Don’t be Flattered, Fooled and Flummoxed in Tomorrow’s Election

Let’s face it. Most politicians use the mass media to obfuscate. Voters who don’t do their homework, who don’t study records of the politicians, and who can’t separate the words from the deeds will easily fall into traps laid by wily politicians.

In 2002, Connecticut Governor John Rowland was running for re-election against his Democratic opponent, William Curry. Again and again, the outspent Curry informed the media and the voters about the corruption inside and around the governor’s office. At the time, the governor’s close associates and ex-associates were under investigation by the U.S. attorney. But to the public, Rowland was all smiles, flooding the television stations with self-serving, manipulative images and slogans. He won handily in November. Within weeks, the U.S. attorney’s investigation intensified as they probed the charges Curry had raised about Rowland. Rowland’s approval rating dropped to record lows, and impeachment initiatives and demands for his resignation grew. He was prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned. Unfortunately, enough voters were flattered, fooled, and flummoxed to cost Bill Curry the race.

In 2004 Tom Frank, a Kansas author, wrote: “The poorest county in America isn’t in Appalachia or the Deep South. It is on the Great Plains, a region of struggling ranchers and dying farm towns, and in the election of 2000, George W. Bush carried it by a majority of greater than 75 percent.” Inattentive voters are vulnerable to voting against their own interests. They are vulnerable to voting for politicians who support big business and ignore their interests as farmers, workers, consumers, patients, and small taxpayers. Big Business will not spur change in a political system that gives the fatcats every advantage. Change must come from the voters, and here’s how:

President Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress are masters at flattering voters and lying about their positions on issues ranging from health care to the minimum wage. Before you vote, rid yourself of all preconceived, hereditary, ideological, and political straitjackets. Use two general yardsticks for candidates for elective office: Are they playing fair and are they doing right?

Stay open-minded. Avoid jumping to conclusions about candidates based solely on their stance on your one or two top issues. Pay attention to where these politicians are on the many other issues that profoundly affect you and your family. If you judge them broadly rather than narrowly, you will increase your influence by increasing your demands and expectation levels for public officials. There are numerous evaluations of their votes, easily available on the Internet.

Know where you stand. A handy way to contrast your views with those of the incumbents and challengers is to make your own checklist of twenty issues, explain where you stand and then compare your positions, the candidates’ votes and declarations. Seeing  how their positions or their actual record matches up to your own positions makes it harder for politicians to play you. Compare candidates with their votes or declarations.

Ask the tough questions. These are many issues that politicians like to avoid. They include questions about whether candidates are willing to debate their opponents and how often, why they avoid talking about and doing something about corporate power and its expanding controls over people’s lives, or how they plan specifically to shift power from these global corporate supremacists to the people. After all, the Constitution starts with “We the People” not “We the Corporations.” The words “corporations” and “company” are never mentioned in our Constitution!!

Ask candidates to speak of Solutions to the major problems confronting our country. Politicians often avoid defining solutions that upset their commercial campaign contributors. Ask about a range of issues, such as energy efficiency, livable wages, lower drug prices, massive government contractor fraud, corporate crimes against consumers, workers and investors, reducing sprawl, safer food, and clean elections.

Ask members of Congress to explain why they keep giving themselves salary increases and generous benefits, and yet turn cold at doing the same for the people’s frozen minimum wage, health insurance, or pension protections.

All in all, it takes a little work and some time to become a super-voter, impervious to manipulation by politicians who intend to flatter, fool, and flummox. But this education can also be fun, and the pursuit of justice can offer great benefits to your pursuit of happiness.

Such civic engagement will help Americans today become better ancestors for tomorrow’s descendants.

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Democrats: Headline “America Needs a Raise” Now Before Elections

The top Republican politicos must be thinking — with adversaries like the Democratic Party, who needs friends? Since 2010 the GOP minority has taken over the majority of state legislatures, Governorships and now the three branches of the federal government.

Polls consistently show most Americans oppose the catastrophic Republican agenda. The American people support raising the frozen federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour; want to protect Obamacare; want law enforcement to punish Wall Street crooks and prevent consumer rip offs; support forming labor unions and protecting labor rights; favor prosecuting the student loan and the for-profit school rackets; want the Republican Party to stop voter suppression and judicial disenfranchisement, and want injured people to have access to the courts. Despite all of these unpopular Republican Party positions, the Republican Party keeps winning.

Even in next month’s elections, which are supposed to produce a blue wave of Democratic victories, the polls are tightening. Trumps polls are edging up, in spite of the belligerent loud mouth’s daily foul and lying invectives.

To see the anemic Democrats, watch the debates between the various candidates. A recent debate between Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and Republican Josh Hawley, whose office of attorney general is a widely reported mess, is illustrative. Hawley had McCaskill on the defensive regarding the southern border wall. She kept Trumpeting how she has voted for $70 billion for the wall and border security. She did not advance her own immigration policy.

She agreed with Hawley on a GOP ruse, namely a federal reinsurance program for pre-existing conditions, instead of specifically strengthening Obamacare or, better, coming out for a more efficient full Medicare for everyone with free choice of doctor and hospital. She did not challenge Hawley with an explicit minimum wage target or where he stood on lifting poverty and crumbling infrastructure throughout the state. A few Democratic candidates have solidly put forth a “fight for $15 an hour” position. They also need a public works plan and an alternative tax agenda for fairness and job expanding, crucial public investments.

