John C. Bogle: Renaissance Money Manager for the People and More

The accolades were uniformly respectful for the honest, innovative, and unyielding defender of shareholder/investor rights – the late John C. Bogle – the founder of the now giant Vanguard Group of mutual funds. Writers took note of his pioneering low-cost, low-fee investing and mutual funds tied to stock-market indices. Index funds, tied to such indices as the S&P 500, now total trillions of dollars.

Bogle abhorred gouging by the money managers. He would add up their fees – seemingly small at less than 1% a year – and show how over time they could cut the cumulative return by 50% or more. That’s why he set up Vanguard in 1974, which by holding down costs and fees has begun to push the rest of the smug industry to be more reasonable. Vanguard now has over $5 trillion in managed assets.

He could have become as rich as Edward Johnson III– his counterpart at Fidelity Investments, who is worth over $7 billion. Instead, Bogle organized Vanguard as a mutual firm, not a stock firm, owned by its investors. Bogle’s fortune, at the time of his passing last week, was estimated at $80 million after a lifetime of giving away half of his annual adjusted gross income to charitable and educational groups.

In the admiring words of Warren Buffett, Bogle’s work “helped millions of investors realize far better returns on their savings than they otherwise would have earned. He is a hero to them and to me.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer described the Malvern, Pennsylvania-based local giant of the investing world as “motivated by a mix of pragmatism and idealism. Mr. Bogle was regarded by friends and foes alike as the conscience of the industry and the sheriff of Wall Street.” It was hard to be his foe. Bogle, a father of six children, was calm, gregarious, and amicable. He connected his irrefutable rhetoric with unassailable evidence. He was Mr. Fair Play, the go-to wise man for his judgment on whether the torrent of financial services and offerings were, as he put it, “all hat and no cattle.” He unraveled the sweet talk and complex camouflage of the financial services industry with analytic precision and explained it with clear language.

He would call out the corporatists whenever he saw “rank speculation” reckless debt, “obscene” executive pay, or the disgraceful, unearned golden parachutes handed to bosses who tanked their own companies. For Bogle, there were serious economic differences between “speculation” and “investment” with “other peoples’ money.”

His admirers were so numerous they organized themselves as “Bogleheads,” two of whom wrote the book The Bogleheads ‘Guide to Investing. Right up to his passing at the age of 89, after surviving 6 heart attacks and a heart transplant, Bogle, was still humble, approachable, and writing memorable articles.

He was responsive and kind. In May and September of 2016, we held 4 days of the Super Bowl of civic activities in Washington, D.C. I invited Mr. Bogle to speak on the topic of “Fiduciary Duties as if Shareholders Mattered.” His voice sounded weary from being over scheduled and other responsibilities. Yet he said “yes, I’ll take the train down from Philadelphia.” (You can watch his presentation here).

We were fellow Princetonians and he often told me about his 1951 Princeton senior thesis where he laid the basis for his career emphasizing a “reduction of sales loads and management fees.”

His family business – American Can – crashed in the Depression, so he grew up poor, working as a newspaper delivery boy, waiter, ticket seller, mail clerk, cub reporter and a pinsetter in a bowling alley, and as he described “growing up the best possible way.” The cheerful champion of the fiduciary rule between sellers of financial advice and their client pension funds, insurance policyholders and other buyers/investors wanted fiduciary responsibility to be the law, not just a principle. He urged the large institutional investors – mutual, pension and university endowment funds – to end their passivity and exercise their ownership rights as shareholders in giant companies (Exxon/Mobile, Bank of America, Pfizer, GM etc.), including specifically challenging their political activities and campaign contributions.

Ever the contrarian, in a November 29, 2018 Wall Street Journal article, Bogle warned about the index mutual funds – an industry he started – having too much power! The big three – Vanguard, Black Rock, and State Street Global dominate the field with a collective 81% share of index fund assets. He wrote: “if historical trends continue, a handful of giant institutional investors will one day hold voting control of virtually every large U.S corporation… I do not believe that such concentration would serve the national interest.”

Rick Stengel, former managing editor of Time magazine and former president of the National Constitution Center, when Jack Bogle was the Board chair, described him as “the last honorable man, a complete straight-shooter.” In his 2008 book, Enough: True Measures of Money, Business and Life, Bogle ranged far beyond index funds and shareholders.

The Philadelphia Inquirer put it well: he was “less interested in counting than in what counts. … He revered language, history, poetry, and classical wisdom, and frequently amazed and delighted people by reciting long passages of verse …a social critic, civic leader, mentor, and philanthropist.” He was also very courteous – striving to return calls and respond to letters, which makes him unique these days.

A devoted father and husband, Jack Bogle declared that the “essential message is, stop focusing on self and start thinking about service to others.”

Now is the time for his family, friends, and Bogleheads to plan a series of living memorials to this great and resourceful man, so that his legacy is more than a memory but an ongoing foray into the future that he so fervently wanted to become realities.

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Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General

Many Senate Democrats are throwing in the towel on the nomination of William Barr for Trump’s Attorney General (a prospect assured by Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, declaring his personal vote against Barr). Let’s ask why?

One would think that Senate Democrats would be appalled at Barr’s long-time unyielding conduct and writings asserting that the President can start any wars he wants even if Congress votes against it! An example of this is the constitutionally undeclared criminal invasion of Iraq by George W. Bush. Barr was also George H.W. Bush’s Attorney General and has been a long-time defender of executive branch lawlessness.

One would think that Barr’s insupportable drive for more corporate prisons and more mass incarceration would upset these Senators.

One would think that Barr’s view of the separation of powers, which has meant separating Congress from its constitutional powers and handing them over to the “unitary presidency,” would alarm these Senators. (Didn’t James Madison believe that Congress would jealously guard its authority vis-à-vis any new emergence of a modern King George III?)

