To the New York Times – “We Thought We Knew Ye”

By Ralph Nader
August 5, 2022

In 1980 we produced a report titled How to Appraise and Improve Your Daily Newspaper: A Manual for Readers, authored by David Bollier, one of our precocious interns, who had just graduated from Amherst and went on to become an expert on the Commons (See, bollier.org). I thought about this past initiative to empower readers/consumers while contemplating what is happening in recent months to the print edition of the New York Times.

The editors call it an historic revamping in the digital age that is absorbing a growing, aliterate younger generation. I call it a frantic overreach replacing serious content with excessive photography and graphics slouching toward stupefaction. (The digital Times is doing very well).

I spend serious time reading the New York Times in print – marking up at least 30 selections daily and sending them to a variety of advocates, scholars and groups. I started reading this august newspaper at the age of ten.

Until the Internet Age of verbal incommunicados, I extended my reading experience by speaking frequently with New York Times editors, reporters and opinion-writers. Many a story idea flowed from these conversations.

Many a change for a better country resulted. What, why and how the New York Times has moved so heavily into a vast visual mix of magazine styles and supplemental entertainment for its various sections are open questions. There is a daily Arts Section, but not a single weekly section devoted to Civic activities, which should invite an extensive assessment by journalism critics and serious journalists.

Also useful would be an evaluation of the many other New York Times’ commercial ventures – launched by the desperate management to make up for the loss of print advertising – (space and classified) revenues.

However, here I wish to register an objection to the very recent unseemly, inexplicable collapse of the Times’ historic editorial and op-ed pages that are arguably the most significant two pages in all of our country’s mainstream journalism.

The implosion of these pages started some months ago when I noticed that op-eds were displacing the previously sacrosanct space for the Times’ daily editorials. From the usual three editorials taking up the left half of the page (the rest of the page was reserved for letters-to-the-editor), emerged op-eds such as the tepid exchanges between professed “liberal” Gail Collins and “conservative” hawk Bret Stephens (whose earlier Wall Street Journal writings argued for illegal wars and imperial armed violence overseas). Now in addition to each having a weekly column, they engage in strained exchanges in the weekly opinion feature “The Conversation.” What is the point of using precious space in the New York Times to showcase Bret seeking agreement on current news topics with the more moderate Gail, especially compared to featuring vibrant, fresh columns the editors could be seeking from more freelance contributors? (See some little covered subjects listed on Reporters Alert: reportersalert.org).

The pages are getting more exclusive. Preference for the remaining space not occupied by regular columnists now goes to writers who have been signed up for Times podcasts and Times newsletters. This paper is pointing toward a journalistic monoculture, keeping out of its pages knowledgeable, experienced writers on many important, ignored subjects and positions.

It keeps getting worse. In the last week or so the former editorial space was taken up with a long demand for New York City to teach children how to swim. (Important, but belonging to another section). The entire editorial page was recently an artistic portrayal of the headline “The Choices My Mother Could, and Couldn’t, Make.” (Good for another section). And just this August 3, 2022, another full-page article titled “Liz Cheney is Prepared to Lose Power, and It Shows” replaced editorials with a gigantic picture of the legislator’s face.

Is it not enough that photographs and graphics have taken up huge spaces (in the Business Section, and in the various Sunday sections) where paying readers used to receive content? The editorial and opinion pages that used to be a haven of print, with no photographs taking up space for precious content, are now also losing space to gratuitous graphics – art over function.

To be sure this is a visual age. But there is such a thing as much too much. Visuals have replaced the incisive Sunday Business Section articles by Gretchen Morgenson, consumer features by Joe Sharkey and others. Now there are photographic/print articles that have some serious readers shaking their heads and asking what are they doing in the Times Business Section.

Page two of the daily Times often has reporters explaining how they got their break-through stories, including glimpses up front and personal. I may have missed it, but no such explanations were printed giving the real reasons for thinning down the editorial and op-ed pages.

I never thought that the Washington Post – owned by Jeff Bezos – would ever overtake the Times in presenting serious content. They now have, especially comparing its Sunday Outlook Section with its remodeled counterpart the Times Sunday Opinion Section. The Post readers still receive three editorials a day. The Post also devotes a full page on Saturday to letters-to-the-editor, unlike the Times.

As for editorials, I noticed one, just one, in a recent six-day period, demurely tucked in the lower quarter of the opinion page. Whatever happened to the dozen or more full-time editorial writers who robustly championed serious issues? Have they been laid off, reassigned or what?

The Times still produces remarkable, pioneering features such as its spectacular series on the illegal predations and burning of the critical Brazilian Amazon Forest. It publishes other domestic muckraking stories so good that they beg the formation of a citizen group just to extend this newspaper’s exposure of wrongdoing and to push for reforms.

But there are also bizarre forays, such as the eleven full biographical pages on Fox’s Tucker Carlson (which he used as a promotion).

There are many other regular strange journalistic misadventures, filled with over-visualizations surrounding puzzling choices of subject matter. For instance, the Times is hung up on narrative features about little-known, extreme right-wing groups and ventures. The subjects love it. They raise money off this coverage, becoming a big act for their followers. Readers are left wondering whether anything is happening on the progressive side of the political ledger in this election year.

What should be done? Open a couple of pages for long-time readers, who have a comparative perspective, to express their opinion of these changes. Have the editors give us the reasons for these changes, beyond self-reinforcing surveys.