Too often the GOP candidates have the Democratic candidates on the defensive. The Democrats need to respond to the GOP’s cruel and misleading triad of lower taxes (for the super-rich that is), de-regulation (endangering your health and safety) and a strong defense (meaning further bloating the wasteful, redundant military budget and its boomeranging Empire abroad).

The Democrats are always backtracking because they largely have no military or foreign policy differing from the GOP; they have no stand against crony capitalism for corporate welfare, despised by both conservatives and progressives. They will not argue strongly for needed “law and order” regulation to prevent toxics from poisoning your air, water and soil.  They advance no law enforcement plan to protect your consumer dollars and prevent another Wall Street criminal collapse on jobs, savings, and pension funds that would result in another giant taxpayer bailout. Some Congressional Democrats even joined with Republicans this year to weaken the Dodd-Frank law.

In recent months, I have been asking numerous Congressional Democratic groups, such as the House Democratic Caucus and the Democratic National Committee, why the specific, abysmal and cruel Republican votes in Congress are not made into campaign headliners. No response. Why are they not making the stagnant, low wages an emblazoned cause for tens of millions of Americans? Why are they not telling people to go “Vote for a Raise,” –long overdue following years of workers being shortchanged by inflation, being denied raises for productivity advances, and being subjected to wage theft amounting to as much as $50 billion a year?

“America Needs a Raise,” can become a clarion call for getting out the vote and highlighting the vast inequalities of, say Walmart’s CEO making $12,000 an hour, plus perks and benefits, while many of his workers sweat away at little more than $11 an hour.

So compromised by campaign cash are most Democratic candidates, excepting the few progressive insurgents, that they are not even rebutting the exaggerated and defective  Republican boasts about the economy’s low unemployment rates for Hispanic and Black workers. Millions of workers have dropped out of the labor market, record millions are temps or work short weeks, wages are stagnant, rents higher, and at least a third of Americans are poor.

The Republicans are getting away with their phony sing-song of a robust economy in their political TV ads and debates. Again and again, too few Democrats will not stand for explicit policies that reflect majoritarian opinion and contrast with the plutocratic, big business interests of the Republicans.

With all the winning issues waiting for the Democratic Party to show the voters what it stands for, why is there is hesitation, cowardliness, and obsession with raising money from commercial interests? Moreover, four time losers at the Congressional level and their failed political consultants have refused to step aside and be replaced by fresh, young politicians insistent on defending the country from the worst, cruelest, most corrupt iteration of the Republican Party in history.

Imagine what FDR, Harry Truman, and LBJ would have done with this current crop of grim and greedy Republican corporatists such as super-rich Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who just told the country that cuts in Medicare and social security are necessary due to the deficits he and his GOP created with the giant tax escapes for the rich and big corporations. For starters, old style Democrats would be “raising hell” promoting the omnipresent message that America Needs a Raise!

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Cong. Jamie Raskin – “Vote For a Raise, Expose the GOP, Win the Elections”

Decades ago, prominent political analyst Kevin Phillips said that the Republicans go for the jugular while the Democrats go for the capillaries. Today’s national Democratic Party makes Phillips observation seem overly generous.

With the polls tightening for November’s Congressional elections and Trump’s weak approval rating inching up to 47%, there is a sense of déjà vu. Why should we be surprised? Look at the sorry list of national Democratic derelictions:  they utterly failed to landslide the Republicans in the 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 elections for Congressional supremacy. Worse, the Republicans landslided the Democrats taking most state legislatures, governors and all three branches of the Federal government.

The current Republican Party is the worst in history. It is filled with cruel, vicious, corrupt Wall Street toadies, war-mongering wasters, and promoters of immunity and tax escapes for big corporations and the super-wealthy. In return for big campaign donations. The Republicans are very willing to imperil the health, safety, and economic well- being of consumers, workers, and patients.

Let’s start with the frozen federal minimum wage at $7.25 per hour. Some 30 million workers are making beyond that wage but still less than workers made in 1968, adjusted for inflation. Many of them say they are not voting because they feel disempowered. Well, why don’t the Democrats launch a national campaign urging workers to vote and get a long-overdue raise denied to them by corporate political power? Together with the AFL-CIO, the Democrats can bring this simple demand for justice, beyond formal resolutions, front and center before November 7.

For months I have urged Congressional Democrats to publicize a list of the most dangerous and cruel votes of the Congressional Republicans. The Democrats, for some unknown reason, have declined to do so. The Democratic National Committee, with their many occupied cubicles calling for donations, has not responded to my repeated year-long inquiries.

Support for raising the federal minimum wage is overwhelming with both liberal and conservative support among the voters. The Republicans are firmly set against any such raise; many of them want to get rid of the minimum wage law altogether. Why aren’t the national Democrats going beyond lip service and making this a really big election year issue?

Indeed, most people still ask “What does the Democratic Party stand for, other than Obamacare?” Some candidates running for Congress – mostly the insurgent Democrats who won their primaries – are talking up some of the many overdue justice reforms. However, only the Democratic leaders, and their allies, in Washington, D.C., with their hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign cash can make these causes nationally driven reforms.

Finally, one Congressman stepped up. No longer willing to wait, Cong. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a constitutional law professor, put out a list of “20 Outrageous Things the GOP House Majority Did in My First Term.” (See the list at jamieraskin.com). By highlighting and declaring why the House GOP is so crazily anti-people, the Democrats can define what they stand for.

Raskin’s list starts with the obvious. The House Republicans voted to get rid of health insurance coverage for 30 million Americans and subjected many more to the insurance companies’ deadly fine print (eg. deductibles, exclusions, waivers, pre-existing conditions etc.).

