pushed through mandatory sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures against lawyers, citing so-called “frivolous lawsuits” without evidence in order to promote the illusion that our society has become too litigious. Joanne Doroshow, director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, says that its real purpose is intimidation—aiming to chill the filing of meritorious or pioneering civil rights, employment, environmental, and consumer cases.

Her organization, which is based at New York Law School, tracks and monitors attacks on the civil justice system. You can be kept up to date on these and other cruel and vicious bills that let big business off the hook for their devastating and profiteering misdeeds, crimes and abuses by visiting centerjd.org.

The Center has just released a report titled “Limiting Lawsuits; Small Businesses’ Least Concern” based on numerous surveys by the likes of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the National Small Business Association (NSBA), the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and various large bank surveys. The study shows that businesses prioritize liability and the potential for lawsuits to occur among the lowest of their concerns, which demonstrates that small businesses simply are not concerned about these remote possibilities.

At a time when court budgets are strapped, when there isn’t enough money to handle expeditiously ever declining numbers of tortious civil justice lawsuits, it is very unpatriotic of these global U.S. corporations to abuse our hallowed constitutional tradition of access to our courts and undermine the sanctity of each American’s right to his or her day in court.

For your interest and use, here is a list of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who turned their back on the American people:

Chairman Bob Goodlatte (VA-06)

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Jr. (WI-05)

Rep. Lamar Smith (TX-21)

Rep. Steve Chabot (OH-01)

Rep. Darrell Issa (CA-49)

Rep. Steve King (IA-04)

Rep. Trent Franks (AZ-08)

Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX-01)

Rep. Jim Jordan (OH-04)

Rep. Ted Poe (TX-02) [voted NO on the medical malpractice bill]

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (UT-03)

Rep. Tom Marino (PA-10)

Rep. Trey Gowdy (SC-04)

Rep. Raúl Labrador (ID-01)

Rep. Blake Farenthold (TX-27)

Rep. Doug Collins (GA-09)

Rep. Ron DeSantis (FL-06)

Rep. Ken Buck (CO-04)

Rep. John Ratcliffe (TX-04)

Rep. Martha Roby (AL-02)

Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL-01)

Rep. Mike Johnson (LA-04)

Rep. Andy Biggs (AZ-05)

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Restricting People’s Use Of Their Courts Is Un-American

In not-so-merry-old medieval England, wrongful injuries between people either were suffered in silence or provoked revenge. Cooler heads began to prevail and courts of law were opened so such disputes over compensation and other remedies could be adjudicated under trial by jury.

Taken across the Atlantic to the colonies, this system – called tort law or the law of wrongful injuries – evolved steadily to open the courtroom door until the nineteen seventies. It was then that the insurance industry and other corporate lobbies began pushing one restriction after another through state legislatures–not restrictions on corporations’ rights to sue, but restrictions on the rights of ordinary people to have their day in court.

Lawmakers, whose campaign coffers were stuffed by corporate lobbyists, were not concerned about advancing their passing rules that arbitrarily tied the hands of judges and jurors ― the same judges and jurors who were the only people to see, hear and evaluate individual cases in their courtrooms. Legislation imposing caps on damages ― as with California’s $250,000-lifetime cap on pain and suffering ― was especially cruel for those victims of medical malpractice who were young, unemployed or elderly and thus do not have significant enough wage losses to receive sufficient damages.

In recent decades, the nonsense about our society being too litigious (except for business vs. business lawsuits) has become even more extreme. Not only do we file far fewer civil lawsuits per capita than in the 1840s, according to studies by University of Wisconsin law professors, but jury trials have been declining in both federal and state courts, with trials down by 60% since the mid-1980s.

We have to take a greater interest in our courts. They are open to the public for a reason.

My father used to say that “if people do not use their rights, they will over time lose their rights.”  This truism brings us to a new book by University of Connecticut Law Professor Alexandra Lahav, with the title In Praise of Litigation (Oxford University Press). The title invokes the necessity of legal recourse in a society whose ordinary people are being squeezed out of their day in court, being denied justice, and are becoming cynical enough to want to get out of jury duty ― a right for which our forebears demanded from King George III.

Professor Lahav makes the point we should have learned in high school, or at least college. The right to litigate is critical to any democratic society. Imagine living in a country where no one can sue powerful wrongdoers or the government. We have names for countries like that. They’re called dictatorships or tyrannies.

Here is author Lahav’s summary:

“Litigation is a civilized response to the difficult disagreements that often crop up in a pluralist society. The process of litigation does more than resolve disputes: it contributes to democratic deliberation. This is the key to understanding what this process is supposed to be about and what should be done to improve it. By appreciating the democratic values people protect and promote when they sue–enforcement of the law, transparency, participation and social equality–reformers can work toward a court system that is truly democracy promoting.”