Of course, the Times needs to react to what the new generations of readers want to read (hopefully uplifting the quality of its many such pages). Nonetheless, its most basic mission is to offer the readers what they need to know about this tormented world of ours in the far fewer print pages they are allocating for that purpose.

Years ago, it used to be said “You can always tell a Times man, but you can’t tell him much.” Please reverse your slide toward mediocrity and recover a sense of your own special significance in an unceasingly deteriorating journalistic culture of print, radio and television and social media.

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Callers say – “Can’t Get Through” – Callees say – “Don’t Want to Let Them Through”

By Ralph Nader
July 28, 2022

Most of us play both roles of the Caller and Callee. Guess which role rules? The Callee. I’ve lost count of how many older adults tell me, week after week, how hard it is to get through to powerful Callees. Especially by telephone! The latter include your local electric, gas and telephone company, your bank and insurance company, your members (or their staff) of Congress, your local, state and federal government agencies. It never used to be that way.

Imagine the days when you’d pick up your phone, dial and get through to a human being. You couldn’t be waylaid by the evasive robotic operator who gives you the “press one, or two, or three or four” drill. Unfortunately, when you select “one” you often get another automatic recording. At some point you get a voicemail opportunity which is really voicefail.

Oh, say the younger people – what about trying email or text messaging? Clutter, filters, distractions and sheer overloads can’t adequately describe the ways Callees can keep you from getting through to a human. The more difficult it is, the more people repeat their attempts, and the more overload there is for the digital gatekeepers. Call this the Callees’ power plays.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures white-collar labor productivity. If they measured the sheer billions of hours wasted by people trying to get through to do their jobs, white-collar labor productivity would be far lower than its present level.

Here are some areas of abuse. Our Constitution’s First Amendment protects more than freedom of speech, press and religion. It adds the “right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” “Grievances” include more than personal affronts or injustices, such as petitions to get the government to enact or repeal policies, practices or other behaviors. I am confident in saying that members of Congress and their staff have never been more unresponsive to serious petitions (letters, calls, emails and old-fashioned petitions) on important issues than today.

Their prompt responses are reserved for donors and ceremonial requests (graduations, birthdays, weddings, funerals, and friends). Civic groups supporting a member’s already chosen legislative priorities find their staff have a working relationship with a congressional office. But try to get through to a member of Congress to sponsor a Congressional hearing or expand their portfolio to new urgent arenas – yes, keep trying.

It is near impossible to get through to even friendly members (or senior staffers) of Congress on grave matters of undeclared wars, starving the IRS budget to aid and abet massive tax evasions by the super-rich and big companies, serial lawless rejections of Congressional authority under the Constitution by the White House, or even restoring the staff of Congressional Committees that Newt Gingrich cut in 1995 when he toppled the House Democrats. Non-responses everywhere.

It is so bad that we wrote to every member of Congress and asked them what their office policy toward responding to serious communications was. Only one in 535 offices responded.

Of course, there is the absorbing activity known as “constituent service” – intervening for people back home not getting responses from federal agencies for their personal complaints. Some responsiveness to constituents’ personal stories is widely believed to be good for re-election. (See my column, Does Congress Need an Ombudsman to Look After Its Case Work? https://nader.org/2022/04/30/does-congress-need-an-ombudsman-to-look-after-its-case-work/, published in the Capitol Hill Citizen newspaper – https://www.capitolhillcitizen.com/).

If the Congress in the sixties and seventies was as unresponsive as Congress is today, ironically in the midst of the communications revolution, we couldn’t have gotten the key consumer, environmental, worker safety and health laws, the Freedom of Information Law and other laws enacted. Clearly, if you cannot communicate consistently with the 535 members of Congress and staff, who are given massive sovereign powers by “We the People” (right in the preamble to our Constitution), you cannot even start to get anything done on Capitol Hill.

There is one democracy wrecking exception – corporate lobbyists who grease the system with campaign money and assorted inducements and temptations dangled in real time and in the future. The lobbyists for the oil, gas and coal industries, the banking, insurance and brokerage companies, the military weapons manufacturers, the drug, hospital and nursing home chains, corporate law firms, the corporate media and others of similar avarice do get access. They get the private cellphone numbers of our elected officials, because they invite members and staff to luxurious gatherings and travel junkets, as well as more formal fundraising or Political Action Committee (PAC) venues.

This phenomenon of elected officials being incommunicado toward the civic communities is a controlling process by the powerful over the less powerful. Make no mistake. This same tale of two systems of access is everywhere. Big banks (Bank of America is one of the worst) and utility companies have algorithms that tell them how they can hire fewer workers for customer service if they can make consumers wait on recorded lines, or fail to answer emails and letters. The big companies want customers to just give up.

The courts are culpable as well. People have complained about not being able even to get through to Small Claims Court for hours at a time. The Postal Service is not known for quick telephone pickups, still under control of Trump’s nominee Louis DeJoy. Not to mention what the GOP did to the IRS ordinary taxpayer response budget.

But some companies are a bit more responsive such as FedEx or your local small retail family-owned business.

The lack of access is a serious problem that degrades quality of life with heightened stress and anxiety. And in some cases, during an emergency or disaster, the lack of a response can have dire consequences.

Fifty billion robocalls a year have disrupted seriously people answering their telephones, even from neighbors down the street. (The FCC and FTC just are not aggressively pressuring the communications companies to use the latest software to thwart these robocall outlaws). These agencies themselves are notoriously incommunicado.

What do to? Be more vociferous. Favor politicians and merchants who pledge to have humans answer phones and not make you wait, wait, and wait to give them your thoughts, your business and your complaints.