The House GOP voted to weaken law and order efforts against Wall Street’s crimes and recklessness, putting trillions of dollars in worker pensions and mutual funds at risk. Prominent specialists are now warning of another financial collapse from the greed of the speculators.

On Raskin’s list are those massive tax escapes given to the richest 1% and corporations, adding more than $1 trillion to the national deficit and leading Republicans, such as Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to demand cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The Democrats attacked the Trump tax legislation – pushed cowardly through without public hearings, but they have not offered their own tax reform plan that would make the big boys pay their fair share. Those monies could be used to repair and upgrade our infrastructure and create good jobs that are not exportable.  Where is the alternative Democratic tax plan?

The Republican Party’s votes against women rights and children’s well-being have become part of the GOP’s ruthless DNA – denying food, health care, housing, and energy assistance. Why aren’t the Democrats labeling the Republicans as the cruel and vicious big corporate toadies that they are? The message would be especially powerful in candidate debates.

Other House Republican votes on the list undermine workers’ rights to overtime pay for overtime work without loopholes, and all Americans right to their day in court with a trial by jury for their wrongful injuries and property damage.

For the GOP and their corporate paymasters, America is all about corporations uber alles. That’s why they push through Congress the nominations of big corporate judges such as Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The GOP cannot resist favoring more corporate pollution, especially for the mining industry, and giving the banks license to escape reporting requirements about their predatory and discriminatory lending practices.

Raskin’s 20th outrageous vote is a composite of what the House Republicans refused to do: “The GOP did nothing to address the nation’s infrastructure needs, pass the Dream Act, reduce gun violence, address climate change… increase the minimum wage, address the soaring price of prescription drugs, lower the cost of health care, strengthen voting rights and curb the power of foreign and corporate wealth in our elections, or challenge the outrageous corruption of this administration. “

Instead the Republicans are busy doing various things to suppress the vote in state after state. Where are the National Democrats to stop the rapacity and statism of the corporatist Republicans whom authentic conservatives also find repulsive?

Democrats have less than two weeks to show what the Republican Party is doing against the people and, by that message, show the people what the Democratic Party is determined to do for the people.

The Democratic Party has been told all the above for years. It is late but not too late to save the purported “blue wave” from becoming a blue trickle this November. Losing in 2018 will further open the gates to the Trumpsters’ greedy wrecking crew driving America into an authoritarian pit, if not worse.

Don’t think it can’t happen here again, visit jamieraskin.com for starters.

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Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists

Corporatist candidates like to talk up values without getting specific and without drawing attention to how their voting records put the interests of big financial backers against the interest of most voters. This election season is no exception, from Florida to Texas to California to Ohio to Wisconsin. In 2004, I wrote the following article for the Louisville Courier-Journal comparing Kentucky values to the starkly opposing record and behavior of Senator Mitch McConnell.

All current candidates for elective office who stand for “we the people” and believe that big corporations should be our servants, not our masters, may find this list of values applicable in their states. Corporatist opponents’ voting records, positions, and their campaign contributors’ interests can be clearly compared with civic values and any other values voters and candidates wish to highlight. This kind of comparison can only help to turn out larger numbers of voters who want to elect candidates who will champion consumer, worker, children, and small taxpayer causes.

———–

From my travels throughout Kentucky, starting with the late ‘60s campaign for coal miners’ health and safety laws, I’ve observed that Kentuckians would like their politicians to be driven by Kentucky values. This election season, voters must be wondering: How has Sen. Mitch McConnell lived up to key Bluegrass State commitments?

  1. Rewarding hard work

Kentuckians don’t want handouts — they believe in working for a living. That’s why they believe in a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.

Mitch McConnell is worth more than $27 million, but has blocked efforts to prevent the minimum wage from seriously eroding due to inflation. He would rather allow McDonald’s and Walmart have taxpayers, through the earned income tax credit, pay for their workers’ public assistance than raise their minimum wages to meet workers’ basic needs.

  1. Honoring your elders

Many Kentuckians follow the Fifth Commandment: Honor thy father and thy mother. They believe our elders, after a lifetime of work, deserve a decent living standard.

Mitch McConnell dishonors our fathers and mothers when he says that the government should cut funding for Social Security and Medicare, programs that give Kentucky elders, who paid into these safety nets, much-deserved security in their golden years.

  1. Practicality

Kentuckians want politicians to have the same practical problem-solving spirit that they and their neighbors exhibit in daily life.

Mitch McConnell has called himself a “Proud Guardian of Gridlock” in Washington and, as the Washington Post wrote, has “raised the art of obstructionism to new levels.”

  1. Respecting women

Kentucky women have made sure that respect and equality for women is a pillar of Kentucky culture.

Mitch McConnell has shown where he stands on disrespecting women: He has voted against helping mothers take leave for sick children, domestic violence victims seeking justice, and working women seeking fair pay.

  1. Being forthright

Kentuckians don’t like politicians talking behind their back — saying one thing to them in public and another in closed rooms full of fat cats.

Mitch McConnell does just that, meeting privately with the multi-billionaire Koch brothers and promising even more Senate opposition to raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits and helping students pay for college.

  1. Responsibility

Kentuckians believe people should be held responsible for how they treat others. They believe corporations should be held responsible for the harm they cause to their workers.