One would think that Barr’s inflexible position giving Presidents—including the embattled Donald Trump—effective immunities for obstructing justice and from blocking ongoing investigations, including limitless pardons even of himself and his family, would infuriate the Democrats.

One would think that this champion of corporate immunities—otherwise known as the deregulation of EPA, FDA, FTC, and OSHA—would anger Senate Democrats who tell their voters that such agencies are protecting our health and safety.

Needless to say, Barr’s legal positions are distinctly minority ones among legal scholars and practitioners, especially his fanatical argument, The New York Times points out, that “Congress has no authority in the area of foreign affairs.”

Barr’s view of the President as King ignores the clear meaning of article II, section 3 of the Constitution that obliges the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Barr and other right-wing ideologues defend the actions of Trump’s outspoken deregulators, exercising complete discretion to shut down law enforcement, not to mention the present government shut-down. The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee spent much time on what Barr would do regarding the Mueller investigation. Barr tried to disarm them by saying that Mueller was a great friend going back many years in the federal government and that he would certainly let Mueller complete his investigation and report. Big deal!

Would he make the report public, as supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans, and as urged by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa? Would he censor parts of it? Backed into a corner by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Barr admitted the Mueller Report would be treated like any other “prosecutive memo” with its full text kept secret. Really?

There is no broad presidential power of executive privilege to withhold information from Congressional Committees—subject to conditions of confidentiality—according to many constitutional law scholars who differ from Barr.

Keeping the Mueller report secret cannot stop a Congressional Committee from issuing a subpoena to Barr and Mueller to testify and leave the entire report in the Committee’s hands. If Mueller resists Barr’s opposition and appears as a witness, this conflict may end up in federal courts.

There is much more in Barr’s secretive, corporatist, anti-consumer, labor, and environmental record to get the Senate Democrats’ dander up and throw down the gauntlet. But, no, they prefer to be polite and in so doing let the American people down.  Please note the comment from the ranking Democrat on the Committee, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, during a break in the hearing: She said the hearing was “going very well” and expected Barr to be easily confirmed by the full Senate.

See why I’ve called the Republican and Democratic parties an inbred duopoly? Expect the further decay of a Department of Injustice, shielding a chronically lawless President and turning the rule of law on its head.

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Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher – One of a Kind!

When Herb Kelleher, the joyous, fun-loving Founder and retired CEO of Southwest Airlines soared past permissible flight levels for passenger aircraft on his way to heaven last week, the accolades in the exuberant obituaries were also sky-high.

Listen to former American Airlines CEO Bob Crandall: “He was a man of great imagination. He was a man of diligence. He paid careful attention to the details. And he was a man of integrity. I think we will look back on Herb Kelleher as an example of the kind of people who ought to be our leaders.”

Herb (everyone called him Herb), was much more than a super-successful creator of a low-fare, no-frills, high-pay, unionized, constantly profitable airline (since 1973) that never laid off any workers, with consistently high customer-approval ratings, and the most solid financial stability in a boom-bust, managed industry. In overturning the stagnant, brusque ways of the industry, he challenged his industry, with four Boeing 737s in 1971 flying between Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston, and overcame a cartel-like industry. After beating back numerous lawsuits by other airlines trying to stop his fledgling enterprise – he rewrote the book on management for a large company.

For starters, he put employees, not consumers, first. That seemed not effective to me at first. But then came his explanation. You treat employees well in all ways, occupationally and personally, they’ll treat airline passengers well and safely, which makes the airline prosper for the shareholders. He did all three, having fun along the way. More than a few of his pilots, attendants, and other staff became—as workers/shareholders— millionaires.

Making money was not his first personal priority – making work pleasurable and exciting and giving employees discretion to bring the best from themselves – not playing rigidly by rule books – gave him the most professional gratification.

After a while it probably did not surprise him that his wealth grew and grew to an estimated $2.5 billion.

His way of doing business, motivating people, and relieving their anxieties should invite many diverse living memorials in his memory. It is easy to think of many ways to recognize business practices that could be established in his same joyously productive fashion.

I’ve made no secret that Southwest is my favorite domestic airline. There is no second. When I step from the jet way onto the plane, I invariably say to the flight attendants and pilots – “the best airline in America” often adding that it reflects the pioneering ways of Herb Kelleher.

Once I called him to say that he is such a critical asset to the airline that shareholders should pass a resolution demanding that he stop his five-pack-a day smoking habit.

His successor CEO Gary Kelly captured the full breadth of Kelleher’s life-long contributions. Kelly said: “His legacy extends far beyond our industry and far beyond the world of entrepreneurship. He inspired people; he motivated people; he challenged people – and he kept us laughing all the way.”

Born in Camden, New Jersey in 1931, young Herb worked in a soup factory where his father labored, later calling it his best education (including his time at Wesleyan and New York University Law School). Because it taught him how to interact with and understand all kinds of people and “how to produce results, not just paper.”

He attributed to his mother an outstanding influence. In one of his many writings, he described why: “She had a very democratic view of life. She had enormously wide interests in politics and business, so it was very educational in that respect, just talking with her. We’d sit up and talk to two, three, and four o’clock in the morning when I was quite young about how you should behave, the goals that you should have, the ethics you should follow, how business worked, how politics can join with business.”

When you fly Southwest and order refreshments, the flight attendant brings you the drink and a napkin emblazoned with the airline’s motto:

“In a world full of No
We’re a plane full of Yes.”

To make such an expectation a reality, Kelleher put in place a recruiting priority that placed “temperament” above talent and skill. He would say “we could change skill levels through training. We can’t change attitude.”