Your suggestions, readers, will be most welcome.

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Weaning the State Department from War-making to Peaceful Robust Diplomacy

By Ralph Nader
July 22, 2022

Other than being an adjunct booster of overseas Pentagon military operations and refortifying its vulnerable embassies, what does the U.S. State Department stand for and do anymore?

Sometimes it’s hard to see much difference with the much larger Department of Defense (DOD). Its more belligerent statements or threats since Bill and Hillary Clinton’s days have made the DOD sound almost circumspect.

Recall it was Secretary of State, ‘Generalissima’ Hillary Clinton, under Obama, who, against the opposition of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, pressed the President in 2011 to unlawfully overthrow the Libyan regime unleashing chaos, violence and mayhem in Libya and in neighboring African nations that still prevails today. (Later, Obama said it was his biggest foreign policy regret.)

Our country’s founders established the State Department in 1789 to conduct diplomacy (plus consular duties). Its charter explicitly instructs its function to be peaceful relations with other nations.

We now have Secretary of State Antony Blinken who comes from the Hillary Clinton school of routine, unconstitutional and unlawful adventures overseas. He is ignoring the arms control treaties, especially with Russia, that have either expired, are about to expire, or are violated by both Russia and the US and other nations such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Then there are the treaties signed by 100 or more countries to which the U.S. State Department has scarcely made a move for Senate ratification. These include the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the International Criminal Court, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, the Convention on the Cluster Munitions and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Waging peace and conflict resolution should be the State Department’s main mission. There is a lot of inherited work for Antony Blinken and a revived foreign service corps to engage big time. Mr. Blinken could press aggressively for ‘cease fires’ for example, as with Russia’s war in Ukraine.

In 2019, former president Jimmy Carter called the United States “the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” adding that only 16 years out of our nation’s 242 years were times of peace.

Washington and its “military-industrial-complex” (President Eisenhower’s words) have set records toppling foreign governments that were duly elected by the people, and propping up right-wing dictatorships in Latin America, Africa and Asia, so long as they obey us and our corporations. (See: War is a Racket by General Smedley D. Butler, 1935).

Against this militaristic mania, you may wish to know about the Veterans for Peace (VFP) organization of which I am a member. VFP is embraced by veterans from all our wars going back to World War II. Its members have written, spoken, picketed and pursued non-violent disobediences against the recent wars of the U.S. Empire. VFP has highlighted the immense harm done to millions of innocent victims in these countries, speaking out against the injuries and illnesses of returning U.S. soldiers. VFP advocates for robust peace missions and enforceable arms control treaties.

I found VFP’s short report on the connections between militarism, environmental destruction and climate violence, especially noteworthy. (See, VeteransforPeace.org: https://www.veteransforpeace.org/).

Veterans for Peace challenges the proliferating impact of militarism and the vast bloated unauditable military expenditures throughout our political economy, culture and educational institutions.

With the leadership of Executive Director Garett Reppenhagen, VFP is planning a major expansion of its activities. Membership is open to non-veterans and they welcome donations. In particular, very wealthy elderly people who are looking for a universal cause to recognize might envision what a new future of peace and social justice looks like for our posterity. They can call Mr. Reppenhagen at 314-899-4514 / [email protected]

Perhaps, the State Department can host a meeting with Veterans for Peace to remind itself of its original mission.

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Students, Campuses and Dominant Corporate Power

By Ralph Nader
July 16, 2022

When it comes to corporate power and control over their lives, now and into the future, today’s college students are perilously dormant. When it comes to putting pressure on Congress to counter the various dictates of corporatism, there is little activity other than some stalwarts contacting their lawmakers on climate violence.

Much of campus activity these days focuses on diversity, tuition, student loans, “politically correct” speech demands and conforming conduct.

This campus environment is strangely oblivious to the corporate abuses of our economy, culture and government. This indifference extends to the endless grip of corporate power over the educational institutions that the students attend.

Companies see universities and colleges as profit centers.

Corporate vendors influence or control the food students eat on campus, down to the junk in vending machines, along with their credit cards, iPhones, very expensive textbooks and, of course, student debt.

College Boards of Trustees are dominated by corporate executives or corporate affiliated people. Corporate science is – as from drug companies, biotech, military weapons and fossil fuel companies – co-opting, corrupting or displacing academic science which is peer-reviewed and unencumbered by corporate profiteering (See Professor Sheldon Krimsky’s books: https://sites.tufts.edu/sheldonkrimsky/books/).

Corporate law firms dominate law schools, with few exceptions, seriously distorting the curriculum away from courses on corporate crimes and immunities and courses that show how corporations have shaped public institutions such as Congress, state legislatures, and the Pentagon along with state and federal regulatory agencies.

Business schools, except for a few free-thinking professors, are finishing schools for Wall Street and other businesses. They operate in an empirically starved environment regarding what is really going on in the world of global corporate machinations, while feeding their student’s dogmatic free-market fundamentalism.

Engineering departments narrowly orient their students toward corporate missions, without educating them about the engineering professions’ ethical and whistleblowing rights and duties. (See, Ethics, Politics, and Whistleblowing in Engineering by Nicholas Sakellariou and Rania Milleron, CRC Press, 2018).

Social science courses are largely remiss as well. There are very few courses on plutocratic rule and uncontrolled big-business ways of getting commercial values to override civic values. Teachers may be wary of raising such taboo topics, but the enthusiastic student response to Professor Laura Nader’s course on “Controlling Processes” at UC Berkeley over the years might indicate deep student interest in courses on top-down power structures.