Mitch McConnell has helped roll back safety measures that hold corporations responsible for worker safety. At the urging of business groups, he helped pass a resolution declaring that Clinton administration safety rules protecting against repetitive-stress injuries “shall have no force or effect.” The United Mine Workers of America’s legislative director Bill Banig said McConnell has “not done anything to help us with mine safety.”

  1. Love thy neighbor

Kentuckians don’t want their neighbors in hard times dying because they’re struggling to make ends meet. That why they don’t want their neighbors subjected to “pay or die” health care, whether it is because of the staggering prices of drugs, operations, emergency treatments or health insurance.

Mitch McConnell stands opposed to the most efficient health care system, single payer, or full Medicare for all: everybody in, nobody out, with free choice of doctor and hospital. He even campaigned vigorously against Kynect, which has helped hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians sign up for health care.

  1. No one being above the law

Kentuckians do not believe anyone should be above the law. They want Wall Street crooks who crashed our economy and were bailed out by taxpayers to be prosecuted and put in jail.

Mitch McConnell is an avid Wall Street protector in Congress while he takes campaign cash from Wall Street bosses who he works to keep above the law. He has pledged to “go after” Dodd-Frank financial protections and has been a vocal opponent to the law-enforcing Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Wall Street was the No. 1 contributor to McConnell’s campaign committee from 2009-14.

  1. Defending the Constitution

Kentuckians defend the Constitution and especially believe in its first phrase: We the People. They believe that corporations are supposed to be our servants, not our masters.

Mitch McConnell has said that the “worst day” of his political life was when Congress passed the bipartisan McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms aimed at limiting corporate influence on governance. He proudly told a group of billionaires that the Citizens United decision allowing floods of corporate money into elections was a victory for “open discourse.”

  1. Patriotism

Kentuckians love the commonwealth and the nation. They honor our soldiers and the fallen for their loyalty to America.

Mitch McConnell has allied with disloyal, unpatriotic corporations who are abandoning America. He voted against laws that would help stop outsourcing and voted for tax breaks that perversely reward corporations for shipping American jobs overseas.

McConnell also voted in 2003 to defeat an amendment to provide $1 billion in life-saving body armor for the National Guard in Iraq and later in 2005 voted against an amendment to provide $213 million for more protective Humvees from roadside bombs in Iraq.

As Kentuckians head to the polls this November, I hope they keep these facts in mind about how McConnell has opposed these longstanding Kentucky values.

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Let’s Start a Kavanaugh Watch to Check All Five Corporate Judges

Brett Kavanaugh, the new Injustice of the Supreme Court of the United States, must be pleased by the leading news stories on Monday and Tuesday regarding his swift swearing-in on Saturday. The multiple perjurer, corporate supremacist, presidential power-monger, and a past fugitive from justice (regarding credible claims of sexual assault), Kavanaugh saw critical media coverage become yesterday’s story. The mass media has moved on to other calamities, tragedies, superstorms, and celebrity outrages. Opponents of his nomination must persevere anew.

The future of the Supreme Court looks grim considering Kavanaugh’s judicial decisions and involvement in war crimes and torture as Staff Secretary to President George W. Bush. It is likely that Kavanaugh will be the cruelest and most insensitive justice on the high Court. His support of corporate power will have few limits.  That’s saying something, given the rulings of Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.

Kavanaugh’s decisions and political statements are so off the wall, I’ve called him a corporation masquerading as a human being. Corporations’ uber alles is his pre-eminent core philosophy. Public Citizen’s analysis of his judicial record (apart from his extremist political ideology) showed that in split-decision cases (which are the most ideologically revealing cases), Kavanaugh ruled 15 times against worker rights and 2 times for worker rights. On environmental protection, he ruled 11 times for business interests and 2 times for the public’s interest. On consumer protection, he ruled 18 times for businesses and only 4 times for consumers. As for monopoly cases, he ruled 2 times for the corporation and zero times for market competition.

Kavanaugh also likes to rule for government power when it is arrayed against the people – ruling 7 times for police or human rights abuses and zero rulings for victims. On the other hand, governmental decisions that are protective of people interests will find Kavanaugh blocking the court room door more often than not. (See Public Citizen’s report).

The Alliance for Justice report on nominee Kavanaugh summed up their research with these words:

“He has repeatedly sided with the wealthy and the powerful over all Americans. He has fought consumer protections in the areas of automobile safety, financial services and a free and open Internet. Kavanaugh has also repeatedly ruled against workers, workplace protections and safety regulations… Kavanaugh has repeatedly ruled against efforts to combat climate change and the regulation of greenhouse gases. He also repeatedly ruled against protections for clean air.”

Locking in the 5 to 4 dominant corporate muscle of the Supreme Court will endanger you as a consumer and will jeopardize your health and economic well-being. Unless you become a corporation, your freedoms will be jeopardized. (See the Citizens United Decision in 2010 that allowed our elections to be overwhelmed with unlimited commercial campaign money and propaganda).

The cold-blooded, most corporate-indentured Republicans dominate our political process today. Mitch McConnell (see Kentucky Values), led by the election-buying Koch brothers, drove Kavanaugh’s nomination through the Senate, excluding important witnesses who wished to testify. To shore up claims of legitimacy, McConnell allowed the FBI to conduct a sham investigation that was shaped by Trump’s White House lawyer Don McGahn and the FBI head, Christopher Wray. Wray had previously worked with his friend Kavanaugh on the Starr investigation of Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct.