Southwest ate the lunches of their stodgy competitors by doing business differently: no first class seats, no seat assignment, leg room, lower fares, fast turnaround for its efficiently used aircraft (a record breaking 15 minutes), a great safety record, no fees for changing reservations or checking two bags, using less congested, near-to-cities airports (eg. Chicago, Dallas), flying only one class of airplane— the Boeing 737—to reduce maintenance and training costs and avoiding the “hub and spoke” inconvenience for travelers. Southwest engaged in fuel hedging that locked in prices and then won the bet saving hundreds of millions of dollars over their competitors, when fuel prices soared. It also, until recently, answered the phones immediately with a human being. Its global mileage-reward program rejects termination dates. It is now the nation’s largest domestic airlines conveying 120 million passengers last year to over 100 destinations.

“We market ourselves on the personality and spirit of ourselves,” he told an interviewer. Which is why some flight attendants love to tell jokes during the pre-take-off announcements which gets passengers to either chuckle or roll their eyes in mirth.

Kelleher was a many splendored human being. He and his wife, Joan Negley, raised a family of four children. He had a robust, quirky side to him, riding motorcycles, and engaging in amusing stunts that have become legendary in both family and company history.

With his 58,000 productive employees, Kelleher, in the words of Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst, “literally brought air travel to the masses on a scale that was unimaginable.” Small wonder that Herb immediately approved my suggestion that Southwest’s mantra should be – “We do not imitate!”

His self-deprecation was consistently funny. One sample: “Because I am unable to perform competently any meaningful function at Southwest, our employees [they were also shareholders] let me be C.E.O.”

No one has been able to imitate Kelleher’s super-successful management philosophy, his hands-on behavior and authenticity. They may install cut-rate fares, but unfortunately for the people, Kelleher stands as one of a kind.

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“It’s Your Congress, People!” Make it work for you!

Congress is the Constitutionally delegated repository of the sovereign authority of the people (the Constitution which starts with “We the People,” not “We the Congress!”). Most of the changes, reforms, and improvements desired by a majority of people have to go through Congress. Incentives for change often start with Congressional elections or grass-roots organizing. But sooner or later, change has to go through the gates of our national legislature on Capitol Hill.

This point is so obvious that it is astonishing so many reformers fail to regularly hammer home that we must intensely focus on Congress.

Just 535 humans (Senators and Representatives) need your votes far more than they need fat cat campaign contributions.

Guess what the following twelve redirections or changes have in common with one another?

  1. A living wage, much higher than the long-frozen federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
  2. Full Medicare for all or what is called a “single payer” system covering everybody, with free choice of doctor and hospital, is much cheaper and has better outcomes than the present complex, bureaucratic, price-gouging, claim denying, profits-first chaos in the U.S.
  3. Moving swiftly to a renewable, solar-based, wind-powered, more efficient energy system, that diminishes climate disruption and toxic pollution.
  4. Cleaner air, water, soil and food for a healthful environmental for today and for coming generations.
  5. Clean elections reform and strong, enforceable laws against public corruption.
  6. Criminal justice reform, especially regarding non-violent offenses and additional reforms of sentencing and prisons.
  7. Stopping taxpayers from being required to pay for very costly corporate welfare, or what conservatives call “crony capitalism” in all its many forms.
  8. Enforcing the criminal and civil laws against corporate rip-offs, thefts, hazardous products, and hearing the voices of workers, consumers and those from beleaguered communities (especially on the public’s airwaves unfairly controlled by the monetized gatekeepers called radio and television stations).
  9. Protecting access to justice for wrongfully injured people to have their full day in court with trial by jury as demanded by the country’s founders and our Constitution.
  10. Protection of the public lands – the national and state forests and the national parks and wilderness regions from corporate profit-driven encroachment and despoliation.
  11. Re-evaluating the loss of lives from unconstitutional, boomeranging wars abroad that spread death and destruction abroad making more people our enemies. These wars have also taken trillions of taxpayer dollars from rebuilding our community infrastructure – schools, highways, bridges, public transit, libraries, health clinics, drinking water/sewage works, and environmental cleanups.
  12. Make it easier for consumers, workers, and small taxpayers to band together for civic action and a powerful seat at the table with big businesses and their government toadies.

These twelve advances have the following in common:

(1) They have majority public opinion support – in some cases huge support– which means many liberal and conservative voters agree, which can produce an unstoppable political movement.

(2) Most of them cost nothing or little to implement, bringing more efficiencies and less damage to our society. Wisdom is less expensive than constant folly or deep greed!

(3) They are understandable. People relate to the experiences, agonies, and dreams for a better life and livelihood for themselves and for their families.

(4) They provide people with a sense of empowerment and accomplishment – traits necessary for a worthy democracy to work. Cynicism and withdrawal begin to be reversed in favor of engagement and new civic institutions needed by our posterity.

(5) They all have to go through our Congress – a good majority of only 535 people whose names we know become much more responsive to citizen action, people-driven town meetings, civic agendas, and democratizing procedures inside Congress.

Start by inviting the old and new members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to your town-meetings. Five hundred citizens clearly signing a petition will get a Senator to attend; considerably fewer names a U.S. Representative.

When you have them face-to-face with no flak, you’ll see what “we the people” can accomplish. It has happened before in American history; it must happen again. (For more advice, see ratsreformcongress.org).

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25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare

Dear America:

Costly complexity is baked into Obamacare. No health insurance system is without problems but Canadian-style single-payer— full Medicare for all— is simple, affordable, comprehensive and universal.

In the early 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson enrolled 20 million elderly Americans into Medicare in six months. There were no websites. They did it with index cards!

Below please find 25 ways the Canadian health care system is better than the chaotic U.S. system.

Replace it with the much more efficient Medicare-for-all: everybody in, nobody out, free choice of doctor and hospital. It will produce far less anxiety, dread, and fear.

Love, Canada

Number 25:

In Canada, everyone is covered automatically at birth – everybody in, nobody out.

In the United States, under Obamacare, 28 million Americans (9 percent) are still uninsured and 85 million Americans (26 percent) are underinsured.