It would be more reassuring if more judges reflected those words. Were that the case, they would be fighting harder to expand the shrinking court budgets (about two percent of state budgets) that are increasingly causing civil trials to be deferred or courtrooms to be temporarily closed. Tighter budgets lead judges to excessively pressure lawyers to settle or go to arbitration. The latter is a malicious inequity between consumers, workers and other people unequal in power vis-a-vis big corporations like Wells Fargo, Exxon/Mobil, Pfizer and Aetna, who force consumers to sign fine print contracts that limit people’s rights to use the courts.

The usual sally against praising civil litigation is the claim of too many frivolous suits. Whenever Richard Newman, the Executive Director of the American Museum of Tort Law, hears that asserted, he asks for examples. They are not forthcoming. For good reason. Litigation is expensive; lawyers have to guard their reputations and judges, who largely lean to the conservative side, are in charge of their courtrooms. They are quite ready to approve motions to dismiss a case or summary judgments.

We have to take a greater interest in our courts. They are open to the public for a reason. Students need to visit them and understand what the burdens are on courts, and how our civil justice system can be improved. When I ask assemblies of students if they have ever visited a court as a spectator, hardly one in ten raise a hand.

Courts should not be places of case overloads and long delays. They should be welcoming temples of justice where judge and jurors engage in reasoned deliberation for the advancement of justice as part of a functioning democracy. The demands for justice are such in our country that courts should have more judges, more juries and more trials.

As the great judge, Learned Hand, wisely wrote “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.”

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Citizens Getting Justice Done

Far from the corrosive political circus unfolding in Washington, DC, local citizen groups are improving conditions for the people in their own backyards. Although they receive almost no national media attention, these stalwart citizens work tirelessly to make their country a safer, cleaner and more just place to live. One shining example of such a citizen is Tom “Smitty” Smith of Texas, who has advanced this noble work for the last 31 years.

As director of Public Citizen’s Texas office (see citizen.org), Smitty has an uncanny civic personality that has helped win victory after victory for the people of the Lone Star State.

Here is his basic, motivating philosophy: “The only way to beat political corruption and opposition is with organized people. Time after time I have seen a small group of citizens organize and speak out, and change happens. Our job as citizens is to take back our government and keep our government open, honest and responsive.”

Smitty is too modest to add that this is what he’s done for the past three decades working out of Austin, Texas. He is a symbol of integrity and hard work, walking the corridors of the state capitol with his signature big white cowboy hat.

Smitty practices what he preaches! He has co-founded and mentored 13 nonprofit organizations including Solar Austin, Clean Water Action in Texas, Texas ROSE (Ratepayers Organized to Save Energy) and the Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) coalition.

He keeps democracy in motion with what Texas State Representative Rafael Anchia calls the “wisdom of Yoda and the dogged determination of the Lorax…together with boundless knowledge, grace, good humor and patience.” Mr. Anchia might have added that Smitty has substantial legislative expertise and detailed knowledge of each legislator’s interests, strengths and weaknesses.

He has testified about 1,000 times before the Texas legislature on reforms that have improved public health, safety, consumer well-being, and have helped make Texas the top wind energy producer in the country, with a large solar energy building boom underway.

Again and again, he and his wife Karen Hadden have championed strategies to curb existing and forthcoming sources of toxic pollution. As just one example, Smitty worked to start the Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP), whose awards have replaced 10,000-plus diesel engines and have cut some $160,836 tons of smog-forming NOx from the Texas air.

With Karen of the SEED coalition and local groups, 12 of 17 proposed coal plants and four proposed nuclear plants have been stopped. To replace this generating capacity, Smitty and SEED worked to pass the state’s building energy code and more energy is being saved than coal plants would have produced.

To paraphrase an old adage; a thousand megawatts saved are a thousand megawatts that do not have to be generated.

Spot a consumer rip-off pattern and see Smitty swing into action. Over his career he has backed much-needed insurance reforms, improved the state lemon law (for defective motor vehicles) and pushed through major ethics reforms that also created the state’s ethics commission.

Smitty has trained over 300 interns to become activists. That project alone has led to the passage of numerous of laws, including a patients’ bill of rights and the smoke-free University of Texas campuses. A state office of administrative hearings also owes its existence to Smitty and his protégés.

“Our goal,” says Smitty, “has been to give the next generation the tools they need to keep perfecting democracy – and to stand up for the little guys.” Such words reveal the depth of his focus on building democratic institutions to forge and utilize the tools of democracy.

Long ago Smitty discovered that “showing up” is the predicate for the pursuit of a more just society. Upon this foundation, he has utilized his wealth of knowledge, data and articulate passion to both inform and hold accountable those who make the public decisions in the state Capitol.

Smitty knows the difference between charity and justice, between discriminatory injustice against certain groups and indiscriminate justice favoring all the people. Opposition is diminished when the latter policies are advanced like clean air, clean water, more job-producing efficient energy investments and open government.

But, you may say, look at Texas, its poverty, its pollution, its oil and gas barons controlling so many politicians, its crumbling infrastructure. Sure. But think how these conditions could be diminished with 1,000 Smitties doing the daily work of democratic citizenship and creative watchdogging.