Resilience and action are required. The Supreme Court is deeply political – forget about the claims of judicial independence by the five Justices in the majority. Their votes on issues of class, race, presidential and corporate power, peoples’ rights, and remedies and access to justice (day in court with trial by jury) against corporations are quite predictable.

A new Kavanaugh Watch group – lean and sharp – needs to be created to publicize the Five Corporatist Judges. Their unjust decisions, hiding behind stylized plausibility and casuistry, need to be unmasked and regularly relayed to the American people. Their speeches to the Federalist Society (that shoehorned them onto the Court) and other plutocratic audiences need to be publicized and critiqued. Importantly their refusal to recuse themselves, due to conflicts of interest or prior expressions of bias (as in Kavanaugh’s eruption on his last day of the Senate Judiciary hearings), need to be denounced. (See Laurence Tribe’s op-ed in the New York Times). Also, their light workload, as in the low numbers of cases they take, in contrast to the many cases they decline to hear, both requires more public attention.

The life-time ensconced enforcers of corporate state control over the lives of the American people and often innocent people abroad (permitting undeclared bloody wars of choice) must be confronted by “We the People.” We need to remember that the words “corporation” or “company” are not mentioned in the Constitution that starts with the phrase, “We the People.”

Finally, are there a few billionaires in the country, concerned enough about what their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are going to inherit from our generation, to make a significant founding grant to launch the Kavanaugh and company watch dog project?

To donate, please visit: https://csrl.org/donate/.

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The Root of the Internet’s Disrepute: Online Advertising!

In all the mounting media coverage of problems with the Internet, such as invasion of privacy, vulnerability to hacking, political manipulation, and user addiction, there is one constant: online advertising. Online advertising is the lifeblood of Google, Facebook, and many other Internet enterprises that profit by providing personal data to various vendors. Moreover, the move of tens of billions of dollars from conventional print and broadcast media continues, with devastating impacts, especially on print newspapers and magazines.

But does online advertising work for consumers? The Internet was once considered a less commercial medium. But today consumers are inundated with targeted ads, reviews, comments, friends’ reactions, and other digital data.  Unfortunately for advertisers, consumers are not intentionally clicking on online ads in big numbers.

Google’s search ads tackle people when they search for a product or service. A controlled study by eBay research labs in 2014 concluded that Google was greatly exaggerating the effectiveness of such ads—at least those bought by eBay. eBay’s researchers concluded that “More frequent users whose purchasing behavior is not influenced by ads account for most of the advertising expenses, resulting in average returns that are negative.” This is the “I-was-gonna-buy-it-anyway problem,” says an article in the Atlantic.

The Atlantic notes:

Whether all advertising—online and off—is losing its persuasive punch…Think about how much you can learn about products today before seeing an ad. Comments, user reviews, friends’ opinions, price-comparison tools…they’re much more powerful than advertising because we consider them information rather than marketing. The difference is enormous: We seek information, so we’re more likely to trust it; marketing seeks us, so we’re more likely to distrust it.

Some companies like Coca-Cola have cooled on using online advertising. But advertising revenues keep growing for Google, Facebook, and the other giants of the Internet. These companies are racing to innovate, connecting ads to more tailored audiences, which tantalize and keeps hope springing eternal for the advertisers. The Internet ad sellers also provide detailed data to advertise themselves to the advertisers staying one step ahead of growing skepticism. This is especially a problem when there is inadequate government regulation of deceptive advertising. It is the Wild West! Online advertising revenues are the Achilles’ heel of these big Internet companies. Any decline will deflate them immensely; more than public and Congressional criticism of their intrusiveness, their massive allowed fakeries, their broken promises to reform, and their openings to unsavory political and commercial users. If they lose advertising revenue, a major revenue bubble will burst and there goes their business model, along with their funding for ventures from video hosting to global mapping.

After reviewing the many major negatives attributed to the Internet, the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo writes, “So who is the central villain in this story, the driving force behind much of the chaos and disrepute online?… It’s the advertising business, stupid.” He adds, perhaps optimistically, “If you want to fix much of what ails the internet right now, the ad business would be the perfect perp to handcuff and restrain.”

Randall Rothenberg, who heads a trade association of companies in the digital ad business, urges advertisers “to take civic responsibility for our effect on the world.” Then he shows his frustration by saying that, “Technology has largely been outpacing the ability of individual companies to understand what is actually going on.”  All of this even before artificial intelligence (AI) takes root. Meanwhile, Facebook, Google, and Twitter keep announcing new tools to make their ads “safe and civil” (Facebook), open and protective of privacy. At the same time matters keep getting worse for consumers. The backers and abusers keep getting more skilled too (see Youtube Kids ).

In a recent report titled “Digital Deceit,” authors Dipayan Ghosh and Ben Scott wrote:

The Central problem of disinformation corrupting American political culture is not Russian spies or a particular media platform. The central problem is that the entire industry is built to leverage sophisticated technology to aggregate user attention and sell advertising.

If so, why isn’t more public attention being paid to this root cause? Not by the mass media which is obviously too compromised by the Congress, by academia, or by more of US before “We the People” become the conditioned responders that Ivan Pavlov warned about so many years ago.

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Gross Hospital Negligence Does Not Exempt Celebrities

Solid studies by physicians at leading medical schools have been warning of the huge casualty toll that flows from preventable problems in hospitals. A 2016 peer-reviewed study by physicians at the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine estimated that at least 5,000 people a week in the U.S. lose their lives due to such causes as hospital-induced infection, medical malpractice, inattentiveness, and other deficiencies. Media attention lasted one day.