Number 24:

In Canada, the health system is designed to put people, not profits, first.

In the United States, Obamacare has done little to curb insurance industry profits and in fact has increased the concentrated insurance industry’s massive profits.

Number 23:

In Canada, coverage is not tied to a job or dependent on your income – rich and poor are in the same system, the best guaranty of quality.

In the United States, under Obamacare, much still depends on your job or income. Lose your job or lose your income, and you might lose your existing health insurance or have to settle for lesser coverage.

Number 22:

In Canada, health care coverage stays with you for your entire life.

In the United States, under Obamacare, for tens of millions of Americans, health care coverage stays with you for as long as you can afford your insurance.

Number 21:

In Canada, you can freely choose your doctors and hospitals and keep them. There are no lists of “in-network” vendors and no extra hidden charges for going “out of network.”

In the United States, under Obamacare, the in-network list of places where you can get treated is shrinking – thus restricting freedom of choice – and if you want to go out of network, you pay dearly for it.

Number 20:

In Canada, the health care system is funded by income, sales and corporate taxes that, combined, are much lower than what Americans pay in insurance premiums directly and indirectly per employer.

In the United States, under Obamacare, for thousands of Americans, it’s pay or die – if you can’t pay, you die. That’s why many thousands will still die every year under Obamacare from lack of health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time.

Number 19:

In Canada, there are no complex hospital or doctor bills. In fact, usually you don’t even see a bill.

In the United States, under Obamacare, hospital and doctor bills are terribly complex, making it very difficult to discover the many costly overcharges or massive billing fraud.

Number 18:

In Canada, costs are controlled. Canada pays 10 percent of its GDP for its health care system, covering everyone.

In the United States, under Obamacare, costs continue to skyrocket. The U.S. currently pays 17.9 percent of its GDP and still doesn’t cover tens of millions of people.

Number 17:                                       

In Canada, it is unheard of for anyone to go bankrupt due to health care costs.

In the United States, health-care-driven bankruptcy will continue to plague Americans.

Number 16:

In Canada, simplicity leads to major savings in administrative costs and overhead.

In the United States, under Obamacare, often staggering complexity leads to ratcheting up huge administrative costs and overhead.

Number 15:

In Canada, when you go to a doctor or hospital the first thing they ask you is: “What’s wrong?”

In the United States, the first thing they ask you is: “What kind of insurance do you have?”

Number 14:

In Canada, the government negotiates drug prices so they are more affordable.

In the United States, under Obamacare, Congress made it specifically illegal for the government to negotiate drug prices for volume purchases, so they remain unaffordable and skyrocketing.

Number 13:

In Canada, the government health care funds are not profitably diverted to the top one percent.

In the United States, under Obamacare, health care funds will continue to flow to the top. In 2017, the CEO of Aetna alone made a whopping $59 million.

Number 12:

In Canada, there are no required co-pays or deductibles in inscrutable contracts.

In the United States, under Obamacare, the deductibles and co-pays will continue to be unaffordable for many millions of Americans.

Number 11:

In Canada, the health care system contributes to social solidarity and national pride.

In the United States, Obamacare is divisive, with rich and poor in different systems and tens of millions left out or with sorely limited benefits.

Number 10:

In Canada, delays in health care are not due to the cost of insurance.

In the United States, under Obamacare, patients without health insurance or who are underinsured will continue to delay or forgo care and put their lives at risk.

Number 9:

In Canada, nobody dies due to lack of health insurance.

In the United States, tens of thousands of Americans will continue to die every year due to lack of health insurance and much higher prices for drugs, medical devices, and health care itself.

Number 8:

In Canada, health care on average costs half as much, per person, as in the United States. And in Canada, everyone is covered.

In the United States, a majority support Medicare-for-all.

Number 7:

In Canada, the tax payments to fund the health care system are modestly progressive – the lowest 20 percent pays 6 percent of income into the system while the highest 20 percent pays 8 percent.

In the United States, under Obamacare, the poor pay a larger share of their income for health care than the affluent.

Number 6:

In Canada, people use GoFundMe to start new businesses.

In the United States, fully one in three GoFundMe fundraisers are now to raise money to pay medical bills. Recently, one American was rejected for a heart transplant because she couldn’t afford the follow-up care. Her insurance company suggested she raise the money through GoFundMe.

Number 5: 

In Canada, people avoid prison at all costs.

In the United States, some Americans commit minor crimes so that they can get to prison and get free health care.

Number 4: 

In Canada, people look forward to the benefits of early retirement.

In the United States, people delay retirement to 65 to avoid being uninsured.

Number 3:

In Canada, Nobel Prize winners hold on to their medal and pass it down to their children and grandchildren.

In the United States, Nobel Prize winners sell their medals to pay for their medical bills.

Leon Lederman won a Nobel Prize in 1988 for his pioneering physics research. But in 2015, the physicist, who passed away in November 2018, sold his Nobel Prize medal for $765,000 to pay his mounting medical bills. According to a report in Vox, the University of Chicago professor began to suffer from memory loss in 2011, and died in an Idaho nursing home.

Number 2: 

In Canada, the system is simple. You get a health care card when you are born. And you swipe it when you go to a doctor or hospital. End of story.

In the United States, Obamacare’s 2,500 pages plus regulations (the Canadian Medicare Bill was 13 pages) is so complex that then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said before passage “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”

Number 1: 

In Canada, the majority of citizens love their health care system.

In the United States, a growing majority of citizens, physicians, and nurses prefer the Canadian type system – Medicare-for-all, free choice of doctor and hospital , everybody in, nobody out and far less expensive.

 

For more information, see Single Payer Action.

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For Year End Charitable Giving—Some Favorites

Here are some of my favorite, frugal, effective non-profit citizen action organizations that you may wish to favor with your tax-deductible generosity. They need your support, because few are doing their kind of important work.