Full-time citizens like Smitty exemplify the kind of dedication to civic life to which we should all aspire to some degree. Want to guess how many more serious bird watchers there are in that sprawling region than activists? Let’s face it. If It’s time that we join in their efforts and realize that important changes, supported by a public opinion majority, are easier than we think to achieve (See my new short book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think).

Departing with such plaudits as this observation of Austin Mayor Steve Adler that “his impact on our lives may well live forever,” Smitty is retiring from civic active duty this year. At least he thinks he is.

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Flailing Trumpsters Upset a Hijacked Nation

The Trump Gang, hardly two weeks in the White House, is giving strong, petulant signals that it is hijacking the checks and balances of our democratic institutions. Coupling the Boss’s easily brusiable ego, marinated in infinite megalomania, with ideologues harboring objectives that would have frightened Nixonites and Reaganites alike, a runaway train is leaving the station.

After unexpectedly winning the Electoral College but decisively losing the popular vote, Trumpsters are wasting no time. They are undermining the efficacies of the civil service, the Congress, the media, organized labor, and soon the federal courts, while already betraying desperate Trump voters (many of whom cast a vote against Hillary Clinton) with their version of the imperial corporate state, led by corporatists and militarists.

Looking at the Trump regime clinically, there is a method to their madness. Striving to govern early by a stream of poorly written Executive Orders (dictates), their basic message to all is “get with the program or get out.” Building on past precedents of presidential lawlessness, Trump wants to rule by directives and tweeted dictates against any challengers. Temperamentally, he has little patience for governing in a democracy and thinks he can rely on showmanship, bluster and bullying.

Those latter traits, however, harbor a most dangerous vulnerability to outside provocations – foreign and domestic – which in turn could unleash furious, reckless, impulsive lashing out by Trump himself.

Start with stateless adversaries abroad engaged in long and violent struggles in their backyards with the US. They will capitalize on the perception that the Trump administration’s recent travel ban is an attack against all Muslims. These dangerous actors will use Trump’s latest Executive Order as the ultimate recruitment tool. This will inevitably lead to a more dangerous world for Americans and refugees alike and could provoke a vicious cycle without discernible restraints.

One terrorist attack in this country and Trump becomes a bellowing monster throwing rules of law, free speech and other serious protections of health and safety for the people to the winds.

It is questionable whether Donald Trump, so self-obsessed and without impulse control, realizes that our militarily powerful country has much more to lose than our suicidal opponents and that we should not be trapped and embroiled in such an escalating vortex of destruction. As a friend said, “He’s playing into their hands.”

Where will the restraints on him come from? Presumably from his Secretaries of Defense, State and Homeland Security backed by a vocal professional civil service with no ax to grind. Already a thousand U.S. diplomats at embassies abroad have signed a petition pointing to the dangers of his Executive Order.

Trump is constantly attacking the media, sometimes as a general institution, other times naming reporters in his disfavor. He’s gotten about as much juice out of that regular eruption as he can. The mass media made him with staggering amounts of free airtime and print space. He then turned on them, because for The Donald, “Enough is never Enough.” Bruised, some of the media will cower. But many will assert themselves with penetrating coverage.

He’ll give them plenty of material with his lawless Presidential actions and his conflicts of interest (plus violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause). And his unyielding ownership of business assets in the U.S. and around the world present countless potential conflicts of interest.

What of the Congress -a place driven by fear, insecurity, constitutional abdication and suddenly rising protests? Trump has given high-level positions in his government to five major Republicans from the Congress and the wife of Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (Rep. KY). They all have their circles on Capitol Hill. Still, the Republicans will not borrow heavily for capital investments in infrastructure that Trump wants for jobs.

Should Trump’s already historically low level in the polls start sticking to the Republicans headed into the 2018 elections, look for pushback from members of the GOP to save their own skins.

The labor union leaders have gotten themselves in a quandary. Having supported either Hillary (mostly) or Bernie, they’re not getting tickets to the White House to watch the Super Bowl. Trump knows how to game unions from his real estate and gambling businesses. He is reminding them that 30 to 40 percent of their rank and file voted for him and he’s not reluctant to call out the leadership on this sensitive point. Furthermore, he knows they like his construction jobs proposal and his criticisms of job-destroying trade agreements.

Trump has the unions in a cross-fire for the time being. For their part, organized labor chiefs also know that he has appointed the most anti-labor cabinet in modern times. These people include Alan Puzder—a chain restaurateur, probably becoming Labor Secretary, who is blatantly anti-union and anti-higher minimum wage and fair labor standards—and billionaire Betsy DeVos, the Education Secretary bent on breaking the teacher unions. Also watch out for another anti-worker Supreme Court Justice.

Lunging from one eruption and outrage to the next, it seems that the Trumpsters are grabbing the country and racing together toward the cliff. The question is: Who goes over the cliff first?

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