What will it take to make the powers-that-be outside and inside the government reduce what medical analysts call the third leading cause of death in America? Let that statement sink in—preventable problems in hospitals are the third leading cause of death in America after heart disease and cancer!

Indignation and frustration over the massive avoidance of action to save American lives and reduce even more preventable injuries and sicknesses prompted the issuance of an eye-opening, factual report by the Center for Justice and Democracy (lodged at New York Law School) titled “Top 22 Celebrities Harmed by Medical Malpractice.” Surely in a celebrity culture, this documented report should have made headlines and prompted widespread commentary. Unfortunately, the report received little coverage from major news outlets.

Let’s see if you agree that this compilation, written by Emily Gottlieb and conceived by Joanne Doroshow, the Center’s Director, should have been newsworthy. Surveys cited in the Report show that “Four in 10 adults have experience with medical errors, either personally or in the care of someone close to them.” “Nearly three-quarters [73 percent] of patients say they are concerned about the potential for medical errors.”

Count tennis superstar, Serena Williams, was among them.  She had to save her own life overcoming inattentive medical personnel “that initially dismissed her legitimate concerns about lethal blood clots following the birth of her child.” That story made news. Other celebrities passed away without the public knowing the causes until lawsuits were filed and settlements were rendered. For the most part, the physicians have received reprimands, temporary suspensions, but rarely lost their license to practice.

Joan Rivers, the long-time comedian, entered an endoscopy center in July 2014 for a routine throat procedure in New York. Her vital signs started failing, but her caretakers were “so busy taking cell phone pictures of their famous patient that they missed the moment her vital signs plummeted,” according to her daughter Melissa who filed a successful lawsuit ending in a private settlement.

Celebrity doctors who “cater to ‘the demands of wealthy and/or famous drug-seekers’” are overprescribing pain killers and other drugs. Reckless practices “led to the premature deaths of legendary entertainers like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, to name just three.” More recently, over-prescription of drugs has harmed or killed Michael Jackson , Prince, Anna Nicole Smith,  and 3 Doors Down guitarist Matt Roberts, to name a few. These were not one-time prescriptions but rather deadly ministrations over time by physicians who knew the conditions and vulnerabilities of their famous patients.

Other tragedies recounted in the Center’s report, based on lawsuit evidence and/or a medical board sanction, include singer Julie Andrews (destroyed her singing career); Marty Balin, Jefferson Airplane’s co-founder and lead-singer (destroyed his career); comedian Dana Carvey (led to “serious illness”); Maurice Gibb, the Bee Gees’ star (“died in a Florida hospital”); NASCAR champion, Pete Hamilton (survived “horrendous surgical errors causing… multiple complications”); and John Ritter, the Emmy award-winning actor, was “misdiagnosed and improperly treated at a hospital where he died.”

The great sports writer, Dick Schaap died after routine hip replacement surgery, when contemporary tests showed his weakened lungs indicated that the procedure would be too dangerous.

In 1987, the pioneering artist, director, and producer, Andy Warhol, underwent gallbladder surgery and died a day later when medical personnel put too much fluid intravenously into his body.

The Center’s report concludes by noting that “health care in the United States can be incredibly unsafe, and this is true even for well-known actors, singers, musicians, athletes and other personalities …wealth and fame cannot shield someone from being victimized by a preventable medical error.”

Safety and health reforms are long overdue in hospitals and clinics astonishingly. The American Medical Association has not produced any calls to action with effective recommendations. State regulators are heavily compromised by conflicts of interest and low budgets. The federal government is AWOL. A minimum of 5,000 lives lost a week, not counting the casualties in clinics and medical offices is a serious health crisis. This ongoing epidemic should lead to public alarms and reforms long known but kept on the shelf. Contact your members of Congress and demand public hearings. The evidence cannot be ignored any longer.

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Consumer Voices Needed in US Privacy Debate

By Ralph Nader and Marc Rotenberg

Last week the Federal Trade Commission scheduled two days of hearings to explore new challenges to consumers in the digital age. The hearings were heralded by incoming chair Joe Simons as the first comprehensive review of the consumer agency’s role in almost two decades. The only problem is that the FTC forgot to invite the consumers. There were professors and former commissioners. They were industry lobbyists, described as “experts in consumer protection law,” and agency officials. But no one was invited to represent the people the Commission is expected to protect or the people who would be impacted by the Commission’s actions.

The problem of silencing consumers is not limited to the FTC. Senate Commerce Chair John Thune has scheduled a hearing this week on “Examining Safeguards for Consumer Data Privacy.” The event is timely and the Chairman should be commended for convening the hearing. But the current witness list is all industry. There is a VP from AT&T and from Amazon. The Chief Privacy officer from Google was invited, as was the Legal Director for Twitter. Vice Presidents from Apple and Charter also made the cut.

But no one asked consumer representative to describe the current challenges American consumers face in the online marketplace. Do not be surprised if we get an exchange similar to the question Senator Orin Hatch asked Mark Zuckerberg when the Facebook CEO testified in Congress back in April, “what type of legislation would you like?”

The problem is not simply that a consumer agency or a Senate committee should routinely invite consumer representatives to testify on consumer issues. That is obvious. The problem is that that the framing of the discussion, without the consumer voice, reflects the assumptions and biases of the industry.

For example, at the FTC hearing last week industry lobbyists continued to focus on outdated notions of harm. Little was said about the growing risk of data breach and identity theft in the United States or the FTC’s failure to enforce its own consent orders. The industry lobbyists expressed skepticism about new efforts to safeguard consumers, but no consumer representative was there to defend or amplify these proposals. And all the big FTC merger approvals – Google’s acquisition of Doubleclick, Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and then WhatsApp – were ignored.