  • Veterans For Peace(VFP): Composed of veterans from World War II to the present, VFP takes strong stands, including peaceful demonstrations and marches, for peace and against a militarized, aggressive foreign policy and wars of choice. Donate here: (1404 North Broadway, St. Louis MO 63102 or https://www.veteransforpeace.org/take-action/donate/).
  • Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility(PEER): A group of U.S. Forest Service professionals started this remarkable group, which has since spread to civil servants in other federal agencies such as the EPA and the Department of the Interior. PEER’s staff is knowledgeable, organized and relentless in protecting federal employees’ right to bring their conscience to work and speak out against unlawful or reckless devastation of our environmental resources and health. (962 Wayne Ave #610, Silver Spring, MD 20910; https://www.peer.org/give/)
  • Appalachia-Science in the Public Interest (ASPI): This lean, dedicated and productive group works tirelessly to find solutions in one of the poorest regions of America through the application of practical science. They teach how to preserve forests, protect drinking water sources, how to cook without electricity or gas, how to grow their own food and build a home without visiting a big box store. (50 Lair St, Mt Vernon, KY 40456; https://donorbox.org/aspi)
  • The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance(OPEPA) opposes the nuclear arms race, seeks enforceable treaties abolishing nuclear weapons (the latter is agreeable to numerous retired cabinet secretaries in both Republican and Democratic administrations) and monitors government arms contracts, radiation hazards and facilities such as the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Their newsletter is a must-read.(P.O. Box 5743, Oak Ridge, TN 37831; http://orepa.org/)
  • The Pension Rights Center, the only national civic organization dedicated to reforming pension policies, unfair regulations and protecting and promoting retirement security. They help individual retirees and propose major retirement programs for all Americans. (1730 M Street, NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20036; www.pensionrights.org)
  • The North American Students of Cooperation(NASCO) works to start and expand consumer and housing cooperatives, especially for young people in colleges and universities. NASCO provides “on-the-ground training for over 79 cooperative organizations…. Living in a co-op means learning that cooperation is not only an alternative solution but also a way to empower our local leaders and communities.” NASCO will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. Their fortune is bright and promising. (1100 West Cermak Road, #514, Chicago, IL 60608; www.nasco.coop)
  • Organization for Competitive Markets: Don’t let the name Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) mislead you. OCM is a ferocious, detail-oriented champion of small family farms in our country against giant agribusinesses squeezing farmers from both the supplying and buying their crops. OCM’s newsletter is unyielding in showing how preserving family farms is also good for consumers and the struggle against monopolization from industry giants like Monsanto. (P.O. Box 6486 Lincoln, NE 68506; www.competitivemarkets.com)
  • The Center for Auto Safety:Without this watchdog group holding accountable the auto industry and its federal regulators, tens of millions of cars would not have been recalled over the past four decades. It has been the guardian angel of American motorists and consumers in other respects as well. (1825 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 330, Washington, DC 20009; https://www.autosafety.org/make-donation/)
  • The Indian Law Resource Center, based in Montana generates justice and safety for Indigenous Peoples. Under its brilliant executive director, Robert T. Coulter, the Center seems to be everywhere, protecting American Indian and Alaska Native families, fending off the Trump Administration’s move to undermine long-standing trust relationships, keeping indigenous lands in community ownership and supporting sustainable development in Central and South America. (602 Ewing Street, Helena, MT 59601; www.indianlaw.org)
  • Whirlwind Wheelchair helps people in less developed countries construct sturdy, inexpensive wheelchairs from local materials, building self-reliance and addressing the critical needs of safe mobility. Founder Ralf Hotchkiss has invented many improvements in wheelchairs for free public application. (2703 7th Street, #134, Berkeley, CA 94710; https://whirlwindwheelchair.org/donate/)
  • Solitary Watch, a critically important national watchdog group, investigates, documents, and disseminates information on the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. prison system. This diverse group of experts—lawyers, legal scholars, law enforcement and corrections officers, educators, advocates, and policymakers— provide necessary background information that sheds light on the barbaric, often arbitrary practice that is solitary confinement. (123 7th Avenue, #166, Brooklyn, NY 11215; https://solitarywatch.org/)
  • The Salvation Army: And, of course, the old reliable Salvation Army – quick to the scene of natural disasters anywhere in the world with hands-on assistance, unbureaucratic and frugal. On a daily basis it helps the poor, the destitute and the hungry. Over 140 years old, with 15,409 congregations in 127 countries, 1,150,666 million members and many thrift stores, the Salvation Army is consistently rated near the top of the most popular charities/non-profits in America. As incorruptible as humans can possibly be. (615 Slaters Lane, Alexandria, VA 22313; www.salvationarmyusa.org)

I’ve given donations to all these organizations over the years. Consider their selfless work, in the age of Wall Street profit-glutted greed, and support their activities for the New Year.

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Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out

In November, about 25 progressive Democrats were newly elected to the House of Representatives. How do the citizen groups know whether they are for real or for rhetoric? I suggest this civic yard stick to measure the determination and effectiveness of these members of the House both inside the sprawling, secretive, repressive Congress and back home in their Districts. True progressives must:

Vigorously confront all the devious ways that Congressional bosses have developed to obstruct the orderly, open, accessible avenues for duly elected progressive candidates to be heard and to participate in Congressional deliberations from the subcommittees to the committees to the floor of the House. Otherwise, the constricting Congressional cocoon will quickly envelop and smother their collective energies and force them to get along by going along.
Organize themselves into an effective Caucus (unlike the anemic Progressive Caucus). They will need to constantly be in touch with each other and work to democratize Congress and substantially increase the quality and quantity of its legislative/oversight output.
Connect with the national citizen organizations that have backers all around the country and knowledgeable staff who can help shape policy and mobilize citizen support. This is crucial to backstopping the major initiatives these newbies say they want to advance. Incumbent progressives operate largely on their own and too rarely sponsor civic meetings on Capitol Hill to solicit ideas from civic groups. Incumbent progressives in both the House and the Senate do not like to be pressed beyond their comfort zone to issue public statements, to introduce tough bills or new bills, or to even conduct or demand public hearings.
Develop an empowerment agenda that shifts power from the few to the many – from the plutocrats and corporatists to consumers, workers, patients, small taxpayers, voters, community groups, the wrongfully injured, shareholders, consumer cooperatives, and trade unions. Shift-of-power facilities and rights/remedies cost very little to enact because their implementation is in the direct hands of those empowered – to organize, to advocate, to litigate, to negotiate, and to become self-reliant for food, shelter and services (Citizen Utility Boards provide an example of what can come from empowering citizens).
Encourage citizens back home to have their own town meetings, some of which the new lawmakers would attend. Imagine the benefits of using town meetings to jump-start an empowerment agenda and to promote long over-due advances such as a living wage, universal health care, corporate crime enforcement, accountable government writ large, renewable energy, and real tax reform.
Regularly publicize the horrendously cruel and wasteful Republican votes. This seems obvious but, amazingly, it isn’t something Democratic leaders are inclined to do. Last June, I urged senior Democrats in the House to put out and publicize a list of the most anti-people, pro-Wall Street, and pro-war legislation that the Republicans, often without any hearings, rammed through the House. The senior Democrats never did this, even though the cruel GOP votes (against children, women, health, safety, access to justice, etc.) would be opposed by more than 3 out of 4 voters.
Disclose attempts by pro-corporate, anti-democratic, or anti-human rights and other corrosive lobbies that try to use campaign money or political pressure to advance the interests of the few to the detriment to the many. Doing this publically will deter lobbies from even trying to twist their arms.
Refuse PAC donations and keep building a base of small donations as Bernie Sanders did in 2016. This will relieve new members of receiving undue demands for reciprocity and unseemly attendance at corrupt PAC parties in Washington, DC.
Seek, whenever possible, to build left/right coalitions in Congress and back home that can become politically unstoppable.
Demand wider access to members of Congress by the citizenry. Too few citizen leaders are being allowed to testify before fewer Congressional hearings. Holding hearings is a key way to inform and galvanize public opinion. Citizen group participation in hearings led to saving millions of lives and preventing countless injuries. Authentic Congressional hearings lead to media coverage and help to mobilize the citizenry.

Adopting these suggestions will liberate new members to challenge the taboos entrenched in Congress regarding the corporate crime wave, military budgets, foreign policy, massive corporate welfare giveaways or crony capitalism.

The sovereign power of the people has been excessively delegated to 535 members of Congress. The citizens need to inform and mobilize themselves and hold on to the reins of such sovereign power for a better society. Demanding that Congress uphold its constitutional obligations and not surrender its power to the war-prone, lawless Presidency will resonate with the people.

Measuring up to this civic yardstick is important for the new members of the House of Representatives and for our democracy. See how they score in the coming months. Urge them to forward these markers of a democratic legislature to the rest of the members of Congress, most of whom are in a rut of comfortable incumbency.

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New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!

It’s tough to be an engineering student these days, with so many new developments in modern technology and technological knowledge. The course curricula are more crowded than ever and the impact of emerging technologies is monumental. Some engineering professors worry that their students’ busy course schedules prevents them from adequately exploring the liberal arts. Without exposure to the liberal arts, engineering students will lack the broad context that will help them approach their work as a profession, not just a trade.

Pressed as they are now in their undergraduate and graduate courses, engineering students may not appreciate the pressures and challenges they will face in their work after graduation. More than handling the stress that comes from needing to meet commercial or governmental deadlines and standards, they will need to understand the ethical ramifications of their actions. Existing industry standards rarely measure up to the necessary health, safety and reliability requirements in the workplace, marketplace and the environment. Moreover, the news media and social media create an environment that shines a spotlight on the personal responsibility of the engineering professions and the obligation to blow the whistle on misdeeds.

The core curriculum for engineering students must include courses and seminars that explore the ethical responsibility of engineering. Understanding economic and political pressures and, if necessary, whistleblowing obligations are all important matters for engineers. This is the subject of Ethics, Politics, and Whistleblowing in Engineering (CRC Press), a new book edited by Rania Milleron, Ph.D and Nicholas Sakellariou, Ph.D (Rania, my niece, is a microbiologist at the Texas Department of State Health Services and Nicholas is a lecturer at California Polytechnic State University).

One of the goals of Ethics, Politics and Whistleblowing in Engineering is to make technology inclined students realize at the very beginning of their careers that the best kind of engineering comes from a foundation in the applied sciences and the humanities. This engaging book – which will interest anyone interested in professionally applied ethics, regardless of field, is full of short renditions of individual engineers as heroes or bold advocates of changing hazardous procedures and ways of doing business.

The engineers featured in this book are professionals who cannot abide working in corporations where common candor has to be called courage. They demand the right to take their conscience to work.

There are sections in this book on whistleblowing around the world, and on the too passive standards-setting roles of engineering societies (like the Society of Automotive Engineers or the Society of Mechanical Engineers). Novel interviews with deep thinkers and beloved, creative professors, such as Princeton’s David P. Billington, who combined history and art in his rigorous courses, make a deep imprint on the reader.

Part I, titled “Engineering Leadership,” is meant to stimulate engineering educators to experiment broadly and open-mindedly in liberal education curricula, to promote unpopular but fact-based viewpoints, and to encourage students to learn about the heroic roots of engineering.

Part II recounts stories about engineers having to make excruciating decisions affecting their careers and the public safety when they take on their profit-obsessed corporate bosses or government officials.