Active students in the nineteen sixties and seventies took their environmental, civil rights and anti-war concerns directly to Congress. They, with other citizen groups, pushed Congress and got important legislation enacted.

Students in about twenty states created lasting full-time student advocacy groups called Public Interest Research Groups or PIRGs (See: studentpirgs.org).

Today the PIRGs are still making change happen in the country (See, Right to Repair Project: https://uspirg.org/feature/usp/right-repair). However, few new PIRGs have been established since 1980. Students need to embrace how important, achievable and enduring such nonprofit independent PIRGs can be. With skilled advocates continuing to train students in civic skills and provide students with extracurricular experiences for a lifetime of citizen engagement, the PIRGs create a vibrant reservoir for a more functioning democracy.

As a leading European statesman Jean Monnet said decades ago – “Without people nothing is possible, but without institutions nothing is lasting.”

Students need to think about the civic part of their years ahead and focus on building the pillars of a democratic society that dissolve the concentrated power of giant corporations and empower the citizenry as befits the “We the People” vision in our Constitution.

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U.S. China Policy: A Perilous Arms Race Instead of Waging Critical Cooperation

By Ralph Nader
July 11, 2022

Did the Biden officials know what they were doing when they announced a broad expansion of export controls on China? China is the world’s second-largest economy, which is intricately intertwined with the economy of the U.S. and other nations. This is mainly due to U.S. multinational companies exporting huge slices of our manufacturing economy to China for its cheap labor.

What is the White House and the Department of Commerce thinking? China is not Venezuela nor is it Russia, a weak and dependent economy with a GDP smaller than Italy. Do these brazen Bidenites realize the consequences of a grand list of technologies and knowhow being barred from China?

As the dominant imperial world power, the U.S. is struggling to understand how to deal with an aggressive rising power like China building spheres of influence around the world through exports, loans, development contracts, and technical assistance. It’s okay that we have military bases in over 100 countries whose leaders know the U.S. as the premier overthrower of elected governments with policies displeasing to Washington and Wall Street.

As a result, the Bidenites are unleashing export controls, arrived at through administrative secrecy, that will surely invite black markets, high-tech smuggling, and retaliation to make these controls a nightmare to enforce.

Provoking China to play its own cards is not smart. China, thanks to the greed of coddled and subsidized U.S. drug companies, produce much of our pharmaceuticals. These companies have left America, for example, with no production domestically of antibiotics – certainly a national security priority!

China possesses “rare earth” minerals and produces technology crucial to our own defense and high-tech industries. Its government allows U.S. factories to be built in China on the condition of a flow of latest “technology transfers.” Ask General Motors.

How are export controls – based on asserted national security grounds – going to work, other than to accelerate a new arms race? “We need to retain technological overmatch” declared Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, adding that export controls “are at the red hot center of how we best protect our democracies.” Tell that to the mass victims of the next round of viruses from China due to our minuscule weak public health programs and early detection systems, while we spend more than 2 ½ times as much as China on our military budget having had a huge head start in past years.

The New York Times reports that U.S. officials also don’t like China’s deep surveillance of its people. It is as if surveillance capitalism (See, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Professor Shoshana Zuboff) and the NSA’s dragnet violations of the 4th amendment are chump change.

China is already in the front ranks of artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and quantum computing. To declare a cold war on China’s access to technology, as a Commerce Department official said, “that advance the country’s scientific advancement” including on foreign companies that use some U.S. products, is ludicrous. Aren’t they aware of the traditional open exchange between scientists all over the world, not to mention China’s own allies or collaborators in this regard?

What is also well known, but not uppermost in people’s minds, is that China, Russia, and the U.S. have embedded malware in each other’s cyber worlds that if triggered could cause catastrophe. The concern about China’s tens of billions of dollars invested in U.S. Treasury bonds should also be an issue for Mr. Biden.

Another calculation underweighted is the quiet opposition to export controls by U.S. companies that salivate over the present and future profits with Chinese trade – Apple CEO Tim Cook (who, by the way, makes $833 a minute on a 40-hour week) got a special waiver treatment from Trump, continued by Biden, for importing tens of billions of dollars annually of iPhones and computers from its Chinese contractors without tariffs.

This is another way of noting that export controls invite both raw corruption and special lobbying for waivers. They were tried by the U.S. against the old USSR, which developed elaborate circumventions.

So here we go again. Of course, certain lethal products need to be embargoed by all countries protective of their people. The U.S is expanding its so-called “entity list” cutting off hundreds of foreign companies and groups from certain U.S. technologies unless U.S. suppliers get licenses to sell goods to them. Don’t these government officials know that blacklisted companies can mutate through other corporations chartered in tax havens or dictatorships abroad?

U.S. belligerence will be met with more Chinese belligerence and vice versa as the perils and risk increase.

William Hartung (See, Center for International Policy) points out – a far brighter future would come from intense U.S. and China cooperation on the climate crises, averting pandemics, ocean preservation, and international arms accords including cybersecurity. Wage peace and pursue mutual self-interest as if our children and grandchildren matter.

Where is our Department of Peace, once advanced by Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) and former Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), when we need it?

Relations between major nations are shaped by momentum in one direction or another. Both U.S. political parties have chosen a militant path without an exit strategy – one that must please Lockheed Martin and the rest of the military-industrial complex.