Public policy suffers when critical voices are excluded. The range of options that policy makers consider is narrowed. This has a corrosive effect on democratic institutions, making it even more difficult to solve real problems. In the privacy world, for example, we now know that foreign adversaries are targeting the personal data gathered by US companies. That was true in the Equifax data breach that compromised the authenticating details — the social security numbers and dates of birth — of over one hundred million American consumers. It is true in many other data breaches, yet current US consumer protection law nowhere acknowledges the problem. As Senator Warren has rightly said, data protection is now a matter of national security.

There is also a close tie between unbounded data collection and industry consolidation. Firms use their detailed knowledge of consumers to fortify their monopoly position and stifle innovation. Consumers in these two-sided markets have little say over who has access to their data or how it is used. And there is little evidence that “data portability,” a concept favored by the monopolists, has promoted new entrants or competition. These issues should have been at the top of the list for an FTC hearing on consumer protection and competition. But crickets.

Beyond consumer protection, national security, competition, and innovation, there is one of other issue that looms large in the debate on data protection – the future of democracy. This is partly about the manipulation of public opinion by the Internet giants, such as Facebook, and the specific case Cambridge Analytica, but there are also structural problems that have retrenched corporate statism.

Speaking at Davos in 2018, George Soros made clear the threat that the tech titans pose to democratic institutions. As Soros explained, “as Facebook and Google have grown into ever more powerful monopolies, they have become obstacles to innovation, and they have caused a variety of problems of which we are only now beginning to become aware.” Soros warned in January “there is an even more alarming prospect on the horizon,” there could be an alliance between authoritarian states and IT monopolies that would join corporate surveillance with state-sponsored surveillance.

Soros called out China and Russia and in just the last few months the Intercept reported on Dragonfly, Google’s secret project to develop a search engine for the Chinese government that would not only censor search results but would also uniquely link search queries to identifiable users. That is a risk with Google search that US privacy advocates have warned the FTC about for more than a decade, yet the consumer agency has failed to act even as that technique are is deployed to censor speech and support authoritarian governments.

Another recent story reported in the libertarian magazine Reason notes “Google complied last week with the Russian government’s demand that it remove YouTube ads featuring Alexei Navalny, a well-known critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.” The same company that has called the Right to Be Forgotten, which protects the privacy rights of Internet users, “censorship” seems quite willing to take down core political speech. Perhaps if the FTC had blocked Google’s acquisition of YouTube, as consumer groups had urged, there would be more freedom to express controversial views in Russia today. That issue was also ignored during the FTC hearings.

There are many reasons why it is so vital that public institutions, such as the FTC and the Senate Commerce Committee, ensure the participation of consumer advocates in the debate over the future of privacy protection. Change is taking place quickly and it is those advocates who are in the best position to advise policy makers. The alternative, which we are now witnessing, is a backward-looking justification of ineffective policies or an invitation to industry to design the regulations it would favor. Neither approach will solve the problems facing consumers and the country.

In a recent letter to the Senate Commerce Committee, Jeff Chester with the Center for Digital Democracy expresses “surprise and concern” that not a single consumer representative was invited to testify. Mr. Chester asks whether any of the industry groups will put forward proposals to establish baseline privacy legislation, strengthen penalties for data breaches, or reduce the secret profiling of American consumers. “How can members of the Committee develop sensible solutions if they are not even aware of the full range of options?” he wrote. Many consumer organizations supported Mr. Chester’s efforts.

The voices of these consumer advocates should be heard. It is not too late to start a meaningful dialogue on the future of privacy in America.

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Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?

In an oft-reported exchange between Gertrude Stein, an American widely known for her wisdom and glittering 1920s Parisian literary salon, and one of her earnest admirers, the admirer asked her – “What are the answers, Madame Stein?” She replied “What are the questions?”

Within our media/political/corporate culture of self-censorship and taboo topics, we should restate Ms. Stein’s rejoinder—what are the questions of gravity and relevance that are chronically unasked?

Here are some questions that should be asked, until answered!