Part III – Raising the Bar, “offers creative, concrete, and sustainable engineering solutions. In an age of designs generated by committees or computers… some think that technologists are losing their creativity and imagination.”

The appendix offers abundant resource material for engineering students and teachers. In the 1950s and 1960s, I was pushing the top executives of the auto companies to liberate their engineers to build life-saving, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient motor vehicles. As I learned more about the industry, it became clear that engineering integrity was subordinate to short-term profit goals, frivolous styling, and excessive horsepower.

Providing a climate of conscientious engineering work, instead of the all-too-frequent self-censorship that comes from top-down or myopic dictates, can save corporations from serious trouble – litigation, public anger, and subsequent loss of sales. In the U.S. auto industry, authoritarian corporate bosses presided over technological stagnation that resulted in shrinkage and bankruptcy.

The development of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence industries has occurred without an effective legal or ethical framework. As a result, we are ever reliant on the first-responders. Unfortunately, many engineers working on the front lines have abdicated their role as sentinels. Their long silence must end.

In the coming years, engineers will need a deep wellspring of professional self-respect. And our society will need to expand the laws and institutions to protect engineers when they do step up and do speak out?

This unique book, for which I have written an introduction, argues in many intriguing and compelling ways that we cannot afford to neglect the ethical dimensions of engineering.

The stakes from climate disruption to the military arms race to our public infrastructure to the health and safety of posterity and our planet are so high. So must be the expectations accorded the engineering profession everywhere in our midst.

(There are feasts of abundant references in this book for any reader to dig deeper).

For more information visit: ethicalengineering.org

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First Step Post-Election – Open Up the Closed, Secretive Congress

Following the mid-term elections, progressive citizen groups have to advance an agenda that makes Congress work for all Americans. The first step, however, is to acknowledge that Capitol Hill has walled itself off from the people, on behalf of corporate autocrats.

Currently, Congress is open for avaricious business, not for productive democracy. Congress itself is a concentrated tyranny of self-privilege, secrecy, repressiveness, and exclusive rules and practices. Congress fails to hold public hearings on many important matters and too often abandons oversight of the executive branch, and shuts out citizens who aren’t campaign donors. (See my new book, How the Rats Re-Formed the Congress at ratsreformcongress.org.)

Having sponsored in the nineteen-seventies the bestselling book ever on Congress – Who Runs Congress, I have a frame of reference for the present, staggering institutional narcissism of the Congress as the most powerful, though smallest, branch of our federal government.

It would have been rare in the sixties and seventies for major legislation to have moved to the floor of the House and the Senate without thorough public hearings with witnesses from a diverse array of citizen groups being given a chance to come and testify.

In the past two years, the Republicans sent the tax escape and health care restriction legislations to the floor, without any public hearings at the Committee level. The “tax bonanza for the corporate and wealthy” passed into law, while the “take away health care for millions of people” bill fortunately lost by one vote in the Senate.

Cong. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee sent five bills to the House floor, without public hearings, that were meant to usurp the state courts’ traditional jurisdiction and weaken your rights to have your day in court before a trial by jury were you wrongfully injured. This vicious attack by Goodlatte’s corporatists on vulnerable victims was blocked by the Senate Democrats.

U.S. Supreme Court nominees before the Senate used to face days of public hearings with many valuable witnesses. For three decades, the Senate Judiciary Committee, under both Democratic and Republican control have shortened the hearings and markedly cut back on witnesses permitted to testify. Knowledgeable people with adverse information about the nominees were kept from testifying – their requests often not even acknowledged.

The signs of Congressional closeouts are everywhere. Years ago, Congress excluded itself from the great Freedom of Information Act. This arrogance fostered a breeding ground for abusive secrecy, covered up were such conflicts as members of Congress speculating in stocks with their inside information, corruption inquests before House and senate Ethics Committee. Even using taxpayer money to settle credible accusations of sexual assault against sitting lawmakers were all covered up.

The orgy of self-privilege knows few boundaries – being wined and dined and journeyed on fundraising junkets by lobbyists who donate dollars to their campaigns in return for legislated bonanzas or immunities is normal business practice. The Senators and Representatives give themselves generous pensions, health insurance, life insurance, and other goodies while denying or failing to provide tens of millions of people those protective benefits and coverages.

Members of Congress get special favors from an airline industry that gives you the back of its omnipresent, fee imposing hand (except for Southwest Airlines). Our survey of every member of Congress which aimed to publicize the details of these commercially provided privileges was ignored by every member of Congress. (See my “Letter to Congress re: Airline industry influence”). Also, nobody knows what favors the banks give them, while these subsidized firms gouge their customers with outlandish fess, penalties and ludicrously low interest rates on savings.

If you’ve ever wondered why the nearly $5 billion you pay annually to support 535 offices in Congress does not produce supervision of the sprawling wasteful executive branch Departments such as the Department of Defense, the Department of Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, and State, the FDA and others, it might just be that the corporate donors are in effect paying their recipient solons to look the other way and let their passive Committee staff slumber.

An increasing number of the staff assigned to each member and their well-budgeted Committees are coming from the so-called K Street lobbying business. A little on-the-job experience helps them deliver the goodies to their former corporate employers, before rejoining them for lucrative salaries.

This corruption of the professional Congressional staff motivated Michael Pertschuk, the great chief of staff for Senator Warren Magnuson’s powerful Senate Commerce Committee, to write the recent book titled When the Senate Worked for Us. He chronicled the days in the sixties and seventies, when professional staffers played critical roles in passing consumer, environmental, worker, and other life-saving legislation.

The heavy concentration of power in the top two rulers of the Senate and the House has stripped Committee chairpersons of much of their power to address urgent necessities and diversify and decentralize internal Congressional power and activities.