The forces for muscular peace and cooperation must show there is an alternative path to secure the common interests of the two nations. That’s called robust diplomacy in this era of recurring pandemics, expanding ransomware, bloated military budgets, and interconnected economies.

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How Can Dictators Control So Many Millions of People?

By Ralph Nader
July 1, 2022

How do dictators manage for decades to control 1.4 billion (China) or 146 million (Russia) people and on down to other smaller totalitarian regimes? Answer: one power hungry man at the top.

Political scientists have written about the various “pillars” sustaining autocratic regimes. Professor Christoph H. Stefes (University of Colorado Denver) focuses on the “pillars” legitimation, repression and co-optation – about which more later.

But just what are the mechanics flowing from the dictator’s throne that produce overwhelming compliance to the dictator’s demands? Starting with his “palace guards,” cooks, doctors, all the way down an intricate matrix of obedience to the cities/towns/villages level, the absence of any breaks in the links of the chains of oppression is remarkable. Even major suicidal sabotage at critical points in a regime’s iron grip rarely occurs.

Let’s start with the findings by anthropologists that all cultures have concentrations of power in very few hands whether in the political, economic or religious realms. Something in the scatter of human personalities entrenches the few ruling the many. The few deeply relish the power, wealth and status to which they apply great effort and energy while the many non-political inhabitants struggle to preserve their personal family lives, which dictators largely leave alone, especially when cultural norms provide private zones for work, family and progeny.

Think of a dictator raining a cascade of orders down many ladders with people on each rung giving their assigned orders to the people on the next rung. The police and military illustrate the operation of such hierarchies. Each rung holder has stakes in the obedience given by that next rung.

The orders flow from the General to the Colonels to the Lieutenants to the Sergeants and on down. In Putin’s Russia, top-down control of the economy is relayed by a small number of oligarchic mega-billionaires in close contact with their dictator in the Kremlin who has made them rich beyond their dreams of avarice.

Totalitarian systems function smoothly in their corrupt and cruel pursuits inside a complex culture of mass submission. The recent two-month coercive lockdown and testing of Shanghai’s 25 million residents – to check the spread of Covid-19 – is an astonishing harbinger of how a mass-surveillance state can block people from buying food, receiving health care, connecting with families and simply stepping out of beehive apartments into their neighborhoods.

Returning to Professor Stefes’s constructs, which are useful references to formal or informal systems where dictators give key personages a piece of the action in return for absolute loyalty. Such co-optation is backed up by terror, brute force, deep harassment, or jailing of dissidents. Legitimation takes the form of rigged elections (the dictator and his henchman get well over 90% of the vote) which results in the oxymoronic phrase – “an elected dictatorship.”

Military juntas against people labeled “communists,” or reacting to corrupt regimes that have collapsed basic public services and protections, combine both ‘legitimation’ and ‘repression’ in one violent overthrow.

Absolute dictators who survive, do not often write memoirs when they go into exile (Spain for years was a refuge for ousted South American dictators). Were they to do so, it would probably be to settle scores, not to illuminate in revealing detail how they so dominated all but the personal lives of millions of their subjects until they were ousted. Some dictators might confess their own daily fears of people thirsting for revenge over their regime’s atrocities.

They might even admit that they would have given up their iron power for safe passage to ageing dictator’s island of exiles inhabited by former tyrants and their families. Understanding how people displace dictators, from various perspectives, should be studied. Building and sustaining democracy requires no less.

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The Continuing Damages from Corporate-Managed so-called Free Trade

By Ralph Nader
June 24, 2022

The great progressive Harvard economist and prolific best-selling author, John Kenneth Galbraith, wrote that “Ideas may be superior to vested interest. They are also very often the children of vested interest.” I wished he had written that assertion before I took Economic 101 at Princeton. One of the vested ideas taught as dogma then was the comparative advantage theory developed by the early 19th-century British economist, David Ricardo. He gave the example of trading Portuguese wine for British textiles with both countries coming out winners due to their superior efficiencies in producing their native products.

Ricardo’s theory drove policy and political power for two centuries fortifying the corporate and conservative proponents of alleged “free markets” (See: Destroying the Myths of Market Fundamentalism) and “free trade.” The theory’s endurance was remarkably resistant to contrary obvious empirical evidence. Whether Ricardo envisioned it or not, “free trade” became an instrument of colonialism, entrenching poor nations in the extraction and exportation of natural resources while becoming almost totally dependent on western nations’ value-added manufactured products. “Iron ore for iron weapons,” as one observer summed it up. Tragically, too often, the weapons came with the invaders/oppressors.

Fast forward to today’s supply chain crisis disrupting the flow of commerce. Why does the world’s largest economy and technology leader have a supply chain problem forcing businesses and consumers to helplessly wait for simple and complex goods to arrive at our shores? Why did we find ourselves in March 2020 desperately waiting on an Italian factory to sell us simple protective equipment to safeguard patients, nurses, and physicians to address the pandemic’s deadly arrival? Answer – the touted theory of comparative advantage embedded in so-called “free trade.”

In reality, there is no such thing. It is corporate-managed trade under the guise of “free trade.” As Public Citizen attorney Lori Wallach asked her audiences, while holding up heavy volumes of NAFTA and WTO trade agreements – “If its free trade why are there all these pages of rules?” Because they are corporate rules often having little to do with trade and everything to do with the subordination of labor, consumer and environmental rights and priorities.

These agreements, secretly arrived at, made sure that they pulled down higher U.S. standards in these areas instead of having them pull up serf labor, polluting factories and consumer abuses in authoritarian nations. Corporate managed trade leads to inherently dangerous dependencies, such as no antibiotics being produced in the U.S., which imports these and other critical drugs from unregulated Chinese and Indian laboratories. The supply chain enchains.