  1. Why are Supreme Court nominees, including Judge Brett Kavanaugh, not asked by the Senate Judiciary Committee about corporate crime, tyrannical, one-sided fine print contracts, weakened tort law and U.S. violations of constitutional and international law affecting all Americans?
  2. Why do reporters and elected and regulatory officials decline to ask questions about peer-reviewed studies concluding a minimum of 250,000 Americans are losing their lives every year due to preventable problems in hospitals? (see Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s May 2016 report). Five thousand fatalities a week on the average plus many more preventable injuries and illnesses should be an ongoing subject of urgent inquiry for action.
  3. Computerized billing fraud is rampant. Last year in the health care industry alone, computerized billing fraud amounted to about $350 billion dollars. The leading expert, Harvard’s Malcolm Sparrow, and a Congressional GAO report estimate at least 10% of all health expenditures are a result of fraudulent billings. Why aren’t the TV networks, PBS and NPR, and the major newspapers all over this massive ongoing heist?
  4. Sanctions imposed on foreign agencies and personnel are flying out of Washington. What are these sanctions, how are they enforced, are they legal under international law, is there any due process to protect the innocent or indirect victims, and how are they countered? There are regular stories about the U.S. government announcements of sanctions, but no follow-up questions about this burgeoning unilateral foreign policy.
  5. The Taliban is composed of no more than 30,000 to 35,000 fighters without an air force, navy or heavy ground armor. Why are they holding down for over a decade U.S. forces and their allies many times their number, with advanced weaponry, and enlarging their territorial control? Is it because expelling foreign invaders motivates their astonishing determination? And who are all those suicide bombers and what is motivating them to stand in line waiting for the call?
  6. Why has the Congressional scrutiny of the wasteful, unauditable military budget crumbled as never before with the Democrats voting for more money than even Trump initially asked for in the last funding cycle? Over 50 percent of the federal government operating expenses goes to defense? Both parties act as if adequate money for infrastructure repair in this country is nowhere to be found.
  7. Why aren’t the hundreds of full-time reporters covering Congress demanding to know why members, or their staff, routinely do not reply to substantive letters, calls, or e-mails, without constant hammering by citizens? The exception is if you are a campaign donor. Why are Congressional offices often so unavailable during working hours? If you are lucky you can leave a message on the office voicemail. Inside the heavily guarded Russell Senate Office Building, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) even locks the door to his suite of offices.
  8. Similar non-responsiveness holds true with government agencies in the executive branches at the federal and state levels. A group of citizens, including me, has been waiting for months to get a reply from the Justice Department about their request for the Department‘s position on starting a long needed corporate crime database. One would think that newspapers, begging for readers, would do regular, random surveys of these agencies who, after all, work for the people they are shutting out. Small wonder citizens are turned off government when they can’t get through to get answers to their critical inquiries.

When I manage to get through to them, I tell newspaper, radio, or TV reporters and editors about agencies that do not respond (corporations are another dark void of obstruction) they invariably say that this would be a good service story for their readers, viewers, and listeners. Yet somehow, they never do such surveys of agencies, perhaps because as news people they have an easier time in getting through.

Have you had a serious personal or critical inquiry put to your U.S. Senator or Representative that has gone unanswered? Send us your ignored letter or email or telephone request by October 1, and we’ll try to get you an answer from your hired hands on Capitol Hill. Or shall we call the place “Wuthering Heights”?

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Stop Brett Kavanaugh— A Corporation Masquerading as a Judge

Observers say that confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to become President Trump’s second pick for a lifetime job on the Supreme Court will make the Court more conservative. It is more accurate to say Kavanaugh will make the Court more corporatist.

With Kavanaugh, it is all about siding with corporations over workers, consumers, patients, motorists, the poor, minority voters, and beleaguered communities.

Repeatedly Kavanaugh’s judicial opinions put corporate interests ahead of the common good—backing the powerful against the weak, the vulnerable, and the defenseless.

Apart from his declared views pouring power and immunity into the Presidency (which is why Trump wants him), Kavanaugh could be the most corporate judge in modern American history. Two meticulous reports on his judicial decisions, one by the Alliance for Justice (AFJ) and one by Public Citizen demonstrate that for him it’s all about corporations uber alles.

Here is AFJ’s summary:

Kavanaugh has repeatedly ruled against efforts to combat climate change and the regulation of greenhouse gases. He also repeatedly ruled against protections for clean air. He has repeatedly sided with the wealthy and the powerful over all Americans. He has fought consumer protections in the areas of automobile safety, financial services, and a free and open internet. Kavanaugh has also repeatedly ruled against workers, workplace protections and safety regulations.

Do you want him to be on the Supreme Court?

Kavanaugh is a corporate supremacist to a fanatic level of protecting corporate cruelty and greed. Giving him an unaccountable lifetime position on the Court will weaken our democracy and empower the corporate state.

What will he do when cases involve robots harming workers or consumers; corporate algorithms corkscrewing consumers; corporations turning the governments against their citizens; and corporate criminals being bailed out by taxpayers?

Fortunately, Kavanaugh gives us more than a clue from his many judicial decisions and dissents, especially with healthcare cases coming before the Court. Public Citizen’s factually-based report on Judge Kavanaugh’s opinions in split-decision cases provides insight into his judicial philosophy.

He ruled 15 times against worker rights, 2 times for worker rights. On environmental protection, he ruled 11 times for business interests and 2 times for the public’s interest. On consumer and regulatory cases, he ruled 18 times for businesses and 4 times for consumer protection interests. In the area of antitrust or anti-monopoly, he ruled 2 times for the corporations and zero times for market competition.

He seems to love government power when it is arrayed against the people, ruling 7 times for police or human rights abuses versus zero rulings for the victims. But he rules against government agencies when they are protecting the interests of the people over those of corporations.

Even more extreme, he does not like human beings to sue corporations or sue the government. But if you are a corporation, the courthouse doors are always open.

Kavanaugh rules like he is a corporation masquerading as a human. But in his introductory statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he wanted us to see him a regular guy, weirdly remembering the row and seat number at two professional sports games his father took him to as a child and listing all the names of his sixth grade daughter’s basketball team.

Shame on Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) for severely restricting the voices from civil society allowed to testify before the Judiciary Committee. No wonder Code Pink had to protest from the galleries.

Watch out for a cruel man with a folksy smile. Watch once again the Democratic Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee minimizing Kavanaugh’s bias for corporations— except for Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Given the lives, injuries, and sickness at stake; given the dictatorially approved taxpayer-funded corporate welfare and bloated corporate contracts with governments draining the peoples’ necessities, given Kavanaugh’s mindless support for corporate dollars corruptly buying elections, maybe the motto against this awful nomination should be “Kavana-ugh!”

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