Then there are the daily irritations. Regular people trying to call members of Congress or Committees find their switchboard increasingly on voice mail during working hours. Substantive letters from constituents are not even acknowledged much less given the respect of a reply. Calls to Senators or Representatives or their top staff are often ignored if you are not a campaign contributor.

These increasing plunges into dictatorial misuses of the sovereign power we have delegated to members of Congress are not universal. There are minorities of good-faith lawmakers objecting, but their power is too little to overcome the Congressional Corporate complex that has seized our Capitol.

As I’ve written many times before, it is not as hard as we think to break the corporate grip on our Congress. Creating a people-driven Congress starts with organizing Congressional Watchdog Groups that represent the broad left/right voter support for long overdue changes and reforms, in every one of the 435 Districts. See my book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think (especially pp. 144-145), where the civic summons to your Congressional lawmakers is presented for powerful face-to-face series of citizen controlled meetings back home.

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If It Takes the Rats to Wake Up Us and Congress, Bring Them On! This Book Shows How!

Let’s get down to the all-important matter of Congressional performance. No matter how pollsters ask the question – “do you approve of Congress…?” or “do you have confidence in Congress…? – less than twenty percent of people respond positively. Four out of five Americans disapprove of what Congress has been doing and are presumably disappointed about what Congress is not doing. That’s an overwhelming unhappy majority. There are many changes, reforms, and redirections for our country that conservatives and liberals both agree on, (See my book, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, Nation Books, 2014). There would be more agreements were we more alert to the divide and rule tactics of our political/corporate rulers and reject such manipulations outright.

For decades, I’ve argued that it is easier than we think to change what comes out of Congress – the smallest yet most powerful branch of government under our Constitution.

Our history demonstrates that if one percent or less of citizens, reflecting majority public opinion, roll up their sleeves and focus together on their two Senators and Representatives, they can prevail. I and other consumer and environmental advocates did just that years ago with far less than one percent of the people actually engaged in moving our agenda (which is about two and a half million adults). Together we championed laws that reigned in the auto industry, the corporate polluters and other industries to save lives and prevent injuries and illnesses. Because, majority public opinion supported us.

Our approach then was to put out factual documentation of these corporate harms and perils and get our research covered by the news media and programs like The Phil Donahue Show. People would feedback their demands and concerns to the Senators and Representatives of Congress, where we were pushing member by member. Reforms followed. I’ve given numerous examples of these citizen endeavors in my book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think.

It still can happen, even though the news media hardly covers conventional civic activity anymore and great shows like Donahue’s are no longer on the air. We shouldn’t be discouraged, however; we just have to shift strategies and find new ways to get more Americans revved up to feel and focus their own sovereign power exclusively rooted in the Constitution. “Corporations” and “companies” aren’t even mentioned in that storied document. As the Constitution says, “we the people… do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.”

So here comes my new Fable, How the Rats Re-formed the Congress replete with examples of how little it took to change Congress beyond our greatest expectations. Once the rats stormed up the toilet bowls of these smug solons and shook up the place from the bottom up, action followed. When the American people found out how the Congressional biggies tried to cover up their embarrassment – their ineptitude at not even being able to control a rat infestation– massive public derision flooded the televised and radio airwaves and social media.

Suddenly, people all over our country – at home, in the bars and restaurants, at their clubs, snapped to attention and began believing that, “There are only 535 of them on Capitol Hill, many misusing our sovereign power delegated to them, but we’re millions.”

In “civic” waves from the hinterlands, the people move to take control of Congress away from the giant corporations and their greedy lobbyists. You’ll laugh yourselves serious as you turn page after page and start feeling, believing, thinking that “we can do this, let’s go America!”

Enough of not paying hard-working impoverished workers a livable wage, enough of people being denied health insurance, and ripped off by the credit sharks, enough of our children being directly assailed with junk food and violent advertising bypassing parental authority, enough of trillions of our tax dollars not coming back to us for superior public services in our crumbling communities but instead going to corporate welfare (crony capitalism), and the infernal, very profitable corporate war machine in addition to more tax escapes for the wealthy.

Enough of the fossil-fuel industry poisoning our soil, our water, and disrupting our climate. Enough of the corporate bosses and their indentured politicians; enough of the big time crooks and their dirty elections. Enough, enough already!

A few early readers found How the Rats Re-Formed the Congress to be “disgusting,” or “revolting,” to use their words. Reading the back cover presents indictments of the “disgusting” and “revolting” Congress whose majority lets American men, women, and children get sick and die in great numbers from preventable perils in hospitals, in toxic workplaces, and in toxic products and environments.

Other readers have called the book “uplifting,” “optimistic,” and “empowering,” the growing rumble from the people and the leaders they generate break out in rallies and support for progressive agendas nationwide. The huge numbers of people surrounding the Congress night and day, week after week, until the peoples’ pressure becomes unbearable for recalcitrant Members of Congress.

This external pressure permeates the Congress with specific calls for reforms backed by the dramatic demand that the politicians get it done in an election year or else! The faster these long overdue changes come, many long installed in Western European democracies, the more the corporate big boys reel on their heels, unable with their tired bullying and intimidating ways to block the will of the people.

Wall Street and its lobbyists warn about “economic collapse” and “mass layoffs” if the citizenry’s agenda passes Congress. Corporate front groups are created to disrupt the peaceful crowds. These corporate tactics don’t work anymore. The agitated media publishes story after story about the corporate crime wave, the rip-offs of consumers and the wasting away tax monies that Congress allowed.

Backing up the book is a helpful website on organizing Congressional Ratwatchers Groups in every Congressional district. The material is readable, accurate, and relieves your feeling that such an effort is too difficult and won’t produce results.

You can get an autographed copy of How the Rats Re-Formed the Congress, or discounted autographed books in bulk for your circle of friends, by going to ratsreformcongress.org. See how the rats led the way until the people, just like you, entered the fray.

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