A remarkable take down appeared in a lengthy essay titled “The Idea of a Local Economy” twenty-one years ago by the agrarian wise man, Wendell Berry, who used a larger framework taking apart the so-called “free trade,” under monetized corporate control over governments, a clueless media and academics still indentured to Ricardo theory. He didn’t go after the obvious – that imported products from serf-labor countries are corporate opportunities to make even more profits by keeping prices high. Other than textiles, note the high prices of Asian-made computers, iPhones, electronic toys, Nike shoes and foreign motor vehicles sold to American consumers. This imbalance allows Apple’s boss Tim Cook to pay himself $833 a minute or $50,000 an hour. The markups on these products are staggering, but not as staggering as the plight of Apple’s one million serf laborers in China.

Berry opens up new horizons on the deception called “free trade” to wit, “Unsurprisingly, among people who wish to preserve things other than money – for instance, every region’s native capacity to produce essential goods – there is a growing perception that the global ‘free market’ economy is inherently an enemy to the natural world, to human health and freedom to industrial workers, and to farmers and others in the land-use economies; and, furthermore, that it is inherently an enemy to good work and good economic practice.”

The farmer-thinker, Berry, listed numerous erroneous assumptions behind corporatist global trade. A few follow:

“That there can be no conflict between economic advantage and economic justice.”
“That there is no conflict between the ‘free market’ and political freedom; and no connection between political democracy and economic democracy.”
“That the loss of destruction of the capacity anywhere to produce necessary goods does not matter and involves no cost.”
“That it is all right for a nation’s or a region’s subsistence to be foreign-based, dependent on long-distance transport and entirely controlled by corporations.”
“That cultures and religions have no legitimate practical or economic concerns.”
“That wars over commodities – our recent Gulf War, for example – are legitimate and permanent economic functions.”
“That it is all right for poor people in poor countries to work at poor wages to produce goods for export to affluent people in rich countries.”
“That there is no danger and no cost in the proliferation of exotic pests, weeds, and diseases that accompany international trade and that increase with the volume of trade.”
A common theme in Berry’s warnings is that monetized corporations, in their ferocious search for profits, destroy or undermine far more important non-monetized democratic values of societies. That, in turn, leads to the suppression of impoverished societies on the ground where people live, work and raise their families.

That is why limitless greed, unbridled, whether formed from Empires or by domestic plutocrats, eventually produces convulsions which devour their mass victims and themselves.

Website: Destroying the Myths of Market Fundamentalism – https://csrl.org/destroying-the-myths-of-market-fundamentalism-forum/
Website: The Idea of a Local Economy by Wendell Berry – https://orionmagazine.org/article/the-idea-of-a-local-economy/

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U.S. Senate – From Partisan (GOP) Swamp to a Bipartisan Graveyard for Democracy

By Ralph Nader
June 16, 2022

Since January 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed 412 bills (See: Congress.gov) and sent them to the Senate. Unfortunately, the Senate hasn’t acted. “What?” you say, “don’t the Democrats control both Chambers of Congress?” Sure, by the barest of margins. Handcuffed by the filibuster, a Senate rule (not a federal law) requires 60 votes to pass legislation in what Senators of yore called the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”

“Nonsense,” says veteran Rep. John Larson (D-CT). The Democrats can hold public hearings, report bills to the Senate floor and then make the Republicans filibuster. Let the GOP sweat a days-long filibuster of a bill establishing a $15 minimum wage. Imagine the national TV coverage with Democrats rebutting the cruel or lying orations by megamillionaire Senator Mitch McConnell and his minions.

As has been the practice for years, the Republican minority members in the Senate merely sent the majority leader an email threatening a filibuster (“extended debate” is the euphuism) and the majority leader placed the bills from the House in limbo.

“Make the GOP filibuster” is a rising private cry of Democrats in the House led by Cong. Larson. Let the GOP show its cruel fangs, its opposition to the long-overdue necessities for workers, the elderly, consumers, the environment and equal rights for women. Many House bills passed “bipartisanly,” meaning they had more than nominal numbers of Republican votes.

The filibuster can be turned into a boomerang against the Republicans. It could become a form of public education to strip the GOP of its sugar-coated propaganda and make Republican Senators explain why they are against fair play, justice and the righting of past wrongs, which are harming all the people, not just Democratic voters.

Fierce debates draw large audiences in politics. Pretty soon, the GOP will realize that their filibustering is hurting them in the polls and diminishing their all-important vacation time from congressional work that will break the coerced unanimity and let some Republicans dissent from the Party line.

Remember the Senate has plenty of time for filibustering. Like the House, it works a three-day week, plus many weeks called “recesses,” including a recess for the entire month of August. If the Republicans were forced to filibuster to stay lucrative with their corporate paymasters, they would also make Democratic Senators work full time and maybe some evenings.

Rep. Larson recalls that the most extensive past use of real filibustering was by Southern segregationist Senators bent on blocking civil rights legislation. Now, the filibuster threat blocks all kinds of legislation on behalf of all the people at one time or another.

Filibuster excuses are even used in the House by right-wing Blue Dog Democrats whose small number hold the balance of power there. Using the excuse that a bill couldn’t get through a Senate talkfest, conservative House Democrats, in essence, veto bills with large popular support, such as Medicare for All. You got your free Covid-19 vaccines by showing your ID at a drug store. This is an example of the benefits of a single-payer system, which gives you free choice of doctors or hospitals.

The popular overdue bill (Social Security 2100) is updating social security, which hasn’t seen an increase in benefits for over 50 years! Cong. Larson calls his bill one that “preserves the #1 anti-poverty program for seniors and children.” Retirement, disability and survivor benefits are vital for many people. Mr. Larson wants to fully pay for these overdue increases by “making millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share” of taxes from their long-time, ridiculously low real payments.

Fed up with Senate obstructionism, a group of House lawmakers, I am told, are finally going public, challenging the Senate leadership to rise to the occasion and consider legislation demanded by the American people. A top priority for Mr. Larson and his fellow Democrats is strengthening voting rights to bolster the fort of democracy from increasing Trumpian assaults.

Going public joins the issue in explicit ways that will attract mass media and citizen attention. To make Republican Senators put their mouths where their corporatist ideology is will require the Democrats, under leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to have a sense of public urgency for fair legislation that overrides the stale pretexts for the bipartisan procedural, stagnant status quo. These pretexts have too long gone unrevealed and unexamined.

Take note: filibustering with all hands present on Capitol Hill disrupts convenient schedules and scheduled conveniences. A couple of televised ferocious public contests on the Senate floor will make the solons consider other arrangements to unclog the world’s most pompously unproductive legislative chamber.

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Time for a Taxpayer Revolt Against Rich Corporate Welfarists

By Ralph Nader
June 10, 2022

It is time for an unusual but long overdue revolt by the 150 million tax-with-held taxpayers. I’m not speaking of rates of taxation that the rich and corporations largely avoid because of the gigantic tax escapes, which they grease through Congress. Today I’m hoping to get your dander up by showing how corporatist politicians make you pay for big corporations to come to their corporate welfare-friendly state and make profits.

You’ve been required to subsidize these companies for them to make a profit and you get nothing in return – silent partners pouring money indirectly into big-name corporations. They misleadingly call these subsidies “incentives,” but they are really coerced entitlements.

Before getting into these recent tax breaks, a little history is needed to show that once upon a time, giveaways to these self-styled “capitalists,” were not so easy.

In 1971, the Lockheed corporation was not doing so well. So, its corporate lawyers went to Congress to ask for a $250 million loan guarantee so that banks would lend the company money and have no risk because of Uncle Sam’s backing. The proposal created an uproar on Capitol Hill. Hearings were held and extensive debate on the House and Senate floor dissected all sides of this controversial, hitherto unheard-of special privilege. There was extensive coverage in the press.

The bill eventually passed but not without a strong fight and amendments by its opponents.

Fast forward to today where $250 million is chump change. Do you have any idea of the sum total of outstanding loan guarantees for private businesses passed or authorized by Congress? You don’t? Well, neither do any members of Congress. The data is not collected, though I’ll guess it is over a trillion dollars, including big chunks for unfinished or suspended nuclear power plants. Government guaranteed capitalism.

Congress hasn’t even compiled data on how many of these loan guarantees have been called in by failing or mismanaged corporations.

Besides loan guarantees, there are a blizzard of other forms of corporate welfare at the federal, state and local levels. (See, GoodJobsFirst.org). There are property tax abatements, direct cash subsidies as was extended to grossly mismanaged General Motors (GM) after it went bankrupt to get rid of its creditors and its wrongful injury lawsuits.

There are federal taxpayer-paid research and development (R&D) programs, such as new government medicine research given free to Big Pharma to sell without price restraints, and pioneering R&D breakthrough research for the computer, aerospace, biotech, nanotech and agribusiness industries, to name a few recipients of government giveaways.

Bear in mind that these handouts and bailouts rarely come with any payback conditions. The rare instances are when the feds take stock in companies they rescue. This partial reciprocity occurred in the form of stock from the GM and Chrysler bailout of 2008. When the Treasury Department eventually sold this stock, the revenue did not come close to paying for the bailout.

Now, handouts, bailouts, and other subsidies are given to companies as a matter of mindless routine. New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced the other day that he was going to give the newly approved marijuana retailers about $4 million to help them get started. Hey, delicatessens, fresh fruit and vegetable markets, why not get in line? If there’s tax money for getting people “high,” surely Mayor Adams should have some of your taxpayer cash to advance “nutritional highs”, especially for people in need.

However, it was up to Kathy Hochul, the unelected Governor of New York (as Lt. Governor, she succeeded the resigned Andrew Cuomo last year) to raise the corporate tax break competition to unheard-of jackpot levels. The $10 BILLION tax break for chip-makers to locate in New York state, instead of any other state, was so brazen that the Governor resorted to secrecy and legislative darkness.

As reported in the Albany Times Union, with no prior public exposure, her bill was passed without any public hearing by the state Senate on the final day of its legislative session. The state Assembly whisked it through, also without hearings, at 8:00 am on its last day following 20 continuous hours of voting before adjourning.

The newspaper took note of “sleep-deprived lawmakers who were enduring the grueling schedule.” (Republicans went along in both chambers).

John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, told the Times Union: “This is like the ugliest of Albany. In this type of fog, the governor’s office can misinform the Legislature, and do it all at the last second.”

There is no reinventing the Governor. Marinated in avalanches of corporate campaign money for her election bid this November, Hochul is addicted to heavily obligating taxpayers for years, without their knowledge or the informed, open consent of their state representatives. This last point was raised by dissenting state senator Liz Krueger (who should be the state’s Governor).

Earlier this year, Hochul secretly negotiated an $850 million taxpayer subsidy for a new Buffalo Bills stadium. The owners of this NFL team, the Pegula family, is worth according to Forbes, $5.8 billion! She then rammed this entertainment giveaway through the legislature, again without public hearings, as part of the state’s budget.

Hochul is just getting started in her enormous giveaways to the super-rich and greedy. She is the plutocrats’ Governor. Public Defenders are leaving their crucial positions in the state because they are paid so little they can’t meet their living expenses. Kathy Hochul has no interest in raising their salaries and securing their constitutional mission of justice for indigent defendants.

There is something seriously out of control with this reckless corporate welfare-disbursing Governor. She even refuses to meet the press or return calls from civic leaders about her dictatorial giveaways to a very profitable semi-conductor industry.

It gets worse. Every day since 1982, according to corporate tax expert and reform advocate Jim Henry (Follow on Twitter @submergingmkt), the state is refunding electronically about $40 million every day collected from the financial transaction taxes on Wall Street trades in stocks, derivatives and bonds. This is a miniscule sales tax, (a fraction of one percent) in a state where consumers pay 8 percent sales tax on their purchases of essential goods.

With New York City’s budget shaky and the state budget relying heavily on a one-time burst of federal monies, Hochul is refusing requests by numerous informed state legislators, such as Assemblyman Phil Steck, to simply keep the daily collected transaction tax. No way! She’d rather collect campaign money from her Wall Street contributors.

It’s clearly time for a taxpayers’ revolt. For starters, call Governor Hochul to protest. Her office’s phone number is 518-474-8390 and you can email her via https://www.governor.ny.gov/content/governor-contact-form. If you are not from New York state, her race-to-the-bottom to grab some factories will pressure your state to offer the same tax breaks, on your back.

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A Public Request for Nick Hanauer to Swing into Action

By Ralph Nader
June 3, 2022

Nick Hanauer
NickHanauer.com
Seattle, WA

Dear Nick,

Since our meeting at your office in the Fall of 2014, I have tried several times to reach you about a number of civic projects that seem to be right up your alley. As others have noted, it is near impossible to get you to return a telephone call for the necessary two-way conversation.

During our meeting, I suggested a small roundtable of enlightened billionaires, such as yourself, in Washington, D.C., to achieve a much higher level of impact favoring the interest of the people. You replied, “If I could pull them together, you would attend?” Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Billionaires prefer to return calls from billionaires.

Let me explain. While you have become an overachiever in wealth and publicly declared concerns for people’s well-being coming from your previous status, you are an underachiever given your present super-successful status.

Many people know you not from your “managing, funding or financing of over 30 companies, with market values of tens of billions of dollars” (quoting from your website), but from your articles in major publications calling for higher minimum wages and blasting trillions of dollars in stock buybacks. You argued years ago that corporations like Walmart should use such monies to elevate their workers to at least $15 per hour, not just because these laborers need the money, but also because such a policy would obviously increase consumer demand and stimulate the economy. You once warned major capitalists that if they keep their heads in the sand, “the Pitchforks Are Coming.” That phrase rang around the country for a while, but the impasse in Congress is blocking an increase in the federal minimum wage and other labor protections. (Fortunately, some states and cities have raised their minimum wage.)

In 2015, you started Civic Ventures, which you called “a group of political troublemakers that “rejects trickle-down economics in all of its forms” and moves to “improve the lives of the typical family in our community and country,” “including all consumers, workers, innovators and citizens,” by creating “systemic disruptive change that improves the lives of our fellow citizens and community.” “Said another way, we seek to prevent poverty, rather than treat the symptoms of poverty.”

I especially applaud your crisp declaration:

“The tenets of trickle-down economics – tax cuts for the rich, deregulation for the powerful, and wage suppression for you – have turned economic inequality into the defining issue of our time.”

You have an exceptionally well-articulated mission statement. (For more see Civic Ventures). Civic Ventures invites what I have asked you to consider repeatedly. I have recently requested to speak with you for your non-monetary participation for one hour during a one-day event to help thwart the fall of our Republic into authoritarian grips after the November election. To date, I have been unable to make direct contact with you. This initiative meets uncannily your five criteria for engaging in “local and national civic actions.” You know well that our democracy and political system rest on the quality and timing of our civic actions.

However, there is something even more basic than civic actions. That is initiating communications about civic actions. Without communication between two or more people, nothing happens. Everybody knows this, but far too many people, in this cluttered Internet age, do not practice what they know. (Starting with members of Congress, I might add, regarding serious matters of policy and action.)

All the above is a way of elaborating why I think you are such an underachiever relative to what you can now accomplish with the resources, experience and intellect you have thus far aggregated. From your present perch, you could galvanize a small number of enlightened billionaires to accomplish significant needed changes quickly and sustainably, especially in this momentous year of 2022.

You can get your calls returned and for serious purposes, including revoking the Reagan-SEC repeal in 1982 of stock buybacks as illegal stock manipulation. Add ending the “carried interest” loophole, which is draining an estimated $18 billion a year from the public treasury because not one full-time advocate is working Congress on this low-hanging fruit.

With President Biden and about half of the Congress already supportive of these three reforms, along with way over half the public, hire a dozen strong citizen advocates to work Capitol Hill and weave this tapestry for successful results. The time is ripe for action, not just great talk.

If you wish to recommunicate after eight years, you have my telephone number. Do it now, for tempus fugit.

Best wishes,
Ralph

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